Spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Season 4, Episode 8, “All In.”
In the 23rd century, Starfleet didn’t have ship counselors. So, when the USS Discovery jumped from 2258 to 3188, suddenly, Dr. Culber was given two jobs instead of one. And in Season 4 of Star Trek: Discovery, Culber’s new gig as ship’s counselor in addition to his regular job as a physician, has added a lot of extra stress. It’s one thing to mend those phaser burns, but quite something else to maintain the mental health of the Disco crew. As Discovery returns for the second half of Season 4, Wilson Cruz jumped on the phone to discuss Culber’s journey so far, his inspirations for his character’s journey, where Discovery Season 5 might take us, and why he has so much “pride” for the Strange New Worlds crew.
Although we’ve had a few new Star Trek series since Deep Space Nine, it’s actually been a while since a regular Trek character was also the resident counselor. Nicole de Boer’s Ezri Dax was technically the counselor for DS9 in its final season, but Voyager, Enterprise, and the first three seasons of Discovery have all lacked a regular character in the counselor role. This means that before Culber took up the challenge in Discovery Season 4, the only other Trek regular counselor we’ve seen in the 21st century is the bird-like Dr. Migleemo (Paul F. Tompkins) in Star Trek: Lower Decks. For Wilson Cruz’s Culber, the pressure to be a great Starfleet counselor exists just as much in real life as it does on the show. So, how did he prepare for this shift in roles? Was a Counselor Deanna Troi-centric Next Generation marathon in the cards?
“Luckily, I was an enormous Next Gen fan. So I watched all of Next Gen when it was on,” Cruz says with a laugh. “Cause I was that guy. I’ve always been a huge fan of Deanna Trio and of Marina [Sirtis] herself. So, yes I looked at those episodes and I remembered them, but I also think Beverly Crusher is my north star and I keep her in the forefront of my mind at all times.” Cruz says that his goal was to “combine” some aspects of both Crusher and Troi into a “new paradigm” for Culber in a way that he didn’t want to read as “forced.” And, in addition to having been in “a lot of therapy” himself, Cruz was also inspired by the actor Uzo Aduba, currently starring in the newest version of the HBO series, In Treatment.
“I watched it from beginning to end and I love Uzo as an actor,” Cruz says. “She was also playing a counselor who was needing to be counseled. I gained a lot from her perspective and performance. I took all of that with me; these three women: Deanna Troi, Dr. Beverly Crusher, and Uzo Aduba from In Treatment, that’s kind of what I’m playing now.”
In Star Trek: Discovery Episode 8, “All In,” Culber admits to his partner, Paul Stamets (Anthony Raap) that he’s starting to crack a little bit under the pressure. For Cruz, the journey of Culber to this moment is slightly different from the rest of the Discovery characters for one specific reason: Culber has viewed the journey to the future somewhat differently than, perhaps, anyone else.
“In so many ways, for most of the characters, they felt like they were leaving something behind. That they were losing something,” Cruz explains. “But for Dr. Culber, in a lot of ways, he felt like he was gaining something, an opportunity. So we see him take on challenges that he’d never taken on before…I think he learns and understands on a cellular level what so many of us think we understand; these bodies are just boxes, just containers for our souls; the diamond that is our soul. Dr. Culber understands that he’s been given a second chance to be the best possible version of himself. And what better circumstance to do that in than in a new future? He seems like a person who has everything under control and puts on a great facade, but inside there’s a lot of turmoil and a lot of discovery. Some of it is precarious.”
From his introduction in Discovery Season 1 to his onscreen death, and then, rebirth in Season 2, Dr. Culber and Wilson Cruz have gone through a lot since 2017. Recently, it was announced that Discovery has been renewed for a fifth season. It’s been a long road for Discovery to get to this point, and yet, it also feels like the show, post-Season 3 is just getting started. But how does it feel like for the cast? Does Wilson Cruz feel like Discovery has been on a very long road or are they just warming up?
“I feel it’s both. I feel like it’s been a long road. And I feel like we are just getting started,” Cruz says. “The last five years have been challenging for all of us, I think we can agree on that. I think as Discovery, we are taking a look at the world as it is. And presenting, the people in it, all of them, for once. I think it’s important in this time that we see those faces and the incredible diversity that exists. And that we see all these people together for a common goal to save the galaxy. I hope what people take away from that is the knowledge that we are all capable of saving the galaxy. But right now, we have a lot of work to do. I hope our place right now is to inspire people to set up. I think we’re doing a pretty masterful job of it.”
Discovery Season 4 will conclude in March, just as Picard Season 2 is launching and, a few months before Strange New Worlds hits in May. Cruz says that despite all of this overlap, the DISCO cast didn’t get to interact with their colleagues on Strange New Worlds, partially because of the pandemic, and partially because the shows are shot in different studios in Canada. “We knew they [SNW cast] were in town, they would be using the AR wall when we weren’t. They also shoot at a different studio, at the CBS Studios in Hamilton, we’re at Pinewood in Toronto,” Cruz explains. “We all take great pride in Strange New Worlds. We’re very excited to see it. They hired some amazing people. And those people are our friends and they’re in good hands.”
When I mention that Strange New Worlds literally wouldn’t exist without Discovery coming first, Cruz laughs and then jokes, “And don’t you let them forget it! But now, I’m joking. Those are our friends and we love them.”
There’s not yet a release date for Discovery Season 5, but Wilson Cruz did give a small update about what’s happening next. And, it sounds like fans can expect another thematic shift for the adventures in the 32n Century.
“We’re at the beginning of the talking phase for Season 5,” Cruz says. “I did get to speak to Michelle [Paradise] and to hear what they’re thinking. I like to know where we’re going, so we can build the season as we make it. I have the rough outline of what we’re thinking about. Every season of Discovery I feel like is a different tone. And it feels like we’re going to shift again a bit, as we usually do. It’s going to be great.”
Star Trek: Discovery streams on Paramount+. New episodes of Season 4 drop on Thursdays.