So, I’ve now watched the first two episodes of Discovery and went down a rabbithole named “Saru.”
Saru is one of the bridge crew in those first two episodes, and apparently shows up again on the Discovery. He’s a new species called a Kelpian, and I am instantly fascinated.
Predators vs. Prey
One of the things we tend to assume is that most alien sentients will be predators to some degree. Certainly, Vulcans are apex predators, perhaps more so than humans (before you say “but they’re vegetarians” — that’s why). Most aliens we see in Star Trek are, like us, bipedal omnivores or carnivores.
The Kelpians are different, and Saru himself explains it better than I can:
“Your world has food chains. Mine does not. Our species map is binary. We are either predator or prey. My people were hunted. Bred. Farmed. We are your livestock of old.”
Saru is not just a prey species. He’s basically a cow. I hope we find out more about how Kelpians evolved (and who was keeping them as livestock).
And they thought this through amazingly well.
How they Did a Prey Species Right
First of all, Saru’s size. Saru is distinctly larger than a human. Herbivores tend to outmass carnivores. But this is a very simple thing.
The other simple thing they got right is Saru’s nervousness. He comes over as somewhere between C3PO…and a horse.
Anyone who has worked with flight oriented prey animals can look at Saru’s body language and see that that guy is, well. Prey. The actor, a solid character actor, does it very well. I’d love to know if he rides.
All of this is straightforward. It makes sense. Somebody on the team looked at livestock behavior and mapped it onto a humanoid alien. Which is past what most people would have done.
Then comes episode two.
The Cornered Prey
In episode two, “Battle at the Binary Stars,” the U.S.S. Shenzhou is damaged and ultimately incapacitated.
The ship is cornered.
Now, most people would extrapolate that at this point Saru would panic. He’s cornered.
He’s going to be eaten.
So, does he panic and flee the bridge.
It’s Saru who becomes the nastiest fighter, the most determined to win. He’s willing to fight as dirty as it takes. He’ll do whatever it takes to beat the Klingons and survive.
And anyone who has dealt with a cornered, panicking horse? It all fits.
As my beloved Greg Pearson pointed out, “A predator can always try again. A prey animal has to win.”
Saru has to win, and it shows through in the script beautifully.
This is a sentient prey animal, sentient cattle, done very well and he’s become instantly my favorite character because of this.
And I’m taking notes.