Star Trek: Discovery Season 1 Review

There is still lots to do, but overall it was pretty dang good.

Star Trek, as a franchise, typically starts veeeeery slowly. The first seasons of the series are generally a slog to get through, even when they contain a few terrific episodes. This even holds true with the movies as well where The Motion Picture and Generations are easily the two dullest movies in their respective timelines. 2009’s reboot was by no means slow but more discussion about the reboot movies will have to come another time. Suffice to say I view them differently from the rest of the franchise.

Yes, before you all start picking at me I said dullest not worst. I maintain, however, that The Final Frontier gave us one of the best lines of all time:

Anyway.

If Star TrekDiscovery‘s first season is it’s worst or slowest then we’re either going to end up with the best Star Trek, yet or everything just might fly entirely out of control. Discovery already easily holds the record for the quickest a Star Trek series has ever made me fall in love. That being said I want to dig into some specifics as to what made this season good and what they’ll need to work on, next year. We’ll start with the bad because I want to end on a positive note. Of course, there will be spoilers for the entire season.

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The Bad

LGBT Representation

I already went on, at length, in the season finale recap earlier this week about how they really screwed up when they decided to reinforce decades-old stereotypes about people who like sex being evil especially bisexuals who also just always want to have sex with as many people as possible. I also noted that they had already abused the “Bury Your Gays” trope earlier this season. I had promised I was going to expand on that and I promise I was going to. But the fact of the matter is nothing I write could compare to what was already written by Andi over at Women at Warp (Warning, possible future spoilers from creator interviews). So just read what they had to say on the subject and know that I agree with them 100%.

Representation of Women and Minorities

The show proudly features a black woman, Sonequa Martin-Green, as it’s first-among-ensemble. And yet the show hasn’t exactly treated women or minorities with a lot of kindness so far. The show started off well by putting an Asian woman in command of a ship and making a black woman her first officer but by the end of the fourth episode the commander was a convicted felon, the captain had died, and the female security chief of the Discovery who was only introduced in the third episode had been killed. The only black male in the ensemble was also killed before the season ended. Compare this to only one white dude getting stabbed.

The finale wants to be a redemption of women where it has Michael Burnham (played by Martin-Green), Tilly (Mary Wiseman), L’Rell (Mary Chieffo), Emperor Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), and Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook) all being the primary drivers of the action and the final resolution. Which is great except for the part where Georgiou gets undercut by the aforementioned Depraved Bisexual trope and Cornwell looks indecisive as she goes along with whichever plan is handed to her last with very little debate or apparent thought on her part. We do at least see Tilly get her well-deserved place on the command track and Burnham gets her commission back but it isn’t the total victory it should have been.

When I wrote before the show came back from its winter hiatus I also talked about the history of Star Trek as a predictor of social equality and a platform for social justice advocacy throughout the decades. The people behind Discovery have made it very clear that they aren’t just here to steal the franchise name for their own profit; they actually want to continue that proud heritage. I believe them and it isn’t like Star Trek has always been absolutely perfect in this score, either. But the show must continue to try to improve on these scores as it continues into next season.

The Awkward

In the context of the entire season, the entire mirror universe tangent now feels incredibly pointless. Don’t get me wrong, I understand how it’s supposed to play into Michael’s growing understanding about the need for principles in Starfleet and the Federation but it’s kind of overkill to spend 4 episodes in an alternate dimension for only that. And that’s pretty much all that’s accomplished, there.

Yes, the Lorca reveal was really cool when it first happened. But in retrospect, it fails to continue to impact the show. His coup attempt was short lived and everyone on the Discovery was wary of him to begin with, so the betrayal doesn’t really have any continuing effect on the crew once he was dealt with. Taken in the context of the whole season it also feels incredibly out-of-place to so completely forget about the Klingon War for a little bit more than a quarter of the season when that is the only thing anyone can talk about or act upon for the entire rest of the time.

The Good

Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad

If the four episodes of the Mirror Universe end up being unsatisfactory filler, “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” is a terrific example of how filler can be done even in a high-tension, serialized show like this. Unlike the Mirror Universe episodes, it doesn’t completely ignore the primary matter of the season. It tells us more about more characters than the Mirror Universe does in a fraction of the time. Lieutenant Stamets (Anthony Rapp), Burnham, and Lieutenant  Tyler (Shazad Latif) all show the audience more of who they are. I anticipate Rainn Wilson’s Harry Mudd, who we learned much more about as well, will be a recurring character in the future. Finally, it includes probably the best call-back to the Original Series in a season of television where such references were liberally sprinkled throughout.

