This Star Trek: Discovery review contains spoilers.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 Episode 8
One of the most refreshing aspects of the Star Trek universe is its general aversion to the Chosen One narrative. In a culture increasingly overrun by the idea that one person should or could have the power to shape the world, Star Trekhas always given us a more nuanced, realistic, and collective model for how utopia might come about and stick around.
“If Memory Serves,” and much of the Spock-centric Season 2 storytelling, unfortunately, bucks 50+ years of Star Trek tradition to offer a Chosen One-esque story of Spock—one that Michael Burnham, the supposed main character of the show, must contort to fit into.
This season, we’ve seen Michael continually get blamed for the choices Spock—an adult, with a fair degree of power due to his privileged background—has made. Now that Michael has straight-up risked her career and many of her personal relationships (so intwined are her personal and professional lives) to save Spock, the narrative has forced her to continually apologize to Spock for something she did years ago, as a frightened child—an apology that an indignant, self-important Spock has, thus far, refused to accept.
Let’s face it, friends: Discovery‘s Spock is kind of a dick.
It’s a weird characterization for a character who, while always shown to have struggled with the balance between his Vulcan-ness and his humanity, has also always had a warmth to him. Though Spock can, canonically, be petty and huffily arrogant, he’s rarely been cruel… especially to the people he cares about.
Discovery, like the 2009 Star Trek film before it, seems intent on giving everyone on this show, including Spock, a dark backstory. Didn’t anyone just have a happy childhood? Michael’s parents were murdered, and then she became the target of a terrorist group. Ash Tyler seemed to have a pretty sweet childhood until his single mom, deciding to take her first vacation in 12 years, was killed by a rogue comet. Tilly, whose mom seems to straight-up suck, was constantly moving—though it seemed to be an unhappy childhood, she still seems to be doing better than the rest of the crew.
And now we have Spock, whose childhood was apparently a fever dream of Red Angels visiting him in the middle of the night, dreams of his sister getting murdered, and his mother not-so-secretly thinking he was a bit of a psychopath. Maybe this is why Captain Pike is such a breath of fresh air? He’s just, like, a happy guy who’s trying to do his best to uphold what he sees (and I see) as Starfleet values.
It is both ambitious and cool that Discovery tried to use “The Cage” as a “previously on” as if the events that saw the Enterprise, Pike, and Spock first land on Talos IV happened a few weeks ago and not more than 50 years ago, in Star Trek: The Original Series‘ unaired pilot. However, they were ultimately unsuccessful in the attempt.
Fans who have never watched TOS were no doubt very confused, while fans of the original series (like this one) may have recognized how far our culture and our TV has come since “The Cage” was first not-aired. The Talosians have always been creepers—aliens that don’t understand the concept of “consent” on the most basic levels—and Discovery did not go far enough to interrogate that idea. Instead, they coerced Michael, using the mental health of her brother as leverage, into reliving one of her most painful memories.
And don’t get me started on Vina, who claims to be cool with her life on Talos IV alongside the Talosians, but comes off like a drugged cult member acting as a honey trap. (I love Michael’s side-eying of her.) Would Vina really choose living amongst the Talosians to returning to Earth or some other, less creepy society? I get it—being pretty and non-disfigured comes with certain advantages—but so does living in a nurturing community amongst people with the same values and interests. I know which option I would choose.
Perhaps part of the issue is I’ve always found the ending to Captain Pike’s backstory incredibly depressing. Spoiler alert! In Star Trek canon, Pike is exposed to delta-particle radiation and becomes a wheelchair-and-advanced-life-support-user. He eventually goes to live with the Talosians, the 1960s rationale being that he would rather the illusion of an able-bodied life amongst the Talosians and Vina than to return to Starfleet as non-able-bodied. Frankly, this is some able-ist BS.
Meanwhile, Hugh still doesn’t have a therapist, and is still asked to regularly run into his victimizer, who somehow is still allowed to be part of Starfleet, around the ship? Everyone acts like it is Hugh’s awkward problem and he should just deal with it, but how is it OK that he be forced to interact with his murderer in the hallways and in the mess hall? Even when Hugh isn’t running into TyVoq around every corner, he probably has intense anxiety that he will. It’s made even worse by Stamet’s frankly impressive inability to empathize to any degree with what Hugh is going through, instead making his death and resurrection completely about his own trauma. (Note: Stamets should have a therapist, too.)
Eventually, it all comes to a head when Hugh and TyVoq have a fist fight in the mess hall as every else (including command officer Saru!) just stands and watches, like this is The Hunger Games and not Star Trek. Saru notes that it’s not like Starfleet has protocol for when a man come back from the dead must face his grafted together human-Klingon murderer, but they must have protocol for supporting a survivor and not their attacker, right?
We did learn some important things about the Red Angel tonight—mainly, that they are human and that they are trying to circumvent the end of all living things. Good goals, yes, but also veering uncomfortably close to that Chosen One trope I like to see Star Trek stories—and, frankly, all stories, at this point—avoid.
It was very cool to see TOS elements like Talos IV’s singing flowers and the Talosians rendered with contemporary visual effects.
Also, the “previously on” intro, featuring clips from TOS, was pretty darn cool.
Let it be noted that Tilly was the only one who went to break up the Hugh/TyVoq fistfight. She is definitely command material.
Airium is definitely the crew member sabotaging the spore drive and sending secret messages, though, to be honest, I am OK with TyVoq getting kicked off the Discovery for so many reasons.
The more I watch Discovery and watch the varied reaction to Discovery, the more I think this show’s enduring legacy will be the wildly different reactions it inspires in people. I’m sure some people loved this episode, and I am legitimately happy for them and want to better understand that as much as I want to understand why I quasi-hated this episode.
I did kind of love Georgiou’s subtle undermining of Leland. Though, man, is Starfleet easily manipulated. I guess this is what happens when you give a system as morally bankrupt as Section 31 so much power.