Discovery’s Finale is Upon Us!

Remember folks, the last episode of Discovery’s debute season is up for streaming right now. You can be sure I’ll have something to say about it tomorrow, so stay tuned to the site. Until then I’ll just leave you this picture of Commander Saru and John, the mechanic who fixed a puncture in my car wheel last month with no other commentary.

Today’s Comic Has Been Reposted

Due to an error, today’s comic was a repeat of last Friday’s. This has been fixed. So, if you woke up to some digital déjà vu, please check back again. Sorry for the confusion.

Lorca, He’s Just This Guy, You Know? – What’s Past is Prologue Review

In exchange for sitting through a season of tedious space battles instead of the frontiersman good times we expect from a Star Trek show Discovery offered us a chance to look at the Federation and its idealism in a new way. Through Captain Lorca we would see how a corrupting force from within could take advantage of a perilous moment in history. How a crew of naive scientists and do-gooders could grapple with their ideals with a leader who tells them to put those ideals aside. Does war require drastic measures? Can ideals survive in a fight for survival? Is there a middle ground? Instead we got a clear-cut monster from another universe. And after he disintegrated we got another.

By changing Lorca from a nuanced opportunist born from our own inadequacies into an external threat bringing ideas we’d otherwise never come up with, Discovery instantly changes from a drama to a soap opera. Lorca is no longer a philosophical lynch pin, he’s a plot point. There’s nothing left to argue with. The evil twin tricked us. Thank goodness no one’s having his baby. We’re all free and clear. No harm, no foul, no lesson learned.

Not only that, but Mirror Lorca isn’t even subtle in his evil. As a human supremacist trying to kill Queen Philippa for being lax on boarder security, he’s apparently bad even for the Mirror Universe. But this has been a reoccurring problem for the entire show’s run: they can’t write subtle villainy to save their lives. Harry Mudd could have been a commentary on the lengths civilians have to go to to survive wars they had no say in. Instead he’s just a Klingon collaborator. The Klingons themselves seem to have had other desires beyond outright war, now they’re just a faceless, knife-wielding onslaught. Honestly, when you’re dealing with enemies like this are there any holds that can be barred?

This was the same problem with Krall in Beyond. He didn’t actually challenge our notions of anything about the Federation as promised over and over by Simon Pegg. He was just a war loving vampire. Punch him in the face. Kick him out the airlock. Problem solved. Let’s check out our new ship.

What’s worse, it seems like Queen Philippa is just going to move right in where Lorca left off, tempting our crew to be bad with her Mirror Universe ways in an even more dire situation. So the Mirror Universe plot really is filler and padding. Some of the faces have changed, but the status quo remains. Discovery still has to figure out how to win the war with the aid of another other-worldly evil at the helm.

We could have really done without any of this. Lorca could have been left as a Prime Universe a-hole who tricked Stamets into jumping nine months into the future instead of to the Mirror Universe. We’d wind up in the same dire situation for him to corrupt the crew with instead of Mirror Philippa getting a shot at the same result. That way he avoids any repercussions for his earlier wrong doings and becomes highly relevant and indispensable again. Four episodes of side-tracking fluff are suddenly clipped from the schedule.

On to the confusing minutia: what the hell exactly was Burnham’s “good plan” that wound up defeating Lorca? Her and Philippa just beat up everyone in the throne room. That’s not really a plan. And what does Philippa think turning off the shield for the spore reactor is going to do? Does she know Burnham is going to let Discovery blow up her ship with her on it? It doesn’t seem that way.

The one moment in this episode that I cheered for was when Burnham grabbed Philippa during her beam out. It was the obvious thing to do, but still emotionally satisfying. Actually, I cheered for two things. When Philippa stabs Lorca in the back and he tumbles forward, Burnham sort of moves out of the way instead of catching him even though she just spared his life. It’s that whole “not letting the hero get their hands dirty” trope Disney loves, but it was also emotionally satisfying. I mean, fuck that guy.

So, the big hand-to-hand combat tactic in the Mirror Universe is killing your own ally who’s fighting with your enemy to get to your enemy. Even for the Mirror Universe that seems cruel and wasteful.

