When another ‘Red Angel’ signal is located, the crew is mystified that it appears to be above Saru (Doug Jones) homeworld of Kaminar. As seen in ‘The Brightest Star‘, Saru had left years before and as the society was a pre-warp world, he could never go home again. But given the importance of their quest, and finding some useful loopholes, Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Saru beam down and meet with Saru’s astonished sister, Sirrana (Hannah Spear) who has mixed emotions about his abandonment and return.
Saru’s return does not go unnoticed by the Ba’ul, the race that dominates Kaminar from afar, essentially regularly culling the Kelpians who go along with the cycle of life and death as they believe it keeps the planet balanced. But when they demand that Star Fleet not only leave but leave Saru behind, Captain Pike (Anson Mount) is faced with a difficult choice.
However Saru, now feeling little of the fear that once controlled every aspect of his life, is not about to let others dictate his fate and decides to take drastic actions of his own – ones that may have huge implications for his family and friends…
The sixth episode of this season returns to – and expands upon – some of the elements explored in the The Brightest Star, so it’s an obvious choice to have Doug Aarniokoski return to direct. In many ways, this is one of the best balanced episodes of the year so far – combining the Red Angel quest with a key development for one of the core cast and also displaying a strong level of creative CGI alongside good acting.
Story-wise, it’s a good tale which holds the attention and delivers on most of its promise – though your light years may vary on some of the various ‘deus ex machina’ at work. For instance, the sphere from a few episodes ago is an overtly useful go to to list and uncover galactic historical secrets (the dewey-decimal system, huzzah!) which feels a little sonic-screwdriver in its potential ability to save the day on a regular basis if not hobbled by season’s end. The Red Angel’s fateful ‘intervention’ at the end is also a useful development given the massive implications if it had failed to do so, though it adds to the mystery of why it didn’t or couldn’t act before. But the biggie: it’s going to leave a significant part of the audience scratching their head about the inconsistent way that the Prime Directive is being applied…
The famous Star Fleet ruling is basically that its members should not interfere with the development of societies that haven’t achieved interstellar travel (ie: pre-warp capabilities). Several significant episodes over the years have dealt with cases where that important, well-intentioned rule has come into conflict with more urgent and pragmatic concerns – and in that’s sense, it’s ripe for good moral drama. But in this season alone we’ve had the Discovery’s away team do their utmost best to walk the line to the extent of keeping their existence largely secret from an off-world colony mysteriously snatched up form Earth during World War III and deposited on the other side of the universe (in the New Eden episode). In that case, one could actually have made an argument for revealing themselves more openly, but only a single colonist really worked it out. But now, a few weeks later – and however much they may engage in furrowed brows and hand-wringing – our heroes don’t merely meander along that ethical line, they fully vault across it with the flimsiest of semantics. Pike and Burnham manage to offer the excuse that though Saru secretly left with Georgiou many years ago and is forbidden to return and reveal the truth to his people, on a technical level the people of Kaminar are already aware of their masters being from ‘another world’ so therefore it’s okay for the Earth ship to beam him down for a reunion. By the end, with genocide almost imminent, the Discovery probably has no choice, but I’m not sure their higher-ups would be so understanding.
Doug Jones, as always, excels beneath the prosthetics and brings a real sense of conflict from his mastery of vocal tones and body language. The shift in Saru’s behaviour – now less governed by the physical restrictions his ganglia placed on him – is somewhat abrupt and it might have been nicer to see that played out over a few more episodes before rising so overtly (in last week’s episode there was nary a sign of the change and now he’s barking at the Captain like a child). The Ba’ul are an interesting if unexpected design, a largely ‘from-the-shadows’ creation that one might have suspected would turn out to be far less frightening when brought into the light (I, for one, was expecting some ‘Great Oz’ sleight of hand). However they turn out to be truly visually intimidating, if traditionally ‘evil’-looking, bringing to mind a CGI-enhanced version of that oil-slick that claimed Tasha Yar all those years ago (or, will many years from now…. boy, this time-line is hard to navigate). In the bigger-picture, I’m not sure how well their fluctuating, fluid shapes meshes with the technology-heavy accessories they have, but as a one-off boo-hiss ‘villain’, they’re certainly intimidating in the short-term.
There’s obviously the question of how we leave things – saved by an almost divine intervention from a plan about to go off the rails, the Kelpians and Ba’ul now have a very different ‘balance’ on the planet, but it seems incredibly optimistic that things are going to work out well after such events and decisions made without the request or permission of an entire civilisation. Narrative-wise, it would also make sense for Saru to stay, but he’s needed as a show regular.
One other thing to note is that with the further investigations into the Red Angel (suggesting time-travel may be involved and the discussion of whether it is reacting to or causing seriously dangerous events) the episode’s ‘Sound of Thunder‘ title may not be just about the anger rising in Saru or the military scale of the near-conflict involved in the story but also a reference to the famous Ray Bradbury tale about time-travel’s cause and effect. To that extent, maybe the literal transaltion of that Latin term (‘God in the machine’) is appropriate as well…