Episode 15: what even is an ice parasite? (Star Trek: Discovery, Season 3, Episodes 1-4)

Screencap of Discovery Season 3, Episode 1, showing the kind of space bugs.

Our new episode is available from our Podcast host here: Episode 15

We’re also listed on:

Suggested further reading:

All the Deep Space Nine episodes we mention:

  • Dax” (Jadzia Dax is put on trial for a crime Curzon is accused of)
  • Equilibrium” (Jadzia experiences failing health as memories of a forgotten host re-emerge)
  • Facets” (Jadzia experiences the Trill ritual zhian’tara, in which a joined Trill gets to meet the symbiont’s previous hosts)
  • Trials and Tribble-ations” (the DS9 crew go back onto the TOS-era Enterprise)
  • Take Me Out to the Holosuite” (they play baseball!)
  • Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang” (they do a heist!)


Charles: Hello, this is Assigned Scientist at Bachelor’s. The only science podcast I know about with no cis allowed. I’m Charles, and I’m an entomologist.

Tessa: And I’m Tessa and I’m an astrobiologist.

Charles: And today we have no guests and we’re just going to talk between the two of us about the first four episodes of Star Trek: Discovery Season three.

Tessa: Because boy, do we have feelings about it.

Charles: We do have feelings about it. First of all, I would want to justify to the audience why we’re specifically watching season three. For my part it’s because nothing I’ve heard about any of the two previous seasons makes me want to watch any of it at all.

Tessa: Yeah, that was my understanding as well. And then apparently with this third season, they did sort of like a soft reboot of the premise of the show. And from what I understand, they did it pretty organically as well, which credit where credit’s due, that’s hard to pull off. You know, having watched those four episodes, I can see why, because I think this might be the farthest in the future we’ve ever seen in the Star Trek Universe.

And it’s something I will say that the show nails very well is, that it feels like it, it feels like this is a much, much, much, much more advanced civilization – technologically, anyways, maybe not socio-politically – than we’ve seen previously.

Charles: For anyone who is listening for the first time, sort of, what is your Star Trek journey?

Tessa: I grew up with Star Trek: The Next Generation. I don’t know if I’d necessarily have ever considered myself a Trekkie per se, but I’ve seen several of the movies, mostly the good ones, and I’ve seen some of the episodes of The Original Series.

I’ve also seen some of Deep Space Nine and Voyager. Beyond that, though, despite not necessarily having seen as many episodes as. You know, some much more committed Star Trek fans, I’m friends with enough people who are coming to Star Trek fans that I’ve kind of picked up on all the information just through osmosis

Charles: For my part, I have seen all of The Original Series, all of TNG, all of Deep Space Nine… a few seasons of Voyager and then I just couldn’t anymore. And I’ve seen none of Enterprise, none of Picard and only these four episodes of Discovery. And I’ve seen a couple of The Original Series movies, a couple of The Next Generation movies and the first two JJ Abrams movies, which are trash… the best way I can say it succinctly is that I decided to re-watch all of Deep Space Nine earlier this year. And I got so hyped up about it that I called my mom to go find my box of sewing patterns that I had left at her house and mail me the pattern that I have for the Deep Space Nine/Voyager Starfleet jumpsuit.

Tessa: Marvelous.

Charles: Thank you so much.

Tessa: I will say by the way, I do like the uniforms in Discovery.

Charles: I was… this was one of my points in my little document that I made. I like the design of them, but I’m not sure that I liked them as Starfleet uniforms.

Tessa: That is a good point. They are a big break from tradition.

Charles: Which is actually I think a good jumping off point, which is just to ask what are sort of your overall impressions.

Tessa: Okay. So I also took notes because that’s the kind of nerds we are, right.

Charles: Well, we’re scientists… you know. 

Tessa: Like I said, I appreciate that back that this looks like it’s almost a thousand years into the future.

What they’ve done with programmable matter, which is a concept I love and actually I’m writing a novel where it shows up a lot… is really, really cool because that’s, I don’t think we’ve really seen that in Star Trek before, but it’s an awesome concept. And, you know, the way they’ve made it clear that it’s kind of the backbone of technology in the 31st century, just very casually, has been really nifty.

That’s been very well done. And same thing with the personalized transporters. I don’t know. Like, I mean, transporters already kind of play fast and loose with physics. They explicitly say that they break the Heisenberg law of uncertainty. And somehow that literally… that I remember reading in like one of those Physics of Star Trek books ages ago that like explicitly in the tech manuals that they make, that they mentioned Heisenberg compensators to get around that.

Charles: I just want to interject very briefly. That I, I think it is a stunning testimonial for you as a person that you’re not a Star Trek, super fan, but you have still read one of those signs.

Tessa: My dad got it as a Christmas present for me when I was like 10.

Charles: That’s very sweet.

Tessa: But anyways, yeah. I don’t know how you could even begin to miniaturize the technology involved with transporters just because you’re basically breaking down someone’s entire structure, saving it at like a level of quantum precision, which currently literally violates the known laws of quantum mechanics. I mentioned Heisenberg uncertainty principle earlier, for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, it basically says when you’re dealing with subatomic particles, you can know with extreme precision, the velocity or the position, you can’t know both.

It’s just the way the mathematics works. And in order for transporters to work you would have to know both because you’d have to be able to recreate that person at like the subatomic level. So that’s already a tall order and somehow they’ve managed to miniaturize it into something that’s smaller than a smartphone.