The characters and acting

There is not a bad actor in the entire cast of this show. The writers gave them quality material, for the most part, and they all absolutely made the most of it. Sonequa Martin-Green nailed down the idea of Michael Burnham as a human who wished at times to be Vulcan as perfectly as Leonard Nimoy portrayed the first Vulcan and threw in some terrific sass and internal conflict at other points. Jason Isaacs gave us an anti-hero-turned-villain Captain Lorca that had us all fooled as to how good or evil he was until the very last moment without ever lying to us. Jayne Brook’s Admiral Cornwell was the rare fictional female character who was tough as nails without ever being masculine or cruel. Michelle Yeoh delivered two very different, very distinct interpretations of Phillipa Georgiou with terrific gravitas. In very limited screen time Wilson Cruz’s Dr. Hugh Culber made many fans fall in love with the caring, capable doctor. Mary Chieffo did a terrific job delivering a L’Rell who was a true believer but not a mindless zealot.

I want to pay special attention to four others of the cast, though. Shazad Latif was simply amazing as Ash Tyler and Voq but particularly when Tyler was at his most emotionally vulnerable. It takes near perfect balance to find the place where you’ve gone far enough but not so far that it slips into farce and Latif walked that line beautifully. Anthony Rapp’s interpretation of Paul Stamets had so much depth. There was a living energy to his performances that can be lacking from lesser actors. He also stayed away from being a one-note character. It could have been really easy for Stamets to be a gentle, forgetful scientist for the entire series. But at the beginning when he’s the most frustrated with his work and with the circumstances he is in he is very cantankerous. When Tyler apologizes to him for the death of Culber he could have played it much more gently if he wanted. Instead, there was a cold rage behind his eyes that cause me to lean back a bit, even viewing it on my computer screen.

Mary Wiseman showed a tremendous knack for comedic timing without ever letting Tilly devolve into simply being the comedic relief. She grew the character from an annoying chatterbox at the beginning into an insightful, decisive crew member by the end of the season without sacrificing her youthful exuberance. And finally, Doug Jones did a terrific job with Saru. I have many complaints about the way the writers choose to use his “threat ganglia” but there can be no questioning the care Mr. Jones takes in his craft. Saru starts the series in a bit over his head and it only gets worse for a bit. He starts as an exceptionally competent bureaucrat who wants to be a leader; he backs down from every confrontation and when he’s forced into command he allows his fears to pressure him into making poor choices. But gradually as the series continues without ever foisting an “Aha!” moment on him Saru learns to face his fears and to truly lead his crew. By the end of the season, he is a true leader. That lack of the “Aha!” moment is so key for how great this ends up being. Those things rarely happen in real life; eventually, you just look back and realize you are different than you were. Sometimes you can see some of the steps that happened along the way but it’s rarely about just a single moment. Because no such moment was written into the script it was up to Jones to gradually portray the character as becoming more and more comfortable with his leadership responsibilities and he does it masterfully.

To paraphrase one of my favorite YouTube channels, “No show is without sin” and that definitely holds true for Star Trek: Discovery but they’ve done some really good work, too. If the Star Trek franchise is a forest then Discovery is a new, healthy sapling that has just been planted. It has healthy, fertile soil in the form of solid writers and a terrific cast that want to work together to make a terrific show that follows in footsteps of those that came before. It is being fertilized with plenty of money to fulfill the things the cast and writers come up with. The hard stop to the first season’s plot line also means it won’t be forced to grow into any particular direction that might make it weaker. Star Trek: Discovery has room to grow into the best version of itself and I, for one, can’t way to see what comes next.

 

 

Star Trek: Discovery’s Season Finale was a Dud

I see where they were going…but they seem to have missed the mark

If you need a spoiler-free review of the season finale I believe that the title and the excerpt say it all. To describe any more why it was a dud requires delving into spoilers. So let’s just dive in.

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The episode suffers from just 4 major problems and one problem that might be better described as an annoying quibble. However, if you just took the major problems out the episode would barely exist. But don’t take my word for it. Let’s go ahead and break it down, shall we?