Goodbye, Ursula K. Le Guin

I just wanted to take a moment to say farewell to one of my favorite science fiction writers. Le Guin was introduced to me by my wife a decade ago with the book “The Dispossessed”. The Vrapnahr’s anarchist collective in “Mudd Slide” is very loosely based on the Odonians in that story. Le Guin is one of those writers who’s work is incredibly focused and solid, so much so that any of her books would make for amazing cinema. It’s a shame so little of it has been adapted. Living so close by to her, I’d always hoped we might have a run in, even for a moment of quick pleasantries. It’s sad to think that’s impossible now.

Oh no! It’s Not Padding! Man in the Mirror Review

There’s only one thing worse than fanwank filler: Fanwank plot. I have to eat a big old pot full of crow, folks. The Mirror Universe storyline isn’t just something to pad out Discovery’s season, it is an integral part of the season’s arc.

So here’s the big reveal: The Lorca we know as Discovery’s captain is really his Mirror Universe doppelgänger. You can tell because now all Mirror Universe people have a sensitivity to light. That’s how you know they’ve been planning this the whole time. I guess this is why Lorca was able to “survive” the destruction of his previous ship. He didn’t. He was just replaced.

I have not been watching Discovery as an actual part of the Star Trek “prime universe”. To me it’s a pretty straight forward reboot. Nothing in it aligns at all with the Star Trek of the past few decades. It’s not just the look. History, characters, species, and technology have all been reworked into something unique. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. When franchises are weighed down by 50 years of deadweight canon you need to clean house. Very few of the eight million people who tuned into Discovery’s pilot on CBS had probably seen any Star Trek other than the recent Chris Pine films. They may know who Spock and the Klingons are, but not much else.

That’s why dipping into the Mirror Universe makes about as much sense as bringing back Khan in Into Darkness. It’s a reference that has no resonance to anyone but the most diehard fans. So making it a central part of this new universe is completely insane. In order to get it you have to have watched two episodes of The Original Series (“Mirror, Mirror” and “Tholian Web”) and Enterprise’s “In a Mirror, Darkly”. And nobody watched Enterprise. It’s confusing to new viewers at best, and a complete turn off at worst.

And I can relate to this. I have only ever watched the recent revival of Doctor Who. Under Russell T. Davies the show had a few major call backs to old villains, but mostly just Daleks and Cybamen – the Klingons and Romulans of that franchise – and they were mostly revamped or treated as an understandable backstory that enriched without needing to be fully understood. But when Steven Moffat started running things the references got more and more esoteric. Davros? Zygons? Ice Warriors? Most of these concepts were thrown in with little explanation forcing me to read about some terrible one-off episode from forty years ago. I don’t want to do homework to enjoy a show. I just want to be entertained.

There’s another reason why making the Mirror Universe so central to the story is a terrible idea. It just complicates things. We already have a lot going on in the normal universe, what with the spore drive and the Klingons, and the character dynamics. Now we have to intermix it with a 1960’s gimmick that was probably created just to put Leonard Nimoy in a Van Dyke? We have to double all the characters, give them dynamics too, create an entirely different, secondary political environment, and then smash it all together? And for what? I guess we’ll see next episode.

I think this all bolsters the theory I had in the midseason finale review. Discovery’s writers aren’t at all interested in the story they started out with. The Klingons are intensely stupid creatures. The war with them is senseless and yields very few interesting plot lines. We’ve spent so little time on the front lines of this big battle, and for good reason. War is boring as hell. Just look at The Last Jedi. Every moment of that movie that dealt with contraptions shooting at each other was an utter snooze fest. We’ve all seen enough Rambo heroics and lumbering battle cruisers in our lives. It just doesn’t breed good interpersonal drama. So, maybe the Mirror Universe actually is some kind of padding. In the end it’s not a way to draw out Discovery’s main story, but to avoid it.

On the individual plot point front, there’s a lot of niggling little annoyances to drive you batty:

• L’rell really is as dumb as rock. In some great villain monologuing she willingly blurts out that Tyler/Voq is the key to the Klingons winning the war while the guy is strapped to a chair.

• Burnham tells Mirror Georgiou that quantum blah-blahs are impossible to fake. Is that why she was able to convert all the atoms in Discovery in a matter of seconds from her bridge station?

• If Discovery now knows about the Defiant and interphase, can they warn the crew not to enter that area of space? After all your past is my future and all that!

