Feb 20, 2020
Star Trek: Discovery “If Memory Serves”
Previously: Well, this is different; this week, the “previously on” clips all come from “The Cage”, the original Star Trek pilot. I’m going out on a limb and guessing this is the first time in Star Trek history that the pre-episode recap covers a different show.
Even if you haven’t seen “The Cage”, you probably know the gist of the story: the Enterprise under the command of Christopher Pike (and with Spock serving as science officer) responds to a distress call from Talos IV, only to meet a race of super-intelligent psychic beings who can create extremely convincing mental illusions. They want to keep Pike caged up like a zoo animal and study him and mate him with Vina, a human female who crash-landed on the same planet years earlier.
Obviously, they went this route because the episode that follows acts mostly as a 50-years-later sequel to “The Cage” (and a prequel to “The Menagerie”), though this intro mostly comes off like a low-rent DVD extra, thanks to the goofy scene transitions they use and the TOS theme playing under the whole thing.
However, it ends with a nice moment where a shot of Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Pike smash-cuts to Anson Mount as Pike. He gives his first captain’s log of the series as he explains that Burnham is out searching for Spock. Meanwhile on the Section 31 ship, a group of admirals appears to Leland and Georgiou and chew Leland out for letting Spock escape their clutches. They want to put out an APB on Spock to all ships in the fleet, with the exception of Discovery.
So Georgiou gets on the holographic communicator to Discovery, and tells Pike to stay put and not get involved in the hunt for Spock. So I guess everyone at Section 31 now outranks Pike, and is even able to give him direct orders.
Cut to Burnham’s shuttle, where she and Spock are on their way to Talos IV. They come out of warp and Burnham is shocked to find they’ve arrived near the black hole from Interstellar. Spock, who’s conscious but still incommunicado, takes control and forces the shuttle to fly directly into the black hole, revealing that it’s really an illusion hiding Talos IV.
They land, and Burnham wanders around the planet’s surface for a while, apparently just to check out the updated version of those blue singing flowers that had Spock acting out of character in “The Cage”. She then spots a blonde woman in a familiar metallic mini-dress entering the shuttle.
It turns out to be Vina, previously played by Susan Oliver, and now played by Melissa George (Alias, Grey’s Anatomy, etc). She tells Burnham that she’s an “old friend” of Captain Pike, and wants them to beam down beneath the surface so the Talosians can “examine” Spock. Once they get there, Vina appears again (presumably, Surface Vina was an illusion), and the new updated Talosians shimmer into view behind her.
The aliens telepathically explain that Spock is in a state where he’s experiencing time as a “fluid rather that linear construct”, and only they can help him. But in exchange, they want Burnham to reveal a childhood memory for their viewing pleasure. They know all about Spock’s past and they want to see “the wound [she] inflicted” on him as a child, a moment previously revealed to Amanda Grayson.
A reluctant Burnham is convinced to do it when Vina briefly shows her true, mangled form like she did at the end of “The Cage”. I guess this is to make it clear that the Talosians are benevolent beings, so Burnham agrees, but first she wants to see what’s going on in Spock’s mind.
This triggers a series of flashbacks; the first is to when Spock was a kid, and young Michael ran away from home, and the Red Angel appears to him and gives him a vision of Michael in Vulcan’s Forge being attacked by a monster (sadly, it’s just some generic giant insect thing, and not the le-matya from the animated series). As Amanda previously explained, this “premonition” helped her and Sarek save Michael’s life.
The second flashback is to Spock as an adult, getting summoned to a wintry “remote planet” where he gets visited again by the Red Angel. Spock does a mind-meld with the Angel, which gives him a vision (and now we’re seeing a vision inside a vision) of alien ships firing weapons at planets like Earth, Kaminar, and Andoria and making them all break apart.
In the present, Spock is now awake and lucid, and confirming that the Red Angel does indeed come from the future, because it gave him memories of things that haven’t happened yet. And this, it seems, is why Section 31 is after him: they want his knowledge of future events. Also in that mind-meld, Spock was able to determine that the Red Angel is human, which is accompanied by a big thud on the soundtrack like this is a major revelation. But really, this is just more evidence of the big twist being that the Red Angel is a future version of Michael Burnham.
Spock tells Burnham that there’s one more thing she needs to see: In a flashback to the starbase mental institution filmed through an extreme fish-eye lens, Spock is told by his doctor that he predicted the locations of the red bursts, and he realizes he’s not insane. Upon being informed that Section 31 is coming to transfer him to another facility, Spock breaks out, subduing his doctor and two guards, but not murdering them. With the implication being that when Section 31 showed up, they killed all three people and framed Spock for the crimes.
Meanwhile, in a separate storyline unfolding on Discovery, Stamets is taking the resurrected Culber back to their quarters, but he’s obviously feeling uneasy and uncomfortable about the whole situation. Culber has all of his memories, but nothing is making a “connection” with him. What’s worse, he keeps running into his murderer Vyler in the corridors.
It all comes to a head when Culber confronts Vyler in the mess hall in front of the entire crew. Vyler says it wasn’t him who did it, but rather Voq, and Culber angrily demands that Vyler “bring him out”. Culber starts tossing around trays and chairs and tables, and the two get into a big brawl in front of everyone. And it’s Saru, of all people, who decides that the fight should be allowed to run its course.
