"Perpetual Infinity" is another frequently exciting episode of Action Thriller Trek that moves the season arc forward and is mostly sold on its sense of adrenaline, which continues to deliver admirably. But it also comes at a moment in the season when the arc begins supplying answers and tying together threads, and the big picture begins coming into focus. And I'm wondering how much of this is going to make sense by the end. The truth is, it probably doesn't have to make very much sense because manipulating timelines means probably anything is possible.
There are some points here I'm confused about. I'd watch it again to clarify details, but I don't have time in my schedule for that, and I don't own a time-traveling suit to make more time. (Besides, I have doubts that a rewatch would necessarily clear things up.)
The title, "Perpetual Infinity," is a good indicator of the inherent absurdity. It's by definition redundant. (Perpetual infinity as opposed to what? Temporary infinity? Perpetual finitum?) The more you draw attention to the details of a time-travel paradox, the less sense it's inclined to make. The whole premise is based on the fact that Control is trying to create its own future sentience by acquiring the sphere data. If Future Control told Past Control that it needed to acquire the sphere data, and it never gets the sphere data, how did it get the message from the future in the first place? Granted, that's the type of paradox that's perhaps at the center of every time-travel story ever told. But what I didn't understand was more around Dr. Burnham and what she knows and does, because the rules are hazy.
Michael's mother, Dr. Gabrielle Burnham (Sonja Sohn), has traveled back to save her daughter from death (for reasons that later seem to be contradicted), and has been captured by the Discovery crew and its technobabble solution. We learn here that Dr. Burnham escaped several centuries into the future in her time suit when the Klingons attacked and presumably killed Michael's parents. (Is Michael's father still out there somewhere, or did he actually die?) Ever since that day arriving in a barren future wasteland with no life because it has been destroyed by Future Control, she has been trying to go back and create a new timeline that stops Past Control from obtaining the sphere data that will allow it to become Future Control.
But how does Dr. Burnham even know that all life in the galaxy has been destroyed? If she's the only person left, how did she gain that information? And apparently the time suit is also a "go anywhere" suit that allows her to go anywhere, anytime? How long has she been effectively lost in time? Years? Decades? If so, how does she survive? In the wasteland of the decimated future, what does she eat and where does she get water? What fuel source indefinitely powers her suit? Does she have a home base to study the timeline and launch her time-travel missions? If not, how does she keep track of it all? She knows all about her daughter's life from having seen it through the timeline somehow, as well as many alternate futures. But I simply don't understand how this is possible.
If I've missed details and this is explained, forgive my oversight. That's possibly a side effect of this story having so much expository technobabble that my mind started to wander. But it's also a symptom of a plot so mired in time-travel rules that are flexible, made up on the fly, or contradictory. The most interesting piece of information here is that Gabrielle, presumably the source of the mysterious signals, actually knows nothing about them at all. So those signals are still unexplained mysteries, but given how much else Gabrielle knows about the timeline, how does she not know about the signals?
Look, I didn't dislike this, even with my many questions. Most of them didn't even occur to me in the moment (which is the moment Discovery most wants me to live in), but much later, after trying to puzzle my way through a description of all this. Sonja Sohn is rock-solid as the elder Burnham. (Sonequa Martin-Green, considerably less so. She's good in her straightforward scenes, but she continues to oversell Burnham's emotional moments with her agape jaw and looks of extreme emotional duress.) Sohn's performance grounds the episode in a steely, ice-cold pragmatism focused only on the big picture. She's been through so many missions to try to stop Control (I think it's said to be something like 800 in total) — all of them ending in failure — that she doesn't even initially use this moment to try to connect with Michael. She's become so numb to Michael dying because she's seen it happen in so many alternate timelines.
There's a tragedy and an integrity to this character that really goes a long way to giving this episode an emotional resonance, even though the plot moves too quickly to support those efforts. She's been assigned to a truly thankless fate, one that would likely drive someone to insanity if insanity were an option. Imagine that all life's survival depends on you solving a puzzle that you've already tried to solve unsuccessfully hundreds of times.
Meanwhile, we've got Control taking over Leland's body and trying to manipulate the crew of both his ship and the Discovery to upload the data to the Section 31 ship so he can obtain it for himself and create Future Control. Georgiou and Tyler go along with this plan as reluctant saps at first, before Leland is eventually uncovered to be Control, which results in a big shootout and martial arts fight on the planet surface while Burnham and her mother connect emotionally out of sheer last-minute desperation. At the very least, the plot hinges on some hard choices by the characters. And Georgiou gets to play the part of the hero in fending of Contreland, which works because of the slow build in that direction we've been going with her character for several episodes now.
At the end of the day, this is mainly Plot Advancement 101. Discovery has always been an able plot-moving vehicle, even when the plot twists are questionable. Here, we get plot advancement that also plays as plot deferral. A major showdown ends with no major characters dying, such that they can fight another day. One cliffhanger begets another, making this a bridge between one serial adventure to the next.
It's a mostly entertaining ride. But it also shows cracks and a need for all this to arrive at a destination before it wears out its welcome.
- Tyler is such a sap — and really just not a good character. Contreland stabs him when Tyler discovers what he is, but Tyler doesn't die simply because the show needs him to continue existing for whatever reason.
- If the fate of the galaxy is on the line (again, another bad reason to pointlessly inflate the stakes), why didn't the Discovery crew try harder to destroy the data by physically destroying the storage device — or even the entire ship? Really, if the sphere data is so intent on protecting itself, I'd imagine it could just transmit itself via wireless broadcast to go wherever it wants to go. But that's not an avenue put forward by the plot, so why not destroy it in a more drastic way that goes beyond trying to erase it?
- How will Dr. Burnham survive returning to the barren, lifeless future while not in her suit?
- The specter of timeline manipulations are why I couldn't get too emotionally invested in the fate of the many characters at the end of Avengers: Infinity War, beyond a certain entertained curiosity. When you have a Dr. Strange at your disposal who can change timelines (not to mention the announcements of so many sequels requiring these characters to return anyway), it's hard to think of any character death as being permanent.
- Timeline manipulations could explain a lot of things that diverge from the expected TOS timeline on this show. I'm not going to go into the many speculations that have abounded, but certainly anything seems possible at this point.
- There's been a lot of speculation that Contreland forms the genesis of the Borg. I'm betting, and hoping, against that. The Borg, according to First Contact, have been around for centuries before this. Then again, timeline manipulations or simple retconning could prove me wrong.
- Speaking of Sonja Sohn, my wife and I recently started a rewatch of The Wire. (Well, a rewatch for me; first time for her.) That's a serialized show that's a master class in both narrative complexity and narrative clarity. The true platinum standard. It's simply something amazing to behold as you watch it unreel. To quote Lester Freamon, all the pieces matter. (With Discovery, there often seems to be pieces missing.)
- My April Fool's prank of having Control hijack the comments of this site appears to have proven more confusing and/or annoying than funny, based on the reactions I saw. I hadn't pulled a 4/1 prank on this site in quite a few years, so it was overdue.
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