Discussion in 'Star Trek: Discovery' started by The CW, Mar 24, 2019.
I like season long arcs, going back to episodic stories would be a mistake and regressive.
I'm enjoying the season long arcs we're seeing in Discovery. I also enjoyed the Xindi arc on Enterprise format with a season-long arc with some standalone episodes thrown into the mix.
I would say that's a pretty reductive claim.
First of all, season 1 and season 4 are, in my experience, pretty much near the bottom of the barrel in terms of being fondly remembered. Secondly, season six very deliberately didn't go bigger at all, it went smaller, and it worked quite well as a storyline, though it's not a very popular one on account of the incredibly depressing subject matter.
I'd also argue that season 2 is somewhat overrated by many people, I suspect out of nostalgia, in that it was the moment when the show first clicked for them. And in any case, when I hear people talk about season 2, they're usually talking about the serialized parts, anyway (Angelus).
Meanwhile, season 5 has been rather underrated, I've always suspected because a lot of people simply didn't like the presentation of Glory and her minions, but it undeniably has several of the greatest episodes of the show, most of which don't actually require you to understand the season arc to appreciate them. And I would honestly put it out there as one of the greatest season long arcs I've ever seen on television.
Season 7 is down at the bottom of the list with 1 and 4, but that's not because it's serialized. It's because the season long arc just wasn't well planned out, so there's a huge slump in the middle of the season until the writers just handwave a bunch of stuff so they can finally get to the good stuff in the last four or five episodes.
Which brings me incidentally to the thread topic, because DSC's season 1 arc made Buffy season 7 look like a masterpiece and unfortunately the Red Angel storyline is losing stock with me every week at this point, so I fear more and more that this show really just doesn't have the talent for season long arcs to begin with. My preferred method in general would be mini-arcs mixed with single episodes that all add up to an overarching season arc (or even larger arc like GoT). But unless season 2's storyline has a massive turnaround that suddenly makes this whole thing feel a lot more interesting, I've pretty much lost faith in DSC's ability to pull off anything bigger than a 3-parter and I wish they'd stop trying.
For example the recent episode. If you compare it with, let's say, "New Eden", the second episode: "New Eden" of course also contributed to the Red Angel arc. But the core storyline was the mission to the planet where they had to save those people. It was a storyline that of course is part of the bigger arc, but this particular story begins with the episode and ends with the episode. So you should know about the main arc of course, but with that in mind, it makes totally sense rewatching the episode without rewatching the whole season for context. It's a bit like some DS9 season 6 or season 7 episodes, where you also have a main arc with the Dominion war you should know about, but then can watch the episodes as stand-alone ones. And almost all earlier episodes from Discovery season 2 work this way. "An Obol For Charon", it tells and finishes the story about the Discovery's contact to this entity in space, "The Sounds Of Thunder", it's about the mission to Saru's home planet, and so on.
The recent episodes from the season however feel different to me. Still, you could say each of them has its own focus, but to me this focus seems to be stronger connected to the main arc. I don't feel they tell stories anymore which are indeed part of that, but can also be seen as episodic. As I said, an episode like "New Eden" oder "An Obol For Charon" can be watched again at any time, whereas the recent episodes feel, at least to me, more like episodes from Game Of Thrones or House Of Cards when it comes to the type of narration, because they only move the main arc forward. And for me it wouldn't make sense to watch single episodes from those shows.
And don't get it twisted, I LOVE Game Of Thrones and House Of Cards That's why I usually also don't have a problem with whole season arcs, but still, for Star Trek I prefer the episodic version. Or the mixture we saw in the first half of season 2 But maybe it's also because I'm not so glad with the development of the season's main arc. I just don't like the idea that much that the Red Angel is basically a piece of technology. When the season started and I still thought the Red Angel will be some unknown living being or maybe even a character from one of the other Star Trek shows they want us to surprise with, I enjoyed much more following this arc. The solution is not really what I wished it to be and thus I'm much less in favor now of the main story in hindsight, but I know of course that that's only my point of view.
Episode long stories. I want things to resolve by the end of the episode. But in one occasion I would like longer arcs.
For example, if they would expand one of the current episodes from TNG for example into 5 episode arc, that would be great, but only as long as I know the story in advance. I know it's weird, but I always read the spoilers before. For me, if knowing the ending spoils the story, then the story is no good.
I hate mystery and suspense and not knowing what comes next. If I know the story and how it ends, then I would like it to expand. The best of both worlds would be prime example.
They're stories. They should fill up the amount of episode(s) needed to tell them. I'm not exactly sure how episodic is "regressive"? It is a valid form of storytelling.
I can't wait for the new version of The Twilight Zone on Monday.
