Monday, March 11, 2019

Discovery, Season 2: If Memory Serves, Season 2
"If Memory Serves"
Airdate: March 7, 2019
23 of 29 produced
23 of 29 aired


Burnham takes Spock to Talos IV in order to cure him. But the Talosians demand something from her in return.

Talosians fashions have changed, perhaps to accommodate the newly masculine Talosians.


Kevin: This episode is the core of the problem of Discovery's set up. It wants me to bring my nostalgia for the Original Series but not be bound by the stories, either in tone or in fact, that created that nostalgia in the first place. Anyone who watched The Cage before now is going to be annoyed by this episode. Anyone who hasn't seen it has to be left mystified by the narrative shortcuts. The only references to Talos IV in the original series are the long delayed airing of the pilot and how that pilot was incorporated into Menagerie. That episode made it very clear that no one is allowed to go, nor has gone to, Talos IV on literal pain of death. Adding an extra trip for Spock means either this episode is stupid or that one is. It's the inherent problem in prequel. You are trying to add to complete stories and the only consequence is this story feels incomplete or the original one does.

Matthew: The Talosians were a curious non-entity in this episode. In "The Cage," we learned so much about them, their past, their psychology, and it made them feel real and menacing. Does this sotry assume it can rely on our knowledge of that 2-parter? What did they accomplish by going to Talos IV? Spock was... sick? Did he get better? How did that happen? Was it in his mind? Sadly, all of the answers to these questions occurred off camera. Spock was ailing somehow, and now he's not. Hey, Discovery writers - when you spend 6 episodes building to something, don't do it off camera, OK? Also, none of the character motivations make sense. The black hole illusion, for instance, was cool to look at and clever... but why do the Talosians want to hide? In The Cage, they want to lure people in to acquire more specimens for their zoo. Do the writers think they're working with Starfleet to enforce a travel ban? The ban exists precisely because they need to be avoided by all Starfleet personnel, not because they were working with Starfleet. I don't understand why Burnham had to consent to share her memory. They'd never required consent before. Why did the Talosians want to help Spock at all? What do they care? They didn't even really interact with him in "The Cage."

Kevin: With one exception, none of the emotional beats work. A few minutes of 'previously on Star Trek' are not enough to create emotional resonance for Pike and Vina's relationship, so it must seem like a cipher to the uninitiated. The Big Reveal for Spock and Burnham's relationship falls extremely flat. Like....seriously?? That was the big betrayal? I sincerely hope young Spock never encountered any other teenage girls. They can be really mean. Spock even seems to acknowledge that Burnham's actions were grounded in a non-hurtful goal but is still choosing to be butthurt about it. This is the end result of a story that cares only about twists and almost nothing for characters. This was a Big Moment because everything told me it was, not because watching it made me feel that way.

Matthew: The Big Moment worked for me a little bit, but it was mainly on the strength of the acting. I agree that on paper, it doesn't work at all. So Burnham called him a half-breed? Shit, that's just a regular Tuesday for McCoy. And even if we are to accept this is a formative moment that embittered Spock to Burnham (the only tenable conclusion if you believe the malarkey that this is canon), he even says in dialogue here that it really wasn't all that bad, because he understood her motivation. Clearly he's OK with it, both now and later in TOS. So nothing was really achieved. This is the problem of this show - we know where the characters end up - so either everything that happens here has to fail to change them, or they have to ramp it up to absurd degrees and then ask us to believe that it became a deep dark secret. The Pike/Vina stuff also didn't work, I agree. Their relationship in "The Cage" was forced. He had never really fallen in love with her, yet here it's being played like it's Kirk/Edith Keeler or something. Also, minor but irritating point - Vina says that "this is how they found me." No! That's how they REBUILT you. It was much creepier that way. It's little shit like this that drives me up a wall. You clearly watched the episode. Actually follow it!

Kevin: The closest we got to a real moment is Stamets and Culber. Stamets is rushing an artifical return to normalcy, an entirely understandable thing to do. Culber is crawling out of his skin and even if everything were fine, a suddenly over-attentive husband is a stress in its own right. That is two characters with understandable and relatable positions that are organically in conflict. Don't look now, but we've just aced our first writing assignment in Screenplay 101. An entire episode of this would be amazing. I was kind of hoping Culber would just kill Tyler to end his non-story, but that's a separate conversation.

