Star Trek: Discovery — Who is Amanda Grayson?

Who is Amanda Grayson? Everything you definitely don’t know about Spock and Michael Burnham’s mom in Star Trek.

Mia Kirshner as Amanda Grayson in Star Trek: Discovery

Warning: This Star Trek: Discovery articles contains spoilers for Season 2, Episode 7: “Light and Shadows.”

In Star Trek: Discovery, we’ve gotten to know the character of Amanda Grayson a whole lot better than we ever did in either The Original Seriesor any of the films. Famously introduced in 1967 episode “Journey to Babel,” Amanda (as played by Jane Wyatt) was seemingly just as steady and smart as her husband Sarek and her son Spock.

In Discovery, we’re learning exactly why Amanda is so badass, and also, why she’s a great mom. Mia Kirshner’s version of Amanda is giving new dimension to the character, but to be, fair, the depth of Amanda has been there since the beginning, and, in some cases, lurking in tantalizing apocrypha of Star Trek lore.

The origin of the character.

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For starters, its relevant to remember that Amanda was created by a woman. The writer of “Journey to Babel,” was D.C. (Dorothy) Fontana, a script editor on the original Star Trek, who is probably responsible for much more of the foundation of Trek canon than most fans might know.

In addition to “Journey to Babel,” Fontana wrote (or co-wrote) the following Original Series episodes: “Charlie X,” “Tomorrow is Yesterday,” “This Side of Paradise,” “Friday’s Child,” “By Any Other Name,” “The Ultimate Computer,” and “The Enterprise Incident” Fontana also used the pseudonym of “Michael Richards” for the scripts “That Which Survives”  and “The Way to Eden.” Further, it was Fontana who did one of the uncredited re-writes on Harlan Ellison’s “The City on the Edge of Forever,” which made it into the episode we know today.

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Past that, Fontana was the de facto showrunner of The Animated Series, wrote tons of Star Trek novels, as well as the Deep Space Nine episode “Dax.” Why bring this all up? Well, because, in many ways, Fontana was the the mother of Star Trek, in the same way Amanda is the mother of Spock and Michael. When I talked to Fontana in 2016, she told me that her goal as a writer on Trek was: “To do stories that had strength, emotional content, and stories that would live.” This sentiment certainly applies to everything we know about the character of Amanda Grayson.

Fontana’s contributions to the Amanda Grayson character are most evident in her very first appearances in Trek canon—in “Journey to Babel,” but also in The Animated Series episode “Yesteryear.” In those episodes, we can see that Amanda actively pushes back against Sarek’s stoicism relative to letting Spock act a little more human.

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In those two episodes, Amanda does this with a kind of wink and a smile, but Discovery is showing us some of the out-in-the-open conflict behind all of that. In “Light and Shadows,” Amanda clashes with Sarek, and, to an extent, with Michael, out of protectiveness for Spock (Ethan Peck). Some of his is suggestive of Amanda’s guilt about giving Spock mixed message about his heritage, which is also subtly referenced in the 2009 reboot movie.

In that film, Amanda was played by Winona Ryder, who tells Spock (Zachary Quinto) that she will be proud of him no matter which path he chooses. This is relevant because, in that movie, we see Spock choose his mother over his father when the Vulcan Science Academy openly disses Amanda, referring to her existence as Spock’s “disadvantage.” This scene, as well as literally every other Trek episode with Sarek, subtly suggests that Amanda is not only the victim of interspecies racism, but sexism, too.

Why the hell would Amanda choose to marry a Vulcan? 

The non-canon novel, The Vulcan Academy Murders, written by Jean Lorrah in 1984 might provide an answer to this question—one that is not raised as frequently as the question of why Sarek would marry a human.

In the book, the Enterprise goes back to Vulcan to find that Amanda is being treated for some crazy form of space sickness. Throughout the course of the book, we learn the origin story of how Sarek and Amanda met, which is mostly connected to Amanda being a translator for the Federation.

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In some ways, Amanda is exactly like Michael Burnham: deeply interested and sympathetic to other non-human species. While Michael is a xenoanthropologist, Amanda is a translator, infinitely curious as to what other cultures have to offer. This novel also offers another interesting tidbit, which, could effectively explain why Amanda can look so young in Discovery and considerably older in “Journey to Babel,” which is only about a decade in Discovery’s future.

In Lorrah’s book, the medical treatment that Amanda undergoes for her space sickness has an interesting side effect: it make her look 20 years younger. This prescient detail from Lorrah is seemingly in the book to help explain how a human like Amanda could keep up with a Vulcan lifespan. But, the cool thing now is that it also neatly explains how Amanda can look like Mia Kirshner, Winona Ryder, and Jane Wyatt and have it all be perfectly canonical.

She might be related to Sherlock Holmes & Irene Adler.

Here’s one other thing no one talks about when they talk about the character of Amanda Grayson: she could be related to the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle characters of Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler. And, when I say “related,” I mean, literally.

In writing about the connections between Sherlock Holmes and science fiction, Nicholas Meyer (the director of Star Trek II and Star Trek VI) told me that you could make a literal connection between Amanda’s family history and that of Sherlock Holmes.

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In The Undiscovered Country, Spock quotes Holmes, but prefaces the quote as coming from “an ancestor of mine.” So, Amanda is either related to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Sherlock Holmes. But, as Meyer told me, it’s more fun to think of Amanda being a descendant of Sherlock Holmes, and that’s because when I pressed him about this connection for my essay “Baker Streets on Infinite Earths,” Meyer said that, if the Spock/Holmes connection is literal, that means the other maternal human ancestor is “Of course, Irene Adler.”

For Holmes fans, Irene Adler is the pseudo-love interest of Sherlock Holmes from the short story “A Scandal in Bohemia.” In the story, Adler is the only person who stands up to Sherlock Holmes, much like Amanda Grayson seems to be the only person who seems to stand up to Sarek.

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In this season of Star Trek: Discovery, we also see Amanda actively solving the mystery of where Spock his hiding, and doing whatever it takes — including stealing important documents — to make it happen. This means that Nick Meyer’s assertion that Spock’s mom has the blood of Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler running through her veins is suddenly all the more viable.

As a Star Trek character, Amanda combines the best of what fans love about this fictional universe. She’s rational, tenacious, but also full of love. In fact, D.C. Fontana once said that she choose the name of “Amanda,” because one of the meanings of the word is “worthy of being loved.” For Michael and Spock — and for Trek fans everywhere right now — Amanda Grayson is more worthy of being loved than ever before.

Ryan Britt is the author of the book Luke Skywalker Can’t Read and Other Geeky Truths (Plume/Penguin Random House). You can find more of his work here.