Star Trek: Discovery
“What just happened?” It’s a Tilly line this week, played, like 75 percent of Tilly lines, for laughs, amid a deeply unsettling scene in which Emperor Georgiou manages to both sexually harass Stamets and Culber and be weirdly racist to Culber in a span of 30 seconds. But I’d like to submit that question in regards to the entire episode this week, because: WHAT? I try to watch these episodes twice before recapping, and even after two rounds, I am still completely flabbergasted by how many horrible choices were crammed into this week’s installment, seemingly in an attempt to get it all in before the next good episode. (Hot unrelated take, but Tilly is absolutely the Zeppo of Discovery.)
For one, how does Airiam get a whole-ass paramilitary funeral, plus the condolences of Section 31, while we forgot about Connolly’s death in the premiere pretty much the second it happened? Not saying we shouldn’t have sent her off like that, Saru’s vaguely Jewish death song and all, but the picking and choosing kind of gets at the heart of one of Star Trek’s most annoying qualities: its leadership’s obvious preferential treatment of certain crew members. Remember how Pike didn’t really give the Discovery’s non-bridge personnel any choice in the matter when they all decided to become fugitives? That sure was cool. As was his and Cornwell’s shared reaction to the idea of letting Burnham die in an attempt to trap the Red Angel and thus save all sentient life — a resounding “Are you insane? Absolutely not!” — despite the fact that risking one’s life as an officer in the service of Starfleet’s goals is, quite literally, part of the job description.
For another, we learn this week that the Red Angel is, in fact, a time-travel suit built by Section 31 two decades ago while in a “temporal arms race” with the Klingons in the development of time-travel technology. It was presumed destroyed, but as it turns out, evidently Burnham’s mom didn’t get murdered after all and stole it, and has been popping back and forth throughout spacetime ever since. Why Section 31 couldn’t have briefed the Discovery on any of this at the beginning of the season is utterly inconceivable, given how much time, energy, resources, and lives were wasted tracking down this information. (They clearly hadn’t clued in Tyler, since his speculations about time-travel seemed like honest guessing.) If Section 31 knew about the suit, they also probably should have known something about the possibility of their own computer program going rogue; the fact that no one seems to be able to even guess why AI “designed to detect threats” would “become the threat” to sentient life, despite literal centuries of pop cultural singularities, rankles. Pike, at least, seems to understand that you can’t just bomb Section 31 HQ and “scan” Section 31 ships and expect its partially sentient AI not to figure out how to survive — and then maybe kill Leland when everybody is distracted with the Red Angel, but I digress.
Despite all this, no one seems to be very angry at Section 31. Suspicious, yes. But indignant? Furious? No one, that is, except Burnham, who happens to also have a personal reason: Leland tells her that her parents were working for Section 31 on this time-travel project at the time of their deaths on Doctari Alpha. He was their commanding officer and failed to realize the “time crystal” (ugh) they were given to make the suit work — stolen from a black market on Q’onos — had its own lojack that ultimately led the Klingons to their location. Sonequa Martin-Green’s acting makes this scene, as she realizes that Section 31 — and not, as she’d spent her whole life believing, herself — was responsible for her parents’ deaths. That supernova’s energy release had something to do with powering Project Daedalus, and judging by the ending of this episode, likely gave the Red Angel suit power so Burnham’s mom could use it to get away. She’s so mad at Leland — who for all his faults seems genuinely apologetic — that she breaks his nose in two swift sucker punches to the face. Good.
Unfortunately, now I must take yet another moment to complain loudly about Spock. At the beginning of the episode, he’s still on his campaign to neg Burnham at every turn, even in front of their colleagues and superior officers. But then when he’s made aware of her tussle with Leland, he comes to see her while she’s at the gym, taking out her rage and sadness on a sparring dummy. He continues his verbal abuse until suddenly he simply decides he’s done punishing her and says he would have loved to see her punch Leland.
Here is where I started to scream, because Burnham not only accepts this as his (non)apology, she also then says that all the horrible things he said about her were true! “I brought my guilt into your home,” she says, to which Spock answers, “You were a child,” as though he had not been completely comfortable holding her accountable for her childhood behavior for the literal decades between then and now. And then — deep breaths, serenity now — he ACCEPTS HER APOLOGY, making it sound like he’s doing her a FAVOR, like he’s forgiving a loan. And she is fine with this! Absolutely nothing is spoken of how truly monstrous his behavior has been for the past three episodes. Absolutely nothing is said about the fact that he might have put it together about the connection between Michael and the Red Angel, had he not been so bewilderingly hell-bent on devastating her, or his apparent inability to recognize any part of the person with whom he was mind-melding. Call me Mugatu, but this reconciliation has only one side! Doesn’t anyone notice this?! I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!!
