Star Trek: Discovery
In the optimistic, utopian spirit of Star Trek, let us first look on the bright side of this episode, and consider the good things that happened this week:
We finally find Spock. Call it learned Vulcan intuition — since it’s either that or extremely convenient coincidence, but I’ll go with the former — but Michael had a feeling she’d find her foster brother on her second home world, in the temple around the corner from her own family’s house. Amanda — who has been hiding him here from everyone, including Sarek — says he just suddenly came to her for help, which doesn’t account for whatever progress she was making in her search sans Michael, but at least now we know where he is, if not what’s really wrong with him. He has indeed suffered some sort of mental collapse, and gone full Hurley-from-Lost, repeating a set of six numbers over and over, in between recitations of the first doctrines of logic and, poetically, the most thematically appropriate passages from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which Amanda also read to him once upon a time. Since Amanda wasn’t exactly subtle when she spilled the beans about Spock to Michael right in front of Sarek, who has been killing himself astral-projecting to find his son, he follows them to the temple (which is shielded from psychic penetration, because religion) and is, well, not pleased.
The curdling of Amanda Grayson. I’ve been feeling vaguely unnerved about the way Mia Kirshner has been playing Spock’s mother for a few episodes now; her initial sweetness with Michael has turned into a weirdly passive-aggressive antagonism that, at least to me, doesn’t quite track with what we’ve known about the character canonically. As an instinct, this felt off for me; ambient irritation, especially collectively, is the kind of intuitive feeling that can grow to create a Skyler White situation, in which a complex female character gets labeled a bitch (among other, even less kind words).
But this week, I realized: This is exactly how the psyche of a human woman who forsakes her home planet for one dominated by logic would be warped over the decades. Furthermore, this is an excellent strategy to deconstruct the maternal deification in which the new films, at the very least, have trafficked with regard to Amanda Grayson and her relationship with Spock. She’s fiercely protecting her son as a path to redemption, after believing that she failed him in childhood; she spent decades deferring to cold Vulcan bullshit when it came to Spock, who is half human and thus does have human needs, and is done falling in line. (There’s also some guilt in here about a human learning disability he seems to have inherited from her, but I’ll get back to that in a moment.)
Good-bye Kirk/Spock, hello Pike/Tyler. If you’ve been following along with these recaps, you’ll recall a couple episodes back when I suggested that Pike being petty and mean to Ash Tyler might be a sexuality unto itself. Well, tonight, the slash subtext was so strong I actually checked a couple fanfic sites before this episode officially aired to see if anybody had picked up on this prior to now. If they didn’t before (I couldn’t find anything), they certainly will now: This week, the boys have a cute little macho face-off on the bridge, then go on an away mission into a space-time rift caused by the Kaminar red signal, yell at each other a bunch en route, then end up saving each other’s lives and ultimately apologizing to each other after they’re rescued. They even pointedly brush fingers when they both reach for the same switch on the shuttle’s control panel. It’s textbook ship fodder (for the fic-unfamiliar, think Harry Potter/Draco Malfoy) and I am here for it.
Saru mistakes “frickin’” for a swear word. I get a little closer in my heart to Ensign Tilly. (Why do I get the impression that Doug Jones the actor would also have this reaction to someone saying “frickin’”?)
Now, friends, I chose to begin this recap that way because, especially after the streak of excellent installments we’ve seen here on Star Trek: Discovery, “Light and Shadows” was, to put it as kindly as I know how, a clusterfrick. For starters, it’s baffling that we’re adding a brand-new learning disability to Spock’s laundry list of issues, given that the only thing really needed to convey that he was primed for a mental breakdown is the fact that he’s a half-human expected to act full Vulcan. Physiologically, Vulcans are like superpowered monks: They’re able to connect psychically across long distances, as we’ve seen, but also literally control their own body functions, including neural pathways in their brains.
To what degree that also applies to Spock’s physiology in this timeline is at this point entirely up for speculation, given his dual identity; that difference alone could explain a learning disability in a Vulcan context. And while I’m not a psychiatrist, Michael’s revelation that the numbers Spock is repeating are reversed coordinates does seem like a massively convenient interpretation of how dyscalculia — sorry, latok terai, as Vulcans call it, a form of spatial dysphasia — works. Amanda implies that she also has this learning disability, or that her humanity is responsible for it, when the problem could have been as simple as “I allowed my half-human son to be raised entirely in the Vulcan tradition, and the only supplementary human education I gave him was to read him Lewis Carroll, and now he’s suffering because of it.”
Then there’s the bombshell that Georgiou has figured out that Leland, her Section 31 boss, is somehow responsible for the death of Michael’s birth parents. She convinces Michael that Section 31 will let Spock die if they can simply extract his memories — whether that’s true is unclear — and allows her to escape with him on a shuttle, after an extremely satisfying combat scene between the two women, which I’m almost certain was performed by Michelle Yeoh and Sonequa Martin-Green themselves. Was a stopover on the Section 31 ship really necessary, though? Couldn’t Michael have simply escaped her family’s home with Spock before Sarek had the chance to physically turn them in? James Frain does renew his pinch-hitter status with that gutting “I am not prepared to lose both our children on the same day” line, but come on! I shouldn’t be on Sarek’s side here!
And look, I know we needed something for Discovery to do in Michael’s absence, and that lines like “the time bends” and “time tsunami” and “catching a grain of sand in a hurricane with a pair of tweezers” are fun and satisfying, in a popcorn-counts-as-a-meal sort of way. But I have questions about why we needed to plunge into another extreme Starfleet math-sports scenario this week just to come out with a probe that has been sentinel–from–The Matrix upgraded and tossed back, ostensibly from the red angel’s future. Why didn’t a similar space-time-rift suck up the exploratory craft that went to study the spot where the first signal appeared? Did the rift and/or the “time tsunami” the Discovery barely escaped at the end have any impact on Kaminar, given the coordinates were right above the planet? And either way, why didn’t a single crew member, not even Saru, voice that risk? Did Stamets just forget that Culber is back and therefore maybe he should chill with the death-defying transporter stunts for a minute? And if he needed Tilly to operate the transporter pad for him, why does she effectively just turn the volume up? For the sake of brevity, I’ll leave unspoken the rest of my queries about the implications of space-time rifts, and how they present in this episode. I’m just nonplussed as to why we needed to keep things at an 11 across the board this week. My nerves are tired.
While I wouldn’t exactly recommend skipping this episode, just know that the bulk of what happens here — Michael finds Spock, rescues Spock, and gets coordinates to a profoundly, upsettingly significant planet from Spock, all while Pike and Tyler pick up technology from 500 years in the future that has now secretly hacked Airiam — feels like a 42-minute checklist interlude to the real story that’s about to unfold next week. Rest up, crew.