Aug 17, 2021
Star Trek: Discovery “The Sound of Thunder”
Previously: Section 31 was on the hunt for Spock, who had a psychic connection to the mysterious signals across the galaxy which presage the arrival of the Red Angel. Dr. Culber was killed, but then resurrected in the mycelial network. Discovery was nearly destroyed by a big ancient sphere that just wanted to pass on 100,000 years of knowledge before dying. That same sphere also triggered a biological process in Saru called the Vahar’ai that he believed to be a terminal condition, but instead left him feeling stronger and more fearless than ever.
We start off with… oh good, another voiceover. Who could have seen this coming, besides everyone? However, this one is from Saru, and it’s slightly more to the point. He says that we all come from somewhere, and to shots of the Kelpien flowers that fill his quarters, he says we carry that place with us wherever we go.
Cut to Saru in Sickbay, where Dr. Pollard informs him that his threat ganglia are gone, and new cartilage is growing in its place and forming spikes. Having no other Kelpien subjects for reference, she asks, “Does that sound right?” Which is not a question that inspires much confidence in one’s physician.
Also here is the newly resurrected Hugh Culber. Despite tests showing that he’s totally normal and maybe even better than ever, he admits he “doesn’t feel like me”, which is about all we need to know, but we get another scene later to drive it home.
Meanwhile, Tilly is working with Ariam—the bridge officer who looks like a robot—to analyze all that data from the 100,000 year old sphere. And there’s a joke made out of the fact that Ariam is easily doing the bulk of the work thanks to her super-fast computer mind. So, assuming Ariam is an android, why does everyone in the TNG era act amazed at Data being so sophisticated and lifelike? (Not that TOS didn’t feature several sophisticated and lifelike androids of its own that predate Data.)
In Pike’s ready room, he’s debating the nature of the Red Angel with Vyler and Burnham. Pike believes the Red Angel is some sort of benevolent force that’s leading them to places where people are in need of rescuing, but Vyler is extremely suspicious of it. So it seems being involved with Section 31 for all of three weeks has totally given him a paranoid mindset.
The discussion ends when another signal is detected, and it’s happening just above the planet Kaminar, Saru’s home planet as revealed in the Short Trek episode “The Brightest Star”. Pike says it can’t be a coincidence that Discovery is investigating these signals and one of them just happens to appear over the homeworld of Discovery’s first officer. As they warp over, Saru explains the nature of his world while accompanied by flashbacks to the Short Trek: the planet is populated by two intelligent species, and Saru’s race is the Kelpiens, and under the guise of religion, they willingly submit to a “culling” by the Ba’ul, a warp-capable species that no one’s ever seen.
Pike says Starfleet tried to make contact with the Ba’ul twenty years ago (thanks to the signal sent out by Saru), but they were unfriendly isolationists. He wants to try again to communicate with the Ba’ul to see if they know anything about the Red Angel, but a suspicious Vyler says they’re only inviting trouble by contacting a hostile species.
Once they get there, the Ba’ul refuse to respond to hails, so Pike wants to send Burnham down to the planet to see if any of the Kelpien people know about the Red Angel. Saru gets all uptight about this, saying he should be the one to go down. He starts saying things like, “Do you doubt my ability to carry out the mission?” And he’s getting all up in Pike’s face, and it seems surviving Vahar’ai has now given him a massive set of balls that’s making him verge on insubordinate.
Burnham punctures the tension by saying it would make sense for both her and Saru to go down together. Which kind of goes without saying—why would you send down a human to interact with a species that’s never seen a human before, or even knows that life exists outside their planet? Pike reminds them of General Order One before they beam down, but I think just sending Saru back to his planet is already a pretty big violation of the Prime Directive.
