Star Trek: Discovery: Season 3 — a review

I am a Trekkie.

Getting me to admit this fact when I was in my 20s—even my 30s—would have been like pulling teeth. And, not those easy teeth along the front that everyone can see when you have a huge cheese-eating grin, either. I’m talking about one of those back teeth that have roots which have wrapped around your jawbone.

Admitting that you’re a Trekkie is the same thing as admitting you’re a nerd. For many years, the word nerd itself was a deprecatory term. To be a nerd is to be un-cool. When you’re young, to be considered un-cool seems like a fate worse than death. I remember.

Then, you grow older and begin to understand that everyone—well, almost everyone—can relate to feeling un-cool in some way. There is strength in numbers. A group of nerdy people with the same nerdy passions begins to feel like a community. It is a community. Not the type of community that excludes people with other niche interests, however. You can like Star Trek and not be a fan of, say, comic books in general or perhaps Doctor Who; but, you’ll understand fandom and that feeling of belonging to a group, and, as a result, will be more accepting of people who have interests that are different than your own.

That’s the theory, at least.

In practice, it seems that humans are divisive by nature, warlike creatures barely more evolved than apes who have to create enemies when none readily appear in their chosen habitats. This leads to that penchant for dichotomy I feel like I’ve discussed before, as I’m wont to do with peeves that have become pets. You can’t like both Star Trek and Star Wars at the same time. You must be either a Democrat or a Republican. You can’t appreciate both country music and Swedish death metal. You’re either a boxers or a briefs man; there’s no place in this world for those who choose to go commando.

It happens within the fandom of certain franchises as well. You know what I’m talking about. A diehard fan of the original Star Wars trilogy may be decidedly anti when it comes to the prequel trilogy, but at least that was still created by George Lucas. The new trilogy is an abomination, a homogenized Disney product that is a sad parody of true Star Wars.

Sound familiar?

Sure, I’m no saint. I’ve pissed and moaned about The Phantom Menace more than anyone else I know, referring to it as The Adventures of Lil’ Ani and the Hanna-Barbera Wacky Racers when I was feeling charitable and didn’t want to waste any spleen-juice on a stream of expletives. But, I’ve also watched this first of the prequels at least three times now, and there are things about it that I truly enjoy and admire. Because I am a Star Wars fan.

Of course, I used Star Wars as a reference in a review of a Star Trek series for a couple of reasons. First, I am a fan of both franchises: proof that such a thing is possible in this world. Second, because Trekkies—myself not excluded—are guilty of the same sort of thing.

I cut my eyeteeth on the original series, back when it was the only Star Trek. I will always be a fan of the 1966 series, in spite of its flaws. For a time (three seasons, in fact), I even boycotted Star Trek: The Next Generation because I felt like watching the show would betray my affection for the original series and cast. If you’re younger than I am, perhaps TNG was your introduction into Trek. Perhaps you even felt the same way I felt about TOS when the show was spun off into Deep Space Nine and Voyager. Certainly, you may have said, Enterprise is not my Star Trek.

We are a fickle, somewhat stupid breed, aren’t we? The main reason that I rarely visit my Facebook page is the fact that I really don’t need other people telling me why I should hate something.

There is a trite saying, one with which you’re no doubt familiar, that’s no less true in spite of being cliché. In fact, it’s probably a cliché because it’s true.

A rising tide lifts all boats.

What this means for a Trekkie—or what it should mean, at any rate—is that the addition of new television series to our beloved franchise is always a good thing for Trekkies as a whole. These modern Trek series are to be celebrated, not shunned or reviled. Discovery, Picard, and Lower Decks are still your Star Trek, even if there are things about them you don’t always like. We should all still look forward to the debut of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds because it will add to that already prodigious mountain of that thing we love. Because I am a Trekkie, I even look forward to Season 3 of The Orville, which is unauthorized Trek.

Okay. End of rant.

This is a review of Season 3 of Star Trek: Discovery. It needed a preamble, I felt. You needed to understand some of the contents of my personal headspace before reading this review. Because I am a Trekkie, and I celebrate everything Trek. And also because I’m also going to mention some of the things I didn’t like about this season, and I don’t want to be lumped in the same category as internet trolls.

