- Star Trek: Discovery struggled with being accepted as “real” Star Trek.
- Captain Pike is a “real” Starfleet Captain.
- Star Trek: Discovery redefined itself in the Star Trek canon.
The second season of Star Trek: Discovery introduced Captain Christopher Pike as a character, signaling the show was eager to lean more into the history of Gene Roddenberry’s universe. Fans who expected a bright, hopeful and episodic series were surprised by the serialized, emotionally intense story in the first season. However, the second episode of Season 2, “New Eden,” is when Discovery undeniably became Star Trek as it always was. It’s no accident it’s a mostly standalone episode with a sweet, hopeful message.
To be clear, Discovery was always as much a Star Trek story as any other, even if the name in the title wasn’t convincing enough. With the advent of streaming, more people than ever discovered Star Trek, which means they weren’t paying attention when the second-wave shows were introduced. “This isn’t Star Trek!” is a familiar refrain to people in the fan community during the launch of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise. Still, Discovery‘s departure from the traditional style was both intentional and drastic. This is why “New Eden” is its first “classic” Star Trek story: a Starfleet crew stumbles onto a human settlement where one shouldn’t be. The Original Series first did this with “The Paradise Syndrome,” where aliens “preserved” a human society by stealing their memories of Earth. Voyager‘s “The 37s” features a similar concept and adds Ameila Earhart to the roster of alien colonists. Enterprise‘s “North Star” features an old west-inspired colony where former human slaves took control and started oppressing their former masters. “New Eden” offers an inspired twist on this familiar Star Trek concept. It also marks a clear shift in Discovery‘s approach to storytelling.
How ‘New Eden’ Compares to Other Star Trek ‘Humans on an Alien Planet’ Episodes
The overall story arc for Discovery Season 2 involves mysterious signals in space and “the Red Angel,” revealed to be a time-traveler with impressive technology. A group of humans taking shelter in a church during World War III (circa 2053), were impossibly transported across the Beta Quadrant to a planet called Terralysium. Like previous versions of this story, the humans were brought to the planet against their will. However, this time it was done to save them from certain death. These humans remembered Earth and taught their history, including their rescue, to the new generations like a religion. What complicates the mission for the Discovery crew, however, is that since this culture originated from a pre-warp Earth, the Prime Directive applies.
While the mysterious signal brought the Discovery crew to the planet, they also hear a two-century-old distress call. Captain Pike is a “real” Starfleet captain, unlike Lorca who was from the Mirror Universe. So, while investigating the distress call and how they got there, he insists the crew lie about their origins. The crew mixes in with the citizens and faces some life-threatening peril but preserve the illusion. The episode ends with Pike revealing the truth to the man who kept the distress call going, a task passed down to him over generations. Another staple of these kinds of “Prime Directive stories” is the crew has to save the planet from an extinction-level event.
The solution to this comes from the B-story, where Ensign Sylvia Tilly captures a “dark matter asteroid,” a sci-fi invention that proves to be just what the crew needs. This story also shows Discovery lightening its tone. A scene where a frantic Tilly runs out of sickbay to deliver vital information to the captain includes a comedy beat director Jonathan Frakes said on The Ready Room was improvised on the day of shooting. Tilly runs out of sickbay, only to again cross in front of the open door running the other direction because she ran the wrong way. The inclusion of more overt humor and the quasi-standalone nature of this episode makes Discovery feel like the Star Trek of old without erasing its unique identity.
Discovery Had to Define What Kind of Star Trek Show It Wanted to Be
Along with being Picard’s Number One, Jonathan Frakes is the most accomplished Star Trek director, having worked on every season of the new live-action series. He brings with him an institutional knowledge and a director’s insight about where it can best be applied. This isn’t just evident in the moments evocative of past Star Trek episodes. The scenes on the bridge where the characters employ technobabble and some real scientific concepts are reminiscent of similar scenes from The Next Generation era shows. Though, Frakes is able to employ many more cuts and camera moves than those earlier shows allowed.
It’s fair to say “New Eden” feels like a course-correction from some of the more controversial elements of Discovery Season 1. However, since filming began a few short months after the first season finale, it’s equally safe to assume this was always the show’s course. Producers used the first season to establish Discovery as a unique series in the Star Trek canon. The introduction of the Enterprise, Pike and slightly less serialization allowed for traditional elements in the franchise to be introduced while keeping the elements that made the show distinct. The biggest critique of Enterprise when it premiered following the end of Voyager was the series wasn’t different enough.
During the early years of The Next Generation, Gene Roddenberry wanted it to be as distinct from The Original Series as possible. Nonetheless, Star Trek: TNG features many Phase II leftovers, a canceled reboot series that evolved into the first feature film. Discovery needed to do the same thing in its first outing. However, with “New Eden,” the storytellers proved these characters and this view of the universe were quintessentially Star Trek. It was much easier to introduce familiar elements than it would’ve been to take a more familiar structure and change it as the show evolved. Put another way, the familiar story elements introduced in Season 2 were clearly homage rather than “unoriginality.”
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