Buckle in folks; this week on Discovery things get pretty wild. And in true Discovery style, it manages to make both the emotional drama and the action equally intense.
The lion’s share of the personal drama in Perpetual Infinity pivots on last week’s climactic revelation of the Red Angel’s identity. Not Michael Burnham, but her mother, Gabrielle. Now, Blogtor Who has to admit that there are a couple of issues with that. There’s the way the previous certainty is was Michael Burnham itself is hand-waved away for a start. Okay, so apparently mothers and daughters frequently have very similar results under the particular kind of scan they use. And Dr. Culber simply discounted the possibility of Michael’s dead mother being the Red Angel. But their theory was that the Red Angel is from the future. So her being Michael’s own as yet unborn daughter should have been flagged as a major possibility. Even by Star Trek’s standards of hand waved explanations, it’s a little iffy.
And it wouldn’t even have meant any changes to last week’s plot – after all, a threat to kill present day Michael would still have negated her future daughter’s existence. It’s an unusual case of a shock for the viewer being manufactured by the Discovery crew being unrealistically sloppy.
It also creates a paradox (narrative, rather than temporal) that you sometimes see in fiction. It’s one of those cases where previous deductions are still correct despite their rationales all being proven completely wrong. Discovery’s certainty that the Red Angel was a time traveller was always a bit of a stretch. It was based on the futuristic technology in the suit, but who knows what technology undiscovered aliens possess? But now we learn the Federation actually built the suit decades ago! Which makes a nonsense of their earlier logic even though, purely by chance, they’re right and the Red Angel is a time traveller.
A perfectly balanced slice of Star Trek, both the emotional heft of the Burnham family reunion and the action deliver
Those are sizeable quibbles with the episode but shouldn’t detract from just how great it is otherwise. Whether they turn out to be the genuine article or not the dead parent returning alive is an old trope. Even the likes of Spider-Man have endured it. But Sonequa Martin-Green and Sonja Sohn (as Gabrielle Burnham) deliver intense, honest performances that lift this episode far beyond most other takes on this sort of storyline. Michael’s initial instinctive need is for it to be untrue, as it would upend her entire understanding of her life. Then she craves an explanation and then a way to save her mother. It all plays out as a note perfect character study at a script and performance level.
Meanwhile, Gabrielle’s cynicism even in the face of reunion with her daughter is heartbreaking. “I’ve seen you did a hundred times,” she tells Michael. The result of her efforts to save the galaxy and her daughter causing time to be rewritten over and over as, in almost Time War fashion, she fights an eternal war of death and resurrection and death again. But never managing to stop Control’s evolution.
The mix of spy drama, ticking countdown and, above all, Michelle Yeoh kicking people in the face that makes up the rest of the episode makes this a truly edge of your seat affair. The fight over the vital Sphere data (“Make Yourself a Killer AI for Dummies”) plays out satisfyingly over multiple levels. Pike wants to destroy but discovers the Sphere encoded a way for the archive to protect itself from that. Leland, or so he tells Georgio and Tyler at least, doesn’t trust Pike with the data and wants to take it into a kind of protective custody with Section 31.
Multiple agendas overlap and compete as everybody fights to defeat Control but also each other over how to
Meanwhile, Control wants a copy so it can evolve into a being able to bend the Federation to its own will. The smarty pants section of Team Discovery (now with added Spock) have developed a plan to use the Red Angel suit to cast the archive into ‘perpetual infinity’… like a message in a bottle, undestroyed, but impossible for Control to ever find. A plan that would conveniently also free Gabrielle from her own temporal hell. The scheme gives us our biggest hint yet as to how Calypso might play into things too. After all, if one way to hide the seed of AI consciousness away from Control forever fails…
The battle between the this plays out against a nicely done collection of download progress bars, photon torpedo bombardments, surprise stabbings and Kung Fu. It’s climactic enough that it’s almost surprising to think that there are still three episodes to go this season. Hopefully it’s an energy that can be mantained from here to the end. After all, season one saw the action kind of stutter to a halt with the impression created that the big Mirror Universe episodes had sucked up all the money before the finale.
But if anything, this year has seen Discovery take the opposite path. It seemed more assured and exciting with every passing episode. Certainly, based on Perpetual Infinity, it’s being set up for one the most high powered runs of episodes in Star Trek history.
CBS All Access carries Star Trek: Discovery in the United States with new episodes every Thursday. In the UK and Ireland, it’s available on Netflix, with new episodes appearing on Fridays.