The episode opens with the funeral of cybernetically enhanced Lieutenant Airiam, which means that the crew did nothing at all to try to save her once she had been blown out of the airlock. Instead, in a collective attempt to exorcise any guilt over their inaction, we’re treated to not one but many eulogies as any crewmember with an opinion or thought gets to blurt it out, like some kind of live-action funereal Twitter. It raises again the weird distortive effect on the show that centralising it around Burnham has. Why does she deliver the main eulogy? Shouldn’t it be Captain Pike or, at a push, the First Officer? Given Saru’s new ‘no fucks given’ attitude, how login will it be before he tires of Burnham’s constant overreach into his duties? The show’s creators are clearly aiming for something akin to Spock’s funeral from “Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan” (spoilers) but they miss by a country parsec. After all, of all the souls I have encountered on my travels through “Star Trek”, hers was the most recently (and hastily) developed.
Having not tried to save her at all, the crew has no such compunctions about trawling through her data files before deleting them and the mystery of Project Daedalus is solved almost immediately and my theory on the identity is apparently confirmed by Tilly pre-opening credits. So far so good, but this is “Star Trek: Discovery” and there’re miles to go before I can rest on my laurels.
With the revelation that Control has spun out of, well, control, brings Section 31 back to the table (there are a lot of briefings in this episode, perhaps as a homage to early “Star Trek: The Next Generation”) but the alliance is an uneasy one as, understandably, much of Discovery’s crew don’t really trust them (they do release Tyler, though, and apologise to him). There’s much discussion about how best to trap or prevent the Red Angel’s time travelling interference but, for some reason, the most simple, straightforward, most Section-31-esque way of stopping Burnham becoming the Red Angel – killing her right now – doesn’t even get suggested, at least until later and in a very different way. Besides, the identity of the Red Angel is given away so cheaply and without fanfare early in the episode that it can’t possibly be Burnham.
They certainly do their due diligence, though, scanning Burnham in sickbay to compare with the Red Angel’s biodata and while Saru may not mind Burnham’s constant hogging of the spotlight but Spock’s clearly done with her shit, throwing shade all over the medical bay as he deconstructs her personality in a breathtakingly metatextual scene which suggests the “Star Trek: Discovery” writers haven’t lost all sense of self-awareness.
It’s a packed – almost too packed – episode as meeting scene abuts meeting scene and there’s an attempt to move nearly every ongoing story arc forward, even just a little but, although some of it is unnecessary and some of it is just ham-fistedly awkward. Case in point is a scene in engineering where Georgiou, every the mischevious manipulator, callously plays with the fragile state of Culber and Stamets’ relationship, admonishing Tilly for being unable to relish the ‘male tension’. It’s a fun scene, and it certainly removes any doubt that there are now canonically gay characters in Star Trek (and canonically pansexual characters too), with the word used over and over again in dialogue as Georgiou hints that she’s probably slept with everyone’s mirror universe counterpart. Except Saru, of course, who she ate. The scene ends as Georgiou swans out to talk to Captain Pike and Tilly becomes, once again, the audience surrogate asking “what just happened?”. Mind you, if Georgiou is a fan of ‘male tension’, she’ll be disappointed she missed out of Saru’s sizzling showdown with Leland later in the episode where our favourite Kelpian comes perilously close to having to make a choice between kissing or killing the Section 31 head honcho.
It’s Leland who provides the pivot on which the episode turns, as he reveals to Burnham that he not only knew her parents but that they worked on Project Daedelus which, it turns out, was a Section 31 time travel project. It’s an oddly placed revelation that might have better served the story had it been saved until after the Red Angel’s identity is revealed at the end of the episode. As it stands, it absolutely tips the story’s hand and removes any of the element of surprise. It also delivers the worst and laziest – by far – technobabble in “Star Trek” history as multiple characters talk about a ‘time crystal’ with a straight face, like it’s an actual thing that doesn’t beg for further explanation. It’s technological handwaving that would make even vintage “Doctor Who” blush.
The end result of all the meetings and briefings is the development of a plan so risky, cruel and sadistic that even Georgiou loses any enthusiasm for it. Also nobody considers the very real prospect that if Burnham is the Red Angel and accidentally succeeds in killing herself, then she won’t be able to come back in time at all to save herself. No wonder temporal mechanics give Chief O’Brien a headache.
In the run-up to taking the centre chair in a very different sense than we’ve ever seen in Trek before, there’s a weird, intimate moment between Tyler and Burnham that jars because it feels too glib and glosses over some of the issues their past relationships – notably him trying to murder her – that still need addressed. Then again, this isn’t the episode for rapprochements as Stamets’ curtly informing of Culber that ‘this isn’t the time’ brings a welcome change of dynamic into that relationship, indicating Stamets is taking back some of the agency Culber’s return robbed him of. Having spent most of its running time on meetings and planning, the rushed finale sees Spock acting out of character – again – and the resurfacing of “Star Trek: Discovery”’s unnerving fondness for boundary-pushing unpleasantness as Burnham is literally tortured to death before finally being rescued by a literal mater ex machina. It looks like Burnham’s mother isn’t dead after all. That’s got to be one in the eye for Leland.