Discovery somehow becomes both more timeless and more current each week. The cast grows, changes, and deepens with every episode, and so too does Discovery‘s growing pains.
Star Trek Discovery (Season 3)
“Forget Me Not”
Hanelle M. Culpepper (director), Alan McElroy, Chris Silvestri, and Anthony Maranville (writers)
Doug Jones, Sonequa Martin-Green, Wilson Cruz, Blu Del Barrio, and Ian Alexander (cast)
November 5th, 2020
Discovery’s found a really great mix between serialized storytelling, ongoing narratives, and episodic stories in Season 3. Each episode, the crew goes to a new planet to find answers to questions raised on the last week’s episode; there’s usually a conflict with the planet’s isolationist government that’s solved by cooperation. New questions are then raised for following week, and rinse and repeat. Each episode continues to hammer home that isolationism and xenophobia are harmful, and we must work together to enact gay space communism. This is exactly what Star Trek should be, and exactly what people need in these hard times. The ongoing storylines center on finding/reestablishing a unified government that believes in science and progress, while every character confronts the extreme trauma and loss underscoring their lives. Who’s not going through that right now?
In “Forget Me Not,” Saru (Doug Jones) realizes just how traumatized his crew is, and that he has a duty as their Captain to help them care for themselves. There’s a funny moment early on where Saru asks the computer how best to help his crew with their trauma. He needs creative suggestions beyond medical care, therapy, exercise, and healthy diets, and the computer suggests therapeutic coloring books, interstellar shopping, and Buster Keaton films. Those suggestions made me laugh and relate to the crew, although I’ve never understood Star Trek’s obsession with having their characters watch seemingly ancient movies and really enjoy them. It’s a recurring motif in Voyager, Enterprise and now Discovery as well.
During this scene though, the computer begins growing and changing as well as the crew. It’s begun to evolve into the AI Zora (Annabelle Wallis) formerly seen in the “Calypso” Short Treks. Discovery is really rounding out the bridge crew this season, not only giving more screen time and personality to characters we’ve already seen, but adding new ones every episode, even in the form of a disembodied AI guide for both the ship and Saru himself.
The “Calypso” inclusion hints at the larger trajectory of the Discovery. In the short, Zora had evolved to oversee an empty ship herself, set 1,000 years ahead of Discovery Season 2. There’s the implication that we’ll see Zora continue to evolve throughout the series, and possibly the Discovery may go back in time again to hide the dangerous data hidden aboard. It’s a thread that could pay off someday and be laid out directly, or it could just be a cool easter egg for hardcore Trek fans. Discovery’s not afraid to play with its own mythos at this point, after all, and it’s having so much fun doing it.
Saru eventually decides on throwing a celebratory meal for his crew, offering them a chance to reflect on how far they’ve come. There’s good material here for major characters like Stamets (Anthony Rapp), Tilly (Mary Wiseman), and Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), as well as more minor characters like Detmer (Emily Coutts), Nhan (Rachael Ancheril), and Linus (David Benjamin Tomlinson). They all play off each other wonderfully, and it’s so rare to see this much of the crew together but not on working on the Bridge or dealing with an imminent threat.
In particular, Detmer has an emotional arc within this episode as she slowly accepts that she needs medical attention for her mental health issues. Her arc has been in the background of the last couple episodes, and Emily Coutts does a great job portraying her frustration and exhaustion. As well, Culber (Wilson Cruz) gets to be a comforting Doctor to both Detmer and others. He gives the opening voiceover to this episode, and quietly watches over everyone, just as much as Saru or Zora.
Meanwhile, this week’s planetside story sees Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) escorting Adira (Blu del Barrio) to Trill, where Adira can literally confront their own trauma. Trill is now run by a shithead isolationist government, and Burnham makes it her personal mission to fight for Adira’s bodily autonomy and dismantle the government come hell or high water. It’s the classic Star Trek trope of “damn the Prime Directive, these people are doing society wrong and I’ve got to fix it!”. It feels especially pointed and necessary in 2020 though that xenophobic societies are condemned outright.
Adira gets to learn and relearn their own backstory by properly joining with the Tal symbiont and meeting the previous Tal hosts in a metaphysical plane made possible by a pool of strange space goo. There’s a wonderful introduction to a queer romance here. We see Adira and Gray Tal (Ian Alexander), a former Tal host, traveling together and falling in love before Gray dies tragically.
Though Adira takes on the symbiont to keep him alive with them, it feels like Discovery wants to have its cake and eat it too. Discovery’s first instinct with every queer character has been to kill them or their partner off, and I’m so tired of it. Sure, they did a similar thing with Culber and eventually brought him back. He inhabited a similar science-fictional metaphysical plane, showing up as part memory and part reality to guide Stamets during the first half of Season 2. But I want queer characters and love and romance in Star Trek! Without deaths or metaphysical science-fictional conceits or homophobia or transphobia!
Ultimately, I’m not surprised; I’m just disappointed. I’m disappointed that Discovery has come so far and grown so much over the three seasons, but the creative team is still doing things like this. I’m disappointed that we get the first trans man in Star Trek and we have to see him fucking impaled 10 minutes later. I’m disappointed that I couldn’t get emotionally involved in this queer love story because I knew it was going to end tragically! And I’m disappointed at how often this happens in media.
Sure, they bring Gray back as a Trill Symbiont ghost for Adira to interact with, a la Force Ghosts in Star Wars, but that’s not enough. There’s a heartwarming moment between the two of them towards the end of the episode, and I’ve seen other queer Trekkers sharing their own complicated feelings about it. For my part, I need and deserve better trans and queer representation. Discovery has shown time and again a willingness to listen and adapt to criticism, and I hope to see their treatment of queer characters evolve. It won’t be enough for them to bring Gray back to life or give Adira their own (living) queer romance. We deserve to meet queer characters in the future who don’t get killed or have their partners killed, or have their identities saddled with metaphorical science-fictional baggage. We deserve a Star Trek that has the guts to show proper queer and trans love and characters.