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Doug Jones talks 'the burn' mystery, and Saru's return in fourth season of Star Trek: Discovery
If there's an absolute in Hollywood, it's that actor Doug Jones is truly a delightful person and one of the greatest prosthetic actors working in the business today. Which is why the Season 3 finale of Star Trek: Discovery on Paramount Plus left so many viewers in a tizzy because it looked like his character, Captain Saru, might be gracefully bowing out from the series.
**Spoilers to come on Season 3!**
In “That Hope is You Part 2,” after finally learning the truth about the origin of “the burn” — which emanated from fellow Kelpian, Su'Kal — we see Saru with him on Kaminar with the intention of helping his fellow brethren get a brand new start. A very Saru thing to do, but potentially heartbreaking for everyone who has become very attached to the sage Kelpian’s presence on the Discovery's bridge.
Worried for us all, in a conversation with SYFY WIRE about the Season 3 digital and Blu-ray release that came out on July 20, Jones confirmed that Saru is absolutely returning in Star Trek: Discovery Season 4. “I’m currently in Toronto right now. We're filming Season 4 as we speak,” the actor attests.
With that out of the way, and our blood pressure back to normal, SYFY WIRE grilled Jones more about Saru’s amazing arc in Season 3, how Star Trek is even more important than ever for all of humanity, and just who is going to be captain now that Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) also holds that fancy title too?
Looking back at Season 3, talk about how important it was for Saru to be in that Captain's Chair all season long?
Well, Saru had wanted to be Captain all of his career in Starfleet. And once he got it, he was very humbled by the time he got there. He and Michael Burnham were very respectful of each other and very brotherly/sisterly. They've been competitive before, but now they were actually a bit more trusting and more supportive of each other, by this time. Getting the Captain's Chair, he took it very, very humbly and sincerely loved having her as his First Officer. Of course, with our bumps along the road, and having to demote her because she flies off the handle on her own quite a bit. But the thing is, she's always right, though. That's the thing. You have to trust her instincts, but at the same time, can you just follow one or two rules? Would it kill you? [Laughs.]
By the end, though, my judgment as Saru was a little bit compromised, because we were faced with finding another Kelpian for the first time in the future. Once we jump to the future, this is my first Kelpian I've encountered and he holds the key to why "the burn" happened. Our big question of the entire season rested on this one little Kelpian and we figured that out.
That Kelpian, Su'Kal, was played by the great Bill Irwin (Legion), arguably the other great physical actor out there working today. Had you known one another before working together in the Season 3 finale?
We met over this show! Our directing producer, Olatunde Osunsanmi, called me to say, "We're negotiating and kind of wooing Bill Irwin. Can we can hook you two together on the phone to cinch the deal up?" And I'm like, [high pitch voiced] 'Oh, talk to Bill myself on the phone?' I have been a screaming fan of his for decades so to have that chat with him and talk all things Kelpian, we were gushing on each other. He was a fan of mine as well. I felt like I was in a sandbox with my best friend. It was the best time ever. And oddly enough, during a lot of our scenes together he was in makeup and I was not.
Let's discuss "the burn" which was the primary mystery of the entire season. When were you told a Kelpian was the cause of it?
I was told about it ahead of time by Michelle Paradise, our showrunner, and that this was coming. But, it was later in the season that I heard it. And then I thought, 'Oh my gosh! As Saru, how would I feel about that a Kelpian was responsible for this 'burn' that blew out billions of lives?' And had I not been apart of the liberation of the Kelpians and the rejoining of the Kelpians on my home planet, this technology for Su'Kal and his mother to have gone to that source of dilithium, he wouldn't have been there if I hadn't liberated them way back in the past. I kind of felt like, 'Oh, dear, is this all really my fault?'
There's a deleted scene on the DVD box set for Season 3 that shows Michael Burnham confronting Saru, asking how personal is this for you? Are you going to have your right mind about you with these decisions we have to make? And Saru says, 'You were questioning me?' And then he kind of relented, rightly so. [Laughs.] Because it was extremely personal for him that he'd been longing to see one of his own species. And when he does, he finds this out and it hits hard. But it was also kind of oddly foretelling about the world events we were about to face [in 2020]. When Season 3 came out, we were all in a pandemic, where we had to stop and reevaluate and kind of rebuild, as did the galaxy after "the burn." It was an interesting take.
Speaking of real-life being woven into the subtext of the show, did you really feel the legacy of Star Trek leaning into the moment more than ever last season?
Yeah. And I think this is what's good about dramatic pieces, and science fiction specifically does delve into possibilities and resolve. Star Trek has always been very good about presenting a problem and peacefully resolving it. With all the conflict of the world, whether it was a virus or people fighting each other and getting angry on social media, we do dramatize a situation where we have an unknown thing happening and a threat to the galaxy. How do we fix that threat? How do we get there without blowing each other up? How can we peacefully/diplomatically work through it? I love being a part of a show that talks about a peaceful diplomatic way to resolve conflict.
Going back to the ending with Saru not with his crew in the finale, did you ask Michelle Paradise if you were out of a gig?
After we got home to LA during hiatus last year, I called Michelle Paradise myself and said, 'Should I expect to go back for Season 4? Because, they left me on-camera teaching Su'Kal the ways of the Kelpians. Burnham takes the Captain's Chair, and they're off flying onto the next adventure, so where does that leave me?' She said, "Oh, no, you're back. You're back." But the question will remain that Starfleet does not strip you of your rank, so I am still a captain. Where do they plug me in? That's the question. That's the question.
Lastly, what episodes were your personal favorites in Season 3?
Oh gosh, well I think I think I'm gonna say it's it would be the the two episode arc of when Saru goes into the halo program that changes everybody into a different species and Saru is human. And I got to sing again in one of those when we have Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz, both who have sung on stage and screen, and I'm the one they've had sing twice now. It makes no sense to me!
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 is available now on Blu-ray, DVD and Limited Edition Blu-ray Steelbook.