Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-2 and the trailers for Season 3. There are also spoilers for Star Trek: Picard Season 1 and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
Unlike on other occasions where I’ve written about Discovery’s upcoming third season, none of the points I’ll be discussing today should be considered “theories.” I do have some theories for how the backstory and narrative of Season 3 will play out, but these are more general points that I hope are included. It’s a wishlist from a fan, nothing more.
I’m excited, truly interested, and a little nervous about what Discovery has in store. The post-apocalyptic setting, “the Burn,” and many other things all have the potential to tell an incredible story – or an incredibly divisive one. I’m putting together this list as a way to get my own thoughts in order ahead of the Season 3 premiere, which is coming in a little over two weeks’ time.
The usual disclaimer applies: I have no “insider information,” nor am I claiming that anything listed below will be part of Season 3.
Number 1: Some kind of tie-in with Star Trek: Picard.
If you read my Star Trek: Picard reviews and theories, you may recall that this was something I half-expected, half-hoped to see happen in that series too. Aside from a couple of throwaway lines, we didn’t get any kind of significant crossover or tie-in, and while Picard was a fantastic show on the whole, that was certainly a missed opportunity.
Discovery and Picard don’t exist as wholly separate entities. The Star Trek franchise ties them together, and realistically, if we’re going to see the brand survive into the second half of the 2020s and beyond, the various projects need to be doing something to drive engagement with the rest of the franchise. In the 1990s, when Star Trek was at its peak, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager all occupied the same timeframe, and this allowed for crossovers of themes, starships, factions, and even characters. At the very least, what this did was remind fans of one series that others existed, and served as gentle encouragement for fans of one show to jump over and try out one of the others.
The fact that modern Star Trek’s projects occupy vastly different time periods makes this more tricky, but it’s not something that’s impossible to overcome. I have a theory, as you may know, that the race of super-synths from Picard’s finale may be connected to an event called “the Burn,” and that’s certainly one route the show could go. But there are others, even including the appearance of characters like Soji. As a synth, Soji could conceivably still be alive after hundreds of years. This would have ramifications for future seasons of Picard, so I’d understand if the show chose not to go down that route. But the point is there are options for significant crossovers of themes, factions, locations, and characters in a way that would be important to the story, done in a way that would encourage casual viewers to dive deeper into the Star Trek galaxy. That can only be a good thing – retaining fans is going to be massively important.
It seems all but certain that a fourth season of Discovery is in production; we’re just waiting on an official announcement. But when Discovery inevitably comes to an end, Star Trek needs its viewers to stay subscribed and to remain invested in the broader franchise. Some are already, but some aren’t, and may not even be aware of Picard and other projects. Having a major crossover or tie-in will encourage that, and if done right it will help Star Trek’s longer-term prospects immeasurably.
Number 2: A reference, callback, or hint to something from Star Trek: Lower Decks.
As above, tying the Star Trek franchise together is important – and will be even more so as the franchise moves forward. Unlike with Picard, where I feel there’s scope for some kind of significant crossover or tie-in, all Discovery really needs to do is acknowledge, in some way, the existence of Lower Decks.
We could, for example, have the ship pass by the planet Khwopa, which was briefly visited in Much Ado About Boimler, see a California-class starship, or even see the names of one or more of the main characters on some kind of Starfleet memorial, assuming the crew visit Earth or another Federation outpost.
There are lots of ways to name-check or reference some character or event in Lower Decks in a way that wouldn’t be intrusive, and I hope an attempt will be made to do so.
Number 3: A storyline that doesn’t make Michael Burnham the “chosen one.”
Burnham is Discovery’s protagonist and principal character, and that isn’t going to change in Season 3. But the show has struggled in the past when it confused putting Burnham at the centre of its narrative with making her an invincible superstar or the “chosen one.” Doing so robs the other characters of any real agency over the plot, and leaves the ship and crew blindly following in Burnham’s wake – a metaphor that, somewhat ironically, was made literal in the Season 2 finale.
