Let’s just spore-jump right into it, shall we?
20 years ago.
We see a young Michael Burnham on the colony of Doctari Alpha, under the care of her mother and father, two researchers working on a classified time suit project for the seedy Section 31 (unbeknownst to the tweenage Michael, of course). Young Michael sees something landing outside…
We see Klingons land on the colony and raid the place, looking for their stolen time crystal. Michael’s mother (Sonja Sohn) tells her to hide in a sequence that is almost beat-for-beat with the prologue sequence of Star Wars’ “Rogue One” (I half-expected Dr. Burnham to call her daughter “Stardust”), though it still works for this story as well. The flashback ends with…
… the adult Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin Green) awakening in sickbay under the ministrations of a reinstated (and resurrected) Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz). Turns out Michael was just a teensy bit dead on the surface of Essof IV (“The Red Angel”) but has recovered. In Star Trek, even death isn’t quite as serious as it is in our own century. Michael assumes that seeing her mother on the planet was some kind of near-death hallucination and is shocked to learn that it was not. Her mother is indeed alive, and suspended in an isolation field on the planet, where she is requesting to speak with Captain Pike (Anson Mount)…alone. Michael’s mother (Sonja Sohn) isn’t quite ready yet to deal with a daughter who’s been mourning her for 20 years.
Michael reviews mission logs (700+ of them) from Dr. Burnham’s time-suit, and sees what her presumed-dead, time-traveling mom has been up to all of this time (no pun intended).
The logs show her mother’s departure from Doctari Alpha, as well as her landing on a desolate, wasteland Earth of the far future…an Earth devoid of all sentient life (or any life) in a post-artificial intelligence holocaust.
Aboard the Section 31 ship, in orbit alongside Discovery, Leland (Alan van Sprang) has been infected with the Section 31 sentient AI “Control”, which taunts him in various holographic forms before taking over his body. Probes are inserted directly into Leland’s brain, and his veins appear to darken in a style very similar to any Trek fan familiar with the Borg.
This new Control hybrid now has the physical access of a top S31 operative. Control/Leland emerges onto the bridge of the S31 ship and informs Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) that he is to board Discovery with the express purpose of stealing/sabotaging the sphere data (encountered in “An Obol For Charon”), to prevent Michael’s mother from misusing it, but in actuality to complete the AI’s transformation in an all-powerful galactic intelligence that will destroy all sentient life in the known sections of the galaxy. Think; a galaxy-wide Skynet. S31 operative Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) is suspicious of Leland’s newfound decisiveness…
Pike meets with Burnham’s quantum-leaping mom, and learns that the data from the red sphere must be erased for the sake of the galaxy. It’s a difficult decision given the treasure trove of data accumulated over the extinct red sphere’s thousands of years of operational life, but Dr. Burnham’s is adamant.
Discussing options with Saru (Doug Jone) and Michael, Pike comes to the conclusion that the data must be destroyed to save the universe. Saru attempts to comply as a visiting Tyler (spying for Control/Leland) watches, secretly transmitting data back to S31. A baffled Saru reports that the sphere data seems to be protecting itself from erasure. Michael suggests that she meet with her mother anyway, despite her objections. Pike consents.
Aboard Discovery, a brainstorming session between Burnham, Stamets (Anthony Rapp), Pike, and Spock leads to a plan to save time-traveling Dr. Burnham whilst sending her time suit (with all of the sphere data transferred into it) forward into the future using dark matter particles (I will admit, my eyes began to cross a little at this point). The technobabble-laden plan would send the suit and the collected sphere data to a point into the future where the AI Control would no longer threaten it. Spock (Ethan Peck) gets the best line, “I like science.”
Matters escalate as Georgiou and Leland/Control butt heads over how to deal with Dr. Burnham. Leland attempts to appeal to Georgiou’s vanity by reminding her that she could get rid of Dr. Burnham, her only rival as “the most powerful woman in the universe” (Leland’s offers dicey motivation at best… it’s not surprising that Georgiou isn’t convinced).
Georgiou then beams down to Essof IV to assess for herself the validity of the woman who is her rival in caring for Michael Burnham. Philippa is surprised to learn that the ‘red angel’, from her hundreds of leaps through time, has learned all about Georgiou’s origins in the mirror-universe, and despite her savage background, she still cares for the prime-universe Michael as her own daughter. The two women understand each other indeed.
Michael and Georgiou present the plan to send the time suit with the sphere data to Dr. Burnham, for the sake of saving both. Philippa Georgiou makes a secret call to Tyler to spy on Leland, whom she doesn’t trust (she also reminds Tyler of what she’ll do to him if he betrays her as well). Tyler later intrudes on a Borg-ified Leland, who identifies himself as the new body of Control and he (it?) proceeds to shank Tyler in the guts…but not before Tyler can hail Pike aboard Discovery with a single word of warning; “Leland.”
