What Star Trek: Discovery Got Right and Wrong in its Season 2 Premiere

Discovery returns with a new tone and direction but are the same old problems lingering below the surface?

This morning I woke up and watched a brand-new episode of Star Trek for the first time in my life. As soon as I was awake enough to awkwardly lean over the end of my bed and turn on my TV, the premiere of Star Trek: Discovery’s second season was on Netflix UK waiting for me. Soon I was wide awake and marveling at what was before me: Star Trek. Okay, so with the annoying and embellished opening of the article out of the way, I had of course seen the previous season of Discovery but it was with this episode that I felt like I was actually watching Star Trek. I like parts of the first season yet tonally the show missed the mark, but this premiere felt like Star Trek for the modern television landscape. Until it felt like Star Wars. And then like a Marvel movie. The show absolutely still has its problems – a fair few in fact – but it has a sense of fun and adventure that was missing from the first season. It has a crew that likes each other, working together, saving people, while on a quest of scientific discovery. It’s Star Trek! The writers and producers have laid in a course and called “engage”. Or rather said “hit it” or “punch it” because this is modern Star Trek where everyone is cool like that.

First of all, the premiere set up the arc for the season, not just the plot but the character arc too. We have the “Red Angels” which, I admit, I’m not super engaged with but it’s early days. At least – at the moment – it’s based in scientific discovery rather than war and conflict. I enjoyed the first half of the episode more than the second because it allowed the usually lightning-fast pace of the show to drop in order to have some character-focused scenes. I liked Stamets mourning the loss of Culber and announcing that he’s leaving to teach on Vulcan and I thought Burnham’s past with Spock was set up nicely, ready to be the emotional linchpin of the season. I was unsure of Spock being in the season but, so far, I like what they are doing with the character. Although I think I’ll wait until we properly get Spock in the show before I make up my mind.

However, the level of advanced technology we see in this episode is still a problem considering Discovery’s place in the timeline. This episode may in fact be the worst offender yet. We get spacesuits that assemble around the character like Iron Man, personal holographic screens and even holographic candles! Just light some damn candles! I guess every deck is a holodeck now. The antediluvian image of actual candles in a technologically advanced starship would be cool, merging Vulcan and Human styles while saying something about Burnham’s character. Also, the shot from outside the turbo-lift was so stupid. How much open space is there inside the Discovery? There were worker bees flying around in there! What ever happened to engineers having to crawl through Jefferies tubes?

I felt like the writing, particularly the dialogue, was a big step up this episode. Sure, many of the characters came across as a bit too flippant and annoyingly witty in the style of an MCU film but for me it worked a fair amount of the time. Pike’s “Where’s my damn red thing?” being the highlight. Like most of everything in Discovery it got pushed a little too far, particularly with Tilly. By the end of last season, I really liked Tilly but here they play her up a little too much. Her shouting over the noise that embarrassingly stopped just as she started shouting was funny but the 20 seconds of her awkwardly explaining it was not. She’s turned up to the max to the point of her being on the ship coming across as unbelievable.

The big thing I didn’t like from the episode was the pod sequence. Pike, Nahn, Connelly and Burnham get in little CGI pods and whizz through an asteroid field on a rescue mission. It all looked great and you can see the budget burn up faster than those pods but the problem is that it felt far too much like Star Wars rather than Star Trek, particularly the ships themselves and the sound effects. It’s also essentially a remake of a scene from Star Trek Into Darkness which saw Kirk and Khan perform a very similar feat, including a smashed HUD and an improvised rescue. I guess the writers feel like every episode needs an action beat but it stuck out like a sore thumb for me. It was well-executed but totally unnecessary.

The episode took a bit of a meta turn that I wasn’t expecting and seemed to aim some dialogue specifically at the audience. “We’re going to have some fun along the way” and “Sometimes it’s wise to keep our expectation low, Commander. That way we’re never disappointed” spring to mind. It’s a tricky thing to alter your show based on criticism from the fandom. On one hand there are criticisms that are valid and should be taken into account, but in the fandom some good points are mixed in with a whole lotta bad ones so changing a show based on the whims of the audience can be problematic. One thing they got right, although executed rather bluntly, was to have the bridge crew perform a roll call. We’re getting to know their names and they’re actually working together as a crew. It’s like they’re Star Trek characters or something.

I’ve barely discussed Pike but do I have to? People will no doubt have a range of opinions on everything in the episode but surely thinking Pike is great (just like Saru) will be a universal constant. However, I could have done without that easter egg/reference to The Cage. It was nice to finally see a Saurian again, though. I wish we had gotten more of Pike’s replacement science officer Connelly butting heads with Burnham in the show. I know I’m a hypocrite after gushing about how the crew is finally working together but I enjoyed the dynamic between the two of them. Connelly’s death was a low point because of just how telegraphed it was. Oh, I wonder why we are staying on this extended shot of Connelly that allows us to see behind him while he starts a speech about his academy days? It’s because he’s about to die!

Moving forward my main hope is consistency. If the following thirteen episodes of the season (it was recently announced that we’re getting one more episode than previously billed) are like the premiere then I will quite happily call myself a Discovery fan. But then again, I had the exact same feeling after the opening episodes of the first season. The rest of the season turned out to be a very mixed bag and overall a disappointment. That season derailed partly because of the change of showrunner and we have that very same issue coming up in season 2. We have 3 or 4 episodes left of Harberts and Berg’s tenure and then the big shift over into Alex Kurtzman’s version of the show. I’m also worried about the return of the Klingons and Georgiou. Now that the series has a new tone and direction and is making up for past mistakes, I don’t know how they are going to reintroduce elements from the previous ‘version’ of the show without the whole show reverting back to how it was. There’s stormy weather ahead and I just hope the ship can stay on course. Or, if not, there’s always season 3.

What did you make of the premiere of Discovery season 2? Do you think I’m right or wrong? Let me know in the comments and geek out with me about TV, movies and video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt.

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