The Very “Human” Second Season of Star Trek: Discovery

***SPOILER ALERT: This text comprises references to explicit episodes and the general arc of Star Trek: Discovery’s second season however needs to be spoiler-free referring to main twists and developments.***

In 2017, CBS used the launch of Star Trek: Discovery to realize subscribers to its fledgling streaming service CBS All Entry. As a result of Discovery was the primary sequence in over a decade to happen within the “Prime” Star Trek universe (not the Kelvin timeline of the latest movies), many followers agreed to suck it up and pay for the subscription, a subscription that can quickly embrace a 3rd season of Star Trek: Discovery and a the much-touted Star Trek: Picard, with quite a few different such tasks slated to come back in subsequent years.

Crucial and fan response to Discovery’s first season was combined, if usually optimistic. There was reward for its cinematic high quality of particular results, its numerous and intriguing forged of characters, and its potent motion. Some, nonetheless, had been involved that it was too darkish and too reliant on the inventive “freedom” of its streaming dwelling to be a gritty TV-MA present. Many followers discovered its darkish overtones inconsistent with the tone of optimistic humanism advocated by Star Trek’s creator, the late Gene Roddenberry; whereas, on a much less philosophical word, some hardcore Trekkies believed that the plots violated continuity with the “canonical” Trek universe.

Whether or not the topic was genetic manipulation or cybernetic alterations, the Trek world has all the time stood by an understanding that know-how was a set of instruments to help humankind’s pursuits that ought to by no means be used to change the human particular person.

A longtime fan myself, I’ve already gone on the file with the opinion that Discovery isn’t intrinsically too darkish, that, certainly, Star Trek in all probability isn’t actually darkish sufficient. Nonetheless, I used to be hardly upset to study that showrunners had promised a considerably lighter and extra optimistic second season, particularly when it was introduced that Anson Mount would seem in an everyday position as Christopher Pike, an early captain of the USS Enterprise and a personality each beloved and uncared for in Trek lore.

The second season of Star Trek: Discovery proved certainly to be a change of tempo from its inaugural season. Its writers intentionally took steps to shut up most of the ostensible plot and continuity holes from its early episodes, which, coupled with the general arc of the sophomore season, do anchor the present on a humanistic floor extra in line with Roddenberry’s formative imaginative and prescient. Which means within the 2019 episodes of Star Trek: Discovery, each the virtues and the issues of basic Trek’s philosophy are completely and starkly on show.

Season two of Star Trek: Discovery begins shortly after the primary season left off, with a now-captainless Discovery making a rendezvous with pre-Captain-Kirk Enterprise. Captain Pike has been given authority to take command of Discovery briefly, utilizing the ship to find and analyze a sequence of mysterious vitality impulses cropping up round identified house. These bursts bear some connection to a mysterious entity the crew discuss with because the Crimson Angel. Furthermore, each the vitality bursts and the Angel are linked to Spock (Ethan Peck), Pike’s science officer and the adoptive brother of Discovery’s Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Inexperienced). Presumably pushed mad by this connection, Spock is now a fugitive from Starfleet, particularly its nefarious cloak-and-dagger wing Part 31. The arc of season two traces Discovery’s makes an attempt observe Spock and uncover the natures of the Crimson Angel and the vitality bursts.

Following some fairly notorious stories suggesting that spiritual references of any sort had been off limits throughout the first season, showrunners had been fast to insist that Star Trek: Discovery could be extra forthcoming in addressing religion questions this time round. Certainly, the second episode, “New Eden,” seemingly did so head-on, when Discovery’s crew encountered a largely low-tech human colony populated by individuals of religion. However the present’s exploration of the subject throughout the season was all the time inextricably tied to the thriller of the Crimson Angel: Is it pure, supernatural, or technological?  Good or evil?  Savior or devil?

The Star Trek universe has all the time been conflicted when addressing spiritual questions. Gene Roddenberry had a generic respect for Christianity and will make favorable references to the Bible and even Jesus. But he held little fealty to any doctrinal spiritual place and appeared dismissive of any divine presence in any respect, not to mention a private Trinitarian God. Within the first two Star Trek sequence—those he created instantly—godlike figures are all the time aliens, and they’re often both vaguely beneficent (ready for people to evolve) or downright petty and puerile. Solely Star Trek: Deep House 9 ever actually took critically questions of religion as seen by way of the eyes of a real believer, Main Kira, and her conflicted however deeply spiritual individuals, the Bajorans.

