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)”

DISCOVERY’s penultimate episode “There Is a Tide” is the series’ BEST YET! (editorial review)

NEW YEAR, NEW SPOILERS

I know that some of you out there read my editorial reviews either before or instead of watching STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. This time, please take my word for it: don’t. Watch the episode first. And if you don’t usually watch Discovery or gave up on it (and if you have access), just watch this one episode. You don’t need to have watched the rest of the series or even the third season. This episode provides enough exposition along the way that you won’t feel lost.

It’s just a damn fine, exciting, fast-paced, engaging, well-crafted, and most of all highly entertaining piece of television that is loaded with surprises and the unexpected. So just watch it…trust me.

In fact, “unexpected” serves a very appropriate way to begin this blog because, even though I usually try hard to go into each new episode of Discovery open to anything and with no preconceived expectations, this time I was sooooo sure I knew what was coming! This would be Discovery‘s version of the TNG episode “Starship Mine.” Tilly, reeling from her dismal failure during her first command, would need all the help and hugs her bridge crew friends could give her as she proved herself by leading a successful plan to retake the ship. I was even thinking of titling this blog “How Tilly Got Her Groove Back”—that is, until I actually saw the episode.

From the first moment, the episode had me hooked with things I didn’t see coming. Using Discovery as a Trojan Horse to get inside Starfleet’s defense shield by “coming in hot,” being fired on by Osyraa’s dreadnought, communications jammed…brilliantly simple and simply brilliant! But then, as Book and Michael crashed into the hangar bay in the nick of time, I thought: “Wait, what about Discovery‘s shields? They were being fired on, why wouldn’t the shields be up?” So then I thought I’d write another nitpicking blog…those are always popular on Facebook! (Actually, I’m being sarcastic. My Guardian of Forever “Time Error” blog was royally bashed on Facebook.)

But then we came back after the opening credits to see this little nugget…

Award a point to the writers for addressing my gripe so quickly!

Okay, with my nitpicking nullified, I decided to just sit back, enjoy the episode, and write the blog later—and so I did. This was the seventh episode of the series and third this season directed by JONATHAN FRAKES, and I must say, the man knows what he’s doing. The episode was written by co-executive producer KENNETH LIN. Interestingly, Lin wrote and Frakes directed the 8th episode of the season, “Sanctuary,” where the crew goes back to Book’s home planet. Most fans found that episode somewhat mediocre (including me), but this episode was much the opposite, demonstrating that you can’t just an episode simply by the writer and director. Sometimes magic just happens.

Let’s look at how…

Continue reading “DISCOVERY’s penultimate episode “There Is a Tide” is the series’ BEST YET! (editorial review)”

DISCOVERY finally airs an episode with a “classic” STAR TREK feel…but was it good? (editorial review)

LET’S END THE YEAR WITH…SPOILERS!

I’ve often (often!) wondered would STAR TREK: DISCOVERY would be like if it were more like the classic Star Trek I grew up with on TOS and even TNG. I’m not talking a total homage like The Orville (where the heck IS that show anyway???) but more simply carrying through on certain story elements, structure, character interplay and development, and just the overall “feel” like they used to have in the “good ol’ days.”

For what seemed like one of the only times in the three seasons of Discovery, this episode FELT like Star Trek to me. But what does that even mean “felt” like Star Trek? It seems like such a subjective and ambiguous thing, possibly different in the mind of each Trek fan watching.

So let me tell you why I personally thought that the 11th episode of season three, “Su’kal,” felt more like real Star Trek than Discovery usually does. And along the way, I’ll try to decide if this was a good or bad episode…or both! (Knowing me, it’ll probably have aspects of both—as I seem to have difficulty committing to either loving or hating the episodes this season.)

Okay, let’s do this thing…

MOVING TO MORE MODERATE AMOUNTS OF MICHAEL

Fans couldn’t help but notice that, for the past nearly-three seasons, Discovery has felt like “The Michael Burnham Show, starring Michael Burnham as Michael Burnham.” Michael seems to be in almost every scene, usually is the center of attention, and she saves the day regularly.

