Star Trek Discovery – Now with Sweet Gay Kisses, Full Frontal Nudity and Klingon Prison Rape

Yes, this is the obligatory rambling post about episode 9 of Star Trek Discovery a.k.a. the mid-season finale, though it’s more like the two thirds of a season finale. For those following along at home, previous posts in my mostly angry dissection of Star Trek Discovery and the many ways it doesn’t work may be found here.

As for this episode, the headline sums it up really. One thing I really enjoyed seeing and two things I didn’t particularly want to see, particularly not in Star Trek. Oh yes, and there was a plot, too, and it wasn’t even half bad. Nor was it obviously cribbed from older Star Trek episodes. Indeed, I noticed two weeks ago that the show seems to be improving and this episode certainly continues that trend after a dip with the last episode.

Warning: Spoilers beneath the cut! Plus, trigger warning for rape and sexual assault further down.

This episode starts where the previous one left off. The Discovery is in orbit around the peaceful world of Pahvo whose harmony-loving inhabitants, the glowy blue things that caused Saru to act up last week, have tricked the Discovery and instead of reconfiguring their crystal transmitter to see through the Klingon cloaking devices have called the Klingons to Pahvo to broker peace and promote harmony between Klingons and the Federation. Now this ploy might have worked for the Organians in the original series episode “Errand of Mercy”, but it certainly doesn’t work in this new grimdark era of Trek. And so the latest Klingon head honcho and his monstrous sacrophagus ship are barrelling down on the peaceful Pahvans. Coincidentally, this is the last we ever hear of the peaceful Pahvans before they fall into the plot hole and are never mentioned again, something which happens with alarming regularity to secondary characters in Star Trek Discovery. Looks like they Pahvans were just a glowy blue MacGuffin to force a confrontation between the Discovery and the Klingons.

Saru wants the Discovery to stay behind and defend Pahvo – well, it is his favourite planet in the whole universe and preferred retirement home. Lorca actually agrees with Saru (about defending Pahvo, not about the retirement home), but unfortunately the Federation has other ideas. Since the Discovery is the only Starfleet vessel with a magic mushroom drive and matching navigator, it is considered too valuable to risk and is therefore recalled to the nearest starbase. However, Lorca actually acts like a Starfleet captain for once (and indeed I did not hope Harry Mudd would come back and shoot him some more except briefly at the very end of this episode) and creatively interprets the orders he got and has the Discovery return to the starbase at the slower warp speed rather than via the nigh instantaneous magic mushroom drive, so the Discovery can quickly return to Pahvo and engage the Klingons, if necessary. And in order to cover his arse in front of his superiors, Lorca also orders a full medical examination of Stamets, citing side effects of the magic mushroom drive as a reason.

Now this is a problem for Stamets who actually is experiencing side effects from interacting with the magic mushroom drive so often and hasn’t told anybody, not even his husband/partner, the cute doctor, whose name is Hugh Culber, by the way. Of course, the medical examination of Stamets does turn up problems and Tilly blurting out something about side effects doesn’t help either, especially since Culber already noticed personality changes and odd behaviour in Stamets himself. So Culber realises that his partner (I’m sticking with partner for now, since we don’t know if they’re married or not) has been keeping the truth from him, even if it was for a very good reason, namely to protect his partner’s career and to keep the Discovery‘s magic mushroom drive operational. Culber is not happy about this, which leads to tensions between him and Stamets.

Meanwhile, Lorca, Saru, Michael and Ash have come up with a plan to both destroy the Klingon ship of the dead and give Starfleet a chance to counter the Klingon cloaking device. This plan involves beaming two people aboard the ship of the dead, while it is decloaking (because that worked so well the last time they tried this) to place sensors aboard, while the Discovery will jump 133 times around the Klingon ship to confuse them and to gather data about the cloaking system, so they can develop an algorithm to beat it. Then, once sufficient data has been gathered, the Discovery will beam the away team back on board and open fire on the Klingon vessel. Why 133 jumps in particular? No one seems to know. And indeed, the plan doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, if you think about it, though I fully went along with it while watching the episode. Worse, the sensors the Discovery‘s away team is supposed to plant aboard the Klingon vessel are pretty big, equipped with flashing lights and the Starfleet logo and emit audio signals, too. Watching this bit, I couldn’t help but think of the corridor of death with the moving obstacles in Galaxy Quest and Sigourney Weaver’s frustated “Why is this even here?”

