Episode 1: Transcript
Transcription by Keffy Kehrli
Annalee: [00:00:00] Welcome to Our Opinions Are Correct. A podcast about the meaning of science fiction. I’m Annalee Newitz. I’m a science journalist who writes science fiction.
Charlie Jane: [00:00:09] And I’m Charlie Jane Anders. I’m a science fiction writer who thinks a lot about science. This podcast is going to be the two of us geeking out about books, movies, TV shows, comics, and why it all matters.
Annalee: [00:00:20] And you’ll be able to find us every two weeks on iTunes, Stitcher, and anywhere else that fine podcasts are made available.
[00:00:26] Music intro.
Annalee: [00:00:37] We’re gonna geek out this week about something that we have a lot of feelings about, which is the first season of Star Trek Discovery.
Charlie Jane: [00:00:45] I have so many feelings about it, my God. I have several isiks for your thoughts, Annalee.
Annalee: [00:00:51] Oh God. Thanks. I’ve always wondered where that saying came from. And we learned all about that. This was a show that people had been anticipating for a really long time. Star Trek has not been on television for how long now?
Charlie Jane: [00:01:08] Since 2005, the end of Star Trek Enterprise.
Annalee: [00:01:12] Yeah, which was also not an incredibly great moment in Star Trek history, and actually a lot of the people that happened in Enterprise kind of came back and became themes in Discovery, too.
Charlie Jane: [00:01:23] Yeah, certainly, the USS Defiant that crosses over to the mirror universe is a thing from Star Trek Enterprise that gets picked up in Discovery. Some of the other ideas kinda get touched on. There was—I was actually surprised by how much of Enterprise there was in this show.
Annalee: [00:01:38] I mean, I felt like I had to go back and actually rewatch some Enterprise episodes to be fully up to speed on what was going on in the mirror universe. So, before we start talking about the themes in the series, which I think are actually really fascinating, although sometimes bloopers as well. Let’s just talk about what the hell happened. We had this show. It came out on CBS’s All-Access streaming service, which immediately pissed fans off. It was on the streaming service that you had to pay for and there was literally nothing else on the streaming service that people were interested in. So, it automatically kind of alienated its viewers. And yet, a ton of us watched it. So, Charlie what happened? Sum it up for us.
Charlie Jane: [00:02:27] So, here’s a spoiler warning for anybody who hasn’t seen the first season of Star Trek Discovery, you might want to stop listening now. But, for the rest of us—so, it’s about ten years before Star Trek the original series. And the Klingons have become radicalized by this leader named T’Kuvma, who leads them in a war against the Federation and on the other side, the Federation side, a woman named Michael Burnham turns out to be instrumental in helping to start that war through some mistakes that she makes. And ends up stuck on a ship with kind of a rogue captain, Gabriel Lorca played by the always-going-rogue Jason Isaacs. And—
Annalee: [00:03:04] So, okay. Then the thing that’s fascinating, I think for a lot of us watching it who were science nerds is that this ship, even though it’s ship from the past of the series that we’ve been watching. It has this technology, a spore drive which is made with spores. It’s just what it sounds like, as advertised, and it can allow the ship to travel through the mycelial network, which is some kind of timey-wimey sub-spacey-wacey place that unites all—seems like, all universes, all spaces, maybe even the living and the dead. It’s just wacky.
ST: Discovery Clip: [00:03:47] This ship’s spore drive travels on a network of mycelium that’s spread across the entire galaxy.
Annalee: [00:03:52] But what it means is that the ship can teleport. The entire ship can teleport any place they want, including, apparently, into other universes. Including the universe where Spock wore a beard—
Charlie Jane: [00:04:05] Right. It’s the magic of mushrooms.
Annalee: [00:04:08] It is the magic of mushrooms. And, of course, Dr. Stamets, who is the character that runs the science lab is named after an actual scientist who studies mushrooms. So, that’s kind of great and I’m sure that the real life Stamets is wondering why people keep emailing him and things like that.
