“Star Trek: Discovery” Season 1 – An Exploration of Identity and the Cost of War

      “Star Trek: Discovery” is enjoyable, but not without its flaws. It is a very different kind of Trek and feels like a mixture of the Abrams Reboot Universe meets DS9. DS9 is the far better show but this show explores a lot of similar themes, such as the cost of war and issues of identity. These are the core reasons why I enjoyed the show, beyond the characters of the main cast.

The show was created by Bryan Fuller (of NBC “Hannibal) fame) and Alex Kurtzman (who co-wrote the first to Abrams Trek films.

The story follows Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) a human raised by Vulcans and a member of Starfleet responsible for starting the Klingon-Federation War, while a new Religious faction lead by T’Kuvma seeks to unite all the houses against the Federation. It is up to her and the crew of the Discovery lead by Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) to find a solution to end the conflict she started.

SPOILERS Ahead

The Pros:

The Universe – I am a Trekkie, and this is a universe that at the core enriches what already exists in a Universe that spans The Original Series (TOS) to Voyager (VOY), from other universes like the Mirror Universe and Abramsverse. It is filled with countless aliens, conflicts and self-discovery. Star Trek: Discovery takes place 10 years before TOS and explores the details of the Klingon-Federation war. Characters are forced to take risks and pushed to their limits.

The Crew of Discovery – The crew is a diverse band of misfits. You have the Chief Engineer Stamets (played by Anthony Rapp) is gay, the ruthless Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) the fearful First Officer Saru (Doug Jones) and Cadet Tilly (Mary Wiseman) is autistic. To say nothing of a human raised on Vulcan, the main hero Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and the conflicted Klingon sleeper-agent Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif). Their journeys drive the show and make it worth watching.

Cadet Tilly – As someone on the autism spectrum (aspergers) it was wonderful finally seeing a character explicitly like me on “Star Trek.” Tilly is a character whose arc involves growing into confidence and taking risks, as so much of what drives her is the safety of her environment. Which for the longest time, was what I needed. Getting out of one’s comfort zone is how a person grows and Tilly faces that challenge multiple times…from going undercover as her Mirror Universe counterpart (who is an evil Captain) to dangerous away missions. I think someday she will achieve her dream of becoming a Starfleet Captain.

Chief Engineer Stamets – Stamets is the first openly gay character in any Star Trek. He is also the core of the ship, when in the end, he is the only one who can work The Spore Drive…a device that can warp the Discovery through space, time and even between dimensions. His heart is torn out when his boyfriend is killed, but he finds balance and closure in one of the most beautifully executed arcs of the show.  He is my favorite “Star Trek” engineer at this point besides O’Brien and Scotty.

First Officer Saru – Another of my favorites out of “Star Trek” lore at this point is Saru. This character is a Kelpien. He is part of a prey species on his world, and was hunted by the larger beings. How they advanced so far has yet to explained but his arc is finding the strength to be Captain. Doug Jones who I loved as the creature in “The Shape of Water,” once again shows why he is the monster master. He gives so much expression with his inflection, and eyes. Saru is my favorite character on the show and the one person who isn’t morally compromised. He is Starfleet and I hope he can Captain the Discovery next season.

The Spore Drive -The discovery in Discovery is all tied to the Spore Drive. The Drive is infinite possibilities as the ways of riding the Spore Network are discovered. It also provides conflict too as to use the Drive, it has to be controlled by a living organism (who is at risk everytime they make a “jump.” The discoveries are what drive the action and they are all tied to the Spore Drive. Whether it is Stamets in the network talking to other versions of himself, jumping to the mirror Universe or jumping to many locations in an instant…these are only some of the countless possibilities created by this device.

The Mirror Universe – At one point we cross over into the Mirror Universe…a world familiar to Trekkies where our heroes are villains. This is a 4 episode arc with tons of twists and reveals. We discover darker sides of characters we didn’t know before (as they have to pretend to be their evil counterparts so the Terran Empire doesn’t discover them), and get some wrenching emotional payoffs. This arc is later in the show, but has easily some of the best storytelling.

