‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Season 1 Episodes 5 & 6- Lorca’s Folly

Whatever Lorca wants, Lorca gets. And if he doesn’t, he isn’t afraid to sidestep things a bit to get it anyway. As “Star Trek: Discovery” progresses, it’s becoming more and more clear that this captain is a very different kind of captain than we’re used to on a typical “Star Trek” series- but then, this is hardly a typical “Star Trek” series, is it?

We’ve got a leading lady that, even foregoing the fact that’s she’s an African-American, is a convicted mutineer that was a human raised as a Vulcan who went so far as to use the patented Vulcan nerve pinch on her former captain, who subsequently died when things went south in a Klingon-based scenario that she, in part, helped cause.

We’ve got a fear-based alien First Officer that was bred to anticipate death and is pretty doom-and-gloom as a direct result; an openly-gay science officer and doctor- not that there’s anything wrong with that- that are in a secret relationship together; a happy-go-lucky redhead that’s both deeply insecure and a chatty Kathy; and, as of these two episodes, a new head of security that Lorca randomly found being held hostage by Klingons and decided to promote after the last one got herself killed unwisely trying to lop off a claw of a giant centipede-like creature for “scientific study.” Quite the motley crew, to say the least.

Perhaps needless to say, the direct result of all this is a deeply divided fan base. There are some who quite simply resent the fact that they have to pay to see the series, and somewhat understandably so, what with the market hopelessly flooded. After the surprise success of Netflix’s streaming model- which, lest we forget, was roundly met with derision when it first was launched as a separate thing from its typical mail-in service- seemingly everyone decided to launch one of their own.

Now, with the likes of HBO Go, Hulu, Crackle, Amazon, and yes, CBS All Access, there are so many choices, it’s a little ridiculous keeping up with it all. What was the second Golden Age of Television is now an embarrassment of riches. There’s so many shows out there at this point, many of which are indeed of high quality, that one can’t possible hope to get to them all. So, a lot of quality shows are falling by the wayside as a result. It’s as if, instead of VHS or Beta or DVD or Blu-Ray, there were something like fifteen different formats to choose from.

Needless to say, it can all be a bit overwhelming, and you can certainly see where some might resent that, and even more so, if it means they have to subscribe to yet another pay-service just to see one specific show. It’s no wonder some have just thrown up their hands and said: “I can wait.” Indeed, I myself have taken to waiting until a lot of network shows that I used to watch on a weekly basis are done altogether, at which point, I simply binge-watch them during the “slow” parts of the year, aka the summer and early winter.

Of course, even those times of year, usually so reliable for catching up with shows one missed, are themselves more consistently flooded with new product, because what better time to launch a new show than when few others are airing, right? It’s all a bit overwhelming, and if you factor in the fact that few people can afford to keep up with everything, some stuff is bound to fall by the wayside.

So, “Star Trek: Discovery” has certainly taken a hit because of that, but, on the other hand, it’s been just successful enough to have been granted a second season and inspire record numbers for CBS’ relatively new service to be called a success overall, so there’s that. But then you get to the fanbase itself, which has had decidedly mixed reactions to it. While some love it, there is definitely a contingent that hates it with a fiery passion and aren’t afraid to shout it from the rooftops- or at least today’s modern equivalent, social media.

On a certain level, I get it- it’s a decidedly different kind of series from the “typical” “Star Trek.” But, on the other hand, why bother with a series that wasn’t, really? The last “Star Trek” series, “Enterprise” was only a modest success, and it wasn’t until the series was rebooted from the ground up by J.J. Abrams that interest was high enough to warrant taking yet another stab at a new series, and even those films sharply divided fans of the earlier series and movies.

So, as such- understandably, I think- “Discovery” opted to take a new tack on things. Rumors of a female-led crew had some fanboys grumbling (probably the same one with a chip on their shoulder about lady “Ghostbusters” and the like) and others excited, but ultimately the show opted to fake out everyone by killing off the new female captain in the second episode, going with a rogue male captain in the third, but interestingly, maintaining the POV of another rogue thinker, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), a disgraced former First Officer, instead of focusing in on the Captain, as per usual.

This approach has met with some derision, some from fans that don’t find Green and/or her character all that compelling; while others feel the show is trying too hard to be “modern”- see the gay characters, the prominent female cast, the politically-based references- and is directly suffering from it as a result. Call that latter complaint post-PC burn-out, I suppose. Still more have derided the show for being too modern in a different sort of way, such as in terms of the tech used, the look of the spaceship and the costuming, the look of the Klingons, et. al.

