Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Seasons 1-2, and Star Trek: Lower Decks.
Michelle Yeoh, who played the roles of Captain Georgiou and her Mirror Universe counterpart on Star Trek: Discovery, has recently won a Golden Globe award. Her role in the mind-bending multiverse adventure Everything Everywhere All At Once has also landed her an Oscar nomination, and with Yeoh’s star rising in Hollywood, some Trekkies have begun asking whether the seemingly-abandoned Star Trek series based around Section 31, in which she was set to take a leading role, might be given a second chance by Paramount. Today I thought it could be interesting to revisit the Section 31 series and reevaluate its prospects.
There’s more than one reason why the original Section 31 pitch didn’t get off the ground, and we should consider why the series has been stuck in development hell for more than four years. Firstly, we have the character of Georgiou herself. This Mirror Universe character was, at the time the series was announced, pretty one-dimensional. Thanks to a solid performance by Michelle Yeoh, she didn’t stray into the horrible pantomime-level over-acting that trips up many other Mirror Universe characters, but there really wasn’t much to indicate that this lover of murder and torture could be anything more than just a bland, one-dimensional Mirror Universe trope – at least, not as of the end of Discovery’s first season.
It took multiple appearances across Seasons 2 and 3 of Discovery, and the two-part Georgiou spotlight episode Terra Firma in particular, to begin to soften that hard Terran exterior. By the time Georgiou entered the Guardian of Forever’s portal in the 32nd Century, there was definitely potential in her character, and seeing what would come next for her had finally begun to feel like something fans might be interested in.
Had the Section 31 show been announced at that stage, rather than two years earlier, I daresay the reaction would’ve been a lot more positive. But Paramount jumped the gun and announced the series too early, the predictable result of which was a muted, underwhelmed reaction from both Trekkies and a wider audience. Without significant numbers of fans asking for the show – or even seeming to be anything more than mildly interested in it – Section 31 was, to coin a phrase, dead on arrival.
We also can’t overlook another huge factor: Captain Pike. I don’t think it’s fair to say that Anson Mount’s portrayal of Pike in Discovery’s second season was somehow fatal to the Section 31 show’s prospects, but it clearly played a part. Along with Ethan Peck as Spock and Rebecca Romijn as Una, the reception to Captain Pike in Discovery was overwhelmingly positive. In 2019, it was clear which characters fans wanted to see more of – and which they were, at best, apathetic toward.
This seemed to catch Paramount off-guard, with no plans afoot for extending Pike and Spock’s roles on Discovery. The corporation had to spend time in the aftermath of Discovery’s second season bringing these characters back, initially for a few episodes of Short Treks before Strange New Worlds was eventually greenlit. I think this speaks to a broader problem at Paramount, with the people supposedly in charge of the Star Trek franchise clearly unable to tell what will be a hit and what won’t… but maybe that’s a discussion for another time!
Regardless, when Section 31 was announced in 2019, it didn’t win a huge amount of support out of the gate. Then Discovery’s second season came along, and fans were clamouring for more Pike and Spock. Resources may have shifted to planning Strange New Worlds, and Section 31 took a back seat.
Although Terra Firma was a great story – probably the best Mirror Universe story the franchise has ever told – after Georgiou’s departure, we still didn’t really see a huge amount of interest in Section 31. Sure, some folks were talking about it, and it would crop up occasionally in online conversations, but when compared to the constant questions Paramount had been fielding about Pike and Strange New Worlds, it was hardly lighting up the board. Even the teased but still unannounced Starfleet Academy series seemed to have generated more attention.
I’m not alone in having speculated that Section 31 might’ve been quietly cancelled sometime in the last couple of years. The total lack of news from Paramount, even during events and panels where the conversation turned to future and upcoming projects, has combined with news from the project’s writers and even comments from Michelle Yeoh herself to paint a pretty clear picture of a project that isn’t going ahead. But will Yeoh’s newfound superstar status change all of that?
It would be a coup for Paramount and for the Star Trek franchise to be able to launch a series with a Golden Globe winner and – potentially, at least – an Oscar winner as its lead. By essentially piggybacking off of Michelle Yeoh’s success and status, the Section 31 series could draw in a wider audience than other Star Trek projects, and expanding the franchise beyond its existing fandom and viewer base has to be something Paramount works on in the months and years ahead. Thinking selfishly and cynically, this could be a way to achieve that objective.
But unless Paramount had the foresight to lock Michelle Yeoh into a contract back in 2019 that would still be valid, her rising star power will undoubtedly come with a growing price tag. The Section 31 series has already gotten a lot more expensive to create – and it’ll only get pricier if Yeoh wins an Oscar! But as they say, you can’t always put a price on success, and having someone of Michelle Yeoh’s calibre in a leading role would be a huge net positive for the Section 31 series.
We’ve already heard comments from Alex Kurtzman and others involved on the production side of Star Trek since Everything Everywhere All At Once started picking up Oscar buzz. These comments seem to indicate that the Section 31 show’s prospects aren’t completely bleak, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Paramount is now scrounging around trying to bring Michelle Yeoh back and to potentially revive the Section 31 series.
