“If Memory Serves”
Star Trek: Discovery Season 2, Episode 8 – Debuted Thursday, March 7th
Written by Dan Dworkin and Jay Beattie
Directed by T.J. Scott
With a strong tie-in to classic Star Trek, “If Memory Serves” pays off in many ways, from character, to mysteries, to canon connections, and more. Ethan Peck is impressive as he steps into the role of Spock, helped along by strong chemistry with show lead Sonequa Martin-Green.
[WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW]
A night to remember
To emphasize the relationship this episode has to Star Trek canon, the “previously” segment recaps the original Star Trek pilot “The Cage.” The quick PowerPoint-like guide reminds us of illusion-inducing Talosians, Vina the lone human, and the visit of the USS Enterprise to Talos with Spock and Pike. A nice transition from Jeffrey Hunter to Anson Mount leads into Pike’s personal log, where he expresses concern over Burnham’s search for Spock. Foreshadowing where things are headed, he is also growing more distrustful of Section 31, and for good reason.
The feeling is mutual over on Leland’s ship as he confers with a group of Starfleet badmirals (notably, not including Cornwell) who don’t trust Pike due to his connection to Burnham, who has already been deemed a mutineer … again. While we may be used to Section 31 as a rogue operation, here in Star Trek: Discovery—at least for the time being—they are very much part of Starfleet. Her escape with Spock last week makes Michael as much of a fugitive as he, still suspected of murdering his way out of a psych ward. And none of the Starfleet brass can see they are being played by Agent—and former Terran Emperor—Georgiou. What part of evil universe do these people not get?
As the Discovery is being kept from the search for Spock, they are ordered to search the scene of last week’s time-bending shuttle trip to find debris from the squid-probe that was modified in the future. Tilly is committed to scanning all that can be scanned with her trademark enthusiasm but comes up empty. Also, there is yet another new mystery to deal with as someone has been sending out large unauthorized transmissions from the ship. Inspector Saru is on the case. So perhaps there is an enemy within? (See what I did there?)
Nicely, Pike is back in full Captain-mode and he makes it clear he is not going to forget about Burnham and Spock, telling the bridge “I won’t ignore a crisis involving my officers.” In a scene that mirrors Dr. Boyce playing bartender in “The Cage,” Pike tries to bond with Tyler over some drinks, to get him on board. But Tyler—who has revealed his relationship with Burnham was not always completely professional—flips the script, warning Pike off the search as it will only draw the attention of Section 31. To say Tyler’s loyalties and motivations are divided is an understatement, leaving Pike in a quandary.
To forgive is to forget
Burnham and Spock’s story picks up during their trip to Talos IV, where the computer finally reveals travel there is strictly forbidden. The danger of this planet featured in the first Star Trek pilot “The Cage” is very much on display as the shuttle comes out of warp headed straight into the event horizon of a black hole, with another impressive visual effects sequence. Spock seems truly out of his Vulcan mind as he wrestles control of the shuttle from Burnham to plunge them straight in. Of course, it was all an illusion—or, as Michael suspects, a test—but these Talosians have a pretty effective way of keeping out the riff-raff.
The surface of Talos is as barren as a post-apocalyptic wasteland should be. It doesn’t look like they have had any luck in the three years since “The Cage” in repopulating the surface with a slave workforce, but the singing blue plants are still holding on, with an impressive visual update for the HD era. Soon we meet a human woman who explains she is a permanent resident of this planet and an “old friend” of Captain Pike, and of course, it’s Vina. She recognizes Spock, and seems unaware of his condition, indicating that the Talosians may not have known they were coming, but it finally dawns on Burnham that Spock brought them there to get help from the telepathic Talosians, who offer their assistance.
The Talosians finally diagnose what is wrong with Spock: He is experiencing time as a “fluid, instead of a linear construct,” which doesn’t exactly mesh with a mind vigorously trained in logic. They are willing to help, but only at a price. They want Michael to reveal the memory of her childhood estrangement and the “wound” she inflicted on Spock because to these big-headed voyeurs, that kind of stuff is their version of Netflix and chill.
Inside Spock’s mind, Michael sees his first vision of the Red Angel from their childhood, where he saved her life after being shown a premonition of her getting killed by giant some spider-y monster. She also witnesses Spock visiting with the Angel more recently, where through a mind-meld he was shown another premonition, this time with the core worlds of the Federation being wiped out by squid ships, looking suspiciously like the probe from last week that was modified 500 years in the future.
