Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Season 3, including the finale.
Something interesting happened as I was going back over the Season 3 finale of Star Trek: Discovery, and it turns out I’m not the only person who noticed it. After the main storylines of That Hope Is You, Part 2 were over, we were launched into a short epilogue which tried to wrap up a few other plot points from across the season. At the end of this epilogue, Burnham was promoted by Admiral Vance and assumed command of the USS Discovery.
On what we assume is her first outing as captain, Burnham arrives on the bridge to be greeted by an honour guard made up of senior officers, bridge crew, and other characters from the season. Among them was, of course, Tilly. If you were eagle-eyed during her brief moment on screen you might’ve spotted that she’s apparently been promoted to the rank of lieutenant – a well-earned promotion after her efforts throughout all three seasons of the series, and not what this controversy is about!
Look at the close-up image of Tilly above. She, along with the rest of the crew, have been given new uniforms. These uniforms are grey with a coloured stripe on the right of the tunic (or jacket) denoting departments. Tilly’s is blue, which makes sense because she’s a science officer. But do you see something off about the blue stripe on her uniform?
I confess that I didn’t at first. When I watched That Hope Is You, Part 2 for the first and second times, and again when I went back to the episode to capture still-frames for my review and theory post I completely missed it. The excitement and emotion of this moment, coupled with Tilly only being on screen for a scant couple of seconds, meant I missed it entirely – but look closely. The coloured stripe is clearly the result of digital post-production work.
Looking at it now it seems painfully obvious. It wouldn’t be Discovery’s first digital effect that missed the mark in Season 3 – remember when Mirror Burnham was stabbed in Terra Firma, Part II? But it raises two quite interesting questions: what colour was her uniform originally, and why was it changed at the last minute?
It’s possible that this literally was a last-second change; the low quality of the texture used for the blue stripe may mean it was something thrown together in a matter of days, and this makes me wonder if the change is indicative of Discovery switching things up while the season was already in motion.
By the season finale, Tilly was acting first officer aboard Discovery. With the departure of Saru, Burnham has assumed command on what seems to be a permanent basis – but who will be her XO? That wasn’t addressed, but given their close relationship I wouldn’t be shocked if Discovery originally intended for Burnham to retain Tilly in that post also on a permanent basis. The awkward blue stripe may have been covering up a red stripe on her uniform – red denoting the command division.
Tilly becoming first officer was not a popular point, as far as I can tell from my limited interactions with the Star Trek fan community. It didn’t bother me personally, though seen in the context of the season as a whole I’d argue that perhaps Burnham’s ascent to the captaincy didn’t need the bump in the road of disobeying orders and losing her role as XO. But considering that there was some degree of pushback from fans to Tilly’s role, could that explain this seemingly slapdash digital work?
There are no immediately obvious first officer candidates among Discovery’s cast, yet in Season 4 the ship will certainly need one. A new character could be introduced, of course, or a secondary character could be promoted. But it seems at least possible that the original plan was for Tilly to stay in that post. If those plans were changed, the question is why?
The reaction from viewers seems a good bet, but considering that this was not a huge story point in Season 3 it seems at least a little peculiar for the producers and writers to go out of their way to undo it in such an odd fashion so late in the season. But it’s also possible that the storyline of Season 4 requires either a new first officer or for Tilly to be in a scientific role.
There could also be a simpler explanation: Tilly was originally wearing blue, but the low lighting on the bridge (which has been an issue at points for Discovery since Season 1) made her uniform look too dark in the finished shot. Rather than lighten the entire sequence the creative team tried to digitally recolour part of her uniform. Tilly is standing in a shadowy part of the set, so that’s a possibility.
However, that should have been known well in advance, and if it were changed for that reason it leaves the open question of why the finished effect looks so amateurish! It almost looks as though whoever worked on this retouching of her uniform simply pasted a single flat colour across the whole uniform stripe. If there had been time, you’d think that someone would have insisted that the digital effects team fix it before the episode was broadcast.
So it’s a minor mystery. What happened with Tilly’s uniform, and is it connected in any way to the minor backlash from some viewers to her role as first officer? We may never know!
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 is available to stream on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.