Star Trek #1472: Brother

CAPTAIN'S LOG: Captain Pike takes command of the Discovery and takes it on a dangerous mission.

WHY WE LIKE IT: It's funny and exciting. Pike is cool.

WHY WE DON'T: That jackass Connely. Is that really Spock's voice?

REVIEW: Season 2 of Discovery begins with a familiar name (not to say face) joining the crew as its (temporary?) commanding officer, Captain Christopher Pike. Anson Mount looks vaguely like both Jeffrey Hunter and Bruce Greenwood, but regardless of your familiarity with those interpretations, brings immediate charm to the role. We quickly get a sense of who he is. A practical man who is (but for one line) anti-technobabble and likes easy to understand analogies. An honest man who uses transparency to get the trust of his crew, and treats them as a team where rank doesn't really matter (even gives us the feeling we're going to see more of the extended bridge crew, and indeed, they get their moments). He's a little out of it, having been forced to sit out the war, and on a ship that is not his own while Enterprise gets repaired from system-wide failure. And he gets serious sometimes, will act like the dad if his officers start bickering, has no patience for defeatist attitudes, and is loyal to a fault when it comes to his people. This is post-The Cage (there's a cute reference to it in Lorca's old ready room), and for older fans, the "toll" the journey took on the Enterprise's captain stems from that episode. I'm very happy that he sticks around at the end, and rather intrigued by how he and Saru will "share" command. After Lorca's dark secrets, it's nice to have a more heroic figure leading the crew, and Pike makes a great first impression.

Not to say there aren't mysteries set up in this first episode. At first, I thought the asteroid was the origin of dilithium or something, but no, it was already a thing in that Short Trek with Tilly. So what IS this new power source? But that's a MacGuffin. The big mystery is really the relationship between Michael and her foster brother Spock. Part of the story is told through flashbacks to her adoption by Sarek and Amanda, and the decidedly uncommunicative younger Spock who would rather play with his futuristic Etch-a-Sketch than deal with his new sister. Burnham brings up two stories from childhood, one an African myth about a girl who made the Milky Way by throwing dust into the sky, the other Alice in Wonderland, its mathematical playfulness thematically tying into the spatial anomalies Discovery tracks in the story. Just how the myth weaves itself in has yet to be revealed, though it might have something to do with what the season trailer calls the Red Angel, a vision of which Burnham has. Which brings us back to Spock. Because it appears he was tracking these anomalies even before Pike was aware of them, and further that he's driven by recurring nightmares he's had since he was a child. Something is talking to him, but what? And is Burnham telepathically connected to him (as she was to Sarek), explaining her own vision? On the more personal side of things, Burnham hints at a falling out between her and Spock, and thus a close relationship at one point in their lives. It almost seems romantic, but for the fact that the episode ends with the word "brother". We'll just have to wait and see, but as Burnham's log says, riffing off the "Space, the final frontier" speech, the exploration is as much about one's self than it is about "out there".

The big shift is tonal. The first season was a dark passage into the light, and now we're allowed jokes and fun. An alien sneezing into jerky boy Commander Connolly's face sets the bar pretty low, but the banter is generally great, and we do get punch lines like the crew noting Saru is sensing death and him going "Are you surprised?", and the bridge crew almost panicking during the run on the asteroid. As usual, a lot of this is driven by Tilly. She shouts over static just as comms takes the sound down, embarrassing herself. She gushes over Pike's cuticles. She's drunk on power reassigning space from the "logic science" lab (a fun joke unto itself). She gleefully exalts the power of math. But she's also touching as ever, welling up when Stammets tells her he will be leaving Discovery, and though he asks her to say fewer things, the things she says are the ones he needs to hear. So while there's levity, the show hasn't forgotten its roots, whether that's Burnham hurt by Spock's absence or Stammets seeing the ghost of Hugh everywhere. The darkness left scars, and the show acknowledges that (see also, Pike). We might even believe Stammets will leave for good because the spore drive is being mothballed and a new engineer, Jet Reno, is rescued off the asteroid. Her dry sense of humor and can-do builder attitude make her immediately likable, but then, I really love what Stammets has evolved into as well. Obviously, Stammets will stay, or at least my television brain tells me he will. Hopefully, there's a place for both.

Hand in hand with the humor, the lighter tone also offers some exciting action sequences, though the run at the asteroid is at times silly. As Pike gets another system-wide malfunction, you might start to wonder if he's cursed, and the whole "catching him" bit cuts it closer than seems necessary, right above jagged rocks. The whole thing looks like it's meant for a 3D cinema experience, a visual trope I find annoying when it's CALLED for (I could say the same for unfolding tech like the spacesuits). Still surprised Connolly gets killed, as his toxic competition with Burnham could have been drawn out longer. Hopefully they do something with Commander Nhan who for now barely registers. The capture of a piece of asteroid is likewise very "3D", but a fun bit of daring-do. I can't really stay irked at these sequences because they're done with tension (Pike watching his cockpit crack) and gusto (Stammets being drawn to the asteroid capture by Tilly's enthusiasm).

One thing I will say is that the episode looks absolutely gorgeous. It COULD be shown in theaters. Beautiful anamorphic lenses. Interesting shots. Exciting action. Well used effects. Set extensions that add scope (all the tubing inside Discovery seems made for 3D too). Even the jokes feel like those of the Star Trek films. What little we see of the Enterprise interior matches the exterior, i.e. right out of the movie era. That's gonna bug purists, but no more than the revamped Klingons, presumably. I do love the new cut on the TOS uniforms though, not that Discovery will use them. Seems at this point that uniforms are ship-centric (not completely out of line with TOS and its different insignia). Another intriguing visual us Sarek's house, surrounded by falling blossoms. None of this looks like Vulcan, but maybe that's not where he's been appointed. After all, diplomats need to travel, and the family may have lived off-Vulcan for a time.

LESSON: Try to sneeze into your sleeve or something.

REWATCHABILITY - High: A great start to the season, introducing good characters, intriguing mysteries, and nudging the tone just where it needs to be.


Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

great review. I loved season one but this season will be awesome. I really like Anson Mount from Hell on Wheels which was a fantastic show.


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