How, who knows. And I think it’s probably for the best that they didn’t try to explain that either. It was just kind of a given that, Oh, this is the thing now, you know, for all I know, maybe they’re just tearing open tiny little wormholes. Other General impressions… so I know Star Trek has always been pretty committed to diversity and representation, which, good for them. And I liked the fact that they’ve continued this with, you know, the fact that we finally have an explicitly and very cute gay couple on ship. And also this one’s going to be a little odd, but like more of a diversity in body types. And Discovery has Tilly, who I’m sure is very fit, but you know, she is not that Hollywood look, stereotypically at all.

Charles: So you would rate it fairly positively?

Tessa: Yeah. Yeah. I enjoyed watching it. There are some things that I did have issues with obviously, which we will get into.

Charles: Yes. I don’t want to come out too hard out of the gate just mega negative, but I… the feeling that I felt more than anything else was just kind of. Boredom.

Tessa: Yeah. The pacing could use work.

Charles: Yes. And I, the sort of the primary thought that kept recurring as I was watching it. And as I’ve seen, most of Star Trek produced over the last decade, has just been, why is this Star Trek? Do you know what I mean?

Tessa: So something that immediately to my mind is that the basic premise of the show is that for various plot reasons, you know, they’ve been catapulted 930 years, many, many, many centuries into the future.

And it turns out that the Federation no longer exists. At that point, there was a major disaster, like a century before they arrive all the lithium. And the galaxy exploded, which obviously was bad. And so, you know, we’re kind of back at a pre Federation universe and there’s various factions and warlords and Raiders.

And what have you all trying to get by? And, you know, the implication at least four episodes in is that they’re going to have to contact the remanent of the Federation and work on rebuilding it. This is probably going to date me a little bit, but it strongly reminded me of. I don’t know if anyone else remembers this series: Andromeda. Very, very similar plot.

You know, star ship gets flung into the future. In this case, they got, they got stuck just near the event horizon the black hole for 200 odd years and then got pulled out.

Charles: Oh my God. Sorry sorry sorry… I just looked it up. I have never seen any of this, but Kevin Sorbo was in a starring role. So. I probably won’t ever see this.

Tessa: Okay. The first season is not bad.

Charles: God the costume design is so of that time.

Tessa: Oh, it totally is. A lot of it has not aged well in a lot of ways.

Charles: Wonderful.

Tessa: Two things I will say going for it are, first off, the first season has probably what is one of the best TV show themes I have ever heard. [Inserted: portion of Andromeda Season 1 Theme] Secondly, even though it starred Kevin Sorbo, they in the first season, he didn’t have enough sway for him to have control over the writing. So it wasn’t usually terrible. That changed in the apparently in the second or third seasons, which I never saw, and the show got quickly very terrible, but it was, it has basically the same premise, like I said, star ship gets stuck in time, in this case, and you know, again, in the event, horizon of a black hole eventually gets rescued out, finds out the organization that they’re part of, which in that case was the Systems Commonwealth, no longer exists. So they have to go out and find any remnants and try to rebuild it. So, yeah, pretty much the exact same premise that Discovery has.

That was an interesting experience watching Discovery and seeing all these same plot beats happen again. And I think it may contribute to why, as you were saying, there’s the question of why does this have to be Star Trek?

Charles: Yeah. Cause I was thinking, cause I think about it and… The Original Series obviously is Star Trek because that is what made Star Trek. And then The Next Generation had a point of continuity where it was also being produced by Gene Roddenberry. I went back and I watched a couple of TOS episodes after we had watched some episodes of TNG and DS9, and they do feel very different. There is a huge gap in sort of the visuals between TOS and TNG, but because there is Gene Roddenberry, they feel… often there is an undercurrent that is shared between the two of them. And then Deep Space Nine really was the first show that was post Roddenberry, but Deep Space Nine was intimately connected with the world building and the ideas and the continuity of TNG. And so it, it felt like the visuals were all the same of star ships, etc. … the sort of the world building, premises, the alien species, they were all the same.

And my bias of course is Deep Space Nine, which I think is not only the best Star Trek, but one of the best TV shows ever produced. And so I think a lot of what makes Deep Space Nine interesting is that it is in many ways, our reaction to the world building and the philosophy of TOS and TNG.

Tessa: Yes.

Charles: And then Voyager, of course, it’s made in the same time period. It has a lot in common with the two of them, that makes sense. It is around Enterprise that something breaks for me because that is the first series that they made, where instead of moving into the future, they went back to the past. And that was the problem again, that we got with the JJ Abrams movies… well, one of the problems with the JJ Abrams movie, which I have said before, and we’ll say inevitably many times again, are trash, almost nothing salvageable from those movies, not worth trying. So. Enterprise went back to the past, the JJ Abrams movies inexplicably split off the TOS timeline and then Discovery again, we’re going back to the past and I repeatedly have not understood why you would do this, except that you’re just trying to play on people’s love of the familiar and in all of them, I haven’t seen any of Enterprise, so I can’t really speak to that. But the JJ Abrams movies, as many other people have commented, don’t feel like Star Trek in any meaningful way, they feel like Star Wars that has just been like modded so that the skins are different.  

Tessa: Discovery, the show it really, and just in terms of the cinematography and everything, reminded me the most of was Battlestar Galactica, the reboot.

