• Entertainment,  Television

    Star Trek Sunday: Lower Decks Revisited

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    Way back in August, I posted about my initial reaction to Lower Decks. The verdict at that point was that it was my favourite new iteration of Trek since Enterprise ended. We were only two episodes in at that point, but the first season is over now and it’s been renewed for a second season. I hope it gets more.

    Why? I’m going to steal most of the paragraph I wrote last time:

    Lower Decks is about friendship, loyalty, compassion, understanding, finding your way, coming of age, and expanding what it means to be a Starfleet officer and a sentient being, human or otherwise. The character interactions come back to the base of Star Trek: supporting each other in a strange but hopeful future and building towards it being even better while doing the right thing because it’s the right thing.

    Kind of what Star Trek is all about. Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations and building a better world in every way you can.

    I’ve really enjoyed Lower Decks so far. It’s been fun, it’s been funny, and it’s been Star Trek.

    The reboot movies gave us action movies in Star Trek wrappings. They were beautiful, they were exciting, they were well cast, but only the third one tried to be Star Trek. It didn’t miss, but it didn’t really land, either.

    The first season of Discovery was beautiful but had a lot of questionable aesthetic and writing choices and didn’t give me anything in the way of actually being Star Trek other than taking place in the same universe. I’m told it’s better since, but I’m not ready to give it a second try yet. I felt similarly about DS9 in its first run. In the middle of Season 6, I still kind of feel that way.

    Picard tried to give us big ideas but mostly missed in the fuzzy, drawn out plotting and meandering storyline, a show that could have been a mini-series instead, told in half the amount of time while losing very little story.

    However, I’ve said it before and I’ll restate it now: if any of these have brought new people to Star Trek who will explore the roots and the concepts and the heart of the series, that’s a good thing. It doesn’t matter if I like any particular series or movie and it doesn’t matter what I think of the respect (or lack of it) that might have been shown for source material or characters or concepts. If it means Star Trek continues to get made, that’s a good thing overall.

    I’m probably not the audience for Prodigy (although will likely try it anyway), and I have concerns about Section 31 (nothing wrong with a little moral ambiguity in story telling, but I’m afraid this is going to push that off the deep end in search of the dirty, gritty universes that seem to be so popular in recent years), but I have great hopes for Strange New Worlds as a return to the episodic heart of things exploring the universe and what it means to be human.

    In that light, Lower Decks has given me star Trek back. It’s about people and ideas and making a better world. And sure, it’s given it to me in the form of a sometimes-wacky comedy series, but the deep stuff is there, too, and that’s what I really want from my Trek.

    Live long and prosper.

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  • Television

    Darkmok and Jalad at Tanagra

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    Or, TNG at 33.

    Last Monday, Star Trek: The Next Generation turned 33.

    A couple of days later, my favourite episode turned 29.

    “Darmok”, the second episode of the 5th season of TNG, first aired on 30 September 1991. The Children of Tama, an alien species with an alien language, want to establish a dialogue with the Federation, and the Universal Translator seems to have no problem with the language, but it also gives the Enterprise crew what seems like gibberish. At least until they figure out that the Tamarians speak in metaphor and allegory. Of course, without the common cultural references, talking to each other is still hit and miss at best.

    As Picard and the alien captain Dathon learn to work together against a dangerous beast while marooned on a random planet, they also slowly learn to talk to each other, and we start to get a few pieces here and there.

    “Temba, his arms open.” A gift, an offering, tell me more.

    “Shaka, when the walls fell.” A failure. (I use this once in a while. It confuses nearby people but it’s moment of great joy when someone understands.)

    “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.” Work together.

    “Sokath, his eyes open.” I understand.

    There are plenty more, but you get the idea. While they eventually manage to talk to each other, in the process, it costs Dathon his life.

    It’s an episode ripe with depth and meaning and it does what Star Trek does best: exploring and expanding what it means to be human while demonstrating that we’re at our best when striving to be more than we are. It’s TNG at its peak, as was a lot of 5th season, and I remember watching that first airing with friends on an old TV in student housing. Nostalgia, perhaps, but if I watch the episode now, I get the same feeling of wonder even though I know what’s going to happen.

    Live long and prosper.

    Mirab, his sails unfurled.

