Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, Star Trek: Picard, and for other iterations of the franchise.
I had a wonderful time with There Is A Tide this week. It was a fantastic episode jam-packed with action and excitement. But when it was over, I couldn’t help feeling that there was a lot left to do in terms of story! It’s possible, as I suggested in my review, that Season 3 will end on a cliffhanger with key storylines deliberately unresolved. If that isn’t the case, however, the upcoming season finale has an awful lot of story left to wade through – and I’m concerned that it may not be possible to give everything a satisfactory resolution.
We’ll have to wait to see what the season finale brings. Until then, we have a few more theories to discuss! This week we have two confirmations and not a lot else. Let’s look at those first before we dive into the main theory list.
Confirmed theory #1: Zareh returned.
Though his return was spoilt a little by the recap that played before the episode began, I was pleased to see Zareh return. He was a glorified bully when we met him in Far From Home, and despite his defeat by Saru and Georgiou, appears to have been promoted within the Emerald Chain. I felt certain that he would be back considering we didn’t see him killed on screen, and I was right.
Zareh bookends the story of the season in a way – he was the first adversary the crew faced after arriving in the 32nd Century, and he is now a significant opponent as the season draws to a close. I don’t expect him to survive the season finale, but if Osyraa is killed off he may be kept alive to assume command of the Emerald Chain. In the event that the season finale leaves big questions open, we could head into Season 4 with Zareh as a major antagonist – but we’ll have to wait and see!
Confirmed theory #2: Zora (a.k.a. the Sphere data) will help the crew retake the ship.
Though we had to wait for the closing scene of the episode to see this theory come true, the Sphere data has allied itself with Tilly and the remaining bridge crew as they hope to retake Discovery.
The Sphere data was seen protecting itself in Season 2 – refusing to allow itself to be destroyed even when Control was coming for it. This season, it stepped in on at least two occasions to help out the crew, and it seemed certain that the Sphere data would not allow itself to be commandeered by Osyraa and the Emerald Chain. It has transferred itself into three DOT robots – which are absolutely adorable – and will help Tilly fight back against Osyraa.
So those theories were confirmed in this week’s episode. Now we come to the main theory list.
Number 1: Aurellio is married to Osyraa.
The first of two Aurellio theories is a pretty short and simple one. Stamets noted that Aurellio’s partner is Orion. Osyraa, as far as we can tell, is an Orion. Aurellio and Osyraa speak highly of each other. So it’s at least possible that they are a couple.
This feels almost too obvious – so perhaps it won’t come to pass! There was also a suggestion that Osyraa is much older than Aurellio, which may count against this theory. However, they clearly have a connection, and unless Osyraa is on such friendly terms with all of her scientists, perhaps there’s more going on than just a professional relationship.
Number 2: Aurellio will stand up to Osyraa.
In my review of There Is A Tide I compared Aurellio to Albert Speer – the Nazi German architect and minister. In the years after 1945, Speer would claim that he knew nothing of the Nazi regime’s crimes, that he was absorbed in his work, and that the atrocities happened without his knowledge. Aurellio, in his conversation with Stamets, seemed to demonstrate a comparable lack of awareness about the Emerald Chain and Osyraa.
However, there were hints through Kenneth Mitchell’s amazing performance that Aurellio is beginning to realise that he’s working for the “bad guys.” Having seen Osyraa murder Ryn in cold blood, as well as threaten Zareh, his loyalty to her and the Emerald Chain may be wavering.
Given that he’s clearly an incredibly clever scientist, he could be very useful to the Federation. If part of the plan for Season 4 involves replicating the Spore Drive so that it can be used to power the Federation, I can see Aurellio having a major role in that story. Or in any other story Season 4 may wish to tell. But first he needs to break free from Osyraa – and I have a suspicion that he will!
Number 3: One of the officers with Tilly will be killed.
When Tilly told the officers with her that they would keep going to the bridge no matter what, was she foreshadowing someone’s demise? With her, as far as I could see, are Detmer, Owosekun, Bryce, Rhys, and at least one other character. Killing any of them would be impactful, as they’ve all been part of the series since the beginning.
