Star Trek: Discovery Just Pulled Off an Incredibly Good First Season
I'll be curious to see how consensus shakes out on Star Trek: Discovery, the first new Trek TV series since Enterprise. In the hours since the season-one finale ended with the hasty brokering of Klingon-Federation peace and the partial redemption of mutineer and heroine Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), I've seen mostly expressions of disappointment or outright hostility, mingled with affection for certain characters, moments, and episodes.
This baffles me. To paraphrase what people tell me every time they disagree with one of my reviews, I feel like we saw two different shows. I thought Star Trek: Discovery delivered the strongest first season overall since the original series, which premiered on NBC almost 52 years ago, and that, on evidence of this first run of episodes, it could be one of the all-time greats if it plays its cards right. At its best, Discovery surprised and moved me in ways that very few freshman series manage to do. This show has brains, soul, and a big heart. There were missteps here and there, to be sure. But there always are in first seasons, and the ones seen here were minor compared to, say, those of The Next Generation, which became a classic eventually, but was tedious and hesitant until pretty deep into season two. Frankly, I'm having a hard time taking seriously any complaints about plausibility or too-easy resolutions — especially with regard to the finale — when nearly every episode of every Trek series that isn't a cliff-hanger ends with things being wrapped up neatly with a surprise tactical maneuver or an impromptu peace treaty hammered out in a scene or two, usually by charismatic rule breakers who just improvise on the spot. (Remember when Kirk brought peace to the planet of faux-1930s Chicago gangsters by describing the Federation as the ultimate syndicate?)
More importantly, a lot of touches that some fans are perceiving as missteps instead strike me as honorable attempts to make this Star Trek as different as possible from other Trek incarnations, and bring it in line with 21st-century modes of TV and film storytelling, while still keeping the whole thing recognizably Trek. Created by Bryan Fuller (who left the series early during season one) and Alex Kurtzman, Discovery isn't an example of stand-alone storytelling, nor of long-form, serialized storytelling: It's something in the middle, alternating short-form arcs (there were at least three groupings of episodes that seemed like self-contained mini-seasons) with borderline stand-alones like "Choose Your Pain" and "Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad." Within that neither fish-nor-fowl structure, which was also exemplified by The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Sopranos, and other notable edge-of-the-millennium dramas, Discovery modernized the show's visual storytelling with elaborate CGI transitions and slightly grungier sets while preserving classic design touches (particularly the spaceships, logos, and phasers), and added elements drawn from influential recent sci-fi and fantasy hits like Game of Thrones (the house versus house rivalry of the Klingons), Dune (the spores are spice, and the transformed Stamets becomes Trek's answer to a Guild Navigator), and the rebooted Battlestar Galactica. Some of the filmmaking choices brought an almost R-rated edge to sex and violence, while only occasionally seeming gratuitous or un-Trek-like (as in the finale, when the evil universe version of Michelle Yeoh's Georgiou cavorts with two sex workers before gleaning information from them). Along the way, Discovery created many strong original characters that could immediately hold their own against pantheon greats, allowed skilled actors to attempt new interpretations of established characters (such as James Frain's Sarek and Rainn Wilson's Falstaffian Harry Mudd), and recaptured the mix of pragmatism and earnestness that has marked every iteration of Trek.
Most, um, fascinating of all — if you're into the whole pulp philosophizing thing, dude — was the way that Discovery wove an ongoing argument about Star Trek itself into the fabric of the season as it unfolded. Was this story about science or war? Destruction or discovery? We wondered that, and sometimes we argued and complained as we scrutinized what the writers, filmmakers, and actors were doing. But in truth, Trek has always been a bit of both. The tension is built right in, just as it's built into the country that created Star Trek, a civilization of laws and ideals and myths of reinvention and exploration, sustained by virtually nonstop imperialism, genocide, and war. The original show gave us a two-fisted horndog of a captain partly modeled on President John F. Kennedy, who simultaneously challenged Americans to embrace a spirit of public service and land a man on the moon while womanizing compulsively and rattling sabers at the former Soviet Union. Every iteration of Trek has been built around the conflict between the diplomatic and scientific aspects of the United Federation of Planets and the awesome military power that protected it, and in many cases distorted or used it for its own ends. Arguably the J.J. Abrams films, in which Kurtzman was intimately involved, pushed too far in the direction of war, delivering Trek-flavored military-action flicks with a smattering of recognizable Gene Roddenberry–approved themes.
