SPOILERS AHEAD! BIG, HUGE, MASSIVE, GINORMOUS, HULKING SPOILERS!!! (Don’t say you weren’t warned!)
Last week, I commented on the fan theory that Captain Lorca of the USS Discovery isn’t from “our” universe but rather from the Mirror Universe. At first, it sounded like a pretty wild theory. Now, I’m pretty well convinced that it’s the truth.
Is that the “discovery” that the series is named for? After all, these show-runners are all about things having multiple layers of meaning, like episode 5’s title “Choose Your Pain.” Maybe Discovery is not just the starship’s name but also alluding to the crew’s discovery that their captain is from another universe…a much meaner and nastier universe, as it turns out!
What? You don’t believe me? (Well, actually, some of you probably do. This theory is already spreading rapidly through fandom—at least those watching the show—and a growing number are, like me, getting on board with the idea.)
That was the title of the fifth and possibly best-yet episode of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. Like many of the strongest stories of literature and cinema, the title “Choose Your Pain” works on multiple levels.
“Choose your pain” is what the Klingons say to the captives on their prison ship before beating the living crap out of one of them.
Michael Burnham is, arguably, choosing her pain when she holds onto the loss of Captain Georgiou and wallows in her seemingly endless morass of un-Vulcan-like self-pity and guilt.
Saru, likewise, is holding onto the loss of Captain Georgiou but also to his pain at having not been chosen to be her first officer and thereby not being able to learn from her experience and wisdom in the same way Burnham did.
Captain Lorca can and should get his eyes fixed, but he chooses not to. He holds onto the pain the light causes him and lives in mostly dark places, a harsh reminder of the heartrending decision he made during his previous command of the USS Buran.
(Please note, there’s a theory currently making its way around fandom that the Lorca we’ve seen so far is actually a Mirror Universe counterpart of the “real” Lorca. The reason the Buran was destroyed was to eliminate any witnesses—including the “good” Lorca—and that the whole interchange was orchestrated by Section 31 in order to acquire a captain who knew how to be ruthless in fighting the Klingons. The reason that Lorca refuses to get his eyes fixed—a problem stemming from being transported to this universe—is that he doesn’t want the doctors to discover what he really is.)
Obviously, my blog today assumes that the above theory is NOT the case. Instead, let’s just assume that Lorca is merely a man who was forced to make a tragic decision to destroy his ship and kill his crew to save them all from slow, painful deaths on Qo’Nos. For this, Lorca has chosen to keep his pain as a reminder…and potentially as self punishment for what he did.
Like Lorca, I and many other Trek fans who are either not watching the show or frequently complaining about it are choosing to hold onto our “pain.” We simply can’t seem to let go of our issues with the new series and enjoy Star Trek: Discovery for everything it gives to us as fans. Like Lorca, we choose to continue living in our dark places.
WARNING – some spoilers from the fourth episode of Discovery. Read at your own risk.
It seems that I’m now doing weekly reviews/ editorials about this show. Not sure how long I’ll keep it up, but with each new episode, I realize something else that I want to share with you guys.
But before I do that…!
I AM ENJOYING STAR TREK: DISCOVERY!!! It’s a very well-written and well-produced show with strong visual effects, amazing production values, fast-paced editing, interesting characters, fantastic music, and a very compelling story line. It’s excellent television, and I am truly entertained when I watch it.
But it’s still not Star Trek to me.
Star Trek doesn’t make me feel sad about the present and possibly the future as well. Star Trek doesn’t remind me of how much the world has changed (for the worse) since the terrorist attacks of 9-11. Instead, Star Trek gives me hope for a BETTER future than what we have now.
Star Trek always made me believe that human beings can and will achieve something better for ourselves and for others. Want to make America great, or better yet, make the world great? Then make HUMANITY better, and the rest of what we do will follow. Star Trek used to demonstrate those possibilities to me…episode after wondrous episode.
So why does Star Trek: Discovery make me feel sad? And why the heck do I have pictures of a Pakled, Hugh the Borg, the USS Voyager alongside the USS Equinox, and the Tardigrade creature from this week’s episode of Star Trek: Discovery?
Because I’d like to make a point about this new series—one of many, I admit, but continuing on with my central theme that, as good as this show is, it isn’t “my” Star Trek…and why that makes me sad.
Captain’s blog, supplemental. While I’m going to try to keep this follow-up review less spoiler-y than my last one, a few minor spoilers might creep in. Consider this your official warning.
My STAR TREK: DISCOVERY review from last Thursday certainly hit a lot of nerves, but it also gave a lot of people an incorrect impression that I didn’t like the new series and that I wanted CBS to fail. What I actually said was that I didn’t feel like Discovery was “my” Star Trek—the Star Trek that I have held in my heart for these past five decades.
And yes, when it comes to imagining what a war with the Klingons would have looked like a decade or two before Kirk, my “head canon” will remain with Axanar, and I’ll think of Discovery as some kind of alternate universe like the JJ Abrams movies.
