The Shuttle Pod Steps Into The Shadows To Examine Section 31’s Role In Star Trek

Jared and John are joined by TrekMovie founder Anthony Pascale to take a deep dive into Section 31, discussing how the inclusion of Starfleet’s enigmatic clandestine organization has worked over the years. The Shuttle Pod team examines the organization’s Star Trek history—from its first appearances in Deep Space Nine to popping up in season four of Enterprise and being the real bad guy in Star Trek: Into Darkness, and its prominent role in season two of Discovery. With Section 31 possibly being central to a potential upcoming Michelle Yeoh-led Star Trek spinoff series, we discuss whether this story device works best as a super-secret covert action organization (as seen on DS9 and Enterprise), or as a more militaristic branch of Starfleet (as seen on Discovery and Into Darkness).

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I’m probably going to upset a lot of people with this opinion, but Section 31 is one of the two things I have never liked about the Star Trek universe; the other is the Mirror Universe.

This isn’t just a “Disco thing” – I can easily skip any MU episode in the entire franchise; TOS gets credit for being unique, but everything after that has been dull and predictable. Thank goodness TNG never went there!

Section 31 stands against everything good about Star Trek in my eyes, so has never deserved its place in my opinion. I have absolutely no interest in the proposed new series although, being a die-hard Trekkie, I will no doubt watch it while I shake my head in disbelief!

Section 31 is supposed to stand against everything good about Star Trek. They’re the bad guys.

Are they? How can they be? They’re meant to be part of the UFP.

Does that mean that the Secret Service, whatever it’s called in the country you live in, are also the bad guys? We may not know what they do, but I’ve always believed their motives would be true and their actions reasonable. The same can’t be said of Section 31.

Anyway, I get your point and thanks for responding.

They are part of the UFP, but they operate independently of Starfleet and the Federation government. They betray the Federation’s ideals in a misguided attempt to protect the Federation, and it is up to our heroes like Bashir and Burnham to stop them.

I don’t know about the Secret Service but the CIA certainly seems to have a history of participating in some shady activities.

All the more reason why it’s absurd for the Federation to allow this black badge fascist organization to operate in the open as we see in Discovery. They know history in Star Trek, so it’s make them all look like a bunch of dumb-dumbs for repeating that history so blatantly.

But the disaster regarding control meant they went back into the shadows by the ds9 era.

But at least CIA gets appropriations from Congress and is subject to congressional oversight. The implication was that Section 31 does not.

Yes. They’re the bad guys. That’s the whole point.

If they’re the bad guys, then they should probably stop treating them as some intelligence/special forces branch openly standing alongside Starfleet officers. It’s so covert it’s overt!

I am 1000% in agreement. The Mirror Universe is the one thing more than anything else that makes me just a bit guilty about being a Star Trek fan, and I despise Section 31 both as a narrative device and for what it (qua device) represents. I wasn’t a fan of a lot of things about S1 of DSC, but the Mirror Universe is what made me quit, and reading about the role of Section 31 in subsequent seasons is what has kept me from giving it a second chance.

To expand on the Section 31 point… Not to get political, but does anyone remember how, early on, a certain US politician drew flak when, in an interview, he shrugged at allegations of assassinations carried out by Russia’s intelligence services and said, “We’ve got killers too”? I think Section 31 came out of the same vein of nihilistic cynicism — a belief that the world is fundamentally a blood-soaked zero-sum game; that principled idealism is a soft and unserious fantasy only enabled by leather-clad fascists knifing people in the dark. Which is an unpleasant, infantile, and empirically wrong argument. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Section 31 came out of the first Star Trek series to put war and violence front-and-center, focusing on big Star Wars-like space battles and the attendant melodrama rather than on philosophical puzzles and *science* fiction. And — not to get generational — that series, which self-consciously tried to upset traditional Trek idealism, was the first that was decidedly the brainchild of Boomers who grew up in an era of prosperity and peace, whereas that idealism they liked to malign was the creation of people who grew up hungry during the Great Depression and saw their friends’ brains being blown out in WWII and Korea.

Absolutely. S31 is a big part of why I can’t stand this “DS9 is the best Trek evah” mantra.

And “empirically wrong” — say that again. There’s a tremendous correlation between rule of law and economic prosperity.

Which is an unpleasant, infantile, and empirically wrong argument. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Section 31 came out of the first Star Trek series to put war and violence front-and-center, focusing on big Star Wars-like space battles and the attendant melodrama rather than on philosophical puzzles and *science* fiction.

So you can’t stand other people simply have a different opinion about a TV show than you do? Life must be hard.

Yeah DS9 is hand’s done my favorite Trek show EVAH! It’s been that way for 20 years now and the way things are going with the new stuff, probably for the next 20 years.

