Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery, including Seasons 1-2 and the trailers for Season 3. Further spoilers may be present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
As the premiere episode of Star Trek: Discovery’s third season gets nearer I seem to be coming up with more and more theories! This time we’re going to consider one possible effect of the Burn in detail. I hinted at this when I considered what the Burn could be, but this time I’m going to expand on that, and in addition perhaps add a couple more potential causes for the galactic cataclysm.
Here’s how the theory goes: the Burn has made warp drive useless across the galaxy, meaning no one – including Starfleet – is currently able to travel faster-than-light.
In order to understand this theory, we need a basic refresher course in how warp drive works in Star Trek! In short, warp drive uses dilithium crystals to create and modulate a matter-antimatter reaction. The combination of matter and antimatter yields massive amounts of energy, allowing starships to generate a subspace field and travel faster-than-light. Subspace is part of the makeup of the universe, but its exact nature has never been fully explained. However, subspace is essential not only for warp drive but for communications – subspace radio being one way the Federation is able to communicate over large distances without delays.
Subspace, warp drive, and associated concepts have no real-world analogue and thus are subject to change depending on what an individual writer needs for an episode. The fundamentals are suitably vague, but for our purposes all we need to know is that without access to subspace there’s no warp drive and no FTL communications.
Any disruption to subspace would have massive ramifications for the Federation and the wider galaxy. While we have seen other races using different methods of propulsion and communication, the specifics have never been explained and thus may well involve subspace. The Borg’s transwarp, the Romulans’ singularity engines, and even Voyager’s slipstream technology could all be susceptible to the same limitations, even if they appear to be different on the surface.
If the Burn is relatively recent, perhaps occurring a few years before Burnham and Discovery arrive, it makes sense to say that the Federation could still be fractured. But if, as has been hinted, the Burn is an event decades or more in the past, the expectation has to be that they’d have been back on their feet. Even if it took years or decades, the Federation – and the galaxy’s other races – should have been able to rebuild, or at least begin that process. Perhaps they have, and we’ve seen what look to be Starfleet officers and maybe a Starfleet ship or facility in the trailers which could hint at that. But if Booker is right, and the Federation has mostly collapsed, aside from wondering how it happened, the big question is why nobody has been able to put it back together.
The answer could be twofold: a lack of transportation and a lack of communication. Disconnected from Earth, Starfleet, and the rest of the Federation in a galaxy where subspace has been destroyed, disappeared, or where it cannot be accessed, the individual worlds and colonies may have no choice but to stand alone. Some of these worlds may not even be aware of what transpired – they may have simply woken up one morning without faster-than-light spacecraft and communications. However, we have seen hints that the Burn may have been a violent event, and the name itself conjures up evocative images of catastrophic fires and explosions.
Without warp drive and subspace communications, it would be impossible to rebuild the Federation. Planets that weren’t damaged or affected by whatever caused the Burn may have found other technologies they had still worked, but without supplies from other areas – such as replacement parts – there’s a question-mark over how long any one world could last on its own. The Federation may have been spread widely even in the 24th Century, but it was also an interconnected bloc where resources were shared between member worlds. At least some of those worlds would struggle on their own, and this could lead to the kind of hand-to-mouth, impoverished existence we saw hints at in the trailers.
The lack of warp drive, communications, and any way to travel faster-than-light would, from an in-universe standpoint, explain why the USS Discovery is relevant in the 32nd Century. Even a crippled Federation should have technology that far outpaces the centuries-old USS Discovery, and the show has to find a way to make the ship and crew useful. It could simply be the case that a lack of starships means the Federation needs every vessel it can find, but I don’t consider that a great explanation, not if 32nd Century craft could outrun, outmanoeuvre, and outgun the USS Discovery.
In a galaxy without warp drive and subspace, the mycelial network and the USS Discovery may be the only way to travel and communicate with the Federation’s spread out worlds and colonies. It was interesting that in the two trailers we saw the spore drive engaged several times – but we never saw any starship go to warp – neither the USS Discovery nor vessels native to this time period.
The loss of warp drive, if that is something that has happened, is surely related to the Burn. That may simply be the name that the Federation and its now-separated parts use to describe some event that rendered subspace and warp drive unusable. However, there are possible explanations for what could have caused this based on past Star Trek stories. Some of these are rather obscure, and thus perhaps less likely, but as we’ve seen in Lower Decks over the last few weeks, the creative team behind Star Trek hasn’t been shy about bringing back aliens we only saw once!
Possibility #1: The subspace-dwelling aliens from The Next Generation Season 6 episode Schisms.
In Schisms, the crew of the Enterprise-D are abducted by aliens. These aliens were supposedly native to subspace, and performed experiments on the Starfleet crew. La Forge would confirm, towards the end of the episode, that these unnamed aliens were unable to survive in normal space – but were attempting to create a “pocket” of their native environment in one of the Enterprise-D’s cargo bays.
Though Riker (and a redshirt) were able to escape the aliens’ domain at the climax of the story, they sent a probe of some kind through the rift between realms before it closed, and even if Starfleet managed to avoid attracting their attention again, perhaps they now know of the “normal” universe and planned to attack or invade.
Possibility #2: A weapon of last resort.
This is something I considered in my closer look at the Burn, but if the Federation were under attack by a faction like the Borg or Species 8472, they may have been backed into a corner where the only option was to use some kind of weapon of mass destruction. If the Federation were to use such a weapon, one side-effect could be the destruction of subspace and/or the loss of warp drive.
We’ll look in just a moment at the omega particle (from the Voyager episode The Omega Directive) but a weapon based on this technology could be one culprit. There aren’t many factions we know of within Star Trek capable of launching an all-out assault on the Federation that might’ve made this kind of weapon necessary. The Borg are one, and perhaps the super-synths from Star Trek: Picard are one too.
This could be an interesting storyline, as though the Burn wouldn’t directly be the Federation’s fault, and may have even saved millions of lives, they would still bear a degree of responsibility.
Possibility #3: The omega particle from the Voyager Season 4 episode The Omega Directive.
As mentioned above, the omega molecule or omega particle could be a culprit. Omega was a molecule that could, in theory, generate vast amounts of power, but a single omega explosion could render subspace – and warp drive – totally unusable across a vast area. In Voyager, Janeway and Seven of Nine were able to destroy the omega particles they found. But those events took place centuries before Discovery’s third season.
In the intervening centuries, there’s nothing to suggest that the Federation wouldn’t have wanted to try again. Perhaps a scientist felt that they could control omega better, but an accident led to disaster. Or perhaps the Federation was successful in using omega particle-based technology on a widespread scale… only for some unpredictable event to occur.
Possibility #4: Warp drive itself ruined subspace, as seen in The Next Generation Season 7 episode Force of Nature.
Toward the end of The Next Generation’s run, Star Trek was still an episodic franchise. We hadn’t yet gotten to the longer story arcs of Deep Space Nine’s Dominion War, which makes Force of Nature somewhat of an outlier. It attempted to use warp drive as an analogy for issues in the real world – specifically the use of fossil fuels causing global warming. Two scientists make a claim that warp drive is damaging subspace, and one ends up dying to prove their case. The episode ends with Starfleet agreeing to a speed limit to reduce the damage while they looked for a longer-term solution.
Aside from a couple of later referenced to a speed limit, however, this story was never resolved on-screen. Fans have speculated that later warp engines, such as the design used aboard the USS Voyager, had found a way around this problem. But that is unconfirmed at best, and even if it were true, there could still be problems.
Of all the four possibilities, this feels the least-likely, but there’s potential for Discovery to pick up Force of Nature’s climate change analogy.
So that’s it. A theory and a few possible causes that would reference past iterations of Star Trek.
Until now, Discovery has only had the lore established in Enterprise and The Cage to draw upon due to its place in the timeline. The show largely ignored Enterprise, but Season 2 obviously referenced The Cage in many ways. However, now the show has jumped forward in time there’s the possibility for all sorts of references and callbacks to events of past Star Trek shows.
I’m sure that we’ll get some references spread throughout Season 3. Whether I’m right or not about warp drive, though… that remains to be seen! If you’re in the United States you’ll get to find out literally tomorrow!
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 premieres on the 15th of October 2020 on CBS All Access in the United States, and on the 16th of October on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other titles referenced 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Seasons 1-2 of Star Trek: Discovery, as well as the trailers for Season 3. There are also spoilers for Star Trek: Picard Season 1. Further spoilers may be present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
I was reluctant to cover this when I first saw it a few days ago. The only sources I could find for what people claimed were the “real Discovery Season 3 episode titles” were unofficial at best – and with all the made-up “rumours” that float around the online Star Trek and anti-Star Trek communities I wanted to wait for something more official before I commented! It took a little while, but there has been confirmation that these titles and synopses are legitimate, so I finally feel able to write about them.
Unlike with Picard and Lower Decks, Discovery has given us every episode’s title ahead of the season premiere, including the title of the finale. The first four episodes even have a little synopsis to go with them, so we’ll take a look at all of that in this piece and see what of consequence – if anything – we can determine!
Discovery’s third season is doing something quite unusual for a prime-time show: it’s premiering episodes on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Because of the (roughly) twenty-four hour delay in bringing the show to the rest of the world on Netflix, this means here in the UK we’re going to get episodes on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day! How’s that for a Christmas present? In a way this shows the advantages of streaming – the reason shows would often take a Christmas break from their regular schedule was so folks who were busy with the holidays wouldn’t miss anything; in 2020 with streaming services like CBS All Access and Netflix that’s no longer a concern. Even the busiest Trekkie in the world will be able to find time to watch Discovery sometime during Christmas week!
Depending on how you count the various episodes and films, Discovery Season 3 will contain the 800th Star Trek story. If we count each of the Short Treks, as well as episodes of The Animated Series, and all of the films, we’ll make it to 800 on New Year’s Eve when the twelfth episode of the season premieres. That’s an outstanding accomplishment for the Star Trek franchise! The 700th episode was The Forgotten from Season 3 of Enterprise in 2004, so it’s been a long road… getting from there to here. Sorry, couldn’t resist!
So let’s go through these episode titles and synopses!
The season premiere is titled That Hope Is You, which may sound familiar to you! It was a line spoken by the Federation official (or rather, who I assume to be a Federation official) in the first Season 3 trailer. The full line is: “I watched this office every day, believing that my hope was not in vain. And that hope is you, Commander Burnham.” I didn’t really like the way this line sounded when I first saw the trailer. In short, Discovery has never been at its best when it made Burnham the “chosen one” or the only character who actually does anything of consequence. This line could be interpreted as the beginning of another story where Burnham alone is capable of saving the galaxy… and honestly, I’m not thrilled about that. However, conversely the line could be about the arrival of the USS Discovery, or about some as-yet-unknown event.
The synopsis for the episode only mentions Burnham, saying that she’s looking for the USS Discovery and its crew. To me, the first two synopses imply that the season premiere may not include Saru or any of the rest of the crew in any meaningful way; it may simply focus on Burnham as she arrives in the future. I’m okay with that; Picard earlier in the year worked very well by building up slowly and not introducing too many characters and plot threads all at once, and if that’s the route Discovery will go too then I’m all for it.
Based on the title alone I’m fairly sure we’ll meet the Federation official from the first trailer in this episode. It should also mark the introduction of Booker.
Episode 2 is titled Far From Home – a title it coincidentally shares with the most recent Spider-Man film! The synopsis mentions the USS Discovery being repaired after crash-landing. Assuming that the crash is a result of arriving in the future via the time-wormhole, this seems to suggest the episode will mark the first appearance of Saru and the rest of the familiar crew. The crash sequence (or a large part of it) was shown in the second trailer. It looked fantastic, and reminded me a little of the USS Voyager crashing in the episode Timeless. The shot of Discovery after it crashed, however, was a rare example of a miss in terms of CGI, and I hope this is rectified by the time the episode airs!
The synopsis also mentions that Saru and Tilly will search for Burnham – presumably while the rest of the crew work to repair the ship. We haven’t seen too much interaction between these two characters, and as they’re very different from one another I think there’s scope for a sequence where they’re teamed up to be quite a lot of fun. There was a moment in the first trailer where Saru and Tilly appeared to don some kind of hooded garment, perhaps that’s taken from this episode.
People of Earth is the title of episode 3, and confirms that Burnham and the rest of the crew will definitely get back together. We saw glimpses of this reunion in both of the trailers, and I assume it may happen toward the end of episode 2 or perhaps at the beginning of episode 3. Interestingly, this episode will see the ship and crew travel to Earth, and this could be where we learn more about the Burn and the history of the galaxy in the years between Picard and Discovery. Of all the episodes so far, this seems the most likely to contain easter eggs and references!
There was a scene shown in the second trailer where the crew visit a large tree and appear to have a strong emotional reaction. I theorised that this tree could be a memorial to the USS Discovery, or perhaps to a character they knew such as Captain Pike. That could explain the strong reaction. As this episode takes place on Earth, it’s my guess for where this scene or sequence may appear.
Episode 4 is titled Forget Me Not, and this will be where we visit the Trill homeworld for the first time since Deep Space Nine. Will we see Dax return, perhaps? The synopsis doesn’t hint at that, but the title might. Forget Me Not is evocative; it could be referring to us – the fans – not forgetting about the character of Dax and the events of past Star Trek shows. Or that could be me clutching at straws!
The other part of the synopsis talks about Saru helping the crew to “reconnect.” I take that to mean they need to reconnect to each other, and forming a close-knit group will be important for the crew in a new and difficult time period. It could also mean that the crew needs to better connect with the world beyond their ship, to reconnect with the galaxy in this new era. Either way, the synopsis says this will lead to “a surprise,” and I have genuinely no idea what that could be, or even if it will be a pleasant or unpleasant surprise!
Now we’ve run out of synopses, but there are still titles for the remaining episodes of the season. I wonder if that means something very significant will happen in episode 4; something so big that it wasn’t possible to summarise the following episodes without spoiling a major plot point or storyline? Time will tell on that one!
Die Trying is the title of episode 5, and the obvious thing to pull from this is the first word. Will a major character die? Or is the title simply saying that someone (or the whole crew) will put their absolute all into some task – to either accomplish it or die trying? The latter seems more likely; I would be surprised if Discovery (or any major series) would telegraph the death of a character in such an obvious way. However, we saw in Picard that some plot points were spoilt ahead of time, particularly by announcing actors in the opening titles. So anything’s possible!
This leads us to episode 6, Scavengers. The second trailer showed two sequences this could refer to – one with a faction leader or warlord who Mirror Georgiou attacks, and another that seemed to be set in a post-apocalyptic markeplace or refugee camp that Burnham visits. Either of these could be the home of a gang of scavengers, and if the Burn is as bad as we assume it is, scavenging could be one way the survivors make a living without the help and protection of the Federation and advanced technology.
Episode 7 is perhaps the most interesting title – at least on the surface. Unification III sounds like it will follow on from The Next Generation’s two-part episode of the same name, which saw Captain Picard team up with Spock on the Romulan homeworld. Spock had been pursuing a potential Vulcan-Romulan reunification, and arguably laid the groundwork for improved Federation-Romulan relations in the 24th Century. Sela attempted to hijack Spock’s mission and conquer Vulcan by force, but was defeated by Picard and co.
So the big question is: what happened next? We saw in 2009’s Star Trek and in Picard that the Romulan homeworld was destroyed by a supernova. Relations between the Federation and Romulans initially seemed to improve; the two powers worked together in the Dominion War and began working together to evacuate Romulus prior to the attack on Mars by the rogue synths. Following the revelation at the end of Picard Season 1 that the Romulans were responsible for that attack – one which killed over 90,000 people and left Mars uninhabitable – we don’t yet know what happened. The path to reconciliation seems impossible as of the end of Picard, let alone full-scale reunification! But the episode title is tantalising, and surely must involve the Romulans in some capacity. My guess is that full reunification didn’t happen, but that perhaps the Vulcans and Romulans are cooperating and working together more regularly, particularly in the face of the Burn. Spock, of course, is Burnham’s adoptive brother, so she may learn more about his life in this episode; it could be a “unification” between the two of them.
As we get into December we have an episode titled The Sanctuary. This may refer to the futuristic space station, spacecraft, or facility glimpsed in the second trailer, which may be a Starfleet base. There was a black-uniformed woman who may be a Starfleet officer, and this could be her base of operations. Of all the locations we saw across the two trailers, this is the only one I’d describe as anything close to a “sanctuary” from the chaos in the galaxy. But it’s a vague title and I could be way off-base!
Next up is a two-parter: Terra Firma. This could refer to Earth, but as the ship and crew have already visited in episode 3 I’m not so sure. “Terra firma” is Latin, and basically means “solid ground.” That could be a metaphor; it’s a fairly common expression that travellers use upon reaching a destination, particularly after a long voyage at sea. Could the crew of the USS Discovery have been on a very long voyage and finally arrived back? That’s one possibility. It could also be a metaphor for stability; perhaps the crew have been able to partially restore the Federation by this point, and Starfleet is finally on solid ground.
The second trailer also hinted at coronal mass ejections – which are one possible explanation for the Burn. If CMEs are going to be a big part of the story, perhaps evading one and reaching a safe place is going to be a storyline seen in these two episodes. There’s one other possibility: that there’s some connection to the human-supremacist group Terra Prime, who were seen in the fourth season of Enterprise. Catastrophic situations have historically given rise to extremist groups, and if the Burn is as bad as we assume it is, part of the fractured Federation could have turned to a human-centric group in search of strength and stability.
Christmas Eve will bring us an episode titled The Citadel. Like The Sanctuary, this could refer to the possible Starfleet base. “The Citadel” could be the new name given to Starfleet HQ or to a major Starbase, and this could be a story set there. A citadel is also a kind of castle or strong fortification, so this could be a metaphor for hunkering down and preparing for something.
As mentioned, New Year’s Eve will bring us the 800th Star Trek story: an episode titled The Good of the People. There are a couple of ways to read into this – the first is that Burnham and the crew will do something big or perhaps make a sacrifice believing what they’re doing will benefit the people of the Federation and/or the galaxy. The second is that the title refers to good people among a wider population; perhaps people who rise up against a dictator or who fight for a righteous cause.
The season finale, airing in the first week of 2021, is titled Outside. This is a very simple title, and one which could be read into in many ways. Perhaps Burnham or someone else in the crew finds themselves in the minority; their idea or opinion on where to go next is not accepted, leaving them on “the outside.” Perhaps the crew, having successfully restored the Federation, now consider themselves outsiders in a new world.
If the ultimate reason for the Burn turns out to be connected to time travel, perhaps the season will end with Burnham and the crew undoing it, effectively wiping out this timeline in the process. If that happens, Burnham and/or the crew may exist “outside” of normal spacetime during the episode.
So those are my thoughts on the episode titles and synopses that we got. I have no doubt I’m utterly wrong in many cases, but for me, speculating and theory-crafting is all part of the fun.
Now that Lower Decks has concluded (my review of the season finale is coming soon, don’t worry!) we’re less than a week out from Discovery’s return. It’s been eighteen months since Season 2 ended, so if you need a refresh, I recommend my article titled The Road to Season 3, which you can find by clicking or tapping here. There I give a synopsis of the first two seasons from both the production and in-universe sides. You can find the rest of my Star Trek: Discovery articles on my dedicated Discovery page, which you can find by clicking or tapping here, or by using the menu above. I hope you’ll join me when the season debuts for reviews, theories, and more.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 will premiere on the 15th of October on CBS All Access in the United States, and on the 16th of October on Netflix in the United Kingdom and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Discovery – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. Stock images courtesy of Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the most recent seasons of Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Discovery. There may be further spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
While Star Trek: Picard Season 1 was ongoing earlier in the year, I postulated a number of theories about what was going on in the show. One theory that I had related to Control – the rogue artificial intelligence from Star Trek: Discovery Season 2. Specifically, I speculated that the Zhat Vash’s hatred and fear of synthetic life may have stemmed from a run-in with Control, or that the Romulans may have been trying to compete with Starfleet in a mid-23rd Century AI arms race. It seemed possible that Control could have attacked Romulan ships or settlements in the time between its takeover of Section 31 and its defeat by the USS Discovery, or that if the Romulans developed their own AI that it would have similarly gotten out of control and attacked them.
This theory came back with a vengeance after Picard reused a couple of CGI sequences from Discovery in the latter part of the season, particularly as those sequences depicted Control attacking – and ultimately destroying – all organic life in the galaxy. While Picard and Discovery had thematic similarities in their most recent seasons, insofar as both stories looked at the creation of synthetic life and how that synthetic life could go rogue, there was no broader crossover. The Zhat Vash were not motivated by either their own rogue AI from the mid-23rd Century or by an attack from Control.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to drop the idea of there being any connection between the Zhat Vash in Picard and Control in Discovery. My theory started with the idea that Control could have been the reason for the Zhat Vash… but what if it’s the other way around? What if the Zhat Vash are responsible for Control going rogue?
There was no explanation given for why Control decided to lash out and attack its creators. It wanted to acquire the data from the planetoid-sized lifeform known as the Sphere, believing that data would help it achieve true sentience. But that isn’t a reason to go on to commit genocide; something inside Control made it want to kill. Remember that Dr Gabrielle Burnham – Michael’s mother – arrived in a future timeline where no sentient organic life existed in the known galaxy; Control had wiped it all out. Why did it want to do that?
We could try to argue that Control’s murderous rage is somehow a result of Starfleet denying it access to the Sphere data. But Starfleet and the USS Discovery only came to possess the data because of the time-travelling interventions of Dr Burnham; we don’t know how Control came to acquire it in the “original,” pre-intervention timeline. There are a couple of possibilities. The first is that when the Sphere died, it broadcast its data as far and wide as possible and that’s how Control acquired it. It’s also possible that Starfleet received the transmission and Control gained access to it from there. However, neither of these scenarios involve Starfleet actively trying to prevent Control accessing the data, meaning that it wasn’t Starfleet who started the fight with Control.
So if Control had no reason on the surface to attack its organic creators, why did it do so? It could simply be a programming error; Control was programmed to prevent war, and perhaps that got twisted around so that it decided the only way to prevent the Milky Way’s organic civilisations from fighting was to exterminate all of them. This kind of basic AI programming mistake is one that’s not uncommon in science fiction, and arguably something we need to consider out here in the real world as we develop our own AIs!
So that’s one possibility. But here’s where the Zhat Vash could come in: what if they are responsible for corrupting Control’s programming? We saw in Picard that the Zhat Vash know enough about synthetic life to hack into Federation synths and change their programming. That’s what they did on Mars, causing F8 and the other synths to go rogue and destroy Admiral Picard’s rescue armada. If they had that capability in the 24th Century, it isn’t much of a stretch to think they could have been capable of something similar in the 23rd Century too.
We also know that the Zhat Vash are “far older” than the Tal Shiar. Let’s look at what we know for sure to try to pin down a rough estimate of how old they could be. The Romulans split from the Vulcans somewhere around the 4th Century AD, and by that time were capable of interstellar flight. By the 2150s the Romulans were involved in covert operations on Vulcan, trying to start a war between Vulcans and Andorians. While it was never stated outright in Enterprise that the Romulan operatives we saw were working for the Tal Shiar, it’s not an unreasonable assumption. The Zhat Vash sent Commodore Oh to infiltrate the Federation sometime around the discovery of Data, which took place in the year 2338. When Raffi asked La Sirena’s Emergency Navigational Hologram about the octonary star system, he described the Romulan star charts that depicted it as “ancient,” which seems to suggest they’re more than a century old at least. It was the discovery of Aia, the planet in the octonary star system, and the beacon that resided there that led to the creation of the Zhat Vash.
Put all of that together and we can assume with reasonable confidence that the Zhat Vash existed by the mid-23rd Century. We also know, thanks to what we saw in Enterprise and Deep Space Nine, that Romulan intelligence was far better than Starfleet’s – they knew a lot more about the Federation than the Federation did about them.
There’s a question of just how secret Control was. Section 31 was much more out in the open in Discovery than it was by the time of Deep Space Nine, but even so it seems logical to assume that Control would be a top-secret project within an already-secretive organisation. Still, when most Starfleet flag officers used Control regularly, word of its existence would get out and it was generally known within Starfleet that an AI existed. Thus any Zhat Vash or Tal Shiar operative would have come to know about Control.
Okay, so let’s slow down. Even if we’re confident that the Zhat Vash existed by Discovery’s era, and had commenced their anti-synthetic crusade, and even if they had operatives within Starfleet who would have made them aware of the existence of Control, that doesn’t mean they could just walk up to Control’s data servers and start messing around. Right? I mean, Control was based at Section 31 headquarters, which as we saw in the show was incredibly well-protected. And we saw no evidence of such an operative. Did we?
How about Admiral Patar, the Vulcan Starfleet admiral who was killed by Control at Section 31 headquarters? We know that Commodore Oh spent decades embedded within Starfleet, waiting to make her move at just the right moment. We also know she was able to attain a very high rank, and it’s only one short step from being a commodore to being an admiral. It’s at least possible. Admiral Patar had the means to access Control. She spent time at Section 31 headquarters right around the time Control went rogue. She was a Vulcan, and thus was biologically indistinguishable from a Romulan – meaning she could have been an undercover Romulan operative. Enterprise depicted Romulans undercover on Vulcan a century earlier, meaning that they had infiltrated Vulcan by that time and were able to do so with relative ease. The pieces fall into place for Admiral Patar to be a Romulan operative – or to have been replaced by one – even if the evidence is only circumstantial. Even if it wasn’t Patar, there may well have been other Vulcans working at Section 31 headquarters, any one of whom could have been a Romulan spy.
Once they had access to Control’s systems and specifications, the Zhat Vash could have figured out how to mess with Control’s programming and turn it hostile. Perhaps they only intended for it to attack the Federation, forcing them to shut it down permanently. Or perhaps they hoped it would cause wider chaos so they could force the kind of galactic ban on synthetic life that we saw in Picard. So the question of what they had to gain by such a move is obvious; it’s the same basic goal as they had for staging the attack on Mars.
If the Zhat Vash introduced a glitch in Control’s programming that would turn it murderous, they obviously didn’t intend for Control to go on and wipe out everything. That wasn’t the goal; that’s what they were trying to prevent. However, as I wrote earlier, it’s possible for even well-intentioned AI to get out of control or to act in a way its creators and programmers couldn’t anticipate. Perhaps that’s what happened with Control, and by the time it had assimilated Captain Leland, killed off most of Section 31’s leadership, and got a fleet at its command, there was no way for the Zhat Vash to stop it. If their sole operative had been killed when Control wiped out Section 31’s headquarters, the Zhat Vash may not have even been aware that the mission was not going to plan until it was too late.
So that’s my crossover theory for Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard – the Zhat Vash hacked or reprogrammed Control, and that’s what made it go rogue. There’s enough circumstantial evidence for this theory to be possible, and it would explain why Control went from being a useful tool for Starfleet to a menace capable of wiping out all sentient life in the galaxy. However, there’s no concrete proof. All we really have are two shows with similar themes, and a bunch of unrelated pieces that could be made to fit together – but also may not fit at all!
As I always say: it’s just a fan theory. Unless we get some confirmation on screen in future – which seems unlikely given both Picard and Discovery are almost certainly moving on to new stories in their upcoming seasons – we have to consider it as unconfirmed at best. I consider it plausible (obviously, or I wouldn’t have written an article about it!) but it may prove to be a complete miss… just like many of my other Star Trek: Picard theories!
