Exclusive: Wilson Cruz Talks About Dr. Culber’s Mysterious Return In ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Season 2

TrekMovie had a chance to speak to some of the cast and crew of Star Trek: Discovery at a press event on Friday, including actor Wilson Cruz. His character, Dr. Hugh Culber, was killed off in the first season, and we talked about the mystery of his return and what Culber will be up to in season two. We also discussed how the death of the character was handled in the media. (Video of the interview is below the transcript)

Culber is really coming back, not as a flashback or a ghost

How conscious and how much do you guys on set talk about the online fan community, and feedback on every episode?

We are aware. We don’t live in a bubble. We like to hear what people think. That’s why we do it. Most of us come from the stage. We like to hear some reaction from an audience. When you are doing a TV show, the only way you can do that is online.

I think we enjoy the passion that the fandom brings to this. We feel a sense of responsibility while we are doing this, to our fans to make sure we are making something they are going to be wowed by. So, we are aware.

And what’s been really fun for the past year in my case is to have read all the different theories about how I would be returning. And nobody has gotten it yet, which is pretty cool. But I love reading that stuff.

The way you return, would you say it is something they haven’t done in Star Trek before?

Yes. [laughs]

But it’s not just a flashback. You are back in some way. You are interacting, people are talking to you. You are not a ghost.

Correct. I can say that.

Culber visits with Stamets inside the mycelial network in season 1

He’s now a main cast member with a lot to do in season 2

Would you say your role is more or less significant than last season, where you were in maybe half the episodes?

Last season I was recurring because I was doing 13 Reasons Why at the same time, and this year I am not recurring.

So, you are main cast?

I am.

You are in episode 201?  

No. [Pauses] Ah, maybe. [smiles]

You are the worst [laughs]

I am the worst, because I am trying to keep this job…I mean, honestly, this season for this couple [Culber and Stamets] is really about deepening them individually. We get to find out a lot about Culber – who he is, what he wants, what makes him tick, what his ambitions are – separate and apart from this relationship. But we get to learn a lot about this relationship and it is put through the test.

An important thing you have talked about before was for both Stamets and Culber to have lives. They weren’t just their relationship. You were a doctor and you were smart, unfortunately too smart [resulting in uncovering and getting killed by Voq/Tyler]. So, you guys keep talking about the relationship for season 2, are there things for you to do that have nothing to do with Paul Stamets?

Yes. There is a lot. That’s what I mean, we are really are going to expand the presence of Culber and who he is and all of those things. We are not only going to see this relationship and how it is affected by this, but who they are.

He has gone through a trauma, and that affects and changes and stays with you. It has a physical effect on you. There are generations of African-American people who are carrying a physical element of themselves that is caused by the trauma that their ancestors went through. So, if that happens, you can only imagine what trauma a person who had their neck snapped carries around.

The trauma of Culber’s death will be dealt with in season 2

Expanding Trek’s diversity and managing fallout from killing off Culber

You guys have talked a lot about diversity and part of the diversity is your sexuality. What about being Puerto Rican and being a Latino actor, you know, there haven’t been a lot in Star Trek and so is that established much in the show? Is it clear that [Culber] is Puerto Rican?

I can say, it will be clear this year.

When [Culber] was killed off, there was an immediate full-court press to let everyone know he’s not dead, he’s coming back. That is unusual for a show that is so secretive. Did they know when they killed you, that they weren’t going to really kill you off? Can you talk about why it was decided to let everyone so rapidly know?

Because of that reason. Because we knew he was coming back. And we didn’t want people to think it was a character that had just been killed off. [Culber] had to die. First of all, he had to die for what happens at the end of the season. In order for the universe, and all the universes, to be saved, somebody had to be in the mycelia network to know what was going on and be able to know what was going on and have a strong enough bond with somebody in our plane that could reach them. And that bond was love. So, we saved the universe because that had to happen. And that had to happen so we can do what we are about to do.

Wilson Cruz and Discovery showrunners appeared on After Trek to assure fans Culber was coming back

Watch the interview

More from SDCC

There will be more exclusive interviews coming up from the Discovery press event. You may also want to check out our full panel report and the 8 things we learned from the press conference.

We have also been covering Star Trek merchandise and other Trek-related activities and panels from SDCC, with more on the way. Click here to see all our SDCC 2018 coverage.

newest oldest
Luke Montgomery

Glad he’s back! Can’t wait for season 2!