One of the reasons that Star Trek‘s previous iterations worked so well is because they had a variety different characters spotlighted in different episodes. Not every TOS story was about Kirk, not every TNG about Picard nor every DS9 about Sisko nor Voyager about Janeway. There were Spock and McCoy-focused episodes, Data and Worf and Crusher episodes, Kirk and Odo and Bashir episodes, Tuvok and Paris and B’Elanna episodes, T’Pol and Malcolm and Phlox episodes…you get the idea. And just because one character was featured prominently in a story didn’t mean we wouldn’t see the rest of the crew. A Riker episode would also show the rest of the crew. Mix and match! These shows had great casts, and the captain didn’t need to be in every scene.

This episode of Discovery was the first time in a while that Michael wasn’t dead center of the action almost all the time. Excitement was also happening on the ship, and because the landing party beams down and splits up, Michael is only part of the story on the planet. Michael definitely gets some major stuff to do, but so do Saru and Culber…giving each of their characters some breathing space. On the ship, we see some great moments for Stamets, Tilly, and Adira (and one single line from Reno…really?).

Continue reading “DISCOVERY finally airs an episode with a “classic” STAR TREK feel…but was it good? (editorial review)”

DISCOVERY’s “Terra Firma, Part II” makes a HUGE time-error! (editorial review)

SINCE BEFORE YOUR SUN BURNED HOT IN SPACE, AND BEFORE YOUR RACE WAS BORN, I HAVE AWAITED… A SPOILER!

First, I’m sorry if you really loved STAR TREK: DISCOVERY‘s tenth episode of season three, the conclusion of the 2-part “Terra Firma.” I don’t mean to ruin it for you. But I need to tell this to people…to SHOUT it!!! This is a major, major screw-up I’m talking about, and I’m not kidding. So before I get to this week’s review, let’s talk about…

HOW THE GUARDIAN OF FOREVER WORKS

Okay, I can accept that the Guardian of Forever is now a cigar-chopping, bowler hat-wearing punster named Carl. Hey, people change. My old friend Nick is now Calista. Why can’t a giant rock donut time portal transform into a wooden door and spawn a comedic spokesman? I’m fine with all that.

But what I am NOT all right with is changing the essential rules of the Guardian of Forever!

“The City on the Edge of Forever” is arguably the best of the seventy-nine TOS episodes. At worst, it’s in the top three. And one of the reasons the story works so well is because Kirk and Spock are on a mission to literally save reality as we (they) know it. And in order to restore that reality, Kirk must sacrifice a woman he has fallen deeply in love with—a generous, compassionate, forward-seeing woman who could otherwise be destined for greatness if she did not need to perish in order for time to correct itself into a proper, utopian future that she herself dreamed of (whew…looooong sentence!).

Edith Keeler had to die, and we all felt Kirk’s aguish upon realizing that agonizing, unavoidable truth.

So let’s review how the Guardian works:

  1. If you go back in time and change something significant, reality shifts when you get back.
  2. If you then go back in time and fix what you broke, everything in the present returns to normal.

My friends, this did NOT happen in “Terra Firma, Part II”…

Continue reading “DISCOVERY’s “Terra Firma, Part II” makes a HUGE time-error! (editorial review)”

DISCOVERY warning: objects in MIRROR UNIVERSE may be less interesting than they appear! (editorial review)

WHEN SPOILERS WALKED THE EARTH!

We interrupt this season’s main plotline about the Burn for a 2-part return to the Mirror Universe. Please enjoy.

Now, I understand that many fans LOVE the Mirror Universe (or MU, as anyone who doesn’t read Marvel Comics is allowed to abbreviate it). And frankly, I’m kinda one of them. “Mirror, Mirror” remains one of my favorite TOS episodes. And I cheered the first time the folks at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine surprised us with the trip across the threshold. Everything was different now with the MU, as apparently Spock DID mange to topple the Empire, and 24th century Terra had gone from interstellar bully to bitter victim. But by the time DS9 aired their fifth and final crossover episode, I was feeling a little bored of the same old routine.

