It’s a bit bewildering how much of the new season of Star Trek: Discovery I’ve spent openly sobbing. Part of it is the catharsis of getting new Trek in the middle of a world that looks like…this. Another part of it is relief that, finally, Discovery might not just be good, but truly great. But the main thing about this week’s episode that sent me off the deep end was the heart-rending story itself, a symbolic vindication for trans, nonbinary, and genderqueer fans whose only representation in the Star Trek universe, for decades, was mostly limited to a species never played by actual trans, nonbinary, or genderqueer actors.
Earlier this fall, Blu Del Barrio and Ian Alexander’s casting news trumpeted that they were the first nonbinary and trans actors, respectively, to join a Trek show. That was exciting in and of itself, but now we know exactly how they’re coming into this universe: that is to say, as perfectly as one could ever hope for. From a canonical perspective, “Forget Me Not”’s existence is the platonic ideal of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, or IDIC, the Vulcan philosophy positing that the more we seek out and celebrate our differences, the more all life flourishes. While past depictions of Trill were beautiful, they were exclusively symbolic; as much as there is to adore about Terry Farrell’s Jadzia Dax, her performance of a multi-gendered character instantly pales in the shadow of these actors who have actually reckoned with their own transformation and rebirth. In a flashback, Adira apprehensively asks her boyfriend Gray about how he’s changed after he completes his “Joining,” the ceremony and procedure by which a Trill host is united with their symbiont. “I’m still me,” he reassures her, serene as ever. “I’m just more me.” As a Star Trek fan, watching the Trill conversation play out again, now in an infinitely deeper, more meaningful context, how could you not lose it?
So, yes, “Forget Me Not” is about unlocking Adira’s memories by traveling to the Trill homeworld (also called Trill). Captain Saru entreats the aid of the Guardians, the Trill council whose sacred duty it is to protect the squid-like symbionts from their birth in the electric pools of the Caves of Mak’ala through their eventual joining with Trill hosts. At first, Commissioner Voss is overwhelmed with gratitude to have a joined Trill returned to them. As with everyone else, the Burn decimated their offworld population; however, as a symbiotic dual species, theirs is a far more urgent crisis. Viable hosts have now dwindled, while their newly matured symbionts languish unjoined in their ancestral pools. Saru, of course, conveniently forgets to mention that this host is human until they’ve already disembarked—which is for the best, because no non-Trill has ever joined with a symbiont. (This seems highly unlikely, given how far and wide the Trill traveled across the galaxy, but whatever.) All but one of the Guardians are viscerally repulsed by Adira, an “aberration,” an “abomination” against their way of life. Never mind that the symbionts are on the brink of extinction, potentially destroying even the opportunity to have a way of life—the Trill apparently prefer dying as mommy and daddy’s special boy to living with even one sibling. (Kind of like nearly half of a certain country I know.) The once-gracious Voss even proposes ripping the symbiont out of Adira, causing her certain death. But their leader (played by Karen Robinson, AKA Ronnie from Schitt’s Creek) at least has the decency to reject such barbarism, compromising instead to merely banish them from the planet immediately.
Luckily, Adira’s traveling companion is an expert at defying authority. After their escort back to their shuttle sneakily reroutes them so Voss and two of his guards can abduct Adira to “save” the symbiont, Burnham quickly incapacitates all three with a phaser. At the same moment, the sole dissenting Guardian, Z — who earlier suggested the successful joining of a symbiont and a human could represent a possible way forward for a dying people — appears, apologizing and offering to lead them to the Caves of Mak’ala, where Adira might better communicate with her symbiont and regain her memories.
One thing that must be said about Star Trek: Discovery is that its set designers have figured out how to perfectly balance the old with the new — one minute we’re sprinting across a sprawling, shot-on-location landscape in Iceland, and the next we’re back on a classic Trek soundstage, an obviously indoors set that maintains that quirky doing-more-with-less sci-fi feel that pays homage while also maintaining that cozy “living room” feel I’ve mentioned here before. The Trill homeworld set is classic TOS with some 2020 flair woven in; the floating CG alien fish was cute, but I would have been equally satisfied with a bunch of bargain-bin silk flower arrangements. And they didn’t have to go as hard as they did with the Caves of Mak’ala, but I’ll be damned if all that glitter and bioluminescence didn’t make the previous incarnation we visited in Deep Space Nine look like the Swamps of Sadness. In other words, ooooooooooo, shiny!
Z and Burnham quickly get Adira into one of the symbiont pools, where her eyes go white (very Minority Report) and she gets sucked under, literally and psychologically, into subspace to commune with her symbiont. Voss does catch up to them, even bringing their leader with him (what a snitch), but they’re too late. The leader makes the (admittedly baffling) game-time decision to allow the other human to wade into one of their sacred pools to save Adira (but more importantly her symbiont).
In subspace—another master work by the show’s art department—hundreds of tiny tentacles encircle a terrified Adira; when Michael finally shows her that the strands must be the symbiont trying to literally plug her back in again (fine, to “connect” with her), she finally uncovers the beautiful, terrible truth: the symbiont was once joined with Gray, a blue-haired Trill boy and the love of her young life. Gray had just gone through the Joining, and Adira, anxious about what the symbiont might mean for their relationship, had just presented him with a hand-sewn quilt checked with images representing “their story” together, when something collided with their generation ship, fatally wounding Gray but just missing his symbiont. It takes Adira all of a split second to tell the medical drones that she’ll accept the symbiont, thus ensuring Gray’s memories live on.
