TV & Film:TV Reviews
Star Trek Discovery "Su'Kal" Detailed Analysis & Review
We're in the final 3 episodes of Star Trek Discovery Season 3 now. The crew enter the Verebin Nebula to rescue a Kelpien survivor and learn the source of The Burn. This episode gets a little wacky with the away team, but also gives us some real growth for Tilly as she takes the captain's chair for the first time.
Welcome to Nerd Heaven.
I’m Adam David Collings, the author of Jewel of The Stars
And I am a Nerd
This is episode 48 of the podcast
And today, we’re talking about the Star Trek Discovery episode “Su’kal”
This episode actually came out on the 25th of December in Australia, so I spend my Christmas night watching Star Trek. Not a bad way to round off a happy Christmas actually.
The description of Memory alpha reads
Discovery ventures to the Verubin Nebula, where Burnham, Saru, and Culber make a shocking realization about the origin of The Burn as the rest of the crew faces an unexpected threat.
This episode was written by Anne Cofell Saunders
It was directed by Norma Bailey
And it first aired on the 24th of December 2020
Make it so.
This is a bit of an unusual episode, which took a few unexpected twists and turns, but it was still pretty good. It’s got some thrills near the end, some growth for some of our characters, and some kinda weird but fun stuff with the away team.
We pick up right where we left off last week. Our characters are still at Georgiou’s memorial. Adira is feeling a bit left out. Everyone here seemed to know Georgiou. They’ve all been through so much together. They all came from the 23rd century together. Adira is the odd one out. A native of the 32nd century. Not a Starfleet officer.
Stammets tries to reassure them that they’re still a part of this crew. The crew are all here for you. Culbert and I are here for you.
And then Gray shows up. He hasn’t appeared to Adira in a long time. With no explanation.
I like how Stammets says into the empty air “You’re lucky we’re at a memorial service because otherwise, I’d be giving you a piece of my mind.”
I really like how Stammets just takes this thing at face value, and doesn’t treat Adira like they’re crazy. He can’t see Gray, but he believes he’s there and even addresses him from time to time.
But in hindsight, it’s occurred to me that it may have been a good idea to recommend a medical examination, just in case, to make sure Adira isn’t hallucinating.
I mean, the disembodied soul of a former Trill host appearing in a form only the new host can see is not exactly out of the range of possibility in the Star Trek universe, but it might not be the only explanation.
For all Stammets knows, Adira could have schizophrenia, which is probably not something you want to leave untreated.
I don’t think that’s what is happening here, but it’s probably a good thing to rule out.
Gray explains why he’s been absent. He’s struggling with the whole disoconnected aspect of his existence. He has consciousness. He has emotions. But nobody but Adira can see him. He can’t interact with anybody else. That’s not what life is supposed to be. It’s like he’s stuck in limbo, a ghost that can’t move on.
This is a very believable reaction to his situation. And I’m glad the show is addressing it, allowing Gray to feel this way and struggle with it. That’s some emotional realism right there. The kind that I like characters to have.
He also admits that his struggles are no excuse for simple vanishing without an explanation.
He could have explained this to Adira before he vanished.
Admira promise they’ll work this out together. Somehow.
With this nice little character moment done, we launch right into the main plot of the episode.
they’ve recovered some new data from the Kelpien ship. There’s a life sign.
Saru reverals the Kelpien doctor was pregnant. That’s what the marks on her head were about. Not sure why he kept this to himself but anyway. Her child, now an adult, is still alive on that ship.
So they jump into the Verubin nebula, which looks awesome.
I’ve learned, through a little research while writing Jewel of the Stars book 1, that if you were inside a nebula, it would not look like this. In fact, you’d see nothing. The gass particles are so sparse they’d be essentially invisible. It’s only many lightyears away, where you can see from a vast distance, that the particles appear close enough to actually look like anything.
But I can’t help but forgive Star Trek for getting this wrong, and it’s been getting it wrong since The Wrath of Khan, because it looks so good. And this nebula, with modern CGI, looks like something straight from a Hubble image.
Anyway, the radiation is wreaking havoc on the ship. They’re gonna have to leave the nebula, but Saru is unwilling. Or, at least hesitant. Michael seems to interpret this as emotional interest in the Kelpien. And in fairness, there may be some of that, but recovering this Kelpien is important if they want to understand the cause of the burn. And goodness knows Michael has been compromised by that obsession herself.
This episode has a thread running through it of “Saru can’t be trusted to make rational decisions because there is a Kelpien on board.” And I still don’t get that. Kaminar is still out there. He can go visit it next time he has shore leave. It’s not like this crashed ship is his last chance to ever see his people again. I think this whole business is artificial and overdone.
