Did bad timing kill the Section 31 series?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3.

The Section 31 series is currently stuck in that nebulous zone that industry insiders refer to as “development hell.” Despite having been officially announced almost three years ago and supposedly having scripts written, at time of writing it’s been a very long time indeed since we heard anything close to official about the series.

I last took a look at the Section 31 show’s prospects back at the end of April, and since it’s been a while I think we should briefly recap why I feel increasingly sure that the project isn’t going ahead.

After a deeply underwhelming reaction to the Section 31 show’s announcement in 2019, Discovery’s second season premiered – and fans immediately fell in love with Captain Pike, Spock, and Number One. Calls for Pike to be granted his own spin-off eventually led to the development of Strange New Worlds. After Strange New Worlds was officially announced, we began to hear rumblings about the Section 31 series potentially being reworked. For a show that had supposedly been ready to go and on the verge of beginning official production for more than a year, news in 2020 that scripts were being re-written did not sound good.

Has the Section 31 show been quietly cancelled?

Alex Kurtzman – the head of Star Trek for ViacomCBS – later dropped a significant bombshell: that there were no plans for any new Star Trek series to enter production until one of the current shows has concluded. With Discovery, Picard, Lower Decks, Prodigy, and Strange New Worlds all being worked on at that point, Kurtzman said that no other shows would enter production until at least one of those had finished its run. We later heard from the Section 31 show’s co-creators that they were “still having conversations” about the Section 31 series – which sounds an awful lot like industry speak for a project on life-support.

Back in April we heard from Michelle Yeoh – Empress Georgiou herself – on The Pod Directive, Star Trek’s official podcast. It’s important to keep in mind that The Pod Directive is an official production, not a fan-made one, because if Yeoh had been interviewed by literally any Trekkie in such a format, the question of the Section 31 show’s future would certainly have come up. It didn’t – and Yeoh could only speak in very vague terms about hoping to “one day” return to the role of Georgiou.

Michelle Yeoh appeared on Star Trek’s official podcast earlier this year.

Months later and we still haven’t heard anything about Section 31. Shazad Latif, who played Tyler in Discovery’s first two seasons, suggested that there had been unofficial chats about the show earlier this year – but again, that hardly sounds positive. At Star Trek Day back in September, Alex Kurtzman teased that a Starfleet Academy series may be in the very early stages of being worked on, which could mean that it’ll be the next project for the Star Trek franchise. In contrast, the Section 31 series wasn’t mentioned at Star Trek Day at all.

Let’s assume for now that the combination of no official announcements and a slow trickle of bad news does in fact mean that the Section 31 show isn’t going to happen. The question is why? What might’ve caused a rethink over at ViacomCBS and convinced the corporation to invest its time and money elsewhere?

Alex Kurtzman is in charge of the Star Trek franchise.
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It isn’t as simple as saying “Captain Pike.” It’s true that the fan response to Pike (as well as to Spock and Number One) absolutely stole the Section 31 show’s thunder in 2019, but that can’t be the full story. It is very interesting to note, though, that the support for Captain Pike from Discovery fans and viewers seemed to catch ViacomCBS completely off-guard. Did they not realise, during production on Discovery Season 2, that they had something special on their hands with Anson Mount and Ethan Peck? If not, why not?

Perhaps it’s true that ViacomCBS was only willing to greenlight one Discovery spin-off in 2019, and if that’s the case it was patently obvious within a couple of episodes which character fans were clamouring to spend more time with – and which they weren’t. But in 2019 ViacomCBS was practically throwing its money around, working on Star Trek projects left, right, and centre. It doesn’t make sense to say that there was only enough money in the kitty for one spin-off – and if fans liked both Georgiou and Pike, why not go ahead with both projects?

Anson Mount as Captain Christopher Pike.

The build-up to Discovery Season 2 came in the wake of the surprise announcement of Star Trek: Picard. Many Trekkies were incredibly excited to revisit the 24th Century and see the next chapter of Picard’s life, and there was a great deal of buzz and excitement surrounding Picard Season 1. As I argued at the time, a Discovery spin-off in the 23rd Century almost felt like a regressive step in comparison; many fans were excited to see the Star Trek franchise’s overall timeline move forward again for the first time in eighteen years – Section 31, being set in the 23rd Century, felt like a backwards step.

