‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Fan Theory Analysis: Is the USS Discovery a Section 31 Ship?

One things Trekkies like to do is theorize and make connections and with a new show to chew over, there are a number of new theories popping up. A popular theory you can see mentioned in the comments section here and on social media and other sites has has to do with a specific nefarious organization. Today we take a look at this theory, the evidence and weigh in on how likely it is. 

The Theory: The USS Discovery is a Section 31 ship

Perhaps the most popular current fan theory is that the USS Discovery is more than just a prototype science vessel, but is actually part the secret Starfleet organization called Section 31. Captain Lorca and key members of the crew (such as Commander Landry) are also members of Section 31.

Background on Section 31

Before we get into the theory itself, let’s quickly cover what Section 31 is. The organization Section 31 was introduced in the later seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It is a the name given to an (officially nonexistent) arm of Starfleet, which works something like a black ops division. The organization is completely autonomous and not accountable to anyone but was created with the mission to protect the interests of Earth and the United Federation of Planets. It founded out of a grey area in the Starfleet Charter, Article 14, Section 31, which allowed for extraordinary measures to be taken in times of extreme threat.

Doctor Julian Bashir was recruited by Luther Sloan on DS9. Sloan used Bashir’s secret (illegal) genetic augmentation as leverage to coerce the doctor to go on missions for the organization. The Section 31 “loophole” actually dates back to the United Earth version of Starfleet before the founding of the Federation. In Star Trek: Enterprise, Enterprise NX-01 armory officer Malcom Reed was recruited by a mysterious figure named Harris.

Sloan and Harris from Section 31

The Evidence

Everything about Discovery is different and this is especially true of the USS Discovery and Captain Gabriel Lorca. From the moment we were introduced, things seemed darker and sinister. But there are some specific elements that have stood out for fans of this theory.

Exhibit A: NCC-1031

The theory that there might be a connection to Section 31 began last year when the early looks of the USS Discovery were revealed, showing that its registry number was NCC-1031. Was that “31” a not so subtle hint about Section 31?

Could the 31 be a hint?

And if you want something subtle, what about this shot from “Context Is for Kings,” where you can see three hash marks outside of Lorca’s window indicating a 3 and a 1, or 31.

The markings below Lorca’s window may be an allusion to the number 31

Exhibit B: Black badges, black alerts

The Section 31 speculation has ramped up following the release of the third episode (“Context is For Kings”). Everything we learned about the USS Discovery made it abundantly clear that we’re not being told what exactly goes on on this ship. From the moment our characters walk through the Discovery’s corridors, they note some of the crew-members wearing unusual insignia. “You ever see a black badge before?” one prisoner asks. “Somehow this doesn’t feel very scientific,” another notes. The black theme continues with the “black alert” we hear issued later in the episode, and this is compounded with Tilly’s unwillingness to share any information about the ship’s mission (or, indeed, the meaning of the black alert).

The black badge worn by some crew members aboard the Discovery.

Exhibit C: High levels of security and Lorca’s autonomy

Throughout “Context is For Kings” we are very clearly led to believe that the Discovery is undergoing a highly classified, perhaps top secret, mission with the goal of ending the war with the Klingon Empire. It seems that Stamets’ fungal project in Engineering is central to this goal, and his cultivation bay is surrounded by some heavy duty security (that, notably, wasn’t very hard for Burnham to break through). When Burnham notes to an ensign “Starfleet doesn’t keep its engineering labs classified,” she is told, “this is Discovery.”

It is suggested that Lorca has a high level of autonomy and influence within the Federation. He was able to get Stamets working on his ship, when Stamets clearly does not believe in the mission he is working toward. “If you think that I’m okay handing my life’s work over to the war monger Lorca, you’re wrong,” he tells Burnham. Later, in a discussion with Burnham, Lorca suggests he is able to make decisions outside of the rule of Starfleet. “Don’t worry about Starfleet,” he says to Burnham. “They gave me discretion to fight this war however I saw fit.”

