The first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery’s second season show a new direction for the series.
(Red Alert! Spoilers below.)
Episode 2×01: “Brother”
The second season premiere is called “Brother,” but it’s really all about the man pictured above: Pike. As in Captain Christoper Pike, second captain of the original USS Enterprise and Kirk’s immediate predecessor. Previously portrayed by Jeffrey Hunter in the first TOS pilot “The Cage” (and then Sean Kenney as the disfigured Pike in “The Menagerie”) and then more recently by Bruce Greenwood in the Kelvin Timeline films, Discovery’s iteration sees Anson Mount donning the captain’s uniform, which as Pike notes, is of the “new” design that the Constitution class crews get first dibs on.
In a nutshell, Pike is the anti-Lorca. When Pike arrives aboard Discovery to take command because of an emergency, Acting Captain Saru informs him that a DNA test is necessary to confirm his identity, a new Starfleet security measure evidently in place because of Lorca’s deception from last season. In doing so, Pike takes the time to explain to his new bridge crew who he is and takes the time to get to know them, which means for the audience, we actually get to feel like the rest of the bridge crew is more than just glorified extras, with an entire sequence just having them give their names to their new captain (and us as an audience for the first time).
Despite only being an hour long, the premiere takes time throughout the episode to give us these little moments that seem to acknowledge some of the criticisms of last season, and a conversation between Tilly and Stamets discussing his requested transfer off of Discovery is a hopeful sign that this second season won’t be shy about focusing on quieter character moments among the crew in between the larger action set pieces.
Still, there will be action. The episode primarily deals with the Discovery crew trying to rescue survivors of a crashed Starfleet vessel found on an asteroid that’s about to slam into a pulsar, and in a sequence reminiscent of the Kirk/Khan EVA jump in Into Darkness, Michael and Pike along with a couple of Enterprise officers need to get to the crashed ship from Discovery without the help of a transporter or shuttle. It’s an exciting sequence with effects worthy of any big screen Trek feature and perhaps even a bit of a misdirection/nod to the 2009 film’s similar skydiving sequence (as soon as you see the suit colors, you’ll know what I’m talking about), although I have to admit it still felt I’d seen it before with the aforementioned Kelvin film sequences. Conversely, I thought the escape sequence from the asteroid was a bit more novel and sets up Michael’s encounter with the mysterious “Red Angel.”
We’re teased with the Enterprise at the start of the episode, but the only part we see is Spock’s quarters, which are in the style of the Discovery-era interior design. While there are elements of the TOS design in it along with a few familiar props, purists who were upset by Discovery’s “visual reboot” are likely to still find issue with it. At this point, I think it’s basically going to be one of those unsaid things like the makeup changes of aliens from TOS to TNG that fans will either accept or never reconcile with.
The episode ultimately ends without an actual appearance by the (adult) Spock that the title refers to, but it sets the stage for his inevitable reunion with Michael. In this regard, I liked that the episode felt complete enough on its own even though it promises a larger serial story arc. My preference would be for this to be the model they go with so that more of Discovery’s episodes can stand on their own like previous Treks rather than be just a mere chapter, which makes it more difficult to just put on for a rewatch.
This episode didn’t show us the Klingon characters or Emperor Georgiou from last season, but the trailer promises they’ll be back. I’m more or less ambivalent about seeing their return, but I’ll hold judgment until I see how they are affected by the new tone and direction Discovery has promised both off camera and on. When Pike tells Michael they’ll have “fun” along the way, you can’t help but feel that’s the writers also promising that to the audience.
Episode 2×02: “New Eden”
If last week’s opener was still a bit too action-heavy of a blockbuster, then “New Eden” marks a return to the classic Trek “planet of the week,” in this case a settlement of humans on a distant planet that wouldn’t feel out of place as the starting point for one of Kirk’s adventures in TOS. From mentions of Starfleet General Order 1 (aka the Prime Directive) and an away team sent incognito to learn what’s going on among the locals, it’s both comforting to see these familiar tropes yet also still feel we’re watching something new by learning more about Captain Pike’s style of command and how the rest of the crew handle the challenges thrown at them.
For those left on Discovery, we get a return to the A/B story type format, or in this case, perhaps the surface vs space sides of the same overall plot dealing with the human settlement. On the surface, operations officer Joann Owosekun is recommended to join the away team by Michael. We’re told she was raised in a Luddite collective so she’d be good for this mission, and while she does get a small moment to shine in helping the away team out of a locked cellar, it’s a shame she’s still basically treated the same as an extra. While Discovery was envisioned with Michael taking on the central role, if the show is trying to change into a more ensemble-driven series, then an easy way to have developed Owosekun further would have been to let her become a voice for the humans on New Eden rather than keeping it mainly still focused on Pike and Burnham’s different views on how to handle the settlement (namely, whether the prime directive still applies).
On the ship, Ensign Tilly gets to be the hero seemingly once again, and while I personally find her an endearing enough character, again, the writers should be willing to let the other bridge crew step up and contribute to the overall plan. Rather than have Tilly explain for instance what Detmer the helmswoman would need to do, it would have been just as easy to have Detmer understand what she needed to do on her own and likewise have the rest of the bridge crew figuring out what else they needed to do rather than being one step behind Tilly.
Still, these are just a few criticisms in what is overall an enjoyable episode and an encouraging sign that Discovery is getting its footing. That said, I suspect next week’s episode revisiting the Klingons will really be the test of whether Discovery can avoid some of its less successful tendencies from last season.