forestofglory: E. H. Shepard drawing of Christopher Robin reading a book to Pooh (Default)
[personal profile] forestofglory
This post is going to discuss representation of marginalized people in Star Trek: Discovery. You can read my thoughts on themes and continuity in the show here.

Star Trek has generally tried to push the envelope in terms of who gets to be on screen and has had some successes and some failures at this. It was groundbreaking for The Original Series (TOS) to even have a black woman on the bridge even though by today’s standards the show is not very diverse. Watching Next Generation today I’m constantly frustrated by the female characters and how they don’t get to do anything, but I get the impression it was about average for its time. In Deep Space 9 (DS9) we got to see a black man as captain (and a father), and the show featured some wonderful female characters. However, DS9 also featured some very problematic Jewish-coded characters. Voyager gave us our first Trek show with a female captain but also featured a very poorly done Native American character. Enterprise’s main crew seems to be about as diverse as TOS’s, but--given that there are are about 35 years between the shows--that’s not what I’d consider progressive. Discovery, too, has some big successes and some big failures in terms of representation. Its biggest problem is that it shows us glimpses of much more than it delivered on several counts.


Let's start by talking about the female characters. The show brought us some awesome women, and I enjoyed the variety of their characters. Discovery is the first season of Trek to pass the Bechdel test in every episode, which is a low bar to pass, but I’m glad that things are improving in this regard.

Of course, I love Michael Burnham. Her curiosity and her moral drive are both inspiring to me, and it was great to have a Trek that focused on a woman of color. It’s still not the norm to have SFF shows focus on characters like her, but it is not unprecentdened either. She’s really smart and a flawed character looking for redemption, both of which make her fun to watch.

Tilly is completely charming, and I really enjoy both her friendliness and her ambition to be a captain some day. It's great that she can be ambitious and also really nice. Plus, I like that she is still learning but also confident in her skills, knowledge and ideas. I especially enjoyed her friendship with Burnham.

Vice-Admiral Cornwall was amazing! It was great to have a no nonsense older woman with power, and it was nice to see a psychologist character who seems good at dealing with trauma. (So far Troi seems to mostly just answer the psychic phones, and I’m still mad that Sisko claimed that 300 years of memories was equivalent to six months of training in being a counselor.) I think her moral failure in the shows final episodes was more interesting because she was established as morally competent Starfleet officer before taking immoral actions under great stress.

I love Captain Philippa Georgiou. She was so warm and so clearly great at her job -- you could tell her crew respected her and worked well together under her leadership just from the small bits of time we spent with them. I loved Georgiou and Burnham together. Their relationship was so warm, and they clearly loved each other. It was great to see WOC in positions of power in Starfleet, especially as mentor and mentee, and I would have happily watched a whole show about the two of them. That would have been truly groundbreaking. So I was very disappointed when Georgiou was killed off at the end of the second episode and replaced with jerk-face Lorca.

I know some people see Lorca as interestingly complex but he seemed like just another jerky white man to me. Plus he was so bad at being Captain, morale was clearly suffering under him. I was happy to see the end of him

I hadn’t been reading all the news so I didn’t know that Stamets and Culber were a couple until they were shown brushing their teeth together. I was very pleased to see a canon queer couple in a Trek show for the first time. However, my joy was tinged with anger that it had taken this long. Trek has been around for over 50 years and having queer people in your show isn’t radical any more. I really enjoyed seeing the two of them interact -- they made a cute couple. I was hoping that Culber would get a bit more screen time on his own doing doctor stuff. And then they killed Culber! I felt really betrayed. After waiting so long for this kind of queer rep in Star Trek I felt that the writers owed us some happy queer people -- instead they buried the queers and gave us some kind of strange fungus mediated post-death communication. Mystical after-death advice scenes are just not the same thing as happy alive queer people.

Let's talk about the Klingons in Discovery-- I wasn’t super happy with how the show handled them. First of all the redesign makes it harder for me to tell characters apart which is frustrating. And they remind me of the orcs from the LotR -- faceless and nasty. This is particularly troubling because the Klingons are dark skinned. I also would have liked to see a bit more blood and honor type rituals instead of the fire and eating people we got. And its rather unfair to bring up Klingon matriarchs and then never have them appear on screen.

L’Rell is a villian with clear motive who is the hero of her own story. However the show gives us a very conflicted picture of L’Rell; sometimes she’s very sympathetic, and sometimes she’s a terrible person. In “The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry,” the one episode where we see them interacting together as Klingons, L’Rell and Voq are much more sympathetic than the crew of the Discovery. They work together towards a common goal and bond while the Discovery crew is busy sniping at each other and not talking when it would solve their problems the whole episode. (Luckily the Discovery crew gets better with time.) I also have some sympathy for L’Rell’s desire to preserve her own culture even if her way of going about it is problematic. However, it's very unclear if L’Rell actually tortured and raped Tyler or if that was just him remembering Voq’s transformation. But surely giving someone memories of torture is not much more moral than actually torturing them. The show holds L’Rell accountable for what she did to Voq but not for what she did to Tyler, and I have problem with that.

Can we talk about Voq and L’Rell’s plan? This was where Voq, the Klingon torchbearer, was surgically altered to appear to be a human prisoner who then subsequently escaped and joined the crew of the Discovery as Ash Tyler, who believes himself to be fully human. The plan seems to have been 1)Infiltrate the federation 2) ?????? 3)unify the Klingons behind the teachings of T’Kuvma/Kahless. Why did they think this was workable? And why did one of the two characters most into Klingon racial purity agree to be surgically operated on to appear human? I’m glad that this nonsensical plan was shown not to work, but honestly it worked better than it should have. Like, Tyler getting appointed to security officer on the Discovery seems much less likely than him being sent home to get some therapy. And then what would L’Rell do? The whole plan is half baked at best.

I wish the show had spent a bit more time introducing the bridge crew on the Discovery. Many of them don’t get named on screen until the second half of the show, and even then only once or twice. This makes then seem less like characters and more like set dressing. They seem like a diverse crew featuring people of color, women, and a cyborg. There are a lot of people on the bridge who look like interesting characters who I would have liked to see more of -- especially the women.

The show's biggest problem with representation is that it doesn’t deliver on its best moments. I'd have been happy with a show about Burnham if the show hadn't shown me the possibilities of Georgiou and Burnham together. I’d have been pleased to finally have some queer rep if the show had just featured Stamets as queer un-paternered person, instead of showing us a happy queer couple and then killing one of them off. I think some fans also felt this way about Lorca and Tyler as trauma victims. Other places where the show promised more than it delivered were the Klingon matriaches and the bridge crew. I hated getting small doses of awesome representation only to have them be taken away from us by character death or never be fully realised.

Date: 2018-06-09 02:10 am (UTC)
egret: egret in Harlem Meer (Default)
From: [personal profile] egret
This is a great analysis. So much agreement.

Date: 2018-06-09 08:07 am (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
Yeah, exactly that.


forestofglory: E. H. Shepard drawing of Christopher Robin reading a book to Pooh (Default)

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