Welcome, one and all, to my continuing ‘Quick Thoughts on Star Trek Discovery’ series. Today’s episode, ‘The Red Angel’, was a masterful piece of storytelling. As the title would indicate, the mystery of the Red Angel is a prominent theme in the episode. What makes it wonderful though is that the character is used as a sturdy backdrop to a whole lot of character interactions.
The episode opened with Airiam’s funeral, which was itself a visual nod to Spock’s funeral in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. Here, the named crew members of Discovery season one all get to say a little about Airiam, with the exceptions of Tyler and Hugh. As well as being a touching tribute to a character we sadly didn’t get to really know until the end, the scene prodded a little at another arc. Stamets’ words about Airiam and her husband are bittersweet for him, and they certainly draw Hugh’s attention.
The couple are continuing to go through a rough patch since Hugh’s resurrection. It boils over a little here at several points. First is the clear tension when Hugh walks in on a conversation between Stamets, Tilly and Georgiou. Later, Hugh visits Admiral Cornwall, who used to be a therapist. This scene gave us a clear indicator of Hugh’s state of mind right now. He feels alone; he remembers loving Stamets, but it seems like a dream of someone else’s life. Hugh doesn’t want to hurt him, but knows that isn’t enough for the man he used to love. Cornwall tells him that love is a choice you make over and over again, and the only way to make a new road is to walk it. It’ll be interesting to see how he chooses to follow that advice.
Georgiou continues to exert control over her surroundings too. During the awkwardness with Hugh and Stamets, she essentially takes on the role of driving the conversation. Here, she not only described Stamets as both more intelligent and more neurotic than his counterpart in her world, but also pointed out that he was pansexual there and that she, him, and Hugh had fun together. This was a nice nod to our modern world, but also served to reiterate that Stamets and Hugh in this timeline are gay. She also pushes Michael into confronting Leland, on the grounds that what he knows wasn’t her story to tell, but was one that she could make sure got told.
And what was that story? That all ties into the crew learning that Airiam’s files contained one called Daedalus that contained a bio-neurological reading confirming Michael as the Red Angel. Leland and Section 31 were working on Project Daedalus, based on theoretical time travel technology that they stole from the Klingons. To make the suit work, Leland had a time crystal stolen, and the Klingons traced it to the team working on the tech: Michael’s parents. This was a familial revelation that Michael didn’t expect, and she reacts as you’d expect. By punching Leland.
That wasn’t the only family-based arc for Michael this week though. Her interactions with Spock were wonderful. His straight-laced way of approaching everything from Michael’s personality traits to her assaulting Leland came across as far more caring this time around. Airiam’s death in the last episode really helped set this up and has given the siblings a reason to come together. This newfound trust would become important later on.
Meanwhile, the rest of the crew get plenty of little moments too. For example, when the crew team up with Section 31 to enact a plan to trap the Red Angel, Saru volunteers to work with Leland. He does so so that he can judge the man himself. His findings? That he believes Leland will indeed do everything in his power to protect both crews, but that there is a lot he’s not saying.
The last couple of minutes of the episode are dedicated to said plan. The initial idea is to find a way to draw the angel out, then trap it in a containment field. This becomes a little easier when Spock realizes that, while there’s no pattern to whether the Angel appears or not during excursions to signals, there is a pattern to other appearances. The Red Angel turns up without fail when Michael is in danger. This ties in with the idea of the Grandfather Paradox, whereby the future Michael cannot exist without the past one. So, the decision is made to kill Michael. The planet they’re heading to has enough to power to run the containment field, and Section 31 can close the Angel’s wormhole to stop it heading back to the future. If they put Michael in a position where she dies, it will draw her future self out.
This basically means placing Michael in a room with no life support. The nature of the planet’s atmosphere means she will only have two minutes to live once exposed. And boy do they ramp that one up in terms of how they portray it. The two minutes is uncomfortably drawn out, with Michael’s death throes being really painful to watch. When the Angel does finally turn up, a lot of different things happen. First, Section 31 can’t close the wormhole due to power restrictions. When Leland tries to override this, Control seemingly kills him and starts imitating his voice. It does give enough power over to Tyler to close the wormhole though. Michael dies and is revived, and the Angel is trapped, only for us to discover that it isn’t Michael at all. It’s her Mum.
Honestly, that whole thing was really well put together. Spock’s newfound trust is Michael led him to prevent Georgiou and Hugh from saving Michael too soon, and the episode long arc of Michael and Tyler growing closer again came to a head just before she was strapped into the chair. There was a nice little hint that Michael wasn’t the Angel too. During their heart to heart, Spock pointed out that even with Michael’s personality fitting the Angel’s actions, it doesn’t make sense for it to be her. When you look back on it, the conversation about her parent’s work on the project points towards one of them being the Angel.
In all, this episode was a prime example of a drama that just happens to be set in space. Interpersonal relations between the crew was the focus, and the episode was all the better for it. Then, when it did hurtle forward with the main story, it did so well. It was logical and heartfelt. Looking at it, this may be my favorite episode of the season so far. As a bonus, the episode was directed by Hanelle M. Culpepper, who will also be directing the first two episodes of the upcoming Picard spin-off!
So, those were my thoughts, but what about yourselves? Are you watching Star Trek Discovery? How are you finding this second season? What did you make of this episode? Let me know in the comments below.