Charles: That was one of my main things with watching Discovery is that it didn’t in any way, if you did not tell me that this explicitly was Star Trek, and if they didn’t use a couple of familiar terms like Starfleet and the Federation, I would never in a million years guess that this was a Star Trek series because visually both in terms of like set design and production design, and in terms of cinematography, does not look like what I think of as a Star Trek show.

Tessa: No, I definitely agree with you on that.

Charles: And I think a lot of that, it just comes down to how TV has changed in the last 20 years.

Tessa: Yeah.

Charles: Where in the nineties, obviously most TV shows were shot extremely flatly, but like in Discovery you have like shaky cam and it was like, what is this doing here? You don’t have shaky cam in Star Trek. And I don’t know if that’s me being old man yells at clouds about it, or if I have some legitimate point… but there’s nothing to me in Discovery that felt like we are engaging with Star Trek in a way that actually makes it feel like they’re not just calling it Star Trek so that they can get people who like Star Trek to watch it.

Tessa: Yeah, no, I totally get you on that

Charles: Because here’s my other thing. I love science fiction and for my money, there are two major things that make something science fiction. One is engaging with ideas about science or philosophy of science or science in society. And the other thing is doing very, very weird, cool stuff that is science coded.

The thing that Star Trek has always offered, the thing, the motivating factor behind the original Star Trek was to use science fiction as a setting and a genre to then explore ideas, right? That was the whole point of Star Trek. And then that legacy continued with TNG and with Deep Space Nine. And maybe with Voyager, I have not watched enough Voyager to say that confidently.

Tessa: No… it’s probably a bit of a stretch.

Charles: I mean, there are a couple of things that I know in Voyager that do kind of… like with Seven of Nine and her being separated from the Borg, that’s a very science fiction, we’re going to really get into what it would mean to experience this kind of thing and it’s going to be vaguely allegorical for something that you could actually experience as a human on earth.

Whereas with… and Enterprise, I can’t say, but they definitely didn’t do this with the JJ Abrams movies because JJ Abrams refuses to think about anything for longer than five minutes. And I don’t, I don’t feel any of that really in four episodes of Discovery

Tessa: Yeah, no, I think you really hit it on the head. It’s… Star Trek has a long history of this, almost… let’s be honest to the point of being heavy handed in some cases.

Charles: Oh, extremely heavy-handed, definitely.

Tessa: And Abrams does not seem particularly interested in exploring that portion of like its legacy. I know. And I don’t know, maybe that’s because TV viewers have become jaded with it…

Charles: Genuinely, I think it’s because JJ Abrams does not find science fiction… he doesn’t like… he just doesn’t like science fiction and he doesn’t understand why people do.

Tessa: Yeah, no, I think you’re right. I think it’s just like, let’s make this a conventional action show except there are spaceships now.

Charles: And listen, I like spaceships as much as the next person who’s very afraid of space and will never go into it, but you got to have a little bit…

Tessa: You know, I think that’s one of the things that makes it a bit more like Star Wars. You were mentioning that earlier… is that Star Wars is basically either a Western or a fantasy that just happens to take place in space.

And I mean, there is allegory in Star Wars. The obvious Nazis are obvious Nazis, but you know, beyond that, it doesn’t do sort of the social investigation that Star Trek for better for worse is intimately tied to.

Charles: Without getting way too up my own butt about it,  I think one of the things that makes science fiction interesting is… even, like a lot of TOS, if you watch it now, without any kind of nostalgia, is extremely corny and poorly written and poorly acted and the costumes are bad. And because it was made in the sixties for TV, it has the kind of dirty look that TV has from the sixties and seventies.

But it’s still interesting because, and this is barely related, but I saw somebody the other day sort of go off on, um, the value of dystopias as literary convention and how people writing dystopias are not writing about the future. Like they’re not making predictions, they are writing a satirical extrapolation from the present.

So every piece of dystopian fiction is a weird mirror of the present in which it was written. And it’s, so it’s sort of a historical piece and similarly the original Star Trek and then subsequent Star Treks are directly engaging with ideas of the time. The Original Series not only has value as a piece of entertainment, but also as the state of science fiction and the period it was made and the things that people…

Tessa: Exactly.

Charles: Like in 2009, it is no longer, it’s no longer particularly revolutionary for the deck crew to include somebody who’s Russian, but in the sixties, it was.

And so I don’t know that I actually have any point about this. I am a graduate student and therefore one of my primary skills is to just talk at length about nothing, but TOS still has something, even if the ideas and the episodes themselves are no longer really worth engaging with, thinking about it sort of meta-textually is.

Yeah. And I, I don’t get any of that from like Star Trek of the past 11 years at least. Do you know what I mean?

Tessa: I agree. I agree. It is lacking that as you say, the sort of the cultural context that the original Star Trek employed so heavily,

Charles: And it’s also, they’re not even, I felt a lot that they were so engaged with the superficial trappings of like, contemporary prestige TV that they didn’t actually have time to do anything interesting.

Tessa: Yeah. No, I think that’s probably not a bad summation

Charles: Back in the nineties, visually the nineties era of Star Trek and I’m including TNG, even though it started in ‘87, like visually they’re extremely boring.

But because they didn’t have the budget to do a lot of really wild, expensive and visually impressive stuff, they then could dig into things. They could build up relationships, they could introduce ideas. They packed a lot into 45 minutes in the nineties. They had to because they had to, I didn’t didn’t get that at all here because the premise of this season, and this is why we ended up watching it.

