Star Trek: Discovery – Season 3, Episode 11 Recap: “Su’Kal”

Dept. of Nebulas & Nemeses

Star Trek: Discovery Director | Norma Bailey
Season 3 | Episode 11 | 49 minutesWriters | Anne Cofell Saunders
Discovery races to rescue the survivor of a ship involved in The Burn, somehow getting ever closer to finding out how it happened in the first place.

After leaving behind a crew member last week, the latest episode of Star Trek: Discovery, “Su’Kal,” gives us our best view yet at what the show might settle into once this “saving the universe constantly” stuff is all said and done, as Saru, Burnham, and Dr. Culber try to rescue an improbably ancient survivor from a warped world, while possibly discovering the true source of The Burn!


Hailing Frequencies Open

Iain McNally: With its mix of an “away team” mission, multiple problems to solve, enemies at the gates, and ship Captains squaring off against each other over view screens, this episode really, REALLY felt like more of a classic ‘Trek episode than the last recent episode where we said this. What did you think of this week’s episode?

Bahir Yeusuff: This episode was exciting! A lot of things happening at the same time, and a lot of tense moments which made the episode move. Has Star Trek always had this multi story thing? Where the away team’s mission isn’t directly related to what the ship is going through, because that was a great way to split up the A-plot and the B-plot. It may seem like a cheat but in this case it worked really well.

IMN: I think on the previous shows an away team would discover a problem while the rest of the crew worked on a solution on the ship, but Osyraa’s arrival was a nice way to move The Chain storyline along and avoid having the rest of the crew just twiddling their thumbs and sharing their feelings while Saru, Burnham, and Dr. Culber tried to figure out what was going on. 

“The Monster”

IMN: That away mission was pretty intense, and so very expensive looking! All those weird alien landscapes, flying jellyfish creatures (which no one remarked on) and glitchy holo programs.  

BY: That main monster behind the door looked REALLLY good. Like “too good for network TV” good. 

IMN: For a while I thought “The Monster” was actually the survivor, horribly mutated by the local radiation, instead of the gatekeeping program it was to test how ready Su’kal was to leave the confines of the ship. It was a nice spin on the theme of “appearances can be deceiving” of many away missions past.

BY: Was “The Monster” a program? I thought it was something the survivor had drawn up in his head, like a psychological barrier. If that was programed by his mother, then that is one messed up way for him to hit puberty.

IMN: I’m thinking that either:

1) The real Su’kal is in a stasis pod somewhere (explaining his long life), and both the Su’kal we saw and the monster are just projections of different parts of his psyche.


2) His mom programmed “The Monster” to prevent him from wandering “outside“ his holodeck by scaring him away, until he was old enough to know it was a projection, that he was in a ship, and he would need to deal with the radiation somehow. 

BY: Man. That’s some harsh growing up. 

Computer, End Program

IMN: I’m guessing the crew didn’t have long left when he was born, so had to program a lot of stuff to teach him, all the way from infant to adult.

BY: What did you think of the away team being swapped into a different race? It wasn’t immediately obvious to me. (I could see Michael’s face marking but completely missed Culber’s transformation). Might I also add that it was kind of weird seeing Doug Jones.

IMN: Weird to see him, but cool. He was still waving his arms like a Kelpien though. And it was a nice way to add another obstacle to the mission. If the malfunctioning computer hadn’t “rendered” him as a human, it might have been easier to gain Su’kal’s trust.

BY: Yeah! Stupid computer!

IMN: I’m not quite so hot on the magical, hand wavy, dilithium-superpowers-developed-in-utero-explanation for Su’kal’s powers and The Burn. Maybe they’ll explain it better later, but it feel kind of lightweight and too easy. Maybe Kelpien’s are especially adaptably to radiation? All I can remember is that Saru has better eyes and can perceive different wavelengths of light/electromagnetic radiation than everyone else on board, right? 

