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Each week, Monique will sound off on the current episode of Star Trek: Discovery. For more, read Monique’s Star Trek: Discovery recaps at SlashFilm. These mini-rants will contain SPOILERS–You’re warned.
I think this week’s episode, “The Wolf Inside,” goes up there as one of the best-written episodes of this season of Star Trek: Discovery. There was so much packed into this episode, from the continuation of the Stamets-Culber relationship, to the introduction of some bada$$ Andorians and Tellarites, to Jason Isaacs losing his American accent through parts of his Lorca lines (which was amusing if you caught it, because it was hard to tell if he was legit forgetting to sound American or still trying to use Lorca’s fake Scottish–“Scotty”, if you will–accent from before). Of course, with a title like “The Wolf Inside,” Tyler was the central character. Well, Tyler and Voq. And of course, where Tyler’s concerned, Michael’s not far behind.
So what do I have to say about this episode when it comes to Michael and Tyler’s relationship? Simply that I’m intrigued by everything that’s happened. I feel like it sounds clinical for me to say “intrigued” when Michael was nearly killed by Tyler-turned-Voq and Michael then did turnabout and nearly killed Tyler!Voq by sending him out into space, just so Discovery Prime could beam him aboard for detention (and to acquire the crucial files Michael hid in Tyler’s pocket). But from a writer’s perspective and from a fan of exciting television, I am highly invested to see where this goes. I also feel like regardless of what happens between Michael and Tyler, I won’t be let down.
I’m sure some are reading this trying to figure out how I can say this, when I’m one of the main people saying black women should have prominent love lives on television without the risk of something detrimental happening. If we go by the bare bones of what’s happening–Michael’s relationship is now put in jeopardy, with all signs pointing to a sacrifice of some sort needing to be made–then it looks like we’re getting the same script, different cast. But honestly, I feel like there’s so much more that’s happening here, and the fact that the writers are pushing each character beyond archetypal boundaries makes this story highly fascinating.
Let me break down exactly what I’m talking about:
This romance is less about Michael’s development and more about Tyler’s
It only occurred to me in this episode that the importance of Michael and Tyler’s relationship doesn’t rely on how this romance affects Michael. This romance is all about how it informs Tyler and forces him to mature.
As I wrote in my SlashFilm recap this week, Tyler is a man whose life is informed by those around him, particularly by women.
“…[W]hile Michael is a tether for Tyler, L’Rell is a tether for Voq. As we know, Voq only started waking up after he was in L’Rell’s presence. What’s interesting is that both Tyler and Voq are both the passive parties in their relationships. I’m not saying either one is less “manly,” as it were; in fact, I find it more endearing that they have the capacity to defer to the women in their lives for guidance. But I will say this: whoever Tyler is at the moment, he’ll have to choose who he wants to be in the future. One future has L’Rell and Klingon domination, the other has Michael and a peaceful Federation of Planets. L’Rell and Michael can’t make this decision for him — he’s going to have to choose.”
This is not to say that there’s something wrong with a man who relies on or defers to women as counsel. On the contrary–a man who can recognize the importance of women has more going for him positively than not. As an uncommon point of comparison, look at how Black Panther‘s T’Challa seems both supported and emboldened by the women in his life. Just looking at the trailers, you can see how T’Challa is empowered by the women in his life.
On the flip side, though Tyler seems unhealthily dependent on those he views are stronger than him to define how he should live and what he should do. It just so happens that many of the people he views as being stronger than him are women. Again, seeing a male character recognize the importance of women is cool and very much-needed in these #MeToo times. But Tyler and Voq also manage to subvert their relationships with women; instead of gaining empowerment from them, they wrongly cast them as personal caretakers; L’Rell and Michael don’t just provide Voq and Tyler with love and support; oftentimes they have to do the emotional and tactical heavy lifting.
To be clear, my point of view doesn’t include how Tyler handles his PTSD; Tyler and Voq’s habit of leeching onto stronger counterparts can be seen in earlier episodes. Looking back on Voq’s interactions with L’Rell, L’Rell would always take charge of Voq’s plans, instructing him on how to get his goals achieved. Voq came to rely on L’Rell not just as a right hand and not just even as a significant other, but as a conduit for his own feelings of independence. Without L’Rell, he’s just a Klingon riddled with self-doubt. To some extent, Voq even latched onto T’Kuvma, and in a way, he’s still takes from T’Kuvma in terms of developing an outward, acceptable identity.
Tyler has done the same thing with Michael. Whereas Michael needed him to tell her the truth about his mental situation, he lied. Instead, he continued his pattern of dependence, mining her for her strength and confidence, just like how Voq did with L’Rell. During the times we see the intimate moments between Michael and Tyler, the emotional interplay exists on two different levels. For Michael, she’s viewing the relationship as a mutually supportive one. On the whole, Tyler views their relationship like this, too. But what Tyler isn’t cognizant of is that he’s also running on a different wavelength than Michael. It’s more evident the more Tyler becomes mentally unstable, but it’s becoming clearer that Tyler doesn’t just rely on Michael as, in his words, a “tether.” He also relies on her to do his emotional dirty work for him. He wants her to determine who he should be. Even in regular, real life relationships, that’s too much for one person to handle.
There is a term for someone who sucks up someone else’s emotional energy: psychic vampire. I don’t think Tyler or even Voq latch onto others in their circle maliciously. Yeah, I know Voq is an actual villain, but when it comes to how he engages in relationships, I don’t think he realizes he leeches onto people.
