Aug 2, 2021
Star Trek: Discovery “Light and Shadows”
Previously: For the first time since the pilot, there are no “previously on” clips this episode, and instead Burnham’s obligatory voiceover catches us up on what we missed: Saru saw the Red Angel, it was wearing an “exosuit made of future technology”, and now it seems to be a given that the Angel comes from the future. Also, Burnham states prior to the voiceover that this is her personal log, and I don’t know why they felt it necessary to add this after a dozen or so voiceovers that never mentioned a log.
This week’s episode is divided up into an A/B story structure where the two plots never intersect, so first, here’s the “A” plot. Burnham asks Pike for personal time to go back to Vulcan to see her parents, believing that Amanda Grayson might know more than she’s letting on about Spock’s whereabouts. Once she gets there, her suspicions are confirmed when Amanda turns out to be a bad liar.
Amanda brings Michael to a “sacred crypt” where she’s been hiding Spock. And we at long last get our first glimpse of Ethan Peck in action as Spock. There’s not much to comment on as far as his performance goes, because he spends the whole episode wandering around and muttering meaningless information to himself, which includes what seems to be a random sequence of numbers.
Sarek suddenly shows up, having caught onto what his wife’s been doing. They have an argument that goes to some rather random places, like when Amanda talks about how she read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to Spock as a kid, because he had a condition called “L’tak Terai”, which is basically space dyslexia. It helped to read him a story about “how to survive when up is down and left is right”, but Sarek thinks that reading him a “book about chaos” harmed their son. This is fascinating stuff. Maybe later they can argue about Sarek letting the kids see horror movies when they were too young for them.
Spock starts reciting lines from Alice, and Burnham wants to take him to a hospital, but Amanda refuses to let him be turned in for murders he didn’t commit. Eventually, Sarek tells Burnham to take Spock to Section 31, supplying the very dubious rationale that 31 has a vested interest in unscrambling Spock’s brain to find out more about the Red Angel.
Burnham brings Spock to the Section 31 ship, where Captain Leland has various devices set up to supposedly repair Spock’s brain. But once Michael leaves, Georgiou pulls her aside and says they actually intend to subject Spock to a “memory extractor” that will destroy his mind, and Burnham needs to get Spock off the ship now.
To make the breakout look more convincing, Georgiou and Burnham stage a fight, and this was pretty much inevitable, because hiring Michelle Yeoh and not having her get into martial arts fights on a regular basis is like going to a Billy Joel concert where he doesn’t play the piano.
Burnham knocks out Georgiou and rescues Spock and flees the Section 31 ship. While hiding in an asteroid to evade detection, Burnham finally figures out that due to Spock’s space dyslexia, the numbers he’s repeating are actually backwards. She reverses the sequence and feeds them into the computer, which determines that they’re a set of coordinates. They lead to Talos IV, the planet seen in TOS’ “The Cage” and “The Menagerie”, home to telepathic beings who can create extremely convincing psychic visions.
Leland chews out Georgiou for letting Burnham escape. But Georgiou isn’t worried for her job, because she knows the truth: Leland is responsible for the death of Burnham’s biological parents. Oh. Okay. That was a plot twist this show totally needed.
So I guess we’ll find out Section 31 is in league with the Klingons who attacked the Doctori Alpha research facility, or something, and honestly I’m already exhausted with Section 31, particularly in the way they can be anywhere at any time, and secretly involved with anything that ever happened in this franchise. Also, is Leland really that much older than Burnham? Was he 16 when he was colluding with the Klingons?
In the “B” plot, we find out the Discovery is going to stick around Kaminar for a while. To help out with the massive societal upheaval taking place on the planet due to the Discovery crew’s hasty decisions from last week? Of course not! They never mention the Kelpiens or the Ba’ul once in this episode. Instead, they’re sticking around to analyze whatever traces the previous signal left behind.
