REVIEWED: SEASON 2 (EPISODES 1, 2) | WHERE TO WATCH: NETFLIX UK
Even before the second season debuted, the return of one of the most seminal characters in Star Trek history - the lord of logic himself, Mr. Spock - had already been teased. If you pair this big reveal alongside the given title for episode one, Brother, it gave the strong impression that, right from the get-go, we were going to have a Spock-centric start to the season. In some ways this assumption was correct, Spock ‘is’ a central element of the episode. However, this incarnation of Star Trek is adept at teasing and intriguing its audience; so much so that Spock is noticeably absent from the episodes reviewed here (excluding a baby-faced, thinly browed child Spock, featured in flashbacks). Instead, we are beautifully bread-crumbed along with clues as to his state of mind, his troubled relationship with Burnham, and his current whereabouts. So many clues, so many questions to keep us hooked - Temba, his arms open!
Brother does an expert job at establishing the central narrative drives for the season, from an overall season arc perspective, to inter-character relationships and issues. Admittedly it also steers close to being somewhat hammy in parts, but those moments are fleeting and easily forgotten. The introduction of another popular character in Star Trek lore, Captain Pike, was a waterfall of refreshment. Especially so after the dark presence of Captain Lorca from Season 1. The casting of Anton Mount as Captain Pike deserves a round of applause, and in the space of a single episode he’s become one of our favourite characters, and we’re excited to see how his narrative develops through the season (the Enterprise isn’t going to be broken forever).
Despite Spock still not being physically present by New Eden, its second episode, his importance to the story is quickly re-emphasised. It’s his voiceover that narrates the opening scene, and the initial conversation between Burnham and Pike is about the man of mystery himself. Some of the questions that were left hanging from Brother are a little too quickly answered, but fear not, because for every reveal (where Spock ‘actually’ is, for example), another question presents itself (‘why’ is he there?). After the initial Spock-centric exposition, the story takes a different direction, one that reassuringly feels like classic Star Trek subject matter. When Burnham figures out the coordinates for one of the red cluster energy signals, the U.S.S. Discovery takes another mushroom trip and travels quite a distance, to the source of the signal. Upon their arrival, they discover a habitable planet and further investigation reveals that the planet is home to a population of humans that have been there for over 200 years. The mystery deepens as Burnham and Pike try to understand just how they got be there.
Some classic Star Trek themes such as the conflict between religion, science, and the prime directive (now called General Order 1) are brought into focus in this storyline. In dealing with these deeper, more philosophically charged concepts, it would be very easy for the episode to lose its momentum, but it does a good job of keeping the story rolling at a satisfying pace. A large part of this is thanks to Ensign Tilly and her infectious energy. Whilst Burnham and Pike wrestle with the finer points of the prime directive and the boundaries between science and spirituality, Tilly is tasked with solving a more time-sensitive and cataclysmic problem. She soon takes over as the driving force of the episode and after a lot of pacing back-and-forth, some comic relief, and many espressos (in sickbay no less), she formulates a solution and gets to work. It’s in the middle of this chaos where the biggest question of the episode arises. It’s a real jaw-drop moment, one that opens up a whole slew of additional questions.Whether Discovery will ultimately satisfy all breeds of Star Trek fan is another subject entirely. It’s impossible to please everybody all of the time so there are bound to be issues, but do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few? The debate continues. But based on these initial episodes, Season 2 feels like it has already struck a better balance between the essence of what Star Trek is at its core and its requirement to reform for the modern age. Along with great character development, these both have their fair share of action and suspense, and if doing doughnuts in a starship doesn’t get your neck-hairs dancing, then we don’t know what will!