Star Trek: Discovery—Born Out of Its Day and Time

The Hilton Grand Salon hosted a Star Trek: Discovery panel on Saturday that included Jayne Brook (Admiral Cornwell), Mary Chieffo (L’Rell), Jason Isaacs (Captain Gabriel Lorca), Kenneth Mitchell (Kol), and Trek Track director/moderator Garrett Wang. The audience lined up for the Q&A, and in an early question, guests were asked to gauge where their series stood in comparison to its predecessors. Specifically, they were asked to reflect upon the series’ darker tone.

Chieffo pointed out that the first season was driven by a war. The characters had to get through it. It’s in season 2 that the characters are having the opportunity to decompress, understand the significance of what they’ve gone through, and deal with that. Isaacs pointed out that this is a new series, coming in a new age and at a difficult moment in history, which was also the case with the original series. Star Trek: Discovery, like Star Trek, was born out of its day and its time. You can enjoy the show for its plot, but when you step back and rewatch the shows you can see the political and social issues each series examines. Contemporary issues are very visible throughout. Echoing Chieffo, Jason Isaacs pointed out that the Discovery crew is “the tip of the spear” and they have to survive and win a war. Those exposed to a war aren’t always afforded the luxury of time to reflect upon the principles they’re defending. They have to win the war first.

On the issue of some of the twists in the show, Isaacs said he absolutely knew about his. In fact, knowing was important to how he played the role. He encouraged fans to go back and view the series again, carefully watching his portrayal of Lorca. The hints are there, if you know what to look for. As for Brook, while she knew as an actor, her character did not. The Admiral clearly knew something was up with Gabriel. Her perspective, however, was clouded by love.

Isaacs also addressed the notion of typecasting and whether they feared being limited in some way. He pointed out that actors try to keep working, but there are far worse things than being known for a performance. He pointed out that actors do what they do because they love exploring other people. Over the course of a career, actors get very little real feedback. Most of their work goes unseen, so as an actor who is known for specific roles and characters he has played, he considers it an honor. Echoing the audience member who used the word ‘haunted’ in the question, Garrett Wang simply stated that for him it is an honor to be “haunted” by Star Trek.

Every panel member acknowledged a real sense of appreciation and respect for the fraternity to which they now belong. In real terms, this means an investment in doing the work right. Mitchell, who referred to his casting as a dream come true, talked about the time and effort he invested in preparing and learning Klingon. Brook referred to the keen attention to detail that is paid to everything from ceiling tiles and wall plating to graphics. Chieffo spoke of the ongoing conversation about her character and her physicality as a way to add nuance to it. Isaacs summed it up: “We’re all fans.”

As such, their love for Star Trek as fans not only never went away but motivates them. That passion for Star Trek is palpable in the writers room as well. They are driven by a “love” for Star Trek. They respect the canon (and in some cases have contributed to it) but they want to create new stories while doing so.  They are as committed to Gene Roddenberry’s vision as any other group of writers. While it may not have been apparent in season 1, the actors agreed it’s there and it will become increasingly apparent.

The appearance of Rainn Wilson as Harry Mudd also came up for discussion. Not only do the actors have tremendous respect for Wilson’s work on The Office along with his other projects, they felt that he made Harry Mudd his own to such a degree that it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role. Chieffo remarked that she loved the episode Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad when she saw it. It was, in her view, perfectly balanced; both grandiose and grounded.

When asked to discuss their favorite series, Deep Space Nine came up a lot. For Chieffo and Brooks the strength of the female characters (Jadzia Dax and Kira Nerys) who were fleshed out and well rounded, and the use of the story arc were important considerations. Mitchell also found Deep Space Nine and its characters (especially Odo) compelling. For Isaacs, however, it was the original Star Trek series that hooked him. Drawn to it as a child for the story and adventure, he now appreciates the significance of the achievement. “They got nothing,” he argued. All they had was “great writing,” “phenomenal acting,” and a visionary at the helm. Isaacs grew up “worshipping” Kirk and Spock. He saw something special about the two who, when put together, “gave you a way to handle any situation.”

As the hour ended the audience left intrigued by the possibilities for the season ahead and the direction Star Trek: Discovery was taking.

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