Review: Star Trek: Discovery — S02E01: Brother [2019]; I Was Expecting a Red Thing

Aʟʟ ᴏᴜʀ Pᴀsᴛ Rᴇᴠɪᴇᴡs —

a review by the Crow.

Captain‘s log, Stardate 96649.63: At long last, Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery has premiered, and we have quite a few things to discuss. But before I proceed, there are a few things that I must cover:

  • The Azure-Winged Magpie remains in sickbay, with no progress on her condition. From what I’ve been told, her condition is much more severe than it was first thought to be. I might take a break from posting in the coming days in case things worsen; but for the moment, our schedule is still on course.
  • Owing to how rough the past 48 hours have been, this post might be a little lacklustre. My apologies, but I don’t particularly feel “it” right now.

That said, let’s power up the warp core and jump straight into: 

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Brother

SPOILER LEVELS at MODERATE

Brother begins with a “Space, the final frontier” speech by Specialist Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) that segues into a story about the /Xam Abathwa tribe’s myth regarding the origin of the Milky Way galaxy. I had no reference to point to the accuracy of this story, until a quick read of this scholarly source bore me out.

It’s quite a nice lesson in just under a minute of starting the show.

Following this, we’re introduced to a much longer sequence, in which a younger version of Burnham (played by Arista Arhin) is brought to the home shared by Sarek (James Frain) and Amanda (Mia Kirshner), and introduced to an equally-young Spock (Liam Hughes). And immediately following that, we’re thrust into what happens in the moments following last season’s final seconds. And so, we arrive at the first of our “moments” from the trailers preceding Season 2: in which Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) boards the USS Discovery and takes command.

The episode concerns itself with the mysterious appearance of the seven red lights we’ve been hearing about since the first promotional materials for the Season were released. Pike, along with his two aides — Nhan (Rachael Ancheril) and Connolly (Sean Connolly Affleck) — board the ship; and Pike assumes command under “all of” the three contingencies Acting-Captain Saru (Doug Jones) lists out, although given what happens in the episode, I think only one qualifies (and that too: loosely). We’re told that the “colourful” uniforms are the newer ones, setting the tone for The Original Series. Pike spouts a line similar to one I myself used just last night about “expectations” and “disappointment” — a sentiment which I greatly admire. And within these first fifteen minutes, Season 2 of Discovery already feels quite a different creature to it’s predecessor. There’s a much lighter tone, here, as well as a kind of ’embrace’ that toes the line between the visuals of the J.J. Abrams-led “nu-Trek” series of movies and the often cramped, looking-down-the-corridor feel of the 90s Trek series’.

The episode slows down considerably following the high tension of the first moments, and starts exploring the interplay between Burnham and Spock (one possibility the episode hints at is one I really wish Discovery does not explore, although Sarek seems cooler to the idea). We are given a “roll call” of the bridge crew — one not unlike the one we had to cobble together in one of our earlier reviews — and it’s a welcome moment. It has been a long time waiting for the characters to ‘formally introduce’ themselves as far as the audience is concerned (keep in mind Harry Mudd’s jibe that one time).

There’s a scene that’s highly reminiscent of one from J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek “reboot” from ten years ago, which leads to a sequence reminiscent of both it, and it’s successor Into Darkness (which I have selected for a very personal mauling nearing the end of our current “Star Trek ‘Month’“) — only with the inclusion of space-pods. But, I believe, that this is where the episode’s most important question is raised:

I was expecting a red thing. Where’s my damn red thing?

— Captain Christopher Pike; Current assignment: USS Discovery

And this is where the episode (which has been enjoyable thus far), begins to fall apart a little bit. The almost beat-for-beat recreation of the events of the 2009 and 2013 nu-Trek movies is a little disappointing to see. This is distinctly going where Star Trek has gone before, with a little more debris and Formula 1 noises thrown in.

There’s a slightly forced rivalry between Connolly and Burnham, which is extinguished (or more correctly: the opposite) soon enough. I’m not sure if I should say Connolly had it coming, but whatever the case, given Pike and Nhan’s reactions following the fact, I suppose he was just that kind of guy.

