When Star Trek: Discovery launched on CBS All Access in 2017, response was decidedly mixed: it led to a record subscription day for the brand-new streaming network, but many die-hard Trekkies were anti-Discovery from the jump, one taking the time to produce a 47-video series on the inconsistencies presented within Discovery, which takes place earlier on the Prime Timeline than Enterprise, The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager. The Klingons look different! Spock never said he had a sister! The technology is WAY beyond what makes sense for the time! Spores? What?
But while there was certainly plenty to lament in Discovery — and historically, ,many Star Trek series have tended to take a few seasons to find their footing — there was also a lot to celebrate: it’s the most diverse Star Trek franchise show yet, with a black woman at the show’s center (Sonequa Martin-Green‘s Michael Burnham) played by and an actual romantic relationship between two gay men (played by Wilson Cruz and Anthony Rapp). Mirror Universe Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) had a threesome with a man and a woman in Season One, and has implied that pansexuality was the norm where she comes from. This year, lesbian writer/director/actress Michelle Paradise joined the production team and has been promoted to co-showrunner for Season Three. Tig Notaro also joined the cast as Jet Reno, a real live lesbian lady.
The reaction to our post ranking Star Trek characters by lesbianism was pretty intense, and also made clear that a lot of you are watching Discovery. So after the series wrapped up Season Two last week, we sat down to talk about this beautiful program.
Riese: So, before we get to deep into the show in general, let’s talk about THAT FINALE, which seemed to be taking a stab at ironing out some continuity issues and explaining why so much of what happened on Discovery was never mentioned in these future series. But also… I’m… not sure what happened? It was a very action-heavy finale, chock-full of the scientific conversations I tend to zone out on anyhow. I think the focus Discovery has on these action sequences, rather than just people talking to people, is probably my main reservation about the show in general, but we’ll get to that. What’s your take on the finale?
Kayla: See, for me, I do love action sequences in general. I’m really drawn to good action and special effects BUT that said, it’s not necessarily something I come to Star Trek for. I hate to sound like some of the annoying purists who are overly critical of the new directions Star Trek went in starting with the JJ Abrams movies, but Star Trek was never really an actiony universe, it was more of a political drama (slash family drama slash workplace drama) set in space. That said, I do like how modern technology has allowed more recent Star Trek iterations to play around more with effects and big budget fight scenes and what not. There have been some really good ones on Discovery.
Riese: Right! I don’t want to sound like the annoying purists either, but that element has been kind of lacking from Discovery overall for me. My favorite franchise production is Next Generation, which was perhaps the most committed to exploring philosophical ideas and human relationships through encountering other worlds and civilizations, rather than engaging in uh, battles and stuff. Like you said, a workplace drama set in space. And we haven’t gotten a lot of that in this series. But anyhow, back to the finale.
Kayla: I have to agree with you! This finale was all action, very little substance. And all the table-setting it does for continuity reasons just… isn’t that interesting to me either? I get that it’s important but table-setting is something that should happen at the beginning or middle-ish of a season, not in the FINALE which should be exciting on its own. I’ve long noticed that a lot of genre shows struggle to really stick the landing with finales and do a lot better work in the penultimate episodes of season, and that’s definitely the case with this season of Discovery! The lead-in episode was a lot more thrilling, compelling, and representative of the show. Sometimes the finale just felt like an effects flex?! The best stuff was the character-rooted Michael Burnham stuff, particularly some of those moments between her and Spock. Gimme more damaged sibling dynamics and less things blowing up. Also, when we get too deep into the logistics of time travel, my head hurts.
Riese: I honestly totally space out (LOL) during the science-y tech-focused parts of the show and perk up for the character development or when the plot is taking an interesting and more readily understood twist — I was ALL IN for the alternate-universe plot from the latter half of S1 and was impressed by how it tied everything up at the season’s end AND provided an avenue for Georgiu to come back to us. So during the finale, having thus far failed to truly understand the logistics of a lot of what was happening, there… wasn’t much actually capturing my attention. It looked really cool though! Very expensive for sure.
Okay next question: what do you like best about Star Trek; Discovery?
Kayla: My favorite thing about Star Trek: Discovery is that everyone is a lesbian. OKAY I KNOW THAT IS NOT TECHNICALLY EVEN CLOSE TO TRUE, but this show is without a doubt the queerest iteration of Star Trek there has ever been.
Riese: FOR SURE. Even the allegedly straight characters don’t really get involved in any major romances, outside of Burnham.
Kayla: The romantic core of the show belongs entirely to Stamets and Culber, which is sadly still a pretty big deal for sci-fi, which has so much room for queerness and norm-busting but doesn’t always go there.
Riese: Right. I was actually consistently surprised by the centrality of that relationship, which broke my heart at times this season. It was a huge departure from everything we’ve seen from Star Trek thus far. Also I totally buy a world in which this is what Rickie Vasquez from My So-Called Life and Mark from RENT grew up to do with their lives.