In Sickbay, Stamets pays a visit to Culber, who’s told that he’s not only healthy, but his body is now “brand new” and “pristine”. Culber notices a scar on his shoulder is now gone, and Stamets launches into a story about how Culber got that scar, and we know all is not well because Stamets’ voice gets echoey and distant and Culber gets a disconcerted look in his eyes. So it’s probably only inevitable that we’ll find out Culber is not really Culber, but some sort of mycelial facsimile. But that’ll have to wait for a future episode, because that’s all we get this week.
Burnham and Saru beam down to the planet, dressed in Kelpien hoodies. Burnham asks about the pylon that stands over Saru’s village, and he explains it’s the “Watchful Eye”, which comes to life just as they’re walking away from it.
Saru goes to see a local priest, who turns around and reveals herself to be his sister Siranna. She’s stunned to see him after all these years, believing that he angered the Ba’ul and was “taken” by the Watchful Eye. Saru explains that he’s joined an interplanetary organization, and introduces Burnham, and Siranna is astonished to see a human for the first time.
They go to her hut, where Saru tells her about the Red Angel, and she says she saw a “fiery sign” in the sky. She then flips out, because Saru didn’t come back just to see her, and then she yells at him for running away because he wasn’t “brave” enough to face the Great Balance. But then the ground starts to shake, and Burnham and Saru head outside and see the Watchful Eye is now glowing, and there’s the glow of another Watchful Eye in another village just over the horizon.
They beam back to the ship, and the Ba’ul are now hailing the ship. In an audio-only communication, the voice of the Ba’ul is comically deep and evil-sounding, and it even causes all the lights and display screens on the bridge to flicker as they talk. They demand that Saru be returned to them, and over Pike’s objections, Saru starts yelling at the Ba’ul about how the Great Balance was never real, and that he doesn’t believe in their lies anymore. He also lets it drop that he survived the Vahar’ai, which seems to not be the best move at this point, because the Ba’ul immediately send ten big “sentry ships” their way.
In response, Pike throws Saru off the bridge. On his way to… wherever, Saru decides instead to go to the transporter room and beam himself down to the planet to surrender himself to the Ba’ul. As soon as he beams down, the Ba’ul sentry ships back off.
We next find Saru and Sirrana in a Ba’ul facility, standing near a big pool of black goo. Several drones fly in and scan them, and one of them slams Saru against a wall and puts restraints on his arms and legs. Then a creature rises up from the black pool, and it’s unclear if this actually a Ba’ul or some sort of fluid-based projection, but it looks like Slenderman mixed with Marilyn Manson mixed with every scary schoolgirl in a Japanese horror film mixed with Armus from “Skin of Evil”.
As soon as the creature appears, spikes spring out of Saru’s head from where his threat ganglia used to be. The spikes detach and shoot like darts at the Ba’ul, but the Ba’ul easily blocks them with a forcefield.
On the Discovery, Burnham and Tilly are using the sphere’s knowledge base to study the past of Kaminar, and they discover that 2,300 years ago, there were more Kelpiens on the planet than Ba’ul. And those Kelpiens were all “evolved” survivors of the Vahar’ai. Which means that way back when, the Ba’ul were actually the prey and the Kelpiens were the predators, and the Vahar’ai is how the Kelpiens evolve into their final, predator forms.
Back on the planet, the Ba’ul explains that they created the Great Balance to suppress the post-Vahar’ai transformation and keep the Kelpiens from destroying everything. And now that Saru has become the the first Kelpien to pass Vahar’ai in thousands of years, he must be “neutralized”.
The Ba’ul disappears back into the goo as the drones move in with spinning blades, and then comes a rather silly moment where Saru suddenly becomes a superhero. He turns into the Kelpien Hulk and uses his super-strength to break free of his restraints and smash up the drones. He then somehow uses the wrecked drone parts to make contact with Discovery.
