The Paleyfest panel for Star Trek: Discovery was in its final minutes when showrunner Alex Kurtzman offered a vague yet tantalizing tidbit about the still-untitled Picard series that will soon bring Patrick Stewart back to the Starfleet universe in his iconic Star Trek: The Next Generation role.
Accompanied by eight cast members from the Discovery as well as fellow executive producer Heather Kadin, Kurtzman shared plenty about that flagship series on CBS All-Access (viewers can expect plenty more about Saru and his new fearlessness, for instance, and don’t presume that the first-ever Trek-depicted gay relationship is as over as it looks) but a ripple of excitement ran through the audience of the Dolby Theatre when Kurtzman was asked a final question: What can you tell the crowd about the Picard show?
Kurtzman, the active architect for the Star Trek television voyages, answered with carefully measured words. The show is cloaked in secrecy but will feature Next Generation character, Captain Jean-Luc Picard but after he left that lofty Starfleet rank (according to Stewart’s Next Generation compatriot, Jonathan Frakes).
“Here’s what I will tell you,” Kurtzman said to a pin-drop venue. “I had an amazing experience yesterday. I sat at Patrick’s kitchen table and I heard him read the first episode and I almost cried. It was quite something. He’s at an amazing place in his life. He’s so excited. It’s going to be a very different show from Discovery. The only way this universe, I think, works correctly is if each show is really different and speaks to a different part of Star Trek.”
On Discovery, Kurtzman and his team have put a high value on cinematic-level scale and urgent story propulsion but the new vehicle for Stewart may not cover as much space nor travel at the same warp speeds.
“This is going to be a very thoughtful, psychological portrait in a lot of ways,” Kurtzman said. “We all know what Picard means to the world and why he, like so many legendary characters on Star Trek, has endured and what he’s represented. He in some ways has to go through a gauntlet to find that again. Things have changed for him and changed him in some ways, and yet he is so deeply and fundamentally still Picard. We’re thrilled at what we’re going to deliver. I know Patrick is really excited. The cast is coming together beautifully. And I will give you nothing else.”
Up to that point, the panel focus had been on the good ship Discovery, which sent a hearty-sized away-team to the Paleyfest panel. Cast members Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Ethan Peck, Anthony Rapp, Shazad Latif, Wilson Cruz, Mary Chieffo, and Tig Notaro all shared the stage.
One topic of conversation: the status of the first gay relationship ever portrayed on-screen in a Star Trek television franchise. The groundbreaking relationship between two Discovery officers, Hugh Cubler (Wilson Cruz) and Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) appeared to be over in the first season (when Cubler was, by all appearances, killed off) and has resisted a tidy reunion in the second season (when Cubler returned alive but wanted to rethink life and the relationship). Rapp made a point during the panel to say the relationship shouldn’t be described exclusively in the past tense. “We’re still in the midst of it,” Rapp said. “Things are continuing to evolve. We’re grateful we’re given something authentic and complicated [by the writers].”
Cruz said his departure from the show, his return, and the feedback he’s gotten from fans have added up to an unforgettable experience. “It’s been really moving to me. I am the luckiest man in the world. To have been on the show and then brought back to it? It’s life-altering and to do it with that incredible actor” — he nodded toward Rapp — “who I’ve known for 22 years is a gift that I don’t know that I can ever repay back.”
Kurtzman also said there would be more of fan-favorite Saru (Doug Jones) and his evocative personal journey away from the grip of fear that has been the legacy of his species. “It’s not a closed chapter there’s a lot more to come, both this season and next,” Kurtzman said of the rewiring of Saru’s personality.
Jones (known for his roles in Guillermo del Toro films like The Shape of Water, Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth) said the big changes for the character took him completely off guard.
“I did not see that coming, by the way, because the character of Saru was developed with the understanding that he is based in fear,” said Jones, who is one of Hollywood’s elite actors when it comes to performances beneath immersive makeup and costume effects. “He has a predator species on his home planet that has kept them in line and brings us to our demise when it’s our time. That’s all we’ve ever known…now [after a biological shift] I have a new sense of self and no fear. For me, personally, that’s been a ride to go on because I live my life based in fear and anxiety, unfortunately…so I understood Saru before and now I’m inspired by Saru. The writers have given me hope for my own future, basically.”
Ethan Peck (the grandson of Hollywood legend Gregory Peck) talked about the search for Spock, who arrived on Discovery with a wild-child beard, a soulful gaze, and a fiery core that won’t be locked down by logic for years to come. Martin-Green spoke eloquently about the cast unity and the talents brought together by the franchise. There are monster talents in the room, a point she expressed by saying the name of each panelist followed by the phrase “…is a beast!” The panel ended with the crowd and panel serenading Martin-Green who celebrated her 31st birthday on Friday.
In late February, CBS All Access renewed Star Trek: Discovery for Season 3. The renewal news was accompanied by an announcement that Michelle Paradise (The Originals, Exes & Ohs) would join Kurtzman as co-showrunner for the third season of the sci-fi series.
Few brands in pop culture rival the stamina of the Star Trek name which began its first screen voyage in 1966 and has yielded 13 feature films and 740-plus television episodes to date (not to mention all the novels, comic books, video games, toys, home video collections, etc.). Kurtzman and CBS TV Studios are looking to expand the Star Trek TV universe with an animated Nickelodeon series from Emmy-winning writers Kevin and Dan Hageman (Trollhunters, Ninjago), CBS TV Studios, and Kurtzman’s studio-based Secret Hideout banner.