The latest Star Trek: Discovery episode, “Lights and Shadows,” answers a few questions, but is less a whole story and more of a junction. One of the problems with arc-based series like “Star Trek: Discovery” is that sometimes you have segments that are, for better or worse, mildly interesting connective tissue between two more promising segments.
Tonight’s episode, while finally ‘finding’ Spock, seems to hint at a greater conspiracy arc ahead, and if my own past frustrations with “The X-Files” are any indicator, conspiracy-arcs are problematic to put it mildly. On the other hand, some genuinely fascinating ideas were raised in “Lights and Shadows.”
Discovery remains in orbit over Saru’s home planet of Kaminar, and Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin Green) asks her CO Capt. Pike (Anson Mount) for personal leave to go home to Vulcan, where she hopes to get answers regarding her brother Spock’s whereabouts. Permission is granted and Michael leaves in a shuttlecraft.
Meanwhile, on the bridge, excessive tachyon levels are recorded; there is am anomalous temporal event, dead ahead. A probe is launched into it with negative results. Capt. Pike and Section 31 liaison Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) spar a bit over who wears the bigger pants, as both assign themselves to a shuttle mission to investigate the phenomenon, which seems to cause visual echoes in time (not too unlike the “Manheim Effect” observed in TNG’s “We’ll Always Have Paris”).
As the shuttle nears its destination, the aforementioned time-echoes give Pike a bit of precognition as he and Ash begin to get on each other’s nerves a bit, psychoanalyzing each others’ motives, with Ash guessing that Pike feels guilt over the Enterprise being forced to sit out the Klingon war, while Pike assumes Ash feels guilt for his actions as ‘Voq’ when he murdered Dr. Culber (who is back… sort of).
The shuttle gets closer to the anomaly when it encounters a menacing, mechanical space-squid of some kind, which grabs onto the hull and tries to penetrate it. Pike orders, over Tyler’s initial objection, to ignite shuttle exhaust plasma (right out of TOS’ “The Galileo Seven” playbook).
On Vulcan, Michael meets with her human foster mother Amanda (Mia Kirshner) as both witness her husband, ambassador Sarek (James Frain) in a deep meditative, telepathic ‘search’ for his missing son, Spock (Ethan Peck).
As a suspicious Michael catches Amanda in a lie, the truth slowly unfolds, as Michael and Amanda go to a telepathically-shielded cave where…tada!… Michael realizes her mother is harboring her fugitive brother under the shield of diplomatic immunity.
The plomeek soup really hits the fan when Sarek, realizing that the shielded locale was a logical hiding place for Spock, shows up. He and Amanda exchange some tense words, as an angry Amanda forces her husband to confront the reality of their son’s learning challenge (something akin to dyslexia), which made him struggle all the harder as a youth. Vulcan educators were less than outreaching to the half-human boy, and his mother tried her best to help him herself (Amanda was a teacher at one time, after all).
A near catatonic Spock continues reciting numerical gibberish until suddenly Michael realizes he is quoting “Alice In Wonderland” (a book she and Spock had read to them by Amanda as children).
Sarek insists that Michael take her brother to Section 31, against Amanda’s wishes because he doesn’t want to risk losing both of his children, since harboring a fugitive would endanger her life (or at the very least, end her career). Michael reluctantly agrees.
Aboard the Discovery, acting Captain Saru (Doug Jones) and Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman) conclude that Commander Stamets (Anthony Rapp), with his space-tardigrade DNA, may have the ability to ‘see’ into the time anomaly and make sense out of the telemetry they are getting from sensors.
Tilly goes to engineering to work with Stamets, and the two formulate a plan to use ‘time-coordinates’ to beam Stamets onto the wayward shuttlecraft, help it plot its way out of the temporal anomaly, and get everyone back to Discovery. It’s a long shot, but Stamets has faith in the nervous Tilly, and advises her to “trust the math”… and herself.
Aboard the shuttle, things get really dicey as the space-squid is revealed to be a future-modified version of Discovery’s own probe coming back from centuries into the future, and is apparently intent on killing them, as well as accessing their systems.
Stamets beams aboard the shuttle, just as Pike is able to set the shuttle to self-destruct. With the clock ticking (loudly), Stamets is able to get the shuttle out of the anomaly, with the squid-probe attached.
Pike, Ash and Stamets are safely beamed aboard just as the shuttle is destroyed, but…
…something about the future squid-probe’s breach into the shuttle’s informational systems catches the electronic eye of cyborg (AI?) crewmember Airiam (now played by Hannah Cheesman). It seems to relay a signal to her, which she doesn’t share with her bridge crew… hmmm.
Meanwhile, Pike, Ash, Saru and Stamets are grateful to be back safely aboard, with Pike acknowledging that some of Ash’s amateur psychologist analysis of his guilt was actually true. Ash doesn’t lord it over him, and the two seem to have chilled their earlier testosterone-fueled rivalry.
