Star Trek: Discovery “Project Daedalus” Recap
Starfleet’s finest breaks protocol to uncover the truth behind Section 31.
Captain Pike’s quest to seek out the true intentions of Section 31 takes the [now fugitive] USS Discovery and her crew to the doorstep of the shadow organization’s headquarters; uncovering vital information, and ultimately leaving Burnham with an impossible decision.
Star Trek Discovery has left us with so many questions. Some of which, we’ve been seeking answers to since the very first episode of the season. Who is the red angel and why has it come? What is the meaning of the red signals? Why has the red angel chosen Spock? Then there are new questions that have undoubtedly taken greater precedent as the season has progressed. Who is the threat from the future and why has it chosen Airiam? Why has Starfleet lied about Spock killing the officers at the medical facility on Starbase 5? While the larger mysteries are still slightly out of reach, the most recent episode, “Project Daedalus”, takes the responsibility of finally getting us some return on our investment.
We left the last episode, “If Memory Serves”, with the strong impression that something nefarious was a flutter at Section 31. Having been able to fully dissect his visions with the help of the Talosians, Spock and Burnham meet up with Discovery and her crew with the knowledge of an impending threat to all sentient life and confirmation of Spock’s innocence against the accusations of homicide. This leaves Captain Pike on the wrong side of the law, pursuing answers to the future threat, as well as answers to the false accusations and sabotage from Section 31.
We kick “Project Daedalus” off with Admiral Katrina Cornwell making a covert rendezvous with the aforementioned vessel at large. The admiral comes armed with the same reservations about the true intentions of Section 31 expressed by Captain Pike, but before she can pursue her theory, an inquisition of our favorite human-Vulcan science officer is needed to bolster her suspicions. A test of Spock’s truthfulness alleviates some doubt, but directly contradicts surveillance video showing Spock committing the murderous acts.
In addition to what Pike thinks are actions by Section 31 to implicate Spock and sabotage his mission, Admiral Cornwell’s suspicions were raised when her counterparts at Section 31 refused to communicate with her, and the federation threat assessment AI, Control, refused to accept her input codes. In an attempt to get answers, Cornwell directs Discovery to the front door of Section 31.
Meanwhile, our suspensions of Airiam and her injection of a future computer virus are tested, as we are graced with a touching moment of her pre-cybernetic self. The writers manage to emotionally ground the character by showing a touching memory of her and her significant other strolling a beach in one of the last moments she had before being involved in an accident that made her into the cyborg we now know. While it would have been nice to get more Airiam backstory before now, it was probably a more effective introduction in this episode, in light of knowing what happens by the end.
Also notable is the fact that Airiam has to manage her memory, offloading memories at the end of each day in order to reserve space. In addition to the moments mentioned earlier, this memory management moment also allowed us to see other intimate moments of Airiam bonding with the crew; showing an obvious bond with the infectious Ensign Tilly.
Airiam’s bond with Tilly becomes pivotal for the character, relying on the ensign’s watchful eye as Airiam becomes aware that she may not be in full control of her actions. We see Airiam go back and forth between her normal self, and the version of herself that is controlled by the virus from the future; struggling to maintain control as her dark counterpart begins to raise suspicion. Suspicion to which Commander Nhan has keyed in on, piecing together the puzzle of who may have had access to sabotage the spore drive and send unauthorized encrypted communications from Discovery.
After finally reaching Section 31 headquarters by way of narrowly traversing the station's highly illegal and deadly minefield, Discovery is greeted by Admiral Pitar, who informs the presumed traitors that a Section 31 ship is en route to take them into custody. Despite the admiral’s message, Pike sends an away team made up of Burnham, Nhan, and Airiam, over to investigate what is really going on inside the Section 31 home base.
This is where things get interesting and somewhat eerie, as Burnham and the team find the admirals in command at Section 31 are all dead and have been for some time. This starts to put things into focus, as not only was the previous conversation with Admiral Pitar a farce, but it confirms Spock’s innocence at Starbase 5. Someone or something has been manipulating things behind the scenes, all roads pointing toward the AI system to facilitate many of the federation's crucial strategic decisions.
Soon after the revelation that Control is behind things, Airiam [or the virus from the future that is now controlling her] reveals her true colors, as Airiam quickly disables Nhan, and begins to go toe-to-toe with Burnham.
Meanwhile back on Discovery, Ensign Tilly comes to the realization that Airiam has been removing her memories and uploading the Charon-entities AI data into her personal memory core in an attempt to transfer that data over to Control, giving Control endless knowledge on past AI’s and their burgeoning attempts at becoming a sentient being.
Back inside Section 31 headquarters, things come to a head, as the showdown with Burnham leaves Airiam inside an airlock, with full access to complete the mission given to her by what we are to assume is a future version of Control, attempting to upload the Charon-entities data, which could become vital to the AI’s evolution.
But all is not lost, as Burnham is faced with a crucial decision. Open the airlock, or let Airiam deliver the data that could spell the onset of the events that Spock has been so desperately trying to understand.
During these pivotal final moments, we see Airiam struggle between the character we know versus the virus that would have her do harm. Tilly pleads with her over the comm system, asking the character to fight the programming; harking on the bond the two had formed over their time on Discovery. Burnham pleads with Pike and Spock for another way to “fix” the situation, but they all know what must be done, even Airiam.
Finally, every answer we’ve been searching for since the beginning of the season may have been solved in Airiam’s final words to Burnham.
Everything is because of you. Tell everyone I love them. You have to find Project Daedalus.
This moment played so hard on our emotions, and that’s what this episode was an emotional roller-coaster. We have seen the writing on the wall for Airiam for quite some time. From the moment the time probe was able to upload the virus into her system, we knew things would eventually hit the fan. Though I have to give the showrunners a huge amount of credit. Up until this episode, my emotional investment in the character of Airiam was zero-to-none. She had begun to weave her way into the storyline, but something always felt lacking. But in what may have initially felt like a misstep, managed to bring a special amount of resonance, humanizing the character right before she would go through something that could bring us to tears.
We are left with the question. What is “Project Daedalus”? The team over at the Discussing Trek podcast are leaning toward it having something to do with experimental transporter technology, as the Star Trek Enterprise episode “Daedalus”, outlines the origins of the transporter.
What role does Burnham have to play in all of this? Is she in fact the red angel? Please let me know your thoughts on the episode in the comments below.