• Culper’s death now has a larger purpose, but I’m even more unhappy with it. A living Culper could have been written into the story as an anchor to bring Stamets back as easily as a dead one. I also counted four times during the episode that I had to watch a replay of the murder. I’m as tired of it as seeing L’Rell’s nipples, which are also flashed back to on the regular these days.

Popular Mechanics is also tired of the amount of violence on Discovery. Their review of this episode talks about almost nothing but that.

You Mean There’s More?! The Wolf Inside Review

The diversion continues as Discovery wraps up the middle part of what’s turning out to be a Mirror Universe trilogy of episodes. I’m not really wild about this. While the story is definitely pushing forward, it’s hampered by the tedious anxiety of people who don’t want to be found out. Does the inevitable revelation of Tyler/Voq and Burnham’s utter betrayal really work that well when it needs to be whispered under the threat of an even more evil third party? What is the Mirror Universe getting us that couldn’t have been done better in the proper one?

The answer is an almost adventure game-like hint at how this show will wrap up the Klingon war. When Burnham makes her head scratchingly quick and easy way to the rebel leadership, it turns out it’s headed by Mirror Voq. When he tells her the Klingon people will only open themselves to outsiders once its own internal factions are unified I could hear the little “ding” that lets you know you’ve scored a point.

Let’s talk about this rebel meeting for a moment. It’s a “federation” of aliens made up of Klingons, Vulcans, Tellarites, and Andorians. Burnham wonders aloud how such disparate aliens could get along, and in doing so shows us one of the major problems of science fiction and fantasy genres: the one note race. Vulcans, Klingons, Dwarves, and Elves– they all have a single trait that defines them as a species. In the real world this would be incredibly racist, but in genre fiction it’s some how ok. Burnham walks through the rebel group like a Klansman on an episode of Jerry Springer calling out everyone there based on stereotypes: the warrior, the peacenik, the willful jerk. The Andorian literally has a look on his face of “what did she just call me?” When Burnham starts picking apart Mirror Voq it gets even worse with her interrogating him on why he’s not all the things she personally expects from a Klingon. Happy Martin Luther King Day!

Meanwhile, back on Discovery, we get another glimpse at the empty corridors of the heroic ghost ship. Tyler didn’t bother to hide poor Doc Culber’s body. He just let Stamets out of the force field so the two could have some posthumous cuddle time. Several hours later some tech assigned to replace a broken lightbulb accidentally spots them. We’ve seen these very corridors before on Burnham and Tilly’s Disco run. They were packed. So why does it now look like the Glenn after the tardigrade got loose? Also, why doesn’t anyone suggest they review the sickbay video log we all know would exist by now? If it’s tampered with that alone points to a murderer other than Stamets.

I hate to be upset with any scenes involving my beloved Tilly whose light shines a beacon of joy and hope on everything it touches, but her technobabble attempts to wake Stamets up are the very reason I stopped watching Star Trek in the 90’s. Seeing people push buttons and talk out their asses is not fun to watch. There are so many ways bringing someone back to reality could be sexed up. I kept thinking, “show me what’s going on in Stamets’s head!”, but the writers refused until the end scene where we see a mental avatar of Stamets meet his Mirror doppelgänger. Why wasn’t this seen through the whole episode? Instead of Tilly button pushing, why weren’t we privy to a Stamets fighting madness, grappling with his husband’s death, and trying to find out for himself how he got trapped in this fugue state until he stumbles upon the Mirror Stamets? That would have been interesting to watch. The very fact that the writers give us this at the end makes me even more annoyed. They obviously knew what to do, they just didn’t.

All in all, this was another filler episode with not much going on. The Mirror Universe schtick is such a distraction from the main plot. The writers seem too invested it in, though, to give us any real drama back on Discovery. Now the faceless Emperor of the Galaxy is Captain Georgiou? She sure is well recognized by the Shenzhou for someone so secretive.

One great thing about this episode? Andorians don’t have ears again!

Long Live Captain Tilly – “Despite Yourself” Review

After over a month hiatus, Star Trek: Discovery is back to let us know what was such a big deal about their midseason non-cliff hanger. “Into the Forest I Go” left us with the Discovery sitting in normal space in no immediate danger with only their exact location as a real mystery. In the premiere we now know what that big deal is. They’re in the Mirror Universe! Yawn!

