There are moments on television, as in life, where everything just seems to stop.
To take a breath and just be in this one moment.
This week’s episode of CBS All Access‘ Star Trek: Discovery both began and ended with moments such as those. Moments on which everything hinges, but that change everything. In “The Red Angel,” the tenth episode in the show’s sophomore season, we were all taken for a ride, both literally and figuratively. The writers fed us clues, strung us along, congratulated us when we reached the correct conclusion, and then, just as we made peace, snatched it all away. In the end, I’m still not sure if I love them or hate them for it.
Fair warning, the spoilers below will basically render the entire episode pointless to watch. So come back after you see it… please!
Imagine you are watching the movie The Sixth Sense. Except, you know throughout the entire movie that Bruce Willis‘s character is dead. You get used to the idea. Everything in the on-screen world makes sense through that lens. Then, at the very end of the movie, you learn that Willis’s character isn’t really dead. After shifting your mindset, you only begin to shift it yet again when the screen fades to black and there is no more movie.
That is what it felt like to watch “The Red Angel,” this week’s episode of Star Trek: Discovery.
The episode starts out with Lieutenant Commander Airiam’s (Hannah Cheesman) funeral. Everyone aboard the Discovery, including Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook) and a newly released Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif), come together to mourn. Airiam’s friends and colleagues speak about what she meant to them while viewers see images of an empty and lifeless Discovery. Finally, Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) makes a very touching speech about what brings the crew of the Discovery together, what makes them family. At the very end, she apologizes, once again taking the blame for the death of a friend. The funeral was visually beautiful, the soundtrack of spoken word and Saru (Doug Jones, with his own voice) singing – adding a haunting peace to the scene.
However, once the goodbyes are said, things start to get weird. It is like the show just starts vomiting exposition. Tilly (Mary Wiseman) walks into a room and “Tillies” herself right into blurting out that Burnham is the Red Angel. Apparently, Airiam had a bio-neural scan of the Red Angel in her memory banks and it is an exact match for Burnham. The entire bridge crew decides to lay a trap to catch the Red Angel using a dying Burnham as bait. If Burnham is the Red Angel, and she dies, the Red Angel dies too. Which explains why the futuristic winged woman only shows up when Burnham is in mortal danger.
There seem to be a lot of flaws in this plan. In my knowledge of time travel, usually limited to sci-fi, it is generally a bad idea to interact with yourself in a different timeline. But now the crew of the Discovery wants to trap “Red Angel” Burnham with our Burnham? That seems fraught with paradoxical danger. Plus, throughout the entire middle of the episode I was waiting for Spock to say “Wait, it can’t be Burnham, because I would have realized it if I mind-melded with my sister.” It was never said, though… and remains a mystery.
Going even further with the exposition dump, apparently Section 31 developed the Red Angel suit that everyone has been seeing and decided to not tell anyone for… reasons.
But wait… there’s more!
The suit was actually developed by Burnham’s parents who were Section 31 Daedalus Project scientists in a time travel arms race with the Klingons. When Leland (Alan Van Sprang) stole a time crystal from them to power the suit, the Klingons came and killed Burnham’s parents. The family related coincidences in Burnham’s life are starting to rival the Skywalkers in number and body count. I realize that it is a sort of chicken-and-egg paradox, she is involved because her family was involved, her family is involved so she is involved, but it is all a bit high drama and fate based for Star Trek.
As the rest of the crew builds the Angel-trap, Burnham says her goodbyes and makes peace with her plan to suffocate herself as bait. She and Spock (Ethan Peck) manage to have a civil conversation where no one politely calls the other person stupid. It is only Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), the sociopath, and Tyler who seem to be genuinely terrified of something happening to Burnham.
The scene where Burnham confesses to Tyler that she is scared is incredibly touching, and true to her character. Throughout season 1, Tyler was the only person allowed to see Burnham break down. It makes sense that she would go back to him now. I have always believed that Tyler would always choose Burnham over Starfleet if he had to make a choice.
I think I believe it even more now.
Yeoh’s performance as Georgiou in this episode was a master class in under-acting. She wielded a touch, a look, or a pause in speech the way a Shakespearean actor works a soliloquy. Despite everything that happened last season, despite the fact that this Burnham isn’t even Georgiou’s Burnham, Georgiou is still wildly protective of Michael. Apparently, her vested self-interest also extends to her one-time mentee.
Which brings us to the end, that ends up being another beginning. After all of the signs and signals that Burnham was the Red Angel, as well as the show basically just blurting it out at the 10 minute mark, the last moments of the show reveal that we were all wrong.
The Red Angel is actually Burnham’s biological mother.
Suddenly, we are all burdened by a whole truckload of new questions… and Burnham is racking up mother figures like its her job.
I realize that “The Red Angel” was only the 10th episode in the 14 episode season. The showrunners were never going to blow their wad with four episodes left. But, somehow, this twist still seems like one bridge too far. Maybe it is because of the teasing-torture of the search for Spock earlier this season. It could feel strange because so many of us has assumed the Red Angel was Burnham for so long. In the end, I think I just dislike the fact that it reduces the show to a Burnham-centric space opera that becomes obsessed with its own internal mythology. This move is something you would expect from The X-Files, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, or Star Wars… but something Star Trek never previously fell victim to.
The good news is, Star Trek: Discovery has four more episodes to sell me on this plot twist and answer all my questions. The next episode of Star Trek: Discovery “Perpetual Infinity” is available Thursday March 28 at 8:30PM EST on CBS All Access.
In the meantime, I leave you with my thoughts and questions from “The Red Angel” to ponder over the next week:
● Why do Burnham and her mom have the same bio-neural signatures? Is Burnham a clone?
● Wouldn’t Spock have seen a young Burnham in her mom’s memory during the mind-meld?
● The actress who played Airiam is Discovery season 1, Sara Mitich, is now playing Nilsson, who is Airiam’s replacement on the bridge. WTF are they doing with that?
● Leland’s confession was a bit convenient, but I did love seeing Burnham punch him. Twice.
● “Michael…” “I know, Ash.” All. The. Feels.
● Are Tyler and Burnham back together now?
● Are Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Culber 2.0 (Wilson Cruz) going to make a go of it?
● Admiral Cornwell used to be a therapist? There’s hope for Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis)!
● If there was an Emmy for best death scene, Martin-Green would win.
● I am so confused about everything that happened on the Section 31 ship as they were closing the wormhole.