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  • Television

    What I’m Watching Lately

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    Back in the first few weeks of the COVID shutdown, back when I still thought I’d be back at work in 8-10 weeks, I did a couple of blog posts about old TV SF, covering my childhood, my teen years, and my 20s. There was nostalgia, there was wistfulness, there was a stirring of the idea to go and visit some of these old friends again.

    Well, I’ve recently spent some time tracking down some of those old friends, along with discovering a couple of new ones. Unsurprisingly, I’m a little scattered and eclectic about it. I’ve managed to OD on binge-watching things in the past (and my definition of binge-watching probably isn’t the same as yours), so I’m slowly consuming a number of shows, and I’m going to list them in the order of the season I’m currently watching, from oldest to newest.

    The Avengers, Series 4 (1966)

    Steed and Mrs. Peel. I discovered The Avengers on TVO as a teenager and loved it, though they only seemed to play from the introduction of Mrs. Peel on. I’ve chosen to start there and see where the journey takes me, likely looping back around to watch the first two series (which I’ve never seen). I remember having a hard time when Steed started wearing brown suits in Series 7 after Mrs. Peel left. It just seemed wrong somehow.

    Dr. Who, Series 11 (1974)

    And here I’m starting with the very last 3rd Doctor story arc in order to watch the introduction of the 4th Doctor, the one I grew up with, Tom Baker. Then we’ll see. I like several of the other Doctors in the early years, and there are a couple I never watched much of. There are 26 series of Classic Doctor who, though a couple of the earliest seasons no longer exist fully, and 12 now of the modern. The modern show is hour-length where the classics were only half an hour, but you also got fewer commercials in those days, so it isn’t quite twice as long, but comes close to balancing the same overall length in a season. I’ll contend that the writing was mostly better in the older series, though.

    The point is, there’s lots to watch here, enough to keep me busy for a long time.

    Battlestar Galactica, Season 1 (1978)

    Seems a little silly to say Season 1 of a show there was only one season of, but there it is. I started a re-watch of this a couple of years ago, but only got half a dozen episodes in. It’s recent enough that I remember things fairly well, so I’ve picked up where I left off. I remember watching the original movie as we drove across Canada to Dad’s new posting in BC, which means this show has some specific childhood memories associated with it, including time spent acting out episodes and scenarios with lego constructs with a childhood friend. The show itself, pretty cheesy, but full-orchestra, epic theme music brings it all back.

    Soul Music, Series 1 (1997)

    Terry Pratchett is one of my favourite authors and I’ve been enjoying the Discworld series since I was about 20. A few of the books have been adapted into either cartoon or live action, and Soul Music is one of my favourites. Actually, most of the books where Death features as a prominent character are among my favourites, though I’ve never met a Discworld novel I didn’t at least like. There are only seven episodes, so this might not take long, but there’s a little more to follow at least.

    Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season 6 (1997)

    One of the two shows I’m slowly working my way through with my oldest daughter (she’s doing X-Files with mom). Well, one of the two genre shows. We share a similar sense of humour in a lot of ways, so there are other things we’ll watch or that she’ll watch and I’ll join her for. We’ve been on a bit of a hiatus here while she works her way back around, but I’ve promised not to watch ahead without her even though we’re in territory where I’ve only seen about half the episodes. I had a hard time with DS9 first run, dropping it after about a season and a half, and picking it up again during the Dominion War and to the end of the series, but not consistently. Just enough to keep up with the overall story and root for the good guys when appropriate.

    Farscape, Season 4 (2002)

    The other show I’m watching with her. We’re half a dozen episodes into the last season and can feel the end coming from here. Well, by episode count. There’s no reason to suspect it while watching the show at this point. I’ll have to come up with the mini-series that ties together the loose threads sometime soon.

    Stargate SG-1, Season 7 (2003)

    The first show I ever really OD’d on. When we finally introduced high speed internet to our house, it opened up a variety of entertainment possibilities and I used to watch an episode before going to bed after getting home from work at 4 or 5 in the morning most days. Since no one else was up, I usually did it while eating “dinner”. But I got a few episodes into Season 7 and just couldn’t anymore. Too much, too fast. And so I stopped watching.

