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Josh Reviews Star Trek: Discovery Episode 5: “Choose Your Pain”

In Star Trek: Discovery episode 5, “Choose Your Pain,” Burnham becomes convinced that the “Tartigrade” creature that is the key to Discovery‘s fantastic new drive system is suffering each time the drive is used.  She wants the Discovery to stop using the system until they can figure out a way to use it without harming the creature, but with Captain Lorca kidnapped by the Klingons, the drive is essential to the Discovery crew’s being able to mount a rescue.

Egad, I really want to like this show, and there is a lot in “Choose Your Pain” that I enjoyed.  But the show is continually limited by plot problems up the wazoo and its almost mind-boggling disregard for Trek continuity.

What’s good?  The central premise of this episode, in which our heroes discover that their fantastic new invention might be harming a sentient creature, and yet that invention is critical to their being able to rescue their captain, is a perfect Star Trek sort of premise.  So too is the idea of a crew falling into conflict without their captain, and eventually being forced to put aside their differences to find a way to save the day.  (Echoes of “The Tholian Web.”)  These are classic Star Trek ideas, and yet given a slightly different spin with these new situations with the Tartigrade and the Klingons.  I liked all of that.

There was a lot of great character stuff in this episode.  Once again all the interactions between Saru and Burnham was great.  These are two great characters and the conflict between them feels real and interesting. I am really enjoying getting to know Lt. Stemets more, and this episode gave him a good spotlight as we saw him wrestle with the moral issue of the possibility that his invention is harming the Tartigrade.  I liked that the Doctor, Culber, got some good scenes this week, and I liked that the episode finally confirmed that he and Lt. Stemets are in a relationship.  This is Star Trek’s first major canonical gay couple, and so far I have loved the non-sensational way in which this couple has been presented to us.

Also: I loved getting to see the show’s version of a 23rd century toothbrush!

Aren’t those matching space-jammies absolutely adorable?

Seriously, that scene of Stemets and Culber getting ready for bed was great; this is the type of below-decks stuff that we’ve never seen before in Star Trek, and I am enjoying when Discovery allows us to see what goes on onboard a starship when the main command crew is not on the bridge.  I’d like to see more of this.

As I wrote last week, I hated Ensign … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Star Trek: Discovery Episode 4: “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not For the Lamb’s Cry”

In Star Trek: Discovery episode 4, “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry,” an important Federation dilithium mine comes under attack by the Klingons.  With no starships in range, everyone in the mine will die and the Federation’s war effort will be crippled unless the Discovery’s experimental drive can allow the ship to arrive in time to defend the mine.  Meanwhile, Burnham is tasked with learning how the monster captured in episode 3 was so effective at killing Klingons, but she suspects the creature might not be inherently violent and, in fact, the key to an important scientific discovery.

This episode is, in my opinion, a stronger effort than last week’s episode.  It flows much better, with a nice Star Trek story at its heart and some exciting action.  But while I mostly enjoyed the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery, these last two episodes are forcing me to realize that this is probably not going to be the show I’d hoped it would be.

As I wrote in my first review, what I liked so much about the first episode of Discovery, which enabled me to forgive the show’s rampant disregard for Star Trek continuity and other problems with the narrative, was that I felt the show embraced the humanism and morality that was at the centerpiece of all the best Star Trek.  Here’s what I wrote: “For the first time in a very long time (including the three recent J.J. Abrams rebooted movies, and even much of the previous two Trek shows, Enterprise and Voyager), the Starfleet officers on this show, so far, behave like Starfleet officers.  The first episode emphasizes this repeatedly.  “We come in peace… isn’t that the whole idea of Starfleet?” Burnham states in her very first line of dialogue.  YES.  The opening scene with Georgiou and Burnham has them working to help an endangered alien race without violating the Prime Directive.  YES.  “Starfleet does not shoot first,” Captain Georgiou declares in a tense standoff with Burnham.  YES.”

But after those first two episodes which took place on the U.S.S. Shenzhou with Captain Georgiou in command, Discovery has turned into a very different type of show, on board the U.S.S. Discovery, a ship with a mysterious purpose and a nasty, war-focused captain (Jason Isaac’s Captain Lorca).  I have no objection to war and violence on a Star Trek show.  (My favorite Star Trek series, Deep Space Nine, featured a multi-season-long war arc.)  But a Star Trek show featuring war and violence should focus on Starfleet characters struggling to keep their morality in place while doing what they need to survive.  That’s what so many of the best DS9 episodes were … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Star Trek: Discovery Episode 3: “Context is for Kings”

I seem to be in the minority of the Star Trek fans I know in that I mostly liked the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery.  I hate all the continuity problems caused by the show’s prequel setting (ten years before Kirk/Spock/McCoy’s adventures on the Original Series) — I wish dearly the series was set 100 years AFTER Star Trek: The Next Generation, which would make all of these continuity problems vanish.  But putting those continuity problems aside (which is, admittedly, hard to do), I enjoyed Discovery. It looked great, and I was happy that the show seemed to embrace classic Star Trek themes and morality, portraying heroic Starfleet officers behaving (mostly) the way I believe Starfleet officers should (something that the last three rebooted Trek movies, and even the last two TV series Voyager and Enterprise, often failed to do).  I was interested in the new characters introduced and excited to see a Trek series made with modern-era production values and storytelling approaches (such as serialization).  I was intrigued that these first two episode were basically just a long prologue to whatever the main story of Discovery is going to be — it’s nice to see the time taken to explore this backstory — and I was interested to see what episode three would be like, since presumably this would now start to establish exactly what sort of show Discovery is actually going to be.  Unfortunately, I found episode three, “Context if for Kings,” to be very problematic.  If this is what Discovery is going to be, then we might be in trouble.

