Star Trek: Discovery: The Sounds of Thunder
February 22, 2019 1:45 PM - Season 2, Episode 6 - Subscribe

A signal appears above Kaminar.

Memory Alpha has some information for us:

Background information:
Continuity
> Saru mentions that Georgiou had been serving aboard the Archimedes when she brought him with her from Kaminar. This appears to contradict "The Brightest Star", in which Georgiou was aboard the a shuttle with the graphic "SHN 03", identifying it as with the USS Shenzhou.

Memorable quotes
"For eighteen years, I dreamt of returning to my village. It has not changed at all. But I see it... quite differently now."
- Saru

"Whoever is listening to my voice, I advise that you consider your next move very carefully."
"Give us the Kelpien."
"Commander Saru is a political asylum seeker and a Starfleet officer, protected by the Federation."
"You would risk the lives of your own people for one Kelpien?"
"This Kelpien is our people, and to defend him, I will do whatever I deem necessary."
"As will we."
- Pike and the Ba'ul

"This is Captain Pike. I will not allow you to wipe out an entire race. Your fear of the Kelpiens has blinded you to a peaceful solution. Starfleet can help you negotiate a new balance between your two species, protecting everyone on your world. However, if you choose to murder the entire Kelpien population, you will become our enemies. Choose wisely."
- Pike, issuing an ultimatum to the Ba'ul

"The truth has survived. It is time for a true balance to be restored. You do not have to be afraid anymore."
- Siranna, to her villagers
posted by mordax (60 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Pointless STO Comparison:
* The Discovery Operations Pack dropped recently, and Airam got a reference. There's a special Bridge Officer based on her.

Poster's Log:
The first half of the episode is pretty good, though I have a note or two. I was pretty unhappy with the entire resolution though. Breaking it down into some specifics:

* Pike's decision to send Saru to his own home village was some serious WTFery.
That was one of those plot decisions that clearly exists to drive what the writers wanted to happen instead of what the characters would do. Expecting Saru to be able to navigate 'don't tell them about Starfleet' with his own family, who would expect answers about where he's been, was transparently and indefensibly stupid. They just wanted Siranna there.

* Siranna's reactions are pretty good.
I appreciated a couple things there. First, it was good to see how unhappy she was that Saru hadn't even come back for her, but some unrelated mission.

I also really appreciated the show spending a little time with the idea that people stuck in systems of oppression cope partly by viewing suffering as virtuous. Siranna's accusation that Saru was cowardly for not sticking around for his own culling, framing her willingness to die for the system as brave, all rang pretty true to me. It's a dynamic we see play out in the real world time and again, so it was good DSC went for that.

* Saru's indignation felt real to me.
Being a minority among people who do not share your plight... eh. I've felt like Saru sometimes. I thought that was also handled pretty well.

* I want to make Trek writers keep a swear jar...
... but for the word 'evolution.' Seriously, that was aggravating.

* Making the Kelpians the initial aggressors wasn't cool.
The idea that once upon a time, the Ba'ul had a legitimate concern about Kelpians sure was... something. I'm still struggling with how to express why I find that so distasteful, (something something 'both sides,' maybe?), but it was a serious issue for me in this story.

* Another Prime Directive flub here.
It's one thing to tell the Kelpians what's going on and offer them aid, even offer military intervention on their behalf. It's another to perform an invasive medical procedure on an entire population without even saying 'hello,' especially if one of the likely outcomes of this action is civil war between two technologically mismatched populations.

This was another time when I would've appreciated some deeper thinking about why they have a Prime Directive, what it means, etc.

* There is absolutely no reason to expect a peaceful resolution here.
The Ba'ul were ready to commit genocide. The Kelpians have a pretty good case to try and return the favor. Saru's belief that things will just work out because Kelpians are awesome is incredibly naive, and the idea anybody would agree to that without some kind of mediation and sustained outside presence is just... *shrugs*

So yeah. Not real thrilled with this despite a reasonably strong opening, some good performances, etc.
posted by mordax at 2:10 PM on February 22 [19 favorites]


Well they're a Skin of Evil looking bunch aren't they?

(No forgiveness for Tasha Yar.)
posted by biffa at 2:22 PM on February 22 [15 favorites]


I appreciate that the showrunners wanted to make a TOSesque point that they should learn to peacefully co-exist, but, like mordax, I have some misgivings about how it's constructed. I mean, it's not implausible that the post-vahar'ai Kelpiens could have been significantly more aggressive in the past; they even built up to that a bit in showing the change in Saru's behavior (like not immediately giving up the captain's chair to Pike), but there's a bit of weirdness in contemplating the Ba'ul's decision to deal with the Kelpiens by... eating them? Like, if Tilly and Airiam dug a little deeper, they may have found a bit more context to their history. As it is, it's as if the occupying forces in Germany post-WWII had developed a taste for Volkschnitzel. And, yeah, simply vahar'aizing all the Kelpiens at once is, um, problematic.

My prediction for the Red Angel: it (or they) is one of the Preservers.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:25 PM on February 22 [5 favorites]


Well I was fully expecting the Ba'ul to be whatever Kelpiens metamorphise into. Maybe they would turn red and grow wings, I don't know. Ha! Instead we get the very interesting and repulsive slime creature, sort of a cross between a Dementor and a lobster... (reminds me of Jordan Peterson actually. You're welcome.) It's almost like the show wants us to take sides or something? I assume we aren't going to be seeing much of them going forward, that looks like a pain in the arse to depict. Is it a puppet? CGI? I hope not to see one again in the near future.
posted by Coaticass at 2:46 PM on February 22 [5 favorites]


Hmm, perhaps the Ba'ul are supposed to be semi-aquatic?
posted by Coaticass at 2:51 PM on February 22


It's one thing to tell the Kelpians what's going on and offer them aid, even offer military intervention on their behalf. It's another to perform an invasive medical procedure on an entire population without even saying 'hello,' especially if one of the likely outcomes of this action is civil war between two technologically mismatched populations.

