'Star Trek: Discovery' Season Two Wants You to Forget About Season One

Less mutiny, less death, more exploration.

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CBS All Access

When Star Trek: Discovery was announced in late 2015, it felt like drinking a big gulp of water after traversing a desert. Fans had been without Trek on TV since the cancellation of Star Trek: Enterprise in 2005.

When the show finally aired, that water seemed more like poison. Flashy, violent, chaotic, nonsensical, weird, robotic, and unfamiliar were common adjectives describing the plot-twist-driven story arc of season one, a run with moments of inspiration that always eventually fell victim to the worst impulses of modern television.

Now Discovery is back for season two, and one thing is certain: The show wants you to forget about season one.

[Warning: Spoilers ahead.]

A Familiar Face

Within the opening minutes of Discovery's second-season premiere, "Brother," the writers do something that the previous season's scribes felt unnecessary—they try some character building.

An action-prone, super-genius, Burnham didn't get much time to ingratiate herself to Star Trek audiences before she committed mutiny against her captain and plunged the Federation into a devastating war that dominated last season. Her predilection for terrible ideas only flowed from this original sin.

But in "Brother," we're treated to a flashback showing Burnham arriving on Vulcan, becoming the ward of Sarek and the adopted sister of Spock. We also quickly learn that the two siblings have a troubled past, and that Spock hasn't spoken to Burnham or his father in years. The content of the actual flashback is less important than its intention. It's a noticeable narrative break from its past, allowing audiences to actually understand Burnham and try to get behind her decisions. It's character building 101, and it's long overdue.

Welcome Aboard, Captain

Back in the present and picking up from the cliffhanger events of season one, captain of the (now battle-damaged) USS Enterprise Christopher Pike, played by Anson Mount, assumes command of the Discovery. Mount's Pike is a much-needed source of levity for a show that up to this point has been knee-deep in darkness. He quips, he asks questions, he leads, combining Kirk charm with Picard decisiveness.

Pike's mission involves investigating strange signals throughout the galaxy. While many of them have disappeared, one is still broadcasting a signal. Citing some long-winded reason for his ability to assume command of the Discovery, the ship warps (and doesn't jump) to the location in question. En route we learn that Paul Stamets still feels the loss of the death of his partner Hugh Culber, so much so that he's requested a transfer off the ship to teach on Vulcan. It's a very human reaction from Stamets regarding Culber's death that feels an entire season late, but better late than never.

Then we're treated to a scene on the bridge that feels almost foreign to Discovery so far. Warping into a shower of debris and finding a stranded Federation frigate among it, Pike consults his crew on next steps that's filled with technobabble reminiscent of old Trek. Earlier, he even does a roll call so we learn the names of crew members who have just served as background noise in the series thus far.

This feels like a declarative statement. Discovery is going to be different this time, just give us a chance.

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Anson Mount, left, as Captain Christopher Pike.
CBS All Access

While these character-building scenes and increased lightheartedness are a step in the right direction, that doesn't mean Discovery has been cured of all its narrative ills. After deciding that they'll go investigate the stranded frigate, what follows is a gratuitous action scene with four Starfleet officers, including Burnham and Pike of course, whizzing through space in glorious CGI, J.J. Abrams–verse fashion.

While some action is obviously required in a space adventure show—old Trek certainly didn't shy away from it—Discovery has a bad habit of over-investing in these scenes instead of developing philosophical quandaries, which is what makes Star Trek so special in the first place. For example, the initial season seemed obsessed with showing different, inventive ways of killing people instead of focusing on the moral challenges of a galactic war and what kind of a refugee crisis it would create, a topic that's incredibly poignant to our world today.

Old Trek would have tackled the 23rd-century equivalent of these subjects, it wouldn't spend 15 minutes getting down to an asteroid when the end result is that they got down to the asteroid. It's flashiness over substance.

Another New Face

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Tig Notaro as Denise Reno.
CBS All Access

Once on the surface, the away team runs into a new face. Denise Reno, played wonderfully by Tig Notaro, served as an engineer aboard the USS Hiawatha and for ten months has been keeping her critically injured crew alive through less-than-typical means.

Notaro's Reno represents another advantage over the previous season. The show has the ability to write in a new character and make her feel like a part of the cast almost immediately. Most of this can be attributed to Notaro's performance, making her feel like an actual real person. It gives audiences something to be excited for going forward, and that's more than I could ever say about the first season.

Pike and Burnham catch Reno up to speed, who didn't even know that the Klingon-Federation war was over let alone that the space rock that's been her home for ten months is about to explode.

The team rushes to get the injured back to Discovery while an explosion causes Burnham to find another means of exit. As she rushes through the asteroid getting ripped apart by a quasar, she suffers a devastating injury that leaves her immobile. In a pain-induced hallucination (though possibly not), Burnham sees a winged angel, more alien than biblical, before it's eventually dispersed by Pike who's returned to the surface to save her and set up for the events that will unfold throughout the season.

The Search for Spock (Again)

In classic Trek fashion, the rest of the episode sort of winds down into a debriefing. Burnham and Pike talk about the USS Enterprise's role in the Federation-Klingon war, which essentially relegated them to the sidelines, and Burnham tells Pike about her intense desire to see Spock. He informs Burnham that Spock had actually taken a leave of absence and that he's no longer on the ship.

Instead, she travels to the Enterprise to poke around his quarters (which seems creepy and invasive) and discovers that Spock was also diligently searching for the source of the signals popping up throughout the universe. He even appears ready to die to figure out the answers. Roll credits.

You can see a glimmer of hope for Discovery to deliver something that feels genuinely Star Trek.

If the rest of season two shapes up like its premiere, it will be a marked improvement over what's come before. That's not to say it doesn't still have problems—it most definitely does. But at the very least, you can see a glimmer of hope for Discovery to deliver something that feels genuinely Star Trek.

Discovery wants to move on from its trouble past, and I'm willing to follow.

Stray Thoughts:

  • I love Tilly as much as the next person, but there is such a thing as "overdoing it." She's starting to feel more like a caricature than a person.
  • Child Spock is unsettlingly creepy.
  • Almost within seconds of Mount's debut, I could tell his character would be a welcomed addition. The episode only proved my hypothesis.
  • This episode had some great visual moments, like the dissolve of Discovery warping into Stamets' mind gadget. Loved it.
  • It's amazing how just treating characters like characters instead of set dressing makes the show feel so much better. How did it take until season two to learn some of the names of the characters on the bridge?
  • The foreshadowing of Pike's TOS fate through fortune cookie was fun. It was a little forced, but a nice hat tip to fans nonetheless.
  • Season Two still suffers greatly from Discovery's first season. When Tilly says goodbye to Stamets and says she'll miss him, I wish we had character moments to support that statement. But I didn't even realize they were friends. I'm hoping Season One isn't a terminal illness for Discovery.
  • While I loved the character moments and the levity, the pacing of this show is still way off. From the first minute, Discovery steps on the gas and doesn't let up for almost 45 minutes. It's too much and most of the action feels gratuitous. Really hope Discovery finds a way to slow things down and focus on the stuff that matters.
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