Star Trek: Discovery Season 2, Episode 1 – Debuted Thursday, January 17th
Written by Ted Sullivan & Gretchen J. Berg & Aaron Harberts
Directed by Alex Kurtzman
TrekMovie posted a spoiler-free review last week. Today we take a deep dive so it should go without saying, but …SPOILERS BELOW.
In the beginning
Before the season two premiere picks up the action from the season one cliffhanger, it takes a trip back, way back. A monologue by Michael Burnham transitions from our exploration of the solar system and back to an African myth about the creation of the Milky Way. Woven into this is the original “Space, the final frontier…” introduction. Thus the season begins by setting the table that this show is tied to Trek lore, and is set to tell a spiritual tale of an ancient mystery of galactic proportions. So, no pressure.
We continue our journey back through time with some flashbacks of Michael’s childhood, witnessing the young orphan girl welcomed into the Vulcan home of Sarek and his human wife Amanda. Mia Kirshner continues to impress, adding new dimensions to this familiar character as she offers her blessing to young Michael, one of the many religious tidbits peppered into this episode, which kicks off a season said to deal with the theme of science versus faith. But their young son was not nearly so welcoming, throwing a computer-generated holographic dragon at the frightened young girl before shutting the door in her face.
All this serves as background material before the episode drops us back into the chaos on the bridge, dealing with the distress call from the USS Enterprise. While the crew focuses on that, Sarek and Michael carry the weight of the other theme for this episode, family. They know who is on that ship just across the bow of the USS Discovery. This episode and this season may be full of action, character drama, lore, mystery, and exciting plot twists, but it kicks off by foreshadowing that the thing tying it all together is Star Trek’s most iconic character, and Michael’s titular “Brother,” Spock.
An angel ahead of you to guard you along the way
It’s not long until Discovery introduces us to its newest main cast member, Anson Mount, who barrels aboard as the new Captain Christopher Pike to take command and set the ship – and the show – to a new mission. Pike is there to kick mysterious spatial anomaly keister and chew bubble gum, and he is all out of bubble gum. Hanging a lantern on the change of pace from the first season, he tells the crew “I am not Lorca.”
Pike and his entourage, consisting of engineer Nhan and science officer Connolly, brief the crew on what will be the big mystery for the season: seven red bursts have shown up around the galaxy simultaneously. With the USS Enterprise waylaid and under tow after being damaged in the attempt to reach one of the bursts, it is now up to the USS Discovery to seek out these strange new signals. Setting up what looks to be the structure of the season, one signal is still active and ready to be explored.
Soon enough they find themselves warping into a dangerous field surrounding an interstellar asteroid giving off all sorts of weird readings, baffling the bridge crew. A frustrated Pike demonstrates a new more grounded tone for the dialog this season, exclaiming “I was expecting a red thing. Where’s my damn red thing?” As they have a whole season to get to the bottom of the seven red bursts, this mystery will have to wait, because there’s a ticking clock introduced when they discover a Starfleet ship crashed on the asteroid, and the asteroid will collide with a pulsar in five hours.
With transporters and shuttles incapable of helping in rescue operations, the only way to reach the USS Hiawatha is via an elaborate high-octane action sequence featuring cool new little one-man ships dodging space rocks. Michael Burnham leads Pike and his entourage down; however, to show the stakes, Connolly doesn’t make it as his craft gets wiped out in a puff of arrogance. Tropes aside, this sequence was some of the best action we have seen on the series so far, punctuated by impressive special effects and a more aggressive musical score.
Once down on the asteroid they soon find what was left of the USS Hiawatha, which isn’t much. A few of the crew survived, saved and in various forms of creative life support created by Jett Reno, a snarky engineer ably played by the deadpan Tig Notaro. While in no way resembling Scotty or LaForge, Tig’s chief engineer can rattle off Treknobabble like the best of them. In a role clearly custom made for her style, the veteran comedian helps lighten the tone without coming across as pure comic relief.
Burnham and Reno tech the tech and are able to transport the remaining Hiawatha crew back to the Discovery, but a mishap leaves Burnham behind and badly injured with a nasty glowing leg wound. In the resulting chaos and bleary-eyed through the pain, Burnham gets a fleeting glimpse of what appears to be an angel, which we are led to believe is somehow tied into the big mystery of the seven signals.
After Burnham is safely back on the Discovery, they have a last bit of business of plot to take care of, with the recovery of a piece of this strange asteroid. The whole crew bonds as they work together to solve the problem classic Star Trek style, with Tilly exuberantly proclaiming a win for Team Discovery via “the power of math!” Phrases like “dark matter” and “gravity distortions” are thrown around, but the real analysis is left to future episodes. There were also indications that this space rock may be the key to getting the spore drive back online, with mentions of its mycelial effect being up to that of Ripper, our long lost enslaved tardigrade navigator.
