Jan 24, 2019
Star Trek: Discovery “Perpetual Infinity”
Previously: The Discovery crew found the bioneural signature of the Red Angel, and it was a perfect match for Michael Burnham. Burnham learned that her parents worked for Section 31 and designed the Red Angel suit. On the Section 31 ship, Leland got a big metal spike to the eye. Discovery used Burnham as bait to capture the Red Angel, who turned out to be Burnham’s mom.
This episode starts with a flashback to Doctori Alpha when Burnham was a kid, and we at long last get to see Burnham’s father. Young Michael is really hyped about the upcoming supernova, but then she looks through her telescope and sees a Klingon ship approaching. Her dad gets his phaser while her mom hustles her into a closet or something, while giving her a stuffed animal.
And then adult Burnham wakes up gasping in Sickbay. She starts to say that she hallucinated seeing her dead mom. Dr. Culber, who’s now wearing his Starfleet uniform again, confirms that the Red Angel is indeed her mom. And what about that bioneural signature from last week that was an exact match for Michael? There are “significant biological similarities” between mothers and daughters, you see.
She learns her mom is still down on the surface of Essof IV and wants to go see her, but Pike tells her to be patient. Then Spock walks in saying they discovered 841 “mission logs” inside the Red Angel suit, and Pike tells Burnham look them over.
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On the Section 31 ship, it seems Leland wasn’t killed by that metal spike to the eye. He’s now restrained in a chair, as Control appears to him as a hologram of Burnham. Control then transforms into Holographic Pike, Holographic Saru, and then Holographic Leland as it explains it really needs a “face and body” to operate fully, so it decides to take over Leland’s body by injecting him with nanoprobes. Leland screams as black veins cover his face.
In Burnham’s quarters, she studies her mom’s mission logs, and the first one is video of the Klingons attacking Doctori Alpha. There was some indication in the flashback that everything in Burnham’s parents’ lab was being recorded, though that doesn’t explain how this video ended up in the suit. But it unfolds in a predictable way: Mama Burnham gets in the suit, which wraps itself around her Iron Man-style (with the “time crystal” powering the suit just like the arc reactor), and says she’s only going to jump back an hour. Instead, she ends up 950 years in the future. Damn, I hate when that happens.
She releases these floating camera-things from her wrists, to explain why there are closeups and edits in this recording. And also, these cameras appear to be intelligent enough to automatically pick the most dramatic angle available. In the next log, she says she’s tried to get back to her own time, but an “anchor” keeps pulling her back to this point. She’s on Earth, but there’s no sign of life anywhere, due to an “antimatter detonation”, and these have happened all across the galaxy.
On the Section 31 ship, Leland, now possessed by Control, is acting conspicuously full of purpose. He suggests Mama Burnham is really a clone or genetic replica who was sent back in time to get the Sphere data and give it to Control. He wants Vyler to go over to Discovery and steal the Sphere data, but Vyler balks at the idea of carrying out “espionage” against another Starfleet ship. Leland reminds him that the fate of all sentient life in the galaxy hangs in the balance, which convinces Vyler to do it.
Burnham watches more of her mom’s logs. It seems the suit always returns her to the same place and time. She says that “Einstein was right”, and “time’s motion depends on the observer”. This is accompanied by a cheesy-looking clip of Burnham walking down a corridor in slow-motion, while everyone around her walks in fast-motion.
Mom mentions Terralysium, the Beta Quadrant planet that the WWIII soldiers were carried away to in “New Eden”, and I had to listen to this bit a few times to understand it, but it sounds like Terralysium is the place the suit keeps bringing her back to, 950 years in the future, and there are still humans living on the planet in the future. But this makes no sense if all life in the galaxy has supposedly been wiped out. And she offers no explanation for why the Red Angel brought all those people to Terralysium in the first place.
In other logs, she talks about trying to stop Control from getting the Sphere data. She tried to destroy the Sphere and couldn’t, so instead she moved the Sphere into Discovery’s path, in the hopes they would keep the data “safe”. She was able to move something the size of a small moon, but couldn’t destroy it? Then why not “move” it right next to a star that’s going supernova?
Eventually, the real Mama Burnham is up and around, and she passes along a message through Culber: she wants to talk to Pike, and Pike alone, and her daughter isn’t invited. When Pike beams down, Mama Burnham already knows him well. She says she could tell him what happens to him in the future, “but you won’t like it”. Heh. You mean, being confined to a wheelchair with one blinking light for “yes” and two for “no”? What’s not to like?
