The latest Star Trek: Discovery, “The Sounds Of Thunder” manages to elegantly and seamlessly integrate the ongoing story of a main character (the evolution of Doug Jones’ “Commander Saru”) with season 2’s main arc (the pursuit of Spock and the mysterious ‘red angels’). I’ve had a few difficulties with this season to date (it’s been a little hit-and-miss for me), but tonight’s episode was (like Saru) confident and strong. “The Sounds Of Thunder” really felt like classic Star Trek.
In short; that’s more like it!
The episode begins with the crew, particularly the excitable Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman) assessing the bounty of knowledge obtained from the dying red sphere a couple episodes back (“An Obol For Charon”) and a slightly disoriented, returned-from-the-dead Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz), undergoing endless scans in sickbay to confirm he’s 100% Hugh.
Turns out, he’s mostly Hugh, but wholly pristine (even an old scar on his shoulder is gone), and there are gaps that were ‘filled in’ by something other. A grateful Commander Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Saru (Doug Jones) offer an uncertain Culber their affection and assurances. Dr. Pollard (Raven Dauda) then tells Saru that the recent loss of his ‘threat ganglia’ have yielded some kind of new growth that she’s never observed before (not surprising, given that Saru is the only one of his kind in Starfleet).
Another ‘red angel’ signal detected, the ship is on alert. The signal seems to be emanating from Kaminar, the home planet of Starfleet’s lone Kelpian, Saru (Doug Jones). The ship warps to Kaminar, only to find (as usual) that the signal has disappeared.
Freed of the omnipresent fear experienced by his species, Saru has become somewhat emboldened of late; even going so far as to question the decisions of his commanding officer, Captain Pike (Anson Mount). Saru’s recent revelation that the ‘great balance’ of his species with the predatory “Baul” species is “a lie” weighs heavily on him, but he is prohibited from acting on it, since Starfleet’s Prime Directive (General Order One) prevents interference in pre-warp cultures. However, the Baul achieved warp 20 years ago, and contact was attempted with them…and rejected. The hostile species expressed no interest in the Federation.
Saru volunteers to beam down to investigate if the priest of his village saw the red angel entity that brought them here, but Pike is hesitant, given Saru’s obvious partiality to his people’s fate.
Saru is finally allowed to beam down with Burnham (Sonequa Martin Green). Both are dressed in native garb and make contact with his village’s new priest…his own sister, Siranna (Hanna Spear).
Siranna is, at first, overjoyed to see her presumed dead brother, but that joy soon evaporates over tea when she realizes that he voluntarily left her and their now-dead father to live among the stars (the price of GO1). Soon, the ground shakes. Siranna believes that their people’s gods are angry with Saru for upsetting the balance. She tells Saru that he and Burnham have to leave. They beam back to Discovery.
The quakes are caused by the arrival of a dozen or so Baul ships, that are threatening the Discovery unless they ‘return’ Saru to them. Pike argues that Saru is one of his crew and he belongs aboard his ship. During a hail, Saru angrily confronts the Baul with their lies regarding the “great balance.” Pike tells Saru that his anger isn’t helping the situation. He then orders the insolent Saru off of the bridge.
Saru, still dressed in his planet’s native garb, clandestinely sneaks off to the transporter room, where he relieves the officer on duty. He beams back down to Kaminar and immediately surrenders to the Baul, whom he is no longer afraid of; he wants to confront them, and this is the fastest way to do so, he realizes.
The Baul beam him aboard their hidden stronghold, where Saru is bound. He finally sees the ‘boogiemen’ his people have feared for so many millennia. They look like something out of an H.R. Giger-esque nightmare.
Aboard Discovery, Tilly works with cybernetically-er, enhanced (?) bridge officer Airiam (Sarah Mitich) in decoding the sphere’s vast knowledge for specific information on the long relationship between the Kelpians and the Baul. It seems that the recent loss of the threat ganglia that Saru recently experienced was once common for his species, and that thousands of years ago, the Kelpians were once the dominant predatory species on Kaminar (!). Since then, the Baul gained an advantage through technology, and have culled the Kelpians right before they undergo this ‘change.’
Aboard their stronghold, the Baul then kidnap Siranna, which brings out a primal anger and urgency in Saru we’ve never quite seen before. He breaks free of his restraints, crushes drones sent to torture/kill him, and frees Siranna as well.
The angered Baul charge up a planetary network of weapons set up over the Kelpian villages to wipe them all out. Their stronghold ship emerges from the oceanic depths. Pike argues that the Federation could moderate a peaceful balance, but centuries of mistrust prevent the Baul from hearing Pike’s words. They’d prefer genocide of the Kelpians rather than allowing them to become the dominant lifeforms of Kaminar again. Discovery charges its weapons.
