This week’s story leans heavily into events that were set in motion in “The Cage,” the original unaired pilot for ‘Star Trek’ back in the 1960s, which featured characters we are now seeing on ‘Star Trek: Discovery,’ such as Captain Pike, his science officer Spock, and first officer “Number One.” “The Cage,” of course, had its plot line and much of its actual footage re-purposed and re-used in the ‘Star Trek: The Original Series’ two-part episode “The Menagerie,” entering all of these events officially into Star Trek canon. This is why “If Memory Serves” opens with a delightful Original-Series-inspired “Previously on Star Trek” montage that also shows relevant bits of “The Cage.” All caught up now? Then let’s jump into our review.
WARNING: Spoilers for this episode of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ lie ahead, obviously. If you haven’t seen the episode and don’t wish for any of its content to be spoiled for you, the time to turn back is NOW!
RECAP: The theme of this week’s episode seems to be “the past catches up to you,” which is also oddly appropriate for ‘Discovery’ as a show when looking firmly at ‘The Original Series’ in both its real-life rear-view mirror and its in-canon windshield (because ‘Discovery’ is approaching the timeline of classic Trek, get it? Man, that analogy made much more sense in my head than it does here written out.).
A trio of storylines run underneath the main plot line this week. In one, Culber finally confronts Ash about the latter being the man that “killed” the former, and the two men realize that neither is truly the person he was before the incident. In another, Culber has a similar realization about his personal life with Stamets. In the third, Pike gets a trans-galactic “astral projection” type of visit from Vina – the human woman who was the sole survivor of a crashed spaceship onto Talos IV as shown in “The Cage” – who reminds him not only of the powerful experience they shared 3 years ago (during the events portrayed in “The Cage”) on Talos IV, but also of how truly powerful the mental-projecting Talosians truly are.
Through this all, the main story this week revolves around Burnham and Spock, who make it to Talos IV intact. They meet Vina and the Talosians, and the powerful empaths are able to delve into Spock’s mind to discern what is wrong: the being known as the Red Angel has essentially “unhinged” Spock from time by visiting him when he was a child on Vulcan and recently, and the visions of the future he has been granted via mind meld has caused Spock’s mind to warp.
The Talosians are able to help Spock regain his balance, and in the process, all learn more about the Red Angel: the being is indeed a traveler from the future – a future where a malicious entity (the same entity that future-altered the Discovery probe in last week’s episode) has succeeded in wiping out all sentient life in the galaxy. The Red Angel is human, surprisingly, but the exact nature of its identity remains unknown. The Red Angel first appeared to Spock when he was a child, on the night that Burnham ran away from Sarek & Amanda’s home; Burnham was destined to die that evening in the wilderness, but the Red Angel’s intervention allowed Spock to save his half-sister.
- Finally, we are getting to some concrete ideas about what the Red Angel means for the “bigger picture” of ‘Discovery:’ there is a very high probability that the show is, in fact, based in an “alternate timeline” from the “prime Star Trek” timeline of ‘The Original Series,’ ‘The Next Generation,’ ‘Deep Space Nine,’ ‘Voyager,’ and the original cinematic film series. The Red Angel seems to be implying at this point that this timeline will end in galactic-scale destruction; is this avoidable? Time will tell.
- If the above information is true, then the moment where the timeline “split” may very well be Burnham’s death in the Vulcan wilderness (I’m choosing to call it “wilderness” even though it looked like a forest, because last I knew, Vulcan was a desert planet and probably shouldn’t have that many forested areas to begin with). Perhaps there is a “split” moment before this that we are still unaware of.
- My hope is that, contrary to what the “Discovery” creative team has been saying since Day One, I’m starting to get the feeling that the show does indeed take place in a slightly-altered timeline – and that’s great, because that can explain away the major differences in technology advancement, visuals, canon, etc., from ‘The Original Series’ and beyond. I understand why the ‘Discovery’ team would have said for so long that the show exists in the “prime timeline” – when you say otherwise, or even dance around the notion, it opens the doors for all sorts of speculation and second-guessing from viewers and critics – which, I suppose, they mostly got anyhow by saying the show is in the “prime timeline,” so it’s a no-win situation, really. Kobyashi Maru!
- To me, it seemed way, way out of character fort Saru to let that fight in the mess hall between Culber and Ash go on – even with his “evolution” potentially guiding him. He’s still the XO of a Starfleet vessel, for crying out loud – this must be against several Starfleet codes, and he as the XO must know this in the moment.
- I appreciate the Talos IV storyline being allowed to play out as the primary focus of the week – the storylines of Ash/Culber, Culber/Stamets, and Section 31 all took a back-seat this week, which was great from a story-telling perspective.
- I had assumed we would, but it was excellent to see Vina – and have her feature so heavily into the plot. It was also an excellent handling of the “speak but don’t show” approach in regards to the “illusory Pike” left behind on Talos IV with Vina at the end of “The Cage.”
CLOSING THOUGHTS: Okay, stay with me on this one: these new Star Trek creative folks love to have their shows tied together, right? Section 31 is getting a spin-off, directly tied to ‘Discovery…’ We’re also getting another new Trek show later this year that I’m sure you’re all familiar with who is headlining it… so come on, creative team, let’s just do it: the Red Angel is Picard, right? RIGHT?!?! Distraught at the destruction of Romulus, in his new series he goes rogue from Starfleet, acquires some experimental temporal tech, starts poking about in the multi-verse trying to find a way to stop it, and starts by taking a swing at altering the past of the greatest Starfleet-Romulan ambassador to ever live: SPOCK. It all fits! It all makes sense! …it’s all just fan-fiction in my head, isn’t it? Ah, a man can dream.
PRINCIPAL CAST FEATURED IN THIS EPISODE:
Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham
Doug Jones as Lieutenant Saru
Anson Mount as Captain Pike
Anthony Rapp as Lieutenant Stamets
Mary Wiseman as Cadet Tilly
Wilson Cruz as Dr. Culber
Ethan Peck as Spock
‘Star Trek: Discovery’ features new episodes Thursday nights at 8:00 pm online via CBS All Access.