Star Trek: Discovery’s inaugural season ended with the arrival of the ship that started it all: the USS Enterprise. The NCC-1701’s introduction not only heralded the introduction of its second captain, Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), but it also signaled the long-awaited return of Spock.
Set 10 years before The Original Series, Discovery follows Spock’s previously unknown, adopted sister, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green). Although details of their contentious relationship have remained vague (at best) throughout the first season, Discovery’s second season will dive deep into unseen chapters of Spock’s life. Indeed, the Season 2 premiere shows Spock and Michael’s first meeting — which abruptly ends with Spock slamming the door on Michael.
But if fans were expecting Ethan Peck’s (In Time) Spock to echo Leonard Nimoy, Star Trek: Discovery executive producer Alex Kurtzman is quick to point out that the Spock we’ll encounter is at a point in his life we’ve never seen.
“It’s not the Spock that you know from TOS yet,” Kurtzman says about the Spock we meet in the second season of the prequel series. “He’s not that guy. He’s not actualized that way.”
“The drive of our season very much obviously is this mystery of ‘What is the Red Angel?’ and ‘What are the Seven Signals?’ but for me, it’s a brother-sister story,” Kurtzman says, explaining that Spock’s encounter with the new, mysterious beings known as the Red Angels has “basically broken his brain. Logic has failed him, and emotion has failed him, and he doesn’t know where he is on the line between those two things.”
According to Kurtzman and fellow executive producer Heather Kadin, what will ultimately save Spock is his relationship with Michael.
“They went through something as kids that separated them,” Kurtzman says. “A big part of the season is them working that out and recognizing that some of the wounds from childhood are still present. It’s by working on his relationship with his sister that he gets to become the Spock that we know.”
And as Mount explains, Spock’s relationship with Captain Pike will also play a central role in this upcoming season. “I actually found myself, for reasons I can’t explain, thinking back to one of J.J. [Abrams]’s movies. I know it’s a different timeline, but the relationship that I saw between Kirk and Bones … every now and then they’d just need to have a whiskey and talk things out. I think that Pike has tried to develop that kind of relationship with Spock. He does value him as a ‘mind’ but also sees the humanity in him perhaps more so than even Spock sees it.”
Having co-written both of Abrams’s Trek films (2009’s Star Trek and 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness), Kurtzman has had the unique opportunity to have now written three versions of Spock: Spock Prime, played by Nimoy; Zachary Quinto’s young alternate-universe Spock; and now Peck’s bearded, hipster Spock.
While Nimoy created the role and Quinto gave the character a more emotional turn, Kurtzman was quick to point out that Peck won’t be tasked with mirroring the other actors. Instead, Peck, alongside Discovery’s writers and producers, focused on crafting a Spock that speaks to what people love about the character while still charting new ground. The key, Kurtzman says, lies in Peck’s ability to fully realize the complexity of Vulcan emotions.
“People have this false impression that Vulcans don’t feel anything. That’s not the case at all. Vulcans feel everything, in fact, sometimes more so, they just express it differently than humans do,” Kurtzman says. “When Ethan came in and auditioned without realizing he was auditioning for Spock … he was conveying tremendous emotion through this Vulcan stoicism that was really powerful. And I think what is required is an actor who can do both of those things — who can convey all that through their eyes and through the smallest gestures in their face.”
As seen in the Season 2 trailer, one of those small gestures will include a smile, a facial expression that many felt lacking in the show’s previous season. Beginning with the desperate war against the Klingons and ending with an extended trip into the Mirror Universe, viewers were presented with a bleak look at the 23rd century.
Although some fans were critical of the first season’s tone, Kadin promises this season will not only feel more like “classic Trek” but also feel significantly lighter, evidenced by Pike calling for “a little fun along the way” in the Season 2 premiere.
“When you’re at war, it’s harder to be funny,” Kadin says. “It’s harder to tell stories with more bounce, and so I think this season … just feels a little brighter.”
Discovery’s second season also coincides with the 50th anniversary of The Original Series’ cancellation. Airing between 1966 and 1969, Star Trek was originally billed as a sci-fi adventure-of-the-week series, filled with colorful sets and even more colorful aliens. But creator Gene Roddenberry infused the series with his own progressive ideals, exploring themes such as a race, religion and political ideology.
Those ideals formed the backbone of the franchise, informing every series from The Next Generation, which once dealt with the concepts of sexuality head-on, to films such as Star Trek Beyond, which showed that society gained strength from plurality rather than xenophobia.
And, according to Kurtzman, those ideals remain just as relevant in 2019 as they did in 1969.
“Trek is a mirror that holds itself up to the world, and it always reflects the world we live in and the times that we are in. I think it’s our obligation to tell stories that are about those things,” Kurtzman says. “It addresses everything we’re dealing with right now. Questions of gender equality. Questions of diversity. Questions of sexual orientation. Trek has always been dealing with that. And I’m sorry to say that many of the issues they were dealing with then are clearly still issues that we’re dealing with now.”
Yet this fact was seemingly lost on a section of the Trek fanbase when Discovery premiered.
“I think we were all really taken aback,” Kadin says about the initial backlash that accused the show of “white genocide” for casting actresses Martin-Green and Michelle Yeoh in lead roles. “I think the fact that we were, I guess unconsciously, taking on the Star Trek ideals of inclusiveness as we cast the show and then the fact that people who were such supposed lifelong fans were taking offense to that, I don’t know if I can justify it. I think we were all just really shocked.”
“Look, if you feel that a woman of color shouldn’t be in charge, you’re free to change the channel,” Kurtzman adds. “That’s how I look at it. Because we’re not gonna change that. That’s how it is, and that’s how it should be.”
Star Trek: Discovery premieres tonight on CBS All Access.
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