Star Trek: Discovery

As the title implies, this article contains spoilers for the most recent episode of ‘Star Trek: Discovery.’ If you’re not caught up, bookmark this and come back after watching ‘The Wolf Inside’.

Still with me? Okay, let’s go!

Last night, ‘Star Trek: Discovery‘ hit what is arguably the biggest plot twist of its first season to date: the reveal that Ash Tyler is, in fact, a surgically altered Klingon, and one we’ve seen before at that. Namely, Voq, an outcast disciple of T’Kuvma and one-time Torchbearer. ‘Discovery’ has been building to this big reveal ever since Voq’s exile in ‘The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not For The Lamb’s Cry‘ and the introduction of “Tyler” in the following episode, ‘Choose Your Pain‘.

Now that the reveal is behind us, the people behind it can finally share a bit about what went into the dual casting, how they kept it a secret, and more. According to co-showrunner Gretchen Berg, something along these lines was planned “from the beginning,” with the dream being to find an actor who could play both sides of the coin, so to speak. As Berg’s partner and fellow showrunner Aaron Harberts explains:

“We had always known that we wanted to do a story where a Klingon was modified and turned into a human and was put aboard one of our starships. As we got to know Shazad and as we started developing the character of Tyler, we just realized that he was the right guy to take on these two roles.”

Those who have followed ‘Discovery’ throughout its development may recall that when Shazad Latif’s casting was first announced, he was set to play a Klingon named Kol (a role that eventually went to actor Kenneth Mitchell). Of particular interest is that the character descriptions that accompanied that casting announcement described Kol as a “disciple of T’Kuvma.” That’s a pretty far cry from the Kol we eventually saw on the show (who if anything was rival of the Klingon zealot), but it does sound an awful lot like Voq. In all likelihood, the names were simply switched around during development, perhaps in part to throw fans off the scent.

That, of course, brings us to the more conspiratorial part of the story. With their twist decided upon and an actor secured, Berg, Harberts, et al. had to cover their tracks. Part of the cover for this twist meant crediting someone other than Latif with playing Voq. Enter Javid Iqbal. Who? Well, fans started wondering exactly that when they noticed that Iqbal’s conspicuous absence from the interview circuit. When asked about his “co-star” several months ago, Latif replied that he’d met the “actor” at a party, adding that “if you check IMDB he’s an actor on ‘Star Trek: Discovery’.” That has the benefit of being true, though the IMDB listing in question only credits Iqbal with ‘Discovery’ and the only photo’s on the page show him in full Klingon makeup. But now that the truth is out, we Latif can finally answer the question, “Who is Javid Iqbal?”

“That’s my father’s name; he passed away six years ago. He was a big film lover.”

Adds Harberts:

“It ended up being a nice story, and a nice thing for Shazad to go under his father’s name for a role. How often does that happen? Someday I hope it’s a question on ‘Jeopardy’.”

As I implied earlier, fans keyed on to the twist months ago (we even ran an article about it back in October). This wasn’t exactly an unforeseen development in and of itself, but it’s the risk you take when you work a twist like this into any show. Particularly this one, as Latif – arguing that the payoff is “worth it” – notes that “‘Star Trek’ fans are very smart.” But one could hardly blame a storyteller for second guessing their plans in the face of an audience that is virtually guaranteed to at least guess at where things are going. But, as Berg explains, keeping Latif’s dual role under wraps was critical to the story they wanted to tell:

“In order to tell that story and have it have the emotional impact we wanted it to have, you couldn’t go into the storytelling as an audience member knowing the same actor was playing both parts and have the same takeaway. It’s the way you would be viewing the character from the beginning, and we wanted them to get to know Voq/Tyler the way that Burnham does.”

But this may have been a case of missing the forest for the trees. After all, the reveal has been made, but the story is far from over. To say that Voq went through a lot in his journey from T’Kuvma’s right hand to the Discovery’s brig would be putting it mildly. And ‘The Wolf Inside’ makes clear that while his Klingon memories may be returning, it’s not as simple as hitting a switch. The Tyler personality seems to still exist to some extent, and even if “Tyler” is completely subsumed, the repercussions are clearly going to reverberate at least through the remainder of the season. Says Harberts:

“We felt like the audience is probably expecting us to do a ‘Manchurian Candidate’ story, or a ‘Homeland’ type story where it’s like this guy is a sleeper agent, and he is going to flip the switch and he’s going to become full tilt Klingon, and he’s going to take over Discovery, and turn the tide of the war in the Klingons’ favor. That’s actually not necessarily where we wanted to go. For us, it’s more important that this is a character who is struggling with his identity. He doesn’t know what he is yet. He doesn’t know who he is yet. He’s got a Starfleet officer’s persona inside and a Klingon persona inside, and they both seem to be able to hold equal weight in certain regards. But more importantly, he’s in love with Michael Burnham.”

‘Star Trek: Discovery’ stars Sonequa Martin-Green, Jason Isaacs, Shazad Latif, Mary Wiseman, Anthony Rapp, and Doug Jones. New episodes air Sundays at 8:30 pm Eastern on CBS All Access.