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SYFY WIRE Jonathan Frakes

Star Trek: Discovery's showrunner explains why Jonathan Frakes is their secret weapon

By Tara Bennett
Jonathan Frakes

As the interconnected Star Trek television universe continues to expand, it’s clear that actor/director Jonathan Frakes is an integral part of that storytelling, both in reprising his beloved Star Trek: The Next Generation character, Capt. William T. Riker, and as a director.

Just last week, the actor surprised fans of the franchise with his cameo appearance (albeit in animated form) in the Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 finale, “No Small Parts.” And at the recent New York Comic Con Metaverse Star Trek panel for the series, showrunner Mike McMahan and Frakes promised Riker’s return in Season 2.

Then there was Frakes reprising Riker in the flesh, along with Marina Sirtis’ Troi, for two episodes of Star Trek: Picard earlier this year.

In the meantime, fans can appreciate his Trek-pertise behind the camera as he directs three Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 episodes for showrunners Alex Kurtzman and Michelle Paradise. Helming episodes 3, 8 and 12 of the third season will bring Frakes’ total tally of Discovery episodes to six.

SYFY WIRE spoke exclusively with Paradise about why Frakes' return to Discovery is such a grounding presence for the show.

“First of all, he's wonderful,” she enthused. “I mean, he is just such a lovely person and he's such an amazing energy on set. The actors, as you might imagine, adore him. The crew adores him. So, having him on set to direct any episode is a treat just because of that, but his knowledge of Trek, his innate feel for tone is really so important for us because every episode has emotional moments plus action, fun, special effects, and visual effects. There's a lot that's packed into any given episode in finding the right tonal balance for each of those scenes and each of the storylines, and he's just so deft at it and such a great communicator.”

Jonathan Frakes directing Discovery

In fact, Frakes is second only to fellow Trek thespian/director LeVar Burton when it comes to the number of Trek television series episodes directed by a former cast member. However, Frakes is the only TNG-era actor to direct any of the Star Trek feature films (he helmed Star Trek: First Contact and Star Trek: Insurrection.) So yeah, he knows his Trek mythology and storytelling.

It was a unique level of expertise that Paradise was keen to tap.

“The questions that he asks about script and story in the prep process, he always has great questions and great suggestions," she explained. "He's super collaborative. We're always so proud of the scripts that we come up with, and then the directors get involved and I feel like [with Jonathan] in particular, he helps to make it better. You always want that with the director, someone who's going to come in and work with you as the writer and dig in with you. When he's directing, he's of course helping to lead the charge with that along with [series executive producer/director] Tunde [Osunsanmi]. I just can't say enough about him.”

And just what will Frakes be directing in his episodes? Paradise won't spill but she teases that it will have something to do with The Federation, and something "big" that dismantles it in the future.

"When we finish 3.1, we don't know much about what happened," the co-showrunner said. "We don't know what state it's in. We have a sense that it's out there ... and we know that we're going to go find them wherever they are. The big question though is, what is 'the Burn' and what does 'the Burn' have to do with it? So, that is really what we will be exploring this season."

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 premieres Thursday, Oct. 15, on CBS All Access.