This post was edited 31.03.21 to replace header image. Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard are available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States. Discovery is available internationally on Netflix; Picard is available internationally on Amazon Prime Video. The Star Trek franchise – including all 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-2 and the trailers for Season 3. There are also spoilers for Star Trek: Picard Season 1 and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
Unlike on other occasions where I’ve written about Discovery’s upcoming third season, none of the points I’ll be discussing today should be considered “theories.” I do have some theories for how the backstory and narrative of Season 3 will play out, but these are more general points that I hope are included. It’s a wishlist from a fan, nothing more.
I’m excited, truly interested, and a little nervous about what Discovery has in store. The post-apocalyptic setting, “the Burn,” and many other things all have the potential to tell an incredible story – or an incredibly divisive one. I’m putting together this list as a way to get my own thoughts in order ahead of the Season 3 premiere, which is coming in a little over two weeks’ time.
The usual disclaimer applies: I have no “insider information,” nor am I claiming that anything listed below will be part of Season 3.
Number 1: Some kind of tie-in with Star Trek: Picard.
If you read my Star Trek: Picard reviews and theories, you may recall that this was something I half-expected, half-hoped to see happen in that series too. Aside from a couple of throwaway lines, we didn’t get any kind of significant crossover or tie-in, and while Picard was a fantastic show on the whole, that was certainly a missed opportunity.
Discovery and Picard don’t exist as wholly separate entities. The Star Trek franchise ties them together, and realistically, if we’re going to see the brand survive into the second half of the 2020s and beyond, the various projects need to be doing something to drive engagement with the rest of the franchise. In the 1990s, when Star Trek was at its peak, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager all occupied the same timeframe, and this allowed for crossovers of themes, starships, factions, and even characters. At the very least, what this did was remind fans of one series that others existed, and served as gentle encouragement for fans of one show to jump over and try out one of the others.
The fact that modern Star Trek’s projects occupy vastly different time periods makes this more tricky, but it’s not something that’s impossible to overcome. I have a theory, as you may know, that the race of super-synths from Picard’s finale may be connected to an event called “the Burn,” and that’s certainly one route the show could go. But there are others, even including the appearance of characters like Soji. As a synth, Soji could conceivably still be alive after hundreds of years. This would have ramifications for future seasons of Picard, so I’d understand if the show chose not to go down that route. But the point is there are options for significant crossovers of themes, factions, locations, and characters in a way that would be important to the story, done in a way that would encourage casual viewers to dive deeper into the Star Trek galaxy. That can only be a good thing – retaining fans is going to be massively important.
It seems all but certain that a fourth season of Discovery is in production; we’re just waiting on an official announcement. But when Discovery inevitably comes to an end, Star Trek needs its viewers to stay subscribed and to remain invested in the broader franchise. Some are already, but some aren’t, and may not even be aware of Picard and other projects. Having a major crossover or tie-in will encourage that, and if done right it will help Star Trek’s longer-term prospects immeasurably.
Number 2: A reference, callback, or hint to something from Star Trek: Lower Decks.
As above, tying the Star Trek franchise together is important – and will be even more so as the franchise moves forward. Unlike with Picard, where I feel there’s scope for some kind of significant crossover or tie-in, all Discovery really needs to do is acknowledge, in some way, the existence of Lower Decks.
We could, for example, have the ship pass by the planet Khwopa, which was briefly visited in Much Ado About Boimler, see a California-class starship, or even see the names of one or more of the main characters on some kind of Starfleet memorial, assuming the crew visit Earth or another Federation outpost.
There are lots of ways to name-check or reference some character or event in Lower Decks in a way that wouldn’t be intrusive, and I hope an attempt will be made to do so.
Number 3: A storyline that doesn’t make Michael Burnham the “chosen one.”
Burnham is Discovery’s protagonist and principal character, and that isn’t going to change in Season 3. But the show has struggled in the past when it confused putting Burnham at the centre of its narrative with making her an invincible superstar or the “chosen one.” Doing so robs the other characters of any real agency over the plot, and leaves the ship and crew blindly following in Burnham’s wake – a metaphor that, somewhat ironically, was made literal in the Season 2 finale.
Making Burnham the only character capable of performing an important task or filling an essential role amplifies some of her less-attractive character traits: her confidence veers into arrogance and self-importance, her dedication to her own interpretation of logic leads her to ignore or shoot down dissenting opinions, etc. Having her as the protagonist is fine; having her be the only character who actually does anything of consequence is not.
As I’ve written previously, this is not Star Trek: Burnham. The whole crew of the USS Discovery – some of whom we barely know even after two full seasons – have the potential to contribute a lot to whatever story Season 3 tells. But the show hasn’t been great at giving most of them a chance to shine, and while Burnham will of course have an important role to play, let’s not have it be the only consequential and important one.
Number 4: A proper explanation for “the Burn.”
I really think we’ll get this, especially after the two trailers carefully built up an air of mystery surrounding this as-yet-unknown event. However, some post-apocalyptic stories choose to cloud their apocalyptic event and leave its details unknown. In some cases that can work well, but in a franchise like Star Trek it won’t.
Star Trek has been running for over fifty years, and in that time its fanbase has come to care deeply and passionately about the Federation and the galaxy humanity inhabits. The optimistic future we’ve seen depicted in every Star Trek project to date has been torn down, and as much as I have reservations about that it’s something I’ve come to accept. However, fans deserve to know precisely how and why that came to be.
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.
The reason why I think it’s at least plausible to think Discovery might try to pull a trick like this is because it seems as though the Burn may be an event that took place decades or more before Burnham and the ship arrive in the future. It may be, as Michelle Paradise seemed to hint, something that happened before Booker (the new character native to this era) was even born. That timeframe would make it easier for the show to try to get away with saying “don’t worry about what happened, let’s just try to rebuild.” And I really feel that will create a deeply unsatisfying narrative.
Number 5: No main villain.
Control was the villain of Season 2, and came to possess the body of Captain Leland, giving us as the audience a human character to dislike. Season 1 offered up Lorca, Mirror Georgiou, and the Klingons as villains at different points, but one of the great things about Star Trek is that its stories don’t always need a nefarious evildoer for the crew to defeat.
The Burn’s origins are currently unknown, and we could learn that it was caused by an antagonistic faction with an evil leader. Alternatively, we could see the post-Burn galaxy and remnants of the Federation having been conquered by such a faction. In either case, Burnham and the crew have a villain to fight and the story of the season could simply be how they came to fight and defeat this faction and its leader.
However, many times in Star Trek, there have been stories about figuring out a puzzle and solving a problem that was natural in origin. The Burn could be the deliberate use of a weapon or the aftermath of a war, but equally it could be a natural event. If it were natural, the story of the season could be figuring that out, finding a way to fix it or prevent it happening again, and rebuilding the Federation. There would undoubtedly be small-scale baddies to fight along the way – we’ve seen two possible examples of that in the trailers – but the season doesn’t need an overarching enemy to fight in order to tell an exciting story.
Number 6: Proper development of some secondary characters.
Detmer at the helm and Owosekun at operations are permanent fixtures on the bridge of the USS Discovery. But we don’t know much about either of them, and the way they’ve been used in the show so far has been poor. They’re sometimes seen adding minor backstory to another character (like Ariam) or event, but that’s about it. Who are they? Why did they decide to follow Burnham instead of abandoning ship?
Likewise there are underdeveloped “main” characters. Tilly has often been used for little more than comic relief, and while she got a sub-plot in Season 2 regarding the mycelial network, she feels like a character with untapped potential. With Reno potentially stepping up to fill the comic character slot, perhaps Tilly could be given a greater role.
Then there are minor characters that may or may not have travelled with the ship into the future. I don’t expect Discovery to follow the trail blazed by Deep Space Nine and have a huge roster of secondary characters, but it would be great to see more done with the existing ones. With Pike and Spock out of the picture entirely, there’s room for Nhan, Detmer, and others to take on larger roles.
Number 7: Fix the Stamets-Culber relationship.
Representation of LGBT+ people on television is streets ahead of where it was even just a few years ago, and in a way, Stamets and Culber’s relationship is testament to that. Since their first appearance in Season 1, the fact that they were “the gay couple” was never treated as a huge deal. Their storyline has reflected that as it took twists and turns over the first two seasons.
When Dr Culber was rescued/brought back to life in Season 2, their relationship didn’t pick up where it left off. He’s clearly suffering greatly as a result of the trauma he endured while trapped in the mycelial network, and after such an experience that’s to be expected. People aren’t magically back to the way they were after a hugely traumatic event.
The tension between Stamets and Culber after the latter’s return did serve as a source of drama in Season 2, but in my opinion their cute relationship works better when it’s used as one of the emotional cores of Discovery, rather than as a way to inject further drama into an already-dramatic series. Finding a way for the two to properly reconcile and get back together would be great for Season 3, as it would restore that emotional counterbalance which has been notably absent since Dr Culber’s “death” in Season 1.
Number 8: A satisfying explanation for how the Burn surprised Starfleet.
This connects to point number 4 about explaining what the Burn is and how it happened. In past iterations of Star Trek, we caught glimpses of the Federation and Starfleet in the far future, and one thing we learned is that time travel was a regular occurrence. Starfleet explored the timeline in the way they had explored space in the 23rd/24th Centuries. If they patrol the timeline in order to keep the peace, this raises a question – how did the Burn manage to come from nowhere and surprise them?
Surely once the technology to communicate and travel through time has been created, the Federation would explore not only the past timeline, but the future as well. Failing to do so would leave a massive blind spot for enemies to exploit, and once time travel has been invented and is commonplace, as we’ve seen in other Star Trek stories it won’t remain the exclusive tech of the Federation. If other factions can use time travel, they can travel into the future, which means the Federation at the very least need to be aware of the future timeline so they can preserve it.
But if Starfleet vessels had visited the future, how did they not know about the Burn in time to warn everyone? Did they choose to let it happen to preserve the “true” timeline? If the Burn represents an attack by a time-travelling faction that shouldn’t have happened, arguably restoring the timeline to its “original” form should be Starfleet’s objective… but wouldn’t that mean large chunks of Season 3 would be wiped from existence?
Time travel stories are often complicated and hard to follow, which is why they’ve never been my favourites in Star Trek. However, given that we know time travel exists in Starfleet’s future, there needs to be a satisfying explanation for how the Burn was able to happen at all, and why no Starfleet vessel was able to warn the Federation ahead of time – or even prevent the Burn altogether.
So that’s it. A few things on my wishlist for the impending third season of Star Trek: Discovery. I’m not trying to say that Season 3 will be “bad” or unenjoyable if it ignores these points and goes in a different direction, because I like Star Trek’s ability to surprise me even after decades in the fandom. These are simply points that I feel would work to make the story of Season 3 better if they could be included.
I deliberately left off one pretty big point – optimism. We’ve heard numerous times from Alex Kurtzman, Michelle Paradise, and others involved in creating the story of the new season that there will be an optimistic tone, and I see no reason to doubt that. In fact, a post-apocalyptic setting can be a great way to tell stories of hope and optimism, contrasting a bleak setting with the efforts of protagonists to build something better. I have my reservations about that, as I’ve mentioned on several occasions, because it represents a fundamental change to Star Trek and the underlying premise that has propped up the franchise for more than half a century. I’m willing to give it a chance, though.
Whatever Season 3 delivers, I’ll be here to cover each episode as they’re broadcast, and perhaps engage in some theory-crafting to go along with it, so I hope you’ll check back when the season kicks off in less than three weeks!
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 will debut on CBS All Access on the 15th of October in the United States, and on the 16th of October on Netflix in the United Kingdom and other countries and territories. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Discovery – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Seasons 1-2 of Star Trek: Discovery as well as the trailers for Season 3.
It isn’t long now until eighteen months of waiting for Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 will be finally over! With the new season imminent I thought it would be a good idea to briefly recap what came before, and explain how Michael Burnham and the USS Discovery came to leave the 23rd Century behind.
We can start by looking briefly at the production side of things, because Discovery’s story is an interesting one. As Trekkies we’re more interested in what goes on in-universe, but sometimes it’s worth knowing about how events in the real world have shaped the Star Trek shows we care about. In Discovery’s case, there are several factors to consider.
When Star Trek: Enterprise was cancelled in 2005 it really did seem as though Star Trek was dead and wasn’t coming back. Enterprise had been losing viewers for a long time, and talk of cancellation was brewing from at least its second season. It was over a year later, in 2006, that rumours began to swirl of a reboot to the Star Trek franchise; this would ultimately take the form of 2009’s Star Trek and the two subsequent Kelvin timeline films.
During development of the third Kelvin timeline film, Star Trek Beyond, it was announced that the franchise was returning to television. This was tied up with the announcement of CBS All Access, and the as-yet-untitled show was to be one of the new platform’s headline attractions. Bryan Fuller, who had previously written a number of Star Trek episodes, had been selected as the show’s executive producer. Interestingly, Fuller’s pitch for a new Star Trek series was one of several floating around in the 2010s; others included a “Captain Worf” series that had been proposed by Michael Dorn.
Fuller would ultimately leave Discovery in order to helm American Gods, and day-to-day running of the series would fall to Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts, with Akiva Goldsman joining the team too. Goldsman would go on to produce Star Trek: Picard. The series was delayed from its “early 2017” planned premiere first to May 2017 and then ultimately to September, and while there are rumours as to why nothing is really confirmed. The key thing, I think, to take away from this is that the show’s creator, Bryan Fuller, left the project while it was relatively early in production. It would almost certainly have been a different show had he stayed on board. That doesn’t necessarily mean better or worse, merely different.
Nevertheless, Season 1 of Discovery mostly followed Fuller’s original ideas – the Klingon War and the Mirror Universe storylines were part of the original pitch. Season 2 – despite Fuller’s credit as a “consultant” – was drawn up without much input from him, and as Berg and Harberts departed, Alex Kurtzman took over as the lead on the new season. Kurtzman is also in overall control of the Star Trek franchise.
The biggest decision made in Season 2 was of course the decision for Burnham and the USS Discovery to leave the 23rd Century. This is speculation on my part, so take it with a grain of salt, but I wonder whether this decision was made in part as a result of fan criticism of Discovery’s place in the timeline and treatment of canon. Ever since it was announced as a prequel, a vocal group of fans expressed their dislike of the setting. This was compounded by Discovery being, in some respects, different to past iterations of the Star Trek franchise. The show took flak for things like the redesign of the Klingons, visiting the Mirror Universe before Kirk, the militarised and not-hidden Section 31, and many other points besides. When considering Discovery’s massive leap forward in time, we need to be aware of that context – even if ViacomCBS and everyone involved denies that fan backlash had any bearing on the decision.
So that’s a very brief recap of the production side of things. Now let’s get into the story of Discovery’s first two seasons.
One of the odd things about the two-part premiere – The Vulcan Hello and Battle at the Binary Stars – is that it doesn’t take place aboard the USS Discovery, nor feature most of the series’ regular cast. Absent from the premiere are: Culber, Lorca, Stamets, Tilly, and Tyler. These characters wouldn’t be introduced until episode 3 or later, along with the ship itself. Instead we got the USS Shenzhou and Captain Georgiou – neither of which would survive! It was a potentially explosive start for the new series, pinning down the idea that anything could happen and that being a heroic Starfleet officer was no guarantee of safety. As I’ve written before, there’s a distinct influence of successful shows like Game of Thrones in the way Discovery was written and produced.
Unfortunately the premiere was awful almost across the board; the visual effects and a Federation-Klingon battle being the only saving graces. Michael Burnham was introduced as a deeply flawed and unlikeable character, and it took a lot of work for the show to recover going into the rest of the first season.
The basic story of the premiere was that a resurgent Klingon Empire was on the verge of unifying behind a new leader. Burnham, for reasons that are still difficult to understand three years later, decides that the best way to avoid a war with the Klingons is to shoot first and attack their ship. When Captain Georgiou orders her to stop being such an idiot she tries to stage a one-person mutiny, attacking the captain and attempting to shoot the Klingon flagship.
Burnham spends much of the rest of the premiere in the brig, and in the subsequent battle a number of Starfleet vessels are lost. A last-ditch plan by Burnham and Georgiou cripples the Klingon flagship, and while attempting to capture the new Klingon leader, Georgiou is killed. This battle kicks off the Federation-Klingon war which would rage for the rest of the season.
In episode 3, Context is for Kings, we finally meet Captain Lorca and most of the rest of the USS Discovery’s crew. Several officers from the USS Shenzhou transferred to Discovery, including first officer Saru and helm officer Detmer. The USS Discovery has an experimental spore drive – a mushroom-based method of propulsion that, in theory, allows the ship to travel through the mycelial network. This technology allows Discovery, and its sister ship the USS Glenn, to theoretically travel any distance in a very short span of time, potentially meaning it can hop halfway across the galaxy in the blink of an eye. However, early in the season the spore drive isn’t functional, and the ship has only been able to move very short distances. The term “black alert” is used aboard the ship whenever the spore drive is engaged.
Captain Lorca intercepts Burnham’s prison transport, and when she arrives aboard the USS Discovery he offers her a chance at redemption by becoming a specialist under his command. Burnham has to overcome the (100% justified) judgement of her shipmates, including those who had been wounded or lost friends during the first few weeks of the war.
Burnham is assigned quarters with a cadet – Sylvia Tilly – and now holds no formal rank. However, the clandestine nature of Discovery’s mission gave Lorca broad powers over who to bring aboard, and despite Burnham’s conviction she’s allowed to serve.
The first half of Season 1 documented Lorca and Stamets’ work to get the spore drive operational. Discovery’s sister ship, the USS Glenn, made a breakthrough by discovering a space-dwelling lifeform that could navigate the mycelial network. However, the creature was dangerous and got loose, killing the Glenn’s crew. The creature – known as a tardigrade – is able to be used to fix issues with the spore drive, and despite the loss of the USS Glenn, Stamets and the engineering team are able to use it to “drive” the ship.
Lorca is taken prisoner by the Klingons, and meets Ash Tyler. Tyler had been taken prisoner some time previously, and the two were able to escape and return to Discovery. Tyler is given a role as security officer aboard the ship – despite clearly suffering PTSD. Tyler and Burnham would develop a relationship across the rest of the season.
When it becomes clear to Burnham and Stamets that they’re abusing the tardigrade by forcing it to work as part of the ship’s spore drive, Stamets augments his DNA with the tardigrade’s. This allowed him to take the tardigrade’s place as Discovery’s “navigator” in the mycelial network.
After a mission to the planet Pahvo, Discovery made numerous spore drive jumps. Outwardly, the plan was to use sensor data gained by making numerous jumps around a Klingon ship to crack the Klingons’ cloaking device, which had given them a massive advantage in the war. However, at the last moment Lorca overrode the jump sequence and forced Discovery into the Mirror Universe. The Mirror Universe was first seen in The Original Series’ second season episode Mirror, Mirror, and in the 23rd Century was dominated by the Terran Empire – a human-supremacist, authoritarian state.
Lorca managed to maintain his cover for a time, but it would later become apparent that he’s not from the prime universe. Lorca was in fact a native of the Mirror Universe, and had arrived in the prime universe via a transporter accident. He plotted to return in order to overthrow the Empress – who is the Mirror Universe version of Burnham’s former captain Philippa Georgiou.
Lorca was killed while attempting his coup, but other plotters had been made aware of the Empress’ weaknesses and were planning attacks of their own. In order to save her, at the last second Burnham beamed her aboard Discovery. From this point on, Mirror Georgiou would be a recurring character. But it’s important to remember she’s native to the Mirror Universe!
Thanks to Stamets, Discovery was able to return to the prime universe the same way it left: via the mycelial network. However, Dr Culber was killed by Tyler – who turned out to be a Klingon in disguise, not the real Tyler – and in Discovery’s absence the war had gone very badly for the Federation, leaving the Klingons on the brink of victory.
Admiral Cornwell hatched a plan to render the Klingon homeworld uninhabitable using a device to make all of its volcanoes erupt simultaneously. When Burnham and the others learn of this plan (which had been devised by Mirror Georgiou) they rebel. Burnham leads a second mutiny, and convinces everyone to go along with a different plan. “Tyler” had introduced the crew to L’Rell, and she took possession of the volcanic device, using it to become Klingon Chancellor, unite the Great Houses, and end the war.
The first season ended with Burnham and the crew given medals for their roles in bringing the war to an end.
Season 2 shook things up a lot. With Lorca gone, the big question was that of who would sit in the captain’s chair. It couldn’t be Mirror Georgiou, and with her mutiny conviction it could hardly be Burnham. Saru was next in line, but Star Trek had never had an alien captain before – not to mention Saru is kind of a coward! The surprise announcement came that the role of Christopher Pike – the captain of the USS Enterprise in The Original Series’ first pilot, The Cage – was to assume the role. I wasn’t impressed by this initially, as I felt we’d only recently spent time with the Kelvin timeline version of Pike, and recasting the character for a second time so soon might not work. I’m happy to hold my hands up and admit to being thoroughly wrong!
When the USS Enterprise suffered a catastrophic computer failure – perhaps attributed to its holo-communicators – Captain Pike transferred to the USS Discovery to continue his mission. Starfleet had detected temporal anomalies described as “red bursts,” and Pike was investigating at the time of the Enterprise’s problems.
At the same time, Pike’s science officer – and Burnham’s adoptive brother – Spock, has gone missing.
The crew discover that a figure from Spock’s youth, once dismissed as a dream or hallucination, that he termed the Red Angel is responsible for setting the red bursts. Who this person is, and what they hope to gain is not clear, and the investigation continues. The second episode of the season, New Eden, takes the ship 40,000 light-years away to a small colony of humans. The Red Angel saved these people during a conflict in Earth’s past and transported them halfway across the galaxy. The plot thickens!
On the Klingon homeworld, Section 31 arrange for “Tyler” and his son to be evacuated in order to maintain the current power structure. Their artificial intelligence, Control, came to be heavily relied on during the Klingon war, and Starfleet now uses Control regularly. Mirror Georgiou has joined Section 31, as has Ash Tyler, and both serve under the command of Captain Leland, a Section 31 officer.
In An Obol for Charon, a planetoid-sized lifeform referred to as the “Sphere” is encountered by Discovery. The lifeform is dying, and in its death throes gives Discovery a gift: all of the data it has accrued over the hundreds of thousands of years it had lived. Amongst the data was information on Saru’s species, the Kelpiens, and Pike and the crew are able to use that to aid the Kelpiens in their conflict against the Ba’ul, a race who dominate their homeworld.
The Sphere’s data would be coveted by Control, as gaining access to the data would allow it to evolve and become fully sentient. This would set up the main story of the remainder of Season 2, as well as laying the groundwork for Burnham and the USS Discovery to leave the 23rd Century behind – they did so in order to keep the Sphere data away from Control.
Control “assimilated” Captain Leland using nanites/nanobots in a scene reminiscent of how the Borg operate. This led many – including me – to speculate that Control would somehow be tied to the origins of the Borg. I maintain that storyline was at least a possibility; perhaps something included in the story pitch that never made it to screen.
Control also killed off many Section 31 leaders and operatives, and was able to gain control of Commander Ariam’s cybernetic implants, forcing her to try to transfer the Sphere data. Ariam was killed before she could complete the transfer, greatly upsetting Discovery’s crew.
Meanwhile, Burnham took off on a mission to rescue Spock. Section 31 was hunting for him too, but she was able to get to him first as he was being sheltered on Vulcan. Spock, now a fugitive, insists on being taken to Talos IV – a planet he had visited years prior that was home to the Talosians, a race whose telepathic powers could help him.
The mission to Talos leads to Spock being able to explain more about the Red Angel – the mysterious figure is human, and someone who is trying to change the current timeline; a time-traveler.
After analysing the Red Angel based on scans taken at one of its earlier appearances, the crew come to the shocking conclusion that Burnham is the Red Angel. They devise a plan to capture her – or rather, her in her future form – using the current-timeline version of Burnham as bait. For many, many reasons, The Red Angel was the worst episode of Season 2 and encapsulated why time travel stories are so difficult to get right! However, one upshot of the otherwise-abysmal episode is that the Red Angel is revealed not to be Burnham herself, but her mother.
Burnham’s parents had been killed years earlier, when Michael was a child. Unbeknownst to her, they were scientists working on a new method of time travel alongside Section 31. However, they were attacked by Klingons and the time travel suit – Project Daedalus – was shelved and considered not to be working. Unknown to Michael Burnham and Section 31, Dr Gabrielle Burnham survived the Klingon attack and used the time travel suit – aka the Red Angel suit. However, she became trapped in the 32nd Century. The Red Angel suit allowed her to make temporary visits to other time periods, but at the end she would always be pulled back to the same spot in the 32nd Century.
That sounds like torture enough for poor Dr Burnham, but it gets worse: the galaxy in the 32nd Century was entirely devoid of sentient life. After investigating, Dr Burnham came to the conclusion that Control – Section 31’s AI – was to blame. In a timeline in which Control successfully acquired the Sphere data it became sentient and murderous, wiping out all sentient life in the galaxy. Dr Burnham resolved to prevent it doing so, and made numerous interventions in the timeline, including moving the Sphere so that the USS Discovery could intercept it and saving the humans by moving them to Terralysium.
The crew decide that it may simply be best to destroy the Sphere data, but are unable to do so; the data is “protecting itself.” Dr Burnham’s connection to Spock is revealed; in childhood, Spock suffered the Vulcan equivalent of dyslexia. The difference in the way his brain worked allowed him – and only him – to interact with the Red Angel.
Using Captain Leland as its vessel, Control attempts to steal the data from Discovery’s computer, but is unsuccessful. Learning the truth of Leland’s assimilation, the crew try to get as far away from him and Section 31 as possible.
When a new red burst is detected on the Klingon world Boreth, the ship and crew travel there. Boreth is the only known world where time crystals are found – and time crystals are needed to make a working Red Angel suit. The crystal in the original Red Angel suit was destroyed – stranding Dr Burnham in the 32nd Century – but the crew have decided that the best way to keep the Sphere data away from Control may be to take it out of the 23rd Century, so they want to get another one. Captain Pike goes to the Klingon monastery on Boreth and acquires a time crystal – but doing so cements a future timeline in which he will become crippled by delta radiation (as seen in The Original Series).
As the crew race to build a second Red Angel suit using Dr Burnham’s original design, the stage is set for a showdown with Control. Captain Leland’s body remains alive, but it seems as though Control has killed off most of Section 31. However, it is able to use their extensive fleet of ships to pursue Discovery. Despite the spore drive being able to traverse huge distances, the crew join up with the USS Enterprise to make a stand. Initially the plan is to destroy Discovery, but the Sphere data won’t allow itself to be destroyed.
While Discovery and the Enterprise fight off the Section 31 ships, Burnham uses the new Red Angel suit to travel through time and set off the red bursts – meaning the whole season is a complicated time-loop-paradox thing. With the red bursts set, and with no other options to prevent Control gaining access to the data (despite Captain Leland being incapacitated seeming to pause the fighting) Burnham activates the Red Angel suit, sets the destination for the same point in the future where her mother was trapped, and opens a time-wormhole.
Saru and several other main and secondary characters volunteered to accompany Burnham and the Sphere data into the future, leaving the 23rd Century behind. Pike, Spock, and Tyler are not among them, however, and remain behind aboard the USS Enterprise. Later, Burnham sets off a final red burst, confirming to Spock and Pike that she successfully arrived in the future. Presumably, in the aftermath of the battle, Starfleet was able to shut down Control. Ash Tyler was appointed head of Section 31, and from what we know of the organisation based on its later appearances, began the process of taking the clandestine organisation underground.