In real life, most psychic vampires don’t realize they do it. More than likely, most of us have been a psychic vampire at some point in time. It’s surprisingly not that hard. But from my own experience, I’ve found that what drives people (including myself at one point) to psychic vampirism is severe self-doubt and low-to-no self-confidence. That lack of confidence can come from a myriad of things, but what can get people out of that vampiric mindset is to 1) become aware of what they do and who they latch onto when they feel self-doubt, anger and/or fear and how they might selfishly twist relationships to meet their ends and 2) develop new habits that foster more self-confidence and less self-doubt.
Both Tyler and Voq are people who have no self-confidence. They’re people who rely on others to fill the holes where their self-confidence and self-reliance should be. Voq was struggling before because of his state as an outcast within Klingon society, but now, after his transformation and his alter-ego’s PTSD and sexual trauma, Voq/Tyler’s mind is more confused than ever before. But somehow, Tyler has to figure out how to come out of this a whole person. This test that Tyler is now under is one that will not only decide the fate of the Federation, but is also one that will call on Tyler to find that confident place within himself to make his own choices. No one else can save Tyler from this but himself–it’s going to come down to him forcing himself to be defiant in the direction he wants his life to go. He has to realize that his life relies solely on what he wants for himself, not what L’Rell or Michael want for him.
Tyler’s arc is tailor-made for today
With all of that said, I want to make it exceptionally clear that I don’t think Tyler is “weak” or somehow less of a man, especially where women are concerned. Tyler subverts the kind of Captain Kirk bravado we’re accustomed to, and his passivity is something we rarely see in male characters on screen. I do think, though, that he inadvertently misuses the women in his life, and his fallacies make Tyler’s arc extremely important in this #MeToo time, in which we’re all rethinking how we view masculinity, femininity, and the interactions between the two. If we take Voq out of this, Tyler is, for me, the kind of leading man we should see more often. It would do us some good to see a leading man who isn’t always guns blazing, but is one who struggles with feelings of inadequacy, vulnerability, and even the very human fear of weakness. At the same time, we also see a man who doesn’t realize that he doesn’t do the greatest job of taking care of he women in his life emotionally. All of this culminates into a layered story of personal growth.
As Shazad Latif told SyFy’s Swapna Krishna:
“Me and Sonequa, we always wanted to push it. Because you meet Tyler and he’s this guy who’s going through this trauma and we’ve seen that story many times. It’s amazing to explore, but we wanted to see him … With him and Michael Burnham, she’s always very strong. She’s the strong one and she’s the one looking after him, and he’s weak around her and he’s vulnerable around her, in the bedroom, in the hallway.
I wanted to make sure that that was clear because, to show a man’s vulnerability and weakness and show that you can still be a man and vice versa, that Sonequa is a very strong female character — it was very important to us in the scenes that we played that and we showed that. It’s nice to play the inner turmoil and suffering and weakness of the man as well, rather than being this classic sort of rogue action hero. There’s more to it than that.
Because when you first see him, he is playing that, we’re playing that sort of archetype. He’s this guy coming from the ship, he’s getting his job and ‘Aha! He’s a classic American hero,’ but really he’s crumbling, and it’s very beautiful to watch.”
I think Tyler’s current problem of fighting the Klingon within is highly salient to our current discussions about what manhood means and what it should look like. Like Tyler, each man is going to have to figure out what type of man they want to be. They can’t rely on others to convince them to be one way or the other; they’ll have to search within themselves and assess their values and then live by them.
That’s basically all Tyler is doing, but in a much more cosmic way–he’s never had to think about what truly matters to him until now. When he was Klingon, he wanted power to force his kind to bow to him. He wanted to rule the entire universe all so he could be accepted by others. All the while, he’s never accepted himself. Meanwhile, Tyler wants to be human and live by the Federation for Michael–it’s not clear if he, at this point in time, cares about the Federation for any other reason. Seeing Tyler’s journey towards self-acceptance, clarity, and peace is going to be turbulent, for sure, but I also feel it’s going to be highly rewarding.
Michael always rises up above trope
As I’ve written last week, I’ve had some misgivings about where the series is headed after Culber’s death. But after seeing the continuation of the Culber-Stamets storyline, plus Wilson Cruz’s own promise that we haven’t seen the last of their love story, has put me tentatively at ease. Interestingly enough, how the writers are handling Michael’s characterization has also put me at ease with where the series is headed, since I now feel that all of the characters, especially Michael, will get deserving ends to their arcs.
Yes, Michael could be at risk for having a relationship go down the tubes. But at this point, it’s way more fruitful to talk about how the characters are organically evolving rather than keep a tally. As I wrote in my Season 2 finale recap of Into the Badlands for Black Girl Nerds, I discuss how Veil’s death doesn’t preclude that black women can’t die in their shows; what matters is how their characters have organically arrived at such a devastating conclusion. If it isn’t earned, then that’s when the characters fall into trope.
“Let’s take out the racial component for a second because the devil’s advocate rebuttal to Veil’s death would be that Black women characters have just as much of a chance to die as white women characters do. In a democratically-written show, this is very true. However, if we take out the racial component, we’re still left with another woman who had to die for there to be “emotional depth.” Couldn’t there have been emotional depth built with her still living? I understand that the writing team probably wanted this season to be one where Sunny comes face to face with the types of horrors his life of clipping can bring, but there could have been other ways for him to deal with those demons other than Veil dying, right?
