Season 2 of the sci-fi/adventure series begins with a major crisis: the inexplicable appearance of seven red signal bursts across 30,000 light years of space. These signals, it’s said, typically follow the arrival of a being that Starfleet has coined the “Red Angel.”
“This could be the defining moment for multiple civilizations, millions of lives. The future may be determined by our actions — yours and mine,” Spock says, claiming that this angel has shown him an apocalyptic vision of what’s to come should nothing be done. “Someone, or something, is going to end all sentient life in the galaxy,” he says in the clip.
Rotten Tomatoes spoke with members of the expansive ensemble — from star Sonequa Martin-Green (Michael Burnham) to newcomer Anson Mount (Capt. Christopher Pike) — along with producers Alex Kurtzman and Heather Kadin to learn more of what’s to come this season. Below are 13 must-know secrets they revealed ahead of the premiere.
If one thing is certain in the Star Trek multiverse, it’s that there are surprises around every corner. So while Martin-Green wasn’t able to reveal many specific plotlines prior to the show’s season 2 premiere, she did tease two major tidbits: First, the season will pick up in the midst of rebuilding after the Federation’s war with the Klingons. And second, it’s going to make audiences cry.
“Season 2 is very much an exploration of science and faith. We’ve heard that said quite a bit, but it is also a deeply emotional story because we have a lot to deal with after that war,” she said. “That war left a lot in its wake, and we have to look at it. It’s like the tornado runs through the home and then you’re just bearing down and you’re gritting your teeth, and when the tornado leaves, now you’ve got to turn to your house and be like, ‘OK, so now we don’t have a roof. OK, now there’s flooding everywhere. OK, how are we going to clean this all up? Do we want to still live here?’ Those are the questions that we have to ask ourselves, that we do ask ourselves, and I love that. …We’re willing and ready to do the work and to show how much work it actually is to rebuild.”
Star Trek: Discovery’s first season was very much a story of redemption for Michael, who set in motion the events that ultimately led to the central war. And while the season’s end saw her reinstated as a commander in Starfleet, Martin-Green said those earlier misfires still affect the woman we see on screen today.
“Unfortunately, it never goes away, right? You make a deep mistake like that, that has those kinds of consequences, it never goes away,” she said. “You learn how to deal with it better and better as each day goes on, but it doesn’t just go away, and it is something Burnham will have to contend with for the rest of her life. There will always be those reminders of that. There will always be reminders of the great loss of the Klingon War and how many people fell from that. And it’s a big part of the maturation that happens with Burnham over the course of season 1: the cost of arrogance, and the cost of thinking that because you were trained in logic, you’re right, and because you were trained in logic, you know what’s best for everyone.
“That’s not the case,” she continued. “If you have to make a decision for everyone, everyone’s perspective is needed. That was a big lesson to learn. And so that changed Burnham’s identity, and that’s a permanent change…. I say to Sarek in the pilot of the show that my emotion informs my logic, but my logic needs to inform my emotions as well. I have to find a way to accept my humanity fully, but also accept my logical way of thinking fully, and have them work together seamlessly. I think that’s going to take some more time.”
“He does go back onto the ship because [he’s] sort of acting as this mediator, so he’’ll see them again,” he said.
Plus, he and Burnham may have some unfinished business in their affair.
“That is yet another thing that has to be dealt with because, yes, Ash is the first man that Burnham has ever been in love with,” Martin-Green said. “There wasn’t any time for that on Vulcan, and there certainly wasn’t any time for that once I joined Starfleet. It was just career, career, career, career. So yes, [his leaving] was a deep emotional betrayal, and that doesn’t just go away. Him deciding to serve L’Rell because he’s searching for who he is and where he belongs, that’s a decision that I respect very much as Burnham, but that doesn’t mean that the betrayal goes away. So I will say that no stone is left unturned.”
Some viewers have found it odd that the Spock they know from the original series (which is set 10 years ahead of Discovery) never mentioned his half-sister Burnham, but showrunner Kurtzman promised that that mystery and more will be resolved in season 2.
“Obviously there was a lot of questions from the last season, right? How come Spock has never mentioned his half-sister Michael Burnham? And we owe the audience an answer to that,” Kurtzman said. “It is through his relationship, his very complicated and broken relationship with Michael, that he’s able to actualize himself as the Spock we know from TOS, and that’s a big part of what this season’s about.”
