Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery has so far seen something of a rebalancing or a reset, stripping away a lot of the story we saw in the show’s premiere outing – the Klingon war and the Mirror Universe are elements which have been pushed aside, and the overall darker, more cynical tone removed as Discovery has aligned itself more closely with the established Trek pantheon and legacy, having brought in the USS Enterprise, Captain Christopher Pike, and – although not properly seen as yet – Mr Spock.
The first season had at its very heart and core a sense of duality – the first time we had really even seen the Federation on a proper war footing, with the crew of the USS Discovery trying to reconcile having signed up to be scientists and explorers, with suddenly having to think and act as warriors, no matter how unwillingly. The latest run has seen a more traditional and lighter Trek so far, and the last episode – ‘New Eden’ – being a very archetypal tale, with a distant Earth colony, and the Prime Directive coming into play. It looked like a new approach had been taken, drawing us away from the events of last year’s run, while still doing serialised storytelling.
As we’ve arrived at the third episode of the new season, however, Discovery is starting to more fully embrace its duality, as threads from Season 1 have suddenly reemerged without any forewarning – the Klingons, as led by Chancellor L’Rell and her torchbearer Ash Tyler/Voq; and the Mirror Universe, in the form of Philippa Georgiou, former Emperor of the Terran Empire, plus an unexpected manifestation which is plaguing Ensign Tilly. It really is an interesting development, as the series has to try and work at integrating pieces of its recent past with its present, and in the process creating a fascinating hybrid of the two different and contesting styles. So far, it appears to be doing it very well.
In fact, the very centre of ‘Point Of Light’ is duality on many different levels. At the very start of the episode, a Vulcan shuttle approaches the Discovery, and requests permission for a passenger to beam over – fully expecting it to be her adoptive father Sarek, Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) finds out that it’s actually Amanda (Mia Kirshner), Sarek’s wife, and the woman who raised her as her own daughter. Amanda has brought troubling news of Spock, who committed himself to a Starfleet psychiatric ward – she’s been unable to get any update about his condition, and resorted to stealing his encrypted medical records, for which she Burnham’s help to access.
In the process, there’s a lot of bearing of souls taking place, as Amanda admits to her mistake in not trying to show love and affection towards Spock as a child, failing to cater to his human half, and instead showering it all on Burnham. It’s clear that Amanda felt conflicted about being human on an alien world, and having to go against her instincts in order to try and blend into the culture, leading her now to worry she may have contributed towards Spock’s current condition in some way.
However, Burnham has also felt torn, as a human child on Vulcan, and confesses to Amanda that she had intentionally hurt Spock when they were younger, in order to try and protect him from Vulcan’s Logic Extremists, but in the process driving a wedge between them, and potentially having irreparably damaged him in the process. This is a shocking development for Amanda, particularly as they’ve just found out Spock has absconded and is on the run, having supposedly killed three of the medical staff at the psychiatric unit, and had up to this point blamed herself for Spock’s apparent breakdown.
Another example of duality comes in the shape of L’Rell (Mary Chieffo) and Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif). Tyler was a Klingon called Voq, who was surgically altered to look human and given a new personality on top of his original one, to infliltrate Starfleet. Despite trying to reassimilate back into life amongst the Klingons, Tyler has found it difficult to reconcile his two sides, and his human personality is taking the lead, to the point that he actually feels awkward being intimate with L’Rell, who is his lover. He finds himself drawn back to ex-lover Burnham, who he calls up on the pretext of getting her to warn the Federation about a risk to the peace with a plot to try and overthrow L’Rell. Latif does a creditable job of managing to show how torn between two worlds Tyler feels, and how he doesn’t fit easily into either.
L’Rell is also finding it hard to be the first Chancellor of a newly united Klingon Empire – having managed to unite all 24 of the Houses – as well as acknowledging that she is a mother; it turns out that she and Voq had a child together, which she has kept hidden from everyone, seeing it as being a vulnerability to be exploited by others. Despite being buried under layers of heavy prosthetics, Chieffo manages to put in a strong and worthy performance as the uncertain ruler of a fledgling yet still internally conflicted Empire, facing plots and machinations all around her. She also brings out L’Rell’s softer side, as she comes to finally accept actually being a mother, then having to face a terrible, heartbreaking choice in order to preserve the fragile alliance of disparate Klingon Houses. It’s all so wonderfully Game Of Thrones, and Klingon politics has seldom been so enthralling.
A key player in events here turns out to be Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), who’s come to the Klingon homeworld, hidden under a holographic disguise, in order to protect L’Rell and the future of the peace between the Klingons and the Federation at all costs. She engineers the sacrifice that L’Rell must make, and it ends up empowering L’Rell and consolidating her position at the head of the new Empire. No longer simply Chancellor, she tells the Klingon council that she is to be known by a name signifying even greater strength – ‘Mother’. You can see that Georgiou feels it a struggle at times to play by Starfleet’s rules, and fighting against her instincts of what she would have done when she was Emperor back in the Mirror Universe. Yet another case of a character’s dichotomy.
Meanwhile, back on the Discovery, Ensign Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman) is finding herself struggling to cope with her own form of duplexity, as she finds herself being haunted by visions of a dead former schoolmate, which ends up causing her to freak out in the middle of an exercise taking place as part of the Command Training Programme. After confiding in Burnham, they team up with ship’s Chief of Engineering, Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp), who finds Tilly’s been infected by a fungal parasite which came from a spore which infected her when they were in the Mirror Universe.
Wiseman is one of the show’s MVPs, and has done an great job in managing to make Tilly a more rounded character; already immensely likeable, Wiseman has really managed to convey Tilly’s anxiety at revealing her situation for fear of what will happen, but also the torment it’s causing her by keeping it to herself, as the visions get stronger and harder to ignore. Her bond with both Burnham and Stamets is also hugely endearing, and adds a lot of warmth to the show.
Hanging over proceedings is the spectre of Spock – not yet playing a visible role, yet always ever present. The best known example of a polarised Trek character, having always found his human side at odds with his Vulcan half. His recent visions of the ‘Red Angel’ – which first came to him in childhood – are the main narrative thrust this season, and it lays out a compelling mystery to be solved, with very little in the way of clues or hints given so far. Spock is also one of the main examples of the glorious continuity porn which is going on this year, and within ‘Point Of Light’ in particular.
For starters, we get to see the design of the Klingon D7 Battle Cruiser, which ends up being the mainstay of the fleet in the original Star Trek. The ‘Black Ops’ arm of Starfleet, Section 31 (as seen in both Deep Space Nine and Enterprise), also turns up, and it would appear to be the basis of the mooted Georgiou spinoff series currently being planned. In addition, we end up getting a credible reason why Spock has never talked about having an adoptive sister, which helps plug a massive – and glaring – gap in continuity.
Besides duality, Point Of Light’ shows us the consequences that come home to roost after making bad decisions in the past; some of these end up having a potentially catastrophic impact upon the present, in the case of Amanda and – in particular – Burnham. By making the characters flawed in various ways, it not only sets them apart from the exemplars and role models we’ve come to expect from Star Trek, but also makes them all the more relatable and engaging.
Given what we’ve seen so far, Discovery stands head and shoulders above not only other shows in the franchise, but also much of the genre television that’s currently out there. It certainly bodes well for the rest of the season, and is to be hoped they can maintain a consistently high standard.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 airs every Friday on Netflix.