Star Trek: Discovery just kinda sucks

Judging by the enthusiastic reactions I’m seeing online, my opinion of Star Trek: Discovery is not going to be a popular one. I didn’t like it. Didn’t like it at all.

I don’t think these are spoilers, but just in case, it’s going below the fold.

Complaint #1: The Klingons were awful. Once again, they’ve unnecessarily redesigned the facial appliances they slap on their canonical opposition species, for no good reason. They just made ’em uglier.

Come up with an excuse and stick with it. It is legitimate to argue that your aliens need to be relatable (and within your budget), so just sticking a couple of cosmetic signifiers on them is fine. But these aliens still look cheap, like someone went crazy with the latex, and are still bipedal humanoids, but now all expression in their faces is lost and you’re sending the message that superficial appearances are all that matters. Bleh.

Related: the actors are speaking Klingon like they were forced to memorize random syllables off a cue card. They speak slowly, with frequent and seemingly pointless pauses. People (and aliens, I presume) who speak a foreign language do so fluidly and with a sophisticated pattern of expression. These mooks don’t.

Also related: the Federation Science Officer is so dang hideous and confusingly featured, with an uninterpretable face atop a generic and mundane human body, that I was uncomfortable watching him.

Complaint #2: Illogical plot points contrived for their pseudo-heroicism. Prime case: they’ve spotted a mysterious artifact deep in an asteroid belt. They can’t get a good look at it from their distance of 2000km away. So the show’s hero volunteers to get into a rocket propelled suit and fly in for a closer look, which they estimate will take 20 minutes to fly in and back. Which means she’s going to be piloting this suit through a ridiculously densely packed field of tumbling CGI boulders at 200km/minute (or, for you brutes who favor cloddish imperial units, over 7000 miles per hour). There were a few shots of her elegantly, and slowly, swooping around crashing space rocks. This does not compute.

Furthermore, she’s under a time limit. There’s deadly radiation out there! You’ve got to be back within 19 minutes or you’ll die. That’s not how radiation works. That’s not how any of this works.

The story would have been better served by sending a robot probe. Or better yet, just have the sensors detect that it’s a Klingon gadget over there. The deadly space walk served no purpose to the story at all, except to give the hero an opportunity to demonstrate how reckless and stupid she was.

Complaint #3: What kind of military outfit is this? The hero is insubordinate to the captain, because she thinks she understands Klingons better than the commanding officer of a starship. The captain takes her into a side room to chew her out, and the hero assaults her, knocks her out with a Vulcan nerve pinch, and walks back out to the bridge to start issuing orders to attack the Klingons.

This makes no sense. The hero is going to get a court martial (I know, in the Trek universe, these always end up vindicating the reckless ass, but still…), if she isn’t shot on sight. The show has lost all believability at this point, which is saying something for a show with the premise of spaceships running around meeting aliens.

Complaint #4: It was an hour-long show in which virtually nothing happens except to set up Episode #2, which you can see online by paying money to CBS’s subscription service. No, really: here’s the whole plot. Federation probe stops working. Starship flies out to see what happened. It’s Klingons! They’re surrounded! Pay us money to see what happens next!

I suppose the creators think there was some character development and background-building in there, but mostly what I learned is that Klingons have gotten uglier and inarticulate, while the Federation is crewed by incompetent bumbling assholes.

I have no interest in seeing episode #2, which is too bad. I was interested enough yesterday to sit through a chunk of 60 Minutes, delayed by a football game, to see it, and I suffered mightily for it (A McCain interview — please, he’s not a statesman, he’s the twit who wanted Sarah Palin for vice president, and a Frank Luntz panel designed to give idiots who voted for Trump equal weight with rational people). Also, goddamn commercials. There’s a reason I rarely watch broadcast TV anymore.

If Star Trek: Discovery is supposed to entice me back, it’s not going to work.


  1. cartomancer says

    Complaint #2 regards what would, in traditional literary jargon, be called an aristeia scene. They occur all the time in epic poetry – scenes where heroic characters launch themselves into an important endeavour to show off their own excellence. Usually they involve attacking and killing lots of enemies, but not always – building a really good boat, making a really good speech, even drinking down a huge heavy cup of wine that nobody else can lift serves the purpose in times of peace. When done well they can move the plot along, give us interesting insights into the character of the hero and provide moments of high drama.

