Are YOU a CAPTAIN LORCA? Am I??? (editorial review)

Spoiler warning!   Beige Alert!

“Choose Your Pain.”

That was the title of the fifth and possibly best-yet episode of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY.  Like many of the strongest stories of literature and cinema, the title “Choose Your Pain” works on multiple levels.

  • “Choose your pain” is what the Klingons say to the captives on their prison ship before beating the living crap out of one of them.
  • Michael Burnham is, arguably, choosing her pain when she holds onto the loss of Captain Georgiou and wallows in her seemingly endless morass of un-Vulcan-like self-pity and guilt.
  • Saru, likewise, is holding onto the loss of Captain Georgiou but also to his pain at having not been chosen to be her first officer and thereby not being able to learn from her experience and wisdom in the same way Burnham did.
  • Captain Lorca can and should get his eyes fixed, but he chooses not to.  He holds onto the pain the light causes him and lives in mostly dark places, a harsh reminder of the heartrending decision he made during his previous command of the USS Buran.

(Please note, there’s a theory currently making its way around fandom that the Lorca we’ve seen so far is actually a Mirror Universe counterpart of the “real” Lorca.  The reason the Buran was destroyed was to eliminate any witnesses—including the “good” Lorca—and that the whole interchange was orchestrated by Section 31 in order to acquire a captain who knew how to be ruthless in fighting the Klingons.  The reason that Lorca refuses to get his eyes fixed—a problem stemming from being transported to this universe—is that he doesn’t want the doctors to discover what he really is.)

Obviously, my blog today assumes that the above theory is NOT the case.  Instead, let’s just assume that Lorca is merely a man who was forced to make a tragic decision to destroy his ship and kill his crew to save them all from slow, painful deaths on Qo’Nos.  For this, Lorca has chosen to keep his pain as a reminder…and potentially as self punishment for what he did.

Like Lorca, I and many other Trek fans who are either not watching the show or frequently complaining about it are choosing to hold onto our “pain.”  We simply can’t seem to let go of our issues with the new series and  enjoy Star Trek: Discovery for everything it gives to us as fans.  Like Lorca, we choose to continue living in our dark places.

In short, WE ARE LORCA!

As I’ve said numerous times, Discovery isn’t “my” Star Trek.  I’ve complained about the Klingon make-up, the Starfleet uniforms, ship designs, and the Discovery crew members essentially being dicks.  I’ve commented about how I don’t want to watch this show with my seven-year-old son because the lessons Discovery is teaching—whether intentional or not—is that the ends can justify the means and that it’s okay to be bitchy to the people who are on your team.  “My” Star Trek didn’t teach those lessons…or if it did, those were rare exceptions that served to hammer home the REAL lessons about these characters: that they were, indeed, heroes and worthy of our inspiration and emulation.

Now with the fifth episode of Discovery, I’ve got yet another reason to keep my son away from the show: two F-bombs within 10 seconds of each other.  Plus, I’m pissed off all over again at the ship design.  We finally heard a Klingon vessel identified as a D-7 battlecruiser.  In my mind, a D7 looks like the top image on the right, and yet they give us the redesigned one on the bottom…which doesn’t even look close to a real D7!  That’s my “pain.”

On the other hand, the scripts and the producers throw in so many wonderful nuggets from the long 50-year history of Star Trek.  Unlike previous series, which tended to shy away from referencing TOS except in very rare instances (with the exception of season 4 of Enterprise), Discovery has given us tribbles, Sarek and Amanda, a Gorn skeleton, and a whole bunch of “blink and you’ll miss it!” references to TOS.  For example, on the above map of the Klingon cruiser’s likely course after abducting Lorca, we see Deep Space Station K-7 and Rura Penthe, as well as the Morska and Mempa systems (the latter from TNG).

We also get an intriguing interpretation of Harry Mudd that wasn’t as off as I feared it would be.  Obviously, the original actor Roger C. Carmel has long since passed, but Rainn Wilson captured many of his quirky mannerisms.  We even learned the “secret origin” of Harry’s wife Stella…if that is to be believed.  Harry in this episode was both fun and menacing while staying true to the original character.

