At first, I was going to title this blog “Has STAR TREK: DISCOVERY Finally Got Its Groove Back?” Then I realized that it never really had a grove during season one…at least for me.
But the series does seem to have found a new groove that began with the first episode of season two and has continued now into its fourth episode, “An Obol for Charon.” And for anyone wondering what the heck that means, an Obol is an ancient Greek coin that was put in the mouth of a corpse before burial to be taken down to the underworld and used to pay Charon, the Ferryman, for a trip across the River Styx. (Speaking of which, how awesome was this song from 1982?)
Now, the episode itself wasn’t as good the second episode of season two, but it was better than the third episode. And it felt infinitely more Star Trek-like than nearly the entire first season. In fact, let’s take a look at how Star Trek is working its way back into Discovery…
SPOILERS? WE’VE GOT A FEW. BUT THEN AGAIN, TOO FEW TO MENTION…
Along with much of the United States this past week, hell has frozen over yet again as Jonathan Lane writes a THIRD consecutive mostly-positive blog about STAR TREK: DISCOVERY! Granted, my first blog of season two was more noncommittal…yet hopeful. But my second blog was 100% raving praise.
So what about the third episode, “Point of Light”?
I wasn’t prepared to like it. In fact, after watching the manic first three minutes where the camera NEVER ONCE STOPPED MOVING (seriously, watch it again), I was feeling carsick…or maybe starship sick. I knew the Klingons were coming this episode, and I really hated them and their incessant subtitles in season one.
So I was prepared to write a blog titled “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad…” or “Well, that Didn’t Last Long…” full of disappointment that Discovery had stumbled and slipped back into the same old problems. I began to mentally compose my opening complaint that saying, “Attention: trainee half-marathon approaching!” should NEVER be followed by turning OUT the lights so you can’t see what’s coming! “Starfleet stupidity or just idiotic writing?”
Yep, I was totally gonna write a blog like that—but then Amanda happened…
People seem to think that I only write negative things about STAR TREK: DISCOVERY…that I’ll never accept it and will always find something to criticize: uniforms, Klingons, lack of banter, etc.
Well, the pigs are flying folks! Satan is skating to work! And Jonathan Lane is about to write a 100% POSITIVE review of the latest episode of Discovery, “New Eden.”
What can I say? I loved it. It felt like I was watching STAR TREK…possibly for the first time since Burnham and Georgiou walked across that desert planet at the beginning of the premiere episode. Nothing bothered me…not the uniforms or the “non-canon” console graphics or even Tilly. Heck, I didn’t even mind that the magic mushroom drive once again saved the day.
When it’s good Star Trek—when it FEELS like good Star Trek—all the rest of the discontinuities with canon can be safely beamed out of my mind.
So what made this feel like “real” Star Trek to me…?
On Thursday night, I watched the season two premiere of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY, the episode”Brother.” I also watched the latest episode of The Orville just before because fate and network programming executives have seen fit that new episodes of both shows debut on the same night!
Mostly, the reviews I’ve read seem to be positive. My friend Dave even texted me the following morning and said, “Considering all the banter, I thought you’d have enjoyed it…”
For me, it wasn’t that simple. “It was good” or “it was bad” or “it was better than season one” or “it was closer to Star Trek” oversimplifies what I consider to be a very complex reaction to a show that is obviously hitting the “reset” button after its first season struggled to attract an audience. Discovery had to make a lot of course corrections for season two, and on some maneuvers it succeeded and leaves me hopeful—and for others, I sigh and shake my head as the show is still missing the mark…at least for me.
Have video pirates lost their enthusiasm for the new SHORT TREKS mini-episodes being released by CBS…and possibly for new Star Trek in general? If so, then it’s a sorta good news/bad news situation for CBS. The good news is that video piracy hurts the bottom line for CBS. So if folks are downloading Discovery and Short Treks without paying a subscription fee (to either All Access or Netflix), that’s potentially money out of CBS’ pocket. So less piracy is a GOOD thing, right?
Well, here’s the bad news. Video piracy is also a barometer, of sorts. Does decreased interest in ShortTreks by pirates imply that the general public is also not interested? And what makes me say that video pirates are losing interest in ShortTreks in the first place?