    When not done well they fall flat as a pancake. Comic poets from Aristophanes to Alexander Pope have taken full advantage of the fallout.

  2. dhabecker says

    Review is spot-on. Klingon’s have never made sense–extremely advanced brutes? Oh; someone comes to mind.

  3. arresi says

    Oh, hey, we can be unpopular together. I hated this. She’s a reckless, over-emotional, hot-head who jumps to conclusions and spends a good chunk of the story being arrogant (she jumps in to play science officer, ignores the doctor, and tries to override the captain) without any proof of her being competent (she doesn’t think of a way off the planet, wastes the time she has during the flyby babbling about the object being big, lands on the unknown artifact with no idea of what sort of defenses or properties it has, gets rescued, leaves the infirmary in the middle of treatment instead of just calling the captain on the ship’s intercom, and on and on.)

  4. Dunc says

    Let’s bear in mind that pretty much the whole of the first 3 seasons of TNG were pretty damn poor, and even DS9 had an iffy first season or two… I’m willing to give it some time to find its feet. Of course, it helps that I’m in the UK and can watch via Netflix rather than having to sign up for CBS All Access…

  5. chris61 says

    I have no interest in seeing episode #2, which is too bad.

    Good choice. I signed up for the one week free trial of CBS All Access just so I could see it. It was in my opinion every bit as bad as episode 1. Maybe episodes 3 through whatever will be better but I’m never going to know.

  6. Rob Grigjanis says

    Oh dear, missed it. But it can’t be worse than Seth MacFarlane’s new show, Star Trek: With Fart Jokes. Can it?

  7. Bruce Fuentes says

    Once I saw that I would have to pay to see the episodes after the first I decided not to bother. I already pay for Satellite TV so I am not going to pay more. We live in an area where we cannot get a good over air signal out of Duluth and have horrible internet through Centurylink max 6Mbps, so that is our only TV choice.
    Glad to see my other fears were confirmed. TV is incapable of producing a well thought out entertaining SciFi series. The last SciFI shows I last enjoyed were FireFly and Farscape. Science wise they both had issues, but they actually focused on character development.
    Babylon 5 was my favorite series of all time. I wonder how it stands up to the test of time.

  8. says

    I totally agree with you.

    The character of our lead is totally unbelievable. She was raised by Vulcans, was a officer for seven years and the first time we see her making a decision on her on (on the solo flight to the Klingon ship) she disobeys a DIRECT order from her captain for no good reason at all. The captain orders a flyby, she chooses to land on the ship and while i think the second episode is slightly better, there are still at least one out of character decision she makes.
    It feels like the roll was written for a hot head, who just joined star fleet and has to prove them self, but they decided in the last moment to give the character seven years of first officer experience and a mental control that would come of being raised by Vulcans.

    That on top of all the other errors the writers have made inside only two episodes. A hull breach while shields are at 100 % and holding, not beaming right besides the well, not being able to transport a corps (but being able to transport a bomb), etc.

    Right now, Orville, in all its sometimes infantile silliness , is a way better Star Trek show than Discovery. Especially episode three, which was impressive and for the most part a classic Star Trek story in scope and topic.

  9. Rob Grigjanis says

    Bruce Fuentes @10:

    Babylon 5 was my favorite series of all time.

    Same here. The only SF show which could make me weep.

  10. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    I loved the Klingon line about “we come in peace.” Reminds me of this song.

    Also it’s nice to see a starship where the two top officers are women POC (sad that it’s not going to last).

    Other than that, I pretty much agree with the critique here. One more issue–the opening seemed all over the place–what’s up with showing just the schematics? Not as bad as Enterprise, but it lacks the usual majesty of Star Trek opening themes.

  11. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    One more nice touch: having a Malaysian actor play a character with a Greek name.

  12. DrewN says

    My main complaint is Michael’s Vulcan father figure being so prominent in the episode (though this may just be for exposition due to it being the opening episode). *Spoilers* When she’s in the brig and there’s that across-space mind-meld. It just feels like a male character mansplaining things to a female protagonist. She should have been able to build up her confidence in herself without that.