But we’ll keep talking about this as the episode progresses.
Anyway, Book takes his ship ahead. He has better shielding and his ship can morph, as he calls it. That morphing thing has never been explained. What exactly does this weird reconfiguration of his ship accomplish? What’s it all about?
While Book is mapping the nebula, Discovery jumps back top safety.
The radiation gets to him a bit but he manages to locate the ship and it’s lifesign before auto-pilot brings him back to Discovery. He’ll be okay after some DNA recombination.
The Kelpien ship crashed into a planet that’s practically made out of Diluthium.
That’s good news for the Federation.
Saru plans to lead the away team personally. While not standard Starfleet procedure, it’s not unheard of for a captain to be part of an away team, if there is deemed sufficient reason. Vance and Michael both give him a look for this, but Vance accepts it. It’s Saru’s call.
Personally, I think Saru has sufficient justification for this. A single KEpien survivor, all alone. Never seen anyone else. Having someone of the same species could be reassuring. And I think you’ll agree that the episode demonstrates that he was right about this.
My only concern is leaving Tilly in charge. You know I love Tilly. She’s one of my favourite characters. And You know I want to see her achieve her dream of being a captain.
But I’m still not convinced she’s ready for this yet.
Although, nobody knows the challenges she’s about to face. If The Emerald Chain didn’t show up, she’d have been quite capable of holding the fort until the away team returned.
But we’ll get to all that.
We learn that the Emerald Chain are running military exercises near Caminar. Osyrra is trying to lure Discovery out so she can steal its spore drive. Starfleet is going to handle that. Discovery has a job to do here.
Do you notice that Vance is really sold on this mission to learn the source of the burn, now that they have solid leads to follow. Early in the season, he was very hesitant to expend any resources on this, because there were more important things to deal with.
Ironically, they could never have gotten these solid leads if Michael hadn’t been like a dog with a bone in the first place.
So Michael tells Book she doesn’t think Saru can be objective.
She’s not sure how he’ll handle it if he has to make a hard call. A painful one.
First of all, Michael herself doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to difficult calls. Vance even called her out on the whole Arium thing earlier this season.
I’m not saying Michael is right or wrong, but I’m curious what has lead her to this conclusion about Saru.
I don’t think any of this stuff is fair to his character.
Stammets is freaking out about Culbert going on the away mission.
At first, I thought this was really weird.
This is Culbert’s job. He’s a Starfleet officer. Starfleet officers go into dangerous situations all the time. That’s part of the deal if you’re a member of Starfleet, or you’re in a relationship with a member of Starfleet. Stammets is both.
Plus, Saru just said that as long as they take the right medications with them, they should be fine.
But I realised, actually, my wife pointed it out. Stammets has already lost Culbert once. So he’s understandably over-protective here.
Now despite what I said earlier about Tilly and her unreadiness to be first office, I do really like how they develop this whole thing in the episode.
First of all, we get a wonderful scene where Michael reassures Tilly and tells her the story about the little bur of metal under the arm of the captain’s chair. How Georgiou used to press her finger against it to keep herself in the moment during difficult encounters. It’s a wonderful exchange that they’ll call back to a number of times.
I love how she allows herself the moment of fear and anxiety, with her trusted friend, and then sucks it up and says “okay, let’s go.”
With medications, the away team will survive four hours on the planet.
Discovery’s shields will take three hours to repair. After that, they can jump back in to rescue the team.
And despite everything, Tilly looks good in that chair. Michael is right, she does belong there. It’s her destiny.
The away team arrive on the crashed ship. And this is where everything gets a little weird.
The first thing we notice is Michael is dressed differently. She and Culberty are in thick jackets with hoods. Then we realise that Culbert is a Bajoran and Michael is a Trill.
Now … forgive me for thinking we’re suddenly watching Hitchhiker’s Guide to the galaxy.
I mean, what’s next Is Saru going to be a penguin?
No, Saru is Human.
I called it before we saw his face. Just before the camera shot that slowly panned up from his feet.
So we get to see Doug Jones out of makeup. That’s kinda cool, because we can finally see all his amazing face acting. Don’t get me wrong, nobody can act tinder all that prosthetic like Doug Jones can. He’s a master, but he’ll always be able to do more with his face without all that slapped on him.
The other weird thing is, they don’t appear to be in a ship. They’re outside surrounded by snow.
Of course, we quickly learn they’re on a holodeck inside the ship. The holodeck has changed their appearances. We know it could do that, even in the 24th century.
This is all very strange, and it is explained, at least somewhat a little later, but I think the writers just wanted an excuse to get Saru out of makeup and see the others as different species. They wanted to have some fun with it.
