“The Sound Of Thunder”
Star Trek: Discovery Season 2, Episode 6 – Debuted Thursday, February 21st
Written by Bo Yeon Kim & Erika Lippoldt
Directed by Douglas Aarniokoski
With a good mix of character, suspense, and action “The Sound of Thunder” brings another solid entry to the improved second season of Star Trek: Discovery. Delivering a big dose of backstory for Saru and the Kelpiens, longtime fans of the show should feel rewarded with both big and small moments tying into season one, season two and Short Treks. However, to keep the pacing going, many plot points seem oversimplified or in some cases ignored. Doug Jones again stands out as the character of Saru continues to grow and add new facets.
Home is where the hut is
This episode starts serenely with a voice-over from Doug Jones’ Saru—just like the Short Treks prequel to this episode “The Brightest Star.” As we follow Saru starting another day in the life, there is an element of sadness to the Kelpien, grasping for his lost threat ganglia like a phantom limb, and speaking about how everyone comes from “somewhere,” knowing that Starfleet rules keep him from ever seeing his home again.
As he visits sickbay, we pick up on the story of his transformation from two episodes ago when he lost his threat ganglia through the process of “Vahar’ai” and Dr. Pollard now informs him some kind of spikes or teeth are now growing in their place. So, nothing ominous about that. She also confirms that his fear response—which has been what has defined him—is all but gone. Saru is as curious as we are to find out “What is a Kelpien without fear?” Dipping into the theme of faith for the season, he also ponders if he is being “guided,” but with the mythology of his homeworld now seen as a lie, who he imagines might be guiding him is an interesting question.
And if Saru was looking for a sign, he may have gotten one in red neon, as the ship picks up one of those pesky red bursts. And—surprise—it’s coming from Kaminar, Saru’s homeworld, and so it turns out he can go home again. Pike also sees a sign, noting it cannot be a coincidence that after he starts poking into the whole red burst thing one shows up on the homeworld of his first officer. So if you were hoping the search for a certain Vulcan that has dominated this season would finally get some payoff, Saru is your Spockblock of the week.
The trip offers the chance for a big exposition dump, including some flashbacks from Short Treks. We also learn some new things about Kaminar, including how the Ba’ul , who dominate the Kelpiens, are native to the world and developed warp travel two decades before. Contact was made with the Federation; however, the signal sent out turns out to be the one Saru sent in Short Treks. The Ba’ul want nothing to do with the Federation, but the red burst means our crew has no choice but to go, even if they’re not wanted. Or run through Pike’s folksyizer: “Let’s knock on the front door and see if they answer.”
Pike and Saru may both be seeing signs, but they are not on the same page. The first hint of this comes in a fun moment when Saru awkwardly forgets to vacate the captain’s chair after Pike enters the bridge, but that is just the beginning. He is openly insubordinate, prodding the captain with “Why would you trust those who have enslaved my people for centuries with fear and lies?” Once they show up and the signal disappears and the Ba’ul start ghosting their requests for contact, Saru demands to be on the landing party, getting so agro that Michael has to step in. Saru acts very much like the out of control version of himself on Pahvo in “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum.” Yet, Pike is convinced by Burnham that Saru is needed.
Once again this season, the red bursts seem to have turned the Prime Directive into the Prime Suggestion as they quickly decide it’s no big deal to make contact with the primitive Kelpiens because apparently, they have heard of warp travel from the Ba’ul. Pike handwaves some concern with “We can stretch General Order One, but let’s not break it in the process,” but he will soon forget his own words. Unfortunately, this means we don’t get to see Michael Burnham transformed into a Kelpien, with native clothing deemed enough for this diminutive human to blend in on a planet of beings that could all be in the NBA.
Once on the homeworld, Saru is calmed and shares a nice moment with Michael as he talks about his time living under the threat of “culling” and how his father was an unwitting “collaborator.” He tells her of the sinister “watchful eye” which, fittingly for this oppressed place, sounds like something out of The Handmaid’s Tale. Sonequa Martin-Green and Doug Jones continue to have one of the best dynamics on the show and we see more growth for both of these surrogate siblings as she drops her Vulcan side and comforts him by holding his hand. The trip is also a time for Saru to reunite with his real sister Siranna, who due to the “Small Galaxy” rule of Star Trek is the first person he runs into in his old village.
Thanks to the universal translator, Siranna meets her first alien, and for a primitive fear-based being, she seems pretty cool with it. Not a hint of ganglia. It’s a nice Star Trek moment as Siranna learns about the wider universe and how her brother has joined this thing called the Federation. Showing her inner Brit, she shrugs it off and invites them in for tea.
