“How long until the universe wins?” — Star Trek: Discovery’s “Perpetual Infinity”

My first exposure to Sonja Sohn was the same as most everyone’s: in her phenomenal role as Detective Kima Greggs on the early 2000s HBO show The Wire. Arguably the best cop show in history, it’s not a coincidence that the show has produced some of the most sought-after acting talent of the twenty-first century, from Idris Elba and Aiden Gillen to Lance Reddick and Deirdre Lovejoy to Chad L. Coleman and Seth Gilliam.

There are a lot of things to like about “Perpetual Infinity,” but the thing I like best is Sohn’s amazing performance as Dr. Gabrielle Burnham.

We open with a flashback to Doctari Alpha, which we previously only saw from the POV of little Michael Burnham sitting in a closet listening to her parents get shot and killed by laughing Klingons. This time, we see her parents working on Project Daedalus. Gabrielle Burnham climbs into the experimental suit, hoping to use it to go back in time to keep the attack from happening. She overshoots rather spectacularly, winding up 950 years in the future.

Earth is now a barren wasteland, as are all of the founding planets of the Federation. Gabrielle uses the suit to go back in time to try to fix things. Her rescue of the humans on twenty-first-century Earth during World War III (“New Eden”) was an experiment to see if she could alter history. She was later able to save her daughter by warning Spock.

Spock—who is apparently dyslexic, an interesting factoid that doesn’t actually contradict anything we know about Spock, and which he typically views as a human failing he needed to overcome—is uniquely able to interpret the visions of the “red angel,” as the distortions of the wormhole the suit creates make it hard for her to be perceived when she travels in time. In addition, time travel is like bungee-jumping for her: regardless of where and when she goes, she’s always tethered to the late thirty-second century, and always bounces back there after a bit. The containment field that the gang put together last week is keeping her on Essof IV for the time being but, as Pike so eloquently puts it, that leaves them in a tug-of-war with the universe. Eventually, the universe will win.

No matter what Gabrielle does to alter history, though, Control winds up destroying all life in the galaxy, using the data from the sphere. Like a good scientist, Gabrielle has made logs of all her work, and her daughter gets to watch her mission logs—hundreds of them. Turns out that Gabrielle specifically put Discovery in the sphere’s path in “An Obol for Charon” in the hopes that the Discovery crew could safeguard the data from Control.

But that doesn’t work, either, especially since Control has now taken over Leland. It didn’t kill Leland last week, as I initially thought (though he now has a messed-up left eye), but it does manage to implant its nascent consciousness into the Section 31 captain. It orders Tyler and Georgiou to safeguard the sphere data at all costs.

Which is a problem, as Discovery’s Plan A is to delete the data. Gabrielle urges Pike to do this in her first conversation with the captain—one with an oblique reference to “The Menagerie,” as she tells him that she knows his future and he won’t like it. Saru objects to this plan, likening it to destroying the Library at Alexandria or the Biblioteca Corviniana. (What, he couldn’t mention Memory Alpha?)

However, that doesn’t work, as the data repartitions itself to avoid being removed. Burnham allows as how this makes sense given what the sphere went through to keep that data from being destroyed back in “Obol.” Plan B is to dump the data into the suit and send it back to the thirty-second century where Control can’t get at it, but this plan is sabotaged by Control itself, using Leland to get Georgiou and Tyler to do its dirty work.

Luckily, there’s a lot more to Empress Philippa Georgiou. One of the great things about Discovery is how often it passes the Bechdel Test, and the scene where Georgiou and Gabrielle talk is brilliant. Gabrielle has been a galactic voyeur for a long time, and she knows that Georgiou will die to protect Burnham—and when Georgiou objects that she’s got her confused with her prime universe counterpart, Gabrielle counters that she knows exactly who she’s talking to.

Michelle Yeoh has magnificently played Georgiou this season, trying very hard to be the bad-ass Section 31 officer, but also genuinely concerned for Michael Burnham’s welfare, seen most aggressively last week when she objected to the plan to kill Burnham to lure the Red Angel, and later when she tried to end the experiment and was stopped only by Spock’s phaser.

After talking to Gabrielle, and hearing her use the same phrasing she heard from Leland’s mouth with regards to Control, she recruits Tyler to help her betray Leland, and it’s Tyler who discovers that Control has taken over the captain. Control stabs Tyler, and only doesn’t finish him off because he’s in the opening credits—er, that is, because he discovers that the data transfer Georgiou surreptitiously started on its behalf has been cut off by Georgiou herself.

