Star Trek: Discovery 2.08 – “If Memory Serves”

Going back to where Star Trek began…

But now I don’t know where to begin! So much happened, and I have feelings about all of it!

Let’s start with surprise!Vina

I didn’t expect to see Vina, let alone for her to play a major role as the emissary between the Talosians and the rest of the universe. And I definitely didn’t expect her to have actual agency!

Don’t get me wrong, Vina is still a … challenging character. But Melissa George gives a wonderful performance, echoing Susan Oliver without mimicking her, and conveying the very strong impression that Vina is maybe a few dilithium crystals short of a warp core.

“The Cage” and “Menagerie” are still ableist messes, but…

“If Memory Serves” did a couple of things to mitigate the problems in a very small way.

Pike’s regret that Vina chose to stay on Talos erases his “She had her reasons … and I agree with them [because old, deformed, disabled women should be kept out of sight]” line at the end of “The Cage”.

And Pike’s interactions with Vina demonstrate that he’s still hung up on her, that part of him wishes he had stayed with her. (Of course, part of him did.) So the ending of “The Menagerie”, where Spock drops him off at Talos to spend the rest of his life with Vina, in an illusory functional body, is … less horrifying.

(It’s still super ableist, but short of completely wiping “Menagerie” from canon, I don’t see a way of getting around that.)

Mind you, I still wonder what Pike sees in Vina, and what they would ever talk about. Like, they’ve met twice. This is not a good foundation for a long-term relationship with no option for escape. But I guess the Talosians can conjure up illusions of other people if they break up.

(Oh no, I just made the end of “Menagerie” worse.)

“Do you really think that beard is working for you?”

At last, Spock is present, conscious, coherent and … kinda mad at Michael. Still.

And, because the Talosians are still creepy perverts, we get to see why: Michael didn’t just say some harsh things, she called Spock a weird little half-breed. And yes, it was for his protection, but … yikes. I saw a really good thread on Reddit (I know!) about the power that insult has for people of mixed race today, which really drove home the impact it must have had on Spock.

On the other hand, these are children. Children say truly terrible things to each other all the time. It’s actually a relief when Michael finally defends herself by pointing out how young she was. She’s carrying an adult’s guilt for a child’s crime.

Not that Spock lets her off the hook so easily — for one thing, Vulcans expect their children to be miniature adults, but also, he’s the one who has had to live with that insult echoing in his head for years.

Clearly, what followed after that night wasn’t just a decade of awkward silences and ostracism. The beard line points to a fairly normal-seeming sibling relationship of teasing and rivalry. But there was a mistrust always beneath the surface.

And it probably looked to Spock like Michael was favoured by both their parents — she has Amanda’s affection and Sarek’s approval. From Spock’s perspective, Sarek even got her a place in Starfleet! No wonder he cut ties with her.

(I shared this insight with a friend, who was like, “Yes, I’ve always assumed as much.” Look, it’s a new thought for me, okay?)

This is, to an extent, Sarek and Amanda’s fault. They haven’t equipped their kids with the skills for addressing this and moving on.

But … much as I love to dunk on Sarek, he and Amanda did their best. Parents can’t know everything that happens between their kids, and knowing Spock and Michael, they probably kept their conflict on the downlow. Kids have secrets. It’s part of growing up.

The galaxy will be destroyed by giant cyborg squids

It’s how I always wanted to go.

Spock has not only met the Red Angel, he’s melded with her — he got close enough to break his brain.

We now know the Red Angel is:

  • female
  • human
  • lonely
  • from the future
  • trying to save the galaxy from the giant cyborg squids

I see only one possible conclusion:


Okay, realistically I still think there’s a chance it could be Michael, but it seems increasingly unlikely — even if Spock has never melded with her before, surely he’d recognise the mind of someone he grew up with. (Unless years of having Sarek in her head has given Michael some serious Occlumency skills, but I don’t think she’s known she had a head Sarek for that long.)

It feels very late in the season to be introducing a new character, but at this stage in season 1, “Captain Lorca is from the mirror universe and Ash is a Klingon” were crack theories, and we didn’t yet have Emperor Georgiou. So I’m open to possibilities — unless it turns out that the Red Angel is Michael’s great-great-great-whatever-granddaughter, because I prefer not to mix predestination and procreation.

“Dying is easy, young man. Living is harder.”

Actually, I think Hugh might disagree with Hamilton‘s Washington on the “dying is easy” point.

Dying, for Hugh, was quick, sudden and violent. Then he spent nine months in the mycelial network, under attack from the very environment. Now he’s back, in a brand-new version of his old body, and I do not blame him one little bit for being angry.

In fact, I’m surprised at the number of reviews I saw accusing Hugh of being unreasonable, unsympathetic, or even bratty. Sometimes, trauma expresses itself as anger, and he is undeniably traumatised.

But also, I think he’s in a state where the cracks in his life, which were previously small and easy to ignore, are gaping wide open. This is a really good Tumblr discussion about the Paul/Hugh relationship, pointing out that — much like Amanda and Sarek — it seems like Hugh has always been the one compromising and making sacrifices. Which is not to demonise Paul, who is a good person and a good partner — but I think it’s realistic for the balance to sometimes tip one way or another, and Paul seems like hard work.

And Hugh has literally lost his scar tissue. Which I think is a good metaphor for how smaller things, which he would have overlooked before, are affecting him so deeply now.

As I said in my contribution to that Tumblr thread, I think it’s good for Paul and Hugh to put a pause on their relationship, because Hugh is not currently in a position to share his life with someone. He needs to know who he is as an individual, now, before he can be a partner again.

