Pilots in the Star Trek Franchise
Lieutenant Keyla Detmer (Emily Coutts) featured prominently, in the plot of last week’s episode. Furthermore, her role aboard the ship did. This is a break with tradition and a welcome one. The role of the pilot is arguably the most vital role. Sulu (George Takei) flew the Enterprise NCC-1701, in TOS. He rarely featured in the episodes’ central plots. This was remedied later in the TOS films, where the supporting cast were valued much more, and given more to do.
If ever there was a series that established quite how critical having a skilled pilot is, it’s TNG. Chiefly, via the then Commander William T. Riker (Jonathan Frakes). Additionally, Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) was also a gifted pilot. Voyager continued the “pilots are cool” theme, with Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill). But it’s the antics of Riker we’re concerned with, here. His abilities were mentioned many times and came to be relied upon frequently throughout TNG. As well as in the TNG films, where we saw his “joystick in Star Trek: Nemesis (2002). It may well sound amusing to say “Riker’s Joystick”, but perhaps that phallic symbol has resonance in Discovery.
In an important scene with Doctor Culber (Wilson Cruz), Detmer acknowledged the “macho” nature of pilots. The propensity for them to bottle up their feelings, and lead a somewhat lonelier existence than some. In her self-assessment, Detmer offered a glimpse into the character make-up of those who pursue the ambition to pilot starships for Starfleet. Crucially, this is regardless of gender. To some extent, such idiosyncracies resonate with the bravado and coolness long associated with fighter pilots, stemming from “dogfighters” from World War II. Top Gun (1986) and other similar films have further consolidated such concepts.
Going forward, perhaps Detmer will become more regularly featured. This may be a trope that’s repeated with other characters. However, it’s Detmer who we wish to explore, by proposing some potentially interesting scenarios that would build on the character.
One possible story arc for Detmer might be related to Control. The “super A.I.” that’s responsible for Discovery being over 900 years in the future. Amongst other comments on social media are some that claim Control may have uploaded itself into Detmer’s cybernetic augmentation. Notably, if this does happen, then a massive salute to those of you who made the prediction. We acknowledge that this isn’t a SciFiPulse original theory. A show regular becoming a temporary antagonist isn’t without precedent. Far from it. Think Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) as Locutus. It could be likely. Such a move might even have been teased in Discovery Season Three’s opening episode. Detmer’s bump on the head during the crash landing might prove to be much more disturbing than she realises.
A tried and tested plot-device. Somehow, neither Saru (Doug Jones) or Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) are there to command the ship and crew. Or anyone else above Detmer in the pecking order. This would mean that for that episode, Detmer must take command. Detmer being the best pilot wouldn’t be enough. We’d see her forced to dig deep, find other skills that she didn’t even know she had. Detmer having to assume command would be a surefire way to explore characterisation, developing the role significantly.
What if Detmer has always been in Section 31? Or, gets “flipped” by Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh). Could make for some real tension! Admittedly, this is the least likely of the three ideas we’ve discussed. For example, it would require having roots in the first two seasons. Unfortunately, the writing almost certainly wasn’t good enough for this, then. And, to be fair, few shows know where they’re heading further down the line, so early on. Now they are on track, perhaps they’ll explore Detmer’s origins, which seems pertinent . . .
Fuel the Flight
Whatever happens to Detmer, if fans are expected to fully buy in, they’ll need to know more about who she is. To “promote” a character’s importance, there are certain expectations from viewers. Understandable. With no sense of attachment, events that happen don’t have emotional punching power. The death of Ariam (Sara Mitich) proved this perfectly. Though only a glimpse of her past was given, it was enough to make her death matter. Similarly, flashback scenes could work well to reveal important parts of Detmer’s past. Family relationships, etc. Details of why she has her augmentation. This would also give a short break from the current setting, too. Really, if Detmer’s to have a story arc, we need to know who she was, to fully value who she’ll become. A simple case of Discovery . . .