Star Trek: Discovery returns for its second with the premiere episode titled “Brother.” While remaining true to the groundwork laid down last season, the premiere is flush with new confidence and a thirst for adventure.
“Brother” picks up where the first season of Discovery left off. Discovery has received a hail from the USS Enterprise and a request from its captain, Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), to come aboard. Pike beams over and takes command of Discovery and continues his mission to investigate seven signals from across the galaxy.
Pike’s presence is emblematic of Discovery’s new swagger. Mount plays Pike with casual confidence and charisma that makes it easy to see why Discovery’s crew takes an instant shine to him, but there’s also something beneath the surface. Pike and his crew sat out the Klingon-Federation war while in deep space on one of the Enterprise’s famous five-year missions. Despite being one of Starfleet’s most highly decorated officers, having missed the war left Pike feeling like he has to make up for something. That frustration boils to the surface during intense moments when he has to make key command decisions.
The rest of Discovery's cast seem more confident than ever in their roles. With the war over, they can now revel in who these characters are when they’re simply being, well, who they are.
Tension and competitiveness previously defined the relationship between Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Saru (Doug Jones). That competitiveness is now gone. Instead, there’s a familiarity and respect between two officers built on shared experiences and loss.
Burnham’s relationship with roommate Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman) has also grown. They don’t share much screen time in this episode, but there’s a moment between the two that shows exactly how much they understand about each other. In particular, what the other is capable of, and how much they mean to each other.
The most touching moment has to go to Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp), who is still struggling with the loss of his lover, Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz). Stamets has made a big decision about his next step. Rapp’s delivery when he explains it to Tilly is believable and moving as he brings a real softness to a character introduced as hard and standoffish without jettisoning what has come before.
Alex Kurtzman directs the episode; Kurtzman is the co-creator and showrunner of Discovery. He's also known for co-writing the 2009 Star Trek film reboot and its sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness. His past Trek pedigree is on display in “Brother” and then some. The reboot films received praise for their stunning set pieces and criticism for not having much else to offer. Kurtzman delivers on the excitement here as "Brother" features the most stunning action sequence ever in an episode of a Star Trek television series. The episode excels by also providing the character moments and sci-fi problem-solving that seemed to take a backseat in the films. At its core, the episode is about a rescue mission in space and dealing with unexpected complications. That's a classic Star Trek setup if ever there was one.
The episode does stumble in a few places, never enough to fall down, but enough to be distracting at times. The episode is lighter and friendlier than the first season, yet everyone seems OK with dunking on Lt. Connelly. The Enterprise's Science Officer is also the butt of the elevator joke from this season's trailer. It's a bit that feels like it would be more at home on The Orville. As is, it feels like a moment where Discovery tried a bit too hard to prove its new lighter tone.
There are also moments where the episode gets a bit too precious. There’s one moment with the Enterprise, but most involve Burnham. She’s proven herself to be an exceptional officer (and please leave your “Mary Sue” complaints at the door). Yet, the way that so many people throughout the episode feel the need to vocalize how awesome she is to her face feels strange. It's especially jarring when she was so looked down on for her actions aboard the Shenzhou throughout the previous season. It is understandable that Discovery’s writers might want to push past that. They likely don't want to deal with the fallout of Burnham’s mutiny forever, but this episode lays it on a bit thick at times.
Despite these minor missteps, “Brother” proves to be an excellent episode that sets up an exciting season to come. It is arguably the most viscerally exciting episode of Star Trek ever. More impressive is that is pulls that off while still including the elements of classic Star Trek that fans most crave. It’s all brought together by the central mystery that Pike set out to investigate. That mystery connects somehow to Spock and his relationship to Burnham, his foster sister. The episode weaves the personal arc of its lead into the season-long narrative that Discovery will follow to form a cohesive whole.
What may be even more exciting is the shape that the narrative arc is set to take. Last season felt unfamiliar to many fans because it was about the Federation at wartime. Most of Star Trek has been about exploration and adventure, and that’s what Discovery’s Season Two mystery offers. It’s the opportunity to take a classic Star Trek setup, give it 15 episodes to unfold, and the production value of a movie.
That idea should excite any Star Trek fan, and if “Brother” is any sign, we are in for quite a ride.
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