Why do people say Star Trek Discovery is too woke?

Season four of Star Trek: Discovery has been criticised for being too woke, too emotional and like therapy in space. Are those criticisms deserved?

Star Trek has always made an effort to recruit diverse characters. In the 1960s diversity wasn’t impressive by today’s standards. It meant a tiny number of main cast members weren’t white men. By the 1990s things were a lot better. Voyager had Captain Kathryn Janeway and Deep Space 9 was run by Benjamin Sisko.

When Discovery premiered in 2017 it was a breath of fresh air. Its central character was Michael Burnham, a young black woman. She shared many of her scenes with the magnificent Philippa Georgiou, who was played by a Malaysian actor in her mid 50s.

By season four the majority of cast members were not white men. There were also five or more LGBT+ characters. This diversity is likely to be the reason why some people on the internet grumble that Discovery is “too woke”.

I think the diversity in Discovery is a good thing, and if anything it could be improved. There aren’t enough older characters for a start.

Some people may think Discovery season 4 is too woke because its story arc has an environmental theme. I won’t spoil the plot for you, but the parallels with recent human behaviour on Earth are blindingly obvious.

It’s not surprising that season 4 has a green tinge. Star Trek has always reflected contemporary issues in one way or another. At the moment a lot of people are very worried about the planet. It’s inevitable that those fears pop up in Discovery.

I liked the environmental theme. It isn’t too overt and it’s jazzed up with lots of special effects and some very impressive aliens. That makes it worth it.

Some viewers might think that season 4 is too woke because much of the dialogue is about empathy, respecting each other’s feelings, communication, connectedness and psychological wellbeing. The characters even speak softly to each other, as if they’re taking part in group therapy. I can definitely understand if this is a reason why people say Discovery is too woke.

I found this aspect of Discovery very difficult to get used to. Mainly because people in real life don’t talk like that outside of counselling sessions and certain kinds of yoga class. They certainly don’t in Britain anyway!

When the characters started talking like that I found myself chastising the television. “Shut up! Get on with it!” etc … You get the drift. At points, I thought Discovery was unwatchable because the dialogue was so unrealistic.

By the last few episodes my tolerance of the unusual dialogue had increased. I even began to think of it as experimental science fiction. After all, Discovery is set over a thousand years in the future. Why wouldn’t the characters talk in ways that seem really strange to us?

I started to think that the world today would be a much nicer place if everyone behaved like the characters on Discovery, but then I changed my mind a little. In one scene the President of the Federation tells a man off because he spoke bluntly and didn’t think about the stress that everyone was under. Then, not long after, Michael Burnham gives a little speech on the importance of empathy.

It left me wondering whether this branch of Star Trek is becoming intolerant of characters who struggle to relate to people.

One of the lovely things about Star Trek, from the 1960s onwards, is that it has always given space to characters who don’t completely gel with those around them. Captain Picard is socially awkward. Seven of Nine needs social skills lessons. Spock doesn’t fit with humans or vulcans. Data wants to be human but isn’t. Worf is out of place because of his Earth upbringing. The holographic Doctor has a giant ego. Tom Paris has a prison past. Wesley Crusher is a boy genius. Odo is the only changeling in the neighbourhood. Garak is a Cardassian exile. And so on.

It would be a great shame if the new Star Trek world becomes a place where you don’t belong unless you can verbalise your feelings and “therapise” everybody else’s.

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