Given that this past weekend was Mother’s Day in nearly a hundred countries across the world, I wanted to talk a bit about motherhood in Star Trek, but that’s kind of an enormous topic that really requires a pretty deep dive and more in-depth treatment than a single column can provide. However, given that Star Trek: Picard spent its final season exploring fatherhood, I didn’t particularly want to scrap the idea entirely because even though the series so strongly focuses on found family as a theme, parenthood remains an important source of tension in the show. Mothers are a big part of that. From fiercely protective Beverly Crusher to Lwaxana Troi’s problematic intensity to Icheb’s terrible mother, Trek yields a surprisingly deep and varied portrayal of motherhood in the future.
That said, I happen to think that one of the most interesting portrayals of motherhood is one we get mostly by implication rather than by substantial appearance, and moreover, four different actresses have gotten the opportunity to portray her, meaning we get vastly different versions of the character, depending on the actress and the vision of the show in which she appears. Most of the time, Amanda Grayson serves as a facilitator for another character’s story, be that Spock, Sarek, or most recently, Michael Burnham.
While we hear about her as early as “The Cage,” we don’t meet the Lady Amanda until Jane Wyatt graces our screens in “Journey to Babel,” and in many ways, the character we see there is a product of her time. Most of her role there is to serve as mediator and peacemaker between her husband and son, whose tense relationship will become a plot point through two franchise installments. Wyatt’s Amanda is intelligent and witty, and we get a glimpse of steel in her backbone when she stands up to her husband in Spock’s defense. Admittedly, she later slaps Spock when he refuses to help his father, which while not entirely great parenting, seems to come from the same place of frustration we glimpsed when she criticized Sarek’s handling of the estrangement. Wyatt gets a chance to build on that strength in Star Trek IV: the Voyage Home when she has Spock’s reeducation program ask him how he feels, and even though we only get a scene with her, Wyatt’s Amanda dominates that sequence because she gives us a mother who loves her son enough to ask him to embrace the duality of his nature.
The Star Trek: The Animated Series episode “Yesteryear,” while one of the better episodes, erodes some of this fire. Majel Barrett’s version of the Lady Amanda is more traditionally feminine, and she very much toes the line established by Sarek. Interestingly enough, Dorothy D.C. Fontana wrote the scripts for both “Journey to Babel” and “Yesteryear,” and while we get some consistent characterization of both Spock and Sarek, the Amanda of “Yesteryear” feels much younger than the Amanda of “Journey to Babel.” Obviously, this difference makes sense given that a couple of decades elapse between “Yesteryear” and “Journey to Babel,” but the difference is extreme enough that it’s hard to see how we get from the Lady Amanda to the Amanda who tells her son to embrace his human half.
The answer to that question may lie with Mia Kirshner’s version of the character from Star Trek: Discovery. Kirshner’s Amanda is intelligent, capable, and apparently none too fussed about being a law-abiding citizen of the Federation. She steals Spock’s medical records, absconds with her husband’s ship, and generally does what she thinks is best for her son. Admittedly, she’s not always great about affording Burnham the same priority, but it’s clear that she loves both of her children with an incredible fierceness.
In none of her incarnations is Amanda Grayson perfect, which is why she’s such an interesting character. Even though she largely serves to deepen or drive other characters’ stories, these actresses and writers still give us enough information about her to see her for who she is. She’s flawed and deeply, gloriously human. While I wish we got the chance to learn more about Amanda’s activities and life outside of her family, we do see enough of Amanda to get the sense that she’s got drive and determination in spades. Spock may have gotten his pointed ears and logic from Sarek, but he gets his grit from his mother.
Stray Thoughts From Behind the Keyboard
- Yes, yes, I realize that I didn’t touch on Winona Ryder’s Amanda from the 2009 movie. I’d argue that her presence in that film serves only to give Spock a reason to care about Vulcan, so discussing her version doesn’t really add much to the column.