‘Star Trek: Discovery’ is Teaching Us to Hope Again

In its second season, 'Star Trek: Discovery' has a new lease on life.
Star Trek Discovery Screenshot

With news of new Star Trek projects coming from every direction these days, it’d be easy to forget the one that launched this Trek renaissance, Star Trek: Discovery. The show has gone through some rough patches, both in front of and behind the camera, but the currently airing second season is giving us reason to hope again. And whether you drifted from the show during its first run, or are still yet to dive in, there couldn’t be a better time to beam aboard.

In the early days, Discovery could hardly catch a break, with fans swearing off it for all manner of reasons. Some understandable, such as the show airing on CBS’ own streaming platform, and others less so, like Discovery looking considerably more polished than a show made in the ’60s (if you’re wondering why this is even a complaint, well, that’s fandom for you). And that was all before the first episode had even aired.

By the time we actually got to see the show, it felt as though every argument, every scorching hot take, had been exhausted, and many fans seemed to have dropped off mid-season. But how was it? Well, like almost every Trek first season, it was something of a mixed bag. In many ways, Discovery felt like a fresh, modern take on the Star Trek universe, from the first-rate visuals to the nicely diverse cast. On the other hand, the storytelling was a little all over the place, while the pacing often felt clunky. And no matter how many times the characters stated how important the Klingon War was, the conflict was too far off in the background to really get invested in. The Dominion War, this was not.

But I’m here to tell you that things have changed, and the currently airing second season is a breath of fresh air. With a simplified, more accessible story and a greater focus on exploration and moral dilemmas, Discovery is beginning to resemble the Star Trek of old. A feeling of hope and optimism that many felt was missing in season one is returning, albeit without sacrificing what set the new show apart in the first place.

This starts with the introduction of Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) in the first episode, “Brothers.” I was admittedly concerned about the introduction of recast Original Series characters, but the moment Pike sets foot on Discovery, all that goes out the window. Mount is effortlessly charming in the role, full of warmth and charisma, allowing Pike’s efforts in bringing the crew together to put them, and us, at ease. He has a kind of Cool Stepdad Energy™, letting everyone know that he’s one of the good ones and defusing any awkward situation with a lighthearted remark. When Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) voices a grievance over the handling of a mission, Pike sits with her and listens. He’s curious, eager to hear her point of view and even sees his mind changed on the issue at hand.

In fact, his first act as Captain of the Discovery is to go around the bridge crew, getting them to state their names one-by-one. A move that not only tells us he’s a more personable leader than Captain Lorca, but also cheekily introduces the crew to those of us who spent season one wondering who all these background players were. Time will tell whether the show makes good on its promise to boost these characters, but this certainly is an inspiring start. As is Joann Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo), a character whose prior function was receiving commands, joining the away team in “New Eden.”

In addition to the newfound sense of comradery on the ship, we also have a newly streamlined story. The setup is simple enough: a series of red bursts have begun appearing across the galaxy and it’s up to the Discovery to investigate. These anomalies are linked to an angel whom Burnham saw a vision of, and to Spock, who’s currently off the grid. Thus far, this has resulted in a more episodic structure than we saw in season one, with each of the new episodes being standalone entries connecting to a larger whole. And from this, we’ve had a fun action romp, a rescue operation involving the great Tig Notaro, and even a classic away mission.

Now, it may be easy to dismiss all this as a fan-servicing course correction, as some have, but Discovery has such newfound energy that these attempts to draw from the past seem less like a tired show enticing old fans, and more like one with a new lease on life. More confident in itself and its place in this long-running franchise. Granted, the introduction of Spock does bring with it the potential for missteps. After all, the character (and the actor who portrayed him) is such a beloved part of the franchise that to attempt to recapture the magic is to play a dangerous game. We all remember what happened when the Kelvin universe movies leaned too hard on the past, and the last thing we need is for Trek to collapse in on itself again.

But for now, everything is looking good. The cast seems more comfortable in their roles this time out, the lack of a war storyline means Starfleet shedding its militaristic outlook, and there’s enough of a balance to satisfy fans both new and old. Plus, who doesn’t love a good Jonathan Frakes-directed episode? It’s easy to imagine some folks taking issue with this new approach, but from where I’m standing we’re headed in the right direction at maximum warp.

So if you did happen to fall off in season one, you might just be pleasantly surprised by Discovery‘s new look. The new season is offering a future worth fighting for, both for this and all the other shows currently in development, so what are you waiting for?

Hayden Cornmell: Sometimes knows what he's talking about.