Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, Star Trek: Lower Decks, Star Trek: Picard, and for other iterations of the franchise.
At the end of September, with Season 3 of Star Trek: Discovery looming on the horizon, I published my “wishlist” of things I hoped to see in the upcoming season. Now that we’ve seen the entirety of Season 3 I thought it would be fun to go back to that wishlist and see whether my wishes came true – and, on reflection, whether I was being reasonable!
I had eight items on my original wishlist, but I’m also going to talk about a couple of other points that came up either before or during the season that I didn’t include.
Though not everything I hoped to see came to pass in Season 3, I had a good time with it overall. Whether we’re discussing Star Trek or any other fictional franchise, success is not always about meeting specific expectations or confirming fan theories, and the writers and producers need to have the freedom to tell the stories that they want to tell. Star Trek has gone in directions I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen, but that’s true of every iteration from The Original Series to Picard, and it doesn’t mean that what made it to screen was bad. Like a lot of viewers, I like to be surprised – even if I spend a lot of time talking about theories!
All of this is to say that Discovery Season 3 met my expectations in some ways, challenged those expectations in others, and told some different but enjoyable stories. Though I enjoyed some points more than others, taken as a whole the season was solid, and a worthy successor to Season 2, which had been my favourite. Taking the show – and the franchise – forward in time was always going to be a challenge, but Discovery rose to meet it.
Let’s jump into my pre-season wishlist and see what became of it.
Number 1: Some kind of tie-in with Star Trek: Picard.
Wish: Granted ✅
This was perhaps the point I was most curious about. Because of its place in the Star Trek timeline, Discovery in its first two seasons had been unable to include significant references to anything other than Enterprise and The Original Series. We saw precious little from Enterprise, but from the first episode we had some major crossovers from The Original Series by way of Sarek, and later Spock and Pike.
But The Original Series, despite its importance within Star Trek, ended decades ago. While it was possible to recast classic characters, there wasn’t as much to be gained by doing so – and it proved divisive within some areas of the fandom. Picard, by contrast, is in production at the same time as Discovery, and Season 3’s leap forward in time allowed it to connect to its sister show in ways that no Star Trek production has been able to do for a long time.
I had two very early theories for how this could have worked. The first, which had been debunked even before it was written, was that Discovery would – thanks to time travel shenanigans – end up in the same era as Picard; the ship and crew being unable to complete their 930-year time jump. The second would have been for the super-synths from the Picard Season 1 finale to have been involved with the Burn.
Neither of those ideas came to pass, and I’m not disappointed – though I do maintain that the USS Discovery arriving in the Picard era would have been a fun way to go! Instead what we saw was a direct reference to Admiral Picard’s archive – which we saw in the Picard Season 1 premiere – and the return of the Qowat Milat. I didn’t expect the Qowat Milat to be the way the shows would connect, but it worked very well. It managed to be unobtrusive – nothing in Unification III made Picard Season 1 mandatory viewing – yet at the same time there was a very definite nod by Discovery to its sister show.
The only downside was that the Picard crossover was limited really to a single episode. There wasn’t room within the Ni’Var storyline for anything further, and while the united Romulans and Vulcans were seen briefly in the season finale, we didn’t see the return of the Qowat Milat or Dr Burnham. However, her presence within that convent means we could potentially see her in Season 4, and if there is some significant advancement of the Qowat Milat storyline in Picard Season 2 that could be referenced then – or vice versa.
Placing Dr Burnham in the Qowat Milat was a very random choice in many ways, and while it succeeded from a shock value point of view perhaps we could argue that it’s not a very logical outcome for her character. But I wished for a tie-in with Star Trek: Picard, and there’s no denying that Discovery delivered!
Number 2: A reference, callback, or hint to something from Star Trek: Lower Decks.
Wish: Denied 🚫
The original plan for 2020 – before the pandemic disrupted things – was for Discovery Season 3 to be released before Lower Decks, so perhaps with that in mind it makes sense that there wasn’t so much as a reference to the animated show. However, as I said above, finding ways to tie together the Star Trek projects which are currently in production is to the benefit of the franchise overall – even if the projects are as radically different as Lower Decks and Discovery.
There was the potential for something as small as the name of a planet or faction to crop up in both shows; what would have seemed like a throwaway line of dialogue could have actually been a subtle nod to the existence of Lower Decks within Discovery, even if a more significant crossover was never on the table. Perhaps this is something that could happen in Season 4, though, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed!
Number 3: A storyline that doesn’t make Michael Burnham the “chosen one.”