Well, for two reasons, really one is that article that I sent you about how season three is functionally a soft reboot. And then secondarily, because they were going to have trans people explicitly for the first time,

Tessa: Which I do still have a lot of thoughts on by the way.

Charles: Yes. Well,

Tessa: Yes.

Charles: Yes And so, um, those two things were why we decided to watch this and it’s like, the premise is interesting. Being displaced almost a thousand years into the future is interesting, how people react to that, how things would change, the feeling of being untethered from time and space. It’s interesting. But watching it, and maybe it gets better in the rest of the season. I don’t know. Well, I’m not into it. And I don’t generally like to be just relentlessly negative, unless it’s something that deserves to be relentlessly negative about like when JJ Abrams decided to ruin my life in 2009, but it really, I just feel like there’s a lot there and they aren’t doing anything with what they have…

Tessa: With their potential.

Charles: Yeah. Here’s what I’ll say, before we go into talking about having trans people on Star Trek, here are some things that I liked. One: I’m happy that Doug Jones gets to be, be in a role where he actually gets to speak. Happy for him.

Tessa: Well, he’s really a fine actor and he’s doing a great job.

Charles: Yeah. I’m always happy to see gay people. Sure. I really like the cat.

Tessa: Yeah. Grudge.

Charles: I liked that in the first episode, when they were sort of ambush after escaping from the exchange, one of the other people there who got eaten by the big worm was one of whatever species mourn was. That was nice to see. I know that that species has a name. I just didn’t, I don’t remember it because. Previously, the only character we’d ever seen of that species was Morn. I liked that the Trill are still wearing robes – a fine cultural tradition and, this is the one thing that I do think is a true improvement over every other Star Trek property ever: the prosthetics and like visual design of aliens. Better than ever.

Tessa: Yes. I agree.

Charles: Especially the Orions. Because previously in every single appearance, they have looked like trash and now they look good. They finally figured it out. I don’t know how… whoever figured it out deserves an Emmy and maybe several Emmys because also the Andorians previously have always looked terrible. They’ve looked very, very silly and now they look good. So great job. I hope it’s prosthetics because I love practical effects.

Tessa: Yeah, I think they’re just better at it. Now, while we’re on that note, I also really liked the design of Commander Burnham’s red angel time travel suit. That looked really cool.

Charles: I had mixed feelings about that.I think visually it was good, but visually as an element of Star Trek…

Tessa: No it doesn’t feel, feel in place at all, but like by itself it was cool.

Charles: Yeah. I think this would be a final thought before we get into trans stuff. And I said that the previous thought was a final thought, but I edit the show and nobody can tell me what to do.

I, one of the problems, and this is, I think this has been discussed at length in reviews already… of going back in the past again and again and again is that you have two options. If you introduce new stuff, which is either, it throws the rest of the continuity of everything into disarray, because suddenly you have really advanced looking stuff that is so different from anything that we’ve seen in the shows that chronologically come after it, or you’re really hemmed in with your options. And neither of those are really conducive to very interesting creativity. And I think that’s why it was a really good idea to go so far into the future and why it has been baffling that previous installments have not decided to do that.

Um, and yeah, so, but as a, as a, like, it doesn’t fit. What I think of as the visual language of Star Trek, but I think a lot of that probably comes back to my favorite series. And the most time that I’ve spent with series has been in the nineties era. And if you compare side by side, the visuals of TOS and TNG, DS9, Voyager…

They don’t look the same. So it could again be another instance of just old man yells at clouds, but I don’t know, like, did it feel weird to you?

Tessa: Yeah, it felt very, very different from anything that I saw in the nineties. I don’t know what Enterprise or Picard was like. Maybe Picard looked a bit more modern.

I know Enterprise, they went really heavy into jumpsuits, like aviator style jumpsuits, which I guess makes sense because they’re technically still all astronauts at that point, since it was the first ever warp-capable ship earth produced. But yeah, no, the, the visual language was very different in this one.

And I agree. And it didn’t really, and you, like you said, to have the problem of going back, because everything looks a lot cleaner than it did. Like both just visually in terms of aesthetics than it does in The Original Series. You’ve been though, this is set before The Original Series and yeah, so I agree with you on that.

Charles: I mean the best possible sort of reckoning with the discrepancy between visuals was already done in Deep Space Nine, in “Trials and Tribble-ations,” a fantastic episode where they like explicitly go back to TOS era and they’re like, this stuff all looks really different… and it’s fun, and it’s a great episode and don’t watch Discovery, just watch Deep Space Nine again and again, and again.

It’s a fantastic, almost perfect show. Season six does get to be a real bummer, but I believe that you can power through emotionally. And then in season seven, there’s an episode where they all play baseball in a holosuite.  

Tessa: What’s not to like?

Charles: What’s not to like! And then Rom saves the day!

Tessa: I will also, I have two other notes before we dig into the trans thing.

Okay. This is the obligatory science content is as an astrobiologist. What is the deal with parasitic ice? Is it just like, is that…

Charles: This is also a thought I had.  

Tessa: Is it just like, a life form that just happens to look like ice? Cause like it’s literally like growing onto the whole, the Discovery, like exponentially, is it just a weird form of ice that is catalyzed by the presence of objects?

You know, like dropping a seed crystal into a just super saturated solution. What’s going on here? What is it?

