Star Trek Discovery Deals with Trauma and Recovery in “Forget Me Not”

Here is the latest installment in my ongoing episode by episode reviews of season 3 of Star Trek Discovery. Reviews of previous episodes may be found here.

Warning: Spoilers behind the cut!

“Forget Me Not” once again continues where last week’s episode left off, as the Discovery crew attempts to unravel the mystery of their newest crewmember Adira. To recap, Adira is a young human who was bonded with a Trill symbiont that once inhabited Starfleet admiral Sanna Tal. And since Sanna Tal knows where Starfleet moved their headquarters, talking to Tal’s symbiont is of vital importance to the Discovery crew. There is only one problem. Adira can’t access Tal’s memories and also has no memories of their own life prior to bonding with Tal.

Doctor Pollard and Doctor Culber examine Adira and decide that they are physically healthy, even though they do find it rather worrying that the symbiont is wrapped around Adira’s heart. “It protects me”, Adira declares.

Since the Discovery crew knows very little about Trill symbionts and Trill biology (though AV Club reviewer Zack Handlen points out that the Discovery shouldn’t be familiar with the Trill at all, since they showed up at a later point in the Star Trek timeline), they decide to take Adira to the Trill homeworld to see if the Trill can help. The Trill are actually happy to see the Discovery (which is a first for this season), since they haven’t seen a Starfleet ship for a long time now. They are even happier when they hear that the Discovery has a Trill symbiont and its host on board, for the Burn had the Trills badly and left many symbionts stranded around the galaxy, unable to come home. The Burn also killed off many suitable hosts, so there are now not enough hosts for all symbionts. So the return of any symbiont to the fold is a reason for the Trill to rejoice.

Initially, Doctor Culber, with whom Adira has bonded, is supposed to accompany them. But Culber thinks that Michael would make a better travelling companion. A doctor is not really needed for the mission and Culber feels that Michael, who has after all spent a whole year lost and alone in a world she doesn’t understand, would be better able to support Adira who is similarly lost.

The exchange between Michael and Culber in her quarters has some nice character moments in an episode that is brimming with nice character moments. Culber notes that Michael’s quarters look different, less barren than before. And the new bedspread and the various decorative items likely are mementos of her travels with Book. Culber also tells Michael point blank that she is a “responsibility hoarder”, which is so absolutely accurate. In turn, Michael confesses that she still isn’t sure if Discovery is her home anymore, though she’s trying to fit in.

So Michael and Adira take a shuttle down to the Trill homeworld. I actually thought that this was the first time we’ve ever seen the Trill homeworld, but according to Tor.com reviewer Keith R.A. DeCandido, we’ve seen it before in a Deep Space Nine episode entitled “Equilibrium”. Now I never cared for Deep Space Nine and only watched it on and off, so it’s quite possible I never saw that episode. However, “Equilibrium” aired early in season 3 of Deep Space Nine, when I was still watching and waiting for it to get better, and the plot synopsis does ring a vague bell. So maybe I simply forgot about it, like I’ve forgotten about ninety percent of those Deep Space Nine episodes I actually watched.

Anyway, the Trill homeworld looks supiciously like a botanic garden. Michael and Adira are initially greeted by a delegation of very polite Trill dignitaries, who suddenly become a lot less polite, once they realise that Adira is the host of the symbiont Tal, because non-Trills hosting symbionts – now that is utterly unheard of (apparently, the Trill completely forgot about the Next Generation episode “The Host”, where Riker briefly hosted a Trill symbiont. It’s certainly understandable, because “The Host” is not very good). Adira being unable to give the names of Tal’s previous hosts doesn#t help either.

One of the Trill dignitaries thinks that taking Adira to the sacred symbiont caves might help, but the others vehemently disagree, because the caves are sacred and not intended for outsiders. Another Trill dignity thinks Adira is an abomination and wants to forcibly remove the symbiont from them, which would likely kill them. Michael makes it very clear that she will not condone any course of action that endangers Adira’s life. The Trill leader, an elderly black woman, finally declares that no, the Trill will not forcibly separate a symbiont and its host, but neither will they tolerate an outsider in their sacred caves. So the Trill leader orders Michael and Adira to leave the planet.

Some of the Trill escort Michael and Adira back to their shuttle, but Michael quickly figures out that they are being lured into an ambush by the Trill radical who wants to forcibly remove the symbiont from Adira. She takes out a couple of armed guards and the Trill radical. Another Trill dignity shows up and Michael holds him at phaser point, until he confesses that he wants to help and take Michael and Adira to the sacred caves. Because Trill society is on the brink of collapse with more and more symbionts left without suitable hosts. If non-Trill can host symbionts, it might save the Trill.

