STAR TREK: DISCOVERY’S “Secret Scene”! (editorial)

Over this past weekend, at WonderCon in Anaheim, CA, STAR TREK: DISCOVERY show-runner AARON HARBERTS released what he referred to as a “secret scene. ” He told the audience, in what I thought was a strange comment, that they decided to cut the scene out of the season one finale because it would be “…more exciting to bring it to a place like [WonderCon].”

Um, yeah.

By now, many of you have probably viewed the two and a half-minute “secret scene” (complete with a full minute and a half of credits…which seemed odd and unnecessary to me).  If you’re in the U.S., you can view the clip below…

And in a case of international legalistic inconvenience, those folks in Canada can only watch it here, and the rest of the world can see it here.

Almost immediately, fans started talking excitedly about this “new” scene and what it means for season two.  And not surprisingly, a whole bunch of folks e-mailed and/or IM’d me to ask what I thought about it.  I guess all those Discovery blogs I’ve written have marked me as some kind of fan barometer or something…or maybe they were just hoping I had some interesting insight or that maybe I’d find some fun way to trash the scene.  Who knows?

But since I’ve had a bunch of people ask for my opinion, I thought it best to just write it once.  Obviously, I’m not going to put any spoiler warnings here, as the season ended last month and the “secret scene” is right here on this blog.

So here we go…

SECTION 31 – NOW YOU SEE THEM, NOW YOU DON’T!

Writers are allowed to change their minds…and often do.  Also, they don’t always figure out everything that’s going to happen all at once, and sometimes they’ll plant “seeds” of stuff they hope or expect to develop further at a later point.  Such was the case with the Section 31 reference in Discovery‘s third episode, “Context Is for Kings”…

At the time, many fans (including myself) thought this Starfleet black badge represented Section 31 and that the USS Discovery (NCC-1031…did you notice the “31”? Of course you did!) was some kind of “black ops” ship.  Black badge, black ops…even the “black alert” had the word “black” in it.  Dark show!

Of course, we viewers couldn’t be certain, especially since the black-badge guys were never seen again in any of the remaining dozen episodes.  However, now the “secret scene” confirms that, yes, the black badge does indeed mean that the person wearing it is Section 31.

As a side note, if the idea of your ultra-secret, clandestine, no-one-knows-about-us organization is to keep it, well, secret…maybe you shouldn’t have a special uniform for your operatives that invites questions like, “Hey, dude, what does that black badge mean?  I’ve never seen it before; it’s cool!”

Anyway, it’s clear that the writers initially intended to make Section 31 more a part of season one and then changed their minds.  Why?  Well, hey, shat happens.  And as storylines got worked out, the writers probably realized they already had a lot on their plates and needed to trim back a few things in order to include everything they wanted to in the remaining twelve episodes.  And so out went Section 31!

THE THREE ENDINGS FOR SEASON ONE

As much as I’d like to believe Aaron Harberts when he says they decided to cut the Section 31 scene from the finale because they wanted to show it at WonderCon instead, and as much as I’d like to believe (as the producers claim) that they always intended to end season one with Discovery encountering the USS Enterprise, I’m afraid I’m more of a cynic in this case.

It’s obvious that three different endings were filmed for the season one finale.  Of course, there’s the “secret scene,” which certainly provides a tantalizing tease that Section 13 might be coming in season two.  But remember that this episode was written long before the production team ever learned that they had been renewed.  Filming wrapped on October 12, 2017, but the show’s renewal wasn’t announced until October 23.

That means that, most likely, the episode initially ended like this…

It’s a good ending, hopeful, and leaves open the possibility for anything…including a lack of a season two.  Had there been no renewal of the series,  Star Trek: Discovery could have ended right there, wrapped up nicely with a bow.

So what very likely happened was, just in case they did get renewed, the alternate Section 31 scene was filmed as a possible epilogue leading with a cliffhanger into season two.  It was very probably filmed along with the final episode, as it used the same sets and lighting as the Qo’noS brothel/cabaret  scenes that appeared earlier in the episode.

