And Now Star Trek: Discovery Has Lost Its Soul

Let's talk about Captain Lorca, Ash Tyler, Harcourt Fenton Mudd, and the moral center of Star Trek. I can't believe I'm about to defend Harry Mudd. Goddammit, Discovery.

All images: CBS

So the plot of yesterday's episode is that Lorca has been summoned by Starfleet command, away from the ship, and told not to use the s-drive (spore-drive, I guess) unless specifically ordered to. They're worried about depleting their "asset," a.k.a. the tardigrade that is showing distress with every jump. Also, they think the Klingons have twigged to the Discovery being the secret weapon and want it to keep it out of danger as much as possible. By the end of the episode they are right and also all of this is moot, since Burnham sets the tardigrade free.

On his way back to the ship, Lorca is captured by Klingons and put in cell with the Harry Mudd, a genial and sexist con man we saw in two episodes of the original series and one in the animated one, and Lieutenant Ash Tyler, who was captured during the Battle of the Binary Stars (the battle that started the war).

Because Mudd is... Mudd, Lorca determines that it's him that's slipping the Klingons information on his fellow prisoners, and not Tyler, who claims he's still alive because the Klingon captain has taken a liking to him. Given that Mudd has no problems letting others take a beating for him, you can see why Lorca would come to that conclusion. Eventually, Lorca and Tyler escape and they leave Mudd behind. And that was the moment this show completely lost me.

Is Mudd a good guy? No. He's driven by craven self-interest that manifests in taking advantage of others, and Kirk always tried to see to it that Mudd got what he deserved for his wrongs. Kirk also always remained the better man. In "I, Mudd," Kirk and his crew are captured by humanoid robots because of Mudd's actions. He wants off a planet, so he directs the robots to grab him a ship; then the robots decide they need to "help" humanity by "serving," i.e. imprisoning them where they can be looked after and kept from screwing up, all because of Mudd. Mudd helps Kirk defeat the robots, and Kirk still leaves him behind, to make sure the robots don't stray from their path. In that case, Mudd helped create the mess, Kirk made sure he helps clean it up. That's not what Lorca did.

Lorca left Mudd behind on a Klingon prison ship, happy to let him suffer torture and almost certain eventual death. (And there was no way to know the ship they would end up stealing was a two-seater.) This isn't a case where Lorca happens to have a different view of Starfleet's role as a military power. This is reprehensible.

It is specifically reprehensible in Star Trek. A lot of people have complained that Discovery has lost the hope that Star Trek has always represented. I held off on that for a while, seeing hope in Burnham's redemption arc -- that she'd choose science and exploration over doing what you need to win a war. But Lorca's actions in this case are a death knell. He didn't even struggle with the decision. If he had been angry and vengeful, so the choice was a battle between what he knew was right and what he felt, maybe we'd still be in a Star Trek that promises humans can make the right decisions, even though it's hard and requires us to work for it. But no, Lorca just left him behind, with Tyler in tow.

To the audience Tyler is so obviously a spy that Lorca's not just callous, he's a fucking moron. Tyler is played by Shazad Latif, who also plays the albino Klingon Voq. We do know Voq went to learn skills from the House Mokai -- a house with matriarchs, and this ship was captained by a female Klingon who said she trained as a spy and that's how she speaks English so well. L'Rell also told Voq he'd have to give up "everything" to win the war, and having to look and act human is that, especially for a Klingon who rages against assimilation and who comes from a time when "Remain Klingon" is the slogan of the day. (Also, "The Trouble With Tribbles" featured a Klingon spy made to look human -- it's not a new trick of the Klingon Empire's.) It's too ironic for writers to not be setting it up. And so the problem is that telling your audience this much that they figure out the twist early means, for weeks, we're going to be screaming bloody murder at Lorca.

Lorca's big trauma, by the way, was that he escaped a battle his previous ship had with the Klingons, but also destroyed the ship and killed his crew to "spare them" the humiliating and drawn-out death the Klingons had in store for them. I wish I cared even a little bit.

In this scenario, the audience is the Klingon captain.

Things were slightly better on the science end this week. Burnham convinces Stamets that they can't rely on the tardigrade. As usual, she's not great at talking to people, trying first to butter up Stamets with compliments. As usual, Stamets is great, responding, "I know I'm brilliant, what are you trying to get out of me?"

