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Josh Reviews Star Trek: Discovery “The Sound of Thunder”

Click here for my review of episodes 1 and 2 of Star Trek: Discovery season two, click here for my review of episodes 3 and 4, and click here for my review of episode 5.

Episode 6: “The Sound of Thunder” — Picking up the thread of the Saru-focused short “The Brightest Star,” as well as the events of episode 4, “An Obol for Charon” (in which Saru survived what he thought was the Kelpian death-cycle, thus realizing that his people had been tricked for generations about the nature of their existence), this episode sees the Discovery led to Saru’s home planet by a new red signal.  There, Saru and the audience finally learn the answers to so many of the questions posed in “The Brightest Star” about the true nature of the Kelpians and their oppressors, the Ba’ul.  This was a terrific episode and for much of its run-time I was extremely happy with how much I was enjoying it!  Things fell apart somewhat in the final minutes, but I still think this was an extremely good episode, one of Discovery’s best.

Things start out with a big contrivance.  I’d expected that, following the dramatic end of “An Obol for Charon,” that Saru would be desperate to return home to reveal the truth to his people.  Strangely, Saru’s transformation was ignored in the the following episode, “Saints of Imperfection,” and here, the sighting of a new red signal in proximity to Saru’s homeworld gives Saru and the Discovery a reason to go there.  Wow, that was easy!  I can live with this coincidence for now, because these episodes are strongly suggesting that the appearances of the red signals are NOT random, but are happening for a specific reason that is connected to Discovery.  I hope the explanation for all this, when we get it, is satisfying.

For now, I was OK with this contrivance because I was excited to return to Saru’s homeworld, and the episode did not disappoint.  Things were firing on all cylinders.  We got a lot of wonderful dramatic, character-based scenes.  I loved the escalating tension between Saru and Captain Pike, first when Saru insists on being allowed to beam down to the planet and later when he angrily interrupts Pike’s conversation over the comms in order to confront the Ba’ul.  This is great drama driven naturally from these two different characters and where they come from.  I also loved Burnham’s confrontation with Saru in the transporter room, when he was about to beam down after the Ba’ul threatened to destroy his sister’s village.  I liked that Burnham was smart enough to predict Saru’s actions, and I like that Saru knew exactly what to say to her (asking her if she wouldn’t do the same thing to protect her brother) in order to get her to let him go.  (The look in Burnham’s eyes when Saru’s point lands, and we see her start to lower her phaser, is magnificent, a tremendous moment of acting from Sonequa Martin-Green.)

The episode looked, as always for Discovery, like a million bucks.  (Which is probably about right!)  Saru’s planet was beautifully executed and looked entirely convincing as an alien world.  In “The Brightest Star,” we never got to see the tops of the Ba’ul pylons (an obvious cost-saving measure), but here we got to see them in their entirety, and they looked super-cool.  I loved everything about the look and execution of the Ba’ul.  I loved the way their voice-only communications fritzed all the screens on the Discovery’s bridge; I loved the sound-wave visual (a simple idea that was still very unique-looking and very menacing), and I loved the ominous and threatening sound of the Ba’ul dialogue.  I loved the dangerous-looking, geometrically-shaped Ba’ul ships (which sort of reminded me of “The Tet” from Oblivion).  I loved the look of the dark, watery, drippy Ba’ul alien who rises up through the floor to confront Saru.  And I loved the look of their huge central city and the idea that the Ba’ul had been hiding underwater in their futuristic city all the time, right under the Kelpians’ noses.

I enjoyed learning more about the next stage in Kelpian evolution (I loved seeing those dart-things shoot out of Saru’s head!) as well as the truth about the history between the Kelpians and the Ba’ul.  (My guess had been that the Ba’ul were hyper-evolved Kelpians, but I like the direction the show went in, too.)  After watching “The Brightest Star,” I’d been expecting that maybe there was some secret to what was happening to the Kelpians in “the culling.”  Since that short specifically avoided showing us any dead Kelpian bodies, I assumed that maybe we’d later learn that they weren’t actually being murdered en masse.  But, nope, this episode confirms that is what was happening.  Dark!

Everything was running along great in this episode right up until the very end.  There were two big problem-spots for me.  First of all, I was SHOCKED that Burnham would suggest, and that Captain Pike would allow, for Saru to trigger the Va’harai cycle for every Kelpian on the planet, thus instantly advancing them all to the more powerful version of their species that, we learned, had once preyed upon the Ba’ul, nearly driving them to extinction.  It’s one thing for Pike and Burnham to feel that, since the Kelpians had prior contact with the warp-capable Ba’ul, that they could beam down to the planet without violating the Prime Directive.  But to single-handedly cause this massive change to an entire species’ evolution??  Wowsers!!  That seemed totally inappropriate to me.  (We see Pike being uneasy with Burnham and Tilly’s discussion, and I thought for sure he’d put a stop to the plan.  I was shocked when he allowed it.)

