It’s about family. And body horror.
Michael and Gabrielle
We open with our very first glimpse of Michael’s life before her parents were killed: loving nerd parents, happy nerd child.
And then the Klingons come, and Michael wakes up.
It’s a great little scene, quickly establishing a family dynamic without falling into Star Trek’s usual trap of depicting 1950s domesticity but in space — note that it’s Michael’s father letting the women know that dinner is ready.
(Michael’s father — Dr Mike Burnham Sr — is played by Sonequa Martin-Green’s husband, Kenric Green. I’m not saying that’s weird, but it’s a tiny bit weird.)
Much as I enjoyed this small opener, what I loved was Michael’s behaviour on waking up.
It’s as if the shock of seeing her mother, and reliving the night she lost her parents, has stripped away everything she learned on Vulcan. She’s experiencing a whole range of emotions, and only repressing a few. And she’s not just sad — she’s irritated, curious, even a bit funny. We haven’t seen her this expressive since the first few scenes of the premiere, right before her life fell apart and she retreated back to her Vulcan shell.
Now, Sonequa Martin-Green can convey a whole range of emotions with nothing more than a tilt of her head and a look in her eye — she’s doing a lot more than that in this episode, but she’s never hammy or overacted. For an episode, we get Michael Burnham, Human.
And it’s wonderful.
Also wonderful: Sonja Sohn’s performance as Dr Gabrielle Burnham. After twenty years of being lost in time, she’s exhausted, angry and over it — yet she still burns with the need to Fix Everything (so that’s where Michael gets it).
And she replicates Sonequa Martin-Green’s tics without falling into the trap of mere imitation. It’s just small things: the angle of her chin, the flick of her eyebrows. She is instantly believable as Michael Burnham’s mother.
(I was intrigued to see that Sohn wasn’t aged down for the flashbacks — her make-up is different, her skin brighter, her demeanour less exhausted — but there was no attempt to make her look twenty years younger. Much the same approach was taken with Mia Kirshner as Amanda — she’s just thirteen years younger than Jane Wyatt was when she first appeared in “Journey to Babel”, but looks much youthful thanks to the miracle of 21st century beauty regimes. But then she seemed slightly too old in the flashbacks that opened this season. I don’t really have a point here, I just find it interesting that they trust the audience’s suspension of belief in this respect.)
Gabrielle Burnham is an interesting character, and I hope we see more of her — her knowledge of the future and attempts to be resigned to its inevitability, versus the fact that she just. keeps. fighting. The same way she tries to keep Michael at a distance, but ultimately can’t pretend she doesn’t love her daughter.
(Which helps her see right through Georgiou’s facade of evil.)
A quick note about names
For a while, people were quite convinced the Red Angel was Lorca, because “Gabriel is the name of an archangel”. (This persisted well after it was firmly established that the angel was female, because … I don’t know, but I assume the answer is probably “sexism”.)
And I’ve been flapping my hands and going, “Yes, but MICHAEL IS ALSO THE NAME OF AN ARCHANGEL.”
I was totally wrong, but in fairness, how could I see this coming?
I’d love to know how the decision to give Michael’s mother the feminine form of Lorca’s name went down. I don’t think it was a bad choice at all — it underlines how not into Lorca our Michael was, and also how mirror!Michael was basically a big bundle of mother issues. And Michael and Gabriel are the only two archangels recognised by all the Abrahamic religions. I just find it … amusing.
(Until canon says otherwise, I choose to believe that Lorca’s middle name is “Philip” and he never, ever stood a chance with prime!Michael.)
Leland and Control
Okay, I admit it. I was also completely wrong about Leland’s death in nearly every respect.
First, the timing. He actually made it into episode 11 — just.
But also, I’ve always pictured him being horribly murdered by Georgiou, in a way that would have had me simultaneously going “THAT IS TERRIBLE” and “THAT IS REALLY COOL AND ABSOLUTELY DESERVED.”