It all began early last month while I was having dinner with a friend (who shall remain nameless) who illegally downloads Star Trek: Discovery and Short Treks. For the record, I personally do NOT do this, and I subscribed to CBS All Access from October 2017 through February 2018. Here’s my e-mail receipt from them…
So just to be clear, I am NOT endorsing video piracy in any way. This blog is simply looking at an existing trend from a journalistic perspective. Video piracy (or any kind of digital piracy) is illegal and should not be attempted by anyone reading my blogs.
And now that that’s out of the way, back to my story…
WARNING: there will be some spoilers LATER,
but I will give you ample advance notice.
Going in, I wasn’t certain what to make of the first of CBS All Access’ SHORT TREKS, four “mini-episodes” of Star Trek to be released once a month leading up to the January premiere of season two of the Discovery series.
I’ll be honest, part of me was ready to hate it. It’s no secret that I was mostly disappointed and frustrated with nearly every episode of Star Trek: Discovery‘s first season. And these Short Treks seemed to be just a way to “lure” fans into paying extra money to CBS not for 4 or 5 hours of new Trek episodes each month but for only 10 or 15 MINUTES of these brief vignettes.
Adding insult to injury for Trek fans outside of the U.S. and Canada (which are getting to see these four short films on the subscription services All Access and Space, respectively), Netflix has decided NOT to offer Short Treks…at least for now. TrekMovie has some theories as to why (which you can read here), but basically, CBS offered and Netflix passed, as the latter service is more geared toward binge-watching behavior and accepts short films in batched packages, not one at a time.
So Short Treks was carrying a lot of baggage right out of the starting gate, for me and others. Some fans have even been suggesting recently that CBS ripped off the concept of a short stand-alone vignette from fan films themselves. To them, I say: so did Battlestar Galactica with “The Resistance” in 2006, “The Face of the Enemy” in 2008, and “Blood and Chrome” in 2011. The Walking Dead has done numerous short-film webisodes also. In other words, just because CBS had the idea to make mini-episodes, that doesn’t mean they “stole” the idea from fans…or from Syfy or AMC. Sometimes a good idea is just a good idea.
But to me, at least, the first Short Trek, an episode entitled “Runaway” which debuted October 4, felt a lot like a fan film…especially now that CBS’s guidelines are limiting the run-time of Trek fan films to no more than 15 minutes.
The question is, though, is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Yesterday, I began discussing the explosive news that hit Trek fandom like a warp core breach over this past weekend: SIR PATRICK STEWART will be returning to play Jean-Luc Picard in a brand new Star Trek television project. It’s not known yet if this will be an ongoing series, a mini-series, or just a made-for-TV movie or pilot. No scripts have been written, and indeed, there are no real details yet detailing whether this will be Captain Picard, Admiral Picard, Ambassador Picard, or just some bald guy who used to fight the Borg now running a small winery in eastern France.
But one thing is for sure: CBS is now committed to the project because it’s been officially announced to both Trekkies and the world at large. Nearly all major entertainment media magazines were carrying the news on their websites within 24 hours. It’d be tough for CBS to back out now.
But is this a good thing?
After all, in an interview on StarTrek.com back in 2010, Sir Patrick himself said of Next Gen: “I remain very proud of the work that we did, very proud of the series and the movies, but I do not wish to return to it.” In a convention appearance around that same time where I saw him, Stewart explained that he felt he’d thoroughly examined every aspect of Picard creatively as a actor and was okay moving on.
Is CBS just desperately going back to a well that’s already been mostly tapped…rather than working to create something fresh and new? Are they relying on Patrick Stewart as “stunt casting” to help draw in more viewers?
The Star Trek world was rocked this past weekend when news arrived from Las Vegas that not only will there be a second new live-action Star Trek series going into pre-production (rather than just being proposed), but it will feature none other than Sir Patrick Stewart himself reprising his role of Jean-Luc Picard! I’ve seen the word “nerdgasm” bantered about over the past 48 hours, and I must admit to being more than a bit excited myself over the news.