Burnham is also shown a flashback to Spock’s recent time at a Starfleet psych ward, after Starfleet found out his visions of red signals weren’t the ravings of a madman but actually premonitions. Unfortunately, his doctor prescribed a dose of involuntary Section 31 questioning. A quick round of Suus Mahna and some Vulcan neck pinches—and significantly, no murdering—got him out of that bind. With that new evidence, it seems clear that Section 31 set him up to look like a killer, and appears to have murdered three people to make their case convincing.
The Talosian-assisted journeys into Spock’s brain do the trick and he is finally able to talk. He drops some exposition, moving the Red Angel arc forward by confirming it is a time-traveling human, warning of a “possible future.” But in service of the season’s mystery arc, the suit has a quantum field Spock was not able to penetrate, keeping the guessing game going. And because that’s how this show rolls, Spock reveals that only Burnham could help him on Talos IV as only someone who knew him like she does could help, and apparently his parents didn’t fit the bill. As for their issues, the two fall into sibling bickering, but it isn’t like the fun banter she has with Saru. Michael continues to be wracked with guilt over their childhood, but Spock makes it clear he is “not here to absolve” her. Both Sonequa Martin-Green and Ethan Peck are excellent, showing an instant chemistry, albeit one as icy as an Andorian winter.
When it comes to Burnham revealing her painful past, Vina reminds us that while they have been playing nice, the Talosians have a dark side, warning Michael, “You don’t want them to force payment, it’s awful.” The big secret that Michael couldn’t even tell Amanda earlier in the season was finally revealed to have happened that same fateful night she ran away from home. It turns out Spock had become quite attached to his older foster sister, and in order to keep him safe and stop him from following her, she had to sever his growing emotional bond with her. Cleverly edited with both the younger and older versions of the characters playing out the scene, we see Burnham drop the bomb on kid Spock, telling him he is incapable of love and calling him a “weird little half-breed” to drive home the point. While maybe not as bad as calling him a pointed-eared hobgoblin, it certainly left a mark.
After the vision, the adult Spock recognizes what she was trying to do, calling it “primitive, but effective.” Her apology falls on pointed deaf ears. Spock even thanks her, saying this moment was a catalyst for him, helping him reject his human half and submerge himself in logic. His only regret is idolizing her in the first place. So yeah, these two are not resolving their issues any time soon.
Gone, but not forgotten
This episode finally picks back up with Dr. Hugh Culber, resurrected and saved from the mycelial network three episodes ago, but very much not back to his old self. Try as he might, his partner Paul Stamets can’t get Hugh to reset his life back aboard Discovery. The fact that they keep running into Tyler—yeah, the guy who murdered him—isn’t exactly making the transition back any easier for Hugh. Whichever quartermaster put them on the same deck needs to be reassigned to scrubbing the warp field coils.
Culber is clearly in a lot of pain and if there ever was ship in need of a counselor, it is the USS Discovery. Tapping into the theme for the episode, Culber acknowledges he has the memories of the man who was killed, but he cannot connect them to his feelings. To him, “that is just who I was.” It is heartbreaking watching Paul Stamets witness the miracle of his partner’s return slipping away in anger. Discovery is not resetting this relationship and these two actors are masterfully carrying their performances into the new places being asked of them.
Instead of continuing to take out his rage on the person who cares about him the most, Culber heads to the mess hall to throw around some more food and vent on a certain former Klingon. Tyler can only say he was sorry, explaining it wasn’t really him that snapped Hugh’s neck like a twig. Culber isn’t placated and attacks Tyler, demanding he bring Voq to the surface. This is so out of character for this healer-turned-bruiser that even he notices, saying “I don’t even know who I am anymore.” (“Who do you think you’re talking to?” Tyler aptly responds.) The heartbreak continues later when Culber tells Paul that the man he was—the man Paul loves with all his heart—is dead, and he is not coming back. Devastating.
And speaking of changed people, Saru—who is first officer and in charge of ship’s discipline—lets the whole Culber/Tyler fight happen. Acting more Klingon than Kelpien, he sees the confrontation as a form of therapy for both of these characters with twisted-up identities. Even after explaining to Pike that there was no regulation for the crazy dynamic, Saru is admonished and the Captain suggests that Saru, too, isn’t the same as he used to be. Maybe there is a darker side to this new post-Vahar’ai Saru. It’s a good thing that Discovery is exploring the consequences from these big character moments from earlier in the season.