  13. marcusn says

    There is just too much wrong with this show to get into many details, but some brief impressions are – Why is everything , from the characters to outer space itself, shiny and gold ? (hint: they have “man- of – steeled” Star Trek) The pacing is frantic. The “Klingons” look like spiny, hominid, space frogs.(DOWN WITH HAIRLESS PURPLE KLINGONS!!) ..Ships first officer is appalling. I’ve NEVER seen anyone run around butting ahead, grabbing things and touching other people like that since I was in kindergarten. Generally all the bickering and backbiting was off-putting. Star Trek has always striven to be hopeful and evolved..This is laughably bitchy and devolved

  14. namerme says

    Michael’s hot headedness is irritating to the point of being unwatcheable and really doesn’t match up with her Vulcan back story. Also there is no humour or lightness – this show just takes itself far too seriously and doesn’t “feel” like Star Trek. I hate the Klingon redesign because WHY?!? Sigh. I loved TNG, voyager and DS9and I miss Farscape and firefly, 2 of the greatest sci fi shows created. Maybe this will improve though…the start of enterprise was also awful and it had a few decent plot lines…eventually.

  15. Zeppelin says

    I thought it was fine by “first season of a Star Trek show” standards. Which isn’t a high bar, but still. And I appreciate that the Klingons speak Klingon! The actors may not be perfect at it, but they’ve clearly had much better coaching than your average extra with a throwaway Klingon line did in previous shows. Hopefully they’ll keep it up and get more fluent over time.

  16. screechymonkey says

    I generally share PZ’s complaints. Especially #3. Complicated characters are good, but I keep getting the impression that the show really wants me to cheer for Michael, when I really just want her to be as far away from Starfleet as possible. Unfortunately, there’s a long tradition in Trek of “insubordination will be totally forgiven if it turns out you were right.”

    The one thing that intrigued me was when some characters started openly questioning whether it wasn’t racist (speciesist?) to make some of the conclusions they were making. Trek is at its best when it does a little self-examination and gets away from the “all Klingons are angry warriors, all Romulans are sneaky, etc.” stereotypes. But I’m not sure that the show wasn’t just introducing that concept to smack it down as political correctness getting in the way of Michael’s totally correct kill-em-all strategy.

    If this show was easy for me to access, I’d certainly check out a few more episodes. But CBS seems to be making it unnecessarily hard. I don’t want to watch TV on my laptop or phone if I can avoid it, and my TV doesn’t seem to have the right apps to access this series. If it’s going to be a pain-in-the-butt to access, then even if it’s free I can’t be bothered. Maybe I’ll catch it eventually on some other streaming service.

  17. Rich Woods says

    @euclide #18:

    Same here, until the Expanse

    There’s a lot going for The Expanse, not least six novels of source material which keep moving on and never fail to entertain (well, to my mind anyway). And so far the TV series has expanded well on the things it can be difficult to get across in a novel without screwing up the sense of what tends to works best in writing. That’s a rare combination.

  18. says

    Can’t argue with any of that, I’m not overcome with excitement. Honestly I was slightly baffled to see a new Star Trek of any kind.

    I am intrigued by the core theme it seems to be pushing, of cultural aggression and the assumption that the peaceful erasure of a people’s identity is a good thing. If it can manage to explore that territory without going horribly awry, it might get interesting. I don’t have high hopes for that though.

  19. anbheal says

    The slogan? Talk about bad writing and worse science??? “At the edge of the universe, Discovery begins”.

    Vey, where to start…..first off, the universe is isotropic, anywhere and everywhere. It has no edges. S

    Secondly, we know that it’s about 90 billion light years across, and Voyager, several hundred years in the future, was going to take 70 years to make it from the Delta Quadrant to the Alpha Quadrant of our own Milky Way galaxy, at warp 9.9, about 70,000 light years. The most advanced Federation ship ever never got anywhere near our closest neighbor, Andromeda, so even if the universe had an edge, this primitive Discovery ship won’t see it for many billions of years.

    Just a stupid slogan, that sounded good to some Marketing MBA.

    And they must KNOW that they’ll have a bunch of science nerds watching, so this stuff is going to leap out at them as obviously as Ridley shooting a flamethrower in a vacuum or Peter Jackson not really getting the whole way fire works in the Smaug scenes.

