Star Trek: Discovery will continue the venerated sci-fi tradition of using a fantastic setting to tackle real-world issues — only in a bigger way than any Trek series has done before.
The upcoming CBS All Access drama tells the serialized story of a war between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire. The show is set a decade before 1966’s original series — which premiered 51 years ago today — during which the Federation and Klingons were in a Cold War standoff that reflected yesteryear’s U.S.-Soviet relations. In Discovery, war breaks out and the Klingons leading the charge have some ideological ideas inspired by the 2016 electoral divide.
“The allegory is that we really started working on the show in earnest around the time the election was happening,” showrunner Aaron Harberts says. “The Klingons are going to help us really look at certain sides of ourselves and our country. Isolationism is a big theme. Racial purity is a big theme. The Klingons are not the enemy, but they do have a different view on things. It raises big questions: Should we let people in? Do we want to change? There’s also the question of just because you reach your hand out to someone, do they have to take it? Sometimes, they don’t want to take it. It’s been interesting to see how the times have become more of a mirror than we even thought they were going to be.”
While such topics have been explored across Star Trek‘s six previous series and 700 episodes before, the serialized nature of Discovery‘s 15-episode debut season allows for a greater depth of storytelling. “The thing about the war is it takes Starfleet and the Federation and forces them to examine their ideas and ethical rules of conflict and conduct,” Harberts says. “It provides a backdrop to how we want to be as a society and that analysis and self-reflection is new for Trek. They’ve done it in certain episodes in the past, but this is a true journey for the institution in itself.”
“In times of stress and conflict it can bring out the best of us and the worst of us,” adds fellow showrunner Gretchen J. Berg. “But but ultimately brings out the best in our Starfleet officers.”
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The Toronto-based production is currently shooting its 13th episode, and producers note that President Donald Trump’s tense stand-off with North Korea has some reflections in the show as well.
“North Korea is in our thoughts as we finish the series,” he says. “What began as a commentary on our own divided nation — in terms of Trump supporters and non-Trump supporters — has blown out to North Korea and how we’re right on the brink. [The U.S. is] actually right at the place where Starfleet finds itself in episode one and we couldn’t have anticipated that happening. But how do you end conflict when both sides have such strong opinions?”
In the series, Sonequa Martin-Green (The Walking Dead) plays First Officer Michael Burnham, an ambitious Starfleet officer whose carefully planned career is upended when she makes a decision with far-reaching consequences. The Klingon characters are led by T’Kuvma (Chris Obi), a leader of an ancient Klingon house who goes to extreme measures to unite his people. Star Trek has a long history of allegorical commentary, including Deep Space Nine’s “Past Tense” (which tackled the separation of economic classes), Voyager‘s “Workforce” (labor issues), and The Original Series‘ “A Private Little War” (the Vietnam War).
Here’s the latest trailer:
Star Trek: Discovery debuts on CBS on Sept. 24 before switching to the CBS All Access streaming service.