Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, Star Trek: Lower Decks, Star Trek: Picard, and other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
I know, I know. If you’re in the United States you’re already able to watch the fourth episode of Discovery, so some of these theories may already be out of date if you’ve seen Forget Me Not. Sorry! There were several things going on this week that I wanted to talk about as well as Discovery, including my Halloween write-up of the Voyager Season 6 episode The Haunting of Deck Twelve. If you missed that one I hope you find the time to check it out, as Voyager can sometimes feel like an underappreciated series in the overall Star Trek canon.
So let’s look at People of Earth and consider some of the theories we’ve been able to craft or advance as a result of that episode. There were two debunkings, a couple of new theories, and minor movement on a couple of pre-existing ones. But let’s start, as always, with one theory that was confirmed.
Confirmed theory: Book and the other couriers have never been to Earth.
Michael Burnham confirmed this early on in People of Earth. Because of how expensive dilithium is, a trip to Earth from whatever sector of the galaxy she and Book were in was impossible. Book, in fact, had never visited Earth. Though the outcome of this was not what I expected at all – having thought that Earth would still be the Federation’s capital – I was right about Book.
In a way this speaks to the state of the galaxy. With dilithium in short supply and the Federation mostly gone, people are confined to either a small area or, as in the case of the Coridanites we met in Far From Home, a single planet. Book’s ship is capable of warp, but without enough dilithium there was no realistic prospect of him travelling to Earth. Presumably, now that he’s arrived at Earth, he also has no way to get back to the Hima sector.
So that theory was confirmed. Next up we have a couple of debunkings.
Debunked theory #1: The tree is a memorial to the USS Discovery and/or Captain Pike.
This was a theory I postulated when we first saw a glimpse of this scene in the second Season 3 trailer. I had speculated that the tree would be some kind of memorial either to the USS Discovery – which Starfleet considers to have been destroyed – or perhaps to someone the crew knew, like Captain Pike. This was a hunch, really, based on the strong emotional reaction they seemed to have when they saw it.
However, the explanation was even simpler. The tree, which had been seen in The Next Generation, was in the grounds of Starfleet Academy, and several of the crew, including Tilly and Detmer, recalled it with fondness from their time studying there.
This theory could have been a neat connection to the life and friends that the crew left behind when they left the 23rd Century. However, the way it was done accomplished this goal too, and at the same time showed just how much time had passed.
Debunked theory #2: Hima is Terralysium
When Burnham arrived in the 32nd Century in That Hope Is You, she landed (alright, crashed) on the planet Hima. However, she had intended to arrive at the planet of Terralysium. I had speculated that the two planets were, in fact, one and the same and that Terralysium had, for some reason, seen its name change at some point in the intervening centuries. This wouldn’t be uncommon based on history!
However, in People of Earth Michael Burnham revealed that she had tried to find her mother, Dr Gabrielle Burnham, including by contacting Terralysium. It now seems obvious that the two planets are not the same.
It would have made sense to think that a planet – especially one that had such a small population of pre-warp humans – would have seen its name change, especially if it had come under the sway of some other power (like the Orion Syndicate). It wasn’t the case, though, and this theory is toast.
So those theories were debunked. Let’s look at some new theories that we have in the aftermath of People of Earth.
Number 1: Discovery Season 3 takes place in an alternate timeline – or a timeline that is going to be overwritten.
I’ve been reluctant to posit this theory. In the run-up to the season premiere I even wrote that I considered it unlikely, as it would further complicate the already-fractured Star Trek timeline. However, there are possible signs or hints we can see that could indicate Discovery Season 3 takes place in an alternate timeline, parallel universe, or different reality.
First is the absence of Dr Gabrielle Burnham, Michael’s mother. She’s nowhere to be found, and while there are possible explanations for that – as we’ll see in a moment – one possibility that remains in play is that Dr Burnham is in a different parallel universe from Michael and the Discovery crew. Specifically, she may have remained in the prime timeline – i.e. the main Star Trek timeline which runs from Enterprise to Picard – while Burnham and Discovery exited the wormhole in a different universe. Something similar happened to Spock in 2009’s Star Trek, so it isn’t entirely beyond the realm of possibility.