Matthew: Because of the brevity of the treatment, Culber just came off like a dick to me. I can understand why someone might react this way. But I wasn't shown it. Instead, I've seen Culber acting out of it in Sickbay, and now lashing out at Stamets. Wouldn't any normal human have at least tried to accept the doting? These scenes needed at least an episode act of preface to work organically. Sorry folks! Hope you enjoyed the Culber Minute! Back to the RED ANGEL WHO WILL SAVE ALL LIFE IN THE GALAXY!!!!


Kevin: Since Peck actually know..lines to say this time, I liked him more. He's a dick version of Spock, but I can't be too mad, as the arc of Spock generally was from a somewhat uptight prig to a more rounded person. I wish the underlying story had some emotional credibility but that is not Peck's fault. For what he was asked to do, he did it well.

Matthew: There is no way the Spock of The Cage, earnest but awkward, becomes Tortured Dyslexic Accused Murderer Spock, then becomes the balanced Spock of TOS. Did Peck do his job? Sure. But he's miscast and badly made up. Where is the green tone in his skin? Why can't he get a fucking haircut? Leonard Nimoy was perfect, literally perfect as Spock. He played him for nearly a hundred filmed hours. Trying to replace him was a fool's errand, no matter how competent an actor you could find. With that said, I liked Liam Hughes as Young Spock quite a bit. While I still think it's fatally dumb to try and append the history of a known and beloved character, at least Hughes doesn't have to contend with Nimoy. I believed his love and his hurt, and that made his big scene almost work for me.

Kevin: Wilson Cruz was a little stiff for my tastes in a few scenes, but a certain standoffishness makes sense. I continue to enjoy Anson Mount as Pike though. Particularly because of the pivot from Hunter to Mount, you really get a sense of how good the casting was. He actually looks like Hunter and has the same chill vibe. I will, in the interests of editorial candor, acknowledge that he is very much my type and that may be coloring my opinion, but at this point, I have to have something to latch on to.

Matthew: Mount is a handsome man who can indeed act. He is also just about the only character now who has maintained a consistent characterization throughout his appearances on this show. So part of it is writing and part acting. I can only assume that the writers are going to do something Big and Dark and SECRET to Pike before they're done with him, because otherwise no one could possibly care about a good character that was performed well.

Production Values

Kevin: The use of the "previously" presents a couple of problems. First, it really doubles down on Discovery's timeline. The Cage occurs shortly before Discovery. Full stop. The very episode I watched on the TOS DVD is in direct continuity with this one. The problem is that in neither narrative style or visual tone are the two at all connected. We've advocated for a while that a new Trek show should jump to the future and hew its own course, but if you want to play in TOS' playground, at least have the honesty to call it a soft reboot, because up to now, that is what it has been. The second problem is the needlessly ridiculous flips between scenes. Homer Simpson was less aggressive with the Star Wipe...

Matthew: I actually thought of that Simpsons scene, too. Star wipe, star wipe.... and then Dissolve! It was a bold move, and it fails, because the transition is so jarring. It calls to mind the Mirror episodes of Enterprise. Those worked so well because they actually put the characters in that world, with a perfect set and perfect costumes. Here, it just calls attention to the fact that this is not that.


Kevin: This is a 2 because nothing in this episode mattered. The trip to Talos was an ill-designed attempt to pacify the fans who recognize what Talos is. Nothing else mattered. We don't really know anything more than we did before. Spock has seen the angel before, and Burnham said some words to attempt to get Harry the Bigfoot Spock to not follow her in the forest. For the last time, I am less interested in learning the writing staff has watched other Star Trek than that they understand it.

Matthew: I was actually considering a 3, but discussing it with you has brought me down to a 2. It was basically entertaining-ish while on screen, but fails to cohere into anything meaningful upon analysis. You know what did? "The Cage." That's a story with a beginning, middle, and end, that changed the characters and asked a meaningful science fiction question. This story is all middle, no questions. Characters are never given the chance to explain themselves (as in the Cage's scene between Pike and the ship's Doctor), and scenes never linger for long enough to establish and pay off mood. That that makes for a 4 between us.

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