'Star Trek Discovery' Hits Emotional (and Exposition) Overload in 'Perpetual Infinity'

Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) speaks with her mother Gabrielle (Sonja Sohn) in the "Star Trek: Discovery" episode "Perpetual Infinity."
Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) speaks with her mother Gabrielle (Sonja Sohn) in the "Star Trek: Discovery" episode "Perpetual Infinity." (Image credit: Steve Wilkie/CBS)

The subspace spoiler inducers are overloading!

After last week's overstuffed episode, we were obviously interested to hear what Michael Burnham's mother (played by Sonja Sohn) had to say for herself and what would happen to poor Capt. Leland (Alan Van Sprang). Burnham's mother had some explaining to do, and Leland was going to need a couple of Advil and an eye exam at the very least. 

What follows, in the episode "Perpetual Infinity," is a ho-hum, hourlong run of exposition that sets up what will more than likely be a ridiculously over-complicated season finale. 

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Many are aware of the teething troubles "Star Trek: Discovery" had in Season 1. Original showrunner Bryan Fuller left the project in October 2016, and much of the season was rushed through principal photography to meet the fast-approaching deadlines. Consequently, we were left with something passable, but below par for what most expected from a new, high-profile "Star Trek" series with a budget of $8 million plus per episode. 

However, Season 2 is making Season 1 look like a sci-fi "Sopranos," a galactic "Game of Thrones" or some other equally epic, multi-award-winning drama series (but set in space). And that first season certainly wasn't that kind of series.

So far — and we still have three episodes left — Season 2 has given us one episode that we'd maybe give a rating of 7.5 out of 10, but certainly nothing higher than that. And this is cause for concern.

We start, straightaway, with a predictable, but nonetheless still welcome flashback to the Doctari Alpha research outpost, with young Michael Burnham (Arista Arhin), her mother, Dr. Gabrielle Burnham, and father (who is played by Kenric Green, Sonequa Martin-Green's husband — we suspected he'd show up soon). Everything is warm and fuzzy at the Burnham homestead until the Klingons unexpectedly arrive and shoot up the place. 

Michael Burnham wakes up in sick bay on the USS Discovery, only to find herself surrounded by Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz), Capt. Pike (Anson Mount) and Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh). These attendees confirm that the events at the end of the previous episode weren't just a weird dream and that the Red Angel is in fact Michael Burnham's mother. Culber provides the convenient explanation that there are similarities in a "bio-neural signature" between a mother and a daughter, even though he confidently said he was 100 percent sure it was Michael Burhman last week. That was the show's vague attempt to throw the audience off from last week's shock-not-a-shock revelation — and why the scriptwriters didn't use "DNA signature." Apparently, Cmdr. Spock (Ethan Peck) has downloaded 841 mission logs from the Red Angel's exosuit data module, so Michael Burnham can look through all of those. 

Cut to Leland (Alan Van Sprang), who is strapped to a formidable-looking stand of some sort. He can't move and even has head restraints that keep him looking straight ahead as the mysterious AI takes the holographic form of various Discovery crewmembers. The AI, alternating between forms, walks slowly toward him, giving a menacing monologue of its evil intentions. The situation raises a fairly important question: Who tied him up?

Seriously, who picked him up off the floor while he was a deranged, drooling dead weight after getting punctured in the eye with a sharp needle? And how did they manage to strap him to this ominous contraption? 

It's highly unlikely it was any of the Section 31 crew, and we're about to see this particular subplot go right down the road of one of sci-fi's biggest clichés, as the AI announces it needs a human form. Which means it didn't have one yet. The next episode could address this, but certainly, at this stage, the questions stands out somewhat. If there was another "infected" human onboard, they sure could've helped Leland later in the episode. 

He tries to resist his captor, but more giant needles appear behind his head and he's injected with nano-sized probes that coarse through his veins. This is, of course, very similar to what we saw from the Borg on "The Next Generation," and cybernetic assimilation of one sort or another has appeared many times in sci-fi, from "Stargate SG1" to "Superman III" and "Tetsuo" to "The Matrix" and even "South Park."

