Are Michael and Saru playing the oppositional roles of Kirk and Picard?

If you’ve been watching this season of Star Trek: Discovery closely, you might have noticed something. There have been changes in the two lead characters on the program. Both Michael Burnham (actress Sonequa Martin-Green) and Saru (the great Doug Jones) have evolved into opposing roles that Trek fans have pondered for years. Have the Discovery writers created the new Kirk and Picard, and put them together?

Though we only got to see these legendary captains work together once (in Star Trek: Generations), they have been compared to each other since 1987, with The Next Generation debuted on TV screens. Comparing these two bold Trek personalities is a debate rages to this day. It is so well known, that “Weird Al” Yankovic included it as a lyric in one of his parodies.

Some like Kirk, who was brought to life by William Shatner, whose swashbuckling and shoot-from-the-hip style matched the 1960s he was born from. Jean-Luc Picard is different. Played by Sir Patrick Stewart, Picard is the manager of a team of talent, a master delegator who would much rather negotiate his way out of situations, rather than firing phasers. Both characters are icons, but their leadership styles are very different.

The captains together in Star Trek: Generations. Courtesy of Paramount
The captains together in Star Trek: Generations. Courtesy of Paramount

Many thought that Kirk was modeled after President John F. Kennedy, while Picard was in the mold of George H. W. Bush. Neither of these are true. According to Trek writer David Gerrold, Kirk and Picard are both Gene Roddenberry — the creator of Star Trek.

“Back in the 60s, Gene wanted to be the womanizer, who always gets the beautiful woman and punches out the bad guy,” said Gerrold on the documentary Chaos on the Bridge. “In 1986, Gene is not going to be down on the front lines punching, but he’s the all seeing advisor and wise man.” And, heck, Saru even shares Picard’s hairline!

Those opposing traits — Kirk’s itchy trigger finger and Picard’s yearn for peaceful solutions — are now clearly visible in Michael and Saru.

According to the story, Michael arrived in the 32nd Century a year before her shipmates. In that time, she worked with Cleveland “Book” Booker as a courier between worlds. She changed much of the way she viewed life, and she shed her Vulcan tendencies to be overly logical. Michael is more active in this new time, and is quick to shoot, as she defended Adira in “Forget Me Not.” James Kirk would have been proud of the way Michael shot those Trill warriors.

Saru changed as well. Since he shed his ganglia, he’s not afraid of conflict, but still keen to avoid it. Like Picard, Saru does want to play by the rules, and not jump to conclusions. His first instinct, like Picard’s, is to try to reason and bargain with others (as he did with Zarah on “Far From Home”).

Saru with Michael during Season One of Star Trek: Discovery. Courtesy of CBS
Saru with Michael during Season One of Star Trek: Discovery. Courtesy of CBS

But, wouldn’t you think that Kirk would not like to be Picard’s subordinate? I’d bet a bar of latinum that Kirk would eventually come into conflict with the “all-seeing advisor” in Picard. That is exactly what is happening on Discovery.

In “Die Trying,” Saru admonished Michael for speaking out of turn with Admiral Vance, and for attempting to go rogue while trying to save the Kili from death. Like Kirk, Michael feels like she ought to be in charge, and she chafes under Saru’s guidance.

I think we’ll see something happen this season that will put Michael and Saru at odds against each other… as we imagine that Kirk and Picard would butt heads as well.

Star Trek: Discovery – Season 3 is available to stream on CBS All Access.