War and Loss – The other theme of the show, beyond discovery that the Spore Drive grants is the cost of war. We see this in the Klingon-Federation War, and how it starts, when Burnham’s anger martyr’s the Klingon leader T’Kuvma, after he had murdered her Captain. We lose a lot of people in the war, from Voq (An undercover Klingon sleeper-agent on Discovery) killing Stamets’s boyfriend, to the destruction of the Klingon Death Ship (the flagship of their fleet), to near obliteration of Qo’noS (The Klingon homeworld). The war makes the Federation ruthless and we see just how destructive the Klingon Empire can be.

Exploration of Identity – Identity is a major theme of the story, with the characters who best represent this being Michael Burnham (a human raised by Vulcans) and Ash Tyler (a Klingon pretending to be human). In both cases it involves finding balance within themselves and letting go of anger. These two identities are the main arc of the show beyond characters dealing with the actions of their Mirror Universe counterparts. This exploration starts in the beginning at the Pilot and never stops until the end of the season as it is in the Finale that Burnham and Tyler find the inner peace they are looking for.

Okay:

The Pilot – The pilot is long and boring. Though it is beautiful and has great action it could have been one really long episode or revealed and flashbacks, which would have served the story better. All it really does is set up Michael Burnham’s backstory and the reason why she is now on Discovery. Beyond that, we knew this show was about the Klingon-Federation War and didn’t need every detail as to why the Federation was now fighting it, especially the war’s resolution is not played out within the first few episodes.

Ash Tyler – Voq is Ash Tyler’s true self. He is  the Torchbearer of the Klingons and he imprints Ash’s identity upon himself as to get the secrets on Discovery I liked the romance with Burnham, but I felt their needed to be more knowledge on both whom Tyler and Voq were. They are useful plot devices, but they never grow beyond that. They both deserved better given each is compelling in their own way but in them being 2 separate identities the exploration they both needed is never received.

Fanservice – Captain Lorca has a tribble (no payoff), we see Andorians, Tellerites and Vulcans (founding members of the Federation), Burnham’s adopted dad is Sarek and in the end we see the original Enteprise with Captain Pike. Some of this was good, the other species showing up was something I wanted when I heard about this show, but ending it with Pike was total fanservice and was like the Khan reveal in “Star Trek: Into Darkness.” It was not needed and only hurt the story.

The Cons:

The Klingon Scenes – Klingons only speak Klingon and in turn we get no time to know the characters, because we are reading the subtitles. Because of this, we are told how the Klingons are but we rarely get to see their actions beyond the fights with Discovery.

The Ending of Captain Lorca’s Arc – Lorca is the “ends justify the means” Captain. We learn how he killed his crew to keep them from being taken prisoner. We see that ruthlessness again when he saves Federation colonies and how he will do anything to save the Federation. Well, he’s a Mirror Universe rebel who just wants to be Emperor. That was such an awful payoff as they just made him a creeper villain. All complexity was erased so that his arc could be simplified. I hated it.

In future seasons I would like to see much less fanservice, more focus on discovery, more problem solving that isn’t through violence and some of the characters who left at the end of this season returning. The core of this show is great and even with all the flaws that brought it down, this a show that I will rewatch when it returns to Netflix. If you are a fan of “Star Trek,” chances are you will enjoy this show as much as I did. At the end of the day it captures the core ideas of “Star Trek,” and even the worst of the cons didn’t take way from my enjoyment of this season.

Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great even with all of the flaws.

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“Hannibal” Season 3 Retrospect – Beauty, The Past and the Seeking of Connection

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     Season 3 has been an interesting ride. The first part of the season is really slow, but it picks up when Jack Crawford and Will Graham finally get into place for dealing with Hannibal. Before that it is pretty reflective and can really stretch, not in a bad way of course, as the writing and cinematography are still beautiful but the first part of the season doesn’t compare to the second part of the season which is hands down the best the show has ever been as “The Red Dragon” became adapted to television.