…The fridging of Veil reiterates how much of a misstep this is for a show that has been praised for its commitment to telling stories a different way. Throughout two seasons, there hadn’t been an egregious fridging of any woman. If anything, we’ve seen the fridging of a man—Ryder—at the expense of Jade’s emotional growth, a remarkable gender role reversal. But Veil is the first woman to receive this extensive treatment, all to further Sunny’s hero’s journey as well as the building anticipation of reaching Azra. And again, she’s also a woman of color, whereas all of the other women who have been able to survive are white (or, in the case of Baroness Chau, Asian). If we’re going to fridge women, did the only fridged woman have to also be a woman of color? Let’s be equal in our annihilation of female characterization, at the very least.”
The same can be said for black women who end up alone on screen. It all comes down to how they’ve organically arrived to that new chapter in their lives, regardless of any racial or social politics that surround the character. If this were just a case of Voq waking up and saying, “I’m bouncing for L’Rell, bye,” and there was no more exploration of anything, that’d be one thing. But it’s another when 1) Tyler/Voq is in a state of mental and physical duress–he’s a man trapped inside another’s body, and the minds of both Tyler and Voq are at war, with Tyler feeling the effects of PTSD and sexual trauma and 2) both sides of Tyler and Voq love two different people. While Voq relies on L’Rell as his reminder of his Klingon self, Tyler relies on Michael to keep him human. There’s a lot going on here, and the complexities of it save the entire exercise from stereotype.
Overall, I feel like Star Trek: Discovery just might have one of the most explosive episodes ever, and I’m not just talking about space battles. I’ll admit that dramatic changes, such as Culber’s death last week, are scary. They can make viewers and critics like me doubt a show’s direction. Some of that doubt is earned–too often, we’ve seen when big gambles don’t pay off. But it seems like with Discovery, the gambles just might do more than merely “pay off”–they might propel the show towards even greater heights. We’ll have to see how true this prediction is once the season is over.
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(Wilson Cruz as Dr. Culber on Star Trek: Discovery. Photo credit: CBS)
Each week, Monique will sound off on the current episode of Star Trek: Discovery. For more, read Monique’s Star Trek: Discovery recaps at SlashFilm. These mini-rants will contain SPOILERS–You’re warned.
It’s been over 72 hours as of this post since I’ve seen the midseason premiere of Star Trek: Discovery, and I am still pissed. I don’t know how killing Culber will advance the story in any type of positive way. I also fear that Culber’s death is one of the breadcrumbs that will lead to Tyler ultimately sacrificing himself.
If you’ve read my latest SlashFilm recap already, you know I’ve been quite livid about seeing Culber die on screen. Supposedly, Culber’s death isn’t going to be a “Bury Your Gays” horror (even though it looks like it on the surface.) I quoted Buzzfeed’s Adam B. Vary’s interviews with Wilson Cruz and Star Trek: Discovery‘s showrunners in my recap, but I want to give a shout out to SyFy’s Swapna Krishna, who also interviewed Cruz about his character’s demise. What Cruz told her, as he told Vary, is that we’ll see Culber again.
“I can tell you that we will be seeing Dr. Culber again.
I can even tell you that as part of the longer epic love story we are planning on telling between these two characters there is a scene in this season that is my favorite thing I have ever filmed in my twenty-five years and I can’t wait for you guys to see it. So when I tell you that it’s not over, it really isn’t. There are reasons why the story has taken a turn, but I just ask that you guys trust us in the storytelling. I had conversations with the producers and there is a bigger story here to be told, and we are going to tell it.”
So, he’s telling us that we will see the continuation of Culber’s story and Culber and Stamets’ relationship. HOWEVER, I’m still mad.
Did it have to be this way, showrunners? On the one hand, I understand that if I was in the creator’s chair, I would have qualms killing characters off regardless. As someone who wishes to create her own show one day, I’ve already realized I am too mushy to kill of characters, even if the story calls for it. Perhaps that’s to my detriment. But, a part of me feels like having a dramatic death at the beginning of a premiere is beginning to be a pattern for Star Trek: Discovery. Case in point–the death of Georgiou, another death I thought wasn’t necessary because, similar to Culber’s, it felt like a bait-and-switch.
However, with as much work as Wilson Cruz has done speaking out on behalf of the LGBT community, and with the showrunners themselves running this storyline by GLAAD, I’d like to believe that this gamble will pay off. I mean, it’d better–Star Trek: Discovery’s life is on the line with this type of gamble. If the story can show a death that exists beyond trope, then maybe there’s a conversation worth having. It’s also worth pointing out that one of the showrunners, Aaron Harberts, is openly gay. Perhaps some of his own feelings about the treatment of LGBT characters in the media will make Culber’s death feel more organic and less of a trope. From what he told IndieWire’s Liz Shannon Miller, it would seem that’s the case.
“This is something we knew we wanted to do pretty much from the minute we started breaking the arc of the entire season. We wanted to have this be the first chapter for this gay couple, who we plan to make one of the most important couples on our show. So, to do that, we needed to tell some tough stories to get this couple where they need to be, and to continue to expand their importance in the fabric of the show. So, this is a first step that we knew we had to take, and we weren’t afraid to take it, because we know where it’s going.”
…“It’s absolutely essential [for Culber’s death to be organic]. It was essential that this crime not be gratuitous. It had to push the story, and it had to come from character and emotion. Culber is killed because he’s the smartest person on the ship. He’s not killed because he’s gay. He’s killed because he’s a threat to Tyler, and to what Tyler’s going through.”