But the plan has flaws other than the ridiculously big and flashing sensors. For starters, they just figured out that using the magic mushroom drive has damaged Stamets’ brain and now the plan requires him to do it 133 times more. Never mind that the tardigrade went catatonic after much fewer jumps, so who knows what 133 jumps will do to Stamets’ brain? Lorca doesn’t seem to be overly bothered by the possibility of permanently brain-damaging his navigator, but Dr. Culber obviously is and doesn’t want Stamets to use the drive ever again. But the final decision is up to Stamets, so Lorca gives him a pep talk. He tells him he knows that Stamets has always been an explorer at heart who wants to go where no one has gone before (yes, he uses that exact quote), that’s why Stamets joined Starfleet in the first place rather than stay in a lab somewhere on Earth. And they only have to win this pesky little war with the Klingons, then the Discovery can go back to discovering and exploring. It’s exactly the sort of speech you’d expect a Star Trek captain to give, except that Lorca the Tribble abuser is not a Star Trek captain in the sense we understand it and has never shown any interest in exploring at all. So he’s clearly manipulating Stamets by telling him what he wants to hear. It works, too, for Stamets agrees to do the jumps. Just before strapping himself into the drive, he also kisses Dr. Culber and tells him he loves him in what has to be one of the sweetest scenes in Star Trek history. Honestly, just looking at that kiss (in an animated GIF on an endless loop) made me melt into a gooey puddle on the floor, because it was just so sweet.

It was, coincidentally, also a history making first male-male kiss in all of Star Trek. Which is sad in a way, because Germany’s first same sex TV kiss – in the soap Lindenstraße of all things, i.e. not exactly a bastion of progressiveness – aired in 1990, i.e. 27 years before Star Trek could bring itself to show two men kissing each other. Rewatching the Lindenstraße kiss right now, it is actually better than I remembered, for I recall giggling at the kiss (hey, I was seventeen at the time) and also that it was neither sexy nor romantic, if only because no one liked Robrt Engel, the guy Carsten Flöter was kissing, cause he was kind of a jerk, so no one really wanted to see them kiss. That Star Trek Discovery kiss, however, was a wonderfully romantic moment that just happened to involve two guys, on par with that Jack/Ianto kiss in season 1 of Torchwood, another show which started off with so much potential and then squandered it. So in short, I really loved that kiss and I love the Stamets/Cluber pairing, which is a pleasant surprise, because I spent the first couple of episodes of Star Trek Discovery disliking Stamets a whole lot. So yes, that bit was well done. Also kudos to Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz for a lovely performance and for making us care about these characters.

The crewmembers selected to beam aboard the Klingon ship and place the sensors are… two redshirts we’ve never seen before and will never see again – No, just kidding. For this is one example where Star Trek Discovery decides to emulate the rest of the franchise and sends two of the main characters on this crucial mission. Ash and Michael are the unlucky ones chosen, because Michael is the only person aboard the Discovery who has been onboard the Klingon ship of the dead before, while Ash is the head of security and has been onboard a Klingon ship before, albeit a different one. Superficially, this makes sense. However, if you remember what happened the last time Michael and Ash were on board a Klingon vessel, sending them back seems like a spectacularly bad idea.

Though at first, things go well enough. Michael and Ash beam aboard and start placing the sensors. And as if the big, flashing and totally not inconspicuous sensors weren’t enough, Michael and Ash also have to wear a glowing disc on their chest, which apparently allows for beaming them out on very short notice. But then Michael and Ash pick up a human life signature and things start to go wrong.

Following the signature leads them to the room where the current Klingon head honcho has dumped all the dead Klingons who opposed him. The body of Admiral Cornwell, who was captured a few episodes ago and seemingly killed last week, was also thrown into that room. However, Admiral Cornwell isn’t dead, after all, just injured in a twist I’m sure no one saw coming. She’s also not alone in the Klingon morgue – well, alone with umpteen dead Klingons, that is. L’Rell, the female Klingons who double-crosses everybody, has been thrown into the room along with Admiral Cornwell. And like the Admiral, L’Rell isn’t dead either.

When Michael and Ash burst into the room to rescue the Admiral, Ash takes one look at L’Rell and experiences a series of PTSD flashbacks of the six months he spent as a Klingon prisoner of war. The flashbacks are so intense that they leave Ash nigh catatonic and unable to carry out the mission. Michael stuns L’Rell, but is forced to leave Ash behind with Admiral Cornwell and complete the mission herself. She promises to come back for them, because this time “everybody comes home”.

One of the reasons behind the fan theory that Ash is a Klingon spy/a surgically altered Klingon is that Ash always seemed to have escaped six months of imprisonment and torture at the hand of the Klingons a little too unscathed. He seemed to have suffered no ill effects at all and was pretty much ready for duty within a few weeks, if not days after his rescue. What is more, in spite of his experiences, Ash seemed to be the most likeable and well adjusted crewmember aboard the Discovery. He even started up a romance with Michael Burnham – and yes, it’s pretty obvious that Ash was the initiator here, because while Michael is clearly attracted to him, she doesn’t know what to do about it due to her Vulcan upbringing.