    Also, as with a generation and a half of Americans who’ve never seen a prizefight, you don’t grow a fan base with pay walls. If one can watch Breaking Bad and Orange Is The New Black and Narcos and Boardwalk Empire and Peaky Blinders for free, why in blue blazes would you cough up extra to watch something that should simply be in the line-up, paid for by X-box and Marvel movie ads?

    Just so much misbegotten bad ideas, all jockeying with each other.

  20. Walter Solomon says

    Unfortunately, as a trekkie, PZ’s synopsis is exactly how I feel about the show. I found myself turning to Fox’s Who Shot Biggie & Tupac? and finding it both more entertaining and more intelligent. Sad.
    Anyway, there’s always The Orville which is also, unfortunately, on Fox and so far tremendously better than Star Trek: Discovery.

  21. Walter Solomon says

    The story would have been better served by sending a robot probe.

    Apparently those don’t yet exist in the 23rd century of the Star Trek universe. They also still need to use handheld communicators that flip open for some reason.

  22. richardemmanuel says

    @1 Carto. If supernatural but downscribed, or advanced but indistinguishable from magic, could there be an author ne’er so well expressed as the Pope, that we could hear? Tough crowd.

  23. richardemmanuel says

    @24. It is well known that the hyper-advanced will find humans irresistibly fascinating, and not the least predictable, and that all imaginable remote-scanning devices will fail on approach, after crossing countless galaxies, and using the local electromagnetic preference for illumination, for reasons of taste, and, after unfortunate unexpected godnav failure, earnestly seek to anally probe an isolated agrarian, that they may be enlightened. It’s what they live for.

  24. Vivec says

    Given that it’s written by and stars Seth Macfarlane, I seriously doubt it’s anything but cringey and trite bro humor.

  25. A momentary lapse... says

    I don’t really see the appeal of Star Trek, it always seemed rather sterile to me and the later attempts to give some kind of depth and continuity to it felt forced. Let the past be the past, move on and do something new rather than trying to wring old franchises dry.

    Anyway, I’m glad to see that Killjoys got two seasons to wrap up its story, it’s a good fun show that I have enjoyed a lot. It’s not hard science fiction by a long shot, but to be honest when it comes to entertainment I prefer strong characters and plot over rigorous science (which is a nice bonus).

  26. Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach says

    I’ve been avoiding watching it, because I knew it could never live up to my hopes for a new Star Trek. I would have preferred it stay as a dream of something wonderful. That was a travesty. All I could think of when looking at the assembled Klingons was the Necromongers from that abysmal Riddick movie. Eternal dishonour on the houses of everyone involved in this.

  27. Rob Grigjanis says

    Dave @29:

    that abysmal Riddick movie

    Huh. I thought any of the Riddick movies was orders of magnitude more interesting than anything from the Star Trek cookie cutter franchise.

  28. says

    I didn’t watch it, but my parents did, and were less than impressed.

    So humans can do a Vulcan neck pinch? In Original Trek Spock mentions that he’s tried to teach it to Kirk multiple times, without success. Guess that makes the new lady that much more extra special, on top of effectively being Spock’s stepsister.

    Unlike the US Discovery will be on the Space channel in Canada. So you can actually watch it on a TV instead of trying to figure out how to watch it online.

  29. Dave, ex-Kwisatz Haderach says

    Another minor quibble, why is the bridge of the Shenzhou so damn big? There is just a huge amount of empty floor space there. Space has to be at a premium on a star ship, there is no reason they couldn’t find a more productive use for that area. (Best not to get started on Star Fleet’s recurring design flaw in mounting the command and control center in a blister on the outer hull. Why isn’t it buried safely inside the ship?) If I were on the bridge in combat, I’d happily trade that space for a couple feet of hull plating. And control panels that are less explode-y.

  30. twosevenoneeight says

    In defense of The Orville: It is surprisingly not as stupid as I would have expected. It is in a similar, lighthearted mood as TOS.

    As for Discovery, I hope that it the series will get better as the series goes on. I hope that, much like Picard after being stabbed in the heart, Michael will become more careful.

