Warning: This article contains Star Trek: Discovery spoilers through Episode 12, “Vaulting Ambition.”
When Dr. Hugh Culber was killed off Star Trek: Discovery in “Despite Yourself,” the narrative choice was met with fan and critic backlash. Not only is Culber one half of the show’s only queer relationship, but he is a fascinating character in his own right—the ship’s doctor and voice of reason, and notably the only character questioning Lorca’s decisions.
While Hugh’s future on the show is still up in the air, Culber was back in this week’s episode, “Vaulting Ambition,” communicating with Stamets within the mycelial network. Den of Geek had a chance to chat with Cruz about his role on the show, what’s next for Star Trek: Discovery, and why this isn’t the end for Culber and Stamets.
“I think it was important for us, given the political climate and this ‘Bury Your Gays’ trope, for us to keep the audience engaged with what’s happening on Discovery,” said Cruz. “It’s Star Trek, it’s sci-fi, and we’re really committed to these characters. I definitely am, and I know the producers are, and [to] this love story.”
Cruz, who has been an LGBT activist for his entire career (since he first appeared on the scene as Ricky Valquez on My So Called Life), encourages those who have been discouraged by Hugh’s death to keep watching. “I think, in the end, it’s going to be well worth everybody’s time,” said Cruz.
We’ll see that these two people have a real connection that goes beyond this mortal plane and even the physical plane and, could lead to a really epic love story, which is what I’m being told. I am to be preparing myself to throw myself into it, and I am.
While much of the reaction around “Despite Yourself” has understandably been centered around Hugh’s death, his character got a lot to do prior to the heartbreaking scene. This included calling out Lorca on his questionable decisions, an instinct that proved to be right on the money, given what we now know about the character.
“Yeah, and sadly that’s one of the other reasons why I had to go,” joked Cruz. “Because Culber was going to open his mouth and then you’d never get to Episode 15.”
More seriously, Cruz said he was excited for the episode because he was “excited about the fact that we really got to see [Culber] step up and question authority and be a leader in a lot of ways.” In general, the episode was an opportunity to flesh out Culber’s character.
Who is he and what is his point of view on the story and the people around him? I think if we go back, I had always been playing, from the beginning, when I showed up in Episode 4, a real hesitancy to latch on to Captain Lorca’s team. I think I was always a be weary of him and questioned his motives. Because he was always pushing Paul to go beyond his physical limitations.
Cruz has some good insight into the importance of Culber’s character, outside of his relationship to Stamets and in terms of the larger thematic goals of the show.
Dr. Culber is the heart and soul of that crew. I think he is the moral compass of the crew, and I think it’s a necessary and important character for this crew to have to check in with that. Because we are questioning so much of Starfleet and how Starfleet’s become this utopian society, but it takes work to get there.
Cruz, who describes himself in his Twitter profile as an “actor-vist,” compared this larger exploration to our own real-life struggles and questions.
“My favorite quote from Martin Luther King talks about the fact that equality and justice doesn’t just roll in on the wheels of inevitability,” said Cruz. “It takes effort and work on the part of all of us to make that a reality. And so I think that’s what we’re trying to do on the show, is to show how we got to that point. How we created this utopian ideal and there were definitely bumps in the road to it. And I hope that we’re going to be able to show the process. I think Culber can be a real beacon as far as the moral compass of the show.”
Star Trek: Discovery has only three episodes left in its first season, but Cruz says we have a lot to look forward to in the final run.
“I think that people can expect that many of their questions will be answered at the end of the season,” said Cruz. (If you were wondering, here is a list of our questions.) “I think that it is a satisfying end to the season and it will tie up a lot of loose ends and answer a lot of questions. We won’t leave you hanging, I believe. It really sets us up where we’re going in season two, really beautifully.”
Discovery has already been renewed for a second season, which means we have move Star Trek, and hopefully more Dr. Hugh Culber, to look forward to. “I know what I’m hoping for,” said Cruz of the potential future of his character, “and I think that the producers and the writers and I are all on the same page as far as where we hope to see this relationship and this character go. So we’ll see.”
In the meantime, Cruz encourages fans to keep watching.
“It’s going to be epic,” said Cruz, of the ongoing Discovery story. “I know I keep using the word epic, but it truly is. It’s really a perfect word to describe it.”