Star Trek Discovery jerks the old tear ducts in “Perpetual Infinity”

I’m still sick (or again, since I caught a new bug my Dad brought back from the hospital), but nonetheless, here is your regularly scheduled Star Trek Discovery review. For my takes on previous episodes, go here.

Warning! Spoilers under the cut!

“Perpetual Infinity” starts where the previous episode ended, with the Red Angel unmasked as Dr. Gabrielle Burnham, Michael Burnham’s presumed dead mother, played by actress Sonja Sohn. Everybody inevitably mentions that Sonja Sohn was in The Wire (of which I haven’t seen more than maybe twenty minutes, none of which included Ms. Sohn, and that was more than enough to tell me that I didn’t like the show), so I’ll mention that she also was in Cold Case, Body of Proof, Burn Notice and Luke Cage, mostly playing cops (which apparently is also what she played in The Wire) and always well worth watching. She also gives a great performance as Gabrielle Burnham.

Once Pike, Saru and Dr. Culber assure her that she wasn’t dreaming, Michael, who is still recuperating from her ordeal to draw out the Red Angel, is understandably desperate to see her mother after twenty or twenty-five years apart. Alas, Gabrielle does not want to see Michael. For it turns out that on the night the Klingons attacked the Burnhams, Gabrielle jumped into the prototype Red Angel suit and activated it. Gabrielle planned to go back in time to prevent the attack, but the Red Angel suit sent her 950 years into the future instead, into a universe where all sentient life (Really all? I mean, the universe is a very big place) has been long since exterminated by the rogue Section 31 AI Control. By the way, since all problems in Star Trek Discovery seem to originate with Section 31, can anybody tell me why they weren’t disbanded and instead stick around well into the era of Deep Space Nine?

Gabrielle tries to return to her daughter, but always inevitably finds herself pulled back into Control’s dark future. She does keep an eye on Michael via her time travelling, though the only person she can ever manage to communicate with is Spock (who gets stuck with terrible nightmares as a result) due to his dyslexia. And now Gabrielle doesn’t even want to see Michael, since she knows that she cannot stay anyway. For while the containment field that the Discovery crew rigged last episode to entrap the Red Angel keeps her in the present for now, it won’t hold forever and then Gabrielle has to go back to the devastated future. Of course, Michael, who won’t take “no” for an answer, and Stamets, who never met a science problem he did not want to solve, try to find a way to keep Gabrielle in the present, but there is no guarantee it will work. And besides, time has lost all meaning for Gabrielle anyway due to too much time-travelling.

Furthermore, Gabrielle also tried to figure out how Control became so powerful and what can be done to stop it. She did manage to solve the latter problem, since it turns out that Control only became a sentient-life exterminating monster once it absorbed the data from the infodump sphere the Discovery found in “An Obol for Charon”. Oh yes, and Gabrielle was the one who planted the infodump sphere in Discovery‘s path, though we suspect that she had no idea that she’d nearly kill off Saru in the process. Though interestingly, Saru is the one who objects to simply deleting the sphere archive, which is the first solution to the dilemma that Pike proposes. Finally, Gabrielle knows nothing about the seven signal bursts which the Discovery was sent to investigate in the first place, which is a bit strange, because Gabrielle seems to know everything else, as we and Michael learn via hundreds of video logs Gabrielle has made.

Nonetheless, I strongly suspect that Spock, Saru and every other person in Michael’s life is very angry at Gabrielle right now. In fact, I’m pretty sure Pike isn’t a huge fan of Gabrielle either, especially after she tells him that she has seen his future (so have we, Gabrielle, so have we) and that he won’t like it. Mirror Georgiou actually confronts Gabrielle about this in a great scene (largely because Michelle Yeoh and Sonja Sohn are both excellent actresses), only for Gabrielle to promptly thank her for always being there for Michael and protecting her and eventually dying for her. Uhm, Gabrielle, you know that this Philippa Georgiou is an evil tyrant from the Mirror Universe, who likes to have Saru for dinner, right? Hell, even Mirror Georgiou points out that Gabrielle is talking to the wrong person, while Gabrielle insists, “No, I know exactly who you are.” Hmm, foreshadowing? Though Michelle Yeoh will have to stick around long enough for the proposed Section 31 spin-off at least. Though this exchange (which passes both the Bechdel test and the people of colour equivalent BTW) once again shows that the closest thing to a caring parent figure Michael ever had was an evil Empress from the parallel universe (as well as her good prime universe counterpart).

For while I certainly sympathise with Gabrielle’s terrible predicament, let’s face it: She isn’t a particularly good parent. First, she and her husband put their young daughter at risk by engaging in massively dangerous research for Section 31 and painting a big fat “Klingons, aim bat’leth here” target on their backs. Then Gabrielle gets time lost and though she manages to communicate with Spock, she never manages to tell him that he shall let Michael know she’s alive and will come back if she can. Then, when she is finally reunited with her daughter, Gabrielle refuses to see her, because she knows she’ll have to leave again and the brief reunion will only hurt Michael. Uhm, how about letting Michael decide for herself? After all, Michael is an adult now, not a young girl. Okay, there is eventually a tearful exchange of “I love you”, but I’m still not overly impressed by Gabrielle the mother as opposed to Gabrielle, the time-travelling scientist, who’s pretty bad-arse.

This season, Star Trek Discovery is dishing up pretty inept or downright awful parent figures with such wild abandon that it seems they’re gunning for the Darth Vader Parenthood Award with almost puppy-like desperation. Though maybe they shouldn’t have picked a year where they’re up against both Thanos as well as upstart George Hodel. Though I’m a bit unsure if George Hodel should be a contender, since he was a real person, even though I Am The Night, the TV series which won him his nomination, is largely fictionalised.

