Mythos in Star Trek Discovery 1.13: What’s Past is Prologue

This blogpost is focused on looking at how What’s Past is Prologue, the sixth episode of Star Trek: Discovery fits into the events and themes of the previously established universe. I’ve written similar blogposts looking at each previous episode (you can read the first here, and a full list under the Star Trek Discovery tag).

Climate Change

The Terran Empire’s toxic approach to the mycelial network is essentially a fossil fuel metaphor. Whereas the Prime Universe crew are conscientious about doing as little damage as possible, the Charon’s mycelial power core poisons the wider mycelial network while drawing power from it. Saru to be shocked by the Terran Empire’s short-sightedness, given that the process means that eventually, in Stamets’ words, “life as we know it will cease to exist”.

This recklessness works as a parallel to the real-world use of fossil fuels. Despite its hippyish idealism, the Star Trek franchise hasn’t touched on climate change and environmentalism as often as might be expected. The most notable exception is the TNG episode Force of Nature – built on the premise that warp engines damage areas of space which have excessive warp travel, an issue which isn’t revisited on-screen. (I’ve read that the reason Voyager’s warp nacelles physically rise before the ship goes to warp is to counter this effect, though I’m not sure whether this is canonical.) The climax of What’s Past Is Prologue implies that this analogy won’t be immediately revisited, but it’s a storytelling device that DIS could reuse in future.

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Film & Television Opinion

Semiotics of the Vulcan Hello

Semiotics, in brief, is the study of how we construct meaning. For example the phrase ‘green light’ has a meaning beyond a literal green light – it can be used metaphorically as giving permission to go ahead. Even if you’re not familiar with them, you won’t be surprised to learn that the Lorde song Green Light and the Ting Tings song Traffic Light are not about literal lights.

Ferdinand de Saussure wrote about the relationship between a ‘signifier’ and ‘signified’ – the sign and the thing it represents. So a nuclear waste sign is not dangerous itself, but signifies that radioactive material is inside a container, or nearby. Similarly a lit green light is associated with the abstract concept of going, and a red light with the abstract concept of stopping.

Semiotics can be confusing – I’ve studied it at university level and still find a lot of de Saussure and Roland Barthes mind-bending – but it’s a process that almost all of us have a basic understanding of on a subconscious level. We make sense of these signifiers on a daily basis without really thinking about it.

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Film & Television Opinion

Initial (spoiler-free) reaction to Star Trek: Discovery’s two-part pilot

It’s been delayed several times from a planned debut early in 2017, but the first episodes of Star Trek: Discovery are now on Netflix. I’m planning to write another post going into detail on the first two episodes in the next few days, but these are my initial impressions, with very little detail of the contents of the episodes.
  • Michael Burnham – a human woman raised by Vulcans – follows in a tradition of Star Trek characters caught between two cultures. It’s a path previously tred by Spock, Worf, Odo, B’Elana Torres and Seven of Nine. This is a good choice for the sake of drama, as it allows for a conflicted main character, and debates around what it is to be Human. By making Burnham a genetic Human raised in a Vulcan culture, Discovery manages to sidestep the dodgy racial essentialism (for example that Torres’ anger comes from her Klingon side) that often accompanies this trope in Star Trek.
  • There are apparent ‘historical’ contradictions in Discovery. For instance the design of the Shenzou bridge is much darker than on Kirk’s Enterprise, despite them being set in roughly the same era. And there are numerous uses of holograms to communicate over long distances, despite this being introduced as a new technology in Deep Space Nine, set roughly 120 years later. But I wouldn’t want a new show to stick to inferior design and creative choices for the sake of consistency, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief and let the writers tell the best possible story they can this time around.

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