Analysis

Mythos in Star Trek Discovery: The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry

This blogpost is focused on looking at how the Star Trek: Discovery episode The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry fits into the events and themes of the previously established universe. I’ve written a similar blogposts looking at previous episodes and one specifically looking at how The Vulcan Hello explores how phrases can have different layers of meaning to different groups.

Inside the Replicator

The episode opens with bursts of energy shooting up and down from the top and bottom of an undefined area, in a way that reminded me of the Badlands, a Maquis stronghold featured frequently in DS9 and in the opening of Voyager. My instinct was that this was going to be either the Badlands itself or a similar region of space that Discovery was moving through. (In Star Trek science, I think these are known as plasma storms.) But we zoom out to reveal that this is the process of Michael Burnham’s uniform being replicated – I assume this is the first time we’ve seen the process on such a microscopic level. It’s a similar trick to how the series began, with T’kuvma monologuing as the viewpoint moved through the stars, before transitioning into his eye and moving out to a room of Klingons. Given that the mycelial network that the Discovery navigates has been described as a microscopic web, and that the show has drawn attention to the importance of context to understand different mindsets, the opening is a quick reminder of the show’s themes – that sometimes up is down, and nothing should be taken for granted.

Replicators and plasma storms
/ Screencaps from Discovery S1E04 via Agony Booth and of the Badlands

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Analysis

Mythos in Star Trek Discovery: Context is For Kings

This blogpost is focused on looking at how the Star Trek Discovery episode Context is for Kings fits into the events and themes of the previously established universe. I’ve written a similar blogpost looking at the first two episodes, and one specifically looking at how The Vulcan Hello explores how phrases can have different layers of meaning to different groups.

The Future is an Undiscovered Country

In a throwaway line, Captain Gabriel Lorca seems to regret that “the future happened”, which affected his family’s restaurant. This kind of thing is, to me, one of the best arguments for continuing the Star Trek franchise. We’ve seen Star Trek‘s utopian vision before, but contextualised against the Cold War and the ‘end of history’ period of the 1990s, never contextualised against the real world of the 2010s.

In the real world we’re currently going through a period of ‘digital disruption’ with new technologies throwing old business models into chaos. Think of taxi firms facing the challenge of Uber; newspapers facing the challenge of free-to-access websites. Since TOS, it’s seemed that the 23rd century Federation relies on a combination of ‘food synthesizers’ and real food, suggesting that this is a period of disruptive innovation. In England of the 1810s innovations in weaving technology allowed owners to increase their profit margins and put many workers on the scrapheap – resulting in the Luddite movement.

If Lorca is to be considered reliable, then among the victims of the disruptive innovation in the 23rd century are restaurant owners. Perhaps fewer people are eating out, preferring to eat at home, as is the case with cinemas in real life? Perhaps the end of food scarcity has made sales of food less profitable? I love the action-adventure side of Star Trek, but I hope the details of how Federation society functions, the winners and losers of change, are explored regularly. One of the great joys of Star Trek is the opportunity to explore what a near-utopian society would look like, and who would lose out by moving to that system.

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Analysis

Mythos in Star Trek Discovery: The Vulcan Hello and Battle at the Binary Stars

I really enjoyed Star Trek: Discovery‘s opening two-parter, which had its premiere date on CBS and Netflix this week. One of the things that really impressed me was how the story interacted with the pre-existing Star Trek mythos. Discovery didn’t just reference familiar terms, but engaged with the key themes of the franchise, and possibly connected itself to some relatively obscure characters and moments. You can consider this blog post as the Discovery equivalent to Game of Thrones writing that explores Jon Snow’s parentage and what it potentially means for the show, but I’m mainly writing to indulge my geekiness.

Firstly, a brief explanation of how everything in the Star Trek multiverse fits together. The Original Series – Kirk, Spock and McCoy on the Enterprise’s five year mission – was set during the 2260s, and ran for three series. The Animated Series continued this mission, but it’s unclear whether all aspects of TAS are considered canonical. The first six Star Trek films are set between the 2270s and 2290s. The Next Generation – Picard, Worf and Data – begins in the 2360s. The events of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and the four TNG films take place in a 17 year period between the 2360s and 2370s. Enterprise, although produced after TNG, DS9 and VOY, was set a century before Kirk, in the 2150s – in the years immediately before the formation of the United Federation of Planets in 2161.

The Romulan Nero later travels back in time from 2387 to 2233, destroying the USS Kelvin, and establishing the Kelvin-timeline, which is the basis for the trio of films starring Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto as Kirk and Spock, set in the 2250s and 2260s.

Discovery‘s first episodes take place in 2256, a few years before TOS. The style of Discovery‘s ships appears more similar to the Kelvin-timeline than the TOS ships of the same era, but it’s set in the Prime-timeline.

The novels are not considered canonical, though they are often mined for the most interesting bits, which later make their way into episodes and films. Hikaru Sulu’s first name originates in the 1981 novel The Entropy Effect, and some aspects of Andorian culture used in Enterprise were taken from novels.

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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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