Season 2, Episode 9: ‘Project Daedalus’
“I refuse to take this posturing seriously,” Burnham says to Spock at the midway point of this week’s episode. “It’s entirely out of character.”
She might as well have been speaking for the audience at that point because the writers for “Star Trek: Discovery” have penned a version of the “Star Trek” franchise’s most famous Vulcan as one that is totally unfamiliar to Trek audience: Ethan Peck’s Spock is someone who is perpetually angry, rude and quick to cruelty. Every sentence he speaks drips with disdain for those around him, particularly for his sister, Burnham. Instead of the endearing Vulcan curiosity Spock personified in previous iterations, we have tantrums now.
He chalks it up to the angry emotions he feels about being connected to the Red Angel and the lack of answers he has about its existence. O.K., sure. But he has an entire ship trying to help him solve the mystery. The logical thing would be for him to, you know, chill out.
The central point of Peck’s portrayal seems to be that as a young man in his early days of Starfleet, Spock was way more tapped into his human side — hence, the emotional outbursts. But as Kirk, McCoy and the other Enterprise crew members show Spock often, being human is about more than anger, and I find it hard to believe that even a younger version of Spock would let himself get like this, even under extreme duress.
The real highlight of this episode is Hannah Cheesman’s performance as Airiam. We learn that she is augmented, a term she uses, which seems to mean cybernetic — a result of some terrible shuttle accident in her past. A quick note here: In Season 1 of “Discovery,” Airiam was played by Sara Mitich, who now plays Nilsson. “Project Daedalus” is the rare episode focused on a peripheral character in “Discovery,” and Cheesman absolutely delivers. She perfectly conveys, as best as a cybernetic life-form can, her affection for friends like Tilly.
And in typical “Discovery” fashion, she dies a horrifying death at the end of the episode. The writers deliver a lot of information about Airiam in one episode, enough that I did get attached to the character and was sad to see her die.
One problem: The “Discovery” writers have too often played with the emotions of their audience by killing off characters and bringing them back. Georgiou, Tyler and Culber are the prominent examples. This season, Saru was on his deathbed. So when Airiam was blasted out into space in order to save the Discovery, whatever emotion I felt from Cheesman’s performance quickly dissipated. We’ve been here before.
I bet Airiam comes back in some way, shape or form. And if she doesn’t, the writers did a disservice to her character with all the previous false alarms, limiting the impact of this one.
Airiam’s death scene didn’t quite make sense to me either. When Airiam was beseeching Burnham to open the airlock, why didn’t Pike beam over a couple crew members to assist Burnham in rescuing Airiam? And why not just beam Airiam to the Discovery once she was ejected into space? I understand that Airiam was not in charge of her body at that point, but at least beam her to the brig and give her a chance.
As for the main plot of the episode — in which the crew of the Discovery attempts to infiltrate Section 31 headquarters — the fight scenes featuring a possessed Airiam taking on Burnham and Nhan were exquisite, and a credit to the Trek veteran Jonathan Frakes, who directed the episode.
We learn that this is the point in Trek lore when Section 31 begins to turn rogue. The higher-ups in charge of the group haven’t responded to Cornwell in weeks, and their threat assessment system (something called Control) has locked her out. Cornwell comes to the Discovery secretly to inform Pike that a fellow admiral, a Vulcan who happens to be a logic extremist, has lobbied for all Starfleet decision-making to be turned over to Control.
Leaving out how a Starfleet admiral is able to go anywhere by herself without being tracked, Cornwell’s role here is a bit confusing, given that she seemed totally onboard with Section 31 earlier this season and never mentioned the logic extremist.
Section 31 has framed Spock for the murders that Starfleet has accused him of, having created fake holographic images that depict the violence. But the endgame is unclear here. The Discovery crew seems to have deduced that Section 31 wants the knowledge of the probe that came back from the future. That would give the group a permanently unbeatable tactical advantage. This is the Section 31 that made for such a compelling story line on “Deep Space 9”: out-of-control, with its own agenda.
This was an uneven episode, but Cheesman was the strong point. It would have been nice to have spent more time with her over the course of the season — although I suspect we will be able to again.
One note: What happened to Tig Notaro’s character? Her ingenuity would serve the Discovery really well in some of these moments. And I’d love to see her deal with Cranky Spock.
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