Fan theories are a tricky thing to engage with, given how perceptive those rabid followers of popular programs can be. More often than not, these theories turn out to be right: In just the last year or two, major twists on “Mr. Robot” and “Westworld” were accurately guessed weeks before the respective shows actually revealed the truth. Now, the same may be true of a circulating theory regarding “Star Trek: Discovery,”
The following piece does not technically contain spoilers. But it is going to acknowledge an ongoing fan theory that you may or may not want to engage with, because — if it turns out to be true — it’s likely to be a major twist that’s revealed in the next episode of “Star Trek: Discovery,” given that it’s the mid-season finale and a big confrontation with the Klingons is coming. So, stop reading now or…
…otherwise, here’s the fan theory. As more than one person online has predicted, Lieutenant Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) may not be a Starfleet POW that Lorca helped rescue from the Klingons — he may actually be the Klingon “torchbearer” Voq from the early portion of the season, surgically altered to look human and sent to infiltrate Starfleet.
The evidence supporting this theory is pretty solid, as outlined below:
- Javid Iqbal, the actor credited with playing Voq in the first four episodes, doesn’t appear to actually exist beyond his work on “Star Trek: Discovery,” and when Latif’s casting was first announced, it was actually said he was playing the Klingon role of Kol (who actually ended being played by Kenneth Mitchell, while Latif “switched” to playing Tyler).
- At the end of Episode 4, “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry,” L’Rell (Mary Chieffo) finds the exiled Voq on the remains of the Shenzhou, telling him to go to the House of the Mo’Kai, a Klingon house where they practice extreme subterfuge. “What must I sacrifice?” he asks. “Everything,” she says. One’s entire identity sounds a lot like “everything.”
- Nearly the first thing that Lorca (Jason Isaacs) says to Tyler in the Klingon prison, during Episode 5 “Choose Your Pain”: “You’re lying. No one survives Klingon torture for seven months and lives.”
- Digital Spy reports that Latif told them that he’d signed on for “15 hours of television” — there are 15 episodes in Season 1, but Tyler’s first appearance was in Episode 5. But Latif’s officially been listed as a series regular since the beginning, and Voq appeared in Episodes 1-4.
- Rewatching both Voq and Tyler in action, it’s impossible to tell if it’s the same actor or not (thanks to the extreme amounts of Klingon prosthetics). But their physiques aren’t notably different enough to make the thought impossible.
There are other convincing moments as well, scattered across the season, while the evidence against Tyler not being truthful about his identity is minimal. Aside from him not pulling his punches when fighting L’Rell during his and Lorca’s escape from the prison, perhaps the most notable thing is that at the beginning of Episode 6, “Lethe,” Lorca talks about researching Tyler’s family history, including how he grew up near Seattle, Washington. That’s an established backstory mentioned again in Episode 8, “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum,” as Tyler tells Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) about his Washington lake house and love for fresh grilled trout.
If Tyler is a sleeper agent, the Klingons have done a very thorough job of either finding a Starfleet officer who died during the Battle of the Binary Stars whose personal history would be a good fit for Kol to assume, or crafting a fake backstory and embedding it deeply with Starfleet records. (The former seems more plausible than the latter.)
However it was achieved, it’s a twist that with each passing week has seemed more and more believable. For one thing, “Trek” has a proud tradition of characters swapping races via various means, surgical and otherwise, going all the way back to the “Original Series” episode “The Trouble With Tribbles,” in which a secret Klingon was revealed thanks to the shrieks of a Tribble.
That’s actually something worth remembering, given that Lorca keeps a pet Tribble on his desk. The adorable balls of fluff (or, as “Discovery” star Jason Isaacs refers to them, “merkins”) are notorious for their instinctual hatred of Klingons, but we have yet to see Tyler in Lorca’s office.
However, Tyler has quickly integrated himself into the Discovery family, forming key bonds with both Burnham and Lorca; should he betray them in this upcoming episode, it’ll undoubtedly have a major emotional impact — the sort of challenging episodic storytelling that “Discovery” executive producers have promised from the beginning.
But the storyline might also feel somewhat familiar to “Star Trek: Voyager” fans. In the first season of that series, a Bajoran ensign named Seska (played by Martha Hackett) served on the ship as seemingly just another member of the crew — until it was revealed after several episodes that she was actually a Cardassian spy who’d been surgically modified to appear Bajoran and infiltrate the Maquis. (As previously stated, “Trek” has a history with this particular trope.)
Eventually revealing her true nature, Seska went on to return to her original Cardassian appearance and antagonize the “Voyager” crew for several episodes. And her betrayal hit the character of Chakotay particularly hard, as the two of them were romantically linked. We can likely expect a similar dynamic to arise between Burnham and Tyler/Voq, as Burnham’s dealt with enough disappointment and betrayal already — this additional instance will probably hit her pretty hard.
Beyond having seen versions of this storyline before, the fact that we’re discussing it now (and that it was first predicted weeks ago) is a problem, mostly because when you look at the evidence, it is incredibly obvious — and the earlier you knew about it, the harder it was to invest in Tyler as a character.
Which is a shame, because one of “Discovery’s” more complicated issues is the fact that it hasn’t really developed a full ensemble yet. Burnham is proving to be a captivating protagonist, while Lorca is far from your average uncomplicated leader, and Stamets, Tilly, and Saru have gotten to shine occasionally in the spotlight. But Tyler has stuck out as a compelling character, one who quickly proved his ability to hold our interest. Seeing him shuck that identity and return to serving the Klingon Empire will sting.
Also, “Discovery” was daring to do something that “Trek” has never mastered in the past — integrate a real love story into the narrative, right from the beginning — and Tyler being revealed as a secret Klingon agent will probably push his relationship with Burnham into “it’s complicated” territory. This isn’t at all to say that “Discovery” is avoiding the topic of romance (the groundbreaking nature of Stamets and Dr. Culber as partners cannot be understated) but watching this fledgling courtship was about more than stolen kisses — it pushed Burnham to confront her vulnerabilities and seek out real connection, adding new dimension to the character.
Thus, if this theory turns out to be true, it’ll undoubtedly accelerate the drama, but watching Burnham and the rest of the crew cope with the repercussions will hurt to watch. This isn’t something that we’re looking forward to with great anticipation, but it does reveal this — we’re invested enough in “Discovery” to deeply care about what’s to come.
New episodes of “Star Trek: Discovery” stream Sundays at 8:30 p.m. EST on CBS All Access.