but to connect with Carlos

One of the reasons newer Star Trek has rad queer stories is that we’re in the writers room! 

Transcript below:

Callie Wright: (00:00)
Big shout out to Linda for becoming a new patron this week. Thank you, friend. Love you lots. My name is Callie Wright, and this is Queersplaining. So I’ve been a fan of Star Trek Discovery since day one, honestly, the Klingons and wild tech and queer characters and just like cool stories that I genuinely liked. It’s all there. But Season 3 and Season 4 which is just over half done are on another level for me and it’s for way more than Star Trek reasons. It’s had so much to say about found family, acknowledging and healing from trauma and the deep want and need to just leave the universe a little better than you found it. Then they get our best, that’s what we’re all here trying to do, right?

Callie Wright: (00:45)
Actors get a lot of credit for this stuff and they should. Actors are amazing. Their art is difficult and beautiful, but we don’t hear quite as often from the folks behind the scenes. And dammit, those folks deserve some love to. So this week, I’m really stoked to be talking to Carlos Cisco. He started as a writer’s assistant in Season 3 and he’s now a staff writer for Star Trek Discovery. And truly, Star Trek isn’t the only reason I wanted to have him on the show. He’s had a hell of a ride getting into the work he does. He’s an awesome queer with a cool story and that’s what we do here, so here we are. For Carlos, stories and storytelling kind of been a thing.

Carlos Cisco: (01:27)
I played a lot of role-playing games since like middle school. I did theater since middle school. And so I feel like that was all part and parcel to learning how stories are crafted, generally like living in stories. And I was also a huge reader growing up. Strangely enough for a TV writer, I didn’t have TV growing up. My mom did, but when I was living with my dad, we reroofed the house and he took down the old antenna, because back in those days, we had antennas. And so we didn’t have TV. So my mom would record episodes of The Simpsons and generally what was on like the Fox primetime lineup on Sunday nights when it was super good in the ’90s and she would send those tapes to me. And so that’s really all I had as far as TV. We would watch movies and stuff, but I didn’t watch a lot of TV, but I read tons growing up.

Callie Wright: (02:23)
At what point do you to decide that you want to be the one making these kinds of stories?

Carlos Cisco: (02:29)
That was a while actually. I wanted to be an actor and so I went through undergrad as just wanting to act, but actually, I got beat down a lot during that program. I made it into the first acting class and then I got slapped down twice not being able to move forward in, I guess, what was a pretty exclusive program in that. And then-

Callie Wright: (02:54)
When you say beat down, does that mean that just you weren’t good enough or-

Carlos Cisco: (02:59)
sure. Subjectively speaking, sure. I was getting cast in shows when people who are making it through those programs were not, so I don’t know. But honestly, super glad I’m not an actor. Nothing against actors, I love actors, that is a hard life. Writing is depressing enough, but man, acting, that’s a whole another ballgame out here especially. I was like, “Ah, my friends are here. My life is here. I’m just going to explore other options within this,” and so I pivoted to directing, and to a lesser extent, playwriting. I ended up going to New Mexico State University where a new film program was starting there and just did a quick two-year degree because I didn’t have to do any under like gen ed stuff.

Carlos Cisco: (03:51)
But while I was there, I was in acting for film class and I had to write a monologue and the teacher who’s now one of my best friends and she’s now the head of the program, she told me, “I don’t think you’re an actor. I think you’re a writer,” and I never looked back.

Callie Wright: (04:05)
What did you do to start that journey? Where did you go starting to try to get those jobs?

Carlos Cisco: (04:10)
So I had a really fortunate landing when I got out here because I have two friends in LA, and somehow, one of them really fucking pulled through for me. Because about two weeks before I graduated, my friend was like, “Hey, there’s this actress who is going to be working on a series in Hawaii and her husband has been shooting series up in Canada. And they need someone to housesit and dogsit. I live too far. Can you do this? Are you going to be available?” I looked at the date and it was two days after I graduate. And I was like, “Yeah, man, I’m there,” because it meant seven months of free rent.

