\

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews the Third New Star Trek Short: “The Brightest Star”

The third of four new Star Trek short films, dubbed Short Treks, has arrived: “The Brightest Star.”  This short story presents a concise version of the origin of Saru, the Discovery’s Kelpian science officer played by the phenomenally-talented Doug Jones.  The story is set before Saru left his planet to join Starfleet.  For the first time, we get to see Saru’s home planet Kaminar, and we meet Saru’s father and sister.  The short quickly sets up the sad life of the Kelpians, who wait to be harvested by an unseen alien race called the Ba’ul.  (We don’t see exactly what happens to the harvested Kelpians, who we see vanish in a flash of light, but we assume the worst.)  Saru questions why this is the way life must be, but his father, who appears to be some sort of religious figure who oversees these harvests, attempts to squash his questioning.  When Saru gets his hands on a piece of alien technology, he uses it to send a signal off-world.  But who will answer…?

With “The Brightest Star,” these Short Treks are now three for three.  This was a great short film.  It looked absolutely gorgeous, and it provided us with a wealth of fascinating information about Saru’s backstory.

I love how different all three of these Short Treks have been from one another.  The first, “Runaways,” was a great little character piece for Discovery’s Ensign Tilly.  It didn’t feel essential, but it was a great showcase for Mary Wiseman’s Tilly and a lovely chance for her character to step into the spotlight.  The second, “Calypso,” (written by Michael Chabon) was set 1,000 years after Discovery and felt like totally it’s own thing, a complete short-story set outside of current Trek continuity.  I hope this story will be followed up on someday, but if it never is, I’ll be OK with that.  This third short, though, feels like an essential piece of critical backstory for one of Discovery’s main characters, and it leaves so many questions hanging that it feels like a story that demands a follow-up.  (Rumor has it that there will indeed be a Saru-focused episode in Discovery’s second season that will pick up threads from this short.)

I hope that turns out to be the case, because this short film left me with a million questions.  Who are the Ba’ul?  What do they do to the harvested Kelpians?  Why do the Kelpians go along with this so docilely?  What is that obelisk-like device around which the Kelpians gather to be harvested?  What would we see if the camera had ever panned up — does that object connect to a ship, or is … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews the Star Trek Short Film “Calypso,” Written by Michael Chabon!

Michael Chabon, author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, has written a Star Trek short film!  It’s called “Calypso,” and I loved it.

“Calypso” is the second of four Star Trek shorts, called Short Treks, being released in the lead-up to Star Trek: Discovery’s second season.  The first, “Runaways,” focused on Discovery’s Cadet Tilly, and the other two also look to focus on Discovery characters.  But “Calypso,” although taking place on-board the Discovery, seems to be its own thing altogether.  Set a millennium further in the future than the 23rd-century-set Discovery, far beyond the future of any other Trek story we’ve seen before, “Calypso” tells the story of a man called Craft who is rescued from his battered escape pod by the Discovery’s now-sentient computer, who calls herself Zora.  The Discovery is empty of all life, and apparently has been for a thousand years.  Craft is fleeing a war and attempting to return home to his family.  “Calypso” tells the story of the bond this lonely refugee and the A.I. Zora form with one another.

I loved this short.  It’s a beautiful tale with two complex, interesting characters, a fascinating mystery backdrop, and intriguing mythological undertones.

It’s hugely exciting to see such an enormous talent as Michael Chabon writing for Star Trek.  In addition to writing this short, Mr. Chabon is apparently also on the writing staff of the recently-announced Captain Picard show, which will see Patrick Stewart reprise his iconic role!  This is very, very exciting.  As a Star Trek fan, I love seeing writers of this caliber involved with the franchise.  And “Calypso” shows that Mr. Chabon’s skills as a storyteller make him a great fit for Star Trek.  (The story credit for the short film is given to Michael Chabon and Sean Cochran.)

In less than eighteen minutes, “Calypso” does a great job of introducing and developing two entirely new characters.  Aldis Hodge plays the main character, Craft.  Mr. Hodge is fantastic.  He’s alone on-screen for most of the short’s run-time, but he easily commands the viewer’s attention.  Annabelle Wallis voices Zora, and she is equally great, bringing life and humanity to the (mostly) disembodied voice of this sentient computer.  Mr. Chabon skillfully brings these two characters to life, and makes us care deeply about them, in just the short eighteen-ish minutes of the short.

