The red phenomenon has appeared again – and this time it has led Discovery to Saru’s homeworld. Determined to show his people that the vaha’rai transformation is not fatal, Saru insists on accompanying Burnham to the surface, but his presence swiftly angers the Kelpiens’ oppressors, the Ba’ul.
Although not quite as ridiculous as the previous episode, Star Trek Discovery is definitely on a roll with its theme of “episodes that would feel more at home in Doctor Who”. Remember that time the Tenth Doctor found out that the Ood were an unwilling slave race, and then they all freed themselves in front of him? Yes, it’s a bit like that.
The developments this season have fundamentally changed Saru as a character, and I’m not yet convinced that it’s for the better. I’m delighted that he’s free from the plague of constant anxiety, but what that means is that he’s turned into something of an arrogant jerk – who, as it turns out later in the episode, also has superhuman physical strength. Where the Kelpiens as a highly-strung prey species was something new and interesting to explore, the last thing we need is another race of overpowered jerks.
A couple of weeks ago, I had hoped that the Ba’ul would turn out to be the evolved form of the Kelpiens, but as it turns out, the writers didn’t go for quite that twist. It turns out that, many generations ago, it was the evolved Kelpiens who were exterminating the Ba’ul, and so at some point the Ba’ul rose up and put the current system in place to keep the Kelpiens in their weaker, pre-evolved state. Saru’s answer to this is to forcibly evolve all the Kelpiens at once, a move which nearly triggers the Ba’ul to kill all the Kelpiens then and there. Fortunately, the Red Angel steps in to save the day, but what happens next? I don’t see a way forward that doesn’t now involve large numbers of Kelpiens and Ba’ul slaughtering each other. Maybe Starfleet can send in negotiators to help – in fact, given that they precipitated the entire situation, it’s the least they should do.
- In Law and Order, Assistant DA Jack McCoy is occasionally accused of making an end run around various Constitutional amendments in order to secure a conviction. You must never examine the consistency of Law and Order too closely, since what’s fine in one episode may well be unacceptable in another. Similarly, the Prime Directive has always had similar status in Star Trek, with its application owing more to the needs of the plot than to some kind of overarching consistency. Four weeks ago, the humans on Terralysium could absolutely not be told the truth about Discovery because they were technically a pre-warp civilisation. This week, some flimsy reasoning about the Ba’ul and Starfleet already having contacted Saru means it’s left as a judgement call for Pike to make. “Prime Directive? Eh, just do what you like. That’s what Kirk will be doing in a decade’s time anyway.”
- If the Ba’ul are aquatic, why isn’t more of their spaceship filled with water? Maybe it is, and we just saw the “Kelpien holding area”.
- How come the walls of the Ba’ul spaceship just happen to have restraints in exactly the right place to capture Saru? Or is the entirety of the wall just packed with hidden restraints?
- Saru’s special head darts just seem silly to me – it’s a bit too X-Men mutant ability.
- Did it not occur to Saru and Burnham that beaming down to Kaminar would immediately attract the attention of the Watchful Eye? At the very least, Saru should have pointed out that before they went.
- We now not only have a sphere that knows everything needed for the plot, but a Red Angel that can both guide our protagonists to the next important event, and also save the day with an overpowered deus ex machina when things get difficult. There’d better be some good explanations forthcoming for this, because right now it just feels like lazy storytelling.
Who is the Red Angel?
- Future Spock, depicted by a CGI recreation of Leonard Nimoy.
- An Iconian.
- A member of the Q continuum.
- The prime universe Giorgiou.
- A temporal agent.
- A Time Lord.
- Future Guy from Enterprise.
- One could easily chalk up the inconsistency in Culber and Stamets’ recollections of his mountain-climbing anecdote to be the natural tendency for humans to exaggerate or misremember things. But what if it’s foreshadowing for something more sinister?
Summary – The Sounds of Thunder: Prime Directive? Eh, who cares?