Spoilers decloaking off the port bow!
It's safe to say that "Star Trek" fans will be picking their jaws up off the floor at the end of the latest episode of "Star Trek: Discovery," as references to earlier series, in particular "Star Trek: The Original Series," come thick and fast this week.
The episode, entitled "Light and Shadows," more or less follows immediately after the events of last week's installment. Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) already has one foot out of the airlock, ready to warp to Vulcan upon approval from Capt. Pike (Anson Mount).
Spock's shuttle apparently disappeared somewhere in the Mutara sector. This suggests that the region of space has some cosmic significance in the events in Spock's life, since that's where he sacrificed himself to save the Enterprise in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" — but probably not.
Meanwhile, both Tilly (Mary Wiseman) and Saru (Doug Jones) are detecting an unusually high number of the time-bending particles called tachyons in the area — 5,000 per cubic micron, to be precise. Next thing we know, the USS Discovery is staring at a massive temporal disturbance.
Pike and Tyler (Shazad Latif) set off in a shuttle to get close enough to launch a probe. Tyler behaves like an annoying child, thinking his Section 31 status gives him the right to know everything that's going on. Pike, who's frankly the best thing about this season so far, puts Tyler in his place without so much as raising an eyebrow. This guy's so cool he would fluster a Vegan snow lizard.
We also get that shot of the turbolift shaft, once again looking like the Space Mountain ride at Disney World, as it did in the Season 2 premiere, "Brother." It feels peculiar seeing all that vacant structural space around it. The VFX shot looks great, but it's not very well thought through — a statement that reflects what we've seen from "Star Trek: Discovery" so far in Season 2.
Burnham lands at her adoptive parents' house on Vulcan and meets with her mother, Amanda (Mia Kirshner). Turns out that Spock somehow made it back to his homeworld without being detected and Amanda has been hiding him without the knowledge of her husband, Sarek, in a cave covered with "katra stones" to prevent any outside telepathic link. What?! While some interpretation and reimagining is inevitable with a prequel show set 10 years before a series that was made 50 years ago, some of "Discovery's" additions are just downright absurd and should be ignored. This gimmick is one of them.
Spock lives, but he is not himself. This isn't the first time we've seen a Vulcan lose his or her mind. Tuvok suffers from an unspecified degenerative neural condition in the "Star Trek: Voyager" episode "Endgame” (S07, E25), and poor T'Pol contracts a deadly neurological disease called Pa'nar Syndrome in the "Star Trek: Enterprise" episode "Stigma" (S02, E14). She was also exposed to trellium-D, a powerful neurotoxin that affects only the Vulcan nervous system, while aboard the Vulcan cruiser Seleya in "Impulse" (S05, E05).
However, in Spock's case, he seems to be regressing mentally, endlessly repeating the first doctrines of logic and a mysterious, seemingly meaningless set of numbers (8-4-1-9-4-7). His condition is further confounded, somehow, because he apparently suffered from l'tak terai — the Vulcan equivalent of dyslexia — when he was growing up. Sarek turns up and insists that Spock be handed over to Section 31 for medical assistance, which is a bit of a jerk move.
Back at the temporal disturbance, or time rift, Tyler and Pike are having all sorts of problems. They appear to traveling simultaneously through the past, present and the future. And as if that weren't bad enough, their own probe has returned to the shuttle, massively modified and attacking them like a "squiddie" from "The Matrix."
At the same time, Tyler is also attacking Pike, accusing of him taking unnecessary risks now because he didn't fight during the Klingon War. This statement isn't elaborated on — and this is where "Star Trek: Discovery" enters a canon minefield.
We know from "Star Trek" history that Pike was in command of the USS Enterprise two years before the Klingon War, since this is seen in the "Star Trek: The Original Series" pilot episode, "The Cage." But "Discovery," by making this a plot point, runs the risk of overcomplicating the story. Was Pike on a five-year mission, just like Capt. Kirk was later? Surely, a constitution-class starship like the mighty USS Enterprise would've been recalled and reassigned to fight the war.
Those issues aside, the plot continues as the squiddie manages to breach the hull and firmly attach itself to the computer console, where it begins to scan Starfleet records. Tyler and Pike determine that the modified probe has returned to attack them from 500 years in the future.
Burnham leaves Vulcan and takes Spock to Section 31's Capt. Leland (Alan Van Sprang), but Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) warns Burnham that Leland's intentions are not honorable and that Spock is in danger.
"You are going to rescue Spock, which is good for you, which will make Leland look bad, which is good for me," Georgiou says. She also tells Burnham that they must stage a fight to make the escape look genuine, and Burnham immediately takes the opportunity to thump Georgiou, which is good for us.
In fact, the fight is extremely well-choreographed and a thousand times more realistic than the slapstick scuffle Georgiou has with Lorca (Jason Isaacs) in "What's Past Is Prologue" (S01, E13).