The Trill saves turn out to be glowy pools of water, where symbionts frollick about, when they’re not bonded to a host. The Trill dignitary tells Adira to go into the water to communicate with their symbiont and hopefully regain their memories as well as the symbiont’s. Meanwhile, Michael and the Trill monitor Adira’s lifesigns. All goes seemingly well, until the rest of the Trill dignitaries show up, very pissed off that one of their number took outsiders to the sacred caves. There is a stand-off and an argument, which is interrupted by Adira suddenly sinking into the pool, while their lifesigns go off the charts.

The Trill finally allow Michael to step into the sacred pool and rescue Adira. Michael finds herself in a glowy CGI wonderland full of tentacly things, which keep trying to connect to a terrified Adira. Michael deduced that these tentacles must be the symbiont and tells Adira to let them connect. And now we finally get Adira’s story in a series of flashbacks.

Adira used to live aboard a generation ship looking for the Federation. Their boyfriend Gray was Trill and hosted the Tal symbiont after the previous host Admiral Sanna Tal died. Adira and Gray were happy and in love, even though Adira was freaked out by Gray suddenly displaying new skills like playing the cello, which he had never been able to do before. Gray reassures Adira that he is still himself in spite of the symbiont. Adira presents Gray with a present, a handmade memory quilt, when tragedy strikes. The ship is struck by a meteorite. Adira and Gray’s quarters are damaged and Gray is mortally wounded. His symbiont is unharmed, but needs to be transferred to a suitable host as soon as possible. Adira volunteers out of love for Gray. So the reason for Adira’s amnesia was not incompatibility with the symbiont, but the trauma of losing Gray.

Adira can now access the memories of the symbiont and see all previous hosts, including Gray and Admiral Tal. Adira and Michael emerge from the pool and Adira can now name all the previous hosts. The Trill apologise for their smallmindedness and offer Adira to remain on Trill. They also express interest in rejoining the Federation, should it ever get back on its feet again. Adira, however, wants to remain aboard Discovery and help them find Starfleet headquarters, the location of which they conveniently remembered. Adira can also see Gray all the time now, not just in the sacred cave, which is not supposed to be possible. The episode ends with Adira and Gray playing the cello together.

There is also a B-plot which involves the psychological impact that travelling 900 years into an unknown future had upon the Discovery crew. Doctor Culber has been tasked with monitoring the health of the crew and reports that while everybody is physically healthy, their stress levels are through the roof because of PTSD. Culber, who should know a thing or two about trauma after getting killed, getting stuck in the spore network and coming back to life, also notices that something is up with Kayla Dettmer and tells her that she can talk to him, if she needs it. She refuses – for now.

Saru is understandably concerned for the mental health of his crew and wants to make them feel better, but he isn’t quite sure how. So he asks the computer for advice – a nice callback to season 1, when Saru briefly found himself in charge of Discovery, when Lorca got captured by the Klingons, and asked the computer what a good captain would do. The computer suggests funny movies, a homecooked dinner and some time off. Oh yes, the the infodump sphere seems to have merged with Discovery‘s computer and the computer is developing a personality as a result. This could be good or bad. On the other hand, it’s Star Trek and artificial intelligences in Star Trek are always evil, unless named Data.

Saru decides to go with the dinner idea and invites Stamets, Culber, Tilly, Nhan, Linus, the bridge crew and even Philippa Georgiou (who would probably prefer to see Saru as the main course) to a feast in the style of his homeworld. At first, everything goes well. Saru holds a speech, Georgiou is not too insolent and everybody is making up haikus on the spot, to the confusion of Nhan, whose homeworld apparently doesn’t do haiku or poetry. There are some tensions between Stamets and Tilly, because Saru had ordered Stamets to find an alternative system to allow Discovery to control the spore drive, should Stamets be incapacitated again, and Stamets blew off Tilly’s suggestion to look into dark matter.

The tensions quickly come to a head, not between Stamets and Tilly, but between Stamets and Dettmer. Cause it turns out that Dettmer is really pissed off that everybody pays so much attention to Stamets and takes her for granted, even though Dettmer is the one who actually flies the ship. There is shouting and then Dettmer storms out. Owosegun goes after her as does the rest of the bridge crew. Culber goes after Stamets and everybody else leaves as well, while Saru sits dejected among the remnants of his feel-good dinner. To be fair, Saru’s awkward dinner has nothing against the dinner party in Lois McMaster Bujold’s A Civil Campaign, which is still the gold standard for awkward dinner parties in science fiction.

