At the end of last week’s Star Trek: Discovery, the now-deceased augment Airiam dropped a pair of tantalising clues to where the series was headed. First, “Project Daedalus,” which by itself doesn’t mean that much; but more interestingly, a claim that all this season’s events have been “because of [Michael Burnham].” This week’s episode, “The Red Angel,” clarifies all that - and, as its title suggests, finally reveals the identity of the mysterious time-travelling being that kicked the season off.
After searching through various files implanted into Airiam’s consciousness, Tilly comes to the command crew with some information: a file labeled “Project Daedalus” that contains the bioneural signature of the Red Angel themselves. Initially, at least, it seems like the fan theories are correct, and the Red Angel is indeed Michael, come from the future to save herself and the world. Former-and-maybe-future-doctor Culber confirms the signature, and Spock notes that the Angel matches Burnham’s “penchant for the dramatic.” This all comes together quite rapidly, and seems nice and neat.
But Discovery’s crew doesn’t formulate a plan to do anything with that information. That’s left to Section 31’s very own Georgiou and Leland (Alan Van Sprang, getting his best material yet), who come aboard with a plan to capture the Red Angel, for purposes murkier than they should be. They’re the right ones to do it, too, as Leland reveals that “Project Daedalus” - the Red Angel suit - was a secret project of Section 31’s science division, and they want their technology back. The plan is to trap the suit by closing the wormhole it creates; disable it; capture it; and presumably do the kind of interrogation none of us want to see Section 31 do.
The middle of the episode is where the really interesting stuff happens, and it revolves around two scenes in particular. In the first, Burnham confronts Leland regarding his caginess over the details of the Red Angel - i.e. her. He drops a load of information that fundamentally recontextualises everything in her life: her parents worked on Project Daedalus, and died in order to get a “time crystal” (really, writers?) to power it. They also believed in a full-blown conspiracy theory that all major human technological advancements were the result of external time travel intervention, which would seem a bit much if Star Trek hadn’t already made a similar assertion about the evolution of humanoid life itself. Leland gets two punches in his stupid face for his trouble - and a promise that more punches may be on their way.
It’s while rehearsing those punches against a training dummy that Burnham’s second terrific scene of the episode takes place. In comes Spock, offering faint, wry approval of an act he thinks he would have found “satisfying,” and further offering counsel and forgiveness. Sonequa Martin-Green’s reaction to that forgiveness - like a weight is off her shoulders - could easily have felt over-the-top, but she’s earned it, via the background work done earlier in the season. The adoptive siblings find common ground in being faced with situations of which neither logic nor emotion can make sense, and suddenly Burnham feels like an open book. Michael’s relationship with Spock has really deepened the character - after all, relationships are how we understand characters - and though the scene’s plot function is to give her an idea for the episode’s climax, the character work sings the sweetest.
That idea is so perilous and borderline-stupid that Michael has to fight against all her superiors to carry it out: if the Red Angel is all about saving her, it follows that if she reaches a near-death situation, the Red Angel will appear - and can thus be trapped. So off everyone pops to an inhospitable mining planet to maybe-kill Michael and maybe-capture the Red Angel.
Discovery hasn’t gotten significantly more horrible to watch than this episode’s climax, which features Burnham suffocating and burning, strapped to a chair, as everybody nearby and on the bridge watches. You’d think Pike would turn off the video feed so as to help someone like Tilly concentrate, but apparently Periscope is a better way to monitor life signs than life signs are. Curiously, it’s Georgiou who’s the first to break and demand she be rescued, and Spock who holds her at gunpoint to stop her. The whole ordeal is truly intense and unpleasant, but it does the job - the Red Angel shows, the plan works, and the Angel turns out to be...not Michael, but her mother (The Wire’s Sonja Sohn, presumably set to recur until the season’s end). So much for the predestination paradoxes the script lavished attention over earlier on, and thank heavens, because that trope is tired as hell.
Not much room for secondary plotlines this week, what with finally capturing the MacGuffin and all. Airiam’s funeral is nice, if stuffy, with everyone giving good speeches for a character the audience never really knew, and Michael giving the best one, centred on the sense of camaraderie and family within the crew. (Family seems to be the overriding theme of the season, doesn’t it?) Hugh goes to Admiral Cornwell, formerly a therapist, for some guidance; she tells him simply to walk whatever new road he needs to walk, implying that he needn’t feel hamstrung by his former self. That has pretty crushing implications for Stamets, of course, whose line “it may not ever be the time” is one of the episode’s sadder ones. And finally, Michael goes to Ash for comfort prior to her suicide mission, despite their Section 31-related differences, finally realising that he’s still the closest person to her on the ship.
For all its third-act drama and second-act emotion, “The Red Angel” is mostly a setup episode for the season’s final run. Most of the pilot’s mysteries have been unravelled; now it’s time to push forward to the endgame. That’ll mostly take the form of a showdown with Control and/or Section 31 itself, not to mention a reckoning between mother and daughter - but with Anson Mount set to depart the series in Season 3, everyone’s favourite Mitt Romney decoy may emerge a little worse for wear. Beep, beep.
Next week: Michael’s mom delivers some wisdom about time travel. The Klingons show up. Characters do desperate things. And hopefully, we’ll learn more about this AI-induced apocalypse that’s on its way.
- Airiam’s memories appear to have been (somewhat ritualistically) deleted, so I’ve got bad news about THAT fan theory.
- On the other hand, her bridge-crew replacement Lt. Nilsson is played by Sara Mitich, who face-puppeteered Airiam’s augmentations in the first season. Neat!
- Tilly finally becomes the first Star Trek character to acknowledge the inherent privacy issues of having all door open automatically.
- Once again, Michelle Yeoh gets all the best dialogue - the pinnacle of which is a jaw-dropping moment in which scorns binary sexual definitions and suggests she’s had “Defcon-level fun” with Mirror Stamets and Mirror Culber. I choked on my food when I heard that.
- “A time crystal, the element that would enable [the Red Angel] to jump through time” is possibly the dumbest phrase uttered in this show to date.
- Why in the world did Leland’s wormhole periscope stab him in the eye? And what ramifications will that have? Section 31’s AI clearly isn’t through yet.