In the eighth episode of the second season of Star Trek: Discovery, I now know a new type of pain. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of consent, PTSD, trauma.
HOLY SHIT, THIS RULED!!! We now have canon directly interacting with The Original Series, as well as the answer to Spock and Burnham’s past, Spock’s mental anguish, a huge moment between Culber and Stamets, Airiam’s sabotage… how the FUCK did so much happen in one single episode???
I almost typed, “Let’s start with the most upsetting subplot,” but… yeah. Spock’s whole story is a nightmare. Anyway, let’s start with pain and probably end with it, because every plot just hurts! I think it was a difficult choice to make to have Dr. Culber end where he did in “If Memory Serves.” (And god, what a TITLE. The obvious association is with Spock’s plot, but it fits Culber’s story, too!) As Stamets says, Hugh’s return is absolutely a miracle.
But that’s not Hugh’s perspective. To Hugh, this is all a waking nightmare. Part of that comes from how utterly unprecedented this! There is literally no history of any human going through what Hugh has. What is the experience like when your body is reconstituted from DNA? It’s understandable, then, that Paul would want to ground his husband in all the things that made him Dr. Hugh Culber. At the same time, as Hugh struggles with his existential crisis, it’s clear he is increasingly irritated by how Paul defines him. And wouldn’t that be confusing to any of us? What if our lives and our identities and our feelings were forced on us by external forces only?
It’s also obvious that Hugh is struggling to feel anything, and thus, it’s not surprising that he seeks out pain. Like… whew, it’s a little too close to home, first of all. I know exactly what that toxic desire feels like. (And I would not be surprised if a later episode ties it to PTSD, either. I think that’s an unspoken element of Dr. Culber’s characterization, too.) Here, Hugh picks a fight with Paul, then goes off to pick a fight with Tyler. And it’s not that either confrontation is without understanding! Oh, both of them make sense, and as Saru correctly notes, there is some catharsis achieved through what Hugh does. But is it enough? No. Not for Hugh. Even after fighting Tyler, he doesn’t magically feel like all is right. If anything, he still feels terrible because he has no clue who he is anymore. (Which of course added that fascinating layer to the fight between Hugh and Ash.)
So I saw his demand in this episode as one of freedom: Hugh needed the space to figure out his sense of self outside of his relationship with Paul. It’s still an absolutely crushing scene, even while I understand Hugh’s motivation. This is all Paul ever wanted, and now? His “miracle” has become his own personal nightmare, too.
I hurt. I HURT.
I LOVE THAT WE GET MORE OF CAPTAIN PIKE HERE. While Burnham and Spock take center stage in other parts of the episode, the focus does occasionally shift to Pike, giving us his point of view when it comes to the Talosians and Vina. It’s a masterful way to add a layer of emotional depth to this episode and to the character of Pike. Let’s say you hadn’t seen that other pilot for Original Series; I still think “If Memory Serves” does a fine job grounding the audience in the history here. We still discover that Pike once traveled here with his crew, that Spock was with him, and that he met the only human survivor of a crash on Talos IV. We learn just enough about the Talosians to understand their role in the story and to also see them as FUCKING TERRIFYING. Oh my god, Melissa George does such a fantastic job conveying the quiet terror of being forced to live with the Talosians. All of this certainly informs Burnham’s interactions with them, yes, but Pike’s emotional closeness to everything matters a great deal to the story. The final twist wouldn’t have even been possible if not for Pike’s trust of Vina!
You know what’s also great? How complicated Pike’s relationship with Ash Tyler has become. WHICH IS NOW AT A VERY BAD PLACE AT THE END OF THIS EPISODE. Airiam is the saboteur!!! Not Tyler!!! And yet, Pike can’t see how his own perception of Tyler and Section 31 is making it easier for Airiam to hide in plain sight. It’s understandable, of course, especially since Section 31 so clearly is willing to openly lie to get what they want. They were also going to violate Spock’s consent to get to his memories!!! Of course Pike isn’t going to trust a Section 31 agent!
Y’all, all the Talos IV stuff is phenomenal. Truly. I really loved that the writers found a means to give us these flashbacks while tying them into some other part of Trek canon. I believe the script is so much more entertaining because of that. There’s an external reason for Spock to share his memories of the Red Angel with Michael, just as much as there’s an external reason for Michael to relive one of the worst moments of her life.
Let’s start with the future first. So, we have absolute confirmation that the Red Angel is human and that they’re a time traveler. That knowledge is coupled with the reveal of how Spock got in the state that he was in: He stopped experiencing time in a linear manner. Instead, time was more fluid for him, and his logical mind could not keep a grasp on… well, anything. With Michael’s help, he was able to get to Talos IV, where he knew the Talosians could help him.
But the future that the Red Angel let Spock glimpse… lord. Yes, it’s a possible timeline, but it’s also an intensely grim one. Someone wipes out all known life in the universe. Who that is remains a mystery, BUT I think I have a theory? I think that it wasn’t just a coincidence that the ships that perpetrated mass extinction looked a lot like the modded probe that attacked Pike’s shuttle in the previous episode. I’m a little suspicious. What if that force is also responsible for the re-programming of Airiam??? What if they’re trying to guarantee the future that Spock saw?
It’s certainly a huge thing to deal with. The imminent death of the universe… yeah, that’s a problem. Perhaps THE problem of all time. Knowing that certainly helps understand Section 31’s intense motivation. Are they also aware of what the future holds? Or is there a part of this that we the audience don’t understand yet? Is Section 31 a lot more knowledgable of what’s happening than they’re letting on? That wouldn’t surprise me, to be honest. I still don’t trust Leland. (I still find Georgiou endlessly entertaining, and watching her subvert and annoy Leland is an absolute joy to watch.)
Yet as thrilling as it was to learn all of this, I found that I was YEARNING to learn the truth about what had driven Spock and Michael apart. If you watch the video for this, you’ll see that I wasn’t sure that the reveal itself would be as bad as the hype. Like… was what Michael did as terrible as the show made it seem to be? Even as the actual memory began to unfold and I figured out that she was basically saying awful things to Spock to get him not to follow her, I wasn’t certain this was irreparable.
Ha. Yeah, it was REALLY AWFUL!!! It’s clear that Burnham had an intensely close relationship with Spock because she knew exactly what to say to utterly GUT him. And the problem in the moment was that Spock kept applying logic to what Burnham was saying while also trying to appeal to the humanity he knew she was trying to help him with! AND IT BACKFIRED TERRIBLY. Another layer of tragedy is that in one respect, Spock deliberately became the person Burnham said he was going to become. So, even though he fully understands why she acted as she did and she probably didn’t mean it, he still is cold. He still has tried his hardest to shun and repress his humanity. His appreciation of her did not feel like appreciation, did it? It was sly. Condescending. Maybe even a little cruel, since Spock knows this isn’t the outcome that Michael wants?
Like the Stamets/Culber plot, I think it was a better story choice to go the more difficult route because it feels more honest. It’s infinitely more complicated because Spock is probably not going to give Burnham the absolution or forgiveness that she wants. But what will their relationship look like going forward? Does he at least respect her? Can their relationship even change? I don’t know. I’m digging Ethan Peck’s portrayal of this character, though, and I remain just as intrigued by Discovery as ever. This season is simply magical, y’all, and I’m so glad I’m watching it.
The video for “If Memory Serves” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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