STAR TREK: DISCOVERY Review: 2.07 “Light And Shadows”
As we get stuck in to the back half of Discovery’s second season, the story is starting to focus in a little bit - and blissfully, this week, that means we finally meet this show’s version of Spock. Our favourite Vulcan’s status and fate ties up the majority of this episode - but the ep also finds time to do some actiony, sciencey, mystery-y stuff as well.
The A-plot sees Michael Burnham returning to Vulcan, where she meets her adopted mother Amanda and demands to know where Spock is. So kicks off an episode pretty tightly focused around their family unit, which introduces new elements into canon that will either enthrall or repulse longtime fans. Spock’s hiding in a cave, repeating a string of numbers and phrases over and over again, but the story is more about the past - specifically, the respective childhoods of Michael and Spock.
Given what we learn about Spock this episode, it makes sense that Amanda would want to protect him - from Starfleet and even from Sarek. The big reveal here is that as a child, Spock suffered “human” learning difficulties - reading, writing, and so on - and received no support from Vulcan society. As a result, it was Amanda who nurtured his early learning, including regular readings from Alice in Wonderland to show him that it’s possible to navigate situations that don’t make sense.
This is big for canon. We’d always known Spock was ostracised for his mixed heritage, but making him a cross-species equivalent of dyslexic is an entirely new wrinkle. Personally, I love it - it renders his eventual brilliance more hard-won, and here grants his relationship with his sister and mother more weight. Michael’s role in helping Spock understand his human side finally comes fully into focus here, and it’s pretty moving. We're finally starting to get peeks under Michael's unflappable exterior, and the show's better for it.
Not moving enough, though, because Spock’s still a wanted fugitive - and a wanted fugitive who might hold a key to the mysterious Red Angel’s identity and purpose. Thus, Michael is made to deliver him to Section 31, and it’s no surprise their intentions with him are less than angelic themselves. Hooked up to a “memory extractor,” with his mind in peril, he’s promptly rescued by Michael (with the aid of Georgiou, her motivations ever murky). Running away in a shuttle, Michael discerns (somehow) that his repeated string of numbers is backwards, and will take them to Talos IV. In The Original Series, contact with that psychic-populated planet was the Federation's only offense punishable via the death penalty. It’s also where Captain Pike ended up living in his one-beep-for-yes, two-beeps-for-no machine. Looks like this season could end up setting up Pike's eventual fate in some way.
Meanwhile, the rest of the crew on board Discovery encounters a newly-formed fissure in space-time, just off Kamanar, and shoots a probe into it - followed by a shuttlecraft bearing Pike and Tyler, which subsequently gets attacked by a mysteriously upgraded version of the probe. Here, we get some now-characteristic Discovery leaps in logic, as the crew attempts to rescue their endangered (possibly self-endangered) captain. Stamets, somehow protected from temporal distortions by his tardigrade DNA, transports over to bring them back, and it works. However, they don’t manage to self-destruct the shuttle before the refitted (and extremely Matrix-influenced) probe hacks Discovery’s computer system - and in turn, hacks Lt.Cmdr Airiam. That’ll be interesting.
All in all, an episode remarkably light on plot, but fairly weighty on character. Barely anything really happens to change the course of the season arc, but we learn more about Spock and Michael, we get a little shuttlecraft pressure-cooker sequence with Pike and Tyler, and the intentions of Section 31 and its personnel take further dives into mystery. I'm not sure if the emotional content dished out on Vulcan quite makes up for the ridiculously easy ways the characters solve science problems, but it's good emotional content, anyway. Here's hoping it sets up some more robust storytelling down the line.
Next week: the Talosians return, for the first time in a while! Spock has nightmares about potential futures, as we all do, but realer because he’s a Vulcan! And more.