The crew of the U.S.S. Discovery embark on a new mission with the help of one of Starfleet’s finest…
Warning! Contains SPOILERS
Starring: Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Anthony Rapp, Mary Wiseman, Anson Mount, Wilson Cruz, Shazad Latif, Michelle Yeoh, James Frain, Tig Notaro
Series created by: Bryan Fuller & Alex Kurtzman (based upon Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry)
What’s it about?
Placing Enterprise captain Christopher Pike in command, Starfleet orders the U.S.S. Discovery to investigate a mysterious and dangerous cosmic phenomenon…
Star Trek: Discovery’s now concluded fourteen-episode second season is proof that the series has a bright future. Season one may have had its detractors and provoked controversy amongst sections of the Star Trek fan community but those who may have neglected continuing with the series are missing out.
Season two of Discovery took the series in a slightly more hopeful direction in comparison to its darker war-focused (and although the Klingon war is over, they still have a role to play) first season but not without sacrificing the more mature and morally complex approach to the characters and storytelling we saw in the previous season. Once again presenting viewers with a serialised season-long story arc, season two of Discovery deals with the appearance of the mysterious ‘Red Angel’ – an apparent saviour trying to prevent the destruction of sentient life across the universe. Accompanied by cosmic red bursts of devastating energy, the Red Angel enigma initiates an emergency mission by Starfleet, who place Enterprise captain Christopher Pike in temporary command of Discovery who together with Commander Michael Burnham, Saru, Tilly, Stamets and the rest of the crew face the challenge of unravelling the mystery and securing the survival of everything and everyone they hold dear.
The Red Angel narrative proved to be an intriguing one, precipitating a central debate of science vs faith and with numerous teases and twists keeping viewers on their toes – the final reveal of the Red Angel’s identity (more on that later) a surprising one and subverting expectations and speculation. As with the first season there are a number of other subplots interwoven throughout, the result of which at times threatens to convolute the main storyline but manage to unravel by the end of the season. The addition of Captain Pike is one of the season’s most successful components, played wonderfully by Anson Mount (the only positive element of Marvel’s dreadful Inhumans series) who brings an assuring quality of leadership and humanity to the role. It also helps that the character is serviced well in the writing as Pike is given a satisfying arc, with a bittersweet touch of the sombre as it deals with the gallant Starfleet captain’s eventual fate in the original series of Star Trek (as seen in classic two-parter “The Menagerie”) courtesy of some ‘time crystals’ – a convenient albeit necessary plot device that plays it’s part in the overall seasonal arc.
Discovery season two also sees the inclusion of the fan-favourite shadow organisation known as Section 31, except unlike how they are depicted in Deep Space Nine (which takes place a century after Discovery) they are an acknowledged, functioning black-ops division of Starfleet. A point of confusion for long term Trek fans, perhaps, but it seems likely that this will be explored further and reconciled next season and/or in the Section 31 spin-off series which is currently in development but as it stands, the organisation has a significant presence that facilitates conflict with the regular Discovery group without disrupting the camaraderie between them.
Dealing with the pointy-eared elephant in the room, Discovery introduced us to a younger version of Spock with Ethan Peck tackling the role originally played by Leonard Nimoy and portrayed by Zachary Quinto in the J.J. Abrams film series. After several weeks of baiting the viewer, Peck made his debut in episode six, entitled “Light and Shadows“. Peck’s introduction is unexpected, presenting a mumbling, near catatonic Spock whose contact with the Red Angel has left him mentally frazzled. The situation results in the delightful surprise of a visit to Talos IV (the setting of original Star Trek pilot “The Cage” – read the retrospective here) where Burnham enlists the help of the telepathic Talosians in restoring Spock’s faculties in “If Memory Serves” – one of the season’s standout episodes. It’s from hereon we get a sense of Peck’s performance and whilst no-one could ever truly compare to Leonard Nimoy, he does a solid job of encapsulating those intricate elements of the character we know and love. The writers of Discovery also, maybe to the chagrin of some, add new layers to Spock as we get glimpses of a less than perfect childhood where we learn of his struggles with a form of dyslexia. It’s actually a very interesting addition to the history of the character and expands the decades old mythology of Star Trek in a way that doesn’t trample on what has gone before but only deepens it.