The intention behind announcing the Section 31 series prior to Discovery Season 2 was twofold: partly to drive subscribers to what was then still called CBS All Access, reminding folks that a new season of Star Trek was coming, but also to reaffirm the corporation’s commitment to Star Trek as a brand and Discovery as a series in the wake of a somewhat controversial first season. As Season 1 was rolling on, there were an increasing number of anti-Star Trek social media groups popping up, and one commonly-heard refrain in 2017, 2018, and into 2019 was that Discovery was about to be cancelled. This story, by the way, still does the rounds in those same groups in 2021, despite the show now being into its fourth season!

The timing of the Section 31 show’s announcement was intended to provide a boost to CBS All Access.

There was a need for ViacomCBS to try to bring in more subscribers, and there was also a need to do something to demonstrate that the corporation still had faith in Discovery and the broader Star Trek franchise. Shutting down some of the anti-Trek hate wasn’t the main reason, but it may well have been a factor in the decision-making.

So in January 2019, as Discovery’s second season drew near, we got the announcement of the Section 31 series. But rather than the positive response ViacomCBS was hoping for, reaction to the news was muted at best – and disagreeable at worst.

I was one of many Trekkies left underwhelmed by the concept of the Section 31 series at that time. Michelle Yeoh is an outstanding performer, don’t misunderstand me for a moment. But her character of Empress Georgiou was someone who was fundamentally uninteresting – at least she was as of the end of Discovery Season 1. Remember that the Section 31 show was announced before a single Season 2 episode had aired, and long before Georgiou got some much-needed character development in Season 3.

Georgiou changed a lot over the course of Season 3 in particular.

Imagine, for a moment, that the Section 31 show had been announced last December – in the days following the broadcast of Terra Firma, Part 2. How much more excited and interested might fans have been then than they were in January 2019? I think we all know the answer to that question.

The Mirror Universe and its Terran inhabitants can be fun, and even though I freely admit that the Mirror Universe is far from my favourite Star Trek setting, I can appreciate what it brings to the table. But the Mirror Universe has only ever been the kind of over-the-top pantomime fun that I can enjoy for a single episode at a time. Terrans are basically all the same: violence-loving sociopaths. They make Prime Timeline Klingons look positively tame thanks to their gratuitous use of violence and torture, and there’s never been any demonstrable room for character depth or nuance.

The best Mirror Universe character, aside from Georgiou herself, was probably Mirror Spock way back in The Original Series. Deep Space Nine tried, to its credit, to tell some different Mirror Universe stories about enslaved Terrans and a Klingon-Cardassian Alliance – but the Alliance fell into many of the same thematic and storytelling traps as the Terran Empire had.

Aside from Georgiou, Mirror Spock is one of the few nuanced and interesting Mirror Universe characters.

In short, Mirror Universe characters are uninteresting at best. At worst, as we see far too often across different Star Trek shows (including Discovery) they’re pathetically ridiculous. A combination of poor scriptwriting and a one-dimensional setting encourages even great actors like Sonequa Martin-Green to ham it up and put in performances that wouldn’t be out of place in a primary school play. At the end of Discovery Season 1, there was nothing at all to indicate that Empress Georgiou wasn’t the same kind of bland, uninteresting Mirror Universe villain as characters like Intendant Kira or Mirror Kirk.

Unlike many other Terran characters, I never felt that the acting performance put in by Michelle Yeoh was over-the-top. Some Mirror Universe performances – such as Mirror Kirk in The Original Series and Mirror Burnham in Discovery – are so truly awful that I find them borderline unwatchable, as the Mirror Universe setting seems to trick even competent performers into forgetting how to act. Badly-written scripts and a setting that doesn’t lend itself to anything but pantomime don’t help, of course. But I felt, to Michelle Yeoh’s credit, that Georgiou managed to avoid falling victim to the worst tropes of the setting. Even so, that didn’t make the way the character was presented at the end of Discovery’s first season a net positive going into the announcement of the Section 31 series.

Some Mirror Universe performances are excruciating to watch…

In Discovery’s first season, we saw first-hand how Georgiou ruled the Terran Empire with an iron fist. She subjugated aliens – including Saru’s people, the Kelpiens – and ensured they were second-class citizens at best, slaves at worst. She killed indiscriminately and had no qualms whatsoever about destroying entire planets or exterminating entire sentient races. Some fans (and non-fans) derisively termed Georgiou “Space Hitler” as a result. And this was the point at which ViacomCBS announced a new series with this character as its lead.

