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Star Trek: Discovery S2E4

That was a nice one. Well, not nice, but quite Trek-like, if you know what I mean. Plot(s)-wise, it would have fit TOS or TNG very well — with better production values and a less episodic nature, of course, but that's part of the overall shift in the format.

Speaking of which, I think it's symptomatic of the age that nowadays, looking at a cohesive, competent, mutually helpful and friendly crew — as I often write, one of the cornerstones of my enjoyment of the franchise — I find myself waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the unknown, unexpected betrayer to bare their knife. Not hoping for, no, but waiting.

At least Lorca was clearly shady and amoral from the get-go, and the only plot twists were the details of his goals and motivations.

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Star Trek: Discovery S2E2

For the first time, this ep felt somewhat like a TNG one (Weird science! Ethics! Seamless teamwork among well-meaning hypercompetent professionals! Six Impossible Things Happening Before Breakfast), although with a better budget and a more extroverted crew. Picard would appreciate their heart and competence, but I think he'd frown upon all the running around and occasional lapses in dress code.

Needless to say, I enjoyed it very much.

BTW, I already posted about this, but one of my favorite scenes in TNG, besides the whole running theme of everybody being involved in Shakespeare amateur theatrics, painting, and science or scholarship absolutely unrelated to their role in the ship, is that time when they had accidentally hyper-warped beyond reality and were unsure about how or whether they'd come up, and meanwhile, with unsettling and unsettled nothingness visible through every window, we see a nameless crew extra sitting in the galley calmly eating a sandwich. Starfleet stands for selfless sacrifice, professionalism, the enthusiastic pursuit of knowledge, and a society committed to peaceful coexistence, material comfort, and self-directed personal growth as shared, practical goals that can be continuously improved upon by a combination of knowledge and humanitarian ethical principles... but it also stands for calmly eating a sandwich while literally having fallen off the border of the universe, because (a) you're a professional, (b) it's your lunch hour, (c) it's a good sandwich, and (d) it's the kind of thing that happens once a month anyway.

PS: I know of no other fictional universe/organization that depicts it so well, except Atomic Robo. If hypercompetent nerds constantly falling into weird adventures (and sometimes punching Nazis) is your cup of tea (Earl Grey, hot), it's, as always, enthusiastically recommended.

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Only one episode to go in my (mostly re)watch, I'm afraid. The K/S is pretty much on par with TOS, and it has some beautiful lines like:


McCoy: (After an encounter with an advanced alien who turned out to have visited Earth and passed as a god for various civilization, something that happened so often I have to assume they all sort of stepped on each others' toes): Spock, I wouldn't suppose that Vulcan has legends like those.

Spock: Not legends, Doctor. Fact. Vulcan was visited by alien beings. They left much wiser.


That's on par with Worf's "Our gods are dead. Ancient Klingon warriors slew them a millennia ago. They were more trouble than they were worth."

Humans... Well, if we go by the myths, we mostly had sex with them, and/or used them as figureheads in our own politics and self-destructive wars. I love the "humans are the Doc Browns of the Quadrant" fanon, but even before we confused the Vulcans by building a warp engine out of scraps (and then doing the very first initial testing in space, piloted by the lead scientist/engineer), ancient godlike aliens probably talked about humans as being (a) much likelier to have sex with you than most other species, (b) apparently good listeners if you seemed omnipotent enough, but in the back of their little but twisty minds constantly trying to figure out how to use your literally otherworldly knowledge to increase their social standing in their pitiful societies, or, yes, get laid.

Centuries later, why do you think (Watsonianly speaking) there are half-human descendants of almost every humanoid species in the Quadrant? B'elanna is half-Klingon, Deanna is half-Betazoid, Spock of course is half-Vulcan, and I'm pretty sure there are others, often with cultural or political implications. Both Spock and Deanna belong to hugely influential families in their societies, and although Worf's is a slightly different situation — Klingon parents, human foster parents — the former were of course pretty much as elite as you can get in the Empire. Add Janeway's somewhat, er, forceful adoption of Seven, and even Data's situation, and you get a picture of humans not just (or maybe necessarily) friendly in the sense of "we don't fight other species just because they are different", but rather with the systematic habit of sleeping with or adopting anybody who looks close enough to humanoid.

