|WARNING: Although this article is complete fan speculation, it should be treated as spoilers in case any of it turns out to be true.|
We wouldn’t be Trekkies if we didn’t pore over absolutely every detail that the newest installment of the franchise has to offer. And with that level of nitpicking comes a lot of theorizing about what may or may not be foreshadowing for events revealed later in the season. Last week we took a critical view on the popular theory that the USS Discovery is a Section 31 ship. This week we take on a theory gaining steam after the debut of Lt. Ash Tyler in last week’s episode, “Choose Your Pain.”
The theory: Lt. Ash Tyler is Klingon Voq
At the recent PaleyFest New York panel executive producer Aaron Harberts made a cryptic remark that the scene introducing Lt. Ash Tyler was “one to watch very carefully, because this is an episode that sows seeds for the rest of the season.” It appears a number of fans have done just that, and have already concluded what those seeds are.
The theory goes that Voq (seen in episodes 1, 2 and 4), the Klingon torchbearer and heir to T’Kuvma, has been altered in some way (surgically and/or genetically) to replace Starfleet officer Lt. Ash Tyler (seen in episode 5). The assumption is that T’Kuvma’s former commander L’Rell made the transformation possible, and planted Voq/Tyler in the same cell as Captain Lorca on her prison ship so he can gain Lorca’s confidence. They were then allowed to escape together so Tyler could join the crew of the USS Discovery as a Klingon spy in order to unlock its secrets. The theory also assumes that actor Shazad Latif, who is credited for playing Ash Tyler, also played Voq.
Background: Could the Klingons pull off a Klingon/Human switcheroo?
The answer to this one is a solid “yes.” About a decade after Discovery, in The Original Series episode “The Trouble With Tribbles,” a very convincing human in the form of one Arne Darvin was exposed as a Klingon agent who had been altered. The only way that Kirk and crew discovered Darvin’s true identity was thanks to the one species who can’t be fooled — Tribbles always know when a Klingon is near.
Based on what we’ve seen on screen, there are hints that Lt. Ash Tyler is not who he seems to be. But could he be the Klingon named Voq?
Exhibit A: L’Rell comes from a house of spies
The key to the theory is Klingon commander L’Rell, who is believed to have orchestrated the switch. It is important to note that L’Rell comes from two houses. Her father was from House T’Kuvma, but her mother comes from House Mo’Kai, who L’Rell explains (in episodes 4 and 5) is a “watcher clan” of spies who are experts in deception, led by matriarchs. So creating a genetically engineered infiltrator sounds right up their alley.
Exhibit B: Voq disappears after being told he must sacrifice ‘everything’
At the end of episode 4, L’Rell shows off her deception capabilities by lying to Kol and pretending to back him, and saving Voq’s life only to sneak off later and join him in exile on the abandoned USS Shenzhou. She then explains to Voq that she has a plan to win the war with Voq playing a key role. Here is the key exchange:
L’Rell: “You must win this war.”
Voq: “You speak as if you have a way.”
L’Rell: “I do. I’ve stolen a raider and will take you to the home of the Mo’Kai. I will leave you with the matriarchs who will expose you to things you never knew possible. But it comes at a cost.”
Voq: “What must I sacrifice?”
L’Rell asks Voq to make the ultimate sacrifice, to give up “everything.” What does that mean to someone like Voq? As the heir and true believer in T’Kuvma, Voq’s purpose in life as torchbearer is “tlhIngan maH taHjaj”… or “to remain Klingon.” To Voq, giving up “everything” means giving up being a Klingon by becoming human. And even though Voq and L’Rell were seen together in episodes 1, 2, and 4, Voq is nowhere to be found in episode 5, the same episode that introduces Tyler, conveniently located on L’Rell’s ship.
Exhibit C: Tyler’s timeline story doesn’t add up
When Ash Tyler meets Captain Lorca in episode 5 he explains that he has been on the Klingon prison ship since the Battle of the Binaries from episode 2. Lorca is immediately suspicious that anyone could survive seven months of Klingon torture. Tyler explains that the Klingon captain, who we know is L’Rell, has taken a liking to him. Tyler implies that he has been repeatedly raped by L’Rell who for some reason decided she likes to keep him around as her toy.
However, we know this is not possible. In episode 4, “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not For The Lamb’s Cry” we learn that L’Rell and Voq have been stranded on the Sarcophagus ship for the six months following the Battle of the Binary Stars. This means there is no way that Tyler was being held by L’Rell during that same period. So, either Lt. Tyler is outright lying about the past seven months, or he truly believes what he says. Either way, it is not the truth.
Real World Evidence
Beyond what we have seen on the show, there is additional evidence related to actual releases, promotions and other issues around the actor playing Tyler.
Exhibit D: Latif was announced as Klingon, then changed to human, while Voq’s actor was never revealed
Originally, CBS announced in December 2016 that Shazad Latif would play a “commanding officer of the Klingons and protégé of T’Kuvma” which perfectly describes Voq; however, at that time the announcement said Latif’s character name would be Kol. Later, in April 2017, Latif was re-announced as human character Ash Tyler. Kol then became the name of Kenneth Mitchell’s character, who is a member of the house of Kor, who sees no value in T’Kuvma or his house. At this point there was no mention of a character named Voq, but during the Television Critics Association press event in August CBS released a number of character posters including one for a mysterious new member of the house of T’Kuvma named Voq. Even more mysterious, at this point Voq was the only announced character that did not have an associated actor.
