In a panel at New York Comic Con Saturday evening, members of the cast and executive producers of Star Trek: Discovery spilled the beans that Michelle Yeoh will return to the show. The panel, moderated by former astronaut and self proclaimed lifelong Star Trek fan, Dr. Mae Jemison, included discussion about the seemingly darker tone of Discovery, multi-dimensional “bad guys”, and Michael Burnham’s path to redemption. Plus, the panel kicked off with a sneak peek at episode 4 (look for our spoilery description at the end of this article).
Michelle Yeoh will return to Star Trek: Discovery
Michelle Yeoh, who plays Michael Burnham’s captain and mentor Captain Georgiou, made a surprise appearance at the panel. And no one was more surprised than the panelists. Hidden underneath a mask, she approached the microphone and pretended to be a fan asking a question, “Is Captain Georgiou coming back?” Shen then unveiled her identity, and the cast and creators jumped up to welcome her onstage as the audience gave some very loud applause.
“I’m not going to let them kill me, okay?” said Yeoh as she took the stage. As her captain, Yeoh is understandably protective of Sonequa Martin-Green, and she wanted to make that clear to Jason Isaacs, who plays Burnham’s new captain aboard the Discovery.
“The most amazing journey has been with Sonequa. So I’m telling you, Captain Lorca, if you don’t look after my baby girl, I will come and kick your ass. And you know I can do that.”
“I would say I’d like to see you try,” replied Isaacs, “but I really wouldn’t want to see you try.”
At the end of the panel, executive producer and co-showrunner Gretchen J. Berg confirmed that Michelle Yeoh will be back on Discovery, assuring the crowd, “You will see more of this woman on this show.”
Not darker, just more serialized
On the tone of the new Star Trek, host Mae Jemison turned to the panel, saying, “This Star Trek is a little bit darker. Is that fair?”
Executive producer Akiva Goldsman immediately took to the mic. “Let me address that,” he said. “No.” The audience laughed at his blunt, tongue-in-cheek answer. But he went on to clarify:
The truth is, what we’ve been talking about tonight when we talk about Star Trek is the characters, which is actually relatively different than what you would talk about in previous Star Treks. To some degree that would be different for DS9.
[Discovery is] a wholly serialized narrative. In that narrative we get to tell character stories over plot. Which does not suggest that we don’t have plot. If Jim Kirk had to deal with Edith Keeler’s death in [the TOS episode] “City on the Edge of Forever” as if it were real life, it would take a whole series or a season. [On Discovery] we can stretch those emotions out for a season.
Our story is the origin of the feeling that is TOS. That’s why we are 10 years before TOS. But we don’t start there. We get there. The name of the show is Discovery not by accident. It is the story of how these people discover who they are. In long form storytelling, you get the gift of getting to start somewhere. We are layered, complex, dark and light, because the best of Star Trek is always all of those things.”
Understanding the Klingons
The producers spoke about the Klingons and how they are more than our “bad guys” for season 1 of Star Trek: Discovery. The show, at its heart, is going to tell the story of how we come to understand “the other”.
Co-creator Alex Kurtzman spoke about why they decided to make season one about Klingon war.
When we conceived of the idea of having season one being about the war with the Klingons, it was terribly important to all of us to make sure that we represented both sides of the war in a way that was understandable and relatable. And while the Klingons have been given specific treatment in various iterations in the past, we needed to know what it was like for them to go through this, too. And to humanize them for lack of a better word.
Kurtzman went on:
The truth is that we wanted to shift everyone’s perspective about what the Klingons are. Because they are so traditionally relegated to just being the bad guys. And that meant making visual changes too, while hopefully maintaining and retaining the original spirit of the original Klingons.
You’ll see lots of different Klingons. They were all built around the central premise of what Klingons are. It is terribly important for us to humanize them, to give story to their experience. To give an understanding to their culture, to give an understanding to why they want what they want. If we didn’t do that and we made them a one dimensional bad guy, we wouldn’t be Star Trek.
Mary Chieffo, who plays Klingon L’Rell, noted how much work it is to get the Klingon scenes right. “It takes a village to speak Klingon,” she said. On every episode, they work with top Klingon linguists and spend extra time in rehearsals to make sure the translations are correct. “I’ve compared it a lot to Shakespeare,” said Chieffo. “Once you know what you’re talking about you are really then able to connect with the person looking across from you.”
Burnham’s arc toward redemption (and romance?)
