USS Discovery

“Forget Me Not”: Growth from Trauma

Marie Brownhill
Game Industry News is running the best blog posts from people writing about the game industry. Articles here may originally appear on Marie's blog, Fan Collective Unimatrix 47.

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!

The plot of one of TNG’s best episodes, “The Inner Light,” can be summarized in a single sentence: an alien probe gives Captain Picard the chance to live an entire lifetime. However, reading that synopsis fails to convey the depth of beauty of that episode. “Forget Me Not” follows in that tradition. While there is comparatively little plot, “Forget Me Not” does something Star Trek traditionally has not done, confront the collective trauma of space exploration. Discovery’s crew successfully prevented Control from acquiring the Sphere Data, and now, they much live with the consequences of that decision. “Forget Me Not” is a delicate character story about how the fierce crew copes with the adrenaline crash and the enormity of the task that lies ahead of them.

Plot Ahoy!

Because they cannot access Tal’s memories, Adira agrees with Saru and Burnham that they need to go to Trill to see if the Trill can offer aid. The Discovery jumps to Trill, where they receive a promising welcome, and Adira and Burnham take a shuttle to the surface. Captain Saru takes advantage of the downtime to suggest to Stamets and Ensign Tilly that they develop an interface for the spore drive that does not require Stamets’ presence. Tilly approaches an obviously agitated Stamets to suggest they could use Dark Matter energy somehow to create to punch into spore space, and Stamets rudely quashes her ideas. In the Captain’s Ready Room, Saru and Dr. Culber evaluate the overall health and wellbeing of the crew to discover that the crew’s mental health teeters dangerously on the brink of breakdown.

On the planet, Adira and Burnham meet with the Trill head of state, their spiritual head, and various dignitaries. The Trill are shocked to learn that Adira hosts Tal. They explain that the Burn decimated the numbers of Trill who could host, so there are currently more symbionts than viable hosts among the Trill, and no other joining with a non-Trill species has been successful. Commissioner Vos demands a forced separation, but Guardian Xi protests, leaving Leader Pav to conclude that Burnham and Adira should leave Trill immediately. They follow Commissioner Vos, and Burnham notes that the route they take is not the route back to their shuttlecraft. Vos rounds on them and explains that he intends to force a separation, but before he can get too terribly far, Burnham stuns his soldiers. Vos refuses to direct them to the Caves of Mak’ala, so Burnham stuns him as well. Guardian Xi appears and explains that not only will he take them to the Caves but will also help Adira because he believes that she will be the future for the symbionts.

Aboard Discovery, Saru attempts to decide on a course of action that will help his crew, and his searches of the computer’s databanks has failed to provide adequate guidance. Suddenly, the computer screen shifts red and throws up an image of the sphere data, and the computer suggests that Saru host a meal for his bridge crew and offer the rest of the crew some much needed “R and R.” While the dinner begins with some awkwardness, Philippa Georgiou kicks off a haiku competition that Keyla Detmer spectacularly ruins with a somewhat hysterical attempt at turning Stamets’ injury into the source for her haiku.

In the Caves of Mak’ala, Adira must face their memories of how they came to be joined to Tal, which involved the death of their beloved Gray. However, Adira refuses to do so, and Burnham must enter the pools to lead Adira out of the emotional quagmire. Burnham finds Adira and notices that Tal seems to want Adira to remember, and when Adira protests, she reminds them that they must face the memories, no matter how painful they are in order to move beyond the pain. When they accept this memory, all of Tal’s hosts, including Gray, come to welcome Adira as the next host. Burnham and Adira surface, and the Trill accept Adira as Adira Tal. Leader Pav offers to mentor Adira, but Adira opts to remain with Discovery.

In the aftermath of Saru’s disastrous dinner party, Tilly returns to explain to Saru that while the meal did not conclude peacefully, he did help to remind the bridge crew of what they meant to each other. Stamets joins them and apologizes to Tilly. Detmer makes her way to Sickbay to ask Dr. Culber to help her work through her pain, and the crew collects in the shuttlebay to watch some of Buster Keaton’s comedy. In their quarters, Adira hands Burnham a tablet containing instructions on how to find the Federation’s new headquarters. Burnham leaves as Adira begins to play the cello, and Gray appears to Adira. He corrects their form, as Discovery forges ahead in its search for the Federation.

Analysis

The TL;DR version of the synopsis is simply that Adira gets Tal’s memories back, and the crew copes with trauma. Unfortunately, that sentence and even the foregoing paragraphs fail to convey just how beautiful this episode is. Rich colors saturate the shots of the Trill homeworld, Adira’s metaphorical experiences in the Caves of Mak’ala, and even Saru’s table with just enough CGI to hint at the alienness of the landscapes. Visually, the sets serve to enclose the scenes. Most of the action takes place in enclosed rooms—Engineering, Sickbay, Saru’s ready-room, and the Caves of Mak’ala. The camera angles reinforce the smallness of these spaces. Even the lush forests of Trill reduce the amount of space available to the actors, serving to reinforce the intimacy of the story.

