This Star Trek: Discovery review contains spoilers.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 2, Episode 6
Well, that escalated quickly.
Driven by yet another sighting of the mysterious Red Angel, Discovery finds itself in orbit around Saru’s homeworld of Kaminar, a planet we know from the Short Treks episode “The Brightest Star.” Kaminar is home to two species: the Kelpiens, the pre-warp species from which Saru hails, and the Ba’ul, who have used their advanced technology to convince the Kelpiens to ritually-sacrifice themselves to the Ba’ul for generations.
In the first season of Discovery, Saru’s species was described as one half of a predator-prey dichotomy that brought up many follow-up questions that were never properly addressed. In “The Sound of Thunder,” we dive right in.
The Discovery’s arrival on Kaminar is complicated by many factors. For Starfleet, it is complicated by General Order One, which states that no starship will interfere with the “normal” development of an alien species. As the Kelpiens are pre-warp and have never met an alien before (Saru is a massive outlier), any Starfleet officer, save for Saru, who even makes contact with the Kelpiens will be changing their world forever. Pike must parse out for himself and the Discovery whether his mission to discover the true nature of the Red Angel should take any kind of priority over General Order One.
Everything is complicated by Saru’s recent transition through a biological process known as vahar’ai. Saru, like all Kelpiens, was raised to believe that vahar’ai was a terminal condition; the instigation of vahar’ai was what led Kelpiens to sacrifice themselves to the Ba’ul as part of the culling. Now, Saru knows that it not the truth, as he himself has survived, coming out on the other side without his threat ganglia. He is understandably angry, and wishes to keep his family, community, and species from continuing to sacrifice themselves for what he now knows to be a lie.
Through some strong-arming from an emotionally-involved Saru, Pike agrees to let both Michael and Saru go down to the planet to find out from the Kelpiens if they have seen the Red Angel for themselves. The two visit Saru’s home village, and meet Saru’s sister, Siranna, who has become a priest in Saru’s 18-year absence, in no small part driven by her brother’s absence and the strange beam of light she saw in the sky on the night of his disappearance.
Siranna is initially overjoyed to see the brother she feares was dead, but her relief partially (and understandably) turns to anger when she realizes that her brother did not return to see her or to let her know he is not dead, but rather to inquire about the Red Angel. (Note: It’s almost never better to let your loved ones think you are dead.)
Siranna isn’t the only person that is upset by Saru’s return. Once the Ba’ul realize that a Kelpien who has gone through vahar’ai exists and is back on Kaminar, they threaten to destroy Saru’s village unless Discovery hands him over.
This is another great Pike episode. I’m not sure what choices I would have made in his position, but he shows immense empathy when it comes to trying to understand how Saru might feel, while also knowing that Saru is feeling a lot of different things. “He is our people,” is surely one of Pike’s best moments yet, and another Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 moment that feels to tap into the Trek spirit. However, Saru takes matters into his own hands. Surrendering himself to the Ba’ul, despite Pike’s orders and Michael’s concerns.
I have to admit… throughout most of this episode, I was convinced that the Ba’ul would turn out to be the post-vahar’ai Kelpiens, transformed into something else, watching over the Kelpiens from above, afraid that their lack of fear makes them unable to co-exist with their former communities. I’m disappointed that this did not turn out to be the case, partially because I have so many questions about what changes Saru is set to experience. However, what Saru did find within the Ba’ul fortress was also pretty cool. And by “cool,” I mean terrifying.
Using information gathered by the Sphere, Tilly, Michael, and Airum (that’s right—the cyborg character gets some stuff to do this episode!) discover that the Ba’ul once lived on the planet with both pre-vahar’ai and post-vahar’ai Kelpiens. The post-vahar’ai Kelpiens were the predator species then, leading the Ba’ul to come up with a plan: if they could get rid of the post-vahar’ai Kelpiens, then they could rule the planet. They used their superior technology to do so… somehow. Still a little fuzzy on the details here, and the Ba’ul we encounter doesn’t fill much of it in.
