Last Sunday's episode of "Star Trek: Discovery" offered another play for conservative viewers.
The episode began with show star, Commander Michael Burnham, disgraced and imprisoned for her pre-emptive strike on a Klingon battle fleet. Soon thereafter, Burnham's prison transport ship is damaged and she is rescued by the USS Discovery. Captain Gabriel Lorca then takes Burnham under his wing. I won't spoil the episode for you, but at its culmination, Captain Lorca forgives Burnham for her attack on the Klingons.
"Universal laws," Lorca explains, "are for lackeys, context is for kings."
If that's not a realist repudiation of liberal idealism, I don't know what is!
Lorca's words don't exist in a micro-universe, they are part of Discovery's evolving realist theme. As I noted last week, the show's first two episodes balanced progressive aspirations with darker political realities. The crew hasn't been able to serve the Federation with outstretched hands, but instead, are continually forced to confront aggression with force. Here, Discovery follows the narrative of the darkest "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" episode, "Inter arma enim silent leges."
"In times of war, the laws fall silent."
It's the right narrative for a Star Trek show in 2017. That's because it accepts the reality of our world today; of rising Chinese and Russian challenges to the American-led international order, of terrorists, and of nuclear despots threatening millions of American lives. More than that, Discovery is accepting war for what it is: messy, brutal, and demanding of rapid victory. Any viewers who are uncomfortable with this darker narrative should read some history.
After all, the horror of war is a truth rendered since the dawn of civilization. Whether in Cesar's tolerance for civilian starvation at Alesia, or Qutuz's treatment of Mongol emissaries, or the aerial bombing of Axis cities in the Second World War, or the CIA's enhanced interrogation program, no war is morally pure. In the context of Star Trek's overriding mission; delivering fiction that balances intelligent entertainment to serious introspection, Discovery deserves credit for its honesty here.
Of course, Discovery's writers aren't simply focused on the artistry of intelligent fiction. They're also well aware of the need to establish strong profit margins! The first major CBS television show to be aired only online, Discovery's success or failure will be defined by subscribers willing to pay to watch it. Seeing as many Americans are conservative, CBS cannot afford to play only to liberal idealists.
Thus far, they are succeeding.