SPOILERS? HOW COULD THERE NOT BE SPOILERS?
I wasn’t gonna blog about this week’s episode. I really wasn’t. We were at Disneyland all day Friday and Saturday, and that’s usually my prime reviewing time. But OMF-ingG! What did I just watch????
It was STAR TREK. REAL Star Trek. The kind of Star Trek that gets me all excited and emotionally engaged and dying to see more. It was the kind of Star Trek that has me caring about the characters and not giving a crap that the uniforms are all shiny or the Tellarites now have tusks or the lens flares are multiplying like tribbles. Who cares??? This was a friggin’ STAR TREK!
If you hate Discovery or refuse to watch it or you stopped watching it in (or after)season one…I totally get and respect that. I spent nearly the entire first season kvetching, feeling angry and frustrated and even a little betrayed as a fan over CBS “ruining” this thing that I’d loved for the entire five decades of my life.
And honestly, I went into season two doubting that they could pull the rabbit out of their butts and fix things. Some “true believers” made the argument that TNG and DS9 weren’t exactly firing on all thrusters in their first seasons either, and they all got a lot better. But in my mind, Discovery was so far down into the hole that I didn’t think they would ever make it back into the light.
So if you’re wondering if Jonathan has been brainwashed by the CBS Talosians and tricked into typing a blog that raves about the eight episode of Discovery‘s second season, I invite you to check it out for yourself—just this one episode “If Memory Serves”—and see if you feel as surprised (and impressed!) as I do.
This was the kind of episode that I used to watch back in college…where it ended and I just wanted to TALK about it with other fans! And that’s why I’m writing this even though the episode aired three nights ago.
WHAT I LOVED
I loved the “Previously on Star Trek” into with the original footage from “The Cage”! Sure, we’ve just shot a canon cannonball into the series by seeing the original Enterprise NCC-1701 on Star Trek: Discovery (hey, Midnight’s Edge, doesn’t it need to be 25% different???), but I’m just gonna go with it. I’ve cherished those first 79 or 80 episodes all my life. This opening was the first time that I really felt these folks making Discovery truly cherished them, too.
Protecting Talos IV with the illusion of a black hole??? Brilliant! This was the first episode written by the team of Jay Beattie and Dan Dworkin, but I hope it won’t be the last. And the scene where the catatonic Spock comes out of his stupor in the shuttlecraft to wordlessly struggle with Burnham to plow into the black hole…perfect! I mean, I knew it was the Talosians messing with their minds, so I wasn’t really worried. But even so, what an exciting and well-crafted scene.
The singing blue plants…sure they were corny in 1965, and they were just as corny last Thursday night. But they are also a part of Star Trek‘s long and rich history. Back during TOS, planets were made to seem more “alien” by adding in some ambient background sounds. Eventually, we fans barely even noticed anymore, and they weren’t a part of TNG or any of the later series (usually). But this episode of Discovery established a direct link to TOS, and the “alien ambience” was appreciated (as was Burnham’s smile when she touched one…just like her younger brother had done in “The Cage”). Seeing and hearing those singing plants made Talos IV feel just a little more like “home.”
Vina! After taking so many “liberties” with established Star Trek canon—Klingons, uniforms, Harry Mudd—FINALLY there’s a character nearly identical to the original. Granted, the original actress who played Vina, Susan Oliver, passed away in 1990. But Melissa George was a very close approximation…even in the “old Vina” make-up. She acted similar enough that I believed this was the same marooned human survivor whom Pike encountered three years earlier (his time) and fallen in love with. And it was nice to know that she’d been living “happily ever after” since his departure (and will again when the real thing returns in another ten years or so). Vina wasn’t overused in the episode nor underused. Perfect.
And speaking of Pike, what is not to love about this guy??? And in this episode, Anson Mount‘s portrayal came closest to Jeffrey Hunter‘s original performance during the tender scene between him and Vina on the Discovery. This felt very much like a sequel to “The Cage” and a prequel to “The Menagerie.” A perfect “interlude” that, in my head, was totally acceptable canon…one of the first times I’ve felt that way with this show.
Ethan Peck was a really good Spock…thank God! I mean, I was totally dreading that he’d suck, as Vulcans in general—and Spock in particular—are very challenging roles to pull off. Leonard Nimoy pretty much broke his own mold, and expecting someone to portray Spock exactly like Nimoy did is usually a recipe for disaster. But when an actor can make the role his own while still coming across as Spock-ish, well, when done right it can lessen the blow that Leonard Nimoy is no longer with us. Ethan Peck showed, especially with his hint of a smile at the end and his raised eyebrow, why he got this part…and why this younger Spock will be worth getting to know.
