Before we get to our regularly scheduled Star Trek Discovery coverage (for my takes on previous episodes, go here), I first have some links to share.
For starters, I have a new article up at Galactic Journey. This one is about modern architecture written from a 1964 POV. Meet the pregnant oyster, the hollow tooth, the Bull Ring and other classics of postwar architecture. There are lots of vintage photos, too, some of which were not easy to track down. And modern photos usually don’t work, even if the building is unchanged, because there generally are people, cars, other buildings, etc… in the shot that clearly don’t belong into the mid 1960s.
Then, I have a book in another StoryOrigins giveaway, where you can get free e-books in exchange for your e-mail address. This giveaway is called Action Reloaded and is thriller and adventure fiction themed. If you always wanted to try the Silencer series or want to check out some of the other thrillers and adventure novels on offer, head over to StoryOrigins and sign up. And don’t worry, if you’re already signed up for my newsletter. You can download the free e-book anyway, if you enter your e-mail address. The system filters out any doubles.
And now let’s talk about the latest episode of Star Trek Discovery, fittingly enough entitled “The Red Angel”.
Warning! Spoilers behind the cut!
“The Red Angel” starts off where last week’s episode ended, namely with the death of Airiam, the cyborg member of the bridge crew. This week’s episode starts off with Airiam’s funeral, complete with several crewmembers giving heartfelt speeches and Saru singing a Kelpian dirge. All of which would be very touching, except – as Zack Handlen points out in his review – we barely knew Airiam and most of what little we knew about her happened in the episode she died. Indeed, “Funeral for a Redshirt” might have made a good alternate episode title. We also meet Airiam’s replacement, one Lieutenant Nilsson who is played by none other than Sarah Mitich who played Airiam in season 1. So Airiam’s replacement is herself.
With her dying words, Airiam revealed that everything – the Red Angel, the impending apocalypse due to an AI gone rogue – is connected to Michael, for of course it is, and to something called “Project Daedalus”. Now Tilly, Discovery‘s resident master of Google-Fu, digs into the archives and finds a file that reveals that the Red Angel has Michael’s biometric signature. This is apprently supposed to be a “shocking twist (TM)”, the first of several this episode, except that the fact that the Red Angel is apparently a time-travelling Michael Burnham surprises absolutely no one and indeed was the most popular option on the semi-serious “Who is the Red Angel?” poll that Camestros Felapton posted last week. Besides, as Spock points out, time-travelling and putting herself at risk to warn everybody of impending doom is exactly the sort of thing Michael would do. Hmm, I now wonder whether Spock’s occasional totally logical outbreaks of risking his life to save his crewmates and friends (most notably Pike in “The Menagerie” and the entire Enterprise crew in The Wrath of Khan) are something he got from his sister or whether that’s how you turn out, when you have the misfortune of being raised by Sarek and Amanda. Because Michael is not the only one to risk her life for totally logical illogical reasons all the time.
As for the mysterious Project Daedalus, well, Georgiou ex-machina pops up once again, Leland in tow, to provide the answer. Oh yes, and just in case you’re wondering whatever happened to “The Discovery crew are now fugitives for habouring Spock and hunted by Section 31″ plotline that added some urgency to the past two episodes, well, Admiral Cornwell basically sends a message that everything was a very regrettable mistake (Starfleet is sure making a lot of those recently) and that the Discovery is completely cool again and that Spock is no longer wanted for murder. Why have this whole “The Discovery crew are fugitives” plot at all, if you’re not going to do anything with it? Ask the production team, cause I sure as hell don’t know.
As for Project Daedalus, Mirror Georgiou ex-machina casually informs Michael, Pike and the rest of the Discovery crew that it was a Section 31 project to develop time travel and that the Federation was in a time travel arms race with the Klingons. Of course, we never heard anything about this before – unless this was the Temporal Cold War that was a side plot in Star Trek Enterprise – not even during the entire first season that was all about the war with the Klingons, but who cares? A shocking twist (TM) was needed, so Georgiou (who has no way of knowing any of this, since she wasn’t even in this universe, when it happened, but who cares?) delivers one. Georgiou also has a second shocking twist (TM) in store (for why have just one, when you can have several?). For it turns out Michael’s birth parents weren’t just harmless Starfleet researchers who got themselves murdered by Klingons (those of us who pointed out that Klingons normally don’t randomly murder people now feel vindicated). No, Michael’s parents were Section 31 agents who were working on…. drumroll… Project Daedalus and were on a mission to retrieve a time crystal for Leland, when the Klingons caught up with them and killed them. As for why Michael’s parents chose to take their young daughter along on this very dangerous secret mission, either childcare is really inadequate in the Federation or they are also gunning for the Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Outstandingly Horrible Fictional Parents. Oh yes, and the Red Angel seems to be wearing the very time travel suit that Project Daedalus was trying to develop.
