Discovering Trek: Brother

This is my guide to Star Trek Discovery: Season Two. In space nobody can hear you scream but you can tumble about, with barely a scratch, in the cold vacuum of space, wearing just a space suit. Welcome to my recap of episode one “Brother.” This blog contains spoilers so if you haven’t watched “Brother” yet look away now, this is your last chance! Ready, the review is below the picture.

Damn it man! I knew math was important!

Season two is here and I for one am very pleased to be back aboard the U.S.S. Discovery. The first episode of the second season starts with some cool black and white graphics depicting space; it is shown to us via old-fashioned film reel from a NASA programme called Cassini, the first probe to enter the orbit of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. We then get a Burnham voiceover. She intones “Space the final frontier, space is above us and within us.” It is foreboding; it is also thrilling to hear the start of this iconic speech in the voice of Burnham. She then tells us an African Folk tale about the creation of the Milky Way; this may be based on the Khoisan people of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa who said that long ago there were no stars and the night was pitch black. A girl, who was lonely and wanted to visit other people, threw the embers from a fire into the sky and created the Milky Way. Burnham tells us that within the Milky Way there is a hidden message available only to those whose hearts are open enough to receive it.

We are shown a flashback; Burnham coming to the home of Sarek and Amanda for the first time. Amanda is overjoyed to have a human child, Sarek describes it as their responsibility to look after her. She is introduced to Spock as a very young child, Spock is playing with some kind of Vulcan I-pad in his sparsely decorated bedroom, he uses his I-pad to grab handfuls of luminescent energy and chuck it into the air, echoing the girl from the African folk tale, creating an angry looking dragon who roars at little Burnham. Spock then slams the door in Burnham’s face, not the most auspicious start to their relationship. We cut back to the bridge leading off exactly where we left them in season one. On their way back to Vulcan to drop Sarek home they have just received a distress signal from Enterprise. Captain Pike announces that he is beaming over to Discovery bringing with him a science officer and an engineer. I got excited and wondered whether the engineer would be Scotty, I had guessed already that the science officer would not be Spock, but Burnham clearly anticipates being re-united with her brother.

Saru and Burnham head to greet the party from the Enterprise and as they walk down the corridor’s of Discovery, they have a lovely interchange. Saru can smell Burnham’s endorphins, she puts this down to her being mission ready, preparing for the challenge of a distress signal from the fleet’s most significant ship. Saru playfully suggests it is anticipatory because she is excited to see Spock, who Burnham points out, is her Foster Brother. Burnham asks Saru if he has any siblings and he tells her he does and her name is Siranna, a call back to what we now know from Short Treks. It is interesting to see the potential of these short episodes to tie into the main show. I loved that we get several scenes in this episode where the characters walk to a destination and have conversations, there is a sense of freedom in these character driven moments, and something quintessentially Trek about them.

We enter the transporter room and the guy at the controls seems to have borrowed Geordi La Forge’s visor. We meet Pike, not-Spock and not-Scotty. Pike has arrived under the remit of Starfleet regulation 19, section c. Pike’s introduction is exciting, and I liked him straight away. He is portrayed by Anson Mount, who doesn’t do an impression of Jeffrey Hunter but has the mannerisms of a square-jawed hero from a bygone age that evokes Hunter’s performance. Pike is direct, equipped with a cowboy’s taciturn charm and has a decent line in witty one-liners. “Do not covet thy neighbour’s star-ship commander, besides we’ve got the new uniforms.” According to Saru regulation 19 can only be triggered under three contingencies, 1) imminent threat, 2) lives of federation citizens are in danger or 3), no other officers of equal or higher rank are present to mitigate that effect, Saru asks what one Pike is here under and Pike tells him: “All of them.” The Discovery crew have some nervousness about this turn of events considering the track record they have with commanding officers.

