Sunday, 3 January 2021

Su'Kal: Discovery S03 E11

Can an episode simultaneously be your favourite and least liked of the season at the same time?

I think it can and that feat may have been achieved by Su'Kal as season three begins to wind up to the finale.

Determining that they need to find out what's going on in the Verubin Nebula, Discovery jumps in and drops off Saru, Culber and Burnham at the crashed Kelpien ship. While the original crew will have perished, there is a survivor as Saru recognised that the distress signal's bearer was pregnant from the markings on her forehead.

As every good parent would, mother has ensured her child is well looked after, leaving a whole series of holographic childminders to help raise her son. The problem is that over time the programmes have begun to degrade and cracks have started to appear. 

In order not to frighten Su'Kal - for that is not just the episode title, but the child's name - Burnham and co have their appearances altered in case they might be a surprise to the lone Kelpien. Burnham is altered into a Trill, Culber a Bajoran but the biggest shift is making Saru human and allowing Doug Jones to play the role out of makeup.

Su'Kal is something entirely new to the crew. An adult with the learning age of a child being reared by faulty holos. It takes Burnham acting as one of those programmes to eventually break through to the lone survivor. But they are not alone in this make believe world of chaos that wouldn't look out of place at Galorndon Core. Within the realm is a fear that Su'Kal needs to face, manifested as a spectral demon. While you would be wanting it gone, it is key to unravelling the mystery of the Burn.

While Saru is gone that leaves Tilly in charge of Discovery, sitting on the edge of the nebula and waiting for the four hour clock to tick down. This gives the away team the longest possible time to locate the survivor and get out but plans are interrupted by the arrival of Osyrra.

At this point I'm still finding her two-dimensional and a little cliched. She turns up, spouts some trash and shoots a bit. Osyrra wants Discovery for its spore drive which cannot be replicated and issues her ultimatum to hand over the ship. Discovery's capture by the Viridian and Osyrra is another crackers moment of the episode with the vast Orion vessel extending a series of tentacles to ensnare the Starfleet vessel. It's a swift takeover and one that sets up Michael and Book's intention to save the crew next week... of course.

In order to dissect my thoughts on this one I'm going to have to discuss the big spoiler so heads up, it's coming shortly. First though, I love the setting, the feel and the concept that's been built into Su'Kal. The eerie castle, the broken holos and Doug Jones looking super uncomfortable as the human Saru all work for me. It's a haunting episode that's a high concept we didn't see coming at all. Who could have expected the computer to be babysitting the son of one of the long dead crew?

If you did, well done but there's one aspect that utterly ruins what is a fine piece of Star Trek and restored my faith after the rather terminal Terra Firma. The reveal of Su'Kal being the epicentre of the Burn is horrid. To have the season's Big Mystery condensed down to what I would term as a child's temper tantrum is a kick in the teeth for fan loyalty. Yes, it isn't even close to what fans would have been theorising and in that sense, bravo, but...really?

Su'Kal's outburst caused the Burn and now there's the very realistic chance it could happen again if he's not brought under control and Saru is the best candidate for this. Doug Jones' prosthetic-less performance reveals a lot about the Kelpien's insecurities and self-doubt. It's not something his usual look allows and the emotions of finding remnants of his own people, their history and beliefs washes over his face in every scene. 

Unique isn't the word for it but the episode is redeemed by the acting and also by the situation that's building on Discovery. Tilly rises to the occasion but the lack of long term experience looks to be her stumbling block which viewers would have been expecting. Getting your command experience from a textbook is all good but there's nothing that replaces being out in the field. Fans were all over the shop when she was promoted to XO but this does indicate that she still has much to learn about the ways of command. 

Also, who couldn't love the morphing ability of Book's ship as it slides through the nebula on its way to rescue the landing party? 

What are your predictions for the last two episodes of the season?

Track back on our season three Discovery reviews HERE

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