Star Trek: Fuck
Discovery is pushing boundaries, but for what purpose?
Discovery may no longer be new – not even the newest Star Trek property – but it is new to me. According to the alternate timeline exemption of the J.J. movies, I've been left without “Canon” Star Trek television since 2005 (or 2155) with the last episode of Enterprise, but I've been looking forward with moderate anticipation to an opportunity to watch this new entry into “the stodgiest and squarest of all sci-fi universes.” Though I am extremely well-versed in Gene Roddenberry's baby, I come to both you and Discovery with absolutely zero desire to analyze whether or not it is “Trek” enough, “good” science-fiction, or even “good” television – I'd like only to land on your screen between all of these institutions and their proctors in some unique insight from all of them, without the clichés, cringey jokes, or unnecessary Trekism. What I will strive to do is perform my Special Duty in relation to American intellectual property mastodons for which I have my own adoration: to determine whether or not they should die. I know absolutely nothing about television writing – the same amount I know about film – so I hope I can provide something usefully unique.
I would rather Star Trek not have to die, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s necessary. Without sounding like I have to prove myself, know that the property – in particular the history of Star Trek Online’s development – was a very important part of my adolescent life. I have watched every episode of every series several times at least, but I know better than to entrust my entire emotional existence into the promise of a continuation like Discovery. It most fascinates me how revivals of old names like this go about contextualizing their dialogue and other elements for today’s audience. “Snug as a bug in a rug” is surely not an expression we should expect to survive the next 250 years of human development, and yet this is supposed to be an aspirational series? It even made it in the recap! I should confess now: it is actually Star Trek Online which made me curious enough to seek out a CBS All Access Free Trial. The marketing worked very well.
I tend to install the game for a few weeks or so around this time every year just to check in. This time, I was greeted by Star Trek Online: Legacy – a new expansion featuring Voyager’s Jeri Ryan and Discovery’s Sonequa Martin-Green reprising their respective characters in voiceover roles. I figured out that Michael Burnham must have been from The New Show fairly quickly, but I was disappointed to find out that the character was not in fact a trans man, but rather a female character with an unusually male name. For the most part, Burnham is simply an outlier in The Measure of Morality Parts I and II. She accompanies one’s character (along with Seven of Nine) to several different battlegrounds and stories we’d already seen before in previous episodes – when the budget’s running low, reuse sets, but there is one instance where we are brought into her (Discovery’s) world, which feels disorienting. The whole experience plays like it was forced upon STO by CBS in order to squeeze as many viewers into our free CBS All Access trials with as little developmental investment into the game as possible. Well, here I am!
In Season 1, Episode 4 of Discovery, the writers made a very foul mistake… They placed fucking Elon Musk’s name alongside the aviation pioneering Wright Brothers and the fictional inventor of warp drive, Zefram Cochrane.
How do you want to be remembered in history? Alongside the Wright Brothers, Elon Musk, Zefram Cochrane? Or as a failed fungus expert?
I can’t be timid about this – it straight up makes me ill. I can guarantee you that Orville and Wilbur Wright would have never watched fucking South Park and that I am actually going to be sick right here on this couch.
I'm sorry, I don't look up to anyone who watches South Park. it's just a personal rule, okay?— David Blue (@NeoYokel) April 29, 2020
I’ll spare you further ranting, but… Jesus Christ. I will not believe that I live in a world where this sort of comparison is acceptable. I’m not going to freak out because they say “shit” and “fuck” now, though I do wonder what Gene Roddenberry (though he wasn’t all that great, it turns out) would say – something like “profanity is no longer a necessary part of 23rd century language.” I thought Morgan Jeffery’s take on this for Digital Spy was an interesting one:
There's an argument to be made that the old style of Trek might feel naive in 2017. But there's another that it'd be a refreshing antidote to the times, the Trek we really need right now as opposed to the one we deserve.
