Interview: Sonequa Martin-Green Talks Burnham’s Journey Into The Final Season Of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’

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 series star Sonequa Martin-Green. With the assembled members of the media, Sonequa talked about Michael Burnham’s arc through the series and into the new season, Michael’s relationships with Book and Saru, and what she has been doing behind the scenes as an executive producer in season 5.

Note: The interview contains some spoilers.

Can you share how Michael’s journey in this final season encapsulates her journey and evolution through the series?

Sonequa Martin-Green: I love what you said about how the season itself encapsulates the evolution of Burnham. Because that’s sort of exactly what happens… So you see that contrast [in the first four episodes] You see it right in front of your face. Sometimes it’s hard to remember how far you’ve come until you’re just looking at it, face to face, literally. I love that character evolution in general has become a cornerstone of our story. It has become a tenant of Star Trek: Discovery. And I hope that it becomes part of the legacy that we leave to the franchise. That we were able to tell the story where you got to see people become who they were meant to be.

You get to see Burnham and everyone else, and everyone else, go from fear to faith, go from pain to purpose, go from fighting for absolution to being able to give absolution to someone. You see this woman become the type of leader that she is, an inside-out leader. A leader who’s on the ground, but who leads with grace and who digs the gold out of everyone around her. My perspective on it is just that I’m blessed beyond measure. I thank God for not just the character and the people and the story, but even just how fulfilling it was as an artist.

There are two key men in Burnham’s life: Book and Saru. Can you talk about those two relationships and how they kind of share you, in a way?  

Sonequa Martin-Green: That is very true. I have so much love and respect for Doug Jones and David Ajala. That goes that goes across the board, because there’s also a really special relationship between Burnham and Tilly. With Saru and with Book, I love what we see toward the beginning of season 5 when it’s time for Saru to fulfill his purpose. It’s time for him to reach his own destiny with his own people. I love that as he exits, it’s time for Burnham to rise in a way like never before. Because now the guide is gone, the shepherd is gone, the sort of big brother is gone, the voice of reason is gone. And now it’s time for her to do those things, be those things herself and give them to somebody else. It’s almost as if Saru’s exit – just from the ship – signals her stepping into a mentor role, her stepping into the role of guide and shepherd and teacher. The one who’s reaching out to someone and pulling them pulling them forward, pulling their true selves out of them.

I love that Burnham and Book also do that for each other. They’re iron sharpening is super-complicated between them. There’s a lot going on between them, but they ultimately make each other better. And I love that. I love that about those dynamics.

Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham and Doug Jones as Saru (Paramount+, 2023. Photo Credit: Marni Grossman /Paramount+)

How does Michael bring her experience growing up on Vulcan to this final season?

It was really particular to have this dichotomy between these two cultures, between Vulcans and humanity, right? And it was a big conflict in the beginning. I love that we found a sort of stasis for Burnham. I appreciate the writers for that. It was really lovely to find it. I feel that all of our characters found this stasis. We found this balance and we sort of did it together. Our journeys were running parallel while they were intersecting in all these different ways too. Physically speaking we see this liberation happening with Burnham over the course of the series. There’s this rigidity in the beginning that mimics the logic and the rationality. But then there’s a fluidity that comes over the course of the series, and that mimics her liberation as a person and finding herself and defining herself for herself and realizing that she is just as beautiful as she thought she was, but now it’s an internal drive and not an external drive.

James Frain as Ambassador Sarek and Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham in the season 1 episode “Battle at the Binary Stars” (Paramount+)

Is there anything you accomplished as an actor or behind the camera that you are particularly proud of?

Sonequa Martin-Green: In front of the camera, I’m particularly proud of making television history. In front of the camera, I’m proud of how bold we were as an iteration. That we did things that no other Trek has done. We were serialized to a degree that no other Trek has been. We went to a future beyond where any Trek has gone. We made television history with diversity in a way like never before. So I hope that boldness is part of our legacy. Just being that first black female lead first and then being the first black female captain and lead, and then even behind the scenes, being able to be a producer on the show and then an executive producer for season 5. The evolution sort of had a butterfly effect, and it went outward. It wasn’t just between action and cut.

Can you talk about what your involvement has been behind the scenes as an executive producer for season 5?

From the very beginning when I started Discovery, I took my leadership role very, very, very seriously. I knew as number one on the call sheet that it was going to be up to me majorly, to establish the culture. And the way I would describe my culture, I’ve said this a million times, is the only star is the story and we’re a family. And that’s exactly what we became because everyone agreed, because these are the most gorgeous people. We definitely had lightning in a bottle. But I was always sort of producorial in the way that I approached the work and the way that I approached my position on the call sheet and my position in the show. And so when it was time to actually sort of put it in writing and make it even more real, it was one plus one equals two. And the network, they were lovely about it. They were like, “Obviously you already are, so let’s go.”

