Star Trek: Picard — Who is Commodore Oh?
Tamlyn Tomita reveals what it’s like as Trek’s most formidable Vulcan spymaster on Star Trek: Picard
This Star Trek: Picard article contains spoilers through Episode 3.
Though a secret Romulan cabal called the Zhat Vash might be the most overt set of villains in Star Trek: Picard, another pointed-eared character strikes even more fear without needing to pick up a phaser.
In Episodes 2 and 3 of Star Trek: Picard, Commodore Oh — played by Tamlyn Tomita — barely needs move a muscle, or raise an eyebrow, to make her point. In Episode 3, “The End is the Beginning,” all Oh does to freak out Dr. Jurati (Alison Pill) is to stand perfectly still behind her while wearing sunglasses. Tomita has clearly taken Vulcan stoism to the next level. But, she doesn’t want you think her new Star Trek: Picard character is big baddie. There might be another layer to all of this we haven’t seen yet.
“I don’t approach her as a villain,” Tomita tells Den of Geek. “I think she has a direct and rigid set of rules and an agenda she must fulfill at all costs.”
For those who are curious if Oh is really a Romulan masquerading as Vulcan (a very old Star Trek trick) Tomita is too good at her job to reveal any spoilers. When I ask her if she got to compare her pointed-ears with Harry Treadaway, she’s quick to deflect the question. “I wasn’t around a bunch of Romulans all that often! But I was drawn to how fierce my character would look. Fierce and otherworldly.”
Tomita explains that, in terms of twists and turns, she actually wasn’t worried about her character’s place in the overall story, because her responsibility was to be in the moment, scene-to-scene: “I have to be there on the day, in my scene with my scene partners. Sometimes my scene partners include the audience. That is my responsibility; knowing as much about my character. Commodore Oh is out there to do a job and do it well and it as efficiently and quickly as possible.”
In Episode 3 of Picard, when Dr. Jurati (Alison Pill) asks Jean-Luc (Patrick Stewart) if he knows Commodore Oh personally, he says, “No, but I hear she is very good at her job.” This sense of cold-efficiency is what defines Oh’s character, but it also — somehow – adds a new dimension from what we come to expect from a Vulcan on Star Trek.
Tomita’s portrayal of Oh, is ruthless, but not evil. In Episode 2, when she confronts the Romulan operative known as Lt. Rizzo (Peyton List), the contrast is clear: Rizzo is cocky and arrogant, and Oh is reserved, but aggressively firm. We’ve seen Vulcans as security officers in Star Trek before (remember Tuvok?) but Oh feels like what would happen if a Vulcan’s personality was a direct splicing of both Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty at the same time. But, Tomita didn’t pull this brilliant, and mimilaist performance off by ripping-off other Vulcans. Not one bit.
“I didn’t want to be trapped in an idea of replicating other Star Trek characters; especially Vulcans,” Tomita explains. “But my love and I have Spock paraphernalia all over our house. He’s an omnipresence in our lives, we adore him. You can’t escape Star Trek influence, especially characters you literally grew up with. That said, I did not refer back to Spock-ism or Vulcanism or any Star Trek-isms because I wanted to be able to tell the story as truthfully as I could in our timeline of 2399. The whole thing of talking in the Spock cadence, the Nimoy cadence or the Zachary Quinto cadence, or any other Vulcans, it’s difficult. I had to respect the universe, but do the best I can with my own interpretation.”
If you’ve seen a movie or watched a TV show in literally any genre in the last 30 years or so, the chances you’ve seen Tamlyn Tomita are pretty high. In 1986, she captured the hearts of countless ‘80s kids in The Karate Kid Part II as Kumiko, but, has taken on a variety of roles since then. From her most recent role as Tamiko Watanab in The Man in the High Castle, to her one-and-only appearance as Lt. Cmdr. Laurel Takashima the pilot episode of Babylon 5, Tamlyn Tomita can do it all. And she’s quick to point out the appeal of doing science fiction and Star Trek in specific.
“Aren’t we all Star Trek fans? That’s the show that captured our imaginations after cartoons and everything!” she exclaims before getting serious. “But, I think the alternate universe aspect of science fiction mean that you can subvert the norms. In period pieces or genre pieces, those have to be set in historical truths. But, science fiction has different game pieces. And with those game pieces come other stories we’re not familiar with. So, science fiction teaches us how to relate to outsiders, to foreigners, and to not approach any of that with fear, but a genuine curiosity.”
Though she kept her Vulcan cards hidden, Tomita revealed one delightful secret about Commodore Oh — the origin of her sunglasses in that scene where she sneaks-up behind Alison Pill. Turns out, this was a small Easter egg connected to a very different Jean-Luc; the French filmmaker Jean-Luc Goddard, or, more specifically one actress, Anna Karina, whom Goddard worked with in several famous films like A Woman is a Woman and The Little Solider.
“It was an homage to her. To Anna Karina!” she says with delight. “I’m not sure whose decision was it, Akiva [Goldsman], Michael Chabon? I don’t know. I believe it said in the script that she wore sunglasses in Anna Karina-style. She was one of my favorite actresses, and it was extremely prescient because she passed away a short time later. I was so honored to embody a small part of her style.”
Still, secret sunglass stories aside, the future of Commodore Oh in Star Trek: Picard will remain a mystery. For now. Tomita tells me she original auditioned for another role on the series, but won’t reveal which one. I’m still not sure if she had an scenes with other Romulans. We’re not even sure what happened exactly in that conversation with Dr. Jurati. And, on top of all that, we certainly don’t know if she’ll appear in future episodes this season. But it certainly seems, illogical if we didn’t.
Star Trek: Picard airs new episodes on Thursdays on CBS All-Access.