Carlos Cisco: (04:50)
My first mistake was getting, and this was not a mistake. Well, in some ways, it was a mistake, in other ways, it wasn’t, but the folly that I wish somebody had advised me against was getting an internship at a place that is more than an hour commute from you. Because I was working for free and commuting to two and a half hours a day at Sony, I was working odd PA gigs here and there. I did like, I don’t know, some LL Cool J Show. It was like Kids Say The Darndest Things, but they couldn’t use that title because of copyright, so it’s slightly different and I don’t know if it ever aired. And then I did like some nonprofit PA work like for Stand Up To Cancer and stuff which was connected to my first internship. I just generally tried to survive out here. It was pretty rough times. I was Gonzo’s dog walker for a little while.

Carlos Cisco: (05:46)
I actually left LA at one point because I was broke, but my friend, who I had talked about is now the head of that program I went through, was going on sabbatical when she was still a professor and needed someone to fill in, so I was like, “I’ll just go there, live cheaply for a semester and lick my wounds and make some money.” I stay plugged in with everything out here or kind of in a way by inviting friends to zoom in and talk with the students because I was teaching a television writing class and I’d never been in a room, so what the fuck business did I have doing that? And then I moved back out to LA shortly after and I was doing the rounds of coffee and, “Hey, I’m alive. I need a job.”

Carlos Cisco: (06:37)
And I ended up linking up with a woman from my first internship who was now a creative executive at a company and told her I was looking for work. And she said, “Well, this is great timing. We’re getting picked up for Season 3 on East Los High and our writer’s assistant is getting promoted. She’ll need to find a replacement, so let me introduce you guys.” We’re best friends now. She actually lives about 60 feet to my left. So I ended up getting that job on East Lost High.

Callie Wright: (07:07)
And that was your first time actually in a writers’ room, right?

Carlos Cisco: (07:09)
First time, and I was hired as a writer’s assistant but was informed that I would wear many hats. And I was also the showrunner’s assistant, the writer’s PA and half-a-script coordinator which is still was one of the hardest, most stressful jobs. Doing all of those combined was so rough, but the showrunner, he was generous, but I’ll say I earned it at the same time, I should acknowledge my hard work, that I did get a cowrite during that which enabled me to get an associate membership in the Guild which is like Guild Membership Light. You can’t vote, you don’t get insurance, but you can go to meetings. You can join committees and stuff like that, which is super helpful and it’s honestly why I got on Star Trek. But after that was a pretty long dark period.

Carlos Cisco: (08:03)
I worked on another show by the same showrunner, but it didn’t ever make it out of the room and we all ended up getting fired because of some decisions at the top which was really a bummer and I was left adrift. My manager at the time, this was my second manager, I had already fired one manager who has just made himself apparent in the first set of notes that he gave me that he … I don’t know, he’s bad. Anyways, second manager, the first red flag, I would say is I’m Latino. He put me up for a job and then he told me he’s like, “Hey, yeah, I put you up for this thing. You’re Guatemalan, right?” I’m like, “No, I’m half Mexican.” And he’s like, “Well, it’s the same thing, right?” I was like, “No, it’s very different and you shouldn’t put me up for those types of jobs if they’re looking for someone specifically about ethnicity and culture.”

Carlos Cisco: (08:58)
That honestly should have been it right there, but I wrote this sample Asylum, it’s something I’m really proud of it and it was right after Trump got elected. I basically wrote a story about two queer couples, a lesbian and a gay couple that are living in a fascist America that after massive climate change and there was [inaudible 00:09:26] in there. At one point in the history, there was a pandemic that wiped out a good portion population, but anyways, there was a massive drive to repopulate the Earth and one of the ways that they’re doing that is by erasing queer people using CRISPR.

Callie Wright: (09:42)
CRISPR, being this very sci fi sounding, but very real method for altering genes.

