‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Has Mental Health Problems, and That Isn’t A Joke

With the “revelations” over the last two episodes of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ that neither Ash nor Lorca suffer from PTSD, but are in fact evil adversarial agents under false pretences, two things have become apparent:

  • In the universe of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’, the symptoms of PTSD and other mental health issues are indistinguishable from villainy.

  • In the universe of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’, a bloody war full of torture and violence has no visible long-term mental health effects on any of our main characters.

These are both problems, and for separate reasons.

Please note that this article is going to talk a lot about mental health issues, a topic with which I am intimately familiar and yet which I am woefully unqualified to discuss fully. There are numerous resources to learn more about this sort of thing; a quick google search will return many results which can teach a great deal about the subject.

PTSD As a Gimmick

So, first off, there’s the issue of PTSD being presented as something synonymous with malignance and perfidy. I have no doubt that PTSD and its effects have led to a lot of problems in our primitive society, but in a Utopian future vision of humanity, I rather hope that it would be seen for exactly what all mental health issues are: a painful and disruptive condition with life-changing effects for the victim and their loved ones.


Instead, we are told in reasonably certain terms that PTSD is in fact analogous to the behaviour of sadistic liars and sleeper agents, reinforcing the already-pervasive view that people suffering from it are untrustworthy, antisocial liabilities. The truth is that people who develop PTSD are no more evil than they were before their symptoms started appearing – even if they do exhibit behaviours that can be challenging in certain situations.

Put another way, if you’re one of the 7.8% of people in the world have or will suffer from PTSD at some point in your life, what this show is telling you is that to a trained psychiatric professional like Admiral Cornwell, as well as an entire team of doctors from the future, you are indistinguishable from either a power-hungry, ruthless madman, or an amnesiac alien spy from a species of bloodthirsty cannibal-warriors.

That, to me, is unacceptable, even for a show that revels in gore, violence towards women and poor-taste depictions of sexual assault.

Missed Potential

The war setting of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ is prominent throughout its first nine episodes. We don’t actually see very much of this war, but we do see a few effects, notably an array of injuries, scars and wounds (most prominently shown by Detmer), but we see no long-term emotional effects of any of these horrors of war.


We do see Saru emotionally compromised on the Harmony Planet, but given that he’s a weird alien who is scared all of the time, I don’t know that this counts – particularly since it gets no follow-up in future episodes.

But there could have been real potential in portraying a crew of scientists and explorers dealing with the emotional fallout of the war in which they find themselves. Like, that could have been a big theme of the series. If any of the minor cast got more than one functional line per episode, we might have learned a little more about them and consequently how well they were coping, and what kind of support environment exists in the future to get people through PTSD and related issues. If it was well-handled, it might have ended up being one of Star Trek’s finest moments.

As it is, we go from having a possible two people who suffer from mental health issues to literally zero people who suffer from mental health issues. As someone who struggles with depression every day, I would’ve liked to see a member of a Starfleet crew who found it difficult to cope, but who was supported by progressive mental health programs, and by their understanding friends and colleagues, and who managed to contribute to missions and to the crew’s success.

Instead, everyone who might be affected by those kind of issues is either predominantly mute, raised by Vulcans, in a coma or is some kind of traitor or spy, and we get no meaningful exploration of their emotional or mental state whatsoever. And I think that’s a shame, personally.

‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Returns With A Representational Quagmire

Spoiler alert: I hate ‘Star Trek: Discovery’.

The thing is, I used to hate it because it was alternately stupid and offensive. And so I used to be able to enjoy hating it for that reason.

Now it has returned after a festive hiatus and it does so with all the joy and wonder of a bloodshot-eyed office worker staggering to their desk on the Monday after New Year’s, hollow-eyed, stinking of cheap booze and regret, a single paper string from a party popper hanging limply from their unwashed hair.

To say that the show’s tenth episode, ‘Despite Yourself’, is lacklustre is as much of an understatement as the episode itself. It never picks up any momentum, and any that it accidentally accrues it quickly wastes.

Anyway, since I am about to go on for a bit, I’m going to list some random observations first, rather than last:

  • Detmer finally speaks to Burnham. Burnham doesn’t grace her with a response. The only other two women to speak to each other are Burnham and Tilly. L’Rell also gets lines. That’s a total of four women who speak this episode.
  • The men yet again get multiple conversational connections, between Lorca, Tyler, Culber, Stamets, Saru, Connor, the captain of the Cooper, random crew members…
  • I laughed sadistically and without restraint when Burnham and Ash Tyler the Human decided to fuck, knowing that Lorca was currently being tortured. The episode doesn’t even try to hide it, we literally cut from them wrapping their legs around each other to Lorca’s spleen wrapping itself around his lungs.
  • I wouldn’t have laughed if it had been anyone other than Lorca.
  • Jason Isaacs’ Scottish accent was beautiful, and beautifully fitting given that he was pretending to be the chief engineer at the time.
  • We don’t see any women brutally killed this episode, but in a single snap we do lose both half of the male non-white main cast and half of the gay main cast.
  • The other half of the gay main cast is currently alternating between catatonic and violently dissociative.
  • The other half of the male non-white main cast is currently suffering from violent PTSD.
  • Of the named characters who have died so far, four of them were played by non-white actors (Georgiou, T’Kuvma, Landry, now Culber) and two were white (Kol and Connor). One third of those deaths were women, which in fairness ties in with the proportion of talking roles women get in this series, too.
  • I like the fact that Tyler’s reveal isn’t even treated as a reveal, it just kind of happens. Presumably the writers realised that they would be surprising literally nobody who had actually followed the show on even a casual basis.

