The center of this latest episode of Star Trek: Discovery is the relationship between Spock and Michael. After being stonewalled by Spock in the last episode, Michael finally gets through to him. Or rather, she discovers that maybe she’s been getting through to him all along — but he’s been dealing with his own personal struggles.
Let’s be clear: I’m not absolving Spock of being an asshole. He’s been his own unique brand of difficult, and it’s clear he has a lot of feelings and issues about Michael and what’s been going on. It’s not okay that he’s treated her with such hostility. But he’s also been grappling with a lot. While it’s not Michael’s job to be empathetic (I am not here for the idea that she should default to trying to be understanding of the troubled, stormy man), if she truly wants to reconnect with her brother, she needs to know what’s going through his mind.
All that being said, Michael has suspected for a while that Spock’s anger is about a lot more than her. And she was right. Spock accuses Michael of taking on too many burdens in order to avoid feeling grief, which is true but only to an extent. She’s shown a pattern of that between the logic extremists and taking responsibility for the Klingon War. But she also understands that there’s more at work here with her brother.
It’s hard to avoid comparing what Spock is going through to what Culber is experiencing, a parallel that Spock draws directly with Lt. Stamets. “Perhaps Dr. Culber needs distance from you, not because he no longer knows how to feel about you, but because he no longer knows how to feel about himself.” This is the key to why Spock has been so hostile to Michael. He’s still working on his own personal issues. When he’s ready, he’ll let his sister in and maybe shave off his sad-emo-beard.
Spock does tell Michael that, until she stops assuming everything is her fault, they can’t be equals. And indeed, she does have a proclivity to take on too much responsibility for things out of her hands. That said, Airiam tells Michael that all of this is because of her. While it’s unclear what exactly that means, it’s possible that the Red Angel chose Spock because of his connection to Michael. In a life when she’s always been second — the adopted daughter, the foster sister, the second officer — it’s a revelation to her that her brother may not, in fact, be the chosen one. Instead, it might be Michael herself that the Red Angel is interested in.
We’ll surely visit this more in the next episode, but it’s time to talk about Airiam. Airiam was on screen much of the first season, but we didn’t learn anything about her character. It wasn’t even clear whether she was an artificial life form or some sort of augmented human (the writing team clarified that she was the latter). It’s sad that we finally got some real and touching character development in an episode that saw her demise.
It appears that it was Section 31’s Control, not the Red Angel, that had hacked Airiam. It was using her to its own ends in order to become even more powerful. The Federation relies entirely too much on an AI to map out its threat assessments, and yet that’s not a surprise, given where our society’s reliance on technology is right now. I wonder what the fallout from this will be — if Control can be saved, or if they even want to save it. In the future, Section 31 is a myth. Maybe this event (or its consequences) is what drives the organization even more underground.
Before I wrap this up, I want to shout out another excellent appearance by Jayne Brooks as Admiral Cornwell. I absolutely love her character and the gray areas in which she's often forced to operate, and yet the respect she has for Handsome Dad and his ideals.
This whole episode leaves lingering questions about the Red Angel. What does it want with Michael? Is that why it’s using/appearing to Spock? And Spock brought up an interesting point: We don’t know the direction of the relationship between the signals and the Red Angel. Is the Red Angel causing them or just using them?