[00:04:29] So, we take this weird left turn. Or, I mean, not a left turn—whatever kind of turn you take to get into the mirror universe, and then it felt like we spent a million years in the mirror universe, but it was only like three episodes.
Charlie Jane: [00:04:44] It was like five or six episodes, I think. It was basically almost the whole back half of the season except for the tail end where we’re back and then the war is getting even worse. And once we were in the mirror universe, it sort of turns out that nobody is what they appear to be. Lorca’s actually from the mirror universe, Ash Tyler is is actually a Klingon undercover agent, who’s sort of wrapped in a human burrito, or whatever. He’s like a Klingducken. Um.
Annalee: [00:05:10] Yeah, he’s like a—Klingon wrapped in a human wrapped in a Klingon, or, I don’t know. Yeah, you’re right. It’s complicated.
Charlie Jane: [00:05:17] And then Paul Stamets kind of turns out to have an evil twin in the mirror universe who’s been influencing things all along.
Annalee: [00:05:23] Right, and we actually saw him in the first half of the season in a mirror, which is the first hint, and a lot of us, and a lot of fans said, oh, I think we’re heading towards the mirror universe. Yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:05:33] Yeah, and nobody has a beard in the mirror universe, it’s really disappointing.
Annalee: [00:05:37] Yeah, what the hell. I was—
Charlie Jane: [00:05:38] No eyepatches, no beards.
Annalee: [00:05:39] Yeah, it was—well, and I mean that kind of echoes the way the Klingons were also kind of changed up for this show. And I actually—You know, people really complained about the kind of H.R. Giger look for the Klingons, I didn’t mind it. I didn’t think it was bad, I mean.
Charlie Jane: [00:05:56] They looked streamlined. They looked kinda like, yeah.
Annalee: [00:05:58] They looked weird. I mean, and I will also say, I was not upset by the way that the Klingon language sounded, either. They were speaking in Klingon, that’s great. I don’t know why people were so pissed off about that.
Charlie Jane: [00:06:12] It was a little bit like, too slow and breathy. It would take them a little pause between every single phrase that they said. They were kind of like they’d been hanging out with Shatner so much that they’d kind of taken on Shatner’s mannerisms.
Annalee: [00:06:23] Yeah, no. There was a lot of sort of—oratory. It was Klingon oratory. And so, and when we go into the mirror universe, that’s. Yeah. I mean, that kind of really becomes the whole point of the season. We stop focusing on the war, and we start focusing on the difference between the Terran Empire and the Federation. And so, it’s less a war between humans and Klingons and more a war between these two versions of the Federation. Of our characters’ lives.
Charlie Jane: [00:07:00] Yeah, I mean, the ending is really about whether the Federation is willing to become like the Terran Empire in order to defeat the Klingons, and then obviously we’re gonna talk about that in a second.
Annalee: [00:07:08] Charlie, what did you feel like were some of the themes in this whole arc that we got? Because it was, unlike kind of previous Star Trek series, it was not episodic. It was really a soap opera. There was a big arc throughout the season.
Charlie Jane: [00:07:26] It was very serialized and one of the major themes of Star Trek is looking at what it means to be human and what is human nature, and this was unusual. This show was different in that the main character, Michael Burnham, is sort of the Kirk and the Spock of the show.
ST Discovery Clip: [00:07:41] You’re not Vulcan.
I was raised as one, after my parents were killed at a Vulcan outpost.
Sarek and his human wife Amanda took you in. Your story’s well documented.
He believed I could serve as humanity’s potential.
How could he put that kind of pressure on a child?
Not everyone agreed with him. A group of logic extremists, they didn’t want humans in their culture.
Annalee: [00:08:01] Yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:08:01] She is a—she is a human but she was raised by Vulcans and she’s very Vulcan identified. And a lot of the show is her struggling with her humanity in a different way than we used to see Spock struggle with his. And In the end, she kind of has reach a new balance of her humanity and her Vulcan nature.
Annalee: [00:08:18] How do you see her struggle as being different from Spock’s? Because they are siblings. They have a very similar kind of hybrid identity. What’s different about her?
