The Klingons are back on Star Trek: Discovery — and they’re more scary and interesting than ever.
They’ve come a long way over the years. On the original series, they were mostly scheming, villainous foils to the Enterprise crew. In the early movies, their forehead ridges and warrior aesthetic were further developed.
Then, on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, we got an in-depth look into their history, religion, and social hierarchies.
So when I heard they’d appear in 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, I got excited. How would the alien race evolve in the J.J. Abrams era? Turns out, they wouldn’t: they got a new look, but were mostly there to mindlessly shoot at the Enterprise crew and Benedict Cumberbatch.
That brings us back to Star Trek: Discovery, co-created by Alex Kurtzman, one of the writers of Star Trek Into Darkness.
Once again, the Klingons got a visual makeover. But would the writers add complexity and nuance to their characters as well?
The answer is a resounding yes.
While we learned a lot about the Klingons on The Next Generation, it all felt a bit sanitized. Before their alliance with the Federation, they murdered innocents to bring glory to their authoritarian empire — but we didn’t really learn why.
Their bloody past was always attributed to their general warrior-ness. That’s just what Klingons do — they conquer things! Because, of, um, honor, and because they wanted to get into Sto’Vo’Kor.
But obviously, they were capable of making treaties and living in relative peace, so something must have fueled their thirst for conquest.
Star Trek: Discovery delves into the dark heart of Klingon warrior culture.
We learn the great Klingon houses have been divided, squabbling among themselves. Then comes a charismatic leader, T’Kuvma, who rallies the Klingons together around a common enemy: the Federation, a cesspool of multiculturalism that threatens Klingon identity and purity.
Here, the allegories are obvious — so obvious that CBS felt the need to deny the Klingons were based on Trump supporters.
Their slogan, “Remain Klingon,” has hints of “Make America Great Again,” or even the white supremacist chant heard on the streets of Charlottesville, “You will not replace us.”
In the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery, you see a split leadership gradually give in to T’Kuvma’s fervent Klingon supremacist views. He’s an outsider, not born of a noble house, who embraces other Klingon outcasts — the perfect populist to rally Klingons who are feeling impotent as their increasingly irrelevant empire loses ground to the progressive Federation while the Klingon elite bicker among themselves.
Too often, in the Star Trek universe, alien societies are painted with broad brushes: the Borg are Communists, Ferengi are ruthless capitalists, Cardassians are fascists, and the Klingons insatiable warriors. Yes, we’re shown glimpses of dissent and social change. But how these societies tumbled toward their destructive nadirs isn’t fully explored.
On Discovery, we see a more complex picture of Klingon society, struggling with a changing universe and giving into its most violent and racist impulses.
It’ll be interesting to see how the Klingons grapple with what they’ve become over the course of the show. Even if it feels a little too real, given current events, I’ll be watching to see how their story unfolds.