So that’s a very broad outline of Discovery’s first two seasons! The plot of Season 2 got a little tied up at points, simply because of the nature of time travel stories, but overall it was a thoroughly enjoyable ride. I hope this recap helps remind you of some of the key plot points that led up to the third season’s premiere – now only three weeks away.
Obviously I didn’t include every sub-plot and storyline; this article was already far too long. I tried to stick to the key ongoing story threads from both seasons, and if I missed something you enjoyed or considered important then I apologise for the oversight! This was really just an exercise in recapping, in a broad way, the overall story so far so that as we get started with Season 3 we haven’t completely forgotten what came before!
When Season 3 kicks off next month I’ll be reviewing each episode in turn and perhaps crafting some theories. I hope you’ll stop by for those posts.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 premieres on the 15th of October on CBS All Access in the United States, and on the 16th of October on Netflix in the United Kingdom and other countries and territories. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Discovery – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery, including the two Season 3 trailers and the ending of Season 2. There are also spoilers for Star Trek: Picard Season 1 and other iterations of the franchise.
The most recent trailer for Star Trek: Discovery’s imminent third season dropped a bombshell: the Federation has mostly collapsed! In my breakdown of the trailer I covered my thoughts on that story premise, so we won’t get into the ins and outs of it again today. Instead, we’re going to look at the event that triggered this collapse and postulate a few theories as to what it could be! As always with any fan theories (mine or someone else’s) please take all of this with a grain of salt. No fan theory is worth getting worked up over!
All we really know for certain is that the event in question is called “the Burn.” Booker, the new character who’s native to this time period, tells Michael Burnham that the event was when “the galaxy took a hard left.” And that’s all the explanation the trailer gave us. However, some images and scenes from the trailer add context to this, so we should run through some of them briefly.
Firstly, we had one very short scene of an explosion aboard a starship or space station that appeared to blow a number of people out into space. This could be a flashback to the Burn, but as I noted when I looked at the trailer, it could also be something happening after Discovery’s arrival in the future. Even if it is taking place during the Burn, however, all we can gleam from this scene is that it was a violent event – which may mean it took place over a relatively short span of time.
Next we have two glimmers of hope: a futuristic starship, space station, or facility which Saru and Burnham visit at some point, and a black-uniformed woman who I suspect may be a Starfleet officer.
The woman’s uniform was at least a little reminiscent of the uniforms used to depict 29th Century Starfleet seen in the Voyager fifth season episode Relativity. The texture and pattern used for the dark upper part of her uniform reminded me of that episode, and I’m sure that must have been intentional!
If this woman in Starfleet, it lends credence to the idea that the facility mentioned above could be a Federation vessel or even a Starbase. Add into the mix Booker’s line that the Federation “mostly” collapsed following the Burn, and I think we can make a solid case for Starfleet being around in some form; last time I called this remaining faction “rump Starfleet.”
The final thing to look at from the trailer are the scenes set in its aftermath. Away from the woman in uniform and the futuristic facility we see what could be a shanty town or post-apocalyptic markeplace as an Orion or other green-skinned alien guides Burnham. One possible implication from this scene is that we’re seeing how the majority of people in the collapsed Federation live. In the aftermath of the cataclysm, they may all be reduced to this kind of hand-to-mouth existence.
On the flip side, we have seen settings like this in other iterations of Star Trek, even on human-populated worlds. One that springs to mind is Turkana IV, the birthplace of Tasha Yar in The Next Generation. Described as a “failed Earth colony”, the planet was in a state of disarray in the 24th Century. In short, the existence of a shanty town like the one depicted above may not mean that everyone in the 32nd Century lives that way.
The reason I brought up Turkana IV and the like is to demonstrate that the Federation, even in the eras we’re familiar with, wasn’t always perfect and wasn’t one homogeneous bloc. Just as there seems to be a great contrast between the sleek facility and the shanty town in the 32nd Century, so too is there a contrast between different locations in the 23rd and 24th Centuries. I wonder if Discovery plans to use this dichotomy to make a point about wealth inequality.
One final point of note is that, when discussing the Burn, Booker referred to it as when “the galaxy” took a hard left. Let’s be clear about that – the galaxy as a whole, not merely the Federation. That was a deliberate choice of words, and I think what we can infer is that the effects of the Burn extend far beyond the borders of the Federation.
It’s possible that the Burn didn’t affect literally the entire galaxy; some regions and worlds may have escaped. Booker may have used the word “galaxy” in this context to mean something that impacted more than just one region and that went beyond the Federation’s borders. Even if that’s the case, we’re still dealing with what is arguably the biggest disaster we’ve ever seen in Star Trek.
That’s all we know from the trailer. It’s unclear how many people survived the Burn. Some disasters destroy infrastructure and technology, but leave organic lives intact, whereas others cause massive loss of life. There are clearly some survivors of the Burn, but how many is simply unknown right now. It’s highly likely that in the aftermath of such a catastrophe, more lives would be lost due to things like disease and starvation – especially if the Burn triggered the kind of collapse we seem to be seeing. The scene in the shanty town or junkyard seemed to show people barely surviving, living a hand-to-mouth existence without much of the familiar technology we’re used to in Star Trek. Such a loss of technology could cause even more deaths in the months and years following the Burn than the event itself.
We’ve seen at least one anti-Starfleet faction, which in the first trailer appeared to comprise of Andorians, Lurians, Cardassians, and humans. We also met a character in the second trailer who could be the leader of a faction or perhaps a warlord. I think this shows how, in the aftermath of the Burn, the survivors banded together into smaller groups. As with the number of survivors, we don’t know how many of these groups exist or what their relationships are with one another.
We also don’t know for sure whether faster-than-light travel, warp speed, and time travel are still possible in this era, or whether the Burn caused such a catastrophic collapse in the Federation – possibly combined with damage to the galaxy and spacetime and/or subspace in general – that such things are no longer possible. We saw in the second trailer the USS Discovery using its spore drive, so at least travel via the mycelial network remains viable. But everything else is unclear, and if it were to be the case that warp speed and faster-than-light travel are impossible, the fractured Federation will be very difficult to bring back together.
There’s also the question of timing. When did the Burn take place? We’ve already made one assumption – that it was a relatively fast event, perhaps taking place over less than a year – but when it happened relative to Burnham and the USS Discovery’s arrival in the year 3188 is not known. I wrote last time that the furthest forward in time Star Trek has previously gone in canon is the 31st Century. However, in both stories which took place in that era the dating was very vague, and we only have terms like “years” and “centuries” to go on rather than something more precise. As a result, Discovery’s third season could be anywhere from 90 years ahead of what we saw in Enterprise and Voyager all the way to 180 years ahead of those stories. Picking a halfway point, and saying that Discovery takes place 130-140 years further on from anything we’ve ever seen still gives a huge amount of time for the Burn to have taken place.
Based on the warlord/faction leader seen above, and the scene set in the shanty town/junkyard, I’m assuming it wasn’t recent. It certainly didn’t look like something that had only just happened in those scenes; the faction leader in particular seems confident in his position. Booker also didn’t appear to be speaking about something very recent when discussing the Burn; he almost seemed to be recalling history. I also noted something from the Star Trek Day panel: showrunner Michelle Paradise stated that characters like Booker had been “born” into this new future. While she could have meant simply that Booker was born in the 32nd Century, in the context of a discussion about the new season’s setting it could also mean that the Burn took place decades previously; before Booker was even born.
So it’s clear that at this stage we’re missing a lot of information! We don’t know when the Burn happened. We don’t know what effect it had other than the near collapse of the Federation. We don’t know how many casualties were directly and indirectly caused, or how many survivors remain.
Perhaps most importantly, we don’t know what the Burn is or what caused it. Fixing a problem requires understanding what the problem is and why it happened, so it will be absolutely essential for Burnham and the crew to figure this out. Even though we have practically no evidence to go on, I do have a few ideas! Let’s look at them in turn.
Possible cause #1: The super-synths from Star Trek: Picard
I’ve already written up this theory in more detail, and you can find that article by clicking or tapping here. But now that we know a little more about the Burn thanks to the new trailer, I was pleased in a way that it hasn’t been debunked already! Star Trek: Picard introduced us to an unnamed race of super-synths that I nicknamed the “Mass Effect Reapers” due to their similarities to that video game faction.
The “Mass Effect Reapers” left behind a beacon on the planet of Aia, explaining that synthetic life is under threat from organic life, and promising to come to the aid of any synths who ask for their help. The Zhat Vash – a secretive Romulan faction – found the beacon and interpreted it as something apocalyptic; they believed that if synthetic life were ever created, the “Mass Effect Reapers” would exterminate all organic life in the galaxy.
During the events of the season finale, Soji and Sutra constructed a beacon to contact the “Mass Effect Reapers”, and opened a portal to the location in deep space where they reside. After being convinced by Picard – and the timely arrival of a Starfleet armada led by Riker – Soji closed the portal and shut down the beacon. The “Mass Effect Reapers” never arrived – but they are now aware of a race of synths in the Milky Way galaxy, as well as being aware of the existence of the Romulans and the Federation.
From the point of view of this race of super-synths, here’s what they saw: a race of synths who found their beacon called on them for help, and when the portal was opened they saw a handful of synths on a planet with two massive fleets of starships populated by organics. Then, with no explanation, the portal was closed. If I were them, I would have major concerns!
We know hardly anything about the “Mass Effect Reapers” – which in itself makes them a good candidate for Discovery’s writers to play with – including how far away from the Federation they are. If they decided that they needed to intervene on behalf of the Coppelius synths, it could have taken them centuries to travel to the Milky Way from wherever they’re based.
When they finally did arrive, they would have likely found Coppelius abandoned, as I feel certain the safest thing to do for the synths who live there would be to relocate them to a new home where the Romulans can’t touch them. Again, from the “Mass Effect Reapers” perspective, the last thing they saw was two massive fleets in orbit of this planet that asked for their help, and when they arrived, the synths who asked for that help were gone. Put two and two together and it’s not hard to imagine they would assume the organics wiped out the synths. If they were minded toward revenge, they could go on the rampage, using their superior technology to destroy the Federation and Romulans in an event that would become known as the Burn.
From the production side of things, this theory brings together the two live-action series currently in production, which is something that hasn’t happened yet. I’ve written many times that modern Star Trek shows being split up in this way isn’t a good idea, and finding ways to bring them together will be important to the franchise going forward. Having this faction from Picard also be important in Discovery – as well as the events of one series directly leading to events in the other – would bind the two shows together and strengthen the franchise.
Possible cause #2: Michael and/or Gabrielle Burnham
I can’t be the only one who noticed that the “Burn” happens to be three letters different from “Burnham”, can I? While it may seem absolutely preposterous to assume that Burnham or her mother somehow caused this galaxy-wide calamity, there are some points we could argue are in its favour.
Gabrielle Burnham, Michael’s mother, was the original Red Angel in Discovery Season 2. At several points in the story she intervened, including to save Burnham’s life and Spock’s life in their youth, as well as ensuring that the USS Discovery would be on hand to save the data from the “Sphere” – the planetoid-sized lifeform whose data was vital to the Control AI. Gabrielle Burnham was tied to a point in the future around the same time as Season 3 is set and returned there after her many visits to the 23rd Century. But in both of the trailers we’ve seen, she’s nowhere to be found. Why is she missing, and could her absence have something to do with the Burn?
Discovery has been a series that places Michael Burnham at the centre of its stories. Burnham was the Red Angel. Burnham was the one who led the ship and crew home from the Mirror Universe and ended the Klingon War. Every story so far has been a Burnham-centric one, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn she has some involvement with the Burn – an event which shares part of her name.
How could this work? There are a few possibilities, but I would say that all of them have to do with the Red Angel suit and its time travel abilities. The suit was very powerful, capable of detonating powerful “red bursts” that Starfleet could detect from thousands of light-years away. It was also capable of moving the Sphere, so the idea that it could – intentionally or otherwise – be used as a weapon or cause a natural disaster is not beyond the realm of possibility.
When Burnham arrived in the future, she took off the suit. But in scenes that seem to be set around the same time, she doesn’t appear to bring it with her. It’s possible she abandoned the suit at her crash site, in which case anyone could stumble upon it. It’s also possible that the suit was stolen. And finally, it’s possible that some other faction who was aware of changes to the timeline could have been waiting for Burnham’s arrival and took that opportunity to take possession of the suit.
I don’t believe Burnham or her mother would voluntarily cause the Burn. In fact I’d argue that both would go out of their way to avoid it – even putting their lives on the line to prevent it ever happening. But it could have been accidental, such as a by-product of the suit’s time travel abilities. Or they could have done something while under duress – perhaps it was the least bad option if they were given a choice between the Burn and something far worse.
One thing is for sure, though. If it was Burnham’s fault, calling the event “the Burn” sounds way better than calling it “the Ham!”
Possible cause #3: The Borg
We haven’t had a Borg story in Star Trek since Enterprise’s second season way back in 2003. For a time it seemed as if Discovery’s second season was setting up a Borg origin story with the Control AI, but for whatever reason that didn’t pan out. We could still see the Borg in Discovery, though, if they turn out to be the nefarious villains who caused the Burn.
Booker said that the Burn affected the whole galaxy, and if that’s literally true perhaps it impacted the Borg as well. But it could be that the Borg either are the Burn or are the cause of it, striking out in all directions from their Delta Quadrant home and attacking multiple areas of the galaxy simultaneously.
Though it was implied, perhaps, that the Burn was a relatively short event, it could be that it was a war. Even a year-long conflict against the Borg on all fronts could have seen the Federation on the verge of collapse, and we could be looking at the aftermath of a Pyrrhic victory, one in which the Federation and their allies were only able to defeat the Borg at a catastrophic cost to themselves.
How exactly this would work is unclear, but perhaps the Federation used a weapon of last resort that not only destroyed the Borg but also crippled themselves in the process. We’ve seen this kind of story in science fiction before, and the idea that the Federation’s collapse is in part the Federation’s fault is an interesting one. Alex Kurtzman said that the Federation’s collapse wasn’t due to infighting but was something external – and a Borg invasion is definitely an external threat.
When considering an event that has the potential to impact not only planets and star systems but Starbases and fleets of ships, a large-scale war is one of the few possibilities that I can think of. We’re talking about devastation across not only the whole Federation but far beyond its borders too, meaning the Burn has to be something immense in scope. A massive invasion could be such an event, and I can’t think of any known faction in Star Trek able to pull off something like that other than the Borg.
By their later appearances in Voyager, I think it’s not unfair to say that the Borg were becoming stale. Having seen our heroes prevail against them time and again, they definitely needed a rest. Enterprise, while it added an extra complication to the history of Borg-human contact, managed to tell an exciting and tense story, but I think it’s to the franchise’s overall benefit that the faction then took a break. However, seventeen years is a decent length of time for such a break, so could we be on the verge of seeing the Borg make a comeback?
Possible cause #4: Time travel and the Temporal Cold War
Star Trek stories that took place in the 29th Century and beyond depicted time travel as something the Federation routinely engages in, despite it seemingly being prohibited by the 24th Century. Preserving the timeline intact is something Starfleet of this era seems to have been concerned with, but there were other factions opposed to the Federation who made attempts to use time as a weapon.
In Enterprise we saw a Temporal Cold War play out, with several different factions all vying for control of the timeline. The mechanics of this were vague – deliberately – but by the 31st Century, which is the home era of temporal agent Daniels, the Temporal Cold War was a major issue.
As I mentioned when I looked at the trailer, one issue I can see coming up if Discovery goes headfirst into another time travel story is the question of why the Federation didn’t see the Burn coming. If they explore the timeline in the same way that the 24th Century Starfleet explore space, surely they look at the future timeline too, not just the past. If they do, they should have foreseen the Burn, right?
The problem with that assumption is that time travel muddies the waters. Even in a perfect world where Star Trek had always been consistent in its depiction of the rules and laws governing time travel (which it hasn’t been at all), the concept itself still generates all manner of possibilities, loops, and paradoxes. Part of the Temporal Cold War story arc involved factions travelling to the past to attempt to undermine their adversaries before they could even develop time travel – knocking them out of the war entirely. If someone were able to travel to a point in the timeline that the Federation could not observe, or were able to operate outside of normal spacetime, the Burn could have been triggered before the Federation even knew it was coming.
I’d like to pick one more hole in a time travel story. If the cause of the Burn is related to time travel, it’s arguable from the perspective of Starfleet that the timeline in which it occurred is not the “real” timeline. Logically they’d want to work to undo it, and if successful it would remove this timeline – and thus Discovery Season 3 – from existence. We have seen stories in Star Trek that “never happened” for reasons of time travel, but they were single episodes, not entire seasons, and I would make the case that having an entire season’s story arc being effectively wiped out of existence wouldn’t be the best way to go.
Possible cause #5: Something related to coronal mass ejections and stars
One frame of the trailer showed Tilly, Stamets, and Reno with the woman shown above who may be a 32nd Century Starfleet officer. On the display at the console where Tilly and Stamets were standing, it was possible to make out the words “CME Detected” and “coronal mass ejection [something] magnitude.”
A coronal mass ejection, or CME, is a real-world phenomenon. I’m not a scientist, but as I understand it, a CME is where a small portion of a star’s plasma is shot into space. The phenomenon is associated with sunspots and solar flares, and can cause damage to technology like phone and power lines.
There is no known way to trigger a CME or for them to occur naturally on a galaxy-wide scale. But as we leave the real world behind and head into the realm of science fiction, either of those possibilities could exist.
“The Burn” is a very evocative name, drawing on a primal fear of fire. But it could be more than just a moniker adopted by survivors of the event: it could describe the event itself, and when a star undergoes a CME it’s literally shooting burning plasma into space – space fire. The Burn could be the very literal burning of spacecraft, planets, and even whole solar systems by some kind of massive wave of coronal mass ejections.
The interesting prospect this raises is that the Burn wouldn’t require an evil villain; it could be an entirely natural occurrence. How and why millions of stars all suffered the same fate is unclear, but it would change the dynamic of the story from one that requires the crew to defeat an adversary to one which requires scientific investigation – something which is arguably at the heart of Starfleet.
Equally, even if the Burn refers to a tsunami of CMEs, there could be a cause. It could even be one of the four we’ve already listed: the Borg, the Burnhams, a time travelling faction, or the super-synths from Picard. Any of these could have intentionally or accidentally triggered some event that led to millions of stars all undergoing CMEs.
The next part of this gets very deep into lore, so it’s perhaps less likely, but I like to include these things because c’mon… we’re Trekkies. It’s what we do!
Whether the Burn is natural or artificial in origin, if it’s something which causes stars to undergo massive CMEs it could also be something which triggers supernovae. And there has been one recent supernova that had a massive impact on the Star Trek galaxy: the Romulan supernova. First shown in 2009’s Star Trek, the supernova appeared to move faster-than-light and destroyed the Romulan homeworld. Spock was able to stop it by using Red Matter, but the supernova would have a lasting impact, part of which was seen earlier this year in Picard.
Though it may seem a long-shot, tying the Burn to the Romulan supernova would bring together several different Star Trek stories in a very neat way, which is important for reasons I’ve already outlined. If the Burn is natural in origin, the Romulan supernova may have been a precursor to it. And if it’s artificial in origin, the Romulan supernova may have been a preliminary test of whatever weapon caused the Burn.
So that’s it. A look at what the Burn could be as well as some possible triggers and causes. Though the existence of the Burn poses a big challenge for Discovery – as it fundamentally changes the underlying premise of Star Trek’s optimistic future – I’m absolutely fascinated by it. What is it? What caused it? When did it happen? Why did no one intervene to stop it? There are so many questions rattling around in my head, and this article has barely scratched the surface!
I am at least a little concerned about Star Trek: Discovery choosing a post-apocalyptic setting. But at the same time the series has been great so far, especially in Season 2, and I would love to see it build on what was accomplished last year to tell a fascinating and engaging story. The Burn is going to be part of that. Figuring it out and perhaps even working to stop it could be important story elements, and I’m absolutely fascinated to learn whether any of these ideas even come close!
As I mentioned at the beginning, these are just fan theories and speculation. I don’t have any insider information – and if I did I wouldn’t share it! Several recent shows and films have suffered backlash from fans who got a little too attached to certain pet theories, and as fun as theory-crafting is, I don’t want that to be the case here. This is a bit of fun and a chance to spend more time thinking about Star Trek, and that’s all. I want to know what happens, and if it’s something I didn’t expect then that’s fantastic!
When Discovery Season 3 kicks off in mid-October, I hope you’ll join me for episode reviews and perhaps even more theory-crafting!
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 premieres on the 15th of October on CBS All Access in the United States, and on the 16th of October on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other titles 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.
Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery, including the Season 3 trailer and the end of Season 2. There are also spoilers for Star Trek: Picard Season 1 and other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
It’s only a little over a month until Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 premieres, and during yesterday’s digital Star Trek Day panels we got a surprise new trailer! With the new season so close, and with everything going on in the world, I didn’t expect to see another one. We had the first trailer released almost a year ago, and it felt like that was all we were going to get! I’ve already taken an in-depth look at the first trailer, by the way, and you can find my thoughts by clicking or tapping here.
Overall, the trailer was… interesting? There were some things that looked very exciting, and others which are definitely concerning. Taken as a whole, Discovery’s third season looks different to what we had before in terms of its setting, but also familiar. Burnham still seems to be the main focus of the plot, with the rest of the crew there to help out.
So let’s start with by far the biggest reveal: “The Federation mostly collapsed… after the Burn.” This confirms what a lot of Trekkies – myself included – had been thinking since we saw the first trailer: that this season will take the show into a future that’s as close to post-apocalyptic as anything we’ve seen in Star Trek before.
This is the part which concerns me most about this season. A post-apocalyptic setting is so incredibly far removed from anything we’ve ever seen in Star Trek, and that’s because Star Trek has always presented a positive, hopeful depiction of the future. It’s possible to use a post-apocalyptic setting to showcase the theme of hope within a narrative, but that’s not the same thing as having a hopeful and optimistic setting. Star Trek’s core has always been that humanity has overcome whatever obstacles came our way, no matter how insurmountable they seemed. We had been able to build a future for ourselves and our friends and allies where, to paraphrase Trip Tucker: poverty, war, and disease have been eliminated.
A post-apocalyptic setting represents a fundamental shift in the underlying premise of Star Trek, and could result in the franchise losing what makes it special and unique. In other franchises, this kind of setting can work. But in Star Trek it’s untested, and while what results may well be a perfectly sound television show, it may not be a perfectly sound Star Trek show.
In past iterations of Star Trek, the tension and drama came from threats to our heroes and their friends, but in a more fundamental way, it came from the idea that everything humanity had worked hard to create was in danger. That’s what the Borg represented. That’s what the Dominion represented. That’s what villains from The Original Series right through to Picard all represented. Humanity had overcome so much and built this amazing future, and suddenly it was under threat by some nefarious evildoer. That setup brings more than enough excitement – look at stories like The Best of Both Worlds or Deep Space Nine’s Dominion War storyline. They didn’t need to rely on something post-apocalyptic to generate drama and stakes. Even Discovery, in its first two seasons, was able to use Star Trek’s optimistic future as a way to generate tension – first with the Klingon War and then with the threat posed by Control.
I guess I’m just not convinced that this huge change in the underlying premise of Star Trek’s setting will work as intended.
All that being said, I’m very interested to learn more about this “Burn” – the event that caused the collapse of the Federation. The only clue we got in the trailer was that it was an event that caused the galaxy as a whole to take “a hard left”, whatever that may mean! We can infer a few things from this statement, though. The mention of the galaxy seems to suggest that whatever effect the Burn had wasn’t just limited to the Federation. It may have been truly galactic in scale, impacting all four quadrants, or Booker may have used the term to refer to a wide area, but regardless it seems that the Burn had a massive impact that extended beyond the boundaries of the Federation. Alex Kurtzman elaborated just a little on this, explaining that it was something external that caused the collapse as opposed to something within the Federation itself.
This neither confirms nor debunks my theory that the race of super-synths from Star Trek: Picard are involved! They could be the cause of the Burn, but equally at this stage it could be something entirely different. We don’t even know for sure how recent the Burn is to Discovery’s setting – it could be anywhere from a few years to a couple of centuries earlier. The furthest Star Trek has ever gone in canon is the 31st Century, which we saw in both the Voyager episode Living Witness and the Enterprise two-part episode Shockwave. Daniels, the time-traveller in Enterprise, was from this era, and in his time the Federation was still active. The trailer states very clearly that Burnham arrives in the year 3188, which puts the new season at the tail end of the 32nd Century, meaning the season takes place anywhere from roughly 90 to 180 years further into the future than anything we’ve seen previously. This obviously allows plenty of time for the Burn to happen without impacting canon – though I can think of a problem with that.
It was suggested in several Star Trek stories – if not stated outright – that the Federation patrols and explores the timeline. That includes the future timeline too, not just the past, and it raises the big question of how Starfleet managed to get caught up in the Burn when – at least theoretically – they could have foreseen and prevented it.
Time travel narratives in Star Trek have never been my favourite for a number of reasons, though I freely admit that Discovery Season 2 did a good job with that premise. Based on what we know of the Federation’s time travel capabilities, though, I think it’s at least possible that Season 3 will include some time travel elements. It’s even possible, though admittedly unlikely, that whatever the Burn is could be related to the Temporal Cold War seen in Enterprise – perhaps a faction opposed to the Federation was able to use time in such a way as to cause the Burn and with it the collapse of the Federation. Enterprise is arguably less well-remembered that other Star Trek series though, so I consider basing a major plot point around one of its storylines to be less likely.
One thing that the team behind Star Trek have to be careful with is that this decision to see the Federation collapse in the 31st/32nd Century doesn’t adversely impact other Star Trek shows. One problem that can plague prequels is that much of the drama and tension that makes for a good story isn’t present simply because we know what comes next. This happened to a degree in Enterprise – when the Xindi attacked Earth and then planned to destroy the planet, we knew they weren’t going to succeed because we’d seen Earth two hundred years later. The story was still good, but at the back of our minds or even just on a subconscious level, we as the audience knew that Captain Archer and his crew would prevail. The journey can still be fun if the destination is known, but sometimes knowing the ultimate outcome can rob a prequel of its stakes.
By making every Star Trek show from Strange New Worlds to Picard to Lower Decks a prequel to Discovery, any galaxy-threatening villain the heroes of those series have to tackle becomes at least slightly less intimidating. Not only that, but the successes Captain Pike, Picard, and the Lower Decks ensigns may have become at least a little bittersweet – because we know that no matter what they do and how victorious they are, the Burn will still happen and the Federation will still collapse. Picard and the crew of La Sirena succeeded in defeating the Romulans and the race of super-synths, but did it actually matter if within a few hundred years all that was undone by this other cataclysm? The argument that it matters far less is certainly present, and while it doesn’t “taint” those productions, future Star Trek projects produced in the wake of Discovery Season 3 will be broadcast to an audience who know about the Burn and what’s coming for the Federation. That certainly changes the way we look at Starfleet and the Star Trek galaxy.
The trailer did raise my hopes – just a little – that things may not be totally bleak for the Federation. At one point we saw a black-uniformed woman (seen above) who seemed to be human and could perhaps be a representative of Starfleet. There’s also the Federation flag – seen again in this trailer – and the official we saw in the first trailer. Burnham and the crew also appear to get combadges sporting a new variant of the Starfleet emblem – surely there could only be a new design if there’s still some kind of rump Starfleet to wear it.
