In season two of Star Trek: Discovery, Captain Pike and the U.S.S. Enterprise warp to the rescue of the Discovery, but, in reality, they saved each other.
At the end of the premiere season, the Discovery rendezvous with the Enterprise under the command of Christopher Pike. Starfleet has placed Captain Pike in temporary command of Discovery to investigate seven red bursts which have appeared across our galaxy accompanied by a mysterious “Red Angel”. Pike, the Enterprise and Discovery embark on a search for Spock, a quest for the Red Angel and the fate of all sentient life as we know it.
Small stakes, indeed.
In the Beginning…
Star Trek: Discovery (The sixth series in the franchise) evoked strong and divergent reactions from the fan base even before it premiered in September 2017. The show was set in the period between “The Cage” and “Where No Man Has Gone Before” with a tone and visual style that didn’t line up with the expectations of many fans. Star Trek: Discovery seemed more in line with the Kelvin-verse than it did the Original Series, but without the excuse of an alternate timeline to account for any glaring differences with what was expected of that particular time period. The Klingons were redesigned for the first time since Star Trek: The Motion Picture and were now even more heavily made-up with thick prosthesis, baldness and a propensity to dine on their foes. In addition, their ships bore little resemblance to anything that the Klingons had ever flown. The main character of Michael Burnham was a mutineer and Lorca, the captain of Discovery was dark and often cruel. The show was to focus on the Federation war with the Klingons but pivoted mid-season to a Mirror Universe adventure which seemed to be a violation of canon as well as the momentum of the season.
The titular starship was equipped with a “spore drive” which could travel through a fungal reality that could transport a ship just about anywhere in the universe, begging the question why this technology is absent for the rest of known Star Trek History.
Also, Michael was Spock’s sister.
Clearly Star Trek: Discovery wanted to take risks. As the episodes unfolded, reaction was strong and the writers and creators seemed to start a course correction which involved a combination of plot pivots and a PR campaign to assure fans that all their canon concerns would be addressed.
By the end of Season one, the Klingon War is ended, Lorca’s is proven to be from the Mirror Universe, thus explaining his dark behavior, and the crew of Discovery starts to behave less like Ron Moore’s Colonial Fleet and more like Starfleet. Many questions about violation of canon and the visual style and tone of the show linger by the end of the final episode “Will You Take my Hand?” The Discovery is ordered to set course for Vulcan where they will rendezvous with their new captain. The maiden season of Star Trek: Discovery is over…
…Except for one curious distress call from the U.S.S. Enterprise.
As if dispatched by some higher power, the Big E glides majestically into orbit with the Discovery and Season one closes.
“Sir, There’s Another Ship Coming in…It’s the Enterprise!”
During the hiatus between seasons, the writers and creators continued their PR campaign to stoke anticipation for the next installment as well as assure skeptics that all their concerns about the show would be addressed.
The Enterprise, under the command of Christoper Pike, suffers a ship wide failure when it attempts to investigate seven mysterious bursts that have appeared across space. Pike is ordered to take command of the Discovery to continue the investigation and now Discovery as a new captain, albeit temporarily.
The addition of the Enterprise risked further conflict with canon as well as threatened to overshadow the show’s main characters. Would Spock appear and, frankly, how would that go down?
The answer, as it turns out, is very well. In fact, the mingling of the proto-Original Series Enterprise and Discovery may have been just what was called for to save Star Trek: Discovery and set it on a better course. In return, it fleshed out one of the most important, yet least known, characters in Star Trek history: Chris Pike.
“What’s Been on Your Mind, Chris?”
Casting Anson Mount as Pike provided an immediate visual continuity with Jeffrey Hunter, who originated him in “The Cage”, Star Trek‘s first pilot. Hunter only played the part in that one episode which was never originally aired. When the character was returned in the Original Series proper (in it’s only two-part episode, “The Menagerie“), Pike was played by actor Sean Kenney. Pike, as introduced to the audience in 1966, was a tragic character. Burned and paralyzed saving the lives of cadets in a training accident, Pike, mentally fully intact and aware, is left a physical husk and confined to a life support wheel chair. His only means of communication is a series of flashing lights to indicate “Yes” or “No”.
At this time, very little is known about him except that he was Captain of the Enterprise before James Kirk and that Spock served under him for 11 years, 4 months and 5 days. Pike has also earned Spock’s fierce loyalty as Kirk and crew quickly learn when the Vulcan hijacks the Enterprise, risking his and Kirk’s career in an attempt to save Pike from the horrors of his injuries.
