Star Trek: Discovery Showrunners and Star Talk About That Shocking 'Despite Yourself' Death

Series returns from its midseason break serving up a dramatic death. Co-showrunners Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts and the actor playing the character who is violently killed talk about the episode.

by | January 7, 2018 | Comments

Star Trek: Discovery - "Despite Yourself" -- Episode 110

Star Trek: Discovery returned from its midseason break on Sunday to kick off Part 2 of its freshman season with a dramatic death in episode 10, “Despite Yourself.” Rotten Tomatoes spoke to co-showrunners and executive producers Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts and the actor whose character is violently killed.


In December’s fall finale, “Into the Forest I Go,” Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) disobeyed Starfleet orders to return to Starbase 46, and instead asked ailing Lt. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) to perform extraordinary feats of spore-drive jumping to uncover the secrets of the Klingon cloaking device: 133 micro-jumps, to be exact, in the interest of both defense and a future of exploration that could also uncover theoretical parallel universes.

“We have to win this war, but then —” Lorca said.

“Then the journey continues,” Stamets said.

The journey continued Sunday with the Discovery crew realizing that Stamets’ last jump had landed them in one of those parallel universes, one in which the characters we’ve come to know are brutal fascists. And now the Discovery crew must navigate this dangerous cultural inversion to find their way back to their own universe.

In one story line that also continued, the PTSD symptoms that seemed to paralyze Lt. Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) during his rescue of Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook) with Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) reach a terrifying level. Tyler’s symptoms, in fact, may be a product of brainwashing by Klingon L’Rell (Mary Chieffo), who is now a Discovery prisoner. The episode reveals that he is lethally unstable.

Stamets, in sick bay, breaks free of his coma-like state just long enough to issue a desperate but vague warning to his life partner Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz), but to no avail; when Culber threatens to ground Tyler from a mission based on his medical assessment, Tyler unexpectedly turns violent and breaks the doctor’s neck.

Cruz described performing that breathtaking scene of violence and being directed by Star Trek veteran Jonathan Frakes, who is famous as Commander William T. Riker of the starship Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Wilson Cruz | Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts

Debbie Day for Rotten Tomatoes: So let’s start with — oh, my God — what a scene. I was sitting in my living room alone in the dark, and I gasped, “Ah!” Tell me about the scene.

Wilson Cruz: I’ll start with Jonathan Frakes, who really set the mood. I have to tip my hat to that man because he gave me all of the room and the space and the time that I needed to do what I wanted to do. On TV, that’s a lot because we have to keep it moving, but he really took the time because he wanted to make sure that those scenes were done right. My scene partner, Shazad Latif, just made it easy. He just made it easy because there was so much at stake for both of us. For both of these characters, the stakes were high, and he and I came set to play ball. We knew these were big scenes, and we wanted to get them right.

I think, for me, the scene was really about taking care of him. It was about making sure that I was protecting Tyler, not only from himself, but from the crew. I think I have real concern about what is happening with him, and you can’t really tell Dr. Culber something once he’s made up his mind. I think that’s part of it. I think you have to kill him, because he’s going to get his way otherwise.

It was a great experience to have. When Aaron and Gretchen first told me that Dr. Culber would be killed in this episode, I told them I was going to give them everything I had. I feel like I did that. I’m really proud of the work. I feel like if it was shocking, good, because that’s what we wanted.

I can tell you that this is only the beginning for this epic love story, and that in Star Trek and in the universe, life and death are connected, and there is no end and there is no beginning. There is a circle, and we have not completed the circle yet.

Star Trek: Discovery - "Despite Yourself" -- Episode 110

RT: Just to backtrack a little into the scene, when it was playing out, I immediately thought of psychologists and psychiatrists in real life who have to deal with dangerous, emotionally unstable people. I’m not sure that there’s a question there so much as just a congratulations; it was that real for me.

Cruz: Yeah. It’s funny that you say that because I had a moment, now that I’m remembering it, that I thought to myself, as an actor, that’s what you do. You think, “Well, what would I do in this situation? I’m all alone, the only other person in the room is in a coma, and there’s really nothing I could have done.” I think in real life, if you know that somebody has psychological problems, you probably would have someone there with you, but I don’t think Dr. Culber really knows what’s going on with Tyler at this point. I think he has fears, but he doesn’t know. He surely doesn’t believe that he’s going to be violent with him, because they have a relationship. He’s come to me for help. There’s really no reason to protect myself by having someone else there.

I’ve thought about that, too. Funny that you bring that up. We should really be really grateful to mental health workers out there who put themselves in the line of fire sometimes. Every day.

RT: It also made me think of that scene — I don’t know if you saw the movie Split.

Cruz: Ohhh. I love James McAvoy.

RT: The scene where Betty Buckley as Dr. Fletcher is backing away slowly, saying, “OK. This has been really enlightening. Thank you, I will talk to you tomorrow.”

Cruz: “I’m gonna get the hell outta here.” I know. I loved that movie.

RT: Your scene actually resonated for me both in real life and pop culture.

Cruz: That is the highest of compliments. Thank you. Thank you very much.

RT: You’re welcome. Fine work.

Cruz: Thank you.

Star Trek: Discovery - "Despite Yourself" -- Episode 110

RT: People are so invested in the relationship between Stamets and Culber. Are they going to be pissed? Are you prepared? Do you have standard replies ready? 

