This is my guide to Star Trek Discovery episode: New Eden, spoilers ahoy so turn back now if you haven’t seen episode 2 of Star Trek Discovery’s second season.
The Search for Spock Continues...
Pike and Burnham have a tête-à-tête in his very homely ready room as Burnham reveals what she found in Spock’s quarters. Pike surprisingly reveals that he knows where Spock is. Spock has willingly committed himself to a psychiatric unit on Starbase Five. Burnham wants to know why his family weren’t informed, as per protocol, but Pike says that can be waived if the patient insists on privacy. Pike has withheld this information from Burnham, so it did make me question how much he knows or what he may be hiding. Burnham withholds her own information, declining at this stage to reveal to Pike that she saw an angel, a decision she later corrects. Pike suggests that Spock may be open to a visit if Burnham reaches out to him, offering an olive branch. Burnham is adamant that Spock would not accept this from her. Pike and the Discovery pick up a distress signal located on a planet near the latest red burst. However, the planet is over 150 years travel away so they dust off the spore drive and strap poor old Stamets into the chamber once again.
My one minor grumble in this episode is the ethics of letting Stamets go back into the spore drive again, the concerns around the violations of the laws around genetic engineering are glibly waved away a little too quickly for my comfort. Clearly this is having a devastating affect on Stamets’ psyche, without even factoring into account the whole seeing his dead husband in the mycelial network thing. To some extent the concerns around his well-being are addressed via Tilly. Stamets confides in her that he has not seen Hugh in the mycelial network as an extension of his consciousness but as an actual manifestation. He describes how the fungus regenerates everything so that nothing is ever truly gone, but he wants to be on this side of the life cycle and he worries that if he jumps again and sees Hugh, he might never want to leave the network. Tilly sets about trying to find an alternative way of using the spore drive, harnessing the power of the dark matter. This leads to a very nasty accident in the hangar bay where Tilly is fired across the deck after an energy surge from the sample of the dark matter. She then has an encounter with an ex-school friend, in Discovery uniform, who is not all she appears to be. There is a lovely scene where Saru, who may be my favourite character, visits Tilly in sickbay to reprimand her but also tell her how important she is. They jump to the planet that is soon identified as Terralysium, it hosts a pre-warp colony of human descendants, headed by their leader “Mother”, who appear to have survived World War Three by being transported to the other side of the universe, possibly by angels.
This sets up the very exciting prospect of an away mission that includes one of the bridge crew, Lt Joann Owosekun, getting the biggest role any of the secondary characters has played so far. She is great and gets the gig because she grew up in a Luddite Commune, which is a detail I absolutely loved. Pike, Owosekun and Burnham, dressed to fit in with the locals, beam down to the local church. It is filled with symbols from all of Earth’s main faiths, or the main faiths according to the Disco writers, which are Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Shintoism and Wicca. (Interestingly Jedi is not included, what does that tell us Wars fans?). Burnham fairly arrogantly says the settlers have cobbled together a faith from all the faiths from old Earth. Pike raises his unflappable eyebrow to her attitude. He earlier told Burnham that his father studied Comparative Religions so he clearly has an in-depth knowledge, which he later proves when they share fellowship with the colonists. Burnham aggressively tries to dismantle their 200-year belief in angels by shouting words like rational and science at them, Pike just respectively observes and says “peace be with you.” He asks Burnham whether she can really prove that God wasn't involved with the colonist's evacuation from Earth, and challenges her to consider Clarke’s third law (based on the writing of Arthur C Clarke, another brilliant detail), that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Pike suggests she consider his interpretation of that law that any extra- terrestrial power could be indivisible from God.
