Star Trek Discovery: If Memory Serves

Spock: "I am not here to absolve you, Michael Burnham."

By nature I love brevity: Star Trek: Discovery plays to its strengths here, delivering a well-paced, measured episode that hits on the nostalgia factor in just the right ways. 'If Memory Serves' is a noticeable improvement over the rest of this season, which was in turn already an improvement over the previous season.

The first and probably most notable quality of this episode is the nostalgic air it has. From the very retro 'Previously on Star Trek' segment at the beginning, bringing us up to speed on the events of 'The Cage,' to the well-placed sound and music cues from the same episode, 'If Memory Serves' displays a clear and respectful knowledge of what's come before. Yet there is the distinct sense that something new is being accomplished, that we're not just uselessly retreading the past. This can be seen in the technical upgrades given to the Talosians, their singing plants, and the planet itself. Not only this, we're going deeper, if not to new places, with Pike and Vina. Anson Mount and Melissa George effectively recapture the old dynamic that Jeffrey Hunter and Susan Oliver brought, but they also lend new aspects to the relationship. Vina, it seems, is happy with the illusory Pike that she's been provided, as 'The Cage' and 'The Menagerie' implied, yet throughout Melissa George's performance there is a tinge of longing for the real thing. Pike can't seem to get Vina out of his head, and his deep-seated desire to return to her is clear in this episode. This new connection to the characters also makes 'The Menagerie' all the more resonant.

We'll get to Burnham and Spock in a moment, but first I want to explore the stuff with Culber and Stamets. I've said for a while now that Culber's character in Season One existed really only in service of Stamets' character. Culber wasn't really all that much of a character in his own right. But here, since his return, the writers and Wilson Cruz have given Culber a depth and an arc that he never had before. I'm just sorry that poor Stamets has to suffer the consequences of this. I can definitely see where they are both coming from here. The loss of Culber was so devastating for Stamets, and his return so filled with joy and hope, that of course he would be overeager and take things too fast or too far. Another viewer pointed out to me that Stamets is very good at helping other people with their emotional and relational problems, but he doesn't seem to have the same clarity when it comes to his own. This is all too human. Likewise, Culber feels like a stranger in his own skin. The need to be himself, combined with the feeling that he's not himself anymore, would of course compel him to make changes and shifts in his life. Despite the temporary rift, I don't think it's over for Stamets and Culber. The good doctor will have to figure out who he is now that he has returned, but once he does so, I expect he will return to his love.

Poor Ash Tyler is becoming more and more a victim of his circumstances as time goes on. First he had to deal with the fact that he had betrayed his entire crew without his knowledge, and he's still reaping the consequences of that. He must also face the fact that another person is lurking inside his psyche, just waiting to come out. This is visible in his defensive fight with Dr. Culber. If Tyler had been more aggressive, if he'd attacked Culber more directly, it's possible that Voq would have come out, and he has no idea what will happen in that case. Let's just say for now that it's a bad idea to proVoq him, and leave it at that. And now he must deal with the mistrust of the entire crew, for something he didn't do. Though I don't expect it to last long, as evil Airiam's reveal appears to be next episode, this will have to really damage the tentative trust he's built with Captain Pike all this season.

It doesn't help matters that his superiors at Section 31 are becoming less trustworthy by the minute. Leland and Georgiou seem to be headed for a substantial standoff, and I'm honestly not sure whose victory would be worse for the crew. Georgiou is upstaging Leland at every turn, even garnering more respect from the Admiralty, and Leland has to be frustrated. I wonder if the boiling point will be reached this season, or if we'll have to wait for the Section 31 series to see the conclusion of this storyline.

This brings us to the main event - Burnham and Spock. Their relationship has been set up as the focal point of the season since 'Brother,' and so far it has not disappointed. The scene where young Burnham hurt young Spock felt very real, and every word hurt because of how we know it must have damaged Spock. Burnham represented Spock's human side, and when she burned him to get him to stay away from her, he rejected his humanity also and dove deep into his Vulcan, logical half. Now that logic has failed to help him make sense of what the Angel showed him, Spock is a broken man searching for something to ground him. I expect that in the end, Burnham will be right; her relationship with Spock will be the thing that ties him to reality. In time, Spock will realize that his relationships in general are his guiding star, with the help of a certain up-and-coming young starship captain and his crew.

I have to give props to T.J. Scott for his direction here. Unlike many of the recent episodes, Scott's fancy camerawork and effects serve a legitimate artistic purpose, like the tilting, twisting camera during the Section 31 sequences to emphasize the uncertain and shifting world of 31, or the lens flares that accompanied Talosian illusions. The episode also spends an appropriate amount of time on the key emotional moments, something that episodes like 'Saints of Imperfection' have failed to do. The pace here is slow and measured, which is a relief after the frantic and rushed feeling of the last few episodes.

Strange New Worlds:

Talos IV first appeared in the unaired pilot of TOS, 'The Cage.' The rendering of the planet in this episode looked very similar to the painting used for it in the original episode.

New Life and New Civilizations:

The Talosians had a huge war on their planet, which drove them underground. When they developed their remarkable mental powers, they became addicted to the pleasures illusion could provide and forgot how to interact with the real world. The illusions they present to anyone who approaches Talos IV help them to relearn, and they are still searching for someone to learn their technology and save their race.

