Since the debut of Star Trek: Discovery in the fall of 2017, it’s become clear that Gene Roddenberry’s universe hasn’t been this alive since the ‘90s.
On screen and behind the scenes, there has been no shortage of updates regarding the franchise’s ever-expanding presence on CBS All Access. Patrick Stewart will return as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, a role that launched a thousand memes. An animated comedy is coming, which will examine the Lower Decks of Starfleet ships. Four Short Treks were released. A possible Discovery spin-off toplined by Michelle Yeoh is on the horizon. And those are just the projects that have been officially announced.
The catalyst for our Trek renaissance is now looking into the past for its second season with Michael Burnam and company facing an unknown threat with some very familiar faces. Star Trek has a long history of merging storylines between the past and present TV shows. Engineer Scotty ended up on The Next Generation. The crew of Deep Space Nine ventured back in time to the “Trouble with Tribbles” episode from the original series. Star Trek: Enterprise featured the grandfather of Data’s creator. On Discovery, we’ll soon be seeing a brand new approach to this tradition, where we meet characters who, despite their previously brief screen time, have maintained a high standing in Trek lore.
Before the new season debuts on Thursday, take a look at ET’s companion guide to the upcoming adventures of the USS Discovery.
Where Did We Leave Off?
After dealing with the fallout from the Battle of the Binary Stars last season, Burnham shed the “traitor” label and received a full pardon by the Federation. By the time NCC-1701 was revealed, the Klingon War had ended and Burnham was able to prevent mass genocide of the Klingon people, which Philippa Georgiou (Yeoh) from the mirror universe was more than ready to do. The former emperor is now an agent for Sector 31, a clandestine department of Starfleet that focuses on covert ops and threat assessment, which sounds right up her alley.
Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) lost the love of his life, Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) -- but perhaps not for long. Cruz confirmed at Comic-Con that he does appear in season two. There’s no telling if this is merely through flashbacks, dream sequences, a Monkey’s Paw situation or perhaps a Terran version of Culber. With the spore drive having been put out of commission by Starfleet, who knows where Stamets’ next science experiment might lead him.
And now that she’s been accepted into the Starfleet Command Training Program, Tilly (Mary Wiseman) is one step closer toward becoming a captain one day -- and catching up to the career of her mirror counterpart.
Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) learned that he’s literally half the man he once was, with his DNA and memories having been fused with Voq in the Klingon’s attempt to become a double agent in Starfleet. Cruelly, this also resulted in him murdering Culber. His decision to leave with L’Rell (Mary Chieffo) as she became head of the Klingon High Council seemed to be the only solution to Ash’s existential dilemma. Not feeling at home anymore in Starfleet, he chose to accompany his former captor, so as to help maintain their new peacetime with the Federation.
What Is Season 2 About?
“Mr. Tyler, we are always in a fight for the future.” This statement from the season two trailer might be cliché, but Captain Christopher Pike’s assessment of working in Starfleet is 100 percent spot-on.
The official synopsis about Discovery’s sophomore season from CBS All Access reads: “After answering a distress signal from the U.S.S. Enterprise, season two of Star Trek: Discovery finds the crew of the U.S.S. Discovery joining forces with Captain Christopher Pike on a new mission to investigate seven mysterious red signals and the appearance of an unknown being called the Red Angel. While the crew must work together to unravel their meaning and origin, Michael Burnham is forced to face her past with the return of her estranged brother, Spock.”
The trailers and promos have also provided glimpses of deadly asteroid collisions, Klingon combat, freefalls through space, outrunning collapsing walls that happen to be on fire, and yes, more Vulcan nerve pinches. In between Spock having visions of the Red Angel and its threat to “end all sentient life” in the universe, he will also be dealing with family drama in the form of Burnham. The revelation of their sibling status had longtime fans scratching their heads.
While speaking to Varietyat CES last week, executive producer Alex Kurtzman said, “We set up a mystery in season one. How come Spock -- one of the most beloved characters in all of Star Trek history, let alone the world and the universe -- has never mentioned his sister Michael Burnham. It was a big mystery. And I think I knew inherently that the answer to that wasn’t going to be one or two episodes. It was going to be a full season and you were really going to have to dive deep into that story and into that relationship and what happened between them. There is a lot of friction between them.”
