Star Trek #1477: The Sounds of Thunder

CAPTAIN'S LOG: Saru returns home.

WHY WE LIKE IT: Those creepy Ba'ul.

WHY WE DON'T: To hell with the Prime Directive.

REVIEW: Discovery going to Saru's homeworld of Kaminar should be exciting, but I find that Short Treks already spoiled it a bit. Not to say there isn't a lot of action and suspense in The Sounds of Thunder, but that has its own problems. Where do I begin? Well, maybe we the new and improved(?) Saru himself. Not yet used to his freedom from fear, perhaps, he lacks even a sense of social empathy. It's interesting to see the more subtle changes in behavior - being slow to get out of the captain's chair, for example - but in the absence of a filter, he says everything he thinks, gets easily angry, becomes insubordinate, and goes so far as put the mission (and his sister!) in danger several times. And that's where I stop believing. Dude essentially gives the game away, names Siranna, etc. Being out of control is one thing, but Saru isn't dumb. Here, he is. But he's not alone.

Take Burnham, for example, who pulls a gun on Saru and tells him to get off the transporter pad instead of just going to the console and stopping the countdown. Or the two of them beaming down to Saru's village and walking around in full view of something called the Watchful Eye that monitors every village and is fully capable of detecting biological life signs enough to spot Kelpiens undergoing Vahar'ai, then being surprised when the Ba'ul notice. Of course that's nothing compared to the climax of the piece, where Pike allows Saru to initiate an accelerated Vahar'ai of every Kelpien on the planet simultaneously, drastically changing their society and power dynamic with the Ba'ul. Sure, he expresses concerns, but ultimately, given how Saru's been behaving since his transformation, not ENOUGH of them. Do we really believe the Kelpiens won't take revenge on the Ba'ul now that they are fearless and aggressive? When Siranna tells her people they don't have to be afraid anymore, I was thinking that, well, they CAN'T be afraid anymore. If the normal Kelpien's life cycle includes a time with fear and one without, what happens when the entire species is upgraded in one go. What is the factor that makes one undergo a change? What happens when Kelpiens move on before they're ready? If the previous state was one of extreme empathy, what kind of brutality might result in this sudden "upgrade"? (Even accidentally, those spines look like a nasty reflex action.) And though the Red Angel swoops in with a deux ex machina to stop the Ba'ul from committing mass genocide, is it going to show up again and again to throw an EMP every time they reset their systems? Or is this permanent and the Ba'ul have lost the advantage that would keep them from succumbing to an aggressor species? It just doesn't work. Not for Starfleet. Saru saying that "we" can show the Ba'ul we're not ruled by our instincts, and so on, is overreaching. He's not staying behind, and even invites his sister to leave with him. Who does he think is going to lead the Kelpiens in this brave new world anyway?

The Ba'ul are, at least, a very cool looking aliens. They look like they're dripping with tar, very creepy, with intimidating ships, living in a city under water and likely slushing around water tubes to get from one place to another. If a planet is going to spawn two whole sentient races, they probably need different habitats to take over, and it might make sense for them to be an aquatic species that comes into conflict with what appears to be a race of fishermen. I do question whether the ships/city look like something the Ba'ul would have imagined, designed and built. The treatment on their voice makes them hard to understand at times. But what really works against them is that there was an opportunity for something more ironic, more interesting, and more in line with the season's lack of true villains. One line in particular stuck out at me: That no Kelpien had seen a Ba'ul in living memory. I jumped to the wrong conclusion, that's on me, but I still think it would have been more interesting to have the Ba'ul merely be another stage of Kelpien existence. The aggressive Kelpiens being a danger to the natural order of the more timid type, they decided long ago to set themselves up as a different society, preserving their people's simple way of life, and "graduating" individuals undergoing the change to live in a more technological world. Saru would have become Ba'ul and not known it. That's not the story they were telling, but it's one that wouldn't have required the Discovery to so casually meddle with a planet's normal evolution.

In the running subplots department, we have Tyler also being an ass to Pike because I guess Saru wasn't enough. Not the best use of the character. I wish he'd stop throwing around the possibility that the Red Angel is a time traveler because it gives me bad flashbacks of Enterprise's Temporal Cold War, the implication being that any discrepancy in a prequel show can be explained away through time travel. The Angel got a whole lot less interesting in this episode when they decided it was less entity and more humanoid in a suit. And then there's Hugh Culber, feeling not quite right in his new body, a mirror to Saru's own evolution. If Saru is hardly himself without fear, is Culber himself if he doesn't have the scar to prove it? The reference is to the bad fall he had that put him in contact with a doctor who inspired him to go into medicine. If the scar is gone from his "pristine body", did his origin story actually happen to him?

There's a lot of ore to mine in and around Kaminar.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium-Low: What should have been an intriguing and triumphant return to Saru's home planet instead feels like a clip show followed by a badly thought-out resolution. It's easy to be dazzled by the effects and jeopardy, but the story really doesn't work in Trek's framework.


De said...

A short line about a Federation envoy arriving to broker a peace would have gone a long way here.

Siskoid said...

Indeed. Most plot holes can be paved over with a simple line of dialog.


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