On March 2, 2023, the official announcement was made: the upcoming season 5 of Star Trek Discovery will be its last.
…and the skies opened up, the clouds retreated over the horizon, the sun shone bright with an almost blinding luminosity, the birds chirped as if they’d never chirped before…
Is it too early to eulogize Discovery? Is it too early to consider the legacy of a show defined by vapid toxicity? Perhaps. But for those of us who have tried to pull back the curtain and expose the chaotic ignorance of it all and for those of us who have tried to voice the concerns of a passionate but sometimes-inarticulate and broken fanbase, today is a day of solemn reflection.
For better or for worse, this show — this steaming pile of muddled refuse and empty dreams — has dominated the Trekkie landscape since 2017. Less of a discovery than an obligation, it certainly has been a long road getting from there to here, as they say.
Star Trek Discovery was announced in the wake of the Axanar scandal, when — as part of their legal case against Alec Peters — CBS announced in court that they were in the process of developing a TOS prequel and therefore Axanar was directly violating their IP. They weren’t, it was a lie, but it worked on the judge and they won the Axanar case and the ensuing effect on fan films is well known. (For those just tuning in: I wrote an award-winning academic paper about this topic, partly excerpted here).
So you see, from the start, the project that would become Discovery was born of antagonism toward the fanbase.
As CBS scrambled to fulfill their legally binding promise of a TOS prequel show, there was a lot of optimism among fans. “Trek works best as a television show!” was the common refrain, itself a not-subtle indictment of the JJ-Verse, a trio of movies that simply didn’t understand what made Star Trek great. Although excellently cast and featuring spectacular visual effects, Star Trek 2009, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Star Trek Beyond all struggled with connecting to a 50-year-old fanbase. It was almost as if the person in charge knew nothing about the franchise.
For every step forward, there seemed to be two steps back. Bryan Fuller was named as the showrunner! But then he was fired unceremoniously… They named it Star Trek Discovery! Which has the acronym “STD”… There’s a new ship! But the original promotional shot was rendered by a toddler… There’s a black female lead actor! But she’s Spock’s sister… There’s a giant tardigrade! Which just so happens to be identical to a video game released years earlier… The first gay couple! But one of them literally gets fridged…
It just kept on going like this throughout production and season one, including the actual premiere of the show, which was split between network CBS and the practically unusable CBS All-Access streaming service, cutting the audience for the PREMIERE EPISODE from 9 million to — at most — 1 million. Generously, we can say the first season was nothing but 15 episodes of non-stop unforced errors.
The behind-the-scenes rumors were devastating. The more we learned, the more those of us who could read between the lines understood that this show was a disaster even before it started filming. The multiple changes in showrunners were simply the tip of the iceberg, and by the time Alex Kurtzman took direct control, it was a fait d’accompli — the show was effectively unsalvageable. The premise was bad, the scifi tech was bad, the characters were bad, the directing was bad, the marketing was bad, the writing was amateurish, and of course, the uniforms were bad. And let’s not even talk about the Kling-Orcs and the litany of idiotic decisions made there.
(I won’t spend time here rehashing and detailing all of the problems with the show itself. Please head to over to my medium page for a list of all the articles/reviews I wrote during S1 and S2, if you’re interested.)
Against all odds, there were sporadic bright spots: Doug Jones remains an amazing actor; Anthony Rapp had some stellar moments but was criminally underused; Emily Coutts did such a great job as a background character in season 1 her role was increased with each season; Rekha Sharma was perfect as Lorca’s enforcer; Shazad Latif was giving it his all to play a very bad role; Anson Mount was the first person on the show to act like he was on Star Trek; and of course, there’s the magical Tig Notaro. Jett Reno should get her own spin-off show, no questions asked. They even tried to do a hard reset by sending the show 900 years into the future! But instead of playing on the premise that a viking longboat just showed up to Pearl Harbor, they just did more boring STD-style stories. What a waste.
Sadly, the pros never even scratched the surface against the cons. The mycelial network, the spinning saucer, the Mirror Universe, the Klingons, the smiling Sarek, the Harry Mudd episodes, the Kelpian destroying all the dilithium in the galaxy with his mind because he had a temper-tantrum… I mean… c’mon.
But the real tragedy of Star Trek Discovery is not what happened on-screen. We can learn to forgive on-screen mistakes and blunders. Heck, it’s part of what makes being in a 50+ year old franchise fun!
No, the real tragedy of Star Trek Discovery is the intentional and deliberate militarization of what Star Trek means. To be clear, yes, I am referring to the ham-fisted militarism of the show which was and is directly at-odds with the Star Trek worldview, but more importantly, I am referring to the encouragement and incitement by the people in charge of the show to create an artificial schism between Trekkies.
Some viewers liked STD. Lots of viewers did not like STD and made very valid complaints about the show. The pencil-pushers picked sides. The fans of the show, mindlessly sucking up the grotesque visual stimulation, became pawns in a global public relations war. Anyone who disliked the show, no matter the reason, was branded a hater: a racist and a sexist, a conservative who never understood what IDIC meant in the first place. People who knew better played along and praised the show they would openly criticize years later, once the heat was off. Comments on videos were deleted, youtube channels were demonetized, twitter blocklists began making the rounds… All because of a not-good Star Trek show.
The manufactured animosity grew and became personal for many. Others simply bowed out, never to watch a nuTrek again, no matter how positive the reviews. We will see over time how much damage this show and its handlers have done to the fanbase. I want to be optimistic. But while those guilty of fomenting division for social media impressions remain in charge of the franchise, my optimism is… tempered.
For now, we can all acknowledge the end of Star Trek Discovery in the only manner fitting:
The people who loved Star Trek Discovery can cry tears of sadness.
The people who hated Star Trek Discovery can cry tears of joy.
And those in the middle can cry ambivalently, hoping to get retweeted.
Live long and prosper.