Turns out when you a) kill your good figure of authority two episodes in and b) replace them with a morally grey scapegoat you eventually reveal is an alt-universe, MAGA-quoting , colossal space-tool , you don’t really have the time to get into the heady moral questions of the day. So it’s a good job Star Trek: Discovery is changing things up for season two.
The best parts of Discovery’s first season saw the Federation thrust into a brutal war, causing its heroes to re-examine both the ideals Starfleet upholds—ideals we have loved and admired for over 50 years across various Trek series—and which of them they’re willing to sacrifice in the face of a losing conflict. In addition: the troubling duality that has underwritten Starfleet’s entire existence as both a scientific band of explorers and the defacto military might of the Federation.
The show mainly did this through Jason Isaacs’ hard-edged, do-or-die Captain Gabriel Lorca, and in the process, set up some pretty fascinating thought experiments about one of the most lauded establishments in science fiction. And then...it undid it all by revealing that Lorca wasn’t actually a morally complex Starfleet officer antagonized by the horror of war, but instead an evil escapee from the Mirror Universe , an alternate reality of complete and utter fascist assholes that he fled from because he thought they weren’t being comically evil enough.
It...was a bit of a letdown , frankly, because Star Trek is at its best when it champions its earnest hope for the future , by forging those utopian ideals ever stronger in the crucible of challenge and inquisition . But we’re not here to go over all that again—he says, after doing just that—and apparently, neither is Discovery’s second season.
Because with Gabriel Lorca now dissolved into itty-bitty-bits, Discovery has a very different authority figure in season two: Captain Pike, the commander of the fabled Enterprise before James Kirk, played by Anson Mount . And according to Mount (in a new interview for SFX magazine), because Pike is a much more earnest believer in Starfleet’s ideals and missions than Mirror Lorca ever was, Discovery’s sophomore outing can focus on the moral questions Star Trek has thrived on for years , rather than whether or not its Captain for the season is a complete and utter jerk:
The first season operated in a vacuum of responsible leadership, which is how we’ve always felt taken care of in this world. They wanted to get back to that. Because when you’re calling into question the character, you don’t have the space or time to have the question of the week – y’know, ‘Let’s tackle racism; let’s tackle the unknown.’ They wanted to be able to get back to those big questions, and they wanted the audience to feel safe. So that was another thing that went into selecting an already established character.
Although framing it as making the audience “safe” is a little sad—like I said, the questioning of why Lorca was the way he was in the first half of Discovery’s debut was a fascinating one to explore, before it was immediately rendered impotent by the Mirror Universe reveal. But if Mount’s Pike coming in as a brighter, more noble leader figure means that the show can focus on tackling the big moral quandaries Trek loves to tackle, that’s still a great thing. At least we don’t have to worry about whether or not Pike’s going to reveal a bit of sinister facial hair at some point. Maybe? Hopefully not.
We’ll have to wait in see what answers—and big questions!—Star Trek: Discovery will tackle when it returns to CBS All Access in the U.S. and Space in Canada January 17 (and internationally to Netflix on January 18).
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