One of the more interesting story arcs in the Star Trek universe has been marinading in the background of season one and two in Star Trek: Discovery. Saru has perhaps the most fascinating backstory of any first officer in Starfleet, arriving as a refugee after escaping from his destiny as essentially a farm animal raised to feed a species known as the Ba’ul. In the episode “The Sounds of Thunder,” this particular arc met its conclusion, but it’s hard not to have bittersweet feelings towards its execution.
The Kelpiens as a ‘prey species’ has been quietly developing in the background, hidden by Spock’s disappearance and the drama in the Mycelium Network, but has frustratingly amounted to basically two seasons of build up for a mild pop of horror cinematics. It’s an episode of popcorn-munching drama without the story writing to execute the promise — style over substance.
“The Sounds of Thunder” meets its disappointing conclusion when the appearance of the Ba’ul is unveiled. An aquatic humanoid species seemingly covered in sludge, they also sport glowing red eyes, with hair hanging over their face like they’d just crawled out of a TV set. A species that had apparently reached warp capability twenty years prior looks as if Jar Jar Binks had been thrown into 18th-century London sewers — or at the very least, had just chased Frodo out of the Shire.
The diplomatic grey that previous Star Trek villains inhabited would now be festering in the good vs evil narrative that tarnishes so many other franchises of its kind.
With such a long wait for the USS Discovery to finally reach Kaminar, the Ba’ul had the opportunity to become an interesting part of the Star Trek lore. Unfortunately, the reality is quite different. As it would happen, the Kelpiens after Vahar’ai become the predators, and they nearly wiped out the Ba’ul in the first century. To protect themselves, the Ba’ul used their superior technology to wipe out post-Vahar’ai Kelpiens, and then created a religion that persuaded the Kelpiens to sacrifice themselves when they hit Vahar’ai. This predator-prey relationship that changes depending on the species development — not dissimilar to aquatic species on Earth — is an engaging turn of fate that was executed poorly.
The result is an episode that becomes Star Wars meets Marvel, with a strengthened Saru unbuckling himself from the chains of tyranny, crushing all Ba’ul technology with his bare hands. All it needed was the Ba’ul to whip out a red lightsaber, and the transition from science fiction to galactic fantasy would have been complete. The diplomatic grey that previous Star Trek villains have inhabited is now festering in the ‘good vs evil’ narrative that tarnishes so many other franchises of its kind.
“The Sound of Thunder” has become a blemish on what had been an enjoyable season two so far for Star Trek: Discovery.
In reality, there’s a great reason to sympathize with the Ba’ul, who had every reason to protect the balance after they were almost sent to extinction by the Kelpiens. The problem lies in how the design of a character can create unfair bias; here, the writers have deliberately created the Ba’ul to look sinister in order to disturb the atmosphere. Rather than designing the Ba’ul to be a realistic space-faring species, they’ve become a hybrid of horrors, conceived for impact rather than narrative.
“The Sound of Thunder” has become a blemish on what had been an enjoyable season two so far for Star Trek: Discovery. The second episode, “New Eden,” remains the highligh; it’s an episode that truly delivers on the ideals that Star Trek was founded upon. “The Sound of Thunder” suffers from the same problems that the end of season one had: attempting to push too many ideas into too few episodes. Saru’s backstory with the Ba’ul should have been over two episodes to flesh out much of the questions that had been asked over the two seasons. A cameo appearance of a single Ba’ul is bewildering, to put it lightly.
Now that the fate of the Kelpiens has been brushed under the carpet, there’s a wonder how many other story arcs will be tied up hastily. There are still a lot of reasons to watch Star Trek: Discovery, and many of the episodes have been fantastic television, but the worry is that the ghosts of season one return to haunt the series once more. Another rushed conclusion, and the Ba’ul will be the least of Star Trek: Discovery’s problems.