THE MOTHER OF ALL SPOILER WARNINGS!
The tenth episode of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY‘s second season was called “The Red Angel.” I call it the “Oh, By The Way…” episode. In my opinion, it was the weakest of the second season so far, and not even as good as some of the first season episodes.
Even the positive reviews I’ve read so far have acknowledged that this was a “talky” episode, filled with a lot of quiet scenes where two or three or four people were just chatting with each other—mainly about plot exposition. The first 37 minutes were almost entirely that, with only the final 10 minutes picking up the pace with an exciting and engaging ending.
So what is an “Oh, By The Way…” episode? Glad you asked!
OH, BY THE WAY…
After so much build-up of so many different plot elements, they were each resolved with little fanfare or impact. “Oh, by the way…the Federation has cleared Discovery, Lt. Spock, and Cmdr. Burnham of all charges.” Really? Wasn’t the whole search for Spock plotline that lasted for half the season a race because Starfleet and Section 31 were hot on his tail? Didn’t Burnham and Discovery become fugitives for disobeying orders and harboring an accused murderer? I mean, I’m glad Starfleet was willing to forgive and forget; I just wish I knew how they were convinced so quickly and easily.
“Oh, by the way, the Klingons were trying to develop time-travel to destroy humanity before we ever crawled out of the ooze.” Hmmmm, good to know! Are they still trying to do that? Did they save their research? Should we be worried? Considering that Harry Mudd himself got a hold of a time crystal pretty easily, too—and how he was able to destroy Discovery about a zillion times—the fact that those doo-dads are considered black-market trinkets scares the bejeebus out of me!
(Frankly, I prefer a timeline where the only ways to time travel are slingshotting around the sun, the Guardian of Forever, strange spatial anomalies, the Orb of Time, alien portals to 19th century San Francisco, timeships from the future, transporting through chroniton particles, a sabotaged warp drive, Q, a chrono deflector, or a red matter black hole. None of this time crystal nonsense!)
And the biggest “Oh, by the way…” was Captain Leland revealing that Michael Burnham’s parents were scientists working on a secret time travel suit and that Leland was responsible for their deaths. Now, we fans had been teased for a few episodes now about how Leland might have caused their deaths, but this seemed like the kind of thing we’d get little hints and insights about, building to the big revelation.
Instead, the mystery is solved for us in just a few pages of dialog, followed by a couple of “striking a superior officer” court-martial punches, and then it’s all Michael yelling at Tyler and then bashing a practice dummy in the gym until Spock plays brotherly therapist.
Which brings me to one of my biggest frustrations with this episode…
I STILL DON’T CARE ABOUT MOST OF THESE PEOPLE!!!
I’ve been trying to care more about the crew of the USS Discovery, and in recent weeks, I’ve warmed to them somewhat. Michael’s traumatic history and her personal frictions with Spock, Stamets’ heartbreak with Dr. Hugh, even Saru to an extent. But in the end, if the Discovery were to be crushed next week by a giant Space Kraken, the only characters I’d really miss would be Pike and maybe Spock. Everyone else…well, nice knowin’ ya! (And the one I really wanted to get to know better was blown out an airiam lock last week after her first and only decent episode.)
This despite the actors all doing very decent jobs. They are simply not being given much to work with…even when they are. Most of the actors are being handed scenes that simply have them playing one or two emotional notes, which doesn’t make for all that engaging of a song. Let me explain what I mean by that by focusing on five characters and a funeral…
THERE’S NO “FUN” IN FUNERAL
Last season, one of my main complaints was that the crew wasn’t given enough time to process all of the emotional trauma they were exposed to week in and week out: war, death, the betrayal of Captain Lorca, etc. I mean, their leader turned out to be a psychopathic murderer who tried to kill them all—and the only time we saw anyone deal with that was when Cornwell blasted a poor, perfectly innocent bowl of fortune cookies into oblivion. It wasn’t until Pike came aboard in the first episode of season two that anyone acknowledged how traumatizing that betrayal must have been. And even then, it hasn’t really been discussed or dealt with much.
It’s not that the show doesn’t take the time to deal with SOME emotional traumas. Burnham’s childhood, Culber’s resurrection, and Tyler’s un-Klingoning get the royal treatment across many episodes. But these are the notble exceptions. In most other cases, the crew magically deals with their problems and moves on. Saru’s doing fine after his quickening. Tilly hasn’t thought about her mushroom soul Mayt in weeks. And then there’s Airiam…
The funeral for their deceased crew mate was, simultaneously, too much and too little. When Dr. Hugh died, we never saw such a funeral…although there arguably wasn’t time. When Security Chief Landry died, no funeral…although she probably had no friends and the crew was less touchy-feely early in season one.
But Airiam’s funeral made up for all of that. Two hundred crew members (I counted!) got together on the hangar deck…leaving the ship on “auto-pilot” the same way they do in the navy with giant aircraft carriers. Oh, wait, they don’t. Anyway, it was a nice scene…until it wasn’t. Counting Saru’s beautiful Kelpien dirge (Saruloquy?), the entire funeral scene lasted an amazing FOUR minutes of screen time—about 10% of the entire episode!—as if to say: “Hey, Trekkies, look at how emotional we can be!” A little funeral is good, but too much is…well…too much.