Cruz: I hope they’re not pissed. I hope that by me telling them that I have been told, and I believe and trust, that this is nowhere near the end of the story. I can also tell you that one of my favorite scenes in my 25-year career is in this season, and you haven’t seen it yet.

There’s more to come, and this is an epic story. This is an epic love story, and it’s gonna take an epic amount of time to tell it. There are going to be triumphs, and there are going to be disappointments. There’s going to be glory, and there’s going be sadness. That’s the makings of a great love story. It’s the makings of all great love stories. I’m hoping that the audience will go on this journey with us, because that’s what it is. I’m going on it every time I get a script. I go on that journey as well. I’m excited. I’m really excited about what I’m being told where this is going to go, and I’m hoping that they will trust us and go on that journey with us.

RT: I have my theories on why that is being underscored and what it could possibly mean in the plot, but what I’m really eager to see is a flashback of the meet-cute between Stamets and Culber. Like, I’d love to see that Kasseelian opera singing scene; in part because I wanna know how awful that opera actually is.

Cruz: I’m gonna tell you right now, in my mind, it’s atonal. And it’s minimal orchestration music. I think Dr. Culber is into that. Like Philip Glass music. You know what I mean?

RT: I do know what you mean.

Cruz: I will say this: Maybe you will. Maybe you won’t. I don’t know. There are endless possibilities, and I’m so excited to delve into them.

RT: I can’t wait to watch Twitter and see how people respond.

Cruz: I don’t know that I’m prepared, to be honest with you. I’m just gonna say to people, “Breathe. Just breathe through this.” We’re gonna go through stages of grief. I think it’s appropriate. I think that’s appropriate. I think it’s OK. I’m giving people permission to be sad. Don’t be angry. You have permission to be sad. But we will come out of this on the other side.

RT: Are you permitted to engage on social when all of that is going down?

Cruz: Yeah. Sure. I see someone who’s really just too upset to live, I’m gonna say something. And luckily I’m gonna be at Paradise City Comic-Con the following weekend in Miami so I can soothe people there in person.

"Into the Forest I Go" -- Episode 109 -- Pictured (l-r): Anthony Rapp as Lieutenant Paul Stamets; Wilson Cruz as Dr. Hugh Culber (Michael Gibson/CBS)

RT: To do the big-picture view, how important has it been to you personally to be such an important part of the Star Trek canon?

Cruz: I was a teenager when I first started watching Next Gen. And it was a big deal for me. So when I think about what this means to me, I think about some 13-year-old boy or girl of color who may be questioning their sexuality who gets to watch me on TV and understand and know that their possibilities are limitless and that a future in which who they are is more important than what they are is possible. We’re planting the seeds in the minds of those young people so that they can make that world real. That’s what it means to me.

RT: Do people recognize you on the street for this role?

Cruz: Yes. More and more so. I will always be Rickie Vasquez [from My So-Called Life], let’s be honest. And I love that. I’m proud of that. I own that. It’s starting to happen a little more, I have to say. It’s happening more and more as the weeks progress. I was in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico for my birthday on New Year’s last week, and it happened a lot there. Tourists and also locals. The show’s really big internationally from what I’m understanding. That’s exciting.

RT: Have you had experience with big fandom before?

Cruz: Not like that. There’s a huge My So-Called Life fandom, but that was 1994. We didn’t have the “interweb.” I think fandoms have exploded especially in the last 10 years. It’s all new to me.

Actually, I hope she doesn’t mind me saying this, but I was actually texting with Sonequa earlier today because I was like, “What does one wear to a Comic-Con?” She was giving me tips on how and what to do. I’m ready now. She’s the expert.

RT: And Jonathan Frakes, too. Did you get any tips from him?

Wilson Cruz: I didn’t because, to be honest, when we were shooting that episode, I was so laser-focused, I wasn’t really talking about anything except what we were needing to do. In between, I would ask him about Next Gen. That’s all I ever talked to him about. I just wanted to know all of the backstage stuff. I was a total Trekkie with him. He was lovely.

RT: I just spoke to him, and he was telling me that the cast had questions. Obviously your dynamic with him as a director is different than your dynamic with any other director, I would imagine.

Cruz: Yes and no. Yes, because he’s Jonathan Frakes, and he was part of Next Gen, and he’s part of the Star Trek family. So yes, there was an extra, special bonus with him. But we had amazing directors throughout the season who really brought their A-game every time.

But it was great to talk to him about everything. He was really helpful because when he came in, there was all this chatter online about the show, and if it was gonna be good and all of that stuff. We were all, as a cast, kind of stressed about it because we were like, “Oh my God, they’re gonna hate us.” He was like, “No, no, this happens before every Star Trek show comes on. There’s all this debate. Are they gonna get it right? It’s fine. Make the show, do it for you, and then they’ll see it, and they’re gonna love it,” and that’s exactly what happened. He was right.

RT: What are your thoughts on a Quentin Tarantino Star Trek?

Cruz: I love Tarantino. And I love Star Trek. What could go wrong? Why shouldn’t Star Trek have the most creative minds working on it? No one’s gonna sit here and deny that Quentin Tarantino is a genius filmmaker. See what he comes up with. It’s gonna be great. I’m in. I’m willing to go on that fricking ride for sure.

RT: As a fan and as an actor?

Wilson Cruz: If he wants to invite Dr. Culber to be there, you’re damn right I’ll be there. Sign me up. I think I’m gonna pitch him a space ambulance that I’m in charge of or something.

NEXT: Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts

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