By setting “Calypso” a thousand years in Trek’s future, this short is pleasingly unburdened with any continuity, and thus is free to tell it’s own stand-alone story.  This works very well for this short film.  This is a character-study that can easily be enjoyed no matter one’s knowledge of Trek lore.  (This is … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews the First New Star Trek Short: “Runaways”

In the next few months, before the launch of Star Trek: Discovery season two, we’re going to get four new “Short Treks,” Star Trek short films.  I love this idea.  The people currently running CBS and Trek these days have made a number of statements to the press about how they want to have lots of Trek on CBS All Access, with multiple different projects in the planning stages.  My hope is that the next few years will see a lot of experimentation in terms of the type of Star Trek product we’ll get.  Rather than just one Star Trek show running for seven seasons, I’d love to see a mix of mini-series, TV movies, short films, and longer-running continuing series.  This would allow for the telling of all sorts of different styles of Star Trek shows, ideally spotlighting a rich variety of different Star Trek characters from across the previous series and eras, as well as the introduction of new characters and settings.  This would be very exciting for me as a Star Trek fan.  And so I was pleased by the announcement of these four short films, a dipping of the toe into the waters of possibilities for this franchise.

This first “Short Trek,” entitled “Runaways,” focuses on Cadet Tilly (Mary Wiseman).  Following a somewhat tense/awkward conversation with her overbearing mother, Tilly stumbles across an alien stowaway aboard the Discovery.  This alien turns out to be a young woman, who has run away from home for reasons that we will discover.  She and Tilly are able to forge an unexpected bond.

I thought “Runaways” was pretty great.  Running less than 15 minutes, “Runaways” tells a compact little story that is very satisfying.  It has a number of fun moments and interesting character beats for both Tilly and the new alien.

I enjoyed the spotlight on Tilly.  I wasn’t wild about this character when she was first introduced on Discovery, but she very quickly grew on me.  (Some day I will rewatch Discovery’s very uneven first season, and I’ll be interested to see if I think more highly of Tilly’s portrayal in those early episodes, now that I know the character better… or if I still feel that it took the show a few episodes to find this character.)  I loved seeing Tilly’s mom here in “Runaways.”  That one conversation sheds a world of light on who Tilly is and where she came from.  And Tilly’s adventure with the young alien woman gives a wonderfully efficient spotlight on everything that is interesting and unique about this character.

The young alien was also great.  Played wonderfully by Yadira Guevara-Prip, she has a great look (terrific makeup and prosthetic effects … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Looks Back on Star Trek: Discovery Season One

I have been thinking a lot about Star Trek: Discovery since the series wrapped up several weeks ago, and I have been having a lot of spirited conversations about the show with my fellow Trek fans.  There is quite a range of opinions about the show among the Trek fans that I know.  I am happy that a number of my friends quite enjoyed the show.  I wish I was one of them.

There is a great Star Trek TV show lurking somewhere inside Star Trek: Discovery.  I know there is.  The elements are there.  The main cast is strong.  In particular, Sonequa Martin-Green is fantastic, a perfect choice to build a new type of Star Trek show around.  The production values are extraordinary — Star Trek has never looked better on TV.

And yet, for the most part, I found this first fifteen-episode season of Star Trek: Discovery to be a big swing and a miss.  I am fundamentally baffled by the creative choices made by the show’s creators.  Repeatedly, while watching this first season, I asked myself: what is this show ABOUT?

