Star Trek Discovery – Of Rubberheads and Rushed Romances

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It seems that last week’s episode of Star Trek Discovery (which was actually good) was an outlier, because this week Star Trek Discovery is back on form and it sucks. If you’re interested in reading me detailing all the many ways in which Star Trek Discovery sucks, go here. For another take, check out Camestros Felapton who remarks on the inconsistency of Star Trek Discovery here. Or listen to Anita Sarkeesian and Ebony Aster dissecting the show and its many problems at the Feminist Frequency podcast. Or read Bridget McKinney’s take at SF Bluestocking, which quite often mirrors mine.

In fact, this episode made me so angry that I’m pretty close to stopping watching this show altogether, because it’s not good for my health. Though I’ll probably watch next week’s episode, which is the last one before the winter break. And why does a streaming video show need to take a winter break anyway? Christmas/winter breaks make sense for broadcast television, but not for streaming videos.

Warning: Spoilers behind the cut!

Episode 8 of Star Trek Discovery once more mashes several different plots together rather than focus on telling one story at a time with maybe a B-plot. It also once again steals part of its plot from previous Star Trek episodes, this time the original series episode “Errand of Mercy” with a bit of the original series episode “This Side of Paradise” thrown in for good measure. “This Side of Paradise” is actually a pretty good episode, but I’ve never particularly cared for “Errand of Mercy” and having just read a recap, I realise that my memories of it are rather hazy. Coincidentally, I also didn’t know that John Colicos, best remembered by SFF fans as Count Baltar in the original Battlestar Galactica, plays a Klingon in that episode. “Errand of Mercy” is a very 1960s episode that hasn’t aged well with its focus on thinly veiled political issues of the day. Though at least it’s not as bad as “And Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” (a.k.a. the one with the black and white faces) and its message of pacifism sadly still needs to be heard today. But even though “Errand of Mercy” is one of the weaker episodes of the original series, it still makes sense for Star Trek Discovery to riff on this episode. For “Errand of Mercy” was the episode that introduced the Klingons to the Star Trek universe and a war with the Klingons is the main focus of Star Trek Discovery.

And indeed a large part of episode 8 of Star Trek Discovery takes part aboard a Klingon ship. The female Klingon who tortured Lorca and sexually abused Ash Tyler a few episodes ago shows up again, this time sporting a new facial scar courtesy of Ash. She tries to ingratiate herself to the current Klingon head honcho (actually the third Klingon head honcho we’ve seen in the show so far) by helping him to interrogate (i.e. torture) a difficult prisoner. This difficult prisoner turns out to be none other than Admiral Cornwell, Captain Lorca’s sometime lover who was captured by Klingons two episodes ago and then sort of forgotten. During the interrogation, the female Klingon (apparently, the character’s name is L’Rell, but I honestly can’t tell these Klingons apart or remember their names) tells Admiral Cornwell that she wants to defect, because all her friends are dead and she hates the new Klingon head honcho. She also promises to help the Admiral escape. The Admiral accepts and they make an escape attempt, only to be intercepted by Klingons loyal to the new head honcho. The Admiral is supposedly killed (or is she?), while L’Rell is arrested (or is she?). Honestly, this whole bit didn’t make a whole lot of sense and the outcome is unclear.

Now I normally like the Klingons a lot and was always happy to see a Klingon focussed episode in Next Generation and the Star Trek series that followed. However, the Klingon scenes in Star Trek Discovery are just dull. I honestly don’t give a fuck about Voq and L’Rell and Kol and Kor and T’Kuvma and the umpteen Klingon houses. I can’t even tell them apart most of the time (honestly, the new Klingon make-up is awful) and I certainly don’t care about their political infighting. I also don’t care if L’Rell really wants to defect or if she is just lying again, cause lying seems to be something she does a lot. Nor do I care what happens to the Admiral – she’s an unpleasant character, even though I do like the fact that Lorca’s lover is a woman of his own age rather than someone who could be his daughter. And no, the problem is not that the Klingons speak Klingon among themselves, because I actually like that bit. Though it doesn’t help that the actors don’t speak Klingon very well, which makes their scenes feel stilted. But the whole Klingon subplot is just dull and I don’t know why a show with an already limited number of episodes needs to spend so much time among the Klingons, especially since these are the least interesting and least likeable Klingons we’ve seen in a long time. And let’s not even mention the flat out racist way they’re portrayed, which is even more troubling considering that Star Trek Discovery already has a bad record on race. If you want to have Klingon subplots to show the other side, so to say, then at least make them interesting and make the Klingons recognisably Klingon rather than runaway orcs pretending to be Klingons.

Oh yes and all of the Klingon ships have cloaking technology now (which is apparently still a new thing at this point in time), which is demonstrated in a big space battle with the Discovery and another Starfleet ship, which is destroyed. Starfleet ships are destroyed with alarming frequency in Star Trek Discovery, which confirms my suspicions that this incarnation of Starfleet is not just the military arm of a nasty, prisoner-exploiting dystopia, but also fucking incompetent. Which makes them seem even more hypocritical for blaming Michael Burnham for the fact that they lost 8000 people in the first two days of the war (and why do they need such huge crews anyway, when they have a high degree of automation? But that’s a topic for another day). Cause the real reason that Starfleet lost 8000 people in the first two days of their war with the Klingons is that they’re fucking incompetent.

Apart from establishing once again that Starfleet is incompetent, the only purpose of the big space battle is to introduce what is apparently supposed to be this episode’s main plot. Because the widespread use of cloaking technology has apparently turned the tide of the war yet again. A few episodes ago, Starfleet was winning, but now the Klingons are winning. And coincidentally, I also can’t muster much of an interest in how this war goes. For starters, we already know that no side scores a total victory, since conflict between the Federation and the Klingons will continue to simmer for several decades yet. What is more, both the Klingons and the Federation as depicted in Star Trek Discovery are so awful that “A plague on both your houses” is the only appropriate response to their conflict.

However, luckily for the Federation, a potential solution to Starfleet’s problem with the Klingon’s cloaking devices is found on the planet of Pahvo. Pahvo is a supposedly uninhabited planet (but this is Starfleet and we know they’re not very good at detecting lifeforms, unless they jump up and down and shout “here”), where all nature lives in harmony. The planet also broadcasts music via a giant crystal transmitter. But there’s no sentient life there, no not at all, the music is a total coincidence. The Federation now has the brilliant idea to send someone to Pahvo to retune the crystal transmitter, so it can be used to decloak Klingon ships. Of course, this makes no sense at all – if Klingon or Romulan ships could be decloaked by blasting music or noise at them, every Starfleet ship would be equipped with giant sonic emitters. But then, Star Trek Discovery is the show which came up with the brilliant idea to have the titular starship jump through space via a network of magic mushroom spores navigated first by a space critter and then by a somewhat zoned out human.

Nonetheless, the Discovery is sent to the totally uninhabited planet of Pahvo to retune the transmitter. We’ve all seen Star Trek, so we know how this is going to go. The team sent down to deal with the transmitter consists of Michael Burnham, Ash Tyler and Saru a.k.a. Commander Rubberhead. No redshirt, which means that the intelligent life which totally doesn’t exist on this planet at least won’t be overly hostile. Though unfortunately, this also means that the life which totally doesn’t exist on this planet also fails to eat Saru.

Coincidentally, this is the first time beyond the desert planet at the very start of the first episode and some flashbacks set on Vulcan that Star Trek Discovery has actually visited an alien planet. So far, all of the episodes took place almost entirely aboard one starship or another. Which yet again shows how unlike any Star Trek show with the possible exception of Deep Space Nine Discovery is. Because visiting alien planets has always been the lifeblood of Star Trek. Not that there’s anything wrong with the occasional shipbound episode and indeed some of my favourite Star Trek episodes have been shipbound. But too many of them can get claustrophobic fast and seven shipbound episodes in a row is highly unusual for Star Trek. So it’s a relief to finally get to visit a planet, even if this planet looks just like a forest in Canada dressed up with some CGI touches. But then, it’s a well known fact that 40% of all planets in the galaxy look like somewhere in Canada, another 40% look like somewhere in Southern California, 15% look like random quarries in Britain and 5% look like Photoshop.

Michael and Ash use the excursion to spend some quality time together (more on that later), while Saru continues to be a pain in the butt as usual. First of all, the music generated and broadcast by the flora and fauna on Pahvo bothers Saru terribly. But then, I wonder why of all the people aboard the Discovery, you’d send the guy who’s afraid of everything down to the unexplored alien planet. Never mind that as first officer, Saru is probably needed aboard the ship, even though he never actually does much except stand around and snipe at Michael. Honestly, if you rewatch the clip from last week’s episode, where Harry Mudd kills Lorca 54 times in a row, Saru and the rest of the bridge crew just stand around and watch Lorca getting killed. None of them even try to intervene. Now imagine if someone had strolled or beamed onto the bridge of either Enterprise or the Voyager and attacked the captain. The entire bridge crew would have jumped on the intruder before they even had a chance to fire the first shot. Meanwhile, the Discovery‘s bridge crew just stands there and watches Lorca get killed, almost as if they’re secretly glad to be rid of him. And in fact, they probably are.