And then there was that list of the most decorated Starfleet captains… 60%  of whom were/are captains of a starship called Enterprise.  Of course, it was cool seeing all those names we recognize, even if one wonders where Garth of Izar (whose exploits were already required reading at the Academy by this time) was or why there were no highly decorated captains for nearly 100 years between Archer and April.  Even so, the list was pretty cool to see.

It’s obvious that the writers and production team are paying very close attention to the smallest details, and embracing so much of what has come before.

So what is my damn problem???

With so much of the new series hewing so wonderfully closely to the long and expansive history of Star Trek, why am I focusing so much of my angst on the fact that they simply hired the wrong production designer?  After all, that’s the main problem, right?  He was the guy insisting on new uniform designs, completely original Federation and Klingon starships that weren’t required to look anything like what had been established before, and re-imagined Klingons as hairless and unrecognizable, all but blowing the make-up budget for the season.  Had the original production designer not left with Bryan Fuller, the show would have looked more like it fit into established Trek, and we’d all have much less to complain about.

But why can’t I just let that go?  Why am I letting one production designer ruin this show for me?  Why am I choosing that pain?

Actually, he’s not really “ruining” the show for me.  I watched episode 5 and really, really enjoyed it.  The fact that the crew were no longer being complete dicks to Burnham and each other helped a lot.  (Not sure exactly when, how, or why that shift happened, but it was most welcome for me as a fan and viewer.)  And yes, they let the Tartigrade go—after almost killing it, of course.  The show still taught the lesson that the ends (saving the captain) justify the means, but at least they faced and ultimately corrected the consequences of that decision.

Maybe there’s hope for this show after all?

So how long will I choose to hold onto my “pain” when it comes to Discovery?  Why not just let go of all my little gripes about the show, subscribe, sit back, and enjoy it completely?  Like Lorca, it would be so easy to just get my eyes fixed, turn up the lights, and move past my “pain.”

Well, perhaps I’ll let Captain James T. Kirk answer that question for me…

Yeah, I realized that I just quoted Star Trek V.  And maybe that’s why I’m considering lightening up a little on Discovery.  Maybe I’d rather be McCoy in this scene than Kirk.

I still don’t like the new Klingons or the scenes where they speak for three minutes with subtitles.  And I stand by my belief that putting Discovery onto CBS All Access in the U.S. was a bad business decision.  We’ll see if I’m ultimately right or wrong on that prediction.

But in the meantime, Trek fans are being treated to a TV series with episodes costing $8-$8.5 million!  Previous Trek series were lucky to get a quarter of that budget!  Sure, Discovery still isn’t “my” Star Trek.  But so what?  Maybe it’s an alternate universe/timeline, maybe it’s a reboot, and maybe it’s just a bunch of very dedicated people working really hard to produce an incredibly good TV show with some minor flaws here and there.

Will I choose my pain like Kirk did?  Like Lorca does?  Or will I let it go like McCoy?

Right now, I’m still a Lorca.  I’m still a Kirk.  But for how long?


…how long?

49 thoughts on “Are YOU a CAPTAIN LORCA? Am I??? (editorial review)”