     I’ll get into more detail further down but Bryan Fuller truly created a masterpiece that is at the very least on part with “The Silence of the Lambs” if not better. So without further ado, lets get into the review.  The show was produced by Carol Dunn Trussell and Michael Wray.

SPOILERS ahead.

    There are two arcs this season. The first arc involves Will Graham, Jack Crawford and Alana Bloom trying to capture Hannibal Lecter while Dr. Chilton and Mason Verger seek revenge as Hannibal and Bedelia live as the Fells in Italy as Hannibal continues his hunt for victims and Bedelia feels trapped.

   The second arc involves the rise of the Red Dragon and Will Graham being pulled back into the world he left behind. There is a time skip between Hannibal’s capture and the Red Dragon’s rise as Will and Jack hunt him as he works on his becoming and they turn once more to Hannibal for help.

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The Pros: The Writing – The writing for Hannibal has always been amazing, in this season we get into what it means to be an observer or an active participant in evil (Hannibal’s killing of others when he is Dr. Fel) and later when Will is out trying to capture the Red Dragon and ends he is willing to go to in using others the way Jack Crawford does. The writing is truly amazing this story beyond this too as we see how the events of the past season have shaped Dr. Chilton, the Vergers, Alana Bloom, Jack Crawford, Will Graham, Bedelia and Hannibal…and the Red Dragon in the second part of the season.

The Cinematography – James Hawkinson and Karim Hussain do a wonderful job on the cinematography in this show. Hands down, this Hannibal has always been a beautiful show in how they film shots and these two have consistently kept that same quality through all 3 seasons and allowed us glimpse into our characters minds in how they shoot the shots and use the light and shadow to show us a story.

The Soundtrack – Brian Reitzell did a wonderful job this season on the soundtrack once again and is good at creating tension with his soundtrack. Like the rest of the series it is haunting.

In Will’s Mind – Season 2 ended with a lot of bloodshed and one of the people who died was Will’s adopted daughter Abigail Hobbs. When he first arrives in Italy she is the main person he is talking too. We also see in Will’s mind anytime we deal with the Red Dragon as the Red Dragon or Hannibal are presented as the Monsters they see themselves as, horns or wings and all and that is how Will’s ability to empathize is visually presented on screen as well as what he sees in his mind.

Catching Hannibal – This is a great arc when it finally happens. It starts with Bedelia showing herself around cameras so the FBI will know where her and Hannibal are and continues from there with Mason Verger buying out the Italian police force and Jack and Will hunting Hannibal down. Jack nearly beats Hannibal to death with Hannibal’s torture devices against him and later Hannibal catches them both and plans to cut open Will’s head to eat his brain before he is finally caught by Mason Verger and Alana, after Margot and Alana release him to rescue Will and later Jack and Will capture Hannibal when he turns himself in after Will rejects him.

Jack Crawford’s Revenge – Jack beats Hannibal nearly to death with Hannibal’s own torture devices…after he was nearly killed last season and tormented by Hannibal in Season 2 this is major justice.

In Hannibal’s Mind – In Hannibal’s mind he is always in control. When he is prison he sees himself as in a Cathedral, his home drinking wine or in a nice environment and even when the FBI threatens to take away his toilet and other things he still holds that delusion. It’s powerful and shows why he is always confidence. Hannibal has a powerful mind palace.

The Red Dragon Arc – The Red Dragon arc is amazing and the strongest part of this season. In this we see Will has adopted a family and is taking care of them and is stable until Jack pulls him back in to hunt for the “Tooth Fairy,” who has slaughtered families and replaced their eyes with glass. In this arc we get to know Francis Dolarhyde, a loner obsessed with Blake and becoming the Dragon in Blake’s painting. To this end he connects with Hannibal which the FBI exploits and leads to a final end game in which Will and Hannibal must together stop the Red Dragon who upset the FBI’s initial plans.

The Characters – The characters have always been solid in this show and their acting is solid as usual. I’m going to name some of the most memorable performances here as well as the characters who had the most concrete arcs.

