There are a lot of problems with Discovery, from the Klingons to the canon to the lighting and the writing. However, I decided to ignore all of that and just focus on one character. Michael Burnham is the main character of Star Trek Discovery and after three seasons, I wanted to see how much her character had grown. This turned into a character analysis of her which includes her hero's journeys for season one and three. There are a lot of flaws and shortcuts within her hero's journey and thus not much growth seems to actually happen. In fact, she seems to keep making the same mistakes, but they end up working out for her because it's in the script. Let's take a journey though the life of Michael Burnham.
Michael Burnham was born on Earth in 2226 to Mike and Gabrielle Burnham. Her parents worked for Section 31 on a suit that could travel through time. In 2236, Klingons attacked their outpost. Michael, hiding in a cabinet, heard them kill her father and thought she heard them kill her mother. Now orphaned, Michael was adopted by Sarek and Amanda Grayson and raised on Vulcan as one of their own. Vulcan logic extremists didn't like this, so they bombed Michael's learning center, effectively killing her for three minutes until Sarek saved her with a mind meld.
In 2245 and at the age of 19, Burnham attended the Vulcan Science Academy and graduated with the Vulcan Scientific Legion of Honor, but when she applied to join the Vulcan Expeditionary Group, she was rejected for being human. Unsure of her future, Sarek in his role as Ambassador, asked Starfleet Captain Philippa Georgiou of the USS Shenzhou to take Burnham in, which she agreed to. In their first meeting, Georgiou told Burnham that her "confidence" (Hubris in my opinion.) was justified, so the shitty attitude was probably encouraged by Georgiou from the start. Burnham served as Georgiou's xenoanthropologist for seven years, eventually becoming her first officer by 2256.
There seems to be a missing story within that seven years - Character growth that we've never seen. When Burnham and Georgiou first meet, Burnham is very Vulcan like: Calm, reserved... unintentionally rude at times. Yet there was a large change in her personality that they never explain. After seven years, she now has the attitude of a top gun pilot or a dare devil rather than a Vulcan or a Starfleet officer. It's at this point of her life where the show introduces us to Burnham.
Burnham's relationship with Captain Georgiou feels like a strong mentorship. Captain Georgiou herself feels like the embodiment of a Starfleet officer and behaves as such. She allows Burnham and Saru to butt heads, but usually defers to Burnham's judgement. She also believes Burnham is ready for a command of her own and tells her so. However, still being introduced to Burnham, you soon realize that her "confidence" gets the best of her. As first officer of the Shenzhou, Burnham is extremely rude to fellow crewmembers such as Saru, who at this time was a Liuetenent-Commander. At one point when Saru was having issues imaging a ship, Commander Burnham pushed him to the side and took over the console just to read what was on the console, with little analysis.
But then something strange happens, and I can't understand why Burnham can't keep her emotions in check, seeing as she was raised in Vulcan as a Vulcan. When the Shenzhou encountered a Klingorc ship near a damaged interstellar relay, Burnham suddenly abandons logic and practically pleads with Georgiou to fire on the ship. Captain Georgiou, trained as a Starfleet officer, refuses to do so, reminding her that "Starfleet doesn't fire first".
This is the beginning of Burnham's "hero journey", a cycle of story-telling that usually brings challenges and development to a character. People like seeing characters grow. We loved watching Thor grow from a petulant prince who wanted to fight anything that defied him, to a wise king who gave up his kingdom in search for new adventure. We loved watching Luke Skywalker grow from a young man gazing wantingly into the double sunrise, to the wise Jedi who saves Han from the Hutts and ultimately his father from the dark side. This usually starts with a call to action. For Thor, that was when the frost giants disrupted his ceremony where he was to be named King of Asgard. For Luke, it was when he saw the hologram of Princess Leia asking for Obi-wan's help.
For Michael Burnham however, that call to action was seeing that Klingorc ship first hand and wanting to fire on them. Given, the idea to fire on them came from Sarek, yet the amount of faith she put into that idea felt very illogical. With Burnham's Vulcan training out the window, she tells Georgiou that when it came to relationships with Vulcans and Klingorcs, "Violence brought respect and respect brought peace".
Yet if every time you see Klingorcs, you fire first in fear of them firing first, that's not exactly "peace". She also disobeys her doctor when she leaves sickbay while being treated for radiation to tell Georgiou about the Klingorcs. Why didn't she just use the coms system to let Georgiou know from sickbay? Why did she have to endanger herself and everybody else in her irradiated state? Where's the logic in that? Maybe if she was also Starfleet trained, she would have had the counseling needed to get past her early trauma. (She denies that her early trauma is the issue to Georgiou as well as Sarek in their long distance holo-call.) Once Georgiou made up her mind to not fire on the Klingorcs, Burnham completely loses control and yells "WE HAVE TO!" at her captain, in front of the whole bridge.