BY: Yeah. I’m with you on the throw-away magic explanation. It would feel weird in a show that is so grounded in science (Carl aside) to suddenly revert to Su‘kal being able to have caused the Burn because he was stressed.

The Needs of the Many?

IMN: One more thing on the away team, with the end of the season rapidly approaching, do you think anyone might die from the radiation? It would bring home how harsh this new future is, and it’s not like they really needed an additional ticking clock this episode.

BY: Oooh. Good question. I have to say, I was thinking that same thing when Saru told Michael to beam aboard Book’s ship. It felt like Saru and Culber would be left behind to die finish the mission, but when Adira beamed down on to the planet I thought that they couldn’t kill them off too. Maybe they’ll all come back?

IMN: Fingers crossed. We didn’t see Adira after the beam so the ship’s computer will probably do something weird with their holo-appearance. Hopefully the meds they brought with them aren’t rendered invisible by the holodeck like the others were. (Burnham’s rad meds were right on her belt the whole time!)

BY: That seemed like an easy “story makes things unnecessarily difficult for characters” moment. Do you think we’re going to lose anyone?

IMN: Dr. Culber seems like a possibility (AGAIN!) but I’m hoping not. As we keep saying this is OUR crew now, don’t take them away from us!

BY: I got t admit, I’d hate to go through another season of angry/moody/heartbroken Stamets. We’ve seen that already. Let’s not go back there.

O’ Captain! My Captain!

IMN: That reminds me of an aspect of the show that’s beginning to grate a little. This is a Starfleet vessel. These are her crew. Stamets’ whining at Hugh going off to do his (admittedly dangerous) job, or Detmer worrying about the orders she’s been given, feel a little out of place. Like this year’s Greyhound starring Tom Hanks, in previous Treks, when the Captain gives an order, the crew carries it out, no questions asked, unless it’s REALLY bad. They’ve lost a bit of that this year.

They’re growing together as a crew of friends, but not a real ship’s crew. Do you know what I mean? 

BY: Yeah. We all get that everyone is super proud to have Saru and Tilly in charge, but it doesn’t seem like anyone really treats them as captain and Number 1 just yet. There’s a little “we’re all in this together” and not enough proper military science vessel organization.

IMN: Right? There’s a few too many looks of confusion on peoples faces when an order is given. Stop that. Tilly must be OBEYED!


Speaking of which, I really liked the way Captain Tilly squared up to The Chain. When push comes to shove she will blow Discovery up before letting the enemy have that spore drive. Despite everything we just said, Tilly is friendly with her crew but completely Captain material with the enemy.

IMN: Which is good and right, and Detmer and Owosekun shouldn’t be throwing aghast looks at each other when Tilly says that. They should know this too.

BY: The rest of the bridge is really not playing it cool.

Star Trek Fleet Battles

IMN: I really liked how Tilly handled Osyraa, up until the very end she was holding her own. I was slightly worried she’d end up all flustered but she must have taken tips from John Cho’s Sulu in Star Trek Into Darkness

This does lead me to another complaint about this episode, that I’m realizing may be a problem with “Nu Trek” in general. 

Once both ships cloaked (side note: Discovery can cloak now, cool!) I thought they were going to the situation for some classic Wrath of Khan/The Undiscovered Country style submarine warfare, which really suits Star Trek.

Two ships, and their captain’s, slowly stalking each other, feigning attacks while seeking the other out in the cold abyss of space. But no, the cloak drops, there’s no barked orders of “Evasive Manoeuvre Picard,” or “Attack Pattern Delta 4.” In this, and I think the final battle against Control last season, the ship is sadly immobile with shuttles, or in this case and in the last fight with Osyraa, Book’s ship doing all the fighting. 

I miss the ships maneuvering to give their opponent the narrowest target profile and trying to line up as many weapons to fire on the other.

Osyraa’s crew just beaming over with no issues, makes me think there has to be a spy on board, the shields were up, right?