Carlos Cisco: (09:47)
Because everybody has to be breathing. And so the whole story hinges on the two couples that live in adjoining apartments, but they live as straight couples like basically they’re each other’s beards, but it’s interconnected through a hole in the closet and it’s like really raw. I wrote it and then The Handmaid’s Tale came out. So when I talk about it to people, I lovingly refer to it as The Handgay’s Tale because I sort wanted to write a reverse immigration story about us fleeing from a major city in the United States to the Mexican border and crossing that. That has been my signature piece. It’s gotten me every meeting, every bit of work. It got me my staff gig.

Carlos Cisco: (10:40)
When I wrote this thing, I present it to my manager and I was very proud of it. We had a notes call on it. And at one point in the notes call, he’s like, “Carlos, honestly,” he’s like, “I don’t know what this is. I think it’s just too gay to sell.”

Callie Wright: (11:00)
Wow.

Carlos Cisco: (11:00)
Then I fired my manager next day. I was like, “I think I might be too gay of a client for you.” That’s his loss. I have a lovely manager now, Latina woman. She’s a hustler. Within a month of signing with her, she had gotten me a meeting on an open writing assignment, which I then landed and that movie actually is going into production and I still have a story by credit on it right now which is cool.

Callie Wright: (11:30)
So the thing with your manager, that sort of homophobia, is that a thing you’ve run into often because I feel like the film and TV industry has this reputation as being a place where being queer is no big deal, right? But I’ve heard more than a few stories to the contrary.

Carlos Cisco: (11:49)
I have not experienced much outright homophobia in this business, though I’ll admit I’m very lucky in that regard. Every showrunner I’ve worked for has been queer. So I’ve always been in rooms where my voice as a gay man is welcome and really wanted for that reason. Not just that reason, but that’s certainly a part of it. I think it’s a little more subtle and coated. I was having a conversation with some writer friends about this and it wasn’t specifically speaking to queer issues, but whether you’re queer, you’re black, you’re disabled, any of this stuff is a problem that a lot of writers that were really talking about, I think, more openly now is that you’re being brought in to do the black pass, to do the gay pass, do the trans pass, to do the Asian pass, to do …

Carlos Cisco: (12:43)
And it’s not even specifically, if you’re brought in to do the Asian pass, my friend was like, “I was brought in to do a rewrite on a thing that’s Chinese,” and she’s Korean, these properties created by or spearheaded by well-meaning white executives that want that perspective there or want what they see as the perspective there, but what they really want is for this disenfranchised writer who is probably desperate for work and is suddenly being told that they need to be grateful for this job, they are there to validate what that straight white cis person wants to tell in that story.

Carlos Cisco: (13:27)
And so for me, I won’t write things about Latinx maids and gangbangers. I’m just not interested in it. I want to see Latinx and queer characters doing the straight, normal mundane boring stuff that straight people do. The thing I am fond of saying is like we won’t really know true equality until people of color and queer people are able to be as mediocre and misbehave and still get to work another day in the same way that straight white cis people do. Because the truth of it is too that we’re held to a different standard, we have to be better in order to be noticed. We have to work that much harder, and then if we fuck up, that may be our last shot. And not only our last shot, it’s going to reverberate for other people like us trying to break in.

Carlos Cisco: (14:24)
If that trans property didn’t work, they’re going to be like … If Pose wasn’t such a huge smash hit, you wouldn’t see more trans and nonbinary characters making it into other shows. You truly wouldn’t.

Callie Wright: (14:41)
Talk to me about the process of getting staffed on Star Trek.

Carlos Cisco: (14:45)
It was weird. At the time, I was, again, considering leaving LA. I’d interviewed with Wizards of the Coast to be a narrative designer for D&D. I didn’t end up getting a second interview, but the rejection call will come in later at a strange time. But while I was just waiting on all of that, I got an email from Michelle Paradise, our showrunner. It’s like, “I’m the incoming showrunner on Season 3. Are you interested in applying to be a writer’s assistant?” “What? Who does that? What kind of person just emails someone out of the blue and offers them the chance to get one of the most coveted positions for any up-and-coming writer on, I would say, arguably one of the most important franchises in television history? What?”

Callie Wright: (15:44)
And you had no previous connection to Michelle?

