Is DISCOVERY the “STAR TREK SHOW ABOUT NOTHING”? (editorial review)

Spoilers, there’ll be a few…but then again, too few to mention

I touched on the question last week: What is STAR TREK: DISCOVERY about?  The original Star Trek and Next Generation were about exploring strange, new worlds and stuff.  Deep Space Nine was about healing the spiritual, cultural, and environmental wounds of a decades-long occupation…both of a race of people and also of a space station that were suddenly thrust into a role of prime importance in the Alpha Quadrant.  Voyager was about getting home.  And Enterprise was about exploring the final frontier for the first time.

But what is Star Trek: Discovery about?

If you watched the first episode of Discovery, it initially appeared that the show would be about Michael Burnham getting ready for her first command.  That went out the window quickly when she attacked her captain.  By the end of the second episode, Burnham was in chains and a war had started with the Klingons.

The third episode establishes Burnham as a pariah, brought aboard Discovery because, well, because she’s awesome?  Because she deserves a second chance?  Who knows?  It’s still early.  So okay, now we’ve got a show about an “awesome” officer who’s been flung down into the abyss of life and is slowly clawing her way back up the Starfleet Jeffries Tube to a place of respect.  Fine…except the show abandons the “pariah” part pretty quickly.  Burnham makes a best friend, becomes a useful part of the crew, and even gets a boyfriend.  Heck, by episode 5, she’s even giving Saru Captain Georgiou’s old telescope and having a “moment” with him.

So, no, the show isn’t about Burnham’s redemption, as she’s pretty much redeemed by a third of the way through the season.  Hmmmm, maybe the show is about Burnham’s voyage of internal, um, discovery and learning to forgive and love herself the way others have.

Nope, way too much else going on in the show for that to be it!

Is it about a war with the Klingons?  We’re kinda stuck in that scenario for the season, so maybe it’s about that.  We can explore who these Klingons are and why they’re so gung ho to obliterate the Federation.

Except the writers don’t really do that, either.  We get a little glimpse of the Klingons here and there, but hardly enough to say that the show is about the war and our adversaries.

And of course, by the fourth episode, we’re now using a “monster” to power and navigate our ship.  Okay, so maybe the show is about science gone wrong, or how war sometimes forces us give up some of our high ideals in favor of preserving ourselves and our way of life.  After all, the NCC number of the ship is 1031…and we all remember Section 31, right?  They’re the “ends justify the means” shadow society of Starfleet.  And hey, weren’t there those black Starfleet badges in episode 3?  (Where did those things go anyway?)

And hey, a show about a science vessel that is really a secret weapon that can do some dastardly things (but for all the right reasons)…that might be an interesting idea.  Not sure it’s Star Trek, but maybe the crew will slowly discover their morality over the course of the season and stop torturing the poor tardisgrade.

Or maybe it’ll only take one episode because the crew then free the creature and plug Stamets into the spore drive instead.  Hmmmm, maybe the show is still about the science getting out of control, and this time we explore how it takes its toll on a human life.  Are the needs of the many more important than the needs of the one?  Probably, but maybe the show is going to explore THAT question, and THAT’S what Discovery is about.

Nope, that’s not it either.  After escaping from a Klingon prison ship with Security Chief McScruffy, we learn just how quickly this crew accepts the “new guy” when he’s not a mutineer and is a total hottie.  In the meantime, we’re learning that Lorca is kinda creepy.  Hmmmm, maybe THAT’S what this show is about!  People are not what they seem!  That’s why it’s called “Discovery.”  Burnham isn’t what she seems to be (a morose mutineer).  Tilly isn’t just a functioning autistic.  Saru isn’t just scared cattle with a warning light on the back of his head if death is coming.  Stamets isn’t really an a-hole.  So that’s it!

No wait, that didn’t last long either.  With a quick interruption for repeated sociopathic mass murders by Harry Mudd, we next get an episode where the Discovery is actually exploring a strange, new world (finally!!!)…although mainly to exploit it.  Maybe we’re back to the “win at all costs” concept.

Except we’re not.

