Roundup of Reactions to Star Trek: Discovery’s First Season

By Standback: Twelve years after the last Enterprise episode; eight years since JJ Abrams rebooted Trek with a new movie series, Star Trek: Discovery has been greeted with gargantuan portions of excitement, suspicion, and discussion.

Now that Discovery’s first season has concluded, here’s a round-up of reviews, discussions, and observations throughout the web.

CONTAINS SPOILERS for all of Season One.


(1A) Matt Zoller Seitz, at Vulture, writes that Discovery Just Pulled Off An Incredibly Good Season:

The season’s final run of episodes was also very affecting for the way that it brought Michael’s story full circle. The symmetry and sense of balance were evident while still emotionally messy. (…) I can’t think of another Trek series, TV or theatrical, that went as deep into trauma and irresolvable despair, or as often.

(1B) Matthew Allen recaps production history in Discovering Star Trek, lauding Discovery as having “the best first season of any Star Trek show.” His commentary on Discovery specifically begin here.

Humanity in this future mirrors how many of us feel in our society right now: some big advances have been made, but the biggest challenges still remain, and it feels like things are coming apart. Discovery gives the hopeful vision of the future as a moral adventure that Star Trek has always offered, enhanced by a deeper sense than any previous series of how much failure, tragedy, hard work, trauma, and redemption are integral parts of human progress. Discovery gets that empathy and relationships are also forms of technology that need advancing?—?and that’s exactly what Star Trek needs to be doing right now.

(2) THE BAD.

(2A) Angelica Jade Bastién, in Vulture, explains Why Discovery Needs to Evolve:

In many ways, Discovery has imported the worst habits from modern television: brutal violence and casual deaths that make it seem any character could be killed at any moment; rape scenes; bold twists that mask ramshackle stories; and juvenile vulgarity that masquerades as intriguing world-building. But the greatest failing of Discovery that undercuts the appearance of trailblazing progressivism is its poor character development, seen most acutely in Michael and Ash.

(2B) Daniel Cooper, at Engadget argues that the show Failed To Do What Good Sci-Fi Does:

Discovery gave me 15 episodes of serialized storytelling that, as Alex Kurtzman admitted to TrekMovie, was worked out backwards. Now, lots of TV shows are plotted in this manner, but with this series it led to incidents and character development that took place because the storyline demanded it. I doubt even he could explain, in a single sentence, what Discovery’s overarching theme was, or if it had one at all.

(2C) Zack Handlen, at the Onion AV Club, rips into the finale, although he does feel the season concludes With A Promise To Do Better:

If “Will You Take My Hand?” works, it works because it does a confident job of convincing the audience it’s seeing something meaningful. It hits the notes it assumes we want it to hit. I can respect that to an extent—it’s certainly entertaining—but I still can’t forget this is all built on a hollow foundation.

The more you pick at this, the worse it gets.


(3A) The season ends with both “A Bang (and a Whimper),” writes Annalee Newitz, at Ars Technica:

This season of Star Trek: Discovery has been wobbling between awesomeness and toxic muck, and last night’s finale didn’t tip the balance. (…)

Over the season, we’ve had standout, brilliant episodes mixed in with 60-minute clunkers. Burnham’s character arc has been consistently fascinating, but characters like Lorca and Voq/Tyler have slowly eroded from multi-dimensional people into mere plot devices. Most of the show’s worst problems cropped up in the second half of the season, when we took a long detour into the Mirror Universe. Though finale “Will You Take My Hand” tied up any number of loose threads, often in ways that were rich and satisfying, the episode also doubled down on some of the series’ biggest mistakes.

(3B) The IGN Scorecard, by Witney Seibold, recognizes Discovery for its characters, and for its tech and visuals. Demerits are awarded for tone and for storytelling.

(4) MULTIPLE IDENTITIES. Abigail Nussbaum, “Through a Mirror, Darkly”:

Here we are, nearly a week after the finale, and I’m no closer to a conclusion.  Neither, it seems, is the rest of fandom, which often feels like it’s watching and reacting to several different shows.  And no one, no matter their opinion, seems very clear on what Discovery is.  Is it a bold reinvention of the franchise for the Peak TV era, or a shallow action-adventure whose ambitions often outstrip its capacity to execute them?  Is it the spiritual successor of the reboot movies, reveling in Star Trek tropes and fanservice without understanding the franchise’s meaning, or is it a genuine attempt to grapple with the core ideas of Star Trek fifty years after its inception?  Is it, in short, Star Trek?

