Star Trek: Discovery changed the game. One of the interesting ways it did this was not to have a Starfleet Captain as the lead. In fact, the show went with a dual protagonist concept. So far, neither Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) nor Saru (Doug Jones) have been in charge, permanently. That is, until now. As a result of the ship being trapped over 900 years in the future, needs must. In last week’s episode Burnham told Saru that he should lead the crew of the U.S.S. Discovery. With this, came a historical moment in the Star Trek franchise. The first non-human Captain in a feature regularly appearing in a show. There have been non-human Captains in Star Trek, but never of a ship that viewers follow the adventures of. Here, we’ll look why that matters, and remind ourselves of Saru’s journey so far. Then, we’re going to give our view of how good a job we think he’ll do.
Saru’s Relavance and Journey
Getting to see where Saru came from was important. Whilst season one primarily concerned Burnham’s arc, Saru was arguably the more interesting character of the two. Certainly, seeing a brand new species grabbed the attention of viewers. For a show set in a future where there are countless civilisations, Star Trek crews on have always been mostly human. Yes, there are many non-human characters, too. Perhaps most importantly Spock. The first to appear regularly. Still the firm favourite of many, and will primarily always be Leonard Nimoy. Data (Brent Spiner) and Worf (Michael Dorn) were the regular non-humans in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Then, there was Major Kira (Nana Visitor) and Odo (Rene Auberjonois). Voyager had Neelix (Ethan Phillps), though he wasn’t a main character. Perhaps the closest comparison is Seven of Nine, or just “Seven” (Jeri Ryan). Just like with Saru, we got to see her origin, and entry into Starfleet.
The prime universe Philipa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) helped Saru obtain refugee status. This led to him being able to leave the kelpian home-world of Kaminar. It’s here that Saru’s real story arc begins. Watching him develop has been part of the pivotal theme of Discovery, cleverly riffing on the name of the show. A genuine “rags to riches” type story, only the wealth obtained is not material. Instead, it’s gaining skills needed to become a captain. His shedding of his ganglia was a physical manifestation of this achievement, a way to show fear no longer ruled him. Fully in charge of himself, he was then ready to become the person in charge of others.
An astute thinker and tactician, what Saru really does brilliantly is command the respect of his crew. Those he works alongside trust him implicitly, and want to follow him. This was proved when was temporarily in charge of the Discovery during the mission to the mirror universe. He made several important decisions, showing he was capable of stepping up to the big chair. But that’s not all that qualifies him. His unique origin perfectly compliments his rise to the captaincy. Living in fear for so long, meant he learned deep empathy for other life-forms, and the value of life itself. Furthermore, his learning that his species were originally the hunters of his home-world had lasting repercussions. Saru knows that things aren’t always simple. These experiences have granted him the wisdom required to be a captain. Oh, and when he needs too, he he can fight. That matters. At some point all Starfleet captains have to kick some ass. Saru showed he’s able to throw down with the best of them, in the events of episode two of this season.
Following in Star Trek tradition, Saru is important for representation. Just as Captain Sisko (Avery Brooks) gave many people of colour a powerful on screen ally, as did Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) for women, Saru does for so many. Perhaps now, more than ever, the plight of refugees needs a voice on screen. There’s no better show for them to get one, than a Star Trek series. Inclusion and the celebration of differences embody The Federation. Tolerance isn’t enough. Actively embracing other cultures, fervently wanting to learn about their richness is what truly garners diversity. On that note, let us consider the man behind the character.
Yes, beneath the suit and prosthetics is a white male. With that status comes privilege and undeniable advantages and benefits. Let’s not forget though, that Doug Jones doesn’t conform to traditional so called norms, that are still rife in the entertainment industry. He has made a career out of playing the role of beings that are seen as scary, strange or odd. His stature and physical appearance has been led to him being desired for such roles. In Saru, however, he has had the chance to show his skills and abilities. However Discovery pans out, whether the popularity wanes or not, Jones will be remembered fondly for being the first non-human captain. A definite icon in the modern era of the Star Trek franchise. We can’t wait to see how the rest of his journey goes, as he guides the crew through the future. As ever we’ll be tracking it with our weekly reviews of Discovery season three and features, here at ScifiPulse.