I won’t say Culber’s death was entirely for shock value–I believe Harberts when he says he wanted Culber’s death to not be gratutious–but there is still a shocking element to how he died and the type of episode he died on. A midseason premiere is all about bringing eyes back to the show and attracting new eyes as well, but does a death really win more fans? At this point, from what I’ve seen on Twitter, it seems like all it’s done is piss people off–both longtime viewers and prospective viewers, some of whom are now waiting until the season is over to see how the Culber situation is handled. Regardless, for many, Culber’s death is just one more reason to keep distrusting the media’s handling of LGBT characters since they keep getting killed off or denied their right to happiness.
To be honest, killing off characters for dramatic effect has become a go-to for lots of shows nowadays, and it annoys me. The glut of great television has also made TV watchers desensitized to a certain extent–there are show many shows to watch and so little time, so people have to pick and choose what they give their attention to. Therefore, it’s becoming increasingly harder for shows to garner and maintain an audience when there’s so much competition out there. What I’ve been seeing is an increase in “Can you believe X got killed off?!” moments on TV–moments that result in tons of press and tons of online chatter and attention. Killing off a character can mean your show gets a quick boost of notoriety and promotion. The best example of this is The Walking Dead, the originator of the modern-day “Kill off important characters” tactic. At one point in time, doing such a thing was bold, risky even. But nowadays, the tactic has become stale and, in some cases, hokey. At worst, the tactic has become offensive–The Walking Dead has had a habit of killing of black characters, black men in particular. Also, Glenn, a fan favorite, was believed to have been saved by the writers, only to be brutally killed later on. The most recent kill, protagonist Rick Grimes’ son Carl, deviates from the comic book, in which Carl still lives. If I were a regular viewer of that show, I’d consider it a huge betrayal.
My point is this–what do character deaths amount to in the end? Are they entirely necessary for every story? And will Culber’s death prove to be necessary for the story Star Trek: Discovery is trying to tell or will it turn into another Georgiou moment that leaves fans frustrated? We can only wait and see as the story develops.
Regardless, the sting of seeing Culber killed goes deep. As Harberts said in his interview, we know Culber isn’t killed because he’s gay–it’ because of what he knows about Tyler and because Tyler is fighting his Klingon programming (the buried lede in this article is that Tyler is, in fact, Voq. But he’s a Voq at war with himself, because he doesn’t even remember his former life). But even with that knowledge, I hope the folks behind the show realize that there’s a large contingent of fans who might hit pause on Star Trek: Discovery, at least temporarily. After seeing so many LGBT characters treated wrongly, it’s almost second nature to become wary of any death, regardless of the underlying reasons for that death.
It’s on the show now to win back some fans’ trust and allay fears. If they can’t do that, then the show will have a big problem on its hands.
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With Star Trek: Discovery around the corner, I’m reviewing some of the things I hope we find out in the second half of the season.
1. The Ash Tyler/Voq mystery will finally be put to rest
I’ve written extensively about this in my SlashFilm Star Trek: Discovery recaps, but I personally think that the “Tyler is Voq” theory is past its prime because what’s the most important thing now is how will Tyler overcome the trauma he’s endured at the hands of L’Rell. Whether he’s really Voq inside is no relevance since Tyler can’t remember his former life and his bond with L’Rell anyways. Meanwhile, even though L’Rell might know everything, she’s removed Voq’s ability to consent to anything. So, sorry to say this L’Rell fans, but your girl’s a rapist.
As I wrote in my last SlashFilm review before the hiatus:
What can I say about Tyler’s graphic nightmare? First of all, it was horrific. What’s even more horrific is that Tyler’s dreams could get worse now that L’Rell is actually on board. Second, the amount of abuse Tyler suffered — and the anger towards the Klingons he’s amassed because of it — negates any credence a “Voq overtakes the Discovery as Tyler” theory. We saw how he instantly went into shock at the sight of L’Rell when he and Michael were aboard the Ship of the Dead. At this point, all Tyler wants is peace, and if anything, the hypothetical scenario of him learning he’s actually a Klingon could make him want to kill L’Rell and all Klingons even more.
How could he go from tortured soul to the newly risen Klingon leader between now and the end of the first season in 2018? With how he’s acted around the Klingons, plus him saying he’s found peace with Michael, it seems like Tyler is with the good guys, regardless of who he is underneath. In short: Tyler or Voq isn’t doing anything to Discovery except save it when push comes to shove. Once the Discovery gets what they want out of L’Rell, he’s either going to take her down or it’ll be a battle between L’Rell and Michael over Tyler. As we have seen from Michael’s fight with Kol and her slaying of T’Kuvma, she’s good at taking down Klingons.
This opinion backs up what I originally wrote about Tyler’s situation in the “Choose Your Pain” recap:
The insinuation that Tyler has been raped repeatedly by the Klingon captain was so subtle in the dialogue between Tyler and Lorca that it’s easy to look past it, or even excuse it away as Tyler purposefully using his sex appeal to his advantage. But the way he swings at the Klingon captain tells a different story. He’s trying to throw back some of the pain she’s caused him.
Tyler’s victimhood might also go unrecognized by some viewers due to how much our society’s view of toxic masculinity keeps us from seeing men as sexual assault victims, especially when it’s at the hands of a woman. Male victims are often scorned or seen as weak. Just look to last week [at the time of writing this review], when Terry Crews revealed he had been sexually assaulted by a powerful Hollywood executive. While Crews received tons of support, there were also people — many of them men — wondering why he didn’t say anything and why he, as a man, didn’t do anything, particularly since his assailant was another man. Some people assumed Crews couldn’t be a victim just because he’s a burly man (that’s not counting the racial implications there are to this assumption).