I’ve been grading this show on a curve so far because so many, many people who have probably never seen it hate it on mere principal. It doesn’t look like their Star Trek! There’s minorities and gays! Orville is the real Star Trek! There’s a lot to like about Discovery when given a chance, but when it fails, damn does it fail hard. And this episode is beyond my ability to make excuses for. With the exception of Captain Tilly using the dismembered tongues of her enemies to lick her boots, it’s just plain bad.

There’s a lot here I could dwell on:
• Escaping from the main plot into the well-worn fan-wank of the Mirror Universe is an obvious attempt at padding.
• Tyler is so obviously Voq, and that’s fine. It’s the worst kept twist in the history of television, but it’s fine.
• Cutting out of “Into the Forest I Go” after the Vulcan ship opened fire would have been the proper place to splice this two-parter in half with any amount of tension.
•Every new Star Trek property seems to be really keen on breaking away from the established canon in all the previous shows with the exception of Enterprise. What is it about that show that made most of us bail on the franchise but that producers and writers love so much? Discovery and the JJ film runners have had the courage to change the Klingons, the aesthetics, the technology, characters’ histories, but Enterprise is some kind of sacred cow?
• Are elbow joints really the best they could do to update the Defiant to Discovery’s aesthetic?
• Can’t anyone else get in the spore-drive chair? There was nothing particularly special about Stamets. I’m assuming anyone willing to have their limbs punctured could make a jump.

But all of that is really secondary to the enormous disappointment that turns this episode from a standard “where are they going with this?” annoyance to full-on garbage: the murder of Dr. Culber. This senseless act was obviously done for shock value alone. And when I say “shock” I don’t mean surprise. It was the obvious cliché thing to do. I mean the shock that they actually thought we’d buy it.

A lot of mental gymnastics had to take place in order to kill poor Doc Culber. He’d have to be stupid and incompetent on a number of levels. First, he reports a huge diagnosis concerning the security of the ship to the patient directly. That’s something we’ve never seen before on Star Trek. This isn’t a hospital, it’s a military ship on high alert. A patient with a possible secondary personality implanted by the enemy is something Culber should have reported to the captain first. Think of all the times Bone’s whispered a diagnoses to Kirk over the comm or in person. There should have been security in the room. Barring all that Culber should have read Tyler’s obviously desperate body language. There was a force screen around Stamets. I kept expecting Culber to raise the one around Tyler. He had all the time in the world to do so.

But even worse than that is the problem of the Discovery’s convenient and baffling emptiness in key stations around the ship. The only time Discovery looks like a well staffed ship is during meals and parties. Otherwise it’s deserted. This includes the engine room and sickbay, two places that should be swarming with people all the time. And yet any idiot can sneak into either of these deserted areas and do whatever harm at will. In the case of Culber’s murder there are no nurses or lab techs present to witness it or intervene. No one is there to discover the body in the hours that Burnham is on her mission with Tyler. All this while Stamets, an extremely high-priority patient who’s status is in constant flux and is vital to the ship, is being tended to. Are you kidding me?

All in all, “Despite Yourself” had the series’ usual good pacing, decent action, and fun character moments. I’m especially relieved they ditched the Mirror Universe’s bare-middrift outfits. Burnham’s pep talk about what it means to be a captain is spot on. Lorca smacking his face on the wall before being presented as a fake prisoner is pretty hardcore. But the episode’s plot was pure trash. So much so that nothing in the second part could possibly save it. Not even if Culber’s death is somehow reversed by Stamets’ spore powers. Not even if Captain Tilly left Lorca behind in the agony booth, single handedly won the war, and returned Discovery to an exploratory mission with herself at the helm.

Happy Holidays – Temporary Single Strip per Week

Hope you’re all enjoying your holiday festivities. I know I am. So much so that, like last year, I’ll be moving the strip to once a week on Wednesdays for the next two weeks. Expect a strip on the 27th and one on the 3rd of January. The comic will move back to two a week starting on January 9th. In the mean time check out my review of The Last Jedi, and explore the comic’s Archives. Also remember that characters and dialogue are searchable in the field on the bottom of every page. Merry Christmas!