The panel spoke about Burnham’s character arc and how she is on the path toward redemption. To give her that arc, the writers felt that it was crucial to start Burnham at an incredible emotional disadvantage. After the Battle of the Binary Stars, she has to come to terms with the idea that her actions resulted in the death of “not only her captain but also her surrogate mother, her best friend,” explained Alex Kurtzman.
It gives her a very long way to go. It gives her a redemption story. The idea of starting her at her low point, we felt was essential in order to give her that path.
Kurtzman also noted Georgiou’s importance in Burnham’s life saying, “Georgiou represents Burnham’s humanity.” Georgiou is the first person in Burnham’s life to tell her that she does not have to suppress her emotions or her humanity.
Her childhood on Vulcan greatly shaped Burnham. Growing up on a world where outright humanity is looked down upon was very difficult for her. “We’ll come to understand over the course of the season that she’s been through a lot,” said Kurtzman. Burnham has never had a real home. Over the course of this season, she will be looking for one.
When asked by a fan if there will be any romance for Michael down the line, Sonequa answered, “All I’m gonna say… we’re covering everything. With everyone. See what I’m saying?”
The science of Discovery and mushroom power
The panel all agreed that science is central to Star Trek’s story. As Mae Jemison said, “One of the characters in Star Trek is the science.” And it is apparent that the writers care not only about getting the science right but about integrating it into the story they are telling with Michael Burnham.
“Science is so much at the core of Star Trek that before we even started, we had this amazing round table think tank with 10 scientists representing all different kinds of science,” explains executive producer Heather Kadin. “I remember the amazing thing to me was [in asking the scientists] ‘Can you beam from place to place?’ One person said you could and one person said you couldn’t.”
Executive producer and co-showrunner Aaron Harberts elaborated on how the science is integral to Discovery‘s story. “We’re telling a story of self-discovery, of looking inward,” he said. When it came to the science of transporters, the scientists on the panel were split. The physicists agreed it was theoretically possible, but the life scientists would object saying, “you can’t reassemble the human soul.” Harberts says Star Trek wants to explore these questions. What does it mean to be human? What is the human soul?
Harberts also spoke specifically about the ship’s mushroom-powered engines:
“It’s about the function of biology rather than just the function of physics. Our engine is organic,” he said. “We’re set against the backdrop of war. It’s life. It’s death. There is something interesting about the science that we are focusing on right now, being a little more born out of the life sciences.”
Here are a few other interesting tidbits from the NYCC panel:
- Wilson Cruz’s first appearance as Dr. Culber will be in episode 4 (this Sunday).
- Cruz referred to Anthony Rapp’s Lt. Stamets as his “space boo”
- Harberts noted diversity goes beyond the cast to a 50/50 men and women writer’s room and many women on the production as well
- Shazad Latif described his character’s introduction in a prison cell “You meet me with Rainn Wilson (Harry Mudd)…I’m going through some horrible things in there.”
A sneak peek at episode 4 [SPOILERS]
The panel began by showing the opening segments of Sunday night’s episode of Discovery, “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry.” Although she still has no rank, Michael Burnham once again gets to wear a Starfleet uniform.
Computer: Burnham, Michael. Temporary assignment to science division. USS Discovery. Rank: none. Uniform synthesis is complete.
The awkward yet lovable Tilly likes Burnham’s new threads. “You look smart,” she tells Burnham. “It’s a lot less scary than your convict suit.” In the “teaser” We get to see Michael Burnham use a holographic mirror, and she also receives Captain Georgiou’s last will and testament. On the bridge, Lorca reprimands the crew after a failed simulation, reminding them that out on the frontier they only have one chance to get it right. Burnham’s skills are put to use by Captain Lorca, and he assigns her to “weaponize” the tardigrade monster he and Landry brought on board at the end of episode 3.
Initially, Burnham doesn’t like the idea of keeping this dangerous creature on board. But, Lorca is clear, “that thing killed a dozen Klingons on the Glenn, and there’s not a scratch on it from their batleths. If we’re going to win this thing, if we’re going to have a chance of saving the Federation and everyone in it, we’re going to need the best weapons available.”
Star Trek: Discovery is available exclusive in the US on CBS All Access with new episodes released Sundays at 8:30 pm ET. In Canada Star Trek: Discovery airs on the Space Channel at the same time. Discovery is available on Netflix outside the USA and Canada with new episodes made available Monday at 8 am BST.
Keep up with all the Star Trek: Discovery news at TrekMovie.
Thanks to Joe Andosca for his on the scene contribution to this report.