Teasers for the second season of Star Trek: Discovery gave fans a plethora of reasons to be cynical. It looked like CBS’s answer to a mixed fan reaction to the show’s direction was to go backward.
They teased a continuation of a story involving the original U.S.S. Enterprise from the original 1960s series. They showed clips of the original series’s first captain, Christopher Pike (Anson Mount). And they confirmed heavy involvement from the Star Trek franchise’s most pivotal character: Spock (Ethan Peck).
Star Trek: Discovery, set 10 years before the original series, divided fans of the venerable sci-fi franchise right out of the gate when it debuted in 2017.
It was too dark. It was too violent. And it didn’t look right. The ship was wrong, the sets were wrong, and by all that is holy and good, the Klingons were wrong!
The first season of the series definitely went in a darker direction. It dedicated almost the entirety of its first 13 episodes to war, deceit, and treachery. And while it went in exciting new directions, it sacrificed a lot of the franchise’s comfortable familiarity to reach them. The season ended in what appeared to be a nostalgia stunt with the Discovery responding to a distress signal from the original Enterprise.
Season 2 picked up directly where the first season ended, wasting no time setting up the arc that would continue throughout the second season.
Pike is assigned to take command of the Discovery to investigate the appearance of seven anomalies while Enterprise undergoes repairs.
As the crew of the Discovery unravels the mystery, it becomes clear that Spock is integral to solving it. This revelation ties together the familiar with Commander Michael Burnham (The Walking Dead’s Sonequa Martin-Green), the series lead and Spock’s foster sister.
The investigation reveals that the anomalies are the design of the Red Angel, a being that exists outside of time and sends the Discovery across the galaxy to pick up bread crumbs that leads the crew to prevent one interstellar disaster after another.
Where Discovery Soars
Burnham continues to be Star Trek: Discovery‘s central character, but this season she has a direct reason to be involved in everything. Her ties to Spock are obviously important to the second season’s main arc, and as the mystery of the Red Angel unravels, we discover her connection to that as well. But her improvement in season two goes deeper than the needs of the plot.
Season 2 takes advantage of the perceived flaws in Burnham’s character. Her sense of self-importance and her need to prove herself go beyond her redemption arc from the first season. Discovery‘s second voyage explores Burnham’s place in the larger narrative rather than the narrative’s place in Burnham’s story.
There’s also continued expansion on the character of Commander Saru (Doug Jones), easily the most well-received character of season one. Saru, a Kelpian whose dominant trait is fear, goes through a figurative and literal evolution, becoming a more confident character. Despite his change, Saru remains charming. His awkwardness at getting used to his more resolute state helps make him one of the show’s more relatable and likable characters.
Even Ariam (Hannah Cheeseman), a cybernetically-enhanced Discovery crew member who served solely as a background player in season one, becomes more well-rounded and winds up being a critical component of the season’s second half. There are no unnecessary characters in Discovery‘s second season.
And then there’s Captain Pike. He is the bridge between the familiarity of classic Trek and the new direction of Discovery. He’s the classic starship captain: Decisive, heroic, and compassionate.
The show’s writers have come up with a host of new adventures for the crew of the Discovery that harken back to the more episodic nature of the franchise while adhering to the recent TV trends of long story arcs.
Episodes like “New Eden” and “An Obal for Charon” are classic examples of the tried and true Star Trek formula: The ship arrives in a strange setting, something is not as it seems, and the crew has to solve a problem.
The writing never strays from the immediate issue at hand. The overarching story arc is always the B-plot of each episode. The writers are never shy of reminding us of the track the season as a whole is on, but it doesn’t distract us from the episode we’re watching.
And the fact that the legendary Mr. Spock is essentially the season’s McGuffin and still retains his integrity speaks volumes as to how well Discovery‘s writing staff has found its footing.
Star Trek: Discovery‘s second season has just enough fan service to reward the fanbase that has followed the half-century-old franchise for its knowledge.
There are the more obvious references like Spock, Pike, and the Enterprise, but there are enough callbacks to satisfy both casual and more hardcore Trekkies. Section 31, the clandestine Starfleet intelligence agency introduced in Deep Space Nine, plays a large part in the season. Talos IV, the planet visited by Captain Pike and the Enterprise in the original pilot for the original series, is the centerpiece of “If Memory Serves.”