It ends when both men get too tired to fight, and Culber says he doesn’t know who he is anymore, and Vyler’s like, right there with you, pal. In the aftermath, Culber tells Stamets that the old version of him is dead, and they really should both move on. So, that’s it? Just a breakup? Culber isn’t going to turn out to secretly be some evil mycelial construct? If so, color me surprised.
Later, Pike is in his ready room when he’s startled by a vision of Vina. She tells him that the Talosians are now able to project their visions across space, but they can’t do it for long. She says that some part of Pike is still on Talos IV, as established in “The Cage”, and that they’ve lived a “lifetime” together, and it seems that Pike is still in love with her as well. Then she tells Pike to turn around, where he sees a projection of Burnham and Spock from Talos IV explaining everything they’ve found out, and that Discovery needs to come to Talos IV now.
Pike wants to do a spore jump to get there, but the spore drive has been sabotaged. In addition, Saru has discovered that someone sent an unauthorized transmission containing massive amounts of data to an unknown recipient. That transmission was sent using Vyler’s “command codes”, and so Pike has Vyler confined to quarters. Vyler denies being the saboteur, and Pike suggests he could be under some sort of Section 31 mind control. But as he’s led away, we close in on Lt. Ariam and see those blinking red lights flashing in her eyes again, making it clear who the real culprit is.
On the surface of Talos IV, Burnham thanks Vina for her help, but now it’s time to pay the Talosians for services rendered. They want those memories, so she and Spock relive the time from their childhood where Burnham “wounded” him. In the memory, the two switch back and forth between being children and adults, and we finally find out what Burnham did that was so awful. Are you ready? She called him a “weird little half-breed”. That’s about it. At least it’s consistent with the insult being used several times on TOS, particularly in “This Side of Paradise” where Kirk uses it to get Spock angry enough to break free of mind-controlling spores.
In the present, Burnham apologizes to Spock, but he understands why she did it. In fact, he thanks her, because up until that point, he was interested in exploring his human side, and Burnham became the “catalyst” that made him turn totally to logic and become the Spock we know.
Discovery gets to Talos IV and they try to beam up Spock and Burnham, but Captain Leland’s Section 31 ship arrives at the same time, and the two ships have a transporter tug-of-war that could cause Spock and Burnham to get “ripped apart atom by atom”. Vina appears to Pike in one last vision and tells him to “let your friends go”, and Pike allows them to be beamed over to the Section 31 ship.
Leland tries to interrogate Spock, but it’s all a Talosian-manufactured subterfuge. The projections of Spock and Burnham vanish from the Section 31 bridge, while the real Spock and Burnham arrive on Discovery in a shuttle. Spock explains to the crew that the Red Angel is on their side, and here to prevent a future where “all sentient life in our galaxy has been eradicated”. But due to disobeying direct orders from Section 31, Discovery is now a wanted ship, and Spock suggests they should run.
Pike starts to give a speech to the bridge crew about how hard it is to ask them to disobey orders like this, when Lt. Detmer refreshingly cuts him off with, “Course heading, sir?” Hah! Even the writers realize Pike has given too many speeches like this. He looks around, and it seems the entire crew is with him, and on his orders the ships warps away.
“If Memory Serves” is the best episode of the season so far, but I fully admit that this is mostly thanks to it providing a proper follow-up, over fifty years later, to “The Cage”. I’m not sure if the episode would work as well if it didn’t have the previous story to build upon, but everyone in the cast is at the top of their game here; the “half-breed” thing seems rather inconsequential on paper, but Sonequa Martin-Green and Ethan Peck convince us that this moment is one that could have a lifelong impact on Spock. I’m not about to declare Peck’s Spock as being Nimoy’s heir apparent, but so far he’s doing about as well in the role as Zachary Quinto.
My only quibble is that they’re once again doing that unnecessary prequel thing where everyone has to have an origin story; there has to be some deep, dark reason that Spock fully immersed himself in logic and ignored his human side, and it can’t be because that’s just the way he is.
I didn’t get the feeling from “The Cage” that Pike was that in love with Vina, and here they’ve almost made her into Pike’s Edith Keeler. But again, Melissa George and Anson Mount really sell their emotional connection. At the very least, it provides an appropriate setup for the (chronologically) later episode “The Menagerie”, where Pike decides to live out the rest of his days with Vina on Talos IV.
Another big plus is the Culber story coming to a resolution that doesn’t involve technobabble or some random pseudoscientific explanation for who or what Culber is now. It’s just real people with real emotions coming to terms (and also coming to blows) over the absurd situation they’ve found themselves in.
Also, a very limited amount of Section 31 nonsense this episode surely helped a lot. Hard to believe they’re seriously trying to develop a Section 31 spin-off starring Michelle Yeoh, as if anyone needs a full hour of these antics every week.
Next time: Discovery pays a visit to Section 31 headquarters, an imposing space station guarded by “blade mines” that can “slice the hull like cheese”. A landing party gets through anyway, only to have Lt. Ariam go berserk on everyone.