A stellar episode, “The Sounds of Thunder” felt, to someone who knows nothing about Star Trek, like everything people say Star Trek should be.
This recap of Star Trek: Discovery Season 2, Episode 6, “The Sounds of Thunder”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
The most consistent argument against Star Trek: Discovery has always been how, in many ways, it just isn’t Star Trek. The die-hard long-time fans will have you believe that the show is at odds with classic Trek’s enduring, humanistic optimism, and frequently the fine-print of its actual in-universe lore. And they might be right. As I’ve made clear many times through my recaps of this season and the first, I know very little about Star Trek. Discovery is the only version of it that I’ve seen. But the show has been a cultural fixture for so long that it’s impossible not to have gleaned an idea of what it’s all about through sheer osmosis, and to me, “The Sounds of Thunder” felt like it embodied everything that Star Trek is supposed to mean.
Admittedly, it was predicated on some instances of extreme coincidence, such as the fact that the latest “Red Angel” signal has suddenly appeared over Saru’s (Doug Jones) home world, Kaminar, just after we learned that everything he thought he knew about his species’ evolutionary biology was just a long con devised by the planet’s oppressive native predator species, the Ba’ul. But that’s fine, because the complex history and relationship between the subservient Kelpians and the dictatorial Ba’ul is integral to the success of “The Sounds of Thunder”, which takes a zoomed-out view of their shared cultures and values, and considers the entire context of their co-existence. And that, to me at least, seems very Trek-y, if you know what I mean.
Anyway, “The Sounds of Thunder” provides a useful recap for those who didn’t watch the Short Treks episodes, particularly Saru’s, as it goes back over the particulars of the gangly officer’s recruitment by Starfleet. In brief: the Ba’ul are supremely technologically advanced, and have established pylon-like surveillance devices in all the Kelpian settlements so that they can keep an eye on things and “cull” them when they reach “vahar’ai” – more on that in a minute. When Saru began to heretically question the morbidly sacrificial Kelpian religious doctrine, he reverse-engineered the Ba’ul spying equipment to send a distress call was picked up by a Starfleet ship, and here we are.
The Discovery arrives on the scene just as Saru, now free of his threat ganglia and armed with the knowledge that his entire species’ beliefs are simply fabrications to keep them fearful and oppressed, is starting to develop something of an attitude. Captain Pike (Anson Mount) is trying to tiptoe around due to General Order 1 and one assumes a desire to remain in charge, and Saru is having none of it. He thinks it’s bonkers that Pike would try to get pally with the Ba’ul, who have senselessly subjugated his people for generations and have been consistently unwilling to negotiate with anyone, and send Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) to liaise with the Kelpians while an actual Kelpian remains on the ship. And Saru’s right, obviously.
Thanks to Burnham’s intervention, she and Saru are allowed to touch down and make contact with Saru’s people, and lo and behold the very first Kelpian they encounter is his sister, Siranna (Hannah Spear), which is another moment of extreme good fortune that we won’t trouble ourselves with too much. Siranna is a delight, but she’s also overcome with contradictory emotions; she’s thrilled to see her brother, but she knows his arrival is going to earn the ire of the Ba’ul, and while on some level she knew that he left to be free, she still hasn’t actually forgiven him for leaving in the first place.
She’s right about the Ba’ul. They get extremely pissed off that Saru isn’t just present but is present post-vahar’ai, which is naturally a pretty major threat to their continued domination of the Kelpians and the delicate balance of their fragile ecosystem, which they seem keen on preserving. “The Sounds of Thunder” helpfully reveals why, thanks to the knowledge stored in that all-knowing sentient sphere from the other week. Once upon a time, the Kelpians were the dominant species on Kaminar, and the predators of the Ba’ul. The vahar’ai is a kind of coming-of-age process that turns them into murdering dominators, and so the Ba’ul want Saru so desperately because they see him as a threat to not just their authority but to their very existence.
This info, by the way, is gleaned by Burnham, Tilly (Mary Wiseman), and android Airiam (Sara Mitich), in one of only a few scenes that give the rest of the Discovery crew something to do. A couple of others are devoted to the recently-returned Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz), who is having a bit of an existential crisis after having learned that his body has been made completely anew from his DNA – although it’s nice to see that his extended stay in the mycelial network hasn’t left him any less shredded.
Anyway, the Ba’ul start panicking and threaten to wipe out the Kelpians if Discovery doesn’t hand Saru over, which Pike nobly refuses to do. But Saru just surrenders himself anyway and is whisked away by his former slavers, who reveal their true forms to him. And they are quite something – basically gloopy oil monsters with glowing red eyes, which would be comically unthreatening if it wasn’t for their technological advancement giving them a bit of a leg-up on the species level. One of the highlights of “The Sounds of Thunder” is that the Ba’ul just work as extra-terrestrial antagonists; they’re distinctly alien, but not so removed from recognisable cultural traits that you can’t, in a sense, understand where they’re coming from. They just don’t want to be annihilated.
Saru, to his credit, has no intention of exterminating his former slavers. Having figured out the true nature of the relationship between the Kelpians and the Ba’ul, he’s able to spring himself and his sister from captivity and concoct a scheme to formulate a “new balance” by forcing the Kelpian people to initiate and survive vahar’ai, and thus to realise that they’re not placid victims to be lorded over by a superior race. But it isn’t in service of a takeover; the Ba’ul are still too technologically-advanced for that to work efficiently, and so instead Siranna is left in charge of brokering peace between the two species. This, again, to me, feels very Trek-y.
And the Red Angel shows up! Just as the Ba’ul are about to unleash their plan-B, which is full-scale genocide, one of the crimson meddlers appears out of nowhere and disables all their weapons, thus interfering in the fates of entire species’ yet again. We get a good look at the “angel” in “The Sounds of Thunder”, and it looks suspiciously like a dude in a spacesuit. This naturally raises a number of important, time-travel-related questions that I’m sure subsequent episodes will address. Or not, as the case may be.
Either way, I loved “The Sounds of Thunder”, in no small part because it felt, to someone who knows nothing about Star Trek, like exactly what I’ve always imagined Star Trek to be: Clever, hopeful, complex, imaginative, and above all compelling. I might be wrong, of course, but ignorance is bliss as ever.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.