The Pike that we meet in “The Cage” and the flashbacks of “The Menagerie” is a more stern leader than Kirk, but still exhibits the strength of will of an honorable starship captain. What is not quite present yet is the qualities that would evoke such devotion from Spock or the audience. Had he continued in the role, Jeffery Hunter would have, undoubtedly, fleshed out the character but as history played out, Hunter played him only once and Pike is never seen again. Compare Patrick Stewart‘s portrayal of Picard in “Encounter at Farpoint” to “All Good Things…” and you will find a character much more charming, relaxed and sympathetic to the audience then he was in the pilot. For Pike, that tasks retroactively falls to Anson Mount.
And Mount delivers. When Pike steps aboard the bridge of Discovery to take command, he finds a crew which has been betrayed and traumatized by Lorca. With all the strength of character of a Starfleet paradigm, Pike, in his primary Original Series gold, assures them right out of the gate that the Star Trek is here to save them:
“I know this is a hard left turn for you. You were in route to Vulcan to pick up a new captain. I was briefed on the classified details surrounding your last one. I know he betrayed this crew. If I were you, I’d have my doubts about me as well. I’m not him. I’m not Lorca.”
Getting Back on Course
It’s no coincidence that what follows are some back to form Star Trek episodes. “New Eden” offers an example of what the series is capable of, placing the crew in a classic First Contact scenario which, while standing on its own, is part of the larger narrative. During Season two, the crew bonds and works together in a way that is classic Trek. Star Trek: Discovery, while not entire cured of the ailments it suffered in Season One, is much healed by the influence of Pike and the Enterprise crew. When Number One beams aboard Discovery in “An Obol for Charon“, she brings with her the energy, confidence and goodness of what it means to serve on the Enterprise. Well played by Rebecca Romijn, it becomes clear that the Enterprise crew is acting like Star Trek antibodies, attacking anything that does not seem quite Trek and saving Discovery (Author’s note: except for Lt. Connolly – I don’t know what that was about.)
Discovery returns the favor. As each episodes unfolds, Pike becomes more and more fleshed out to the point that his ultimate fate is almost forgotten.
The Hero’s Journey
“Through the Valley of Shadows” is one of the saddest, most fateful episodes in Star Trek and not because it reveals anything new about Pike, but simply by what it reminds the longtime viewer of Pike and his eventual fate. In the episode, he must undergo a Campbellian test in order to retrieve a Time Crystal needed to save the universe. In doing so, Pike is presented with a vision of his future which is all the more terrifying now that the audience has come to know this man. First, he witnesses the initial training accident. When Pike, burnt and bleeding from the explosion, places his hand on the blast door glass, the Delta Rays are already at work degenerating his body. What comes next is the true nightmare and Mount’s performance drives it through the heart as Pike, reeling in horror after seeing himself crippled and paralyzed, wrestles with the temptation to escape his fate:
“You’re a Starfleet captain. You believe in service, sacrifice, compassion and love…I’m not going to abandon the things that make me who I am because of a future that contains an ending I hadn’t foreseen for myself.”
Thus is his future written in a way that takes the audience along. Star Trek: Discovery makes the best use of it’s prequel status by allowing the Star Trek fan with to become familiar with a heretofore mostly unknown character who is arguably the sire of the Original Series. When reviewing, “The Menagerie”, the man in the wheelchair is no longer a stranger. Now his true heart is known, as is his compassion and his courage. It’s clear why Spock would be so dedicated to this man. What must he have meant to the crew of the Enterprise and what heartbreak they must have suffered upon learning of his accident? That makes Spock’s errand of mercy to save his former captain all the more human.
To the Future!
In the final movement of season two, it’s determined that Discovery must be removed from the 23rd century and sent nearly one thousand years into the future – well out of range of the Original Series. It’s a less than subtle metaphor for the mismatch of Star Trek: Discovery with it’s Original Series setting and it falls to the paragons of this time period – Pike and the Enterprise to guard and defend Discovery until it can make the time warp. Enterprise acts as a guardian angel, shielding Discovery and her crew from an overwhelming technological onslaught. Discovery makes the jump and the season closes not with them, but on the bridge of the Enterprise, proudly displaying Gold, Blue and Red and setting course for their next adventure. Everything has been set right.
In the End
Season two opens with the Enterprise as the elephant in the sector, but, in reality, Pike, the Enterprise and Discovery needed one another. Discovery gave the character of Christopher Pike new life around the campfire and the annals of Star Trek. In return, Pike and the Enterprise saved Discovery by giving back to the crew the ideals of Starfleet and, on a meta level, removing Star Trek: Discovery from a timeline in which it never quite fit and allowing it to truly boldly go where no man has gone before.