Discovering Trek: The Sounds of Thunder
Updated: Mar 25, 2019
This is my guide to Star Trek Discovery episode: The Sounds of Thunder, spoilers ahoy so turn back now if you haven’t seen episode 6 of Star Trek Discovery’s second season.
The Search for Spock Whilst We Take On the Predator
“We all come from somewhere; we carry that place with us wherever we go.” Intones Saru, taking on opening scene voiceover duties this week.
We see Airiam and Tilly analysing the Sphere data, a nice feature of this season is we are getting follow-ups to previous events. We get a look-in on Culber, and Saru rather unconvincingly tries to offer him counsel by reflecting on some of his own experiences. Culber as we will see later in the episode is very traumatised by his experiences. He has after all been murdered and then reconstituted by mushrooms. Saru’s threat ganglia (looking forward to seeing the back of this phrase) are being replaced with teeth. Dr Pollard is struggling to make sense of Saru’s physiological changes, telling him his fear response is now suppressed. Saru is losing the very thing that defines him. Burnham and Tyler are discussing the red signals with Pike who feels the angel’s motivation is benign whilst Burnham concludes that there is no way to be sure of its intentions. Ash briefs Pike and Burnham stating that the readings suggest the red angel is capable of time incursions. Does the angel merely appear at catastrophic events or does it cause them asks Tyler?
A red signal then appears over Saru’s home world of Kaminar. They all head to the bridge and there is a fun moment where Saru doesn’t relinquish the chair, but Pike gives him a look and he does, I guess this is officially the end of the co-captain’s dream. Saru briefs Pike about his home world explaining that it is populated by two sentient species, the Kelpian and the Ba’ul. According to Burnham the Ba’ul achieved warp capability twenty years ago following Saru’s signal (established in the Short Trek The Brightest Star) although it is later established that Saru sent his signal eighteen years ago, so I am not sure if I have misunderstood this and whether these two events are connected or not? We are then told the U.S.S. Archimedes the ship that took Saru away from Kaminar are the ones who attempted contact with the Ba’ul but they proved hostile. So, the Prime Directive appears to only be in place for the Kelpians. Pike points out that the appearance of the red signal above Saru’s world is unlikely to be a coincidence. “Out of all the billions of planets it happens to show up at the home world of my first officer.” During this bridge conference we see the first glimpse of Saru’s seething hatred of the Ba’ul, accusing them of hiding behind their technology, pouring scorn on their “great balance.”
Pike proposes contact with the Ba’ul, Tyler queries his approach. “are we just gonna ask nicely.” Pike’s response is typically folksy, “as uninvited guests it never hurts to be polite.” This puts the increasingly irritating Tyler in his place. As they arrive at Kaminar the angel disappears, they hail the Ba’ul, who respond by scanning Disco’s weapon’s systems. Pike wants to know why the Ba’ul won’t respond, and we get the second major glimpse of Saru’s eagerness to exact justice, even if it means disrespecting the chain of command. “They are oppressors,” he barks, “why would you trust those who enslaved my species with fear and lies?”
After a discussion Saru calms down and suggests contacting the Kelpian priests as they may give an insight into the red angel. Burnham says first contact with the Kelpians might be appropriate but it’s the captain’s call. Her approach is a stark contrast to Saru’s direct manner. Pike says that Burnham is the most qualified member of the crew to lead the away mission to meet the village priests as she is a xeno-biologist. Saru, unsurprisingly at this stage challenges this. He claims that to disregard his knowledge would be to disregard all Kelpian suffering. Pike acknowledges Saru and says that he would be the complicated choice. Refusing to drop his petulant child act Saru ups the stakes. “Do you doubt my ability?” It’s like an awkward team meeting where Dave from accounts goes off on one again, the rest of the crew look aghast or stare at their feet. Pike takes this opportunity to point out that no one knows the physiological changes Saru is going through and he sympathises with the burden Saru might feel about wanting to share the truth with his people. Saru then crosses over into an overtly hostile stance, shouting at Pike and squaring up to him aggressively. “Are you suggesting I’d disobey your orders?” Saru towers over Pike so the threat is palpable. Burnham intervenes and she looks genuinely shocked by Saru’s behaviour. She appeals to Pike that Saru’s knowledge may indeed be invaluable to her and Pike agrees. I have watched these scenes back several times and it still feels like Saru threatened Pike and Pike gave in.
