Episode 10 of Star Trek: Discovery’s Season 2 is plot-filled pandemonium. We got surprises, relapses, a funeral, some classified information, and an identity revelation we’ve been chasing the whole season.
Where most episodes this season had more or less good balance between story, plot, and canon, Episode 10 was chocked full of plot and twists. In this way, “The Red Angel” is like a lonely gas station miles deep in the middle of the desert — the last place in the universe to stock up on fuel before the final leg of the journey. Don’t misunderstand us. It was still a fun episode. But it sure felt stuffed to the nacelles, perhaps to the point that some of the elements didn’t land as intended.
Let’s start with Airiam’s funeral. Now, Airiam was a nice character and her death was as tragic as it was plot-assisting. However, as we mentioned last week, the death did not quite feel earned — we barely knew her. Just as Ariam’s sacrifice might have had a bigger emotional impact if her character’s development had been spread out across the season, so having Discovery’s crew mourn her so earnestly felt hollow. It isn’t that these characters shouldn’t feel sad. Just that Airiam’s characterization and death happened too quickly.
(Granted, Star Trek does have a habit of doing this — TNG’s Season 7 episode “Lower Decks” does essentially the same thing with the character Ensign Sito Jaxa.)
Then after Airiam’s funeral is over, it’s time to move on. Before we’ve even hit the episode’s main title sequence, we’re told that Michael Burnham is the Red Angel. Tilly discovers a bio-neural signature embedded in the data downloaded from Airiam’s memory, and Dr. Culber runs a series of tests that quickly and with 100% certainty match Michael’s. Michael even starts referring to the Red Angel as “me.” Sure, we’ve been debating the Red Angel’s identity for weeks, but a quick build and quick release seem to be Discovery’s modus operandi.
But wait: even the release isn’t what it appears because, in the last moments of the episode, the Red Angel falls for the trap set for her by the Discovery crew and we learn that Michael isn’t the Angel after all. It is…her mother. Who died (?) when Michael was a child and is quite possibly traveling from the past. (So much for our Hail Mary Sybock theory.)
But there’s still more! Episode 10 also continues to juggle the psychological and emotional fallout of Dr. Culber’s rebirth, which necessitates a counseling session with former shrink Admiral Cornwell. Plus the revelation that Michael’s parents were working for Section 31 when they died. And Captain Leland takes responsibility. And Michael assaults him while he’s a guest on Discovery. And Spock thinks that’s pretty great, and his support for her actions leads to him finally accepting Michael’s apology. And also — Captain Leland might be dead now? Killed by Control?
Honestly, all the plot packed into this episode is enough to cover half a season.
Our reaction is not all complaints, though. One dynamic we did really like in this episode was the well-paced, though brief, romantic re-connection of star-double-crossed love birds Michael and Ash. Though we didn’t predict their emotional moment, it does make sense that Michael would lean on Ash in a time of crisis. In this particular crisis, Michael was preparing to risk her life for a chance to capture the Red Angel (who she thought was her future self). The scene with Ash had a more effective emotional impact than Airiam’s funeral because we’ve had plenty of time to get invested in the Ash-Michael dynamic. If anything, their private scene was a moving callback to their earlier failed-ish relationship.
The icing on the cake, however, was an earlier scene in which Spock and Michael make amends and join forces to solve Red Angel questions. Spock finally eases Michael’s guilt about the cruel comments she made to him when they were children, and he doesn’t even seem upset that the Red Angel appearances aren’t, after all, totally about him. This scene is the most grown-up moment in the whole episode, even if their teamwork does lead to the plan to give Michael a near-death experience in order to summon the Red Angel. (Spock’s idea, no doubt. Typical little brother shenanigans).
But before we move on to discussing the identity of the Red Angel and theorizing about temporal mechanics, let’s air one more gripe, our chief one from Episode 10. For most of the episode, we’re working on the belief that Michael is the Red Angel. Early on, the main characters hold a meeting in which they discuss how to capture the Red Angel. And they let Michael come to the meeting! Now, we’ve only ever traveled forward in time, at more or less the normal pace, but it does seem to us that the smart move would be to leave Michael out of it. After all, many years from now, wouldn’t she be able to remember the plan and know how to avoid being captured?! Michael was raised on Vulcan; she would have understood the logic of temporal paradox . So, either including Michael was an unfortunate oversight, or, reading more deeply, maybe it’s a comment on how time travel works on Discovery. Or maybe it’s a hint that Michael isn’t the Red Angel. For our money, though, we’re thinking oversight.
But enough of that. Let’s move into the fun part and implications of Michael’s mother’s turn as the Red Angel. What does this mean for the future of the season, for the battle with Present and Future Control, and for what may be going on temporally- speaking?
The first big implication stemming from Michael’s mother being the Red Angel is that she is conducting her time travel activities from the past, not the future. If we accept that Michael’s mother really died in the attack on Doctari Alpha — which Leland and Sarek and everyone else seem to believe — then her “base time” is a moment when Michael was a child.
Several questions pertaining to Michael’s mother’s strategy arise once we assume she is operating from the past.
How is she able to see into the future to know what events to alter or preserve? Something in the mechanized suit or in Project Daedalus must keep her from being affected by the timeline changes.
Why did she save a group of human’s from Earth’s World War III period and deposit them on Terralysium halfway across the galaxy? Well, maybe she did this to create a secret reservoir of humans in case Future-Control was successful.