Finally in an actual on screen battle with the Klingons (we’d gone seven whole episodes in this “war” and only seen Discovery in an actual combat with the Klingons one other time…so no, definitely NOT a show about war), the USS Discovery winds up in the Mirror Universe and must become the ISS Discovery.  By this point, I have no frickin’ idea what this show is supposed to be about anymore!!!

Maybe the Mirror Universe is showing us that, no matter how “immoral” Starfleet was being in torturing sentient creatures to gain an advantage in their war with the Klingons, well, it could be worse…MUCH worse!  The Mirror Universe isn’t just “bad,” it’s horrific!

And in this, we were introduced to the NEXT thing the show is about: we’re one rotten day or missed coffee away from being as bad as the Terrans (Tilly even says as much this past episode…in case anyone hasn’t gotten what the show is about yet).  So we have to constantly tell ourselves to turn away from our darker natures.  Or, to quote Captain James T. Kirk,”We can admit that we’re killers, but we’re not going to kill today.  That’s all it takes.  We’re not going to kill.…today.”

So…have we finally settled on something for the show to be about?

This new theme seems to be coming home to roost in the 2-part finale.  Here’s Starfleet, in the worst of times, and dire straits call for dire measures.  So barely one episode after learning that the captain of the Discovery was a depraved homicidal racist doppelgänger from an evil universe who was only out for himself, Admiral Cornell has just handed command of the Discovery over to a depraved homicidal racist doppelgänger from an evil universe who is only out for herself.  Progress, right?

Actually, it sets up a final “ends justify the means” conflict where the Discovery crew will (likely) have to choose whether to follow this monster into damnation and save the Federation (obliterating the Klingon threat forever) or cling to the lofty ideals of Starfleet and risk it all trying to find another way.  Okay, so THIS is now what the show is about: learning to overcome our baser instincts for evil and darkness and finally emerging back into the light.

Um, okay.

Star Trek has done that before, y’know.  In TNG, the episode “I, Borg” had an “ends justify the means” dilemma where Picard ultimately choses morality over the genocide of the entire Borg race.  In DS9, the two-part “Homefront”/”Paradise Lost” showed viewers what happens when Starfleet becomes so paranoid that we put our fear and need for safety above our ideals of freedom, liberty, and due process.  In Voyager, we witness “what might have been” when we meet the crew of the USS Equinox, exploiting and massacring intelligent living entities out of desperation to survive and get home.

So yeah, Star Trek has been there, done that.  But such a message of “be good for goodness sake” has never been the overarching theme of an ENTIRE Trek series!  We can visit the “there but for the grace of the writers go I” dilemmas, but we don’t need to live there.  Star Trek always showed us a Federation that was better than that, better than we are right now, and something we can optimistically strive to be.

So do we really need to present viewers with a Starfleet that is so close to the edge of a nervous breakdown?  Sure, war is hell.  But we’ve had a war on Star Trek—it lasted through the final three seasons of Deep Space Nine.  And Starfleet didn’t lose its ideals.  In fact, when Section 31 tried to do just that, they were defeated.  We saved our enemies (the Founders) with a cure for the poison that Section 31 gave them.  Starfleet overcame its demons and retained its nobility.

And yes, maybe the world today has changed.  The partisan split in America, the divisive election of Donald Trump, the U.K. “Brexit” from the European Union, ISIS, North Korea…maybe the world has gone mad.  But is the answer to our current descent into irrationality and unmorality to show us a United Federation of Planets that is just as easily seduced by the dark side (and only ten years before the “utopia” of Captain Kirk)?  Are the writers so repulsed and terrified by Donald Trump that they need to tarnish the 50-year legacy of hope and inspiration that Starfleet and the Federation had come to represent to the world?  Why CAN’T Superman just remain a Boy Scout, folks?

So the theme/lesson of Star Trek: Discovery is that all we have to do is make the decision NOT to be an a-hole (or a megalomaniacal sadistic overlord) and all will be well.  Hey, great!  So, um, when does the actual Star Trek begin…’cause this doesn’t feel like a “trek” to anywhere!