I'm aware of the Doylean reasons that might make this the result of sampling bias, but there's a case to be made that, as exaggerated as Kirk's reputation might be (and as exaggerated as Riker's self-image might be), humans as a species have a long, pre-warp history of sexual xenophilia; maybe something specific to the species, maybe a side effect of the multiple "gods" that hit on us during our formative years as a pre-planetary culture. In any case, it could be an underrated factor in the shape and spread of the Federation.

(I've seen the "WARNING: humans will mate with anything" graphics in Tumblr, but it'd be hilarious if "down for weird sex" were the humans' equivalent of Vulcan logic or Klingon fighting as a species-defining particular skill.)

PS: What about Sarek? I don't think he was *strategic* in his family building — he canonically loved Amanda, Spock, Michael, and, I assume, Sybok &mdahs; but I have to wonder if he might not have concluded or suspected that the strong strain in Vulcan society for cultural and biological isolation would eventually be counterproductive and should therefore be somehow made more flexible. Not something the Vulcan society at large was prepared to consider, and not perhaps something he was ready to argue for, but if, as I said, it wasn't the reason why he married Amanda and adopted Michael, perhaps it's an argument that made it possible, specially the former. I don't think Sarek would've married and have a child with Amanda, regardless of his (Vulcan face: ughhhhhh) feelings for her, if he thought it would be harmful to Vulcan society.

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A couple of things that came back to me as I watched them again, maybe thirty after I first did: the gutpunch that was the "Spock saves wee!Spock" episode, and the awesomeness that was Spock II (canonically, there's a *giant* Spock working with the also giant clone of a former Eugenic Wars scientist to try and revive an advanced civilization of intelligent plants; there's nothing less than perfect in that scenario).

Among the things I did not remember, this immortal exchange between Cyrano Jones and James Kirk: "The what?" "The wheat!" And back then I wasn't quite aware of the slimy piece of crap that is Harry Mudd (or rather, that he was slimy in ways that are more "creepy and dangerous" than "humorous"), but I confess tI laughed when, while doing the running footnoting of Mudd's explanation of how he left the robot planet (Mudd: "I, uh, borrowed a vehicle." Spock, deadpan as usual: "Stole a spaceship."), well, Mudd: "And left to find haven on Ilyra VI. A charming planet, an innocent and friendly populace." Kirk: "To whom you sold the Starfleet Space Academy."

Then he frowned and sighed "Harry..."

I know I said the animation style in this series is time-and-budget-appropriately horrendous, but at the same time they somehow manage to make Kirk's variously appalled expressions almost photorealistic at some deep symbolic level.

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Speaking of tv

It's easy to make fun of Star Trek: The Animated Series, as the dialogue is generally bad and the animation is atrocious perhaps even by its contemporary standards, but before 10 minutes had passed of its first episode, they were visiting a dead star at the edge of the galaxy and found orbiting it an alien starship 300 million years old of a more beautiful design than most in the shows (not to mention the movies), possessed by a magnetic lifeform that after trying to take control of the Enterprise, ended up possessing the dead star and begging the Enterprise not to leave it.

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Currently reading Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire, which is a pretty straightforward, if at times darkly comical, description of how the Europeans were essentially socially- and geographically-ignorant thugs crashing into an enormously wealthy market that encompassed most of the world's wealth, with nothing to trade with except technically superior weaponry and ships (almost the only area of knowledge the West was at the forefront of, although that was about to change), and a vicious combination of commercial greed and aggressive religious fundamentalism that was quite beyond what the multi-ethnic, not tolerant by our standards but all in all generally more practiced at collaboration, societies of the area had been used to.

Barbarians, indeed. It wasn't the only thing they had going for them — once you start developing more efficient research processes and then come up with industrial methods, then societies without them pretty cannot compete regardless of their sophistication in other areas — but the existence, discovery, and exploitation of the Potosi silver mines is one of the great historical contingencies of the last few centuries; violence and American silver (extracted with violence, but from a much sparser and weaker population) where the only way Europeans could interface with the civilized core of the world.