Exhibit E: Latif was in Toronto long before episodes with Tyler were in production
As noted before, Lt. Tyler was first seen in episode 5. However, Shazad Latif was in Toronto, where the show is produced, much earlier. The actor was seen in an Instagram photo with other cast members in March, before he was even announced as Ash Tyler. At that time episode 2 was being filmed and episode 3 was being prepped. Voq appears in episode 2 and 4. Episode 5 (the first with Tyler) was not filmed until over a month after the below photo was taken.
Exhibit F: Actor credited for Voq doesn’t appear to exist or is alias for Latif
Even though Voq was a significant character in three episodes (so far) of Discovery, there was never an announcement of any actor playing the part. So, the first time a name was associated with Voq was in the credits for episode 1, released on September 24th. However, the actor credited (“Javid Iqbal”) appears to be non-existent. There are real people with a similar name, spelled “Javed”, but of course the spelling is different, and none we can find are actors. An IMDb page for Javid Iqbal was very recently created, however he only has the single credit for Discovery and there are no actual photos of the actor not in Klingon make-up. Even more telling is the fact that Shazad Latif’s birth name is Shazad Khaliq Iqbal.
Final Analysis: Likely
The in-universe clues are enough to make anyone paying close enough attention very suspicious of Lt. Ash Tyler. It is possible that Tyler is genuinely human, but has been turned by the Klingons, which would account for his story not adding up.
However, the show went out of its way to set up the relationship between Voq and L’Rell. She then sends him off to her spymaster matriarchs at the end of episode 4 with Tyler showing up on her ship in episode 5. It all fits with L’Rell’s plan to get her and Voq back into a position of power within the Klingon empire, and it seems likely that her House Mo’Kai would have the resources to pull off the Arne Darvin-type of switcheroo.
Some doubt may also creep in based on how Voq didn’t exactly seem like the James Bond type and was mostly just a religious fanatic. In addition, Tyler’s anger and frantic attack on L’Rell in episode 5 seemed genuine, making it hard to believe that “Lt. Tyler” is a cover identity by the suddenly adept super-spy double-agent Voq. However, that would assume that Tyler is just an act. There may be another explanation for that (see below).
It becomes much harder to refute the Tyler/Voq fan theory when you take a look at the real world evidence, including official CBS announcements and placing together Shazad Latif’s whereabouts during the course of filming season one. In addition, the seemingly fake actor “Javid Iqbal” sharing a last name with Shazad Latif (neé Iqbal) is an obvious clue.
Bottom Line: The Voq = Tyler theory looks like the real deal
All in all, the on-screen evidence is enough to put this theory well into the plausible category. The real world evidence puts it over the top to make it almost undeniable.
Assuming the theory to be true, there are a couple of open questions still to be answered.
1. Does Tyler know he is Voq?
As noted above, the one area of doubt is that Voq doesn’t seem like he could pull off the whole spy thing and Tyler really did seem to have it in for L’Rell. However, one thing could explain both: Tyler doesn’t know he is Voq. He has been completely brainwashed and possibly had his memory erased with new programming and memory installed along with his genetic alterations to look human. So, he believes he is Tyler. He may have pre-programmed triggers like those in The Manchurian Candidate.
Assuming the Voq/Tyler theory is true, it is probable that this is the way they will go. It would allow for Tyler to develop real relationships and creates potentially more interesting dramatic possibilities when it is later revealed he is a secret Klingon agent planted on the Discovery by L’Rell.
There is some Star Trek precedent for this kind of thing. In the Deep Space Nine episode “A Simple Investigation” Odo falls in love with a woman working for the Orion syndicate named Arissa, but it turns out that was just a cover identity for an alien intelligence operative who had her appearance and memory altered to infiltrate the criminal organization.
2. Is real Tyler alive?
Of course if Voq has been transformed into Tyler it begs the question, where is the real Tyler? Unless we assume the Klingons were able to hack into Starfleet and create records for Tyler, he really was at the Battle of the Binary Stars. So, was he captured or killed?
Having him still be alive creates more opportunities for the show as it would allow for Latif to play another role (the real Tyler), which may be useful after Voq/Tyler is exposed.
Again, there is precedent for this and again it comes from Deep Space Nine. During the Dominion War there were a number of examples of the shapeshifter Founders infiltrating Starfleet and the Klingon empire posing as real people. In the episode “In Purgatory’s Shadow,” Worf and Garak discover a Dominion prison which included the real General Martok and Dr. Bashir, both of whom had been replaced by shapeshifters.
3. Will Lorca’s tribble out Voq/Tyler?
As we saw in Episode 3, when we first met Captain Lorca, he’s got a Tribble on his desk. Captain Kirk will find out that Tribbles don’t like Klingons in about 11 years, so Lorca probably doesn’t know this specifically. However, if the Tribble reacts violently to Tyler and no one else, it should still make Lorca suspicious of Tyler since Tribbles like pretty much everyone. Note that in the most recent episode “Choose Your Pain” when Saru was acting captain, the Tribble was no where to be seen (yet the bowl of fortune cookies was still there), so perhaps conveniently it’s no longer around to react to Voq/Tyler?
Unlike the Ripper the tardigrade storyline, these questions may not be answered for a while. Going back to what executive producer Harberts said about how Tyler’s introduction “sows seeds for the rest of the season,” we may not even find out the truth until January or February of next year.
Until then, stay tuned for TrekMovie.com for all your Discovery news, analysis and reviews.