Talking about the Discovery‘s bridge crew, what precisely is the purpose of those people? I mean, these characters look really interesting – crashtest dummy woman (whose name apparently is Airiam), cyborg woman, black woman, rubberhead II – but they have barely any lines and zero personality. They only exist, so Lorca has someone to yell at. They could put actual crashtest dummies there and it wouldn’t make much of a difference. In all previous Star Trek versions (and in The Orville as well), the bridge is where the main cast (with the exception of the doctor and chief engineer) hangs out. But in Discovery, Lorca and occasionally Saru and Ash Tyler (and very occasionally Michael) hang out on the bridge, but the real action happens elsewhere. In fact, even Lorca is more frequently seen in his office or his secret lab of death than on the bridge. Meanwhile, the actual bridge crew are basically redshirts, but they’re probably the most expensive redshirts we’ve ever seen in Star Trek. Why create a cool looking character like Airiam, the sentient crashtest dummy, and have the actress spent two hours in make-up, only to give her nothing to do?

To absolutely no one’s surprise except the cast’s, the planet Pahvo turns out to be not uninhabited after all. For the blue glowy sparkles floating around everywhere that just happen to lead Saru, Michael and Ash to a hut in the forest (and of course, a hut on an uninhabited planet makes complete sense) are not fungus spores that escaped from the magic mushroom drive (I guess the special effects folks were feeling lazy that day and reused an effect), but the native sentient life of Pahvo. Once Michael, Ash and Saru discover that the glowy blue sparkles are actually lifeforms as well as sentient and intelligent, some debate breaks out about how to proceed now. Everybody agrees that since the planet is inhabited, they cannot simply reprogramm the crystal transmitter for their purposes without asking for permission first. However, the glowy blue sparks of Pahvo are also clearly a pre-warp civilization, so the Prime Directive forbids any intervention, regardless for what higher purpose, as the characters explain to each other for the sake of Trek newbies among the audience (since I’m pretty sure that three Starfleet officers – and yes, I’m including Michael here – already know all about the Prime Directive and don’t need it explained). Except that the inhabitants of Pahvo are clearly already aware of the Discovery team, so the damage has been done anyway. So it’s decided to initiate first contact procedures and nicely ask the inhabitants of Pahvo if the Federation may borrow their crystal transmitter to aid the war effort.

The task of initiating first contact falls to Saru, probably because he has the highest rank. And since the glowy blue things are telepathic and linked among themselves, they promptly forge a mental connection with Saru, which happens to look as if a blue glitter bomb went off in his face. Being telepathic, the aliens sense Saru’s anxiety (because Saru is always afraid) and also that the music broadcast by their planet is making him uncomfortable. So they telepathically assure Saru that every living being on the planet of Pahvo lives in total harmony with each other and that Saru has absolutely no reason to be afraid of anything, because Pahvo is completely safe. Meanwhile, they also get the gist of what has been going on in the wider universe from Saru.

The effect of the communion with the glowy blue spark on Saru is remarkable, because Saru immediately takes on a strange, zoned out look (well, stranger than usual). And what is it with Star Trek Discovery characters appearing as if they’re on drugs anyway? For a subplot of this episode reveals that Stamets’ reaction to the magic mushroom drive and the tardigrade DNA he injected himself with is getting worse. At first, it only seemed to turn Stamets into a more pleasant person with the tendency to hug random people and attempt to play matchmaker for Michael and Ash Tyler. But in this episode, we see more negative effects, when Stamets staggers out of the drive, clearly confused, and addresses Tilly as Captain, which is a big deal, considering how hierarchical and authoritarian Starfleet is in this incarnation of Star Trek. There are some fan theories whether Stamets addressing Tilly as Captain means that he has become unstuck in time and can see the future and/or parallel universes, especially since it has been established that Tilly wants to be a Starfleet captain one day. But whatever is really going on, it’s clear that the magic mushroom drive and the tardigrade DNA are affecting Stamets in unpredictable ways. The sensible thing would be to inform the Discovery‘s doctor, but Stamets is unwilling to do this, because as soon as he reports problems resulting from his interfacing with the magic mushroom drive, he will be relieved from duty, the magic mushroom drive will rendered unusable and the Federation will lose the war. Stamets can’t even talk about his problems with his partner/husband, the cute doctor, because the cute doctor is obliged to report Stamets’ problems to his superior, the Discovery‘s head doctor (honestly, what is it with this huge crew where we don’t even see the people in charge of the various departments at all?), who will then relieve Stamets of his duty. And if the cute doctor keeps Stamets’ condition to himself, he’ll be endangering his own career, because Starfleet is ultra-hierarchical and authoritarian now. Apparently, they no longer respect doctor-patient confidentiality nor the privacy of intimate relationships either. But then, the Federation is a dystopia now. As for Stamets, since Tilly accidentally became aware of his condition, he confides in her, since she is apparently not obliged to report him to anybody (yet more inconsistencies). And so Stamets and Tilly agree to monitor his condition. We all know how well this will turn out. I mean, what could go wrong?

As for things going wrong, Saru’s mental connection with the inhabitants of Pahvo is clearly affecting him adversely as well. For Saru is so blissed out in his anxiety-free state that he completely forgets about the mission and instead wants to stay on Pahvo in perpetual bliss forever. However, Michael and Ash are not on board with that idea, so Saru decides to force them to stay on Pahvo by destroying their communicators. Saru crushes the communicators with his bare hands BTW, so his alleged prey species has superstrength? Superspeed I can accept – and Saru is shown to have superspeed not much later – because a prey species would need it to run away from those who’d prey on them. See antelopes and gazelles in the real world. However, superstrength (by human standards) makes no sense for a prey species, unless whoever preys on them is Godzilla or Cthulhu. Which would actually be interesting, though it’s not really the sort of story Star Trek normally tells. But then, Star Trek Discovery is not Star Trek anyway.

Ash and Michael pretend to go along with Saru’s plan for now. But then Ash tells Michael to retune the transmitter, while he distracts Saru. Unfortunately, Saru and his glowy glitter pals uncover Ash’s ruse, whereupon Saru tells Ash that he is being deceitful. Which he absolutely is, in this situation, though it’s also another big honking hint that Ash is a Klingon spy. Honestly, by now the only surprise would be if Ash turned out to be nothing more than exactly what he claims to be, a Starfleet officer from the Pacific Northwest US.

Once Saru figures out that Ash and Michael have tricked him, he’s seriously pissed and uses his superspeed to set off after Michael who’s just about to retune the transmitter. Saru attacks Michael and – since he has superstrength – proceeds to beat the shit out of her. Okay, so Michael gets to shoot him as well, but Saru is clearly the aggressor here. Now I suspect we’re supposed to be shocked at such a display of violence from the normally reserved and constantly anxious Saru. However, it’s also been established from the very first episode on that Saru really does not like Michael (no matter what actor Doug Jones says – what’s actually on screen is saying something else). So the scene comes across as Saru, finally freed from his anxiety, promptly attacks the woman he resents and blames for all his problems. He even says as much to Michael. As he’s beating her up, Saru says to Michael that she’s taken everything else from him (basically she got the job as Captain Georgiou’s first officer that Saru wanted), but that she won’t take his newfound peace away, too. So in short, everything that is bad about Saru’s life is inevitably Michael’s fault.

Before Saru and Michael can permanently maim or kill each other, Ash shows up, having convinced the glowy blue sparkles that the Discovery‘s mission is important. So the sparkles retune the transmitter themselves, much to Saru’s horror. However – surprise – the glowy blue sparkles haven’t retuned the transmitter to make cloaked Klingon ships visible, after all. Instead, they’ve sent out a signal to both Starfleet and the Klingons to lure them to the planet, where the glowy blue sparks will persuade them to stop the war immediately and instead live in the same blissful harmony the glowy blue things enjoy. Now I actually like the idea of the supposedly primitive aliens, who turn out to be a) not primitive and b) react to the Federation’s non-intervention policy with “Well, it’s nice you have those principles, but we actually believe intervention is just fine and by the way, we can save you from yourself and your warlike impulses.” That idea was used to great effect in the original series episode “Errand of Mercy” which this episode is clearly patterned after. And in “Errand of Mercy”, the Organians’ ploy to end or at least defuse hostilities between humans and Klingons actually works out, sort of. But this is not the optimistic Star Trek of old, but Star Trek Discovery, the modern, grimdark take on Star Trek. And therefore, we all know that things won’t work out the way the inhabitants of Pahvo hope they will.

So the Discovery hangs around to defend Pahvo from the Klingons, while Michael, Ash and Saru are beamed back on board. Once there, Saru admits that he was not acting under the influence of the aliens, but that his actions were of his own free will, because he was so thrilled to be finally not afraid anymore. Whereupon he is court-martialled for refusing to follow orders, endangering the mission and the war effort and for attacking his crewmates and given a life sentence in the nastiest prison labour camp the Federation has to offer, where he will finally have a reason to be afraid of each and everything. Because that’s what the Federation is now, a nasty dystopia with a massive prison industrial complex.