Did you find it as anti-climactic as I did?

Totally Rad(iation)?

BY: Yeah the shields were up but coming down slowly. I just assumed that Osyraa’s crew was constantly hitting that beam button until Disco’s shields were down and they were able to beam over.

That felt easy. Beaming over like that just makes sneaking around and being crafty obsolete in this timeline. Being able to beam directly onto a ship’s bridge just seems like a bad idea. What’s stopping someone from just constantly trying to beam over bombs. You just know the Federation is so gentlemanly that they’d be all like: “Oh, hail that strange ship that showed up,” whereas The Chain Gang would just jump from warp, beam a bomb aboard, and bounce straight out. It just sounds like the funniest of all Star Trek problems to have.

IMN: They’ll have to work it back somehow. TNG and previous iterations of ‘Trek had a nice balance between technologies. It was usually hard to beam at warp, impossible to beam through shields without knowing the frequency, and you couldn’t really fire when cloaked. It gave the factions character. (Although it never really made sense why the honour obsessed Klingons would use a cloak.) 

I’m thinking Ryn must still be aboard and flip-flopped when he overheard about all that dilithium. Somehow he helped Osyraa get on board?

BY: That just seems lame.



Grudge Does NOT Approve

BY: Okay help me out here. Is it just me, or is the ability to recover almost immediately from something dangerous like that, a lame get-out-of-jail-free card for the Star Trek universe? I haven’t watched this much Trek EVER, but being able to hit the sick bay and just get a “miracle science” cure just makes the medical emergencies not so “urgent” anymore. In other shows getting too much radiation can be a death sentence but here, with some magical DNA recombination, you’re good to go!

It’s felt like a bit of a crutch and an easy shortcut to put between episodes. I mean, we technically still haven’t seen Detmer deal with her PTSD have we? She admitted it that one time and now she’s all good to go?

IMN: Weeeellll, they’ve come up with a lot worse radiation and technobabble that can kill you horribly with no cure, in the various Trek shows to make up for the relative ease of dealing with your bog standard or garden variety radiation. So the introduction of the radiation here, along with the relative ease of treating it, AND the hard timeline in which it needs to be treated, all lead me to think that someone will die next week (or the week after). Someone is going to have stay too long, in a dangerous area, to do something noble and then they’ll cut to Culber nodding sadly when Michael says “start the DNA recombination!” 

It’s just like the end of Wrath of Khan, but again, I hope I’m wrong. 

Adventure Time?

IMN: Hopefully Book will just pick up everyone and they’ll ride Su’kal’s magic dilithium powers back to Federation HQ through the transwarp conduit and then we can have Die Hard on Disco as they retake the ship?

BY: After having spent the weekend after Christmas rewatching Die Hards 1 and 2, I can vibe with your proposed storyline.

After this recap, I’m starting to rethink my stand on this episode. There was a lot happening, but also a lot of just easy writing setup? Just hand waving away some problems for future episodes. They start the episode with Gray (Adira’s not so imaginary partner) making a reappearance. Then a Kelpian who’s been alone for 120 years possibly having caused The Burn because it got really stressed out that one time, to teleporting anywhere villains. The episode was fun, but maybe doesn’t hold water as much as it should.

IMN: Hopefully they’ll explain more next week, and then we’ll only have one more episode until the season is over! 

Subspace Report

  • Su’Kal is played by Bill Irwin who was great as Cary Loudermilk in Legion
  • Captain Tilly figured out that the incoming Federation ship wasn’t what it seemed thanks to the elevated levels of neutrinos. Elevated neutrino levels usually indicate the presence of a cloaked ship, but not it’s location.
  • Osyraa was able to catch up to Discovery without a spore drive by using the old Borg Transwarp Conduits they used to use to get around.

Star Trek: Discovery, Season 3, is now streaming on CBS All Access in the U.S., as well as on Netflix internationally. You can check out all our other Star Trek content here.

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