Actually, I really hope that ISN’T what the show is about because it’s really quite limiting.  Once Donald Trump is no longer president and the world settles down a bit, why watch this show at all?  Is it inspiring to future generations like previous Star Treks or is it locked into one depressing moment in our history?  Will anyone become a scientist or engineer because of Stamets or a doctor because of Culber or a nervous Kelpian because of Saru?  Does this show ponder deep philosophical or ethical questions about religion, science, medicine, tolerance, loyalty, and morality?  Or is it mostly just eye candy with sparkly costumes, fast VFX, moody scenery, and a few “unexpected” character deaths thrown in to keep the audience guessing?

But if the show isn’t just a moral lesson in “don’t be an a-hole,” then what IS it about?

Seinfeld used to be called “The show about nothing.”  Obviously, Discovery isn’t about “nothing.”  I just listed a plethora of things this show could be about.  So maybe Star Trek: Discovery is a show about…everything?  But if you think about it, if you’re a show about everything, you’re really a show about nothing because there’s nothing—no one thing—you can point to and say, “Yeah, THIS is what our series is about.”

One episode left.  I wonder what the show be be about next week?  Probably “How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World.”


Credit where credit is due!  I forgot to mention that I was inspired to tackle this subject based on an excellent video review by Michael J. Crawford, who also noticed that Discovery’s themes seemed to be all over the place.  Since I used some of Michael’s ideas for this blog, I’d like to both credit him and include this link to his Patreon page:

https://www.patreon.com/MichaelJCrawford

Check him out.

39 thoughts on “Is DISCOVERY the “STAR TREK SHOW ABOUT NOTHING”? (editorial review)”

  1. The show is about how perfect Michael is. She’ll go back in time to the binary stars and end up Captain of the ship or something. She’s a Mary Sue of a sorts. They’ve skipped the more important aspects but making her appear flawed and un-likable but in the end that what she will be.

    1. It’s funny, I really WANT to like Michael, but I just can’t seem to seal the deal. During her “break-up” with McScruffy, all I could think of was, “Dude, you could have done all of this in a text and I wouldn’t be any more invested in this scene emotionally than I am right now!” This isn’t Ash Tyler any more than doing plastic surgery on Donald Trump and brainwashing him will turn him into Leonardo DiCaprio. The entity that THINKS he’s Ash Tyler was born Voq, grew up Voq, and still contains the molecules that made up the Klingon Voq…despite having them “spliced” with the now-deceased Ash Tyler’s DNA. Tyler is dead. Ash to ashes, dust to dust. This guy is just a photocopy on paper that was already printed on.

  2. You say Starfleet didn’t loose its ideals during DS9, but Sisko did in In The Pale Moonlight, it started off seeming like an episode about how easy one can turn to the dark side, how one mistake can lead to another mistake, but at the end Sisko’s monologue “I can live with it and I would do it all over again. Erase log”. That was Sisko’s section 31 “the ends justify the means” speech.

    Prelude to Axanar did it way better imho! The “I fear loosing the ideals of the Federation more than I fear the Klingons!” speech :).

    1. The fact that we all remember “In the Pale Moonlight” two decades later, and that it’s one of the things that most defines Sisko for many people, is specifically BECAUSE Starfleet was so intent on sticking to its morals and eithics. The show set a standard and an expectation, and by violating that, this episode became the exception that proves the rule.

      1. What do you mean by “proves the rule”? I didn’t see any negative consequences to this episode. How does it prove the rule?

        1. The expression “the exception that proves the rule” applies to this episode because it stands out so much as very UN-Starfleet-like for Sisko (or any officer) to do something like this. We’re shocked and appalled, but we also kinda “get it.” But we’re not necessarily cheering ourselves for condoning deceit and murder just to bring the Romulans into the war on our side. We’d rather do this the Starfleet way, were it an actual option. But it’s not.

          But in order to actually have “a Starfleet way,” that needs to be the “rule.” So the fact that this “exception” of Sisko taking such drastic and arguably unethical actions stands out so much, it “proves the rule” that Starfleet does, indeed, have a higher moral standard. But sometimes you need a decision like this…difficult as that is to admit.