Six months after the events of the first two episodes, the Federation and the Klingons are at war and Michael Burnham is in prison.  But while being transferred, her shuttle gets into trouble and she is rescued by the U.S.S. Discovery, an enormous new starship.  Burnham is tasked with assisting with some sort of top-secret experiment that the officers on board Discovery are conducting, an experiment that led to the destruction of Discovery’s sister-ship and the loss of all hands.  Yadda yadda yadda, it’s no surprise that Burnham winds up a member of Discovery’s crew by the end of the episode, albeit reluctantly.

I have a lot of problems with this episode, primarily boiling down to these areas:

Number one (see what I did there?), there is a LOT of important information that is withheld from Michael, and therefore the audience, and so for much of the episode we have absolutely no idea what is going on.  I am not a fan of this Lost type of storytelling, in which the viewer is kept in the dark about the motivations of characters and … [continued]

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Star Trek Returns to Television (Sort Of) With Star Trek: Discovery!

September 27th, 2017
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The first time I can remember being aware of and excited about Star Trek was when Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home came out in 1986.  I must have been exposed to Star Trek before that, because I was excited to see that movie in theatres.  But I don’t think I’d seen the prior movies, because when I saw it, I was confused as to what was going on (what had happened to Spock?  What had happened to the Enterprise?), and I remember going home afterwards and watching the first three Trek movies on VHS with my father to get caught up.  So I’m not sure when I first actually saw Trek or what made me want to go see Star Trek IV — maybe watching the reruns of the Animated Series on TV? — but seeing those first four Trek movies started my love for Trek, and when Star Trek: The Next Generation launched the next year, I was hooked from the very first episode.  I have been, ever since, an enormous Star Trek fan.  It’s been a long time since Star Trek was last on TV.  Star Trek: Enterprise was cancelled after 4 seasons, and aired its last episode in May, 2005.  I love the big Trek movies, but I firmly believe that Star Trek belongs on TV.  And so I was extremely excited when, at long last, a new Trek series was announced: Star Trek: Discovery.  I was thrilled when names like Bryan Fuller and Nicholas Meyer were announced as being involved with the new Trek show, though my heart sank as the series was delayed again and again and Mr. Fuller left (or was pushed out?).  But I resolved to reserve judgment until I could actually see the show.  Well, I have seen the first two episodes (episode 1, “The Vulcan Hello,” aired on CBS, and episode 2, ” Battle at the Binary Stars,” is available for streaming at CBS All Access), and I am here to share my thoughts.

Let’s cut right to the chase: while I certainly have questions and issues with some of the creative choices made in these first two episodes, overall I am very happy and excited to see more of the series.  The visual effects are spectacular, and the show so far is rooted in interesting character drama and interstellar politics in equal measure, which is exactly how I like my Star Trek to be.  Star Trek: Discovery FEELS like Star Trek (FAR more than the three J.J. Abrams-rebooted recent Trek movies), and that makes me very happy.

Set ten years before the events of the Original Series (Kirk/Spock/McCoy and their adventures on the original U.S.S. Enterprise), Star Trek: Discovery[continued]

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Josh Examines the First Trailer for Star Trek: Discovery

Yesterday we got our first real look at the new Star Trek show, Discovery:

There’s a lot that is encouraging and also a lot that is worrisome in that trailer.

I am a huge Star Trek fan, and so the prospect of Trek returning to TV is very exciting for me.  I love the spectacle of the movies, but I believe Trek belongs on TV.  I am excited to see a modern version of a Trek TV show, one that takes advantages of modern story-telling devices and structures (shorter seasons, more serialized storytelling) as well as visual effects tools (what can be accomplished today on a weekly TV budget is incredible).  I’ve been encouraged by some of the behind-the-scenes talent involved in this project (most especially Nicholas Meyer, who is responsible for the very best Trek ever made: he wrote and directed Star Trek II and Star Trek VI, and he wrote all the good stuff in Star Trek IV).  While I hate prequels, if you’re going to make a prequel, the idea of focusing on the era of tensions (and perhaps outright war?) between the Federation and the Klingons in the decade before Kirk seems like a ripe area for stories.  On the other hand, this show has had a rocky path to production, with delay after delay after delay, and the staggeringly disappointing departure of original showrunner Bryan Fuller (a hugely talented showrunner who also has strong Trek experience).  I also hate the fact that the era in which this show is set apparently caused Paramount/CBS to sue and crush the fan film Axanar, that was going to be set in a similar time-period.

Putting all that backstory behind me, I was eager to finally get a glimpse of what this show is going to be!  So, what did I think?

Well… my feelings are very mixed.

What’s good?  Visually, that trailer is gorgeous.  The outer-space special effects and the widescreen vistas are all very impressive, far better-looking than Trek has ever-before looked on TV.  I love the sense we get of Michelle Yeoh as the captain.  In these brief clips she appears to be playing my exact picture of a Starfleet captain: smart and noble and cool under pressure.  I love the line that “Starfleet doesn’t fire first.”  YES — I hope this series emphasizes the values of Gene Roddenberry’s utopian vision of the Star Trek future.  (This is something that’s been somewhat lost in the more action-packed recent Trek films.)  I am interested in the idea that this show will focus, not on the ship’s captain, but on its first-officer.  Sonequa Martin-Green seems interesting in the role, though I was far more taken with Michelle … [continued]