I don’t know what I am looking for in Star Trek: Discovery. But it’s time to stop trying to figure it out and enjoy the ride.
This response to this week’s episode of Star Trek: Discovery largely echoed a single phrase – “It finally feels like Star Trek.”
I’m sorry, have I not been watching Star Trek for six weeks? There are new uniforms, newer Klingons, and a crew that references the Enterprise and Captain Pike. What about this show made it feel like some imitation?*
*We are never going to discuss The Orville.
And I was in that camp. Sure, I was watching Star Trek, but it still hadn’t processed that this was Star Trek, true adventure in Gene Roddenberry’s universe.
It was about the time of the f-word heard ’round Federation Space, that I began to wonder, “Am I enjoying this show? Or am I trying too hard to make it fit into a mold that I’m not even sure exists?”
When Discovery was first announced, and even now as the show progresses, rankings of the Trek incarnations are everywhere. Where does this show fit into the larger universe? Is it more like the original series? DS9?
Discovery’s insistence on tethering itself to the original series is, in a word, frustrating. The introduction of Harry Mudd in “Choose Your Pain” annoyed me long before the episode aired. It’s an all too obvious callback to the original series. And I feared, “If Discovery can’t make a name for itself without Mudd, then what hope is there?”
And one episode later, those same thoughts arose about Sarek. Could Discovery make Burnham’s story work with any other Vulcan? I decided to go back. Not all the way to the beginning, just the to the start of Discovery.
In the times of TV-overload, this is not a wise decision. But as a Trek fan, I needed to know — what am I looking for in this show that I am not getting?
It turns out, I’m not missing anything.
Discovery, from the moment Michael Burnham and Captain Philippa Georgiou appear on screen, is Star Trek. There is no “beaten path” in Star Trek. There is no manual. The show is about exploring new frontiers, reaching the outer limits of space, boldly going where others have not.
So, why do I keep waiting to categorize this show in the pantheon of its predecessors? Discovery is here to tell new stories, to open up a new crew to love and care for and relate to. There are new creatures, plenty of new science, and yes, callbacks (or in this shoutouts) to TOS.
When I ask if Sarek could have been any Vulcan, the answer is no. It had to be someone whose inclinations to integrate, and study, human culture with the Vulcan teachings.
Could we have done without Harry Mudd? Maybe, but it would not have led to nearly half the fun of “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad.”
It took something Anthony Rapp said on this week’s After Trek, to help all of this settle.
Matt Mira asked about Rapp’s experience revisiting old Trek episodes and watching other Trek series for the first time. Rapp said, “It’s been so inspiring. The very best episodes are among the best TV episodes of any kind that I’ve ever seen. I had a relationship to Trek as a kid along with all of the other nerdy things that I loved. But it’s been wonderful to revisit and then enrich and expand my knowledge.”
Discovery is an expansion of knowledge. “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” does feel like Star Trek. But only because the show was already Star Trek in its own way.
The show walks a fine line, introducing new elements while understanding how it fits into the series that come after it. Spore-science isn’t exactly integrated into Starfleet vessels like the Enterprise and Spock doesn’t quite miss his surrogate sister. But the Klingon war, that needs to be given
Why does this week suddenly feel worthy of a fan-fare reaction? What we get in “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” is an episode that highlights the crew’s strengths, flaws, and most importantly how to use all of them in tandem. It solidifies the disjointedness of the bridge. It unifies the crew as one and does so with an episodic flare.
The time-loop takes the episode out of the serialized storyline for a brief moment and utilizes the constraints to its advantage. Stamets is kept outside of the loop. Just as his natural personality and obsession with his work kept him on the outside of relationships with his coworkers, his Tardigrade DNA prevents him from existing in normal space time.
And while every multi-dimensional Stamets dies when the Discovery explodes, a piece of him lives on, learning and growing. Finally, he realizes the way to relate to people, he gets through to them in a more meaningful albeit efficient way.
He helps Burnham unpack some of her feelings about her position, her past, and her connection to Ash Tyler. Stamets teaches her how to dance and offers insight to what makes two humans feel open to love.
In the second to last time-loop Stamets and Burnham find a way to con a conman. Burnham uses herself as a bargaining tool, Stamets reveals the secret to operating the spore-hub, and Tyler assists in the security override of the ship. Mudd gets to go back to life under the watchful eye of his wife Stella.
But he’s not the only one who gains a second chance in the end. Lorca and the entire crew of Discovery see each other with new eyes.
And while they may not remember any of the previous time-loops, there appears to be some retention, or at the very least acknowledgement of the past. Something that will drive them forward as a new unified unit of misfits. And that, I’ll concede, is classic Trek.
Where to next?
Speaking of lingering plot lines, Discovery now heads towards the final two episodes of 2017. While breaking time was fun and insightful, the writers are holding a lot of cards in their hands.
In press junkets the executive producers are heavy on the Klingon-centric storylines. However, they’ve practically disappeared into the background after episode 4. This doesn’t mean that we’re done with them by any means. The war only started a few months ago and with Admiral Cornwell captured, we’re sure to see them again soon.
But the Klingon kingdoms, their unifying principles, their divisive politics, have all but faded away in favor of the Discovery crew. And while I’m enjoying running around in DISCO shirts, playing laser tag, attending parties, and learning what makes Saru’s skin literally crawl, I can’t help but wonder if an extended shift back to the Klingon’s is overdue.
Additionally, the full extent of Stamets’ mutated DNA is not yet disclosed. He may be hardwired for transport, but if he keeps existing in multiple dimensions, what does that mean for his work. His love life? We saw extra-spunky Stamets, unhinged yet focused Stamets, and crazed Stamets in this episode. What other incarnations are waiting out there?
And what about Lorca’s PTSD? Tilly’s new training program? Saru’s backstory?
Whichever direction we head, I’m happy to be aboard the Discovery to watch it unfold.
Star Trek: Discovery airs Sundays exclusively on CBS All Access in the U.S. and on Netflix globally.
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