Saturday, January 19, 2019

Pikes, Asteroids, and Spocks

One thing's for sure, Star Trek: Discovery's visual design is still top notch. The Alex Kurtzman directed season two première definitely wore its massive budget on its sleeve in an attempt to make up for a incredibly thin teleplay. Much like Kurtzman's Transformers films, I was forced to wonder if the makers of the show have ever met and interacted with human beings.

Spoilers after the screenshot

But I'll concentrate on the positives first. My favourite bit was the landing on that asteroid and the approach to the wrecked Federation ship. The sound of the malfunctioning computer voice echoing through the wreckage was wonderfully eerie and helped create a real sense of a hazardous situation.

Anson Mount seems more like Jeffrey Hunter as Christopher Pike than Bruce Greenwood did in the 2009 film, though he has a weaker screen presence than either actor. I almost wondered if this was intentional to help keep the focus on Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green).

This episode featured Burnham frustrated in her attempts to see Spock on the disabled Enterprise. Did anyone ever mention why or how the Enterprise was disabled? If so I didn't catch it. If the writers just forgot to have the characters discuss it it would be par for the course in an episode that featured excruciatingly awkward attempts to write the characters as more down-to-earth.

This seems obviously in response to the fact that The Orville was vastly more successful in its première season than Discovery, proving that audiences still had a taste for the old fashioned Star Trek after all. But if the people behind Discovery got the point that Orville's success hinged largely on building characters, it's hard to say because this first episode of the second season mainly seems to be course correcting in the form of cheap gags.

I thought Tilly (Mary Wiseman) was charming in her first few episodes of the first season but in this première I found her intensely annoying. The moment where she keeps talking on the bridge after accidentally talking too loud was clearly meant to be cute, her awkwardly overcompensating, but it was just excruciatingly unnatural in execution with the bridge crew inexplicably stopping what they're doing to stare at her in consternation. I suppose her arc is still to become captain one day but it almost feels like a parody of such an arc now, like "Weird Al" Yankovic's "That Boy can Dance".

Meanwhile, the show seems to be sticking to their revamped, emotional Vulcans. I haven't really seen other people complain about this so maybe it only bothers me but I watched the "The Menagerie" parts 1 and 2 again this morning and the part at the end where Kirk teases Spock for possibly exhibiting "emotionalism" reminded me what an important part of the show it once was. You can also see the difference in Leonard Nimoy's performance between the footage from "The Cage" (the original pilot that was recut to fit into the plot of "The Menagerie") and the era with Kirk in command. Spock even grins when examining some alien plant-life in the older footage and it's clear the Vulcan practice of emotional repression hadn't been thought of or developed yet. Maybe Kurtzman would argue Discovery's canon hews closer to "The Cage" than "The Menagerie". Maybe people behind the scenes felt it was dangerous to convey emotional repression as a potentially positive alternative lifestyle. Of course, in removing it from the show they make it difficult for the characters to debate the subject, but I suppose there's not much room for that sort of thing with all the elaborate action and disaster sequences.

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