“Light and Shadows”
Star Trek: Discovery Season 2, Episode 7 – Debuted Thursday, February 28th
Teleplay by Ted Sullivan, Story by Vaun Wilmott & Ted Sullivan
Directed by Marta Cunningham
Like season one, the middle of the second season is seeing some strong episodes with “Light and Shadows” as a prime example. Writers Ted Sullivan and Vaun Wilmott ably dive into Trek lore and make some more along the way. First-time Discovery director Marta Cunningham puts it together in a tight package with character development at the core, surrounded by a fun sci-fi action wrapper. Along with strong performances from guest stars both familiar and new, Sonequa Martin-Green carries this emotional homecoming that was worth the wait.
[WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW]
Time after Time
As Spock is seen as the key to unlocking the mystery of the Red Angel, Michael Burnham picks up on her vow to find her brother from the end of last week’s episode—and she wants to get to him before those Section 31 creeps. Convincing Pike of things is one of Burnham’s superpowers, so she talks her way into getting some personal leave. We will pick up on her adventure later.
The rest of the Discovery crew are left hanging around Kaminar, although strangely they don’t seem very interested in the fallout from Saru’s revolution on the planet last week. They are there to analyze tachyon radiation left behind by the red burst and thanks to Tilly’s weekly insubordinate burst onto the bridge, they know the readings are “frickin’ amazing.” Oh yeah—trying to break her season one swearing habit. But she can still nerd out with proclamations like “You know how I get around violations of causality.” She also has a lot of fun making things “sound cooler” by putting “time” in front, like warning of “the time bends.” Yes, her Tilly-ness factor is notching up again, but Mary Wiseman still sells it.
The situation gets even more fun as they approach the anomaly and everything gets timey whimey on the bridge with time echoes and screens going crazy, because they “don’t deal well with temporal distortions.” What Trekkie doesn’t feel joy hearing dialog like “It appears to be a rift in space-time, captain”?
Pike is in full hero mode as he announces he is the most qualified to fly a shuttle towards the anomaly to launch a probe. He and Tyler remain at odds as the Section 31 operative invites himself onto the mission, but Pike really needs to up his game if he thinks calling this former Klingon a “bad penny” is going to slow him down. What does work is when he reminds the former Voq that he is a murderer. In a moment of candor, Tyler reveals that he doesn’t think he can totally rid himself of the Klingon within.
When the shuttle inevitably gets trapped inside the anomaly, Saru takes command. We can now sense more of the new post-Vahar’ai version of this Kelpien, free of fear, competent, and confident; with no indication this episode of any of the potential downsides of living without fear.
The bridge scenes as they work through the problem are classic Trek, containing technobabble mixed in with folksy analogies and dialog like “it isn’t where they are, but when.” In the end, the solution to the problem lies with Lt. Commander Stamets, with a callback to “when Mr. Mudd attacked” referencing the season one time-looping episode “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad.”
Deep in the Heart of Vulcan
Michael’s story takes her to her homeworld of Vulcan, where she makes it clear she is there as Sarek’s daughter and not as a Starfleet officer. Michael’s time on the planet is replete with vistas that are both beautiful and varied, showing both the traditional desert locations and Sarek’s home in a more lush area, including some rain. Some may balk at this, but the cliché that alien planets have a single homogenous environment needs to be broken (although Discovery does stick with Vulcans having a single haircut, because some things are sacred).
Michael’s return to the Sarek household is interwoven with flashbacks to her childhood. This house is haunted for her, filled with memories of being an orphan. We also see some growth of the younger Michael and younger Spock, after their icy meeting in the season opener “Brother.” The two grew closer, even sharing a smile as they play 3-D chess and Michael tries to master the Vulcan salute. They bond as kid Spock reveals “emotions confuse me.” Ironically some of the more touching scenes in Discovery were in this episode’s visit to Vulcan.
Sarek is doing some hardcore Vulcan meditation called “tokmar” which is a sort of homing beacon to find Spock, but it isn’t working. Michael suspects Amanda is hiding something—or someone. Spock’s mom has no intention of letting anyone get their hands on her boy to try him for murder, but she relents with a warning: “Spock is not how you remember him.”
The search for Spock finally ends at a Vulcan shrine, but not entirely, as he is found to have grown a beard and lost his Vulcan marbles. The famed science officer can only babble the first doctrines of logic in an attempt to “ground himself,” along with carving text and a repeated sequence of numbers into the wall, A Beautiful Mind-style.