The one person who tries to comfort Michael, when her mother refuses to see her, is Spock, who knows a thing or two about crappy parents. Okay, so I’m not sure if a game of three-dimensional chess is the best comfort, but Spock tries and that it what counts. He also uses the game to show Michael that no matter what Gabrielle might claim, the future is not written in stone and they can change it. Now that sounds like the Spock we know and love. Once more, the scene between Spock and Michael is lovely and indeed, their relationship is quickly becoming one of my favourite things about season 2 of Star Trek Discovery, which I’d never have expected, considering how sceptical I was about whether we needed to see Spock at all.

Meanwhile, the Discovery is still trying to figure out how to keep Control (Honestly, couldn’t they have come up with a better name? Cause this one makes V’ger and Nomad seem creative) from accessing the sphere info and turning into a universe destroying monster. After Saru vetoes just deleting the archieve and it turns out that they cannot do that anyway due to inbuilt protections, the next idea is to simply upload all the info into the Red Angel suit and sent it into the future where Control cannot access it. However, that is a problem, because it turns out that Control did not kill Section 31 commander Leland like it seemed last episode, but instead took him over. And Leland now orders Mirror Georgiou and Ash Tyler, both of whom are still Section 31 agents, to download the sphere info, so Section 31 can safeguard it. Both Ash and Mirror Georgiou have their doubts about that, but initially go along with it, because orders are orders. But after her little heart to heart with Gabrielle, Mirror Georgiou figures out that something is wrong with Leland, when he uses the same phrasing Gabrielle used when talking about Control. She recruits Ash, who’s been having some doubts of his own, and together they decide to stop Leland a.k.a. Control.

James Whitbrook feels that the fact that Georgiou and Ash are having a crisis of conscience over a Section 31 plan that turns out to be the plan of a rogue AI cheapens the characters and removes some shades of grey from Section 31. I agree that it certainly seems as if the Discovery showrunners are trying to redeem Mirror Georgiou, probably because while Empress Philippa the Merciless, eater of Kelpians, makes a delightfully villainous guest star, she doesn’t really work as the star of her own Section 31 show, while Philippa Georgiou, morally grey badarse, certainl does. Meanwhile, Ash Tyler has been a victim of circumstance for much of Discovery‘s run anyway. However, I don’t feel that the fact that the orders that Georgiou and Ash decide to not obey come from a rogue AI rather than from their superior Leland really cheapens their characters and their decisions. Especially since that same rogue AI used to run Section 31 (and much of the Federation) anyway and thus is directly responsible for the orders given to Section 31 agents. However, I do think that no matter how delightful Michelle Yeoh’s turn as the no longer quite so evil Mirror Georgiou is, Section 31 is best used sparingly, if you must use them at all. And personally, I never liked the idea of Section 31 in the first place, probably because I never much cared for Deep Space Nine where they originated.

Once the Control-controlled Leland figures out that Ash and Georgiou are working against him, he stabs Ash (who survives to suffer another day) and engages in a furious hand-to-hand battle with Georgiou and Gabrielle (Michelle Yeoh fight scenes are always good) and later a Discovery security team led to Commander Nhan (does she even have a first name?) beamed down to the planet where all this is taking place. The planet is apparently called Essof IV, though I never caught the name and it doesn’t much matter anyway, because the episode ends with the Discovery blowing up the planet after beaming out the security team plus Georgiou and Ash. The Red Angel suit is damaged in the fight, dragging Gabrielle back into the future, and a redshirt member of the security team dies barely noticed and unmourned.

As for Leland, he manages to escape aboard the Section 31 ship (where no one has any inkling that he isn’t their commander, but his corpse controlled by a rogue AI) with 54% of the sphere’s info. Is 54% enough to turn Control from a mere Leland-and redshirt-killing evil to a universe-exterminating evil? We don’t know, but we’re sure to find out. And will Gabrielle ever manage to return from the future and finally be reunited with her daughter? Considering that Discovery managed to bring back both Philippa Georgiou and Dr. Culber, both of whom were very much dead, killed on screen no less, I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. It also would be a welcome development, both because Michael deserves a bit of happiness and also because I wouldn’t mind seeing Sonja Sohn again after the excellent performance she gave this episode.

All in all, “Perpetual Infinity” was a really good episode of Star Trek Discovery, though Camestros Felapton points out that some reviewers like Kaila Hale-Sterne at The Mary Sue didn’t much care for it. Though what elevates it over the usual Star Trek Discovery plot runaround are the great performances of Sonequa Martin-Green, Sonja Sohn and everybody else. Discovery is the rare example of a Star Trek show with no weak links in the cast (probably the first time this has happened since Next Generation and even Next Generation had the occasional weak link) and in season 2 this is really paying off.

I’m not overly thrilled by Discovery basically borrowing the plot of the Terminator series with some call-backs to the Borg mixed in, because we’ve seen this story before, multiple times, even in Star Trek itself. Never mind that there isn’t much tension about whether Control will succeed in exterminating all sentient life in the universe, because we know that it won’t. After all, the Federation will still be around by the end of Voyager and Star Trek Nemesis (okay, so the latter film would almost be a reason to exterminate the universe). And humans will be around for even longer, because one of the Short Trek episodes was set in the far future, featuring a marooned traveller and Discovery‘s computer. Which makes me wonder even more why they chose to make that particular Short Treks episode, nice though it is, at this point, when it pretty much negates the entire main threat of season 2.

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2 Responses to Star Trek Discovery jerks the old tear ducts in “Perpetual Infinity”

  1. Pingback: Star Trek Discovery: Perpetual Infinity (S2E11) | Camestros Felapton

  2. Pingback: Star Trek Discovery ventures “Through the Valley of Shadows” | Cora Buhlert

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