This new series rights the ship, as it were, by rooting many of the story lines in disagreements between science officer Burnham, Anthony Rapp's astromycologist Paul Stamets (who researches "the veins and muscles that hold our galaxies together"), and the ship's new commander, the Kelpien Saru (Doug Jones), who took over following the death of Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs). Despite some honorable and even noble impulses, Lorca represented the most militaristic impulses of the Federation and of Star Trek generally, always viewing both scientific research and human relationships as leverage in current and future battles, to the point of causing the near-death of two sentient beings in his care in order to gain advantage over the Klingons. Far from being contradictory or confused, the season's end note reconciled those competing interests in an uneasy way that felt true to life, and also true to Star Trek: The Klingon leader L'Rell(Mary Chieffo) demanded cessation of Klingon hostilities by threatening to blow up their homeworld with a bomb that could only have been planted with the spore technology developed and incarnated by Stamets in the Discovery's lab. Science was used to threaten apocalypse, which in turn led to (temporary) peace that could allow for more science. As the late Leonard Nimoy memorably intoned on The Simpsons, the cosmic ballet continues.
The season's final run of episodes was also very affecting for the way that it brought Michael's story full circle. The symmetry and sense of balance were evident while still emotionally messy. Where previously Michael had been guilty of letting her childhood trauma — the murder of her parents by Klingons — overwhelm her military judgment, and of listening too hard to her own pathology and not hard enough to others who could see through it, here she prevented other people from making the same mistake, repeatedly cautioning them against allowing fear and rage to guide their judgments. If Michael sunk herself in the first episode by letting her most chaotically human impulses come to the fore, in the last few episodes it seemed as if the Vulcan in her managed to apply the brakes not just to her own life but to the Federation itself.
This was no small feat, given the pathologies that she and many of the other characters had to deal with. Michael's position as the adopted child of Sarek made her journey rougher than it might've been for somebody raised more comfortably within human or Vulcan culture: She was robbed of her biological parents in a hideous home invasion, stigmatized and rejected by Vulcan society, then sold out by her own dad in a Sophie's Choice scenario, and the revelation that her best friend and lover Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) was a kind of genetically reconstituted Klingon-human hybrid and spy only made the ordeal more traumatic. She was literally sleeping with the enemy, and the fact that she was able to come out of that without thinking of Ash as her enemy — despite his murdering Stamets's love, Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) — was a remarkable leap of empathy characteristic of Trek at its most idealistic. I can't think of another Trek series, TV or theatrical, that went as deep into trauma and irresolvable despair, or as often.
Meanwhile, the hints of Vulcan stoicism in Martin-Green's unfussy but emotionally transparent performance kept her character from becoming too much of a whiner or downer. She suffered in the way that a Paul Newman character might've suffered, notwithstanding beguiling rom-com moments like her decision to dance with Ash in the time-loop episode; many of the scenes between Michael and Ash took place right on the edge of tears, and there were many other moments throughout the season that were equally wrenching, such as the flashback to the day that Michael's adoptive father sold her out. The portrayal of Saru's discomfort at being the only one of his kind on the bridge and feeling temperamentally out of step with his colleagues (a common Trek predicament) was nicely done, too, as was Ash's post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of being tortured and sexually abused in Klingon captivity — a story line we've rarely seen enacted through such a traditionally macho, capable male lead.
Most of the aspects of season one that landed with a thud were more a matter of scene-to-scene misjudgment or capitulation to easy tropes than any large scale failure of vision. These could be easy to avoid in the future, if the show is inclined to keep an eye out. If Tyler had to kill anyone, I'd rather it hadn't been one of the only two openly gay characters in the main cast (although Cruz has already promised that his character will be back). And there were other decisions that felt like stopgap measures that never quite gave way to something more permanent, like keeping L'Rell in the brig for most of the back half of the season. But Discovery strikes me as having a very firm grip on what kind of show it is and what it wants to say. That it presents everything in terms of unresolvable dialectics instead of settling on a single correct answer to every problem feels, again, true to spirit of Trek, or at least truer than much of what we got from the movies that Abrams oversaw.
