“Light and Shadows” is both a very good episode of Star Trek: Discovery and a very disappointing episode of Star Trek: Discovery. The good stuff first, because we’re overdue for a longer discussion about one of season 2’s best surprises: Anson Mount has turned Disco’s version of Captain Pike into a charmingly deadpan commander, nobly unfazed in the face of cosmic calamity.
In “Light and Shadows,” Pike’s got a problem. Tyler (Shazad Latif) won’t leave him alone. Section 31’s local spy keeps trying to bigfoot the Discovery commander, flashing his death-metal Starfleet badge. “The chair outranks the badge,” Pike tells the secret Klingon, tossing the spy insignia in the air like he’s flipping an unwanted coin.
Pike has his doubts about Tyler. After all, this man killed a Discovery crew member. Is he a man at all? Voq still simmers therein. “There’s no way to get rid of him,” Tyler says. Cue Pike’s eyeroll: “I know the feeling.”
Pike and Tyler get paired up on a snazzy flying mission. There’s a tachyon anomaly in the sky — and who better to investigate than Pike, who was a test pilot in his early Starfleet days? Tyler’s skeptical. He thinks Pike is trying to prove himself, since the Enterprise sat out the Klingon-Federation war.
He’s right, though it takes a near-death experience to find out. Or perhaps “death” is the wrong word. A time shockwave emanating from the time rift traps the time pilots in a time prison. As Tilly (Mary Wiseman) says, every word sounds cooler when you pair it with “time”! The wormhole could cage Pike and Tyler together in the fourth dimension. “We could be together for all eternity,” says Pike, modeling the peculiar social horror of a guest who didn’t realize all his exes were coming to the dinner party and just discovered the dinner party will last forever.
The time rift plot recalls the chrono-twirl of last season’s “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad,” still Disco’s finest hour. The resolution requires Stamets (Anthony Rapp) to, sigh, call upon his Mycelial Mania. But there’s some tantalizing teases here. The Discovery sends a probe into the rift — and it returns 500 years older as a squidling attack-bot, tentacles strangling Tyler while it fires a probelet to hack the shuttlecraft’s mainframe.
“THE PROBE IS SEARCHING YOUR COMPUTERS AT INCREDIBLE SPEEDS,” says Airiam (Hannah Cheesman). “I WILL ATTEMPT TO LOCK IT OUT.” But that bit of counterhacking proves to be the undoing of our beloved robo-officer. Three red dots flash on screen, and apparently take hold of Airiam’s consciousness. Asked for an update, Airiam’s eyes flash red — and she returns to normal. “THEY ARE SECURELY ON BOARD,” she tells Saru (Doug Jones.)
Now, look. I’m not sure a show that already had a secret Klingon and a secret Mirrorverse-ian also needs a secretly hacked cyborg sleeper agent on the bridge crew. And I’m baffled that Airiam — whose biotechnological nature is, um, unclear — apparently has a good-evil switch. But the Pike-Tyler subplot was a rock-solid piece of character building, complicating their dynamic while letting these two uneasy allies pinball off each other in tight quarters.
Then there’s poor Michael (Sonequa Martin-Green), continuing the Search for Spock. “I haven’t spoken to my mother or father in some time,” she tells Pike, even though she literally speaks to her mother and father every few episodes. She warps over to Planet Vulcan, where mom Amanda (Mia Kirshner) reveals a secret: Spock (Ethan Peck) has been found!
Only, not really. I’m not sure there’s a perfect way to introduce the third lead actor to play a hegemonically beloved cultural icon. But Peck spends his first episode mumbling brainwashed absurdities, whispering High Vulcan phraseologies, Beautiful Mind-ing etched graffiti on the walls of a cave. Spock is here and he’s still not here. So this is yet another episode full of people talking about a character who remains not quite a character.
It turns out that Spock has a form of Space Dyslexia. Intriguing! But I don’t think Disco takes new biographical note seriously. It’s used here as a rather dull bit of mystery. Spock is writing the number 841947 over and over again, a meaningless combination of digits. At a climactic moment, Michael realizes that his Vulcan Dyslexia is acting up, and he’s actually writing 749148. All together now: DYSLEXIA DOES NOT GENERALLY WORK THAT WAY!
It doesn’t help that the Spock corner of the episode whiplashes plot. Michael takes Spock to Captain Leland (Alan Van Sprang) to let Section 31 interrogate him! But then Emperor Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) tells Michael she has to escape with Spock before Leland extracts Spock’s mind to pieces! And it turns out Leland is a “puppet following orders,” part of some larger anti-Spock conspiracy! And also, um, Leland killed Michael’s parents!
Michael escapes Section 31 after a smashing faux-fight with Georgiou, and any Disco episode with a Michelle Yeoh fight scene earns some grade inflation. Then comes the finale, when Michael enters Spock’s reverse numbers into the computer. The coordinates point her straight to Talos IV. Now, Talos IV looms large in Trek history. It’s the planet that Jeffrey Hunter’s Captain Pike visits with Leonard Nimoy’s Spock in the original Trek pilot — and it’s the planet Spock returns to in “The Menagerie,” for reasons we may have to explore more next episode.
Does Spock want to return to Talos IV because of the unique powers of the creatures who reside there? (I believe Disco is set canonically after the original Trek pilot.) Or! Is this part of the Red Angel’s plan? “Light and Shadows” confirms that the mysterious crimson deity is a traveler from the future. Does this traveler know Talos IV’s role in Spock’s future life? I get a bit antsy whenever any Star Trek prequel starts jimmying around with the timeline. Let’s discuss more next week after we’ve all rewatched both parts of “The Menagerie.”