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Star Trek: Discovery readies to go beyond canon, while paying respect to the past

The Trek cast took to New York Comic Con to tout new details about season 3

Star Trek has always been set in the future, but Star Trek: Discovery season 3 is [rips galactic-sized bong hit] about “the future’s future.”

Far out.

The Discovery section of the NYCC Metaverse panel for the Star Trek franchise kicked off on Thursday with a first look at the first scene of the first season 3 episode, which premieres on Oct. 15 on CBS All Access (and Oct. 16 on Netflix elsewhere around the world). Shields up!

Discovery’s second season ended in such a way that it shook off the show’s initial misstep of being set 10 years prior to the Shatner-Nimoy Star Trek (the future’s past, man). A convoluted plot, which involved Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) donning her lost-in-time scientist mother’s “red angel” suit to dump dangerous Tree of Knowledge-esque “sphere data” so far down the timeline it couldn’t hurt anyone, set this all up. The time jump also means that anyone who hasn’t been watching Discovery thus far can report for duty now, with limited homework required.

“We take our characters beyond canon,” series producer Heather Kadin said, even further than flash-forward moments in Star Trek: Enterprise (remember the Enterprise-J?) but “we have to honor what comes before.”

This means that the characters are still Starfleet, even in a setting where the Federation is, shall we say, a little wobbly. (Trailers have alluded to some terrible event called “The Burn.”)

This suggests that season 3 of Discovery may upend something no prior series has, by suggesting that the sturdy society created by the United Federation of Planets could potentially get snuffed out. Though one suspects that Burnham, Saru, Tilly, Stamets, Dr. Hugh Culber, and, uh, the character Tig Notaro plays will fix that.

The chat, hosted by Entertainment Weekly’s Sarah Rodman, was typically light on plot specifics, but the above clip does show some neato tech in Cleveland Booker’s ship. The character, played by David Ajala (Ibis from Jupiter Ascending!), becomes quite close to Martin-Green’s Burnham, and using some cockney rhyming slang, the actor explained how he first got into Trek on a recommendation from Sir Patrick Stewart when the two worked together on a British production of Hamlet.

Sonequa Martin-Green and David Ajala in Star Trek Discovery season 3
Sonequa Martin-Green and David Ajala in Star Trek Discovery season 3
Photo: Lilja J—nsd—ttir/CBS All Access

Also new to Discovery is a Trill character named Gray, played by 19-year-old Ian Alexander. Alexander said that he initially auditioned for another part, didn’t get it, but that Gray was created specifically for him. Additionally, when he went for his read, he was just beginning hormone replacement therapy, and taking testosterone. As such, he was “sweating profusely” during the process, more so than on a typical high stakes audition. Alexander said he was thrilled to bring “authentic trans representation to the franchise.”

The character of Gray, who has blue hair, has a strong bond with Adira, played by Blu del Barrio, who unfortunately does not have gray hair to close this loop.

Indeed, del Barrio is extremely young, and this is their first ever acting job. Though they had never watched any Star Trek growing up, a representative at GLAAD quickly hooked them up with a recommendation list that included any queer (or Trill) content. Castmate Anthony Rapp shared that he was there for Del Barrio’s first ever shot on their first ever job, and suggested we’re all in for some greatness.

Later in the panel, Doug Jones was asked if Saru was going to get any action this season, to which the real-life Plasticman vamped “Saru is a gentleman.”

The hour-long panel began with Wil Wheaton interviewing the cast and series creator of Star Trek: Lower Decks, the TNG-era animated series that blends genuine Trek tropes with a mandate to put jokes and attitude first. The show got to take a victory lap after the season one finale.

[Ed. note: The rest of this report contains spoilers for all of Lower Decks season 1.]

jonathan frakes is back as riker on star trek: lower decks Image: CBS All Access

The last episode ended with a visit from Riker and Troi (Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis) hurling a bit of a diss at the often derided conclusion of Star Trek: Enterprise. (There’s also an outrageously great gag — in which a Federation conspiracy nut suggests that “Wolf 359 was an inside job!”)

It’s amazing to me, as a long time Trekkie, that Lower Decks is even real, and I’m thrilled for (the already greenlit) season 2. If you aren’t watching the show, you really should. And it’s totally fun to get into a fight about whether it is canon or not. (It totally is.)

It was also nice that Wheaton got to schmooze with his old Stand By Me chum Jerry O’Connell, who is now part of the Star Trek Universe as Commander Jack Ransom. (Wheaton asked him what it was like to play a swaggering Riker-esque character or, as he called it, “someone almost as cool as Wesley Crusher.”)

Frakes himself then popped in on the zoom to the delight of the cast, who seemed legitimately surprised.

The panel concluded with the pants-soiling announcement that Kate Mulgrew is returning to the franchise for the forthcoming Nickelodeon cartoon Star Trek: Prodigy.

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