Star Trek: Discovery Has Lost Its Soul

Star Trek: Discovery Has Lost Its Soul

Let’s talk about Captain Lorca, Ash Tyler, Harcourt Fenton Mudd and the moral centre of Star Trek. I can’t believe I’m about to defend Harry Mudd. Goddammit, Discovery.

All images: CBS

So the plot of yesterday’s episode is that Lorca has been summoned by Starfleet command, away from the ship, and told not to use the s-drive (spore-drive, I guess) unless specifically ordered to. They’re worried about depleting their “asset,” a.k.a. the tardigrade that is showing distress with every jump.

Also, they think the Klingons have twigged to the Discovery being the secret weapon and want it to keep it out of danger as much as possible. By the end of the episode they are right and also all of this is moot, since Burnham sets the tardigrade free.

On his way back to the ship, Lorca is captured by Klingons and put in cell with the Harry Mudd, a genial and sexist con man we saw in two episodes of the original series and one in the animated one, and Lieutenant Ash Tyler, who was captured during the Battle of the Binary Stars (the battle that started the war).

Because Mudd is … Mudd, Lorca determines that it’s him that’s slipping the Klingons information on his fellow prisoners, and not Tyler, who claims he’s still alive because the Klingon captain has taken a liking to him.

Given that Mudd has no problems letting others take a beating for him, you can see why Lorca would come to that conclusion. Eventually, Lorca and Tyler escape and they leave Mudd behind. And that was the moment this show completely lost me.

Is Mudd a good guy? No. He’s driven by craven self-interest that manifests in taking advantage of others, and Kirk always tried to see to it that Mudd got what he deserved for his wrongs. Kirk also always remained the better man. In “I, Mudd,” Kirk and his crew are captured by humanoid robots because of Mudd’s actions.

He wants off a planet, so he directs the robots to grab him a ship; then the robots decide they need to “help” humanity by “serving,” i.e. imprisoning them where they can be looked after and kept from screwing up, all because of Mudd. Mudd helps Kirk defeat the robots, and Kirk still leaves him behind, to make sure the robots don’t stray from their path.

In that case, Mudd helped create the mess, Kirk made sure he helps clean it up. That’s not what Lorca did.

Lorca left Mudd behind on a Klingon prison ship, happy to let him suffer torture and almost certain eventual death. (And there was no way to know the ship they would end up stealing was a two-seater.) This isn’t a case where Lorca happens to have a different view of Starfleet’s role as a military power. This is reprehensible.

It is specifically reprehensible in Star Trek. A lot of people have complained that Discovery has lost the hope that Star Trek has always represented. I held off on that for a while, seeing hope in Burnham’s redemption arc — that she’d choose science and exploration over doing what you need to win a war.

But Lorca’s actions in this case are a death knell. He didn’t even struggle with the decision. If he had been angry and vengeful, so the choice was a battle between what he knew was right and what he felt, maybe we’d still be in a Star Trek that promises humans can make the right decisions, even though it’s hard and requires us to work for it.

But no, Lorca just left him behind, with Tyler in tow.

To the audience Tyler is so obviously a spy that Lorca’s not just callous, he’s a fucking moron. Tyler is played by Shazad Latif, who also plays the albino Klingon Voq. We do know Voq went to learn skills from the House Mokai — a house with matriarchs, and this ship was captained by a female Klingon who said she trained as a spy and that’s how she speaks English so well.

L’Rell also told Voq he’d have to give up “everything” to win the war, and having to look and act human is that, especially for a Klingon who rages against assimilation and who comes from a time when “Remain Klingon” is the slogan of the day. (Also, “The Trouble With Tribbles” featured a Klingon spy made to look human — it’s not a new trick of the Klingon Empire’s.)

It’s too ironic for writers to not be setting it up. And so the problem is that telling your audience this much that they figure out the twist early means, for weeks, we’re going to be screaming bloody murder at Lorca.

Lorca’s big trauma, by the way, was that he escaped a battle his previous ship had with the Klingons, but also destroyed the ship and killed his crew to “spare them” the humiliating and drawn-out death the Klingons had in store for them. I wish I cared even a little bit.


In this scenario, the audience is the Klingon captain.

Things were slightly better on the science end this week. Burnham convinces Stamets that they can’t rely on the tardigrade. As usual, she’s not great at talking to people, trying first to butter up Stamets with compliments. As usual, Stamets is great, responding, “I know I’m brilliant, what are you trying to get out of me?”

