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[This story contains spoilers from the Jan. 14 episode of Star Trek: Discovery, “The Wolf Inside.”]
It’s the Star Trek: Discovery plot twist many viewers have predicted was coming for months. The CBS All Access drama revealed during Sunday’s episode that Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) is actually a modified version of the Klingon Voq who was sent to infiltrate the Discovery. While Voq was credited in earlier episodes as being played by somebody else entirely, it was actually Latif playing both roles — one of whom made use of heavy prosthetics. But that wasn’t always destined to be the actor’s place on the series.
“From the beginning, the dream was that we were going to have just one actor play two roles,” co-showrunner Gretchen J. Berg tells The Hollywood Reporter. Adds co-showrunner Aaron Harberts: “We had always known that we wanted to do a story where a Klingon was modified and turned into a human and was put aboard one of our starships.” However, the producers didn’t know who it would be until they got to work with Latif — who was originally cast as Kol, a role Kenneth Mitchell went on to play.
“As we got to know Shazad and as we started developing the character of Tyler, we just realized that he was the right guy to take on these two roles,” Harberts says. From there, the show’s creative team had to cover up its tracks enough that viewers wouldn’t figure out it was Latif as both Tyler and Voq.
That’s where “Javid Iqbal” comes in. That is the name of the “actor” credited in early episodes of Discovery as portraying the role of Voq. Not long after Discovery‘s premiere, Reddit users almost immediately figured out that Iqbal was not the name of an actual actor. The theory continued to gain steam as Trekkies began theorizing it was Latif playing the Klingon.
Berg and Harberts admit they expected the fans to figure out at least some of the story that was unfolding. “We understand how fervent, devoted and smart Star Trek fans are, so we had a sneaking suspicion that they would be theorizing on everything,” Berg explains. However, Harberts says even they didn’t realize just how massive the fan base was.
Still, while some viewers may have figured it out, the showrunners maintain the way the series carried out its reveal — using a fake name as a credit for Voq — was important to the plot. “In order to tell that story and have it have the emotional impact we wanted it to have, you couldn’t go into the storytelling as an audience member knowing the same actor was playing both parts and have the same takeaway,” Berg explains. “It’s the way you would be viewing the character from the beginning, and we wanted them to get to know Voq/Tyler the way that Burnham does.”
Had the audience known from the beginning who was truly playing Voq, the longtime writing partners believe it would have fundamentally changed how the story was consumed. “The second that the audience knows that, they start thinking that Michael Burnham is dumb because she’s not figuring this out,” Harberts explains. “And that’s the last thing we wanted people to be thinking — that they were ahead of Burnham.”
Of course, that’s exactly what the cast was faced with at some of their promotional appearances for the series. The question of who “Javid Iqbal” was became a popular one among viewers, with one even asking Latif about the mysterious name at an event. He brushed it off, saying he’d met Iqbal at a party. “It’s very exciting, but it’s also very annoying, because I meet with a lot of press and I can’t really say anything,” he tells THR. “That’s very hard, but knowing the payoff is going to be worth it, that makes it worth it for me. There’s already going to be people who work it out, because Star Trek fans are very smart.”
Now that Tyler’s true identity on the series has been revealed, though, Latif can finally spill the beans about who Iqbal actually is. “That’s my father’s name; he passed away six years ago. He was a big film lover,” he says. Adds Harberts, “It ended up being a nice story, and a nice thing for Shazad to go under his father’s name for a role. How often does that ever happen? Someday I hope it’s a question on Jeopardy.”
As for where the story goes from here, Berg and Harberts say Tyler/Voq’s story is far from over. While he may have revealed his Klingon self, the humanity of Ash Tyler has not ceased to exist.
“We felt like the audience is probably expecting us to do a Manchurian Candidate story, or a Homeland type story where it’s like this guy is a sleeper agent, and he is going to flip the switch and he’s going to become full tilt Klingon, and he’s going to take over Discovery, and turn the tide of the war in the Klingon’s favor,” Harberts says. “That’s actually not necessarily where we wanted to go. For us, it’s more important that this a character who is struggling with his identity. He doesn’t know what he is yet. He doesn’t know who he is yet. He’s got a Starfleet officer’s persona inside and a Klingon persona inside, and they both seem to be able to hold equal weight in certain regards. But more importantly, he’s in love with Michael Burnham.”
With just four episodes left in the show’s freshman season, Discovery will begin wrapping up some of the plots soon. Whether that includes the story of the relationship between Tyler and Burnham, or if that would continue into the previously announced second season, remains to be seen.
As for when season two returns — co-creator/executive producer Alex Kurtzman previously told THR that it would ideally arrive in early 2019 — showrunners were unable to commit to a time frame.
“Our only goal is getting the fans and the audience the best version of the show that we possibly can, and whenever dates are decided, and whenever more information becomes available, just know that it’s always done with the intention of quality first,” Harberts says.
Star Trek: Discovery airs Sundays at 5:30 p.m. PT on CBS All Access.
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