Peck, the actor behind this younger, bearded iteration of Spock, also expanded on that a bit, saying, “They haven’t seen each other in a long time — and there’s a reason for that.”
“One of the things that I’m most excited about with this season is that this is the untold chapter of Spock,” Kurtzman said. “This is Spock pre-TOS; he’s not actualized as the character you know from the original series yet.”
Touching on the mysterious red bursts and the appearance of what’s been called the “red angel,” Kurtzman added that coming face to face with the unknown will challenge Spock in unexpected ways.
“He has seen something that his logical brain and logical training can not make sense of, and he’s emotionally ill-equipped to deal with it. So logic and emotion have failed Spock. He is trying to figure out who he is and what the signals mean and the red angel means,” Kurtzman said.
Especially with franchises as beloved as Star Trek, there’s going to be heightened scrutiny around the casting of characters new and old. Spock for Discovery season 2 proved no different. Fortunately, after auditioning more than 400 actors, Kurtzman and executive producer Heather Kadin knew they’d found their man when Peck walked in the room.
“I think it’s because of the time of Spock’s life we’re going to be looking into and diving into, you wanted someone who exhibited those qualities that you’ve seen in the later versions of Spock, but also he’s younger,” Kadin said. “It’s like casting a younger version of yourself. It’s hard because you want that person to look like they could grow into the person you know. So that’s hard to find.”
Despite the stereotypes surrounding Vulcans, the role needed an actor who could exhibit wide ranges of emotion.
“There’s a misconception that Vulcans don’t have emotion, [but] that’s not the case at all. They contain it very differently than humans do,” Kurtzman said. “So what you’re looking for from an actor is somebody who can convey enormous amount of emotion behind that stoic Vulcan veneer. And when Ethan came in, then read, it was really clear that he was feeling so much and working so hard to contain it. Especially with the Spock that you’re going to see in this season who doesn’t know what to do with his emotion and doesn’t understand how logic and emotion fit together yet. He just seemed like the guy. It was very natural.”
While discussing his character analysis and process in finding how he was going to bring Spock to life on Discovery, Peck recounted how he watched hours of the original series in addition to taking notes from Zachary Quinto’s performance from the latest trilogy of feature films. But one thing that really crystallized his Spock was paying a visit to the famed Leonard Nimoy’s family.
“I met with the Nimoy family, which was incredible. They were so warm and curious. It was like the first step of making me feel worthy of this because they were just so lovely,” Peck recalled. “I watched the documentaries they each made. [Nimoy’s son] Adam made For the Love of Spock, and [Nimoy’s daughter] Julie made Remembering Leonard Nimoy. … They inspired me to be curious, and that was the best advice I could have gotten because Spock is ultimately a curious being. He wants to understand. He’s special in the way that he has a big heart, ultimately, in order to take in the universe, as well as a great mind.”
Section 31 has been a controversial addition to the Star Trek universe since its introduction, but here, the top-secret intelligence division provides a perfect and tantalizing vehicle for the return of Emperor Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) from the Mirror Universe.
“Starfleet lives in a very black and white world. They have rules; they have to stick to those rules. You can bend them, but you can’t break them,” Kurtzman explained. “Section 31 lives entirely in shades of gray, and they do all of the things that Starfleet proper can’t do. That’s really interesting because when you have a character like Georgiou, whose conscience is constantly being tested and her ethics are constantly being tested, she’s really in some ways the perfect person to do the dirty work that Starfleet can’t do, and that’s an exciting place to explore. It’s a little bit gloves off, which is what’s fun about Section 31.”
Despite the likely more menacing nature of the seven red bursts this season, some positives come the development, according toAnthony Rapp, who plays Paul Stamets, and Mount. First of all, the bursts’ appearance is likely what brought Pike to Discovery in the first place thanks to the ship’s space-travel capabilities.
“The reason [Pike] needs that fast ship is that they’ve been charting these seven signals around the galaxy. The energy required to produce them is beyond anything humanity has ever encountered,” Mount said. “We don’t even know where to begin with what this could be. This could be a completely other level of existence that we’ve never encountered before. He is as consumed by this question as anything he’s ever been consumed by.”
And second, while season 1 was largely encumbered by the war with the Klingons, season 2’s developments reinvigorate the series with Star Trek’s trademark sense of curiosity and exploration.
