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Watching the second season of “Star Trek: Discovery.”

I much preferred the first season’s skepticism of Lorca-as-a-stand-in-for-the-popular-memory-of-Kirk to the second season’s hero worship of Pike-as-a-stand-in-for... eh, Pike.
That said, I’m reminded of my fondness for the “Star Trek: Discovery” primary cast.

Despite all the criticisms of the casting and characterisation in the first season, I feel like the ensemble is surprisingly well-formed.
As with the first season, and the “Short Treks”, there’s a thrill in watching “Star Trek: Discovery” try to adapt “Star Trek” storytelling for modern television narrative frameworks.

In particular, “Brother” is a modern season premiere, of the kind “Star Trek” has rarely done.
The old format of “Star Trek” meant season premieres were often driven by resolving the cliffhanger from the past season, and rarely otherwise about setting up the season to come.

“The Xindi” is really the only example I can think of. Even then, it’s following “The Expanse.”
In contrast, “Brother” is very clearly “here’s what we’re doing this year” in a way few “Star Trek” season premieres have been.

This is most obvious in the heavy emotional exposition between Burnham and Sarek, which amounts to, “Here’s the emotional arc with Spock.”
This isn’t a complaint.

I actually like how the internal logic that guides “Star Trek: Discovery” is emotional rather than strictly rational.

It is a nice distinction between “Discovery” and some of the earlier “Star Trek” series.
“Body’s just a machine. And I read a lot.”

There’s the loose indifference to cold logic that distinguishes “Discovery” from other “Star Trek” shows, whereby an engineer can become a heart surgeon.

It’s a playful extrapolation of the absurdity of the franchise’s pseudo-science.
Which is to say that “Discovery” understands that it’s no less absurd that Jet Reno could improvise a replacement heart than make a ship travel travel faster than the speed of light using magic blue crystals.

Also, Jet Reno is by far the most valuable player in “Brother.”
It’s odd, but - perhaps because it is less obviously pandering to the base - I found the quick musical shout-out to Michael Giacchino much less galling than the Alexander Courage reference.

Also, it feels like “Next Gen” borrowing from “The Motion Picture.” A tipping of the hat.
“What’s the logic in staying away if there’s nothing left to come back to?”

There’s something REALLY condescending in the way “Discovery” frames Pike as a piece of pandering fan service come to set this errant spin-off right and make it suitably “Star-Trek-y” for the base.
Earlier, @WilliamWehrs likened the tone of “Brother” to “Star Trek Beyond.” A good point.

Like “Into Darkness”, the first season was provocative, challenging “Star Trek.” Trying to say something.

The second season is more engaged with superficially looking like “Star Trek.”
Look, I like “Beyond” a lot.

But it didn’t resonate outside the base in the way that “Star Trek (2009)” and “Into Darkness” did. Which is what “Star Trek” needs to do to survive.

I wonder if “Star Trek: Discovery” can avoid that. The first season was a colossal hit, after all.
As with “Justice League” - and don’t worry, it’s not a qualitative comparison - there’s a sense that the crew listened to really loud, really stupid, really superficial complaints.

“Brother” is very light. (Literally. It’s over-lit.) And very awkwardly jovial. “Fun!” it screams.
Anyway, let’s not get too negative. There’s some stuff to like here.

Particularly Pike’s observation that “logic [is] the beginning of the picture and not the end.”

Which is, as discussed above, something genuinely novel that “Discovery” brings to “Star Trek.”
“Burnham, wherever our mission takes us, we’ll try to have some fun along the way.”

Pike has been reading the Internet comments, which will go a long way towards explaining why older iterations of the character are somewhat... grumpier.

Reading the comments will do that.
I actually really like the design of Spock’s quarters on the Enterprise.

They are appreciably more retro and softer than those on Discovery, without being overly and literally beholden to what came before.
“New Eden” continues the weird nostalgic fan service that marked so much of “Brother.”

In this case, a standard “planet of the week” formula that defined so much of the original “Star Trek”, “The Next Generation”, “Voyager” and the first two years of “Enterprise.”
The issue with the “planet of the week” format is that it’s rigidly episodic.

It is limited. You can’t fully develop an entire culture in forty-odd minutes.

There’s a reason “Star Trek” fans like recurring aliens, and their affection for one-off aliens is largely design-driven.
((“Star Trek” fans long liked seemingly one-shot aliens like the Gorn or the Tholoans not because their culture is interesting, but because their design was amazing.

The better worlds of “Star Trek” are explored in longer form; TNG with Klingons, DS9 with Cardassians, etc.))
It was no coincidence that “Deep Space Nine” and the later seasons of “Enterprise” tried to get away from the “planet of the week” plot.