At first, based on the pre-show interviews and press, I thought the show would have two major themes: 1) that, unlike all (well, most) previous Trek, the show would not be based around the captain and the main bridge command crew, but instead it would be about lower-ranked officers who weren’t always in the middle of the action, characters like the disgraced Michael Burnham and her new friend Tilly, who was just a cadet, and 2) that it would be about the Klingon-Federation conflict that erupted a decade before the events of the Original Series (which depicted the Federation and the Klingon Empire locked in a Cold War stalemate), but that it would make an effort to depict both sides of the conflict, with several Klingon characters in major roles on the series.  Both of those are great ideas with the potential to be the basis for an exciting new Star Trek show.  But neither panned out.  Discovery IS about the leadership characters on the ship, and Burnham and Tilly, though neither are commissioned Starfleet officers, always found themselves at the center of the action.  And while the first two episodes spent a huge amount of time with the Klingons, we never really got anything more than superficial insight into their characters and/or perspectives, and those Klingon characters quickly fell away as the show progressed.

Then, for the bulk of the rest of the first half of the season (that initial batch of nine episodes), the show seemed to flirt with the idea of being about whether Starfleet ideals and pacifism could be maintained when … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews the Final Season One Episodes of Star Trek: Discovery

Well, Star Trek: Discovery has wrapped up its first season.  What did I think of this final run of episodes?

What’s Past is Prologue — This conclusion to the extended Mirror Universe string of episodes was a high-point of the season for me.  I think it’s crazy that this show — theoretically designed to broaden the appeal of Star Trek and attract new fans to the franchise — has wound up spending such a long time in the Mirror Universe (which seems designed to please long-time Trek fans but befuddle newbies), but if you put that baggage aside, this multi-episode romp in the Mirror Universe has been a hoot, and things got even crazier and more fun in this episode.  With Lorca revealed as a Mirror Universe baddie, this episode careened from one juicy action sequence to the next, as Burnham and the Mirror Georgiou fight for their lives on the run from Lorca and his goons.

The episode looked gorgeous.  It was filled with a number of beautifully designed unusual shots (director Olatunde Osunsanmi did a terrific job) which highlighted the show’s production values.  The sets, the props, the costumes, everything looked great.  (Totally wrong for this prequel era of Star Trek, but if you can put that aside…)  And the outer-space visual effects were magnificent, as we finally got a truly great Discovery space-ship action scene as the Discovery attempted to attack and destroy the Empress’ enormous city-ship, the Charon.  Great stuff.

I loved seeing Landry (Rekha Sharma), who was originally killed off way too early and stupidly, back on the show.  I loved seeing Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) again, and I enjoyed the interplay between her and Burnham.  These are two great, strong female characters.  I loved seeing how competent and effective Saru was, in command of the Discovery.  I liked the idea that Mirror Lorca wound up in the Prime universe via a transporter accident during an ion storm, the same as happened with Kirk & co. in “Mirror, Mirror.”  (And I appreciated that the show actually showed us a glimpse of an ion storm, though I wish that had looked a little cooler.)

It was interesting that Voq/Ash was absent from this episode.  I was surprised that was the case, after all the buildup, but I didn’t miss him in all this Mirror Universe fun craziness.

I’m not sure I understand the nature of the threat to the mycelial network, or why the destruction of this network would destroy all life across the multiple universes.  I wish that had been fleshed out more.  But again, in the short term, I didn’t mind that too much in the midst of all this Mirror Universe fun stuff.

My … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

I am super-late putting together my Best of 2017 lists — sorry about that!  I’ve been so busy that I wanted a chance to see a few more 2017 shows and movies, and indeed in the past few weeks I have been able to catch up with some terrific entertainment that wound up making it onto my lists.  But as we’ve gotten deeper into January I’ve had to accept that there is way more great stuff than I’ll ever have time to get to, and I didn’t want to wait any longer to get these lists out into the world.

And so, buckle up!  Let’s begin with my Favorite Episodes of TV of 2017!

When I began making these lists, I did this as a Top Ten.  But in today’s era of Peak TV, this has ballooned to a Top Twenty-Five!!  Wowsers!  My apologies!  Is this indulgent?  Well, yes, but there is so much great TV out there that this could have easily been a Top Fifty!!  I tried to limit myself to just one episode from every TV show I loved — though there are a few shows for which I couldn’t resist including two episodes.