The second part of this theory – which is really a standalone theory all its own – is that the timeline where the Burn occurred and which led to the bleak 32nd Century that we see at the moment isn’t the “true” timeline. Time travel gets messy, but in short: if someone interfered in the timeline and caused the Burn, from Starfleet’s perspective that should never have happened. They would want to undo it in order to restore the “real” timeline, one in which the Burn did not occur.
If that’s the case, much of the rest of the season may be dedicated to figuring out who caused the Burn, how, why, and then travelling through time to prevent it from ever happening.
The reason why I haven’t discussed these theories before is that I would consider both of them to be huge storytelling risks. Discovery has always been part of the prime timeline, and jumping to a different reality would be a huge change. And secondly, telling a multi-episode story, perhaps one that lasts all season, only to undo or overwrite it could easily end up feeling like a waste of time. Star Trek has done this before, but only with individual episodes like Year of Hell or Yesterday’s Enterprise. Undoing or overwriting an entire season would be a much more complicated undertaking.
However, the possibility exists, so these theories are now included on the list.
Number 2: The spore drive is going to become Starfleet’s new method of faster-than-light propulsion.
With the loss of most of the galaxy’s dilithium, it seems that faster-than-light travel – at least in the former Federation – is difficult and costly. It’s certainly possible that other factions have developed non-dilithium travel methods, and in That Hope Is You we saw Book mention a couple of possibilities for that.
However, there’s also the spore drive. At the end of Season 2 it was strongly suggested that the existence of the USS Discovery and the spore drive would be covered up by Starfleet and/or Section 31, meaning that it’s plausible to think that by the 32nd Century all knowledge of it would have been lost – especially in the post-Burn chaos that engulfed what remained of Starfleet. But the spore drive doesn’t rely on dilithium, and allows for instantaneous jumps across the galaxy – if the technology was able to be rolled out, Starfleet could be back up and running.
This season we’ve not only seen the spore drive in use, but in People of Earth Stamets gave a technobabble explanation of the way it works to Adira, firmly cementing the spore drive as being in play for the remainder of the season.
While I would expect at this stage the bulk of the story to be about unravelling what happened with the Burn and perhaps finding a way to undo it or fix it, one possible outcome could be a slow restoration of Starfleet and the Federation by rolling out the spore drive to more and more ships. Reconnecting the scattered ex-Federation worlds and bringing them back together would be far easier with the spore drive, so it remains an option.
Number 3: We’ll meet Dax when Discovery arrives at the Trill homeworld.
The revelation that Adira has been joined with a Trill symbiont was interesting. The first trailer last year showed us the Trill homeworld, and ever since I’d been kicking around the possibility of the Dax symbiont making an appearance. Obviously we won’t see Ezri Dax, as Trill hosts seem to have similar lifespans to humans and Klingons based on what we saw in Deep Space Nine, meaning Ezri would not still be around in this era (barring some kind of stasis or time travel story that I just don’t consider a reasonable possibility). However, the Dax symbiont could, in theory, still be alive.
We just don’t know how long symbionts live. They can certainly live for centuries; how many centuries is unclear. It’s certainly possible that Dax could have survived this long, and it would be a wonderful way to tie Discovery to the wider Star Trek franchise.
So those theories were new. Next let’s look at the remaining theories from last time, some of which saw some minor movement this week.
Number 4: Lieutenant Detmer is going to die.
I debated including this theory again this week, because it seems as though the writers of Discovery are planning to go down a mental health/post-traumatic stress storyline with Detmer. However, in Far From Home we got a lot of possible hinting at a head injury or perhaps damage to her eye implant. Though it’s looking less likely that Detmer will die and more likely that we’ll see some kind of PTSD story for her character instead, the way it was set up in Far From Home still feels to me like she’s gravely injured. Perhaps that just means the storyline was not set up very well. But I want to keep this theory in play for a little while longer while we see what, if anything, will happen to Detmer.