In this episode, however, it all comes crashing down when we realise that Ash did not magically survive six months of imprisonment and torture at the hand of Klingons without any ill effects whatsoever, but that he was just really good at hiding them and probably in denial as well. But once Ash comes face to face with his torturer and rapist L’Rell, his PTSD comes back with a vengeance. And unlike previous examples of characters with PTSD in Star Trek Discovery (Michael, Lorca, even Saru to a certain degree), we get to see Ash’s flashback in a montage of disturbing images (some screencaps here). Some people seem to believe that those flashback images confirm that Ash is the surgically altered Klingon Voq, but then surgery instruments do make great torture instruments. And if Voq was surgically altered, wouldn’t the Klingons at least have anaesthesia, even if medical science is not a huge priority for them? After all, humans have had general anaesthesia since the early 19th century. Not to mention that Voq apparently appears in the flashbacks (at least as far as I could tell, cause the new Klingons all look alike to me), which suggests he was present at Ash’s torture.

And then there is the most disturbing part of Ash’s flashback, the brief scene of him having sex with L’Rell or rather L’Rell having sex with Ash. Now we already knew that Ash survived his imprisonment partly because he had sex with L’Rell, since Ash told Lorca as much, when they were imprisoned together. But seeing it on screen, no matter how briefly, is something else altogether. Coincidentally, this brief clip also marks the first time bare female breasts have been seen in any Star Trek show. However, those breasts belong to a Klingon woman and probably the Klingon woman we least want to see naked (no offence to actress Mary Chieffo whom I’m sure looks lovely without all that make-up) and they are shown in the context of a rape scene.

And yes, that’s what it is. Rape. You need only take one look at Ash’s shell-shocked expression during the flashback to see that there is no way the sex with L’Rell was consensual, even if we don’t see Ash actively resisting. Not to mention that Ash later says as much to Michael, that he had to make a choice between letting L’Rell sexually and physically abuse him and dying and that he chose to live.

Now Star Trek has tackled both torture and rape before, all the way back to the original series in fact. The record on torture is generally pretty good. I may not like “Chain of Command”, but it certainly does its subject justice. Rape is handled less well and is usually depicted in the original series as a male crewmember attempting to rip the miniskirt off a female crewmember, because they are suffering from alien possession/have been split into a good and evil half by a transporter malfunction/are from the mirror universe. The targets of these attempts are all women – male rape is not even addressed until the Next Generation episode “First Contact”. Now “First Contact” is generally a very good episode, but when Riker finds himself in a very similar situation to Ash Tyler – trapped in a hostile environment, wounded and facing death, and the only avenue of escape involves coerced sex – the situation is used as comic relief rather than played seriously. And in the Next Generation episode “The Child”, a glowing ball of cosmic energy impregnates Deanna Troi in one of those horrible supernatural miracle pregnancies that sometimes crop up in SFF shows and absolutely no one even considers what happened to Deanna rape. But then our understanding of rape and of PTSD, which doesn’t feature in any Star Trek series prior to Discovery at all, has evolved a lot in the 26 or respectively 29 years since “First Contact” or “The Child” (and “The Child” was a leftover script from a failed Star Trek reboot in the 1970s) were first broadcast, let alone in the 51 years since the debut of the original series. And let’s not forget that the other Star Trek show currently airing on American TV, The Orville, apparently had an ill-conceived coerced sex via magical pheromones storyline only a few episodes ago.

In fact, magical pheromones are an interesting case study in how our understanding of consent has evolved in the past few decades. The song “Love Potion No. 9”, written in 1959, treats the subject as strictly humorous, though even back then the man using the love potion winds up kissing a person of the wrong gender, a twist which persists in magical pheromone stories through the decades. The Axe/Lynx ads of the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s also used the magical pheromone trope to humorous effect and were considered well made and entirely uncontroversial at the time. Coincidentally, one of the most memorable Axe ads features the typical Axe ad protagonist attracting not only the attention of a hot young woman in the elevator, but also of an elderly lady, a stereotypical butch gay man and a French poodle (couldn’t find it online, but it existed). Back in 1997, this was hilarious. Around the same time, Buffy had a love potion storyline involving Xander, which was once again played for comical effect and considered uncontroversial. But nine years later, when Torchwood had a throwaway scene similar to the Axe/Lynx ads and the song “Love Potion No. 9”, clearly played for laughs and even with the same punchline (not overly attractive guy tries to attract women and gets more than a bargained for), the Internet cried rape and bloody murder to the point that the character involved was written out of the show. I have to admit that I viewed the magical pheromone scene in Torchwood very much as “What if the Axe Effect were real?” and didn’t quite understand the intense reactions to it, but the conversation around issues of consent, not to mention concern about date rape drugs, had evolved between 1997 and 2006 that what would have been uncontroversial only a few years before was suddenly highly controversial. And by now I think that the sex spray scene should have been cut, if only because then we might have gotten the show that the first season of Torchwood promised rather than the neutered version we got. And the writers of The Orville, which apparently is otherwise doing a very good job of being more Star Trek like than Discovery, still thought it was a good idea to have a magical pheromone storyline eleven years after Torchwood‘s disastrous attempt.