Had DS9 plucked the Mirror Universe bare?

The answer came with a resounding “Heck, no!” when Star Trek: Enterprise aired a two-parter titled “In a Mirror, Darkly,” and we saw the final fate of the U.S.S. Defiant from the TOS episode “The Tholian Web.” Fans loved this two-parter more than almost any other episode of that four-season series.

So is it any wonder that the next Star Trek television series, DISCOVERY, made a return to the Mirror Universe in its very first season? And it included what was supposed to be the biggest surprise plot twist of the entire series—that Captain Lorca was from the MU himself!—although a lot of fans (including me!) saw it coming many episodes earlier.

But Discovery‘s trip to the Mirror Universe wasn’t as interesting as previous crossovers…for a number of reasons. First, many fans agree that it lasted too long: four episodes (out of fifteen) were spent there when two or three episodes would probably have sufficed. It made the plot seem stretched out and somewhat boring. Add to that the convenient contrivance that nearly everyone from the main cast just happened to be near the emperor…who just happened to actually be an emPRESS and the doppelgänger of Captain Philippa Georgiou. It’s a small multiverse after all!

Perhaps most problematic is that the various people we saw in the MU were “evil” versions of characters that hadn’t really been developed much in the nine previous Discovery episodes. Unlike TOS, DS9, and Enterprise–where the audience had literally dozens and dozens of episodes to get to know the prime characters—this time we’d had just two episodes of Georgiou and seven for most of the Discovery crew. In other words, it was hard to truly appreciate the doppelgängers because we didn’t know much about who they were doppelgänging!

Fortunately, as this season’s Discovery returns to the MU for another 2-parter with their ninth and tenth episodes “Terra Firma,” we don’t have that same problem any longer. We know all of the “prime” characters much better now.

However, this latest episode still had some issues to overcome, and I’m not sure if they succeeded…

Continue reading “DISCOVERY warning: objects in MIRROR UNIVERSE may be less interesting than they appear! (editorial review)”

STAR TREK: DISCOVERY’s non-stop background music (editorial)

NO SPOILERS, BUT BE WARNED: YOU WILL NEVER WATCH DISCOVERY THE SAME WAY AGAIN AFTER READING THIS BLOG (REALLY)!

I didn’t feel that this latest episode of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY was particularly blog-worthy, soI’m going off-Book (sorry) this week to focus on an aspect of the series that I’ve been wanting to cover: background music. This will be a different kind of Discovery blog, so much so that I’m not even calling it a “review.” But I think you’ll find it…fascinating!

In the TOS episode “The Trouble with Tribbles,” Captain Kirk tells Uhura: “Too much of anything, Lieutenant, even love, isn’t necessarily a good thing.” Is that also true of music? If so, then Discovery is definitely the tribbles of background music!

Why? Well, take a listen to any episode lately. Try to find a scene where there isn’t any background music playing. With the exception of a few seconds here and there, the background music is pretty much constant.

So the question follows (with all due respect to Captain Kirk): is too much background music not necessarily a good thing?

Let’s start off by talking a little bit about background music in film and television as a general concept. The first time I noticed the power of background music was in 2003 when I saw the film Lost In Translation with BILL MURRY and SCARLETT JOHANSSON. The reason I noticed the music was because director SOFIA COPPOLA made the conscious decision almost no background music in the entire movie! Actually, I should qualify that statement. There were scenes where the stereo was playing or they were singing karaoke or there was piano music in a bar, like this scene…

But as far as the typical Hollywood instrumental music that is usually inserted during scenes, there was virtually nothing throughout the entire film. And for me, that made the movie feel tedious and bland. Despite rave reviews from critics and even from audiences, I left the theater having felt almost nothing.

