No One's OK on Star Trek: Discovery, But Thanks for Asking
The opening episodes of Star Trek: Discovery’s third season have seen Michael Burnham and the ship’s crew realize that their lives have changed forever. Not only that, but the future they sacrificed those old lives for is not what they expected. This week, in an explosive moment of self-reflection, they’re beginning to reckon with the impact of their new reality.
“Forget Me Not” examines the need to be open with yourself in the wake of great change—painful change, especially—across two important arcs. In the episode’s main plot, Michael and the crew take the newly aboard Adira (revealed last week as the human host of a Trill symbiont, previously hosted by a Trill Starfleet Admiral trying to rebuild the fractured Federation) to the Trill homeworld so that they can be truly joined with the symbiont. While Adira and Michael face hard truths on Trill, Saru and the bridge crew find themselves doing much the same...over a fancy dinner?
Let’s start with Adira and Michael’s arc. After we discover Adira’s memories are blocked to her—not even her life before bonding seems open to her, at this point—the Discovery heads to Trill, in the hope of finding answers about her unusual host status. Willing to risk being turned away because Adira cannot bear functioning without knowing the truth of their predicament, Michael, who beams down alone with Adira, finds that being exactly the case. At first, Trill’s leaders are rejoiced to find a host and symbiont returned to them after their native population (and therefore viable host candidates) was decimated by the circumstances of the Burn. But upon learning of Adira’s humanity, they are repulsed, unwilling to acknowledge that a symbiont could select a non-Trill being to bond with.
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Just like Earth, Trill’s inability to be open to others and to new circumstances in times of hardship has completely paralyzed their ability to adapt and re-grow in the wake of the damage done by the Burn. They have become insular, incapable of listening. Or so it would seem. After the Trill governers rebuff Adira and Michael, one of the spiritual counselors that met them is later willing to see Adira as Trill’s future, one beyond doctrine or previous schools of insular thought. He believes that to survive, the Trill must look to share their symbiotic relationship with those other than their species, to reach out beyond the existential pain of the Burn’s decimation. And so, at the caves of Mak’ala, last seen when Jadzia sought to deepen her connection to the Dax symbiont in Deep Space Nine’s 1994 episode “Equilibrium,” Adira begins the path to opening themself up.
What follows is as beautiful as it is traumatic. The hazy recollections of Adira’s thoughts and grief are rendered in a dimly lit, tendril-strew void that pulls them—and eventually Michael, when she leaps into Mak’ala’s waters to stop Adira from spiraling into trauma—into the past. It’s there, through the symbiont within them so desperately wanting to reach out to its new host, that we learn they were an orphan aboard a generational ship seeking to find other parts of the Federation. They were also in love. They watched their boyfriend, Gray (Ian Alexander, Star Trek’s first openly trans actor), a Trill host, be joined to the Tal symbiont, and went through all the tribulations of trying to navigate whether or not the person they loved would still be that person after the process. We also find out that in a moment of crisis, their ship was attacked and Gray was mortally wounded. With no one else around, the Tal symbiont was riskily transfused with Adira to ensure it, Gray’s memories, and the memories of all other Tal hosts, would continue to survive.
In accepting the grief that they and Gray suffered, Adira manages to successfully reconnect with the past Tal hosts, their love included—giving the Trill hope their symbionts could survive even as the Trill find themselves diminished, giving Michael and the Discovery their path forward to the rest of the Federation’s remains. Most crucially it also allows Adira to understand themselves—without having acknowledged and accepted the grief they endured, they could not be whole. It’s a message that, meanwhile aboard the Discovery, basically everyone needs to hear.
While Adira and Michael go on their memory trip, aboard the ship Dr. Culber makes it clear to Captain Saru that the crew is on a knife-edge. Thinking he can solve this mental health crisis by hosting a dinner for his bridge staff, Saru quickly learns that, well, he can’t. A game of haiku-creation (Starfleet truly is a bunch of nerds) quickly devolves into a traumatic explosion of lingering arguments and trauma.
Detmer still has not reconciled that, just mere days ago, she saw Stamets gored by debris, his blood on her hands, and finally, publicly breaks. The mask off, everyone else’s tensions come to the fore, ultimately leaving only Saru and Georgiou at the table, shocked by what they’ve just seen. But they shouldn’t really be, because no one has had time to process the gravity of their situation or the burden that rests upon their shoulders, either internally or more crucially with each other.
The pains of this are clear all over the ship; as Culber makes his rounds in the opening, it’s clear anxiety, even in moments of levity, lingers in the air—even before he shows Saru his findings. His conversation with Michael before suggesting she be Adira’s liaison to the Trill commissioners acknowledges that she, and the people around her, are in the process of accepting post-traumatic changes in themselves. Stamets snapping at Tilly after being ordered to work with her on alternate ways to pilot the spore drive, Detmer’s repeated insistence that she is OK when her friends and colleagues express they are there for her, these are just fuses among many in the Discovery’s crew.
That the latter is the one that, once lit, successfully sparks a detonation isn’t because of anything specific, it’s just a clear reminder that this grief that has lingered unaddressed since the season began, has permeated throughout the entire ship. As Adira did on Trill, the Discovery crew can only begin to move on from their grief, in big ways and small, by actually admitting to themselves that they recognize and feel it: a big ask for Starfleet officers who put their personal emotions behind their need to stand forward as the bright beacons of the galaxy’s hopes and ideals.
Sitting down at a dinner table and trying to be good, chipper Starfleet officers who come up with haikus over entrées cannot bear to match the stark brutality of the fact that these people gave up everything—their friends, their families, their lives as they fundamentally understood them—to save all of existence from doom. In doing so, they did not find themselves in a paradise but once again required to burden the hopes of a galaxy. They’re heroes, all of them, they’re Starfleet officers, but they are still people. They buckle under strain, they don’t know or don’t want to accept that they need help sometimes. It was an ugly way to make that realization, but this crew had to in order to actually acknowledge that all that grief and hurt happened, and existed.
As it has in the weeks before it, Discovery has leaned upon the need for openness and togetherness to be the light in the darkness of its uncertain future. In processing, but also crucially sharing, with Michael the tragedy of Gray’s passing, Adira finds some semblance of peace. They also become open to their former host’s memories, an important step not just for their own emotional healing but in the Discovery’s own journey to reuniting with Starfleet’s remnants. In having brought their painful traumas out into the open with each other, the ship’s crew can begin to process the stark reality of just what they’ve done in traveling so far beyond their own time, and how lonely that is.
Whether it’s Detmer quietly acknowledging just how much she’s hurting or Saru’s impromptu movie night for the entire crew—not just his friends on the bridge staff—they have realized that the only way they can approach this future is with a shared understanding and shared compassion. It’s about more than the fact that these people are members of Starfleet, and of the wider Federation beyond that. It’s that even in their loneliest, darkest hours, they can admit to each other that they need their friends around them. United, they all stand—whether it’s the crew with each other, or Adira Tal and the shared thoughts of the man they loved—and at last, are ready to face this strange new world.
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