Star Trek: Short Treks gives fans brief glimpses into the lives of a number of characters – the latest focuses on Doug Jones’ Saru and his path to becoming a Commander on Star Trek: Discovery.
We are all familiar with the old proverb ‘curiosity killed the cat’, but there is a variation where it ends ‘and satisfaction brought him back’. In the case of Star Trek: Discovery character Saru, currently the only Kelpien enlisted with Starfleet, that adage is certainly true.
Doug Jones may not be easily recognizable to many even though he has been a part of Hollywood for over three decades. He has now become synonymous with the languid alien Commander he plays on Star Trek: Discovery. Commander Saru debuted in the first season as a rival to Sonequa Martin-Green’s Michael Burnham, before the two characters formed an unlikely friendship. His character’s history has, so far, been shrouded in mystery, but all that changed in the latest episode of Star Trek: Short Treks.
Saru’s people are driven by fear, and the cycle of their life is to survive on their home planet Kaminar before being sacrificed to an unknown alien species called the Ba’ul. In a recent interview with Deadline, Jones explained a little more about Saru’s home planet.
You’ll see the beauty of my home planet. It looks like a vacation spot. But there’s the dichotomy of this whole situation and it’s slightly disturbing. There’s the beautiful brochure-looking place but at the same time there’s the horrific thing of the culling of our people. When a certain time comes along ever so often, our predator species will collect a few of us. That’s where it’s our time. They take us away to our death. So that’s very disturbing and why does that happen? And does it need to happen? Why is it necessary?
Given that Saru is alone in the Federation, it is evident that he must have been an outsider among his race. In ‘The Brightest Star’ we see a young Saru’s ingenuity and curiosity; how he constantly looks up at the stars with hope. But his inquiries about what the universe beyond Kaminar holds are shut down by his father and left unreciprocated by his sister.
It is Saru’s reliance on hope that gives us a clear understanding of why he perceives Burnham as a threat in the first season of Star Trek: Discovery. His ‘threat ganglia’ emerge when she boards the Discovery because Burnham’s actions led to the Klingon war and the decimation of the USS Shenzhou. After watching this installment of Short Treks, it is obvious that the events of the pilot episode pretty much killed Saru’s hopes and dreams.
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An interesting parallel that the Deadline interviewer draws is between Saru and another fantasy character that Jones played – the Silver Surfer. While we didn’t get much insight into the origins of the character in 2007’s Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Marvel comic fans will be familiar with the huge sacrifice Norrin Radd made when he attempted to save his world by becoming a herald to the planet-killer, Galactus. Jones explained to Deadline what it was that attracted him to both these characters:
The ones that do sacrifice something, leave something behind for a greater cause and Saru was doing that exact thing, as you’ll find that out in the short film and you’ll see Saru’s curiosity looking to the sky wondering what else is out there and finding a way to break away from his people. But it comes at a cost and he has to leave the world he knows and leave the people he loves behind. Much like the Silver Surfer. With Saru he wants to be a part of keeping the universe safe and keeping the galaxy running smoothly so there is a certain heroic act there.
I grated against the characterization of Saru for most of season one of Star Trek: Discovery; he seemed to prefer being a cog in the wheel rather than a go-getter. But, after watching ‘The Brightest Star’ it’s apparent my assessment of him was incorrect. Saru was content with his life trajectory under the leadership of Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), but once she was gone, he must have been shell-shocked; it is even possible that Saru was still suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder when Burnham re-entered his life. He had given up everything for a better future, only to see it crumble at the hands of Burnham.
Star Trek: Short Treks gives us (or at least, it gave me) a much-needed sympathetic portrayal of Saru, which will undoubtedly play an important part in his character arc in the upcoming season. Star Trek: Discovery returns on CBS on January 17, 2019. Catch the final Short Treks chapter next month with Rainn Wilson returning as Harry Mudd.