Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 7

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

Unification III was alright. Discovery has a problem with Burnham’s characterisation again, basically the same problem it had in early Season 1. But hopefully, now that she’s had somewhat of a breakthrough in her relationship with Starfleet, she can begin to put the worst of it behind her – and so can the series.

There were three confirmed theories in Unification III and a couple of new ones as we head into episode 8 later this week. I’m also retiring one theory that, while not officially “debunked,” now seems unlikely because of the way the story has shifted. Let’s start with what was confirmed.

Confirmed theory #1: Dr Gabrielle Burnham will make an appearance.

Dr Burnham in Unification III.

Dr Burnham’s absence was confusing earlier in the season. Where had she gone? Why hadn’t she attempted to contact Michael, Discovery, or even the Federation? Was Dr Burnham being missing indicative of Michael and the crew having crossed into a parallel universe?

We can put all of that aside now, because Dr Burnham did finally make an appearance. It wasn’t in the way any of us expected – and it was, I’m sorry to say, rather contrived and at least slightly nonsensical – but she did nevertheless show up.

Michael and Gabrielle Burnham in Season 2.

After returning to the 32nd Century for the final time following the events of Season 2’s The Red Angel, Dr Burnham crash-landed on the planet Essof IV – the place where Burnham and the crew lured her in the 23rd Century. Essof IV was a dangerous world with a toxic atmosphere that had once been used by Section 31 as a base. Following her crash there, Dr Burnham was nursed back to health by the Qowat Milat – an order of armed Romulan nuns first encountered in Star Trek: Picard. She subsequently joined the order.

Will we see her again? I’m not entirely sure. I don’t think she’s going to become a major recurring character within the series unless something changes. Her decision to remain on Ni’Var seems to suggest that. However, assuming faster-than-light communications with Ni’Var still exist – which seems to be the case – it is at least possible that Michael may contact her from time to time.

Confirmed theories #2 & #3: The Federation was already in terminal decline before the Burn; the collapse of the Federation had more to do with their response to the Burn rather than the event itself.

Federation HQ.

These two theories had been edging closer to confirmation for several weeks, and I’m happy to consider them true following the events of Unification III.

This week’s episode confirmed that the dilithium shortage, which had been ongoing since the 30th Century, put the Federation under tremendous strain, as did a conflict or series of conflicts “to uphold the Temporal Accords.” The ban on time travel may also have contributed to this decline, and it’s not unfair to say that long before the Burn struck, all was not well in the ageing alliance.

This theory was initially prompted by something simple: the number of stars on Mr Sahil’s flag. I assumed that Mr Sahil, who had never met a Starfleet officer in his life, owned a flag passed down to him by his father and grandfather – a flag from before the Burn. If stars on the flag represent planets or groupings of planets, the “missing” stars may indicate secessions from the Federation prior to the Burn.

Admiral Vance confirmed that the Federation is currently around 11% of the size it once was; 38 star systems down from over 350. However, he never stated when the “peak” of the Federation’s membership was; whether it was at the moment of the Burn or decades prior. That part is still unknown, but it’s not unfair to assume it was the latter.

Book, Burnham, and Mr Sahil stand respectfully before the Federation flag,

As for the Federation’s response to the Burn, Book told us as early as That Hope Is You that the Federation’s inability to explain what happened or to provide any practical solutions compromised the confidence of people across the known galaxy. In People of Earth, Captain Ndoye told us that United Earth kicked the Federation out, fearing the Burn was a prelude to war and that Earth would be a target. Forget Me Not confirmed the withdrawal of Trill from the Federation as well, and that they hadn’t seen a Federation starship in decades. Finally, Unification III told us of the withdrawal of Ni’Var, whose people were angered by SB-19, believing the Federation forced them to continue a dangerous project that was ultimately responsible for the Burn.

All of this evidence has stacked up for these two connected theories over the first half of Season 3, and I now think we can close the book and say that they are confirmed.

So those theories were confirmed. Next we have the theory that I’m choosing to retire.

Retiring theory: Michael Burnham will leave the series.

Burnham in Unification III.

This was always a long-shot, thinking about it rationally. Burnham has always been Discovery’s main character, and after what we saw in Unification III I’m no longer convinced that’s going to change.

In short, I had speculated that Burnham becoming more distant from the crew, missing all the on-screen bonding, spending time with Book, disobeying orders, and having learned to appreciate a new, freer way of life outside of the confines of Starfleet may have led to her choosing to resign or depart from the ship at the end of this season. That would have most likely spelled her end as a major character within the show, which could have carried on but with a focus on Captain Saru and the rest of the crew.