After some arguing over getting Spock some seriously needed professional help, Sarek shows up to complete the unexpected family reunion. In a nice callback to season one, Amanda reveals she would read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to Spock as a child to help him with a learning disability called “L’tak Terai” which is like dyslexia. Consistent with his character – because frankly, he is not a great dad – Sarek is not sympathetic saying “your obsession with a book about chaos has done a disservice to our children.” To say this marriage is complex is an understatement as Amanda talks of loving Sarek in one breath and accusing him of never respecting humans like herself in the other.
Like he did with last season’s excellent “Lethe,” writer Ted Sullivan is not afraid to add lines to the sacred canon of Spock’s family and Vulcan culture. In so doing we see in these scenes the promise of Discovery as a prequel to both expand upon and give added context to the Star Trek that we love. Mia Kirshner’s Amanda has also grown, helping land these moments. However, James Frain’s depiction of Sarek is a bit of a hindrance as his portrayal continues to feel far too sentimental.
Michael breaks the impasse by revealing Spock’s childhood connection to the Red Angel to Sarek. It is decided that Spock must be brought to Section 31, as they are the ones most capable and motivated to unscramble his brain.
Back on the shuttle, Pike and Tyler continue to bicker over a strategy on how to escape the time anomaly. This conflict dynamic with Anson Mount and Shazad Latif is one of the highlights of season two as Pike continues to have to remind the former Klingon that he is an actual captain and not just giving out suggestions. Tyler has the temerity to start questioning Pike’s motivation, suggesting he took the risky mission to make up for sitting out the war during his five-year mission.
Eventually they start bonding over how they need to solve their problem or their battle of wills could last an eternity. Tyler finally accepts Pike’s authority, and they use the old ignite-the-plasma fuel trick to attract attention. Differences are put aside when a new threat commands their attention. Like V’Ger’s time-traveling evil cousin, the probe returns, modified into a robot squid monster by unknown powers 500 years in the future. Oh yeah, this is the stuff! This whole tense sequence, helped along by fun and frenetic effects and a score to match, delivers some needed action.
On the Discovery, Stamets uses his tardigrade power to map out the shuttle’s time-bending position as the four hours until they are lost forever tick away. In one of the many analogies used in this episode—and what is Star Trek without a good analogy to explain the technobabble—he laments finding them will be “like finding a grain of sand in a hurricane with tweezers.”
After Lieutenant Rhys gets a nice character moment identifying the shuttle by identifying Pike’s fuel burns as an old pilot’s trick, it’s time for the rescue to swing into action. The always fun pairing of Stamets and Tilly science it up, but even they see how weird time stuff is, with lines like “non-linear temporal progression is a mind-bender.” In a moment with echoes of Kirk taking a leap of faith to beam into the Genesis cave in Star Trek II, Stamets puts his faith in Tilly’s power of math to beam him over to the shuttle in the middle of the time distortion.
Meanwhile, the situation on the shuttle has moved from bad to worse as the robo-squid probe has worked its way inside and is scanning the computer, which is never a good sign. They decide to blow up the shuttle once Stamets clears the big scary time-thingie and they can be beamed out. But the future isn’t done yet, as whatever was scanning the shuttle breaches the ship’s system and instead of stopping it, Airiam appears to have been surreptitiously infected by it.
After escaping from what Tilly is now calling a “time tsunami,” Pike is finally able to kick back and chillax on his bridge, apparently unconcerned about what that anomaly is doing to the poor people of Kaminar. The ordeal has also added some chill to his animosity towards Tyler, with both admitting maybe the other isn’t so bad after all. The attack from the probe even has Pike warming up to Tyler’s warnings that the Red Angel may not be so benign. They agree that they have found themselves in “a fight for the future.” Both actors play this growth for their characters well, but let’s hope this isn’t a bromance and we can still see the pair spar.
Back to Black
The Spock storyline picks up on Captain Leland’s Section 31 ship, where Georgiou is impressed that Michael manipulated her mother to find her brother. In a scene evoking the creepiness of a Terry Gilliam film, Spock is slapped into an apparatus that is supposed to scan and repair his mind. Leland acts sympathetic but Georgiou pulls Burnham aside to drop a dime on her captain, revealing the plan is to extract Spock’s memory, which will destroy his mind in the process.