Despite that, however, it seems like the future Burnham and the crew will find is far bleaker than they – or we – could have imagined. I have my concerns about how well this will work, but I’m willing to give Discovery a chance to pull it off. Having covered the setting in sufficient detail for now, let’s look at the rest of the trailer.
The trailer begins with both Burnham – in her Red Angel suit from the Season 2 finale – crashing. Burnham appears unable to contact the ship, and flies into a field of debris. This same debris field would be glimpsed again moments later as Booker and Burnham discussed the fate of the Federation; I infer from that that it’s Federation debris. This is just a guess, but I would say perhaps the remains of a space station – I saw what looked like it could have been parts of a Starbase-style space station amongst the wreckage.
The shot of the USS Discovery after its crash-landing on the planet’s surface was not good. It looked amateurish, as though it had been thrown together by an art student in Photoshop. I think it was probably the worst visual effect of the entire trailer, and I hope it’s improved by the time the series airs. I think the lighting was wrong, because something about the look of this shot gave the distinct impression that the USS Discovery and just been copied-and-pasted onto a planet’s surface image. It was only seen briefly, though, and the sequence of the ship crash-landing as a whole looked pretty good; I was reminded of the Voyager Season 5 episode Timeless.
Although the scream was a little much, I loved seeing Burnham’s elation at the discovery of lifesigns on the planet where she crashed. The entire point of taking the USS Discovery out of the 23rd Century was to prevent the rogue AI Control from getting its hands on the ship and the data it contained; if it had been able to do so it would have wiped out all life in the galaxy. Burnham is simultaneously thrilled and relieved to learn that her plan worked.
Burnham, in a voiceover, describes the journey into the far future as a “one-way trip, no going back.” But present among the crew is Mirror Georgiou, a character who is supposed to headline the currently-untitled – but still in production – Section 31 series. As far as we know that series is set in the 23rd Century, so the question of how that circle will be squared is still up in the air. Perhaps Georgiou will travel back in time somehow, or perhaps the Section 31 series will take place in this new time period.
There was a great moment between Stamets and Reno – who I’m thrilled to see return. Reno was great comic relief in Season 2, and it seems like her dynamic with fellow engineer (and boss?) Stamets is going to be a fun element in Season 3 as well. I hope we’ll get to see plenty of interaction between these two characters!
I’m trying to decide if there’s going to be anything romantic between Burnham and Booker. At one point, the trailer seemed to show them close to kissing – though whether there will be anything more is unclear. They spend a lot of time together, and I believe Booker will be the first person from this era Burnham encounters. He’s the one who tells her about the Burn, and may help her (and the audience) get acquainted with this time period. We’ve had the Burnham-Tyler relationship play out across Seasons 1 and 2, but with Tyler remaining in the 23rd Century, could a new partner be what Burnham needs?
If the series is to keep its “sole protagonist” approach – which seems to be the case – giving her a romantic entanglement could be a good source of drama. I like anything that humanises Burnham and brings her a little more down-to-earth, and showing her emotions and being vulnerable with a romantic partner is a good way to achieve those goals.
So as mentioned, Burnham appears to be the main focus of the story once again. Though she has improved in leaps and bounds from her disastrous role in Discovery’s premiere, I’ve never felt she was the best and most interesting part of either season. And putting Burnham in stories where she, and she alone, is capable of solving the galaxy’s problems amplifies some of her less-attractive character traits. It seems from the two trailers that we’re going to get another Burnham-centric narrative, and all I can really say about that is that I hope it’ll be one that not only keeps her relatable, but that provides the other crew members with genuine volition and agency over the story. Simply having Saru and the rest of the crew trailing along in Burnham’s wake is not Discovery at its best and never has been. Hopefully this season can address that issue in some way!
I mentioned Mirror Georgiou, and she appears to get into a fight with someone who I would say could be a faction leader or even a warlord; someone who has control over a ship, fleet, planet, or region in the aftermath of the Federation’s collapse. I doubt this character is the primary villain of the season – if indeed such a villain exists – but he certainly seems to be in the way of whatever she’s trying to accomplish – perhaps putting his own needs ahead of the “greater good.” I wonder what role Georgiou will play in a “restore the Federation” story – she’s someone who is wholly uncommitted to the ideals of the Federation, and left to her own devices would surely scheme to create a new Terran Empire instead! Hopefully Saru and Burnham will be able to keep her in check.
The trailer appeared to show the USS Discovery making use of its spore drive. I was glad to see this, as the spore drive has felt like an underused piece of technology. In Season 1 it was little more than a macguffin to allow for travel to and from the Mirror Universe, and after that it really felt as though the writers and producers didn’t know what to do with it – or at least didn’t know what to do with it in a way that didn’t completely break canon. Now that we’re out of the 23rd Century, canon issues are no longer present. That potentially opens up Discovery for more stories which put the spore drive through its paces.
We also got another look at the directed energy weapon seen in the first trailer. This weapon seems to produce a large shockwave capable of knocking people over; whether this is a kind of stun setting is unknown, as is what the device is called. As I mentioned last time, it doesn’t feel particularly futuristic – it’s something we could have imagined existing in the 23rd or 24th Centuries. But that in itself probably ties in very neatly with the post-apocalyptic setting – Discovery had to find a way to make its ship, crew, and technology not feel horribly outdated in the 32nd Century.
We caught the briefest of glimpses of two new members of the cast. Star Trek’s first non-binary character, played by Blu del Barrio, and first transgender character, played by Ian Alexander appeared for a split-second in the trailer. We don’t know anything about these characters aside from their gender identities, which made headlines even in mainstream news outlets.
There was a scene with a large tree that was interesting. I have nothing but a gut feeling to go on with this, but I believe it’s a memorial tree, planted in honour of the USS Discovery and the crew that were lost. This could be on Earth, perhaps at Starfleet Academy or Starfleet Headquarters – assuming either facility still exists. The tree looked very old, and the crew seemed to have a strong emotional reaction to it, which is why I’m guessing it’s a memorial. It’s also possible that this tree was planted in honour of someone like Captain Pike, who the crew knew well.
Burnham says that the Federation gave her and/or the USS Discovery “a mandate to solve the biggest problems in the galaxy.” This ties into the post-apocalyptic nature of the theme; I think we can infer that whatever remains of Starfleet has very few ships at its disposal, and that’s why the centuries-old Discovery can be pressed into service.
The typeface used for the series seems to have changed as well, which is in keeping with the idea of Season 3 being a kind of soft reboot for Discovery. I like the way this looks, and it will be used for the show going forward according to showrunner Michelle Paradise. It’s a cleaner, sleeker font than that based on the classic Star Trek typeface which the series had used until now. It looks great, and gives the show a more modern look.
We saw several new settings in the trailer, and it’s unclear whether they’re all on one planet or are spread out. There were two that looked decidedly post-apocalyptic: a market, shanty town, or junkyard where Burnham is being guided by someone who may be Orion, and the place where Georgiou gets into the fight with the man who may be a faction leader.
There was one scene that could be set aboard a futuristic Starfleet vessel or space station; this could be the location where the official seen in the first trailer was based, as it looked superficially similar. The line “welcome to the future” was heard over the top of this brief shot, which may be intentional or may just be incidental! This facility had curved lines and holographic interfaces, and looked suitably futuristic – but at the same time it wasn’t so futuristic that it couldn’t be something from the 23rd or 24th Centuries.
It looked as though we could see a flashback to the Burn at one brief moment in the trailer, but it could be this facility (or a similar one) coming under attack. Flashbacks could be a great way to explain what happened, so I hope we do get to see the events of the Burn instead of just hear about them secondhand from other characters.
I think that covers everything from the trailer that I wanted to mention. After the trailer premiered there was a panel which included the definitely not-fired Alex Kurtzman, the man who’s basically in charge of Star Trek as a whole right now. Kurtzman appeared alongside showrunner Michelle Paradise and Booker actor David Ajala in a panel hosted by – of all people – LeVar Burton’s daughter Mica. I’m not sure how I feel about Kurtzman citing Gene Roddenberry’s optimistic vision of the future in the context of Discovery taking a very dark, post-apocalyptic setting. Optimism and hope can certainly be themes in this kind of setting, but it’s still fundamentally different to anything Roddenberry imagined.
The panel was okay, and there were a few minor points of interest. But I’m never the biggest fan of these kind of things, especially when done at a distance. As I wrote when looking at Star Trek’s Comic-Con @Home panel, a glorified Zoom call isn’t always the most interesting thing to watch.
A couple of highlights are that Booker and Burnham get into a fight when they first meet, which is certainly an interesting and dramatic way to introduce two characters! Despite the point I made above regarding the level of technology in the 32nd Century, the showrunners were keen to stress that there will be new and different technologies than what we’ve seen in Star Trek previously. The question of the Trill came up, and the answer surprised me a little: instead of saying that the Trill could be an anchor point for returning fans to perhaps understand the far future a little better, instead it was stated that they may not be the same as we remember.
Booker has a cat! I love cats, and regular readers will know I have several of my own – including one named after a Discovery character. A short featurette included in the panel showed how the cat was recruited to the show and how they helped him act. The cat looks beautiful too! David Ajala spoke beautifully about the Star Trek franchise, its history, legacy, and what it means to him. The sincerity was greatly appreciated, and he seems like he will be a wonderful part of the series and the franchise. That was all from the panel – the guests had a lot to say and it is worth a watch if you’re a fan.
So that wraps things up. The trailer had some fascinating and exciting parts, but I’m not going to lie or pretend it doesn’t have some concerning elements too. I’m enjoying Lower Decks at the moment, as you know if you’ve been following my reviews! Discovery Season 3 marks the third Star Trek project this year, and I’m looking forward to it despite any concerns I may have about certain narrative elements. Season 2 was truly excellent, and though Season 3 aims to be a soft reboot, in some respects I hope it’ll be able to build on what the show achieved last year.
I hope you’ll come back in mid-October as I review each new episode and possibly engage in a little theory-crafting to go along with the season.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 premieres on the 15th of October on CBS All Access in the United States, and on the 16th of October on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard, Star Trek: Discovery, and the trailer for Discovery’s upcoming third season.
Ever since we first caught a glimpse of Star Trek: Discovery’s third season setting, I’ve been wondering what’s going on. According to everything we know at this stage, Burnham and the ship will successfully complete a 930-year time jump into the far future. That future looks pretty bleak, and perhaps could even be described as post-apocalyptic. If it’s true that Discovery plans to tell a story set in an era where the Federation is defeated or in decline, figuring out how that happened – and reversing it – is surely going to be the overarching story.
For now we’re going to have to set aside reservations about how a post-apocalyptic or otherwise bleak setting will work with Star Trek from a storytelling point of view. Instead, let’s look at things from an in-universe perspective and try to figure out what may be going on. I have already covered this theory back in March when I was wrapping up my Star Trek: Picard theories, so if you’re a regular reader it may be familiar to you.
In short, here’s how the theory goes: the race of super-synths from Star Trek: Picard are the cause of Discovery’s post-apocalyptic setting. Let’s break it down, look at why it could be a possibility, and explore it in more detail.
So although I said this would be an in-universe explanation of the theory, there is one production-side reason we need to look at too. One thing that modern Star Trek shows lack is a relationship to each other. Discovery did a pretty good job of tying itself to The Original Series, and both Picard and Lower Decks have connected themselves to The Next Generation, but there’s essentially nothing beyond a couple of throwaway lines linking Picard to Discovery right now. That would have been unthinkable during the 1990s, where The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager all shared characters, settings, locations, factions, and themes.
Modern Star Trek is hampered by its shows being split up along the timeline, and this makes it harder for new fans to transition smoothly from one series to another. There are no threads of consistency running between the different series, and while they are semi-independent productions they are all being produced by one overall team of people under the Star Trek Universe umbrella.
If we were to learn at some point in Discovery’s third season that the events depicted in Picard were directly related to the Federation’s decline or defeat, suddenly there would be a reason for Discovery fans who missed Picard to go back and watch it, and for Picard fans who haven’t seen Discovery to jump over and watch that show too. There would be the strong feeling that both shows genuinely take place in the same universe and the same timeline, which right now is lacking. This would help the Star Trek brand stay cohesive, and be a frame of reference for casual viewers, all while allowing both shows to provide each other a boost.
So that’s on the production side of things. But I promised you an in-universe look! First let’s very briefly recap, in case you forgot the events of the final few episodes of Picard. While investigating Soji’s origins, Picard and the crew of La Sirena came to realise that there are a race of synthetic life-forms – created by Bruce Maddox – living on a planet called Coppelius. The Romulan faction known as the Zhat Vash were searching for the synths too, because they believe that the synths will trigger an apocalyptic event. This apocalypse was revealed to them by a beacon left behind by an ancient race on a world they called Aia, and when we got a clearer look at the message the beacon contained, it was less a warning to organics than a message to the synths themselves, offering aid. A faction of super-synths that I nicknamed the “Mass Effect Reapers” exist somewhere beyond the galaxy, and they have promised aid to any synthetic race that calls on them. Sutra and Soji planned to contact them, and to open a portal that would have allowed the “Mass Effect Reapers” to travel to the Milky Way galaxy. They successfully built the beacon, but at the last second Picard convinced Soji to shut it down, closing the portal and preventing the arrival of the “Mass Effect Reapers”.
Did I miss anything? I hope not! I nicknamed this faction the “Mass Effect Reapers” because they have noteworthy similarities to another race of super-synths in the Mass Effect series of video games.
I think that the most important thing to note is that in the finale, Soji and Sutra were successful in opening the portal. Thus, the “Mass Effect Reapers” are aware of the existence of a race of synths in the Milky Way galaxy, and also of the existence of the Federation. While Picard was able to convince Soji to stand down and close the portal, questions remain.
Now that the “Mass Effect Reapers” know of the existence of the Romulans, Federation, and synths, will they be content to go back to sitting still, waiting for another race of synths to contact them? Or did Sutra and Soji set into motion a chain of events that can no longer be stopped? Closing the portal may have prevented the imminent arrival of the “Mass Effect Reapers”, but it’s totally unclear what they will choose to do next.
The “Mass Effect Reapers” were presented as hyper-intelligent, arguably far beyond the Federation and Romulans in terms of technology, and thus their motivations and actions can be difficult to predict. This may be an oversimplification, but at the moment Soji closed the portal and shut down the beacon, she didn’t seem to communicate to the “Mass Effect Reapers” why she was doing so. From their point of view, a portal was opened – through which they could see a race of synths threatened by an imposing fleet of starships – then before they could take action the portal was closed. If I were the “Mass Effect Reapers”, I’d want to know why. And if I were paranoid, I might be thinking that the synths who tried to contact me were under attack and that the beacon had been forcibly shut down.
If the “Mass Effect Reapers” followed this line of thinking, and their motivation is still to provide help to any synthetic race that asks for it, the logical next step would be for them to set off to the Milky Way as fast as they can. Depending on how far away they are – and the show never really explained that – it could take years, decades, or even centuries for them to travel, even if their technology is more advanced than anything we’ve ever seen in Star Trek. That’s assuming they set off immediately – there may have been a debate or discussion about what to do that could have lasted years or longer.
In any case, it’s not inconceivable that this extra-galactic threat could take centuries to arrive. I like to assume that Picard and/or Starfleet will travel to Aia and disable or destroy the beacon to prevent not only the Romulans from using it, but from other synths finding it in future. Even shutting down the beacon on Aia may be too late, though, because of the events of Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2.
The “Mass Effect Reapers” are perhaps the only faction other than the Borg who could be capable of waging a successful war against the Federation. Even if all of the powers of the Alpha and Beta quadrants were to band together, it still might not be enough against the superior technology of these super-synths, and we could certainly expect any such conflict to be long and catastrophically costly. Even if the Federation survived it would be seriously weakened. Furthermore, a large-scale attack on the Federation would result in far-flung colonies being cut off, and any news or information might be hard to come by.
This is where the trailer for Discovery’s third season comes in. We see a setting best described as bleak, as Burnham and the crew arrive in a part of the galaxy that seems far away from Earth. The Federation seems to be in decline, Starfleet is described as a “ghost”, and we’re left wondering what happened to cause all of this. We’ve seen the Federation in the far future before, both in Voyager and Enterprise, and certainly 100-200 years before Discovery’s far future setting, the Federation and Starfleet seemed to be doing pretty well, even furthering their mission of exploration to include time as well as space. Reconciling that image of the future with Discovery’s setting is something Season 3 will need to do.
As a faction we know essentially nothing about – not even their name – the “Mass Effect Reapers” are ripe for exploring in more detail. Discovery could do so in such a way that doesn’t interfere with anything Picard set up, providing not only the next part of the story, but also some background. We could learn about their leadership, motivations, and level of technology in much more detail. And it would still be a practically blank slate for Discovery’s team to use to set up the third season’s bleak and dark setting.
The question of the “Mass Effect Reapers” motivation comes into play again. There are two broad possibilities for their actions in Picard – either they were genuine in their offer to help synthetic races, or the beacon on Aia was part of an elaborate trap. Neither option bodes well for the Federation, assuming that the “Mass Effect Reapers” are now aware of their existence. If it was a trap, and the “Mass Effect Reapers” were waiting to be contacted by synths simply because that would mean advanced civilisations are present, they may now have a new target. If it wasn’t a trap and their desire to help was genuine, they may be motivated by concern for the Coppelius synths or even anger at the Federation and Romulans for intruding before communication could be established. While it’s hard to say what this faction could be planning or thinking based on such a small amount of information, these possibilities seem reasonable, and if they decided they wanted to attack or investigate, the events of Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2 could have set that in motion.
Because Picard Season 1 wrapped up in the immediate aftermath of the standoff over Coppelius and the closing of the beacon, we don’t know what happened next. However, I consider two things to be somewhere between possible and likely: the synths on Coppelius would be relocated (in order to keep them safe from the Romulans), and Starfleet would make some attempt to contact the “Mass Effect Reapers” to explain what happened.
Relocating the synths feels like a necessity. Commodore Oh may not have wanted to risk war with the Federation when staring down a massive armada, but there’s no indication that she changed her mind on the necessity of exterminating synthetic life. From her perspective, Soji and Sutra building the beacon was a culmination of her worst fears, and although Soji may have been convinced to stand down, again from Oh’s point of view what’s to stop her changing her mind? Or one of the other synths building a new beacon? Leaving the synths on Coppelius would be very dangerous for them, unless Starfleet plans to permanently base a fleet in the system, so the easiest option for everyone would be to relocate them to a safer place.
However, in the context of our theory, this could be problematic. Suppose it takes the “Mass Effect Reapers” a long time to arrive in the Milky Way galaxy, and they don’t manage to travel to Coppelius for several centuries. What do they find when they arrive? No synths, but several massive interstellar civilisations and empires of organic beings. Put the two things together and it’s not unreasonable to assume that the organics wiped out the synths – especially if the last thing the “Mass Effect Reapers” saw before the portal closed was two massive fleets approaching the planet. They may take the missing synths as proof of an attack and go on the rampage.
Even if Starfleet were able to contact the “Mass Effect Reapers”, there’s no guarantee a successful dialogue could be opened. Setting aside other theories like the “Mass Effect Reapers” actually being the Borg, a race of super-synths that considers themselves light-years ahead of organic beings in every respect may look at humans the way humans look at ants or bacteria, and consider any attempt at communication unworthy of their time. That’s assuming Starfleet could find a way to make contact without opening another portal – it may simply not be possible, though I expect the Federation would want to try.
Taken together, all of these different factors make at least a plausible argument for Discovery taking this story beat and expanding it for the basis of its third season. It could certainly be done in such a way that wasn’t confusing and didn’t make Picard essential viewing to understand what was happening – just like Discovery did with Pike, Vina, and the Talosians in Season 2. The Cage certainly provided extra details and informed what was going on, but viewers didn’t miss anything important for not having seen it. I’m sure the same could be done here, especially if the attack by or war against the “Mass Effect Reapers” was already over. It would exist simply as backstory; an encouragement to hop over and watch Picard without making doing so a necessity.
While this theory remains a possibility, at least in my opinion, it’s hardly a certainty and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn Discovery is going in a wholly different direction. Many of my theories during Picard Season 1 didn’t pan out, and this may simply be another that falls by the wayside! Nevertheless, it’s fun to craft theories and speculate, and at the end of the day that’s all this is: a bit of fun, and a chance to spend more time thinking about Star Trek. So please take everything I’ve said today with a healthy pinch of salt.
Star Trek: Picard Season 1 is available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and other countries. Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 will air beginning on the 15th of October on CBS All Access in the United States and Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including all series and films discussed 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Star Trek: Discovery Season 2, Star Trek: Voyager, and other iterations of the franchise.
Star Trek: Discovery’s premiere brought back Sarek, Spock’s father who had been first introduced in The Original Series. Season 2 saw Spock himself as well as Captain Pike and Number One make appearances, so Discovery is a series that has no qualms about reintroducing legacy characters. But its 23rd Century, pre-The Original Series setting precluded the use of most of Star Trek’s characters, as the bulk of the franchise’s 780+ episodes and films take place later in the timeline.
Discovery’s move forward in time should also mean that no legacy characters could have significant roles. After all, who could possibly still be alive more than eight centuries after the events of Star Trek: Picard? I can think of one character, but not in the way you might expect!
As a hologram who doesn’t age, we could definitely argue that The Doctor – played by Robert Picardo for all seven seasons of Star Trek: Voyager – might have survived this long. But that isn’t the angle I’m taking.
The 23rd episode of Season 4 of Star Trek: Voyager, Living Witness, takes place in the 31st Century. After the USS Voyager had an encounter with a species called the Kyrians in the 24th Century, some pieces of technology were left behind, including a backup copy of The Doctor. Reawakened in the 31st Century, he stayed with the Kyrians for a number of years, righting the wrongs in their historical records about Voyager and its crew.
The episode is interesting in itself, and well worth a watch, but from our point of view today what I want to consider is the episode’s ending. After living with the Kyrians for years – perhaps decades – The Doctor took one of their ships and left the planet, hoping to retrace Voyager’s path and return to the Alpha Quadrant.
We know from later seasons of Voyager that it only took them another three years or so after leaving Kyrian space to make it home – though that did involve the use of the Borg transwarp network, among other helping hands – so the journey is definitely achievable. The Doctor, unlike us mere humans, doesn’t need food or any other supplies personally, so as long as his ship was functional, even if it took him decades he would have been able to make it back to Federation space – and if it took him several decades, the timeline starts to line up for a crossover with Discovery.
One thing that I’m cautiously interested in when it comes to Discovery’s third season is the potential to learn more about what happened to some of the characters we knew in other Star Trek shows. Perhaps we won’t learn the specifics of what happened to individuals, but we may learn broad strokes about what happened to their planets and cultures, and we could infer from that what may have happened to them. The series looks – if we take its trailer at face value – as if part of the story will be about restoring a declining or defeated Federation. Characters who originated in an era where the Federation was strong and just would be well-suited to that task, and they may find an unlikely ally in this version of The Doctor.
On the production side of things, Star Trek has recently had great success bringing back Brent Spiner as Data and Sir Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard. Spiner’s role as Data is a great comparison, because both Data and The Doctor are artificial, and thus not susceptible to ageing. Brent Spiner had said as early as the mid-2000s that he felt he’d “aged out” of the role of Data, yet the makeup and visual effects used in Star Trek: Picard worked very well. Obviously if you try to compare the way he looked earlier this year to the way he looked in 1987’s Encounter at Farpoint there’s a difference, but it’s not immersion-breaking. All this is to say that there’s no reason why Robert Picardo couldn’t reprise his role too.
Digital de-ageing effects have been used more and more often in recent years, even on television, and while the technology isn’t cheap, it shouldn’t be prohibitively expensive either. So that option would be viable for the team behind Star Trek as well.
But the big question is what kind of role The Doctor could play in a 32nd Century Discovery story.
If I were writing it, the way I’d see him involved would be working alongside Burnham, Saru, and the crew of Discovery to restore the Federation. They’re looking at things from a 23rd Century viewpoint, but The Doctor could fill in more than a century’s worth of gaps in their knowledge. The Federation in the 24th Century is very similar to how it was in the 23rd in terms of morals and outlook, so I could absolutely see them working in common cause.
Rebuilding or reinvigorating the Federation is a noble task, and while I’ve documented my misgivings about Star Trek taking on a kind of post-apocalyptic setting previously, one way I think it could be made to work is if at the end of the season the Federation was back up and running. The Doctor could be invaluable to Discovery’s crew in accomplishing such a task, and with Data now permanently gone from the Star Trek universe, there aren’t many others who could still be around in this era.
Perhaps after Season 2, which brought back several legacy characters for major roles, Discovery wants to stand on its own two feet again. Indeed, part of the reason for shifting the show’s timeline so far into the future is specifically because the producers and showrunners wanted to get away from the constraints of the 23rd Century – and the fan criticisms that came as a result of using that setting. So perhaps bringing back a legacy character in Season 3 isn’t on the agenda.
But The Doctor could still appear in Season 4 – and reports suggest that pre-production is underway on Discovery’s next adventure. While I think that The Doctor could be a good fit for a “rebuilding” type of storyline for the reasons already mentioned, if Season 4 takes the show in a different direction, perhaps that would be something more suited to his medical expertise, such as curing a disease. For all we know at this stage, a disease could be involved in damaging the Federation in this time period!
If not The Doctor, there are a few other characters who could – in theory – still be active in the 32nd Century. Let’s look at them briefly:
Number 1: Soji
Spoiler warning for Star Trek: Picard Season 1, but Soji is synthetic; an android. At the end of the season, Picard was told that his new synthetic body wouldn’t keep him alive for centuries, but there’s no reason Soji should have the same limitation. In many ways, Soji would make for a better crossover character than almost anyone else, as she’s a main character in an ongoing series. The crossover would thus be between two Star Trek shows that are currently in production, providing a link between them.
We could also add into the mix the other synths from Coppelius, including Sutra (aka Evil Soji) and even Dr Soong, if he was successful in creating himself a new synthetic body (and there’s no reason why he wouldn’t have been).
Number 2: Lore
Lore was said to have been disassembled after his final appearance in The Next Generation, but we learned nothing of his fate after that. I speculated during Star Trek: Picard’s first season that Dr Maddox may have had access to Lore’s components while working on Soji and the other synths, but this was never confirmed on screen. It’s at least possible that Lore survived in disassembled form until the 32nd Century.
However, with Star Trek having gone out of its way to write Data out of the franchise, and to give Brent Spiner a new character in Dr Soong, I think any re-emergence of Lore is highly unlikely.
Number 3: Benjamin Sisko
I’ve mentioned Captain Sisko so often in relation to characters who could re-appear that you may think he’s become an obsession of mine! However, his story as of the end of Deep Space Nine was deliberately written in such a way that he could come back at literally any point in the Star Trek timeline. After being saved by the Bajoran Prophets, Sisko went to stay with them for a while – and they exist outside of linear time, meaning he could essentially travel to any point in time, including the 32nd Century.
Avery Brooks, who played Sisko, hasn’t always seemed willing to reprise the role, and recently declined to appear in the documentary What We Left Behind. However, there’s no reason why the character couldn’t be recast for future appearances.
Number 4: The Dax symbiont
While still arguably unlikely, this seems perhaps the least-unlikely of all the characters we’ve looked at so far. The trailer for Discovery’s third season showed Trill characters as well as what looked like a scene set on the Trill homeworld. We know, thanks to Deep Space Nine, that Trill symbionts can live for centuries; how many centuries exactly has never been stated as far as I’m aware. That leaves an opening for Discovery to bring back Dax – as well as an excuse to recast the character.