Discovery could have become an ensemble series based around Captain Saru.

As Burnham attended the quorum and spoke with her mother, it became clear that she was learning to work through the feelings she has about Starfleet, Discovery, and how out-of-place she has felt. Unification III began with Book very pointedly removing Burnham’s uniform; symbolic, I suggested, of his being a major factor pulling her away from the ship and crew. But it ended with Burnham more confident in her role aboard the ship, happier and more settled.

There are still issues with her character, as I’ve pointed out. Some of these – her self-centredness, her arrogance, and how she seemingly learns nothing having suffered no real consequences for her actions – make her difficult to truly get behind. Whether or not we’ll see any changes or improvements, though, I think we can consider the idea that she will leave the series highly implausible at this stage. If that changes between now and the end of the season I may re-activate this theory. But as of week 7, I’m officially striking it off my theory list.

So that theory has been retired. Now let’s get into the list!

Number 1: This week’s episode – The Sanctuary – will connect to the events of the Deep Space Nine second season episode Sanctuary.

Skrreean leader Haneek in the Deep Space Nine Season 2 episode Sanctuary.

This is a total stab in the dark, but I wonder if these two similarly-titled episodes will connect in some way. We’ve already seen Discovery use a throwback episode title this season – Unification III – so it’s at least plausible.

Sanctuary (the Deep Space Nine episode) saw a race called the Skrreeans, originally native to the Gamma Quadrant, arrive on Bajor and seek asylum from the Bajoran government. The Bajorans ultimately declined to help, as they were still in the process of recovering from the Cardassian occupation of their world, but it was an agonising decision, especially for Major Kira.

Major Kira initially welcomed the Skrreeans in Sanctuary.

How would a possible connection work? I honestly have no idea. The Sanctuary may see Burnham and the crew travel to the Burn’s point of origin, having triangulated it using the SB-19 data given to them by the President of Ni’Var. Could they encounter the Skrreeans at the origin point, perhaps? That would be a major connection. In a more minor way we could simply see the inclusion of a Skrreean character, or perhaps have someone note the location of their new homeworld – the planet Draylon II was where they ultimately settled.

It would be an interesting, if somewhat random, connection for Discovery to make to this one standalone story from Deep Space Nine. However, Star Trek: Picard set somewhat of a precedent in that regard, bringing in Dr Bruce Maddox, a character who only appeared once in The Next Generation, as a main player in its storyline. I don’t consider this theory likely, but I wanted to acknowledge the possibility. I will be on the lookout for anything related to the Skrreeans, their mythical planet Ketanna, or Draylon II when I watch The Sanctuary!

Number 2: Tilly is going to go rogue.

Saru asked Tilly to temporarily serve as first officer.

Okay, “go rogue” might be too strong. But I definitely picked up something more than mere hesitancy in Tilly this week, as she was asked by Saru to serve – temporarily, for all of you who got upset about this storyline! – as his first officer.

We have seen ensigns given command responsibilities before. Even if it’s uncommon in today’s world, it has happened on a number of occasions within Star Trek. Wesley Crusher, while still an Acting Ensign, was given command of a team in The Next Generation Season 2 episode Pen Pals, and of course Harry Kim was seen in command of Voyager’s night shift for much of the second half of the show’s run. So while it may seem odd it isn’t unprecedented, and with Discovery in a completely unfamiliar situation, Captain Saru has to take many factors into account when choosing his temporary XO. Among them is trustworthiness, having been burned by Burnham’s insubordination. And also he must account for how well everyone is acclimating to the 32nd Century, something he believes Tilly has excelled in where others have not.

Tilly and Saru.

Okay, so I’ve made a short defence of Tilly. Now into the meat of the theory! One line which stuck with me from Unification III was when Tilly asked Saru if he chose her because he believed her to be “compliant.” He ducked the question, but it was at least hinted that he does indeed see her as someone who will do as she’s told. Having experienced the Burnham problem, perhaps that’s a knee-jerk reaction from Saru, and one which, if true, would make me question his judgement. But the line carried with it a potentially serious implication – Tilly may choose, at a certain moment, not to comply.

She may do so to assist Burnham in some way, and if Tilly were to disobey orders – as she stated she would in Scavengers when talking with Saru – I would assume it would be for this reason. But there may be something else that causes her to go rogue, following in Burnham’s footsteps. I can’t say exactly what it could be if not Burnham, but we’ve had two lines that can certainly be interpreted to say that Tilly may be less “compliant” than Saru hopes.