Charles: Yes. And especially I took issue with the line that somebody said. It’s parasitic. It does what parasites do.

[Clip from ST:D, “Far From Home” – “Come nightfall, the ice… well it does what parasites do… it infests everything.”]

Charles: It’s like, well that’s not what makes something a parasite.

Tessa: It is clearly not like sustaining, you know, stealing nutrients from a host.  

Charles: Yeah. I really… bad job to the Discovery writers for perpetuating negative stereotypes about parasites. Some parasites are lovely organisms that are just living life. And doing their thing. Like for instance, great time to plug up my favorite kind of parasite.

There is an order of insect that not a lot of people know about. It’s one of the more niche, sort of hipster orders called Strepsiptera, which are called the twisted wing parasites, it’s right in the name. And they in all, but I think the most basal family, last time I checked up on its phylogeny, they all have extreme sexual dimorphism where adult male Strepsiptera are winged and they’re free-living and they’re going around having a great time. And then females get inside of the abdomens of mostly other arthropods, I assume only other arthropods. You see them a lot on like bugs, true bugs in the entomologist sense of bugs. And you see them a lot on paper wasps and they essentially, they have their head that is hard and it’s sclerotized and it is poking out between…

So, I don’t know if people know visually –  I’m going to post pictures and whatever – insect abdomens are built a lot like plate mail, like the parts of plate mail that need to be flexible, where there are different plates that are partially overlapping and they are connected in a way that they can still sort of move a little bit independently and they can sort of drape over something which allows it to have sort of a rounded shape. And so the female Strepsiptera, their heads poke out between those plates between different abdominal sections and then the rest of their body is inside of the abdomen. And it is a completely like soft, basically it allows for nutrient transfer, like through the skin into the female and to mate, it is hilarious. The females have like a genital opening, like right on their head, because it’s the only thing that is accessible from the outside. Some people have taken videos where like the male has to like, just connect it’s insect penis. Such as it is plugging it in right outside the head there.

It’s fantastic… look up Strepsiptera instead of watching Discovery. But those parasites are not meaningfully harmful and indeed in entomology and other biology, I guess there is a distinction that’s made between parasite and parasitoids, and I am not a Hymenopterist, so that’s where most of this research is… I’m not a hundred percent clear that I have the right definition, but my recall is that parasites are dependent on a host, but they don’t kill the host and parasitoids are dependent on a host, which they kill.

Tessa: Usually as part of their life cycle.

Charles: Yeah, exactly. And so the idea of parasitic ice here is like, what is the ice getting from this situation?

Tessa: Yeah, exactly. I mean, is it just a surface to cling to, I mean, as a cul with the barnacles, but if that’s the case, it presumably should have spread further, you know, does it just hang around, hoping for a Starship to crash into it there? I have so many unanswered questions.

Charles: Very confusing. So I did take issue with that as well, because that’s the other thing is that that was one of the only things that really stuck out to me because there were just were not a lot of options for like scientifically interesting… because that’s the thing, is that Star Trek has always been silly.

And most of the things like we’ve talked about on this podcast, even how a lot of the things that they’ve sort of proposed are nonsensical, but they’re nonsensical in a way that’s fun. And that’s engaging.

Tessa: And they’re also, usually – usually being an operative word here – internally consistent.

Charles: And there’s like a tiny kernel of an idea that then people who obviously are not scientists take and run with in a way that’s really fun for people like us who are scientists can be like, well, Does evolution work that way? And the answer is no, but I’m having a great time.

Tessa: Exactly.

And to that end, there was one moment that I really, really liked in the first episode where Michael crashes onto the planet, we see her in the distance and in the foreground there are like two weird arthropod looking aliens. And one of them eats the other one. And I was like, that was just for me. So I’m very into that, particularly because the way arthropods are sort of introduced into Star Trek is always very interesting. So we’ve talked about all of those things. I think we’ve pretty much gone through my notes.

Oh my final thing before we actually get into the episode that we’re really going to talk about is when they’re all watching Buster Keaton… Buster Keaton is not that funny.

Tessa: I’m glad I’m not the only person who thought of that.

Charles: Okay, good. Yeah. The only possible explanation is that they’re all so traumatized that they’re really overcompensating

Tessa: Or there’s a lot of alcohol.

Charles: Or a lot of alcohol.

Yes. Okay. So really what we’re here to talk about is that Star Trek now finally for the first time has explicitly trans actors portraying trans characters.

Tessa: And not to spoil it… it was not off to a great start because one of them literally starts off and is introduced as already being dead.

Charles: Yes. Maybe we should provide some context.

So basically we’re talking specifically about. Episode four of season three of Star Trek: Discovery, “Forget Me Not.” And the premise of this is that they have gotten to earth in the previous episode. And somebody has come aboard called Adira who somehow is a human, but has a Trill symbiont joined to them, which weird, but okay.

Technically there’s precedent for this because in that one Trill episode of TNG Riker was the temporary host.

Tessa: Got one joined to him.

Charles: I had forgotten that because it’s not a very good episode. So technically there’s precedent and like many Trill before them, uh, Dera. Is having trouble accessing the memories of the Trill and has indeed experienced sort of a total amnesia from any point before they were joined.