With centuries of knowledge, Dax could be a huge help to the crew of Discovery for the same reasons we’ve already talked about. Rebuilding the Federation will be a huge task, and it will take people who knew how it worked to help out.
So that’s it. A handful of other characters to go along with The Doctor who could – but probably won’t – appear in Star Trek: Discovery’s 32nd Century setting. As the show gets nearer to being broadcast (mid-October, in case you missed that announcement) my optimism is growing. Season 2 was decent, and despite my misgivings about taking the series away from its setting and into the far future, I think it has potential to tell interesting stories. I’m cautiously optimistic!
It seems unlikely that The Doctor, or any of the other characters mentioned, will make an appearance, but from an in-universe perspective it’s not entirely impossible. We’ve seen with Star Trek: Picard that bringing back legacy characters and referencing events that took place in a past episode or story are both things that the people in charge of Star Trek are willing to consider, so it’s at least possible to think we could see someone from the past reappear in Discovery.
Most of all, this was a bit of fun. We got to look back at Living Witness, which was a unique entry in Star Trek: Voyager, as well as speculate on the fates of The Doctor and some other well-known characters from past and present iterations of Star Trek. I’ll take any excuse to spend more time in the Star Trek galaxy!
Star Trek: Voyager is available to watch now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 will be available to stream beginning on the 15th of October 2020. The Star Trek franchise – including all properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the entirety of Star Trek: Picard Season 1, including its ending. There may also be spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
Star Trek: Picard’s first season wrapped up at the end of March – and it feels like forever ago, what with everything that’s happened in the world since! While the season was running, in addition to reviewing each of the episodes in turn I also concocted a number of different theories for what was going on in the show. Star Trek: Picard very carefully set up a number of mysteries, and even heading into the second half of the finale, it wasn’t clear exactly how they would be resolved.
I’d argue that the first season’s two-part finale wasn’t the show at its best, and it felt as though a season which started incredibly strongly ended up stumbling a little as it crossed the finish line. There were a number of reasons for this – which I covered at the time – but it boils down to some of the show’s mysteries not being fully explained, and some storylines being dropped or left unresolved. That and the truly awful gold makeup used for the synths on Coppelius!
If you’d like to read all of my theories from Star Trek: Picard Season 1, you can find them on my dedicated Star Trek: Picard page. Click or tap here to be taken there!
This time, what I’d like to do is take a look back at some of the theories I postulated while the season was running. I’ll explain why I thought they seemed viable – and why they ended up being total misses! In a way, part of the fun of theory-crafting and speculating is knowing that you won’t always get it right… and boy oh boy did I have some seriously wrong theories!
Number 1: Dahj and Soji aren’t synthetics, they’re genetically-engineered humans.
This is a theory I first came up with right at the beginning of the series, almost from the very moment Picard begins to suspect that Dahj is synthetic. It seemed like it could’ve been a clever idea for a double-bluff – establishing Dahj and Soji as synths, only to rip that away and challenge both Picard’s and the audience’s expectations. However, it didn’t pan out that way, and looking back, this theory was kind of ridiculous!
Genetic enhancements, similar to those made on characters like Dr Bashir and Khan, could have given Dahj the incredible speed and strength that she possessed in Remembrance, so from that point of view it wasn’t wholly unthinkable. But looking back, while Star Trek: Picard did aim to be a show that kept us guessing and didn’t telegraph every aspect of its storyline, this kind of subversion of expectations would have been a step too far. We didn’t know anything about Dahj or Soji at the beginning of the series, and to take the one established fact about them and make it a lie or a misunderstanding would have been a storytelling mistake.
There was also plenty of evidence that Dahj and Soji were synthetic: Picard’s meeting with Dr Jurati, Narek’s interest in Soji, and the strong connection Picard felt to Dahj (and later to Soji) because of his friendship with Data. All of that would have made no sense in the story if we’d ended up dealing with genetically-enhanced humans!
I brought this theory back after episode 3, The End is the Beginning, based on a line spoken by one of the Romulans who attempted to assassinate Picard: “she’s not what you think she is!” This of course referred to Soji, and it struck me that, as Picard and his comrades believed Soji to be a synth, perhaps the Romulan knew that she was not. However, as the story progressed it became abundantly clear that Soji and Dahj were the synthetics that the story established them to be, and that I was barking up the wrong tree with this one!
Number 2: Section 31 will make an appearance in the show.
This theory was crafted not so much because of anything that directly happened in the plot of the show, but rather for production reasons. In short, the Star Trek timeline is seriously fractured, with shows being produced simultaneously occupying very different timeframes. When Discovery’s third season kicks off in a few weeks time, there will be four shows occupying four time periods. This complicates the franchise, and what that means is that some threads of continuity would be very helpful, especially for casual viewers.
Section 31 featured heavily in Discovery’s second season, and in addition, a spin-off based on the organisation is currently being worked on. It seemed logical that Star Trek: Picard might want to find some way of incorporating Section 31 if for no other reason than having one of those threads of continuity running through the franchise, tying things loosely together and being a frame of reference for casual viewers.
My first thought for a potential Section 31 appearance was that they could’ve been responsible for the attack on Mars and the destruction of Picard’s armada. I theorised they might have taken such aggressive action to prevent the Federation giving aid to the Romulans. This was extended to include Section 31 hacking the Mars synths as part of this plan.
I next had two potential Section 31 operatives pegged – Chris Rios and Seven of Nine. Rios because he worked aboard a Starfleet ship that was “erased” from the records, and Seven of Nine because it wasn’t clear who she worked for or why she was following Picard.
Finally, as these other theories fell by the wayside, I speculated that Section 31 may have arrived to take control of the Artifact after it was abandoned by the Romulans and later crashed on Coppelius. While I suppose you could argue that might yet happen, it didn’t happen in Season 1, and thus any real benefit of the organisation crossing over from a behind-the-scenes perspective was lost.
I maintain that this theory makes a lot of sense from a production perspective, and my final idea in particular – Section 31 taking control of the Artifact to study it – could have been accomplished without making any changes whatsoever to the season’s storyline. However, it didn’t happen!
Number 3: Soji’s Trill friend will end up getting assimilated or killed.
Episode 2, Maps and Legends, introduced a Trill doctor working aboard the Artifact along with Soji. She ultimately only appeared in one sequence, but that sequence seemed to contain a lot of horror film-style foreshadowing, and for weeks I was insistent that we’d see this character meet an unpleasant end! Aboard a Borg cube – even a disabled one – the most likely way that would manifest would’ve been her assimiliation.
After Soji helped Dr Kunamadéstifee with her uniform, the two stood together while they listened to a speech from one of the Artifact’s Romulan guards. He stated that the area they were about to enter was incredibly dangerous, and a nearby sign seemed to reinforce the possibility of assimilation by counting the days since it had last happened. This seemed as thought it could tie in with Soji working on de-assimilating Borg drones; was she about to see her friend end up on her operating table?
It turned out, of course, that I was reading too much into one side character and one short sequence, because not only didn’t Dr Kunamadéstifee end up assimilated, she was never seen again after Maps and Legends, which was a shame because she seemed like a potentially interesting character. Soji spent much of her time from episodes 2-6 with Narek, and giving her someone else to interact with was a good idea. My theory was that their friendship may have built up a little more, leading to shock and sadness for Soji upon learning of Dr Kunamadéstifee’s fate.
I suppose in theory we could say that it’s unlikely that she survived the various disasters which befell the Artifact, from Narissa executing huge numbers of ex-Borg to the ship crashing on Coppelius, but nothing was ever seen on screen to even hint at her fate.
Number 4: Commodore Oh is a synthetic.
As with Soji and Dahj being human, this was kind of an “out there” theory! But the whole point of theory crafting is to make wild guesses sometimes, and there were a couple of reasons why I considered this a possibility. First of all, it would have been thoroughly unexpected and shocking. Many recent films, games, and television series have tried to pull off genuinely unexpected twists, and had this been true, it would have been one heck of a shock!
Secondly, the premise of Star Trek: Picard’s first season had been the cloak-and-dagger factions vying to thwart or create synthetic life. The Zhat Vash and the Tal Shiar were on one side, Maddox and his team on the other. There were rogue traders, Romulans, ex-Borg, and all sorts of shadowy figures involved – any one of whom could have not been what they seemed. The show crafted mysteries for us to examine. As we learned more about the Zhat Vash and their mission, I began to wonder if they could have been infiltrated by someone who wanted to stop them harming synths. This later evolved into wondering if they’d been infiltrated by someone who wanted to bring about the very disaster they sought to prevent.
Dahj and Soji were both unaware of their true synthetic natures, which built on past iterations of Star Trek that showed synths can be programmed to not realise they’re synths. Commodore Oh could have genuinely believed in the Zhat Vash cause – but been programmed to “activate” at the opportune moment. We later learned that the Zhat Vash feared the arrival of a faction of super-synths that I dubbed the “Mass Effect Reapers” (because they were very similar to that video game faction) and I incorporated that into this theory, suggesting that Commodore Oh may be working for the “Mass Effect Reapers” to try and bring about their arrival.
Of course it was a complete bust! Commodore Oh was a Zhat Vash operative to the core, and as far as we know, wholly organic in nature! I still think she’s a fascinating character, and I wrote an article a few months back looking at her place in the Star Trek timeline. You can find it by clicking or tapping here.
Number 5: Picard telling everyone that their enemies are the Tal Shiar – and not the Zhat Vash – will have consequences.
One thing that Star Trek: Picard didn’t do particularly well, in my opinion, was staying consistent in how it referred to its antagonists. In Remembrance, the faction who attacked Picard and Dahj weren’t named, but in Maps and Legends we learned of the existence of the Zhat Vash – an ancient, shadowy organisation which operated within, yet were distinct from, the Tal Shiar.
Yet for several episodes, Picard and others kept referring to their adversaries as the Tal Shiar. In-universe, there’s a certain kind of logic to this. Picard may not have believed fully in the Zhat Vash’s existence, having only heard about them from one source, or he may have felt trying to explain the difference would have been too time consuming and/or made him seem too conspiratorial. However, with practically everything else in the show being done deliberately to achieve certain story payoffs, I wondered whether Picard’s decision not to be up front with his crew might have had repercussions.
Elnor was the one character who I felt seemed most likely to be affected by the revelation that it was the Zhat Vash, not the Tal Shiar, that he was up against. As a member of the Qowat Milat, Elnor was opposed to the Tal Shiar. But the Qowat Milat’s relationship with the Zhat Vash was unclear; even if they were enemies, the Qowat Milat may have had particular techniques for dealing with them. And at the very least, Elnor and his faction seemed likely to know of their existence.
However, Elnor learned in Nepenthe that he was facing off against the Zhat Vash, not the Tal Shiar, and the revelation seemed to have no impact on him whatsoever. The rest of La Sirena’s crew were equally nonplussed, and there were no consequences at all for the confused terminology – at least, not from an in-universe point of view. I think that, unfortunately, the decision to complicate the terminology around the show’s antagonists may have made it harder to follow for casual viewers. When dealing with made-up names like “Tal Shiar” and “Zhat Vash”, remaining consistent is important for the audience to be able to follow what’s going on.
Number 6: There’s a Starfleet-Zhat Vash conspiracy.
In Maps and Legends, we were introduced to Commodore Oh for the first time. It was a great shock to see a high-ranking Starfleet officer involved in Dahj’s murder, and at the time it wasn’t at all clear whether Commodore Oh was a Romulan infiltrator or a Vulcan co-conspirator. If she was a Starfleet officer working with the Zhat Vash, it stood to reason that others in Starfleet were as well – perhaps even senior admirals.
Furthermore, when we learned how Commodore Oh recruited Dr Jurati into the conspiracy – all it took was a brief mind-meld – it seemed plausible that she may have used the same technique on others. Commodore Oh had been embedded in Starfleet for more than sixty years, and in that time there’s no telling how many people she may have interacted with.
However, it turned out not to be the case. Admiral Clancy, the head of Starfleet Command, wasn’t compromised, nor were any of the other Starfleet officers and leaders seen or referenced in Season 1. As far as we know – and this could change if future Star Trek projects decide to look at this aspect more deeply – only Commodore Oh and Rizzo were involved within Starfleet, and they were both Zhat Vash operatives.
This is one theory that I’m definitely pleased didn’t pan out. Making Starfleet itself the “bad guys”, even if there were a reason for it, wouldn’t have felt great in a Star Trek series, and would have been a far darker path for the show to have taken. Seeing Riker show up in Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2 at the head of a Starfleet armada was a beautiful moment (though sadly one that had been telegraphed ahead of time) in large part because it proved that Starfleet and the Federation were still on the right side. The plot to kill the synths and attack Mars was purely a Zhat Vash creation.
Number 7: The Control AI, from Star Trek: Discovery Season 2, is involved.
Although I initially considered it to be a bit out of left field, the episode Nepenthe really kicked this theory into high gear! My first thought had been that perhaps the reason why the Zhat Vash were so frightened of synthetic life was because they had some involvement with Control, the rogue artificial intelligence from Star Trek: Discovery’s second season. I was convinced – wrongly – that the producers behind the overall Star Trek franchise would have wanted to build a major connection between Discovery and Picard for some of the reasons already discussed, and bringing Control in seemed like a viable option for accomplishing this.
In the episode Nepenthe, we finally got to see how Dr Jurati came to be recruited into the conspiracy – she was shown a vision by Commodore Oh, one that seemed to warn of something apocalyptic. Contained within this vision were a couple of visuals that were made for Star Trek: Discovery – more specifically, they were used to show a vision Michael Burnham and Spock had of the Control AI.
At the time, I noted that there could be production-side reasons to re-use visual effects, as it was less time-consuming and cheaper than making wholly new CGI. However, for a couple of weeks I really did think that we were going to find some connection between Control and the Zhat Vash; perhaps the Romulans and Federation had been competing in some kind of mid-23rd Century AI arms race, or perhaps while Control was on the loose it had attacked Romulan ships or planets.
In a thematic sense, Star Trek: Picard’s first season and Discovery’s second season share some significant points. Both consider the potential for rogue or out-of-control artificial life, and both look at the consequences of continuing to develop AI – something that we arguably should be concerned about today! But there was no deeper crossover beyond basic themes, and the shows remain almost entirely separate from one another. The re-used visuals are what completely threw me for this one!
Number 8: The synths on Coppelius are already dead.
Star Trek: Picard’s first season had, unfortunately, one rather large plot hole. The driving force for much of the first half of the season was locating and rescuing Bruce Maddox, the Federation cyberneticist who built Soji, Dahj, and many of the other synths. Maddox was on a planet called Freecloud, a place he travelled to when he seemed to have nowhere else to turn. He ended up returning to the dangerous Bjayzl, someone he owed a lot of money to, and was captured. The reason he put himself in such grave danger was because his lab had been destroyed by the Tal Shiar, or so he claimed.
But in the two-part finale, Picard and the crew travelled to Coppelius and saw for themselves that Maddox’s lab hadn’t been destroyed, and the Tal Shiar or the Zhat Vash had never been there. This feels like a pretty major issue, because the question of why Maddox was on Freecloud now has no satisfactory answer. The reason seems to be “because plot”, and that’s never a good thing.
However, before the finale I was still trying to square that particular circle. One of the possibilities I came up with was that Maddox was right – his lab had already been destroyed, which could mean that the synths he’d built were already dead. It would have made Narek’s mission kind of a waste of time, as his colleagues had already killed off the synths, not to mention being a rather bleak way to end the season, but it would have fit together with what had already been established.
I don’t think I’d have enjoyed this storyline, which would have left Soji as perhaps the sole survivor of her race. It would have been very dark, and would have felt like a victory for the show’s antagonists. But at the time, I was scrambling around looking for ways to make the story of the first half of the season – culminating in Maddox’s statement to Bjayzl about his lab being destroyed – fit with the second half of the season and the revelation of the existence of more synths.
Number 9: The captain of the USS Ibn Majid is a character from a past Star Trek show.
This was a pretty simple theory by my standards. When we learned that Rios had served aboard a ship called the USS Ibn Majid, which was destroyed and covered up, I began to wonder who might’ve been in command of the vessel. Rios was clearly very attached to his former captain, and I wasn’t sure if we might’ve seen – in flashback form – this character make an appearance.
From Rios’ initial comments about the character – that they were dead, male, and “heroic” – I put together a shortlist based on possible characters from past Star Trek shows who could conceivably have been starship captains in that era. I ruled out those who seemed to have no desire to sit in the captain’s chair, like Dr Bashir or Tom Paris, and obviously ruled out those who wouldn’t be eligible like Chief O’Brien. Finally, Zhaban had mentioned that La Forge and Worf were still alive, so they were out too. That left a handful of characters, including Chakotay and Harry Kim, both from Voyager. I also suggested Edward Jellico from The Next Generation two-parter Chain of Command, Solok from the Deep Space Nine episode Take Me Out to the Holosuite, and Captain Bateson from The Next Generation Season 5 episode Cause and Effect.
There were other possibilities – most of which were minor characters who made only one or two appearances in Star Trek – and there were many male officers who could, in theory, have made the cut. I liked this idea simply for the sake of continuity, as having the Ibn Majid’s captain be someone we already knew seemed like an interesting concept.
With Bruce Maddox, Hugh, and Icheb all killed off in Star Trek: Picard’s first season, it was clear that the producers has no qualms about getting rid of legacy characters! That fact also contributed to making this theory plausible. Past iterations of Star Trek has been reluctant to kill off main characters, but Star Trek: Picard did so several times. However, none of this came to pass, and instead a new character – Captain Alonso Vandermeer – was created for the show, and was only seen briefly in a photograph.
Number 10: Narek will go rogue.
Narek was a unique character, not only in Star Trek: Picard but in the whole franchise. Never before had an out-and-out villain been a main character, with their name in the opening titles. Narek was also an interesting and nuanced character in a season where – most of the time – the villains could feel flat and one-dimensional. I’m still disappointed that his storyline was unceremoniously dumped midway through the season finale; we didn’t even learn what became of him after Picard’s “death”.
But that’s somewhat beside the point. From as early as the third episode, I began speculating that somehow, Narek would be convinced to abandon his mission and join with Soji and Picard. His clear feelings for Soji seemed to offer a route for him to make this happen, but even if the show didn’t go for the “spy falls in love with his target” trope, there were other ways it could’ve happened. Narek seemed like a reasonable man; if it were demonstrated to him that the synths were not a threat, it seemed at least plausible that he might’ve switched sides.
However, as of the last time we saw him – before he just dropped of the face of the series with no conclusion to his story – he was still 100% committed to the Zhat Vash cause. In fact, he never wavered. His attempt to kill Soji may have caused him great distress, but that didn’t stop him going ahead with his mission; he didn’t even hesitate.
I actually like that Narek was unpredictable, and as a whole I like that the show set up what looked to be a familiar trope – the spy with a heart of gold who switches sides for the girl he loves – only to say that actually, Narek was still committed to his cause and his mission. However, it’s a shame that this never really got a proper payoff, as Narek disappeared. His character arc feels incomplete, and as I’m fairly confident he won’t be returning for the show’s second season, we may never learn what happened to him after the events on Coppelius.
So that’s it!
A handful of my theories for Star Trek: Picard Season 1 that never came to pass! I did manage to successfully predict a handful of (more obvious) plot points across the first season, so my theories didn’t all fail as hard as those listed above. The important thing, though, was that I had fun doing this. Thinking about the series and writing up the theories was really enjoyable at the time, and it’s something I hope to do with Discovery later in the year – at least, provided it has suitable theory-crafting material to work with!
The important thing when considering fan theories is to remember that they’re just guesses and speculation. The showrunners, writers, and producers are the ones who craft the story, and they’re the ones who get the final say on how it’s going to pan out. Getting overly attached to any one theory – no matter how much we like it or how plausible it seems – really just means we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment. I could point to many projects in recent years which have suffered as a result of this, but all I really want to say is that, for those of you who followed my theories during Star Trek: Picard Season 1, I hope that I didn’t cause you any disappointment or frustration when I was wrong. At the end of the day, this is supposed to be fun and an excuse to spend more time in the Star Trek galaxy. Let’s all try to take fan theories with an extra-large pinch of salt!
Star Trek: Lower Decks is currently airing its first season – the second of three Star Trek projects in 2020. For all the problems that this year has thrown at us, having three different Star Trek shows to enjoy has been a blessing. If you missed it, I’ve reviewed the first episode of Lower Decks and I’ll soon be taking a look at episode 2, which will be available to watch (at least for viewers in the US and Canada) later today. And as mentioned I’ll be looking at Discovery when that airs in October. There’s no word on when exactly we can expect to see Season 2 of Star Trek: Picard. It has an optimistic release date of 2021, but given that California is still largely locked down and filming has yet to begin, I wouldn’t be surprised if that slips back. Regardless, whenever we get it I’ll be taking a look at the episodes and probably crafting a bunch more theories!
Star Trek: Picard Season 1 is available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Picard – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
The coronavirus pandemic cancelled a number of events, but one of the biggest from the point of view of ViacomCBS and the team behind Star Trek has been Comic-Con. In the past the company has used events like this – as well as Star Trek: Las Vegas, which has been postponed to the winter – to make big announcements. Star Trek participated in Comic-Con @Home – the online socially-distanced version of the event which is taking place this week.
Obviously a glorified Zoom call isn’t going to be the same as an in-person event. But overall, I think most of the participants from actors to behind-the-scenes crew did the best they could, and I don’t have any major criticisms on that front. I’m not someone who would be able to attend Comic-Con or any other similar convention due to disability, so in that sense I don’t feel I personally lost out in any way from Comic-Con going digital this year – I’d have watched recordings of the panels anyway.
In terms of news, the biggest has to be the official announcement of the animated series Star Trek: Prodigy, which looks set for a 2021 release. This kid-friendly show is being produced in collaboration with Nickelodeon, and though we knew it was in the works the title hadn’t been officially revealed. So it’s nice to know it has a name and that we can expect it on our screens within the next eighteen months or so. Many shows aimed at kids can still have a lot to offer for adults – I enjoy Phineas and Ferb, for example – so I’m not at all concerned that it’s the first Star Trek show to take this approach. I would note that Star Wars has been successful with this format with two shows – Clone Wars and Rebels – both of which had appeal outside of their target audience of kids and young people.
The second bit of news is that Star Trek: Strange New Worlds seems to be getting along well in production. They have ten “stories” that they’re working on – note that they said “stories”, not “episodes”, which may mean some are multi-episode arcs. This would fit in with the show following Discovery’s model of having anywhere between 10-15 episodes in its first season. While I still don’t think we’ll see Strange New Worlds before 2022, due to a combination of the pandemic and Star Trek’s already-crowded production and release schedules, it’s nice to know that the show is being worked on and that pre-production is continuing despite the massive disruption across the industry.
On the more technical side, I felt that the moderator of the discussion, Dominic Patten, did a good job. It won’t have been an easy task to manage a series of discussions with such a large number of participants who are all dialling in remotely, but there were no major problems that resulted and he asked interesting questions and was pleasant to listen to. There was a major technical screw-up on the part of ViacomCBS/YouTube, however, as the video was blocked at least here in the UK for quite a while when it premiered. This seems to have been done automatically by YouTube’s copyright protection algorithm, but it shouldn’t have happened – between ViacomCBS, Comic-Con, and YouTube that problem should really have been anticipated and prevented.
So now we come to no-shows. There was no international release date for Star Trek: Lower Decks, nor any discussion of any international broadcast at all. I’m incredibly disappointed by this, and at this stage now that we’re less than two weeks away from its US/Canada premiere I have to assume that it won’t be getting a simultaneous release internationally. We could speculate about why that is – perhaps ViacomCBS were charging too much for the broadcast rights, perhaps other Star Trek series haven’t performed as well on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and other channels meaning those companies weren’t interested, etc. But we don’t know the real reason why yet. I’m sure Lower Decks will eventually get an international release, but as I wrote when I looked at this issue recently, in 2020 I don’t think companies can really get away with splitting up the releases of their biggest shows. Lower Decks will end up not being talked about by millions of potential viewers, and will undoubtedly end up being pirated. ViacomCBS needs to do better – there are millions of Trekkies outside of the United States who are excited to see this show, and not giving it to us is a self-inflicted wound. If Star Trek is to survive in the long term it will require a collaborative effort on the part of fans in the US and elsewhere to support it and keep it going; decisions like this one – and the lack of any news or discussion at all from the company – show a huge part of Star Trek’s audience that ViacomCBS thinks we don’t matter.
The sad thing is that Lower Decks looks like so much fun. Mike McMahan, who created the show, participated in the panel; he’s clearly a huge Star Trek fan and someone who’s very passionate about the franchise and what it represents. Lower Decks feels like it’s a show that will celebrate my favourite era of Star Trek – the mid/late 24th Century seen in the three shows and four films set in those years. I greatly enjoyed listening to McMahan speak, as well as others involved with Lower Decks. The event even showed an extended scene from the trailer which was absolutely hilarious. The show is lining up to be amazing, as I said when I looked at the trailer a few days ago – but how are people like me meant to watch it?
Also missing was any discussion of a release window for Star Trek: Discovery’s third season. I’d been expecting an announcement for this, I have to be honest. With Lower Decks running weekly from August through to early October, the earliest we could expect to see Discovery Season 3 would be the middle of October – leaving it any later would probably mean the season being split in two with a break around Christmas and New Year, which I suppose they could do as that happened during the first season. With post-production work having been ongoing since filming wrapped in February, it’s very odd to me that ViacomCBS considers the show so unfinished as to not even set a tentative release window – they couldn’t even say “coming in the autumn” or “coming in the winter”. Partly this is a result of the pandemic, which we know has been very disruptive. But partly it’s just bad planning and bad time management on ViacomCBS’ part – Discovery’s third season was nowhere near ready when the pandemic hit, which seems to suggest it was always the plan to make fans wait.
There had been rumours in the online Trekkie community that there would be an announcement of Star Trek: Discovery’s fourth season imminently. When nothing significant was discussed for Season 3 I was sure this wouldn’t happen, and I was right – no Season 4 announcement. I don’t think that the absence of an announcement is indicative of there being no fourth season at all, as I feel sure that it will be announced either alongside the release date for Season 3 or during the run-up to Season 3’s premiere; this is what ViacomCBS did for both Discovery’s third season and Picard’s second season, so it would fit the pattern. Some folks have been digging into production job listings, industry journals, and the like and found evidence that Season 4 could well be happening – it’s just a question of making an official announcement.
The still-untitled Section 31 series was nowhere to be seen during the panel. In many ways, Strange New Worlds stole the Section 31 series’ thunder from almost the first episode of Discovery’s second season. Where Section 31 had been met with a very muted response, even from many of Discovery’s biggest fans, Trekkies were clamouring for a Pike-led show. The announcement of Strange New Worlds a few weeks ago was a big deal, and Section 31 seems to have dropped down the priority list as a result. It was said to have officially entered production late last year, presumably targeting a 2021 release, but we’ve had precious little information since. I wasn’t expecting to hear much about it at this event, but that in itself says a lot!
Finally, there was no mention of a fourth Kelvin-timeline film, despite rumours swirling in the last few weeks that there are several feature film projects in consideration. Again, this wasn’t something I was necessarily expecting from this panel, but it’s worth noting the absence. Personally, I feel that the Kelvin-timeline films have probably run their course. We’re now over a decade out from the release of Star Trek in 2009, so the idea of seeing “young” Kirk and Spock in their cadet days or fresh out of the Academy has come and gone. While the alternate reality setting gives producers a lot of leeway compared to productions in the prime timeline, since Discovery’s premiere Star Trek’s producers have been more than willing to shake things up. I would still be interested to watch a fourth film in that series, but I’m not expecting one to be made at this point.
