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Star Trek: Discovery Recap: I, Robot(ically Augmented)

Star Trek: Discovery

Project Daedalus
Season 2 Episode 9
Editor’s Rating *****

Star Trek: Discovery

Project Daedalus
Season 2 Episode 9
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: Michael Gibson/CBS

Welcome back to Star Trek: Mutiny, the Star Trek show where everyone disobeys orders but it’s fine because they’re probably coming from HAL9000 pretending to be your boss! Truth be told, I don’t know how to feel about this whole season having been put into motion by what is essentially Skynet in Space. On one hand, the Singularity — this time, in which a future version of Control, Starfleet’s “threat assessment modeling” computer program, has figured out how to hack the present in order to obtain the Sphere’s hundreds of millennia worth of data on AI — is an utterly exhausting trope, one that roughly half the sci-fi shows and films of the past century seem unable to resist coming back to, and very few know how to execute properly. (Discovery, at the very least, has a moderately sophisticated view on the future of AI, as voiced by Admiral Cornwell: it should never operate independent of human judgment.)

On the other, there’s a reason for that ubiquity: Narratively, sentient robot enemies mean there doesn’t have to be a human cost to victory. Unless, in this case, you’re Lieutenant Commander Airiam, the first cybernetically augmented human. Apologies to Airiam for previously referring to her as an android — though in my defense, we had no idea she had a past life as a beautiful blonde human (Hannah Cheesman, sans Tin Woman makeup) who eloped only to get in a tragic shuttle accident that killed her husband on their way back. It’s pretty tragic that we only learn so much about this character on account of “she’s about to die because the future-probe that hacked her was using her to transfer all that Sphere AI data to Control so it could evolve and wipe out sentient life in the galaxy, and she’s a good person and would rather die than let it work through her.” But look: If Gabriel F**king Lorca can come back from the dead — as I’m 98 percent positive he will, eventually — then I see no reason why Lieutenant Cmdr. Airiam’s space-frozen body should not be salvaged and rebooted. This should absolutely not be the last we see of Airiam, and if it is, I’ll be very cross!

Note: this revelation explains why Airiam was able to use Tyler’s Section 31 codes. Control itself was a tool used most by Section 31, which if you recall from Deep Space Nine, eventually breaks with the Federation to become more like the Cardassian mafia organization the Obsidian Order than a Starfleet CIA. Safe to say that nothing coming from that extra-legal department, be it Control or the (now-dead) logic extremist Admiral Patar or Emperor Georgiou, is going to be used ethically, except perhaps Tyler, who already is showing reservations.

Onto the formal recap: When Cornwell realizes Section 31 might have gone rogue, going radio-silent and locking her out of Control, she secretly rendezvouses with the fugitive Discovery to both question Spock directly and to visit Section 31 headquarters — an abandoned space prison conveniently surrounded by a leftover razorblade minefield — to find out what’s up. Of course, this was all the doing of Control itself, which had murdered the four admirals in charge of the division two long weeks ago.

They learn this after surviving the razorblade minefield (which had also ostensibly been reprogrammed by Control), thanks to a little bit of “randomness and chaos” teamwork, and sending in Burnham, Airiam, and Nhan to investigate. They find the two-weeks-frozen bodies of the admirals just as Saru — again thanks to his Kelpien eyeballs — confirms that Control has to have been running Section 31 since before Spock escaped, because both the onscreen communications from Admiral Patar and the video evidence that incriminated Spock as murdering those starbase psychiatric personnel were all holograms rigged up by Control. (Unclear why Starfleet couldn’t just check in with those personnel to ask them whether they were dead, but maybe Control also killed them to cover its tracks?)

Burnham and Nhan are informed just as Airiam has begun uploading the data package to the computer, thus commencing what I have written in my notes as “just three ladieeeeees fightin’ in a space jail.” Hacked Airiam takes Nhan out fairly easily — if you didn’t remember the exactly one episode of TNG in which we actually met another one, Nhan is Barzan, a race of people whose headgear are basically Brita filters for their lungs — by ripping off one of her implants, and nearly kills Burnham before the latter manages to lock her out of the main concourse. Hacked Airiam would have succeeded in uploading the whole file, thus inviting the apocalypse, but Tilly interrupts and resurfaces the real Airiam with a lovely monologue over the comms, reminding her of all the memories she had been forced to store on Discovery to make room for the package. It gives Airiam time to beg Burnham to jettison her into space; Burnham, being Burnham, can’t do it, and while she exhausts all other options, Airiam has a moment to tell her to “find Project Daedalus” before Nhan — still half-suffocating — manages to hit the airlock button for her, saving literally the entire galaxy. (Nhan gets no respect, no respect at all!)

