The actress offers up a post-mort of this week’s Disco episode.
This week’s episode of Star Trek: Discovery, “Point of Light,” saw the return of the Klingons, with Mary Chieffo’s L’Rell and Shazad Latif’s Tyler (formerly Voq) sharpening their bat’leths as they faced off against several new threats, both external and internal. (Read our review here!)
I spoke with Chieffo for a post-mort on the episode and all of its Klingon intrigue and treachery, but we also looked to the future of L’Rell on Star Trek. Could she still be leader of the High Council by the time Kirk is captaining the Enterprise? Read on for our chat!
Full spoilers follow for the Star Trek: Discovery episode “Point of Light.”
A Klingon Mic Drop
As the episode draws to an end, L’Rell and Tyler make a decision to separate and fake the death of their infant child in order to solidify L’Rell’s power base in the Empire. She makes a grand speech to the High Council where she claims to have killed Tyler after he murdered the child, but now the Empire are her children — she is no longer “chancellor” to them. “You may call me Mother!” L’Rell announces to the roars of her fellow Klingons.
“Talk about a Klingon mic drop, right?” laughs Chieffo, who adds that she thinks her character can’t make many more sacrifices at this point. “I was like, what more do you want from me?”
Of course, the tragedy that comes at times like this is in keeping with the classical themes that often inform Klingon stories. But the depiction of what women in positions of power must often deal with also struck a chord with Chieffo.
“Sci-fi is our modern mythology, and certainly the Klingon plots are always so Greek and Shakespearean,” says the actress. “And this episode in particular … it’s the ultimate sacrifice, and to me, it’s the extreme of what many women feel they have to do when they ascend to any sort of power. Which is choose to literally cut off their vulnerability, to cut off the heads of the people they care about the most, in order to gain the respect that they need and they deserve in their position.”
Making L’Rell a “mother archetype,” says Chieffo, meant a change in not just the Klingon’s personal life but even in details like the design of her wardrobe.
“I love everything from the aesthetic change to this more conservative [costuming],” she says. “One of my favorites is that black outfit at the end when she makes the speech. But, [costume designer] Gersha [Phillips] and I definitely talked a lot, and we tried a few different things, and that was where we landed, because it felt [like] I couldn’t be the ultra-feminine, low-cut Chancellor. That you couldn’t respect? Then, okay. We’ll do the other feminine archetype, the mother. It’s the Madonna-whore complex and all that sort of stuff. But I think that’s just really exciting, and provocative. … I hearken it to Queen Elizabeth the First, the Virgin Queen. That at a certain point, she had to negate a certain aspect of herself in order to get the respect she deserved.”
She adds that L’Rell is a flawed female character, and that’s totally OK.
“I think that’s valid,” says Chieffo. “You know, that’s what we need to see more of. While she has a lot of redeeming qualities and certainly as a Klingon is far more collaborative than most Klingons are, that’s what women come up against. They’ve made one mistake in their life, and suddenly that’s their defining characteristic.”
Doing That Nerd Research
Chieffo is known by Trek fans for the extensive research she does; the actress is full of nerdy knowledge about Klingon history and culture. And that continues to inform her portrayal of L’Rell in Discovery Season 2.
“The Klingon Empire’s a great way for us to look at these politics that we’re seeing today,” she says. “And it’s stuff that we were already covering in the first season, in the way L’Rell viewed herself, and obviously partly because [of what] we saw in past generations of the show. … I was watching the episodes and doing my research, and I was looking at the female Klingons and how [DS9’s] Grilka couldn’t be the head of her own house because she was a woman. And so, it was just riffing off of what was already innately in the culture, but taking it to that next level. We took it up to 11 with this episode. The way Kol treated L’Rell., now Kol-Sha is, like, even worse.”
And lest we forget, there was at least one other female Chancellor of the Klingon High Council — Azetbur from Star Trek VI. Chieffo certainly hasn’t forgotten.
“I think, certainly, Undiscovered Country was always a big inspiration for kind of the themes of Discovery in general,” she says. “Because it’s just such a strong example of Klingon-Federation relationships. And then obviously we get to see the other — only at the end — we get to see another female ascending to the Chancellorship.”
And while what has come before is hugely important to Chieffo, she also feels that Season 2 is allowing her to chart new ground for L’Rell and the Klingons as well.