The clandestine Cultivation Bay aboard the Discovery

Exhibit D: Lorca’s menagerie

The USS Discovery has secrets upon secrets. In addition to the drive running the ship, the captain has a creepy room full of skeletons and weapons. This room was so secret, even his first officer didn’t seem to know it existed until he was called in to see if his ganglia would react to a creature being held there.

Lorca’s menagerie

Final Analysis: Possible, but unlikely

While the USS Discovery’s mission certainly seems top secret, there is no evidence to suggest that it is working completely outside of Starfleet. Section 31 is supposed to be the most clandestine organization in the Federation, designating a vessel after itself doesn’t seem very smart; not to mention the fact that it’s hard for a large starship near a warzone to fly under the radar, so to speak. Bryan Fuller is known to drop certain Easter Eggs into his work. Given that his favorite holiday is Halloween (10/31), the Discovery’s designation NCC-1031 is more likely just another reference he dropped into one of his productions. The USS Glenn which was also doing covert testing was NCC-1030, there’s no hidden “31” in the Glenn’s registry.

The black alert has been defined as a special alert for the spore drives. We don’t have an explanation for the black badges yet, but it may just be related to heightened security. Again. Section 31 is a covert organization, so it is unlikely they would have their own special badges.

Lorca may not be your typical captain talking about peace, diplomacy and the prime directive, but he makes no secret about how he is a warrior. In fact, he seems rather frustrated with the USS Discovery being full of scientists who he has to coerce into fighting. His menagerie may be creepy, but it fits in with his warrior persona.

Landry certainly did not fit into what is understood to be a Starfleet officer in any century. We have seen some bad apples and even prejudice, but Landry took it to another level. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean she was Section 31. More likely, she was simply written as a rather one dimensional character. Remember, Section 31 is practically unheard of, even to top admiralty of Starfleet, so a Section 31 operative is not a mustache twirling villain, the whole point is to not draw attention to yourself.

You can’t be part of a secret organization if you twirl your mustache all the time…

Bottom Line: Sometimes a dark show is just a dark show

It seems that much of the speculation around Section 31 is a way to fit the darker themes and tone of the show (and the morally questionable Captain Lorca) into the way Star Trek was presented in the past, especially the various 24th century series. It is possible that there is some connection to Section 31, but it’s more likely that the darker themes are not part of a sinister conspiracy, but just the way Star Trek: Discovery is being made for modern audiences.

Lorca may just be complicated, not evil

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

I hope it’s not about Section 31. Seems too obvious and has been done too recently with STID. I’m also hoping Lorca isn’t evil…maybe just unconventional and no nonsense, like Jellico. I wonder if the spore drive will be found to be a universe damaging piece of technology that maybe is found to be too dangerous.

I imagine that the idea that the drive has problems traversing long distances will be a factor in it being dismantled. I will say, it DOES look pretty cool in action, even made me like the weird cut-outs in the saucer.

It doesn’t even have to be that complex. You realize that the entire drive can’t work without Ripper? Lose that bearbug, no spore drive. The applied phlebotinum already has an expiration clause.

@Bryan — A-men brother!

It does really add up to a Section 31 classified project.

Since the producers have said that few major characters are “safe”. I’m guessing that Michael Burnham will eventually become Captain of the Discovery.

The series may end with Burnham realizing how dangerous the technology on Discovery really is. She may (and crew?) may disappear with the ship. Maybe giving the appearance of it being destroyed. With Section 31 classifying the entire project, with no public/official record.

This would solve the major problem of Spock, Sarek and Amanda never mentioning his adoptive sister . By the time of TOS, she would have been presumed MIA or dead. With no logical reason to talk about her.

Heck, how long in the TOS era did it take for Kirk and McCoy to find out who Spock’s parents were.

To me, it just adds up to a starship with 31 in its registry number.
No biggie.

And you could be right Gary, but with everything we seen so far, it wouldn’t exactly be a shock if this was a Section 31 ships too. Its not exactly just another ship in the fleet since everything about it seems highly classified. But true, it doesn’t mean it is one but I think the point being made is no one would exactly be surprised if so.

And Spock never mentioned brother Sybok until he had to in Star Trek V. So it is really not a “major problem” that nobody in the Sarek clan mentioned Burnham. They just don’t talk about each other much.

