Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
It’s been a while since the still-untitled Star Trek: Discovery spin-off based around Section 31 was announced. In January 2019, prior to Discovery’s second season premiere, ViacomCBS first told us about the spin-off, which would star Michelle Yeoh as Terran Empress Philippa Georgiou and focus on her new career as an agent of shadowy intelligence organisation Section 31. Since then, we haven’t heard much direct news about the planned series, and some of the indirect news we’ve been hearing out of the production side of Star Trek now officially has me worried for the show’s prospects.
It’s not unfair to say that the reaction from Trekkies to the announcement of the Section 31 series was muted at best. There was excitement at the prospect of a new Star Trek series, of course, but with Star Trek: Picard already in production by this point, many fans were less interested in Georgiou and Section 31. There are a couple of reasons why I think this was the case, and before we go any further it’s not a bad idea to look at them in turn.
Firstly, Mirror Georgiou herself. Michelle Yeoh is an amazing actress, and in many ways Discovery had been lucky in its first season to land someone of her calibre. If you haven’t seen the sci fi-horror film Sunshine, in which Yeoh plays a supporting role, I highly recommend it, and that’s just one example. But the character she plays in Discovery is a Terran, and when the show was first announced it was before any character movement or development that would come later in Discovery’s run. Mirror Georgiou was about as flat and one-dimensional as Terrans get.
Unlike a number of other Star Trek actors and actresses we could mention, Michelle Yeoh’s performance as Georgiou managed to avoid the pitfalls that Mirror Universe characters can easily fall into – namely hammy, over-the-top, pantomime villain performances. While that is a positive, and a further reflection on Yeoh’s hard work and talent, the character of Mirror Georgiou doesn’t offer much room for manoeuvre, or at least didn’t at the end of Discovery’s first season. She was a typical Terran: quick to violence, petty and demeaning toward others, and unpleasant. There seemed to be little room for Mirror Georgiou to be even an antihero; basing a series around this character as a protagonist felt like a mark against it rather than a point in its favour.
Secondly there was Star Trek: Picard’s impending arrival, as already mentioned. Picard had been announced about six months earlier, and many Trekkies were incredibly excited for Star Trek’s return to the 24th Century after such a long time, as well as for the return of Captain Picard himself – and possibly other characters from that era too.
These two factors came together to see the series announced to a lukewarm reception even from Star Trek’s biggest fans and supporters. There was a sense that the show might just be unnecessary with the franchise heading back to the 24th Century and in a different direction, and at best there was mild interest, but no real hype or excitement. Discovery had made some significant investments ahead of Season 2 in anticipation of the Section 31 series, such as constructing a full bridge/operations centre set for the Section 31 starship, and it’s likely – in my opinion as an outsider, at least – that the underwhelming reception to the show’s announcement was disappointing to ViacomCBS and the creative team behind Star Trek.
Then along came Captain Pike. With the Section 31 series already on the ropes, Discovery Season 2 reintroduced fans to the classic captain from Star Trek’s first pilot episode… and we absolutely loved it! Anson Mount’s excellent portrayal of Pike led to calls for him to get his own spin-off, and even before the season finale wrapped up, Trekkies were signing petitions and doing everything they could to show ViacomCBS that there was a real appetite for more of Captain Pike.
This appeared to catch the production team rather off-guard, and it was more than a year after Discovery Season 2 was over and done with before Strange New Worlds – the highly-requested Pike spin-off – would be announced.
Coming on top of an underwhelming announcement, which was probably done in the run-up to Season 2 to drum up interest and convince more folks to subscribe to CBS All Access, Captain Pike totally stole the Section 31 show’s thunder and pulled the rug out from under whatever plans had been put into place for the new series. If there was room for one Star Trek: Discovery spin-off in ViacomCBS’ plans, it was clear which one fans were clamouring for – and which one they were not.
So the combination of a disappointing announcement and the overwhelming popularity of Captain Pike evidently saw the Section 31 series drop down the priority list. Discovery Season 3 was announced and went into production. Picard Season 1 came and went, and a second season was announced. Lower Decks Season 1 was broadcast and Season 2 entered production. Strange New Worlds was announced and entered production. Prodigy was announced and entered production. Even Discovery Season 4 entered production, and we heard nothing in all that time about Section 31.
