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Star Trek: Discovery Review – ‘Su’Kal’

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Wow, who would’ve thought that a holodeck-malfunction episode would prove to be the strongest outing to date for Discovery Season 3? Though technically, the holographic environment in “Su’Kal” isn’t malfunctioning because of the usual old TNG-era reasons, but rather because it’s been doing what it was designed to do for over a century and is finally just falling apart from wear and tear.

Star Trek: Discovery – Season 3 Photos: “Su’Kal”

That the revelation of what caused The Burn is also finally provided to us here — or at least seems to be — and that it wasn’t some evil aliens behind that devastating event, but rather just what must’ve been a lost and scared child, is part of the appeal of this hour. (I’m guessing that it was the death of Su’Kal’s mother that prompted him to trigger The Burn, but we’ll have to wait until at least next week to find out if that’s correct or not.) But I’m getting ahead of myself.

There’s a lot crammed into this week’s cold open, including: picking up right where we left off at the Goodbye Georgiou Cocktail Hour; the return of a sheepish Gray (Ian Alexander) — let’s face it, being a dead Trill that no one can see aside from your ex must be a bummer; the reveal that it must be a Kelpien child who has somehow survived on the ship that’s been stranded in the Verubin Nebula; Saru (Doug Jones) almost risking the ship unnecessarily; Book getting radiation sickness while probing the area; and the discovery of a dilithium planet inside the nebula. All before the opening credits!

Yeah, they’re doing a lot in this hour, but it winds up feeling like a true “planet of the week” (or two weeks, as the case may be) Star Trek story that also ties seamlessly in with the season’s bigger arc. One issue I’ve had with the show this year has been its quest-style storylines, where the crew would have to find one clue each week that would get them a little closer to solving the mystery of The Burn. But now, with just three episodes left to the season, we’re finally getting to the nitty-gritty of it all.

An away team consisting of Saru, Burnham (Sonequa Michael-Green), and Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz) heads down to look for the “child,” who is certainly not going to be a child at this point. But as it turns out, Su’Kal may be a century old or more, but he has the mind of a child essentially. Played by the great Bill Irwin, Su’Kal has spent most of his life on his ship’s holodeck, which was programmed by his mother to raise him and school him as best it could. Over time, as the ship’s condition has deteriorated in the dangerous environment of the nebula, the holographic babysitters and teachers have become glitchy even as Su’Kal has lost his grasp on what’s real and what isn’t — if he ever had a grasp that is.Mary Wiseman as Tilly, Doug Jones as Saru and Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham

Mary Wiseman as Tilly, Doug Jones as Saru and Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham

It’s not that he doesn’t know that he’s interacting with holos, but when confronted by the Disco trio — real, live people — he can’t comprehend it, so much so that Michael must pretend to be a holo. And on top of that, the entire, vast holographic realm is inhabited by ghostly beings which may or may not be real. The environment, the creatures, and even the specific tics of the malfunctioning holograms all combine to make for an episode with a distinct feel and a huge scope.

This holo-framework also gives the Disco team the chance to mix things up on the makeup front, making Burnham a Trill, Culber a Bajoran, and Saru… a human. It’s a fun twist to the episode to see the gang with these looks, and Doug Jones surely loved shooting this episode and not having to put the Kelpien rubber on. But he’s still Saru no matter how human he looks.

Which doesn’t mean that Saru is a great captain, because he increasingly seems to not be. Sure, this mission means a lot to him on a deeper level because of the Kelpien Su’Kal, but his hesitancy at making decisions and his inability to see the forest for the trees on both the bridge and the away mission is damning. Does Burnham become captain by the end of this season at this rate? I wouldn’t rule it out. That said, Jones has some great moments, as when he cuddles up next to the lullaby-singing Kelpien grandfather, or even just the look in his eyes when he first encounters Su’Kal.

Meanwhile, Tilly (Mary Wiseman) takes the center seat as acting Captain, and she does really well even after Osyraa (Janet Kidder) shows up. But when Su’Kal activates his almost-Burn, it messes everything up for the Discovery and the ship is overtaken in no time by Osyraa’s forces. Seeing her actually one-up our heroes makes the Emerald Chain’s leader feel like a true threat, which hasn’t really been the case yet this season, and what do you know? We even wind up with a cliffhanger by episode’s end. Mr. Worf… fire!Questions and Notes from the Q Continuum:

  • I wonder how Aditya Sahil is doing over on that Federation relay station. We haven’t seen him since the first episode of this season. I sure hope Burnham doesn’t forget to loop him in on things.
  • Admiral Vance: Not a fan of Tilly as Acting Captain.
  • Stamets’ not wanting Culber to go on the away team makes sense, sort of. They are Starfleet though, and risk is part of the game.
  • Michael’s advice to Tilly about taking the conn and using that metal burr under the captain’s chair’s armrest is a nice touch. Captain Georgiou’s memory lives on.
  • Presumably those ghost-like creatures are actually what’s left of the Kelpien crew, right?
  • Can we talk about the Orions’ chins?

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