Season one of Star Trek: Discovery ended on a huge cliffhanger, and had die-hard Trekkies and new fans alike jumping up and down in excitement. The first season of Discovery was so intriguing because it was set in a very familiar and well established universe but focused on new characters and plots. There were minor nods to existing storylines, but the bulk of the season was new material. That is up until the last scene of the final episode, where the Discovery crew suddenly find themselves happening upon an all too familiar USS spaceship – the Enterprise.
Season two kicks off by introducing characters that are new to this show, but instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with Star Trek. The first season of Discovery really stood out for me because of how hybrid it was. The Star Trek shows have always had interesting stories and a good focus on character development but not had the necessary budgets to wow viewers with their special effects. The revamped Star Trek trilogy of films on the other hand had gorgeous visual effects and action sequences but suffered a little from weak plots and slightly undeveloped characters.
Discovery is a fantastic blend of these two styles, providing jaw dropping and climatic action sequences and special effects to die for with well conceived storylines and fully fleshed out characters. At the same time it doesn’t simply piggyback off these two well established styles and delivers its own unique take on the world of Star Trek. Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), the protagonist of the show, is such a excellent lead character, as being human but raised by Vulcans she is deeply complex, having learnt logic from Vulcans and empathy from humans. In season two this becomes an even bigger focal point when her beloved half-brother Spock is introduced. Their relationship is fascinating, and the fact that they share both Vulcan and human traits makes for an interesting dynamic between the two of them.
The opening episode is jam packed full of content, delving into Burnham’s relationship with Spock and how the USS Enterprise we all know and love fits into the storyline of Discovery. The way the various characters and stories fit into one another is fascinating and immensely enjoyable if you are a fan of cinematic universes. However, it does result in the episode feeling a bit frantic and rushed. There are some amazing action sequences, such as seeing Burnham flying through an asteroid field in a tiny spacecraft, or the scenes in the crashed spaceship, where everything is intense and explosive. The unrelenting, non stop pace is entertaining but it does zip along a little too hectically at times. There is a certain amount of character development, dialogue and interactions but considering it is a television show and not a blockbuster, they could do with slowing down the pace just a fraction. All the elements are there and the blend of action and drama is great it just feels a little bit too high octane for the format of a TV show.
There is a lot of humour in season two, even more so then the first which initially takes a while to get used to. It contrasts quite considerably with the intense drama of the main storyline but it actually benefits the season. It adds a suitable amount of light relief and is faithful to the other shows and films which have always had a good use of comedy. On the subject of staying faithful to previous Star Trek traditions, the casting of Christopher Pike (Anton Mount) is spot on. Previous incarnations have usually been good but this is the best so far. In the wake of Lorca’s departure, Pike steps in to fill his shoes but introduces a new approach to leadership. Lorca was a very intense, driven, and unpredictable captain whereas Pike is good humoured, selfless, and likeable. It also leaves the potential for him to actually be hiding something, as characters too good to be true in TV shows usually are. Additionally, clued up fans of the original show will be aware of a particular pilot episode that showed a different, not so likeable side to the character of Pike, leaving the possibility for a surprise change of character.
Visually there is a nice mixture of styles with some sequences being very reminiscent of the original Star Trek series and others far more similar to the new trilogy of Star Trek films. Most of the episodes follow a recurring formula, starting with a dialogue-focused scene, moving to a high octane sequence, then some more dialogue, and then back to an action packed situation. Finally the episode will usually end on a cliffhanger. Every now and then though they do add some interesting and unusual additions such as the dream and memory sequences Burnham experiences. There are also some great parts of the show where there are some nice editing styles such as fading to black and quirky camera angles to make the viewer feel like they are in Burnham’s shoes, which works especially well in the more intense moments.
Although Burnham serves as our protagonist, the surrounding characters of the crew are equally well developed and investing to watch. Like many other successful and decent television shows it opens up its scope to examine a whole host of different players. In the first episode there is a lot to take in with new and returning characters alike competing for screen time, as well as a lot of story explanation hurled at the viewer. However moving further into the season, the pace does seem to even out a bit and this is partly due to the fact that a good amount of time is dedicated to each character in turn. This is achieved by having a number of episodes focus on individual members of the crew with most of it seen from their perspective.