At the moment of his escape a curious thing happens; a sudden inexplicable electromagnetic pulse disables the Baul’s network of weapons. It is during this time that Saru and his sister actually SEE a red angel out of a window. Superior Kelpian vision allows Saru to realize that the being is a humanoid of advanced technology, not a deity or angel.
Saru contacts Discovery, and Tilly relays her findings about the Kelpian/Baul history to him. The information confirms what Saru had suspected. He also gets an idea to use the Baul obelisk technology in each Kelpian village to transmit a signal that would trigger the same loss of the threat ganglia to all of the Kelpians on Kaminar simultaneously; it’d be painful, but quick. It would also liberate them from thousands of years of irrational fear. The signal is sent, and a briefly agonized Siranna loses her ganglia. It is done. With the Baul temporarily disabled, and their threat ganglia gone, the Kelpians are freed.
Aboard Discovery, Pike and Section 31 liaison (and former Klingon “Voq”) Ash Tyler have a disagreement about the true nature of the red angels; Pike believes them to be benevolent, while Tyler believes they might turn on Starfleet someday. Tyler storms out. Pike reflects…
Saru is afforded the opportunity to say a proper goodbye to his sister. He beams her aboard, and shows her his quarters on the ship. Saru’s quarters are overflowing in greenery, and look unlike anywhere else aboard Discovery. Siranna says it’s as though he has a bit of Kaminar with him always. They exchange heartfelt goodbyes, as she returns to her now liberated people.
Favorite to date.
This was for me, by far, the best episode of Season 2 (and possibly of the series to date). It touches on so many aspects of classic Star Trek; the consequences of the Prime Directive, superior technology versus a ‘primitive’ culture (reflected both in the Baul and the ‘angel’), and the importance of family (a recurring theme, as Burnham also searches for her lost brother Spock). There’s even aftermath involving the resurrection of Hugh Culber (a situation not too unlike Spock’s own return from the dead, in the 1980s Star Trek movies). Both Hugh and Saru are ‘liberated’; one from death and one from fear. What to do with that remains ahead.
“The Sound Of Thunder” managed to incorporate a strong character focus (Saru’s recent evolution) into the overall arc of the season (the red angels) in a natural and elegant way.
Personally, I think the ‘red angels’ might very well turn out to be “the Preservers”; that enigmatic race of do-gooders whose work was encountered in TOS’ “The Paradise Syndrome”, where they’d relocated Native American tribes to an idyllic planet. Their appearance in Discovery would explain both their penchant for helping less-developed people (their relocation of the WW3 humans and the Kelpians) as well as Spock’s obsession with them. We see that obsession both on the new show and in “Paradise Syndrome”, when Spock neglects his own health (over two months) trying to decipher their musical language in order to rescue Captain Kirk and the endangered inhabitants of the planet.
“The Sound Of Thunder” also boasts a bravura performance from the ever-reliable Doug Jones. This is easily Saru’s finest hour, as the character finds his inner strength and courage in a way he never had previously. It’s Saru unchained. (figuratively and literally, during his rescue of both himself and his sister). He’s almost like a Kelpian superhero now, and damned if it doesn’t fit the talented Jones to a tee. He’s gone from Clark Kent to Superman, yet with all the nuances that make Jones’ Saru so fascinating fully intact. What a combination.
Touching moment in sickbay between the newly resurrected Culber, with his lover Paul at his side. Nice that these two have a second chance, but I enjoy the ambiguity that Cruz plays in this incarnation of the character. He’s as bewildered as any of us would be, and it comes through as uncertainty and a bit of fear of this ‘new’ world (he subconsciously reacts whenever he’s touched, almost like each touch is a pin prick). I’m guessing a deep identity crisis is brewing, and I’m curious to see how Cruz (a fine actor) plays that as well.
I almost hate to mention it, but I wouldn’t be honest to myself if I didn’t; the interior set for the Baul stronghold is a terribly unconvincing redress of the Disco transporter room set (even the connecting corridors are pretty obvious); and the revealed Baul themselves look like an H.R. Giger design dipped in tar. They work well enough as a boogieman, but I wish they’d been somewhat less imposing, as that would’ve fit better in one of the episode’s themes; the deconstruction of one’s fears.
What if the Baul were small and unimposing, like Balok in TOS’ “The Corbomite Maneuver”? It could’ve been a “Wizard Of Oz” moment, as Saru confronts the boogiemen of his nightmares, and they’re just…people. At any rate, the ‘creepy’ design works well enough, too. The episode is so packed with goodies, that I feel like a schmuck for complaining.
Just when I was feeling a bit hesitant about the direction of this season, it offers up its best episode yet. Doug Jones absolutely owns it, and the return to Kaminar is a nice payoff to the previous “Short Trek” mini-episode (“The Brightest Star”). So many classic Star Trek themes are present, and all of them feel vital and relevant again.
“The Sound Of Thunder” is Star Trek: Discovery firing on all thrusters…