Roll opening credits. 

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Pike (Anson Mount), Spock (Ethan Peck), Culber (Wilson Cruz) and Burnham discuss what to do about the Red Angel's warnings. (Image credit: Steve Wilkie/CBS)

Michael Burnham watches what must be the very first data log: Gabrielle Burnham places the all-important time crystal into the Project Daedalus exosuit and puts it on as the sounds of Klingon disruptor fire draw ever closer. She plans to go back 1 hour and prevent the attack from happening, but instead, she's catapulted to an unknown destination in the middle of space, 950 years in the future. 

As Michael Burnham works her way slowly through the mission data, we learn that her mother tried time and time again to return but was unable to do; she can't stay anywhere permanently, because the anchor keeps pulling her back, 950 years away. Gabrielle Burnham finds that in that future, massive antimatter detonations have wiped out all life in the galaxy. Earth, Vulcan, Tellar Prime, Andoria — all gone. 

Unfortunately, the anchor is pulling on the Red Angel even now, and the Discovery detects signs of significant gravitational instability on the surface of Essof IV, below. Their time with the Red Angel is limited. 

Meanwhile, Leland is changing things around on the Section 31 ship. With a newfound assuredness, which Georgiou picks up on, he suggests that the woman claiming to be Michael Burnham's mother could be an imposter and the data that Discovery collected from the sphere in "An Obol for Charon" (S02, E04) should be transferred to Section 31 for safekeeping. So that's what this is all about. 

Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) notices something amiss with Leland (Alan Van Sprang). (Image credit: Steve Wilkie/CBS)

As Michael Burnham continues to scan through the Project Daedalus mission logs, Gabrielle's recordings talk about a Class M planet that she's set up as a base, so the exosuit anchor always returns here there. 

She explains that a group of people she saved from Earth and placed there were thriving and they call the planet Terralysium — referring to the world where the Discovery crew visited a miraculously saved population, in "New Eden" (S02, E02). She also says there's no pre-existing technology on this planet, so Control can't find her. 

This suggests that she can move the exosuit anchor, which seems to be remembered and forgotten as the script dictates. However, it's possible that the anchor can be moved through space, but not time, so she always returns to Terralysium, 950 years into the future. We assume, then, that she knows the planet's inhabitants are thriving through return visits to the past, since it appears no one is there in the future.

She explains that there's no outcome where she can stop Control from getting the data, so perhaps moving the sphere into the path of Discovery will ensure it remains safe and away from Control. 

There are a lot of watery eyes, furrowed brows and quivering top lips, predominantly on Michael Burnham's part, as her mother regains consciousness and is more concerned with her mission than she is with seeing her daughter. 

Pike beams down to speak with Gabrielle Burnham as the containment-field continues to struggle due to the anchor pulling the Red Angel exosuit back into the future. She makes a fun throwaway remark about how Pike wouldn't want to know what his future holds. Poor guy. As she explains, the vital importance of her task and how critical it is that Control not get access to the sphere data, Pike makes what could turn out to be a very important request. 

"Let us help you finish the mission," Pike says. "Tell us what the signals mean."

"I don't know about any signals," Gabrielle Burnham replies.

"In the sky, seven simultaneous … and each one led us," Pike says, stumbling over his own words.

"I said I know nothing about them," Gabrielle Burnham exclaims, with growing impatience.

Is Michael Bunrham's father behind the signals? It's possible that her mother went back and saved him. That could explain the two slightly different-looking exosuits, if there really are two. It's worth remembering that the signals, or red bursts — not the Red Angel — guided the Discovery to Terralysium and to Kaminar, and the angel appeared only when Michael Burnham was in mortal danger. However, the bursts and the Red Angel do seem to be connected. That said, the Red Angel did appear on Kaminar to Saru, where that character saw it up close. Whoever is behind the signals could also be guiding the Red Angel to some extent. Perhaps Gabrielle Burnham doesn't know that her husband is responsible for the signals.

Or, depending on how this whole snapping-back-to-the-future mechanism works, could she have sent the signals at a later point in her personal timeline?

