More than almost any other franchise, Star Trek Discovery is always struggling to walk the line between its past and present. To pay tribute to its history, while carving a bold new path - and all the while keeping Star Trek canon and the various timelines intact! It’s a difficult challenge, but one which the show has risen to time and time again with stories that weave elements of old Trek amongst fresh ideas and perspectives. If Memory Serves is another superb example of how expertly Discovery mixes old and new to create some of the best story-telling on TV right now, and fans cannot fail to be impressed with how one of the most iconic moments from Trek history has been incorporated into the current Star Trek Discovery season 2 story. With some story spoilers from this point on, here’s our verdict on Star Trek Discovery season 2, episode 8.
Not many modern-day shows would have the confidence to start an episode with footage from an old pilot made over 50 years ago, but that’s exactly what Star Trek Discovery does as episode 8 kicks off with a snapshot from The Cage - the original Star Trek pilot which had Pike (Jeffrey Hunter) as the lead instead of Kirk (William Shatner). Trek newbies might have been left wondering what the hell was going on, but hardcore Trekkies will have revelled in the Star Trek Discovery Easter egg to end all Easter eggs (after they double checked they were watching the right series, that is), which incorporates The Cage into the Discovery timeline.
Past, present, and future Pike
After that mind-blowing beginning, we flashforward to present-day Pike (Anson Mount) who is aboard the Discovery wondering what’s happened to Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) after her short trip to Vulcan. Section 31 is hot on her trail, with Leland (Alan van Sprang) in trouble with his higher ups for letting her and Spock (Ethan Peck) escape and Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) taking full advantage of the fact, but orders Discovery to stay out of it. Of course, Pike ignores this order and attempts to find his lost crewmen anyway. In the meantime, the newly reunited siblings arrive at the coordinates Spock has been repeating on a loop ever since he made his Star Trek Discovery debut (AKA, Talos 4), which is also the planet featured in The Cage, in case you didn’t know.
As we’re reintroduced to the Talosians and Pike’s love Vina (here played by Melissa George) - or introduced for the first time if you’ve never seen The Cage (it’s on Netflix now, get watching!) - there’s a real sense of Star Trek history being made. It’s a bold move to put such a strong focus on a Star Trek event from so long ago, but one that works as it weaves another bit of Trek legend into the new series. Burnham and Spock’s reason for visiting Talos 4 is a bit weak (basically, Spock just knows that the Talosians, with their mental abilities, will be able to help get his head straight so that he can continue doing… whatever he’s doing), but I can’t bring myself to nitpick it when it allows us to revisit such a historic Trek moment. The moments when Vina telepathically visits Pike aboard the Discovery to help him communicate with Burnham are beautifully sad, and Mount especially makes you feel like he left the love of his life on Talos 4.
While Spock’s reason for bringing Burnham and himself to Talos 4 may be a little convenient for the story, it does at least lead to some real revelations about their relationship and we finally get the chance to see the two interact properly. If Peck was at all worried how fans would received his version of Spock (and let’s be honest, if he wasn’t, he’s very brave), he can breathe easy as his performance of the complex Vulcan is captivating. It helps that his character has already been developed a lot by this point, having had his complicated family life explored throughout the season so far, which allows him to show emotion that his Original Series counterpart would never have been able to. But even in the moments when he’s more of the reserved Spock we know and love, there’s a real sense of genius here.
The ying to his yang, Burnham’s emotional response to finally finding her brother and then dealing with his illness and the conflict between them is raw and unflinching to the point of painful. In seems that Discovery may have found the best way to make the emotionless Spock work for a modern audience: Surround him with emotional human mirrors. Burnham and Spock barely spend a few minutes of screen time together with Spock compos mentis and yet it’s easily the best bit of this episode and has me hoping that the rest of the season will see the two of them paired for adventure upon adventure.
The Doctor will see you now
Elsewhere on Discovery, Culber (Wilson Cruz) is dealing with coming back from the dead and suffice to say, it’s a lot for him to handle. He, understandably, struggles to fall back into his old life, despite how much Stamets (Anthony Rapp) might want him too, and before long he runs into his murderer Tyler (Shazad Latif). The whole thing results in a fight between the pair, which feels very un-Trek (something Pike points out after the fact), but at the same time, necessary for us to move forward in any helpful way. Now that the obvious fisty cuffs are done, the show can hopefully develop a healthier resolution for the pair.
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The compelling thing about Culber’s current journey is that there could be a sci-fi reason for his change in behaviour (the show seems to be hinting that he might have come back ‘wrong’), or... it could just be that he died and came back. Of course you’d struggle after something like that happened to you! Part of me hopes that we won’t discover that Culber needs an alien exorcism, but instead that he’s just changed after going through a hugely traumatic life event. Spaceships and aliens are all well and good, but Star Trek Discovery really shines when it doubles downs on its humanity.
Once again proving that it’s got what it takes to be one of the best TV shows of all time, Star Trek Discovery knocks it out of the park with an episode which strengthens the show’s connection to the Original Series and acts as a fantastic introduction to a new Spock, despite him making his debut in episode 7. With still so much more promised, I can hardly wait for the next episode.
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