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.
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?
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.
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).
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.”
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.
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.
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.