Back on the Discovery, some technobabble is needed to get the shuttle out of trouble in the time rift. On the shuttlecraft, Pike jettisons some fuel and ignites it as a way of giving their position to the Discovery. This is a direct reference to the dramatic finale of the "Original Series" episode "The Galileo Seven" (S01, E16). Stamets (Anthony Rapp) works out a way to beam onto the stranded shuttle craft, and through exposition, we learn that since Stamets has tardigrade DNA, he's immune to the effects of a time rift. Or something.
So, he beams in, giving Discovery a transport lock, grabs Tyler and Pike, beams out, and the shuttlecraft is destroyed with a photon torpedo.
However, more-serious damage may have been done, as the squiddie has left something behind in the Discovery's computer. We see a strange series of flashes affect Airiam (Hannah Cheesman) on the bridge, so hopefully, we can look forward to that character playing a bigger role. Not much is known about her; in fact, it's not confirmed yet if she's alien or an augmented human.
With Spock safely onboard, Burnham hides her shuttle craft in an asteroid field while Section 31 ships pass by. She deduces that the set of numbers Spock's been endlessly repeating are backwards, so she searches the computer for any results that include the series 7-4-9-1-4-8. They turn out to be the coordinates for … for … Talos IV.
This is pretty significant, as that's the planet where Capt. Pike was held captive in a zoo of sorts in events that formed the aforementioned pilot episode, "The Cage." The planet reappeared in the story of "The Menagerie" (S01, E11 and 12).
In "The Cage," the USS Enterprise is en route to the Vega colony to deliver medical supplies and responds to a mysterious distress call coming from the crashed survey ship SS Columbia on Talos IV. An away team beams down, but Pike (played then by Jeffrey Hunter) is abducted and held in a cell in a zoo of sorts. The Talosians take control of his mind, creating various illusions based on pleasure and pain in an "experiment" to observe his behavior.
Talosians were once a technologically advanced race, but a nuclear war left their planet virtually uninhabitable. They retreated underground and became dependent on their mental ability. As their cognitive powers grew, they lost the ability to use technology and became addicted to a lifestyle based on illusion. Eventually, however, even this illusory utopia became tiresome, and so they lured space travelers to Talos IV to ensnare and study in a menagerie.
The current story of "Star Trek: Discovery" unfolds in 2257, which is at least two years after the events of "The Cage," so those events have already happened before this episode. We learn in "The Menagerie" that following Pike's first visit to Talos IV, it was marked "forbidden" by Starfleet, so surely that would've shown up when Burnham searched for those numbers?
Ten years after the story that we're watching unfold at the moment in "Star Trek: Discovery," Pike — promoted to fleet captain in the later time — is severely injured while rescuing several cadets from a baffle-plate rupture onboard a J-class training vessel. The delta-ray radiation leaves him paralyzed, unable to speak, badly scarred and forced to use a brainwave-operated wheelchair for mobility, as seen in the "The Menagerie."
The paralyzed Pike makes a final request that he live out the rest of his life in the "Matrix"-like, illusion-induced dreamworld that the Talosians can offer, rather than be forever physically restricted in his cumbersome wheelchair.
What the blazes is Burnham going to do when she gets there? This may be the biggest mic-drop moment of this episode, but it's closely followed by Georgiou's retort to a cutting remark Leland makes about her value at Section 31.
"You need me," she purrs, "to keep Burnham from finding out the truth — that you're responsible for the death of her parents."
So, we've got that confrontation to look forward to.
It comes as no surprise that "Star Trek: Discovery" has been officially renewed for a third season, and it was also announced this week that co-executive producer and writer Michelle Paradise will serve as co-showrunner alongside Alex Kurtzman. Paradise wrote forthcoming Episodes 9, 13 and 14, so we have yet to see her contribution to the series.
We were rather hoping that CBS would bring in Ron Moore, J. Michael Straczynski or even Vince Gilligan or Zack Estrin, because so far, "Star Trek: Discovery" could really benefit from a storyteller of their caliber.
This episode started off well, and the banter between Tyler and Pike was interesting, even if Tyler seems to have regressed from a hard-nosed Starfleet officer to a spoilt child throwing his toys out of the pram. But, like last week's episode — which, incidentally, really should've been a two-parter — this feels a little rushed toward the end, and there's still too much exposition and technobabble. Taking "Discovery" to Talos IV is a risky move, so we'll just have to see how it's handled.
The first season of "Star Trek: Discovery" is available to stream in its entirety on CBS All Access in the U.S. and Netflix in the U.K. "Star Trek: Discovery" Season 1 is available now on Blu-ray.
The second season of Star Trek: Discovery consists of 14 episodes with no midseason break. It airs on Thursdays on CBS All Access in the U.S. and on the Space TV channel in Canada; the rest of the world can see the show on Netflix on Fridays.
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