Lieutenant Ash Tyler, brave, loyal, and enamored with Michael Burnham, might be a traitor — and he doesn’t even know it.
Tyler, portrayed by Shazad Latif, has been at the epicenter of a popular Star Trek: Discovery fan theory since his introduction in Episode 5, “Choose Your Pain.” The theory is a bit of a doozy, but it’s a strangely tempting one. Some fans think that Tyler and Voq, the white-skinned Klingon who succeeded T’Kuvma but was almost immediately overthrown by Kol, are the same person.
The latest episode of Discovery, Sunday’s “Into the Forest I Go,” adds an unexpected depth to Tyler’s story and this conspiracy theory.
The theory is fueled not only by in-world clues but also by some real-world casting oddities. See, Latif was originally cast as Kol in December 2016. Then, in April 2017, Latif was recast as Tyler and Kenneth Mitchell was brought on as Kol. Latif was originally meant to be a Klingon. And, perhaps more suspiciously, an actor named Javid Iqbal has been portraying Voq — the problem is that there’s very little information available about Iqbal and he’s never been photographed onset outside of his Klingon makeup.
This has all led some Star Trek fans to posit that Iqbal is not a real person (or, rather, that he’s covering up a plot twist) and that Latif has been portraying both Voq and Tyler because they’re one and the same.
“Into the Forest I Go” throws Tyler into a deeply disturbing situation as he comes across his captor, torturer, and potential rapist, the Klingon L’Rell, who Tyler has said before took a particular liking to him when he was a prisoner. Tyler escaped Klingon captivity alongside Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs), but that doesn’t mean he’s escaped the memories of his captivity.
But what if Tyler really is Voq? After all, L’Rell told Voq in Episode 4, “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry,” that he would have to give up everything to get his revenge on Kol and carry out T’Kuvma’s righteous mission. What if Tyler not only gave up his appearance and identity, but also his memories?
Tyler might be the ultimate sleeper agent, ready to carry out some sort of dastardly plot against Starfleet and Kol’s (now dead) empire when the time comes. He just doesn’t realize it.
“Into the Forest I Go” lets the audience peek into Tyler’s harrowed memories as he relives his captivity and torture over and over again while shivering on the floor, but L’Rell might have just tortured Tyler so intensely because it was part of the plan; a Klingon would absolutely torture one of their own to carry out a plan against Starfleet. It makes his story far more convincing, as it’s likely the “weak” humans wouldn’t question him about his time on the Klingon vessel too intensely in order to respect his trauma.
If Tyler was made human — perhaps with some form of the Klingon augment virus first introduced in Star Trek: Enterprise — then they might have wiped most of his memories too, just to be safe. It would explain why L’Rell supposedly raped Tyler, as she and Voq were a thing last time we saw them; she probably thought it was okay, since he’s technically Voq (not that it’s excusable or any less traumatizing for Tyler, who doesn’t seem to know he’s a Klingon if this is all true).
Despite the importance of discussing sexual assault and rape, it wouldn’t technically make sense to include such a scene if it didn’t mean something in the greater context of the show. So, either Tyler is Voq, L’Rell’s lover, and just doesn’t remember it, or Discovery will continue to use Tyler to explore the real-life horrors of PTSD. Either way, Discovery viewers are in for some excellent and potentially important television in the future when Star Trek: Discovery returns.
The first nine episodes of Star Trek: Discovery are available to stream on CBS All-Access. The series will return on January 7, 2018.