Season 2, Episode 2, ‘New Eden’
Faith was the central theme of the strong second episode of the new season of “Star Trek: Discovery.” Faith in a higher being. Faith in your commander. Faith in those you command. Faith that when Sylvia Tilly storms onto the bridge without a uniform on, she knows what she’s doing.
In this chapter of the Discovery story — directed by Riker himself, Jonathan Frakes — we learn that Spock was able to map out the red signals two months before they were visible to anyone else. Pike also tells Burnham that Spock has been committed in a psychiatric unit on Starbase 5, which has been hidden from Spock’s family at his own request.
But the main thrust of the story line was that another red signal has appeared in the Beta Quadrant, where somehow a group of humans, escaping World War III, migrated to a livable planet before warp speed was even invented. Those humans, as the Discovery crew learns, have unified all of Earth’s religions into one — and fanatically devote themselves to it, given that they have no other idea how they escaped Earth, or that Earth even still exists.
The humans that Pike, Burnham and Owosekun come across practice a future version of something that exists today: the Bahá’í faith, which essentially holds that all religions have value.
“New Eden,” of course, is not the first time “Star Trek” has made religion a central part of its plot. The franchise has historically mostly leaned toward the belief in established science over the supernatural. In “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier,” the Enterprise is hijacked by Sybok — the original undiscovered Spock sibling — in a quest to find Sha Ka Ree, as well as God. The movie is a disappointment, but did include one of the all-time great Kirk lines: “What does God need with a starship?” In “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” the episode “Rightful Heir” grapples with Worf’s faith in the return of Kahless, the closest thing Klingons have to a God. Kahless was a clone.
But there are exceptions: John de Lancie’s portrayal as Q is as much part of the Trek legacy as any warp core breach. And “New Eden” reminded me more of the heavy use of religion in “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” which made Benjamin Sisko an Emissary of the Prophets. Audiences often saw his battles — emotionally and physically — with the non-corporeal Pah-wraiths.
Is God real in Discovery? Is there some deity that’s pulling all the strings? Even the logical Burnham is beginning to wonder.
This first two episodes this season have featured more self-contained stories, but the “Discovery” writers are also leaving some interesting larger mysteries. We don’t know why Spock needs mental help or how he was able to predict the signals. And we also don’t learn how exactly the humans escaped World War III, except from a recovered video clip that shows the same angelic figure Burnham saw in the season premiere. It’s suggested that all these puzzle pieces fit somehow, and someone — perhaps Spock — wants the Discovery to piece them together.
The unanswered questions remain compelling, but there were some problematic aspects of the episode. There’s no point in harping on many of the canon inconsistencies in “Discovery.” Technologically, the ship seems way more advanced than the most recent version of the Enterprise we’ve seen, even though it existed several centuries before. As a viewer, you have to not sweat the small stuff.
However, having Spock institutionalized at any point in his career — and that never coming up ever in any Trek episode or movie is a big pill to swallow. Now, I realize the writers have probably mapped this out and figured out a way to write their way out of this by the end of the season, So I’m willing to be patient.
I was also skeptical of Pike’s steadfast commitment to General Order 1, an early version of the Prime Directive, which held that since the humans in the Beta Quadrant were pre-warp, they were not to be made aware of the advances in technology. Essentially, they had to discover it on their own. This didn’t quite make sense to me — and of course, throughout the history of Trek, the Prime Directive has been flouted often as a plot device.
But it stood out in particular this week because Pike already violated Starfleet orders by using the spore drive. He also went against Spock’s wishes and informed Burnham about his being in a mental care facility because of the dire need to discover the cause of the red signals. It seemed odd that Pike wasn’t willing to inform fellow humans about what really happened after World War III. Until of course, Burnham convinced him to tell just one human.
Odds and ends
• What are our theories about the angelic figure? Could it be some form of Spock? We still have no visual of the “Discovery”-era version of him.
• The mentor/mentee relationship between Saru and Tilly has its adorable moments. Saru seems genuinely invested in Tilly’s growth. But I do wonder how much more of Tilly’s nervousness is a disservice to her character. She wants to be in command and shows great initiative, yet seems to be awkward all the time.
• Nice moment for Lt. Detmer (Emily Coutts), who confidently reminds Saru — without being rude — that she has full confidence in being able to pull off a “space doughnut.”