I’m Totally Burnt Out After Seeing The Last Jedi

This could be an odd place to do this. I mean, a Star Wars movie review on a Star Trek site? Blasphemy! But I did see this film, and I have an opinion on it, and I have this soapbox to speak from. Plus, this film has some loose connection with the comic, so why not?

First, as always, let’s talk about the good. It’s always best to play up the things you like about a product before you tear it to ribbons, that way you don’t seem like too much of a dick. I enjoyed the exact same things about this movie that I did about the The Force Awakens: the characters. I don’t usually “ship” characters, but Poe and Finn have a sexy chemistry that I wish would have blossomed more in this film. Rose was a wonderful addition and I appreciate that, for once, a female character is motivated by her devotion to another woman and not her daddy, brother, or boyfriend. I love Rey. She is a bit aimless and without any real goals in the first film, but she shapes up well in The Last Jedi, having clear desires and allegiances befitting a franchise carrying hero. Seeing Rey as a “Mary Sue” is a true nerd litmus test, and I have always fallen on the side that does not consider her one at all. Her incredible powers and abilities have clear roots, and every one of her victories is earned. If farm boy Luke can raid a space city, blow up tie fighters, master a fighter he’s never been in, and take a shot no one else can make, then Rey can fix a few mechanical issues, hypnotize a dumb stormtrooper, and best a guy with a bleeding blaster wound, and a shoulder burn.

Kylo Ren is probably one of the best villains in modern fiction, with a background and depth even more worthy than Darth Vader. Betrayed by those he loves as well as those he follows, he is an anarchist with a strong desire to not just rule the galaxy, but to tear down and replace its well constructed paradigms and dichotomies. This is not your farther’s Force. He and Rey create something completely new based, not on feelings and seductions, but on philosophies and politics. Rey has her rage and her raw power, but she has a clear sense of where to use it. Ren is not a “Sith” and Rey is not a “Jedi”. They are something else altogether. That’s exciting.

Beyond the characters I enjoyed the humor and a lot of the action, especially on the casino world, which was a highlight of the film. I also liked everything that happened between Luke and Rey on the Jedi Temple island. I think we were all ready for a Rocky-style training montage, and I was utterly relieved that it never took place.

Where “Last Jedi” smacks hard into this comic is the struggle between Leia and her heir-apparent Holdo, and the testosterone-poisoned Poe. Both Leia and Holdo are no-shits-giving leaders who have logical plans that are carefully crafted to save their respective crews. Poe is a maverick in the vein of all movie mavericks who thinks he knows better than the higher ups. He goes as far as mutinying to carry out his overly complex plan, and in the end, when it utterly, and, against all movie logic, fails it’s quite satisfying to see him blasted into a bulkhead. He does all of this because he’s an entitled ass who thinks leadership owes him an explanation of their ever move. This, of course, was the exact same plot of “Basis of Proof”.

Unfortunately, where this film fails it fails really, really hard. Ground-shatteringly hard. Like a lot of modern genre fiction I’ve reviewed in the last ten years, including all three J.J. Star Trek films, Discovery, Battlestar Galactica, Lost, and The Force Awakens, the characters and ideas are beyond criticism, but the situations these character are tossed into are the absolute pits. Everything in The Last Jedi that isn’t directly character driven makes zero sense. Zero.

For one thing, the film is too long. At two-and-a-half hours, it’s a total slog to get through. This could have been easily fixed considering the film has three flipping endings. The film ends when Snoak is unexpectedly killed, the two force-abusing kids beat the red knights, and then have as stalemate in which Rey escapes. Ending two has Holdo turn her cruiser toward the First Order fleet and ram them at light speed allowing the transports to escape. The third happens after a huge salt flats battle I was too exhausted to give a crap about. The fix is simple. Cut two of them. Leave a cliff hanger. Put Leia and company in the base calling for help that comes in the next film. Then we’ll see how Ren’s new, off kilter leadership philosophy leads to the First Order’s collapse. As it is, I don’t know what’s left for this cast to do in a third installment, but I’ll address that in full later.

None of the space combat in Last Jedi made a drop of sense. What the hell were those bombers in the opening scene? Even when compared to the World War II-in-space aesthetic Star Wars (and every other space opera) revels in they’re too slow and stupid. And gravity bombs that need to be dropped directly down on their target? Are you kidding me? There’s no flipping gravity in space. and everyone has guided missile tech. We don’t drop bombs anymore. Why do people with hyperdrives?

