On Sunday at Star Trek Las Vegas, Star Trek: Discovery makeup designer and lifelong Star Trek fan Glenn Hetrick held a short panel mostly about the process he and his team went through in the show’s first season, with much of the conversation about creating the look for the Klingons. His talk was accompanied by a slideshow of images of work from the first season, which are mostly taken from a gallery on his AlchemyFX website.
Hetrick also talked about the Klingons in the second season of Discovery, promisingna new look. He dug into some deep stuff about Klingon lore, rituals, and hair. Hetrick’s comments were somewhat cryptic, so we present them with a bit of interpretation and as much context as we can muster in this deep dive into the once and future look of the Klingons.
Klingons are changing, again
Much has been said about the new design of the Klingons for Discovery. Of course, the iconic race has gone through a number of major changes since the original TV series, through to the movies and into the Next Generation era, and again in the J.J. Abrams films. On Discovery, their look was updated once again, with more detail for the HD era.
And according to Glenn Hetrick, there is more change coming. Here is what he told the crowd at STLV:
As we move into season two, it has been while since we have been with our characters. It has been a while since we have seen our Klingon friends. So, everything keeps evolving. The story has evolved. And I can guarantee you this, you are going to be blown away that they have a completely new look, yet again, going into season two.
Inspired by TNG’s story of Kahless
Hetrick never directly described what will be new and different about the Klingons for the second season, who have yet to be seen in any released images or videos. However, a hint of what may come could be gleaned from Hetrick’s new backstory behind the biggest controversy around the new Klingon designs in Discovery, which is that they are all hairless. Hetrick spoke at length about what he used as inspiration for their look in season one:
If you really think about season one, and the Klingon story line, we had this incredibly ritualistic season with them. It was really about unification, and igniting the beacon, the Light of Kahless, and bringing him back… so we integrated that very much and thought a lot about that.
Hetrick then pointed to the Star Trek: The Next Generation sixth season episode “Rightful Heir,” which featured the return of what was later to be revealed as a clone of Kahless. He pointed out that when this clone was being tested, he was asked how he unified the Empire. Here is how Hetrick describes it:
He did it by cutting off his hair, and dipping it into a volcano and forging the first bat’leth and tempering in the ocean of Qo’noS.
To get a little nitpicky, what the clone of Kahless said was that he cut off a “lock” of his hair to make the first bat’leth, but Hetrick was clearly making a connection to Kahless, unifying the empire, and cutting off hair. And of course, Kahless was important in the first season of Discovery, especially in the two-part opener–he’s mentioned in the first minute of the first episode, held up by T’Kuvma as his inspiration to unite the Klingon houses.
Look of Klingon Houses tied to rituals
Hetrick then went on to connect the story of Kahless to how they designed the Klingons for the first season of Discovery with this notion of a hair ritual in mind:
There is this whole thing with hair and ritual and unification that was very much in the forefront of our mind when we designing.
At last year’s STLV, Hetrick was on a panel with creature designer Neville Page and they said that Klingons were bald based on a directive from co-creator and former showrunner Bryan Fuller. During that panel, they also talked about how they developed a logic for it based on sensory organs in their heads, due to them being apex predators. All indications at the time seemed to be that the Klingons were bald by nature. However, Hetrick’s comments indicate that instead, it may have been ritualistic, and limited to just the Klingons we saw during the first season.
Hetrick made a point of saying that we have only seen Klingons from a fraction of the Houses in the Empire so far, and pointed out an example of body modification in season one. During his slideshow he noted that some members of House Mo’Kai undergo ritual scarring.
Another example Hetrick used to show how the different houses show their distinctiveness was House D’Ghor, who adorn their head ridges with jewelry. This was seen on the season one character Dennas.
Different Houses vary by genetics too
To throw another angle on this, Hetrick said that some of the houses actually have genetic differences. He pointed out that a Klingon from the first season from House Antaak had a “cranial ridge extension that goes down on to his chin.” Hetrick added, “Only that house has that genetic signature. Their chins have ridges too.”
And if you want to go further down the rabbit hole, Antaak was the doctor from Star Trek: Enterprise who inadvertently created ridgeless Klingons through genetic engineering, and was last seen as a victim of his own science.
Are Discovery Klingons really all that different?
Hetrick indicated that some of the changes coming are because there are still more Houses to reveal:
In season two, you are going to see much different designs. You are going to see different houses you haven’t seen before. One of the most important things to us was that at this point in canon, as we head towards the current version of unification, the houses really each grow up on different planets. It is an Empire, it is not just Qo’noS… We have seen six of the great houses in close up in season one. As we move forward into the next season, I promise that we will continue exploring and unpacking and unfolding that infinitely interesting story of what the Klingon culture looks like on a wider level.
Hetrick continued to push the point that what we saw in the first season is not the end of the story in terms of the look of the Klingons. During the Q&A a fan began a question by stating, “The Klingons are completely different,” and Hetrick cut her off, with: “But are they? We are not in season two yet.”
Putting it all together, Hetrick seems to be saying that in season two, the Klingons we see may not be as different as the ones we are used to. It’s possible that hair removal was a ritual, practiced by some of the Houses, or possibly a genetic trait that varies by House.
Regardless, Hetrick seems to be asking for patience, promising there is more to come.