Kayla: PLUS, this season we learn that Tig Notaro’s Jett Reno is queer, which of course we knew in our hearts but it was very nice to have it confirmed.
Riese: I got goosebumps when she said “my wife”? Again — huge departure, and I wonder how much influence Michelle Paradise had over making that happen. Tig Notaro was basically playing Tig Notaro, so it felt like we had a friend on that ship, somebody who actually was very authentically a lesbian as well as really dry and smart. I loved her character by which I mean, again, that I love Tig Notaro, and would love for her to work on my starship. Also I just realized that this means ¾ of the queer characters on this ship are played by queer actors. I am counting Georgiou as one of the queer characters, obviously.
Kayla: There’s something very queer about Michael Burnham/Philipa Georgiou and somehow even more so when it comes to the Mirror Universe version of Georgiou.
Kayla: But all of this gay speculation actually does tie into what it is that I love about Star Trek: Discovery: It has very well written, dynamic, complex characters. The one exciting thing about the finale is seeing everyone working together, everyone’s individual strengths serving a crucial purpose in the fight against Control. Michael gets a lot of powerful emotional arcs throughout the show, especially dealing with family. I even like a lot of the writing around Michael and Ash Tyler, even though I’m convinced Michael is a lesbian. The relationship dynamics on this show are rich, believable, and very fun to watch play out in different scenarios.
Riese: Right, and also there are like twice as many women and people of color on this bridge than in previous incarnations? I know Star Trek is considered a trailblazer in that realm, and it is in many ways — but also, one thing that’s consistently frustrating about ambitious space travel related sci-fi like Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica is how many men it asks me to not only keep track of, but somehow care about? Even TNG, aka Mommis in Space, really only had two central women. Women have consistently been like 100x more interesting than men throughout human history and wow, having poc and women so prominent on this ship, dayenu.
Kayla: Fully agreed. In the same sense that sci-fi is positioned well to explore queerness and yet doesn’t always live up to that potential, it’s also a genre conducive to playing around with gender, race, etc. There’s absolutely no fuckin reason for any show to only center white men, but I think that’s just especially true when your show is set across MULTIPLE UNIVERSES AND PLANETS. Star Trek in general has always been slightly ahead of its time in terms of women, poc, etc, but Star Trek: Discovery is leaps and bounds ahead of everything in the franchise that came before it.
Riese: Also having Burnham’s three Moms be played by Michelle Yeoh, Mia Kirshner and Sonja Sohn was … A CHOICE. A beautiful choice.
Kayla: HOT MOM TRIO. I feel pandered to.
Riese: So according to SyFy, Season 3 is going to pick up 950 years into the future, which means, I think, that we are going to lose Pike, Ash and Spock? And Mia Kirshner? But there’s also supposed to be a spinoff set in Section 31, starring Georgiou, so it’s unclear how that’s going to work if she’s… in the future. I personally will be devastated if she doesn’t return to the show.
Kayla: I just did some Google-ing, and it looks pretty confirmed that Pike and Spock are not returning. I wasn’t able to confirm the Ash situation, but losing him would be a bit of a bummer, because the way his arc touches on ideas about self, identity, memory, trauma, etc. are very interesting to me.
Riese: Yeah this show did a lot of interesting psychological stuff with how we are shaped by trauma, both personal and intergenerational. I feel the most connected to sci-fi when it delivers a perfect otherworldly metaphor for something that happens in our real actual lives, like Burnham finding out that Ash is part Klingon — you think you know and love somebody and then they turn out to be capable of things you’d never considered could ever be lurking beneath the person you thought you knew.
So, what are your hopes for Season Three? I personally would LOVE for Owosekun to have like, maybe a few lines.
Kayla: I want Georgiou (if she’s remaining a part of this show) to beat up a bunch of people. Those are my favorite action scenes on this show. I also want another weird queer alien sex threesome for her — very much. I want more Tilly stuff, too! I think Tilly is a very fun character, and I really wish they would just explicitly make her the awkward, anxious LESBIAN that I feel she is. For people who haven’t watched Short Treks, the sorta companion miniseries of short side episodes also available on CBS All Access, there’s a great one that initially introduces Po (who’s gotta be gay, right?) and gets into some of Tilly’s background, including her fraught relationship with her mother. We love mommy issues.
Riese: Tilly is a very unique character for the Star Trek universe. She feels like she’d be the gay guy’s best friend or the awkward-girl-having-a-glow-up’s best friend in a teen movie / TV series, but there she is on the starship. Again, as with Tig “Jet Reno” Notaro, it’s refreshing to have somebody who feels so familiar on the deck. Sometimes I felt like she was invented to annoy fanboys.
And finally, I think it’s important for us to put it out there that CBS All Access should pay us to write a post about why people should subscribe to CBS All Access, the most underrated streaming network in the world.
Kayla: CBS All Access, I love you. Give us money.