Star Trek: Discovery's Robot-Looking Crew Member, Explained

Airiam on Star Trek: Discovery

WARNING: This article may contain minor spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery, airing Sundays on CBS All Access.

There's a growing list of mysteries surrounding the first season of Star Trek: Discovery, from the true nature of the title vessel and its duplicitous captain to the potentially staggering secret that Lt. Ash Tyler (and his actor) may be hiding. But few have been as persistent as what the deal is with that almost comically robot-looking member of Discovery's bridge crew. This week we found out -- although not on the series itself.

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Co-creator Bryan Fuller, who left the series before its premiere, had teased last year that Discovery would include robots, something seemingly reinforced last month with an official peek behind the scenes of the drama's props and prosthetics, in which the "robot" crewman is identified as Airiam. However, it turns out she isn't a robot; not exactly.

On this week's episode of After Trek, the live after-show, showrunner Gretchen J. Berg and special effects makeup artists Neville Page and Glenn Hetrick clarified that Airiam is an augmented human, not a robot.

"There was a sketch," Berg said. "I remember for Episode 3, because you [Page] had done a lot of concept sketches of different creatures, of different augmented humans, and I remember at one point, like, Akiva Goldsman, who's an amazing executive producer on the show and was directing Episode 3, ran through the office at one point and was like, 'I want Plate Face, I call Plate Face!' We were like, 'I don't know what you're talking about,' but he fell in love with that sketch, and sometimes it's that -- you start from there: Who is this character? What is she about? And her name became Airiam, She's kind of a favorite in the [writers'] room; we love her. She's fantastic."

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Traditionally the Star Trek franchise has used "augmented human," or merely Augment, to refer to those genetically engineered Terrans like Khan Noonien Singh who were the products of Earth's 20th-century Eugenics Wars, and Dr. Julian Bashir (of Deep Space Nine), who as a child underwent "accelerated critical neural pathway formation" treatments. (The Klingons too have augments, the result of a failed attempt to use DNA from augmented human embryos to bio-engineer super-warriors.) However, Airiam is clearly different, as she's been heavily augmented with robotic, cybernetic, attachments. Kind of like the Borg, come to think of it, only without the hive mind, invasive assimilation process and, presumably, driving desire for "perfection."

Played by Sara Mitich (The Expanse, Heroes Reborn) Airiam is characterized as potentially "modular," meaning we could see her use custom attachments for, say, away missions. "It actually was discussed, right?" Hetrick said. "We talked about seeing different of -- I mean, there's so many iterations to arrive at where she's at. You, just kind of going through the sketches, saw some of the fleshier versions and hard surfacing. Then it became this cool white silicone, so I feel like she could evolve more."

Airing Sundays at 8:30 p.m. ET on CBS All Access, Star Trek: Discovery stars Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Jason Isaacs, Anthony Rapp, Shazad Latif, Mary Wiseman, Wilson Cruz, Mary Chieffo and James Frain.

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