Star Trek Discovery reveals the Kelpien child Su’Kal caused a galactic cataclysm.
With “Su’Kal,” Star Trek Discovery enters its third season’s third and final act. The crew follows the ancient distress signal from the Kelpien vessel Khi’eth to the Verubin Nebula, where they find the answer to the season’s most burning question (pun intended)—and a host of further complications.
Here are five “don’t miss” moments from “Su’Kal”:
Saru gets a fascinating facelift
When they materialize aboard the Khi’eth, the away team members find their appearances have changed.
Culber looks like a Bajoran. Burnham looks like a Trill. Most surprising, Saru looks like a human!
How delightful to see Doug Jones’ face free of prosthetics.
The show’s makeup artists do a masterful job with Kelpien makeup. And Jones is no stranger to acting in roles that leave him unrecognizable, from Abe Sapien (and others) in Hellboy to the creature in The Shape of Water. But “Su’Kal” serves up so many chances to see the emotional range Jones delivers using only his natural facial features.
Like episodes in which we saw LeVar Burton without Geordi’s VISOR or Rene Auberjonois without Odo’s visage, “Su’Kal” makes us realize how hard it can be to convey characters through heavy makeup—and how well Star Trek actors do it!
Su’Kal is living (but not flourishing) in holographic isolation
The Discovery crew members look as they do because the Khi’eth is running a massive holographic training program for Su’Kal, its only, 125-year-old survivor.
Despite his mother’s intentions, the program isn’t sparking Su’Kal’s development but stunting it.
Su’Kal is basically still a child. He knows he’s living inside a holographic program but assumes “the Outside is dead by now.”
Sa’Kul’s situation resonated all too well with many of our situations during 2020. “The Outside never came inside” as we lived through lockdowns and obeyed stay-at-home orders.
Though scripted and filmed long before the pandemic struck, Burnham’s statement that “connection to others is incredibly important” for “sentient beings” voiced what many of us felt we were missing and looked forward to regaining.
Acting Captain Tilly doesn’t back down
Back in the first season’s “Context is for Kings,” Tilly told Burnham (and viewers), “I’m gonna be a captain someday.”
Now, she finally has the conn—and an unexpected handful of trouble when Osyraa finds Discovery.
Mary Wiseman delivers another wonderful performance. She shows Tilly has the guts and grace to think on her feet and assert her authority under pressure with a flair I think would make even Captain Kirk proud.
Su’Kal is revealed as the cause of The Burn
When the monster from his storybook confronts him, Su’Kal instinctively unleashes a dilithium-destabilizing energy disturbance.
Despite Saru and Admiral Vance’s earlier conclusion to the contrary, this isolated, irradiated Kelpien caused the Burn when he was only a child—and there’s no guarantee he won’t cause another.
Burnham convinces Saru he must remain with Su’Kal. Culber volunteers to stay with them both. And Adira blindsides Book by beaming down with anti-radiation medicine the away team needs.
The twists come rapidly, but each one reinforces the theme of how critical our connections to others can be.
Osyraa commandeers the Discovery
Although Tilly gave as good as she got with Osyraa, she ultimately can’t stop the Emerald Chain from taking over Discovery.
This time it’s Janet Kidder’s turn to shine. For all her casual swagger and scorn—even her presumably unwitting dig at Saru’s search for a command catchphrase earlier in the season (in “The Sanctuary”)—Osyraa makes it clear who’s in charge.
With Osyraa in the captain’s chair, Stamets cybernetically shackled to the spore drive, and Burnham and Book missing the hijacked Discovery’s jump by that much, “Su’Kal” ends on one heck of a cliffhanger.
And the third season still has two episodes to go!