  1. There are a number of problems with the show so far, and I really do hope they work out the kinks (because I really want to like it).
    1) It’s okay to have a protagonist who is a bit of a cowboy or occasionally is rash: but Burnham often makes decisions that are not only insubordinate but completely stupid… for a woman who made it through the Vulcan academy you really have to wonder what the writers are thinking
    2) The writing is–so far–atrocious. I’m not talking Sci-Fi, I’m just talking plot, pacing, and any semblence of writing characters. It would have been better to get Burnham’s back story little by little and let some mystery unfold rather then put it all there bare on the screen as they did in the first episode. They also have no clue about story arcs. We are basically getting scenes ostensibly designed to show some character’s trait or point of view interspersed with some action footage. There is no sense of suspense here–the last episode with Lorca’s escape from the Klingon vessel was ludicrous–he got out of the ship way to easily and when it came to the live-or-die moment of truth, there is more suspense in the last seconds on an episode of Chopped than there was here. Whether this was writing, directing, editing, or all three to blame I don’t know, but they could have given us but a moment of suspense. (BTW, why did they take our protagonist–ostensibly the focus character of the show and one of the few crew members of the Discovery out of the action when things mattered most? Me thinks this was a really bad choice. Especially, if the Burnham character is supposed to have some kind of redemption…)
    3) Really bad sci-fi: There’s too much nonsense here to talk about but the mycelial blink drive idea stands out as not only totally implausible but just really lousy science fiction. Other than some notion that water bears (tardegrades) and fungi can exist in space the idea of some micelial space is so implausible it is stupid. This is yet another episode where the blink drive is the centerpiece here. Dark Matter is using the idea of a blink drive more effectively than Discovery
    4) Everything is dark and drab and uninspired like Captain Lorca’s vision. Apparently, the writers and producers can’t tolerate light either. This is both noted in the physical appearance of the sets and the philosophy. The thing that makes ST stand out is that optimistic vision of the futuer. Even if things are dark, there is always promise of a bright future there. Apparently something happened between Enterprise and TOS and the Federation is in a major slump.
    5) Conflict: I’m all for conflict between characters. But every character? Every relationship? Every second of the day. Now we’re dropping F-bombs and having arguments between the crew and what appears to be a totally incompetent chain of command. I have more faith in the Klingon organization in STD than I do the Federation. Someone, somewhere, somehow (other than the Doctor and the Chief Engineer) have to get along. And even these two openly conflict with eachother. TOS had some rivalries and disagreements–tension does make for a good story line. But there has to be some sense that the crew and captain work together as a well oiled machine rather than lobbing invectives at eachother. It is totally implausible to think that any crew would behave this way on an aircraft carrier let alone a starship… Umm… research vessel or not, we have to beleive that this is military vessel…
    6) Really bad decision making on silly details: like full face prosthetics for every alien–ostensibly crafted to prevent any actor from expressing themselves with anything other than eye motions. I really don’t care much if Klingons have a new look, but for goodness’ sake would you allow us to see some facial expressions? Further encumbering actors are ungainly costumes. Besides, if the Klingons can hardly gesture in their armor, how are they going to fight? And while we’re at it, lets make all the Klingons speak to eachother in Klingonese–and really, really slowly so the folks at home can read the subtitles twice and the actors can be hobbled further by breaking their teeth on a foreign language. I think it’s pretty well understood that when the Klingons are speaking to eachother they are speaking in Klingon. (Of course, I never imagined that they would speak Klingon so slowly. You know, as if it wasn’t their native language at all…) As much as I want to break out Rosetta Stone Klingonese so I can listen to these scenes unfettered by subtitles, I think it’s pretty much the convention that when aliens speak together they are not conversing in standard American English. (And, no, I don’t believe that all Romans actually spoke to each other in the Queen’s English, as depicted in most films.)

    On the bright side, I also really liked Rainn Wilson’s interpretation of Mudd. He plays it in homage to Roger C. Carmel’s Mudd but with a slightly more sinister tone. A little less whimsy, a little more treachery… This is all the more remarkable, given that the writers didn’t give him much in the way of good dialogue either. (Think Benedict Cumberbach in ST Into Darkness–I was not fond of the yet-again Khan redux, but Cumberbach’s portrayal was majorly intense. In spite of the fact that the writers of that movie gave him almost nothing to work with, Cumberbach made every scene shine…)

    I really do hope the writers get out of their funk. For me, at least, the cast is solid enough, they just haven’t been given anything to play with. I really, really want to like this show but they are making it very hard. And not just for ST fans, for Sci-Fi fans in general.

    1. Some very strong opinions you’ve got there, JL. Ever think of writing a blog??? 🙂

      By the way, don’t share this with anyone, but the more I think about it, the more I believe that “our” Gabriel Lorca is, in fact, a doppelganger from the Mirror Universe. Something was said during the latest “After Trek” that cemented that theory for me. And the “Discovery” will not end up being just the ship name but also the crew’s finding out this secret and having to decide whether to follow Lorca into darkness or Burnham into the light. And that’s why she’s the main character and not Lorca.