And then there was ending number three, the one that was actually used, with the unexpected arrival of the USS Enterprise

So what happened to make the producers decide to keep the Enterprise ending and ditch/delay the Section 31 ending?

WEIGHING THE DECISION…

Here’s where we get into rumor and conjecture, so take the next few paragraphs with crate of salt tablets…

Okay, so the first question is “When did they film the Enterprise ending?”  It’s likely that the Section 31 ending was filmed concurrently with the rest of the finale episode because there were extras in full make-up and a lot of cameras were set up to cover a good portion of those brothel sets.  Likely, those shots were filmed when the other scenes that took place in those sets were filmed and all of the lighting was set up properly.  And as I said, they probably wanted to get a usable “cliffhanger” ending option in the can on the chance that they got renewed for a second season (which, admittedly, was probably something most of the producers thought was very likely).

So was the Enterprise ending filmed along with the rest of the season finale…or did it come later?

There have been rumors that the Enterprise ending was filmed days or even weeks later, while the cast was still up in Toronto and available for reshoots, pick-ups, ADR, etc.  Apparently, according to these same rumors, not everyone was happy with the Section 31 ending.  By mid-to-late October, feedback was coming in about the show’s first 5 or 6 episodes, new subscriptions to All Access were modest at best, and the higher-ups were a little concerned about what was going to be shown at the end of season one to generate excitement for season two.  They weren’t panicking about Discovery (as some as conjectured), but they did want something really exciting for fans to be the last scene of the finale.

Many of these higher-ups aren’t hard-core Star Trek fans, and when they heard the final line was “Welcome to Section 31…” they apparently responded with something akin to, “What in blazes is a Section 31????”  (At least, that’s the rumor.)

When the meaning of Section 31 was explained to them by the producers, I imagine their response must have sounded like, “Wait a second!  You’re saying that this Section 31 was mentioned in just three episodes of Deep Space Nine and four episodes of Enterprise?  That’s it???  Who cares about THAT???  Look, we need something that EVERY fan is going to get excited about, not just the ones who know about this Section 31 thing.  Go big or go home.  Figure out a way to get everybody talking about season two!”

And apparently, that’s what led to the Enterprise epilogue scene…if you believe the rumors, that is.

Frankly, I’m tempted to believe them.  After all, the Enterprise epilogue scene was a pretty easy one to film and could have been set up and shot in probably half a day or less.  It only used one set (the bridge) with well-established lighting and camera placement, relatively minimal camera movement, and a few inserted VFX shots to reduce the amount of footage needed.  So the scene could have been written and shot after the main filming wrapped in mid-October.

But even if both endings were, in fact, shot during the filming of the actual episode, I can still imagine the higher-ups being shown both possible epilogues and choosing their preferred one.  After all, it’s doubtful both epilogues would have worked together.  Certainly the Enterprise ending needed to be the last thing fans saw, as it’s the way more exciting of the two.  But would the episode have flowed if we went from the Starfleet ceremony back to Georgiou on Qo’noS talking to the Section 31 guy and then back to the Discovery encountering the Enterprise?  That feels like an unnecessary layering of cliffhanger after cliffhanger.

It makes much more sense (at least in my head) that a choice was made, and that the Section 31 scene could easily be held to insert into the following season.  It’s not like such a move is unprecedented on TV or sci-fi.  Babylon 5‘s final scene was filmed during season four but not shown until season five.  It’s rare, but it does happen.

IS SECTION 31 A GOOD OR BAD PLAN FOR SEASON TWO?

As far as I’m concerned, it depends what they do with it.  Like many fans, I’m intrigued with Section 31 and want to learn more.  But what is the best way to handle them?  Is Section 31 just a convenient bad guy (like they were in DS9)?  Are they a good guy that we don’t like to admit that we need in order to do the dirty work (which kind of happened in Enterprise)?  Or are they somewhere in between?

It’s possible that Section 31 can make season two a bit more interesting than simply exploring strange, new worlds.  But on the other hand, I do sorta want Discovery to, y’know, DISCOVER things next season.  All the dark intensity, the politics, the intrigue, the hidden agendas…that pretty much filled up season one.  Will it fill up season two, as well?  Are we no longer watching Star Trek so much as a cross between The Last Ship and 24…but in space?

