Thursday, 15 February 2018

Why the first season of Star Trek Discovery ended poorly

I've done a bad, bad thing. I responded to some random guy on Twitter describing Star Trek Discovery's last episode of the season as objectively awful and adding a sarcastic "Enjoy!"
Aside from the obvious shitposting, there was a hint of honesty in my dumb statement. Well, when a couple of actors took passive offense, leaving their own harmless sarcastic responses to me, that's all it took to attract a horde of bloodhound fans. You can't just simply mess around with a beloved intellectual property without pissing off the fanbase one way or another. I will admit, joke aside, that my tweet was mean, though not malicious or ill intended, and that I could've either minded my own business or further elaborate. For that I am sorry and I might flagellate myself for this crude mistake, maybe. Though I have decided to ignore most of the "nonconstructive" messages, some have argued that my "criticism" wasn't even constructive or creative, so why bother "sharing"? People have this wrong mindset that "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all," but it doesn't take much imagination to see it brought up by hypocrites and it's a funny thing that they only apply this quote whenever it suits them. Well, I'm sorry for not being able to self-censor my thoughts just because people will take offense with my opinions, stupid as they may be... or not. So even if that is my subjective opinion, I feel that I now have to explain why some episodes of Star Trek Discovery, especially most of the second half of the first season, are OBJECTIVELY awful. Consider this my constructive criticism.

Star Trek Discovery's first season had its finale and throughout the second half of this season, despite all the zany quirks and the "what the hell are you doing?" moments, I remained faithful, hopeful that it'll get better. Why am I referring to the second half in particular? Because the first half was good, with very petty nitpicks on my part, but it showed that it had a solid structure and a lot of planning behind it. The second half of the season also had a strong start, with minor hiccups, mainly boring dialogue spewing exposition and pointless dream scenes. They were pointless. Point... less... Had no point, no weight on the story, no further development, the filmmakers just said "yeah, enough of that, let's move on," slapping their palms around the set to wake everyone up.

Direction is usually serviceable. Sound and music aren't really noteworthy, the main theme is too subdued and doesn't convey a sense of epic adventures awaiting. The set designers are doing a great job, although I can't say everything looks superb, like the Qo'noS city, which looked better from the fly-over CGI than the small village they slapped together, but even more praise-worthy are the people working in the prosthetic makeup department. Creature designs, Klingons, Kelpians and synthetics look top notch for a TV series, most notably Saru, helped by great acting. CGI got a bit better in the second half, slightly, but that's not saying much. The best looking computer animated thing is still the tardigrade. Fight choreography looks good, although it goes on for too long and chops a lot of screen time that could've been dedicated to story and character development. Action scenes are great, but that's not really what Star Trek is about. Science and diplomacy. Yes, the show has both to some degree, but they're butchered. Overall, there are a lot of memorable moments and original content, however, they hang too much on references to Star Trek pop culture, no matter how obscure. References and nods to TOS and TNG are good fan services, but nostalgia can only go so far. It's fun to see a thing or two of the past brought up again, but too much reliance on the already established proves a lack of creativity. Everything truly creative in Discovery happens in the first 4 episodes: the Kelpiens, the space mushrooms, the tardigrade and the black alert jumps. And they somehow manage to ruin those too. Except for the tardigrade, that was amazing and it had a beautiful send-off.

Now that I've said all the good stuff I had to say about it, I have some questions.

Why is terraforming technology in the possession of Discovery? Isn't that against the prime directive? Even if it is on an uninhabited planet? I'm not a biologist, but doesn't planting any sort of mushrooms, even space ones, require a stable ecosystem? I've seen more accurate science in Disney cartoons.

How come no one in the Federation thinks about attacking the Klingon home world until the Discovery shows up? It took 4 filler-ridden episodes to resolve the Mirror Universe plot and only 2 awkward episodes to end a long war with the Klingons.

How come the Discovery doesn't share the Mycelial spore network technology with the Federation? It would be such a crushing advantage over the Klingons, the war would be over without a casualty. Why contain this technology to one ship and risk losing it forever in case a mission goes bad? The explanation could be simple, but they will have to explore that for a bit, not just shrug it off in a dialogue scene. Left unanswered, it only serves to bloat the mess of inconsistencies that keep piling up.

