Star Trek: Discovery and Keeping Big Lies Straight
When people tell big lies that run over long periods, they rationalize. They may try to find a break point that allows them to come clean, but they miss it and go on to pile myth atop myth. Story arcs in television follow the same pattern. Decisions made early, filmed and released can’t be changed. The narrative team commits and if it doesn’t work, then they need to rationalize.
Plot holes you can drive a starship through
That’s what has happened to Star Trek Discovery. The spore drive. The Klingon War. Spock’s family history. Different looking Klingons. Ash Tyler’s physical and mental merging with Voq. Lorca as a Mirror Universe refugee. All manner of technology that pre-dates Kirk’s Enterprise but looks decidedly more modern (to our eyes). If, as the show runners insist, Discovery is in canon, they need to rationalize how all of the plot points , characters and technology end up with Star Trek TOS.
Perhaps the biggest decision, the one that started the threads unraveling in the first place, was the decision to make Star Trek: Discovery yet another prequel. Had the team tackled a post-Dominion War, post-Voyager world they would have infinitely more freedom to invent.
But an idea sits at the core, the Klingon War. In TOS, that was pretty simple. Territorial aggression. A cold war between two powers that ended up with some border skirmishes, and eventually, in one of Star Trek TOS’s first cross-episode assertions, the Peace Treaty imposed by the Organians on The United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire.
With the Internet and sites like memory-alpha.wikia.com and Star Trek Minutiae the show runners should find discovering the “logic” established by previous creative teams easy. While inconsistencies exist, such as the Xindi in Enterprise, canon is canon because it is documented. To the Xindi point, the Enterprise creative team presaged the multi-arc prequel dilemma with characters, species and plots that proved difficult to reconcile with TOS and subsequent shows.
Star Trek: Discovery created so many never before seen “facts” over its hours of plot that show runners often talk publicly about the need to reconcile their assertions ahead of the next season In the UK’s metro, Aaron Harberts is quoted as saying,
’We have ten years until the original series comes into play. It is a challenge creatively because we have lots of choices, in terms of how do we reconcile this [Spore] drive? This surrogate daughter of Sarek? How do we reconcile these things the closer we get to the original series?
‘That’s going to be a big discussion that we have in season two. What’s so fun about the character of Michael, just because she hasn’t been spoken about, doesn’t mean she didn’t exist. A lot of the writers on our show are deeply involved in Star Trek, their knowledge is some of the finest around, they really do help us find areas where we can steer around things.
It appears they didn’t think through the implications of early choices, and therefore kind of relish the need to fix what they have broken.
But its just a TV show
Of course, all of this is easily dismissed as inconsequential because, after-all, this is just fiction, and even worse, it is television fiction. But the high-level of connection between fans and Star Trek nurtured by Paramount, NBC and now CBS derives in many ways from a consistent universe, a place to return to with a familiar universe that can still offer new surprises. It matters in someways because a multi-billion dollar franchise hangs on these choices.
From my experience, the fan are the crew and they expect Star Trek to take them someplace they wish they could go. I think Discovery fundamentally missed that point, most often taking its viewers places they didn’t really want to go, boldly or otherwise.
One way around the problems of cannon is to, as JJ Abrams did with the new Star Trek movies, reboot the universe. Yet Abrams still managed to introduce enormous plot holes, like bringing back Kahn as a tall British man with sleeper pods that look nothing like the ones in TOS Space Seed, despite the fact that his ship was launched before the temporal discontinuity and therefore, should be unchanged by the arrival of Nero. That lack of imagination in Into Darkness, as well as that’s movie’s revelation of a sinister side to the Federation, also splintered Trek fandom.
Another solution: isolation by episode. Episodic narrative approaches require less engineering and prove more forgiving. If Star Trek TNG had spent an entire 15 episode arc exploring the limitations of warp speed after the discovery that warp damaged the fabric of spacetime, many viewers might have abandoned ship. While acknowledged in a few additional episodes, the warp restriction faded overtime as a bad idea despite it ecologically well-meaning origins. The events of Abrams Into Darkness was already without discussion in Beyond.
Regardless of how much time the Star Trek: Discovery team spends in the writer’s room to transform the messiness of their plots into “canon,” fans will always know that at least the first season of Discovery isn’t really canon. If the writers must work that hard to refit ideas that, just because they weren’t mentioned, doesn’t mean they didn’t exist—then they are wasting their creativity on something that should not have been shot and delivered in the first place.
I would rather see them spending time on creating new concepts, worlds and civilizations that fans have not seen, that their familiar world must deal with. Roddenberry achieved that in the first couple of seasons of Trek on a meager budget because he knew the value of Trek to fans would come from their relationship with characters working through new issues and situations. They would experience new challenges along with the characters. That is the heart of Star Trek: boldly going where no one has gone before, not rehashing old ideas with slight nuance that make people just look at the screen and say, “really?”
In the Star Trek universe thousands of worlds lie within reach of a warp capable ship. Everyone of them offers a backdrop for tension and character growth, for commentary and existential exploration in ways that fans have not seen before. Get out of the mirror universe. Stop creating square plot points and characters that can’t be fit into a round Jefferies tube.
Season 2: the mission continues
Perhaps Discovery should try something unique. Move a few years out. Move to a point in the future where there is so much warp plasma under the bridge that the characters no long need to discuss or reflect on the events of season one. Put them out in deep space as hardened explorers working through their next encounter with the unknown. Return to episodes that force thoughtful reflection or offer entertaining side trips.
Perhaps the encounter with the Enterprise in the last scene will be the next season’s jumping off point for taking the show someplace else entirely. It is hard to maintain a big elaborate lie. Discovery should cut is losses and take the show in an entirely new direction. Let’s see if they remain inspired by Grey’s Anatomy, or if they can reforge a relationship with Roddenberry and Serling that have been usurped (in a very good way) by the likes of Black Mirror and Electric Dreams—let’s see if Discovery can really boldly go where it clearly has budget to take itself.
Read more on Star Trek Discovery at Serious Insights.