Saturday, 19 January 2019

TREK REVIEW: Discovery 2-1 -"Brother"

Here begins the much anticipated second season of Discovery, touted as taking the series back to the ideals of Star Trek. We're hoping for more hope, optimism, futurism and exploration after a year of warfare. In line with this, Discovery is folding the original Star Trek into its storyline, or at least, the original pilot. "Brothers," leading directly from the cliffhanger end to season one, sees Captain Pike leave the Enterprise (gutted by a cosmic event) and take command of the USS Discovery.

Does this episode manage its goal of bringing Star Trek back on track? Well, yes and no. There's definitely a feeling of wonder that the first season of Discovery did display, but that was too often lost amongst all the grim, gritty darkness. Space is still a dangerous place, but it's also a remarkable place, and although the mystery of the red bursts is described as a threat, it's also clearly a scientific wonder. (After all, seven events going off simultaneously at different points of the galaxy is certainly impossible.)

In some ways, this is very much Star Trek in the traditional style, with long meetings on the bridge, technobabble and all. In others, it's still very much informed by the Abramsverse movies, particularly the asteroid journey sequence which combines the space fall of the 2009 film and the breach of the Vengeance from Star Trek Into Darkness, right down to the cocky dickhead who gets himself killed. The introduction of Tig Notaro's character, Reno, on the wreck of the Hiawatha, also strongly recalls the way Scotty was introduced in the 2099 movie.

Notaro's hugely likeable Reno is the sole new character to be introduced in the episode, save for a couple of barely there Enterprise crewmembers (including the commander who appears to be a Barzan, which seems unlikely in the 23rd century but is corroborated by Memory Alpha). Like Pegg's Scotty she's a remarkable engineer who's become overly blunt due to time spent alone, but brilliantly she's been doing everything she can to keep her comatose fellow crew alive, forced to use her engineering skills to act as mechanic on the human machine.

Anson Mount is excellent as Pike, who is perhaps my favourite of the Trek captains, even on a par with Picard. He isn't the Pike of the movies, but has some of the same charismatic presence as Bruce Greenwood, but at the same time isn't quite the same man as Jeffrey Hunters original version. He's a good deal more open, casually friendly and carefree than either version of Pike we've seen before, although it's not too hard to reconcile Mount's and Hunter's. After all, the original Pike was more dour and downcast, but he'd just been through a gruelling mission, and was on the verge of quitting Starfleet. This is two years later and his enthusiasm has clearly returned. He stills displays a down-to-earth lack of pretentiousness that reflects the old Pike. Plus, he failed astrophysics, so we have something in common.

The established cast get less time in the spotlight, although there are some beautiful moments between Tilly and Stamets. Saru, though, and oddly enough, Michael, seem to get short shrift. Michael actually gets a lot of screentime and is nominally the focus of the episode, but is strangely underserved. Part of the problem is the huge, Spock-shaped hole in the episode. The narrative deforms around his absence, teasing us with glimpses of him as a child in such a way that he dominates Michael's own storyline. This season is clearly going to revolve around the red angels/starbursts and Spock's disappearance, and he's pulling the narrative off course.

For an opening episode, "Brother" is lacking something. In spite of the mystery, the combination of talk and action, and the promising new characters, it lacks oomph. The story didn't grip me in the way the beginning of a mystery should. Still, there's potential there, and I look forward to seeing where the series is going.

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