Perhaps more controversially, there are possible hints at the origin of a certain Next Generation nemesis that had a real issue with resistance.
But each one is in service of the story, unlike the offhand references thrown about in season one, which seemed to throw Tribbles on screen for the sole purpose of making the audience say, “Look! It’s a Tribble!” There are no Gorn skeletons squeeezed into the frame or the sole purpose of making the audience say, “Look! It’s a Gorn skeleton!”
A particularly fun callback is to the Evil Admiral trope. It’s something of a red herring here, but it still plays on what the show’s audience expects from Starfleet’s admiralty.
The two-part season finale, “Such Sweet Sorrow,” may well be the most thoughtful and action-heavy two hours of television Star Trek has ever produced.
This will draw the ire of hardcore fans, but “The Best of Both Worlds,” the classic Next Generation episode (the “Picard becomes a Borg” one) now has stiff competition.
Anticipation rose among fans all season long for the eventual Discovery/Enterprise team-up, and the second part of this finale did not disappoint. It is absolutely relentless.
The storytelling was perfect, all building to what might be the best space battle ever captured on television. The finale provided great closure for the season-long arc while leaving the door wide open for the series to go wherever it wants going forward.
Where Discovery Stalls
Not every character is perfect.
Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif), the surgically altered Klingon double-agent from season one, continues to be problematic. His presence in season two has little to do with anything but keeping our heroes on their toes. Tyler is now a Section 31 agent, which makes him important to the plot but not particularly interesting.
His inner duality as a Klingon and a Human living in the same mind and body is explored but never properly exploited.
As for the awkward, stammering Ensign Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman), the levity her character brought to the somber first season was already obnoxious. With the lightened mood of season two, she becomes really obnoxious and tiresome. It’s refreshing to have a regular person in the Trek universe, but there’s a limit.
The writers need to drop her to impulse. Otherwise, the things that make Tilly endearing could make her Trek‘s answer to Jar Jar Binks.
The Red Angel
The central thrust of the season’s arc, the identity of the Red Angel should have been a real “gasp” moment. It bears a significant connection to a pivotal moment of Burnham’s life. But that moment was a catalyst to changes in Burnham’s life rather than being itself formative.
The reveal isn’t a cheat, and it isn’t a deus ex machina. But it is a little forced.
As mentioned earlier, Star Trek: Discovery never gets ridiculous with its use of fan service, but it does step a little too close when it comes to that other starship.
A long-standing issue with all iterations of Trek is the reverence everyone in the galaxy has for all things Enterprise. Despite the Discovery being the newest ship in Starfleet, our characters are in awe at the mere sight of the Enterprise (at this point a 12-year-old ship). Even the not-easily-impressed Commander Stamets (Anthony Rapp) can’t help but gush over its super advanced schematics.
Where Does Discovery Boldly Go Next?
Star Trek: Discovery had some major issues straight out of spacedock. The first season took the franchise in a new direction. But rather than leading us in that direction, it seemed intent on dragging the audience kicking and screaming. Despite the fact that some were willing to follow anyway.
Season 2 stays true to Discovery‘s vision of a re-imagined Trek universe. The producers haven’t compromised their vision, but they have turned their gaze toward a friendlier course.
And while the finale of the first season left audiences with a painful certainty of how the second would open, the two-part finale of the second season leaves all kinds of doors open for where the series may jump to next.
The first season had some major growing pains. Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery overcame those pains and helped it become what fans complained it couldn’t be: real Star Trek. And not only that. It might be the best single season of Star Trek the franchise has ever produced.
And with a third season already confirmed, Star Trek: Discovery seems poised to live long and prosper.
Stream Star Trek: Discovery on CBS All Access in the United States and various outlets in other parts of the world.
All images courtesy of CBS.com.
Star Trek: Discovery
- Strongest stories Trek has done in years
- Fun but not overwhelming nostalgia
- Burnham finally becomes the star of the show
- Two words: Captain Pike
- Missed opportunities to develop Tyler
- Tilly = nails-on-chalkboard
- The Red Angel is less than heavenly