Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Battle-Star-Trek-Galactica Turns A Corner With Context Is For Kings


At some point last week I began referring to Discovery as "Battle-Star Trek-Galactica" because that's what it felt like after the 2-part pilot. Don't get me wrong. I love BSG. I loved it from the first five minutes of the premier of the mini-series that aired what feels like seven million years ago. But BSG was grim. Like, Brothers Grim grim. But I loved it anyway, like I loved I a lot of the shows that came after it and were heavily influenced by it like The 100 (which I recently binged on a near pathological level and which is basically Young Adult BSG with swords.)  But... I didn't really want my Star Trek to be BSG. I wanted needed a little more hope, a little more optimism and, goddamnit, a little more of the crew.

That's why I think the bigwigs at CBS really, really, really should have aired the first THREE episodes of Star Trek: Discovery on CBS as what would basically be a TV movie-type event. The first episode leaves us with our main character being hauled to the brig after a mutiny. The second leaves us with the main character being sentenced to life in prison. It's grim and dark and sad and there's not even a titular ship or a crew to attach to.

I think that's why, after my first viewing of The Vulcan Hello and Battle at the Binary Stars, I felt sort of...bereft. Watching it the second time, with my husband, I was dumbfounded by how much more I enjoyed both parts and, as it went off and I watched the preview for (the apparently even darker) Context Is For Kings I realized what it was.

Like so many others, I was a little kid when TNG started. I spent my whole childhood with bright uniforms and mauve chairs and one-off episodes that almost always had a happy ending. The earth of TNG had no famine, no poverty, nearly no sickness. As a kid who was going through a lot difficult emotional and financial stuff that I didn't really understand... the world of TNG was appealing and inviting. And, watching the first two episodes of Discovery, I felt sad that this darker, harsher, angrier Star Trek wasn't going to be for kids. Telling my husband my feelings, I actually began to cry. Star Trek saved me in a very real way but Discovery isn't for kids. And... once I got those words out of my mouth... I actually began to feel a little more ok. Even if I did start going around referring to it as Battle Star Trek Galactica. This Star Trek isn't for kids but it is good.

And, isn't that more important? At least right now? My MAIN concern going into this Star Trek was that it would be bad. That it would be a cobbled together mess. That it would get panned and that it would disappear after one unsuccessful season and it would be another decade before anyone tried another Trek. But if it's good? Who knows? Maybe one season of Discovery will lead to two and three and more and then another Trek that is brighter and happier and more suitable for kids. But first, it has to be good.

This weekend, Scott and I sat down and watched the third episode, Context is For Kings. I watched it again today. It started out with Burnham six months into her life sentence and en route to a mining colony when the shuttle pilot had to go outside to do some fixing and abruptly died (read: grimdark.) They were soon greeted on Discovery by an actual BSG alum, Commander Landry or, as I referred to her for several years, Cylon Foster:

But, once on the ship, things quickly began to look more familiar (even if it still kept a lot of its Battle Star Trek Galactica tone.) Discovery is big and bright and full of officers doing science-y things. Burnham is met by First Officer Saru (who's somehow even better in this episode) and then by Captain Malfoy Lorca who wants her to help out around his super secret war research ship. She's assigned to engineering where she butts heads with astromycologist, Stamets, played to a pitch-perfect annoyed-as-hell-that-he's-doing-war-stuff-vibe by Anthony Rapp. Soon enough we get that Discovery is doing something seriously shady but it all feels a little better, a little less grim, thanks to Burnham's indefatigable new roomy, Cadet Tilly. I swear I almost broke into tears when Tilly opened her mouth and word-vomited this bright, boundless enthusiasm all over the place. Through the rest of this episode we're treated to some killer action sequences and a pretty perfect performance all around from Martin-Green who does science/action/sass/and sweet, remorseful remembrance all in one go.
When Burnham pulled out her copy of Alice in Wonderland and told Tilly about her adoptive mother, I cried. Honest to Kahless, I literally, legitimately, unabashedly cried. This didn't feel like Discovery was just throwing Trekkies a bone. It felt like they understood who they were, what they were doing, and where they were going. Up is down. Down is up. Even in the bleakest, scariest of times, there is hope.

I'm onboard.

My other takeaways:
-Captain Lorca is surrounded by Easter Eggs but my read of all of them is this: Lorca is a man who likes to possess and control dangerous creatures. The creature from The Glenn? The Gorn Skeleton, this whole crazy ass living propulsion system and now... Michael Burnham. And let's not forget the most dangerous creature in his whole collection, which he keeps RIGHT ON HIS DESK--a tribble. This sounds like a joke but I'm totally for serious right now. Someone might oughta check him for the Dark Mark.

-I'm up for any recitation of Alice in Wonderland but 1000 bonus points Burnham for delivering that whilst crawling like hell is on her heels through a Jeffries Tube.

-Vulcan martial arts are the shit. End of story.

-I love the return of memory cards and the forced perspective warp core.

-At the end of Discovery's third outing, I felt that, yes, this is Star Trek. Is this closer in theme and feeling to Deep Space Nine than TNG? Yeah. And that's ok. This is a Star Trek for a time of war, bitterness, hopelessness, and deep-seated prejudices that need to be questioned. In short, it's a Trek for the same sort of times The Original Series was engineered for. That series influenced popular culture in ways that were nothing short of phenomenal. I hope Discovery can do the same. But, hey, even if it can't, it's still damn good TV.
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