I blame the Marvel universe: Sarah Jaffe and Adam Kotsko discuss Star Trek: Discovery

[Each week, Sarah Jaffe — a new Star Trek fan who came to the franchise through Discovery — and Adam Kotsko — a long-time obsessive who has spent way too much time thinking about Star Trek — have been chatting about their impressions of the newest episode. Since we fell behind yet again, this post covers both parts of “Such Sweet Sorrows.” A full archive can be found here.]

AK: Long time, no see. Unless we always already will have seen each other FROM THE FUTURE.

SJ: I just want to talk about things that aren’t time travel but these episodes, IDK
the time travel makes no sense let’s just stipulate that from the jump


SJ: I have no idea

AK: Sorry, had to get that out of my system.

SJ: hahahhaha
it’s OK
the overarching season-long plot here just: wasn’t good.

AK: Seriously.
If they wanted to pop them to the future, they could have done that using only the spore drive — it already popped them nine months into the future in season 1.

SJ: Right!
the Control thing didn’t require the signals and whatnot
it was all retconned

AK: Anyway, I’m sure you’re heartbroken Ash didn’t pop forward with them.
And I’m confused that Georgiou DID.

SJ: dude that second-to-last episode broke me
I guess we could find out that Georgiou last-minute jumped out, who knows, she’s a superhero like that
but yeah Tyler and Burnham just break me over and over again

AK: If the whole point was to jump forward to deprive Control of the data, why the FUCK do you jump when you know FOR A FACT that you have Control’s avatar — which you can presumably just defeat by punching — on board?

SJ: I guess I look forward to him being the head of Section 31 and looking mournful about ethical decisions or whatever?
oh man

AK: We need to go back to the Original Series era if only to see if he ever shaves that gross beard.

SJ: I did love that she used the spore drive thing to defeat him but–what? how?
do not shit talk Tyler
tyler’s beard is perfect as is everything else about him
I like him with the beard

AK: I really thought the joke was going to be that the spore drive went haywire and popped him into the distant past of the Delta Quadrant — meaning he was Borg Patient Zero.
Another example of how they were trying to do a million different things and wound up doing none of them well.

SJ: Yep.
I know nothing about the Borg but sure what you said
Like the second-to-last episode worked for me, even though emotionally it broke me and mentally the solution doesn’t make sense, because it spent all this time digging into these prior relationships
Burnham and Tyler, Culber and Stamets, everyone saying they’d go into the future with Burnham
even though the “it’s a one way trip” logic also makes no sense
I’m OK with them ending up in the magic future!

AK: I think that by jumping into the future, they are basically holding a gun to their head and forcing the next season’s writers to deal with the Discovery-original characters.

SJ: also it just occurred to me that the Calypso short proved that they succeeded because there was a human in the future
I mean I suppose I am pleased by that.
And then by being in the future they can do whatever they want with the spore drive

AK: I do wonder if Calypso will wind up being a dangling chad or they will actually pick it back up.

SJ: without having to retcon it back out

AK: Right, that’s where using the spore drive itself to jump to the future would have been more elegant.
“It was a promising technology, but then they suddenly blinked out of existence after having tons of experience with it and a literally genetically engineered pilot. So….”

SJ: Yes! Exactly.
What if they just really liked the time crystal episode from the first season–which was the best episode!–and then were like “but what if we made the whole season about this?” and everything went wrong
like that episode had a TOS character, so they brought back TOS characters
it revolved around a time travel thing that made not a lot of sense

AK: I had a similar theory about how that episode was the model for this whole season.

SJ: but really what made it good was it was all about character development! plus explosions.

AK: It also involved a captain who was somehow the cause of the events, but was also a bystander on his own ship.

SJ: so they missed what really made that episode work

AK: In the end, the loving recreations of Spock and Pike were better done and made more sense than almost anything they did with “our” characters.
Even the Saru stuff — which I liked at the time — feels a little forced and sloppy at this distance.
And my God, his “death” scene was so over-the-top.