Aboard the Section 31 ship, Spock is taken into an interrogation chamber, and Burnham reluctantly released her brother into their ‘care.’ The naughty-but-occasionally nice S31 operative mirror-Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) takes the overly-trusting Burnham aside and warns her that S31 will use a mind-scanner to rip Spock’s mind apart for information about the mysterious and highly sought-after ‘red angel.’ Faking a nasty fight in a corridor as a distraction, Burnham rescues her brother and escapes in a shuttlecraft.
Operative Leland later confronts Georgiou about the escape, which he knows she helped engineer. He bluntly reminds Georgiou not to overestimate her value to the S31 organization. Georgiou responds to the threat with a bit of blackmail of her own; by reminding Leland that she knows the truth regarding his responsibility for the deaths of Burnham’s real parents (dum-dum-duuuuummmm!).
Safely avoiding S31 lookout ships, Burnham takes her still-catatonic brother to an asteroid field, where she tries to make sense of the numbers he continually babbles; it turns out the numbers are coordinates…coordinates to the planet the USS Enterprise had visited (and quarantined) several years earlier (in the events seen in TOS’ original pilot, “The Cage”). Burnham is on her way to that “one forbidden world in all the galaxy” (to quote Captain Kirk in “The Menagerie”); the planet which invites the death penalty for all those who dare visit it.
A mystery, wrapped in a riddle, inside an enigma.
–While the ‘search for Spock’ appears to be over, Michael has simply switched places with her mother by harboring her fugitive brother, whom she has broken out of S31 custody… the very thing her father Sarek was worried might happen. Once again, Michael finds herself on the wrong end of the law… or, since S31 is a shadow organization (well, not so much in this timeline), is she merely taking her brother from the titular ’shadows’ into the ‘light’?
Either way, Spock is still quite catatonic. Here’s hoping next week will finally see him enter some sort of lucid state, since fans (like myself) are eager to see how Ethan Peck’s Spock compares to the performances of the late, great Leonard Nimoy (or even Zachary Quinto in the Kelvinverse movies).
–Are we also seeing the softening of hardened mirror-universe Georgiou into something approaching an ally of Michael’s? This is an intriguing development, since it implies that mirror-universe inhabitants don’t have to remain hardened monsters…perhaps they are capable of civilizing, or, at the very least, being trustworthy partners? We did see a hint of this with Marlena Moreau and mirror-Jennifer Sisko in TOS and DS9, and now we’re seeing it in the former mirror-Emperor herself. Interesting…
A few things that didn’t quite work for me.
–The mystery of future-probe/space-squid. Just what the HELL was that thing, and what was it trying to do? Who modified it, and why did they send it back through the anomaly? Was it Airiam, and if so, why? Is she some sort of cybernetic future operative? Did she modify the probe (somehow), or has it modified her? Sincerely hoping that this is followed up on soon.
–And while we’re on the subject, I know the powers-that-be have promised an answer on this one, but just who or what is Airiam? We’re two seasons into the show, the character has been played by two performers (Sarah Mitich, Hannah Cheesman) and all we know about her is…nothing. Is she an android? If so, wasn’t Next Gen’s Commander Data supposed to be the first android to ever serve in Starfleet? Or is she from a race of androids, ala “Isaac” in “The Orville” (or the Cylons in “Battlestar: Galactica”)? If the writers/producers want us to care about this character, it’s more than time to spill a few more beans on exactly who and what is Airiam. I’m willing to play along, but they gotta give me a playbook first. At this point, Airiam is little more than a talking prop.
–Time travel. Really? So soon? TOS once established that “The Naked Time” was the first time a Federation starship traveled backward in time (Kirk’s USS Enterprise, a few years ahead of Disco’s timeline). Later, the ship did so again accidentally in “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” (going back to 1969). There were others afterward, but those were supposed to be the first instances of Starfleet time travel.
In the prequel series “Star Trek: Enterprise” we see that there was an entire “temporal cold war” that took place one hundred years before TOS, but I’ve always chalked that up to a timeline that was corrupted by the events of the feature film “First Contact” (more on that in an earlier article of mine): https://musingsofamiddleagedgeek.blog/2018/01/17/the-issue-of-star-trek-and-its-continuity/
At this point, pre-TOS, it seems like a bit of a crutch to fall back on the tried-and-true Star Trek cliche of temporal anomalies floating about in space (again). Temporal anomalies were done to death in The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and (yes) even the previous prequel series Enterprise. Discovery itself has already had a time-travel bracelet (!) in last season’s “Magic To Make The Sanest Man Go Mad” (which was fleetingly referenced in tonight’s episode). It made time-travel almost look as easy and everyday as checking one’s FitBit.
I’m not really against time-travel in Star Trek per se, but I worry that it will (once again) be used as a ‘Wizard Did It’ card of this series, much as it was used in other incarnations of Star Trek to gloss over continuity nits and other issues, and not as a thoughtful, meaningful storytelling device (see: “City On The Edge Of Forever,” “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” “Children Of Time”).
The jury is out on this one….
While this week’s episode was simultaneously satisfying and a bit frustrating, next week’s installment, “If Memory Serves”, promises a glorious return to the previously forbidden planet of Talos IV, seen in both “The Cage” and later revisited in “The Menagerie”; if done well, this promises to be an intriguing trip down memory lane…