Season 2 gave me hope for the future of this series. I liked seeing Capt. Christopher Pike and Spock. This has whetted my appetite for the debut of Strange New Worlds. I felt like Discovery was on more sure footing. Then, at the end of the season, we find out that the entire series was time-travelling 900 years into the future, further in the future than any of the series to-date. A brave move, I thought, while in the back of my mind I wondered if this would silence all the wannabe critics who’ve complained about Trek’s past being more scientifically advanced than its future. Now the show could branch out and create something new in a space never traveled in any Trek series.

I am an eternal optimist. I always hold on to hope for the best possible outcome.

This season provided that, in part. It was an entirely new series that carried over most of the old characters. It is a dystopian future, because that’s the current science-fiction trend. Gene Roddenberry was a wide-eyed Pollyanna just like I am. He imagined a utopian future. He wouldn’t even allow Starfleet officers to have interpersonal conflicts. According to Gene, humans of the future will have evolved past such petty issues and would cooperate to serve the better good. Only aliens were allowed to be dystopian. Not Starfleet. Not the Federation.

New showrunner Michelle Paradise introduces the viewer to a galaxy with a reduced United Federation of Planets, after all the dilithium everywhere exploded for some mysterious reason that will become this season’s central story question. A galaxy that had grown accustomed to traveling at warp speeds now had to drop back to sublight speeds again. The majority of Starfleet’s warp-capable ships were destroyed during The Burn, as this mini-Armageddon was known. This would be like 21st century Earth suddenly having to return to the 19th century. From planes and trucks back to trains and horse-drawn wagons. Just as technology makes the Earth seem smaller, it made the galaxy seem smaller as well. Post-Burn, the Star Trek galaxy seems more like that of Firefly. A little more lawless, a little less ordered, and a lot more like Mad Max in space.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In theory, at least. But, this is not the Star Trek that we’ve grown accustomed to. In the nature of time travel stories, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) ends up arriving ahead of her ship and crew. Quite a bit ahead.

By the time the USS Discovery arrives, Michael has already begun a new life, and she has a new love interest. This is Cleveland “Book” Booker (David Ajala), a swashbuckling adventuring starship captain in the Han Solo/Mal Reynolds mold. He attempts to come across as a heartless rogue when he and Burnham meet, but it turns out that he’s travelling through space rescuing endangered alien animals. Can I get a collective Awww…?

I knew Ajala from his turn as Manchester Black on Supergirl. He doesn’t seem like a wholly different character in this new role, but we can blame that on the writing. It is a little refreshing to introduce this character type to the Trek galaxy. Usually, the fiercely independent loner types in Trek turn out to be more villain than roguish good guy. Like Harry Mudd. Smarter viewers than I have pointed out that the name Cleveland Booker isn’t a far cry from Indiana Jones, so the intended character parallel may have been a different Harrison Ford role than Han Solo. Instead of noticing this, I was silently fuming over another black science-fiction character called Book. Ron Glass as Shepherd Book on Firefly has become an iconic science-fiction television character, and—like the Ajala character on this series—is more than he initially seems to be (both also assumed the names of dead men, I should point out). I rationalized that the writers of this new series intended for this to be an homage to Firefly, since it is unfathomable to me that they were unaware of the similarity in the names.

I know I’m getting a little too far into the weeds here. It’s kinda what I do. But, moreso than Han Solo, Indiana Jones, and Derrial Book, Cleveland Booker reminds me of another science-fiction character from a different medium. Booker travels in his spaceship with Grudge, a humorously large Maine Coon cat with telepathic abilities whom he refers to as “a queen.” This reminded me of the Brian K. Vaughan comic books series Saga, in which a loner bounty hunter/mercenary called The Will travels the galaxy with Lying Cat, a cat with lie-detector abilities who will say “Lying” whenever it detects someone telling a lie. I’m not suggesting theft of intellectual property here. I’m just saying that all art influences other art. This is the way.

Other new characters introduced in this season are Admiral Charles Vance (Oded Fehr), a stalwart Starfleet officer doing the best he can in this post-Burn galaxy. I liked him, but kept expecting him to turn into a full-on villain during the season. He has a menacing air. We also meet Adira Tal (Blu del Barrio), a human who is the host for a Trill symbiont. Michael’s mother, Gabrielle (Sonja Sohn), also makes a return appearance, having been stranded in the future as well; she has joined an order of Romulan nuns—I think.