Now I have been pretty harsh about Star Trek Discovery in general, but I have to admit that they handled the torture and rape Ash endured and his reaction to it well. For starters, I’m happy that the rape survivor aboard the Discovery is not Michael or Tilly or the Admiral or any of the other female characters, but a male crewmember. What is more, they did not go the route of making Stamets or Culber a rape survivor (which would not only have sent the totally wrong message, but would have been pretty damn offensive, in fact), but instead chose a heterosexual man. And not any heterosexual man aboard either, but Ash Tyler, highly trained fighter, ace pilot, experienced Starfleet officer and the closest thing Discovery has to a traditional masculine hero. On the surface, Ash appears as one of the least likely people aboard the Discovery to be raped. And yet for all his skills and experience, he still wound up in a situation where he was powerless and subjected to repeated rape and torture for more than two hundred days.

At The Verge, Laura Hudson also praises the way Star Trek Discovery handled the rape and abuse of Ash Tyler. She writes:

It’s a pointed rejoinder to the all the Monday morning rape quarterbacks who ask survivors why they didn’t fight back against their attackers, or didn’t fight harder, even when faced with terrible repercussions. Some people clearly find comfort in picking apart rape survivors’ stories, trying to find the “mistake.” Rape is less frightening to some people if they can convince themselves that it only happens when people make bad decisions, or “deserve” it in some way. Tyler’s story was designed around a more revealing, frightening truth: the only thing keeping any of us safe from harassment and abuse is our relative power in a situation. And that can be stripped away from any of us, regardless of gender, by a predator with the inclination and opportunity.

This is a message that many people, both men and women, need to hear. Just as way too many people still have to be reminded that yes, men can be raped, too. Because the subject of male rape is still rarely addressed in realistic fiction and drama at all and usually handled badly, when it is (I’d be thrilled, if I never have to hear another prison rape joke in a crime drama again). However, as Emily Asher-Perrin points out at Tor.com, science fiction and fantasy tackles the issue of male rape and sexual assault far more often that more realistic works, probably because the estrangement effect makes it easier to address the subject. Though she forgot Outlander with its infamous male rape, also in a prison situation with huge power differentials, at the end of the first season or respectively the first novel. The Outlander TV show also handled what could have been a really badly done scene surprisingly well and without being gratuitious about it. Indeed, there are some parallels between Jamie finally telling Claire what Randall did to him and Ash telling Michael what L’Rell did to him.

As for whether it’s realistic that Ash would enter into a romantic relationship so soon after the horrific rape and abuse he endured, people react to trauma in different ways and as we have seen, Ash’s way seems to be to move on with his life and pretend the trauma never happened. Perhaps Ash even deliberately sought out a romantic relationship, if only to prove to himself that he can still have consensual relationships, that the six months of rape he endured do not define him. Because based on everything we’ve seen of him, Ash is very careful to build up a facade that he’s all right, that there are no lasting effects of the six months he spent in Klingon captivity. This episode, however, shows how brittle that facade truly is and that Ash is very much not all right. And when he goes to see L’Rell in her cell aboard the Discovery at the end of the episode, Ash promptly breaks down again, which shows us that he still needs a lot of time to heal.

Coincidentally, I will be very pissed if the whole Ash is a surgically altered Klingon theory turns out to be true, because it would betray not just the character, but would also undermine everything they did in this episode. Sure, L’Rell does tell Ash that she’d never hurt him at the end of the episode, but then if there’s one thing we know about L’Rell it’s that she’s a) a liar and b) kind of obsessed with Ash. And yes, maybe the same actor did play Ash and the Klingon Voq. So what? In the original series, Mark Lenard played Sarek, the Romulan commander from “Balance of Terror” and a Klingon and these characters are not all the same person either.

Due to her Vulcan upbringing, Michael isn’t the most emotionally supportive person aboard the Discovery – indeed, she has problems getting a handle on her own emotions. However, when Ash opens up to her about the torture and sexual abuse he experienced at the hands of L’Rell (and isn’t it great that Star Trek Discovery allows its male characters to be vulnerable, not just Ash but also Stamets, Culber and even Saru), she takes him in her arms and tells him that he only did what he had to in order to survive and that she understands. And going by the expression on her face in that moment, she really does understand what Ash is going through. For starters, because Michael is no stranger to trauma herself. After all, she is still dealing with the unresolved trauma of losing her biological parents and growing up with an emotionally distant foster father.

