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Josh Steinberg

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This fourth season of Star Trek: Discovery seems directly inspired by the pandemic but at times fails to realize that the previous season had covered much of the same ground in more organic fashion.



Star Trek: Discovery (2017–)



Released: 24 Sep 2017
Rated: TV-14
Runtime: 60 min




Director: N/A
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama



Cast: Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Anthony Rapp
Writer(s): Bryan Fuller, Alex Kurtzman



Plot: Ten years before Kirk, Spock, and the Enterprise, the USS Discovery discovers new worlds and lifeforms as one Starfleet officer learns to understand all things alien.



IMDB rating: 7.0
MetaScore: N/A





Disc Information



Studio: Paramount
Distributed By: CBS
Video Resolution:...

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Sam Favate

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Great review, and I agree that the fourth season was uneven, at best. The show often seems very repetitive, and has too many character moments that end in tears. It's become a bit of a joke, and I've heard people nickname this "the Crying Show."

I also have a problem with the premise: Discovery and its crew are nearly 1,000 years out of their time, yet they seem to adapt easily and are the leaders and saviors of the 32nd Century, when they should be playing catch-up.
 

ScottRE

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Great review, and I agree that the fourth season was uneven, at best. The show often seems very repetitive, and has too many character moments that end in tears. It's become a bit of a joke, and I've heard people nickname this "the Crying Show."

I also have a problem with the premise: Discovery and its crew are nearly 1,000 years out of their time, yet they seem to adapt easily and are the leaders and saviors of the 32nd Century, when they should be playing catch-up.
This the reason why I stopped watching. When they jumped so far into the future, I was really excited for the possibilities. I loved the idea of them being in a future that was either way to advanced for them to fit in or one where humanity as we know it was a distant memory and it was totally different. Instead, other than the Federation being dissolved and the member races going their own way...it was all pretty much easy peasy for them. It was a huge let down and one realizes they only pushed them into the future so they would stop running counter to continuity.

Like most modern Trek series, this isn't for me. I did love season 2 but that would have been the perfect place to end it.

I disagree, Josh, that Star Trek always had "hit you over the head" metaphors. At their worst, yes. "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" is one of the most glaring offenders. TNG and later shows would also be pretty obvious at times ("The Outcast" anyone?). But the Best Trek's with messages were usually subtle enough to go by without you even know there WAS one. And the majority of classic Trek was like that until it got sloppy or, yes, Roddenberry had a soapbox to shout from.

One of the reasons I love TWOK is that it has multiple messages without making them obvious. One of the reasons I - don't - like TVH is because they stop the damned movie to tell you whaling is bad.
 
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Nelson Au

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Thanks for the review, Josh, I didn’t read the section about the production even though I saw the season, I wanted to revisit the season fresh. Though it looks like you put a lot of effort into it. I just ordered the set.
 

Josh Steinberg

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I disagree, Josh, that Star Trek always had "hit you over the head" metaphors. At their worst, yes.

Allow me to clarify: I don’t mean to suggest that every episode of Trek had a hit you over the head metaphor, but rather, that episodes that did that existed as far back as the original series. I agree with you that not every episode did this. I think the ones Roddenberry most directly championed tended to go in that direction.

But the Best Trek's with messages were usually subtle enough to go by without you even know there WAS one. And the majority of classic Trek was like that until it got sloppy or, yes, Roddenberry had a soapbox to shout from.

Exactly!

I found this season to be very cathartic when I first watched it in 2021 - so I would argue that it served its purpose in that regard. Some television is meant to work in the moment and some works for posterity, and I think this season is an example of the former. I imagine it would have been a very different season had the writers not worked entirely remotely, and had the cast and production crew not had to work under very isolating conditions. What we have here, I think, is a snapshot of a very specific moment in time. And it may just be the case, speaking for myself personally, that it’s not necessarily a moment that I wish to revisit.

I also have a problem with the premise: Discovery and its crew are nearly 1,000 years out of their time, yet they seem to adapt easily and are the leaders and saviors of the 32nd Century, when they should be playing catch-up.

I find that I both agree and disagree with this, if that’s possible.

What I like about sending the crew far into the future, and then seeing that the future is in disarray, is the idea that we can’t take things for granted. We can’t assume that since we’ve solved a problem right now, that we’ll never have to face it again. To use a real world example, I think part of the reason we’re seeing a resurgence of antisemitism is because for a lot of people, we solved that problem with WWII when we defeated the Nazis, so there’s no reason to worry about it any more. Darkness thrives when we think we no longer need to protect the light, but protecting the light is a job that never ends.

I think at different times, people need different messages. In the 1960s, that era of turmoil, just showing that a future was possible where people of all races and beliefs could live in harmony was a revelatory thing - I think that was something very helpful to see at that moment in our history.

But if we only look at things that will say everything will one day be okay, that presents a risk of complacency - if we just assume it’ll all work out, that might falsely relieve us of the responsibility to contribute to that better future.

So that’s what I like about Discovery finding an imperfect future, perhaps for the first time in Trek - it reminds us that nothing is promised, and that the work is never complete. And I think the third season did a good job of exploring that territory. So that’s the part I disagree with.