There's a lot of science babble, but it boils down to trying to put the same genes that let the tardigrade be accepted by the mycelium into a species that can consent to driving the ship. What happens next is confusing if you don't know a tiny bit about some obscure bits of canon. Yes, everyone's history and emotions gets talked out, but not this important point.

Apparently, the only compatible match in the database is human. Humans might be a match for the spore/tardigrade mixture, but DNA alteration is banned on Earth. (It's easy to forget, but Earth isn't actually the same as the Federation -- it has its own rules.) Earth banned it to prevent another set of Eugenics Wars, where "Augments" -- supermen with altered genes -- ruled Earth as despots. (Khan Noonien Singh was one of these.) Also, this happened in the '90s. Ah, the '90s: Nirvana, Friends, and genetically engineered supermen enslaving everyone in a series of brutal wars.

Anyway, humans can't alter their genes, it's illegal and will stay illegal for hundreds of years, as Deep Space Nine fans know. Now, I'm sure the same broad powers that let the Discovery do all sorts of other morally bankrupt shit in the pursuit of winning this war would let them get around this law. But Saru, who is acting as the captain and wants desperately to prove himself while saving Lorca, tells them no. And when the stress finally sends the tardigrade into a super-hibernation, Saru orders Stamets to bring it back to usefulness, even if it would end up killing it... even if it turns out to be sentient. Another strike against the soul of Discovery.

Instead, Stamets slams the DNA mixture into himself and pilots the ship away from Klingon space, Lorca and Tyler in tow. I'm sure this will have no negative effects whatsoever. Saru gets some of his good points back by asking Burnham to save the "soul" of the tardigrade. She has no clue how to do that, so she just... puts it out into space with some spores. She's lucky that worked.

Stamets' face speaks for us all.

While Stamets continues to be the salty science arsehole I wish I could be and Saru at least learns from mistakes, this is the Discovery episode that I just couldn't see more good than bad in. I hate the Lorca bit so much, it actually makes me heartsick. I need better from Star Trek. Burnham's only defining characteristic continues to be "I do what I want," and it's unappealing. She learns every week to not do it, and then she's right back there the next week. Rainn Wilson's Mudd is lacking Roger C. Carmel's buoyancy and mellifluousness, so I don't believe he's going to age into someone who can banter with Kirk. Or that he'll be playful with Starfleet rather than bitterly enraged at how he's been treated.

I see male privilege is still alive and well in the future.

Assorted Musings:

  • Saru, left in charge of the Discovery, asks for a list of the most-decorated Starfleet officers. Robert April was the first "first captain" of the Enterprise, popping up in the animated series. Jonathan Archer also became the first captain of the Enterprise -- when it was the first ship of United Earth Starfleet, before the United Federation of Planets and Starfleet properly existed -- in the prequel series Enterprise. (I assume he's only on this list because being first makes you the most decorated by default.) Matt Decker pops up as a commodore in "The Doomsday Machine" in the original series. Georgiou we all know. Pike is either the captain of the Enterprise right now, or is about to be.

  • Saru asks for the characteristics of these captains and the computer lists, "bravery, self-sacrifice, intelligence, tactical brilliance, compassion." Saru tells the computer to track his actions as captain and tell him if deviates from the parameters on the list. Nice attempt to science yourself into being a good captain.

  • In the end, Saru's knowledge of predator and prey behaviour leads him to identify Lorca flying a stolen Klingon ship, being a better leader as himself than while trying to emulate those other captains, and this character moment deserved a better episode.

  • Stamets correctly points out that Burnham is the reason the tardigrade is being used this way in the first place. Burnham is the opposite of Midas: everything she touches turns to shit.
  • I can't tell if "You say portobella, I say portobello" is cute or awful for a fungi specialist to say.
  • If you know how Mudd will eventually feel about his wife, Stella, every line about her is both sadder and funnier.
  • Who knew the line "I always wanted to converse with my mushrooms" would be foreshadowing?

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    Lorcas ruthlessness comes to the fro when we learn of him kiling his last crew, instead of allowing them to be captured. Mudd sold him out to the Klingons to protect his own ass so he gets his just desserts i nthe end but obviosly will be back. One foible in this weeks episode is how easy Lorca and Tyler overpower the Klingons in their escape. Klingons have always been portrayed as signifcantly stronger than humans.