Michael’s reaction to this revelation is twofold. First, she decks Leland who totally has it coming (Saru also threatens Leland for good measure, because he always has Michael’s back and no more likes Section 31 than anybody else does). Then she tears into Ash Tyler, who – although he’s both Klingon and a Section 31 agent – has absolutely nothing to do with any of this. Finally, Michael storms out to let off some steam by beating up training dummies. Spock goes after Michael and tries to comfort her by pointing out that her emotional and logical sides are in complete turmoil right now and that he knows how that feels. It’s a lovely scene and very well acted by Sonequa Martin-Green and Ethan Peck, who really manages to channel Leonard Nimoy, e.g. when he dryly points out to Michael, who’s still pounding a dummy, “I’m sure Captain Leland appreciates your choice of high-density urethane foam in lieu of his nasal cartilage”. And though I was initially sceptical whether we needed to see Spock at all in Discovery, Spock and Michael’s very believable sibling relationship is quickly becoming one of my favourite things about this season.
Together, Michael and Spock also come up with a plan to trap the Red Angel once and for all. Unfortunately, given the origin of the plan, it’s both completely insane and very, very dangerous. Basically, Spock and Michael theorise that if the Red Angel is a future Michael, she will obviously want to protect her past self to prevent a grandfather paradox type situation from happening. This is born out by the fact that the Red Angel has protected Michael from danger a few times, totally ignoring the fact that Michael was in deadly danger for much of season 1 and the Red Angel didn’t as much as beat a wing to help her. Though if the Red Angel were Michael, that would actually make sense, because Michael with her massive martyr complex is probably convinced that she must suffer and besides, she knows that she didn’t die.
Michael and Spock’s crazy plan to trap the Red Angel is to deliberately put Michael in deadly danger, so the Red Angel will swoop in to rescue her. And once it does, the trap snaps shut and the Discovery has captured the Red Angel who will hopefully answer some questions. It’s an absolutely terrible plan, and everybody except Spock and Michael is against it. The look on Pike’s face is priceless and he’s clearly thinking, “Oh my God, I’m surrounded by nutcases. Please, just let me go to Talos IV and have babies with Vina now, cause I can’t take this anymore.” On a more surprising note, Admiral Cornwell is also vehemently opposed to the plan as is Mirror Georgiou. But then for all her faults, Mirror Georgiou genuinely seems to care about Michael. And how depressing is it that the closest thing Michael has to a caring parent figure (since both Sarek and Amanda as well as her own parents were inadequate) is an evil tyrant from another universe? Come to think of it, Lorca also genuinely seemed to care about Michael, though his feelings were far from parental. So basically, the only people who really care about Michael are two evil villains from the mirror universe and Spock (and Tilly and Saru).
In the end, Michael and Spock manage to convince Pike, Cornwell, Georgiou and the rest of the Discovery crew to go along with the plan. Or rather, Michael convinces everybody, while Spock stands next to her and just shrugs and basically says, “Well, of course it’s a crazy plan, but that’s the sort of thing she does and don’t even try to stop her, cause she’ll do it anyway.” Interestingly, no one points out that if future Michael really is the Red Angel, she should already know about the plan to trap her, but then a few plot holes never stopped Discovery.
So the plan is on. Michael decides to spend what might well be her last moments alive (for if the plan fails, she’ll likely end up dead for good) by making up with Ash in an “OMG, I’m about to die” moment. Once more, the chemistry between Shazad Latif and Sonequa Martin-Green is fabulous, though these two are really way too tortured and complicated to be good for each other. A less complicated love interest for Michael would probably be a good thing at this point. Maybe Saru, cause you know he wants to, even if Michael doesn’t quite get it yet.
And talking of complicated relationships, Dr. Culber has finally decided to get some professional help (yeah!) and seeks out a therapist. Unfortunately, the Discovery has no counsellor on board, though I’ve never seen a Starfleet ship that needed one more and so Dr. Culber seeks out Admiral Cornwell, who used to be a therapist, before she became a genocide happy Starfleet Admiral. Honestly, I’m thinking more and more that Admiral Cornwell was conceived as an evil version of Deanna Troi, though it doesn’t quite work, because the writers often don’t know what to do with her. But genocide condoning evil Deanna Troi or not, talking to Admiral Cornwell does seem to help Dr. Culber. It helps him so much that he decides to try to reconcile with Stamets right now and blunders into engineering where Stamets, Tilly and Mirror Georgiou are in the process of setting up the trap for the Red Angel and figuring out how to kill Michael without killing her for good. So Stamets is less than pleased to see Culber and tells him that this is really not a good time. Mirror Georgiou is obviously getting a kick out of all this interpersonal drama and promptly decides to hit on Stamets. And when Stamets (great facial expressions by Anthony Rapp here) tries to politely decline with, “Sorry, but I’m gay”, Mirror Georgiou casually informs him that his mirror universe counterpart was bisexual and that maybe he should just give it a try. Culber is suitably jealous. On the one hand, it’s a hilarious scene and wonderfully played by Anthony Rapp, Michelle Yeoh and Wilson Cruz. Though the implications that apparently everybody in the Mirror Universe is not just evil and wears a goatee, but also bisexual comes perilously close to the problematic “bisexuality equals evil” trope, as Gavia Baker-Whitelaw points out in her review.