Tilly runs onto the bridge and announces she’s made a “frickin’ amazing” discovery of a nearby source of tachyon particles. As they investigate it, a “rift in space” suddenly forms, and there’s a temporal distortion where Pike sees ghostly visions of himself and Vyler having a conversation they just had a few minutes ago. Pike wants to send a probe into the anomaly, but for some reason Discovery can’t do it, so he and Vyler have to pilot a shuttle to do it.
As the shuttle approaches the rift, Tilly warns them that they could experience “time bends” if they move too fast toward the anomaly. She adds that “everything sounds cooler when you put ‘time’ in front of it.” And that about summarizes this whole plotline.
After they launch the probe, the shuttle gets pulled into the rift and now they’re trapped, and supposedly travelling through the past, present, and future all at once. There’s another time distortion where Pike sees (but Vyler doesn’t see for some reason) a future premonition of himself firing at Vyler and seemingly killing him.
Pike thinks their only chance is to vent the shuttle’s plasma and ignite it so that Discovery can track them, a move you might remember from Spock doing the same thing in “The Galileo Seven”, but Vyler objects to using up all their fuel this way. He does it anyway, but accuses Pike of only wanting to pilot this mission because of the “guilt” he feels for sitting out the Klingon War, and wanting to show everyone that he’s “brave”.
The argument comes to an end when the shuttle encounters the probe, and scans reveal the probe has returned from 500 years in the future. It’s also been enhanced with Doc Ock-like tentacles that break through the hull and grab Vyler, and Pike has to fire his phaser at the tentacle, which is the disappointing resolution to the “killing Vyler” vision Pike had earlier.
The tentacles withdraw, but leave behind a piece that embeds itself in a console and starts downloading the entire ship’s data core. On Discovery, Stamets is able to pinpoint the location of their shuttle due to some technobabble explanation that centers around how he injected himself with tardigrade DNA. This also makes him immune from temporal distortions, so Stamets does a risky transport to get himself on the shuttle and pilot them out of the rift.
The three men are about to beam off the shuttle, but before they do, Pike turns on the auto-destruct to destroy the future probe. Wouldn’t it make more sense to try to bring it aboard the ship (inside a forcefield, of course) to study it and figure out where it came from?
The shuttle goes boom. Back on Discovery, Lt. Ariam, who was tracking the probe’s download of the shuttle’s data, suddenly sees three red lights appear on her console, which appear to trigger some sort of Manchurian Candidate-style programming in her robot mind. Meanwhile, Pike and Vyler kiss and make up, and Pike admits that Vyler was right about why he wanted to go on the mission, and Vyler admits Pike made the right call about venting the plasma.
Pike then wonders if the probe was reprogrammed by the Red Angel, and he’s considering the idea that the Red Angel might have sinister motives after all. Vyler then declares to everyone on the bridge that they’re now in a “fight for the future”. I’m not sure what he means by that, but hey, it sure sounds dramatic.
It’s another mostly mediocre outing where there’s plenty of fast-paced dialogue and frenetic action, but not much is accomplished over the course of the episode. With a runtime of 40 minutes, this was the shortest episode of the season so far, and it really could have benefited from a few extra minutes to let some of these moments sink in. Even what should have been a simple argument between Sarek and Amanda is rushed through so fast that it barely makes sense. I guess the producers are under the belief that quickly cutting from moment to moment makes things more “exciting”, but relentless action and constant visual razzle-dazzle can get boring too, especially when it doesn’t lead to anything meaningful.
But no more Spock fake-outs are a good thing. And Michelle Yeoh fighting is always entertaining. Less entertaining were the constant references to Alice in Wonderland, and Tilly doing more of her Tilly shtick on the bridge (why is she on the bridge, again?), but thankfully she was confined to small doses this time. I could speculate more on the Red Angel mystery, but until we get some indication that they’re not going for the most obvious twist here (the Red Angel is really future Spock/Burnham), I don’t feel very motivated to try and unlock this particular puzzle.
Next week: We see Talosians for the first time since “The Menagerie”. They beam Spock’s visions into Burnham’s brain, and she sees alien ships attacking Earth and blowing up the planet. This could be serious.