      They deliberately let them get away but needed to make it look to them like they'd fought their way out

    I 've heard it before and I have to say I agree, "The Orville" is the new Star Trek, this show is not Star Trek, it is something else, it's own show apart. Between the stupid Spore Drive, which has never been mentioned in the show's canon, the new bloody Klingons and the ridiculous way they talk and the general feel of the show, I'm treating it as something else. I seriously doubt this show will get to season two, or at least only if it pulls itself back into the shows normal universe anyway. The Orville for the win in my honest opinion.

      I can't believe you're whining so much about something way better than what it was before. The show is fantastic! It's realistic, it's dark as it should be and offers much more complex characters than ever. "Orville" really??? With all that cheesy, dumb jokes... What are you 12 years old?

        It's called an opinion mate and I could say the same about you with The Orville. Also, if you think it's better than the original stuff, then you really shouldn't be allowed to have an opinion. But hey! that's just my opinion, maybe get a sense of humour.

        Discovery is realistic, seriously? The spore drive, the mycelium web throughout the galaxy, what complete drivel, I've seen some stupid pseudoscience in sci-fi in the past, but this is beyond my ability to suspend good sense. I really don't know what they are doing with this show, but they really need to get back on track and at least learn some basic science, but that is the problem nowadays, lots of CGI and screw reality, if they can think it up they will do it, and the uneducated masses will buy it because they don't know any better. Discovery lasted 4 episodes in our house and that was enough. The Orville, while not perfect, is at least entertainment...

          Yes. Outrage! Gnash teeth, cry longtime. Oh! There is a spore drive noone mentioned before (maybe it failed, maybe we are in Kelvin, does it matter why it wasn't mentioned before? ). Also, go full Edvard Munch about the mycelium web? Because nacelles, nanotechnology, information tablets, diagnostic scan tools, hypospray/jet injector and 'dilithium' (Li6+Deuterium) crystals, are all commonpleb poverty peasant pseudoscience that don't mean anything? Query though, as a 4 episode wonder, can you clue me in to the answer to: Does Science drive Fiction, or does Fiction drive Science?

          Last edited 18/10/17 3:31 am

          spod I'm assuming realistic as in complex characters, actions, consequences and drama etc, not technology.

        Couldn't agree more. I caught the final shows of the original on TVs and have watched everything since, in my opinion this show is already miles ahead of anything previously produced. Absolutely love it

      I love star trek but have never been a trek fanatic. I don't really pay too much attention to the lore/cannon or continuum. I just enjoy the show for the the stories and scifi.
      I am enjoying this series so far and definitely don't mind that they have updated the technology to be more in line with what would actually exist in this time instead of going for the retro design.
      With respect to the spore drive, the universe is infinite with infinite possibilities. Unless you understand the entire universe how do you know something like this cannot exist. Is it likely, probably not, but hey i haven't explored the entire universe.
      Perhaps the first season is setting the show up for star fleet to realise their wrongs etc and push the show more in the direction of the original trek with episodic science adventures.
      Either way i am enjoying it.

    You say this isn't Star Trek, but it totally is.
    The thing is Captain Lorca... is exactly like every starfleet captain, that wasn't on the "title card" ship.

    Captain Ransom is the closest example from Voyager (he murdered subspace aliens for nitro powered warp), so not original in story concept there.

    Or every Admiral that ever cross paths with Captain Picard (seriously Insurrection is funny when the Admiral orders Picard to drop it about displacing a few 100 aliens, after Picard has a record of deposing a lot of high ranking admirals during TNG series).

    Or every Captain with a chip on his shoulder about the Klingons or Cardassians.

    Presented with a unique opportunity for technology or power, most Captains and Admirals faulter, and even the title card Captains do so to until the last minute and they uphold the directives of Starfleet in a Cliff Hanger.

      Exactly. This is Trek. Ransom was the first thing I thought of when I heard about Lorca killing his crew. And there are several other instances.

      Thankfully DS9 knocked that useless fury right of Sisko, by pointing out that he was Existing at Wolf359. "you are linear, you exist, Here". I watched that at age 20 and thought ehhhhh? Watched it again this week at 39 and had myself a perspective waterworks to rival the Bellagio. Vic Fontaine woulda been proud!

