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This recap includes spoilers.
Sonequa Martin-Green can act. I’m still not fully onboard with Discovery’s dense, plot-heavy format—standalone comedy episodes, how I miss you—but you can’t deny the cast brings its A-game. “Perpetual Infinity” was a reminder of why Martin-Green is the star during a pivotal episode about Michael Burnham’s complicated family. Oh, and we may also be watching the origin story for one of Star Trek‘s greatest villains?
Last week’s episode was a tangle of twists, first revealing that a future Burnham is the Red Angel, and then doubling back to reveal that she’s actually Michael’s mom, misidentified due to their similar genetic signatures. Anyway, Dr. Gabrielle Burnham didn’t die in a Klingon attack when Michael was a child. She actually leaped 950 years into the future, using a prototype time-travel suit to escape the attack, but wildly overshooting the mark.
All Gabrielle wanted was to save her family but seeing the future gave her a grim new mission. She knows the galaxy will soon become a barren wasteland, wiped out by Section 31’s malevolent AI, Control. Anchored to this apocalyptic future, Gabrielle dedicated her life to defeating Control, becoming the time-traveling Red Angel. It’s a grueling mission because no matter what she does to change the future, Control always wins. And because the Red Angel suit is anchored to this point in the distant future, she has to do it alone. She’s an invisible observer in her daughter’s life, unable to speak to anyone except (very briefly) a young Spock, whose unique background allowed him to comprehend the presence of a living paradox.
Michael’s traumatic childhood and Vulcan upbringing shaped her into a highly principled and self-sufficient person. She feels things deeply but sucks at expressing those feelings out loud, tripped up by conflicted relationships with her adoptive family, and later by the heartbreak of discovering that her boyfriend was a Klingon spy. It took a long time to find equilibrium and form friendships among Discovery’s crew, and her mother’s return is a shocking blow.
Gabrielle’s return almost feels like a betrayal, but it also shows how much Michael inherited from her mother. Gabrielle is fiercely goal-oriented and motivated by love, trying to keep Michael at arm’s length because another separation will be too painful to bear. They both desperately want to be a family again, but Gabrielle knows it isn’t possible—both because she has to complete her self-imposed mission, and because the Red Angel suit physically won’t let her stay.
After a confusing dose of time-travel malarkey last week, “Perpetual Infinity” cements Control’s role as the Big Bad of season 2, pitting the crew against a classic no-win scenario. Gabrielle Burnham and Discovery are on one side, while Control and the entire future timeline are on the other. In the context of the old “time is like a river” analogy, we know the future can be changed, but time is a powerful force that can erode mountains and drown anyone who gets in its way.
“We’re playing tug-of-war with the universe,” says Pike.
While our heroes all want the same thing, they don’t agree on how to make it happen. Gabrielle wants to keep time-traveling to fight Control as the Red Angel, and she says they have to destroy the alien archive Discovery found in episode 4. If Control absorbs the intelligence of that archive, then it will soon evolve into an undefeatable foe.
This presents several problems for Discovery’s crew. First, they’re reluctant to destroy such an important cultural artifact, although Pike eventually agrees that it’s necessary. Second, Starfleet can’t just let Gabrielle mess with the timeline by herself. And third, Michael doesn’t want to lose her mother again. There’s no way to keep everyone happy in this scenario, and we know the clock is ticking. Elsewhere, Control is already on the rise. Possessing the body of Section 31 commander Leland, Control orders Tyler to spy on the Discovery crew, and Georgiou to download the archive data before Pike deletes it. Fortunately, we’re saved by a combination of Georgiou and Tyler’s natural suspiciousness and their love for Burnham. They halt the download before it’s complete, prompting a face-to-face confrontation with Leland/Control, and a tearful farewell between Michael and her mother, who gets dragged back to the future once again.
Is Control the Borg?
The big question hanging over this episode is whether Control is the precursor to the Borg. It’s highly plausible, with Control even echoing the old Borg catchphrase (“Resistance is futile!”), telling Leland that “struggle is pointless.” I’m not fond of Discovery rehashing even more pre-existing Star Trek canon, but I have to admit this is a clever origin story with some interesting implications for the future timeline.
If Control does evolve into the Borg, then The Next Generation’s most iconic villain is a being of Starfleet’s own creation. Control began as a tactical computer that analyzed intelligence reports from across the Federation, calculating risks and threats. In a story that celebrates compassion, diplomacy, and diversity, this kind of military apparatus is an obvious recipe for disaster.
The ideal outcome here is the complete destruction of Control, but this presents an interesting question about Discovery’s future. In theory, this episode could lead to a future where Control isn’t fully defeated but lies dormant until The Next Generation. However, if Burnham’s crew does destroy Control, then (in theory) there’s no Borg. This would put Discovery in a different timeline from the rest of Star Trek, freeing season 3 from the restrictions of original series canon. It could even work retroactively. The timeline arguably changed as soon as Burnham “died,” leaving Michael to be adopted by Spock’s parents. Maybe season 2 will end with the revelation that this was already a separate universe from the original Star Trek, where Michael’s adoption (and the Red Angel) never happened.
Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a staff writer at the Daily Dot, covering geek culture and fandom. Specializing in sci-fi movies and superheroes, she also appears as a film and TV critic on BBC radio. Elsewhere, she co-hosts the pop culture podcast Overinvested. Follow her on Twitter: @Hello_Tailor