And I want to say, I will be using the pronouns, they them, because those are the pronouns that the actor uses and the pronouns that. The character eventually uses. I actually was curious about this because the character is introduced with she, her and I was like, well, I know that’s not right. So I googled it and I found an interview where the actor actually discusses how, when they started filming, they weren’t out as nonbinary to their family and they didn’t want to like be, explicitly non-binary in the show before they were like, actually out about it. So there you go. But I’m going to be using they/them because I don’t want to confuse myself.

So Adira doesn’t remember any of their memories. There are two storylines in the episode. One is Saru on the Discovery trying to perk up sort of everybody’s spirits. And then the other is Michael and Adira go together to the Trill home world to try to work out the problems with the issue of having a Trill joined to a human and not being able to access the Trill’s memories.

And so they get to Trill. And my first thought is, love to see it – the actress who played Ronnie on Schitt’s Creek is one of the Trill people.

Tessa: I did not pick up on that, but you are exactly right.

Charles: Yes. Very happy for her. Ronnie is one of the best characters in Schitt’s Creek. So I was happy to see her, but my second thought was these are the wrong robes.

And this is another negative thought that I have about Discovery, which is that… one problem that I’ve had with Star Wars, particularly since the prequels is that the costume design is very undifferentiated between cultures. You have distinction between different factions, like members of the Imperial Guard obviously look different from members of the resistance or whatever, but in terms of people dressing, how they dress on different planets or in different cultures, it’s all very of a piece and it seems to have no real direction.

And this is one of the things that I’ve always appreciated about Star Trek, which is that even as ridiculous and ugly and garish and tacky and weird as it would get, you could look at what somebody was wearing and even without other clues from their appearance, be able to basically tell where they were from and what they were doing and who they were.

And so in Deep Space Nine, when we saw the Trill, there were certain design elements that linked Trill clothing together and differentiated it from Bajoran clothing or Cardassian clothing. Like you could look at somebody wearing a Trill robe and be like, they’re probably Trill, even before you saw the distinctive and otherwise identifying spots and they just didn’t have any of that, which to be fair, they are 800 years in the future from Deep Space Nine, but it still felt like the clothes that they were wearing easily could have been seen on the other places that we’ve seen so far on Discovery. And that was disappointing.

I do love that they’re still wearing robes because that is my major, sort of, cause celebre, is to try to get people to wear robes more so that we can just all wear robes. Flattering. Comfortable.

Tessa: I like it, I’m in favor of this.

Charles: Thank you. I was glad to see that… I was happy to see the guy, the like Trill cave caretaker guy.

The wrong robe because those people have a uniform, but still a robe and that guy was ripped and the like half, like the cap sleeves really showed off his upper arms to advantage. And I’m very happy for him. Other than that though, I was a little bit disappointed, particularly because the caves basically looked right, but they didn’t look a hundred percent right. And it’s like, what’s happening here? You know what I mean? I think I’ve gotten off the point. I care a lot… I love the Trill, unsurprisingly. And so seeing them be sort of halfway done is, was frustrating for me. Cause they have a very distinctive look and whole vibe.  

Tessa: So anyways, it turns out that one of the symbiont’s past hosts was Adira’s boyfriend, previous partner, who was, I believe the actor identifies as trans masculine.

Specifically. Yes, but anyways, it was explicitly a trans person, a trans character within the show. Tragedy happened. He got killed, impaled on debris. And apparently in an emergency situation, the character of Adira volunteered. And it was a, it was a pretty spur of the moment decision to have his symbiont implanted in them.

Charles: Which is like, again, something that we’ve seen before and that this is explicitly the story of Ezri Dax and how, as she got the symbiont and that, I mean, it was tragic that Terry Farrell got written off the show because of like contract disputes, which sucks, but it then gave them an opportunity to tell a new Trill story in season seven. And that was interesting of somebody because as they reference in this episode of Discovery, the process of becoming joined is like a very rigorous sort of selection process, which is actually, they went against established Trill cannon in like several major ways. Which again, I’ve already harped on it, but I’m going to, again, because again, I edit this podcast and I can do what I want, but like, because they said that they didn’t have enough people who could take on the symbionts, which I took issue with on two levels.

Tessa: Was that the issue? My thought was that they’ve lost too many symbionts, not the people.

Charles: Cause that was the first impression that I had because of course, because like who got joined, like culturally, were people who were extremely over accomplished, who would then add… who were perceived as being able to be more of a value add.

And so those are people who are more likely to be out on warp-capable vessels. So that makes sense. But then the guy says when they get to Trill that they no longer have enough hosts. And like, that’s why they have to protect it Adira, but like, in an episode of DS9…  

Tessa: Like 50% of the population can carry a symbiont.

Charles: Like this is the whole point of an episode where we go to the Trill home world so that Jadzia could go down into the caves and connect with one of  previous hosts through like memory magic, because. Like the Trill doctors almost let her die because they wanted to keep it under wraps that many, many more people could actually suitably be a host for a symbiont, like physically.

So I felt like that was a weird, like establishing detail. And I also, I mean, I get that. They couldn’t just find a random Trill person on earth. But I don’t really understand why they had to have a symbiotic joined to a human. And this is a very small quibble, but I don’t know, like it just kind of, it’s a, it’s a hard suspension of disbelief.

Because we’re led to believe in the establishment of Trill cannon in Deep Space Nine, primarily that the Trill humanoids and the Trill symbionts are like specifically co-evolved to be able to join together. And so the, like the physiology for that would not be in place elsewhere. Um, I guess I just don’t.

