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Star Trek: Discovery EPs tease the future of the Federation—and the show

Barbara Hall and Shawn Ryan with Star Trek: Discovery EPs Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts at TCA 2018 (Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

[Warning: Some light spoilers for back half of Star Trek: Discovery follow, along with a lot of praise from the show’s EPs for Sonequa Martin-Green.]

The ol’ eye network took the stage at the Television Critics Association winter press tour this morning, where panels on new CBS series Living Biblically and Instinct gave way to a discussion about politics and social issues on television. This was in place of an executive session with CBS CEO Les Moonves or new president of entertainment Kelly Kahl, which was probably for the best, since such conversations don’t always go the network’s way.


So CBS impaneled showrunners and executive producers from its broadcast and streaming shows, including Barbara Hall (Madam Secretary), Shawn Ryan (S.W.A.T.), Michelle and Robert King (The Good Fight), Jermaine Fowler (Superior Donuts, which he also stars in), and Star Trek: Discovery’s Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts. The Discovery EPs talked about keeping the workplace safe for women and promoting greater representation on and off screen, which remained a part of the discussion even when reporters were green-lit to go off topic and ask about what viewers can expect from the second half of the show, which returns January 7.

Berg advised fans to “buckle up,” because the show is “introducing a huge new development.” “It’ll be fun for Trek fans,” Harberts chimed in, teasing a “nice nod to stuff from [The Original Series]. This back half—what happens tomorrow night firmly anchors the back half to the season. It’s definitely again a war story, as far as how it’ll play out, but our characters find themselves in a place where their identities are challenged. It’s an emotionally wrought back half. Very intense. The cast has done some amazing work.”

As far as what thematic arc we can expect from the Trek series that the EPs and network have regularly touted for its more serialized storytelling, Berg invoked the “discovery and self-discovery” themes that have been a part of Burnham’s story this season. “She had a big hole to climb out of emotionally, spiritually, and how she feels she fits in the world. [This second half] is about getting her back to a place we saw her in in the beginning.”

“Redemption’s a huge theme,” Harberts adds, which is something the show’s producers and writers are probably hoping for after the first half of season one was deemed not quite Trek enough by some viewers. “The other thing that’s a huge theme for us is taking the Federation from the darkness into the light. Everybody wants this optimistic version of Star Trek right out of the gate. And I feel that our show has a lot of hope in it from episode to episode, depending on storyline we’re tracking.” So if you’ve found the show somewhat grim (this particular writer hasn’t), stay tuned, because Harberts says “by season’s end, people will see the Federation they’ve come to know and love from TOS on.”


Before it premiered—and back when Bryan Fuller was showrunner—Discovery was breaking new ground by having a black woman in the lead role. Sonequa Martin-Green, who plays Michael Burnham, has proved to the glue of the show, Berg and Harberts agree. Despite some kneejerk backlash, many viewers were delighted to see Martin-Green hold down the U.S.S. Shenzhou with Michelle Yeoh’s Captain Philippa Georgiou, which was another first for the franchise. But [spoiler] Georgiou was killed off early on, which some fans interpreted as a rug pull.

When The A.V. Club asked Berg and Harberts about Georgiou’s sudden departure, the EPs pointed to the upcoming episode. Berg calls the relationship between Georgiou and Burnham “such a core relationship for the entire spine. Our goal was always to keep Captain Georgiou alive on the show.” Cutting herself off to avoid revealing too much, Berg then says, “The joy is in the journey. I’d say, keep watching, because Georgiou is such a huge part of the heart who was Michael Burnham. If that’s something you’re invested in, keep watching because I think you hopefully will enjoy what we’re going to do.” “Once you watch episode 10, you’ll see the context that we’re playing in,” Harberts adds. “Another theme for the back half is second chances. As people are consuming the back half, keep that in mind.”


As for what we can expect from the back half of season one, the war story will continue, but there will be less Klingon and subtitles. “We still stand behind that decision,” Berg says, because it made sense for the story of the nativist Klingons. But Harberts also indicates there will be “a little less reading involved” going forward.

Berg and Harberts also shared some light details on season two, which CBS ordered last October. Harberts pushes the more traditional Trek angle as something the duo “wants to explore more” in the new season, which they just started working last month. He acknowledges the “well-documented” embattled season-one production, but enthuses that “This year, we have a fantastic creative team in place, everybody knows each other. But we also have time this year—we have time to do things like more away missions, newer planets. These are stories that might fall a little bit more into a framework of allegory that people love to get from Trek. But we will always continue to have that overarching serialized thread.” And as for the themes or potential storylines, Harberts teased an exploration of faith and “science versus faith.” And again, there will be much more of the TOS canon that will at least be nodded to in the new episodes, which should temporarily please some sticklers.


Star Trek: Discovery returns Sunday at 8:30 p.m. ET with “Despite Yourself,” which was directed by Jonathan Frakes.

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