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Ubik
Wed, Dec 9, 2020, 7:25am (UTC -5)
Re: DSC S3: The Sanctuary

My only problem with the "non-binary" label is that it confuses me. When it comes to intersex people, people who legitimately have physical parts of both sexes, absolutely. Those people are actually and literally non-binary, and that doesn't confuse me at all.

But that isn't generally what people mean when they say it. A large part of the trans movement, I understand: when a person born a woman says they actually feel like a man, and they become a trans man, that's fine, it seems sincere, there is very likely some chemical or genetic or biological cause to that "feeling" that one day, hopefully, scientists will discover, and if that person wants to change their name to a traditionally more male name, and go by "he" the rest of their life, that's fine. That in no way conflicts with my understanding of logic or reality. The same goes in the other direction. If a person born a man says they "feel" like a woman, and they want to live the rest of their lives as a woman, there is probably some scientific basis for that feeling, entirely fine, and entirely consistent with my understanding of reality.

My difficulty is when a person does not "feel" like a man OR a woman, and announces that they are, really and truly, neither. They are not physically intersex. They are "non-binary." But what are they talking about here? Not sex, I assume, but gender. Right? But what IS gender? Gender is a social invention, no? Dogs don't have genders. Horses don't have genders. Not as far as I know, anyway. The evidence seems to suggest that gender is an entirely human concept, invented by societies and civilizations, basically consisting of a set of "markers" that dictate how women and men IN THAT SOCIETY are meant to act. Societies have often appealed to "nature" to explain these markers, sure, but those explanations were usually just forms of control and oppression. There is nothing "natural" about guys liking G. I. Joes and girls liking Barbie. That is entirely socially created. (I have two daughters who are polar opposites in most things, so my notions here come from personal experience.)

So: when a person claims they are "non-binary" in their gender, that just means they don't feel like they have the "markers" of gender dictated by their society, no? Or they have markers from both sexes. And what some "binary" people may get defensive about, in that case, is the implied accusation that all people who do not consider themselves non-binary DO in fact connect emotionally with those markers. This further suggests that "binary" people are perfectly happy just accepting what society tells them to be, while the "non-binary" person is a free spirit, not tied down by socially imposed labels. I'm not saying this is what the non-binary person is trying to communicate - only that the logic of the claim seems to imply this. And this implication, I think, rubs people the wrong way and is also, of course, nonsense. There are many women who gladly possess traditionally socially-imposed markers of manhood, and many men who gladly possess traditionally socially-imposed markers of womanhood. And that's fine - those markers are products of socialization anyway. If you are a biological man with most of the markers of femininity, that's great, and so is the opposite - that is the product of decades of successful feminist and other progressive movements. We should all applaud that.

So, this "non-binary" thing feels, to me, like a step in the opposite direction, to before the feminist movements of the 60's and 70's. It feels like a belief that those gender markers ARE "natural", that men "naturally" ARE aggressive, etc, while women "naturally" ARE passive, emotional, etc, and if a person possesses some of both categories, or doesn't fit into those categories neatly, then hey, they must be non-binary, instead of being....just like everyone else.

I dunno. No offense is intended in any of this, and I am not CERTAIN of any of my claims. I am just explaining how I currently see it and feel about it, and I am entirely open to the possibility that my knowledge is based on insufficient information.
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Ubik
Tue, Dec 8, 2020, 9:50am (UTC -5)
Re: DSC S3: The Sanctuary

@Jason R

Your last two posts bring up a very good point. Is it a fact that Star Trek shows are either great or prevented forever from being great due to behind-the-scenes realities that have literally nothing to do with the creative decisions or people that drive the show? For example, it cannot be a coincidence that TNG and DS9 are exceptionally good television while Voyager and Enterprise are largely bland, formulaic, and safe, while TNG and DS9 were in syndication and Voyager/Enterprise had a network breathing down their necks.

So - are all the modern Trek shows doomed to mediocrity and safe, formulaic platitudes merely because of who is producing the shows? (Form dictates content, the medium is the message, take your pick.) In that case, it may very well be that the writers themselves are not necessarily bad writers or without imagination (Michael Chabon, for example, is often a truly excellent writer), but rather that CBS is producing the shows, and as long as that is true, we will never get another TNG or DS9.

I'm just thinking out loud.
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Ubik
Fri, Dec 4, 2020, 12:29pm (UTC -5)
Re: DSC S3: The Sanctuary

@Miles

I'll ignore the implied, unnecessary, and completely unjustified accusation that I am prejudiced aside from my reposting it...

"If the presence of a non-binary character (and actor) feels to you like being lectured or talked down to, I don't know what to say. The fault lies in your reaction, not the writing or the casting"

...and respond to the rest of your past. Yes, you are right that Uhura was not a metaphor for a black woman, but a black woman, and that Stamets and Culber are not metaphors for gay men but gay men, but there is one significant difference: no one talks about the fact that Uhura is a black woman on the bridge. No one goes out of their way to note Culber and Stamets' gay marriage ("Oh, that gay couple over there is so wonderful...") - they just exist in the world, and for that reason, I believe Stamets and Culber are among the very few great successes of this television series so far. Their relationship is a high point, very much more honestly and authentically written than most of the characterization on the show. If the purpose of their marriage is for the sake of representation rather than to explore a concept through a metaphorical science ficton lens, than that's fine. It works.

Deep Space Nine, for its part, had the blackest cast of almost any other television series from the 1990's, and aside from one single episode (Far Beyond the Stars, which is so brilliantly done, it doesn't hurt anything), that fact is never once commented on. Imagine if Kira, in Episode 3, had said, "You know, Commander Sisko, I just want to say how proud I am to be serving under a person of colour." That would have been awful. It would have been the writers communicating a message directly to the audience, rather than merely letting the story communicate its message, indirectly, which is how, at its best, storytelling works.

