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.
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.
I don’t even know who I am anymore.
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.
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.