Now, if I were to nitpick a bit, I might say that it’s offensive to presume that these medical drones can’t fix an injury like Gray’s but can save the symbiont. (Imagine still having a “maternal” mortality rate higher than zero in 3189. Embarrassing!) If Stamets can get impaled and survive with 23rd-century technology, why not Gray with 32nd century tech? I might also complain that these absolutely perfect angels deserved 200% more kissing than they got. Just a tiny peck for two super-in-love teenagers? Seriously? If you were a teenager reunited with your dead boyfriend in a sort of virtual afterlife, wouldn’t you throw yourself into his arms, clinging to whatever brief moments of touch you had left? I don’t know if Gray remaining as a maybe-real apparition to Adira sufficiently absolves this episode of its bury-your-gays sin, especially considering Discovery just did the same exact thing to Culber and Stamets. If anybody deserves to live and love (and…laugh?), it’s these kiddos.
At any rate, once she’s recovered her memories, Adira finally comes face to face with all her symbiont’s past hosts: Kasha Tal, Jobar Tal, Madella Tal, Kara Tal, Gray Tal, and of course — the man of the hour — a grinning Starfleet Admiral Senna Tal. “Tal accepted each of us,” he tells Adira gently, referring to the symbiont, whose name traditionally serves as Trill hosts’ surname. “Joining made us more than we could ever be alone. And while a human joining us is unusual, Tall accepts you as well. Welcome to the circle.” (I may have gotten a little verklempt just typing that. See what I mean about how much more powerful this canon becomes when put in its ideal context?)
Back above water, the Trill guardians are totally converted by Adira’s transformation — even Voss apologizes profusely for doubting her. (Just a little bit of wish fulfillment for those of us following along with the political metaphor.) They welcome her to stay on Trill, but she decides to stay with Discovery, as an ambassador for Trill and for the hope her very existence now represents.
Meanwhile, at home, Saru is doing his absolute best to reckon with the out-of-control psychic emergency that is 87 simultaneous post-traumatic time-travel crises. He asks the ship’s computer for ideas on how to help his crew; she doesn’t have many good ideas (imagine Googling “activities to make my traumatized subordinates feel better about abandoning their lives and jumping 900 years into the future”), but then when his back is turned, his ready-room displays flash red, and she takes on a new, almost sentient voice that suggests they switch to auto-navigation and give the crew the day off. Maybe host a dinner party for the senior bridge crew in his quarters, too?
The results of this prescription—which, bless his heart, Saru accepts without question—are mixed. On the one hand, the private bridge-crew dinner, which starts well enough, dissolves into chaos when a very silly haiku game (inexplicably started by Georgiou) collides with Detmer’s head… stuff, and she starts freestyling poems about Stamets’ blood staining the med bay floor. One thing leads to another, until everyone’s — actually, I watched this scene a few times, and am still not entirely sure what the hell happened. Detmer clearly has built-up resentment about Stamets being a stuck-up golden boy who thinks he’s the only one who steers the ship, but she also seems nonplussed at first, when he accuses her of making light of his injury. What is going on with her? Maybe we’ll learn more eventually, because she does finally admit she’s not okay and takes Culber up on his offer “to talk.”
On the other hand, showing Buster Keaton movies in the shuttle hangar bay is a pretty adorable little moment of classic Trekkie joy (even if you can’t convince me anyone north of Earth’s 20th century finds Buster Keaton that funny). The surprise event inspires even Stamets and Detmer to finally hug it out. Is the ship’s computer just that good now? And if so, should we be worried? Does Saru’s theory that the Sphere data has merged with the ship’s computer because it “desires to protect us” the way they protected it, really track? Considering the way the computer laughed when its voice changed, combined with the showy red herring thing with Leland’s guts in “Far From Home,” I have my doubts.
Regardless, now that Adira can access Senna Tal’s memories, she’s got the message they need: an algorithm that can find the new Federation headquarters. Being the baby genius she is naturally, Adira has already solved the equation and presents the coordinates to Michael. (Ugh, math.) That means that next week, barring disaster, our crew will be off to see about rebuilding that galaxy-spanning interplanetary alliance. I only hope my tear ducts can recover in time.
Personal Log, Supplemental
• Wait, are Linus and Georgiou hooking up?? The way he offers her popcorn? And she accepts it?
• Kind of annoying that they make such a huge deal of Culber encouraging Burnham to go with Adira; instead of Michael simply asking to go to get off the ship, Hugh spins it into a whole metaphor, which doesn’t hold up anyway, given he’s also struggling with a physical transformation and he just got finished calling Burnham a “responsibility hoarder.” Just admit you needed to do it for plot reasons!
• I do love Culber’s bit about “post-traumatic growth,” though. That’s a good concept to hold onto right now.
• Considering plenty of people have died by taser, you’d think there’d be a few deaths by phaser-set-to-stun, right? The thought occurred to me when Michael takes down three people in one second.
• I hope Ghost Gray’s presence is going to be a narrative excuse (however unnecessary) to finally let Adira start going by they/them pronouns. #FreeBlu
• First auto-antonyms, now haikus? There’s no close second when it comes to the ranking of Nerdiest Crews in Starfleet.
• Please. I must have a Short Trek about the time Tilly barfed on a Tellarite ambassador. Please, my family is dying.