The characters of Discovery continued to grow during the season as do the relationships between the various crewmembers. The inclusion of Spock, of course, provides an exploration of the bond – and disconnect – between Burnham and her adoptive brother and both Sonequa Martin-Green and Ethan Peck share some great moments. Martin-Green has certainly come into her own this season with consistently strong performances, bolstered by the efforts of the show’s writers. Not only does Burnham have to grapple with her relationships with Spock, Tyler and the Mirror Universe Georgiou – both now Section 31 operatives (under the command of Alan Van Sprang‘s Captain Leland) – but also the revelations of her past, principally her parent’s involvement with the clandestine organisation. This triggers season two’s biggest and cleverly executed narrative flip (those wishing to avoid major spoilers should skip to the next paragraph now) which occurs in the aptly titled “The Red Angel“. It’s here that we learn of the identity of the Red Angel: Michael Burnham’s mother (played by The Wire’s Sonja Sohn), long thought dead but in fact jumping through time as she attempts to prevent the decimation of all life in the Federation by the acts of an evolved A.I. known as ‘Control’. This sets-up the conflict of the latter end of the season as the crew of Discovery fight to stop Control from unleashing universal devastation. Again, the plot does tend to become tangled at times with so much crammed into the narrative, particularly in the final stretch of episodes but it’s a small criticism and something that can be applied to a lot of other contemporary series (think Westworld).
Doug Jones and Mary Wiseman – Commander Saru and Ensign Tilly respectively – continue to be standouts and get their share of screen time, with Saru returning to his home (following up on the Short Trek instalment “The Brightest Star”) as he and his people find themselves facing up to the predatory race overruling their existence and being unshackled from their fears as a prey species and Tilly wrestling with her spore-induced connection to the mycelial network via visions of her old childhood friend, May. The Tilly/May subplot does perhaps go on longer than necessary, but it does tie into the welcome, if not wholly unexpected, return of Wilson Cruz’s Hugh Culber, ‘reborn’ courtesy of the mycelial realm which leads to some interesting soul searching and identity crisis. This also affords Anthony Rapp the opportunity to further flesh out his character as Stamets’ reunion with Culber isn’t what he expects and causes him to reassess his future aboard Discovery. The only black sheep in the casting is Tig Notaro’s engineer, Jett Reno, whose inclusion felt out of place with sporadic appearances and no substantial development, although their may be future potential for the character.
What is great about season two of Discovery is alongside the growth of the principal players, the writers take effort to give small but key roles to the ancillary characters (some of whom you would’ve been previously hard pressed to recall by name) with the likes of con officer Detmer (Emily Coutts) and navigator Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo – who gets to join an away mission in the excellent “New Eden”, one of the season’s most ‘Trek-like’ episodes) feeling more integrated than they were during season one. More pivotal though is Airiam (Hannah Cheesman) in the Jonathan Frakes directed “Project Daedulus“, written by Michelle Paradise (wisely appointed as co-showrunner with Alex Kurtzman for season three). Discovery’s cyborg officer had felt like a missed opportunity, yet this is undone in a single episode that boasts solid scripting and powerful acting from not only Hannah Cheesman but the likes of Sonequa Martin-Green, Mary Wiseman and much of the rest of the cast. It all adds to the increasing sense of family amongst the crew, something which has always been key to the success and appeal of any Star Trek series and will hopefully continue to be nurtured in subsequent seasons.
Discovery’s second season came to a dramatic and energetic conclusion with the gripping two-part finale “Such Sweet Sorrow” (fan-pleasing ties to the original Star Trek further enhanced by the sight of the beautifully realised Enterprise bridge, given a respectful 21st Century makeover to fit in with Discovery’s more modern design aesthetics) where there’s an additional twist to the identity of the Red Angel and the revelation of what exactly those cosmic red bursts are, culminating in a rousing and epic final battle with Control (now merged with the body of Leland in a manner that’s slyly reminiscent of Borg assimilation) and a game-changing set-up for season three that seeks to not only chart new territory for Discovery but also reconcile its place in canon, a task that’s somewhat messy and impossible to neatly sync-up given the five decades of continuity established beyond the original series.
In terms of the production, Star Trek: Discovery continues to present the viewer with feature film quality visuals and cinematic direction (especially when in the hands of either Jonathan Frakes or Olatunde Osunsanmi) that enhances the writing and together with the excellent cast performances results in a superb sophomore outing for the series.
The bottom line: Star Trek: Discovery season two is an exciting, if occasionally jumbled, outing for the newest Star Trek crew that boasts decent writing, strong cast performances and quality production values.
All episodes of Star Trek: Discovery’s second season are now available to stream via CBS All Access in the U.S. and via Netflix internationally (Canadian viewers can watch it via the Crave TV service).
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