During the first two seasons of Star Trek: Discovery, Michael Burnham never shies away from the action. Here are the top ten moments where she lets her inner badass shine.
10. Taking Flight
Michael shows us how badass she is almost immediately in the Discovery series premiere. When the Shenzhou encounters an unknown object in space, she argues that it would be irresponsible to leave without donning a space suit and exploring it further. But when she laughs with glee while launching, you suspect that maybe her real motivation is the undeniable fact that flying around via jetpack is just really fun.
9. Taming the Beast
“They can blame whatever happens on my curiosity,” Michael says before attempting the badass feat of taming a mysterious beast in the exquisitely titled episode “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry.” Even though the beast killed a crew member and has an intimidating growl, she insists the creature isn’t a carnivore, opens its cage, and makes an important discovery — it prefers to eat the spores that power the ship’s drive!
8. Escaping the Brig
Nobody puts Michael in a corner. When the Shenzhou is damaged during Battle of the Binary Stars (which takes place during an episode of the same name), Michael finds herself in a dangerous spot. She’s trapped in the brig, after having been locked up for mutiny (see #2). The computer only gives her a 43 percent chance of survival, but she’s able to propel herself through space and open the blast door to freedom. Naturally, she then goes on to save the ship.
7. Acting Like a Terran
“Despite Yourself” is usually remembered as the Discovery episode where Tilly gets a peek at her badass alter ego, Captain Killy. But Michael also gets plenty of moments to show her strength, which she tells Tilly “is born out of necessity” for Terrans. After confidently parading her fake bounty, Captain Lorca, in front of the crew of the Shenzhou, she takes control of her former ship. But first, she has to take down an assassination attempt in the turbolift.
6. Rescuing the Captain
When Michael and three new crew members attempt to fly pods through an asteroid field in season 2’s premiere (“Brother”), one of them doesn’t make it out alive. Captain Pike almost doesn’t make it either, but is rescued in a daring save from Michael. For her, it’s all in a day’s work — she later literally runs through fire when escaping the cursed planet.
5. Fighting Like a Klingon
In “Into the Forest I Go,” it’s pretty badass when Michael sneaks onto a Klingon ship and saves an admiral. It’s even more badass when she makes it all the way to the bridge and challenges the captain to a fight. When she picks up the bat’leth and charges, we think we’ve seen her at her most badass. But the REAL moment that Michael reaches peak badass in this episode is shortly after. She’s kicked in the stomach and rolls across the floor as the Klingons laugh. But then she gets up. The camera tightens in on her face. Like a boxer, she tilts her neck and shakes it off before going in one last time. The fight ends when she jumps off an overhang and is transported back to the Discovery in mid-air.
4. Bargaining with Her Life
In “What’s Past Is Prologue,” Michael and the crew are trapped in the Mirror Universe under the control of Captain Lorca, who has an evil respect for the extreme level of badassery even non-Terran Michael possesses. So she makes a deal with him: her life for the life of her entire crew — or so it would seem. Instead, she ends up flipping Lorca over her head during a hand-to-hand duel. She then jumps in front of oncoming fire in order to grab the Terran Georgiou and transport her home to safety.
3. Becoming “Bait”
Michael punches someone in the face (twice) in “Red Angel,” but that barely ranks as badass for her. In this episode’s truly gutsy move, she acts as “bait” for the Red Angel. To do so, she must put herself in real-life danger — which in this case means being chained to a chair, suffocating to death in an alien atmosphere while getting radiation poisoning. (But hey, it works!)
2. Starting a Mutiny
When Vulcan logic convinces Michael that firing on Klingons immediately will save Federation lives, she tries unsuccessfully to take control of the ship. Another badass act that takes place in the series premiere, it results in Michael being stripped of her rank and given a prison sentence (later deferred). The mutiny is a decision she comes to regret, but there’s no denying it takes major guts to go against a Starfleet captain and declare war on the Klingons. And the resulting sentence makes it even easier for her to take risks in the future.
1. Heading to the Future
Unable to destroy data that can have deadly consequences in the wrong hands, Michael decides to do the next best thing in “Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 1”: travel to the future with the Discovery to get rid of it. Perhaps it’s because she feels the mission is her destiny, or perhaps it’s the selflessness that Georgiou calls a “character flaw,” but Michael never wavers even when she realizes she won’t be able to return. Luckily her friends and crewmates decide to take the journey with her, and we get to see what happens to them in Star Trek: Discovery season 3.
Jennifer Boudinot (she/her) is a freelance writer whose work has appeared on Collider, The Belladonna Comedy, and Points in Case. She's also the co-author of the books Dangerous Cocktails and Viva Mezcal. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and is a Kira with a hint of Dax. Find her on Twitter @jenboudinot.
Star Trek: Discovery streams exclusively on Paramount+ in the United States and is distributed concurrently by CBS Studios International on Netflix in 188 countries and in Canada on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave.