When the first promos for Star Trek: Discovery emerged, the fan response was similar to that which greeted Star Wars: The Force Awakens: a measure of delight from some quarters, and violent (and racist) derision from others. From the WOC protagonist to darkly political plots, Discovery has been dismissed as “not Star Trek.” But is this true?
One problem is viewers remembering how they think Star Trek was versus how it actually was. TOS was itself dark and, occasionally, even cynical: we see a Captain who is jailed for war crimes and attempted genocide (“Whom the Gods Destroy”), a colony governor that actually commits genocide (“The Conscience of the King”), and an anthropologist who thinks that introducing Nazism to an alien planet will solve a number of problems (“Patterns of Force”), amongst many other examples. Starfleet and the Federation have more problems than they are given credit for; why the rosy memories of perfect utopia? The other consistent complaint is accessing the show itself from CBS All-Access, rather than on broadcast television; though reportedly millions of new subscribers logged into CBS’s app to watch Discovery, the criticism from those unwilling or unable to utilize a non-traditional television had been vocal, and largely unaddressed. A recent Forbes.com piece argues that one must be prepared to pay for content consumed, further entangling the problem of access—and art.
Ultimately, I think the issue is a Millenial one: Those of us who grew up with the Star Trek post-9/11—Enterprise, the Reboot/Kelvin Timeline films, and now Discovery—see stories whose primary conflict is between promised ideals and world-weary reality. We know all too well that there are no easy answers, that optimism must be fought for, and that what we want must be bought, one way or another.