Discovery: Tilly as Number One – Too Much Too Soon?

Following the events of last week's episode, Unification III, Tilly will now be temporarily serving as "Number One". With that in mind, we
Number One

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Following the events of last week’s episode, Unification III, Tilly (Mary Wiseman) will now be temporarily serving as “Number One”. With that in mind, we wrote a recent feature, called Tilly – Time For Promotion? In it, we specified that Tilly shouldn’t become the First Officer. But we did say that she should get another pip. We stand by that. But as it is, Saru (Doug Jones) decided that it’s Tilly he wants at his side, until a suitable permanent replacement can be found for the wayward Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green). It’s important to remember that this isn’t a rise in rank, then. Ensign Tilly isn’t becoming a Commander, in one fell swoop. Still, it sort of feels like that. Since the episode, people have reacted quite strongly to the news. Understandable. So, what are they saying?

Reactions and Issues

Quite simply, many fans feel that Tilly just isn’t ready for the role. More than that though. They feel that the decision was “political”. That it forcibly engendered positive representation. And they feel quite strongly about it, too. One fan (my housemate, Dan, and fellow long term Trekkie) said this: “It’s like making the work experience kid the Company Director”. Having minorities represented is of course vitally significant. Anyone against that as a principal practice is against progress and social equality. These aspects of inclusion are what Star Trek has long led the way on, in many ways. This, though, was done in a way that did feel a little tokenistic. The fact that it was tagged on to the central action didn’t help. Yes, the week before provided something of a context. But nowhere near enough.

Back to Basics

Traditionally, except for Star Trek¬†the original series, incarnations of the show have had a formula. Individual episodes were always dedicated to a certain character’s story arcs. Or their development. Often, both. Discovery broke with this. The result is that the show feels a little crammed, at times. It’s always about Burnham or Saru. With the exception of Georgiou (but we think that’s because Michelle Yeoh will head up Star Trek: Section 31). We’ve talked about this in our most recent podcast episode. It would have been better to revert to this format. For Tilly’s promotion (a permanent one, to Lieutenant Junior Grade), a dedicated episode would have been perfect. One with a journey. Some heroics, perhaps her overcoming some major adversity. So we could see her earn the pip.

Acceptance and Predictions

Whether Tilly becoming “Number One” was the right thing or not, the situation is here now. At least for the time being. Tilly will be Number One. The most important thing to make sure is that the decision has an impact. Perhaps, that way we’ll forgive the suddenness of it, as a plot device. It certainly does have a Deux ex machina feel to it. It’s still possible that this could be part of the long term plan for the character journey of Tilly. Let’s have a look at what Tilly might get up to, and how it could play out for her.


Tilly’s already said that she doesn’t feel ready for the role. Perhaps this is the use of foreshadowing. One thing’s for sure, she’s going to be thrown in the deep end. No doubt there. The ship’s command structure requires that. A steep learning curve for Tilly might also be a very harsh one. Stammets (Anthony Rapp) has stated it will be weird taking orders from Tilly. The two have a close working relationship. That might make it even more weird. Harder. Again, this might have been written in as a warning. In a life and death scenario, Tilly might make the wrong call. Furthermore, she may reject strong advice. If not from Stammets, from someone else . . .

If Tilly and Burnham went “head to head”, there’d be potential for serious drama. The two love one another, deeply. Their friendship’s come a long way, in a short time. Has survived much, and endured. But, their relationship might be tested further. To breaking point. Tilly might pull rank on Burnham. Uphold a bad decision. It could even involve Booker (David Ajala). In an effort to prove herself, even to herself, Tilly might insist her stance is right. That her orders stand. In a bid to overcome a crisis of confidence, things could go very badly indeed for the new “Number One”. Ultimately, Tilly could make a serious judgment lapse she has to live with forever.

Lasting Impact

Consequently, it might cost her Burnham’s friendship. At least temporarily. It wouldn’t be the first time this has happened in Star Trek. That might be the price she pays for becoming Number One. Maybe she’ll come to empathize with Burnham, in the end. Subsequently, Tilly might learn how hard being second in command can be.¬† The hard way. The traditional Star Trek way. This would at least make for an interesting dynamic and be one way to create a good “interpersonal” story arc. Discovery is very much “The Michael Burnham Show”. So, this would be a good way to make sure to develop Tilly, whilst keeping the all-important focus on Michael Burnham.


Star Trek: Discovery airs weekly. Thursdays on CBS All Access in the U.S. Fridays on Netflix in the U.K. and Europe. Read your weekly review and associated features here at SciFiPulse.



One Comment
  • Jimmy
    1 December 2020 at 11:09 pm -

    Yeah, I thought this was a very strange choice. From a military rank perspective it just doesn’t make sense. I see this as the equivalent of an XO in the American military, which is usually the 2nd in command and a higher ranking officer than an ensign. Maybe they have a plan for Tilly’s character that will have it make more sense. Time will tell.

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