When we first got the official schedule for Star Trek: Discovery’s third season, episode eleven was initially called “The Citadel.” But just a few weeks ago, CBS updated their schedule and renamed this one Su’Kal. At first, I thought the crew was going back to Earth, and they misspelled the episode, as it should have said, “SoCal.” You know… for Southern California.
All jokes aside, Su’Kal turned out to be the episode and the name of a character responsible for so much damage during Season 3. I will save my opinion on this.
We rejoin the story seconds after the ending of “Terra Firma, Part II,” which was the gathering to remember Emperor Phillipa Georgiou. Stamets told Adira that she was a part of the Discovery family now. Adira’s imaginary boyfriend, Gray, reappeared and spoke to Adira for the first time in a while. Gray said that Adira needed to interact with others, and that’s why he stayed away.
Stamets interrupted the party to say that someone was alive aboard the Khi’eth, the Kelpian ship trapped in the Verubin Nebula. Saru revealed that Dr. Issa was really pregnant — not radiation sick. Tilly speculated in “Terra Firma, Part I” that Dr. Issa was suffering from some radiation burns. She had red marks on her forehead. But Saru taught everyone that these marks were the signs of pregnancy in a Kelpian.
NOTE: I love when they give us details from other species, especially elements that are unlike human features.
Anyhow, the Discovery jumped to the nebula. They tried to enter, and it was a complete disaster. The radiation cut through the ship’s shields. Book took his ship into the nebula instead. He was able to get a reading on the planet and life sign, but the radiation overcame him. He found the life sign in a breathable atmosphere and sent back coordinates for the DISCO to jump into. He finally passed out due to the radiation, which brought him back out of the nebula.
The Discovery jumped out and called Admiral Vance to update him. Book’s data indicated that they found a massive store of dilithium on the planet in the nebula. Vance told them that he sent part of the fleet to Kaminar, as the Emerald Chain might attack. Saru said that they could jump “immediately,” but Michael said this is what Osyraa did with Book (attacking his homeworld).
They realized that Osyraa wants the spore drive. Vance said that Starfleet would take care of Kaminar and told Saru to find the life sign in the nebula.
Meanwhile, Book picked Grudge Cat up from Dr. Tracy Pollard. Both Book and Grudge got some DNA recombination treatment after exposure to the radiation. Book was excited to have found all the dilithium. Michael told him that she, Saru, and Dr. Culber were going back to the planet to survey and look for the life form. She confided that she was worried about Saru.
“I’m not sure if he can be objective,” said Michael.
“He’s gonna need you down there,” Book told her.
Later, Culber told Stamets that he, too, was a part of the mission. Stamets tried to stop the doctor but conceded.
Michael spent a few moments with Tilly before leaving on the mission. Tilly would be acting captain while Saru was off the ship. Michael told Tilly of an imperfection on all starships from this era — a small metal burr on the captain’s chair’s armrest. Michael said that Captain Georgiou used to rub it when she was nervous. When Michael served as acting captain for the first time, she looked for the burr but found it smooth. Georgiou rubbed it entirely off.
“Burr, dent, shiny spot — it’s there for you,” said Michael. They hugged.
Before they left, Culber told Saru and Michael that they would need to keep their anti-radiation kit close to administering more if need be. He said they’d have four hours on the planet to survive the radiation. Tilly noted that the Discovery would be back in three hours to pick them up (it would take that long to finish the repairs).
After they left, Tilly sat in the captain’s chair and took command. She felt for the burr, and the Discovery jumped back out of the nebula.
As they materialized, Saru, Michael, and Culber found that they had been changed. They were in a holo program and had been assigned a new species. Michael was a Trill; Culber a Bajoran. Most stunning of all was that Saru was made a human!
NOTE: This was a fantastic thing to see because, for the first time in his Star Trek career, the great Doug Jones was able to act without prosthetics. Saru was a human! In the Ready Room show, hosted by Wil Wheaton, Jones said that acting as a human Saru felt like he was acting “naked.” It was a cool thing to see, in my opinion.