While women are often wrongly stereotyped as “asking for it,” male victims are also stereotyped in the same way. Somehow, it’s always painted as the victim’s fault — not the perpetrator’s — for their own assault. Even worse for men is when other men might congratulate male victims for “getting lucky” if their assailant happened to be a woman. I haven’t seen much on the internet in the way of actually recognizing Tyler’s trauma — I’ve only seen one person tweet about wanting the show to explore Tyler’s PTSD. I’ve also seen a person say Tyler ended “a relationship” with the Klingon captain? This was no relationship. Hopefully, Discovery will explore this further. After all, Star Trek has always been about using science fiction to tackle real world social, moral, and ethical questions and quandaries. It’s only right for the new show to dig deep here.
At any rate, it’s not going to achieve what some fans hope it does, which is invalidate Tyler’s relationship with Michael. Speaking of:
2. Michael and Tyler’s relationship gets taken to the next level
It’d appear that these two are already getting more serious than I initially thought they would by midseason; maybe I’m just used to shows from the ‘90s that take at least three seasons for a romance to actually get off of first base. But I’m quite excited at the prospect of a big relationship for Michael. It can only help define both her and Tyler grow in a myriad of ways.
I’d also like to bring up something that’s been poking me for a while, and that’s the paranoia I have surrounding some fans steadfastly against Michael having any romantic relationships. Perhaps I’m wrongly lumping some fans in with the fans who are so focused on Tyler being Voq just so they can trample on Tyler and Michael’s relationship. But the conflation of “Michael shouldn’t be with anyone” with “Tyler has to be Voq because of his relationship with Michael” annoys me. With some fans, these two sentiments work in tandem, and having lived through the Sleepy Hollow drama regarding Abbie and Ichabod’s OBVIOUS relationship and the show’s insistence on working against said relationship, plus the Into the Badlands drama with Veil’s death and my subsequent chat with EP Al Gough, my hackles are up. I’m ready to guard this relationship until the canon says otherwise. And even then, I might defend this relationship. That’s my position and I’m sticking to it.
3. More focus on the other bridge crew members
The first half of the season was to establish Michael’s story. Perhaps all of this season will be a complete beginning and end to Michael’s first chapter. But I’d like for the rest of this season and subsequent seasons to focus on the other crew members as well as Michael.
We’ve already had Saru’s character exploration episode; I’m now ready for us to get into what’s behind Owosekun, Rhys, and Bryce. I especially want to know the stories behind Airiam, the augmented human (or alien?) who mysteriously never speaks, and Detmer, who now sports ocular and cranial implants due to her injuries from the Battle of the Binary Stars.
If we were in a “standard” Star Trek series, I wouldn’t worry about if we’d ever learn more about these characters, because on every Star Trek series up until Discovery, entire episodes would be set aside to explore smaller characters, such as the Voyager episode “Warhead” featuring Ensign Harry Kim as its major character. With Discovery, the lay of the land is different. But I do hope that element of prior series remains and is explored at some point in Discovery’s lifespan.
4. More Georgiou
My biggest gripe with Discovery thus far is how little time we spent with Georgiou. With a great talent like Michelle Yeoh, it makes more sense for Discovery to feature her as much as possible. I would love to see more flashbacks with her, or maybe some alternate universe episodes featuring a still-living Georgiou. I just want Georgiou back, point blank. I’m quite sure I’m not alone in that. It has been confirmed that we’d see more of Georgiou, so that’s a bit of news we can hang our hat on.
What do you hope gets addressed during the back half of Discovery’s first season? Give your opinions in the comments section below!
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Star Trek: Discovery is coming back this Sunday, and in anticipation of the return, CBS has interviewed the bridge crew cast members. I’m excited they’ve finally given these actors a spotlight, since they act as the visual anchors for us when we’re viewing the bridge. Also, these interviews give us a better look at our three POC bridge crew castmembers— Oyin Oladejo (Lt. Junior Grade Owosekun), Ronnie Rowe Jr. (Lt. R.A. Bryce), and Patrick Kwok-Choon (Lt. Rhys). Here are some key moments from their interviews.
Oyin Oladejo | Complete interview
On self-care: “I was once told, ‘Don’t forget to take your medication,’ which in hindsight wasn’t the kindest thing ever said to me. However, I have reclaimed it with love, and now I never forget to take my ‘medication,’ whether it be meditation, martial arts, or reruns of Law and Order. Whatever heals your soul, that’s your medication.”
Ronnie Rowe Jr. | Complete interview
On his New Year’s resolution: To do better than I did in 2017.
Patrick Kwok-Choon | Complete interview
On his favorite Star Trek captain: “Captain Philippa Georgiou. Positive representation of people of color is important to me. Michelle Yeoh is so talented, has a heart of gold, and is a real inspiration to watch on screen.”
You can read more cast interviews at CBS.com. Star Trek: Discovery comes back to CBS All-Access Jan. 7 at 9/8c.
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As I’ve stated in my SlashFilm review, I’ve always been a Star Trek fan ever since I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation with my dad about 20 years ago. But while Jean-Luc Picard will always be my favorite Star Trek captain ever (who can say no to Patrick Stewart and the way he commanded with calm authority?), Picard has to battle Spock for the title of favorite Star Trek character ever.
