Star Trek Discovery discussion
July 3, 2018 7:29 PM - Subscribe

This thread about the S7 Voyager episode Prophecy sprawled into a discussion of Star Trek Discovery's merits and treatment of Klingons. I am moving it here to allow broader discussion. All aired Star Trek should be considered fair game here.

So, a couple of issues cropped up in our last Star Trek threat:

* Is Star Trek: Discovery 'real' Trek versus the newer JJ Abrams version? Why? What distinguishes one from the other?

* How do we feel about the treatment of Klingons on Discovery versus all prior properties? Why?
posted by mordax (5 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
* thread, not threat. Gah, I'm reading too many political megathreads.
posted by mordax at 7:39 PM on July 3 [1 favorite]

So, first let me say that this is not an argument about the quality of Discovery, or it's adherence to the platonic ideal of Trek, but solely about why the Klingons make sense both from a continuity and thematic point-of-view.

Much has been made about the Klingon's appearance in Discovery. They are hairless, with apparently much thicker makeup than in either the movies or subsequent TV shows. This hasn't been explicitly addressed in the text of the the show, but other changes to Klingon appearance has been addressed in other series, specifically Enterprise*.

In Enterprise, the Klingons, experimenting with the human augment virus, accidentally infect the population, leading to Klingons losing their prominent ridges and looking more human. This is a retcon that explains the appearance of the Klingons in the original series. Enterprise takes place approximately 100 years before Discovery and TOS takes place approximately ten years after Discovery.

So, what do human looking Klingons have to do with more Klingony looking Klingons? Well, imagine some big chunk of our population was accidentally turned into another species. Like one day ten percent of the the population of Earth suddenly look like Klingons. They're mostly human genetically and biologically, but they've taken on a lot of the outward appearance of an alien species. What affect would that have on our society? How would we react?

In TOS the answer seems to be "not much" because the human-looking Klingons interact with us and are even high ranking military officials. Or, all the conflict between/about Klingon-human hybrids was settled in the intervening 100-110 years. In the Kelvin/Discovery timeline the answer might be that there was a huge "Klingonist" reaction to the "infection" of Klingons with human DNA.

What's the evidence for this? Look at the attitude of the Klingons in the pilot episode of Discovery. T'Kuvma has a huge chip on his shoulder against the Federation. Why is he so suspicious of the Federation? Why does he want to provoke a war? Why does he keep repeating the phrase "remain Klingon"? Where's their hair? It all sort of makes sense if you see him as a religious zealot/reactionary who thinks that humans deliberately tried to infect the Klingons with human-ness. They could have removed their hair, or even altered their genetics to boost those traits they saw as most "Klingon" as a reaction to the hybrids.

This idea of a violent reaction to a lost of racial or cultural purity also fits thematically with the rest of the show. Logical Vulcan extremists try to kill Sarek. Hybrids, like Spock, or an adopted human like Burnham, are seen as less than in Vulcan culture. In the mirror universe the entire Terran Empire is predicated on the idea of human superiority and the subjugation/eradication of other species. Even Harry Mudd has a sort of "real humans" first philosophy.

(Of course, the real answer is probably that the showrunners/producers on Discovery wanted the Klingons to look more bad ass or alien, but I like my explanation better.)

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*The events of the Kelvin/Discovery timeline diverge from the original series timeline well after the events of Enterprise. There is some evidence for Enterprise being canon as in the most recent Abrams-Trek movie, Beyond. MACOs, introduced in Enterprise as the military personnel in the third season of Enterprise, are an explicit part of the plot of Beyond. So it seems reasonable to assume that other elements of Enterprise are still part of the Kelvin canon.
posted by runcibleshaw at 10:13 PM on July 3 [5 favorites]

Man, yeah, the Vulcan extremists… there's a plot thread that died the way it lived: suddenly, and out of nowhere.

My personal feeling re: revised Klingon loaf, etc. is that it serves in the same capacity as the ship's bridge not looking as old and cheap as the TOS sets, where it's basically just a modern redesign intended to emphasize the unfamiliar and distinctly non-human Klingons (and given the show's interest in showing us long scenes performed entirely in Klingon, they seem to be focused on developing the Klingons in general in a new sort of way).

Whether I personally like the new old Klingons compared to, say, DS9 is largely just a matter of how I'm feeling on a given day, admittedly.
posted by DoctorFedora at 12:13 AM on July 5 [2 favorites]

At this point it would have been better to just say "Klingons have always looked like Klingons".

I think Trials and Tribble-ations was the first "modern" Star Trek to canonically acknowledge that the TOS Klingons didn't look like "modern" Klingons, which was probably a huge mistake. IIRC Worf was not a major player in the episode but it would have been way funnier if they made up Michael Dorn to look like a TOS Klingon for the duration and refused to acknowledge it.

Anyway, making the physical difference canonical led to Enterprise ham-handedly trying to explain it, which was fine and easy to forget about until Discovery comes along with even MORE "modern-looking" Klingons throwing the entire thing out the window. Runcible's explanation could work, but unless we actually see a TOS-style Klingon alongside Discovery-style Klingons (which is unlikely) it's a glorious bit of fanwankery.

I made it clear in the Discovery discussion threads that I'm not happy with Discovery's technical designs because of how vastly different they are from the Original Series designs, to the point I have to ask why even set it so close to Kirk if you're not going to run with that idea? I still insist they could have made something very fun and visually interesting by taking the TOS concept art as a starting point and asking "What would this look like if it were made with modern-day stagecraft and CGI?" They did do that, to a degree, by using the earliest concept art for the Enterprise as the design for the Discovery, but everything else could use a lot less "Mass Effect" in the designs.

This same over-designing carries over to the Klingons. They could have easily kept Klingons looking the way they've looked since 1979, but they decided to make them look more alien and unfamiliar, as well as give them an update to reflect how makeup techniques have improved in the last 40 years.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:03 PM on July 9 [3 favorites]

I still insist they could have made something very fun and visually interesting by taking the TOS concept art as a starting point and asking "What would this look like if it were made with modern-day stagecraft and CGI?"

This is pretty much what the JJ Abrams movies did, no? I thought the first one was a harmless, clever AU romp, but the next two couldn't justify their existence. But I think DISCO's producers felt they had to take a different path. I spent the first half of the show wondering why they bothered setting it in the past and not the future, and I think they did manage to sell me on it by the end. They tied together Enterprise's dip into the Mirror Universe (which DID film on TOS-era sets and didn't look great doing it), with a couple of TOS episodes and a lot of Vulcan lore without being overly fanwank-continuity-crazy.

DISCO's producers have said they're staying in the Prime Star Trek Universe, not Kelvin, but I don't hate them for updating the look. We don't really need to revisit the short skirts and chunky blinkenlights.
posted by rikschell at 6:14 PM on July 11

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