Spoiler warning: spoilers ahead for Star Trek, including both seasons of Star Trek: Discovery. If you haven’t seen Discovery yet and don’t want to see any spoilers, you’re better off reading another article and coming back when you’re caught up.
Just to get this out of the way, more Star Trek on our screens is always going to be a good thing. Even when it’s at its worst – like some of the episodes in TOS season 3, or that weird TNG clip show in season 2 – it’s still better than having no Star Trek at all. When Star Trek: Enterprise was cancelled in 2005 I really felt disappointed. I wasn’t around through the dark days of the 1970s when it seemed like Star Trek was gone forever, so to me this was the first time I’d really seen it off the air. I’m not sure if you remember, but before JJ Abrams picked up the franchise for his reboot film, Star Trek really did look dead.
I also don’t like the expression “nobody asked for this”. A lot of films and series that nobody seemed to be asking for have turned out to be absolutely fantastic. And honestly, in today’s insular fan communities, a lot of what people seem to be asking for or think would be good would either turn out to be just god-awful, or at the very best a niche product that would be a commercial failure.
So with those two big caveats out of the way, I’m not really sold at the moment on the idea of a Star Trek series based around Section 31.
There are some interesting ideas within that concept, which, if properly executed, could work well. But there are some issues with the Section 31 show as currently envisioned that make me feel it might not be the best direction to take the franchise.
First is the timeframe. With Star Trek: Picard and Lower Decks returning to the late 24th Century and beyond, as well as Discovery‘s third season heading into an unknown future, I’m just not sure that the franchise needs to have three different eras on the go simultaneously. Aside from the fact that it’s convoluted to the point of being offputting for new viewers – people who CBS needs to hook in and retain if Star Trek is to survive long-term – it’s just not a good way to split up the narrative of the franchise. Personally I’ve been going back and forth on my pet theory that Discovery either doesn’t go as far into the future as was suggested last season, or that somehow its time travel narrative crosses over with Picard. It just makes more sense to me to do it that way; tying shows together when they’re set in the same universe and being produced at the same time makes a lot of sense. Look at how the Marvel films cross over with one another successfully. But that’s just one point.
The 23rd Century has been explored a lot recently, and Star Trek has been busy with prequels, reboots, and mid-quels (or whatever Discovery is) since the turn of the millennium. I don’t want to say it’s entirely devoid of storytelling potential, but Star Trek has primarily been about moving forward, looking to the future, and where it’s been arguably at its least successful from the point of view of its story is when it’s been looking back at its own history and tying itself in knots. After four seasons of Enterprise, three reboot films, and two seasons of Discovery, it’s going to be great to see Star Trek finally moving into the future again, and the Section 31 series taking place in the 23rd Century seems more than a little regressive when looking at Picard, Lower Decks, and Discovery‘s future.
The next issue is with the two main characters, or rather, the two characters returning from Discovery around whom the show is currently being built.
Ash Tyler – or Voq – has had his story fairly well explored already in his appearances in Star Trek: Discovery. Without inventing more backstory for him, it’s hard to see where he’d go and how he’ll be able to have a satisfying character arc. Having started out as a victim of Klingon manipulation, Tyler fought hard against his programming and fell in love with Discovery’s protagonist, Michael Burnham, who helped him overcome what had been done to him in what was a very interesting and inspirational rape analogy. Star Trek, for me, is at its best when it uses its sci-fi setting to tackle real-world issues, and the issue of under-reported male sexual abuse is something Ash Tyler’s story touched on perfectly. And in his second season role as an agent of Section 31, he overcame his Klingon heritage, had a child, gave up his child, and finally dealt with his feelings for Burnham – and hers for him. He’s been on a rollercoaster over the last two seasons, but what he’s been through has concluded, and while there may be lingering feelings left over from that, as a story arc it’s essentially done. Because of how much of him we’ve seen and how much he’s been through, he wouldn’t make for the best protagonist.
So that leaves the Mirror Universe version of Burnham’s old captain, Philippa Georgiou. Michelle Yeoh has been announced as the lead actress of this series, so her character would be central to the Section 31 show. But… what character is there, exactly? In terms of modern Star Trek, Mirror Georgiou is about as one-dimensional as it gets. She seems to like being evil for the sake of being evil – a 23rd Century Heinz Doofenshmirtz, perhaps, but with less backstory. No, Mirror Georgiou is the Star Trek equivalent of a villain from a bad direct-to-video kids’ film, the kind of person who wants to steal a puppy from a child or tries to shut down a sweet shop so she can bulldoze it to build an office block. She just isn’t interesting in the slightest.
I like Michelle Yeoh. As a supporting actress in Danny Boyle’s 2007 film Sunshine, she did a great job. But she’s unproven as a lead actress in a major series like this, and the character she’s set to play just isn’t one a lot of fans find interesting or relatable.
While there are positives to consider from a Section 31 series, such as exploring how the organisation changed and went entirely underground between its appearances in Discovery and Deep Space Nine, as well as the potential to see Star Trek cross over into the mystery/thriller genre, I’m just not convinced right now that it’s the right way to go.
Section 31 was announced too early. If CBS had waited to see how Discovery’s second season was received, then the obvious choice by far for a spin-off was an Anson Mount-led series, which would probably be set on the Enterprise. That would be the fan favourite choice for a 23rd Century spin-off at the moment. You can see the desire for such a series at conventions and panels, and whenever Alex Kurtzman and others are interviewed, it’s the one question that keeps coming up. Conversely, when was the last time you heard anyone asking about how the Section 31 show is progressing?
It is actually a really great time to be a Star Trek fan at the moment. There are three series scheduled to premiere in 2020 – Picard‘s first season, Discovery‘s third season, and the first season of Lower Decks which already has a second on order. And in addition, a fourth Kelvin-timeline film is in the works, and beyond that, a possible Quentin Tarantino-directed Star Trek film. More Star Trek on our screens is always going to be a good thing, and while I don’t want to say I don’t want Section 31, it’s just not at the top of my list right now. I want it to do well, and to be successful, because I want Star Trek as a franchise to succeed and carry on into the future. So while I remain more than a little cautious about approaching this new show, I wish it well and I will certainly tune in when it premieres. Perhaps in 2021?
Live Long and Prosper!
Star Trek: Discovery and all other Star Trek series and films are available in the United States on CBS All Access, and in other countries on Netflix. Star Trek: Picard premieres on CBS All Access in January 2020 and on Amazon Prime in other countries. All copyrights belong to Paramount and CBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.