    But I kind of want to know how things turned out, so I’ve picked up Season 7, done some plot reviews and watched a couple of key earlier episodes to re-establish the characters in my head, and I’m ready to dip a toe back into the SG water.

    Stan Against Evil, Season 1 (2016)

    I forget how I actually discovered this one, but since it promised comedic horror (the only kind of horror I’ll watch willingly), and starred the actor who played my favourite character on Scrubs(John C. McGinley), I decide it was worth checking out. And it was. Well, I’m only three episodes in. I suppose I might still change my mind.

    The Expanse, Season 3 (2018)

    I have no idea why I never got around to the third season (and now there’s a fourth) of The Expanse. Loved the first two seasons. Loved the books; still waiting for the last one. Seems like I should have hunted it down when it moved. Well, I am now.

    Star Trek: Lower Decks, Season 1 (2020)

    The only other current show I’m actually watching, and my favourite by far of the recent Star Trek offerings (the only one, as far as I’m concerned, that’s actually being true to the heart of Star Trek, but we can fight about that another day).

    This one, I’m forced to wait for each Thursday for the new episode, so there’s no possibility of my binging it out of my interest zone, even if there were going to be enough episodes to get me there.

    Considering what I have left to watch out of these puts me well over 300 episodes of varying lengths, I should be good for a while. But just in case, I have the original Batman, Space 1999, Blake’s 7, Buck Rogers, Red Dwarf, and Star Trek: Enterprise teed up and ready to go when I am.

    What’s everyone else watching?

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

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  • Television

    Star Trek Day, Officially

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    While some of us in Canada may have celebrated on Sunday, myself included, as far as CBS in particular is concerned (and since they own Star Trek, their opinion is paramount, pun intended), the date of the anniversary of the first airing in the US is the official Star Trek Day.

    So, once again, happy Star Trek Day, everyone!

    I’m a little surprised at how much they have set up for streaming specifically for this date considering how well recent anniversaries have been marked so far as I could tell, but I’m happier this time. The planned stream includes:

    1. The pilot episode of every series (although in a weird order) except TOS, weather they were double-length or not.
    2. Someone’s favourite episodic (i.e. standalone) episodes, a list somehow containing only one episode every series except Picard (TAS makes the cut here), but three from TNG including the two-part “Best of Both Worlds”, plus seven of the web serial Short Treks,
    3. And a set of eight short panels covering a bunch of series and topics.

    The last are what primarily interest me. I have easy access to all of the series and my oldest daughter and I are deep into Season 6 of a DS9 run right now. It’s not like I’m going to watch no Star Trek over the next little while. Really, it’s not ever like that.

    While I’m happy to have the extra content available and access to a service that will let me watch them, I haven’t decided how much I’m going to participate. Probably not at all in real time. There’s still a lot to get done today and I’m trying to stay on top of a few things. This evening, when I get to relax a bit.

    But that’s not all that’s going on in the world of Star Trek right now. CBS has been making a big deal out of “23 weeks of new Star Trek”, though I’m seeing that big deal through secondary sources. Of course, thirteen of those weeks will feature a new episode of Discovery that I’m not going to watch, and we’re half way through Lower Decks (which I am enjoying) already. STO, after a bit of weirdness on the weekend, is releasing the next batch of content to consoles today (I play on Xbox), which is nice, maybe. It looks like it somehow features both new Klingons and traditional ones. I know who I’m rooting for.

    But beyond that, if I want any new Trek, I need to make it myself, or go out and find some other good fan-made Star Trek, leaning towards TOS and TNG, and no surprise there.

    Live long and prosper.

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  • Television

    Happy Star Trek Day, Everyone!

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    What’s that you say? I’m two days early?

    Well, yes. Officially, I suppose. But from a Canadian perspective, most of the world is two days late.

    Common wisdom suggests that the first broadcast of Star Trek was the 8th of September, 1966 on NBC in the United States. Therefore, September 8th is Star Trek day and we should all celebrate.

    I agree with the last four words in that sentence, but the rest… not as much.

    The actual first broadcast of the show happened two days earlier and in Canada. Never heard this before? Well, I promise I’m not just making it up and I offer you the first paragraph in the Memory Alpha article on TOS, the fourth of the Wikipedia article, and the scan of Page 36 of the Montreal Gazette for September 6, 1966 (middle column, two ads from the bottom).

