Did I just watch an episode of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY that was 90% just people STANDING AROUND AND TALKING???? (editorial review)

I’ve gotta hand it to the folks at STAR TREK: DISCOVERY…this episode took chutzpah!

We’re going into the mid-season hiatus—six weeks without new episodes of Star Trek: Discovery—and one might have expected a “big” episode with lots of action sequences and suspense and drama building to a huge cliffhanger ending that would leave the viewers shouting for “more!” And while we did get that aforementioned cliffhanger, the rest of episode—I’d estimate 90% or more—was just people literally standing around and talking. Just…talking. Okay, a few were sitting. But just talking, talking, and talking some more.

Heck, they didn’t even leave the room! Nearly the whole episode took place entirely on just two sets…and neither was even the bridge! If last week’s “Stormy Weather” was a bottle episode, then this week’s “…But To Connect” was a thimble episode.

And yet, as God is my witness…

It somehow worked!

It would have been easy to simply dismiss this episode as a misfire. After all, “all talk, no action” is a valid criticism for most shows. And don’t even get me started on the amount of heavy exposition in this episode! At times, the dialogue bordered on science lecture—or maybe law lecture…or both—and at other times felt a little like watching CSPAN. (For those readers outside of the U.S., we have TV channels that air nothing other than proceedings in our Senate and House of Representatives. Most times, watching CSPAN and CSPAN2 is orders of magnitude LESS interesting than watching paint dry.)

So why did this quiet, no-action, potentially even “boring” episode work for me? What left me wanting to write a positive review rather than tearing it apart? Let’s dive in…

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Even ST: DISCOVERY “haters” would LOVE the most recent episode “STORMY WEATHER”! (editorial review)

SPOILIN’ FOR A SPOILER? WE GOT ‘EM!

I literally have zero complaints about this episode! Well, that’s not entirely true…I found Book’s dad to be a very annoying hallucination. On the other hand, so did Book, and I think he was supposed to be grating. So can I really complain about something I’m meant to complain about? Interesting question!

But what’s not up for questioning is how much I absolutely LOVED this episode. And that’s saying something because “Stormy Weather,” STAR TREK: DISCOVERY‘s sixth episode of season 4, was forced to do more with less. Budget-wise, this episode was about as inexpensive as they come. First of all, it was a “bottle” episode…which means it took place entirely on the ship and/or on existing sets. No new sets had to be built, no one had to create virtual backgrounds for the AR Wall, few extras were used (the bridge almost felt kinda empty, and the ship’s bar definitely was), outside of the ship was just blackness (saving on VFX shots), and even make-up costs were minimized by having the alien Linus off-screen all episode in his quarters “under a heat lamp.”

Low budget episodes like this often happen mid-season (we’re just about halfway through season four now), allowing money to be reserved for the BIG final episodes with all of the action and huge VFX sequences…which is a fact of life for nearly every show on TV these days. With low budgets and limited sets, “bottle” episodes can be hit and miss. But some have been quite excellent—TNG‘s “Ship in a Bottle” (the ultimate “bottle” episode where holodeck Moriarty returns) and “Disaster” are two that come to mind.

And speaking of TNG, perhaps the main reason this particular episode came out so well is because it was directed by a person who is no stranger to TNG-style “bottle” episodes: JONATHAN “Commander William T. Riker” FRAKES.

Frakes knows what makes Star Trek “feel” like Star Trek, and he brought that knowledge to this episode. When done properly, a ship-gets-trapped-and-crew-needs-to-find-a-way-out story is really just a tool for spotlighting the abilities of characters whom we care about. On TNG, we cared about all of them—Picard, Riker, Data, Beverly, Deanna, Worf, Geordi, even Wesley when he wasn’t saving the ship in some annoying way. Do we care as much about the crew of the U.S.S. Discovery as we did about the crew of the Enterprise-D? Well, if anyone can make us care, it’s Jonathan Frakes.

