You can’t go home again.
Full spoilers follow for this episode.
Escaping the interminable May storyline of recent weeks like a starship going to warp to avoid being sucked into a black hole, Star Trek: Discovery gets its groove back in “The Sound of Thunder.” The episode sees Saru returning to his homeworld to finally confront the nasty predator species that haunts his kind… and the systemic oppression of the Kelpiens that is a classic Trek metaphor, and one that can be parsed on several different layers.
Along the way, the mystery of the Red Angel continues to develop… slowly to be sure. But it does feel like some headway is made in this department this week which helps us start to figure out what the creature (is it even a creature?) just might be all about. Seemingly benevolent, is the Red Angel also… a time traveler?
When a red signal appears over Saru’s home planet Kaminar, the Kelpien exercises his post-threat ganglia urges, which at times play like space roid rage as he gets in Captain Pike’s face about the mission and whether or not he should be the one to beam down to the planet and scope the situation out. Saru’s best pal Burnham comes to his rescue there, convincing Pike that Saru should accompany her to Kaminar, and that’s not the only time she runs defense for her buddy in this episode.
Doug Jones does a tremendous job carrying “The Sound of Thunder,” never giving in too much to the scary/angry Saru, but not underplaying the shift in his personality either. This is still our Saru, but he’s also different… and the circumstances he’s presented with here give him plenty of recent to exercise those new changes. And yes, that includes smashing floating robot probes with his bare hands.
Down on Kaminar, Saru and Burnham meet Saru’s sister Siranna (Hannah Spear), who was first introduced in the Short Trek “The Brightest Star.” While their reunion is joyful at first, Siranna clearly harbors resentment towards her brother as well, which soon comes to the surface when she relates how his disappearance all those years ago led to great agony and disruption for her people as they feared retribution from the predator species, the Ba’ul. Had Saru’s leaving outraged the Watchful Eye, as they feared? He split town, choosing knowledge over the provincial ways of his people, and they spent years suffering as a result. It’s a pretty heavy turn for Saru to learn this, an outcome that he apparently never anticipated when he was off gallivanting with Starfleet.
Soon, the Ba’ul are alerted to Saru’s presence, and he faces paying a serious price for his defiance as the predators threaten his village. Defying Pike’s orders, once again with the help of Burnham, Saru winds up a prisoner on one of the Ba’ul ships. There he learns the true nature of the so-called Great Balance — the lie which is said to maintain the harmony on his world.
While the Ba’ul currently dominate the Kelpiens through a combination of their advanced tech, superstition, and fear-mongering, there was a time when they were the hunted and the Kelpiens were the predators. It’s an interesting reveal because it would be easy to just cast the Kelpiens as the victims who deserve to be freed, but that concept is expanded here to point to the cycle of violence and fear that has informed Kaminar for millennia. Yes, the Kelpiens are an oppressed people. But now, as Saru and the Discovery crew — with some help from the Red Angel — free his species, can they end the cycle once and for all and find a way to live in peace with the Ba’ul?
We don’t get an answer here, and indeed the question isn’t really even raised. But the theme of keeping a group of people down through institutionalized lies, 24-7 intimidation, and straight-up fear is clear. Perhaps we’ll check in with Saru’s people again next season and see where this has all taken them, now that they’re free of their threat ganglia and the superstitions that kept them suppressed for generations.
In something of a Deus ex machina, the Red Angel arrives at the last minute to save the Kelpiens from the Ba’ul’s attempt at genocide. This combined with Tyler’s suggestion that the Red Angel could be a time-travelling entity/entities would seem to point to the notion that the thing is purposely saving the day at certain points of time and space. But why? As Pike points out, it can’t be random that his first officer’s homeworld wound up being the location of one of the Red Angel signals. So the mystery continues, and we need some Spock STAT to give us some answers… and some dramatic satisfaction as well.
Meanwhile, Dr. Culber got the B story here (though really it was almost more of a C story) with a few scenes about him dealing with his resurrection. Wilson Cruz plays Hugh as both bewildered and a little angry about what he’s gone through, and it works. And he and Anthony Rapp share a great scene as Stamets relays Hugh’s origin story, as it were, about how he decided he wanted to be a doctor after getting a scar during a hiking expedition. The question now, however, is what he’s going to be in his second life.
Questions and Notes from the Q Continuum:
- “Rhys, hail these bastards.”
- The design of the Ba’ul is pretty effective, a sort of updated version of the black oil spill that killed Tasha Yar all those years ago. Only actually scary this time.
- So who’s the security officer for the Discovery these days anyway? It seemed like Nhan from the Enterprise had taken over last week, but she was nowhere to be seen here.
- What’s with Burnham’s grey/white uniform? Casual Friday on the Disco?!
- It turns out Airiam is really good at sorting through reams of data. Well, she is some kind of computer-lady after all.
- Saru refers to his father as a collaborator, which is true but at the same time pretty dark.
- O.K., so technically the Disco crew didn’t violate General Order One here… technically.
- Pike just rolls with Burnham and Saru violating his orders, it seems?
- This episode finally answers the question of why a warp-capable species would still be preying on its fellow sentient beings. It’s not for physical sustenance rather than for ideological reasons.
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