    So while I’ll probably note it on the apparently semi-official day on Tuesday as well, I’ll be celebrating today with a larger than normal number of unveiled Star Trek references with everyone I talk to, a couple of as yet unchosen episodes of Kirk, Spock, and the gang, possibly a movie, extra memes, and with the release of my next piece of fan fiction, A Matter of Honour, starring a still-young Lieutenant Chekov and a variety of characters of my own devising in the Star Trek prime universe. (Novel length, though a shorter one, coming in at 46.5 thousand words. It’s serializing on Wattpad starting this morning, or you can download the whole story here, and I’ve already posted the link to that first chapter.)

    Live long and prosper.

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  • Life,  Movies,  Television

    Entertainment Preferences

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    A while back, I noted that I have certain reading preferences when it comes to genre. I identified what I consider to be the eleven basic genres and then broke out where I spend most of my reading time and where I didn’t (and why). There are some differences when it comes to my non-reading entertainment. The same basic genres exist, but then there are extra things that find there way into entertainment that I wouldn’t call fiction when we’re talking about that. (Hmm. I never did get to non-fiction reading, did I? Another time.)

    Once again in alphabetical order, but this time putting the breakdown in the list itself. Opinions will be obvious. Breaking things out into sixteen basic genres.

    1. Adventure/Thriller. Occasional. The writing needs to be good, or it needs to give me some nostalgia for movies I watched growing up. Otherwise, I’m probably not going to stay engaged.
    2. Crime & Related. Pass, and almost a hard pass. Too many of the things happen in crime dramas that I don’t want to see in my fiction.
    3. Documentary. On a subject that interests me or one that’s presented in a way that I’ll find interesting, I love a good documentary. Emphasis on good. Like anything else, there are hits and misses.
    4. Fantasy. When it’s good and when I can get it. Like I’ll note in a couple of other spots, the quality of the FX take a back seat to the writing and acting.
    5. Historical. Mainly in those eras that interest me. A lot of the ancient world, the two World Wars, the Napoleonic period. There’s less than you think.
    6. Horror. Hard pass here, and for the same reason I don’t read it. There are enough disturbing things in reality, so I don’t want that in my entertainment.
    7. Literary/Contemporary. This is where I live, and I want my entertainment to stretch or challenge me. Most of what fits in this box doesn’t, so it’s tough to get me to engage.
    8. Mystery. I probably could put this in with Crime dramas above, but sometimes it’s nice to try to figure out the puzzle along with the hero.
    9. News/Journalism. In some respects, I’m a news junkie, but most of what I consume is in podcast form while driving or doing housework.
    10. Reality TV, as distinct from Documentaries, because Reality TV is fictionalized or dressed up and scripted a lot of the time. Not interested, though if you want to put game shows in this bucket, who doesn’t enjoy an episode of Jeopardy now and then?
    11. Romance. In and of itself, no. Built organically into something I’m enjoying, I’m all for it. Boy should get girl, or boy, or amorphous alien life form, or whatever makes sense in context. The reverse is also true.
    12. Science Fiction. Where I live most of the time, and I’ve got a broad definition of what makes SF. I’m far more likely to want to sit down for something in this genre than just about anything else.
    13. Sports. I’m not a sports guy, for which my wife is eternally grateful, I think, unless my children are involved. But I do watch a little bit of Martial Arts presentations and competitions now and then.
    14. Star Trek. Peeling this out from SF. Put good Trek next to almost any SF and the choice is easy. But not all Trek is good Trek, and some of the recent stuff doesn’t work for me (though some does, and very well).
    15. Suspense. Built into something I’m already watching, great. On it’s own, probably not.
    16. Western. There are a couple of exceptions here, but not a lot or modern westerns interest me. Looking back into the early careers of a couple of my favourite actors, though, and that’s something different.

    And there you have it. Remembering that there are a few things that make me walk away from something, regardless of genre, you can probably guess from this list how likely I am to enjoy any randomly selected movie or television show. Just like with reading and writing, I appear to lean heavily towards speculative genres, leaving out horror. And that’s probably no surprise to anyone reading this.

    Stay safe and be well, everyone.

