Review of Star Trek: Discovery, Season 2

“Sometimes, in war, the terrible choice is the only choice.” — Vice Adm. Cornwell

Late as usual, but I “needed” to add my 2 cents re Season 2. So,…

SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER!

Cmdr. Michael Burnham

“The People”

I may have mentioned it before, but the stoic Burnham character reminds me a lot of Martin-Green’s ‘Sasha’ character on “The Walking Dead”. It has made me wonder how much range she has in her acting. Of course, since Burnham was raised on Vulcan since the age of 12 or so, it makes sense that she would have much of that emotional discipline ingrained in her. But, as revealed this season, Burnham has a lot of rage and other things bottled up inside. We got to see her deal with many personal issues — e.g., Saru nearly dying, awkward reunion with Tyler and concern over his joining Section 31, worrying about Spock (first AWOL, then non-communicative), awkward reunion once Spock regained control of his faculties, awkward reunion with her long-thought-dead mother (played wonderfully by the talented Sonja Sohn), seeing her mother sucked back into the future, seeing a friend sacrifice herself, prepping to defeat Control via a one-way trip to the far future, etc.

Burnham went through an emotional roller-coaster this season, and it showed. She raged, cried in grief and frustration, cried with joy and relief, and, yes, she even smiled a couple times. Martin-Green is an attractive woman with a beautiful smile, and I wish we got to see more of it. The main thing, though, is that Burnham is growing into a more complex, self-assured, and more-rounded character, and we’re there to witness it. (Now, if only we could figure out why this woman is connected to so many important people and events….)

I gotta say, though, it sucks to be Tyler, too. I’m not just referring to all that guilt, shame, etc., from his Klingon spy days, either. One former girlfriend, with whom he just (secretly) had a baby, is now Chancellor of the Klingon High Council, and his mere presence at her side causes her all sorts of problems. So, not only is the baby sent off to an isolated monastery, but Tyler takes the blame for a failed coup (by someone else) and is banished from the Empire. His more recent former girlfriend is very conflicted about seeing him again, especially given his Klingon/family problems, and she hates his new job. He reluctantly accepts assignment aboard Discovery (as a quasi-spy), but no one trusts him, and they eventually accuse him of sabotage. Sheesh! Of course, he eventually is cleared and acquits himself honorably. Oh, and he gets stabbed in the gut by a rogue A.I. along the way, too.

But, honestly, I’m sorta bored with the character. I’m wondering if it isn’t time — no pun intended — to write him off the show. (At the very least, give his hair and beard a trim!) Of course, now Tyler is in charge of Section 31, but he is stuck back in 2257. So, assuming Season 3 doesn’t have a parallel storyline in that era, problem solved. I suspect we may see him in the Georgiou-led spinoff, though.

L’Rell and Tyler

About those Klingons… So, L’Rell now has hair, as do some others. I believe it was explained that only the religious caste/sect had the custom of shaving their heads. Same goes for those funky, spikey outfits we saw the Klingons wearing on the Sarcophagus ship in Season 1. It was a religious thing. In her new position, she doesn’t have to abide by those rules. Makes sense. But, we still have the more serious problem of the much different appearance of the Disco-Klingons vs. previous representations. I maintain that the best way to address this would be to establish that there are two (or more?) races native to Qo’noS. The ones we are familiar with from STIII/TNG/etc. are from Houses we have not yet seen on STDisc. At some point before the show goes off the air, we should see (or, at least, hear about) those other Houses rising to power over the current ones. Perhaps the STDisc Houses could even be a) destroyed via battle or disease; b) banished far, far away; c) rendered sterile; or, d) transported far elsewhen via time crystal.