I mean, maybe I’m looking for things to nitpick because it’s a little weird though. Um, yeah, so we find out they go down into the memory caves for some memory. So the, the caves on the Trill home world are like, they have a specific fluid that symbionts, when they’re not being joined to somebody, live in and they can like communicate with each other through like little electric zaps. It’s a lot of fun. And there are people who like… which is the other thing about the red robe guy is that I loved those characters. Like we met a couple of them in Deep Space Nine, and I loved them because they were such a weird guys and Jadzia says like specifically, like they live down in the caves, they like don’t interact with anybody. They’re weird. And so I was disappointed that he was just kind of like a normal guy with huge guns. I mean, again, very happy for him, but come on. I guess he’s just like so bored because they don’t have as many duties anymore that he just got really into fitness. Um, um, anyway, so.

Yeah. So we, they go down into the cave so that Adira can connect to the previous hosts and sort of recover memories. And we’ve seen it all before. And the visual language again, is a very like, look how much more we can do with technology now kind of thing, which I know explicitly, this is an old man yells at clouds kind of criticism, but I wasn’t into it cause it’s like a fully immersive thing.

And then Michael goes into the brain space with them. And it’s like, what’s happening here, you know? Um, but they go in and then they find out like this whole backstory of their boyfriend got killed and he was Trill. And then they took on this symbiont, and then they like had a, I think we’re led to believe it was a weirdness in the joining because they’re a human host and on and on and on.

And so their boyfriend is portrayed by a trans actor and Adira is, the actor is nonbinary. Adira is nonbinary, but we don’t find that out in the four episodes that we watch, but it is established in the show. So, yeah. How does this treat you? How do you feel reactions, thoughts?

Tessa: Like I said, it’s not great to start off with, you know, if you have two trans characters, one you don’t introduce to later in the season, which had been the lead, what’s not the writer’s fault, um, as you explained, but the other one is literally already dead before we, you know, even get to meet them. And admittedly, it is strongly implied that some version of them is hung around and.

It was basically living inside the symbiont as like a stored personality. Yes. Um, it’s still not great representation like, and you know, there’s the trope of, you know, bury your gays where, you know, all the LGBT people in popular media end up getting killed off for one reason or another. Um, it, this is the first time I’ve seen that happen, like someone coming pre buried.  

Charles: Yeah, I, yes, I also was amazed that that happened because I knew going in that there were two trans actors employed on the show, but I didn’t know, like I had not looked up like episode summary, so I didn’t realize that one of them was going to be literally only present as a spirit.

And it, again, kind of goes against established Trill cannon, where we have, like, we have a situation where Jadzia gets to experience and talk to and talk with previous hosts of the Dax symbiont, but it’s through the zhian’tara and it’s a whole episode, and it’s a great time because Odo becomes Curzon, Dax Odo, and you know, they’ve learned things about themselves and Jadzia learns things about herself and we all, we all come out of it, feeling like everybody grew as friends and people, and we had a great time and, you know, Sisko got to hang out with his old buddy and it’s a fun episode. Just go watch Deep Space Nine. Um, that’s really, that’s my, that’s my message

Tessa: Everything the show has done so far, Deep Space Nine has done better.

Charles: Watch Deep Space Nine. It’s great. It does get to be a real bummer in season six. But I’m here for you and you’ll get through it. And then in season seven, they go into the holosuite and it’s like a fifties lounge and they do a heist together. That’s fun. Um, man, I loved it. I love Deep Space Nine so much. Wallace Shawn is like a weird alien guy who falls in love with another alien, of the same species, and he’s Wallace Shawn, and he’s got huge ear tufts and he’s got a big cane. And that’s fun. Um, Discovery doesn’t have Wallace Shawn, so, you know, I love Wallace Shawn. Do you know Wallace Shawn is a socialist?

Tessa: I did not.

Charles: He writes and he writes poetry and he’s like five foot three, and I love him. I love Wallace Shawn. I’m happy to kind of share a name with him. Uh, You know, last name, first name, but it’s still, so, yeah. So, and then I, and I have, yeah. And then another thing is they’re both very young and I have mixed feelings about it. Yeah.

Tessa: That was another thing I wasn’t really sure about. Like, do Trill normally even get joined that young?

Charles: You know, because that’s the thing, Jadzia is… at the beginning of Deep Space Nine, she has like just recently been joined. So everybody is still in that adjustment period. And it’s a very, like, how do you talk to your friends who have just transitioned? Kind of vibe. Um, and so, yeah, and she’s 28.

Tessa: Adira is canonically 16.

Charles: Yes. And that I like that’s potentially excusable because Adira obviously wasn’t meant to be joined, but the actor who portrays Gray is 19, the boyfriend, is 19 in real life. And so I assume the character can’t be, probably isn’t even that old. And it’s like, and they mentioned that they were on a Generation ship together.

And so it’s the future. Maybe standards have changed. Maybe you try to get at ‘em while they’re young, but like, again, canonically Trill culture doesn’t join people very very young because, and they talk about this in an episode in the first season, it’s just an okay episode, but you know, still watch it where Jadzia gets put on trial because of a crime that Curzon is accused of.

And then they got to go back to that guy’s planet and like figure it out. And it turns out that Curzon was having an affair with this woman but the guy that he’s accused of killing, he didn’t kill, and also that guy kind of sucks. It’s… go watch the episode. In that episode there’s a cross-examination because Sisko is trying hard as he can to prevent Jadzia from getting taken because she’s innocent of a crime that Curzon committed and they explicitly talk about, they try to join people after a long period of consideration and accomplishment so that the host can be like a fully developed Trill person.  