Detmer had her own (underdeveloped) storyline this season, and was someone I speculated may be killed off. For several weeks I theorised that she’d meet her end – could this be the moment it happens?
Tilly and the officers with her are about to take on a very difficult and dangerous task. I doubt we’ll see Tilly killed, but any of the others who are accompanying her are perhaps about to meet their end.
Number 4: The Federation’s allies will arrive to help them battle the Emerald Chain.
Before continuing her Die Hard-inspired fight to reclaim Discovery, Burnham sent an emergency transmission to her mother. Assuming this transmission was received, Dr Burnham may begin rallying the people of Ni’Var to aid Discovery and the Federation.
Across the season, Saru and the crew made many friends. Former Federation members like Trill, Earth, and Ni’Var, as well as worlds like Kwejian were all aided by Discovery, something which greatly impressed their respective leaders. Faced with an attack on the Federation, could some or all of these once-united factions rally to Starfleet’s aid?
We saw something similar at the climax of Season 2, with Kelpiens and Klingons arriving at the last moment to help Pike and Saru as they battled Control, so it would not be without precedent. At the very least, I expect Burnham’s mother – who is now a Qowat Milat nun – will want to do something to help, especially given the desperate-sounding tone of the message she received.
Number 5: The Burn will receive a different explanation.
At the very least, the explanation for the Burn needs to be expanded upon. A couple of throwaway lines, heavy on technobabble, are not adequate to explain the season’s biggest mystery. If it’s true that Su’kal’s telepathic connection to dilithium is what caused the Burn, we need to know more about how and why that was able to happen.
It’s at least possible, given that There Is A Tide sidestepped the Burn altogether this week, that the season finale has a big surprise in store for this storyline. Perhaps Su’kal is not responsible for the Burn after all, or if he is, it’s because he was either genetically modified or otherwise coerced into it by someone else.
This is perhaps more of a hope than anything, because I feel that the Burn’s explanation was poor. I’d like to do a retrospective on the Burn at some point when the season is over, but suffice to say that this mystery had been set up as early as the first Season 3 trailer more than a year ago, and the Burn itself was named in the second trailer before the season premiered. We’ve been wrangling with this colossal event and its mysterious origin ever since, and its explanation – the way things sit right now, at least – is horribly anticlimactic. Su’kal’s story might’ve worked were it a single one-off episode, but not as the resolution to a season-long arc. There’s also, as mentioned, the disturbing implication of a man with severe mental disabilities causing such a disaster, even accidentally.
Number 6: The Burn is the result of a superweapon – perhaps one the Federation or Section 31 built.
Connected to the theory above, perhaps Su’kal either did not cause the Burn at all, or was forced into doing so as the culmination of some kind of superweapon project.
We’ve seen in past Star Trek shows stories about genetic enhancements and shadowy organisations exploiting and weaponising the unique abilities of people. Could there be another dimension to Su’kal? Perhaps he quite literally is a weapon, one designed for this very purpose – to attack the Federation’s enemies (or the Federation) through a coordinated attack on dilithium.
Though it seems like Su’kal is indeed the source of the Burn, another source may be revealed, absolving him of blame. I noted that his “scream” did not actually cause a second Burn – even though characters feared it came close – so perhaps there’s something else at play here that we don’t yet know. That other factor could be this superweapon – and it may be designed to target the Federation’s enemies, like the Borg.
Number 7: There will be a resolution to the story of Calypso (the Short Treks episode).
The main point from Calypso which is still unresolved is how Discovery ended up in a nebula abandoned. And if, as has been hinted through the use of the term V’draysh, Calypso takes place sometime around the 32nd Century, how did the ship end up back in time?
The Verubin Nebula initially seemed to offer a partial explanation, but not only was Discovery not present there, the nebula itself is very different to the one inhabited by Zora, so that option seems to be off the table.
I have no clue how this circle will be squared – but it’s still possible that it will be, especially given how much progress we’ve seen toward unpicking the mysteries of Calypso this season.
