After nearly a decade off the air, STAR TREK has returned to television! ComicsVerse Trekkies Brian Long and Colleen Etman sat down to discuss the new series STAR TREK DISCOVERY. Together they analyzed the show’s unique format, grappled with the reimagined Klingons, and finally answered the age old question: are there woke Vulcans?

***Set Phasers to Spoilers for the Discussion Below***

Brian Long: So what is your background with STAR TREK, to give people an idea of where we’re coming from with this show? 

Colleen Etman: Honestly, I was never a big TREK fan. My mom’s a huge Trekkie but I fell in line with my dad — STAR WARS all the way. I’ve seen all of the movies and watched most of the shows, but I was never too into it. TREK was too boring. But the 2009 Abrams STAR TREK movie changed my mind — here was action, adventure, interesting stories. Granted, that does not change the fact that for most of its history TREK has focused on quieter stories, but it piqued my interest enough to get me to revisit some of the older TREK that I’d turned away from.  

Long: I have a somewhat similar story. I got into THE ORIGINAL SERIES around when the first Kelvin Timeline movie came out and fell in love with it and the six films with the TOS cast. I’ve dipped in and out of THE NEXT GENERATION, but I love love love (did I mention love?) DEEP SPACE 9. So much modern television DNA comes from that series and it’s still somehow very underrated in the TREK fandom, in my opinion. So needless to say, I am all on board for a more serialized version of TREK that DISCOVERY is promising.  

With all that being said, what were your first impressions of the first two STAR TREK: DISCOVERY episodes? I feel like Trek lives and dies by its characters. What were your impressions of Michael Burnham and crew?  

 

Etman: What struck me about Michael is the character development we’re given hints of. By showing what she was like when she first came to the Shenzhou, and comparing that with how she is in the present, DISCOVERY is presenting an interesting look at what I think is going to be a very interesting development. There’s clearly a lot of story there. It’s interesting to see a Vulcan-raised human and how that background influences Michael’s life and actions.

However, I do think that I feel a little lost character-wise with the death of the captain. You spent all the first two episodes getting to know her and then she’s gone. Conversely, you’re two episodes in and you already haven’t met many of the main characters. So I think there’s still a lot to come. That’s something to look forward to, but at the same time I do feel a bit like I don’t know who’s who and what’s what yet.

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Long: The episode is interesting in that it almost feels like it could have been a flashback episode placed later in the season. I could totally imagine a different season 1 that begins with Michael on the Discovery as a prisoner with only hints of what she did. We don’t even actually get to the ship of the title in these two episodes! That being said, the death had a GAME OF THRONES feel to it. It certainly raised the stakes, but it provided Michael with an interesting arc to grapple with for the rest of the season. Her belief that her way was undoubtedly the right one led to a massive quagmire that cost people their lives. It’s easy to see Starfleet as a rollicking romp when Red Shirts get killed off, but this makes DISCOVERY feel like a show with serious consequences.

Etman: I think you’re right — that could have been a flashback. It would have been interesting to start in media res and see the past in bits and pieces. But, what DISCOVERY did isn’t less interesting. Just different.

Long: For sure, and it gets us invested in Michael’s story right away rather than making us sit through endless “tragic mysterious past brooding” scenes. As you mentioned, I’m super interested in learning more about her being a human on Vulcan. It’s a great inversion of the classic Star Trek Outsider trope. She’s one of us, but she’s had a vastly different life experience.  

Also worth mentioning that the show LOOKS incredible. The design of the ships is terrific and the visual effects, digital and otherwise, are terrific for television. 

Etman: Alright but with that we have to talk about the Klingons. I can’t let that go

Long:  The floor is yours to air Klingon grievances.  


Etman: I just don’t understand why they changed the appearance of the Klingons so much. There’s something to be said for creating your own aesthetic, and like you said, Discovery does a really good job creating a good look that keeps you coming back for more. But there was no reason to do that to the Klingons. These aren’t Klingons, these are a completely different species who somehow speak Klingon and have the same socio-political structure. There was just no need for it, it serves no purpose other than to annoy old TREK fans (my mom is still mad about it).

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Long: I’m not sure where I come down on it yet, but I completely get your frustrations. My gripe comes more from a pragmatic stand-point. It almost sounds like the make-up makes it harder for them to speak? Am I wrong? Their voices sound weirdly garbled (I have a good idea of what good Klingon diction should sound like). It’s too bad because I like the motivations and ideas behind these Klingons. Their fear of being changed by the Federation reminds me a lot of the famous root beer scene from DS9. But the wonky make-up does take something away from what could be great. 

Speaking of, how do you feel about the series being a prequel rather than a sequel series?

Etman: In anticipation of DISCOVERY I’ve been watching a lot of old TREK. I just plowed through all four seasons of ENTERPRISE, which was another prequel series (set approximately 100 years before TOS) and frankly I really loved it (although for some reason a lot of people don’t like ENTERPRISE). So coming in from that experience I’m 100% for it. Like I said earlier, I’m a hardcore STAR WARS fan, so the word “prequel” is a little terrifying but TREK has such a huge history and timeline that there’s a lot of wiggle room there. And I think it’ll be interesting to see TREK from this point in time. It’s still several hundred years in the future but not so far gone that we can’t imagine this world.

Some things are giving me a little hesitancy — is Spock going to show up? If this is set 10 years before TOS then he is an adult, and if Michael was raised by Sarek than I imagine Spock is going to have to come up. That could open a real can of worms. But at the same time, I think this is an exciting way to play around with this sandbox without worrying too much about what already happened.

