“The Red Angel,” Star Trek: Discovery’s 10th episode of its second season, moved so fast that I didn’t even have time to stop and think about whether a certain turn of events made sense. It turns out that was on purpose, as the end reveal of the Red Angel's identity made clear.
This episode started out with Airiam’s funeral, and I was very happy about that. The Star Trek franchise often kills off secondary characters without a backward glance. As “The Red Angel” made clear, though, these losses have a real impact on the crew, and they have to work through their grief. This show does an excellent job generally of showing that anger, pain, grief: These emotions are processes, not one-offs. You don’t heal right away, and even if you can straighten your shirt, lift your chin, and clear your brain to tackle the problem at hand, that doesn’t mean you’re okay.
It turns out that Project Daedalus, which Airiam told Michael to look for, was in fact a Section 31 project that explored time travel and resulted in the Red Angel suit. But that suit was destroyed by the Klingons, or so Section 31 thought until the Red Angel started appearing. And — twist of all twists — it turns out that the Red Angel is actually Michael Burnham herself, according to a biometric scan.
So, of course, our intrepid Discovery crew members work on a plan to capture the Red Angel while also grappling with their personal lives, trying to come to terms with everything that’s happened so far.
Discovery’s writers really excel at balancing the fast-paced episode plots with character moments in this second season. Despite the fact that so much happened this episode that I probably can’t even recap it all in one post (at least not one with a decent word count), we got so many lovely character-driven scenes.
It’s no surprise that Dr. Culber would seek out a therapist (but the fact that Admiral Cornwell is the closest thing that Discovery has to one is a gaping oversight because THIS SHIP REALLY REALLY NEEDS AN OFFICIAL THERAPIST). Though his time with the admiral was brief, she really had some great advice. I think the fact that she understood his issues right off the bat, referring to his former self in the past tense, made Culber more receptive to what she had to say. When she told him, “Love is a choice,” I had chills. You could really feel Culber's anguish. That scene was so short, so quiet, and yet so poignant.
Michael really went on a journey in “The Red Angel” too, as Spock outlines for her in another great scene. After discovering that her parents were actually working on the Red Angel suit for Section 31, and that Leland was directly responsible for her parents’ death, Michael had to take her anger out on something that wasn’t Leland’s face (though I wish it had been more of Leland’s face, to be honest). We’ve seen Michael be a sister to Spock; this was the first time we truly saw him be a brother to her. Perhaps, Spock, it’s time for the sadbeard to go.
Ash is finally out of Discovery jail, as the crew now knows it was Airiam betraying them to Section 31, and so he and his hair are free to move about the ship once again. Of course, he goes straight to Michael. I do like them as a couple, especially at the end, where Michael confides in Ash that she’s scared. This is exactly what he didn’t trust her with in Season 1, and it drove them apart. Perhaps this is a second chance for them.
Spock has discovered that the Red Angel shows up whenever Michael is in danger, so the solution is clearly to kill Michael in order to allow the Red Angel to appear. I knew that she couldn’t die because Michael is the center of the show, and yet that scene with her in the chair was so tense, I think I had a heart attack. But finally the Red Angel did show up, and off came the mask.
Airiam said in the last episode that this was all about Michael, and it turns out that’s true — the Red Angel is her mother. (I had a paragraph all prepared about why I don’t engage in discussion about time paradoxes and such, and I didn’t even need to use it. The bottom line is that I trust the writers, and so if they take us on a journey, I’ll suspend disbelief and follow them.) So the question is, how did this happen? The easiest hypothesis is that she didn’t die in the Klingon attack, and yet Michael has memories of her brutal and graphic treatment. Is she from an alternate future where the outcome was different? Or did she survive somehow? There are a lot of questions here, but what a cliffhanger to leave us on.
Again, there’s so much I didn’t get to in this recap — that Stamets/Georgiou interaction, the idea that time travel is responsible for leaps in human development (I couldn’t help but think of the movie First Contact), what happened to Leland at the end of the episode, Burnham finally acknowledging that Emperor Georgiou cares for her — but I’ll leave it here.