I also appreciated how the writers managed to wed the old adventuresome spirit (Roddenberry sold the original series to NBC as Wagon Train to the Stars, while Star Trek II and IV director Nicholas Meyer knowingly evoked Horatio Hornblower) to a more layered, deliberately contradictory, psychology-driven Trek. This serieswas not afraid to drag the franchise into the premium-cable space wherein the characters' emotional journeys are externalized and represented by the adventures they have. There was a loose through line about seeing and being seen, or feeling unseen, and it manifested itself in large and small ways, in visuals and in narrative: the obsession with cloaking and uncloaking starships, the discovery and utilization of a previously invisible space-between-spaces, the voyage into a mirror universe (foretold by the copy of Through the Looking-Glass that Michael held during graduation), and the emphasis on cultural purity versus diversity (evoked on both sides of the mirror). It's also there in small but eerily right touches, such as Stamets's spore-mutated eyes going milky, and Georgiou willing Michael her old-fashioned telescope.
The climatic appearance of the Pike-commanded Enterprise, followed by a closing credits replay of the original Alexander Courage main theme, struck some as a capitulation to nostalgia and formula. But to me, it felt like a triumphant acknowledgement of what Discovery did in season one. The show's strategy was announced in the opening title graphics of blueprints of familiar starships, objects, and iconic symbols being drawn and redrawn, taken apart and X-rayed, and reexamined from new angles, so that what was old became new again while remaining undeniably that thing we always loved. There's a lot going on in this series, much of it very promising. I can't want to see what discoveries Discovery makes next.
*Washington Township is a township in Burlington County, New Jersey, United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, the township's population was 687 reflecting an increase of 66 (+10.6%) from the 621 counted in the 2000 Census, which had in turn declined by 184 (-22.9%) from the 805 counted in the 1990 Census. Washington was incorporated as a township by an act of the New Jersey Legislature on November 19, 1802, from portions of Evesham Township, Little Egg Harbor Township and Northampton Township (now known as Mount Holly Township, New Jersey). Portions of the township were taken to form Shamong Township (February 19, 1852), Bass River Township (March 30, 1864), Woodland Township (March 7, 1866) and Randolph Township (March 17, 1870, reannexed to Washington Township on March 28, 1893). The township was named for George Washington, one of more than ten communities statewide named for the first president. It is one of five municipalities in the state of New Jersey with the name "Washington Township". Another municipality, Washington Borough, is completely surrounded by Washington Township, Warren County. Contents 1 Geography 2 Demographics 2.1 Census 2010 2.2 Census 2000 3 Government 3.1 Local government 3.2 Federal, state and county representation 3.3 Politics 4 Education 5 Transportation 6 References 7 External links Geography According to the United States Census Bureau, the township had a total area of 102.706 square miles (266.006 km2), including 99.522 square miles (257.761 km2) of land and 3.184 square miles (8.245 km2) of water (3.10%). The township borders Bass River Township, Shamong Township, Tabernacle Township and Woodland Township in Burlington County; and Egg Harbor City, Hammonton and Port Republic in Atlantic County. Unincorporated communities, localities and place names located partially or completely within the township include Batsto, Bear Swamp Hill, Bridgeport, Bulltown, Crowleytown, Friendship Bogs, Green Bank, Hermon, Hog Islands, Jemima Mount, Jenkins, Jenkins Neck, Lower Bank, Mount, Penn Place, Pleasant Mills, Quaker Bridge, Tylertown and Washington. The township is one of 56 South Jersey municipalities that are included within the New Jersey Pinelands National Reserve, a protected natural area of unique ecology covering 1,100,000 acres (450,000 ha), that has been classified as a United States Biosphere Reserve and established by Congress in 1978 as the nation's first National Reserve. All of the township is included in the state-designated Pinelands Area, which includes portions of Burlington County, along with areas in Atlantic, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Ocean counties. Demographics Historical population Census Pop. %± 1810 1,273 — 1820 1,225 -3.8% 1830 1,315 7.3% 1840 1,630 24.0% 1850 2,010 23.3% 1860 1,723 * -14.3% 1870 609 * -64.7% 1880 389 * -36.1% 1890 310 -20.3% 1900 617 99.0% 1910 597 -3.2% 1920 500 -16.2% 1930 478 -4.4% 1940 518 8.4% 1950 566 9.3% 1960 541 -4.4% 1970 673 24.4% 1980 808 20.1% 1990 805 -0.4% 2000 621 -22.9% 2010 687 10.6% Est. 2014 673  -2.0% Population sources:1810-2000 1810-1920 1840 1850-1870 1850 1870 1880-1890 1890-1910 1910-1930 1930-1990 2000 2010 * = Lost territory in previous decade. Census 2010 At the 2010 United States Census, there were 687 people, 256 households, and 177.9 families residing in the township. The population density was 6.9 per square mile (2.7/km2). There were 284 housing units at an average density of 2.9 per square mile (1.1/km2). The racial makeup of the township was 93.89% (645) White, 1.89% (13) Black or African American, 0.00% (0) Native American, 0.15% (1) Asian, 0.00% (0) Pacific Islander, 3.64% (25) from other races, and 0.44% (3) from two or more races. Hispanics or Latinos of any race were 9.02% (62) of the population. There were 256 households, of which 25.