Okay. I’m okay. Moving on.
They realize that, in order to stop Control, they need to catch the Red Angel to “make them work for us” — which, as we have to assume by the end, is code for “bring this rogue Section 31 agent back into the fold.” The Red Angel seems to only ever appear when Burnham’s life is endangered, which means she’s the “variance” and will have to be all but murdered to trap “herself” — the bioneural signature of the Angel seems to initially suggest it’s Future Michael, though why one would have an identical bioneural signature as one’s mother is some psychoanalytical shit I would prefer to ignore. Using an old Daedalus testing facility on the deeply inhospitable (yet super-secret) Esau IV, they build said “mousetrap.”
Before Michael willingly ties herself to an execution chair, however, she has to reconcile with Ash Tyler. She’s lashed out at him several times this season for joining Section 31, insisting this week that he’s complicit in their horrible means (read: letting her parents die) to just ends (preventing human annihilation?). Later she apologizes, admitting, “I was angry, and I didn’t know where to put it,” to which Tyler responds, “I think you put it where you knew it would be okay,” which is lovely. She admits, almost childlike, that she’s terrified, and they kiss — a bit puritanical for an intense reconciliation right before her possible death, but given the previous trauma involved, I’ll allow it. A cute, authentic little scene — carried almost entirely by Martin-Green’s spectacular range of vulnerability, but cute and authentic nevertheless.
So we strap her to the death chair in this facility where the ceiling opens to a toxic atmosphere that will smother a human in two minutes. Michael ends up being deprived of oxygen for over two minutes, but then the Red Angel, who does finally show up (thanks in part to Spock, who commits mutiny yet again to prevent Pike and Cornwell from calling off the mission when it seems like it’s not going to happen), lasers her chest to restart her heart (?) and brings her back, evidently unharmed — likely to the dismay of many of you EMTs and doctors out there, given what oxygen deprivation does to the brain. They catch the Angel and force it to power down, revealing — ta da! — not Future Michael, but Michael’s mom!
Meanwhile, up on the Section 31 ship, Tyler and Leland had been working to close off the portal the Red Angel suit left above Esau IV upon arrival; when Tyler needs more power for the … laser (?), Leland goes to a retina scanner to do a “security override” to redirect the ship’s power, but then Control awakens, takes a copy of his voice, and promptly needle-zaps him in the eye. It radios the message to Tyler that he’s good to close the mini-wormhole in Leland’s voice, while Leland is unconscious on the floor. Unclear if he’s dead or simply alive and compromised, but I guess we’ll find out next week.
Personal Log, Supplemental
• Despite everything happening this week I couldn’t look away from Michelle Yeoh’s uneven Evil Ponytail extensions. Yikes!
• Also yikes: Georgiou’s pontificating about Mirror Culmets’ pansexuality. And her calling Culber “papi.” Mortifying! Are we ever going to deal with the fact that Georgiou is a genocidal war criminal who ate Kelpiens?
• Also also yikes: time crystal. Technically this is a thing, but still: I’m embarrassed.
• A tragically underplayed comedic moment: Leland explains that Section 31 had to beat the Klingons to time-travel capabilities, because the Klingons would have used time travel to keep humans from “walking out of the primordial soup” — then adds, “No offense” to Tyler, who shrugs: “None taken. They would have.”
• On a better note, in the elevator with Tyler, Burnham does a Picard shirt tug! And Tyler gets a Scotty reference later with “I need more power!”
• … But the pair also have an “I love you”/“I know” moment via communicator as she steps onto the execution dais. Writers room, please produce the Star Wars double agent among your ranks for questioning.
• A minimally consequential moment this week, but Culber asks Cornwell to do some free emotional labor for him, because she “used to be a therapist.” (I find this shoehorned factoid mildly amusing, given my concerns earlier this season about a lack of therapy onboard. Could’ve avoided this stretch if you just hired a counselor.) Sounds like he’s regretting breaking up with Stamets, since Stamets obviously loves him, and Culber doesn’t not have feelings for Stamets. But later, when he tries to apologize, and maybe even talk it out a little, right before they beam down to Esau IV, Stamets interrupts: “This isn’t the time. It might never be the time.” Which is probably best for both of them right now.