EXCLUSIVE: 'Star Trek: Discovery's' Doug Jones on Premiere Cliffhanger and How It Affects the Future

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Photo: Jan Thijs/CBS Interactive

Warning: Spoiler alert! If you did not watch the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery (the second is now available on the CBS All Access streaming service) do not proceed. If you did, it is safe to read on.

Star Trek: Discovery is finally here!

The latest iteration in the storied Star Trek franchise boldly went to new heights on Sunday, launching its anticipated first episode on CBS before premiering the second on the CBS All Access streaming service immediately after. The wait was well worth it. By the end of the second hour, a devastating death (R.I.P. Philippa Georgiou, captain of the USS Shenzhou) and the start of the Klingon War, begun in essence by First Officer Michael Burnham, are what propel the rest of the Star Trek: Discovery story forward.

With Michael now marked as a betrayer and a mutineer (after failing to obey captain’s orders and demanding that Starfleet strike the Klingons first), the former first officer was stripped of her title and rank, ruled by the powers that be that her punishment was to remain prisoner for the remainder of her life. So, what does this mean for Michael’s future in Starfleet and the ongoing Klingon War?   

Star Trek: Discovery actor Doug Jones, who plays science officer Saru, jumped on the phone with ET to break down the dramatic first two episodes, the aftermath of Captain Georgiou’s emotional death and the new crew on the USS Discovery that awaits them.

ET: When you reached the moment in the script when Captain Georgiou dies, how difficult was it for you?

Doug Jones: It was a very emotional thing to play out. During the filming of the pilot, Michelle Yeoh, Sonequa Martin-Green and I bonded very quickly. We all share a love of hugging each other upon first meeting and giggling at silly things, so to be given material that goes from light to heavy to dangerous, we all went on that ride together as a family would do. When episode two ends and we see the death of our beloved Captain Georgiou, of course I was emotional. Oh my gosh, that’s the last person I would want to see [die]; she was like a maternal figure to both Michael Burnham and Saru. You’re watching a matriarchal family member pass away and that’s devastating as Starfleet crew and also devastating to our [Star Trek: Discovery] family.

Doug Jones as Saru in "Star Trek: Discovery."

Photo: Jan Thijs/CBS Interactive

How does the loss of Captain Georgiou affect Saru’s psyche?

It furthers Saru’s sensitivity to danger. As you meet him, you learn that he’s a prey species and he was born looking over his shoulder. He has a heightened sense of fear because he’s always looking out for where the next threat of death is coming from. All the experiences of episodes one and two will only heighten that; it’s kind of like an “I told you so” for Saru. “I told you we were going to be in trouble. We shouldn’t hang out here with the Klingons staring down our throats. We should’ve gotten out of here a long time ago.” Beyond episode two, with the loss of a captain and a maternal figure, Saru is very angry and upset with his sister figure, Michael Burnham, a first officer who outranks him by one notch which has been a point of contention because they’re very competitive with each other. In his eyes, she might have abused that power because she did commit mutiny; her influencing the captain to go on a mission that got her killed does not leave Michael in his good graces at all. That’s something that, from episode three on, that they have to work out. He looks at her as a threat, as a danger, as someone who’s not safe to be around. She pulled a stupid stunt and got them all in trouble.

The dynamic between Michael and Saru was fascinating to watch over the course of these two episodes. They’re colleagues, but there’s also competitiveness, like you mentioned, between the two and a desire to be the one who’s right.

Every character on the show has their own unique voice and their own intention, fears, hopes and backstory, so they’ve done a great job layering all of us together. Michael Burnham and Saru come from similar backgrounds -- they’re very different, but the similarity that they have is that they are the first of their kind to do something extraordinary. They both have that “I’m the prodigy here” kind of thing. When you saw the flashback in episode two of Michael joining the starship Shenzhou and Saru gives her a look as she steps on to the bridge, that was a very telling moment of, OK, who is this new kid? Beyond the rivalry, there is a deep-running love. He would take a bullet for her and she would for me: “I would sacrifice my life for you.”

Looking ahead to the next episode, how is Captain Gabriel Lorca different from Captain Georgiou?

Every captain on every starship throughout Star Trek’s history has had their own vibe and their own voice, their own personality. There are no two captains who are exactly alike. We’ve already touched on Captain Georgiou’s maternal instincts, but she’s also seen war and has been successful with it. Captain Lorca, played by Jason Isaacs, is lacking those parental and care-giving instincts. He’s way more about get the job done, put your fists on the table and demand victory in battle. He’s not quite as warm and fuzzy, in fact, not at all. But he is very adept at battle. Now that the Klingon War has started, episode three and beyond will take up after the Battle of the Binary Stars, where you watch the starship Shenzhou get completely destroyed. Now we’ve moved over the starship Discovery and that’s why we reconnect with Michael Burnham. There, you’ll see us under the captainhood of Captain Lorca, who is a bit prickly. It’s turning a page and trying to deal with new leadership. It affects the rank climb for Saru because he had a captain before in Georgiou, who wanted to see him rise rank, and with Captain Lorca, you’re never sure if he cares about your success at all. He really cares about his own.

In regards to Saru and Captain Lorca’s relationship on USS Discovery, what are you comfortable teasing?

For Saru, after going through the Battle of Binary Stars as the No. 3 on the Shenzhou, if he switched ships after being through a battle and surviving, he would hope for a promotion. I would probably leave it right there. (Laughs.)

Star Trek: Discovery premieres new episodes every Sunday after 8:30 p.m. ET/7:30 p.m. CT on CBS All Access. The After Trek aftershow launches live Sunday, Sept. 24 at 8 p.m. ET on the streaming service, with subsequent episodes airing Sundays at 9:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. PT.