We then get a look in with Culber and Stamets. Culber is as good as new, in fact he is better than that, he is new and improved, he has even lost an old scar he obtained out on a hiking expedition. It was a scar he kept as a reminder as to why he became a Doctor. Culber though remains troubled and he recoils from Stamet’s touch. Stamets appears oblivious such is his delight at having his husband back. I am looking forward to more of this story and a possible confrontation between Culber and Tyler.
Saru and Burnham beam down to the surface of Kaminar and they meet Saru’s sister, Siranna, who is now a priest following their father’s succumbing to the Valharai. The planet is beautiful, Burnham describes it as a paradise and one of the shows strengths has been its use of location shoots and practical effects, it gives a tangible sense of reality. The watchful eye manifests itself by way of a vast network of pylons which seem to have multiple uses, weapons, transporting and monitoring and Saru and Burnham’s presence is detected by the villages pylon. Siranna is initially delighted at her brother’s return, she greats Burnham with wonder in a lovely scene that evokes everything that Star Trek is about. She takes Burnham’s hand to compare to her own, “so different, yet so similar.” The meet and great is concluded with the brilliant line from Siranna, “Do humans from earth drink tea?” Yeah, they do, they drink earl grey hot, if they know what’s good for them. They go to Siranna’s home and drink tea, Siranna is as astute as her brother and she guesses they are not here merely for a reunion. She tells them that they all thought that Saru had been punished for asking too many questions. That left Siranna and her family fearing retribution from the Ba’ul. They tell her the purpose of their mission and ask her about the red angel. Siranna thinks she saw it. “The fiery sign.”
Siranna becomes cross with Saru as he has only come back to investigate the red signals, after all the anguish he put her through, she saw the light as he sped off into space all those years ago, never fully knowing his fate. The Ba’ul signals cause the ground to shake and lights to appear in the skies. Burnham and Saru beam back up to Discovery as Siranna tells them to leave before there are further consequences from the watchful eye. Back on the bridge the Ba’ul are now hailing the Discovery. A creepy sounding voice asks for the Kelpian they say that they were promised the federation would not interfere with their internal affairs. Pike tells Saru to stay out of the conversation and Saru does this for about two minutes but ends up yelling at the Ba’ul. The Ba’ul respond by telling him. “You don’t even know what you are.” Ten Ba’ul ships appears and the effects are spectacular, the ships look cool and their design seems to reflect the pylon technology, very angular. Pike tells them that he will do whatever he deems necessary to protect Saru, who he calls a political asylum seeker. Pike is awesome in these moments, a calm yet authoritative presence, heck I would follow the guy anywhere, he is someone who commands respect and loyalty from his crew, and it is the main reason I found Saru’s behaviour without consequence so appalling in the episode overall. In this scene Pike also finally reaches his limit with Saru. The Ba’ul threaten Saru’s village and Saru reacts to the Ba’ul once more. Pike cuts off Saru’s protestations and raises his voice in his best admonishing teacher tone. “Mr Saru you will remove yourself from this bridge. That’s an order!”
But rather than confine him to quarters or the brig Saru is left to roam freely and he tries to transport himself to the surface. Burnham tracks him and holds a phaser on him, exhorting him to think about what he is doing. And even though his plan to hand himself in is admirable his level of insubordination is never really addressed, and whatever his justifications it seems that his actions towards Pike, his crewmates and his decisions on behalf of his sister and his people, warrant at least a court martial. Based on the processes and precedents established in previous shows there is a clear chain of command and clear consequences for those that don’t follow that chain. Kirk and co still faced court martial after saving Spock and the whole of humanity, and this is arguably a much bigger breach. Eventually Saru gets Burnham to back down, in an unconvincing dialogue exchange. “Would you not do the same for your brother?” Saru surrenders and the Ba’ul stand down.
