“The Red Angel” proved an extremely bizarre and terminally stupid episode that undermined much of the show’s second season and will be tough to recover from.
This recap of Star Trek: Discovery Season 2, Episode 10, “The Red Angel”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
I must admit that I lost count of all the bizarre decisions in “The Red Angel”, but at this point, it hardly matters. The latest episode of Star Trek: Discovery‘s second season felt very distinctly like the kind of episode you get when everyone in the writer’s room knows exactly where they want to go but can’t figure out quite how to get there. It was full of decisions that seemed to have been made with an exasperated just-because mentality, presumably in the hope that nobody would notice. Unfortunately, I noticed, and if I did, considering I rarely care about the fine details of plotting in an outlandish, soapy sci-fi show, then you can bet your bottom dollar that plenty of other people noticed too.
Case in point: It turns out that the nebulous red angel is really a suit built by Section 31 during a “temporal arms race” with the Klingons, thus making the Cold War parallels embarrassingly explicit (has that always been the case in Trek? I’m a newbie, forgive me). What this means, essentially, is that Section 31 have been allowing absurd expenditure, risk, and loss of life to occur in pursuit of this thing without ever once mentioning that they knew exactly what it was all along, which is just unforgivably dumb and brings not just this episode down but most of the second season.
I’m not usually one to complain about such things. I tend to be of the opinion that you can play fast and loose if you wish, just so long as you don’t allow anything that grossly undermines the characters or any of the major plot beats. This reveal, however, does both. It makes the characters look profoundly idiotic — nobody even seems mad about it after this is all revealed — and it reduces several major deaths and calamities completely pointless and unnecessary. Airiam’s whole corruption subplot and subsequent death feel lesser for this reveal, despite her getting a rather absurdly grandiose funeral in “The Red Angel”, and what would otherwise be a rare moment of genuine contrition from Leland (Alan Van Sprang) and a damn fine bit of acting from Sonequa Martin-Green, both about the deaths of Michael’s parents, which turn out to be related to this project and Leland’s fault, amounts to virtually nothing since it’s revealed that the red angel is not Michael, as everyone believes, but Michael’s mother, who evidently survived and has been nipping back and forth through time ever since.
This is spectacularly dumb, and I have no idea how the show is even going to attempt to recover from it. But let’s not dwell on that too much, as there’s even more stupidity to poke fun at. So, since everyone believes the red angel to be Michael, the plan is to strap her to a chair in an old top-secret testing facility and then expose her to a highly toxic atmosphere; the logic being that since she’s the red angel, the red angel cannot possibly allow her to die, or it would cease to exist. Spock (Ethan Peck) is really weirdly keen on this plan, which is played for emotion and as the most pragmatic, noble solution, so much so that he’s willing to commit mutiny to ensure that Pike (Anson Mount) and Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook) can’t intervene, but it’s still aggressively silly since Michael is deprived of oxygen for a good long while but is nonetheless cheerily revived without any noticeable ill-effects.
This is the kind of silliness I’d ordinarily overlook, as it’s clearly in service of the big reveal that the red angel is Michael’s mother and not future-Michael, but on top of everything else it really does feel at this point like the show’s having a bit of a laugh at the viewer’s expense. And it also makes a previously shared moment between Michael and Tyler (Shazad Latif) feel a bit artificial as well, which is a shame since it was quite nicely written — one of the few things this week that was.
Elsewhere in weird twists happening for seemingly no reason, Control stabs Leland in the eye and fakes his voice to instruct Tyler to close the red angel’s wormhole, thus trapping her. I think I can sum all of this up quite neatly: The best part of “The Red Angel” was a bit when Mirror Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) harrassed Stamets (Anthony Rapp) about his doppelganger being pansexual and called Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) “Papi”, apropos of virtually nothing. Honestly, it felt like I was in the Mirror Universe this week. Let’s fervently hope that the next installment clears things up a bit.