Number 3: The Spore Drive will become Starfleet’s new method of faster-than-light propulsion.

Discovery initiates a spore jump.

SB-19 was a Federation project – led by the Romulans and Vulcans – to attempt to circumvent the galaxy’s dilithium shortage. Though Admiral Vance called it “promising,” the Ni’Var believed it was dangerous, and for more than a century considered to be the cause of the Burn. Whether they will re-evaluate that belief in light of evidence provided by Burnham is unclear, but it’s also potentially irrelevant.

SB-19, whether it caused the Burn or not, was an imperfect way to travel when compared to the Spore Drive. At present, only Discovery is capable of using the mycelial network, but that could change. What the implications of that would be on races like the JahSepp, who are native to the mycelial network, is not clear, but assuming it would be safe to use the network to travel, Spore Drives may yet be installed on all of Starfleet’s ships.

Main Engineering aboard the USS Discovery contains everything needed to make the Spore Drive work.

We saw no real movement toward that this week, other than we saw for the first time Stamets use the new interface that Adira built for him. At the moment Discovery relies on Stamets as navigator; without him, accessing the mycelial network is not possible. But if, as was hinted at in Forget Me Not, it’s possible to create a non-human navigator, a major obstacle to other vessels using the Spore Drive melts away.

This theory would allow the resolution to the Burn to keep the current timeline intact – there would be no need to go back in time and undo anything, nor would there be a deus ex machina of a sudden discovery of a huge cache of dilithium. Instead, Starfleet could get back on its feet using the Spore Drive – finally finding a proper use for Discovery’s most controversial piece of technology!

Number 4: Discovery Season 3 takes place in an alternate timeline or parallel universe.

Could all of this be happening in an alternate timeline?

We arguably saw movement away from this theory this week, as the arrival of Dr Gabrielle Burnham confirmed that she is in the same timeline, universe, and reality as Michael and the rest of the crew. Her absence had been something I argued pointed to this theory being plausible, but it wasn’t the sole argument.

One part of this theory that can be decisively debunked, however, is the notion that Burnham and the crew somehow crossed into the Kelvin timeline. The existence of the planet Vulcan – renamed Ni’Var in this era – proves that. In 2009’s Star Trek, the planet Vulcan was destroyed by Nero, so there’s no way that Discovery Season 3 is in the Kelvin timeline as we visited that planet this week.

As mentioned, though, there are still ways in which other aspects of this theory could come true. Burnham mentioned during her debrief that unexplained “gravitational waves” in the time-wormhole pushed her and Discovery off-course, which is why they didn’t arrive at the planet Terralysium. The acknowledgement of problems within the time-wormhole may indicate that they crossed over into a different universe or reality.

Did something go wrong in the time-wormhole?

There are also hints from past iterations of Star Trek – including Enterprise and Voyager most prominently – that the Burn did not occur in the prime timeline. Discovery could ignore these as they’re all rather ambiguous, but it’s worth acknowledging their existence as we consider these things.

The second half of this theory is that the Burn happened due to the interference of a time traveller or time travelling faction. From Starfleet’s point of view, the timeline in which the Burn occurred is not the “true” timeline, and thus part of the resolution to the Burn may be travelling through time to undo it.

In previous weeks I considered the first half of this theory – the parallel universe part – more likely. The re-emergence of Dr Burnham has shaken that up, however, and now both are about equal in terms of likeliness.

Number 5: A character from a past iteration of Star Trek – such as the Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager – will make an appearance.

The Doctor in Living Witness.

When the President of Ni’Var told Burnham of the impending arrival of her Qowat Milat advocate, it was clear that Unification III was setting up the arrival of an important character. On first viewing, a few Romulans from past iterations of the franchise flicked through my mind, as I mentioned in my review of the episode. Even though explaining their presences centuries later would have meant some serious semantic gymnastics, it seemed for a few wonderous seconds as though we might see Elnor, Sela, or someone significant from Star Trek’s past.

That character, of course, would ultimately turn out to be Dr Gabrielle Burnham, as we’ve already covered. And as the season drags on, I must admit that there are fewer chances for this theory to come true. However, as Burnham and Discovery race to the source of the Burn, we have absolutely no idea what they’ll find. If it’s a temporal anomaly of some kind, they could encounter practically anyone from Wesley Crusher to Sybok. There have been subtle hints that the Burn may be connected to time travel, and if it is, that opens the door to practically any past Star Trek character to appear – either with their original actor or, as we saw with Dr Maddox in Picard, having been recast.