In this case, having Adira expressly ask to be referred to as "they" was okay, I guess. The crew could have just referred to her as "they" all the time, since she entered the show, and we could have assumed that little conversation happened off-screen, and I think that probably would have worked better, but whatever. It didn't quite pull me out, and it was alright. But then, at the end of the episode, Culber and Stamets spend an entire minute referring to her as "they" over and over and over again while she pretend to sleep for no reason other than for the writers to communicate directly to the audience the importance of calling people "they" when they ask for it. That pulled me out completely. Instead of being invested in the universe, I was suddenly aware of the writers and their intentions, thereby losing my suspension of disbelief, and that's never good for fiction.

My point is, there are effective ways to insert social messages into fiction, and there are ineffective ways. Subtlety, metaphor, indirection, these are in the toolkit of the science fiction writer. If the show really wants to explore what being non-binary means through the science fiction tool of metaphor, then Adira could have claimed she became a "they" went she joined. If the point, however, is representation itself, then I think it would have been more effective to simply have everyone refer to them as "them" without comment, just as Uhura existed as a black woman on the bridge without comment, and just as Stamets and Culber exist as a gay couple without comment.

Just my opinion.
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Ubik
Fri, Dec 4, 2020, 8:08am (UTC -5)
Re: DSC S3: The Sanctuary

See, here's the problem with the Adira "they" scene - she clearly states that she has "never" felt like a "she," and this is obviously meant to mean BEFORE she joined. So, in fact, it is not the joined-Adira-Trill who thinks of herself as a "they" (which would be fine, since the literal "they" of the Trill could be used as a metaphor for non-binary "they") , but the human host herself, Adira-alone, who thinks of herself as "they." This, to me, seems to miss the point entirely of having the character be a Trill.

People have long misunderstood how metaphor functions in Star Trek. Fans have long prided TOS on "sneaking" important social messages past the sensors by disguising those messages in metaphor. Now, that may be so, and perhaps it was necessary at the time, but here's the other side of that coin: metaphors are better storytelling. Just because a social message CAN be literal and on-the-nose today doesn't mean it SHOULD. Science fiction, as a genre, is by design a metaphorical genre. Everything is metaphor. So, using a Trill as a metaphor for non-binary people of the present - great. Lots of room for exploration and analysis there. But having a non-binary human represent....a non-binary human? I feel lectured at, talked down to. I feel the message hitting me on the head.

That's what literature is for. That's why it's a fictional story, and not a speech. Metaphors are better storytelling techniques, especially in science fiction.

All this could have been fixed if Adira had simply said something like, "Ever since joining, I don't really feel like a she. I prefer they." That would have been cool. It also would have opened lovely story possibilities. As it was delivered, it just fell flat, and as a storytelling device, it's a dead-end.
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Ubik
Tue, Oct 20, 2020, 3:40pm (UTC -5)
Re: DSC S3: That Hope Is You, Part 1

Booming said: "Yeah while it is legitimate to just want a good story, if you say Star Trek is just good stories and space travel than that is a very broad definition. Then 2001 a space odyssey is Star Trek, BSG is Star Trek, The Expanse is Star Trek and so on."

Exactly! You've just made my point for me. If the writers behind a Star Trek show write an episode of a Star Trek series that is as magnificent and compelling and intelligent and awe-inspiring as 2001: A Space Odyssey, then that would be awesome! If the Section 31 series ends up as complex and fascinating and as in-depth an exploration into galactic politics as The Expanse, that's wonderful! I would BEG for that level of quality.

And this connects to my rebuttal to what Jason R. said: yes, Star Trek is brand. A product. And THAT, my friend, is precisely why Star Trek has been mostly bad for twenty years.

TNG was almost completely different from TOS: it was amazing.
DS9 then deliberately went COMPLETELY OFF-BRAND to TNG: it was amazing.

Voyager and Enterprise then try to create a product precisely according to the specifications of the brand: mediocre, cliched, uninspiring.

And so on. As long as the show keeps trying to sell a product to a specific consumer according to brand specifications, it will continue to be mediocre. Only when the writers approach the job with the attitude of an artist, aiming to create something new, and ignoring completely what "fans want" will Star Trek, once again, be great art.
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Ubik
Tue, Oct 20, 2020, 8:00am (UTC -5)
Re: DSC S3: That Hope Is You, Part 1

MidshipmanNorris: good post

Here's the thing: I don't particularly care whether something is "good Star Trek" or not, because as someone who loves TOS, TNG, and DS9 pretty equally, not to mention episodes as varied as Yesterday's Enterprise and Deja Q, I recognize that Star Trek can be almost anything, in terms of theme and tone. Wrath of Khan and Undiscovered Country, for example, ARE about a Big Events, and yet we would both agree they're pretty damn good Star Trek, as is TNG's The Survivors, which is about as far from a Big Event as you can get.

So, my point is this: for me, "good Star Trek" has always just been about "good writing." I have no preconceived notions about whether the story should be Big or Small, or Optimistic or Dark, or Family-Friendly or Violent, or anything like that. I just want it to be well-written, creative, compelling, intelligent, all those sorts of things, regardless of what theme, tone, or approach the writers choose to take.

With those standards, I have to say that Star Trek hasn't been "good" in about 20 years. DS9's seventh season was, of course, not its high point (that would be season 5, as Jammer says), but it was still Good Television - ambitious, intellectual, character-driven, curious about the human condition, exploratory.