And let’s not forget that Ash is not the only one aboard the Discovery who has spent the past couple of months in prison. Michael has spent several months in prison, too, before Lorca “rescued”/concripted her. And as we learned last episode, she still hasn’t been pardoned and fully expects that she will have to go back to prison for the rest of her life (and indeed it’s telling that the only person who’s willing to help her, so she won’t have to go back to prison, is Ash). Now a Federation slave labour camp is still several steps above a Klingon rape and torture prison. However, we know that this incarnation of the Federation (and maybe all of them) is a dystopia which hands out ridiculously high sentences for fairly small crimes and that it uses prisoners as slave labour. We have personally seen Michael assaulted by fellow prisoners, because she supposedly started the war, and verbally abused by Ash’s predecessor as the Discovery‘s security chief, that horrible woman who got killed by the tardigrade. So we have no way of knowing what Michael endured while in prison. She was clearly not tortured like Ash, but based on what we’ve seen it’s very likely that she was assaulted and verbally as well as physically abused by fellow prisoners and guards. Has she been raped, while in prison, or did she have to trade sex for safety? We don’t know, but it’s not unlikely.

Indeed, immediately after the premiere, when we already knew that Michael was a prisoner with a life sentence, but had only seen a few clips and images of the following episodes, images which included Michael in her prison overall, Michael being assaulted and Lorca giving her what appeared to be a lecherous look, I pretty much assumed that the rest of the season would consist of Michael getting humiliated, beaten, abused and maybe even coerced into sex. Hell, I halfway expected Lorca to rape her and am indeed very relieved that so far, Lorca hasn’t done anything of that sort. And how sad is it that the best thing I can say about the captain in a Star Trek series is, “At least, he didn’t rape anybody” or indeed that I even expected that he would*? Much as I disliked Benjamin Sisko, I never in a million years would have expected him to rape anybody. However, I did expect it of Lorca.

When Discovery started, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see Michael in a romantic relationship at all, because pushing female characters into romantic relationships is such a cliché. But even though her relationship with Ash seems somewhat rushed, since they have only known each other for four episodes, I still have to say that I am enjoying the romance between these two a whole lot. Because in many ways, Michael and Ash are similar, two wounded souls who may well find healing in each other.

Now ongoing romantic relationships have never been Star Trek‘s forte. There have been a handful that worked (Worf and Deanna Troi, Tom Paris and Belanna Torres, O’Brien and Keiko, Sisko and Kassidy Yates), some that never went anywhere (Picard and Beverly Crusher most notably, but also Worf and Troi) and a whole lot that didn’t work and just came out of nowhere (Chakotay and Seven of Nine, Tripp and T’Pol). And even with the relationships that worked, the scriptwriters seemed to forget that these people cared about each other for long stretches of episodes. So I’m pleasantly surprised that what is my least favourite Star Trek series has also given us two of my favourite Star Trek couples to date, Stamets and Culber as well as Ash and Michael. I don’t even mind Lorca and Admiral Cornwell, as long as they both act like normal Starfleet officers as they did in this episode and not like the unpleasant people they were only a handful of episodes ago. Never mind that it’s always good to see an age-appropriate couple rather than middle-aged men paired with much younger women. So please, Star Trek Discovery writers, don’t destroy or ruin the one thing that’s good about your show, namely the romantic relationships.

While Ash is having his PTSD induced breakdown and Admiral Cornwell does something useful for the first time since she was introduced and tries to talk Ash through his flashbacks (apparently, she’s a psychologist by training), Michael still has to complete the mission on her own. She places the sensors and for some reason sneaks onto the bridge, where she overhears the current Klingon head honcho (I think he’s called Kol) ordering his bridge crew to jump away from Pahvo. However, the Discovery has not yet finished gathering the data it needs, so Michael steps out of hiding and reveals herself. She tries to communicate with the Klingon head honcho via the universal translator, which the Klingon head honcho views as an insult and yet another attempt of the Federation to assimilate Klingon culture (and of course, these ultra-xenophobic Klingons are also language purists). But then, Michael doesn’t really want to talk to the Klingons anyway and so she challenges the Klingon head honcho to a duel. Of course, challenging Klingons to duels is not exactly a brilliant idea. Klingons are stronger than humans and Michael personally saw what happened when the Klingon head honcho before the previous one dueled with Captain Georgiou. And Michael is not the fighter Philippa Georgiou was, considering the latter was played by Michelle Yeoh, one of the few humans I would trust to take out a Klingon. So if Michelle Yeoh couldn’t prevail against a Klingon, then what chance does Michael have?

