Bringing ‘Star Trek’ back to television after a twelve-year break was an unenviable task to say the least. Though a trilogy of films had been produced in that time, they were at best a poor substitute for an ongoing series. Add to that an audience that has been starved of new ‘Trek’ for a decade and you have… well, no pressure at all! But despite that pressure, ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ has for the most part been embraced by fans, securing the franchise’s place in its native medium for the foreseeable future. Now, a year after that triumphant return, ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ is gearing up for its second season. While at New York Comic Con, we had the opportunity to sit down with two of the architects of that season, namely executive producer Heather Kadin and ‘Discovery’ co-creator and showrunner Alex Kurtzman. Together, we discussed their approach to the new season, the challenges of casting a new Spock, and more.
For you, how does the ramp up to the second season compare to the first?
Heather Kadin (HK): I don’t know about you, but I was more nervous about the first season. I feel like we had so much to earn from the fans who have loved this for so, so many years. And I think they realized that we’ve got them, we are protecting your special child. So I feel like because of that – I hope – we’ve earned the right to push more buttons and go in more directions because those fans feel confident that we’re going to come back to a place they’re really happy with.
Ale Kurtzman (AK): I can’t wait for people to see it. [laughs]
HK: Oh good. I’m trying to be all political and… [laughs]
AK: No, mostly because there’s been so much joy in the writer’s room and in the production this season. And I think we… In your first season, you’re trying to figure out, “How do you bring ‘Star Trek’ back? How do you do it in an original way and yet honor everything?” But we set down a groundwork both in terms of the bridge crew coming together and becoming the starship family. Now we get to tell stories that explore – and again, keep in mind we were in a time of war last year, so there was a different kind of urgency and pace to everything – we get to explore a lot of the philosophical issues that ‘Trek’ at its best has done. We get to stop down more on character moments between people. I will say that the season is bigger visually than season one. And season one was pretty big. But we really, I think, kicked it up a whole several notches in terms of what we’re delivering in terms of action sequences. So holding the balance between the great character work that ‘Trek’ is known for, the humor that ‘Trek’ can be known for, and the thoughtfulness that it’s known for, and then the scope and scale of a big movie. All of those things are at play in season two, so I can’t wait for you to see it.
HK: And also Alex directed the first episode, and it’s amazing. Which he’s not gonna say! But it’s amazing. [laughs]
AK: I won’t say that. You tell me that.
HK: But you’re proud of it.
AK: I’m proud of it. I’m just proud of the cast and the crew. I think they just… Everybody brought it. They brought it.
Does Season Two take a similar approach to the first, as far as the overall arc and balancing that serialized approach with standalone episodes?
AK: So, there’s a mystery. On the panel, when Michelle (Yeoh) was talking about killing her character off in the second episode, that was always the plan because we knew we were going to Mirror where she (Michael Burnham) was going to meet her. The idea is you spend time at the beginning of the year really thinking through your season and saying, “Where do we want to get to, and how do we reverse engineer the ending that we want to get to?” And once you know the ending of your season, you can start planting all the seeds in the right way and laying down the path. So no, I think that we have known where we want to go from the beginning, and the fun of it is getting there in ways that surprise. In ways that… if the audience thinks that they’re on to where we’re headed, they might be right and they also might be wrong. And that’s been really fun. I do think that in a way, what we think about most is emotional serialization. Meaning the characters have experiences and they take those emotional experiences with them to the next episode. But ‘Trek’ has a pretty long tradition of closed-ended episodes. Now again, even on a plot level, we’re still pretty serialized. But yes, we sort of look at it as chunks. There are chunks and sections, and big movements in the orchestra of the piece.
Is there going to be a mid-season hiatus like last year?
AK: No. Thank you for asking. It’s thirteen (episodes) straight.
With regard to casting, how do you approach that when you’re trying to find someone to step into as iconic a character and a performance as Spock?
AK: Yeah. Very carefully. Here’s the thing. You have to start by saying that no one can fill those shoes. Meaning that Leonard Nimoy was Leonard Nimoy, and Zach Quinto is Zach Quinto. So what we need to do is ask ourselves, “What is the spirit that has represented that character, and why has that endured through so many different actors? And then how do we maintain that and find an actor who can bring their own thing to it, but also protect and uphold that spirit?” So it’s not really about doing an imitation of someone else’s performance. It’s about getting into the beating heart of who Spock is as a character.
The second season of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ is set to premiere January 17, 2019, on CBS All Access.