The title of this episode is a bit deceptive in that the phrase Project Daedalus isn’t introduced until the last 10 minutes of the episode, but the phrase does create a mystery for the crew of Discovery, and this week’s adventure does not disappoint.
1. Spock’s visions
The mystery surrounding Spock’s breakdown and his visions is driving the action of this entire season. Admiral Cornwell surreptitiously boards Discovery under the cover of a planet in what we can only assume is a secret mission. A secret from Starfleet? A secret sanctioned by Starfleet? Her intention is to interrogate Spock; she has verified video evidence that he did commit murders while detained, but her interrogation also reveals that Spock truly believes he did not kill those he is accused of attacking. After this, the Admiral and Captain Pike decide to head to Section 31 Headquarters. There is a complicated reason why.
2. Sibling fights
Throughout both seasons 1 and 2, Burnham spends the majority of her time either proving the innocence of others, or working to save those she cares about. So far, it’s been her defining quality on Discovery. But, no matter how altruistic your intentions happen to be, you know who will always point out your faults when they’re mad at you – in order to hurt you the most? Your brother. And this is exactly what Spock does while Burnham is trying to fix him, or help him, or whatever name you give it, in order to return him to the emotionless, logical being he has tried so hard to become. Last episode, Spock revealed his hatred for his emotions, for his human side, all because of Burnham and how she treated him. But here, we see him doing the opposite of rejecting his human side. He goes ham with his emotions, anger in particular, and smashes the chess board the two were playing just moments earlier. Games will bring out the worst in siblings and age doesn’t seem to change this fact very much. During his outburst, Spock accuses Burnham of arrogance – so human of her – and he accuses her of taking responsibility for things she cannot control. As he points out, these behaviors of hers are driven by the helplessness she felt during her parents murders. (This is an event Georgiou referenced earlier in the season. She stated that Section 31 is responsible for those deaths, Leland holding blame in particular.) Spock states that Michael shoulders insurmountable burdens in order to avoid her grief. He sees right through her, as only those that you grow up with can, and this truth hurts Burnham. But these sibling fights are almost never one sided. You gotta get that power back. And so Burnham accuses Spock of being emotional, of being angry. Burn. She wants to know why he’s pushing her away. They don’t resolve anything here as Spock storms out and Burnham is called to the bridge.
3. Commander Airiam
Up until know, Airiam has been a bit player in the series, but in this episode, she jumps into a starring role. A good deal of background information and character building is jammed into this episode, but it’s done wonderfully effectively. We grow to like her in the short time we have with her. We find out Airiam is cybernetically enhanced after a shuttle accident; an accident that killed her fiance and turned her into a different person. She can download, save, and delete memories like a computer, but we also see that she is capable of emotion. She’s managed to retain her humanity in some ways, unlike Commander Data from TNG, who is a total cybernetic being. She is the first step into the 100% artificial life we see in later Trek series. We haven’t had a chance to get to know Airiam, but this episode does a beautiful job of showing us the highlights, her joy and love with her fiance, her friendship with Burnham, Detmer, and Owosekun (girl gang), and her supportive relationship, on a personal and a professional level, with Tilly. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I want Tilly to be my friend. As we’ve seen in past episodes, Airiam is activated by someone, or something, controlling her movements, almost Cylon-style. It appears her enhancements do leave room for her to be corrupted and forced to do things her human side might fight against. As the episode goes on, we see her begin to secretly download information from Discovery; information she can hold in her memories. Airiam has been turned into a walking external hard drive and stripped of her humanity.Continued below
4. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…or the one:
Airiam manages to get herself assigned to the away mission departing for Section 31 Headquarters, joining Burnham and Commander Nhan. The base has been disabled and there is blood floating in the atmosphereless headquarters as the three begin their search for Admiral Patar and the Control program running Section 31. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen floating blood due to lack of gravity. Interestingly, when this occurred in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, there was a conspiracy involving members of Starfleet and the Federation to undermine a proposed drastic change in galactic politics, a change that could include an alliance with the Klingon Empire, a change some were not ready for. Here, we see a growing conspiracy to frame Spock, to fool the crew of Discovery, and to possibly dupe Starfleet. Spock did not commit the murders of which he has been accused, and the Admirals Discovery has been communicating with for some time are simply holograms, as these individuals are found, or assumed, dead. But back on 31 headquarters we find out Airiam has been under the influence of the probe Discovery previously encountered, and it appears her mission is to transfer all the data on artificial intelligence collected by the sphere in “An Obol for Charon”. She is to transfer it to Control, the computer program located within 31’s headquarters. Is Control aware of the AI data, or is the AI data looking for a way to function within this universe and needs Control in order to do so? Who is in control here? Long story short, this transfer of data would lead to the destruction of the galaxy, all as Spock saw. Tilly, good old Tilly, tries to get through to Airiam, the Airiam she knows, and Tilly does. In the ultimate act of self-sacrifice, Airiam pleads with Burnham to open the airlock and eject her into space, for she knows what will happen if her mission is successful. She realizes the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or herself. In a scene that beautifully evokes feelings of profound sadness and loss, Airiam enters the coldness of space while Burnham and the crew of Discovery watch. Forever loving and kind, Tilly sends her friend Airiam her favorite memory before she dies, since she can’t access it herself. It isn’t easy for a character, that an audience literally just got to know, to emotionally resonate, but the writers and director, Jonathan Frakes, knock it out of the park here. The episode ends in silence as Airiam dies…alone.
Right before Airiam sacrifices herself for the greater good, she tells Burnham that she, Burnham, is the center of everything. That she must find Project Daedalus. Daedalus is a prominent figure in Greek mythology. The story of Daedalus shows us we should consider long term consequences of our own inventions, at the risk that those inventions could cause more harm than good. There are so many inventions in the world of Trek. Could AI be the culprit, the intelligence that influenced Airiam and led to her death? The AI that appears to be the villain Spock has been searching for, the one that will wipe out all sentient life in the galaxy? Humans have been wary of technology throughout all stages of our development; today we create fictional worlds to explore the dangers of our own creations, just as the Greeks did thousands of years ago.