As only a moderate “ST” fan, I get all the complaints and understand their point, while at the same time being somewhat exasperated by them. We’ve become a bit of a complaint-based society here in America in particular. It seems like a day can’t go by without some group or another bitching about something, however insignificant, and I’m talking about both sides now, to quote Joni Mitchell, as in on the left and the right.

Don’t get me wrong- some stuff is worth standing up and fighting for. Indeed, if certain people and groups didn’t have a voice, we wouldn’t have things like, say, the takedown of scumbags like Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and Harvey Weinstein, among others. At the same time, one of those types of guys is President so… you win some, you lose some? But I don’t want to get off into a political debate, so I’ll quit while I’m ahead, because I do have a point and it is related.

Last I checked, “Star Trek” was known for being forward-thinking, progressive science fiction. Long before it was “okay” to do so, the show featured TV’s first interracial kiss. Women and African-Americans and all sorts of other races, extraterrestrial or otherwise, have long been represented by the show, and political and social allegory in terms of storylines has been a mainstay since the early days, so the whole “This new show is too PC” argument doesn’t really hold water for me. It’s just yet another thing to bitch about for some people, really.

All that really, truly matters is if the show is any good. Does it hold my interest? Am I not entertained, as it were? And so far, the answer is mostly yes. Sure, some of the technobabble makes me roll my eyes, but then, it always has. Some would say that’s part of Sci-Fi’s charm. Likewise, some of the plotlines are more engaging than others, but that’s also nothing new. I do like that the show seems more interested in ongoing storylines than the past series have been, however.

I also like that the new show is respectful, but not completely beholden to the shows that came before it. There are plenty of references for hardcore fans- witness the list of most decorated captains in the episode “Choose Your Pain,” for instance, which included the likes of Jonathan Archer (“Enterprise”), Christopher Pike and Matt Decker (“TOS”) and Robert April, (arguably) the first commander of the Enterprise, and also that map of various places in the ST Universe.

And yet, the show does it in a way that’s not in your face but more subtle- it’s there if you look for it, but not obtrusive. In other words, the show isn’t beating one over the heads with it, or doing it in a too-cutesy way. It also references the mythology in some interesting ways, such as we saw on the most recent episode, “Lethe,” which finally got around to dealing with Burnham’s Vulcan-based heritage, including how Spock figures into things.

Now, seeing as the show heavily implies that her adoptive father, Sarek (James Frain), essentially bet on the wrong horse to a certain extent, I can see where that might ruffle some purists’ feathers. How dare they imply that Burnham was more accomplished than Spock! But I don’t think that was the point. I think the point was to show that Sarek failed both his kids by choosing unwisely because he didn’t make it a point to get to know them like he should have.

If he had, he would have known to choose Burnham, secure in the knowledge that Spock was going to forge his own path, and that said path would do him proud. Instead, he chose Spock, who went his own way anyway, but it was too late- the damage had been done. In a weird way, this set Burnham on the path to self-destruction, even though she had managed to eke out a worthy path with her father’s help, serving as First Officer to Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh)- but we all know now how THAT turned out.

I found that whole storyline, with Burnham fighting Sarek to discover the truth about her past that she hadn’t previously known, to be quite affecting and intriguing, and definitely in keeping with what we know of Vulcans and Vulcan/Human relations alike. Of course, a Vulcan wouldn’t want to admit they made a mistake. In addition, a human- in this case, Burnham’s mother, Amanda (Mia Kirshner, “Defiance”)- would be the voice of reason, ignored.

It all adds up, save the much-ballyhooed fact that no one has ever mentioned Spock having a sister before, which is understandable, but not unprecedented. How many shows have you seen over the years that revealed a main character had an unexpected sibling until it was convenient to do so? (Remember Reese Witherspoon cropping up on “Friends” as Rachel’s previously unmentioned sister, to name but one example?)

Yes, this is a little different, given the massive amount of back-story the show has to contend with, by virtue of all the previous series, but I didn’t find it offensive or all that jarring, really. So, Spock had an adopted sister. So what? Besides, we don’t yet know how the show will handle the lack of having heard about all this beforehand. For all we know, the knowledge was erased from Spock’s mind to protect Burnham or something like that. Maybe he knew about the slight and did something to make himself forget on purpose to assuage his guilt. Who knows?

Either way, it hardly ruins the show for me. If anything, it just helps this new show embed itself further within the pre-existing framework of the original shows all that more. After all, it is supposed to take place a good ten years before the original series. That said, I do get that the more modern effects and costuming and make-up and so forth are a bit jarring. I mentioned as much in previous reviews, especially in terms of the look of the Klingons.

While I also understand that the show didn’t want to look purposely janky, in order to better approximate the look of the original series, it is a bit of a leap to buy into that this show takes place before the original one. (From what I saw of it, which admittedly wasn’t much, the same thing could be said about “Enterprise,” which also took place before the original series.)

