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Star Trek: Discovery storyline revealed

Showrunners tease mysterious plot: Why there are two ships, and their biggest Trek influences

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You’ve seen the trailer. You’ve read our teases. But what is Star Trek: Discovery really about? And why are there two starships in this show, the U.S.S. Discovery and the Shenzhou?

Showrunners Aaron Harberts and Gretchen J. Berg don’t want to give away too much of the plot. The CBS All Access drama is heavily serialized with plenty of twists and turns — particularly in the first few episodes — which makes the storyline difficult to discuss.

But here’s some new intel the duo are ready to reveal about the series, which stars Sonequa Martin-Green as a Starfleet First Officer who was the first human to attend the Vulcan Science Academy.

“Burnham [has] spent a lot of time on Vulcan, but she’s human,” Harberts says. “Sarek [Spock’s father, played by James Frain] plays an important role in her life, which has been completely planned until she makes a very difficult choice that sends her life on a very different path. When we meet her, she’s the First Officer on the Starship Shenzhou [captained by Philippa Georgiou, played by Michelle Yeoh]. And Burnham’s choice that we’re alluding to is most difficult choice you can make — it affects her, affects Starfleet, affects the Federation, it affects the entire universe. That choice leads her to a different ship, the Discovery [helmed by Captain Lorca, played by Jason Isaacs] and there we begin what Gretchen and I call our ‘second pilot.'”

Burham is, of course, the first Trek lead who is not a captain,* so we asked the showrunners what that choice adds to the drama.

“The joy is in the journey,” Berg replied. “The advantage to her not being in charge of the bridge right now is we get to tell stories from a very different point of view. It’s a fresh feeling because we’re not on the bridge all the time. We get access to more parts of the ship.”

Also, the Klingons are heavily involved in the season … and they’re not very friendly.

In addition, we asked the producers which Trek series or film has the biggest influence on the new series.

“There’s a hint of all of them, but in the writers’ room people are so in love with The Original Series and Next Generation, and they talk about the family aspect of those cast members,” Berg said.

Added Harberts: “I think Nicholas Myers’ film are a touchstone, and not just because he’s been on staff with us. His storytelling is complex and intellectual and yet there’s a lot of room for character voices and character work, he’s done such an incredible job with the franchise. In terms of scope and scale, there’s something about Star Trek: The Motion Picture that really speaks to us as well. CBS has allowed us to find a cinematic language that’s wider in scope — our aspect ratio is 2:1 — and it just lends itself to a very lyrical way of telling the story. And just visually speaking, there’s also a little hint in terms of what J.J. Abrams did, a little bit, in terms of some of the visuals.”

Previous: The frustrating longtime guideline that Discovery will ditch.

Previous: First look at a groovy new transporter room

Previous: Discovery star Sonequa Martin-Green torpedos racist trolls

Previous: First look at Jason Isaacs as Discovery’s Captain Lorca.

PreviousStar Trek: Discovery star Sonequa Martin-Green breaks her silence on her mysterious character.

Previous: Star Trek: Discovery producers explain the show’s delays.

Previous: Star Trek: Discovery trailer and premiere date.

Star Trek: Discovery will debut Sunday, Sept. 24 (first on CBS, then shifting to CBS All Access streaming service; Netflix internationally). EW has more to come, follow @jameshibberd for the latest.

* Yes I know, Sisko in DS9 was also not technically a captain but that was only because the show was set on a space station and not on a ship; he was still the highest ranking officer, which amounted to the same thing.