But you are free to feel differently. Right? I just never get people’s hang ups that they are so bothered when other people simply like (or hate) something they don’t.

Trek is a very diverse universe it becomes more diverse every year, it’s OK for people to love a different show or all the shows.

Upsetting? On the contrary, you’re exactly right. TOS and TNG (and VOY, after the fact) managed to get along just fine without Section 31. DS9 introduced it to be edgy and dark.

The mirror universe was OK in very small doses. Making it the centerpiece of DISCO and much of DS9 was similarly a mistake.

The mirror universe wasn’t really a centerpiece of much of DS9. They did 5 mirror universe episodes out of 176 episodes in total.

And that is what is so entertaining about section 31, they will do what the federation won’t do. Its not easy trying to bring peace into a galaxy with the likes of Romulans, Klingon and Cardassians.

There can only be one Section 31. SLOAN / DS9.

Is Georgiou redeemable? Of course.

But is she redeemable in the hands of Kurtzman and Co.? Prior experience says, “No.”

It was mentioned that COVID is forcing them to be choosy about what they shoot rather than just shoot everything and decide later what to keep and what to cut. I wouldn’t be surprised if they way they produced seasons 1-3 is responsible for them seeming to think they did more to redeem her than they actually did (and other similar issues). For all we know, they might have had a fully fleshed out arc, only for most of it to end up on the cutting room floor, with the remaining pieces feeling out of place.

Good point Valerie, and one that seems to apply for many of the plot and character arcs in Discovery and Picard.

There have been numerous cases where the key story points that the EPs speak to in interviews just haven’t been shown to us, or even told to us on the screen.

For Discovery, the changes in the showrunners and writers is a big part of it in season two.

Yet, after hearing the various writers, EPs and directors discuss Picard, it’s clear that Kurtzman’ pre-COVID approach was not to force the big voices in the writers room to come to consensus before shooting episodes. Instead, everyone’s pet idea or scene was shot, and Kurtzman made the final decisions about what was in or out in editing.

A certain amount of that is necessary, but it seems like what was left worked episode by episode, but some key bit-by-bit evolutions of characters just didn’t make it into the final cuts.

That would explain a lot of the emotional leaps they seem to be expecting us to take when it comes to caring about Stamets/Adira/Owo/Gray – they may have worked hard on backstories and care about these characters deeply, but it’s just not onscreen for audiences to do the same, IMO. I can’t invest in Stamets as a surrogate parent to Adira when the relationship barely has enough screen time to warrant a friendship, let alone that level of intimacy, and then the show does things like blows Stamets out an airlock to avoid a plot inconvenience, and then sidelines him almost completely in the finale.

It’s frustrating because they don’t have fleshed out characters and so we can’t invest in their relationships the way the show demands we do, but it’s more egregious when it’s a character like Georgiou where entire character arcs the plot centers around entirely are full of missing links that are nearly impossible to work around. And when you add in that it amounted to misusing a star like Michelle Yeoh, having her hang around Toronto just to deliver an awkward sarcastic line every other week, it speaks to there being a few BTS factors they couldn’t control for whatever reasons.

Every new appearance of Section 31 cheapens the concept. Less is more with them. They should show up (so to speak) only once every few seasons and be very enigmatic and powerful (like the Borg)… perhaps they could be in more episodes, but tucked away only for observant viewers to ever notice (say at key events there’s a person in black hiding behind a bulkhead out of line of sight of the people talking in the foreground).

However, I wouldn’t expect an oxygen thief like Alex Kurtzman to understand subtlety when things can go “pew, pew”, “bang” or put in a big box with a question mark on the side. Such a charlatan and it’s a disgrace he has the keys to our beloved Star Trek.

(I woke up on the wrong side of bed this morning, I know!)

Whenever I read of Section 31 now, I can’t help but say “delet this”

It’s such a juvenile schoolboy concept that only appeals to our inner 12 year old fanfics. I used to think Sec31 would be cool as a dark take on Trek, but we already have piles of grimdark now. So an entire spinoff around it would be completely daft.

Less is more I think. Keep them in the shadows.

I find it a bit sad that out of all the wonderful things DS9 did, Section 31 is the one concept that Enterprise, Discovery and the Abrams movies happily latched onto, with a whole spin-off possibly in the works. Obviously we need conflict and some darkness to spice up the drama, but it’s a bit disheartening to see such an overt expression fo the Federation and humanity’s seedy underbelly be what inspires so many Trek writers.

Turning a blind eye to s31 when the fed/Starfleet were up against it during the dominon war makes sense to me.

But sisko and co made sure the war ended with those principles still intact.

