Star Trek Discovery: The Red Angel

Spock, to Burnham: "Perhaps you simply have a penchant for the dramatic."

By nature I love brevity: A serviceable 'moving parts' episode that gets us from Point A to Point B, and does it in a way that's often entertaining to watch. Quiet and subdued, building to an exciting climax that mostly works.

And the Red Angel is...

To the great bereavement of all, not Patrick Stewart in a lobster costume as a backdoor pilot to the Picard show.


All joking aside, I... think I like the big reveal? Maybe? To be sure, I am tired of the big mystery character being revealed to be a parent of the main character. It's absolutely a trope, and it often leads to recycled and stagnant storytelling. I do think it can done well, however, as it instantly injects emotion into a character dynamic without having to build the characters' interactions from the ground up. It all depends on how well the show uses it. Whether or not they will do a good job with this storyline remains to be seen.

I do think the writers are hitting their stride, though, and it definitely shows. The stories have suddenly been slowed down to the right pace, which improves the show by leaps and bounds. Part of this is perhaps the direction, which was fittingly subdued and understated here, but I think that even from that standpoint, having far less story to cram into an hour is helpful. 'The Red Angel' has time to spend on its key interactions, like 'If Memory Serves' and 'Project Daedalus' before it, and the show is far better for it.

That said, some of those interactions are better than others. I still don't believe a single thing that comes out of Shazad Latif's mouth, and I cannot for the life of me figure out what the purpose was behind Georgiou's scene with Stamets and Culber. On the better side of things, I liked the reconciliation scene between Burnham and Nhan, and I thought Spock's conversation with Burnham was good, if a little bit of an abrupt shift from their dynamic last week.

Leland and Georgiou are on the side of the angels this week (no, wait, they want to capture the Angel? I'm confused), with a few caveats. The first of these is the big secret that Leland tasked Burnham's parents with Project Daedalus, and that his actions indirectly got them killed. I'm not sure why Leland would think that Burnham needed to know this for the mission, however, unless he knew that the Angel was Burnham's mom. Wait, did he? Huh. In any event, the moment that I guessed the Angel's identity was in that scene, when Burnham told him what her parents were, and Leland said her mother was also a great engineer.

How Burnham processes this revelation is interesting. Her guilty perspective was, as Spock put it, 'a child's understanding,' but she was still living with that childish mindset. And her reaction to the news was emotionally quite childish. At first, she denied it and provided counter-evidence that showed her naïveté about the situation. In that scene, Sonequa Martin-Green's performance reminded me so much of a child that I'm unsure if it was an intentional choice or not. Then, confronted with reality, she got mad and expressed her anger by lashing out at anybody and everybody related to the situation, whether they were responsible like Leland, or not responsible like Tyler. It was only after Spock came and forgave her that she was released from the childhood burden of her guilt and anger. When he did so, Martin-Green's face beautifully conveyed the lifting of a heavy weight from her shoulders.

Let's talk briefly about the plot, before we unpack what this episode may mean going forward. From the outset, it didn't make a whole ton of sense - admittedly, as time travel plots do. To be fair, I at least have a better sense of this plot than I did of Enterprise's utterly nonsensical Temporal Cold War, but certain elements of the time travel irked me. Although the problems worked themselves out from a story perspective with the reveal that the Angel is Burnham's mom, it still made no sense that the characters weren't seeing the obvious flaws in their plans. For one thing, if the Red Angel was Burnham, then she would know in the future everything that they were planning and therefore be prepared. Secondly, and perhaps worse, having Dr. Culber there to resuscitate Burnham if she dies completely invalidates the 'bait.' Nobody except for Spock seems to understand that the only way their plan works is if Burnham will actually be dead if the Angel doesn't show up. This bothered me the whole time that I was watching the episode.

So what does this mean going forward? Disco now has the Red Angel, who is Burnham's biological mother, trapped on the planet. But something fishy is going on with the Section 31 ship, as evidenced by Leland getting The Phantom-ed. Could this be Control taking, er, control of Leland's 31 ship? It certainly seems that way, especially since the voice actor who recorded that line from the computer is credited as 'Control Computer.' As this show seems to be ready to start slowing down for meaningful conversations, I think we will see Burnham and her mother work out some of their emotional issues and baggage next episode. I suspect Stamets and Culber will do the same, as they will be trapped down there as well. How Georgiou and Spock will figure in is anybody's guess, but I don't think it's an accident which characters are left on the planet at the end of this episode.

