"Light and Shadows" is a connective-tissue piece-moving episode, rather than the more episodic-blended-with-serialized outing that has more typified season two. It's significantly better than "Point of Light," despite being only a brisk 40 minutes long, because it takes time to breathe and deal with its characters and — well, it doesn't have anything to do with the Klingons.
Connective tissue was what season one often lacked. Characters would drop off the map and then show up again under new circumstances, and it felt sometimes like we were missing entire episodes. Season two has been an improvement in this regard. "Light and Shadows" moves perhaps implausibly quickly in one regard: It moves Burnham from ship to planet to ship seemingly instantly. But if you're going to skip over something, it might as well be travel time. (I'm reminded of the narrative adjustments to travel time in Game of Thrones, where season one spent half a season crossing Westeros, whereas by season seven, we were crossing the continent in between scenes of a single episode. It's certainly something that feels a little off, but I can't really complain too much that we didn't have a bunch of extra scenes camping out on the wagon trail.)
Still, sometimes this felt like temporal displacement, like in the DS9 finale when (vague descriptions to avoid spoilers for the uninitiated who should go and watch that series) an entire fleet went and did something massive and then returned, and then we had an entire aftermath — while two other characters apparently had spent the same amount of time hanging out in some caves. It's best to think of these things as scenes that happened at roughly the same time but perhaps maybe not exactly simultaneously covering the same duration. But Discovery has shown improvement in not being so messy with its fast-moving multiple narratives.
Here we finally meet Spock (Ethan Peck), who after all this time it turns out has been hidden in not-quite plain sight on Vulcan by his mother Amanda. Burnham returns home looking for clues, but instead she solves the mystery — well, the first of several, at least. We get a look into the challenging logic-versus-emotion family dynamics surrounding Sarek/Amanda/Spock/Michael (the last of whom has been retconned into all this).
The story avoids us actually meeting Spock for yet another week by having him in the middle of a complete mental breakdown. While he's spouting gibberish, we instead deal mostly with the feelings of Amanda, Sarek, and Michael. This works to a degree, but I must admit I've never been hugely compelled by this dynamic, and nothing here changes my mind. At the very least, this allows the finding of Spock to be rooted in some characterization that plays on long Trekkian histories, albeit without adding much. And while I appreciate this show using its prequel nature to try to delve into some franchise-defining backstory, it never rises much above the passable in terms of drama. I will say that Spock's appearance here, in being so intentionally underplayed as a revelatory moment, and still mostly postponed by his mental break, manages to not thud to the ground the way I have been predicting. But I'm hoping once we do get into Spock's right mind, we get something interesting.
The other plot going on here involves a temporal anomaly that appears in orbit of Kaminar (which the story establishes is where Discovery still is, then proceeds to completely ignore what's happening on the planet in the wake of the massive Kelpien/Ba'ul upheaval unleashed in last week's "The Sound of Thunder," which is borderline criminal). Strange things are-a-happenin', but it's hard to know what exactly, because technobabble, temporal interference, and whatever-something.
The investigation takes Pike — apparently the most qualified expert in this sort of shuttle flight — along with Section 31's Ash Tyler into the anomaly to investigate. What they find are a lot of weird temporal things going on, most notably when the Discovery's own probe has apparently returned from the future with some rather nasty AI modifications that attack them, while also sending malware up into the Discovery computer, which is protected by anti-virus software — but cyborg (or whatever she is) Airiam's eyes flash ominously. This attack from the future, coupled with the belief that the Red Angel is also traveling through time to interfere in history, raises the question of what and who all are messing with the timeline. (It's too early to say, but sprawling timeline plots are minefields; look no further than the inconclusive, nonsensical, and ultimately abandoned status of Enterprise's Temporal Cold War.)
Regarding the characters, the problem with Tyler is that his appointment as the ship's resident Section 31 officer was so clearly contrived and unearned that now he just comes across as an asshole interloper when he tries to give Pike suggestions that seem like orders — or, when that fails, tries to guilt-trip him into doing something. Making Tyler Section 31 was better than trying to shoehorn in some sort of terrible ongoing plotline on Kronos, but they honestly would've been better off just leaving the character behind, because his role on the ship feels extraneous (and often obnoxious) and I don't buy that he would've been given this assignment in the first place, even if Georgiou has Section 31 in her pocket somehow. Tyler's role is employment based purely on the economy of him being one of the regular characters from season one that they decided to reboot after his original story concluded.
And on a related note, how has MU Georgiou become this all-knowing Section 31 badass who can out-maneuver her own boss at every turn? I guess I can buy Section 31 looking for talent in weird places, but how has she grown so powerful so quickly, and why hasn't this awesome black-ops organization kept her under better control? How does she have so much information, including the secret that (dun-dun-dun!) Leland is responsible for the deaths of Burnham's parents? (This is information Georgiou intends to use to lord over him.)
I do like that Georgiou's motives are more gray, and that she warns Burnham (once she comes aboard the Section 31 ship with Spock) that Section 31 intends to mind-probe Spock for information in a way that's not going to preserve the well-being of his brain. This leads to a fun little caper where Georgiou allows Burnham to escape the ship while maintaining plausible deniability that she masterminded the whole thing. I enjoyed the staged fight that they make look real enough for the security cameras.
But really, this episode was engineered basically to get Spock out of hiding, and move things along to next week's apparent visit to Talos IV (coordinates of which Burnham learns after decoding Spock's literally backward repetition of numbers), where we will apparently revisit elements of "The Cage." Now that's a gutsy-sounding enterprise. As piece-moving episodes go, this isn't too shabby, but it's not anything approaching conclusive, either.
Some other thoughts:
- Sarek urging Burnham to turn Spock over to Section 31 seems way too expediently plot-convenient. This is an ambassador with some significant political connections, so if there's any chance these murder charges against Spock are bogus — which hovers at about 100 percent at this point — he should be back-channeling through Starfleet to get to the truth. But instead, he's going to trust Section 31 to do the right thing? Come on.
- The computer virus that apparently hacks into Airiam does not strike before the episode ends. That's our cue to consider this a case of Chekhov's Cameron's Dad's Classic Ferrari. This would have more impact if we had the slightest clue about Airiam's background or alien nature. This series' tendency to prioritize plot so much higher than its supporting cast is probably its greatest flaw.
- Pike's and Tyler's adventure on the shuttle ends with them reaching some Mutual Respect and Understanding. I still think Tyler is too dull to have warranted being brought back to Discovery in such a contrived manner, but here's hoping for improvement.
- There's a fair amount of plot silliness in this episode, but I'm enjoying Discovery consistently enough to say this is shaping up to be a pretty good season so far. Of course, when you play the serial long game, there's still plenty of opportunity to fumble the ball in your opponent's territory.