I have never had a problem and the concept of Section 31. I’ve argued many times they seem pretty realistic to have in the Star Trek universe, at least to me. I do think where it loses people is that A. they basically have free reign to break any laws or morality to keep the peace and B. Starfleet secretly condones it. I don’t think the basic concept of Section 31 is really the problem, just their tactics and total lack of transparency that’s the issue for most. That said, they wouldn’t be as fun without those things lol.

So I liked them a lot on DS9 but I actually thought they were done better on Enterprise. Because on that show, the little we saw of them, they act more as an intelligence operation and not a full fledged judge and jury police force as we saw them two centuries later. Again, they COULD still been that way but the stories we saw them in, they were much more in the background. They didn’t make people disappear, frame others, create coups or try to cause genocide of an entire species. It was more about trying to just keep their enemies at bay and that Starfleet can continue to strive. And I always imagined after the Xindi threat and then later the Romulans, they just became more necessary.

But yes the later uses of them in the Kelvin universe and then Discovery did rub me the wrong way. STID just took them to the extreme. I didn’t have an issue with keeping them secret, devious and all of that, but to have them trying to destroy the Enterprise while outwardly trying to start a war with the Klingons seem to just step waaaay over the line. While Sloan’s S31 certainly worked in the grey areas, they still seem to have some kind of moral compass (not a wide one though ;)). They never tried to actually hurt or kill any Federation citizens, just their enemies. And the point of S31 seem like it was to stop wars from happening at all costs, not to create them. Those are the two biggest differences than what we saw in the Kelvin universe.

As for Discovery, there is so much wrong, I wouldn’t know where to begin lol. While they didn’t go to extremes like in STID, they still seem to step over the line more than what we saw in the 24th century, like giving Spock brain damage if they had to (but to be fair they also thought he was a murderer and a criminal) or giving Space Hitler a job who had no moral compass what so ever. And then yeah, how closely they worked with Starfleet in this time. It didn’t just make any sense canon wise, but it literally said Starfleet was fine with all their actions they did under their name. That was literally the opposite point of their creation. And then you had people like Pike who everyone now sees as this very by-the-book and high moral Starfleet officer completely fine with Section 31. He had no issues with their existence, it was only until they started to impede his mission or to find Spock when he objected to them. And I won’t even get into all their crazy tech (and I LOVE crazy tech) but wormhole creating time travel suits seemed waaaay out of line for this time period even for S31 (but welcome to Discovery ;)). And finally….Control. I’ll just say one word on that, ugh.

So yes while I LOVE the idea of Section 31, I think the newer stuff just went too far with it and a lot of people thought they already went too far in DS9 obviously. It’s also why so many people seem to be so down on the S31 show now. Not only did they kill off all the mystique of them in Discovery, they kind of ruined what a lot of us who did like about them in the first place. And yeah, Space Hitler.

But I’ll still stay positive for the show. I think at least it won’t be in the 23rd century so that’s one good thing if true. It may not even be in the same universe. So we’ll see, but I did wish they kept the original idea of S31 we saw in DS9 at least. Or maybe Georgiou will hook up with a young Sloan in the 24th century at the beginning of his career and we see how it morphs into that version. If so, that may not be so bad. ;)

One of the most profound influences on MU Georgiou, apart from Prime Michael and just living with people who weren’t psychopaths, was Kovich’s revelation that the Federation long outlasted the Terran Empire.

When the Guardian sent Georgiou back to the Terran Empire in the 23rd century, she said that she was trying to change things that were keeping the Empire from its potential.

My view is that MU Georgiou at the point she went back through the Guardian’s portal, is no longer just looking for fun in the Prime Universe.

She now buys in to Michael’s belief in a long enduring Federation with “luminous” people in it.

So, I can see Georgiou becoming the person to lead an organization that would do whatever it takes to ensure the Federation forms and survives.

The problem is that we know the problems with S31 in the 23rd and 24th century, and even its predecessor organization in the 22nd century.

So, how can we as an audience buy into Georgiou’s vision of S31 being the protector?

One last thing that I’m absolutely convinced of now is that Georgiou will be the catalyst for the establishment of the Bureau of Intertemporal Investigations. She will find them insufferable, but she would see them as a necessary evil to protect the timeline Michael is in.

Yeah I agree pretty much all of this. That is the really confusing part about Georgiou and S31 in general. In one hand, I guess we’re supposed to believe Georgiou has ‘changed’ thanks to what the Guardian did and that she will basically fight for the values of the Federation instead of just mocking them every episode.

But as you said, we know if she goes back in time to the 23rd or 24th century, S31 is basically seen as the bad guys as other posters in this thread have argued. So even if she has ‘changed’ for the better, how does she influence S31 for the better knowing what we know? Like S31 itself, she could just have a warped sense of what it means to protect the Federation but they would still look evil to most people in starfleet. So yeah I’m at a lost too.