But that doesn’t mean that think Discovery is a bad show or that I won’t be watching it. In fact, last night at a friend’s home, I had a chance to see the third episode of the new series, “Context Is for Kings.”
So, is Discovery STILL not “my” Star Trek…or did they manage to change my mind?
WARNING – SPOILERS!!! Lots and lots and lots of SPOILERS!!!
I really WANTED to like Star Trek: Discovery. And to be honest, some things I actually DID like. Sonequa Martin-Green put in a great performance playing the character of Commander Michael Burnham, and I loved the dynamic of seeing two women interacting as captain and first officer of a starship…and neither was caucasian! (If only both characters could have continued beyond two episodes, but alas, we’ll soon be back to a captain who’s a white male. Oh well, at least we’ve still got a black female lead.)
I even really liked some of the scenes…like when Burnham talks the ship’s computer into letting her out of the brig before power goes out. But in the end, I just really didn’t enjoy the show overall—at least the first two episodes. It was so dark (visually and emotionally), and I just couldn’t grab onto that uplifting feeling I used to get when watching Star Trek. This new show felt so weighed down to me that even when things were moving quickly, they still seemed somehow slow and heavy. A couple of times during those Klingon scenes with the never-ending subtitles, I nearly dozed off!
And it wasn’t even the Klingon actors’ fault they were so boring. The decision to completely redesign the look of the Klingons not only alienated many long-time Trek fans, but it made it virtually impossible for those actors to deliver decent performances.
Imagine if you were asked to give a compelling performance while wearing a medieval suit of knight’s armor with the face-plate covering every part of your face except your mouth. You can barely move your head except a little side to side—very little!—and your arms won’t go any higher than your chest. You can’t even bend your elbows! And then, before you go in front of the camera, you realize that all of your lines are in Polish…and your don’t speak Polish! Sounds like an actor’s worst nightmare, right? Well, that was pretty much the assignment these unfortunate Klingons were given.
And as I was considering this, I began to imagine what Discovery would have been like had they NOT redesigned the Klingons…or the Starfleet uniforms…or made the starships into barely-recognizable whatever-they-were…or had a dark bridge covered with lens flares. What would Discovery have looked like then?
And then I realized: it would have looked a lot like Axanar…
Rather than writing a review of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY (that’s coming tomorrow), I decided to take a look at the bigger picture. Were the record sign-ups right after the premiere really “big news” or simply the inevitable result of hundreds of millions of dollars in production and advertising/marketing budgets? Also, what does it tell us that CBS remains so reluctant to provide hard numbers about how many people actually subscribed last night?
As I said in yesterday’s blog, my goal here is NOT to try to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory for CBS. I’m actually very happy that Star Trek: Discovery did so well in both ratings and sign-ups. This means that the worst-case scenario—CBS simply assumes that Star Trek has run its course and is no longer a viable sci-fi franchise—has been avoided. Nearly 10 million people watched the free network TV premiere on Sunday night. So anyone accusing me of sour grapes is wrong. Wet blanket, yes. Sour grapes, no.
My desire, to be honest, is to simply take a wider look at this new series…beyond just Sunday night or this one week. Now that the horse is fast out of the starting gate, what are the challenges facing Star Trek: Discovery in terms of keeping and growing its viewership? Obviously, CBS is in a unique situation due to its decision to require viewers to pay to see episodes of the new series. How does that affect their goal of attracting and keeping viewers?
The news seems to be REALLY great for the premiere of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. According to a press release quickly and enthusiastically circulated by an exuberant CBS, the premiere of the newest Star Trek TV series has resulted in record-breaking sign-ups for the ALL ACCESS streaming service:
Tonight’s premiere of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY on CBS All Access, the CBS Television Network’s digital subscription video on demand and live streaming service, broke a new record for subscriber sign-ups in a single day, eclipsing the previous record held by the 2017 GRAMMY Awards®.
In addition to its single day subscriber sign-up record, CBS All Access experienced its best week and month ever for sign-ups due to the launch of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY, the fall kick-off of the NFL ON CBS on the service’s live local feeds and the season finale of BIG BROTHER and the BIG BROTHER LIVE FEEDS.
But before people start gulping down too much champagne (although there is certainly reason for celebration), I’d like to mention a few things that CBS and fans should be noting.
Now, I realize this blog is going to sound like a wet blanket, but please make no mistake: I am ABSOLUTELY, SINCERELY HAPPY that so many people liked the new show! (I personally wasn’t thrilled with it, although I do plan to watch more episodes eventually.)
But I’m also a business strategist trained to look at multiple aspects of a situation. As I did in my previous blog about Star Trek: Discovery, I want to take a look at the whole picture…which is, of course, impacted significantly by CBS’s decision to offer their new Star Trek series exclusively as a paid streaming video-on-demand service.
