The latest episode of Star Trek: Discovery has corrected season 1's greatest mistake. Going from strength to strength, the first season of Star Trek: Discovery was a success for CBS, driving record numbers of subscribers to their CBS All-Access streaming service. But season 2 is far stronger, in large part because it's embraced the exploratory ethos that has always been at the heart of the Star Trek series.
The first season made a lot of mistakes. Its "shades-of-gray" morality was arguably unsuited to the Star Trek franchise, and the focus on war and combat sat uncomfortably with the ethos of the Federation. The show struggled to find and maintain a sense of identity, in large part because of behind-the-scenes drama; Bryan Fuller left under a cloud, replaced by Aaron Harberts and Gretchen J. Berg. They attempted to create a Star Trek series that leaned into the darker, more nihilistic tendencies of modern prestige TV, with graphic violence and shock deaths, and admitted they were influenced by the likes of Game of Thrones. Now Alex Kurtzman has taken over, and he's attempting to fix some of the previous season's mistakes.
The death of Dr. Hugh Culber, played by William Cruz, was one major shock death in season 1 - but season 2, episode 5, "Saints of Imperfection," has just redeemed it. The episode saw Burnham, Tilly, and Paul Stamets investigate the mycelial network, attempting to deal with a "monster" that was destroying it. To their shock, they learned that the monster was actually Hugh Culber. Stamets had been under the influence of the mycelial network when he cradled his dying lover's body in his arms; as a result, he unwittingly transferred the energy of Culber's soul into the network. Culber's attempts to survive in the network were inadvertently causing damage to it; by the end of the episode, though, the crew had worked out a way to transfer him back into the real world. The had essentially been used to raise the dead, an amusing twist in a season that's loosely driven by the quest for a Red Angel.
The death of Hugh Culber was one of the most controversial twists in Star Trek: Discovery season 1. He and Paul Stamets are the franchise's first ever gay couple; on the face of it, Hugh's death was nothing more than the tired old "bury your gays" trope. The cast and crew went to great lengths to insist that wasn't the case, with Cruz himself claiming that his character would somehow return. GLAAD even issued a public statement, in which they expressed sorrow at the plot twist but suggested there was still reason to hope. "GLAAD is mourning the death of a beloved groundbreaking character," spokesperson Nick Adams noted in a public statement. "But death is not always final in the Star Trek universe, and we know the producers plan to continue exploring and telling Stamets and Culber’s epic love story."
Their faith has been rewarded in "Saints of Imperfection," with Hugh resurrected in a pretty spectacular fashion. What's more, it's clear this is viewed as one of the major plots of Star Trek: Discovery season 2, given the amount of time the series has spent building up to it. The relationship between Hugh Culber and Paul Stamets is sure to be at the absolute center of the series going forward.
Star Trek: Discovery streams Thursdays at 8:30pm on CBS All-Access and the next day internationally on Netflix.