But consistency is too much to expect from Star Trek Discovery and while it’s not clear what will happen to Saru after what he did, it’s pretty obvious that Saru will no more end up relieved off his duties, let alone in prison, than Lorca did for blowing up his own ship and killing his own crew and Harry Mudd did for trying to sell the Discovery to Klingons and killing Lorca as well as plenty of random Discovery crewmembers 54 times in a row. Mind you, while I don’t like Saru, I don’t actually want to see him in prison. I just want him transferred to a quiet outpost where he can’t do any harm and won’t have to suffer any excessive anxiety either. But the fact that Michael gets a hugely excessive sentence and is literally used as a scapegoat for Starfleet’s complete and utter incompetence, while Saru likely won’t get more than a slap on the wrist and Lorca and Harry Mudd both got off with far worse crimes than anything Michael ever did shows that white male privilege is alive and well in the 23rd century. And it’s interesting that Saru, though an alien, apparently counts as white and male as far as Star Trek Discovery is concerned, while Doug Jones’ other major role in 2017 in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water groups his character with in with the women, people of colour and disabled people. Indeed, going by the trailers, it looks as if a disabled woman and a woman of colour rescue Doug Jones’ character from white men intent on torturing and dissecting him.

I strongly suspect that this episode was supposed to make us sympathise with Saru and the plight of being afraid all the time. And indeed, it seems to have done just that for some people. However, it doesn’t work for me at all, because – in emotional pain due to being constantly afraid or not – Saru is still a highly unlikeable character. And while this episode tried to show us how Saru sees the world and how deep the stress from being afraid all the time really is for him, it also managed to highlight the unpleasant aspects of his character, namely his resentment of Michael Burnham and his tendency to blame her for everything that is wrong with his life. I also wonder whether the writers are aware of the implications of having an anxious and unqualified white man (well, an anxious and unqualified white rubberhead, to be exact, but Saru counts as an honourary white man for the purposes of Discovery) resent a more qualified woman of colour for having gotten the job he felt entitled to. Because that’s the vibe I’m getting from Saru and this episode did nothing to change that. Constantly afraid or not, Saru is a jerk.

Saru briefly experiencing life without fear clearly mirrors Spock finally being able to acknowledge his emotions under the influence of alien spores in the original series episode “This Side of Paradise”. “This Side of Paradise” works, because we’ve come to know and like Spock by then. And because we care about Spock, we want him to be happy. Not necessarily with Jill Ireland, but happy. And the fact that we’re invested in Spock also means that his devastation at the end when he realises that he’d found happiness for the first time in his life only to lose it again feels true. However, Star Trek Discovery hasn’t given us any reason to care about Saru. All we know about him is that he’s constantly afraid of everything, that he resents Michael and that he’s a jerk. Another problem with Saru is that he is a very one note character. Now alien race in Star Trek tend to be very one note anyway. Vulcans are logical, Ferengi are greedy, Romulans are devious and warlike, Klingons are aggressive, warlike and care about honour, Cardassians are aggressive and warlike and don’t care about honour, Barjorans are religious. Nonetheless, characters like Spock, Quark, Worff, Gul Dukat, Kira, Ro Laren, etc… overcame those limitations and became fully rounded. Saru, on the other hand, has only two modes, afraid and sniping at Michael. So far, he’s not a multidimensional character, which is a pity, because Doug Jones is a very fine actor who knows how to make you care about a rubbery alien. However, at this point, I no more care what happens to Saru than I care what happens to Airiam, the living crashtest dummy from the bridge. That is, I actually care more about what happens to Airiam, because at least I don’t actively dislike her, unlike Saru.

Worse, once more a few tweaks could have made this episode work. After all, Saru has been driven by his impulses to commit to same “crime” that Michael has committed. This could have made him more sympathetic to her situation (which is even worse than I thought), while understanding what life is like for Saru every day could have made Michael more sympathetic towards him. This episode could have provided a basis for the mutual respect that Doug Jones believes Michael and Saru feel for each other. But once more, the writer (supposedly, an author of Star Trek tie-in novels, i.e. someone who knows what Star Trek is supposed to be like) blew that opportunity.

But even though Saru was the focus of this episode, the show does not forget Michael and Ash and their budding romance, which is notable, considering they did forget the captured Admiral Cornwell for a whole episode. Because while Saru is busy being scared and communing with the glowy blue glitter aliens, Michael and Ash have the chance to share some quality time together. They also kiss – this time for real and without any time rewinds.

Now I’ve seen quite a few complaints about the budding romance between Michael and Ash, but I really like them together. Ditto for Stamets and the cute doctor. For starters, I do like romance (or indeed any strong interpersonal connection) in my science fiction. I do agree that the romance between Michael and Ash feels a bit rushed, they’ve only known each other for three episodes and have already danced and kissed. Now I don’t think Discovery should emulate the positively glacial pace at which romances between series regulars developed in previous Star Trek incarnations, but Star Trek Discovery really does err on the side of speed here.

Still, Michael and Ash make a cute couple and besides, Michael really deserves something good in her life. I also like the fact that Ash is probably the person aboard the Discovery with the most reason to be angry at Michael (cause Saru’s reasons boil down to “I’m a jealous of her”), considering he spent six months as a POW, getting tortured and raped by Klingons. However, Ash is the only person who treats Michael as a human being from the first time he meets her on. Even Tilly didn’t want Michael to sit at her desk at first, but the man who spent six months as a POW due to the war everybody believes Michael started is nice to her from the start. Ash Tyler is really a ray of light in the generally grimdark world of Discovery. In fact, the improvement of Star Trek Discovery started at around the same time he showed up.

In short, Ash is a genuinely nice guy (and I for one can understand his desire to hurt the Klingons, given what he’s been through) who enters into a whirlwind romance with Michael. So of course he will turn out to be a Klingon spy, probably even in the very next episode. Because nothing good can happen to Michael Burnham ever.

Case in point: While Ash and Michael spend some quality time in the romantically glowing forest of Pahvo, they start talking about what they will do after the war. Or rather Ash starts talking about what he wants to do after the war (trout fishing in a cabin in the woods – and why do Star Trek characters always go for such low-tech back-to-nature vacations anyway?). Ash clearly wouldn’t be averse to going trout fishing with Michael. However, Michael bursts his bubble by telling him that once the war is over, she’ll have to go back to prison and do slave labour for the Federation, because she still has a life sentence to serve.

At this point, I literally screamed at the TV, “What?! You mean Michael hasn’t even been pardoned by now. Then why is she even trying to help Starfleet? Why doesn’t she sabotage the hell out of them and try to escape?”

Now I like Michael Burnham as a character. I’m also very much on her side. First of all, because the narrative is very much focussed on her, much more than previous Star Trek shows ever focussed on a single character. Besides, Michael is the underdog who has been treated badly and I always have a tendency to side with underdogs. I’ve even been known to side with villains, if I feel they have been treated badly. Cause if you only ever see people like yourself as villains in the media you consume, guess what? You’ll start to identify with the villains, because that’s the only place you’ll ever have in a story like this.

But even though I like Michael, I don’t get her. Yes, she feels guilty about the death of Captain Georgiou and the destruction of the Shenzhou and she even seems to believe the Starfleet propaganda lie that she started the war. But Michael’s martyrdom complex is really grating by now. Come on, Michael, what really happened is that Starfleet and the Federation royally screwed you over and used you as a convenient scapegoat to hide their own incompetence. You owe these people nothing, so why are you helping them? Why not bide your time and try to escape? Cause you’ll never serve out that sentence of yours. You’ll be the Federation’s slave worker for life.

As a matter of fact, I wonder why Michael wasn’t at least tempted by Saru’s plan for them to stay on Pahvo forever. Okay, so Saru is a jerk, but it’s a big planet and surely there’s a nice little spot somewhere where she can build a cabin in the woods and go fishing with Ash. For that matter, why didn’t Michael at least consider grasping any of the opportunities to escape she’s had before? Why not let the tardigrade maul the away team aboard the Discovery‘s destroyed sister ship and try to steal a shuttle to escape? Why not help Harry Mudd in exchange for her freedom? Okay, so letting the tardigrade kill the away team would be somewhat mean, but at this point Stamets and the security chief who later died of terminal stupidity have treated her abominably (and the redshirt actually does get killed by the tardigrade). And Harry Mudd is a double-crossing scumbag and besides, he’s just killed Ash, the only person on board who’s been unequivocally nice to Michael. Still, why isn’t Michael at least tempted by these possibilities of escape? Why does she risk her life over and over again (and even kills herself at one point) for the sake of people who treat her like dirt and who’ll just throw her back into prison at the first opportunity anyway?