Thanks for the memories
The episode’s two main storylines begin to converge when Vina pays a visit to her old cellie Chris, courtesy of Talosian long distance. For Pike it is an emotional reunion with a woman he reluctantly left behind years ago; for her, it is a confrontation with the real man her illusory partner is based on. Now she reveals herself to the actual Chris Pike, saying the image of her is “as real as it needs to be.” Discovery just loves complicated relationships and this one is a doozy. This brief scene was beautifully shot by keeping it simple, with Australian actress Melissa George impressing as she steps into this iconic role and gives it some growth.
The Talosian call becomes a party line as Burnham and Spock join in to brief Pike on the Red Angel visions and his exoneration for murder. Tapping back into the theme of the season, Spock asks Pike to take him “on faith” that they must “follow the Red Angel’s design” to avoid the coming catastrophe. Section 31’s motivations are revealed; they want Spock’s knowledge of the future, so Pike and the Discovery must get to him first.
In order to get to Talos IV while avoiding Section 31, they prepare to use the spore drive for the first time since retrieving Hugh Culber from the mycelial network. However, the drive fails, with all indications it has been sabotaged. Coupled with the unauthorized transmissions earlier, it is clear someone on board the ship is up to no good and of course Section 31 agent Tyler is the only suspect, thanks to some incriminating evidence. Maybe he doesn’t even know he is doing it, like when he Voq-ed out in season one. This is turning out to be a really bad day for Voqler, as no one trusts him and he is confined to his quarters. But the smart credits for ship saboteur are on Airiam, who was surreptitiously infected by the futurized squid-probe last week. Either no one has noticed, or her crewmates think it’s roboist to ask why her eyes periodically glow with three red dots.
The captain’s plan B is warp to Starbase 11—Pike’s sad future home, btw—and pull over at the last minute to “run silent” to Talos IV. But Leland and Section 31 are too crafty to fall for such an obvious trick and are hot on their tail all the way, with both ships having dueling transporter locks, threatening to tear the landing party apart—an interesting technical challenge not seen before in Trek. With a tip from Vina, Pike lets go and Spock and Burnham arrive in the belly of the Section 31 beast … or do they? If you listened closely, the transporter sound was very “The Cage”-y, which was your clue the Talosians pulled the old beam-up-the-fake-people-while-the-real-people-were-on-a-hidden-shuttle trick. The ruse was topped by the Talosians showing they are fans of Vaudevillian humor with fake Burnham and Spock recreating the old “say goodnight” routine from Laugh-In.
With the real Spock and Burnham safely on board the USS Discovery, the ship is now set to the task of changing their fate in which all sentient life in the galaxy gets eradicated—so they are now totally on board with #TeamRedAngel, pitting them against Section 31. Harboring Spock and Burnham and traveling to Talos IV makes them “the most wanted ship in the galaxy.” The excitement for the rest of this season rises as they set off to save the galaxy, again. And in a fun little moment to wrap things up, Pike doesn’t even get to finish with one of his trademark rousing speeches. Cut off as he was about to give the crew the option to step off, we all agree with Detmer’s simple: “Course heading, sir?”
While he was introduced last week, this episode was our first true taste of Ethan Peck’s Spock on Star Trek: Discovery. Ever since it was established in the series opener that the central character of Michael Burnham was an adopted part of the Sarek family, Spock has hovered in the background. Announcing Spock as part of the second season garnered the show a lot of needed buzz, culminating in a Super Bowl teaser last month, but incorporating the franchise’s most iconic character comes with risks.
Of course, co-creator and showrunner Alex Kurtzman has been down this road before as co-producer and co-writer of the first two J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek movies, but that came with the endorsement of Leonard Nimoy and the relative safety of an alternative timeline. In Discovery, Kurtzman and his team are playing with the live ammunition of the prime timeline canon. And so far, so good. This Spock feels like Spock, but not entirely. The show is making good on its stated goal to fill in the gap between the Spock we see in “The Cage” and the events of the rest of The Original Series, roughly ten years later. We can see how he is still finding his way through balancing his human and Vulcan sides, both in how the character is written and ably played by Ethan Peck.
