star trek discovery

It's time to accept that Discovery is Star Trek

Contributed by
Feb 13, 2018

This article contains SPOILERS for the first season of Star Trek: Discovery.

The spectacular first season of Star Trek: Discovery came to a close this week. The show took audacious storytelling risks and forged a bold new path. Many people loved the direction the show went. Some didn’t. Either way, it’s an entry into Star Trek history that we won’t soon forget.

This season was a rollercoaster of emotion. It asked viewers to invest in a new streaming service and a timeframe that was, frankly, somewhat unpopular when it was first announced. Many worried that the restrictions of canon would make for an unexciting story, while others theorized that the show would disregard what had already been established in the Star Trek universe. Discovery struck a middle ground; it wasn’t afraid to challenge what we thought we knew and make a tweak here and there in the interest of storytelling, but it stayed faithful to the larger Trek canon.

While the CBS All Access decision understandably frustrated U.S.-based viewers, it allowed for bold and daring storytelling choices. The entire season was conceived of at once, rather than delivering an episode-by-episode story. This led to some of the best serialized storytelling of the franchise since Deep Space Nine. But this also created some frustrations, specifically surrounding characters.

Hugh Culber and Paul Stamets Star Trek Diiscovery

Discovery hasn’t been afraid to kill characters for the sake of storytelling, and it’s done so liberally. Michelle Yeoh, Rekha Sharma, Wilson Cruz, and Jason Isaacs, among others, have all died during the season. It can sometimes be hard to see a show that centers representation, and isn’t shy about its commitment to inclusivity, kill off diverse characters for the sake of story. But the producers, showrunners, and actors promised us that these choices would pay off, and they have, for the most part.

As Michelle Yeoh pointed out in our interview, it was necessary for Captain Georgiou to die for Michael Burnham’s story arc and growth. But we saw Yeoh return in a fantastic fashion as the emperor of the Mirror Universe. Similarly, we saw Sharma again for a brief arc on the other side.

Cruz’s situation is a little more dicey. The producers, writers, and actors have promised that this isn’t a “bury your gays” stereotype, and that we’ll see the character again. While Hugh and Stamets had a touching post-death reunion, it appears we’ll have to wait until the second season to obtain any resolution on that storyline, which has understandably frustrated some viewers.

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These choices, as well as the darker tone of the show and the moral ambiguity, have led many to question whether Discovery is fit to inherit the Star Trek name. Let’s put aside the fact that it’s not up to the fans whether a show is Star Trek; we may be invested in the franchise, but we have no ownership of it. (I personally do not like that question because it’s often a tool used to gatekeep and exclude newer fans, but we’ll put that aside as well and take the question at face value.)

Discovery is a show that was meant to be judged on its full story, rather than on a single episode (though it’s hard to blame anyone for doing so, considering it’s delivered on an episode-by-episode basis). Over the course of this first season, the writers showed us that science still has its place even in war, as viewers fell in love with the tardigrade and understood the intricacies of the mycelial network. And the moral ambiguity of the show, which centered on Captain Lorca, became clear once it was revealed that he was, in fact, from the Mirror Universe. His death was quite satisfying.

In the final episode of the season, we were reminded in no uncertain terms that, though this might be a darker and bolder Trek, it’s still Star Trek. We might forget our principles in the face of dire situations; it’s a very human thing to do, after all. But in the end, if we don’t stick to them, then what do we have? It’s a point the show makes so well, and it brings Michael Burnham’s arc a full circle. She began the season with a mutiny; she ended it by reminding the Starfleet brass that she was once willing to throw principles out of the window to save the people she cared about, and that it was a mistake.

The finale didn't just serve as a reminder to those within the show. It was a grand and bold statement to the audience that Discovery is Star Trek, whether we like it or not. It’s time to stop questioning whether this show is Star Trek, to stop trying to rip it apart because it’s not quite what some fans want it to be. If you don’t like it, that’s fine. No one here is trying to convince you otherwise. But this show has earned its place in Star Trek history, and it’s time to accept that and move on.