To boldly go where no man has gone before
Ola: Star Trek, along the Star Wars universe, is considered one of the most influential and popular ideas of humanity in space. It is especially dear to me because of the unguarded optimism and idealism of Gene Roddenberry vision – the idea that we can eventually communicate and understand every other species in the galaxy. I was much too young to watch the original series – I was a kid when The Next Generation was aired in Poland, and enjoyed every bit of it. Only recently I gave the original series a try, and liked it despite its visibly aged appearance. The mood of the series, its unabashed and unrepentant optimism, was a welcome turn of events in our rather pessimistic times.
Piotrek: I’ve always been a Babylon 5 fan. I’ve seen the whole series… three times, I believe. It was darker, faster, concentrated on geopolitics and war. And it still is my all-time favourite s/f show. The biggest such franchise ever is Star Trek though, and I understand why. I appreciate it more and more, its optimism – so hard to find in genre of today, its support for important progressive causes, captain Picard, Spock, friendly nerds laughed at by bullies in movies from the 70-ties and 80-ties… and yet, the show itself was not as watchable for me. My favourite version was TNG, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen all the episodes.
And now, 12 years after ST: Enterprise, show I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen a single episode of, we got ST: Discovery. A prologue only, so far, but it’s enough for a cautious first impression. Will it be good, modern TV, and at the same time faithful to the message of Gene Roddenberry? Is it, in other words, the Star Trek show for our times?
I am, cautiously, optimistic.
Ola: I am, unfortunately, not.
Piotrek: Why? ST:Discovery starts with a scene fully compatible with the episodes of old. Starfleet officers trying to help an underprivileged race without disturbing their development, in the process probably inspiring legends forever changing the natives, and possibly even some sort of cargo cult. I hope the planet will be revisited to show us the results. If not, that would be a wasted opportunity.
Ola: That’s absolutely true. But that’s about it when it comes to Roddenberry’s spirit in the new series. The Klingons…
Piotrek: Exactly! I’ve liked several less important things, like the new Klingon look. Originally they were too human-like, largely due to budget restrictions. Now – ok, not totally alien, but at least reptilian 😉 It’s not a total win, previous design was pretty iconic, but I like the changes.
Ola: Huh. I actually very much don’t like the changes. The Klingons look like something from a cheap Halloween costume rental, their lips (since when reptiles have lips?) move weirdly, and their costumes look like something from Renaissance times. The CGI compared to The Expanse, for example, looks cheap as well, but my main woe is the main protagonist. It seems to me that for the sake of the plot Michael Burnham was made stupid and reckless, her Vulcan ties seem very forced. Is there really only one Vulcan who likes humans? And do we really only now learn that Spock had a human adopted sister? But most importantly, what the hell was the Cold War MAD doctrine doing as the ultimate manifest of Vulcan infallible logic?! Illogicalities abound, and that’s not so terrible in itself, since in the original series there were plenty of those as well, but if we’re talking about improvement, that’s where it can be made.
Piotrek: Generally, I’d say the show has high production values and good pace, making it smart and likeable. Up to a point… a week after my first encounter with the new Star Trek I’m a bit worried about some details. Continuity with previous incarnations – not a big problem for me, I don’t know enough about them. Plot… I’d say it’s a decent beginning, but it’s too early to say anything about the whole show, and thing will change big come episode three. But I’m not sold on the main protagonist, and she seems to really dominate the prologue. Not only should a Star Trek show be more about the teamwork of a diverse (and not only colourful) group, but also the character herself is kind of weak. Her Vulcan upbringing and her human ancestry clash in rather unbelievable ways, she’s entirely too chaotic and insubordinate in her actions, and unless we see, and soon, how she learned from her mistakes, it will be hard to like her. We will change ships and the crew, so I hope we will get an interesting team, and not just one prima-donna.
And then it becomes darker and edgier. Haughty optimism of the Federation, with their universalistic, liberal values, needs to face enemy irrational, savage and violent. On the verge of war that is not a result of misunderstanding, but a fundamental cultural differences. Hmm, is it Samuel Huntington’s Star Trek? Or just one for liberals who came to understand the difficulties of spreading universal values universalism of which is not immediately understood by everybody. Echoes of recent, and ongoing, wars, and political struggles we face in our societies. Not surprising that reviews are to found both in The Guardian and The New Yorker, with the former entitled How Star Trek tackled the final frontier: Trump, and the latter describing Klingon leader T’Kuvma as Bannon-esque. It’s show’s creators job to find some of the Star Trek optimism before its conclusion, and to allow its protagonists to retain as much of their idealism as possible, but it also needs to reflect the spirit of our times.
Ola: Well, yeah – since you mentioned it I noticed that the new Klingon look has something of Pepe the Frog in it… Politically realistic Star Trek – Huntington’s or Brzeziński’s – is not what I was waiting for. I still hope that Jason Isaacs will save the day as the captain of Discovery, and I do like that name, Discovery, because it harkens back to the idealistic spirit of Star Trek of old. And so I will watch the rest of the series, hoping for the pilot to be only the beginning of a journey – and that the main protagonist will become, somewhere along the way, a decent human being, true to the old ideals of communicating, understanding, and acknowledging the Other 😉
Piotrek: Fair enough, like I said – I was always a Babylon 5 guy, not without reasons. Star Trek Discovery moves in this direction. And of course if it’s not perfect, Star Trek never was. Kirk’s inapt fight with rubber Alien, sexism of the original series…
Ola: That’s true – Star Trek was always a mirror of its times – I just don’t think I really like what it is showing us today 😉