How come the Kelpiens are so easily defeated and turned into slaves by Terrans when they are shown to possess physical advantages over humans? And they're also food? I know they've touched on the fact that Kelpiens are prey on their home planet, but still the question remains. Why would they just give up and become obedient pets with the knowledge that they are food for the humans when they can easily overpower them? You can't explain this when Mirror Saru chucks Tyler/Voq across the room like a rag doll, or when Saru become a Starfleet captain, even if he's the first one of he's species to do so. It's a paradox. I give them props for having the balls go there, but really? Would you kindly give my suspension of disbelief a freakin' break? Here's an excerpt from the writers' meeting:
"So, we all know the Mirror Universe is full of assholes. What do you got for me?"
"The humans are, like, ironically the worst. They're like... uhm... Nazis!"
"Oh, that's nice, very topical, but that's too obvious. What else?"
"What else?... And they have slaves? Alien slaves? Like Saru is one of them maybe..."
"And they eat them!"
"...You fucking GENIUS!"

Michael Burnham. Where do I start? She's portrayed very well, the actress is doing a good job, but the character is very inconsistent. She starts out as the human raised on Vulcan, practical and stoic, with a hint of unshakable pride and the courage to take risks no one else would. Those were her strongest traits that made her an asset to Lorca, or so we're told at first. But then Lorca died and her emotions, her behaviors and actions were all over the place, ranging from crybaby to badass, from cautious to risk-taking, from showing empathy towards L'Rell, but none whatsoever towards Lorca, and then she easily gives Hitler a pass.You know, it's like she was written by too many people without any character table and chalked the entire work up to the performance. If that's true, then why the hell not just ad-lib and improvise through the whole series? Maybe it would've been more entertaining.

Lorca died. The most interesting character in the series was killed in the most cliche way possible. Here's how an excerpt from the script probably reads:
They fight for a while.
Lorca is stabbed, looks dumbfounded.
Gets kicked into the fire pit.
And that's the worst way to write off your most interesting character and send away the most talented actor involved in the project. Because from then on you'll have to rely on all the other interesting characters. Like Stamets or Saru. Oh, about them...
Stamets is so great in the first 8 or so episodes, dismissive, yet cunning and bold, but after a couple of Mirror episodes he becomes a boring backdrop, babbling about science mumbo-jumbo once in a while. Saru also has a great start and is played by a very talented actor, but then his presence on the screen is gradually wasted,. He does get to be a captain, at least until next season's premiere, that is.
Tilly is not funny. I don't know how talented the actress is, I don't think I've seen her in anything else, but I somehow get the feeling that she's exactly like that in real life. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, there are sparks of talent in her performance when Tilly isn't the comic relief. Is a comic relief really that necessary in a show like this? She's a brilliant engineer, but then she's doing the Terran Nazi salute because she doesn't know any better. OMG, like, she's such an idiot, you guys, I don't even know how she passed the tests to get on board of a Starfleet vessel.

Why was Mirror Giorgiou appointed captain of the Discovery for that one mission? I know they explain it, although poorly, but it makes no sense. So she was good at wiping out almost all Klingons in her Universe. Is that also what the Federation wants? What's the reasoning behind it? Once she's captain, she gets into some childish fight with the crew, takes Burnham aside and reveals that the plan is to attack the Klingon home world, and that wasn't even her plan to begin with. Then goes on the mission with Burnham and pals to execute a secret agenda in cahoots with the Federation. Okay, I guess you could come up with excuses that Burnham wouldn't have agreed, not like she must follow orders or anything, but Mirror Giorgiou didn't need to be a captain for that mission. No, she needed to be a captain so they can have a crappy cliffhanger in the previous episode. And... I hate to say stuff like this... Mirror Giorgiou is so grating, so cheesy and so boringly campy. She's such a terrible villain played by such a wonderful actress, it's baffling how they even manage to achieve these standards.
Although L'Rell sometimes shows some semblance of sympathy, she never misses an opportunity to express her warmongering and scorn towards humans. Why would you trust her?