Nobody with an empire is innocent in any sense, that's not what I'm saying, and if, say, American societies of the era were fucked up from 1492 on, the Ming and Quin Empires, the Tokugawa, or the Mughals, could have imported, over-developed, and exploited scientific and technical advances before European empires were comparatively powerful enough to block their attempts, or ahead enough to make the catch-up a long and fraught effort. Europeans were thugs with better weapons slightly before they were thugs with scientific-industrial complexes and much better weapons; you could tell quite an interesting story in a sci-fi-ish key about this event from the point of view of Indian Sea societies (the "violent and ignorant aliens with better weapons" is, after all, a trope), and maybe an AU outcome if you felt like.

Anyway, the original point of this post was the childish observation that the apparently the Arabs called these awful Frankish traders ferengi, and now I understand that The Next Generation reference (and a daring one indeed: making the Ferengi the series' philosophical counterpart of the Federation would have aligned the latter with the South Asian meta-society of XVIth century, not the European one) if only thirty years late.

Spock does know his Kirk

In Discovery, Starfleet was fooled so well and so long by mirror!Lorca that they gave him command of one of the most important ships in the fleet. In TOS, it took Spock about ten minutes tops to figure out Mirror!Kirk was a very fascinating little piece of crap (who, by the way, did not know his Spock, as he kept trying to bribe him with things I don't think mirror!Spock wanted; maybe an ethical point from the TOS episode is that being kind gives you practice into paying attention to what others want and need, which comes handy whenever you aren't the one with the Tantalus Field)[1].

(An alternate reading, of course, is that prime!Lorca was already quite shifty, so his counterpart was a bit different but not that much in absolute terms, while the ethical opposite of a prime!Kirk is quite different indeed; that said, mirror!Spock wasn't a monster — although, given a commitment to logic as a shared constraint, the Vulcan ethical range is narrower, and in those coordinates he was.)(Also, in Mirror, Mirror switched people were thrown right into the thick of it, so to speak, while perhaps mirror!Lorca had more time to figure it out.)

[1] In my headcanon reading of Mirror, Mirror, mirror!Spock had some idea about the Tantalus Field, if not its mechanisms or parameters, and warning Kirk about his orders from Starfleet was an extremely bold but perhaps logically necessary gambit to exploit Kirk's currently abnormal behavior pattern. He knows Kirk has some sort of special resource, past observations practically demand the inference, and with a Kirk that seems uncharasteristically disinclined to violence is the perfect moment of opportunity to not just kill him (he could've done it in the Transporter Room), but rather attempt to gain information about that. Of course, he didn't expect all the other transdimensional stuff, and getting back the Kirk he knows how to handle (but who know has less of an ace up his sleeve than he thinks he does) is a very nice outcome all around.

Also, gods, but can Kirk logic the shit out of something when he wants to.


SPOCK: You must return to your universe. I must have my captain back. I shall operate the transporter. You have two minutes and ten seconds.
KIRK: In that time I have something to say. How long before the Halkan prediction of galactic revolt is realized?
SPOCK: Approximately two hundred and forty years.
KIRK: The inevitable outcome?
SPOCK: The Empire shall be overthrown, of course.
KIRK: The illogic of waste, Mister Spock. The waste of lives, potential, resources, time. I submit to you that your Empire is illogical because it cannot endure. I submit that you are illogical to be a willing part of it. [me: *wordless expression of Oh God*]
SPOCK: You have one minute and twenty three seconds.
KIRK: If change is inevitable, predictable, beneficial, doesn't logic demand that you be a part of it?


and of course he follows up with the vision suckerpunch


SPOCK: One man cannot summon the future.
KIRK: But one man can change the present. Be the captain of this Enterprise, Mister Spock. Find a logical reason for sparing the Halkans and make it stick. Push till it gives. You can defend yourself better than any man in the fleet.
SCOTT: Captain, get in the chamber!
KIRK: What about it, Spock?
SPOCK: A man must also have the power.
KIRK: In my cabin is a device that will make you invincible.
SPOCK: Indeed?
KIRK: What will it be? Past or future? Tyranny or freedom? It's up to you.
SPOCK: It is time.
KIRK: In every revolution, there's one man with a vision.
SPOCK: Captain Kirk, I shall consider it.