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 55.5% were married couples living together, 7.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 30.5% were non-families. 25.4% of all households were made up of individuals, and 10.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.63 and the average family size was 3.16. In the township, 18.3% of the population were under the age of 18, 11.5% from 18 to 24, 21.7% from 25 to 44, 33.5% from 45 to 64, and 15.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 43.9 years. For every 100 females there were 106.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 102.5 males. The Census Bureau's 2006-2010 American Community Survey showed that (in 2010 inflation-adjusted dollars) median household income was $96,250 (with a margin of error of +/- $21,869) and the median family income was $108,239 (+/- $9,762). Males had a median income of $19,946 (+/- $15,879) versus $41,250 (+/- $4,961) for females. The per capita income for the borough was $24,808 (+/- $10,822). About 0.0% of families and 21.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 0.0% of those under age 18 and 0.0% of those age 65 or over. Census 2000 As of the 2000 United States Census there were 621 people, 160 households, and 112 families residing in the township. The population density was 6.2 people per square mile (2.4/km²). There were 171 housing units at an average density of 1.7 per square mile (0.7/km²). The racial makeup of the township was 83.57% White, 2.90% African American, 0.32% Asian, 12.08% from other races, and 1.13% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 17.07% of the population. There were 160 households out of which 35.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 61.3% were married couples living together, 6.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 29.4% were non-families. 24.4% of all households were made up of individuals and 12.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.76 and the average family size was 3.27. In the township the population was spread out with 29.3% under the age of 18, 3.5% from 18 to 24, 23.8% from 25 to 44, 19.0% from 45 to 64, and 24.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 41 years. For every 100 females there were 92.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.8 males. The median income for a household in the township was $41,250, and the median income for a family was $42,188. Males had a median income of $32,000 versus $31,719 for females. The per capita income for the township was $13,977. About 8.0% of families and 16.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 22.4% of those under age 18 and 13.9% of those age 65 or over. Government Local government Washington Township is governed under the Township form of government. The governing body is a three-member Township Committee, whose members are elected directly by the voters at-large in partisan elections to serve three-year terms of office on a staggered basis, with one seat coming up for election each year as part of the November general election in a three-year cycle. At an annual reorganization meeting, the Township Committee selects one of its members to serve as Mayor. As of 2015, the members of the Washington Township Council are Mayor Dudley Lewis (R, term on committee ends December 31, 2016; term as mayor ends 2015), Barry F. Cavileer (R, 2015) and Daniel L. James (R, 2017). Federal, state and county representation Washington Township is located in the 2nd Congressional District and is part of New Jersey's 9th state legislative district. New Jersey's Second Congressional District is represented by Frank LoBiondo (R, Ventnor City). New Jersey is represented in the United States Senate by Cory Booker (D, Newark, term ends 2021) and Bob Menendez (D, Paramus, 2019). For the 2014-15 Session, the 9th District of the New Jersey Legislature is represented in the State Senate by Christopher J. Connors (R, Lacey Township) and in the General Assembly by DiAnne Gove (R, Long Beach Township) and Brian E. Rumpf (R, Little Egg Harbor Township). The Governor of New Jersey is Chris Christie (R, Mendham Township). The Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey is Kim Guadagno (R, Monmouth Beach). Burlington County is governed by a Board of chosen freeholders, whose five members are elected at-large in partisan elections to three-year terms of office on a staggered basis, with either one or two seats coming up for election each year. The board chooses a director and deputy director from among its members at an annual reorganization meeting held in January. As of 2015, Burlington County's Freeholders are Director Mary Ann O'Brien (R, Medford Township, 2017; Director of Administration and Human Services), Deputy Director Bruce Garganio (R, Florence Township, 2017; Director of Public Works and Health), Aimee Belgard (D, Edgewater Park Township, 2015; Director of Hospital, Medical