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[OPINION] - Star Trek: Discovery - Pop Cultural Analysis & Observations

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Disclaimer Please note that the views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpoilerTV.

As a preface, I like to start out by saying this article is merely a speculation; a series of thoughts and ideas that formed, as I a read across episode titles, watched characters' behaviour, noted plots and subplots, themes, and recognised the some of the other works behind the creative team and even at times, works behind them. I don't have a lot of sources to support these ideas, but I will site them, when possible, but moreover please don't assume that I mean this as fact, I do not. It's just a pop-cultural theory and analysis, --something to consider, not too hold too tightly. These are the voyages...

If I'm honest I wasn't sure what to expect from Star Trek: Discovery. I haven't been a "deep" Star Trek fan, I've always leaned more passionately towards Star Wars, but that's not to say as a kid and young adult I didn't turn on the TV to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation or 'Deep Space 9', which I had thought  DS9 the more revolutionary, nor did I not also watch, after the fact, Star Trek: Enterprise, which I primarily liked for it's fixation on playing with space-time and the Expanse.  But it really wasn't until JJ Abrams' Bad Robot reboot, creating an alternate timeline intentionally juxtaposing some of the events from the original series, and in which, reminded me a great deal of Alias in space by being more action-heavy and perhaps shinier than previous more grounded Treks, that I really felt I could love a Star Trek.

I was delighted to learn that the ship for the new TV series was not going to follow the tradition of an Enterprise vessel--it had me hoping that this would be an edgier & more subversive Trek, but I still feared, because the fan base probably wanted something more traditional, that it would still shy away from being a more controversial or occasionally murky, but my hopes both renewed, and died again, with the announcements of the hiring & firing of Bryan Fuller.  So again, I wasn't really sure what we were getting and how much of the drafts Mr. Fuller had worked on, had been disregarded.

Game of Thrones

With the first couple of episodes, I didn't really see the Bryan Fuller imprint I thought I might of. There were some bits in the religious dialogue with Klingons that reminded me a great deal of Game of Thrones, from great Khals to great Houses, to epic battles and warfare, to spiritual rights of passage and I remembered some of Mr. Fuller's tweets that he was a pretty big fan of the HBO fantasy epic (Me too!). As it turns out other executive producer Aaron Harberts confirmed the GOT influence here. Outside of that I didn't really see it, until I watched and discovered the title of episode four, The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lambs Cry.


Fuller had begun to adapt Thomas Harris' Post Modern Gothic crime series about a captivating and highly intelligent serial-killing manipulative cannibal, mascarading as a psychiatrist and master chief. As a fan of the source material as well, I lavished and delighted in how Bryan Fuller and his team were able to pick-up on things and flesh them out in a way the films never could. It was also true that he had the timeline updated and therefor, as he began to instill aspects of Hannibal Rising (Hannibal's origin story) into parts of the third season, one would have to assume that some of brilliance of Harris' World War II & class warfare turned revenge story, would never come to light the same way on the TV series and he probably would of had to find another way to encapsulate Hannibal's own war with God and/or the limitations of the universe.

For those that have never read the books, the story also a post modern Gothic love story between Hannibal Lecter and FBI agent Clarice Starling. Harris' books tend to shift from two mirrored crime dramas with Red Dragon and Silences of the Lambs; both juxtaposed by an unexplored relationship of Hannibal and FBI-related characters. Hannibal is at first caught by Will Graham and then, where later still captured, he meets newbie Clarice Starling, as Hannibal helps both find other serial killers on the loose, but at the end of Silence of the Lambs, he escapes! Hannibal then takes place seven years after Silence of the Lambs and with Clarice on the hunt for Hannibal. The novel takes Silence of the Lamb's characters and turns them on there heads, as Harris becomes interested in exploring corrupt law enforcement for the sake of Clarice's transformation. In return the new-found Hannibal-made, but not controlled, Clarice also seems to be healing Hannibal, --but from exactly what is not explored until the final book, which is a prequel, Hannibal Rising. The final written book with it's war crime story laced with Eastern Philosophy, tends to inform Hannibal, and gives the first two books a greater thematic depth through tragic and terrorising romances with brutal killings all about spiritual transformation.

The reason I brought all of that up, is because it's those used (and not yet used) ideas that I think could of shaped Discovery's first season. As I mentioned, the title is when it hit me, as The Butcher's Knife is Not for the Lamb's Cry is another way to say or remind oneself of the title, Silence of the Lambs.

