Doug Jones Looks Back on Saru's Long, Strange Star Trek Journey

Saru prepares to momentarily hand command over to Tilly as Star Trek: Discovery enters its endgame for season three.
Saru prepares to momentarily hand command over to Tilly as Star Trek: Discovery enters its endgame for season three.
Image: CBS

Everyone’s been through a lot on Star Trek: Discovery. Evil Captains. Mirror Universes. Killer A.I.. Time travel to the far future. Spock with facial hair. But one character who’s maybe gone through almost as much as its hero Michael Burnham is her closest confidant: Saru. And for the actor behind our favourite Kelpien, it’s been wild to experience.

Talking to io9 after Saru—and Jones’—unorthodox moment in the spotlight in last week’s Discovery episode “Su’Kal”, Jones took a look back on the journey Saru has faced so far, not just becoming the captain of the Discovery for real this season, but how his relationships with two of the biggest characters on the show, Burnham and Tilly, have formed a bedrock for an arc that still surprises him. Check out our interview below!

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James Whitbrook, io9: One of the underlying themes of this season has been seeing Saru come into his own as the captain of Discovery and his changing relationship with Michael. We now find them in this flipped position where she is asking him if he’s putting his personal feelings before Starfleet’s mission—what was it like getting to the heart of Saru and that vulnerability to him?

Doug Jones: Well, you know, even though he had to demote her—her position, she still has Commander rank, but her position was First Officer— she’s back to being Science Officer. That was the hardest thing he’s ever had to do. He had tom simply because of protocols and what any Starfleet Captain would do in that situation...but his heart and soul knows she is the most trusted person he has in his life. They’ve grown together. They have a brother/sister relationship that has grown over years and many trials and tribulations that they’ve gotten through together. They’ve been through a lot. They’ve had each other’s backs.

So, when she questions his decision-making, she’s the one voice— it’s like your parents or your own brother or sister saying ‘are you sure that’s the right date situation for you?’ And you’re like, ‘Ye-essss!’ But they’re the ones that know you best, and they’re probably right. You don’t want to admit it, but they’re probably right! That’s where Saru is, I think, with Burnham. Yes, she’s gone rogue a few times, yes, he’s had to reel her in...but in the end, she’s always had the betterment of the entire crew at the forefront of her decision-making and she’s always had his back. They’ve always been caregivers for each other, at numerous times. If she questions his decision-making, he’s going to listen to her— even if he doesn’t want to. And she’s the one voice he can hear.

io9: Another aspect of this season and Saru’s journey, in particular, has been exploring his relationship with Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman) and that burgeoning friendship. Could you speak to me about what it’s been like to play off Mary more this season?

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Jones: I would say of the entire crew, Burnham and Tilly are closest to Saru— but very different from each other, you tapped into that correctly. While Burnham is a sister figure, Tilly is a daughter figure. They have, very much, a father-daughter relationship. He feels very mentorly toward her. When we first meet Tilly and Saru in the same room, he kind of rolls his eyes at her—she kind of does and says inane things and he’s like, ‘Pfft, who is this?’ As time goes on, he’s been observing her and watching her become the smartest scientist on that ship.

She has an innate sense for science and decision-making, physics— she’s on it. He’s very aware of that. And that’s why he pushed her forward in the command chain program. Because he has faith in her. Once she gets over her youthful giddiness, there’s a captain in there somewhere. And he’s aware of that. So, that’s why he made a very bold decision to make an ensign acting first officer until they find someone permanent. Giving her that chance to spread those wings and find her leadership skills among her science skills and all the other skills she comes with...he’s very much a champion for her. And he does trust her in a way that maybe the others don’t see.

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io9: It feels weird it’s only been three seasons. It feels like we’ve gone on such a longer journey with Saru from where he was when we met him on the Shenzhou to now. You are the first main alien captain of a Star Trek show!

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Jones: Don’t think the gravity of that is lost on me. I know being the captain of a title starship in a Star Trek series—it’s a badge of honor. That’s huge, for me. But then also to be the first alien in that position is also...wow...there’s a little bit of TV history here. And to be a part of that is truly, truly a humbling honor.

io9: And to build off that, Saru is one of the most fascinating and developed characters on this show—among many—but to have received such a focus...is it still almost surprising to have come so far from that position to dealing with the huge ramifications of us heading into the finale and wherever the show goes next?

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Jones: It is a wild wave, and I’m as surprised as you are episode by episode. As actors on the show, we’re given the option— if we want to sit down with the writers and find out where my whole arc is going, what’s the five-year plan, whatever, they’ll tell us. But I’ve chosen to be...well, ‘give me some essentials I might need to prepare for, otherwise, episode-by-episode I’m fine.’ When I get a script, I’m like, ‘ooh! What’s this one?’ I have no idea what’s coming. So, when I first signed my first contract for the show—season one—I was Lieutenant Commander Saru, Science Officer on the Starship Shenzhou. I had no idea what was coming.

So this climb, and this journey, these promotions...and taking the captain’s chair for season three...me, the real me, Doug Jones, feels like, ‘oh my god, this feels very much above my pay grade. I don’t know if I’m prepared for this!’ Because with a captain’s role on a show like this comes more dialogue, more scenes, more presence— because you’re the captain. So, that felt very intimidating to me, for sure. But a lovely surprise I’m very humbled and honored by.

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Star Trek: Discovery’s third season is currently airing on CBS All Access.

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James is a News Editor at io9. He wants pictures. Pictures of Spider-Man!

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DISCUSSION

cattarsussinus
Cat Tarsus Sinus

I cannot believe the writers had the unmitigated gall to have Burnham, of all freaking people, question whether Saru was thinking clearly. It was insulting to watch.