“The fundamental core attitude of Starfleet is curiosity, and [Pike] is fully in the throes of that when we encounter him in the first episode of this season,” Mount said.
“The seven signals are requiring us literally to go around the galaxy and figure out what the hell’s going on,” Rapp added. “That means that sometimes you have to visit places that we haven’t visited before. So, yes, it was by design that writers are like, ‘Yes, we want to make sure we’re doing more of that exploration stuff.’ There’s still going to be this spine of the long form story, but it will also have a little more like, ‘This episode we’re going to be on this asteroid,’ and, ‘This episode we’re going be on this planet.’ That’s been really satisfying.”
One new territory explored? Saru’s home planet, Kaminar.
The end of season 1 saw Saru (Jones), a Kelpien — an alien race generally regarded as cowardly — earn commendations for his bravery in helping to end the Klingon war, and the second season could see even more growth for the character in the form of a potential love interest.
“We have to procreate somehow,” Jones deadpanned when Rotten Tomatoes asked whether that was in the cards for the character. “I had a private conversation last night over dinner with our showrunner Alex Kurtzman about that very thing. About the possibility. So I don’t know what’s ahead for Saru. Personally, I would like him to find love because every character I play I want to find love and a sense of belonging in some way, shape, or form.”
After the events of the first season, “a whole new world has opened up to him,” Jones added, “so love should open up too, shouldn’t it? I like that idea.”
Outside of Starfleet, L’Rell (Chieffo) will explore her newfound political power among the Klingons and her developing relationship with Ash, who is undergoing a crisis of identity like no other. It doesn’t help that L’Rell feels guilt and remorse for her plan with Voq going haywire.
“We’re in therapy now,” she joked. “It is a constant reminder that I failed [Voq]. I came up with the plan, he decided to sacrifice himself, and I was like: ‘I promise you, I’ll make it work,’ and then I failed because I underestimated the integrity of the human spirit, which I think is a beautiful and interesting metaphor that she had to acknowledge.”
Now that the two of them are back together and Ash does indeed remember his Klingon life as Voq, season 2 has plenty to play with between the two.
“I didn’t expect [Voq’s] memories to stay with him. I thought that I was getting rid of [Voq] when I did the surgery. That’s the big shock in the finale…. So it’s that navigation of, ‘How do I respect the choice that he made to be more human but still have that Klingon within him?’ It’s very tense,” she revealed.
Chieffo cited real-life historical icons including Queen Elizabeth and Cleopatra as inspiration for her character’s journey this season, and said playing a powerful alien leader allowed her and the writers’ room to play with and expand upon how women in positions of power are portrayed onscreen.
“So many of these stories have been told from a white, male perspective,” she said. “Now it’s , it’s sci-fi, she’s an alien — we can take what we love about those women and give her a little bit more of a fully fleshed-out story. If I could say more specifically, I would, but those archetypes have been very important to me. Someone said to me, ‘Being alien is to shift into a different octave,’ which I really like. There’s something about that that I think we both embody.”
Star Trek: Discovery didn’t allow just Chieffo to reframe her perceptions of social justice in the real world. Both Martin-Green and Wilson Cruz (who plays Dr. Hugh Culber) praised the foundational ideologies of the franchise for emboldening their views on today’s most important issues off-screen.
“I have to say as much as I much appreciate this job and this opportunity, I appreciate it more and more as each day passes with this [current political climate],” Cruz said. “It does inspire me to believe that there is a better alternative than the one we have at the moment. Our job as artists is to help people imagine and to help inspire them and to imagine a better world, especially in Star Trek. That’s what it always has done. It’s always asked its audience to imagine what it would be like if we all actually not just acknowledged and tolerated our differences, but celebrated those differences.”
In that sense, Martin-Green says, Star Trek: Discovery is her personal call to arms.
“For me, personally I consider Star Trek to be a call to arms. It’s a call to rise; it’s a call to action. Because yes, it’s one thing to see this picture, it’s one thing to see this utopia, in a sense. It’s another thing to see the work it takes to get there…. I want to step on the battlefield and bring up my weapon of love — love is really a weapon. It’s the most powerful weapon we have and it never fails.”
New episodes of Star Trek: Discovery are released every Thursday on CBS All Access.