Services and Education) Joseph Donnelly (R, Cinnaminson Township, 2016; Director of Public Safety, Natural Resources, and Education) and Joanne Schwartz (D, Southampton Township, 2015; Director of Health and Corrections). Constitutional officers are County Clerk Tim Tyler, Sheriff Jean E. Stanfield and Surrogate George T. Kotch. Politics As of March 23, 2011, there were a total of 536 registered voters in Washington Township, of which 85 (15.9% vs. 33.3% countywide) were registered as Democrats, 271 (50.6% vs. 23.9%) were registered as Republicans and 180 (33.6% vs. 42.8%) were registered as Unaffiliated. There were no voters registered to other parties. Among the township's 2010 Census population, 78.0% (vs. 61.7% in Burlington County) were registered to vote, including 95.5% of those ages 18 and over (vs. 80.3% countywide). In the 2012 presidential election, Republican Mitt Romney received 221 votes (59.2% vs. 40.2% countywide), ahead of Democrat Barack Obama with 142 votes (38.1% vs. 58.1%) and other candidates with 7 votes (1.9% vs. 1.0%), among the 373 ballots cast by the township's 533 registered voters, for a turnout of 70.0% (vs. 74.5% in Burlington County). In the 2008 presidential election, Republican John McCain received 250 votes (57.9% vs. 39.9% countywide), ahead of Democrat Barack Obama with 168 votes (38.9% vs. 58.4%) and other candidates with 11 votes (2.5% vs. 1.0%), among the 432 ballots cast by the township's 545 registered voters, for a turnout of 79.3% (vs. 80.0% in Burlington County). In the 2004 presidential election, Republican George W. Bush received 272 votes (62.1% vs. 46.0% countywide), ahead of Democrat John Kerry with 160 votes (36.5% vs. 52.9%) and other candidates with 4 votes (0.9% vs. 0.8%), among the 438 ballots cast by the township's 558 registered voters, for a turnout of 78.5% (vs. 78.8% in the whole county). In the 2013 gubernatorial election, Republican Chris Christie received 156 votes (66.4% vs. 61.4% countywide), ahead of Democrat Barbara Buono with 61 votes (26.0% vs. 35.8%) and other candidates with 10 votes (4.3% vs. 1.2%), among the 235 ballots cast by the township's 509 registered voters, yielding a 46.2% turnout (vs. 44.5% in the county). In the 2009 gubernatorial election, Republican Chris Christie received 186 votes (62.4% vs. 47.7% countywide), ahead of Democrat Jon Corzine with 91 votes (30.5% vs. 44.5%), Independent Chris Daggett with 17 votes (5.7% vs. 4.8%) and other candidates with 2 votes (0.7% vs. 1.2%), among the 298 ballots cast by the township's 552 registered voters, yielding a 54.0% turnout (vs. 44.9% in the county). Education The Washington Township School District serves students in public school for pre-Kindergarten through eighth grade at Green Bank Elementary School. As of the 2012-13 school year, the district's one school had an enrollment of 37 students and 4.7 classroom teachers (on an FTE basis), for a student–teacher ratio of 7.81:1. The school's $5.4 million building opened in September 2006. Since the 2007-08 school year, as part of an agreement with the Mullica Township Schools, Washington Township receives teaching support from the Mullica district and shares its superintendent, business administrator and other support staff. Washington Township students in grades five through eight attend Mullica Township Middle School as part of a program that has expanded since it was initiated in the 2007-08 school year. Students in ninth through twelfth grades attend Cedar Creek High School, which is located in the northern section of Egg Harbor City and opened to students in September 2010. The school is one of three high schools operated as part of the Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District, which also includes the constituent municipalities of Egg Harbor City, Galloway Township, Hamilton Township, and Mullica Township, and participates in sending/receiving relationships with Port Republic and Washington Township. Cedar Creek High School is zoned to serve students from Egg Harbor City, Mullica Township, Port Republic and Washington Township, while students in portions of Galloway and Hamilton townships have the can attend Cedar Creek as an option or to participate in magnet programs at the school. Prior to the opening of Cedar Creek, students from Washington Township had attended Oakcrest High School, together with students from Hamilton Township, Mullica Township and Port Republic. Students from Washington Township, and from all of Burlington County, are eligible to attend the Burlington County Institute of Technology, a countywide public school district that serves the vocational and technical education needs of students at the high school and post-secondary level at its campuses in Medford and Westampton Township. Transportation As of May 2010, the township had a total of 54.31 miles (87.40 km) of roadways, of which 29.32 miles (47.19 km) were maintained by the municipality and 24.99 miles (40.22 km) by Burlington County. The only major roads that pass through are County Road 542 and County Road 563. Limited access roads are accessible in neighboring communities, including the Atlantic City Expressway in Hammonton and the Garden State Parkway in Galloway Township, Port Republic and Bass River Township.
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