When Star Trek turned 50 years old, CBS introduced a new series in the franchise, Star Trek: Discovery, for its new CBS All-Access streaming service. From the moment I started watching Discovery, I realized how different it was.
The biggest difference is in the show’s main character, Commander Michael Burnham, a human woman raised by Vulcans. She is not a captain of a starship nor a space station, as previous protagonists were. Instead, Michael commits mutiny against her captain because she will not take her suggestion, and then her captain is killed when she usurps her command. She eventually finds herself onboard the experimental starship Discovery. It is here that we are introduced to our subject, Ensign Sylvia Tilly, played by Mary Wiseman.
When Sylvia, first meets Michael in the third episode, she tells Michael that she thought she wouldn’t be getting a roommate because of her “special needs”, meaning her allergy to the fabric of her quarters’ bed. But there’s actually a different “special need”. I think “special needs” is Starfleet’s codeword for “autistic”. You see, Tilly’s biggest problem isn’t her allergies, it’s her social skills. Like some autistics, including myself, she does not know when to shut up. In fact, upon learning Michael’s name, she says something I’m sure I would’ve said in her place. “The only other woman I’ve heard with the name Michael is Michael Burnham, the mutineer. You’re not her, are you?” She also tells Michael a quote I love: “A roommate is an automatic, built-in friend.” Despite this awkward introduction, she and Burnham actually do hit it off and by the end of the first season, they are great friends.
Tilly is new to the Discovery, fresh out of Starfleet Academy. Despite her overtly-talkative personality, she was selected quickly because of her talents as an engineer. The Discovery is much different from any other starship. In addition to a warp core drive, which allows faster-than-light space travel, it has what’s called a “spore drive”, an experimental power source that’s even faster than warp travel. That means it’s even more sophisticated than the average starship. Tilly’s talents are the kind that would probably cause most captains to ignore her flaws, because they see Tilly’s true worth. They probably figure “I can put up with a chatterbox if she can do what I need her to do better than the average engineer.”
My favorite part of season 1 (which is all I’ve seen so far, as I got the DVD release instead of paying the monthly fee for CBS All-Access) is the “mirror universe” episodes. As a fan of the original series, I loved the episode “Mirror, Mirror”, where we first got our glimpse of this parallel universe. In all, 4 series have done episodes set in this dystopia, including Deep Space 9 and Enterprise. In this universe, instead of Starfleet, you have its darker counterpart, the Terran Empire, where everyone is out to get everyone else, especially because that’s the best way to move up in rank! It’s here that we meet Sylvia’s evil version, who uses her awkwardness as a façade to trick those under her to achieve what for our version was only a dream, becoming captain!
I like what I’ve seen of Tilly so far. It’s about time we had an autistic character on any Star Trek show, as it can show everyone just how beneficial we are to society, even if our social skills aren’t the best.