Tessa: Not just a vessel for all these past memories, but like an individual, like an individual in their own right.

Charles: Yes, and so it’s very weird that he’s so young, which is again, not to reference the exact same meme, which is in fact, a moment from the Simpsons, which I’ve never even watched anyway, but old man yells at clouds.

There are just a lot of choices that they’ve made in Discovery that I don’t really understand the motivation behind. I will admit fully 70% of this is that I love Deep Space Nine. I’ve watched it almost entirely eight times, at least in my life. And I would die for any of the characters in DS9, except for Quark.

I’m not going to die for Quark, but I would die for almost anybody else. And. It just, and so it’s obviously, is the place where most of Trill content comes from. I love Deep Space Nine. I love the Trill. I find this whole thing kind of inexplicable from that edge. I so badly wished that CBS All Access had an option to watch the show at 1.5 speed.A lot of the pacing felt very indulgent. Like, look how nice we can make TV look.  

Tessa: Now again, that’s the same thing that happened with Battlestar Galactica, although to their credit. I think Galactica actually was better paced, usually.

Charles: I’ve never seen Battlestar Galactica.

Tessa: I’ve only seen a few episodes.

Charles: Because it’s, I don’t, I’m not really interested in military science fiction.

I like a little bit of whimsy, you know what I mean? Well, so actually I was about to say there doesn’t feel like there’s really any whimsy in the Star Trek, whereas like Star Trek inherently is very silly. Cause like, Look at it.

Tessa: I’m actually curious about that because they do have Tigg Notaro on there.

Charles: Right. I, the, so my addendum to my original thought is that they do have like more explicit humor than Star Trek normally does, but in a way that feels dissonant… like the complaint that people have about contemporary cinematically released comedies, where they don’t feel movies, they feel like a series of bits where they let the actors just improvise for 10 minutes.It felt like that a little bit of just like a lot of very well, first of all, they have profanity.

Tessa: Yeah. I noticed that too.

Charles: And then also a lot of the language and like conversational pacing felt really casual in a way that felt weird. It was like, am I watching Star Trek?

Tessa: I mean, they got Patrick Stewart, literal Shakespearian actor, and the rest of the cast as well, brought almost a gravitas to it, which was not…

Charles: Yeah, there’s just a certain formality of speech that Star Trek has always had. Because this is the other thing. This might be just a personal preference thing because I don’t mind fiction that is very self-consciously fictional. Like… this is not related to science fiction at all. There are two really well known adaptations of Pride and Prejudice.

There is the 1995 BBC miniseries. And then there is the 2005 Joe Wright-directed movie with Keira Knightley. My mom loves Jane Austen. We had a VHS set of the BBC mini-series and I saw that probably twice a year, almost every year of my life until I moved away from home. So I love the 1995 miniseries.

The Pride and Prejudice of 2005 has a more like casual and accessible feel. And this gets to my issue of the 1995 series. It feels like a Regency piece that like you could probably show in school if it wouldn’t take too much class time versus the 2005, it is much more visually interesting, it is much more casual.

The costume design is sort of less rigorously historical and none of them have those silly Regency hairstyles. And a lot of people like the 2005 movie for these reasons. But I dislike it for these reasons because I actually see a lot of value in things which are placed in a time totally unlike our own feeling kind of alien to the viewer and obviously alien to our own experience.

Tessa: The thing is, you can even still have that kind of language and not have it be totally alienating. I mean, like something I liked about the Pirates of the Caribbean films, or at least the first, you know, the vernacular they used was what people would have used back then, but it’s still managed to capture a relatively, it was still very, very accessible and it’s still, when it was needed, managed to capture a very informal tone, which, you know, you would expect if you’re talking to pirates.

Charles: And not to do this again, but I think Deep Space Nine hit a really, really nice balance and a, like a lot of people’s complaint about Deep Space Nine is that it doesn’t feel like Star Trek – well, to paraphrase a previous guest, they aren’t trekking anywhere. And they go places, you know, but the spirit and the visuals and the like feeling of Star Trek is still there because it sounds the same, it feels the same, it looks the same, but I think their not Trekking actually is a strength of the show because then you get all of these little moments of how it really feels like all of these people are living on a space station together. Right. Like there’s one episode where Quark goes on a trip and then Julian and Miles try to break into his bar so that they can get their dart board and like, that didn’t need to be in the show, it was just a nice little moment.

And I guess what I’m saying is Deep Space Nine ride or die. Avery Brooks, you’re the only cis person allowed on our show. Um, and that’s, that’s the end of my thought, watch Deep Space Nine. So we talked about parasites, transness, watch Deep Space Nine. Are there any thoughts that we want to like send the listeners out on?

Tessa: Apparently if you travel through time, the most immediate clue you have as to whether or not you’re living in a bleak future is if everybody is wearing black. If they are, you just got to get back in your time machine and go back because it’s no good.

Charles: I hope we see that cat again.

Tessa: Me too.

Charles: You can find me on Twitter @cockroacharles.  

Tessa: And you can find me on Twitter @spacermase.

Charles: And the show on Twitter @ASABpod and at our website where we post transcripts for every episode at asabpodcast.com.

Tessa: And until next time, keep on sciencing.

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