Star Trek: Discovery – Season 2 Episode 7
“Light and Shadows”
Star Trek: Discovery concludes the search for Spock, ramps up the mystery surrounding him and deals with a temporal anomaly at the halfway point of the season.
As a Star Trek fan there’s a large degree of comfort that comes with a good old temporal anomaly story. There have been numerous examples of them in history of the franchise because they act as an easy catch-all plot device that allows the writers to play around with different concepts using the simple explanation of a temporal anomaly messing around with physics in order to make these things possible.
In this case the anomaly doesn’t actually do all that much in terms of lingering effects on the ship and crew. Outside of some repeated moments and a glimpse at the near future it’s fairly tame as anomalies go. Of course it does represent a very real danger to those trapped within it but that almost goes without saying as the characters need something to overcome which usually comes with some form of ticking clock with a potentially fatal outcome if the wrong choices are made.
The real purpose of the anomaly is to address the lack of trust Pike has for Tyler. Up until this point he was able to keep Tyler at arm’s length as Discovery is a big ship and Pike doesn’t need to engage him and more than the mission requires. For him it’s a reasonable setup that allows him to tolerate the presence of someone he doesn’t want around. Tyler doesn’t make this easy as he’s constantly in PIke’s face demanding answers in the name of Section 31 having authority to be privy to all information concerning the Red Angel mystery. Burnham returning to Vulcan is considered “need to know” for Tyler though Pike chooses to honour the “personal” in “personal leave” and keep it to himself. This is another example of Pike’s integrity and I like that Anson Mount plays these early interactions with Tyler with more than a hint of smugness. Pike clearly enjoys keeping Tyler in the dark and using protocol to justify it which makes for an excellent character beat that helps define the Pike/Tyler dynamic in a really natural way that makes sense based on what is known about the characters.
Putting them together for the shuttle mission into the rift is a classic TV scenario whereby two characters have to work together to settle their differences. Once again, Anson Mount’s performance really sells the animosity Pike feels for Tyler through this plot. Pike hides behind regulations and protocol but is unable to fully mask the fact that he simply doesn’t like Tyler which definitely puts a strain on their working relationship. This vendetta ends up putting the mission and their lives in jeopardy because Pike is unwilling to trust Tyler enough to help him work the problem. It may seem unbecoming of a Captain and it definitely is but it also highlights that Pike is Human and entirely fallible as he has to realise this about himself.
Pike’s glimpse into the future seems to confirm his suspicions as he sees himself shooting Tyler as he speaks Klingon suggesting that Tyler will turn on him and Pike has to put him down as a result. This look at things to come is entirely bereft of context and realising that becomes a teachable moment for Pike who sees Tyler prove himself over the course of the episode and has his own personal bias highlighted to him by having his assumption proven wrong right before his eyes.
Tyler is something of a passenger through Pike’s arc which makes sense as he is the one trying to work effectively with him as best he can. He’s not necessarily going about it in the right way as he constantly reminds Pike that he has to cooperate rather than encouraging him to want to cooperate. It’s an approach not exactly conducive to building trust so neither party is really helping to create the best possible working relationship.
There is an accusation lobbied against Pike from Tyler about his stubbornness being a result of his feelings around missing the War against the Klingons. This doesn’t really work for me as the show hasn’t done anything to suggest that Pike is hugely affected by the Enterprise’s lack of involvement in that particular conflict beyond a mention in the first episode. There has been no evidence that his ability to make decisions is hampered by his feelings about the War so Tyler’s comment does feel like it comes out of nowhere. It is treated as a moment of realisation for Pike who resolves to take a different approach with Tyler once he’s had time to reflect on this but since there is no background to this there is no weight behind it. Focusing on Pike and Tyler agreeing to put their differences aside enough to work together was a strong enough story as the shared animosity between them has been very well established. This is resolved in a really satisfying way that moves the character relationship forward.
