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Why Star Trek: Discovery is Finally Worth the Price of Admission

If you’ve previously ignored “Star Trek: Discovery,” it’s time to go back to the future. There’s been an unexpected course correction in this series’ sophomore season…

As a ‘Trekkie’ for most of my life, I’ve lived through “Star Trek’s” ongoing life cycle of failure, cult phenomenon, success, expansion, contraction and rebirth. What’s been especially frustrating of late has been watching some of its enduring core elements warped in “Star Trek: Discovery.”

In its freshman season…. hope, morality, humor and the generally positive outlook of the larger “Star Trek” universe were mostly sidelined for more flash, intensity, discomfort and darker episodes to meet the expectations of today’s HBO-trained audience.

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the opportunity to watch the first “Star Trek” series since 2005. But this one was so different, perhaps necessarily so, because traditional “Star Trek” had become too tame and predictable for modern tastes.

Season 1 Was Not Family Friendly
“Star Trek: Discovery” was supposed to be “Star Trek”… reinvented. You can say a lot about how “Discovery” lost its way in Season 1, but you can’t say it was tame.

It was intentionally designed for an adult crowd, complete with a “TV-14” rating that included R-level violence and a few four-letter words.

I found Season 1 a bit exhausting.

Oh yeah, and you had to pay for it (streaming on CBS All Access for $5.99/month or $9.99/month without commercials).

I think along its journey of necessary reinvention, the writers simply left out too many familiar “Star Trek” ingredients.

In the sophomore season, we’re told we’re getting a ‘course correction.’ And after watching the first two episodes, I am happy to report that it’s true!

New Captain on the Bridge!
The biggest change is our new captain… Christopher Pike. Yep… the Enterprise captain who came before the more famous Captain Kirk.

Played by Anson Mount, Pike beams onto the Discovery from his mysteriously ‘short-circuited’ Starship Enterprise which has to then be towed away… literally.

Pike immediately takes command to lead this new season-long mission.

Captain Pike’s character was first introduced in the original (and failed) “Star Trek” pilot, “The Cage,” back in 1965. Played by Jeffrey Hunter, Pike was serious and a little stiff, but certainly a model of Starfleet values and morality. The writers loosed things up a bit when they created Captain Kirk.

We saw Pike again in J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Kelvin-timeline movie reboot and 2013’s “Into Darkness” sequel. This time played by Bruce Greenwood, Pike was again the moral compass and a father figure to the young and inexperienced Jim Kirk.

“Discovery’s” Captain Pike gives us a similar leader with strong ethics, but still able to recognize inconsistencies that challenge his own beliefs. He is on his own journey of ‘discovery.’ And this mission with his new crew is clearly going to challenge his personal and professional rule book.

But compared to all of the questionable choices made by characters in Season 1, Pike has immediately become “Discovery’s” moral center. (Doug Jones’ Kelpien Saru held this responsibility in Season 1 and was briefly joined by Michelle Yeoh’s Captain Georgiou.)

Pike’s entrance is such a relief.

It may have taken decades of “Star Trek” storytelling for this to become entirely clear, but Pike… not Kirk… best reflects the essence of Gene Roddenberry’s foundational theme surrounding our destiny. In Roddenberry’s future, humanity has matured enough to avoid extinction, get it together and reach for the stars.

Pike has always been the grown up.

He’s serious and dependable, but the writers of “Discovery” have shaved the stuffy edges off of his character and given him a little dose of welcome humor. And Mount fits the role perfectly.

Be Bold. Be Brave. Be Courageous.
When Pike proclaims ahead of his first Spore-Drive jump, “Be Bold. Be Brave. Be Courageous,” First Officer Burnham cracks a small but proud smile.

I smiled.
And I think thousands of “Star Trek” fans smiled too.

That line touched a feeling in me that harkens back to when I was a kid and first heard the line “Space, the final frontier…”

Hope. Wonder. Adventure.
A little more humanity.

