Who Carries Star Trek’s Torch?

It seems like the great nerd debate lately is which show is the better successor to Star Trek’s legacy: Discovery or The Orville.

The cast of Seth MacFarlane's The OrvilleI have to be honest, mulling over things during the mid-season break, I’ve got to admit that Discovery is losing some of its luster. I watched a random episode of Enterprise a few days ago (“Judgment”), and I couldn’t help comparing it to Discovery. “Judgment” isn’t even one of the better episodes, but even so, I wound up really missing the Star Trek of yesteryear and feeling as though Discovery was missing something.

The thing is, Discovery is trying too hard. It wants to be edgier and more real, and it also wants to have the same morality of old school Trek, and although its had flashes of brilliance, more often than not it doesn’t do a great job of either.

The Klingons have no nuance. They’re just disgusting space goblins with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. However cartoony the Klingons of TNG onward may have been, they were still people, with a balance of noble and negative traits.

The attempts to make the human cast members grittier has also been hit and miss. I was initially happy to hear some harsher swearing on Star Trek, as it added an element of realism for me, but the fact it was just one line in one episode leads me to believe it really was just something thrown in for cheap shock value.

As is much of Discovery, really. It’s a show that’s trying hard to surprise and to shock, and damn the consequences. Who cares if it makes sense, who cares if it has a meaningful purpose in the story, if it gets people talking, that’s all that matters.

Sonequa Martin-Green as Commander Michael Burnham on Star Trek: DiscoveryMore than anything else, Discovery doesn’t feel honest. It feels artificial, contrived, constructed.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s also plenty that’s good about the show. The cast is really strong, and there’s a lot of great acting in it. And I still think Stamets is the best. I’m going to keep watching, if only due to a dearth of good sci-fi television right now. But as far as carrying on the legacy of what Star Trek stands for, it could do a lot better.

As for The Orville… well, I haven’t seen it. I don’t think there’s a way to watch it streaming in Canada, and even if there was, I find Seth MacFarlane to be the human equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard, so that’s enough to turn me off out of the gate. To be fair, the buzz is surprisingly good, but I still have a hard time seeing it as a true torchbearer for Star Trek’s ideals.

But here’s the thing: I don’t think this is a two horse race. I say there’s a third contender here, and it’s the one that deserves the crown.

It’s called Mass Effect: Andromeda.

My review of Andromeda was probably a bit confusing. I spent most of it complaining, then closed with a glowing recommendation. At the time, I had trouble articulating just what it was that made me love Andromeda so much. Over the last few months, though, I’ve had time to ponder it, and I think I’m figuring it out.

The space whales of Havarl in Mass Effect: AndromedaAndromeda is a story about the triumph of the human spirit. It’s about a group of people who left behind everything they knew to explore the unknown, not because it was easy, but because it was hard. It’s about the wonder and the terror of the unknown, and it goes to some dark places, and it pulls no punches, but never does it lose its core of optimism, of hope, of joy.

You see it in Suvi’s wide-eyed stare as she takes in the grandeur of Khi Tasira for the first time. You see it Drack as he learns that after centuries of violence, he has something to live for, not just kill for. You see it in Jaal as he comes to understand humanity, and finds an entirely new family.

Even Liam — by far Andromeda’s worst character, whom I have taken to calling Jimmy the Idiot Boy — at times can embody the spirit of human goodness that lies at the heart of Andromeda. When sweet, good-natured Liam furiously declares that whoever unleashed the Scourge were “some motherfuckers,” it doesn’t feel like a cheap play for shock value. It feels like an honest expression of pain.

And that’s what Andromeda is that Discovery isn’t: honest. That’s what made Andromeda so special. That’s why I love it so much despite its flaws. When the characters despair, your heart hurts in sympathy. When the characters succeed, you feel the joy palpably. It’s not trying to be dramatic, or powerful, or profound. It is dramatic, powerful, and profound.