Coincidentally, Ash reacts to Michael’s revelation by suggesting that they simply let the mission fail then, so the war will last a little bit longer. And since I value personal loyalty higher than loyalty to a system, I found this moment very sweet. Ash really is a keeper. This leads to a very nice riff on the famous line of “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”, which of course was uttered by Michael’s foster brother Spock. And talking of Spock, I recently discussed with another Star Trek fan appalled by the new series how Star Trek Discovery diminishes Spock’s character, though he isn’t even in the show. Cause Spock is the guy who was willing to commit mutiny, violate the Talos IV taboo and put his own life on the line, all for the sake of giving the severely disabled Captain Pike a chance to live out his days in happiness. And Spock was the guy who walked into a radiation soaked chamber and laid down his life (okay, he got better) to save his friends and the Enterprise. Spock will do literally anything to help the people he cares about. So are we honestly supposed to believe that someone like Spock would let his own sister languish in prison? Nope, Spock would probably hijack the Enterprise (still commanded by Captain Pike at this point) and break her out and then at his court martial, he’d tell everybody that what he did was perfectly logical. And he’s get away with it, too, because Spock is awesome.

So I like Michael and hate how Starfleet is treating her. And for that matter, why are there no #JusticeforMichaelBurnham campaigns like there were for Barb from Stranger Things? Yes, I know that Michael is undergoing a redemption arc and that redemption arcs are supposed to involve suffering to satisfy the cult of guilt and punishment that seems to be so popular in the US and that I flat out hate. I go a bit more into my problems with redemption arcs in this post and I will probably do a more general post on redemption arcs in the future.

However, there are some redemption arcs that work for me. The examples I give in the other post are the Marvel superhero movies, which have redemption arcs that work. IMO, the key to a succesful redemption arc is that no matter how perfect the protagonist’s life seems to be before it is plunged into chaos, there must be something missing. Quite often, this is a purpose or an interpersonal connection of some kind. Basically all the Marvel movie characters are missing these two things. And once they’ve overcome their ordeal in the wilderness, they will get not only superpowers, but also a new purpose in life as well as the best friends in the universe and possibly true love.

Since last episode, we know what Michael has been missing in her life, namely love. Okay, it’s a bit cliched, but it makes sense given her repressed Vulcan upbringing. But much as I like Ash Tyler, true love shouldn’t be the only thing Michael gains during her redemption arc.

So let’s tweak Michael’s story a little bit: Maybe her Starfleet career to date wasn’t quite so perfect. After all, Starfleet was never Michael’s first choice anyway. So maybe her relationship with her first captain isn’t the lovely mentor-mentee relationship she had with Philippa Georgiou. Maybe Michael isn’t that happy aboard the Shenzhou. Maybe the captain merely tolerates her, but neither likes nor trusts her. Maybe she frequently clashes with the captain. Maybe she is isolated aboard the Shenzhou. The crew respects her, but she has no real friends, no connections, because since she was raised as a Vulcan, she has problems connecting to humans. And then there is the jealous and incompetent science officer who flat out hates her (cause Saru is a jerk and would probably work better as a villain of sorts).

They encounter the Klingons, Michael turns against the captain, the Shenzhou is destroyed, the captain killed, Michael ends up in prison and hits rock bottom. Eventually, she is rescued by the Discovery, Starfleet’s latest cutting edge research vessel and conscripted by its captain. However, the captain is not the disturbed and borderline psychotic Lorca, but more like Captain Georgiou, someone who recognises Michael’s potential, treats her kindly and mentors her. In short, swap Lorca and Georgiou, either personalities or – better yet – actors. Hell, keep Admiral Cornwall, for that matter, and make her Philippa Georgiou’s occasional lover, who then gets captured and escapes with the aid of a Klingon woman, to whom she becomes attracted.

Still, due to her situation, Michael is initially isolated aboard the Discovery. Jerky Saru is there and lords over her and she doesn’t get along with her immediate superior Stamets either. However, then she befriends her roommate Tilly, Stamets eventually comes around as well (keep the tardigrade DNA angle) and his partner, the cute doctor, is always nice to Michael. And then there is the new security officer Ash Tyler with whom Michael is beginning to fall in love…

Hell, let’s tweak it even further and make Michael a little less guilt-ridden. Maybe Michael recognises exactly that Starfleet and the Federation have screwed her over, because they needed a scapecoat to cover up their own incompetence. Maybe her time in prison has shown her the dark side of the Federation, that its post-scarcity society is built on slave labour. So when Michael comes aboard the Discovery, she is justifiably angry and determined to find a way to escape and to hell with Starfleet and the Federation.

Except that she lets chance after chance pass by. Sure, Stamets might be a jerk, but he and his partner make such a cute couple, so Michael doesn’t want him to die. And besides, she suspects that the tardigrade is not the monster it appears to be at first glance. And yes, it would probably be better for Michael, if the captain were never rescued from the Klingons, but the captain has been good to her, dammit. And while Harry Mudd may be a doublecrossing scumbag, siding with him would be Michael’s ticket to freedom. Except that Harry Mudd has just killed a whole lot of people and seems to enjoy it. And besides, he’s killed the captain who’s been good to Michael. And he’s killed Ash whom Michael really doesn’t want to die. And while staying forever on Pahvo with Ash is certainly tempting, Saru really isn’t acting like himself (hey, maybe give Saru a mini redemption arc, too, and let him recognise Michael not as a rival, but as a teammate). Hell, raise the stakes even further, so retuning that crystal transmitter will save the Discovery or the Enterprise with her brother Spock on board or her adopted homeworld Vulcan which is being besieged by Klingons.

As for Ash Tyler, why not give him a redemption arc, too? Maybe he really is a Klingon spy or surgically altered Klingon or whatever. He only wants to subvert and destroy the Federation, but then he meets this young human woman who doesn’t quite fit in, but to whom he’s immediately attracted. Maybe he knows that she is the one who killed the Klingon head honcho or maybe he only finds out later. But though Ash is supposed to uncover the Discovery‘s secrets and destroy her, he finds himself drawn to her crew, particularly Michael. He likes these people and doesn’t want to destroy them. And besides, the Klingons have been lying about humans and the Federation anyway. Hell, maybe the Klingons – at least the ultra-xenophobic Klingons he serves – are wrong about this whole war.

So you see. Just a few little tweaks and Star Trek Discovery could tell the story it’s apparently trying to tell (though it’s hard to be sure, considering how muddled the show is) and yet be so much better. And indeed, this is the most frustrating thing about Star Trek Discovery, namely that you occasionally get glimpses of the much better show that it could be.

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More than just a Bond Girl – Remembering Karin Dor

http://corabuhlert.com/2017/11/09/more-than-just-a-bond-girl-remembering-karin-dor/

http://corabuhlert.com/?p=20265

German actress Karin Dor died Monday aged 79. Most international obituaries, such as they are, mainly focus on her turn as a Bond villainess in the 1967 James Bond movie You Only Live Twice and on her appearance in Alfred Hitchcock’s spy thriller Topaz in 1969. Depressingly, she dies in both movies, by piranha tank in You Only Live Twice and by falling from a great height in a beautiful billowing dress in Topaz. Now Karin Dor was threatened with grotesque death in plenty of films. She was nearly drowned, strangled, guillotined, shot, thrown into a snake pit, etc… But it’s telling that she dies in her two best known international parts, but was rescued in most of the others.

Now I have to admit that Karin Dor’s turn as a Bond girl is probably my least favourite of her many roles, not counting some late career appearances in very bad German TV melodramas. For starters, she looks awful with her hair bleached and dyed red, since Karin Dor was really a brunette. The Karin Dor I remember doesn’t look like the bad dye job from You Only Live Twice, she looks like she does in this still from the 1961 Edgar Wallace movie The Green Archer.

Worse, at least the German advertising materials for You Only Live Twice billed Karin Dor as the female star opposite Sean Connery’s Bond, but once you watch the actual movie, it turns out that Karin Dor plays a villainess and henchwoman of Blofeld, whereas the actual heroine is Akiko Wakabayashi, who is then replaced with Mie Hama halfway through the movie. To add insult to injury, Karin Dor’s character is then thrown into a fish pond and fed to Blofeld’s pet piranhas. Yes, You Only Live Twice is the movie that not just wasted Karin Dor, but also fed her to piranhas. Okay, Blofeld’s vulcano lair cum spaceport is still the most fabulous set Ken Adam ever built for the Bond movies, so fabulous that my reaction upon first seeing it was “I want to live there. With the rocket, but without the piranhas.” Pity the movie is one of Sean Connery’s weakest.

German obituaries of Karin Dor like this one and this one paint a slightly different image, even though they cannot resist focussing on that Bond movie either. But here in Germany, Karin Dor was one of the most iconic stars of the 1960s. She specialised in damsel in distress roles, quite often directed by her then-husband Harald Reinl, one of the best German directors of the postwar era.