When we first meet Tyler, he's kinda cool. And then it's revealed that somehow, some way, he is actually Voq, the albino Klingon, and Voq was kinda cool too. It is never explained how they turned Voq into Tyler, but I can respect that, okay, they were busy explaining space fungus. But then they exorcise Voq out of Tyler and then Tyler becomes a whiny little bitch... Boo-hoo all day long, whining about his tiny broken heart 'cause Michael doesn't like him anymore. Voq was a goddamn badass and they leave us with this time waster for the rest of the season? Yeah, great writing guys!
Speaking about writing, holy crap is it inconsistent! Sometimes it's really impressive, honest truth that I have been impressed by some scenes, and I applaud the Mirror Universe twist, but other times it's just baffling how bad it is. The level of hilarity in threats like "I will cut your tongue and lick my boots with it" or "your nose is gonna be able to sniff the back of your head"? What is this, third grade? Who talks like that? The levels of pretentiousness in the writing in almost every episode is off the charts. It's like a legion of hipsters worked in shifts prancing at one another and typing everything down. Oh wait, that's exactly what happened. Most of the season, especially the second half, was so obviously written on the lap as they were shooting. I can't provide proof, I can't assure you that they really did that, I just know because I've seen mess like this before. I'm not saying that's not work, all I'm saying is they should've taken time, proofread and make necessary changes. The dialogue in the last few episodes are some of the most generic and cliche lines I've ever heard bundled together. Allow me to exhibit a few gems:
"The Klingons are like cancer... you must destroy the tumor at its source." (not how it works, btw)
"There are no second chances."
"Tell me the real plan."
"You look so much like her."
"Are you with me or against me?"
"That was the plan all along."
"That is who we are."
"The only way to defeat fear is to tell it no." - they were so proud of this one that it was paraded on every social media as if it was the most brilliant thing they have ever come up with.
The entire scene with the Mirror Giorgiou in the captain chair with the back and forward between her and Burnham is such a disgrace. And all this is just from one episode. Are these dialogue lines objectively awful? I guess not, if you're the sort of person who likes schlock in your science fiction. But are they objectively awful after a century of film making history? I should say so.

I don't like to talk about actors, they're just working with what they are given, so I have to say that most of the cast did a splendid job, not all of them, but it's not their fault and I blame it on the screenwriters first and foremost. Towards the end of the season, even the most stellar acting started to pale when they have nothing good to work with. I mean, come on, when The Orville has better material and it's actually a better Star Trek than Discovery, you know there's a problem with the scripts. Just look at how they end their first season: the Enterprise shows up, with Pike as captain, and the original theme starts playing. That's how much faith they have in their own IP. And while I don't like to point out specific artists, writers, designers or directors that aren't doing a great job, - and that's not fair in a constructive criticism, is it? - I will point out the flaws I see on the screen whenever the challenge arises. I get why people rush that instinctive feeling to be defensive about their hard work. How can I not understand why people are so upset when their creation feels attacked (although I am definitely not doing that)? I personally felt what it's like. How can I not understand the passion and exhausting work goes into making something creative? Bringing to life new worlds and characters takes a lot more effort than people think, but that doesn't exonerate them from criticism. Taking offense upon seeing your own work or a work of fiction you love being challenged, especially when it's clearly a joke, only shows a sad lack of confidence. Learn instead, do better.

I could go on and on and waste my time in vain, no one gives a crap about any of this. They sass people around for saying something bad about their work, but they don't care about constructive criticism either. Some artists would rather only hear how great they're doing, how awesome their work is and that apparently requires no constructive feedback. But hey, I don't blame them for expecting a Twitter feed filled only with praises and wanting to shut their ears to any negativity. I stand by my opinion that, from an objective point of view, Discovery ended awfully indeed. Does this mean I hate Star Trek Discovery? Absolutely not. I yearn for a great new Star Trek series and Discovery has all the ingredients to be that, but there are just too many hands on the table each trying to bake their own cake. I want this show to be good. I can only hope the production team and everyone involved in this series learns from what made for a good viewing experience and what didn't and adjust correspondingly. To that I can only express my sincere hopes and wish them good luck! Because they need it, since they didn't listen to one word rational people had to say about the first half of the season and they rather catered to the mindless. But I'm raving to deaf ears. What gets their attention is high praise or dumb shitposting, those are quick and easy pickings. How dumb and ironic would it be to leave a comment to this article with a sassy "thanks for sharing" and a "rolling eyes" emoji, or to insult me without leaving any counter arguments? On the other hand, it wouldn't be surprising at all. Most of the fans of these big franchises are obsessively religious, they will relentlessly hunt down every negative feedback, no matter how constructive or nonconstructive it may be. Pointless.
So why am I "sharing"? Because I care and because I fucking can. You're welcome!