‘Star Trek: Discovery’ will continue the age-old sci-fi tradition of using a fantastic setting to speak on real-world issues. Only the new series will do this in a much bigger way than any ‘Star Trek’ series has done before.
The much anticipated CBS drama will tell the episodic story of a war between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire. The timing of the show is set a decade before the original series in 1966, (which premiered 51 years ago today) during which the Federation and Klingons were in a Cold War standoff that directly reflected the relationship between the U.S. and the Soviet Union at that time. In ‘Discovery,’ a war breaks out and the Klingons leading the charge have some ideological ideas inspired by the great divide brought on by the 2016 presidential election.
Showrunner Aaron Harberts said in a recent interview:
“The allegory is that we really started working on the show in earnest around the time the election was happening. 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 topics similar to these have previously been explored across ‘Star Trek‘s’ six series, the serialized nature of ‘Discovery‘s’ 15-episode arc could allow for a greater depth of storytelling. Harberts said:
“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. 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.”
Fellow showrunner Gretchen J. Berg adds to Harberts’ point:
“In times of stress and conflict it can bring out the best of us and the worst of us. But it ultimately brings out the best in our Starfleet officers.”
The production, which is based in Toronto, is in the process of shooting its 13th episode, and producers acquiesce that Donald Trump’s recent stand-off with North Korea is reflected in the show as well. Harberts explains:
“North Korea is in our thoughts as we finish the series. 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 of ‘The Walking Dead’ fame plays First Officer Michael Burnham, a Starfleet officer whose painstakingly planned career goals are turned upside down when she makes a decision with far-reaching consequences. The Klingon characters are led by T’Kuvma (Chris Obi), the leader of an ancient Klingon house who will stop at almost nothing to unite his people. ‘Star Trek’ has a long history of symbolic commentary, with ‘Deep Space Nine’s’ “Past Tense” which tackled the separation of economic classes, ‘Voyager‘s’ “Workforce” speaking on labor issues, and ‘The Original Series‘ “A Private Little War,’ which of course referenced the Vietnam War.
Watch the most recent trailer, and don’t miss ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ when it airs September 24 on CBS.