“The Red Angel”
Star Trek: Discovery Season 2, Episode 10 – Debuted Thursday, March 21st
Written by Chris Silvestri & Anthony Maranville
Directed by Hanelle M. Culpepper
Plot arc revelations are just the beginning of this excellent emotional roller coaster of an episode. With standout performances from Sonequa Martin-Green, Ethan Peck, Michelle Yeoh, and Alan Van Sprang, “The Red Angel” answers questions about characters that you didn’t even know to ask.
[WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW]
All in the Family
“The Red Angel” picks up after the sad ending of the previous episode, with the crew mourning the death of Airiam. After her memories—including the corruption from the Control AI—were purged, Airiam got the full Spock-in-Star Trek II type memorial, with Saru’s mournful Kelpien funeral song replacing Scotty’s bagpipes.
The ceremony includes powerful eulogizing from Pike, Tilly, Stamets, Detmer, and Burnham, with credible performances from all involved. While this would have had more impact if Airiam’s relationships with these characters had been more developed over the season, the scene beautifully demonstrated the theme of family in this second season. And for what promised to be an episode dealing with the season’s major plot arc, this opening also set the tone for a surprisingly emotional hour of Star Trek.
Michael in the Middle
We soon learn that the Section 31 station that housed Control has been destroyed offscreen, and copies of it have not been found on other Section 31 ships, but Pike knows it can’t be that easy. Either to catch fans up or to slow things down after the intensity of previous episodes, “The Red Angel” had a lot of good old-fashioned Star Trek exposition scenes, with director Hanelle Culpepper allowing the actors, script, and music to keep the audience interested, plus spot-on dialog like Spock saying, “The one variable we cannot possibly predict is the future.” Who needs a spinning camera? To shake things up we instead have Tilly and one of her signature barging-in moments to reveal she found a file in Airiam’s memory called “Project Daedalus”—which was mentioned by Airiam right before she sacrificed herself.
Tilly also found the bio-neural signature of the Red Angel, and it turns out to be a match for the person on the top of the suspect list: Michael Burnham. Dr. Culber is brought in to confirm the match and he reminds us that he knows his way around a biobed scanner—remember, he was the one who fatally figured out Tyler was a Klingon. Spock also uses the opportunity to make another one of his sick sibling burns, noting that traveling through time to solve the problems of the galaxy matches Michael’s psych profile to “take responsibility for situations often beyond her control.” This early reveal of the Red Angel was smart as it allowed the rest of the episode to breathe, instead of all being an elaborate setup to a big plot reveal.
Complicating matters, Leland and Georgiou show up to help, but especially after last week, people aren’t exactly excited to see the Section 31 gang, with a tone of suitable skepticism set by Admiral Cornwell, who has hung around for this ride. The Section 31 team don’t win any more friends when they reveal that the Daedalus Project was their own abandoned program that created the Red Angel time travel suit. It was made two decades earlier in a “temporal arms race”—not to be confused with the Temporal Cold War—with the Klingons. WTF? They knew this all along? These guys can’t get kicked out of Starfleet soon enough.
It is also clear that there is more to Project Daedalus that Leland isn’t saying. Saru confronts the Section 31 captain, making it clear bad things happen to those who cross his friends. It’s fascinating to watch Doug Jones transition to this new more dangerous Saru, step by step. After being pointed in the right direction by Georgiou, Burnham also drops all protocol when dealing with this black-clad superior officer, demanding answers. She is hit hard by the truth that her parents were secretly part of Section 31 and the minds behind Project Daedalus. Like Michael, her father was a xenoanthropologist who theorized that leaps in technology were due to time travel, and her mother engineered the Red Angel suit to prove it could be done. Then, due to Leland’s carelessness, they were traced to Doctari Alpha by the Klingons who killed them. Staggered by this revelation, Burnham hits back, literally, twice.
So, the big plan is to build a trap to capture the Angel. Stamets and Tilly cook up a delicious smorgasbord of Treknobabble with talk of tetryonic radiation, micro-wormholes, graviton beams, phase discriminators, and stasis beams, with a time crystal garnish. And the cheese for this mousetrap will be (of course) Michael herself, as it is determined the Angel tends to show up when she is in danger, actively grandfather-paradoxing throughout her life. Unsurprisingly, Pike is not cool with using Burnham as bait, but making good use of all the practice she has had all season long talking him into things, Michael convinces the captain that they simply are going to have to kill today-her to capture future-her. Wonderful stuff.
Everybody Loves Burnham
“The Red Angel” was a big episode of Michael Burnham and not just the big revelation about the Angel. Woven throughout the episode were a series of quieter character moments with her extended family, and even her new crewmate Commander Nhan, who is struggling with guilt after ejecting Airiam into space.
Burnham finally starts to build some trust with Georgiou, after the two have been at odds since Philippa’s exile began late in the first season. They start to bond, with Georgiou showing genuine concern for this doppelgänger of her lost adopted child from the Mirror Universe. While the former Emperor still has her own agenda, the character is becoming more interesting and far less of the cartoon villain we saw earlier in the season, with Michelle Yeoh also toning down her performance to fit the mood of the episode.
