We’re very near the end of the second season of Star Trek: Discovery, so let’s take a moment to recap. On its way to pick up its new captain on Vulcan in the final moments of Season 1, Discovery is averted to rendezvous with the Enterprise and is sent on a new mission under the temporary captaincy of Christopher Pike: to track down seven red bursts that have appeared across the galaxy and to find an entity known as the Red Angel. This Angel appeared to Spock, Michael Burnham’s step-brother, when he was very young. Burnham had come to live with Spock’s family when her parents were killed in a Klingon attack on Doctari Alpha, which she had always blamed herself for because she had convinced them to stay longer on the planet so she could see a star go supernova.
Starfleet’s espionage branch, Section 31, uses a central tactical computer called Control, but that has been infected by a fully sentient artificial intelligence from the future. Control has commandeered the body of 31 captain Leland in a move that many feel is suspiciously Borg-like. Burnham and Discovery concoct a plan to lure and capture the Red Angel, and the entity turns out to be the mother that Burham thought was dead for 20 years, who had actually developed the Red Angel suit for Section 31. In trying to save her family from the Klingons, Dr. Gabrielle Burnham tried to use the suit to jump back in time one hour to evacuate them all before the Klingons arrive.
She unwittingly jumps 950 years in the future instead and discovers that by that point, all sentient life in the galaxy has been eradicated. She and the suit became anchored in the future, so that when she makes excursions into the past, she’s always yanked away. Control is after a massive collection of data from an ancient sphere, currently (mostly) in safekeeping on Discovery. They plan to load all that data into the Red Angel suit and send it so far into the future that Control could never access it. But just before the transfer, Leland destroyed the suit’s time crystal so it will never be able to time travel again.
Got it? Okay, let’s dig in.
In this week’s episode, “Through the Valley of Shadows,” the fourth of the seven red bursts has reappeared, this time over a Klingon planet called Boreth (a place we first saw in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Rightful Heir”—nice little nod, there). This seems to cause Tyler (Shazad Latif) some bit of consternation, which Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) calls him out on when alone. He tells her of his son, the baby that is the product of Voq (the Klingon that Tyler used to be) and L’Rell, who is being held in secret for his own protection on Boreth. Chancellor L’Rell (Mary Chieffo) pays a visit to Discovery to negotiate entrance into Boreth for the crew.
This episode gets a bit soap-opera-y as L’Rell and Tyler deal with their feelings for each other and about their child, whom neither has seen since he was taken to Boreth. L’Rell and Voq loved each other, but L’Rell finally relinquishes Tyler, not only because he’s a completely different person than he was as Voq, but because Tyler will always be in love with Burnham. This is L’Rell’s second appearance this season, and I feel it was kind of wasted to have her on hand just to deal with this and not to further the saga of the Klingon Empire and her Chancellory.
Meanwhile, we finally get the return of Tig Notaro as engineer Jett Reno in only her third appearance of the season. Oddly, her role in this episode is essentially marriage counselor, playing intermediary between Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Culber (Wilson Cruz), who are on the outs after Culber was brought back from the dead earlier this season. We get a little insight into her background via her telling Culber about her wife who was lost in the Klingon War during the first season. She admonishes Culber for not taking advantage of a second chance at love when she and her wife will never have that chance. Her first scene, with Stamets, is in the mess hall where we finally get to see the Jr. Bridge Officers enjoy some casual time together, enjoying something as innocuous as a word game, razzing each other. I love seeing how easily Reno fits in with them. It’s nice to see Notaro’s character getting rounded out a bit, but sadly it leaves less screen time for her straight-shootin’ smartass side to come through, and that’s the thing we love most about her. Here’s hoping she becomes a more regular presence in Season 3.
A Section 31 ship has missed its hourly check-in, which raises Tyler’s hackles. Check-ins have to come like clockwork. Burnham begins to suspect that Control has extended its influence to another ship, and she and Spock take off to investigate. What they find upon arrival is the ship’s crew floating dead in space. All except for one—Kamran Gant, an officer with whom Burnham had served aboard the Shenzhou (which we saw in four Season 1 episodes) who now works for 31.
So, a field of corpses expelled from a ship, and the only life sign is someone with whom Burnham has a history. Spock and Burnham walk into a trap without ever questioning for a single second whether they’re being set up or not. And, of course, Gant reveals himself to be just another corpse animated by Control and attacks Burnham. Control has possession of a Section 31 ship—and likely others as well.
The real gut-punch of this episode comes as Captain Pike (Anson Mount) attempts to bargain with Klingon monks on the monastery planet Boreth to acquire a time crystal. Learning that these monks’ sole purpose in life is to safeguard the crystals against misuse is an intriguing reference to something Leland said two episodes ago: that travel suit now known as the Red Angel was constructed as a result of the Federation’s belief that the Klingons were pursuing time travel technology. Turns out the monks are time’s protectors, to the point that even Chancellor L’Rell has no sway over them. But Pike needs a time crystal in order to build a strategy against Control.
At the monastery, he meets a Klingon called Tenavick, who we soon learn is L’Rell’s and Voq/Tyler’s son, having rapidly grown to adulthood under the influence of the crystals. Pike convinces Tenavick to let him handle one of the crystals to prove his worth, and as he takes hold of it, he gets a glimpse of his own tragic future—a horribly scarred, wheelchair-bound, uncommunicative near-vegetable. We’ve known of this event ever since the Star Trek: The Original Series episode “The Menagerie,” in which Spock essentially kidnaps his former captain and returns him to Talos IV.
Pike is given the choice of avoiding this lamentable future by not accepting the crystal, and to his credit, he accepts his fate (after all, avoiding his fate would essentially be condemning all sentient life in the galaxy, so…). But it’s that moment in which Pike convinces himself to not shirk his duty that defines him as a captain, an officer, and a human being: “You’re a Starfleet Captain. You believe is service, sacrifice, compassion…and love.” This is why fans have overwhelmingly shown enthusiastic support for Mount’s Pike all season long.
The episode ends with a fleet of Section 31 ships, all controlled by Control, surrounding Discovery for a final showdown. To protect the sphere data from falling into Control’s clutches, Pike orders the destruction of his ship and the evacuation of the crew. Next week, the Discovery and the Enterprise team back up. We get our first quick look at the Enterprise bridge in the trailer, and we see a display screen with the word “Xahea” on it, finally linking the show up with the first of four Short Treks that preceded the season, in which Ensign Tilly met and became besties with the Xahean queen. Xahea is a planet rich in dilithium.
My prediction: Discovery won’t actually be destroyed. Instead, the Xaheans will provide some way of modifying the time crystal currently in Pike’s possession and fusing it with dilithium crystals, making it possible to send Discovery and the sphere data it contains a thousand years into the future, beyond Control’s reach. We already know that Discovery ends up there, completely devoid of crew and its AI fully sentient, awaiting further instructions, from another of the Short Treks episodes (“Calypso”). But does Discovery‘s sentient AI play into this in some way? And will my previous prediction—that the AI develops sentience because Airiam had uploaded all her memories before she died—prove correct? We’ll find out next week in Star Trek: Discovery‘s penultimate episode!