A plan which they put into action about three minutes after thinking of it, with about 5 seconds of that time spent thinking about the possible consequences. It’s so stupid.
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 3:04 PM on February 22 [12 favorites]


The red Angel looked like Spider-Man with the Tony Stark armour.
posted by biffa at 3:05 PM on February 22 [4 favorites]


Making the Kelpians the initial aggressors wasn't cool.

This struck me as a very heavy-handed Trek allegory about the psychological effects of oppression. The resolution was terrible--the likelihood of a) Kelpiens surviving the sudden loss of their entire worldview without serious cultural repercussions and b) either Kelpiens or Ba'ul being able to resolve two thousand plus years of conflict without extensive outside mediation strikes me as...low? Non-existent? It was as though they grafted a DS9 grimdark plot onto TNG optimism. (It doesn't help that the early signs of Kelpien maturation turn out to be RAGE ISSUES. Hooray! Now we have an entire culture with RAGE ISSUES! And nobody is around to explain how to deal with them!)

Also, perhaps it's my internal martinet manifesting itself, but Pike should have kicked Saru off the bridge much earlier.

I did appreciate that Culber is having post-resurrection problems.

Anyway, I started the episode thinking that it would be the best one so far, but finished it saying, "and...and...and...the Federation is just going to leave them to get on with it, as though everything will be hunky-dory?!"
posted by thomas j wise at 3:16 PM on February 22 [7 favorites]


Sharing in the grave concern about forcing vahar'ai on all Kelpiens. And not just from a consent standpoint (although that alone would be reason enough), but from a biological and sociological one as well. It stands to reason that before the Ba'ul came, at any given time Kelpien society would consist of a mix of pre- and post-vahar'ai Kelpiens. Nobody knows what a society entirely of post-vahar'ai Kelpiens would look like. Nobody stopped to think if pre-vahar'ai Kelpiens might serve some necessary function. Were they the peacekeepers that stopped aggressive post-vahar'ai Kelpiens from warring amongst themselves? What happens to Kelpien children who go through vahar'ai, if that's not a normal process for them? What if only pre-vahar'ai Kelpiens are capable of reproduction?

The knowledge from the sphere appears to be quite extensive - down to some very detailed historical demographic data on a single planet - and that could become problematic from a storytelling standpoint. Use the sphere's data too often, and it becomes a lazy crutch. But not checking with AncientSpheripedia every time they encounter an unknown planet or race or phenomenon would be irresponsible in-universe. It's a very tight rope to walk.

I am interested to see where they're going with reconstituted Culber. Depending on Federation funeral customs in the 23rd century and Culber's own wishes, Culber's corpse might still be around somewhere.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:26 PM on February 22 [21 favorites]


Yeah, this is up there with the biggest Prime Directive violations in the whole franchise. Maybe we'll get a thoughtful followup episode with a rage-accustomed Saru walking forlornly amongst the wreckage of the planet, consumed by self-doubt?

Naah.

The smash cut to extreme closeup of half of Ariam's face was so out of nowhere that I actually burst out laughing! I actually really want them to be pushing into interesting cinematographic choices, but for the love of Spock, make the shot choices motivated, people!

Really, a minor issue.

Not super-happy with the Ba'ul voice FX, it made the dialog needlessly difficult to understand.

I feel like the Saru's reference to his rage followed by the citation of Aeschylus give us some hints about what might have been the intent here in early story meetings. Achilles' rage is the driving force of the narrative of the Iliad, after all.

The quote itself is cited in MA as "He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop from the heart."

This appears to be from a 1930 translation of Agamemnon from the Oresteia, a passage that was in fact quoted by Robert F. Kennedy in his speech announcing the assassination of MLK on April 4, 1968. But what's this? The MA citation above changes a significant word, significantly altering the meaning of the quote. The original citation appears to be

God, whose law it is
that he who learns must suffer.
And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
and in our own despite, against our will,
comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.


I guess I don't know offhand if the MA citation is broadcast-accurate or not.

The other thing I had to wonder about is just when Saru had time to memorize Aeschylus! I mean I guess twenty years of exile or however long is plenty enough time to do that.

Wikipedia's summary of Agamemnon does seem to foreshadow a dark outcome for the events in this episode, so perhaps I am mistaken in my skepticism that Show will take the events seen here seriously:

"Aeschylus begins in Greece describing the return of King Agamemnon from his victory in the Trojan War, from the perspective of the towns people (the Chorus) and his wife, Clytemnestra. However, dark foreshadowings build to the death of the king at the hands of his wife, who was angry at his sacrifice of their daughter Iphigenia, who was killed so that the gods would restore the winds and allow the Greek fleet to sail to Troy. She was also unhappy at his keeping of the Trojan prophetess Cassandra as a concubine. Cassandra foretells of the murder of Agamemnon, and of herself, to the assembled townsfolk, who are horrified. She then enters the palace knowing that she cannot avoid her fate. The ending of the play includes a prediction of the return of Orestes, son of Agamemnon, who will seek to avenge his father."