I like to watch fellow Star Trek enthusiasts squirm and cry “continuity” and “canon” as much as any reasonable human being, but I’m not sure this sort of boundary-pushing is actually productive. Is anything being accomplished? Other than marking Discovery forever as not “family-friendly entertainment?” Linguistically, the word “fucking” in “fucking cool” was used for emphasis, which perhaps suggests there was no other way for the character to express that level of enthusiasm. In his IndieWire interview, Anthony Rapp (Paul Stamets) explains:
“These people just put their brains to work in a really tough way and they had a breakthrough. And I imagine there’s scientists in their labs who might do that any time. We didn’t drop the F-bomb in ‘Star Trek’ by telling something to go fuck themselves. It’s like we did it by saying ‘this is fucking cool.'”
If Discovery was “making history,” I’m not so sure what Star Trek: Picard was doing with fucking and pissant. I’m also not sure it matters at all in the grander scheme. What other freedoms should CBS feel free to explore, now that they’ve said the bad words? What else hasn’t been explored? Bathrooms? Shitting and farting? That has my vote. I really don’t remember as many colloquialisms showing up in the earlier series, but perhaps that’s just because those colloquialisms have since become part of our language. I’m not the greatest television watcher of all time, but I got lost in Discovery’s plot, and apparently I’m not the only one.
There turned out to be too many of those twists in Discovery’s first season, and it was frustrating to watch as the writers sidled up to new, risky frontiers for exploration, only to suddenly change course right when things were starting to get interesting.
Season 1, Episode 7 is called “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad,” and it’s the most classically Star Trek of what I’ve seen. One of those stuck-in-a-time-loop stories which truly makes you want to die. What’s even better and slightly meta: playback kept resetting for me at exactly 21:26 and starting from the beginning while the cat kept stepping on the delete key and destroying this paragraph. I had to keep watching the man from The Fucking Office continually kill the captain after the crew parties to 250-year-old West Coast hip hop and 300-year old Al Green all whilst writing this over again. I do not like Rainn Wilson invading my Star Trek. He gives Aquariuses a bad name and… beard. “Listen, petunia, I've been screwed over since the day I was born. I deserve this,” he says, and I wonder if in fact it is Rainn himself speaking of his invasion. He looks and sounds like a fucking incel. All of this makes me wonder if my entire problem with this show is simply that I do not particularly like its characters.
Relying on Memory Alpha – a tried-and-true Star Trek fan resource – we can examine the U.S.S. Discovery, itself. I’m not so sure about this spore drive shit. If the NCC-1701 Enterprise was indeed launched in 2245, its existence would blatantly overlap with Discovery’s, now wouldn’t it? I don’t actually care all that much, but here are a few screenshots from Star Trek Online.
Note how much larger this Crossfield-class ship is than the Intrepid-class from some 120 years into the future. Then again, the latter was designed for “long-range exploration missions” and Discovery is the fleet’s flagship(?) Its “most advanced ship,” at least. The inclusion of technologies like the holodeck and the spore drive (perhaps the show’s most potent plot device,) though, are really stretching the canon timeline’s ability to accommodate them. The decision to include the Discovery as a playable, top-tier ship in Star Trek Online is 100% a business one, surely. I’m not here to judge, though – after all, games are about having fun, right? One of Star Trek’s ironies has always been its existence in a capitalist society as an IP within a debatably socialist future. (Everybody wants to see their own ideal socioeconomic label in this future, it would seem.) “What makes Star Trek’s economics fundamentally different, and, in many ways, fundamentally incomprehensible to us, is that scarcity is no longer a factor,” says Dale Franks. Today, though, Star Trek properties still require finite resources and labor to produce, and they always have. Atari spent over $50 million to acquire Cryptic Studios – the original developers of Star Trek Online – and Discovery supposedly cost “$6-7 million per episode.” Though the former is free-to-play, it’s filled with microtransactions and about 5 billion different currencies. When Star Trek.com says “Star Trek Online is best described as a permanent Star Trek convention,” they’re correct: it is full of shit to buy.
There is also a lot of combat, though Discovery seems to have struck a healthy balance between warfare and other intrigues. It is definitely Trek in many ways: redshirts die without any plot consequence and all the classic character flaw tropes are represented. There is the aforementioned time loop episode with fucking Harry Mudd and even a mirror universe arc beginning with “Despite Yourself,” in which the crew actually responds to their new environment and does the research required to blend in with the Terran forces. This took an ancient Star Trek format and actually explored a new, interesting avenue within it (the time loop episode did not.) They even change the Discovery’s registry on the hull to read “ISS Discovery” instead of “USS.”