The episode ends with Michael screaming in agony, as she is exposed to poisonous gas or whatever it is. Pike and Georgiou want to stop the experiment, but Spock holds them back, knowing that this is Michael’s wish. The Red Angel really does appear in the nick of time to rescue Michael and is promptly trapped. The Red Angel suit opens up to reveal… – no, not Michael, but her Mom. The same Mom (played by Sonja Sohn, who’s been in dozens of TV shows, though everybody only remembers The Wire for some reason) who apparently died at the hand of the Klingons twenty years ago or so.
As shocking twists (TM) go, this last twist is truly shocking, because I for one did not see it coming at all. It also plugs some plot holes such as “If Michael was the Red Angel, why did she fall for the trap?” and opens up others such as, “If Mama Burnham was so concerned about her daughter, where was she when her daughter was given a life sentence on trumped up charges and frankly, where was she for the entirety of season 1?” Or for that matter, “Why did Mama Burnham take time out of her busy schedule of saving all sentient life in the Universe and trying to keep her wayward daughter from getting herself killed to rescue the survivors of the Hiawatha, the colonists of New Eden and the Kelpians, but did nothing to rescue any of the umpteen other deserving victims of cosmic disasters that happened in Federation space during the same time period?” For that matter, the question also remains just why Michael’s mother has apparently the same biometric signature Michael has. Is DNA analysis in the future just really bad? Did someone get the samples mixed up? Is Michael her own mother (hey, it’s possible)?
Oh yes, and just in case you’ve forgotten all about Control, the rogue Starfleet AI that’s planning to eliminate all sentient life in the universe, Control decides to start its mission by eliminating one sentient life that won’t be missed much and kills Leland.
By now I really feel as if I’m repeating myself week after week, but once again “The Red Angel” was an enjoyable episode of Star Trek Discovery that just zips along and keeps you on the edge of your seat. It’s only when you start to think about it afterwards that the plotholes become apparent. I initially thought that the amount of action and the sheer speed of Star Trek Discovery were one of the big weaknesses of the show, especially since Star Trek has traditionally always been slower and talkier than many other science fiction shows. But by now, I’m convinced that the fast pace is also one of the show’s greatest strengths, because it keeps you from noticing that the whole plot doesn’t make much sense and is full of holes big enough to fly a starship through.
The other great strength of Star Trek Discovery – and one it shares with most, if not all other Star Trek shows – are the characters. Because by now, my main reason for watching Star Trek Discovery is that I want to know what happens to Michael, Spock, Saru, Tilly, Pike, Ash, Stamets, Culber, Detmer, Owosekun, Rhys, Bryce and yes, even the genocide-condoning Admiral Cornwell and the deliciously evil Mirror Georgiou. Yes, the fact that there is action in space, exploding spaceships, visits to unknown planets, strange cosmic phenomena, time travel, magic mushroom drives, Vulcan logic extremists and Klingon religious fanatics helps, too, but in the end the characters are what keeps me coming back for more.
Back in the day, when a German TV station was broadcasting Star Trek every day of the week, looping from the Original Series via The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise back to the Original Series again, I usually tuned in or recorded the episode of the day to catch up on the weekend. Didn’t matter if I’d seen it already (and I’d seen most of them by that point), I still watched. And when – as I recount in this guest post at the Skiffy and Fanty Show – a friend asked me why I always made sure to watch Star Trek, even though I’d seen most of it at least once, I told her that Star Trek was comfort viewing for me, like a soap opera. And Starship, the soap opera that everybody in the Republic watches in my In Love and War series, is basically Star Trek, if it really were a soap opera and had run for two hundred years straight.
Even though it’s completely bonkers (but then, Star Trek in any incarnation was often completely bonkers), Star Trek Discovery has managed to capture that particularly aspect of Trek very well. It’s basically a bonkers soap opera with occasional explosions, magic mushrooms and philosophical discussions. All of which makes sense, if you remember that originally space opera was basically a soap opera set in space. I’m not sure if that’s what Discovery wanted to be – I guess not, because while today’s prestige TV is all too often basically a soap opera with much better acting and production values, that’s not what it thinks it is – but it’s not a bad path for the show to take at all.