Carlos Cisco: (15:46)
I see there are loose threads, but it comes back to that associate membership that I got from the East Los High. Correct. Because I had joined the LGBT committee and the Latino committee, they do these great things, these meet and greets where it’s essentially like speed dating, but it’s like, “We’re going to do managers. We’re going to do agents. We’re going to do executives. We’re going to do showrunners.” And so I went to one of them that was showrunners, met a bunch of people. You get 10 minutes to pitch yourself and talk with them. I didn’t meet Michelle, but I guess she saw my name in that binder because they have our resumes and stuff and she saw I was a genre writer because it has our log lines and samples in there.

Carlos Cisco: (16:34)
I have theories that she might have asked a friend, but I’ve never been able to confirm it here or there. So I sent her my resume and my sample because she asked for a sample and I just started watching Discovery because I hadn’t watched it. And the truth of it is I didn’t grow up a Star Trek fan. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t have TV in the ’90s. My parents were not sci-fi people, so it wasn’t something that I was exposed to through them. And if you missed TV in the ’90s, you just didn’t see it. I guess you could catch it in syndication, but there was no real way for me to catch up. And then on VHS, I’m not going to buy it as a kid for $36 for two episodes. And then once it’s on DVD, I’m in college, I’m too busy.

Carlos Cisco: (17:30)
I actually honestly didn’t know a lot of people who were big Trekkers. I had one friend in elementary school who was big on it and I had watched a few like Next Gen episodes. I distinctly remember watching the Star Trek episode Reading Rainbow and loving the shit out of that as a kid. And it was just so intimidating. Because by the time Netflix was streaming all of it, I was like, “There’s 700 odd episodes of that shit. I don’t …” There’s so much to watch and I’m like, “I don’t know.” It didn’t seem like a priority for me, but then as soon as … I was like, “Well, I got to watch Discovery at the very least.” And I had seen the JJ movies and I had really enjoyed them. And I was like, “Oh, well, okay, Star Trek can be fun and exciting. Those casts are really good,” and stuff like that, but then got into Discovery and was like, “Holy shit. This is wild.”

Carlos Cisco: (18:27)
I had a general awareness of Klingons and Vulcans and the basic pieces. I’d seen all the Futurama, I knew all the Star Trek jokes. So I got into Discovery and I was like, “Holy shit, these Klingons, this is wild.” I basically burned through Season 1 and what had aired of Season 2 at that point, up to that point, which was I think like two or three episodes. I think Spock was just getting introduced. So it’s like, “Oh, I’m getting into territory that I recognize ancillarily.” And so I was getting really excited that I was like, “Oh, I’m starting to understand the world and where we are a little bit more.”

Callie Wright: (19:09)
Did that ratchet up the pressure for you at that point because it’s like-

Carlos Cisco: (19:14)
Absolutely. Are you kidding me? Listen, I’m no dummy. I know that Star Trek created fandom. It was super intimidating. In the interview, I was very honest, I was like, “Look, I’ve watched Discovery. I’ve seen the JJ movies. I’ve seen a handful of Next Gen and that,” she said that that was okay. We have Trexperts in the room, the people who know that stuff who know cannon back and forth. Other than the fact that it went over, it was an amazing interview and Michelle is an incredible human, I was still sweating. I was like, “Oh, I don’t know shit. I got work to do.”

Carlos Cisco: (19:53)
And then the week on Monday that I had gotten the rejection from Wizards of the Coast, Michelle calls me and says, “You’re starting in two weeks, please.” It was amazing to get hired, but I knew then and there I had work to do. And the year of me being a writer’s assistant, I would watch two episodes in the morning before work. I would usually watch one or two episodes in the evening when I got home. On the weekends, I would watch three or four a day. I watched the first two seasons of Next Gen, then started on Enterprise and blew through that in its entirety. And I was always like … I’m a huge horror guy, so I was always Jeffrey Combs fan. I had no idea how deep he ran in Star Trek. I had no idea.