The cast and producers also appeared at Comic-Con, where Kurtzman said that “family” will be the main theme of Discovery’s sophomore season. “Now, they really are a family and so much of what will happen over the course of season two is going to test them as a family -- constantly. And they may even have to make choices between their real family and their starship family.”
The New Season 2 Characters
Anson Mount (Hell on Wheels) will portray Captain Christopher Pike of the USS Enterprise. With a by-the-book attitude, Pike will probably end up resembling Picard more than Captain James T. Kirk, his future replacement.
Number One is played by Rebecca Romijn, who recently talked to ET about becoming the Enterprise’s second-in-command and the show’s ‘60s-style influence. Tig Notaro (One Mississippi) plays a new character named Jet Reno. During an appearance on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, Notaro revealed she'd been enjoying Trek’s signature technobabble.
And while he’s one of the franchise’s most iconic characters, Spock’s appearance this season comes with the least amount of information leading up to the season debut. Played by Ethan Peck, grandson of Gregory Peck, all we know is that the Spock we know might not resemble the same Vulcan we see on Discovery. (Plus, he’s rocking an amazing beard!)
The origin of Pike and Number One is well-known to most Trek fans. Before their first canonical appearance in the first season of the original series, the characters were featured in Roddenberry’s original -- and rejected -- pilot episode for Star Trek.
“It was turned down by NBC on the basis of being too intellectual. Too cerebral,” Roddenberry told ET in 1983. “But they liked it well enough to order a second pilot.” According to Roddenberry, an NBC executive told him it was the first time they had felt like TV had captured the feeling of being in a spaceship. Titled “The Cage,” the pilot chronicled the Enterprise and Captain Pike (played by Jeffrey Hunter) encountering a race of beings whose powers of illusion are so strong, they can make people believe they’re seeing anything they want them to.
“When Gene first started Star Trek, he knew the characters that he wanted,” Majel Barrett-Roddenberry told ET in 1986, who portrayed Number One in the first pilot. Barrett and Roddenberry were married soon after the series premiered and remained together until his death in 1991. “He wanted a woman to be second-in-command, because he just figured it was about time to do this.” Ultimately, Spock would replace Barrett’s Number One on the Enterprise bridge in the second pilot. Barrett would go on to appear as Nurse Chapel in the original series and years later as Deanna Troi’s mother on The Next Generation.
So if the original pilot was scrapped, how do we know of Pike and Number One? And why is their story an official part of the Trek canon? In the first season, Roddenberry wrote “The Menagerie,” which integrated footage taken from the original pilot.
“‘Menagerie’ was a two-parter in which I wrote a story around that old pilot, so I could make it a two-hour show and make use of the fact that we had already spent so much money on that hour of film,” said Roddenberry. “And we did it by telling this story that happened a long, long time ago and doing it with flashbacks on a screen.” Using clips from “The Cage,” he forged a new story arc to incorporate Spock’s previous tenure on the Enterprise under the command of Captain Pike and Number One, as well as their encounter with powerful beings on the planet Talos IV. Note: In the Star Trek timeline, the flashback events in “The Menagerie” with Pike and Number One take place a couple years before the events of Discovery’s first season.
Warning: The next paragraph contains spoilers for certain details about Pike’s future that you may or may not want to be aware of going into Discovery season two…
In “The Menagerie,” it’s revealed that Captain Pike will eventually suffer injuries from an accident that leave him mutilated and unable to speak or move (Sean Kenney, not Hunter, played the disfigured Pike). Roddenberry did provide the captain with a “happy” ending that might be emotionally beneficial for viewers to keep in mind as they become more familiar with Pike on Discovery. At the end of “Menagerie,” the Talosians offer to use their powers to allow Pike to live in a mental simulation on their planet in the body he had before his debilitating injuries.
The depiction of this unexamined era on the Star Trek timeline continues to be, well, fascinating. With an array of new stories teased, several pieces of unfinished business from last season, and the chance to learn more about a couple of Federation legends, Discovery’s new season is shaping up to be another memorable chapter in the franchise’s history.