Is Sybok coming back? I mean… no. But maybe!

Before Season 3 premiered I made the case for Voyager’s Doctor – or rather, a backup copy of him seen in the Season 4 episode Living Witness – being a prime candidate for inclusion. Aside from him, 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. Any of these could reasonably be alive in the 32nd Century, and characters who have long lifespans or are known to have spent time in the far future are perhaps more likely to appear.

Having seen a tie-in with Picard via the appearance of the Qowat Milat, it gives me hope that Discovery will find more ways to tie itself to the wider Star Trek franchise. A character crossover is a spectacular way of doing that, and as The Next Generation showed with episodes like Relics, the passage of centuries is no barrier to such a crossover in a sci-fi world. Until the credits roll on the season finale, I’ll keep advocating this theory!

So those theories saw movement or are new for this week. Next, for the sake of keeping everything in one place, we’ll briefly recap the remaining theories. These saw no movement in either direction this week, and while some may seem unlikely, none have been debunked so they remain on the list. If you want to check out any of them in a little more detail, you can view my earlier Star Trek: Discovery theories on my dedicated Star Trek: Discovery page. Click or tap here to be taken there.

Number 6: The Spore Drive isn’t going to remain a secret.

Burnham orders Black Alert.

The Spore Drive is an incredibly valuable piece of technology; the only known way to instantaneously jump across vast distances. Even without a lack of dilithium, it would be something everyone in the galaxy would want to get their hands on. In addition, the arrival of Saru and Discovery has disrupted the pre-existing order of the reduced Starfleet, with Saru even butting in to suggest he and his ship take on assignments Admiral Vance was dishing out to other commanders.

At the meeting of Starfleet’s senior officers in Scavengers, we saw the moment they learned about the Spore Drive for the first time. Why show us that moment if it isn’t going to be important later on? I got a sense at that meeting that not everyone was happy with this news. Will someone within Starfleet try to take control of the Spore Drive, or contact the Emerald Chain and let them know about it?

Even if none of that happens, with Discovery jumping all over the galaxy – to Earth, Trill, Ni’Var, Federation HQ, and the location of the USS Tikhov – how long until some other faction notices? Sensors still exist, after all, and must be pretty good and have decent range by this time period. The Ni’Var learned about the Spore Drive as well, and they are no longer Federation members. Will they keep Starfleet’s secret?

If the existence of the Spore Drive does become known, it could pose huge problems for Starfleet – perhaps even leading to an attack by the Emerald Chain, who are the only named antagonist faction so far this season.

Number 7: Georgiou has been tampered with by Section 31.

Georgiou and Burnham.

Mirror Georgiou was notable by her absence this week. A conversation between her and Dr Gabrielle Burnham would have been incredibly interesting to see; both competing for Michael’s attention. However, the theory that something happened to her at the hands of Section 31 remains.

It seems very unlikely to be a coincidence that Mirror Georgiou began to suffer hallucinations and blackouts after her debrief with Kovich. There was something different about David Cronenberg’s character compared with the other Starfleet officers who conducted the debriefs of Discovery’s crew. It’s at least possible to think he’s an agent of Section 31.

Is Kovich a Section 31 agent?

We saw a lot of Mirror Georgiou’s interrogation, but we missed a key point: its ending. Between what we saw of her and Kovich and Burnham’s reunion with her aboard Discovery at the end of Die Trying there was plenty of time for something to happen to her. Kovich mentioned his familiarity with Terrans; perhaps Section 31 has a specific way of dealing with Terrans that involves psychological torture.

I’m glad this storyline exists, whatever the ultimate explanation for Mirror Georgiou’s problems may be. She can be a fairly boring character, so it’s great to see her given something genuinely different to do. It also connects to a theme that we’ve seen with Detmer of mental health in Season 3, and that is also a point of interest.

Number 8: We’ll see more tie-ins with the Short Treks episode Calypso.

NCC-1031. Where’s the A?

I don’t believe we’ve seen the last of the Calypso tie-ins after we seemed to get the creation of the Zora AI a couple of weeks ago. However, one thing that’s definitely interesting right now is that the USS Discovery as it appeared in Calypso no longer exists. The ship was retrofitted in Scavengers, and in addition to features like programmable matter interfaces and detachable nacelles, now sports the designation NCC 1031-A.

This is important because, as you can see above, we got a clear look at Discovery in Calypso, and not only were the ship’s nacelles very much attached to the hull, the designation clearly lacks the -A addition. So how will this circle be squared? That is very much up for debate right now!