Andrew SD

So am I and I can’t either. I la la love Wilson Cruz (have for some time) and Dr. Culber is such a strong character. Beyond the wonderful love story between him and Stamets he stands out on his own. I would still love to see him as the CMO so I can’t wait to see how this all works out. (I also can’t wait to see him back in that white uniform again but that’s neither here nor there LOL)

Soren

Agreed. Will be so good to see Wilson again!

ST DISCO FAN

Can’t wait to see how all this will unfold. I know the acting will be great because these two guys are on top of their game. I am sure the special effects will be dazzling. Please let the story-line be one that wins all round, especially in terms of plausibility, as well as scientifically, emotionally and psychologically.

I’mPaul

I just can’t bring myself to care about this. His was a boring, uncharismatic character, only made relevant by the fact that he gets killed off. Now, the death is meaningless, and the stakes in the show in general are decreased to nothing in very old hat Star Trek style at its worst in which no one actually dies. TV has evolved beyond that. Boring. I watch the show weekly, and I’m still excited about it though.

Fabio

I agree with you. Also … even though we saw her in an alternate version, and then we saw the same actress playing her daughter, Tasha Yar remained dead.

Tiger2

That’s because the actress wanted off the show. I have said this before the ONLY time they kill off characters permanently is when the actor simply wants to leave like as mentioned Denise Crosby, Nimoy obviously in TOS, Terry Farrell in DS9, etc. And even in Nimoy case they still brought that guy back lol. Farrell was done but Dax showed up again.

In this case, its just another story line. DIS is doing long form story telling so they probably had an interesting arc in mind and why they even killed him. If not, then he probably wouldn’t be dead at all.

alphantrion

I think everyone is squirting around the obvious reason why he didn’t stay dead. If the character stayed dead, all the LGQBT community people would have gotten their pitchforks out for the show and I am sure the producers didn’t want this. Perhaps there was a story reason too but in my opinion that came later as a means of damage control.

Jack

Wrong.

Tiger2

Did you read what he actually said? He made the point it was the exact opposite of that.

We also have to remember the guy who wrote his death was gay as well. I only point this out because he would’ve been perceptive of that from the beginning and probably why they never really planned to kill him off.

alphantrion

Well, all of it seems awfully convenient, but if you want to believe it like that then go ahead. I make it a point to never blindly believe anything I read on the internet or said by actors or producers etc.. We will probably never know the whole truth anyway.

P'trick

Respectfully, since you readily acknowledge that “we will probably never know…” wouldn’t the most logical course of action be to promptly dismiss all suppositions and assumptions? Sadly, we’re all trapped in a era where beliefs and opinions have been granted the same status as recorded-history and proven science. Consequently, it’s likely best to simply let go of our presumptions once we recognize that we’ll be unable to prove what we’re concluding? When I don’t know something, the easiest, fairest and smartest thing to do is simply admit “I don’t have a clue”. Otherwise we risk falling into that alluring “confirmation bias” trap, right? :-)

Tiger2

What makes it convenient though? As I said they kill off Star Trek characters ALL the time. Majority of them its just for a story line. Yes they usually bring them back in the episode but DIS is playing a long term game so its not crazy that they could’ve planned an arc of where it was all going before he died.

The thing about is, IF he was just coming back as a flashback or ghost in a few episodes (like I originally thought), then I would probably agree. The fact he’s coming back full time and with a cooler twist then its probably a chance they wanted to do something interesting. We’ll have to see.

Ahmed

@Tiger2,

Read his answer again, he’s not saying that or giving any real reason. The writers killed his character and planned for his return for story purpose, which is all good and fine, but then why did the audience needed to know that? No reason whatsoever for the producers to inform everyone that the death of a secondary character is not permanent.

They were afraid of a blowback from the LGBTQ community and that was the main reason why they went out to media outlets to assure everyone that Dr. Culber will be back.

===================================

‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Producers Consulted With GLAAD Over Audience Reaction To Dr. Culber’s Story

It appears there were concerns about how this death would be perceived. To get ahead of any potential backlash showrunners and Cruz were dispatched to give media interviews to a number of outlets, assuring fans that Culber will return, including Entertainment Weekly, Syfy and Variety.

According to Buzzfeed, the producers even sought guidance from the gay rights organization GLAAD and “received the organization’s blessing.” And the organization even issued a statement.