Phillipa Georgiou never needed to be the captain

The episode starts off with a thud when a decision from the end of last week comes back to bite everyone in the butt in a completely predictable way. Emperor Phillipa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) has given Starfleet a plan to end the Klingon war by destroying their homeworld, Qo’nos. In exchange for this plan, Starfleet agrees to grant her, a known violent racist and mass-murderer, complete freedom to roam their galaxy. They also put her in charge of the mission and, confusingly, the ship.

At the end of the previous episode I, and many others, were left wondering why it was decided she needed to be in command of the ship. As we see in this episode there really was absolutely no reason for it. Precious airtime is wasted as she pointlessly snipes at each crew member in turn until Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) pointlessly tries to expose her for no possible gain that I could determine. After she fails, Georgiou leaves the bridge and never returns to it having contributed exactly nothing to the mission as captain that couldn’t have been achieved by absolutely any other warm body in a Starfleet uniform.

Qo’nos isn’t very Klingon

The writers raised the hackles of many long-time Trekkies when they – yet again – revamped the makeup design for the Klingons at the start of this series. However, the silliness of that choice pales in comparison to the world-design they did for Qo’nos. The Klingons have always been a little bit xenophobic. Even in Voyager, the most future-forward show of the franchise, the Klingons shunned a half-human, half-Klingon girl who was not Klingon enough for them. It only gets worse the further back in time you go. But for some reason when the away party arrives on the surface of Qo’nos the area they venture to is populated almost entirely by Orions rather than Klingons.

There is no real justification given for this choice and fans were supposed to simply be distracted by the reference to a TOS race that is often ignored in the later series. However, it makes no sense in this universe or in the canon it supposedly resides in. Furthermore, the choice results in a disappointing, fairly generic, seedy, urban underbelly that we’ve seen in countless other science fiction series right down to mixing the brothels and arms dealers with good-natured gamblers and outlier religious adherents.

Star Trek writers fall into another LGBTQIA++ Trope Pitfall

Not content to rest on their laurels of falling prey to the Bury Your Gays trope – and I promise we’ll get more into that this weekend – Discovery’s writers proved they weren’t done with adding plot points to the series seemingly designed primarily to upset their socially liberal audience members. The away team needs to locate some Klingon temples in order to find a path to the inactive volcanoes so they can use a probe to do…something… that will supposedly help them end the war. Georgiou’s method includes succumbing to the “Evil is Sexy” trope.

For a long time villains, especially female villains, have been stereotyped as being more sexually promiscuous than their more honorable counterparts. They’re constantly trying to seduce the heroes or wearing skimpy clothing. In this particular case, they leaned into it as hard as they could until it evolved into the “Depraved Bisexual” trope. Georgiou doesn’t just attempt to seduce the information out of just anyone. She identifies two prostitutes, one apparently male and one apparently female; loudly exclaims about how this universe appeals to her more, now; has sex with both of them simultaneously; does it so well that they talk about how they should be paying her for the experience; and finally she threatens their lives in order to get the information she wants. If there were an “Only evil people would consider having any kind of sexual encounter other than heterosexual intercourse between two people in a committed relationship” bingo card she’d have hit every single box. Ordinarily, this might be cause for some eye-rolling and maybe a minor footnote about how media still hasn’t caught up with the times. Star Trek has always held itself to a higher standard, however. This is no less true of the new series than it was the original. When you declare yourself to be a show that wants to do better than you are going to get called out when you miss that mark. And they missed it badly, here.

The first plan is stupid, the second plan isn’t much better

Skipping back ahead, it turns out – OF COURSE – that Georgiou’s plan is not to do any probing. She’s going to blow up the entire planet. And – OF COURSE – Tilly (Mary Wiseman) and Michael discover this. Honestly, did Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brooke), Sarek (James Fraine), and Georgiou really think they were going to be able to pull this mission off without any of the Discovery crew figuring out that they were actually carrying a bomb? They risked the failure of their mission by not informing them sooner. It’s entirely possible that Tilly and Michael might have caused the mission to fail in a way from which there would be no recovery if they had found out at a different time or reacted differently than they did.

