“Let’s go to Trill!”
Star Trek: Discovery S3E4, “Forget Me Not” is an absolute marvel of emotional revelation and series spanning continuity. These are my favorite types of Star Trek episodes: all world building, culture, and emotional connection. Add in the fact that the main plot focuses on an emotionally fraught dinner and a single cast member, one who happens to also be joined with Trill symbiote, and the entire experience is a greatest hits of my personal favorite parts of the entire Star Trek franchise.
The excellent script for “Forget Me Not”; by Alan B. McElroy, Chris Silvestri, and Anthony Maranville, hinges on two major threads: the trip to Trill to recover the memories of Adira (Blu Del Barrio) and processing the emotional trauma of the crew. The emotional journey starts from the teaser (or cold open depending on your screenwriting preference).
Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) is concerned over the emotional status of the entire crew. From the perspective of the Discovery crew they are all basically shipwrecked on the most remote island imaginable. It is populated, but they know nothing of the history and culture of the people, and they will never have any hope of getting home. (I do wonder if there will one day be an episode that explores why they have no hope of time traveling back. The show runners have said that they are committing to the future based story, and I want it to be true but I do feel that they could get some really interesting Voyager-esque stories out of trying.)
I love that the crew’s struggle with all of this is presented through Culber’s eyes. First, since he is the chief medical officer it just makes sense. But in addition to that, it gives Cruz a lot of opportunities to show a real depth and emotional range with the character. We have seen him in relationship struggles and in his own battle with being well…dead. Due to all of that trauma Culber is pretty much the perfect window to the struggles since he has seen it all before.
But Cruz gets to play it hopeful. He is saddened by the situation but still hopeful. The way Cruz lights up and smiles at various points throughout “Forget Me Not” adds an amazing sense of wonder to the proceedings too. Once Culber realizes what is wrong with the crew—that they have no sense of connection to anything anymore—he also starts Captain Saru (Doug Jones) down the road of trying to fix the situation, leading to what I think may go down as an all time classic scene.
Throughout Star Trek history there have been many episodes that center around the bridge crews of the various ships sitting down to dinner. This trope (in Trek as in many, many other dramatic works throughout history) is often hilarious and always an opportunity for character based discussion and conflict. Saru’s dinner is definitely no exception and I found it absolutely astounding in its ability to condense an enormous amount of character work into a single scene.
As I’ve been lamenting for awhile, many of the show’s characters still lack the time and development that I wish they had. In attending this dinner Owosekun, Nilsson, Linus, Bryce, Rhys, and Nhan all get some great little moments that go a very long way toward changing that all at once. While Detmer, Stamets, Culber, Tilly, and Georgiou get an amazing backdrop to work out their respective issues.
Well Georgiou doesn’t really have any issues. She just has some amazing moments where she stabs some food, recites a haiku, and ultimately takes a pitcher of wine as she departs with her bon mot, “Well at least the wine was good.” Michelle Yeoh is absolutely amazing and it can not be said enough. She doesn’t have a huge role in the plots, except for the effect of her haiku on the others. It starts as a fun and tension breaking time as various people around the table attempt to make their own, to various levels of success. Then Lt. Detmer (Emily Coutts) tries her hand and things go very very badly.
We have been watching Detmer slowly deteriorate since she piloted the ship through the wormhole and had to execute the crash landing afterwards. It has been clear that she has some form of post traumatic stress disorder, but up until now it has only been presented in short snippets. Coutts actually gets to play a wide range of emotions throughout S3E4 as she starts taking Detmer deeper and deeper into denial before finally breaking and it is captivating to watch. She starts creating the haiku but instead of something fun or innocuous, she turns on Stamets by making it about his critical injury that almost killed him back in “Such Sweet Sorrow Part 2”.
She never even gets it out, glitching and repeating herself over and over as she has a desperately disturbing, nearly psychotic, episode. She is vicious with Stamets in pointing out his arrogant and controlling impulses. She calls him out on the fact that they both have roles in controlling the ship but she is the actual pilot. He is equally destructive when he points out, “yeah, but you crashed it.” Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo) is finally able to get through to her friend and pulls her back. But this, unsurprisingly, destroys the vibe of the dinner party and everyone departs. Going so far does seem to finally spark something in Detmer though and she eventually finds Culber to start the healing process by talking about her issues. “Pilots are macho,” they agree, in a beautifully acted scene for both Coutts and Cruz.
Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Tilly (Mary Wiseman) have been having their own issues. Stamets, while not as arrogant and controlling as he was at the start of the series, definitely still has his moments of pettiness. He has been refusing to give up his control of the spore drive and his position as the only one who can navigate it and in so doing has been really terrible to Tilly and her perky but really smart ideas about how to run it differently. Their argument comes to a head at the dinner as well. Culber is eventually able to intercede and he and Tilly wind up deciding to work together to figure out a possible new solution. I love the two of them working together and despise when Stamets is in full on jackass mode, so this development is welcome and intriguing.
In the actual A-plot we get a fantastic trip back into Trill culture and through the mind of our newest character, Adira. It was revealed in the last episode that Adira was a human who has been joined with a Trill symbiote. It was thrilling that they didn’t waste much time discussing it and basically went directly to Trill to try to restore Adira’s (and Tal’s) memories. The Trill present a whole slew of fascinating storytelling opportunities. They allow the show to touch on issues of gender identity, of sense of self, of sexuality, of symbiotic relationships and so much more.
Deep Space Nine made a lot of these points over the course of the series through their Trill character Dax in both Jadzia and Ezri host forms (and as the “old man” Curzon too). In the DS9 documentary What We Left Behind Ira Steven Behr talks about how they had intended to use the character to explore gender and sexuality and while they did try (especially with the episode where Jadzia reconnects with her old, female, lover) he notes that they didn’t go as far as they had intended.
Discovery picks up that mantle and takes it in an incredibly important direction. Blu Del Barrio has talked about how they are non-binary and that Adira’s story will eventually explore their coming to understand that they are non-binary as well. So far the show has not gotten into that but the fluidity that is a given to the Trill could be an interesting lens through which they tell that tale. The character does not become non-binary by being joined and seeing their differing genders, but being joined and having different identities allows them to see that it is a natural part of life.
“Forget Me Not” goes even further than that though. When we learn how Adira and Tal were joined we are also introduced to the Trill who hosted Tal immediately previously, Gray (Ian Alexander). Gray and Adira were partners before he was joined with Tal and their relationship continued afterwards. Though it is uncommented upon in the episode, Gray is a transgender man, as is Alexander. Alexander and Del Barrio have incredible chemistry and the two or three scenes we see of them together allows for their deep connection to be shown.
It is a very intentional decision by the show to make this relationship and these characters central to the storyline and, even before the amazing moment when Adira recites all of her past names for the Trill elders, it makes this one of the most emotionally resonate episodes that Discovery has ever done. This is definitely an important step toward greater LGBTQIA+ representation, but of course it is only going to last if they can keep going in an interesting and respectful direction from here.
In the end, the crew watches a Buster Keaton movie as Saru and Culber look on lovingly while Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) pledges to keep helping Adira Tal on their journey. Discovery S3E4 features no death, no epic space battles, and no flashy new technology, just amazing (and classically Star Trek) socially and emotionally meaningful storytelling at its best.