My theory is that, if indeed Discovery somehow travels backwards in time this season, the crew will very deliberately un-retrofit the ship first, removing any 32nd Century features to avoid polluting the timeline in case of accidental discovery. However, that’s just one of many possibilities, and with a Calypso tie-in having been seen already this season, I’m sure we’ll get something more sooner or later.

Number 9: The music Burnham keeps encountering is indicative of being in a parallel universe, simulation… or even a dream.

Burnham and Lieutenant Willa discussed the piece of music in Die Trying.

As I said when I reviewed Die Trying, it isn’t much of a stretch to think that a piece of music could be well-known across the Federation. Even though the alliance is fractured in the 32nd Century, there were over a thousand years for its various members and cultures to exchange everything from information to lullabies. However, for story reasons I understand that this piece of music is sure to be important… somehow!

One way in which this could manifest would be if the piece of music were somehow indicative of Burnham and the crew being caught in some kind of parallel universe or alternate reality, one in which somehow this piece of music was prevalent. It could even suggest that the 32nd Century setting the crew have encountered is artificial – the music could be part of a simulation or even hinting at these events all taking place inside Burnham’s head.

The latter two points in particular would not be a route I’d like to see the show go down. The “it’s all a dream” or fake-out story tropes rarely end well, and while for a single episode or two-parter (like parts of Deep Space Nine’s third season episode The Search) this can be okay, on the whole it feels like a cheap way to end a story. I don’t expect to see Discovery go down this route, but the unexplained music could indicate that the story may be headed in this direction.

Number 10: The ships at Federation HQ represent the majority of Starfleet’s remaining vessels. And they’re all 120+ years old.

Discovery arrived at Federation HQ to see a small fleet.

How many ships were present as Discovery arrived at Federation HQ? Ten? Twelve? It wasn’t much more than that, that’s for sure. In a post-Burn environment, one where the Federation has shrunk considerably and where dilithium is in short supply, it’s possible that these ships are all that remain of the once-mighty Starfleet.

In That Hope Is You, Mr Sahil noted two Federation ships in flight, so perhaps we can say from his comment that there are at least two more! But I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that we’ve seen the bulk of Starfleet. Certainly the Federation seems incapable of either building any more ships nor fielding a large armada right now, which is perhaps one of the reasons why they need to keep their base cloaked.

Because of the catastrophic nature of the Burn, it also seems highly likely that shipbuilding facilities would have been damaged, destroyed, or would be inaccessible. That may mean that the Federation’s fleet entirely consists of ageing vessels, each one over 120 years old and probably not designed for being in service this long. In addition, without fuel what would be the point of expending a lot of resources building a new ship?

Number 11: 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, or the last possible source of time crystals. If someone nefarious got their hands on a suit, they could’ve used it travel back in time and attack the Federation by destroying most of their dilithium. The name “Burn” may even be related to the name “Burnham” if this theory is correct.

As a second part of this theory, the Burn may have been caused by Dr Gabrielle Burnham or Michael herself. This might be something they indirectly did, something accidental, something they did under duress, or something they considered the least-bad option when confronted by something far worse. The idea that Michael would deliberately cause the worst disaster the Star Trek galaxy has ever seen is almost laughable… but Discovery loves to put her at the centre of every story, so there may yet be a connection.

Number 12: Someone has stolen Burnham’s Red Angel suit.

The last we saw of Burnham’s suit.

This has been a theory I’ve been pushing since Burnham sent her Red Angel suit back into the wormhole in That Hope Is You right at the beginning of the season. I was struck by a line in Die Trying: Admiral Vance described the Red Angel suit as being “inaccessible.”

Burnham goes on to say she set the suit to self-destruct, but all this did for me is reinforce the fact that we didn’t see the suit’s destruction with our own eyes. The finale of Season 2 confirmed that Pike and Spock received the final red burst in the 23rd Century, but beyond that we simply do not know what became of the suit.

It’s at least possible that someone intercepted or stole the suit before it could self-destruct. It would have to be someone familiar with the suit and who had the ability to travel or at least scan through time, but neither of those things are impossible within Star Trek. This theory could connect to the Burn itself – as we’ll look at in a moment.

Number 13: The Dax symbiont is still alive.

The Dax symbiont as seen in Deep Space Nine.

This one is looking less likely, because the two locations where Dax could have appeared have both seemingly come and gone without them: most notably the Trill homeworld in Forget Me Not, but also Federation HQ in Die Trying. However, there are hints at a lifespan for Trill symbionts that may be exceptionally long, in which case Dax could very well still be alive in the 32nd Century.