Burnham’s “betrayal” of Spock was a powerful scene and almost made me cry. Granted, we all knew it was coming (they had to eventually show what she did to push Spock away). And it did seem a little unrealistic that adult Spock is still holding a 20-year grudge about that one thing…even though he now acknowledges that Michael did it to protect him. That’s somewhat simplified writing and was something that I did NOT love.
But what I did love was how this one incident peels away a whole new layer of the Spock onion. He was very human as a boy, and he wanted to connect with that side of him, hoping his big sister could be his guide. but when she shunned him and hurt him, Spock buried his love along with all other emotions and embraced pure logic…and that is why Spock “hated” (an emotion?) his human half so. It’s not simply that he was embarrassed by it (as Trek had so often implied). It was also his kryptonite, the vulnerability that could open his heart up to infinite pains in infinite combinations.
The climactic “clever escape” was totally Star Trek. Again, I knew it was coming. Of course the Burnham and Spock who beamed up to the Section 31 ship were illusions. And also of course, Vina could have just told Pike, “Hey, don’t worry. The people in the transporter beam are illusions. We’re sending the real ones back in a shuttle.” But Star Trek used to fool viewers like that all the time back in the 1960s and later on. So fine, play a little game with us. It was fun.
Did you notice what the very last scene was? There’s a shot of the USS Discovery leaving orbit and warping away…just like so many episodes of classic (and not so classic) Star Trek would show the Enterprise (or Voyager) leaving orbit or just heading off into space. But scenes like this have been a rarity on Discovery. In fact, I can’t remember one—mainly because they haven’t visited that many planets! But I very much appreciated the tip of the space hat to classic Trek. Hopefully, such hat-tipping will happen much more often in the future.
WHAT DIDN’T THRILL ME
Despite how good this episode was, it wasn’t perfect. There were parts that didn’t exactly impress me, and things that downright annoyed me. And yet I still loved the episode itself, mainly for the reasons I mentioned above (nearly all dealing with the A-story). The B and the C stories, though, had their issues…
Star Trek has brought characters back from the dead before: Spock, of course, Kirk in “Amok Time” and in “The Enterprise Incident” (and Star Trek Into Darkness), McCoy in “Shore Leave,” Chekov in “Spectre of the Gun,” Worf and Wesley in “Hide and Q,” and I think even Janeway and Neelix died and came back to life. And each time, after being resurrected, it was just “business as usual” for these characters (well, Spock had to work through restoring his back-up katra). But after Dr. Hugh’s regeneration, the writers now want to explore what happens when a character comes back to life without everything returning to normal. I get that, and I like the idea…in theory.
In execution, though, it’s missed the mark with me so far. The first miss was the whole “acting as if nothing had happened” reaction by Paul Stamets. It was necessary, of course, in order to establish that things are NOT okay for Hugh or their relationship. And naturally, the audience should feel broken-hearted for the loss of this beautiful relationship, and we should be rooting for them to find their love again, right?
Except for one problem: I never had the chance to care about these two characters or their relationship in the first place. The show failed to get me invested in the two of them being together, and so as Hugh was feeling nothing and Paul was feeling powerless to fix this and restart the relationship, I was feeling…well…nothing. A part of me was even thinking, “No big deal, Hugh. Get your own quarters and go back in to the Starfleet dating scene. You can do better.” I’m pretty sure that was NOT what the writers wanted me to feel.
The second problem I had with this B-story was the inevitable fight scene between Dr. Hugh and Rabbi Tyler/Voq (get a haircut, dude…and shave!). Have you noticed how, when it comes to Tyler being on Discovery, no one ever deals with the obvious HR issues that are bound to come up? No one told Stamets that the man who killed his lover was back on board until—OOOPS!—there they both are on the bridge. “Yeah, about that…” Then no one (not even Stamets or Tyler) thinks it might be better to keep the guy who murdered Dr. Hugh away from his reincarnated victim? C’mon, people! If you want the viewers to care about any of these characters, then how about setting the example by having them give two shats about each other first?
And then it was finally time for Flight Club…and Saru just lets it happen??? No one else stops it or calls security, naturally, because Saru is the senior officer and it’s obviously his decision to let bygones try to kill each other. While I understood that this scene needed to happen for Hugh’s story to move forward, it still seemed like a BIG step backward for the series…a return to the dysfunctional crew of season one. I won’t call it lazy or sloppy writing but rather “a choice.” There was probably a more complex and time-consuming way to deal with the Hugh/Tyler tension, but the writers and show-runners opted for the ol’ beat-the-crap-out-of-each-other in-the-mess-hall-and-get-it-out-of-their-systems trope. A choice that would not have been my preferred one.