Karin Dor appeared in several Edgar_Wallace movies, most notably in Der Grüne Bogenschütze (The Green Archer) in 1961 (trailer here and a neat clip of Karin Dor being chased by Gert Fröbe here – interestingly, the director this time around was Jürgen Roland and not Dor’s husband Harald Reinl) and Der Unheimliche Mönch (The Sinister Monk) in 1965 (full film available on YouTube here). Interestingly, Karin Dor plays the daughter of a man framed for murder and wrongfully sent to prison in both movies. And in both movies, a masked avenger sets out to avenge the injustice done to Karin Dor and her family. Okay, so many of the Edgar Wallace movies are kind of similar and tend to follow a certain formula (which they then rejoice in breaking), but the parallels is still notable. Part of the Edgar Wallace formula of the 1960s was that all films had certain stock characters, often played by the same actors. The main female stock characters were the good girl damsel-in-distress, the bad girl femme fatale, the sinister old lady and the eccentric, but harmless old lady. Plenty of actresses played the “good girl” role in the Edgar Wallace movies, but Karin Dor was the most iconic and memorable of them all to the point that you think she appeared even in those Edgar Wallace movies she wasn’t in. And just because the Edgar Wallace movies really liked subverting their formula on occasion, in the 1964 movie Zimmer 13 (Room 13 – trailer here) Karin Dor still plays the doe-eyed damsel-in-distress, who eventually turns out to be a psychopathic serial killer who has been murdering a succession of Wallace bad girls all along.

Karin Dor also played damsels-in-distress in other German thrillers of the 1960s, such as Die unsichtbaren Krallen des Dr. Mabuse (The Invisible Doctor Mabuse) in 1962 (full film here), where she is almost guillotined by Germany’s most resilient supervillain, the body-jumping Dr_Mabuse. In 1967, she dealt with snake pits and razor-sharp pendulums as well as with Christopher Lee and Lex Barker in a (loose) German adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum (trailer here). In 1965, Karin Dor was kidnapped and menaced by Christopher Lee as Fu Manchu in Ich, Dr. Fu Manchu (The Face of Fu Manchu – trailer here, trigger warning for yellow face). Coincidentally, Fu Manchu’s equally villainous daughter who threatens to whip Karin Dor at one point was played by actress Tsai Chin, who also had a small part in You Only Live Twice and more recently appeared as Melinda May’s mother in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. So does this make Melinda May Fu Manchu’s granddaughter? Cause that’s my headcanon now.

Karin Dor also was a frequent presence in the Winnetou movies of the 1960s, also directed by Harald Reinl. In 1962 she played Ellen Patterson in Der Schatz im Silbersee (The Treasure of the Silver Lake – full movie here, trigger warning for red face), where she wound up in the arms of a very young Götz George. Then in 1964 she played the Karl May role for which she is best remembered, when she played Winnetou’s great love, the Native American maiden Ribanna, in Winnetou II (full movie here – trigger warning for red face). As Ribanna, she wound up marrying someone else as well, Terrence Hill in this case (Karin Dor’s Winnetou heroines sure had a good taste in men). But then we know that there was only one true love in the lives of Winnetou and Old Shatterhand, namely each other.

But though Karin Dor is best remembered for her roles in thrillers, westerns, adventure and horror movies, she also appeared in more wholesome fare such as the 1960 adaptation of Ralph Benatzky’s operetta Im Weißen Rößl (The White Horse Inn – trailer here), where she was involved in one of the many romantic entanglements in the story and finally winds up with Adrian Hoven.

Though the peak of her career was in the 1960s, Karin Dor continued to appear in movies, TV and theatre roles almost up to her death. Most of her later roles were in bad German TV shows, but occasionally she appeared in good stuff as well such as Margaretha von Trotta’s 2006 drama Ich bin die Andere (The Other Woman – trailer here). And because the Edgar Wallace movies, the Winnetou movies, the Dr. Mabuse movies, the Fu Manchu movies and the rest of the marvelously entertaining German thrillers of the 1960s were a staple on TV in the 1980s and 1990s and even show up on TV occasionally today, Karin Dor is still the iconic face of 1960s German cinema to a generation born long after these movies first appeared. She was definitely an important part of my childhood. Looking up these movies for this post, I’m shocked to realise that almost the entire casts of these movies is dead by now – Karin Dor was the last survivor in many cases. Tsai Chin and Wolfgang Völz who appears in The Green Archer are the only ones who are still alive.

I knew Karin Dor was ill, because I saw a headline to that effect in one of the celebrity gossip mags my Mom reads (only for the crosswords, of course). However, everybody knows that the headlines of those mags are largely made up and over the years they have reported a lot of celebrities near death (the current issue places Patrick Duffy of Dallas and Man from Atlantis fame near death’s door) who are still alive years later. So I took that headline as seriously as I always take the headlines in these mags, namely not at all. However, in this case, the mag was sadly right.

So let us remember Karin Dor, who was much more than just a Bond girl with a bad dye job. She was also Valerie Howard and Gwendoline and Maria Müller and Lilian von Brabant and Ellen Patterson and Ribanna and Liane Martin and Brigitte Giesecke and Denise, the psychopathic murderess, and above all, one of the last great stars from the glory days of West German postwar cinema.

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Indie Crime Fiction of the Month for October 2017

http://corabuhlert.com/2017/10/30/indie-crime-fiction-of-the-month-for-october-2017/

http://corabuhlert.com/?p=20104

Welcome to the latest edition of “Indie Crime Fiction of the Month”.

So what is “Indie Crime Fiction of the Month”? It’s a round-up of speculative fiction by indie authors newly published this month, though some September books I missed the last time around snuck in as well. The books are arranged in alphabetical order by author. So far, most links only go to Amazon.com, though I may add other retailers for future editions.

Our new releases cover the broad spectrum of crime fiction. We have cozy mysteries, small town mysteries, paranormal mysteries, police procedurals, psychological thrillers, crime thrillers, private eyes, lost girls, dead bodies, creepy stalkers, grim reapers, seaside hotels, haunted amusement parks and much more.

Don’t forget that Indie Crime Fiction of the Month is also crossposted to the Indie Crime Scene, a group blog which features new release spotlights, guest posts, interviews and link round-ups regarding all things speculative fiction several times per week.

As always, I know the authors at least vaguely, but I haven’t read all of the books, so Caveat emptor.

And now on to the books without further ado:

Class Conspiracy by Ace BeckettClass Conspiracy: A Hank Lancaster Mystery by Ace Beckett

Private Detective Hank Lancaster thinks his new client, local high school history teacher Stephen Bates is intelligent, rational and friendly, but also a conspiracy theorist. Bates believes three members of his high school graduating class have been murdered within the last two months. However, police in three states have ruled the cause of the deaths of the three graduates were accidents or suicide. Lancaster warns his client an additional investigation is probably a waste of time and money. But Bates is not deterred.

Then Lancaster detects disturbing hints of possible homicide in each death. He begins to think his client is correct. These were three carefully planned murders and possibly more to come.

But besides the fact they were in the same high school senior class, Lancaster knows of no link between the three graduates who have died. And no motive for their deaths.

As he digs even deeper into the past, he finds a blood-stained trail and a secret hidden for decades. Lancaster believes at the center of the tangled, confusing web of lies being spun are three of the oldest motives for murder in history – power, money and a dash of revenge.

Little Girl Lost by Alexandria ClarkeLittle Girl Lost by Alexandria Clarke:

When the seventeen-year-old star of the high school softball team vanishes from a small town, the victim’s estranged older sister, Bridget Dubois, returns home in order to find her. The only problem is that Bridget has a reputation, and the locals aren’t pleased by her reappearance. Without anyone to help her, Bridget must find a way to reconnect with her younger sister before time runs out.

 

 

 

Fireworks in Paradise by Kathi DaleyFireworks in Paradise by Kathi Daley

While on vacation in South Carolina, Tj Jensen receives a call that her father has been left in a coma after a devastating car crash. Back home in Paradise Lake, Tj learns the accident that killed family friend Judge Harper and left her father clinging to life wasn’t an accident at all—someone cut their brake lines. To make matters worse, her friend and police contact, Deputy Roy Fisher, is working with a new partner who has no intention of letting Tj anywhere near the case. Facing an investigation more explosive than the annual fireworks show, Tj enlists the help of her best friends to unravel the mystery, all the while navigating a new romance and the thought her father may never wake up.

 

Fatal Vacancy by CeeCee JamesFatal Vacancy by CeeCee James:

Maisie Swenson was thrilled to host the premiere party for the hottest new movie release in Hollywood at the five-star Oceanside Hotel, but she had no idea how difficult Hollywood types could be. Dramatic and demanding, she could handle but… murder? She needs to charge more for these events.

Everyone assumed it was an accident when the stunt went wrong, until they saw the body wasn’t the stuntman. Now everyone is a suspect – the stuntman who despised the victim, ex-lovers, actors–the list goes on and on.

None of this is Maisie’s business until her friend Kristi Bentley, the police officer in charge of security that night, gets suspended for not providing adequate protection. As the circumstantial evidence grows against Kristi, Maisie can’t help getting involved to clear her best friend.

The more she digs, the more dirt she finds. Did anyone NOT want this person dead?

Dark Ride by P.G. KasselDark Ride by P.G. Kassel:

Some criminals have all the luck, but Marty’s is about to run out…

Marty Wedlow needs one last score before he can skip town. It’s only a matter of time before two thugs he swindled point a finger… and their guns in his direction. But even when Marty is brought to the police station for his latest crime, he’s not worried. Marty is incredibly lucky.