They recognised it as a narrative necessity dictated by the realities of twentieth century television. And something they could move past.
To be fair, the first season of “Discovery” stumbled into this problem in its first half.

It struggled to develop and explore the Klingon War because it was too busy structuring standalone adventures within that.

But it got a lot better at this in its second half.
“What if all religions were combined into one?” is a goofy question to grapple with in a forty-five minute episode.

The fact that the original “Star Trek”, “Next Generation” and “Voyager” had to tell stories in so broad a fashion was a limitation; one that TV has transcended.
The dialogue between Tilly and Saru is awful. It’s heavy-handed, on the nose, tritely insisting, “This is Star Trek!”

Compare it to, for example, the ambiguous and nuanced Michael/Sarek scenes last season.

Again, it’s shallow nostalgia for a superficial marker of “Star Trek.”
A lot of the issues with “Star Trek” fandom and the second season of “Discovery” can be demonstrated in the second season’s interest in the bridge crew.

It says a lot about “Star Trek” fandom that they assume a character is important because of their rank/position. Ugh. Sigh.
It also says a lot about the second season of “Star Trek: Discovery” that they heard that deeply, deeply stupid complaint that the background extras were under-developed...

... and then decided that this was a problem that they should fix, rather than ignore.
There are a host of issues with “New Eden” that boil down to giving fans exactly what they want.

It brings back the again-a-product-of-its-time-not-a-feature-to-be-lauded Berman/Piller A-/B-plot split.

Neither has room to breathe, and you could cut the B-plot entirely.
Similarly, building “New Eden” around a “Prime Directive” plot is another example of empty nostalgia.

“Prime Directive” plots are boilerplate “Star Trek”, but they are f&!king terrible. (“Pen Pals”, “Homeward”, etc.)

“It’s hard letting other people die,” is a sh!tty plot.
At best, “Prime Directive” plots are basically “white man’s burden” stories. (Oh, hi Pike. You heroic white man!)

At worst, they’re stories that suggest the real burden of horror and suffering is the emotional burden of the privileged who watch and do nothing.

They’re trash.
A massively underrated moment in the development of “Deep Space Nine” comes in “Battle Lines” of all places.

Sisko is going to help people condemned to eternal torture escape from it. Bashir, who is basically a TNG character, mentions the Prime Directive.

Sisko has NONE OF IT.
But, as stupid as it is, the “Prime Directive” is boilerplate “Star Trek.” It’s recognisable as such, despite being “white’s man burden” nonsense.

Tellingly, the seventh season of “Voyager” does a few of these stories; “Natural Law”, “Friendship One”, “Flesh and Blood.”
Like the “planet of the week” format, the “Prime Directive” plot in “New Eden” is just empty “Star Trek” calories.

It’s more concerned with looking like, and being recognised as, “Star Trek.” As opposed to, you know, actually modernising “Star Trek” like the first season tried.
“Point of Light” is basically the “let’s process the fallout from season one” episode.

Unfortunately, it amounts to “let’s scrub away as much of the interesting stuff as possible to appease the base.”
So we move away from the first season’s reinvention of the Klingons as a fractured non-monoculture in favour of imagery from TOS and TNG.

Which represents cowardice. Every important phase of “Star Trek” history has reinvented the Klingons for a new era. “Discovery” retreats.
The “Star Trek” films completely reimagined the make-up designs of the Klingons.

“Sins of the Father” swapped their characterisation with the Romulans.

“Judgement” suggested for the first time that the Klingons were a metaphor for America rather than “the other.”
The first season of “Discovery” used the Klingons as a metaphor for our worst selves, our fractured political ideology with an (underdeveloped) side of “Game of Thrones.”

The second season uses the Klingons as stand-ins for... Klingons. They’re just there to be “Star-Trek-y.”
It’s a shame, as “Point of Light” is the best directed episode of the second season.

The conversation between Burnham and Tyler is great, the space between them melting/blurring.

The fight sequence is fairly good too, if less great. It’s the action beat of the season so far.
Bringing in Section 31 (sigh) is a plot contrivance designed to minimise any actual development of the Klingons.

But the contrast of L’Rell with mirror!Georgiou does reinforce the first season’s equivalence between the Klingons and Terrans.

BOTH ourselves AND the other.
I really, really hate the awkwardness of “Pike stripped out the holo projectors” plot point.

Like, why is this important? Why spend a third of Rebecca Romijn’s screentime on that pointless piece of information that does nothing but appease angry shouty people on the forums?
That said, I adore the ”universal translator” gag. It’s a broad enough concept that is firmly enough established in pop culture that you can do “what if it breaks down?” as a plot point.

