STAR TREK: DISCOVERY Review: 2.08 “If Memory Serves”

The newest STAR TREK episode is a direct sequel to the oldest.

It takes real guts to make a direct sequel to what was originally an unaired pilot, and that’s just what the Discovery team did this week. So esoteric are the references in the episode, it opens with a flashback to “The Cage,” outlining its story and (re)introducing the audience to Talos IV, the Talosians, and Captain Pike’s relationship to both. It’s a strange opening to a strange episode - one that answers a number of questions, and that poses some new ones.

Where we last left off, Michael Burnham had caught up with a near-catatonic Spock, while Section 31 and Discovery were in pursuit, for their own reasons. As this episode begins, Starfleet has taken the side of Section 31, ordering them to find Spock and the Discovery crew to research the futuristic probe they encountered last week. Luckily, the only Section 31 officer to trust Michael - Ash Tyler - is onboard Discovery, so those orders are more or less moot.

Burnham and Spock, meanwhile, are en route to the forbidden world of Talos IV, inhabited by the psychic Talosians. After penetrating the planet’s black-hole disguise, they meet Vina (Melissa George), a guest character from “The Cage,” with whom Pike had a brief romance. In this world of material illusions, she serves as an ambassador of sorts for the Talosians, who are as ethereal, mysterious, and bulbous-headed as ever. They’re really fucking cool, basically, but Spock’s reasons for visiting are more practical. He wants help sorting through his confusing Red Angel-laden thoughts and memories, and in return, they want (for reasons unsatisfactorily disclosed) the memory of Michael’s psychological injury upon Spock.

As for the Angel, the major revelations here are that it appears to definitely focus on saving lives, from Michael’s in the past to the entire galaxy’s in the near-future. It’s also a human, wearing some kind of suit that may or may not enable time travel, and though it’s unclear what it wants the Discovery crew to do, it’s at least clearer, thanks to Spock’s mind-meld, what it doesn’t want to happen.

That’s not the interesting part of all this, though. Instead, that honour belongs to yet another intriguing retcon of Spock’s early life: the emotional trauma visited upon him by his adopted sister. Michael ran away from home to avoid Vulcan extremists targeting her family, and in order to convince Spock not to follow her, she laid false scorn upon him - thickly. The scene is incredibly painful to watch, with Sonequa Martin-Green doing some of her best work yet reliving her worst memory. The ramifications of her well-intentioned act of cruelty, of course, are that Spock didn’t just not get the emotional education he needed - he actively repressed the emotions of his human side. We didn’t need an origin story for that character trait, but the origin story we got is a pretty satisfying one nonetheless.

Meanwhile, we get a B-plot that, miraculously for this show, moves slowly and revolves entirely around character. Specifically, around Hugh, who’s having trouble acclimating to life after death. His disconnected state of mind, his inability to enjoy things, his alienation from his husband, his violence towards Tyler (admittedly, his murderer) all smack of a kind of cross-dimensional PTSD, and Wilson Cruz does a terrific job of communicating it, even if his character doesn’t. This is an interesting development, both for Culber and for Stamets, whose state of mind right now is more or less the definition of bittersweet. “That version of me is dead,” he says, and it’s like the end of a relationship. So sad.

The episode comes to a head when Vina appears to Pike, light-years away, putting him in contact with Burnham via a psychic link, depicted a whole lot like the “Force Skype” sequences in The Last Jedi. As they make way for Talos, Section 31 follows in hot pursuit, and after a bit of Talosian-enabled illusioneering sleight of hand, Section 31 beams up who they think are Spock and Burnham, but who are illusory replicas, while Discovery gets the real thing. And then, basically, Discovery goes on the run.

There’s one more thread running through “If Memory Serves,” and that’s the thread introduced last week when the mystery probe hacked into Discovery’s computer systems. It manifests this week via a spore-drive failure and a series of unauthorised data transmissions. Both are attributed to Tyler, who’s summarily sent to the brig, but both happen at the hands of Airiam, whose cybernetic systems appear to have been hacked too.

That’ll explode into action next week, alongside a number of mines surrounding Section 31 headquarters. It’s unclear why Discovery’s going there exactly, but that’s for CBS to know and us to find out. As for this episode: it’s an odd one for Discovery, lacking the breakneck pace of prior eps and relying a frankly shocking amount on the very first Star Trek story ever filmed. It's the most prominent and weirdly specific bit of canon wankery in the show yet, but it's worked into the story well enough. As a character episode, though, it’s a strong one, giving us insight into both Spock and Burnham, and the show’s needed that insight for a while. Let’s see what action it informs.

Stray observations:
Discovery is now officially set between the two pilot episodes of The Original Series.
The camera work in this episode is wild as usual, featuring the usual assortment of rotating cameras and a weird preponderance of wide-angle lens shots. Are this show’s directors competing to see who can make the most outré coverage choices?
Had we seen Andorians on the show before, or is the one seen in hologram this week the first?
Michael questions whether Spock’s beard “is working,” which feels 100% like something a sister would say to a brother.
Discovery has little hovering cleanup robots that rearrange things after Culber and Tyler’s fight. A weird use of technology, but whatever.
Georgiou wiped out the mirror universe Talosians. She’s not making any friends here.
Ethan Peck is definitely his own version of Spock. There’s not an ounce of Nimoy impersonation in his performance; he’s taking the material he’s given and working with that. It works better than I would have expected.
It’s not, but how insane would it be if the Red Angel were Captain Picard from the future, and the whole season was a setup for the forthcoming Picard show?