If the writers and producers of Star Trek: Discovery had wanted to really shock the audience, they would have kept Captain Pike out of all the trailers. Because if you’ve seen any of the preview clips for the new season — which started circulating as far back as San Diego Comic-Con in 2018 — then you already know that Discovery has a new main character: Anson Mount as Christopher Pike from the USS Enterprise. And as Captain Pike beams aboard the USS Discovery, the moodiest Trek series since DS9 is loosening up. Is it a good thing? Yes! Is this now a fundamentally different show than it was in season 1? You betcha.
Note: The following is a NON-SPOILER REVIEW of the first episode of Star Trek: Discovery Season 2, “Brother.” The reviewer has seen the episode, but will not reveal any spoilers in the following essay.
Again, if you’ve seen even a smidgen of the trailers, then you already know Captain Pike assumes command of the USS Discovery in this season. Weirdly, there’s not really a precedent for this in a Star Trek series, and the closest examples come from Deep Space Nine. In season 3, DS9 introduced the USS Defiant so they could do some more star trek-ing. In season 4, they brought on an Enterprise crewmember, Mr. Worf. Discovery bringing on Pike is like both things at once: he’s a character from a more recognizable type of Star Trek and he’s kind of like the Defiant too because he’s here to kick ass and give the Discovery a new mission. It isn’t too hard for the crew to like Captain Pike. They’ve heard of him, he’s nice, funny, wears a bright yellow shirt and you know, isn’t secretly from the Mirror Universe. Wait, did Pike know Lorca was from the Mirror Universe? Didn’t that shit get classified? Shhhh. Don’t ask questions! The adventure is happening!
In numerous interviews, showrunner/producer Alex Kurtzman has said season 2 is when Discovery will “sync up with canon,” which, is true enough superficially. Shout-outs to Pike’s five-year-mission aboard the Enterprise happen, the different uniforms are (kind of) addressed, and there are even a few cryptic references made to “The Cage,” here and there. But the tonal feeling of this episode is where Kurtzman’s comments seem to really hit home. For those who felt that the darker themes of the first season of Discovery weren’t quite right for Star Trek, this season opener feels like a course correction. Perhaps even an over-correction. The script is also all over the place, starting and stopping, flashbacking, flashing forward, and teasing at greater things to come. It’s also no spoiler to say that Spock is in this season of Discovery, but unlike Captain Pike, it seems Discovery is going to keep some of the Spock stuff mysterious for a little longer. Like so many big-SF franchises, part of the ongoing mystery of the new season of Discovery won’t just be what happens next but also unraveling the threads about what has come before.
The storyline of this first episode is hardly fluid. Yes, the feeling is more upbeat and adventure-driven (a certain scene will definitely remind viewers of the 2009 Star Trek film, co-written by Kurtzman); one certainly gets the feeling that multiple creative visions are overlapping here, creating a bit of a mixed bag. Ironically, this feeling is the one way the season 2 premiere is exactly like the season 1 premiere. Back then, Discovery showrunner and creator Bryan Fuller had stepped down due creative conflicts with CBS and his commitment to American Gods. This meant that then-new showrunners Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts crafted a different direction for the show, something that feels a little patchwork in the first season of Discovery. Indeed, Berg and Harberts noted back in 2018 that Fuller had initially wanted Discovery to go to the Mirror Universe in like the fourth episode, which they changed.
Now, with season 2, recent history is repeating itself. After some behind-the-scenes controversy, Berg and Harberts are no longer the showrunners of Discovery, and Alex Kurtzman and Heather Kadin are in charge. In fairness, Kurtzman has been involved for since 2017, but the chimera of whatever Berg and Harberts had initially planned in this season premiere seems mashed-up with a newer, simpler direction. The writing credit of this episode is shared between Berg, Harberts, and Discovery staff writer Ted Sullivan. Will we ever know who contributed what? Probably not. Conventional wisdom would suggest that Berg and Harberts’ ousting is probably for the best; rumors suggest they clashed with the staff, and on more than one occasion, the pair publicly admitted that they didn’t really know much about Star Trek history or lore. On screen, the Discovery characters were fighting with each other all the time in the early episodes on season 1, which seemed to be a mirror of what was (possibly) happening behind the scenes.
With season 2, Discovery seems like a happy family, both onscreen and off. Bringing on Captain Pike is literally uniting the crew, which does give the show a more cohesive feeling than last season. The flipside of this is that the show also seems a little less morally complex. Anson Mount is the fourth actor to play Captain Pike (Jeffrey Hunter, Sean Kenny, and Bruce Greenwood proceed him) and in this first episode, he’s weirdly the most happy-go-lucky version of the character, ever. Unlike Captain Lorca, Pike is an open book. Which, just might be the biggest con Discovery is pulling on us in Season 2. Yes, stuff with Spock is really interesting (saying ANYTHING more about Spock would be a spoiler) but the idea that this Pike is the same guy who just dealt with the whole Talos IV thing a year prior seems to lurk in the background. In one moment, Pike’s history in “The Cage” is subtly referenced. It might not mean anything, but then again, it might.
In some ways, bringing Pike on feels like the Discovery version of what the Harry Potter books did with the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher every year at Hogwarts; new year, new Captain. Will Pike make it out of this season? I have no idea, but I do know that if you haven’t seen a single episode of Discovery, you’ll have no problem watching this episode and understanding what’s going on. Hell, even if you’ve never seen the “The Cage” or “The Menagerie” from the original series, you’d be fine, too. For now, Discovery has a new mission, and part of the excitement of season 2 will be watching how it all unfolds, connects to old canon, and boldly goes in directions Trek has never gone before.
Editor’s note: Keith R.A. DeCandido’s regular full-spoiler recaps of Star Trek: Discovery will continue after the season 2 premiere on January 17th.
Ryan Britt is a longtime contributor to Tor.com. He is the author of Luke Skywalker Can’t Read (Penguin Random House 2015) and an editor at Fatherly.