Make no mistake, “Forget Me Not” is story about intimate relationships, be those friendships, mentor relationships, the bond between a Captain and his crew, intimate partner relationships, and even within the characters themselves. The episode opens with Dr. Culber’s log entry overlaying visuals of him performing exams on the crew, and he discusses the difficulties inherent in addressing the mental well-being of a crew of hyper-driven, overachieving personnel. He concludes that many of these personnel are refusing to acknowledge their pain, which is the issue he brings to Saru. Saru’s own stress stems from wanting to care for his crew but not knowing entirely how best to do so. Saru’s request to Stamets is an understandable one because the ship does need to be able to jump in the event Stamets is incapacitated, but Saru either fails to recognize how that request affects Stamets or simply does not understand how to address the issue. That failure triggers Stamets’ shortness with Tilly. Tilly’s frustration with Stamets colors how she handles Detmer’s outburst at dinner. Each one of these events snowballs into something greater because no one has yet addressed the weight of the trauma that’s crushing them all.

Culber taps Burnham to accompany Adira, which proves prescient, but Culber’s reasoning points to how aware he is of the crew’s struggles to process their trauma and hopefully grow from it. He selects Burnham precisely because she currently struggles to find her place aboard Discovery and in this new future, just as Adira has begun to do. In so doing, he gives both characters a lifeline, a connection that they both have been missing. Adira’s discussion with Burnham on the way to the shuttlebay reveals that they understand the necessity of this, but Burnham is a bit of a harder sell. However, over the course of their adventures on Trill, Burnham can focus on being strong for Adira in addition to securing Admiral Tal’s message for the ship. She also gets a chance to watch Adira begin the process of growing from trauma, and hopefully, being a witness to that helps her along on her own journey.

In the Caves, Adira must make peace with their grief over their partner Gray’s death, which is the trauma that not only causes Adira’s joining with Tal but also informs her transformation. The rich palette that characterized the rest of the episode disappears into a more muted one for Adira’s flashbacks, driving the focus onto Gray and the raw emotion portrayed by both Blu del Barrio and Ian Alexander. Much of Gray remains in shadow, fittingly for a character who exists in memories and as a ghost. Adira, on the other hand, dwells within a stark, uncompromising light that allows us to see all of the emotions play out on their face, and Blu del Barrio gives a remarkably nuanced portrayal. They show us not only Adira’s youth but also the depths of their emotion in all the best of ways, so we feel their grief at Gray’s death. Afterward, del Barrio gives us a more settled Adira, one who knows who they are, and without the agony of that trauma, that acceptance would lack the impact it has. Adira begins to grow into themself due to the transformative nature of that trauma, of which the symbiont is a symbol.

Saru, as Tilly points out, has to grow into his own leadership style, and Stamets must also continue his personal journey of growth into a less prickly version of his best self. Tilly is correct when she observes that however they grow, the Discovery crew must embark on that path together. They have no one else, so much like Burnham who now works outside of traditional Federation protocols, the version of the Federation Discovery will come to represent will be different from the version they left back in 2258. Discovery has also begun to transform into the Zora personality we saw in “Calypso;” she helps Saru because she, too, is on the same journey. Change is inevitable, and the process is almost never easy. “Forget Me Not” reminds us of both of those facts while still offering us hope in the form of a star map.

Gray’s fate is the single discordant note in the episode. While I understand that separation between host and symbiont is always fatal to the host, choosing to have Gray die and then return in the form of a symbiont ghost is problematic. Ian Alexander is a trans man, and Alexander’s character has been identified as the franchise’s first transgender character. While Gray’s appearance at the episode’s conclusion indicates that the show does not intend to fridge him just yet, in light of the unfortunate prevalence of violence against trans people, this choice is, as they say, not a good look for the franchise. I am willing to trust the showrunners and writers’ room that this will be a valuable narrative choice, but Gray’s death leaves me a little uncomfortable.

Rating:

Four Cups of Earl Grey Tea

Stray Thoughts From the Couch:

  1. I suspect Gray’s continued ghostly presence has to do with Adira’s inability to let him go, and I’m guessing that had their joining been more traditional, the Trill would not have allowed Adira to take Gray’s symbiont. If the Trill frowned on relationships between new hosts (“Rejoined”), I can only imagine that Adira’s relationship with Gray would have disqualified them from receiving Tal.
  2. Once again, we get to see a former Federation planet descending into isolationism. Leader Pav calls Adira a threat to Trill ideals, literally all their society has left, and “Forget Me Not” does its best as an episode to call out the Trill ideals as being flawed. Having Commissioner Vos not apologize per se but acknowledge their wrongdoing sends a strong message. The episode does not exactly contain a line that calls out the Trill ideals as flawed, but both the plot and the episode’s themes leave no doubt that their ideology is unwelcome in Discovery’s universe. However, in true Trek form, Burnham and Adira lead by example and accept the Trill’s offer of friendship pursuant to a valid promise to change. There’s a lesson there, people.
  3. I’m also betting that Adira Tal will have one heck of a zhian’tara.
  4. Re: Adira, we still have no explanation as to how Adira survived the joining so easily beyond “trust” and “acceptance.” Sorry, Riker. Odan didn’t like you.
  5. Bad Trill government for misgendering Adira!
  6. I also love this resolution for Keyla Detmera’s occasional dissociations. Tilly correctly states that none of them have a monopoly on pain, but we do see Detmer ask for help. At no point is that sequence played off as shameful or something to be hidden. Detmer literally walks through a darkened corridor to the threshold of Culber’s brightly lit Sickbay, which is an unsubtle visual metaphor for her mental state, but even though we do not see her take the step into the threshold, I have faith she will. Also, that hug from Stamets. So good, Anthony Rapp!
  7. Philippa Georgiou remains a gift, and I will die on this hill.

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