This Star Trek: Discovery article contains spoilers for the Season 3 premiere.
In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode “Assignment: Earth,” Spock briefly takes care of Gary Seven’s cast Isis, and admits that he finds himself “strangely drawn to it.” In TNG, Data had his cat, Spot. In Enterprise, Captain Archer had his Beagle, Porthos. In Picard, Jean-Luc traded his fish for a pit bull named Number One. Kirk had a dog named Butler in Generations, and Janeway talked about how much she missed Irish setter, Mollie, in Voyager.
And now, the great pet tradition in Star Trek is back. In Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 we not only meet the human (?) courier Cleveland “Book” Booker (David Ajala) but also his “very large” cat, Grudge. But is Grudge a bigger deal than just comic relief? Is there more to this cat than just being big and awesome?
First things first. Though Book says that Grudge’s large size is because she “has a thyroid condition,” Grudge is a Maine Coon cat breed, which are known for there large size. Book refers to Grudge as “a Queen,” which might be a subtle reference to the popular legend that Maine Coons were partially created by Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France. Either way, Grudge is big and awesome, and as Book says “she’s all mine.”
But other than being a cute animal that provides a layer of eccentricity to Trek’s newest daring space pilot, is Grudge really just a cat? Book speaks of Grudge in ways that makes the cat seem perhaps more sentient than we think. Perhaps we’ve all been conditioned by the cat in Captain Marvel — Goose — which turned out to be an alien Flerken. Or maybe we’ve been conditioned by that episode of Star Trek: The Original Series, in which the black cat Spock was “strangely drawn to,” appeared to be a shape-shifting woman at one point in the episode.
Although previous Star Trek pets generally aren’t revealed to be aliens — they are sometimes. In the TNG episode “Aquiel,” Geordi takes care of an abandoned dog named Maura, who turns out to be a blob monster called a coalescent organism. Janeway and Kirk’s aforementioned dogs weren’t ever really seen in the fur, but rather, the animals we saw on screen were either telepathic nexus creations or tricks created by Q. (This is kind of like the idea that people rarely ride “real” horses in Star Trek. Usually just holographic ones or “dream” horses.)
Data’s cat was a real cat. But then again, we’re not totally sure. Spot changed appearance radically throughout The Next Generation and even went from being male to female and back again. In Picard, an orange tabby named “Spot II” is revealed to be totally synthetic by Data’s human brother, Atlan Soong. In a non-canon comic book short story from the IDW comic Star Trek: Waypoint, it was revealed that Porthos was actually a time-traveling dog, and that via time-travel, he actually saved Archer’s life when Archer was a little kid.
The point is, outside of Picard’s fish in TNG (Livingston) there’s generally some kind of sci-fi plot twist hanging around pets in Trek. Think about the most famous pets in all of the franchise: Tribbles. They look like furry cute balls, but of course, there’s some infamous “trouble” with them. This doesn’t mean it’s a foregone conclusion that Grudge is really a shapeshifter, or has telepathic powers, or is a time traveler just like Burnham, but then again, you never know.
When Burnham mentions that “no one is around to enforce the endangered species act,” she’s referencing the Tranceworm that Book saved. But her eyes land on Grudge. Cats might be endangered in the 32nd Century, of course. That is, assuming Grudge is actually a cat and not some other wonderful alien species that has yet to be revealed.
Star Trek: Discovery season 3 airs new episodes on Thursdays on CBS All Access.