Star Trek: Discovery season 2’s ending warps the series to a new future
In “Best of Both Worlds,” the last episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s third season, Captain Picard transformed into Locutus of Borg, and told us that resistance was futile. Commander Riker ordered Mr. Worf to fire, and the strings and trumpets went BLAM BLAM BLAM four times. We waited all summer to find out what would happen next! The finale was a complete nerdcore breach. Finally, I understood what my Dad was talking about when he would go to the movies each Saturday to watch cliffhanger serials.
I’m not saying that Star Trek: Discovery’s season 2 closer, “Such Sweet Sorrow, Pt. 2” is the same kind of leap-from-the couch moment — that comes but once in a lifetime — but the final two sequences had me shouting and pointing at the screen. With a course correction and a potential spin-off, this new age of Star Trek finally achieves escape velocity from the old.
[Ed. note: The following contains spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery through the season 2 premiere]
“Burnham to Discovery,” Sonequa Martin-Green’s often overlooked lead character firmly states: “Let’s go.” Then, zoom, they pierce a hole in the fabric of spacetime and leave everything behind.
Yes! I cried, Exactly!! It’s like they are reading my loving-but-critical tweets!
I love Star Trek: Discovery because I love Star Trek more than everything except my immediate family. When you love something this strongly, you get hung up on its imperfections. (This is why your parents bother you; it’s because they care.) The fact that a show made in 2019 “looked modern” even though it is set before a show made in 1966 never bothered me. But certain photon torpedo blasts to the timeline — mostly that Spock had a close relationship with a step sister and that Starfleet had created a propulsion system through a subspace mycelial network that never appeared in other series set chronologically in the future — left me antsy. Star Trek fans tend to identify with logical characters like Spock and Data and Seven of Nine, making anomalies difficult to shrug it off.
Discovery is a show born from chaos. The Star Trek intellectual property was in joint custody between films (Paramount) and television (CBS) when the network wanted something big to launch its streaming service, CBS All Access. Its original visionary showrunner, Bryan Fuller, crapped-out and left everyone marooned with a fundamental handicap: Discovery would be a prequel show — and Star Trek already had a prequel show with Enterprise. New showrunners came in and were bounced, too. But by some miracle Discovery ended up good, primarily because the characters were wonderfully written and the performances, anchored by Martin-Green, were splendid. (The seeming blank check for special effects didn’t hurt either.)
However, no matter how much the show glided along with its deliciously geeky story arcs (spore drives! time crystals! sphere data! Klingon-Human transmogrification!), I always had the feeling, as Guinan did when she struggled to convey the timeline rift to Captain Picard in “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” that something needed correcting. In the final moments of season 2, Discovery issued that correction.
Section 31’s AI, Control, eager for data (as all such systems are) went bonkers in the presence of the Tree of Knowledge-like sphere data that Discovery scooped up earlier in the season. As visions of the near future showed, when Control achieves omnipotence, it will destroy all sentient life, much like Skynet, HAL 9000 and, in a similar manner, the Borg.
There is no way to defeat Control, so the plan is to kick it down the timeline and hope the future solves the problem. (Just like Congress does!) Burnham must lead the ship 800 years away (or is it more? my stardate conversion slide rule is rusty) to a potentially barren galaxy with mysteries and conflicts never before seen in this franchise. By running away from the present, Discovery, the ship and the show, go where no one has gone before — which is where they should have been in the first place. Finally the Discovery crew are on their own, leaving all the pre-existing cargo behind. As they went into the wormhole (with awesome effects), every molecule in my body sparkled.
Earlier I mentioned the Borg. Know this: I was really worried that this season was winding up to reveal that Control was the proto-Borg. Not just because the Borg pop up in the pre-Discovery Enterprise and not just because it would be a diss to the not-quite-canon tie-in book series Destiny, an outstanding trilogy by David Mack that offers a marvelous Borg origin (Borigin?) story. The jury is still out (the show may still do this) but I hope it doesn’t go that route, because it would be another example of Discovery showing resistance to thrusting on its own two nacelles.
Anson Mount and Ethan Peck are absolutely outstanding as Captain Pike and Spock. So good, in fact, that it would be easy for the writers to take their eyes off the ball. The show’s forward momentum is meant to be on Michael Burnham: her growth as a human raised Vulcan, her redemption after disobeying her mentor. Having the Terran Emperor around — the “mirror” Georgiou — as a mirror for Burnham, a reminder of where decisions can lead, ought to be enough story material for her journey. Add to this Saru, Stamets, Culber, Tilly, Reno, Detmer/Owokeson (who have blossomed so wonderfully and organically into the Sulu/Chekov seats) and the others that part of me almost regrets that Pike and Spock are even on the show. Which is why my cries of “yes!” turned into full-on cartwheels at the end of this episode.
It’s clear that Pike and Spock are not in the mix for wherever Burnham is going. They stay behind and, in the episode’s final sequence, go full Amelie and clean everything up. The Discovery was destroyed in the fight against Control, they say, but just to make sure that there is never a temptation to look for troublesome sphere data in the future, all pledge to never mention the ship, or spore drives, or black alerts, or Control or any of the other story points that tinkered too much with canon. (Earlier, Pike and Number One put the kibosh on those pesky holograms — main viewer communication is good enough!)
Going one better, Spock, Sarek and Amanda vow to never mention their beloved Michael Burnham to people outside the family. So that’s why BFFs Kirk and Bones (and we) never heard of her. As for Sybok, well, hell, would you mention that guy?
As a fan of Star Trek lore, I was ecstatic. But as a fan of Star Trek Discovery, I had to admit: I’d grown to like Mount and Peck. And that’s where the conclusion, which already was a cherry on top, became, I dunno, a second cherry. With his beard shaved off and wearing “Science Blue”, Spock — really looking like Spock — joins Pike and Number One on the bridge of the Enterprise. They are primed for adventure.
Let me ask you a question. A logical question. Do you think CBS All Access cast Anson Mount and Ethan Peck and Rebecca Roijn and built an entire Enterprise set (borrowing actual pieces of the set from the Ticonderoga, New York Original Series Set Tour), let them loose in the Alpha Quadrant, so they could not do something with the characters again? The way they all smile at the end of this episode? Personally, I love the idea of hanging back on the timeline with characters I already know and racing off to the future with characters that are still growing. The universe is expanding in two directions.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer and member of the New York Film Critics Circle. His work can be read in The Guardian, New York Daily News, Vanity Fair, Thrillist and elsewhere.