Which, of course, is a very nice parallel to Ash, and one the show doesn’t shy away from making incredibly obvious. (I love Discovery, but it is not a subtle series.)

I don’t want Ash and Hugh to become BFFs overnight, but they’ve both undergone transformative, traumatic, unprecedented experiences. And since apparently mental health care isn’t on the table this season, it makes a certain amount of sense for them to deal with it together.

Of course, it also makes a certain amount of WHAT, ARE YOU CRAZY, since Ash, you know, murdered Hugh. IT’S COMPLICATED.

I still think that killing Hugh was a bad narrative choice, but I’m enjoying the consequences of his return.

At the same time, however, I can easily understand why a lot of fans aren’t into it — I think Discovery is relying on goodwill that Star Trek — and media in general — doesn’t actually have. After decades where queer relationships are either non-existent, toxic or doomed, it’s difficult to have faith that this will have a positive outcome.

I, on the other hand, am absurdly optimistic. And I like relationships which depend on hard work. So while I recognise the problems with this storyline, it’s working for me.

Listen, all y’all, it’s a sabotage!

Airiam has been hacked, or infected with a virus (a Trojan horse, I assume, since we’re all about the Greek mythology this season), and so far no one has noticed that her eyes occasionally turn red. Or maybe they’re just too polite to say.

Naturally she’s framing Ash for her sabotage, because … honestly, he walks around the ship like a lost puppy, he used to be a Klingon sleeper agent and now he’s working for the shadiest of shady operations, how can you not?

(Also, he doesn’t know what a cephalopod is. Again: pretty, not clever.)

I think what’s notable about this situation is that Pike didn’t go straight for the Ash Is An Evil Active Saboteur theory, as he would have a few episodes back. He’s thinking Section 31 brainwashing, which no doubt ranks very high on the list of Ash’s Worst Nightmares, but at least gives him the benefit of the doubt.

It helps, of course, that Ash is honest when Pike asks about his relationship with Michael, and completely owns that he’s the reason it ended. (Not Voq, Ash.) And he’s quite sincere when he says his feelings for Michael won’t affect him professionally — Pike’s face is a study in, “Well, I believe you believe that.”

(I laughed.)

I hope that, as this storyline advances, we do learn more about Airiam, and also that when it’s resolved, she upgrades her firewalls. Maybe installs McAfee or … whatever antivirus software is considered good these days, I have no idea.

Costuming, hair and make-up notes

I really appreciated the nods to the 1960s in Vina’s look — like the original, she wears a shiny mini-dress and has remarkable eye make-up. 2019!Vina has longer, looser hair than Susan Oliver’s bouffant-bob combo, but there’s a hint of a beehive. The old and the new are nicely merged.

Less successful, for me, were Vina’s shoes — I’m not saying she should have been given ’60s-style low, wide heels, or the kitten heels of the original, but her stilettos were very much of the 2010s, and rather distracting.

Speaking of merging the old and the new, I meant to say last week that I adore the tunic and leggings Michael has worn for the last couple of episodes. The whole ensemble reproduces the silhouette of the 1960s minidress uniforms, while also being practical, flattering, and not inappropriate in the contemporary context. I only wish the designers on Enterprise had shown a fraction as much imagination when they were costuming T’Pol.

(If you, too, enjoy Discovery’s costuming, I recommend putting Women at Warp’s interview with Gersha Phillips in your earholes.)

You know what I didn’t love, though? The make-up and casting for the modern Talosians.

I mean, the make-up was fine. Just a bit generic, and we never got to find out if the backs of their heads looked like butts.

Roddenberry did something genuinely interesting when he cast the Talosians for “The Cage” — they were embodied by middle-aged women, but with male actors dubbing the voices. I believe his intent was to depict how centuries of living underground, cultivating their mental powers, had left the Talosians physically feeble — emasculated, even. But the result was a rare depiction of aliens whose whole approach to gender was different.

Here, the Talosians are just … played by men and women. And it feels like a step back to impose a gender binary, especially in an age where actual non-binary actors could have been cast.

Other observations

  • What with having a job, and other hobbies, I ran out of time to talk about Section 31 in any detail! So that part comes next.
  • The dialogue about Section 31 using Terran technology to rake out Spock’s mind suggests that Georgiou was in fact telling the truth last week — but she still set the whole situation up by giving them that ability.
  • We also learn that Section 31 is commanded by four admirals (the Quartet of Badmirals) and an AI known as Control. Well, Control is the threat-analysis system, but they seem to take its advice most of the time.
  • A powerful, ruthless black ops organisation being run by an AI? What could possibly go wrong?
  • (If my crack theory about Section 31 being at war with itself across time is true, I will scream with delight.)
  • I pay close attention to the admiralty for, um, reasons, so I’m here to tell you that two of the Badmirals are known to us: the Andorian Shukar and the Tellarite Gorch were seen last year.
  • And Section 31 did indeed create a false story about Spock murdering a bunch of psychiatrists. Because … I don’t know. Maybe Control has it out for Sarek’s career?
  • I remain firm in my belief that Leland won’t make it past episode 9.
  • Yes, I know I previously said he’d die in episode 8. We agreed never to speak of that, remember?

Again, the Ditmars

Don’t worry, nominations are only open for another couple of weeks!

I’m eligible for Best Fan Writer and also the William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism and Review for my Trek posts of 2018 — that’s covering the second half of Disco’s season one, and my Voyager posts. If you are so inclined, you can nominate me here.

Say goodbye, Spock.

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