And this is when things got really dicey, writing-wise, at least. Things actually get really easy in-universe. Michael goes back to the ship, tells (Acting) Captain Saru (Doug Jones) what’s going on and together they confront Cornwell about how this is the wrong thing to do. This is the moment the writers have been working for. In the pilot episode, Michael commits mutiny because she is convinced that the only way to defeat the Klingons and save the Federation is to sacrifice their principles. Now she is ready to commit mutiny again but this time she wants to save their principles. It’s a nifty little narrative circle. Unfortunately, it’s undercut by just how easily it’s accomplished. The admiral is quickly convinced and an alternate plan is immediately conceived and enacted. Georgiou is still allowed to go free – which will absolutely, in no way bite anyone in the butt later. And instead of setting off the bomb in Qo’nos active volcano system they give the detonator to their captive Klingon, L’Rell.

Let me number the ways this is a stupid idea:

  1. L’Rell is no friend to the Federation. Even if the Klingons aren’t behaving the way she wanted there was no guarantee she’d call off the war as part of her campaign to set the Klingons on the straight and narrow.
  2. You decided you didn’t want to commit genocide, but you absolutely just gave someone else that power if they want to use it.
  3. A single bomb with a single detonator does not seem like an effective way to effect civilization-wide social change.
    1. The bomb is sitting in active magma, it might become disabled.
    2. The detonator might break or lose signal.
    3. All it would take is a handful of Klingons working together in order to ensure they could resume working against each other to steal the detonator or kill or kidnap L’Rell. We’ve seen Klingons do this sort of thing before.
    4. Is she really going to blow up her homeworld if they disobey her?
      1. No, seriously. If one Klingon steps out of line she surely can’t blow up her homeworld. But at what point should she actually draw the line? The nature of sentient beings being forced to do something they don’t want to do is to constantly push at that boundary. She’s either going to need enough allies and manpower to deal with individual miscreants or the entire thing is going to fall apart. And she walks into this situation with exactly zero allies and manpower to her name.
  4. This entire part of the story comes across weird because everyone is just so damn easy to convince. Apparently, if they had talked to Michael sooner they could have avoided this entire part of the conflict, not that it took much energy or time to resolve once it was outed. It kind of makes Cornwell seem like she can be convinced to go along with whatever plan is presented to her last which is…not a good look.

But – OF COURSE – L’Rell is as easily convinced as Georgiou and Cornwell to go along with this plan. And it WORKS. She threatens the Klingon leaders and they immediately capitulate. And that’s…it. This plan goes off entirely without a hitch. I don’t remember the last time I saw a plan go that smoothly on TV or in real life or anywhere else. But, of course, it had to go smoothly so the writers could wrap up this storyline so they can do something entirely different, next season. Honestly, this episode could have benefited from having one final conflict in this part of the story to make the final victory feel a bit more earned. This season finale of an internet-only show was still only 47 minutes or so, it’s not like it would have made it unbearably long.

That cameo everyone loved was kinda dumb

Yes, I’m going after the Enterprise cameo. I don’t hate so much that it happened, but the how of it was completely ridiculous. The USS Discovery is headed toward Vulcan to pick up her new captain when they receive a priority distress call. Saru orders the ship to drop out of warp drive so they can attempt to get a better read on the signal. That’s all fine. But when the Enterprise dives into view out from a random space cloud, everyone seems to forget that it was in distress. They just kind of stare at the screen with awed smiles. Of course, who can blame them for forgetting it was in distress. It doesn’t look like it’s in distress and then the episode finishes with a flourish, using the original theme song.

But along with completely glossing over the distress part of the call, why exactly are these crew members in awe of the ship? The answer is: because the writers were hoping the audience would be in awe of it. Seriously, nothing that has ever been mentioned in any of the series, but especially this one, gives any indication that the Enterprise has been part of any kind of the crazy exploits it will be known for under Kirk, yet. It wasn’t even considered the flagship of the fleet and was one of many ships of the same class. There is literally no reason for anyone on that bridge to be in awe of it except to inspire or reflect the awe of the audience for the moment.

There were some good moments in this episode. The decision to restore Burnham’s commission and rank should serve as a balm to those who were disappointed in the series’ choice to make a woman of color into its star only to immediately reveal that it would be as a convicted felon. Every interaction Burnham had with Ash Tyler was pitch perfect for both of them as an example of how two mature adults can handle the end of a relationship. The complete ending of the Klingon War plotline also opens up some great opportunities to move toward other kinds of stories in the future and I can only be grateful for that. The finale may have been the worst episode of the series to date but it was still a lot better than a lot of other television out there and leaves plenty of promise for the future of the series.