They still have her inside the containment field, and she says they have to let her go, so she can keep trying to stop Control from getting the Sphere data. Pike asks about the “signals”, as in the initial seven red bursts that appeared throughout the galaxy, but she doesn’t know anything about them.
She then tells Pike to destroy the Sphere data, to stop the future AI. Pike is resistant to her demands, so she says he’s a “ghost” to her, basically pulling an Eobard Thawne “to me, you’ve been dead for centuries” on him, and says this conversation is over.
In Pike’s Ready Room, Saru is horrified at the thought of destroying the Sphere data, equating it with the burning of the Library of Alexandria. But Pike orders him to do it anyway. Right before he starts, Vyler activates a spy doodad in his hand. I assume this is to steal the Sphere data, but the best he can do to be secretive about it is holding the thing behind his back?
Due to technobabble involving terms like “xeno-encryption”, Saru can’t delete the data. The data “will not allow itself to be destroyed”. Vyler switches off the device in his hand, and the next time we see him he’s secretly contacting Leland. But he’s doing it in a hallway or something, in full view of members of the crew walking past. I think somebody really needs a refresher on this whole “spy” business.
Vyler says he can’t spy on Discovery, because it just doesn’t “feel right” to him. Control-Leland says he understands, but he’s clearly already figuring out another way to get that Sphere data.
Spock is watching some of Mama Burnham’s mission logs. This one talks about how she specifically visited Spock when he was young due to his unique combo of logic and humanity, which gave him the right “psychological balance”. Also, his Space Dyslexia supposedly helped him to deal with the “temporal dysplasia”. Yeah, this kinda sounds like an ass-pull explanation for why the Red Angel visited Spock, someone she had no connection to prior to being pulled into the future. And there’s no mention at all in these logs of why she appeared on Kaminar to save Saru or the Kelpiens.
Eventually, Burnham convinces Pike to let her beam down and see her mom. Just before she beams down, Spock quotes Shakespeare: “Time is out of joint. Oh cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right.” And Burnham replies with one of her most cringey lines ever: “Hamlet. Hell yeah.” I guess she’s a big fan of Elizabethan lit?
She beams down and is obviously emotional at seeing her mom, but Mama Burnham isn’t having this at all. She basically gives the ol’ you think you know, but you have no idea spiel, and says talking to Burnham is “meaningless”. She just wants them to release her, so Burnham tries to remind her mother that she’s been trying to get back to her family this whole time. But Mama Burnham says she finally had to let that go, adding, “I’ve seen you die a hundred times,” and now she’s lost all hope.
In Engineering, they come up with a plan to destroy the Sphere data and also save Burnham’s mom. And if you know anything about this show, you know this plan is mostly just technobabble, with a little bit of random historical name dropping. Stamets mentions Newton’s Laws of Motion, and then Spock quotes Lao Tze while pronouncing his name in the most pretentious way possible, and something in this quote inspires Burnham: She says they can load all the Sphere data into the Red Angel suit, then send the Red Angel suit so far into the future that the AI can’t get to it. And it would appear that, at least for the purposes of this plot, the Sphere data can’t be copied; once you transfer it, it’s gone.
Everyone agrees that sending the data beyond the “anchor point” will cause it to exist in “perpetual infinity”. Then they can use “dark matter particles”, which I guess they just have lying around, to free Mama Burnham permanently.
On the Section 31 ship, Control-Leland is now trying to convince Georgiou to steal the Sphere data. He appeals to her lust for power, saying that with her time travel suit, Mama Burnham is the most powerful person in the universe, and also has something Georgiou doesn’t: “Burnham’s devotion.”
So Georgiou beams down to the surface, and Mama Burnham knows all about her too. She thanks Georgiou for sacrificing herself for Michael, but Georgiou think she’s got her mixed up with her prime universe version. But Mama Burnham reiterates what she said, hinting at a possible future where this version of Georgiou also sacrifices herself for Burnham.
And Georgiou actually uses the phrase “prime-universe counterpart”. This might be the first time anyone on this show (or in any of the reboot movies) has used the phrase “prime universe”. But it doesn’t really make sense here, because to Georgiou, the Mirror Universe is her prime universe. It’s like in DC Comics where everyone calls the mainstream continuity “Earth-1” and for some reason all the other Earths are cool with this.