More of this stuff, please. Like Michael’s lecture on race and culture in the pilot.
Also, it’s nice to get some good Stamets material that hinges on his awkwardness and stand-off-ishness. And Jet Reno is a great scene partner for him.

More of Anthony Rapp and Tig Notaro bantering in nerdy passive-aggressive belittling ways, please.
That said, “Star Trek” fans who wanted a return to the nostalgic Berman era got their wish.

“An Obol for Charon” is a stock anomaly-of-the-week episode within a season about anomalies.

It’s basically long stretches of “Next Generation”, “Voyager” and “Enterprise.”
In keeping with the weird Berman era nostalgia of “Obol for Charon”, the B-plot (we have a Piller-era B-plot) is basically “Elogium”, but with Saru. Strange choice, but sure.

Again, “Discovery” benefits from its casting here. Doug Jones is great.
From the department of “gee, maybe in hindsight the internet went a little over the top in its criticisms of the first season of Star Trek: Discovery.”
So... what are the odds that the Bau’l turn out to be Kelpans who have lived through the quickening?

It would keep with the show’s (timely and relevant) recurring suggestion that the other and the self are frequently interchangeable with one another.

See: Terrans/Klingons.
“Tell my wife I love her very much...”
“... she knows.”

The sequence of Stamets performing brain surgery on Tilly with a power tool while singing Bowie is delightfully weird.

The second season of “Star Trek: Discovery” could use more weirdness.
First of all, of course David Bowie survives to the twenty-third century.

Second of all, I am the kind of mad bastard who loved “Disco goes Disco” back in “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad.”

Though I know that riles certain fans...
I’m not kidding, by the way.

The engineer-and-fungal-guy-take-a-power-tool-to-Tilly’s-head is genuinely a great “Star Trek” spin-off best.

It’s a moment that no other “Star Trek” spin-off could do, but which also speaks to how “Discovery” sees “Star Trek.”
“Discovery” is fascinated by how difficult it is to separate the self from the systems around it.

Michael’s logic in “Vulcan Hello” is inseparable from her experience of Klingons.

The mirror universe episodes stress the difficulty of remaining one’s self in a corrupt system.
Fans whine about Michael eating the ganglia in the mirror universe, but that’s the point.

In a corrupt system you give away parts of yourself to avoid standing out.

It’s can be as simple as not calling out your co-workers for bad takes on Liam Neeson, but it’s still compromise.
((This sequence, by the way, isn’t given enough credit for “mirroring” the earlier revelation that the Klingons ate the remains of Georgiou.

It plays with the audience’s expectations of barbarism, and our belief that social norms and customs as more sturdy than they are.))
By the way, what could possibly have been happening in the world in 2017 that “Discovery” could have been so fascinated with the way in which our social norms and sense of self shift with the defining structures of the time?

No idea. None.

I binged the first season of “Discovery” late last year, as there were stories coming out about British people being ordered to “report and record” non-residents working in their offices, and possibly being fired if they didn’t.

THAT is what the ganglia scene is about.
Anyway, “Discovery” repeatedly blurs the boundaries between people and the systems of which they are a part.

Stamets fuses himself with the spore drive, but even the bridge crew members like Lieutenant Daft Punk or Ensign Nebula.

The self and the system blur.
That’s why Jet Reno can become a doctor so efficiently, despite being an engineer.

We’re not really that different from the things that we build, and often adapt ourselves to suit them, so of course an engineer can keep her crew alive.
That’s why “Discovery” is so fascinated with a spore drive, which integrates technology and biology.

Which, by the way, is no more or less ridiculous than magic blue crystals that allow you to travel faster than the speed of light or faxing yourself to a planet surface.
All of which is to say that the brain-surgery-by-power-tool-conducted-by-an-engineer-and-fungal-expert in “An Obol for Charon” is prime “Star Trek: Discovery”, and I loved it.
The approach to Section 31 on “Star Trek: Discovery” is interesting, even if I’m still wary.

There is something to be said, particularly in this climate, for acknowledging that there’s no need for there to be a distinction between “Section 31” and “Starfleet Intelligence.”
As somebody who loves “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”, and who loves “Inquisition”, the biggest flaw with the episode is the weird unconvincing insistence that Luther Sloan and his jackboot thugs COULDN’T POSSIBLY be “Starfleet Intelligence.”

They HAD TO BE something else.
There’s a sense that even “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” recognised this mistake. Later episodes like “Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges” and “When It Rains...” blurred the lines between Starfleet and Section 31.