OK, back to the characters…

Tilly is always a delight to watch, and she didn’t disappoint this season. I really liked the “evolution” of Saru’s character, too. (Glad I saw the Star Trek Short that introduced us to his family and culture, as well as the one where Po and Tilly met.) While the B-storyline with Culber’s return was somewhat interesting, I’ve never cared for the character and would be happy to see him written off. (Though, perhaps we could see more of Dr. Pollard?) I didn’t mind Stamets as much this season, perhaps partially ‘cuz he was less central to the main plot. His relationship struggles don’t appeal to me, either. I wouldn’t be disappointed if they wrote him off, though the crew will probably need him to control the spore drive in the 32nd century. After that, he should transfer or retire, as the character has been contemplating, and be replaced by a real engineer (i.e., Reno).

I never really liked the morally ambiguous Leland, so his death didn’t bother me at all. Georgiou, on the other hand, is always entertaining, as you never know quite how much to trust her. Yet, she does seem to genuinely care for Burnham. Michelle Yeoh must have a fun time playing her. While I wouldn’t say I loved the Vice Adm. Cornwell character, she was a good ally and died an honorable death. She will be missed.

I’ll mention the rest of the main bridge crew later….

As for new/”new” characters, Cmdr. Nhan (Rachael Ancheril) seemed to remain in the background most of the time, like the writers weren’t quite sure what to do with her. She did, however, prove herself a stand-up gal in the end, ready to make the hard choices, including risking her own life (like any good officer). I wonder if she and Number One were friends…. Number One was played ably by Rebecca Romijn, and it’s too bad we only really got to see her in action (sort of) in the finale. Jett Reno (Tig Notaro) reminds me of Harry Dean Stanton of Alien fame. Scrappy little guy… Anyway, I like the Reno character, and the Discovery needs a regular engineer (as opposed to an astromycologist) in the lineup.

Spock and Pike

I have to admit, after seeing Anson Mount in the abysmal “Inhumans” mini-series, I wasn’t sure about his casting for ‘Captain Christopher Pike’. Turns out, I had nothing to be afraid of. He was perfect for the part! He played Pike as somewhat Kirk-like — e.g., his sense of humor — but also different enough to be… Pike. He was a great Captain, loyal and appreciative of his crew, a good tactician, willing to sacrifice himself, etc. I think the decision to temporarily give him command of Discovery worked quite well for the story and, afaik, didn’t interfere with canon. Count me among those who would like to see another series centered on Pike, Spock, and the Enterprise.

Given that Spock is… Spock, and I’ve been a fan since the mid-70s, I can’t help but be critical of anyone other than Leonard Nimoy attempting to portray him. But, of course, no one is going to look, sound, or act exactly like the original. So, with that said, I think Ethan Peck ended up doing a terrific job. We got to see Spock at an even earlier place in his personal development than ever before (setting aside previous glimpses into his childhood in “Star Trek: The Animated Series”, that is). We didn’t see him grinning and outwardly exuberant as in “The Cage”/”The Menagerie”, but we did see him struggling with strong emotions. Much of that was due to the aforementioned reunion with his foster sister, from whom he has been estranged for a couple decades.

It was most gratifying to witness the healing process, though, once the true cause of the estrangement was revealed. In particular, it became apparent how much Spock and Michael love and respect each other, as well as how much he depended on her to help him find the “balance” between logic and emotion (despite their long estrangement). In truth, Michael helped to shape Spock into the character fans have known and loved for 50+ years. Her final piece of advice to him was a gift that long-time fans know will lead to his strong friendship with James Kirk — and, arguably, Leonard McCoy. Excellent! Also, finally seeing a clean-shaven Spock in science-blue, on the bridge of the Enterprise, makes me want a Pike/Spock-led spinoff to happen even more.

“The Story”

Some have complained about the writing in Season 2 (as they did for Season 1), calling it “hokey” or full of “massive plot holes” or whatever. Personally, I think the writing was pretty darn good, and the complainers are setting too high a standard. Taking the season as a whole, yes, it might have been a little uneven. There were occasional plot holes and things that, upon further reflection, didn’t make sense. (For example, in the last episode, how the heck did that one bulkhead so greatly reduce the projected damage to the saucer-section and also completely protect Pike, who was practically at the center of the blast?) Is it annoying? Frustrating? Definitely. But, that is true for any series I can think of, including such standouts as “The Sopranos” and “Babylon 5”. And, yes, that includes every other ST series, as well. (I think I said as much in my Season 1 review, too.)