They realized that they were in a holo, and they were in trouble because they didn’t have their radiation packs. They encountered other simulations (which all spoke English) and appeared to be guiding the three or answering their questions. These holos were teaching programs.
Saru, Culber, and Michael wandered through the program and encountered an M.C. Escher-like maze. They found a door that was barred shut with wood branches. Culber met the life sign, expecting it to be another holo program. The being was a Kelpian, but he didn’t understand.
As Saru tried to talk to Su’Kal (who was played by Bill Irwin), a “monster” began to break through the door.
NOTE: If you feel like you’ve seen Su’Kal somewhere before, it is because you likely have. Irwin is a veteran actor who has been at work for years in and out of prosthetics. He’s famous for the role of Lou Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas and for portraying Mr. Noodle on Sesame Street.
Su’Kal ran off, leaving the three to debate what the monster was. Culber said that it had some kind of emotional connection to Su’Kal, but it was not real. Saru didn’t want to listen, but Michael convinced him that Su’Kal was probably very child-like. They split up. Saru and Culber went to find Su’Kal, while Michael stayed at the door to ensure that the “monster” did not escape.
On the Discovery, Stamets cracked the whip in engineering to fix the shields. They picked up strange transmissions from the planet, and Stamets wanted to bring the away team back. Tilly reminded them that they couldn’t jump back until the shields were fixed.
Lt. Joann Owosekun announced that she was picking up a Federation ship heading their way. They did not respond to hails.
Culber and Saru found a group of Federation holos, who recognized that they were here to rescue Su’Kal. Culber asked a bunch of questions, but the holos did not give any answers.
Meanwhile, Michael met the monster. It was a gaseous, liquid being with glowing eyes and tentacles. This might take the cake as the strangest creation in Star Trek history.
NOTE: The only thing I can compare this monster to were creatures from the Green Lantern film from 2011. Say what you want about that movie; it featured some genuinely bizarre aliens.
Michael got chased the monster around the stairs but was no match.
On the DISCO, Owo said that the other ship would soon be there. Tilly surmised that it was not a friendly ship. It was Osyraa aboard the Viridian. Tilly called for red alert and to raise the shields. Book said that Osyraa likely used a transwarp tunnel to get to the nebula. Without options, they cloaked the Discovery and the Kelpian ship.
Michael came to and found that Su’Kal was watching her. The Kelpian asked if she was a program, and she played along. She told him that she was there to teach social interaction.
Saru and Culber encountered a holo, which represented a very old Kelpian. This holo was designed to tell Su’Kal old Kelpian stories. Saru was in heaven! The old man sang ancient songs. They learned that Su’Kal was named after a great tragedy, according to Kelpian tradition.
Michael pressed too hard with Su’Kal, asking too many probing questions. He finally told her to reset.
Saru learned that Su’Kal was building small totems around the ship to protect himself from the monster. These were the same objects that the old Kelpian showed Saru in the story. The old man told Saru that Su’Kal must face his fears, or he would not be able to leave the holo environment.
Culber noted that both he and Saru were starting to show symptoms of radiation poisoning.
Osyraa hailed Discovery. Tilly and Osyraa verbally sparred for a bit before Tilly got down to business.
“What do you want?” Tilly asked.
“Your ship, your spore drive, and your crew as leverage,” said Osyraa. Tilly said that Osyraa could not have the ship or her crew and cut communications.
In the holo, Su’Kal worked on another obelisk. Culber and Saru found Michael. Together they watched the “monster” attack Su’Kal. When he screamed, Su’Kal’s voice triggered a shockwave, which affected the Discovery’s cloaking device.
NOTE: As hinted at before, Su’Kal caused The Burn. I was really disappointed that this was the cause. This is because something that caused galaxy-wide disruption was created by an “emotion.” I thought it would be something more scientific or logical. It reminds me of the spore drive… pure fantasy with no basis in science or fact.