After dodging the long arm of the law yet again, Marty looks for another illicit payday at a local amusement park. What he finds instead is a mysterious stranger who prophesies that his lucky days are running out. He ignores the warnings as he pursues a vicious conquest. But good fortune is a wheel, and Marty is about to find out what happens when it spins in the other direction.

Dark Ride is a supernatural thriller in the vein of The Twilight Zone. If you like eerie amusement parks, pulse-pounding page-turners, and a touch of the paranormal, then you’ll love P.G. Kassel’s electrifying story.

Grim Rising by Amanda M. LeeGrim Rising by Amanda M. Lee:

Aisling Grimlock should be happy.
She’s living with and engaged to the man of her dreams, her mother isn’t eating people … at least out in the open, her best friend is distracted by wedding details … mostly, and there are zombies running around Detroit.
Yeah, it’s that last one that’s driving her crazy … especially because no one in her family believes her when she spouts the tall tale.
Aisling Grimlock is a reaper in trouble. She’s got big decisions in front of her and nonstop trouble chasing behind. The dead appear to be rising … and they’ve got their eyes (and teeth, for that matter) trained on Aisling and her family.
Even though the rest of the family thinks she’s exaggerating – or even lying because she’s looking for attention – they’re determined to help before Aisling goes over the edge. It seems there might be a little something going on, and Aisling might have been right all along.
You know what that means, right? Yes, she’s doing her “I’m right” dance … and then ducking for cover.
It’s going to take every Grimlock to fight this enemy, and even then, Aisling will be isolated in the end. The question is: Can she win the day or is she destined to join the creatures stalking her?

Last Chance for MurderLast Chance for Murder by Estelle Richards:

One last chance to get things right.

Too old for Hollywood at age 29, Lisa Chance leaves her failed acting career and a cheating boyfriend in LA and goes home to Moss Creek, Arizona.

The Folly, a stately 1870s mansion in the middle of her hometown, has always drawn Lisa like a magnet. She thought she was done with that place, but now she has the chance to turn it into the coffee shop of her dreams.

But when a dead body turns up on the property, she’s the prime suspect in the murder. Can Lisa figure out whodunit, or will she lose her last chance at happiness?

Last Chance for Murder is the first book in a new cozy mystery series.

Fortune's Wheel by J.A. WhitingFortune’s Wheel by J.A. Whiting:

While working at the chocolate shop and clearing tables, Claire Rollins notices a story in a newspaper left behind by a customer about the cold case murder of a young graduate student. Odd details about the case draw Claire’s interest and when her boyfriend, a Boston detective, asks her to read over the old case notes, Claire knows she will be pulled into the decades old mystery. With the help of her “intuition” and with her friend, Nicole, by her side, will Claire find answers before the killer strikes again?

This is book 4 in the Claire Rollins mystery series. This story has mild paranormal elements.

 

Hibernian Charm by Dean F. WilsonHibernian Charm by Dean F. Wilson:

A tense urban fantasy mystery with charm!

Melanie Rosen hasn’t settled for much, but her travels have brought her to Dublin, Ireland, where she works for the Occult Investigations Unit, exploring the strange and unknown.

Her fiery disposition and tendency to probe where she’s not wanted keep her in the office with the paperwork, or chasing cases that don’t seem to have an answer.

Then she gets a new case, where a killer slowly paralyses his victims, and leaves a calling card behind: a charm. Her Romani-Irish roots might come in useful, but the more she probes this case, the more she doesn’t like the answer. All the clues keep pointing back to her.

This is a standalone tale in the Hibernian Hollows universe.

The Evil One by Cyrus WintersThe Evil One by Cyrus Winters:

Life is perfect. Officer Justin Hodge and his fiance Kellie have just moved into their new apartment and are looking forward to the rest of their sweet lives together. Unbeknownst to them, someone has been stalking the happy copule for an extended period of time – someone violent and jealous who wants to destroy them.

An email is forwarded to Justin’s online account, detailing as such. It’s from a person – a man or woman – who knows them. It’s from someone chilling and deranged. Someone completely, totally EVIL…

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Star Trek – Into Grimdarkness

http://corabuhlert.com/2017/11/06/star-trek-into-grimdarkness/

http://corabuhlert.com/?p=20129

Since I seem to be doing an episode by episode dissection of Star Trek Discovery anyway (previous posts may be found here), I might just as well do the last two episodes of the first half-season as well. Besides, the title pun was too good not to use.

So the seventh episode of Star Trek Discovery was made available (you can’t really use “air”, since it’s on one of these bloody streaming video services) a few days ago. It actually manages to look and feel like a Star Trek episode for much of the time, which is a big step forward. The plot also feels like a Star Trek plot, probably because it is. Now it’s something of a tradition for the various Star Trek series to recycle ideas and whole plots from other Star Trek series or even episodes of the same series. And for this episode, Star Trek Discovery borrowed one of the most venerable science fiction trops of them all, the time loop. Star Trek has used the time loop concept plenty of times, starting with the 1992 Next Generation episode “Cause and Effect”, which actually predated what is probably the best known implementation of the time loop concept, the 1993 movie Groundhog Day, by a year. In fact, “Cause and Effect” may be the earliest filmic treatment of the time loop idea in general, though someone claimed that there is an episode of the original 1950s Twilight Zone (which I’ve never seen) that also featured a time loop.

Warning! Spoilers underneath the cut.

The time loop in Star Trek Discovery is courtesy of Harry Mudd, last seen abandoned by Captain Lorca in a Klingon torture prison. Somehow, Mudd got out (via making a deal with the Klingons, it is implied) and is understandably pissed as hell at Starfleet in general and at Lorca, Ash Tyler and the rest of the Discovery crew in particular. Somehow, Mudd got his hands also on a crystal that allows him to rewind time by thirty minutes. So he infiltrates the Discovery via an endangered space whale creature he uses as a Trojan horse – because why settle for one SF cliché, when you can have two? And yes, I know that I have written a space whale story myself, but space whales are still a cliché. Once aboard, Mudd uses his time rewinding crystal to find out as much as possible about the magic mushroom drive and how it works and sell that knowledge and preferably the entire ship to the Klingons. And since he’s already there, Mudd also has some “fun” aboard the Discovery, mostly via killing Lorca 54 times in a row, while trying out Lorca’s own weapon collection (which was extremely satisfying to watch, a lot more satisfying then it should be). Mudd also kills several random Discovery crewmembers, when they get in his way, and also destroys the Discovery a couple of times. Though unfortunately, he fails to kill Saru a.k.a. Commander Rubberhead.

Talking of Saru, I recently came across this interview with Doug Jones, the actor who plays him. Turns out that Doug Jones not only had a lengthy career, mostly hidden under tons of prosthetic make-up, but that he also had another notable part this year, for Doug Jones plays the imprisoned underwater creature in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, which won the Golden Lion at this year’s Venice film festival. So yes, Doug Jones played two rubberheaded alien creatures this year, one in a critically acclaimed and award winning movie and the other in Star Trek Discovery. The disconnect must be quite stunning. Coincidentally, Doug Jones claims that there is rivalry between Saru and Michael Burnham, but also a deep love and respect. Too bad we see none of that on screen. Jones also says that he is a long time Star Trek fan like several other members of the cast. Which means that the cast is probably aware how much Star Trek Discovery is not Star Trek.

Every time loop story requires its Bill Murray, the lone character who knows what’s going on and tries to find a way to break out of the loop, so everybody can get on with their lives. In this episode of Star Trek Discovery, that character is science officer Paul Stamets. Stamets is not only the guy who developed the magic mushroom drive, a few episodes ago he also injected himself with the DNA of the tardigrade creature and now serves as the navigator that persuades the magic mushroom drive to take the Discovery where it needs to go. Ever since injecting himself with tardigrade DNA, Stamets has been acting erratically, which in his case means that he actually became a likeable character. Pre-tardigrade Stamets was largely a jerk, to the point that I didn’t bother remembering the character’s name, but just referred to him as “jerky scientist guy”. However, in this episode I actually liked the mellower new Stamets. Of course, the fact that actor Anthony Rapp who plays Stamets talked about being sexually assaulted by Kevin Spacey at the age of fourteen just before this episode became available may also have influenced the way I view the character. Nonetheless, Stamets’ relationship with his partner, the cute doctor (who runs after Stamets and apologises, when Stamets randomly hugs people in the corridors), is very sweet. I also liked his interaction with Michael Burnham in this episode, which actually made them seem like people who like each other.

