When we last saw the Discovery, it was face-to-face with the Enterprise, igniting hopes that the glory days of Star Trek were about to warp back into our living rooms. Discovery’s first season was such a forlorn departure in tone, style, casting, and canon, that imagining it alongside the utopian Original Series was an exorbitantly tall order. But when it neatly wrapped up its dreary Klingon War storyline, it also presented fans with a look to the optimistic future they longed to revisit. So does this season truly go where no Discovery episode has gone before?
Taking place sometime after “The Cage”, the unaired pilot episode of The Original Series, Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) assumes temporary command of the Discovery to investigate seven mysterious red signals that have materialized around the galaxy. Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) is sent to rescue survivors of a wrecked ship near one of the signals, and after being knocked nearly unconscious, has a vision of a time-travelling entity called “The Red Angel”. Burnham’s foster brother Spock (Ethan Peck), who is also Captain Pike’s Science Officer on the Enterprise, had a similar vision as a child and is assumed to have the answers they seek. Unfortunately, he’s currently a fugitive wanted for the murder of his doctors, which makes the search for Spock a literal test of time.
Right from the first episode of this season, there’s a strong sense of fun and adventure that was lacking throughout all of Season 1. Captain Pike is instantly likeable and instills a welcoming family dynamic to the crew of the Discovery. Almost the entire crew sees positive changes this season. Saru (Doug Jones) finds some much-needed courage, Tilly (Mary Wiseman) gains more confidence in her new role as Ensign, and the Mirror Universe’s Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) now works for the morally ambiguous Starfleet intelligence agency, Section 31. The Klingons have hair again, indicating some behind-the-scenes regret over their dramatic re-design in Season 1. Even some of the minor characters, like Keyla Detmer (Emily Coutts) and the cybernetic Airiam (Hannah Cheesman) get moments to shine. Interpersonal drama is kept at a minimum, as the mission to stop a time-travelling threat to all organic life means that everyone’s futures are at stake, and not just the futures of a select few people. Star Trek is, and always has been, an ensemble, concentrating on the needs of the many, rather than the few or the one. And that’s what this season does. It takes all the elements from Season 1 and injects them with classic Star Trek ideals. And for the most part, it succeeds.
Certain problems still remain, such as Michael Burnham being the least interesting character in her own TV show. The writers wrote themselves into a corner by making her Spock’s foster sister that we just, somehow, never heard about until this show. She’s more interesting on paper than in person, because without that out-of-left-field connection to Spock, there’s nothing about her that feels “lead character”-ish. Ethan Peck does an admirable enough job as a bearded Spock but fails to leave a lasting impression. The casual introduction of Section 31 is far too early in the timeline since it was still a well-kept secret, not to mention a controversial revelation, when it was revealed midway through Deep Space Nine, set nearly a hundred years after this show. And Hugh Culber’s (Wilson Cruz) spore network resurrection is more science fantasy than fiction, glossing over the mind-boggling part and spending too much time on his now-complicated romance with Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp). These are mostly minor gripes, but sometimes when a show is “course-correcting” like this one clearly is, some of the newer ideas don’t get the attention they deserve during the clean-up process.
Are the glory days of Star Trek back? No. Or at least not yet. Season 2 is a vast improvement over Season 1 but there’s no denying that Discovery is still finding itself. Messing around with time travel in a franchise that already has multiple timelines is risky business, but this season keeps its focus on the ends justifying the means. It’s certainly nostalgic to see the mutli-colored Starfleet uniforms not look like pyjamas for once, and filling in the gaps between “The Cage” and “The Menagerie” do the character of Captain Pike real justice. The entire season plays out like a 14-episode Hollywood movie, but the hackneyed “Let’s promise to never speak of these events to anyone” ending is a case of inexcusable prequelitis. So there’s definitely still room for improvement. But the best thing about this season is that it feels like Star Trek. It’s about a ship full of eager explorers, with diverse and pleasant characters, who go on space adventures that we, the viewer, can only dream about. And that’s what Star Trek is supposed to be.
3 out of 5