Believe it or not, this was Frakes’ SEVENTH(!) time directing Discovery. He’s also directed 17 additional episodes of other Star Trek series along with two of the feature films. So…y’know…wow! The guy’s about as “veteran” as it gets behind a Star Trek camera.

Continue reading “Even ST: DISCOVERY “haters” would LOVE the most recent episode “STORMY WEATHER”! (editorial review)”

When you find yourself YELLING at the screen multiple times, it might NOT be the best episode of ST: DISCOVERY… (editorial review)

AND JONATHAN SAID: “LET THERE BE SPOILERS…”

I remember one of my biggest pet peeve scenes from Star Trek TOS happened during the episode “Tomorrow Is Yesterday.” The Enterprise had just done a slingshot around Earth’s sun and is traveling back to the future. They’ve beamed Captain Christopher and the Air Force MP back into themselves (whatever the heck that was), restoring the past, and just as they cross the orbit of Pluto, Spock says, “Braking should begin…now.”

Growing up on nearly constant nightly reruns of Star Trek, I had always thought of “now” as meaning “this very moment.” Spock’s a pretty precise guy! He wouldn’t say “now”—especially with that slight pause before saying it—unless the Vulcan meant, “You should start braking the exact moment you hear me saying this.”

Instead, Captain Kirk slowly turns in his captain’s chair, nonchalantly pushes one of the buttons on his armrest, and says, “Bridge to engineering…begin full braking power.” Now, why Sulu couldn’t do it from the helm as soon as Spock said “now” or Kirk said “do it” or something, I never quite understood. Years later, I realized that the writers wanted one more opportunity for Scotty to remind Kirk of the danger. And indeed, we cut to Scotty in Engineering saying, “Pulling away from the sun weakened ’em, sir. They may blow apart if I reverse…”

Um, what part of “now” are they having a problem with? Scotty knows the situation: they’re in a time warp flying at ludicrous speed through decades, even centuries. You either start braking “now” or else you’re gonna overshoot the 23rd century and wind up in the 32nd…and that century already has another time-displaced starship from your era!

But rather than saying, “WTF, Scotty, cut the damn engines NOW!!!” Kirk responds casually, “No choice, Mr. Scott…” at which point Scotty takes a leisurely stroll over to the back of engineering and nods to two crewmen who start—nearly 18 full seconds AFTER Spock said “now”—to finally begin stopping the ship.

It was one of the few times in Star Trek that I would yell at my TV screen.

I still really like that TOS episode, and of course, I understand that the writer, the director, and the film editor simply wanted to wring as much tension and suspense out of the scene as possible. But even years and decades later, it still bothers me enough that I’ve just spent 400 frickin’ words of a STAR TREK: DISCOVERY review kvetching about it!

But that’s my lead-in to discussing the fifth episode of Discovery‘s fourth season, “The Examples.” Like “Tomorrow Is Yesterday,” it’s a decent enough episode…not my favorite, not awful. But also like “Tomorrow Is Yesterday,” it left me yelling at the screen—although in this case, it was multiple times!

Let’s discuss…

Continue reading “When you find yourself YELLING at the screen multiple times, it might NOT be the best episode of ST: DISCOVERY… (editorial review)”

DISCOVERY’s “All Is Possible” is three STAR TREK episodes in one…yes, I said STAR TREK! (editorial review)

My friends, we’ve got SPOILERS…right here in River City…with a capital “S” that’s, um, also the first letter of STAR TREK!

THIS!!! This is what I (and many fans) have been waiting for!

There’s no question that season 4 of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY has been their strongest start so far…although that’s not setting the bar particularly high. Season one was a train wreck. Season two was saved by ANSON MOUNT as Pike (so much so that his new Star Trek series is premiering in just a few more months). Season three started off a bit better, but dystopian futures have been done to death. That’s not what Star Trek should be about. The future is bright in Star Trek—even if there’s threats to overcome like the Borg or Dominion—it’s just knowing that the Federation is there as a beacon of hope to the galaxy that grounds Star Trek in a foundation that promises that…well…”All Is Possible.”

