TV Review: Star Trek: Discovery S2 – Episode 1: “Brother”
Starring: Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Anthony Rapp, Mary Wiseman, Wilson Cruz, Tig Notaro, and Anson Mount
Written by: Ted Sullivan, Gretchen J. Berg, and Aaron Roberts
Directed by: Alex Kurtzman
Set phasers to SPOILERS AHEAD.
“Wherever our mission takes us, we’ll try to have a little fun along the way too…”
And have fun they damn well do in the Star Trek: Discovery season two opener. Though to call the production of this newest season rocky would be underselling it, but despite the ousted slimeball showrunners, Disco returns to the streaming airwaves with burly action, a whopper of a mystery to solve, and a welcome lightness. Picking up mere moments after season 1’s cliffhanger, which found the new ship making contact with the iconic U.S.S. Enterprise, “Brother” ushers us back into the world of Discovery. With a slick, pulse-pounding opening episode that shakes off the troubled production and the self-seriousness of the first season and just starts having fun with it, much to the show, crew, and ship’s benefit.
The war against the Klingons might be over, but there are still plenty of things to do for Starfleet going into this new season. Mainly the arrival of six inexplicable red lights that have cropped up through space and a figure called “The Red Angel” that have confounded the Federation and the various other factions throughout. It is these lights that serve as this series’ main through line. While it may not have the same urgency or stakes as a full tilt war with a fan favorite race, I have to say I am pleased as bloody punch that season two is moving this incarnation of Starfleet back to a more exploratory, science based direction.
Better still, Ted Sullivan, Gretchen J. Berg, and Aaron Roberts’ script also starts to do better by the wonderful characters they have by giving them all affecting emotional arcs and sparklingly fun interactions with one another. Sonequa Martin-Green’s Commander Michael Burnham is still at the center of the action, given hefty bedrock by the growth she underwent in S1. This time around Martin-Green’s portrayal is much looser. She’s much, much more endearing this time around and it is a breath of fresh air for the once borderline unlikable lead. She’s still hilariously curt, you can really tell that she, as a character, is much more comfortable with her position and past. Though, that is threatened with the show’s take on Spock and her close ties with the legendary Trek character.
And yes, I know, I know. “Canon!” and “timelines!” and all that, but really, who cares? Spock will be playing a fairly large role through this season as this opening episode sets up, but I am very curious to see how the show deals with him more as the co-lead in a family drama and less as the Starfleet officer. Bonus points should also be awarded to this episode for neatly folding Spock into the show’s central mystery of the lights.
And again, I have heard all the complaints about Burnham’s origin and how it ties into Spock’s family. Twice now, actually. But this season seems to be making it more textual and heartfelt, instead of the half-hearted batting at it. The show did this in S1, using James Frain’s Sarek as the tether. Time will tell how this all pays off. For now, in this episode, it adds a neat layer of heart and empathy to the famously stoic Vulcan and his adoptive sister.
And speaking of famous Star Trek characters, Captain Christopher Pike makes his debut in this episode. Guys, I have to tell you, he is a goddamn blast. Played with a roguish, but personable charm by one time King of the Inhumans Anson Mount, Pike arrives to take command of the Discovery as they embark on investigating the lights and find a crashed Federation medical friage, thought lost during S1’s war, marooned in a field of impossible asteroids.
Ignoring the fact that that plot is vintage standalone episode Trek for a second, Mount’s Pike is another big win for this new season. He is playing a character that is a known quantity, yes (the episode even delivers a gut-wrenching callback to his Original Series fate), but not one with a set in stone backstory or characterization. This allows Mount the freedom to just be great as he ingratiates himself to his new crew and stands confidently as a new member of the ensemble. See what happens when you let him SPEAK, Marvel? Ya done fucked up. Y’all’s loss was Star Trek’s gain.
The rest of the ensemble also truly shine as the whole crew gets in on the fun. Mary Wiseman’s Ensign Sylvia Tilly is still an absolute delight, made even more so now that she has struck up a real friendship with Burnham. She barrels through the command training program “drunk on power” (her words). Those that hate fun and have just written off Tilly as a character won’t find much here to convince them otherwise, but us in the know will find plenty more to love about the sunny Ensign as she gets to deliver some of the episode’s best lines.
Anthony Rapp gets a bit more of a plot this season. The now Commander Paul Stamets is considering a transfer to the Vulcan Science Academy after the death of his husband last season. I will never love a burying of gays. However, Rapp plays Stamets’ grief very real, showing precisely why his wall is adorned with all those awards that I assume he has.
And lastly, Doug Jones’ Saru is just so bloody adorable I could scream. He has a few really fantastic moments with Pike that are too good to give away here, but he is always class. I have a sneaking suspicion that Mr. Saru might end up being my new favorite Trek alien crew member. And I haven’t even mentioned TIG! That’s right, you heard me! Tig Notaro makes her debut here as Commander Jett Reno, Engineering specialist, and amateur surgeon, adding a hysterically droll new voice to the crew. All of these characters and even more (including robotic love of my life Lt. CMDR. Airiam AKA that cool looking Ops Officer robot lady on the bridge) all gel into a tremendously fun cast, adding heaps of character on top of the compelling opening plots.
Verdict: WATCH IT
Powerfully directed by Alex Kurtzman, “Brother” is a fantastic sophomore effort from Star Trek: Discovery, starting off this season on precisely the right note after a troubled production and rocky showrunner transition. Of course, it isn’t going to be for everybody. I have already read some contrarian (read: pissy) takes from “purists.” For my money, “Brother” has everything one could possibly want from Star Trek, wrapped in a big budget package and tied with a big ‘ol ribbon of fantastic acting. I am going to be covering the Trek beat for the remainder of the season, and I would sincerely be honored if you would join me. Let’s say we meet back here next Thursday after the next episode, which will be directed by Captain Will Riker himself, Jonathan Frakes! Until then, be seeing you.