This story has major, major spoilers for the most recent episode of Star Trek: Discovery, so if you are not up to date with the show, please look away right now.
There were plenty of shocks and surprises in mid-season return ‘Despite Yourself’ but none more powerful than the death of Dr Hugh Culber, played by Wilson Cruz. The character had his neck snapped by a violent and confused Tyler (Shazad Latif) while Culber was trying to get to the bottom of the ex-POW’s fears about what the Klingons did to him.
It’s an unpleasant moment, and it was the subject of a lot of anger and disappointment given TV’s continuing love of the “bury your gays” trope, as Discovery killed off one half of the married couple of Culber and Stamets (Anthony Rapp). We wouldn’t want to just give a list of spoilers, but if you’re unaware of the trope, give it a quick search and see how often it’s used. It’s not good.
However, Cruz and showrunners Aaron Harberts and Gretchen J Berg have been quick to assure fans that Culber’s fate is not what it appears, giving interviews to several outlets to downplay fears and drop some spoilers (again, proceed carefully) to tease the character’s return.
“I understand why people are upset,” Cruz told Buzzfeed. “I am familiar with the problematic tendencies of television shows to do away with their LGBT characters, especially people of color. I give you my word that this is not what that is. What’s being planned is something we haven’t really had an opportunity to see LGBT characters experience. I’m really excited about it.” He added: “My favourite experience on camera in my entire career is still yet to be seen in this series.”
Harberts told IndieWire that the trope was “something that I knew about, but it certainly wasn’t something that was in the forefront of my mind, because I guess I just knew that we weren’t ever going to be doing that… I mean, we’ve got an out gay writer, and you’ve got two out gay actors as part of the story. I’ve said, ‘If you can’t trust this team, then I don’t know if you can trust anybody when it comes to telling this particular story.'”
There’s a lot of tiptoeing around spoilers (so again, you may want to proceed with caution), but Harberts told Variety that “this is not an ending, it’s a beginning.” “He’s a character in the story,” added Berg. “You will see Culber again.”
“So everybody hold on,” Harberts continued. “Some really phenomenal stuff is coming, and if you think that the out gay showrunner and his more-than-supportive writing partner and friend of more than 20 years are just going to kill a gay character to be done with a gay character, you’re wrong. And if anybody thinks that you would hire two of the best gay out actors working today in Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz and put them on Star Trek just to sort of throw them away, you would also be very, very wrong.” There are also spoilery clues about how Culber could return in that Variety article if you’re interested
Cruz also told EW that “What I can say is that I’ve been assured that this is a long, epic story, and I know where it’s going and I’m excited about telling that story. But in order for us to tell that story, this had to happen. We’re inviting people to go on this journey, and part of this journey is going to be magnificent and some of it is going to be disappointing. There is going to be glory and triumph and heartbreak, but we will come out of it at the other end better for it, I promise you. So go on the ride with us.”
The show also received a statement of support from GLAAD (via IndieWire):
“Alongside so many fans, GLAAD cheered the arrival of ‘Star Trek’s’ first gay relationship, and we share in their mourning over the death of a beloved groundbreaking character. Death is not always final in the ‘Star Trek’ universe, and we know the producers plan to continue exploring and telling Stamets and Culbers’ epic love story. Wilson Cruz has leveraged his talent as an actor to create a smart, lovable, and strong character in Dr. Culber, once again bursting through doors that were once closed to gay actors in Hollywood. We look forward to watching their love story unfold.”
It’s heartening that the creators see the need for reassure viewers and that they clearly understand why killing Culber is such a significant and upsetting decision, but we’ll have to wait and see what happens, as Star Trek: Discovery continues.
Keep up with the latest genre news with the new issue of SciFiNow.