I never liked the term “Space Hitler” to attack Georgiou… but I confess that I understand why some fans felt it was an appropriate descriptor in Season 1. It encapsulates Georgiou as a dictator, as a violent sociopath, as someone willing to inflict some truly evil actions upon the galaxy, and as someone who governs a state with a pro-human, anti-alien philosophy. It’s not an expression I would use; it’s offensive, crass, and deliberately provocative. It’s also a pretty crude analogy, but I get where it came from.

Georgiou committed many atrocities while ruling the Terran Empire.

Think for a moment about Georgiou’s actions in Season 1. In her first appearance, she insists that Burnham and the crew “bow to their emperor,” then proceeds to feed Kelpien meat to Burnham a couple of episodes later. After being dethroned as Emperor and brought to the Prime Universe by the crew of the USS Discovery, she teams up with Admiral Cornwell to destroy the entire Klingon homeworld. Why? Does she suddenly care about the Federation and want to see it preserved? No: she likes killing, she likes violence, and she saw an opportunity to commit genocide and just went for it.

We began to see indications in Season 2 that Georgiou had a softer side, particularly when it came to Michael Burnham. At one point in the episode The Red Angel (unfortunately the season’s worst) she wanted to cut short a dangerous assignment when Burnham’s life appeared to be in danger. But it wouldn’t be until Season 3 – and really not until midway through the season – that any significant softening of Georgiou’s hard Terran exterior would be readily apparent.

Georgiou was rather partial to roast Kelpien in Discovery’s first season.

Terra Firma went a long way to changing how I felt about Georgiou – as I’m sure it did for many other fans as well. We saw nuance in her characterisation for the first time – a sense that there was more to her than just violence and psychopathy for their own sakes. She expressed empathy for the first time, being unwilling or unable to carry out some of the violent actions that her role as Empress would have required of her. The changes she attempted to make to the way that the Terran Empire was governed ultimately led to her “death” within the Guardian of Forever’s portal – and proved to the Guardian that she was deserving of a second chance. I would argue that it was this episode that also demonstrated to us as the audience that Georgiou was deserving of a second look, too.

Georgiou needed Terra Firma to really come into her own as a character – especially a character that a new series was going to focus on. It wasn’t until we saw her returned to the Terran Empire – or the Guardian’s approximation of it, at any rate – that we could appreciate how living with the Federation had changed some of her opinions and attitudes. For example, Season 1 Georgiou would happily eat Kelpien. But by the time Terra Firma rolled around she’d come to value, in her own way, Saru as a person and even as a leader.

Georgiou had come a long way from eating Kelpien to arrive at this moment.

As the audience, we needed to see all of that before we could conceivably commit to a series starring this character. In hindsight it’s easy to say that the Section 31 series was a good idea, because I have to assume that the writers and producers already had some kind of an outline in mind for this story. At the very least they’d have known Georgiou’s destination; the culmination of her arc across Discovery’s first three seasons. But none of that was apparent to us as the audience at the end of Season 1.

Had Section 31 been announced not in January 2019 but December 2020, I think we’d have seen a far more positive and excited reaction to the new show. But ViacomCBS jumped the gun, trying to boost Discovery and CBS All Access without, perhaps, fully thinking through what the show’s actual prospects were or what the reaction from Trekkies might be. It wouldn’t be the last time that the corporation would mangle its handling of the Star Trek franchise, unfortunately.

Had the Section 31 show been announced at this point, not almost two years earlier, the fan reaction would likely have been very different.

ViacomCBS’ biggest failing when it came to Discovery’s second season is, I would argue, not realising how strongly fans would feel about Pike, and how much excitement there would be within the fandom for a Pike spin-off. If they’d realised that – and with hindsight it should’ve been obvious, especially considering these shows are almost always shown to audiences at test-screenings before they premiere – then perhaps the Section 31 announcement would’ve been held back, and Strange New Worlds could’ve been announced either during or shortly after Discovery’s second season.

Because of issues with Georgiou’s characterisation, prior to Season 2 was a bad time to announce the Section 31 series. The fact that the series is based around Section 31 – an organisation that fans have often indicated that we’d like to see more of – got completely buried by the announcement that Michelle Yeoh was going to headline it. Arguments over the character of Empress Georgiou and her suitability as the star of a new show drowned out any interest in the Section 31 organisation itself. And the otherwise muted, uninterested response from Trekkies and a wider television audience compounded that, driving the first nail into what appears to be the series’ coffin.

