Star Trek Discovery is deeply weird.
In my review of The Orville, I mentioned that Discovery isn’t the spiritual successor to the Star Trek franchise, and now that I’m further into the series that remains true. I tried to figure out what it might be the successor to (since nothing is truly original) and I was thinking about The Lex as a possibility (if you haven’t seen it, it’s possibly the craziest science fiction TV show ever created) but that didn’t quite fit.
Suddenly it hit me. This is a dramatic take on the Mario stories. Okay, so they don’t use plumbing to travel, but they do use mushrooms. Seriously, that’s a significant point of the series. They use cosmic mycelium roots to travel the universe. It’s a faster form of travel, and if they don’t figure out some way to limit the travel, they will have to rewrite all of Star Trek.
This is also a war show. Discovery is a warship, not an exploration vessel. The story is about a conflict between humanity and the Klingon Empire. The Klingons have been revamped in a significant way, and now they look a little bit like Bowser. Not a lot, but there is a resemblance.
One way they could get around the mycelium drive is the fact that the drive requires an “evolved life form” to guide it, and that means driving giant needles into the evolved life form. For the first little while, they were using a giant space tardigrade, but that proved to be too harmful to the tardigrade, so they switched to using a human who’d been injected with tardigrade DNA. For a little while they had a captured mount that they used to fly their spaceship. This had flavours of Yoshi to me.
Now, once I got past my initial feeling about it, I started to relax and enjoy the show. It’s not Star Trek – hell, it’s not science fiction. Most of the ideas aren’t even slightly science-based. That doesn’t matter though. I’ve always been more of a Star Wars person than Star Trek, and the science in Star Wars is non-existent. That’s why I don’t nitpick it; I view it as fantasy. Discovery is much more fantasy than Science Fiction.
Some other specifics that show how far from science this piece of “Science Fiction” is: Vulcans have souls, these souls are measurable, and can be used in interesting ways. For example, you can use your soul energy to heal someone. That gives you a bond that allows for instantaneous communication over any distance, although not reliably. It is more of an empathic link with some subconscious thought spilling into it. For reasons, they don’t use this to establish an undetectable comms network that can’t be blocked, instead haphazardly communicating with people they saved at some point in the past. Humans can be healed in this way and brought into the network.
Vulcans have terrorists. Logic extremists who want to have less to do with humans.
Star Fleet has not managed to duplicate the drive Discovery uses, instead, using Discovery as this insanely overpowered front line ship. This is sort of addressed, but it makes very little sense.
Captain Lorca is the most compelling character in the show. He’s a war veteran, haunted by things he’s seen and done, clearly suffering from PTSD and highly unstable. This is addressed, his admiral is trying to get him removed from command, despite sleeping with him. She is of course captured by Klingons who betray their diplomatic mission. This is deeply stupid of them and makes very little sense.
Overall the Klingons are the weakest point in the series, despite getting far more focus than they did in past stories. For a better version of what the Klingons could be, look at the Krill in The Orville. The most significant issue with the Klingons is that they could not function as a technological civilisation. They are kind of cool from the perspective of storytelling but are completely bonkers in a sci-fi setting. Again though, if you view it as a fantasy story and just pretend all the tech is magic, it works.
The strongest element in the show is the acting. Sonequa Martin-Green is brilliant playing Michael Burnham, the series lead. She manages to be vulnerable and human while burying her emotions deep inside her. You can see the struggle not to allow feelings to surface, while it breaks through in small ways from time to time. Jason Isaacs might be the best actor on the show though, playing Captain Gabriel Lorca. He’s utterly convincing and commands every single scene every time he’s on screen. Other actors worth noting: Doug Jones as Lt. Saru, an alien with threat ganglia (which detect threats he’s not aware of in any way in some sort of psychic manner from what I can tell), and Shazad Latif – a newcomer to the Discovery named Ash Tyler. He was a prisoner of the Klingons for eighteen months, sleeping with the Klingon captain to ensure his survival. He’s an excellent actor and stands out.
James Frain plays Sarek. It’s one of the worst decisions they made in the show. Now, I should note that I’ve never been a big fan of his, but in this case, it’s a pretty big miscasting. Sarek is Spock’s father (and Michael Burnham’s adopted father). He’s not that good an actor, and he is nothing like previous incarnations of the character. He seems to be mistaking not being emotional with not acting, yet somehow still manages to overact from time to time.
In the end, it’s an enjoyable if uneven show, just don’t go into it expecting Star Trek in any way.