“That’s the easiest way to explain it.” — Star Trek Discovery review, “If Memory Serves” s2e8

Pike and Vina across time
Star Trek: Discovery, season 2, episode 8
“If Memory Serves”
Review by Clinton

I’ve come to accept that “Star Trek: Discovery” doesn’t like the traditional approach of having an A (primary) and B (secondary) plot in each episode of the show. The show usually features two primary story lines and gives them equal time on a show that averages a run time of around 45 minutes. From my perspective, although things can feel very rushed, each plot tends to hold up its half of the episode rather well. Such was not the case this week.

In “If Memory Serves”, written by Jay Beatti and Dan Dworkin and directed by TJ Scott, one plot revolves around the complicated dynamics encircling Dr. Hugh Culber, Lt. Paul Stamets and Section 31 liaison Ash Tyler (Wilson Cruz, Anthony Rapp, Shazad Latif). While the other finds Mr. Spock and Lt. Michael Burnham (Ethan Peck, Sonequa Martin-Green) on the forbidden world of Talos IV.

First, l will speak about the more interesting of the two storylines, that of the events happening aboard Discovery. Returned from the dead, via a journey through the mycelial network, Dr. Hugh Culber has been having difficulties that neither he nor anyone else can fully explain. He feels detached from everything. His senses are virtually non-existent. That is not to say they are not present, but seem to exist only as points of data. He has a memory of enjoying certain foods, he recognizes his personal belongings, but the connection between knowing and feeling is simply not there. Nowhere is this more apparent than his relationship with his partner, Paul Stamets.

Although Stamets makes every effort to make Culber comfortable and be supportive, it only makes things more frustrating for the doctor. Culber ultimately lashes out, not so much at Stamets, but out of his own inability to understand what his own existence means.

Culber and Tyler

Readers of these reviews know that I have been wondering what might happen when Hugh Culber finally faces his murderer, Ash Tyler/Voq. It does not go anything like I had envisioned. The primal aggression Culber uses against Tyler is painful to watch. Culber is desperate to confront Voq, but no volume of punches can break through Tyler’s personality. Which is ironic, since Captain Pike (Anson Mount) still distrusts Tyler, partially because of the liaison’s Klingon personality.

When Culber fails in his attempts to force Voq to appear, he looks Tyler in the eyes and angrily proclaims his own torment.

Hugh Culber:
I don’t even know who I am anymore.

Ash Tyler:
Who do you think you’re talking to?

These two men are now both strangers in a strange land. With no one else capable of understanding their personal nightmares.

Wilson Cruz should be commended for pulling off a part that has been as much, if not more, a study in facial expressions and body language, lending much-needed gravitas to Culber’s torment.

But, as I said, “If Memory Serves” has a second main story, and it is a hot mess.

Where to start? There’s no better place than the opening of the episode. Here, we see clips from the original “Star Trek” pilot, “The Cage.” The montage gives us a well-edited, fast-paced summary of some key points of Enterprise’s first visit to Talos IV. Something that, in the timeline of “Discovery,” took place just three years prior. It is slick, well done, and presents a major problem. It sets up a direct comparison between the 1965 pilot and this 2019 follow-up.

To me, this is the first major blunder “Discovery” has made. It showed the original series (TOS) incarnations of Spock, Pike, Vina and the Talosians (Leonard Nimoy, Jeffrey Hunter, Susan Oliver, Georgia Schmidt, Barker, Serena Sande). We are taken out of the story “Discovery” has been telling, because we now see different actors in the same roles, with no reason to connect them with the 2019 cast.

The second tactical error was the portrayal of Vina (Melissa George). Much like Susan Oliver, the actress who originally portrayed her, the 1965 Vina was not a shrinking violet. She had overcome the most horrific conditions on Talos IV, but still retained a spark of life. Yes, there was sadness, but she was a three-dimensional character. This new portrayal of Vina is lifeless. She hardly moves, speaks in whispered tones and, for goodness sake, even sports a different hair color and style. I might have let some of this pass, had we not seen actual footage of Vina at the top of the episode. If the production wants me to go there, they need to commit to going there, too. They did not.