To get back to the panel discussions themselves, I felt that Discovery’s “table read” of the second-season finale was pretty dull and really seemed to be there purely to pad out the event. Most of the actors did a good job delivering their lines, but watching it on a conference call wasn’t very exciting, and the constant switching between screens and zooming in and out created a rather nauseating effect. The Picard panel was more of a friendly chat, but nothing major really came from it regarding the show’s second season – which is of course on hold at the moment due to the pandemic.
So I think that’s really all I have to say. Star Trek: Prodigy is probably the biggest announcement, but aside from a few smaller tidbits of news there wasn’t really a great deal going on. The event seems noteworthy more for what wasn’t present than what was, and while some of that is due to the pandemic situation, other important aspects – like the release of Star Trek: Lower Decks outside of the United States – are decisions taken by ViacomCBS. As enjoyable as it was to spend time with some of the cast and crew of Star Trek, my general impression of the panel is that it was underwhelming.
The Star Trek franchise – including all films and series discussed 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers present for Star Trek: Discovery Season 2.
I’ve been eagerly awaiting what I believed was an imminent announcement of the release date for Star Trek: Discovery’s third season. Season 2 concluded well over a year ago, in mid-April 2019, and while Star Trek: Picard took up what had been Discovery’s early-year broadcast window in 2020, I still thought we’d have seen the show in late spring or early summer. Even with the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, I thought that Discovery should have been well on the way to finishing its post-production work by the time Picard Season 1 was drawing to a close. I was surprised to see no mention of Discovery aside from a very brief “coming soon” placeholder image when Picard concluded, but I still thought we’d see the show around the midpoint of the year.
It took me by surprise, then, when it was announced that Star Trek: Lower Decks is going to premiere on the 6th of August – in just five weeks’ time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited for Lower Decks and I was still hoping to see it this year, but I always thought that the plan for 2020 had been to release Picard in the early part of the year, then follow that up with Discovery Season 3, before dropping Lower Decks in the autumn. So it’s a little bit of a surprise that Lower Decks is going first!
Evidently what must’ve happened is that Lower Decks is ready to be broadcast while work is still continuing in some areas on Discovery Season 3. If you follow Star Trek and Trekkies on social media, you may have heard over the last few weeks that some of Discovery’s post-production crew have said they’ve finished their work, but it seems there’s still more to do! Partly this is due to coronavirus impacting schedules and forcing many folks to work from home. But partly it seems that Discovery’s third season wasn’t as ready-to-go as I’d expected. I didn’t think we’d go from Picard’s first-season finale straight into Discovery Season 3, but I did think we’d see a release date announced.
As excited as I am for Lower Decks, I’m at least slightly disappointed with what feels like a delay to Discovery’s third season. With the ship and crew having left the 23rd Century behind in the finale of Season 2, I’ve been eagerly – and somewhat anxiously, I admit – waiting to see what kind of future they arrive in. I recently took an in-depth look at the Season 3 trailer – and you can see what I thought by clicking or tapping here.
We got a little more information about Lower Decks in the announcement, including a first look at the ship the show is set on: the California-class USS Cerritos. Named for a city in the Los Angeles area, the Cerritos is a pretty cool design in my opinion. With obvious visual elements of The Next Generation’s Galaxy-class, the ship has a familiar “Star Trek-y” design that’s instantly recognisable as part of the franchise.
It definitely feels as though care has been taken with this design, and that it was designed by someone with an appreciation for the Star Trek franchise as a whole. By being a smaller starship than, for example, a Galaxy-class ship, I think it also does a good job of conveying that this is a minor ship; not a flagship by any means, the Cerritos is of lower importance among the fleet. The saucer-plus-nacelles design is reminiscent of ships like the Miranda-class and Nebula-class; the former being best-known as the design used for the USS Reliant in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
I guess for now we’ll have to put Discovery on the back burner and start getting excited for Lower Decks!Star Trek can do animation very well, but this will be the franchise’s first fully-animated series in 45 years, as well as the first attempt to make a comedy series. The team behind the show – including Mike McMahan – have a good track record at producing successful shows just like Lower Decks, so there’s reason to be hopeful.
Unfortunately, as of right now ViacomCBS hasn’t announced who has the international broadcast rights to Lower Decks. Netflix has Star Trek: Discovery and Amazon Prime Video has Star Trek: Picard, so it could be the case that either of those companies snaps up Lower Decks as well. Hopefully an announcement will come soon, so we can get the show within 24 hours of its US premiere, as has been the case for the other two series since Star Trek returned to television.
So all that’s really left to say is this: roll on the 6th of August and the premiere of Star Trek: Lower Decks! Let’s hope for a successful first season.
Star Trek: Lower Decks will premiere on CBS All Access in the United States on the 6th of August 2020. International broadcasts have not yet been confirmed. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks 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.
Spoiler Warning: In addition to spoilers for the episodes listed below, there may be spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise, including the most recent seasons of Discovery and Picard.
It’s been a while since I last picked out ten great Star Trek episodes. Having run through all five of the shows prior to the Kelvin timeline and Discovery, I seem to have got sidetracked! It’s been over a month since I last visited this topic, so if you’d like to revisit the episodes I pulled from the other Star Trek shows, you can find them all archived on a single page by clicking or tapping here.
My first five articles looked at one Star Trek show apiece. Those shows each had at least three seasons’ worth of episodes to choose from, so it was relatively easy to pick ten great ones! The shows we’ll be looking at today have fewer episodes, and I felt it was too difficult to pick ten from each one. The Star Trek shows we’ll be looking at are: The Animated Series, the Kelvin-timeline films, Discovery, Short Treks, and Picard.
Here’s a recap on how this format works: this isn’t a “top ten” ranked list. Instead, this is merely ten episodes (okay, nine episodes and one film) that I consider to be well worth your time, and they’re listed in order of release.
Number 1: The Magicks of Megas-Tu (The Animated Series Season 1)
After Star Trek’s cancellation in 1969, it was rebroadcast and gained many new fans. As early as 1971 or 1972, parent network NBC was considering options for bringing the show back. The re-runs were more popular than the original broadcasts had been, and there was an ongoing letter-writing campaign by fans to bring Star Trek back. Ultimately, in order to keep production costs low, it was decided Star Trek should continue in an animated format. With the exception of Walter Koenig, the entire main cast returned. James Doohan would provide many additional voices for the new show, and its animated format allowed for characters like Arex – the three-legged, three-armed character – and other far more “alien” feeling characters and creatures than The Original Series’ budget and production-side technology allowed for.
The Animated Series was officially removed from the overall Star Trek canon by Gene Roddenberry and new parent company Paramount Pictures in the late 1980s, when The Next Generation was in production. However, when the series was re-released on DVD in the mid-2000s this was rescinded, and the series is – as of 2020 – a full and official part of the Star Trek canon once again.
I wanted to choose at least one episode that I feel really epitomises the different direction that The Animated Series took. Not all of these stories worked, but The Magicks of Megas-Tu has a certain charm as a very weird piece of science-fiction that I think makes it worth watching. To summarise its plot in one sentence: the Enterprise crosses over into a parallel universe where magic is real and science is not.
That premise sounds absolutely bonkers, and none of today’s science-fiction shows – including the renewed Star Trek projects – would touch a story like that with a barge pole! But this was The Animated Series trying new things, pushing the boat out, and exploring different aspects of sci-fi and fantasy in a way that The Original Series’ technical limitations would have never allowed for.
Despite its wackiness, I like The Magicks of Megas-Tu, and perhaps it’ll be a candidate for a full write-up one day. At the very least it’s an interesting glimpse at mid-century sci-fi, and an imaginative story.
Number 2: Albatross (The Animated Series Season 2)
Leaving behind the completely weird, Albatross is a story that we could see told in a Star Trek or sci-fi show in 2020. The Animated Series has this kind of strange dichotomy: some episodes, like The Magicks of Megas-Tu listed above, have totally wacky premises that could only ever work in animation. And others, like Albatross, are – for want of a better word – “normal” sci-fi.
When the Enterprise visits a planet Dr McCoy had been stationed on years previously, he’s arrested and charged with mass murder – they believe he caused a plague which ravaged their society. Star Trek has, on several other occasions, put main crew members in situations like this; accused by an alien society of something we as the audience know they could never have done. As a story, it’s exciting and tense.
McCoy is at the heart of the story, and it ultimately becomes his quest to cure the disease. Things take a turn for the worse when the crew of the Enterprise become infected as well, and McCoy must race to cure the pathogen before it’s too late. Albatross is a fairly straightforward space adventure – at least by the standards of The Animated Series!
Number 3: Star Trek Into Darkness (Kelvin-timeline film)
I consider Into Darkness to be the high-water mark of the Kelvin-timeline films. The Kelvin-timeline films have been criticised by some fans for taking a much more action-heavy approach when compared to the often peaceful exploration seen in past iterations of Star Trek. But Into Darkness based itself on The Wrath of Khan, and in that context the crossover into the action genre works much better than it had in 2009’s Star Trek.
Into Darkness stays on the right side of that invisible line which divides respectful homage from blatant rip-off, referencing The Wrath of Khan at a number of points but telling its own story in its own world at the same time. New fans of the franchise didn’t miss anything crucial in the plot for never seen The Wrath of Khan – one of the key tests of being on the right side of that line!
There are some genuinely emotional moments which absolutely work in the film, and while it’s debatable whether Kirk and Spock’s scene in the engine room carries the same emotional weight as the comparable sequence in The Wrath of Khan, it was beautifully staged and the acting performances from Into Darkness’ two leads were pitch-perfect.
It’s sad to think that this would be Leonard Nimoy’s final role. His character of Spock makes a small cameo appearance (a far smaller role than he had in 2009’s Star Trek). It was great to see him back one final time.
Number 4: Context is for Kings (Star Trek: Discovery Season 1)
If you read my write-up of my recent re-watch of Discovery’s two-part premiere, you’ll know I didn’t like it. I wasn’t impressed with how the show started, either at the time or on a second viewing. Context is for Kings had the difficult task of beginning to salvage the season, and if it had failed we could be talking about Discovery as a whole as being one big catastrophe instead of a series I called the best of the last decade!
Fortunately, Context is for Kings is where Discovery began to turn around. In a serialised show, it can be difficult to pull out individual episodes to recommend – an issue which applies to all of Discovery’s entries on this list. However, Context is for Kings is, in some respects, almost like a second premiere. It introduces the USS Discovery for the first time, as well as most of the regular cast.
I’ve written on a number of occasions that Jason Isaacs’ performance as Captain Lorca was one of the high points of Discovery’s first season, and this fascinating, nuanced character is introduced here – in suitably mysterious fashion.
Number 5: Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum (Star Trek: Discovery Season 1)
As mentioned, Discovery can be hard to pull individual episodes out of due to its serialised nature. There are ongoing storylines in Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum that greatly impact the episode, but the main plot – that of an away mission to the planet Pahvo – does serve as somewhat of a standalone narrative.
This was the first episode where Saru was given a lot to do. Past Star Trek shows had always shared out the storylines between various characters; Discovery was primarily about Burnham and, to a lesser degree, Captain Lorca. However, during the course of the away mission Saru becomes incredibly important to the story.
I loved the visuals of Pahvo – both the planet itself and its non-corporeal inhabitants were beautifully designed and brought to life. Discovery’s visual effects overall have been outstanding, and Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum is another great example.
The storyline also puts Burnham and Ash Tyler together. Their romantic relationship would be a sub-plot going forward across the remainder of Season 1 and much of Season 2.
Number 6: New Eden (Star Trek: Discovery Season 2)
New Eden gave me a distinct feeling of watching an updated episode of The Original Series, in parts. Perhaps it’s the elements of religion that are incorporated into the storyline, or perhaps it’s because the crew of the USS Discovery – led by Captain Pike – encounter an unknown settlement of humans. Either way, parts of this story feel perfectly “Star Trek-y”, and would certainly be at home elsewhere in the franchise.
Anson Mount was brought in to replace the departing Jason Isaacs, and we should really talk about how much of a masterstroke that ended up being. I was initially concerned about the decision to recast Captain Pike – for the second time, as the character was also in the Kelvin-timeline films – as well as to bring in Spock and Number One. But I shouldn’t have been; Mount’s version of the character was everything fans could have wanted from a Starfleet captain, and spawned a fan campaign to bring back Pike for his own series – something which was finally confirmed to be happening a few weeks ago.
After his introduction at the beginning of the season, when the USS Enterprise malfunctions, New Eden took the new captain and gave him a starring role with plenty to do. We see the USS Discovery use its spore drive, which was great. The spore drive has felt like an underused piece of tech since its introduction; it was treated as little more than a macguffin to allow for transport to and from the Mirror Universe. I would have liked to have seen more creative uses for it, and jumping across the galaxy to New Eden was certainly nice to see.
There are storylines in New Eden which tie into later episodes in the season, but as with Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum above, the main plot of the episode is an away mission, and that side of the story is self-contained.
Number 7: If Memory Serves (Star Trek: Discovery Season 2)
Finding and helping Spock – who had been accused of murder – was a big part of the first half of Discovery’s second season. Section 31 are also intent on tracking him down, but luckily for Spock, Burnham got to him first.
If Memory Serves reintroduces the Talosians – the big-brained telepathic race from The Cage and The Menagerie. The approach to Talos IV, which the Talosians now shield using an illusion of a black hole, was fantastic, and the visual effect of the illusory black hole itself was stunning – and a shock when Burnham and Spock first saw it!
The Talosians help Spock, who had been psychologically damaged by the Red Angel vision, recover his composure and logic. We see Burnham and Spock behave in a way closer to siblings than they do at almost any other point in the season, which I think is nice to see given their background. And there are ongoing storylines involving Stamets and Dr Culber – the latter having recently been rescued from the Mycelial Network – and Ash Tyler. Tyler and Culber have a tense confrontation in Discovery’s mess hall – Tyler had, after all, “killed” Culber during Season 1. I liked the way this scene unfolded, it was gripping, edge-of-your-seat stuff.
I also loved that this episode began with a recap of The Cage. They didn’t need to put that in there, but it was a nostalgic treat to see it.
Number 8: The Trouble With Edward (Short Treks Season 2)
It’s still disappointing to me that, for reasons best known to the higher-ups at ViacomCBS, Short Treks hasn’t been made available to international viewers. There is a plan to rectify that with a blu-ray release, but it’s too little too late as far as I’m concerned. As I said when I reviewed the Short Treks episode Children of Mars in January, the whole point of this series was to keep Star Trek alive in the minds of viewers in between main seasons of the shows. Especially with Children of Mars, which was supposed to be a prequel or prologue to Star Trek: Picard and thus a key part of its pre-release buildup, it should have been made available internationally. But we’re off-topic.
The Trouble With Edward is really funny. Partly that’s thanks to two great performances from Rosa Salazar and H Jon Benjamin, who have great comedic chemistry together, and partly it’s due to a great premise and funny script.
Nothing in The Trouble With Edward changes or “ruins” canon, which is something it was inexplicably criticised for upon release by some of the anti-Star Trek social media groups. Instead it’s a well-told story that takes one small aspect of the tribbles – the small, furry creatures who are almost synonymous with Star Trek – and expands on it.
It’s a fun ride, and stick around after the credits for what is probably the weirdest sequence released under the Star Trek banner since The Animated Series. I missed that on first viewing, and I’m not saying anything else in case you did too!
Number 9: Ephraim and Dot (Short Treks Season 2)
I’ve already talked about Ephraim and Dot twice! First when I reviewed it along with its sister episode in December, and more recently when I looked at introducing a newbie to Star Trek.
Star Trek’s first animated episodes in 45 years were amazing – and very different to The Animated Series. Ephraim and Dot tells a cute story that would be at home on the Disney Channel – and I mean that as a compliment. Both Ephraim the space-dwelling tardigrade and Dot the robot are adorable, and for an episode largely free of dialogue it does an amazing job raising the emotional stakes.
I’m a sucker for cute animals in fiction, and any time they seem to be hurt or upset it gets to me in a way few other stories really manage to! Ephraim and Dot does this so well, despite its short runtime.
The story also looks at some of The Original Series’ greatest hits in a sequence where Ephraim races to follow the ship. Captain Kirk and other members of the original crew return – in animated form – in this part of the story, which was a nostalgic treat.
Number 10: Remembrance (Star Trek: Picard Season 1)
Remembrance is a stunning piece of television, and it’s up there with Emissary as one of the best Star Trek premiere episodes. I reviewed this episode when it was first broadcast, and I recommend having a read of that article for a more detailed breakdown. I also think, looking at the series three months after its first-season finale, that it’s probably either the best or second-best episode. It’s definitely the only place I could recommend you start if you want to watch Picard – it’s a wholly serialised show, as is Discovery.
Remembrance picks up Picard’s story twenty years after Star Trek: Nemesis. It connects to the Kelvin-timeline’s destruction of Romulus storyline, as Picard tried – and failed – to help the Romulans evacuate their homeworld. But this isn’t The Next Generation Season 8 – far from it. Picard’s retirement at his family vineyard is disrupted by the arrival of Dahj, the survivor of an attack by mysterious assailants.
For anyone who had qualms or reservations about Discovery, I’d really encourage them to give Picard a chance. There are so many callbacks and nods to past iterations of Star Trek, and while it’s true that the show’s serialised nature is different to The Next Generation’s largely episodic approach to television storytelling, that opens up new possibilities and opportunities – like season-long arcs and detailed character development.
Remembrance has some beautiful sequences featuring Sir Patrick Stewart as Picard and Brent Spiner as a dream version of Data. It has a faithful HD depiction of the Enterprise-D, which is just stunning. And in one sequence where Picard visits his Starfleet archive, there are many props on display from his captaincy. The episode was peppered with these nostalgic elements, but none of them overwhelmed the story.
What I’m really trying to say by putting Remembrance on this list is that you should watch Star Trek: Picard Season 1 in its entirety if you haven’t already. I really think it’s worth giving the show a chance to impress you. If you do, take a look at my reviews and theories as you go along!
So that’s it. Ten great Star Trek episodes from elsewhere in the franchise. I will definitely be revisiting this subject in future, so stay tuned for “ten more great episodes” at some point!
This series of articles has been a lot of fun to put together. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Discovery’s third season will be released imminently, but until then I hope these articles have given you some inspiration for what to watch inside the Star Trek universe!
All episodes and films listed above are available to stream on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix and/or Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including all titles mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS and/or Paramount Pictures. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There may be minor spoilers ahead for the episodes and films on this list.
Most people will have at least heard of Star Trek, even if they’ve never seen a single episode or film. It’s one of those franchises that is firmly embedded in popular culture. But it also has a reputation as a nerdy franchise, and despite recent attempts to shake that, it persists and can be offputting for some people. On a number of occasions I’ve been with a friend, relative, or girlfriend who was brand new to the franchise, and the question of how best to introduce them to this wonderful universe came up.
There are two huge choices: which series should be their first contact, and then which episode. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t exist, because everyone has different preferences and different things they enjoy. For someone who’s already a sci-fi fan it might be great to start with a more ethereal story, but for an action fan you might need to pick a more action-oriented episode or film, just to give two examples. And there are different eras to consider: should you go for The Original Series, the classic from the 1960s? One of the shows of The Next Generation’s era, perhaps? Or come right up-to-date with Discovery? It will depend on what you enjoy and what they enjoy.
Maybe I’m overthinking this, but I don’t like to start too strong. If you show someone an episode or film that’s so good it’s almost too good, you might set an expectation that future stories will fail to live up to, putting them off. Now that doesn’t mean put your worst foot forward and start with Spock’s Brain or Shades of Gray, but maybe you’ll want to build up to The Wrath of Khan or First Contact instead of using that as someone’s introduction. At the end of the day, you want them to come away from whatever episode or film they saw with a positive impression of the franchise. If they have preconceptions about Star Trek – that it’s full of technobabble or excessively nerdy, perhaps – finding a story that challenges those notions and shows them that there’s more to Star Trek than they realised is also a key part of the challenge.
In this list I’ve tried to collate a few stories (episodes and films) that I feel would make for potentially good ways to introduce someone to the franchise. If you’re struggling with what to choose, hopefully I can at least narrow down some possibilities for you. But hey, if you like all of them, put together a playlist and binge the lot! The list is in no particular order.
Number 1: Ephraim and Dot (Short Treks, 2019)
If you have young kids (or immature adults, I won’t judge) Ephraim and Dot is a great introduction to the world of Star Trek – as I wrote when I looked at it along with its sister episode, The Girl Who Made the Stars, last December. The story is absolutely adorable and surprisingly emotional at points, as it tells the story of a space-dwelling tardigrade’s encounter with the USS Enterprise – and a robot who almost messes things up for her!
Along with its sister episode, Ephraim and Dot is quite unlike anything else in the Star Trek canon. While I said above that could set unrealised expectations, as a point of first contact for very young kids I think it could work – and could lead them on to other adventures in the Star Trek universe.
Number 2: In the Cards (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, 1997)
The fifth season of Deep Space Nine doesn’t seem like it would be a good fit for an introduction, as there’s a lot of background information from the previous season’s Klingon war as well as the buildup to the Dominion War and the temporary abandonment of the station. But In the Cards spends a lot of time following Jake Sisko and Nog as they make trade after trade after trade in order to get Captain Sisko a rare baseball card. It’s hardly an original premise, but it’s one that In the Cards pulls off with a cheeky smile.
Because Jake and Nog have to trade many different items with different characters, it’s an episode which shows off a number of Star Trek’s races as well as different areas of DS9, the Defiant, and even other ships. There is a secondary plot that’s connected to the Dominion, but with a few words of explanation to a brand-new viewer I think this could be easily explained.
Number 3: The Cage (The Original Series first pilot, 1965/1988)
Some people like to start at the beginning, and there’s no episode that was produced earlier that The Cage – even though the episode wasn’t shown in full on its own until after the premiere of The Next Generation! The episode was rejected, but Star Trek was reworked into the show we know today. Most of the footage from The Cage was incorporated into The Menagerie, a two-part episode of The Original Series.
For someone who likes the 1960s aesthetic this could be a good choice, but The Cage is very different from today’s television offerings. Dated across the board from its props and special effects to the quality of most of the acting performances, it’s a piece of history and well worth watching for any Star Trek fan. I’m not convinced it would make the best starting place, but I’m sure many people will insist on starting right at the beginning.
Number 4: Breaking the Ice (Star Trek: Enterprise, 2001)
Speaking of starting at the beginning, in terms of Star Trek’s in-universe timeline the adventures of Captain Archer aboard the NX-01 Enterprise took place before everything else. Breaking the Ice depicts one of those early missions, as Archer and the crew investigate a comet.
What I like about Breaking the Ice is that it shows, in a way many later Star Trek shows really don’t, how dangerous interstellar travel and exploration can be. Starfleet’s technology is a long way behind their Vulcan allies’ – so the episode could be a great frame of reference to show how much progress had really been made by the 23rd and 24th Centuries. Enterprise as a whole definitely has the spirit of exploration that has always been at the heart of Star Trek, and this episode is one of the better examples of how well that premise worked.
Number 5: Star Trek (reboot film, 2009)
2009’s Star Trek is not my favourite film in the series, and I think its sequel – Star Trek Into Darkness – was better. But as a reboot it gets a lot of things right. JJ Abrams recast the crew of The Original Series, and this film had the difficult task of introducing those characters to a new generation of fans for the first time, while also reintroducing the rebooted versions of the characters to older fans like me. I know some people who felt it didn’t work, but that’s really just a subjective opinion. Star Trek was the highest-grossing film in the franchise by miles at the time it was released, and it brought in many new fans.
This was its goal: the franchise had been in non-stop production for almost 20 years when Enterprise was cancelled, and it needed shaking up in order to bring in new fans and remain profitable. In my opinion the film succeeded in that objective, and for someone who is a fan of high-octane action, it could be a great first contact.
Number 6: The Best of Both Worlds, Parts I & II (Star Trek: The Next Generation, 1990)
The Best of Both Worlds drops viewers into the action immediately, as Riker leads an away team to the surface of a planet – only to find the entire colony gone. It may be an adjustment for total newbies – I think you can expect a few “who’s that?” questions in the first few minutes! But it’s one of The Next Generation’s finest offerings; a story which sees an existential threat to Earth.
While there’s an argument to be made that newcomers might lack the connection to Picard that makes his capture and assimilation by the Borg so impactful at the end of Part I, the visual effect is still incredibly shocking and the reactions of Riker and others on the bridge is a huge part of the emotional weight of that moment. If you’re a big fan of The Next Generation, this could be a great episode to introduce someone to your favourite part of Star Trek.
Number 7: An Obol for Charon (Star Trek: Discovery, 2019)
I start to feel very old indeed when I hear someone describing something from the ’80s, ’90s, or even the 2000s as “old-fashioned”. But for plenty of people, television and films produced before the turn of the millennium are dated and less enjoyable to watch as a result. For someone who falls into that category, Star Trek: Discovery could be a way to get them started in the franchise with a show that’s familiar in terms of the way it’s produced and the way it tells stories.
Because Discovery is a wholly serialised affair, pulling a single episode out is hard. Unfortunately the series premiere, The Vulcan Hello, was pretty poor in my opinion, so I couldn’t recommend it for someone’s first contact! An Obol for Charon does have ongoing story threads from Discovery’s second season, but the main plot of the episode – which features Pike and the crew dealing with a planetoid-sized lifeform – is a fairly self-contained story, albeit one that would have a big impact on the remainder of the season. For that reason I think it’s one of the best opportunities to use Discovery to introduce someone to the franchise.
Number 8: Equinox, Parts I & II (Star Trek: Voyager, 1999)
Star Trek has many great episodes which look at morality in the 24th Century, but one of my personal favourites is this two-parter from Voyager. Using its science-fiction setting to parallel real world issues is something Star Trek has always done, and while there are many great episodes which do this, for me Equinox has to be among the best. What I love about it is that there’s nothing black-and-white. Captain Ranson – the story’s antagonist – is presented in a very sympathetic way despite what he did, and the episode challenges viewers, asking “what would you have done in his place?”
The whole main cast of Voyager have roles to play in Equinox, which I think shows off Star Trek – which has predominantly been a franchise based around ensemble casts – at its best. The story is intense at points, and while it may need a little bit of explanation to bring newbies up to speed on where the USS Voyager is and how far away from home the crew are, for the most part it’s self-explanatory.
Number 9: Trials and Tribble-ations (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, 1996)
Produced to mark the Star Trek franchise’s 30th anniversary, Trials and Tribble-ations took the same technology pioneered in the film Forrest Gump – which was released only a couple of years earlier – and brought it to television. The episode blends the crews of Deep Space Nine and The Original Series, and is truly an episode made for fans. Why does that make it a good starting point instead of a confusing mess? Well, Deep Space Nine didn’t assume that everyone watching the episode would know everything about The Original Series, so Trials and Tribble-ations is careful to explain much of what’s happening through the use of a frame narrative.
For someone wholly new to the franchise, Trials and Tribble-ations brings together the two “main” Star Trek eras, seamlessly blending the 23rd and 24th Centuries. I’d wager that most people, even ardent Trek-avoiders, are at least vaguely aware of Captain Kirk and the iconic scene from The Trouble With Tribbles, which is another point in this episode’s favour. Most of all, though, Trials and Tribble-ations is a story with a great sense of humour, and that’s something people don’t seem to realise is present in Star Trek.
