Mark Watches ‘Discovery’: S03E11 – Su’Kal

In the eleventh episode of the third season of Discovery, the crew seeks out the potential cause of the Burn but experiences disastrous consequences. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.

Trigger Warning: For discussion of trauma, death, grief.


  • You’re getting my thoughts like this because I can’t be bothered to organize them otherwise. I CAN’T BE BOTHERED. 
  • Discovery truly is one of those shows that just keeps getting better and better, even though I’ve made wildly dramatic declarations in the past about how certain scenes or episodes were clearly the “best” and now here I am, a wilted mess from “Su’Kal,” and I don’t know what to do with my life anymore.
  • So, loved that this picked up in the immediate aftermath of the previous episode. That hasn’t happened a whole lot, but it was brilliant here. I happened to have watched this episode and the previous two in the same day, and so it lent an incredible urgency to the storytelling. All of this has been in the same DAY. THESE POOR CHARACTERS, CAN THEY JUST GET A NAP.
  • I was also blown away by the reappearance of Gray. I’m hoping that there’s some further exploration of Gray’s choice to stay away in one of the remaining episodes, but what little he says here… I get it. I get that this was so weird for him because he couldn’t life as he normally would. Everything was not only filtered through Adira in some sense, but no one could interact with Gray himself. That’s got to be haunting!
  • But then PLOT TWIST, THERE’S A LIFE SIGN ON KHI’ETH. Oh my god, NO WONDER SARU REACTED AS HE DID WHEN HE SAW DR. ISSA’S MESSAGE. He knew she was pregnant! Did he not mention it because he assumed the outcome was a tragedy? That’s my interpretation of that. Why add more sadness to an already terrible situation?
  • That moment was the first real hint in “Su’Kal” of how emotionally challenging this episode would be for Saru. Admiral Vance had expressed concern before, but here, everything would be so much more real. There was a high chance that Saru would finally get to see another Kelpien since jumping to the future, and after his reunion last season, it was obvious this was going to affect him a lot. I had faith that he’d be able to do his job, but at the same time, has he really taken time to care for himself? To do what he needed to do to feel settled and a part of this world? He offered that for the rest of the crew, but he didn’t give himself space for that. So how would this feel for him? 
  • On top of that, Admiral Vance revealed that the Emerald Chain was conducting “training exercises” near Kaminar, a clear attempt by Osyraa to lure out Discovery. So that was on his mind, too! Which was more important: Making contact with the sole survivor of the Khi’eth or protect his home? I think all these things help to explain Saru’s actions in this episode. 
  • Book. BOOK!!! Watching his transformation from someone who constantly made fun of Michael for believing in the Federation, into someone who is now EXPOSING HIMSELF TO RADIATION in order to prove himself to said Federation, has been a TREAT. I also don’t want to ignore that I think he’s trying to impress Michael at the same time; he clearly wants her to believe in him as well. Still, I love this specific trope applied to his character, and the writers are finding interesting ways to keep Book in the main story. I’m very interested in seeing him in the next episode, given where he ends up in this one.
  • Grudge fuckin’ rules, for the record.
  • A dilithium planet. Oh, lord. As soon as that was revealed, I knew this was going to be a lot, and IT STILL WASN’T ENOUGH OF A WARNING.
  • Like I wasn’t prepared for Stamets begging Dr. Culber to stay behind. I completely understand Dr. Culber’s motivation for it, too! If anyone on Discovery was going to understand Su’Kal’s predicament, it would be Dr. Culber, who had to survive alone in the mycelial network for a long time. In a sense, Dr. Culber felt called to be a part of this away mission. From an outside perspective, I’m glad the writers have given Culber this sense of purpose, especially after his emotional journey last season. 
  • I feel the same for the long journey that Ensign Tilly has been on, which culminates with Saru making her the captain while he’s on the away mission. We’ve been building up to this for so long, and in this season alone, Saru was trying to ready Tilly to take a command position. Then he made her his Number One, and this was the next logical step. Of course it’s terrifying! It’s not like this is any old mission. It’s a tense, complicated nightmare. But that’s the point. Saru believed that Tilly was ready for it. So did Michael, who offered Tilly some wonderful advice beforehand. Oh, I just loved the whole burr element. IT WAS SO GOOD.
  • And then this episode threw me out of the airlock.
  • I fucking love when Discovery goes weird, and “Su’Kal” commits wholeheartedly to the story from beginning to end, starting with the bewildering moment when Saru, Michael, and Dr. Culber beam to the ship, only to discover that they’ve been altered. And obviously, the most shocking change of all was seeing Saru as a human. Actually, I want to comment on that because one huge advantage of this decision was that we got to see Doug Jones—who is already such an incredible talent as Saru—act in ways that weren’t visible due to prosthetics and make-up. I truly believe that made the events of this episode all the more upsetting, y’all, because we were able to see Saru’s face as human.