Carlos Cisco: (20:54)
I finished that, then blew through the rest of Next Gen, then started on DS Nine. DS Nine is now among my three favorite series of all time. Even since watching it all the way through that year, watched it all the way through again because I think it’s that good. I burnt out about the end of Season 4 of Voyager. I was like, “I can’t watch any more Star Trek while I’m working all day on Star Trek.” It was too much.

Callie Wright: (21:27)
[inaudible 00:21:27]

Carlos Cisco: (21:28)
So that that season ended. It was an awesome experience. What an amazing learning experience, having writers in there, people who had worked on in the Halloween franchise. We had people who had worked on Battlestar.

Callie Wright: (21:44)
And what’s your day to day?

Carlos Cisco: (21:46)
A lot of notes, just notes and notes and notes and notes and notes because there’s 10-ish people in the room and they’re just talking all day, throwing out ideas, pitching things and it’s your responsibility to catch all of those, be the finest possible sieve because the most of that stuff has to make it through. There’s going to be a couple chunks here and there that are like, “Well, this is just them talking in circles for 30 minutes.” You learn when like, “Okay, they’re on a tangent. I can just rest my hands for a minute.”

Callie Wright: (22:19)
Right.

Carlos Cisco: (22:20)
But it’s like on a, this may be not the operative word, but a good notes day, you’re going to get 15 pages of notes by the end of the day that you have to process which then turns maybe into like a 10-page document. On a bad notes day, you might get 30 pages of notes and that ends up being like a 20-page document. It’s not fun. It’s your responsibility at the end of the day after everyone goes home at 5:30 to 6:00 to sit there and take another two to three hours and shake that tree and make sure that everything that falls down is coherent and readable because it can’t be in the, at least, my horrible shorthand that I write things because I have a hard time getting things verbatim.

Carlos Cisco: (23:09)
There are times when I can turn it on and I’m like, “All right, the showrunner is talking. I will get everything verbatim that she is saying.” I may have to get a line here and there, but there’s a shorthand you develop with yourself as a writer’s assistant that then, at the end of the day, you’re like, “Okay, now I have to actually turn this into something that someone else can read.” But the next season, we went into the pandemic or the hiatus and we came back on Zoom which was … That was the whole experience, but I came back as a writer’s assistant. I’d truly admit I wasn’t entirely pleased about that. I was really hoping I could come back as a writer, especially this pandemic was terrifying, everything was terrifying, everything was scary.

Carlos Cisco: (23:51)
So was just really hoping for some good news, but also just happy to be working. But then one of our writers, his wife had a kid, he went on paternity leave, and instead of hiring from the outside, Michelle promoted me. And then I wrote out the rest of the season as a staff writer and it was awesome.

Callie Wright: (24:12)
So if you know my style, what would probably come next would be for me to ask Carlos to tell me all of like the neat and juicy stories about his time in the writers’ room, right? But there are obviously some really good reasons I didn’t do that. And even if I did, Carlos wouldn’t be able to answer most of those questions, right? This is a TV series for major franchise, still in production. I don’t want spoilers anyways and I totally get that. Some stuff just needs to stay in the writers’ room. I get that. Don’t begrudge that at all. But that said, I did want to just get a feel for how this thing works, right? This is just like a black box for me. So I did ask Carlos to give me a 30,000-foot view of what the process for typical writers’ room looks like. It’s neat stuff.

Carlos Cisco: (25:00)
Generally speaking, the room will break the story together.

Callie Wright: (25:05)
Breaking by the way is writer’s room lingo for the process of finding all the right story beats and putting them in the right order to tell the story.

Carlos Cisco: (25:12)
And depending on if people are going off the script and stuff and things may move like you may be breaking two episodes in tandem, some rooms like Law & Order rooms, you just pitch episodes and then you just go off and write your episodes because they don’t have anything to do with one another and then the showrunner be like, “Here’s the connective thread,” as they rewrite everything. In general, you’re just there pitching ideas all day and just trying to make the story work. And so if it’s not your episode, you’re generally in the room, just trying to make that the best version of that episode that you can.

