Monday, March 25, 2019

Discovery, Season 2: The Red Angel, Season 2
"The Red Angel"
Airdate: March 21, 2019
25 of 29 aired
25 of 29 produced


Burnham must sacrifice herself to lure the Red Angel into appearing. The identity of the mysterious being is revealed.

Careful, guys! That whole seal is apparently.... the torpedo loading bay? Hopefully you never have to use that and the shuttle bay simultaneously...


Kevin: Let's get down to brass tacks. This plan is dumb. Like...shockingly dumb even by the standards of other ill-advised, hastily assembled plans on this show. If we take as given that Burnham is in fact the Red Angel from the future, then wouldn't that Burnham remember this moment, and therefore know that Burnham's life wasn't really in danger? Like if this were an actual self-fulfilling time loop, wouldn't Burnham just remember to show up in the middle of this conversation to save them the trouble? Why do they even need to trap the Angel? So far, it's only been helpful. And the Control AI is trying to bring info from the future to become the advanced AI that it will eventually become anyway? I literally have no idea what the outline of this plot is, and I've kind of given up trying. And of course it turns out it wasn't Burnham in the end anyway, it was her mom. I bet you 100 quatloos that next week they hand wave the explanation about the apparent confusion by saying parents and children share brain waves...

Matthew: A "bio-neural signature," let's be fair, here. The file in Airiam's memory system contained the bio-neural signature of the Red Angel. You know, the Red Angel that no one knows the identity or nature of? Who put this file there? Does anyone care? Do the writers? Or was it just necessary to give the characters information upon which they would proceed?  But yes, time travel plots are really easy for better writers than this to screw up or leave things out of. A time traveler would not be fooled by this Burnham Bait plan. They would literally have all the information necessary to see through it, including whether they were at all involved in it. The same goes for the evil future AI - if they had time travel capability, they could bring the information to the past at literally any point. I want to hone in one one point here - apparently, this all hinges on the "sphere" and the information it had collected over 100,000 years. Huh? I know there was a sphere in one episode, and we were told in a very brief line of dialogue that it had collected information, but it was characterized there as astronomical data. Has the sphere been collecting detailed schematics of every piece of technology created over a whole quadrant of the galaxy for 100,000 years? How has no one noticed this? I guess "Control" is using the Red Angel's time jumps as its means of accessing past times. OK, I guess, but how does it do this? Did it do it the first time Section 31 (sigh) used the suit, because they were in the same building? How does it do it every subsequent time? Is Control somehow free floating and autonomous, like a computer floating in space? All of this is a way of saying that the plot is really hastily thrown together, lacks support from prior episodes, and feels it. They have to drop a bunch of groan-worthy exposition to backfill the details, and it never feels like it has a logical life of its own.

Kevin: Airiam's funeral was another in the line of scenes that the writers think they earned and didn't. I actually was reasonably affected by the death scene inside its own four walls since it was an understandably tense moment, and I would probably be fucked up about spacing a stranger regardless of how well I knew them.  Doubling down on the funeral with the speeches and singing just highlights how cursory all this was. Everyone seems to remember Spock's funeral was an incredibly affecting scene while not realizing it was the payoff of literally decades of work.

Matthew: There were so many things wrong with this scene. How can they "delete" Airiam's memories, if it is a biological brain inside her android body, as shown on screen? Why can't they just give her a new body? How can anyone hear Burnham whisper her speech about how dearly she loved this character we've seen for all of 5 speaking minutes on screen? Also, if we're going to compare this to Spock's funeral in TWOK, let's make note of the fact that that scene was 100 times as effective despite taking one tenth of the time. This scene dragged, which only underscored how lacking in any possible impact this all was.

Kevin: I think I have figured out Section 31's plan. It's to info-dump terrible ideas so fast and so often that my brain melts. It's working. Having Burnham's parents be Section 31 exacerbates the show's small universe problem. Everyone on this show has an Unknown Connection to everyone else that exist only to advance the plot. I think they think it raises the stakes when really it just gets muddy and incredible, the bad kind of incredible. In other 31 news, Georgiou appears to genuinely care about Burnham...because? Maybe the writers just remembered that Michelle Yeoh is a talented actor and having her only spout crude jokes about murdering everyone is a waste of her talents. And Leland is dead, which...okay. Whatever. It's just more pointless violence and thinking that surprises are superior to plot.

Matthew: Here is the biggest problem for the Big Dumb Plot overall - they've spent a whole season hyping up this mystery - who is the Red Angel? And the solution is.... a character we've never met. How could this possibly be a satisfying answer? There were no clues given that could get any but the most clairvoyant viewer to this answer. It's a complete fucking ass-pull, which is really saying something given the history of this series. Apparently, this whole thing was set in motion by the KLINGONS researching time travel. Yes, the same Klingons that disembowel enemies and eat them. What the hell? And so Section 31 started a counter-research program, a "temporal arms race." So, look. I might be OK with a temporal arms race. But one based on pre-TOS 23rd century technology? With one side being a race that has been shown to be wholly uninterested in scientific research? There is a "time crystal" powering the suit, by the way. I guess that's better than a mushroom? Here's a question - why doesn't Section 31 have another suit so that they can just take care of this shit themselves? Oh yea, because they only exist to cause a plot problem for the protagonists of the show, not to be a logically coherent organization. Speaking of Georgiou, she casually lets drop to Stamets that she is from another universe and knows an alternate Stamets who is less neurotic. Then she confirms this in front of Culber and Tilly. Wait, do people know this is Mirror Georgiou? Who cares, it's a funny line, ha ha. How does everyone know that the AI sneaks through the wormholes created by the Red Angel suit? They just found out about the suit three minutes ago, and are unsure of the nature of the AI. How can this Daedalus suit do all the things that have been done this season, with 23rd century technology? Apparently the suit also has a "revive dead people" ray?

