"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."

THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.

Monday, September 25, 2017



Star Trek returns to the small screen by becoming something it hasn't been in a long time...relevant.

YOUR IDEAS ON STAR TREK probably depend on where you started.  Take, "continuity," for example.  If you began with The Next Generation, or any of the shows in that era like Deep Space Nine or Voyager, continuity is probably something you expect.  These were shows, after all, that adhered to a strict writer's bible.  If you began with the original series, however, continuity is not a big deal.  Star Trek was a show that made everything up as it went along. Klingons changing appearance?  Been there, done that.  Somewhere between The Animated Series and The Motion Picture they sprouted their bony brow ridges and somehow fans managed to survive.  Compare this with the Internet lamentations about the new Klingon appearance in Discovery.  

Continuity is one thing, but maybe the biggest difference between old school fans and those who started with the spin offs is what you think Trek is "about."  If the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Trek is a program about a bright, utopian future, where mankind has left savagery behind, you probably started with TNG.  The original series was a lot messier, often darker, with a Federation that struggled towards high ideals but was still plagued by very relatable problems.  Indeed, if you started with this Star Trek, your impression of the show is probably not so much a rosy vision of the future, but rather a social commentary on the difficulties of the present.  This is territory where The Next Generation was far more reluctant to go.

The first Star Trek was on TV in the middle of the civil rights era, and it did not shy away from tackling the hot button social issues of its era.  Racism, sexism, the Cold War, it's all addressed right there in the composition of the bridge crew. Female officers worked right alongside the men, from the first "Number One" to Lt. Uhura.  There was an Asian pilot and a black officer.  There was a Russian on board that no one was trying to kill.  Of the issues of that day, racism was perhaps the most commonly addressed, in multiple ways.  Sarek and Amanda had a mixed marriage and biracial child; "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" was a blatant tale of skin color and prejudice; the first interracial kiss on television between Kirk and Uhura was not shown in many southern states.  We could go on and on, but the point is original Star Trek was social commentary in the form of stories about the future.  It was a mirror turned back on its audience.  

Which brings me to Discovery.

That there was actual Internet outrage over the diversity of the new cast shows us how necessary it is for Discovery to turn that same mirror on the modern Star Trek audience.  We are not, as a society, as evolved as we thought.  Fortunately, Discovery doesn't shy away from this, and stands right up alongside Star Trek in confronting our most pressing social issues.  It is right in your face with it.

Of course there is diversity; the two senior officers are women, one Asian and one Black, and we will have the first openly gay couple on Trek played by gay actors.  But frankly we expect by now Star Trek to beat the drum for diversity.  Diversity is just assumed to be part of the genre package, and we know Trek will always champion it, despite the noise made by Internet trolls.  Fortunately Discovery goes much further and is more specific in wrestling our present demons.  Nor does it waste any time.  Right there in the first two minutes it jumps right in.     

Would-be Klingon messiah T'Kuvma opens the series with a  speech that could easily have been made by any of the "very fine people" who brought their tiki torches to Charlottesville over the summer.  It's a monologue that would roll off the tongues of any of Europe's far right.  It could easily show up on Trump's teleprompter.  What it amounts to is a call to arms, a struggle between "nationalism" and "globalism."  T'Kuvma is arguing that traditional values of the Klingon Empire are under threat by a cosmopolitan coalition of diverse cultures (the Federation), that his people should reject diversity and "remain Klingon."  Embracing what the Federation represents would be "losing purity" awash in the "muck" of mixed races and cultures.  The Klingons must protect their uniqueness and their "heritage." 

This new Star Trek ain't playing around.  

And in First Officer Michael Burnham, we are thrown the second major curve ball to deal with.  "Where is the line," her story demands of us, "between mutiny/treason and doing the right thing?"  When does conscience and best intentions trump the letter of the law?

We can argue with her decision to run around Captain Georgiou and seize control of the ship, but in the wake of Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, of whistleblowers and the near constant leaks of information from the White House, this is an issue that the original Star Trek would have taken on too.  Sometimes, if you believe in a course of action powerfully enough, right or wrong you break the chain of command.  "I thought saving your lives was more important than the principles of the Federation," Burnham tells us.  No, this is probably not something Will Riker would have done, but need I remind fans out there it is exactly something that Spock did.  To Kirk.  To bring his previous captain to Talos IV.  Maybe it all has something to do with the way Sarek is raising his kids?

It is too soon to tell where all this is going, but I found "The Vulcan Hello" and "Battle at the Binary Stars" a welcome return to classic Trek, not just in the old school swoosh sound effect of the doors or the beeps and whoops on the bridge, but in the challenging spirit of it.  Yes, this is a very modern Trek, with Abram's Kelvin Timeline effects, dizzying shots, and lots of movement--the entire thing looks like a big budget film--but it doesn't feel anything like the cinematic reboots.  It doesn't feel much like The Next Generation either.  It feels like a Trek ready to get its hands dirty again, a Trek ready to make us uncomfortable and to make us think.  Will it follow through on these difficult issues?  We have to wait and see.  

But I can't wait to see where it goes next.