It also became clear to me, as the series moved forward, that I could see Hannibal archetypes. The Mirror Lorca being Hannibal, shaping fate and fortune in his hands -- both Captain Georgious being a combination of Lady Murasaki and Jack Crawford. (there may be a Jack Crawford element there with Cornwall as well). Micheal Burnham is the noble Clarice Starling and Ash Tyler, a stray dog, is Will Graham and then we got this triple shot of being "born out of war" story with Klingons and the mystery of the rely starting this war, the natural state of the counterparts of the Mirror Universe, and the development of Discovery and crew members itself amidst those two other things, as Michael tries to find the series moral centre, but without being a pretentious hero.

In addition the Hannibal TV series "fleshed-out" the novels by showcasing a much bigger spectrum of intellectual characters, some more scrupulous than others, that played out in inner circles of psychological cat and mouse games between masters and apprentices. The first season of Discovery had a similar pallet by displaying all these different kinds of intellectual characters, sometimes spitefully sardonic, sometimes elegant and reserved, other times joyfully quirky, and other times ruthlessly to the point.

And so I came to believe, "Dr. Lector was saying, "that there had to be a place in the world for Mischa, a prime place vacated for her, and I came to think, Clarice, that best place in the world was yours." - Hanniabal pg 253

"I do not know where your Voq ends and our Tyler begins." - Saru

One other idea comes to mind with the Ash Tyler and L'Rell storyline and Voq plot twist. In the novel Hannibal readers come to learn that Hannibal wants to somehow condition and transform Clarice into a vessel for Hannibal's dead little sister's conscious! The novel never explains how Hannibal comes to believe in necromancy and/or communion of the dead, but the TV series may have begun such a process by showcasing characters like Eliot Buddhish, a man that could see sinners, and Will Graham (& a priest) being able to see Abigail Hobbs. The idea also might have been furthered with dialogue and plot from 2.08 where Hannibal and Will Graham discuss the point of victim Sarah Craber being found dead inside a horse, and yet a living starling found inside her...

Hannibal 2.01 Transcript:

Hannibal: I never feel guilty about eating anything
Jack Crawford: I can't quite place the fish.
Hannibal: He was a flounder. I last prepared this meal for my aunt Murasaki, under similarly unfortunate circumstances.

Star Trek: Discovery 1.15 Transcript:

Mirror Georgiou: Scared Kelpian makes for tough Kelpian.

And lastly, I had wondered if viewers would see some kind of cannibalism (or sentinel being eating sentinel being) before the season ended. My bets were on the Klingons, but I was surprisingly wrong, as it was Mirror Georgiou fondness for Kelpian or Tully's dismay at eating "space whale" that really hits the whole Hannibal eats his victims and serves them to guests food references, such as having Jack Crawford over for dinner or feeding Gideon snails to make his flesh taste more of a seafood delectable.

I went back to see if there was any indication if my thoughts could at all be accurate. I couldn't find a direct source between Hanibal and Discovery, but I did find an article in which executive producer Alexander Kurtzman and other EPs state that they tried to keep as much of Bryan Fuller's story as they could.

 "I’m a tremendous fan of Bryan’s,” Kurtzman said. “He’s so deeply, deeply, supernaturally gifted.” After Fuller’s departure, Kurtzman and fellow executive producers Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts “set about to protect and preserve as much of the vision that he had. Gretchen and Aaron, who worked with Bryan for a long, long time, are here because we all respect Bryan’s vision and because we felt it was the best way to preserve that.”

Variety August 21, 2017

Allegories: Archangels/Name Meaning

From the Hannibal parallels, I also gleamed something else. Hannibal is also rather allegorical, as it references Greek Mythology to William Blake's views on Christianity. It's one reason Silence of the Lamb's title is what it is, referring the Biblical concepts and imagery of Shepard's and sacrificial lambs.  So I started to think about the name of Discovery's main protagonist, Micheal Burnham.

The obvious thing that came after, was the choice of the name Micheal. Sure, in some ways it seems a bit gimmicky to appease progressive culture by giving a female character a boys name, but Micheal is also Biblical name, Micheal: the Archangel--the Angel of Death.