          1. Ahh, you mean it proves the existence of the rule, not that it proves the rule correct.

            I don’t find it difficult to admit, I reject it flat out. I would rather die fighting the good fight, than live by going against my morals. Wasn’t Admiral Ramirez saying the same thing? That the cost of loosing our morals was heavier than the cost of loosing to the Klingons?

    2. I came away with the very same thought about the Federation ideals speech. This is such a break from the ideals of the Federation, that it would take generations to recover, and we would lose the guidance of the Vulcans. We are far to close to our baser roots, to go back down this road.

  3. Jonathan,

    It may have been more about how Disco was trying to be “Game Of Thrones” or something else more popular instead of Trek. What the Disco showrunners never understood was that everyone else was trying to be “Trek!” So it sounds like they were just never true to themselves or realized that’s all they needed to do.

    OK, many thanks for the updates. Based on your writeups I’ve decided not to spend the $$ to watch.

    1. Hadn’t you already decided not to watch in your response to last week’s review, David? 🙂

      Anyway, to watch or not to watch is a personal choice. Frankly, I don’t think my life would be much different had Discovery never existed as a show. I can’t say that about the other Trek series. So take from that what you will.

      1. I keep coming back to your blog in a secret hope that the show will actually get better as the season drags on (hence my continued comments) but, sadly, it hasn’t happened yet.

        See you at WonderCon?

  4. We argue quite often…or I do and you answer glibly (is that a word?) but I just don’t see why you feel the need to write a long blog post every episode when except for one you’ve pretty much disliked every single one. Sure you’re entitled to your opinion but when it is always pretty much the same why is it necessary to repeat it weekly?
    You say that you like Discovery as science fiction but not as Star Trek but again besides the one episode you liked, I can’t really even find anywhere that indicates this. Also, maybe it’s my age but I have always considered Star Trek to be great science fiction instead of it being a separate genre itself. Again, that my opinion and we all have them (reminds me of an old joke!)
    Again I’m not trying to say what you should write about and I’m sure most of your readers love articles that bash Discovery, I’m just not sure why a weekly article is needed. Of course that ends this week but I figure you’ll have 3-4 more negative articles still to publish. (Are there no new fan productions coming out??)

    1. “Are there no new fan productions coming out??”

      Dude, you have no idea! Already this year, we’ve had The Federation Files’ “Extraction”, a new fan film from Aaron Vanderkley in Australia (I’ll be covering that one next week), five Minard fan films from Vance Major (his big finale debuts tomorrow), and the announcement of a new crowd-funder from the creators of “Chance Encounter.” Next Friday, there will be a trailer for a fan film that almost no one knows about yet will be talked about incessantly and repeatedly in a little over a month. And of course, now that Starbase Studios is back on track, we’ll probably see more more from Starship Valiant and other related productions. There will soon be big Axanar news, too, but it’s still baking in the oven right now. And of course, fans eagerly await First Frontier, Pacific 201, and Farragut’s finale “Homecoming”…all expected soon. In addition, I’m working on secret project that involves collusion with the Russians, and I’ve also been tracking some “minor” fan films that I’ll be discussing once things slow down enough for me to write a blog I’ll be titling “Fan Films GREAT and SMALL…”

      Trust me, Edward, there’s a LOT going on in the world of fan films right now. I’m a VERY busy blogger!!!

      As for your other points, I’ll be honest: my Discovery blogs get a lot of reads—well into the hundreds and often into the thousands of page views—so it seems to be what the people want. That said, I try not to write just the average “I loved it/I hated it” review. I don’t go through an episode summary and comment on each plot point as I go…like many other bloggers. I like to try to look at Discovery from more oblique angles, and I think I mostly succeed in that.

