Star Trek homeSkip to main content

WARP FIVE: David Ajala on Embracing Second Chances and the Heavy Burden of Legacy

The Star Trek: Discovery actor takes us behind-the-scenes of ‘Mirrors’ as Book’s journey this season.

SPOILER WARNING: This article contains story details and plot points for the fifth season of Star Trek: Discovery.

Graphic illustration featuring a collage of actor David Ajala and episodic stills of Cleveland 'Book' Booker with Michael Burnham from 'Face the Strange' and Book with Moll in 'Mirrors'

Getty Images /

Welcome to Warp Five,'s five question post-mortem with your favorite featured talent from the latest Star Trek episodes.

The 32nd Century has not been easy for the courier known as Cleveland "Book" Booker. The Dark Matter Anomaly erased everything his home and Kwejian culture from existence entirely, along with his family.

In his desperation to stop the DMA, he allies with scientist Ruon Tarka to eliminate the threat once and for all by destroying its power source, putting him at odds with the Federation and his partner Captain Michael Burnham. While enacting their extreme plan, Tarka and Booker end up careening towards the edge of a hyperfield with their ship destroyed on impact. However, he was saved by the 10-C, a species that utilized the DMA, and held him in stasis as they worked to understand the predicament at hand. Despite his second lease on life, the Federation had to hold Book accountable for his actions but would take his “reasons” into account as they do matter. As penance, he would aid families displaced by the DMA.

The fifth season of Star Trek: Discovery welcomes Cleveland "Book" Booker into the fold as his expertise are needed when the Discovery crew are handed a Red Directive mission that involves trailing a pair of ex-couriers across the galaxy as they collect clues that will reveal the whereabouts of a device of immense power. had the opportunity to sit down with David Ajala ahead of last week’s episode, "Mirrors," to discuss all things Cleveland "Book" Booker.

Mirrors Milestones

Close-up of Cleveland 'Book' Booker in the corridor of the I.S.S. Enterprise in 'Mirrors'


The latest episode of Discovery, “Mirrors,” opens with a personal log from Book as he reflects on a piece of advice provided to him by his mentor and namesake. "Mirrors" had no shortage of exciting features for the cast as it finds Book and Burnham trapped on the Mirror Universe's I.S.S. Enterprise along with this season's antagonists Moll and L'ak, who provide us with insight on the mysterious yet aggressive Breen.

"It was super, super special," David Ajala recalling his thoughts when he got the script for the episode and seeing all these elements that would delight any Star Trek fan, "It was a cherry on top of another cherry."

"It really was," elaborates Ajala. "Sometimes when you're reading these episodes, you just never know. I personally don't know what the story's going to be because I reached out to the producers and told them that I don't want to know anything, let me just go from episode to episode. And then you see these wonderful touchstones, from across Star Trek history, that they put in the episodes. And it is just glorious. And of course, the fans are going to love it. They absolutely will."

As for how he approached the momentous tasks at hand? Ajala shares, "In all honesty, my main thing is just to always be as present as possible. Sometimes you look around, you're on set and there's so much going on in a wonderful way, and just being part of this franchise, it's always very healthy to simplify it and just be as present as possible. And I think that's the ethos I try to take into everything that I did."

The Enduring Grace of Michael Burnham

A future Burnham grips Book's hands as he returns to her quarters after getting in a workout in 'Face the Strange'

"Face the Strange"

Previously, Ajala spoke to, during the Season 5 press junket, about the grace afforded him by his love, Michael Burnham. The "grey area" the former couple exists in gets even murkier as Burnham got to relive a happier time in their relationship in "Face the Strange," and the duo face imminent destruction aboard the I.S.S. Enterprise in “Mirrors.”

A romantic at heart, the Discovery actor notes Book and Burnham’s unyielding connection to one another, "Because love prevails, love perseveres through, they're always, always going to connect."

"Their relationship is made a lot stronger because of what they have to overcome during Season 5," hints Ajala, before diving into what’s going through Book’s head during the dire scene in "Mirrors." "It is bittersweet, but I think those happy moments are full of so much joy that they'll be able to exist. So Michael Burnham and Cleveland Booker will continue to be in each other's lives. In what capacity? The future will tell or unfold, even. But I really do believe that these are two individuals that bring out the best in each other. And the course of true love never did run smooth, but it's worth it."

The Complicated Legacy of Cleveland Booker IV and the Only Family He Has Left

In the corridor of the I.S.S. Enteprise, Moll and Book look out ahead of them in 'Mirrors'


It's not just being on the same starship with his former lover that has Book entangled this season. The ex-courier realizes that half of the fugitive duo he's chasing — Moll — is actually Malinne Ravel, the daughter of his late mentor, Cleveland Booker IV.

"It was a really brave thing for the writers to come up with this very specific story to introduce Moll as Cleveland Booker's sister," states Ajala. "And to have someone who speaks of this Cleveland Booker, Moll speaks about a Cleveland Booker that Book doesn't recognize at all."

"To hear someone speaking negatively about someone who you hold in such high regard was definitely going to be very painful for him, but at the same time, healing," elaborates Ajala. "At the same time, I think sometimes you do need to be challenged. The substance of who you are and what you stand for needs to be challenged because it crystallizes your identity."

Understanding Moll's desperation to protect the only person she loves, Book goes to the wisdom imparted on him by his mentor, "No matter how bad things get, the one thing you always have is a choice." Even at one point, offering his phaser to his "sister" as a token of trust.

