Warning: Major SPOILERS ahead for Star Trek Discovery‘s midseason premiere
Star Trek: Discovery‘s midseason premiere “Despite Yourself” certainly didn’t waste any time shaking things up. The episode confirmed the Discovery’s spore drive malfunction had sent the ship into the Mirror Universe, where Captain Lorca and Michael Burnham must scramble to find a way to get back home before being discovered by the despotic Terran Empire. It also came right to the line of outright confirming one of the series’ longest brewing fan theories: that former Klingon prisoner of war – and Burnham’s current love interest – Lieutenant Ash Tyler is secretly Voq, the Klingon torchbearer who mysteriously dropped out of the show’s narrative after a few episodes.
But the most shocking and controversial moment came when Tyler – who seems to be a sleeper agent who does not consciously know he’s Voq – violently murdered Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz), Discovery’s Chief Medical Officer and Lieutenant Stamets’ romantic partner. Predicting the impending backlash, showrunners Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts, as well as Cruz himself, made it clear in post-episode interviews that we’ve not seen the last of Culber, though seemed to confirm he really did die at the hands of a crazed Tyler.
So how exactly can Culber be dead, but still be an important part of the series going forward? This is Star Trek, so there are more than a few possibilities.
The most likely seems fairly obvious – the Discovery is in the Mirror Universe, where alternate reality doppelgangers of each cast member exist. Not every Mirror Universe counterpart is evil, and the idea that Mirror Universe Culber is benevolent and will return to the main timeline with the Discovery is not out of the realm of possibility. This is of course a bit of a cheat – Mirror Universe Culber would have the good doctor’s face and name, but he would not be the same man, and there’s no guarantee he’d still be Stamets’ devoted partner.
Another possibility is Stamets somehow reviving Culber. Stamets’ interaction with the spore drive has somewhat unmoored him from time. He’s currently catatonic, but seems to be randomly commenting on events that haven’t happened yet. He was also the first to figure out something was wrong with the timeline in the series best episode “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad,” where Harry Mudd traps the Discovery in a time loop in an effort to kill Lorca and sell the ship to the Klingons. Stamets’ abilities are a little ambivalent at the moment, but seem likely to snap into focus whenever he inevitably awakes.
There’s also plenty of precedent in Star Trek for resurrection through a grab bag of methods. Kirk, Spock, Worf, and Riker have all been revived after seemingly meeting their end, usually the result of either advanced technology or some mystical handwaving. Maybe a snapped neck is little more than a flesh wound in this version of the 23rd century.
Culber’s death is understandably causing shockwaves of outrage. As half of Star Trek’s first televised gay couple, the notion that he’d be violently murdered for no apparent reason other than to showcase Tyler’s instability is alarming on a lot of levels. Even if the show undoes his death, there’s the real danger that this will all feel like a cheat, the sort of cruel trolling that fans often don’t forgive series for pulling. Discovery may not be done with Culber, but no matter what his future holds they’ll have to pull off quite a feat to make his death seem like something worthwhile.
Star Trek: Discovery’s first season continues with “The Wolf Inside” January 14th at 8:30 PM ET on CBS All Access.
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