There’s a lot of science babble, but it boils down to trying to put the same genes that let the tardigrade be accepted by the mycelium into a species that can consent to driving the ship.

What happens next is confusing if you don’t know a tiny bit about some obscure bits of canon. Yes, everyone’s history and emotions gets talked out, but not this important point.

Apparently, the only compatible match in the database is human. Humans might be a match for the spore/tardigrade mixture, but DNA alteration is banned on Earth. (It’s easy to forget, but Earth isn’t actually the same as the Federation — it has its own rules.) Earth banned it to prevent another set of Eugenics Wars, where “Augments” — supermen with altered genes — ruled Earth as despots.

(Khan Noonien Singh was one of these.) Also, this happened in the ’90s. Ah, the ’90s: Nirvana, Friends, and genetically engineered supermen enslaving everyone in a series of brutal wars.

Anyway, humans can’t alter their genes, it’s illegal and will stay illegal for hundreds of years, as Deep Space Nine fans know.

Now, I’m sure the same broad powers that let the Discovery do all sorts of other morally bankrupt shit in the pursuit of winning this war would let them get around this law. But Saru, who is acting as the captain and wants desperately to prove himself while saving Lorca, tells them no.

And when the stress finally sends the tardigrade into a super-hibernation, Saru orders Stamets to bring it back to usefulness, even if it would end up killing it… even if it turns out to be sentient. Another strike against the soul of Discovery.

Instead, Stamets slams the DNA mixture into himself and pilots the ship away from Klingon space, Lorca and Tyler in tow. I’m sure this will have no negative effects whatsoever. Saru gets some of his good points back by asking Burnham to save the “soul” of the tardigrade. She has no clue how to do that, so she just… puts it out into space with some spores. She’s lucky that worked.


Stamets’ face speaks for us all.

While Stamets continues to be the salty science arsehole I wish I could be and Saru at least learns from mistakes, this is the Discovery episode that I just couldn’t see more good than bad in. I hate the Lorca bit so much, it actually makes me heartsick. I need better from Star Trek.

Burnham’s only defining characteristic continues to be “I do what I want,” and it’s unappealing. She learns every week to not do it, and then she’s right back there the next week. Rainn Wilson’s Mudd is lacking Roger C. Carmel’s buoyancy and mellifluousness, so I don’t believe he’s going to age into someone who can banter with Kirk.

Or that he’ll be playful with Starfleet rather than bitterly enraged at how he’s been treated.


I see male privilege is still alive and well in the future.

Assorted Musings:

  • Saru, left in charge of the Discovery, asks for a list of the most-decorated Starfleet officers. Robert April was the first “first captain” of the Enterprise, popping up in the animated series. Jonathan Archer also became the first captain of the Enterprise — when it was the first ship of United Earth Starfleet, before the United Federation of Planets and Starfleet properly existed — in the prequel series Enterprise. (I assume he’s only on this list because being first makes you the most decorated by default.) Matt Decker pops up as a commodore in “The Doomsday Machine” in the original series. Georgiou we all know. Pike is either the captain of the Enterprise right now, or is about to be.
  • Saru asks for the characteristics of these captains and the computer lists, “bravery, self-sacrifice, intelligence, tactical brilliance, compassion.” Saru tells the computer to track his actions as captain and tell him if deviates from the parameters on the list. Nice attempt to science yourself into being a good captain.
  • In the end, Saru’s knowledge of predator and prey behaviour leads him to identify Lorca flying a stolen Klingon ship, being a better leader as himself than while trying to emulate those other captains, and this character moment deserved a better episode.
  • Stamets correctly points out that Burnham is the reason the tardigrade is being used this way in the first place. Burnham is the opposite of Midas: everything she touches turns to shit.
  • I can’t tell if “You say portobella, I say portobello” is cute or awful for a fungi specialist to say.
  • If you know how Mudd will eventually feel about his wife, Stella, every line about her is both sadder and funnier.
  • Who knew the line “I always wanted to converse with my mushrooms” would be foreshadowing?


  • I feel that the arguably evil Lorca provides a nice counterpoint to the more traditional starfleet captain, he’s the dark side of the traditionally wide eyed naivete that is the star trek captain. The show has also made a point to let us know that until the war broke out he was the black sheep of the starfleet family. I feel that a show that is essentially the chronicle of a war has to be darker than the exploration themed shows of the past, maybe they should of called it something other than Discovery.

