Saturday, 4 March 2023

The Rise and Fall of Disco?

Once touted by Alex Kurtzman (no less) as the series that would run and run and run, the news that Discovery's fifth season would be its last was almost certainly unexpected.

As the first of the new era of Star Trek series, Discovery paved the way for the return of the franchise after 12 years away from TV. Looking back, it took a long time getting to that point with frantic universe building and repeated delays holding it up for almost a year. Remember when Bryan Fuller was exec producer or it was touted as an anthology series...?

Certainly the reaction to its impending end have been mixed from elation down to true heartfelt disappointment but this could also be a telling sign of things to come.

The recent merger of Paramount with Showtime has cot a few dollars and the need for streaming services to start making money in these more challenging economical times has become evermore a priority.

While fans have been lapping up the first few episodes of Picard's turnaround third (and final) season, the news on what would be following it has been conspicuously absent. Fans had assumed that Discovery's fifth season would be coming almost immediately afterwards given that it's the only show to have received any form of trailer aside from Picard in the last few months.

That suggests that Burnham and co would have been coming next however their final mission is now pencilled in for 2024. When that show ends it means that (as of now) there will be two animated series and only one live action show in production unless Section 31 or the long gestating Academy show are picked up.  Point to note of course is that both the well-received Strange New Worlds and Section 31 are born straight from Discovery itself.

More than likely, in my mind, we'll be seeing Section 31 but I'm fine being proved wrong. Who knows, with the popularity of Picard's third season we could end up with a show on the Titan, Stargazer or - nothing.

But why Discovery and why so close to the end of Picard? Well, as we started by saying, reviews from the off have been mixed. Seasons one and two sought to carve a new corner in the well-trodden "prequel" era just before TOS before making the huge 1000 year jump forward at the beginning of season three. The change in era wasn't totally successful with some of the design work coming under fire (detached nacelles for one) proving divisive. Then there was Burnham's constant emotional turmoil, the story of the Burn that didn't really pan out into the big event fans expected or wanted and a fourth season that was hugely impacted by COVID. Even from the start the controversy of Burnham's adoptive parentage and the ship's spore drive sent fandom into spins that were only just avoided with the time jump.

Maybe it's naturally run out of steam but of all the shows in existence at the moment both animated and live action, Discovery often falls at the bottom of the popularity polls. In a sense the show was the pioneer for this new age and looking at what came after it, the spin off Strange New Worlds, later Picard and the two exemplary animated shows have surpassed it in terms of storytelling, visuals and without question characterisation.

For me Discovery feels like a bit of a dinosaur in comparison, I loved the first two seasons and like the warp engines, felt a bit detached and disappointed with three and four. The little heart that was there seemed to be there was washed away and the show became somewhat generic and tired. The Ten-C were an interesting concept as was their method of communication and for a brief spark this was the most Star Trek thing the series had done. 

But one thing that Discovery repeatedly infuriated fans over was its inability to explore its cast. Relying on season-long arcs, the show focused on a core batch of two or three characters with the secondary crew barely getting anything to say or do for weeks on end. Maybe they didn't need to and were always meant to be in that background position much as was intended with the TOS co-stars. Yet fans seem to have yearned for the character depth of DS9 or TNG but were sadly disappointed. Burnham, Saru, Georgiou, Stamets and Tilly were all well served during their time on board but the format just hasn't helped bring any depth to a multitude of interesting co-stars who deserved more than a fleeting moment of the limelight. Imagine what could have become of characters such as Detmer had Discovery taken a more episodic outlook.

What Discovery did manage was to tackle the issues  of today pretty head on and that again left the fan base mixed although I would say wholeheartedly it was the right thing to do. I believe the series will be remembered for its championing of LGBQT individuals, gender and the woke movements of the 2010/2020s in a very open manner.

 Now it has one last opportunity to go out in style and who knows if the next 12 months will see rewrites and reshoots to provide the show with a fitting finale.

After all, if it wasn't for Discovery and its initial success there would be no new Star Trek. Had it failed we would have had one maybe two seasons and that would have been it. But now there's talk of more shows, more movies and a life that the franchise hasn't experienced since the 1990s. Love it or hate it, Discovery did indeed make a difference.

Even if it characters don't sit quite as highly in my estimations as Picard, Sisko or the EMH, Discovery has done what it felt was right and made a case that Star Trek could live again and do something different. Whether that different was to everyone's tastes is a discussion that will outlive the show by many, many years.

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