I guess I’m—as I was before season one premiered—cautiously optimistic.  Section 31 can be fun to play with and allow the series to explore yet another set of morally ambiguous questions that must be deeply pondered.  But it’s also very Earth-centered and Starfleet-based.  While both of these elements should play some role in Star Trek, if there’s too much of either, the stories can easily lose the “Star,” the “Trek,” or both.

So, yeah, cautiously optimistic…very cautiously.

23 thoughts on “STAR TREK: DISCOVERY’S “Secret Scene”! (editorial)”

  1. Jonathan, as much as I love watching “Scandal” I’m very happy it’s going to be over in a few weeks as there’s nothing more insipid than the machinations of their characters around the “B613” organization. What you’re suggesting is Disco may morph into “Scandal Trek: Disco.” (Note that “Section 31” oddly shares some of the same numbers as “B613.” OK, that’s probably pure coincidence, but it’s there.)

    Gaaahh. If Trek did that I’d still be out, or certainly leery until other viewers have seen it and weighed in.

    I wonder why the audience/showrunner expectation is that the B613/Section 31 secret org is a PART of the Federation. Why must it be so? Why not make it an independent entity not funded by starfleet like Nixon did before the 1960 election when (as the story goes) he called Howard Hughes to set up a special team to assassinate Fidel Castro? (story at https://www.quora.com/Is-there-an-intelligence-agency-in-real-life-that-is-similar-to-B613-in-the-TV-show-Scandal )

    The key takeaway is the one paragraph in the article: “So much of these operations weaved in and out of various “established” circles, but were not sanctioned nor necessarily directed by the government. Powerful men, such as the former Director of the CIA, Allen Dulles were in some ways encouraging such operations without being linked to them.”

    Written properly it can be interesting. But with what you’ve described from the last season, I’m not holding any O2 that these showrunners can figure out an intriguing premise.

    But I’ll let you watch and you can let us know. Thanks!

    1. I think Section 31 is a part of the Federation (in that its members are probably Federation citizens–and not just humans), but I don’t think it’s part of Starfleet. That said, I’m sure S31 has operatives inside of Starfleet. To be honest, I’m not entirely convinced that S31 didn’t have something to do with the assassination of Gorkon in Trek VI, and one of those conspirators was the leader of Starfleet. Also, raise your hand if you believe that S31 might have played a role in the events of the DS9 two-parter “Homefront” and “Paradise Lost.”

      Conspiracies abound! 🙂

    2. I thought they had already answered this, I can’t remember the (DS9) episode, but it was set up before the Federation (which we then saw in Enterprise, aka pre-Federation), and that it was set up as independent organisation answering to no-one, and then forgot about and thus never folded in to the Federation when the first treaty got signed.

    1. You’re welcome, Boris. Apparently, not as many people have heard about this as I thought. The video’s been live for three days and only has about 30K views so far. I would have expected well into the hundreds of thousands by now.

      1. Given that we don’t have stats for watches of DIS as it sits behind their private paywall, I can only assume that the show still hasn’t done that well. I wonder how it managed to get a 2nd season…

  2. OMG! Full (Picard + Riker + Worf) Facepalm.

    I thought exactly the same thing during Torchwood (spin off of Doctor Who) in their first few episodes; super secret organisation comes in to take over from a super sensitive investigation that police shouldn’t know about, and show their badges and say “Torchwood”, not to mention their Torchwood branded cars…

    What has happened to the writers/directors these days? Do they not care about details anymore? Do they take us for idiots?

    1. The writers are under a lot of pressure to create interesting plot lines and juggle a lot of Star Trek details. This doesn’t excuse them from obvious “d’oh!” moments like the non-so-secret black badge for the super-secret organization. But it’s not that they think we’re dumb. We just have an easier job than they do. All we have to do is watch and complain. 🙂

      That said, a member of Fan Film Forum just posted a comment asking if Section 31 had a special song and cheer. As it happens, yes, yes they do…now!