Tiger2

Well I agree they probably were afraid of blow back and why they came right out and said he was returning but that’s also my point though. Why kill him if they were ALWAYS so afraid of that happening? They didn’t wait until after any backlash happened, they showed up literally after the show ran on After Trek to tell people he was coming back, which also kind of proves the point it was the plan before anyone even could get upset about it.

I guess what I’m saying is if they were so afraid of the bad PR then they simply wouldn’t have done it at all. And for the record I have no problems if they did just kill him (I’m glad they didn’t since I like the character) but yes I don’t think equality means you shouldn’t die just because you hold some minority status. I’m black, I don’t want characters to not die because of that. I get how gay and lesbian groups may feel about this but that’s still not equality IF you are just asking to be treated like everyone else. Characters getting killed off is one of those examples.

Danpaine

Good post, Tiger.

alphantrion

Tiger, I agree with you absolutely, you made my point in a much more elegant way thanks.

El Chup

Silly comment. IF they were worried about that sort of reaction they wouldn’t have killed him in the first place and risked the old trope of gay characters always getting bumped off.

Tiger2

I’m feeling a little better after reading this. At first I thought they were bringing him back because they were afraid of the backlash they were getting. And then I thought even if he comes back its just going to be some flashbacks or a dream like setting like we saw in first season and maybe he show up for five episodes or something.

But listening to him speak, it does sound like it was a bigger plan from day one and that always planned to kill him to do something trippy with him. If Star Trek is famous for one thing, its for bringing dead characters back lol. How many times did Janeway ‘die’ every season? In fact I could be wrong but I think every show at least one character was brought back from the dead at some point. Now DIS is already part of that club! :)

And the fact he’s coming back full time is pretty cool.

I still have some reservations but sounds like DIS is finally doing the things I want in a Star Trek show.

FLB

Agreed. Bringing characters back from the dead is something Trek has been doing since TOS.

Curious Cadet

@FLB — and in far worse ways … I still cringe at the NOMAD episode …

ML31

I liked the Culber character. Which was why is neack getting snapped was the one and only truly “holy crap!” moment in the season. My initial reaction to knowing he’s coming back was met with a facepalm. Even though Trek does have a history of bringing characters back. In most cases (including Spock’s) I felt it cheapened things.

somethoughts

awesome

Gary 8.5

Good to know that it is not a flashback.
i look forward to his return.

HN4

They brought Spork back to life, I see no reason they can’t bring the Doc back.

MysticalDigtial

My wife is already predicting he will be a very very very early AI/holography doctor. I hope not, but I can think of worse ways to bring him back (Khan blood)

Tiger2

Woah, the first prototype of an AI doctor? Yeah a little head of its time but its DIS, what else is new lol.

DIGINON

That wouldn’t be the same character, though. It would just be a lookalike.

dayxday

Uh…sure. Looking forward to Captain Pike!

Captain Danno

Hmmmm. I’m betting he comes back as a Culber from another universe. Although, if it is truly unique for Trek that has already happened once with Harry Kim on Voyager.

It wasn’t precisely an alternate-universe Harry Kim, though, was it? My memory is fuzzy on the details, but it more like a clone who was made at the time two versions of the ship were created.

That’s a great episode of Voyager, though, and it’s always weird to think that Harry isn’t really quite THE real Harry.

Captain Danno

@Bryant: good point, it was more of a duplicate than an alternate universe. Thanks for the correction!

Mirror Galt

It’s perhaps unfortunate that Star Trek’s first gay couple (actually the second) is so tied to Discovery’s goofiest innovation- Dr. Strange’s Mystical Mycelial Plane. The sooner they ditch that hoary hokum, the better. Bryan Fuller is long gone, no good reason to keep it around any longer. Yes, there is plenty of science-less fiction in the Trek franchise, but I don’t think things like Search for Spock should be invoked as a license to be daffy in the present. I’ll put it like this- on the continuum of hard sci-fi on one end, and Star Wars/Marvel fantasy on the other, Star Trek should be somewhere between the two (this is partly why I think Trek occupies a unique place in pop culture; it’s also a reason it’s hard to find writers/producers who can do Trek properly). Stuff like talking to your dead boyfriend on The Mycelial Plane makes Star Trek indistinguishable from fantasy. (Note: the real Paul Stamets’ work in earthbound mycology has near-zero to with anything in Discovery; Ethan Siegel has written much on this subject.)

P'trick

Yep…

ML31

” Yes, there is plenty of science-less fiction in the Trek franchise, but I don’t think things like Search for Spock should be invoked as a license to be daffy in the present.”

