Star Trek: Discovery Season 2, Episode 11 – Debuted Thursday, March 28th
Written by Alan McElroy & Brandon Schultz
Directed by Maja Vrvilo
“Perpetual Infinity” delivers a solid episode that answers a number of key questions for the season, while nicely setting up the final three episodes. Packed with emotion, the episode is carried with strong performances by the cast, especially Sonequa Martin-Green and guest star Sonja Sohn.
[WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW]
“Perpetual Infinity” begins with Michael dreaming in one of many flashbacks peppered throughout the episode, starting with the fateful day that the Klingons attacked the Doctari Alpha Research Outpost where Mom and Pop Burnham were secretly researching time travel. Michael is told by the reinstated Dr. Culber that she was dead, but is much better now. Also, it’s no dream that her mom is the Red Angel and is still down on Essof IV. Apparently, he neglected to mention in the previous episode that his foolproof way of identifying the Red Angel didn’t account for how you can get a false positive due to mothers and daughters sharing mitochondrial DNA. The good doctor’s body may be pristine, but his diagnostic skills are a bit rusty.
Burnham struggles to accept the new reality and isn’t happy she can’t beam down to talk to Mom Angel due to reasons. She has to satisfy herself by analyzing the 841 mission logs found in the Red Angel suit, which conveniently have a visual record thanks to the suit’s built-in drone companions. These include finally seeing what was on the other side of the closet door on the day she lost her parents 20 years ago, when her mother tried to use the Red Angel suit to jump back in time one hour to save them all but ended up jumping 950 years into the future instead.
Thanks to these logs we start to understand the Red Angel more. Michael’s mom—Dr. Gabrielle Burnham—could travel back in time, but could never stay and would always get pulled back to that point 950 years in the future, and boy was it a desolate future: all sentient life in the galaxy wiped out by Control. She set up a home base on Terralysium, the planet in “New Eden.” Pulling that church into the future and setting them up to be like space Amish worked as a proof of concept that she could change time; however, all attempts to stop Control failed. That’s why she made sure that the Discovery would encounter the big red sphere (with all its juicy data) in “An Obol for Charon.”
This episode also solves the mystery of why the Red Angel has only communicated directly with Spock. It turns out his nature as a half-Vulcan/half-Human with a form of dyslexia gives him the unique ability to accept the visions she can project back through time. The flaws he has always seen as a curse were exactly what made him special, which is as Star Trek a message as there can be. As Michael watches these mission log files it dawns on her that as the Red Angel, her mother has been pulling the strings of her life all along, changing time to both show her love and try to save everyone. These revelations also break down more barriers between Spock and Michael which bonds them even closer, with Sonequa Martin-Green and Ethan Peck continuing to show great chemistry.
In this episode we finally get to meet Control in the flesh, more or less. Section 31’s AI, which has been causing all sorts of trouble and is hell-bent on achieving consciousness and wiping out all of sentient life, shows up first as a hologram, mimicking various members of the Discovery crew, but it wants to give itself an organic upgrade and Leland is the lucky boy who gets to be its vessel. In a spooky scene, the Section 31 operative gets hoisted on his own petard of moral relativism as he is informed his ends-justify-the-means perspective is a perfect fit for Control to learn the “element of human nuance I have not yet mastered.”
After an injection of nanites, Leland is no more. Leland 2.0 is born and gets to work quickly, focusing on the MacGuffin he wants most, the sphere data containing the keys to consciousness and everything a Big Bad needs to wipe out all life. Masquerading as just ordinarily evil Leland, Control orders a reluctant Ash Tyler to steal the data from his pals on the Discovery. Georgiou also starts to question Leland’s orders, but he accuses the former Klingon and former MU emperor of being too soft, and suggests that it is actually Burnham’s mom who is the possible fake. This guy has some seriously artificially intelligent cajones, with Alan Van Sprang subtly changing his performance just enough without making it obvious this is not the Leland they knew.
As the gravity of the future is tugging at Burnham’s mom and her suit, the crew is given a ticking clock of a couple of hours to learn what they can from her before the inevitable force pulls her back. And Dr. Burnham only wants to talk to Captain Pike, which understandably doesn’t sit well with her daughter. And Mama B shows she has the upper temporal hand right away when she quickly identifies Pike and tells him he will soon return to his command on the USS Enterprise, ominously adding, “I could say more about your future, but you won’t like it.” But would it have killed her to just let him know to avoid Class J Starships?
Losing confidence that the Discovery can protect the sphere data, Dr. Burnham wants to return to the future to keep trying to change fate. She also surprises Pike with the news that she doesn’t know anything about the seven red bursts, which had seemed directly linked to her Red Angel appearances. Putting in a powerful performance, Sonja Sohn is not messing around, telling Pike he is just another dead man to her and until he does something useful like delete the sphere data, she’s done chatting. A brief talk with Michael after that doesn’t go any better, as Dr. Burnham is so single-minded in her mission that she can’t seem to make a human connection with her daughter.
