'Star Trek: Discovery' Crew Ventures to Saru's Home World in 'The Sound Of Thunder'

Saru returns to his home
Saru (Doug Jones) returns to his home world on the "Star Trek: Discovery" episode "The Sound of Thunder." (Image credit: Michael Gibson/CBS)

Spoilers on an intercept course …

Arguably the two best examples of ongoing, season-long story arcs in TV sci-fi that retained the ability to tell stand-alone stories within that arc are "Babylon 5" and Ron Moore's "Battlestar Galactica." In fact, the latter gave us some of the best sci-fi ever seen on television; the very first episode of the first season, "33," won a Hugo Award, and the series would go on to win three Emmys. Lest we forget the electrifying two-part exfiltration from New Caprica in "Exodus" and the mind-blowing Adama Maneuver, which won one of those three Emmys. 

In terms of VFX, "Babylon 5" looks a little dated now, but its storytelling still holds up — in particular, the capture and incarceration of G'Kar, portrayed with incredible depth and emotion by Andreas Katsulas. And "Babylon 5" was not without its recognition, winning a Primetime Emmy Award and being nominated for three more. 

While "Star Trek: Discovery" has not yet reached the heights of either of those shows, the story of Saru (Doug Jones) contains more than a few parallels to that of G'kar's.

Saru, center, and Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) travel to the surface of Saru's home world and talk with Saru's sister, Siranna (Hannah Spear) on the "Star Trek: Discovery" episode "The Sound of Thunder." (Image credit: Michael Gibson/CBS)

The latest episode, "The Sound of Thunder," focuses on Saru and references events that took place in both the "Short Trek" installment "The Brightest Star" and "An Obol For Charon" (S02, E04), which aired just two weeks ago. [Star Trek: Discovery Season 2: Everything You Need to Know]

During that episode, Saru survived his vahar'ai: a genetic process, in this case induced by contact with an alien space sphere, that signals when Kelpiens are ready to be culled. He survived by basically not having to surrender himself to the Ba'ul — the predator species on his home world — and not succumbing to madness, which is a symptom of vahar'ai. Consequently, his body actually shed his ganglia. And thus, his biologically induced feeling of constant fear is, to all intents and purposes, gone. You know, like deactivating your emotion chip.

Also recovering from physiological changes is Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz). You may recall that in last week's "Saints of Imperfection," he was resurrected and returned to the Discovery from the mycelial subspace dimension after having been trapped there with nothing to do except work out — 'cause, damn, he's buff now. 

During an empathic conversation with Culber in sick bay about recent events, Saru is summoned to the bridge: Another red burst signal has been detected … and this time, it's in the vicinity of Kaminar, his home planet.

What follows is some creative interpretation of the Prime Directive, or General Order 1, as it's currently being referred to. Kaminar is a prewarp civilization; therefore, the Discovery cannot make its presence known. While the Kelpiens are aware of the Ba'ul and that they are a space-faring race, that doesn't change the fact that Kaminar itself is still prewarp. Ultimately, Capt. Pike (Anson Mount) makes a judgment call based on the Discovery's current mission — which is to find out what these red burst signals are all about — so down to the surface they go. 

Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Saru beam down and meet Saru's sister, Siranna (Hannah Spear). However, their interaction with the local population has not gone unnoticed, and shortly afterward, a Ba'ul ship of significant size arrives in orbit to challenge the Discovery. 

The away team transport back and Discovery establishes contact with the Ba'ul ship. They're aware of Saru's visit to the surface and, more importantly, they are aware that he has undergone a physical change … and they want him back, for some reason. Consequently, they hold the indigenous population hostage by threatening to destroy every village on the surface. 

Enraged, Saru disobeys orders and beams back down to the planet, where he's immediately taken prisoner aboard the Ba'ul ship. Here he meets a member of the Ba'ul for the very first time as it rises menacingly from a pool of thick, black goo. It's a little reminiscent of the especially evil blob of black tar on Vagra II in the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episode "Skin of Evil" (S01, E22) that unceremoniously executed Lt. Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby). But what it's most like is the Unspeakable One, aka Rimmer's "self-loathing beast," from the "Red Dwarf" episode "Terraform" (S05, E03). And if you've seen that, it's hard to take this as seriously as it's intended. [15 of the Most Bizarre Alien Species Featured in 'Star Trek']

Struggling for answers, Airiam (Sara Mitich) and Tilly (Mary Wiseman) frantically search through the downloaded memory of the alien space sphere for any information on Ba'ul history. We suspect this newfound Encyclopedia Galactica is going to be very convenient, providing all sorts of useful, life-saving information in the nick of time for the remaining episodes of this season. 

