TrekMovie was able to get an early look at the season two premiere of Star Trek: Discovery. Next Thursday we will have our usual detailed review with full recap and analysis, but to get things started, today we can offer up some spoiler-free thoughts on the first episode of the new season titled “Brother.”
A fresh start
Star Trek: Discovery launches into its second season with an episode designed to shake things up. In big ways and small, Discovery now feels like a different show, and for the most part, in a good way. The show is leaning more into areas that worked for season one and making adjustments in places where it didn’t. With a lighter tone, more action, and impressive production, “Brother” feels like a breath of fresh air rushing into the airlock.
Of course, one thing that hasn’t changed is that Sonequa Martin-Green’s Michael Burnham is still the show’s lead character. “Brother” very much ties her into the over-arching mystery in season two as well as introducing an arc related to her relationship with her foster brother Spock. Now restored to her rank of commander and redeemed, Burnham’s arc has room to become more personal.
Martin-Green continues to deliver a strong performance, carrying much of the emotional impact and action of the episode, and even some of the humor. It does seem like one of the things the show is trying to do – perhaps in reaction to the response to her character from the start of the first season – is make Burnham as likable as possible. She is the epitome of a Starfleet hero in “Brother,” bordering on the super-heroic.
In with the new
One of the ways “Brother” changes things up is that it introduces a number of new characters, chief among them is Anson Mount as Captain Pike. Something made clear – and even pointed to directly – is that Pike is definitively not Lorca. This new commander of the USS Discovery is like someone grown in a Starfleet lab designed to create ideal captains, with just the right mix of confidence, competence, and charm. That is not to say this Pike is one-dimensional, as there is plenty on display to show that he will be a fully-formed highlight of the season. But there is no grey area of questionable ethics around Pike, moving the mysteries for the season into space and his mission to get to the bottom of the seven red bursts appearing around the galaxy.
Another welcome addition is Tig Notaro, playing chief engineer Jet Reno of the USS Hiawatha. Her brand of acerbic wit is a fun addition and helps with the general move towards lightening up the show in general. But Reno isn’t along just to make wisecracks, showing competence in out-of-the-box thinking that results in some fun Trek tech.
The old gang is back too
Of course, the crew from season one is back, and “Brother” gives each great moments to shine and set themselves up for a new season. Stamets, Tilly, and Saru all resonated in the first season and each leans into their strengths in the season two opener. All also pick up on their arcs and even foreshadow where they are going next, setting up character dilemmas and possibilities that almost certainly will pay off in future episodes.
Anthony Rapp’s performance as Lt. Commander Stamets is a standout as he is dealing not only with the loss of his partner Dr. Hugh Culber, but of the whole reason he was on board the Discovery in the first place: the now-defunct spore drive. Doug Jones also continues to impress with how he conveys so much–and with such subtlety–as the Kelpien Saru, now bringing more confidence as he deals with a new captain and a new potentially dangerous mystery. Mary Wiseman’s Tilly is always a delight, although perhaps too much of a delight. Getting into Starfleet’s Command Training Program seems to have turned her Tilly-ness up to 11, and she needs to dial it back just a notch.
A nice element in “Brother” is the way it gives members of the bridge crew things to say and do. We saw some of this in the first season, and it worked well, and it’s clearly being emphasized in this season two opener. Detmer, Owosekun, Bryce, Rhys, and Airiam all continue to get fleshed out to become more than glorified extras. Oyin Oladejo’s Joann Owosekun and Emily Coutts’ Keyla Detmer were a highlight, developing a fun rapport at the front bridge stations.
Another change is the look of the episode, which is now pushing the line into cinematic style further with new anamorphic lenses for a wider 2.39:1 “CinemaScope” ratio that director and showrunner Alex Kurtzman has introduced. The episode felt like a short Star Trek feature film, with great pacing and the right mix of action, drama and character moments.
Everyone behind the camera seems to be upping their game, including production design, wardrobe, props, sound, music, and the episode features absolutely stunning visual effects. More than any other time in the first season, the USS Discovery itself feels like a character. The message seems clear: no one is settling in and phoning it in for this season.
There are also a number of elements to the production that make it feel more Star Trek. Thanks to writers Ted Sullivan, Aaron Harberts and Gretchen J. Berg, there are plenty of fun nods to Trek lore woven throughout, including some new elements to add to the mix. But there are also more subtle details, including more color and background sounds, which all add to a Trek feel that sometimes was too fleeting in season one.
Bottom line is that the second season premiere of Star Trek: Discovery was a fun, exciting and compelling episode of television. It is, of course, a trope for Star Trek shows to up their game after their first seasons, but it is nice to see Discovery follow in that tradition. There is still room to grow for the show, but if you are a fan already, it’s almost certain you will feel the long wait for season two was worth it– and if you weren’t a fan, it’s worth giving the show another shot by watching “Brother.”
The second season of Star Trek: Discovery debuts Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019 at 8:30 PM, ET/5:30 PM, PT exclusively on CBS All Access in the United States. It will air on Space in Canada the same night. And will be available to the rest of the world the next day (January 18) on Netflix.
Star Trek: Discovery is available in the USA on CBS All Access. It airs in Canada on Space and streams on CraveTV. It is available on Netflix everywhere else.
Keep up with all the Star Trek: Discovery news at TrekMovie.