Friday, 18 January 2019

Brother: Discovery is Back; S2 E01

Picking up right at the second that season one ended, the Discovery is face on with the USS Enterprise.

But that's not the only big canon-linking event going on here because we've also treated to the first meeting between Michael and Spock at the Sarek/Amanda family home on Vulcan.

It's not the most loving or accepting of relationships as has been hinted at before but even that first meeting created an atmosphere you could cut with a knife. 

This hour long-intro to season two is all about introductions with the arrival of Anson Mount's Captain Pike accompanied by a science officer (not Spock) and an engineer with a mission to investigate one of seven red bursts that have appeared in the galaxy. Enterprise has been incapacitated and Discovery is to take on the mission.

Pike is a complete change to the universe-jumping Lorca of season one, he remembers the crew's names after just one flash through of his bridge team (nice reminder to viewers there) but is haunted by the fact that Starfleet kept his ship out on its five year mission while the Klingon War raged on. He's a lot more softly spoken than I expected, thoughtful and considerate, even comparing himself directly to his predecessor as he settles in. Honestly, I think Mount nails the part from the first line as he steps off the transporter pad and I instantly "got" this guy. He's right for the ship and right for the show.

The mission seems simple enough however arriving in the middle of an asteroid field, it appears that the red burst has vanished but there is a crashed Starfleet vessel, the USS Hiawatha, reported lost ten months previous during the Klingon War.

Pike and Burnham execute a rescue mission for the injured crew which introduces us to the Chief Engineer of the crashed frigate and something appears to Burnham before she can leave the ship. What it is we don't know but you can be assured it's connected to the seven red bursts. Again with Tig Notaro's appearance there's still a nuance of humour even though the situation isn't exactly at its rosiest and that's not something we'd have seen even attempted in season one which now, even an hour into year two, looks like it was way over the top serious for its own good.

Brother really does delve back into the character of Burnham with both her and Sarek reflecting on their disjointed relationship with the their foster brother/son. Thing is that by the very fact of his absence, "older" Spock overwhelms the episode in virtually every scene because he's out there somewhere. Not on the Enterprise (which is in for repairs for the foreseeable) but in the great beyond looking for answers. We know he will turn up and that clock has only just started ticking. The ending certainly clarifies this not only with a visit to his quarters on the Enterprise but also through the Ethan Peck-voiced personal log which reveals that he is definitely linked in to the events Pike was sent to investigate.

The tone of the episode is much lighter than we ever saw in season one. Everyone is much more at ease and relaxed with each other and there's the odd touch of humour to humanise the series after the brutality of the war.

Stamets and Tilly are also back with the former about to depart the Discovery for pastures new and the latter still talking way more than she needs to but perhaps being the character that many of us can associate with the most. 

The break in the season has worked well for Discovery with its longest episode to date, a makeover for the ship on the standing sets and as a series, there's a lot of money being pumped in here as can be seen from the sequence in which Burnham attempts to escape from the crumbling wreck of the Hiawatha. You can understand exactly the accusation leveled at Gretchen J Berg and Aaron Harberts for their overspend early in the season which was one of the reasons for their untimely departure. Check out the corridor sequence with the crew looking up into the shuttlebays, the passage of the turbolift and a whole host more.

As for their script and the unusual choice of Alex Kurtzman as episode director, everything is very competently done. There's a lot of bounce to any scene with Tilly in it and you can feel that she's definitely one that the writers love to provide words for. There are a couple of very "un-Gene" swear words in there but those two parts combined make Star Trek much more approachable and not quite so far up its own rectum as has occurred on a couple of occasions. Brother is extremely accessible for new starters offering a very useful recap as well as an overview of the ship and hints of what has happened in more detail. 

As a season opener this has everything. There's a good character-based story wrapped around Burnham, some genuinely exciting action sequences including an impressive landing pod journey that would give the space flight part of Into Darkness a run for its money on visual quality and suspense and enough questions to keep us tied in for the next 12 weeks. The darker tone of the first season and the impact Lorca had are alluded to on a few occasions with the remains of one of his fortune cookies even making an uncomfortable appearance once Pike is placed in more permanent command of the ship while his is getting repaired.

Few cool things to watch out for as well in this one - the 3D chess set for one as well as some of the Vulcan accoutrements adorning Spock's quarters, the appearance of a Saurian (maybe?) with Linus plus a rather nice nod to canon with the crew complement of the Enterprise noted at 203 - half of what it would be by the time that Kirk would be in command. Well referenced there show writers, well referenced. 

Looking back to other second season openers - Amok Time, The Child, Homecoming, The 37's, Shockwave Part II, this is a damn strong episode that offers so much up and with that lighter, more inclusive tone, shows that Discovery has learnt from the missteps of its first season and hopefully shows that season two could be the strongest and most consistent sophomore of any Star Trek since The Original Series. As starts go, this is a solid warp eight so, to quote Pike, Hit It!

What are your hopes for season two? What was your rating for Brother?

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