Back on the Discovery, the crew decides that deleting the archive is the best course of action. Naturally, it's not going to be as simple as that; the data is protecting itself from within the Discovery's computer system by "building firewalls around itself using xeno-encryption taken from its own historical language database." Rats.

Spock reviews some of the Project Daedalus mission logs. He watches "Mission Log 271" as Gabrielle Burnham talks about the time she went back to warn young Spock of Michael Burnham's imminent danger in the forest on Vulcan, thus saving the young Burnham's life and creating the current, new timeline. She notes that his logic helps him comprehend the angel's existence … and that his dyslexia, or l'tak terai, allows "him to process the effects of a temporal dysplasia," whatever that means. So, in all of time, Spock may be the only person who can help Gabrielle Burnham, apparently.

A confrontation. (Image credit: Steve Wilkie/CBS)

Michael Burnham beams down to the surface to speak to her mother, a complicated scenario at best. Time is short and Michael Burnham is, quite understandably, fraught with emotion. At the same time, Gabrielle Burnham is unwaveringly focused on her mission, which doesn't make the situation go any smoother.

Gabrielle Burnham has watched her daughter die a hundred times in different scenarios through time, so she's become desensitized to any sort of emotional reunion. But that doesn't help poor Michael Burnham.

In fact, Michael Burnham's ongoing, drawn-out emotional outpouring does hold up the plot, and, frankly, there's infinitely more at stake than just her broken childhood.

Back onboard Discovery, we see Michael Burnham, Pike, Spock, Tyler and Lt. Stamets (Anthony Rapp) formulate an alternative plan, since they seem unable to destroy the data in time. They aim to send it forward through time, with Gabrielle Burnham, the next time the anchor pulls her back. That way, the sphere data would be so far forward in the future, it would be inaccessible to Control. Apparently, the exosuit has "almost limitless quantum-computational power and literally infinite storage," so the sphere archive could be transferred into the suit. If they program a destination beyond Gabrielle Burnham's anchor point, "the wormhole would take it forever" — perpetual infinity. Control would never get the data it needs to evolve.

This would mean separating Gabrielle Burnham from the gravitational pull of the exosuit, so that she's not trapped in time forever. Troublingly, this is going to require the energy equivalent of a supernova, but the crew thankfully has another source of exotic energy: the dark matter particles from the asteroid in the shuttle bay that came on board in the Season 2 premiere episode.

They hatch a plan. By modifying a transporter enhancer with dark matter, the crew of the Discovery could pierce the time stream long enough to lock on to Gabrielle Burnham and beam her into normal space-time, permanently. Piece of cake. 

Leland catches wind of this ingenious plan and isn't too happy. With the menace of a man who's had most of his body turned into metal, he persuades Georgiou to hide a device near the Project Daedalus exosuit that will effectively hijack the sphere data as it's transmitting from Discovery. Despite Leland's less-than-convincing reasoning for the necessity of such an act, Georgiou at least pretends to go along with the plan. Clearly, she's suspicious, though.

Georgiou and Gabrielle Burnham have a talk. (Image credit: Steve Wilkie/CBS)

Georgiou beams down to the abandoned research facility on Essof IV, where Gabrielle Burnham and the exosuit remain in the containment field. During her travels through time, Gabrielle Burnham has clearly encountered Georgiou more than once. Apparently, the former Terran emperor has sacrificed herself for Michael Burnham on many occasions. The exchange between the biological mother and the one with the weird, possibly Freudian relationship toward Michael Burnham passes the time as the data download, and subsequent hijack, begins. 

Gabrielle Burnham makes Georgiou promise to take care of Michael Burnham, since the Red Angel mission is incomplete and the AI still considers the time-traveler "an unacceptable risk to the larger mission," echoing what Leland said earlier in the episode. At that point, the penny drops for Georgiou, and she's now convinced Leland is a spark plug short of a warp drive antimatter inducer, so she informs Tyler, over a secure channel, that something's up on the Section 31 ship.

