I’m out of time for the day and the weekend, but I promised I’d add something about this, so here goes.
They’re showing the new Star Trek show on Netflix now, at the charmingly dated-feeling rate of one episode a week (oh syndication, will your rigor-mortis-grip on technology that has long outstripped you never rot away?).
There’s been a lot of huffing and puffing about it. There always is, with Star Trek. I find it hard to get worked up. I’m basically enjoying the show, although there are a few things I’ve found annoying so far. I don’t know if I can be bothered to get into them, but here’s a little run-down.
Yes, they changed the Klingons again. I don’t really care about that, they seem to change the Klingons all the time but they’ve sort of explained it in-universe as well, albeit stupidly. So let’s see if they do that now. It’s another semi-prequel set somewhere pre-Original Series but post-Enterprise, in the main timeline. Probably. Whatever.
The characters are … ugh. I don’t know. The new Captain (as of post-pilot episode 3) seems interesting, and the cowardly XO is fun even though Doctor Who did it better. Then there’s a gawky awkward neurotic junior officer of some kind, who I found mildly annoying, and the rest are all just a bit grey for now. But then, let’s be fair. The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager were all, to my mind, pretty iconic. The characters were all very distinctive. Even Enterprise went that way too, although it took me a season or so to get into it and see what sort of characters they were. I still think Trip (aka. Michael) and Malcolm are pretty bland, but they’re fleshing out.
The reboot movies, although they were a lot of fun and had amazing portrayals of the Original Series characters, were also pretty forgettable in a plastic sort of way. I didn’t hate them, though. They still worked for me.
I hear a lot of complaining about Michael (uh, I mean, the actual character’s name is Michael, I’m not making a Stargate Atlantis joke now), the main Discovery character … Spock’s adopted sister? Or at least an orphan raised by Spock’s parents? Okay. Actually I’m pretty okay with her, she’s at least interesting. Seems like a more edgy-extreme version of the Maquis characters of Deep Space Nine and Voyager. If edgy is the way they want to take it.
This brings me to my main point of meh about the whole show. I don’t know what it’s trying to be, but it doesn’t seem like Star Trek anymore. Which doesn’t necessarily mean a damn thing, but it affects my interpretation of the storylines.
Star Trek, to me, means these things:
It’s bright, not gritty: Even the movies were shiny and clean. Humans went into the darkness of space and they lit it up with their big shiny glowing neon pastel starships. Every time a Star Trek has tried to be dark and gritty, from Nemesis to the Nero reboot, it’s fallen on its face. The only good darkness in Star Trek is the sort with green highlighting and a Borg eye-laser coming out of the gloom.
The characters and the culture is evolved: From Picard’s adventures through Sisko’s Dominion War and Janeway’s quest to bring her crew home, the enlightenment and decency of humans in Star Trek has always been at once its most appealing, and fantastical notions. This is a human race that has gone through all the shit we’re waist-deep in right now, and come out better on the other side. Even though I may have had trouble believing it when I looked around, I’ve never failed to immerse myself in it when I watch. And when that enlightenment breaks, it’s a big deal.
There are plenty of science fiction shows where humans go out into space and act like narrow-minded aggressive selfish shitty jerks. Some of them are amazing. The Expanse is brilliant. And even Star Trek falls in a hole sometimes (boy, am I ever sick of the human snootiness over Vulcan culture). But there it is. The first episode of Discovery immediately got me almost aggressively bored by bringing basically every trending Internet social justice issue directly into the script in the clumsiest way I could imagine. That’s going to take a while for me to recover from.
It’s about exploration and learning: Just calling the new ship and show “Discovery” doesn’t mean that’s what it’s about. It’s way too early to tell and I think there’s great potential in the show’s arc, but … every other Star Trek has been about the edge, the frontier, of some great physical unknown. Space itself, the Gamma Quadrant, the Delta Quadrant. If Discovery is going to do the same thing with its new scientific discipline, and the surreal whatever-it-was that has opened up as an application of that new form of proto-bio-physics … well that’s fucking amazing (even if it’s going to be forgotten by the time The Original Series starts). I can’t wait.
Obviously, anyone who has read The Final Fall of Man will probably understand why I’d be excited about a Star Trek variant including a rogue starship that takes part in experimental research and development of a new branch of superluminal transport – and that’s just the beginning of its applications.
Is it Star Trek? Uh, yes. Yes it is. It says it in the title.
Is it what I think of as Star Trek? Not really, but that doesn’t mean I hate it. And if it matters that much that I think of it as Star Trek, I’m just going to have to amend what I think Star Trek is.
Now, we’re only three episodes in, and in between times Mrs. Hatboy and I are still giving Star Trek Enterprise a go. Enterprise is definitely Star Trek, it’s just not particularly inspired or gripping Star Trek. There are glimmers, same as there are glimmers in Discovery. And while I wouldn’t have stopped watching any of the other Treks in order to watch through another show, I have done so with Enterprise. It’s not particularly gripping … but I’m getting there. It just took a season or so.
It seems pointless for me to decide either way about Discovery before finishing the series, let alone by the three-episode mark. And two of those were basically pilot. I mean, if it’s so dull and so bad that I stop watching entirely, that’s another matter – but that hasn’t happened yet. I’m mildly curious.
It may be as simple as this: The time for Star Trek is over. Roddenberry’s dream is no longer something the cultural mass-consciousness can support. Those values are no longer of … well, value to us. And so every attempt to make new Star Trek takes it further from that light. It adds buzz-issues. It makes it gritty. It rehashes the same period of time in endless continuity-reboots in an attempt to get it right. But it can’t. Because it’s not Star Trek that has changed.