Warning: This contains spoilers for Episode 1 of Star Trek: Discovery Season 2. Not caught up? See our spoiler-free review of Season 1’s opening episodes here.
Discovery’s second season hits the ground running with a solid action-heavy set-up for events to come. Before the opening credits of the first episode, Captain Pike’s beamed aboard the USS Discovery to take over its captain’s chair and the prospect of visiting Enterprise, so tantalisingly hinted at last season, is taken off the table – at least until episode end. It’s probably very wise, as a full reconstruction of the Enterprise from the Original Series would be nothing but an expensive – and self-indulgent – distraction; Discovery is, after all, about the adventures of Discovery.
Pike himself is an interesting figure in the Star Trek mythos. The original captain of Enterprise, even filmed for the famously rejected Star Trek pilot in 1965, starring Jeffrey Hunter, he was first officially seen in the show during The Menagerie, when Spock reveals to Kirk that he served under Pike for “11 years, four months, and five days”. In the Kelvin Universe, of course, he’s positioned as a mentor for Kirk, which is at odds with the original show, in which Spock risks everything – court martial and the possibility of execution – to save his old captain, now withering away after a radiation accident.
Discovery is very much set in the Prime Universe and the Pike we meet – played with elan and 1960s cool by Anson Mount – is somewhere near the beginning of Spock’s time under Pike, seeing as Discovery is set in 2255, 10 years prior to Kirk’s five year mission. He’s unflappable and professional, although there are rumblings beneath the surface.
“I didn’t sit out the war to stand down now!” he tells Burnham, later revealing that he and his crew all feel bad for having been ordered to miss the war and continue their exploratory mission. When Pike’s science officer, Connolly (Sean Connolly Affleck), gets himself killed out of macho arrogance, is this a warning that Pike and the Enterprise crew – including Spock – will act rashly?
In terms of the episode, once Pike is installed as new captain – a position he’ll occupy for the run of Season 2 (one day Saru will get that commission!) – the episode’s mission is made clear. There are seven signals out in the cosmos that are causing Star Fleet’s scientists sleepless nights and Discovery has been tasked with getting to the bottom of the mystery. The first port of call is an asteroid, caught in the fluctuating gravitational waves of a pulsar, upon which they detect crashed Star Fleet medical ship The Hiwawatha. The away team, which, in true 1960s style, entails the captain himself risking life and limb, find one conscious survivor – engineer Jett Reno. She’s slightly insane, due to her 10 months alone, but also exhibiting the dedication and strength of character that has enabled her not only to survive, but keep several of her crew mates ticking over in her improvised medbay.
“The asteroid is on a collision course with a pulsar,” says Burnham. “The gravitational field is going to tear this place apart.”
“Ugh, what a relief!” exclaims Reno. “I thought we were all going to die!”
Played with infectious energy by the wonderful Tig Notaro – the expression of joy on her face when her patients were beamed away to safety was marvellous – it’s a real shame that it seems she’s not becoming a permanent fixture on Discovery. (Trekkers, start that petition now.)
In other news, the main subplot sees Stamets, still in mourning following Hugh’s murder, confessing to Tilly that he’d accepted a transfer to Vulcan Uni. Will he take up the offer or will his exit, next episode, involve squaring up to his husband’s killer, Tyler?
Before that, though, we have the intriguing backstory between Spock and Michael. As many irate Trekkies have pointed out, why did Spock in the original series never mention he had a human foster sister? Here we begin to see possible reasons – because Michael, as a girl, wrecked their relationship. With Spock, present this week in voice-over only, due to appear in the flesh at some point (or else why is he all over the posters?), answers should be forthcoming.
All in all, this is a fantastic opener for Season 2 with one slight niggle: that asteroid. Pseudoscience is all part of Trek’s DNA, but the weakest element of Season 1 was all that awful tardigrade/magic mushroom waffle. With Tilly jabbering enthusiastically about the space-rock’s “non-baryonic” properties meaning they might be able to interact with Dark Matter, it feels like the showrunners haven’t quite got that nonsense out of their system. Here’s hoping it doesn’t wreck what is otherwise a first-rate show.
Star Trek: Discovery is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription. New episodes of Season 2 arrive weekly on Fridays, within 24 hours of their US release.