Control/Leland beams down to Essof IV, and in a terminator-ish fashion, begins beating or shooting anyone attempting to stop him. Michael reluctantly realizes that the only way to prevent the suit and its uploaded sphere data from falling into Leland/Control’s hands is to fire her mother back into the future sans suit. Dr. Leland and her compromised suit will be shot back into the far future, where both will be safe from Control. A determined Control/Leland hacks into the suit and manages to upload nearly half of the red sphere data before it and Dr. Burnham can be propelled forward in time.
Stamets and the rest of the landing party on Essof IV fire their weapons on the pattern enhancers, and after tearful “I love yous” the two Burnhams are separated by both space and time once again.
Burnham orders the landing party to be beamed up, and tells Pike to “blow this place to hell!” Pike fires on the facility on Essof IV. However, Control/Leland, with his share of the sphere data, beams aboard the S31 ship and warps away; masking his warp signature to prevent pursuit. An escape pod is detected and recovered, with a still-alive Tyler aboard.
Spock comes to visit his freshly grieving sister Michael, and the two engage in a game of three dimensional chess, living in a moment of the present, and choosing not to dwell on a possible future that is not yet written.
Once again, massive dumps of technobabble and exposition substitute for story and impact, yet the episode manages to turn in some impressive character moments in spite of itself.
The scene of Michael and her mother’s reunion was the strongest moment of the episode, and its sheer gravitas nearly atones for all other nagging issues with “Perpetual Infinity”. I also appreciated the mirror-Georgiou’s grudging love for prime-Michael finally coming into its own as well.
However, as a story, “Perpetual Infinity” is, once again, little more than a link in a chain. Too much of it is overly-reliant on previous installments, and the constant flitting back and forth between subplots is frustrating. I really want to feel this show, but I can barely keep up with simply watching it. It’s so overly busy that potentially great moments barely have time to breathe. It’s a tribute more to the actors than the writers that the show manages to have as much emotional depth and resonance as it does.
Culber is reinstated as a doctor again (after being resurrected by magic mushrooms) but that moment is glossed over. This was a big moment, but it’s treated as an afterthought. This man came back from the dead (!) and is a Starfleet officer again. In the original Star Trek, that kind of story warranted two full movies. Now it’s a footnote.
Similarly disappointing is seeing former-Cadet-now-Ensign Tilly (the still-adorable Mary Wiseman) reduced to a caricature of herself; her only defining trait being her nervous babbling, which is really wearing a bit thin now. Tilly of season one was someone who, in many ways, was far more of an audience avatar than Michael Burnham because she was so relatable. Now she’s becoming a one-joke character; the girl who nervously babbles all of the time. I was hoping with Tilly becoming an ensign this year, we’d see her grow into her newfound authority (“New Eden” was very promising), but her development of late has gone in a somewhat retrograde direction. Mary Wiseman deserves more.
On the Origin of (a) Species.
“Perpetual Infinity”, “Red Angel” and “Project Daedalus” drop heavy hints that the late cybernetic human crewmember Airiam (“Project Daedalus”) and cybernetically-altered Section 31 operative Leland might, in fact, be preludes to a Borg origin story. The Borg, of course, being the favorite big bads of both “Next Generation” and “Voyager.”
If the Borg find some way of harnessing the red angel’s wormhole and time-traveling abilities, it would also explain how they were able to set up shop in the far-off Delta Quadrant, hundreds of years in the past; maybe a defeated Control/Leland retreats there, with just enough red sphere data to turn other biological life-forms into servant ‘drones.’ Control’s modified plan would now lead to conquest of all sentient life instead of just obliteration (which is more V’ger/Nomad territory, really).
Perhaps the Borg’s quest for ‘perfection’ stems from their failed origins; Leland was only able to get part of the total sphere data on AI, thus he (and future-Borg) have something of a self-fulfillment issue; forever assimilating other beings for that precious data on AI that will never be fully recovered. Not sure if this is concrete yet, but it certainly looks as if it might go that way.
Summing it up.
This episode, written by Alex Kurtzman and directed by Maja Vrvilo, raises some interesting questions and offers a few nice character moments, particularly the reunion of Burnham and her mother. However, the frenzied dump of information into this episode as well as the stuffing of many needless subplots into its already full frame make for another decidedly mixed offering from a series that was making a lot of progress earlier this season.
Discovery’s handsome production values (easily the best looking Star Trek production ever) and terrific ensemble cast are its greatest assets, but the writing is still a bit scattershot, oscillating between its rich core of characters and its wildly uneven storytelling.
I still hold out hope that the show’s best days are yet to come, and that (like “The Next Generation”) we’re just witnessing a rough shakedown cruise of a show trying to find its sweet spot. There have been a few episodes (notably “New Eden” “Sounds of Thunder” and “If Memory Serves”) where it had, and might yet again.