Title: Star Trek: Discovery
Release Date: 2019
Creator: Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman
Production Company: Secret Hideout | Roddenberry Entertainment | Living Dead Guy Productions | CBS Studios
While the first season of Star Trek: Discovery showed some promise, it suffered from the 21st-century television malady of using “grimdark” as the baseline for storytelling. The season starts with a brutal war story and then takes a left turn into an evil mirror universe. Thankfully, the second season has more of the hopeful future of possibility that is the heart of Star Trek. There’s definitely a lighter tone, humor, and a sense of a group of people who are working together for, well, discovery.
The season begins with a new captain, Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), transferring from the Enterprise to take temporary command of Discovery. Pike is a character from the pilot of the original Star Trek series who returned for a two-part episode called “The Menagerie.” Being a prequel to the original series, Discovery has been guilty of playing up to fan nostalgia (and one episode in particular this season goes very deeply into going where Star Trek has gone before) by bringing in familiar people and things. With Pike, though, I think it works, similar to Sarek and Amanda, as they are all familiar people in Star Trek lore but have had limited screen time.
A bigger challenge is the significant role of another familiar character, Michael Burnham’s (Sonequa Martin-Green) foster brother Spock (Ethan Peck). Not only is Spock one of the most important characters in Star Trek history but he is so entwined with Leonard Nimoy that it feels an act of arrogance to recast him. Ultimately I can’t fault Peck, who does the best he can taking on an iconic role, and Spock’s presence in the series arc makes sense having established him as the family of our main character, Burnham. I can’t help feeling though that this is a way of trying to gain Star Trek legitimacy for the series without really earning it.
While season 2 is a great improvement over season 1, I feel that Discovery is still missing something that I love about Star Trek. What is missing is the whole exploring “strange new worlds” thing. All the plots and conflict of the original series involved “boldly going” somewhere new. By the time of The Next Generation, the Enterprise seemed to be shuttling between places already discovered, but they still met “new life and civilizations” all the time Discovery, by contrast, seemingly is just always in crisis and the conflict is within Starfleet (a big no-no under Gene Rodenberry, and obviously an artificial restraint to storytelling, but Discovery seems to be over-correcting). Even when they do visit places like Saru’s (Doug Jones) homeworld, we really don’t find out all too much about the planet beyond meeting Saru’s sister.
Past iterations of Star Trek have been accused of being boring, but the show did take time for world-building and character development. This season was good in fleshing out some of the secondary characters and giving a little more about the many familiar faces on the bridge. On the downside, one episode finally fills in the background of one character only to have the episode end with their death. It’s an old trick in tv and not a good one. So much of this season is about plot twists and new threats that come so fast it’s hard to even make sense of them sometimes. It starts with a search for mysterious signals in the galaxy, then a search for Spock, and then a mysterious sphere with an archive of data. The antagonists are the CIA-like Section 31 intelligence organization of the United Federation of Planets, and then suddenly a sentient artificial intelligence. It all gets a bit exhausting.
Mind you, Discovery is a fun show and one I want to keep watching. The characters and acting fill in a lot of gaps where the plotting and writing fail. I just think it could be a great show and more true to its Star Trek lineage while also being more adventurous in storytelling. The season ends with a thrilling space battle and an all-hands-on-deck plot to save the universe where all the major characters contribute. And it pretty much answers why we have never heard of Discovery or Michael Burnham or the spore drive in previous Star Trek series while also setting up a premise for Season 3 that could redefine the show in exciting ways. I shall keep watching