Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 4

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, Star Trek: Picard, Star Trek: Lower Decks, and other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

Forget Me Not was an interesting episode. It certainly wasn’t Discovery’s best offering, nor even the best of the season so far, but it had some enjoyable and entertaining moments. From a theory-crafting point of view, Forget Me Not didn’t offer up very many new possibilities. It did, however, debunk one theory and confirm another – so as always, that’s where we’ll begin.

Confirmed theory: There will be another tie-in with Calypso.

Saru and the Sphere data.

This is a strange one, as the theory has been confirmed yet can also remain in play! It’s certainly possible that, by the end of the season, we’ll have seen even more connections to the Short Treks episode Calypso, but even if we don’t we got a couple in Forget Me Not.

The smaller of the two was simply that Discovery’s computer recommended an old film as a way to help the crew bond. This ties in neatly with Zora’s love of classic cinema that we saw in Calypso.

By far the larger connection to Calypso was the moment which may have been the creation of Zora. The Sphere data – stored in Discovery’s main computer – appears to assert itself and either take control of or merge with the main computer, midway through a conversation with Captain Saru. We saw the familiar red-orange glow of the data on one of the ready-room wall panels, and then the computer’s usual bland, monotone voice was replaced with the smoother, more emotional tones of – I suspect – Zora.

So that theory was confirmed. There was one debunking, so let’s quickly recap that before jumping into the main list.

Debunked theory: We will meet Dax when Discovery heads to the Trill homeworld.

No, not Jadzia Dax!

In short, when it became apparent that Forget Me Not would involve travelling to the Trill homeworld, I speculated that we could meet Dax. Obviously Ezri Dax – the symbiont’s host as of the end of Deep Space Nine – would no longer be around, but symbionts can live for centuries so there was the possibility of meeting a new host.

It didn’t happen in Forget Me Not, however, and though I consider this the best possible opportunity for Dax to have appeared, we’ll look at one other option in just a moment.

I guess we could technically say that maybe we did meet Dax – the symbiont could in theory have been in any one of the 10+ Trill characters we saw in Forget Me Not. But that’s so unlikely that it’s hardly worth mentioning!

So that theory was debunked. Now let’s get into the main list, beginning with those few theories that are either new or which Forget Me Not advanced.

Number 1: Michael Burnham is leaving the series.

Bear with me on this one. I know Burnham has been Discovery’s protagonist since Season 1, and that the show continues to be constructed in such a way as to put her at the centre of every story. But something struck me when watching Forget Me Not, and it ties into a theme that’s been running since we learned Burnham spent a long time apart from the crew at the end of Far From Home.

She has lived a whole year away from Discovery; a year in which, by her own admission, she began to enjoy living life in a different and less-restricted way. Tilly, Georgiou, and Saru all picked up on this, noting Burnham’s enjoyment and appreciation for life outside Starfleet. Even though the 32nd Century is very different from what she would have hoped to find, that difference has given her a shot at a different way of life – and perhaps a new romantic partner.

Parting with Booker wasn’t easy for Burnham, and while I’m sure he will be back, we don’t know how far down that particular route they went over the course of a year of living and working closely together. Did they hook up? Remain just friends? Or are they in love? If they are, is Booker going to happily come aboard Discovery and perhaps even enlist in Starfleet to reunite with her? Or will he tempt Burnham back to a life of freedom; going where they can, when they can, and saving a few space-worms along the way?

Book and Burnham lived and worked closely together.

In Forget Me Not, Burnham missed the whole crew bonding storyline. When I reviewed the episode I felt this was a mistake – I still do, in fact – but it might instead be a carefully-crafted story point if it turns out to be another stepping-stone to Burnham’s end-of-season departure. Burnham, already feeling separated from the rest of the crew after her experiences in the 32nd Century, could be pushed to feel even more alone upon seeing how they’re all bonding, overcoming arguments, and growing closer. If she does, this could be another factor pushing her away from Discovery.

So the first question that arises is this: will Burnham leave Discovery but remain part of the show, perhaps being a character Captain Saru and the crew turn to often? Or will she and Booker ride off into the sunset together, never to be seen again? Either option is possible, and it’s hard to say. But I would guess that if she were to leave it would be her end as a major character. Future cameos may still be on the cards, but not a starring role.

And the final question: would this improve the series or hurt it? For my two cents, Discovery could survive without Burnham. It lost Lorca and then the very popular Captain Pike and is still going strong, so Saru and the crew would do fine. Whether it would be an improvement would depend on what the show does next and what stories it intends to tell.

Number 2: The Tal symbiont’s many former hosts, including one in a Picard-era Starfleet uniform, could mean the Dax symbiont is still alive.

Burnham and Adira meet the former hosts of the Tal symbiont.

