bookgazing: (Default)
[personal profile] bookgazing posting in [community profile] ladybusiness
Ah,Battle At the Binary Stars - the episode that was perfect until it was abruptly awful. Hold onto your helmets - watching Episode Two of Star Trek: Discovery may cause emotional whiplash.

Battle At the Binary Stars starts off pretty fabulously with a flashback to Michael's arrival aboard the S. S. Shenzhou with Sarek. Unhappy at being sent to the Shenzhou, with its mostly human crew, instead of being accepted into the 'Vulcan expeditionary group', Michael at first uses her Vulcan training, and adherence to logic, to be deliciously snippy. However, she is quickly worn down by Georgiou's respect (something Michael obviously craves after a lifetime with the dismissively logical Sarek). When Michael looks at Georgiou after she says 'Your confidence is justified' my heart just about exploded!

This whole flashback scene is a short, but effective, way of establishing their relationship. Their interactions are full of light banter but quickly turn deeply respectful, and reveal the potential for their relationship to blossom into friendship. It's interesting that the viewer sees very little of this relationship on screen, and yet the emotional responses between these two women ring so true. There's an impressive amount of emotional resonance between the two characters when you take into account the fact that we met these two women just one episode ago. That's largely down to the acting of the two leads (Sonequa Martin-Green has such a delicate touch with facial expressions) and the light but sustained way the creative team has sketched in their relationship (so naturalistically it's impossible to believe they haven't known each other forever).

Then the flashback finishes, and the viewer is thrown back into the present where Georgiou is aiming a phaser at Michael after her unsuccessful mutiny. All Michael has to do is makes a sad puppy face at Georgiou, and my heart broke. When Georgiou drifts into a sadness of her own it full on shattered.

For real, all the backstory fic please.

Ironically, the wonderful relationship between Michael and Georgiou means Battle At the Binary Stars is destined to be a huge downer of an episode (even as it is a slick, interesting installment in Discovery). Here come the big spoilers - Captain Georgiou is killed in a battle with the new Klingon leader T'Kuvma. And that means no more Michelle Yeoh. Yeah...

There really is no way to talk about this episode without bewailing the fact that the creative team made the choice to kill off the very first Asian, female Star Fleet captain after two episodes. Why oh why would anyone do this??!

In story terms, it's easy to see why the team decided Georgiou's death would have the most impact. She's Michael's beloved mentor and friend. Michael has just betrayed her, and hasn't had time to properly mend the rift she's caused. It's Michael who suggests they beam aboard the Klingon vessel and kidnap T'Kuvma; a plan which ends in Georgiou's death, and starts the war Georgiou was plan was trying to avoid. And, after Battle at the Binary Star spends so much of its time emphasising how close the two women were, it's clear just how much this death means. It hits hard as every good fictional death should. Georgiou's death also does a quick and simple job of expanding Michael's emotional character development, and gives her a strong base of emotions to draw on for the rest of the series. Add in the fact that killing a beloved mentor is a time honoured trope, and the timing of Georgiou's death makes narrative sense.

I still really hate it.

Seriously, how were the creators able to look at Michelle Yeoh in her captain's uniform, to look at all the press she and Sonequa Martin-Green did around this series, hell to look at the two women on screen together, and make this decision? It's both a loser move, and an unimaginative piece of storytelling. Tropes are all well and good but breaking with tropes, and creating a story that looks different, is one of the most exciting plays a creator can make. And, to be honest, if a creative team doesn't build imaginative thinking into projects with diverse casting they're bound to let fans down. That's just how it is. The death of Captain Georgiou was a terrible, unimaginative idea, and seems to be pushing fans away from Star Trek: Discovery. That's a real shame because Sonequa Martin-Green is going to own Star Trek; I can just feel it. And so many fans just aren't going to be able to enjoy that aspect of Discovery because this will always be the show that killed Captain Phillipa Georgiou and replaced her with Jason Issacs.

Speaking of race and Discovery, it's probably time to talk about Star Trek: Discovery's approach to the Klingons. T'Kuvma, seeks to unite the Klingon houses under a nationalist, religious philosophy which embraces all Klingons who prove themselves "Klingon enough". Even houseless outcasts, like the albino Voq, can earn a place at T'Kuvma's right hand by demonstrating that they are committed to T'Kuvma's cause. In Voq's case he holds his hand in a flame until T'Kuvma releases him. T'Kuvma seeks to defeat Star Fleet because, in his eyes, they seek to eradicate, or dilute, Klingon culture by making Klingons mix with other species, and they encroach on Klingon territory by daring to hold their own borders. To T'Kuvma, the Federation's slogan 'we come in peace' is a blatant lie.

From its first episode it's clear that Discovery wants to distance itself from one of science fiction's biggest problems - using aliens to represent chromatic people; both erasing actual chromatic people, and symbolically presenting chromatic people as 'other'. On a basic level, they achieve this by casting chromatic actors and actresses as human, Star Fleet characters. In story terms, Michael has a short exchange with her superior about the difference between race and culture. And the Klingon T'Kuvma willingly accepts everyone onto his ship, even the albino outcast Voq, as he values commitment to the Klingon cause over blood or heritage. Discovery tries to show that it doesn't want its alien species to be symbols for real life races, and it doesn't want to make alien species into weird, racist metaphors by presenting monolithic groups driven by false ideas about genetic or racial "needs".