      SECTION 31 CHEER

      When Starfleet just can’t get it done…
      Pin your hopes on thirty-one!

      Set to kill, no need for stun…
      Leave no messes, thirty-one!

      Keep the bad guys on the run…
      We fear nothing, thirty-one!

      In the shadows, not the sun…
      Act in secret, thirty-one!

      They’ve got rules, but we’ve got none…
      Stop at nothing, thirty-one!

      GOOOOOOOOOOO TEAM!!!!

      1. I don’t see how they can not see us as dumb, I don’t understand how it could happen as a mistake, i.e. an “obvious “d’oh!” moment”; something like this has to have been intentional, you don’t just design a uniform out of thin air for someone, it has to get designed, which means thought has gone into the design.

        Costume dept : Right we have these people belonging to section 31, what would they wear?
        Sane person : Well shouldn’t they just wear the same as the non-section 31 people, they don’t want to stand out.
        Person who makes decisions : But we want to drop this big hint that these people exist as 31 people, don’t worry, people are too dumb to notice these things, and if they do, they exist in such a small minority that we don’t care about them.

        1. True story: I used to work with a director in Orange County who occasionally ran into what are known as “continuity errors” on some of his productions. These are just little brain farts, sometimes by the writers, sometimes the directors miss something, sometimes you’re in the editing bay and just go, “Oh, crap.” A good example is the scene from Star Trek IV when Kirk is phasering the door to lock the doctors in the ER closet so McCoy can save Chekov. Which hand is Kirk holding the phaser in when he closes the door? Which hand is holding the phaser when he shoots?

          My director friend used to say, “Well, that’s one for the smart kids to notice!” and then move on. Hey, shat happens. 🙂

          1. Yup, things like that happen, a silly mistake that happens in the moment. My point though was this wasn’t a moment thing because these things get designed. I would expect these things to go through several people, from concept brief, to designers, to the people who actually make the uniforms, and all of these people have brains. Any one of them can go “what we doing now, oh, uniforms for a secret organisation, should they get marked out so obviously?”

          2. Actually, it doesn’t usually work that way on studio productions. Everyone has their assigned task. A costume designer doesn’t comment on a script error unless it directly involves a costume he is designing. And I don’t mean, “Why are they wearing a black badge if they’re secret?” It would be more along the line of “Won’t it be difficult for this actress to run really fast in stiletto heels?” And if the answer is, “Don’t worry about it,” then you don’t worry about it.

            The writers write. Once they’re finished and the script is approved, it’s sacred…changed only by the director (possibly in consultation with the writer(s), possibly not), producer(s), and/or tweaked slightly when suggestions are made by the actors. No one else is encouraged to or even welcome to chime in…at least on most major productions. That creates a “too many chiefs” situation that can lead to endless rewrites and revisions, delays, cost overruns, and a breakdown in morale.

            Sorry if that doesn’t sound fair, reasonable, or practical, Jack. It’s simply the way things are done in Hollywood…and Toronto, it seems.

  3. I really do love the ‘Enterprise’ ending they went with – feels much more “TREK” to me (I was basically raised on Next-Gen). I think the biggest issue the first season of Discovery had was that it was burdened with the whole ‘dark and edgy gritty realism’ feel that FAR too much of the TV and movie industry is these days. Bring back the bright colours and lighting I say!

    Now, thats not to say that the ‘alternate ending’ with the section 31 theme is outright bad. Of course it isn’t. But if they had gone with that, all it would have implied was ‘more of the same’ – Where-as the Enterprise ending hints of the more hopeful themes implied by previous ST series’.

    So… How should this ‘extra’ scene be used? To make section 31 what they were in Ds9 and ENTERPRISE – the ‘dark undercurrent’, the limited side-arc that we see very little of directly, but enough of to try and make us look at everything else and wonder – ‘what if section 31 had some effect on what just happened’. But *NOT* enough to ever override the main story of the individual episode or any ongoing ‘main’ arc(s).

    So yeah, like you, I am ‘cautiously hopeful’.

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