‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Season 5 Interview: David Ajala And Doug Jones On Saying Goodbye To Book And Saru

TrekMovie joined a virtual group press interview with members of the cast of Star Trek: Discovery to talk about the fifth and final season of the series. This included a chat with David Ajala (Book) and Doug Jones (Saru). With the assembled members of the media, the actors talked about what’s new in season 5, Book and Saru’s unique relationships with Michael Burnham, romances, masculinity, and more.

Note: The interview contains minor spoilers.

Both Book and Saru have important relationships with Burnham. Can you talk about how that comes into play this season?

David Ajala: They both have different experiences with Michael Burnham. And I guess the experience that Michael Burnham will have to keep Cleveland Booker, no matter how their relationship plays out, is he has inspired her to be the most authentic version of herself, to embrace that, to be at peace with that. To understand that you can be a leader, you can be vulnerable, you may not know all the answers at the same time, you may make mistakes, and you may be liked or disliked. All of those things can exist at the same time. Not one exists exclusively without the other. Their relationship is one built upon kindness, truth, honesty, and love. So they’re always going to be in each other’s lives. And I think their relationship is a relationship that can stand the test of time.

Doug Jones: Different from their mad, passionate love story, Saru and Burnham are very more like siblings who have gone through the phases of competition and being at each other’s throats a little bit and being jealous of mom’s attention, or whatever. And then growing into “Oh, we’ve been through life and death together.” We’ve had disagreements and then we’ve had coming back together again many a time over the over the course of the series. We’ve protected each other. We have gone through so much. So when it comes to a place in season 5 where change might be afoot for Saru or he has an opportunity coming, what does he do with that? His tether to Starship Discovery really is her. And so a moment comes – I won’t say what or why – but where he expresses a sense of family with her by touching foreheads with her. It’s something that we Kelpiens do, I did it with my sister Siranna in a previous season, and also with Su’Kal, my young protege that we found and I helped him become a Kelpien again and find himself among our people. Forehead touches. It’s not a romantic thing, it’s a family thing. And so there’s a moment with Burnham and Saru where I guide her into a forehead touch that was really, really quite touching for both of us.

Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham and Doug Jones as Saru in Star Trek: Discovery season 5 (Paramount+)

Even though you guys didn’t know this was going to be the last season ahead of time, did you have a sense it could be your final time with these characters as you were playing it?

Doug Jones: From Saru’s storyline throughout season 5, it felt like, “This could be a good finale for him,” before I knew it was our finale. So when I heard it was, I was like, “Well, that kind of almost makes sense,” for me, personally, selfishly. And then for the whole show, we had the luxury of going back and filming a little epilogue or a coda, we’re calling it, that they tack on to the last episode that gives you, the audience, a sense of closure for the whole series.

David Ajala: That was really important. Even though we had finished shooting season 5, I think as a body of work, it still could stand and that could be presented. But to be able to have gone back to shoot the coda and tack it on to the end, that just really helped to neatly button-end it. And we didn’t have to do a crazy amount, did we?

David, what is it like to play a character who isn’t part of Starfleet and is an outsider among the tightly knit crew?

David Ajala: I guess what’s really special and a gift for an actor is to be able to have that peripheral or outside perspective. With Cleveland Booker, he’s somebody who operates on the underbelly of society. Being able to have that experience and then to be able to come into this world where things are done in a certain particular way. He’s able to weigh up the contrasts so extreme with the two. He’s able to look at the two and see the benefits of both. And I think the glorious thing which happens in season 5, is he is able to see, without being prompted, without being persuaded, to see the benefits of being part of Starfleet. And I think that is a testament to what Starfleet stands for, for someone who could be so tunnel visioned in their perspective, can kind of humbly fold under the togetherness of Starfleet.

David Ajala as Book, Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham and Wilson Cruz as Culber in Star Trek: Discovery season 5 (Paramount+)

Doug, what is there to take and learn from the Saru/T’Rina relationship and his instinct to protect her?

Doug Jones: This love story has meant the world to me. That’s the one wish I had for Saru throughout this entire series is can he find love? And when you’re playing an alien, non-human species, it’s nice to have a love story. It’s more rare. So coupling him with a Vulcan is perfection.  They’re both very diplomatic and they’re both very poised and proper. He does mention wanting to be protective of her. And she’s very adamant and telling him she does not need my protection. And that’s fine. I needed to hear that. But the instinct to protect is not just one of like, “I got this, you’re too weak to protect yourself.” It was not that at all. It was more out of just a place of love. Like I care about you, I hope you would protect me as well when the time comes…

… I’m holding out for a happy ending for those two.

Doug Jones: I think one’s coming.

Book and Saru are examples of positive masculinity on television, what does that mean to you?

