Star Trek: Discovery

We are, at time of writing, three episodes into Season 2 of Discovery. And I will be straight up about this: I am pretty firmly of the opinion that it is the best Star Trek yet. Part of this is because I think Michael Burnham is a fantastic character, one who has a fall-and-redemption story as essentially her origin rather than a long arc, and one who is clearly constantly evaluating the difference between doing what she knows is right and following orders, which is a quandry more and more in line with reality for anyone living in the 21st century, let alone the 24th.

I put some thinking about Discovery on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, and there's been enough feedback and discussion about that that I want to talk about it a bit more. (Twitter thread here).

(Strictly speaking, I want to ramble vaguely a bit more.)

So all of that is Star Trek on TV (or in novels, games, etc) as representation of something that has some reality elsewhere, in the same way as we have differing versions of Shakespeare or Beowulf or The Great Gatsby. And one of the things that changes over time is how we place people in that story. We start out by having people who look as much as possible like the "real" people, if there were real people, or like the physical description in the book, or like the first (or most famous) actor who played the role. And then later, when we have had several actors, or there isn't quite such an image in the public mind of what the real person looked like, we can change that.

Obviously that has all happened already for Shakespeare. In as much as he ever existed, we have no idea what Macbeth looked like - he was almost certainly male, and probably mostly white, and that's really all we can say. But you can certainly run a production of the Scottish Play where the titular character is played by a woman of Indian descent, and her wife is black, say. You can mess with a number of people's heads in a pleasing way by doing colourblind casting, genderblind casting, flipping everything (and how much would that rock? a cast entirely of non-white women except for Lord Macbeth, who's a big Samoan dude or something) and so forth.

We can't do that yet with Star Trek. But I can envision - and may well yet see in action - a production of The Old Series wherein Kirk is a woman, the same way as Starbuck was flipped in Battlestar Galactica. Given Kirk's approach to life often being seen as stereotypically masculine, that would be interesting. His relationship with Spock - particularly if it remains non-sexual (yes, I know, slash, but it's never been thus on screen) looks very different then - although, to be fair, something very like that has been done with Janeway and Chakotay in Voyager.

We're not quite at the stage of retelling yet. But if we consider Discovery (and TNG and Voyager) as being proto-retellings of "the core Trek story" rather than sequels and prequel, we end up with some interesting parallels and differences. First and foremost, obviously, the point of view in Discovery isn't the captain, and it's only getting slightly toward the mostly-ensemble approach of previous series. The choice of a Black woman as the point of view is solid; while it's not relevant in the milieu of Starfleet, it marks her as an outsider from a 21st century point of view in a way that echoes Vulcan-raised ex-mutineer Burnham.

Similarly, we have Stamets as a retelling of Scotty/La Forge/Torres. I'm not entirely clear on what Stamets' position within Discovery's crew is, mind; he's not actually the Chief Engineer, but an astromycologist. And you can draw a parallel between Tilly and Wesley Crusher, between Saru and Spock (and also Saru and Deanna Troi). Other parallels remain to be mapped; Airiam and Data may have a lot in common, but we haven't seen enough of them yet. And Bryce, Detmer, Owosekun, and other people we've seen on the bridge, likewise. And the Osnullus character (I'm not clear yet on whether that's her name or her species) is just a complete mystery as yet. But I'm hoping to see more of the background characters appearing, because consistent background characters are clearly one of the real strengths of Discovery to this point.

Posted by Drew Shiel at February 7, 2019 8:00 PM

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