The season premiere of Star Trek: Discovery ends with Captain Pike — now in command of the Discovery after the Enterprise took damage tracking down a series of mysterious red signals — delivering a sort of thesis statement for the show’s second season.
“Wherever our mission takes us, we’ll try to have a little fun along the way, too,” he tells first officer Michael Burnham. “Make a little noise. Ruffle a few feathers.”
Star Trek: Discovery’s second season is clearly going to be at least a tiny bit lighter than the first, which seems like a wise course correction, but its biggest question is a heavy one for Star Trek fans: What the heck is going on with Spock?
This isn’t the Spock we know
Spock casts a heavy shadow over this hour of television, even though we only see him as a child during flashbacks. Burnham, adopted by Sarek and Amanda Grayson, grew up as Spock’s sister after her family was killed by Klingons. Discovery’s encounter with the Enterprise triggers her memories.
Their childhood was meant to be mutually advantageous. A Vulcan education would help Burnham cope with, and hopefully grow past, her trauma. Having a human sister would help Spock learn empathy, a necessary skill if he wanted to “successfully interact” with humans, as Sarek puts it.
The episode has a number of smart character beats. Burnham asks Sarek why their mother couldn’t have taught Spock empathy, and he brings up Spock’s “reverence” for his mother.
“And reverence tends to fill up a room,” he explains, with Burnham providing the second half of the saying. It may have been something she heard often.
We know Spock was stationed on the Enterprise, serving as Pike’s science officer, but we’re led to believe he simply chose to stay with the ship instead of beaming aboard the Discovery with Pike to say hello to his father and sister. They both note that they never expected to see him again, and Burnham herself hints that she’s done something to Spock in their past that would lead him to avoid her. No specifics are given.
Towards the end of the episode, Burnham learns that Spock had previously left the Enterprise to track down the source of visions he’s experienced throughout his life after having some kind of breakthrough about what they might mean.
If you think that’s wild, our first introduction to this version of the character takes place when he is a child, alongside a holographic dragon-like creature he’s drawing in a sort of Star Trek-ian 3D modeling program. He then closes the door in Burnham’s face when she tries to introduce herself. I love the idea that young Spock was a moody, artistic kid who just wanted to be left alone with what amounts to his journals.
What’s important to remember is that this isn’t the Spock we know from the original series, or even the rebooted films.
“There’s a lot of story about who Spock was before he becomes the Spock that is the yin-yang to Kirk,” showrunner Alex Kurtzman told TV Guide. “What I’m so excited about is that we have an opportunity to present a version of Spock that’s both totally consistent with the Spock everyone knows but very, very different. And it’s all gonna tie to how we sync up with canon.”
Even so, Pike and Burnham discuss Spock’s unease about being on the Enterprise’s five-year mission throughout the war that took place during Discovery’s first season, and Pike clearly has great respect for the man as he existed during this time in his life.
“Spock asked the most amazing questions,” Pike said. “Completely logical, yet somehow able to make everyone see that logic was the beginning of the picture and not the end. He was ahead of all of us in that way.” He didn’t ask many questions when Spock asked to spend some of his accumulated lead time to track down the answer to a question he didn’t want to discuss.
We already know this storyline will pay off with more Spock
The Spock question ultimately ties into the mysterious signals that Pike has been tasked with investigating, but it takes an hour of hazy talk about why Spock might not want to see Michael and what he was working on to get there. Teasing the audience with hints about a well-loved character in a prequel is par for the course, but this might still be annoying if trailers for the season didn’t clearly show Spock himself, played by Ethan Peck, taking a bigger role in future episodes.
And those hints are wild: A threat that could destroy all life. Something about a red angel. Spock escaping from incarceration?
The show’s new tone works well, and I’m willing to go along with an hour of brooding off-camera Spock mystery when I know that the character will play a pivotal, on-camera roll in the near future. This is a promising start to the season, and I can only hope we get to see more of young, emo Spock as soon as possible.