They failed on the look of the Talosians as well. While the garb had some nods to the original outfits, the similarity ended there. Why show what a Talosian looked like in 2254, only to have them appear completely different in 2257? If anything, they appeared healthier here, even though we were told in “The Cage” that they were dying.

Then there is the pacing. The slow, slow pacing. Everyone and every thing moves as if it were stuck in molasses. And, keep in mind, this is the plotline that reveals a lot about the red signal, the Red Angel, and even shows the destruction of all sentient life in our galaxy. It all falls flat.

Young Spock

But the most egregious error of all is the big reveal of the origin of the rift between Spock and Burnham. What was it that Burnham did that so scared Spock that he withdrew from his emotions and has not spoken to his adoptive sister in years? It amounts to little more than a few seconds of taunts the average teen girl hurls at her little brother on any given day of the week. That’s it. Period.

I’m not saying that young Burnham’s words did not sting, but if you spend half a season building up to a revelation like this, it really needs to be big, like Burnham giving Spock a seemingly angry shove. Or the breaking of a shared gift. Maybe the telling of a secret, made up on the spot, that crushes the child. The alternative to that would have been to see much more of the relationship between young Spock and young Burnham, so that we could understand that connection and feel it deepen, only to have it ripped away. But this scene, as it stands, does not pay off its setup.

I rarely fault “Discovery” for the choices it makes. But this plot was wrong on virtually every level. Had it not been for the accompanying Culber story, the episode would have collapsed like a shuttle entering a black hole.

Next episode: Project Daedalus

Random Thoughts and Observations

It was a nice touch to use the classic “quiet howling” sound effect on the surface of Talos IV. The effect was used on virtually every eerie planet Enterprise visited in the original series.

Saru’s (Doug Jones) desire to see the Culber/Tyler confrontation play out shines a small light on where things stand with the evolved Kelpien. His subsequent conversation with Captain Pike confirms that Saru is possibly having difficulty adjusting to his new feelings of confidence.

“Captain, I’m not the enemy here.” — Star Trek Discovery review, “Light and Shadows” s2e7

Tyler and Pike in shuttlecraft.
Star Trek: Discovery, season 2, episode 7
“Light and Shadows”
Review by Clinton

I’ve spoken before about relationships on “Star Trek: Discovery.” In fact, it was the basis of my review of the “Saints of Imperfection” episode. In “LIght and Shadows” the emphasis seems to be on testing the limits of these connections, pushing for answers and reconciliation.

Discovery and time rift

First, a bit about the episode overall, which has a story by Ted Sullivan and Vaun Wilmott, teleplay by Ted Sullivan and was directed by Marta Cunningham: While Discovery remains at Kaminar, studying residual decay that appears to be connected to the appearance of the red signal and the so-called Red Angel, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) travels home to Vulcan. Burnham believes her adoptive mother, Amanda Grayson (Mia Kirshner) knows more about Spock’s (Ethan Peck) whereabouts than she is telling.

Naturally, things do not go according to plan when Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) and the crew of Discovery approach the “residual decay.” They find it has an impossibly high density of tachyon particles. Why is that important? In the “Star Trek” universe, tachyons have moved from the realm of theory to an actual faster-than-light particle that can be detected. Their presence is associated with temporal distortion (time travel). And as Discovery moves closer to the particles, a massive rift in spacetime opens before the ship.

We have already been peppered with suggestions that time travel could be involved in the mystery of the signals and the Angel. The appearance of the rift would appear to confirm all the speculation.

It is when Pike announces that he will pilot the shuttle tasked with launching a probe into the rift that conflicts begin. Section 31 liaison Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) insists on accompanying Pike on his mission. Pike has an understandable distrust of Tyler, since Tyler’s Klingon personality killed Dr. Culber. And Tyler is growing increasingly frustrated at having his authority as a Section 31 operative marginalized by the Captain.

