While “New Eden” is certainly an entertaining episode overall, the trend I identified in last week’s review is starting to stand out to me more than ever: this second season of ‘Discovery,’ it seems that the flashy-and-fun action on the surface of each episode starts to erode the more that one thinks about the details of the plot and finds the larger enjoyment of the stories to be only surface-deep.
WARNING: Spoilers for this episode of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ lie ahead, obviously. If you haven’t seen the episode and don’t wish for any of its content to be spoiled for you, the time to turn back is NOW!
RECAP: Opening right where the last episode left us, Pike and Burnham (in the newly-redesigned ready room) are debriefing about the asteroid mission when a new issue demands their attention: another “red flare” signal has popped up. Burnham and Tilly use a quick brain-storming session to triangulate the burst’s position: the Beta Quadrant, halfway across the galaxy. Pike, wanting answers, authorizes the use of the Spore Drive; Stamets plugs back into the ship (were they not disassembling the drive at the beginning of the last episode?) and away the Discovery goes!
Following the signal’s coordinates, the starship arrives at the destination and find a planet with an odd quirk: there is a human settlement on the surface, showing signs of being a pre-warp culture. Pike reminds the crew of General Order 1, the predecessor of the Prime Directive which forbids the Federation from interfering in the natural development of a civilization, and then he takes Burnham and Lt. Owosekun to the surface to learn more.
It turns out this group are descendants of soldiers who were holed up in a church during fighting in World War III over 200 years ago; how the church and the humans were transported across the galaxy is a mystery to their descendants, and the group has decided a non-violent culture is their preferred lifestyle after having been spared “the destruction of the Earth.” Only one member of the group seems suspicious of the away team, and his suspicions are confirmed when he discovers Starfleet technology in their bags.
Meanwhile in orbit, the Discovery crew, uh, discovers that the planet’s rings are filled with radioactive material, and some of that material has broken orbit and his heading for the surface, which will effectively kill the human life on the planet below. The crew on the ship work to find a solution, as the away team works to save Pike from a phaser-overload accident that has left him badly injured. Can the Starfleet crew accomplish their goals, learn a bit more about the “Red Angel,” and make it to next week’s episode?
- If this episode feels like it has a bit of a “classic” Star Trek feel to it, there are a few reasons for that. First and foremost, the creative team has said that this second season will feature more “standalone” stories, akin to what long-time Trek fans are more familiar with from series like the original ‘Star Trek’ and ‘The Next Generation.’ Seasoned scribe Akiva Goldsman co-wrote this episode, and behind the camera in the director’s chair was a name familiar to all Trek fans: Jonathan Frakes.
- After one whole episode off, we’re right back to the using the magical Spore Drive as a crutch to move forward an otherwise seemingly-insurmountable plot point. Sigh.
- “New Eden,” as an episode, tiptoes around the existence of Spock yet again. We hear his voiceover; other characters talk about him at length. He’s used as such a focal point of the over-arching plot for the season, not to mention heavily in the marketing materials for the show; when are we going to actually see him?
- While I like the idea in theory, religions don’t mesh as easily as saying “oh yes, we believe in everything.” At the basest level, the core tenements of several religions contradict each other, putting the whole idea at odds with itself.
- Another week of Pike getting “gravely injured” and it being a non-issue, based on the audience already knowing his future. This is the risk you run and the issues inherent to a “prequel” type of tale.
- After such a fun and promising debut last week, we don’t get any more of Tig Notaro’s Chief Engineer Reno this week! Frowny face. Come back soon, Reno.
- My biggest issue with “New Eden” – and it’s an issue I’ve harped on ‘Discovery’ since the beginning: the opportunities for character development are absolutely wasted. I’ve long held the belief that shows, particularly drama-heavy shows, live and die on the amount of how much they can get the audience to care about their primary and secondary characters as people. ‘Star Trek: Discovery,’ so far, is largely failing on both counts; not only are characters like Burnham and, from last season, Lorca and Georgiou, fairly one-dimensional, all of the “periphery” characters are nothing more than glorified extras. There were perfect opportunities to further develop Detmer, Saru, Airiam, and more on the bridge during the “donut” conversation – the one character that has gotten only a smidge of development, Tilly, vacillates wildly between annoying and palatable. On the surface of New Eden, Owosekun is present with Pike and Burnham, so let’s get to know her! But no, she says about 3 words and keeps her feet planted firmly in the background.
CLOSING THOUGHTS: While making serious strides forward in my eyes as an “enjoyable show,” the series is unfortunately frozen rock-solid and failing to make any progress in showing its chops as a show with substance. All the flash and glitz of an action movie is present, and action movies are usually pretty entertaining, in the moment that you’re watching; but there’s no core, no material worth remembering. With the preview for next week’s episode heralding the return of Star Trek’s favorite “bad guy” race, it seems our two-episode run of Klingon-free plot lines has come to an end, so we will see what next week holds for us.
PRINCIPAL CAST FEATURED IN THIS EPISODE:
Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham
Doug Jones as Lieutenant Saru
Anson Mount as Captain Pike
Anthony Rapp as Lieutenant Stamets
Mary Wiseman as Cadet Tilly
‘Star Trek: Discovery’ features new episodes Thursday nights at 8:00 pm online via CBS All Access.