The second season of CBS All Access's Star Trek: Discovery is a theme park ride the viewers are all on together. The twist is, no one knows what kind of ride it is. One moment you are on a smooth, dependable, if somewhat rickety wooden roller coaster with The Original Series accents. Suddenly, you find yourself on a high tech space simulator, only to then land in front of a fun house mirror. After last week's surprising Red Angel identity revelation, it felt like the show had lost focus and shifted tracks once again. This week's episode, "Perpetual Infinity," challenges every assumption viewers made about the Red Angel and builds an intriguing new type of ride. Let's follow "Perpetual Infinity" into the future, and beyond.
The entirety of "Perpetual Infinity" takes place within approximately eight hours of the capture of the Red Angel at the end of last week's episode. Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), her mother Dr. Gabrielle Burnham (Sonja Sohn), Captain Pike (Anson Mount), Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), and Tyler (Shazad Latif) all appear to live a lifetime in those few hours. Burnham must come to grips with the idea that her mother is alive, but may not be the woman Burnham remembers. Dr. Burnham must choose between stolen time with her daughter and preventing the apocalypse. Pike is forced to decide between knowledge and safety. Georgiou comes to the shocking revelation that she might not be as different from Prime Georgiou as she would like. And finally, Tyler risks his life on his faith in Discovery's crew.
Throughout the episode, these individual character storylines circle and weave around each other. Rather than having a main plot and multiple sub-plots, each portion of the story comes together as the characters interact. In the end, the disparate stories and experiences of each character come together to paint a coherent whole. The format, pacing, execution, and acting all worked incredibly well together. While previous episodes have felt like plot information was being dumped in huge piles on the viewer, "Perpetual Infinity" made it seem effortless. The viewer watched while the past, present, and future selves of multiple characters wove themselves into the tapestry of the current season arc.
Burnham not only interacts with her mother in person, but through flashbacks, memories, and the detailed mission logs that the Red Angel suit recorded. It gives the illusion of Michael and Gabrielle having a lifetime of interactions over the course of a day. It it a quite ingenious way of introducing everything Dr. Burnham has gone through as the Red Angel without the audience getting bored or burnt out on the material.
The information itself is priceless to the crew in their efforts to fight Command and prevent the coming destruction of all life in the known galaxy. Through 841 missions, Dr. Burnham has been attempting to stop the evil AI from taking over. With each attempt, Gabrielle learns more about the past before being sucked forward 950 years into the future. Not only has she been intervening to save Michael's life, but she has been arranging events to support the Discovery's efforts to end Command's control. In fact, it was Dr. Burnham who was responsible for the Discovery encountering the Sphere.
Burnham's journey of acceptance in this episode is both riveting and heartbreaking. Martin-Green deserves an Emmy nomination for the long dramatic journey she takes her character through in just 48 minutes of air time. Michael's decisions may not always be wise. She may at times be desperate to save her mother. But at no point are her reactions over-the-top or unbelievable. The viewer goes on a ride with Michael: from denial, to curiosity, to hope, to fear, and finally, to acceptance.
While the audience knows that Leland (Alan Van Sprang) is now an android possessed by the partially sentient AI Command, Georgiou and Tyler are in the dark. AI Leland looks and talks like the paranoid, morally flexible, super-secret agent they are used to. He even attempts to manipulate Tyler into betraying the crew of the Discovery by tapping into Tyler's bond with Burnham. When Tyler refuses to cooperate, Leland tries to sell Dr. Burnham as a threat to Georgiou's dominance in this universe. It was a weak argument, but Georgiou bought it long enough to help AI Leland along toward his goals.
Dr. Burnham's conversation with Georgiou about their shared love and protectiveness of Michael is the catalyst Georgiou needed to save the day. Georgiou and Tyler form an unlikely alliance in their efforts to both thwart AI Leland and protect Michael. The day is – mostly – saved by this trio of people who all love Burnham more than anything else. Georgiou and Tyler both choose Burnham, and by extension the Discovery, over Section 31. And poor Dr. Burnham returns to an uncertain future in order to live to fight another day.
In the end, after Tyler is gravely injured, Georgiou barely escapes Essof IV, AI Command Leland escapes, and Gabrielle is sucked back to the future, Michael begins to crumble. It is Spock (Ethan Peck), of all beings, who picks her up, dusts her off, and reminds her of her own power to control her future. When he begins to talk about the strategic advantage of using both instinct and logic together, the Spock of The Original Series begins to form onscreen before the viewer's eyes. We can now see the officer Spock will eventually become, along with his acceptance of both sides of his identity.
Spock leave Burnham with one very important gift. The knowledge that no future is set in stone, that Burnham alone decides her next move. Essentially, he sets the season on a whole new track, with Burnham at the wheel.
Just for fun, here are some additional thoughts from "Perpetual Infinity" to ponder while we wait for next week:
- It is the 23rd century, medical science should not be baffled by Mitochondrial DNA.
- How does Dr. Burnham learn about Control in the first place if she goes to a point in the future where life is wiped out?
- Terralysium was luddite in order to prevent Control from taking over there!
- Shouldn't the Discovery be concerned that the Sphere data can protect and encrypt itself while in the ship's computer?
- "Hamlet. Hell Yeah. Energize."
- If the suit is DNA strand encoded, and Burnham and her mom are that similar, does that mean Burnham can also use the suit?
- The dynamic between Tyler and Georgiou as they both head into insanely dangerous missions is totally endearing.
- I still stand by my statement that Tyler's only real allegiance is to Burnham.
- Michelle Yeoh is the badest of all badasses and she is my fight scene hero.
- I don't think it is a coincidence that the Star Trek: Short Trek "Calypso" has a sentient AI and takes place on the Discovery 1000 years in the future, just 50 years after Dr. Burnham's anchor time. I think the Discovery itself might be taking a time trip soon.
New episodes of Star Trek: Discovery are available Thursdays at 8:30PM EDT on CBS All Access.