Star Trek: Discovery Season 2—The Review So Far
Leading into Star Trek: Discovery Season 2…As we left the intrepid U.S.S. Discovery it had received a distress call. That call came from Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) and his U.S.S. Enterprise.
Where We Have Landed So Far
It turns out the Enterprise had suffered from catastrophic systems failures and was nearly adrift in space. The serendipity of the Discovery being where the Enterprise happens to be in its time of need, not so explained. Come to find out, the Enterprise was too far away to participate in the Klingon War. But now, on a mission to discover the meaning behind some hugely powerful and elusive signals, the Enterprise was hit by a power surge that wracked her systems.
Pike requests that he and a couple of crew members come aboard the Discovery. They are in the cool new uniforms in traditional TOS colors of bright gold, blue and red, but over-styled to match the contours of the Discovery uniforms. While happy to see the traditional Star Trek The Original Series (TOS) colors return, I would love to see them return in a more casual form. Even the US Marines have day-to-day work wear.
Pike quickly informs acting Captain Saru (Doug Jones) and the reinstated Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) that he has been asked to take command of the Discovery in order to figure out the signal thing.
And so the Discovery boldly goes where Pike orders her.
And while there is a lot of talk about Spock, three episodes in, Spock hasn’t materialized.
Magic and Science
Unfortunately, the Discovery ends up at the edge of something that probably doesn’t exist in the real world: a highly unstable asteroid with the dark mater integration. In the first season, audiences were left to their own approach to belief suspension about the spore drive. In Season 2, Captain Pike and Burnham exchange quips about Arthur C. Clark’s idea that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Pike quotes an extension that includes the civilization that created that technology as being indistinguishable from a god. That acknowledges we the audience, and then the characters, will likely see some stuff that looks like magic, perhaps even god-level magic.
But there is a trust issue when it comes to Discovery and science.
Unlike Warp Drive, which is pretty much impossible to achieve given the energy needs, the Discovery’s spore drive lives only in fantasy. And it seems that the writers and showrunners remain OK taking Star Trek outside of its hard science foundations. Yes, the Q, The Squire of Gothos, Apollo and the Melkotians all displayed god-like powers, Kirk and crew always acknowledged their existence with reverence but cynicism. They were just older, more advanced beings, but otherwise no more special than humanity in terms of a right to exist in the universe. Federation technology, along with human knowledge and ingenuity often found ways around the superior beings, or at least ways to poke holes in either their logic or their force fields.
Rather than dream-up fantasy, the new producing crew would do well to get a physicist or two to hang on set and at least point out when the ideas stray so far from even speculative physics. Perhaps the post-Star Wars era fueled by Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings magic spectaculars creates too much creative gravity and too much competition for reality.
Despite the complaints above, Discovery Season 2 feels more like Trek. Pike sets a new tone. Mount also demonstrates a better career choice over his Marvel’s Inhumans turn. Pike is a modern, inclusive commander. He likes to hang out and chill with his team. And that all makes the show more relaxing. Lorca created tension for the crew, and that tension infused the show and the audience’s perceptions. I was always worried about what new things would be wrong with the next episode.
Although Michelle Yeoh returns as Emperor Georgiou/Captain Philippa Georgiou at the core of Section 31 (Star Fleet’s black ops unit) the Federation and Star Fleet so far seems to be more in control of itself. Early comments about the show hinted that it would frame the journey toward becoming the Federation, but that journey itself is only a hint as we see it through a very narrow lens.
It would be nice to see some old aliens return in recognizable form. There was nothing the Tellerites of old required save a good brushing and a hug, neither of which would seem in the offer for the new Tellerites. Discovery has enough continuity issues (Spock’s backstory and the spore drive) without reinventing every alien of the past by making them ever more alien. In ST:TNG episode ‘The Chase‘ viewers learned that all humanoid species descended from a common ancestor, which explains why they look somewhat similar. It would be nice if the team at Discovery remembered that discovery.
Episode three becomes decidedly more Klingon, complete with multiple deaths and a few murders, some of them simulated.
The cuts between the Klingon action, Spock speculation, Tilly stimulation, and other plot settings and storylines are rapid fire. And that means that you will need an astrolabe to navigate the plots.
Navigating the Plots
Star Trek: Discovery represents an updated take on Star Trek in terms of structure, not just technology or the appearance of its non-human characters. The episodic structure, which started to gave way with bigger story arcs from Deep Space 9 on, no longer stand at all in the semi-binge world of Discovery. Although Discovery first runs arrive as a weekly draw during initial release, the threads woven through the show connect the various plots. Miss one and there is no catching up without watching the episode you missed. So far season 2 introduced the following plots to track:
- The journey of Captain Pike from the Enterprise and back.
- The 7 signals, dark matter and the Red Angel and how they all tie with Spock and the spores.
- Where and how is Spock? and What’s up with Spock’s Family?
- What and why is Section 31?
- The consolidation of Klingon and the establishment of a unified government (along with the launch of the D7 program).
- The evolution of ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman) and her connection with a sentient spore creature and its impact on her command training.
That’s a lot 3 episodes in, but that is the ask. Care about one or more of these plots and keep coming back. To the show’s credit the characters prove more appealing, so the emotional connection is stronger. The dark overtones have given way to more lightness and adventure (though the characters talk about how they are less dark which isn’t my favorite use of dialog—don’t tell, show).
Mia Kirshner delivers the right touch to her poignant portrayal of Spock’s mother (and Sarek’s wife) Amanda Grayson. Her bridging between the two worlds by itself would make for interesting episodes. I could personally do without the Klingon lore as it keeps pushing in the face of traditional Trekkies just how different the Klingons are from the ones we grew up with (an unnecessary innovation that started with Star Trek: The Motion picture. Klingons have now become the art pieces for the makeup and costume departments, and much less endearing that any of their predecessors).
As episode 4 waits queued on the Net, we have to ask…
Official Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 Trailer
Where we go from here?
I don’t think the current writing and producing team has any intention of reining themselves in. Star Trek: Discovery will likely remain an overstuffed offering from which viewers will need to pick the pieces they care about. I am sure that the Klingon cosplay world loves the Empire backstory. TOS fans were happy to see, at least a glimpse, of gold and red and blue uniforms (with synthesizers, one would think recycling existing uniforms across the fleet and replacing them with the new colors would be a pretty easy thing to do). Spock fans, waiting from the trailer into episode 4, still await him. Fans of espionage will find intrigue in Section 31.
For me, I still want to see some plausible other world. Not someplace fantastic, not someplace overwhelming, but some world that may be mundane but different. Just a calm moment of exploration and discovery. Gene Roddenberry fought the notes that wanted more swashbuckling. We now find it hard in any science fiction to find a quiet moment of discovery, except, in the Star Trek homage that is The Orville.
Perhaps one of the other incarnations on the CBS docket will return to a more exploratory approach to its stories. In the meantime, I’ll eat popcorn and watch the spectacle. If nothing else, the production quality, the special effects, and the costumes, along with the sets inform the audience that CBS is committed to Star Trek—it remains ironic that a network that passed on the show in the 1960s has shaped it into the cornerstone of its digital reinvention. Reason enough to constantly doubt what we think we know about the future. And that is Trek is reason enough to watch.
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