Intentionally or not, by the finale of its sophomore season, Star Trek: Discovery, along with actor Ethan Peck, who guest-starred as Spock, provided an argument for another prequel to the original series.
At least two more live-action series are in the works: the first led by Michelle Yeoh as Philippa Georgiou about Starfleet’s shadowy Section 31 division, and the other led by Patrick Stewart, revisiting his role as Jean-Luc Picard from The Next Generation. (Santiago Cabrera, Michelle Hurd, Alison Pill, Harry Treadaway, and Isa Briones will join Stewart in the new series.) The Short Treks program has already seen four episodes released, and Emmy Award–winner Mike McMahan (Rick And Morty) is developing Star Trek: Lower Decks, a half-hour animated comedy focused on the support crew of one of Starfleet’s least important ships.
Even if the intention is to see Spock recur on Discovery, the case made for a series about a young and hungry Enterprise crew led by Anson Mount as Christopher Pike, Rebecca Romijn as Number One, and Peck as an up-and-coming version of the iconic sci-fi figure couldn’t be stronger.
Discovery’s second season focused on universal themes of family, understanding, love, and loss — all well-trod storytelling paths with the inherent danger of an attack of saccharine. Under the guidance of Alex Kurtzman and his team, however, the result has been mysterious, thrilling, unpredictable, and, of course, very worthy of the series’ recent third season renewal.
Both Discovery seasons are Certified Fresh: Season 2 currently has an 83% Tomatometer score, while season 1, which endured a lot of huff and bluster about what Star Trek is supposed to be, is just behind it at a healthy 82%.
Ahead of season 2, some residual grousing turned up around the highly anticipated appearance of Spock, the brother of lead character Michael Burnham, played by Sonequa Martin-Green.
As Sopan Deb of The New York Times wrote in a recap of the season premiere: “There is an elephant on the bridge. Spock … It’s always been a sore point that Burnham is supposed to be Spock’s foster [sister], whom apparently we never hear about in the history of all of Star Trek. In ‘Brother,’ we get hints about this. Burnham suggests that Spock didn’t accept her as a sibling — which seems, frankly, out of character for Spock, but it’s too early to determine that until we see how this story unfolds.”
Now the story has unfolded, and we’ve witnessed Michael and Spock push and pull against each other as if connected by rubber bands. Will they or won’t they be a family? In the finale that aired Thursday night, we found out that they will. The hate Michael perceived Spock had for her melted away over the course of the season — life lesson: bad feelings will escalate when fueled by a lack of communication. The finale showed just how deeply his love for his sister ran, with Spock choosing to accompany her into the unknown and their mutual dismay when it becomes apparent that their ever-after as loving siblings is not to be.
“Personal log: Stardate 1201.7,” Spock says in voice-over of a scene of him embracing their mother in the finale. “One hundred and twenty-four days have passed since your disappearance…We’ve sworn never to speak your name in the presence of others. Yet, I feel you with me, always.”
We spoke to Peck ahead of the finale to find out how the season went for him and what it’s been like inhabiting such an beloved character in an enormous franchise, and, though he was understandably circumspect about whether we’ll see more Spock, one thing’s certain: He won’t be wearing a red shirt.
Debbie Day for Rotten Tomatoes: It’s been so exciting to watch your character develop over the season; the arc has been quite extreme for Spock. Fans have a very specific vision about what the character is, but they start in a very different place with you — can you talk a little bit about that?
Ethan Peck: You’re absolutely right. The season arc is hugely transformational for him. I consider it, I understand it to be sort of his genesis. He is in this place of uncertainty, and back in the beginning of his appearance on season 2 of Discovery, and he ends up much closer to the Mr. Spock we met at the beginning of the original series. It’s just an incredible honor, not just to play Spock, but to play him in this moment in his life when he is full of doubts and he has these pieces of himself that aren’t quite yet fitting together well.
What makes Spock so special is that he is these polar opposites, but they live together in harmony and he creates something much more than either human or Vulcan, in my opinion. I think this is why he’s so highly regarded and so respected and so compelling; because he makes the space in himself for the cold Vulcan logic and the warm hysterical human tendencies. That’s an amazing character to play and to be, and to have found that, I think there was an effort on not just my side, but on the writer’s side to make sure that it was clear he’s not yet the Spock that we have known to come and love in the original series.
We get glimpses along the way, and I think at the end we really come full bore with that mature Spock, or begin to.
Did you know going into this that you were going to play this very special moment in the character’s life? How much did you know about what this season would be for him?
Peck: I didn’t know all that much. I think they took, obviously a huge risk, casting me. Not necessarily — in my opinion — being proven as an actor. Who knows, because it is such a delicate balance in this character and the portrayal of this character of logic and emotion. But then I think that they saw I was extremely dedicated and passionate about doing it, about understanding it, and I was working on the edge of my abilities throughout the season, and I learned so much from doing it. Not just from the experience itself of creating and showing up every day on set and working, but from Spock himself.