The brief scenes with Spock and Pike showed a particularly interesting dynamic and it was a delight to see Spock’s familiarity with his captain, talking his language about “riding into danger” and even cracking the smallest of smiles. We can see hints of why, a decade later, Spock would risk everything to bring Pike back to Talos IV after a crippling injury. We can also see his inclination to form bonds with his crew, something that pays off with Kirk and company in years to come.
Bringing Spock in may be a stunt, and dragging out the search for Spock for half a season was getting tiresome, but it was worth the wait, and so far it is enriching the show.
Is that all there is?
Another item on the show’s producers’ to-do list is explaining why we never heard of Spock’s foster sister Michael Burnham before. Of course, Spock never mentioned his fiancé until she appeared on the viewscreen in “Amok Time,” his parents until they showed up on the ship in “Journey to Babel,” or his half-brother until Star Trek V. This is actually a question that doesn’t really need to be answered, but they are determined to do so.
And in this case, the jury is still out. There was a lot of build-up to the revelation of the source of Burnham and Spock’s estrangement. It was something so shocking she couldn’t share it with her parents and so juicy the Talosians wanted to add it to their creepy watchlist of painful memories, but in the end, the revelation was entirely predictable and underwhelming.
An older sibling calling the younger one names? Really? As family secrets go, the revelation in “Lethe” that Sarek kept Burnham from her dream of attending the Vulcan Science Academy in favor of Spock makes this pale in comparison. Are we truly to believe this sibling spat changed the trajectory of Spock’s life? And on that note, once again does everything and everyone have to revolve around Michael Burnham? Yes, she is the lead of the show, but does that mean the entire galaxy needs to be obsessed with her?
This may all be revolving around a question that doesn’t need to be answered, but now that they have opened this door, let’s hope there is more to it than this.
Opening the cage
Another stated goal for the second season was to tie the show more into the canon of Star Trek, which of course all the stuff with Spock is doing. Going to Talos IV was also a big part of that, with “If Memory Serves” being the most direct tie to a specific episode from the franchise so far. And Discovery did an excellent job of respectfully bringing a world created in 1964 to life in 2019 in terms of visuals, with the characters, and even down to a generous amount of musical and sound stings evoking that original pilot.
The quarry location provided a nice update to the wasteland set created in a soundstage back in the day, and they threw some money at the repertoire of those singing blue plants by adding dancing. The character makeup was updated respectfully, minus the signature split backsides on the rear of the Talosian’s heads. The visit to Talos didn’t shy away from the creepiness of this race and their fascination with collecting memories and dreams. They may not be locking up our heroes in cages, but they are not exactly friendly either.
One quibble could be that the main Talosian (ably played by Rob Brownstein) was a bit too robust for what is supposed to be a frail race, dying off in their underground isolation. For this reason, the original show cast only slight women to portray the Talosians. But perhaps in the following years, they have started a new workout regime, after abandoning their plan to use a slave race to repopulate the surface. And when Vina showed her true form, they played it a bit safe, not revealing much and even looking a bit better than she did in “The Cage.” There was an opportunity here to have shown something truly horrific enough for her to reject the rest of the galaxy for her isolation under the thumb of these strange telepaths.
“If Memory Serves” also clarifies a bit of canon regarding “The Cage.” As the standalone episode was never part of the original run of the series, it can be argued that only the elements seen in “The Menagerie” were part of Star Trek canon. The main difference being that “The Cage” ended with Vina being given an illusory version of Christopher Pike as a companion. In “The Menagerie” this scene was repurposed to show how the Talosians had given the real (and crippled) Pike the illusion of health. Now “If Memory Serves” firmly establishes that Vina was given an illusion of Pike three years earlier. And in a decade, she will be joined by the real thing.
One thing that remains somewhat unclear is there was no mention of General Order 7, which was mentioned in “The Menagerie.” While it was noted in this Discovery episode that travel to Talos IV was forbidden, there was no mention of Starfleet’s only order that comes with the penalty of death, which sort of seems like an important detail. It’s possible it will come up later in the season, or perhaps the prohibition adds on the ultimate penalty later. It is also possible that the producers of the show didn’t want to discuss capital punishment on a show that is trying hard to lean into Star Trek’s progressive optimism.
But all in all, this trip to Talos IV was—dare I say it—a dream come true.
