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‘Star Trek: Discovery’: The Story Behind the Music From the Finale’s Shocking Ending Scene

Series composer Jeff Russo shares some tidbits from the Season 1 score and the thrill of getting to record some of the most iconic music in TV history.

Composer, Jeff Russo during a scoring session for the CBS All Access series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY in Los Angeles, Ca. Photo Cr: Lisette M. Azar/CBS © 2017 CBS Interactive. All Rights Reserved.


[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for “Star Trek: Discovery” Season 1 Episode 15, “Will You Take My Hand?”]

“That never gets old…ever!”

Jeff Russo said that on a sound stage in Burbank last month, in between takes of a full orchestra playing Alexander Courage’s end credits theme from the original “Star Trek.” This slightly refined version, which Russo explains (and as fans with an ear for detail will recognize) is from “TOS” Season 2, brought back for “Star Trek: Discovery” just in time for a momentous first season finale. As the closing seconds show the USS Enterprise make its initial, grand appearance in the timeline of the CBS All Access show, the time was perfect to bring in a slice of TV history for the moments immediately after.

This new recording of Courage’s original theme plays over the end credits for “Discovery” Episode 15, “Will You Take My Hand?” The idea for bringing this music into the ending had its roots in the scoring for the Kasseelian opera payoff just a few episodes prior. When Ayana Haviv, the soloist heard in the “Discovery” finale closing credits, was recording her part for the opera, Russo had an idea.

“As she was in the studio…I just jotted down the notes. So I gave it to her, she started singing, and I recorded it on my iPhone and sent it to Alex Kurtzman. I said, ‘Isn’t this cool?!’ and he texted me back and said, ‘This is awesome! We should do this for the end credits for our finale!'” Russo said.

The finale blended new and old by bridging series-centric music half a century apart. In a nice bit of symmetry, the series theme for “Star Trek: Discovery” makes one last appearance in the scene before the ending, as Burnham delivers an emotional speech before Starfleet. Aside from landing the Enterprise’s entrance, it was the moment Russo saw as maybe the most important for the episode.

“I think that whole sequence and her speech was a pretty pivotal moment,” Russo said. “I always felt like somewhere or another as she’s giving that speech and as we see the crew members, it would be a nice way to really drive home who we are and what our characters are and that these are the members of the crew of the Discovery. It’s their story, so what better way to drive that home than nod to our own theme?”

As the audience saw an emotional payoff for so many storylines that have run through the opening season of “Discovery,” Russo explained how he tried to bring those same elements to the musical parts of those moments.

“The theme from when Ash and Michael Burnham first kissed, I utilized that when they’re saying goodbye to each other. But I changed it from major to minor because all of a sudden, the thing that was bringing them together is now splitting them apart. Little details like that matter to me as a composer, and I like people to be able to see that happen and to go back and experience it,” Russo said.

Composer, Jeff Russo during a scoring session for the CBS All Access series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY in Los Angeles, Ca. Photo Cr: Lisette M. Azar/CBS © 2017 CBS Interactive. All Rights Reserved.

In interviews with IndieWire after the mid-season finale and ahead of the all-important Episode 15, Russo spoke about how the Klingons’ complicated involvement in “Star Trek: Discovery” extended to the music itself.

“I’m trying to score from the perspective that these are real beings and they have their relationships and their feelings. It’s just as relevant to them as it is to the feelings that our bridge crew has. I didn’t want to play it like they were the Bad Guys and ‘Here’s the Bad Guy Theme.’ But how do they relate to themselves. Trying to thread that in has been a very small needle to thread. They do represent the nemesis of the bridge crew, and yet I still feel like I had to give them an emotional beat as well.”

The revelation of Ash Tyler’s secret dual identity as the nefarious Klingon Voq helped drive this idea home in ways that made his and Burnham’s parting all the more complex.

“There was something to be said about, for lack of a better way to put it, giving the Klingons some humanity. I think that was the idea behind treating their themes and their music. Especially with Ash/Voq. There was a human and a Klingon together in the same body. So to give that some true emotion, I had to treat it with a humane sense from the score.”

As for the Courage theme, In the recording studio, even with a professional orchestra, there was something about that piece that brought some magic to the moment. From Havila, to percussionist Pete Korpela playing those oh-so-distinctive bongos in a walled-off area all his own, to the full orchestra that the show has been able to use for every episode this season, it was a performance that got a round of applause from personnel inside the booth and on the stage itself.

“We used a lot of that first take. I think we needed to use a couple other things from the vocal section and some other places, but that first take, it definitely had the most excitement. Everybody was excited to play it, and I was on the podium and swinging my hands around,” Russo said.

Much like on the bridge of the Discovery, the team behind the music runs a tight ship. Series orchestrator Amie Doherty (who wore a blue Starfleet uniform for the session and brought a pair of wearable Vulcan ears for anyone on the sound crew who wanted to join in on the fun), working in concert with Russo conducting made for a sharp pair of ears, listening for any necessary tidying up for the individual cues.

“Amie is my main orchestrator. She and I have been working together for a number of years. Whatever I do when I work with an orchestra, I work with her,” Russo said. “We have a really great shorthand. Same with Michael Perfitt, my main recording engineer and mixer. The three of us during those sessions work pretty tight.”

Russo explained that the details about Season 2 of “Discovery” will come eventually, but for now, he’s about as in the dark about what comes next as any other viewer. Which, for a fan, basking in the sights and sounds of the venerated original series, is still a fun place to be.

“What’s gonna happen? How do they interact here? How does that affect canon and what we should and do already know about the past in ‘Star Trek’?” Russo said. “That does leave a great question mark and a really great cliffhanger.”

“Star Trek: Discovery” Season 1 is now available to stream on CBS All Access.

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