Star Trek Discovery: Light and Shadows

Believing that her mother must know something about Spock’s whereabouts, Burnham returns to Vulcan in order to track her brother down. Meanwhile, Pike and Tyler take on a dangerous mission to investigate the temporal rift left behind by the red signal that brought them to Kaminar.

Although I have plenty of nitpicks to discuss about this episode, unlike the last two, it didn’t really inspire any strong emotion in me. Things happen on screen, but for the most part the decisions the characters make seem only to exist to string out the episode to forty minutes, rather than because they were the best thing to do. By the end, one can’t help wondering “what was the point of all that, then?”.

Let’s start with the headline news of the episode – Spock is finally here. After chasing him across the galaxy, Burnham finally finds her brother in the very place she started from – Vulcan. Amanda, using whatever secret techniques are available to her, was not only able to find Spock before Starfleet and Section 31 could, but she’s also been keeping him safe from even the notice of Sarek. For his part, Spock is bearded, dishevelled, and spends most of his time reciting either the doctrines of logic or a sequence of numbers (thanks, Lost, for making sure that particular trope never goes away).

Before we can get to the bottom of what’s going on in Spock’s mind, however, Sarek shows up to insist that the best thing that can be done is to turn him over to the authorities – otherwise Burnham will be in serious trouble with Starfleet for the second time in as many seasons. What follows is a sequence in which Burnham leaves Spock in the dubious care of Section 31, then, under Giorgiou’s instruction, immediately breaks him back out of their custody again and flees. So, I guess she’s now in major trouble anyway, exactly as Sarek didn’t want.

Meanwhile, Pike and Tyler are busy investigating the temporal rift left behind by the Red Angel at Kaminar. This is a largely pointless exercising in which they spend a lot of time dicking around before Stamets has to come and rescue them – however, in some ways it is meant to be pointless. Not being able to help out during the war has left Pike feeling both guilty and determined to prove himself by taking on dangerous missions. However, what we get on screen is him having a metaphorical pissing contest with Tyler, before battling a supercharged probe and ultimately having to blow up his own shuttle. What did Discovery get out of this mission? Well, from the looks of things, both a massive data breach and the potential corruption of Lieutenant Commander Airiam. Nice going.

Spock’s family life

This episode reveals that Spock had some learning difficulties as a child – nothing unusual for a human, but rare in Vulcans. It’s also clear that he suffered under the Vulcan education system in a way that he wouldn’t have on Earth, and that this is largely due to Sarek’s insistence on raising Spock in the Vulcan way. It looks like Amanda did try to support Spock’s human side, but there’s the implication that this may have stopped when Burnham arrived. We already knew that Amanda was angry with Burnham for whatever it was she did to cause a rift with Spock, but it also seems likely that Amanda feels guilty for spending more ‘human time’ with her adoptive daughter than with her son.

Speaking of Amanda, I’m delighted at how badass she is in Discovery. Given how ‘of its time’ it was, it’s no surprise that TOS Amanda was depicted as being happy enough to give up her life and career and move to Vulcan to be a full-time wife and mother. The Amanda we see here still did that, but we get a glimpse of what a big thing it was to do, and how frustrating it is to know that Sarek would not have done the same. She also stands up to Sarek when he tries to “pull rank” – he’s not in charge of the family, they are a partnership. Go Amanda!

Notes and Nitpicks

  • Spock and Burnham are now headed for Talos IV, which fans will remember as the planet where the events of the very first pilot, The Cage, took place. I’m really not looking forward to adding the Talosians to this mess, and am also surprised that the shuttle’s computer didn’t warn Burnham that visits to Talos IV are punishable by death.
  • Another unwelcome plot twist is Giorgiou revealing that she knows Leland was responsible for the deaths of Burnham’s parents. Do we really have to invoke yet another tired trope?
  • Pike says that Discovery will remain at Kaminar for a while to investigate the temporal rift. What about the whole Ba’ul/Kelpien issue on the planet’s surface? Are they just being left to their own devices now, even though the situation is clearly massively unstable? Even Saru doesn’t seem at all fussed about that.
  • If Stamets is immune to the effects of the temporal distortion, why wasn’t he taken on the shuttle mission in the first place? Maybe this was just a further indication of Pike’s poor judgement in this matter.
  • Although it’s clear that the Red Angel is indeed some sort of time traveller thanks to all those tachyon readings, why is its suit definitely ‘future technology’? It could just be present technology that just happens to be more advanced than anything the Federation has.
  • Is the memory extractor that Section 31 plan to use on Spock based on the Klingon mind-sifter?
  • I don’t think the Red Angel is going to turn out to be connected to the Borg, but the probe’s snakelike upgrades do seem awfully reminiscent of Borg technology.
  • I like the depiction of Vulcan in Discovery – given that it’s meant to be at least as technologically advanced a planet as Earth, it always looked overly primitive in other Star Trek series. Here, it looks like a more pleasing fusion of tradition and technology.
  • I’m impressed at how well Ethan Peck has managed the “Spock intonation”. Hopefully he will get some more interesting dialogue later on.

Who or what is Airiam, anyway?

It’s obvious that the three red lights flashing in Airiam’s eye are setting us up for Bad Things down the line, but what exactly is Airiam anyway? Even the material surrounding the show can’t seem to decide whether she’s an alien or some kind of enhanced human. If she’s the latter, then why are cybernetic life forms such a big deal in other Star Trek series, and why haven’t we seen more like her? Assuming she is human, why did she choose to get upgraded – was it to overcome some debilitating disability or condition, or was it just a trendy thing to do?

Summary – Light and Shadows: Spock is here at last.

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