And then it was all back to “normal” for everyone. Burnham and Tyler discuss Airiam in the turbolift for a combined eight words of dialog (again, I counted!), and then later, Nhan spoke to Burnham briefly in the corridor. However, the latter scene was more of a “I’m sorry for killing your friend, but it’s my job to protect the ship. However, I feel really bad now.” But aside from that, it’s another item checked: show a scene where Airiam’s friends feel bad. Check. Next scene.
I DON’T KNOW MY ASH FROM MY ELBOW!
Still sporting the most un-Starfleet haircut ever, Ash Tyler could actually be an interesting character. Think about it: he’s really a Klingon. He grew up as a Klingon. He has all of those Klingon memories. And yet, they’ve been wallpapered over with a human personality and life that he never actually lived until a year earlier. He has a child and homeworld that he will likely never see again. With nowhere else to go in the galaxy, he’s a part of Section 31, but he’s now assigned to Discovery, where he regularly has to see the man he murdered and also work with that victim’s lover.
And yet he’s so boring! He just mopes around and, in this episode, pines away for Michael for one reason and one reason only: her character needs a love interest. I mean, Saru doesn’t have a love interest. Neither does Tilly or Pike (maybe Vina) or Detmer or Owo or any of the other crew people whose names we can barely remember. Spock obviously doesn’t have a love interest. But Burnham gets one…and unfortunately, none of the writers seems to know what to do with him.
On screen, the two actors have almost zero chemistry, but that’s mostly because of the scenes they share. The two of them have three one-on-one interactions in this episode. In the first, in the turbolift, she’s cold and distant, aggrieved and judgmental of Tyler’s loyalty to Section 31. In the second scene in the corridor, she’s exploding at him in anger and scorn, again for his loyalty to Section 31…whom Burnham now knows was responsible for the death of her parents. And in the third scene in Tyler’s quarters, Burnham is suddenly sorry for her outburst (saying it wasn’t fair to him) and she’s scared…and then she’s kissing him.
Now, we viewers have seen the whole episode, but for poor Ash, all he’s seen is his sometimes girlfriend showing him the cold shoulder, coming at him out of nowhere in a furious rage, and then apologizing and kissing him. WTF, lady?
If Tyler had had something more to do with Michael’s recovery from her outburst, maybe I’d feel more of an investment in their relationship…as though Tyler were helping Burnham find her path or something. But instead, all I feel is that Tyler is a rock on that path that Burnham occasionally steps on or stumbles over.
I’ve been in relationships like that myself where I often felt like an emotional punching bag for my partner. I’m glad I’m not in those relationships anymore, and that’s why I’m not really rooting for Michash (which is the best ‘shipping one can do with their names).
EMPTY EMPRESS EMBRACING EMPATHY? EMBARRASSING!
Terran emperor-turned-agent Philippa Georgiou has two notes: wicked and nurturing…which go together like chocolate and ranch dressing. Granted, Michelle Yeoh does an excellent job playing both notes, but they don’t really work for a single character. For Michael Burnham, Georgiou can be gentle, almost loving, and empathetic to Michael’s feelings.
But then there’s cringeworthy scenes like this one…
To answer Tilly’s question, what just happened is that somebody had an idea, the writers wrote the scene, Michelle Yeoh played it as well as she could (as did the others), and no one thought to say, “Um…why is this scene necessary?”
Actually, the reason it was necessary is because the episode was nearly all exposition and set-up for the first 37 minutes. And one scene after another of characters just talking and explaining things makes for a weak, boring episode. So let’s spice it up and turn one of the “boring” scenes from exposition to SEXposition. Let’s get all playful and pansexual with the Empress.
YES, MAY I HELP HUGH?
Before I start diving into the pool of Dr. Hugh Culber, can I just ask if anyone else out there finds it odd that a former clinical psychologist is one of the top admirals in Starfleet? I mean, there’s nothing wrong with psychology—I’ve got a bachelors degree in the subject, and one of my best friends is a practicing psychotherapist in downtown Los Angeles. But just as I couldn’t see him commanding military forces and determining battle strategies in war, I don’t really buy into it completely for Admiral Cornwell either.
That said, when I’m not reminded about her background, I’m not bothered by it. But this episode recalled that, “Hey, we’ve got a shrink on board! Let’s use her to fix Hugh (or at least begin the process).”
My problem isn’t that the writers included the scene of Hugh talking to the admiral. That was fine. But their entire “session” lasted only 2 minutes and 14 seconds of screen time…about HALF as long as the funeral. I’ve known people who have been in therapy for years or even decades trying to work through trauma less intense than being violently murdered and then brought back to life in a new body. Hugh has a LOT to deal with.