Making Burnham the only character capable of performing an important task or filling an essential role amplifies some of her less-attractive character traits: her confidence veers into arrogance and self-importance, her dedication to her own interpretation of logic leads her to ignore or shoot down dissenting opinions, etc. Having her as the protagonist is fine; having her be the only character who actually does anything of consequence is not.
As I’ve written previously, this is not Star Trek: Burnham. The whole crew of the USS Discovery – some of whom we barely know even after two full seasons – have the potential to contribute a lot to whatever story Season 3 tells. But the show hasn’t been great at giving most of them a chance to shine, and while Burnham will of course have an important role to play, let’s not have it be the only consequential and important one.
Number 4: A proper explanation for “the Burn.”
I really think we’ll get this, especially after the two trailers carefully built up an air of mystery surrounding this as-yet-unknown event. However, some post-apocalyptic stories choose to cloud their apocalyptic event and leave its details unknown. In some cases that can work well, but in a franchise like Star Trek it won’t.
Star Trek has been running for over fifty years, and in that time its fanbase has come to care deeply and passionately about the Federation and the galaxy humanity inhabits. The optimistic future we’ve seen depicted in every Star Trek project to date has been torn down, and as much as I have reservations about that it’s something I’ve come to accept. However, fans deserve to know precisely how and why that came to be.
There’s a curiosity at the core of Star Trek. Seeking out strange, new worlds has been the franchise’s heart since The Original Series, and that spirit of exploration and thirst for knowledge extends to fans as well. We want to know what’s going on in the galaxy, and it wouldn’t be good enough to say “well something bad happened, but don’t worry about what it was or what caused it.” In some stories, an unknown, mysterious event could work. But not here.
The reason why I think it’s at least plausible to think Discovery might try to pull a trick like this is because it seems as though the Burn may be an event that took place decades or more before Burnham and the ship arrive in the future. It may be, as Michelle Paradise seemed to hint, something that happened before Booker (the new character native to this era) was even born. That timeframe would make it easier for the show to try to get away with saying “don’t worry about what happened, let’s just try to rebuild.” And I really feel that will create a deeply unsatisfying narrative.
Number 5: No main villain.
Control was the villain of Season 2, and came to possess the body of Captain Leland, giving us as the audience a human character to dislike. Season 1 offered up Lorca, Mirror Georgiou, and the Klingons as villains at different points, but one of the great things about Star Trek is that its stories don’t always need a nefarious evildoer for the crew to defeat.
The Burn’s origins are currently unknown, and we could learn that it was caused by an antagonistic faction with an evil leader. Alternatively, we could see the post-Burn galaxy and remnants of the Federation having been conquered by such a faction. In either case, Burnham and the crew have a villain to fight and the story of the season could simply be how they came to fight and defeat this faction and its leader.
However, many times in Star Trek, there have been stories about figuring out a puzzle and solving a problem that was natural in origin. The Burn could be the deliberate use of a weapon or the aftermath of a war, but equally it could be a natural event. If it were natural, the story of the season could be figuring that out, finding a way to fix it or prevent it happening again, and rebuilding the Federation. There would undoubtedly be small-scale baddies to fight along the way – we’ve seen two possible examples of that in the trailers – but the season doesn’t need an overarching enemy to fight in order to tell an exciting story.
Number 6: Proper development of some secondary characters.
Detmer at the helm and Owosekun at operations are permanent fixtures on the bridge of the USS Discovery. But we don’t know much about either of them, and the way they’ve been used in the show so far has been poor. They’re sometimes seen adding minor backstory to another character (like Ariam) or event, but that’s about it. Who are they? Why did they decide to follow Burnham instead of abandoning ship?
Likewise there are underdeveloped “main” characters. Tilly has often been used for little more than comic relief, and while she got a sub-plot in Season 2 regarding the mycelial network, she feels like a character with untapped potential. With Reno potentially stepping up to fill the comic character slot, perhaps Tilly could be given a greater role.
Then there are minor characters that may or may not have travelled with the ship into the future. I don’t expect Discovery to follow the trail blazed by Deep Space Nine and have a huge roster of secondary characters, but it would be great to see more done with the existing ones. With Pike and Spock out of the picture entirely, there’s room for Nhan, Detmer, and others to take on larger roles.
Number 7: Fix the Stamets-Culber relationship.
Representation of LGBT+ people on television is streets ahead of where it was even just a few years ago, and in a way, Stamets and Culber’s relationship is testament to that. Since their first appearance in Season 1, the fact that they were “the gay couple” was never treated as a huge deal. Their storyline has reflected that as it took twists and turns over the first two seasons.
When Dr Culber was rescued/brought back to life in Season 2, their relationship didn’t pick up where it left off. He’s clearly suffering greatly as a result of the trauma he endured while trapped in the mycelial network, and after such an experience that’s to be expected. People aren’t magically back to the way they were after a hugely traumatic event.
The tension between Stamets and Culber after the latter’s return did serve as a source of drama in Season 2, but in my opinion their cute relationship works better when it’s used as one of the emotional cores of Discovery, rather than as a way to inject further drama into an already-dramatic series. Finding a way for the two to properly reconcile and get back together would be great for Season 3, as it would restore that emotional counterbalance which has been notably absent since Dr Culber’s “death” in Season 1.
Number 8: A satisfying explanation for how the Burn surprised Starfleet.
This connects to point number 4 about explaining what the Burn is and how it happened. In past iterations of Star Trek, we caught glimpses of the Federation and Starfleet in the far future, and one thing we learned is that time travel was a regular occurrence. Starfleet explored the timeline in the way they had explored space in the 23rd/24th Centuries. If they patrol the timeline in order to keep the peace, this raises a question – how did the Burn manage to come from nowhere and surprise them?
Surely once the technology to communicate and travel through time has been created, the Federation would explore not only the past timeline, but the future as well. Failing to do so would leave a massive blind spot for enemies to exploit, and once time travel has been invented and is commonplace, as we’ve seen in other Star Trek stories it won’t remain the exclusive tech of the Federation. If other factions can use time travel, they can travel into the future, which means the Federation at the very least need to be aware of the future timeline so they can preserve it.
But if Starfleet vessels had visited the future, how did they not know about the Burn in time to warn everyone? Did they choose to let it happen to preserve the “true” timeline? If the Burn represents an attack by a time-travelling faction that shouldn’t have happened, arguably restoring the timeline to its “original” form should be Starfleet’s objective… but wouldn’t that mean large chunks of Season 3 would be wiped from existence?
Time travel stories are often complicated and hard to follow, which is why they’ve never been my favourites in Star Trek. However, given that we know time travel exists in Starfleet’s future, there needs to be a satisfying explanation for how the Burn was able to happen at all, and why no Starfleet vessel was able to warn the Federation ahead of time – or even prevent the Burn altogether.
So that’s it. A few things on my wishlist for the impending third season of Star Trek: Discovery. I’m not trying to say that Season 3 will be “bad” or unenjoyable if it ignores these points and goes in a different direction, because I like Star Trek’s ability to surprise me even after decades in the fandom. These are simply points that I feel would work to make the story of Season 3 better if they could be included.
I deliberately left off one pretty big point – optimism. We’ve heard numerous times from Alex Kurtzman, Michelle Paradise, and others involved in creating the story of the new season that there will be an optimistic tone, and I see no reason to doubt that. In fact, a post-apocalyptic setting can be a great way to tell stories of hope and optimism, contrasting a bleak setting with the efforts of protagonists to build something better. I have my reservations about that, as I’ve mentioned on several occasions, because it represents a fundamental change to Star Trek and the underlying premise that has propped up the franchise for more than half a century. I’m willing to give it a chance, though.
Whatever Season 3 delivers, I’ll be here to cover each episode as they’re broadcast, and perhaps engage in some theory-crafting to go along with it, so I hope you’ll check back when the season kicks off in less than three weeks!
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 will debut on CBS All Access on the 15th of October in the United States, and on the 16th of October on Netflix in the United Kingdom and other countries and territories. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Discovery – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.