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Trying to Stay on Trek
This is a difficult essay for me to write. As a veteran fanboy, I never like to say anything harsh about about the Star Trek franchise.

So I want to be fair. The special effects are great. As to everything else…perhaps the makers of Star Trek: Discovery were just too ambitious in their vision for the show. Not only did they take on a story arc that spanned 14 one-hour episodes (with each episode capable of standing on its own, complete with cliff-hanger), but they also tried to make it work as science fiction and (I must report) overwrought soap opera.

After Season One, I was filled with hope about this new branching of the franchise. In this space I even dared to call it “the best Star Trek ever.” I knew at the time that this was hyperbole. I wanted (too much so, it seems) for the show to succeed, and thereby guarantee a continuing flow of sci-fi for me and my fellow trekkies. I am less hopeful now.

What I saw last year as an edgy new form of “space noir” has degenerated into over-the-top intergalactic melodrama. As with most science fiction, the stakes are the absolute highest they can be: the threatened obliteration of all sentient life in the universe. Somehow, however, that awful possibility plays second fiddle to the leaden family drama between heroine Michael Burnham and the House of Spock. Now, I’m as reverent of sentient life as the next person, but does it really have to involve this level of over-acting and self-absorption?

This high schmaltziness seems to trump everything else in Discovery. The writers (whom I blame for just about everything wrong with Season Two) repeatedly insert characters’ agonized soliloquies about their personal feelings in the middle of universe-in-the-balance action scenes. Each time it happens, I want to reach for my phaser — and it wouldn’t be set to “stun,” either.

Worse, the goofy/cool science concepts are gone. They are replaced by haphazard tech fixes and look-what-I-just-made gizmos that conveniently advance the plot but do nothing to satisfy my need for nifty scientific notions that actually make sense as part of the story. This failing thus undermines my prime rationale for watching science fiction in the first place. Plus, most of the new aliens have been lame this season. That torpedoes my second big rationale — high quality space monsters.

Another complaint: the starship Discovery is not a credible interstellar vehicle. Such ships could arguably afford some extra roominess in the form of the holodecks and extracurricular lounges we’ve seen on some versions of the USS Enterprise. You’d think something like that would be vital in maintaining the crew’s mental health. The Discovery, though, has vast expanses of open space inside it that don’t appear to serve any function other than showing us how big the ship is.

Furthermore, the command structure is a joke. Direct orders from Captain Pike are routinely disobeyed — often multiple times in the same episode. Crew members walk in and out of areas where they do not belong (including admirals’ quarters) just to drop little melodramatic bombs about their personal struggles. Is this any way to run a starship? No — especially if the fate of all sentient life hangs in the balance.

It may be that Discovery’s creators were trying to broaden the appeal of their show. In doing so, however, they have left me stranded on a different timeline with two episodes to go…and hope for a rescue is fading fast. I have been disappointed before by Star Trek reboots. This time, I had hoped that the ambition of the show and the promise of its first season might portend something of the caliber of Game of Thrones. That show took on a lot of the same challenges as Discovery, with dragons and pure fantasy taking the place of nifty science. Thrones succeeded, perhaps, by having one central writer at the helm and a bunch of pre-existing books that had worked out the tricky plotting and character development.

Maybe Episodes 13 and 14 will save me. I have not abandoned all hope. I’m guessing that sentient life will end up surviving, but my chief concern now is that an away team of writers will find my lost timeline and rescue me at last.

Short of that, I will have to wait for next year for help to arrive — maybe in the form of some new storytellers.
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