Charlie Jane: [00:08:32] I mean, I think it’s interesting because she actually has an easier time repressing her emotions than Spock seems to. Like, Spock is constantly struggling with his emotions on the original series. It’s always bubbling up, and we kind of hear over and over than Vulcans have this deep passionate core that they have to repress, and she seems to have done a really good job of repressing her feelings because she’s had so much trauma, and because she’s kind of shut down in a lot of ways. And she’s surrounded by all these other characters who also either aren’t human, or have a very weird relationship to their humanity. And so, there’s no Kirk or McCoy around her to kind of be the foil who’s like, the clearly human character to set her off.
Annalee: [00:09:14] Right. Yeah, because if anyone is her foil, I almost want to say it’s Saru.
Charlie Jane: [00:09:19] A little bit, yeah.
Annalee: [00:09:20] I mean, I know Lorca is also supposed to be kind of her foil, but Saru is—he’s known her for a while. They served together on the Shinjo and he feels betrayed by her so she has to kind of re-earn his trust. I guess his species is the fearful of death species. Thank you, Star Trek, for giving us yet another species that’s like, the listener people but now it’s the tentacled fear people.
Charlie Jane: [00:09:52] The threat ganglia people. Like—you know Star Trek is full of races that mostly have like one trait.
Annalee: [00:09:53] The threat ganglia—mm tasty ganglia. Yeah.
Charlie Jane: [00:09:57] It’s just like, we’re empathic, or we’re angry, or—
Annalee: [00:09:59] Or, we don’t have any emotions like the Vulcans. Although I think that this show actually complicates that a little bit. I feel like these characters have intersectional identities—
Charlie Jane: [00:10:09] A little bit.
Annalee: [00:10:09] Because Saru is the last of his kind. He’s—or one of the last of his kind. It seems like we don’t know for sure. But, he’s certainly the only one of his kind in Star Fleet. But, he’s cautious where Burnham is quick to action. I mean, he’s very dubious of her. I don’t know if you buy that idea that he’s kind of her foil. But, I guess Tilly is also kind of her foil in a way, because Tilly is the most. She’s a human but she’s also not—she doesn’t act like a human, really. She seems like she’s a little—she doesn’t really understand human socializing, which I can relate to.
Charlie Jane: [00:10:47] So what were some other themes that you saw in the episode?
Annalee: [00:10:49] So, one of the things that I thought was interesting, is just sort of bouncing off what you were saying about the fact that there’s no kind of Kirk character, there’s no Bones. There’s none of these people who are kind of iconically human. And we have, on the bridge, all of these—they’re basically NPCs. We never meet them. We see them in every episode pretty much, but there’s like, the lady with the weird tech in her face. And then there’s another lady with like a strange piece of tech on her head. There’s a couple of other characters that are also just kind of hanging around and doing stuff that also don’t seem necessarily human. It’s really hard to tell. And as we were just saying, Saru is one of the main characters. He’s an alien. Stamets is like half mushroom, by the end of the show. And you know, and of course, Burnham is struggling with being a Vulcan-identified human, which is a really interesting idea. And I think gets explored really well in some ways. And then of course, there’s Ash Tyler/Voq, who is like Klingy-Humy guy. Klingin-human. What is it? Klingducken.
Charlie Jane: [00:12:04] Klingducken.
Annalee: [00:12:05] He’s the Klingducken. So, I think what’s interesting is that we’ve kind of left humanity behind and one of the hallmarks of the Federation in this series is that it’s kind of post-human. In a way that it wasn’t, I think, in the original series. And not even in Next Generation, even though that’s always been the credo of the Federation, I feel like now we’re actually seeing it with our own eyes. This is a really diverse group in terms of just including everyone. So, I liked—I actually really liked that theme of not having sort of a human versus alien, or human versus machine. Instead as we were discussing earlier, it really becomes a show about the Federation versus the Terran Empire.
ST Discovery Clip: [00:13:00] The Terrans appear to be the antithesis of us in every way. They’re an oppressive, racist, xenophobic culture that dominates all known space, and they’re ruled by a faceless emperor. The Terran culture appears to be predicated upon an unconditional hatred and rejection of anything and everything other.
