The latest episode of Star Trek: Discovery has seen the return of a key gay character Hugh Culber.
The sci-fi series, currently airing on CBS all Access and Netflix, included a first for the franchise – by featuring two gay officers who are in a relationship.
But Culber, a medical officer on the Discovery played by Wilson Cruz, was killed off in the first season. He was the partner of science officer Paul Stamets, played by actor Anthony Rapp.
Culber’s comeback occurs in the episode Saints of Imperfection, as Stamets and Starfleet mutineer Michael Burnham – played by Sonequa Martin-Green – rescue character Sylvia Tilly.
To the delight of fans, Culber is found and Stamets convinces him to return to the Discovery.
In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Rapp said: “I absolutely embrace the fact that our relationship is the first-ever truly explored same-sex relationship in Star Trek history. I honour and love that this is the case for us.
“I do think one of the things that is really meaningful is that it shows LGBTQ relationships as complex, rich, and explored with a lot of integrity and depth.
“Because it’s science fiction, we’re able to take experiences like coming back to life, and really question what it means to be alive and human.”
Cruz added: “I feel like what’s important about the very existence of this relationship is that it allows LGBTQ people to imagine and understand that not only have we always been here, but that we will always be here.
“Part of what’s powerful and what has always been powerful about Star Trek is that it helps us imagine the world that we want, as we would like it to be.
“It’s important to include LGBTQ people in that vision. We want to be responsible to the story and to the community. I think about how a young LGBTQ person of colour who watches this show can now imagine and know that they’re valued and part of the future.”
Fans threatened to boycott the series after Culber was killed off, but showrunners Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts defended the twist.
Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Harberts said: “We knew that this was going to be shocking for an audience and for a community that has unfortunately been assaulted by this ‘bury your gays’ trope, but I’m an openly gay showrunner and my writing partner is nothing if not the most supportive person when it comes to LGBT portrayals on TV.
“We’ve got gay members of the writing staff and we have two incredible out gay actors as part of our team.”
He added: “We knew that starting this journey was going to be really painful for a lot of people, but at the end of the day we could say to our audience, ‘This is the team who is bringing you this story’.”