May 28, 2020
Star Trek: Discovery “Brother”
Last season on Star Trek: Discovery: Michael Burnham’s mutiny aboard the USS Shenzhou led to the death of her captain Philippa Georgiou, though not to the protracted war with the Klingons that followed, but everybody blamed her for it anyway. Burnham was court-martialed and sent to prison, but received a last-minute reprieve from Captain Lorca, who brought her aboard the USS Discovery, a ship powered by a miraculous spore drive that gave Starfleet the edge over the Klingons. This same drive also caused a crossover into the Mirror Universe, where the Discovery crew learned their captain was really a villain from the Terran Empire. He died after having an intimate encounter with a mini-star, and Discovery returned home, bringing Mirror Georgiou back with them, who hatched a plan with Starfleet brass to end the war by blowing up the Klingon homeworld. So Burnham mutinied again, this time with the crew of the Discovery on her side, and everyone found a peaceful resolution that led to them all getting medals and commendations and promotions and pardons. (Well, that last thing only applies to Burnham.) And while on their way to Vulcan to pick up a new captain, they received a distress call from Captain Pike, and the USS Enterprise appeared in view.
This second season premiere of Discovery is titled “Brother”, but maybe it should have been called “Spock”. Or, “O Brother Spock Where Art Thou”, because it’s got a whole motif about Spock not being around, and making us constantly wonder where Spock is. Thanks to the promos, we know Spock actually will show up later on this season (played by Ethan Peck, Gregory’s grandson), otherwise this would all come off as really contrived—sort of like how DC’s various superhero TV shows keep finding contrived ways to not show Batman.
And it looks like Discovery is going to keep up the heavily serialized format again this season. This premiere episode is mostly just setup for what will undoubtedly be the next season-long arc, which seems to have something to do with scary angel-like creatures popping up throughout the galaxy and threatening to End All Life As We Know It.
The episode starts with a voiceover monologue from Burnham that, just as in the season finale, runs throughout the episode and is mostly pretentious twaddle that can be completely ignored. Though this monologue briefly gets our attention by starting with the words, “Space, the final frontier…” before going off in a totally different direction.
To what looks like recent images of Saturn from NASA’s Cassini probe, Burnham describes an African tribe’s creation myth, where a girl threw ash into the sky and it became the Milky Way. We then get animation of the galaxy, showing conspicuous red spots of light throughout.
Then comes a flashback of Sarek and Amanda Grayson taking in young Michael Burnham after her parents were killed in a Klingon attack. Because this is Star Trek, where any orphans are automatically raised by whichever couple happens to be in the vicinity instead of being returned to their families (see: Worf and the Rozhenkos). In the flashback, Burnham is taken upstairs to meet young Spock, who’s less than welcoming.
He uses what looks like a holographic Etch-a-Sketch to make a 3-D dragon that roars at Burnham. She reaches out to shake his hand, and he slams the door in her face. Wow, what a brat. No wonder all the other Vulcan kids picked on him.
This snaps us back to the present, right where the season finale left off, with Discovery getting a distress call from the Enterprise and its captain, Christopher Pike. Visual communications are down, so Pike uses Morse code to request to come onboard, along with an engineering officer and a science officer. Burnham and Sarek immediately assume the latter is Spock.
Pike (played by Anson Mount) beams aboard with a engineering officer named Nhan, but the science officer is some guy named Connolly. We even get a closeup on his non-pointed ear to show that he’s definitely not Spock. We also get the notion we’re supposed to immediately hate this guy, even though he doesn’t really do anything wrong beyond the crime of not being Spock.
Pike explains to Saru that he’s been ordered by Starfleet to assume command of the Discovery, due to the detection of an unexplained phenomena that could be a dire threat to the Federation. He says that “red bursts” appeared throughout the galaxy at exactly the same time. They all died out, except for one. The Enterprise was on its way to investigate, but all its critical systems suddenly failed. So, the ship broke down, and that’s why they sent out a high priority distress signal? Seems excessive.
There’s also a strange bit where they board a turbolift with a reptilian alien who has a cold, and he ends up sneezing and blowing bright green snot all over Connolly’s face. See? We’re supposed to hate this guy.
On the bridge, Pike takes command and has all the members of the bridge crew introduce themselves, which is surely for the viewer’s benefit more than his, since only a few of them ever got names prior to this. And they are: Gen Rhys (the science officer, I think?), Kayla Detmer (helm control, and the one with the fake blue eye), Joann Owosekun (the African woman at ops), Ariam (the one who looks like a robot), Ronald Altman Bryce (communications?), and Saru, who says he’s “Just Saru.”
They set a course to the location of the red burst. Along the way, we get an interlude with Stamets, now a commander, and Tilly, now an ensign, where Stamets says that once this mission is over, he’s leaving Starfleet to take on a teaching position at the Vulcan Science Academy. And on most action/sci-fi shows, going on “one last mission before retirement” is pretty much code for “won’t live to see the end of the season”. I mean, why else would he have even come along on this mission instead of just staying on Earth after the medal ceremony?
When Discovery reaches the location of the red burst, they instead find an “interstellar asteroid” which displays all sorts of strange attributes, like having its own atmosphere, and its own gravity well, and when Discovery gets too close it sends out a wave of force that repels the ship. They use “telescopic cameras” to get a better look, and discover a Starfleet vessel has crashed on the surface. It’s the USS Hiawatha, a medical frigate thought to have been destroyed in the Klingon War.
