Star Trek Discovery: Project Daedalus

Admiral Cornwell arrives aboard Discovery to task Pike and crew with a new mission – infiltrating Section 31 headquarters and regaining access to their central AI, “Control”. However, their mission may be at risk thanks to the mysterious force that has infiltrated Lt Commander Airiam.

From the moment those three red lights flashed up in Airiam’s eyes at the end of Light and Shadows, we knew we were in for trouble. This episode sees the pay-off to that plot, as Airiam struggles against the force that controls her, but ultimately has to sacrifice her own life to protect that of the main character.

The main thrust of the episode is that Discovery must get to Section 31 HQ to restore access to Control, a vital decision-making AI that is definitely not at all related to the head of The Circus in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Having been locked out of Control, Cornwell is worried that it’s now in the hands of Admiral Patar – one of the admirals in charge of Section 31 – who just happens to be a logic extremist. Yes, the same logic extremists who commit criminal acts of violence are also allowed, for some reason, to reach the highest ranks of Starfleet. Maybe there’s meant to be some sort of “not all logic extremists” logic going on here, but if there is, the show is definitely failing to communicate that subtlety.

Of course, this being Discovery, we’re treated to both a space action sequence in which the ship traverses a minefield, followed by the by-now obligatory survival horror inspired “exploring the abandoned space station” segment. All of this is so much window-dressing, however, for the bit we’re supposed to care about – the fate of Airiam. For one and a half seasons, Airiam was an inconsequential background character – so much so that I had neither memorised her name until about two weeks ago, nor noticed that she was being portrayed by a different actress this season. So there’s a lot of work to do this episode to make her into someone whose death we might actually care about.

To be fair, the writers give it their best shot. We learn more about Airiam in the space of this episode than ever before (more on that below), so that by the time she has to make the ultimate sacrifice, it is actually a little upsetting. Farewell, supporting character.

What we learn about Airiam

  • Some years ago, Airiam was a regular, unaugmented human, who eloped with a man named Steven. On their way home, however, they were involved in a shuttle accident that killed Steven and presumably necessitated Airiam’s augmentation.
  • Every week, Airiam has to manually review her memories and decide which to delete, and which to save to the 23rd century equivalent of iCloud. It’s implied that this is because of capacity issues with her augmentation, which presumably acts at least in part to replace the damaged memory centres of her brain.
  • Airiam is good friends with Tilly, Detmer and Owosekun. Both Airiam and Tilly are champion kadis-kot players; this was of course the game that Seven of Nine and Naomi Wildman were always playing on Voyager.

What we learn about the main plot

  • Evil AI is out to kill us all! It seems that the villain of the piece may well be the Section 31 computer, “Control”. It seems that Admiral Patar and other high ranking Section 31 officers have been dead for two weeks, and that Control has been issuing orders and communications via holographic projections of them (including, presumably, that chat with Leland and Georgiou last week). It even faked up the footage of Spock killing those people at the psychiatric facility.
  • When Airiam went over to the space station, she downloaded all the knowledge of AI Discovery obtained from the sphere. Control wanted access to this knowledge to spur its own evolution into a more sophisticated AI.
  • It’s unclear what links Control in the 23rd century with the probe from the future, but maybe it’s some sort of grandfather paradox.
  • Could it be that the endgame of wiping out all sentient life in the galaxy is actually going to turn out to be some kind of evil machine plot? I hope not, as that path is far too well-trodden.
  • Before her death, Airiam notes that Burnham is of key importance to events, and presumably not just because she has main character status. She also leaves us with our next clue – we need to find out about “Project Daedalus”.

Other Observations

  • Once again, Burnham gets away without having to do something truly dreadful, when Nhan is the one who ultimately blows Airiam out of the airlock. I understand the narrative desire to not make the hero commit an unforgivable sin, but so far Burnham has narrowly avoided having to kill both Saru and Airiam, and even her deliberate estrangement of Spock wasn’t all that horrific (although it did clearly have a lasting effect on him). Well, I guess the fact that she started a war last season is probably enough for one person to have to deal with.
  • Spock notes exactly what I’ve been pointing out on this blog – that Burnham leaving Sarek and Amanda’s home was never going to make his family less of a target for logic extremists.
  • Given that Spock is clearly indulging in his emotions at present, how is he going to get back to his super-logical state in time for TOS? Will his character arc make sense in the overall scheme of things?

Summary – Project Daedalus: Once again, it’s entirely possible a sophisticated computer is out to kill us all.

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