Star Trek Discovery: The Sound of Thunder

Saru: "Perhaps in being less like you were, you are becoming more like you are meant to be."

By nature I love brevity: Now that's what I call... a serviceable action story with a few plot holes and a few decent character moments. Some promise, and a twist I didn't see coming.

A while back, in my review for the Short Trek 'The Brightest Star,' I complained that the writers clearly had a lot that they wanted to do with Kaminar, the Kelpiens, and the Ba'ul, and that they'd tried to shove more into the episode than would really fit. As 'The Sound of Thunder' began, I steeled myself for a repeat of that; I wasn't sure that the writers would be able to rein in their excitement at the species and character that they had created enough to write a story that was manageable. It turns out I needn't have worried about that. The hour runtime was plenty to tell the story they wanted to tell and communicate the things they wanted to communicate.

The thing is, this episode made it abundantly clear to me just how little we needed 'The Brightest Star,' and just how unuseful the developments in it were. 'Thunder' contains a good deal of shots that were directly taken from 'Star,' and all of the major reveals about Saru and his people, as well as all of the plot developments, were reiterated here. Of course this is for the benefit of the people who haven't seen the Short Treks, but it rendered even the scant things that 'The Brightest Star' accomplished entirely moot.

'Thunder' is a fairly by-the-numbers action story. Its plot contains a few rather basic twists and reveals, and the suspense is built well. I like that the reigning – and most obvious – theory, that the Ba'ul are the evolved Kelpiens, turned out not to be the case at all. DIS has a pretty bad track record as far as keeping its plot developments secret goes, so a good surprise when the audience expects something else is nice to see.

The Ba'ul were a decently effective enemy; their appearance was pretty scary and their fear of the Kelpiens made for a believable motivation. They reminded me and the viewers I watched this with of Armus from TNG's 'Skin of Evil.'  The major problem was that the Ba'ul voices, especially over subspace on the bridge, were nearly impossible to understand. I'm all for creepy atmosphere, but maybe run their voices through a lighter modulator next time.

I was rather pleased with Saru in this episode. I liked that he became emotionally unable to handle the situation, especially after the loss of his ganglia back in 'An Obol for Charon.' That sort of a change, especially when his ganglia have been shown to have a profound effect on his emotions in the past, would definitely alter his ability to control himself. I liked his interactions with his sister, which were of course well acted by Doug Jones and Hannah Spear. Saru and Siranna had a much deeper and more interesting relationship in this episode than it was in 'Star,' due to the added layer of Saru's departure. That's not a stock relationship, and the fact that Siranna took over for her father in the hopes that it might lead her back to him makes it emotionally deep.

There was a really great scene early on in the episode, with the newly rejuvenated Culber, Saru, and Stamets in sickbay. We got an insight, albeit a small one, into what it's like for Hugh to return after his consciousness spent so much time trapped in the mycelial network. He doesn't feel like the same man that he was when he died. His new body, identical to his old one but still completely different, reflects how he feels inside. Hugh can't reconcile his new self with the old, even though very little is actually different. Though Stamets truly wants to help and to support his partner, he can't do so tangibly because he has no clear idea what Hugh is going through. Saru, on the other hand, has in a way also been recently reborn. This gives them a connection that I didn't expect to see but was glad I did. This scene proves to me that the show is definitely going to explore Culber's return in a way that's meaningful to his character. I'm really happy about that because in the first season his character was only really used in ways that serviced Stamets'. If they give him his own arc here, I'll be very, very pleased. And of course, both he and Stamets are miles ahead of characters on other shows who are 'the gay guy' and nothing more.

I'm not so pleased with the resolution, specifically the use of the Red Angel in this episode. It was quite the deus ex machina – is it angelus ex machina here? – to have the Angel step in at the very end to stop the Ba'ul's plan and save the Kelpiens. Except it isn't even angelus ex machina, since the Angel is nothing even close to a supernatural being. After all this discussion and exploration of faith, the main symbol in this show of something people put their faith in is nothing more than a guy in a suit with some advanced technology? That's about as disappointing as this show has gotten. Despite my misgivings about how this show has handled faith and belief, I really have appreciated the fact that it did so. Besides, the way that it's handled these topics has been better than many shows, and the individual episodes have said some things worth saying even if the show as a whole has yet to settle on a particular approach. But this is a big let-down.

Strange New Worlds:

We've already been to Kaminar, in 'The Brightest Star,' but DIS in its main form hasn't visited it yet.

New Life and New Civilizations:

The Ba'ul are new to this show. I've already talked about most of my thoughts regarding them.

Pensees:

-Okay, enough with the tricky camera movements without purpose already. To direct well, you don't just have to know how to make flashy shots, you also have to understand when to do it and what it does to the scene when you do.

-They mentioned the Prime Directive, but it really didn't factor in as much as might have been appropriate. This show should start being a little more careful with the way it sidesteps the PD to tell its stories.

-Those Ba'ul ships were pretty dang intimidating, like something you'd see from the Borg.

-How did Saru transport himself to the planet when the ship was at Red Alert and the shields were up?

-Okay, so SuperSaru! was kind of cool. But he's quite lucky that the Ba'ul stronghold contained only about eight drones.

-I like Burnham's white t-shirt in this episode. How much you want to bet that shows up for sale on startrek.com within the week?

-Pike's slight peace offering to Tyler in Saru's report didn't feel earned. I haven't been invested in their conflict yet.

-The answer to fear is hope in this episode. I like that.

-Next week: SPOOOOOCK!

Quotes:

Saru: "We all come from somewhere. We bring that place with us wherever we go. That never leaves our hearts. Not entirely."

