Hulu Is Gaining On Netflix, But ‘Star Trek Discovery’ Is An Unstoppable Monster

Could Star Trek’s new series boldly go back to undo the worst season finale in sci-fi TV history? Surely in Discovery’s multiverse, anything is possible

@vanbadham Wed 31 Jan 2018 05.47 GMT Last modified on Wed 31 Jan 2018 09.57 GMT

The dramatic death of the USS Discovery’s captain came just a week after he was unmasked as a Mirror Universe doppelgänger who secretly claimed the identity of his prime universe counterpart and had been plotting to claim the throne of the Terran Empire.

Critics are nicknaming the series “Disco”, and it’s not hard to see why. So many lights; so many frantic steps. And with the ship under the present command of a talking, bald, bipedal horse, there’s more than a little disco-biscuit aesthetic to the whole shebang.

In Sunday night’s episode (January 29), Lorca was quite literally stabbed in the back by Emperor Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) and disintegrated into fine dust while heading towards a great ball of fire.

‘Star Trek: Discovery’: Jason Isaacs Discusses Lorca’s Arc and End

The bright colours of madness have always been inherent to Star Trek’s appeal, certainly since its original 1960s series shot a spaceship commanded by Kirk, Spock and the rest into the far corners of the universe, with a lot of fetching velour but nary a thought for a seatbelt.

The series was created and first went into syndication during the instabilities and tensions of the old Cold War, which perhaps contextualises the obsessive love invested in it by a fanbase so loyal it has marched in the street to keep it on air. To my mind, it’s not the escapism of dashing heroics or snazzy space guns that’s made Star Trek so popular. It’s the gentle moral premise it shares with its British cult counterpart, Doctor Who; no matter how grave the danger or lurid the monster suit, once you clarify the human ethics of a situation, reason and science can solve any problem in the universe – and usually in under an hour.

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Facebook Twitter Pinterest Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura, Leonard Nimoy as Mr Spock and William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk in the original Star Trek series. Photograph: CBS via Getty Images This thread runs through each series of Star Trek, guiding a chronology in which humanity and its galactic neighbours form a federation to fight against common enemies, and for mutual prosperity. The different series have navigated permutations of the challenges therein. Star Trek: The Next Generation busies itself shoring up alliances and resolving diplomatic conflicts close to home, while Star Trek: Voyager abandons a Federation ship into a region of space where there are no allies, no maps and a confronting ethical polarity between retaining collective values and surviving dangerous isolation. (That’s why Voyager’s Captain Janeway is the best captain. Don’t even argue.)

Star Trek Is Star Wars Now

But amid the happy hoo-ha that’s surrounded the small-screen return of Star Trek after 13 years, my recommendation is old fans and new make time between its episodes to revisit the franchise’s most recent televised outing: the maligned, uneven and surprisingly touching Enterprise series.

Isaacs is the third Discovery member to die on screen this series, after Captain Georgiou (also played by Yeoh) and Dr Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz).

Broadcast in 2001-2005, the show is set at the time of Earth’s first interstellar voyages, before the Federation is even a notion, and before key items of Star Trek’s signature space-tech are invented. Enterprise made departures from the established formula that rankled fans, such as ditching the orchestral sweeps of previous theme tunes for a “hipper” Rod Stewart cover, and experimenting with something like a serial narrative instead of traditionally more self-contained episodes. And so the Enterprise made its maiden voyage much like the overarching storyline: not entirely sure where its was going.

The Great Sci-Fi TV Boom of 2018

Made in the days before Netflix, perhaps it was an inability to fast-forward the theme song, or to more easily binge on its episodes, but after a decent viewership for its initial season, the audience for Enterprise fell away. The show was never a hit with critics, the franchise was declared tired and it was cancelled just before the end of its fourth season. It ended with a hurriedly – badly – scripted final episode that one of its stars deemed, quite publicly, as “appalling”.

Revisiting the show now, its possible to see that more than the song, or the unsure storyline, it may have been its premise that alienated potential fans. The alien Vulcans – made beloved in the franchise by the friendly Spock – are, in Enterprise, far more cautious toward the earthlings, with whom inter-species contact is still new. The Vulcans withhold their technological insight from Earth’s space pioneers, very aware humanity has not long emerged from a nuclear war, and they insist on attaching an observer to Enterprise’s initial explorations. This is how secretive Vulcan science officer T’Pol finds herself in a command team with a Kirk-style captain, Jonathan Archer, and his twangy Southerner sidekick, Trip Tucker, the ship’s engineer – both of whom resent the Vulcan supervision and are openly racist towards her.

“I said yes to a fantastic story,” he told Variety. “You never quite know with television because it’s written week by week.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Michelle Yeoh as Captain Georgiou and Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham. Photograph: CBS Progressive, intersectional race politics have always been central to Star Trek, and overt since the unprecedented inclusion of black Uhura and Asian-American Mr Sulu in the original series. The unique contribution of Enterprise to the franchise is the complication it offers to the utopian, uncomplicated assumptions of the previous series. Here, Earth may have outgrown domestic racism but prejudice and hostilities dog and undermine encounters with new species, leading the earthlings into ongoing, avoidable catastrophe.