I will say that, just as when Discovery went to the “Mirror” universe in Season 1, I was surprised they used time travel in Season 2. On the one hand, it seems like the writers/producers feel a need to return to familiar (and popular) territory. Why? On the other hand, many fans find this comforting, cheering for connections to the old favorites. Plus, the writers gave us decent stories that expanded our knowledge (“Mirror” universe; Empress Georgiou) and introduced new methods/tech (time-suit; time crystals). Of course, the whole idea of using Captain Pike, Number One, and (eventually) Spock from the Enterprise could be seen as a similar tactic, and one that worked incredibly well. (Fans loved it, including me!)

One thing that has sort of irked me is that the show has not been more focused on the “lower ranks”, as it had originally been billed. (Or, at least, that was the impression I had.) In actuality, we have another triumvirate, with Cmdr. Burnham as the focus but followed closely by Cmdr. Saru and the revolving captains (i.e., Georgiou, Lorca, Pike). In a way, this is too bad, because I thought the new approach could give an interesting perspective. To be fair, we have at least gotten to know Stamets and Tilly pretty well. I’d like to know more about Owosekun (aka “Owo”), Detmer, Rhys, and Bryce, though. (R.I.P., Airiam, we hardly knew ye.) I haven’t read anything about it, but I’m guessing that the writers/producers just decided that the old formula (with a little variation) worked better. And, tbh, that’s probably true. However, showrunner Alex Kurtzman has confirmed, “We’re going to be using all of them much, much more.”

One of the best episodes this season was #8 (‘If Memory Serves’), which brought Spock and Pike back into contact with Vina and the Talosians. (Another nice tie-in to ST:TOS.) Episode #11 (‘Perpetual Infinity’) was also an excellent episode with great performances by Martin-Green and Sohn in particular. (Fun Fact:  In the flashback, Burnham’s biological father was played by Kenric Green, real-life husband of Sonequa Martin-Green.) And I definitely have to include the season finale (‘Such Sweet Sorrow’) — particularly the second Part — in my list of top episodes. This was great Trek and great writing in general.

That finale finally gave us the solution we needed for why the Spore Drive was never used in other ST series. If Starfleet takes Spock’s recommendation, all records of Discovery and her crew will be erased and talk of them banned within Starfleet, so I guess that’s supposed to answer why Spock (and maybe Sarek) never mentioned Burnham before. (Or, would that be, later?) But, conspiracies and associated cover-ups are less likely to work the more people that are involved, so I don’t quite buy it. Plus, any Starfleet-wide ban wouldn’t hold sway over Klingons, Kelpians, Queen Po (love her!), Amanda, or anyone else Discovery encountered while it was in service. Details, details…

The Discovery‘s travel 950 years into the future sets up Season 3 for a very different situation to deal with, though one similar to when they jumped to the “Mirror” universe in Season 1. It will put them beyond even the period that “Crewman” Daniels (“Enterprise”) came from. Will Discovery be able to wipe out the Sphere data with advanced tech? Will they get in trouble for violating the Temporal Accords? Will they jump into the middle of another war or the aftermath of one? Will they ever return to the mid-23rd century? And, where/when is Dr. Gabrielle Burnham? We certainly don’t have any answers, and Kurtzman ain’t talkin’. But, you can bet, despite my complaints about the series, I eagerly await the (continued) adventure!

P.S. Saru gets my vote for who assumes the captain’s chair. Burnham, naturally, should double as Chief Science Officer and First Officer, as her brother will on the Enterprise in a few years. 🙂

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Trek News Dispatch, part 2 of 2

Last week, we started looking at recent Star Trek news, so now we continue….