Instead, he’s not just killed by Control, but he suffers the indignity of becoming a meat puppet for a homicidal AI.
And, in the most surprising twist of all, he dies with courage and defiance, as befits a Starfleet captain.
Alas, poor Leland — not a good person, but not the out and out villain I always assumed. (It’ll be interesting to rewatch the season with this context.)
I’d say rest in piece, but, well … meat puppet.
As for Controleland, Alan Van Sprang’s performance is off in subtle ways — enough that it makes sense that even Georgiou is not initially suspicious, but not so much that she and Ash look like idiots. Controleland isn’t quite robotic, but he’s not quite human, either.
Ash makes a set of uncharacteristically intelligent choices in “Perpetual Infinity”! First he decides to trust Michael’s judgement over what he does not yet know are Leland’s lies. Then he very quickly cottons on that Leland isn’t quite himself, when the news of his decision isn’t received with almighty rage.
There might be hope for Ash yet.
Also, despite his moment with Michael last week, he’s still letting her seek him out, not forcing his company on her. I approve, although I also want to see more of Michael with her friends and loved ones. I’m torn.
Philippa and Gabrielle
The scene between Michael and Gabrielle was intense, and both affirming and heartbreaking, but followed expected beats: Gabrielle pushes Michael away to protect them both from pain, but ultimately can’t deny her love for her daughter.
Gabrielle’s scene with Philippa, on the other hand, could have gone a lot of ways. Controleland has primed Philippa to regard Gabrielle as a rival. Gabrielle knows exactly who Philippa is and what she is capable of. They both have a claim to Michael.
So it’s genuinely surprising when they find a rapport — and that it’s built on the fact that Gabrielle really does know Philippa, and that she … will sacrifice her life for Michael?
Philippa scoffs. And I’m like, well, I can see it, but this doesn’t seem conducive to leading her own spin-off. So I’m curious! And I’m glad that Philippa finally discards her overlord mask with someone other than Michael.
But mostly, I feel very spoiled that we got this rich, layered exchange between two older women of colour, discussing the fate of the universe and the wellbeing of a third woman of colour. I don’t think this has ever happened before in Star Trek, and I can’t think of many examples in other media, either.
And then it’s followed by a Michelle Yeoh action scene, because the Trek gods really do love me and want me to be happy.
So! Is Control/Controleland the Borg? A lot of people think so!
I … do not. Here’s a list of reasons why:
- Control is an individual AI. The Borg are a hive mind which evolved out of a humanoid race attempting to augment their biological limitations through technology.
- The Borg seek to assimilate; Control to … control. And, eventually, to destroy.
- Control’s space squids are only superficially similar to anything we’ve ever seen the Borg use. Yes, aesthetics evolve, but–
- Control prefers to interact with the universe via technology, and only turns to meatpuppetry as a last resort.
- The Borg emerged about 800 years in Discovery‘s past, at the other end of the galaxy. (This one is easy to get around, thanks to the miracle of time travel, but still.)
- I don’t think it’s the Borg because I don’t want it to be, so there.
In seriousness, I can absolutely buy that Control, at some point in its future, assimilated (heh) the Borg’s nanoprobe technology. But I strongly believe that they are separate, largely unrelated entities, and that the similarities are there as misdirection.
(“Javid Iqbal” is proof there is no misdirection theory too OTT for this series.)
- I will defend Tilly to the death, I adore her character and Mary Wiseman’s performance. But it is long past time for the writers to pull back from using her for comic relief.
- It is also long past time for my Spock ‘n’ Tilly scene, dammit.
- But, just as I’ve missed Michael’s friendship with Ash, I’ve missed her scenes with Tilly.
- Where’s Kat? Yes, this is my default position at all times, it just seems odd that she has disappeared without explanation. At least give us a quick “Admiral Cornwell has taken off to update Starfleet/the Federation Council/her Instagram account.”