It is entertaining to watch their own individual story arcs develop but also enjoyable watching them all interact together. I am a big fan of the recent Star Trek trilogy reboot but being entirely honest I would have to say that some of the characters are a little undeveloped. Kirk and Spock dominate much of the screen time and while other characters do get some attention, there simply isn’t enough time to delve fully into each member of the crew. Discovery on the other hand is a show with two whole seasons, meaning more runtime to work with. It makes the show feel much more like a team endeavour and works especially well when all the various crew members put their heads together to solve a problem. Seeing what these characters are capable of on their own and then how they bring that to the bigger team is satisfying and rewarding.
Although there is an overall larger narrative running throughout the season, there are also individual episode narratives. This provides variety, allowing for multiple stories to play out whilst also being very reminiscent of its Star Trek predecessors. At the end of the day Star Trek was made for television and fans were accustomed to the serial format of a different narrative each week. Discovery follows that pattern but interweaves and links it to the bigger overall storyline simultaneously providing something different each episode but is still connected to the larger picture of the season.
The problems with the second season begin as seems to be the case with a lot of American TV shows in the later episodes. It all comes down to balance. Discovery works best when it allows the various elements of the show adequate space to develop. It becomes an issue when the pacing and distribution of these elements starts to feel unbalanced. While it is necessary for the main narrative of the Red Angel to become more prominent in the last few episodes, it feels like the show doesn’t know how to balance this with the rest of the mini narratives and character arcs previously established. A lot of content in a season isn’t necessarily a good thing and it does feel like the creators have just thrown an awful lot of stuff at the wall with the hope some of it will stick. At first I enjoyed the idea of linking the show up with the original characters of Star Trek but by the end of the season it just felt like a novelty that had tacked on for the sake of connecting up to the estblished Star Trek Universe. The reboot film trilogy has already trodden the familiar ground of the Enterprise and Spock, and it feels a bit exhausted and unnecessary to return to it a third time.
There are other issues that unfortunately bring down the second season of Discovery. The writing and acting in the last few episodes feels a lot weaker, and likeable characters such as Burnham, Pike, and Tilly start to become strangely annoying. This is a shame because up until that point they had been interesting, well fleshed out, and investing characters. On the one hand it is important for Burnham to display a more human and emotional side when encountering Spock and suffering trauma. However, her behaviour seems to change way too drastically. The original point was that she was both strong and sensitive, logical and emotional. But in the last few episodes she seems to spend an awful lot of time crying and appearing helpless.
Part of Tilly’s appeal is her funny habit of blurting out whatever she is thinking, or desperately filling silences, because she is nervous and socially awkward. As the show has developed, Tilly has become more confident and capable, but she still can’t help but talk all the time, and frankly it becomes downright irritating. It is a good character trait but overused to the point that it becomes a little wearing. Pike started off as a very interesting character, as he is a fair and trustworthy captain which made a nice change from Lorca. But he doesn’t really change that much throughout the season and I found him a bit one dimensional and lacking depth. While I recognize it is important to stay true to a character, there should have been a bit more mystery and intrigue to Pike.
The last episode looks fantastic with all the space battles and set pieces but the storyline and characters are a mess. The plot feels convoluted for the sake of being complicated and the constant space tech lingo and jargon which initially was a nice homage to the original series just turns into a lot of characters talking gobbledegook to one another. Although Star Trek is well known for doing this it seems far more apparent and overused in the second season than the first. Also one of the most irritating aspects of the season is the depressingly common manoeuvre of killing off a character only to have them miraculously brought back from the dead two episodes later. This is just lazy writing, and a big part of the reason I fell out of love with shows like Gotham.
The second season of Discovery doesn’t entirely know how to balance itself, and as a result, feels a bit all over the place. Too much time is focused on linking events and characters up with that of the Enterprise and as a result loses some of the originality and freshness of the first season. The better episodes focus on particular characters and individual storylines and when we see the crew of the Discovery setting foot on new alien planets and encountering unknown civilizations. The main storyline is of course important to the overall narrative of a whole but it is too convoluted and isn’t interesting enough to enjoy properly. There is some investing character development and cool concepts, but it becomes a little lost and overlooked amidst the somewhat baggy main storyline and drop in the quality of scriptwriting.
There are aspects of season two of Star Trek Discovery that boldly go where no one has gone before but the over complicated plot, incessant space jargon and weak writing results in a messy mishmash of ideas.