I was also intrigued (although not necessarily surprised) to find that some fans had more…shall we say…pessimistic reactions. One friend of mine wrote me, “To be honest, this terrifies me and is the worst thing they could have done. They will build up unrealistic hype over it and finally break the backs of the majority of the deep fandom with disappointment.” Interestingly, he didn’t say this because he thought Star Trek: Discovery was/is terrible. In fact, he added, “I was hopeful with Discovery and it turned out somewhere between ok and good…”
Conversely, it seems that a lot of Discovery detractors are using this news to cross their fingers and predict/hope/pray that “this time, they’ll get it right.” And many Discovery supporters are thinking, “Hey, it’ll be another great new Trek series AND it’ll have Picard…win-win!”
I probably fall more into the former group, but in my mind, there’s a much more interesting question to ask: What is CBS thinking???
I do not mean this in a “What in the world are these clueless idiots possibly thinking?” kind of way. Instead, I’m really, truly curious what is going through their minds right now. And I’d like to share some conjectures with you…realizing that this is purely speculation on my my part. But I think it’ll be a fun little thought experiment…
Okay, San Diego Comic Con 2018 is now in the history books, and nearly every Trekker is now talking about Season Two of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY.
Fans now know that, in addition to Anson Mount playing Captain Christopher Pike, Rebecca Romijn (who played the shape-shifting Mystique in the early X-Men films) will play Number One, and yes, we will be seeing Spock at some point this season. Other new characters, like Tig Notaro as Chief Engineer Reno, are also being added (not sure as regulars or guests stars), plus at least one actor whose character died during Season One will be returning in some undisclosed way.
In addition to the debut of Season Two of Discovery sometime in early 2019, four “Short Treks” (about 10-15 minutes each) will tell stories focusing on the histories of established characters like Tilly and Saru plus a new character named Craft, and a fourth featuring Harry Mudd (played by Rainn Wilson, who will also direct his mini-episode). Reportedly, one of these four shorts will be released each month leading up to the January premiere of Season Two. Whether these “Short Treks” will be exclusive to CBS All Access (and Netflix outside of America and Canada) or posted for free on the Internet has not been made clear yet. Personally, I think they should be posted publicly to draw in more viewers to the subscription service…but what do I know?
(Side/snide note – for any fan filmmaker who’s been complaining, “You can’t tell a decent Star Trek story in less than 15 minutes…” well, CBS is about to either prove you right or wrong. Stay tuned!)
But by far, the most excitement came from this intriguing Season Two trailer. And for the 1% of you out there who haven’t seen it yet, here ’tis…
Not bad, huh? But there was something oddly familiar about it…
Last week, this was going to be a very different blog! Last week I was going to report on how CBS was enforcing a copyright hold on a fan-made video that was critical of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. The fan had tried to monetize the video on YouTube (showing ads), and because there were clips from Star Trek episodes (from multiple series) in the critique, it got automatically flagged for a copyright hold.
The fan, who goes by her YouTube account name PsychoSpider, challenged the copyright hold claiming an exemption for Fair Use. Ah, fair use! Ever since AXANAR fought back against CBS and Paramount when sued for copyright infringement, numerous fans (including yours truly) became “armchair experts” in the fair use defense. In short, there are certain cases where it’s okay and even legal to use someone else’s intellectual property without first getting their permission. And one of those cases is when the person is using copyrighted material for purposes of criticism, even when the criticism might generate revenue.
One of the reasons that Fair Use exists for criticism is because it is generally assumed that a copyright holder would be unlikely to ever grant permission to someone to use their intellectual property only to complain about it. So Fair Use was created to try to balance the opposing forces of copyright protections and freedom of speech. It’s not always an open-and-shut case, but in general, critical speech is protected even when copyrighted intellectual property is used. The problem is, you usually have pay a lawyer lots of money to get a court to agree with you.
That wasn’t an option for PsychoSpider. Instead, she simply filed her hold challenge, claiming Fair Use, and waited. It didn’t take long for CBS to respond with a big, fat “NO!” She tried again, and again her challenge was rejected. She would not be allowed to monetize her video on YouTube.
I was all ready to write a blog about this outrage. I’d interviewed PyschoSpider, contacted CBS for an official comment (didn’t get one), and was nearly ready to hit “Publish.” And then something totally unexpected happened…