Number 5: We’ll see the return of a character from a past iteration of Star Trek, such as Voyager’s Doctor.
After visiting Earth, perhaps the argument could be made that this theory is less likely. However, if we are going to get the return of a classic character, it seems more likely that any Starfleet officer would be with the rump Federation, even if they’re human or originally from Earth.
Dax seems the most likely candidate right now, but as I’ve written on a number of occasions there are several others who could conceivably be alive and active at this time, including a backup copy of the Doctor as seen in the Voyager Season 4 episode Living Witness.
In short, just because we didn’t see any classic Star Trek characters when Discovery visited Earth that doesn’t mean we won’t if and when they link up with the remainder of Starfleet and the Federation.
Number 6: Booker is a Coppelius synth.
Everything we saw of Book this week suggests that he’s human, so in that sense we’re perhaps moving a step or two back from a theory which, let’s be honest, is a bit “out there!” However, we also saw nothing to rule out the idea of a synthetic origin for Book, and in some respects we could argue from a thematic perspective that his relationship with Grudge mirror’s Data’s relationship with his cat, Spot, in The Next Generation.
The abilities Book had in That Hope Is You – including strange glowing spots which could be technological in origin – are still unexplained. Burnham may well know more about Book, having spent at least some time with him over the past year. But for us as the audience, Book is still a mystery. Is he human? Possibly. Is he an alien, either from a familiar or new race? Possibly. Is he a synth, and if he is, could he be part of a synthetic civilisation founded on Coppelius? That’s still a possibility.
Number 7: Dr Gabrielle Burnham will make an appearance.
As mentioned above, Dr Burnham’s absence is strange in some ways. However, there are perfectly reasonable explanations for why she hasn’t shown up. Upon realising the future had been saved from Control she may have gone in search of the Federation. She and her Red Angel suit may have been captured by someone in this timeline. Or she may have ended up in a different sector of the galaxy.
Burnham was able to contact Terralysium, but as we just noted above, she and Book have only seen a small fraction of the galaxy due to their limited ability to travel. Thus it’s quite possible that Dr Burnham is alive in the galaxy somewhere, and will be able to reunite with her daughter.
Number 8: The Federation’s response to the Burn – not the event itself – caused its collapse.
Captain Ndoye suggested that the reason the Federation left Earth was because some folks on Earth felt that, in the aftermath of the Burn, they were turning the planet into a target. With the cause of the Burn still unknown it’s possible this feeling wasn’t unique to Earth and was repeated elsewhere.
We are edging closer to seeing this theory confirmed, but I don’t want to say the matter is settled just yet. We haven’t met the rump Federation yet, and I’d like to hear their side of the story and why they think the Burn led to the Federation’s collapse, shrinking, withdrawal, or however you want to put it.
So those theories saw movement this week. As usual I’ll briefly recap my remaining theories so they’re all in one place. For a more detailed look at any of these, take a look at my first two theory posts, which you can find on my dedicated Star Trek: Discovery page.
Number 9: The ban on time travel is being flouted, possibly by the Federation.
It’s impossible to un-invent a powerful, useful, weaponisable technology, no matter how hard you try. Considering how crappy the 32nd Century seems to be, are we convinced that nobody at all is using time travel to try to give themselves an advantage? Not the Dominion? Not the Borg? Not Section 31? Seems unlikely to me, though for production-side reasons of wanting to keep the timeline intact and to avoid overcomplicating the plot we might be told this is true!
Number 10: The Burn was a superweapon – perhaps one the Federation detonated.
The cause of the Burn is not known right now, and there are multiple possibilities as I discussed when I took an in-depth look at the Burn before the season started. One possibility that stands out, however, is the Burn being the result of a superweapon. If the Federation were facing an existential threat – such as one caused by the Borg or the super-synths from Star Trek: Picard – they may have had no choice but to use such a weapon. The setting Burnham and the crew find themselves in may thus be the aftermath of a Pyrrhic victory, one in which the Federation defeated a powerful adversary but at an impossibly high cost.
