For six weeks, we’ve heard the characters on Star Trek: Discovery talking about Spock and seen the characters looking for Spock and had the characters think they were about to find Spock only to not have him be there. For six months, we’ve been teased by CBS with the presence of Spock, from the announcement of Ethan Peck’s casting in August forward. It’s been a seemingly endless Spock-tease. (Sorry.)
This week, with “Light and Shadows,” released on the same week as the fourth anniversary of Leonard Nimoy’s death, Peck finally shows up as Spock. And it’s to the credit of “Light and Shadows” that it’s not even the most interesting part of the episode.
Let’s start with the ending, because that’s the part that I find particularly, you’ll pardon the expression, fascinating. Back in the review of “Point of Light,” I pointed out that Pike moving heaven and earth to help exonerate Spock of murder charges retroactively makes Spock’s batshit actions to aid the badly maimed Pike in the framing sequence of “The Menagerie” make more sense. But—as I said in my rewatch of that two-part original series episode—that wasn’t the only batshit thing in that framing sequence. The death penalty as the punishment for going to Talos IV never made anything like sense (especially since the Talosians themselves can manipulate people into going to the planet against their will). I’m thinking that Talos IV’s involvement in this season’s mishegoss will go a lot more toward explaining why going to this world is punishable by something so extreme as death.
But “The Menagerie” isn’t the only episode of the original series that’s reinterpreted here. We get an extensive interaction between Sarek and Amanda—indeed, it’s the most in-depth conversation between Spock’s biological parents that we’ve seen onscreen to date, since the characters were introduced in “Journey to Babel.” In that episode, Amanda told Kirk, that “the Vulcan way” of life “has kept Sarek and Spock from speaking as father and son for eighteen years.” Discovery’s spot in the timeline is within that eighteen-year period, so when this episode revealed that Amanda was hiding Spock in a telepath-proof shrine on Vulcan to keep him away from Sarek, I figured they were going to stick with Sarek not seeing Spock—so when Sarek walked into the shrine (having followed Amanda and Burnham there when the former took the latter to see him), I was completely gobsmacked. However, at this stage, Spock is just muttering nonsense phrases over and over again and not actually communicating to anyone or even acknowledging their presence. Indeed, he spends the entire episode in this catatonic state. So even though they’re in the same room, Sarek and Spock don’t speak (as father and son, or as much of anything, really), so continuity is maintained while still keeping this plot moving forward.
We already know from last season’s “Lethe” that the rift that kept them apart was because Sarek reserved a spot for Spock at the Vulcan Science Academy at Burnham’s expense, which Spock then rejected to join Starfleet. But Sarek does still love his son—as he himself said through Picard in the mind-meld the two underwent in The Next Generation‘s “Sarek“—and so he agrees to help him, but only by following regulations. He won’t let his wife or his adopted daughter violate Federation law by harboring a fugitive.
The big change here, though, is a change that reflects the difference between 1967 and 2019. In “Journey to Babel,” it probably seemed completely reasonable and normal for Amanda to be subservient to Sarek. (Amanda: “Shall we continue the tour? My husband did request it.” Kirk: “It sounded more like a command.” Amanda: “Well, of course. He’s a Vulcan, I’m his wife.”) But in “Light and Shadows,” Amanda describes herself as Sarek’s partner, and has made decisions based on what will be best for their family. She knows that Spock didn’t kill anyone and that he’s being framed for these murders, and she won’t turn him in. But Sarek talks her into it, at least in part because Burnham can’t afford another stigma on her record.
And so Burnham turns Spock over to Section 31—only to have Georgiou convince her to escape with Spock, because 31 doesn’t have Spock’s best interests at heart. It’s hard to tell who’s telling the truth here. Leland insists that Spock will be treated well, but Georgiou tells Burnham that Leland will rip Spock’s mind apart. Georgiou also freely admits that she’s helping Burnham in order to discredit Leland and improve her own position within 31, which is certainly convincing. But I’m not 100% sure that she’s telling the truth about Leland’s actions. After all, Spock is the second officer on a ship of the line, and the son of the Vulcan ambassador, and a friend and valued officer under the command of Leland’s old buddy Pike. Murder charge notwithstanding, would he really turn him into a vegetable?
You also have to think that Burnham went along with it at least in part because it gave her the opportunity to beat up Georgiou (to make it look like Burnham overpowered Georgiou to free Spock from 31). And it gives us a chance to watch Michelle Yeoh in hand-to-hand combat, which is never not awesome.
