Star Trek: Discovery – series takes the human-Vulcan balance to a new level
Discovery takes place 10 years before the events of the original series, and includes a fully human orphan who was brought up by Vulcans
Star Trek: Discovery boldly goes where no Trek has gone before with two firsts for First Officer Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green). She is the first lead character who is a black woman and the first lead who is not the captain of the ship.
The latest offering in the legendary franchise, streaming on Netflix in Hong Kong from September 25) – set 10 years before the events of the original series on the eve of war with the Klingons – also roots itself deeply in Trek history. Burnham grew up as the ward of Mr Spock’s father, Ambassador Sarek (James Frain), who was introduced 50 years ago in the original NBC series.
“It is a big connection. Sarek and Spock are institutions in the Star Trek canon. And, so, I’ve been grafted into this family and story in such a courageous yet respectful, gentle way,” says Martin-Green, who anticipates some head-scratching from the fans. “The fact that you’ve never heard Sarek or Spock mention Michael Burnham is something we will be making sense of.”
Discovery takes a new look at the mix of Vulcan and human identities. Spock is the child of Sarek and his human wife, Amanda, but Burnham is a nature/nurture mix, a human child raised on Vulcan after her parents were killed in a Klingon attack at a site under Vulcan protection.
“The Vulcan way of life is strict. Being indoctrinated was difficult, more difficult for [Michael] than it was for Spock, because he is half-Vulcan,” she says. “Being a human, you can see these two species warring within me.”
Sarek has special insight into the human child, seen in flashback, and the adult Starfleet officer, whom he advises, says executive producer Alex Kurtzman.
Frain is “having fun shaping the early version of Sarek, trying to be consistent without doing an imitation” of Mark Lenard, who originally played the role.
He thinks viewers will relate to Discovery’s unusual father-daughter pairing. “He’s a loving and present figure, but he’s also distant and emotionally unavailable. That’s something that’s of our time, but he’s trying to teach her the value of that. He has a tremendous affection for her,” Frain says.
More immediately, Burnham feels the pressure of having such an exacting parent, says executive producer Aaron Harberts. “Michael is Sarek’s greatest hope for the human race. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a human girl.”
Martin-Green sees the Sarek connection as one of many intriguing and sometimes conflicting ingredients that lead Burnham to her own trek of lower-case discovery.
“Being a fully human woman who is indoctrinated with the Vulcan philosophy and way of life and who now [is in] Starfleet ... there’s quite an identity crisis going on,” Martin-Green says. “Who am I going to be?”