It's canon (and obvious) how Vulcan Picard is, even in Spock's eyes, but Kirk could deploy ruthless logic with the best of them (heck, how many computers, superhumanly powerful beings, etc, did he literally reasoned to death and/or surrender and/or giving up their plans?), which is no small part of why he was who and what he was to Spock.

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Star Trek: Discovery S1E14

There are moments (references, of course, but also plot beats and plot beats below the plot beats, like a ghostly second heart beating inside your chest with an insidiously off-sync malignancy) that fill me with longing for the show Fuller was planning to make, one where, most likely, the Federation beats would've rang crisper, but where, most certainly, there would've been horror. What can the man behind Hannibal do with a canon that includes a mirrorverse?

Once or twice, each episode, we get an echo of that identity horror, of the way we're poisoned by words we don't say and stained by the things we do, unfocused and filtered through many a layer of CBS, obviously, but clear enough.

Perhaps it's for the best; if somebody did to Star Trek what Hannibal did to the books — and the polite thing to say is that they are different beasts, etc., but I'll briefly put on my Harold Bloom-with-lots-of-caveats-and-without-the-reactionary-crap literature-is-agon modified t-shirt and say that to in my necessarily in this case not humble opinion it's so much better at every level that it is, indeed, violently so — the backlash would've killed it after half of the first season. For all I know, it did kill it before the first episode, and we're watching the mangled half-corpse of that show, terrifying precisely whenever and because it's not.

[really depressing follow-up removed]

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Star Trek: Discovery S1E13

A thematically and morally straightforward episode, which is something of a subversion for the series. Not better plotted that it needed to be — my quadrant for a realistic mirrorverse political system, and the science bits were "science" for Star Trek values of "science" — but everything got where it was going. More or less.

By the way, I've been thinking about Mirrorverse politics and the fact that promotion by assassination is actually what almost every political system is built to avoid most of the time. Frequent coups at the top is one thing — in hierarchical societies, death is ultima ratio — but if I were Emperor, I'd take it personally for a Commander to kill a Captain — I was still using that one!

One way to frame it is a curiously bottom-up, almost democratic one: You don't get a promotion by killing a superior. Killing a superior is basically how you postulate yourself for the job — if your former peers and eventually your new superior don't kill you, then it means (does it?) that they think you're better than the previous one. But that only works if who gets to kill whom with a chance of getting away with it is highly regulated: you can kill the person above you in the hierarchy, and that's it. Well, of course you can also kill people below you, that's what below you means, but people who do that too often (and specially who aren't good at managing potential replacements) don't get too far. It certainly selects for leaders both wary and capable of inspiring personal loyalty even in that kind of culture (not necessarily an impossibility; if somebody convinces you that they are (a) hella capable, and (b) disinclined to kill underlings w/o due motive, then it's in your best interest to see that they go far — and let's not forget that, whatever culture they have, it still seems to be an overlay on the old human/humanoid socialization complex, which means personal links matter, at least for some and some of the time).

There must also be many (old? cultural default?) rules about when (not during a battle, say) and how (not damaging equipment or generating collateral casualties); you're asserting that you're good for the ship/the Empire, and, at least in theory, killing and replacing your superior was essentially a duty.

Note that this does encourage competence, in the sense that if you're a legendary Captain, then any of your officers will have to accumulate a lot of reputation before they can consider the possibility that killing you won't be followed by a very public and painful execution for depriving the Empire of an asset. This is still probably less efficient than a collaborative situation where everybody tries their best because excellence is a hell of an status good in a post-scarcity economy — Picard can have Riker be his best in a very public manner without worrying about him gaining enough reputation that he'd risk a coup &madsh; and also terribly stressful, but not a continuous bloodbath.

(The above isn't necessarily based on the episode or the rest of the canon; Star Trek, as always, has its own patterns.)

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