Star Trek: Discovery’s weakness was also its greatest strength

"Such Sweet Sorrow" -- Ep#213 -- Pictured (l-r): Shazad Latif as Tyler; Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham of the CBS All Access series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. Photo Cr: Ben Mark Holzberg/CBS ©2018 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
"Such Sweet Sorrow" -- Ep#213 -- Pictured (l-r): Shazad Latif as Tyler; Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham of the CBS All Access series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. Photo Cr: Ben Mark Holzberg/CBS ©2018 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved. /

The flipside to Discovery’s never-ending identity crisis was a nimbleness and openness that other shows could learn from.

It’s still hard for me to believe that there were only a dozen years between the end of Star Trek: Enterprise, and the beginning of Star Trek: Discovery. That long dark night, during which there was no Star Trek on TV felt closer to twice what it was. This meant that there was a lot riding on Discovery when it debuted in 2017.

But Discovery didn’t merely herald the return of a long-absent franchise, it was also a test of whether viewers were ready to see Star Trek back on TV. Enterprise’s reputation as a failure is quite unfair from a quality perspective, sure the quality was a little shaky, but episodic TV was always at least a little uneven, and its good moments were pretty great. The true reason for the soft ratings was Star Trek fatigue.

By the time of Enterprise, another Star Trek show that followed the same formula we’d been watching for over a decade would’ve felt stale, while a show that shook up that formula would’ve felt like change for change’s sake. It was a difficult position to be in. Enterprise split the difference, which was a disappointing strategy, but it was also the best they could’ve done. They’d been handed a poisoned chalice.

Star Trek: Discovery was never sure what kind of show it wanted to be.

I remember my reaction to the first few episodes being “Does this show think it’s Game of Thrones?”, the way characters such as Captain Georgiou were set up as main characters, only to be mercilessly dispatched was a trick Game of Thrones played to keep us viewers on our toes. When a character was in peril, we could never say “Oh, he’ll be okay, he can’t die, he’s a main character”. Discovery, by copying that trick was telling us to expect the unexpected.

This would’ve been great if they hadn’t achieved it by copying another hyped-up show. But because the trick was so blatantly stolen, it had the opposite effect, we knew exactly what to expect, Game of Thrones in space.

In a stunning example of turning a weakness into a strength, Discovery’s lack of identity gave it room to experiment and grow. Evidently, no one involved with the production was too invested in the season 1 Game of Thrones formula, as season 2 made a dizzying number of course corrections, both big and small. One little change greatly improved the controversial redesign of the Klingons, the introduction of The Enterprise and its crew, as well as the fantastic Tig Notaro as Commander Jett Reno added some lightness and levity, where it had been sorely lacking, and the Discovery’s crew, who had previously low-key resented the main character Commander Michael Burnham for starting the Klingon War, were now the found family that Star Trek crews should be.

Not to mention the undoing of season 1’s most tragic and ill-advised death, that of the beloved Dr. Culber. I doubt any fan understands how Dr. Culber was brought back, we’re just glad it happened.

Season 2 built up to the biggest course correction of them all. It ended with the Discovery traveling 900 years into the future, where it’s remained ever since. The prequel setting must’ve seemed like a good idea at the time, a period in Trek’s timeline that even fairweather fans are familiar with, but gussied up with 21st-century visuals sure worked for J.J. Abrams, but the continuity issues it caused added up to problems far bigger than a few inconsistencies and plot holes. Looking and feeling so different from the original series that it was supposedly leading up to felt like a disconnect from the franchise itself. The time jump was an elegant solution.

Showrunner Alex Kurtzman displayed refreshing honesty when discussing this, admitting that the intent was to avoid bumping up against established canon. And the new 32nd-century setting was genuinely new, fresh, and exciting.

An early trailer for season 5 has been released, and while it’s hard to tell at this distance, it feels like there’s a different, more propulsive energy to Discovery’s last season (so much so that I could’ve sworn that the trailer was scored with Led Zeppelin’s barnstorming anthem The Immigrant Song. This is apparently not the case). Discovery’s nimbleness has given us almost a new show every season.

No Star Trek series since the original has had a good first season. Perhaps Discovery’s short but winding journey can provide a roadmap for future shows with teething problems or growing pains.

dark. Next. Terry Matalas had a scene planned with Data and Soji