As mentioned above, Dax did not appear in any form in Forget Me Not. However, we did see something that could hint at their survival into the 32nd Century, and that came in the sequence with the Tal symbiont. Aside from Gray, who only had the symbiont for a couple of years at most, there were five former hosts present. That in itself is not particularly remarkable; Dax had had nine hosts between the 21st and 24th Centuries. However, one of the hosts was dressed in a Picard-era Starfleet uniform, so this implies that the symbiont may be exceptionally long-lived.

Starfleet changes its uniforms fairly often. The maroon uniforms used in The Original Series films appear to have lasted the longest; from the latter part of the 23rd Century through to the mid-24th, a span of 60+ years. Even assuming that the Picard uniforms are in service for that long, this would mean the host we met in Forget Me Not was alive in the mid/late 25th Century. Given that there are four others, each would need a lifespan of approximately 200 years to make it to the 32nd Century. That may seem extreme, but some races in Star Trek are long-lived, such as the Vulcans. It’s also possible that the symbiont spent time living without a host in the Caves of Mak’ala, as we saw others doing.

I know it’s a stretch to get excited over what was really just an Easter egg – or perhaps reusing an old uniform instead of designing a new one! But this is the Star Trek fandom, and diving headfirst into theories based on tiny details is kind of our thing! I think it’s very possible that the Tal symbiont is 700+ years old, and if symbionts can live that long, it raises hopes that Dax may still be alive.

Forget Me Not was our best chance to meet Dax, as fitting him or her into that story would have made a lot of sense. However, Discovery is headed in the direction of Starfleet Headquarters, and Dax was, under different hosts, both a Federation diplomat and a Starfleet officer (twice). So it’s possible! There’s still a chance.

Number 3: Lieutenant Detmer is going to die.

Lieutenant Detmer.

I know that what we saw this week could be taken as proof that this theory is looking less and less likely. And that may very well prove to be the case; Detmer has a clean bill of physical health, after all. However, the recap of the story so far at the beginning of Forget Me Not once again showed Detmer being thrown from her seat and wounded, clutching at her implant.

Having just gone through a difficult emotional moment, I hope we see her continue her journey, perhaps taking counselling sessions with Dr Culber or learning to work out her emotions somehow. I certainly don’t want this storyline to just be dropped, as I fear may ultimately be the case! But it would be an interesting, potentially heartbreaking storyline for Detmer to go on this emotional rollercoaster and begin to heal, only for her injury or implant damage to reassert itself and for her to die.

One thing Discovery is yet to do this season is kill off a named character. Detmer isn’t a “major” character in the same way as some others, but she’s someone we’ve been with since the premiere, and with the show going to a lot of trouble to give her her first storyline, it wouldn’t be unprecedented for that story to end with her death. Ariam in Season 2 was similarly a background character who got her moment in the spotlight – then met an untimely end.

Number 4: The spore drive is going to become Starfleet’s new method of faster-than-light propulsion.

Black Alert!

Last time I speculated that we may see the spore drive rolled out to more Federation starships as part of a drive to rebuild and reunite the fractured alliance. With the loss of most of the galaxy’s dilithium – and the Federation seemingly unable to develop a reliable and easy-to-use alternative – the spore drive could be a suitable replacement. Not only would this make sense from an in-universe perspective, but it would finally find a role for Discovery’s most controversial piece of tech!

I didn’t enjoy the Tilly-Stamets argument in Forget Me Not, as the whole technobabble-based conflict felt very artificial. However, one line came out of that related to this theory: Tilly is working on alternative methods of accessing and navigating the mycelial network, meaning if Stamets were killed or injured the spore drive could still be used. At the moment, only Stamets can use it.

One big black mark against this theory was the ability to navigate the mycelial network. It requires a living navigator – first the tardigrade, then Stamets, but only after he dangerously augmented his DNA. However, if Tilly’s idea has merit then it would be far easier to roll out the spore drive to other ships, perhaps even the whole of Starfleet. Even if Tilly’s idea, which involved the use of dark matter, is ultimately fruitless, the idea of a non-human navigator has been teased. Perhaps that line of technobabble may yet prove important.

So those theories were new or saw movement in this week’s episode. I wanted to have a theory along the lines of “the Federation won’t immediately welcome Discovery when they arrive,” but that was already confirmed in the trailer for Die Trying. Now, as always, I’ll recap the remaining theories on my list so they’re all in one place. These theories are those which remain in play, but weren’t touched on this week. To read up on any of them in more detail, check out my earlier theory posts which you can find on my dedicated Star Trek: Discovery page.

Number 5: Discovery Season 3 is taking place in an alternate timeline, or a timeline that will be overwritten.

Earth has seceded from the Federation in the 32nd Century… as things stand right now, anyway.