Pike appears to be a man of action and he convinces Saru of his legitimacy and Saru cedes temporary command of Discovery to Pike, who then briefs them on the mission. The Enterprise has suffered catastrophic system failure and they are going to have to take Discovery to investigate some strange red flashes of the like they have never encountered before. We get more walking, from the transporter room to the bridge and here we find out that not-Spock is in fact Science Officer Connelly, who we learn very quickly is very sure of himself. We have some strong and funny dialogue here, and it’s one of the real strengths of the whole episode. The humour is also a sign that this is a crew that has bonded and is confident in each other’s company. Burnham says the phenomena is like a compass at the north pole. Pike looks at Connelly and enquires why they didn’t think of that. “Think of all the syllables that gave their lives.” “The metaphor seemed a bit simplistic.” Connelly remarks. “It is actually a simile,” Burnham corrects. Ouch. (Writer’s log, star date 210119 - I think Burnham is wrong here, it isn’t a simile). In the turbo lift Saru speculates that the readings may be a tear in the fabric of space time and we meet Linus who is a Saurian member of the crew, Burnham asks if he is alright as he looks a little under the weather and Connelly ends up with snot over his face. This is a moment of slapstick that didn’t really fit with the overall tone of the episode.

With all the different relationships and pairings we see forming throughout the crew, Burnham and Saru, Tilly and Stamets, we get a clear sense that this is a crew that has fought and survived a war together. We see how much pride and loyalty the bridge crew have in serving Saru, these are brothers and sisters in arms. We get a look in on Tilly and Stamets and discover that Stamets has accepted a teaching post at the Vulcan science academy. This is a great honour for a human as it has been established in other episodes and large parts of the Enterprise series that there is a type of racial superiority that some Vulcans feel over humans, if not an outright xenophobia. Some senior Vulcans look upon Sarek with a certain condescension because of his soft spot for humans. It is a sign of the esteem they must hold Stamet’s intellect that he has been offered such a position. Tilly is sad about this but Stamets explains that reminders of Hugh are everywhere, Tilly in fact interrupts him whilst he is looking at a holographic recording of his deceased husband. I was intrigued and pleased to see Wilson Cruz’s name appear in the opening credits, and I am wondering whether we will see more of his Dr.Culber this season, my hope is that it will be more than just flashbacks or holographic form but something to do with the mycelial network. There is some poignant dialogue here reflecting Stamets desire to move on both literally and in terms of his grief and the sadness that Tilly feels at losing a friend. The spark is strong between the two as they share a love of a scientific puzzle. Tilly remains as funny as ever, at one point bursting onto the bridge shouting over the cacophony of bridge alarms and alerts only for the noise to be silenced by Saru, leaving Tilly shouting her suggestion to a silent bridge. It is a moment of great comic timing. But whilst she may appear clumsy or socially awkward, she is never far away from a moment of crucial insight, suggesting that they attempt to communicate with Enterprise via Morse code, a reminder of her brilliance.

Sarek and Burnham talk in her quarters, Burnham is reading Alice in Wonderland, a recurring motif, and they talk about Spock, it is years since either of them has spoken to him. I pointed out in my last Short Trek’s recap that TOS episode “Journey to Babel” puts Sarek’s estrangement with Spock at 18 years. Burnham reveals to Sarek that for a time Spock did accept her and she is in no doubt that Spock is able to feel empathy, she refuses to elaborate but Sarek says he will avail himself to Burnham should she ever want to talk to him about it. Discovery return Sarek to Vulcan and we cut to the bridge where Pike has settled into the command chair.

Pike charts a course to the signal, and he asks the bridge crew to drop rank, he just wants to know their names, it is a nice indication of the sort of leader he is, and he already feels more straightforward than Lorca. When they arrive, they discover debris, wreckage of a ship and a sort of asteroid field, the ship wreckage has come from a crashed federation ship. Adding to the themes of mythology the stranded ship is named the U.S.S. Hiawatha, after a Native American leader. In one of the number of quiet moments that populate this episode we learn that Pike and the Enterprise were so far out into the outer reaches of the galaxy, embarked on their five year mission that they were told to sit out the war with the Klingons, a source of great frustration for Pike and he is now wanting to make up for lost time and get involved in the thick of the action. Showrunner Alex Kurtzman has hinted that the events of “The Cage,” will be featured in Season Two and that we will be visiting the planet Talos IV, the planet that features in “The Cage” and “The Menagerie” and it will be fascinating to see how this plays out, and how this adds to Pike’s back story.