He tells Pike they have to find some way to prove to his people that the Great Balance is a lie, so Tilly (who’s hanging out on the bridge for some reason) suggests they can replicate the signal that the sphere used to trigger the Vahar’ai, and beam it to all Kelpiens. Meaning, they’re going to transform the entire Kelpien species into predators who can easily stand up to the Ba’ul’s technology. This seems like a fairly weighty decision that would need some deliberating, but they decide to just go ahead and do it. Even worse, Pike doesn’t really make the decision. He just kind of stands there while Tilly and Burnham get to work on it, with a befuddled “eh, whatever you guys wanna do” look on his face. Dude, you’re the captain; this should be your call!
Well, he does weakly raise the notion that the Kelpiens will only end up turning the tables and enslaving the Ba’ul. But Saru promises that the Kelpiens couldn’t possibly become the oppressors, and that seems to be all the convincing Pike needs. I realize that there were lots of times on TOS where Kirk made decisions that caused massive societal changes to entire worlds, but at least in those situations there was a decent amount of debate on the subject first.
Discovery sends out a signal which triggers the whole planet to experience Vahar’ai at the same time, which causes them all incredible pain, including Siranna. On the ship, they detect a large “Ba’ul stronghold” emerging from the ocean, which is apparently where Saru is being held captive. The stronghold sends out beams of energy that activate their entire network of pylons, with the intent of wiping out all the villages and destroying the Kelpien race. Gee, who could have foreseen something like this happening? Maybe the crew, if they had taken more than fifteen seconds to consider all the ramifications of their actions.
Pike orders the ship to fire on the stronghold, but then a Red Angel appears to Saru and Siranna, and sends out what’s basically a big EM pulse to disable all the Ba’ul technology, thus saving the Kelpiens. And that’s the end of the crisis, as the Ba’ul seem to magically disappear after this, and Saru and Siranna somehow get to shore and meet with their now ganglia-less fellow Kelpiens and promise to lead them into a newer, greater Great Balance.
In the mess hall, Pike gives Vyler the full report on the Red Angel. It seems to be a humanoid wearing an extremely advanced “mechanized suit”, and given the talk last episode about tachyons, Vyler theorizes that it’s a “time-traveling being pursuing its own agenda”. And once again, Pike tells him he’s just being paranoid and he’s sure the Red Angel is one of the good guys. So let me guess, the Red Angel is one of our main characters from the future, wearing a winged suit and skipping around through time to make sure all the events of this season unfold the way they’re supposed to?
Saru brings Siranna aboard the ship, and she marvels at a view of her planet from high above. He wants her to join him on Discovery, but she refuses, saying she has to stay and lead their people. She beams away and Saru meets up with Michael, who says that seeing Saru being reunited with his sister has made her realize that she needs to go home, to Vulcan.
This was probably the best episode of the season since the premiere, in that the plot was (mostly) allowed to unfold without events being rushed through at a breakneck pace. Saru’s return to his homeworld and his reunion with his sister was handled well, at least until the ridiculous moment where he suddenly became Popeye the Kelpien Man and ate his spinach and broke free of his shackles. And the final fifteen minutes were as rushed and nonsensical as most of this season—I still have no idea where all the Ba’ul went after they were defeated by the Red Angel.
And having the crew of the Discovery decide on a whim to transform the fundamental nature of an entire species nearly sinks the episode. It should have been someone else triggering the Vahar’ai—perhaps a rogue Saru, who then has to account for his actions, or perhaps even his sister Siranna. At one point, she mentions how (as shown in “The Brightest Star”) she saw the Starfleet shuttle that took Saru away, but nothing is ever made of this. Maybe we could have learned she was inspired by that sight to study Ba’ul technology herself. Maybe she could have been the one to figure out how to trigger the change in her people, which would have made a lot more sense. And it would have given her something to do beyond having to be rescued by her brother.
Next time: Burnham goes home to Vulcan, which will apparently involve her delivering more Alice in Wonderland quotes, which was already a tedious motif last season. Meanwhile, Pike and Tyler fly into an “anomaly” (that’s the actual word they use) and get attacked by one of the Sentinels from the Matrix. And if the preview is to be trusted, we finally get our first, actual, in-the-flesh appearance by Spock.