The former Terran Emperor has a deceptive plan of her own to get Michael and Spock off the ship, and it will—of course—involve punching, kicking and some light phasering. It’s deliciously unclear what Georgiou’s motivations are. Does she actually care for Michael? Is this just a power play? A bit of both? It’s all played much more subtly than some of her more cartoon villain moments earlier in the season and this character is now becoming fully realized, perhaps for the first time since hopping over from the Mirror Universe.
And sure, the staged fight may be an excuse to show off Michelle Yeoh’s legendary kung fu skills, but it was a lot of fun. At 56, the veteran of Hong Kong action cinema showed she has what it takes to spin kick her way into her own spin-off.
After their exciting escape, Leland isn’t buying that Georgiou was overpowered by Burnham. The Machiavellian tension between this pair continues to amp up, which is no surprise as a former Emperor isn’t the type to take orders. In yet another example of Small Galaxy Syndrome, it is revealed that Leland is responsible for the death of Burham’s parents. Really? Michael is the lead of the show but does everything and everyone have to have a connection to her?
Leland’s ship joins a squadron of other Section 31 ships of the same design, now hunting Spock and Michael who use the old hide-while-powered-down-on-an-asteroid trick, proving that Michael is a fan of Star Wars. Spock is still cuckoo for Vulcan Puffs, but his mumbling is decoded by Burnham to be coordinates, only backwards. Remember that dyslexia-like learning disability from earlier?
Perhaps it was all a bit obvious, but we still get a nice little surprise when it’s revealed that the coordinates are the location of Talos IV. There was no indication from Michael she was even aware of the planet. And even though it took a “let’s create extra tension” amount of time, there was no mention by the computer of Starfleet’s General Order Number 7, which prohibits travel to the planet under penalty of death. Perhaps Spock knows that the bubble-headed telepaths he and Pike visited in “The Cage” a few years earlier are the only ones who can unscramble his brain. So, issues of how this all fits into canon is left for another week as a new search—the search to fix Spock’s brain—begins.
Stacking mystery boxes
As one might say, now we are getting somewhere. The second season of Star Trek: Discovery is leaning hard into mysteries. We are reminded of this in the episode’s opening log as Michael says, “My mother taught me the greatest mysteries come in threes. The past, present and future.” Discovery is no longer trying to hide its puzzles in big surprises like it did in season one, choosing instead to put them all on full display.
Central to this is the Red Angel, which was featured in all of the promotions for the season starting back in the summer of 2018. Bit by bit, this Red Angel has come into focus, now detailed as a new addition to the opening credits as of this episode. At the halfway point of the season, Burnham gives us a recap confirming the Angel is from the future and saying it is “humanoid and wearing an exo-suit made of futuristic technology we have never seen.”
Season two is a big “who done it?” or actually more of a “who is it?” Theories are proliferating online by fans and media outlets—both serious and not so serious. And this is by design: Discovery has done a good job of getting people buzzing about the show. While there has been much talk of Discovery emulating Game of Thrones, the show appears to be trying harder to match the zeitgeist of HBO’s other genre hit Westworld.
However, they are also teetering on the same problems that show ran into in its second season, when things got so complicated you need a 4-dimensional map to find your way through it. Not only that, Discovery keep throwing more and more mysteries into the mix. This week we have something weird going on with Airiam, and this new twist of Section 31 killing Burnham’s parents. We still don’t know if Culber is fully himself, and have the same question for Saru. Don’t forget, there is still the big question about why Michael and Spock had their falling out and why he never spoke of her again.
Hopefully, now that we are at the halfway point of the season they start unwinding these things and putting some of the missing pieces to this big puzzle in place, because if they keep enlarging the puzzle they are at risk of making the show all about the mystery and forgetting the heart of the show with the characters and the sci-fi fun of Star Trek.
Let Pike be Pike
Captain Christopher Pike has been a breakout character this season and certainly has been a big hit with fans. His mix of aww-shucks charm and stoic command has helped fans and crew move on from Captain Lorca, who turned evil in the latter half of season one.
However, Pike’s characterization has been mixed at times over the season, with his level of competence and command waxing and waning. “Light and Shadows” showed Pike at his best, strengthening him as a captain as well as adding some more nuance to the character and rounding him out.