SJ: It could have worked well if they had actually spent the time with it
but again, they didn’t.
I do want to go back to the beginning of the season and rewatch the Tilly parts
because I do love Tilly
they should make her captain in the future

AK: Thankfully her weirdly rushed short turned into a weirdly rushed plot point in the season arc.
Still wondering about Stamets’ belief that he could unilaterally push a button and close off access to the spore network.

SJ: who knows man, who knows
it would have also been more interesting if, instead of the sphere data, the thing that Control needed was the spore drive

And riddle me this: in what sense was Control not already self-aware?!

SJ: I mean I am never going to not be mad that this season feels like they didn’t trust the show without a white man in charge
Lorca is evil, so quick, bring in a white dude to be captain!
hell, make a white guy the chief villain too
(evil and dead I guess)

AK: What did you think of Saru wanting to dodge the captain question when they were planning to jump forward?
Is he going to have a power struggle with Georgiou? Her rank is technically captain, though they know it’s fake.
I guess Empress is technically a higher rank than Commander, but they aren’t in the same chain of command.

SJ: hahahahahhaha
Is she actually going to be there? In an earlier chat you said they’d announced she would be the lead for the Section 31 show
I thought the captain question would be between him and Burnham

AK: They’re so lovey-dovey now, though.

SJ: but obvs Saru should be captain he is all manly now that he lost his ganglia or something

AK: I don’t know how they can get out of Georgiou jumping to the future. They can send her back, but she’ll be there at least a little while.
SJ: if by “lovey-dovey” you mean “never on screen together because they basically gave Spock his scenes”

AK: ha
Wow, the Burnham-Spock arc really is literally the Burnham-Saru arc from last season.
As the dying Saru decreed…
Before his ganglia fell out and he became a fight-permitting BADASS

SJ: hahahhaha
them both wanting to be captain could introduce all sorts of new drama

AK: Ugh.
Give it to Tilly, like you say.

SJ: put Tilly in charge of everything

AK: These episodes really deflect analysis. All we can talk about is speculation about the future direction of the show.
We should address the profound elegance of the gag order.
Against one of the most infamous Starfleet members of her generation.
And the ship that won the war.
Is Starfleet like Space Stalinism or something?!

SJ: I don’t get it, man. It’s all very weird.
I do not have the level of investment in Starfleet obvs but

AK: If they wanted to introduce a lead character who wasn’t a captain, why did they have to make her a World Historical Personage?!

SJ: it would have been much easier to be like “oh, it just disappeared we blamed the spore drive and therefore never tried to replicate it”
if they hadn’t made her SPOCK’S FUCKING SISTER
or even then if they hadn’t needed to bring him in, the fact that they were estranged siblings could have explained why he never talked about her
here we are with your prequel problems

AK: They have done a remarkable job given the corner they wrote themselves into. But I understand the desire to get out from under that
I actually just finished reading a novel series set in the TOS era. They did a better job developing their own scenarios and characters, but they still had Kirk save the day in the end and made everything disappear down the memory hole

SJ: Yeah
I mean there is also this thing about how everything now needs to be world-ending
like so much of TOS was just “hey we’re on this weird planet that might kill us”
I blame the Marvel universe


SJ: and also climate change

AK: And capitalism

SJ: well always that
but capitalism was also a factor when they made TOS

AK: Yes
I wrote an article on prequels as a way of asserting capital’s authority a while back
Even the dead will not be safe from prequels

SJ: ha
but right, like everything here has to be so BIG and DRAMATIC where it would have been fine to have a prequel that was just, like, a ship exploring space.
with some interesting characters
you could even have the mutiny plot on a smaller scale
and the mirror universe
it all could have been fine!

AK: Yes!
I feel we are still owed the seven years of routine missions on the Shenzou
I want a prequel to my prequel
though it wouldn’t have Tyler

AK: It’s the only answer

AK: So that’s my counteroffer: seven seasons of Star Trek: Shenzou and then you can do this future thing
I think I would miss Mirror Georgiou but they could just put her on the Section 31 show
make Michelle Yeoh work double time it’s fine
give her all the money
make her the star of everything
I love her.