In fact, I’m wondering by this point whether Michael isn’t suicidal, considering how many risks she’s been taking. In the third episode, she puts herself at risk and deliberately lures the tardigrade away from the Discovery team, even though those people treated her like shit at the time and she owes them nothing (Stamets later came around, while the redshirt and the first security chief get eaten). In the time loop episode, Michael actually does kill herself to force Harry Mudd to rewind time once more and now she challenges a Klingon to a duel. Michael really seems to have a death wish. And come to think of it, this does make sense for her character. For starters, Michael suffers from a massive case of survivor’s guilt, because she survived, while Captain Georgiou and 8000 Starfleet crewmembers, some of whom Michael probably knew pesonally, died. What is more, as seen last week, Michael literally does not have a future, since she still hasn’t been pardoned and will be sent back to prison to do slave labour for the Federation for the rest of her life. So it’s really no surprise that she would be suicidal and indeed I wonder whether she doesn’t keep the dark matter pill or whatever it was that she used to force Mudd to reset time on hand just so she won’t have to go back to prison. However, she doesn’t get her wish this time around, because the Discovery finishes gathering its data just in time and beams Michael, Ash, the Admiral and L’Rell, who hitches a ride with Ash, back on board.

Coincidentally, Sonequa Martin-Green who plays Michael has said in a recent interview that she believes that Michael will become captain one day. Of course, various cast- and crewmembers of Star Trek Discovery have made all sorts of public statements about the show, which bear no resemblance to what’s actually on screen, so I would take this statement with a big grain of salt. And indeed, at io9 Beth Elderkin and Katharine Trendacosta wonder how Michael can ever be captain, if she’s a mutineer convicted to a life sentence. And once again, the Michael haters are out in force in the comments, including at least one who believes that a life sentence actually is too lenient and that Michael should have been executed instead. Honestly, folks, even if the Federation is a dystopia now, this is still Star Trek and not Roses for the Prosecutor, where people are sentenced to death for stealing a tin of chocolate.

In fact, the way Michael Burnham is treated compared to everybody else is still what I hate most about Star Trek Discovery. Michael did not start the war with the Klingons, she is not responsible for Captain Georgiou’s death, since Georgiou made her own decisions, nor for the deaths of the 8000 Starfleet crewmembers who died due to the Federation’s complete and utter incompetence. Starfleet are using Michael as a convenient scapegoat for their own failures and their own incompetence and are blaming her for things she had nothing to do with. What is more, Michael’s attempt at mutiny didn’t even succeed, because Captain Georgiou recovered before the Shenzhou could fire on the Klingon ship. All Michael did was nerve-pinch Captain Georgiou, something that her foster brother Spock did to Kirk at least twice during the original series, in “The Enterprise Incident” and “The Enemy Within”, with zero repercussions. Not to mention that Saru attacked Michael a lot more violently than anything Michael ever did to Captain Georgiou, Lorca blew up his ship and murdered his entire crew and was given another, Picard killed hell knows how many Starfleet crewmembers as Locutus and Sisko killed a whole bunch of people without even the excuse of having been assimiliated by the Borg. And coincidentally, I never hear anybody complaining about what Spock, Picard and Sisko did (and only fairly little grumbling about Lorca and Saru) and I certainly don’t hear anybody calling for their imprisonment and execution. So yes, there is a double standard here and Michael is judged much more harshly than male characters who did things that were much worse. Coincidentally, Captain Janeway is also usually judged very harshly by Star Trek fans, while plenty of people love Deep Space Nine and Sisko these days. So with many Star Trek fans, sexism still trumps racism, even though they will of course emphatically deny it.

Once everybody is back on board, Lorca orders his bridge crew to fire on the Klingon ship which goes down in a fiery explosion. And in spite of his damaged eyes, Lorca even watches the explosion, though he makes sure to take his eye drops first. And so the Klingons have lost the third head honcho in nine episodes, which is quite remarkable, considering Gowron lasted for years and indeed across several Star Trek series. Coincidentally, this also means that all Klingon main characters are gone now with the exception of L’Rell who is locked up in the Discovery‘s brig for now and Voq who is still missing in action (and hopefully won’t be revealed to be Ash). Good riddance, too, since I honestly don’t care if I ever see any of the Discovery Klingons again. Wake me up when the real Klingons finally show up.

With the Klingon ship of the dead destroyed and the threat neutralised for now, the Discovery is ordered to return to a starbase, while the wounded Admiral is flown for treatment to a different starbase. But before the Admiral is flown out, she tells Lorca that he will be given a medal for his heroic actions in defeating the Klingons. For once in his life, Lorca does the decent thing and tells her to give the medal to Stamets instead, because he bore the brunt of the effort to defeat the Klingons. He also orders the Discovery to return to the starbase at warp speed to spare Stamets from having to do any more jumps, which could kill him. Stamets, however, insists that he will do just one more jump to the starbase. For though the Klingon flagship has been destroyed, there are still Klingons about hunting the Discovery and the magic mushroom drive will get them to safety quicker. What is more, Stamets also promises Culber that he will go and see La Bohème with him, once they get back to the starbase, to make up for not telling him the truth about his condition. The La Bohème mention is a nice nod towards Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz who play Stamets and Culber respectively and also were both in the Broadway musical Rent, which is a version of La Bohème updated for the AIDS crisis.