Two theories in one, really. The first idea is that – due to time-wormhole shenanigans – Burnham and the crew have left the prime timeline behind and are instead in an alternate dimension. The main evidence for this is the supposed disappearance of Dr Gabrielle Burnham, who should have returned to Terralysium in this time period but appears to have not done so. They could even be in the Kelvin timeline, something which would make for a surprising tie-in with the reboot films!

Part II of this theory is that, due to the time-traveling intervention of someone nefarious, or perhaps even a time travel accident, the Burn occurred. From the point of view of the Federation, this is not the “true” timeline, which would be restored by Burnham and the crew, overwriting the current bleak setting and restoring the Federation – along with all of its dilithium.

The second part of this theory seems less likely and may be difficult to pull off, but both remain in play right now.

Number 6: A character from a past iteration of Star Trek – such as Voyager’s Doctor – will make an appearance.

The Doctor.

I’ve been kicking around this theory since well before Season 3 debuted last month! In short, there are a few characters with lifespans long enough to potentially set up a 32nd Century appearance, and it would be a fantastic way for Discovery to tie itself to the broader Star Trek franchise by including someone in that category. This concept worked well in Season 2 with Spock, Pike, and Number One, so why not here too?

Other than a backup copy of Voyager’s Doctor, other characters I suggested included Soji (or a synth who looks like her), Lore, Captain Sisko, and Enterprise’s Crewman Daniels – the latter of whom was a 30th/31st Century temporal agent. While these characters are among the few who could still be alive in this era, there’s no reason why literally any 23rd or 24th Century character couldn’t be included; perhaps they had been in stasis or travelled through time.

Number 7: Booker is a Coppelius synth.

Book has many abilities that some consider to be… unnatural.

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. Thematically, his relationship with Grudge mirrors Data’s with Spot, which could be another hint. It’s possible Book is an enhanced human, or even an alien from a different race. But his abilities could be indicative of a synthetic origin, and if he is a synth, he could be part of a civilisation founded on Coppelius in the late 24th Century.

Number 8: Dr Gabrielle Burnham will make an appearance.

Dr Gabrielle Burnham.

Michael’s mother is the reason why she chose to set the late 32nd Century as her destination at the end of last season. As noted above, Dr Burnham’s absence is noteworthy, especially considering no one seems to have heard of her. However, there are possible explanations for this, including some very simple ones.

Dr Burnham could have sought out Starfleet, in which case we may meet her as early as this week! Or she could be conducting her own investigation into the Burn, have been captured by an alien faction, or met with an unpleasant fate. Regardless, I think we’ll find out – and there’s a high likelihood she’ll appear in person.

Number 9: The Federation’s response to the Burn – not the event itself – caused its collapse.

Burnham meets Mr Sahil – a Federation representative.

Captain Ndoye hinted at this, as did Book and Zareh in earlier episodes. Book said that the Federation couldn’t answer questions people had about what the Burn was or what caused it, and Captain Ndoye said that the citizens of Earth, fearing attack or invasion, essentially kicked the Federation out in the aftermath of the Burn.

This theory is close to being confirmed, but I want to hear the Federation’s side of the story first – something we’ll hopefully get in Die Trying or a future episode.

Number 10: The ban on time travel is being flouted – possibly by the Federation.

Crewman Daniels in Enterprise.

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 11: The Burn is a superweapon – perhaps one the Federation set off.

The Burn.

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 12: The Burn was caused by one of the Red Angel suits.

The Red Angel suits were very powerful.

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. The name “Burn” may even be related to the name “Burnham” if this theory is correct.

Number 13: Someone stole Michael Burnham’s Red Angel suit.

Burnham’s Red Angel suit departs Hima.

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 14: The Federation was in terminal decline long before the Burn.

Book, Burnham, and Mr Sahil with the Federation flag.

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 15: The Orion Syndicate controls the Hima trading post – and may be a major regional or galactic power.

Tendi would not be happy that the Orions have reverted to their criminal stereotype!

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 16: Mirror Georgiou will travel back in time to the 23rd Century.

Mirror Georgiou in Far From Home.

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.

Zareh the courier.

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 the remaining active theories as we approach episode five.

Discovery remains unpredictable – which is something I really like! Theorising and speculating is a lot of fun, but at the same time it’s great when my theories don’t pan out and the show takes an unexpected turn, because who doesn’t like being surprised? Some theories are far more likely than others, of course, and the big mystery surrounds the cause of the Burn. I expect we’ll learn more when Burnham and the crew meet up with the remnants of Starfleet!

Please remember that no fan theory – no matter how convincing and appealing it may seem – is worth getting worked up or disappointed over. Discovery’s producers and writers are the ones who determine where the series will go, and as much fun as it is to craft theories and speculate, it’s even more fun to watch Discovery and find out what’s really going on.

I’m looking forward to Die Trying this week! Let’s see what will happen when Discovery makes it to Federation HQ.

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.