  • Even the construction of the physical world of the holoprogram acts to tell the story. Look how many passages are dark and shadowy. If the theory of the cause of the Burn is what I think it is, then these images were clues the whole time. The home of Su’Kal is heavily constructed around fear: fear of Outside, fear of the unknown, fear of loneliness, fear of the truth. I also loved that everything looked to be in ruin, which supports the emotional state of Su’Kal. After over a hundred years of solitude, radiation slowly eating away at everything, the physical environment of the program looked to be in decay, too. 
  • I’m actually curious if there’s a reasoning behind some of the other imagery, like the pre-warp irrigation facility, or those weird flying creatures. How much of it was part of an existing program? How much of it was manifested because of Su’Kal?
  • This was one of those episodes where I felt completely at mercy of the show. I had no idea what was going on; I had no idea why anything was happening; and then on top of it all, there was the secondary story of the ship that was heading for Discovery’s location. To say this was tense would be an understatement. This was a nightmare!!! The program that Dr. Culber and Saru explore provides some answers, but then any theory I might have had was chucked out the window when Michael found that flowy monster that chased her around the ruins. Why would the holoprogram put something so AWFUL into Sa’Kul’s world?
  • THE SCENE WHERE MICHAEL INTERACTS WITH SU’KAL AND REALIZES SHE NEEDS TO PRETEND TO BE PART OF THE PROGRAM WAS INCREDIBLE. I know I’ve complimented Sonequa Martin-Green’s acting many times, and guess what? I’m doing it again. It wasn’t just the way she spoke that impressed me. Her performance was deeply physical, too. That moment she “reset” by turning her head away and looking back? INCREDIBLE. The scene was also a demonstration of how caring Michael is. She recognized very quickly that she couldn’t behave in a way that might trigger Su’kal, so she put his well-being first. 
  • Meanwhile, Doug Jones is also killing it in this episode, and his best scenes are those where he interacts with a Kelpien elder. Saru knows that it’s a hologram, but it doesn’t matter. There’s still an immense meaning for him because he’s never seen a Kelpien that old. It’s also a complicated scene because we’re watching Saru slide further into an emotionally compromised state, one that Michael later explicitly calls out. At the same time, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s why Michael asks Saru to stay behind rather than stay behind herself. Saru can make a connection with Su’kal that no one else could. 
  • But I’m getting ahead of the story. LET’S ALSO TALK ABOUT CAPTAIN TILLY. I love that she quickly figures out her captain persona without it being a betrayal of who she is as a person. Tilly has a wonderful sense of humor, and all her interactions with Osyraa show that. She also leans into seeming confident, even though we know that she’s terrified. I LOVED SEEING HER BE THE CAPTAIN.
  • (help)
  • God, all the shit with Osyraa was so stressful. Y’all, this show may not have given us much in the way of a backstory for her, and yet I find it very easy to despise her and what she does. I know she’s capable of horrific things, so watch her take control of the Discovery? NO. I DON’T LIKE IT. What does she plan on doing with it? My guess is… copy it? Somehow? Make Stamets a perpetual pilot? UGH IT’S ALL SO UPSETTING. 
  • Really, the entire last act of “Su’kal” is an EXPERIENCE. Adira and Gray beam down to the ship to help out Dr. Culber and Saru, which has its own emotional foundation. They want to make sure that Dr. Culber gets back to his husband, don’t they? That’s why they took meds down there! (And now I have another question: How is the holoprogram going to interpret Adira?) Michael barely escapes but she and Book don’t make it to Discovery in time. What does that mean for Michael’s help?
  • But the big thing here: Was Su’kal unknowingly responsible for the Burn? There’s a moment in this episode when Su’kal is attacked by the monster in his story, which causes a huge energy disturbance. It’s obviously due to a highly-charged, emotional response, and if something like that triggered the Burn… oh, lord. I have a theory. Was it Su’kal’s grief over his mother’s death the cause of the Burn? It might fit, but I’m not quite sure the pieces match up. Su’kal would have had to have been very young when it happened, which would explain why he has no real memory of his time before he was alone. And how did Dr. Issa guarantee that only her child would survive, but no one else?
  • I still have lots of questions, but holy shit. This was yet another stellar episode. There hasn’t been a single miss this season, y’all. How does this show keep getting better and better???

The video for “Su’Kal” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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