The Orville is a good show, you guys

Seth Macfarlane’s humor is a turn off to many but the show is legitimately, surprisingly good.

Rumor has it that Family Guy and Ted creator Seth MacFarlane went to Paramount Studios, the owners of the rights to Star Trek and pitched them on him writing, directing, and starring in a new Star Trek series. Perhaps unsurprisingly given his previous creative efforts and how little they had to do with the iconic franchise, they told him no.

So, Seth MacFarlane being Seth MacFarlane, he went and did it anyway on a rival network.

MacFarlane actually has a fairly extensive history with Star Trek to the point that he has an entire entry on the Memory Alpha WikiThe Orville started advertising roughly the same time as Star Trek: Discovery began putting out trailers but it was advertised as more of a Star Trek spoof or parody than anything else. It was hard to see how it would be particularly good. This was especially true considering it was a science fiction show on Fox and given that it would be competing with a REAL Star Trek, even if that one could only be found on CBS’ streaming service.

But when the show first aired I decided to give it a go, based on the advice of TV and video game writer Erik Kain. The show, as it turned out, was not a parody or spoof. It was a dramedy that very much remembered what Star Trek used to be like in the 60’s and 80’s, in particular. Everything from the musical cues to the color scheme of the ship’s interior and exterior to the lighting used throughout the show is extremely reminiscent of particularly Star Trek: The Next Generation. The show features a lot of the representation and tackles the social issues I mentioned ast week that have always been keys to Star Trek. The primary difference between this show and what has come before is that it does feature some of MacFarlane’s trademark humor.

I know a rather large number of people who have completely refused to watch the show because they don’t like MacFarlane’s humor, and I have to admit I’m not his biggest fan, either. But the show so lovingly represents what Star Trek: The Next Generation would look like if it were created today that I have no problem  looking past the moments where the “humor” shows up – and it isn’t as often as you might imagine.

The crew features a near direct rip-off of TNG‘s Data in the form of Isaac, a humanoid android who wishes to learn more about humanity. MacFarlane twists the character a bit by making it clear that Isaac does not want to be human; he’s far superior to them and is simply studying them. He reminds them on a regular basis just how superior he is. Captain Ed Mercer has a unique relationship with his first officer, Commander Kelly Grayson. They were once married but got divorced when she cheated on him. This relationship could easily have become grating, but it’s actually strangely charming and sweet, most of the time. The two characters obviously care about each other and share a history but it doesn’t delve into cheap romance ploys though they butt heads, frequently, as people with long histories are wont to do.

Perhaps the most interesting characters are the Female Selay Security Chief, Lieutenant Alara Kitan, and the ship’s massive, Moclan second officer, Lieutenant Command Bortus. Kitan’s species is native to a planet with a very strong gravity well and so she is incredibly strong. Despite having such masculine trait she can be very stereotypically feminine at times without worrying about hiding it and represents an excellent example, along with Grayson, of positive femininity that doesn’t require women to give up their sexuality or act like men in order to be strong. Bortus, meanwhile, has the build of a Klingon but the reserved personality of a Vulcan. Neither of these traits prevent him from being in a homosexual relationship – shattering stereotypes of gay men who must be flighty or flashy.

The episode that absolutely convinced me that MacFarlane was serious about doing this Star Trek thing right was the third episode of the season and series, “About a Girl”.  This episode explored the gender spectrum in a thoughtful way that was reminiscent of the way Star Trek: Next Generation explored sexuality and gender in its fifth season episode, “The Outcast”. There were no childish jokes made at the expense of women or transgender people, but questions were asked and considered in a way that should cause anyone watching it to evaluate or perhaps re-evaluate their positions.

MacFarlane has also used his pull with Star Trek alums to include their talents in the show. Longtime Trek producer Brannon Braga has a similar role in The Orville, former Star Trek stars and directors Robert Duncan McNeill and Jonathan Frakes have directed. Voyager star Robert Picardo had a guest role which could easily appear again while Deep Space Nine supporting cast member Penny Johnson Jerald has a starring role as the ship’s chief medical officer, Dr. Claire Finn.

