SPOILERS NEVER GO OUT OF FASHION!
It’s been a year and a half since we saw Michael Burnham leading the U.S.S. Discovery and her crew into the far future. Eighteen months for us, 930 years for them. Either way, it’s a whole new world for us and for the actors/writers/producers (hey, anyone remember 2019—before the pandemic?), and a whole new galaxy for the show. And it seems like we’re going to need to get used to both 2020 and 3188!
Okay, so it’s time to start these editorial reviews again. When last we left CBS’s flagship Star Trek series, I had a LOT to complain about:
- The show was way too serious.
- The plots were too convoluted.
- The scripts were overly contrived showing lazy/sloppy writing.
- There was almost no banter between characters.
- Michael Burnham remained an undeveloped character—coming from a place of controlled logic from a demanding Vulcan upbringing, Burnham was never much “fun” as a character and often uninteresting to watch (despite SONEQUA MARTN-GREEN being a strong actor)
- The writers jumped from beat to beat without giving the characters a chance to breathe in between.
- The stories felt too dark and seemingly hopeless most of the time.
- Trek canon was, more often than not, completely out the window.
- For a franchise born from “exploring strange, new worlds,” we almost never made it down to an actual planet.
- The series didn’t feel like Star Trek…only a sci-fi mish-mash with Star Trek elements hung on it like decorations on a Christmas tree.
So when STAR TREK: DISCOVERY jumped to the far future and added a new co-showrunner, MICHELLE PARADISE, to join the always-controversial and always-rumored-to-be-fired-and-never-actually-being-fired ALEX KURTZMAN, I wondered if the series would finally be able to course-correct in its third season. I really wished it would because it’s hard to be a Star Trek fan with such mixed and often frustrated feelings about a current Star Trek TV series.
Well, folks, be careful what you wish for…
In many ways, I did get what I wanted from season three…almost as though the show-runners were reading my blogs (which they certainly weren’t, I’m sure!) and making the appropriate fixes. The first thing I noticed was this scene in the opening teaser:
So two things happened there. First, Burnham is standing on a planet! When was the last time Sonequa Martin-Green wasn’t filming Discovery on a soundstage??? And not just any planet—in the best traditions of Game of Thrones, the Discovery production team traveled all the way to ICELAND(!!!) to film this episode and (I’m told) the next one. And in that way, the episode looks amazing. I’ve always wanted to visit Iceland, and now I want to even more…just maybe not the desolate part.
Second, we finally see some raw emotion out of Michael Burnham. The woman who started off colder than any Vulcan she emulated has now finally done the primal scream…twice! The first time is when she confirms that there is still life in the galaxy, meaning the bad guys didn’t win 930 years earlier. And then it’s just time to let it all out and take in her new reality. After running almost non-stop from beat to beat for two seasons, this episode finally lets Burnham take a breath.
Then I noticed this:
Didya hear that??? BANTER, my friends, BANTER!!! Already, reviewers are saying that new character Book (played brilliantly by actor DAVID AJALA) has more chemistry with Burnham than her old flame, Ash Tyler (played by SHAZAD LATIF), managed to develop in nearly two full seasons. Book has already become a new fan-favorite character. And why? Well, it’s partially because David Ajala has good acting chops and partly because he and Sonequa do have some nice natural chemistry. But really, folks, it’s because the writers gave them something to work with…BANTER! If they’re comfortable enough to joke with each other, then you as the viewer can start to share the chemistry. So…yay.
I kinda watched mostly on autopilot for the next 7-8 minutes as Book provided us with the mandatory “welcome-to-the-dystopian-future” exposition as we went into Mos Eisley Spaceport…er, I mean, the Mercantile.
So let’s see…about 120 years ago, all the dilithium in the Federation/Galaxy/Universe suddenly exploded in a way it never had for centuries (or probably millennia) before. So that happened. Probably not a natural phenomenon, but an intriguing mystery to solve. Of course, back in the “old days,” we’d just Star Trek IV the problem (of Doctor Who/Quantum Leap it) by traveling back in time to fix whatever once went wrong and make the universe right again. So naturally, the writers had to insert the necessary plot constraint: all time travel technology was outlawed after the temporal wars.