Injecting himself with tardigrade DNA has not just given Stamets a much needed personality upgrade, but it has also made him the only person aboard the Discovery who is aware that they are caught in a timeloop. Stamets is also aware that he has to stop Mudd, but since he’s not actually the fighting type, he needs to help. The obvious course of action would be to inform Captain Lorca of the problem. However, Lorca doesn’t listen to Stamets or indeed anybody else. So Stamets needs to find help elsewhere. The next logical choice is Ash Tyler, former Klingon prisoner-of-war turned the Discovery‘s new security chief, after the last one died of terminal stupidity. Tyler is not only responsible for security aboard the Discovery, he also knows Harry Mudd from spending several months locked up in a cell with him. There is only one problem. Tyler isn’t particularly interested in talking to Stamets and listening to his story about time loops. However, Tyler is very interested in Michael Burnham.

So Stamets devises the plan of persuading Michael, who will then help him to persuade Ash Tyler, who in turn will either stop Mudd himself or persuade Lorca. However, there is another problem. For though Tyler is clearly interested in Michael, which is obvious to Stamets, Michael’s roommate Tilly and probably everybody else aboard the Discovery, Michael is not only oblivious to Tyler’s interest in her, she also has no idea how to react, since a Vulcan upbringing doesn’t include any lessons in flirting and dating.

The first time Stamets manages to persuade Michael that his story is true, he asks her to tell him a secret about her nobody else knows, so he can use it to shorten the persuasion phase on the next loop. Michael’s secret is that she’s never been in love. As secrets go, this one honestly isn’t that surprising, given Michael’s background and upbringing. In one of my previous posts about Star Trek Discovery, I even mentioned that the only thing that seems to be missing from Michael’s life by the start of the series is a romantic relationship (and as I said at the time, it’s not clear if she even wants one). In this episode, we learn that Michael indeed wants a romantic relationship, but has no idea how to go about it, since growing up among Vulcans didn’t actually offer her many positive role models along those lines. So Stamets takes it upon himself to fill these gaps in her education. He tells her about how he met and fell in love with the cute doctor and advises her to just be herself. He also teaches Michael to dance, since much of this episode takes place during a party aboard the Discovery, where Michael not just looks distinctly uncomfortable, but is also the only person in uniform, while everybody else is wearing civilian clothes. Considering Michael came aboard the Discovery straight from prison, she probably doesn’t have any civilian clothes. And come to think of it, the only time we have seen Michael not in uniform or prison clothes, she was wearing Vulcan robes, so she may not have any human civilian clothes at all. But couldn’t her roommate Tilly have lent her something, especially since Tilly is shown wearing a nice party dress?

The scenes where Stamets opens up and where he and to a lesser degree Tilly try to play matchmaker and push Michael and Tyler together are genuinely enjoyable. This was probably the first time I actually had fun watching Star Trek Discovery that did not involve bad things happening to Lorca or Saru (though Lorca did get killed 54 times in this episode). Coincidentally, this was also the first episode where I actually felt a sense of cameraderie among the Discovery crew as if these people actually like each other. Okay, so I still can’t stand Lorca (but then I don’t think we’re supposed to like him) and Saru (where I’m apparently in the minority for disliking him), but I actually like Michael, Tyler, Tilly, Stamets and the doctor now.

Stamets’ flirting and dancing lessons pay off, because Michael and Tyler dance and even share a kiss (which they won’t remember, because time is reset again not long thereafter). Now I’ve heard some complaints that the Michael/Tyler romance happens way too quickly and pretty much comes out of nowhere. And considering that romances between regular cast members in previous Star Trek incarnations were not just slow-burn, but developed at a positively glacial pace, two characters falling for each other by the seventh episode of the first season, two characters who have only known each other for two episodes at that, truly is a whirlwind romance by Star Trek standards.

Now I like my science fiction (and indeed any genre) with a side order of romance. And one thing that I really like about the new golden age of quality television is that characters are no longer insolated loners (which the Star Trek casts of the 1990s still were – even the people who had kids still didn’t have partners, but were all widowed), but that they actually get to have relationships, families and friends. So I do like the relationship between Stamets and the doctor (and it’s great to see an established relationship in Star Trek, let alone an established gay relationship) and I also like the blossoming romance between Michael and Tyler, because if there is one character in Star Trek Discovery who deserves something good in her life after all the shit that happened to her, it’s Michael. And after spending months in prison being tortured and sexually abused by Klingons, Ash Tyler also deserves something good. And watching these two wounded and traumatised people help each other heal would indeed be lovely. However, that’s not going to happen, because this is still Star Trek Discovery, the modern gritty and grimdark take on Star Trek.

I’ve already mentioned the fan theory that Ash Tyler is really a Klingon spy or even the Klingon leader Voq surgically altered to appear human. There is some evidence supporting that theory, much of it hinging on the fact that the main cast of Star Trek Discovery includes two actors of Pakistani origin, one of whom has no previous credits. However, I wasn’t convinced of that theory, at least not until I saw this episode. For now I’m certain that the theory is true and that Ash Tyler really is a Klingon spy. After all, Michael is about to fall in love with Tyler and if there is one rule in Star Trek Discovery, it’s that Michael Burnham must suffer and that nothing good can happen to her ever. Hell, she’ll probably have to kill him in the end, just to twist the knife further.

Of course, it’s also possible that even if Tyler is revelaed to be a Klingon spy, Michael finds that she loves him anyway and forgives him and they run off together. But that’s not going to happen. Not because this is Star Trek Discovery, which is all gritty and grimdark and doesn’t allow its characters to be happy, but because two characters who love each other, but cannot be together never just elope, no matter how much sense that might make. Because running away from the plot to be happy together elsewhere is not something that happens in Anglo-American storytelling ever. Coincidentally, the In Love and War series was born out of my frustration with another space opera (and not the first one either, I’d read a couple of books with the same dynamic in fairly quick succession), where two people who loved each other and couldn’t be together because of reasons did not run off together, even when given the opportunity, because whatever threatened the fate of the galaxy this time was more important. However, I cared a lot more about the couple than about whatever galaxy-threatening obstacle kept them apart. So I thought, “Okay, none of these people ever do the logical thing and run off together, so why don’t I write a space opera story where two characters who fall in love do just that?” And this is how Anjali Patel and Mikhail Grikov were born.

But I’m not writing Star Trek Discovery and so Ash Tyler will probably turn out to be a Klingon spy and he’ll probably die, especially given this show’s track record with actors of colour. Of course, Ash Tyler is one of the most likeable and most human characters in Star Trek Discovery, so if he turns out to be a Klingon in disguise, he is the most well adjusted (by human standards) Klingon ever. I mean, Tyler is charming, he flirts, he dances, he jokes. Even Worf and Belanna Torres weren’t that well adjusted and they were both raised by humans. But then, it’s not as if Star Trek Discovery makes a whole lot of sense.

Case in point: Once Stamets manages to successfully convince Michael and via her Tyler that the time loop is real, they set out to stop Mudd. However, Mudd kills Tyler, which upsets Michael. So she decides to persuade Mudd to reset time once more. She reveals to Mudd that she is much more valuable to the Klingons than the Discovery and her magic mushroom drive, because Michael was after all the one who killed the leader of the Klingon fanatics. And therefore the Klingons would certainly be willing to pay a lot for getting their hands on her. However, Mudd isn’t going to collect that bounty, for once Michael has dropped that bombshell, she kills herself. It’s a risky gamble, after all Mudd could have simply decided to take the money the Klingons are paying for the Discovery and run. But Mudd, being the greedy scumbag that he is, resets time once more, determined to nab both Michael and the Discovery this time around. So eager is Mudd to collect his paycheck that he even forgets to kill Lorca or anybody else on the final loop. Instead he simply makes his way to the bridge, takes over the ship and hails the Klingons, trusting them to finish the job. However, Michael and friends have manipulated the communication system, so instead of calling the Klingons, Mudd actually calls in his bride Stella (wearing a purple gown that looks very much like a party dress my Mom had in the 1980s) and Stella’s very angry father (who seems to have gotten his franchises confused and plundered the wardrobe of Commander Adama from the original Battlestar Galactica).

So Mudd has destroyed the Discovery, killed Lorca 54 times and also killed plenty of other Discovery crew members including Ash Tyler, he has uncovered the secret of the magic mushroom drive, was collaborating with Klingons while the Federation is at war with the Klingon Empire and was willing to sell not just information but Starfleet’s most important ship to them and his punishment is a shotgun wedding to a woman he loathes? Sorry, but Mudd’s fate would have been harsher even in the Original Series, had he tried to pull off something like this back then. And in the dystopian Federation of Star Trek Discovery, which uses prisoners as slave labour and hands out life sentences for non-lethally nerve-pinching a superior officer, Mudd should find himself in the slave prison mines for the rest of his miserable life at the very least, if not on the wrong end of a firing squad. Okay, so he doesn’t actually kill anybody during the final loop, but he still infiltrated the ship and tried to sell vital information to the enemy and in this new dystopian Federation that is probably a capital crime. Not to mention that the Harry Mudd we saw in the original series was a slimeball and scumbag, but not actually a psychopathic murderer.