    Don't care, still like it.
    if anything, it makes the whole show feel more real as the characters are more human in their interactions and their emotions. A lot of the time in the rest of the trek verse, I always felt the characters were too upright.

    That being said, I am a follower of the idea that Discovery is a story about Section 31's beginnings. It's the only real theory that makes any sense...and I am sticking to it :P

    When Mudd is left behind, he threatens Lorca that he will be coming for Lorca. I saw this as a teaser for a future episode, which is why I was not bothered about the situation.

      Mudd has to stay free or Kirk will never get to run into him in TOS. And don't forget, Mudd wasn't being left in enemy hands, he was working with the Klingons.

    So, when do we get a character who steps over the backs of seats to get onto them, a la William Riker?

    I'm more concerned with Tilly and Stamets' potty mouths! That was the most awkward bit of sweary dialog I've ever seen on screen.

      A nod to the fact that Star Trek TV is no longer bound by the rules of Network TV.

        Trek never was 'Bound by a network'. Roddenberry saw to that quicksmart.

          Pretty sure they would not have gotten away with the swears in TOS, no matter what Roddenberry said, it was just not the done thing. They would have come up with BSG style made up ones or something maybe.

      I blinked, laughed, thought "forking (can cuss in STD[bahahaha] but not here, without moderation) swearing in Star Trek? “ Then I started wondering when human colorful expression was superceded by Shakespearian text (in the original Klingon of course).

      Last edited 18/10/17 2:22 am

    Get out of here with that male privilege BS. If you were a true trekkie you would recognise all those names as easter eggs from TOS, TAS and Enterprise. Obviously this is before Capt Janeway otherwise I'm sure she would be up there too. They opted to go with names of already existing characters in the universe that fans of Trek would recognise rather than make up some female names to satisfy you femtards...

    Honestly it's so annoying. Equality doesn't mean every single list of anything ever has to have an even 50/50 split of females and males...

      Haha, thank you. I am so sick of this pathetic writer from io9. She has zero genre knowledge and goes out of her way to hate everything.

    I like it , its gritter and in some ways leaner without all that airy fairy nonsense TNG had in the lesser episodes. They are at war so the moral high road is not always the winning path .
    Its a different take of the Star Trek we are familiar with but its still sci-fi and its still interesting enjoy it for what it is.

    Oh. Well I personally didn't see the twist coming. I really wish you'd stated that there were spoilers for FUTURE episodes. :(

    It is OK, I like it. Don't care what others say.

    I think that this author should not be having a big cry about how Lorca dealt with Mudd, coz...Kirk. That's a foolish errand of the mind, if ever I read one. Dear Author : *Discovery takes place before Kirk was a twinkle in his Daddy's, Mommy's, Daddy's eye. *Lorca is a post-war baby, War Baby War Captain-kinda like the War Doctor Who "Hurt", unless all the captains combine to correct the thoughts of Lorca, You'd better buckle in and ride the turbulence. Discovery writers are about to start leaving BadWolf graffiti in every episode.

    Last edited 25/10/17 12:06 am

    DSC is the most disappointingly pessimist and politically regressive Star Trek so far. It IS NOT Star Trek, unless Star Trek is any old thing some marketers stick the name on. DSC is fan-rejected JJ timeline sold as Prime. I don't need some greedy capitalist to tell me what Star Trek is and isn't, I have eyes and ears, I know the legacy and can judge for myself. The writers of DSC very apparently never understood the earlier Star Trek or agreed with it's values.

    Apart from a bourgeois, liberal identity politics reflected by some depictions of gender equality, I can discern no social progress between today's messed up right-wing dominated world, and DSC's. It's a big disappointment. So bad I'd rather Trek never be made again than be twisted and bastardised like this by regressive, centrist status quo liberals and their right-wing (re capitalist) paymasters. This is Star Trek if warmongers and apologists for injustice and the worst of human nature, like Hillary Clinton, had written it. It's the Anti-Trek. It's Firefly with Star Trek logos. It's same-old cynical, uninspiring, human progress is impossible, capitalism in space, action and spectacle pap.

    Last edited 07/11/17 1:37 am

    Tyler and Voq are not played by the same person, and four episodes on there is no evidence that Tyler is a willing spy, though something could come from his relationship with L'Rell.

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