      If I’m right, someone needs to buy me a beer (and I mean a GOOD beer!). 🙂

      1. Or with his aversion to light perhaps a Reman… If Klingons can look less human, why can’t Remans look more? Of course, no one has seen a Romulan at this point, and I doubt if they even know of Remus’ existence, but do you really think they wouldn’t have a finger somewhere in the pie?

    2. About the mycelial blink drive, I strongly suspect that it was inspired in the Spice used in “Dune” for interstellar travel, and the need of having a living being to guide the jump is the equivalent of the Navigators from “Dune”. Although I suppose they could have worked a bit more in the technobabbling behind the Spore Drive (saying that “Physics and Biology are the same on the quantum level” sounds to me as an spectacularly way of saying nothing while trying to look “sciency”).

      1. Yeah, the problem with space is that it’s big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space! So the idea of creating a mode for instantaneous travel becomes a convenient story-telling tool. Dune used it. Doctor Who uses it. Stargate used it. Even the Battlestar Galactica reboot used it. And Star Trek used it on DS9 in the form of the Bajoran wormhole.

        But yeah, when I saw the Tardigrade hooked up to the infinite improbability–I mean the spore drive, I couldn’t help thinking of the navigators from Dune. The Tardigrade is the spores, the spores are the Tardigrade. I am the walrus. Coo-coo-ca-choo!

        1. Now that you quote “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy”, during the Klingon attack to the Corvan II colony, one of the miners shouted “Zaphod is dead!”, which it is clearly a wink to Zaphod Beeblebrox.

          1. I calculate the probability of the of the miners having the name Zaphod as…

            Wait a second!

            Maybe it wasn’t the spores what got them there after all!!! 🙂

  2. Every time I read “Tartigrade” and what it can do I am reminded of the “TARDIS” from Dr. Who that performs the same function. (TARDIS is, after all, an acronym for Time And Relative Dimension In Space, and except for the time part, the Tartigrade does the same thing). So I don’t know if if Disco is playing homage to Dr. Who on purpose or if this is an accident, but I bump on it every time I read it.

    Still, good call to keep Jayden away from Disco for the time being.

      1. You mean the “Time And Relative Dimension Instant Galactic Relocation Acceleration DEvice?”

          1. The the problem was when we had to find a four letter acronym for “four letter acronym” because the TLA’s were pretty much saturated. So we now just use my “IVLA” nomenclature when using 4 letters instead of the TLA and everyone is happy.

            See? I told you TLA’s were my fo(u)rte! 🙂

  3. “Saru, likewise, is holding onto the loss of Captain Georgiou but also to his pain at having not been chosen to be her first officer and thereby not being able to learn from her experience and wisdom in the same way Burnham did”

    She learned? Ok maybe she did. She certainly does not show it or at the very least is really really slow in applying it.

    1. in Saru’s opinion, Burnham was given the chance to learn (that he was not) and then wasted the opportunity. Saru believes that Burnham really learned nothing and then, by getting Georgiou killed, took that opportunity away from him…as he would have been first officer after Burnham got her own command.

    1. Ed, Sounds like your saying that, just because they put the “Star Trek” label on this mess.

      That Jonathan should just rubber stamp the episodes “approved by JL”

      Face it dude there are so many things wrong with this show, it’s pretty much unrecognizable. Even with the Label.

  4. Maybe this is why you can’t fully enjoy Discovery. TOS is like your first love…everything was new and exciting.. . there were other loves that followed but none would ever be the first… others may have been better as in my case the woman I married but even she would never be the first… anyway that’s how I feel.

  5. Is there confirmation that the original production design was going to hew closer to the original series? Or is that supposition?

    1. One of my friends worked on Discovery early on…before Fuller was fired (and shortly after). The new production designer issued forth proclamations like “There are to be no cylindrical nacelles, only ones with squared edges.” I also have an early sketch of Saru with what was to be the uniform. It looked SO much closer to the PIKE-era stuff that I think fans would have been much more accepting of it.