And in fact, that lack of connection is exactly what background music is supposed to prevent. Music added under a scene can help the audience know what emotions to feel when the scene is ambiguous. And beyond that, music can actually help to intensify the emotional experience of the viewer/listener. Take a look at this eye-opening (and ear-opening!) video…

One of the reasons that background music can be such a powerful tool is that it’s processed in the different part of the brain than spoken language (right temporal lobe versus left temporal lobe, respectively). So both music and dialog can exist simultaneously in a scene and work in tandem without competing or canceling each other out. Music can trigger emotions in the amygdala and limbic system while visual and language centers of the brain can still process what is being seen along with the words being spoken.

But how much music is too much?

Continue reading “STAR TREK: DISCOVERY’s non-stop background music (editorial)”

DISCOVERY’s new Vulcan proverb: “Only BURNHAM could go to Ni’Var…” (editorial review)

A SPOILER’S GONNA DO WHAT A SPOILER’S GONNA DO…

Mixed feelings about the latest episode of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY….but can I UNIFY them in my mind?

On the one hand, this was—hands down—my favorite episode of the series thus far. As a long-time obsessed Trekkie, I felt as though KIRSTEN BEYER’s latest Discovery episode, “Unification III,” was a buffet of comfort food. This is no accident. Beyer’s first episode of Discovery, “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum,” was one of the only episodes of season one that I (and many others) really thought FELT like Star Trek. Beyer has written a dozen Star Trek: Voyager novels, is the official liaison between Discovery and the IDW comic book publishers, and of course, she is the co-creator and executive producer of STAR TREK: PICARD.

In other words, she’s a long-time obsessed Trekkie just like me…and probably many of you, too.

So in that, this latest episode—exactly midway through season three—was a love-letter to longtime fans. There were ample mentions of Spock and a celebration of his legacy as, it seems, the Vulcans and the Romulans ended up reunifying again after all…mostly. And considering how out-of-the-blue (green?) the fifth season Next Gen plot of the two-part “Unification” and “Unification II” had seemed initially, this was a wonderful continuation of what had initially come off as a crazy idea by the TNG writers. The Romulans were unquestionably the recurring TNG bad guys…a position they’d proudly held since TOS days, in fact. Why in heck would Spock want them to reunify with Vulcan??? And yet, those two episodes were so well-executed and so frickin’ AWESOME that who cared what Spock’s motivations were! And when he stayed behind to continue working for his noble goal (despite the Romulans’ nefarious betrayal), I secretly rooted for it, too. And of course, thanks to J.J. Abrams, we know that Spock was trying to save Romulus right up to the moment he went back in time.

Fast-forward about 800 years, and the Vulcans and the Romulans are living in “peace” on a renamed home world, NiVar. And guess who’s there, too? The Qowot Milat, the “sisterhood of the absolute candor” that was actually one of the most fun things to come out of the Picard series. (My wife tells me that I need to learn to “read the room” and know when NOT to say whatever is on my mind. But deep down, I love the idea of absolute candor!)

However, not everything about our favorite green-blooded friends is as we remember or expect it…

Continue reading “DISCOVERY’s new Vulcan proverb: “Only BURNHAM could go to Ni’Var…” (editorial review)”

If you ignore the stupid and annoying stuff, DISCOVERY’s sixth episode was PRETTY GOOD! (editorial review)

SPOILERS ARE JUST A REVIEWER’S WAY OF SAYING: “I LOVE YOU”

Before anyone thinks that I didn’t like STAR TREK: DISCOVERY‘s sixth episode of the season, “Scavengers,” I did very much enjoy it. I simply had to get past the stupid stuff that really annoyed me. So let’s get that out of the way first…

Okay, I just need to say it: DETACHED NACELLES ARE RIDICULOUS!!! Seriously, who thought of that? I want to see some fan with VFX skills take a CGI model of Discovery, cut to Saru ordering the ship to warp, and then have both nacelles whoosh forward and out of sight while the rest of the ship just sits there motionless. (You reading this, SAMUEL COCKINGS???)