Number 8: The Spore Drive will become Starfleet’s new method of faster-than-light propulsion.
Though we don’t know how Osyraa came to know about the Spore Drive, figuring out a way to roll it out to vessels other than Discovery was a major theme in There Is A Tide. Both Aurellio and Tilly have proposed theories for how the use of the Spore Drive could be expanded, so we have to consider this a possibility.
If the dilithium in the Verubin Nebula is not able to be used to power the Emerald Chain, Starfleet, and other factions, the problem of how to travel faster-than-light still remains. And right now, the Spore Drive is really the only way I can see to allow any of the galaxy’s factions to do so. That’s why Osyraa wants Discovery so badly – not just to use the ship, but to copy its technology.
If, as predicted above, Aurellio turns on Osyraa, he could become instrumental in figuring out how to reverse-engineer the Spore Drive and the tardigrade’s DNA in order to make this a viable option. This could be part of the storyline for Season 4, so if there’s no resolution next week, this theory may simply roll over.
Number 9: A character from a past iteration of Star Trek – such as the Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager – will make an appearance.
I’ve been advocating this theory in some form since before the season premiered. Though we have had some tie-ins with past iterations of the Star Trek franchise – and even seen a familiar entity return depending on how you categorise the Guardian of Forever – it would still be nice to get a major character back in some form.
There were hints this week about the Federation President – a role we’ve seen in past iterations of the franchise – so perhaps we could see a returning character occupy this position. That said, the references to the Federation President served only to allow the familiar character of Vance to conduct negotiations with Osyraa, so that may be a non-starter.
As I said last time, maybe the only way this theory could come true is as a kind of epilogue or coda after the main storylines have concluded; perhaps even as a tease to the events of Season 4. It would certainly be difficult – but not impossible – to bring back a major character from Star Trek’s past at this juncture, given the complicated nature of the story overall. Given that there’s also no clear way that a returning character could have an impact on the story without that impact seeming to come from nowhere, perhaps we won’t see any significant character crossovers this season.
Number 10: The Dax symbiont is still alive.
This one is looking increasingly unlikely, 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 most likely means it won’t happen this season. But I’m sticking to my guns on this one: Dax is alive!
Number 11: Kovich is an agent of Section 31.
Kovich was presented as one of Starfleet Intelligence or Security’s senior people – perhaps someone brought in to deal with particularly complicated or dangerous situations. Thus it was a bit of a surprise not to see him this week when Osyraa arrived. His mysterious nature has led me to think he could be an agent of Section 31.
He knew a lot about the Terran Empire, and had access to classified files. He also seems to know more about certain events than he lets on; he allowed Georgiou’s health condition to manifest itself rather than warning anyone, for example, which would seem to be a pretty immoral thing to do!
The main way Kovich could have been revealed as a Section 31 operative would be if the secretive organisation had something to do with the Burn. As noted above, there is still that possibility in some form, but it feels remote. We don’t know if Kovich will be back before the end of the season, especially given how much story the season finale seems to have to get through. If we don’t see him, though, perhaps this theory will roll over to next season!
Number 12: The ban on time travel is being flouted – possibly by secretive elements within the Federation.
Admiral Vance clearly believes that the ban on time travel is intact and being followed. Kovich indicated that he does too – but I’m not sure how far I trust him. Is he an agent of Section 31?
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.
It’s possible that this theory will roll over to Season 4 if, as seems likely, the Burn is unconnected to time travel.
Number 13: Discovery Season 3 is taking place in an alternate timeline or parallel universe.
After the Guardian of Forever’s definitive statement on the issue in Terra Firma, it now seems all but certain that Discovery Season 3 is in the Prime universe – the same one as every Star Trek production from Enterprise to Picard. However, it’s still at least possible that, due to time travel or for some other reason, the Burn was not “supposed” to happen.
Thus the ultimate solution to the Burn and the storyline of the season may be to go back to before Su’kal’s ship entered the Verubin Nebula and prevent that from ever happening, wiping this timeline from existence and restoring the “true” timeline.
