Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Unpacking Michael Burnham's Graduation, Part I: Vulcan Science Academy Grounds

This week's episode of Star Trek: Discovery is "Lethe" and it is a Vulcanologist's dream come true! There is a great deal of information to unpack so I will be writing a series of posts. In this post, I'll discuss what are presumably the grounds of the Vulcan Science Academy where Burnham's graduation from that institution took place. We see this in "flashback" scenes in which Burnham relives some of Sarek's memories from that day thanks to their katric bond.

These scenes were shot at the immediately recognizable Aga Khan Museum in Toronto. I was thrilled to see the Discovery team using Toronto locations and I hope we'll get to see more as the series progresses. This really is a perfect location for Vulcan. When I was last there, it was a sunny, August day. The building and the surrounding grounds are all made of white stone and the sun reflects brilliantly off it. It's beautiful but also sometimes painfully bright. I could well imagine Vulcans relying on their internal eyelids in this place! Below are some pictures i took on my last visit.

The museum opened in 2014. The buildings and grounds were designed by Fumihiko Maki, Charles Correa, and Vladimir Djurovic. They have a wonderful permanent collection of Islamic and Persian art and they also bring in fantastic temporary collections. I highly recommend visiting it if you're in the neighbourhood.

The Discovery team made great use of the space and they had a considerable amount of visual effects work to do to alter the background. The digital city they've created is very reminiscent of the shots of Vulcan we got to see in Star Trek (2009).

The area is dressed with some beautiful metal sculptural pieces that are very much in line with designs we have seen in "Amok Time", Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and "Home".  The coffin-shaped gong is a motif that has carried through Vulcan design since the very beginning. I'm glad to see the Discovery team kept it. They've also maintained the triangular design motifs that I discussed previously here.

The Aga Khan Museum makes an incredible backdrop for a compelling scene in which Burnham and Sarek fight using the Vulcan martial art, Suus Mahna. Suus Mahna was first mentioned in the Star Trek: Enterprise episode, "Marauders". T'Pol was trained in it. Burnham used it earlier in "Context is for Kings."  In the first episode of After Trek, James Frain teased that we would see Sarek using Suus Mahna. In this week's episode of After Trek, Frain said that he and Sonequa Martin-Green performed the Suus Mahna choreography without stunt doubles.

In future posts I will discuss more of the Vulcan treasures packed into "Lethe". This episode was written by Trek veteran, Joe Menosky and long-time Trekkie, Ted Sullivan. I'd like to thank them for their excellent work on this episode!

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