Carlos Cisco: (25:49)
The idea is that you’re offering or just in service of bolstering that, making things make sense, kicking the tires on ideas that aren’t quite there yet and trying to find the holes and solutions to patch them. We will break the stories together, then writers generally go off to do an outline which is a pretty like detailed break of the story, kind of written in prose, so that the showrunner studio network can really get a sense of the shape of the story and then those writers will typically go off and leave the room for a week or two and write their episode. And then just the cycle just moves forward and moves forward and moves forward.

Carlos Cisco: (26:33)
After that, the writer will be back in the room, doing the same thing, pitching ideas and stuff, but then they may need to step away if you’re producing your episode for various meetings and stuff like that or you may need to step away to do rewrites if the network studio or the showrunner comes back and is like, “This doesn’t make sense. Change this. I love this, but we need to move the scenes around.” So you may need to step away to do rewrites on that stuff again.

Callie Wright: (27:00)
And something that I didn’t know, because I know so little about how the production side of this works, is I remember seeing this really funny picture that you posted on Twitter of you on an iPad sitting in the captain’s chair. And so you have a role to play during the actual production of the episode too?

Carlos Cisco: (27:20)
Yeah. This is a thing that’s sort of inside baseball larger problem with the industry is, with shorter episode orders, it’s getting harder and harder for writers to get on-set experience. So I’m really grateful for Michelle for giving me that experience. And especially as a staff writer, you typically don’t go to set. That’s usually more senior writers are the ones who handle the producing and stuff like that. Typically, writers are sent to set, because unlike a movie, if you change a line of dialogue in here, it might affect something one to three episodes down the line. If you don’t get this shot of whatever, this emotional moment in the next episode might not make sense. And so you’re really there to caretake the larger vision of the product.

Callie Wright: (28:06)
Especially with a season long story arc.

Carlos Cisco: (28:09)
And because these directors are coming in for one or two episodes a season, they don’t necessarily know the show back to front. They will have seen it, they will have understood the style and stuff, but they’re really coming in to do it like this machine runs pretty smoothly and so they’re really just like fitting their cog in there and trying to figure out how to shoot such a massive show. During the pandemic, because especially we were so early on and it was pre-vaccines and all that, writers weren’t being sent to set, especially because we would have to quarantine for two weeks in Canada first before we could do that and that’s a lot of money because that’s paying for the hotel and then also paying for per diem and stuff like that so we can eat.

Carlos Cisco: (28:54)
So then it came out that we were going to do it remotely and then I still ended up doing it which was awesome, but at the same time, I was here in LA and we shoot in Toronto which is three hours earlier, so a 7:00 AM call is 4:00 AM call for me.

Callie Wright: (29:08)
Right.

Carlos Cisco: (29:10)
That said, any amount of suffering that I endured during production, nothing compared to what the people on the ground, our cast and crew, who are fucking goddamn heroes like the dealing with all the COVID protocols, the just general overall anxiety of existing and working amid the peak of that. I don’t know how they did it. I could barely get myself to the grocery store during that time. So my heart goes out to all of them. I hope the fandom truly appreciates what they all went through to deliver Season 4 because it was a truly difficult undertaking in the current conditions.

Callie Wright: (29:57)
So just a fun nerding out moment, do you remember the first like line of dialogue that you wrote that ended up on screen?

Carlos Cisco: (30:08)
Like East Los High? No. But Star Trek, in Season 3 as a writer’s assistant, I didn’t technically write anything, but there’s like lines and stuff I pitched. But it’s like so much has happened in between now and then, I don’t remember, but I’ll tell you I can’t remember what the line is off the top of my head. But I remember when it really hit me that it was all coming together and it was real. It was our first season for trailer had a line from my episode in it. That made my heart catch in my throat. I was like, “Holy shit. My words are out there for millions of people to see.”

Callie Wright: (30:51)
So when Carlos says my episode, he’s talking a Discovery episode called … But To Connect. I asked him to give me the quick spoiler free synopsis.

