star trek discovery red angel

Star Trek: Discovery/CBS All Access

‘Star Trek: Discovery’ unmasks the time-traveling Red Angel

Things just got way more complicated.


Gavia Baker-Whitelaw

Internet Culture

Posted on Mar 21, 2019   Updated on May 20, 2021, 4:32 pm CDT

This recap includes spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery. For previous recaps, click here.

As you may guess from the title, this episode was all about the time-traveling entity known as the Red Angel. In a healthy dose of Discovery’s trademark plot twists, we learned that the Angel is actually Michael Burnham from the future, that her birth parents were secretly Section 31 agents, and finally that Michael (maybe?) isn’t the Red Angel after all. Unless she turns out to be her own mother, because of time travel. We’ll get to that in a moment.

Last week: Airiam the cyborg stars in an explosive episode of Discovery

The first big reveal arrived before the credits, with Tilly figuring out the secret behind Project Daedalus. Apparently, it was a Section 31 scheme to build the Red Angel’s time-traveling suit—and the Angel’s biometric signature is a perfect match for Michael Burnham. Somehow, a future version of Michael is trying to avert the apocalypse by traveling back in time and leaving signals for Spock and Discovery to pick up. That’s a pretty wild strategy for such a sensible person, although as Spock snidely points out, maybe Future Michael just has a flair for drama.

michael burnham red angel
Star Trek: Discovery/CBS All Access

Time travel is always confusing, so I would’ve appreciated an explanation for whether Future Michael remembers (and therefore can predict) everything Present Michael does—or if she comes from a separate future timeline. This is relevant because once they identify the Red Angel, our heroes set a trap to catch her. Michael decides to expose herself to a lethal alien atmosphere, knowing that Future Michael will have to come and save her life. But if Future Michael already did this herself, wouldn’t she remember it? It’s one of the oldest paradoxes in the book, and it’s not clear why the show didn’t clarify what kind of time travel we’re dealing with, here. Is the timeline between Present and Future Michael constantly changing, or is it a predestined loop?

Anyway! This wild plan is very Star Trek and offered plenty of opportunity for heartfelt goodbyes (Michael and Tyler kissed!) and last-minute rescues. The involvement of Section 31 also meant that Georgiou and her commander Leland returned, offering an interesting contrast between Georgiou’s affection for Michael, and Spock’s conflicted sibling loyalty.

Discovering that she’s the Red Angel was already a shock, but it was nothing compared to what Michael learned from Leland. We found out a few episodes ago that he caused her parents’ deaths, but the truth is weirder and more interesting than I expected. It turns out that when Michael was a child, her parents were Section 31 researchers, working to develop the Red Angel suit. They died in an arms race with the Klingons, where both sides were vying to get their hands on a Time Crystal. Leland was their commanding officer, and their deaths were his responsibility.

red angel georgiou
Star Trek: Discovery/CBS All Access

Michael is understandably horrified by this revelation, which changes everything she knew about her childhood. However, there’s a silver lining to this storm cloud. Taking out her feelings on a punchbag in the gym, Spock joins her for a sibling heart-to-heart. While he’s still kind of a brat (in the best way possible!), he gently points out that Michael was only a child when this all happened, and she doesn’t need to apologize for bringing baggage into Spock’s life. These two have finally achieved some closure, just in time for Michael to go and asphyxiate herself in a cat-and-mouse game with her future self.

Pike arranges failsafes to prevent Michael from dying if the Red Angel fails to show up, but he doesn’t account for disobedience. As she starts to choke to death, Michael signals to Spock that she must actually die, making him choose between obeying orders to save her life… or respecting her wishes to increase their chances of success. He sides with Michael, holding the others at gunpoint until she dies. Georgiou (whose affection for Michael runs surprisingly deep) is horrified, but the plan works. The Angel arrives to resuscitate Michael, and the crew catches her. But when she takes off her helmet, the Angel isn’t Michael—it’s her mother. Her dead mother. So does this mean the Red Angel was her mom all along or is Michael her own mom, or what? TIME TRAVEL IS SO CONFUSING.

Culber finally goes to therapy!

After weeks handling his death and resurrection with zero professional help, Hugh Culber finally saw a therapist: Admiral Cornwell. This was simultaneously a relief and the absolute pinnacle of “too little, too late.” The fact that Culber had to visit Cornwell (a former therapist turned admiral) confirms there’s no mental health specialist on Discovery’s crew, which is truly wild considering the number of traumatic events they experience on a weekly basis. Like, this episode literally opened with a funeral for an officer who was shoved out of an airlock by a co-worker. They all need therapy! Not just a brief chat with Cornwell!

culber stamets red angel
Star Trek: Discovery/CBS All Access

It’s such a bizarre detail for a subplot about trauma and recovery. Wilson Cruz brings a ton of emotional depth to this role, so I wish I wasn’t constantly distracted by the show’s inconsistent approach to Culber’s story. Instead of delving into his feelings, the therapy scene mostly involved Cornwell giving advice, specifically about how “love is a choice” and how Culber needs to “make a new road for himself.” Basically, Cornwell thinks he should be more decisive instead of dwelling on the past, but also it might be a good idea to Stamets another chance? Obviously, I’m in favor of Culber and Stamets getting back together, but Culber’s return from the dead has been a weird rollercoaster ride between “wow these guys are great actors” and “wait, what?”

One promising sign is that Culber still gets jealous over Stamets. When Georgiou hits on Stamets in front of him, Culber is not amused. (He’s also highly unimpressed by Georgiou calling him “papi,” which was… a bold script choice.) It’s a funny scene because Wilson Cruz and Anthony Rapp are both great at reaction shots, but it also brings back a problematic element of Mirrorverse lore: The implication that pansexuality goes hand-in-hand with the amoral culture of the Terran Empire. Mirrorverse Georgiou seems to be the only bi/pansexual character in Discovery, and she mentioned this week that her version of Stamets is also pan—unlike our Stamets, who is definitely gay. This idea (ie. the “evil promiscuous bisexual” trope) is a dodgy idea for a throwaway joke, even if it’s cool to see so many queer characters sharing screentime in Star Trek.


For more Star Trek: Discovery recaps, click hereWant more reviews and interviews from Gavia Baker-Whitelaw? Sign up here to receive her biweekly geek culture newsletter.

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*First Published: Mar 21, 2019, 8:30 pm CDT