So yes, the news is definitely good for CBS. But it might be a little too soon to consider the game won…
In yesterday’s blog, while many Star Trek fans are debating uniforms, starships, bridge lighting, hairless Klingons, and adopted human sisters, I decided to look at a much more fundamental question regarding the new Star Trek: Discovery television series. Was it a good or bad business decision by CBS to make the new show available (at least in the U.S) exclusively via subscription to their ALL ACCESS streaming service?
We already looked at CBS’s decision to target the series to a younger audience, based on a statement made be CBS President and CEO Les Moonvesback in May. This means that the older, more loyal Star Trek fans, “yesterday’s fan-base” as I call them, aren’t the primary target…which is kinda why Discovery isn’t sweating the details in hewing to established Star Trek canon.
Instead, CBS is focusing their attention and hopes on younger viewers who are more likely to subscribe to a brand new streaming video on demand (SVOD) service than the older fans.
Ah, but therein lies the rub!
These younger viewers don’t have an existing, decades-long relationship with Star Trek. They weren’t watching TOS when it first aired in the 1960s or grew up with it in the 1970s. They didn’t even watch TNG in the 1980s and 1990s as kids. All those folks are already pushing 40 (or 50 or 60 or 70!) CBS is targeting viewers in their 30s or even 20s. By the time these younger viewers were old enough to watch Star Trek, the ratings for the show had already plummeted and few people were watching at all.
In other words, the vast majority of these young viewers aren’t really Star Trek “fans.” To them, Discovery is more like a new science fiction show based on an old series that their parents or grandparents used to watch…except this version has cool sets, dazzling VFX, action, adventure, and a TV-MA rating. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. I don’t fault CBS for choosing to make the new series young and hip.
But they made another choice to put the new series exclusively on the ALL ACCESS subscription service here in the U.S. And today, I want to look at some of the consequences of that decision—not from the perspective of an angry fan (which I’m not; I actually want the new series to succeed), but as a business analyst.
(NOTE FROM JONATHAN – I’ve decided to take a two-part break from fan films to answer the question I keep getting asked: “What do you think about the new Star Trek series that’s coming out?”)
Many Trek fans are hotly debating whether or not it was the right move to “modernize” the production design of the new STAR TREK: DISCOVERY series and put a TV-MA rating on it. I’ve read passionate posts going back and forth arguing about the new uniform styles not matching those worn by Captain Pike in “The Cage” back in 1965; how the “hairless” Klingons don’t look like the ones we’ve seen on TNG, DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise; and why after 50 years we’re only just now finding out that Spock had an adopted human sister!
In my opinion, none of that is the problem. That’s not where I think CBS has steered the wrong courae, and that’s not what I’ll be discussing in this blog. I’m actually planning to check out Discovery at some point down the line. But am I the exception or the rule?
I honestly think I’m going to be the exception, and that CBS made an unwise decision to offer their new series solely through their ALL ACCESS subscription service (at least here in the U.S.).
It’s not that Trek and sci-fi fans aren’t ready for CBS ALL ACCESS—it’s that ALL ACCESS might not quite be ready for the fans!
Last time, I discussed the recent release by two of the major networks of official trailers for their new sci-fi shows debuting for the upcoming 2017 season. CBS, of course, unveiled STAR TREK: DISCOVERY, while FOX surprised (many) genre fans with a new Star Trek-ish series from Seth MacFarlane titled THE ORVILLE. Both trailers were viewed millions of times with thousands of comments. But what was very intriguing came from the thumbs-up/thumbs-down ratios.
The trailer for Star Trek: Discovery has about two and a half times more thumbs-down reactions than the trailer for The Orville. Some misunderstood my previous blog and thought I was calling this a competition—as though fans were going to choose EITHER Discovery OR Orville. Not quite. Many fans (like me) might choose to watch both series.
But what makes this interesting is that we have a pretty close comparison of trailers and their reactions from viewers. The two shows are coveting essentially the same audience (Trekkies and sci-fi fans), so the trailers and series themselves are unmistakably in the same “marketing category.” The two trailers have almost the same run-length (2.5 minutes) and were released at nearly the same time using the same platform (Youtube). But beyond that, the two networks are going in very different directions.
CBS is making Discovery available only through paid subscription streaming services (after a free preview of the pilot on CBS). FOX is putting Orville on their regular network. CBS went for a very unfamiliar (to Trekkers) production design with dark sets and mostly monochromatic uniforms. FOX is using a very familiar-looking Star Trek visual approach of brightly-lit sets and and colorful uniforms.
So these two series are coveting the same kinds of fans with very different approaches. One is very derivative of Star Trek but based within a different universe, and the other is very different but based within the Star Trek universe. So the word “versus” in the title of this blog entry doesn’t imply that fans must make a choice but rather simply refers to putting the two series side-by-side for comparison, analyzing the very noticeable differences in fan reaction.
So with fans appearing to show a measurable preference for Orville over Discovery—admittedly using only online reaction through thumbs-up/down plus a general trend in posted comments—should CBS be worried?