(5) MINIMALLY INVASIVE STORYTELLING. Gerry Canavan suggests Discovery has “No Follow-Through” in his piece at the LA Review of Books:

Stories have beginnings, middles, and ends, but Discovery is all beginnings, constantly rebooting itself over and over again without allowing its narrative to develop or to reach an organic conclusion. In that sense it is the exemplary Star Trek series for our time, the latest in a series of prequels and reboots that continually retell the beginning of the story and then peter out before they find their own identity or a way to put a unique spin on the franchise. From Enterprise to the Abramsverse films to Discovery, Star Trek seems paralyzed by the idea of doing the one thing the fans of the series actually want: telling new stories that take place in the Prime Universe after the end of Voyager.

(6) CRUDE MORALITY. Crude Reviews highlights The Moral Lesson of ‘Discovery’: We Should Use Super Weapons To Install Despots In Foreign Nations.

With all of that history behind us, what do the writers have our so-called heroes choose as their heroic, principled solution to a war in space?

They hand a weapon of mass destruction to a religious extremist, and install her as a dictator over her own people.

(7) YOU’RE DEAD, JIM. From Genevieve Valentine, at Vox: How ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ and ‘The Good Place’ find humanity in hell. SPOILERS for both shows.

Though they couldn’t be more tonally different, each show is deeply concerned with how one person making moral decisions — or compromising them — can change a world. And those complexities of subjective morality, utilitarianism, and acceptable collateral damage are all tied into stomach-sinking revelations: The characters in these stories are trapped in horrible places, the utopia they’ve been sold is a lie, and it’s a surprisingly small jump from that supposed utopia to their horrible reality.

The central question of each show is whether their protagonists will be defined by the hell they’re in, or whether they’ll be able to redefine it.

(8) FILERS CAN DISCO. Lots of discussion of the finale, and Discovery in general, at Camestros Felapton’s blog post “Star Trek Discovery: Finale!” which opens:

What an odd episode. What an odd show.

Cora Buhlert offers some in-depth thoughts on the finale, on the seedy Orion camp, on the cliffhanger, and on the show in general, in “The Star Trek Discovery Season Finale or ‘Hey, we finally remembered we’re making Star Trek and not Game of Thrones in Space.’”:

So can Star Trek Discovery become a good Star Trek show after all? It’s certainly possible and the production team have done their best to tie up the messy first season to give themselves as clean a start as possible. And Star Trek is rather infamous for weak first seasons. However, this is one area where Discovery‘s serialised structure really harms the show. For while it is perfectly possible to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation and skip over dreadful early episodes and pretend they never happened, it’s not nearly so easy to ignore the bad episodes of Discovery‘s first season and watch only the handful of good ones, because the serialised structure means that the episodes don’t stand alone well.

(9) BREAKDOWN. At Consequence of Sound, Andrew Bloom and Clint Worthington pick highlights, lowlights, and moments of note from the season in their Season One Breakdown. They try to identify major elements of the show’s story — and of fans’ reactions.

(10) FIVE THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU. Chris Taylor, on Mashable, wrote a listicle explaining Why ‘Discovery’ is a Cosmic Dud.

The bizarre mid-season finale, with its scenes of Klingon rape and a twist that saw Discovery jumping into an entirely different universe altogether, left me cautious but hopeful: okay, let’s see where this thing is going.

But by the time Season 1 ended on Sunday, however, I had no defenses left. My shields were down as the show fired photon torpedoes of poor choices at any desire to care about the characters or keep watching.

(11) WE CAN REBUILD HIM. Crude Reviews, a vocal critic of Discovery, has embarked on “Re/Discovery” — “a personal project to re-write the series from the bottom up.” First installment is here; tag for all posts is here.

The first post explains:

I’ve set myself a few rules – first, that most of the premises set up by the show are maintained. Specifically:

  • Burnham is a disgraced officer who threw away her career with some really poor judgement, precipitating a war with the Klingons.
  • The Discovery is a ship with an experimental spore drive.
  • Lorca is a mirror-universe impostor with a hidden, wicked agenda.
  • Ash Tyler is a sleeper agent, with Voq’s memories and personality suppressed.

I will also be keeping almost all of the same characters and settings, where possible, and will do my best to hit the same plot milestones as the show.

This is entirely self-indulgent, and I make no apologies. I certainly have no shame.

(12) THE ENDING AND AFTER. “What Does The Ending Mean?” poses eight questions about where the finale has left the show, and what to look forward to:

14 thoughts on “Roundup of Reactions to Star Trek: Discovery’s First Season

  1. PJ Evans: That doesn’t surprise me. There’s always been a massive amount of ST fanfiction – witness my four file cabinets of zines from the 1970s and 80s.

  2. For a different kind of take, I recommend this review by fashion/pop culture bloggers Tom and Lorenzo. They’ve also taken on Black Panther and Wonder Woman with interesting results.

