Michael Burnham was known as a brilliant scientist, first officer of the USS Shenzhou, and then as a mutineer who received a second chance on the USS Discovery.
She was born on Earth in the year 2226 to Michael and Gabrielle Burnham. By 2230, her family resided aboard a space station. The isolation of the life aboard a space station caused her to develop a fear and bad dreams about shadows. To soothe his daughter, Michael told her the story of “The girl who made the stars”. In this story, based on the legend told by the Xam Abathwa tribe of ancient Africa, hunter gatherers were afraid to travel further than the day allowed, and found that farming in the same area was not working. A girl in the village defied her Elders and left to explore and help her people. She encountered an alien who gave her the light of stars as a gift. She became a great explorer who navigated by the light of the constellations, as well as a mighty warrior, and then finally Queen of her people.
In 2236, the Burnhams were stationed aboard Doctari Alpha. They were there working on a prototype “Red Angel” suit capable of time travel. This top secret project was being run by Section 31, Starfleet’s security organization. Leeland, a young 31 operative, acquired the time crystal needed for the project but was also tracked by the Klingons, leading them back to Doctari Alpha. Michael was fascinated with the impending supernova of the star, Alpha Lupi. The powerful supernova would also garner the suit enough energy to test the suit. The family stayed rather than leave for a planned vacation to Mars. During dinner, Michael saw a light through her telescope that was not the star, but the attacking Klingons. They quickly killed her father and Michael, hidden in a cabinet, did not see her Mother jump in the Red Angel suit, and escape into an unknown future. She believed her mother dead. The Klingons then sat and ate the family meal, laughing and enjoying themselves before leaving.
In the aftermath, the Vulcan Sarek took responsibility for Michael, as he felt duty bound for an Earth orphan in Vulcan space. He left the care and upbringing of Michael to his human wife, Amanda Grayson. Burnham struggled with the aftermath of her parent’s deaths along with the strangeness of her new home and customs. She was the first human to attend the Vulcan Learning Center. She was bullied, provoked, and rejected by the Vulcan children that attended the school.
Shortly after starting at the Center, Vulcan Logic Extremists who believed humans to be a threat to Vulcans and their traditions attacked it, gravely injuring Burnham. She was legally dead for 3 minutes, and a mind meld via Sarek saved her life. During the mind meld, he left a part of what the Vulcans call the katra, the living spirit or the essence of the Vulcan mind with Michael. This presence would allow them later to communicate across interstellar distances and share physical sensations such as pain.
Burnham was sure, after this event that her new family was in danger, so she ran away. Sarek and Amanda’s son, Spock attempted to stop/go with Michael, calling her sister, but she, ultimately wanting to keep him safe, tells him "Stop following me, you weird little half-breed." After this, her Mother, in the Red Angel suit appeared from the future to Spock, telling her where Michael was. Sarek and the authorities found Burnham at Vulcan's Forge just before she was attacked by a fierce wild animal. Her relationship with Spock is however damaged permanently.
Vulcan Science Academy
In 2245, Burnham began attending the Vulcan Science Academy. She studied quantum physics and four years later, graduated at the top of her class. She was a recipient of the Vulcan Scientific Legion of Honor.
Directly after graduation, Burnham applied to the Vulcan Expeditionary Group. Unknown to Burnham, the Group had rejected her application because of her being Human, they also considered Spock to be unfit because he was half human. Cruelly the Group forced Sarek to choose between his children, they could allow Michael to join now, or allow Spock – who was half-Human – to join in the future. But only one. Sarek reluctantly choose Spock over Michael. He hid this truth out of shame for years, his shame, not hers, and reported her rejection as being a result of her "insufficient" abilities”. This haunted her. It created the belief that she was weak, and that Sarek was wrong to believe in her. Amanda denied this, but Burnham wouldn't hear of it. Sarek's guilt and shame grew one hundred fold when Spock unexpectedly chose to join Starfleet instead of the Expeditionary Group, rendering the sacrifice pointless.
At the age of twenty-three, Burnham became part of the crew under Captain Philippa Georgiou after Sarek had contacted her about getting his foster daughter a place where she could grow and thrive. She started as a science officer and a xenoanthropologist, she rose to be a commander and first officer by 2256.
Federation - Klingon War
While investigating a damaged communication relay station near a binary star system, Burnham encounters a Klingon, Rejac. He attacks her and she fought back, kicking the bat'leth he was wielding back into his chest, killing him. The Klingon leader T’Kuvma used his death to rally the 24 Klingon Houses into war.
The Shenzhou detects a cloaked Klingon Ship, Burnham, recovering from her ordeal, believed that attacking first, showing strength not diplomacy was the best way to handle the Klingons. She is rebuked. Feeling she has no choice, Starfleet Principles be damned, she commits mutiny, first disabling her Captain with a Vulcan nerve pinch and then attempting to order the ship to fire, she is stopped by a recovered Georgiou. Burnham pleads to fire first, but they do not. The Shenzhou then detected many warp signatures, and they weren’t the Federation’s. It was twenty four ships, one from each of the Klingon Houses. Ten ships from the Federation drop out of warp and join the battle. It went very badly for the Federation, but Georgiou and Burnham use the collection of bodies by the Klingons to sneak a bomb onboard his ship and then themselves attempt to kidnap T’Kuvma. This fails and both T’Kuvma (by Burnham’s hand) and Georgiou die.
