Star Trek: Discovery has finally given viewers an on-screen explanation for the Klingons being bald, claiming that shaving their hair is a wartime tradition. Among the many ways Star Trek: Discovery season 1 was controversial was its portrayal of the Klingons. The iconic warrior race was suddenly much more alien, with monstrous prosthetics, much more varied skin colors, and bald heads.
There's a long history of Star Trek tweaking the look the of the Klingons; in The Original Series, Klingons appeared as essentially dark-skinned humans, and were more a race of schemers than warriors. The original Star Trek movies and Star Trek: The Next Generation series would establish the ridged forehead, honor-obsessed warrior race that has become the most recognizable version of the race, most prominently through The Next Generation's Lieutenant Worf. Later series like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Enterprise would go on to reconcile the more human looking Klingons, with the modern iteration by explaining the smooth headed, less volatile Original Series Klingons had been affected by a virus. Most viewers understood that liberties would be taken with the Klingons, as has happened many times before, but were baffled by the choice to portray them as bald.
Executive producer Alex Kurtzman has been explaining the hairless decision in interviews, but the point has finally been addressed in Star Trek: Discovery itself. In the episode "Point of Light," it's explained that Klingons shave their body hair in times of war; since the war with the Federation is over, they've regrown their glorious manes.
While well-intentioned, Star Trek: Discovery's explanation for bald Klingons is a bit of a stretch. Generations of Klingons have been portrayed on-screen over the years, almost always at war with someone with all their hair; General Martok never reached for his clippers during the Dominion War on Deep Space Nine, and everyone was well-coiffed during the Klingon Civil War seen in The Next Generation season 5. A generous interpretation for the hairlessness could be that it's an old tradition that was abandoned after the events of Star Trek: Discovery season 1; given the general upheaval in the Klingon empire during that war, it's not completely implausible.
And while it's nice to have even a shaky on-screen explanation, the show's producers have been fairly honest about the fact that the minor redesign was also motivated by the massive fan backlash to the hairless monster look during season 1. It's not the only course correction Star Trek: Discovery has made this year, as it eschews season 1's penchant for dwelling on darkness and violence in favor of an optimism and spirit of exploration that hews closer to the franchise's roots. Discovery also embracing its supporting cast in a way that makes it feel more like a traditional Star Trek ensemble than a show almost entirely about Michael Burnham. Star Trek: Discovery's Klingons are still decidedly more alien and visually extreme than any of their franchise predecessors, but the return of their hair and the explanation for its absence has made the franchise stalwarts feel a little more like themselves.
Star Trek: Discovery streams Thursdays on CBS All Access and internationally the next day on Netflix.