Compared to Stranger Things’ retro charms, the British-American crossover hit Black Mirror appears to be the most rigorously modern of any science-fiction series currently airing. In contrast with the “soft,” near-fantastical sci-fi of a Stranger Things, where an official-looking government facility spawns evil with mythological names like “demogorgon,” Black Mirror’s dystopia is extrapolated from actual technologies, from virtual reality to cybernetic animals. Yet despite writer-creator Charlie Brooker’s concern with particularly recent anxieties—what if phones, but too much?—Black Mirror’s format mirrors that of The Twilight Zone. Part of the series’ appeal is its ability to wipe the slate clean with each successive episode and build a new, nightmarish landscape every hour. It’s a template that essentially hasn’t been in favor since Serling’s opus left the air in 1964, and that Brooker single-handedly brought back into fashion; Amazon’s Electric Dreams and upcoming The Romanoffs both make use of it, with the former compounding the retro sci-fi feel the episodic anthology conjures up by drawing from the short stories of Philip K. Dick. Black Mirror may seem like the most forward-facing of TV’s current sci-fi offerings, and its ripped-from-the-headlines (or even ahead-of-the-headlines) ethos is surely a cornerstone of its zeitgeist-seizing acclaim. But in its way, Black Mirror is as much an attempt to draw on TV sci-fi’s history as its more superficially retro counterparts, conjuring up its pre-Peak ancestors as a way to re-create their resonance.

When the characters’ experiences expand their own moral understanding, they’re attuned – with very painful consequences – to the effects of the prejudice around them, and there’s something very refreshing in the series’ sly critique of the cultural arrogance of its careless space cowboys. When Archer’s deference to his own principle over realpolitik results in the destruction of a sacred site, the repercussions he engenders far down the line affect his own crew in devastating, personal ways. One memorable episode sees Tucker’s idealistic intervention in the dynamics of an alien family result in a horrific suicide.

Star Trek: Discovery — What’s Next For Lorca?

But Enterprise’s most delicate arc is a clever metaphor it makes of tension between the unalike, expressed in a love story that, in another act of misjudgment, perhaps came just a shade too late to save the series’ popularity. In this, T’Pol and a crewmate fight a mutual attraction that makes no logical sense to her and no emotional sense to the him – and, to the all-too-human surprise of both lovers, not even sex is able to resolve it.

It’s the casual, loveless conclusion to this story in particular that condemns the hated last episode – one that I’m sure I’m not the only fan who wishes to see stricken from its episode lists, erased from its box sets, banished to exist only in YouTube’s darkest fanbase corners. Enterprise fans once crowdsourced $32m to fund a continuation of the series but the producers did not take up the offer.

As Discovery sails through fresh territories of the franchise with apparently no limits on time, space, characterisation or material possibility, the opportunity to in some way complete Enterprise’s history – to remind both its own universe and ours of the painful lessons learnt when cultural cavaliers explore – is certainly there.

At very least, Discovery might repair the trajectory of Enterprise’s long-lost lovers – I mean, the new ship has a captive space rhino, so anything is possible. And if Star Trek’s taught me anything, it’s that it if the ethics are right and the science thought out, there’s no problem in the universe that humanity can’t solve. It should, realistically, only take just under an hour.

Star Trek Discovery is on CBS All Access in the US and Netflix in the UK and Australia.

Share Share The Great Sci-Fi TV Boom of 2018 tweet share Flipboard Email Netflix/HBO/Amazon/Starz/CBS/Ringer illustration Altered Carbon, the cyberpunk noir arriving on Netflix this Friday, is flawlessly timed. Adapted by Laeta Kalogridis from the 2002 Richard K. Morgan novel of the same name, the world of Altered Carbon is an assemblage of gently used parts. The core premise—that far-future humans have gained the ability to download their consciousness onto hard drive–like “stacks,” which can then be uploaded into interchangeable bodies called “sleeves”—is nearly identical to that of the seminal 1995 anime Ghost in the Shell. The production design, which mutates San Francisco into a holograph-and-skyscraper metropolis rechristened Bay City, directly recalls the original Blade Runner. And the plot, in which a warrior is frozen in time before being ejected into a future he doesn’t understand, evokes the groundbreaking animated series Samurai Jack.

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Over 10 episodes, Dark balances a staggeringly large cast comprised of three generations’ worth of four separate families, giving almost every character a full emotional arc borne out by the show’s supernatural cosmology. Dark’s exotic (to American ears) provenance and assured unfolding instantly rank it among the most exciting sci-fi series of the moment: the ones that push the designation outward in exciting and unexpected ways, whether in their origins or their execution. Dark seemingly came out of nowhere to win over audiences an ocean away from its home country; both Counterpart and Star Trek: Discovery made distinctly contemporary fusions out of their vintage influences, not content to simply leverage them for legibility. The aim of science fiction in the first place is to imagine possibilities beyond what humanity has already managed to achieve. It’s only fair to evaluate the TV that assumes the label accordingly.

