The Inverse Interview

Jonathan Frakes Reveals A Classic Marvel Trick On Discovery's Penultimate Episode

The Star Trek veteran talks about his journey from The Next Generation to Discovery, plus, what's next for him in the Final Frontier, and beyond.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 13: Jonathan Frakes attends "Star Trek: Picard" final season advance s...
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Number One is back for one last spin on Star Trek: Discovery. Since 2018, Jonathan Frakes — best known as the actor who played Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation — has been behind the camera, directing episodes of Discovery. Longtime Trek fans will know this is nothing particularly new; Frakes crossed over from actor to director during the run of The Next Generation, and famously directed First Contact, the 1996 smash-hit feature film. And now, he’s helmed “Lagrange Point,” the penultimate episode of Discovery’s final season, having been one of the first Star Trek veterans there when the show first launched, seven years ago.

“When I first went over there, it reminded me so much of us on Next Gen in our first season, where we were so nervous because the audience was skeptical,” Frakes says of his Discovery journey. “I would tell the cast what Deforest Kelly [Bones in The Original Series] told me: ‘This is going to change your life and it’s going to be for the best.’”

But, just like The Next Generation, all good things must come to an end. Just before Discovery airs its final two episodes, Inverse caught up with Frakes to look back at the journey of this crew, his ever-growing Star Trek resume, and what he thinks is next for the franchise. Mild spoilers ahead for Discovery’s “Lagrange Point.”

Breen soldiers in Star Trek: Discovery. Or are these undercover Starfleet crew?


Other than The Original Series and Enterprise, Frakes has directed episodes from every single live-action Star Trek series, including two episodes from 2023’s critically acclaimed final season of Picard, as well as the Strange New Worlds/Lower Decks crossover episode, “Those Old Scientists.” But with so much Trek directorial experience under his Starfleet belt, Frakes is never phoning it in. With Discovery’s next-to-last episode, Frakes is bringing in a Marvel technique, to give this Star Trek episode some much-needed intimacy.

“The close-ups were essential,” Frakes explains. “I had a wonderful new cinematographer Maya Bankovic and she and I had not worked together before. It was clear when we read the script that there was no way we can tell the story without some close-ups.” What Frakes means is that, in the episode, Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), Book (David Ajala), Adira (Blu del Barrio), and Rhys (Patrick Kwok-Choon) have to infiltrate a Breen warship, fully disguised as Breen soldiers, complete with helmets that will remind anyone of Princess Leia’s disguise in Return of the Jedi. But all the characters — specifically Book and Burnham — have very heavy dialogue in the episode, which varies from both plot-defining, to emotionally poignant.

“How could we do that? We don't know who the hell is who,” Frakes explains. This problem led to a unique solution, courtesy of a Marvel influence; shoot close-ups that simulated what it would feel like inside each of the enclosed helmets. “We needed to find a way to get that Iron Man shot without the Iron Man money,” Frakes says with a laugh.

And once you see the episode, it will make perfect sense what Frakes means. The inside of Book and Burnham’s helmets, as they speak to each other, is the Star Trek take on the interior of Tony Stark’s helmet, pioneered in the first Iron Man film in 2008.

The “Iron Man” shot. A technique Jonathan Frakes borrowed for Star Trek: Discovery.

Marvel Studios

“We found that look for those closeups so we could cut inside the helmet and could tell the story, which was specifically important for the new information that Burnham had not had any time to share with Book.”

The emotional journey that Frakes captures between Book and Burnham in this episode parallels his emotional journey with working on Discovery, which was, essentially, Jonathan Frakes’ first return to the Trek franchise since having briefly appeared in the finale of Enterprise in 2005. And now, thanks to Discovery, Frakes is more involved with Star Trek than ever before. “For Strange New Worlds Season 3, I just finished [directing] an episode, which is fabulous by the way. I was asked to come and [direct] on Starfleet Academy, but the block they offered me is exactly when my son is getting married. I think I’ll definitely be coming back for Season 2.”

As Discovery and Lower Decks both end this year, it’s strange to hear Jonathan Frakes talking about the second season of a new Star Trek series that hasn’t even aired. But, because he’s been around this space franchise since 1987, Frakes knows you always have to keep your eye on the future.

Seven years ago, the idea of various new Star Trek shows wasn’t even a possibility, and even three years ago, Strange New Worlds hadn’t debuted, and Starfleet Academy was a rumor. For Frakes, coming back to play in each iteration is a part of his life he’ll never get tired of.

“I mean, now we've got the cast of Strange New Worlds, and we've got the cast of Lower Decks, and we're about to get the cast of Starfleet Academy, and we've got the new people who are on Section 31. It’s all very exciting,” Frakes enthuses. “This new next-generation Star Trek that Alex Kurtzman has created is so rich. It’s a privilege to be part of it. Star Trek is the gift that keeps giving.”

Star Trek: Discovery streams on Paramount+.

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