Michael, Culber, and Saru transport onto the Kelpien Starfleet vessel Khi’eth for a rescue mission.
Star Trek: Discovery Season Three Episode Eleven “Su’Kal” centers around the away team trying to rescue Su’Kal, the child of Doctor Issa, who has been alone for hundreds of years with just holograms for company. Right before the Burn, Issa realized she and the rest of the adult Keplien crew on the Kh’eth were dying from radiation poisoning. She placed her young son Su’Kal in the ship’s holosuite. Issa designed a set of holo-programs that could raise him until another Starfleet vessel could rescue her young son. Sadly because of the Burn, nobody came for hundreds of years. Su’Kal has remained childlike with no real understanding of the outside world. Michael, Saru, and Culber are Su’Kal’s one chance to re-enter society.
The holosuite environment that the away team finds themselves in creates a labyrinth for them to navigate. The special effects team on “Su’Kal” did an impressive job creating an immersive environment in holosuite, which messes the away team’s minds. The holosuite characters camouflage the away team’s Starfleet uniforms and weapons. Michael is turned into a Trill, Culber a Bajoran, and Saru now looks like a human being. He still walks like a Kelpien, an excellent character choice by Doug Jones since the hologram masks their actual appearance, not change their real bodies. My only problem with the masking is that the logic for changing their appearances makes no sense. The holosuite characters who are reenacting when Kaminar joined the Federation said they changed the away team’s species and clothing to make them appear like one of the other holosuite programs. Su’Kal won’t be scared of them if he thinks they are just another program. The Keplien hasn’t seen another sentient being since he was five years old. But the character who explained the reason was a human Starfleet officer hologram, so Michael and the rest of the team wouldn’t appear that different from other programs. Also, there is Keplien elder holosuite character that Issa programmed. Seeing Saru would not be a great shock to him either.
My other minor grievance is how the radiation affects the holosuite programs. The holo-program characters malfunction quite a lot, but the landscape always appears perfect in the episode. If the radiation affects one part of the holosuite, it should affect it all. The audience never even sees a glimpse of what the room looks like under all the hologram illusion. Plus, Michael, Saru, and Culber appear to walk for hours without bumping into the edge of the holosuite. In past iterations of Star Trek, Starfleet officers often hit a point where they can’t go any further in the room. Su’Kal bumping into an invisible wall would help demonstrate the limitations of the world that his mother created for him.
Saru’s feelings about meeting the present-day Federation Kepliens causes him to make leadership mistakes. Over Star Trek: Discovery Season Three, Saru has been discovering who he is as a Captain and a Keplien at a time when his people are part of the Federation. From the minute Saru joined Starfleet, he was forced to abandon Keplien society. Last season, he freed his sister and the rest of the Kepliens from the Ba’ul on their home planet of Kaminar. The Ba’ul feared their strength after vahar’ai causing them to treat the Kepliens. Kaminar society was not ready to join the Federation. They still needed to build a free society. Now in the future, the Kaminar is part of the Federation, but Saru has not met another Keplien. As captain, he has made some risky decisions based on his desire to find the Khi’eth and learn more about Keplien Starfleet officer Dr. Issa.
On the away mission, Saru is distracted by all the Keplien artifacts in the holosuite program. Michael goes on the mission to recuse Su’Kal partly because she can see how Captain Saru is making all of his decisions based on the desire to meet another Keplien. He almost loses the U.S.S. Discovery by flying it into the radiated nebula because of his desperation. Thankfully, Book volunteers to fly his starship into the nebula to find where the surviving Keplien is located in the Khi’eth. The away team has a limited time frame to find Su’Kal before radiation poisoning kills them, but Captain Saru is not in a rush. In the holosuite, he keeps on straggling behind to learn more about his culture. Inside Su’Kal’s bedroom, there is a holosuite program of a Keplien elder whose job was to teach the young boy about their traditions. The Kepliens used to be culled before becoming elders, so Saru is intrigued to see one of his kind who has reached old age. He stays around to hear the elder sing a lullaby and study the book that Su’Kal read as a child. When Su’Kal freaks out and almost causes a second Burn, Saru sings the lullaby to calm him. In the end, Saru decides to stay behind to convince Su’Kal there is outside world where he can find a real home. Michael will have to step up and become a support system for Tilly, who is not ready to be a Captain.
“Su’Kal” has engaging, emotional storylines for all of the main characters including Michael and Saru, but there are some inconsistencies with the depiction of the holosuite. The Emerald Chain commandeers the U.S.S. Discovery since Acting Captain Tilly is not quite up to defending the starship from such a savvy enemy. I am curious to see how Michael and Book can reclaim their ship.