Just kinda weird to think about how the first mutineer in Starfleet, catalyst for Klingon war that cost thousands of lives, isn’t talked about, nor her connection to Spock. Maybe that’s why Sarek has such a beef with Starfleet?

We’ve seen Star Trek captains turn a little dark in desperate times. Archer and Sisko for example.

Yeah, Archer got pretty dark, particularly during the third season.
And Sisko was always straddling
the line between the dark and the light.

Lorca doesnt care about the people under him.
Hes cold.
No remorse for his commanders death, or any others that die from his choices.
He only carea about the “game” of war.

Hes no Kirk, Archer, or Sisko.

Hes more like Garth or Tracey. Worse.

From what we have seen from Lorca so far I believe that he knows war isn’t a “game.” He strikes me as someone who understands the cost of the war and just wants the Federation to win. As for the accusations that he is cold I don’t think we have enough information to go off of. Just because he didn’t cry in front of everyone doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. He might just choose to mourn in private. If the Captain freaks out then the crew might freak out kind of leadership tactic. Lorca also wasn’t the reason Landry made a stupid choice that resulted in her death. He encouraged them to get results quickly and although some might seem that as a license to do whatever it takes I do not believe that it includes actions that result in crew members death. That was her choice to view his orders the way she did and therefore to let Ripper out of the cage in an enclosed environment. In fact I would imagine that Lorca isn’t thrilled about losing and then having to replace his chief of security especially when you consider the classified nature of Discovery’s mission. (On a side note I think it was actually terrible writing on the part of the writers to kill in her the manner they did.) As for comparisons to other Captains….Lorca IMO isn’t anywhere near the level of Garth. Then again we are only 4 episodes in so we will see where the story goes.

He’s a Warrior, clear cut…
His goal is to win, to save the Federation, it’s far more than just a “game”.
The very survival of everything he believes in is at stake and I think he’s more a man that would sacrifice himself, his own well being, his mental well being, his reputation, his own morals and ethics to ensure a Victory and to ensure that others don’t have to make the choices he has to do.

He puts himself out there so the Citizens of the UFP or other Starfleet Officers can sleep without a guilty conscience…
Of course this might change rapidly, given that we are only at the beginning of the journey but so far, that’s my understanding.

Its certainly true Lorca is not like another Captain we ever seen before but thats his appeal IMO. And if they don’t make him the bad guy he will ultimately soften up. People have to remember we are only a few episodes in. If this show goes 100+ episodes then the character will morph and change like they all do (assuming he’s still around).

My guess is they will start peeling the onion maybe in the next episode and we will get why he is the way he is. I don’t think he doesn’t care about his crew so much as winning the war is his priority right now. And we can’t compare him to people like Sisko and Archer because we saw them form a relationship with their crew from the onset. In this case it looks everyone on Discovery was just thrown together recently. But like everything in life as people spend more time together relationships naturally bond more. Its also why I say he would be a very different person after 100 episodes for that reason alone. Look at how Picard started out in the first season of TNG and then where he was by the time Nemesis came around. In many ways he was the same character but one who completely bonded with his crew and was much more at ease after all their time together.

@Triangulum — maybe, he certainly goes out of his way to appear that way. Either way, that’s why DISC isn’t about him, the way the series before this have been centered on the captain,

Am I the only one that wants QMx to make those black badges now? They look so slick!

I definitely want one

Holy Clickbait, Batman!

How is it clickbait? They presented an article that gave an argument to the subject. We’re just here to discuss it. Clickbait would be saying it IS Section 31 as a fact but then no real proof or sources of the fact. This is just having a debate about the issue.

Also, TrekMovie is actually pretty late to this show. Youtube has some amazing videos on this subject, which is where Trekmovie got their material for this article.

I own a Star Wars fan site and get accused of it all the time. People like to throw that word around (usually haters and keyboard special ops soldiers) in an accusing manner without evening knowing it’s true meaning. This is as far away from click bait as it’s possible to get.

Instead of criticising everything, how about making something as creative and popular as this website yourself?

It would be cool if Section 31 is encountered in this series. I bet Lorca would jump at the opportunity to work with them!

