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Thu, Jan 17, 2019, 11:09pm (UTC -6)
Re: DSC S2: Brother

"Now this is more like it." Those were the opening words of Janet Maslin's review of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. She, like many others, found Star Trek: The Motion Picture to be an unsatisfying movie.

And Discovery last year (in its first year, which, if one tries to be objective about it, was still much better than TNG season 1) certainly had unsatisfying components: a plot that yanked the viewer around like a rag doll (the viewer is the rag doll here, not the plot), little mini-arc storylines for indiividual members of the crew that did not connect to the bigger picture (what bigger picutre? is a good question), or even to what their own pictures appeared to first look like; and bucketsfull of moments in each episode when the music, the special effects, the editing, the urgency of the actors' voices, were pitched at a tone that oozed the vibe of "Either it's the end of the universe of this moment or it's not." When every moment comes down Broadway sold as if the fate of nations depended on it, no moment is actually really urgent.

Most significant in the dissatisfaction column, for this viewer anyway, is not that Discovery did not "feel like Star Trek" (I still don't know what that means) - but that the show did not feel like it was chronicling the adventures of a group of people working as a team or as a group of souls working toward a common end (Season 1 sure used the word "souls" and "team" a lot, perhaps a product of the writers' crutch, "If you can't show, just tell." Stories were populated by individuals (and a very small group of them, as well), who weren't discovering. They were speechifying, killing, then contradicting themselves by saying killing is wrong - they were being moved as pieces on the writers' chessboard - a board which, if rumor is to believed, was smashed and then hastily glued back together more than once, with the departure of producers and writers (and can anyone tell me what happened to Nicholas Meyer?)

No one is going to mistake Alex Kurtzman the producer for Irving Thalberg; Kurtzman the director for Orson Welles; or Kurtzman the writer for Ben Hecht (and all of the people who think he is the worst kind of hack who then claimed to be SHOCKED that he turned out what these people call "garbage," please get a grip) - just as no one did at the relevant time mistake Gene Roddenberry the producer for Thalberg or Rick Berman for Francis Ford Coppola. These men were mortals too - perhaps sometimes highly competent hacks, but hacks. (Having real sf writers write for TOS was a great thing, but real sf authors - as in authors of published literature - have not graced the writers of a Star Trek room since.... I don't know when).

So, viewed through the lens of sane expectations and a history that actually took place, how did the first episode of Season 2 hold up? Pretty well. The amorphous, can't be proven right, can't be proven wrong refrain of, "This doesn't feel like Star Trek," when drilled down to its basic components, I think, comes to 3 components: Are we watching 1) a group of people all with their specific flaws and strengths 2) working together in pursuit of a shared goal 3) as they are traveling through space?

"Brother" was a winner because the answer is yes to all three.

This episode was the first in which I felt I was watching a group of people whom one would expect to behave and communciate with each other as if they'd actually been in each other's presence for any length of time. Characters talked to each other non-expositorily, finally. When Stamets told Tilly to recite, "I will speak less," and told her about his job offer, and how he missed Hugh, what I saw was not any of these points being fed to us for the sake of estabishing a character, finally (that was the problem with the 2012 Les Miserables movie; each character would essentially get on screen and have his or his own song, consisting of "This is who I am and this is what I do," and would essentlally sing that one note for the rest of the movie). I saw less "dialogue" and quite simply, more interaction, that did not keep announcing itself as such. I saw building upon prior events and characters reflecting on those prior events, without (the screenwriters) having to tell us yet again exactly what those events were and why they were so important. Even the new characters were given things to say that one would expect to be actually said in a workplace undergoing a particuar point in its development (Pike having each member of the crew announce his or her last name. if this was a writers' mea culpa, I'll take it). The new characters, including a certain comic, also seemed to have a sense of humor. The lines reflecting the humor did not feel forced. These lines were said at the tail end of other lines, or in the middle of them, not as their own punchlines because the writers couldn't show humor and humanity as one, at the same time. Nice.

2) There was a sense of actual working to pursue a shared goal. And unlike last year, the goal was articulated clearly to the audience, and did not vanish in favor of a different A-story or wilt on the vine to die (like the planet Pahvo, with respect to which Episode 8 promised a certain centraility in episode 9 - only to have it and its inhabitants ignored in favor of the latest zap arbitray crisis of the moment forced us to make us forget about how contrived the last one was). When the word "Starfleet" was uttered, what we were shown was a recognizably Starfleet crew, with "Starfleet" actually meaning something as opposed to being a writers' pawn that one day stood for peace and another for genocide. There was no narrative fixed Star in season 1 through which events and actions could be evaluated by the viewer; "Brother," in contrast, had a definable, coherent beginning, middle, and end, and if it were a train ride, it felt at the end as if it had reached a destination that was on the same branch as the initial stop (as opposed to making you wonder if the station had at some point been obliterated and replaced by a town without a train).

3) Finally, we saw actual travel through space, from point A, to B, to C, where the viewer could spatially/logistically follow the travel. Discovery felt like it was... discovering, and the show did not play as if the characters were ahead of the plot, behind it, or just plain dumbfounded. The plot played at the same "speed" as the characters' actions. Last season (take episode 8, for example, where L'Rell pretends to kill the Admiral then pledges allegiance to Kol and then is identified as a traitor - a sequence of events which must have actually required a thought process but felt as if it played out in confusingly real time) suffered from a lack of rhythm, lack of pitch, proper dynamics, you name it. Someone attempted to make "Brother" not only to be watched, but to be understood. Thank goodness
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