I assumed that, with so many other Star Trek shows on the books, ViacomCBS had simply taken the sensible route by prioritising Strange New Worlds Season 1, since that’s the show fans were really excited about. The Section 31 series would surely follow, right? After all, we knew as far back as 2019 that the show was in pre-production with its stories written and potentially one full set already built.
ViacomCBS’ radio silence on the Section 31 series became apparent over the course of 2020, when several big Star Trek events came and went without any mention of the show at all. I began to wonder at that point what was happening behind the scenes, but then we learned that the series was “still being worked on,” with producers and writers collaborating via Zoom due to the pandemic, and that at least some of the scripts were being heavily edited or re-written. That did not sound like good news for a show that had been supposedly ready to go for more than a year.
The next time we heard anything connected to the Section 31 show it came from Alex Kurtzman, who’s in charge of the overall direction of Star Trek at ViacomCBS. Gone was the notion that the Section 31 series was imminent, and instead Kurtzman explained that there were no plans to produce or broadcast any new Star Trek series until at least one of the current ones – Discovery, Picard, Strange New Worlds, Lower Decks, and Prodigy – had concluded. That seemed to mean that Section 31 was officially on the back burner.
It got even worse, however, for the Section 31 series, when talk of pre-production was nixed. The show’s co-executive producers recently said that they’re still “having conversations” about the series going ahead, which is a big step down from where the show seemed to be in 2019. Those so-called “conversations” feel like a Hollywood euphemism for a show that’s dying or on life-support, and as we’ve recently seen with at least two Star Trek feature film concepts, until a project is officially greenlit and in production, things can change.
Finally we come to the comment that prompted this article. Michelle Yeoh, who plays Mirror Georgiou and who was supposed to star in the Section 31 series, was recently interviewed on The Pod Directive, which is Star Trek’s official podcast. She made absolutely no mention of the Section 31 series or any plans for appearing in it, and could only speak in pretty vague terms about how there’s potential to come back to the franchise “one day,” and even saying at one point “Who knows?” when discussing Georgiou’s future.
Those comments are ambiguous and I encourage you to listen to the full interview for the sake of context. But what was striking to me more than what Yeoh said is what she and the podcast hosts didn’t say. Remember that this is an official Star Trek podcast, so there will be a degree of “toeing the party line,” so to speak. I think it’s not unfair to say that if Yeoh had been interviewed by Trekkies outside of an official setting, the Section 31 series would have come up, especially in the context of discussions about Georgiou’s future. The fact that neither she nor the podcast hosts tried to steer the conversation in that direction is, in my opinion, rather telling.
And that’s why I’m officially worried about the Section 31 show’s future prospects. Will it ever see the light of day? Or will we remember it in years to come alongside Planet of the Titans, Phase II, and that weird Lwaxana Troi sitcom as a Star Trek show that was never produced?
I was initially not sold on Section 31 as a concept, and I’m happy to admit to that. But I’ve since come around to the idea, especially following Georgiou’s arc across the third season of Discovery, and I think she would make for an interesting and more nuanced character to follow now than she would’ve done prior to Season 2 when the show was announced. There’s potential in a darker Star Trek series, something akin to some of the episodes in the latter part of Deep Space Nine’s run, showing off some really difficult situations where there is no such thing as a “no-win scenario.” Bringing a character like Georgiou into a setting that allows for morally ambiguous choices could be an interesting and explosive mix.
It would be a real shame if the Section 31 series were cancelled at this stage. There’s a lot of potential in the series, even if it didn’t seem to have much at first. If Georgiou were to return to the 23rd Century, as seems likely following her departure from the 32nd, there would even be the possibility of linking up with Strange New Worlds for crossover stories, like we saw The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine do on a handful of occasions.
Michelle Yeoh’s recent comments – and lack of comments – about Mirror Georgiou and her future in the Star Trek franchise are the latest that have worried me, but the Section 31 series has felt like it’s been on shaky ground for a while now. The fact that no new information has been officially announced about the series in such a long time is concerning for its survival, as are other comments from people involved with its production. I will continue to keep my fingers crossed, and if we get any significant news about the Section 31 series – or any other Star Trek project – I hope you’ll join me again for more discussion.
The Star Trek franchise – including the untitled Section 31 series, 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.