Kevin: I like seeing Culber go to Cornwell for help. I can leave aside questions about why the Admiral is the only available therapist or why she is willing to do so, but in the four walls of the scene, the emotional core is there and the advice is sound. After any kind of the trauma, the pressure to 'return to normal' can be really damaging and giving yourself permission to take the time to find yourself and rebuild your relationships in light of the events rather than ignoring them is part of the real work of recovery. If they could slow the fuck down and let this arc breathe, it would probably be quite effective. In the debit column for the boys this week is whatever the fuck that scene with Georgiou was. First, it is wearing really thin that all the people in the mirror universe are evil and evil apparently means being not heterosexual. It was one of the most annoying parts of DS9s takes, and Georgiou cranked it up to 11. Second, it was just...weird. What was I supposed to get from this scene?

Matthew: It's the worst aspect of this show for me, even beyond dum-dum stories that make no sense and maintain no internal consistency - the idiotically spasmodic pace of the Big Dumb Plot precludes ever developing any character thread to the point it could possibly be cared about. All of this should have been done in its own episode, in which we could thoughtfully examine the repercussions of dumping someone's eternal soul (sigh) into a mushroom universe simulacrum of their dead body (SIIIIGGGHHHH). Nope! No time to explain! Let's wedge it in between Big Dumb Plot scenes! I guess we should appreciate that they thought of it at all? Speaking of character stories that lack support in the script, Burnham/Tyler was really dumb and out of left field. As far as Culber/Stamets, at least they said the word "gay?"


Kevin: I am as surprised as anyone to say this, but I actually almost liked the scenes between Burnham and Spock this week. The story is not helping them, but I actually got notes of Burnham's anger clashing with Spock's sarcasm that make me think of real Spock. The scenes are relying on character work they've never done, but the scenes made me think that with a little more supporting work, and as his own character, Green and Peck could really have some great scenes together.

Matthew: I basically agree that their scenes worked. If I could turn off my brain to the story - which actually wasn't that difficult given what a whackadoo story they're acting in. I think this was a really nice Cornwell episode, by the way. She finally got to be one thing for an extended period, and I bought her "therapist" vibe.

Production Values

Kevin: I have nothing to complain about beyond the things we normally complain about. Can you only film two seconds at a time? Is that why the camera moves so much so often? From a technical standpoint, everything was very well realized. The burning effects on Burnham were quite upsetting.

Matthew: I feel it must be mentioned that apparently half of the floor of the shuttle bay has to retract in order to shoot a torpedo. This seems like an immensely impractical design. Do they have to clear the floor whenever they want to have a battle?

Anyway, this episode was the same mish-mash of lens flare, interior scene shaky cam, and swooping angles that make no sense. It was also bizarrely lit.


Kevin: This is a 2. It's just narrative soup. A bunch of information inorganically thrown at the screen. The only piece of new information we really learn is that Burnham's mother is the Angel, which because she's been dead this whole time, I don't really care about. It's a choice that feels shocking, but will largely only allow Burnham to make concerned face for another episode. If nothing else, this episode wasn't about anything. You can do stage setting episodes, but arc service is the only thing happening here and the arc isn't interesting enough to bear the weight.

Matthew: Much like a great deal in the world over the past two years or so, I try and try to understand how people can like and support a thing which seems so obviously, grievously flawed. I think it is this: it does move fast. So, if you just don't pay too much attention, it feels very serious and important and complex and mysterious. But it all collapses into a heap if you prod it with even the most cursory questions. That might be one thing if the characters could sustain the story on their own. They can't, because they're not allowed to. About the best character story has been Burnham/Spock, and that's because, however artificial it was, they gave us a flashback scene that established some sort of past for these two. Anyway, I was almost entertained by this. A lot of stuff happened on the screen, and everyone seemed really hyped up by it. Shouting! Arguing! Running! Punching people in their damn face! Pointing phasers! But nothing about this show ever stays in my mind after it's done. Writing these reviews is difficult because I tend to forget everything within a day or two - and that's not how TNG or TOS was. I always had something to chew on. How would I have chosen differently than the characters? What would that technology mean in our lives? Can we ever get there as a people? These were the questions that good Star Trek made me continue to ask even after the show was done. So I guess this is a 2 for a total of 4. It was superficially entertaining, and not horribly offensive. But it's stupid, and I don't see how they could wrap up this arc in a satisfying way when it's built on a foundation of sand.

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