During an interview with Variety, Mike McMahan spoke about Ensign Mariner’s relationship with her mother, and Mariner’s sexuality. Note: spoilers if you haven’t finished watching Season One.
There was a good reason why Captain Freeman was made Mariner’s mother. “Well, I knew that I wanted the character of Mariner to be this vibrant, questioning of authority-type character,” said McMahan. “And I wanted the captain of the Cerritos to really seem like a Star Trek captain. So there had to be a reason that Mariner wouldn’t be drummed out of Starfleet every episode. The intrinsic mother-daughter relationship – kind of basing it on when my sister was younger and would throw down with my mom occasionally — like, nobody can get under somebody’s skin like their child or their mom.”
McMahan was asked if he had been trying to explore privilege with the fact that in comparison to Boimler, Mariner is much better connected and knowledgeable. “You know, not really,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a wrong interpretation of it. But the thing about privilege is that some people have it, some people don’t. But everybody has their own story as well.
“There’s an episode in the first season where you meet Mariner’s close friend, confidant, and probably lover from the Academy days, who literally says, ‘You used to be the best of us. You were going to be a captain, what happened to you?’ There’s a whole other show that has happened to Mariner before we meet her on the Cerritos that she references every once in a while that hasn’t caused her to lose faith in the idealism of the Federation, but in the system itself. Seeing how she grows from that event and then slowly over time finding out things that expand our understanding of why she is how she is, that’s kind of more important to me than the other aspects of it. But yes, there is a part of it that, you know, her dad is an admiral. Her mom is a captain. Not only does that mean that she is kind of Starfleet royalty, but also what does that mean of their expectations of her and her abilities, and that always comes with its own kind of package of trouble.
“From my point of view, it was more about experience. Mariner at one point was like Boimler. She was the wide-eyed person who hadn’t gotten enough experience, and at some point, when you have a dream of what you want to do for a living and then you actually go work at it and see how the sausage is made, you either decide one of two things: Do you fit into the system, or do you make a new system? Boimler doesn’t know that yet, and Mariner does.”
McMahan was also asked about Captain Amina Ramsey, who was seen in an episode later in the season. It was clear that they were close friends, but were they more?
“Yeah,” said McMahan. “We weren’t explicit about it, because most of the relationships in this show are familial or friendship love. It’s not physical love. That character showing up, the story we’re telling about them has nothing to do with any previous relationships they’ve had. For me and for the writers as we were making this, we didn’t intentionally mean for anybody to be strictly heteronormative or straight or cis. Every Starfleet officer is probably at the baseline bisexual, in a way. That being said, I am not the most amazing person at writing those kinds of stories. I think we get a little bit better about it in the second season.”
But McMahan wishes that he had been a little more overt about Mariner and her sexuality in the first season. “It’s something I think we need to be better about,” he said. “If there’s anything I can say about inclusiveness — whether it’s about sex or gender or race or anything — is that I know that I can always learn more and be better about it and I’m always trying to do that.
“This is one of those cases where we could have done a better job of explicitly stating the things that the writers always knew about Mariner. It seeps in there in little ways, which even irritates me even more, like you start off the season with Mariner saying, ‘Whoa, she’s like the hottest girl on the ship, are you nervous?’— that’s one of her first lines. That doesn’t put a stake in the ground, which I wish we had done a little bit more explicitly. It’s always a learning experience. We’re going to be trying to be better about it. And we are more explicit about it in the second season.”