That’s the title of this fourth episode of season four. And it stands as proof—proof, I say!—that Discovery CAN do Star Trek…real Star Trek—not something that, if you squint just the right way, you can convince yourself is Star Trek.

So what happened?

The show hasn’t suddenly changed overnight. The evolution has been slow and steady over the four episodes of this season so far. And it’s possible that this fourth episode was a fluke and the fifth or sixth or seventh episodes (or all of them) will have the same old—or new—problems. Or this could be the start of a run of really strong episodes that make fans think, “Hey, maybe they really are finally figuring out how to do this show.”

But again, what was it about this particular episode that they get so right that they haven’t gotten right before (at least not all in one episode)? Let’s take a closer look…

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Did STAR TREK: DISCOVERY just tell us that Admiral Vance is (metaphorically) ALEX KURTZMAN??? (editorial review)

SPOILERS BE SPOILIN’, BRUH!

After I watched the third episode of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY‘s fourth season, “Choose to Live,” I was torn about what to focus on in this blog. There were so many possibilities going through my mind! So before I get to paying off the headline that got you here (feel free to skip to the end to read about the how I think there is a “not so secret” message for the Kurtzman haters embedded at the end of the episode), let me tell you a few other thoughts that I had about this one…

BUT FIRST!!!

Before I begin, let me say in ALL CAPS and bold italics: THIS WAS A VERY ENJOYABLE EPISODE!!!! Each of the three episodes this season have been superior to most of what Discovery has done before. People keep reading my blogs and complaining that I hate Discovery and just want to find reasons to trash it. No, no, no! I want to DISCUSS it—both the good and the bad. If the show was perfect each week, I’d have nothing interesting to say other than, “Hey, wasn’t that a great episode???” If all I ever did was bash the show, then why am I still watching it each week? Instead, I try to call balls and strikes as I see them as a starting point for thinking about the series and analyzing what’s working and not working. If that’s not your thing, then don’t bother with my blog. No need for insults on Facebook.

Okay, NOW for my thoughts on this episode…

JUGGLING TOO MANY SUB-PLOTS?

Last week I discussed how many things were going on simultaneously in the second episode: 1) Book’s emotional devastation over the destruction of his planet and loss of his family, 2) Michael’s struggles balancing command with personal feelings, 3) Saru’s return to Discovery, 4) Tilly’s problems adjusting to her new normal, 5) Adira’s uncertainty about Gray getting a new Soong-synth body, 6) Stamets’ feeling of inadequacy and struggles relating to Book…plus there was the anomaly to learn about and the fact that flames and rocks are spontaneously erupting onto the bridge during red alert!

Well, if I (or you) were hoping for a few less spinning plates this episode, that didn’t happen. This episode juggled the following plot lines: 1) Michael’s relationship with her mother, 2) Tilly is still having her existential crisis, 3) Book is still dealing with his pain, 4) Stamets is trying to figure out the anomaly but can’t find those darn tachyons, 5) Gray’s consciousness is now in the new synth body, but he’s not waking up…all of this while dealing with a rogue Romulan ninja nun with an ends-justify-the-means mentality (and a badass sword).

Well, I suppose the good news is that that’s one less ball in the air than last week AND nothing was spitting out flames at the bridge crew…!

Continue reading “Did STAR TREK: DISCOVERY just tell us that Admiral Vance is (metaphorically) ALEX KURTZMAN??? (editorial review)”

DISCOVERY’s latest episode “Anomaly” gave me what I’ve been asking for…so why was I so UP IN THE AIR about it? (editorial review)

SPOILERS COMING OUT THE WAZOO!!!

First of all, VCBS moved quickly to (try to) clean up their “mess” from last week, now debuting STAR TREK: DISCOVERY season 4 internationally on Paramount+ and Pluto TV in at least some countries this week, releasing episodes 1 and 2 together. It’s far from a perfect fix, but at least I don’t have to worry about spoilers as much as I did last week when only fans in the U.S., Canada, and those with a questionably moral compass could view it.

