[This story contains spoilers for “The Brightest Star,” the third episode of Star Trek: Short Treks.]
When Doug Jones received word that his character, Commander Saru, would be receiving a standalone episode on the Star Trek: Discovery spinoff Short Treks dedicated to his teenage years on his home planet, he thought only one word: “Finally.”
“I was really happy we could look back and find out where I come from,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. “It had no name until now. We know what kind of family dynamic I have now. These are lovely parallels and look backs.”
It is indeed a key look back. After dedicating episodes to both the present and distant future, “The Brightest Star,” Short Treks’ newest episode, takes us back to the past. Saru is the only Kelpien member of Starfleet, and fans spent the entirety of Discovery’s first season wading through all the hints and exposition given by the lone representative of the newest species in Trek canon. But they now have an opportunity to see Saru’s home planet of Kaminar and his ascent to the stars, with plenty of surprises abound.
The first shock comes in the opening seconds of the short, with the depiction of the Kelpien society. The handful of remaining Kelpiens live a simple, agrarian existence, spending their days sifting through the Kalimar flora while simultaneously reconciling the fear of death (and accompanying threat ganglia) that permeates every waking moment. As Saru has said in prior Discovery episodes, Kelpiens sense the coming of death, seeing their impending end every time they look up to the stars.
It’s an understandable reaction, given the Kelpiens’ predators. Mentioned but never seen, the Ba’ul are a race who feast upon the Kelpiens. The prey, in turn, takes this as a natural part of life, all to keep what is called the “great balance” and maintain the lives of those they leave behind. In fact, they’ve turned the recurring culling into a pseudo-religious ceremony. Led by Saru’s father Aradar (Robert Verlaque), the chosen few kneel in a circle of stones, as they await the bright light and noble ending that comes from their sacrifice. Spilling blood is such a norm on Kaminar that their sand is symbolically stained red.