    • I feel that a show that is essentially the chronicle of a war has to be darker than the exploration themed shows
      I thought DS9 already did a pretty good job showing how Star Trek could emphasise the dark and grim aspects of war while still keeping the overall optimistic tone the franchise is known for.

      • But during the Dominion War, they actually did have to compromise some of their integrity (see In The Pale Moonlight, where Sisko has to sign off on letting Garak off the leash).

        I’m OK with Discovery now because Lorca may be a dick but he’s not the main character so it doesn’t matter so much. I’m pretty sure Star Fleet’s had corrupt officers before at one time or another, and Giorgiou was a good counterpoint to show not every officer is like that. I’m hoping the other characters buck his orders a bit to give them the ability to show more of the optimism and positive decision-making that I’d like to see.

        That said, I still wish the show tried a bit harder to explore deeper themes and stay away from pure flashiness with no substance.

      • I haven’t seen much of deep space 9 due to the few episodes I have seen basically been the same plot as bananas in pyjamas. Big eared dishonest merchant scams someone, The rest of the episode is dedicated to resolving that plotline. Episode ends with you continuing to hate the big eared merchant and wondering why they give it 90% of the screen time.

        The only classic star trek series I watched in it’s entirety and enjoyed tho was enterprise so I’ve been told my opinion does not count on this matter.

  • At this point Pike is captain of the Enterprise.

    I also keep expecting him to show up and put the crew of Discovery into custody for the dodgy shit they do.

    It’s not even watching a good crew go slowly more morally and ethically bankrupt. They started off as dubious and went downhill from there.

  • Either way, lots of fans of the original series are going to be throwing mud at this show endlessly. I think its ok but it does have some conflicting differences. Chances are they will can it after a couple seasons, but maybe we will get lucky and have 4 seasons. Who knows.

    Not saying its great, but given how dry sci-fi content like this has been lately, what else is there to compete? We do have kill joys / dark matter, but those are quite low production budgets and no where near as good as firefly…

    PS. Rate limit banning viewers now are we. Can’t smash that refresh button anymore when Kotaku ERRORs show up all over my screen…. dodgy website hosting right here!

      • Ah no. That’s a shame. Then again, the second and third seasons didn’t live up to the whole idea explored in the first. If it’s truly been cancelled, then that’s a lot of potential wasted.

    • Shame about Dark Matter, but then again I’m not surprised. I expect Kill Joys to meet the same fate. Its just the way Sci Fi is these days, at least ones that involve space ships and flying around.

      The Expanse is good, will see how long until they cancel that.

  • I’m sorry, I said this when this showed up on Gizmodo, and I’ll say here, Lorca was 100% justified in what he did. Why? Because Mudd was a spy, and the Federation is at war. There is absolutely no way anyone could reasonably bring along a potential spy during a PRISON BREAK, given there could be a hundred ways Mudd could have foiled their attempt, and had already shown a complete lack of empathy for anyone but himself.

    Also, we already know that the Geneva Conventions still exist in this time period, and under those Conventions, spies are allowed to be EXECUTED when caught. Mudd shouldn’t be enraged he was left behind, he should be thankful Lorca didn’t do what he was LEGALLY ENTITLED to do and shoot him then and there. And yes, maybe Tyler will turn out to be not who he says he is, but we know that because we’re outside the fourth wall; we can’t blame Lorca for that, unless we think he should have just stayed in prison for no visible reason.

    Finally, there’s a difference between what happened between Kirk and Mudd in TOS, and what happens here. The latter is not a ‘mess’. Mess implies some manner of accident. Mudd didn’t betray secrets by accident. He chose to do what he did, and simply wasn’t prepared for the consequences.

    P.S. By the way, if Burnham had done what people are suggesting and kept her mouth shut, Star Trek Discovery would have been a pretty short show, because they would have been stuck in the middle of Klingon territory with a dead or dying Ripper and NO time to come up with an alternate way of operating the spore drive. ‘Everything she touches turns to shit’ my arse. It seems a bit rich for people longing for the good ol’ optimistic days of Star Trek to be siding AGAINST the person objecting to torturing an alien species.

    • Sorry, but torture is also against the Geneva conventions (I think) and giving tacit approval to that as a punishment seems super wrong for a Star Fleet captain, extenuating circumstances or no.