In fact, it’s literally why I thought maybe she would just settle in the 32nd century and we would just have a very different version of S31. A version that still does questionable things maybe but not to the point where it goes against what the Federation is. I kind of thought we would see a more behaved organization, but one that still take some shortcuts when necessary (and some really really cool tech ;)).

But who knows, that could still happen. Maybe she will end up in a reformed S31 in the 25th or 26th century where they already learned the errors of their ways.

I like your idea how she could influence the Bureau of temporal investigations to protect the future timeline. I’ll go even one farther and now that Star Trek is back to stuff like discussing the Temporal Cold War on Discovery, I can see a tie in to the Section 31 show dealing with the war IF the show is about time travel in some form. And I honestly thought they were foreshadowing that in the show and that we find out Kovich is/was a S31 agent who had a huge hand in fighting that war and was going to recruit Georgiou to maybe go to different periods in time to help fight it.

(This is why I try not to throw out too many theories on the board….I end up going hardcore Trek nerd ;))

So like what’s wrong with being a Trek nerd?

If there’s a board for it it’s this one. LOL

(In fact, I’ve been missing some of the nerdly deep dives here lately.)

I’m joking of course! This place and Reddit are the only two places I can let loose lol.

But I also know my theories can be…out there. Especially since they rarely happen. ;D

I am completely on board for a form of S31 show that is set somewhere between the 25th and 29th centuries, that revolves around some sort of temporal plotline. This way you skip over all the cannon hassles of being a prequel series and get onto showing off the future Star Trek universe and the Federation at its peak. Plus the show could go back and forth in time, the possibilities are infinite.
Oh btw as you all know, one of my pet peeves is all those who always complain about cannon. I was watching Enterprise the other day and I saw an exocomp sitting on a shelf in the launch bay of the NX-01. I am sure the cannonistas would have had a field day with that one if it happened on Discovery!

Really? What episode was the exocomp in? I literally just rewatched the entire series and finished it a week ago. Never noticed it either!

And yes I obviously agree with you and if they do go ahead with a S31 show, then please set it after the Picard show at the very least or even better a century or two after that show. Then you can make S31 anything you want. Again, I know people think I am the ‘I hate prequels’ guy, but as Discovery has proven it’s for a reason beyond just wanting to something different and because they are really really hard to do in general and its much easier to screw up canon instead of enhancing it.

Section 31 is more proof of that because if we saw the Discovery version of them in the 26th century or something then it would’ve been completely fine. It actually would’ve made sense. All of it! But their version in the 23rd century just muddled the idea completely on how they operated. It made no sense canon wise. And I just miss the old version of them. But if they set it farther and with a time travel premise then they can open them up probably in ways they CLEARLY wanted to do on Discovery, but not feel so out place there either.

God bless Section 31

Fantastic discussion.

I suspect that this is one of the ShuttlePod discussions that I’m going to come back to.

In fact, I think that a revisit once Michelle Yeoh’s series is starts to stream, or even once we see more 32nd century Federation in Discovery, would be cool.

First, in answer to a couple of the questions posed towards the end, here are my musings.

In the 32nd century, I suspect that Starfleet is going to be less willing to compromise on principles. Vance’s comments in his negotiations with Osyraa revealed that there are really hard limits on their Realpolitik. If Section 31 exists or an analogue, it will likely be much more tame.

But the stories of past moral compromises are likely to continue to surface as Discovery encounters other isolated planets and cultures. It sounds as though the post Temporal Cold War Federation of the mid 31st century was already in a crisis.

Second, thinking about the S31 series, and reflecting on MU Georgiou’s journey in the tie-in novel “Die Standing” and especially her experience and comments in Discovery S3, I think that Georgiou is on the path to becoming the leader of S31 who is absolutely committed to ensuring that the “luminous” Federation of Prime Universe Michael Burnham will exist and endure.

MU Georgiou’s attachment to Michael runs deep, so she will be determined to ensure that the future she saw for the Prime Universe Discovery will be realized.

More, during her time back in the MU, Georgiou showed how deeply her perspective was transformed by Kovich’s revelation that the Terran Empire Was short-lived, while the Federation lasted a millennium.

She wanted to change the Terran Empire to get rid of the things keeping it from enduring domination. At the end, she knew that it was impossible to change the Terran Empire or MU Michael from within that society.

The result is that Georgiou, ruthless as she is, will be a natural leader for Section 31 in its mission to preserve the Prime Universe Federation through any means.

And as an aside, I am convinced that Georgiou will be the driving force to get the Bureau of Intertemporal Investigations established, if it isn’t already. In fact, she migh be the agent of the Guardian of Forever In that agenda.

Georgiou would find the BII agents unbearable to be around, but she would see that they would be essential to protecting the timeline. I could also see her playing a role in getting the BII’s technology set up so they have protected such that they can tell when the timeline is altered.