As for the small screen, we’ve seen a few news updates about season 2 of “Star Trek: Discovery”. For example, we know that Anson Mount will portray the Enterprise’s ‘Capt. Christopher Pike’, who then takes command of Discovery for their next big mission. I wasn’t impressed with him in Marvel’s “Inhumans” mini-series, but my initial impression from the Season 2 trailer is that he’ll do a good job. (Plus, it helps that Mount is a huge fan of TOS, so he has respect for the legacy.) I just hope they don’t write the character as too… jokey. Oh, also, Rebecca Romijn has been cast as ‘Number One’, and I can certainly see her in the role.

Early Spock / Ethan Peck

There has been a bit of controversy over the new ‘Spock’ (whenever he might show up) being “very different” from the character fans are familiar with. As new showrunner Alex Kurtzman explained,

“This is not entirely the Spock who has been formed enough to be the Spock that we know from TOS. There’s a lot of story about who Spock was before he becomes the Spock that is the yin-yang to Kirk. What I’m so excited about is that we have an opportunity to present a version of Spock that’s both totally consistent with the Spock everyone knows but very, very different. And it’s all gonna tie to how we sync up with canon.”

That makes total sense to me. For example, as we saw in “The Cage” / “The Menagerie”, Spock was a bit less… emotionally disciplined at that time.

Kurtzman has also said that we’ll get an explanation for why Spock never mentioned his adopted sister, Michael Burnham, in any previous productions. According to Sonequa Martin-Green, who plays Burnham,

“We’re certainly gonna see Spock and we’re gonna be exploring those family dynamics. We’re gonna see a lot between them.”

I am intrigued and so will withhold judgment, but I look forward to seeing how they do this. (Especially since Spock is currently only scheduled to appear in two episodes. Maybe some will be done with flashbacks of younger versions?) I see that they also just cast Gregory Peck’s grandson, Ethan Peck (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), as Spock. He looks like a decent choice physically, but I’ve never seen him in anything and can’t give any opinion on his acting.

Another “Discovery” news item involves those pesky, ever-changing Klingons. As per makeup designer Glenn Hetrick:

“As we move into season 2, it has been a while since we have been with our characters. It has been a while since we have seen our Klingon friends. So, everything keeps evolving. The story has evolved. And I can guarantee you this, you are going to be blown away that they have a completely new look, yet again, going into season two.”

I can hear the collective groan and assorted expletives from some of you, but hang on. We’ve been promised that many questions re canon will be addressed, and this is one of those things. Hetrick continues…

“In season two, you are going to see much different designs. You are going to see different houses you haven’t seen before. One of the most important things to us was that at this point in canon, as we head towards the current version of unification, the houses really each grow up on different planets. It is an Empire, it is not just Qo’noS…. We have seen six of the great houses in close up in season one. As we move forward into the next season, I promise that we will continue exploring and unpacking and unfolding that infinitely interesting story of what the Klingon culture looks like on a wider level.”

This is actually in line with my thoughts. In my review of Season 1, I suggested that one way to resolve the Klingon issue was: “Perhaps the Klingon houses we’ve seen represented are one Klingon race, while the STIII/TNG version make up the other houses. Wipe out the former, and the latter can take over.” Sounds like I was on the right track with that one….

Finally, there is the return of Jean-Luc Picard to the prime(?) Star Trek universe. As you may be aware, Kurtzman and his Secret Hideout production company were awarded a 5-year, multi-million dollar deal with CBS TV Studios back in June. Part of Kurtzman’s focus will be to “oversee the development of new Star Trek series, mini-series and other content, including animation.” Since then (and even before), there have been rumors of spinoffs focusing on Captain/Emperor Georgiou, Captain Lorca, Harry Mudd, Khan Noonien Singh, the Vulcans, Starfleet Academy, et al. Perhaps most intriguing was the possibility of bringing Jean-Luc Picard back — with Patrick Stewart returning to the role, of course.

Early reports were that fans would “see Stewart return to Starfleet as Captain Picard…. The report also refers to the project as a ‘reboot,’ leaving it unclear as to whether this project could be a reboot – more likely a continuation – of ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’.” But, that was rather early in the development, and Stewart hadn’t even officially signed on, yet. Earlier this month (Aug. 2018), though, CBS announced (via Stewart at the 2018 Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas) that a Picard-based show starring Patrick Stewart, who will also exec produce along with Kurtzman, is now official.