Mudd’s punishment or lack thereof is just one more in an ever increasing list of examples that show how completely inconsistent Star Trek Discovery is. We get another example earlier in the episode, when Michael and Stamets try to convince Lorca not to beam the space whale, which Mudd is using as a Trojan horse, aboard, whereupon Saru points out in his insufferable way that if Lorca fails to follow Federation law and doesn’t beam the endangered space whale aboard, he will be court-martialled. So blowing up your whole ship and killing your crew gets you handed another command, but not saving a space whale in order to protect your ship, now that is a serious crime. Honestly, the Federation’s justice system is not just backwards and downright barbaric for such a supposedly enlightened society, it’s also inconsistent as hell. Though I have no problem believing that the Federation would indeed value a bloody space whale higher than a spaceship crew, because the Federation always had a touch of the holier than thou attitude of certain cliché Greens who value an endangered species higher than human lives.

It’s this massive inconsistency that infuriates me more than anything. Because Mudd gets away scot-free with murder, espionage and treason. Lorca gets away scot-free with blowing up his ship and murdering his crew, torturing tribbles and tardigrades, abandoning Federation citizens to certain death and threatening to shoot Starfleet admirals, while having sex with them, but is threatened with court martial over not beaming aboard a space whale that he knows is boobytrapped and is threatened with being stripped of command for conscripting Michael Burnham into his crew. Saru is not just completely incompetent, but also orders a sentient creature tortured and possibly killed for the greater good. But Michael Burnham gets a life sentence in the prison mines for nerve-pinching Captain Georgiou and for failing to prevent the war with the Klingons. Yeah, that makes absolutely no sense at all.

Though some of the problems with Star Trek Discovery, also show up in some of the other TV shows producer Alex Kurtzman has worked on, most notably Scorpion and Hawaii Five-O. I gave up on Scorpion after two seasons or so, largely because it was completely inconsistent, but I’ve seen quite a bit of the new Hawaii Five-O, because my Mom watches it. Now Hawaii Five-O is better than Star Trek Discovery (and actually a lot more enjoyable than a show like that has any right to be), but it shares many of the same problems. In Hawaii Five-O, some characters, most notably Steve and to a lesser degree Danny, can literally get away with anything, up to and including murder. Steve McGarrett tortures and kills people, he gets involved in all sorts of illegal operations and nothing ever happens to him. There have been episodes where Steve arrested other people for crimes he himself has committed plenty of times. Meanwhile, Chin and Kono are punished for much lesser sins. Kono’s lover and later husband Adam Noshimuri even spends a whole season or so in prison for killing two Yakuza assassins who were trying to kill him, even though that was clearly self-defence. But Adam started out as an antagonist who had the misfortune of having the wrong father, so of course he has to suffer. The way different characters are treated in Hawaii Five-O makes about as much sense as in Star Trek Discovery, though I cannot help but notice that in both shows, a character’s chances of doing something awful and getting away with it rise proportionally to that character’s whiteness and maleness.

In spite of my complaints, this was the first episode of Star Trek Discovery I actually enjoyed (okay, last week’s wasn’t bad either), even if I gritted my teeth at the ending and the general inconsistency of it all. But Lorca and Saru were largely sidelined (plus we got the satisfaction of seeing Lorca get killed a whole lot of times), Stamets actually grew a likeable personality, the interplay between the characters was nice and the story packed a bit of an emotional punch as well. I even liked the mass murdering Mudd. Okay, so this version of Harry Mudd is not at all consistent with the Harry Mudd we saw in the original series, but he is deliciously evil and makes for a memorable villain, a lot more memorable than the various Klingons, in fact.

I’m not the only one who feels this way. Here is a post by astrophysicist and Star Trek fan Ethan Siegel who also declares that this was the first episode of Star Trek Discovery he really enjoyed. So is it possible that Star Trek Discovery is actually improving? At the moment, it certainly seems that way. Okay, so the show is still inconsistent as hell and a lot of things don’t fit with anything we’ve ever seen in Star Trek, but this episode actually felt like Star Trek for much of the time. This also fits in with the rumours that there was some retooling done after the show was already in production.

On File 770, I came across a link to this report about a Star Trek Discovery panel at New York Comic Con, where producers Alex Kurtzman and Akiva Goldsman begged audiences to give Discovery a chance, because the show is canon, it will get lighter and more optimitic and that no, they haven’t forgotten what Star Trek is supposed to be about. And indeed the show seems to be getting better. However, I’m wondering if it’s not too little too late. For while, Kurtzman and Goldsman ask viewers to be patient, I find that I’m a lot less patient these days than I used to be. The reason I’m still watching Star Trek Discovery is largely because it’s like gawking at a train wreck – you watch and wonder how much worse it’s going to get and are pleasantly surprised when it’s actually decent. But hate-watching doesn’t get you loyal audiences. And in fact, I suspect I would have stopped watching already, if the last two episodes hadn’t been a notable improvement.

Now Star Trek is notorious for wobbly starts and inconsistent first seasons. Every Star Trek show needed a while to find its feet and indeed it took three or four seasons for Next Generation to go from a show I watched when there was nothing better on, but where I didn’t mind missing an episode, to must watch. However, adult me is no longer as patient as I was as a teenager and is no longer willing to continue watching in the hope that it will get better. Adult me also has a lot less time to waste on bad TV. I stopped watching Deep Space Nine when it took a turn into grimdarkness. And though I stuck with Enterprise through the awful third season with its lame war on terror analogy, because I’d been promised that season 4 was better, I stopped watching once the first episode of season 4 was yet more of the same, only with added Nazis. And while Star Trek: The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine or indeed most later Star Trek series weren’t exactly good in the first two seasons or so, they were also rarely as infuriating as the first few episodes of Star Trek Discovery.

I also think this is where the serialized structure, which is apparently de rigeur in modern “quality television” really hurts Star Trek Discovery. Because with the old Star Trek shows and indeed any non-serialized show it was perfectly possible to skip the bad or dull early episodes and only start watching once the show got good without really missing anything. But Star Trek Discovery pretty much requires you to sit through the infuriating first three or four episodes to get to the later ones which are decent. Okay, I guess you could make do with recaps and summaries. A dedicated Star Trek fan might be willing to do so, but how many casual viewers watch several bad episodes of a show hoping that it will get better?

So I guess I should hold off my final verdict on Star Trek Discovery till the end of the first season, provided the show continues to improve and I don’t give up in frustration beforehand.

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New Steampunk Story Available: Tea and Treachery

http://corabuhlert.com/2017/11/05/new-steampunk-story-available-tea-and-treachery/

http://corabuhlert.com/?p=20183

And now it’s time for a commercial break, because I have another new release to announce today.

Today’s new release is another story to come out of the 2017 July short story challenge, where the idea was to write a short story per day in July 2017. The inspiration in this case was one of Chuck Wendig‘s flash fiction writing prompts. The prompt in this case was a list of several five word titles. One of the titles, “Time for Tea and Treachery”, jumped out at me. And since I was doing the July short story challenge anyway, I decided to borrow the title, though I lobbed the first two words off.

The associations “Tea and Treachery” evoked were of civility with dark undercurrents, of two people sharing a civilised cup of tea in a situation where nothing is quite as it seems. It also has a certain Victorian feel about it. The Victorian era suggests Steampunk. And since I’ve always loved Steampunk, even if I don’t write it all that often, I thought, “Okay, I’ll write a Steampunk story about two people having a cup of tea in a situation where nothing is quite as it seems.”

So I got two characters, Lady Violetta Chesterfield and Count Danilo Danilovich Ostrowsky, together in a room over a cup of tea to see what happened. And what happened was that the two quickly engaged in a high stakes game of cat and mouse.

I initially intended Violetta only as a one-off character, but I quickly became fond of her. And I’d certainly love to see more of Captain Nicholas Blackstone and his airship, the Renegade. After all, who doesn’t love airship pirates? What is more, I’m pretty sure Ostrowsky will want revenge eventually.

So what was intended as a one-off adventure might well have series potential (yeah, because I need another series).

But for now, get yourself a nice cup of tea and some biscuits (Violetta recommends shortbread fingers, ginger nuts or spiced tea biscuits – just don’t let her make the tea) and enjoy…

Tea and Treachery
Tea and Treachery by Cora BuhlertLady Violetta Chesterfield travels to the Kingdom of Dragomir on a mission. For her fiancé, Nicholas Blackstone, Captain of the airship Renegade, has been captured and sentenced to death as a pirate and spy.

Violetta is determined to save her beloved from the gallows. Therefore, she arranges a meeting with Count Ostrowsky, prime minister of Dragomir, to beg for her fiancé’s life. The Count agrees to meet with Violetta, even though he has no intention of letting Blackstone walk free. However, he has no idea to what lengths Violetta is willing to go to save the man she loves…

 

More information.
Length: 4650 words
List price: 0.99 USD, EUR or GBP
Buy it at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Germany, Amazon France, Amazon Netherlands, Amazon Spain, Amazon Italy, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia, Amazon Brazil, Amazon Japan, Amazon India, Amazon Mexico, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple iTunes, Scribd, Smashwords, Inktera, Playster, Thalia, Weltbild, Hugendubel, Buecher.de, DriveThruFiction, Casa del Libro, e-Sentral, 24symbols and XinXii.

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