Captain’s Blog: Episode 322, 2017.06.19

Greetings, captains! Some new developments on the Discovery front this week, including an actual premiere date. Engines to full; here we go!

The biggest news, of course, is that we finally have a premiere date for Discovery. CBS announced yesterday that the first episode will air on network television on Sunday, September 24th. The time is tentatively set for 8:30 PM EST/7:30 CST; the time may change since NFL football and the news show 60 Minutes are also scheduled for that evening. The premiere will be made available for streaming on CBS All-Access once the episode starts on TV. Then, when the episode is over on network TV, the second episode will be released for streaming as well. Trying to explain this in words is extremely confusing, so here’s a table with the planned schedule.

Star Trek: Discovery Schedule
CBS All-Access Broadcast TV
September 24 Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 1
October 1 Episode 3
October 8 Episode 4
October 15 Episode 5
October 22 Episode 6
October 29 Episode 7
November 5 Episode 8
November 13 Show on hiatus until January 2018

That’s right: unlike Netflix, DSC will be parcelled out to us one episode at a time. Also note that episode 2 doesn’t get its own release week, so to stay on top of things you’ll either need to watch both the premiere and episode 2 before October 1st, or make episode 2 a double-header with episode 3.

On to this week’s show.  I’ve had some time to think about the Collider interview with Alex Kurtzman discussed on this week’s show. I have to say, it’s left me with really mixed feelings. While I agree with Kenna that it’s nice to hear someone who sounds genuinely enthusiastic about Discovery, some of the things Mr. Kurtzman said make me a little anxious about the show.

Before I talk about what I’m worried about, I want to say that I’m still excited about a lot of what Discovery has to offer. I’m thrilled that our viewpoint character will be a woman of color. I’m thrilled that Michelle Yeoh is in the show, and I really hope she’s there for more than one episode. (I still need to talk about why Michelle Yeoh is amazing, but trust me, she’s amazing.) I’m thrilled Doug Jones is getting wider exposure: I mostly know him from his excellent work for Guillermo del Toro in the Hellboy films and in Pan’s Labyrinth.  And, of course, I’m always happy to see Jason Isaacs.

Jason Isaacs as Captain Lorca in 'Star Trek: Discovery'

Hello to Jason Isaacs!
Picture courtesy of Jan Thijs/CBS via Entertainment Weekly

I’m also excited that Discovery appears to be moving away from the more traditional episodic television structure. I have multiple problems with episodic storytelling, but the main one is that I feel it tends to hinder character development. Since the point of episodic storytelling is that a viewer can jump in at any point and not need to know what’s going on, the characters tend to remain the same from week to week. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I’m really interested to see what stories can be told if a character is allowed to grow and change from episode to episode. I also feel that a tighter production schedule may lead to tighter writing, since the writers won’t be trying to remember in February what happened in September. I’ve been a fan before of shows that tried to have a myth arc while also trying to be episodic, and no few of them were a hot mess. (Not that I’m naming names, X-Files.)

All of that said, here are my three big concerns about what Mr. Kurtzman said in the interview. First, I’m concerned the show is going to be geared towards fans of the Kelvin timeline. Second, I’m concerned about “gay storylines” being handled well. Third, I’m concerned about the show’s “vision.” I’ll try to explain each as briefly as I can.

Point the first: in the interview, Mr. Kurtzman talked about how film and television are becoming indistinguishable from each other in terms of visual quality. He said, “The line between film and television is utterly blurred. Not just at a storytelling level, but visually now. What we’re doing on Star Trek right now, that’s not that different from what we’re doing in the movies.” This is a huge leap on my part, but that suggests to me the show has been visually designed to align more with the Kelvin timeline than the Prime timeline, a theory I think is borne out by the designs of the uniforms and the Klingons. And if the show is going to look like the Kelvin timeline, then I suspect it’s also going to be written like the Kelvin timeline. I hope I’m wrong about that, but since Paramount has put eight years into steering the Trek franchise Kelvin-wards, I can’t see why CBS would decide to change direction.

The bridge of the Enterprise (2009) and the bridge of the Shenzhou

Above, the 2009 Enterprise bridge. Below, the Shenzhou bridge. To me, they look very similar in design.

(Before I address the next point, I want to be clear. I am not a member of the LGBTQ community. I will do my utmost to be supportive and accurate, but I am, ultimately, an outsider.)

Point the second: this one’s a little stickier because there isn’t that much said about it in the interview, per se. The interviewer brought it up first, saying that what Star Trek has “failed to do till now is the ability [sic] to tell stories that were maybe too risky, avant-garde, whatever they may be, because of the time periods. 60s, 90s….” When Kurtzman asked for an example, the interviewer said, “Maybe gay storylines,” to which Kurtzman replied, “You don’t have to worry about that.”

I’m extremely happy that Discovery will have an openly gay crewmember. For a franchise that has always tried to promote human equality and positive representation, Star Trek‘s record with regard to LGBTQ characters and issues has been, frankly, lackluster. Until we saw Sulu with his husband and daughter in Star Trek Beyond, the closest Trek ever came to an openly gay character was Jadzia Dax, when she briefly reconnected with her ex-wife in the DS9 episode “Rejoined.” Ronald D. Moore, writer and producer for TNG, DS9, and Voyager, was extremely blunt about the franchise’s shortcomings in a 2008 interview: “We’ve just failed at [LGBTQ representation]. It’s not been something we’ve successfully done.”

Jadzia Dax and Lenara Kahn kiss in the DS9 episode 'Rejoined'

The high point of LGBTQ representation on Star Trek until Star Trek Beyond

With all of that said, why am I anxious about Discovery boldly going where Trek has failed to go? Because I don’t know who’s writing it. I know Bryan Fuller mapped out the story arc for season one, but he’s no longer at the helm. So is anyone other than Anthony Rapp bringing personal experience to the table? Is Discovery giving LGBTQ writers a chance to tell their own stories? As Ronald Moore also said in that 2008 interview, “The truth is [LGBTQ representation] was not really a priority for any of us on the staff so it wasn’t really something that was strong on anybody’s radar.” If Star Trek is going to have “gay storylines” for the first time in the franchise’s history, I want first-hand knowledge to be strong on somebody’s radar. Representation isn’t something that only happens in front of a camera, after all.

Moving on, point the third: the last thing that concerned me about Kurtzman’s interview was what he said about the show’s being postponed: “As the vision expanded it, we started feeling like we weren’t going to be able to deliver the scope and scale that was on the page.” I like epic sci-fi as much as the next sentient lifeform, but even in an epic you have to pace yourself. I’d like to get to know these characters before they have to walk into Qo’noS or whatever. However, I’m worried we won’t have time. Just from what we’ve learned so far, this season’s going to cover Klingon shenanigans, Burnham growing up Vulcan, “gay storylines,” Lieutenant Deathsense, and literally jumping ship from the Shenzhou to the Discovery. That’s a pretty full schedule for fifteen episodes. I would really prefer if the staff picked one or two exciting ideas and stuck to exploring those instead of presenting the viewers with a plot turducken. Leave something for season two!

Sausage-stuffed turducken cut into quarters to show the internal layers

This is no way to treat either a plot or Thanksgiving dinner.
Photo by Christopher “Pacula” Corkum – Self-photographed, via Wikipedia

How justified are my concerns? I have no idea. The only thing I’m sure of is that I’m going to have to wait until September to find out.

Whitby, out.

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