“Star Trek: Discovery” returned on CBS All-Access Thursday night with an episode more reminiscent of one of the action-packed recent films such as “Star Trek: Beyond,” as opposed to the cerebral nature that was the dominant aspect of the first season of this series.
That’s not necessarily a detriment. In fact, for what “Discovery” is doing this season, it works quite well. With the introduction of some characters new to this series, but whose names fans know from other incarnations of “Trek,” it serves as a nice entrée into the second season.
Chief among them: Christopher Pike, the original captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise in the very first series, before convoluted circumstances (network muckety-mucks) brought James T. Kirk aboard. Veteran actor Anson Mount assumes the duties of a character that’s always held allure for fans of the show, even though he only appeared in the original pilot — portrayed by Jeffrey Hunter — and a two-part episode cobbled together from that pilot, where he was played by Sean Kenney. In the rebooted film series, Bruce Greenwood brought serious respect and gravitas to the part of Kirk’s mentor, essentially making the role his own.
Mount achieves the same, although distinct differences permeate his portrayal — the primary one being making the stern Pike a bit looser.
Pike arrives to assume command of the U.S.S. Discovery for a mission that may or may not have repercussions down the line. Yeah, we’ll see.
For die-hard fans, the excitement in the run-up to “Discovery” this season has been the addition of Mr. Spock, portrayed this time around by Ethan Peck, grandson of legendary actor Gregory Peck. This opens up a whole slew of possibilities with respect to storylines.
What We Know, What We Learn: Call this episode “Star Trek: The Ghost of Spock” because while it focuses on an unexpected rescue mission, the ultimate Vulcan’s presence — though not physical in this episode — looms larger than ever in the “Trek” mythos.
A big complaint regarding the lead character in “Discovery,” Cmdr. Michael Burnham, has been the fact that she’s the surrogate sister of Spock who’s never, ever been mentioned before. “Discovery’s” creators promised the show’s canon would be reconciled with this season’s look into Burnham and Spock’s relationship which, based on this episode, promises to be fascinating.
Spock’s parents, Amanda and Sarek (James Frain), adopted Burnham so Spock could learn empathy from humans. It seems the biracial human-Vulcan learned enmity instead. He and his sister don’t have a relationship, she confesses in the series premiere, setting up what could be a battle of wills or a tale of reconciliation and understanding.
Observations: Here’s the concern after looking at this episode: Is “Discovery” in danger of repeating the franchise? Burnham seeks to reconnect, but her brother is unavailable because he's “seeking the answer to a question,” Pike said.
From this corner that sounds a lot like Spock’s state of mind in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” the first film in the series that eventually rebooted the franchise for another generation. Spock was pondering something bigger than the universe itself in that film, so this feels a bit too familiar on that level.
A look back: The quote: “Not every cage is a prison, not every loss eternal,” pops up in one scene, a reference to that original series pilot. It offers a nice touch for fans in an episode that represents a solid start to a season that hopefully offers something to blunt the winter blahs.