Moll and L'ak stand directly across from Book and Burnham, all tense with phasers drawn, in Sickbay of the I.S.S. Enterprise in 'Mirrors'


Recalling an earlier moment in the season he connected with, Ajala says, "There’s a scene where they're in Sickbay, it's Cleveland Booker and Dr. Culber. They're looking at the monitor, watching Moll and L'ak flying through the air. And what Cleveland Booker recognizes is that they are thrill seekers like him and Michael Burnham. It just adds a very deeper, nuanced, complicated level of connection with Moll. He will always continue to try to reach her, but he'll be challenged. The reason why he continues to pursue her is because he's been afforded a second chance and he knows what it feels and the benefits of being afforded a second chance. So he wants to offer that same grace to Moll. Whether she's willing to accept it or not is another question."

"I love their relationship. I love how they grow," Ajala teases. "I love how grey their relationship is. And by the end of the season there is a resolve between these two, but it's not a resolve that has a neat ribbon on it. It's still grey. That's life."

It's the grace afforded to him by Burnham that allows him to want to offer that to Moll. "Having experienced that level of grace, he is now able to give Moll that level of grace. It's all tied around the word grace and kindness. And I believe the world would be a better place if we offered each other a bit more grace."

"It means so much more now than it did the previous season," continues Ajala. "To know that one has a choice gives an individual a bit of freedom and a bit of power, so to say. And it's also very important to be able to make the right choice from an informed place. Worst case scenario is Moll will make a decision that Cleveland Booker could have helped her to prevent. That's worst case scenario. Best case scenario is that Moll makes a decision influenced by Cleveland Booker that helps her to avoid self-destruction."

The Last Kwejian

David Ajala stands as Book in Star Trek: Discovery 'The Hope That Is You, Part 1'

"The Hope That is You, Part 1"

In a tense moment in "Mirrors," Moll demands to know why Book is unrelenting in his support of her. Book painfully pleads, "Because I'm Kwejian. Everything I cared about out there is gone. And he may have been a shit dad to you, but he was a great mentor to me and like it or not, that makes you just about the only family I have left."

Ajala knows the pressure on Book to continue his culture’s legacy. "It's a huge task to take on board," he explains. "We have to remember he was the Prodigal son and he was ostracized from his family, so he didn't hold onto much of his culture. And then to be welcomed back into the fold and then to lose his whole entire planet, any bit of that culture will hold such incredible significance."

"I would hope that in a world or in the future, there is a world in which Cleveland Booker is able to maintain that culture and pass it down like an heirloom," says Ajala. "Kwejian culture is special. It's special. And it talks about us all being part of the same tree and being interconnected. I hope he will be a testament to what Kwejian culture stands for."

The previous seasons of Discovery was meaningful to Ajala because they were able to share more of Kwejian culture. "Do you know what's interesting about this," asks Ajala. "When we talk about the culture and the world of Kwejian? Of course, in Season 3, we got to see some of the world. And in Season 4, we got to see some of the world. But now that world of course is obliterated. Now you'll see the physical manifestation of that through Cleveland Booker. And the physical manifestation of it is grace, kindness. And it's also the ethos that we are all connected. The world is a better place with us all connected rather than existing independently. Again, going back to being afforded a second chance, I think he has a much bigger capacity of love and of patience to be able to be the right individual to reach Moll."

Offering A Spiritual Perspective to the Ship's Doctor

Cleveland 'Book' Booker and Hugh Culber are seated across from each other in the doctor's space in 'All is Possible'

"All is Possible"

While aboard the U.S.S. Discovery, we get to see Book strengthen his relationship with the crew, especially Dr. Culber.

In "Jinaal," Burnham and Book were present on Trill as Dr. Culber partakes in the zhian’tara ritual, which allows a symbiont's consciousness to take full control of his body. The experience shakes Culber at his core as it challenges what he knows to be true.

On getting to bond with Wilson Cruz and watching the friendship between Book and Culber strengthen, Ajala shares, "It's one of the relationships that organically developed, which I love. The texture of that relationship just feels so pure for the two individuals. The way Cleveland Booker is able to speak to Culber is different from anyone else. And I feel that Culber is able to speak with Cleveland Booker is also uniquely different. I love the way these two hold space for each other, curious without being judgmental. And I think it's a relationship that will continue to thrive and they'll continue to learn from each other."

"Mr. Cruz is so great to work with, he's just good people," Ajala adds. "It doesn't feel like work with him. What does feel like work is trying not to laugh. I don't think people realize how funny Wilson is. He is hilarious. He is so freaking funny. And I just love how you can go from just being wildly funny then in the zone, focused and back to storytelling."

BONUS: An Update to Queen Grudge

Clevand Booker sits cross-legged in bed next to Queen Grudge in 'Stormy Weather'

"Stormy Weather"

Of course, we couldn't let Ajala leave without an update to his queen, Grudge, and her legacy on the series.

"Queen Grudge's legacy will always be that she will be able to say, 'I didn't go to drama school and yet I was able to upstage my co-star who went to drama school for two years,'" quips Ajala. "It breaks my heart. My heart is still open because she is my queen. Her legacy will be the mystery will continue that no one apart from Cleveland Booker understands or knows why she is a queen and why she was named Grudge. I think that's a wonderful mystery, which I will keep for as long as possible, but her legacy will always be that she reigns supremely with attitude and sass."