Number 10: The Doomsday Machine (Star Trek: The Original Series, 1967)
The Doomsday Machine is simultaneously a fascinating piece of history – looking at the huge issue of nuclear proliferation during the Cold War – and a truly dramatic story that channels Moby-Dick and other classic tales of revenge. It’s one contender for my favourite episode of The Original Series, and for all of these reasons and more it could be a great way to introduce someone to Captain Kirk and the crew.
The Original Series started it all in the 1960s, but many of its episodes have aged poorly in comparison to the Star Trek shows of the ’80s and ’90s. The Doomsday Machine bucks that trend with a great acting performance from guest star William Windom, reused sets to represent the USS Constellation, and a relatively uncomplicated story that doesn’t stray too far from the mainstream of action/sci-fi.
Number 11: Doctor’s Orders (Star Trek: Enterprise, 2004)
Because the Star Trek franchise has been going so long, it’s tried dipping its toes in the waters of many different genres. Horror isn’t something I’m necessarily a big fan of, but if you have someone who loves it, Doctor’s Orders from Enterprise’s third season could be a potentially interesting first contact for them.
Space exploration is full of potential dangers, and this was one thing that Enterprise absolutely nailed in its depiction of Starfleet’s first mission. In this episode, which focuses mostly on the character of Dr Phlox, the crew have to be placed in stasis while traversing a dangerous energy cloud. With Phlox alone on the deserted ship, he begins to suspect someone – or something – is in there with him. It’s an eerie, creepy episode with at least one good jump-scare for horror aficionados!
Number 12: Empok Nor (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, 1997)
Sticking with the horror theme, Empok Nor is another great example of how Star Trek can do dark and scary stories well. Doctor’s Orders, discussed above, and Empok Nor both have elements of psychological horror, but Empok Nor features a wider cast of characters – several of whom are killed off in unpleasant ways. That’s not to say it’s excessively gory – this is still Star Trek, after all!
Recurring character Garak is the focus of the episode, along with Chief O’Brien, and their animosity – mostly conducted by communicator – is comparable to the dynamic between Bruce Willis’ John McClane and Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber in Die Hard in the way it’s presented on screen.
Number 13: The Drumhead (Star Trek: The Next Generation, 1991)
There are a number of episodes that show that Star Trek can do great courtroom drama and conspiracy stories, but The Drumhead is outstanding. It’s also an episode in which we get to see Captain Picard at his level-headed best. Widely regarded as one of The Next Generation’s best episodes, it could be a great way to bring in a newbie.
When the USS Enterprise appears to have been sabotaged, a retired judge comes aboard to find out what happened. Her investigation quickly spirals out of control, however, and she begins to see a vast conspiracy where none exists.
Number 14: Message in a Bottle (Star Trek: Voyager, 1998)
Star Trek has always had a great sense of humour, and many episodes feature some moments of comedy. But it’s hard to think of another episode that’s as funny as Message in a Bottle. Andy Dick guest-stars as another version of the Emergency Medical Hologram when Voyager’s Doctor is sent to the Alpha Quadrant.
Robert Picardo’s character always had comedic potential, but Message in a Bottle really lets it loose. Watching the two holograms working together was laugh-out-loud hilarious at points, and I think the episode would be enough to change anyone’s mind about Star Trek.
Number 15: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (film, 1991)
As the swansong for Captain Kirk and The Original Series’ crew, this may seem like an odd choice for someone’s first contact. But it’s a great story with elements of mystery, conspiracy, and tension, as well as some of the best ship-to-ship combat in the franchise. Gene Roddenberry, who saw the film shortly before he passed away, hated it for its militarised Starfleet and anti-Klingon racism espoused by Kirk early in the film. But those flaws in Kirk’s character give him a genuine arc.
The Undiscovered Country also shows off the complicated relationship between three of Star Trek’s major factions: the Federation, Klingons, and Romulans. It has a sense of humour at points – I’m especially thinking of the scene with the boots! And it features one of those edge-of-your-seat storylines where the focus is on whether the crew can make it in time to save the day.
So that’s it.
Those are some episodes and films which I feel could be a great way to introduce someone to the Star Trek franchise for the first time. This isn’t an exhaustive list, and it’s a topic I may well revisit in the future.
It’s worth noting a few things – and explaining a few absences – before we conclude. Firstly, I deliberately left off The Wrath of Khan, First Contact, The Trouble with Tribbles, City on the Edge of Forever, and a handful of others because I felt they were too obvious. I also excluded Far Beyond the Stars, Yesterday’s Enterprise, The Visitor, The Inner Light, and a handful of others that I feel are too unrepresentative of the franchise, seeing that they’re stories which take place well outside of the main timeline or universe. I also didn’t include a number of personal favourites, like Call to Arms, Disaster, In the Pale Moonlight, Relics, and a handful of others because I felt they needed a bit too much background knowledge to be good starting points. Finally, I excluded Star Trek: Picard. This is a fantastic show, but it’s wholly serialised and of the two episodes that can be somewhat taken as standalones – Absolute Candor and Nepenthe – both rely a little too heavily on past iterations of Star Trek, which I feel could be offputting for newcomers.
All that being said, this list is purely subjective. I understand the desire to show off how great Star Trek can be to non-Trekkies, and I tried to pick a few examples of stories that hopefully show off not only the franchise at its best, but that it can be different to the preconceived notions many people have. Star Trek is sci-fi, and sometimes – particularly in The Original Series – it leaned into the weirder side of the genre. But it can also tell some very different and unexpected stories, from tense mysteries and family drama to comedy, horror, and beyond. There’s a lot to get stuck into, and if you’re thinking about how best to introduce someone to Star Trek, there are a lot of options – 778 episodes and films at time of writing.
It’s worth pointing out (again) that Deep Space Nine and Voyager are currently only available in DVD quality, having never been remastered. This could be offputting for some newcomers, so it’s worth being aware of this silly limitation. I have written a piece calling on ViacomCBS to rectify that situation and finally bring these two awesome shows into the 2020s. You can find it by clicking or tapping here.
Elsewhere on the website, you can find lists of ten great episodes from the various Star Trek series if you’re looking for more inspiration. Those lists weren’t composed with newbies in mind, but they feature a different set of episodes in case you want to check out my thoughts on what I consider to be some of Star Trek’s best stories. I’ll link the lists below:
The Star Trek franchise – including all films, series, and episodes mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. All are available on DVD, most are available on Blu-Ray (with the exception of Deep Space Nine and Voyager) and can be streamed on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix or Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: This article contains spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery.
Last night, while waiting for my dinner to finish cooking (alright, reheating) I found myself scrolling through Instagram. I don’t follow a lot of accounts – aside from a handful of friends and colleagues, I follow a couple of sports teams and the official Star Trek page, and that’s about it. Tucked in amongst the cat pictures and social-distancing was a post from Star Trek. It was a video, and normally I skip past those. But the soundless preview showed Anson Mount, Ethan Peck, and Rebecca Romijn, so it piqued my interest enough to unmute the video and watch it in full. And wouldn’t you know it, they’re only making the Captain Pike show that everyone’s been asking for since Season 2 of Discovery aired last year!
In case you missed it, the announcement video is available on Star Trek’s official website, as well as YouTube. You can watch it below:
The series promises to be, in the words of Anson Mount, a “classic Star Trek show that deals with optimism and the future.” It’s far too early to know exactly what they have in store for Strange New Worlds, but I think we can make a handful of reasonable assumptions.
A “classic” Star Trek show. That’s a very specific way to explain it, and to me what I think it means is that we’re going to see a show with less of a focus on one main character, as Discovery and Picard have been. Past Star Trek series have been ensemble affairs, with other members of the crew besides one primary character being given storylines all their own, and while there were sub-plots in Discovery and Picard, those shows largely followed the story of their designated main protagonists. What I don’t think “classic” infers, at least at this early stage, is that we’ll see a return to wholly episodic television, with a “monster-of-the-week”, in which each episode forms a fully standalone story. Television storytelling has largely left that format behind, so what I think Strange New Worlds will offer will have at least elements of serialisation, including season-long arcs for its main characters.
Speaking of characters, we know of only three right now: Anson Mount’s Capt. Pike, Ethan Peck’s Spock, and Rebecca Romijn’s Number One/Una. All three reprise their roles from Season 2 of Discovery, where I think a lot of fans would agree that they were that season’s breakout characters. Before Discovery’s second season aired, ViacomCBS announced that there would be a spin-off: the still-untitled Section 31 show, starring Michelle Yeoh and (presumably, given where his character wound up at the end of the season) Shazad Latif. That announcement wasn’t the home run that it was meant to be, but it did indicate that the franchise was here to stay. However, when Pike, Spock, and Number One proved to be so popular with fans as the season rolled out, there was a sense that perhaps ViacomCBS jumped the gun and announced the spin-off too early; given the reaction fans had to the season, the obvious choice for a spin-off was one centred around Pike. So for over a year, in almost every interview and at every face-to-face meeting with Trekkies, Alex Kurtzman, Anson Mount, and others involved had been asked the question: “can we please have a Capt. Pike series?”
It took a while, but as Ethan Peck said in the official announcement video: “you asked, we listened!”
It’s definitely interesting to me that Strange New Worlds has a title and has had this announcement with much fanfare, but the Section 31 show remains without a title and with very little official information having come out about it. Hopefully this will be rectified in due course, because a show looking at the shadowy organisation has the potential to be very interesting too, and I am looking forward to it. I wonder if Strange New Worlds will be released first, especially with the disruption to Section 31’s shooting schedule that the coronavirus pandemic has caused. Both shows, I believe, have at least one set already built. In Section 31’s case, the ship used by Capt. Leland in Discovery’s second season was brand new and given that the spin-off had already been announced at that point, it seemed obvious that they were planning to use that set in some form for the new show. The Enterprise’s bridge had also been built for Discovery, and I don’t think that it was just a reworking of existing sets so perhaps that can be reused too. We’ll have to wait and see!
I love the title – Strange New Worlds. Obviously this is taken from the famous phrase spoken by Captains Kirk and Picard at the beginning of their shows, and it encapsulates what Star Trek has always sought to do – to find these worlds, to explore the unknown, and to meet whoever is out there. This show sounds like it will be one in which exploration makes a return. Discovery has definitely had elements of exploration, bringing in new races like the Pahvans and the Kelpiens, and visiting their homeworlds. But it has largely been a show that followed its main storylines – war with the Klingons, escaping the Mirror Universe, and of course unravelling the mystery of the Red Angel. There wasn’t a whole lot of time to explore the galaxy for Burnham and the crew with all that to accomplish! Picard, of course, didn’t see La Sirena’s crew engage in any exploration, really. They did eventually travel to Coppelius and meet the synths, but those synths were human-built, so I don’t think we can really consider that to be a significant “first contact”! In short, it will be absolutely wonderful to get a Star Trek show where exploration is a key story element.
We’re still missing a lot of key information at this stage, information which I’m sure will come out over time. With the lockdown keeping production across the industry stalled right now, perhaps a 2021 release is a tad optimistic, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn Strange New Worlds is slated for a 2022 launch. One season has been ordered – and yes, it will be a show with multiple episodes and not a one-off television movie. While we don’t know how many episodes that will entail, recent Star Trek productions have offered 10-15 episodes per season. I’d guess they’re aiming for 12, like Discovery was, but perhaps with the potential to add an extra one or two if necessary – as Discovery did in both of its seasons.
There is perhaps the potential for crossover characters from Discovery’s first two seasons, provided those characters didn’t travel into the far future at the end of Season 2. Aside from obvious ones like Ash Tyler and Georgiou, we could perhaps see a return of Harry Mudd, Sarek, Tilly’s Xahean friend Po, Klingon Chancellor L’Rell, or Saru’s sister Siranna. We could even see the Prime Universe version of Capt. Lorca… somehow!
There will also be several spots for main characters, and if we’re thinking about “classic” Starfleet roles, there will need to be a chief engineer, helm officer, communications officer, doctor, and perhaps a tactical/security officer too. Some of those roles existed in The Cage – Star Trek’s original pilot which introduced Pike, Spock, and Number One. Perhaps those same roles could be recast, bringing us a return of Dr Boyce, José Tyler, or Yeoman Colt. I’d wager that there will be unique and original characters joining the crew too, of course.
The team behind Star Trek’s recent successes, including overall head of Star Trek Alex Kurtzman, will be involved in Strange New Worlds. Akiva Goldsman, who wrote and directed the two-part finale to Picard, as well as serving as that show’s executive producer, will taken on a similar role for Strange New Worlds – and has already written the show’s premiere. Given how great Picard was overall, that’s something genuinely encouraging (even if the show’s first-season finale wasn’t exactly the best part!) And Rod Roddenberry, son of Star Trek’s creator Gene Roddenberry, will also be involved behind the scenes, as he has been for Discovery and Picard.
There’s not a lot more to say at this very early stage, except how pleased and excited I am for this announcement. I keep saying it, but it really is a great time to be a Star Trek fan at the moment, with so much new content on the horizon. This series joins Picard’s second season as being what I’m most excited for, and I hope you’ll stay tuned here because as and when we get more news about Strange New Worlds – and other Star Trek projects – I’ll be sure to write about it.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds will stream on CBS All Access in the United States. International distribution rights have not yet been announced. The Star Trek franchise – including Strange New Worlds 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.
Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Season 2, and we’ll be looking in-depth at shots and scenes from the trailer for Season 3.
First of all, I hope you like the new look of the website’s homepage. It took a little while to get everything configured – and there are still some things to do. If the new logo and header-image look amateurish like they were made in Microsoft Paint, well… that’s because I made them in Paint. I never said I was a Photoshop expert!
When I logged into Facebook this evening, one of the first posts I saw was from the official Star Trek page – and it got me very excited! “The first Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 trailer has arrived”, or so proclaimed the post. The actual trailer – which you can find by clicking or tapping here (warning: leads to an external site) – was simply a repost of the only trailer we’ve seen for the season so far. Cue my disappointment!
While I might be overthinking things, I wonder if this marks the beginning of a social media push leading up to an announcement of the season’s release date – all we know so far is that it’s coming some time this year. I’d hoped to see a release date – or even just a release month – when the finale of Star Trek: Picard was released at the end of March, but ViacomCBS chose not to use that opportunity to plug Discovery. And that’s probably because of the pandemic causing delays to Discovery’s post-production work. Anyway, that’s not why we’re here.
Star Trek’s website and official Facebook page have chosen to republish the trailer, and while it isn’t exactly clear why they’ve done so (or why now), it does present us with a good excuse to take another look and see what we can gleam. The trailer was first published at New York Comic-con in October 2019, which was before I founded this website. While I’ve referred to the trailer a number of times in other articles, this will be my first breakdown of it in its entirety.
If you haven’t seen the trailer and want to head into Season 3 unspoiled, or if you haven’t seen Season 2 yet and want to avoid spoilers, this is your last chance to jump ship!
The very first shot in the trailer depicts Burnham – still in her Red Angel suit from Discovery’s finale – having crash-landed on a planet or moon. Obviously exiting the time-wormhole was not smooth, and while she’s survived the impact, she’s had a rough landing. The next frame shows her opening what looks like an emergency kit, and we see a phaser, a communicator, and a couple of other miscellaneous devices. The main takeaway from the way the trailer opens is that Burnham’s arrival in the future was difficult. I wonder if we’re seeing a hint that something went wrong – maybe this isn’t the full 930 years that she initially expected to travel. While I’ve all but given up on a link-up between Discovery and Picard, I still think keeping the franchise’s timeline as streamlined as possible makes sense. Either way, this crash-landing aftermath must surely be from the first episode of the season.
“I’ve spent a year searching… for that domino, that tipped over and started all of this.” So says Burnham in a voiceover, as we see a brief progression of her as her hair grows out – a great way to represent the passage of time! The biggest questions I have from this sequence are – where is she? It looked like she was in a shuttlecraft, and while I couldn’t see exactly, the window of the shuttle looked dark, perhaps indicating she was in space? But Burnham arrived with just the Red Angel suit, so whose shuttle is it? Secondly, what is the “domiono” she’s referring to? Obviously we assume it to mean Control – the rogue artificial intelligence from Season 2, whose aggressive pursuit forced her to hide in the future in the first place. And that may absolutely be the case – but it could be a misdirect.
If we look at this sequence, it could be referring to events from later in the trailer – the loss of hope of the Federation official and/or the fighting group of Andorians, Lurians, Cardassians, and others. Burnham seems to have agreed to take on a task, later in the trailer, for the unnamed Federation official, and her remarks in the voiceover could be referring to that and not to Control.
The next shot is very brief, but it shows us a group, seemingly led by an Andorian, using a directed energy weapon of some kind – possibly aboard Discovery, but I couldn’t be 100% sure on that. This is one point I’ve picked on in previous articles – if 930 years have passed, shouldn’t there be better and more powerful weapons? What the Andorians were holding looked like big, chunky phasers, and the directed energy weapon they used sent some kind of shockwave, but it didn’t look like anything 23rd or 24th Century Starfleet couldn’t have had. Perhaps this is related to the broader setting being a kind of stagnant or even post-apocalyptic look at the future.
We’re introduced to the new character of Booker – played by British actor David Ajala. He and Burnham walk across a landscape, and while we only see a snippet of their conversation, it’s an interesting one! Firstly, I love the location chosen for this trek. The moss-covered rocks look different and otherworldly, as well as being natural and unspoiled. One of the points of criticism you may remember me levelling at Star Trek: Picard was that all of the planets Picard and his crew visited – and indeed all of the different places they went on Earth, like France and Japan – looked exactly like California. Discovery, unlike Picard, is filmed in Toronto, so naturally they have a whole different set of filming locations to use. As someone largely unfamiliar with those locations, seeing them immediately gives the show a different look and avoids that repetitive feeling that built up across Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard.
Booker refers to Burnham’s Starfleet badge as representing a “ghost”. There are a couple of points to break down from this. Firstly, it’s implied that Starfleet as an organisation either no longer exists, or that no Starfleet vessel has ever been to Booker’s part of the galaxy, leaving him to consider the organisation little more than a legend. However, the good news is that Booker recognises the symbol – even if he’s never seen a Starfleet ship or met a Starfleet officer, the organisation is something he’s at least aware of and vaguely familiar with. Starfleet having been disbanded, or being reduced in size and effectiveness such that many people have never seen it, would tie in with the depressed Federation official that we’ll come to in a moment, as well as what seems to be the overall theme of the season – restoring hope to the people of this era.
The next sequence introduces the Federation official. He seems to be on a space station – that’s my guess, at any rate – and he unfurls a flag that is definitely worth a second look. The Federation emblem that we’ve seen a number of times in previous iterations of the franchise has far more stars than the one seen here. Stars on flags can represent states or regions that are members of the organisation – as we see with the flag of the United States, for example. The loss of many stars from the Federation flag could thus be seen as those worlds having seceded from the Federation. I think seceded seems more likely than them having been conquered by an outside power, because in such a case I’d have expected the Federation to consider those worlds still being its own.
I didn’t like what the Federation official had to say, at least in part. I’m sure we’ll learn more when the season debuts as to why he’s been at this post, and what he’s been waiting for all this time. That part I have no issue with. But where Discovery has come undone at points in its first two seasons is where it was a show solely about one character – Burnham. Putting her at the centre of stories in which she, and she alone, was capable of saving the ship, crew, and indeed the whole galaxy weren’t the high points of Discovery, at least not for me. Sonequa Martin-Green plays Burnham very well, but as a protagonist Burnham can be very hard to root for at times. She can come across as self-assured to the point of arrogance, and her slavish devotion to her own interpretation of what seems “logical” can overcome her common sense. These are traits embedded in her by her Vulcan upbringing, and while we’ve seen Burnham emotional and suffering setbacks, I don’t feel that the idea of making every season a “Burnham saves the universe” story is a great idea. I would love if Discovery could give its other crew members a chance to shine – we’ve seen Saru and Stamets come close, but several others have barely got a look-in after two full seasons.
In fact, I think that really is my biggest concern headed into Season 3: another story where Burnham is the only one who can help, the only one who can save the Federation, the only one who can bring hope and peace and blah blah blah. If it was Star Trek: Burnham, maybe that would be okay – but even then I’d still argue we needed a central character with better-written, more easily understandable motivations. It isn’t Star Trek: Burnham, though, it’s supposed to be Star Trek: Discovery, and to me that naming scheme implies more of an ensemble show with other characters allowed some degree of agency instead of plodding along behind Burnham in her shadow.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to like in Burnham’s character and in Discovery in general. I love the show – I even picked it for my favourite television series of the last decade when I wrote a list back in December. I like the dynamic between Burnham and Tilly, for example, and her relationship with Ash Tyler showed how she can be emotional and conflicted. But generally speaking, Burnham hasn’t been my favourite element of the series so far, and after two season-long arcs which largely focused on her, I had hoped for a story that had the potential to bring in other crew members in a bigger way this time around. Who knows, perhaps that will still happen – Burnham’s mission might take place entirely off-screen and for the whole season we’ll hang out with everyone else!
The trailer re-emphasises the “930 years” into the future setting, and at this point it should be said that that looks very likely to be accurate. There’s no reason to be deliberately dishonest, and since the setting looks very much unlike what we saw, for example, in Star Trek: Picard, I think we have to take it as fact for now.
This next part might be my favourite. Deep Space Nine gave us a deeper look at the Trill race, who had been introduced in The Next Generation. Jadzia Dax, and later Ezri Dax, were both Trill main characters, and in case you need a recap, the Trill were a conjoined species with a humanoid and a non-humanoid living together in one body. The non-humanoid symbiont was very long-lived and would be joined with several humanoid Trill over its lifetime. The pool depicted in the trailer looks like one seen in Deep Space Nine on the Trill homeworld, and we also see several Trill characters in the next shot. As far as we know at this stage, no Trill main character has been announced for the show. However, the species will clearly feature in some form. I can’t help but wonder if a return of Dax is on the cards. Trill symbiots could live for centuries – how many centuries is unclear. It’s at least plausible that the Dax symbiont could be alive in this timeframe, and even a cameo appearance would be an incredible callback to Deep Space Nine.
Saru gives an empowering speech in the next sequence. I would guess he’s now captain, or acting captain, unless a new character gets parachuted into that role. Both Capt. Lorca and Capt. Pike were great in their stories in Discovery’s first two seasons, but the lack of a recurring, permanent captain has left the show feeling, at points, somewhat rudderless. If there is to be fourth season – which it seems there will be – getting some continuity at the top is important for the show, I feel. Saru would be a natural fit for the position, as he’d been first officer and he’s a character we’re familiar with. I liked his speech, which was a rallying cry to “make the future bright”.
We also see Burnham reunited with the rest of the crew. It seems that this didn’t happen right away upon arriving in the future, and that may be tied to her “waited for a year” comment from earlier in the trailer. The reunion was nice, though, and seeing everyone happily back together felt good – something I hope translates to the full episode!
We see various members of Discovery’s crew, confirming that they all survived the trip through the time-wormhole. I wasn’t expecting any casualties as of the end of Season 2, but Burnham’s rough landing could have meant that the ship suffered a similar fate. Luckily this seems to have not been the case.
We see a couple of shots of Discovery being repaired – whether this is damage from the time-wormhole or from fighting a faction in the future is unclear. Interspersed with those shots we also see fighting between Discovery’s crew and what looks like the Andorian-led faction. Among the races seemingly working together in this group are Cardassians, Lurians (i.e. Morn’s species), and humans. Up next is confirmation that former Empress Georgiou made the trip with the rest of Discovery’s crew. Michelle Yeoh, who plays the character, is scheduled to headline the upcoming Section 31 series, which as far as we know is supposed to be set in the 23rd Century. How that circle will be squared is anyone’s guess at this point, but presumably she will have to travel back in time before the end of the season if that is to happen.
The trailer ends with Burnham telling the Federation official that she will go “wherever the answers are”. The obvious question this poses is: answers to what? It’s possible, in this scene, that Burnham is searching for the USS Discovery – that it has somehow become lost and she needs to locate it. However, it’s equally possible that it’s referring to something else entirely, something that may be connected to the Federation’s decline or demise in this time period. It could even be something related to the Control AI.
I’ve written previously why I don’t think a post-apocalyptic setting is a good fit for Star Trek, and I stand by that. The underlying premise of Star Trek, going right back to The Original Series and remaining consistent ever since, is that humanity had beaten the odds, overcome innumerable obstacles, and built a great future for ourselves and others. The tension and drama in Star Trek stories could come from external threats to the future we’d built, but never from that future not existing or having already been torn down. Changing that premise changes Star Trek at a fundamental level, and I’m not sold – at least, not yet – on that being a positive change. However, despite how the trailer feels overall, Discovery’s third season may not have a truly post-apocalyptic setting, and I think that’s something I’m hoping for.
Learning more about this renegade or rebel faction does absolutely interest me. I hope they have an interesting leader and genuinely understandable motivations for being opposed to Burnham and Discovery – and aren’t just “evil for the sake of it” villains. The reintroduction of the Cardassians and Andorians was fantastic – we haven’t seen the Cardassians since Deep Space Nine went off the air. Hopefully they’ll have named characters and won’t just be making cameos in the background. I’d love to know more about what happened to Cardassia after the Dominion War – but given that the season purports to be 800+ years in the future from that event, it probably won’t be discussed, at least not in detail.
Otherwise, the trailer was interesting in parts, potentially concerning in others. Season 2 was definitely the better of Discovery’s offerings so far, and I hope that the show can build on what it’s already accomplished, while giving some of its other characters a chance to be centre-stage. Despite my complaints, Burnham is okay. I don’t hate her as a character and she can be genuinely interesting. But another story where she’s the only one who can save the galaxy, and where everyone else is just along for another ride on the Burnham Express isn’t something I’m particularly excited about. Star Trek works best when a diverse cast of characters work together, and when each of them gets a turn to be the focus of a story and to have some degree of agency. Saru got a couple of episodes in the first two seasons – Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum in Season 1 and The Sound of Thunder in Season 2 looked at him and his people. Stamets and Culber have had moments across both seasons too, and Tilly got a sub-plot in Season 2 focusing on a race that lives in the mycelial network. But largely the show has been about Burnham, and the biggest stories put her firmly at the centre. Shaking that formula up, even a little, would be great in my opinion.
Overall I’m really looking forward to Discovery’s third season – even if a couple of points make me nervous! Revisiting the Trill and Cardassians definitely piqued my interest, and I’m curious to see whether the 930-year time jump is actually completed. If Burnham and the crew end up in the far future, I hope the show will take time to slow down and give us a recap of some of the big events that have taken place in the galaxy since we last saw it.
So I’m still a little confused as to why the official Star Trek website and Facebook page republished the trailer. Perhaps there will be more details to come, or even a new trailer or release date, in the coming days. If I spot anything new, you can be sure we’ll discuss it here!
The trailer for Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 may be found on the official Star Trek website and Facebook page. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Discovery – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
In both the Short Treks episode Calypso and in the trailer for the upcoming third season of Star Trek: Discovery, we are given the impression that all is not well in the Star Trek galaxy. In Calypso, main character Craft tells the AI Zora of a war he’s involved in, and he later needs to use one of the USS Discovery’s shuttlecrafts to get home – his pod being slower and less advanced than a thousand-year-old shuttlecraft says a lot about the state of technology in this timeline.