Saru's home world, Kaminar, is beautiful … but deadly, with its lurking Ba'ul predators. (Image credit: Michael Gibson/CBS)

At this point, Siranna has also been captured, and poor Saru is about to be tortured, or at the very least surgically scrutinized. He manages to escape with Siranna and construct a crude communications device to contact the Discovery. 

In an unexpected twist, it turns out that long ago, the Kelpiens used to be the dominant species on Kaminar, and as the predator race, they hunted the Ba'ul. Most Kelpiens survived vahar'ai back then, and once they had, they demonstrated more violent behavior. By introducing the Great Balance into Kelpien culture and culling all Kelpiens who go through the process, the Ba'ul were able to control the population and survive. 

In an unexpected twist, it turns out that long ago, the Kelpiens used to be the dominant species on Kaminar, and as the predator race, they hunted the Ba'ul. Most Kelpiens survived vahar'ai back then, and once they had, they demonstrated more violent behavior. By introducing the Great Balance into Kelpien culture and culling all Kelpiens who go through the process, the Ba'ul were able to control the population and survive. 

To prevent knowledge of this from reaching the masses — now that the truth's come out — the Ba'ul prepare to destroy every settlement on the surface. It's a race to convince the Ba'ul that the Kelpiens won't be a threat and therefore don't have to be slaughtered. In a decision based on dubious logic, the Discovery is going to induce the vahar'ai in every Kelpien on the surface, in much the same way that it happened to Saru last week, using the same "active frequencies" from the transmission of the alien space sphere. Told you that thing would come in handy.

The Ba'ul begin to power up the weapon systems contained in those big obelisk things that stand in the center of every Kelpien village, but there's just no way the Discovery can take them all out in time … at which point the Red Angel appears and neutralizes every single one, thus allowing the Kelpiens to complete vahar'ai. Phew

Saru gets a good look at the Red Angel and he and Siranna are able to beam off the Ba'ul ship back to Discovery.

The storyline feels disjointed, to say the least, and little mention is made of how the Ba'ul are going to move forward following this. Once their weapon systems are operational again, what's stopping them from picking up where they left off? Will they willingly share their technology? Will every Kelpien become benign? What's going to happen to all those discarded ganglia? Is it red or white wine with Kelpien ganglia?

If you've read our previous reviews and recaps, you'll know that we really want "Star Trek: Discovery" to be good; every week we pray on the Stone of Gol that it will morph into the addictive, can't-wait-for-the-next-episode series that we desperately want it to be. Addictive as a powerful narcotic, like "Babylon 5" and "Battlestar Galactica" both were. Had they been novels instead of TV shows, we would never have put them down until we'd reached the very end. And then we'd probably re-read them all over again.

Saru is faced with a Ba'ul while trapped on their ship. (Image credit: Michael Gibson/CBS)

As we mentioned last week, with the ability to watch television on every conceivable device and the amount of choice increasing exponentially, it takes a little more to grab and really hold on to a viewer's attention than it did when the last "Trek" was on 14 years ago. These days, that could be considered a new generation. A bombardment of special effects on the senses, as "Discovery" seems fixated on, doesn’t make a show memorable, and a torrent of technobabble erodes our connection to the story. 

"Star Trek: Discovery" wants us to believe that the Kelpiens can evolve in a matter of minutes, yet "Star Trek" can't seem to evolve over the course of a couple of years. 

Meanwhile, the search for Spock continues. Is the Red Angel a Vorlon? Perhaps every race will see something different, just like they did when the Vorlon Kosh revealed himself in the "Babylon 5" episode "The Fall of Night" (S02, E22). The Red Angel is certainly an alien intelligence, and Saru claimed in his report that "the entity appears to be humanoid, wearing a mechanized suit, exhibiting technology far beyond present Federation capabilities."

Regardless, the Red Angel and the mysterious signal bursts seem to guide the Discovery to different places around the galaxy for predetermined purposes. Like Dr. Sam Beckett in “Quantum Leap,” Burnham, Saru, Pike et al. find themselves warping from place to place, putting things right, that once went wrong and hoping each time, that their next jump will be the jump to find Spock. 

The first season of "Star Trek: Discovery" is available to stream in its entirety on CBS All Access in the U.S. and Netflix in the U.K. "Star Trek: Discovery" Season 1 is available now on Blu-ray.

The second season of Star Trek: Discovery consists of 14 episodes with no midseason break. It airs on Thursdays on CBS All Access in the U.S. and on the Space TV channel in Canada; the rest of the world can see it on Netflix on Fridays.

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Scott Snowden

When Scott's application to the NASA astronaut training program was turned down, he was naturally upset...as any 6-year-old boy would be. He chose instead to write as much as he possibly could about science, technology and space exploration. He graduated from The University of Coventry and received his training on Fleet Street in London. He still hopes to be the first journalist in space.