Our excitement and emotions ran high leading up to Star Trek: Discovery’s third season premiere, “That Hope Is You, Part 1.” Michael Burnham’s jubilance at saving the universe, new ships, and new characters (feline and otherwise) didn’t disappoint. But the character still on my mind from the episode is Aditya Sahil and his portrayal of faith and public service. His hope that the Federation still existed is a lot like our hope for a future where Humanity is more like the Federation than it is today.
We were introduced to Sahil (portrayed by Adil Hussain) in the first new scene of the season: a montage of his repetitive morning routine, waking up at 8:00 a.m., getting dressed, and manning an attendant’s desk. The repetition conveyed how long he had gone without contact with the Federation, but also his dedication to office hours that no one was holding him to or taking advantage of.
When Cleveland Booker eventually led Burnham to Sahil, we learned he was single-handedly staffing the Federation Liaison office in an abandoned communications station, carrying out the functions of a government he’d had no contact with his entire adult life.
For reference, imagine the commitment it would take in a post-zombie apocalyptic world to adopt and staff an abandoned DMV or community center, business hours and dress shoes included. Sahil had been guarding his station for 40 years.
Bureaucrats often get the short end of the stick in media, whether the first examples that pop into your mind are Marge’s sisters from The Simpsons, the sloths from Zootopia, or Star Trek’s Nilz Baris, pesteringly obsessed with protecting his quadrotriticale shipment in “The Trouble with Tribbles.”
Sahil is instead a rare positive portrayal and vehicle of hope. As an example of a street level bureaucrat, he was the face of the government (the Federation) to members of the public, with a self-enforced charge to offer them direct assistance, i.e. searching for Discovery. Though not elected, street level bureaucrats are public servants with a high amount of discretion in interpreting policy and fulfilling their roles.
Even though the implication is that he did not have visitors often, he displayed trademarks of public service motivation. With Emerald Chain raiders and no Starfleet to police Federation space, Sahil risked his own safety to remain on the station. His focus was on the public good, prosocial motivation, altruistically receiving gratification from offering help to others when he could, at the cost of living on a more populated planet.
In a region of space where belief in the Federation was compared to belief in ghosts, Sahil was a literal standard bearer for Federation values, holding onto a Federation flag that had been in his family for generations as closely as he holds onto the Federation’s principles. His commitment to Federation policy was so strong that, despite the joy he would experience seeing the flag on the wall in front of him, he restrained himself, noting that only a commissioned officer may raise it.
The flag scene with @_AdilHussain and @SonequaMG in "That Hope Is You" moved me to tears. A brown man in his Indian accent expressing his love of Starfleet so eloquently...— Shashank (@gutter_hero) October 18, 2020
Not just a dream anymore. Representation is everything.#StarTrekDiscovery #StarTrek pic.twitter.com/pmydmeUJBz
But beyond his honor and public service motivation, there was another layer to Sahil that I think many fans, including myself, connected with.
WE are the individuals waiting daily for the hope of the Federation, doing our small part to keep its spirit alive. How do you do this daily outside this fandom? #WeAreStarfleet #StarTrek pic.twitter.com/cwN68fOciV— Crossfield Chris 🖖🏻 (@ShelfNerds) October 16, 2020
When the world as he knew it was at its darkest, he kept faith that the United Federation of Planets and all that it stood for existed so long as he did his small part to keep it alive.
2020 was a challenging time. For Star Trek fans that dream of a world where humanity universally values truth, equality, and science, the Federation can seem like distant science fiction. But if Sahil, without starships or warp drive, could continue hoping for and working toward a better world ahead, then so must we in this new year. In that way, that hope is us as well.
Andrew DeFratis (he/him) is a nonprofit professional and Master of Public Administration student at Cleveland State University. He is an active contributor on Memory Alpha: The Free Star Trek Reference, and you can follow his Star Trek observations on Twitter @AJHalliwell.
Star Trek: Discovery streams exclusively on CBS All Access in the United States and is distributed concurrently by CBS Studios International on Netflix in 188 countries and in Canada on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave.