March 12, 2019

First Impressions: Star Trek: Discovery, S2 Ep 8, "If Memory Serves"

I think this will be the pivotal episode of this season of Discovery, as there are a lot of things happening here. Storylines collide, surprises are revealed, and consequences are seen. It helps that it's also a bang-up episode in and of itself, right up there with "Saints of Imperfection" (my second favorite episode of the season) and nipping at the heels of "An Obol for Charon."

Let's discuss these three facets of the episode, one at a time. This will of necessity involve spoilers. I'm also not going to recap everything that has gone before, as that would make this post Jethro Tull-like in length. So if you're confused, warp off to CBS All Access and get caught up. I'll still be here.

Spoilers after the picture!

(Yes, I still miss Lorca.)

(But Pike has definitely helped to ease the pain.)

1. Culber's Resurrection; or, Life After Death Ain't All It's Cracked Up To Be

Poor Hugh Culber. I really felt for the guy, because he's completely adrift. He spent months in the Magic Mushroom Palace struggling to survive and barely hanging on to his sanity, and now he's back in the "real" universe in a newly generated body that isn't his (lacking previous scars, for example); on a ship and among a crew that have gone on without him; with his murderer serving on said ship; and with a husband, Stamets, who desperately wants to go back to the way things used to be, as if nothing has happened.

This, obviously, is impossible. Culber says straight out that he doesn't know who he is, and understandably so. That being the case, he certainly doesn't know if he still loves Stamets. I know some people are upset about Culber breaking off the relationship, and admittedly this whole thing was a mess from the get-go, as Culber never should have been killed off in the first place. It was a stupid, unnecessary "plot twist" from the previous showrunners. Nevertheless, it was done, and this is a sometimes-clumsy way of showing the consequences of that boneheaded decision. I hope that the current showrunners will see their way clear to bringing Culber and Stamets back together, after exploring and resetting the characters and relationship.

It helps that both Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz have been spectacular in their roles. In that heartbreaking scene where Culber breaks things off, Rapp just knocked it out of the park.

2. Flashbacks! Recaps! Jeffrey Hunter and Anson Mount Look a Whole Lot Alike!

This episode opened with a squee-inducing montage of the original Star Trek pilot, "The Cage," which was reworked for the two-part episode, "The Menagerie." It's possible that a (very few) Discovery viewers don't know what all the fuss over Talos IV is about, and this "previously [like 50 years, man] on Star Trek" brings them up to speed. Then it's a glorious dissolve of past into present, Jeffrey Hunter's (the TOS Pike) face fading into Anson Mount's, and we're off to the races.

Anson Mount as Christopher Pike has been one of the more pleasant surprises of the season. This is a character that never appeared past "The Menagerie," and thus is a relatively blank slate, and Discovery has made the most of it. Mount's performance has turned Pike into a layered, multifaceted character, in a way that is more than a bit tragic, since we already know his end.

3. Spock Stops Teasing, and Starts Speaking!

Ethan Peck, as Spock, actually gets to say something that makes sense (well, mostly) in this episode, instead of muttering backwards number sequences and snippets of "Alice in Wonderland." Of course, the immediate question is, "How close is he to Leonard Nimoy?" And the answer is, he is and he isn't. He has some of Nimoy's mannerisms and speech patterns, but although they're similar, they're not slavishly carbon-copied. Overall, he struck me as being far more smug in his logic-superiority than later-era Spock. This would make sense, as at this point in his life Spock has a bit of a stick up his ass. (Also, the beard, which Burnham makes delicious sisterly fun of, helps to hide the fact that Ethan Peck does not have nearly as close a resemblance to his predecessor as Anson Mount.) We're only one true episode into his tenure, but I think Peck's performance is interesting enough for me to (tentatively) call it a winner.

(But hell, that kid who plays young Spock? He's the real winner of the two in this episode, acting-wise. That scene where young Burnham, running away to protect the family from "logic-extremists", insults and demeans young Spock to keep him from following her, was raw and real. It hurt Spock to the point where two decades later, despite recognizing the reason she did it, Spock can't bring himself to forgive her, and you can see why in every pained expression and quivering lip on that kid's face.)

4. I'm Afraid the Red Angel Will Turn Out To Be an Overblown Red Balloon

So apparently the Red Angel is a time traveler from 500 years in the future, the same place as the Evolving Squid Probe that attacked Pike's and Ash Tyler's shuttle, Nautilis-style, in last week's episode. (Which was a very cool special effect, by the way. Discovery continues to look gorgeous.) I am very hesitant about any kind of time travel storyline on Star Trek, because it usually ends up shooting itself in the foot and blowing itself up, all at the same time. Add to this the fact that this temporal wanderer is trying to prevent a timeline where Something Ominous, Something Black and Blue destroys all inhabited planets and all sentient life, according to Spock's not-quite-coherent recounting of his aborted mind meld with the Red Angel. To which I reply, "Ah, cripes, I'm really beginning to hate any We Must Prevent the Death of the Universe Stakes," because that storyline is so over-the-top as to be meaningless (and what the hell is the point anyway? That this universe and its inhabitants are so bad the Big Bang needs to start over?). As far as emotional resonances go, Stamets and Culber affected me far more in this episode than the reveal of its Red-Suited Pseudo-Religious Something-or-Other.

5. Lieutenant Airiam, We Barely Knew Ye

Come to find out that Lieutenant Airiam, the gray-skinned, prosthetics-wearing cyborg on the bridge, was infected by the Evolving Squid Probe from last week's episode, after it scanned the shuttle's computer, Discovery's computer, and bled its way right into her eyes, showing up as three red dots in each pupil. In this episode, she sabotaged the spore drive, preventing Discovery from jumping at a somewhat crucial moment. Which would mean a lot more if we knew anything at all about Airiam, other than she sometimes works under Sylvia Tilly. I mean, come on, people. This is an online streaming service, and you can make each episode as long as is necessary. It seems to me you could have included a couple of scenes featuring Airiam in the previous one or two episodes, even if they just amounted to her having brief conversations with, for instance, Tilly. That would make her predicament (and apparent upcoming betrayal, judging from previews) more meaningful than a perfunctory dispatching to Save Our Female Lead.

6. As Usual, Philippa Georgiou For the Win

The final scene of this episode is delicious. After Leland, aboard Section 31's flagship, falls for the Talosians' illusion of Burnham and Spock beaming aboard, the Mirror Emperor casually reveals that she tangled with the Talosians in her universe and nuked the planet to slag (or at least she thought she did, I suppose). Then she asks how Leland is going to deal with losing his two fugitives and stalks off, leaving him staring bug-eyed after her. Talk about hoisting someone on their own petard and leaving them high and dry. I cannot fucking wait for Michelle Yeoh's show.

This may sound like I'm praising with faint damns, but despite all this, I really liked this episode. What I don't like is what it appears to be setting up. But we'll have to see.

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