“If Memory Serves” was a risky endeavor that paid off. A lot led up to this moment and clearly, a lot of hard work went into making it happen, with everyone in front of and behind the camera putting in top-notch work. Even though they were new to Discovery, the writing team of Dan Dworkin and Jay Beattie showed a deep understanding of the show and franchise, and were able to develop a number of characters. With memories as the episode’s recurring theme, we learn a lot about these people. Michael is haunted by hers, Culber can’t recognize the man he was, Tyler is struggling with his competing loyalties, and Spock’s memories of the future are weighing him down.
While at times he would use some of the distracting camerawork that has been overused this season, for the most part, director T.J. Scott seemed to take his cue from the connection to classic Trek by going old-school with his style, giving moments the time needed to land, and trusting his actors to maintain the drama. This respect for what came before was carried through across the board, especially with the production design, sound design, and musical score.
With a satisfying mix of emotion, suspense, lore and a little bit of humor, “If Memory Serves” is a triumph that confirms the sophomore season’s tweaks are working. Discovery’s second season continues to build the excitement. Now with Spock on board, the big mystery of the Red Angel is finally heating up in interesting ways. With a number of secondary mysteries also humming along, the show is keeping the anticipation high for the next installment.
Random thoughts, connections, easter eggs, and more
- This is the first Discovery episode scripted by the writing team of Dan Dworkin and Jay Beattie, who most recently created, and executive produced the 2018 ABC time travel show The Crossing.
- This is the second Discovery episode directed by T.J. Scott, who helmed the first season episode “The Wolf Inside.”
- This is the fourth appearance of the Andorian Admiral Shukar (Riley Gilchrist) and third appearance of Tellarite Admiral Gorch (Harry Judge). This was the first appearance of the Vulcan Admiral Patar (Tara Nicodemo).
- Sara Mitich—who played Airiam in season one—returns as the new human character Lt. Nilsson, making her second appearance of the season
- With a runtime of 54 minutes this is the 3rd longest episode this season.
- The episode featured Pike’s first log narration. It was a personal log and not a captain’s log.
- Stardate given as 1532.9.
- While it has been hinted at, this episode appears to confirm that Section 31’s “Control” is an artificial intelligence. An AI called “Control” was also part of the 2017 David Mack novel Star Trek: Section 31: Control.
- The search for debris would mean the USS Discovery returned to Kaminar; strangely, there are still no mentions of if they—or anyone from the Federation—are keeping tabs on the aftermath of Saru’s Vahar’ai revolution from two episodes back.
- The upgraded corridor set is getting a real workout, with more meetings and “walk and talks” than an average episode of The West Wing.
- Talos IV location scenes used same Ontario quarry used for planet Harlak in “The Wolf Inside.” Lafarge Quarry may be to Discovery what Bronson Canyon and Vasquez Rocks were for the various Trek series shot in Los Angeles.
- Michael’s comment about being “on the other side of the looking glass,” is another reference to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a book Amanda read to both her and Spock as they were children.
- Young Michael ran away to the Vulcan’s Forge, first seen in TAS “Yesteryear” and again in ENT “The Forge.”
- Young Michael calling Spock a “half-breed”—and his strong reaction to it—will be echoed later in his life in two TOS episodes: “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” and “This Side of Paradise.”
- Airiam’s data core audit reveals “the probe used SQL injections” indicating the database language developed in the 1970s is still in use in the 23rd century.
- Burnham’s Discovery shuttle has an onboard transporter, a feature not seen on standard TOS or TNG shuttles, but was seen on runabouts introduced in DS9.
- Hovering drones were seen cleaning up after the fight in the mess hall. They might be standard Starfleet issue or they could be custom equipment from Jett Reno (she seemed quite handy with making drones in “Brother”), who hasn’t been seen for a few episodes.
- It is established that Starbase 11 is 2 light-years from Talos IV, which seems dangerously close. Starbase 11 is where Spock picked up Pike to take him to Talos IV in TOS “The Menagerie,” it was also the setting for TOS “Court Martial,” and was visually referenced in DSC “Context is for Kings.”
- The TNG episode “The Outrageous Okona” uses the same “say goodnight” gag, which Data attributes to Burns and Allen, however, this appears to be apocryphal.
- The mind scanner Section 31 was planning to use on Spock in the previous episode was revealed to be based on Terran technology, apparently courtesy of Georgiou.
- Georgiou reveals the Mirror Universe’s Talosians tried their illusion tricks on her and she “blew them and their stupid singing plants off the face of the planet.”
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.