the story: The crew takes on Pike as temporary captain to solve a dangerous riddle in space.
review: There's a ton going on in this second season premiere, but the concise way to explain is thusly: this is a great way kick things off, as well as continue what came before. It all centers, once again, on Michael Burnham, as we delve once more into her backstory, as the adopted daughter of Sarek and now as foster sister of...Spock.
First of all, let's get this out of the way: "Brother" continues Discovery's penchant for setting up new characters in the series. Burnham's arrival aboard the Discovery itself was deftly handled in the first season, and there's the same dynamic spirit again here, not only with Pike (in his third live action incarnation, as with Sarek), but the cocky (and amusingly short-lived) Connolly and Reno, whom I hope we see again, all lively personalities that likewise follow in the tradition of the likes of Tilly and Stamets. If Star Trek used to have the reputation of holding back the personalities of actors playing humans (a criticism leveled against Voyager), Discovery seems determined to prove that as yet another thing it's enthusiastically kicked to the curb.
Visually this is now the standard by which all later generations are going to judge the franchise. "Brother" is the strongest TV effort yet in that regard, if you consider such things important. Funny for something that began on a shoestring budget and often looked like it.
But back to Burnham. The episode leans heavily on things Discovery fans already know, but backtrack so that newer fans might be able to catch up, before plunging ahead with our first glimpses of Spock in the series, at this point as a boy the young Burnham first met. She's been a character to reckon with since she first appeared, and is easily the essential element of the series. That is to say, she has earned her right to stand alongside not only Sarek but Spock as well, regardless of whether or not the actor playing him is Leonard Nimoy (the late and much-lamented). The episode is very careful about how it approaches Spock, even as it shows us, incredibly new things us about even him, his relationship with Sarek, and even more of what made his early life such a struggle to reconcile his human and Vulcan halves.
If that isn't enough, "Brother" also throws in two classic Star Trek storytelling beats: a lost Starfleet ship being rediscovered unexpectedly, and a baffling enigma in space. Any or all of this ought to be intriguing to longtime fans, and seeing it afresh will hopefully help hook new ones.
Humor was obviously also injected somewhat deliberately, mostly in the character of Saru, something that would've greatly benefited his Short Treks entry, which saw none of this kind of inspired storytelling. The brief reference to it in the episode is basically all you really need to know, until we inevitably see his sister again.
- franchise - A lot of stuff fans will appreciate.
- series - Beginning a fresh chapter doesn't mean the previous one is forgotten.
- character - All the returning main characters have at least a moment or two in which to shine, and several new ones are introduced brilliantly.
- essential - This is Discovery doing what it does best.
James Frain (Sarek)
Mia Kirshner (Amanda)
Ethan Peck (Spock)