(Suuuuuure it was. We find out later that, without the Federation and the ability for most races to travel at warp, the galaxy has pretty much descended into anarchy. So if there isn’t anyone left to enforce even the Endangered Species Act, I’m guessing they’re not really able to crack down on rogue time travel research. And since Star Trek has more ways to time travel than Ben & Jerry have flavors of ice cream, it’s doubtful that all NO time travel is happening anywhere in the Milky Way. But hey, if you want to ride the Discovery bus for season three, the fare is believing that there’s now no time travel. Okay, I’ll believe it for now. Moving on…)
Anyway, I was jolted out of my passive viewing by the segment that everyone is talking about, and that’s the “this is Michael Burnham’s brain on drugs” scene:
Quite the acting tour de force by Ms. Martin-Green! And again, it seems the writers are trying to bring more “life” and humor to the character of Michael Burnham and, at the same time, help explain her a little better to the fans…both of which are a noticeable course correction from the first two seasons.
And that’s when it hit me—this line:
Obviously, the writers intended that sentence be a humorous way of explaining Michael Burnham’s behavior and decisions in the series so far, and perhaps they are right. But might it not ALSO describe what the writers themselves are doing??? Hmmm, let’s think about that…
After stepping on exploding canon mines for the past two years, they take the Discovery 930 years into the future to give themselves a completely new canvas to paint on. Overcompensating perhaps?
And then, as they decide to show an alien planet, the production crew doesn’t simply wander out of the Toronto studio into the surrounding wilderness of Ontario, they fly everyone six hours all the way to frickin’ Iceland!!! And once there, the first thing we see isn’t simply Burnham having a chance to process what just happened but to have not just one, but TWO extended primal screams.
And of course, trying to bring a little more humor to the character of Michael Burnham—and to the show in general—not only do they give us much-needed banter, but then they have this extended “babbling Burnham!” truth-fest showing off the comedic acting chops of Sonequa in a very challenging series of hyper-fast monologues. Some might call all of this…overcompensating.
Now, is any of this a bad thing? Not necessarily! In high school, such efforts might earn the student extra credit for going above and beyond. And I certainly didn’t resent any of this “overcompensation” by the writers or feel angry or frustrated by it. But it was noticeable.
In fact, just after having my revelation during Burnham’s drug trip, I found that I couldn’t NOT see the various efforts that the episode made to overcompensate in course correcting. For example…
To make sure they established that this was still Star Trek, the producers were certain to show familiar species. So we got Andorians and Orions, and both looked reasonably close to canon (although the Andorian make-up did seem to have been overdone a wee bit…making it harder—but possibly more rewarding?—for all those blue-skinned cosplayers out there)…
Now, just seeing those two races alone would have been awesome. And maybe even a Tellarite…which we did, in fact, see later on. But we ALSO got a Lurian (Morn!) plus what is being billed as a Betelgeusian, which was an obscure background alien created for Star Trek: The Motion Picture back in 1979…
Again, not that there’s anything wrong with that! But again, it did seemed a bit like overcompensating to me—as did their choice to turn Book quickly from an untrustworthy, lying scoundrel into a sympathetic, good-hearted hero. (Anyone else get some emotional whiplash on that fast shift?) And not only that, Book isn’t just a hero; he’s a SUPER-hero…complete with the power to talk to animals and make plants grow with his mind. Granted, it’s not the proportional strength and agility of a spider with the ability to cling to walls and shoot webs, but as superpowers go, it beats out a bunch of them (like the ability to talk to fish or control rags).
Anywhoo, none of these overcompensations was a deal-breaker for me. I won’t be canceling my All Access subscription, and I’ll likely be sticking around for a while longer depending on what happens once I see how they’re handling the rest of the crew.
As for my overall review of the episode itself, as my friend Dave Haegney, Jr. said, it was certainly the strongest season opener for Discovery yet. I responded: “That’s the equivalent of saying, ‘It’s the largest state in New England.'” In other words: not necessarily setting the bar particularly high.
And honestly, I found much of the episode somewhat boring because, after two full seasons of just not caring about Michael Burnham, I still didn’t really care about her…at least not yet. Figuring out the future took a lot of ‘splaining, and action sequences for the sake of action sequences are fine but not really satisfying if you don’t really care about those involved.
However, and this is a BIG however, I really enjoyed the final scene inside the remnants of the Federation relay station. Sure, it was a bit hokey, but it did a nice job of giving the show a new purpose. Granted, that new purpose is nothing we haven’t seen before. The idea of fixing a dystopian future by restoring something that used to be a great force for peace and cooperation is fairly common in sci-fi—from Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda to Filmation’s Ark II, from Mad Max and Logan’s Run to Star Wars and even Battlestar Galactica. So now it’s Star Trek‘s turn.
But at least it’s something…and it’s hopeful. Star Trek has always been about hope (except recently). So yeah, maybe tearing the Federation literally into pieces and then trying to put those pieces back together might be overcompensating in making the Discovery storyline more about hope, but for now at least, I’m paying my fare and getting on the bus…
…and hoping that I don’t feel the need to get off before the final stop.