The battle to save the galaxy moves up a gear as Pike and Discovery make their move against Section 31
After a few introspective weeks, in Project Daedalus Star Trek: Discovery returns to one of the things it does best – kicking ass and taking names. Matters with Section 31 come to a head after their declaration of the entire Discovery crew as fugitives last week. Now Pike’s patience is at an end, and he finally brings the battle to them.
The scenes of Detmer (Emily Coutts) flying by the seat of her pants against an AI that literally knows every evasive manoeuvre in the virtual book is only short of having the thumping beat of a track like Seven Nation Army under it. Or if this was a Doctor Who episode Murray Gold’s rousing I Am the Doctor. And there’s also a real sense as the Discovery team launch their mission against Section 31 that they’re a force to be reckoned with. Section 31 will be sorry they ever messed with this particular ship.
Partly that works so well because of Season 2’s efforts to move into being more of an ensemble piece. It’s still very much more TOS than TNG in that regard, admittedly. After all, the likes of Detmer, Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo) and Nhan (Rachael Ancheril) exist in the same sort of character space as Chekov, Sulu or Uhura in the old days. They’re people who may not get many lines in the average episode. Yet you’re still left with a strong sense of their personality and identity.
Airiam steps into the spotlight as we finally learn more about one of Discovery’s most mysterious characters
Of course, in those days, the occasional episode would cast a spotlight on one of these members of the Star Trek cast. Famously, anytime Scotty fell in love you knew heartache and disaster were on the horizon. This week, it’s Airiam’s chance to shine.
Airiam has always been the most enigmatic member of the bridge crew. It hasn’t even been entirely clear what she was. Is she a continuity bending android, somehow in existence over a century before Data? If she’s a cyborg why is so precise and unemotional in her reactions?
It’s certainly seemed like a slightly thankless task for the actor to undertake such intricate and all-encompassing prosthetics every week only get a couple of lines. If they’re lucky. The fact that the actor changed for Season 2 without most viewers noticing underlines that in big black marker. Original actor Sara Mitich transitioned into playing a completely different crewmember, Nilsson while Hannah Cheeseman took over Airiam.
But Cheeseman now steps up to the plate and knocks it out of the park in an episode that finally reveals Airiam’s tragic history. She’s a cyborg – a human maimed in a shuttle crash, and who survives in a full-body prosthetic. We’re not told how much is left of the original Airiam, but it’s clearly not a lot. Even her brain hasn’t been left entirely intact, with computerised parts replacing much of it. Her memory, in particular, is now limited and she’s forced to undertake a weekly exercise in choosing which memories to keep in her head, which to permanently delete, and which to archive in storage on Discovery’s own computers.
Airiam is revealed
This week’s episode places her as the latest, and perhaps most tragic, iterations of one of Star Trek’s most enduring preoccupations. What makes us human? Spock is someone almost ashamed of his own humanity and struggles with accepting it as part of himself. And Data is a character who looks at humanity from the outside and continually strives to become more human.
But Airiam is a woman who had that humanity and lost it. And not just physically. She has an incomplete memory, and portions of her brain that create emotion are seemingly gone. Or, perhaps, mercifully muted to make her new existence more endurable. For her, a faint twist of the corner of her mouth is like a dazzling smile from anyone else. She’s someone who has lost what Data craves, and has her own quiet desperation to reconnect with what she’s lost.
But possibly the greatest tragedy is that this investigation of just how compelling and interesting a character she is makes the past season and a half of pushing buttons in the background seem a terrible waste.
But the greater focus on Airiam this week is plugged directly into the arc plot. A couple of weeks ago we saw her apparently hacked by whatever future force had upgraded Discovery’s own probe. Now her status as an unwitting Trojan horse comes to the fore. The agendas of the being that’s hacked her, Section 31, and Discovery all collide spectacularly. Project Daedalus gives us our most clear sense yet of exactly what’s going on this season, with us apparently looking at two competing future beings each trying to manipulate the past to ensure their own creation while negating the invention of the other. It’s basically The Terminator on a galactic scale and is shaping up to offer many twists and turns to come.
The mix of high drama, action, twists and tragedy makes for one of Discovery’s best episodes yet
It also seems to shift the Short Trek short Calypso from being a diverting bonus tale to an essential clue to goings-on. (For UK and Ireland viewings, Calypso is relatively hidden – you have to go to Trailer and More and then scroll down to the very bottom past all the individual trailers and behind the scenes snippets.)
The only complaints Blogtor can think of are minor niggles. The ultimate proof of Spock’s innocence is perhaps a little too easy. It’s not something it should really have taken the highly motivated Discovery crew this long to think of checking. And Nhan’s suspicion of Airiam’s behaviour is built up a little too much without sufficient payoff.
However, add to Airiam’s tragedy, the continued sparkling interplay between Burnham and Spock – like Spock and McCoy if instead of McCoy you had another Spock – the high drama of impossible choices, the usually beautiful and striking visuals and the great direction by Jonathan Frakes and it makes for one of the best episodes of Discovery yet.