Pike: "We can stretch General Order One, but let's not break it in the process."
Too late.

Saru: "For 18 years, I dreamt of returning to my village. It has not changed at all, but I see it quite differently now."

Siranna: "Return to the stars, Saru. There is no place for you here."

Siranna: "Your face is beautiful to me. Part of me hoped I would never see it again, because it might mean you were free."

Competent but not exceptional. 4 out of 6 heavily modulated voices.

--
Star Trek fandom runs very deep in CoramDeo's family.

8 comments:

Billie Doux said...

CoramDeo, I was also expecting the Ba'ul to be Kelpians. Instead, supercreep. Definitely Skin-of-Evil-like. But I'm really happy to see Saru like this, and his people as well. Yes, it happened too quickly, but it's a television series.

The Red Angel stuff has been reminding me of Gene Roddenberry's constant revisiting of God-Like Aliens, something that got very old. So I find it possibly cool that it's a very technologically advanced humanoid instead. :)

Ditto what you said about Dr. Culber. I just hope the changes he's experiencing ultimately won't be the end of their marriage.

Anonymous said...

I don't really like this season so far. I keep watching because Star Trek has given me so much enjoyment in the past and I like most of the characters on Discovery, but I hope they go in a different direction story-wise soon.

Big story arcs can work on Star Trek. I actually liked last year's mirror universe arc. Even though I was in constant fear of the big reset button, after every episode I wanted to know what would happen next. This year's "red angel" arc, however, is a story I just don't care about at all. I am happy that it seems to turn away from the spiritual/faith angle, as that didn't fit the rational Star Trek universe, in my opinion, but I still keep hoping before every episode that they end this story and move on. I don't care how the story ends, I just want it to end.

As for this episode's sub-story, just like last week, although to a lesser extent, it was too complicated. Again, this leads to dense, clunky dialogue and a resolution that feels rushed.

I really liked the design of the Ba'ul's ships, I hope we see them again. Although maybe leave out the creepy Ba'ul.

Billie Doux said...

I'm one of those people whose television diet is mostly science fiction. It's always what I want to watch. And I can remember back in the day when there were only maybe two sci-fi shows airing in a week (Next Gen and Quantum Leap, if you're curious).

While I'll readily admit I'm not deeply in love with Disco yet, I am still very much enjoying that we're getting new Star Trek at all. Not to mention gorgeously filmed new Star Trek with major league writers and terrific actors.

That said, I'm also worried that they're planning too many trips to the well. Is there room for three, four, five Star Trek shows? Maybe there is. Maybe the plan is for only one series to air at a time so that there is always a new episode of something Trekky to watch. Maybe peak television is reaching that point where that would work.

I suppose I shouldn't worry because it's not up to me, but I'm very protective of Star Trek. I want them to strike the right balance. I want them to do it right.

CoramDeo said...

Anonymous, thank you for the thoughtful comment. I absolutely agree that big story arcs work on Star Trek - my favorite series is DS9 - but I think they have to be more cohesive and focused than this has been to really work as a whole. The plot itself has been fairly driven, but thematically it's been all over the place. I happen to disagree with you on the compatibility of faith and Trek - again, I love DS9 - and I suspect we disagree on the compatibility of reason and faith in general, but I do see where you're coming from. I always have to remember that in Roddenberry's vision of the future, humanity has discarded religion like an old plaything. That's part of what keeps me from subscribing to his dream.

I think you and I are on the same page as far as the clunky story/dialogue goes. The simpler a thing is, the less exposition is required. And the less exposition is required, the better - especially since this show's writers don't seem to be able to write non-clunky exposition. You're right that the problem was much worse in the previous episode.

CoramDeo said...

Good news! John Delancie must've snapped his fingers - the Disco is back for Season 3!
https://trekmovie.com/2019/02/27/breaking-star-trek-discovery-renewed-for-third-season-with-new-co-showrunner/

TJ said...

I miss Captain Malfoy

Patrick said...

Definitely some interesting developments with the Kelpians & Ba'ul, though I think the fallout from what happened in this episode will be far trickier than they suggested. Maybe it's just Trek being its traditional idealistic, optimistic self. And I'm all in favor of hopefulness. But let's be honest, things on that planet are about to get REALLY messy.

Speaking of messy, the one thing that truly bugged me was the physical nature of the Ba'ul. How can they be these slime-covered horrors and yet their structures are so pristine? Seriously, those guys must leave some serious slime trails when they walk. I dunno, it just seems that the Ba'ul creature design, while cool-looking and very creepy, feels more like a monster and less like a proper species that has an advanced society.

So, the Red Angel is apparently not someTHING, but someONE in a technologically advanced suit. Curious, and I don't think it's as much of a let-down as it might seem. We still don't know who they are, how they're doing what they're doing, or why. If they are time-travelers, what are they trying to "fix" by appearing where they do and affecting events? What is their connection to Spock, and more specifically Burnham? Everyone's so focused on Spock, but what if his interaction with them was only to keep Burnham alive so she could be where she is right now? What if she's this show's version of "The Sisko"(DS9 reference, it's my favorite Trek too), not Spock?

One plot element I hope they get too soon is Ash/Voq's murder of Dr. Culber. The man he killed has been brought back to life. Does Ash even know that yet? How would he react? Would he seek out forgiveness? How would Culber respond?

CoramDeo said...

Patrick, I'm pretty convinced that the Angel's connection to Spock is secondary to its connection to Burnham. And I likewise hope that a meeting of Tyler and Culber is in the cards. I loved the subtle change in Anthony Rapp's acting the first time he encountered Tyler again, and I have high hopes that Wilson Cruz can bring a similar, if more intense, performance.