Tilly eventually comes back tells Saru that shouting matches at the dinner table were just another Tuesday in her family. Stamets apologises to Tilly, Dettmer finally talks to Culber, Linus brings Georgiou popcorn and in the end, everybody watches an Buster Keaton silent comedy in the shuttle bay and sings kumbaya.

“Forget Me Not” is a perfectly fine Star Trek Discovery episode full of nice character moments, but it also feels very much like filler. And so I was quite surprised that a lot of reviewers such as James Whitbrook at io9 or Keith R.A. DeCandido at Tor.com seem to rank it quite highly. Though Camestros Felapton is also rather meh on the episode.

Maybe the problem is with me. I simply wasn’t in the mood for Star Trek yesterday. Right now, there are things I want to write a lot more than a review of an okay Star Trek Discovery episode. There is a three quarters finished blogpost that I didn’t get finished in time and I really want to get back to that. Another problem might be that I simply don’t find the Trill very interesting. Most of what we know about them we learned in Deep Space Nine and that will always be my least favourite Star Trek show. Never mind that the Trill plot boiled down to a repeat of last week’s “Insularity is bad, cooperation is good” message. Which I actually agree with, but do we really need to repeat that every single episode?

That said, I do like Adira and Gray. They make for a sweet young couple, though I’m not sure whether the advance hype surrounding Star Trek‘s first non-binary character (Adira as played by Blu del Barrio) and fist trans character (Gray as played by Ian Alexander) did this plotline any favours, because a lot of viewers were probably expecting the gender identity of the characters and actors to matter more than it ultimately does, especially since everybody uses “she” pronouns for Adira (Blu del Barrio explains the reason for this in this interview), though I’ll continue to use “they” for now. Adira and Gray are simply a young couple in love, who happen to be played by a non-binary and a trans actor and that’s perfectly fine. Because non-binary and trans people exist and not every story needs to be about their identity. Gavia Baker-Whitelaw points out that the fact that Gray basically gets ten minutes of screentime, before he gets killed, doesn’t help either, especially not after Doctor Culber was unceremoniously killed off after only a few episodes and only a handful of scenes with Stamets. And yes, I know Doctor Culber got better and yes, I know that Gray came back as a ghost or whatever he is, but honestly, Discovery, maybe you could just let LGBTQ characters live for once?

What is more, I’m not sure if Discovery really needs any more characters, especially since we know almost nothing about many of the regulars. This episode does a good job in giving underserved characters like Doctor Culber or Kayla Dettmer some screentime, but there are still so many characters we know next to nothing about. What do we know about Bryce, Rhys and Nielsen except for their names? For that matter, what do we know about Nhan? Doctor Pollard? Linus?

Furthermore, of the new Discovery characters, I actually find Book a lot more interesting than Adira and Gray. Because precocious teens are not exactly a rarity in Star Trek and often not handled well, even though this particular precocious teen happens to share their body and mind with a hundreds of years old symbiont. Meanwhile, Book is an example of an old science fiction stock character, the space rogue, but one we haven’t seen a lot of in Star Trek so far.

Next episode, it seems that Discovery finally finds Starfleet headquarters (hurray!), but again is given a rather cold welcome (boo!) and will probably deliver another round of “Insularity is bad, cooperation is good”, just in case we haven’t gotten the message yet.

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7 Responses to Star Trek Discovery Deals with Trauma and Recovery in “Forget Me Not”

  1. Pingback: Star Trek Discovery: Forget Me Not (S3E4) – Camestros Felapton

  2. Steve Wright says:

    The memory quilt struck something of a chord – I hope it’s not as, err, dramatic as the Dorothy Quick version….

    • Cora says:

      So I’m not the only person who immediately thought of Dorothy Quick’s haunted patchwork quilt as soon as Adira pulled out the memory quilt.

  3. Peer says:

    The trill can somehow use a former life projection, which only they can see. No, it’s not really explained, but there was a murder mystery in DS9 were Dax uses her former killer host (introduced in Equilibrium that IIRC also showed the caves) This way to fight crime. She needed a Yoga ritual to do so, but I guess the caves could have done that as well.

    • Cora says:

      Like I said, I haven’t seen all of Deep Space Nine and I also remember less of it than of other Trek series, so I’ll take your word for it. And of course, the fact that Adira is human and was in a romantic relationship with the previous host might help them see him as well.

      • Peer says:

        Yes maybe. Probably even, considering some of the other continuity problems regarding Trills (like Riker being a human, Daxs murder trill had been removed and was prrof that you dont need a special host), I guess they would go for this rather than the continiuity solution.

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