Major spoilers and speculation ahead for Star Trek: Discovery up through Season 1, Episode 6, “Lethe.” You’ve been warned!
Fans are all thinking pretty much the same thing when it comes to the newly-introduced Lt. Ash Tyler: He’s got to be the Klingon Voq altered to look human.
Voq, as you may recall, was T’Kuvma’s most loyal follower, and named as his successor in the pilot episode. But things went downhill for Voq from there, ending with his exile from the Klingon Empire and a covert plan to send him to Klingon matriarchs who would help him in an undisclosed way. The price for their help was that he would have to “sacrifice everything.” What more could “everything” be than giving up his very identity as a Klingon?
This is not without precedent in Star Trek. The original series featured Klingons that looked very human, and the classic episode “The Trouble With Tribbles” included a nearly identical plot twist: a Klingon surgically altered to look human and spy on the Federation.
On the very next episode of Discovery, Voq was nowhere to be found (he hasn’t been seen since the exile episode), but viewers were introduced to a new Starfleet officer named Lt. Ash Tyler. Tyler was a prisoner-of-war on a Klingon prison ship encountered by Captain Lorca when he was taken captive. The two of them teamed up to escape and Lorca made Tyler his new chief of security.
But fans have been reading between the lines, picking up on subtle-but-significant clues that Tyler is much more than he appears to be.
For starters, everything about Tyler’s story was awfully convenient, such as his reasons why he had no scars or injuries like other Starfleet prisoners, after a supposed seven months on the ship. And he just happened to be on a ship on which T’Rell was the captain — a captaincy she achieved in just a few short weeks? How could Tyler have been held captive and “taken a liking to” by T’Rell for the last seven months if she was trapped on the Sarcophagus Ship for most of that time?
Put two and two together and it’s easy to see how Tyler could have been planted in that cell with Lorca by T’Rell as part of their covert plan. Tyler later got “revenge” on her by beating her senseless; this too could have been part of their ploy. (Remember that violence is extremely commonplace and accepted among Klingons — many of their mating rituals begin with fisticuffs!) Also don’t forget that T’Rell, who clearly hatched this entire plot, comes from a Klingon house that specializes in spying.
Then there’s the IMDb page for an actor named “Javid Iqbal,” who has just one credit: “Voq” on Star Trek: Discovery. Most likely, this is an invented name made up to fool fans into believing that actor Shazad Latif, who plays Ash Tyler, doesn’t also play Voq. Latif’s birth name, by the way, is Shazad Khaliq Iqbal.
It just makes too much sense.
There’s another potential wrinkle to the story, in that it’s possible Tyler doesn’t know he’s Voq. He’s doing a mighty convincing portrayal of a human Starfleet officer for someone with no espionage training. Maybe that’s because he’s been made a sleeper agent who genuinely believes he’s Ash Tyler — until he’s triggered at the right moment. This would also explain the genuine anger he displayed when he fought T’Rell.
Now, if that’s all there was to Tyler’s story, then viewers would be left to merely watch and wait for the inevitable fireworks when Voq’s secret is exposed. But Star Trek: Discovery is unlike any Trek in history. It’s a big, expensive, “prestige” format show with a limited number of episodes per season, told in serialized form. It’s designed to push boundaries and keep viewers guessing.
The stock in trade of prestige shows, aside from film-quality production values — shows like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, The Handmaiden’s Tale, American Gods, etc. — is surprise. They’re built to keep viewers guessing by utilizing whiplash-inducing twists and unexpected character deaths. If Discovery follows this format, then it stands to reason that the story of “Tyler = Voq” won’t end with the big reveal. The show will take things much further.
What if Voq/Tyler decides to switch sides? If he’s a sleeper, it’d be easy for him to decide that maybe he likes this Tyler persona better. If he’s a fully self-aware spy, maybe he’ll have a change of heart. Granted, it’s a huge leap to make from “Remain Klingons” to “Yay Starfleet!” but Stockholm Syndrome is known to make this kind of thing very possible. It’d be one heck of a twist, and it makes sense in too many ways for the writers to not at least consider it.
Spending time as a member of Discovery‘s crew, being involved in their lives, and sympathizing with their situations, could conceivably cause Voq to care about these people. He’s already an outcast among his people; Discovery might become the first place he’s ever felt like he truly belonged.
Aside from the shock factor of turning traitor to his people, the future implications are even more compelling. Voq would technically be the first Klingon in Starfleet. That doesn’t line up with established Trek continuity of course, but Discovery‘s writers have already shown a willingness to retcon. Besides, there’s a way to do it that doesn’t actually retcon anything.
What if Lorca or Burnham discover Tyler’s secret, but he convinces them that he wants to remain a human member of Discovery‘s crew? It could even become become part of a peaceful resolution to the Klingon war, which the producers have promised to wrap up by the first season’s end.
Lorca already bends the rules every which way he can, so the notion of him deciding to keep Voq’s identity secret from Starfleet — if he sees value in keeping Tyler on Discovery — isn’t exactly a stretch. For that matter, Lorca could already know the truth, and be using Voq as much as Voq is infiltrating Discovery. Lorca is many things, but easily fooled is not one of them.
There are also logistical considerations to take into account. Namely, actor Shazad Latif and his time on the show. It’s entirely possible that the Tyler/Voq storyline will conclude with the character’s death, because as we’ve already mentioned, Discovery is not a Trek that’s afraid to kill off major characters if it serves the story. But if Voq remained on Discovery as Tyler, Latif could extend his time on the show into future seasons.
And just imagine the story possibilities for those future seasons! T’Rell would be supremely pissed, becoming a major, recurring villain on the show. The changes in ideology and personality, not to mention the doubts and fears, that Voq goes through after either deciding to remain “Ash Tyler” or discovering the truth about himself as a sleeper agent, would be anything but smooth sailing. TV shows thrive on drama, and there’s a ton of it waiting to be mined in this character.
Plus, the parallels between Voq/Tyler and the rest of Discovery‘s crew are impossible to miss. Have you noticed that every major character on Star Trek: Discovery is a misfit? Tilly is socially awkward. Stamets has an ego bigger than the ship. Saru is always the odd man out, the only Kelpien in Starfleet who worries he’s not taken seriously because of his heritage. And Lorca… Well, he’s obviously got issues.
But the person Voq is most like is Burnham. Like her, he’s an outcast among his people who might (if this theory pans out) betray them for the greater good and suffer the consequences.
And there is, of course, a romance brewing between Burnham and Tyler. Voq’s desire for revenge against the woman who killed his mentor could certainly extend deep enough to woo and then crush her. But if he’s a sleeper or he makes the conscious choice to remain Tyler, there are far more interesting places the writers could take their relationship.
Star Trek: Discovery doesn’t seem like the kind of show to invest in a “one trick pony” of a character. In other words, setting Tyler up as a Klingon spy only to kill him off would be a waste, a cliché that any other TV show could do. Discovery is much more interested in exploring new ground and deeper, more flawed and dimensional characters.
What better way to do that than with yet another square peg of a character in a round hole?
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