Annalee: [00:13:21] The alien other in this show is the Terran Empire. I mean, the Klingons also, but by the end, I feel like we are starting—the Klingons have become kind of us, and especially with Ash Tyler’s plot, I feel like—as horribly as it was handled, and we should probably talk about that, you know, that by the end it feels like the Klingons are more us than the Terran Empire humans.
Charlie Jane: [00:13:49] I think it’s more just that the Klingons are this kind of unreasoning threat that we can’t just talk to. We have to defeat them somehow and the question is how we can defeat them without compromising our values, because the obvious, easy way out is to follow the Terran Empire recipe of just genocide and ruthless crushing of any resistance. And, obviously, that’s a path that we flirt with towards the end of this season.
Annalee: [00:14:13] And in the beginning because that’s “The Vulcan Hello.” And so, that’s one of the other things I thought was so interesting in this series, when we’re sort of in the set-up phase of the series, and we’re learning about the world. And the Vulcans are dicks. They are way dickier than I’ve ever seen them. They’re actually kind of bad guys.
Charlie Jane: [00:14:34] They were dicks in Enterprise as well. I think this is something that this show carries on from Enterprise. Like, they were explicitly dicks in a lot of Enterprise.
Annalee: [00:14:41] Yeah, I guess that’s true.
Charlie Jane: [00:14:42] And “The Vulcan Hello” isn’t actually. It’s not a wholesale genocide. It is a massive preemptive strike to try and discourage further hostilities. But it is a dick move. It’s like the ultimate dick move.
Annalee: [00:14:56] Yeah. And it’s true. It’s not as bad as blowing up the entire planet, which is kind of what they’re planning to do at the end and don’t do because you know, they have a change of heart and decide not to burn an entire frickin’ planet down.
Charlie Jane: [00:15:11] Yeah, so let’s talk a little bit about the ending.
Annalee: [00:15:14] Yeah, the ending. Oh my God.
Charlie Jane: [00:15:15] So, in the end, like I said, they’re struggling to find a way to defeat the Klingons that doesn’t compromise their values, and I feel we get an ending that’s a little bit unearned. But part of why the ending feels unearned to me is also a lack of moral gravity in the show. And particularly things like the character of Culber being killed and that being kind of dealt with a little bit and then swept under the rug.
Annalee: [00:15:37] Like, super swept under the rug, because yeah. I mean, wouldn’t Stamets just be—I mean, he’d be freaked out and upset. I get that he’s a Starfleet Officer and he knows how to put his feelings aside, but he has this kind of moment in the hallway with Ash Tyler where Ash kind of shows up and is like, wow, I’m really sorry about killing your husband. And then he’s just like, ah, whatever. He just kind of smirks at him. Anyway.
Charlie Jane: [00:16:02] Yeah, and I feel like that’s—I mean, he has one magic mushroom trip where he gets to talk to his dead boyfriend for like a minute and they listen to opera together, and it’s like, oh, okay, all better now. And I feel like that felt really cheap after how kind of unnecessary that death felt to begin with. It felt like a death that was just thrown in for shock value. And I wanted it to pay off somehow. I also feel like a lot of the ending has to do with the consequences of making terrible choices. And a lot of those consequences do feel kind of swept under the rug. Like, Michael Burnham has to kill people in the mirror universe, and we never really—we hear her kind of regretting that, but it doesn’t become a major thing. The toll that it takes on you being a part of this terrible war is kind of mentioned, but then—
Annalee: [00:16:47] She eats one of her friends.
Charlie Jane: [00:16:49] Right. She eats one of the Kelpiens and it’s all kind of dealt with, but then it’s all thrown aside to focus on the big plot issue. And so, I feel like the lack of moral gravity kind of robs the ending of any of its weight. But, also, there is the problem with L’Rell, which I’d love to hear you talk about.
