Whether they be biological, adopted, or chosen, they know us better than anyone else – even when we wish they didn’t – no one can push your buttons like family.
Through the decades, starting all the way back with the unaired pilot “The Cage,” Star Trek has been about “found family”: the bonds between colleagues and crew members, forged in trust and common experiences. The first season of CBS All Access‘ Star Trek: Discovery was about the love of the “found family” and the importance of mentors. Season two shifted, focusing more on the family you have rather than the family you wish you had. Siblings, parents, children, spouses: all of these relationships have driven this season of Discovery to where we are today with “If Memory Serves.”
And boy does it serve, just not always in the way you hoped…
Memories can be made, but not erased, so be forewarned: spoilers ahead.
The first minutes of tonight’s Discovery went where no show has gone before. In a “Previously On Star Trek” segment, viewers were shown scenes from the unaired The Original Series pilot “The Cage.” Throughout the season we have talked about the influence of “The Cage” on character development, especially that of Pike (Anson Mount) and Number One (Rebecca Romijn). Now, we know that Discovery falls between “The Cage” and The Original Series season one premier “The Man Trap” within Star Trek canon. Talos IV is already off limits due to Pike’s previous adventures there, and he very fondly remembers Vina (Melissa George), the woman he left behind. The nostalgic and canonical implications of this move were risky, but it paid off and made the episode that much more effective.
Remembering his adventures on Talos IV with Pike, Spock (Ethan Peck) thinks the Talosians can help sort out the epic mayhem going on in his brain. As it turns out, Spock was right. The Talosians manage to have him pretty much cured after two sessions of sharing his memories with Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green).
It was actually a little bit of a let-down to see Spock’s brain go to rights so quickly, given how incapacitated he was from the mental illness he was suffering. To go from catatonic to completely normal over the course of an episode did a disservice to the character and what he had been through – and made all of the build up seem ridiculous.
Spock’s memories show Michael what happened when Spock saw the Red Angel. The first time, when he was a child and Burnham ran away, the Red Angel showed Spock a vision of Michael’s death. Using the information, baby Spock (Liam Hughes) was able to save young Burnham (Arista Arhin). The second time, Spock mind-melded with the Red Angel. From this connection, Spock was able to determine that the Angel is human, and surmise that an event in the future leads to the extinction of all sentient life in the galaxy. However, mind-melding with a time traveler from the future is not really the safest choice. The combination of past memories and future “memories” Spock got from the Angel caused his mind to lose its place in time, resulting in the past and future blending together.
The best part of the episode was not the revelations that the Talosians unearthed from Spock’s mind, but the remarkably normal bickering between Spock and Burnham. Starting the minute Spock comes back to his senses, he attempts to wield his logic and intellect as a club against Burnham, who was still catching up with all of the revelations. In retort, Burnham pokes at Spock’s strangeness and seeming inability to have a normal conversation. When Spock lashes out at Burnham with “Is there a valuable question in your arsenal?”, big sis Burnham hits back immediately with “Do you actually think the beard is working?”.
The exchanges between Burnham and Spock are remarkable for how mundane they are. Both siblings are incredibly intelligent, accomplished, educated, and known for their emotional control. But when they are with each other, competing, they can’t help but poke at each other – and because they grew up together, they know all of the best buttons to push. There is something comforting in seeing two strong characters – people you admire – reverting back to childhood bickering when faced with a sibling.
Burnham’s sojourn on Talos IV led to one revelation that fans have been waiting for all season. The Talosians demanded to see Burnham’s memory of the fight that led to her rift with Spock. As they saw it, so did Spock and the audience. It turns out, Vulcan extremists were targeting young Burnham, so she ran away to try and keep her foster family safe. Idolizing his big sister, Baby Spock insisted on coming with her. In order to save Spock, Burnham tried to make him hate her, saying some pretty awful things to him about his Vulcan-ness and inability to ever be a real human.
It is obvious that the fight crushed young Spock – but adult Spock knows why she did it. He even attributes his current love of logic to Burnham’s rejection. Still, his continued anger at Burnham, and his lack of desire to remain in contact with her seems… illogical. To be frank, the revelation was pretty anti-climactic. After all of the build up and internal guilt, I expected her transgression to be more severe. My kids say worse things to each other before breakfast.
While Burnham and Spock were reliving their memories and sorting out Spock’s brain, Pike, Tyler (Shazad Latif), and the Discovery were to shielding the siblings from Section 31. Pike and Tyler have some pretty good exchanges about Burnham, her relationship with Ash, and why Tyler ended up in Section 31. Tyler even confesses to Pike that he loved Burnham and that he trusts Burnham more than anyone else, including his new employer. However, the newfound bond is quickly broken when Tyler is accused of sending unauthorized subspace signals and sabotaging the spore drive.
No one is having a worse day than Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz): brought back from the dead and now released from Sick Bay, Hugh is trying to figure out where he fits in the grand scheme of things. While he has all of the memories of the old Culber, he doesn’t have the tactile memory, the sensory memory, or the emotional memory in his current form. He feels lost, and is further angered by Stamets’s (Anthony Rapp) efforts to be a new, improved, extra-attentive husband. Hugh is dealing with a lot of change at once, and feels like he is a poor imitation of his old self. His thoughts culminate in a bout of anger directed at the man Culber feels is responsible: Tyler.
Culber confronts Tyler in the officer’s mess. Both men obviously have issues to work out, Culber is angry and Tyler feels guilty. Attacking Ash, Hugh attempts to bring Voq out in the open. Hugh wants something to fight, something tangible he can blame, and Tyler/Voq feels like his best option. Tyler does the minimum to protect himself. He lets Culber hit him, but you get the sense that he could have ended the fight if he wanted to. But Ash has his own issues to work out.
In the end, Culber tells Tyler “I don’t even know who I am anymore” to which Tyler replies “Who do you think you are talking to?” It turns out that the one person on the Discovery most likely to understand what Culber is going through is his murderer. Several of the sentiments that Hugh expresses to Stamets are the same issues that Tyler had when L’Rell wanted him to be more like Voq.
The truth is that neither man can be who they were… but they don’t quite fit where they are, either.
With the help of Vina and the Talosians, Burnham, Spock, and the Discovery are able to escape from Section 31. Once again, the Discovery has gone rogue to protect one of its own. After everything the crew has been through together, Pike didn’t even have to ask the crew to follow him. They just kept going, like they always do.
It was a great moment to watch and an awesome way to end the episode.
See you next week for more Disco discussion. While we wait, I leave you with the unresolved questions from this week’s episode:
● Is Lt. Commander Airiam (Hannah Cheesman) behind the subspace transmissions and damage to the spore drive?
● Are Culber and Stamets really broken up now?
● What happens when Section 31 catches up with the Discovery?
● What else does Spock know about the Red Angel and the signals?
● What happened to all the Doc Ock probe parts?
● Is anyone going to mention to Saru (Doug Jones) that he needs to find a balance between his old self and the new one?
● Why does Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) want to depose Leland (Alan Van Sprang)? What is her end game?
Next week’s Season 2 Episode 9 of Star Trek: Discovery “Project Daedalus” premiers Thursday March 14, at 8:30 p.m. on CBS All Access.