In typical Star Trek fashion, while season one was at warp one, season two flies off at warp five. Every series of Star Trek seems to follow this pattern; Deep Space Nine is the touted example of this phenomenon, with Captain Sisko becoming more ruthless as each season passed. Star Trek: Discovery is showing a similar pattern — not with the forever pretty Captain Pike, but with the least likely member on the ship: Saru.
The fourth episode, titled “An Obol for Charon,” features a theme often seen in Star Trek: an alien species that doesn’t resemble life as we know it. Indeed, a sentient rock has been an occasional theme in Star Trek, starting with the Horta in The Original Series, which are slightly more malevolent than the creature that stopped the USS Discovery. The significance of this incredible creature, which iss at the end of its life cycle, is it coincides with Saru’s new lease of life.
As shown in the previous series, Kelpiens are a prey species, harvested by a predatory space-faring species called the Ba’ul. What’s fascinating is how the Kelpien and Ba’ul relationship mirrors that of farm animals and humans, where the prey has become dependent on the predator. Kelpiens undergo an almost pubescent change called Vahar’ai that signals the stage of harvest, similar to how humans harvest farm animals at a young stage in their development. The control the Ba’ul have on the Kelpien is enough that Kelpiens associate Vahar’ai with death, assuming it is the final stage in their life cycle. As a result, they self-sacrifice themselves to the Ba”ul in what’s known as the Great Balance of Kaminar.
An episode about death is always going to have a huge impact on Saru, particularly as his senses had been heightened when he entered Vahar’ai. Naturally, as a Kelpien — the only one that isn’t residing on a farm — he thought he had entered the final stages of his life, much like the sentient rock outside the ship. It was time for Saru to sacrifice himself to the Great Balance of Kaminar, and he was to use the knife his sister gave him to remove his ganglias. But as we now know, while his ganglias did detach, they left on their own accord, and he survived Vahar’ai — the only Kelpien in history to do so.
Saru was instantly more confident; the coward within had diminished, and he was metaphorically reborn as a new Kelpien. Strangely, this kind of character development arguably hasn’t been seen since Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation — particularly with the emotion chip arc that allowed Data to feel emotions for the first time, causing more chaos than a day out with Captain Sisko. This is perhaps the kind of discord that Saru will begin to develop, especially as he now knows that life of a Kelpien was a lie.
The development of Saru will become an integral part of Season Two if it has been managed constructively by the writers. There has been much more emotional development than the previous season already, with Saru now at odds with the Prime Directive, and the relationship between Michael Burnham and Spock seems to be the gravitational force behind the direction — a black hole pulling all the other chaos with it. An arc that explores the carnivorous relationship between the Ba’ul and Kelpiens will be a refreshing change from the usually optimistic Star Trek vibe.
Many Star Trek fans on various social mediums have complained about how Star Trek: Discovery doesn’t follow the original ideas that Gene Roddenberry had for the franchise. The problem with that attitude is that it doesn’t understand how much Star Trek has pushed the social boundaries. The Original Series brought the first interracial kiss and displayed the stupidity of racism with Cheron, a species that had wiped each other out based on which side of their face was black and white.
That was only the beginning, as the franchise has continually changed from one series to another. It’s often argued that Star Trek is about Gene Roddenberry’s idealistic version for humanity, but it’s often forgotten how Deep Space Nine showcased the worst aspects of humanity when the circumstances demanded; it was also an incredibly popular series. In contrast, Star Trek: Voyager, with a deep focus on exploring the final frontier, was one of the least popular series.
And therein lies a final conclusion. A less optimistic version of Star Trek doesn’t ride against Gene Roddenberry’s original ideas, but explores them in places the original didn’t go to. Star Trek has always brought down boundaries, and with Saru you have the story of a refugee rising to the top of Starfleet. Is it political? Indeed, but Star Trek has always been political. There lies the fascination of Saru and his story — it’s very relatable in the current climate. With plenty of flesh to add to the bones, this could easily become one of the most memorable story arcs in Star Trek history.