Star Trek: Discovery
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Credit: Michael Gibson/CBS

The many faces of Amanda Grayson

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Feb 27, 2019

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.

sarek-amanda

Credit: CBS

In “Journey to Babel,” Amanda presents herself as somewhat of an enigma. She watches the arguments between her husband and son and, for the most part, doesn’t get involved. She maintains a serene look on her face, fitting for the wife of a Vulcan. It’s hard to tell what she thinks under that calm exterior, but her words often give her away. She’s not afraid to advocate for what she believes in and express her feelings to her son and husband in private. She may seem as calm as a Vulcan on the outside, but underneath she’s a storm of emotion, something that both her husband and son gently tease her about at the end of the episode.

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.

amanda-grayson

Credit: CBS

Wyatt appears again as Amanda Grayson in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home while Spock is retraining his mind after his death and rebirth. She serves primarily to remind the viewer (and her son) that Spock is half-human, and therefore will always be conflicted, a product of two worlds. This version of Amanda is a bit one-dimensional, and she’s only on screen for a few minutes.

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.

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Credit: Paramount

This brings us to Star Trek: Discovery and Mia Kirshner. Kirshner has done her best to walk the lines set out for her so far, but there’s not a lot to draw from. Amanda certainly plays her role as an ambassador’s wife well, and she’s devoted to raising Michael. But it isn’t really until the second season episode “Point of Light” that we see a different side to Kirshner’s Amanda.

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.

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Credit: Jan Thijs/CBS

Kirshner presents a new dimension to Amanda, a character that has a lot of potential for development on screen. Until now, Amanda has been important and powerful because of the men in her life. At the beginning of Discovery, we finally got to see Amanda shine because of a woman — Michael. But there was still a ways to go before Amanda was a fully developed character in her own right, with her own motivations and decisions separate from her husband’s, son’s, and adopted daughter’s. Now, thanks to the Discovery writers and Mia Kirshner’s portrayal, we’re finally getting more from Amanda Grayson and she’s earning her own place as an important character in the franchise.
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