Even with a list this long, there were other shows that I quite enjoyed this year that didn’t make the cut, including: Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later, Vice Principals, Orange is the New Black, and American Gods.  I have loved Seth Myers’ “A Closer Look” segments this year, and I wish I’d had a spot to highlight those.  And if this had been a Top Twenty-Six, that slot would have gone to the Star Wars Rebels episode “Twin Suns” (season three, episode twenty, aired on 3/18/17), in which the show visited Tatooine and a pre-Star Wars, in-hiding Obi-Wan Kenobi for an emotional final confrontation with Darth Maul (a character who had been resurrected and surprisingly well-developed by the previous animated Clone Wars series).  It’s an essential piece of the larger Star Wars story that also, stunningly, puts a fascinating new spin on all of that “Chosen One” nonsense from the Prequels.

Reading this lengthy list, you might think that I watched a lot of TV in 2017 — and you’d be right!  But in this era of Peak TV, there are still a LOT of interesting-looking shows that I did not get to this year (and that I hope to catch up with eventually!), including The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (which I am actually watching now, and loving), The Handmaid’s Tale, The Leftovers, Halt and Catch Fire, Mindhunters, Fargo season 3, Bojack Horseman, Rick and Morty, Review, Glow, Veep, and I am sure there are lots more … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Catches Up with Star Trek Discovery’s Journey into the Mirror Universe

It’s a sign of how mediocre I found the first half of Star Trek Discovery’s first season that I didn’t rush to jump back into the show when it returned a few weeks ago.  But I’m caught up now.  Has the show improved?  Read on…

Despite Yourself — This episode doesn’t waste much time in confirming that, as almost every Star Trek fan had already guessed, Discovery has journeyed into the Mirror Universe.  Once again, I find myself confounded by the choices made by this show.  The first question is: why didn’t they give us this reveal at the end of the previous episode?  That would have been a fun way to end the first half of the season, instead of the lame pull-back-to-nothing that we got at the end of episode nine.  Since this episode spilled the beans on the Mirror Universe almost immediately, it seems to me they should have given us that reveal as the final moment before the mid-season break.

But the bigger question is: why is this where the show is going in the back half of its first season?  Look, I love the Mirror Universe.  But 1) it’s another huge continuity bungle for this prequel show to have Discovery discover the Mirror Universe BEFORE Kirk and co. did (yet again, this wouldn’t be an issue if the show was set AFTER the pre-existing Trek shows rather than before), and 2) for a show that feels like it is designed to expand the appeal of Star Trek beyond pre-existing fans (something I support, by the way), why are we already digging into this pre-existing Trek concept only 10 episodes into the new show’s run?  It’s a bizarre choice, in my opinion.  Then they go and bring up the U.S.S. Defiant, which is a VERY deep dive into Trek continuity.  (The Defiant was lost in the Original Series episode “The Tholian Web,” and then decades later the Enterprise two-parter “In a Mirror, Darkly” revealed that the Defiant had wound up in the Mirror Universe, a century earlier.)  I certainly loved hearing about the Defiant, but for a show that has shown a complete disregard to Trek continuity, why this deep-dive reference?  It will totally confuse non-fans, and seems like a weird bone to throw to long-time Trek fans who would have already been very turned off by Discovery’s disrespect of Trek continuity.  I just don’t get it.

What’s good in the episode:  The Mirror Universe remains a pleasingly fun concept.  I enjoyed the Mirror Universe version of the Discovery’s uniforms.  I enjoyed Captain Tilly.  It was great to see the Shenzhou back, in Mirror Universe form, and to see many of her crew … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews the Star Trek: Discovery Mid-Season Finale: “Into The Forest I Go”

The first batch of Star Trek: Discovery episodes came to a close with the mid-season finale, episode nine, “Into the Forest I Go.”  The Klingon “Ship of the Dead” arrives at Pahvo, and Burnham and Tyler sneak aboard in an attempt to locate critical information required to allow Federation starships to penetrate the Klingon cloaking device.  As part of the plan, Stamets is pushed to the breaking point, utilizing the Discovery’s Spore Drive to execute 130 jumps in short succession.

As has been consistently the case with Discovery so far, there is a lot to like in this episode and also a lot that is incredibly frustrating.