Likewise, the NCC-1031-A was completely unnecessary…and wrong. When the U.S.S. Enterprise was refit in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, it remained NCC-1701. The “A” came later on a different ship because its predecessor had been destroyed over the Genesis planet. Same with the bloody B, C, D, and E…and any other letters that came later.

Those personal site-to-site transporter badges might not be stupid, but they’re annoying as anything…just ask anyone who is trying to make out in a turbolift just as Linus shows up and announces, “This isn’t the science lab!” just before disappearing again. Yeah, hooray for the comedy relief, but the gag got old really fast and brought up a lot of very disturbing questions:

  1. Does everyone on the Discovery suddenly have the superpower of teleportation? (Suddenly, Nightcrawler of the X-Men isn’t particularly impressive anymore.)
  2. What about privacy on board? Can you materialize inside someone’s bathroom and go, “Oops”? I actually might not feel particularly safe on a ship full of people who can suddenly appear anywhere at anytime.
  3. Isn’t there a danger of materializing inside of someone else…or something else? One would hope there’s a “shove” function built into the beam, but what if two people transport simultaneously into the same spot?
  4. How do people doing delicate tasks requiring steady nerves and concentration guard against the sudden, unexpected pop-ins that now happen regularly?

All three examples come under the heading of “just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean that you SHOULD do that thing.” The writers decided that the future has some amazing stuff. But perhaps they went a little too amazing with things like personal transporters and “programmable” matter and detached nacelles. When technology becomes more like “magic,” you might have jumped a shark or two.

Just one more kvetch before I get to the good stuff: while I’m more of a dog person, I like cats, too…and fat-shaming a feline is not cool (unless it’s Garfield). The jokes about Grudge’s size bother me—perhaps because I have a weight problem myself. It wouldn’t be appropriate to make those snarky comments about Tilly’s shape, so why is it okay to mock the cat?

Okay, I’m done complaining. Let’s start saying some nice things…

Continue reading “If you ignore the stupid and annoying stuff, DISCOVERY’s sixth episode was PRETTY GOOD! (editorial review)”

CHARACTER COUNTS this season on STAR TREK: DISCOVERY (editorial review)

FOUR OUT OF FIVE REVIEWERS RECOMMEND SPOILERS FOR THEIR PATIENTS WHO CHEW GUM

STAR TREK: DISCOVERY‘s fifth episode of the season, “Die Trying,” was pretty strong. There were, of course, a couple of annoying aspects of absurd writing, like a 1,000-year-old “seed ship” floating defenseless in space with no protection and a crew of four (two of whom were children)—why not build more than one seed ship, or locate the seeds safely on a planet, or use a ship that isn’t a millennium old?—and Empress Georgiou knowing how to “blink-off” 32nd century holograms. That would be like a 10th century Viking showing up today and somehow knowing that he could clap his hands twice to turn off a light when he shouldn’t even know what a light is!

But hey, nobody’s perfect…and Discovery‘s writers aren’t the first in Star Trek history to come up with unrealistic and absurd ideas. “Spock’s Brain,” anyone? How about “The Royale” or “Threshold”?

What I’d really like to talk about in this blog, however, is an aspect of this episode that elevated to a much higher level—and that was the handling of the various characters, both old and new. The strength of “Die Trying” wasn’t an amazing story (’cause, frankly, the plot itself was pretty predictable: Discovery‘s homecoming wasn’t what they expected, future Starfleet was suspicious, and the crew had to prove themselves by completing a mission that only they could accomplish).

No, what made this episode such an effective success was that viewers got introduced to new, intriguing characters while also being treated to wonderful scenes featuring the characters we already know getting to strut their stuff. Let’s discuss…

Continue reading “CHARACTER COUNTS this season on STAR TREK: DISCOVERY (editorial review)”