Finally, Culber's uncertainty about his new body is an interesting refraction on a character beat associated with McCoy in TOS which was largely played for laughs and left unexplored in that show. The transporter disassembles the transportees' original constituent molecules and reconstitutes them from local material remotely, as I understand it. That unambiguously means that the original being is killed, although in Trek we accept that identity travels with the newly-assembled person or object.

In TOS we have multiple examples of that reconstitution going awry in interesting ways, but I cannot think of an example from any of the series in which the psychological consequences of what is arguably resurrection is closely examined. Culber's resurrection is more conventionally recognizable as such, which is yet another callback to The Search for Spock movie in this season, which has been littered with them.

In conclusion, pretty sure the Red Angel will turn out to be Pepper Potts, having stolen a time-and-warp capable suit from Tony. Well spotted, biffa!

joking
posted by mwhybark at 4:11 PM on February 22 [4 favorites]


After the scar scene with Stamets my SO wondered whether Culber might not still be gay. Surely they wouldn't?
posted by biffa at 4:31 PM on February 22 [1 favorite]


There would be riots. If you thought the backlash was bad when they seemed to be using the "bury your gays" trope...

(My autocorrect wants to write "tripe" rather than "trope" there. Can't say it's wrong.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 5:14 PM on February 22 [6 favorites]


* Pike's decision to send Saru to his own home village was some serious WTFery.
That was one of those plot decisions that clearly exists to drive what the writers wanted to happen instead of what the characters would do. Expecting Saru to be able to navigate 'don't tell them about Starfleet' with his own family, who would expect answers about where he's been, was transparently and indefensibly stupid. They just wanted Siranna there.


Yeah, they could have changed this a variety of different ways -- maybe they pick up a sign that the Red Angel appeared near a particular village (not Saru's home) so they go there, but discovered Siranna is now living in that village for Reasons. (Of course, that would suggest additional intention on the Red Angels' part, which is not certain)
posted by duffell at 5:39 PM on February 22 [2 favorites]


RIOTS, yes.
posted by mwhybark at 5:44 PM on February 22 [2 favorites]


The Kaminar plot was infuriating. My partner and I paused the episode at a few points to discuss how we thought this would play out and whether and how Michael making contact with the Kelpiens would violate the Prime Directive, and then...wow. Apparently we spent more time considering the Prime Directive than the writers did. Doesn't changing the biology of an entire species all at once without consulting them violate the principles of the Federation? I don't just mean the Prime Directive, I mean they basically "saved" some people by undercutting their autonomy AND then leaving them without any resources to adjust to this newly imposed reality. It would be as if in DS9, the Federation had just given the Bajorans nuclear weapons, trusted them to sort out the Cardassian occupation, and flown off.

(I expected the Ba'ul to turn out to be post-vahar'ai Kelpiens who "culled" cusp-vahar'ai Kelpiens to kill the ones who objected to the revelation and absorb the ones interested in joining the ruling class. Then, as the first Kelpien to survive vahar'ai without co-option by the oppressor class, Saru himself would become a potentially destabilizing force.)

After the scar scene with Stamets my SO wondered whether Culber might not still be gay. Surely they wouldn't?

FWIW, I think Culber is the same person, identity- and memory-wise. I liked the scene about the missing scar. That scar, and the choice to keep it, reflected a key moment in Culber's life. But if you think of your self as the accretions of time and choice in your mind (memories) and body (scars), how disorienting must it be to find the mind you think you remember in a body that doesn't quite match? Worse, in a body that no longer reflects your choices, because the choices you remember didn't happen with the body you're in?

But I also thought there was no way a Federation ship would effect unsolicited, unannounced biological change on a planetary scale, so. Maybe I should just stop talking now.
posted by Fish, fish, are you doing your duty? at 9:14 PM on February 22 [12 favorites]


I pretty much hated everything about the premise and resolution of this episode. All I could think about were the many examples of imperial powers "solving" a local problem they don't understand and, as a consequence, make everything so much worse.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:22 PM on February 22 [14 favorites]


It doesn't help that the early signs of Kelpien maturation turn out to be RAGE ISSUES. Hooray! Now we have an entire culture with RAGE ISSUES!

And ear darts! Pew pew pew!
posted by scalefree at 10:41 PM on February 22 [12 favorites]


For me the big change was when Saru was standing chest to chest with Pike- he seemed so tall in this episode!
posted by freethefeet at 10:58 PM on February 22


What if Spock is the red angel?
posted by Marticus at 3:05 AM on February 23 [4 favorites]


Mrs Clanger and I both assumed the reveal would be that the Ba'ul were the next stage of the Kelpian life cycle and there were Good Reasons that the Ba'ul concealed this; the actual twist was in some ways more interesting than that, but as others have noted the resolution was terrible. I can only assume that this was deliberate and that the Discovery crew's actions will come back to haunt them. After all, people have noted since the first episode of this show that we never see any Kelpians in any of the other, later-set Trek series, and maybe there's a reason for that.

For a civilisation that has only had warp technology for 20 years, the Ba'ul seem to have remarkably advanced and powerful spacecraft; one rather got the impression that if matters had degenerated to shooting then the Discovery would have been badly outmatched.

Are there Ba'ul in the mirror universe, or does the Terran Empire just eat Kelpians before they can change into something that might be an actual threat? If the Kaminar plot is revisited it won't surprise me at all if mirror-Georgiou says "Oh, I assumed you knew about the Kelpians, it's why we make sure they don't live too long."