      I don’t think I repeat the same points over and over other than saying that I don’t consider this show to be Star Trek but I do see it as decent science fiction. And the reason I repeat that is, week after week, it’s still true. I can’t help the way I feel about this series. And as a blogger, yes, I’m allowed to share those conflicted thoughts and feelings with all of you. In turn, you can choose to either read or skip those reviews. I’m not forcing anyone here. 🙂

      And no, I don’t have three of four more negative articles still to publish. I’ll be writing a final editorial review after this Sunday’s finale, and then I’ve got one more blog I’d like to write that doesn’t criticize the show so much as criticize the the criticizers. And if you want to know what that means, well, keep visiting my blog, dude.

      1. You know I will! I do have some private non-mean questions I’d like to ask you about some fan films. Privately if possible.

  5. Nice blog entry, with some prescient questions which have also been bugging me throughout. Right now (and admittedly, before the series finale) all I can really think is ‘meh’. So far, so pointless.

    As a Trekkie, I’m not happy to say this. I’ve really wanted the show to improve and show some coherent signs of its long-famous pedigree, but Discovery seems to be stuck firmly up its own @rse.

    I shudder to add this, but even the JJA movies were more respectful of the source material than this. Discovery’s producers had a gilt-edged opportunity to atone for those dreadful movies, but unless something truly amazing happens next week, I think they’ve blown it.

  6. I agree with your review. It’s been a frustrating show to watch. It has some really good, interesting ideas that it just can’t develop for more than an episode or two, and then it’s on to something else (or somewhere else). Some weeks if feels like the writers have fully embraced the idea of the season long story arc, then the next week it’s an obligatory planet of the week episode. It’s like they condensed three season’s worth of story down to one.

    I don’t think the folks running the show are giving us enough credit.

  7. After trying hard to make sense out of Discovery myself, the only thing in my mind after watching the latest episode was this sequence from Stargate SG1…except that it’s not a parody.

    Ridiculous, check.
    Younger, edgier, check.
    Rip off, check.

  8. So times are worse now than when Star Trek was showing us a bright and positive future in the 60’s? No. They’re not. Back then it was the constant threat on imminent nuclear war, racial strife that broke out in violent riots, assassinations, the Viet Nam War, LBJ and Nixon. And yet Star Trek looked to the positive. The year it was cancelled, man landed on the moon. So don’t give me that crap, C B S , that because we have problems today that the future has to be just as dark. We survived just fine, and to prove that the future is bright, as I type this, there’s a red Tesla Roadster in orbit above the earth. Maybe one day we can enjoy the adventures of the star ship Elon Musk.

  9. Told you last week it was disingenuous,,, For them to say it was Lorca’s fault, That it doesn’t feel like Trek. Obviously now we know that’s not true…

    IDK if you watched After Twerk – But it was really upsetting to see how contrived and self congratulatory that whole thing was especially this week.. I think it was because the 2 execs they had really pulled back the curtain on that.

    At least with the walking dead after show you have Chris Hardwick a person or two from the show. and then someone Like Kevin Smith, or Nicole Brown Smith who’s an outsider. Who else kid Rock, Some Rappers. that Kid from Gotham.

    But then See none of that matters, Because on the Season Finale Mary Sue and Saru. Will commit another Mutiny. And will use the mushroom highway to travel back in time so everything will be as it was.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dM3xL3tZChM

    IDK what’s up with the Admiralty every modern Trek Has had the greedy admiral the alien influenced admiral, The doesn’t understand the stakes admiral. Why am I not surprised it’s no different here.
    Wait, Admiral Forrest… Ahh well I guess the good always die in S4…

    But Putting a Trans-Dimensional mass Murdering Cannibalistic, Anti matter – duplicate. In charge!?! what’s up with that it’s beyond Stupid and Just that much more evidence for….

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yx_fKg2Cn48

    Course It could also turn out that they’ve been smoking the mushrooms since Ep1 and it’s some sort of drug induced hallucination Because It sure as heck isn’t star trek

    1. “Course It could also turn out that they’ve been smoking the mushrooms since Ep1 and it’s some sort of drug induced hallucination”

      Now, that would make a lot of sense! 🙂

      Oh, and there was one admiral who didn’t go psycho or get killed: James T. Kirk!