As if realising that distinguishing them in “Inquisition” was a mistake.
Which, for the record, is the right way to approach something like “Section 31.”

Societies are accountable for the systems that do horrible things in their name, and “Section 31” is the fantasy that allows us to imagine keeping our hands clean while others do the dirty work.
All of which to say that while “Section 31” is overused and an increasingly bad idea, folding it into Starfleet is perhaps the best thing to do with it.

It’s important to acknowledge that Pike and Kirk shared a union with them. You can’t have space!Kennedy without the space!CIA.
“Star Trek” has always been about extrapolating the self-image of the United States into the far future.

(Which, incidentally, is one more reason why we can’t have “Next Generation Redux” from the modern franchise.)

Right now, that self-image is working through some stuff.
As a side note, this why the (strangely militant given their philosophy) “Star Trek was always about hope for the future!” crowd might want to go back and watch TOS and Enterprise.

Those were turbulent and chaotic self-portraits of turbulent and chaotic times.
“... the mycelium version of a transporter pad.”

I kinda love that, even as “Star Trek: Discovery” seems to be writing out the spore drive, it’s still making a point to stress that it is literally no less stupid than any of the franchise’s other magic technology.
“Saints of Imperfection” is most frustrating in its frantic backpedalling to appease a whining fanbase.

Pike points out the absurdity of sending Tyler to Qo’nos at the end of the first season to draft him back as a S31 operative because of fandom’s hissy fit over the Klingons.
Incidentally, it’s worth noting that “Star Trek” fans have been whining forever, and many of the best writers ignore them.

Even “Deep Space Nine” kept doing Ferengi episodes, despite fandom’s hatred. As a result, we got “House of Quark”, “Bar Association”, “Magnificebt Ferengi.”
“... which would give him motivational and intentional thought.”

While the return of Hugh Culber is another example of pandering internet-appeasement, there is something to be said for the way that “Saints of Imperfection” is structured as a reversal of “Devil in the Dark.”
“Saints of Imperfection” reverses “The Devil in the Dark” by having a (VERY alien) alien mistake a human for a monster.

It’s worth noting that the first season’s second arc (three episodes long) was a revisitation of “The Devil in the Dark” as a foundational “Star Trek” text.
Which is another thing that makes me skeptical of the vocal “Star Trek: Discovery isn’t humanist enough!” critics.

Taking the first three episodes after the pilot to replay “The Devil in the Dark” as a core “Star Trek” text suggests a more humanist core than half TOS or all VOY.
“We have connected across species and biology.”

Tilly’s fusion with Mar continues the conscious blurring of species/identity that runs through “Star Trek: Discovery.”

Burnham as a human raised Vulcan, Stamets as a man fused with a fungal network, Ash as a Klingon-blended-human.
Bringing back Hugh Culber is another act of creative cowardice from the second season of “Star Trek: Discovery”, another example of the dangers of listening to the internet.

It completely undercuts any actual impact of his death, and plays a cheap fan appeasing compromise.
Hugh Culver’s death in the first season stung. It jarred. It outraged. It generated a genuine emotional response in the audience, even if it wasn’t one that audience wanted.

To betray and ignore all that to appease angry voices on the internet is the hackiest & laziest writing.
Maybe the first season of “Discovery” was a little kill-happy, but that was the inevitable result of letting a “Star Trek” production team play with the freedom of prestige television.

It was better that they be adventurous and experimental rather than conservative and staid.
Again, the internet has an absurd overreaction to this.

As only member of the primary cast to be a straight white man was the villain, the characters being killed off were minorities.

Because ALL of the characters were women and/or minorities. (This was a good thing.)
“Star Trek: Discovery” was (at worst) the second most diverse “Star Trek” after “Deep Space Nine.”

Playing with the tropes of prestige television meant some of those characters would die. (Including the one straight white male character.)

However, the internet just exploded.
I loved Culber. He was great. Cruz was great. His affection for Stamets felt genuine and lived in. I was sorry to see him go.

But that gut punch was part of the season. It could have been done better, but it was done.

And reversing it to please the internet is a terrible call.
My takeaway from this is that I should maybe tweet less about “Star Trek: Discovery.”

My opinions on the show seem to be massively controversial, despite amounting to a fairly standard, “Some of this is good, and some of this is bad.”

Which seems to upset folks on both sides.
I’ve never been entirely positive or entirely negative on “Star Trek: Discovery”, especially not on the second season.

This just seems to... provoke people. It seems it would be less likely to provoke if I were more strongly on one extreme or the other.
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