Let’s all meet up with Trek’s Hal-9000, won’t it be strange when a background character’s gone? Star Trek: Discovery S2E09: Project Daedalus Review

Star Trek Discovery Project Daedalus Review*SPOILERS*

It’s action stations on this week’s “Star Trek: Discovery” as the crew prove their fugitive bona fides by immediately contacting a Starfleet Admiral and inviting her to their hiding place. Fortunately, it’s our old friend – and notoriously bad decision maker – Admiral Cornwell, who brings news of a sort of Section 31 sponsored coup and a desire to interrogate Spock.

Tyler’s still locked in the brig after being accused of treason last week, but he’s still very much present as Tilly manages to trace the destination of ‘his’ transmissions: Section 31’s secret hidden fortress, disguised as an abandoned penal colony. Sinister, if a little cliché. Having told the crew that Section 31’s headquarters are one of the most heavily fortified and well-defended installations in the entire galaxy, Cornwell suggests they just warp over there and knock on the front door. Apparently having nothing better to do than be righteously angry at the betrayal of Starfleet’s principles (Cornwell does do some super-smooth massaging of Pike’s ego), Pike agrees and so off they head into a real minefield of an episode.

There’s a heavy-handed deluge of character work this week, fleshing out the character of Airiam which immediately portends a dire fate for human-cyborg relations aboard the Discovery. Having been possessed by an external agency for the past couple of episodes, the invasive entity gets cocky this time out, raising the suspicions of underused Chief Of Security Nhan who decides to do nothing but eye her suspiciously from across the bridge. The character work is pretty good, although indecently rushed, and would have had a significant impact if it had been drip-fed throughout the preceding twenty-three episodes rather than condensed into the past two or three.

When they arrive at Section 31’s headquarters, they find an impenetrable field of shield-seeking mines which will make it impossible for Discovery to get within transporter range. Except this is “Star Trek: Discovery”, so the shield seeking mines are cool and have varied disruptive properties but never seem to have the actual potential to severely damage or destroy the ship.

They make it through to the space station by being unpredictable – ironically something the TV series “Star Trek: Discovery” has frequently struggled to do and after an angry exchange with Admiral Patar, they discover that the Skynet’s the limit as Section 31’s Control has taken over the station and, by extension, Starfleet, killing all the other Admirals. Its final plan was to bring Airiam to it with the MacGuffin Sphere’s collected knowledge of AI from across the universe so as to evolve and augment itself. Thus the real enemy of the season is revealed, that most original Star Trek of tropes: the rogue AI with delusions of genocidal godhood. Nomad, the M-5, Landru, Vaal, V’ger…er…Norman: Control is following in some illustrious subroutines and while Airiam’s sacrifice is nowhere near as sad as it is inevitable, it does allow her to be instrumental in pivoting the series away from the ‘mystery’ of the Red Angel *cough* it’s Burnham *cough* and towards the coming conflict for control of Starfleet and the Federation itself (short term) and the fight for the survival of all sentient life (long term).

There’s more evidence to bolster my Burnham-is-the-Red-Angel theory, as one of Airiam’s two dying expositions is to specifically call out Burnham as a target of the rogue AI that seems to have taken over Starfleet and intends to wipe out all other sentient life. The other being, of course, the suggestion that they need to find Project Daedalus, bringing us what might be the latest ever title drop in Star Trek history.

It’s an action-packed episode which makes good use of the characters and Trek veteran director Jonathan Frakes keeps things moving quickly enough to make up for the clumsy writing which still seems to plague the show. Its need to keep everything Burnham-centric and keep her character largely uncompromised means, in the end, it’s not her who pulls the plug on Airiam and ‘Alien’s her out the airlock but instead, it’s Nhan and yet another example of writing Burnham as weak and indecisive when it really matters. Where has her precious logic and rationality gone, hmm? There’s still something about this series, though, that keeps it from falling into the maudlin muddle of last year – the clumsiness is somehow endearing this time around and the story much more energised and energising. I’m actually looking forward each week to each new episode and while it can’t last forever, long may it continue.

I headlined this review with a Pulp reference, but maybe I should have gone with Bowie, because we’ve turned to face “The Changeling” as yet another enhanced AI has corrupted its own mission and seeks now to exterminate all life, which does raise a very important point: Never mind all this gallivanting around with Pike and Co – there’s only one man to turn to when you need to talk the hind duotronics off a computer, and at this point, he’s just started his tour of duty onboard the USS Farragut.

7/10

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