  3. Linda Deneroff on February 20, 2018 at 5:16 pm said:
    I have a number of them myself. A complete run (IIRC it’s complete) of TOSOP, for one. (I remember collating the first one, and drilling holes for the paper brads with my father’s power drill, out in the back yard – he made a quick-and-useful clamp with spacing holes, from 1-by lumber.) While I’ve written some fic, it isn’t available, as it’s *that* bad. Maybe the next version (or two – it’s split into two different universes).
    I’m hoping that in a month or so my brain will start working on it again, after my medical treatment gets into the next stages. Chemo is definitely Not Recommended, even for science nerds like me.

    Why, yes, I recognize your name. *g*

  4. @P J Evans
    Given how many flaw, inconsistencies and plotholes Star Trek Discovery had, while the characters were generally engaging, I’m not surprised that it has generated a lot of fanfiction. After all, shows with flawed plots, but engaging characters are tailormade for fanfic.

    Besides, as Linda Deneroff has said, the Star Trek franchise in general has always generated a lot of fanfic and indeed is one of the shows that gave birth to the modern fanfiction phenomenon.

  5. Looking back at my reactions, the start was promising, the rest of the front half was frustratingly mediocre as it meandered around, but once the back half found a direction and committed it really motored along, albeit still with plenty of missteps. My final analysis is probably a sense of frustration at how many opportunities they missed along the way, and their lack of coherence about the main thrust of the story.

  6. Looking back on the season in total… I feel like the goals Discovery was trying to hit were:

    * Diverse cast and representation
    * Cool visuals
    * Cool action
    * Lots of TOS hints and references
    * Shocking, gritty Game of Thrones-style plot twists

    Diversity and representation is a very excellent goal to pursue; some of the others feel like odd goals for Star Trek, but probably make sense when you’re trying to appeal to a new audience and be massively popular.

    But none of these say anything about what story is being told, or even what type of story. Which is one heck of a gap for modern TV in general, and certainly for a series that’s leaning heavily on serialized storytelling.

    And I think this, more than anything else, is why Discovery left me frustrated week after week. It wanted to tell Michael Burnham’s story, but couldn’t really say what that story was. Wanted plot twists, without committing to a plot. Wanted a triumphant victory of principle, without establishing what the principle is or what, in this context, triumph might mean.

    There’s a lot to enjoy in Discovery. I still think it has fantastic potential. Give it to a storyteller and let them pick an actual goal, and it can be amazing.

    But with no goal… you can’t succeed. You can’t even fail. You just meander around, trying to hang onto an audience that doesn’t know why they’re there.

    It’s kind of easy for me to suspect Season One just had too many iterations, too many people involved, too many producers, too quickly, until the whole thing wound up written by committee. That would be a very reasonable explanation for why the series lurched around without coherence; and now that it’s provided some actual foundation, I can easily believe that Season Two might be brilliant.

    If. If they pick an actual direction, and don’t conclude that flash and bombast is what they should be riding on.

  7. @Chris: I look forward to that! 😀

    re:fanfic, I’m pretty curious. (Likewise for the new DISCO novels.) Those seem like they’d be challenging to do, but could be really interesting, since they’re free from a lot of the restrictions the TV show has — and, naturally, more focused on the writing.

  8. Standback on February 21, 2018 at 12:27 pm said:

    The first Disco novel is not bad – it involves flashbacks to Burnham’s childhood, as part of finding out what’s going on, onplanet.

  9. Thanks for the round-up, Standback. Plenty of analysis and reviews I haven’t yet seen. I particularly like Crude Reviews, because they mirror many of my own concerns and issues with Discovery.

    Regarding the Discovery tie-in novels, I actually spotted the first of them for sale at the train station newsagent/bookshop, which is a very odd place to find something like this (but then, I once found an excellent book on ritual magic in the Amsterdam airport bookshops). I didn’t buy it, because I was seriously pissed off at the show by that point and when I came back later, it was gone.

  10. Self contained, I’d say, and more science-focused than shooting-focused (although there’s plenty of that, also). Thriller, in some ways, as there’s a time limit to solving the problem, before they use planet-busters. Enterprise also is involved, mostly Spock on the planet and Pike on the ship.

    Author: David Mack
    Subtitle: Desperate Hours

  11. @Cora: I hadn’t known Crude Reviews before I started the roundup. They caught my eye because they addressed something that bugged me soooo in the finale; the touting of “Let’s end this war by blackmailing the Klingons with the threat of genocide!” as a happy-clappy Starfleet solution. I’m still fuming at how awful, and particularly how unexamined, that “solution” is.

    I also snorted hard at this bit in their review of the finale:

    So, Burnham’s giving a speech. To, I dunno, to the room? Except she’s facing the panel of commanders, with Cornwell, Sarek, etc. And she’s giving a speech about them keeping their principles. To the people she just called out for trying to commit genocide. And they’re the ones giving out the medals.

    That’s like stopping Hitler, and then getting a medal from Hitler for stopping Hitler, and then giving a speech about why Hitler’s wrong and having Hitler applaud you for it.

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