  10. What’s it about?

    It’s about what happens if you have too many cooks… spoilt broth. It has meandered very badly trying out various story ideas and really didn’t get off to a good start. It’s amazing how often this happens. Quick side story. Jurrasic World was on TV over Christmas and my son is now old enough to watch. He enjoyed this so we dug out the original films. Jurrasic Park went down OK with him, great set pieces, historic CGI film etc, but he really wasn’t such a fan of the Lost World, the story just wasn’t there. Wikipaedia is great for background on fims and I had a read and was simply amazed by how much effort apparently went into ‘developing’ the story for the follow up. Totally over thought, bit of a mess as a result.

    As SF fans tend to be about the most patient class of viewers there are so we’re still watching – well some of us. But, as has been said before, it isn’t Star Trek. It doesn’t provide hope, there are no neat, self contained problems/dilemmas in each episode to wrestle with. No sense of wonder. And it still fits very uncomfortably within the Star Trek universe, despite claiming that the events we’ve seen will be covered up. I just have to get past that, then it’s watchable. Especially when I get to have the odd vent about it.

    Pity really. The production is outstanding and there is some great acting. It’s just a more retro format of stand alone stoires along the lines of other trek might have actually played better in the current market of epic story arcs.

  11. I’ve been saying forever “What is the premise of this show?

    TOS is wagon train to the stars
    TNG is the wagon train with therapists on the bridge
    DS9 is the wild west town the wagon train stops at
    VOY is the wagon that got way ass lost
    ENT is the Mayflower or Jamestown, VA

    Can’t boil Discovery down to an identifiable premise.

  12. So I guess my comment wasn’t worthy? I’m just curious why it was deemed to be so bad that it couldn’t be approved? Could it be because I disagreed with you one time too many?

    1. Nope, just got busy. Your comment needed more time to write a longer answer. This week I started my new job, plus I had the STC set ownership news, an audio interview Monday, another one yesterday, then Starbase Studios was saved and I had to rush to write that blog. Then earlier today, Wendy and I had to meet with Jayden’s teachers. Later on tonight, after I catch up with comments and after Jayden goes to sleep, I need to design a business flyer for a close friend of mine.

  13. That was one plot hole I find odd in TNG between “I, Borg” and “Descent”, Picard didn’t choose “morality over the genocide of the entire Borg race”, quite the opposite, they were originally going to upload a computer programme to Hugh’s root node to commit genocide, but then Picard described “the knowledge of self being spread throughout the Collective” would probably act as the “most pernicious programme of all”. I.e. still committing genocide, but with psychological virus rather than an electronic one.

    In Descent we saw that their plan had mostly worked and would have if it weren’t for Lore, but the plot hole occurred when the Admiral stated that Picard had an opportunity to cripple the Borg and chose not to take it, when he actually did take that opportunity.

    I hope that makes sense.

    1. It makes sense, Jack. My point was simply that Picard was wrestling with a moral dilemma. The virus could have deactivated every Borg in an instant…killing them all. Instead, he chose a path that would let them live. There was never a guarantee that individuality would make the Borg any less of a threat.

  14. Over and over again… OK… I’ll bite. I didn’t read all the entries. After a few I felt like I was reading an exam and all the answers were the same and no one would admit to cheating.

    Please raise your hands how many of you saw all 14 episodes (1 episode to go) and you didn’t notice… It’s mostly a show about gender equality…

    Strong female cast. Women giving orders that are followed by everyone including men and aliens. Women leading away teams to get the job done and even kick some ass while doing this… proving again that in the Star Trek universe gender makes no difference. Oh yeah you can add that sexual preference also doesn’t matter.

    1. I don’t think the show is ABOUT gender equality. It certainly features it, but I don’t feel it’s the central theme uniting the storylines. There’s also strong male cast members. Lorca was strong. Tyler is trying to be strong. Stamets is strong. Culber was strong, just not strong enough to keep from getting killed. Saru is super-strong. Sarek is strong. And the women are strong, too. In fact, I don’t think anyone on the show is weak.

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