The other reason why Burnham went along for it is that she thinks the numbers that Spock has been chanting (and also carving into the rock in the shrine where Amanda was hiding him) should be reversed. By the end of the episode, we learn that they’re the coordinates for Talos IV, which apparently we’ll be visiting next week…
The Sarek family dynamics is of much more interest to me than the tiresome Section 31 maneuvering, which is only even tolerable due to Yeoh being at the center of it. (I found the revelation that Leland was involved in the death of Burnham’s parents to be spectacularly uninteresting and unmoving.) Spock himself remains simply a Maguffin, not speaking a single coherent word the entire episode. Let’s hope that next week Peck gets more of a chance to actually play the character.
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A Memory Called Empire
Meanwhile, back on Discovery, the Red Angel seems to have left a temporal anomaly behind in orbit of Kaminar. Pike has been charged with studying it, but doing so proves difficult, as Discovery can’t get too close without suffering temporal anomalies. So Pike pilots a shuttle in, accompanied by Tyler. (Bizarrely, no mention is made of Kaminar itself, nor the events of last week beyond Saru seeing the Red Angel with his superior eyesight. In particular, when the temporal anomaly explodes at the end of the episode, nobody even mentions the possible effects this might have on Saru’s homeworld.)
The main point of this plot is to further the notion we got at the end of last episode, that the Red Angel is a humanoid from the future wearing a funky space suit. The secondary notion is to have Tyler and Pike hash things out. Pike has been hostile to Tyler from the moment he came on board, but going on a dangerous mission together helps bring them a bit closer together. Honestly, it’s more than a little manipulative, though Tyler’s observation that Pike is overcompensating for being forced to sit out the war by going on dangerous missions himself is a canny one. Still, the banter between Anson Mount and Shazad Latif is excellent, and they make good use of Stamets’s unique ability to perceive time (with Saru specifically citing the events of “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad“). Of course, that raises the question of why Pike didn’t take Stamets with him in the first place…
And now we have another Red Angel-related mystery: the probe that Discovery sent into the anomaly returns to the shuttlecraft five hundred subjective years later, having been heavily modified by, um, someone. It invades the shuttle computer, and then the Discovery computer, and then apparently Lieutenant Commander Airiam. Maybe now we’ll find out more about Airiam…
I’m not all that thrilled with the notion of the Red Angel being a mysterious figure from the future, as we’ve been down this road before with “future guy” on Enterprise, and that was a total disaster. Just in general, doing anything reminiscent of the idiotic “temporal cold war” storyline on the only Star Trek spinoff that failed in the marketplace is a fraught choice.
Mount, as usual, kills it as Pike, as his confidence and good humor carry him through. He’s a smart, clever, likeable captain, and I particularly admire his willingness to finally see Tyler’s point of view on the Red Angel. You suspect he was rejecting Tyler’s concerns about the Red Angel being hostile out of hand because he doesn’t like Section 31 in general or Tyler in particular.
Still, while it’s all well and good for Pike to be cranky with Tyler, he’s the person Tyler should have the least problem with on the ship. Pike is upset because Tyler (or Voq, whoever) killed Culber, but for Pike that’s more of an abstraction. Culber was actual friends with the rest of the crew. Tyler’s been on board as the 31 liaison for three episodes, now, and we’ve got no sense of how anybody other than Burnham and Pike feel about his being there, and that’s a major lack in a show whose greatest appeal is its characters.
While the script for this one (by Ted Sullivan from a story by Sullivan and Vaun Wilmott) is hit-and-miss, it’s elevated by the performances and by certain scenes that ring beautifully, from Sarek and Amanda’s confrontation in the shrine to the Georgiou-Burnham interactions (I especially love the looks they exchange when Georgiou fires her phaser at Burnham as she’s entering the transporter room) to every scene with Tilly (she’s right, putting “time-” in front of a word absolutely makes it sound cooler). And they’re no longer dragging out the mysteries, giving us actual forward movement on the Red Angel and having Burnham find Spock early in the episode and make progress toward figuring out what’s wrong with him.
I must confess to looking forward to seeing the buttheads of Talos IV next week. I hope that Pike is involved in that somehow, as I really want to see how Mount plays Pike’s response to that world being back in his life again.
Keith R.A. DeCandido also recently took a look at Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy on this here site. You should buy all his books, because they’re awesome. The most recent is A Furnace Sealed, which you can read an excerpt from right here. Keith also discusses the novel on both John Scalzi’s “The Big Idea” and Mary Robinette Kowal’s “My Favorite Bit.”