The temporal anomaly itself does little to move the Red Angel plot forward other than confirming that time travel is involved. It only seems to form because otherwise the Discovery crew would have nothing to do and it’s unclear if the upgraded Discovery probe from 500 years in the future will play into the upcoming episodes in some way or if it’s just an extra source of threat to pad out the episode while further confirming that time travel is at play. The existence of this probe does raise further questions around who’s involved and what the purpose of upgrading the probe was. No explanation is given for why it attacks the shuttle and its occupants so there are questions that need to be answered here. These answers will likely come out of whatever has infected Airiam as she could be the next thing to be upgraded by whatever force is operating in the future. The probe also encourages Pike to consider the possibility that the Red Angel might be dangerous showing how his mind has been opened to Tyler’s point of view.
This plot allows for another charming Tilly/Stamets team-up as they work the problem in order to save the shuttle. Stamets is brought in because the Tardigrade DNA makes him immune to the effects of the anomaly so he can approach the problem more clearly. There’s a lot of fast talking banter as they work to find a solution which is fun to watch but fairly superficial as storytelling goes. The rules around what the anomaly does and how it does it are never fully established so there’s no way to know how viable the solutions are. It doesn’t really matter because the character moments are great to watch and there’s no actual sense that a solution contradicts established facts because there are very few established facts to begin with.
As always I really enjoy the natural friendship that has developed between Stamets and Tilly. They have a great working dynamic as shown by how easily they bounce off one another but there is also genuine affection there. It began last lesson and has really been a focus this season. Stamets boosting her confidence by telling her he trusts exactly one person to beam him aboard the shuttle was really touching and excellently played by both actors.
The search for Spock is finally over. Burnham’s trip to Vulcan ends that particular quest when she learns that Amanda has been hiding him in a location that blocks telepathy. Spock (Ethan Peck) is in bad shape mentally at this point after having been driven mad by the Red Angel. He is shown repeating the tenets of logic as well as a list of numbers over and over again. Amanda thinks that this is the first step towards him reordering his mind and he will eventually fully recover but Burnham recognises that Spock needs serious help and has to convince Amanda of that fact. It’s easy to see Amanda’s point of view here as she wants to ensure the well-being of her son but also doesn’t want him to go to prison for a crime she’s positive he didn’t commit so she has manufactured her own narrative whereby Spock’s broken mind will somehow repair itself given time. Burnham is desperate to help Spock and recognises the self delusion that Amanda has subjected herself to so tries to make her see sense.
This doesn’t go well but shifts when Sarek makes an appearance. She wanted to keep Spock’s presence from him because it’s her view that Sarek would adopt a logical approach and insist that Spock be taken to those capable of helping him. Once again this doesn’t fit with Amanda’s delusion as she is convinces she’s the only one who can help Spock. Her discussion with Sarek introduces some interesting insight into their dynamic as a married couple as well as their differing parental approaches. Something that was lacking in their limited appearances in prior Star Trek works was the exploration of their relationship but this is something that Discovery is looking to run with. It’s a great idea as it’s largely a blank slate rife for exploration while still having that familiarity that fans of prior entries in the franchise can cling to because there is enough familiarity to latch onto. Equally it works for newcomers as it offers added insight into Burnham’s upbringing so anyone invested in her character will get a lot out of this.
There’s nothing surprising about the parental approaches as in Amanda takes on a more emotional role where Sarek is the more dispassionate of the two. This is filtered through the lens of a new addition to Spock’s history in the form of having the Vulcan form of Dyslexia as a child. It’s very rare among Vulcans and apparently created yet another reason for him not to be accepted for being half Human. The dyslexia is an inherited trait from Amanda so she felt responsible for Spock being disadvantage by it and compensated by giving him emotional support. She did this through reading him Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland because she saw it as a good example of beauty in the unconventional. As a half Human dyslexic Spock is very unconventional on Vulcan so it’s a lesson she felt he needed to learn and understand. The metaphor of up being down and left being right feels appropriate for Spock who struggles to fit into both the Human and Vulcan way of life.
