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Discovery Season 2 Is Better Because It's Properly Star Trek Now

Michael Burnham and Captain Pike in Star Trek Discovery Season 2

 

Star Trek: Discovery has begun to find its voice in season 2 by embracing some of the core tenets of the Star Trek franchise it ignored in season 1. As the first Star Trek TV series since Star Trek: Enterprise was canceled in 2005, Star Trek: Discovery was always going to have a lot to live up to.

From a business standpoint, the show was an instant success, making the nascent CBS All Access streaming service viable overnight and serving as the springboard for an abundance of future Star Trek projects, including the upcoming animated comedy Lower Decks and the much anticipated return of Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard, who will appear once again on TV in late 2019.

Related: Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 New Cast & Character Guide

Yet Star Trek: Discovery season 1 was divisive among viewers, reigniting decades old arguments about what is and isn't Star Trek. To understand how far the show has evolved in season 2, it's important to understand what it got fundamentally wrong in season 1, and where there were glimmers of promise that the show has managed to exploit.

What Star Trek: Discovery Season 1 Got Wrong

Star Trek: Discovery was behind the eight ball before it ever began filming. Co-creator Bryan Fuller left the production in acrimonious fashion after he and CBS couldn't agree on a vision for the series, leaving his former Pushing Daisies lieutenants, Aaron Harberts and Gretchen J. Berg, to helm Discovery. The behind the scenes upheaval was easy to see onscreen - Star Trek: Discovery season 1 was thematically scatterbrained, never quite sure how deeply it wanted to examine humanity's desperation in its war with the Klingons. The Klingons themselves were redesigned as hairless monsters, resembling Orcs more than Worf. Perhaps most egregiously, Discovery season 1 leaned into the darker, more nihilistic tendencies of modern prestige TV that are averse to the basic tenets of Star Trek. The show lingered on personal despair, graphic violence, and shock deaths - perhaps an attempt at copying some of Game of Thrones' darkest tricks.

Star Trek: Discovery's greatest innovation - centering the story on a character who's not a starship captain - ended up as something of a double-edged sword. Sonequa Martin-Green's performance as disgraced Starfleet officer Micheal Burnham was compelling, but the character was bogged down in so much prequel debris that her very existence garnered an eye roll from certain viewers. Making Burnham the never spoken of foster sister to Spock made her seem more like a canonical cookie being thrown to satisfy potential viewers uneasy about a version of the franchise with no direct ties to The Original Series.

Related: Star Trek: Discovery Crippled The Enterprise To Explain A Plot Hole

But Star Trek: Discovery did manage to get some things right in that debut effort. It's a gorgeously produced series, easily playing on the same visual level as powerhouse HBO shows like Westworld. And even if the series was too focused on Burnham, the supporting cast blossomed around her. Ensign Tilly evolved from her initial "awkward girl" stereotype into an integral part of the crew and something of a surrogate little sister to Burnham. Commander Stamets is the sort of cantankerous super scientist the franchise practically screams for, an explorer deeply uncomfortable with life as a soldier. And Commander Saru is believed to be Star Trek's best alien since Spock. When Star Trek: Discovery pulled away from the heavily serialized war arc, like in the fantastic timey-wimey episode, "Magic To Make The Sanest Man Go Mad", the show's potential felt undeniable.

How Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 Is Righting The Ship

Star Trek: Discovery made the decision to abruptly end the war with the Klingons at the end of season 1 and recalibrate the show's objectives in season 2. It also introduced a new captain; with the villainous Mirror Universe Gabriel Lorca dispatched, Captain Christopher Pike took command of the Discovery while his own USS Enterprise underwent repairs. Pike's earnest do-good personality is a complete 180 degrees from Star Trek: Discovery's morally hazy worldview in season 1, and it's been a breath of fresh air. Pike's presence has also made the rest of the cast stronger, making the crew feel more like a true ensemble than the bit players to Burnham's arc they were in season 1. The show has also, bewilderingly, located a solid sense of humor.

But Star Trek: Discovery's biggest improvement has been its move away from wartime despair to telling stories about exploration. Season 2 is still connected to an all encompassing mystery, but along the way, we're seeing new spins on classic Star Trek ideas. Star Trek: Discovery season 2 episode "New Eden" - directed by Commander William Riker himself, Jonathan Frakes - saw Pike and Burnham struggling with the realities of the Prime Directive when they find a displaced human settlement on the far edge of the galaxy, while at the same time Saru and the Discovery must save the planet from destruction. It manages to effortlessly weave the moral aspect of Star Trek with its action/adventure beats. Similarly, "An Obol for Charon" takes one of the most well known Star Trek tropes - the ship encounters a massive, amorphous alien with unclear motives - and turns it into something both exciting and emotional through the lens of a seemingly dying Saru. These are not only episodes that honor the spirit and intelligence of Star Trek, they're also just great hours of television.

Related: Discovery Confirms Why Star Trek's Klingons Were Originally Bald

Star Trek: Discovery still has some problems, of course; the Klingons are still something of a mess, and it's unclear if the show knows what it's doing with pseudo-Klingon Ash Tyler and Mirror Universe Georgiou, but the signs of improvement are impossible to ignore.

Page 2 of 2: Star Trek: Discovery's Biggest Problem Is Still Burnham

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