Star Trek Discovery (DIS) Season 2

Brother

 

Brother

Synopsis

Captain Pike beams over from the Enterprise with two of his officers, to take command of the Discovery on Starfleet's orders. The Enterprise has been investigating seven red bursts that have appeared across 30,000 light-years, and of which all but one are gone. The ship's systems were somehow damaged by the incoming signals. Pike orders the Discovery to proceed to the location of the last signal. It turns out to be on an asteroid that is surrounded by a debris field and heavy gravitational distortions that don't allow to beam down. There is no sign of the red signal any more. The interaction of the ship with the asteroid causes its course to change, and a collision with a pulsar is imminent. However, there is a crashed Starfleet ship on the surface whose crew may be alive. Pike asks his bridge officers for options, and Burnham comes up with the plan to use landing pods to navigate through the debris. Lt. Connolly, the science officer of the Enterprise, dies when a rock collides with his pod. When Pike has to eject and his thruster pack fails, Burnham saves him by grabbing him and using her thrusters to land safely on the asteroid. On the crashed ship, the USS Hiawatha, they find Denise Reno, an engineer who has managed to keep some heavily injured crew members alive by means of engineering. The landing party sets up transport enhancers to beam the survivors to the Discovery. Burnham doesn't make it in time. She is about to become unconscious when she sees a winged figure. But Pike has returned to rescue her. On the Discovery, Stamets and Saru arrange for a rock from the mysterious debris field to be captured and confined in the shuttlebay. Pike's mission is over, but the Enterprise needs more extensive repairs, so he stays aboard the Discovery. He tells Burnham that her foster brother Spock has taken leave. In Spock's quarters on the Enterprise, she discovers that Spock's sudden disappearance is related to the strange red lights.

Commentary

Although he would never openly admit that anything was wrong with it, we could notice in Alex Kurtzman's various announcements for season 2 that it is his intention to fix at least some of the issues of Star Trek Discovery, to make it feel more like the Star Trek we used to know. One aspect in this regard is the transformation of the crew to one that is characterized by trust and cooperation and not by intrigues and animosities any longer. The determined yet thoughtful and open-minded Captain Pike (Anson Mount) is the key character to reunite the remaining crew and also to reconcile the fans with the show. When he comes aboard, it is almost like the makers of the series speak through the fourth wall, telling us that everything will be all right again.

I like Anson Mount's Pike very much. He gives the crew more encouragement in the course of "Brother" than Lorca did in nine episodes of season 1 combined. And we can notice how grateful everyone among the bridge crew is that their service is appreciated, that the captain cares for them and not only for the mission. He explicitly refers to Lorca's misdoings to that end, which seems somewhat superfluous though, and is another instance where he breaks the fourth wall. The first ten minutes are heavy on exposition anyway, most of which is not particularly skillful but comes across as contrived. We have got remarks about the colorful new uniforms, on Pike's career and on the splendidness of the Enterprise, that the ship is a "beauty", one of the "most prominent ships" and that "only something catastrophic could knock her out". Overall, some less boasting about Pike and the Enterprise would have been desirable.

It is perhaps more interesting what is totally missing from the exposition. The episode begins with Burnham's flashback about her first encounter with her foster brother. Young Spock rejects her. He creates some sort of dragon hologram to scare her (or because he himself is scared?) and then closes the door right in front of her. It is very clear at this point that the two still or again have some unfinished business. When Pike beams over from the Enterprise with two officers, Spock is not among them, but some other guy in blue, Connolly, is the ship's science officer. We can see Burnham's disappointment. Now would be a good time to ask Pike about Spock, but she doesn't. She later talks with Sarek, but the two neither address what drove the family apart nor Spock's current whereabouts. At the end of the episode, Burnham finally asks Pike, only to learn that Spock is on leave. And yet again, Burnham only insinuates that the two have some sort of problem. I don't like the continued secretiveness about Spock, the mystery that is built around him just because no one bothers to ask or to answer obvious questions. In an episode with otherwise so much exposition it's just not a good balance.

Speaking of not talking with each other, it is surprising that Saru and Burnham don't know about the respective other person's siblings, although they have served together aboard the Shenzhou and the Discovery for quite some time. This is symptomatic of the state of Discovery (the ship and the series). It's nothing like the family feel we know from previous Star Trek crews. But as already mentioned, with Pike's arrival this is subject to change. It changes quite suddenly in the case of the so far mostly silent bridge officers. If I'm not mistaken, Detmer has more lines in this one episode than in the complete first season combined. This bodes well for possible further adventures of the crew.

Stamets remains the same weird person he was for most of the first season, and there is a first foreshadowing of Culber, who will somehow return from the dead. He will be a welcome addition. I am only curious how the series will accomplish this feat. Tilly, on the other hand, is a major nuisance in this episode. It seems she leaves out no opportunity to make a fool of herself. Every single scene with her is rife with silliness, although we have to admit that it is only realistic that a rarely performed procedure like a command transfer is awkward. Yet, she appeared much more serious towards the end of season 1 and in her Short Treks episode, so this is a real setback. I like how Mary Wiseman portrays the character, but with the lines written for Tilly she should rather do stand-up comedy. Speaking of stand-up comedy, Tig Notaro as Reno is a pleasant surprise. She shows, rather paradoxically, how a character can be comic relief without the semblance of a comedian. Reno's sarcasm and her engineer's attitude to things at hand resonates with me. Her Frankenstein lab is quite eccentric. Although her role isn't and probably won't become big, my impression is that she will stick around.