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  • Life,  Television

    Star Trek Sunday: Lower Decks

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    So there have only been two episodes so far, but at this point, Lower Decks is making the best impression of any new series or movie since Enterprise ended.

    Yes, really.

    If you don’t appreciate the type of humour involved, you’ll probably disagree. It’s face paced, sometimes silly, sometimes mindlessly silly, and to some extent relies on satirizing other bits of the existing canon universe and SF in general.

    But it’s also about friendship, loyalty, compassion, understanding, finding your way, coming of age, and expanding what it means to be a Starfleet officer and sentient being, human or otherwise. The character interactions come back to the base of Star Trek: supporting each other in a strange but hopeful future and building towards it being even better while you’re doing the right thing because it’s the right thing.

    And that’s what I’m getting after only two episodes. I’ll check back in at the end of the season and we’ll see how I feel.

    Live long and prosper.

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  • Television

    Star Trek Sunday: TAS

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    Star Trek The Animated Series.

    Slipping back to something I didn’t really cover very well.

    I didn’t encounter TAS first run, since that was when I was 2-3 years old. That time frame does coincide with what I believe to be my earliest Star Trek memory, but I can’t imagine my father watching a Saturday morning cartoon with me at that age. I could be wrong, and I could find out by asking him, but I don’t have any recollection of that happening even later in my childhood.

    But I did encounter it when I was older, maybe seven or eight, when we were living in Comox, and again on a local station when we later moved back to Ontario, if I were willing to get up early enough. As a kid, I had no idea that Walter Koenig got screwed, and Nichelle Nichols and George Takei nearly as badly, only making it on the series at all because of Leonard Nimoy’s refusal to play Spock unless they were included. He wasn’t able to get Koenig as a cast member, though the studio to Nimoy by having him produce a script for the show. To save money, James Doohan and Majel Barrett did most of the other voices. (Side note: James Doohan was incredibly talented in this regard. It’s hard to tell which are him.)

    I knew none of this, or other weird things about the show and its production. What I knew at the time was that there was more Star Trek. Shorter, stripped down, and with mediocre (for the era) animation, but with the right voices and writing that didn’t treat me like an idiot as per a lot of Saturday morning TV. I still remember how the tension music made feel in my heart that something important was in progress.

    In some ways, you can look at this as a fourth season, delivered late, and simplified. It’s not Star Trek at its best, but most of it is definitely better than the harder parts of season 3. Generally, the episodes work very well. There’s some deep stuff here for Saturday morning fare.

    You might guess I own TAS. I actually have two copies of the series, though one is buried somewhere right now. The VHS tapes are safe in a box in the garage, and the blue ray is right next to Seasons 1 to 3. I haven’t watched any of them for a while. It might be time to remedy that.

    Live long and prosper.

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  • Television

    Star Trek Sunday: Picard

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    So, at long last, we all get to find out what I think about Star Trek: Picard.

    Let’s see, how to be gentle about things.

    It was boring, filled with interesting concepts but unrealized potential.

    The action mostly wasn’t. There were moments, but they seemed almost obligatory rather than adding to the story in any significant way.

    The plot is a series of sucker punches and cameos, a jumbled mess.

    Don’t mince words, Lance. Tell us what you really think.

    Okay. The characters, filled out by great actors, didn’t get a fair shake at backstory or a chance to grow beyond the limited dimensions they were given. And the single-story aspect of the season, the serialized story telling, doesn’t give any of the characters the possibility of growing.

    There were a lot of cool things introduced, but most of them as throwaway moments or lines. The biggest of which is that I want to know a hell of a lot more about Picard’s household staff or bodyguards or whatever title might be appropriate.

    And then there were the things that made my eyes hurt from rolling back so hard. Space Vegas. The climactic starship stand-off where the whole fleet was the same ship copy-pasted over and over. Borg parts are so valuable that they’re yanked out of XBs (eX-Borgs) without the benefit of anesthetic or carry about the host afterward. Fractal duplication. Not just secret police but secret secret police. The spce portal being opened to the dimension of the mechanical old ones.

    Serialized storytelling has become the default and it’s not always necessary. Or very good. The serialized nature of Picard was neither necessary nor good. DS9 did most of the themes of Picard—compromised principles and dealing with failures—and did it better, twenty-plus years ago.