Voyager and Enterprise were, on the whole, not even in the same league, in terms of writing quality, and they failed in trying to imitate their predecessors without knowing quite why those predecessors worked (I suspect network interference also had a lot to do with it). From Abrams on, Star Trek fails for just being big, noisy, mindless shit, as opposed to Voyager and Enterprise, which were earnest, well-meaning, cliched shit. But either way, it hasn't been exceptional in decades.

So that's all I'm waiting for. I don't care if it's a comedy about low-ranking officers, or a jump to the future, or a Starfleet Academy show, or a DS9 revival, or a musical - I just want Star Trek to, once again, be the best science fiction on television. And I fear that, as long as the producers are in control, as long as they care more about CBS subscriptions than about critical value, about "pleasing fans" than about "telling a good story, and to hell with the fans," that will never, ever happen.
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Ubik
Fri, Oct 16, 2020, 8:01am (UTC -5)
Re: DSC S3: That Hope Is You, Part 1

I feel like the writers of this show have PTSD from all the criticism they received in the first season.

"It's too daaaaaaark!!! It's so GRIIIMDAAAARK!! I want HAPPYYYY!"

So now, they're acting like the fans are terrorists with guns to their heads, and they're like, "Of course, of course! We totally were building to that! Haha, fooldja, didn't we, we're way ahead of you, we HAD to be all dark, see, we HAD to go dark, so that we can then give you all the hope. Hope hope hope hope hope comin' right up, just what the fandom ordered, look how HOPEFUL everything is now! Wheee! Hope! Just like the Star Trek you used to know!!"

Ugh. The first season ended up sucking, of course, but not because it was too dark. It sucked because it was badly written. But not all fans are literary critics, so when they didn't like the first season, many of them glommed on to the most obvious factor, its darkness, and assumed that the darkness was making it bad, rather than the truth which was the darkness was failing to make it good. And the writers, who are producers of product instead of artists with a story to tell, are desperately trying to give the fans EXACTLY what they say they want, like the sandwich guy at Subway's. And fixing all the writing problems, like character and narrative and theme and dialogue and story structure was WAAAY too difficult, so they too glommed onto the simplest explanation they could hear from the fandom, the easiest fix. The fans say they want less dark and more hope? They got it.

So what do we get? Speeches and speeches and speeches about hopey hopiness and how hopey the Federation is in all its hopehope, and the writers really, really, really don't give a fuck. They have no story to tell, no themes to explore, no intellectual or ethical difficulties to wrestle with - their only goal is to stop fans from complaining and make them happy so they stay subscribed to CBS so they (the writers) don't get fired. The fans say they want hope? That's what we give them.

Star Trek, decades ago, had a story to tell. Let me ask you this: did this episode indicate that the writers give the slightest shit about HOW exactly a Federation crumbles - politically, culturally, societally? SF writers from Asimov to Poul Anderson have written thousands of pages about why and how Federations or Empires fall. Do these writers want to explore any of that? Are they even CURIOUS? No. It fell because of a technical issue - no dilithium - which means it could also be solved with a technical magic wand. I'd bet you a million dollars by the end of the season, Michael rediscovers dilithium and single-handedly rebirths the Federation. Has that ever happened in real life? Is that how governments fall and rise? Is that how America, when its time comes, will fall? Of course not. But this isn't science fiction. This isn't interested in real-world issues at all. This is fantasy. This is about the heroic Michael bravely saving the universe. Like Frodo. Like Luke Skywalker. Star Trek used to be interested in how society functions, how governments function, how institutions function, how ethical and cultural clashes between peoples transpire and can be resolved with hard work and patience and intellectual rigor.

Now it's an action show about a courageous hero saving all of time and space. Over. And over. And over again.

Because the fans want hope! And Star Wars! And fun adventure! So let's give them EXACTLY WHAT THEY SAY THEY WANT.

Ugh. I'm so depressed.
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Ubik
Fri, Mar 6, 2020, 8:14am (UTC -5)
Re: PIC S1: Nepenthe

Okay - plot question for everyone. I honestly don't know the answer, and maybe I missed something obvious, but the answer will determine whether I think the scenes on the ship in this episode are good, if unclear, or are rather the worst scenes so far this season.

Question: are Rios and Raffi honestly not suspicious of Jurati? Is Raffi honestly just trying to cheer up Jurati with cake? Is Rios honestly more suspicious of Raffi than Jurati? Or, rather, are both Rios and Raffi playing Jurati to get the truth out of her? Does anyone know?
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CanOfUbik
Fri, Apr 19, 2019, 4:24am (UTC -5)
Re: DSC S2: Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2

So Discovery opted for the Armin-Tamzarian-Solution to solve its many canon problems... Not very convincing, but about the level of sublety I've come to expect from it.

The episode itself was pretty much a reflection of DSC as a whole: Good, sometimes outstanding production values and visuals barely covering a mess of unearned melodramatic moments, plot holes and forced action sequences.

The ending tasted very much like house cleaning, leaving the producers with all options for season 3: Continue with Discovery in the future in any shape and style they want, go on an nostalgia cruise with Pike-Enterprise or just call it a series finale and cancel Discovery. Fits pretty well with The Gorn's comments above about potential reshuffling behind the scenes.
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CanOfUbik
Fri, Apr 12, 2019, 6:58pm (UTC -5)
Re: DSC S2: Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 1

Well, this felt a lot like reshuffling and stage setting for next season.

