Robot bodies aren’t what they used to be. In Star Trek: Discovery Season 4, the year is 3189, but it looks like Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz) is busting out technology from the year 2399.
Gray (Ian Alexander) and Adira (Blu del Barrio) are understandably confused. “This is 800-year-old technology?” Gray asks gratefully but is a bit concerned. As Discovery Season 4 reveals the way in which Gray will finally be seen, the solution is getting plucked from Picard Season 1. Here’s what it all means and what android tech might look like post-Picard Season 2.
Spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Season 4, Episode 2, “Anamoly.”
Gray’s new Synth body and Star Trek: Picard
Back in the Star Trek: Picard Season 1 finale, “Et in Arcadia Ego Part 2,” after Jean-Luc Picard died, he was reborn in a Synth body called a “Golem.” Essentially, the words “Synth” and “Golem” are fairly interchangeable with “android,” insofar as Synth tech evolved out of the androids (like Data) from The Next Generation. However, in Picard, certain Synths — like Soji, and, later, Picard — were “flesh and blood” androids, meaning they are nearly indistinguishable from human bodies. (Making them a lot like Replicants from Blade Runner, and thus, a bit less like Data.)
In the Discovery episode “Anamoly,” Culber tells Gray and Adira that an artisan used “the Soong method,” to construct Gray’s new body. Casual fans might think Culber is referring, at first, to Noonien Soong, the creator of Data. But because Culber then mentions “a Starfleet Admiral” named “Picard,” it becomes clear this method — transferring consciousness into a Synth body — comes from Soong’s human son, and Data’s half-brother, Doctor Altan Inigo Soong. Played by Brent Spiner, this Soong was first introduced in the final two episodes of Picard Season 1 and may or may not return for Picard Season 2. (Spiner recently revealed to Inverse that he is playing a new member of the Soong family in Season 2, one we’ve never seen.)
Anyway, thanks to Altan Soong developing the tech that moved Jean-Luc’s mind and soul into a Synth body in Picard, Gray will now be able to “incorporate” outside of the living memory that only Adira can see, thanks to their connection to the Tal symbiont. In addition, using a Picard Synth body invention, there’s also a Deep Space Nine precedent here. In the DS9 episode “Facets,” various past personalities from previous Trill hosts of Dax were able to inhabit bodies of crew members. In fact, one host of Dax, Kurzon, nearly decided to stay inside of the body of the famous shapeshifter Odo.
The difference here is that in Discovery, Adira WANTS Gray to incorporate outside of the Tal symbiont, and become separated from their memories. Gray also wants to be his own person again, too.
Why did Culber barely know who Picard was?
While describing the brief history of “the Soong Method,” Culber says:
“The process was attempted a number of times after Soong used it on a Starfleet admiral.... Pi-card was his name...”
Because Discovery has taken place in the 32nd Century since the beginning of Season 3 this makes it the rare Trek series that began as a prequel and has become a sequel. Previously — in Seasons 1 and 2 — DISCO occurred before The Original Series and The Next Generation. But now, post-Season 3, it occurs several hundred years after everything in Star Trek canon ever. (Well, almost everything.)
It’s a subtle thing, but Culber’s unfamiliarity with Picard’s name is doubly explicable. First, Culber lives in 3189, and Picard was running around in 2399, meaning even with that Synth body, Picard has been dead for roughly 800 years at this point. But on top of that, Culber has only been living in the 3180s for like five months at this point. Prior to this, along with the rest of the DISCO crew, Culber lived in 2258, roughly forty years before Picard was even born in 2305. So Culber’s Starfleet training predates Picard’s birth, and now, his day-to-day life happens in a century well beyond Picard’s death.
To be fair, Picard might be a famous historical figure to other people in the 32nd Century. In Season 3, the recording of Spock that Burnham watched came from the logs of Jean-Luc Picard.
Who Discovery puts a button on Synth canon post-Picard
When Adira mentions they could “get a Synth body when I die, too...and live forever” Culber counters by saying that’s not how these kinds of bodies work. Just like Jean-Luc’s Synth body in Picard Season 1, apparently, Gray’s new Synth body will grow old and age normally.
Culber also mentions that it’s “not likely” that you could use Synth bodies to live forever because “the success rate was so low that eventually people just stopped trying.” This means that although Picard survived the process successfully and we’re expecting a similarly good outcome for Gray, there is no immortal android future coming in Picard Season 2, Season 3, or any Star Trek series set after the 24th century and before the 32nd century.
Now, this isn’t to say that there aren’t a bunch of Synths/androids still running around the galaxy, but if there are, it seems like Discovery is saying those people have always been Synths. In other words — although we’re seeing people transfer their consciousnesses into Synth bodies in back-to-back Star Trek shows (Picard and Discovery) the canon is saying: This kind of android/synth body is actually still fairly rare. In any century!
Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 is streaming now on Paramount+.