Presenting OTP Tuesday! Each Tuesday I will introduce you to a new One True Pairing! Tune in each week to find out which fictional couple you need to agonize/squee over next. For June, I want to share some love for queer content out there, so this week’s OTP is Culmets!
Who Are Culmets?
Culmets is the ship name for Paul Stamets and Hugh Culber from the show Star Trek: Discovery.
Paul Stamets is a lieutenant and researcher on the science vessel Discovery. Discovery is unique among Starfleet because of its one-of-a-kind propulsion system: the ship uses a “spore drive” to travel instantaneously on the mycelial network (there’s a lot of technobabble). The spore drive was invented by Stamets, an astro-mycologist who studied the mycelial network. Unfortunately, the spore drive is unstable and results in the death of his co-researcher on another prototype ship. It almost destroys the Discovery as well, but Stamets prevents it.
With the help of science specialist Michael Burnham, Stamets discovers that a giant alien tardigrade possesses the ability to navigate the mycelial network safely. Burnham and Stamets were ordered to use the tardigrade to drive the ship, but balk at the obvious torture. When Burnham sets the tardigrade free, Stamets saves the ship by injecting himself with tardigrade DNA, creating a unique connection to his beloved spores. Unfortunately, this connection slowly corrupts Stamets’ connection to reality, drawing him into the mycelial network. While Stamets is out of his head, he stumbles upon the dead body of his husband, Hugh, who was killed by a fellow Starfleet officer.
Stamets eventually comes back to reality and is able to manage his connection to the mycelial network, allowing Discovery to still use the spore drive, though the technology is incompatible with any other Starfleet ship. But Stamets struggles with the world after losing his husband, even thinking of leaving Starfleet altogether. However, when he and Michael go into the mycelial network to rescue a colleague who has been trapped, they find Hugh, reconstructed by the network for Stamets. They are able to save Hugh, but he’s changed by his time in the network. Stamets later stays on Discovery when it jumps to the future with Michael.
Hugh Culber was one of the medical officers aboard Discovery. While we saw Hugh in the medical bay for a time or two, his main role in the first season was as Stamets’ husband, rather than as a major character in his own right. Hugh served to humanize Stamets, who was initially portrayed as a harsh taskmaster in the science department. The moments we got of Hugh and Stamets together showed a different side, a loving side. Hugh grounded Stamets when he would have kept his head in the clouds (or, in this case, mushrooms). It was a glimpse at a sweet, happy relationship.
This made it all the more tragic when Hugh was killed mid-season one. While Stamets is in a state of psychosis in the Medbay (Hugh watching over him) they are attacked by the Klingon Voq, undercover as a human Starfleet officer, Ash Tyler. Tyler kills Hugh, and Stamets is left with, blind and confused, with Hugh’s body. For the rest of the season, while Stamets still has issues with the network in his head, he sees Hugh a few times but writes it off as a hallucination.
However, when Stamets is in the network in season two, he finds Hugh, who was reconstructed in the network due to Stamets’ psychosis influencing things. However, Hugh was trapped in the network for a long time, under attack from the organisms who lived there. He is able to escape and is reborn on Discovery, but can’t shake the experience of what he went through in the network. Although Stamets is overjoyed to have Hugh back, Hugh keeps him at arm’s length. He initially plans to transfer to the Enterprise, but instead chooses to stay with Stamets on the Discovery when they all go to the future.
Why Is Culmets OTP?
Discovery is a genuinely enjoyable show, with lots of good characters and some really fascinating interpersonal dynamics. But Culmets is a step above in terms of relationships (and the only decent romantic pairing in the whole show). Culmets gave us a great dynamic between two characters who were really different but genuinely loved and supported each other. It’s a beautiful thing to see — especially for a queer, interracial couple on a mainstream popular show.
The relationship Discovery builds between Hugh and Stamets is beautiful. We meet them already married, so there’s not much in terms of developing relationships or getting together. There is a brief description of how they met and started dating; at a café, Hugh was humming Kasseelian opera and Stamets told him to shut up. Despite that start, Hugh introduced himself to Stamets and they started dating. They even went to a Kasseelian opera together, though it remained a sticking point between them – Stamets only went because Hugh loved it.
But despite (initially) missing out on all the delicious pre-relationship content, Culmets still has a beautiful development in the show. We get to see all the sweet moments of a couple securely in their relationship. Culmets feels real because we see the real details, like shots of Hugh and Stamets brushing their teeth together in their shared quarters. The back and forth dynamic of an old married couple, disagreements over work life balance and musical tastes, sarcastic banter – all excellent content that we get thanks to Culmets.
Of course, everything gets thrown for a loop due to the death and subsequent rebirth of Hugh. First, we have to see Stamets mourn, which is honestly rude I didn’t sign up for that. Then — once Hugh is back — things don’t pick up right where they left off. Hugh is lost and unsure of himself, and he and Stamets separate while Hugh tries to figure things out. So not only did we have to see Stamets mourn his dead husband, we then had to watch that husband leave Stamets — doubly rude. But in the end, things worked out. Stamets respects Hugh’s need for space. Hugh realizes what’s really important.
They end up together and we get a delightful reconciliation.
Space Is Gay, Deal With It
Shockingly, Culmets is the first on-screen canon queer relationship in Star Trek television history. This is shocking because Star Trek gave birth to the modern slash movement – Kirk/Spock is one of the most famous ships in history, the OG slash ship. While, obviously, Star Trek didn’t invent gay relationships or shipping, the mainstream appeal of Kirk/Spock brought slash shipping out of the shadows. But despite all that, Star Trek has been overwhelmingly straight. Even the much-lauded gay moment in the new Star Trek movies is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment that plays no role in the plot.
But now, finally, we have Big Gay Star Trek. The powers that be have finally given in and shown us that yes, gay people do exist and will be present in the future. Gay people can be old married couples who bicker over music taste, in space. Culmets gave us so much that it makes Gay Sulu look pathetic in comparison. This is real, quality queer content. My mom, who is gay and a lifelong Star Trek fan, was ecstatic to see Culmets come to life. When Hugh died, she was furious and almost ready to check out. But when Hugh came back this past season, it was amazing to see how much this meant to my mom.
Discovery has been accused of pandering to social justice due to having a black female lead and canonically queer characters. But that’s what makes Discovery great – a realistic representation of how people are. People are diverse. That’s great. And Discovery finally gives us that. Stamets and Hugh are treated as completely normal (aside from the mushrooms and the rebirth). They’re not outliers, there are other gay characters. And with Culmets, queer Trek fans can finally see themselves reflected on screen, fifty years later.
What’s Next For Culmets?
Season two of Star Trek: Discovery left things in a really precarious place. A murderous AI is destined to destroy all sentient life in the galaxy, but first it needs data from the Discovery. When the crew realize they cannot delete the data or destroy the ship, they decide the safest thing to do is send the ship to the future, where the AI cannot reach it. Unfortunately, it’s a one-way trip, that only protagonist Michael can make. So the Discovery crew decided to go with her, to keep her safe in the distant future. The season ends with Discovery officially missing, and the focus is on the people who remain behind.
On a more personal note, things are also precarious in terms of Culmets. After Hugh’s miraculous rebirth, it seemed like things were going to be better, until they weren’t. When Hugh needed space and Culmets separated, things looked bleak. We see the progression of their relationship as they split, rather dramatically, then come to terms with the situation, then gradually find their way back to each other. But this reconciliation only happens at the last minute, as Discovery is about to travel to the future and Stamets is going into a medically induced coma for severe injuries sustained in battle.
So what can we expect from season three? Personally I’m pretty damn confused. Discovery is now 950 years in the future, well beyond anything we’ve seen so far from any Trek. Many of the principal cast are onboard, but what they will experience is completely unprecedented, so it’s hard to even speculate. But we do know one thing: Hugh and Stamets are together. I’m sure season three will see their relationship dynamics change due to their circumstances, but they are still (back?) together.
Is Culmets Canon?
Yes! Fifty-plus years after Star Trek first premiered, we finally have a canonical queer couple. Culmets is established as canon from the get-go; there’s no working their way towards a relationship. Hugh and Stamets are married, they’ve been together for years, they live together in shared quarters. We get snippets of how they came to be – the Kasseelian opera story, or when Hugh discusses their over the top wedding in season two – but when we first meet Culmets, they’re already together.
Now, of course, they had a bit of a wandering road in terms of staying canon. At first, it seemed to go the route of tragedy (with a hefty dose of “bury your gays” thrown in). Culmets was canon, but half the ship was killed off. Canonicity didn’t end, but it was past tense. Then things get turned upside-down when Hugh comes back and canonicity is resumed. But, it doesn’t stay so, as Hugh needs to adjust to his new life, cutting Stamets out of his life and forging his own path. Canonicity ended. But! In the end, they realize they belong together – Hugh realizes Stamets is his home – and return to each other once again, canon.
It’s the sort of long, winding, confusing trajectory that can only happen in the gloriously wacky world of science fiction. Culmets mixes together the basic drama of relationships – needing space, finding yourself – with the sort of experience no one can fathom – dying and coming back to life, being a part of a massive mycelial network. The drama adds a rich layer to what would otherwise be a delightful, but placid, relationship. But for now, here’s hoping there’s a little less Culmets drama in the future. After all they’ve been through, Hugh and Stamets deserve some peace – and some love.