Moving Discovery to the future would solve quite a few of the shows problems, so combined with the very explicit communication in this episode who will be on Discovery and who won't, I get the distinct sense that DSC will go through with the final mission being a one way trip. I see Spock joining in not really as a contradition, but merely as a set up for some Michael-Burnham-Family-Anguish-Melodrama (tm) next week.

All in all I think the direction plotted for next season seems like a promising direction. My main problem is, that for --this-- season the way there feels so incredibly forced. For example there is not much reason given for all those people going with Burnham other than "well, we like you and don't want you to be alone". That's just a tad thin for people leaving everybody and everything behind.

Another example is the way Discovery's nondestruction is handled. The explanation that the Sphere Data has taken over the ships systems and wants to survive is not completely nonsensical, but it still feels like what in roleplaying games you would call "railroading": When the gamemaster has to come up with ever more contrived reasons why player characters can't do the logical thing, but have to do what the plot demands.

I hope uses this forceful course correction to good effect, but for the moment I'll be only cautiously optimistic. Getting rid of Tyler is a big step in the right direction though. For next weeks finale the big question remains:

Will Discovery go boldly where it should have gone long ago and get rid of Michael Burnham? Or will it again try to salvage that overburdened character?
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CanOfUbik
Fri, Mar 15, 2019, 5:03am (UTC -5)
Re: DSC S2: Project Daedalus

For me, the most hopeful sign of this episode was that Discovery seems to begin to tackle its Burnham problem. Spock's monologue after the game of chess was pretty much a summary of Discovery's much too narrow narrative focus on Burnham.

Not only did Spock state the problem, the episode took some steps in the right direction by having quite a lot of scenes of other characters interacting without Burnham. Most importantly though, the final scene had Burnham doing her Burnham thing (stubbornly ignoring everybody else against all reason) and was -not- proven right in the end, but instead needed Number 1 (whom she had left dying on the floor forever) to save the situation.

This gives me hope for the rest of this season and even more so for season 3, when the new show runners can work without having to clean up the baggage left by the old ones.
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CanOfUbik
Fri, Mar 8, 2019, 4:41pm (UTC -5)
Re: DSC S2: If Memory Serves

So, with the Red Angel (a female, human time traveller) interfering so Spock could save Burnham, Burnham being the catalyst for how most of the story since season 1, and it being revealed that Leland is responsible for the death of Burnham's parents, could DSC be setting up for the big reset button?

The Red Angel seems to want to stop some kind of apocalypse (given the corrupted probe from 500 years in the future probably some nanotech/machine uprising stuff), and its first intervention was to save Burnham from death. Maybe the finale will be the realisation, that saving Burnham is the right call, but that it has to come before her parents die, so sehe never even becomes Spock's sister. That would give DSC the convenient reason to wipe the slate clean and reshuffle for season 3.

And would fit with its pechant for blatant unsubtilety.
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Ubik
Thu, Feb 14, 2019, 5:03pm (UTC -5)
Re: DSC S2: An Obol for Charon

I'll just jump in here to counter one argument: I believe it is a straw man to argue that Michael is a failed role model. I have seen no evidence whatsoever in any of Discovery that we are meant to think of Michael as a role model. They start the series literally with her betraying her Captain, getting the Captain killed, and then accidentally starting a war. This is by no means a role model. What this is MEANT to be, clearly, is a redemption arc.

Now, it's obviously a failed redemption arc - her reasons for committing mutiny are never clear, her reasons for killing T'Kuvma are never clear, and worst of all, the reasons for everyone blaming her for starting the war are never clear (how exactly did her actions lead to the war? I really have no firm idea on that.)

In Season 2, she even has a brief moment (a good one) where, when thanked by Pike for following orders given that she disagreed with them, she answers that she has learned the hard way what not following orders can lead to.

So, this is undeniably meant to be a redemption arc, not a role model. We are MEANT to think she screwed up, that she paid a price, but then, because she is willing to learn from her mistakes, she is rewarded in the end with forgiveness.

I am not saying this worked - it didn't. And clearly, in the second season, they are trying to rewrite the character so that she is just a good officer with a bit of baggage, rather than a previously hated mutineer, and frankly, it is an improvement, if you just forget that all that mutineer-Klingon War stuff happened. (I would rather an unconvincing rewrite rather than writers feeling trapped with an unworkable character - see Bashir, Julian.)

Anyway, all of this to say, there is no evidence that Michael is intended to be read as a role model, and, I believe, plenty of evidence to the contrary.
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Ubik
Mon, Jan 21, 2019, 9:44am (UTC -5)
Re: DSC S2: Brother

@Hank

Great post. I think you've hit on both a) CBS' motivation in making a Trek series like this, and b) the likely pitfalls of such an approach.

Look - Star Trek used to be something pretty special. Turn on TOS, TNG, or DS9, and you will be watching something that, really, was unlike just about anything else airing at the time. X-Files seasons 1-5 was also very special, and very unique. So was Lost. So was BSG. Just as turning on Game of Thrones or Black Mirror now will show you something unlike just about any other show out there.

And what of Discovery? It just isn't that different, yet. The first episode of Season 2, while absolutely solid, is just like Star Wars, and Guardians of the Galaxy, and a number of other things. Star Trek is following the trends now, thereby becoming mere product, rather than inventing the trends, thereby creating art. (And I don't mean that every episode of those previous shows achieved the status of great art. I am defining art here as an attempt to give an audience something they didn't know they needed until they got it, rather than trying to give an audience exactly what you perceive they want. That, to my mind, is the primary difference between art and product.)

There is a safety to this, sure, to creating product. But also the nagging feeling that something special, something essential, has been lost.
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Ubik
Sat, Jan 19, 2019, 8:08am (UTC -5)
Re: DSC S2: Brother

I'm torn on this.