Once in the confined space of the shuttle, Tyler is determined to confront the captain. Even when the shuttle is pulled into the temporal anomaly, where other matters should take priority, the liaison baits Pike. Tyler accuses him of taking dangerous missions to atone for the fact that Enterprise was ordered to sit out the Federation/Klingon war. This type of psychoanalysis does not sit well with the captain.

On Vulcan, Burnham is also making accusations. She believes Grayson knows exactly where Spock is and is hiding the information from everyone, including her husband, Ambassador Sarek (James Frain).

Grayson also has some unresolved relationship issues. She confronts Sarek, accusing her husband of casting a blind eye at the humanity that resides in both their son and adoptive daughter. She reveals that the Vulcan Learning Center had no desire to help Spock overcome his human learning disabilities. As a result, the former teacher took on the responsibility of guiding their children through the looking glass world of outsiders attempting to survive in Vulcan society. She also rejects the notion that she is simply using Sarek’s position to protect Spock, virtually demanding Sarek see the truth.

Amanda Grayson:
I don’t live under your authority. I’m your wife. And I’m your partner. Try again, husband.

In all three cases, the accuser is correct. After the liaison saves his life, Pike confides to Tyler that he might, indeed, be taking dangerous assignments to absolve himself from the guilt he feels over being forced to sit out the war. Amanda Grayson admits to Burnham that she, in fact, is hiding Spock in order to protect her son from what she knows in her heart to be false accusations of murder. And Sarek, feeling the weight of the unwinding of his family structure, reveals, with as much emotion as he dare show, that his family is tremendously important to him.

And still there are confrontations yet to be had. Burnham must reconcile with Spock, for whatever act she committed to drive her brother away. We learn that Captain Leland (Alan Van Sprang) apparently must deal with his involvement with the death of Michael Burnham’s birth parents. And Ash Tyler must still face the man he murdered, the now very-much-alive Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz).

Burnham and Spock

But Burnham setting course for Talos IV, as well as a glimpse of some familiar-looking aliens in the preview for the next episode of “Star Trek: Discovery,” may mean we put these issues on the back burner. For now.

Next episode: If Memory Serves

Random Thoughts and Observations

It was interesting to see it raining on Vulcan. I would imagine it needs to rain on the planet from time to time, as we have no indication that Vulcans can survive without consuming liquids. Still, it was a bit odd to see a storm outside Sarek’s home. Or was that a metaphor for the storm brewing inside the dwelling?

Apparently they have been there since the shuttle first appeared in the first season, but I was noticing the number of physical switches and knobs on the consoles in the pod. It is odd to have such a predominance of tactile controls here and seemingly nowhere else on Discovery.

It is odd that once the crew finds out the Red Angel appears to be humanoid, everyone immediately believes it is from the future. Why? Starfleet must have encountered several civilizations with advanced technology. And, as we see, virtually all of them are humanoid.

Lt. Rhys (Patrick Kwok-Choon) says that igniting the shuttle’s plasma to alert search parties is a trick that is taught in flight school. Which makes one wonder why, in the the original series episode “Galileo Seven,” Spock, or some other crew member aboard the shuttle, didn’t outright suggest it as a way of signaling Enterprise?

Spock disappeared in the Mutara sector. Presumably this is where the Mutara nebula, seen at the end of “Star Trek II: The Search for Spock” is located.

Airiam's eye

Something appears to have taken over Lt. Commander Airiam (Hannah Cheesman). Hopefully, when we find out what has happened to her, we will also have the opportunity to learn a bit about her.

Discovery engages maximum warp while in proximity to Kaminar, to avoid the time tsunami. That’s bad enough, but we don’t know how the temporal waves affected the planet itself. I would hate to think it rolled back time to the point where the Ba’ul still had the means to control the Kelpiens.

What has been happening on Qu’Nos all this time? Have the Klingon houses accepted Chancellor L’Rell (Mary Chiefo)?

If Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) is quickly gaining so much power over Leland, could this be the reason Section 31 eventually goes back “underground” and is unknown to the majority of Starfleet later in history? Does she force it into the background, where it answers to no one?