This leads to a messy fight on Essof IV, as Control-in-Leland’s body tries to restart the data transfer and also kill Gabrielle and destroy the suit. She’s opposed by Nhan and her security force (one of whom dies, a fact that goes unmentioned and unmourned, because of course redshirts aren’t actual people, apparently, grumble mutter) as well as Georgiou, thus giving us more glorious Michelle Yeoh hand-to-hand combat.

Control does succeed in damaging the suit, at least, and soon it becomes clear that they have to let Gabrielle and the suit go back to the thirty-second century. They do so, and then blow up Essof IV as soon as the landing party is beamed out, but Control manages to get back to the Section 31 ship before things go boom.

And Tyler got out in an escape pod. Control got about half the data from the sphere, which is probably still too much, and also now has possession of a 31 captain. Gabrielle is back 950 years in the future with a busted Red Angel suit. Georgiou and the wounded Tyler are now on Discovery, likely fugitives from 31 in the same way Discovery was just a few episodes ago.

The big revelation, though, is that Gabrielle doesn’t know anything about the seven signals. So there are still more questions that need answering…

What makes the episode is Sohn’s phenomenal guest appearance. We open with the flashback to Doctari Alpha, where she’s both a dedicated scientist and a loving mother. So it’s a bit jarring for her to later refuse to see her daughter, and for her reaction upon Burnham later beaming down anyhow is to bluntly say, “No.” Eventually, though, we learn that it’s not because Gabrielle doesn’t care—the problem is the opposite. She can’t talk to her daughter because that may break her. She’s had to watch Michael die over and over and over again. To actually interact with her grown-up self is too much.

But she does it eventually. Which is good, as prior to this, it was Burnham who was going to break. She can barely handle the notion that her mother’s alive—when she wakes up in sickbay, she assumes that she hallucinated her mother and is rather taken aback when Pike, Spock, and Culber assure her that it really was Mommy dearest—and Gabrielle’s refusal to see her daughter makes it worse. Sonequa Martin-Green shows every bit of shock and anguish in Burnham, and it’s a heartbreaking performance.

Not that the rest of the cast isn’t great. The banter between Georgiou and Tyler presages some fine conversations between Michelle Yeoh and Shazad Latif on the sadly inevitable Section 31 spinoff show. Saru’s plea not to delete the archive is delivered in a brilliantly heartfelt manner by Doug Jones, but so is his determination to carry out the order once the objection is overruled. Anson Mount’s Pike remains the collected center of it all, juggling all the balls in the air and trying to win the day. Tilly and Stamets are mostly reduced to the Trek cliché of the technobabble-spewing engineers, but Mary Wiseman and Anthony Rapp make it work. And Dr. Culber’s pleas to Burnham to see her mother’s side of things are particularly poignant given what he’s gone through, a subtle, understated, but excellent performance from a peculiarly uncredited Wilson Cruz.

And of course we have Ethan Peck, who continues to give us a person I have no trouble believing will be the same character played by Leonard Nimoy in ten years’ time. One of Spock’s defining characteristics is his loyalty to those close to him, from his criminal acts on Pike’s behalf in “The Menagerie” to his support for the dying McCoy in “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky” to his attempts to rescue Kirk in “The Tholian Web.” Here we see him play the perfect little brother, supporting and aiding Burnham. I especially like his insistence that the future is not yet written and they can write it themselves, and using a 3D chess game to punctuate his point.

According to the previews, the next signal is going to show up on Boreth, a world we first saw on The Next Generation’s “Rightful Heir,” and which is where L’Rell sent her infant child by Voq in “Point of Light.” So we get more Klingon stuff next week including, one hopes, the triumphant return of the great Mary Chieffo as L’Rell.

Keith R.A. DeCandido is a guest at Planet Comic-Con in Kansas City, Missouri this weekend, alongside fellow Trek word slingers Dayton Ward, Kevin Dilmore, and Thom Zahler, and Trek actors William Shatner, Wallace Shawn, Jennifer Morrison, Lori Petty, and Chris Sarandon. Look for him at Bard’s Tower, Booth 803, where he’ll be selling and signing books, including his most recent releases A Furnace Sealed and Mermaid Precinct.

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