Warning: This Star Trek: Discovery interview contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 2, Episode 3: “Point of Light.”
However you feel about the major plot moves in Star Trek: Discovery‘s “Point of Light,” the episode reaffirmed that Mary Chieffo is a force to be reckoned with in the complex, demanding role of L’Rell, aka the leader of the entire frakking Klingon Empire.
This week’s episode contained some big developments for L’Rell’s character in particular—including the reveal of a secret child she conceived with Voq before his transformation into TyVoq, and the cementing of her power by the Federation-sanctioned staging of the murder of her family. We talked to Chieffo about what these twists mean for her character.
“Medea was already a huge source of inspiration for me in the first season, just as a woman making sacrifices for the greater good,” said Chieffo during a phone interview with Den of Geek. “So this just, kind of, took it up to the next level of ‘Oh, yes, and now she literally has a child and has to deal with that.'”
While the plot may feel a bit retcon-y, Chieffo points out that it works as a parallel to the kinds of hyper-scrutiny women in leadership positions often encounter.
“I think it’s the extreme version of what almost every woman feels like they have to deal with, if they ascend to any sort of power. This, sort of, negating [of] vulnerabilities,” said Chieffo. “I also do say, though, case in point, like Sonequa Martin-Green [who plays Burnham] is the perfect example of someone who has not had to do that. She has a beautiful family and a beautiful child, and is a graceful leader. So, we know that it’s possible in our age, at least, but L’Rell gets to be the extreme example of how it feels.”
Chieffo is appreciative of what the baby twist means for her character, and the kinds of complex emotional arcs she will get to explore as a result.
“[Last season], she wanted to stay in the shadows and work behind others,” said Chieffo. “So, while of course it was sad not to see L’Rell get to spend time with her child, which is generally just heartbreaking, I thought it was, certainly in the building of her character, a really intense and heartbreaking way to let her stand on her own two feet.”
The other major L’Rell relationship explored in “Point of Light” is the one the Klingon leader has with TyVoq, a dynamic Chieffo was grateful to have a chance to explore in more nuance after last season’s finale. While it briefly seems like things are going to work out on some level between L’Rell and TyVoq—who display a wonderful degree of empathy, patience, and communication in the episode that sees their Season 2 return—a happily ever after is not meant to be. At least not yet.
“With the baby coming in, that shifts the gears again and gives them some beacon of hope that, of course, gets squashed,” said Chieffo. “I turned to Shazad [Latif] when we were like down on our knees being paralyzed and I was like, ‘Never really works for us, does it?'”
Even if the coup attempt hadn’t led L’Rell to send TyVoq away, the relationship would have been difficult, given TyVoq’s feelings for Michael Burnham.
“I think once he’s made that communication with Burnham, that’s the full confirmation that that’s really where his heart lies,” said Chieffo. “As painful as it is for her, she’s smart enough to acknowledge that. She’s not going to try and force something. She is a genuinely good Klingon. She’s still Klingon but she wants to do right and I think she’s learned that there is something to the humans.”
That kind of ability to empathize not only with TyVoq’s human side, but with someone like Michael Burnham, is what could make watching L’Rell’s rule of the Klingon Empire play out so great.
“We talked about this last year, where we were talking about the relationship between me and Cornwell, that she’s had too much evidence given to her that the humans are greater than she’d been taught to believe,” continued Chieffo. “That’s something that I appreciate about her as a leader, too. I think any good leader is able to compromise and to acknowledge that the other side might have something to say.”
What’s next for L’Rell as a ruler, now that she’s lost TyVoq, her child, and (#neverforget) her uncle?
“Sadly I think this really is this moment of true isolation and sacrifice,” said Chieffo. “I keep taking it back to Queen Elizabeth and so many female rulers that we’ve seen in history, that have had to create a certain level of isolation.”
Of course, it wasn’t just the failed coup that led L’Rell to the decision to isolate herself—it was also Georgiou, as a representative of Section 31 and the Federation, who forced her to make a tough choice. The scene that sees the older woman offering L’Rell some advice was a particularly strong part of the episode, as we see a former Emperor and a current Emperor comparing philosophies.
“There’s a recognition of leaders and Georgiou is coming from the position of being the Emperor of an even more cutthroat society. She is able to give the most extreme advice, and I’d say, like, maybe if she had talked to someone else, she wouldn’t have been told to do something so extreme,” said Chieffo.
Chieffo made some astute comparisons between Georgiou’s life as a leader and L’Rell’s own situation.
“I do think it’s an interesting moment to have these two leaders of these societies that are not Starfleet, talk about being a leader, because Starfleet is the ideal,” said Chieffo. “Starfleet is hopefully where we will end up, when it comes to anyone having power, but particularly for women, that they don’t have to assert it in the same way that women in certain cultures and societies still have to. I thought it was, in a certain way, the perfect person to give me advice, because she actually comes from an environment that is somewhat similar to a Klingon system.”
Ultimately, it is L’Rell who must make the decisions that will make or break the Klingon Empire and its strained relationship with the Federation. If there’s anything we learned from “Point of Light,” it’s that L’Rell is more than capable of taking care of herself, as demonstrated by the third act’s epic fight scene.
“I love that I’m the one that gets to do the final stab,” said Chieffo. “Tyler’s in trouble. It’s little things like that that we see more and more in our fight choreography and storytelling in general. I would get so frustrated growing up when I would see this fight scene and the woman’s kicking ass and then the final moment, she’s pinned down and the guy comes in and saves the day.”
In Star Trek: Discovery, the women get to save themselves and each other. More than that, they get to save their male love interests.
“And we see that across the board,” continued Chieffo. “Burnham comes in and often has the last strike, or whatever it is, and I’m just really proud of that aspect of the show in general and grateful that L’Rell got to have that on such an extreme level. Then, even when we compromise, Georgiou, another badass woman, comes in and saves the day.”
Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 airs on Thursdays at 8:30 pm ET on CBS All-Access. Read more about Season 2 here.