“Since I was a boy, whenever I looked up, I saw hope.” -Saru
Previously on Short Treks: Far in the future, Craft (Aldis Hodge) was rescued by the USS Discovery’s computer, now calling herself Zora (Annabelle Wallis). To repay her, Craft spent hours copying Fred Astaire’s dance moves… just like me in middle school. But feelings got complicated, as they often do, and Zora helped Craft return to his wife and child. Because when you love someone, set them free. I guess.
Before I even get into the recap, I need to preface this by saying how excited I was to watch this episode. Saru has become my favorite character on Discovery, and perhaps the character I can personally relate to most in all of Trek. On top of that, I’ve met Doug Jones a couple times in the last year, and he couldn’t be kinder or more receptive to fans. AND this is the Short Treks episode that we were told would tie back into Season 2 directly. Everything in me has been rooting for this story since I learned about it. So with that being said, here we go…
Saru is in his village on Kaminar, gathering some kind of seaweed and everyone goes about their business, as his voice over explains that he has always been different – he looks up at the stars and sees hope, while the rest of his people see death. Cut to Saru jolting awake, as we see a ritual though his window. He and his sister (Hannah Spear) watch as several Kelpiens, lead by a priest, circle around a glowing monolith and kneel. They have been called to the harvest, and the community does not question it. Saru’s voice over explains that they will be taken and “the pain of Vaharai stops,” which “preserves the Great Balance.” Honestly, that explanation doesn’t really clear things up at all, but let’s just go with it. The monolith buzzes, the ground starts to shake, and in a flash of light, the kneeling Kelpiens are gone.
In daylight, Saru’s father – the priest Aradar (Robert Verlaque) – returns home, carrying something that fell off the Baul ship. Ah, a name! Presumably, the Baul are the “predators” we have heard referenced so many times before. And it’s strongly implied that they no longer even have to hunt, but that the Kelpiens willing sacrifice themselves during Vaharai. (Still not sure what that is, though.) If the Baul are not warp capable, they seem to be at least space-faring and have either some kind of transporter or a death ray.
Saru, his father, and his sister pray together before their meal, thanking The Great Balance for “restoring the light.” Saru’s father then tasks him with disposing of the Baul technology that evening, since it is forbidden to keep. Saru glances over at the tech, then back to his father, and begins asking the hard questions: What else is out there in the skies? Why can’t we go? What if there are other people out there? Why couldn’t we be like the Baul instead of sacrificing ourselves to them? Each time, he is dismissed by his father, until dad loses his temper and shuts the conversation down with statements about theology and tradition and “that’s just the way it is.” I can tell you from experience, this is a fine line for a PK (preacher’s kid) to walk…
That evening, Saru does not the opposite of destroy the Baul tech – he uses it to send a message, because he needs to find the answers. And then he waits. And waits. As the rest of his community goes about their lives, harvesting flowers, playing games, etc. Until finally, Saru receives a “Hello.”
Emboldened, Saru asks his father, “What if I were to reach Vaharai for the next Harvest?” (Still unclear on the details, but I’m beginning to think Vaharai is a life stage, maybe? Getting some Pon Farr vibes.) Such a classic tactic for the PK – Would you still have this belief if it affected me, your child? Priest Dad is not swayed and he gives the stock answer: “Then it’s your time and you should be honored,” yadda yadda yadda. As much as you might think you’re prepared for it, an answer like that is always a punch to the gut.
But that seems to be Saru’s breaking point. He wants more, and doesn’t understand why everyone around him is so content with the way things are. The way he sees it, they’re all just waiting for death. He wants to take control of his life back from this glowing, buzzing monolith. Later, when Saru checks his transmitter, it’s displaying the word “Today.”
Walking in the forest with his sister, Siranna (who finally has lines, 9 minutes into the story), says that she’s feeling unsettled and ready to head back. Saru encourages her to go back, explaining that he wants to stay and look at the stars as night falls. Siranna clips a flower and hands him her knife, encouraging him to “look down” because there’s beauty there, too. Saru reaches out and touches her cheek, wishing her to stay safe. She returns the sentiment, but definitely in the tone of, “Okay, weirdo.” And Saru walks off.
As Saru sits on a cliff, looking out into the horizon, a shuttlecraft enters the atmosphere, then lands just meters away. The hatch opens and out walks Lieutenant Phillipa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh). She tells him that he’s the first and only Kelpien who has been able to manipulate stolen technology into a beacon and reach out with a message. But hey, what about that pesky Prime Directive? Georgiou explains that she fought for an exception, since it’s not every day that Starfleet is contacted by a member of a pre-warp society. She invites him to come with her, but says that he’ll never be able to return home.
Saru turns and looks back at his village one last time. Then turns back to Georgiou and says, “My place is no longer here.” As they board the shuttle, Saru’s voice over says, “I saw hope in the stars; It was stronger than fear and I went toward it.” In the last shot of the episode, we see Siranna, watching the shuttle warp away.
I thought this was a really lovely short, and I’ve already disclosed many of my biases. I think I love and identify with Saru even more now. It doesn’t hurt that his episode’s theme was essentially my favorite Carrie Fisher quote: “Stay afraid, but do it anyway.” In just these 15 minutes, we see Saru defy his father, his traditions and laws, and his expectations because of his desire for more – more knowledge and more experiences. And he may be exceptional, but he still does all this while dealing with a constant cosmic background radiation of fear and anxiety… well, that’s much more inspiring (for me, anyway) than a farm boy finding out he’s the “chosen one.”
Yet, I still have so many questions. The writers on Twitter last night were assuring fans that those questions would “all” be answered in Season 2. I sure hope so. This short also felt even shorter to me, in comparison to the others we’ve seen. My biggest complaint, though, is not with the short but with CBS All Access. And I want to clarify that these are my personal opinions and do not reflect the show or network: I don’t mind paying for Star Trek. In fact, I quite like the “pay for the stuff you like” model. My problem with the platform. I have yet to have an experience with DSC on All Access go off without a hitch. And last night, this short wasn’t available until over half an hour after it was promised (on their website or streaming apps). I’m all-in on DSC as a product. But the All Access platform continues to disappoint me.