It’s too dangerous to beam down, and too dangerous to take a shuttlecraft, so Burnham suggests using pods similar to those 2001-inspired pods we saw last season. Burnham, Pike, and the two Enterprise officers pilot these single-occupant pods to the asteroid’s surface, and along the way everyone keeps telling Connolly that his “field is too wide”, whatever that may mean, and he’s completely ignoring their warnings and totally telegraphing his imminent death. Just seconds after he insists he’s “got this”, his pod is destroyed by a big chunk of the asteroid.
Pike’s pod gets hit by debris, and is now plummeting to the asteroid’s surface. This leads to a fast-paced action sequence where both Pike and Burnham have to eject from their pods, and use the thrusters on Burnham’s EV suit to stop in the nick of time before they get impaled on some pointy rocks. It’s well-done but it mostly just reminds me of the very similar “space-skydiving” scene from Star Trek Into Darkness.
As they survey the wreck of the Hiawatha, they’re greeted by three hovering robots, along with a voice telling them to “follow the kids”. They enter a makeshift Sickbay and meet Commander Jett Reno, an engineer who went down with the ship ten months ago, and stuck around to keep all the patients alive. Reno is played by Tig Notaro, who prior to this I frankly knew nothing about, but apparently she’s a standup comic famous for her deadpan delivery. And that’s how she delivers all her lines here, but “deadpan” generally only works when you say things that are funny; here, she just comes off as stiff and awkward.
They set up “pattern enhancers” to beam everybody up, but there’s an explosion that leaves Burnham stranded on the surface of the asteroid. When she wakes up, she briefly hallucinates a red, glowing, angel-like creature coming towards her, until Pike appears and beams her out.
As she recuperates in Sickbay, she tells Tilly that samples of the asteroid couldn’t be beamed up, because the transporter can’t get a lock on them. Tilly gets excited because this means the asteroid is “not entirely composed of baryonic matter”, something which was previously thought to be impossible, and if they get a sample of the stuff it could open up a whole new field of science. Which will surely lead to revolutionary discoveries that somehow get completely forgotten by the time of TOS.
She and the engineering team set up a “gravity simulator” inside a shuttlebay, and Saru orders the ship to get in front of a big piece of the asteroid. He then says, “Pump the brakes,” (no, really) and the asteroid chunk gets pulled into the shuttlebay.
With the mission over for now, Burnham goes to see Pike, who’s hanging out in Lorca’s old ready room, and he’s changed into one of the all-blue Discovery uniforms. It seems he’ll be hanging out for a while, because the damage to the Enterprise was too severe and the ship will have to be towed back to spacedock. Also, Pike finds a fortune cookie fortune underneath the desk—fortune cookies were Lorca’s thing, remember?—and I guess this is the one cookie that escaped getting phasered by Admiral Cornwall. As he leaves, a close-up on the fortune reveals that it says, “Not every cage is a prison, nor every loss eternal”. Get it? Cage? As in, the episode that first introduced Pike?
Burnham wants to go over to the Enterprise and see Spock, but Pike informs her that Spock’s not there. Pike talks about how the Enterprise had to sit out the Klingon War (apparently, they were too far out into deep space, and by the time they got back it would have been too late), which took a “toll” on Spock, and he asked to take an indefinite leave.
Burnham goes over to the Enterprise anyway, and of course the interiors look nothing like the ship we saw on TOS and “The Cage”. And for some reason, she’s free to go through Spock’s belongings, and she even listens to one of his personal logs. The voice of Spock says that he’s been having “nightmares” lately, but now he knows what they mean. He also warns this may be his “last entry” on the Enterprise.
He’s left information encoded in his log, and in a scene that echoes the 3-D dragon scene from the opening (complete with cuts back and forth to that flashback), Burnham “pulls” holographic objects off the computer screen, creating a 3-D depiction of the Milky Way that shows the positions of all the red bursts, where I’m guessing they’ll find more of those creepy angels.
I don’t have anything major to complain about in this episode; it strikes the ideal balance between action-packed spectacle and more introspective scenes. There are serious moments and lighthearted moments, though I think they went a bit too far in the direction of lighthearted, verging on Whedonesque/MCU quip-a-minute territory. Pike cracks wise one too many times, at one point ordering Detmer to “fly good”, and when they arrive at their destination and find only the asteroid, he says, “I was expecting a red thing. Where’s my damn red thing?” Are we sure this is really Captain Pike, and not some random Academy dropout pretending to be Pike as a goof?
I don’t know if this feels much like the Pike we saw in “The Cage”, but that’s not a huge deal, since we only have that one episode to go by, and Pike in that episode was burnt out and considering resigning. I don’t particularly care if they stay faithful to one episode of TOS, as long as they give us a strong character in this version of Pike, and so far he seems to have charisma and command presence to spare.
Along the same lines, there were just way too many scenes of Tilly doing “bits”. It seems like in every scene where she appears, Tilly is obligated to have a wacky moment where she acts goofy and awkward and all relatable. Sometimes this is funny, but most of the time it’s cringe-worthy, like a scene where Pike’s not scanning his handprint correctly and she’s embarrassed to say the word “pinkie” in front of him (this really happens). Can we maybe get more scenes of Tilly just being competent at her job without blurting out something inappropriate?
It’s hard to judge this episode on its own merits, since it’s a very simple rescue mission plot that’s really just setting up what we’ll be seeing for the rest of the season. But it’s clear they’re changing the show to be more focused on the bridge crew as they go on away missions and encounter anomalies, just like every other Star Trek series up to this point. If they can still deliver exciting episodes with this new, retooled premise, then more power to them, but the first season seemed like it was attempting to do something different with the franchise and it’s a shame they’ve abandoned that.
Coming up: As of now, there’s no preview for next week’s episode, but there is a season two trailer for those who want to know what’s coming up over the next few months.