Saru finally gets something to do in the episode by arguing to keep the sphere data as an invaluable archive, but everyone agrees that the whole everyone everywhere dead thing is a bit of a priority over a good read. However, once they try to wipe it out, the data shows it has a mind of its own and hides behind an impossible encryption scheme. Maybe there IS a good reason for Control to want to get its new human hands on that clever data. And all of this has finally got Ash Tyler feeling like a downtrodden Bluth, finally questioning his loyalty to Leland and Section 31.
After Spock drops some ancient Chinese wisdom, the solution to getting rid of the data pivots to the crazy science realm where the data will be transferred to the Red Angel suit and thrown into the “perpetual infinity” (hey, that’s the title of the episode!) of a never-ending future where Control can’t ever get it. And as a bonus, Stamets and Spock—who oddly blurts out “I like science” like a five-year-old—figure out a way to tech the tech and save Burnham’s mom from joining this endless void. Is there anything that dark matter they picked up in the season opener can’t do?
With Tyler off the reservation, Leland 2.0 moves on to try to manipulate Georgiou to get the data for him—oh and kill Burnham’s mom while she is at it—but as the queen of manipulation, Philippa isn’t really falling for it. The formerly tyrannical despot gets humanized even more by having a lovely chat with Dr. Burnham, mother to mother. Accepting her tragic fate, Burnham’s real mom implores Georgiou to look out for her baby girl, and thanks to a nuanced performance from Michelle Yeoh, we believe she will.
Once she sees a plan is in place to keep the data away from Control, mother Burnham starts to lighten up and connect with her daughter. She reveals that all through Michael’s life she has been a witness to highs and lows of her life. In an all-to-brief emotional minute, these two relive their lives together that were once apart. But mom is not ready to come home, not until she knows she can stop Control.
Things get real action-sequency after Georgiou makes her move and cuts off the data transfer to the Section 31 ship. Her chat with Dr. Burnham was the final straw for her to see through Leland 2.0’s façade and to start her own little mutiny and she brings her recruit, Tyler, along with her. Leland 2.0 is not too happy about this and lets Tyler know by stabbing him in the guts as he heads down to Essof IV to take things into his own hands because good evil help is so hard to find.
What ensues is a series of phaser shots, explosions and Michelle Yeoh showing off that she still has it when it comes to kicking people in the head. But in the end, the only way to keep Leland 2.0 from getting that data he wants ever so much is for Michael to let go of her mother and let her and the suit get sucked back into the future in yet another heartbreaking moment.
Of course, destroying the facility didn’t take out Control/Leland, who warps away with the portion of the data he was able to collect, leaving him for another boss fight in a future episode. Despondent, Michael’s hope wavers, leaving it to her brother to remind her that they are the masters of their own destiny. Saying the keys to winning the fight are “instinct and logic together” he nails the theme of family for the season as he describes what they each bring to the table. In a bit of an on-the-nose metaphor, he helps put her back together by reassembling the chess game he threw aside two episodes ago as they prepare to make their next move to save all of future history.
Time travel is time-honored in the history of Trek and this episode made it clear that it is a pivotal element of Discovery‘s second season. Of course, with any temporal storytelling, things tend to get complicated. With the Red Angel revealed to have been trying to solve a calamity, they did a fairly good job in “Perpetual Infinity” of explaining away all the reasons why she just doesn’t go back in time and fix the problem herself by stopping Control from ever being programmed or even simply stopping by Starfleet HQ and just telling them the whole story.
Even though mom and the suit were sucked into the future at the end of the episode, it is a good bet that she and time travel are not done yet. And when you combine time travel and all the talk of syncing up with canon and something big coming in the season finale, the Trekkie mind starts going to some interesting places. It isn’t clear yet, but we may be in store for some major timeline bending—or even splintering—events in the next few weeks, so buckle up.
One of Thirty-One?
After watching what happened to Leland in this episode, it’s likely every Trekkie got flashbacks to the Borg, the iconic bad guys that were to 24th-century Trek what the Klingons were to 23rd-century Trek. There were certainly some visual similarities, most notably Control infecting Leland with nanites, similar to Borg assimilation via nanoprobes. Control also says “struggle is pointless,” eerily similar to the Borg’s catchphrase “resistance is futile.” And the result was Leland being completely taken over by another entity and losing his humanity—also familiar.