The bad news is, they’ve lost all of their equipment. No badges and no medications.
If Discovery returns as scheduled, they’ll be sick but alive.
The first holodeck character we meet is wearing a new Starfleet uniform. We haven’t seen this one before.
It seems to be a bizarre blend of the discovery uniform with the TNG uniform. It’s got a very shiny version of the TNG com badge.
No idea if this is supposed to be a real uniform that was worn at some point in history. Until we see it outside the holodeck I think we can basically dismiss it.
Clearly, the holo programs are malfunctioning due to over 100 years of exposure to the radiation.
When they enter a different part of the program, the holodeck changes their clothes again. They find a crumbling structure with some very cool looking alien creatures flying in the distance.
Here’s a strange thing. Saru asks if human bodies react negatively to heights because his heart is racing.
So are we to assume the holodeck has somehow reconfigured Saru’s internal organs? That doesn’t make any sense.
A surface-level image to change their appearance, sure. But to make Saru’s body react differently, that seems a little absurd and completely unnecessary as we’ll soon learn when we discover the purpose of their transformation.
They find the Kelpien child, now an adult male.
And Saru’s eyes nearly bug out of his head. OH, it’s another Kelpien. How amazing.
It doesn’t make sense.
The child assumes the away team are programs but Saru tries to explain they are from outside the simulation.
There’s a door here containing something that scares the Kelpien. The door breaks open but nothing comes out.
The episode portrays the Kelpien as mentally a child, because he’s never seen anythingh outside of this holodeck.
Again, that doesn’t make sense to me. Sure, his perspective will be limited, but his faculties still should have developed just like anyone else. He has the brain of an adult. I’m not sure it makes sense that he’d mentally be a child.
A voice goes through the Discovery com system. “We’ve found them.” A female voice.
Why this voice is heard on board Discovery is never explained. It doesn’t make any sense. We know how this is, but why would the voice be heard here?
Anyway, Discovery has picked up another ship nearby. A Federation ship.
Now we all knew where we thought this was going right. How many of you thought this was going to end up being another USS Discovery, tying into The short Trek calypso.
I was relieved to find out that wasn’t where they were going.
No, it’s Osyrra. Trying to sneak up on them by emitting a Federation signature. Apparently, she used a transwarp tunnel to get here. Book keeps saying nobody would be silly enough to use one of these tunnels but has never explained why. And it seems OSyraa’s ship came through fine with no problems.
Anyway, she’s been tracking their ship since Kwijan and she wants Discovery’s spore drive, and she wouldn’t mind the planet of dilithium here either.
Nice to learn Discovery now has a cloaking device. This makes sense. Ever since the fall of Romulus, the treaty of Algeron would no longer be in effect.
But they can’t jump while cloaked. Again that makes sense. Starships don’t seem to be able to do anything while cloaked.
Culbert and Saru find more holo characters. One of them, a vulcan, explains that this holoprogram has been set up to help raise the Kelpient child, educate him, and prepare him for the day rescuers would finally arrive.
Since he has never seen anybody outside of the program, the holodeck has changed their appearance to make them look like part of the program.
Okay. That part makes sense.
But why does Culbert fit into this program more as a Bajoran than as a human?
Why does Saru fit in more as a human than as a Kelpien?
They still look like themselves.
This doesn’t make any sense to me.
Michael meets the creature behind the door. It looks very spectacular. Wonderful CGI.
It chases her for a bit before she somehow falls upward and finds herself in another room with the KElpioen. In order to not freak him out, she pretends to be a program, one designed to teach him how to interact with outsiders.
Meanwhile, Saru and Culberty find a holographic representation of a Kelpien elder.
They learn the Kelpien child’s name is Sukal. That name symbolises the end of suffering and is given to a baby born after a hardship.
Saru is enjoying what the elder is able to share with him. The song. How it reminds him of home. But it doesn’t stop him doing his job. He’s learning what he can from the book.
And he realises what it is that Sukal is afraid of. It’s a monster from Kelpien mythology.
Apparently, nobody will be able to leave this program until Sukal is willing to face the monster.
Again, not sure why.
The visuals of the fortress and the flying creatures continue to be absolutely top-notch.
At this point, Tilly is feeling a whole lot of anxiety. Facing down Osyraa in her heavily armed ship is not something she expected to have to deal with on her very first time in the big chair.
Tilly’s lack of experience adds a whole new dimension of tension to these scenes. It’s v very effective. I find myself doubting Tilly’s ability to handle the situation, but desperately wanting her to rise up to the challenge and prove me wrong. So even though I wouldn’t have put the character in this number one position, I’m finding that this is effective story-telling here in this episode.