Yes, please.

The First Two Episodes Are On Course
At the end of Episode 1 (“Brother”), Pike turns to Burnham and says,
“Wherever our mission takes us, we’ll try to have a little fun along the way too…”

I think that’s a line clearly directed at fans to proclaim the show’s adjusted tone.

And if it’s not clear enough that “Discovery” is finally embracing its own roots, Jonathan Frakes (“Star Trek: The Next Generation”) was tapped to direct the second episode, “New Eden.”

As soon as I saw Frakes’ name pop up in the credits, I knew the space/time continuum was well on its way to resetting itself with old Commander Riker at the helm.

“New Eden” felt like the best of classic “Trek,” complete with visiting a strange, new world and questioning the Prime Directive. But it also focused on characters getting to know each other better. And of course, then we get to know them better.

Could this crew actually be developing into something of a “Star Trek” family?
Developing character connections and strong storytelling have always been the core of “Star Trek.”

“Discovery” has even demonstrated “Star Trek’s” traditional willingness to tackle big questions that really work your brain…

When Pike talked about Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law reflecting an updated view that “any sufficiently advanced extraterrestrial intelligence is indistinguishable from God,” we know we’re solidly in the “Star Trek” universe we know and love.

The Shakedown Cruise Continues
This is all not say that “Star Trek: Discovery” is totally fixed.

The introduction of the young Spock character is a bold and yet unproven move that currently feels like a plot device taken from “The Search for Spock” movie.

And what’s up with Cadet Tilly? Played by Mary Wiseman, we really need to see her character grow this season into something beyond awkward and flustered. It’s time to show her evolution…

And as the star of the show, Sonequa Martin-Green’s Burnham still has some work to do to win over our hearts.

Discovery is No Longer Lost in Space
The good news is “Star Trek: Discovery” has passed its core Kobayashi Maru test.

Yes, Season 2 still has a long way to go, but “Discovery” has now discovered the right formula to reinvent “Star Trek” in a way that’s fresh and challenging, yet also doesn’t repel its fan base.

Strong, uplifting storytelling with heart has always been at the center of great “Star Trek.”

Keep making these types of episodes, and the audience will show up
…and pay for it.

One Science Fiction Fan’s Bucket List

“Star Trek: Discovery” has created so many questions as it wraps its first season that you may need a 23rd century display panel to keep track of its complex plot. But that’s not entirely unique in the world of sci-fi storytelling…

So, I must admit I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the first season of “Star Trek: Discovery.” I know I had my doubts early on. But the CBS All Access streaming series came out of the gate strong, with its own fresh style, superior special effects, really interesting characters, and great acting (Sonequa Martin-Green, Jason Isaacs, Michelle Yeoh, Doug Jones and Anthony Rapp). It’s also displayed a whole bunch of plot twists and a compelling, gritty pace.
(And I’ve loved the extended stay in the Mirror Universe.)

“Discovery” has firmly established itself as a new and different Star Trek while not ignoring its own heritage.

Sure, the young series is not perfect, and all of our heroes aren’t exactly shining examples of the Federation’s finest. But that’s what makes the show all the more interesting.
(I still question the choice to drop the F-bomb.)

More Questions are Piling Up
As for what has sometimes been a confusing extended plotline and a threat to Star Trek canon, it’s evident that what doesn’t make total sense early on has been better explained in later episodes. That said, there are still lots of questions that need answering…
(What good TV series with ongoing mystery isn’t chock full of question marks?)

My one suggestion to the writers is to just be sure not to create too many loose ends. Because it can be difficult tying them all up. Now, I don’t expect everything onboard the Discovery to be all nice and tidy anytime soon, because season 2 has already been announced.

But plenty of other science fiction TV series and even some with extended runs have had difficulty wrapping up their major storylines.

So we don’t want history repeating itself.
(Unless it’s part of the space-time continuum)

No Conclusion
With all of the storytelling flexibility that sci-fi allows for, it’s amazing how much unfinished business remains.

