Star Trek: Discovery's Homage To Wrath of Khan (& What It Reveals About Spock)

Star Trek Discovery and Wrath of Khan Spock

This week's Star Trek: Discovery episode, "The Red Angel", featured a perfect homage to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: the funeral in space held for Commander Airiam resembled the services the crew of the Starship Enterprise held for Spock (or will hold roughly 25 years from Star Trek: Discovery season 2).

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is one of the best Star Trek movies and it is also easily the most influential. It has already been remade twice; Star Trek: Nemesis contained many identical plot points and J.J. Abrams' Star Trek Into Darkness was a flat-out remake, switching Kirk's death for Spock's. Indeed, The Wrath of Khan was the first time a core Star Trek character died in the line of duty and it was the franchise's first to depict a naval-style funeral in space. After Leonard Nimoy's beloved Vulcan saved the Enterprise and succumbed to radiation poisoning, he was granted full honors: the crew gathered in the torpedo bay where Spock's body was placed in a photon torpedo draped with the flag of the United Federation of Planets. Captain Kirk conducted the eulogy and Spock's casket was launched into space as "Amazing Grace" played.

Related: Star Trek: Discovery Has A Bloody Star Trek VI Klingon Reference

Considering Star Trek: Discovery's numerous nods to its predecessors (and even a reference to Futurama), it was really only a matter of time until the CBS All-Access series tipped its hat to Star Trek II. Commander Airiam's funeral was actually even more elaborate than Spock's: her services were held in the Discovery's massive hangar bay with the entire crew assembled, including Admiral Cornwell and the younger Spock himself. Captain Pike, Ensign Sylvia Tilly, Commander Michael Burnham, and Lieutenants Keyla Detmer and Paul Stamets all offered eulogies, and First Officer Saru sang a Kelpien song of rememberance as Airiam's body, which was also placed in a photon torpedo draped with the Federation flag, was launched into space. It was a lovely scene, especially for an ancillary character fans only got to fleetingly know and care for in the previous episode, "Project Daedalus".

Star Trek Discovery Spock


While that was the most overt homage to The Wrath of Khan in "The Red Angel", a more subtle nod was the behavior of Spock throughout the episode. Since his fractured mind was restored on Talos IV, thanks to Michael, the Vulcan remained hostile to his adopted sister over their childhood falling out. However, after learning that the Red Angel was believed to be a future version of Michael and the harrowing confession by Captain Leland that Michael's parents were killed by Klingons because they built the Red Angel's time traveling suit for Section 31, Spock softened towards his distraught sister. The Vulcan finally accepted Michael's apology for driving him away when they were children and he counseled her in a scene reminiscent to Spock giving Kirk advice in The Wrath of Khan: "Commanding a starship is your first, best destiny. Anything else is a waste of material."

Star Trek II also debuted the classic Vulcan mantra: "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few (or the one)." Though Spock didn't vocalize it, his behavior in "The Red Angel" followed that logic. Spock was instrumental in making sure Michael's plan to nearly kill herself to force the Red Angel to save her so the Discovery's crew could capture the time traveler would succeed. Despite his own privately-held reservations, Spock supported Michael's logic that sacrificing her own life if it means saving all sentient life in the galaxy, is sound, despite Captain Pike arguing against it. Spock even assured Michael that he was willing to once again face murder charges for killing a Starfleet Officer - Michael - because he fully intended to see their plan through.

At the moment of truth, with Michael suffocating to death because the Red Angel was late to appear, Stamets, Dr. Hugh Culber, and even Emperor Phillipa Georgiou wanted to save Burnham's life - but Spock held them all at bay at gunpoint. The Vulcan even ignored Pike's orders to abort because he held firm to his and Michaels shared Vulcan logic about "The needs of the many..." Luckily, the Red Angel finally arrived and saved Michael so their plan ultimately worked. Decades later, Spock applied the same logic and risked his own life to save Kirk and the Enterprise from Khan. Fans can now see the seed planted for Spock's  Star Trek II sacrifice in Star Trek: Discovery.

Next: Star Trek: Discovery Is Making The Unaired Pilot More Important

Star Trek: Discovery streams Thursdays @ 8:30pm on CBS All-Access and internationally the next day on Netflix.

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