Is it then any coincidence that the series starts out with a character that surely had good intentions, and in some ways was not completely wrong, but at the same time, whose curiosity, does bare some responsibility to the loss of most the Shenzou crew, including her Captain and mentor Philippa Georgoui, let alone the start of this horrific war??

(Note: Image Above: Allegory of Man 1596)

And is Micheal not fighting against the other factions on behalf of the Federation, trying to hold up some of their principals as a means to kind of redemption story?? Is Micheal not trying to be The Great Defender, even if she has to question her Masters' beliefs or Herself???

Burnham is then another interesting choice for surname, as it sounds like 'Burn 'em' or 'burn (t) ham'.
She is character that basically got burned and has to live with the consequence, but she is also a very smart character that can often do circles around others as well, but with the intent to save them or make them better. Fire then too is another avenue one could interpret. Fire is something we see as the 'progress of man',  whether we see it as something we need to to survive, a symbol of passion and power, and/or an image of war.

Lorca too is sort of an interesting choice. It's also a name for an autotomonous town in Spain that has it's own Medieval "Lorca Castle". Hannibal Rising reveals to readers that Hannibal was once living in Lithuiania at his family's castle as a child before a series of unfrontunate events occur--a castle that was once built by Teutonic knights.

Also Lorca is the surname of a famous Spanish poet, Federico Garcia Lorca. Hannibal Rising (See image to right) too had a character named after a real-life writer, Lady Murasaki, who was one of the first great female novelists and poets in Japan, Murasaki Shikibu. It's also curious too, since the Mirror Universe reveal brings us to an  "Imperial Palace" in the form of a ship (granted this goes with Game of Thrones iconography also). In Hannibal (TV series), the concept goes further as Hannibal Lecter prescribes to an ancient Roman philosophical technique called "a memory palace" in which Hannibal tries to use as a means to reconstruct memory, but also a place to imagine all the paths one might take, which is not unlike the concept of multiple parallel universes. Bryan Fuller also began to play with that idea, as viewers were not sure if Abigail Hobbs was really with Will Graham or not during the third season.

The character's first name, Gabriel also then contributes to the notion of Judeo-Christian Allegory--as Gabriel is also the other named Archangel, whose name means, "God is my Strength". Gabriel is often depicted as God's messenger.

And the Lord said to Gabriel: "Proceed against the bastards and the reprobates, and against the children of fornication: and destroy [the children of fortification and] the children of the Watchers from amongst me [and chaise them to go forth]: send one against the other that they may destroy each other in battle: for length of days they shall not have. - 1 Enoch 10:9

This particular verse of scripture is curious, since it's primarily a command from God to Gabriel to create war among particular groups of sinners.  In some ways, Captain Lorca fits into that notion, considering he tends to be battling against (or through) groups or individuals whom often seem worse than he. However, he too could easily be "a fornicator" given his more painful deceptions towards characters like Stammets, and so his death could be proof of such a notion. On the other side though viewers have yet meet the prime Lorca and it's unclear if it will turn out to be, that this counterpart is/was more angelic than the former? It's also true that other Star Treks have been allegorical, but I don't recall it being so forthright with names so blatant as Micheal or Gabriel.

Beyond the Fringe

Moving on, also as mentioned in previous paragraphs, Alexander Kurtzman and his new Secret Hideout Productions partner Heather Kadin are two of Discovery's executive producers. Kurtzman's career stems from working with JJ Abrams on Bad Robot Productions, which is also a reason he also worked with Abrams' on the Kelvinverse Star Trek timeline, but more importantly his name is associated with great TV series such as Alias and Fringe.

Bad Robot's "phase one" TV works often had a George Lucas Star Wars-like multigenerational family saga foundation, all set in metaphysical universes, where there was always a spiritual notion of something "bigger than the self" weaving itself into the story--the concept of fate. Fringe is really the work that takes the best of Alias' hybrid episodic structure (see also the fringey third season) and ideas presented (but not directly explained) in LOST and marries them together by really trying to explain the science-fiction aspects on just about every episode, so that viewers can see how it all really adds up, tying all of it into it's bigger stories. It's the show that was really willing to play with pseudo science connected to spiritual ideas by examining the power transcending universes through human consciousness.

In addition, another Discovery executive producer Akiva Goldsman also worked on Fringe. There is one episode in particular the reminded me a great deal of not only Fringe's kinetic and multiuniverse constructs, but more specifically, The Macro Tardigrade and the spore Network.

