Star Trek: Discovery — S2E9 “Project Daedalus” Review
The latest outing from Discovery, Episode 9 “Project Daedalus,” introduces us to Section 31’s headquarters, to Spock and Burnham’s fractured relationship, and to the backstory of Ariam, the augmented human that has been assisting on the bridge of Discovery since the first season. All around, this was another solid chapter in the Discovery story, albeit with a few caveats. Let’s dig in and see where things stand and what mysteries remain.
The character in the spotlight of “Project Daedalus” was Ariam. Previously, we’d been shown that Ariam was compromised by Future-Control (that is, Control from the future), which delivered some kind of software virus or agent via the Squid Probe back in “Light And Shadows.” In this episode, we learn that Ariam has been communicating with Present-Control and most likely was the person responsible for the sabotage of the Spore Drive. (That gets Tyler off the hook, if not yet out of the brig.) When Ariam is discovered, the episode takes a turn for the tragic.
In order to sell that tragedy at the end of the episode, we are shown Ariam’s backstory. She was once fully human and a newlywed when a shuttle accident killed her husband and condemned her to a technologically-augmented life in which she must delete unwanted memories to save space. This spotlight on Ariam is nice — part of an effort to let us get to know the other bridge crew members. Discovery should absolutely continue to do this. However, having this backstory appear in the very episode depicting Ariam’s demise, and not before, felt rushed and a bit tropey (remember, “Lower Decks” from TNG was basically the same setup). Her sacrifice would have packed more emotional punch if we’d had moments from her life, more fun times with the Discovery crew, peppered throughout the season. Despite the quick backstory and blast from the airlock, the actress playing Ariam, Hannah Cheesman, did a great job underneath all that rubber and plastic — a performance worthy of inclusion in the Brent Spiner Android Performance Hall Of Fame.
Outside the spotlight on Ariam, “Project Daedalus” contains two effective occurrences of one character dressing down another.
The first involves Admiral Cornwell’s unexpectedly complimentary discipline of Captain Pike. When he protests her acceptance of using mines around the Section 31 base, she puts him in his place by…telling him how fabulous he is. He and the crew of the Enterprise, she tells him, represent the very best of Starfleet. They were prevented from fighting in the Klingon war of Season 1 so that they would survive even if the Federation was defeated. Pike, addressed in front of the bridge crew, seems as flattered by the discipline as he is embarrassed.
The second instance of a character dressing-down another comes when we finally (!) get a big fight between Spock and Burnham when Spock accuses his adoptive sister of not minding her own business. In this moment, we can see the outlines of Spock’s internal battle with his emotions quite clearly. He is not the Spock we know from The Original Series. He is younger, less secure in his emotional control, and actually still angry at Michael over the wound she caused him decades earlier. Yet, his outburst assessment of her is pretty accurate. He tells her she is “full of self-importance,” that she is once again “taking responsibility for that which is beyond” her control. From Spock’s dressing-down, we learn that her penchant for jumping into danger and assuming she can do something about any impossible situation stems from her inability to save her parents. Spock has certainly pegged the Michael Burnham we know.
Season 2’s endgame is now in sight. The battle lines between Control and the Red Angel are more or less clear. We understand that Burnham, not Spock, is the key to understanding this time travel plot to prevent the demise of “all sentient life.” And we can see that the battle lines between Control and the Red Angel seem to leading us into a full-on temporal causality loop.
Future-Control would not be able to destroy all sentient life in the galaxy without reaching back in time to access the information passed on from the Sentient Planetoid and giving that information to Present-Control. Indeed, the Red Angel also needs the same information to conduct her actions; the signals directing Discovery to the USS Hiawatha, to Terralysium, and to Kaminar indicate the Red Angel has knowledge of future events.
And yet, “Project Daedalus” does not reveal the identity of the Red Angel. But it does seem crystal clear that the Red Angel is a member of Discovery’s crew. That leaves us with two options: One is Michael Burnham, using whatever Project Daedalus is to project herself into the future. This option is problematic because one timeline has a dead Burnham and can only work if she is projecting from a different universe or something. The other option is Zora, the sentient ship’s computer aboard Discovery that we meet 1000 years into the future, in the ”Calypso” Short Trek. We’d need a little more information to fully go for the Zora option. But, that future depicted in “Calypso”…that’s the timeline that the Red Angel is trying to prevent. The V’Draysh? That’s Future-Control waging war against sentient life. At least, that’s the state of our theorizing after “Project Daedalus.”
As long as we are wearing our tin foil hat, let’s make some other suggestions of what could be possible in Discovery. For one, the Logic Extremists who take issue with Vulcan’s membership in the Federation might just be a front for Romulan malfeasance. An attempt to splinter the Federation by appealing to their Vulcan cousins does seem to come right from a Romulan espionage playbook.
And, we can surmise that the fight with Control is going to change future events in two ways. One, it’ll change the visibility of Section 31 in Federation society. Once Control is defeated, Section 31 will be disbanded in order to prevent further accidental computer misbehavior. But perhaps that Starfleet division will merely be publicly disbanded and, instead of shutting down in reality, will go underground to become the more secretive Section 31 of Deep Space Nine. If so, then the events of Discovery are formative for the Section 31 we’ve known in previous series and which will likely be further detailed in the upcoming Section 31 spinoff.
The second way in which a fight with Control might change future events is that all artificially intelligent technologies and holographic systems will potentially be eliminated from Starfleet vessels. If the AI cannot be trusted and, as we see in this episode, if the holographic technology is so good that it can be used to fake security footage, then perhaps Starfleet decides to purge the AI and holographic systems in order to focus on their core mission. This could adequately explain the lack of these technologies in The Original Series and justify some of the attitudes characters have towards computers in that time period. But then again, this is just educated guessing. Anything is possible.
There is one big burning question regarding this episode for which we have no adequate theory: why didn’t Discovery beam the away team off the Section 31 station once it was revealed that Ariam was compromised? The Discovery crew listened in on a fight to the death without intervening in any way. Was the transporter signal blocked? Was Control interfering with their transmission? Alas, a nicely-timed throw away line of technobabble could easily have solved this mystery.
We will be back after the next installment of Discovery is released, “The Red Angel.” Its title promises to illuminate much of the mystery behind Season 2’s time traveling lady.
For now, we will leave you with a quote from this episode that really caught our ear, from Spock when he is talking to Michael Burnham about their father, Sarek: “I disappoint him. He disappoints me. The sun sets, a new day begins.”
Written by Kyle Sullivan & Katie Boyer