A world without a Star Trek TV show regularly airing new episodes is a slightly darker world. Thankfully, we are now back in a slightly lighter timeline: Star Trek: Discovery is back!
For those who were frustrated with the action-oriented frenzy of the first season, Star Trek: Discovery season 2 is not going to totally assuage those frustrations. There is a commitment to the wonder of scientific exploration in certain parts of this season premiere–most notably, in the delightful introduction of Tig Notaro’s Engineer Denise Reno–but this first episode is weighed down (with little pay off thus far) by the angsty mystery of Michael’s mysterious, absent brother.
For an episode called “Brother,” the story is not as focused on the relationship between Michael and Spock as you might think. Really, this episode is about Captain Pike, and his integration into the Discovery crew. And, in this ambition, it shines. After a season spent with Lorca, the addition of a captain who so openly espouses the Starfleet values is a breath of fresh air–for the crew, and for viewers. I’m not sure we needed another white human dude to take over command when we have a perfectly good Saru right there, but I digress…
Pike comes on board the Discovery and immediately informs Saru that he will be taking command because there is an imminent threat to… um, everyone, I guess? That threat is seven red bursts that occurred in perfect synchronization thousands of light-years away from one another. This mystery will no doubt drive much of the plot this season, and I am very into it as a season structure, though I would have liked it even more if it was not framed here as a threat, but as a great scientific mystery.
Much of the excitement leading up to this second season has been in seeing how Discovery chooses to represent and use Spock’s character within this narrative. Lower your expectations for this first episode. As previously mentioned, this is much more about bringing Pike into the fold, and checking in with some of our favorite characters from last season–most thoroughly, Tilly and Stamets, who get the best, character-driven scene of the episode together–than it is about Spock.
There is a Spock-shaped hole in this first episode, as Michael is desperate to see her brother, remembering moments when she first came to live with Sarek, Amanda, and Spock following the deaths of her parents. We get flashbacks to Little Spock, who is, as far as I can tell, an adorable brat. These flashbacks should be about Michael–how she feels moving into a new family on a strange planet without her parents–but, instead, they are about Spock, a character we don’t know in the context of this TV show.
It’s not enough to rely on an assumed interest in this iconic character. Discovery needs to make an argument for why Spock is important to this story. For me, the show does not accomplish this in the season premiere.
Visually, Star Trek: Discovery continues to look great, giving us some of the best science fiction visuals on TV. At times, Disco can get caught up in that spectacle, losing track of its story, but, even then, there is a sense of fun in its action sequences that wasn’t there in season one. This sense of fun is reinforced by the character of Sylvia Tilly, who continues to be a total delight that makes any scene instantly more delightful just by her presence.
As we move further into the season, and Spock no doubt becomes a larger part of this story, I hope Discovery remembers that there is just as much, if not more, potential in its new characters as there is in characters like Pike or Spock, who carry the heavy weight of prior canon with them. They’ve had their time in the Star Trek narrative, and while I am eager to see their “familiar” faces popping back up in this world, this show has always been at its best when it’s not trying to play on nostagia, but rather forging its own, bold path.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 premieres on January 17th.