Words of Tomorrow
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Words of Tomorrow

Not My Star Trek

The secret supervillain with the hope sucking machine strikes again

By MARTIN REZNY

What a strange timeline do we inhabit. Not only is there a new Star Trek show after more than a decade, but apparently, Trek has always had a ton of white nationalist and alpha male sexist fans. How? I’ve always suspected it must have some filthy rich CEO fans. After all, it has made a bunch of them a lot of money. But how do you watch and enjoy a show and ignore its entire point?

On the other hand, the least surprising thing ever is that simultaneously, Trek seems to have been recently overtaken by people who mistake gender for character. I must say, it is fun to watch everyone being both right and wrong at the same time, and the fight being about Star Trek is fitting, since Star Trek is supposed to be, in a very real way, a battlefield where future is shaped.

Unfortunately, when the meta conflict becomes more interesting than the show itself, I can’t help but feel that everybody loses. Growing up, I was too young for TOS and TNG, but I have watched DS9 and Voyager throughout my teens, and to me, Star Trek never was just a show. I see it as an institution, more important than school or even elections, and I’m entirely serious.

Making a Trek show only to make money is essentially sacrilege, and hijacking it to make a clumsy point in a petty culture war happening today is a fundamental misunderstanding of how Star Trek can make a future without prejudice or war possible. And yes, I am aware that I’m likely to piss off absolutely everyone with my take. Oh, you have no idea yet just how much.

“Why are we fighting? We’re Starfleet. We’re explorers, not soldiers.”

This quote right here best encapsulates where the new show seems to be going in a completely wrong direction in (not only) my opinion. It’s funny that it took a concussion to make one of the blue red shirts realize how little sense the unfolding events make. I understand there have always been space wars and actiony engagements in Star Trek, they have even framed shows before.

Deep Space 9, which is my favorite Star Trek show, starts with the Borg blowing up what looks like half the Federation fleet with one of their cubes, and ends, spoiler alert I guess, in the Dominion War story arc. Voyager starts by pursuing Maquis terrorists and blowing up the Caretaker Array, and ends, after many a blow up, by blowing up the whole damn Borg transwarp hub.

The problem isn’t that there’s some action or conflict present, especially not if it’s looking as gorgeous as it does on Star Trek: Discovery. But in Star Trek, action or conflict is supposed to help make a point, not be the point. What is it exactly that we’re trekking toward? If it’s a war, then it’s not really about the trek, is it. I do hope that when the show actually starts, it will start trekking.

But here’s the thing, I don’t think there will be any point other than “look at all the war, how great it loo… I mean, how bad it is”. If only because of how much they spent on making it look so good, and how little on well-written dialogue of appealing characters. Don’t get me wrong, the old shows weren’t perfect and the new film cast is extremely appealing, but… Let me explain.

If You Can Be Kicked Into Your Identity, You’re Doing It Wrong

Look, I have nothing against people of any gender, or color, or nationality, or hairdo being Star Trek captains. Or by extension, any other profession whatsoever. Star Trek taught me to not care about any of anyone’s superficial attributes. That’s the point of Star Trek — in the future that any sensible human being should want, nobody will care about characteristics that have nothing to do with one’s actual character, and we’ll instead focus on character.

You know what not not caring about superficial attributes looks like? When the lead actor uses their gender, or color, or nationality, or hairdo as a substitute for their character. Or even worse, when deciding which color, or gender, or nationality, or hairdo is better is what the story is about. When you make a Star Trek story about any of these things, you have failed at Star Trek.

Don’t get me wrong, what a Star Trek story can be about is that sexism, racism, nationalism, fashion, religion, militarism, or any form of jingoism is bullshit. But here’s the nuance — Uhura was a black woman, Chekov was Russian, and Picard was bald, but they were part of stories that were not about that. The great liberating victory of it was that none of that mattered.

As I watched Star Trek when I was younger, it had literally never occurred to me that there should be anything wrong with Sisko being a black captain or Janeway being a female captain. Chakotay didn’t have to be a doofus to make Janeway look competent, in fact I liked them both equally, just like Picard didn’t have to become an idiot when speaking to Sisko to make him look good.

What was enough was that there they were, being awesome, and if someone questioned them, it had usually something to do with their decisions or personality, not their appearance. There were sexist, racist, and nationalist villains in the shows, but they had dimensions. They were not carricatures, and their races were not stereotypes. Even the friggin Borg had dissidents.

The worst of Trek was when whole races were treated as stereotypical carricatures, but fortunately, even the Ferengi eventually got their Quark, who was still as greedy and sexist as any other Ferengi, but actually a good guy when it counted and a humanizing counterpoint to the bit too perfect humans of the future. That’s dimension and nuance and humanity for you.

Answer me honestly — where is any dimension, nuance, humanity, or really any inspiring character in Star Trek: Discovery’s pilot episodes? What I see is that human females are good, assertive white males are bad, Klingons have no individuality or cause other than pure angry racism, and while the Federation does say they come in peace, they’re acting exactly as territorial as Klingons.

Maybe Sarek has potential, and the alien scientist is tolerable, but if every single female will be all masculine and always right, every single male good guy submissive, and every single male bad guy macho and always wrong, it will get really dumb and boring real fast. The only imperfection of the lead heroine is angst, but that’s not a legitimate character dimension either.