Georgiou is so taken aback with Burnham's emotional outburst that she takes her to the ready-room to discuss her actions. She orders Burnham to stand down, but she responds by neck pinching Georgiou and knocking her out. Burnham then returns to the bridge and attempts a mutiny by ordering the crew to fire on the Klingorc ship. When Saru questions her, she's extra snappy to him and threatens to remove him. Just before the ship is able to fire on the Klingorc vessel though, Georgiou arrives on the bridge with a phaser and orders Burnham to stand down once again. She does this time and is taken to the brig.
Klingorc and Starfleet reinforcements arrive and the battle of the Binary Stars begins, leaving Starfleet ships including the Shenzhou, in shambles. (Which binary stars? There are tons of them in our galaxy.) Meanwhile, Burnham is in the brig when it is heavily damaged by hull breaches. She figures out a way to mindfuck the computer into letting her go. Upon release Burnham survives in the vacuum of space for 6 seconds, which IS scientifically possible. However when we see her on the bridge again, she's undamaged.
Saru finds a way to heavily damage the Klingorc ship while Burnham and Georgiou, setting the mutiny aside for the moment, plans to kidnap the Klingorc leader. This goes south when Georgiou is killed by the Klingorc leader and Burnham kills him in vengeance, making him a martyr to the Klingorcs. Burnham then is returned to the Shenzhou where she orders to abandon ship and is later tried for her mutiny.
With her call to action having failed, Burnham is stripped of her rank and sentenced to life in prison. This would have been the end of it if the next step in the hero's journey didn't happen. Six months after her sentencing, Burnham and a few other prisoners are being transported via shuttle craft when the pilot dies. The shuttlecraft is saved when a large Pizza Cutter class ship tractor beams it into its shuttle bay. Burnham is then taken to the captain's ready room where she meets the next step in her hero's journey: The mentor.
Captain Lorca briefly explains to Burnham that he has an assignment for her, and after initially declining, she reluctantly accepts his offer to help. This is where we cross the threshold into what is known as "the special world", now helping The Pizza Cutter Discovery to try and win the Klingon War that she started. The problem here is that her mentor turns out to be the villain of the season - part of the mirror universe - so he doesn't actually do any kind of mentoring. Instead, he gives her opportunities that she doesn't deserve in an attempt to return to the mirror universe. He's basically the shortcut through her road of trials.
The road of trials is where she'll start to gain allies and overcome challenges. Burnham goes to her quarters and meets her roommate Silvia Tilly, but Burnham isn't interested in Tilly's chit-chat and after learning that Burnham is the famous mutineer, Tilly distances herself. The next day Saru, now a commander, escorts Burnham to her work station and she attempts to apologize for her past actions, for which Saru responds by calling her dangerous and saying he fears her. When she enters the work station, she is met with coldness from everyone there including Tilly. She then meets Paul Stamets who gives her some code to work on and tells her to go away. When she comes back with the fix, he accuses her of lurking. (She was.)
So how does Burnham overcome these obstacles to gain her allies? By allowing her to go on an away mission and giving her a phaser.
Lorca gets a message that the crew of their sister ship had been lost and asks Stamets to take Burnham with him to retrieve the science stuff, but Stamets objects to taking her on the mission. Lorca asks Saru of his assessment of Burnham and he says "Her mutiny aside, she is the smartest Starfleet officer I have ever known" so Stamets reluctantly takes her on the boarding party. Burnham also requests that Tilly come with them.
Thankful for the opportunity, Cadet Tilly apologizes to Burnham for being distant. They still don't completely trust her but they're reluctantly working with her because Lorca and Saru trust her. They get on the sister ship and discover a large tardigrade. They're able to run to the spore room and lock themselves in, but the tardigrade beats on the door while they gather supplies and phaser the back door open. Burnham asks for a phaser and after a minor objection, unbelievably gets tossed one. She shoots the tardigrade when it busts through the front door and it begins chasing her through the Jefferies tubes, leaving the rest of the party unharmed. The boarding party get to the shuttle bay and Burnham joins them through the tubes and they escape. After this, Saru now sees her as a "valuable asset" and a "loss to Starfleet" but Lorca invites her to stay on the Pizza Cutter, so she's not going anywhere now.