Usually this frustrating problem for viewers crops up, because a TV series gets unexpectedly cancelled. Similarly, a movie may come out with important cliffhangers that don’t get resolved by a sequel that’s never made.

Now, I get that the economics often require the sudden end to a series that’s not cutting it in the ratings. But without a conclusion to the underlying story, that’s clearly an extremely unsatisfying situation for any fan.

So if there are any Hollywood producers out there trolling for reboot ideas…
Here’s my bucket list of marooned science fiction stories I’d love to see resolved. And I don’t mind that that we’d likely need to reimagine some of the content and hire new acting talent.

Maybe it’s not a whole new series. Perhaps, it’s just a one-off.
But just finish the story!

“Lost in Space” (1965-1968)
Do the Robinsons and Dr. Smith ever find their way back to Earth or to Alpha Centauri?
(Even the writers of the 1998 movie with William Hurt and Gary Oldman, hoping for a sequel… never answered that question!)

“The Starlost” (1973)
(This is the one with Keir Dullea from “2001: A Space Odyssey”)
What happens to the giant space station ark? Do they save it? Does it burn up?
(I think Seth MacFarlane may have already presented his own answer in “The Orville” episode “If the Stars Should Appear.”)

“Space: 1999” (1975-1977)
Do the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha ever find another planet to live on?
Or do they just putter about their Moonbase Alpha forever or until their resources run out?

“Sliders” (1995-2000)
Does the team ever get back to their universe and their own version of Earth?
(I know by the time the series was cancelled, no viewers in any universe cared anymore… The cast had almost completely been replaced by then, but come on… Getting back home was the whole point!)

“Star Trek: Nemesis” (2002)
Yeah, we lost Data in this final “Next Generation” movie, but there’s a big cliffhanger we’ll apparently never get to see resolved: Does B-4, Data’s earlier (and less evolved) android cousin ever grow to essentially become Data?
(Data shared his neural engrams with B-4.)

“Tron: Legacy” (2010)
What happens after Sam and Quorra escape the Grid and get back to the real world?
Now, this is a sequel the producers could easily do, because “Legacy” is so recent… if Disney decides to finally green-light it.

Any more to add to the list?

Those That Stuck the Landing
If it’s beginning to look like major loose ends are a natural byproduct of sci-fi storytelling, that’s not always true. Here are a few TV series that successfully finished their major narrative arcs…

And yes, except for the original “Star Trek,” all of the subsequent Trek series had their finales.
(But what really did happen to Deep Space Nine’s Captain Sisko?)

And I regard “Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country” (1991) as the original crew’s wrap party.

So, with the exception of the TNG Data storyline… “Star Trek” as a whole has done just fine.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be so concerned about “Discovery?”

Infinite Possibilities
But the irony about “Star Trek: Discovery” is every narrative door that closes appears to reveal the existence of a new one. We’ve been introduced to the idea of parallel universes (in the plural) and (Spoiler Alert) time travel with the spore drive via the mycelium network. That opens up so much!

Now, since there are (Spoiler Alert) Mirror Universe character crossovers in this series, I want to go find Prime Lorca!

Make it so…

Just please keep track of it all.


Star Trek: Discovery Has Dropped the F-Bomb

I’m sure Kirk and Spock would be a bit more than a tad surprised if they heard some of the bad language coming out of the latest “Trek” iteration.

“Star Trek” has always been about breaking down barriers.

Remember that ‘first’ interracial kiss between Kirk and Uhura in the 1968 “Star Trek” episode “Plato’s Stepchildren?” And the “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” kiss between two women (Dax and Lenara) from 1995’s “Rejoined” episode.

Now, “Star Trek: Discovery” has one of those barrier-breaking scenes that Trekkies will talk about for generations to come. It’s from the “Choose Your Pain” episode.