Thereafter, we meet Jett Reno (Tig Notaro), the sole member of the Hiawatha — a medical transport which disappeared months ago, during the war — who has survived and is still awake. Now, here’s something I must take exception to:

I’m myself an engineer, and I count a number of engineers and surgeons amongst my associates (and two of these surgeons are related in the exact field we find Reno working in as she is first shown on screen). And let me tell you: while I expect a Starfleet member to be nothing short of excellent-above-excellent, if I had my hands working on someone’s brain, it’d be nothing but bad news for everyone involved, especially if all I had to go on was books, over a short period of time.

However, even though this issue annoys me to no end, I quite liked the way Notaro plays her relatively short role. She does seem like someone who “fits” Star Trek as it is, these days. It’s very much a callback to the first appearance of Simon Pegg in the 2009 movie, but I don’t mind this moment as much as I do the earlier example. Hopefully, we see more of her. It’d be nice to have a new character to hold on to.

Some handwavium magic happens, and we reach a dead end as far as the great red lamp in the sky is concerned for the moment.

The rest of the episode is a rush to evacuate the remaining crew of the Hiawatha while the asteroid its become perched on rushes straight into disaster. I’m a little disappointed, I suppose, that the pulsar isn’t shown off in all its glory to drive home the sense of impending doom, but it’s a nice sequence nonetheless.

And just as it seems that Burnham might have to magic her way out of an exceptionally dire situation… there’s the red thing! There’s our damn red thing!

But we aren’t done, yet. There’s a sequence concerning the capturing of an asteroid, which sets up an angle for future episodes. This sequence contains a number of scenes that is played mostly for visual effect, and they’re quite nice, bar one.

The ideas that the characters are speaking of when it comes to matter (not dark) and energy are ideas I and one of those associates I mentioned earlier worked somewhat closely with a few years ago (as did the Azure-Winged Magpie), so I — for one — am highly interested to see what they do with these ideas.

However, while the sequence looks nice (bar that one scene), I’d have liked to see a little of the planning involved. The “power of math[s]” Tilly (Mary Wiseman) talks about relates to maths we have. A simple two-sentence exchange would have worked to make this scene a whole lot better, I’d argue.

All-in-all, Brother is an episode I’m quite divided on.

On the one hand, I quite like how it flows. The pacing is fine for the most part, and it certainly looks good. The constant reminders of Pike’s eventual fate are a little heavy-handed, but welcome. And I quite like the “over the shoulder” one-liners that are thrown around. And I like how the episode serves more as set up without explaining anything about the major plot-points for the season. This is usually a choice that results in disaster, but here, it works rather well. I do also quite like almost everyone’s performance, here.

But now, the negatives: The constant callbacks to the first two nu-Trek movies leave me quite disappointed. And I am somewhat disappointed that the situation concerning the red lamps in the sky was considered defused so quickly following the evacuation of the Hiawatha; although it very well might have been assumed that the Enterprise would be ready to return to action, so it’s not so much of a problem I have with the story rather than the writing, considering how the angle seemed to be relegated to the sidelines for a good portion of time. I’m also not sure how I feel about Burnham waltzing freely into Spock’s abode at the end without Pike mentioning even a word about making an exception, even though the opportunity was very much there.

And just to point one thing out before I finish up: Pike’s early (and relatively minor) outburst is something that put me in two minds. He is at once a swashbuckler like Kirk (William Shatner) was, and yet someone who calms down to authority quite quickly. I’m not sure if this moment of instability is telling, but it’s not a quality expected in a Captain (especially the Captain of the Enterprise). Only time will tell if this was a one-time incident, or whether Pike has deep-rooted issues (since this episode takes place after the events of The Cage) that will become important later down the line.

It’s still a very enjoyable watch, however, and in light of that, I’ll hand Brother a high recommendation. It might sound like I have more issues than things I liked in regards to the episode, but those of you who know me will know that I have a penchant for focussing on problems wherever I see them.

— Crow out. 


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Final Ratings

THE CROW: 5.5/10
THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: 7/10


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