I don’t believe this would be a good way to go. As a one-off story, an episode set in a timeline that is ultimately overwritten can work. We can look at episodes like Timeless from Voyager or Yesterday’s Enterprise from The Next Generation. But to wipe away the vast majority of an entire season, including presumably characters like Book and Vance, just feels like too much. It would render much of what the crew did – like helping the peoples of Earth, Trill, and Ni’Var – meaningless, and while it would set up another “blank slate” in time for Season 4, I’d rather see Discovery build on this season’s successes. Even if Discovery and her crew remembered what happened, wiping it all out feels like a bad way to go – but one that’s still possible.
Number 14: The ships at Federation HQ represent the majority of Starfleet’s remaining vessels. And they’re all 120+ years old.
We didn’t get to see any kind of major space battle between Osyraa’s forces and Starfleet in There Is A Tide, so the status of the Federation’s remaining ships is not really clear. As I’ve been saying for weeks, though, it seems at least plausible that the rump Federation may only have a handful of ships available – with scarce dilithium for fuel, there is no way to maintain a huge armada, even if the ships were undamaged. It also seems reasonable to assume that Starfleet’s shipbuilding facilites were damaged or destroyed in the Burn, and that building new ships has been difficult – if not impossible for the fractured organisation – ever since.
Are there more ships beyond those few docked at HQ (and the two Mr Sahil noted)? And those ships may very well be old – they seemed new and futuristic to Discovery’s crew, but that could all be pre-Burn technology, meaning that Osyraa has the upper hand if the Emerald Chain has developed new weapons and technologies. We saw in People of Earth that quantum torpedoes were still in use, for example.
If there is to be a climactic battle between Starfleet and the Emerald Chain, perhaps we’ll learn more about the remaining Starfleet vessels at that time. If not, well it still seems like a theory that has merit!
Number 15: Saru is going to die.
There Is A Tide ignored Saru, Su’kal, Culber, and Adira, who were all left behind in the Verubin Nebula. Though they were mentioned – most significantly by Stamets as he pleaded to go to rescue them – the story focused on the battle to retake Discovery and on Vance’s negotiations with Osyraa. Thus this theory was not really advanced in any way.
We don’t know how much time There Is A Tide is supposed to have covered – it could easily be several hours, though, and Dr Culber told Burnham that if more than a day were to pass, there would be “no point” in staging a rescue as they would all be dead. I don’t expect this will be the way Saru would be killed off, but it’s a possibility.
Saru is torn between a desire to help Su’kal and his duty to Discovery. Given that he’s not thinking clearly, perhaps he will make a mistake or take a risk that results in his death. He may sacrifice himself to help Su’kal in some way, or to buy time for Culber and Adira to escape. There are many ways this could play out, but it’s at least a possibility that Saru will not survive the season.
Number 15A: Burnham will assume the captaincy of Discovery.
If Saru is killed – however that may come to pass – there will once again be a vacancy in the captain’s chair. Tilly as first officer always felt like a temporary thing, as indeed Saru himself explained when he offered her the role, and after losing the ship to Osyraa so easily there’s absolutely no way she could retain the captaincy – or even the XO position.
That would leave the captain’s chair empty with no obvious replacement. Senior officers such as Stamets or bridge crew like Nilsson or Bryce don’t seem plausible for story reasons, and with Discovery being such a Burnham-centric series, she feels like the only option. Well, unless the plan is to bring in yet another new character!
Number 16: Admiral Vance is going to be killed.
Despite standing face-to-face with Osyraa this week, Admiral Vance survived. However, there may be a battle still to come, and it’s at least possible that he – as the man leading the fight – won’t survive the onslaught from Osyraa’s forces.
If the writers wanted to kill of a character we’ve spent a lot of time with this season – but not one of Discovery’s crew – Vance is pretty much the only option. His death could make the conflict with the Emerald Chain feel more impactful, and while I would be sad to see him go as I think he’s been a great character, it would open up the story to go in different directions in Season 4.
Number 16A: Saru will become an Admiral, and Burnham will become captain of Discovery.