Boldly Going to a Future of Suck

But enough about what compelling character is and the sheer lack of it in the pilot. Lackluster characters can eventually be developed. After all, the doctor on DS9, Julian Bashir, was for the longest time just the okay guy good at everything, to a point of unbelieavability. So the writers made him, spoiler alert, secretly genetically enhanced, creating a conflict. The writers ran into the same problem on Voyager with Tom Paris, but never corrected it there.

What’s much worse about the new show is the nature of its future. If you make a Star Trek world in which a current human wouldn’t want to reside, you have again failed at Star Trek. Trek was already pushing it with the Borg and the Dominion War, however, there was a clear point to it. With the Borg, it was Q teaching Picard a lesson about arrogance, while the Dominion War showed that maintaining a paradise takes vigilance, conviction, and effort.

What’s the point to this war with the Klingons? How can it stop with them being established as racial purists first and foremost? Who cares about how they look, that’s again superficial appearance bullshit, but how will they now be able to ultimately make peace with the Federation by coming to find respect for its people? Klingon character should be about honor, not eugenics. If any race was about being supremacist assholes, it were the Cardassians.

Again, tell me honestly, was there any Klingon character in the pilot who was not an angry racist asshole and nothing else, or a coward racist asshole and nothing else? Remember, skin color or ethnic heritage are not character. At this point, it genuinely wouldn’t surprise me if we learn later on that good Klingons are females, or Klingons with hair. Who will our heroes reach out to? Are we supposed to root for a Federation military victory? I sure hope not.

What even are the main themes of the show that contain any actual ethical or philosophical dilemma? Correct me if I’m wrong, but Klingons seem 100% in the wrong here and Federation 100% in the right. That’s not how dilemmas work. Janeway wasn’t 100% right with the Federation ideals and Chakotay 100% wrong with the Maquis ideals. DS9 wasn’t about either science or religion being 100% right or wrong. So far, Discovery is about nothing.

Star Trek by Any Other Name

If I sound angry, I’m not. I’m just predictably disappointed, as I’m determined to watch every single episode of the new Star Trek show no matter what, hoping they turn it around, even if that would take several seasons. The actors are fine, and the look is beautiful (though the show opening is total crap). They have budget. Besides, me not really liking Discovery’s pilot is by far not the most bizarre Trek related discovery that I have made in the last few weeks.

When I first saw Discovery’s trailer, I thought to myself, that actually looks great, I can’t wait. On the other hand, when I first saw the trailer to another upcoming Trek-like show, Seth MacFarlane’s The Orville, I thought to myself, what a so-not-funny-it’s-funny fake trailer. Wait, what? No, they didn’t... That’s gonna be awful, I can’t wait. Imagine my surprise when I actually came to like The Orville so much more than Discovery in the first few episodes.

Yeah, some of the jokes are falling flat on The Orville, though the trend is continuous improvement so far, but here’s the twist — I don’t think it would be better if it was more funny. What it is much better at than humor is essentially being classic Star Trek, to a degree where it’s legitimately strange that they’re not getting sued, but in a good way. What I mean by that is that people who own the rights to Star Trek know much less what to do with it than these guys.

The Orville is original in that no Trek show before has focused consistently on the opposite of an A-level crew, and the reason it works so well (at least for me) is that it lends the show unexpected level of realism. When you take away perfection of character, but keep the idealistic conviction, what you get is belieavable humanity. Trek had done that very well in little doses with flawed characters like Quark, in individual episodes like The Magnificent Ferengi.

I was positively shocked how well The Orville tackled the issue of changing the gender of an infant, in a nuanced way where both sides had an argument, or that they would even attempt it three episodes in. Which they followed by the most stunning and effective countering of a religious dogma in a visual way that I think I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen so much sci-fi. Again, how?

I’ve read other reviews online, and most critics still seem to be stuck in the “this show must suck” mode, sounding more and more confused in their arguments. But since the objectively excellent third episode, some reviewers have already turned around, like those at the Den of Geek. Similarly, many reviewers are still stuck in the “new Star Trek show must be good” mode.

The Orville has the same optimistic tone and values, and format, as TNG, and the great thing about that is that it works. By Grabthar’s hammer, it works. It may just be me, but it gave me all the right feels, and I’m not typically the feels guy. Watching it, especially the third and fourth episodes, I had the “I’m watching new Trek episode, yay!” feeling. After so many years. Too many.

It doesn’t feel antiquated, it feels refreshing. After all the doomgloom and borewars of the modern Trek, the new and more polished but still old-style Trek of The Orville feels thousand times more like a genuine future, and the humanizing everyday idiocy and lameness of the crew is enhancing it in all the right ways. Who knew that a bit of humor is better than a ton of war.

Sure, it is MacFarlane’s vanity project and he would probably do better to at least eventually choose some actor other than himself for the lead captain, as he’s a bit distracting by his presence, regardless of how well he’s acting the part. But at least it’s clear that he loves Star Trek, that he simply wants classic Trek to be back on television more than to just make money or be preachy.

So, to sum up why everyone should hate me, so far I’m not liking Discovery because it looks shallow, underwritten, gloomy, and preachy, missing the whole point of what Star Trek is supposed to be by dragging petty identity politics between the alt-right and the regressive left into it, while The Orville, of all things, looks like it’s going to be a much better classic Star Trek show.

What a strange timeline indeed.

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