So although “Star Trek: Discovery” and I didn’t part on the best of terms after Season 1 limped to a close, I have to admit I was looking forward to this new season. That’s due in part to the excellent “Short Treks” but also due to the fact the series had, at least, ditched the interminably tedious Klingon War storyline which never really developed any momentum and instead weighed the debut season down with unnecessary continuity. You can see how muddled and unfocused the first season was in the [optional] recap which precedes the start of the new episode; it’s a grab bag of random scenes designed more to remind you of some of the supporting players who’ll no doubt make ‘surprise’ returns in TV’s most predictable sci-fi drama.
And, at first, it’s very much Discovery business as usual as we open with a trademark Burnham monologue (tantalisingly starting with the storied phrase ‘Space…the final frontier’) and a trademark Burnham flashback, this time back to her arrival at chez Sarek where she meets a bratty young Sheldon Spock for the first time.
We zip right back to the present again in time to pick up exactly where we left off, with the USS Enterprise parking up in front of Discovery. It turns out the good old NCC-1701 is actually in a bit of trouble and its Captain, Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) wishes to come aboard the Discovery with an engineer and a science officer. Thus Star Trek: Discovery’s search for Spock lasts all of 6 minutes. Or does it?
One thing that’s immediately noticeable in this season opener is that Discovery no longer seems chronically understaffed – the corridors bustle with activity and there’s even a new crewmember – who I dubbed disco Geordi – running the transporter room now. There’s more of an effort to tie into the original series too, with Pike and co’s uniforms modernised versions of the brightly coloured uniforms of Kirk and co – it’s even mentioned that they are the new uniforms, implying Discovery’s blue and metallic ones are due to be phased out. Not that that stops Pike from putting one on by the episode’s end but at least it’s an olive branch to those continuity nerds (which I admit includes me) and is much appreciated.
The episode’s firmly focussed on setting up this new season’s overarching mystery and every event is tied into it somehow. Pike’s is taking command of the Discovery because investigating the seven mysterious ‘red bursts’ which occurred across the galaxy severely crippled the enterprise and the mission to decipher the event cannot wait for repairs. The search for the closest red burst leads to the discovery of a mysterious asteroid which exhibits unique gravitational and energy properties and also a crashed Federation ship, yet it clips along at a decent pace and thanks to a decidedly lighter tone even manages to land a few decent gags too.
There’s a reasonably subtle effort to reintroduce the characters organically which is somewhat spoiled by a clumsy and obvious roll call scene later in the episode. It’s a particularly nice touch to have Stamets (Anthony Rapp) contemplating leaving the crew because the death of Dr Culber weighs so heavily on him, especially as the loss was glossed over so egregiously in the closing episodes of season one. Anson Mount makes for a fine Christopher Pike, channelling just enough of Jeffrey Hunter that you can draw a line between this point and “The Cage” without squinting too much. Guest star Tig Notaro is superb too as Starfleet engineer Jett Reno, so much so that you hope this one episode isn’t the last we’ll see of her. She’d be a great addition to the crew.
Pike brings with him a couple of Enterprise crewmembers, one of whom’s so obnoxious that you just know he’s going to bite the dust (and so he does in crassly obvious fashion while lecturing Burnham on why she should respect his authoritah) indicating that this season, blue is the new red shirt.
Episode director (and newly installed showrunner) Alex Kurtzman brings real visual panache and dynamism to the episode although he does continue the “Star Wars”-ification of Star Trek which began under the tutelage of JJ Abrams in the Kelvinverse during an extended action sequence where you’ll be surprised one of the characters doesn’t yell out ‘Now this is podracing’. It’s clearly the start of a new tradition that every season opener will involve an ill-advised and ill-fated spacewalk.
The closing minutes of the episode see Burnham receive some kind of vision (looking a little bit like Spider-Man’s Madame Web but probably linked to the red bursts) and discover that Spock had been receiving visions of the red bursts since childhood, which explains why he’s no longer aboard the Enterprise. The search for Spock’s going to last a few more episodes at least.
It’s a decent start to the season and there’s a stronger sense of confidence in the series’ identity and a stronger expression of the “Star Trek” DNA than we got last season. The central mystery of the red bursts feels like a much better and much more Trek MacGuffin to hang a season on than a turgid war, Pike looks like being a good addition to the crew and there seems to be a more relaxed air about the whole thing. After all, it usually takes Trek series around three seasons to really hit their stride so with “Brother”, “Star Trek: Discovery” seems to be right back on track.