Culture

New Michelle Yeoh Section 31 Show Determined to Finally Kill ‘Star Trek’ Optimism

Streaming service CBS All Access announced a new Star Trek show on Monday, greenlighting a long-rumored series following the Mirror Universe’s Philippa Georgiou, an evil space emperor exiled to the Star Trek dimension in Star Trek: Discovery Season 1. Michelle Yeoh will return to play the character in the new series.

Yeoh’s character Georgiou has a complicated history on Discovery, beginning with her death in the second episode of the series. Later in the season, the crew of Discovery find themselves trapped in the Mirror Universe, a parallel dimension stocked with evil versions of beloved Trek characters. Remember Spock with a goatee in Star Trek: The Original Series? That was the Mirror Universe.

In Discovery, protagonist Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) discovers that the evil version of her mentor, dead in the normal Star Trek universe, is her most Imperial Majesty, Mother of the Fatherland, Overlord of Vulcan, Dominus of Kronos, Regina Andor, Emperor Philippa Georgiou Augustus Iaponius Centarius—ruler of the xenophobic Terran Empire that spans most of the known galaxy. When Burnham and the Discovery crew escape back to their slice of reality Emperor Georgiou is their prisoner, though she’s soon released and recruited by Section 31, a super-secret Federation intelligence organization.

section-31-star-trek A Section 31 agent recruits deposed emperor Philippa Georgiou into the clandestine Federation intelligence service. CBS All Access

But while the new series builds from Star Trek: Discovery, following Georgiou’s clandestine work for Section 31, it also represents the fruition of a long-contemplated philosophical turn for Star Trek, away from utopianism and toward militarism.

It began with the movie series, produced by Paramount Pictures. In 2015, Marc Evans, President of the Motion Picture Group for Paramount Pictures, told Wired, “I often think about the areas of the Star Trek universe that haven’t been taken advantage of… like, I’ll be ridiculous with you, but what would Star Trek: Zero Dark Thirty look like? Where is the SEAL Team Six of the Star Trek universe? That fascinates me.”

That same pitch—Star Trek’s Zero Dark Thirty—was later considered by Star Trek Beyond co-writer Doug Jung.

While the movie and TV series are separate, a new Star Trek series following Section 31 would be animated by many of the same impulse, confusing militarism with realism.

Introduced in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Section 31 is meant to be the Star Trek equivalent of the CIA, with even less accountability. Section 31 doesn’t officially exist and has no oversight whatsoever. It is free to assassinate, overthrow governments, engage in biological warfare and take whatever other means are necessary, supposedly to safeguard the high-minded values of the Federation. It instead undermines them irreparably.

Humanity’s moral improvement is part of Star Trek ’s utopian premise. Money is no longer necessary. Humans pursue exploration and knowledge for its own sake. There are no more wars on Earth; it is a paradise. The introduction of Section 31 has always undermined this utopian design, as much as declaring that a better future is impossible unless its undergirded by the same violence and brutality as our own era. While masquerading as a realistic extrapolation—the future needs realpolitik too!—it is instead a deeply unimaginative solution to the difficult work of building a better society.

Section 31 argues that no better future is possible, that egalitarian, democratic, anti-capitalist modes of living can only ever be a facade, masking the real politics of power. Bringing Section 31 to the fore can only offer a fatalistic vision of a future society made possible thanks to a cloaked dagger, forever transforming Federation ideals into a sick, parodic cover for the real work of empire building and market dominance. In a world suffering from climate collapse, soaring economic injustice and rampant militarism, one of the last bastions of future optimism has decided to throw up its hands and tell us there is no other path.

The new Section 31 series starring Michelle Yeoh will be written by Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt. It joins other series announced for CBS All Access, including a Jean-Luc Picard show and Lower Decks, an animated comedy from Rick and Morty writer and producer Mike McMahan.

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