The Discovery scans for survivors on board the U.S.S. Hiawatha, but they cannot beam down or take a shuttle craft. Luckily Discovery is kitted out with advanced technology for every eventuality and Burnham explains that they can use some form of space-pod to navigate the difficult terrain and reach the remains of the crashed ship, which is stranded on a giant asteroid. Pike, Connelly, Burnham and the red-shirted engineer from Enterprise, Commander Nhan, (who sports some interesting cybernetic enhancements, another theme of Discovery, are we going to get the Borg at some point I wonder?) form an away team and they pilot the pods to the crash site. The red-shirt of Nhan is a cute misdirect as it is not Nhan’s time on Discovery that is going to be short-lived. The following scenes are great action set pieces and fairly tense, but they represented my one minor grumble about the episode, it felt a little too reminiscent of Trek, JJ Abrams style, it was very loud and there was lots of running and shouting. During these moments I kept saying to myself, as long as they don’t end up flying through space at high speeds in just their space suits, and lo and behold they did. I think the scene ended before things got too silly, but enough already with the hurtling through space unaided by any ship. But before we get Burnham and Pike’s twirling space dive, we have the not very sad demise of Science Officer Connelly. Never has an officer in Starfleet history been so unlikable in so short a space of time, RIP Science Officer Connelly, that asteroid really had your name on it. His is a cautionary tale to anyone who is contemplating monologuing when they really should be concentrating on avoiding giant hunks of space rocks.

They find the survivors of the Hiawatha and engineer Jett Reno, a tough-talking, war-weary engineer, who elected to stay behind and look after the crew members that were too injured to travel. She has used her engineering skills to keep them alive, my favourite moment of this scene showing that Reno has rigged up a crew-mate's heart on the outside of his body in a tube, kept pumping by her invention, whilst he awaits a transplant. They transport the survivors back to Discovery, which has taken its own damage, but Burnham gets left behind and is knocked out by an explosion. She comes to and sees a red angel/alien/demon coming towards her, this vision is cut short by Pike appearing out of a transporter beam to rescue her. Before she transports back to Discovery, she tries to take a rock with her. This rock turns out to be some form of dark matter and Tilly and Stamets try to work out a way to transport some of it onto the ship. According to Tilly the readings from these rocks have sent their supply of spores crazy, they are reacting to it for some reason, and this material could hold the key to a form of unlimited energy. It is always a pleasure to see Stamets and Tilly working together, with Stamets tempted back into work with the promise of solving a puzzle. This leads to the best line of the episode, with Tilly shouting “that’s the power of math people,” and celebrating with Stamets with a high five.

With the rescue mission over Pike is in a Discovery uniform in his ready room, he is reading one of Lorca’s fortune cookies. He doesn’t like the room, remarking “where the hell do people sit.” Burnham reflects that Lorca wasn’t someone who encouraged discourse. Pike on the other hand likes his officers to feel they can pull up a chair and talk to him, another stark difference between his leadership style and what has gone before. Before they leave the ready room the camera zooms in to the message inside the fortune cookie. “Not every cage is a prison nor every loss eternal.” This seemed to me a clear hint towards “The Cage.” Pike is staying as interim Captain for a little longer as the Enterprise requires more time to repair than was first thought. Discovery will continue to look into the strange red signals. Burnham would like to visit Spock and it turns out that Starfleet officers accrue annual leave (I wonder what the pension scheme is like?), and he had months of leave due and this was granted to him by Pike. Burnham would still like to visit the Enterprise and check out her adopted Brother’s quarters. Pike grants her permission to do so. We see Burnham explore his quarters, we see his three-dimensional chess set and Burnham discovers a pad similar to the one baby Spock used at the beginning of the episode. She accesses his personal log and we hear Spock’s voice, we learn that as a child he had nightmares and his Mum taught him to draw as a way to help with the fear, he says the nightmares have returned but now he knows the meaning of them. In a scene that mirrors the opening one, we see Burnham fling stars into the air creating a map charting the red anomalies and we learn that Spock has gone off in search of them. Ethan Peck’s Spock voice sounds unerringly like Leonard Nimoy and I am looking forward to seeing his first onscreen appearance in a future episode.

Overall this episode felt confident and it was a very strong start. The dialogue was punchy, the mysteries mysterious and I was reminded what a beautiful looking show Discovery is. The show has a big budget and they are making every penny count, rendering each episode with such an appealing colour palette but also giving every frame a cinematic feel. The other element that really stood out in this first episode of the second season is the interactions and increased screen time of the secondary characters along with some quieter moments. These character driven moments were the only major thing missing from season one, and the sense of a real crew that we could get to know and love. I ho