Thus she overcame her initial obstacle of getting people to trust her by just having people like Saru and Lorca and the guy who tossed his phaser to her, blindly trust her when things got a little jumpy. We later learn that Lorca wanting Burnham on the boarding party, was actually at Saru's request and I have no idea why Saru would even want to give her a chance after the way she has treated him on the Shenzhou, even after the apology. Why call someone dangerous and then request they go on a boarding party? That makes no sense. We'll learn later on that a simple apology never meant that Michael Burnham had learned her lesson about following orders.
So now that everybody trusts Burnham again, Lorca opens up about the spore drive, Tilly starts to bond with her and Burnham decides to stay on the Pizza Cutter.
Next step is the approach, which is the majority of the first season. This is a highly convoluted section of the season that includes Burnham's relationship with Ash, Harry Mudd killing everybody multiple times until Burnham kills herself, Ash killing Culber, then trying to kill Burnham and the detour into the mirror universe where Lorca dies. It's a lot of confusing stuff that happens that is mostly filler, so we just wont get into it any further than that. When they leave the mirror universe, nine months have passed in their universe and the Klingorcs have nearly won the war.
We are now at the ordeal, where the climax usually happens. Evil Georgiou is now posing as Captain Georgiou and has taken control of the Discovery. She wants to plant a bomb in the underground volcanic tunnels of Qo'nos which will make it uninhabitable and end the war, but tells the crew they're gonna plant a drone for surveillance purposes. They then jump to Qo'nos and beam onto the planet's surface, but Tilly finds out that the "drone" is actually a bomb. Georgiou knocks out Tilly, takes the bomb and plants it. Burnham, who got the news from Tilly after they revived her, talks to an admiral who admits that Georgiou is acting under Starfleet orders. Is this confusing yet?
Then Burnham - in a fabulous display of how unself-aware one can be - admits she was wrong to mutiny when she did. She then threatens ANOTHER mutiny! Showing that she's learned absolutely nothing throughout these entire 15 episodes! I mean, even if you're gonna force a situation where she had to make that choice, at least have her struggle through it! Seeing as the situations are different, having her struggle through this one could have given her a brand new perspective on the idea of mutiny that could have counted as character development.
Instead, she threatens the admiral with another mutiny and nobody has a problem with it this time. Saru, forgetting how shitty Burnham was to him during the last one, then stands up with Burnham and declares "We are Starfleet". Saru seems like a smart character until he does shit like this. After everybody on the bridge stands up in solidarity, the admiral stands down and asks Burnham for an alternative plan.
For threatening a second mutiny, Burnham is rewarded and the admiral gives her alternative plan the okay. Burnham then beams down to tell Georgiou that the plan has changed. Georgiou, who has the detonator, asserts that she is nothing like the captain that Burnham knew, but gives her a chance to join her in destroying Qo'nos. Burnham then takes Georgiou's phaser and aims it at her chest, saying that if she does detonate the bomb, she'll have to kill her to escape. After a couple of seconds of tension, Georgiou drops the phaser and gives up the detonator. I really don't know why there needed to be tension here except because the script said so. Burnham seems right about everything all the time, even calling the evil Emperor Georgiou's bluff.
As a result, a Klingorc named L'Rell is given the detonator by Burnham and Georgiou and she uses it to rule over Qo'nos. I don't know how that solution is at all in line with the values of Starfleet, but whatever, I'm just here to analyze Burnham's character. Ash, who Burnham had a relationship with until he tried to kill her, tells her that he's staying with L'Rell, who used to rape him. (Apparently all is forgiven?) They have this long emotional good-bye that lingers a little too long and Burnham beams back onto the Pizza Cutter.
*sigh* (Sorry, I needed a moment the breathe here because the action happens so quick, you're supposed to forget everything that happened before.) Burnham then returns to Earth and meets with her mother, who she thanks for not giving up on her. She then has a talk with her father who tells her that her record has been expunged and gives her back her Starfleet commander badge.
Burnham speaks at a ceremony where she talks about how to beat fear and she says that the only way to beat fear is to "simply tell it no", which sounds like something a teenager would say. Her speech at the end of the first season is word-salad that is designed to sound intelligent and resolute, but comes off as childish and inexperienced. The whole bridge crew, including Burnham get medals of honor and once she's done with her speech, everybody cheers.
You're telling me that nobody was still pissed that she started that war? You're telling me that the possible millions of people who died in this war didn't have family members who still blamed her? Did Starfleet get absolutely no blowback for expunging her record and giving her rank back as well as a medal? I don't get how she earned all of this back while learning very little wisdom in return. I would have had more respect for the character if in the end she said "I'd like to go back and finish my sentence" and did so. It would have shown humility and wisdom which was something she was lacking in the beginning and is still lacking.