The suggestion that the 'red angel' is a time-traveller altering or influencing the past may well be supported by the episode title, very close to that of a classic Ray Bradbury short story.

Culber: it seems to me that what we're seeing is the entirely reasonable trauma of someone who has been in a literal half-dead nightmare for months and has now found himself in what is very nearly, but very obviously not quite, his own body. Can you imagine looking in the mirror and experiencing the Uncanny Valley? As has long been noted (sometimes in-show) the way the transporter works is problematic enough, but this goes beyond even that.

Good points: I liked the depiction of the Ba'ul. And Lt-Cdr Airiam came very close to being used as an actual character! Mind you, I don't think we've yet had any backstory for her; this episode she seemed to be being used almost as a stand-in for TNG's Data.
posted by Major Clanger at 4:39 AM on February 23 [12 favorites]


For a civilisation that has only had warp technology for 20 years, the Ba'ul seem to have remarkably advanced and powerful spacecraft

Also those population counts on the screen at one point suggests there are only tens of thousands of both Ba'ul and Kelpians so how could they have developed that scale of tech that rapidly, across many tech categories?

Separately: It looked to me like a woman in the red angel suit.
posted by biffa at 5:47 AM on February 23 [2 favorites]


For me the big change was when Saru was standing chest to chest with Pike- he seemed so tall in this episode!

Doug Jones is 6'3"; his height relative to the rest of the crew probably wasn't as apparent pre-vahar'ai because he tended not to stand that close to people, probably also because of how he's been directed and the plot point in this episode that a post-vahar'ai Kelpien is physically a threat. (We'd seen Saru crush a communicator in each hand last season, but in this ep he rips a console off its base without even trying.) One of the interesting things about looking up Jones' height is that he's even a couple of inches taller than Ron Perlman, which I didn't get from watching the Hellboy movies.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:50 AM on February 23 [2 favorites]


I miss the first season. I miss the Mirror Universe. I miss Captain Lorca. He was a fun villain and he had chemistry with Michael. I miss Michael being the core around which everything else rotated. I hate that Spock and Pike and the Enterprise are stealing the limelight. This is like a reboot of TOS--it's not what I was promised and not what I signed up for.
posted by jojo and the benjamins at 10:03 AM on February 23 [4 favorites]


Doug Jones is 6' 3"

...and he's wearing crazy platform shoes that a) have about a 3-inch platform sole and b) angle his feet as if he were wearing extreme fetish heels, presumably to provide the illusion of a hoof and grazing-mammal ankle. They must add like ten inches to his height.
posted by mwhybark at 11:33 AM on February 23 [8 favorites]


After that I was struck with the thought that the red angel is Zakalwe dispatched by Special Circumstances to adjust the politics of that portion of the galaxy in a different direction for everyone's (the Culture's) best interests.
posted by Babblesort at 11:50 AM on February 23 [12 favorites]


I was disappointed at how much more human the makeup for Sirenna was than the makeup for Saru. I understand that it saves on cost, application time, and it makes the actor's performance easier to read. I just feel that they spent a lot of time and effort to make Saru a member from a quite different species from humans, but just dropped it when they might have to do it for more than one member of the species.
posted by Quonab at 1:28 PM on February 23 [2 favorites]


Agreed that the forced mass vahar'ai narrative is broken.

otoh, I'm digging angrySaru. Respect to Doug Jones.

The Ba'ul's tech power level feels implausible, but maybe they just have massive space platforms but much lower power sources than the Federation? They're mass(ively) impressive, but they might only have peashooters compared to the amount of energy that the Disco's can draw from its power core and throw at the Ba'ul.
posted by porpoise at 3:29 PM on February 23 [2 favorites]


I'm digging angrySaru.

... tag added. :)
posted by mordax at 7:00 PM on February 23 [1 favorite]


But I wonder if anything will come of that character progression?

I'm expecting to be disappointed, but the natural narrative progression would be that Saru starts taking a(n aggressive) SJW/ conscience role of the Discovery officer corps.

MAYBE (especially) after a/ the bad fallout from the forced vahar'ai.

But anyway, I'm super curious where the writers take Saru's storyline.
posted by porpoise at 11:44 PM on February 23


Agreed with all the 'forced evolution' problems, and that the plot is resolved poorly. I also didn't find many character moments in it to enjoy, but there was one stand out, when Saru's sister says she secretly hoped she'd never see him again, because that might mean he'd escaped to some kind of freedom. That's an experience I have had and I know a lot of people have had coming from economically oppressed areas. Going back home and not seeing someone because they moved away and don't keep in contact is one of the best case scenarios for them, because there will never be anything good for them at home, and not knowing how they are doing anywhere else is better, cause at least it's not this. That line got me.

Other than that, I do actually think the show will go there with the entire planet descending into civil war and chaos because of Pike's actions, not necessarily to 'total genocide' level, but pretty bad. They've shown some pretty brutal consequences of actions before, and the culber stuff implies that even the best meaning actions have unintended consequences, and they will be playing that one out more.

That the Ba'ul have such giant space ships but only recently got to warp makes sense to me, for a species that is defined around containment and control of another sentient species, that kind of effort was probably focused purely on that and not at all on going out to meet new sentient species. This is to say that the Ba'ul probably don't stare at the stars at night and wonder if they are alone in the universe, cause they know they aren't, and the one they know has neck flipper guns. There's a whole planet-wide religion around them, I don't think it's stated, but it's implied that the Ba'ul have had local space travel for thousands and thousands of years, or at least generations beyond memory (and who knows how long Kelpians live?)