It was entertaining, absolutely, in the same way that Star Wars is entertaining, and the Abrams 2009 Star Trek was entertaining. Basically, it's Star Wars set in the Federation universe. It feels like Star Wars. It has the aesthetic of Star Wars, the pace of Star Wars, the character interactions of Star Wars, the plot mechanics of Star Wars, and the storytelling philosophy of Star Wars. It's about a bunch of fun, easily characterized people racing against a clock in breathless, witty and adventurous style against a bunch of spontaneous external obstacles. The quips come fast. The dialogue is functional and funny. The action and the pace are the very point. In terms of characterization and even drama, everything is in broad strokes, like Star Wars. There's even the notion that Michael is going to have to go out into space to find Luke...ahem, I mean Spock. The whole damn thing has just taken on the feel and ideology of Star Wars. And, on that level, it worked quite well, better, even, than the Abrams movies, I think. I like Star Wars.

But hell. Have we just given up? Are the storytelling attitudes of TNG and DS9, that Star Trek is about intelligent people trying to come to terms, slowly, carefully, with a practical or ethical problem, gone? Why can't this show just slow the hell down? It's fun, yes, but it's not ABOUT anything. It's a roller coaster ride. It's about the experience itself, but it doesn't EXPLORE anything.

I dunno. I was totally engaged. The characters are fun, in the same way that Han and Luke were fun in the 1977 Star Wars. It looked great. The action was sparkling.

But I'm disappointed. I'm going to keep watching, of course, and hoping. But Star Trek used to be an intellectual show. That's why it was nerdy. It appealed to both the emotions and the smarts. Now it's all emotion. It's visceral. It's fast. It is desperate to entertain. And, frankly, to semi-steal a line from Citizen Kane, it is easy to entertain when all you want to do is entertain. But do they have any intention of trying to bring back the ethics, the intellect, and the patience to Star Trek? I don't know. We'll see.
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Ubik
Tue, Nov 13, 2018, 1:30pm (UTC -5)
Re: DSC S2: General Discussion

Yeah, this notion that everything in the Star Trek universe must, at least, have a certain number of common intrinsic values is, to my mind, a misunderstanding of precisely the benefits of having such a wide universe. Just because Star Trek can literally contain ANY kind of story is not evidence that it represents nothing - it's evidence rather that it can represent everything.

Since someone just brought up The Odyssey, I'll add the ancient Greek canon of stories as another example of an "expanded universe" that, within its boundaries, could encompass basically any type of storytelling at all. Within that shared universe of heroes and gods and half-gods, you've got everything from epic dramatic poetry to war stories to adventures to closet domestic dramas to romantic comedies to slapstick comedies to outright fantasies. The Greeks understood the advantages of using common characters and settings and even plots to tell vastly different types of stories, with vastly, even incompatible, worldviews and themes. And that's the thing - not only did the genres and tones change, but the values and philosophies of life and the world changed too. And now, we consider all that stuff part of the overall Greek canon of literature. If the stuff is good, it's good.

On the other hand, the whole "Discovery isn't real Trek" crowd also reminds us that audiences being unwilling to accept such vastly different approaches to the same basic material also hasn't changed in thousands of years. When Euripides borrowed the characters and situations from Sophocles and Aeschylus, critics at the time also said he wasn't treating the material seriously enough, or that it wasn't "real" tragedy. And this was two and a half thousand years ago. So, people crying foul at Discovery not being "real Trek", know that you're in good company.

Here's my take: the Abrams movies are not good movies, and they are not good Star Trek. That doesn't mean Star Trek cannot be a pure action movie - it means it should not be a mediocre action movie. If someone came along and made a Star Trek action movie as good as Raiders of the Lost Ark or Mad Max: Fury Road, I'm sure we'd all have less problem with it.

Discovery did not fail as a season because it was not true to Star Trek. It failed as a season (despite doing quite a few things right in the first half or two thirds) because it failed to follow through with its dark implications. It got cold feet, it made the ambiguous Captain EEEEVIL, and then it introduced a dumbass speech by Michael assuring its angry audience that don't worry, it was only kidding, it's gonna be real Star Trek from now on. The season failed due to cowardice and impatience. Deep Space Nine largely ignored complaints about it not being real Star Trek, and now we largely consider it the best of the lot. That says something. Discovery should have had the courage of the DS9 writers. Discovery needed to have the courage to be LESS like the rest of Star Trek, and it would have been a far better show.

So, yes - Star Trek can be anything, just as much as a story about Apollo or Agamemnon can be a anything. It just needs to be done fully and honestly and skillfully. That's my take, anyway.
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Ubik
Tue, Oct 30, 2018, 8:26am (UTC -5)
Re: DSC S2: General Discussion

@Jason R

I agree with your analysis and prediction. Here is the unknown factor: can these various Star Trek series be GOOD? I mean, did Star Wars start to seem less special because there were too many of them? Or because, with Solo, it became clear that they were content to make mediocre and forgettable stuff? If literally every single new Star Wars movie was a high quality piece of entertainment (and I am someone who liked Last Jedi very much, as well as Force Awakens and especially Rogue One), would it still feel over-extended?

The orthodoxy among the Star Trek producers is that the death of Star Trek in the early 2000's was due to over-extension. But that's not strictly true. The death of Star Trek in the 2000's was due to the low quality of the last two series and movies (Voyager, Enterprise, Insurrection, Nemesis.) It only felt over-extended because it was all crap.