Sara Ryder, Nakmor Drack, and Vetra Nyx take in Kadara Port in Mass Effect: AndromedaWhen I started playing the game, the headline on this blog read, “Mass Effect: Andromeda Is the Best Star Trek Movie in Years,” and the more time goes by, the more I realize how right I was. Except a Star Trek movie would run at most two hours, while even a casual non-completionist playthrough of Andromeda will likely net a couple dozen hours.

Can there be a better embodiment of what Star Trek stands for than Suvi Anwar? A gay Scottish scientist with a Finnish first name, an Arabic last name, a child’s wonder for the unknown, and a poet’s appreciation for the beauty of all creation. She’s the walking avatar of IDIC.

Andromeda is more Star Trek than Star Trek has ever been. For this reason, I think it — and not Discovery, and not The Orville — deserves to be viewed as the true successor to Roddenberry’s ideals today.

That’s why I view it as one of the best games — nay, one of the best stories, period — I’ve had the pleasure to experience in recent years. That’s why I reject the frothing hate of the hyper-critical Internet mob. That’s why I feel so bad for all my non-gamer Trekkie friends and family who will probably never get to experience the best Star Trek in years — those who can’t afford the hardware to run it, or don’t have the time, or are too intimidated by the concept of video games to give it a shot.

What made Star Trek special was never its superficialities, but what it stood for. You don’t need the Star Trek name to be true Trek. You just need to carry that torch of hope, of curiosity, of aspiration.

Suvi Anwar in Mass Effect: AndromedaThat’s exactly what Andromeda did.

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Retro Review: Killjoys, Season Two: Episodes 6-10

Moving on to the second half of Killjoys’ second season. Again, spoilers ahoy.

The logo for Killjoys“I Love Lucy”:

You know, I’m not really a fan of all the pop culture references in episode titles (or the similarly current soundtrack). It would work for a near future sci-fi set on or near Earth, but Killjoys is so far removed from our society in terms of both time and space it might as well be an alternate reality. It just doesn’t fit.

Anyway.

“I Love Lucy” sees Dutch and the team contact an eccentric collector in the hopes of acquiring more of Khlyen’s green plasma (which sounds like a strain of weed, now that I think about it). Of course, shenanigans ensue.

This is another weirdly mixed episode. The first half is what I remember from season one of Killjoys: a painfully predictable string of cliches I’ve seen countless times before. But it does redeem itself a bit later on. I did enjoy seeing Dutch go full Yalla on the guy — a chilling reminder of the darkness of her past — and the whole twist where maybe he’s not such a bad guy after all was an interesting choice.

Overall rating: 6.9/10

“Heart-Shaped Box”:

Dutch and D'avin in KilljoysSo apparently D’avin’s penis can cure level six conditioning.

Did not see that coming.

Following their night together, Sabine is revealed as a level six, but one who has been stripped of her power and conditioning. This becomes an opportunity to study a live level six, though in practice we mostly learn about their state of mind more than anything practical.

The idea here seems to be to tell a tragic story about how Sabine has regained her humanity, only to have it slip away again. And it kind of works, but not entirely. There’s too many holes and hiccups.

For one thing, we as viewers haven’t really been given enough time to care about Sabine. For another, D’avin was way too okay with letting his girlfriend get tortured in the first part of the episode, which rather kills the romance.

But most importantly they just didn’t do enough to try to keep Sabine cured. Really they didn’t do anything. I cannot believe that this is a phrase I am about to type in all seriousness, but they really should have spent more time investigating the fact that D’avin’s penis seems to cure level sixes, even if temporarily.

The cast of KilljoysSeriously, that should have been a bigger deal. I mean, I’m not saying he should bone her every time she starts feeling stabby, but clearly there’s something there. Something about the whole exchange of bodily fluids, presumably — it messes with the plasma. Maybe they could have used some of D’avin’s DNA to try to create an anti-six vaccine.

Oh my gods what I am even writing right now.

Also, Dutch assuming the name in the box is the other her is a huuuuge leap. How does she know?

Overall rating: 7/10 What am I doing with my life.