Shock and no Awe


I didn’t anticipate Culber getting offed, but I think that’s because the writers didn’t, either. I think they wrote themselves into a corner and pretty much had no choice but to kill off a familiar character to make it seem like that particular story was advancing.

First off, a question:

If “PTSD regs require full-duty quarantine until you can get treatment”… how was Tyler allowed to serve to begin with?

I don’t know for sure that seven months of abuse and torture would cause everybody psychological issues, but surely when Tyler returned from the prison ship, the first thing that would happen is that he would be sent to an actual medical facility?

What happened, exactly? Did a doctor interview Tyler, ask him “Do you think you have PTSD?”, let him answer “Probably fine,” and subsequently clear him to man the weapons systems?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to feed into the fiction that people with psychological issues are inherent liabilities. But the fact that they have regulations prohibiting military service for people with PTSD suggests that you would assume a person is vulnerable until proven other wise.

I mean, Christ, Culber even tells us that they scanned Tyler when he first came aboard and knew then that he was essentially one large piece of scar tissue. And yet they never seem to have considered that he might have needed the attention of a qualified mental health professional following such an ordeal. Was this negligence? Malice? Did Lorca override them? Would he even be able to do that?


The point is, Culber gets killed off without ceremony or even acknowledgement. A room full of medical scanners apparently can’t detect a murder, and neither can the ship’s general internal sensors, which you might think would be a useful feature. These ships aren’t exactly short on power, so you wouldn’t think that a periodic scan for corpses would be too difficult. Mind you, they probably switched it off after it kept getting set off by Gene Roddenberry’s legacy.

So, Culber dies without any immediate consequence, following in the path of Captain Georgiou, Commander Landry and T’Kuvma…


That’s now four named characters of colour, two of them women, one of them gay, who have been killed, incredibly violently. Meanwhile, the only other person to die this episode is a white man who we had already seen die. Hell, the only other people we see die the entire series are all nameless mooks, plus Kol (who is the mookiest of antagonists anyway). You could potentially include Admiral ThatBloke in the count, but he barely gets two scenes in the joint pilot episodes.

I mean, I’m not saying that this is evidence that the show is bigoted. It’s a hell of a lot more representational than previous Trek outings. Or at least, it probably would be, if it didn’t keep killing off all of its minority cast.

It’s just that the longest-running characters are now made up of Burnham, Lorca, Stamets, Tilly, Detmer, Ash the Human, L’Rell and Saru. Admittedly, half of them are women (although Detmer averages less than one line per episode), but six out of eight of them are played by white actors.

So here’s those statistics side by side:


Again, this doesn’t prove that the show is white supremacist propaganda, and those charts would likely be even worse for many other recent productions (particularly Star Wars, or even other Treks), but they’re hardly favourable for a show with a legacy of diversity.

(By the way, Ted, if you’re reading this,
A) Why are you reading this?
B) Can I call you Ted?
C) Don’t take it personally, but please don’t pat yourself on the back too much either.)

A Token of Appreciation

Here’s another worrying consideration:

I’ve already covered the amounts women talk to each other. To remind you, here are the charts, as of Episode Nine (I will update for Episode Ten in due course):


Now, here’s another set of data:


Now, I will concede that this is likely not perfect data, as I put that above table together in a hurry and from memory. But what I want you to do is look at that table, and then look at the two network graphs above, and then do something a little weird:

Pretend Burnham’s a man.

If Burnham was a male character, here’s what would happen:

  • The number of women who are victims of horrible violence would reduce by 20%.
  • The number of female-female conversational connections would reduce by 73% (sixteen connections out of 22 would disappear).

That’s… that’s a subtle point to get your head around, so here’s another way to look at it:

  • Named male characters have a 92% chance of speaking to another named male character during the series, whilst non-Burnham named female characters have a 50% chance of speaking to another female character during the series.
  • Male named characters have a 12% chance of suffering gory violence, whilst female non-Burnham named characters have a 33% chance of suffering gory violence.
  • Women with names in ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ have a one-in-three chance of being mauled, burned or eaten, and a one-in-two chance of talking to one another.

Just to reiterate, this isn’t proof of anything. It’s just worth taking in. Again, remember that these figures are probably a lot better than they would be for most other shows.

Now, those numbers have moved around a bit with Lorca and Connor getting a bit of punishment in Episode Ten, so I’m going to have to rerun everything. But seriously, take these figures with the stats about skin colour and… god damn.


The thing is, can a show be accused of tokenism when its main character is a black woman? I mean, tokenism is literally using limited representation to appear more diverse than reality. Does it apply here? If you can remove one character and suddenly end up with barely any female interaction with the narrative, can you really claim to be inclusive?

I don’t know where I was going with this, but I really, really hope this show gets itself onto a better track soon.

(Note: there will be numerous flaws with the above numerical analysis that I cannot be fucked to track down and correct. If you spot them, leave a note in the comments and I will adjust my figures as long as you’re not a total dick about it.)