Star Trek: Discovery – Season 2 Episode 11
Star Trek: Discovery deals with the reveal of the Red Angel’s identity from last week while reiterating the threat to all sentient life in the galaxy.
Ending the previous episode with the reveal that the Red Angel is Burnham’s mother wasn’t an entirely unexpected shock given how the episode approached building up to that reveal but it undeniably opened up a slew of both narrative and emotional possibilities. Bringing back parents believed to be long dead is an old narrative trick designed to shock the audience. Such reveals are often shallow and manipulative at worst but at best they can enrich the surrounding narrative by providing compelling depth to the affected characters.
This episode answers a few logistical questions about the Red Angel and the reasons behind some of its actions. We see the Klingon attack where Burnham believed her parents to be murdered from the perspective of her mother who was running tests on the Red Angel suit at the time. She puts on the suit so that she can travel back in time by one hour in order to save her family but something goes wrong and she ends up 9 and a half centuries into the future with no way to permanently return. For some reason she is permanently tethered to that darkest timeline and has no way to permanently return to where she came from no matter what she does.
Immediately this sets Dr. Burnham up as being effectively cursed to roam the timeline without ever being a tangible part of it. She is able to watch the pivotal moments in her daughter’s life but she is unable to interact which makes her tragically passive. This is great stuff that provides a compelling basis for a troubled mother/daughter union. Dr. Burnham has been deeply affected by what she has experienced since putting on the suit and has been fundamentally changed as a result. At first she only wants to talk to Pike because her mind is entirely on her self imposed mission to stop the Control A.I. from gaining sentience and wiping out the galaxy. As far as she’s concerned she isn’t part of the universe any more and knows that talking to her daughter might distract her from what she considers to be her true purpose so she opts not to do that.
This adds to the tragedy of her character as her solitude has removed her tether to what was once her reality. She is wholly focused on saving the galaxy but is unable to be a part of it. Her unique situation means that she can in theory do a lot of good but will forever be divorced from the benefits of what she has helped to achieve. There is also a great deal of frustration because of her apparent inability to prevent the Control A.I. from wiping out all sentient life. No matter what she does the destruction still happens and she remains stuck in the apocalyptic future.
A combination of the suit’s logs and dialogue adds context to some of the events of this season from Dr. Burnham’s perspective while adding an extra mystery with the reveal that the red bursts were not her doing. It seems that there’s a third intelligence at work that has an unknown part to play in this narrative. The context added to the events of this season isn’t all that illuminating and raises extra questions about the capabilities of the Red Angel suit. She mentions putting the sphere in Discovery’s path but it’s unclear how she would do this given her fairly limited resources. There are other things that aren’t fully explained such as the reason behind moving the Humans from Earth to Terralysium. These explanations mark another example of this show’s tendency to burn through plot without explaining it clearly. It feels as if the writers want the season to hold together as a cohesive story but would rather the audience don’t think too much about the details. With a little more work into the justification for certain decisions it may work really well but there are lots of questions at this point that likely won’t be addressed.
On an emotional level this episode works brilliantly. Burnham has to deal with having her mother back before losing her all over again which is a classic tragic tale that enhances her character so much. The fact that she eventually has time to talk to her mother, learn that she has been there for her throughout her life and be so close to having her back completely before having her ripped away once again is powerful. Sonequa Martin-Green delivers a predictably excellent performance that is a lot more raw then Burnham typically comes across. Her unrestrained emotions show how deeply affected she is by learning that her mother is alive and it’s clear she has persistent problems processing it throughout the episode particularly when her mother doesn’t want to see her initially.
Part of the reason for this is what Dr. Burnham had to do in order to survive the bleak isolation. She mentions letting go of Burnham as well as any other emotional attachment she once had because otherwise she wouldn’t have been able to focus on surviving and correcting the destruction that is on its way. Her only concern at this point is the big picture and she sees her current situation as an unexpected complication so she doesn’t want to lose sight of what she feels she needs to do by talking to her daughter. When they do talk she pleads with Burnham to let her go so that she can succeed in her mission and come back to have that conversation properly when she’s satisfied that it’s safe to let down her emotional defences to focus on personal relationships. It makes a lot of sense that she would wall herself off in such a way for the sake of her own sanity. Her resolve does crack towards the end of the episode to allow for a strong mother/daughter moment but ultimately the mission must come first.
Dr. Burnham is a great character wonderfully played by Sonja Sohn. She has a great deal of presence in all of her scenes despite never leaving the small space that she inhabits. People have to come to her but she has the upper hand in all instances because she is completely focused on her self imposed mission and won’t let anything get in the way of that. The interesting thing about this is that she never waivers in her commitment even when it becomes possible to stop Control and keep herself in the present day. It’s not enough for her to relax because it isn’t a guarantee of success. This runs counter to what I would expect from a character in this situation and it’s fascinating to watch play out as a result.
Naturally there’s a ticking clock to be overcome that is poetically referred to as a “tug of war with the universe”. The reason behind it boils down to the simple physics of any action having an equal and opposite reaction so any effort the crew make to keep Dr. Burnham in their time period is countered by an equally strong pull from the universe to bring her back to her point of origin. All they can do is delay the inevitable but stopping it is impossible. This means that Burnham and the rest of the crew have a limited time in which to learn all the information they can about what they’re facing and come up with a solution to put an end to it. The references to all that has been attempted up until this point suggests hopelessness as there appears to be nothing Dr. Burnham can do to stop Control from wiping out all sentient life in the galaxy but she has largely been operating on her own so it’s more than likely there are things that haven’t occurred to her.