      1. Regarding the design changes, it is clear that some of the decisions were made well before Fuller’s departure, considering that the Klingon ships (sarcophagus ship and dragonflies) surfaced a couple of months before he left. Also, Fuller is credited with the idea to redesign the Klingons, and I doubt they came up with a completely new “enhanced” make-up as late as a couple of weeks before the shooting started.

        Regarding those “angular nacelles” rule, I have a quite simple explanation for how it came to pass. Looking at various Federation and alien ship designs, 24th century as well as 22nd century, of a certain production designer, it is noticeable that they share many features: odd-angled hull plates, additional spikes, pointed nacelles with angular cross-sections. Exactly as on the Shenzhou. I value the work this person has done for Star Trek. But there could be more variety in his designs. And even if he did not like the TOS style he ought to have established *some* visual difference for Discovery. Actually, I would be glad if this person were not responsible for the disastrous Shenzhou design but someone telling him “design the same as always, no TOS crap”.

  6. The issue with “F-bombs” is seriously something that I’ll never understand. Totally aside from the fact that Bones is swearing left, right and center in TOS, the American notion that even the most gruesome violence is ok while even the most remote allusion to things sexual is a big no-no is mind-boggling.
    Seriously, if anything, what would get me to consider the show as inapproriate for children is how it celebrates that we’re still the same antisocial humans we are today a few hundred years from now – which implicitly as a sine-qua-non suggests that it’s perfectly ok to be an a**h*** to each other, because the consequences will be fairly limited. Compared to that, swear words are a typical case of a bark that’s bigger than one’s bite. Heck, there was a recent study suggesting intelligent people are more likely to cuss…

    1. I realize that Jayden will eventually start swearing, but I’d like to keep him young and adorable just a little bit longer. 🙂

      And keep in mind, my main reason for not wanting him to see the series isn’t the cuss words but the life lessons…specifically about the ends justifying the means and being a dick to others. The former concept implies that it’s okay to cheat on a math test if the “ends” are getting a good grade. Not so! As for being a dick, Jayden has a really kind heart. I’d like to think his mother and I had something to do with that. Part of the strategy was not introducing him to “dicky” heroes. Villains…sure. Draco Malfoy is a dick. Lex Luthor is a dick. But they’re the bad guys. The crew of a starship, however, are supposed to be the GOOD guys. Having to explain that sometimes good guys can be dicks (or “not nice to other people–even their friends) is not something I want to have to explain to a 7-year-old.

      1. Well, as I said, that’s what I see as a far more important problem myself.
        I’m just so completely nonplussed by the issue with “F-bombs” because just the other day, someone suggested that the old series inspired so many young people to go into science and that suggested the f-word was irreconcilable with that. The former is certainly true, but the latter? And as a (trained, not actively researching) scientist myself, I’ve been using plenty of swear words in my time. It’s all good and fine to heed Tacitus’ good old “sine ira et studio” (Without anger or bias) while evaluating the data, but when you’ve done your umpteenth all-nighter, only to be left with nothing, you’re happy for every swear word you know – because venting is much better than wallowing in misery and frustration 😛

        1. For an adult, I agree. For a child, I think it’s better to keep their language “clean” just a little while longer. After all, swear words are also “lazy” words. They’re actually quite boring. As Patrick Stewart once said at a convention I saw him at back in the late 1980s: “We owe it to each other to utilize our language to its fullest, to find and employ words that are uncommon and, if I might use the term, engaging. And the reason is quite simple. Most of what we say to each other is ultimately quite trivial and uninspired…that is to say, boring. Not everything, mind you, but much of our daily communication with others isn’t terribly interesting. However, a creative and higher level of language, a wider variety of unique and less common word choices, can elevate what we say beyond the tedious and mundane.”

          It was such a significant and salient point to make that I remember what Sir Patrick said–almost word for word–nearly thirty years later!