As previously mentioned the show isn’t perfect, MacFarlane’s humor does creep in from time to time; this primarily comes in the form of the ship’s helmsman and navigator frequently availing themselves of childish hijinks but the rest of the crew actually avoids it for the most part. Which isn’t to say the rest of the crew isn’t funny, they’re just…well, actually funny when the occasion calls for it. In “About a Girl” Bortus becomes depressed over the future of his child and despite being a large, reserved male he finds himself sitting on a couch eating ice cream and watching sappy movies. The best joke might have been from the series pilot, however. As Mercer is introducing himself to the senior staff upon taking command of the USS Orville and comes to Dr. Finn:

Ed Mercer: Dr. Claire Finn. You’re my chief medical officer, yes?

Dr. Claire Finn: Yes, sir, I am. Welcome aboard.

Ed Mercer: Your credentials are exceptional. Molecular surgery, DNA engineering, psychiatry. You could be posted on a heavy cruiser. What are you doing on the Orville?

Dr. Claire Finn: I always request my transfers based on where I think I’m needed. I feel more stimulated that way.

Ed Mercer: So what made your request this ship?

Dr. Claire Finn: Well, this is your first command, and I think you could use my help.

Ed Mercer: So you think I might screw up.

Dr. Claire Finn: No, sir, I didn’t say that, sir.

Of course, MacFarlane attempts to ruin this great back-and-forth – which I read as a reference to her resume as an actor from the REAL Star Trek compared to his fake show – with a childish reference to male genitalia:

Ed Mercer: Well, no, but you implied that you don’t think I have the balls to do this job.

Dr. Claire Finn: Well, I am your doctor, sir, and if your balls are under par, I’ll know.

But the good doctor delivers this line so well that is somehow ends up working.

For those who wonder how this show and Star Trek: Discovery can coexist I offer you the following images:

Notice how, despite the lens flare in the image from Star Trek: Discovery, the one from The Orville is much brighter? This holds true of pretty much everything. Good TV Shows and movies tend to use lighting to accent the mood and and tone of the show, Discovery has grown into an excellent Star Trek show but it continues to be dark and to focus on some depressing – though very important! – topics. The Orville, on the other hand, has a lighter touch – even when it isn’t being funny. These shows couldn’t work together better if it had been planned; they offer up Star Trek experiences with different themes and stories in ways that complement each other rather than competing. They even have different story-telling structures; Discovery has a serialized structure where each episode contains a chapter of the story while Orville features an episodic style.

The first season of The Orville was truncated to twelve episodes and has already been completed. However, a second season has been ordered. Any fan of science fiction shows on Fox can attest that this is already a massive victory for this show. Here’s hoping that it can continue to grow and mature into something more and more fans of Star Trek and optimistic science fiction can enjoy.

 

Let’s talk about Star Trek: Discovery

It had a rough start, but it got really good, really quick.

When Star Trek: Discovery was announced, there was a lot of celebrating in the Trek fandom. When it was announced that the show would release only on CBS’ crummy stand-alone streaming service, there was grumbling. When the first trailer came out of San Diego Comic Con there were a lot of disappointed people looking around at each other. The trailer was full of explosions and screaming and people looking sad or running just like any generic science fiction to come out recently. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of that, but Star Trek has a long, storied history of being more than that.

The first Star Trek came out in 1966 and tried to be something that has always been a little bit on the rare side: a science fiction story that imagined a utopian future. Gene Roddenberry, the show’s creator, strongly believed that there was good in humanity and wanted to tell a story where they had overcome their prejudices to help found a federation of planets that sought to raise up the denizens of the galaxy rather than to harm.

But he didn’t just imagine that future, he actively used his show to help guide people to the future through the time-honored science fiction trope of resetting modern issues into a more neutral context to help people see things in a different light and gain a new understanding. The most famous example from The Original Series, as the ’60s Trek came to be known after it spun off multiple other sequel and prequel series, is probably the episode “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”. The episode depicts a society where all of the people had black skin on one vertical half and white skin on the other vertical half but half of them had the colors reversed from the others. The society destroyed itself because one side viewed itself as inherently superior to the other and attempted to control them. The show is also famous for being the first television show to depict an interracial kiss. These were important, pointed messages in the middle of the civil rights era.

The show even went beyond these single moments into the realm of trying to depict possible new “normals”. It made a black woman an integral part of the bridge crew while the helmsman was Japanese just a relatively short time after the internment camps of World War II. When the second season started they added a Russian to the bridge crew in the middle of the Cold War. The crew of the ship frequently spent their time and efforts in attempts to resolve conflicts through puzzle solving and diplomacy rather than by shooting everything they saw; villain deaths were often treated as tragedies as much as the deaths of heroes.