So let’s jump into the second episode of the season, “Anomaly,” or as I like to call it: “Quiet Conversations Punctuated By Action Scenes and Technobabble in the Middle.”

Okay, stop, stop, stop! I did NOT hate the episode. And I didn’t love it either. But here’s the thing, folks: I should have loved it.

The reason that I should have loved “Anomaly” is that it corrected many, MANY things that I’ve been complaining about for three seasons now. And for those of you who don’t make it a point of memorizing Jonathan’s list of grievances, here’s a brief Festivus refresher of what has most grated on me and what this episode did to fix those issues…

Characters weren’t given time to react and process traumatic events

I remember my go-to example of this was when the crew of Discovery got back from the Mirror Universe in season one, having been betrayed by their former commanding officer (Lorca). He turned out to be an evil psychopath who tried to kill them all. And the only “traumatized” emotional reaction we got from any of the characters was when Admiral Cornwell phasers an innocent bowl of fortune cookies out of existence. Everyone else, it seems, was fine.

The problem with the series in the first two seasons was a rush to hit the major story “beats” (significant events that change the characters’ direction in some major way), and once a beat happened, there was a rush to the next beat, and so on and so on. The writers didn’t give the characters a chance to breathe.

This episode, on the other hand, had Book dealing with the destruction of his home world, Michael dealing with her feelings for Book affecting her command instincts, Tilly dealing with what happened on the space station last episode and all the events from season three, Adira dealing with both Tilly as well as uncertainties about Gray’s upcoming transition (interesting choice of wording) from disembodied mind-ghost to full-bodied Soong-type synth, and Stamets’ ongoing feelings of inadequacy and helplessness to save his family that led to him getting shot out of an airlock in season three.

So we went from almost no characters having lingering traumas to almost no characters NOT having lingering traumas. That’s what I wanted, right? Well, let me get back to you on that after I continue with the ol’ airing of the grievances…

Continue reading “DISCOVERY’s latest episode “Anomaly” gave me what I’ve been asking for…so why was I so UP IN THE AIR about it? (editorial review)”

Where in the world is STAR TREK: DISCOVERY??? (editorial and review)

ALMOST ZERO SPOILERS!

The fourth season of the wild ‘n’ wacky STAR TREK: DISCOVERY just premiered…at least in the U.S. and Canada. The rest of the planet will need to wait until an undefined date in “early 2022” (according to CBS) to view the new season because, um, reasons.

Up until this past week, viewers around the world (outside of the U.S. and Canada) got to watch Discovery on Netflix. This was because the infrastructure —both technical and red tape—to set up CBS All Access, which is now Paramount+, was not yet properly in place in other countries. In other words, without a service like Netflix—or in the case of PICARD and LOWER DECKS, Amazon Prime—there would be no way for international Star Trek fans to watch the various new series. So CBS offered non-U.S. and Canada streaming licenses to those two services.

But now, with Paramount+ now available in about 20 foreign countries (and another 25 set to add the service within the next year), the equation had changed entirely. CBS began unwinding its streaming agreements with Netflix earlier this year when TOS, Voyager, and Enterprise were all permanently removed from Netflix back in September. Obviously, CBS (now ViacomCBS) wants as many subscribers to Paramount+ as possible, and having their content simultaneously available on Netflix doesn’t exactly encourage folks in places like Europe, Asia, and Australia to sign up for an extra paid streaming service.

Indeed, reports are saying that VCBS had been working an agreement to buy out all of Netflix’s financial interest in Star Trek: Discovery, a show they had co-produced with CBS back in 2017. Unfortunately for fans in countries that do NOT contain the Rocky Mountains or share a coastline with the Great Lakes, that deal was finally inked this past week, and the announcement that Discovery would NOT be debuting internationally on Netflix on Thursday, November 18 came on November 16…just two days before hundreds of thousands of fans outside of North America were looking forward to the big premiere.