We’ve talked a lot about Paramount’s mishandling and mismanagement of the Star Trek franchise over the past couple of years, and I think the Section 31 series is another example of that. It was announced in early 2019 to try to reaffirm the corporation’s dedication to Star Trek and what was then still called CBS All Access, as well as to generate a bit more attention and interest in Discovery’s second season. But Paramount had had months to process the reaction to Discovery Season 1, and to see that Mirror Georgiou, while not exactly hated by fans and viewers, was not in a position at that time to carry a series.
I have to assume that the broad strokes of Georgiou’s arc had been planned out at the time of the Section 31 series’ announcement, and that giving her some much-needed character development was on the agenda. But looking in from the outside, even as a fan it was hard to see where such a flat, one-dimensional character might go. For the casual viewers who make up the bulk of any show’s audience, creating a spin-off from Discovery based around Mirror Georgiou must’ve seemed utterly incomprehensible.
Higher-ups at Paramount should have realised that they were onto a winner with Pike and Spock, and plans should have been made during production on Discovery’s second season – or immediately after when responses from test audiences were reviewed – to create the show we now know of as Strange New Worlds. Had that project been “shovel-ready” in 2019, and been announced during Discovery’s second season, I think Paramount could have netted an easy goal.
Section 31 should have been announced in December 2020, shortly after Terra Firma had aired. By that point, Georgiou was finally ready to take on the leading role in a new series, and the reaction from fans would have been significantly more positive. By jumping the gun and trying to announce it too early, Paramount did serious harm to the Section 31 show’s prospects. Whether that harm will prove fatal is now, quite frankly, entirely in the hands of Michelle Yeoh.
The Section 31 series has several things going for it, as I see it. Of course we have the wonderful Michelle Yeoh in the leading role, and that’s fantastic! But beyond just one actress, there are some genuinely great concepts. Taking the Star Trek franchise in a different direction, with a focus on espionage, would open up completely different storytelling ideas. The franchise has touched on this in the past in more ways than one, but having a series where stealth and spying are part of the foundations would be something new.
Then we have the show’s significantly darker tone. In past Star Trek stories, Section 31 was presented as a shadowy, off-the-books, black ops organisation, the kind of outfit that would do anything to protect the Federation – even violating Federation laws. The potential to tell stories where the question viewers will have to contemplate is “do the ends justify the means?” is truly a fascinating one. Star Trek has touched on this in the past, but to place this idea in focus is, again, a new idea.
The kinds of characters who might make up a Section 31 outfit also have a ton of potential to be interesting. There’s a lot of room for nuance, and also for characters with hidden pasts and deep secrets. We could even see a character from a totally unknown alien race, and have a storyline exploring why this race might choose to remain hidden. There’s a lot that the Section 31 series could do with the characters who might join Georgiou.
If the show were to return to the 23rd Century, as was implied in Terra Firma, it would be possible to cross over with Strange New Worlds. Strange New Worlds currently has a crossover event planned with Lower Decks – and I can’t wait to see it! But a crossover with another live-action Star Trek show would be fantastic, too. The 23rd Century would also allow the Section 31 series to potentially pick up characters like Ash Tyler, who was himself a Section 31 leader, and continue their arcs.
Whether any of this will happen, though… who can say? Paramount would be stupid to write off the Section 31 series at this time, and if there was some way to re-announce it shortly after the Oscars, perhaps… that could be a great idea!
I was one of the Trekkies in 2019 who felt that this series wasn’t the best idea, and while I’m happy now to admit to being completely wrong about that… Paramount has to take its share of the blame here, too. Announcing the show at a time when its lead wasn’t ready, just after Picard had been announced and with a return to the late 24th Century finally on the agenda… it was just the wrong moment. Not for the first time, I find myself saying to Paramount that serious introspection is needed and lessons must be learned. Why did no one involved in Discovery’s production realise what the reception would be like for Pike and Spock? If plans had been made for Georgiou’s development, why was this not communicated at the time? And why was the show announced weeks after Star Trek: Picard had been?
The renewed interest in Section 31 at Paramount has been spurred on by Michelle Yeoh’s success in Everything Everywhere All At Once, and I don’t think anyone would deny that. Whether that will be enough to revive the series and see it finally enter production, though… I’m not certain. While I firmly believe Paramount should move mountains to try to see it through, they no longer hold all of the cards. It’s up to Michelle Yeoh, newly-minted award winner, to decide what direction she wants to take for her career. If she chooses to stick to feature films, no one will blame her!
The Section 31 series was announced prematurely. By the time it was narratively ready, any hype and attention it could’ve gotten had long since faded, overtaken by Picard, Strange New Worlds, and others. This is Paramount’s fault, and the corporation will need to learn lessons from this episode as it moves forward. The last thing Star Trek needs is a repeat of this kind of mistake in future!
I’ll cross my fingers for positive Section 31 news this year. With Picard ending after its third season, there will be a potential opening in the Star Trek lineup… could Section 31 take that spot?
The Star Trek franchise – including all titles and properties discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.