Episode 4.06 Alone in the World takes place in another iteration of the blue timeline. One where both Peters died young and where the season 1-3 red Peter materializes after using the wave sync device. Although the episode reflects Peter being alone in a new time line, it also reflects the loneliness or isolation of the new Olivia and new Walter by not having Peter be in their lives sooner, presented through a young boy named Aaron whose being bullied. One day he befriends a kinetic fungus, growing underground, and they form a symbiotic relationship. The fungus wants to protect Aaron. So one day, when the bullies follow him, one boy ends up dead, because the fungus killed him. We find out the fungus is also growing into a very large network and it is killing others. It takes Walter a great deal of time to realise that the fungus is reacting to Aaron's feelings and they have to find away to psychically detach Aaron from the fungus, otherwise if they kill the fungus, Aaron would die too!

Really a lot of Fringe's ideas from cortexiphan subjects, reprinting over another timeline, or Peter and the Machine go nicely into the idea of a metaphysical interstellar & time-travelling network along with the concept of Stamets altering his DNA to become the vessel to drive Discovery's spore drive. --But even beyond that, there is the revelation that spore network can not only travel fast between to points, or to parallel universes, but seemingly taps into an astral plane where Dr. Culber seems to be able to exist, if only briefly. It was this kind of spiritual elevation of Stamets being able to reach Culber again, that makes Discovery seem so extraordinary.

As a side note, there is also an episode of Hannibal that features mushrooms! It's from the first season titled, Amuse-Bouche and it's about serial killer who kills diabetics in order to grow his mushroom farm! The episode is also inspired by the horror film, Motel Hell also featuring a people garden.

And speaking of Stamets and the Tartagrade, Stamets is also a reference to a real life scientist, Paul Stamets, a mycololgist--a scientist that studies fungi, including medicinal properties of fungi!

Microscopic tardigrades then are also found in the real world, but there may be a misconception on the real-life science behind microscopic tardigrades' ability for horizontal gene transfer, as a paper was published in 2015 that has been prove controversial and potentially false. As it turns out, it was contaminated DNA and sloppy science, not evidence of a gene absorbing entity. But even still, I think the idea of it, as fringe as may be, works well to separate Discovery from the other Star Treks and allows for some more intriguing mythology and compelling story lines.

"And In to the Forest I Go, To Loose My Mind and Find my Soul." --Unknown

One last thing that strikes me as something Fringe-like, is featured in the episode, Si Vis Pacem Para Bellem, There is something about this new alien species that appears as a network of blue dust energy along with an electromagnetic blue crystals growing up out of the ground and can be used as a transceiver that just feels so Fringe season five to me! Particularly The Recordist comes to mind. Sure, it's true also that on it's face a lot of this planet exploring episode playing on Saru's fears, by ironically finding peace, seems pretty standard for Star Trek, but at the same time it feels more metaphysical than usual and these notions go really nicely with the Macro Tardigrade and the magic spore network.

Star Treking

And Lastly, as mentioned early on this article, it really wasn't until Bad Robot's parallel alternate reality spin off, that I felt like I could love a Trek a more, and part of that was the premise of what a lot of their early shows, specifically Fringe did best, which was show the 'roads not taken'. With that thought in mind, The Kelvinverse's purpose, not unlike what other Treks have often done, including the introduction to the Mirror Universe in the Original Series, was to compare and contrast events and characters from the original series, so that viewers could see what changed, but what remains true. For Kelvinverse Spock, there is much more riding on his shoulders, as fear of extinction thematically runs through the Kelvinverse films, most often with plots centring around Spock's existentialism and it's that existential crises that gives a bigger struggle to the Spock and Kirk dynamic, than the previous two had in the prime timeline, including Spock struggling to find his place, more than his counterpart.

In some ways I see can see Michael having characteristics from both of these classic and iconic characters, like Spock, a Vulcan sensibility to think logically, patiently, and capable of a lot of self control, but yet she also has moments of sheer emotion, deep compassion, where, like Kirk, she's willing to gamble and takes risks.

Thank you SO MUCH for taking the time to go this rather long observation!! I would love to read in comments some of the things YOU SEE or are reminded of when you watch the series, including more seasoned Star Trek fans recognising things relating to other episodes of other Treks, other science fiction and fantasy works, allegories,  ANYTHING! :)

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