Sarek resents Amanda’s choice because she was teaching Spock to embrace everything he stands against. Amanda teaching Spock using a book about chaos is an affront to him because logic is his main driver so the idea that his children would be taught not to value it completely is something he disagrees with. This ties into a statement made in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country echoed in the first episode of this season about logic being the beginning of wisdom, not the end. Sarek sees it as being the chief requirement but Spock thinks differently and this episode starts to explain where that came from.
There is a great deal of friction between Sarek and Amanda where Spock is concern because they see things so differently. The contrast between emotional and dispassionate fuels this argument and makes it compelling to watch. Amanda’s emotional reaction is to accuse Sarek of not valuing Humanity which causes Sarek to remind her that it couldn’t possibly be true because he married a Human rather than a Vulcan. There’s also a sense of the road not taken in this argument as Amanda points out that she gave up her life for Sarek and wonders if he would have done the same for her. It’s somewhat tangential to the Spock situation but it ties in because there are clearly things that have gone unsaid for a very long time and they would have an effect on the family unit as a whole. The question over whether Sarek would have made sacrifices for her remains open and may never be answered though is compelling all the same.
Sarek’s stance is fairly hardline on this issue to the point that he seems to assume that Amanda is under his command as Ambassador where she feels that she doesn’t have to answer to him because she’s his wife rather than someone who works for him. I don’t believe for a second that Sarek sees her that way as it’s clear the situation is affecting him even through his suppressed emotions. Dealing with this clearly brings them close to the surface as shown by James Frain’s incredible performance. He plays this exchange so well that it’s clear when emotions are just about to breach the surface before regaining that control.
The logical approach to the Spock problem actually presents a solution that works as an effective compromise. He points out that Spock needs help and that Section 31 are best placed to supply it because Spock has information vital to the Federation that Section 31 likely won’t want to jeopardise that so will do everything in their power to heal him. He also concludes that Burnham is the logical choice to bring Spock to Section 31 because to do otherwise would be breaching her orders as a Starfleet Officer which would put her career at risk once again. Sarek really wants her to do this because he refuses to accept the loss of two children in a single day and sees the loss of Spock as certain if nothing is done. The moment he talks about losing two children in one day is one of the points where James Frain plays Sarek as having his emotions almost breaching the surface.
It’s no secret that my views on adding compelling things to the already rich tapestry of Spock’s character will be clouded by my immersion in the franchise and my investment in Spock as a character prior to the existence of this show. With that in mind it’s great for me to see so much work being done to develop this younger version of Spock through the lens of Burnham and his parents but I wonder how fans who started with this show will view this. Of course it’s likely that cultural osmosis will guarantee at least a passing familiarity with who Spock is and the cinematic exploits may be in mind for some but does it work in context of this show if you don’t know much about Spock? In my view it does because Burnham is the focus here rather than Spock. Sarek and Amanda’s relationship with each other as well as Spock is an extension of their relationship with her at this point. She bears witness to their argument, is aware of what growing up with them as parents was like and has her own views on her relationship with Spock. Flashbacks even show a brother/sister bonding moment setting up that there is a way back for their relationship so for now it definitely works if Spock happened to be a brand new character. This can only be enriched as the show develops Spock more.
Interestingly, Sarek is wrong as Burnham quickly realises that bringing Spock to Section 31 was a bad idea which reinforces the idea that there is more to life than logic. They immediately try to use protocol to send her away so that they have no opposition to effectively lobotmising him. Burnham receives help in the form of Georgiou who sees this as a way to further her agenda and offers Burnham the opportunity to free Spock. It has to look authentic so we see a well choreographed fight scene between Sonequa Martin-Green and Michelle Yeoh before Burnham forcibly frees Spock. Georgiou orchestrates this by appealing to Burnham’s goodness while setting up a scenario that makes Leland look bad therefore chipping away at his authority. It looks as if Georgiou will take over Section 31 over time and that will lead to them being disavowed. It’s good to see ongoing complexity to the Georgiou character with her fluid morality that changes to suit the situation. Burnham is clearly someone she holds in high regard because of her relationship to her counterpart in the mirror universe which results in taking steps to help her. On the other hand Burnham struggles to trust her because she is a dark reflection of the Georgiou she knew and feels responsible for anything she does since it was her that brought Georgiou across to this universe. I look forward to seeing how the internal strife within Section 31 progresses.
