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Review: "The Brightest Star" - 'Star Trek: Short Treks' Episode Three

The Kelpien Hello

By Daniel TessierPublished 5 years ago 3 min read

The third Short Trek is a well-worn but well told story that provides Lt. Saru—perhaps the standout character from the first season of Discovery, and certainly the most mysterious—with an origin story. It's an origin that treads familiar ground for Star Trek, and as such it feels very traditionally Trek, but at the same time, feels a little unoriginal.

During season one, Saru spoke profoundly of being from a world with a binary food-chain, where life was either predator or prey—and his people were the latter. What we see here doesn't quite fit with that, however. I expected to see them living in a state of fear from natural predation—as intimated by Saru's words and the novel Fear Itself, the deepest exploration of Saru's character so far. Instead we have a religious society, living in awe of a more advanced species called the Ba'ul, to whom they willingly sacrifice themselves. It's strangely comforting to see Star Trek present an old-fashioned pre-warp civilisation that blindly worships a false god. Saru's own father is the high priest, who expects the chosen sacrifices to feel honoured in their deaths and spouts religious cliches.

Saru, on the other hand, is uniquely gifted, seemingly more intelligent than his peers by a significant margin, to the point where he can tinker with a bit of detached Ba'ul technology and successfully send a message to the stars. Unlike the other Kelpiens (apparently so named because they farm kelp, seriously), Saru's isn't content to blindly walk to his death, and instead searches for answers among the stars.

Eventually, it's Philippa Georgiou who comes to his rescue—still a lieutenant, but still able to have persuaded Starfleet to bend the rules so that she could pick up a unique specimen in what clearly counts as a violation of the Prime Directive. Of course, this is 23rd century Starfleet, when the spirit of the non-interference directive was more important than the letter. This is an era when Kirk could overthrow a false god without so much as a reprimand, so it's perhaps not so surprising that Georgiou manages to intervene on Kaminar, even in such a tiny way. It's a far cry from the 24th century, when in the comparable situation of the episode "Pen Pals," Picard honestly seemed to think that it was preferable to let a young girl and her entire society die rather than answer her call for help, just because they hadn't invented warp drive yet.

The episode raises more questions than it answers. Are the Ba'ul native to Kaminar? If so, why are the Kelpiens so much less advanced? If not, then surely the Prime Directive wouldn't apply, and Starfleet would be free to intervene if requested? Are there more, natural predators that hunt the Kelpiens, or has everything been controlled for the benefit of the Ba'ul? If nothing else, at least we know why no more Kelpiens ever show up in Star Trek; as a pre-warp culture, they wouldn't be travelling among the stars.

As with all of Discovery, the episode is a visual treat, and I particularly love the knife-life Ba'ul ship, hanging over the Kelpiens like the Sword of Damocles. And while the subject matter is well-explored, the fifteen-minute format means the story is tight and compact, all the better for a franchise that has a tendency to drag things out. It gives Doug Jones more well-deserved time in the spotlight, although he doesn't get to do a great deal that's new with Saru's character. Nonetheless, we see a side to him that deserves more exploration; a side of incredible bravery in spite of his innate fear, strong enough that he can not only go against his society's mores but abandon everything he knows for a better life.

We've been promised a visit to Saru's homeland in Discovery season two, making this episode something of a prologue to a full episode. Saru's backstory deserves more exploration, and that's something I look forward to.

star trek

About the Creator

Daniel Tessier

I'm a terrible geek living in sunny Brighton on the Sussex coast in England. I enjoy writing about TV, comics, movies, LGBTQ issues and science.

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