No, there’s no kiss in this fifth episode of the young series, but we see Lt. Stamets and Dr. Culber brushing their teeth together in their quarters and articulating some clearly intimate feelings. We have our first openly gay crew members. It’s a gentle and charming scene in a show that’s bombarded with harsh uncertainty. It’s well written and another important “Star Trek” moment that supports and builds on its universe of inclusion.


That, in itself distinguishes this episode as one to remember.
And it’s all I should be writing about.
(Other than we are introduced to a young Harry Mudd.)

But unfortunately, that’s not all that differentiates it.

Star Trek and the Four-Letter Word
In what actually felt pretty awkward to me, the writers also decided to throw some bad language into the script.

Variants of the four-letter ‘F’ and ‘S’ words, to be precise.

(I had read this would be coming, but dropping the F-bomb still felt a little shocking.)

Look, I know that “Discovery” is a more gritty and edgy series, and there’s clearly a lot of violence.
So, what’s the problem with a few four-letter words?

We’ll, first off… it just seemed gratuitous. It didn’t feel any more significant except to inform viewers that the universal translator for this “Trek” doesn’t restrict *uck and *hit.

There are no CBS broadcast censors to worry about here.

So, I guess anything goes.
I feel it was clearly a message more than anything else.

Message received.

Daddy, What’s that Word Mean?
Suddenly, “Star Trek: Discovery” just became off limits to some younger viewers who aren’t allowed to consume R-rated content.

How inclusive is that?

Are the producers so desperate to distinguish their pay TV niche to attract only adults who enjoy their “Game of Thrones?”

I get the value proposition that if you’re going to pay for your “Star Trek,” the producers have got to give viewers more than what’s available on broadcast television.

But R-rated profanity? Really??

What’s interesting is the writers waited until the fifth episode to sprinkle in the three words at issue.

Hmmm… Actually, how bold is that?
If there’s going to be bad language here…. it should be present… front and center from the beginning of the series.

The Orville Surges Ahead
Speaking of trying to boldly go where no one has gone before, “Discovery” has another challenge to deal with. It continues to be scooped by the spoof over at Fox.

“The Orville” established its own onboard male couple (Bortus and Klyden) in its second episode. Sure, it’s a little different, because there are no females in their alien species.
(Well, not exactly)

And I’ve got to give some kudos to this “Star Trek” wannabe, which is rocking with some big-time guest stars – Liam Neeson and Charlize Theron.

I’m also really tickled how Seth MacFarlane is weaving in references (or boldly borrowing) story elements from some science fiction I grew up with… like “The Starlost” TV series from 1973 with Keir Dullea and 1989’s “Millennium” movie with Cheryl Ladd and Kris Kristofferson.

All of this is to say that “The Orville” in all of its silliness is showing lots of promise.

For Adults Only?
“Star Trek: Discovery” has promise too.

On a lark, I decided to take a look again at the first episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”
(CBS All Access gives you instant access to all “Trek” episodes.)

Those first awkward minutes from “Encounter at Farpoint” have not aged well at all. We Trekkies really gave that series a lot of leeway until it found its footing.

But it was a series that everyone could watch.

All I’m saying here is I hope “Discovery” doesn’t continue too far down its path of targeting adult viewers only.

A Child of Star Trek
There has always been a younger generation of fans who were inspired by each version of “Star Trek.”

I was among the first wave, and honestly, I can’t imagine being told by my parents that I couldn’t watch “Star Trek,” because it wasn’t appropriate for kids.

Now, it’s true you can make the argument that “Discovery” is already too violent for children, but you wouldn’t find universal agreement on that point.

But you just can’t get around the F-bomb.


Retain the Universe of Inclusion
I just don’t think “Discovery” viewers need the naughty language.
(One Trekkie’s opinion)

That particular barrier doesn’t have to be broken.
It will just put up another one for younger viewers.

Message to “Discovery” writers:
Please clean up your potty mouth!

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