The episode ends with Burnham decoding the numbers Spock has been repeating. They translate as the spatial coordinates of Talos IV, the planet visited by the Enterprise during the events of the failed Original Series pilot “The Cage“. There’s a lot to unpack from this from a franchise perspective. The events of “The Cage” were played back during a two part episode of the Original Series called “The Menagerie” where Kirk and crew sit around and watch “The Cage” with Spock standing trial for violating the order not to go near that planet. Such a violation carries a death sentence so this is what Burnham is risking by taking Spock there assuming anyone in authority were to find out. The Talosians specialised in illusions that allowed people to see what they wanted to see which affected Pike by shattering his perception of reality. It’s unclear why Spock is so fixated with going back there though their advanced technology could hold the key to repairing his mind or it’s possible that they have a connection to the Red Angel in some way. I’m hopeful that this will have a purpose beyond fan service that might enhance the events of “The Cage” in some way though that remains to be seen. Considering a large chunk of the viewership for this show will likely be unaware of “The Cage” it’d be dangerous to rely on that familiarity to make the story work. I’m sure the writers know that and won’t fall into that trap.
A strong character driven episode that has some fun with a familiar Star Trek plot and greatly enhances Burnham’s overall family dynamic. The temporal anomaly plot works really well despite serving little more purpose than giving the Discovery crew something to do while Burnham returns to Vulcan because it allows Pike and Tyler to settle their differences in a high pressure situation through forcing Pike to overcome his personal bias. The idea of Pike being more reckless out of guilt over not participating in the War doesn’t entirely work but the interactions he has with Tyler and the understanding that they reach is brilliantly handled. The upgraded probe raises a lot of questions but it does present a natural reason for Pike’s mind to be opened to the possibility that the Red Angel might be dangerous. It’s a strong arc for Pike that Tyler rightly acts as a passenger on. This also allows for another excellent Tilly/Stamets team-up that provides some fun banter between them as well as a touching exchange that serves as a reminder of their naturally developed friendship.
The ending of the search for Spock is very much welcomed at this point and leads to some compelling character driven storytelling. Amanda protecting him makes a lot of sense and the self imposed delusion that she has entered into around Spock’s condition being reversed by nothing but time makes for an interesting character detail. The Sarek/Amanda argument over their parenting styles, everything that was sacrificed for their relationship and the logic vs. emotion stance held by them is great because there’s so much to take from it as well as excellent performance across the board. James Frain absolutely nails the complicated approach to the situation through Sarek’s emotions being very close to the surface without actually breaking it. Sarek’s logical plan for Burnham to take Spock to Section 31 as they need the knowledge he possesses which will require fixing him to do so seems reasonable as it has the added impact of Burnham not putting her career at risk by prioritising her brother over her career. Having this be a bad idea is a fun twist as it reinforces the idea that there’s more to life than logic while furthering the notion of Section 31 being untrustworthy. Georgiou using the situation to weaken Leland’s leadership while indulging her attachment to Burnham furthers the complexity of this character as well as connection to Burnham’s sense of responsibility attached to everything Georgiou does.
- the temporal anomaly plot acting as a fun callback to classic Star Trek plotting
- Pike’s arc leading to him trusting Tyler a lot more and opening himself up to his point of view
- the excellent Tilly/Stamets team-up
- a touching moment that highlights their friendship
- exploration of Sarek and Amanda’s parental styles
- the fascinating Sarek and Amanda argument
- finally seeing adult Spock
- the Section 31 plot reinforcing the idea that there’s more to life than logic
- Georgiou continued complexity
- the Section 31 intrigue
- Pike’s guilt over not participating in the War being poorly developed
- the temporal anomaly largely amounting to busy work
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