      • That is true, although I’m not sure being forced to choose between self-torture and torture of someone else is something that you could condemn someone for, since being forced to make such a choice is itself a form of torture.

        • Yeah, I had no problem with that, just when Lorca left Mudd behind in the prison to be tortured. It would’ve been a risk to take him with them, but a minimal one. What Lorca chose shouldn’t have been an option.

    • By not taking the traitor with him, he somehow sentenced him to torture? meh. This is a unorthodox captain we are talking about, I think people just read too far into these things. Like there is a star trek rule book as to how everyone should act and behave, do people forget that there was still a SHADOW organisation in existence during all this time, it was revealed largely in DS9.

      Discovery I suspect is basically a branch from this shadow organisation, with backing from starfleet.

  • I totally didn’t see the Lorca thing. We’ll see if that’s right. But I did see 2 obviously recurring villains set up and some really weird science.

    So the tartograde expelled 99% of its water right? And she ejects it into space and it comes out of hibernation and goes straight back to its normal size. How? With what? It got rid of all its water. There’s no water in space.

    For all she knew it should’ve been a death sentence and scientifically, it should’ve been with what they showed. It would’ve been so easy to come up with another reason or way, but they had to state that it got rid of all its water.

    We’re loving it but it’s a terrible show. Just awful. Fun though. Klingons suck. That full mask makeup. Just the worst. They must really hate the actors on that show with some of the makeup they’ve chosen.

    • The tardigrade rehydrating in space also annoyed me. Although it’s worth noting that real tardigrades can only survive being in space because they can survive being dehydrated. Which happens in the vacuum of space.

      On the Klingon make up, they literally could use fairly static puppets for the faces. Those actors can’t act at all in them.

      • Did you see the shoes the first officer has to wear? He doesn’t even have heels. It must the most uncomfortable thing ever.

        Yeah the klingons are really awful. Every scene with them I’m just wishing it would end. The writing is terribad also which doesn’t help.

  • Spoiler tags for those who don’t enjoy pulling apart theories before shows air… (don’t talk to me about GoT or Rick and Morty then).

    Wasn’t the Klingon captain of the prison Ship L’Rell?
    Who was the one who sent Voq off to hang out with the Matriarchs and give up ‘everything’.
    Which all lines up nicely for Tyler to be Voq in human form (and makes it more or less creepy that the Captain was ‘entertaining’ herself with him, not sure which…).

    I’m seeing a lot of hate for this show, but I’m enjoying it more than any Star Trek recently, mostly because it isn’t all positivity and good vibes. I like some moral ambiguity and grey areas in my Science Fiction. People aren’t liking the new Klingons either, while the make up is a bit janky and affects their ability to ‘act’, I do like that the is more diversity in the clans (makes it easier to identify them too…).

    But mostly it fills the void while I wait for The Expanse to come back.

    • My main issue with L’Rell being on that ship and Voq being human is how much time has passed here since the previous ep – a few weeks a few months? I’d feel better about it if it was a few months

      Like we’re supposed to believe that it took the klingons 6 months to get their ship going and yet they can have a complex plastic surgery, learn English and human mannerisms set up a prison ship long enough for Harry Mudd to be there for ages (was he just working with them to further his own ends)

      The time aspect bothers me

      But that’s it – the klingon look is jarring but it’s based on old TMP concept art and it does suit the purpose of making them look alien and terrifying

      • I think the time is ok, when Lorca was at Starfleet HQ getting grilled, he touted a number of victories for the Discovery, so they have definitely been a number of active engagements with the Klingons.

        This is where the tired, but useful, Star Date XX.xxxx exposition logs used to fill in the blanks and set timings.

        I think it makes sense too, because the Tardigrade went from fine to basically whipped from only 2 on screen jumps, whereas if there has been a number and they have been in a number of engagements over a few months that is ok.

  • Never seen the original start trek, just big chunks of TNG and Voyager, which when i was a bit younger i quite liked. Watching them now though most episodes are pretty bad/boring, seriously every episode is either holodeck has gone evil, something is messing with their minds or someone is stuck on some planet. obviously i exaggerate a little, but seriously a lot of episodes feel very very similar.

    This show has so far been pretty good and i agree with @tichey i like that Lorca is so different to the other captains (at least from TNG and voyager.

