Star Trek Discovery The Sound of Thunder Review

It’s another Saru-themed episode this week on Star Trek: Discovery! This week’s episode, “The Sound of Thunder,” is all about Saru becoming the savior of his Kelpien race, delivering them from the insidious Great Balance the Baul have instilled over thousands of years.

It’s always great to see Saru, but it’s been especially amazing to see Saru truly come into his own in this episode. In fact, we learned a lot about Saru and the Kelpiens.

The Kelpiens, former predators

Believe it or not, the Kelpiens were once the dominant predator species to the Baul. Thanks to the vast wealth of information from the star-like entity a few episodes ago, Starfleet was able to learn about the Kelpiens’ true biological nature and how their instincts were tamped out of them by thousands of years of conditioning. The Baul were able to come back from near extinction at the hands of evolved Kelpiens by creating high-powered technology, dominating and extinguishing the evolved Kelpiens from the planet. The remaining Kelpiens were subdued by fear.

I find this Kelpien history interesting. First of all, it’s cool because we now know how the Baul were able to become the predator species. But in a global sense, I can see so many cultural parallels between the Kelpiens and minority groups, in particularly my own. A study has shown that trauma can be passed down through generations via DNA. The study showcased how inherited trauma, aka epigenetic change, can be seen in the DNA of Holocaust survivors and their children, thereby making them more susceptible to anxiety and depression.

This type of epigenetic change can also be seen in African-Americans and, I’d imagine, the entire African diaspora, since our present is still affected by the stress of slavery despite the event happening hundreds of years ago. Putting it in this context, it’s easy to see how the Kelpiens were brought down to occupy the station they do now; the stress of seeing your people wiped out would cause to resort to fear. That fear would, of course, become a learned behavior thanks to the Baul’s new world order. But, a second dose of fear would have been passed down from parent to child, intensifying the Kelpiens’ fearful worldview.

Saru took a great risk to induce the Vaharai, the life-altering evolutionary process Kelpiens originally thought was their biological signal of death, in all of the Kelpiens on his planet. If the plan to induce evolution didn’t work, every person of his species, including his sister Siranna (Hannah Spear) could have died, since the Baul were also about to kill every Kelpien before they finished evolving. But thankfully, everything worked out in the end thanks to the appearance of the Red Angel. Thanks to Saru’s advanced eyesight, he was able to see that the mysterious Angel is a person wearing an advanced suit that utilizes incredible electromagnetic power. That power stopped the Baul’s technology from committing genocide, continuing the Angel’s path of interstellar vigilante justice.

As a newly-evolved species without fear, Siranna–a priest–has committed herself to helping her people establish a new, more peaceful Great Balance that gives the Baul and the Kelpiens room to be as one. As to how that’s going to work, I couldn’t tell you; there’s thousands of years of emotional conditioning on both ends, and it’s going to take more than a couple of fireside chats and rounds of “Kumbaya” before either side feel like they can trust each other. Perhaps this is why Starfleet is so adamant about General Order 1, aka the Prime Directive.

An argument for The Prime Directive

To me, it seems like this episode was an investigation of the merits and detractions regarding the Prime Directive. For Star Trek newbies, the Prime Directive asserts that Starfleet cannot interfere with the cultural goings-on of a planet. For instance, when Saru left his planet with Georgiou, she made him promise not to return, because his return could upset the culture within that world. Indeed, as we’ve seen with this episode, it did. There’s no way any lenient reading of the Prime Directive would allow for Saru to forcefully evolve his species, thereby setting off a ton of unforeseeable results.

Because of this, does this make the Prime Directive wrong? Should Starfleet intervene in worlds where the cultures are oppressive? Or, does that turn Starfleet from a dovish organization into a hawkish one? Does it make Starfleet more like America and Great Britain, both of which have engaged in imperialistic tactics?

One good example of this is North Korea. I feel like there have been circular arguments for and against America intervening in North Korea. On the one hand, we could have the power to liberate a people who have been bound by fear and intimidation from a hoarding upper class. But would invading a nation just force another war that we as a world cannot afford, especially if that war is nuclear-powered? Would it be better for a country to move forward on its own, or for it to be forced to?

There aren’t any clear answers for problems like these, and pondering these questions is certainly above my pay grade. But it’s because of this discussion about uses of power that I have a problem with this episode. As much as I want the Kelpiens to live up to their fullest potential, Starfleet couldn’t have engaged with the Baul without knowing what their warfare tactics and arsenal were like. They were taking a risk without properly weighing the possibilities or the risks. Sure, Saru forced their hand by beaming down himself. However, they eventually backed him up on his plan. What if everything went south and the Red Angel didn’t come? Everything would be a mess.

Perhaps the message of the show is that sometimes, you have to take that risk to change everything. I understand that. But we also saw what happened last season; Michael’s gut decision-making led to an intergalactic war. She might have been right, but she wasn’t smart about enacting her plan. It would seem that even though Saru lost his crippling fear, he also lost some of his careful thought process, leading him to make Michael-esque decisions his former self would have cringed at. His former self would have thought up a plan before barging into the heat of battle.

Long story short, I just felt like this episode wrapped up all of the geopolitical implications up too nicely in a bow to be believable. I realize we just had someone come back from the dead last week, so it’s hilarious that this episode is the one I find to be the least believable. But, Star Trek’s bread and butter have been episodes about these hard, moral questions. I wish there was more focus on the tug-of-war between morality and protocol.

The Baul

Maybe part of what made it a little too neatly solved is the fact that the Baul are, in fact, scary. If the Baul are really the prey species, then why do they look so terrifying? I was immediately reminded of the Xenomorph from Alien, the creepy girl in The Ring and the Ink Demon from Bendy and the Ink Machine, all of which are horrifying. It wouldn’t take a lot of convincing to make anyone respect and fear the Baul.

Because of this, I thought there was going to be some third act reveal regarding the true nature of the Baul. Much like the Wizard from The Wizard of Oz, I thought the creepy exterior was just going to be a facade, giving way to a much smaller, more frail creature underneath. But no. Instead, it seems like the Baul are just that freaky-looking and freaky-sounding. This leads me to new questions: How did the Kelpiens cull the Baul? Why would they want to? I need answers.

Saru and fear’s absence

Overall, though, I really liked this episode, despite my complaints. Did I love it like “An Obol for Charon”? No. But still, I felt like this was a very emotionally-resonant episode, especially when Saru’s voiceover discussed Saru’s adjustment to living without fear.

It’s something a lot of us who deal with anxiety and depression come up against in our healing process. For so long, something that has drained us and hurt us also defined us. Even though it’s negative, fear can become comforting. When that comfort is stripped away, what happens? Who are we without what defines us?

I hope future episodes feature Saru examining that very question as he continues to come into his own. I’m sure his journey will help those of us who feel like him find our own inner strength as well.

Cool Posts From Around the Web: