Star Trek: Discovery pulled off a shocking reveal in the last moments of its first season finale, and below executive producer Alex Kurtzman takes our questions about what it all means for season 2. Warning: The following contains spoilers for the season 1 finale.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So I found it cool that the finale basically had a group of all-female characters who negotiated the peace treaty; was that deliberate?
ALEX KURTZMAN: Oh, you bet.
Anything you want to add on that?
We planned the finale from the beginning of the season. And since then, Time’s Up and #MeToo have come along and only bolstered our instincts about where we stand on the line of female empowerment and what we want to say about that. L’Rell is very mistreated and disrespected and demeaned over the course of the season. And we crafted all of the season knowing full well the reversal that we were setting up for the ending, which hopefully makes the reversal far more satisfying. Ultimately it comes down to these women seeing past all the ego and the violence to see a way of protecting the Klingon identity as a species, and also stopping the war. Also, Michael Burnham’s arc over the course of the season is that she started the war and also gets to end it, and finds allies in unlikely places. Obviously, L’Rell would never have been that ally to her until Burnham was able to use her history, past, and understanding to know that L’Rell had to be the one in power for the war to end.
What we didn’t get this season was an explanation for why we’d never heard of Burnham via Spock’s family. Did you decide to punt that answer for now?
It was always the plan [not to answer that this season]. At Comic-Con fans asked about why Spock has never spoken of Michael Burnham and I said, “Please trust us, we understand that bill is due, and you’ll get that answer.” We always knew we’d platforming an answer that’s coming in seasons.
With the Klingon war storyline done, will we get fewer Klingon scenes next season?
Yeah, there will be fewer Klingon scenes, but there will still be Klingons.
What did you guys learn in the first season about what types of storytelling work and what maybe fans aren’t into so much?
There was obviously a lot of controversy over the Klingons. We started out really loving the idea of having long scenes that were entirely subtitled in Klingon. Some of those scenes were very effective. At a certain point, the audience started feeling like they were engaging less with those scenes. And that’s not true of the entire audience; some loved that we were giving that much time to the Klingons. Our goal was always to humanize the Klingons and present their point of view and inner emotional life as more than two-dimensional characters at a time of war when we were endeavoring to tell a story about how both sides have a legitimate point of view. We took that gamble, and for some viewers it worked and for others it didn’t, but it gave us what we needed for the engine of the season.
Tyler’s decision to run off L’Rell suggests we won’t be seeing much of him from now on. Yet my understanding is Shazad Latif is still part of the show. What can we expect there?
Season 2 will be about a whole bunch of new things. There’s a brand new energy to season 2. Season 1 was about the Klingons and the Federation at a time of war. Season 2 will not be about that. We want to move on. Tyler/Voq has had a major evolution over the course of the season, and we love Shazad. He’s capable of absolutely everything we throw at him, and we have great plans for his character in season 2.
Jason Isaacs, however, is no longer on the show, and he’s off filming The OA season 2. I assume you’d be down for having Prime Universe Lorca makes some kind of appearance at some point?
I’d be down for anything with Jason Isaacs, anytime or anywhere.
Okay. Now the actor I don’t know about is Michelle Yeoh. Do you have a deal with her for season 2? At least in the finale, she’s the most fun character you have.
Mm hmm. Wouldn’t it be great if she came back?
Is that all I’m getting from you on that? Should I stop trying?
How about this: What are we to make of the mycelial network spore that landed on Tilly’s shoulder?
That is such a great question, James! … [Silence]
Is this going to be like your Michelle Yeoh answer?
So Captain Christopher Pike swoops in with a rather agile USS Enterprise. Tell me about the decision to jump into an Enterprise storyline, and will something involving the Enterprise be the dominant storyline in season 2?
People have a lot of questions about how we’re adhering to canon. The arrival of the Enterprise suggests they’re going to begin to get answers. Those answers will not come immediately, they will trickle out over the course of the season. Here’s what I can tell you: The show is still called Discovery. The show is not called Enterprise. So figuring out a way for the Enterprise to work in that framework is the task of our story-breaking for season 2 right now.
Will the new season be more serialized or less serialized than season 1?
As serialized. Although one of the things we found was people really loved was the Pahvo mission, the away mission that we did. And that was more of a standalone even though it existed in the context of a larger story. So it will be serialized, yes, always, but we do love the idea of getting to do individual episodes in the context of a serialized storyline, and you can look forward to more of that.
When talking to original series showrunner Bryan Fuller before Discovery launched, he said he originally pitched CBS as Discovery being the start of a series of shows that waded through the entire Trek canon — starting in the pre-Original Series era like season 1 did, then eventually having stories told during the Enterprise era, then having something during The Next Generation era, and then even going beyond that to a time we’ve never seen before. With the USS Enterprise showing up in the finale, I’m wondering if you’re eventually planning to do just that somehow, only within the context of this show — aided by time travel or whatnot?
I would say anything is possible, but Discovery needs to maintain its own identity. What we don’t want to do is pay lip service to something people have a deep love for in a way that feels brief and trivialized. If we were ever to do that, it would have to be a major story choice and given the love it deserves.
How far are you along toward casting a Captain Pike? And will we see younger versions of other TOS characters on that bridge? Or is that not permitted with the deal you guys have in terms of what you can do on the show vs. the films?
There are some assumptions in the question that you’re asking.
And deliberately so!
Very sneaky reporter move, James. First, there’s no barrier on what we can do in the show versus the films, and since the films are in different timelines we’re fortunate not to worry about that. What I can tell you is if we bring in characters from The Original Series, they have to adhere to canon. So anything that’s been mentioned in TOS, either storyline or character-wise, we have to stay consistent with.
William Shatner has publicly pitched himself for a Discovery role using CG to make him look younger — though that would presumably require half your budget to convincingly pull off. Have you had any talks about trying to figure out a way to get him in there?
We have not spoken of it. But if there were a truly organic, wonderful reason to do that, we would certainly be open to it.
What else can you tell us that fans are going to be wondering after that finale?
Obviously, they’re going to be wondering who’s on board the Enterprise. I think there will be some surprises there. We will maintain consistency with canon, but there will be surprises.
In terms of designing that Enterprise bridge set, for Discovery you went for a mix of modern and retro, while the 2009 film had its own look. What are you going for in terms of the look of the Enterprise bridge?
That’s another sneaky question because you’re presuming we’ve designed an Enterprise bridge.
You just said we’ll be surprised at who is on the Enterprise! Are we going to only hear their voices through the Discovery’s coms the whole season?
I said “on the ship,” not “on the bridge.” Here’s what I’ll say: We have to stay consistent design-wise with the Enterprise, obviously we can’t mess around with that. That being said, the technology and the look of the Discovery is so far past TOS merely as a function of the time in which these [shows were made]. Our goal is to be interpretive in a way that feels it’s protective of what the Enterprise would look like if, in theory, if we were to build any Enterprise sets. But if we built it like it looked in The Original Series, there would be a massive visual disconnect. Figuring out a way to bridge that gap would theoretically be the work of a production designer — were there to be any designs like that.
Anything else that you want to add?
I’ve seen many articles written about how people started watching the show, and they weren’t sure about it because it felt different from Star Trek; they weren’t sure where they fell on the line about whether it was Star Trek or not Star Trek. And about midseason, they were writing how Discovery had expanded and broadened their understanding of what Star Trek could be. And that was our goal. We felt like we had accomplished what we wanted to do — which was how to take Star Trek to the next place. Every Trek movie and series has tried to figure out a way to do that, and it’s very tricky. You want to please Trek fans and a new audience. It goes back to the 2009 movie, when we were going back to the original bridge crew and setting up an alternate timeline and blew up Vulcan, there were all these huge moves that we recognized would either be totally embraced or totally rejected. And to our delight, they were embraced. It certainly gave me the confidence that there’s room to play in the Star Trek universe as long as you’re upholding what Star Trek is — that it’s a utopian vision of optimism, which doesn’t mean there can’t be violence and darkness and emotional complexity.