It’s a disappointing lesson to learn from years as the prey, but it’s also an understandable one, and it also highlights how wise Saru’s own decision is. Rather than try to take out the Ba’ul, he wishes to find a way for the Kelpiens to co-exist with the Ba’ul. There will be space for the Kelpien rage — which feels beyond necessary — but there will be negotiation and mediation and cooperation, too. Hopefully, there will be a way for the Ba’ul and the Kelpiens to share Kaminar.
To instigate this process, Saru decides to induce the vahar’ai of every Kelpien on the planet. Not going to lie: This is a massive decision for Saru to make on behalf of the Kelpien people, without the consent of the Kelpien people. Ideally, there would be room for a negotiation process without the forced vahar’ai of all Kelpiens. They would have the space to decide for themselves if they would like to go through the process, or let it happen naturally. Mediation of this kind of process is exactly the kind of job the Federation has been designed for. This is the latest example of characters on this show making choices about other characters’ bodies without their consent, and it sucks.
Either way, the Ba’ul are not into this plan. Instead, they plan to blow up every Kelpien village. Discovery tries to stop it, but they can only work so quickly. Instead, it is the Red Angel who steps in, yet again, to save the day, shutting the Ba’ul base down and saving the Kelpiens. Saru and Siranna witness the “miracle” and we get the best look at this Red Angel yet. They are not an angel at all, but rather a humanoid in some kind of suit. They seemingly have the ability to travel through time, amongst other technological capacities that are beyond what the Federation is capable of.
TyVoq interrupts his busy schedule of lurk-moping around to bring up some very good questions about the Red Angel. He points out to Pike that everything is fine and dandy until the Red Angel decides to turn their power on the Federation. Pike calls this paranoid, and it’s kind of wonderful that he is so optimistic. For me, TyVoq is a helpful voice, though I am glad he is not the one making the decisions. However, he is missing another vital point: Whatever happens in the future, the Red Angel is more or less commandeering Federation resources to help carry out their plan. Without Discovery’s arrival on Kaminar, none of this would have happened.
This episode left me with so many interesting questions that I am very much emotionally-engaged with. What will happen to Saru, and the rest of the post-vahar’ai Kelpiens? What does it mean to live without fear? Should the Discovery have intervened so intensely? What is the goal of the Red Angel? Have we met the Red Angel before? And, most importantly, why doesn’t this ship have 10 times more counselors?
Poor Hugh. Stamets is just glad to have his partner back and is not reading the room at all. I don’t know what the doctor’s excuse is. And, for the love of god, why is there no therapist in this conversation???
This episode built so wonderfully off of the previous one. From Saru’s transition and what it could mean to him, to the knowledge uncovered in the Sphere, to the focus of Michael and Saru’s relationship, this feels like one, seamless story.
One of the things I loved about this episode is that it all felt new. The Kelpiens and Kanimar are new additions to the DISCO universe, and you could feel it as this story unfolded.
The fact that Saru has such better eyesight than humans reminds me of the Farscape episode “Crackers Don’t Matter,” when we find out Crichton’s eyes, despite being 20/20 and blue, are so much less good at seeing than the other inhabitants of Moya.
In many ways, Saru’s storyline here mirrored Michael’s storyline from Discovery‘s first two episodes. I hope the two address this at some point, as Saru’s anger surrounding Michael’s choices in the premiere still feels somewhat unresolved.
Zany Red Angel theory: OK, so this episode had me thinking a lot about the Short Treks. The Short Treks episode “Calypso” is set 1,000 years in Discovery’s future and sees the Discovery’s computer abandoned and waiting for her crew. In that time, she has evolved somewhat and becomes friends with a castaway named Craft. Craft eventually leaves, but what happenes to the Discovery? Could she have evolved into something new, like the Red Angel?
This episode was written by Bo Yeon Kim & Erika Lippoldt, who will serve as co-showrunners on the Michelle Yeoh spinoff, which just makes me even more excited for that show.
See you all next week on Vulcan!