Star Trek Discovery returns – and James Hunt joins Cultbox to take us through it…
Star Trek Discovery has returned from its much-too-long absence, and it really hits the ground running in a fast-paced season opener which is as thrilling an hour of Star Trek as has ever been produced. Indeed, the action scene in the asteroid field is at least as good a sequence as any Star Trek MOVIE has produced. If you’re a Star Trek fan who can’t be excited by that,
Naturally, if you’re an old-school Trek nerd this episode delivered the thrill of seeing classic characters like Christopher Pike and Sarek on screen, now more well-rounded than ever – but what really made the episode sing was the interaction between the Discovery returnees from Season 1. If there’s a more joyous moment in this series than Tilly and Burnham high-fiving… well, if there is, great! But it’ll be a surprise.
It’s good to see Star Trek get back to fundamentals. The central premise of this season is a lot more compelling than a war, because it’s a mystery. Sure, it’s a mystery framed as a threat, but this is (in effect) frontier science the way Star Trek should be. The only real weakness about this episode is that the focus is yet again heavily placed on Burnham and her adoptive family. The likes of Stamets, Tilly and Saru all have their own stuff going on but the show is (as ever it was) about Burnham first, and that’s still quite hard to reconcile given the ensemble nature of almost every other version.
But hey, how good was Captain Pike? It’s almost hard to imagine this frank and lively Captain ending up as the guy we see confined to a life support system in Star Trek’s The Menagerie (1×11 & 1×12) some years down the line – though in a way, that only makes his fate more tragic to consider. I hope he sticks around for a while.
No matter how much you enjoy every previous incarnation of Star Trek, the thing that Brother reminds us of is how Discovery is keen to show characters with actual feeling. Whereas previous incarnations of Star Trek were more cerebral and self-consciously grown-up, this is a Star Trek where all of life takes place in space. They get excited, they get nervous, they swear (do we still mind the swearing?) and they joke. When they’re having fun, the audience is having fun – and as a result, when they’re scared, so are the viewers. We are, if you will excuse the pun, engaged in what’s happening.
And that’s what makes this episode great: it had it all. Discovery, it’s good to have you back.
Were there any Easter Eggs?
There are a lot of callbacks to previous Trek series in this episode, as you can probably imagine from one where every other scene contained the word ‘Spock’. The one that elicited the biggest smile, though? A transporter chief wearing what looked like a VISOR. There’s an uneasy tension between TNG’s extremely casual representation of a disability and the fact that literally no-one else in the show ever turned up wearing one, so hey, it’s fun to finally see similar gear on someone else.
And of course, Pike finding one of Lorca’s fortune cookie slips – one referencing a cage – can only be seen as a nod to Pike’s eventual fate. The Cage was, of course, the original pilot episode of Star Trek and Pike’s first appearance in the canon.
Oh, and if you ever want proof that this Star Trek is still Star Trek, the Discovery away team included something like four of the six most important people on the ship, or at least it did until one of them wiped out on a space rock. Shouldn’t there be specialists around for this kind of perilous rescue assignment!?
What are the Unanswered Questions?
There are three big ones in this episode that I think are going to drive the narrative, at least in the early part of the season:
What happened between Spock and Burnham?
What is the signal, and why wasn’t it visible when Discovery got close to it?
What was that weird creepy angel-esque thing Burnham saw?
Of course, the question of where Spock went is also a pretty big one, but since we’ve seen him in the trailers it probably won’t be long until he’s back on screen. The gradual unspooling of the truth about Burnham and Spock’s relationship is compelling though, not least because we can only wonder: why did Spock never mention he had a sister? Presumably, the distance between them is unlikely to lessen by the end of this series. But hey, Spock never mentioned his half-brother until it became relevant to the story so maybe he’s just reallllly tight-lipped about family…