CBS tried to put some lipstick on this pig…

…but in the end, few besides the suits at VCBS were particularly happy about the last minute “news.” This included the Discovery cast and production crew, many of whom tweeted their own frustration with the timing of the announcement and the fact that they weren’t informed.

I’m not going to lambast VCBS for their decision(s) in this matter. I totally understand wanting to consolidate Trekkies to Paramount+ as it debuts worldwide, rather than having them giving their fan bucks to Netflix instead. And I assume that, in a perfect world, infrastructure would probably have already been in place to premiere Discovery internationally on the same date that season four premiered in North America. For whatever reason, that didn’t happen. And I suspect that negotiations with Netflix were precarious enough that sharing the news early with the cast and production crew (and likely having it leak) would have done way more harm than good.

That said, there is an obvious risk for VCBS in this…

Continue reading “Where in the world is STAR TREK: DISCOVERY??? (editorial and review)”

If you didn’t love STAR TREK: PRODIGY, then you’re probably NOT eleven years old… (editorial review)

One of my favorite stories of “generational” Star Trek comes from novelist/comic book writer PETER DAVID. It was 1989, and he was doing the Star Trek comic for DC. Peter needed to do a little research, so he plunked Wrath of Khan into the VCR and started watching it. A few minutes later, his oldest daughter, Shana, walked into the family room and asked her daddy what he was watching. “I’m watching Star Trek, honey,” Peter replied.

Shana loved to watch Star Trek with her father, so she sat down next to him. After a few minutes, with the most bewildered expression on her face, Shana turned to Peter and asked, totally confused: “Daddy, where’s Worf???”

Back in 1989, with Star Trek: The Next Generation only in its second or third season, most fans had grown up raised on Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and an Enterprise without families or a bartender on board (well, I suppose the ship’s doctor sometimes doubled as a bartender). We liked Next Gen (mostly—it was still early on), but it wasn’t really “our” Star Trek. But for Shana David and other kids who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, TNG became “their” Star Trek.

I decided to wait until the second week before writing a blog about the the new STAR TREK: PRODIGY because I wanted to see what the show was going to be like once Holo-Janeway was given some decent screen time. But I’m going to avoid diving too deeply into a review because most of my readers have probably already decided that you…

  1. Love it,
  2. Hate it,
  3. Want to wait to get a better idea of where they’re going with it, or
  4. Will never watch anything the CBS produces with the name “Star Trek” in the title because they are determined to ruin the franchise and screw over the fans.

I’m firmly in group #3, by the way. My initial reaction after the first two-part episode, “Lost and Found”—and I swear this is exactly what I thought when it ended—was: “Well, I liked it more than DISCOVERY.” And I mean that from a writing, pacing, and character development perspective—even though the first episode was only (very) peripherally Star Trek: a few recognizable aliens, a Federation starship, and of course, a few seconds of Holo-Janeway.

But in the end, it wasn’t really MY opinion that mattered this time; it was that of my 11-year-old son, Jayden. Usually, when I ask Jayden how school was or what he thought of dinner, he’ll say, “Good.” But when I asked him to give me his reaction to the first two-part episode of Prodigy, he was much more enthusiastic than usual. He said, “VERY good” with a long and drawn out “VERY.” That’s high praise!

Continue reading “If you didn’t love STAR TREK: PRODIGY, then you’re probably NOT eleven years old… (editorial review)”

Did STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS just make fun of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY??? (editorial)

JONATHAN, HIS BLOG FILLED WITH SPOILERS!

I almost couldn’t believe it, but there it was. STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS‘ second episode of season 2, “”Kayshon, His Eyes Open,” includes a total zinger at the end aimed directly at its older sister-series, Star Trek: Discovery. But before I show you the clip (you’re just gonna scroll to the bottom of this blog to watch it anyway, but y’all come back up now, y’hear?), let me share a few thoughts with you…

It’s becoming increasingly more challenging to write these blogs about the various CBS All Access…er, I mean ViacomCBS Paramount+ Star Trek series. The reason is that I’m not really a reviewer…and most people don’t actually care what I or other reviewers think about the episodes, anyway. It’s not that we don’t have interesting insights to share, but people either agree with us and just want validation that someone else believes the same way they do, or else they don’t agree and pretty much just want to argue and tell us how wrong we are. Star Trek reviewers these days might as well be shouting “Kal-if-fee!” at a Vulcan marriage ceremony or “All Klingons are wussies!” at an Ascension Ritual.