    So far, the only positive thing that stood out was, how equality is emphasized as the defining characteristic of the federation. And the Klingon’s main motivation seems to be that they are offended by just that equality.

  31. says

    hmmmm complaint number 3 is very much answered in episode 2 and appears to be what the rest of the series is about. Actual repercussions that you never see in shows like this (within reason of course). It’s too bad they only showed part 1 on TV (this REALLY is one two part episode). Plus the whole CBS All Access thing adds to the whole annoyance. The Good Fight is amazing though so two shows kind of make it worth it for me. At least for now.

  32. Dunc says

    So humans can do a Vulcan neck pinch? In Original Trek Spock mentions that he’s tried to teach it to Kirk multiple times, without success.

    There are numerous instances of non-Vulcans using the technique, including Archer, Data, Odo, Seven of Nine, and possibly Picard. Maybe Kirk’s just a bad learner?

  33. strangerinastrangeland says

    Well, as a European I have the advantage of seeing ST:D on Netflix and that included the second episode. I don´t want to spoil anything but only want to say that “Complaint #3” will be taken care of at the end of Ep2.
    I do though completly agree with the Klingon dislike, especially regarding the unconvincing speech patterns. I think I read somewhere that the look of the Klingons was chosen for a reason (slightly different looking ones show up in Ep2) and will become a plot point, so I hold my criticism here for a while.
    While I am not sold on the new show yet at all, I will still give them some more episodes to persuade me that this is Star Trek and not some random Action SF. One thing the show is in my opinion also missing is a larger cast than only the 2-3 main persons we met so far (I count the science officer into it, which I found interesting and hope to see again).

  34. Matrim says

    what I learned is that Klingons have gotten uglier and inarticulate, while the Federation is crewed by incompetent bumbling assholes.

    Well, we’ve known the former since DS9 and the latter since Voyager.

    @2, dhabecker

    Klingon’s have never made sense–extremely advanced brutes?

    Originally they weren’t brutes, at all. They were highly militarized, but they were every bit as civilized as the Federation or the Romulan Empire. As time went on the writers simplified them. Going from being great warriors, to being a warrior based culture, to total and complete cultural obsession with being warriors.

    @10, Bruce

    Babylon 5 was my favorite series of all time. I wonder how it stands up to the test of time.

    I watch seasons 1-4 every few years (I decidedly ignore 5), it still holds up very well. Many of the effects are quite dated, and there are a few stinker episodes I tend to skip (Gray 17 is Missing, TKO, a few others), but it’s still pretty dang solid overall.

    @32, tim

    So humans can do a Vulcan neck pinch?

    Sometimes, yes; sometimes, no. Bones was unable to do it while he had Spock’s Katra in his head, but Picard was able to do it after deep mind-melding with Sarek (amusingly, the one time he used it was on Tim Russ)

  35. piscador says

    Pretty much agree with all of the above. My beefs with ST:D are;

    1. Bad science fiction. Mind you, Start Trek was always bad science fiction. But the characters were generally likable and engaging and usually didn’t take themselves too seriously. Except for Shatner.
    2. It’s not really Star Trek. It doesn’t fit into the canon and it’s not faithful to the Roddenberry vision. They would have better to have made it Star Trek: The Next, Next Generation with new aliens and new bad guys.

  36. Joey Maloney says

    Rob Grigjanis @12

    The only SF show which could make me weep.

    If that’s the metric, the very end of the ST:D opening theme wins. That fanfare homage to the original Trek made me tear up.

    I’m serious.

  37. Steve Watson says

    Well… It is Trek, Jim, but not as we knew it. Absolute crap. Good title though: Discovery is to Sci-Fi what the Discovery Institute is to Science. It also lives down to its unfortunate acronym. I can see why these clowns so got their knickers in a twist about the Axanar fan flic.

    Thanks to Walter Solomon@24 for plugging The Orville. I wasn’t aware of of it, gave it a look not expecting a lot… and jugged three episodes on the trot.

    Tah also to Euclid and Rich Woods. I’d seen The Expanse mentioned but hadn’t connected it with the James L. Corey novel cycle. I’m in two minds about watching that though, I think the cycle jumped the shark after about Book Three; and nevermind it going on too bloody long as it is. It is a Sci-Fi equivalent to GoT or The Wheel of Time. I think the plot has gotten control of the authors. Finish the damned thing already, guys.