Wish: Granted ✅
Seasons 1 and 2 of Discovery put Burnham front-and-centre, making her the focal point of their main storylines. In both cases, Burnham alone was responsible for driving the plot forward, and it could often feel as though other characters weren’t permitted to do anything significant. Season 3 came close to falling into that same trap, especially early on, but by the final part of the season had stepped back. Other characters, including Tilly and Saru, were given significant roles to play, and the show was much better for it.
Burnham wasn’t even really involved with the season’s main storyline after the halfway point. Though she was instrumental in getting background information regarding the Burn, after Unification III it was Tilly, Stamets, Adira, Saru, and Dr Culber who took the lead on that side of the story. The final pair of episodes, in which Su’Kal was saved and a reoccurrence of the Burn prevented, had Burnham involved in a completely different storyline.
There were all sorts of ways that Discovery’s writers and producers could have tried to push Burnham once again as the “chosen one,” not least by having her involved with the Burn in some way. Until the final few episodes this seemed to be a possibility, and I’m so glad that it didn’t happen. The revelation that Burnham and her mother were two different Red Angels was not really the best part of Season 2, and I was concerned that Discovery might try to pull off something similar with the Burn.
Though Burnham had some issues this season – notably in the episode Scavengers – which amplified some of her least-attractive character traits, the second half of the season worked very hard to get her to a point where her ascent to the captaincy of Discovery felt earned and genuinely great. By putting her in a series of stories that didn’t put her at the centre of the universe, and by allowing other characters to have agency over those stories as well, Discovery broke away from its Burnham obsession just enough to finally allow the character to shine.
Number 4: A proper explanation for “the Burn.”
Wish: Granted ✅
At some point in the future we’ll take a look at the Burn, debating the implications and how well the storyline worked. For now, suffice to say that I was concerned that Discovery might try to get away with never revealing the Burn’s origins. Sometimes this is the way stories unfold when an apocalyptic event or disaster takes place decades before the main storyline. However, as I wrote in my original wishlist:
“There’s a curiosity at the core of Star Trek. Seeking out strange, new worlds has been the franchise’s heart since The Original Series, and that spirit of exploration and thirst for knowledge extends to fans as well. We want to know what’s going on in the galaxy, and it wouldn’t be good enough to say ‘well something bad happened, but don’t worry about what it was or what caused it.’ In some stories, an unknown, mysterious event could work. But not here.”
It took a long time to figure out the Burn, and along the way Burnham and the crew had different adventures that either advanced that narrative in a minimal way or didn’t advance it at all. Again, this is something we can debate – given the Burn’s ultimate reveal it’s certainly arguable that dragging it out for the whole season wasn’t the best idea.
But at the end of the day, whether you liked the reveal of the Burn’s origin or not, its origin was revealed. And it wasn’t something obvious, nor some sci-fi trope that could’ve been part of any other franchise. There’s a weirdness to the Burn’s telepathic origin that could really only be part of Star Trek, and despite my criticisms of the storyline overall, I like that. The fact that it wasn’t predictable was fun, and for such an important event it needed an explanation. I’m glad it got one – even if it wasn’t one I’d necessarily have chosen.
Number 5: No main villain.
Wish: Denied 🚫
Though Osyraa and the Emerald Chain were not connected to the Burn, she acted as the main villain in the latter part of the season. After Control had been such a big presence in Season 2, I felt that breaking away from having one main villain in favour of scientific mysteries and perhaps a couple of single-episode antagonists would have been preferable.
Though Osyraa did see some interesting development in There Is A Tide, that development was never really expanded upon. The revelation in the season’s epilogue that the Emerald Chain had “fractured” without her strong leadership makes all of that meaningless anyway; Osyraa ended up being nothing more than a forgettable adversary who was a significant hurdle for a couple of episodes, but little more.
The most significant storyline she was part of also happens to be one of my least-favourite action tropes. When Osyraa and the Emerald Chain captured the USS Discovery at the end of Su’Kal, it was obviously only a matter of time until the ship was retaken, and so it proved. Burnham and Osyraa got a climactic hero-versus-villain fight in the season finale, and it was decently exciting from that point of view, but there was nothing particularly new or inventive about Osyraa herself.
In light of the Emerald Chain seemingly disbanding, any ongoing impact Osyraa could’ve had on the show is nullified, and perhaps that’s for the best. I stand by what I said before the season premiered: some stories don’t need a “big bad” in order to work well. The Burn was a scientific mystery to unravel, and rebuilding the Federation was something to be accomplished diplomatically. Osyraa and the Emerald Chain were, at best, a minor hurdle to achieving those goals, but nothing more. That said, the action scenes in the final two episodes were very exciting, and I’m glad we got to see that side of Discovery this season – something that couldn’t have happened without Osyraa.