Burnham, Tilly and Airiam go to everyone’s new favourite Deux Ex-Machina, the sphere archive, to find out exactly the information they need to find out why the Ba’ul are so keen to get Saru back. It transpires that Kelpians in their evolved form were the original predators on Kaminar and it was the Ba’ul who were the prey. They developed their technology to protect themselves and make sure they are dominant and the Kelpian remains in its more benign state. They created the myth of the watchful eye to keep the Kelpians willingly passive. It is an ingenious role reversal that the Ba’ul are in fact terrified of what Saru’s changes might mean for them. Saru and Siranna are transported to a Ba’ul structure and the Ba’ul themselves are revealed to be a creature that emerges from a black goo with shining red eyes and a fringe. They are a cross between the predator and the girl from the ring. They also have the voice from hell and more than a passing resemblance to the oil slick monster that killed Tasha Yar in TNG. Saru fires his newly evolved threat teeth (that’s right he has threat teeth that fire now) at the Ba’ul and they tell him that they will not let history repeat itself, they fear that evolved Kelpians will destroy everything in their path. As Saru and Siranna are the only ones who know the truth, they will be neutralised, and the balance will be restored. But Saru uses his enhanced strength and lack of fear to break free of his shackles, a nice metaphor for breaking the bonds of his slavery, and Siranna finally sees that the great balance is a lie. Saru then suggests triggering Valharai for all his people. Burnham endorses this reckless idea and continues to enable Saru’s behaviour. Pike however cautions that they don’t know enough and what if history does repeat itself. Burnham suggests that there could be no threat from the Kelpians for generations and Saru suggests they can use this time to prove to the Ba’ul they are not threat. Pike eventually agrees. However, what is never discussed is the lack of consent Saru’s people get in being forced into this very painful and traumatic transformation, not to mention the destruction of a centuries held belief system.
They enact the plan and it turns out that Saru and Siranna are in a structure under the lake and it is used to trigger a defence system that will wipe out all the Kelpian villages. Pike takes bold action, telling the Ba’ul to choose their next steps wisely, lest they become his enemy, he tells them that there is still a peaceful solution. Discovery prepare to fire their weapons but before they do the red angel appears and deactivates the weapons of the Ba’ul bringing the confrontation to an end.
Siranna calls the red angel a saviour increasing the religious imagery given to us this season. The episode closes with Siranna spreading the word about a new balance and then she visits Saru’s quarters to bid farewell to her brother. Pike visits Tyler to say Saru got a good look at the angel and it is humanoid with advanced tech. Pike still feels the angel is benign, Tyler disagrees and Pike calls Section 31 paranoid. Saru is then sent to Rura Penthe for gross misconduct, just kidding his actions are never mentioned and Burnham tells him she realises she needs to go home to Vulcan, and this is where the episode closes.
Not since Data went bat shit crazy whilst singing Gilbert and Sullivan has a Trek crew wreaked so much havoc with the prime directive and the rights of a species and I am not sure whether we can square this away with anything that has gone before? Maybe you know of other events in Trek history where Starfleet has acted with such imperialistic abandon?
The Persistence of Memory by David Mack. It is book one of his cold equations trilogy and it portrays Captain Picard and the Enterprise crew’s race to find out who has stolen Data’s android brother B-4.Join me in the forum where I am going to propose we discuss who is the whiniest Trek character of all time, now Ash Tyler is my number one pick, taking over from Worf’s son, Alexander Rozhenko. Also was I too harsh in my judgement of Saru’s actions?
John is a writer and clinically diagnosed Trekker. You can get the latest news about his published work and read about his work with Star Trek Magazine at his website at his website The World Outside the Window. Live Long and Prosper.