Yes, the Discovery eventually arrives in its namesake series (which reminds me of Season 1 and the Shenzhou), and brings all of our returning crewmen with it. These include Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), who was the Mirror Universe Emperor of the Terran Empire; her story seems to wrap up in this season, during another Guardian of Forever episode. Saru (Doug Jones) is doing his gangly best as starship captain, and is instrumental in solving the riddle of the Burn. Chief Engineer Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Chief Medical Officer Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz), the first openly gay regular couple in Star Trek, are back as well. Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman) has risen to First Officer under Saru, and is later acting-captain during Saru’s extended absence. She was merely a cadet in Season 1. Just sayin’. Jett Reno (Tig Notaro) returns as well, just not enough for my liking. I understand that Notaro wanted to be on the series, but not as a regular. I’ll take what I can get, because the sardonic, deadpan Jett makes me laugh every time she appears on-screen.

As a true Trekkie, I found a lot in this season to like. The series is a shining example of the kind of inclusion the original series was shooting for. TOS didn’t quite get there, but made tremendous inroads. Star Trek: Discovery features people of color in leading roles and females in positions of power or authority. Gay characters are prominently represented in characters such as Stamets, Culber and Jett Reno, and being gay is not their defining characteristic. Adira Tal is a nonbinary human whose pronouns are they, them, their. As a cisgendered straight white male, I think change is suppose to threaten and scare me. Some change does, I’ll admit, but I applaud such progressive leaps into the future that Roddenberry talked about. I look forward to a time where it doesn’t seem necessary to comment on someone’s race or sexuality when writing a review of a fictional product. We’re not there yet, but we’re making great strides.

I also like that showrunner Paradise and her writing staff aren’t afraid to attempt something different, something not as safe as Trek‘s homogenized past could be. I think a franchise sometimes needs to be shaken up a bit. It makes the viewer appreciate a return to the status quo. Without spoiling everything in this season for you, I will say the finale makes me feel like the future will begin to seem more like the Federation’s past, beginning next season.

Not surprisingly, many so-called Trekkies hated this season. You may as well; I’m not promising that you won’t. Some reviewers hated Season 2 as well, suggesting that it was pandering to diehard fans and nostalgia. While that may be true, I did like Season 2 more than I did Season 1. At this juncture, I preferred it over Season 3 as well. Perhaps I like to be pandered to. I mean, who doesn’t? But, I didn’t hate this season. I accepted it for what it was. And, I’m looking forward to Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. Please pander to me.

This is the Michael Burnham show, no doubt. I don’t entirely like Martin-Green’s character in this series, although she’s growing on me. Don’t break out your slings and arrows yet, though. James T. Kirk wasn’t my favorite character on the original series, either. My one gripe about this show being about Burnham at all times is that we don’t focus on other intriguing characters enough to suit me. For all of his tics and flaws, Saru is infinitely more interesting to me, as a character. Plus, you’ve probably guessed that I’d watch an entire series centered around Jett Reno. I also think that Burnham comes across as overly dramatic in situations that don’t really demand it, and she shows way more emotions than someone trained on Vulcan should. Oh well, she’s only human.

Am I saying, “This isn’t my Star Trek”?

Not at all. It’s my Trek, all right. All of the series are. A rising tide and all that stuff.

Firewater’s Beautiful-and-Diverse-and-Filled-with-Wonder Report Card: B

The “beautiful and diverse” quote is something Saru said to another Kelpien character in this season. It’s something that I believe encapsulates the feeling of the original series at its best. It also gives me hope for the future of this show. Some fans purport that the even numbered Trek movies are the best. Maybe that will someday apply to this series as well.

2 thoughts on “Star Trek: Discovery: Season 3 — a review

  1. I was very hopeful for this third season, indeed: the jump into the distant future would remove any canon connection to the main Trek universe and finally lay to rest the many nitpicking sessions I read online, and the possibility of seeing this future, reduced Federation held a lot of promise. Sadly, I was partially disappointed by what looked to me a meandering journey with a foggy sense of direction, and far too centered on Burnham’s character where Trek always tended to be more choral in its portrayal of the various crews. To sum it up, I wanted more and got less than expected, but will certainly keep watching, while I am much more hopeful toward the upcoming Strange, New Worlds series, mostly because I enjoyed Pike’s character quite a lot. Time will tell… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like your description of Trek as “choral.” I think you have pinpointed my issues with DIS. I want it to be more of an ensemble show instead of merely a set piece to tell the Michael Burnham story. Still some good stuff here, though.

      Liked by 1 person

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