  38. Walter Solomon says

    Thanks to Walter Solomon@24 for plugging The Orville. I wasn’t aware of of it, gave it a look not expecting a lot… and jugged three episodes on the trot.

    Exactly my attitude before I saw it. It didn’t help that Seth McFarlane was involved though I give him credit for The Cosmos reboot, I’m generally not a big fan of his work. I was shocked by the quality of this show though. I enjoyed it more way more than I thought I would.

  39. says

    “Furthermore, she’s under a time limit. There’s deadly radiation out there! You’ve got to be back within 19 minutes or you’ll die. That’s not how radiation works. That’s not how any of this works.”

    Actually that is how it works, in Star Trek. They can cure radiation sickness easily… if they get to you in time. Even if (by our “standards”) you’re close to death.

    As for Michael giving her captain the vulcan nerve pinch, I had less problems with that then I did with the captain waking up a freaking MINUTE later….

    And let’s not forget the Klingons. This is supposed to be set in the time between Enterprise (the show) and TOS with Kirk. Klingons went from looking like Worf in Enterprise, to looking like humans after the genetic fiasco which was explained IN Enterprise, to still looking human in TOS, to their DNA taking hold again and looking like Worf in The Next Generation. How in the hell do they look like big blue lizardmen from a video game somewhere in between?

  40. says

    I only got 30 min into it before I turned it off. I was horrified when I realized this show was build around the awful character of Burnham. A stupid, childish, violent fool of a character that would never be on the bridge of a Star Fleet vessel. All I wanted was her to get torn apart in a transporter malfunction so the show would be rid of this horrible person and have Georgiou the focus.
    But no, we get someone who stopped emotionally developing at 14 to be the main character. Plus on top of that, the whole thing just misses the mark. The ship looks like something from the TNG era, not pre-TOS, the “Star Fleet symbol” cleverly walked in the desert in the opening scene was not the symbol of Star Fleet at this time, only the symbol of the USS Enterprise (I guess I know waaaay more about ST than the writers of the show) and the re-imagining of the Klingons is just simply dreadful.
    I place this train wreck in the same category of Abrams Faux Trek. Mindless schleep made for millennials.

  41. says

    I wrote (and then deleted) a bunch of draft comments trying to describe how much I loathe Discovery, but, I think Shakespeare said it best in Macbeth:

    “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

  42. says

    @Hank Murphy: Ah, it gets worse. EVERY current Star Trek writer has forgotten where the Cochran curve comes from! While ENT managed to avoid it for the most part, the USS Franklin in Star Trek Beyond had the Cochran arch ALL OVER the freaking place, despite predating the USS Enterprise’s version of the arc by several decades. The official explanation is that Starfleet standardized ship insignia on the Cochran much earlier in the NuTrek movie universe, despite that making no sense at all. Further, that same early standard is now being used on STD, which claims to be in the Prime universe, not the NuTrek one! Basically, someone at Paramount/CBS/STD decided that saying they were from the Prime timeline got popularity points, but the logos and deformed tumor Klingons tell the truth: STD is in the NuTrek timeline.

  43. says

    The Orville is 100 times better, MacFarlane does a better job capturing Gene Roddenbery’s vision than anyone working on Star Trek in the last thirty years,.

  44. andreiib says

    I am 3 episodes in (didn’t pay a dime, screw you CBS! Yo ho!) and not only do i agree but i could add about 40 additional complaints. The Klingons alone are a page full. This isn’t Star Trek. Nothing on this show is recognizable as Roddenberry’s/Berman’s vision. The sfx are good, too good considering this ship is supposed to be more primitive than Kirks. I would rather see 60s sfx and lots of plot and acting than this garbage with lots of lights and bangs. Give the money to the guys who do Star Trek Continues on youtube.

  45. Ragni VégrímR says

    The Klingons are just wrong. They made them uglier yes, but they also made them look more wimpy.

    And what did they do to the Klingon language? They softened it somehow and made it sound wimpy too.

    Klingons are supposed to be badass! These new Klingons are the worst. I think I even prefer the ones from the original series to these.