OF COURSE it is.

Lorca behaves JUST like Sloan but with the veneer of a Starfleet captain.

Why else would they put in that terrible “Who saved us?” lin at the end of that episode?

Even if they ditch spore drive, that spore chamber is spy viewer to the max.
They would have been using it the whole time.

Except we have no idea how the “reaction chamber” with the spores works. If it is just showing you images from where the spores have been, and you have no control over the images (as they don’t seem to correspond to Lorca’s words), then they just randomly show you scenes from planets throughout the universe. Not very good for spying. Maybe for anthropological research if you can keep viewing one location for extended times, but we don’t even know they can do that.

If Section 31 is involved, it is unlikely that they are actually running things. It is more likely that they just made a deal with Lorca, like they did with Admiral Ross.

The holes in the ship are not just for the spore drive, its where the plot holes fall through

Wakka wakka

I think the new saucer section design is just an attempt to make a cool looking ship for the new series. Also, it’s a little soon too talk about plot holes. Let’s get through the first season and see where this series is headed.

I think the Mirror Universe will play some sort of super-secret role in all of this. They had 23rd century tech 100 years earlier, and I think they crossed over, and Lorca is somehow closely involved (from there?). Perhaps, the Discovery is as well.

Remember that Discovery is actually the second ship we’ve seen with cut-outs in the saucer section. The other one was built and run by…

Wait, I don’t recall seeing that before.

LOL great point! Yes it may not mean it is run by Section 31 but it is funny only this and Vengeance has this peculiar design. Maybe thats just how they roll. ;)

And the final evidence will be:

Why Discovery and her crew are never mentioned in the future. This whole mission of theirs will remain undisclosed to the rest of the Federation.

Remember, the producers said that Disco will fit in with the rest of canon, so don’t just take anything seen on the show at face value.


Re: Why Discovery and her crew are never mentioned in the future

You mean over Kirk’s Enterprise which was the first 5 year missioned ship to complete the run without ever being knocked out of commission, i.e. needing a tow, or lost in space?

It seems to me one answer is obvious, Discovery isn’t talked about in its future because it’s a doomed ship destined never to complete all of its mission’s allotted years.

And apparently Section 31 has also created this obvious Kelvin timeline series as there is no way this series fits into the canon of TOS.

No it doesn’t fit, but the writers have some kind of ‘plan’ to explain it all. I’m not trying to change the subject but I don’t get the point to any of it. Why have a show in the TOS era if you just change it all but then have to shoehorn your way to make it all fit later?

It really shouldn’t be in this era at all. The show would fit just fine or even better in a post Voyager time line, mostly because it can just do its thing and not have to find some kind of way to ‘fit’ like it clearly doesn’t here based on everything we know in this period.

@PC3 — fits perfectly for me so far.

What if this whole show *IS* the mirror universe? It would explain the difference in technology level and the dark style.

Whoa, that would be something!

I’ve about giving up on this series. This is the worst excuse for a star trek series ever. Why change the klingons? Why have a magical “spore” drive? Stupid! This is not science fiction.

Why not just Starfleet Intelligence? So far as we know, Section 31 has *never* worn Starfleet uniforms and insignia.


For me, it all boils down to that KT Carol Marcus had to have done her torpedo research under the auspices of section 31.

In ‘Context is for kings’, there is a scene where Lorca and Landry are observing the destruction of the Glen, and he said something like “It’s just another ship,” or something to that effect.
I’m not sure if he was being cold, or what, but the verbal exchange stood out as to have some deeper meaning…
It raised the following questions:
Who was the captain of the Glen, and why no mention of that person?
Did this captain have the same discretion from starfleet as Lorca has?
Why was Stamets and Landry so surprised by the modifications to the navigation’s console, and oblivious to the device found in the reaction cube?

Shouldn’t these vessal’s be pooling there research, and working in close conjunction with each other?
What exactly was the nature of the Glen’s tragedy? What exactly happened to cause the crew to deform into yuck?
I just can’t help thinking that there’s more to the Glen than we are being told at this point, and Lorca’s remark about the Glen being just another ship was an omen.
It’s got my brain thinking, and I like that. I’m very excited for chapter five this evening, and look forward to discussing it with all of you.