Dr. Chilton – Chilton’s arc is a tragedy as we see his lies and explotation of others lead to the Red Dragon doing the same to him and him losing his tongue and skin in the process. In the end he is the one speaking truth to the darker sides of Alana, Hannibal, Will and Jack as he sees that he was a pawn all along and calls them on it. He also speaks truth to those who judge by appearances as he once did. Raul Esparaza has a masterful performance as this very flawed but compelling character who did not deserve what the Red Dragon did to him.

Alana Bloom – Alana Bloom moves on from her trauma and heals by hooking up with Margot Verger, together they kill Mason Verger getting him back for the sexual and physical abuse he gave Margot and later we see her escape from the country knowing Hannibal could be on the loose again as her and Margot leave with their child and the Verger fortune. She is a balanced character ans she helps real in Will’s tendencies to over empathize. Caroline Dharvernas is fantastic!

Bedelia Du Maurier – Gillian Anderson plays one of the most memorable characters of the series who is able to tell Hannibal “no,” and does so when he wants to escape with her as she knows she is nothing more than a future meal and plaything and takes control of her life. We also see her outsmart the FBI as she pretends to have been hypnotized by Hannibal to become Mrs. Fell.

Jack Crawford – This is one of the best roles that Laurence Fishburne has played and my respect for him as an actor grew so much after this season. He is the one who knows the price of his job. I’m glad he survived the series and he was good at showing us there aren’t good choices as we see that Will becomes much like him as he realizes the same thing. You have to use people to catch Monsters and you may become a Monster in the process but never as bad as the ones you hunt.

Hannibal Lecter – Hannibal’s arc is him finally connecting to another human being. He tries to kill Will once but after he saves Will and is rejected by him we see that he has come around. He wants to be with Will and it is the one human connection he values as we learn at the end he wanted to give Will the thrill of a good hunt and mortality. He most likely dies at the end with Will which is the only way they could go. Mads Mikkelson is of course amazing.

Francis Dolarhyde/The Red Dragon – Richard Armitage (Thorin from “The Hobbit” Trilogy) creates a memorable role as we see someone wrestling with the Dragon within and at the same time seeking to become more while dealing with his own insecurities. In the end he is able to fake his death to protect the woman he loves from him and to trick the FBI and in the end it takes both Will and Hannibal to take him down. In the end he does “become” the Red Dragon as we see his blood become wings and that his madness makes Will realize his own inner killer. So much better than the film “Red Dragon.”

Will Graham – Hugh Dancy owns this role and in this we see him heal from the trauma Hannibal gave him by killing his adopted daughter Abigail and mortally wounding him and later we even see him move on after Hannibal turns himself in. It is only when he is pulled back into the dark that he connects with Hannibal and realizes that in the process they are both too dangerous and are both Dragons, leading to him falling with Hannibal off the cliff, ending the series and their arcs.

All the Lonely People – Season 3 is about lonely people seeking connection. Alana, Bedilia, Will, Jack, Hannibal and the Red Dragon all seek out human connections to heal from their trauma and this leads to make stupid decision (Bedilia ending up with Hannibal) or smart decisions (Alana and Margot’s romance and love) or some that are inbetween (Will and Hannibal) as each of them grow as they seek to be understood and to understand another.

The Cons: Long Start – It takes a long time for the capture of Hannibal to really pick up. It was never bad persay but compared to the rest of the show it is and I understand why a lot of people stopped watching around this point because of how long it was taking to get to the action and relationship between Will, Jack and Hannibal.

     This was an amazing season that showed just how great television could become. Every character changed, and even the minor characters like the Vergers or Reba, Rinaldo or others were compelling in the minor roles they had…they just weren’t as memorable as those I have listed under characters. At the core all our loners are seeking the connection to others and it is when they finally do so that they stop being monsters. For a moment there at the end, Hannibal was a human being as he faced off against the Red Dragon with Will Graham, and in those moments there was human connection and love…everything Hannibal had lost as a child. In this way the ending was perfect and doesn’t need anymore to it. The Red Dragon is defeated and Will and Hannibal meet there end, though they are no longer alone and ruled by the trauma from their past.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10. Nearly a perfect season.

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