Doug Jones: Thank you for thinking I am masculine at all. Positive masculinity, yes, I believe that Saru does lead and lets others lead according to level of skill, level of wisdom. Whoever in the room has that, that’s who should take it. So even in my in my relationship with President T’Rina, she takes the lead often, because she knows better than I do in many, many situations. And so to be a male figure who can be confident in that moment, great.

David Ajala: Piggybacking off what Doug was saying, we both have women who are very strong, who are leaders. Behind every great woman, is herself. Michael Burnham doesn’t need Cleveland Booker, however, they do bring out the best in each other. And I think that’s a really wonderful trait characteristic for a Cleveland Booker to comfortably allow and encourage his lady, his partner, his kindred spirit to thrive. It’s I think it’s a very sexy, powerful trait.

David Ajala and Doug Jones at the Star Trek: Discovery season 5 junket

David Ajala and Doug Jones at the Star Trek: Discovery season 5 junket

Doug, this season has Saru running around in a jungle and doing those kinds of things, what was there an extra challenge of doing that in the makeup?

Doug Jones: When you’re wearing hoof boots with high heel position with no heel, it’s perilous enough on a flat floor. Go out into the woods with sticks rocks and uneven terrain, yeah, there’s a lot at stake. So I want to give credit where it’s due to my stunt double Bauston Camilleri. He’s 25 years younger than me. A tall skinny guy who can take a hit and live through it, God bless him. He has saved my life. He was my stunt double for Shape of Water and What We Do In The Shadows and for Star Trek, all five seasons. So I want to bow to him and other stunt people like him, who save us actors and keep all of our limbs in one place. He took over a lot of the forest action Saru scenes. He did a lot of the work for me. As a 63-year-old skinny guy, I am happy to let a young person, “You go do that, I’m going to stay here and keep my hips together.” … When we filmed episode 2 in that away mission on the planet, it was outdoor foresty. There was some sunshine, but it was really quite cool and lovely.

Doug, how do you feel about Saru’s evolution and the legacy of the character in Star Trek?

Doug Jones: Saru has been on quite a journey over the course of this series, starting as very fearful, climbing through the ranks, the first Kelpien in Starfleet. A kind of a character needing to prove himself. And now we’re at a place in season 5 where he has proven himself, time and again, and he’s risen in rank and title. And he’s changed and become more of an empathetic character to the younger crew members and be more of a parental figure and a mentor guiding them along as they make their decisions.  And even with his sister/brother relationship with Michael Burnham, she has made some decisions that he maybe wouldn’t have done and he has had to reprimand her when he’s outranked her. We’ve had breakup scenes and makeup seems enough to have gone through an awful lot together to where there’s such respect and admiration now, among everyone in the crew. And as Saru, I like being the older gentleman in the crew that can be that parental figure. It’s been great for him.

Doug Jones as Saru and Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham in Star Trek: Discovery season 5 (Paramount+)

More to come

We have more interviews with the Discovery cast from the press junket coming up so stay tuned. And check out our junket interview with showrunners Michelle Paradise and Alex Kurtzman. You can also hear audio clips from all of our interviews in the Friday’s episode of the All Access Star Trek podcast.

The fifth and final season of Discovery debuts with two episodes on Thursday, April 4 exclusively on Paramount+ in the U.S., the UK, Switzerland, South Korea, Latin America, Germany, France, Italy, Australia, and Austria. Discovery will also premiere on April 4 on Paramount+ in Canada and will be broadcast on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel in Canada. The rest of the 10-episode final season will be available to stream weekly on Thursdays. Season 5 debuts on SkyShowtime in select European countries on April 5.


Note: The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.  

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I’ll be honest, discovery, never really stuck for me. It was fun at times, and it had some good ideas, but overall I found it a little too overly emotional and spectacle driven. it lacked what made TNG and DS9 great in terms of the insightful social commentary and complex moral dilemmas.

That said, Doug Jones brought to live one of the most alien main character creatures we’ve ever seen. For me, he rivals Leonard Nimoy’s Spock in making me actually feel like this person and character is not (fully) human.

We were truly lucky to get him and his caliber of creature acting on Star Trek. I hope to see more of him even though he’s stuck in the 32nd century, so make the Academy role happen please.

Saru (and the Kelpians) is one of the very few ways in which Discovery has left the Star Trek universe better than it found it.

My only disappointment: they tied up everything far too early. They should have spent more than half a season developing the concept of threat ganglia, and his metamorphosis should have come later in the series. (Of course, that would likely have meant jettisoning the absurd time jump.)

I have to wonder if we’ve truly seen the end of these characters though. With the Academy show revealed to be taking place in the 32nd Century these characters could all easily show up.

Maybe the background characters we barely know could become Academy instructors?

Discovery has always been a side hustle for these two.