Even if never confirmed as Section 31, Lorca still seems to be cut from the same cloth. He’s the captain of a dark ship with black badges and black alerts, abusing an animal to get around the galaxy. If he’s not Section 31, then he’s in the process of filling out the paperwork!

By the way, we have seen Section 31 with their own giant ship before, in Into Darkness. And since there is the Alex Kurtzman connection…well, not the most subtle storyteller around, is he?

Bout as subtle as a gigantic tardigrade rampaging through a china shop, that one.

I think it’s possible that the Discovery is a Section 31 ship. We should not forget, the current time is 10 years before ST TOS, so we just don’t know about the state of Section 31 at this time. We just know, it kind of has been forgotten in the 24th century.

I like the idea because it gives deeper meaning to Michael. It’s possible for her to fight an inner conflict, if she’s doing the right thing (like using Ripper as a navigator, which seems to hurt it) – that’s the one question that I feel that it is missing completely in the show so far.

Been torn between “I have to do everything to save humanity” and “I have to do everything to save humans” sounds like a perfect concept.

Last year, Fuller described Section 31 as “the marble through the meat” of the story. So it’s not necessarily the main theme, and it may not be definitely revealed apart from the various Easter eggs mentioned in Kayla’s article — but yep, it means there IS a Section 31 angle in the background, throughout the storyline.

At the very least, Section 31 is directly supporting Lorca and the Discovery’s mission, whether or not they formally belong to the organisation. Which makes complete sense when you bear in mind Section 31’s primary purpose, especially in circumstances when the Federation’s very survival is at risk.

The admiral dialogue in “Choose Your Pain” speaks it NOT being Sec 31. That doesnt mean Lorca himself isnt a Sec 31 agent, but Discovery and its spore drive and its missions are from Star Fleet command.

My biggest question about Lorca is his fate. I have a feeling his arc ends at the conclusion of Season 1. Which would be a shame.

Yeah, if the show ends the war in Season 1 like they’ve been saying they will, and then it gets to be about exploration… well… Lorca isn’t exactly the captain I envision scanning nebulae.

“Section 31 is supposed to be the most clandestine organization in the Federation, designating a vessel after itself doesn’t seem very smart; not to mention the fact that it’s hard for a large starship near a warzone to fly under the radar, so to speak.”

“Again. Section 31 is a covert organization, so it is unlikely they would have their own special badges.”

“Remember, Section 31 is practically unheard of, even to top admiralty of Starfleet, so a Section 31 operative is not a mustache twirling villain, the whole point is to not draw attention to yourself.”

Kayla, you’re assuming that the showrunners/writers’ priority is realism, rationality and ruthlessly honest logic. In some aspects — like the areas you’ve correctly identified — they may have decided to forego these concerns for the purposes of “entertainment” and dramatic license instead, unfortunately. They could be putting this stuff in because they think it seems “cool”, not necessarily because it should withstand intelligent scrutiny.

Indeed. Alex Kurtzman and Akiva Goldsman are very, very guilty of doing things that they think are cool, as opposed to things that make sense.

Thats an insulting thing to say about the show runners isn’t it?
Your basically saying thatchy only care about whats cool.
Logic or thoughtful reasoning be damned.

Maybe Captain Lorca will be the one who will create Section 31 at a point Starfleet will no longer allow Lorca to work the way he does now..?!

Oh my bad.. sorry, Section 31 already excist in Star Trek Enterprise

I am with those that believe this is a section 31 series. When the Discovery “jumped” into that planet’s atmosphere to take out the Klingons. The ship abruptly disappears with the child asking her father who saved them. Why so secretive ? It has to be section 31.

Don’t forget. Lorca has a tribble, not encountered until TOS. Same with the Gorn skeleton. This all points to Section 31 to me.

May be a good idea to look closely at Into Darkness’ USS Vengeance. It and Discovery share a lot of details including saucer cut outs, spherical Bridge section, very squared off hulls and nacelles.

Trying to show a design progression potentially?