In the seventh episode of the second season of Star Trek: Discovery, Burnham tracks down her brother, while the Discovery crew deal with an anomaly in time. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of mental illness and learning disabilities
Hi, this season truly feels perfect, but that also means every episode basically ends my life, so let’s start there.
A Complicated Past
I LOVE THE WAY THIS EPISODE IS STRUCTURED AROUND THE PAST. With only a couple exceptions—the scenes where Michael and Spock interact over the Vulcan salute, and Amanda reading Alice in Wonderland to Spock—“Lights and Shadows” relies heavily on what has come before with almost no flashbacks at all. That’s a fascinating choice, and it ends up being PERFECT. Perfect! We learn information through dialogue and context, and that means that all of the scenes never lose their urgency. We’re kept in the presence and experiencing this conflict with the characters.
AND WHAT A CONFLICT IT IS. Oh my god, this is all about family and culture and the ethics of the Federation versus the ethics of Vulcan versus the ethics of a mother and IT’S ALL SO RICH AND COMPLICATED. And I want to start with Amanda, because Mia Kershner is a REVELATION here. I love how this show understands its characters, and here, we see just how much Amanda has struggled with raising her two children specifically within Vulcan culture. One thing I’ve enjoyed about the depiction of the Sarek/Amanda relationship that feels increasingly specific to Discovery is how much the show openly shows us these two characters in love, but never claims that love supersedes all. It can be a guiding force and a motivation, but there are still problems that need to be resolved regardless of that.
In this case, Amanda had to raise two children who had complicated childhoods due to their circumstances and to their environment. We’ve gotten so much story about Burnham and seeing how her being orphaned and then adopted by this family made her into who she is these days. We know that she was taught Vulcan logic, but that never eliminated the human part of her. In some respects, that’s a direct parallel to Spock, this legendary character from the Original Series. We definitely saw him struggle with being part Vulcan and part human in prior series. But this? Oh my god, y’all, this show introduces something new to Spock’s character: He deals with a learning disability, one that is very rare among Vulcans. L’Tak Terai is a form of dysphasia (though—correct me if I’m wrong—don’t we use aphasia more here in the US than dysphasia?), with the closest analogue being dislexia.
By introducing this, we’re given another layer to Spock, one that Michael realizes most likely made his life a whole lot more challenging and lonely. However, Amanda definitely knew this was the case, and it’s a huge reason why she behaves as she does in this episode. Her actions are grounded by that reality throughout “Lights and Shadows.” So, we’re seeing a mother who has had to go above and beyond to support her child because the world he lived in didn’t want to support him. And the obvious parallel to Burnham is there, too! We know how resistant the elders were to teach her!
I also believe all of this is needed because we’re dealing with a retcon. Yes, Burnham doesn’t exist within the original canon of Trek, and these elements and character building help me sink into this new story so that I don’t question it. Burnham’s love for Spock has to feel real, and an episode like this absolutely contributes to that. I would be remiss in not mentioning that Sonequa Martin-Green carries a lot of that emotional weight in her performances, too. There’s that moment where Amanda reveals Spock to Burnham, and Burnham doesn’t speak for a long while. All her emotions are conveyed with her facial expressions, and it’s PHENOMENAL. I believed that Burnham missed her brother, that she was both relieved to see him again but terrified by what was happening to him. Plus, there’s another narrative need for this: The audience has to trust that Burnham would violate Starfleet protocol in order to save this person. Her character in particular has historically violated protocol, but at this point in her story, we know she’s much more reluctant to. So, what brings her to that point again, knowing she might risk an insubordination charge?
Her love for Spock.
UGH, I REALLY ENJOYED ALL OF THIS, FRIENDS.
Tilly and Stamets
Speaking of developing relationships, I remain pleased that we’re given another story where a whole subplot is the emotional intimacy between Ensign Tilly and Stamets. (How is Hugh doing, by the way?) Well, let me also state that Tilly is just SO FUCKING FUNNY during all of this, like when she introduces adding “time” to things to make them sound better. She is a VISIONARY and must be treated accordingly. Which… this episode kinda does? Tilly’s fear and panic understandably rear their heads when she’s tasked with helping Stamets think of a way to rescue the shuttle with Pike and Tyler on it. While these scenes certainly provide exposition and a whole lot of stress, they also do what I’m finding to be a very Discovery thing. They’re all reliant on deeply personal relationships. Even the one fight scene in this episode—which I’ll talk about in the last section—is layered with meaning because of what’s actually happening between the two characters. In this instance, Stamets relies on Tilly because he trusts her and trusts her abilities. She just needed a reminder of that, and it’s why Stamets spoke it aloud on the transporter. He doesn’t trust just anyone, and Tilly has won him over. AND I LOVE SEEING THEM BE FRIENDS.
Hi, WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED TO THAT PROBE. And what happened to Airiam???
Tyler and Pike
And look, not everyone is friends here. At the end of “Lights and Shadows,” I would say that Captain Pike and Tyler are… I don’t know. Colleagues who are finally beginning to understand one another? But their path to getting there is rough, and the shuttle subplot has a secondary stressor, and it’s the interpersonal conflict between these two! Tyler’s presence is a complicated thing all by itself, which Pike knows. But it was also clear that Pike struggled with accepting Tyler’s place on the Discovery. He wasn’t even around for Dr. Culber’s murder, but he knows how strongly that affected the rest of the crew.
For Pike personally, I interpreted his behaviors mostly as an overprotective thing. He wanted to keep his crew safe! Plus, Tyler’s cynicism/paranoia—like in previous episodes—was starting to grate on Pike.
Yet Tyler is able to see things through an entirely different lens. His theory? Pike’s behavior is due to his survivor’s guilt. WHICH IS SO FASCINATING. He sat out the war with the Klingons, and now, he’s making risky choices as a way to validate himself. And like… god, the subtext here that Tyler is someone who probably wished he could have sat out this war? Oh god, of course he was able to read Pike’s actions so easily, y’all!
So, does this mean that Pike will now officially adopt the stance that the Red Angel does not have the best interests in mind? I don’t know! At the very least, Pike is willing to engage the idea a lot more openly.
The ways in which I love this version of Georgiou are LIMITLESS. Even though Georgiou isn’t in a ton of “Light and Shadows,” every time she is, she’s blowing everything out of the water. Her chemistry with Burnham is out of control, y’all, and both actresses manage to show us that Georgiou and Burnham are drawn to one another, but not always for reasons they innately understand. Like… why does Georgeiou claim that she knows Burnham so well? Because she knew her Terran counterpart? Does Georgiou actually care for Burnham, or is that explained away by her confession to Leland? I genuinely don’t know, and that friction makes Georgiou’s presence electrifying. She is like an open mystery. No one truly knows what her motivations are, and it’s made all the more blurry once we find out she is blackmailing Leland. (WHO KILLED BURNHAM’S PARENTS!!!!! WHAT THE FUCK!!!) At given moment, I can’t tell if she’s acting out of care for Burnham or if this is all a self-serving nightmare.
It’s such a brilliant way to write a character. I need to know what she’s planning!!! Because she’s got to have something she’s working toward in this universe, right? She can’t be fully satisfied living in this world, even though she’s in Section 31. So… IS SOMETHING ABOUT TO HAPPEN? Will she remain in Starfleet? Is her affection for Burnham real, a delusion, or part of a manipulation?
I’m really having the best time analyzing this, y’all.
The video for “Light and Shadow” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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