So...let's say Discovery Season 2 is great. (I happen to think this very unlikely, mind you. In my opinion, they learned the wrong lessons from season 1. It wasn't too dark, or too gritty, or too unaligned with canon. It just didn't have the courage of its convictions, or the writing chops.) But let's say it is. And let's say this new comedy series is hilarious. And let's say the new Picard show is new and amazing. Then, over-extension ceases to be a problem, no? I have no particular problem with Star Trek being anything at all - space war, comedy, school story, drama, adventure, political show, anything - as long as it's GOOD.

I know. I'm having pipe dreams. But still.
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Ubik
Tue, Feb 13, 2018, 10:29am (UTC -5)
Re: DSC S1: Will You Take My Hand?

@Adonis

Excellent post! Thank you.
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Ubik
Mon, Feb 12, 2018, 12:43pm (UTC -5)
Re: DSC S1: Will You Take My Hand?

@Peter

In general, your main attack on this show, and this episode in particular, is, I think, that the Federation being depicted is not the utopia we have come to expect from later fictional representations of the Federation. Now, I concur, there are whole loads of problems with this episode which, unfortunately, make the season leading up to it less good than it was before, but I do want to focus on that one complaint of yours, because it does seem unsustainable to me.

Basically, you are arguing that the people who founded this utopia need to already be the utopic individuals that the utopia is designed to bring about. This is a classic paradox in the representation of utopias, explored most interestingly, to my mind, by Fredric Jameson, but the core problem here is a confusion of cause and effect. Do perfect, utopic individuals bring about a Utopic Federation, or does a perfect, utopic Federation alter human nature to create utopic individuals? If the former, then how did these people become perfect in the first place, if it is usually assumed that it is the society, the utopia, that causes people to become more perfect selves? Which came first?

Essentially, you are blaming the early Federation citizens and leadership for not already being the perfected Federation citizens that the Federation itself is meant to create. But this is less a fault of the writers of Discovery and more a structural impossibility of depicting utopia in the first place. In your mind, when DID the Federation become a utopia? When did Federation citizens become more perfect individuals than we are? It's easy enough to depict a Federation where human nature has already changed, and Picard can give speeches about how humans no longer care about personal possessions or feel jealousy or whatever, but how did they BECOME this way? What fissure in human history did these people cross that allowed them to alter utterly the very nature of being human? Were they already that way BEFORE the Federation itself was formed? If so, how? Or was it the structure of the Federation and its utopic constitution that TRANSFORMED imperfect humans (us) into utopic humans?

I guess what I'm saying is, if the Discovery writers are trying to fictionally depict that transformation, to show us HOW a flawed human Empire became a utopic civilization, to show how a flawed humanity somehow overcame its natural instincts to become the angelic beings of The Next Generation, I think that's a hugely ambitious and valuable goal; it's not something Star Trek has ever really attempted before. The writers of TOS, and especially TNG, just took for granted that human nature itself could change completely, but they were happy enough avoiding a fictional depiction of that process. We were always meant to take it on faith. Now, the writers of Discovery, attempting this probably impossible feat of representation, haven't quite made that transformation believable or smooth, not at all, but it makes no sense, to me, to criticize them for trying. It's something most writers of utopia have avoided doing, for obvious reasons - because such a transformation goes against our reality principle; we all know it just isn't possible.
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Ubik
Thu, Feb 8, 2018, 11:35am (UTC -5)
Re: DSC S1: The War Without, The War Within

@MadManMUC

See, when you say you don't like a Star Trek actor's acting, by your own admission you don't actually mean that at all - you mean you find the character unlikeable. This is an entirely different criticism. And you're perfectly welcome to that criticism, but it isn't the same thing as faulting the actor's acting skills.

All the casual dismissing of people's acting I see on this thread seems really arbitrary to me and, I'm sorry to say, imprecise. It is absolutely not an actor's job to "create a relationship" with anyone or to "be likeable" or to "make the audience care." That is the job of a roommate, or a spouse, or a best friend. To seek that kind of relationship with a fictional character seems to me, at best, a misplaced ambition. Who says you have to like a fictional character? Are you going to have drinks with them? Are they going to marry your kid? Here's a simple example: do we "like" Luke Skywalker in the original trilogy? What's there to like? I CARE about him greatly, because he is the hero, and the protagonist, and I believe his situation and his stakes, but like? In real life, the man would be insufferable. In A New Hope, he's a whiny brat, and by Return of the Jedi, he's an aloof weirdo. But I follow his story with enthusiasm because Mark Hamill did the job of making me believe he is who he says he is.

As far as I am concerned, it is the actor's job to make the audience believe he or she is the character the script says he or she is, and perhaps to add enough human realism and complexity to that person so that they seem real. That is the goal: verisimilitude. A performance is a memesis, a simulation, of a real person, not an actual person, and the actor's job is to make that simulation as believable as possible.

On that score, the vast majority of actors from Star Trek being dismissed here as bad actors are perfectly fine actors. Sonequa Martin is being asked to play a relatively simple character (as most characters in the Star Trek franchise have been relatively simple) - someone with problems making connections, with some emotional repression (which often leads her to emotional decision-making), and with some guilt for having betrayed a mentor. She is also intelligent. All pretty standard stuff. And do I believe that this Michael character exists, and that she is who the script tells me she is? Absolutely, with no hesitation. At the moment, she is probably the dullest character of this small cast, but that protagonist-problem has plagued writers from Dickens to Stephen King, so the writers here are in good company. She is perfectly solid. Do I like Michael? Absolutely irrelevant. I don't base my amount of "caring" about a fictional character based on how much I "like" them, or "approve" of them, or sympathize with their ethics or decision-making. That is how I chose my wife. For a fictional character, I have to find them HUMAN. In that respect, she more than suffices.