Michael and Spock also continue to show off their sibling connection, picked up after their long estrangement. While he is quick with the cutting remarks like “Perhaps you merely have a penchant for the dramatic,” the anger of the previous episode has been replaced with respect, and even love, or as much love as you can get from two people raised by Sarek. In another simple touching moment beautifully scored by Jeff Russo, this Vulcan brother empathizes with Michael over the failure of both logic and emotion to help resolve her problems. They finally bury the lirpa over the painful incident which has burdened Michael since their childhood. Stepping into impossibly big space boots to fill, Ethan Peck continues to impress as he adds more and more layers to Spock, with Sonequa Martin-Green keeping up right next to him.
Perhaps the most satisfying character moments are with Burnham and Tyler. Even though she fought to get him cleared and released from confinement, Michael still has trust issues with the former Klingon and his new belief in the mission of Section 31. But facing her fate in the Red Angel trap puts things into perspective and she is able to look past her anger to see the man (more or less) that she still loves. In an earned romantic moment exquisitely played by both actors, they give each other the strength needed to face what comes next.
While Dr. Hugh Culber was tapped to help out with his medical skills, he is not yet cleared for duty and to make that clear, he spent most of the episode dressed in a nicely tailored suit like he just came off an Instagram photo shoot as opposed to his traditional white medical uniform. The separation from Stamets is a hot topic on the ship, with even Georgiou transitioning to agent provocateur to poke at their “male tension,” and flirting with Paul, resulting in Culber’s indignant comment, “You do know that he is gay, right?” The fun little scene has the former Terran quipping back with the admonishment “Don’t be so binary,” but the whole thing seemed her odd way of showing them that they were meant for each other in any universe.
While Hugh isn’t looking for love life advice from the evil emperor, he does confide in Admiral Cornwell, who has a background in therapy. He reveals he has “never felt more alone,” since being resurrected. Together they explore his unique nature and how his feelings are more memory than current reality. Subtly played by Jayne Brook and Wilson Cruz, nothing is resolved, because these kinds of issues don’t have simple solutions that can be tied up in one episode. He is left with Cornwell’s wise words, “The only way to make a new road, is to walk it.” Later Hugh tries to reach out to Stamets but it just wasn’t the right time—but it’s a step on that road. By the way, maybe Cornwell should get some more of these people on her couch, as half the crew seems to be having an identity crisis of one form or another.
How I Met Your Mother
The crazy trap plan takes them to a former Section 31 base on the inhospitable world of Essof IV, which has a lethal atmosphere and plenty of power for Tilly’s Red Angel trap. The stakes are set high as it is determined they will only have one shot at this and if they fail, we are reminded, all sentient life in the galaxy will perish. No pressure! The trap is set, with Michael strapped in as if it were her execution. As the episode often does, the tension gets broken up with light moments such as Spock showing his Vulcan concern by telling his sister it would “be ideal if you survived.”
The final act pays off all of the character arcs that have been building up through the episode, and through the season. This may all be about time travel and a techno-marvel and the fate of the galaxy, but we feel it through Michael’s relationships with her family, through Georgiou’s concern, Spock’s determination, and Tyler’s love. Once the trap is sprung, the agony Michael is put through is raw and visceral and almost painful to watch and hear as she suffocates in the toxic atmosphere. It goes on for a long time with the Red Angel as a no-show. With all the character moments and bonding beats, if you didn’t know better, you might actually think this episode was really setting Burnham up to die. Everyone starts to waver, leaving it to Spock to keep the faith, and evangelizing his belief in the plan at phaser-point.
At the last minute, a red burst appears above the planet, ushering in the dramatic entrance of the Red Angel. As the Section 31 ship struggles to close the Angel’s connection to the future, Leland is injected in the eye by some device from the optometrist’s office from hell, knocking him cold, yet somehow you still hear Leland talking on the intercom with Tyler. This wasn’t picked up on again, but Pike’s suspicion that Control wasn’t done yet may have been right, with Leland paying the price. What comes next for this possibly Control-infected Leland is for another episode.
On the planet, the Angel has saved Michael but has been caught in the trap. With everything in order, we know what is coming next. However, the woman who emerges from the suit isn’t future Michael, but Burnham recognizes her, simply crying out in the smallest of voices, “Mom?”
“The Red Angel” was simply full of surprises, and in a good way. Unlike the first season, the second season hasn’t relied on gimmicky “surprise!” moments, especially ones that weren’t even surprising. Season two has set up mysteries, but instead of clumsily trying to hide them from the audience, the clues to the case have all been on display, inviting speculation. The identity of the Red Angel was the biggest mystery so far, and so it is a surprise they revealed it in the tenth episode, and early on in the tenth as well.
Of course, it was no surprise that the Angel was directly tied to the focal character of Michael Burnham, but they still managed to pull off a good one with the revelation that it was Michael’s believed-dead mother. It’s still not clear if Michael herself will also play the role of the Red Angel sometime in the future, as Culber seemed “100% sure” the bio-signature from Airiam’s memory was a match for Michael.
