Let’s take a look at the first episode of Star Trek: Discovery – “A Vulcan Hello” and the issues the pilot episode addresses.
Psychological Traumatized Indiviudals
Human – Micheal Burnam – Victim of childhood trauma
We are introduced to a lady “Michael Burnam”. She has to deal with several severe psychological traumas.
- She witnessed her parents being killed by the Klingons
- In order to save her life, she had to endure a Mind Meld with a Vulcan as a child, even though this is very stressful and traumatizing for adults.
- Instead of being raised by Humans, she was raised by Vulcans, a species without any display of emotion. Her Vulcan parents forced her to suppress all emotions.
- During her education, she was forced to perform intellectual and physical tasks on the same level as her Vulcan peers, that have naturally higher intellectual and physical abilities than Humans.
When the USS Shenzhou encounters a Klingon ship. She panics and goes to her room – The following scene can be read as a hallucination caused by her suffering from her radiation poisoning.
In her room, she attempts to call her surrogate father Sarek. The computer blocks her connection requesting a diplomatic security clearance. – However, she quietly says her name, and Sarek appears in a ghostly form. He appears without delay, not even a connection delay (just imagine he would have been sitting in the bathroom that would have been awkward), the image however then jitters from time to time, and he interacts with the chair and the room. She asks him for advice – he suggests, the Klingons have unified and are preparing for war, without providing any evidence. In essence, confirming her deepest fears and allowing her to act on her deepest desires to get revenge on the Klingons. She continues to ask how the Vulcans established diplomatic relationships – we never get to see the answer.
Burnam goes back to her captain claiming that the only way to engage the Klingons is to attack them. She talks to her captain and tells her a story about the first encounters of the Vulcans with the Klingons. That they always fired first at the Klingons, the “Vulcan Hello”, until the Klingons respected them
Her captain has never heard about these stories and dismisses her advice to fire first. The captain knows that Burnham is lying. Vulcans are known for their pacifist nature, as the Vulcans rejected violence thousands of years ago and embraced a peaceful existence. This we know from a TNG episode “Gambit” where an ancient Vulcan weapon is found that only kills people with violent thoughts. Thus the defense against the weapon is only peaceful thoughts. During that time the race was split into the Vulcans and the Romulans. Thus it is not possible, very unlikely that the story Burnham is telling can be true, but is driven by her imagination and her troubled past.
Burnham’s lust for revenge is so strong that she then proceeds to assault her captain and tries to take command of the USS Shenzhou. To finally fire upon the Klingons, however, now additional Klingon ships appear and she has to rethink the situation.
Klingon – T’Kuvma – Religious Extremist
The other troubled individual is the Klingon T’Kuvma an individual that has been indoctrinated since childhood with Klingon Religion. He believes that he can reunite the Empire just like Kahless did in the past. He is fascinated by the old traditions and rituals and creates a cult of Klingons around him that are so deeply devoted to the Religion that they would go on suicide missions.
However, he fears anything that is different than the traditions he knows and treasures. He cannot imagine any other way of living. Thus to preserve his way of life he is defending his home from the evil ever-expanding Federation.
Thus he is suffering from a delusion of grandeur, he believes he is Kahless, superior to other Klingons, superior to the Federation, and unlike any other Klingon, we have ever seen he is obsessed with displaying his wealth by covering everything in gold. He believes he has the power of a god. He believes so strongly in his cause that he is willing to die for it.
The two troubled Induviduals meet
At the end of the episode, they try to capture T’Kuvma. His capture would severely demoralize the Klingon war effort probably ending the war – his death however would make him a martyr.
During the mission the captain of the USS Shenzhou is killed by a Klingon – Burnam loses another parental figure.
Burnham now completely embraces her lust for revenge and violence, rebels against her Vulcan logical mentoring, and decides to murder T’Kuvma. Thus Burnham fulfills her desire to get revenge and T’Kuvma fulfills his dream of uniting the Klingon Empire and starting the war against the Federation. Burnham is put into prison for her crimes.
The Culture Wars
The Klingon Empire is portrayed as a culture that values tradition and preserving this tradition. No matter how antiquated the traditions may seem as a civilization that can travel through space and can encounter other species. They preserve their culture by isolating it from the rest of the universe.
The Federation on the other hand seeks and embraces new cultures and wants to integrate as many cultures and species into their society as possible, so everyone can learn from each other. This type of culture is always changing and is not bound by traditions, as more and more cultures are added the individual culture gets changed by the Federation, and the Federation changes with each new culture.
The core message of Star Trek is taken to its extreme opposite, instead of accepting and embracing different cultures. Two radically different cultures with totally not compatible values are pitted against each other. Instead of dialog, learning, and respecting each other’s way of life, they take the easy way and start a war to eradicate each other – then you do not have to deal with the opposing viewpoint anymore.
This mirrors current internet discussions and the rise of echo chambers where nobody speaks with people that have a different point of view.
We are apparently living in a time where we only know to solve our conflicts with violence. There is an appetite for grand space battles, explosions, pew pew lasers, and big action set pieces.
There is no more Captain Picard that gives a grand speech and saves the day by talking and empathizing with the other. Where he always tells Worf that he should stand down and he only uses weapons as his absolute last resort. The solution is simply to kill the enemy, then he is silent and we do not have to deal with his ideas about life. – That is a really sad message and greatly limits your thinking, as many times other people have great ideas and you always can learn from another person.