AK: Yes
Having her be regular Georgiou again would be a let down

SJ: yes.
I really don’t know that I have that much more to say about all this?
I feel like I owe Stamets and Culber a little more

AK: Maybe?

SJ: like that whole bit did give me all the feels

AK: I was uncomfortable with everyone bullying Culber into getting back with Stamets

SJ: Yeah I mean
the romantic side of me is like YES! and the realistic side of me says “maybe this is unhealthy”

AK: “Hey, Ms. Genocide Admiral — give me some life advice.”

SJ: hahahahhaha
But Tig! Tig speaks the truth!
Trust her she is a Queer Woman With a Tragic Backstory
She got on the Discovery yeah?

AK: Yes. She was essential, which is why she was one of the predestination paradox targets

SJ: hah
that whole thing

AK: Man, I was so optimistic mid season but now I feel burned. Just like last season

SJ: it’s so hard to discuss this without hitting a thing that made me mad
See I loved last season and I didn’t feel burned at the end as much as frustrated with the rush job of the last two episodes
this time i feel like they unfolded better in the last two episodes but ultimately they’d written an unexplainable plot

AK: We both have our own reasons for being overinvested in what is, at the end of the day, just a show. But I still wish they would just pick something and stick with it
I viewed the last season finale as an attempt to “wind down” everything distinctive about the show so they could start from scratch
And then they didn’t even do that.
They flirt with shutting down the spore drive, then want to keep it. They write Tyler and the Klingons out and then bring them back. Etc.
I’m shocked Lorca isn’t somehow still alive

SJ: oh god what if he’s in the future
or they find Prime Lorca for section 31

AK: It’s just a mess. It seemed to start clearing up mid season, then they got bogged down again
One nice thing about a more episodic approach is that some things can just be one off

SJ: yep.

AK: And you can let things evolve more organically.
They were too lax in earlier Trek shows, but the answer can’t be that everything must be a world shaking essential plot point

SJ: Yep.

AK: Like why the fuck does the sphere data need to be part of the Control plot? Let it be an episode and move on.

SJ: you have to trust that “these characters could die!” is enough
especially since like we know based on the TV structure that these characters probably WON’T die and the world is unlikely to end
unless they let Lars von Trier direct

AK: The sphere episode was ruined by the later plot. Initially it was, “We found a nonviolent solution based in trust and learned a lot.” Then it became, “This knowledge will fucking kill us all.”

SJ: HA yeah I mean that’s a thing isn’t it
considering it kind of violates the entire point of Star Trek

AK: But it got them the hell out of Dodge

SJ: I guess.
as we have discussed they didn’t NEED that.
UGH THIS SEASON I am glad it’s over

AK: Yes

SJ: I guess I am looking forward to the next one though? I am a glutton for punishment
And Section 31 because I am a glutton for Tyler.

AK: Me too! Hope springs eternal!
And Picard!
And the cartoons!

SJ: I don’t care so much about those

AK: And Enterprise Season 5!

SJ: I guess I do like Patrick Stewart
(Sorry readers)

AK: And the show about what Khan was up to on the deserted planet!
Only Enterprise season 5 is totally made up, by the way.
They are out of control.
As long as the new Trek stuff is better than the new Twilight Zone, I’ll be happy

SJ: have not watched the new Twilight Zone
Binge-watching Netflix things instead–Dead To Me was great fun, incidentally.
Anyway I guess this is it? Unless you have any grand pronouncements on Prequels or whatever
AK: Not at this time, other than to say that I do think a prequel could be good if they took the constraints seriously as a generative element rather than a problem. I think Better Call Saul may do that. It’s possible. But if Discovery can’t do it, then I’m glad they are giving themselves a more open canvas

SJ: I’m just hoping for no more fanservice.
But I will almost certainly be deeply disappointed.
AK: Despair springs eternal