This week’s episode was just great. I’ve said elsewhere that they should just let Supervising Producer Alan McElroy write all the episodes, because you can tell he understands Star Trek. He makes the cool stuff awesome and makes the annoying stuff make sense, so you can be annoyed but at least you can see it’s in service of something besides endless crying.
For example, this week, after three years, the show finally addressed that the crew is kind of shell-shocked and psychically adrift and talks about it led by the newly-sentient LCARS. I mean, there’s not going to be any Kennedy-in-space vestiges of TOS by this time next year and I’m glad they’re finally leaning into it instead of fighting to be all things to all fans. It’s just not possible; but that’s why Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is coming. There’s always going to be an audience for a western in space (see below), and it’s time Secret Hideout just gave up trying to fit the sixguns into this holster because Disco just doesn’t have that in them. And that’s OK.
If there was one thing I could “fix” here it’s for all the folks over there to just let the work speak for itself. At every turn, the marketing hype and how-the-sausage-is-made nonsense the creatives say before episodes air is just industrial-strength detrimental to an audience’s enjoyment. I’ve laid out the litany of crimes against storytelling over the years so I’ll just point out the latest: all the hype about Adira and Gray joining the cast as Trek’s first non-binary and openly trans actors, the focus of what they brought to the show in the marketing wasn’t character but identity. And, frankly, I’m old enough to have separated art from artist long ago and the breathless pearl-clutching tone of look at the inclusivity boxes we’re checking off was just so off-putting and as anti-Star Trek as you can get as to make me almost give up on this show. Diversity is a thing in Star Trek like air is a thing on Earth. You can remark on it but you really don’t think about it until it starts to go bad. So the BTS guys are really pushing the wrong thing in their marketing because I watched this episode and I was thrilled.
The narrative focus was on characters in jeopardy and not a reverie on their personal identity… but rather a focus on what does it mean to be. To have existence. If Secret Hideout had emphasized these new crew additions were a mis-hosted Trill who can see their last host from the body of a human saving the life of the love of her life and what that means for them, the ship, and greater social mores, holy crap don’t you want to see that show? It was amazing. It was as pure a Star Trek episode that they’ve had for a while, using the science fiction trappings inherent in the format to comment on societal issues. Somebody wrestling with these issues in real life is going to get some important lessons with their entertainment on this one, just like old Star Trek used to do.
Parenthetically, award-winning Star Trek expert John Price has a cozy little corner of Facebook where he and 200 or so friends of his talk Serious Star Trek on the daily without all the drama larger groups have. Ridiculous beefs rarely happen and there’s pretty much none of that thinly veiled misogyny you get when people start talking about the miniskirt uniforms and whatnot. Basically, if you enjoy my columns, you’d fit right in over there for daily low-stakes Trek talk.
Gentleman tennis pro Tony Geraci started a thread about Lower Decks cosplay, and as is our wont over there, the whole thing turned into a screed about the difference between the current stewards of the property and how they are addressing the same thing as The Mandalorian is for Disney and a comparison between the two. As I mentioned last week, I’m thisclose to giving up on Discovery as a viable iteration of the show I’ve loved for fifty years and how I’m not even really that broken up about it. I outlined some of my issues…
• CBS continuing to gaslight fans with their marketing really needs to stop. It’s way far beyond just a difference of opinion, and into creepy WE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN AT WAR WITH EURASIA stuff, now. Beyond distasteful; let the work speak for itself. I mean, part of my distaste comes from being a longtime marketing-and-promotions man and seeing all the rookie mistakes they make, but I guess they’re more worried about stopping fanfilms than hiring professional PR guys.
• And it’s not like it’s a widespread problem; it’s something CBS just can’t seem to do effectively. It’s like Warners not being able to reproduce Disney/Marvel success because they see the cake and think just coating a brick in frosting will be the same thing to the audience. Just a fundamental not-getting-it. CBS and Secret Hideout must go home and kick their dogs watching Johnny Favs and Filoni on The Mandalorian dance them out of their jocks when they see how effortlessly you can update the old stuff to the modern day if you just get a creative team who understands the property. Secret Hideout is writing stuff they want to talk about and using Star Trek to do it instead of giving us stuff we didn’t know we wanted. Where is the Star Trek version of an R2 unit with legs? It’s like they don’t care about making the crowd yell and scream and wave their beers and sing along.
• I could tell CBS what to do all day long (I kind of have, here and there; there’s a reason this column is called “Larry Versus Star Trek“) but they’re not listening to their fans like Disney does. They need their own Feige or Filoni and Kurtzman just isn’t it.
They think putting tribbles in or Spock’s sister or whatever is what Trekkies care about and it just isn’t. Star Wars fans don’t give a crap about Baby Yoda; it’s about what Baby Yoda represents and how Baby Yoda makes them feel.
And that’s why I think this episode was so important. Not because of shoehorned “inclusivity” but because the episode was great. Chess pieces weren’t being moved around; problems weren’t ignored. Everybody addressed their elephants and tried to do something about it. McElroy and his pals made the audience feel something for a change, and they reminded me what Star Trek can be and why I love it.
Now if CBS would just put him in charge of the property, they could sit back and accept the thanks of a grateful nation.