But things get testy as they play Siranna for Red Angel info and she realizes Saru isn’t there for her at all, and then she starts unpacking the family baggage. Turns out she is pretty pissed off at her brother for bailing on them. Oh and dad’s dead too, taken by the Ba’ul. She chides him: “You ran away because you were not brave enough to face the Great Balance as the rest of us do.” After the Ba’ul start shaking the whole village it’s finally time for Siranna’s ganglia to come out and the landing party takes that as their cue to transport back to the Discovery, empty-handed. This is probably best, as the way that family squabble was headed, Saru may have ended up in the Kelpien version of Cops.
A new man?
Saru isn’t the only person having a bit of a personal crisis. Over in sickbay, the newly resurrected Dr. Hugh Culber doesn’t know what to make of himself. He did spend nine months trapped in the mycelial network, and we saw in the previous episode how he lost his grip on reality. Now he finds himself back home, alive and he has that new body smell, as he is told he is “brand new, down to the last molecule.”
Paul Stamets is so happy to have his partner back he can’t see how Culber is freaked out by the whole thing, down to his missing scar. This Culber’s body may be “pristine” but he is not ready, and this is played well by Wilson Cruz who conveys a lot without saying much. This is a man who is still haunted and this show isn’t just hitting his reset button and moving on.
Back on the bridge, Pike finally makes contact with the Ba’ul, and they are pissed. To keep things creepy they only communicate via audio, which somehow also dims the lights on the bridge to add that extra level of malevolence. With a charm that would make the Sheliak seem like Talaxians, they demand Saru be turned over as their property, saying that Starfleet promised not to meddle in their affairs. Again ignoring Pike, Saru gets triggered and lays into the Ba’ul in full on rebel-with-a-cause mode, talking about how he knows the truth of the Vahar’ai and how the Ba’ul have “suppressed” the evolution of the Kelpiens. But he is taken aback by the reply of “you do not even know what you are.”
Pike takes back control of his bridge and even though they are already at red alert he orders Rhys to “warm up the phasers,” because that is how much he wants to shoot at something. He gives another good Pike speech about how Saru is “our people” and isn’t going anywhere, adding the passive-aggressive warning, “I suggest you consider your next move very carefully.” Unfazed by the huge ships surrounding the Discovery, Pike is just too excited that he has finally got someone worth getting photoned. He also finally orders the unhinged Saru off his bridge as he ain’t putting up with any guff from nobody; same goes for Tyler, who remains on Pike’s shit list.
But as this is the new fearless Saru, rather than slink away to his quarters he goes straight to the transporter room, yelling at the poor transporter operator, who scurries away. When Michael shows up to stop him—setting aside the question of why she left her post on the bridge in the middle of a crisis—he pulls the Spock card, using the guilt trip to keep her from phasering him. These two truly are family, which means they know exactly which buttons to push.
After surrendering himself to protect his village, Saru ends up in a cell on some Ba’ul ship. They also transport his sister up to yell at him some more, because they are just that evil. She reveals she became a priest to find him, adding to his sense of guilt. Hannah Spear delivers an effective performance, making these sibling moments land. Doug Jones makes it look easy, but it really is an accomplishment to do this under all that Kelpien makeup.
The emotional reunion is broken up by the first appearance of a Ba’ul, who emerges from an oily black pool and is genuinely terrifying. With a look that evokes Armus—the creature that casually killed Tasha Yar—any Trek fan should immediately feel the threat. The spindly creature with its glowing red eyes has nothing but contempt for Saru. Kudos to the designers and makeup team who created a genuinely alien-looking alien using mostly practical effects. This was enhanced by excellent sound design and effective music.
Helping sort out the problem in the lab are Tilly and Airiam, the augmented human who, unsurprisingly, is just a whiz at sorting out massive amounts of data, like all the stuff they got from that ancient big red sphere in “An Obol For Charon.” Researching and analyzing data is a great Star Trek way to go at a problem and this team of nerds is up to the task, especially Airiam. Or, as Tilly notes, “When I said ‘we’ I just meant Airiam.” Turns out the sphere is “a delicious slice of galaxy pie” full of info, including historical scans of Kaminar going back millennia.