The reason? Because as a half human, half Vulcan, Spock has had to battle his reason with his human emotions, emotions that had the potential to get (and, in the reboot films, has gotten) the best of him. The battle between raging emotions and cold reason is a battle I face constantly. Never did I think Star Trek would continue to crystallize this struggle in such a poignant way, but the franchise succeeded again with Star Trek: Discovery‘s Michael Burnham and her relationship to her father figure (and Spock’s future father) Sarek.
I’ve stated many times on this site and in other publications about how much of my love for Star Trek stems from its ability to showcase varying struggles that exist under the umbrella of “diversity.” Thankfully, the franchise also includes psychological diversity as well, as is the case with the Vulcan race. The Vulcans have stood for many things to many viewers. Some see the Vulcans and their occasional misunderstandings as a way to thoughtfully approach the autism spectrum. Others see the Vulcans as simply uppity living cardboard figures. Speaking personally, the Vulcans have always shown a light on two of my big personal struggles–perfectionism and the highly sensitive (or even empathic) mind.
The running joke my sister and I have is that I’m a Vulcan. In fact, when I said it as self-deprication a few years ago, my sister replied thoughtfully, “You know what? I agree with that.”
I’ve always been a deep thinker, and too many times, that thinking has either gotten me in some type of mental trouble or made me appear as unable to connect with the “normal” outside world. Sometimes, I feel like I can’t connect with the outside world, because I’m so wrapped up in how other people feel, how I feel, and how to best convey those feelings to people who might not have emotions that run as deeply as mine do. As psychiatrist and Emotional Freedom author Judith Orloff accurately described, “It’s like feeling something with 50 fingers as opposed to 10. You have more receptors to feel things.”
Believe it or not, it’s not easy being a feeler, and our Western society makes sure it’s tougher than it has to be. As a society,we value loudness over softness, action over reflection, and doing over being. The stereotypes of a highly sensitive person make us out to be gooey bundles of mush that can’t defend ourselves because we’re supposedly so much weaker than the “average” person. That’s not the case–we aren’t weak. We’re actually quite strong. But you wouldn’t know it from how much emphasis people put on having an extroverted outlook and put down those of us who are reserved within ourselves.
All this leads to is, aside from a smattering of depression, a bad case of perfectionism. I call myself a “recovering perfectionist” now, but for a long time, I’ve been investigating where my perfectionism came from. I’d have to say that there are a lot of reasons for it, but one of them is because I’ve used perfectionism as a bad coping mechanism for the harsh world who can’t handle tears. I grew up comparing myself to others who I thought were better than me simply because they could they naturally handled emotions in a different way than I did. I didn’t realize that the way I handled my emotions was simply my nature–it’s as much an integral part of me as my black skin is. After growing into adulthood I’ve realized that there’s no reason to try to change myself, since my emotions work just like how they’re supposed to work. They are part of the inner strength that help make me a better version of myself each day.
Michael Burnham seems tailor made for this type of exploration of inner strength. I see in her what I’ve seen in me all the time. I see her struggle to adapt to her Vulcan upbringing and tamp down her human (i.e. emotional) self. I see her struggle to fit in with her Vulcan peers, possibly feeling a lack of self-esteem at not being like the others. I see the shadow of perfectionism that showed itself as cockiness when she first enters the U.S.S. Shenzhou–you can tell she thinks she knows everything about everything because she’s been the first human to graduate from the Vulcan academies and excel amid intense pressure and a stacked deck. I also see her struggle to understand that her humanness–her emotions–is what makes her great.
Her struggle against emotions is also apparent in Sarek and other Vulcans. Big fans of Star Trek know that Vulcans do, in fact, feel. As Memory-Alpha states:
“Contrary to stereotype, Vulcans did possess emotions; indeed, Vulcan emotions were far more intense, violent, and passionate than those of many other species, including even Humans. It was this passionate, explosive emotionality that Vulcans blamed for the vicious cycle of wars which nearly devastated their planet. As such, they focused their mental energies on mastering them.”
Vulcans, including human-born/Vulcan-raised members like Michael and Vulcan-human hybrids like Spock, always suffered with deep-running emotions. Here on planet Earth, there are tons of folks like me who always seem to be drowning in their own emotions, even as we attempt to tamp them down. The actual suffering doesn’t come from the emotions themselves, but from the attempt to control them. But if you unleash those emotions, then what? The fear of being out of control in any fashion is what, sadly, keeps the suffering going. It’s the Vulcans’ own fear of a lack of self-control that keeps them perpetuating what is essentially a culture of emotional abuse and intense perfectionism over and over. The aspiration to be the ultimate Vulcan, as it were, is what causes Vulcans to stay at war with themselves.
The Vulcan brain can also be a scary place to be due to their intense emotions. Again, to quote Memory-Alpha:
“The Vulcan brain was described as ‘a puzzle, wrapped inside an enigma, house inside a cranium.’ This had some basis in fact, as the Vulcan brain was composed of many layers…Unlike most humanoid species, traumatic memories were not only psychologically disturbing to Vulcans, but had physical consequences as well. The Vulcan brain, in reordering neural pathways, could literally lobotomize itself.”
The human brain can’t lobotomize itself (although it can block highly traumatic memories from ever reaching the surface), but his description of the Vulcan brain, especially the part about how much of a puzzle it is, fits the highly emotional mind as well. A mind that is constantly drenched in deep emotion is a mind that is mystery even to itself. The fact that there’s science spearheaded by the leading HSP expert, Dr. Elaine Aron, that show that the highly sensitive person has a hypersensitive wired nervous system and empathy-targeted brain is evidence that the highly sensitive mind is an overactive (and sometimes over-reactive) place. Also, like Vulcans, those who consider themselves highly sensitive or even empathic have extremely strong reactions to events as well as the mundane, due to the fact that–like Vulcans–we can usually sense the emotions of others.