We’ve all been watching TV and movies for a very long time now, so we all know that whenever someone says that they’ll do “just one last job” before retiring forever and makes a promise to their significant other, this is a very bad omen. And indeed, the last jump goes disastrously wrong. Lorca presses an override button on his console, Stamets collapses and the Discovery suddenly reemerges somewhere in unknown space. Lorca does a pretty good job of looking surprised at this turn of events, even though it appears as if he deliberately sabotaged the final jump in order to avoid being relieved of his command, as Admiral Cornwell had threatened before she was captured. To be fair, it’s also possible that Lorca only pressed the override button, because he noticed that Stamets was in distress and wanted to help him. Of course, Lorca has been portrayed as a ruthless and manipulative monster so far and the theory that he deliberately sabotaged the jump would fit right in with that. However, in this episode Lorca actually behaved like a Starfleet captain ought to, so maybe he really was trying to help Stamets. But whatever the reason, one thing is certain: The Discovery isn’t in Kansas anymore.

But where is it? The most popular theory currently seems to be that they are in the mirror universe, but it could also be any other parallel universe. After all, the Next Generation episode “Parallels”, a personal favourite of mine, hinted that there is an infinite number of parallel universes, of which the so-called mirror universe is but one. A variation of the theory is that the Discovery originates either in the mirror universe or another more dystopian universe and has now landed in the proper Star Trek universe. This theory certainly has merit, if only because it would explain the many inconsistencies between Discovery and previous Star Trek shows. However, it’s also possible that the Discovery has ended up in the future, the past, the gamma or delta quadrant or any other unknown region of space. I honestly don’t care where they are or if they ever get back as long as their sudden appearance elsewhere means that all the frustrating aspects of Star Trek Discovery are gone, never to return.

Because the main problem with Star Trek Discovery so far is that it’s incredibly inconsistent, not just with previous versions of Star Trek but also within itself. I’m not the only one who feels this way. Camestros Felapton, who has been overall more positive than I about the show, makes a very similar point here. Meanwhile, Katharine Trendacosta at io9 and Bridget McKinney at SF Bluestocking both note that the winter finale of Star Trek Discovery seems to belong to a completely different show than the one we’ve been watching. At The Daily Dot, finally, Gavia Baker-Whitelaw points out that the first nine episodes of Star Trek Discovery seem to belong to not one but three completely different shows.

Gavia Baker-Whitelaw has a point, because the show known as Star Trek Discovery seems to be stitched together from several different shows, which explains the jarring changes in tone. The first one and a half episodes belong to a show I’ll call Star Trek Shenzhou. Star Trek Shenzhou would probably have been worthhile watching, if it had been like those first few minutes of episode 1 with Michael and Philippa Georgiou on the dessert planet. However, we got to see very little of Star Trek Shenzhou, before it was replaced with Star Trek – Into Grimdarkness. Star Trek – Into Grimdarkness, on the other hand, is a dreadful show along the lines of the equally awful new Battlestar Galactica that has turned the Federation into a horrible dystopia full of war, prisoner abuse, cannibalistic Klingons and murderous captains. It’s a show that proudly wears its awfulness on its sleeve, because this is the “Golden Age of Television” where morality ranges from dark grey to pitch black and the vision of Gene Rodenberry for a better future seems hopelessly naive.

And while talking about the so-called “Golden Age of Television”, I have to share this Tweet with you, which is probably the best summary of this so-called “Golden Age of Television” and why I want nothing to do with it that I’ve ever seen:

Star Trek – Into Grimdarkness starts towards the end of the second episode and lasts approximately until the fifth episode, before it is replaced with yet a third version of Star Trek Discovery that looks and feels a lot more like Star Trek, only with more focus on relationships than there used to be. This third version of Star Trek Discovery takes us right up to the winter finale cliffhanger. Part of the very jarring shifts between these three very different shows that Star Trek Discovery has been is probably due to the fact that the first showrunner Bryan Fuller left and was replaced with Alex Kurtzman. Now I blame Bryan Fuller for Star Trek – Into Grimdarkness – after all, this is the guy who thought it was a good idea to make a TV show about the younger years of Hannibal Lecter. As for Alex Kurtzman, I don’t trust him, since I have noticed many of the issues with Star Trek Discovery in his other programs. But his track record is still better than Fuller’s, because Hawaii Five-O and Scorpion are at least watchable and enjoyable most of the time.

