How Stacey Abrams Beamed Up For That ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Finale

Fans who have not yet viewed the season four finale of Star Trek: Discovery, be warned: this report contains spoilers, including the biggest one of all in the headline above.

How many of Star Trek’s famous guest stars can you name? Rockers Mick Fleetwood and Iggy Pop? Actors Christian Slater and Dwayne Johnson? Real life space heroes like space shuttle astronaut Mae Jemison and astrophysics genius Stephen Hawking? Even King Abdullah II of Jordan!

Star Trek has a tradition of booking big name guest stars, going all the way back to the original television series of the 1960s with attorney Melvin Belli. This week, the producers of Star Trek: Discovery unveiled Hollywood’s most tightly-kept secret in casting the biggest name in progressive politics, Georgia Democrat and candidate for governor, Stacey Abrams.

Abrams, who narrowly lost her last bid to current Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, plays the president of United Earth in the season finale of the Paramount streaming series.

The politician is no stranger to Star Trek, having written a book, Lead from the Outside, in which she cites life lessons from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Still, conservative fans have pitched a fit about Abrams’ role in the finale, and Republicans have been mocking her guest appearance on social media.

Series star Sonequa Martin-Green, who plays Captain Michael Burnham—the first Black woman captain in a Star Trek TV series—told Deadline the experience of working with Abrams left an indelible impression.

“I’m still floored when I think about Stacey gracing us with her presence in our season four finale. We spent so much of our time fanning out and pretending to be cool in her midst,” said Martin-Green. “She’s a legend in the making and a civil hero, and she was an absolute delight to work with. She wowed us with her charm, humility, and generosity, and she whipped out some acting chops, too!”

“It was an honor for me as a Black woman to stand with her in the story,” she added. It’s an experience I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.”

Actor Wilson Cruz, who plays Dr. Hugh Culber—one of several openly LGBTQ characters in the series—celebrated Abrams’ appearance with behind-the-scenes tweets.

One on One with Michelle Paradise

Earlier this week, I spoke with Michelle Paradise, the show’s executive producer, co-showrunner and writer of the episode, Coming Home, about casting Abrams, and more.

I started this, my second Zoom interview with this creative, out gay woman, asking Paradise who came up with the idea. Whomever it was, she said Abrams jumped at the chance to be on the show as a lifelong fan of Star Trek, and Paradise is clearly a fan of Abrams.

Michelle Paradise: I’ve seen the cut so many times, and every time she comes on, I still have this moment of, “Oh my gosh. Stacey Abrams!”

Dawn Ennis: How did it all come about? How did it work out that she was on the show and how did you keep a lid on it?

Paradise: I’ll answer both of those. So we knew that she was a fan of of Discovery specifically, and a fan of Trek in general. I’ll step back for a second, to season three: Coming into season three, we found that the Federation was in disarray. We always knew that bringing the Federation back together again, it couldn’t be done in a single season, that felt very much like a two season arc to us. And especially once you get into [episode] 303 and Earth is not part of the Federation anymore. It really felt to us like Earth had to be the symbol of the Federation coming back together again. So, we knew, even back then, that fingers crossed we got to season four.

But then once we got to season four, we knew that the end of the season had to be Earth, coming back into the Federation and that would kind of complete that journey. So we knew that’s where we were driving to. And then, about halfway through season four, as we started to look ahead to the specifics of the finale, we knew, well, we need a face, we need a face to represent Earth, a person that is the president of Earth, to be able to say those words and and represent Earth in that way. Who should that be?

I can’t remember if I had the idea or someone in the [writers’] room had the idea, but I reached out to [co-executive producer and series co-creator] Alex [Kurtzman] and I said, “What do you think? I mean, I don’t know if we could get her, but what would you think of Stacey Abrams?”

And he just, like his head exploded, and so he said, “Yes! Let’s ask.” And so we reached out and she was kind enough to to meet with us on a Zoom. She’s a fan of the show, so she didn’t want any spoilers for the season. We just gave the very basics: Earth is going to come back in, and then we pitched her this character and who she would be and what she would represent, and we asked if she would want to do that, and she said “Yes.” And both of us just still can’t quite believe that that actually happened.

Ennis: You snuck her up to Toronto on top of that.

Paradise: Yeah. And I will say from the moment she said “yes,” I was like, just at every turn, was saying, “We cannot let this information out.” We didn’t want that to come out before the episode. We wanted it to come within the episode, which can be a lovely surprise, and so we didn’t put her name on the call sheet, all of these things, we just added every step of the way. We really wanted it to be a moment of delight for the audience and an “Oh, wow!” moment for them when they get to see her.

