In just a few more months (probably), Star Trek: Discovery will beam back onto our screens after over a decade of #StarTrek being off the air. This show is set to shake up the franchise, taking us back to The Original Series era and presenting a different side to the story by following a First Offer, not a Captain. The Walking Dead's Sonequa Martin-Green is portraying the lead character, Lt Commander Michael Burnham, and she recently teased some details about the show to TVLine — though what she has to say may not come as welcome news to would-be fans.
So far, reactions to #StarTrekDiscovery have been mixed — the fledgling show hasn't even hit the airwaves yet, but its development has been rocky at best, losing popular showrunner Bryan Fuller and making controversial changes to classic alien designs. Even the USS Discovery itself has garnered criticisms, with an odd shape that is far from the streamlined elegance of the USS Enterprise(s).
However, much of this criticism seems to be far too pre-emptive, as there's nothing really to judge the show on yet. Despite the difficult production, personally I'm hopeful that Discovery will breathe new life into a beloved TV franchise — though Martin-Green's newest interview is likely to spark yet more frenzied debate about the show.
Each Star Trek show adds something different to the universe. The Original Series started the franchise off with a bang, blending slapstick fun with thought-provoking drama; The Next Generation brought in millions of new viewers with its intriguing thought experiments; Deep Space Nine added a new perspective while plunging the Federation into a brutal war; Voyager struck out into unexplored territories; Enterprise... well, the less said about Enterprise the better, seeing as it almost ended the franchise.
(Disclaimer for ENT fans: I do enjoy this show but yeah, it's not the best.)
So what will Discovery add to the Star Trek universe? Well, as many people suspected it seems that CBS (partnering with #Netflix) is taking a darker approach to the show, in the vein of popular serialized shows like Daredevil and Westworld — though admittedly we don't know just how this will affect Discovery's story yet. Here's what Sonequa Martin-Green had to say:
"This iteration is going to have a different take than the others in the 'Star Trek' canon. It’s going to be bigger, rawer and grittier… and the story’s going to build on itself. It’s going to be a tremendous journey."
This makes a lot of sense for modern audiences, especially those unfamiliar with Star Trek's elaborate and complex history, and by embracing a more serialized narrative over an episodic structure Discovery is likely to have a sophisticated story-arc.
The Merit Of Balance
This sounds excellent, but there are drawbacks to this approach. There's a danger with a "rawer and grittier" tone to go too dark — Star Trek's charm is that even in its darkest moments, it's still an optimistic view of humanity's future.
Hope is overwhelmingly clear in all the shows, and creator Gene Roddenberry's vision of the borderline utopian Federation was intended to be a message about how humanity can, and should, evolve to become its best self. So it's understandable that a darker approach concerns fans — modern TV shows, such as Game Of Thrones and even the older Battlestar Galactica, feature a lot of emotional torture porn, putting their characters through the wringer episode after episode and showing the darkest sides to our humanity. That is not, and should never be, a style that Star Trek embraces.
And yet, many of Star Trek's best episodes are its darkest — TNG's "Chain Of Command", DS9's "In The Pale Moonlight", and many others of that ilk are listed as some of the franchise's most successful episodes. So far, Star Trek has managed to strike a balance between light and dark, following heavier episodes up with a fun jaunt on the holodeck, and ensuring each darker tale had a moral message of hope or fortitude or diplomacy. These heavy stories were meant to prove a point about the Federation, contrasting ideals with reality so that we could learn from them.
Sonequa Martin-Green's comments, although bound to inspire yet more criticism, might bode very well for the show. And of course, the new perspective offered by protagonist First Officer Burnham is sure to be fascinating.
"Since Star Trek has always been through the eyes of the captain, to be coming from [his second-in-command’s] mindset is going to be refreshing and challenging in ways that are very thrilling."
It seems that Discovery is drawing a lot from one of The Next Generation's most popular episodes, "Lower Decks", which shifted the focus from the commanding officers to the others that populate the Enterprise. This interesting perspective made the episode very memorable, and Discovery will likely follow suit — here's hoping that the "grittier" approach doesn't descend into the kind of grimdark storytelling that really doesn't have a place in Star Trek.
Do you think 'Discovery' should have a darker approach?