The (non)toxic masculinity of Star Trek: Discovery’s Captain Pike


How did the showrunners of Star Trek: Discovery steer clear of making Anson Mount’s Captain Pike just another generic white guy named Chris?

Star Trek: Discovery concluded its sophomore season with an action-packed finale, complete with character deaths, heroic sacrifices, and out-of-this-world drama. The final episode also bid farewell to the crew of the Enterprise, with Anson Mount’s Captain Christopher Pike, Rebecca Romijn’s Number One and Ethan Peck’s Spock staying behind while Michael Burnham (played by Sonequa Martin-Green) led Discovery and her crew 900 years into the future.

Discovery will return for a third season, but with the focus now shifted to a different timeline, fans are already calling for a spin-off show starring the Enterprise. And it’s not hard to see why. Along with a supporting cast of diverse actors, in Mount, Romijn, and Peck, the showrunners have a winning formula.

Pike, especially, has captured the imaginations of many viewers given the character’s in-canon history. Discovery’s showrunners combined the nostalgia of the character with the sensibilities of the modern age, thereby giving Trekkies the best of both worlds. From the moment Pike stepped aboard Discovery in the season two premiere, he ensured an easy transfer of leadership. As a Star Trek fan, we are used to changes in captaincy causing strife among the senior staff, but Pike always deferred to the Discovery crew’s experience and knowledge of the ship.

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It would have been easy to write Pike as a brash egotist, or a sermonizing authoritarian (ala the Kelvin timeline films), especially given that Pike captains Starfleet’s premier vessel. Arrogance should have been in his blood. But Star Trek: Discovery did not go down that route. Pike’s steadfast faith in Spock’s innocence emboldens Burnham to keep up the search for her brother and clear his name. Aboard Discovery, Pike patiently tolerates Ensign Sylvia Tilly’s rambles, Commander Saru’s changing moods, as well as Burnham’s earnest demands. The high drama that takes place on an almost daily basis between Discovery and Section 31 is water off a duck’s back for Pike – be it Leland’s arrogance, Phillipa Georgiou’s domineering personality, or Ash Tyler’s wavering loyalties; as long as the universe is safe, Pike will face these obstacles with a smile on his face.

His effortless ability to handle these situations is down to having his own house in order. Male characters are still written as distrusting of the women who work with (or worse, for) them, but Pike has no such concerns. He leaves the Enterprise in Number One’s capable hands for the majority of the season, and never doubts her competence. What is especially delightful about Pike is his trust in Number One. Their camaraderie harks back to that of Captain Kirk and Spock from the original series.

Pike’s generosity extends beyond his crews, though. In “New Eden”, the second episode of the season, Pike takes an away team to Terralysium, a haven for human survivors who have shunned technology and amalgamated known religions into one. Having been brought up by a preacher, Pike has theological knowledge, which he uses to put the citizens of Terralysium at ease. Another show may have had Pike make the sign of the cross, but on Discovery, Pike accepts the universality of belief by repeating the English translation of the Islamic saying “Peace be upon you”.

Several, so-called continuity errors that die-hard fans had found during the show’s pilot season were rectified in the second season. The Enterprise’s conspicuous absence from the Klingon War during season one of Star Trek: Discovery becomes a cog in Pike’s central characterization – his survivor’s guilt fuelling his need to prove to himself that he is brave and worthy of captaining a crew who has been through a deadly war. Pike’s guilt doesn’t compel him to make rash decisions for others, but they do aid him in pushing himself beyond his comfort zone.

Pike boarded the Discovery to investigate mysterious Red Signals and instead got swept along with Discovery’s many irrational missions, making his own personal sacrifices along the way. Viewers who grew up watching the original Star Trek were already aware of Pike’s eventual fate, and the showrunners used that knowledge to their advantage.

“If Memory Serves” — Ep#208 — Pictured (l-r): Anson Mount as Captain Pike; Melissa George as Vina of the CBS All Access series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/CBS ©2018 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

In episode 12, “Through the Valley of Shadows”, Pike visits the sacred Klingon world of Boreth to procure a time crystal. The crystals are a gateway to look into the future, and the future awaiting Pike is horrifying and painful for him. But the crystal is vital to their mission, and despite Time Keeper Tenavik warning Pike that removing a crystal would seal his fate, Pike summons the courage to face his destiny and complete the task at hand.

Pike didn’t have to be overwrought to resonate with viewers, he just needed to be human. Throughout the season, Pike remains stoic, as most good Starfleet captains are wont to be, but he wasn’t above having a little fun and letting his hair down; Number One ribs him endlessly, and Discovery’s crew tends to take advantage of his kindness. But, since they were all working towards the same goals, Pike didn’t needlessly interfere.

We saw a sea-change in Pike following episode 12. He becomes somber, reserved, sometimes cautious – the earlier effervescence having dissipated with the uncomfortable truths that he had faced on Boreth. It took the return of his ship to instill some life back into him.

Despite the obvious sacrifice he has made for his future for Discovery, Pike be-grudges his new crew nothing, referring to them as “my friends, my family” when Discovery flies into the wormhole to the future in the season finale, never to be seen again.

The love fans have for Pike is understandable given how refreshing his characterization was. The showrunners could have allowed Pike to take over the show, sidelining the much more inclusive crew, but they didn’t. Pike could have had the cocky confidence of his 60s version, but he is respectful of others’ experiences and capabilities. Pike’s bravery is not greater than that of the other members of Discovery, but he is on par with his sacrifice.

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In a show packed full of people of color, it seemed like an affront to have a generic white guy named Chris take over the captaincy, even if it was only for one season. But Anson Mount and the Star Trek: Discovery showrunners reimagined Pike as an ally, an enabler, and a friend. Whether an Enterprise spin-off comes to fruition or doesn’t, Discovery has paved the way for creating the kind of male characters we don’t see often enough in genre fiction – non-toxic human beings who willingly acknowledge others’ lived experiences and who join others’ journeys, instead of making the story all about them.