“But at this point, too, I will say there’s also this element of really owning who L’Rell has become,” she continues. “And owning what we discovered on our own, and the relationship she has with Tyler. There has not been a relationship like that exactly in the Klingon world. You certainly have Dax and Worf, but that’s a whole other thing. But I really wanted to trust the world that we had created, and kind of also dive into who are [L’Rell’s mother’s house] the Mo’Kai to me. Allowing myself a little more imaginary license this season for me was really fun.”
Of Ex-Utero Births and Back Stories
Of course, the reveal that L’Rell and Voq had a love child was a big surprise for viewers this week, especially when one considers how tricky the timing of it all is in terms of the events of Season 1. Chieffo was surprised too!
“That was very exciting,” she laughs. “Definitely, again, hearkening back to the archetypal nature of it all. Last year, I had very much taken a lot of inspiration from [the classic Greek plays] Antigone and Medea. And I thought, well, I guess Medea is still one of my main sources of inspiration! … I think it’s just, again, this extreme example of what a lot of women feel like they have to deal with when they have a child, and they have to return to the workplace. Or women that choose not to have children in order to maintain their status in the workplace; that it’s a very different relationship that a lot of men have in that regards.”
We learn that the gestation of the child occurred “ex-utero,” which explains hos L’Rell was able to get on with her mission of subterfuge against the Discovery last season while also having a baby behind the scenes. But this sci-fi conceit also gave Chieffo something new and interesting to play with as an actress.
“The fact that she has not, up until this episode, seen the child [and] also that she literally, it was stated ex-utero, that she took it out,” she says, “now we get to view that second half of the first season where she’s in jail and [we realize], like, she knows that she has a child. It just puts a whole, interesting twist on it all.”
So would that knowledge of the baby have changed her performance back when shooting Season 1?
“I think it actually serves me really well that I didn’t know, because I think L’Rell is much stronger in that regard than I am,” she says. “I would have been leaning way too much on the fact, like, oh, my baby is off [somewhere]. And instead, I think that’s one of the things I admire about L’Rell, and she even says that to Tyler in this episode. She says, do you think this thing you just found out is somehow greater than the pain I’ve suffered all this time? She is incredibly strong in that regard, and she was so committed to the cause, and it only augments the tragedy of her failure when she really realizes that Voq is lost, in at least the way that I think she’d hoped he’d come back. But I think it actually really does make her stronger, and I did what I could, now, knowing that information. How do I interpret her from this point on? But ultimately, I think, it made me realize who the character was. Because I can’t go back and redo those scenes. So it’s like, looking at the scenes [now] and being like, alright, alright, L’Rell, you’re pretty badass. Well done!”
“Point of Light” ends with L’Rell seemingly secure in her leadership role, but having lost the people most important to her in the process. So is her story over? Not so fast.
“Regardless of whether they’re actually alive, L’Rell’s still never gonna see them again,” she says. “She has made the choice that she is cutting them off from her life entirely. Which is devastating.”
Chieffo can’t officially say whether or not L’Rell will return, but she does point out that there’s a video of her out there on Twitter that seems to answer the question…
“I have the advantage of being able to tease that Demi Lovato video with me dancing,” she laughs. “I’m in a different outfit. That’s all I’ll say!”
And since Discovery takes place roughly a decade before The Original Series which featured Captain Kirk, and since that show never named who the Klingon Chancellor was, it is conceivable that L’Rell is still running the show during that time period. That said, Chieffo worries about L’Rell’s future.
“I do really appreciate that there are a lot of great female leaders that have existed in history, who we don’t talk about,” she says “I have talked about Hatshepsut, this Egyptian pharaoh. … She ended up being this female pharaoh, but she embodied a very male aesthetic. But then, and it’s still kind of a mystery as to who did this, but after she died, a lot of her images were destroyed. And stories like that. I just live for that sort of stuff. And certainly last season, once I found out I was ascending to the Chancellorship, I’m like, that’s so interesting, because no matter what, there’s the mystery of why is L’Rell never talked about in the future. And is that just a consequence of history erasing female leaders, or what? I’m very intrigued as a storyteller in that regard.”
Talk to Executive Editor Scott Collura on Twitter at @ScottCollura, or listen to his Star Trek podcast, Transporter Room 3. Or do both!