“We’re here to gather information…Not start a war” — Star Trek Discovery review, “The Sound Of Thunder” s2e6

Star Trek: Discovery, season 2, episode 6
“The Sound Of Thunder”
Review by Clinton

Before I address the element of this story that fascinated me the most, I wanted to acknowledge an intriguing secondary plot line that appears to be playing out over multiple episodes. Namely, what is up with Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz)? We know, from a past incident in “Star Trek,” that coming back from the dead can be a bit disorienting, to say the least. After all, Spock needed 1.1 movies to rebuild his memory. But memory loss does not seem to be the issue here. Culber remembers, in great detail, the incident Lt. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) is recounting to Dr. Tracy Pollard (Raven Dauda). Culber appears preoccupied by something he can’t quite identify. Pollard feels this is simply Culber coping with adjustments. But there is something about the way Culber recoils from Stamets’ touch and tries hard to not look completely distressed that tells us otherwise.

Culber

Perhaps it was the months he spent attempting to survive in the mycelial network that has pulled the good doctor’s emotions inward. Or it is the lingering memory of his death at the hands of Ash Tyler/Voq (Shazad Latif)? We have yet to see the confrontation between Culber and Section 31’s on-board liaison. Will that trigger something deep within Culber’s subconscious? More on this as things develop.

Now, on to the subject at the heart of this episode, insofar as far as I am concerned — General Order One.

It is well known that “Star Trek” has a love/hate relationship with this set of rules, also known as the Prime Directive. I would love to list that directive here, but it has actually never been quoted in its entirety in any iteration of the show or movies. Which is odd, because the Prime Directive has been a part of the franchise since early in the run of the original series. In fact, because the series “Star Trek: Enterprise” takes place before the founding of the Federation, Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) muses on the necessity for such regulations:

“Someday my people are going to come up with some sort of a doctrine, something that tells us what we can and can’t do out here; should and shouldn’t do. But until somebody tells me that they’ve drafted that… directive… I’m going to have to remind myself every day that we didn’t come out here to play God.”

In “The Sound of Thunder”, written by Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt, Discovery needs to do intelligence gathering on the planet Kaminar. One of the mysterious red signals recently appeared above the planet. Upon Discovery’s arrival, one of the two sentient species on the planet, the Ba’ul, strongly resents the appearance of a Starfleet vessel. They demand that the starhip exit Kaminar. That leaves the other species, the Kelpiens, as the point of contact. There is one problem — the Kelpiens are a pre-warp culture. The Prime Directive has rules about such contact. Essentially, Starfleet can not divulge anything about space travel, other worlds or the existence of other sentient beings to such a culture.

Message from the Ba'ul

To get around this predicament, Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), uses the following logic: Kelpiens have seen warp technology in use by the Ba’ul. And the Kelpiens know about space flight. She and Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) reason, therefore, that they can bend General Order One a little and contact the Kelpiens.

The issue I see here is that we have no idea why the Kelpiens would know about space flight. The Ba’ul are native to Kaminar. Kelpiens would have no reason to assume the Ba’ul are taking trips to the stars, unless the Ba’ul are bragging about it. The same holds true for knowledge of warp technology. Why would the Kelpiens know about this? How would they see it? As a general rule, in “Star Trek,” you don’t engage warp near a planet..

Next, Captain Pike assigns Burnham, a human xenoanthropologist, to be the one to beam down and make first contact. Again, there is that damned Prime Directive. Pike does not wish to openly break first contact protocol, yet he is prepared to send a non-native species to the planet to initiate conversations. This appears to make no sense. We do, however, get to understand why Pike is reluctant to send Kelpien Lt. Commander Saru (Doug Jones) on the mission. The confrontation between the two officers borders on outright insubordination. Still, Pike finally agrees to allow Saru to accompany Burnham on the mission.

Once on the planet, Saru introduces Burnham to his sister, Siranna (Hannah Spear). The commander identifies herself as being a human from Earth. That sharing of information is not a surprise. Burnham looks and sounds nothing like a Kelpien, so there would be no reason not to do so. Still, this does now make our pre-warp society aware of 1) warp technology, 2) space flight and 3) other worlds with other intelligent life forms. By Starfleet’s own definition, this mission has thrown the Kelpiens into the pool of species they can now freely contact.

How much does this border on Starfleet creating a self-fulfilling prophecy?

But we are not finished here. After Saru returns to Discovery, the Ba’ul demand that the Kelpien be returned to them. We know, at this point, that the Kelpiens are spirited away from their villages by the Ba’ul when they experience vaharai — a transition believed by the Kelpiens to be fatal. Saru knows that this is a lie. Discovery refuses to surrender Saru, causing the Ba’ul to activate devices that could wipe out the entire Kelpien population. This chain of events is one of the reasons the Prime Directive exists in the first place. When Starfleet inserts itself into the affairs of others, things have the potential of going very, very badly.

As it turns out, the Red Angel also intervenes, avoiding outright genocide against the Kelpiens. But we only have Saru and Siranna’s feeling that Kaminar’s two sentient species can work things out to create a new balance rather than engage in all-out war. That seems a thin thread to hang one’s hopes on. Especially since Saru returns to Discovery and will not be present to help temper the understandable rage of his fellow Kelpiens toward the Ba’ul..

This type of scenario is not unique to “Discovery.” Other iterations of “Star Trek” have wrestled with the issues General Order One creates. And the solutions have often proved muddy at best. If we return to Kaminar at a later date and see the aftermath of this intrusion, that will be a fascinating addendum to one Prime Directive dilemma.

Next episode: Light and Shadows

Random Thoughts and Observations

In the “Short Trek” episode “The Brightest Star,” we clearly see “SHN 03” on the bow of the shuttle Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) uses to land on Kaminar. That would indicate it was a shuttle from the Shenzhou (the shuttles aboard Discovery have a “DSC” prefix). “Wait,” you say. “In this episode they say that the Archimedes was the starship that first made contact.” And, indeed, in the flashback scene, the image of the shuttle now simply sports a large “03.” Not sure why they felt it was necessary to do all that extra work.

Comparison shots

In the last few episodes, I have noticed that Dr. Pollard has graduated from the role of a walk-on character dishing out disgruntled one liners, to a regular player. I look forward to learning more about her.

Ash Tyler is hugging his paranoia over the red signals and Red Angel extremely tightly. At first glance, it might seem this is simply because he has fully indoctrinated himself into the threats-are-everywhere mindset of Section 31. However, in the last scene with Pike, where the Captain shares Saru’s description of the Red Angel, Tyler’s motivations are made a bit clearer. He seems to live in fear of the outbreak of war. He tells Pike, “The last war, sir, took a toll on those who fought it. Some of us are still torn apart.” Given the fact that Pike had orders to keep Enterprise out of the war, this hits the Captain hard. In addition to still feeling his own scars, does Tyler feel that someone who did not participate in the conflict has no business being the one in charge of this threat assessment?

The data collected from the dying sphere proved to be of value to the crew of Discovery in this episode. However, the writers would be wise to not dip into that well too often. What Tilly (Mary Wiseman) calls “a delicious slice of galaxy pie,” could turn into a writer’s magic bullet to provide Discovery with answer to all sorts of difficult questions.

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