Carlos Cisco: (31:01)
I was super lucky, I got to go home over Christmas and all my parents were there because my parents are divorced, but they all get along, so all four were there. My cousins and stuff were there. Some friends from childhood were there. So we all very safely got together and we got to watch my episode. So I had to give this spiel and I actually think Discovery is very serialized, so sometimes it’s like in order to understand the episode, you really need to understand what’s going on. But these two-line spiel that I gave was, “There’s a big fuckin anomaly throwing planets and suns around and causing general havoc and the Federation is trying to figure out what to do. And that’s one of the stories and the other story is the ship’s computers is sent here. I’m trying to figure out what to do with that.” And that’s pretty much it. That’s all you need to know going into my episode.

Carlos Cisco: (31:56)
“A big scary thing, decide what to do. Smaller potentially scary thing, decide what to do.” It was a very just debate-heavy two thematically linked ethical debates and that’s what it was.

Callie Wright: (32:11)
After all of this time, this is like your episode, right?

Carlos Cisco: (32:14)
Mine and Terry’s. Credit where credit is due, Terry was an amazing collaborator, but yes.

Callie Wright: (32:22)
But that that changes the game, right? You’ve been in the room for quite some time at this point like pitching ideas and all of that sort of stuff, but this is the one that’s yours and Terry’s. Just tell me as much as you can about that experience and figuring that whole thing out.

Carlos Cisco: (32:36)
It was so cool to have such a sense of ownership over it and to really, more than anything, see it come together from the first kernel of concepts that we had to what it became in the end and that first table read, hearing the actors finally give it life, it was just amazing. Because East Los High was very different in how we did things because we room wrote everything. Literally, I was sitting on my computer with a projector as seven people were like, “Do this line. Do this line,” and I was like, “I’m just going to write lines and the people tell me it’s wrong, they can tell me it’s wrong.” And then I just got assigned like, “This is the one you will get credit for,” but our fingerprints are on every episode, but this one really felt there was ownership to it and an increased responsibility to caretake everything through it and really having an investment in minutiae all the way through.

Callie Wright: (33:40)
So I’m wondering how you think about … The loudest people on Twitter are just always yelling about how Discovery is too dark. It’s like, “Okay, yeah, but we’re living through a dark time and it’s reflecting that and the point is we want to make it better, but I think these stories resonate outside of that context too.” And so the broader world being on fire context, how heavily does that weigh on the stories you want to tell?

Carlos Cisco: (34:15)
I think it’s impossible to separate the circumstances that we find ourselves in from the art that we create. So do not credit this to me. This was whichever one of the amazing writers runs the James S.A. Corey Twitter account which is the writer of The Expanse novels and they also work on the shows. Someone was accusing The Expanse of being too dark and not optimistic of the future enough and they said something that I thought was just so goddamn profound which was like, “Listen, if you’re writing any fiction where humans are surviving far into the future, I’d say that’s pretty fucking optimistic.”

Carlos Cisco: (35:00)
That’s how I feel about Trek in general. Things look bad right now and so that we suggest a future at all, I think that’s beautiful. That we suggest a much more utopian future than the one that I think that all of us are looking towards, I think that’s important because times are dark, we, as writers and artists, we’re trying to process the world right alongside everybody else. If that comes out in direct metaphors, that’s what it is. Here’s an example. We wrote Season 3 before the pandemic. Sure did feel relevant to the pandemic when it came out during the pandemic. So it’s hard to say. I wouldn’t necessarily say that Season 4, which was written in the midst of it, feels any more pandemic-ey adjacent than Season 3.

Carlos Cisco: (36:05)
So it’s really, I don’t know. I don’t have a firm answer for that. It’s fascinating, because yeah, other than we’re all just trying to create something and it’s impossible to ignore the world around us. And so whether by accident or by deliberate choice, some of that’s going to make it in there. What is sci-fi but not about today? It’s about the time it’s written and you’re not writing about the future, you’re writing about today.

Callie Wright: (36:35)
Absolutely. Gosh, and this is where I’m going to start crying. It’s fine.

Carlos Cisco: (36:41)
It’s okay. You can cry.

