Discovery is the Trekkiest Trek | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Discovery is the Trekkiest Trek

TV Critic James Honke argues that Star Trek: Discovery is a dark departure for the sci-fi franchise and reflects our post-modern reality

If C-137 Morty was the Mortiest Morty, then Star Trek: Discovery is the Trekkiest Trek. Trek has always offered a reflection of our existence, overcoming our fears in the most human and hopeful way possible. It’s addictive: a relatively recent convert to Trek, myself, I fell in love with episodic storytelling of Deep Space Nine and Voyager. Each new adventure represented the latest chance to face a moral dilemma or philosophical challenge armed only with peace and a belief in doing good and so, in an era dominated by uncertainty, change and a general sense of dystopia, Star Trek was refreshingly optimistic. It was distilled hope in television form.

Star Trek is grounded at the very edge of what we understand to be possible, for better or worse
Yet Star Trek is always a product of its times as much as it may attempt to gaze beyond them. It shows itself in the world that is built around the characters: from their dress and style to their attitudes and behaviour. Whilst Star Trek has always been a revolutionary premise, it is still science fiction (as opposed to the science fantasy of Star Wars) and thus is grounded at the very edge of what we understand to be possible, for better or worse.

In the past, this lead to great revolutionary moments of television. It was no accident that an original series, written at the height of the Cold War, built a world with a Russian on the bridge, but it is also no accident that a world where the Federation - our mostly Western heroes - were committed to peace and freedom and faced an oppressive, totalitarian foe in the Klingon Empire. And whilst the Federation did something truly avant garde and included a woman of colour in a position of command, she was also wearing impractical heels, an impractical hairstyle and a damned impractical mini-skirt. It didn’t matter how far forward you went: men, quite literally, wore the trousers.

Take another step forward to the Next Generation and the enemy is not the USSR but the marches of digital capitalism. Now, our greatest fear was not a foreign opponent who wanted us dead but one that looked just like us and yet wasn’t, instead morphing us into a non-human unit of production. The crew, rather than tussling with grizzled warriors or fair space-maidens instead tussled with their own morality and humanity; what did it mean to be human? What made us free? Voyager and Deep Space Nine took another leap, once again more hopeful and yet more dark. Now the dramas were even more personal – what did it mean to be an individual? Was the Federation really the best? Were universal morals fit for purpose?

Discovery is the natural conclusion of all this, reflecting, as it does, the terrors of post-modernity. It is no coincidence that Discovery’s enemies have changed yet again, replacing the Borg and the Cardassians with a complete re-imagining of the Klingons who, morphed once again, have become almost nightmare-ish. These are not the Klingons that Kirk battled and definitely not the species that let Worf join the Federation, but a society driven by fundamentalist faith in the pursuit of the absolute annihilation of their enemy. They believe with pathological certainty that they are defending themselves from an invader who offers peace yet is taking away their way of life. They’re not entirely wrong: the Federation may claim to come in peace, but it is an invasive, destructive Pax-Federatica that homogenises the universe in their image. Where the 1960’s Federation felt righteously assured in their mission to explore the universe, this post-Iraq-war Federation is asking whether the universe might be better off left well alone.

There are no moral guidelines, no wise captains, no one-episode adventures
This existential crisis finds its way onto the Discovery. This is a ship populated by walking moral grey areas: a captain driven by a single-minded desire to win the war, a first officer who’s genetically designed to be a coward, a scientific genius who walks the line between arrogant and brilliant, and our protagonist, a convicted mutineer plagued by PTSD. In a world that is increasingly uncertain, the show is defined as much by what’s absent as by what is there. There are no moral guidelines, no wise captains, no one-episode adventures. There is no great mission here, no frontiers to explore, just an endless battle against the enemy and themselves as the characters suffer as much from guilt, anomie and ennui as they do from physical injury or the stress of tribulation. “I would give anything for a moment of peace” wails our protagonist, as much at the void as another character. It is a Fight Club-esque dystopia in both its constant activity and complete emptiness.

In truth, then, this serialised, dark, violent sci-fi show is the perfect Star Trek for the post-modern world. Where previous series were united in their understanding of modernity, driven by a sense of purpose and a belief in progress, Discovery doesn’t pretend at certainty in any form. Instead, it refutes certainty of morality, certainty of purpose or certainty of ourselves, and in so doing, builds a world that reflects our own post-modern existence. Rick and Morty glances at the void and laughs, amused by the absurdity of a universe that doesn’t matter and doesn’t care. Discovery stares deep into the void, grimaces and then struggles on anyway.

And that is why it is the Trekkiest Trek of them all.

The first nine episodes of Star Trek: Discovery are currently available to stream via Netflix UK, with the series returning for episode 10 on 8th January 2018. 


James is a 22 year-old Politics student at UoB who's unhealthily addicted to games and TV. Be ready for opinions. Lots of them. (@JamesHonke)


13th December 2017 at 9:00 am

Images from

CBS, The Guardian and Netflix