That’s certainly the case with Discovery and, to a SLIGHTLY lesser extent, to Star Trek: Picard. Lower Decks, however, has been a bit of a strange puppy. Unlike the two other Trek series I just mentioned, not nearly as many fans seem to have that same level of soul-devouring moral indignation about Lower Decks. In other words, there’s not quite as many Lower Decks “haters” out there. And indeed, there’s rather a few fans who think Lower Decks is the only “real” Star Trek series being produced anymore—embracing Star Trek‘s rich heritage and feeling very much like a sequel to Next Gen, DS9, and Voyager rather than a complete makeover reboot that shakes canon like an Etch-a-Sketch. The stories on Lower Decks FEEL like Star Trek…except for one thing:

Humor.

It’s not that Star Trek can never be funny. Ever since Captain Kirk got buried under an avalanche of dead tribbles and Spocko uttered the words, “I’d advise ya’s ta keep dialin’, Oxmyx,” Trek has demonstrated itself to be quite capable of humor. The most quotable lines from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (“Well, a double-dumbass on you!” “I love Italian, and so do you…” “Hello, computer…” “No, I’m from Iowa; I only work in outer space…” “Ve are looking for nuclear wessels…”) were the funniest ones. Data studied comedy from Joe Piscopo, for goodness sakes, and an entire episode of DS9 could well have been titled “The Bad News Niners.” And don’t even get me started on Dr. Chaotica!

But Lower Decks is different. It crosses a line.

Or does it…?

Continue reading “Did STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS just make fun of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY??? (editorial)”

DISCOVERY’s third season finale was like watching STAR TREK 2009 with speed bumps! (editorial review)

SPOILERS ARE JUST AN UNAVOIDABLE FACT OF LIFE

Last week, I truly LOVED the second-to-last episode of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY‘s third season, “There Is a Tide.” With so much happening going into the final episode, my hopes were high. Tilly and the bridge crew, along with the DOT-bot “army” still had to retake the ship from Oysraa. Michael had just been captured by Zareh while Book was already a hostage on the bridge. Osyraa was cornered, outnumbered by Starfleet vessels that could blow Discovery out of the sky (well, space) but holding the most valuable bargaining chip: the spore drive. But she couldn’t jump away because Stamets (against his will) was ejected from the ship by Michael…setting up lord-knows-how-many future fireworks between the two! Meanwhile, Saru, Culber, and Adira were stuck on the dilithium planet with the Kelpien equivalent of Black Bolt, trying to save the galaxy before dying of radiation poisoning. The clock was ticking!!!

With a set-up like that, what could possibly go wrong with the finale?

It’s hard to know where to start…or stop…or start…or stop again. I say it that way because that’s kinda how I felt as I watched the full 60-minute episode (the longest of the season). Have you ever ridden with a teen just learning to drive a car and they speed up and slow down and speed up and slow down over and over so much that it’s all you can do to hold down your last meal? The finale was kinda like that.

There was ample action—AMPLE!!!—lots of running and shooting and explosions and fighting and kicking people out of elevators and crew members suffocating and people running out of time and gosh darn it…things just moved at maximum warp.

And then there was Su’Kal. Gotta keep that kid calm lest he scream and destroy the galaxy again! So everything in the holo-chamber on the dilithium planet was super serene and slow, with lots of empathy and understanding from Saru and the others. Nothing necessarily wrong with that.

Continue reading “DISCOVERY’s third season finale was like watching STAR TREK 2009 with speed bumps! (editorial review)”