Annalee: [00:17:07] Yeah. So, L’Rell is the character who, for a lot of the season, we think has been Ash Tyler’s captor, torturer, rapist. And, by the end, once we’ve had our Klingducken moment. It turns out, actually, she and Voq were like boyfriend and girlfriend, and so what Ash—what Tyler was remembering as sexual trauma was actually like Klingon fun times and somehow—Which, I could actually—we could have a whole episode about how incredibly weird it was that they turned PTSD from sexual trauma into just, oh, yeah, that was just like a mistake. Because it felt like those scenes were—those scenes were really powerful, and just to turn those scenes into just—oh, well that was just some weird thing. Those scenes where he’s being raped. That seemed like a really problematic way to deal with it. So, I guess there’s this moment where we’re supposed to think actually L’Rell’s not so bad, because it turned out it wasn’t really rape and torture, and then she becomes kind of a weirdly sympathetic character. Burnham enlists her aid in the final moments of the show where she basically hands her the detonator that they were gonna use. She and Georgiou were gonna use to blow up the Klingon home world through some kind of weird plate tectonics mumbo-jumbo.
ST Discovery Clip: [00:18:36] Klingons respond to strength. Use the fate of Chronos to bend them to your will. Preserve your civilization. Rather than watch it be destroyed.
But I am no one.
You once told Voq that you didn’t want the mantle of leadership. It’s time for you to leave the shadows.
Annalee: [00:19:01] The entire ending depends on a couple of things that are wacky and improbable, which is, one, that we can actually trust L’Rell with this instrument, but two that she can actually then convince all the Klingon houses to trust her. Either not to blow things up, or that they’re actually going to buy the idea that this dumb iPad that she’s holding can actually blow the planet up. So, she becomes this kind of MacGuffin as we were saying earlier. She’s just like the character that kind of comes in and saves the day at the end, and we like it because it represents a lady warrior taking over and so it’s kind of nice balance for Michael Burnham who’s also lady warrior. But, at the end, I think the thing that is most problematic about what’s done to L’Rell is that I think it’s supposed to seem like a happy ending, even though, her goal is to unite all the houses of the Klingon empire or future empire under a kind of racist nationalism. Like, that’s her credo, is racist nationalism. And she’s just going to get them all together by threatening them with this bomb and also leading them forward with this promise of racial purity. So, it’s a weird ending.
Charlie Jane: [00:20:27] Yeah, and I think that we’re supposed to think that maybe she’s seen where that racist purity idea leads to because it led to them fighting amongst themselves instead of being unified. But, we don’t really get to see enough of that to really have it stick, and also, you know, she could just conclude that, well, it didn’t work before, but once I’m in charge, I can make it work, which seems like that might actually be right.
[00:20:48] I’m also wondering what happened to that detonator? And is it still there hundreds of years later? Is it the way that all the Klingon emperors keep power? Does Gowron have that iPad with the little detonator button in Star Trek: The Next Generation? The holy detonator of K’las.
Annalee: [00:21:05] Yeah, and it’s like—does he have to keep upgrading? Like, because it’s like—okay, well we moved the detonator over onto the iPad mini 4, and now we’ve discontinued that so he has to keep getting more Federation updates. This update wrecked my detonator app.
Charlie Jane: [00:21:25] I forgot my iTunes password again.
Annalee: [00:21:28] Oh, crap! Yeah, I think that’s probably exactly what’s really going on. Also, I wanted to say one more thing about L’Rell, because I guess I have a lot of thoughts about L’Rell. I feel like there was actually, despite the ending, I kind of liked the love triangle that we finally got to see in action where Tyler with his pretty eyes and his little snacky face, is sort of looking at both Burnham and L’Rell at this moment when they’re trying to convince L’Rell to take power and she’s like, “I don’t know.” And he’s like, “No, you’re awesome, and you’re super cool and he says a bunch of other stuff that’s a little bit more profound than that. But basically, you realize at that moment that wow, he really loves her, and these women have both been his lovers. He has good taste in women. He likes strong women who are leaders, and I felt for the first time at that moment, maybe too late, that really had been a kind of love triangle plot that had been unfolding throughout the season. I kind of wished I could have seen a bit more of that, but I liked that moment. I liked that beat, and I liked the fact that L’Rell got the guy in the end. Not like Michael wanted him anymore, really, but Michael was sad. He was cute. He was kinda nice, I guess, except for the whole beating and killing thing. But that wasn’t his fault, that was—
Charlie Jane: [00:23:01] Whatever, that was the Voq side of things, or whatever. I don’t know.
