Defending Discovery‘s Design Differences: Getting Personal
“Because ‘personal’ means personal.” – Captain Pike, “Light and Shadows”
In this article, I’ll address frequent criticisms regarding the more personal aspects of Star Trek: Discovery‘s first two seasons. I don’t mean the recasting of Captain Pike, his “Number One”, Spock or his parents. Nor am I referring to Captain Pike’s increasingly greyer hair, or the physical differences between a wheelchair-bound Captain Pike in The Original Series‘ “The Menagerie” two-parter compared to a wheelchair-bound Pike in a time-crystal-induced premonition from the Discovery episode “Through the Valley of Shadows”.
What I would like to address is the accusation that there’s too much emotionalism, especially in the form of crying, from the characters in Discovery. Some claim that this perceived excess of emotion undermines any gravitas as Starfleet officers. So, why is there so much emotion in the show?
“The only way to make a new road is to walk it.” – Admiral Cornwell, “The Red Angel”
Technically, Starfleet is not, nor has it ever been, a military organization. Space travel is, by definition, risky; just ask Kirk, with his “Risk is our business” ethos, or the Kelvin Timeline McCoy, with his speech about space being “disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence.” As a result, it makes sense for things aboard Discovery to occasionally get a bit weepy!
Starfleet is an institution which clearly holds emotionality in high regard, as it is the glue that holds a crew together. Stamets tells Tilly in “Brother”, “You’re going to become a magnificent captain because you do everything out of love.” And in “Through the Valley of Shadows”, Captain Pike lists love among his cardinal qualities, intently whispering to himself, “You’re a Starfleet captain. You believe in service, sacrifice, compassion… and love.“
“We’ve not seen each other in years. You’ve no foundation for judging my character.” – Spock, “Project Daedalus”
In Discovery, boyhood Spock is shown to be extremely emotional and, when he first appears as an adult (in “Light and Shadows”), he’s not only bearded but also apparently enduring a mental breakdown. Once he’s mentally brought back to his usual self in the next episode (“If Memory Serves”), he admits (to his CO, no less: Captain Pike) that he’s smiling (the same episode also features a shot from “The Cage” of Spock smiling at Pike). He demonstrates fury in “Project Daedalus”, shouting at Michael, “For the first time, I enjoy expressing emotion,” immediately before angrily knocking over a 3D chess set.
From that point on, Spock seems consistently more emotionally restrained. At one point (in “Through the Valley of Shadows”), he tells Burnham, “Rage is the enemy of logic. This I have learned.“
The Short Treks episode “Q&A”, which details his arrival as an ensign aboard the Enterprise, features more backstory as to why Spock usually suppresses his displays of emotion. For instance, he’s initially instructed by Commander Una that there’s no need to shout, to which he complies.
“We must strive to be more than we are.” – Data, TNG: “The Offspring”
The appearance of androids or technological lifeforms in Star Trek: Discovery is another factor to consider. Whereas the Mudd replicas in the Short Treks episode “The Escape Artist” are notoriously lifelike and basically match the sophistication of androids in TOS: “I, Mudd”, Starfleet’s range of cybernetic lifeforms are portrayed as primitive. For example, Discovery‘s cybernetically augmented human Airiam is presumably not on the same level of sophistication as the android Data, who looks more human-like and whose voice, unlike Airiam’s, does not sound synthetically processed.
Whereas there’s a completely human-looking character called Yeoman Colt in “The Cage”, there is an extremely alien-looking Yeoman Colt in Discovery‘s “Such Sweet Sorrow” two-parter. There are several possible explanations for this. Is having the same name entirely coincidental, perhaps? Or maybe they are supposed to be the same person and she merely had a run-in with an alien that resulted in the change of appearance.
“We’ve got the new uniforms.” – Captain Pike, “Brother”
The Starfleet EV suits in Discovery match the look of those from Star Trek: Enterprise well, as do the blue-with-metallic-highlights Starfleet uniforms. These uniforms are in use aboard Discovery and concurrently by the staff of various Starfleet facilities.
However, USS Enterprise crewmembers are shown wearing very colourful uniforms. Pike referred to them as “new uniforms” in the second season premiere “Brother”. They essentially combine TOS uniform colours with highlights from the usual Discovery uniforms.
Even the wearing of entirely different styles of uniform has history. One such example is demonstrated in Star Trek Generations, where some Enterprise-D crewmembers wear TNG-style uniforms (black on top, colour underneath) while other officers wear the uniform style presented in Voyager and during the first five seasons of DS9.
In the case of Star Trek: Discovery, crew uniform styles denote service on a particular starship. Captain Pike dons a Discovery-style uniform when he joins the crew of that ship. Then, very soon before he retransfers to the Enterprise, he returns to wearing his Enterprise-style uniform.
As a side note, I’m really glad that the episode “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry” sets a precedent (a very visual one!) for how a Starfleet uniform is replicated. The show also establishes how an early type of VISOR looks, foreshadowing Geordi La Forge’s legendary eyewear in the 24th century setting of TNG. Additionally, whereas many of the props in Star Trek: Discovery were designed with TOS in mind, the episode “Saints of Imperfection” establishes that, much to Captain Pike’s surprise, combadges were used by Section 31 prior to being introduced to the rest of Starfleet (an event chronicled in TNG).
Final (Frontier) Thoughts
“With every moment, I grow more sure-footed in this… in-between place, more certain of who I am becoming.” – Spock, “Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2”
The characters in Star Trek are, by their very nature, works in progress. Even though they’re obviously informed by how they’ve been presented in the past, they must be given freedom to change over time, as we all do. After all, they have been a constant mirror for us, the viewers.
Has this series of articles helped change your mind about the characterisations and depictions in Star Trek: Discovery? Let us know in the comments section below.
Webmaster of WarpFactorTrek, Dan is an avid Star Trek fan who lives in Aberdeen, Scotland. Dan has loved Star Trek ever since discovering it in his childhood. He worked as an administrator, for six years, on the encyclopedic Star Trek website Memory Alpha, which involved studying the making of the various series and films. He has been mentioned in the official Star Trek Magazine, has qualified from a Star Trek course taught at Glasgow Clyde College, and coordinated the SubSpace Chatter (formerly The Scotch Trekker) YouTube channel, which regularly featured live interviews with the cast and crew of Star Trek.