First off, congratulations to Star Trek: Discovery for having a season two debut episode better than all of season one combined. Honestly, however, that’s like not stepping in the giant pile of poop the audience has been telling you all year not to step in. Congratulations. You did the minimum effort of avoiding the poop on the sidewalk everyone was waving you away from. Top marks.
I want to wade into this JJ Abrams Star Wars episode of a show, but I can’t help but start with the nutty, artistically modified Cassini-Huygens probe NASA stuff. What does this have to do with the show? The Cassini probe had, as its mission, to study the structure of Saturn’s rings, study the composition of them, measure its magnetic field, study its atmosphere, and wiggle about on Titan as time allowed. If this crap that is nowhere nohow mentioned in the rest of the episode goes along to explain some kind of Nomad/V’GER thing with the Red Angels and I figured it out the season mystery on minute three of the episode, I will never stop laughing at the writers’ room.
That said, these guys can just not get away from using voiceovers for exposition. I can’t think of anything less Star Trek than this screenwriting cheat. I’ve said this a million times, and if anybody reading this knows Alex Kurtzman, please tell him this: Star Trek is the future where JFK got two terms. He’s producing the future where Trump got two, and that isn’t Star Trek.
Star Trek had the Captain’s log voice over, of course, but that was a three sentence storytelling conceit that told the audience where we are, what’s expected of us, who’s involved, and how we are going to solve it. Kirk would tell the audience in thirty seconds what was going on and then get off to the races. All of Burnham’s voiceovers are giant graphic novels worth of word balloons saying nothing. This is where it all falls down.
No one in the audience watching adventure television in general and Star Trek in particular cares what your characters think. They care about who your characters are as they reveal themselves through forward narrative movement and active responses to conflict. Having a character reveal emotion through a simple voiceover, “Oh, I’m sad my mother died. She always had a kind word for me over the kitchen table as she baked for the family and we talked about my day” or whatever while dolphins frolic and sunsets happen or what-have-you is a slog that puts your audience to sleep. Having a character talk about emotion is boring as hell.
Put that same character is a brightly-lit mess hall on your starship after a battle that’s gone pear-shaped, talking to her commanding officer while she idly, wistfully pokes at a plate of sweets.
“My mom…” she said, trailing off. “Too bad she died; she made good pies.”
Nothing but emotion and character and appreciation from the audience that you wrote some stuff but let your actors act instead of just reading bland voiceovers like that’s what your ex-wife called you. Cold fish.
Just write some powerful interactions around all the 2019-mandated blockbuster explosive action scenes corporate feels you need to include. Star Trek fans don’t want an episode to be a movie-of-the-week. They don’t want a “novel for television.” They want a Star Trek episode. That dirty explosiono isn’t necessary for today’s audiences, unless you think “today’s audiences” are imbeciles, which, you know, CBS may well think.
Me, though, giving every character some crazy banter line of dialogue is off-brand and almost atonal. It’s like throwing a three-D chess set in young Spock’s room, or having random augments around the ship just to give costuming something to do. By the time Tig Nataro showed up saying “Thank Christ” in a Star Trek episode, she and Tilly might as well have started square-dancing and yelling “fuck, yes” at each other in a nod to last year.
…and throwing a sop to fans by giving Pike a gold command shirt just to take him out of it by the end of the episode? I don’t know what those guys are doing over at CBS, but it isn’t Star Trek, no matter what it says on the tin. They put it on Thursday night where everyone is tempted to time shift it to the weekend, diluting social media response. Instead of five folks talking about it on Monday, you have one talking on Thursday, one talking Friday, one posting on Saturday, one on Sunday if there’s no football, and one on Monday after everyone else has talked about it. Come on, CBS.