Sophomore years have served as turning points for past Star Trek series. Key character arcs and storylines were introduced and cemented in second seasons. Think of how The Next Generation introduced us to the Borg (and Riker’s beard) and how Deep Space Nine‘s began flirting with both serialization and the Dominion in their respective sophomore years.
While it’s too early to tell how the events of Discovery’s second season will impact the show’s future – you’d need a Boreth time crystal to know this – it’s certainly not premature to geek out and lovingly critique what we’ve just experienced.
So just like I did for Disco’s first season, I’ve once again compiled a list of the ten things from this latest batch of episodes that struck me most; seven of which I loved and three I didn’t.
What I loved about Discovery‘s second season:
Following in Tilly’s footsteps, this year’s Discovery MVP was easily Captain Christopher Pike. Anson Mount brought depth, soul, and serious charm to what was nothing more than a minor character in the Prime Universe. Easily becoming one of Star Trek’s best Captains (in only 14 episodes!), Mount’s Pike is the kind of idealistic, thoughtful, and rousing leader we need in the here and now (both in Star Trek and real life). Mount also managed to raise the bar of how a stirring Captain’s speech is delivered. I hope we see more of him and his adventures. All eyes on Pike!
From the moment she was introduced in last year’s finale, I was smitten. Discovery’s take on the U.S.S. Enterprise (“no bloody A, B, C or D”) was nothing short of breathtaking. It was her in every single way, updated to reflect Discovery’s aesthetic and contemporary television’s sensibilities. This is true of both the ship’s exterior and interior. The Bridge, the corridors, briefing room, even the uniforms are exciting updates of sci-fi iconography. In fact, the season’s various connections to TOS (looking at you Number One, Talos IV) filled me with geeky delight and cleverly tied the show to Trek history.
The Michael / Spock Dynamic
One can’t reference the season’s TOS connections without bringing up Spock. While Ethan Peck did an admirable job as the younger Spock, the highlight for me was not Spock’s appearance or even his story arc but rather his dynamic with Michael. Sonequa and Ethan really sold that relationship. I believed that they were raised as siblings, siblings with a long and complicated history. Much like many family relationships, there was love, resentment, mutual respect, mutual dislike, and an inescapable shared past between them. Consider me impressed.
Last season’s stand out episode was “Lethe.” This year’s, it’s “Project Daedalus.” Written by Co-Executive Producer, Michelle Paradise, and directed by Trek royalty, Jonathan Frakes, “Project Daedalus” was a stirring hour of television (one that was reminiscent of the fantastic TNG episode “Lower Decks”). It was an exciting standalone adventure that also managed to tie together key story threads and propel the overall arc forward. The show looked great and had real stakes. The hacking and sacrifice of Lt. Commander Airiam was simultaneously terrifying and heartbreaking. Hannah Cheesman, the actress who played Airiam, injected her with such humanity and depth that I regretted not being able to spend more time with her.
Discovery’s Supporting Cast
I’ve always enjoyed Disco’s world building. The starship Discovery really feels like a place, a place with many more inhabitants than simply those listed in the opening credits. This season the main supporting cast – Cornwell, Airiam, Owosekun, Detmer, Bryce, and Rhys – all had lovely moments that fleshed out their characters. The addition of Nhan, Nilsson, Reno, and Linus to the mix, made the world that much richer. Reno and Linus in particular, Like Garak and Martok before them, managed to steal every scene they were in. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait much longer for an episode focused exclusively on the supporting cast.
The Visual Effects
The visual effects in the first season were amazing; in the second, they were out of this world. Whether it was a ‘simple’ flyby of a starship, a turbolift’s movement, or a shuttle under attack, Star Trek’s VFX have never looked better – each episode was cinematic. The crews at Pixomondo and the other VFX houses that work on the show have spared no expense; their work, and love for the material is clearly visible in every pixel. The big battle at the end of “Such Sweet Sorrow” was unprecedented for Trek and deserves all the awards (the only comparable scene is the pre-credit sequence in “Star Trek” ’09). Special shout-out to the various visual callbacks to “Star Trek The Motion Picture” in the season finale; simply genius.
The Season’s Cliffhanger
Parting is indeed such sweet sorrow. What can one say about the season’s cliffhanger? “Such Sweet Sorrow” parts 1 and 2 did an admirable job of tying the season-long story arc together and setting up a future full of possibilities for the show – one not tied down to Trek’s canon or past (given his involvement with the Kelvin timeline, Kurtzman is two for two when it comes to this trick). The last 20 minutes of the season were visually exhilarating, emotional draining, full of answers yet left you wanting more; you can’t ask for more from an hour of television. Other than the third season taking place 950 years (!) in the future, no one knows what’s coming next – we don’t have a clue. When was the last time we Trekkies could say that? Hats off to the entire behind the scenes crew, you pulled off a cliffhanger that can proudly sit alongside “The Best of Both Worlds” in Trek’s pantheon. So here’s to the undiscovered country, to the future – I can’t wait to see what’s next!
Things I Disliked:
So while I loved Discovery’s second season overall, and I await the third anxiously, it wasn’t perfect.
There were a few things that irked me. For example: even when they’re not jumping courtesy of Mycileum fungus, distance doesn’t seem to be a factor in Discovery – our characters get from point A to B (whether they’re on a starship or shuttle) almost instantly.
This year’s big episode for Saru, “The Sound of Thunder,” seemed unnecessarily rushed given the ramifications on the character and his entire race and planet. A story of this magnitude should have unfolded over two if not three hours, particularly as the show isn’t bound by the 45-minute format of old.
In addition to these hangnail-sized irks, I felt this year had three substantial missteps:
The Mycileum Network
I enjoyed Tilly’s May-induced hallucinations. They were quirky and fun – until they weren’t. Their resolution – Stamets identifying May as a ‘multidimensional fungal parasite’ and devising an immediate fix – was forced. It also hijacked what was an interesting story thread into an under-baked journey into the Network. A journey that, even though we were told had profound implications for the existence of the Network itself, had no real ramifications; Discovery continued to jump after May’s warnings and pleas. Given the lack of consequences and dropped plot points, this was a missed opportunity to shed further light into why truly awesome, and now well publicized mode of transportation, is nowhere to be seen or heard in the Star Trek universe to come.
Speaking of the Mycelium Network, Culber should not have returned. While I like Culber, and relish Wilson Cruz’ love for the show and its fandom (#LatinosInSpace), his return did a disservice to Stamets’ character. Culber being in the Mycelium Network should have served to help guide Stamets towards acceptance and closure of what had happened. Instead, Culber’s resurrection unfairly made Stamets a one-note character almost all season.
The Rationale for the Spock / Michael Rift
I’ve listed the Michael / Spock dynamic among my favorite things of this year and I’m willing to die on that hill (wormhole?). However, the rationale we were given for their years long rift and fight, particularly after such build-up, felt hollow. It boiled down to kids being jerks to each for a hot minute. Kids, particularly siblings, can say and do horrible things to each other one moment and be best friends the next. The build-up to this particular revelation was significantly more interesting than the reveal itself.
While the above is no definitive list – I could do an entire blog on my love for Michelle Yeoh, Kol-Sha or the updated design of the Enterprise and everything in it (that bridge, those uniforms) – it is meant to stir conversation and debate. So do let me and the TrekNews.net crew know what you think in the comments below.
In the meantime, LLAP!
When not drinking coffee or watching Star Trek (or other sci-fi), Carlos spends his time running around London working on several projects. He has incredibly rambunctious boy-girl twins (his wife foolishly did not let him name them Luke and Leia).
You can follow Carlos on Twitter @doublemacc.