Why Culber Looked Strange In Star Trek: Discovery's Finale

There was something uncanny about Doctor Culber's appearance in the coda to Life, Itself.

Wilson Cruz Hugh Culber Star Trek Discovery Season 5 finale
CBS Media Ventures

In the coda to the Star Trek: Discovery series finale Life, Itself, as Admiral Michael Burnham is sitting on the bridge of the de-retrofitted Discovery, her mind wanders back to her time as captain. Faces familiar to us from across the five seasons appear in a scene that was as much a farewell for the cast as it was to the Discovery crew.

There is one thing you may have noticed in the addendum that just didn't quite add up. When the camera moves out to a wide shot, what is assuredly Hugh Culber, half-hidden, is also definitely not. Then, as the Doctor gets his close-up, there is something a little off, a little strange — liminal, if you like — as though Culber is not quite there. That is because, sadly, he wasn't.

In an interview for the TrekCulture podcast one week before the finale, Culber actor Wilson Cruz revealed to Seán that a prior acting engagement — his role in the movie Mother of the Bride — had prevented him from joining his castmates for the filming of the coda. A contract is a contract is a contract, but Cruz went on to say that,

I was shattered. Shattered about not possibly being there to film the coda, but just not being able to be there at the very end with all of my friends, and people I love and admire, to close a chapter of my life that has been incredibly meaningful.

Instead, what we do see of Culber in the coda is, in Cruz's words, "the magic of television," i.e. a little touch of CGI. Sonequa Martin-Green did make sure, however, to FaceTime Cruz into Discovery's wrap party, where tears and make-up flowed, and the cast have all seen each other again since in the non-ethereal flesh.

We also know for sure that Cruz/Culber was present in person at Saru/T'Rina's wedding. Just yesterday (3 June), Patrick Kwok-Choon, who plays/ed Lieutenant Commander Gen Rhys tweeted a photo of himself and fellow castmates all dressed up in dress uniform at the reception.

As for what happens to the character of Culber once the wedding hangover has worn off, we'll have to wait and see. Regarding an appearance in the soon-to-be-shooting Star Trek: Starfleet Academy, Cruz told Seán,

They know my phone number. They have my email. They know that I would come back 'like that'.

Cruz assured Seán that he hadn't "received a call as of yet," so we can only hope that was one of those good little NDA lies or that they do pick up the phone before this summer! Before the slight strangeness of his appearance in the coda, there was an odd sense of incompletion for Doctor Culber. Owing to the cancellation, part of his journey was left suspended in that shuttle. For such a beloved and groundbreaking character, we'd hate to be left hanging, especially on that final digital insert. We need the continuation, and preferably in person! Tell me, how does 'Professor of Medicine' sound?

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Jack Kiely is a writer with a PhD in French and almost certainly an unhealthy obsession with Star Trek.