Not every moment in Star Trek was or should be devoted to social justice or moralizing and Star Trek had some exciting space battles to break things up every once in a while. Still, its focus never wavered. The sequel series all continued that legacy to lesser or greater degrees. Even the movies dabbled in it a bit with one movie that featured an enemy that needed to be understood instead of destroyed (V’ger, The Motion Picture), another where the preservation of an animal species on our planet proved to be the key to humanity’s survival (Humpback Whales, The Voyage Home), and one where the Federation attempted to make peace with its oldest and greatest enemy despite the fact that hatreds still lingered heavily in the minds of many – including the hero, Captain Kirk (The Undiscovered Country).

I could probably go on and on about the themes and ideas of Star Trek but I won’t, today. But it’s important to understand an overview of what the media franchise has largely been about in its more than 50 years of existence. It’s been more than a decade since we had a Star Trek series to watch and a new one was always going to be judged at least partially in the context of what came before.

Hard core Trek fans were further disappointed when this series opened with yet another reimagining of perhaps the most iconic alien species in Star Trek, the Klingons. Seriously, the first time this happened it was fine. They suddenly had a special effects budget! But once was enough. The galaxy is pretty big, there can always be more aliens! Anyway, after we were introduced to new Klingons we got into a war with those same Klingons and the first 3 episodes ended up just being a lot of battles and fighting and arguing. The female captain of color was replaced with a white dude (though Jason Isaacs is awesome) and he seemed prepared to be a stereotypical sci-fi action hero, hell bent on killing everything that blinks at him the wrong way.

But then something amazing happened. The show stepped back, the warmongering began to be tempered with a desire for science and understanding that has always pervaded Star Trek. Sure, the captain wants to kill everything and may very well be suffering from some sort of mental illness, perhaps even psychopathy. But every other crew member on the ship seems far more interested in discovering new science and species. The diplomacy is still a little lacking, but you can’t have everything immediately.

As the series has continued it has become clear that the creators do still care about representation. A homosexual relationship between two of the senior crew members was revealed and they added a character played by a man who is part Pakistani. In the final episodes of the season they touched on PTSD and survivor’s guilt – two things that have been running rampant through our society for decades and only recently have begun to finally be addressed in a helpful way.

Despite the constant forced and incorrect references to TOS – no that is not a D-7 cruiser – the show had an excellent callback to prior series with its episode, “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” which featured both a time loop (something that is not unique to Star Trek but has still been done there several times) and old Star Trek recurring guest character Harcourt Fenton Mudd. The crew eventually resolves the issue in a very Star Trek kind of way when they manage to trick Mudd into breaking the loop and signalling his fiance Stella instead of his Klingon buyers. The situation is resolved in an embarrassing way for the villain instead of a deadly way. A highlight of quick thinking and a refusal to kill where unnecessary that has long highlighted the franchise.

So maybe the show creators didn’t get it originally – there’s some scuttlebutt that the original creator, Bryan Fuller had his hands primarily in the first three episodes, i.e. the most objectionable ones, before he left- but they really seem to be finding a Star Trek kind of groove now. This is not to say the show should never try anything new. Deep Space Nine only got better once it switched to a more serialized format after the previous two series had been largely episodic. Discovery is better for Jason Isaacs’ character even if he never could have existed while Gene Roddenberry was alive. You can’t live on nostalgia forever, after all. But it’s still important to also remember where you started – in this case the promise of a utopian future as imagined by Roddenberry. It turns out, too, that this is striking a chord with that coveted younger audience. The show has been so well-received since its debut that a second season has already been ordered despite the viewership likely being hamstrung to at least a moderate degree by CBS’ insistence on keeping it exclusive to their streaming platform.

In the mid-season finale the crew of the USS Discovery moves even further away from the war. This might be a deviation for only a couple of episodes or it might be for the rest of the season. It’s also caused seemingly intentionally by our dangerously unstable captain. But it might just lead to the first opportunity the show has had to really spend some time fulfilling that original concept from the opening credits of the first Star Trek to ever grace a television set: to boldly go where no man has gone before. And if the artists behind this show remember that much, hopefully they’ll remember the rest.