NEW YORK — After numerous delays and setbacks, Star Trek: Discovery finally aired last November. Critics loved it; most fans were relieved that the first Star Trek show in more than a decade felt true to the series. It didn’t take much time for CBS to renew the show for a second season, and while much of the story is still under wraps, the cast gathered at New York Comic Con 2018 to give a few tantalizing teasers about the U.S.S. Discovery’s next journey.
I covered the Star Trek: Discovery NYCC 2018 panel, where the show’s cast and producers addressed a packed theater in Madison Square Garden to discuss Season 2 — without giving anything away. The balance wasn’t always easy. Rebecca Romijn, who will play Number One in the upcoming season, hosted the proceedings.
MORE: How to Watch Star Trek: Discovery
The panel kicked off with a sizzle reel trailer for Season 2, which showed off a little bit of everything. Captain Pike (Anson Mount) will step away from his post on the U.S.S. Enterprise to oversee the Discovery. There, the crew will follow seven mysterious signals, which seem to have some connection to a “Red Angel,” which both Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and her foster brother, Lieutenant Spock (Ethan Peck) have seen in visions.
(It’s important to point out that Mr. Spock has a beard this time around, which is sure to please fans of Leonard Nimoy’s turn as the hirsute Mirror Spock back in the original series.)
While Discovery is still a heavily serialized show, the “seven signals” setup will allow a more “adventure-of-the-week” feel, just like the original Star Trek had back in the ‘60s. Still, the story is only half of the reason that fans tune in each week; the other half is the positive message that Star Trek represents.
“[Star Trek] is true, and therefore it’s profound,” said Martin-Green. “What we see in Star Trek: Discovery — and in all the iterations — is the diversity. We see these people that are so different. But it’s really what is most respectful about [the series] that makes it a mirror to society. You see these beings with emotional complexity making difficult choices. You see them making the wrong choices. You see them living and breathing as you do.”
Doug Jones, who plays the Kelpien first officer Commander Saru, agrees that there is something familiar and relatable in Star Trek’s characters — even spindly, fearful alien science officers.
“Saru has been an inspiration for me, personally,” Jones said. “I’ve been touched by how many people out there have said the same thing — people who deal with anxiety … He’s on a path of evolution, as we all are in the show.”
We also learned that Saru comes from a planet called Kaminar, which we’ll get to visit in Season 2, and that he has a sister, Sorana. The contrast between Saru’s biological family on Kaminar and his adopted family aboard the Discovery will likely provide some dramatic tension in the story.
Michelle Yeoh will also return as Captain/Emperor Georgiou, who is now an operative for Section 31: the Federation’s clandestine black-ops branch. (“Don’t you bow?” Yeoh asked, as Romijn introduced her.) Yeoh is thrilled about getting the chance to play a character who’s a very different from both the straight-laced captain and the power-hungry emperor.
“[Secton 31 Georgiou is] manipulative, devious, sexy. We’re in leather all the time,” said Yeoh. “I’m loving every minute of it … I have a lot more fun playing this character. She’s not a monster. There’s a deep seed of humanity inside her.”
Another character will “return” to Season 2 of Discovery — even though we haven’t seen him since the ‘60s. Captain Pike, who commanded the Enterprise before Kirk will play a pivotal role in the story this time around.
“The writers created a completely new kind of Captain in Pike, in addition to what we know,” said Mount. “Pike knows a good leader has frailties, and publicly so. His greatest asset is his crew. What I really like about playing this character is that he’s not afraid to admit that he’s stumped.” Naturally, Mount added that it’s “amazing” to sit in the captain’s chair.
While the Klingon war may be over,Mary Chieffo is not done playing the warrior L’rell just yet. In Season 1, she was instrumental in helping the Federation and the Klingon Empire reach an uneasy peace, and in Season 2, she’ll return — this time with a full head of hair.
“In a time of war, the Klingons would shave their heads, and in a time of peace, we start to grow it back out,” Chieffo said. “I love the symbolism of that. There’s also a theme for L’rell of embracing her femininity as she embraces her power. It’s not an easy road for her. There are male Klingons who take issue with a woman being in power.”
(“That doesn’t happen anywhere in the universe!” Anthony Rapp, who plays Lieutenant Paul Stamets, interjected with a wry smile.)
“There’s something about these archetypal female characters — these female monsters, from Medusa to Medea,” Chieffo continued. “Their stories have been told, for the most part, from th white male perspective. We get more of a window into why [L’rell] did what she did, and the sacrifices she’s made.”
Then, of course, there’s the issue of Dr. Hugh Culber, the ill-fated chief medical officer aboard the Discovery in Season 1.
“There’s only one thing I can say: We find him where we left him,” said Wilson Cruz, who plays Culber. “That’s your clue.”
Since he had a few more minutes to flesh out his response, Cruz then exhorted the audience to help make the utopian world of Star Trek a reality by registering to vote, and making their voices heard in November.
“This franchise is a beacon for so many people around the world,” he said. “It’s held up as this utopian idea of where we all appreciate each other for our differences, whether they be of race, or gender, or sexual orientation ... But it’s also about the effort that it takes to get there. The work and struggle that we all have to put in, in order to create that kind of world.
“All around the world, we see examples of countries that are choosing strong men to lead them. And I tell you, here are no strong men that are going to save us. We have to save each other.”
“The show is called Discovery for a reason,” Martin-Green added. “We all want to find the best versions of ourselves.”
Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 will air on CBS All Access on Jan. 17, 2019. Until then, a series of short films will air on the streaming service, each one focusing on a different character. At present, only the first is available: “Runaway,” which focuses on Ensign Sylvia Tilly, played by Mary Wiseman.