Joined by Michael Burnham, and using the power of math, statistics, and more, the team figures out that thousands of years ago the Kelpiens “evolved,” just like Saru has done by going through the Vahar’ai. And the big twist is these second stage Kelpiens are actually predators who almost wiped out the Ba’ul. The Ba’ul then used technology to fight back and oppress the Kelpiens. At one point the Ba’ul population was down to 267, but they bounced back in a big way, eliminating all “evolved” and somehow reintroducing non-“evolved” Kelpiens into the ecosystem. This is one of those things that sort of makes sense until you think about it and then it gets a bit convoluted, so it’s best to just go with it for now. Bottom line: the gang solved the big mystery, and pulled off the scary mask to find out it was the Kelpiens all along. Ruh Roh!
Viva la revolución
Back on the Ba’ul ship, Saru is working through some of the same issues in his own way, which includes demonstrating his new quill-shooting capability. This results in more disdain from the Ba’ul, who hides behind shields and drones to protect himself. He reveals Saru is the first Kelpien to pass through Vahar’ai in 2000 years, scoffing “your primal feral response is the same as centuries ago.”
Now as chatty as a Batman villain exposing his big plan, the Ba’ul lays out how they believe the Kelpiens cannot control themselves, and their only recourse was to impose the “Great Balance” to suppress them by Logan’s Run-ing them before they can Vahar’ai into predators. Slowly we realize it is the Ba’ul who live in fear as he says “we will never allow the past to be repeated.” Is there a message here about over-reliance on technology and how it can make you isolated? And perhaps also a message about fear of the other, and of change?
One has to wonder, why do the Ba’ul go to all the trouble? Why didn’t they just wipe out the Kelpiens centuries ago? It’s possible that the Ba’ul need the Kelpiens for some reason, maybe for slave labor. And of course, we did learn in the Mirror Universe that Kelpiens are delicious.
But it seems in all these centuries, the Ba’ul have forgotten what a post-Vahar’ai Kelpien can do, as Saru shows off more superpowers, breaking out of his shackles and playing handball with the Ba’ul’s drones. The defiant, fully matured Kelpien declares he is now in “the form we were meant to take.” After the Ba’ul slimes away in fear, Saru MacGyvers a communicator and calls his pals on the Discovery. And now is when things get really cray-cray.
Saru is now ready to take his revolution to the big time. He wants to use a combination of Big Red Sphere tech plus Ba’ul tech with some Tilly tweaks to give every Kelpien an instant Vahar’ai, to “demonstrate to Kelpiens and Ba’ul alike what we could become.” Forgetting concerns about bending the Prime Directive, Pike barely puts up an argument over this monumental decision.
Once again, Michael Burnham steers Pike, who has gone from Captain mode to almost docile. The arguments are full of Star Trek hope but feel naïve. Everyone seems shocked that the Ba’ul fight back against this plan. Their giant stronghold emerges Legion of Doom-style, ready to go for full genocide of the Kelpiens. While solving problems that are going to wipe out entire planets, species, and universes seem to be what this crew does on an average Tuesday, they are not entirely prepared for this.
Pike drops his politeness, calling the Ba’ul “bastards” and telling them “your fear of the Kelpiens has blinded you to a peaceful solution.” He also starts issuing some more nice threats about how if they keep it up “you’ll become our enemies, choose wisely.” But the USS Discovery is not in a position to take out the 4,056 pylons set to wipe out each village full of innocent Kelpiens. Finally able to shoot at something, he casually says “let’s get started,” even if the attempt is futile. While Anson Mount always delivers a strong performance, Pike is all over the map in this episode, and at times, infuriating.
Just when all hope seems lost, a Red Angel appears to Saru and Siranna. Saru was convinced earlier that there was a guiding hand, and he had concluded they were brought to Kaminar by the red burst to enact his plan to free his people. It turns out he might have been right, as the Red Angel does something that should be impossible (according to Detmer): Presto, the Ba’ul are neutralized. And that’s a wrap on the Great Balance.
To drive home the point that the Kelpiens have emerged from their pupae, Saru is surrounded by butterfly-like creatures as he visits his home planet again, walking among his now “evolved” brethren who have no idea what to do without their ganglia. Siranna declares “you don’t have to be afraid anymore,” as we can see the weight of his world now lift off Saru’s shoulders. Doug Jones is a treasure.
And in a lovely moment, we have Siranna visit the USS Discovery, to look down on her home planet from space for the first time. These kinds of scenes may be cliché for Star Trek, but it never gets old and was beautifully shot. Oddly he asks her to join him on his space adventures, which seems a bit reckless as there is a planet full Kepliens who need to be kept from eating all the Ba’ul by breakfast the next day. She is up to that task, telilng him “our minds must truly be free before Kelpien and Ba’ul accept each other.”