Annalee: [00:23:04] Well, or it was like him struggling with the Voq side, or I don’t know whatever. But, let’s talk about the cliffhanger, which really annoyed the crap out of me.
Charlie Jane: [00:23:14] It felt like gratuitous fan service. It felt like they hadn’t already given us enough fan service with Harry Mudd and the mirror universe and all this other stuff, so now—so basically the end of this season is that randomly, for no reason, they run into the USS Enterprise and we know what Captain Pike and also Mr. Spock, Burnham’s step-brother or whatever are on that ship and everybody’s gonna all meet each other and they’re gonna have a giant luau together and season two.
Annalee: [00:23:41] I feel like with something like Star Trek, there’s really two kinds of fan. There’s the fans who want the show to keep returning to its origins. Basically, they want to see episodes that make reference to stuff that we had in the original series. And, I mean, certainly that’s the J.J. Abrams movies, right. Those are just completely, let’s just go back to the origins and give everybody all the ice cream that they already ate back in the late 1960s. And there’s other fans who I think are the opposite, who really want to see Star Trek go in a new direction, and want to see it go into the future. And one of the things that’s interesting about Discovery is that when it was being first conceived by Bryan Fuller who was the original show-runner, it was going to be each season was going to bring us further into the future. So, we were going to start around this time period where Michael Burnham’s hanging around and doing stuff. And then maybe by season five, we would be past Star Trek Voyager and into the future. And I feel like once Fuller left, it became much more about how can we just keep revisiting the past over and over, which is what Enterprise had already done. So, I feel like there’s this tug of war between the fanservice fans. The ones who are like, I want to see the Enterprise, what was going on the Enterprise? And there’s people like me who are like, I really don’t care what’s happening on the Enterprise. I love the Enterprise, but I’ve seen it a million times, I’m going to see it again in the movies. I want to know what’s happening elsewhere in this universe, and I want to know what’s happening on Discovery. Like, Discovery has this awesome spore drive. I want to go in that direction, so I feel like the show has tried to split the difference between those two kinds of fans. The ones who want to return to the original text, the original show, and the ones who really want to go definitely where no one has gone before. And it kind of—I don’t know, what do you think? Do you feel like it worked? Did it not work?
Charlie Jane: [00:25:41] I feel like it worked at times, and then at times it felt like it was kind of disappearing too much into fanservice, and that ending definitely felt too fanservicey. My feeling is always that the more we end up revisiting things that we’ve seen before, the smaller the universe appears. The more it seems like a tiny small town, versus like a huge wide-open universe where anything can happen. If we have to just keep meeting Harry Mudd over and over again—
Annalee: [00:26:06] I know.
Charlie Jane: [00:26:07] You know, and I think Harry Mudd actually is a character best left in the ‘60s. He’s like—his big thing is that he’s kind of a crazy swashbuckling misogynist. And I feel like that was a probably pretty good in the ‘60s, but not something that we need to revisit in the 21st century. I also think that a lot of fans of Star Trek are really and it’s weird that we keep getting shout outs to the original series, instead of to The Next Generation, when I feel like the people who grew up on the original series are an aging fanbase that perhaps are not really the people who are going to be the most excited about Discovery. And maybe instead of getting constant callbacks to the Enterprise and Spock and Kirk, and the mirror universe, we should be seeing more of the Borg, or Q.
Annalee: [00:26:54] Q...