Let’s start with the good.  The character stuff between Burnham and Tyler is terrific.  The tender scene between the two of them on the couch in Tyler’s quarters, in which he haltingly finds his way to admit the way he was tortured and sexually abused by the Klingons, is touching and tender.  It’s interesting to see the show embrace this aspect of Tyler’s back-story that had been suggested but not explicitly stated unto this point.

(Of course, that tender scene — which tells us everything we needed to know without getting too explicit with the details — is soon after followed by Tyler’s nightmare-flashback which gives us the Klingon nudity that no one was asking for.  So much for subtlety.  Also, as I have been writing for several weeks now, it’s hard to engage in the Tyler-Burnham relationship when it’s been clear that Tyler is the Klingon Loq in disguise, so none of this was genuine.  This episode suggests that Tyler/Loq is a sleeper agent who doesn’t remember being Loq.  I wish the show had laid its cards in the table and allowed us to follow Loq/Tyler’s story as it unfolded, rather than trying to keep all this as a surprise.  Had I known all along that Tyler really did believe himself to be a human prisoner of war, I would have engaged more deeply with that tragic story, as opposed to doubting every scene that the character was in because I believed him to be Loq telling lies.)

It’s nice to see the Klingon-Discovery stories intersect for the first time since the two-part premiere, and we get some nice Discovery-Klingon combat (both of the outer space and Mekleth variety).  The production values of this show continue to be extraordinary.  It’s great to see Star Trek looking so well-produced on TV!!  The sets are fantastic, and the visual effects are terrific.  There are some particularly gorgeous visual effects shots this week.  My favorite is the scene when you see Kol and the other Klingons on their bridge, while through the … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews Star Trek: Discovery Episode 8: “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum”

In Star Trek: Discovery episode eight, “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum,” Burnham, Saru, and Tyler investigate an alien planet with a unique rock formation that Starfleet believes can be turned into a giant antenna to detect cloaked Klingon ships and help Starfleet win the war.  But the planet turns out to be not quite as uninhabited as the Discovery crew had initially thought…

“Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum” is a solid episode.  Discovery seems to have settled into a nice groove.  This is not the show I wanted it to be, and each episode continues to be weighed down by narrative inconsistencies that I wish weren’t there, but the characters are interesting, the show is visually gorgeous, and these episodes are entertaining.

It’s nice to see the Discovery crew get to leave the ship and investigate a strange new alien world.  Coming after last week’s time travel episode, I’m pleased to see the show embrace these classic sorts of sci-fi stories.

(On the other hand, part of me wishes that Discovery would lean more in the other direction and forget about these standard types of Star Trek stories.  If this is truly intended to be a different sort of Star Trek series, then maybe they should more strongly resist the urge to give us these familiar time-travel and away-team-investigates-a-mysterious-new-planet types of stories.  For a show that was advertised as being about seeing the Federation at war, we have seen shockingly little of the Klingon-Federation conflict in the series following the two-part premiere.)

But that being said, there was a thrill in getting to see Brunham, Saru, and Tyler investigate a new alien planet, which was gorgeously realized by the show’s visual effects team.  We’ve never gotten to see televised Star Trek executed on this scale before, and I loved the way the show brought to life this beautiful alien planet (and its inhabitants).

It was clear from the first episode that Saru was going to be a standout character on Discovery.  He’s been in the background for the past few episodes, so I was delighted to see him step back into focus in this episode.  The way the events on the planet explore the nature of his character, and how he has lived his whole life in constant fear, was lovely.  It was also fun to learn more about his physicality.  In this episode we see that Saru is super-strong (look how he crushed those communicators in his hands!) and super-fast (we hadn’t ever really seen his feet before!).  It’s interesting to give this fear-filled character such super-human abilities.  I hope this duality is explored further in future episodes.

It was nice to get to see a glimpse of Klingon-versus-Federation … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews Star Trek: Discovery Episode 7: “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad”

In Star Trek: Discovery episode seven, “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” (I always appreciate alliteration), Harry Mudd, having escaped from the Klingons, is out for revenge on Captain Lorca.  So Mudd sneaks on board the Discovery, determined to learn the secret of the ship and sell it to the Klingons.  While one man might ordinarily have no hope of sneaking on board a starship, Mudd has access to a device that allows him to repeat the same 30 minutes over and over again, thus giving him opportunity after opportunity to achieve his goal (and also to repeatedly murder Captain Lorca and other members of the Discovery crew).  The Discovery’s only hope of stopping Mudd is Lt. Stamets, whose experimentation with the Spore Drive (which is a silly-sounding thing that everyone on Discovery says very seriously) have left him with an awareness of these alterations to the time-stream.

