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‘Star Trek: Discovery’s David Ajala on Book & Burnham: ‘It’s More Than Romance’

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 3, Episode 6 of Star Trek: Discovery, “Scavengers.”]

What better way to cap off a life-endangering episode than with a kiss?

The third season of Star Trek: Discovery began with Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) emerging from the wormhole in the future and meeting Cleveland “Book” Booker (David Ajala). When she reunited with the Discovery crew, a year had passed for her, and in that time, she and Book had grown close. It’s because of that bond that he goes on a dangerous mission on his own to retrieve a black box to help with her investigation into the mysterious Burn in the November 18 episode.

Book has “had to consider his own mortality,” Ajala tells TV Insider. “It’s definitely going to shape some of his character development going forward. But we have to remember, Booker’s the kind of character that lives just ahead of danger.”

Burnham (with Michelle Yeoh’s Philippa Georgiou) did come to his rescue, going against orders, and in the end, the two (finally) kissed.

Here, Ajala breaks down “Scavengers” and Book’s important relationships with Burnham and Grudge the cat in Season 3.

Let’s talk about Book and Burnham’s relationship. We may not have seen how it developed over that year offscreen, but you and Sonequa Martin-Green did a great job of showing that bond when we saw them again. Can you talk about developing that? Is there anything you two came up with for the time we didn’t see?

David Ajala: During that time, that year away from Starfleet, Michael Burnham has had the time to really be able to grow without having to sensor herself, without having to almost dim the light on who she is as a person because as she’s had to operate in and amongst Starfleet, she’s always had that push-and-pull relationship. But I think with someone like Cleveland Booker, it’s an unspoken rule that he’s given her the permission to be herself and to be comfortable with being the best version of herself.

During that year away, the two of them definitely learned from each other and had many, many experiences and stories to tell from their time away, and I think it’s given them both good perspective on the benefits of working as a team and then also being comfortable with who you are as a person, even though you’re going through a transitional period. It really speaks to humanity in general because we’re constantly evolving.

(Michael Gibson/CBS)

And then Book and Burnham finally kiss in this episode, and I have to admit, after they were interrupted, I wondered if they would just take a step back. What made now the right time for the characters to go there for them and for this point in the season?

It’s funny because when reading the episodes, I wondered when these guys would be open and honest with each other to share that part of themselves with one another, and I think the reason why it happens in this episode is because both Burnham and Book have shown their dedication for each other and their love for each other without having to say it. Oftentimes when someone asks, “What does love mean?” people tend to say, “Oh, it’s a feeling, it’s a knowing,” and I think it is that, but I think also love can be expressed in your actions.

Cleveland Booker has gone to the Emerald Chain to infiltrate and to try to get this black box for Michael Burnham. And Michael Burnham has left Starfleet to travel to the Emerald Chain to rescue Cleveland Booker. She’s literally put her life and her title on the line, and Cleveland Booker has put his life on the line for Michael Burnham. We haven’t seen a greater display of love for these two characters than we have done in this episode, so when we come to the end of the episode, where the two of them are both emotionally drained and emotionally quite raw, they just so happen to physically be in the same space as they are mentally in the same space, and I think that moment organically happens where they embrace each other. It was really special to film that.

Speaking of love, in this episode, Burnham slipped with the “love here” instead of “live here” when referring to Book’s ship, then denied it. Where is Book in those terms?

I think whatever thoughts or preconceived ideas he had about a romantic relationship with Michael Burnham has been transcended because it’s more than romance. These people have literally put their lives on the line for each other, so I think Book knows that he loves Burnham, but he only knew because of what he was willing to put himself through, so it’s almost like an afterthought. It’s almost like he’s had a revelation of how much he cares and that moment is expressed in the kiss.

With that relationship with Burnham, are we going to see Book sticking around and having to learn to be a team player and work with the rest of the Discovery crew?

[Laughs] That’s going to be the fun part because with any relationship, it’s about compromise and it’s about give and take, and Michael Burnham has always been forthcoming with trying to get Cleveland Booker to collaborate with the Federation because it’s important. Collaboration is what they do. It’ll be entertaining and a great character development point to see how Cleveland Booker aligns himself with the Federation.

Star Trek Discovery Season 3 Cleveland Booker Grudge Cat

(James Dimmock/CBS)

Book made the decision to go after that black box, which was for Burnham, but it’s also key for the investigation into the Burn. Is there anything you can preview about that investigation?

Yeah, that black box is definitely going to have some significance going forward for the Burn. The way I would describe the Burn at the moment is just a massive puzzle and with this puzzle, there are some pieces that are small and there are some pieces that are larger, but because we have very different sizes of this puzzle, it’s hard to figure out what the full picture looks like, so we’re just constantly trying to find these pieces and put them together. But the black box definitely represents a larger piece of the puzzle.

And of course there’s Grudge, the most adorable character on the show. What does it say about Book that not only does he have this cat but also that they get along? After all, Tilly doesn’t have the best luck with her in this episode.

Yeah, right? [Laughs] I think what’s special is for someone like Cleveland Booker, before Michael Burnham came along, there was Grudge, and Grudge means a lot to Cleveland Booker, and what I love about their relationship is how much Cleveland Booker looks after Grudge. She’s not a pet to him. She’s a queen, and he holds her in that regard, respects her in that regard, and loves her in that regard, and I just love that the two of them are so in sync with each other. And the directors and writers have done a really good job with allowing Cleveland Booker and Grudge to communicate in a way that you just feel that these two know each other and are very comfortable in each other’s presence.

Who’s going to warm up to the others on the Discovery quicker, Booker or Grudge?

Probably Cleveland Booker. You have to remember, Cleveland Booker had to work his way up the ladder to get Grudge’s affections. And that was a whole process. Michael Burnham is kind of scratching on the surface of her affection at the moment. Grudge is a hard taskmaster. But I’ll tell you, once she lets you in, she embraces you fully.

Star Trek: Discovery, Thursdays, CBS All Access

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