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Space Noir
SPOILER ALERT: If you are planning to wait until the end of Season One of Star Trek: Discovery, then take advantage of CBS All Access’s one-week free trial, and binge watch all fifteen episodes in a week, then God help you. Be aware also that reading this will ruin your devious little plan.

Star Trek: Discovery, the latest star in the constellation of Star Trek space operas, has boldly gone…well, you know. While the show takes care to adhere to the canon of history laid down by its predecessors, it dares to break new ground on a number of fronts. I am so impressed with this new show, in fact, that I am declaring it the best Star Trek yet.

I do not take this position lightly. Kirk and Spock are written into the deepest level of my cultural DNA. Whenever I've wanted to seek out new life and new civilizations, the Enterprise has always been my starship of choice. And yet, the Discovery beckons. For one thing, it’s snazzier than either Kirk’s NCC-1701 or Picard’s NCC-1701-D and E — even though it pre-dates those starships. That is not a complaint. While this new Star Trek series has gone backward ten years into the original’s past, my personal timeline has continued to move forward. During that time my expectations regarding production values have matured along with me. Consequently, I'm willing to overlook this break in continuity.

The aliens are also better, especially the Klingons. If you are any kind of trekkie at all, you are aware that the Klingon look has undergone an odd evolution over the years. They’ve always looked bony and angry, but this purple, hairless version is more, well, alien-looking. They could actually be creatures from outer space rather than humans with rubber foreheads. They’ve even got their own font (Trajan Pro Bold, if I’m not mistaken) for the English subtitles. Add to all this a new complexity of character that goes beyond the simple badass of previous Klingons, and you have a truly worthy adversary for the Federation.

It is in the characters on Discovery, moreover, that we find its clearest superiority over other Treks. Prior series had casts of characters whose personas remained essentially the same from episode to episode. With a few exceptions, each installment stood on its own, each time with the cast regulars placed in some new situation. I’m only a few episodes into Discovery, but already individual characters are evolving as the series progresses. A couple have even died. It’s more of a Game of Thrones miniseries approach to sci-fi. Episodes are not so much individual stories as chapters in an unfolding drama, and the roles are growing and changing as we watch. That’s new, too, and I like it.

There is something else that is new about these characters. Most are flawed and troubled — sometimes deeply. Past Star Trek personae have had their little hang-ups, of course, but nothing like these tortured souls. Michael Burnham, the Vulcan-trained Earther who is the series’ protagonist, set off a galactic war with the Klingons while killing her mentor in the process. Discovery’s captain, Gabriel Lorca, is kind of an asshole. Burnham’s love interest has some serious kinks of his own thanks to an abusive relationship…with a Klingon. And so on. They are all fighting on the side of good, I suppose, but battling their own demons at the same time. Those demons are among the engines that drive the show, and I prefer this space noir format to the old, two-dimensional band-of-heroes model.

Writing a show with this premise has got to be challenging, though. The number of variables that have to be accounted for every week would be daunting. Not only does some fresh scientific element have to be introduced and explained (or over-explained, as is sometimes the case), but the larger arc of the story has to be moved forward. The individual struggles of ever-changing characters have to be managed as well. On top of all that, the producers have decided to supply a credible cliff-hanger every week that is coherent within the larger arc of the series. With all these balls in the air, sometimes the stories can get a little thin. On the other hand, Star Trek — and science fiction in general — has never been known for phaser-proof plotting. As long as I get my aliens and some zippy science, I’m pretty much good.

In that last regard — the zippy science — Discovery is also making a better effort than its forbears. Two of the early episodes include a tardigrade, a normally microscopic space-dweller that weighs in on Discovery at half a ton. They explained why, but I sort of lost the thread. In one episode, they give a technical explanation for an invisibility cloak that borders on the plausible. In another, they accomplish near-instantaneous interstellar travel using…spores. Oh, yeah.

If you are a trekkie but still holding out on Discovery, I get it. It’s about the money, right? Then let me share with you some wisdom from Jean Luc Picard: “Money doesn’t exist in the 24th century. The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force of our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.” Don’t you feel a little bit silly now?
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee