Star Trek: Discovery: Su'Kal
December 24, 2020 7:49 AM - Season 3, Episode 11 - Subscribe

Discovery ventures to the Verubin Nebula, where Burnham, Saru, and Culber make a shocking realization about the origin of The Burn as the rest of the crew faces an unexpected threat.

Memory Alpha

  • The title character, Su'Kal, is apparently played by Bill Irwin, past recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship, aka the "Genius Grant."


  • Poster's Log:

    I'm foregoing some of the usual stuff that I'd have posted above because I'm covering for some other staff at work and don't have the time to pick out bits and pieces from the episode. It's pretty straightforward; they find the cause of the Burn, and it's a person who is blameless for what happened. In the meantime, Osyraa shows up, and I'm a lot more impressed by her than I was in her first appearance; at first it seems like she's getting tangled up in a war of wills with Tilly, who holds up well in Saru's absence, but Osyraa's very good at getting what she wants, and, well, she gets it. Things don't look good for our crew! On the other hand, we get to see Doug Jones without his makeup, so we got that going for us, which is nice.

    Poster's Log, supplemental: Maybe it's just because we just rewatched "The Best of Both Worlds" in the TNG rewatch, but did anyone else get a hint of "Resistance is futile" in the bit with Stamets at the end? I've been wondering what happened to the Borg by the 32nd century. The Borg's signature color has always been... green.

    Also, too, in case you missed it, don't miss this on the blue.
    posted by Halloween Jack (33 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
     


    Yeah, I definitely also got Borgish vibes from the helmeted soldiers who attacked engineering. Maybe the 32nd century Borg have discovered there is some value in individuality _as well_ as CRUSHING ALL RESISTANCE.

    I enjoyed it, although I'm torn between wanting them to deal with Osyraa by the end of the season or making it drag out over the break.
    posted by Kyol at 2:02 PM on December 24, 2020


    Huh, the away team actually gets some kit - including armour. Cool. But then.

    Was that a 'Labyrinth' (1986) Easter Egg?
    posted by porpoise at 2:22 PM on December 24, 2020 [2 favorites]


    What kind of 32nd century upgrades are these, that allow for the shields to be up, yet hostile boarding parties can BEAM DIRECTLY INTO YOUR ENGINE ROOM AND ONTO THE BRIDGE? I mean, they didn't even need to strap a bomb to a corpse!
    I am disappoint, Federation Engineers.
    posted by bartleby at 3:50 PM on December 24, 2020 [5 favorites]


    Quick Detmer, hold the windows key and press L.

    I wanted to like this, the visuals were great, but some egregiously dumb bits really took me out of it.
    posted by Marticus at 4:54 PM on December 24, 2020 [4 favorites]


    Yeah, I also thought Borg in that moment. Makes sense that far in the future.

    I love some weirdness in my Trek, which this one had plenty of. The thing that took me out of it was Culber and Saru being all like "We're staying here to counsel Su'Kal or whatever, but also we'll be dead in a day," which utterly baffled me. Did I miss something? or did an explanatory moment get cut for time, maybe?
    posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 5:09 PM on December 24, 2020 [3 favorites]


    I think that Saru and Culber staying was simply so that Su'Kal wouldn't blow up all the dilithium in the galaxy again, which he was on the verge of doing. They're basically stalling for time until Discovery can get back... assuming that it does.
    posted by Halloween Jack at 9:45 PM on December 24, 2020 [3 favorites]


    I don't get why they don't just beam Su'Kal up with them. I understand they're trying to be compassionate with him. And since everyone has personal transporters now, maybe ships can't do that? (I know it's for story reasons, it just seems kind of tortured.)
    posted by rikschell at 6:06 AM on December 25, 2020 [3 favorites]


    At 6:31, during Booker's first flight to the planet, I slowed down the video to 32% to get a good look at the transform effect, and there in the slowed-down audio was a single instance of the Transformer's audio cue.
    posted by mikelieman at 10:01 AM on December 25, 2020 [6 favorites]


    I enjoyed this episode but if the cause of the galaxy(?)-wide dilithium apocalypse turns out to be "a guy who was irradiated near some dilithium and screamed" it's going to be something of an anti-climax.
    posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:23 PM on December 25, 2020 [8 favorites]


    So, Charlie X hates dilithium?
    posted by hanov3r at 3:11 PM on December 25, 2020 [4 favorites]


    I forget who out was that pointed out that Star Trek is rally just a handsbreadth away from being eldritch horror in the Lovecraft vein. Its a universe full of amoral deities in all but name, and even their artifact leftovers may be threats to civilization. Worse, under the right conditions humans can become godlike creatures that pose existential threats. The amazing thing is that anyone is still around

    So is it any wonder there's an energy barrier around the galaxy? Obviously something outside is trying to keep the threat we pose contained.
    posted by happyroach at 12:13 AM on December 26, 2020 [6 favorites]


    There's something really appealing to me about the cause of The Burn being a traumatised child, given this season's recurring theme of trauma - that's mostly spun out of the Discovery crew being thrown 900 years into the future. I'm glad it's not "Michael caused the Burn" or "Discovery cause the Burn" or "Starfleet cause the Burn" or "the Emerald Chain caused the Burn" and the fact it's something almost innocuous makes it feel like they've found a good balance between Planet of the Week and serialised storytelling. This episode felt like a solid Planet of the Week story that illuminated the ongoing story, while also bring the villains back into the piece and leaving us with an unexpected cliffhanger. After a dedicated two-part in previous weeks, I was excited this episode is just the start of the final run.

    The nature of the revelation - traumatised child cause the Burn AND may cause it to happen again - also gives an immediacy to a problem that is effectively 100 years old and not on the Federation's radar until now. I also think this means there can't really be a "and now the Federation has been restored" season finale. I think if Discovery prevents the Burn from happening ever again, then you can start mining and using dilithium again and the Federation can be built up on the back of that. And you might want to keep the Emerald Chain around as ongoing villains in future series, trying to undermine a rebuilding of the Federation.
    posted by crossoverman at 2:20 AM on December 26, 2020 [5 favorites]


    Well, that sure was an interesting episode of Doctor Who
    posted by schmod at 7:13 AM on December 26, 2020 [10 favorites]


    Also? I'm mildly disappointed that the architecture ended up just being a stepwell to an apparently nonexistent well. I was _hyped_ for escherian nonsense that they almost kind of hinted at when Burnham fell off the landing that one time.

    Hrpmh.
    posted by Kyol at 9:35 AM on December 26, 2020 [3 favorites]


    I can't believe they went with "his cells acclimatized to the radiation in utero." That's pretty weak. How about his mother spliced some genetic material from a species like Deinococcus radiodurans into him to increase his chances of survival. I mean, there is a whole universe of science-y explanations out there that actually make sense.

    There was some serious Pirates of the Caribbean stuff going on in this episode.
    posted by jabah at 5:43 PM on December 26, 2020 [4 favorites]


    I didn’t like the portrayal of Su’Kal. It just felt like a very predictable way to play a character who has never had social interactions. It felt like a pastiche of other performances, Rain Man etc.

    Would have liked to see a much more alien performance, rooted in the stuff they’ve already told us about Kelpians. That would be better sci-fi.
    posted by vogon_poet at 9:46 PM on December 26, 2020 [3 favorites]


    How is Su’Kal even alive? It’s been 120 years. How long do Kelpians live?
    posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:12 AM on December 27, 2020 [1 favorite]


    TIL that Mr Noodle was also Cary on Legion (and a MacArthur Genius).

    Fun to see Saru in human form, like the human versions of Dukat, Quark, Odo, Weyoun, etc from “Far Beyond the Stars”. Discovery’s defenses against the Chain felt comically inept, but I’ll reserve judgement on the plot for part 2.
    posted by supercres at 9:03 PM on December 27, 2020 [2 favorites]


    Yeah it felt genuinely weird and very cool to see Doug Jones’s face, like, just in general
    posted by DoctorFedora at 12:43 AM on December 28, 2020 [6 favorites]


    I also found it weird that the control panels were all exploding in a shower of sparks while the Discovery and Book's ship were navigating the nebula. Are they ever gonna fix that problem? Cos that'd be number one on my list of things to fix/upgrade.
    posted by jabah at 8:17 AM on December 28, 2020 [2 favorites]


    I wish I liked this episode more. It just had too much in it, too many dumb things. And the Charlie-X-meets-holodeck plot really didn't work for me.

    How long do Kelpians live?

    That's a great question. Maybe no one knows in Saru's time, what with the culling and all. Also a little confused about how Saru has any knowledge of elders with white wispy hair and various signs of human senility. I thought all Kelpiens were culled; how do some get to be old men?

    Every time I overthink this show I have to remind myself; they're called Kelpiens because they eat kelp. That's all. That's the depth the show has to offer on backstory. Where it shines is interpersonal relationships and fun drama. Not sure why this episode backfired on me. I think trying to pin this much emotion on Saru while having Jones out of makeup was a mistake.
    posted by Nelson at 8:32 AM on December 28, 2020 [3 favorites]


    Also a little confused about how Saru has any knowledge of elders with white wispy hair and various signs of human senility. I thought all Kelpiens were culled; how do some get to be old men?

    The culling finished in the original time no? So the Kelpians have had 900 years of having elders. Doesn't explain how Saru had memories of elders though.
    posted by roolya_boolya at 10:05 AM on December 28, 2020


    I think the script implied that Saru’s “village elders” weren’t actually old. He’s definitely taken aback by seeing an elderly Kelpian.
    posted by schmod at 12:32 PM on December 28, 2020 [3 favorites]


    Yeah, scrubbing through the two prior Kaminar-related episodes (DSC: S02E06 "The Sound of Thunder" and ST: S01E03 "The Brightest Star"), the Ba'ul killed off all Kelpien during vahar'ai, the elders were just older but not really _old_ in a Kelpien lifecycle.

    But Saru might've seen elderly Kelpiens during his time mucking around with the Ba'ul's systems in the Sound of Thunder, when he was learning about the true history of their races?
    posted by Kyol at 12:52 PM on December 28, 2020


    I feel like Bill Irwin's talents are being wasted here. It might as well be Ethan Phillips playing Su'Kal.
    posted by under_petticoat_rule at 1:37 PM on December 28, 2020 [1 favorite]


    I also found it weird that the control panels were all exploding in a shower of sparks while the Discovery and Book's ship were navigating the nebula. Are they ever gonna fix that problem?

    The refusal to use circuit breakers is a time-honoured tradition in Starfleet. Perhaps they were banned by the Treaty of Algeron.
    posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:47 PM on December 28, 2020 [4 favorites]




    Naval nuclear protection systems may or may not have a "Battleshort" switch which bypasses all automatic reactor safety systems and can only be operated with direct authorization from the captain. If a captain were to give the order to flip this switch, which may or may not actually exist, he or she would have a lot of explaining to do to Naval Reactors before he or she is ever put in charge of another nuclear reactor.
    posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:31 PM on December 29, 2020 [1 favorite]


    Also IIRC the primary energy distribution system in Starfleet vessels is highly energized plasma contained in special magnetic containment conduits. That sounds like something that might be hard to work with, although why you'd need high-energy plasma piped into every bridge console is another question. On top of that, Starfleet control systems seem to operate via some kind of optical processing system, and unless it's using high intensity coherent light I don't see why a console would ever explode.

    Anyway, if there was some other visual indicator for "the ship is being damaged" that is cheap, easy, and effective I'm sure they'd do that instead.
    posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:38 PM on December 29, 2020


    I can forgive a lot in sci-fi shows, especially Trek, but there was just too much here that seemed ridiculous.

    Why do two people stay behind to die of radiation? Why didn’t Discovery hail Starfleet HQ when the baddies first arrived (or indeed, when they first scanned them)? How did they take over so easily - and with the bridge having no idea what was going on in the rest of the ship?

    And then there’s the rushed pacing and overly dramatic speeches every 10 minutes. I don’t mean to harsh on other people’s mellow, I just think this isn’t the show for me any more.
    posted by adrianhon at 1:01 PM on January 1 [1 favorite]


    I thought this was a relatively good episode, for the same reasons as crossoverman. I'd been fearing we were headed for some overwrought, timey-wimey twist revelation that the Burn was the fault of Discovery or Burnham. (I had an idle thought earlier this week that they would dramatically reveal that Burnham somehow caused the Burn and also that "the Burn" was a clipped form of "the Burnham Event", LOL.) Catastrophic event caused by childlike being with powers it doesn't understand is of course a slightly silly trope, but it's very classic Star Trek and less silly than what I was fearing.

    Miscellaneous nits and observations:
    • The away team's species change is fun for both cast and audience, but the in-universe explanation seems flimsy. The justification given is that the simulation changed them to fit in with the program. But how does changing a Kelpien, a human, and a human into a human, a Trill, and a Bajoran accomplish that? The simulation has Kelpiens and humans, so why not leave them as is? Why change a nonhuman into a human, and also change the humans into nonhumans?
    • Why do we hear Saru speaking Kelpien for a couple of lines? Did the universal translator crap out for just a moment?
    • Osyraa wonders aloud why Discovery doesn't just jump away. This is a very good question. The answer given is that they are protecting the away team. Are they, though? The nebula seems to provide good protection already, and Discovery can't hold off Viridian anyway. So why not just jump away while they repair the shields? Why not jump back to Federation headquarters, or even just a few light years away to an empty region of space, at least for a few minutes until the shields come up?
    • Although I was happy that Georgiou left the ship, I must admit she'd come in pretty handy in a situation like this.

    posted by Syllepsis at 3:18 PM on January 1


    How about his mother spliced some genetic material from a species like Deinococcus radiodurans into him to increase his chances of survival.

    That's not really Trek technobabble. Trek technobabble would be that the mother reconfigured a medical scanner to emit a stream of flooblesnot particles because their unique subspace wongledingus causes your dna to be replaced with special subspace dilithiumized dna.
    posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 5:51 PM on January 1


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