I don't know TOS because it's a bad TV show, but Pike seems like a dipshit asshole. That might be on purpose to not betray the standard set in TOS.

In the fullness of things, and with the ENT rewatch that is ongoing, I don't think the prime directive actually matters to anyone other than Picard and maybe Janeway, kinda. Other than that it's pretty much ignored at will. That's not to say that it's annoying, but to say that statistically, ignoring the prime directive may in fact be more trek than adhering to it.
posted by neonrev at 1:17 PM on February 24 [3 favorites]


We got to the 'Saru discovers his spikes' moment in my house and decided the episode was a metaphor for hopeful Obama-era liberals evolving into antifa supersoldiers.
posted by MarchHare at 9:41 PM on February 24 [5 favorites]


What if only pre-vahar'ai Kelpiens are capable of reproduction?

Thank you! This was my first thought as well. They have no idea! It's really a uniquely terrible idea.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 12:37 AM on February 25 [5 favorites]


I was also frustrated with the Kelpian plotline. I feel like this show is developing a pattern of having the characters make incredibly stupid choices in order to create tension, going back to the pilot when Phillipa and Michael went to the Klingon ship alone to assassinate T'Kuvma. There may be consequences in a later episode for forcing the Kelpians to undergo the evolution (blech, sorry) but that doesn't change the fact that it was a really stupid thing to do.

I also continue to want a lot more "down time" from this show. I don't want Star Trek to go back to being entirely about crew members messing around in the Holodeck, but I feel like it's impossible to get a good read on our characters when they are constantly in a crisis situation.
posted by chaiminda at 2:36 AM on February 25 [2 favorites]


Halloween Jack, you made me laugh aloud. DevilsAdvocate, you did too.

chaiminda: yeah! Classic example: Family from TNG. The stakes are high emotionally but it's not all about saving the planet/ship/galaxy/etc.

My spouse and I spent substantial time chatting this weekend about how we would have improved the reveal on this episode, given that the writers evidently didn't want to go the Kelpiens-eventually-mature-into-Ba'ul route. And we decided that one better way would have been to make the Ba'ul carnivorous plants whose relationship with the Kelpiens had some interesting coopetition-style ecological complexity that was fine back when none of them were sentient, but then things went nonlinear when both sides became sentient, developed group strategies, etc. (The roundabout way we got to this idea: we also saw a few old Hollywood musicals this weekend, and got to talking about how the plot of this arc might go if it were a musical suitable for staging by high school drama departments, and I decided the Ba'ul could be played by a leftover Audrey prop from Little Shop of Horrors.)

And -- check it -- you know how the start of this episode, and a bit in the middle, and part of the end are all in Kalimar-type gardens, first in Saru's quarters, then in his old village, then in his quarters again? You could do that AGAIN in the prison-type scene, where Saru and Siranna wake up in a familiar-looking garden, but then, CHOMPY ALIEN PLANT.
posted by brainwane at 5:26 AM on February 25 [5 favorites]


I do really like the characterization of Saru making TERRIBLE RECKLESS DECISIONS because he's so used to relying on his fear as a core component of his judgment, and now it's just gone, and he hasn't actually worked to replace it with anything. And I like how he is just heedless and driven to TELL HIS PEOPLE THE INFURIATING TRUTH and AWAKEN THEM TO RAGE, without any forethought about how to do this in a useful way. I don't love how his colleagues are "yes, and"-ing his impulses instead of helping him think strategically. But maybe this is just my teenage "but Picard would do it this way" temperament poking through. And, as is so often the case, sometimes I want things to happen in a way that would be better for the people involved but less telegenic.
posted by brainwane at 5:31 AM on February 25 [8 favorites]


This episode felt like TOS in the best way and I am here for it.
posted by Automocar at 6:53 AM on February 25


Remember how a few episodes ago Pike was steadfastly in favor of 'we can't interfere significantly because of general order one, even with groups of humans -- a species that has discovered warp travel -- because these particular humans have not, even though these same humans have already been significantly interfered with by another warp-capable species, and merely revealing ourselves to them is forbidden? But if we absolutely have to stretch the rules, we need to do it in as low-impact of a way as possible?'

The writers of this episode, apparently, do not remember that episode; if you put these back-to-back, it's like watching two completely different shows that happen to share the same cast of characters. And while I was (and am) a bit critical of how the show and the crew approached the situation in New Eden, I would take a dozen comparable episodes to this. After the Saru short trek, I was hoping we'd get an episode where he returned to Kaminar; this did not live up to expectations.

Forcibly performing a medical procedure on an entire population without their informed consent, when the people performing it do not fully understand what the procedure is, what exactly it does, or -- as evidenced earlier in the ep -- even remotely understand the basics of Kelpian biology is morally reprehensible to the point of criminality. In seriousness, there's more of a cause to jail the entire bridge crew here than there ever was to jail Burnham back in S1E1; while the general arc of the episode keeps trying to set up a theme of how oppression can become cyclical, and presents the crew of the Discovery as helping break that cycle, that presentation is just completely and utterly wrong, and rooted in a wholly wrong understanding of 'evolution.' Compounding that, as a practical matter, the crew seems absolutely derelict in their duty to spend even five minutes to consider whether a group that has already committed genocide once, in nearly wiping out the Kelpiens before stepping back from the brink, would...do the same thing they've already done again? With absolutely no plan or thought for how they might prevent that? And only offer to negotiate a peaceable solution after doing all of this, at the point of a metaphorical gun? Prime Directive aside, all of this would be equally awful if done to anyone else (Klingons, Ferengi, &c.)

I love this show, but this was an absolutely terrible episode in a lot of ways. The cast remains incredibly strong, the visual design remains sumptuous, and the only* thing letting them down is the writing. I appreciate that so many people here are highlighting the good bits of this episode, because I found it almost impossible to look past the bad parts and see them.

(The Culber/Stamets bits were really strong at all levels, though.)

*And, to me, the unnecessarily dramatic cinematography in some of the episodes, but that's more of a personal taste thing.
posted by cjelli at 7:36 AM on February 25 [11 favorites]


The cast remains incredibly strong, the visual design remains sumptuous, and the only* thing letting them down is the writing.

I agree, but that to me is like saying, "this is a nutritious, beautifully plated meal but it tastes like garbage."
posted by chaiminda at 10:31 AM on February 25 [1 favorite]


it tastes like garbage

In that metaphor, to me at least, it feels more like showing up at a restaurant to have a hearty main course only to find that the entire meal is just a brief appetizers and then suddenly multiple different dessert courses served at the same time (and also they sold out of the main course, sorry): all the dishes taste delicious in isolation, but the meal as a whole is rushed and gives you terrible indigestion. Plenty of shows are dessert shows, but I watch Star Trek because it has always wanted to grapple with more than that. Discovery is clearly trying to, too, and has done a good job of that in the recent past, it just wildly missed the mark on this episode.

Or, to expand on 'but the writing' a bit, there's a lot about the writing that's great: the dialogue is snappy! And they actually are, mostly, picking interesting ideas to engage with! It's just that, having picked those ideas, they don't actually engage with them, or go off in very odd directions with them. But the interpersonal writing about the characters remains strong; the motifs of ToS have been worked in well; it's the bigger-picture stuff where the show falls down the hardest, and I would include the entirety of the Red Angel/Spock arc in that.
posted by cjelli at 10:46 AM on February 25 [5 favorites]


Agreed, I might like Discovery better if I didn't have higher expectations of Star Trek.
posted by chaiminda at 10:49 AM on February 25 [2 favorites]


Huh, so the Ba'ul only recently became a warp-capable species, but they apparently have a whole fleet of ships, each of which has maybe 100 times the volume of the Discovery. I don't get it. It's like that giant ship the Remans somehow made in Star Trek Nemesis? Or that giant ship the Romulans had in Star Trek 2009? Or that giant ship the federation somehow build in secret in Star Trek Into Darkness? Who is making these things? Not the Kelpians, they're just picking flowers and meditating. And the tar-covered Ba'ul don't strike me as the mechanically adept type. A note to the writers: just because you can doesn't mean you should. And, as others have noted, that about the friggin' Prime Directive? It doesn't just apply to "pre-warp cultures".
posted by jabah at 4:35 PM on February 25 [1 favorite]


that giant ship the Remans... somehow build in secret in Star Trek Into Darkness

Yeah, the Reman ship being built without being discovered is laughable (unless its a commentary on racism [underestimating the Remans]) and the Section 31 ship... well, unlimited black funds...

But the point remains, the Reman ship is fueled by dilithium, the Remans mine dilithium, so lots of (contraband/ siphoned/ embezzled or otherwise unaccounted for) fuel to power all the reactors - and it's a brute force approach. Section 31 probably illegally trades in dilithium like we do fentanyl and cocaine, and with their political capital probably gets first dibs on new tech. That ship bothered me a lot but this is not the place.

The trope is that volume/ mass is shorthand for power. See also Star Wars wrt Star Destroyers, Super Star Destroyers. The amount of usable energy that you can generate. Typically, the amount of energy dictates the maximum size you can support - but there are definitely situations where that is not true/ desirable.

See: Defiant Class starship. Or more prosaically, a turbo V6 in a lightweight sports car vs. the same in a duty truck; or a real military personnel transport vs. some consumer engine thrown inside an over-weight Humvee chasis.

My personal take is that the Ba'ul are pure prey species - armouring up makes perfect sense, as does adaptive colouration (and also piloerection; cats puffing up during fight/flight - pufferfish blowing up, also). They probably don't actually have all that much power, but they make their ships look like they do.

The Ba'ul have been punching down for a very long time - I wouldn't be surprised if Disco could disable the entire Ba'ul fleet single handedly after completing deep scans to identify core weaknesses.

The weapons we've seen the Ba'ul deploy were mainly only on soft ground targets and the effects of their (energy?) weapons are no more, possible less, impressive than simply throwing 10kg slugs of shaped tungsten at the targets from orbit.
posted by porpoise at 6:52 PM on February 25 [2 favorites]


I'm not defending this episode - I still think this is trash ("an entire species has an awakening" deserves/ requires at least a full movie treatment (like the horrible 'Insurrection'). The movie flubbed it entirely, but this treatment is insulting to how "Star Trek (mostly) takes the stories it tries to tell seriously, or at the minimum, respectfully (for the time)."

I stand by my assessment that CBS/ showrunners may be pressuring the writers to take lots of shortcuts and assume and exploit good faith from ST fans.

Mirror Universe for Season 1. Hot Young Spock. Section 31.

Tapping into cannon to get second hand emotions, instead of creating new ones from scratch. The JJ Abrams (Alternative universe? Really, they really acknowledge that?) is so sloppily guilty of this too.
posted by porpoise at 7:10 PM on February 25 [7 favorites]


>What if Spock is the red angel?

My fan theory is that the entity in the last episode was VGR, from the first trek movie. I know, maybe that makes no sense, but it's sci fi, does it need to? But if so, my fan theory holds that the red angel is Spock from the 1979 movie. But my case that that entity thing was VGR lies in that 'transmission' it sent out.

And that transmission! What a budget saving lazy plot device! Impressive! I thought I was watching Doctor Who with how quick the solution derived from it.
posted by Catblack at 10:26 AM on February 26


The Red Angel is going to turn out to be Michael in some convoluted, deux ex machina-facilitated thing that will annoy me immensely.

I hope I'm wrong.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:31 PM on February 26 [10 favorites]


I have little to say that others haven't said already, so instead here's

HOW EACH ERA OF STAR TREK EMBODIES THAT ERA OF U.S. HISTORY/CULTURE

1960s = Freewheeling, but also deadly serious about urgent social issues, but also fumbling clumsily through actually dealing with those social issues, but we're fond of 'em anyway for trying = TOS

1970s = Weirdly dark yet not especially profound, feels way longer than it is, awful fashions but good music = ST:TMP

1980s = calmly pleasant and heavily nostalgic; smugly convinced that there's really no need to break any actual new ground = TWOK-Final Frontier; first 2 TNG seasons

1990s = much more successful at political focus than social focus; earnestly attempting to re-address those social issues we sorta forgot about for the past couple decades, and taking the effort more seriously, albeit with only limited successes (most notably, a genuine IDIC-ish concern with inclusion, albeit marred by the mistaken belief that racism is over) = later TNG; DS9; VOY

2000s-early 2010s = the only thing that matters is blowing up and/or torturing bad guys; every other consideration is subordinate thereto = ENT; JJ movies

later 2010s = often impressively progressive, bold in design and emotional expression, but a firehouse of utter chaos, alternately adorable and repellent, its good ideas drowned out by Everything Happening So Much, with such force and volume that nobody in control (let alone any onlookers) could possibly make sense of it all without slowing everything way down, which is of course impossible given the pace of, well, everything = DISCO
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 1:09 PM on February 26 [19 favorites]


The Red Angel is obviously Ray Palmer, with Mick Rory shooting flame "wings" behind him.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 1:28 PM on February 26 [1 favorite]


I was just about to say the same thing that Ivan Fyodorovich just did. If you look at the line drawing of the Red Angel in the opening credits, it really could be Burnham under all that. I hope I'm wrong and it really is the Preservers, but it wouldn't surprise me.
posted by ambulocetus at 1:39 PM on February 26


So we agree: court martials all around? In this continuum The Cage is all about Pike being put on trial for species-wide interference of a similarity to genocide, only with the horrifying extra dimension of it being interfering with the literal evolution of a pre-warp species.

The sad thing is I liked so much of this episode. It was well paced, it had a fun dynamic story, I like the characters. I can forgive the eyerolling decision to let Saru anywhere near the home planet he's absolutely forbidden from ever visiting. I even liked the evolution of the Kelpian story, a species I'd mocked in the past. I liked the spin on the Lotka-Volterra predator-prey cycle. But then for the solution to be to alter the physiology of one sentinet species to allow them to make war on another? That ain't the Federation.
posted by Nelson at 3:20 PM on February 26 [5 favorites]


the reveal would be that the Ba'ul were the next stage of the Kelpian life cycle

“Don’t you know, Admiral? The Son’a and the Bak’u Kelpiens and the Ba’ul are the same race.”
posted by Servo5678 at 4:21 PM on February 26 [1 favorite]


Putting aside the ethical implications, the thing that bothers me the most about this episode is that presumably the Kelpians aren't taken away until after they have produced offspring, or else they would quickly die out. But if they were predators originally, then they must have evolved the prey adaptations, and without anybody actively preying on them with at least a chance of them dying before breeding, where is the selection pressure for them to evolve coming from? Natural Selection just doesn't work that way. I realize that complaining about this minor detail on a show where they travel beyond light speed is a little peculiar, but my disbelief can only be suspended so far.
posted by ambulocetus at 3:16 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]


Again, totally not defending the writing:

It's possible that pre-vahar'ai reproduction is akin to how 12 or 13 yo humans have the biological capacity to breed, but are generally prevented from doing so by social environment.

Evolution isn't static - it's an ongoing process whenever the environment (physical or social) changes.

The postulate that vahar'ai ends fertility is a worse-/ worst- case scenario of how stupid this worldbuilding/ storyline is.

It's possible that in this scenario that Kelpians may have several adolescences and/ or that they were once a brutal society where pre-vahar'ai Kelpains were essentially tadpoles and individual Kelpians didn't really matter until post-vahar'ai (and can continue to breed, and take care of their tadpoles; the viewer doesn't have enough info on Kelpian genetics inheritance mechanisms) - but Saru and his sister's relationship belies this particular postulate; but again, culture is an environment that can change and maybe it's been long enough that a new equilibrium has been established.

Come to think of it, it's plausible enough that while the tadpole Kelpians can breed, the (possibly inbred) spawn of the pre-vahar'ai are hunted down and eaten by their post-vahar'ai Kelpian grandparents (maybe Kelpians are tasty to themselves too, and they have a different immune systems that obviate the reasons that cannibalism isn't a great idea for hominids). This scenario could explain the "fear ganglia" to protect offspring from being infanticided by their elders.