Michael Burnham pleads guilty to mutiny, the first and only officer ever convicted of mutiny in the history of Starfleet to that date.
Second Chance – USS Discovery
After serving six months of her life sentence, Burnham was being transferred via shuttle when it became disabled. She and the other prisoners were rescued by the USS Discovery, captained by Gabriel Lorca. He offered her a chance to serve on a Starfleet ship once again, rather than rot in prison. Her roommate, Sylvia Tilly, a cheerful, nervous woman who dreams of being a Captain someday, is the first of the crew to befriend her. She is reassigned from the command division to the sciences division. and She is able to wear a Starfleet uniform again, though without any rank. She was to study a captured creature called a tardigrade that had been found aboard the Discovery’s sister ship, the USS Glenn. Burnham nicknamed the creature "Ripper" because of its strength and ability to damage even a starship's tritanium hull. Working with Tilly and Paul Stamets, she discovered the tardigrade's connection to the mycelial network, which enabled the full potential of the spore drive to be unlocked, saving Corvan II.
Burnham discovers that each time the spore drive is used, it weakened and caused pain to the tardigrade. Eventually they find a new way to use the spore drive and release the tardigrade back into space, which allowed it to survive. Lorca escaped being held by the Klingons with Ash Tyler; a Lieutenant that had also been held prisoner.
After saving her foster father Sarek from the same group that had tried to kill her as a youth, Burnham learns the truth behind her rejection from the Vulcan Expeditionary Group and Lorca gives her berth on the bridge as a science officer.
The Discovery crew hope that a crystal found on the planet Pahvo will allow the Federation to have a sonar against cloaked ships and turn the tide of the war. The Klingon ship, the Sarcophagus or Ship of the Dead, attacked. During the battle, using the spore drive and transmitters placed by the crew on the ship, the Discovery was able to detect and destroy the ship. After the final battle with The Ship of The Dead, the Discovery used the spore drive for what was to be the last time but found that something had gone very wrong. The charts, the universal matter even, didn’t match. Somehow, they were transported to a Mirror Universe.
The crew of Discovery quickly learned that this was a brutal place, where fear rules via a Terran Empire. There is no Federation. The Alien races have been nearly destroyed by cruelty and wanton destruction. Burnham pretended to bring Lorca to the Emperor, who turned out to be the Mirror version of her lost mentor. In this “Mirror Universe” though, Georgiou is the one who raised the Mirror Burnham, not Sarek. The love, twisted by the society but still true, is there between Burnham and Georgiou. Its revealed that Lorca is actually the Mirror version Lorca that had been trapped in the regular universe and that he had been trying to escape Burnham’s universe then come back to the Mirror Universe to take over. Using the spore drive and the explosion of the Emperor’s ship, the Discovery was able to escape the Mirror-verse, however Burnham couldn’t watch Georgiou be killed once again and saves her from the ship before it explodes.
They over jumped the when, however when returning to their own universe and nine months later, the Klingons were close to winning the war. Using their resources, the crew forms a plan to end the war by jumping the Discovery into a cave inside the Klingon home world. Michael figured out that Georgiou’s real plan was to blow up the Klingon home world by using active volcanoes on the Klingon planet. Burnham instead turned over the detonator to the Klingon leader and peace was achieved. Burnham’s record was expunged and she was returned to her previous rank of Commander and chief science officer.
They are sent to Vulcan to pick up a new Captain but along the way, they receive a request of assistance from the USS Enterprise. Michael is disappointed that her brother Spock is not aboard. She had hoped to patch up their differences. With approval, she goes into his room and finds that he had been tracking red bursts. He is not on the ship because he is being treated for mental issues, that so severely impact him that he is taken to Talos IV to be cured.
Burnham discovers that the artificial intelligence known as Control, that Section 31 had built is seeking data contained on Discovery after being downloaded from a living computer probe known as the Sphere that had become sentient in its travels through the universe.
Section 31 and Discovery built a trap for the Red Angel. It is revealed finally to Burnham, after its capture, that the Red Angel is actually her lost and thought dead mother. The reunion is terse at first. Knowing now what the red bursts are and the danger Control presents to the universe, the ships begin to fight for the vast data stored in the Discovery’s computers.
The AI had control over ships, even people, such as 31’s Leeland via nanites that killed him and then reanimated the body.
A final battle and a choice finally defeat Control, as Burnham. Discovery and the Enterprise fight against it. A second Red Angel suit is built and used, allowing the Sphere data to stay out of Control’s hands by being sent to the future.
Spock and Burnham’s relationship was healed before she and Discovery go to where Control can’t find them…. Over 900 years into the future!
Stay tuned with Season 3 of Discovery on CBS All Access.