Love is patient, love is kind
In between the exploring, explosions, and exposition “Brother” also found time for a number of quiet character moments. By the time season one wrapped up, the crew of the Discovery had come together as a family, including a number of earned pairings which were highlighted in the season two opener.
When Tilly wasn’t being adorkably flustered around Captain Pike and sciencing it up, she remained the heart of this family, which she wears on her sleeve. Perhaps the most touching moment came between her and Stamets, who announced he has one foot out the door and is ready to leave the ghost of his dead partner behind and take a job on Vulcan. In a moment beautifully played by both Mary Wiseman and Anthony Rapp, Tilly failing to appeal to him as a scientist, heartbreakingly falls back to the simple “I don’t want you to go.” Later when they work together to capture the asteroid, we get our first sense that maybe she got through to him.
Tilly also had a nice moment with her mentor Michael Burnham. Michael found time to return to some sibling banter with her brother from another Kelpien mother, Saru, and he showed how annoying it can be to try to hide your feelings with someone who can literally smell your mood.
One pairing that ironically remains problematic is the actual family dynamic between Michael and Sarek. The trend seen in the latter half of season one continues, with James Frain’s Sarek coming across as far too sentimental.
We also got the first indications of some new relationships. Saru and Pike are starting off with a bit of a rivalry as Pike comes on board to take shared custody of the ship. Pike and Burnham also show good chemistry, and one very different than her always a bit tense interactions with Lorca. After initially butting heads, these two show they make a good team, ready to take on the big mysteries of the seven signals and their shared bonding over Spock. Anson Mount demonstrated his impressive range, able to carry much of the action as well as developing these character dynamics so soon after joining the cast.
His only begotten son
The episode wraps up by coming full circle as the USS Discovery rendezvous with the USS Enterprise, now under tow. Pike reveals that Spock has taken leave, seeking answers to an unknown question. Even though she has been estranged from her foster brother for years, Burnham still feels a “need” to take a pilgrimage to his empty quarters on the USS Enterprise. Among the Vulcan low-level mood lighting and minimalist Vulcan decor that would impress Marie Kondo, Burnham finds a message and Ethan Peck’s first “appearance” on the series.
The new Spock actor speaks to us in a personal audio log, where he reveals that since childhood he has been haunted with nightmares that are somehow tied into the seven signals. And luckily this log also contains data and a map for Burnham, Pike and the gang to follow. Season two will quite literally be, a search for Spock.
Wider, faster, funnier…better
Reboot is a loaded term, but in many ways “Brother” was exactly that for Star Trek: Discovery. This soft reboot isn’t in terms of canon or hopping from the Prime Timeline, but in giving the show a fresh start. It is clear that the powers that be took a long hard look at the first season and made changes where they felt the show was coming up short and doubled down on areas where it was working. And for the most part, they have succeeded in presenting something that feels different, and quite frankly, better.
The script by Berg, Harberts, and Sullivan is tight and moves the show’s dialog into a more grounded place. Saru may come from a primitive planet but he has picked up Earthican phrases like “pump the brakes.” And Jett Reno is just full of contemporary vernacular, including dropping a “Thank Christ!” in yet another one of the spiritual references for the episode. While perhaps sometimes a bit too modern, the welcome effort here makes the show more accessible and relatable, replacing some of the stilted feeling often evident in the first season.
This may be reading into things, but sometimes it felt like the show was speaking directly to its goal of making some changes. Is there a message about turning the page and perhaps letting go of canon nitpicking in Sarek’s suggestion to “focus on the problem in front of you, rather than what is behind”? Are we sharing Reno’s joy that “no one is speaking Klingon,” saving us from endless subtitles? Surely Pike’s assurance to Burnham that “wherever our mission takes us, we will try to have a little bit of fun along the way” is also a promise to the audience that the darkness of season one has been left behind.
In addition to Reno’s whole thing, the episode featured a number of lighter and comedic moments. From the broad comedy of the Saurian Linus sneezing on poor Connolly, to Saru’s sarcasm over his own threat ganglia, to Pike’s teasing of Tilly’s fluster, “Brother” had just about the right balance of humor to feel like Star Trek.
The new wider screen format director Alex Kurtzman chose, which is the new normal for the show, certainly makes Discovery more cinematic. Many moments from “Brother” felt like they could have been taken right out of J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek feature, co-written by Kurtzman. This was helped along with the top-notch production design for the episode. A lot of effort has been taken to up the Star Trek-ness of Star Trek: Discovery, even down to the sound design of the “walla,” to the more colorful space suits.
Burnham saves the day, but not Connolly
Michael Burnham remains as the lead focus of the series and Sonequa Martin-Green continues to be up to that task. Redeemed and returned to her place as a commander, Burnham’s arc is now pivoted into the exploration of her family’s past, especially with Spock. This is all nicely tied into the red angel arc for the season. “Brother” had a good mix of backstory to help fill in some of the blanks for this nuanced character.
Burnham also got to show off her talents in the episode, displaying the compassion, bravery, and intelligence that is to be expected of a Star Trek hero. Perhaps in an effort to make the character as likable as possible, Burnham’s flaws took a back seat in “Brother.” She comes up with the plan to get down to the Hiawatha, she saves Pike from certain death in the cold of space, she fixes Reno’s transporter room, and even in sickbay, she finds time to do the math for Tilly’s capture of the space rock.
One place where “Brother” showcases Burnham is in the action sequence with the landing pods. Here we can see her show off her skills and her smarts, leading the team through the field. However, the show falls into an unwelcome trope as she argues with Lt. Connolly who thinks he knows better, and by ignoring her he ends up getting killed halfway through explaining how much smarter he is. Having someone die to show the dangers of space is fine, but you don’t need to present the red shirt of the week as such a buffoon to make our hero look good by comparison. Flawed characters and conflict is fine, but not to the point where the audience is driven to applaud the death of a Starfleet officer as something he deserved for being a big jerkface.
In the end, “Brother” is a very welcome return for Star Trek: Discovery. While not perfect, the effort to pivot the show for the second season in big ways and small is welcome. Once again a Star Trek show demonstrates growth for its second season, assuming they can keep up the pace.
Random thoughts, connections, easter eggs, and more screen caps
- At 61 minutes and 32 seconds (including recap and preview), “Brother” has the longest single episode runtime of the series.
- Spock’s childhood bedroom included a 3D chessboard, and his USS Enterprise quarters also included his Vulcan lute and the Vulcan ceremonial bells similar to those seen “Amok Time.”
- Stamets mentions a former colleague who is an ethnobotanist aboard the Enterprise, which is likely a reference to Sulu who was a science officer in “Where No Man Has Gone Before” and showed an interest in botany in “The Man Trap.”
- Pike mentions growing up in Mojave, as seen in “The Cage.”
- Pike’s engineer Lt. Nhan appears to be a Barzan.
- Saru ability watch: Can sense the level of humans endocrine system and his vision is superior enough to discern details beyond the rest of crew, and apparently even the computers.
- Saru name-dropped sister Siranna, the first connection to Short Treks (“The Brightest Star”) and foreshadows season two episode visiting his home planet.
- The transporter chief wears headgear reminiscent of Geordi’s VISOR from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
- Pike refers to the colorful USS Enterprise uniforms as “the new uniforms” opening up the possibility that others in Starfleet may start wearing them.
- Pike takes command of USS Discovery under Starfleet Regulation 19, Section C.
- USS Discovery turbolifts ride on a roller coaster-like track system.
- Wilson Cruz appears in the episode as Hugh Culber only via a recorded memory, which Stamets plays back through a kind of implant that works like a personal hologram, apparently beamed straight into your mind.
- Connolly mentions he had a Caitian roommate at the Academy.
- Airiam has been recast, now played by Hannah Cheeseman, now called “Airiam 2.0.” Original Airiam actress Sarah Mitich played new human character, Lt. Nilsson.
- Making a clean break from the war of last season, no Klingons appear in the episode, but High Chancellor L’Rell did get a mention.
- There was one bit of profanity with Connolly saying “no shit.”
- Dr. Pollard now has a first name, Tracy. It’s still unclear if she is the Chief Medical Officer.
- Pike finds a fortune from one of Lorca’s fortune cookies that reads: “Not every cage is a prison nor every loss eternal,” which could be a reference to “The Cage,” and also maybe Culber’s possible return from the dead.
- Lorca’s tribble is gone, but Tilly still had to namedrop tribbles, because they can’t help themselves.
- When discussing what he has learned from Spock, Pike paraphrases Spock from Star Trek VI, saying “Logic was the beginning of the picture and not the end.”
Star Trek: Discovery is available exclusively in the USA on CBS All Access. It airs in Canada on Space and streams on CraveTV. It is available on Netflix everywhere else. The second season debuted on All Access and Space on Thursday, January 17th, 2019, and on Netflix January 18, 2019.
Keep up with all the Star Trek: Discovery news at TrekMovie.