Of course, there has been a lot of argument about whether this show takes place within the “new” timeline of the rebooted J.J. Abrams movie series or the old-school one, so a lot of how you feel about that may rest with which side of the fence you fall on, in terms of that placement. For the record, the showrunners have stated that “Discovery” takes place separately from the rebooted Abrams movie series, and is indeed a prequel to the original series, so that seems to be the official word on that.

Honestly, though, as only a moderate fan, like I said, I just don’t care about all that nitpicky stuff. All I care is whether I enjoy the show for what it is or not, and so far, I do. It was a hoot to see hardcore “ST” fan Rainn Wilson, of “The Office” fame, playing OG ST character Harry Mudd, which will be a recurring character this season, if his appearance in the sneak preview of the next episode is any indication. I thought that was perfect casting, and I look forward to seeing Wilson again, being a big fan of the quirky character actor.

I also like new recruit Shazad Latif (Dr. Jekyll on “Penny Dreadful”) as Ash Tyler, who may or may not be on the up-and-up and might be possibly be into Burnham, though I did hate to see Rekha Sharma (Commander Landry) go so soon, as it kept another powerful female character in the mix after the loss of Michelle Yeoh. You win some, you lose some, I guess.

I should also mention that Mary Wiseman, as Sylvia Tilly, is growing on me. I thought her character could go either way in my last review, but she was much more endearing than annoying in these last few episodes that she was in her first few, so there you go. In addition, Anthony Rapp’s Stamets has grown on me a bit as well, now that I get his more deadpan sense of humor.

I understand and hear the complaints about Green’s Michael and Jason Isaac’s Lorca being a bit one-note and stiff, but Burnham IS supposed to be a human raised by Vulcans, so she would be a bit emotionless because of that, and Lorca is supposed to be single-minded, so Isaac’s approach makes sense to me as well. In short, I think Green and Isaac’s acting approaches are choices by design of the character, not because they’re bad actors.

I really like that Lorca is not afraid to do some questionable things, even if it endangers his crew or himself or others he cares about. Not that I like his doing them, just that it makes for a more interesting character. For instance, I think he knew that sending old friend/lover/”Space Frasier” Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook, “Gattaca”) to meet with the Klingons on “neutral ground” in the ailing Sarek’s stead was a doomed mission and that it wouldn’t end well for her, but he sent her anyway because he knew it would get rid of her after she voiced her objections to his state of mind in regards to being an effective captain of the Discovery.

That’s a pretty nasty thing to do to someone, least of all a supposed friend and someone you just slept with- which I also think was calculated, I might add. (Cornwell apparently thought so, too, and said as much.) But note that, if he genuinely likes someone, a la Burnham, he will go out of his way to help them, even if it endangers others, as he did with her to help Sarek. He’s also not afraid to put himself in danger, either, as was the case in “Choose Your Pain,” where he had to withstand torture at the “hands” of the Klingons, and then subsequently risked his life to escape.

Having such morally questionable leads as Burnham and Lorca at the helm is a neat gambit, and sets the show apart from the series that preceded it, I think. Factor in the risk-taking we saw by Saru (Doug Jones) and Stamets, and you have quite the unpredictable crew, which, in turn, helps to make the show itself somewhat unpredictable. You never know what this crew might do, and the show has already shown it’s not afraid to take out major characters, as it has already taken out a few in Yeoh’s and Sharma’s, so that adds yet another layer of unpredictability to the proceedings.

As such, it makes for a pretty entertaining show, if I do say so myself. I get and understand the complaints some people have, and I even share some of them myself, but it’s not enough for me to pan the show because, in spite of them, I still enjoy it. All I can say to those who don’t is, don’t watch it. Why waste your time when, as I detailed above, there’s so many other viable options out there? Go watch “The Orville” or something- it’s free, lol.

For the time being, though, I’m liking “Star Trek: Discovery.” I think it has a lot of value to offer, and I look forward to seeing what happens next. I think that it has a lot of surprises in store for us, and will prove to be a fairly unpredictable ride. I’d say what more can you ask for, but that would just be opening myself up for a lot of complaining, so save it. If you dig it, keep watching. If not, move on. You’ll be a lot happier if you do, trust me. There are bigger things to worry about than if a TV show lives up to your lofty standards.

That said, I would be interested to hear what some fellow fans think of the show. Or, for that matter, if there are some people out there that don’t like it for reasons I didn’t mention. Maybe you don’t like the writing, or the direction, or the look of it- let me know down in the comments below. I’ll be back with another review in a few weeks. Until then, thanks for reading!