(As an aside, there have been, of course, on occasion, Star Trek actors who have far surpassed the material given them, and added such mind-boggling complexity to their characters that they seem more real to us than even real-life people. Stewart and Spiner are probably in that small company. The rest are probably in the cast of Deep Space Nine.)
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Ubik
Wed, Feb 7, 2018, 2:08pm (UTC -5)
Re: DSC S1: The War Without, The War Within

@Peter G

See, the reason I think you're misunderstanding the series as a whole (in my opinion) may in fact be because of what I see as your misreading of Michael.

"Burnham's mutiny wasn't done because she was eeeevil or power-mad, it was because she's undisciplined and cares for little more than how she feels in a given moment. The contrast you're drawing, that the dilemma here is between her being good or her being Darth Burnham is, to me, not pertinent to the criticisms I'm making. What I'm saying is that she's self-centered, typically makes emotional decisions rather than considered ones, and routinely will deviate from any pre-established plans when it personally suits her. Basically, she's not trustworthy. This has nothing to do with *her conception of her motives*, which I think is honorable. I think she tries to do the right thing, or hopes to. When the crew judged her upon her arrival it wasn't because they thought she was evil, but rather (correctly) because she had violated Federation principles because her own say-so was more important to her. And they were right. She puts her own feelings above Starfleet judgement or the Captain's orders. Basically she's Tony Stark in space, which is fun when it's a comic book, but not fun for me when it's in a Trek setting."

So, you say she's undisciplined, and only does what she feels in the given moment? Wait a minute, I'm confused; are you arguing that she should follow orders more often? But then, when she follows Lorca's orders, for example to torture the tardigrade in order to make the spores work, you would argue that she never should have done that. So I really don't understand - how can you criticize her for failing to follow orders in some cases and then criticize her for following orders in other cases?

See, this gets to what I believe is one of the fundamental themes of the first season - the question of authority vs. individual choice. You and others read this as inconsistent writing, when in fact the ambiguity surrounding the question of when to follow orders and when to follow your personal instincts is precisely what the series is engaging with. Yes, there is some muddy writing around the entire mutiny itself: it's unclear from those first two episodes what precisely the outcome of the mutiny was - there appears to be no particular outcome, other than Michael's own guilt - but still, her motive for disobeying orders was because she felt she had inside information about how to prevent a war that her Captain failed to consider. Her motivation for mutinying is pure, as you say, although, perhaps, also rash and emotional - you would argue that the lesson she should have learned from this is to trust her commanding officer, I suppose. IS that the lesson she should take from this? In this case, we know that mutinying was wrong, because WE have inside information that the Klingons were going to attack anyway, which makes her mutiny pointless. But SHE didn't have that inside information. Given what she knew, why was the mutiny such a bad idea? Because disobeying or failing to trust your commanding officer is always the wrong thing to do?

But then, she is immediately placed under the command of Lorca, a person who seems to reject a lot of classic Federation principles, and encourages her to think of context, or her own instincts, rather than always following the chain of command. And then this new Captain immediately orders her to hurt this tardigrade. So - what is the easy lesson here? Follow orders, trust authority? Can't be - because following Lorca's orders, we learn, was also a bad idea. In fact, so many of the authority figures on this show so far (including Lorca and, now, the shell-shocked Admiral) or clearly NOT people anyone should be blindly obeying. The Admiral's putting Georgiu in control of the bridge is clearly an asinine act of desperation. Should Saru listen? Or should Saru mutiny against the Admiral and throw Giorgiu in the brig? Oh oh - now, suddenly, knowing when to mutiny and when not to mutiny is not such an easy question. I would argue, actually, that at this moment, NOT to mutiny against the Admiral would be the wrong thing to do, given her emotional state.

Also, as another example, consider that episode when Michael and Ash were on the planet, under the command of Saru - should they have blindly obeyed Saru in that context? Clearly not. He was going nuts, and they disobeyed him, and quite rightly.

So what the hell is Michael supposed to think about all this? She is trying to earn redemption for having shown a severe lack of trust in her commanding officer, and all she keeps encountering is evidence that, dammit, she SHOULD be questioning orders, all the damned time, considering how flawed and corruptible authority figures around her have turned out to be.

So: dismissing Michael as a selfish and emotional wreck who constantly disregards orders is an unfair and unsustainable reading of this character. She is, rather, a character who is constantly being put in positions where she must wrestle with the notion of authority vs. personal instinct. Sometimes when she resists orders, she is wrong to do so. But sometimes when she obeys orders, she is wrong to do so. Knowing when to obey authority is not easy. This continued exploration of this ambiguity, this struggle, in regards to authority is, I think, new in the Star Trek franchise.

We have, of course, had individual episodes where Captains or their first officers ignore orders. Ironically, most of the time, those decisions are treated, afterwards, heroically. Kirk and Picard ignore the Prime Directive several times, and it is often seen as the right thing to do, as a more humane and flexible attitude towards a mechanically rigid law. Kirk literally steals the Enterprise and breaks a quarantine merely to save a personal friend, and he is rewarded with a new Captaincy and three more movies. Time and time again, we have seen individuals in Star Trek reject orders, and the problem is usually solved easily and by the end of the episode or film. (In Star Trek III, Kirk wrestles with the ethics of betraying Starfleet NOT AT ALL.) At other times, we see that following orders was the wrong thing to do (Riker in The Pegasus comes to mind.)