We're back on the Pizza Cutter which is warping to Vulcan to take Sarek back when they get a distress signal. Burnham is shocked when she sees the registry and says "It's the USS Enterprise" and then we see something that is NOT the Enterprise. Fin.
There's a lot of cheating when it came to writing the character of Michael Burnham. She's Spock's adopted sister, so as a diplomat's daughter, she was privileged from the start. She's so powerful, she can beat up Klingons twice her size. How does she get out of prison? She has an evil captain free her.
How does she gain the trust of allies? That's easy because Lorca and Saru trust her, even though Saru initially feared her after the mutiny. How does she get through the ordeal of her hero's journey? By threatening to do the exact thing she did in her call to action, which was to mutiny, without even an internal struggle to show how much she's grown.
Burnham has technically died three times. Once as a child, once in season one when she eats the ball that Mudd says can kill you and once in season two as a way to bring the Red Angel to her. I don't count the death in season three as one because it happened in the mirror universe. Yet she always comes back to life, which never really makes sense, but would very much feed into Burnham's messiah complex that Book admits she has.
Burnham's only actual character shift in season one was that she became nicer to Saru and doesn't let Klingorcs trigger her anymore. Which I guess is SOME development, but certainly not enough to expunge someone of their criminal record. In the end, she never really paid for her mutiny and the deaths that it caused. She got her rank back, she got Georgiou back, and now she's off to get her "brother" Spock back to teach him how to be Spock.
The hero's journey cycles into season two which is so convoluted, I'm skipping it, except to say that she basically becomes a super hero in the end that takes Discovery into the future and the entire crew is down to follow her, even though she was still insubordinate to Captain Cristopher Pike. The cycle is there in season three, but a lot of it happens out of order. She's first taken into the new world when she enters that wormhole in the Red Angel suit and travels over eight hundred years into the future. She meets her new mentor, Book, who tells her about the Burn, which becomes her call to action. The call to action is normally the first step. It feels like there was never any focus or direction to each season.
Is she more expressive? Yeah, it seems like after criticism that Burnham's expressions were wooden in the first two seasons, they decided to just drop the whole Vulcan shtick and make her comically expressive to make up for it. When she meets back up with Discovery a year later, she happily gives Saru permission to claim the Captaincy. Saru then promotes Burnham to first officer, who he later rightfully demotes for disobeying his orders time and time again. I guess this counts as part of Burnham's road of trials, but why would Saru... nevermind... that's just being repetitive.
She gains alleys on Earth, Vulcan (Which they now call Ni'Var.) and from what's left of the Federation - who all now trust her because, despite her insubordinate behavior, she always seems to be right in the end. This is the result of contrived writing, in where producers or show runners write their way out of a corner in the laziest ways possible, leaving the special effects department to make it look more interesting than it actually is. Discovery writers are trying to take this flaw of Burnham's and make it a feature, while ignoring the fact that this type of insubordination would never actually be tolerated in an institution that is organized like a military, the way it's being tolerated here.
That's why I can't buy that after being disrespectful to Saru in the beginning, and after disobeying his orders to the point where he had to demote her, it would once again be Saru who recommends Burnham - This time to captain the Pizza Cutter in his absence. I can't buy that Admiral Vance, after seeing her insubordination first hand, would think it was a good idea to give her the responsibilities of a captain.
The ability to follow orders is what keeps an institution like Starfleet, or any military cohesive. Those who decide not to follow orders can become a liability to the institution, and as a result can make them less effective in accomplishing their missions. Discipline is vital to Starfleet, which is why characters like Kirk and Picard - Before the Picard show - were so very potent, because those captains demanded cohesiveness and through that, they would survive and accomplish their missions.
Michael Burnham somehow earned that coveted title of captain by being consistently insubordinate and because of the way this show is written, I doubt she's gonna have a big insubordination problem as captain of the Pizza Cutter. If there is a clear reason why the character of Michael Burnham doesn't pass the smell test, it wont be because of her color or her gender, but because of this lazy and manufactured method of story-telling that gave her all the rewards in exchange for very little sacrifice.
As long as Alex Kurtzman heads Star Trek and keeps giving us sub-par story-telling, I have no hope that it will ever return to its former glory. I pretty much believe that the producers are satisfied with Discovery being the loss leader that it is and they're just milking it for all of the virtue signaling it can do. Maybe Kurtzman will be gone one day and replaced with someone who has more respect for Trek, but until then, my future hopes are now on the success of the Orville.