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'The Sound of Thunder' returns Saru to his home planet
“The Sound of Thunder” takes Star Trek: Discovery back to Saru’s home planet of Kaminar far faster than I would have expected (though I’ve learned not to underestimate how fast this show moves). On a more personal level, it also showed us who the new Saru is — he’s as brave and capable as he’s ever been, but he’s also assertive in an entirely new way.
The episode opened with Culber and Saru in sickbay together, and as I mentioned in the previous recap, they both are dealing with the aftereffects of their trauma and how it has changed them. This is an entirely new world for Saru and he knows it. “What is a Kelpien without fear? I’m losing the very thing that defines me,” he says. Saru may have believed that his fear was the center of his being, but as the viewers know (and Saru discovers by the end of this episode), it’s his compassion and empathy that are at his core. These are the emotions that define him.
Still, it’s interesting to see his insubordination aboard Discovery when it comes to his people. He feels incredibly strongly about them, and how they’ve been misled about their place in the universe — that much is clear. But what is less so is how the old Saru would have reacted. Would he have acted as passionately and taken the initiative to surrender himself to the Bau’l in order to spare his sister if he’d still been governed by fear? My instinct says yes — even if Saru was afraid, he still would have made the same decisions. His anger would not have been tempered by fear, and more importantly, he always had courage. It was not diminished by fear; in fact, it was all the greater.But this new Saru is more assertive and advocates vocally for what he thinks is right. He’s clearly still learning a new balance; a first officer isn’t supposed to contradict the captain in full view of the crew. That’s something that will come in time.
As we discover over the course of “The Sound of Thunder,” the Kelpiens didn’t evolve as a prey species. They were, in fact, the predators of the Bau’l but were wiped out by that race’s superior technology. The Bau’l turned the Kelpiens into prey and convinced them that their evolutionary process, called the Vahar'ai, signaled their deaths. And now that Saru knows the truth, and Discovery initiates the Vahar'ai planetwide, they’re ready to wipe out the Kelpiens completely. (As an aside, did anyone else think that the Ba’ul look an awful lot like the Banshees from Mass Effect? Stuff of nightmares!)
It’s the Red Angel that comes to the Kelpiens’ rescue, which brings up even more questions about what this being is, what it wants, and why it’s taking actions that affect the entire galaxy. Saru was able to determine that it’s a humanoid in a mechanized suit, rather than a being with extraordinary powers — in other words, it’s not a Q. Section 31 suspects it can travel through time. And no one knows whether it’s “good” or “evil,” if words like that even have meaning when it comes to actions that have such wide scale and such ranging repercussions.Indeed, the question of the Kelpiens’ Vahar'ai and what it might mean is a complicated one. Of course, it’s best that the Kelpiens aren’t hunted to extinction, and Siranna appears to be emerging as a leader. But taking such drastic action that appears to be a violation of General Order One — that’s a lot to process. Or is it? After all, this is the natural evolution of the Kelpiens, and it's been interrupted by the Bau'l. The Kelpiens will no longer be governed by fear, but what will they be governed by? Will they seek revenge on the Bau’l? There’s a lot more to unpack and untangle here, and I have a feeling this isn’t the last we’ll hear of Kelpien development.
We’re just beginning to see how Hugh was affected by his time in the mycelial network. The bottom line is that he’s adrift and doesn’t know what to do. The body he’s in is brand-new, and his senses are overloaded. This is going to be a long road for Dr. Culber, and Stamets will have to nurture and support his partner. Paul doesn’t exactly seem like the caregiver in that relationship, so it will be interesting to see the two of them have a bit of role reversal.
This season has been so complex in terms of both storyline and character. The writers have been balancing plot so well, never sacrificing character development in service of the story. They’ve really made us see and love this crew. I’ll be sorry to see Captain Pike go at the end of the season (assuming that’s what happens), as he’s really earned his place in Discovery’s captain’s chair.