Fandom Report: “Star Trek Discovery” is of–but not for–our time

The show is wasted potential that fails to show a path out of the rightwing bigotry, lies, and inhumanity of our current political culture.

It’s frustrating enough that the series, slowly but surely, moves from a captain who happens to be a woman and Asian, and is a supporting rather than main character, to another old boring white dude in the captain’s chair, albeit again as a supporting character. To use the captain as just fodder, to be killed off to motivate the obviously emotionally compromised protagonist, a character living through the trauma of a bellicose Klingon army killing her family coupled with the childhood of emotional suppression under Vulcans, is a waste.

Think Progress has referred to this iteration of Discovery as the Star Trek for our time. If this is our time, I don’t want it: I’d gladly give it up towards a better future, or a return to just a year ago when we had a reasonable President in the White House that guided policies that helped the lives of many, rather than a fascist who hurts the lives of all. While I agree far more with Ian Millhiser than I disagree with him when it comes to policies, I cannot agree with his interpretation of Discovery: this is not a show for this time period, nor was Star Trek ever for its time period.

“For” is not the same as “of”: of course a text–short story, book, film, TV show–is of the time when it was made, from its fashion to its style to its mistakes to its prejudices.

When you refer to a show as for an era, you treat it only in its moment of production, not in its moment of reception. Any story can be claimed by a later time period to pull something new from it, not to refer to that element as of high quality or ethical goodness, but for interpretation towards whatever conclusion it leads. And at this moment in my life, this show looks like an empty, joyless future that can’t even portray war in impactful way.

Star Trek Discovery does not feel like it responds to the dangers we face and does not feel like it guides us to solutions: we are facing fascism, and this series is not about fighting fascists; this series is about one character, too shaken by traumas of loss and upbringing, to consider approaches for convincing her captain that Federation policies are not applicable in this war. Told by that perspective, to focus on her tragedy, the story can work; at the moment, forcing that point of view onto a story about Klingons, it fails. To call any of this “for” this moment is a mistake.

It takes Millhiser almost half of this article to get to what Discovery actually does: the first half is just context about what previous iterations of Star Trek accomplished–and with little acknowledgement to problems inherent to those early series, especially racial and ethnic essentializing and misogynistic portrayals. When Millhiser does get to Discovery, he writes, “Georgiou’s high-mindedness led to nothing but disaster.” Funny, that the blame is not laid at the feet of the party who was not doing very well convincing her superior officer other than to stage a mutiny. The evidence before Georgiou was not enough: an attack could risk war, just as being a victim could. There’s not even a discussion of retreat in this assessment. So, even though Georgiou was damned regardless which action she took, Millhiser lays the blame only with her: that is a disingenuous argument to make.

Millhiser side-steps these concerns to argue that, as Discovery is a prequel, we know it will all work out well. We don’t. There is little in this series to suggest it will not be retconned or is not part of another timeline, especially how much it diverges in the portrayal of Klingons.

And if you think “is the most optimistic vision that Star Trek could offer a nation staggered by the rise of” this Republican fascist, then you lack imagination. We have works of art right now that acknowledge the fight we face yet hold onto the values–humor, ethics, truth–that allow people to persist and succeed. I see no humor in this show. I see no ethics. I see nothing honest in its treatment of viewers’ expectations: I see showdy foreshadowing, a character whose connection to Vulcans is so tenuous that it might as well not be included, backstory and flashbacks that could have fostered a more interesting opening arc for this series, and a setup for a future storyline that should have been the start to this series–of a character, in prison, given a new chance.

This show was not honest with me: it fails to be the most optimistic vision.

It lied to me: that fails to be the most optimistic vision.

It has no humor: it fails to be the most optimistic vision.

And almost nothing in this show spoke to our present situation–because optimism and hope are not enough. We need direction. We need evidence that logically leads to a conclusion. Instead, we get a story and characterization as vacuous as empty claims of optimism and the emptiness of this CGI space constructed for this show.

But hey, at least Doug Jones is awesome–so go watch Pan’s Labyrinth. That film was more optimistic, and it has a horrifying ending. Go watch the DS9 episode Millhiser cites.

Or maybe skip to Episode 7 to see whether the series gets better, because right now, it’s not worth my time.

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