Great! Now that the main exposition is out of the way, I can spend the rest of this recap complaining about Whiny Tween Spock. Because truly, what is his damage? Does Talosian therapy cause CTE? Look, I know everyone goes through a truly insufferable, irrational period in their lives, and that that usually comes in adolescence, when, as a half-human outcast, Spock couldn’t afford to be difficult. But wow, he is truly efficient this week in managing to use every possible second to be The Absolute Worst to everyone who crosses his path. While he may have had the moral high ground on Talos IV, now back on the Discovery he’s doing his damnedest to sabotage his own advantage, taking every possible opportunity to punish Burnham tenfold for the one nasty thing she said — to protect him — when she was 11.

Never mind the fact that she’s following a direct order from Pike in working on the Red Angel mystery — she’d clearly rather be helping prove Tyler’s innocence than helping a verbally abusive brother who would rather throw tantrums than accept help. When she suggests playing the Trek-infamous 3D chess in order to get Spock thinking more logically, he tries to lose on purpose, antagonizing her until she finally gets angry and he has the justification he evidently needs to lay on the cruelest — and frankly unproductive! — accusation yet: that she “takes responsibility for that which is beyond [her] control” because it’s easier than confronting the “unimaginable grief” of recognizing that she could not have done a single thing to prevent her parents’ death.

Now look, this isn’t necessarily untrue — he points out that she tried to solve the logic extremists’ beef with their family by making it about her, when in reality they hated them because Spock was half-human — but the fact remains that everything she’s doing now to help him is not only completely devoid of self-aggrandizement, it’s literally a direct order from their captain. (Also? She did kill a Klingon on the sculpture! She kind of did start the war!) She hasn’t once made the Red Angel thing about her; everything she’s done has been begrudging and, as Stamets irritably points out to Spock later, because she loves him! When Burnham finally shouts, “You need to stop taking whatever this is out on me! You need to identify why you’re really angry!” and when — after Spock flips the chess board and storms out like an actual child — Pike pages her to the bridge and she catches her breath at the sick reminder that all of this traumatic emotional excavation is currently part of her job, whew, did I feel that. I very much pray Spock’s conversation with Stamets later — in which Stamets offers downright brilliant insight into why the Red Angel might have chosen to contact him, while all Spock manages to do is neg the engineer and offer completely inappropriate personal advice as to why Culber dumped him — is meant as an emotional turning point, and we won’t have to want to punch our bearded Vulcan in the face for much longer.

Personal Log, Supplemental:

• Pike’s version of “Engage” is now officially “Hit it.” Thanks, I hate it!

• This show has a really interesting relationship with authority. It suggests that good leaders share power — as evidenced by Pike’s cool stepdad approach, or this week’s “my mission, your ship” from Cornwell — but at the same time, it’s been a while since Saru has had anything close to “joint custody” of Discovery, and everyone, from Burnham all the way up to Admiral Cornwell, seems to take a very optional view of direct orders! These aren’t necessarily incompatible messages, but what’s the point of trying to earn the loyalty of your crew if they’re just going to walk all over you when it counts?

• I just realized there are an awful lot of undercuts on this bridge. Detmer, Owowsekun, Bryce, Burnham earlier — I get that this is a paramilitary operation but I also get the feeling this very late-2010s haircut is going to end up being Discovery’s equivalent of The Next Generation’s obsession with shoulder pads.

• I refuse to accept that Admiral Patar is played by Tara Nicodemo and not the Android from Dark Matter.

• So … the Red Angel has to be Future Spock, right? Or maybe Future Burnham? Either way, one of the best parts of Star Trek has always been its characters’ willingness to bear out completely insane premises for the sake of problem-solving, and I’m disappointed in this team’s inability to consider the craziest (and yet most likely, from a narrative standpoint) possibilities.

• Almost everything I could possibly say about the way Cornwell aggressively compliments Pike into shutting the hell up this week — and the way everyone else on the bridge is like “Cool, so everyone else here isn’t the best Starfleet has to offer? Thanks boss!” — can no doubt be better described in this utterly flawless thread of Discovery/Vine mashups.

Star Trek: Discovery Recap: I, Robot(ically Augmented)