This could be consistent with the Ba’ul taking on a 'culling' role even though they were originally pure prey species until they hit a certain technology break point - also consistent with the postulate that they are a species familiar with adaptive mimicry (their ships are only visually impressive (but lack true power/ threat)).


The writers definitely haven't thought about stuff nearly as much as we have in this thread.

"Science is hard! Lets go shopping writing!"

otoh, maybe the Ba'ul had some pre-vahar'ai Kelpians who didn't get the vahar'ai change signal. They end up being a key negotiation point in Kelpian/ Ba'ul reconciliations/ peace treaty as genetic stock so the Kelpians don't go extinct.

But... unless Kelpians are born at sexual maturity/ susceptibility to the vahar'ai change - WHAT HAPPENS TO THE INFANT/ TODDLER KELPIANS WITH BONE DART GUNS COMING OUT OF THEIR HEADS?!

at least they aren't venomous.

right?

posted by porpoise at 5:41 PM on February 27 [5 favorites]


it's plausible enough that while the tadpole Kelpians can breed, the (possibly inbred) spawn of the pre-vahar'ai are hunted down and eaten by their post-vahar'ai Kelpian grandparents (maybe Kelpians are tasty to themselves too, and they have a different immune systems that obviate the reasons that cannibalism isn't a great idea for hominids). This scenario could explain the "fear ganglia" to protect offspring from being infanticided by their elders.

bwa ha ha oh man, NOBODY LET THE WRITERS KNOW ABOUT THIS, it's beyond any grimdark retcon yet seen in the franchise. It's... pretty good, too! The adult Kelpians are child-predaceous cannibals, turning our beloved tall gawky crewman not only into an accidental adolescent genocide wizard, but, um, a cannibalistic child predator.

Again, DO NOT LET THE WRITERS KNOW. Fine, existentially horrifying, internally consistent speculation. Ha ha ha and the cthuloid monsters of the deep are pretty much all about saving the children!
posted by mwhybark at 11:20 PM on February 27 [4 favorites]


I'm pretty sure I heard them say in the episode that about 60% of the Kelpians were undergoing the change, so I think there are still 40% unchanged Kelpians left.
posted by fimbulvetr at 9:22 AM on February 28


I'm pretty sure I heard them say in the episode that about 60% of the Kelpians were undergoing the change

I'd have to go back and check to be truly confident in this, but I think that line was something like 'the number of Kelpiens undergoing the change in 60% and rising, we need to keep going' or something along those lines -- the implication between that and other statements about how this impacts 'every' Kelpien is, I think, that every Kelpien underwent the change by the end of the episode. At that point, they were 60% of the way to 100% of Kelpiens changing, and not 100% of the way to having changed 60% of Kelpiens. I could certainly have misheard that, though.
posted by cjelli at 10:22 AM on February 28 [4 favorites]


Seems the opportune place to put this: CBS has officially renewed Discovery for Season 3. 🎉🎉🎉

Relatedly:
The streaming service has also announced that Michelle Paradise (The Originals, Exes & Ohs) will join Alex Kurtzman as co-showrunner for the third season.
Paradise joined Discovery part-way through Season 2 -- she has writing credits on the yet-to-be-aired episodes 9, 12, and 13.
posted by cjelli at 10:34 AM on February 28 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I spent about two minutes yelling Informed Consent over and over again at the TV screen.

For one thing, can you imagine how terrifying it would be for everyone of a certain age to bend over and go through this thing that's supposed to kill them, but doesn't? And then they're all scared and angry? This is a fucking horror movie premise. It's not like Starfleet can even explain what's going on, because they don't really understand what's going on either.

I seriously thought it was going to turn out that the Kelpians original downfall 2,000 years ago was because of outside conservationist intervention. Part of me hopes that this is still the case, because it makes the choice to violate the prime directive even worse.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:05 AM on March 6 [5 favorites]


"and...and...and...the Federation is just going to leave them to get on with it, as though everything will be hunky-dory?!"

then leaving them without any resources to adjust to this newly imposed reality.

As a fairly casual Trek fan (so please don't Memory Alpha @ me), it feels like this has kinda been a Thing since the begining? Like, you get the feeling that the Federation Diplomatic Corps or whoever might just haaaaaate Starfleet, or at least certain Captains. Cause some conflict gets resolved in the immediate moment, and the crew of the ship dusts off their hands, pats each other on the back, says, "Welp, that's sorted, then. See ya!" and just zooms off. Leaving a bunch of hapless civil servants in the Federation equivalent of a State Dept going, "OHMYGOD WE HAVE TO GET A POLICY CREATED AND AN EMBASSY ESTABLISHED RIGHT FREAKING NOW FOR THIS SPECIES WE DIDN'T EVEN KNOW EXISTED TEN MINUTES AGO!!!"

You can practically see the quiet despairing emails circulating amongst the lower-echelon bureaucrats praying for something, anything to get this Kirk/Picard/Pike hotshot to give it a rest for just a few months so they can catch a break.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:32 PM on March 13 [7 favorites]


My ongoing theory as to why all of the Admirals in Star Trek end up being evil or incompetent (or both!) is because nobody else would put up with this shit.
posted by dinty_moore at 6:39 AM on March 14 [5 favorites]


The contrast between how much improved the pacing was in this episode versus how questionable the plot and resolution was really stark. I’d previously been thinking that the pacing was this series’s biggest flaw, but now I’m not so sure.
posted by deludingmyself at 9:39 AM on March 24 [1 favorite]


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