The issue with Pike may simply come down to how he seems to be a different person when Michael Burnham is in the same room. Since she was on leave this episode, he was free to be the man he should be, warts and all. However, often when Burnham—who is the show’s lead—is around, Pike can often feel like a pointless foil, only there to be talked down from his by-the-book ways by Burnham.
Pike isn’t the only character on the show who seems to lose agency when Michael shows up, but perhaps it is more acute in comparison to the times when she is not present. One of the goals of season two was to make Burnham a more accessible protagonist, and they have mostly succeeded. But this does not have to come at the expense of other characters.
Worth the wait
If “Light and Shadows” isn’t the best episode since the season two premiere, it is certainly one of the best. Even with the bifurcated storyline, multiple threads being pulled, and a shorter runtime, it all still came together in a nice cohesive piece of Star Trek. As you would expect from something penned by Ted Sullivan and Vaun Wilmott—who is also a fan—the episode was filled with callbacks to Trek lore, but importantly it tied together many elements within Discovery’s own internal consistency from both seasons.
This was the first episode of Discovery directed by Marta Cunningham, who impressed by drawing out strong performances throughout. Her calmer pace was welcome for the more emotional beats, while still being able to amp it up for the action without relying on camera tricks. Guest star Mia Kirshner stands out, adding new dimension to Amanda. Sonequa Martin-Green also carried much of the heavy lifting. It is still too early to get a sense of Ethan Peck’s Spock, but given what he had to work with here, indications are good. Mary Wiseman is always a delight, but the writers are relying on her too much to lighten things up.
Star Trek: Discovery continues to get better and better, and we now move into the second half of season two. This episode helped move along a number of arcs, and thankfully ended the Spock teasing that was growing tiresome. With tight writing, impressive effects, evocative sound design, and compelling acting, “Light and Shadows” was pretty much the whole package.
Random thoughts, connections, easter eggs, and more
- At a runtime of 40:14, this is the shortest episode of the season so far.
- This is the first episode where former showrunners Aaron Harberts and Gretchen J. Berg are not credited as executive producers.
- This is the first episode with James Duff credited as an executive producer. He joined the show shortly after Harberts and Berg were let go.
- Director Marta Cunningham’s husband is James Frain (Sarek).
- Even though the USS Discovery was in the vicinity of Kaminar for most of the episode, there was no indication that they or anyone else from the Federation is keeping tabs on the Kelpiens and Ba’ul after the radical transformation of their relationship which Pike and crew initiated in “The Sound of Thunder.”
- Spock’s shuttle was found in the Mutara Sector, home of the Mutara Nebula, and future home of the Genesis Planet from Star Trek II.
- Pike going out ahead of the ship in a shuttle to help deal with a time anomaly is reminiscent of TNG “Time Squared.”
- Amanda notes how the “katra stones” in the shrine kept Sarek from being able to sense Spock. It is unclear if these are something new, or a different name for katric arks.
- The design of the future-ized probe was reminiscent of the sentinels from The Matrix
- This episode highlighted some of the analog old-school elements on the Discovery shuttle.
- Like other episodes this season, the sound design also evokes more TOS elements, such as the “warp engines are straining” sound when the shuttle was out of control.
- The shuttle also demonstrates a new ability when it deploys a kind of armor shielding, looking something like the 25th-century technology future Janeway used in the Voyager finale “Endgame.”
- Pike’s use of igniting the shuttle’s plasma is reminiscent of Spock doing the same in TOS “The Galileo Seven.”
- Tyler’s rank is given as Specialist, so he has not been restored to Lieutenant even though he is part of Starfleet Intelligence. Michael Burnham was also classified as a Specialist during the first season, until she had her Commander rank restored in the season finale.
- The Vulcan shrine had a replica of the Kir’Shara—or the Vulcan bible written by Surak—as seen in Enterprise‘s “Kir’Shara.”
- Amanda reveals that her family has diplomatic immunity to Federation law due to Sarek being an ambassador.
- The Section 31 device to scan minds may be based on the Klingon mind scanner, or possibly the Klingons may have gotten the tech from Section 31.
- Leland’s Section 31 ship registry is NCIA-93.
- The coordinates for Talos IV are 749 Mark 148.
Star Trek: Discovery is available exclusively in the USA on CBS All Access. It airs in Canada on Space and streams on CraveTV. It is available on Netflix everywhere else.