Every moment is a test. Can you bury your heart? Can you hide your decency? Can you continue to pretend to be one of them? Even as, little by little, it kills the person you really are.
There’s a reason we all hate Captain Lorca, and why he says things like “sometimes the ends justify terrible means” and “there’s no way we’re asking these neighbors for a cup of sugar.” I do not believe in Spoilers, but there’s not much reason for me to tell you why, specifically. Perhaps it is racist and/or misogynist to say so, but I found it difficult to get as attached to Discovery’s characters as I have to those of series past. Michael is great, of course, though my girlfriend Sierra surmised that her purpose in the show is to illustrate that “nobody listens to black women.” Sierra was also quite aggravated by the misunderstanding and mistreatment of the tardigrade. When Paul Stamets mentioned that his uncle Everett participated in a Beatles cover band, we both despaired, for we discovered an entry in Memory Alpha for “The Beatles.” If I were to standardize a system of measurement for my television ratings, Discovery’s cringe factor would be 9/10. The holodeck hasn’t been invented yet!
Also, CBS All Access’ user interface is the worst I’ve ever seen from a streaming service, across iOS, desktop browser, and my Samsung television. It’s impossible to scrub, really, or to dictate a preference for high definition. One cannot navigate backward between episodes without re-searching the title and navigating through an incredibly clunky menu sequence. I was able to cast to both my Samsung TV and Sierra’s Chromecast from my iPhone, at least.
Despite its failings (including Rainn Wilson,) Discovery’s acting is superb. James Frain as Sarek, especially, is the best of the three. I thought it was especially thoughtful that for the most part (at least in Season 1,) the Klingons actually spoke Klingon to each other. Given that Dr. Marc Okrand spent the time and effort to construct a fully-functional Klingon language, it seems only reasonable to include as much of it as possible. I also love Hugh Culber’s doctor’s uniform and the “cinematic” cinematography of the whole thing. It’s very much an action show, yet not quite obnoxious.
So, should *Star Trek* die? Perhaps it shows my extreme bias, but no, I do not think it need perish quite yet. From my (white, male, cishet) perspective, Discovery does an okay job at remaining thoroughly Trek whilst acknowledging the present context’s social issues. It remains a very capitalist enterprise and wholesomely cringey generation X cultural mastodon, but I think it’s still worth our time.
- “Star Trek: Discovery producer explains why the Klingons changed” | Entertainment Weekly
- “STAR TREK: DISCOVERY Review — ‘The Sound of Thunder'” | Trekcore
- “Sonequa Martin-Green's Commander Michael Burnham Joins Star Trek Online: Legacy” | SyFy
- “Star Trek Online’s Legacy update lets you live your Star Trek: Picard dreams” | PCGamer
- “When Gene Roddenberry Explained 'Star Trek' in 1966” | Hollywood Reporter
- “Jason Isaacs says Star Trek: Discovery is 'of our time, and for our time'” | Digital Spy
- “‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Made Trek History With One Word” | Inverse
- “'Star Trek: Discovery' reveals an origin for Harry Mudd” | CNET
- “Star Trek Discovery's 'Magic To Make The Sanest Man Go Mad' Is A Masterpiece: Season 1 Episode 7” | Forbes
- “Star Trek: Discovery’s half-season premiere is a sobering reminder that utopia has a cost” | The Verge
- “Star Trek: Discovery's Anthony Rapp on Playing the Shows First Openly Gay Character” | Out
- “Captain Lorca Did It On Purpose in 'Star Trek: Discovery' Finale” | Inverse
- “‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Season 1, Episode 10: Mirrors!” | The New York Times
Jason Isaacs is giving a very compelling performance. But the writers seem to be turning him into a fundamentally different person from who he was earlier in the season. Some might call this character development. Others might say there are more shoes to drop.
- “Is Star Trek’s Society Really Socialist?” | Foundation for Economic Education
- “‘Make It So’: ‘Star Trek’ and Its Debt to Revolutionary Socialism” | The New York Times
- “Star Trek Economics Is Just True Communism Arriving” | Forbes