Strange New Worlds:

Essof IV was a testing site for Project Daedalus. Its inhospitable conditions rendered the planet's surface unlivable, so the researchers built a facility to control the environment.

New Life and New Civilizations:

No new species or creatures in this episode.

Pensees:

-Good funeral scene at the beginning, that did the Wrath of Khan parallel a little bit but didn't overdo it.

-So, if the Federation and the Klingons were so close to developing time travel, why don't they all have it and use it regularly in the rest of Star Trek? The Temporal Prime Directive isn't until way later.

-The theme of faith has been lost in the shuffle here. We'll see how it ties in as the season draws closer to its end.

-Leland said they needed a time crystal for the Red Angel suit. That's the same thing that was in Mudd's time loop device in 'Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad' last season.

-Another chance for Cornwell to use her therapy background. I like that her profession is a consistent and recurring aspect of her character.

-There was a very interesting and important-feeling shot of Sara Mitich's character Lt. Nilsson taking Airiam's place on the bridge. Sara Mitich played Airiam in season one. Huh.

-Burnham was on a roll with her impressions this week, doing her best Nicholas Cage 'not the bees' when she was exposed to the atmosphere of Essof IV.

-Hanelle M. Culpepper directed this episode, as well as last season's well-liked 'Vaulting Ambition.' She will direct the first two episodes of the Picard series.

-Happy Talk Like William Shatner Day for anyone reading this on the 22nd! What's your favorite Shatner line delivery?

Quotes:

Tilly: "Some people choose to live their lives as if nothing is a miracle."

Georgiou: "I was thinking you might be smarter than the Stamets I knew. You're also much more neurotic. Have you considered medication?"

Tilly: "What just happened?"
I'm with her on this one.

Admiral Cornwell: "Love is a choice, Hugh, and one doesn't just make that choice once. You make it again and again."
Whew. Almost had this one as my opening quote.

Spock: "I do wish I'd been there when you struck him. I believe I would have found the moment... satisfying."

EDIT: The Cortez joke was in poor taste. It was not intended to insult, but 'bug-eyed' was an exaggeration and clearly a poorly chosen word. I've removed it.

4 out of 6 lobster costumes.

--
CoramDeo doesn't like to lose.

4 comments:

Michal Dvorak said...

"For one thing, if the Red Angel was Burnham, then she would know in the future everything that they were planning and therefore be prepared."

Yes! And even if the Red Angel was someone else - if she had the means to know when and where Burnham would die, what made the crew think she wouldn't have the means to know about the trap? Plus, as you said, if they were going to revive Burnham, the Angel had no reason to come anyway. The plan didn't make one lick of sense no matter how you look at it. I'm happy to know I wasn't the only one bothered by this.

Anonymous said...

The ridiculous plan bothered me too. Especially Burnham's silly line: If we are going to capture the Red Angel, you have to let me die. Right after they explained the plan was not to let her die!
Everything about the plan was dumb: the idea that not really endangering Burnham would work, Spock's/Burnham's idea to actually put her in mortal danger, even the idea to capture the Red Angel in the first place! Why capture her? I get that you want to communicate with her, but the jump from we have to communicate with this person, who appears to be on our side to let's kidnap her is lost on me.

Otherwise, the episode was basically fine. The acting was good, the writing was ok, although less consistently good than the last couple of episodes. It finally moved the Red Angel story forward, but I still don't like the story.

p.s. As to Airiam's replacement: maybe they simply didn't like having a background character require that much make-up/prosthetics/whatever. It can't be much fun for the actor to sit in make-up for hours just to shoot a few short scenes with almost no lines every week.

Billie Doux said...

Anonymous, your theory about the Airiam replacement makes sense. Sometimes practical production matters do have an effect on a series.

Anonymous said...

The scene with Georgiou and Stamets and Culber felt like her trying to play with them, tease them a little. Or get them back togheter.
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