“Something is destabilizing the dilithium in the core!” Stamets said. The Discovery decloaked, as did the Kelpian ship. Tilly ordered Stamets to prepare for a black alert jump. Stamets argued, saying that the Discovery could not leave the away team. Book said that he’d get them with his ship. Adira told Jett Reno that she had an idea…
On the Kelpian ship, Su’Kal was freaking out. Saru sang one of the old Kelpian songs, which calmed Su’Kal.
Lt. R.A. Bryce said that the disturbance stopped (thanks to Saru’s singing). But Osyraa hailed the Discovery again, promising to fire photon torpedoes. Tily said that she’d rather destroy the ship than let Osyraa have the spore drive.
Owo and Detmer gave each other an “oh crap” look!
Osyraa correctly bet that Saru was in the nebula and that Tilly wasn’t jumping away to protect him.
As soon as Owo announced that Book was clear, Tilly yelled, “BLACK ALERT!” Before Stamets could activate the spore drive, two Emerald Chain guys beamed into the spore chamber. They held his arms, and he could not jump.
The Viridian sent tentacles all over the Discovery, and Emerald Chain bad guys beamed aboard.
On Book’s ship, he called to Michael to tell her that the shockwave nearly caused another Burn. He said she could not let that happen again.
“Su’Kal… he caused The Burn?” Michael asked aloud. Culber said something about Su’Kal’s DNA being effected by the dilithium while he was in utero. Book said that they needed to beam out because Osyraa was attacking.
Michael argued with Saru over who should stay with Su’Kal and who should go back to Discovery. Eventually, they agreed that Saru should stay with Su’Kal. Culber also said he was staying.
“I’ll come back for both of you,” said Michael.
“If more than a day goes by … there’s no point,” said Culber.
As Book navigated his ship, Adira walked up behind him. Book was startled, but Adira brought more medicine for the away team and Reno’s badge. With the pills in mouth, Adira beamed down to the planet.
NOTE: Interesting that Adira knew to put the pills in their mouth. Did we miss a part where Saru told Discovery that they lost their medpacs because of the holo changes?
Book beamed Michael back aboard. Her radiation badge was glowing — that was a bad thing. He gave her a shot but said she’d need to see Dr. Pollard.
The Emerald Chain guys put a brain harness on Stamets, and they told him that what he wanted was “irrelevant.” He said that he wouldn’t help, but his eyes went blank as the harness turned on. He was now under their control.
NOTE: This reminded me of the mind-control device that was used in the TOS Season Three episode. “Spock’s Brain.” An alien force stole Mr. Spock’s brain, and Kirk and McCoy used a device wrapped around the outside of Spock’s skull to get him to walk around.
Soon, a whole bunch of Emerald Chain bad guys beamed onto the bridge. Osyraa was there too. They took all the DISCO crews’ badges. Osyraa tossed Tilly out of the command chair.
“This isn’t over,” said Tilly.
“I think it is,” said Osyraa, sarcastically. She said they already had Starfleet Headquarters location entered as their next destination.
The Discovery, under Osyraa’s command, jumped away, using the spore drive. Thanks to the connection to the DISCO, the Viridian jumped too. Michael and Book watched the two ships disappear.
TREK REPORT SUPPLEMENTAL:
I must admit I was pretty disappointed with this episode. I hoped that The Burn would be something bigger and harder to solve. The Discovery writers lean too much on feeling and emotion, rather than action, suspense, and science fiction storytelling. Perhaps this is science-fiction storytelling, but differently than we’re all used to. I will remember what Armin Shimerman told me when I interviewed him — “If you tell the same story over and over again, it gets repetitive, and nobody wants to see the same thing again.”
This was just a quibble, though. Really it didn’t matter what caused The Burn. We all knew that Michael would solve the problem and save the day in the end… right?
I did enjoy the Emerald Chain’s takeover of the Discovery and its super-valuable spore drive. In a way, all the stuff with Su’Kal was padding. Tilly reacted to the seizure (incompetent) should ensure that she won’t be making captain anytime soon.
RATING: 3 out of 5