But I think the pandemic put the writers into a headspace where “disconnection” became the theme, and that meant for me that season four is continuing a lot of the same thematic territory that season three already covered. What I would have liked more - and what I think might have been more substantive long-term - would have been more stories about re-establishing a new social contract. What does it mean for the Federation to rebuild? Are the values that suited the Federation a thousand years ago still relevant in that future? It would have been interesting if the Discovery crew had the right ideas morally but faced obstacles in how those ideas should be implemented in another time. I think the show could have spoken to how we idealize the past as a time of perfection, and how the reality is usually more complicated. The writers seem to default to constructing scenarios where Burnham and crew have a unique perspective that makes them always right, instead of showing how some of their experience is beneficial and some may not be. In that sense, I agree with your assessment.

This is part of why I find assigning a numerical value to be so challenging - I didn’t find the season to be a complete misfire or without merit. When it works, it really works. When it doesn’t work, it’s not that it’s an utter failure, more that it’s treading water rather than swimming ahead. It’s being made in good faith, of that I’m sure.

On the one hand, I know I’m asking a lot from any fictional work of art when I’m expecting it to both mirror our present day issues while suggesting a way forward, and expecting it to be seamless and organic - except that sometimes, the stars align and that actually happens. On the other hand, the very fact that we’re talking about this season basically a year after it’s completion and the fact that we want so much from this show speaks to something positive, I think. It’s special that there is a show and a whole universe of similar shows that can carry the weight of those expectations with their heads held high.

And so, for me, shortcomings and all, Discovery remains appointment television.
 
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Sam Favate

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We can’t assume that since we’ve solved a problem right now, that we’ll never have to face it again.
Yes, this is something modern Trek has done very well, and it's similar to the message in Picard Season 1, which, to me, said "Even great societies can fall." That's what I think was happening with Starfleet in Picard and to the Federation in general. (Stunning writing in that season, led by Michael Chabon.)

Discovery echoed this theme as well, as you point out, in seasons 3 and 4. That is addressing our times, as it seems a lot of what we've struggled to build in the last 75-80 years is at risk of falling apart, and the situation looked even more dire in 2019-2021, exacerbated by the pandemic and political unrest around the world. Your example of antisemitism is a good one, and very relevant to the last several years and this very moment in time.
 

Josh Steinberg

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Yes, this is something modern Trek has done very well, and it's similar to the message in Picard Season 1, which, to me, said "Even great societies can fall." That's what I think was happening with Starfleet in Picard and to the Federation in general. (Stunning writing in that season, led by Michael Chabon.)

Completely agree - Chabon transformed Star Trek into something that was literary and poetic, and I would say Discovery Season 2 and Picard Season 1 are the two best sets of episodes that have happened yet in modern Trek. I’d probably give Picard Season 1 the edge there if I had to choose just one.

I’m willing to give all of these shows a bit more latitude because they’re aspiring to do more than just mindlessly entertain, and I think there’s something more rewarding about an interesting misfire than an easy win.

It’s also been very nice to revisit these shows with a critical eye after some time has passed. When I watch these shows when they’re new, I tend to get so wrapped up in the thrill of each new episode that I’m less critical about the inner workings of the whole. Being able to step back a while and then watch an entire season over a week as if it were a single unified work offers a much different experience and perspective - one the showrunners don’t even get when they’re making it. I’d like to take a moment to thank my fellow HTF reviewer @Neil Middlemiss for offering me the chance to review this officially, as Trek usually falls under his umbrella of assignments. Neil is as big a Trek fan as any of us and sharing the assignment was a truly generous offer on his behalf.
 

BobO'Link

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For me, one of the biggest failings of the series is Captain Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green). I just do not like the character and Martin-Green's "whisper speak" method of delivering almost all of her lines drives me to distraction. Just *talk normally* for once!
 

Nelson Au

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Hey Josh and Sam, some good discussions going on there. I might have to re-visit Season Two of Discovery and Season One of Picard. I am not feeling that same enthusiasm you guys have for Picard’s first season. And I was not seeing what you guys are seeing in that first season of Picard.

I did enjoy Season Two of Discovery more because of the direct connection to TOS. I have the discs so I could do a binge to see Picard Season One as a single piece as you mentioned to perhaps gain a better perspective.

I know what made me a fan of Star Trek TOS initially as a little kid was the visuals and action adventure, as I grew up I could see the deeper layers after multiple viewings. Perhaps I’ll find those layers on more viewings of the modern Star Trek shows. While I enjoy them, I’m not finding the same joy in them as I do with the Original Series.

I do have to admit, after ruminating on the First Season of Discovery, there is some interesting stuff going on there! I know people hated the new Klingon’s. And I liked that some of the story threads continued into the second season with the Klingons. I have not watched the first season since the discs came out too. So perhaps a binge of Season One and Two is in order.
 

Josh Steinberg

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Season One definitely played better for me when I revisited it - once I was able to watch it for what it was rather than what I was hoping for, I was able to appreciate all that worked well. Most of the stuff I didn’t like in hindsight was more cosmetic window dressing than actual story content. Sometimes that’s the harder challenge for me as a viewer - to separate my expectations and anticipations from what I’m actually seeing. Like Roger Ebert was fond of saying, the job of reviewing is about assessing what the filmmakers are trying to accomplish and grade how well they achieve their objective, not simply to grade things on some absolute scale.
 
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Wayne Klein

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I still find season one and two really good Othe latter season superior simply because Anson Mount pushed it to the next level) while 3 and 4 were uneven (but the introduction of the Guardian of Forever was clever. Here’s hoping Harlan Ellison’s estate got a bit of dough for that).
 

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