Warning: This contains spoilers for Episode 2 of Star Trek: Discovery Season 2. Not caught up? See our spoiler-free review of Season 1’s opening episodes here.
With the feel of Classic Trek, this is a solid and intriguing outing for Disco. Though part of the season-spanning arc that sets Discovery apart from other iterations of Trek, this weeks’s episode nevertheless has the feel of a one-off adventure as experienced by Kirk or Picard – perhaps because it’s directed by Commander William T. Riker himself, Jonathan Frakes (it touches on the same period of Trek ‘history’, too, as First Contact, the TNG movie directed by Frakes).
Answering a distress call, in an area of space where one of the spinning fiery balls is located, the Discovery find a settlement of human refugees from Earth’s World War Three in the year 2053. It’s a neat set-up, drawing on the established Trek timeline, with some very pleasing additional complications. The refugees are somehow in a distant part of the Beta Quadrant that would take Discovery 150 years to reach under warpdrive and, as they are living a medieval lifestyle, Captain Pike decrees that, although they are human, they hail from a time pre-Warp and so should be treated as other primitive civilisations under General Order 1 – no interference. This creates a great dilemma for Burnham, who, being ultra-logical and rational, pities the humans for living under their melange of Earth’s major religions – not to mention under the impression that they are the only survivors of a burned Earth.
The angel creature, which Burnham confesses to having seen last week when close to death, seems to have been responsible for transporting the humans halfway across the universe and, via a helmet cam, our cliffhanger this week gives us a tantalising view of a winged creature. With Pike earlier quoting the theories of Arthur C. Clarke – that a sufficiently advanced species would, to a lesser species, be indistinguishable from God – we have a foreshadowing of just how powerful this entity could be. (Just so long as they’re nothing like Q – no Mariachi bands and scantily clad women on the bridge, please.)
Of course, with their starships and transporters, the Discovery away team gets to see life on the other side – the people of New Eden see them as divine beings, coming and going as they do swathed in mystical light. All except Jacob, who has suspected all along that the war did not end humanity, and his struggle makes for a very Trek moment: Pike opts to tell him the truth, and the relief on his face is palpable. And let’s hope – as Jacob predicted – that we do get to see him again. Apart from anything else, why did the Angel save that church full of humans and no one else?
In other matters, the re-emergence of the spore drive to enable the crew to ping themselves across the cosmos mars what is otherwise a cracking episode. It’s just a silly idea for the writing team to have saddled themselves with – something many of them likely agree with, seeing as it’s becoming a subject for mockery every time it’s mentioned. “If you tell me we can go skipping across the universe on a highway full of mushrooms…” says Pike, “I’m going to have to take your word for it.”
That Tilly seems set on a course to use the asteroid to create a Dark Matter interface to remove the illegal human element from the system is not good news, either. Please, Discovery people, drop this stupid idea – we know it never makes it into the future anyway.
That the asteroid and the spore drive are both essential to saving New Eden from the planet’s radioactive rings does take away from the denouement. It also robs Keyla (Emily Coutts) of actually getting to do something cool, apart from just sit there tapping at a screen. “I’ve had my pilot’s licence since I was 12!” she chirps. “So what?” shout back the writers. “Engage magic mushroom drive.”
More successful, subplot-wise, is the appearance of Tilly’s friend, May (Bahia Watson), who turns out to be some sort of manifestation – real or imagined – of a dead school friend. As Stamets mentioned seeing Hugh last week, are the two hauntings connected? And to what – the spore drive or the Angel?
And the most tantalising snippet comes pre-opening credits, when Pike reveals to Burnham that Spock was in a psychiatric unit on Starbase 5. Presumably, as he drew a diagram of the interstellar phenomena two months before they appeared, his mental decline is connected to visions of an imminent cosmos-wide apocalypse. But the real question is: when is Spock going to show up? Seeing him together with Burnham after all these years is going to be electric.
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.