Albino no more: How Ash Tyler overtook Voq in Star Trek: Discovery

Star Trek Discovery Ash Tyler_CBS Television Studios
(Image credit: CBS Television Studios)

Before we get going, spoilers ahead for season one of Star Trek: Discovery. You've been warned, so beam out of here if you don't want the show ruined for you.

As Star Trek: Discovery wraps up for the year, it’s a good time to revisit the first couple of seasons. The show’s fans know that a big reveal during the new crew’s initial outing was that their chief of security, Ash Tyler, was actually a prominent Klingon and spy. The character was surgically altered, had his brains scrambled, and harbored intentions of leaving a few more bodies than just the doctor in his wake, but fate and Michael Burnham had other plans. 

Many fans had pieced the puzzle together just before the reveal, but watching the story unfold was still exciting. I was enjoying seeing an albino character take such a winding and painful path to redemption, until I realized that the only trait I shared with him, our lack of pigmentation, was gone and not coming back.

Star Trek Discovery Ash Tyler Surgery_CBS Television Studios

(Image credit: CBS Television Studios)

In most films and television shows, people with albinism are either villains, part of a joke, or occasionally a specially targeted victim because of their genetic makeup. It’s rare to see a person with my condition embody the role of protagonist, especially one in the (completely metaphorical) spotlight. The Klingon known as Voq was almost that hero. He began as a central antagonist, Torchbearer to T’Kuvma, and his failure led to the loss of the warrior’s identity – visually, spiritually, and mentally.

The Klingons of Star Trek are not known for being pleasant, especially to each other, and they value strength overall. To them, albinism is seen as a weakness, a rare physical deformity (opens in new tab) that could hinder one’s prowess on the field of battle. Voq was treated as a freak, and being an outcast he did not have a Great House to claim, referring to himself as a “Son of None.” This put him at a disadvantage in several ways, so it is less surprising that he agreed to undergo the “choH’a’,” to change his appearance and have one more last great opportunity to prove himself amongst his brothers and honor Kahless.

Star Trek Discovery Klingons_CBS Television Studios

(Image credit: CBS Television Studios)

Albino Klingons aren’t new to the franchise; Deep Space Nine’s season two episode, “Blood Oath,” featured an antagonist simply known as The Albino. It’s another villain and isn’t very creative at first glance, but as an example, I suppose it means we should be happy that Voq received a name at least. There was even a theory that Voq and L’Rell’s child, Tenavik (opens in new tab), could be that character, but that now seems unlikely. 

Albinism is not viewed favorably by their race, and Tyler calling it a ‘curse’ multiple times, but there is the chance it could be more than skin deep. It seems odd that Voq’s son would also be an albino, but alas we aren’t privy to everything about Klingon DNA. In this case, it seems to have simply been an unlucky swim in the genetic lottery for both. It is unfortunate to think, however, that if he could be changed from Klingon to human through surgery, that they wouldn’t have the technology to give him pigment as well, fixing one of the problems that albinism inflicts.

It goes beyond that, though. Once Ash Tyler is found out to be Voq, he’s not simply been robbed of his original appearance – which he seemingly can’t go back to – but the memories that were used to help complete the subterfuge, the brainwaves of the original Ash Tyler aren’t reacting well to Voq’s thoughts seeping through. It’s a battle for the mind, and the solution to combat the noise in Tyler’s head is to get rid of one of the personalities warring within him. Since Voq’s physical presence is already gone, why not just dispose of the last remnants of him? Just to cement that Voq was dead and never to return, L’Rell roars at the end of the process, something Klingons do traditionally when one of their kind passes on (opens in new tab).

Star Trek Discovery L'Rell_CBS Television Studios

(Image credit: CBS Television Studios)

The only parts left of Voq are his knowledge of Klingon culture and language, assimilated into Tyler, but nothing of his albinism lingered, not even sensitivity to light, bad eyesight, or a distaste of the sun. He was an albino no more and the character felt weaker somehow, even after joining Section 31. His relationship with Michael wasn’t as satisfactory either, so after his grand trick of making the albino disappear, Tyler seemed far less interesting.

In the episode “The Wolf Inside,” Tyler is brought face to face with his albino persona once more, as he meets his Mirror Universe counterpart. This version of Voq, still a Klingon and an albino, is a hero, a proud warrior who fights for a noble cause and receives the name Fire Wolf as leader of the resistance. He’s everything Tyler wanted to be before this happened to him – other than that whole working with non-Klingons part – so it’s no surprise that Tyler attacks Voq, and loses the fight. This is the version of Voq we deserved.

Star Trek Discovery The Fire Wolf_CBS Television Studios

(Image credit: CBS Television Studios)

There are probably good reasons why Discovery’s story erased Voq. If he could simply go back to being Klingon, the sacrifice wouldn’t have been as great and he would not have stayed on the ship, most likely. The writers could have had concerns about viewers not being able to relate to the character, especially with his visage as an enemy. It could also have been a budgetary measure, to help save on makeup and prosthetics, but we could always use more of that in Star Trek and not less. At the end of the day, it felt like fans were robbed of something incredible in Voq, a rare and exciting representation that was too short-lived. Tyler’s story would continue to intertwine with the Klingons for a bit after Voq’s passing, but by that point, he was an imperfect proxy.

“He was born with a rare mutation that made his skin translucent white. The others considered him a freak of nature.” – Ash Tyler speaking about Voq, “Will You Take My Hand?”

Shazad Latif, who plays Ash Tyler, said that his character was vulnerable (opens in new tab) and had obvious pain in his eyes. His people saw him as a curse, but perhaps viewers see him differently. He carries the type of depth and emotion fans deserved in an alien crew member and wanted to see in an albino. Alas, Voq is gone, and we can only hope that he made it to Sto-vo-kor, where he fights the eternal battle in his original form, whole again.

If you want to watch Voq's journey for yourself, you can watch Star Trek Discovery on Paramount Plus (opens in new tab). If you're looking for more great Star Trek content, then we'd also highly recommend you check out our Star Trek streaming guide.

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Stephen Wilds
Contributing writer

Stephen Wilds is a freelance entertainment writer whose work you'll see pop up in various entities (Looper, Polygon, Coming Soon, Playboy). When he's not writing about sci-fi shows, you can usually find him struggling with commas, broken controllers, and nightmares of Borg invasions. Wilds earned a BA in English Lit, but his real education came from the Sci-Fi channel in the early morning hours when all the really bad shows aired.