There is also a nice tie-in to Short Treks, as Siranna tells Saru “I know you did not leave Kaminar in fear but in hope and you brought that hope back with you,” which is about as Star Trek as it gets. Free of her fear, Siranna’s sense of wonder is infectious. After she beams home, Saru and his ship-sister Michael reconnect and she reveals this whole adventure has taught her she is ready to return home—to Vulcan.
So the search for Spock is back on…again.
You say potato, I say time traveling being pursuing its own own agenda
Another small story running through this episode deals with Section 31 and their view of the Red Angel. Agent Tyler and Captain Pike continue to come into conflict, with Section 31 seeing dangerous enemies and Pike keeping an open mind, noting how so far all the signals have sent them on rescue missions. Tyler also suggests that the Red Angel is capable of “time incursions” and thinks it’s up to no good and may possibly be behind Spock going crazy.
After the mission on Kaminar is over, Saru’s super-vision offers his assessment of the Red Angel he saw as “a humanoid wearing a mechanized suit exhibiting technology far beyond present Federation capabilities.” Tyler talks more of the mysterious “Control” who assesses threats, but Pike thinks he is a bit paranoid. All of this adds up to some nice tension and conflict between these characters, with both actors standing their ground. Things also are personal for Tyler, who like Section 31, does not appear to have left the war behind, telling Pike, “Some of us are still torn apart.” (Especially those who are sort of actually Klingons.) Anson Mount does a great job subtly reacting to what Tyler said with a tiny bit of anguish, as we know Pike also has some demons from being left out of the war as we learned in “Brother.”
Truth and consequences redux
Last week’s review discussed how Discovery has had a mixed record when it comes to playing things through and showing consequences for the characters. But for the most part, this week nicely paid off on a number of elements from the season and even reached back into season one. This was especially true for the character of Saru, with this episode picking things up from his trip to Pahvo in season one, his origin story from Short Treks, and especially “An Obol for Charon,” where he went through the Vahar’ai. There are little things too, such as the mention of his superior vision in the first episode of the season, which plays into his ability to get the clearest view yet of the Red Angel in this episode.
And while the Culber storyline was kept in the background to make time for the big Kelpien story, we can clearly see that the return of the good doctor is not going to be a simple thing. He is not the same man, nor should he be. Even Tilly seems to have been changed by her experience in the last episode, now less frazzled and more focused. Although it is disappointing that the USS Discovery seems to have found the USS Voyager reset button—the one that fixes all the damage by the next episode—there was no sign of the damage the Discovery took while partially in the mycelial network from the last episode.
Overall, the second season continues to improve on how this show deals with its own continuity. While often the focus with Trek shows is how they tie into the canon of the other shows, being internally consistent is arguably more important.
“The Sound of Thunder” introduced us to a new Saru, who is without fear. As he was playing the part of savior to his people, his changes were mostly kept in a positive light. However, a number of hints were dropped that this new Saru could actually be quite dangerous and may have some serious anger management problems ahead of him. Hopefully, this story is not over yet and they are willing to take more risks with the character.
Domo arigato, Ms. Roboto
“The Sound of Thunder” makes another effort at making the bridge crew feel more realized. As the second season progresses, we are really starting to get more of a sense between of who these characters are, especially Owosekun and Detmer. A character that was given a welcome focus in this episode is the mysterious Lt. Commander Airiam, the technology-enhanced human who has intrigued fans since the first season.
While she had a lot to do and a few things to say, we still didn’t learn anything about her origins, and more exploration of this character’s history and season two upgrade would be welcome. One could argue that Airiam can offer a window into dealing with issues of reliance on technology or the coming era of artificial intelligence. But let’s be honest: She is cool, and we just want to see and learn more about her.
General Order WTF?
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the episode was how it dealt with the Prime Directive, or Starfleet’s General Order Number One. The rules about non-interference are at the core of Star Trek and have been explored in many episodes as well as in the feature films. A planet with two sentient species but only one that is technologically advanced adds an interesting twist, and is something Trek has explored before. But in this season, it seems the arc of the Red Angel and red bursts is making this core part of Star Trek take a back seat. The irony is that a season dealing with the theme of faith is arguably committing Trek’s most cardinal sin.
