On Thursday, I had my first graduate school midterms. The exams went fine, but the studying, like any midterm, drained me like a leach. So, instead of watching the anxiety-inducing final presidential debate, I opted to watch the new episode of Star Trek: Discovery and to crack open a can of craft beer (the Lieutenant Dan IPA from War Horse Brewing Co., if anyone cares).
Following the events of season two, the crew of the USS Discovery ends up 900 years in the future—that is, a future without the Federation. In the first few episodes, crew members carry out the mission and regulations of Star Fleet in a world where such values have little meaning. They are relics of Star Trek utopia.
And thus, though I escaped the live streaming of the presidential debate, I didn’t miss the meaning of such an event as a symbol of institutional decay. In Discovery, captain Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) represents the choice American voters face this October: the choice may dictate whether our Federation will persist….
Just kidding, I’m not going to do that. I won’t write about how four more years of Republican rule will bring about the destruction of America’s civic institutions. I’m really exhausted by those op-eds. Plus, I didn’t watch the debate; I watched Star Trek. Instead, I just hope Discovery can provide you with a rest from the relentless news cycle.
It’s tough to recommend the third season of a television show, especially a show on CBS All Access (do any non-Trekies have CBS?). The first two seasons are by no means poor television, even with season one’s slow start, but the third season really looks special. A new character, Book (David Ajala), with his fan-favorite cat Grudge, possesses a sort of Avatar element-bending capability. By the second episode, we have seen a Saloon shootout, Michelle Yeoh in some classic martial arts scenes, space pirates, and a planet where ice is parasitic. And all of this takes place in a world absent Star Fleet and the Federation, territory unexplored in Star Trek until now.
If you have the time, start from the beginning and at least keep with it until you spend some time with Ripper, the magical space worm. The vast array of characters are the show’s biggest attraction. In season one, the morally dubious Captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs) controls every frame he is in; in season two, Anson Mount’s Captain Pike presents a more admirable alternative in the captain’s chair. Off the bridge, the romance between Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) directly addresses LGBT tropes and subverts them by presenting a completely happy, mostly un-endangered gay couple.
Martin-Green gives a fantastic performance as Michael, the first Black woman to captain the eponymous ship of a given Star Trek show. The next-in-command is Saru (Doug Jones), from an alien species called the Kelpien, whose evolution has endowed him with the ability to sense impending death. His mysteriousness and uniqueness has inspired my wife to name our next dog, which she assures me will be a Kelpie, Saru.
But, in all seriousness, seeing Michael raise presumably the first Federation flag in 900 years in season three’s premiere is an unavoidable political commentary. The episode tasks the crew with saving the Federation, the uniting and peaceful force of the universe. People from the past—i.e., now—must act to preserve the same institution in future timelines. The intended moral couldn’t be clearer: will we save America or not?
I should have known I couldn’t escape politics by watching Star Trek, the first major American show to show an interracial kiss. Either way, I’m glad I spent my night drinking quality beer and watching Discovery rather than Trump’s buffoonery while I tried to convince myself that Joe Biden can pull us out of our mess.
On election night, instead of scrolling Twitter endlessly or refreshing FiveThirtyEight’s forecasts, give Discovery a try—even if you start with the third season. I mean, there is a character named Book and a cat named Grudge. What’s not to like?
Star Trek: Discovery airs weekly on CBS All Access (and Netflix for those not in America) at 3 a.m EST on Thursdays.