But everything moves stupidly slow in this film. Whoever’s idea it was to have a chase scene that was so slow people actually left to do something more interesting and came back later should be shot with a stun ring into a bulkhead. For a film that enjoys playing with Star Wars tech and tropes one has to wonder why the First Order don’t just hyper jump around the resistance and head them off or call in another ship to jump in front of them and block them from continuing. I mean, Leia expected allies from the Outer Rim to get to them in time on the salt flats. Certainly, the First Order could have had people fly in equally fast. They literally had days.

Holdo’s entire ending is utterly pointless. No one I watched this with could understand why they killed off Laura Dern, the living actress, and left in the one that can’t be in any more films no matter how beloved every inch of celluloid she’s on may be. For one thing, there’s no reason why Holdo needed to act out the whole “someone needs the pilot the ship” trope that was equally silly in Star Trek 2009. This is a futuristic space ship with autopilot and Droids. It just needs to go straight. Even when we see Holdo on the bridge after the transports have left she’s just standing there doing nothing because there’s nothing to do.

Adding insult to injury, Holdo’s ramming solution could have been done days earlier without her sacrifice. They had two other ships they just let get blown up with their captains on board. Why not turn those around and use them as missiles? Hell, I was thinking about it while watching them slowly drudge through the film. And I only had a few hours to consider it. They had days.

But worst of all, the film is utterly bleak. So bleak I couldn’t eat my lunch afterward because I was in a total funk. Here we have all these characters I really love and the film makers keep beating them with a stick over and over again until they are all but broken. It’s Empire Strikes Back times three. There’s a very good argument to be made that this new trilogy is a pointless exercise in cynicism. Luke fails to reëstablish the Jedi. The New Republic fails. Han and Leia suck as a couple and as parents. These were all things we just assumed would work themselves out after Return of the Jedi, but, apparently they didn’t and we find ourselves simply rebooted into the same situation we saw in A New Hope. That’s really, really bleak.

To make things worse, we still know nothing about the New Republic, what it was, and why we should be sad it’s gone. Critics complained about the tell-not-show nature of the prequels, but we’re faced with the same thing with the New Republic. What about this system made it prone to a new fascist order worse than the previous one? How does an imperial remnant build a star sucking planet? How do they continue to be economically feasible after it’s destruction? You’d think the New Republic, having lost only a handful of planets, would still be on the same level as the defeated First Order, but they’re not. Why? I’m glad Rey’s JJ mystery box was killed dead in this film, and I don’t particularly care about where Snoak came from, but the story of how we got from a celebration on Endor to this utter mess needed at least a little fleshing out for me to give a crap. We know how Luke failed and we’re better for it. How did Leia fail? What does she have to answer for in forming a new government based on “hope”?

On a final note, it’s been said that this should have been the last Star Wars film ever. I disagree with the reasons Techcrunch gave – that being these new characters can’t carry a film without the original cast propping them up. That’s complete BS. This new cast is in every way as lovable and endearing as the previous. But I do agree with the statement itself. After The Last Jedi’s ending what else is there to do with this new, young cast? We’re bluntly told the rebellion is over. Allies have refused to join in. What’s left fits on the Millennium Falcon. Our only hope is the next generation of oppressed kids who want more. They won’t be ready to rise up for another twenty years. So where does that leave us? The Last Jedi’s ending leaves no room for a sequel with this cast except as aged sages helping the stable kids make a name for themselves. They certainly have no story left to tell as the stars. It’s quite a corner for them to paint themselves into, and I’m not sure I’m willing to see how they write their way out of it.

Need Help With Arduino Stepper Motor Control Programming

Hello all! I am working on a Star Trek related project involving Arduino and stepper motors. I can’t say much about it right now except that it’s really exciting stuff that hasn’t been done before in an amateur production. I’ve built a few computer controlled contraptions and all I need is help with the programming. If you or someone you know is experienced with Arduino and (optionally) Mac C programming and would like to help a pseudo fan film project, please let me know. In return I’m offering a set of hand signed prints of my ship recognition charts which would include the Enterprise, Klingon D7, Rompulan Bird of Prey, Tholian, Shuttlcraft, and DY-100.

You can contact me directly at: blog(at)trekcomic(dot)com