Mar 9, 2021
Star Trek: Discovery “The Red Angel”
Previously: Spock had contact with the Red Angel, who came from the future and showed him the end of all life in the galaxy. Culber died and was resurrected but no longer had feelings for Stamets. Airiam got possessed by Control and tried to kill Burnham, so she had to get flushed out of an airlock. But before she died, she told Burnham to seek out “Project Daedalus”.
Airiam gets a huge funeral scene that I think lasts longer than Spock’s at the end of Wrath of Khan. Pike eulogizes her, Tilly eulogizes her, as do both Burnham and Detmer. Just before shooting her coffin into space, Saru introduces a “song of remembrance” for Airiam, and we hear someone singing beautifully, and then comes an unintentionally hilarious moment when we cut to Saru and he’s the one singing. Wow, who knew Saru had the voice of an angel? Maybe these golden pipes are the real reason Starfleet spirited him away from his homeworld.
Meanwhile, Vyler is no longer confined to quarters, now that they know he’s not the one who sabotaged the spore drive. He gets in a turbolift with Burnham, who still doesn’t trust him, because he works for Section 31 and Section 31 is the reason Airiam is dead.
In Pike’s ready room, the senior staff sits around and recaps what we know: an AI from the future wanted Control to evolve. Control has been destroyed, but Pike thinks that the future AI will find a way to come back. Then Tilly runs in without knocking/ringing the door chime, and yes, there’s more Tilly Shtick, where she says there wouldn’t have been any point in knocking anyway because “these doors pretty much open right on their own most of the time!” Okay, the Shtick was kind of funny this time, but we all know Star Trek doors run on plot mechanics, and are aware of the most dramatically appropriate times to open or close.
Tilly has been studying the data they salvaged from Airiam’s brain, and she found an implanted file called Project Daedalus. And this file contains the “bioneural signature of the Red Angel”. How does she know this? Is the file name “Red Angel Bioneural Signature.dat” or something? Regardless, the bioneural signature of the Red Angel matches… Michael Burnham.
Yep, they’re telling us before the opening credits, and quite casually, that Burnham is the Red Angel. This should be your first clue that she’s not actually the Red Angel.
In Sickbay, Culber (who’s in his civvies, since he hasn’t been officially reinstated) confirms that the signature is an exact match for Burnham, and it couldn’t have been faked. Pike can’t believe Burnham would take it upon herself to warn everybody about the impending end of all life in the galaxy, but Spock snarks that it fits Burnham’s “emotional profile” to take responsibility for everything. Burnham wonders why she would appear as a Red Angel instead of simply telling people about the impending apocalypse, so Snarky Spock suggests that she has a “penchant for the dramatic”. Then he pulls a no, but seriously and says it’s possible that “tetryonic radiation”, whatever that is, might be making it hard for her to communicate.
The Section 31 ship arrives and Leland and Georgiou beam over, but they’re not after Spock anymore. Instead, they’re after the Red Angel, because she’s the only one who knows how to stop the future AI. Saru has figured out that when the Red Angel travels through time, she opens up a “mini-wormhole” that allows the future AI to follow after her. Upon hearing this, Burnham agrees that they have to capture the Red Angel, or rather, herself.
Leland then explains what Project Daedalus is: Section 31 was afraid that the Klingons were researching time travel, so they started up a “temporal arms race” (not to be confused with the Temporal Cold War, which made even less sense than this). And it turns out Section 31 built the Red Angel suit, even though we’ve been told numerous times that the suit is too advanced to be built using current technology. Section 31 thought the suit was destroyed by “Klingon spies”, but now that they know about the Red Angel, they want to capture her and get their suit back.
In Engineering, Georgiou works with Stamets and Tilly to create a trap for the Red Angel, which involves stasis beams, a containment field, graviton beams to close the wormhole, and an EM pulse to shut down the suit’s “time crystal”. (We’ve seen time crystals before on this show; it’s what Harry Mudd used last season to get everybody caught in a time loop.) Georgiou hears all this and says that Stamets is smarter than the Stamets from the Mirror Universe, and also “more neurotic”. Then Culber enters, dressed in a black suit and black shirt unbuttoned halfway down his chest, like he just walked off a GQ photoshoot. Stamets and Culber stare at each other uncomfortably, and Georgiou remarks on the “fabulous male tension” in the room.
Stamets is able to get back to talking about the plan, and he says they would need the equivalent of “12 warp cores” to power their containment field, so Georgiou says they can just go to a Project Daedalus testing site on “Essof IV”, which is rich in deuterium. And then things get very weird as she gives Stamets a look that prompts Culber to say, “You do know that he’s gay, right?”
Georgiou shouts at him not to be so “binary”, because in her universe, Stamets is “pansexual” and she and Stamets had “DEFCON-level fun together”. Because when I think of hot sex, I think of military readiness. She then sashays over to Culber while adding, “And you, too, papi.”
Stamets insists that in this universe, they’re both gay, so Georgiou leaves. And Tilly sums up my reaction to this whole bizarre conversation when she says, “What just happened?” Yeah, I have no idea what that was about. Did they just think it would be funny to have Michelle Yeoh call somebody “papi”?
Meanwhile, Georgiou has tipped off Burnham that Leland knows something important. So Burnham goes to see him, and Leland admits he knew Burnham’s parents. They were secretly in Section 31, and they worked on the Daedalus Project. In fact, Burnham’s parents built the Red Angel suit.