But what we have here is an extended exploration of those difficulties, more extended than we have ever had in the franchise before. At the beginning of the series, Michael learns a lesson about trusting her commanding officer, and then she spends the rest of the season learning NOT to trust her commanding officer. Or the first officer (in that Saru episode). Or the new officer (Ash). Or the Admiral, who is clearly off her rocker. She consistently learns NOT to trust, while trying to earn redemption for an act of DIStrust against her captain and friend. None of this is easy, and just because Michael isn't given little Picardian monologues about how hard it is to know when to trust others and when to trust yourself does NOT mean that she show is not deeply invested in these questions. The tension in almost every episode centres on this very theme. The show explores these questions through character, through juxtaposition, through parallelism and repeated tropes, rather than through dialogue.

And, most of all, it offers no easy answers. Anyone who claims the presence of after-school-special messages from this series are misreading the series.

@Dom

And this would be one answer to the question you posed - what ethical dilemmas do I think the show is exploring. This is one of them. I believe there are at least three or four others.
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Ubik
Wed, Feb 7, 2018, 6:02am (UTC -5)
Re: DSC S1: The War Without, The War Within

@MidshipmanNorris

I agree with your post 100%. This show is deeply resonant, in a way not seen in Star Trek with this intensity and consistency since Deep Space Nine. Those who hate the show (and there appear to be many on this board) are, I think, misreading the show. It is, of course, difficult to have an opinion about a thing until one knows what that thing IS.

@Drea and @Peter G
Thank you for your considered responses. Here is why I disagree with you: this show is clearly not uninterested in the ethics involved in all these actions, events, and decisions. What is DOES do is explore those issues in a less direct way than, say, TNG or DS9. Those shows were very on-the-nose. The characters basically repeated whatever ethical debate the writers had in their own heads when planning the episode. Here are the pros, here are the cons. Now, that can certainly be compelling, and God knows some of the best scenes ever to appear on television happened in that Enterprise-D conference room, with Picard at the head. But it isn't the only way to explore ethical issues, and it isn't necessarily the most sophisticated way,

This show, in many ways, is more complex than the earlier Trek shows. It explores its ethical issues through action. It puts forward moral or ethical quandaries and then wrestles with them through action. When people see, on the screen, only action, they are missing the thematic content below the action. This is absolutely not a mindless action show, as the three Abrams movies so clearly were - this a Trek show deeply invested in issues of morality, character, and theme, and it presents those issues through visuals, through narrative, through symbol, through parallels or contrasts between characters, through other rhetorical devices almost never seen in Star Trek before.

And look - the pacing has been off. They have, in let's say a third of the episodes, gone much faster than they should have. So this exploration has by no means been perfect, and they need to slow down in their second season. But it's there. And to dismiss the writers out of hand for been uninterested in ethics or morality is, to my mind, grossly unfair, given what's actually there on screen. You just shouldn't be looking for it in dialogue.
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Ubik
Tue, Feb 6, 2018, 6:19pm (UTC -5)
Re: DSC S1: The War Without, The War Within

@Peter G (and others of a similar point of view)

I keep hearing this notion of Discovery being a bad Star Trek show because the characters do immoral things, and nobody around them acts as if the action is immoral, and thus this entire fictional Trek universe has lost all sense of morality.

I find this criticism strange, for many reasons. We can take this forced mind-meld as an example - who says this meld isn't meant to be red-line-crossing? It absolutely IS played as a violation of sorts, and the reason for this expediency is, in the context, fairly obvious - the Admiral and Sarek are not at all certain who these people are, or whether they are imposters. Think of it, perhaps, as the equivalent as the forced blood-letting that Sisko's Dad has to undergo in Deep Space Nine, to prove his identity, but with a much more urgent time constraint. It isn't pretty, and it isn't meant to be, and that level of amoral expediency is designed to communicate the severity of the stakes involved.

Nowhere in this show, absolutely nowhere, not in 14 episodes, have I seen any indication whatsoever that the show's ideology is any less moral than the ideology of, say, Deep Space Nine. The depiction of actions is not an endorsement of those actions. The show wasn't pro-torturing the tardigrade, nor pro-torturing Stamets, nor even pro-murdering that mirror-version of one of Michael's old friends in the turbolift. Those actions happened, and the show depicted those actions to explore the psychological and ethical ramifications of a person who considers themselves moral having performed questionable acts (or feeling forced to perform questionable acts, rather.) This show's morality is simply doing what Deep Space Nine did before it - questioning how far morality can go in more and more grievous situations.

It's not like the United States, for example, was pro-murdering hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians with an atom bomb. They felt it expedient. Whether or not it was necessary is a question that has plagued historians and other thinkers ever since, and it was obviously an IMMORAL thing to do, no questions asked. If Discovery wants to explore similar moral quandaries, I think we should encourage it to do so, rather than demanding a strict and comforting moral code from its characters, which would teach us nothing, and only provide some confirmation bias, so we could warmly hug ourselves in our certainty that our own sense of morality is the right one, and that we would always stick to it. That seems like a less ambitious goal, in some ways, then what we have in this show here.
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Ubik
Sun, Feb 4, 2018, 9:20am (UTC -5)
Re: DSC S1: What's Past Is Prologue

So...Discovery haters are also largely climate change deniers? Aaaah, it all starts to makes sense......

:)
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Ubik
Sat, Feb 3, 2018, 7:18am (UTC -5)
Re: DSC S1: What's Past Is Prologue

I can't believe I'm allowing myself to be pulled into this...

but

@Jorel

Um...climate change has absolutely nothing to do with the behaviour of the sun. No one in the history of climate change science has ever claimed, for an instant, that climate change has the remotest connection to anything having to do with the sun. It has to do with the amount of carbon dioxide we spew into the atmosphere, which we DO have control over.
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