“Full Metal Monk”:

This episode manages to have all kinds of bad stuff happen and escalate events quite a lot while still feeling like a complete and total waste of time. Impressive.

Dutch and D’avin investigate a trail of breadcrumbs left by Khlyen and find a long-abandoned facility on Arkyn, which once again raises more questions than answers.

Meanwhile, Johnny, abandoned by his teammates, seeks the aid of Pawter to discover the purpose of the wall around Old Town. Which they are only partially successful in.

The cast of KilljoysI’m bothered by how much of a waste of time this episode is — offering so many opportunities for real answers without actually giving any — but I’m even more bothered by Dutch and D’avin’s treatment of Johnny.

They’ve basically abandoned him to his fate for trying to do the right thing. That’s a terrible way to treat your brother/partner, and massively hypocritical when you consider how much time Johnny’s spent bending over backwards to help them with their problems. As established by the last episode, Dutch is half a sociopath at the best of times, but D’avin’s better than that. Or he should be.

Overall rating: 6/10

“Johnny Be Good”:

This season started well, but it’s really losing momentum as it heads toward the end. Sort of the opposite of season one that way.

“Johnny Be Good” starts en media res, as is common these days (maybe too common — I’m getting a bit sick of it), but it reveals an unusual amount, which both spoils a lot of the episode’s tension and makes the whole thing feel very disjointed, especially considering how much is going on.

To make a long story short, the crap hits the fan in Old Town, Dutch and D’avin drop everything to go rogue and defy the company despite berating Johnny for doing the same thing last episode, and we get yet more super vague sinister hints about the level sixes.

The Quad, the setting for KilljoysI was enjoying this mystery for quite a while, but now they’re just heaping question after question on without offering any answers. It’s stopped being intriguing; now it’s just confusing. I’m being strung along, and I hate being strung along.

There better be a damn good explanation for all this, and soon.

There’s also the matter of Pawter’s death to consider. I know it was coming because I’d had it spoiled, and even if I hadn’t it was quite glaringly foreshadowed, but I’m still unhappy. Pawter was the show’s best character — likable, complex, and well-acted — and Killjoys doesn’t have enough strong points to be able to burn those it has.

Overall rating: 5/10

“How to Kill Friends and Influence People” (season finale):

Well, I finally got my answers. This episode feels like it’s about half info-dumps. Would have been far better to portion out the reveals over the whole season, but at least they didn’t just keeping piling on more mystery.

The finale of Killjoys’ second season sees Khlyen show up, the Killjoys deciding to immediately trust him despite past history, him doing a whole lot of exposition, and finally him sacrificing himself to save the Quad. It’s rushed, and there are parts of it that don’t make sense, but at this point that’s about what I expect from this show.

The mysterious Khlyen in KilljoysI really don’t buy Dutch being so traumatized by Khlyen’s death. I can see her doing some mourning, because he was essentially her father, however terrible a parent he may have been, but I can’t see her being so distraught at his sacrifice when up until about twenty minutes previously he was what she hated more than anything else in existence.

To be fair, though, “How to Kill Friends and Influence People” does have its moments. It’s got some extravagantly over the top action sequences, even by Killjoys standards, and that’s a lot of fun. The banter that often feels so forced is actually pretty funny here, and I laughed out loud more than once.

Really, though, the saving grace of this episode is Johnny. Every single scene of his is amazing. Some of them are exciting, some are intense, some are funny, and some are heartfelt, but he absolutely nails every single one. If the rest of the episode could have lived up to the standard he set, it would have been amazing.

As it is, it’s just okay.

Overall rating: 7/10 Nearly all of those points are for Johnny.

So I leave Killjoys’ second season the same way I did the first: unsure if I want to bother watching more. It has its moments, and there’s glimmers of potential here, but the writing is consistently sloppy, the acting often mediocre, and the overall quality level is consistent only in its inconsistency.

Killjoys is okay, but that’s all it is, and it’s increasingly clear that’s all it will ever be.