How do you top an epic interstellar war? If you're Star Trek: Discovery, you tackle the heady topic of faith.
"I've seen this angel...," Starfleet officer Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) recalls as flashback scenes of her in an encounter suit amid fiery wreckage play out in a trailer that debuted during New York Comic-Con in October. "And I had this unmistakable feeling, as if everything was going to be all right."
It's the same red angel that her half-brother Spock witnesses before the start of the second season, an act that "breaks his logical brain," said Alex Kurtzman, the co-executive producer and co-showrunner for Discovery this season. Spock is left with both his logic and emotions failing him.
"He cannot make sense of it, and he's emotionally ill equipped to deal with it," Kurtzman said in an interview in October.
The exploration of faith brings a new, more cerebral wrinkle to the Star Trek that some of its hard-core fans accused the show of lacking in the first season, which had a darker bent due to its focus on the Klingon War., offering a chance for philosophical discussions, adventure, humor and, well, actual exploration. Those are the traditional elements of
Discovery had a lot riding on its shoulders when it launched in September 2017. It was the first Star Trek show to premiere in more than 12 years. It also served as the flagship show for the fledgling CBS All Access service, which put Trek behind the paywall for the first time. (Disclosure: CBS All Access is owned by CBS, the parent company of CNET.)
Some fans accused the show of going too dark. And while the cast and producers deny the new season is a reaction to that criticism, their message over the last few months has been clear: If you like classic Trek, you'll want to give Discovery another chance.
Faith and superstition might seem to be at odds with the cold reason exalted by popular science fiction, but Star Trek has long dabbled in the topic, most notably in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, in which the Enterprise sets out to find God, or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's deep look at the Bajoran worship of the prophets.
Now Discovery gets to share its interpretation when it returns on Jan. 17.
The red angel
The seven red lights, or signals, as Capt. Christopher Pike puts it, play a central role in the mystery of the season.
The second trailer offered a glimpse of Spock as we've never seen him before -- with a beard (we're not counting Mirror Spock). Ethan Peck, who plays Spock, says it's a physical indicator of how he's different from the Spock from The Original Series.
It's through his relationship with Burnham, who also sees the red angel in a moment of crisis, that Spock is able to become the version of the character we grew up with, Kurtzman said.
"There's a time when Spock learns to have faith in his instinct," Peck said in an interview.
The faith vs. science discussion will mirror the dynamic between Burnham and Spock, said co-executive producer and co-showrunner Heather Kaden.
Martin-Green said that as a spiritual person herself, she appreciates the chance to dig into such weighty topics.
"It's wonderful to have time to have these kinds of conversations and explore these themes because we're not just trying to survive and not be wiped out by the Klingon Empire," she said in an interview.
One of the key figures pushing to solve this mystery is Pike, played by Anson Mount (last seen playing Black Bolt in Inhumans). Pike refers to the lights as signals because he believes there's an intent behind them.
"The amount of energy required to produce these signals is beyond anything we've encountered," Mount said in an interview. "It could mean another level of existence we don't know about, and (Pike) is determined to figure out the source of it."
Like Peck, Mount is taking on a character long established in Star Trek lore.
But unlike Spock, Mount said there's a lot more to Pike we don't know about.
"It's strange how much the character is revered for how little we know about him," Mount said in an interview, noting that while his third act as captain of the Enterprise is well established, there is no "second act."
That final act Mount alludes to includes delta rays leaving his body in a wheelchair and his mysterious final fate on Talos IV as seen on TOS.
In preparing for the role, Mount said he went back to the principles of Starfleet, noting that Pike was Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's embodiment of Starfleet's curiosity.
"Who does this guy need to become to get to the third act we know about without it being a tragedy, but a triumph?" he said.
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