When Star Trek: Discovery was revealed back in 2015, with information trickling out about the series throughout the following year, fans weren’t quite sure what to make of it.
And three seasons later, it’s fair to say Discovery's tone and direction differ drastically from what Trekkies were set up to expect when the series was initially conceived. The most recent season was Discovery’s most transformative to date, sending its crew members 930 years into the future from their outpost in the 23rd century. For many, Season 3 proved Discovery’s grand arrival as a series, the moment at which the show came into its own. No one’s more conscious of the long and winding road Discovery traveled to get there than series star Doug Jones.
As Discovery Season 3 hits Blu-ray, with Season 4 slated to premiere this fall, Inverse caught up with Jones, who plays Saru on the series, to look back at the first three seasons and discuss what’s ahead in Season 4 – and beyond. Mild spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Season 3.
Though he once played the Silver Surfer for Marvel (in 2007’s Fantastic Four sequel), Jones is likely best-known for his non-human roles in The Shape of Water and Hellboy, both of which required heavy make-up and visual effects. But since 2017, when he first started playing the Kelpien Commander Saru on Discovery, Jones has been on a wild ride.
“They told me they had a five-year plan,” says the actor, discussing his earliest meetings about Discovery. “That was, like, three showrunners ago.”
Jones laughs. “Those people weren't even around anymore,” he adds. “I’m sure [the series] could go on much longer now. Or will go on much longer.”
Discovery’s first showrunner in pre-production was Bryan Fuller, who’d previously created Hannibal and Pushing Daisies. While credited with creating Discovery, Fuller pulled out of the series back in 2016, citing scheduling conflicts with his work on another series, Starz’s American Gods. Succeeding him, Aaron Harberts and Gretchen Berg took over as co-showrunners, though their tenure was not without incident. Amid controversy, Harberts and Berg departed midway through production on Season 2, with Michelle Paradise eventually replacing them; she’s remained showrunner since.
“I did not see that coming.” – Doug Jones on Saru’s transformation throughout Discovery
Throughout all this turnover, says Jones, the role of Saru kept growing. “He was pitched to me as the Spock of the series,” explains the actor:
“He's the one on the bridge who doesn't look like everybody else and has some witticisms. I thought he seemed like a good, solid, second-fiddle character. And I’m happy in a second position. I don’t want to carry a show, ever. But as seasons progressed, his storyline got more involved, and I had way more to do —and then all of the sudden, in Season 3, I found myself in the captain’s chair! I did not see that coming.”
Captain Saru’s tenure in the big chair didn’t last, however. Saru took a leave of absence from Starfleet at the end of Season 3, and Discovery suddenly found itself in need of a new captain — again. Since Season 1, the series has featured a new captain each season: Lorca (Jason Isaacs) in Season 1, Pike (Anson Mount) in Season 2, and both Saru and Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) in Season 3.
“At the end of season 3, I happily handed over the captain’s chair to Sonequa Martin-Green,” says Jones, adding that it’s “where she belongs.”
In stepping away from the ship, Saru returned to his home planet of Kaminar to help Su’kal — another fellow Kelpien, played by William Mills Irwin — adjust to life in this brave, new century. For some fans, it’s appeared that the beloved Saru was being written out of the series. Jones confirms this is far from the case. Underscoring that point, Saru was front-and-center in trailers for Season 4. While the actor can’t give specifics on what surprises the new episodes have in store for his character, he had many thoughts about how fans can think of Saru’s journey in terms of a certain American singer.
“Kenny Loggins has a song called ‘Celebrate Me Home,’ and that’s how I see Saru at the end of Season 3, going back to Kaminar with young Su’kal,” Jones explains.
“You’ll see a tug [in Season 4] between home and his duties to Starfleet,” teases the actor. “I think Saru’s longing for home is something any of us can relate to: how nostalgic we've all become for relationships, family, and friends. Those things have become even more important to us in a world faced with peril. I think you'll see these seeds of Saru wrestling with that, the idea of being tethered to home during Season 4.”
When I suggest that Saru might need to find his “Footloose” moment, Jones counters with another Kenny Loggins classic. “Or ‘Danger Zone.’ We’re always in the ‘Danger Zone’ on Discovery!”
Is Jones confident that he’ll star in more than five seasons of Discovery? Rather than answer that question directly, Jones is quick to draw a distinction between Saru’s story continuing and the show itself carrying on.
“Well, I’m confident that the show will go forward, but no one character is guaranteed to stay,” Jones says.
“If the network or the writers want to write you off, and kill you off and give you a heroic exit, they’re always welcome to do that,” he adds. “So, I never know. But I am confident that, with the show being a success — and again, here we are three showrunners later — that the hope and the plan for the future of [Discovery] could be completely different.”
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 is on Blu-ray now. Season 4 hits Paramount+ sometime in Fall 2021.