          1. The fact that you would have to wait for another seven full seasons plus 2/3 of the first film to hear another swear word uttered by a member of the Enterprise-D crew pretty much proves my point, dontcha think? 🙂

        1. Thoroughly. We watched each of those episodes over the course of two nights. So with CM, I could focus on the question of whether or not Captain Kirk would have made such a mistake…or maybe he really did hate Ben Finney. Jayden didn’t believe that. “Hmmm, but it sure looks like Captain Kirk did it on purpose,” I told him. “After all, computers don’t lie.” We discussed whether or not that was a true statement. And we also discussed how it works when someone is accused of a crime but is presumed innocent until proven guilty. And that they get a lawyer and so does the other side. Granted, I didn’t focus too much on the difference between a military tribunal and a civilian courtroom, but he was only five at the time!

          Captain Tracy was also a point of discussion. We had recently watched the episode “The Doomsday Machine” and discussed how Commodore Decker felt so guilty about having lost his crew. He felt like it was his fault. Did Captain Tracy feel the same way? Did he go nuts? Or was it something else? Did he just want to bring the secret of eternal life to the galaxy? Or did he want to get rich selling it?

          Watching Star Trek has always been a learning experience for Jayden….and often for me, too! 🙂

  7. Haha…in what way am I negative? I love TOS. I love TNG. I love Discovery. I love Voyager. I love Enterprise. DS9 not so much, but you’ve never heard a negative comment from me about it. My only negative I have posted is about Axanar and unless I missed something this article had nothing to do with that. It seems funny that whatever I say is either ignored or answered with snark and you are the one always talking about being respectful.

    I speak when I have something to say and I was really happy that you were presenting at least a partial positive toward Discovery so I spoke up about it. The answer was complete snark and actually uncalled for.

    I respect you and I just wish that you returned the favor.

    1. My apologies, Edward. It felt like, from your comment, that you were being negative about the heart-felt thoughts and feelings I had shared in my previous reviews of Star Trek: Discovery. If that was not your intent, than being snarky was not mine.

  8. You know Jon,

    The pain of living trek free…. isn’t that painful…

    It’s not like it was in the 70’s and 80’s where maybe you got one show a year, and it lasted 12 episodes. Oh wait since most shows are 13 episodes there’s way more choice.

    Point is there’s something for the genre fan on pretty much every night of the week. Most of it far more family friendly and far less F-Bomb dropping.

  9. I have only watched the very first episode of STD. I was not impressed enough to watch any subsequent episodes even if I didn’t have to pay for them.

    Even if I were so inclined, the insulting and borderline racists remarks of Jason Issacs has killed any remaining curiosity I have towards the series. It has nothing to do with “pain”. It just isn’t worth my time. I’ve better things to do.

  10. Jonathan, as a creative myself, I ask you please not single out the “production designer” and not the producers for the design choices.

    Do you think the 2009 Enterprise would look the way it does if Ryan Church hadn’t been taking strict dictation from the bosses?

    1. Correct me if I am wrong Gabe but isn’t 20 approximately 18 more producers and exec producers than on most shows.

      1. TOP 8 reasons why Star Trek: Discovery has so many producers:

        1) The production doubles as a fantasy camp.

        2) They oversold the Discovery flight, and instead of offering vouchers, CBS handed out producer credits on the series.

        3) CBS started out with one producer, but then they fed him too much, and before CBS knew it, there were producers everywhere…eating the grain in the storage compartments.

        4) The whole producer situation was a cloning experiment gone horribly wrong.

        5) Someone thought of a great way to get into the Guinness Book of World Records.

        6) CBS ordered too much food for the “Welcome New Discovery Producers!” party, and rather than let the food go to waste, they just invited more producers and then forgot to tell them the party was for OTHER producers.

        7) Initially, the idea was for the producers to all play musical chairs, but no one ever removed a chair.

        8) The Russians hacked the CBS employee database and made everyone on Discovery a producer?

  11. I feel kinda weird about Discovery, to be honest.

    One moment, the show really do show some promise….then the next moment, it went back to what it was, a JJ reboot in disguise.

    I really want to give it chances (I think I’ve already give it more chances than I gave most shows), but pretty much every prospect of DIS has been following this loop, and I’m not sure how long can I keep up with it.

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