Ennis: Oh, wow is right! It is, definitely and what an actress she is! I was not aware that she could act.

Paradise: Yes, she’s fantastic. She’s acted in other things before which I only learned after the fact, but she’s phenomenal. She came in and she is so, like, who she is anyway. She’s perfect for that role. But as a performer, too, she’s just wonderful. She was fantastic.

Tilly Returns!

Ennis: Also, Mary [Wiseman]’s back.

Paradise: Yes!

Ennis: Is it just like, “this is a one-time thing,” or we’re going to see what happens?

Paradise: Yeah, it’s so great to have her back. I can’t answer anything about season five, but you know what I can say is: What I love about this show and the world is that, you know, unless a character is dead, dead, they’re always a part of this world. And so you can have a thing where you know, Tilly, for her character, needs to go off and she’s going to be a teacher at Starfleet Academy. And we know that she’s right there. But maybe she’s not on screen with us, but she’s out there and then she can come back and she does. And I just love the way she comes back in the finale. It’s just so spectacular.

Ennis: I got to meet her Saturday. She’s the star of a show at Lincoln Center, At the Wedding. It was wonderful, and she’s spectacular. (Watch for my story next week!)

“For April, with Love”

Ennis: Another question: Who is April? The final episode is dedicated to April with the words, “For April, with Love.”

Paradise: April Nocifora was our post supervisor who passed away during the season four process. She was just wonderful and a huge, huge fan of of Trek and had been on the show for forever. We miss her and we just wanted to find a way to honor her in some way.

View photography work by Nocifora about her battle with cancer by clicking here, and read about her work here.

Looking Back and to the Future

Ennis: Season four is done but I imagine you still have work to do on season five? How are you feeling, looking back? How’s the whole team feeling?

Paradise: We have work to do for the next season, for sure, but yeah, season four was a huge challenge. You know, our entire writers’ room was on Zoom for the entire season. We didn’t meet in-person at all in season four. There were a lot of things happening with Covid, of course, that created its own things. There were some personal things that folks were dealing with, and it was just a very difficult season all the way around. And I can’t say enough about how everyone came together and made it happen. It is a testament to teamwork in general. That’s what it takes to make any television show. And we have an incredible team and I just I can’t say enough about it, and I’m so proud of how it turned out, and I’m proud that we can watch the episodes and I feel like we can just enjoy them for what they are, and not think about the behind-the-scenes stuff and the challenges and complications and all of that.”

Ennis: And a great leader on top of that, who happens to also be a great writer. You wrote this episode, so kudos. When Emily Coutts stood up, and her character Keyla Detmer volunteered to go on what could have been a suicide mission, I cried. I was like, “No! No! Don’t send her!” You got me. Oh, you’re a terrible, person, you got me!

Expressing Emotions

Ennis: That leads me to ask you to respond to those fans who, especially this season, complain “This show is all emotions and feelings. Why can’t there be more, you know, Star Trek?”

To them I say, have you watched any Star Trek revolving around Spock, such as the original series episode, This Side of Paradise? Or how Kirk is nearly blinded by love in City on the Edge of Forever, Requiem for Methuselah and so many more of the original 78 episodes? Or how about The Inner Light from Next Generation? Star Trek really does deal with how important emotions are. So would you mind addressing those people who just don’t get it?

Paradise: Well, I’m not sure anything I would have to say would convince someone. Star Trek has always had science. It has always had themes that are relevant to what’s happening in society today. It has always had action and adventure and has always had super cool planets and aliens and all sorts of things. And you know, Discovery is a combination of all of those things.

But at the heart of of that are these characters. And our goal every season is to expand our characters, explore who they are in deeper ways, explore their relationships in deeper ways. And I feel like we have a really good mix of all of the flavors of Star Trek, all the things that it is. If people don’t like the emotional stuff, I’m not quite sure what to say about that. We’re really proud of our actors. We’re proud of giving them great material to really sink their teeth into.

And I feel like the fact that you responded emotionally to Dettmer standing, and maybe she’s going to be killed. If you didn’t care about her, you wouldn’t care about that moment. If you didn’t know anything about her, you wouldn’t care about her. So, the fact that we care that Detmer might die, or Book is in a pickle or, you know, Burnham is in a bind, we care about what’s happening because we know who they are, and we can only know who they are if we know what’s happening with them emotionally.

So that’s where we start from, for people who feel this way. Most of us, just like you and me.

Follow Michelle Paradise on Instagram and on Twitter. Learn about a favorite charity she supports, School on Wheels. All 13 episodes of season four of Star Trek: Discovery are now available for streaming on Paramount+.