Long: I can definitely see that. I shrug at the complaints about continuity errors (I read a lot of comics so I can shrug that stuff off), but I can understand if it’s too much for some people. I think this is the kind of story that could only be told in the earlier days of the Federation. It’s more rough and tumble and there’s a greater sense of uncertainty and danger. I do wonder if Michael’s foster parents HAD to be Sarek and Amanda. However, it’s been pretty established that Sarek is the most woke Vulcan, so what other choice did they have? 

Etman: #wokebaeSarek. Continuity has its place but I do think that with a property as behemoth as STAR TREK there has to be some allowances.

Long: For sure. And look, would I love bright primary colored uniforms? Yeah of course! Is that something that aesthetically works in 2017? Sadly no. Which is why we’ve all failed Roddenberry’s vision.

So here’s a little specific detail I’d like to get into with you.  As mentioned before, I’m a big fan of DS9. That series gets a lot flak for failing to live up to Gene Roddenberry’s idea of utopia. Does this show stray too far into “dark” territory? Is this still the optimistic STAR TREK of old?  

CLICK: We take a look back at STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE and discuss how the series grappled with important modern issues. 

EtmanThat’s a bit tough to answer with the very limited information we have, but I’ll bite.

Maybe this is what gets us to the utopia. Maybe that’s the point of the prequel. We have to see what got us to the point of TOS and just exactly what had to happen. There’s a lot of conflict in TREK but it’s usually a situation where you have a big baddie that can only be defeated when the rest of the galaxy bind together, which is what leads to the creation of the Federation. So maybe the point of DISCOVERY is that — yes, we can have that utopia, but it doesn’t just come naturally. We had to work hard to get to that point, we had to suffer and struggle and band together. (Which honestly makes it sound even more optimistic — there’s a lot of darkness in the galaxy but we can get past that and achieve the utopia we know is possible if we work together?)  

LongI would definitely agree with that. On a similar note, how do we see Michael Burnham fitting into that design? In the first episode, she commits open mutiny and assaults her captain in order to enact a decision that she feels is best for the safety of the crew. I can’t imagine that moment went over well with a lot of Trekkies, but I found it to be a great, unexpected dramatic move.  

EtmanWell first there was the A+ drama of a human doing the Vulcan nerve pinch. Hero. But then, Michael is interesting. I think the idealism of TREK is based in the belief that humanity has the capacity for great good — but Michael isn’t strictly human, being raised by Vulcans. Humans’ capacity for hope, perseverance, cooperation — all that is based in our emotions. So it will be interesting to see Michael struggle with her logical upbringing and how that may help/stymie her efforts to achieve the best future.

LongIt’s an engaging character and I have to pay my respects to Sonequa Martin-Green who just crushes the role in this first episode. Her speech patterns are both Vulcan and human, her ability to make the techno-babble completely convincing, and the scene where she convinces the computer to let her out of the cell in the brig for humane reasons was the most intellectual badassery I’ve ever seen. She feels almost like an attempt at a Walter White or Don Draper type figure in Star Trek. A character who made a big, questionably moral choice and is now paying for it.  

 

Etman:  I loved her ethics debate with the computer. Her logical arguments were fantastic (and coming from a former debate nerd, I was impressed). I think the previews of coming episodes show interesting character development.  I’m particularly interested in the violence it shows — she’s attacking fellow prisoners at one point, I believe. What leads to this point? She’s so remorseful about what she did on Shenzhou but at the same time she’s going to stick to her convictions. I like that, and I’m interested to see what she’s going to bring to the table moving forward. Also, I love that she appears to be rocking natural hair coming up.

LongThat’s definitely the best thing the show has going for it right now. I’m very excited to see how this character’s story will unfold next weekend and I am equally excited to meet the official crew of the Discovery. So what are your final thoughts on the show as a whole?  

EtmanI’m still a little hesitant. A lot of the things we’ve touched on — the prequel status, the aesthetic changes, the tone of the show — add interest but also add potential to be disappointing in the long run. There’s a lot of potential for DISCOVERY to be a bust, to be a disappointment for TREK fans who have waited so long for a new show. But I’m still hopeful. I think that this is definitely interesting enough to warrant further watching. I’m interested to see how things develop — Michael’s internal conflicts, the mystery of Discovery, etc. Willing to give it a chance but still a little wary.  

Long: Considering all the behind the scenes turmoil with the show being pushed back and Bryan Fuller (who is credited as a co-writer of this episode) eventually leaving the show-runner position, I’m obviously a bit concerned. Specifically, that the further away we get from Fuller’s input (who is one of the best voices in television right now) the worse the show might get. Especially after getting off to such a strong start compared to other TREK pilots.

EtmanI didn’t realize Fuller wasn’t staying on. I do think that will create a massive difference; he has such a strong presence.  

LongAgreed. The official story was he wanted to focus on AMERICAN GODS, but his presence will be missed. That being said, it’s a writers room that I believe was predominately assembled by him. I still have hope… and isn’t that what STAR TREK is all about?  

Etman: Cheesy.

Long: Just like TREK. Nailed it. #wokebaeSarek

One Comment

  1. Pvermind One

    September 29, 2017 at 6:40 pm

    “A Worthy Return to the Final Frontier”???? Are you seriously serious? How can something return to somewhere it has never been? This show is not Star Trek. I liked the comments in this article, but it has to be said that this Discovery thing is not cutting it, and is as off base and non-Trek as the Abrams movies. I joined CBS All Access for t.5 hours, watched both episodes and canceled.

    Reply

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