I put *SPOILER* warnings in the headline of this entry as well, because this episode is just one big reveal after another. “The Red Angel” was written by Anthony Maranville and Chris Silvestri, was directed by Hanelle L. Culpepper.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you…
The story opens with a touching and moving funeral service for lost crew member Airiam (Hannah Cheesman), who sacrificed herself aboard a Section 31 space station to prevent her compromised cybernetic systems from feeding a station “Control” supercomputer that would’ve led to the death of all sentient life in the galaxy.
Various crew all give beautiful and well-acted eulogies for a character we barely knew (sorry, but its true). Her coffin-torpedo is fired into space, ala Spock in “The Wrath of Khan,” and life goes on. Soon afterward, the Section 31 ship makes rendezvous with Discovery and Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) and Leland (Alan van Sprang) beam aboard.
Despite the ‘renegade’ status of Discovery for violating orders, S31 is there to help, not to stop them. Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook) decides to work with the two untrustworthy operatives.
This episode focuses on learning the identity of the Red Angel when, during a briefing, Tilly (Mary Wiseman) bursts in and seemingly spoils the entire episode by revealing results of her research into “Project Daedalus” (the last words of Airiam); the red angel is (as suspected) a time-traveling suit, and the ‘wings’ help open and close micro wormholes for the red angel to appear and disappear. Now for the red herring to the red angel…from bio-scans, it appears (emphasis on ‘appears’) that the red angel is a match for Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin Green). Michael apparently is the one time-traveling all over the galaxy trying to set everything right again. But Michael herself detects a pattern in the appearances…the only times the angel actually appears is when Michael herself is in imminent danger.
There is an awkward scene where Georgiou works with Stamets (Anthony Rapp) on ways to ‘capture’ the red angel during her next appearance, using blah-blah-blah tech to close up the angel’s wormhole by force, thus stranding her in the present. Georgiou makes a come-on to Stamets, over-complementing him on his intelligence in relation to her ‘mirror-universe’ Stamets. Stamets reminds her that he is gay, but she does the same with the equally-gay Culber (Wilson Cruz) as well. After the two rebuff her advances, she chides them for being “so binary,” and moves on. While some might find the scene playful, I found it clumsy and sorta off-putting. I guess I just don’t find sexual harassment all that funny…
We also have a more touching moment where the resurrected Culber, who really has gone where no one has gone before, comes to former therapist Admiral Cornwell for some…well, therapy. In short, he doesn’t know how he’s supposed to feel towards his ex-lover Stamets, and that Culber’s memories feel like a part of someone else’s life. She, in short, tells him that he is blazing a new trail here, and that no one can walk it but him. Nice, if kind of pat; but then again, what does one say to someone who’s been rescued from death by magic mushrooms?
With a prodding from a sympathetic Georgiou, Michael goes to talk to Leland, who basically admits to being responsible for the death of Michael’s parents when she was a child. The research station they were on during the Klingon raid was destroyed because her parents were involved with…. (drumroll)… Project Daedalus. S31 operatives got ahold of a black market Klingon “time crystal” (yes, that’s as goofy to say aloud as it is to type) and, on Section 31 orders, were using it on the prototype time-suit for the project.
Leland admits to stationing them there, and for making them stay longer than they should have. Burnham punches him twice across the face, and tells him that “this isn’t over.” Sonequa Martin Green completely OWNS this scene, and it is beautifully acted.
Later, in the ship’s gym, Michael is working out her frustrations on a punching bag (a cliche as old as time) when Spock (Ethan Peck) interrupts her anger-fueled workout and has a heart-to-heart with his sister, telling her that seeing Leland with a bloody nose and fractured cartilage would’ve been “satisfying.” Nice to see them patch up their relationship a bit after the detour south in last week’s episode (“Project Daedalus”). Ethan Peck is feeling much closer to Leonard Nimoy’s Spock, and frankly, I can’t wait to see him get rid of the beard and cut his hair already. Peck really is Spock, proving (as did the Kelvinverse movies, arguably) that the iconic roles of Star Trek can be safely recast, so long as the actors adhere to the tenets of the character.
The rest of the story focuses on the effort to lure and trap the ‘red angel’; Michael rationalizes that since her personal safety seems to force appearances by the angel, she must be placed in danger.
Taken to a Starfleet outpost on an inhospitable planet, Michael is strapped to a chair, with Culber, Stamets, Spock and others monitoring her safety through protective glass and shielding. The plan is to bleed out the air, and let the planet’s highly toxic atmosphere bleed in…thus, killing her.
Spock straps her to the chair, then goes into the protective observation area with the support team. Tension mounts as the yellowish air causes Michael’s face to break out in rashes, and she gulps for air, screaming.
The oxygen saturation in her blood begins to fall dangerously low (40% is the threshold) and Culber, acting as on-site doctor, aborts the plan.
He is about to rescue her, when Spock holds a phaser on the good doctor, telling him that the red angel will appear. On the bridge of Discovery, Pike (Anson Mount) orders Spock to stand down as the crew tries to get a lock on Burnham. Tilly says they can’t get a lock because of… tachyon radiation (i.e. timey whimey radiation).
Thus, the ‘red angel’ appears. As Leland tries to gain access to Discovery’s systems, he is locked out by what appears to be an optical scanner poking him in the eye (not a good day for Leland) and Stamets employs his tech to close the wormhole. It closes, stranding the angel and forcing her out of her tech suit…
…and the red angel isn’t Michael Burnham. It’s her presumed-dead mother. Whoa!