I agree with this whole-heartedly. I loved Spock and was crushed when he “died” but felt it a cheat to bring him back like they did.

noraa

On the one hand, I’m really glad he’s coming back. On the other hand, I’m glad he’s coming back but am somewhat annoyed that the producers felt the need to spoil that reveal. When Kara Thrace died in BSG, as far as everyone was concerned she was dead. When she came back in the season finale it was a huge (and awesome) shock. Unfortunately, because Culber is a gay character, and because there has been an unfortunate trend in genre shows recently to kill off gay characters – I get why the producers felt the need to immediately come out and say he’s coming back. So scratch that – I’m not annoyed at the producers for spoiling his return, I’m annoyed at all of us for creating a situation in which they had to spoil the return to try and quell a fan outrage.

alphantrion

People are gonna flame me or label me for saying my opinion on this but I don’t care. I am annoyed what the outcome for this will be in the long run for narrative storytelling. So from now on no one is gonna be able to kill off a gay character, this will take all the suspense out of the stories as we’ll know that the gay characters will be safe. It kind of ties the hands of the story writers in a way. Look I am not trying to flame anything here, just trying to look at it from the point of the story and how it might hinder or bolster the story being told.

Jack

Just stop.

P'trick

C’mon now, alphantrion – you’re clearly thoughtful enough to recognize when you’ve become fully engaged in a persistent line of speculation which appears to BE combined with a bit of hostility toward this issue? Please do pardon me if I’m misreading that. Having said that, permit me to also briefly add my thoughts about the Culber-Stamets relationship – and how DISCO’s writers appear to have crafted this “safe” gay-relationship. I think back to how the 1980’s series featured a ground-breaking gay-character – only to have TWO of his lovers murdered and then having him marry a woman (two different women, if I recall)? Sadly, here in the 21st Century, it seems the only purpose gay-characters have in a show is to become quickly neutered – so that the program isn’t tasked with actually portraying a gay-character who has a sex-life? Imagine Trip or Paris or Kirk or Ryker flirting and scoring while on an away-team mission? Pretty routine and straightforward business, huh? However, presenting that same scene with a gay man running off with the FIRST sexy male alien he meets – now that’s just gonna be too “risky” for the Studio? So the authors make the character confused or in a “wholesome relationship” or the object of tragedy – but, most of all – KEEP that gay character chaste.

Of course, I am hoping that TREK’s writers will prove me wrong. :-(

alphantrion

I don’t have any hostility on the issue whatsoever, I was just trying to analyze the situation from a storytelling perspective. I am just saying every character should have an equal standing in terms of being killed off in a show. If a show wants to kill of a character, it should be able to do that without outside influences or without regard to its gender, sex, race etc…Now whether that death was necessary or not is a whole other discussion, but just because a character is a certain way shouldn’t mean he/she be automatically safe if your show involves danger.

Curious Cadet

@alphantrion — and women should all get equal pay for equal work. But it just doesn’t happen due to years of sexism and misogyny. When all things are equal then such issues won’t have to be addressed. But when we still live in a world where some groups of people are still subjected to bigotry, and racism, and unequal treatment and opportunity, it’s still a thing whether it affects you personally or not.

alphantrion

Look we live in an age where no one bats an eye when a normal, white guy gets killed off in a TV show. But once you start killing off the minorities, the women, the gays people are up in arms over it. What I am saying is that, a writer should always try to do what is best for the story that is being told regardless of what other people think. If it involves killing off women or gays or anyone else and if its essential to the story they need to be killed off no matter their gender, sex, race etc… I am sure there are many writers out there nowadays that are very scared of killing off some of their characters because of the fear of backlash that they might get. As an example you can be sure that Culber and Georgiou return from the dead, and they have, but I have a feeling Lorca will stay dead.

P'trick

I’m sad to conclude this, but, wow, your replies are consistently hostile to minorities. You may continue to deny this, but for those of us out here reading your comments, it’s remarkably evident. Perhaps you aren’t a bigot – and if that’s so, you might wanna check-in with the minority folk in your life,as well as the women, and then open your mind and accept the criticism you will no doubt receive for talking like this. In 2018..

P'trick

Yep…

Danpaine

That’s the thing I like so much about shows like The Walking Dead, for instance. Gay, straight or anywhere in between, if a character is killed off, they stay that way, killed off. More emotional punch. When showrunners have license to bring back anyone from the dead at any time, for me the dramatic stakes are lowered quite a bit.