Tilly is not feeling as confidant as she’s trying to portray to Osyraa, and yet, if you compare this scene to the scene in season one, where she pretended to be Killy while Lorca stood at her side, she is so much more confidant now. She has come a long way.
Osyraa is trying hard to convince Tilly she hasn’t got what it takes. And Tilly is putting up a brave fight in this battle of wits.
The away team are all back together again, and Sukal is face to face with the monster.
And then something weird happens again. He pulses with a shockwave of energy. This energy disrupts Discovery’s cloaking device. But worse than that, it’s starting to destabilise the Dilithium in the ship’s core. That sounds familiar. Sukal’s shockwave almost caused another burn.
So it seems that Sukal was the cause of the burn. How? Why? We don’t yet understand. Why can be do this weird shockwave thing? We don’t know. But it’s all about him. Interesting.
With both ships unblocked, it’s time for a battle.
Tilly is making a hard call. She has to jump away to prevent Osyraa from getting the spire drive. She promises they’ll come back for the away team, but it’s not looking good for them.
Book takes his ship to rescue them, but Adira also has a plan. She just needs Jett’s badge.
Saru manages to calm Sukal by singing a Kelpien song. As he calms, the monster scurries away. Nobody but Saru could have done this.
Tilly says she’ll self destruct the hip rather than let Osyraa get it. It’s a wonderful moment. But instead, when threatened, she tries to jump away. And that makes sense. Self destruct should be a last resort. IT makes sense that she’d try jumping first.
Culbert theorises that being in-utero amongst all this dilithium and subspace radiation explains why the radiation doesn’t kill him. Something must have happened to trigger him when the burn happened. Perhaps the death of his mother?
Saru has to return to the ship to deal with Saru. He asks Michael to stay, to help prevent Sukal from causing another burn.
Michael argues it should be Saru, because of his connection to Sukal as a fellow Kelpien.
And now Michael gets back on her “Saru is compromised” horse. He says he would never let his emotions to factoir into his decisions.
She says he already has.
I’m not buying that. Sorry.
Yes, he’s a little distracted, although I don’t think the episode has given him good reason to be.
But he hasn’t yet made any mistakes because of it.
Look, if this is all part of the season’s on-going Saru learns to be a better captain arc, then I’m okayt with it.
But it’s starting to feel like they’re setting up to push him out of the captain’s chair so Michael can take it. If that’s where they’re going, I’ll be very disappointed.
Culbert also wants to stay. He knows what it’s like to be alone in a world that doesn’t make sense.
They’ll only have an hour before the planet kills them.
But Adira beams down with more radiation medication. That’ll buy them more time.
Osyraa takes over the ship by sheer force of numbers. Her people beam on board and secure both the bridge and more importantly, the spore lab.
Tilly doesn’t have a chance to destroy the ship.\
Michael and book arrive just in time to see Discovery and Osyraa’s ship jump to Federation headquarters.
End of episode.
This is a thrilling cliffhanger. And I’m dying for next week’s episode.
I loved the stuff with Tilly in the captain’s chair. I’m still loving Janet Kidder as Osyraa. And the stuff with Sukal was very interesting. I’m so glad that Michael Burnham wasn’t the cause of the burn.
It looks like we’re gearing up for an epic ending to the series.
Just two episodes left.
I say bring it on.
Overall, this season is doing a much better job than the last two seasons of paying off it’s mystery.
And yet, there are still some threads that seem to have been dropped.
Remember how the Vulcans were absolutely convinced that the SP-19 data proved the burn started at Ni’var? That’s been conveniently forgotten. It doesn’t add up for me.
And what about that music? Will that come back and be any further explained? Because honestly, the little bit of explanation we had for that last time it was mentioned made very little sense.
We’ve still got two episodes left, so the music, at least, might still get a bit more exploration, but I’m not counting on it.
And even without these elements being handled satisfactorily, it’s still overall a strong season, in my opinion,but I’m pointing these things out because they do bug me somewhat.
Anyway, far be it for me to end on a negative. I think next week is going to be a thrilling episode as Osyraa strikes at the heart of Federation headquarters, and we will hopefully learn some more fascinating things about Sukal and The burn.
I think we’ll have a lot more to talk about regarding the season mystery this time next week.
Next week’s episode is called There is a Tide (formerly announced as “The Good of The People”)
It’s another Jonathan Frakes episode, so that’s always cool.
I’m now officially on Christmas holidays and won’t have to return to work until mid January.
I plan to use some of this time to work hard on Jewel of The Stars book 3, and get it published as soon as possible.
I hope you had a good Christmas and have enjoyed some time off, if possible.
It’s been a long weird year, but it’s almost over.
Anyway, catch you next week.
Live long and prosper.
Make it so.
It is Free