For a character that has only appeared in one Star Trek episode and (briefly) in two movies prior to Star Trek: Discovery, Amanda Grayson has had an outsized impact on the Trek universe. She presents herself as a dutiful wife to her husband Sarek and a devoted mother to her son, Spock. But underneath that meek exterior, there is a will of fire and steel, and a determination to do right by her family. Her portrayal on screen has been rocky and flat at times, but thanks to Mia Kirshner and the Star Trek: Discovery writers, she’s finally becoming important in her own right, rather than because of who she’s connected to.
Amanda was first introduced to the screen in The Original Series episode “Journey to Babel,” where she was played by Jane Wyatt. “Journey to Babel” revealed quite a bit about Spock’s history, as it centered on his strained relationship with his father, Sarek. In the episode, Ambassador Sarek boards the Enterprise with his wife, Amanda, but refuses to speak to his son because of their estrangement over Spock’s decision to enter Starfleet instead of the Vulcan Science Academy.
This performance set the stage for Amanda, though her subsequent portrayals are much flatter. In “Journey to Babel,” she’s very good at being who she needs to be, depending on the occasion, and displays a sparkling wit and feisty personality that’s often missing later. As a result, Amanda’s role is often relegated to a supportive wife and nurturing mother; while there’s nothing wrong with being either of those things, it’s hardly a full portrayal of a three-dimensional character with her own motivations and ability to make decisions.
We don’t see Amanda again until J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot. While she’s played by the exquisite Winona Ryder, she doesn’t have much to do except to show the audience she loves her son and then dies, setting the course for Spock’s development over the movie. It’s a criminal underuse of such a great actress.
Amanda arrives on the Discovery after stealing Spock’s medical file from Starbase 5. That, in and of itself, sets the stage for this fantastic performance that adds depth to the character that’s been missing across her franchise portrayal. If we know anything about Amanda, we know that she’s a caring mother. But Kirshner showed us just how far Amanda would be willing to go to protect her son. She has an iron will and an almost Vulcan stubbornness, and she’s willing to use it to figure out what happened to Spock.
At the end of the episode, Amanda discovers that Michael wounded her son in order to protect him. And what she does after she finds out is telling: She gives Michael a kiss and then leaves, saying she’ll find Spock herself. Amanda still loves her adopted daughter, but she doesn’t trust her to do what’s best for her brother, given past decisions. The coldness that Amanda displays is deep. It’s a rift that will need to be mended, for sure, but the kiss signals that Amanda still loves her daughter and will fight for her family.