However, with all of this going on, it’s fascinating that Sarek still saw the value in human emotions, so much so that he entrusted his ward to Capt. Georgiou in an attempt to give her the human experiences she never had. It’s also poignant to note that he only shows his true emotions to those closest to him, like when he does his best to hold back a proud smile as he introduces Michael to Georgiou for the first time. Or when he reveals to Michael through their mental connection his regret at not showing her the emotional support she needed throughout her life. His statements are made simply, but you can see the depth of feeling there. You can tell how much he loves Michael and does truly believe in her, like any good father would. Like any parent, he’s made mistakes in raising his child, and he’s emotionally intelligent enough to be able to admit that–and his emotional state surrounding this fact–to Michael. As we already know from Star Trek, Sarek sees a lot of admirable qualities in humans, so much so that he married one and had a child. Perhaps it was raising Michael that helped him open his eyes to the importance of having a balance between emotion and reason.
Showing Sarek reveal his emotional side to Michael, and Michael revealing her emotions to Georgiou, brings up another point about highly sensitive people, or at least, someone like me–it’s difficult showing your full self to the public. It’s much easier–and much more intimate–to show the full extent of your emotions to those closest to you, to those who understand you. Not everyone realizes that emotions aren’t there to be played with or used against the person; we highly sensitive people only feel safest revealing ourselves to those who mean the most to us in our lives. Those people have earned the right to know us as we are, and that is a coveted position to hold. In Star Trek terms, it is a coveted position to have a Vulcan as a friend, because they will probably be extremely loyal to you because of the position you hold in their life.
The scene between Sarek and Michael in the mind meld was extremely special for me. It hit home in a way I didn’t expect that scene to do. It made me feel like I finally have someone who understands my personal struggle on television, and she’s also a black woman. It showcases a different side to blackness that is rarely seen on television (so much so that tons of Star Trek fanbros are up in arms over Michael leading the series). She’s not loud or brash. She’s not sexually promiscuous. She’s not even funny, really. She’s a no-nonsense, yet naive woman who is still trying to find herself amid her place between two cultures. She’s ‘a puzzle, wrapped inside an enigma, house inside a cranium,’ and it’s good to see someone like her exist in our pop culture. She lets other black women like me, women with Vulcan brains, know that not only are they just fine, but they can–yes, I’m saying it–live long and prosper. ??
I have several things I’d like to spout about when it comes to CBS’ Star Trek: Discovery. In fact, I’ve already spouted some of my opinions over at SlashFilm. But what I’m focusing on right now is a section from my review in which I tackle the death of a major character.
From this point on, there will be spoilers, so leave or face the consequences.
Alright, if you’ve read below the horizontal line, you’ve either seen the first two episodes–the second one in particular–or you don’t care about spoilers. Either way, I’m divulging my opinions on the first major death of the year, Captain Phillipa Georgiou.
Georgiou, played by veteran actor Michelle Yeoh, basically has the same arc as Captain Pike in the Star Trek reboot film series, particularly Star Trek Into Darkness, which had him die to further both Kirk and Spock’s emotional growth. Did Pike need to die for this to happen? I don’t think so. Granted, I’m averse to killing characters anyways, but I don’t think the story really needed Pike as a casualty to move the story along. Similarly, I don’t think the second episode of Star Trek: Discovery warranted Georgiou to give her life in the line of duty just for Michael Burnham to really feel the sting of her actions (actions that were in the hopes of saving everyone, but still, they were treasonous).
The main reason I’m concerned about Yeoh’s death is that it plays on some of the same themes as the death of Veil from Into the Badlands. To quote myself from my SlashFilm review:
If there’s one negative, it’s the fact that Georgiou dies in the second episode. On the one hand, this provides Burnham’s story with more emotional weight since Burnham probably feels like Georgiou’s death is her fault. However, for Asian viewers, Georgiou’s death might feel like a setback. I write this because a black woman’s death on TV often feels like a setback for black female characters as a whole.
Take for instance Into the Badlands, one of the most inclusive shows on TV. Even with the show’s “wokeness,” as it were, to the issues that can occur with stereotypical portrayals, the series still committed the crime of killing a prominent black female character — Veil, Sunny’s wife-to-be and mother of his child — solely to propel Sunny’s emotional arc as the show heads into its third season. Many black female viewers were heated about this, since it seemed like Veil sacrificed herself even though her safety was literally steps away. Her death was even more hurtful since it came after having her tortured for the whole season.
It’s not so much the act of killing a character that’s upsetting — if a character has to die for the story, then that’s something to take into account. But killing a character that represents an underserved market is something that always has to be taken seriously. From my own talk with Into the Badlands EP Al Gough, I learned that Veil’s death was heavily discussed and argued over in the writer’s room. But what might have not been taken into the account was the fact that Veil was the only woman of color in a prominent position on the show. Killing her has now left a huge void in a show that has been buoyed in part by viewers who are, in fact, women of color. A similar outrage might happen with Georgiou’s death. She might be one two women of color in this first two episodes, but she’s also the only woman of Asian descent in a prominent role on this show. Killing her in just the second episode might ring as a slap in the face to Asian viewers, particularly Asian women. Again, like Into the Badlands, I don’t think Star Trek: Discovery means any harm. However, Georgiou’s death is something that is bound to send shockwaves throughout a community that has already fought against whitewashing in a big way in recent years, especially in 2017.