Callie Wright: (36:47)
The thing that I always say back to people when they talk about how dark Discovery is, is that at the heart of it, I think Star Trek has always been about these people who just give a shit so much that they just want to make things better wherever they go. And that’s so much of what I see is, as these people are separated by centuries from all the people that they love and they get into the future and they find out like they base their entire life on the Federation and it’s fucking gone and all of that, instead of being like, “Well, fuck it, we’re just going to give up,” they’re like, “Well, okay, it’s time to get to work and try to fix that,” along with them all dealing with their own interpersonal trauma. They’re not ignoring each other’s wellbeing in that. And that’s quintessentially to me what Star Trek is about and that’s what …

Callie Wright: (37:52)
I love the first two seasons of Discovery because Klingon fan and just I love the stories and I love the characters and it’s very fun and it’s very great, but the last two seasons, in particular, have just been such people who give a shit so hard that they’re just going to do anything they can to make things better. I don’t know, maybe that’s my fandom moment. So big thanks for being a part of that.

Carlos Cisco: (38:23)
Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability. I really appreciate that and I know that the whole staff would too. Now, I’m getting a little emotional. I can’t speak for the whole staff, but I do know what’s generally in their hearts. And for all of us, we want to leave this world a better place through our art and all of us see a responsibility in this franchise, especially to … I don’t know. It’s to do that work. Star Trek has always stood at the forefront of diversity, but the truth of it is, it’s always not enough. Grognards will cite that first interracial kiss as well and then we had a black captain in DS Nine and progresses over and it’s not.

Carlos Cisco: (39:23)
We’re seeing right now bills and legislatures that are banning talking about queer issues and so that we have a show with leads who are a married gay couple that we have a couple who is trans and nonbinary and played by people who are actually that … I didn’t get media like that growing up. I didn’t see myself reflected really as a queer person or often as a Latino and so I see it as a responsibility to make sure that I do everything in my power that those stories are honored and told and told honestly. Speaking to the larger thing about our crew, I saw this thing the other day and I thought it was so profound and I think it really speaks to the mentality that you were speaking of of these people who see a terrible in front of them.

Carlos Cisco: (40:25)
And instead of shutting down, they do everything to solve the problem. They will throw their bodies at it, sacrificing themselves in order to make the world a better place for people and it’s just knowing that a lot of that was born from trauma that they experienced early in life. The thing that I read is from a dumb Reddit post, but then you look at it and you’re like, “Oh, shit.” I think you ultimately become whoever would have saved you that time no one did.

Callie Wright: (40:58)
Wow.

Carlos Cisco: (41:01)
I really feel like that speaks to who our crew are at our core and honestly the people who are writing it. I think all of us, we bring our stories and our wounds and our joy with us every day when we come to work and we talk about these things and these characters are them, but they’re us as well, all of us. And so we want to see us reflected in a way that just makes the world better than it was yesterday.

Callie Wright: (41:40)
Fuck. That’s so good. Carlos, my friend, thank you for introducing me to the word Grognard. First of all, love that, my new go to nerd insult, but also in seriousness, thank you and the whole crew that makes Discovery. It’s been a light for me and lots of other folks. I’m stoked to know people like you are the ones in charge of Star Trek’s future. And thank you for taking an hour and a half out of your day to talk to me about it. Really, really grateful. And thank you, my friend for listening. Queersplaining is produced by me, Callie Wright. Music is from the Blue Dot Sessions and Epidemic Sound.

Callie Wright: (42:41)
Of course, I couldn’t do this thing the way I do without the rad folks who support the show on Patreon. You want to support the show, please head over to patreon.com/queersplaining. Consider a pledge to support the show. Another great way to support, share the show around your social media, text a friend, whatever is your thing. It all helps and it’s all appreciated. Before I go, I want you to know that if you’re lost, you’re hurting, you’re scared, if you feel like no one cares and no one understands, you need to know there’s a community out here that loves you, cares for you, knows that you’re capable of amazing things and that you are worthy of love. If you’re struggling, please don’t be afraid to reach out. Until next time, friend, my name is Callie Wright and this is Queersplaining.


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