Star Trek: Discovery Season 2, Episode 2 – Debuted Thursday, January 24th
Teleplay by Vaunn Wilmott & Sean Cochran; Story by Akiva Goldsman & Sean Cochran
Directed by Jonathan Frakes
The second episode of Discovery’s second season moves the action into a classic Star Trek story of the exploration of a strange new world. With the show trying to cram a bit too much into the time allotted, director Jonathan Frakes is still able to keep up the pace set in the season opener. Strong performances all around help add new dimensions to both leading characters and some who are emerging from the background. “New Eden” carries the main arc of the season and the mystery of the seven bursts forward, perhaps at the expense of some of the world-building we have come to expect from traditional Trek visits to new planets. The episode is a solid and entertaining hour of Star Trek and keeps the momentum going following the improvements seen in the season premiere.
Crazy like a Spock
The second episode kicks off where “Brother” ended, with a nice quiet moment between the three focal characters of the show’s second season: Pike, Burnham and the off-screen Spock. In Pike’s homey new ready room, Burnham shares Spock’s map of the seven bursts, and the captain surprises her with the news that her estranged foster brother Spock has checked himself into a Starfleet psychiatric facility. The Sarek family dysfunction was on full display as Pike reveals Spock didn’t want them to be told and Burnham admitting she is the last person Spock would want to see, even if he could be the key to solving the seven bursts mystery of the season.
Heading Out to (New) Eden
After this too-brief moment of character development, the arc plot alert siren sounds with the news that one of the seven red bursts is again bursting. This time it is so far away – specifically 51,450 light years deep into the Beta Quadrant – they have no choice but to dust off the spore drive and stick Lt. Stamets back into his navigation chamber, which apparently no one is worried is going to eventually kill him anymore. After Pike winks at the audience, quipping about how he will just take it on faith that the ship can “skip across the universe on a highway made of mushrooms,” it’s Black Alert time once again on the Disco.
Like their last adventure, upon arrival at the location of the burst, there is no red signal to be found. However, there is a lovely Class M planet with a classic Trek mystery, it is populated with humans from the World War III era before warp drive was even a gleam in Zefram Cochrane’s eye. To investigate an ancient distress call coming from a church, Pike assembles a landing party joined by Burnham and Owosekun, who becomes the first Discovery bridge officer to get to join the cool kids on a mission thanks to her background as someone raised in a Luddite community, helpful for keeping their Prime Directive cover when visiting a pre-warp culture.
After dropping references to Shakespeare and Arthur C. Clarke, both delving into the “science versus faith” theme of the season, the team is on the planet we learn is called Terralysium (translation: Earth Paradise), discovering its forefathers were transported off old Earth during the war by … wait for it… a red angel, just like the one Michael saw in her vision in “Brother.” The seeming miracle of a church delivered to safety away from nuclear annihilation inspired this “New Eden” community to form a new faith and scrapbook a new scripture, based on seven of Earth’s main religions. Oh yeah, that seven is surely not a coincidence either.
As so often is the case, they also discover there is some trouble in this paradise. While most have acquiesced to live as Space Amish, some hold on to the memory of science, including Jacob, whose family set up the distress call decades before in hopes of rescue from more advanced humans. He quickly susses out the landing party, locking them in the church and stealing their technology to prove to the community that they have been saved. But the “All Mother” leader and remaining members of the community aren’t buying it. Things get even worse after Owosekun MacGyvers the team’s escape with a magnet, only to have Pike seriously injured saving a young girl who was never taught to not play with a loaded phaser.
They see dead people
The B-plot for “New Eden” focuses on the scientific dynamic duo of Stamets and Tilly, with Anthony Rapp and Mary Wiseman continuing to show some of the best character chemistry for the series. Tilly is overly excited (which perhaps is her normal setting) that the spore drive gives Stamets a reason to stay on the ship. However, Paul – still clearly in pain – is concerned he could get lost again in the mycelial network, revealing he thinks his dead partner Hugh still exists in there in some form. The young ensign takes it upon herself to do some mad science with the giant floating rock of dark matter captured in “Brother,” but this attempt to find an alternative form of spore navigation literally blows up in her face, sending her to sickbay.
Saru is in no way amused by Tilly’s reckless behavior but is impressed by her ingenuity. In a touching scene played beautifully by Doug Jones, we see what may be the start of a mentorship of Tilly for the Command Training Program, with Saru stepping in for the distracted Michael as Tilly’s new life coach.
Speaking of new relationships, Tilly spends the rest of the episode mostly talking to a new character named May, who helps her work out various problems to help save the day. May is fun and friendly with Tilly, showing an established friendship. There is only one small little problem, that takes Tilly a bit too long to figure out: May has never been a member of the crew. Oh yeah, and she is supposed to be dead. A big clue as to what is probably going on here is when May says “your mind is so much fun,” indicating Tilly has picked up a little passenger, probably when she was playing with that crazy asteroid in the shuttle bay. This could also relate to that little bit of spore that landed on her should in season one. But this possession plotline will have to wait for the next episodes as there is no time to waste.