What Pike and crew decided to do by drastically altering the nature of society and the balance of power on Kaminar deserved more than a few seconds of thought and discussion. Captain Picard would be appalled. Even Captain Kirk might be taken aback by what the Disco crew did, although he did something similar in “The Apple,” but even that didn’t have the same kind of risks as Kaminar. The Discovery crew even admit that what they did will not be resolved for generations. So, who is going to make sure that in the meantime, the Ba’ul and the fully matured Kelpiens play nice? We didn’t even see a scene showing a Kelpien and a Ba’ul together, beginning the reconciliation. They literally and figuratively dropped a bomb on this tinderbox of a dual-civilization and apparently are just going to leave and let them sort it out for themselves. Unbelievable. Unconscionable. Unacceptable.
This concern over the Prime Directive isn’t Trekkie naval-gazing or a longing for characters sitting at a long table where interstellar diplomacy is debated in endless detail. Yes, the Prime Directive as a plot device is meant to be violated, because that is where the drama is. How it is being handled in Discovery is a missed opportunity for drama and an over-simplification of Star Trek’s mission. Sure it’s easy to create villainous foils and swoop in to save the day and set things right, but as Admiral Cornwell said in last week’s episode, nation-building is never pretty and nor should reshaping a culture be so simple.
Better than the sum of its parts
“The Sound of Thunder” was a good episode that tied together its various story elements well, and didn’t try to take too many other plot threads on, which has been an issue with other episodes this season. Combined with Short Treks “The Brightest Star,” which shares the same writers and director, we have a pretty well fleshed out story of Saru’s history and that of his people. But there are still many gaps to fill, and if you think too hard about how the whole Vahar’ai thing worked in ancient times and how the Ba’ul were able to come back from almost-extinction, you may get a headache. And even though the Spock tease was extended for another episode, we finally seem to be getting somewhere on the Red Angel plotline.
So, it is to the credit of Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt that they tied together so many elements from previous episodes to pay them off here and set things up, while still providing a complete story. They know and love Star Trek and it shows in the way they wove in elements of lore and added some social commentary and allegory along the way.
Doug Jones had the heavy lifting in this episode and pulled it off, even as Saru got almost bipolar moving from mood to mood, scene to scene. Guest star Hannah Spear also rose to the occasion playing sister Siranna.
Director Douglas Aarniokoski kept the pacing just right, with an episode that had an almost perfect balance of quiet character moments, action, suspense and humor. However, the trend with Discovery directors to spin cameras around tables faster and faster needs to stop, as it’s distracting. Trust your audience, your actors and your score to maintain interest, even when people are just talking.
Random thoughts, connections, easter eggs, and more
- The spore drive is not used, even when traveling to Kaminar which is “outside of Federation space.” The future of the drive remains unclear after previous episodes revealed its use led to damage to the JahSepp who live in the network.
- Saru Ability Watch: Threat ganglia replaced with spike projectiles. And super-strength.
- Kaminar is an M-Class planet. The Kaminar system has six planets at coordinates 404.119.381
- In Short Treks “The Brightest Star,” Lt. Georgiou flew a shuttle with the designation “SHN 03” indicating it came from the USS Shenzhou (a ship she would later command), but “The Sound of Thunder” established she was actually stationed on board the USS Archimedes, named for the famed Greek mathematician of antiquity. So the “SHN” was removed from her shuttle for the flashback scene, but can still be seen in Short Treks.
- And in yet another of this season’s nod to antiquity, Burnham cites Greek playwright Aeschylus—known as the father of tragedy—with the quote “He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget. Falls drop by drop upon the heart.”
- Design of Ba’ul torture chamber and use of floating drones is reminiscent of Star Wars: Episode IV scenes with Darth Vader and Leia on the Death Star.
- Saru’s late father’s name is Aradar.
- The interior of the Ba’ul ship where Saru is held appears to be a redress of the transporter room set.
- Burnham says “fascinating,” borrowing one of her brother Spock’s catchphrases.
- Burnham spends some of the episode wearing a white Starfleet shirt not seen before, but probably standard when going undercover, fitting for under the robes she wore on Kaminar.
- The Ba’ul was played by friend-of-Doug-Jones and creature actor Javier Botet.
- The episode features the Kelpien spoken language (as did “Short Treks). Linguist Marc Okrand (who developed Klingon and Vulcan) is credited as a “Kelpien language consultant.”
Star Trek: Discovery is available exclusively in the USA on CBS All Access. It airs in Canada on Space and streams on CraveTV. It is available on Netflix everywhere else.
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