Obviously we won’t see Ezri Dax (barring some bizarre time travel/stasis storyline) but the symbiont itself could have lived this long. When Adira “met” the Tal symbiont’s former hosts in Forget Me Not, one was wearing a Star Trek: Picard-era uniform, hinting that Tal may have lived 700+ years. There are production-side explanations for this Easter egg, and as stated the fact that two of the best opportunities so far to meet Dax have come and gone may mean it won’t happen this season. But I’m sticking to my guns on this one: Dax is alive!

Number 14: Lieutenant Detmer is going to die.

Detmer in People of Earth.

The past three episodes haven’t really expanded Detmer’s storyline much. However, she still appeared not to be fully-recovered the last time we saw her.

I maintain that we’ve seen hints at a possible premature end to Detmer – and that includes the fact that she’s been given a storyline of her own for the first time! In Far From Home she appeared injured, and despite being given a clean bill of health from the doctor, seemed to still be suffering some kind of implant-related injury. Admiral Vance noted in Die Trying that her “baselines are unsteady, to put it mildly.” Is that a reference to her mental health? Or a more oblique reference to her overall health being in terminal decline?

Number 15: 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 a lot of 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 16: The ban on time travel is being flouted – possibly by secretive elements within the Federation.

Could Section 31 be running a covert time-travel operation?

Unless Admiral Vance was straight-up lying to Saru and Burnham in Die Trying, he believes that the ban on time travel is still in effect. But while he’s the head of Starfleet, he may not be in total control. Section 31 was known to be rogue, and Kovich, who interviewed Georgiou in that episode, may well be a Section 31 agent.

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 17: The Burn was a superweapon – perhaps one the Federation or Section 31 built.

The Burn.

We learned in Die Trying that the Federation – at least, according to Admiral Vance and Kovich – doesn’t know what the Burn is or what caused it, even though the Vulcans and Romulans told us in Unification III that they consider a covert project called SB-19 to be responsible – something Burnham appears to have disproved. One possibility that I considered when I looked at some possible causes for the Burn before the season kicked off was that it was the result of a superweapon.

Assuming Vance and Kovich are telling the truth, it wasn’t a Federation superweapon. However, it’s possible that the knowledge of such a crime was covered up, or that the secretive Section 31 was responsible but never told anyone else. It’s also possible that some other faction – perhaps the Borg, the Dominion, or the super-synths from Star Trek: Picard – are directly responsible. The latter point raises a strange question, though: if the Burn was a weapon, and it succeeded in its goal of decimating the Federation (which it clearly did), why did whomever is responsible not capitalise on that success? Where was the invasion that should surely have followed? The galaxy may be in disarray, but it clearly has not been conquered by any of these factions… so if the Burn is a weapon, what was the point?

It may have been a revenge attack; some kind of galactic-scale mutually-assured destruction. If the Federation, Section 31, or some other organisation launched an attack, the Burn may be that faction’s retaliation. That would explain the lack of an invader: they were already dead.

Now that Burnham has what she needs to pinpoint the Burn’s point of origin, perhaps we’ll learn more.

Number 18: Mirror Georgiou will travel back in time to the 23rd Century.

Georgiou in Scavengers.

Whatever may be the ultimate explanation for her hallucinations and blackouts, Georgiou was not planning to travel to the 32nd Century; she 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. She may also want to try to return to her own universe – something Kovich told her is impossible in the 32nd Century due to the two universes “drifting further apart.” Her decision to leave the 32nd Century may also be related to her mental health/hallucinations.

Number 19: 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 in Far From Home. 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 theories as we head into The Sanctuary. Despite having considered many possible options for what the Burn could be and what its ultimate origin is, I can honestly say right now that I have no idea what’s about to happen. Will Burnham learn the Burn’s origin next week? I don’t know that either. Discovery has done a great job keeping the Burn a mysterious event, and even now that we’re into the second half of the season, its true nature remains unknown.

One final note: no fan theory, no matter how plausible it may seem, is worth getting upset or disappointed over. I put these lists together for fun, and as an excuse to spend more time in the Star Trek galaxy, and that’s all. If something goes completely the opposite way I was expecting, far from being annoyed or upset I revel in that. That doesn’t mean writers should make arbitrary and silly decisions, but it means I like being surprised! If we could all remember to take fan theories with a healthy pinch of salt, there’d be less conflict in fan communities.

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.