I just recently viewed the Season Two premiere of “STAR TREK DISCOVERY”, (2.01) “Brother” on CBS All Access. On one hand, the episode struck me as a solid entry for a Trek show that set up the second season’s story arc and introduction of new characters. This is nothing knew. I have witnessed similar set ups for shows like “BABYLON 5” and “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”. But what I did not count on were some differences and characters that would leave me scratching my head.
I do not think I have ever encountered a Trek show that has generated so much conflict and controversy as “STAR TREK DISCOVERY”. I take that back. There has been one other series that has generated controversy close to the same level as “DISCOVERY” . . . namely “STAR TREK VOYAGER”. This does not strike me as surprising, since both shows featured leading characters who are women. “DISCOVERY” took it to another level in which its leading character, Commander (formerly Specialist) Michael Burnham, is not only portrayed by an African-American actress, but is not the starship/space station’s commanding officer.
I noticed that a great deal of what struck me as vague and nitpicking complaints had been inflicted upon “STAR TREK DISCOVERY” during and after its first season. One of those complaints proved to be that certain characters, including Michael Burnham, lacked full development by the end of Season One. I found myself scratching my head over this complaint. I mean … what on earth? I have never heard of a fictional character in a television show that is fully developed by the end of its first season, let alone before the end of its run. Never. And “DISCOVERY” had only finished its first season. Why on earth were so many of the franchise’s fans either criticizing that most of its characters are not fully developed or demanding that they should be after one season? This is not miniseries or television show. If “STAR TREK DISCOVERY” is allowed to complete its full run and the characters are still “not fully developed”, then I believe they would have something to complain about.
Another complaint that left me scratching my head was the lack of humor during its first season. In fact, this particular complaint has led many to compare “STAR TREK DISCOVERY” with another science-fiction series that had begun around the same time - “THE ORVILLE”. The Trek franchise has never been a franchise that was dominated by humor. And I do recall a good deal of humor in Season One of “STAR TREK DISCOVERY”, especially in episodes like (1.07) “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” or in scenes featuring Mary Wiseman as Cadet Sylvia Tilly. Aside from those scenes featuring Wiseman and even Rainn Wilson (as con man Harry Mudd), most of the humor featured in Season One tend to be more subtle.
I am relieved to notice that in regard to character development, the show runners for “STAR TREK DISCOVERY” did not rush to portray Michael Burnham or any of the other characters fully developed. The Season Two premiere, “Brother”, hinted that the show planned to explore Burnham’s past experiences as a member of Ambassador Sarek’s household and especially, her relationship with adoptive brother Spock. Judging from the Season Two previews I have seen, Burnham’s relationship with Ash Tyler/Voq will also be touched upon. So, if Season Two does not feature the full character development of the series’ leading lady and the other supporting characters, I will not be disappointed. If anything, I might feel a sense of relief. The last thing I want is for the series to engage in rushed storytelling.
But one aspect of the Season Two premiere that left me scratching my head was the level of humor featured in the episode. It almost struck me as out of place. Now, “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” featured some rather heavy humor. I found nothing wrong with this. Many of the Trek series have aired the occasional humorous episode. The problem with the humor in “Brother” is that there was nothing about the plot or the characters that should have marked it as a humor-filled episode. Many of the familiar characters - including Burnham - were either spouting lines or reacting to situations that made me wonder if screenwriters Ted Sullivan, Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts may have went a bit too far. “Brother” also featured the introduction of Commander Denise “Jett” Reno, Chief Engineer of the U.S.S. Hiawatha, who had been rescued by a landing party from the Discovery after spending ten months caring for wounded crew members on an asteroid, during the Federation-Klingon War. Reno, portrayed by actress-comedian Tig Notaro, managed to spout more jokes in a space of five minutes than any other actor or actress who had appeared in a Trek series or movie. I think Notaro might proved to be a rival for Wiseman on who can be the funniest member of the cast. In the end, the humor in “Brother” struck me as a bit over-the-top, especially for an episode that is not obviously a humorous one like “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad”.