Pensees:

-According to Melissa George, she recorded some of Vina's original lines from 'The Cage,' which were then dubbed in alongside Susan Oliver's voice in the recap at the beginning. The whole interview is worth reading, too.

-I'm pretty sure this is Pike's first Captain's log. Come to think of it, I don't think Lorca ever did it either.

-Dang it, more Vulcan Admirals. Look, guys, if Spock was the first Vulcan in Starfleet, and the only one at the time of TOS, there can't be Vulcan admirals.

-I loved Tilly leaning out of her 'office' on the bridge.

-The sound effects for the singing plants and the Talosians' illusions, as well as some of the music cues, were taken from 'The Cage.'

-Spock has been experiencing time as fluid due to the Red Angel.

-Spock mind-melded with the Angel, revealing to him that whoever is in the suit is human.

-The ships that blew up all those planets in Spock's vision looked an awful lot like the upgraded probe from 'Light and Shadows' last week. Hmmmm...

-Mental hospitals in television shows should really give their patients paper in addition to writing utensils. Just a thought.

-Of course, Spock didn't kill the people he's accused of killing. Did 31 kill them when they got there?

-Were those Reno's drones cleaning up from Culber and Tyler's fight?

-Starbase 11 is two lightyears from Talos IV.

-I don't think we've seen two ships get a transporter lock on the same person at the same time before.

-I liked Burnham cocking the eyebrow at Spock's smile.

Quotes:

Georgiou: "Why would I lie?"
This was only funny because of who was saying it.

Vina: "In some ways, Captain Pike never left."

Stamets: "I think what you're experiencing is a form of neutralizing shock."
Culber: "It's not that simple, Paul!"

Spock: "Is there a valuable question in your arsenal?"
Burnham: "Yes. Do you really think the beard is working?"

Pike: "This is real."
Vina: "As real as it needs to be."

Culber: "I'm not letting anyone fix what I feel."

Illusion-Burnham: "Say goodbye, Spock."
Illusion-Spock: "Goodbye, Spock."
Anyone else glad this was an illusion? I saw it in a promo, and it didn't feel right. That's more of a Data line.

Georgiou: "Those Talosians tried this trick with me in the Terran universe once, and I blew them, and their stupid singing plants, off the face of the planet."

Best of the season so far. 5.5 out of 6 stupid singing plants.

--
CoramDeo is an ugly bag of mostly water, and proud of it.

6 comments:

Corylea said...

Actually, Spock was NOT the only Vulcan in Starfleet at the time of TOS. In the second-season episode "The Immunity Syndrome," we learned that there was another starship that was crewed entirely by Vulcans. So there were several hundred Vulcans in Starfleet at the very least ... at least until the Intrepid was destroyed.

Billie Doux said...

Pardon me while I geek out. Talos IV! Loved it. Loved Pike and Vina and the undercurrents in their relationship that Anson Mount and Melissa George so skillfully gave them. I particularly loved how Burnham and Spock felt like siblings with their speech and their body language. Although I really wanted to shave Spock and cut his hair.

They definitely shouldn't proVoq Tyler. Lol.

CoramDeo said...

Good point, Corylea. I forgot about Intrepid. Still, there's no way a Vulcan, let alone multiple Vulcans, passed Spock in the ranks that quickly. Unless they transferred from the Vulcan space exploration agency (I'm blanking on their name).

milostanfield said...

CoramDeo, thanks for pointing out TJ. Scott’s direction as part of what made this one work so well. I always concentrate on the actors and writers and I forget that they actually have to figure all this out in a studio.

My favorite "back to TOS" story is still when Sisko, Worf, and Dax went back to "Trouble With Tribbles", but that episode was more of a oneoff "see what we can do" story. In "If Memory Serves" they used a past story to help propel us into an entirely new ST direction. Nicely done.

My harebrained theory that the Red Angel is really Iain M. Banks evaluating The Federation for membership in The Culture is looking more and more like a pile of nano particles. What else is new. ;)

Pike is so good at figuring out possible outcomes from a given situation (Spock rubbing off?) that I’m surprised that he, or anyone, has not suggested that there are two factions in the future: one (AI?) which succeeds in destroying all sentient life, and the other, human, coming back to the past to save us. If you’re in the future that’s what you do, go back and kill Hitler or whatever. All sentient life about to wink out would make one hella end of season cliffhanger.

"Anything sounds cool with time in front of it." My love for Tilly grows week by week.

CoramDeo said...

Milostanfield, 'Trials and Tribble-ations' is my favorite nostalgic Trek story as well. It's a good point that they don't yet seem to know there are two rival factions in the future. At least, nobody has said it. Honestly, I'm just happy the writers have an actual plan and aren't dropping vague hints that have no meaning because they seem ominous. *cough cough* Enterprise *cough cough*

Unknown said...

Actually, it is a common fallacy that Spock was the First Vulcan in Star Fleet. What is actually stated is that he was the first Vulcan to join Star Fleet and not serve on a Vulcan Vessel. All other Vulcans at that point served on Vulcan ships entirely crewed by Vulcans. The admiral thing still seems unlikely however. If they won't serve with non-Vulcans, can they effectively Command them?