Things I loved.
“Let me help.”
While it was too brief, I loved the therapist scene with Cornwell and Culber. Nice to see a troubled character actually calling upon the services of a counselor/therapist, unlike other characters in TNG who often had to be cajoled (or ordered) to seek help. As a (former) medical professional, Culber would’ve been the first to realize that he needed help, and it’s nice that Cornwell was there to try.
Burnham and Leland.
Michael Burnham’s double-blow to Leland’s face, while admittedly a court-martial offense, was more than deserved. I realize that Star Trek often tries to suggest other means than violence to solve problems, and perhaps that should’ve been the goal of that scene (just as Stamets didn’t seek to kill Tyler/Voq after Culber’s murder last year), but Burnham meeting the single person who so negatively impacted almost her entire life? Well, I can’t exactly say I blame her. While I don’t relish seeing Starfleet officers punching their way out of problems, it did give, in Spock’s words, a certain “satisfaction.”
Spock and Burnham.
The gym scene, despite using the evergreen cliche of working out one’s anger on a punching bag (see: much of Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica, not to mention every other cop show ever made), the scene gets a splayed fingers up from me since Spock and Burnham honestly work through the angst of the previous episode, and get back on the track they were on after their breakthrough in Talosian group therapy (“If Memory Serves”). It also helps that SMG’s Burnham and Peck’s Spock were at the top of their respective acting games in this episode. Great stuff.
The big reveal.
Okay, I did NOT see that coming. After Tilly seemingly blurting out the end of the episode early on, I was completely off-guard for the revelation of seeing Michael’s dead mother as the titular Red Angel. That surprise took my own breath away just as Michael lost hers to the planet’s deadly atmosphere. I’m also wondering…is Michael’s father alive, too?
Michael Burnham. Sonequa Martin Green just owned “The Red Angel” all over the place. No question. I’d even go so far as to say it is her best performance of the entire series to date. Take a bow, SMG! I usually don’t pick an episode MVP, but she did a hell of a job. This was one of the rare times where Discovery really lived up to its initial premise of a non-captain centered Star Trek series.
Despite the fact that this episode does give some closure to the ‘mystery’ of the red angel, it is very top-heavy with exposition. So much of the dialogue (like many of the episodes this year) is just stuffed to the gills with bits of information, while still failing to tell a coherent narrative. Words pour out in massive info dumps, but we don’t really get much chance to savor or really appreciate their gravitas, because the story moves restlessly onto the next shiny thing. This has been an ongoing issue with the series in general, and a bit more so as we approach the climax of this season’s arc, which only has a few episodes left to it. This may be more of a nitpick with the show’s serialized format, as it makes individual installments less satisfying as actual stories. Sometimes this show makes me feel like a cat being manipulated with a laser pointer.
This isn’t a nit of the actual funeral scene, which was beautifully played; I especially loved Saru (the so-talented Doug Jones) singing a lovely Kelpien song of mourning. My issue is with my own surprisingly dry-eyes during the scene, because we never got to know Airiam at all until her very last episode. All of this emotion felt more fitting for a character like, say, Ensign Tilly, or Lt. Detmer or even Lt. Owosekun… any of which we know better than we ever knew Airiam until her swan song episode, where her life story was info-dumped on us (see: Nit #1). So while I appreciate the grace and scale of the funeral scene, I only wish that we’d been allowed to feel more emotion in connection to that character. Hell, even Spock’s funeral in “The Wrath of Khan” was briefer and smaller-scale, but it was also far more moving because the audience had a 16-year history with that iconic character (in 1982). We have none of that with poor Airiam. I curse the writers/producers for not giving her a ‘Short Trek’ episode of her backstory at the very least (instead of wasting one on the annoying Harry Mudd).
Georgiou’s sexual harassment.
Yes, I know S31 operative Georgiou is a savage from the mirror-universe, but her clumsy attempted flirtations with Stamets and Culber during working hours just felt out of character. Georgiou seduces for gain, not just to rattle nerves. Yes, it arguably made for a funny scene (because some people find workplace sexual harassment hilarious, I guess…) but I found it awkward, and it didn’t do anything for plot or story. I would’ve loved to have seen Stamets stand up to Georgiou a bit; maybe say something about how workplace sexual harassment in this universe is as outdated as her clumsy pickup lines. But instead, he nervously stammers. Too bad… the writers lost an opportunity to throw it back in the harasser’s face and make another point about the evolved future of Star Trek.
Nothing against actor Shazad Latif, an actor who deserves much better, but his character Tyler/Voq is about as useful to the show right now as throwing a package of Milk Duds to a drowning swimmer. All he does is feel conflicted about his role in S31, occasionally offer a shoulder for Michael (something Spock is getting better and better at providing) and otherwise stand around looking guilty. He was so much more vital to the action in Season One. In Season Two, he feels like an afterthought.
Summing it up.
“The Red Angel” provides some terrific character moments, much-needed answers to nagging questions and even a genuine jaw-dropper surprise at the end. However, it still has some of the ongoing issues of the show as well, particularly the shoehorning-in of too much information per installment at the expense of depth and resonance. “The Red Angel” is an improvement over last week’s “Project Daedalus” (“Project Daedalus” would’ve been a less-spoilerish title for this episode, I think…), and bodes well for the rest of the season, which inches closer and closer to its big finish.