Number 6: Proper development of some secondary characters.
Wish: Granted ✅
After two full seasons, there were still a lot of secondary characters on Discovery’s crew that we barely knew. Though Season 3 didn’t have time to focus on everyone – and I wouldn’t have expected it to – we did finally get to spend more time with some of these officers. In addition we got the new character of Adira and their phantom partner Gray to further pad out the cast. And who could forget Grudge, the adorable fluffball kitty of Book’s?
In Season 2, Ariam got one episode of character development before being unceremoniously killed off, and I was a little concerned that Season 3 might take the same approach – turning some of the secondary characters into glorified redshirts. When helm officer Detmer was the focus of part of the episode Far From Home I felt sure she was next on the chopping block – but it didn’t happen!
Detmer and Owosekun saw some decent development this season, and we spent a little time with Rhys, Bryce, and Nilsson as well. And of course we got the aforementioned Gray and Adira. Nhan actress Rachael Ancheril was promoted to the regular cast, but seemingly left the series in Die Trying shortly thereafter. There was a lot of potential in her character, which could have seen future episodes looking at the Barzans, for example. I’m hopeful Nhan can return – even if it doesn’t look like it right now.
Among the regular cast, almost everyone had a significant arc or a lot of screen time this season. Only Stamets felt under-used, as major roles were given to Saru, Tilly, Dr Culber, and Georgiou at various points. Most characters now have a solid base or framework to build upon in future seasons and stories, and I hope that Discovery will continue to work with a broader cast going forward.
Number 7: Fix the Stamets-Culber relationship.
Wish: Granted ✅
Discovery’s emotional core is provided by Dr Culber and Stamets. Where Burnham’s romantic life has been a rollercoaster ride, Stamets and Culber offered stability. Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz have wonderful on-screen chemistry which makes their characters such a cute couple, and it was sad to see them having troubles after Culber’s stint lost in the mycelial network.
I was hopeful that Season 3 would bring them back together in a big way, and it happened within minutes of their arrival in the future. Dr Culber helped Stamets in sickbay after the latter had been injured, and the “relationship on the rocks” storyline was dropped. Discovery never looked back after that, and while abandoned storylines can be an issue, this one never really worked so I’m happy to see the back of it.
As a show with plenty of drama and tension, Discovery didn’t really need to throw its only solid couple into difficulties as an additional source of drama. There was just no need for it, and doing so risked taking away something incredibly significant in the process. LGBT+ representation has come a long way, so keeping Star Trek’s first gay couple together is also something I’m happy to see. Discovery has never gone out of its way to use LGBT+ themes; Stamets and Culber’s relationship isn’t treated as anything different or special because of their genders, and I love that. The future should be a place where all couples can be accepted without so much as a second thought.
The addition of Adira was an unexpected joy. We knew Adira was coming in the months leading up to the season’s premiere, but I wasn’t necessarily expecting that they would become so close to Stamets in particular. The paternal relationship he developed toward Adira was so sweet, and when Stamets made the point to them that he and Culber came together as a “package deal” that was just pitch-perfect.
Number 8: A satisfying explanation for how the Burn surprised Starfleet.
Wish: Denied 🚫
In the run-up to the season, one of the burning questions that I had was this: if time travel existed in the centuries before the Burn happened, how could it possibly have surprised Starfleet?
Star Trek has never been consistent in its depiction of time travel, and that’s at least in part because time travel stories can get convoluted and messy. They’ve never been my favourite – either inside or outside of the franchise – but having firmly established that the Federation by at least the 28th or 29th Centuries through to the 31st used time travel routinely, we needed more of an explanation for how the Burn could have taken them by surprise.
Nothing in any time travel story I’m aware of says that time travel into the future is any more difficult that travelling to the past, and in both Voyager and Enterprise Starfleet was depicted as an organisation dedicated to maintaining the “correct” timeline. To make a long complaint short: even if time travel was not being actively used by natives of the 32nd Century, it seems improbable at best that Starfleet would have been unaware of the impending Burn if they had access to time travel technology for centuries before the event occurred.
The idea of a ban on time travel is potentially interesting – and could, in theory, offer a way out of this issue. But it wasn’t explained in any detail, and I think in order to be plausible we need to know how the ban works, how it’s being enforced, and if it’s possible to travel through time as depicted in The Original Series and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home for example, how is it possible to prevent anyone from doing that?
