This post contains major spoilers for the most recent episode of Star Trek: Discovery, titled Despite Yourself.
On Sunday (7 January) night, the writers for the new Star Trek series made a bold decision.
They killed off a gay character.
In the episode, when Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) discovers Lt. Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) is a Klingon agent, it spells his doom. Tyler kills Culber after the good doctor uncovers his secret.
Culber is an openly gay character of color, in a relationship with Anthony Rapp’s Lt. Paul Stamets.
The series has received praise for its positive depictions of gay characters — until now.
But is it the end?
Showrunners Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts are quick to ensure fans this isn’t the whole story.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, they promise viewers they ‘haven’t seen the last of Culber’.
Apparently, this has been the plan since the beginning, but it was never meant to be gratuitous or about Culber’s sexuality. Quite the opposite, in fact.
‘We knew that we wanted our gay couple to save the universe. We wanted to show the audience a gay love story that is transcendent and epic — that’s not something that a lot of gay characters get to be a part of, especially in science fiction,’ Harberts said.
Harberts further explained they were aware of the pain from the ‘bury your gays’ trope, in which LGBTQ characters are denied happy endings, often by being killed off.
‘I’m an openly gay showrunner and my writing partner is nothing if not the most supportive person when it comes to LGBT portrayals on TV,’ he continued.
‘We’ve got gay members of the writing staff and we have two incredible out gay actors as part of our team. We knew that starting this journey was going to be really painful for a lot of people, but at the end of the day we could say to our audience, “This is the team who is bringing you this story.”‘
This is only the beginning for Culber and Stamets.
According to the interview, there is a scene with Culber that fans haven’t seen yet which Cruz described as ‘the best thing I think I’ve ever done in my career’.
The ire of fans
Despite the promise of hope, the scene still came as a brutal shock to many viewers.
(STAR TREK DISCO SPOILERS)
ok, fuck star trek discovery for killing off Culber, its first gay MoC. I don't care if it turns out it was all just a ruse and 'he's still alive guys, don't worry!' GAY CHARACTERS DO NOT NEED TO SUFFER ANY MORE THAN THEY ALREADY HAVE. DO BETTER.
— emma (@emmyzelf) January 8, 2018
Thanks guys, you’ve just killed off a gay character. Way to go. *Slow hand clap* You’ve just joined the ranks of so many shows on TV that have done the same. It’s not original. Its a trope. It’s violent to our community. I expect better of Star Trek. #disappointed #discovery
— Kirsten Opdebeck (@hipchic99) January 8, 2018
The fault I have is they did literally just kill the gay black guy. Killing off characters if fine, but it's following that horrible trend of murdering the gay characters in a series, it happens a lot in tv series and I hoped for more from Star Trek
— Freya. S (@FStewkesbury) January 8, 2018
Some even canceled their subscription to CBS All-Access, where the show streams online.
I canceled my CBS All-Access that I had solely for Star Trek: Discovery. It's 2018, and killing off only women and men of color and killing of happy gay relationships is so common everywhere else and I don't need to pay for more of it
— Jeff Hodges (@jmhodges) January 8, 2018
Still, Cruz hopes fans won’t give up on the show or this couple.
Not so fast… https://t.co/yFoWCqYz4V
— Wilson Cruz (@wcruz73) January 8, 2018
In this interview, he calls it ‘an epic love story’.
And pushes back against it playing into the ‘bury your gays’ trope.
‘This is not a bury your gays, kill your gays trope storyline. This is a chapter in this relationship and even Paul and Hugh have no idea what’s about to go down,’ he said.
However, importantly, he also acknowledged fans’ pain: ‘And, you know, I give people permission to be sad on Sunday, I think that’s appropriate. I think we will all go through some stages of grief, and I think that’s okay. I think that’s why we make TV, you know? We take you on this trip. And this is part of it.’