Some things don't change in season 2, however. Burnham is still a know-it-all. Well, it is laudable that she notifies Pike of his mistake when, for a moment, he doesn't heed his own principle to listen to his crew. But her immediate disdain of Connolly, just because he replaces Spock, is unwarranted. As some sort of retroactive justification for her negative opinion, Connolly is consistently shown as a jerk. When the four officers climb into the landing pods, it is clear that he would be the one who doesn't make it. Burnham, the prodigy, on the other hand, does not only steer the pod through the asteroid field all manually, she also predicts that a boulder would hit Connolly. I like how Burnham cares for Pike's life when his thruster pack fails, upon which Pike returns the favor when she has to stay behind on the Hiawatha. But I doubt she would have done the same for Connolly.

I don't like the pod ride anyway, although I must admit it was a highlight of the episode and not in any way less exciting than the spacedives in the first two Abramsverse movies and especially in "Into Darkness". But that is just the problem. In "The Vulcan Hello", Burnham's excursion to open space still had a human dimension, we could notice that she was in a hostile environment and in an unpleasant situation. All this realism is gone in "Brother" where she mutates to a superhero like Kirk and Khan before. It is no surprise that "Brother" feels like a movie, considering that Alex Kurtzman directed it and probably had more influence on this episode than in the first season (although it was purportedly still written and produced by the meanwhile fired Aaron Harberts and Gretchen Berg). This includes the stupid movie screen format that wastes precious screen time for no benefit except for giving Kurtzman the semblance of working on a movie.

On the bright side, the visual effects of this episode are definitely the best of the whole series so far, at least in a technical and artistic sense. I hope that the silly neon-colored space is gone for good. I don't like many of the visualizations of the Discovery interior though. Especially the turbolift ride through huge open spaces and the rollercoaster-like pod launch are totally unrealistic and were included just for some unnecessary extra thrill. The voice-activated helmet and the quick-unfolding gravity simulator too are implausible. These technologies definitely don't exist in the 23rd century we used to know, not even in the 24th century. If Kurtzman is so into visualizing ultracool technologies, he should save them for the Picard series. The way it happens now, there will be hardly anything even more advanced left to show.

As exciting as everything pertaining to the asteroid is, it is one of the most contrived amassments of strange phenomena in the history of Star Trek that appear one by one in rapid succession. We have got a debris field that surrounds an interstellar asteroid, which surprisingly has an atmosphere. Then the Discovery somehow interacts with a field around the big rock and is pushed away. The asteroid is now on a collision course with a previously unmentioned pulsar. Then a strange chasm and a Starfleet vessel are discovered on the surface. Also, dark matter is involved in some fashion. At least, it was mentioned at a point I couldn't really follow any longer. It is to the story's benefit that it tries to refer to real scientific principles, rather than to particles that don't exist (although the frequent statements that a phenomenon is "strange" or "never encountered before" mean pretty much the same). But it is simply too much at once. And even the good intent to use actual science is annihilated by linking all this to the spores and suggesting that the rocks could be a "100% efficient power source".

In what seems to be a hallucination, Burnham sees the figure we already know as the "Red Angel". Normally we wouldn't give this little experience much weight. It is a bit unfortunate that the trailers already anticipated the kind of threat the Discovery would face in season 2. I think it would work a bit better if the nature of the story remained more of a mystery. The teaser with the Cassini mission footage (in black & white, with an ancient NASA logo!?) and the mention of the African creation myth too complies with previous observations in the trailers, that someone or something influenced mankind in its history. This part of the mystery is much like in 2001: A Space Odyssey, especially since in Arthur C. Clarke's book, unlike in the film, the destination planet of the mission is Saturn. My apprehension is that the writers are fond of building this big puzzle, but may not be able or willing to solve it sufficiently, and to keep it in line with canon.

Overall, "Brother" is a promising start for the second season. I like that some of the Starfleet spirit is back. I look forward to further adventures with Anson Mount as Captain Pike. While Alex Kurtzman's directing could have been more light-handed, especially at the beginning, I have praise for the visual effects sequences. Rather than the silly ultrawide screen ratio, the visualization of the space action makes this episode feel very exciting, like a blockbuster movie. Not everything in this regard resonates with me, however. For instance, I dislike that Kurtzman more or less repeats the superhuman spacedive scene from "Star Trek Into Darkness". Also, the scientific ramifications are too complicated and most likely still won't make sense when the crew eventually solves the mystery about how dark matter, mushroom spores and the "Red Angel" are related to each other. Last but not least, Spock appears as unnecessarily mysterious. The unasked question of what happened to him distracts from other topics.

Annotations

Rating: 6

 


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