That said, Culber is a pretty cool character and a competent doctor, and it will be good to have him back. I just hope the way they bring him back isn’t ridiculous.

Except Jon Snow. And The Mountain. And Beric Dondarion. And Viserion…

Danpaine

Right. Except them….:) Just corrected that, thanks. Reminds me I need to watch all of GOT again before the final season.

ML31

” I just hope the way they bring him back isn’t ridiculous.”

Me too. I did like the character and I really hope he return is not silly like most sci-fi resurrections have been. Including Spock’s

I’m relentlessly negative about this series, BUT … I loved Wilson Cruz in the first season, and one of my big problems was that they killed him off. So if he’s back in a series-regular capacity, that actually makes me a lot more interested in watching the second season than I’ve been previously.

Daqpan

Maybe some kind of spoiler alert next time? You could use a headline like ‘Will Dr Culber be back in S2?’ rather than spoil it for folks who want to reserve some surprise for the show.

Danpaine

Respectfully, Daqpan, this information has been out there for a long time, practically from the moment they killed him off.

El Chup

I’m happy he’s back. Frankly I found him more interesting than Stamets and most of the rest of the regulars.

Danpaine

Same here. With the exception of Lorca and Saru, his character stood out from the others quite a bit, I thought.

ML31

Here as well! Culber was probably 3rd on the interesting list part way through the season. After Lorca and Saru.

martin

I am pleased he will be back, because I like Cruz, and I like Culber, and even the relationship. I don’t particularly like how they define this as an epic love story… and there were choices made with Culber I didn’t like. First, he wasn’t the CMO, but should have been– he could and should have then been pushing back hard on Lorca – which would have made the Lorca character stronger. Plus it would have brought out further conflict between Stamets and Culber on continued S-Drive use, and created a conflict of interest in Culber trying to stop it with Lorca.

Also you’ve got Stamets, which didn’t bother me that he wasn’t Chief Engineer, but the Chief Engineer was completely uninvolved and unseen – there should have been conflict between the two.

Lastly, I wish they hadn’t immediately said “He ain’t dead.” It was a cowardly PR decision, which reduced the shock of his death and took away from the lasting impact.

These are all things that weakened it, or opportunities which I think could have made the show stronger. I really like the show and look forward to Season 2, and hope that perhaps the new producers are a bit more bold with some of their choices.

ML31

“First, he wasn’t the CMO, but should have been– ”

I agree. I thought he was and was being bullied by Lorca. Since he wasn’t he SHOULD have gone to the CMO with his issues. Who had the authority to shut the thing down.

I also agree that the actual Chief engineer needed to be seen. Again, I thought Stammets WAS that since he never seemed to report to anyone but the Captain.

And another agreement on the fact that Culber’s resurrection absolutely should have been kept as quiet as possible for as long as possible. Sure, eventually that cat was going to get out of the bag but why up open back and shoo the cat out to begin with?

Boze

Yay, the token paper standee is back for the second season. It was about time Star Trek gave some proper representation to two-dimensional lifeforms. /s

Hopefully this time around, they will give Wilson Cruz a more substantial role to play. The first season’s cringey, wooden “cosmetic accessory to Stamets” must’ve been one of the awfullest Star Trek characters ever, easily one of the bottom five, right next to Harry Kim, Wesley Crusher, Travis Mayweather and the transparent fat dude dressed in a shower curtain.

dennycranium

A great talent. I’m glad he is returning.
Culbers death came as a real shock and my wife and I felt that punch in the gut when the character died.
I have a gay sibling. Growing up, we always watched Star Trek.
So happy that Discovery has a same sex couple.
We await Season 2!

ADeweyan

I would normally be rolling my eyes. I mean, I accept that this is science fantasy, but it robs the stories of impact when you know in the back of your mind that any character death can be undone at some future point.

Normally. But I loved the character so much and was so saddened by his death that I’m excited to know he’ll be coming back. It helps a little to understand the creators’ thought process here (the necessity of his death), but I would still prefer he had been placed in peril (and in the mycelial plane) through some other means that didn’t require his death.

Marja

I agree so much!
I think they killed him partly for shock value — and I did cry out when it happened! — but having him in peril on the mycelial plane could have worked quite well too.

Anjata lorca

Happy he’s back but what about Prime Lorca??? Culber come back and not Prime Lorca ! Why not ?

Marja

#FindPrimeLorca

ROGER

Fascinating.