Star Trek Discovery Season 3

Discovery

Star Trek: Discovery, one of several new incarnations of Star Trek, is in its third season. I’ve already written about season 1 and 2 before. Normally, that would be that, but I have new things to say about season 3.

The Discovery Plot

Star Trek Discovery follows the journeys of the Federation Star Ship Discovery. The first season focused on a war between the Klingons and the Federation – started by the main character Michael Burnham. The second season had Discovery return to a more science-type role, and pitted Michael against a mysterious Red Angel, leading her on a chase across the galaxy.

The end of season 2 (small spoiler ahead) led to Discovery ending up 900 years in the future in the 32nd century. The third season follows the crews quest to deal with their new situation. They find the Federation mostly gone, but seek a home among its remnants.

By transporting Discovery to the future, the writers avoid a lot of baggage of five previous shows and some ten-plus movies. I agree with that choice. The Federation and Prime Directive tangles have been explored and rehashed to death. I know some people like more of the same, but please: go watch Deep Space Nine and The Next Generation again. I think doing something new is a good idea. The previous seasons tried that as well, with mixed results.

The characters

The show always focused on Michael Burnham, and she is still important. Season three does change her. She ends up in the future separated from Discovery for a year. In that time she meets new people and after that… Well, her hair is suddenly longer (more than she could grow in a year) and her Vulcan upbringing has mostly vanished. Basically, she’s a new character. I never liked a main character who has no emotions, so this is an improvement. The problem is: she now has no history… well, except she apparently crammed a lifetime of history in that one year. She says ‘remember that time we did …’ several times, which annoyed the crap out of me. Does anybody refer to events in the past year like that?

Saru, the Kelpian alien, is now Captain. He has to grow into the role, and we see some of his struggles with being captain.

Tilly is still around, but she is now apparently part of the science trio of Stamets, Reno, and herself. That’s a tad unfortunate, because those three are the most interesting characters in the show, and their new role seems less important.

A new addition to the crew is Adira, a non-binary human (well the actor is and I think their character is as well) with a Trill symbiote (remember Dax in Deep Space Nine). Unfortunately, Adira annoys me like Wesley Crusher did. This has nothing to do with them being non-binary, but everything with being very badly written.

Finally, there’s lieutenant Owo and Detmer, who get a little more love this season. Sort of.

With all of that, I don’t think there’s a heterosexual white male left among the main characters. So, bonus points for representation. It does make it all the sadder that the writing is abysmal.

The bad

Discovery season one was horrible, but the second season was better. The characters actually started getting arcs, a background, and some personality. Season 3 tries to put arcs in, but it somehow makes things fall flat. The problem seems to be that the episode stories all tap into generic character traits, instead of actual character backgrounds.

I’ve just watched an episode featuring a ship lost in an ion storm. The crew died, and Discovery can’t tow the ship. Either the ship will be lost or… in a heroic ending, one of the characters stays behind on the ship. Why? I have no idea. I had to look up the character on IMDB because I even forgot their name. Turns out, they were in eleven previous episodes. Eleven. My knowledge: they came from some planet, they had something on their face, and they liked weapons.

The show continually does this: using the trappings of character arcs, but without the background motivations to support it. That deadens the emotional impact. And it keeps happening.

The new character Adira is in a terrible state because they lost their partner. Very emotional. You saw them make music together that one time, so they must have been in love. Adira also has an emotional epiphany because of… techno babble. What are their goals? Unclear. What do they like? Cello, apparently; oh wait, no, that’s their partner. What do they hate? Ehm…

Lieutenant Owo… well, I know her name, and she made a joke that one time. I guess her meaningless moment in the spotlight will come later in the season.

And it goes on and on.

The Ugly

I’ve reviewed Mass Effect: Andromeda before, and it’s exceptionalism problem. Discovery season 3 has that problem too.

The ship and crew have been transported to the future. Their first priority there is to find and restore the Federation. Because the Federation is the greatest things since sliced bread, apparently. Imagine a ship from the Republic of Venice from the 12th century transported to present day. Instead of marveling at our technology and finding a way to adapt, they instead go to Venice and start to revive their Republic.

Worse, the show is all about how the future is ‘the dark ages’. Everything in the 32nd century is crappier than it was 900 years earlier. So crappy, in fact, that the episodes mostly follow the same plot: Discovery runs into some species or planet or people who are suffering. Discovery, with its lofty Federation ideals, solve some techno-babble problem with their ancient tech or wits, and those encountered are better for it. For comparison, imagine our intrepid heroes from the Venice Republic going to the US, and solving the gun problem with their vaunted 12th century ideals.

It’s all veiled exceptionalism. The idea that we are somehow on an enlightened path as humanity, and that a nation like the US (or the Federation) is the resulting pinnacle of greatness and simply better than everything around it, is staggering hubris. There is no one perfect utopian society. Humans are varied and so will our societies be. Now and in the future. Promoting monoculture is especially sad for a show trying to have proper minority representation.

Discovery even makes a reference to the Dark Ages and how they are the ones there to kickstart the renaissance (vomit). It’s a shame the writers apparently never learned that historians have developed a more enlightened view of the world, and that the term ‘dark ages’ is considered pejorative and misleading.

Conclusion

Star Trek Discovery season 3 is a mess. The episodes are predictable, non-sensical, and repetitive. They also promote US exceptionalism.

I don’t think I’m going to watch the rest. I hate shows that take themselves too seriously while they have terrible writing.

Martin Stellinga Written by:

I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer from the Netherlands

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