The Fast and the Furious: Starfleet Drift
While Pike and Burnham are visiting New Eden, Saru and the crew face the main ticking clock jeopardy of the episode, with one of the planet’s rings about to shower deadly radiation on the surface, killing everyone. Once again, with transporters and shuttles incapable of saving the day, it’s time to get creative with a mix of Star Trek tech and racing video game stunts. This time Detmer, Tilly and Stamets come together to plan some crazy maneuvers involving the spore drive, tractoring the dark matter asteroid behind the ship and having the USS Discovery “drifting” as it scoops up the dangerous radioactive debris falling towards the planet. But the show may be pushing the more casual and relatable dialogue with assessments like, “Bad.” “Bad?” “Really bad.” And I bet you never thought you would hear “initiating donut maneuver” in Star Trek.
All that aside, the season continues to go out of its way to add dimensions to members of the bridge crew and to show that things happen in Starfleet through teamwork and ingenuity. And in another action-packed sequence, we see what the USS Discovery can really do, making the ship herself another character that is getting some much-needed growth and attention. The visual effects are top notch and Jeff Russo’s more aggressive music for this season pick up on the premiere’s ambitions to make the show more cinematic.
But with all this teamwork, one has to wonder: where is Jett Reno? Not only was Tig Notaro’s acerbic engineer a delightful addition to the season premiere, she was also shown to be an ingenious problem solver. Perhaps it was one too many techie cooks in the kitchen, but the USS Discovery should not be reliant on last-minute Tilly and/or Stamets “eureka” moments of technobabble. Or if that is the plan, at least leave an console open on the bridge for them to use after they burst in dramatically.
Seeing the light
The episode wraps up with Pike returned to the Discovery to be healed by Dr. Pollard, who got a first name last week and shows some sass in episode two, giving her a bit more personality instead of just being a walking medical tricorder. After some more debate with Burnham over faith and the Prime Directive, Pike is convinced to bend the rules and reveal the truth to Jacob, and to trade a power cell for a recording of the moment when the New Eden church was saved during World War III.
Burnham also reveals to Pike how she saw the Red Angel when she was injured on the asteroid in the season opener. And now Pike sees it too, revealed in the recording Jacob gave Pike. The game is afoot.
Let us pray?
Hinted at in the season opener, this episode dove headlong into the theme for the new season of science versus faith. While issues of belief and faith have been explored in Star Trek before, particularly on Deep Space Nine, this season appears to reveal more about how faith is perceived in the 23rd century of Star Trek’s Federation. The episode was replete with religious terminology with talk of “angels,” “revelation,” “salvation” and even the character named Jacob is a biblical reference to the patriarch of the Israelites, who wrestled with an angel. There are even specific shoutouts to seven Earth religions – Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddism, Shinto, and Wicca – mostly mentioned for the first time in the franchise.
While Pike and Burnham are showing good chemistry and a growing trust not seen with Lorca, the show is also setting up a dichotomy between the pair in line with the theme of faith and science. This second episode strips away some of the action-movie heroics of the season two opener for both, revealing some of their nuances and even flaws. Pike is shown to be fluent in the language of belief, if not a believer himself, being raised as by a professor of comparative religions. Burnham reminds us she grew up on Vulcan and her strict adherence to logic and science borders on the intolerant, as she shows a lack of compassion for the faithful of New Eden, dismissing their beliefs as just a pack of lies.
The debate over the nature of the red angel is reminiscent of the same debate over Bajor’s Prophets, seen as “wormhole aliens” to members of Starfleet. But this season promises to go deeper into this debate and how religion and faith are perceived in the Federation of the future. As for the big mystery itself, “New Eden” didn’t provide any answers yet, but there are hints that the red bursts may be part of some kind of galactic morality test. While it is a minefield, so far this entire foray into the issue of faith remains intriguing and hopefully can avoid some of the heavy-handedness the series dabbled in the first season when dealing with some hot topics.
General Order One is actually quite specific
“New Eden” is another in a long tradition of Star Trek episodes that wrestled with Starfleet’s first commandment, General Order One, better known as the Prime Directive. With the Discovery breaking out of local space and doing some far frontier exploring this was bound to come up, with the interesting twist that even with humans from Earth, rules are rules and pre-warp means no-interference. Captain Pike leads the way, showing he is very much of a by-the-book kind of leader, perhaps even showing he may be rigid to a fault.
The debate between him and Michael also offered some opportunities for character development. Burnham showed how she has learned her lesson about following orders, after the disastrous consequences from “The Vulcan Hello.” And Pike shows some flexibility here, as Burnham was able to convince Pike to bend the rules enough, in the name of the mission. Although after already getting spotted beaming up to the ship, the damage may have been done. These kinds of debates over the Prime Directive are nothing new, but with regards to how it was handled by Pike’s landing party, “New Eden” was able to keep it fresh.
