[DISCLAIMER: This is a satirical think piece based on the popular “Thanos did nothing wrong” meme. Please read it in the playful spirit in which it was intended.]
The latest episode of Star Trek: Discovery finally gave us the history of Saru’s homeworld Kaminar and the two races who call it home, the Kelpiens and the Ba’ul. Through “The Sound of Thunder” and Star Trek: Short Treks “The Brightest Star” we learned about how Saru’s people (the Kelpiens) are a low-tech society, living alongside the high-tech Ba’ul. The Ba’ul used their technology to create a mythology called “The Great Balance,” which whisks Kelpiens away when they reach what appeared to be the ends of their lives, preceded by a process called Vahar’ai.
However, Saru learned that the mythology was a lie and the Vahar’ai was not the end of life, but the beginning of a new stage for Kelpiens, one in which they lose their fear and transform into predators. The Great Balance was the Ba’ul’s systematic way of preventing generations of Kelpiens from reaching this stage by killing them. So, clearly the Ba’ul, who are presented as scary-looking black slimy swamp monsters and were exposed for being responsible for generations of oppression, are evil. But are they? A case can be made that they are not and it is stronger than the case for Thanos.
The Ba’ul’s choice
What the Ba’ul have done by killing generations of Kelpiens who reach Vahar’ai seems like an open and shut case, but before you judge, one has to think back to the moment when they enacted their plan. “The Sound of Thunder” established that after millennia of sharing the planet together, when the Kelpiens evolved to this second stage of life, they became predators who began to wipe out the Ba’ul. At one point, the Ba’ul population dwindled to less than 300.
It was only through their use of technology—presumably some breakthrough in offense and/or defense—that the Ba’ul were able to hold off their own extinction. At this point—around 2,000 years in the past—the Ba’ul had the upper hand, and they were faced with a hard choice.
Bear in mind, the Kelpiens were choosing to hunt and kill—presumably for food, but possibly for sport—the only other sentient species on their planet. That means the Kelpiens were committing genocide against the Ba’ul. When the tables were turned, the Ba’ul had the power to eliminate the threat of the evolved Kelpiens, which, given the circumstances, seems like a reasonable response.
Even Saru actor Doug Jones Doug Jones admits the revelation of the Kelpiens as predators changes things. “It takes the anger and puts it into perspective,” he says. “Okay, they had a reason for wanting to oppress us, because we were a threat. We were a big threat before.”
So what did the Ba’ul do? They did eliminate all the “evolved” predator Kelpiens, but then they chose to reintroduce a population of pre-Vahar’ai Kelpiens back into the ecosystem. They then created the “Great Balance” mythology, where those who experienced Vahar’ai would sacrifice themselves in cullings. The pain around the process of Vahar’ai was used to even make this appear to be a mercy, as they took away the pain as a form of assisted suicide for what appeared to be the end-of-life process.
The Great Balance
And while there is much talk of oppression, there actually is no indication that the Ba’ul interfered with the Kelpiens at all. Saru admits that “in many ways” Kaminar is a “paradise” for the Kelpiens, a world without hunger or poverty. The Ba’ul found a way to create the same kind of life for the Kelpiens that humans were never able to achieve on their own until the intervention of the Vulcans following first contact.
On Kaminar, the Kelpiens live idyllic peaceful agrarian lives. There are no labor camps or secret police or other traditional forms of oppression, such as those seen on Bajor under Cardassian occupation. Short of leaving “Watchful Eye” obelisks around Kaminar to enact the Great Balance, the Kelpiens were left alone to live apparently long lives up to the point of Vahar’ai.
In TrekMovie’s interview with writers Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt, who wrote both “The Sound of Thunder” and “The Brightest Star,” they admitted that the Ba’ul are not using the Kelpiens as slave labor, nor are they harvesting them as livestock. According to the writers, the Ba’ul, unlike the Kelpiens, did not want to commit genocide; they just wanted to go back to where the two species shared the planet in harmony. The writers explained, “They have coexisted on this planet with the Kelpiens for thousands of years, and in a twisted way, this is the ‘Balance’ that they have preserved via culling.”
Perhaps now with the Federation intervening, as the Vulcans did for Earth in the mid-21st century, peace and harmony can come to all of Kaminar. But the Ba’ul did not have that option centuries ago when they were on the brink of extinction. Faced with their own genocide, the Ba’ul showed mercy. From their point of view, the Great Balance was the only way to keep the peace. In other words, the Ba’ul did nothing wrong.
What say you?
Sound off below on the choice the Ba’ul made and if you think they were in the right in creating the Great Balance.
Writer Bo Yeon Kim hopes the episode creates discussion and debate:
If the episode creates discussion and debate, then we will have done our jobs.
— Bo Yeon Kim (@extspace) February 26, 2019
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.
Keep up with all the Star Trek: Discovery news at TrekMovie.