The sphere data seems to be the biggest issue as there’s no way to prevent Control from gaining access to it. It can’t be erased because it prevents that from happening but it can be transferred with no copy left behind so the best destination appears to be the Red Angel suit since that can return to the future with the data leaving it out of the reach of control. There’s a technobabble solution to free Dr. Burnham from her tether to both the suit and that time period so it appears to be an idea solution that benefits everyone which means that it definitely won’t work.
Everything about this episode sets the inevitable tragedy in motion from the ticking clock, the rise of the Control infected Leland and the apparent inevitability of an apocalyptic future. Focusing on the core relationship between Burnham and her mother explored through Dr. Burnham’s interactions with different characters anchors the somewhat messy plotting with a strong emotional core. Dr. Burnham’s conversation with Georgiou about taking care of Burnham and their maternal relationship with her is really fascinating as it forces Georgiou to consider the relationship she actually has with Burnham rather than the relationship she like to think she has. The Red Angel suit has allowed Dr. Burnham to see how Georgiou relates to her daughter through the different permutations of the timeline she has witnessed. She has seen Georgiou sacrifice herself for Burnham so knows that the compassion exists even if Georgiou can’t admit that to herself at this point. There have been repeated examples of Georgiou helping Burnham for no clear reason other than an emotional attachment so this interpretation of their relationship from a passive observer is entirely valid. Georgiou stops short of promising to take care of Burnham but she doesn’t refuse. As always, Michelle Yeoh is incredible in this role and this particular conversation is an excellent showcase for both actors involved.
Leland being taken over by Control adds some of the tension to the episode in ways that are fairly mixed. It’s difficult to take Control entirely seriously especially after the holographic villain monologue early on in the episode. The A.I. takes control of Leland through nano machines which may lead some to assume that this is some sort of origin story for The Borg. I don’t believe this to be the case as I doubt the history of The Borg is that simple but I could definitely be wrong especially considering the abundance of time travel this season. Control does a fair impression of Leland that is enough to fool those around him for at least a while before Georgiou becomes suspicious and has those suspicious confirmed by a slip of the tongue. Control/Leland’s plan is simply to get a hold of the data from the sphere so that Control can achieve consciousness. It’s a simple goal that is constantly referenced throughout the episode and leads to a firefight with a ticking clock in the form of an upload before Control/Leland escapes with 54% of the data. The fact that not all of it was obtained means that there’s still hope and Dr. Burnham’s return to the future time period suggests that there may still be backup from the Red Angel over the coming episodes.
All told the Control/Leland aspect of the episode is the least interesting part though it does lead to a Georgiou/Tyler team-up that works really well and further Georgiou’s desire to be in charge of Section 31. Whatever happens it looks as if Leland won’t survive the season which leaves Section 31 rife for takeover from Georgiou which will either be a good or a bad thing depending on how her relationship with Burnham plays out.
Spock is taking on something of a background role though it is an important one. The conversation he has with Burnham at the end of the episode about the future being uncertain and instinct combined with logic will be the key to defeating Control. This is visualised through him rebuilding the chess board which serves as a direct metaphor for the changing nature of Burnham and Spock’s relationship. It’s a great scene with Spock’s pep talk being exactly what Burnham needs to hear in order to pull herself together and consider her next move.
A strong character driven episode that has a powerful emotional grounding running parallel with the ongoing plot. The appearance of Burnham’s mother is compelling for a lot of reasons. She is a fascinating character who has been deeply affected by the isolation she has experienced as well as the destruction she has seen time and time again. Her experiences have caused her to wall herself off from any emotional ties she once had because focusing on the big picture is the only way she can cope with all that she can’t be a part of. There is some comfort to be had on Burnham’s side from the knowledge that her mother has seen all the pivotal moments in her life even if she couldn’t be a part of them. Dr. Burnham is very much a tragic character cursed to continually witness the destruction of all sentient life in the galaxy while being powerless to prevent it while also being stuck in a future time period that she can’t escape from. This episode makes it clear that being stuck in the present day is a temporary measure as her return can’t be stopped. It’s really powerful and enriches the interactions that she has. Her conversation with Georgiou is a great way to develop that character through the future knowledge of how she actually feels about Burnham even if she doesn’t realise it yet. In many ways Dr. Burnham acts as a catalyst for many different aspects of the narrative. The emotional grounding helps to mitigate some of the messy plotting along with the references to past episodes that don’t entirely add up when put under scrutiny.
Leland being taken over by the Control A.I. is a mixed bag narratively though does add some tension and an extra ticking clock to the proceedings. It’s difficult to take it seriously as it begins with a villain monologue by hologram before Leland is possessed and sets about furthering Control’s agenda. It leads to a cool action sequence and allows for a Georgiou/Tyler team-up but doesn’t an an awful lot else to the episode. Control’s escape with 54% of the much sought after sphere data allow for a somewhat hopeful conclusion as there is still a chance to put a stop to the A.I. with the possibility of backup from the Red Angel now that Dr. Burnham is back in the future time period. Spock performs something of a background role here but it’s still an important one as he gives Burnham an excellent pep talk where he points out that instinct and logic will need to be used in order to defeat Control. His rebuilding of the chess board serves as a direct metaphor for his relationship with Burnham and the episode ends with Burnham ready to face the problem head on.
- the powerful emotional grounding created through Burnham’s mother
- Dr. Burnham’s stance on emotional attachments and her commitment to the bigger picture never waivering
- effective tension as a result of various ticking clocks
- Dr. Burnham’s excellent conversation with Georgiou
- the complex mother/daughter relationship and Burnham’s inability to process the current situation
- Spock’s pep talk and the rebuilt chess board serving as a direct metaphor for their relationship
- references to previous episodes not quite adding up when scrutinised
- Control monologuing through holograms
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