Discovery – Hate, love and hope

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It’s 2017 and the first new Star Trek series since 2001’s Enterprise is about to stream simultaneously around the world. I’d been distracted for weeks in anticipation, 37 and giddy with excitement, like that of a kid waiting impatiently the 300 million years between one Christmas and the next. While we’d had a couple of JJ Abrhams films there’d been no new Trek series, and with every passing year a host of wonderful actors were ageing in a seemingly eternal holding pattern with no sign of a DS9 conclusion, a TNG or Voyager reunion, or a 25th century pantheon featuring them all. So this new show, with the wonderful Michelle Yeoh at the helm, an intriguing cast and beautiful reworking of the classic Klingons was truly tantalising.

I hated it.

Despite the grittier and serialised DS9 being my favourite Trek, with episodes such as “Duet”,”The siege of AR558” and “Far beyond the stars”, and despite my love of the new and breaking new ground what I’d been wanting from this new show, entirely unrealistically, was the cozy reassurance of TNG. I’d wanted the comfort of no interpersonal conflict, the safety of the friendly, luxurious Galaxy class Enterprise, and the mighty Patrick Stewart delivering impassioned soliloquies of civil rights and the rule of law.

Because this was 2017.

My child-like glee at a new StarTrek series, era, saga was the dam that was perilously holding back the fears and concerns of an adult seeing history painfully, dumbly, grotesquely repeat itself with every increasingly pantomime-ish news bulletin. Here in Britain we’d already had austerity – libraries, nurses, teachers, railway workers, the poor, the sick, the vulnerable and disabled all blamed for the 2008 financial crash, with the most vulnerable made to pay a heavy price, in abuse in the media as well as in the street, but worse of all in 335,000 excess deaths. The (then) fifth richest country in the world sanctioning people with learning difficulties – cutting off their benefits for 3 months – because they were unable to navigate the new hurdles of paperwork or deliberately scheduled for appointments they were never informed about or could ever make. Then came Brexit.

Yes this got political. Star Trek has always been political. As the gay descendant of Belgian refugees on one side and a veteran (who was originally an economic migrant from Ireland) on the other, I’m keenly aware that politics is not some optional abstract side-show but the very difference between a stable settled happy life or upheaval, chaos and death. So deal with it.

All my friends had gone to bed the night of the Brexit vote confident (boosted by the Scottish referendum result) that Remain would win and that austerity could be stopped at the next general election. I stayed up for it all. As it became clear that Leave had in fact won a gleeful Nigel Farage proclaimed a peaceful revolution “without a single bullet being fired”. This was just over a week after the Remain MP Jo Cox had been shot and stabbed to death. Our freedom to travel, work, live in the EU was suddenly in doubt, the right of friends and neighbours who’d lived here years (some all their lives) was suddenly in doubt. Families were torn with parents having to leave their children behind with their British spouses, desperate applications for passports, businesses folding all as the ever right lurching government used ever more fascistic rhetoric in its increasingly chaotic attempts to implement a brexit nobody had planned for.

In the midst of the chaos and continued collapse of the UK the comedic spectacle of the US election loomed ever nearer. Most here saw it as a hilarious side-show to take our minds off the growing corruption and undermining of the fabric of our entire society. Hilary as the clearly competent candidate was bound to win and Trump was just an apparently rich guy, surrounded by yes men, making a complete clown of himself. But as with here, the rhetoric from the Trump campaign became more and more fascistic, with rhetorical and actual attacks on opponents, critics and observers. And then he won. Bolsonaro, Orban, Erdogan (and later Johnson). The same forces that had caused my maternal Grandma and her family to become refugees and my paternal Grandfather to risk his life going to war – Autocracy, kleptocracy and fascism – seemed to be in the ascendance around the world.

Against this increasingly desperate and grim backdrop launched Discovery. Initially the beauty of this story of trauma, loss, kindness, love, corruption and season long character growth was lost on me. StarTrek had always been a wellspring of hope, a blueprint and road map for progress and a better tomorrow.

It took a year until, convinced by friends, I tried again. I loved it.

Every tear shed by Michael Burnham, every struggle, every doubt and every moment of revelation. Wonderful. Inspiring. I devoured Seasons 1 & 2 in the space of a couple days. And then came season 3. The Federation diminished with founders Vulcan and Earth having left, Michael Burnham finding a lone Federation official listening out for any sign that the Federation was even still out there… Not surprisingly this struck one hell of a chord! Michael’s quest to rebuild not just the structure but also soul of the Federation in the face of the rampant onslaught of destructive a-moral capitalism, in the form of the brutal Emerald Chain, was the inspiration and hope I’d been searching for. Season 4 dealt so beautifully with discovery and loss, and when Stacy Abhams announced Earth’s intention to rejoin the Federation… that had to be my all time favourite StarTrek moment. Suddenly the bleakness and hopelessness of the world melted away. The possibility of a future, or at least a glimpse of a future, became real for the first time in years.

I owe the writers, producers, actors, directors, all the wonderful people who worked on this incredible piece of art both my unreserved apologies and my undying thanks. In all the real world chaos and tragedy, you’ve given us something truly wondrous, beautiful and inspiring. We may have a long road ahead but in charting that journey, you have given us back our destination, you have illuminated the path, you have given us back hope.

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Will

🏳️‍🌈Nerd who 💚 horticulture 🌱🌿 sci-fi 🖖Je suis Européen! 🇪🇺🇺🇦 #BLM #UnitedEurope #LoveEU #RejoinEU #StarTrek #TransRights

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