Although Su’kal took Saru off the rails, showing us that he isn’t always calm and level-headed, his earlier time in the captain’s chair this season went remarkably well. His diplomatic efforts in particular may yet pay off – bringing former Federation members back into the fold. If that were to happen, perhaps he will be promoted, becoming an Admiral and even assuming the position of Commander-in-Chief of Starfleet if Vance is killed.
If he departs Discovery to head up Starfleet, the captaincy of the ship is once again open. And for the reasons listed above, Burnham seems to be the only real candidate.
As I’ve said in the past, Burnham assuming command feels like a goal Discovery has been trying to reach since Season 1. Perhaps this could be the moment it gets there.
Number 17: Tilly will resign as first officer and Burnham will return to the position.
Tilly did well in There Is A Tide, and doesn’t seem to have let the capture of Discovery completely ruin her confidence. She led the remaining bridge officers out of captivity and seems well-placed to lead an insurgency to retake the ship.
Despite that, however, she did lose the ship to begin with – and Osyraa captured Discovery from her with ease. It seems unlikely she could retain her position as First Officer, and while I doubt it will be stripped from her, she may very well choose to resign the position. It feels as though her arc over these few episodes will be to recognise her own lack of experience and unsuitability for command. She may grow into that role in the future – and perhaps Captain Tilly will be a Star Trek series in a few years’ time! But right now she clearly isn’t the right fit.
If Saru survives and remains in command – which he very well may, it has to be said – that would open up the first officer’s position. Burnham is again the logical candidate, despite the broken trust between her and Saru. She advised him to remain with Su’kal, speaking honestly to him in that moment, and perhaps he will recognise that and reward her for it. Now that she seems to have put her doubts about her role in Starfleet aside, she would be a good first officer.
Number 18: Saru, Burnham, or somebody else will use the Guardian of Forever to send the USS Discovery back in time.
Assuming that the Red Angel suit is truly gone, and that no one is violating the ban on time travel, the Guardian of Forever is the only way to travel through time that we know of in the 32nd Century. While I can see no pressing need to send Discovery back in time at this juncture, if such a need arose, the Guardian of Forever is about the only option for doing so.
I wrote in my review of Su’kal that the route to the end of the season feels “formulaic” – defeat the Emerald Chain, save or neutralise Su’kal to prevent a reoccurrence of the Burn, and use the dilithium planet in the Verubin Nebula to power the Federation, giving it the (literal and figurative) fuel to bring wayward planets back into the fold. There Is A Tide began the process of retaking the ship but didn’t complete that story, so the end of the season is still up in the air.
Even though I can’t foresee a reason why, it’s possible Discovery will need to go back in time, and the Guardian of Forever could help with that.
Number 19: Dr Issa is a descendant of Saru’s sister Siranna.
The actress who played Dr Issa, Hannah Spear, also played Saru’s sister Siranna in Short Treks and in Season 2. Why bring her back to play a different Kelpien – especially considering they look identical? My guess is that there is a familial connection there – Dr Issa may be a distant descendant of Siranna.
Though Saru was – for some reason – reluctant to share this information, the glowing patches seen on Dr Issa indicated pregnancy. Is this a trait all Kelpiens have? If so, why cover it up from the crew? Perhaps the answer is that the glowing patches are something only some Kelpiens have – such as those in Saru’s family. That could be how he knew what the glowing spots meant, and why he didn’t volunteer that information sooner.
I should note that it remains a distant possibility that Dr Issa and Siranna are meant to literally be the same character; that somehow, post vahar’ai Kelpiens live very long, or for some other as-yet-unknown reason. But I think a family connection is more likely.
Number 20: The dilithium planet will be destroyed.
The dilithium planet reminded me at least a little of the Genesis planet in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. That planet was similarly dangerous and unstable, and was ultimately destroyed. Could the dilithium planet in the Verubin Nebula share its fate?
The main reason why I consider this theory at least plausible is that it would be a major twist on the expected end to the season. Rather than the ridiculous amount of dilithium being used to restore the Federation, it would instead be destroyed, leaving the post-Burn galaxy still with limited travel options.