I was worried when I heard that Discovery was doing a time-travel episode so early in its run.  On the one hand, many of the very best Star Trek episodes (and movies) involve time travel, and this is a classic type of Star Trek story.  On the other hand, I felt that by the end of Enterprise, all of the post-Next Gen Star Trek spin-offs had dramatically overused time travel, to the point that it had started to become cliche and boring.  I wasn’t eager to see Discovery go back to that well.

However, my fears were thankfully not realized, as “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” was a compelling, fun episode (making that two strong Discovery episodes in a row, after last week’s “Lethe”).  This episode gave a different spin to the familiar type of Star Trek time-travel story.  (We’d seen a lot of “temporal anomalies” and that sort of thing, but this was a story of a villain purposefully manipulating time.  Voyager’s “Year of Hell” two-parter had a similar framework, but that story went in a different direction.  This episode was far more reminiscent of Next Gen’s “Cause and Effect,” but with Mudd as a more dangerous, immediate threat.)  Although this episode presented dramatic, life-or-death stakes for our heroes on the Discovery, I enjoyed how playful the episode was at times, leaving plenty of time for some humorous, enjoyable character interactions, and the entire episode was edited in a wonderfully propulsive, fast-paced style that gave this episode a very different feel than most previous Trek time travel tales.

The Harry Mudd we have met in these two Discovery episodes bares little to no resemblance to the somewhat humorous con-man character we knew from the Original Series.  (I was shocked to see … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews Star Trek: Discovery Episode 6: “Lethe”

On a mission of peace, Sarek’s shuttle is damaged by a Vulcan extremist’s bombing, leaving him lost and on the brink of death, adrift in a nebula.  His mental link with his ward Burnham allows her to sense his peril, but how can she find him lost in the vast nebula?  Meanwhile, Captain Lorca’s old friend Admiral Cornwell begins questioning his mental state.

Putting aside a lot of the baggage that continues to weigh down this series (the pointless prequel setting, the disregard for Trek continuity) and taken on its own, “Lethe” is a pretty strong episode, probably my favorite episode so far since the opening two-parter.  The episode is anchored by two strong character stories, both of which I found compelling.  This gives this episode both a narrative focus and an emotional underpinning the last several episodes have been lacking.

The episode’s main story is the way Burnham is forced to wrestle with her complicated relationship with her adoptive father Sarek, and the many ways in which she sees herself as having disappointed him.  We have seen hints of this before, such as the early flashback of young Burnham in the Vulcan learning center, and here we see that Burnham’s human heritage led to her being rejected from acceptance into the Vulcan Expeditionary Force.  Time after time Burnham has striven to be the figure of Vulcan perfection she believed Sarek wanted her to be, and time after time she failed.  This episode begins to explore just what that did to her, and how that shaped the broken person she is now.  At the same time, the episode builds to an emotional crescendo in which we also see Sarek’s shame at the ways in which he feels he failed Burnham.  This leads to head-spinning continuity problems, which I will discuss in a moment, but emotionally this is a rich central story for this episode.

The show has danced around the existence of Spock so far, but I loved the way the show dealt with Spock head-on in that climactic scene with Sarek, in which we see that he was forced to choose Spock over Burnham by the Vulcan leadership.  And in a rare example of the show paying attention to Star Trek continuity, it was neat to see how the way Spock would later turn down the Vulcan Science Academy (an established piece of backstory that was a key element of the beginning of the 2009 rebooted Star Trek film) made Sarek feel that his impossible choice was all for nothing.  That is clever, character-based storytelling.

In the secondary story, we see Admiral Cornwell fly out to Discovery to confront her old friend Captain Lorca after he (ridiculously) disobeys and … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

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]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

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]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

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]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

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

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]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

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]