Number 11: The Burn was caused by one of the Red Angel suits.
There are two Red Angel suits known to exist – Michael Burnham’s and Dr Gabrielle Burnham’s. The suits are very powerful, and it isn’t a stretch to think they could be weaponised or cause some kind of accident. In an age where time travel has been prohibited, they could also be the only surviving examples of time-travel tech. If someone nefarious got their hands on a suit, they could travel back in time and attack the Federation by, oh I don’t know, destroying most of their dilithium.
Number 12: Someone stole Burnham’s Red Angel suit.
After Burnham landed on Hima, she sent her suit back in time to set off the final Red Burst for Pike and Spock. Then she ordered the suit to self-destruct. It’s possible, as hinted above, that somehow this in itself caused the Burn. But it’s also possible that someone intercepted the Red Angel suit after it left Hima. The finale of Season 2 confirmed the presence of the final Red Burst, but that’s all we know. Since we didn’t see on screen the destruction of the suit, we can’t be sure that it was destroyed as Burnham planned.
Number 13: The Federation was in serious decline before the Burn.
Why are there so few stars on the Federation flag? Does this represent systems and races that have seceded or left the Federation? And if that’s the case, why does the decades-old, pre-Burn flag (that Mr Sahil owned) represent those secessions? Perhaps the answer is that the Federation was already in decline. The Burn may have been the final straw – but not the only straw.
Number 14: The Orion Syndicate controls the trading post on Hima – and may be a major power.
The trading post Book and Burnham visited on Hima had a number of Orions present, including working as traders and guards. In addition, in Far From Home the courier Zareh suggested to one of his goons that he would sell “to the Orions.”
The Orion Syndicate has been part of Star Trek going back to The Original Series, and it makes sense in a chaotic, post-Burn environment that they would be able to operate more openly – and they may have even become a major power.
Number 15: There will be a tie-in with the Short Treks episode Calypso.
We got a first hint at this when Zareh used the word “V’Draysh” to refer to the Federation, as this was a term first used in Calypso. If Calypso takes place in or around the 32nd Century there could be some further crossover, perhaps even seeing protagonist Craft show up. It does raise questions, however, such as why the USS Discovery was abandoned in a nebula.
Number 16: Mirror Georgiou will travel back to the 23rd Century.
Georgiou was not planning to travel to the 32nd Century, but was aboard Discovery when it left due to fighting Leland/Control. She has expressed her appreciation for the chaotic, “free” nature of the future, but there could be a reason for her to travel back in time. Not least because she’s supposed to be the main character in the upcoming Section 31 series which is meant to take place in the 23rd Century!
There could be a reason for Georgiou to travel back in time, but if she’s to work with Section 31, the main one I can think of would be to warn Starfleet about the Burn and give them time to prepare and/or prevent it.
Number 17: We haven’t seen the last of Zareh.
Despite being quite content to kill all of Zareh’s goons, Saru balked at the idea of killing the man himself. Instead, he and Georgiou let him go, sending him out into the wilds of the Colony – despite being told by the locals that that’s a death sentence. However, we didn’t see Zareh die. And in stories like these, characters like Zareh tend to pop back up looking for revenge.
So that’s it. Those are my theories going into episode four, which, as already mentioned, may be available to watch by the time you’re reading this! Hopefully next week we can get back on track with review and theory timings so we don’t run up against a deadline again. I make no promises, though!
Discovery Season 3 continues to be fascinating, and thus ripe for finding new and interesting theories. I love that the story is still a mystery even after three episodes, and there are so many different ways it could unfold – including many I can’t even predict or imagine. The best television shows manage to do this, and just like Star Trek: Picard earlier in the year kept us on our toes right until the finale, Discovery is doing a great job of keeping its mysteries and storylines under wraps.
I’m having a fun time with Season 3, and one great thing about being so late with this week’s theories is that there isn’t long left to wait for the next episode! Check back in the coming days for my review and an update to this theory list.
Star Trek: Discovery is available to stream on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.