Of the three very different shows that Star Trek Discovery has been, I wouldn’t have minded watching more of Star Trek Shenzhou and Star Trek Discovery – Now More Trek-like, but flat out hated Star Trek – Into Grimdarkness. Now it’s a well known fact that all Star Trek shows had very inconsistent first seasons and needed a while to find their feet. And normally, we forgive them and just skip over the really bad early episodes upon rewatch. However, due to the serialized nature of Star Trek Discovery, another infuriating legacy of the “Golden Age of Television”, it’s very difficult for someone who only wants to watch Star Trek Discovery – Now More Trek-like to skip over Star Trek – Into Grimdarkness without getting hopelessly lost.

So now the Discovery has jumped into the unknown, quite literally, what will the show be? Will it be Star Trek – Into Grimdarkness, Star Trek Discovery – Now More Trek-like or something else altogether such as Star Trek Mirror or Star Trek Voyager 2.0? I don’t know. However, here is what I liked and did not like about this first nine episodes of Star Trek Discovery:

Liked:

  • Michael, Ash, Stamets, Culber and Tilly and their interactions. Let’s see more of them, please. I don’t even mind Lorca and the Admiral, if they continue to act like they did in this epiode rather than the horrible people they were only a few weeks ago. I still don’t like Saru, but his character is redeemable, if they turn his resentment of Michael way down.
  • The romantic relationships between Stamets and Culber and Michael and Ash. More of these couples, please. Again, I wouldn’t mind seeing more of the relationship between Lorca and the Admiral either, provided they remain the better people they were this episode.
  • The sensitive handling of PTSD, trauma, torture and rape. I wouldn’t say I want to see more of these things, but these are tough topics and Discovery handled them well.
  • Harry Mudd, because he was the best villain in Star Trek Discovery, much more interesting and memorable than the interchangeable Klingons
  • More parties, more dancing, more flirting, more moments of the crew interacting and just having fun.
  • More actual exploring and discovering rather than just fighting.
  • More planets, because so far Star Trek Discovery has been way too claustrophobic.
  • Give the bridge crew actual lines and personalities.

Disliked:

  • The Federation as a dystopia: This is just a failure of imagination and fits neither Star Trek nor the timeline.
  • Starfleet at war: We have seen plenty of Starfleet at war in Deep Space Nine and seasons 3 and 4 of Enterprise as well as occasional episodes of the other series. Enough to know what Starfleet at war looks like and that Starfleet works much better when they are exploring and dealing with ethical dilemmas rather than fighting wars.
  • The Klingons. Now I really used to like the Klingons in Next Generation and beyond, but these Klingons are just awful and don’t behave like Klingons either. I honestly don’t care if I ever seen any of these Klingons again. Just forget they ever existed or have proper Klingons show up to declare that T’Kuvma, Voq, L’Rell, Kol and the rest of the gang are deviants who are considered incredibly embarrassing by the Klingon mainstream.
  • Lorca, the murderous psychopath and Saru, the mediocre whiner. Now both characters have potential, but the way they’ve been portrayed so far is horrible. Get rid of Saru’s jealousy of Michael and show him as a guy who’s going against his every biological instinct to become the best Starfleet officer he can be. As for Lorca, either decide whether you want him to be an outright villain or a fundamentally decent Starfleet captain with a few issues and stick to that version.
  • Blame Michael Burnham for everything: I’ve already explained above that Michael is not responsible for most of the things she’s blamed for and the things she is responsible for are nothing that plenty of other characters haven’t done in Star Trek before. So pardon her, give her her rank back and maybe promote her and never talk of any of this again.
  • The hints that Ash Tyler is a Klingon spy or even a surgically altered Klingon. It’s a dumb twist that won’t surprise anybody and will only undermine all the good things they have done with the character. Just let him be Ash Tyler of Earth.
  • The magic mushroom drive. It’s stupid and the silly magic science doesn’t fit into the Star Trek universe. Stamets’ collapse is the perfect opportunity to retire it permanently.
  • The many plotholes and general inconsistency.
  • The many forced references to other Star Trek shows. If Discovery actually felt like Star Trek, it wouldn’t need so many Easter eggs to remind us that it is Star Trek.
  •  The dim lighting: Just turn up the bloody lights and let Lorca wear shades.

So the verdict after nine episodes of Star Trek Discovery is: inconsistent as hell, but it does have its moments. Will the show get better from here on? The fact that the past couple of episodes were a steady improvement with only a single misstep in episode 8 does seem to be reason for optimism. However, I still don’t trust the production team behind Star Trek Discovery. So while I’m cautiously optimistic about the future of the show, I’m also worried that the improvement of the past few episodes was just a blip and that we’ll get yet more episodes of Star Trek – Into Grimdarkness.

*Yes, I know that “evil Kirk” tried to rape Janice Rand in “The Enemy Within”, but that was because he was plit in two due to a transporter malfunction and not his normal mode of behaviour. Coincidentally, in the same episode Spock does the same thing that earned his foster sister a life sentence, namely momentarily disabling his captain via a nerve-pinch.

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