However, while the origins of the Borg have always been vague, having their birth come from a 23rd century Earth-AI doesn’t fit with what we know of the older Delta Quadrant-based cybernetic race. And once you go beyond the cosmetic similarities in this episode, there are some major differences. While the Borg acted robotically, they were not androids, but cyborgs. More importantly, their brains were organic, and instead of artificial intelligence, they used a collective consciousness. Control’s motivation is to seek order by eliminating all sentient organic life, whereas the Borg seek out perfection by absorbing biological and technological resources. The Borg value life and the “biological distinctiveness” it offers them, Control wants to wipe out all life. Hopefully, the powers that be at Discovery have resisted the urge to play with this piece of Star Trek canon. (It is not futile.)
What is intriguing is what all of this means for the future of Section 31. What has transpired in the last few episodes may be the spark that sends Section 31 underground, as we know they will become in the 24th century. Starfleet may see a rogue AI trying to kill everyone as a bad move and just shut Section 31 down. We know Michelle Yeoh will be part of Discovery‘s third season, so it’s possible that’s when we’ll see Section 31 rebuilt as the rogue unsanctioned organization we are used to.
That was intense
“Perpetual Infinity” was a tight episode that nicely set up the final showdown between Control and the Discovery crew. The story was laser-focused and generally self-contained, but as a result, felt a bit dry. Characters that often add some more color to Discovery were relegated to the background, giving the stage over to Michael, Spock, Michael’s mom, and Leland. With Spock as Michael’s primary confidant and new resident genius on board, Tilly barely has anything to do and ends up mostly as the butt of jokes.
With so much attention on the Red Angel, now revealed as Michael’s mom, and with all that history just pouring out, the episode dripped with emotional intensity, which at times deviated into melodrama. While they did a good job of telling their story, writers Alan McElroy and Brandon Schultz lacked subtlety, often an issue on Discovery when they don’t trust its audience to pick up on things without them being telegraphed or highlighted.
Maja Vrvilo kept up the pacing for the episode quite well and was able to transition from character to action to even a bit of horror in a seamless way. Like a number of Discovery directors, Vrvilo also employs a few silly camera tricks, instead of trusting the actors and other elements to make scenes land. The makeup and visual effects teams also deserve high marks for Leland 2.0’s creepy nanite infection.
As always, an episode is elevated by standout performances from this excellent cast, with Sonequa Martin-Green, Ethan Peck, Michelle Yeoh, and Shazad Latif all bringing their A-games, joined by guest star Sonja Sohn, who showed a lot of range despite being limited to standing in a small circle.
In the end, “Perpetual Infinity” is a solid entry that fills the gap and holds our interest as we await what is expected to be some explosive developments in the final episodes of this very much-improved second season of Star Trek: Discovery.
Random thoughts, connections, easter eggs, and more
- This is the second episode co-written by Alan McElroy, who joined Discovery in its second season and previously wrote the teleplay for “An Obol for Charon.” Co-writer Brandon Schultz gets his first full episode television writing credit with this one, after working as a writers’ assistant on Discovery since season one.
- This is director Maja Vrvilo’s first full episode, although she previously directed the Short Treks episode “Runaway.” Vrvilo has worked with Alex Kurtzman’s Secret Hideout as both an editor and director on multiple episodes of Hawaii Five-0.
- Michael Burnham’s father was played by Kenric Green, husband of Sonequa Martin-Green.
- Control reveals there are over 7,000 active ships in Starfleet.
- Newton’s Third Law is Tilly’s second favorite law of physics. Saru cuts her off before we learn her first.
- Spock carries on Trek’s grand tradition of referencing Shakespeare, to which Michael replies “Hamlet, hell yeah!”
- Saru compares the importance of the sphere data archive to Earth’s Library of Alexandria of antiquity and the Renaissance era’s Bibliotheca Corviniana, but why not the Federation’s own Memory Alpha or more modern Star Trek storehouses of data?
- In another of this season’s references to ancient wisdom, Spock quotes Chinese philosopher Laozi, making him the second alien to choose an Earth-based source of wisdom and miss another opportunity to Trek up the references. Surak had nothing?
- Thanks to Leland’s attack on Essof IV, we saw Section 31’s phaser rifle in action for the first time.
- The cameras the Discovery crew set up to monitor things on Essof IV look a lot like Zora the AI’s interface in the Short Treks “Calypso.”
- The Red Angel suit is DNA-encoded but given Culber’s mistake, maybe Michael can use her mom’s suit too.
- The scene where Tyler figured out Leland was possessed was reminiscent of when Picard and Riker figured out the (also chair-bound) Lt. Cmdr. Remmick had been possessed with an alien parasite in TNG’s “Conspiracy.”
- While Shazad gives “faith” a shoutout, it still seems this much-touted theme for the season has mostly been forgotten.
- Like Spock, fictional literary hero Percy Jackson (and other demigods like him) also have dyslexia which helps them; it makes reading English difficult, but enables them to read Ancient Greek. Also like Spock, they all have one Human parent.
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.