Charlie Jane: [00:26:55] Q…
Annalee: [00:26:56] That would not be—that might not be great either, but I really agree with you. I mean, it’s funny because I grew up with Next Generation. That was my Star Trek, that was my first Star Trek. I mean, I did see the movies when I was really little, but I didn’t know about the—I didn’t grow up with the original series. Maybe you did. I think you grew up with Doctor Who, so it’s all completely—
Charlie Jane: [00:27:19] I mean, the original series was in syndication when I was a kid, and I remember seeing it, and it was just like—it was this super colorful exciting show where they were like punching lizard men every other episode. And, you know, and blowing up computers with logic puzzles. It was a really fun show when I was a little kid, but I do feel like Next Generation and also Deep Space 9 had more of a formative influence on me in terms of what I grew up with.
Annalee: [00:27:46] Yeah, same here. And I agree with you. I feel like the fans who are going to be watching this now, that is their Star Trek, is like TNG, Deep Space 9, maybe even Voyager. And Enterprise is another kind of blip. That was another effort to kind of go back to the original story. So, one of the things that Discovery did well in terms of calling back to things that we like about Star Trek, or that are kind of endemic to the Star Trek universe is that it didn’t shy away from touching on a lot of political issues, and this is something that the show’s been doing since the very beginning. I think one of the big issues that we’ve kind of been talking about already that is really threaded throughout the show is xenophobia. And, also the rise of racist nationalism, because the Klingons and the Terran Empire are both racist. They’re into the purity of the species that they’re part of and destroy everybody else.
Charlie Jane: [00:28:54] Yeah, and I think that another way that it sort of touched on really important issues is the question of wartime atrocities and how willing you are to commit atrocities like torture or genocide or all those other kinds of things that we see in this series in order to win a conflict with some other force that you’ve defined as your opposite or whatever.
Annalee: [00:29:19] I feel like, those two political issues go together because of course, you’re willing to torture and genocide other creatures partly because you don’t think of them as being human or a person. The Klingons aren’t really people, and the Klingons certainly don’t think of the humans as really being people although I guess L’Rell is now going to have to perhaps grapple with that because now her boyfriend is a human. I feel like we kind of had this moment early in the season when Stamets and the science crew are being told, okay, just repurpose everything you’re doing and turn it into a weapon, and it’s this kind of horrible moment where we’re like, okay, we’re not in normal Star Trek universe.
Charlie Jane: [00:30:02] Yeah, and then they’re just torturing the poor tardigrade, and it’s horrible.
Annalee: [00:30:06] The mega-tardigrade, I loved that.
Charlie Jane: [00:30:08] And it’s actually kind of worse in a way than watching a person be tortured although I think there’s some torture of people later in the season.
Annalee: [00:30:15] Well, Stamets is kind of being tortured, and then of course there’s the Agonizers. I mean, the entire Terran Empire. Also, L’Rell, like what the hell? They tortured her. I mean, even though they’re not supposed to be torturers, they do beat her up and even before Georgiou beats her up, she’s been kind of mistreated.
Charlie Jane: [00:30:36] Yeah, and I think that what this season wants you to think that it’s about is about rediscovering those values that we had been in danger of losing. Like, it starts out with Burnham being willing to cross a line and mutinying against her captain in order to cross that line, and in the end of the season, she mutinies in order to not cross a line, and it’s supposed to be that she’s reasserting the standards that the moral principles that they have been slowly throwing away. That’s part of why, again, I feel it’s a little bit unearned in the end. I feel like we don’t get enough of why those principles are important or the cost of the emotional and psychological cost of losing them.
Annalee: [00:31:15] Yeah, losing them.
Charlie Jane: [00:31:16] And just, what it means to lose them. I feel like we kind of skate over that a little bit.
Annalee: [00:31:20] I mean, we see the Klingons, we see the Terran Empire, and those are kind of stand-ins for how terrible it is when you lose those values. I mean, I did kind of love the moment when the Federation folks meet the, I guess the terrorist group that’s fighting against the Terran Empire, or I guess you could call them insurrectionaries or rebels, or whatever. From the point of view of the Terran Empire, they are terrorists. But, they are a diverse group. They are very intersectional, lots of aliens and humans intertwingling. And so, part of what the values of the Federation are, or one of the values of the Federation is this diversity. Infinite diversity in infinite combination, which I guess is actually—isn’t that actually a Vulcan—
Charlie Jane: [00:32:08] I think it’s actually a Vulcan thing. It’s actually something that Gene Roddenberry came up with because he wanted to sell some merchandise with it. But, it is a Vulcan saying apparently.