So what were the screenwriters thinking? Did they change the tonal style of “STAR TREK DISCOVERY” to appease those fans who had complained that the series was “too serious” or “too angsty”? If so, they have made a mistake. I found this tonal shift for Season Two rather forced and mind boggling. I do not see the necessity of changing the series’ tonal style. I want to watch “STAR TREK DISCOVERY”, not some borderline copycat of “THE ORVILLE”. Not even the other Trek series from the past had such a drastic tonal shift. After all, the edgier style of Season One did not prevent “STAR TREK DISCOVERY” from being a hit or creating an entire new stable of fans. Had the show runners forgotten this? Or were they too busy paying attention to the narrow-minded fans who wanted the series to simply re-create the past?
I noticed that the introduction of Anson Mount as Captain Christopher Pike of the U.S.S. Enterprise had also contributed to this tonal shift. Mount’s Pike came off as slightly humorous and yet, somewhat bland. To me, Pike seemed like the epitome of the white male leading man that so many science-fiction/fantasy geeks seemed to long - especially in the past three to four years. The problem I have with this is that as an old fan of the AMC series, “HELL ON WHEELS”, I know that the talented Mount is capable of portraying a character more interesting than Pike. At one point in “Brother”, Pike had expressed his regret that the Enterprise did not participate in the Federation-Klingon War. Was this regret a consequence of survivor’s guilt? Or is this nothing more than the regret of someone in the military, who wished he or she could have been in the center of the action. I hope that it is the former. On the other hand, watching Pike participate in the landing party that found Reno and the remains of the Hiawatha makes me wonder otherwise. As the Discovery’s current temporary captain, his presence in the Away team struck me as questionable. This is not “STAR TREK” circa 1966-68. And so far, I do not find the character’s regret for not participating in the war against the Klingons as not very interesting.
And why is the Christopher Pike character a regular on this show? Why is he a regular for Season Two? Why was Pike, along with two Enterprise officers, needed to investigate those seven red bursts that had appeared in the Alpha Quadrant? The Discovery is originally a science vessel. The Enterprise is not. Why did the show runners have Starfleet order Pike to take command of Discovery in the first place? Mount could have been cast as the Discovery’s new captain who was someone other than Pike. Or Saru could have been promoted as the Discovery’s new commander. He deserved it. After all, ever since the discovery that Captain Gabriel Lorca was an imposter from the Mirror Universe, Saru had more or less acted as the ship’s captain. He was the one who led Discovery and its crew out of the Mirror Universe. And he stood behind Burnham, Tilly and Tyler when they exposed Starfleet’s plot to destroy the Klingon homeworld. Instead, either Alex Kurtzman or Aaron Harberts and Gretchen J. Berg drummed up some lame reason to brng Pike aboard the Discovery so that the show can have some slightly bland and familiar character as the main authority figure in order to soothe the nerves of some very loud and negative fans.
Is it possible that these fans could not deal with the chaotic Gabriel Lorca as captain or who still cannot deal with the non-white Michael Burnham as the show’s lead? Or do they simply want to recapture the past? Right now, it seems as if Kurtzman, Harberts and Berg want to please these fanboys, who want the show to recapture the past. After watching “Brother”, I blame them for listening to these fanboys, instead of basking in the success of Season One and moving forward with more innovative stories. It just seems a crime that producers like Kurtzman, Harberts, Berg, the Warner Brothers suits and Kathleen Kennedy are so afraid of the loud and narrow-minded fanboys that they would rather keep their respective franchises either mired in the past or borderline bland to please these fans. And in doing so, they end up ignoring the fact that when their franchises were innovative, they were also box office or ratings successes.
Right now, I find the Trek fandom, along with those for other franchises, rather frustrating and narrow-minded. These fans would rather cling to the past, rather than enjoy something different or innovative. And when producers and show runners like Harberts, Berg or Kurtzman kowtow to the loud and rather conservative-minded fans and critics, entertainment and art in pop culture becomes in danger of declining into a sad affair. Does this mean that Season Two of “STAR TREK DISCOVERY” await such a fate? I hope not. I hope that the season’s future episodes might prove to be just as fascinating and innovative as those from Season One. I hope so. Because if I have to be honest, I found “Brother” to be jarring and something of a head scratcher.