As a writer (even a writer who doesn’t like writing death), I understand that death has a purpose in a show, particularly when it’s done well. This might be a random example, but I think a great way death has been examined on a show is when Mr. Hooper died on Sesame Street. (I’m also dating myself since I can remember Mr. Hooper.) The actor who played Mr. Hooper, Will Lee, died in real life, and this provided the children’s show the unique challenge of addressing mortality to its young audience. Without getting into a tangent about how children’s shows fail to address big issues like this in today’s time of padded playsets and participation trophies, Sesame Street utilized a real life tragedy and turned it into one of the finest and most sensitive moments on television, compassionately teaching children about the inevitability of death and how to deal with life’s unanswerable questions, while also showing how to grieve and remember the memory of a loved one.
It’s a lot for a children’s show to handle, even one like Sesame Street, which regularly tackled real world issues due to Jim Henson’s insistence that the show be treated as something both kids and their parents can watch and gain something from. But Sesame Street showed how it can be done with tact and respect. For writers, it shows how to make a character’s death impactful and actually mean something. Will Georgiou’s death mean something other than a potentially lazy way of injecting more pathos into an already pathos-laden situation? I hope so. I know it’ll be referenced later in the season, but let’s hope that Georgiou’s death will have some serious weight and make a large impact on Burnham’s development.
In short, my point in my Black Girl Nerds article about Veil’s death mirrors how I feel about Georgiou’s death:
Let’s take out the racial component for a second because the devil’s advocate rebuttal to Veil’s death would be that Black women characters have just as much of a chance to die as white women characters do. In a democratically-written show, this is very true. However, if we take out the racial component, we’re still left with another woman who had to die for there to be “emotional depth.” Couldn’t there have been emotional depth built with her still living?
Just switch around the races and my sentiment is basically the same. Couldn’t there have still been emotional depth with Georgiou still alive?
Georgiou’s death isn’t the only surprise death from the second episode–the major Klingon threat, T’Kuvma (American Gods‘ Chris Obi), also bites the dust in a way that seems ill-advised for a show that still has several episodes left to prove itself. According to the Star Trek: Discovery brass, they have a tightly-wound plan in place that connects the first episode to the last in a very specific way. But regardless of the plan, Georgiou’s death will have a ripple effect, and not just in Burnham’s storyline, but in the viewership as well, particularly Asian viewers.
Now, I’m not an Asian woman, so maybe I’m only speculating. But if I see shades of Veil and, frankly, Sleepy Hollow’s Abbie in another female character of color, then I feel like I should say something.
What did you think about Georgiou’s death? Did you think it was egregious, or do you think it was sound storytelling? Sound off below!
The first trailer for Star Trek:Discovery is out, and it’s everything I’d hoped it would be and more!
Long-time sci-fi fans who also happen to be women of color know just how rare it is to see a woman of color in the Captain’s Chair. With Star Trek, the closest we’ve gotten is Lt. Nyota Uhura, who manned the communications for the Enterprise. She wasn’t a captain (until much, much later in the Star Trek canon), but she was on the bridge, showing young girls that they too could shoot for the stars (even if you’d only end up hitting the clouds).
This go round, we have female captain and a female first officer in Star Trek: Discovery. Michelle Yeoh plays Captain Georgiou and Sonequa Martin-Green plays Commander Michael Burnham. Here’s more about the show from ExtremeTech:
“Star Trek: Discovery is set ten years before the events of the original series and takes place in the original timeline, not the alternate future the Romulan Nero created when he traveled back in time, killed George Kirk, and later destroyed Vulcan. Its lead character is Commander Michael Burnham, played by Sonequa Martin-Green of AMC’s The Walking Dead. Unlike previous Star Trek shows, Discovery won’t deliberately focus on the captain (or space station commander) as its protagonist. Her nickname, “Number One,” is a delibarate homage to the character of the same name from the Star Trek pilott “The Cage,” as played by Majel Barrettt. Burnham is human, but was raised on Vulcan by Vulcans, which explains some of the setting of this trailer.”
What I love about this first look and synopsis, aside from it just being Star Trek, is that it seems like there will be (or there is the potential for there is to be) a nuanced look at race, culture, and the push and pull of the two. All of this seems to be embodied in Martin-Green’s character. Of course, in the future, everyone’s post-racial to a degree. But Since we’re in 2017, I like how Burnham is a black woman who is 1) not defined by an American stereotype of “blackness,” and 2) has a struggle between her humanness and her cultural upbringing on Vulcan. I think this type of character could appeal to many audience members who have grown up wrestling with parts of their identity that society wants to put at odds with each other; maybe the most analogous situation is a trans-racial adoptee who recognizes that they are not the same race as their parents, but have grown up in their parents’ culture instead of the culture everyone expects from them.
On the whole, though, it’s just fun to see two women running the show. Both actors have proven themselves time and again (Yeoh in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon among her other films, Martin-Green’s character Sasha on The Walking Dead), and it’s so rewarding to see two women of color hold down the fort in a genre that is still dominated by white men. I can’t wait to see them in action.
What do you think about Star Trek: Discovery? Give your opinions in the comments section below! Star Trek: Discovery debuts with a two-part season premiere this fall on CBS, with the full season airing on CBS All Access.