“It was unexpected.” — Star Trek Discovery review, “The Red Angel” s2e10

Burnham and Spock
Star Trek: Discovery, season 2, episode 10
“The Red Angel”
Episode teleplay by Chris Silvestri and Anthony Maranville
Episode directed by Hanelle M. Culpepper
Review by Clinton

This episode contains a number of revelations. But do they make sense? Do the “shocking twists” grow out of things we’ve been told, or do they come out of left field and leave us feeling cheated. I’m going to try to figure this out. Let’s begin.

To start, let’s admit that we really don’t know anything more about the red signals than we did in episode one. This episode speculates that the Red Angel is creating them and then using them to get Starfleet’s attention. That seems to be a stretch. The Red Angel does not appear to be present every time the signals appear. The signals are still a mystery.

Okay, what about the Red Angel? After all, it pretty quickly began to supercede the Red Signals in the story.

As the episode begins, we find out that Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman) has come across code that was implanted in Airiam’s system by a digital parasite. It is here she finds a file labeled “Project Daedalus.” The file contains a bio-neural signature from the Red Angel, which is a match for Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green). That’s a shocking revelation.

Side bar: Was Tilly working in a sandbox environment? Given the nature of the future AI, it would seem that any trace of its code would be be extremely dangerous. In fact, Saru (Doug Jones) points out that Section 31 ships had all performed scans to make sure that the future AI had not infected their systems. Presumably Discovery ran the same scan. Apparently those diagnostics couldn’t detect code injected by a digital parasite. And Leland  (Alan Van Sprang) might agree. If he survives being stabbed in the eye.

But, back to the Red Angel. Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz) performs tests on Commander Burnham and says that every test shows a 100% match between Burnham and the bio-neural signature found in the Project Daedalus file. He assures Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook) that he could detect if the signature had been artificially created. This assures us, the audience, that this is a fact we can build on. Yet, the information we have by the end of the episode would lead us to believe it was not Michael Burnham’s signature, but that of Burnham’s mother. Was Culber incorrect? Is the signature so broad that it covers both parent and child? That would certainly make the tests next to useless. Or have we been mis-directed once again?

Analyzing information supplied by Section 31, Stamets (Anthony Rapp) explains that the time travel suit works by creating a micro wormhole that the suit can go through. He explains that, because wormholes are inherently unstable, the suit generates a protective membrane that travels with the suit. Essentially, the suit is tethered to its starting point — a point in the future. And that this is how the future AI is slipping through to the past. We also learn that Michael Burnham’s parents created the Red Angel suit. But, since the suit was created several years in the past by Burnham’s parents, just how far in the future could its origin point be?

As mentioned, Leland reveals to Burnham that her birth parents were the ones who developed the Red Angel suit. He also says that he was inadvertently responsible for their deaths at the hands of the Klingons on Doctari Alpha. For years, Burnham has lived with the belief that she was responsible for their deaths, as she had begged them to stay on the planet to see a nearby supernova explode. Burnham has, in the past, recounted the story of how she, hiding in a closet, had heard the Klingons kill her father, then her mother, then sit down to enjoy the dead family’s meal. So, we, the audience, should accept the fact that young Burnham actually heard her mother being killed. In fact, she recalls the Klingons taking their time to commit the crime. But now that may not have been true.

Finally, Spock (Ethan Peck) believes he has uncovered the secret to determining when and where the Red Angel will appear. The Vulcan surmises that Burnham is the variable. Spock and Burnham explain to Captains Pike and Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) that the Angel appears when Burnham is in danger. Therefore, putting Michael in mortal peril will cause the entity to appear. However, this conclusion does not appear to have any logical backing.

Consider the Angel’s first appearance to young Spock. Burnham was in danger and the Angel appeared to show Spock the young girl’s gruesome end, then showed him where to find young Burnham in order to save her. This would have been the least efficient and even least maternal route to take. Since the Forge creature was scared off by the light and sound of the Vulcan shuttle, there’s a very good chance it would have been scared away simply by the appearance of the Red Angel.

But, you say, perhaps Spock reasoned that the person in the Angel suit thought it would be best if Burnham did not see them. Why, then, did it appear to Burnham when she is injured and trapped on the asteroid?

The Red Angel Burnham falls from the suit.

Another thing odd about the appearance to Burnham on the asteroid is that Captain Pike instantaneously appeared in that same spot where the Commander was looking at the Angel. He would have seen the Angel, too.

But, you say, perhaps it can, for some reason, only be seen by one person at a time. This is not the case. Everyone in the church on Earth saw the Red Angel. And it was seen by both Saru and Siranna when it appeared on Kaminar to disable the Ba’ul ship. Speaking of that appearance, there was also no indication in this appearance that Michael Burnham was in any immediate danger. She was on board Discovery.

In the end, when the Red Angel is trapped on Essof IV and Michael Burnham’s mother (Sonja Sohn) emerges from the suit, it is shocking. But I don’t see how it was earned. Perhaps, in the remaining episodes, we will see the pieces turn in a different direction, so they can ultimately fit nicely into place.

Next episode: Perpetual Infinity

Random Thoughts and Observations:

  • The Red Angel guided Spock to a remote planet and showed him a vision of armageddon on a galactic scale. Why the long trip?
  • During the funeral scene, we see that Discovery is capable of running on autopilot. Is this a foreshadowing of the events in the “Short Treks” episode “Calypso”? There, the unmanned ship has maintained position for a thousand years.
  • Aspects of Airiam’s funeral were very reminiscent of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” That movie continues to be a major touchstone for Trek productions.
  • Are we stuck in a time-travel loop? The AI sneaks in from the future, infects Airiam and used her to upload information from the sphere into Control, so that Control can evolve. Does that mean the future AI is an evolved Control? If so, why does it need to come back to get information into this version of the system?
  • Saru says that Control was only used by Section 31. In the previous episode Admiral Cornwell said Control was not accepting her input. She said that once the red signals started to appear, Admiral Patar lobbied Starfleet to have decision-making turned entirely over to Control. One would assume that Control was issuing threat assessment decisions to Starfleet. If it were not, wouldn’t all of Starfleet be concerned?
  • What is Georgiou up to with Stamets and Culber? Is she just amusing herself?
  • It was a nice beat to have Spock forgive Burnham and watch her take a breath, as a weight is lifted from her shoulders.
  • Burnham’s parents believed that certain technological leaps, including ones on Earth, were not the result of happenstance, but time travel. That sounds like an Erich von Daniken “Chariots of the Gods” line of reasoning.