To be fair, Season 5 was (aside from the 1992 movie) my first introduction to Buffy, and hooked me enough to want to go back and check out the rest, but as time has gone on I've found myself definitely closer to the line that the show did have diminishing returns.
Is Season 6 smaller? I do grant you the idea of the villains being three schmucks living in mom's basement is certainly a step down, but we all know that the trio are really the season's bait-and-switch, and that the real big bad... is arguably the biggest twist to date. And her descent into badness was seeded throughout the season in subtle ways, while we were all distracted by the trio.
I guess my point is really that in a serialized show there always has to be escalation. On some levels, S6 can't top a literal evil goddess like Glory, but the personal connection that the viewers would have had with the ultimate big bad of S6 means that she's certainly a step up drama wise. Unfortunately, that 'serial escalation' has a habit of taking drama into melodrama and driving it completely off a cliff.
(Disclaimer: IMHO. Individual milage may vary. Take only as prescribed. If pain persists, see an EMH. )
Novels superseded short stories because they could give readers many things short form story telling was not capable of.
Yet every year lots of short stories continue to be published. So, they really weren't replaced. Any more than arc storytelling has replaced episodic.
Both are capable of existing side-by-side.
You suggest bigger, deeper. more meaningful stakes is a bad thing. There's something intrinsically more compelling about a series of chapters that actually leads somewhere, as opposed to a set of random stories that are only connected by the fact they feature the same characters but can be watched in any order.
I find something intrinsically compelling about a good story. Whether it is told in 45 or 450 minutes. YMMV.
I've found more compelling drama in "The Doomsday Machine", "Balance of Terror" or "Q, Who" than I've found so far in Discovery.
Good for you. Doesn't change the fact that once long for story telling on TV as happened with fiction was introduced, people wanted more. And like novels, long for story telling is now dominant on Television. This is not random. Novels can include the things short stories embody. The reverse is not the same.
I have watched eps in Discovery which I consider the equal of the best of episodic Trek, and they are further enriched, IMO, by being part of a continuing story and the deepening of character and ongoing narrative that this allows as well as functioning as discrete narratives as well.
IMO, a short story can't embody a novel, but a novel can contain anything that a short story can and a whole lot more.
I'm a pretty simple guy. All I'm concerned with is whether or not a story is entertaining and if I'm interested in revisiting it. 45 or 450 minutes/pages, my only concern is the quality of the material presented.
Discovery has been hit or miss on the entertaining part, and hasn't given me much reason to revisit it.
I think the general consensus is influenced heavily by how well that specific seasonal arcs are carried out. If they're carried out well, people are supportive. Otherwise, stand-alone episodes start looking preferable. After episode 10 aired - which was widely approved of - the poll was consistently about 75% in favor of seasonal arcs. After episode 11 - which was generally regarded as a weaker episode - that percentage went down significantly. So it seems to partially depend on how the episodes go from week to week as people rate this particular arc of the RA. It's definitely an experimental formula for the ST franchise, so it's understandable that some opinions are being shaped as it progresses.
You can't conflate escalation of drama with escalation of action or escalation of stakes. They're all different things which can happen completely independently of each other and one can easily go down while another goes up, which is why I find rather difficult to even try to say which season of Buffy went 'the biggest'. (Well, overall, it was almost certainly season 5, but what order to put them in after that is very hard to say, imo.)
Compare, for instance, Prophecy Girl to Graduation Day. GD is big action set-piece compared to PG's handful of vampires murdering in the shadows. But the high school class coming together to defy Wilkins, while cool, really doesn't compare dramatically/emotionally to Buffy willingly going to her death because it's her destiny. From one pov, GD is a clear escalation. From another it's a clear de-escalation.
As for Dark Willow being the biggest twist to date, I just can't agree with that at all. Dark Willow's story is actually highly comparable to the Angel/Angelus story from all the way back in season 2 with parallels from the very beginning including a long history of foreshadowing about hidden darkness inside that might find a way out and a sudden unexpected transformation in the middle of a deeply intimate, innocent moment.
At the end of the day, when Angel went bad he murdered Jenny Calendar, tortured Giles and tried to end the world multiple times over. Whereas Willow murdered the King Joffrey of Sunnydale and that weird creep nobody cared about and didn't want to destroy the world at all until she realized how much pain it was in and wanted to end the pain. And as far as emotional drama is concerned - Becoming ends with Buffy being forced to condemn her innocent, bewildered lover to literal hell to save the world while Grave ends with a heartfelt speech, a hug and a good cry. Willow's story is more down to earth, human and relatable in just about every way except for the fact that she happens to be a powerful witch - but even in that regard, season 6 was hardly an over the top action packed finale when compared to 3, 4 or 5.
