Star Trek: Discovery's inaugural season was faced with a seemingly impossible feat.
The CBS All Access series was tasked with delivering a fresh new take that appeased a hardcore fan base and remained true to the franchise's 50-year history, while also appealing to a Trek noob who wouldn't know Voyager from Deep Space Nine. Although Season 1 stumbled in its efforts to remain tightly within canon while also telling an exciting and cohesive story, the show managed to pull off a commendable first run thanks to a charming bridge crew, a delectably villainous leader in Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) and that unapologetic love of science and adventure which has come to define the franchise as a whole.
Building on that, Discovery really hits its stride in Season 2. With the Klingon War on the backburner, the series is finally able to breathe, and as a result, delivers a refreshing sophomore run that just feels like the weight of the world has been lifted off its shoulders.
After receiving a distress call from the USS Enterprise, the Discovery crew ditches its plan to pick up a new captain on Vulcan in order to help out fellow Federation officers in need. Starfleet's most prized ship is offline after suffering a catastrophic meltdown while tracking one of seven red signals that have suddenly appeared in space. With his ship on the sidelines, Captain Pike (Anson Mount) takes the helm of the Discovery for an important rescue mission that was only meant to be temporary. But those ominous signals pose a serious threat to the universe so of course, he's needed to stay on and uncover that mystery, thus kicking off a thrilling adventure in deep space.
Bringing in an iconic character like Pike could have been disastrous but Discovery somehow makes it work. He's seamlessly woven into the narrative, bringing exhilarating new energy that never overpowers the series' core cast. Mount's Pike is dashing, charismatic and genuinely likable, but not without his faults. He's very much the man Gene Roddenberry envisioned so many decades ago but never feels like a relic of the past. He's exactly what Discovery, both the crew and series as a whole, needs right now. But he's also just a fraction of what makes Season 2 such an enjoyable experience.
With Discovery learning to let loose and have fun, Season 2 utilizes its arsenal of delightful characters in a way that it never could before. Owing to that is the adorkably wonderful Tilly (Mary Wiseman), last season's Miss Congeniality whose expanded role is like a much-needed serotonin boost. Brilliant, funny and bursting with nerdy optimism, the new season finds her finally coming into her own as a confident leader, and that transformation is a pure joy to watch unfold. Equally amusing is newcomer Tig Notaro's Denise Reno, the USS Hiawatha's brilliant chief engineer whose deadpan humor easily makes her this season's low-key gem.
But among a diverse group of amiable personalities, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) remains the true heart and soul of the series. It's mostly through her eyes that we learn about the world that Discovery has created, and in Season 2, her story again takes center stage. With the exploration of Burnham's past comes the inevitable arrival of her adoptive brother Spock (Ethan Peck), and their family drama sets the groundwork for an engrossing journey in the new season.
Linked through the same visions of a mysterious red angel, their broken dynamic breathes new life into Spock, a character who's been explored inside and out, having been around for five decades. But Discovery presents a different Spock, someone on the losing side of an internal battle between reason and logic. He's not the Vulcan you know from Star Trek: The Original Series, nor does he need to be. With this latest iteration set years before the events of TOS, the show found the loophole it needed to introduce this bearded, disheveled version into official canon -- and it's handled with great care.
By all means, Discovery isn't perfect. It's still working to find that natural balance between nostalgia and modernity. But Season 2 takes a carefully bold, gripping, and undeniably fun stab at it and in turn, is a much better show.
Star Trek: Discovery returns Thursday, Jan. 17 at 8:30/7:30c on CBS All Access.