Star Trek: Discovery may have secretly confirmed one the biggest fan theories about Ash Tyler. The midseason finale of the CBS All Access show, "Into The Forest I Go," was brimming with revelations and shocking developments. Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook) was revealed to have survived her run-in with L'Rell (Mary Chieffo), and both were taken back to the Discovery, L'Rell as a prisoner of war. Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and the Discovery crew were able to destroy the Klingon's ship of the dead, killing Kol (Kenneth Mitchell) and most of his followers in the process and seemingly bringing about the end of the war between the Federation and the Klingons that kicked off in the show's premiere episode. Perhaps most surprisingly, a malfunction of the ship's experimental spore drive pushed the Discovery into an uncharted region of space, quite possibly setting up an arc in the Mirror Universe that was previously hinted at by the show's producers.
However, Discovery has yet to address the series' biggest fan theory to date: is Lieutenant Ash Tyler secretly Voq, the Klingon torchbearer? There are plenty of clues in the theory's favor. It seems improbable that the Klingons would allow a prisoner to live as long as Tyler purportedly did, even factoring in his relationship with L'Rell. There's also the fact that Voq abruptly disappeared from the show just as Tyler debuted on the Klingon's ship. The show has even had Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) note that Tyler "fights like a Klingon," which really couldn't be more on the nose.
The points against him being Voq are mostly practical. He is, physiologically, not a Klingon, as he's been examined several times by Discovery's medical team and nothing unusual has been noted (for reference, a Klingon memorably attempted to pass as human in the original series classic "The Trouble With Tribbles," and was exposed when a tribble was able to sniff out the biological differences). And, barring the sort of records tampering that would beggar belief in the world of Star Trek, Ash Tyler is absolutely a human Starfleet officer who existed before the events of Discovery. Additionally, from what we've seen onscreen, Tyler is in no way disloyal to Starfleet, and is generally unaware of any sort of deception on his part.
Yet for all that narrative reasoning in his favor, there's a real-world practicality that trumps it all. When casting was initially announced for the series, Shazad Latif was announced to be playing the Klingon leader Kol. That announcement was later quietly amended, with Kenneth Mitchell taking on the role of Kol, and Latif being recast as Lieutenant Tyler. This was fishy, but not exactly earth-shattering; Discovery had a well documented chaotic birth, with initial series showrunner Bryan Fuller departing the series on less than great terms with CBS before production began. Some casting shakeups as the new showrunners rethought the series' destination make a certain amount of sense.
However, the casting of Voq is where fan speculation jumped from yellow to red alert. The pivotal Klingon torchbearer was announced as being portrayed by Javid Iqbal, an actor with no credits before being cast in Discovery. The show's cast and crew have been notably evasive when asked about Iqbal; an interview with Latif was even abruptly ended when an interviewer continued to press the actor on his mysterious castmate.
And while the midseason finale didn't have a big reveal, it did plenty to add fuel to the fire. When Burnham and Tyler board the Klingon ship in order to place devices that will allow the Discovery to see through their cloaking device, they stumble upon Admiral Cornwell, alive but injured, in L'Rell's quarters. When Tyler encounters L'Rell, a series of gruesome flashbacks are triggered in his mind, seemingly showcasing Tyler's torture at L'Rell's hands. Tyler remains essentially catatonic for the remainder of the mission, which Cornwell postulates is a result of the PTSD brought on by being confronted with his abuser. Tyler snaps out of it long enough to get Cornwell back to the Discovery - as well as L'Rell, who jumps onto the transporting Tyler in an effort to escape Kol.
Tyler later confides to Burnham - who at this point he's engaged in a romantic relationship with - that L'Rell repeatedly tortured and raped him, and he's once again awoken by nightmarish flashbacks to the pain he endured on the Klingon ship. The flashbacks, however, are curious; they do show Tyler being forced to have sex with L'Rell - in what is definitely the first in canon instance of full frontal Klingon nudity - but also of Tyler undergoing some sort of horrific procedure involving a saw blade and a lot of blood. When Lorca first encountered Tyler as a Klingon prisoner, there was evidence he'd been roughed up a bit, but nothing on the gruesome level on display in his flashbacks. Could this have actually been some sort of procedure to alter him, both inside and out, to appear as a human?
When Tyler's nightmares awaken him, he finds himself drawn to Discovery's brig, where L'Rell greets him warmly. Confused, Tyler isn't sure why he's there, but as he departs, L'Rell leaves him with a message: "soon". Is it possible that L'Rell, a devout follower of T'Kuvma's teachings about Klingon racial purity, has really fallen in love with this human prisoner? It's possible, but it flies in the face of everything Discovery has done with their version of the Klingons. It seems much more likely that Tyler, somehow, really is Voq, and either intentionally or not, he has no recollection of his life as a Klingon. Perhaps they realized he'd be a more effective sleeper agent if he was unaware of what he was doing. Voq was a true believer, willing to sacrifice his own well being for the teachings of T'Kuvma and the glory of the Klingon Empire. If the Klingons had access to technology to alter him into a human for some perceived advantage, it seems likely Voq would be more than happy to take on that mission.
Star Trek: Discovery's midseason finale may be something of a fakeout, as it feels like the show is ready to leave the Klingon conflict behind as it boldly goes where only a few other Star Trek shows have gone before. But the evidence is beginning to pile up that Tyler is indeed Voq, a revelation that could rock Michael Burnham's fragile life and the Federation's war effort. With L'Rell lurking in the bowels of the ship, it seems unlikely we'll have to wait long to get the answer.
Star Trek: Discovery is available to stream on CBS All Access.
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