  • As a “casual” fan, I love this show. Lorca being the prick he is is a great contrast to the righteous captains we’ve had in past series. More importantly, main character isn’t the captain this time around, which is partially one of the draws.

  • If you want the classic trek feel watch Orville. It’s Next Gen with fart jokes, and somehow it works. Discovery is like the 100th episode of Stargate when Marty wants to recast his series with a younger edgier hip cast for wormhole extreme. Hey look, people said fuck, aren’t we cool.

  • I don’t think Discovery ever had a soul to lose. They almost developed one the episode before last, but then it was back to torturing aliens and breaking every ethical standard there is.

    When it comes to breaking the rules, Lorca is nothing like Sisko. Even in the episodes where Sisko seemed to have been past his ethical struggle and still acted horribly, it was in little bursts here and there and the rest of the crew were equally as horrified. Not only does Lorca have no progression (presumably it happened beforehand), but the complete lack of remorse from him and his senior staff is very disconcerting, and I’d argue distinctly “not Star Trek” in nature.

    So far it’s making for an interesting sci-fi show with some nice visuals, but it’s not Star Trek. Every time there’s a glimmer of it being Star Trek in there, they snuff it out as quickly as it came.

    • Totally agree.

      In the future, the problems of poverty, war, racism and crime are all solved on earth. It’s just that apparently “being an asshole” was never actually cured, because everyone is an asshole on that show.

      I feel like they should have set the thing during the eugenics wars. At least then it would be before earth was supposed to have gotten its shit together, and they’d be able to explore nationalism and racial equality issues, which are still problems we have today. But I guess then no aliens, and I guess they don’t really want Trek to stand for something.

    • This is why I’m always very cautious of prequels. Besides the obvious problem of one already knowing how it ends, it’s all to easy to judge based on events that happen later in the lore.

      Heck, besides the frustration I had with the BluRays, I saw Discovery made the same big mistake as with the Star Wars prequels where the technology was miles more advanced despite taking places earlier in time.

      Haven’t seen any of Discovery yet but based on everyone’s comments I cannot help but feel the same teething period that seems to follow every Star Trek series has happened again.

      TOS, TNG, DS9, etc. Didn’t they all have a rough first season before hitting their strides in the second season onwards (TNG being the exception due to the writers strike)?.

      Maybe if Discovery survives into a second season things might pick up as is with past Star Trek series.

      But then again, I gave Star Trek V a chance and like the tribbles so that, according to true Trekkies, is the same as a mental diagnosis, 😛

      • They all had rough first seasons relatively speaking, but mostly because it takes an ensemble cast time to get into the flow of things. I never felt like TNG, DS9 or VOY were “not Star Trek”, which I do get from this.

        If you’re a Star Trek fan I think you have to watch the show at some point, and it is a good sci-fi show so far. I just keep hoping that it’ll develop into a Star Trek show sooner rather than later or not at all.

  • I hope the male privilege comment was a poorly chosen joke… Because if not and we’re at a point in society now where we get offended by names on a screen, I think it’s time to retire from the internet 😛

    • PC snowflakes everywhere.. Its either male privilege, whitewashing or (insert whatever else has been blown up lately)… World has gone nuts.

  • It’s possible that it lost its “soul” – or refused to develop one at all – which is probably why I’m actually enjoying it.

  • Why did Tilly have to drop the F bomb? So not necessary and just felt like the writers were trying to prove a point “Look how different and new trek we are! So cool!”

  • Dont be mistaken by the TNG captsins of the title card ships. Lorca is a typical Starfleet captain.

    Under pressure of war or on the verge of powerful access to technology, most Starfleet captains behave like Lorca.

    How many undisclosed admiral projects and agendas got shutdown after being exposed, how many … how many time do the main starfleet personalities faulter until the turn around in the final act.

    Captsin Ransom mass murdered subsoace aliens to burn as a warp nitro. The admiral that discovered and phase cloaking and only got caught after the danger to the ship forced it (not Rikers ethics). Section 31. Most of the first Cardassian war stories.

    Captain Picard has sent more Admirals to the brig (or killed by hapenstancd) than anyone in starfleet history… which made the admiral in Insurrection a moron asking Picard to walk away.

    Lorca is a typical starfleet captain, your hero Captains are the anamoly.

  • Doesn’t feel like star trek to me at all, but I like sci-fi so will continue to watch it anyway. I’m ok as long as I don’t think of it as star trek basically.

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