Discovery starts sending the Sphere data to the suit, so Georgiou plants a device that hacks the stream and sends the data to Section 31 instead. On the 31 ship, Control-Leland eagerly watches the data come in, and gets all twitchy, and he briefly gets black veins on his face, but Vyler is conveniently standing on the other side of him and doesn’t see.
Burnham and Stamets beam down to the planet, and explain the plan to send the suit into the future and free Mom using dark matter. She tells them not to risk it. She then describes how she’s seen everything that happened in Burnham’s life, which is accompanied by flashbacks, including her graduating from the Vulcan Science Academy as seen in “Lethe”, and coming aboard the Shenzhou with Sarek as seen in “Battle at the Binary Stars”. And including this last flashback probably wasn’t such a great idea, since it makes it obvious they repurposed parts of the Shenzhou transporter room to be the Red Angel trap in the current scene.
Meanwhile, Georgiou is finally getting suspicious of Leland, so she contacts the Section 31 ship and tells Vyler to check in on him. For some reason, Control-Leland is just sitting alone in a room with his face all deformed and his eyes solid black. Hey, all the better to make it clear how evil he is to anyone who happens to walk in.
They get into a fight, and Control-Leland stabs Vyler with a shard of glass. Naturally, the relentless future killing machine can’t stick around long enough to make sure Vyler is dead; Vyler is able to contact Discovery and spit out “Leland…” just before he collapses.
Control-Leland beams down to the planet and starts shooting everybody, but he only kills random extras. He hits Mama Burnham’s containment field, which somehow destroys the time crystal and disables the Red Angel suit. Before he can do more, Georgiou jumps in and disarms him, leading to yet another martial arts fight for Michelle Yeoh.
Stamets says they have no choice but to let Mama Burnham go. She won’t be able to get back without the suit, but if she stays, Control-Leland will kill her. She says a tearful farewell to Burnham, and then a red wormhole appears and carries away her away along with the suit. Georgiou knocks out Leland and everybody beams out, and Pike orders the facility destroyed with photon torpedoes.
Alas, Control-Leland was able to beam back to the Section 31 ship before the facility blew up. Pike orders Discovery to “pursue” the Section 31 ship, which is weird, because we didn’t get a shot of the 31 ship warping away. Regardless, Control-Leland has masked his warp signature, so he can’t be followed. But Discovery does pick up an escape pod containing Vyler, so he’ll live to bore us another day.
Meanwhile, Spock goes to Burnham’s quarters, and she’s feeling hopeless and defeated. But then Spock pulls out that 3-D chess board he smashed up last episode. He tells her the future “has not yet been written”, and she can change history with her “next move”, because the chess symbolism wasn’t heavy-handed enough last week. Burnham reaches for a chess piece, cut to black.
Last week, the reveal of Burnham’s Mom as the Red Angel was a decent enough surprise. But now the show is trying to explain the earlier events of the season in light of this reveal, and so far it’s falling flat. Why did the Red Angel appear on WWIII Earth? Why did she bring people to Terralysium? Why did she save the Kelpiens? Why was Section 31 so determined to find Spock and gain access to his knowledge about the future and the Red Angel when they were the ones who created the Red Angel suit in the first place? So far, these questions have no good answers.
It’s one of the many pitfalls of heavy serialized storytelling: Unless a season arc is meticulously planned out before filming starts, there’s no possible way everything is going to make sense by the time it reaches its end. And it seems like a lot of this season has been made up on the fly, though there’s probably a reason for that.
Anyone who follows the behind the scenes drama about Discovery knows the showrunners got fired midway through the season (allegedly due to being abusive to the writing staff). In the first few episodes, the Red Angel seemed to have mystical, spiritual overtones, but now this arc has turned into a banal spy drama where somebody puts on a high-tech suit. I strongly suspect the original showrunners had a much different plan for the season, and the whole “Red Angel is Burnham’s Mom” was only decided upon around episode five, when exec producer Alex Kurtzman took over as showrunner.
So now we’ve got a season of TV that’s essentially trying to tell a 10-plus hour story, but the person in charge can’t even pull off telling a coherent two hour story, as evidenced by (among many other examples) his Star Trek Into Darkness script. If your season-long arc requires two episodes in a row of mostly technobabble and exposition and still doesn’t make sense, maybe that’s a sign you’ve taken on more than you can handle.
Next time: Another one of those “signals” appears above Boreth, the home of the Klingon monastery where L’Rell and Vyler hid their child away, meaning it’s time for another dull Klingon politics episode.