Annalee: [00:32:15] Even though, in this series, the Vulcans are kind of racists and they’re kind of—they kind of have a big stick up their butt about only one human child can go to our Vulcan science place. Vulcan science troops.
Charlie Jane: [00:32:33] Yeah, which was really interesting that it turned out that like Sarek kind of chose Spock over Michael Burnham. And it gets back to the thing we were talking about before, about how the Vulcans have this barely repressed passion and anger and emotion that they’re just keeping down through sheer force of will. And that’s sort of what humans are like, too, because we’re constantly, in the original series, we’re constantly being asked are humans still barbaric? We just emerged from barbarism. We were having a terrible war just a hundred years earlier when the Vulcans finally showed up, and Star Trek First Contact the movie, we kind of see some of that. And that idea of whether humans are capable of being more than barbarians is something that obsesses the original series. I think that this show, in the end, showed a lot of the limitations of a prequel because they have to leave things in a way that doesn’t contradict the original series, and in the original series, we know that there was war with the Klingons ten years earlier, but things are not settled. And indeed, the first time we meet the Klingons, Kirk is preparing to go to war with them again, and the only reason we don’t go to war with them is because the Organians, like these weird beardy dudes in beards and robes suddenly intervene.
Annalee: [00:33:43] Robey-beards.
Charlie Jane: [00:33:43] Robey-beard guys suddenly intervene and put a stop to it. But that’s the kind of status quo that Discovery has to leave in place, so the war has to end, but it has to not be resolved.
Annalee: [00:33:53] Right, so—
Charlie Jane: [00:33:55] And so they’re kind of hamstrung by having to be a prequel.
Annalee: [00:33:58] I mean, they are, and it kind of prevents the show from being the kind of Star Trek that we all know and love where humans have kind of gotten over their barbarism, or at least a little bit of their barbarism. I’m sure Q would point out, as he does many times, including in The Next Generation’s premiere episode that humans are still barbaric. And I think Discovery, one of the things that was really interesting about it, but also frustrating, was that it is a show about what humans are like when they’re right on the cusp of losing what we’re calling barbarism, and kind of emerging as a social democracy in space. So, they’re kind of losing the last vestiges of the urge to commit war crimes. The urge to torture. The urge to be nationalist racists, and they’re gradually emerging as some kind of alliance of different groups that are trying to do things. Yeah, in a democratic way. Although, we never see voting on Star Trek, which is kind of funny. Um, that would be great. Maybe next season there will be an election. But yeah, so I feel like Discovery had a lot of flaws. I’m still gonna watch the next season. I want to know what happens, even though I’m annoyed about the Enterprise showing up, I’m down.
Charlie Jane: [00:35:30] I’m totally down, too. I wish that they hadn’t done it as a prequel. I wish they’d found another way to do it. I feel like they pinned medals on everybody as a kind of victory lap that, again, was a little bit unearned.
Annalee: [00:35:42] You know what, I do not give season one of Discovery a medal. I’m gonna give it. I’ll give a Good Sportsman ribbon.
Charlie Jane: [00:35:50] Yeah, I think a Good Sportsman ribbon. It’s still in the race.
Annalee: [00:35:54] Good SportsCreature.
Charlie Jane: [00:35:55] It’s still in it. I’m still rooting for it.
Annalee: [00:35:58] Yeah, I’m still rooting for it, too. I think it’s—it continues to be interesting. It continues to comment on the same issues that Star Trek has always commented on. And I actually want to see more Klingon action.
Charlie Jane: [00:36:11] You’ve been listening to Our Opinions Are Correct with Charlie Jane Anders and Annalee Newitz, which is available every two weeks wherever fine podcasts can be found, and thanks so much to our engineer at Women’s Audio Mission, Veronica Simonetti, and thanks to Chris Palmer for our theme music.
[00:36:28] Outro music plays.