There is obviously still much more to uncover in the final four episodes of the season, but the arc of the season continues to evolve nicely and is being handled much better than the on again/off again focus on the Klingon War in the first season. The same can’t really be said for the much-touted theme of science vs. faith, which got a lot of attention in the first couple of episodes—especially “New Eden”—but has since barely been given lip service. Perhaps it will come roaring back, but the revelation of the Red Angel as just another example of Star Trek time travel technology seems to have determined a winner: science.
Once more, with feeling
“The Red Angel” is a delight that subverts expectations by taking a plot payoff episode, and using it to deliver emotion and character development. Scribes Chris Silvestri and Anthony Maranville showed that even though they are first-time Discovery writers, they have been doing their homework over the last couple of years, immersing themselves in the show, the characters and Star Trek. It all held together in a tight package, without tangents or wasted moments. And even with all the heavy lifting going on, they found just the right amount of levity, or as Michael says, “Thank you for sharing that with the group, Spock.”
Director Hanelle Culpepper showed that she is the right person for the job to launch the new Picard series, with a deep understanding of how to make all these emotional moments land. She knows when to let the actors showcase their talents, and when to ramp up the action. And even though the ship wasn’t really going anywhere, the visual effects team found ways to experiment with the standard establishing shots, giving us new perspectives on the USS Discovery.
“The Red Angel” is proof of concept for the improvements in the second season of Star Trek: Discovery, and it keeps getting better.
Random thoughts, connections, easter eggs, and more
- “The Red Angel” was the first full television episode teleplay for both Chris Silvestri and Anthony Maranville. Both have worked on Discovery since season one with Maranville as a researcher and Silvestri as a writers’ assistant.
- This is Hanelle Culpepper’s second time helming an episode of Discovery, having directed the first season episode “Vaulting Ambition.” She has also been tapped to direct the first two episodes of the upcoming Picard series.
- SaruAbilityWatch: Beautiful singing voice.
- Saru reveals even without his threat ganglia, he has “strong instinctive reactions to dangerous situations and individuals.”
- Airiam’s body (minus the erased data) was ejected into space, leaving open multiple sci-fi possibilities.
- The medical tech that erases Airiam’s data was a cameo by James MacKinnon, the head of the special effects makeup & prosthetics department.
- Tilly justifies her knack for barging into rooms by noting the doors on the ship open automatically, although of course doors can be locked and have chimes to notify.
- Leland notes that using time travel the Klingons would have wiped out humanity from the “primordial soup.” It is learned in the 24th century in TNG’s “The Chase” that the “primordial soup” of nineteen different planets across the galaxy were seeded for sentient life to evolve by a single extinct race. In the TNG series finale “All Good Things…” Q also took Picard back in time to witness the moment the first life was to spark in Earth’s primordial soup.
- According to Star Trek history, Burnham’s parents were correct that time travel has contributed to leaps in technology, including Scotty revealing the formula for transparent aluminum in 1986 (Star Trek IV) and Henry Starling releasing technology in the 1960s through to the 1990s based on a crashed timeship from the 29th century (VOY “Future’s End”).
- The Red Angel suit emits tetryon radiation. Tetryrons only exist in subspace and were often referenced in 24th-century Trek shows.
- The Red Angel suit creates a micro-wormhole to travel through time. In the 24th century, the Federation’s Project Pathfinder would use an artificial micro-wormhole to contact the USS Voyager in the Delta Quadrant. There are also similarities with artificial quantum singularities which were used to power Romulan ships in the 24th century, and periodically caused some unintended time traveling when malfunctioning.
- The Red Angel suit was powered by a time crystal. Harry Mudd used a time crystal-powered device to create a time loop in season one’s “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad.”
- Leland originally got the time crystal for the suit at the Orion black market on Qo’noS. Decades later, he’d return there to recruit Georgiou into Section 31, as revealed in a bonus scene after the season one finale “Will You Take My Hand.”
- According to Georgiou, Mirror Stamets was pansexual, and their relationship went beyond tyrannical ruler and mad scientist.
- This episode featured the first full look at the Discovery’s gym, which was glimpsed via a memory of Airiam in the previous episode. The set appears to be a redress of the shuttle bay.
- The trap built for the Red Angel seems to use components from the Shenzhou transporter set.
- Georgiou makes reference to “the ninth circle of hell,” indicating that either Dante’s Divine Comedy exists in the Mirror Universe, or she has been catching up on the classics.
- She also references “DEFCON” levels, which are US military defense conditions, which may also have existed in the Mirror Universe, or perhaps she has been watching WarGames during her time in the Prime Universe.
- In a bit of poetry, Lt. Nilsson takes Airiam’s old position on the bridge. Nilsson is played by Sara Mitich, who portrayed Airiam in season one.
- While never stated explicitly, it’s possible Essof IV was Class Y (aka “Demon Class”)
Star Trek: Discovery is available exclusively in the USA on CBS All Access. It airs in Canada on Space and streams on CraveTV. It is available on Netflix everywhere else.