Trekkies are either in love, or in an uproar. The new Start Trek is not like anything that has come before. The uniforms are different. The Klingons look different. The Starships are more advanced than they should be according to canon, and the humans are well, very human. Not some idolized version of what Earth and humanity will be in the future.
It’s why people hated JJAbrams reboot. How dare Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scottie and the crew actually be pulled off their pedestal? Humanity is supposed to be better in the future. Not more of the same with only deadlier weapons. We are supposed to evolve into a caring, self-sacrificing, egalitarian world that explores for the good of the universe. We are supposed to grow beyond being the selfish, loutish, ignorant homosapiens with delusions of a central importance in the galaxy.
Children, children….please grow up. We may all have enjoyed Trek sitting in our parents basement, but today’s Trek is a grittier, more down to Earth realistic version of life. It is more true to human nature. Which is what makes it so compelling.
While the Federation is supposed to be the best that humankind has to offer, humanity is above all else…human. Nothing is going to get rid of foibles, jealousies, and wants. We are supposed to better ourselves in a nondescript economic system, that somehow provides all that we need, without anyone ever lifting a finger beyond their own capacity. Sorry kiddos, but communism does NOT work, and neither does absolute socialism. It is not fantasy to understand human nature, in fact that is the bones of good storytelling.
So we enter the realm of Star Trek Discovery. The Federation is at war with the Klingon empire. A war discussed in previous Treks. How it started and why, was never explored, so it was inventive to create the conditions for this devastating interaction. The war was not merely a misunderstanding of universal proportions. And it is the naiveté of Captain Georgiou that causes the ultimate breakdown into war. Klingons, as Michael Burnham told her, only respect strength and power. They see weakness in diplomacy.
Immediately, Trek provides us with a quandary. Michael becomes a mutineer in order to try to avert a war, but ends up being held responsible for causing the conflagration. But the issue becomes a real one when applied to the present world in which we live. Aren’t there those that only understand power, and threats? Aren’t there tyrants who do not respect diplomacy and only use it to amass power? What makes Trekkies think that there are only peace loving and kind extraterrestrials in the universe? Especially since the canon is that the Klingons are warmongers, hateful and barbaric.
While the Klingons are supposed to represent all that is evil in the world, they were representative of the Soviets during the 60s, the idea that you can overcome tyranny with a nice cup of cocoa is fanciful and something that history teaches us is a fools errand. Moreover, the idea that the Federation, when faced with almost certain annihilation will not do everything it can to survive is ridiculous. Humanity’s first and foremost primitive thought is for survival. Niceties. Kumbaya. Drum circles. These are all well and good, but superfluous if you are dead.
So this is what we see in Star Trek Discovery. A trek that is at it’s core human. That people are driven by their own egos. That emotions, desires, wants and needs have not changed. People are selfish. People are cruel. People are devious. People are bullies. That no matter what, the survival of humanity comes before all else, including kindness.
Episode 4 puts that into perspective, when Captain Lorca, and the science officer in charge, abuses the Tardigrade in order to rescue a mining colony from destruction. A dilithium mining colony, by the way, that is necessary if the Federation is going to win the war. A colony where 210 people had already been slaughtered by the Klingons.
No, they are not thinking, “ok lets hurt this animal.” It is the idea that they don’t care one way or the other. There are no thoughts about the feelings of this creature. There are no discussions about how the machine may hurt the animal, or whether the animal is being misused. The animal is there to enable the Discovery to jump through space to save humans. Human life is paramount. Humans, in this century, as humans have done in past centuries, do what they need to do in order to survive.
But Michael sees it, and that is how the episode ends, with her apologizing to the creature.
Trek became a cult mythology because humans have always strived to be better than we actually are. Trek was supposed to show what we are capable of becoming. But what Trekkies seem to forget is that according to lore a universe where humanity follows the path of the Buddha or Mother Teresa, instead of a Wall Street Robber Baron, is something that didn’t happen right away. Humans remained human for a very long time after the creation of the Federation. No one snapped their fingers and suddenly we were all haloed angels seeking righteousness and brotherhood.
Oh sure that is a fine and noble goal. We seek it today in our world. Of course, since we are human we do fall short. Yet, what makes us unique in the animal kingdom is that we keep trying to be better than we were the day before. This is what gives Discovery it’s charm, that even though people are fallible they strive to live above their baser instincts, well some do at least. But above all, what makes Discovery so watchable is that at it’s core, it is simply about what it means to be human.
Now on another note: I do find it unfortunate that the only way to watch Star Trek Discovery is on the streaming service. It’s not like you aren’t inundated with commercials either. In fact, if you don’t want to see the ads the service actually costs more than $5 each month. Yes this is crass commercialism. CBS is trying to suck in every penny it can from the franchise.
Whether it would make money simply being in the normal lineup is not really in question. We all know it would. This new charge is the result of some executive somewhere making a financial decision that Trekkies would pay money to watch Trek no matter what. And yes they were right. Of course we do. But on the other hand, it’s not that families haven’t sat down and decided whether it is worth that extra money. We have. We decided to do without something else. Not everyone in today’s economy has that extra few dollars to spend every month on the superfluous either.
In short, charging extra to watch Star Trek Discovery is mean, wrong headed, taking complete advantage of fans, and simply gross.