At least Pike dealt with the incident, and with Saru, showing his patented patience and understanding: he letting this one go, but it WILL not happen again. Frankly, I would have been okay adding in a reprimand and having Pike also talk to the two officers involved directly, but as I said, a choice. And with only 14 episodes in a season, there’s not a lot of time for other writing paths that might require more scenes.
Section 31 still bugs the hell out of me, but each time, it’s for a different reason. This episode introduces what I like to call the “BADMIRALS” (bad admirals, get it?), the four holographic projections at the beginning giving orders to Leland. My problem? Well, there were a few.
First, we’ve seen the “evil admiral” before—Cartwright in Trek VI, Dougherty in Insurrection, Satee and Prescott in TNG, Leyton in DS9—and so this is nothing new. Second, the occasional “bad apple” (bad admiral) is fine; it shows that even Starfleet isn’t immune to human (or alien) failings. But when it’s a cabal or a conspiracy of badmirals, then it begins to undermine the very essence of Star Trek‘s message of hope and optimism and “we can be better.”
We’ve already seen Starfleet’s admirals make some questionable calls in season one: letting Lorca have free rein, choosing to destroy the Klingon homeworld, letting the Empress impersonate Captain Georgiou. But what about Burnham’s great speech in front of the admiralty? “We’re Starfleet, and we stand for something!” Hasn’t the admiralty learned anything from Discovery‘s mutineer-turned-hero? Apparently not!
The other main problem with Section 31 is the writers trying to have it both ways. Ultimately, they intend to launch a Section 31 streaming TV series starrign Michelle Yeoh. So part of the message for Section 31 is Tyler’s “They are dedicated people and really are trying to save the Federation.” That’s fine; I can understand a little ends-justifying-the-means from time to time.
But their leaders (Leland, Georgiou, the badmirals) are simply not nice or decent people. They’re conniving; they’re bullies; they’re back-stabbers; and they’re generally bitchy people. They even seem to revel in their baser instincts. I’m sorry, CBS, but you can’t have it both ways. Either Section 31 is a villain or they’re a get-your-hands-dirty dark hero. If the new series is about the latter, then stop showing us so much of the former.
Also, how dumb are the badmirals? If the Empress knew about the Talosian’s powers from her own universe, and she didn’t share that information with Leland, then won’t they all be pissed off at her and not Leland?
The new Talosian make-up was cool, but was it really necessary? The huge upper nose ridges…why? What was wrong with the look of the original Talosians? Wardrobe matched their original gray gowns and necklaces perfectly. Their heads were big and their veins throbbed. All good. So why add that thing with the nose? I didn’t hate it (not like I hated the new Klingons make-up from season one), but it just seemed like an unnecessary change-for-change-sake.
And finally, the whole Airiam framing Tyler thing was pretty transparent. Granted, maybe it was meant to be…one of those times we viewers were supposed to figure out something that the crew didn’t know? Probably the case, but it seemed like the scene was trying to have it both ways—something obvious and something to surprise us. Either way, at least it apparently comes to a head next episode. As much as I want to see more Airiam, the three-red-dots computer virus (or whatever it is) needs to wrap up quicker than the May/Mushroom storyline…and that one only lasted three episodes!
All in all, though, an incredible episode that held up well on a second viewing (something I’ve only done with a small handful of Discovery episodes). I sort of felt like I did when Star Trek: Enterprise‘s fourth season finally started nailing (too late, unfortunately) what the series should have been like from season one on. So, too, do I feel like this episode of Discovery finally started delivering on the potential of this new serialized format for a Trek series. There’s still some rough areas, but this episode triggered that old fan excitement in me in a way that I didn’t think this show would ever do.
SOME FINAL (MIND-BLOWING?) THOUGHTS…
Okay, I previously shared my theory of who the Red Angel really is. Last time, it was just a theory. Now, I’m certain of it. If you don’t want to know, do NOT watch this next video…
Second, remember at the end when Georgiou says, “Those Talosians tried this trick with me in the Terran Universe once, and I blew them and their stupid singing plants off the face of the planet…”?
Yeah, well, then I realized: that’s exactly what they wanted her to think!
And finally, there is now a lot of talk of things ending in oblivion for the Federation: Earth, Vulcan, Tellar, Andoria…blasted to ruin and all sentient life in the galaxy eradicated. “Our current timeline,” Burnham says. Is this a way for Discovery to alter their timeline to match the Trek timeline that we call “Prime”?
Just some things I think about from time to timeline…