They needed a time crystal to make it work, so Leland stole one from the Klingons. The Klingons tracked the crystal to Doctori Alpha, and that’s why they killed Burnham’s parents. Burnham cries profusely as she realizes her parents’ deaths weren’t her fault after all. Her sadness turns to rage as she punches Leland and bloodies his nose and knocks him flat on the ground. And retcons like this are why I can’t stand the whole concept of Section 31; no matter what happens in the Star Trek universe or when, Section 31 is somehow always there.
Burnham runs into Vyler and asks if he knew about this, and gives him more shit for working for Section 31.
Culber seeks out Admiral Cornwell in her quarters, because as we learned last season, she used to be a therapist. And the woman who tried to genocide the Klingons is just the person you want to turn to for mental health advice. He talks about how he no longer feels anything for Stamets, and she tells him that love is always a “choice”, and one that you have to keep making. I think she read that in one of Captain Lorca’s fortune cookies.
In the ship’s gym, Burnham is sparring with a foam dummy when Spock enters. She doesn’t want to talk to him, but he says he understands her state of mind, what with the death of Airiam, the Red Angel revelation, and what she just learned about her parents. Eventually, she admits Spock was right: she does always find ways to blame herself, and she’s sorry for bringing “guilt into your home”. Spock accepts the apology, then gets to why he really came here: he’s figured out what makes the Red Angel appear.
Cut to them explaining to Pike that the Red Angel always appears whenever Michael Burnham is in danger. Which I’m not sure is accurate—it definitely doesn’t apply to all the times Burnham’s life was in danger last season. Regardless, Burnham says they can use her as bait, by setting up their trap on Essof IV and exposing Burnham to the planet’s toxic atmosphere, which will prompt the Red Angel to materialize and save her. Pike resists the idea of nearly killing Burnham, but given that the fate of all sentient life in the galaxy is on the line, he quickly agrees to it. Though, you’d think it’d be a bit hard to fool Future Michael with a plan that Present Michael hatched herself.
Before they reach Essof IV, Burnham goes to see Vyler again, and apologizes for getting angry at him. She says she didn’t want that to be their “last conversation”, but he assures her that she’s not going to die, and then they kiss. Oh good, can’t wait for this red-hot love affair to light up the screen again.
The arrive at Essof IV and get to work. On the bridge, Saru announces that the trap is ready, and suddenly it gets awkward as a blonde female officer named Lt. Nilsson enters. At first I thought maybe she was some gossipy bitch that everyone hated, but it turns out they’re all uncomfortable because she’s Airiam’s replacement.
Fun fact: the actress, Sara Mitich, originally played Airiam until she was replaced by a different actress this season. So it’s looking a lot like Airiam’s death was only written into the show because they wanted to keep the actress but not have her in all the time-consuming/expensive makeup.
Down on the surface, Spock walks Burnham to a chair and straps her in. They open up the roof, letting in the toxic air, and Burnham starts gasping and coughing. Minutes pass and there’s no sign of the Red Angel, so Pike orders them to pull Burnham out.
But they can’t, because Spock is holding a phaser on everyone, and directly disobeying Pike’s orders, and saying they have to let Burnham die. She flatlines, and then Tilly detects a big surge of tachyons nearby. One of those mini-wormholes opens up, and the Red Angel appears and heads for the planet’s surface.
The Red Angel hits Burnham with a beam that revives her, and that’s when the trap is sprung. They get the Red Angel inside a containment field and fire an EMP pulse, disabling the suit. Meanwhile above the planet, the Section 31 ship is firing graviton beams to close the mini-wormhole. For some reason, Leland has to go to another room and stick his eyes in some kind of retinal scan device to do a “security buffer override”—to get more power to the beams, I guess?
But as he’s doing it, the computer suddenly starts impersonating Leland’s voice. And then the retinal scan device shoots out a spike that stabs Leland in the eye (killing him?), so it seems the murderous future AI has made its way onto the Section 31 ship.
Back on the planet, the Red Angel’s suit opens, and a woman falls out. It’s not Burnham, but an older woman who looks a lot like her. And just when you’re thinking this is future, middle-aged Burnham, present Burnham looks at the woman and says, “Mom?”
Yes, the Red Angel is really Burnham’s mother, who’s not dead after all. And I have to admit, this was a fairly smart choice. It wasn’t so obvious that anyone could have guessed it, and it wasn’t so out of left field that it made no sense. I mean, there were some really out-there theories about the identity of the Red Angel. I saw some fans seriously suggesting it was Guinan [!], or even Seven of Nine [!!] working for that Federation timeship again.
Unfortunately, this was an extremely talky episode. I realize “show don’t tell” as a dramatic rule has become a tired buzzword by now, but it really should have been considered when writing this script, which was full of characters constantly explaining exactly how they feel. Well, for about half of it; the other half was everyone explaining and re-explaining the plan to trap the Red Angel. There was just way too much getting info-dumped on us, and ultimately, most of it was unnecessary. The last ten minutes were almost suspenseful enough to make up for the preceding 35-40 minutes of tedium, but not quite.
And given that this episode was a sea of dialogue, I have no idea why they left in that bizarre scene of Georgiou flirting with Stamets and Culber. It must be setting up something in a future episode, but I can’t imagine what, other than a freaky threesome.
Next time: According to Burnham’s mother, “time is savage” and “it always wins”. The Klingons show up, maybe to get their time crystal back? Burnham on Essof IV calls up Discovery to tell them to “blow this place to hell”, so I guess she’s not that happy to see her mom again.