One idea I’ve heard tossed around would be to have Picard in charge of Starfleet Academy. Not a bad idea for the character, I suppose, but not if we want to see a Picard-centered series. An academy-based series will likely focus on students. (I hope it isn’t too teen-angsty.) I’ve often thought that Picard might return to his archaeological interests and spend his later years on one or more digs. This could have potential for a series, but nothing I’ve read makes me think they’re considering this. (Otoh, who knows?) I think it is most likely that they will bring Picard back as either an Admiral or an Ambassador, both of which take advantage of his strengths in diplomacy and leadership. Of course, they may need to coax him out of retirement first. Given a compelling storyline, I’m definitely up for that.

The only thing that concerns me at this point is the rumors that CBS/Kurtzman want to wipe out the Prime timeline and merge the Kelvin timeline with the DISC timeline. Depending on how/when they would do it, it could allow for an “alternate” version of Picard (among many other things), too, and I don’t think the fans (including myself) want that. (Remember that mention of ‘reboot’ in the early discussion of a Picard series?) I don’t know how much validity there is to this rumor, though, so I’ll set it aside for now.

CBS TV Studios president David Stapf has stated that they want year-round Trek content on CBS All Access. DISC’s second season won’t debut until January 2019, and Picard’s so-far-untitled series is tentatively due in late 2019. So, while we wait for them and the (up to four) additional series being developed, they have something else to tide fans over.

“CBS All Access will fill the gap in late 2018 Star Trek programming with Star Trek: Short Treks, a series of four 15-minute short films spotlighting characters from Star Trek: Discovery [including one about Harry Mudd and directed by Rainn Wilson]. <Star Trek: Short Treks> will debut in the fall and new installments will release monthly leading into the second season of Star Trek: Discovery.”

Cool!

Assessing the Casting of ABC’s Inhumans

Inhumans Royal Family

Don’t know about you, but I haven’t heard/read all that much about this upcoming series. I mentioned several facts that came out earlier in a post last November. Recently, though, there have been a few cast announcements and a couple of on-set pics from where they are shooting the show in Hawaii.

I’ve liked the Inhumans since I first read about them in “Fantastic Four” comics back in the 1970s. They had an interesting and isolated culture, cool powers & appearances, and an on-again/off-again, quasi-frenemy sort of relationship with our heroes (sort of like Namor has). I especially liked the core group of the Royal Family, which fortunately look to be central to the new show. So, of course, I want to see live-action versions that are faithful adaptations from the source material. With that in mind, I decided to take a look at the actors who will be portraying these beloved characters. Here are my 2 cents…

Anson Mount as Black Bolt: I am not familiar with Mount (6′,b.1973). He has appeared in episodes of series I watched (e.g., “Smallville”, “CSI: Miami”, “Lost”, “Dollhouse”), but nothing stands out in my memory about him. He has been a regular in other series, most recently starring in the drama/western “Hell on Wheels”, but I am unfamiliar with them, unfortunately. Physically, though, Mount appears to be a pretty solid choice, both in face and build. Having looked at some photos, he often appears to have an intense and/or weary look, which should work well for the silent, burdened King of the Inhumans.

Serinda Swan as Medusa: The lovely Miss Swan (5’7″,b.1984) is quite a bit shorter than the comics version of Queen Medusa (5’11”). But, I think she has both the beauty (and curves) and physicality to do right by the role. You may remember her as the sorcerous Zatanna on “Smallville”, which I thought was terrific casting! She has also been on “Supernatural”, “Breakout Kings”, “The Tomorrow People”, “Chicago Fire”, “Graceland”. I don’t know that she has ever had to stretch her acting skills much, so I hope she can get a handle on the Queen of the Inhumans. I assume they will need to do her mass of prehensile hair via CGI, so it shouldn’t be a problem coloring it red.

