I’d like to remind you: this first season of Star Trek: Discovery has been the best first season of any Trek show since the original. Possibly even better than that.
Whereas TOS was content to tell a series of one-off stories, in a universe that they were making up as they went, Discovery had the ambition to tell one long story spread over six months.
It had the courage to break a lot of the conventions of the franchise, focusing on a mutineer officer rather than an upstanding captain. It changed details of the technology of the universe, and presented us with moral choices with shades of grey.
It wasn’t perfect, but it was trying to be its own thing- a different vision of Star Trek, more suitable for a global audience in 2017 than an American public in the 1960s.
There were good episodes and poorer ones, and now we’ve reached the finale. How did it end?
With a whimper.
A Damp Squib
Technically, ‘Take My Hand’ was a well-crafted ending for the story of Discovery, at least in terms of Chekhov’s Gun. Every weapon that we’d been shown hanging on a wall over the last fifteen episodes was indeed taken down and fired- almost literally in the case of Lorca’s arms cache that Georgiou uses as a bargaining chip to get into the underworld camp (which seemed to be located on the set of Klingon Blade Runner).
Unfortunately, all those guns turned out to be water pistols, and we finished up with a script that was just a soggy mess.
From the ending of last week’s episode, we could tell most of the main plot for this week. Starfleet had enlisted Georgiou to lead the crew on a mission to destroy Qo’noS. The crew would realise just in time that they weren’t just on a mapping mission to find military targets and would find a way to stop her, confronting their own pasts and reaching the end of their character arcs.
What I wasn’t expecting was to get all of that out of the way in about 30 minutes, and then have another ten minutes or so just wrapping up every plot point from the series.
It all just happened too easily.
Lack of Suspense
There’s very little to the plot beyond what I’ve said above, but it didn’t feel as though the characters really triumphed against the odds the way they should at the climax of a series. Let’s go through them in turn.
Stamets was barely in the episode. He has to jump Discovery into a cave. He does. The script doesn’t make a big thing of it, he can just do it. There’s absolutely no tension to the scene, then he disappears until the end.
Tyler has to accept his memories as Voq. He does. He can remember how to gamble on a Klingon game and wins, because Voq was always lucky at games. Again, there was no tension here.
Tilly… what did she achieve here? She was just used for comic relief, eating space whale and falling over, stoned. Then she discovers the plan to blow up the planet, which was the least surprising thing this whole season. For this, she gets accepted into the command training program. No tension.
Michael at least gets two character moments, but still there’s no suspense to them. Seeing Tyler among the Klingons brings up her survivor’s guilt over her parents’ death during a Klingon attack- she tells him about it, and now she’s better. Then she stands up to Georgiou and is willing to face her down, putting her life on the line to stop her mother figure from destroying her enemy. It works. No tension.
And Saru? He stands up for Federation principles before his former captain and an admiral, which is no development on where he was a couple of weeks ago. His reward for this is apparently to get to fly Discovery on one more simple flight to Vulcan and then have command taken away from him.
This is the opposite of tension.
Limping to the Finish Line
As noted earlier, once everything is sorted out, and they’ve given L’Rell the key to power over the Klingon empire, the episode drags along for another ten minutes or so. Michael says goodbye to Tyler who is going off with L’Rell, for some reason that escapes me. Then she goes to Paris, gets pardoned by Starfleet and makes a stirring speech and everyone gets medals.
It just didn’t feel as though they’d earned their happy endings.
As a final note on that, Culber is still dead… for the moment. Aware of the issues over killing half of Trek’s first canonical gay couple, the producers worked with GLAAD in the US and announced beforehand that his story is not over yet, and he will be returning for the next series. On the one hand, I’m happy that Culber will be back, because I really like him. But on the other, this wipes out the impact – both on the characters and the audience – of his death.
If you know that you’re going to have to spoil your plot for next year to assure people that you aren’t ‘Burying Your Gays’, maybe kill one of the straight characters instead? And leave them dead.
The Final Cop-Out
I said at the start of this review, that Discovery had tried to be its own creation. This had led to a certain amount of deviation from the normal rules of the franchise, to the extent that I know a lot of fans have said that it isn’t even Star Trek. Personally, I’d concluded that it was set in its own timeline and the spore drive would eventually lead them to the main universe.
But no, we get Michael’s speech about Starfleet principles, they set off for Vulcan and on the way they have to drop out of warp to assist the Enterprise under Captain Pike. And finally we get Alexander Courage’s original Trek theme over the closing credits.
‘See? It really is the Star Trek that you know and love!’
I was not convinced.
Discovery seemed to be at its most comfortable and confident when it was defying Star Trek’s tropes, but then at the last moment, it didn’t dare to make a final break.
So that was the whimper that ended the series. It hit all the required plot points, but emotionally it all fell flat.
Given how much of this finale was a bookend to the two superb opening episodes, it’s astonishing that it lacked any impact. There should have been so much happening that the pace alone should have swept you along, the way that ‘What’s Past is Prologue’ did. But it was content just to do no more than it had to, and then just grind to a halt.
Let me go finish where I started. Discovery has been, in my opinion, the best first season of a Trek show. It tried to do so much, and it often succeeded.
Unfortunately, that makes a weak ending all the harder to accept.
There was so much more that they could have done, especially in the last few weeks, and the squandered opportunity is more painful than any of the previous episodes that just didn’t work. I was just expecting more than I got.
I’d still much rather watch this than season one of The Next Generation. I hope that Discovery can improve next year, and the year after, the way that the older series did. If it can, it will be amazing.
But until we see season two, I’ll be left with a profound sense of disappointment.
Steve works full-time for the NHS and tries not to spend too much of his day plotting out his series of vampire novels. Away from the office, he divides his time between playing games where he is a vampire, playing games where he hunts vampires, and playing with Lego (he has numerous Lego vampires).