I think they gave me a little more responsibility as they went on, and I’d like to think that what I did informed their decision to keep him on. I think in maybe some worlds, there was a possibility that I totally shat the bed, excuse my language, and they gave me less responsibilities, sorta phased me out, so I just feel incredibly grateful and honored. It’s all very surreal to me, still. I just feel filled with those feelings of gratitude and honor.
For fans of the franchise, it’s been very exciting to have the character there. One of the highlights, of course, is when it’s becoming apparent what Michael’s role is exactly with the angel: that she is responsible for some of the signals. But then Spock’s shuttle is disabled, and he’s not able to get back to Discovery to continue on the journey with her. How did you build that emotional moment for the character with his sister?
Peck: To speak specifically to the good bye on the shuttle, I think all of the work that we’ve all done with the Spock in the months that I’ve been there prior to that moment was really priming me for that good bye. I think in that moment, we really see Spock take ownership of himself and of his constituents: of this Vulcan side, of this human side. It’s an action that is deeply emotional and executed highly logically.
In the beginning of part one of the finale, Spock decides that he will stay with Discovery. That’s a very emotionally driven move. He wants to stay with his family, he wants to stay with his sister, with one of the, I think, few places that he can call home — if you can call a person a home — because, in a way, they have so much in common. Although she’s not half human–half Vulcan, she is. She was this human that was raised on Vulcan, and in season 1 you really see her become more human and learn what it is to be human. In this second season, I think we see Spock become more human and more Vulcan together.
In the beginning of part one, he thinks that he’ll stay, but in the end, he knows that he can’t and must say goodbye, and emotionally he would be driven to go with Michael Burnham with Discovery into the future, but logically it’s not possible. I think maybe at that moment he discovers there’s a responsibility he has to tie up his end of the journey, which is to remain.
The relationship was a continuation from moments that we hadn’t seen as viewers. I was really interested in your emotional build to that moment with a person with whom you’ve supposedly had such a fraught relationship.
Peck: Yeah. I think it’s a great competition that exists between the two of them — as does exist between many siblings — and we really, I think, dug into the sibling rivalry of it all. Also, I think they’re very similar; they’re both hyper-intelligent, they’re both, I think, perfect candidates for Starfleet, they have dedicated themselves to something larger than just who they are as single beings. So I think there’s a great respect that lives between them that, in the beginning, I don’t think is honored, but there’s a lot of anger on both sides, but they realize that they probably understand each other more than anybody else understands them, in all the known universe.
That feeling of being seen, of being understood, I think, is so essential to satisfying life. I think we all search for understanding and for similarities in one another. Because these are such unique characters, there aren’t many like them, and so I think to have found, I guess, sort of an anchor point in reality, is crucial to them becoming something more than they were, to evolving.
To quote Spock, “This comfort is essential to evolution.” I think that really encapsulates what’s happening in the second season between Spock and Michael Burnham. In terms of the preparation for that last scene, I think the whole season was preparation for it. I don’t think that I, at that point, needed to do that much work, but trust what I had built and what we had built, about Spock and about the crew on Discovery.
At the very end when she’s saying goodbye, she tells him, “There’s a whole galaxy out there full of people who will reach for you. You have to let them. Find that person who seems farthest from you and reach for them. Reach for them. Let them guide you.” Was that a nod to his future relationships with a personality like Captain Kirk?
Peck: Absolutely. I’m not sure who came up with that, but I think it was Alex Kurtzman, and I remember him just glittering while he was telling me this revelation that he’d had about this moment and about this beacon he’s setting for the future in himself that does end up becoming Kirk.
Discovery and Burnham shot off through a wormhole into the future, Admiral Cornwell is dead, Georgiou is somewhere out there, Leland died in a puddle of nanites, and Ash Tyler becomes a permanent Commander in Section 31. Spock, meanwhile, rejoins Enterprise and — despite everyone lying to Starfleet and saying that Discovery and her crew, including Burnham, blew up — he recommends that a gag be placed on everyone’s knowledge of what happened. What is his interest in making that recommendation?
Peck: Because of the dangers of Control. To really completely bury the knowledge of this omnipotent and sinister entity, it should be completely eradicated from the books. Not just physically eradicated, but also conceptually eradicated because of the extraordinary danger that he poses to the universe, or it poses to the universe.
I think I know, but what’s the significance of Spock shaving?
Peck: I think it’s an externalization of his alteration. I think the beard is an externalization of his inner turmoil and his unraveling. To shave is a settling back into a security of who he is and his comfort with himself. That’s what it means to me. It’s also a part of his goodbye to Michael. The self that he knew when he was learning from her and being with her, and to shave it is a part of that. What did you make of it?
Just him transitioning — like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon — and becoming the man that he would be.
Peck. Absolutely. Yeah.
Is there any hope that we’ll see the Enterprise and Spock again?
Peck: Is there hope? Yes, I hope so.
Are you signed up for season 3?
Peck: I can’t say. I know there’s nothing out there on it either way.
But you do hope so?
Peck: Yeah, I hope so.
Star Trek: Discovery seasons 1 and 2 are available to stream on CBS All Access.