These are all good details. However, there's no getting around the fact that Discovery has still made its villains dark-skinned. T'Kuvma is a dark-skinned Klingon. The viewer can see from the opening scene of The Vulcan Hello that the other Klingons on the ship are largely dark-skinned. T'Kuvma starts what is essentially a Holy War to preserve the purity of the Klingon race. He talks about culture being destroyed. T'Kuvma is 'martyred'. To link these sentiments with a dark skinned villain, who is part of a dark skinned race, feels like a bit of a misstep.

T'Kuvma's philosophy can be interpreted as a metaphor for destructive white nationalism, and I want to feel confident that this is what the creative team had in mind when they created a nationalistic villain spouting a message of 'purity'. However, it is always going to be really weird to make your alien 'strange looking' villain, and his species who all speak in a subtitled language, dark-skinned, no matter how many chromatic characters (three that we've seen so far) you have in your Star Fleet cast. We live in the world we live in, it is full of embedded racist media tropes, and filling the screen with dark-skinned alien villains out to start a religious war to preserve their society as 'the one true society' isn't doing much to combat those tropes. Unless there are going to be Worf-a-likes coming to the main cast of the S. S. Discovery in later episodes it's very hard for the viewer not to see sci-fi's difficulties with creating alien races rearing its head in Discovery. It's really disappointing to see this crop up in a show that has given us Star Trek's first black, female protagonist, and first Asian, female Captain.

So, what was good about Battle At the Binary Stars besides Michael and Georgiou's every interaction? Well, Michael on her own is pretty swell. Sent to the brig (sci-fi's obligatory see through prison) she ends up brainstorming a cheeky, logical way to get the computer to release her, and keep her alive once the ship is compromised. She comes up with a fantastic plan to avoid war, and keep Georgiou from throwing herself into a suicide mission. Although ultimately that plan does not pan out, it's a good, smart shot at an alternative. And, of course, her big finale - guiltily speechifying in front of a Star Fleet disciplinary board - is magnificently sorrowful. Once again, oh my heart.

Michael's conduct here also shows just how persuasive she can be about anything; even her own guilt. Also, she accepts responsibility gracefully. She understands that when she breaches rules there are consequences from an immovable code, and that the code is there for a reason. It's such a nice balance to see a protagonist who both pushes against the rules to get the job done, and yet understands the rules are important.

It's also really interesting to get to see a more personal side of the Klingons. While I have a lot of reservations about the way the Klingons have been set up in Discovery they have been paid far more attention than ever before. Don't forget, the first episode opened with an extended scene that follows T'Kuvma, and some aspects of the Klingon's cultural is dwelt on; making them more than just cardboard villains. The viewer sees snatches of T'Kuvma's childhood, and the origin of his dedication to his ship and cause, much as they see snippets of Michael's past. Plus, T'Kuvma's death bed scene is surprisingly tender. Discovery could do a lot with the Klingons it has created, particularly as Voq and Michael are symbolically tied together by the loss of their mentors in the same battle. The Klingons could be really interesting if the creative team have worked smartly.

Finally, call me a nerd but I really liked the mind-meld scene between Sarek and Michael. It's cute, convenient, and it lets them bring a few more of their issues to the surface. In yet another typical trope, Sarek wants to be a good dad but he's just not great at feelings (here the Star Trek team making Vulcanism play into common 'dad issues' emotional tropes). Still, their relationship does remind me how much I wish Georgiou was going forward in this show. Michael is now left with potentially two influential white male figures in her life, and no chromatic female influences or support system. Everything could have been so different. Oh well, maybe some more female characters are about to turn up?

So, Battle At the Binary Stars has its good points. It's a slick episode that manages to sneak-attack the viewer with subtle emotional weapons. It's full of plot, and even a little bit of fun in the middle of a firefight. It is also just the worst because WHO WOULD KILL CAPTAIN PHILLIPA GEORGIOU? I mean, onward we go to the next episode but really who would do this?

Other Reviews

Swapna Krishna wrote about what it felt like as a WOC to watch the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery
Gavia Baker Whitelaw reviews the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery for The Daily Dot

Date: 2017-10-04 01:52 pm (UTC)
kerkevik_2014: (Queer Trek)
From: [personal profile] kerkevik_2014
The death in this ep is THE major reason why I'm seriously re-considering seeking out STD. I mean I know Sonequa Martin-Green is supposed to be the lead star, but Michelle Yeoh and her keeping her accent were what was tipping me towards watching the show; even with those (klingons?) ~long story~ but now? I don't know.

I feel I'm going to wait some and figure out where I think the series is going. I fear a lot of ranting if I try to watch it too soon, and fandom has disturbed me far too much of late- fans, authors, actors and creators alike.

Kinda wish Bryan Fuller had stuck with this show,and not left.

I don't know.

Such high hopes, but still very early days.

kerk

Date: 2017-10-05 09:02 am (UTC)
chelseagirl: Alice -- Tenniel (Default)
From: [personal profile] chelseagirl
Michelle Yeoh was a big draw for me, as well - back in the 90s, I watched a lot of Hong Kong action films and she was one of my absolute favorites -- hence, her presence on the show was a big motivation.

I did like Sonequa Martin-Green on The Walking Dead, so I'm willing to hang in awhile longer to see how her storyline develops. But honestly? I'm mostly watching along with my husband, and the Klingon stuff is really dragging for me.

Date: 2017-10-06 06:36 pm (UTC)
chelseagirl: Alice -- Tenniel (Default)
From: [personal profile] chelseagirl
I like long-term plot arcs; I just haven't found the Klingons to be at all compelling in this iteration. IMHO.

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