However, things were a bit different on board the USS Discovery. Once it became clear that the planet’s inhabitants were in danger from what seemed like a natural phenomenon, the crew did not hesitate in the decision to save them all, with Saru explicitly saying they were responsible for “every living being” on the planet. While it showed character growth for Saru to keep his ganglia in check when informed of the “extinction level event,” he seems to have forgotten the Prime Directive. Pike was clear before he left the ship that the Prime Directive applied and even after learning the inhabitants were from Earth he was undeterred and stuck to the regulations. But Saru, even without that info, decided without debate to intervene.
And this gets to something that was also seen in the first moments of the pilot for the series (“The Vulcan Hello”), when Burnham and Georgiou save the pre-warp Crepusculan civilization from a draught that would have caused their extinction. Here, as in that episode, the writers seem to treat the Prime Directive as just a rule about getting caught interfering, when the rule is about the interfering itself. There is a bit of handwaving about how those on the planet are not even aware of the danger, but does that really change the rules? Even the often-derided Star Trek Into Darkness got this right, with Kirk’s attempt to cover up not just how they were seen, but the entire attempt to save the planet Nibiru from a super-volcano. Jean Luc-Picard made this very clear in episodes like “Homeward,” “Who Watches the Watchers,” and “The Masterpiece Society” that it isn’t Starfleet’s job to run around to interfere, even when it is humans involved. Of course, things play a bit more fast and loose in the TOS era, and maybe Saru understands the importance of bending the rules as Georgiou did for him in Short Treks “The Brightest Star.” But there should at least have been some debate about it on the bridge.
Just stopping by strange new worlds
A lot of fans were excited when previews for “New Eden” were released earlier this week, revealing a classic exploration storyline. And to be sure, writers Vaunn Wilmott, Sean Cochran and Akiva Goldsman cooked up some intriguing new spins on the old premise. The concept of this World War III-era community living for 200 years on their own deep in the Beta Quadrant raises so many questions. Alas, we came away with very few answers as there was only a surface level exploration of this society. Even the only two characters from the planet who get any exploration – Jacob and the All Mother – seemed to be proxies for Michael Burnham and Captain Pike, acting as extensions for their discussions over science and faith.
And this gets into the fundamental difference with Discovery. It is a highly serialized series, with multiple plates spinning on plot arcs and character arcs. It derives most of its conflict within the main cast and so even when the USS Discovery explores a strange new world like in “New Eden” or last season’s “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum,” the strange new world is more of a stage for our known characters to act out their continuing drama. As noted before, the episode gives good attention to main and minor recurring characters, and that comes at the expense of the single-episode characters.
With “New Eden” returning to the more standard 43-minute runtime, there simply isn’t enough time being given to allow for the kind of world-building you would expect for an exploration episode of Star Trek. This could by some be considered a shortcoming, however, it simply is part of the nature of this show. Discovery is designed for the binge era and the ongoing arcs take precedence over making each episode feel like a total and complete standalone story. The USS Discovery has places to go and angels to see, which means a bit of speed dating with the planet of the week.
Keep it up, but mellow out
“New Eden” was a solid second episode for what continues to be a promising second season of Star Trek: Discovery. However, the show could relax a bit and not feel the need to keep up a relentless pace in order to maintain the audience’s interest. Excitement is fun, but Discovery should not forget to stop and smell the alien roses along the way.
Random thoughts, connections, easter eggs, and more screen caps
- Tilly is the youngest person ever to get into the Starfleet Command Training Program.
- Pike again uses “hit it,” making it his signature catchphrase, but probably won’t catch on like Picard’s “engage.”
- Saru ability watch: speaks 90 languages.
- English is considered “Federation standard.”
- Detmer reveals she has had a pilot’s license since age 12.
- Pike quotes Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which has been referenced multiple times in Trek history starting with TOS “The Conscience of the King.” The play is even available in Klingon, or “the original Klingon” if you prefer.
- Tilly’s to-do list including important things such as “Do some light ‘working on myself'” and “Research Starfleet’s favorite opera.”
- Tilly went to Musk Junior High, a reference to entrepreneur and Tesla/Space-X CEO Elon Musk. This is his second shoutout in the series.
- The episode dropped a lot of science and tech referenced before on Trek including Metreon particles and dark matter.
- Pike’s ready room is bigger than Lorca’s and has a southwestern feel to it, befitting his Mojave upbringing.
- Bringing the spore drive back so soon is not a surprise, and it was strongly hinted at by the former showrunners long before production even started on the season, but it brings back the problem of finding a way to explain why it was never heard from or used again. Captain Janeway is someone who would have especially appreciated its capabilities.
- The second season continues to tap more into the wide range of the Star Trek sound library, such as Pike’s ready room door chime coming from Voyager and the TNG movies. The old beacon Jacob uses has some TOS “garbled message” sounds mixed in as well.
- Wilson Cruz does not appear in this episode.
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.