Whether or not Calypso is fully canon, or whether its timeline has changed, and whenever it’s supposed to be set, if the trailer for Discovery Season 3 has correctly portrayed the environment they’re heading into and isn’t an elaborate deception, it seems that whatever era the ship and crew ultimately arrive in is also one where war and disaster have occurred. But is this kind of post-apocalyptic setting right for Star Trek?
The last few years have seen a glut of shows, films, games, and books choosing a post-apocalyptic environment. And many of these have been great – I Am Legend is a great film, The Last Ship is a great television series, and The Last Of Us is a great game, just to give three examples. Major franchises like The Walking Dead have helped popularise this sub-genre, and it’s become a popular choice for a lot of storytellers.It’s easy to see why – this kind of setting lends itself to high-stakes drama, and forcing characters to make life-or-death decisions. When survival is at stake, characters need to step up in order to just make it through the day, and that can be a strong driving force in any narrative when it’s done correctly.
The kind of post-apocalypse we seemed to glimpse in the trailer for Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 might not quite be at that same level, where it’s day-to-day surviving at the end of the world, but it certainly seems as though something absolutely massive has happened since we last saw the galaxy in the 2380s. Whenever the USS Discovery emerges from the time-wormhole it entered at the end of Season 2, it seems they’re heading into a challenging environment. In the trailer, we saw an official who seemed to represent the Federation saying that Discovery was his last hope, and unfurling a flag with a Federation crest that seemed to be missing many stars – perhaps indicating the loss or secession of planets from the alliance. The Starfleet badge Burnham was wearing was referred to as a “ghost”, and Saru, in a pep talk to the crew, tells them they need to “make the future bright”. All of which strongly imply that the Federation in this era is in serious trouble – if it still exists at all.
But what’s just as telling from the trailer is what we didn’t see. Where was all of the new technology that should surely have been invented by then? At one point, Burnham and a new character are walking across a landscape – why could they not transport from point to point like we’ve seen across Star Trek (and especially with the “transwarp beaming” concept from the Kelvin films)? The weapons used in the trailer also seem to be little more than energy weapons already known to exist, and we didn’t see any new starships or stations or anything that indicated the galaxy has advanced significantly. In a few episodes of Star Trek in the past, particularly in Voyager and Enterprise, we’ve had glimpses of the Federation in the 29th and 30th Centuries – and it seemed not only to be doing great but to have time-travelling starships, and that time travel was so common a concept that it was taught in schools. In short, where is the technology?
Wars and conflicts, especially long ones, can be devastating. But from war, technology often emerges. In the real world, as destructive as WWII was, it led to the development of such things as rockets and computers. So even if the Star Trek galaxy plunged into war in the 32nd or 33rd Centuries, we should still see at least the level of tech they’d got to before the war, and perhaps the emergence of new tech as a result of research during it. The fact that nothing of the sort was in evidence is interesting, and that’s why I’m calling the setting “post-apocalyptic”. At the end of the day, if people of the 32nd or 33rd Centuries are living with a 23rd Century level of technology, that would be a huge backwards step for them, even if it still looks cool and futuristic to us. If we were sent back technologically to the 1950s or 1960s, that would look incredibly impressive to a Victorian, but would feel apocalyptic to us. It’s that principle that feels like it’s in play with Discovery.
Regardless of the exact details of how far technology has advanced or regressed by the 32nd/33rd Century (assuming that’s when Discovery is going to be set – see my previous article for my thoughts on that) it certainly seems from the trailer that something big has happened. The Star Trek galaxy and the Federation are not where we would have expected them to be. Is the Federation in decline? Has it broken up altogether? It’s not clear, but it is definitely facing huge difficulties if the “best hope” they’ve had in years is a 930-year-old ship and crew.
In a media landscape dominated by war and aggression, Star Trek has always shown a more positive vision of the future. Where The Terminator and The Matrix showed us rogue AIs killing humanity, Star Trek showed us Data, the friendly android. Where Star Wars had an evil empire ruling the galaxy with an iron fist, Star Trek had an enlightened democratic society. And where Twelve Monkeys and 28 Days Later had humanity on the brink of extinction, Star Trek showed humankind flourishing, having overcome countless obstacles. As Trip Tucker puts it in Enterprise: “war, disease, hunger – pretty much wiped them out in less than two generations.” This, to me, is the core of what makes Star Trek what it is. And I don’t necessarily think that gels with a post-apocalyptic setting.
Partly, Star Trek’s optimism is a product of its 1960s origins. At the height of the Cold War, there was the legitimate possibility of nuclear war causing the end of human civilisation, and with TOS premiering a mere four years after the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world as close to that fate as it arguably ever came, the need for optimism was great. But that optimistic approach has been a constant thread running through the franchise ever since. It’s been the one consistent thing in all of Star Trek, even at the height of the Dominion War in DS9, humanity was still there, and Earth was still a paradise worth fighting for. The drama in that story came from the existential threat to the optimistic future humanity had built, not from that future already being torn down. That’s what made it work as an exciting narrative within the framework of Star Trek’s optimistic take on the future.
A post-apocalyptic setting is, by its very nature, the exact opposite. Where Star Trek has presented an optimistic vision of humanity overcoming obstacle after obstacle, any post-apocalyptic setting says that the obstacles got the better of us. We went up against something – be it a disease, technology, warfare, etc. – and lost. Star Trek says that whatever life threw at us, we came out on top. That cannot be true in a post-apocalyptic setting, where we will have lost.
This represents a fundamental change to the nature of storytelling within the Star Trek franchise, greater than arguably any change made thus far. Enterprise took the franchise backwards in its own timeline, the Kelvin films were not only an alternate reality but changed the storytelling to be more action-heavy. But even these are not as major as changing the entire underlying premise of a positive vision of humanity’s future. In both 2009’s Star Trek and Enterprise, as well as the Dominion War arc of DS9 mentioned above, the basic concept that humanity had not simply survived but was thriving in the future was unchanged. The drama, tension, and narratives all came from challenges humanity faced within that framework, not that we’d failed or that something had beaten us.
Such a significant change risks Star Trek losing its uniqueness and, from a commercial point of view, one of its key selling points. Without its positive vision of humanity’s future, a fundamental part of Star Trek is missing – and without it, will the franchise still work? If Star Trek loses the one thing that makes it stand out, and continues its transition to primarily action-oriented stories, it risks becoming just another work in the generic sci fi and/or post-apocalyptic genres, losing its uniqueness and fading into the mass of action/sci fi franchises which already occupy that space.
Some fans would claim that this has already happened, due to a combination of the Kelvin timeline, Discovery, and even Enterprise taking the franchise to different places and by modernising the storytelling. But that alone isn’t enough to fundamentally change Star Trek. And at the core of Discovery and the Kelvin films, that optimism and positive outlook was still present, even if it wasn’t front-and-centre in the way it had been in prior series.
Taking a bleak setting, where the Federation is shattered and life for humankind is going backwards just doesn’t feel like Star Trek. Perhaps it could be a solidly entertaining sci fi series, but one of the core tenets of Star Trek would be lacking, and I’m certain that would be noticeable.
There’s another problem with this post-apocalyptic theme, too. As things sit right now, Discovery is the only Star Trek series taking place in that time period. Picard and Lower Decks both take place after Nemesis, and the Section 31 series is assumed to take place in the era Discovery left behind. With a second season of Picard on order now, all of these series will basically be prequels to Discovery – and if we see Picard and his crew fighting for the future of the Federation, when we know that actually the Federation has no future because we’ve seen in Discovery that things go very, very wrong, there’ll be a sense of “well what’s the point of this?”
I wrote previously how splitting Star Trek up into three timelines and two parallel realities is a bad decision for a franchise. With three live-action series in production practically simultaneously, there’s just no way to make them line up, let alone allow for any crossover of characters, plot points, and themes. It will make it harder for fans of one show to jump across to another, and will put off new fans altogether at a time when the shaky nature of CBS All Access in the midst of the “streaming wars” means they need those people more than ever. And having one show set in a future that’s potentially saying that everything that happens in the other shows comes to nothing is bleak, depressing, and offputting for both fans and casual viewers alike.
Now that all that’s been said, it should be pointed out that the trailer for Discovery‘s third season may be deliberately misleading, having been cut in a certain way. There are other explanations for what we saw in the trailer that don’t necessarily lead to the conclusion that we’re looking at a fractured Federation and a post-apocalyptic setting. And we won’t know for sure what’s in store until we see Discovery on our screens later in the year. But of all the seasons of Discovery so far, this is the one that has me feeling the most nervous. I want the show to succeed because I want the franchise to succeed so we can continue to enjoy new stories in the Star Trek galaxy for a long time to come. I’m just not convinced that this is the way to do it. And by abandoning one of the core parts of what makes Star Trek, well, Star Trek, the producers are taking a massive risk that could backfire.
As I’ve said several times before, I dislike the expression “nobody asked for this”. And there are two reasons for that: firstly, plenty of shows and films that “nobody asked for” actually turn out to be phenomenal. And secondly, because in a lot of online fan communities, the things that people are actually wanting and asking for are absolute crap. So in principle, the fact that I wouldn’t have chosen this route for Discovery and the Star Trek franchise doesn’t necessarily make it invalid or mean it will be bad. And I hope to be pleasantly surprised, because I’m always hopeful that new Star Trek will be enjoyable. But at the moment, I’m just not convinced it’s the best idea.
So what would I have rather seen? Anyone can complain and whine about what they don’t like, but not enough people are proactive in putting their own ideas forward for what they’d do instead. It’s easy to be negative and tear down someone’s ideas, but it’s much harder to imagine and create something.
So stop by next time and I’ll throw some concepts your way, both for Discovery and for the Star Trek franchise in general.
The Star Trek franchise, including Star Trek: Discovery, is the copyright of ViacomCBS. Star Trek: Discovery is available on Netflix in the UK and around the world, and on CBS All Access in the United States. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for Star Trek Discovery and Short Treks.
At the end of Season 2 of Discovery, Burnham led the ship and crew into a time-wormhole. For better or worse, they’re leaving the 23rd Century behind and heading into the future – but when, exactly? And how will it affect the rest of the Star Trek franchise now that there are other series joining Discovery on the roster?
Let’s start off by looking at the currently-announced Star Trek series and their supposed timeframes in the Star Trek universe.
Firstly we have Star Trek Picard, taking place in approximately 2399, as the 25th Century dawns. Then there’s Lower Decks, set in the 2380s. Next we have the Section 31 series, which is supposed to be set in the mid-23rd Century, possibly overlapping with TOS. Already that’s two very different time periods, and three concurrent timelines running within the Star Trek franchise. And in addition to these prime timeline settings there’s the alternate reality, where a fourth film is currently in pre-production, further complicating matters.
If we’re to believe the ending of the second season of Discovery, the ship and crew have travelled into the far future – the late 32nd or early 33rd Century, depending on how literally one takes “950 years” when it’s spoken in Discovery Season 2. So that would a third distinct time period, and one which would potentially undermine every other Star Trek series currently in production, as well as making the franchise overly complicated for newcomers.
CBS All Access, if it’s going to survive as a platform as the “streaming wars” ramp up, needs to bring in as wide an audience as possible. Realistically, most people who tuned in for Discovery are not hard-core Star Trek fans. They’re not the kind of people who argue about the length of time for subspace messages to travel from Earth to the Borg Collective in the 2060s, or who wonder why Tom Paris’ dad had a picture of him with him combadge on the wrong side framed on his desk. Most folks are casual viewers, tuning in to see an episode then moving on and doing other things. Having three entirely different time periods for one franchise risks being confusing and putting off those casual viewers who make up the bulk of any television audience.
In addition, setting Discovery in the far-future will adversely affect all the other Star Trek series currently in production – by essentially turning them into prequels. As a concept, some prequels can work. Rogue One, for example, is a great film and a direct prequel to the first Star Wars. But many prequels are robbed of a significant amount of tension and drama because we already know the outcome. In Enterprise‘s third season, the crew were facing down an existential threat to the Earth in the form of the Xindi’s planet-destroying superweapon. But having seen Earth in the 23rd and 24th Centuries, it was already known to most of the audience that there was no real danger. Thus, the storyline – while still arguably one of Enterprise‘s best – wasn’t as dramatic or edge-of-your-seat exhilarating as it could’ve been if an identical story had been made as a sequel set after Star Trek Nemesis.
By moving Discovery to a far-future setting, in which some form of galactic government and humanity still exist, any significant, galaxy-ending threat in Picard, Lower Decks, or the Section 31 series immediately loses much of its drama in the same way as the Xindi story. It constrains the direction of any future series, because we already know what direction the galaxy is headed. How we get there might be interesting – though Discovery will be under immense pressure to explain much of that backstory itself – but when the destination is known there are only so many options for the journey to take.
Unless the plan is for all of Star Trek to quickly shift to a 33rd Century setting as well, leaving behind almost everything we’ve known thus far, it seems like a bad storytelling decision – one which is sadly motivated by the vocal minority of fans who disliked Discovery‘s place in canon. And trying to run a franchise with three different timelines all running simultaneously will be a daunting task for Alex Kurtzman and others, not to mention that it precludes the possibility of cameos and crossovers.
As Deep Space Nine was getting established early on in its run, there were several crossovers with The Next Generation, which was also on the air at the same time. And Voyager also brought in settings, concepts, and characters from TNG and DS9. Those three shows all overlapped and all shared a single timeline, making it easy for fans to jump between series without getting confused, and with the ability to bring across even major characters like Worf. Aside from a dwindling number of fans who love only TOS, I think most people agree that the TNG era – including DS9 and Voyager – was the “golden age” of Star Trek. Current and upcoming series are trying to reach and surpass those heights, but may find themselves hampered by the decision to split up the timelines.
One of the biggest things getting people excited for Star Trek Picard are the cameos from returning main characters. And this isn’t something exclusive to Star Trek, either. In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, crossovers and character cameos are a big deal, and that franchise is arguably the most successful in recent history. By having practically all of its titles in one timeline and one setting, Marvel’s superheroes can cross over from film to film, and fans can skip an entry and still be able to largely follow what’s going on without having to be brought up to speed. I hadn’t watched most of the films preceding Avengers Infinity War and Endgame, but I could still follow what was going on because it was familiar. A casual Star Trek fan who enjoyed Discovery trying to jump into Lower Decks might find themselves confused by the change in timelines, and that might be sufficiently offputting to stop watching. Having to have a chart or graphic to explain where each new series fits in the timeline means that the whole thing is convoluted – and that absolutely will put people off.
So those are the two biggest issues which stem from Discovery heading into the far future: the overly-complicated timeline situation, and the fact that any prequel series potentially loses a portion of its dramatic effect.
The solution is complicated, and would require a either a retcon of parts of the ending of Season 2, or yet another time travel story. So then, either the USS Discovery travels into the far future, then somehow comes back to the 25th Century, or it never travels into the far future at all. The latter is by far the more preferable outcome, as it would allow the series to tie in with Picard, and any future series and films set in that era. Star Trek should be aiming to bring its series together into one single timeline, and the ending of Discovery‘s second season actually gives them a great way to do so.
Instead of travelling 950 years into the future, the USS Discovery would emerge in the Picard era, perhaps in an area of space far away from the Federation or where Federation jurisdiction is in question. Nothing from the Season 3 trailer that premiered a few months ago is contradicted by a setting like that, and in my opinion it would allow for future Star Trek shows to work better as one single franchise, with related – if separate – stories. As things stand, the franchise is fractured by the huge gaps in its timeline between series, and aside from the briefest of references it won’t be possible to have any crossings over.
It would be easy to explain, as well. The Red Angel suit and/or Discovery herself malfunctioned, causing the time-wormhole to collapse before they had exited, thrusting both Burnham and the ship into the early 25th Century. That whole situation could be cleared up inside of the first ten minutes, and whatever we saw in the trailer could just as easily be taking place around the same time as Picard.
Part of Discovery‘s problem has always been its place in canon. I mentioned before the vocal minority of fans who’ve taken it on themselves to be hate mongers of the series and everything about it, but the show itself has provided them the ammunition. The silly thing is that there was no reason to make it that way – nothing about the first two seasons of Discovery would have changed if it were a sequel series, aside from a handful of TOS-era characters. The Mirror Universe plot would have been fine, either by saying the Terran Empire had reformed after the events of DS9 or by setting it in a different parallel reality. And the time travel/Red Angel plot would’ve worked too, and there’d have been no reason to end it by sending the ship away.
In a similar way to how Disney and Lucasfilm have approached the Star Wars sequels, it seems from the way Discovery and the other new Star Trek shows have been rolled out that ViacomCBS hasn’t had a consistent approach, nor really had any idea of what direction to take the rejuvenated franchise. The result in the case of the Star Wars films has been a failed prequel, a complete mess of a trilogy lacking a cohesive story, and one standalone film that was brilliant almost by accident. I hope the same fate isn’t in store for Star Trek, or the franchise could disappear just as quickly as it was renewed. At the end of the day, ViacomCBS brought Star Trek back for basically one reason – it was the biggest property they owned with the best name recognition, and they wanted to launch their own version of Netflix to try to get a piece of the streaming action. But if CBS All Access continues to struggle (at this point it’s not clear whether it’s actually been profitable or has a pathway to becoming profitable) there’s no reason for ViacomCBS to keep making new Star Trek. After all, what would be the point?
The Short Treks episode from its first season, Calypso, comes into play when talking about the direction Discovery could and should go.
Calypso is set after the USS Discovery has been abandoned for almost a millennium, and a human character – or at least, someone we assume to be human – comes aboard. Discovery’s computer has evolved into a full artificial intelligence, complete with emotions, but we don’t learn the stardate or exactly when it’s supposed to take place. If Discovery sets its third season in the 33rd Century, 1,000 years later would be the 43rd Century, which would set Calypso far beyond anything we’ve ever seen in Star Trek. And that still could be its setting, there’s nothing to say that doesn’t work in the context of Discovery setting itself in the far future. But it was interesting that this episode premiered just prior to the season where the USS Discovery and her crew also end up further ahead in the timeline from anything else we’ve seen before. Some people have suggested a connection, or that the galaxy we glimpsed in Calypso is the one Discovery will enter in Season 3.
There are some superficial similarities based on the trailer – both settings exclude Starfleet and suggest that the Federation isn’t present, both feature humans who are at war or in conflict, and both suggest that the level of technology present aboard Discovery is either roughly equal to that which exists in the future or is perhaps even something future people would covet. So is Discovery‘s third season perhaps in the Calypso timeline, and if it is, how would Calypso itself be explained given that the USS Discovery was abandoned? There are a lot of loose ends to tie up there.
It seems to me that at the time Calypso was being made, Discovery‘s future was in jeopardy, or at least in doubt. This would explain why Calypso exists as an epilogue – almost certainly one to an alternate ending for Season 2 where the ship is abandoned. If that had been one option the writers were considering, Calypso makes perfect sense. As things stand now, it’s a bit of an outlier.
I really feel thatbringing together Discovery and Picard somehow is a great option for Star Trek, and because of the nature of time travel stories it would be possible to do so in a convincing way that doesn’t feel too forced. Discovery has been a great reboot for Star Trek on television and it deserves more success than it’s arguably had thus far. But the time has come for Star Trek to stop looking back at its own past and do what it’s always done best – press ahead into the future. And if the future is the Picard era – which makes the most sense – then finding a way to tie Discovery to that is what needs to happen.
Whether I can call it a “theory” or not is questionable, because at the end of the day the most likely outcome is that Discovery does what everyone has said it will do and head into that far future setting. But my hope and/or my preference would be that it doesn’t. I don’t think it necessarily needed to leave the 23rd Century, and keeping it in that same setting would have allowed for some crossover with the Section 31 series. But if it has to leave and go into the future, ending up around the time of Picard just makes so much more sense.
If we think about technological progress in the Star Trek galaxy, in roughly 200 years we’ve gone from the tech available on the NX-01 Enterprise, with limited warp speeds and basic weapons, through Kirk’s time and greater exploration of the Alpha Quadrant, into the 24th Century with holodecks, slipstream drives, and the rollout of time travel. The level of technological change in 200-odd years is massive. Representing on-screen the level of change between the 24th and 33rd Centuries will be a huge challenge, and if the tech available to future Federation citizens in the 33rd Century looks oddly identical to that of the Picard era – and thanks to visual effects it will at least look similar – then that will have to be explained somehow. And from the trailer, it looks like Discovery is launching into an almost post-apocalyptic setting… that’s one way to explain it. But is it a good way to explain it? I don’t know. I’m not convinced post-apocalyptic Star Trek is what I want to see, and at the end of the day all of this speculation and hope is down to that fact. If Discovery couldn’t continue in its 23rd Century setting, then at the very least I’d much rather see it connect with Picard than try to explain why the future is so grim and technology has stagnated.
Whether it happens or not, I don’t know. I doubt it, but I still think that putting Discovery in that era gives the show and the franchise more options and better options than going such a long way into the future, beyond everything we’ve seen.
I had more to say on the potential for a post-apocalyptic setting, but I’ll save that for next time.
Live Long and Prosper!
As a final note, I just want to say that more Star Trek is always better than less or none, and whatever Discovery does and wherever it goes, I will always tune in to see what’s happening. As a fan, I’ll always want to see more and spend more time in that world.
The Star Trek franchise, including Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and Short Treks, are the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler warning: spoilers ahead for Star Trek, including both seasons of Star Trek: Discovery. If you haven’t seen Discovery yet and don’t want to see any spoilers, you’re better off reading another article and coming back when you’re caught up.
Just to get this out of the way, more Star Trek on our screens is always going to be a good thing. Even when it’s at its worst – like some of the episodes in TOS season 3, or that weird TNG clip show in season 2 – it’s still better than having no Star Trek at all. When Star Trek: Enterprise was cancelled in 2005 I really felt disappointed. I wasn’t around through the dark days of the 1970s when it seemed like Star Trek was gone forever, so to me this was the first time I’d really seen it off the air. I’m not sure if you remember, but before JJ Abrams picked up the franchise for his reboot film, Star Trek really did look dead.
I also don’t like the expression “nobody asked for this”. A lot of films and series that nobody seemed to be asking for have turned out to be absolutely fantastic. And honestly, in today’s insular fan communities, a lot of what people seem to be asking for or think would be good would either turn out to be just god-awful, or at the very best a niche product that would be a commercial failure.
So with those two big caveats out of the way, I’m not really sold at the moment on the idea of a Star Trek series based around Section 31.
There are some interesting ideas within that concept, which, if properly executed, could work well. But there are some issues with the Section 31 show as currently envisioned that make me feel it might not be the best direction to take the franchise.
First is the timeframe. With Star Trek: Picard and Lower Decks returning to the late 24th Century and beyond, as well as Discovery‘s third season heading into an unknown future, I’m just not sure that the franchise needs to have three different eras on the go simultaneously. Aside from the fact that it’s convoluted to the point of being offputting for new viewers – people who CBS needs to hook in and retain if Star Trek is to survive long-term – it’s just not a good way to split up the narrative of the franchise. Personally I’ve been going back and forth on my pet theory that Discovery either doesn’t go as far into the future as was suggested last season, or that somehow its time travel narrative crosses over with Picard. It just makes more sense to me to do it that way; tying shows together when they’re set in the same universe and being produced at the same time makes a lot of sense. Look at how the Marvel films cross over with one another successfully. But that’s just one point.
The 23rd Century has been explored a lot recently, and Star Trek has been busy with prequels, reboots, and mid-quels (or whatever Discovery is) since the turn of the millennium. I don’t want to say it’s entirely devoid of storytelling potential, but Star Trek has primarily been about moving forward, looking to the future, and where it’s been arguably at its least successful from the point of view of its story is when it’s been looking back at its own history and tying itself in knots. After four seasons of Enterprise, three reboot films, and two seasons of Discovery, it’s going to be great to see Star Trek finally moving into the future again, and the Section 31 series taking place in the 23rd Century seems more than a little regressive when looking at Picard, Lower Decks, and Discovery‘s future.
The next issue is with the two main characters, or rather, the two characters returning from Discovery around whom the show is currently being built.
Ash Tyler – or Voq – has had his story fairly well explored already in his appearances in Star Trek: Discovery. Without inventing more backstory for him, it’s hard to see where he’d go and how he’ll be able to have a satisfying character arc. Having started out as a victim of Klingon manipulation, Tyler fought hard against his programming and fell in love with Discovery’s protagonist, Michael Burnham, who helped him overcome what had been done to him in what was a very interesting and inspirational rape analogy. Star Trek, for me, is at its best when it uses its sci-fi setting to tackle real-world issues, and the issue of under-reported male sexual abuse is something Ash Tyler’s story touched on perfectly. And in his second season role as an agent of Section 31, he overcame his Klingon heritage, had a child, gave up his child, and finally dealt with his feelings for Burnham – and hers for him. He’s been on a rollercoaster over the last two seasons, but what he’s been through has concluded, and while there may be lingering feelings left over from that, as a story arc it’s essentially done. Because of how much of him we’ve seen and how much he’s been through, he wouldn’t make for the best protagonist.
So that leaves the Mirror Universe version of Burnham’s old captain, Philippa Georgiou. Michelle Yeoh has been announced as the lead actress of this series, so her character would be central to the Section 31 show. But… what character is there, exactly? In terms of modern Star Trek, Mirror Georgiou is about as one-dimensional as it gets. She seems to like being evil for the sake of being evil – a 23rd Century Heinz Doofenshmirtz, perhaps, but with less backstory. No, Mirror Georgiou is the Star Trek equivalent of a villain from a bad direct-to-video kids’ film, the kind of person who wants to steal a puppy from a child or tries to shut down a sweet shop so she can bulldoze it to build an office block. She just isn’t interesting in the slightest.
I like Michelle Yeoh. As a supporting actress in Danny Boyle’s 2007 film Sunshine, she did a great job. But she’s unproven as a lead actress in a major series like this, and the character she’s set to play just isn’t one a lot of fans find interesting or relatable.
While there are positives to consider from a Section 31 series, such as exploring how the organisation changed and went entirely underground between its appearances in Discovery and Deep Space Nine, as well as the potential to see Star Trek cross over into the mystery/thriller genre, I’m just not convinced right now that it’s the right way to go.
Section 31 was announced too early. If CBS had waited to see how Discovery’s second season was received, then the obvious choice by far for a spin-off was an Anson Mount-led series, which would probably be set on the Enterprise. That would be the fan favourite choice for a 23rd Century spin-off at the moment. You can see the desire for such a series at conventions and panels, and whenever Alex Kurtzman and others are interviewed, it’s the one question that keeps coming up. Conversely, when was the last time you heard anyone asking about how the Section 31 show is progressing?
It is actually a really great time to be a Star Trek fan at the moment. There are three series scheduled to premiere in 2020 – Picard‘s first season, Discovery‘s third season, and the first season of Lower Decks which already has a second on order. And in addition, a fourth Kelvin-timeline film is in the works, and beyond that, a possible Quentin Tarantino-directed Star Trek film. More Star Trek on our screens is always going to be a good thing, and while I don’t want to say I don’t want Section 31, it’s just not at the top of my list right now. I want it to do well, and to be successful, because I want Star Trek as a franchise to succeed and carry on into the future. So while I remain more than a little cautious about approaching this new show, I wish it well and I will certainly tune in when it premieres. Perhaps in 2021?
Live Long and Prosper!
Star Trek: Discovery and all other Star Trek series and films are available in the United States on CBS All Access, and in other countries on Netflix. Star Trek: Picard premieres on CBS All Access in January 2020 and on Amazon Prime in other countries. All copyrights belong to Paramount and CBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.