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Besides their overall stature in the canon of science fiction, these three influences share something in common: each was rebooted or extended in 2017. Altered Carbon may be a take on a specific work, but it’s also an attempt to take advantage of a far broader cultural groundswell. Once-marginal geek mainstays have become, under the careful stewardship of multimedia conglomerates, one of the 21st century’s inescapable trends. At the box office, the two biggest centers of gravity are comic book characters and Star Wars; on television, Game of Thrones has snowballed over seven bloody seasons into its own parallel phenomenon. In both formats, genre fiction’s rising tide has fast-tracked properties that would, and sometimes did, struggle to get made in less-friendly eras.

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When Star Trek: Discovery first debuted this past September, it was immediately declared to be a different animal from the Star Trek shows we had previously seen. Not only was the general aesthetic updated, but the very structure was to be far more modern; the storytelling was to be open and long-form, the characters constantly seeking definition, and, most distressingly to some old-school Trekkies, it was to be all about the war between the Federation and the Klingons. Star Trek, previously a show about diplomacy, peace, and optimism, was going to boldly tackle war, aggression, and combat. It was to be a show, it seemed, about the breakdown and failure of diplomacy. It was a show fixated on war.

After an opening salvo of episodes about how the Klingon war began, the show eventually progressed to a multi-part dalliance in Star Trek’s notorious Mirror Universe. Now, we have come to episode 13, “What’s Past is Prologue” (read our review), which aired on Sunday night. In it, the Discovery escaped the Mirror Universe, but, thanks to a time travel glitch, found themselves nine months in the future where the Federation had already lost the Klingon war. The Discovery is now isolated in an unfriendly quadrant ruled by an evil empire of bloodthirsty zealots. No doubt, moving forward, the show will be about assembling an ever-expanding team of scrappy rebel holdouts to take down the now-established Klingon rule. I predict, in the end, time travel will be involved in order to undo the damage the Klingons have wrought.

From a storytelling perspective, this scenario offers a lot of plot and character opportunities, and we can be sure that the forthcoming twists will be at least fascinating to behold. This scenario, however, perhaps reveals the vibe that the show creators may have always been shooting for from the start: They want Star Trek to be Star Wars.

Consider: The Discovery was usually an isolated ship. It didn’t work with other ships in the fleet, and its crew developed a teleportation technology that they alone had access to. The ship and her crew were putting themselves in a position where the Discovery was the sole rebel force that could take down the Klingon Empire. In previous Trek shows, even with Voyager, the central vessel/station always operated under the direct auspices of the Federation; they were always a part of a larger entity, touting an established philosophy of integrity. One could even argue that the Federation itself is the true protagonist of every Trek series.

Discovery, in contrast, is a ship that has found itself alone a lot of the time. It’s by itself in the use of its teleportation tech. Then it was lost and alone in an unfamiliar universe. And now it finds itself as the lone survivor back home. This isolation, a theme of the show, is also one of the defining features of Star Wars. A small group of rebels, lesser-equipped than its totalitarian rivals, uses their wits and unusual tech to overwhelm an impossible alien threat. Replace the Discovery with the Millennium Falcon, and the dynamic isn’t much changed.

The crew, to match the isolation of the ship, is also made up of rebels and criminals. Michael Burnham was convicted to a life sentence by the Federation high court, and Captain Lorca, well, we now know he was a villain from the start. Tilly, Stamets, Tyler, and Saru are all outsiders or just plain different in some way as well.

Additionally, Discovery is also far more action oriented than any of the previous Trek shows. There have been more phaser fights, more mek’leth battles, and more violent scenes than ever before. And it’s rare that, as with previous Trek shows, the protagonists will use talk and/or subterfuge to escape a tight spot. More than ever, it’s become about shooting your way out. This has often been the model with the action-centric Star Wars films. The rebels often rallied to overpower the Empire with loud, explosive battles. Their MO was never to undo the Empire cleverly or quietly from the inside, nor to negotiate a peace. At best, the rebels would merely exploit the Empire’s hubris (“No one could possibly blow up our Death Star, so we won’t bother covering up the instant death hatch in the side!”). Star Wars, when it comes to the central conflict between the rebels and the Empire, has often resorted to who has the better front line tactics.

Discovery has always sought to be different, of course; why resurrect a series if you’re just going to do the same thing all over again (cough, The X-Files, cough)? And the show’s creators have been stalwart and tenacious in their ability to create something unique in the annals of Trek. Many Trekkies embrace the change. Others resist it. But perhaps one’s mileage is going to be increasingly predicated on how much one likes Star Wars, and has always wanted to see a Star Trek with a similar vibe.

Will the parallels increase? Only time will tell. I, like many, am eager to find out.


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