This in turn could set the stage for Discovery’s Spore Drive being duplicated and rolled out across the fleet – as we discussed above.
Number 21: The “monster” is the real Su’kal.
The “monster” which inhabits Su’kal’s holo-world is interesting. Why would his mother or the other Kelpiens programme such a creature? Yes it’s a legend from Kaminar, but to create a holographic monster in a programme designed for a child? They may not have had long to build the programme – which explains the basic nature of some of the other holograms – so why go to all the trouble of creating this one? And why doesn’t it flicker or glow in the same manner as the others, nor seem to have degraded over time?
My theory is that the so-called “monster” – which has a Kelpien appearance – is the real Su’kal; old, decrepit, and badly mutated by a lifetime of radiation exposure that can supposedly kill within hours. The “monster” did not behave like a hologram, did not appear like the other holograms, and when Burnham encountered it it seemed to regard her with an almost-human curiousity.
Add into the mix that Su’kal appears to be far too young to have been present when the Burn occurred – 120-125 years earlier – and I think we have a solid theory.
Number 22: The “monster” is Dr Issa.
Another possibility for the true identity of the “monster” is Dr Issa, Su’kal’s mother. Though age is again a problem, if Kelpiens post-vahar’ai are especially long-lived she may have survived this long, but without the same level of protection from the radiation she may have mutated and been burned by it. The question of Dr Issa is interesting – was she just a basic plot device; a lure to drag Saru to the nebula? Or is there more to this character than a fraction of a distress call and her son?
The “monster” is one of the most interesting elements to come out of Su’kal, in my opinion, and there seem to be clues that all may not be as it seems. Obviously this theory and the one above can’t both be right – but even if neither are true, there could be more to the “monster” than we expect.
So that’s it. My final batch of theories as we approach the season finale. This won’t be my final theory post; next week after the finale has aired I’ll be back to check out any confirmations or debunkings, and perhaps to set the stage for any Season 4 or spin-off theories that I have. Then, later in the year, I may revisit some of my theories from this season to assess what I got right and got wrong! I did something similar for Star Trek: Picard a few months ago, and it was fun to go back to some of my theories knowing how the story of the season played out. So stay tuned for that!
There’s only one remaining episode before 23 weeks of Star Trek comes to an end. All being well there will be more Star Trek to come this year – both the second season of Lower Decks and the first season of the kid-friendly show Prodigy are, as far as we know, targeting a 2021 broadcast. Discovery Season 4 has entered pre-production, and depending how things go for all sorts of reasons, it’s possible we could see it before the end of the year. But that’s by no means certain!
Last week I felt that the road to the end of the season was obvious: save or neutralise Su’kal to prevent a second Burn, retake Discovery from Osyraa, and then use the dilithium planet in the Verubin Nebula to rebuild Starfleet and the Federation. There Is A Tide really only focused on one part of that – the battle over Discovery – and even then left it unresolved. As long as Osyraa remains in charge there seems no hope of a Federation-Emerald Chain treaty, and since we saw nothing from Saru and Su’kal this week I have to say it doesn’t feel like much has changed on that front. The only thing I would say that has changed my mind on how “formulaic” the end of the season risked feeling is that we may very well not see a resolution to the story, and we may instead be heading for a cliffhanger. We’ll have to see!
Please remember that these theories are just a bit of fun. Some may seem plausible – or even highly likely – but that doesn’t mean that this is the way the story will unfold. I’m just a guy with a website, I’m not claiming to have any “insider information,” nor am I saying that the theories postulated above will come true. No fan theory is worth getting so invested in that the actual story becomes disappointing or upsetting. Personally, as much as I love feeling like I predicted something that later appeared on screen, I also truly love being surprised by Star Trek and other franchises. That doesn’t mean writers should make silly or arbitrary decisions purely for shock value, but it does mean that when a theory of mine falls flat on its face, far from getting upset I revel in that. If we could all remember to take fan theories with a healthy pinch of salt, maybe there’d be a little less toxicity in certain areas of the fandom.
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.