In a touching scene — but ultimately a terrible idea — Gabrielle Burnham tells Michael Burnham how she was there at all the important moments in her daughter's life: when she graduated, when she joined Starfleet, and when she was alone and crying when all the other Vulcan children rejected her. Gabrielle Burnham tries to use these examples to illustrate how much she wants to come home, even though she can't until Control is defeated. Unfortunately, all that happens is that Michael Burnham's eyes well with even more water, her brow becomes even more furrowed and her top lip quivers so much it almost hits resonance. 

Georgiou has stopped the data hijack, and Tyler goes to confront Leland, getting pummeled and stabbed quite severely in the process. However, he manages to put a call through to Discovery and warn them. Leland beams down to the surface of Essof IV, restarts the data hijack and shoots up the place. Georgiou steps in and somehow manages to stand her ground against him even when a Klingon-human hybrid couldn't.

Leland appears to destroy the time crystal within the exosuit, and Discovery is unable to stop the data hijack. Gabrielle Burnham begs her daughter to destroy the containment field so that she gets yanked back, saying she can return and have another attempt at stopping Leland, another time. However, without the time crystal, that might prove difficult.

Michael Burnham won't let her mother go, and Georgiou is extremely lucky that the clear procrastination doesn't get her killed. Stamets finally persuades Michael Burnham to help shoot out the containment field generators, Gabrielle Burnham is pulled back into the future by her time anchor, and the Discovery away team transports out. 

The second they're aboard the Discovery, Pike orders the research facility on Essof IV destroyed by photon torpedoes. Naturally, though, a split second before that happened, there was a second transport signal from the surface to the Section 31 ship. That ship then warps off, masking it's trail, but not before Tyler flees the ship by way of an escape pod. Spock comes to comfort Michael Burnham in her quarters and tells her that Leland received 54 percent of the sphere data. 

The mother-daughter relationship is obviously a focus in this episode, and it could've been a truly epic, character-focused outing. Instead, this episode mills along, and rather than draw the viewer in deeper, the familial narrative gets annoying. The performances of both Sohn and Martin-Green are good, and we can't blame them for bad writing. 

Some credit must be given to the show for keeping everyone guessing this long. But it still feels like too much plot was drawn out over some episodes and then crammed into others. 

As for remaining mysteries, are Mr. and Mrs. Burnham traveling through time in exosuits like a galactic Hank Pym and Janet van Dyne?

Has anyone seen the engineer Jett Reno? We didn't even see her at Lt. Cmdr. Airiam's funeral. That's bizarre. What's even more bizarre is that Tig Notaro, who plays Reno, was a guest on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" just two nights ago (March 27), and the program showed a clip from what appears to be a forthcoming episode of "Star Trek: Discovery." So, evidently Reno pops back up again, but is CBS promoting her reappearance because it's significant to the plot?

Wibbly wobbly timey wimey. Introducing a permanent new timeline, the "Burnham timeline," where all the events of "Star Trek: Discovery" take place means it could get complicated. (Image credit: Illustration by Scott Snowden/Ketwolski; Star Trek: Paramount; Space: NASA)

Is the Burnham timeline the future of "Star Trek" now? Last week, we also reported that Mount and Rebecca Romijn, who played Number One in all of 1 minute and 51 seconds of screen time in "An Obol for Charon," were not returning for Season 3. But there's no word yet on Peck's Spock. Will he have a full role, or will we just see him through the power of flashback?

All these questions, or possibly none of them, may or may not be answered in the next three weeks.

The first season of "Star Trek: Discovery" is available to stream in its entirety on CBS All Access in the U.S. and Netflix in the U.K. "Star Trek: Discovery" Season 1 is available now on Blu-ray.

The second season of "Star Trek: Discovery" consists of 14 episodes with no midseason break. It airs on Thursdays on CBS All Access in the U.S. and on the Space TV channel in Canada; the rest of the world can see the series on Netflix on Fridays.

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Scott Snowden

When Scott's application to the NASA astronaut training program was turned down, he was naturally upset...as any 6-year-old boy would be. He chose instead to write as much as he possibly could about science, technology and space exploration. He graduated from The University of Coventry and received his training on Fleet Street in London. He still hopes to be the first journalist in space.