Reviews | Written by Iain Robertson 20/11/2019

STAR TREK DISCOVERY SEASON 2

STAR TREK DISCOVERY SEASON 2 / CERT: 15 / SHOWRUNNERS: AARON HARBERTS, GRETCHEN BERG, ALEX KURTZMAN / STARRING: SONEQUA MARTIN-GREEN, ANSON MOUNT, DOUG JONES, MARY WISEMAN, MICHELLE YEOH, ETHAN PECK / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW

Discovery’s sophomore season would ‘sync up with canon’ we were promised. From hairless Klingons, to the ship’s baffling spore drive and Spock spending the last half century never mentioning that he had a sister; Discovery had some major hoops to jump through if it wanted to appease the vocal contingent of fans disappointed with the considerable liberties it took with Trek’s history.

And while the show could have ignored these issues and continued to develop its own, unique take on Trek, Alex Kurtzman and his fellow writers have dedicated much of season two to retconning the show, ticking off a list of things fans had expressed displeasure at, before finally taking the show somewhere genuinely new in the finale.

The season picks up exactly where season one ended, with Discovery intercepted by the USS Enterprise whilst en route to Vulcan to meet its new captain.  Anyone familiar with Trek’s timeline will know that a decade prior to the Original Series, it’s not Kirk, but his predecessor Christopher Pike captaining the Enterprise. And sure enough he soon beams over - in the form of Anson Mount - and assumes temporary command of Discovery for a vital mission. Introducing Pike is inspired. The much-loved character has only made one proper appearance previously, way back in 1964’s The Cage, (Kelvin timelines and life-support chairs not withstanding), and Mount’s lively performance adds a much-needed sense of fun to the show, more than adequately filling the huge hole left by Jason Issacs’ departure.

Discovery’s new mission involves investigating several mysterious red bursts which have appeared throughout the galaxy. The mystery involves a being known as the ‘Red Angel,’ which appears at the locations of the bursts. Discovering who or what the angel is, and its connection to Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) was originally proposed as a way of exploring the season’s theme of ‘faith vs. science.’ Apart from The Final Frontier, human religion is something that’s largely been ignored in Trek, and the role of religion in a largely secular society is a fascinating question. Unfortunately, it’s not one properly explored here, in part because the show seems unsure what it has to say about the topic, and partly because a change in showrunners partway through the season caused it to go off in a different direction.

Also key to the mystery of the Red Angel is Burnham’s adoptive half-Vulcan brother, Spock. The Sehlat in the room throughout season one, the show had to decide between avoiding one of Trek’s most beloved icons - to the detriment of Burnham’s character - or introducing him and risking the ire of fans. They chose the latter, and for the most part the gamble pays off. Ethan Peck may be no Nimoy (who is?) and while he may not have the physical resemblance of Zachary Quinto’s version, once he eventually shows up (after Discovery goes on an *ahem* search for Spock) he quickly establishes himself as the definitive post-Nimoy incarnation.

As for the episodes themselves, like Season One, they’re a mixed bunch. Highlights include the Jonathan Frakes-directed New Eden (the show’s most traditional ‘Star Trekky’ episode to date), the first appearance of the Talosians since the Original Series, and an episode focusing on fan-favourite character Airiam. The Klingons - possibly the most divisive element of Season One - have a greatly reduced role this time this time around (as well as a redesign), although we do get both the Klingon-centric Point Of Light, and a weird, timey-wimey visit to Boreth (from TNG’s Rightful Heir).

The most divisive element this year though, and a major plot point, is the introduction of Section 31. Rather than the ultra-secretive organisation seen in Deep Space Nine, they’re here transformed into a more militaristic, less covert branch of Starfleet. While in DS9 they were so secretive nobody in Starfleet even knew they existed, here they have their own fleet of ships, funky black comm badges, and a commander (Alan van Sprang). They’ve also recruited everyone’s favourite genocidal maniac Emperor Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), who the show seems determined - unwisely - to redeem. For a season devoted to aligning the show with Trek canon, Section 31’s re-imagining is a controversial decision, and the proposed Yeoh-starring spin-off has met with a muted response from fans.

Extras-wise, it’s a fairly impressive set. Alongside the featurettes (which are similar in quality to Season One’s) there’s entertaining commentaries from the likes of Kurtzman, Martin-Green, Mount, and Jonathan Frakes. Disappointingly, of the four episodes of Short Treks produced in the lead up to the season, only two - Runaway and The Brightest Star - are included here. Unfortunately, although they tie in well with Season Two (hence their inclusion), they’re the weakest of the four. The other two superior episodes Calypso and Escape Artist are both on Netflix and well worth checking out.

Although Discovery Season Two is far from perfect, it’s a step up from the patchy first season. It’s still a show where the lead character is the least interesting; a show about exploration where precious little exploring is done; where the constant revolving door of showrunners and writers means it lacks a coherent vision (the change of showrunner from Berg/Harberts to Kurtzman mid-season is very obvious onscreen); it still feels very un-Trekish at times; and it’s a show where all the fine acting, stunning sets, effects and costumes are let down by sometimes uninspired writing. Let’s hope that the fresh start they’re giving themselves with Season Three - plus a more consistent writing team - means Discovery can finally unlock its considerable potential.