Not that I expected him to take up that much of the busy admiral’s valuable time (what’s she doing again?), but 134 seconds seems almost like a brush-off…and borderline malpractice for a trained psychologist. At the very least, this Starfleet medical officer is suffering emotionally. And even though the era of the ship’s counselors is quite a ways into the future, I have to believe Starfleet at least has a Sidney Friedman out there somewhere who can visit Discovery. Who’s Sidney Friedman? He’s the psychiatrist on the TV series M*A*S*H who would drop by the 4077th from time to time when there were potential psychological traumas and mental health issues. With a war having just ended, I can’t believe that Starfleet doesn’t have a few trained psycho-clinicians able to be dispatched to starships when needed.
So for me, I didn’t accept that Cornwell would simply hand Hugh two minutes of platitudes and send him on his way. If she was indeed too busy to help, at least send him to someone who can…whether the therapist comes to Discovery or Hugh goes someplace for treatment.
SPOCK FORGIVES THEE…
Over the last few episodes, I found one of the most compelling storylines to be Spock’s estrangement from his adopted sister. Granted, I found his grudge a little excessive considering the circumstances (that she was a kid and he now understands why she did it). But his snide comments, resentment, and obvious pain was—dare I say?—fascinating to watch. I was looking forward to the two of them slowly making progress toward a satisfying reconciliation.
Apparently, not so slowly! In another rushed scene, Spock now forgives Michael. Just like that. Granted, she’s hurting over the death of her parents, but he’s been hurting for 20 years. Yet suddenly Spock is doing something he hasn’t been able to do for two decades…just because Michael is hurting, too? Seems—I don’t know—less satisfying than the slow, hard-fought progress toward resolution that I was hoping for.
Like many scenes this episode, the emotion was all squeezed into a few seconds: Michael’s fury at Leland, Michael’s fury at Tyler, Michael’s catharsis with Spock, Michael’s kiss with Tyler (you seeing a pattern here?), and Hugh’s flash-therapy session with Cornwell. Checking boxes.
I’ve been waiting for this series to show more emotional development of characters…just not in fast-forward mode.
TILLYBABBLE IS STILL A THING…
And speaking of one-note characters, in case anyone was wondering: yes, Tilly can still pull off socially awkward moments…
ONE MOTHER OF A SURPRISE!
I’ve heard of helicopter parenting, but this is kinda ridiculous!
But seriously, credit where credit is due—Discovery managed to totally surprise me (and most fans) with the identity of the Red Angel. I mean, I knew it wasn’t going to be Michael, despite all the efforts of the writers and producers to make us think that from the end of the teaser. Such a shocker is never revealed at the beginning of the episode; it almost always comes at the end. And of course, many fans had already theorized that the Red Angel was Michael. Fan predictions proved way too easy with the “surprise” identity of Lorca. I suspected the writers wouldn’t make the same mistake again.
Of course, my personal theory now seems to be down the toilet: that the Red Angel is really the Discovery from the distant future. I’m still not ready to completely give up that idea, but it’s looking like they did manage to snooker me, too. And good for them!
Granted, they helped themselves by revealing at the last minute that Michael’s parents were trying to develop time travel. But that’s okay as long as it comes reasonably early in the same episode. Had there been no foreshadowing, then I would have cried foul. But all is fair in love and sci-fi…as long as you follow the writing “rules.”
SETTING THE TABLE
This wasn’t necessarily what I would call a “bad” episode. It was just a slow, plodding episode…until it reached the final 10 minutes when it suddenly transformed in one of Discovery‘s more exciting sequences. And even if we all knew that the plan was going to work (crazy plans always do when they involve the hero almost dying), the writers and director still managed to pull off the suspenseful climax.
And I don’t really blame the writers for the weakness of this episode, nor do I necessarily blame the director. This was, quite obviously (at least to me), the episode no one wanted to write. It was “setting the table” for the final four episodes which, we can safely assume, will all move at warp speed toward an exciting conclusion. But before they could do that, the plates and utensils all had to be laid out, old story elements established, and new variables explained. In other words: lots of talking and little of much else. In serialized television, this is the kind of episode that gets handed off to the low men or women on the totem pole.
The writers of “The Red Angel” have both been on staff since the beginning in humble positions. Chris Silvestri was a writer’s assistant and Anthony Maranville was a researcher. Both are relatively young (28 and 36, respectively), with short resumes in Hollywood (Chris’ earliest credit on IMDb is 2013). In other words, these guys were both good little team players, doing their jobs well, and they were rewarded with their first full writing credit for the show. The only catch: it was an episode that was 75% exposition.
As for the director, Hanelle M. Culpepper is an established veteran (you don’t pair up rookie writers with a noob director), with over four dozen episodes from dozens of popular TV series under her directorial belt. In fact, she also directed the twelfth episode of Discovery‘s first season and will be directing the first two pilot episodes of the new Picard series. And thank goodness, she’s not a big fan of lens flares!!!
Anyway, in a season of nearly all really strong episodes so far, I can overlook a single weak one. And now that the table is set and the main course can at last be served, let’s see if the final four (it is March Madness, folks!) return to greatness over the coming weeks.