    Much like season one of Discovery, in the drive to be darker, grittier, and more realistic, season one of Picard has lost the thing that makes Star Trek: the striving to be better than we are and pushing forward to explore a hopeful future. There’s no curiosity, there’s not much hope, and the future sucks just with better toys.

    Blah, blah, blah, reflection of its time.

    No, it isn’t. At least, it’s not supposed to be. Star Trek is a reflection of who we could be if we work for it.

    And Star Trek: Picard certainly isn’t that. It’s a reflection of who we might become if we turn away from trying to be better and stop giving a shit about the world and the people around us. Is that really the Star Trek we need? The Star Trek we deserve?

    I’m honestly pretty much completely disappointed with the show and the only thing that’s going to bring me back to season two is to find out what happens with Seven of Nine’s character. Jeri Ryan absolutely owned the screen for every second she was on it, seizing control from whoever she happened to be acting with and giving more emotion per frame to the viewer than any of us had any right to expect.

    To finish this post, though, I’ll reiterate the message from the end of my post about Discovery (Or was it the reboot movies? Maybe both?): if it brings more people to Star Trek then I’m cool with it. I just may not watch it.

    In fact, I think I have higher hopes for Lower Decks than for the next season of Picard.

    Live long and prosper.

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  • Television

    Star Trek Sunday: Discovery

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    Confession time. Or is it? It seems unlikely I that I haven’t expressed this particular opinion before. Either way, I don’t like Discovery. And I didn’t like it enough that I never went back after the mid-season cliffhanger in season one. People say the second season is better. That may be true, but it’s too late for me.

    Not because it’s “not my Trek”. Not because I resent the creative team doing something different. Not because I’m hung up on canon.

    No, it’s not my Trek. My trek was TOS and my second Trek love was TNG. But I’ve enjoyed DS9, VOY, and ENT in their turns.

    No, I don’t resent the creative team doing something different. To keep life in the franchise, you have to keep doing new things, pushing boundaries. But a lot of the differences in Discovery seem to be there just to be different rather than to serve any kind of purpose.

    No, I’m not hung up on canon. Every show has mucked with canon, going right back to TOS.

    But Discovery seems to have made a dark and gritty Trek because someone felt that’s what the market demanded. And it hasn’t just mucked with canon, it doesn’t care about the fifty plus years of culture and universe building that came before it. You don’t let canon get in the way of a good story, but Discovery doesn’t seem to have any interest in telling a good story, or hadn’t when I left.

    It had fair to middling dialogue at best, with regular trips into infodump territory. Supposedly set in the prime universe, it redesigned things for the sake of redesigning them. We have hundreds of hours of how the Klingons look but it wasn’t enough just to tweak them to fit the new aesthetic. We were given a mind meld that worked across light years. We were asked to believe that Vulcans, almost the ultimate pacifists and logicians, blew up the Klingons whenever they saw them. We were asked to reimagine Harry Mudd as an amoral psychopath instead of an oddball rogue. Twice. We were told that the underlying structure of the universe was a ubiquitous fungus.

    I’m not hung up on canon, but I am hung up on respect for the source material, and Discovery doesn’t have any as far as I can tell. Compounding that was the generally bad writing in the first half season.

    Then add in that they had no compunctions about going back to the mirror universe yet again. If I hadn’t already made it a general guideline to skip mirror universe episodes, I would have gotten there within another episode or two, and it’s ultimately the reason I stopped watching. Although I’m pretty sure I could have found another reason if I needed one.

    And I haven’t even gotten to the worst part yet for me. I could have gotten past all of that and waited for the show to get better if it was willing to show me it was Star Trek, but it wasn’t.

    For clarity: Star Trek, at its best, is about exploring what it means to be human and reminding us that we can be better than we are. Discovery, to the point I watched it, is not. It’s about how you can only succeed if you abandon your principles and sink to your enemy’s level.

    Again, maybe it got better, and I may someday find out, but right now I’m still firmly in the ‘do not like’ camp.

    Here’s the thing, though: it doesn’t matter what I think. Watch it for yourself and decide, on the merits or not as you see them, if you like the show. Much like my final verdict on the reboot movies, if more people find Star Trek as a result, I’m good with that.

    Live long and prosper.

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