Why does she insert herself into the Kelpien-Ba’ul conflict? What does her fight with Control have to do with Kaminar? Perhaps the Kelpiens are needed in the future to fight Control. Perhaps the Ba’ul obelisks have a role to play.
Why is the USS Hiawatha important?
We may see answers to these questions soon, as most of them seem easily answered in conversation.
Of course, though, Mother Burnham might not be coming from the past at all. It could be that she has been using Michael’s identity as a cover. If Control ever caught up with the real Michael Burnham, thinking she was the Red Angel, it would discover she was just a decoy and Michael’s mother would be able to go behind Control and reset things.
Or, to complicate matters further, perhaps Michael will be the Red Angel at some point. Perhaps Airiam registered Michael’s bio-neural signature in the suit because Michael puts the suit on eventually.
And why not both? Maybe Michael’s mom is masquerading across time as her daughter in order to deceive a malicious AI from the future. And maybe Michael also eventually puts the suit on and fills her mother’s time shoes (See? So much cooler). This temporal causality loop isn’t going to bootstrap itself, after all.
One big area of discussion this whole thing opens up is that the timeline we are currently observing might not be what we end up with going forward into Season 3. There is a very real possibility that this particular timeline might get reset and we might restart back before the Klingon war or further back, perhaps before Michael’s parents died. At the beginning of Season 3 of Discovery, we could see an entirely different timeline unfold and everything we have witnessed over the last two seasons would have been rendered void. No Spore Drive, no Captain Lorca from the Terran Universe, no Spock committing himself to a psychiatric institution, perhaps no timeline where Michael is raised by Sarek. That last bit would certainly go along well with the TOS that we know and love, in which Spock never mentions his foster sister.
This lines up with what showrunner Alex Kurtzman and actors Anthony Rapp and Doug Jones have recently said at PaleyFest. There is some hinting that the end of Season 2 will be a major change, that the canonicity of the Spore Drive and Discovery will be addressed. Anthony Rapp, speaking at Paleyfest, says specifically:
“I think that the last few episodes will really close the circle for people. If we’ve done our job, what was on the page… in the scripts, closes the circle; it answers the questions that are lingering and remaining for people of how we fit in. And I believe very strongly that it will leave people satisfied. As someone who cares about continuity, to some degree, I was like, ‘If this doesn’t make people happy, I don’t know what else we can do.’”
So, alas, we are in a holding position. There has been a big reveal and the answers to many questions seem imminent. Yet we in the audience also seem to be caught up in a temporal cold war, of sorts. Clearly there is a potential temporal causality loop at play, possibly even multiple timelines occurring simultaneously (one of which leads to the future that we see in the “Calypso” Short Trek). Indeed, the title of the upcoming episode, “Perpetual Infinity,” lends some credence to that. But will there be a way to connect these temporal happenings back to larger canon? Even though it seems that Discovery may reset its own timeline, are there implications for the Trek future that we know?
Section 31’s Captain Leland mentioned that he and Michael’s parents were working on a theory that certain technological leaps in Earth’s past may have been the result of time travel. This seems to be the impetus behind Project Daedalus. It is a nice little nod, because these “technological leaps” happen often enough in the Trek multiverse. In VOY’s “Tattoo,” aliens from the Delta Quadrant visit a Native American group deep in Earth’s ancient past and bestow upon them a genetic alteration.The visitation isn’t exactly time travel, but it does cause a cultural leap. (The idea that Native people need alien help to make progress is a clear spot of racism in the franchise, but the episode does fit the intervention theory.) In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, a time-traveling Montgomery Scott bestows 20th century humanity with the concept of transparent aluminum. And then there’s VOY’s two-parter “Future’s End,” in which a paradox and a stranded time cop give Earth’s 20th century huge leaps in computing technology. The point is that intervention in Trek happens more often than you might think.
However, is Leland’s reference to Project Daedalus’s mission a simple nod to canon, or is it more deeply integrating Discovery to a specific time travel incursion that we have already seen? We’re not sure yet. But it’s fun to speculate.
And then there’s the Borg. Don’t worry; they haven’t shown up in Discovery so far. But maybe they could. We posit this as a highly improbable theory, but maybe, just maybe, there is a long shot that Discovery’s Season 2 might be an origin story for the Borg? Sounds ridiculous, we know. But, time travel is involved, so potentially the ship can travel back in time to the period when the Borg were created (right about the 12th century CE). And, with the Spore Drive, the origin story can properly begin in the Delta Quadrant, where we know the Borg come from. The Mycelial Network and the Transwarp abilities of the Borg are, like anything in Star Trek, only one or two lines of technobabble away from being the same thing. And then there is the matter of Control, an artificial intelligence that is ruthless in pursuing its goals…kind of like the Borg. All we’d really need to accomplish a true Borg origin story is for Control to change its threat assessment from destroying all sentient life to assimilating it.
Anything is possible with this show. We will keep an eye out for more details in the upcoming episode, “Perpetual Infinity”. There are only four more episodes left in Season 2, so we are certainly in the home stretch.
For now, we will leave you with two things worthy of mention. One is our favorite quote from Episode 10, from a meeting with most of the main characters in sickbay, and two is quite simply the best summary we’ve seen for Season 2 of Star Trek; Discovery (it is a short joke, gang — just click the link).
Spock: “That’s a position that fits her emotional profile rather precisely, particularly her drive to take responsibility for situations often beyond her control.”
Burnham: “Thank you for sharing that with the group, Spock.”
Written by Kyle Sullivan & Katie Boyer — www.trekspertise.com