One of the New Eden refugees, Jacob (a very biblical name), is descended from a long line of scientists that are convinced that there is another explanation to their relocation and he confronts the Disco away team begging them to reveal where they are really from. He then locks them in his basement whilst he takes his evidence to the town's leader. Owosekun helps them escape and Pike accuses Jacob of violating the law of “thou shall not steal”, he is then injured as he jumps on a phaser that is about to overload and injure a child. Anyone familiar with Pike’s fate may find the following scenes poignant as it foreshadows the catastrophic injuries, he will suffer saving his comrades in a few years' time. Burnham and Owosekun take Pike to the church, explaining that they need to pray for salvation as this will maintain their cover, an important part of the mission as they must not violate the prime directive, referred to throughout as general order one, but just as they are beamed up the colonies’ leader and Jacob witness them beam away. Mother attributes this to the angel and Jacob as confirmation of his theory that earth survived and that humankind inhabits space.
Whilst the events on new Eden unfold the remaining crew of the Disco have to use the dark matter to attract the rings surrounding the planets’ atmosphere away from the planet as it threatens to cause a nuclear winter. There is a lot of technobabble here but it is a nice moment for the combined efforts of the bridge crew, with Detmer performing a donut in a star ship. According to the Pocket DISCO novel Desperate Hours, Detmer is from Düsseldorf, Germany and Expanded Universe legend David Mack created the name and some of Detmer’s story as part of writing this novel. I once interviewed David Mack and he really sweats the small stuff, it is a great strength of this show so far that they are using the wealth of experience of the EU writers to shape and add depth to the Discovery universe. This is another strong episode for Tilly who steals almost every scene she appears in. Tilly sees her friend May again on the bridge but when she looks her up on the bridge manifest she is not there and when she looks for confirmation of her existence in the Federation database, she discovers that she is dead. Does Tilly see May because of her head injury or because she is somehow linked to the mycelial network, or is it something to do with the angel sightings?
The episode nicely sets up Burnham’s scientific pragmatism versus Pike’s more spiritual approach, the juxtaposition between the two viewpoints is handled with great aplomb and put this episode as one of my favourite Disco episodes yet as it had the feel of a TOS or TNG classic episode where there are complex philosophical debates being carried out by the protagonists. I really enjoyed the difference between Pike and Burnham and to see the supposed conflict between faith and science being explored. I sought the opinion of someone who is studying applied theology at University as to whether this debate was a little heavy handed and she felt it was nicely done, and she was intrigued by the use of angel symbols. I was however left to ponder whether the show is trying to suggest the tired old adage that religions are the cause of all wars? I would hate some kind of Dawkins inspired agenda, favouring a more inclusivist exploration of spirituality and faith, and I am hopeful we will get that in the form of Pike’s attitude of open mindedness. How does everyone else feel about Disco’s exploring faith and religion in such an overt way? The last time Trek explored God in such an obvious way was Star Trek V. Are we perhaps heading for a Sybock cameo?
There was some great chat in the forum last week around my red matter theory, with the debate split between it not being possible because of the contractual obligations between the film and TV rights and the fact that Kurtzman might have something to prove creatively, wanting to tie in elements of the films he wrote and the TV show he now runs. This week’s wild speculation is whether Spock and Burnham might have been in some kind of romantic relationship, let us not forget that they are not biologically related in anyway, could their estrangement have something to do with Spock’s Pon Far? Did Burnham turn him down and that’s why he is not speaking to her? What would you think about this story line? Are you sickened that I even thought about it? In TOS episode “Amok Time” Spock has to return to Vulcan to mate and save his life. He then experiences it again in Star Trek III and is helped out by Saavik, so I do not raise this possibility as a cheap gag, I think this is a legitimate possibility for a plot thread.
Faith is the big theme of the episode; how do people feel about that? Was it too obvious for you? For me it fell on the right side of what I want Trek to do, set up characters to take opposing views and to an extent challenge me to think.
As World War Three is a prominent feature of the episode I will leave you with a relevant book recommendation. Greg Cox’s trilogy The Eugenics Wars, details the war that was the catalyst for the Third World War, and it is a very fun series, featuring Gary Seven and Khan. I would love to hear your thoughts in the Claytemple Star Trek forum where the search for Spock continues, and be sure to check out Glenn and Valerie’s discussion about the episode down in the Lower Decks.
John is a writer and clinically diagnosed Trekker. You can get the latest news about his published work at his website The World Outside the Window. Live Long and Prosper.