It was fantastic. It took all of a business day for us to put it in the annals of the records and in the annals of time. And so I was involved from the very beginning. I was a bridge between the cast and the crew and production. And then being able to sit in and post as well and watch that process happen. Being able to have conversations with people as we were shooting, being able to make decisions, being able to facilitate connections and relationships. Making people feel safe, making people feel heard. Making sure that all the Ts were crossed the Is were dotted. It was a lot of work. But I thank the good Lord above for it.

Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham in Star Trek: Discovery (Michael Gibson/Paramount+)

More to come

We have more interviews with the Discovery cast from the press junket coming up so stay tuned. And check out previous junket interviews:

You can also check out audio clips from all of our interviews on the latest 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 feel bad for Martin-Green because the writers really let her down from a character standpoint, especially in the those first episodes way back when.
I think back to DS9 when Avery Brooks character, Sisko, was at odds with Picard and he instantly became unlikeable – thankfully their relationship settled down by the end of the two part premiere and the rest is history.
Unfortunately, not so for Michael Burnham. Not only did the writers have her mutiny, but her actions ended up getting her Captain killed and eaten – and her ship and crew essentially wrecked. It didn’t help that Captain Georgiou also seemed to be exactly the stereotypical-type Starfleet leader that Trek legacy fans could identify with.
I know that actors like to play characters with grit and conflict so maybe Martin-Green didn’t mind the way the character was written, but her backstory in those first half dozen episodes really sent Burnham down a rabbit hole that was hard to comeback from. Credit her and the new writers for at least trying to redeem Burnham, but it was an uphill and perhaps un-winnable battle. Just my two cents worth.

I agree. Nothing that is wrong with Discovery is SMG’s fault. She’s great. It’s the writers and show runners that screwed everything up. Even when they pushed Discovery to the far future, they STILL broke canon. They can’t help themselves. They are just THAT stupid!

I think that the redemption arc and the subsequent rise of Michael Burnam has easily equal to that of Spock Picard, and Sisko. What’s unique about Burnham is that she’s done did it in a mere span of 65 episodes. Every other lead has had far longer and far more time to do it.

Shorter seasons meant Discovery has had to be far more economical in its storytelling, and its had FAR less narrative filler.

Discovery may have made more episodes that pissed people off, but I have so much respect for how they took bigger swings, and the proof is in the pudding.

When you think of the most impactful episodes of legacy Trek, it’s been when the personal stakes were at it’s highest. Episodes like “The Best of Both Worlds”, “City on the Edge of Foreever”, “Tears of the Prophets”, “Duet”, “The Inner Light, “The Visitor”, “The Offspring”, the highly problematic “The Paradise Syndrome”, “The Tholian Web”, “All Those Who Wander” and “Such Sweet Sorrow” dared to break the hearts of its characters…and ours…by taking risks. Discovery has succeeded by doing just that.

“Risk…is our business!”

James T. Kirk
“Return to Tommorrow”

I cannot wait for the reactions to this. But for the record, I completely agree with you. For all the talk of “big swings” in Strange New Worlds’ last season, Discovery has made bigger ones throughout the four aired seasons. Whether or not they are successful is subjective dependant on the fan (I would argue that the first season was a disaster from the get go, but that’s just me)- but you cannot deny the show tried to do something different.

I think SNW gets more credit for their big swings because they are limited to one episode on average. Discovery often had season long story arcs that made it hard to keep watching if you weren’t a big fan of the “swing.” If they had stayed closer to a character serialized format, while exploring different topics every week, I think the feelings might be different. For the record, I like serialized storylines but they can be difficult to keep going.

I didn’t mind that Burnham was a complex character that some people didn’t like. I even liked having a show that focused on the First Officer. Unfortunately, creatively, I am not sure they liked it given how often they kept tinkered with the format. I do think the lack of creative confidence in the show often lead them to make unnecessary dramatic choices.

Sonequa has done a great job with her character. Burnham has even had some great moments over the years……but I wouldn’t put her in the same pantheon as Sisko or Picard. Then again they have had A LOT more storylines to do them justice. Plus Captain’s rankings are so personal!

So here is the thing my friend. I do not object to the idea that Discovery has made big swings. Heck they are the show that made the biggest swings since TNG said Kirk and Spock are not all Trek is!

Here is my problem tho. Making big swings does not mean you did the right thing. Discovery has betrayed canon from its very first episode till what we have seen thus far. Even when they moved Discovery to the far future, they are STILL breaking canon! Like who cares if Warp does not work if Daniels from Enterprise could move through time and space as easily as the Iconians did? 700+ years past and the Federation is still stuck using WARP? Like WTF?????