Second of all, the episode to that point had subtly shown how the transformed Saru was a much more aggressive, dangerous version of the character we’d known.  He was argumentative with Pike, he smashed the bridge console with his BARE HANDS, and he now has deadly spikey things that shoot from its head.  So why doesn’t anyone on Discovery worry about instantly jumping the entire Kelpian race into this new form?  Isn’t anyone worried that the Kelpians, having no experience controlling these new emotions or abilities, would lose themselves to anger and aggression and become a huge danger to themselves and the Ba’ul (as we know they were in the planet’s history)?  For that matter, why don’t we at least get to see Saru acknowledge and wrestle with these new aggressive tendencies by the episode’s end?  Furthermore, the episode doesn’t show even a hint of potential reconciliation between the Ba’ul and the Kelpoians.  I thought for sure this episode was heading towards a classic warm-and-fuzzy Star Trek ending with a glimpse of mutual understanding.  But no, the Ba’ul are prepared to commit genocide upon the Kelpians, and we never see a Ba’ul character regret that, nor do we see any Kelpian (even Saru, a Starfleet officer!) make any step towards reconciliation or mediation with the Ba’ul.  The episode glosses over all of those potential problems, instead just showing a few docile and happy Kelpians smiling on the beach at the end.  Wow, this feels like a HUGE missed opportunity to me.  I am bummed that the episode went this path of the quick-and-easy ending.  (I hope that, at minimum, we’ll see Saru wrestle with his new self in future episodes, even if we don’t get to see more about what’s happening on his home planet to everyone who were suddenly changed.)  (The episode’s title, a reference to a terrific Ray Bradbury short story about someone unintentionally causing huge damage to an entire planet, gives me hope that the potentially negative effects of Saru’s actions on his planet will be explored… but that was not present in this episode.)

Speaking of characters having trouble adjusting to their new selves, I am glad this episode gave us a hint that all is not flowers and roses with the newly-resurrected Dr. Culber.  I suspect he will have physical and mental challenges moving forward, and I am happy to see that.  He went through an extraordinary experience, and I want the show to explore the effects of that on him, rather than having everything perfectly back to normal right away.

Another plus: this episode gave us our least-annoying appearance in a long while of Ash Tyler.  I don’t know why Pike tolerates Ash’s grumpiness and near-insubordination, but I can wrap my head around this version of Ash: a cynical character there to push back against Pike’s nobility and honesty.  OK, I still think this character is dumb, but I can live with this…

I enjoyed seeing the robotic Airiam getting a few moments in the spotlight.  (Tilly’s near-uselessness working with Airiam was funny.)  Airiam has a great look, but I do hope the show gets around to telling us exactly who or what she is sooner or later.  (How crazy is it that we’re in the second season of the show and we still don’t have clue one about this character?  Any other Trek show would have properly introduced her in the pilot…)  Also, I am very concerned that the show is going to use the knowledge Discovery gleaned from the dying sphere-creature (in “An Obol for Charon”) as a get-out-of-jail-free-card for unlimited exposition forevermore.  It stretches my credulity that Tilly and Airiam could use the sphere’s info to so easily toggle back in time to get a detailed look at the population of Saru’s home planet centuries in the past.

Getting back to the positive, I loved the little detail of showing Burnham open her communicator to use the universal translator, when she and Saru beam down to the planet.  It doesn’t really make sense that the characters would then hear one another in their own language naturally (as opposed to everyone listening to the computer translation coming out of the speaker in Burnham’s communicator), but Star Trek has always asked the audience to assume that the universal translator just magically works (so that we can hear and understand, in English, what all the alien characters are saying), and so I can live with this.  More than that, I’m happy the show showed the attention to detail to show Burnham’s using the translator, rather than assuming that Saru and his sister were just speaking English that Burnham could understand.  Nice!

Somehow the Discovery was able to use normal warp speed to get to Saru’s planet, described as being “outside of Federation space,” in no time at all.  The seven red signals were described as appearing across the galaxy, but somehow they all seem to be places the Discovery can easily get to.  I’m not sure the writers understand how huge the Milky Way galaxy truly is.  (Also, I hope the show will soon clarify the status of the spore drive — are we not using it anymore, because of how May revealed it was damaging the mycelial network?)

When watching “The Brightest Star,” I was a bit surprised that Captain Georgiou was already serving aboard the Shenzhou, two decades before the events of Discovery.  This episode subtly corrected that error, telling us that young Georgiou was actually stationed on the Archimedes when she first met Saru.  (And I read online that they digitally removed the SHN03 designation from the side of Georgiou’s shuttle in the flashback scene, taken from “The Brightest Star”!  Nice!)

So, OK, the episode wasn’t perfect, but this was still one of the better Discovery episodes so far.  Let’s hope the show continues to trend in this direction…!

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