And really, I don't see any logical argument for how anything could ever 'top' the twist of literally killing off the title character as the culmination of a whole season's worth of foreshadowing about Slayer's having a death wish, death being her gift and Buffy being completely overwhelmed as her life falls apart around her. Main characters going dark - even evil - is a classic tv trope. I've literally never seen any other show that ended a season with the title character literally dead and buried and all their friends in mourning.
The truth of the matter is that 'escalation' is not some singular quality that must go up because long form storytelling demands it. It's a bunch of different things that can and do go up and down over time in all sorts of different combinations. And while it's true that sometimes people can try to go too big with nonsensical results (more than a little bit of that in Chosen, for instance), that's hardly some automatic inevitability of the style. It's just people making bad calls. Which often may be more likely to happen later on in a show as people do get burnt out - but that's not inevitable either, as there a plenty of shows which manage to go out on a high note even quite a few years in.
For example, take Angel - a show far more serialized than Buffy - which ends in season 5 with a series of huge, desperate battles that honestly don't really matter except in the classic Angel sense of 'the only thing that matters is what we do'. A pretty much perfect cap-off to a season that has been all about the struggle to make the right choice and a show that has been all about the conviction to stand up and do the right thing whether you get something out of it or not. As compared to Angel season 4 which had permanent darkness and demon playgrounds on the streets of LA and everything suitably over the top all thrown together in such a weird way that it's almost universally everyone's least favorite season of the show. In season 4 things just didn't click the way you want them to for various reasons, but in season 5 they went even bigger and did it perfectly.
I'm sorry, but this is a damn, damn ignorant claim.
It is true that novels sell better than short stories. Particularly for genre fiction like sci-fi, the death of sales for short stories has been a big issue for new writers trying to break into the industry. And even if you do get published in one of the few magazines still published, like Analog, you'll only get a pittance.
That said, commercial viability is not the same thing as artistic merit. Poetry, for example, is a notoriously low-selling area of writing. It's often joked that more people write poetry than read poetry. But no one would claim it's a form which is universally of lower artistic quality than say 800-page fantasy doorstoppers.
In addition, it's basically false to claim that novels supplanted short stories in any real way. Until the modern era there was little distinction between the two. One can argue the modern novel actually appeared earlier than the modern short story, with the earliest modern novels dating roughly to the Enlightenment, while the modern short story is a 19th century invention. Really after the rise of the printing press and mass literacy, the novel took off as a format, but only later, when things like print magazines and literary journals took off, was there a strong market demand for short fiction.
As Billj said, a story needs only to be as long as needed for the dramatic or narrative intent.
As an example, when I was younger I read a short story where a company introduced a technology which allowed children to be placed in suspended animation and be educated at the same time. Seen through the lens of one overworked set of parents looking to have a kid, it was seen as a godsend. No need for school, no need for babysitters, just thaw out the kids for a few hours between getting home from work and going to bed. And as a plus, your kids age more slowly, so you get to enjoy every moment of their youth stretched out over the rest of your life. In reality it was deeply chilling, because it reduces childhood to a consumer good for the parents, and the kids into simple objects. It got to something interesting in how a fraction of people treat parenthood though. There would be absolutely no point in making this into a longer-form fiction form, because the story already had dramatic impact.
That's a passionate defense of short fiction, but it doesn't actually disprove anything I said on the subject. IFAIC, as you even state more people are buying novels, which means, more people reading novels than short stories. That sounds pretty real to me.
Again, novels didn't supersede short fiction, because short fiction as we understand it developed after the modern novel. At best you can argue they developed concurrently.
It's also worth noting serialized storytelling isn't a new thing. It first developed with serialized novels in magazines and journals and the like in the 19th century. During the "radio drama" period of the early 20th century, serialized storytelling was highly common. However, it came to be seen as lowbrow and vulgar by the 1950s, while the episodic anthology was considered to be a higher, more rarefied form of art. This is part of the reason why TOS had the structure it did - it was basically an anthology show with a core cast from week to week.
Once again in the modern era, serialization is hot, but there's no reason to think it will last forever. Indeed, one can point to the success of Black Mirror as perhaps a harbinger that we're a bit too over-saturated on serialized drama, and there's a yearning for more self-contained stories which explore a single theme per episode.
I never claimed anything would last forever. But I am aware that, in the case of science fiction and fantasy, novel sales, and therefore readership started climbing in the 60s while short stories and their magazines started declining at the same time, while the sales and diversity of novels took off. And I haven't seen anything to suggest this has changed.
As for Black Mirror, well, since it started in 2011, that's nine years now, when in popular culture people talk about or where anthology the subject... Black Mirror. And yes, I know there are other one-season anthologies here and there, but there are dozens and dozens of serialized TV series right now. In the distant future, who knows, but there's nothing to indicate a change in the near future where it comes to preferences re: discrete short stories vs. long form fiction. Not in literature, not in comic books, not on TV.
Event TV has moved on, move on with it.
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