Part of this stems from the aforementioned inconsistency; time travel post-The Next Generation seems to have been more difficult, requiring the use of specialist technology, whereas in The Original Series and The Voyage Home it was possible just by travelling at high speed and slingshotting around a star. However, even if we disregard that method of time travel, we still need an explanation for how the technology was destroyed, what’s preventing anyone from recreating it, and so on.
As I wrote in my theories during the season: it isn’t possible to un-invent an incredibly powerful technology that can be used as a weapon. Even if the idealistic Federation is content to abide by the ban, despite its own collapse and how crappy the post-Burn 32nd Century is, how are we meant to believe that everyone else is? Just from what we saw on screen, are we meant to buy into the Emerald Chain not being interested in pursuing time travel?
Then there are other factions from past iterations of Star Trek: the Borg, the Dominion, Section 31, and others. Any one of those factions could be tempted by time travel, and would surely not be willing to abide by any ban. So how is it enforced? How does it work? Even a few technobabble lines would’ve been enough for me… but we didn’t get any real explanation.
Number 9: A character crossover from a past iteration of Star Trek.
Wish: Denied 🚫
Okay, so technically we got to see the Guardian of Forever as well as archive footage of Leonard Nimoy’s Spock. But I wouldn’t consider either to be a significant character crossover, and while the Guardian of Forever had an impact on one of the season’s side-missions it didn’t effect the main story.
I speculated about a few characters who could still theoretically be alive in the 32nd Century, including: a backup copy of Voyager’s Doctor as seen in the Season 4 episode Living Witness, Crewman Daniels from Enterprise, Soji from Picard, the Dax symbiont, and even Deep Space Nine’s Captain Sisko. Some of those may be less likely than others, but I was at least a little hopeful that the leap forward in time could have led to a major character’s inclusion.
Seeing the Guardian of Forever was neat, and I don’t want to detract from that. But the Guardian was from The Original Series – and with Discovery finally able to move beyond the confines of the 23rd Century there was scope to link back to The Next Generation’s era. Unification III did so, and so did the inclusion of the Trill. But no characters crossed over, despite the potential existing for something to happen.
It wouldn’t be particularly difficult for practically any character from a past Star Trek show to crop up. Scotty appeared in Relics in The Next Generation’s sixth season, and if a similar technobabble explanation could be found for how a character was in stasis or travelled through time, almost anyone could be included. Since that didn’t happen this time… maybe we could get a major character in Season 4?
Number 10: A resolution to the story of the Short Treks episode Calypso.
Wish: Denied 🚫
Ah, Calypso. Is the short episode destined to remain an outlier in the Star Trek canon forever, seemingly tied to a vision of Season 2 or 3 that never made it to screen? Or dare we hope that the writers and producers actually have a plan for how the loose ends from this Short Treks episode will be tied up?
We seemed to see movement toward this goal in Season 3 – though not named, the Zora AI was clearly created (the same voice actress from Calypso even reprised her role) and the use of the word “V’draysh” to refer to the Federation was heard a couple of times. But there was also some noteworthy movement away from Calypso too. The USS Discovery’s refit means that the ship is no longer in the same configuration it was in during the Short Treks story.
At this stage, it feels as though resolving Calypso would require a story built for that purpose. The refit of the ship would need to be undone. A reason would need to be concocted why the ship needed to be abandoned. If the ship was to be sent back in time, a reason would be needed for why that was necessary too. And so on.
Perhaps the ultimate resolution to Calypso will simply be to say that the episode took place in an alternate timeline, one in which the Discovery crew hid the ship in a nebula to keep it safe from Control.
So that’s it. Those were my big pre-season wishes, and while not all of them were granted by Season 3, some were.
I had a great time with Discovery’s third season, and while there are some nitpicks and gripes it was a generally fun ride. It feels as though the Star Trek franchise now has a solid foundation if the decision should be made to create more shows set in or around the 32nd Century, and that’s a big compliment! As much as I enjoyed Picard bringing us back to the 24th Century last year, I’m just as interested to see what else the 32nd Century may hold, and hopefully Discovery won’t be the last Star Trek project to explore that setting.
Some of my pre-season wishes may have been a little optimistic, or even just unrealistic! But I had fun thinking about what Discovery could look like, and perhaps this is something I’ll indulge in again in the run-up to Season 4!
Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States and on Netflix in the rest of the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks, 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.