With out revealing an excessive amount of, I believe I can safely say that Discovery season two finally lands within the Roddenberry camp as soon as all its twists have lastly handed. That needs to be encouraging for the Star Trek purist skeptical of the sequence’s dedication to the unique present’s imaginative and prescient, although it can not assist however be a bit of disappointing to 1 like me who hoped for a extra sturdy and evenhanded therapy of faith. As a result of in the long run, Roddenberry’s tackle humanity’s evolutionary apotheosis should seem facile within the gentle of a very Christian anthropology.

But there have been additionally some points of humanity that Roddenberry acquired proper, and fortuitously Discovery will get these points proper too. Since its inception, the style of science fiction has all the time had an inclination to lean towards a sort of technological transhumanism—what science fiction author Vernor Vinge calls the singularity—by which human and machine turn into so completely intertwined that our identities essentially change. And to his credit score, Gene Roddenberry in Star Trek pushed again towards this model of transcendence. However the odd outlier (e.g. Star Trek: The Movement Image) each present within the Star Trek universe all the time fought towards the notion that know-how might enhance or hasten the evolution of the human spirit. Whether or not the topic was genetic manipulation or cybernetic alterations, the Trek world has all the time stood by an understanding that know-how was a set of instruments to help humankind’s pursuits that ought to by no means be used to change the human particular person.

And in any variety of pleasant methods, Star Trek: Discovery season two manifests this method. One instance happens in a easy scene that each reinforces the thematic content material of the season and helps retcon a longstanding canon drawback. Since its premiere episode, Discovery had allowed its ships to speak by way of holographic know-how, even if even sequence set a century later had been counting on viewscreens. Within the season’s fourth episode, a dialog between Captain Pike and his first officer, Quantity One (Rebecca Romijn) reveals that these holographic programs have unintentionally crashed the Enterprise’s pc programs. Pike orders a restoration of “good old-fashioned viewscreens,” and he “never liked the holograms…looked too much like ghosts.”

The human physique could parallel a machine in some methods however that we’re greater than units or uncooked materials.

That scene happens in “An Obol for Charon,” an episode that helps set the tempo for the pushback on facile reliance on know-how, my favourite of the season (and maybe the sequence). Quickly after Pike’s dialog, an encounter with an alien object scrambles Discovery’s common translator, inflicting a babel of confusion on the bridge, which they’re solely in a position to escape as a result of Lieutenant Saru (Doug Jones) has truly taken the time to study a number of languages. The hazard of the episode additionally traps Discovery’s engineer Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) with rival engineer Jet Reno (Tig Notaro). Stamets sings the praises of Discovery’s high-tech spore propulsion drive, whereas the Reno the “grease monkey” dismisses his optimism, choosing duct tape and asserting that “antimatter and dilithium might be old-school, but they don’t let you down.”

Even the central MacGuffin of the episode, an enormous alien sphere that connects to Discovery in stunning methods, teases out the second-season emphasis on approaching tech with a grain of salt. Enjoying a task properly past “An Obol for Charon,” the long-term consequence of the sphere’s interplay with Discovery, whereas not as outright hostile because it initially appears, does exhibit that even benevolently-intentioned know-how can have dangerous results. That very same thought is much more intimately developed within the second-season arc of Lieutenant Commander Airiam (Hannah Cheesman), who owes her life to technological enhancements, but (in “Project Daedalus” particularly) should face a reckoning for these enhancements.

This is the humanism of Star Trek that Christians can know and love, an assertion that the core parts of our nature are advanced, organic but additionally extra, that the human physique could parallel a machine in some methods however that we’re greater than units or uncooked materials. These are the threats C. S. Lewis famous about our tradition again when he warned in The Abolition of Man that Nature would have the final snort if people tried to beat it.  Star Trek rejected such notions of conquest in forbidding genetic engineering.  And as I’ve noticed elsewhere, it warned of these risks much more frighteningly in its presentation of the Borg (who could or is probably not alluded to in Discovery season two).

So, as we’d properly anticipate, Star Trek: Discovery is, philosophically talking, a combined bag in its second season. Insofar because it suggests a godlike future self-salvation for humanity, it’s falling again on the drained progressive tropes of its universe’s bloodlines. And there’s in all probability a restrict to what any Christian viewer can hope for from what’s going to finally stay an agnostic present at greatest. However by rejecting applied sciences that essentially alter humanity’s being, by acknowledging that there are limits to the means by which we should pursue that progress, Discovery falls within the greatest Trek custom. The season finale cliffhanger leaves the door broad open for any variety of attainable future developments—however, no less than on some ranges, evidently the present’s producers have heeded Gene Roddenberry’s greatest instincts.