Ken Leung as Karnak: The first time I remember taking note of Leung (5’7″,b.1970) was with his role in “Lost”. Of course, he has also been in such genre fare as Rush Hour, Spy Game, Saw, X-Men: The Last Stand, “Person of Interest”, “Zero Hour”, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, et al. He is the exact height that Marvel’s wiki lists for Karnak, and I think the martial-artist character is supposed to look like an Asian human. (He’s also supposed to have an unusually large cranium. I wonder if they’ll use CGI, prosthetic, or ignore that particular characteristic. Same question re the body tattoos the character acquired in later years.) Leung will need to portray a much more physical, analytical, and self-assured character than he usually does, but he may be able to pull it off.

Eme Ikwuakor as Gorgon: I don’t believe I am familiar with Ikwuakor (6’3″,b.1984), though he has had small roles in “Castle”, “Hawaii Five-O”, “Extant”, “Colony”, “NCIS: Los Angeles” and appeared in a few movies (e.g. Ink). The comics version of Gorgon is Caucasian-looking but often with dusky complexion; so, if they’re going to make one of the characters black, Gorgon makes the most sense. (Note: “Black Bolt” is a shortening of “Blackagar Boltagon”, plus that character usually wears a black costume.) Ikwuakor isn’t as tall (6’7″) or bulky as Gorgon is usually made to be, but he is fairly tall and muscular. Maybe he’ll bulk up even more for the part? I hope he does a good job, since this could be a breakout role for him.

Mike Moh as Triton: As an Asian with martial arts expertise, Moh (5’9″,b.1983) would have been a good choice for Triton’s younger brother, Karnak. But, maybe his muscular-yet-lithe “swimmer’s body” was what they really wanted for the scaly, aquatic Triton. His genre credits include “Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight”, “Supah Ninjas”, “Castle”, “Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist”, “Street Fighter: Resurrection”, as well as the non-genre “Empire”. Who knows, maybe he’ll really “own” this part. I wonder how long he can hold his breath….

Isabelle Cornish as Crystal: This role calls for an attractive, young blonde woman about 5’6″ or so, and that’s what they found in Cornish (5’8.5″,b.1994). She doesn’t have near the resume of her sister, Abbie, nor has she been in any genre stuff. But, she was in several episodes of a couple of Australian dramas: “Home and Away” and “Puberty Blues”. I’m rooting for Cornish to make her mark with this role. It may seem like a small thing, but I just hope they make her hair the strawberry blonde color that Crystal is known for having. (That said, I realize that red-headed comic characters tend to end up as brunettes on TV. Grr! At least keep her blonde, OK?)

Iwan Rheon as Maximus: Rheon (5’8″,b.1985) is the guy who played the sadistic bastard Ramsay Bolton on “Game of Thrones”. Other than being shorter (5’8″) than the comics version (5’11”) and thus a little shorter than I’d prefer, he is perhaps the most perfect casting for Black Bolt’s scheming younger brother, Maximus the Mad, as I can think of. We already know Rheon can play a great, psychotic villain. Though also a ruthless prince trying to gain power, Maximus is a very different character in a very different situation. I just hope Rheon has the talent to keep them quite separate in both his and the audience’s minds. (Come to think of it, Maximus is quite Loki-like, and Tom Hiddleston might make a good candidate for him, as well.)

Lockjaw stand-in on Inhumans set

‘Lockjaw’ as Lockjaw: From the leaked tweet-pic (seen here, sort of), it looks like the most beloved Inhuman character, the huge, teleporting canine named ‘Lockjaw’, will be handled with CGI. Makes sense to me! I certainly wouldn’t want to be the casting director tasked with finding a real, live dog that size (let alone who can act), ‘cuz they don’t exist.

Well, that’s that. I wish I was more knowledgeable about some of these actors, so I could make better guesses about their suitability talent-wise. But, I guess we’ll see soon enough, come September. Here’s hopin’ that ABC/Disney puts out a quality mini-series that Inhumans fans can enjoy!

Oh, and here’s a CBR article you might like, too!: “Inhumans: 15 Things We Want From The TV Show”