We may never learn what comes next for Georgiou.

Speaking personally, it wasn’t until we got to Terra Firma that I saw the merits of a Section 31 show with Georgiou at the helm. One of the first articles I wrote here on the website almost two years ago was about the Section 31 series – and how I was truly not interested in it at all. It took seeing Georgiou’s character arc play out, and the strong two-part episode Terra Firma in particular, before I was sold on the concept. But by then, it seems, it may well have been too late to revive the show’s declining prospects.

Star Trek’s past is littered with unresolved story elements – though most don’t involve major characters. It’s possible that Georgiou’s story will simply be left incomplete, her destination after entering the Guardian of Forever’s portal never to be shown nor explained on screen. That would be unfortunate, especially because the character we finally got to see by the latter part of Discovery’s third season is so much more nuanced and interesting to follow. Seeing Georgiou run Section 31 had finally begun to sound like a show that Trekkies were interested in… but it feels like it’s too late now. The franchise has simply moved on to other projects.

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.

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 4, Episodes 1-2

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4. Spoilers are also present for Star Trek: Picard Season 1 and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Ahhh… it feels so good to write these words! Star Trek: Discovery is finally available in Latin America, Western Europe, Australia, and a few other countries and territories via a patchwork of different streaming services, television channels, and other digital distribution methods. Significant numbers of Trekkies in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere still can’t access Discovery Season 4 (by conventional methods, at least) but it feels like a victory for fan activism nevertheless. It’s my sincere hope that ViacomCBS will continue to try to bring Discovery Season 4 – and the rest of Star Trek – to regions and territories where it isn’t yet available, and I’ll keep bringing up the issue at every opportunity.

Following the positive news the other day that Discovery is going to be available to watch, I have taken the decision to resume my reviews and theories for the duration of the season. I felt it was necessary to criticise ViacomCBS, Paramount+, and the rest of the corporate side of Star Trek following their poor decision to withdraw the show, but equally I feel it’s important for all of us to support Star Trek if it is available. That means watching it on Pluto TV, purchasing episodes on platforms like iTunes/Amazon, or watching on Paramount+.

Pluto TV is the current home of Star Trek: Discovery here in the UK – and in much of the rest of western Europe.

This isn’t a one-way street, and when corporations make positive decisions – especially following a significant fan campaign – I think we need to go out of our way to support the franchises we love and show companies like ViacomCBS that listening to fan feedback pays off. It’s not good enough to criticise the company for their nonsense, but fail to acknowledge and respond positively when they reverse course or take good decisions.

The “victory” is bittersweet because I know that there are fans in other parts of the world who can’t watch Discovery. If I still lived in South Africa, for example, I’d be continuing my one-person Discovery review blackout! But because the show is now available here in the UK, I will be resuming my reviews. That doesn’t mean I don’t support fans in other parts of the world, and I will continue to do what I can in my own small way here on the website to call on ViacomCBS to make Discovery and the rest of Star Trek available.

Having dedicated close to 10,000 words and a week of my time to Discovery Season 4 and the international distribution situation, I think that’s more than enough on that for now! So let’s get back on track with a double-header review of the first two episodes: Kobayashi Maru and Anomaly.

The first shot of the new season.

Kobayashi Maru kicked off with a neat CGI sequence showing the USS Discovery arriving from a Spore Drive jump, then Book’s ship departing the shuttlebay. The special effects work across both episodes was outstanding, and the animators and artists deserve a lot of credit – even more so when you consider that much of the work was done remotely due to the pandemic. In particular I’d point to shots of Book’s ship in flight, the USS Discovery’s Spore Drive jumps, and the anti-gravity sequences that we’ll look at in a moment.

The one criticism that I have of Kobayashi Maru is related to CGI, though. It isn’t what you think – none of the effects themselves were bad! But as a consequence of the somewhat rapid, occasionally chaotic way that the episode was cut together, edited, and paced, at a couple of crucial moments, CGI sequences were nowhere near as long as they needed to be to properly communicate what was happening. At both points where Book was looking at the impact of the gravitational anomaly, first on Kwejian’s moon from the console of his ship and later at Kwejian itself from the bridge of Discovery, the CGI shots of the anomaly and the remains of the planet were barely shown for a scant few seconds – not long enough, in my opinion at least, to have the impact they were intended to have.

This CGI shot of the remains of Kwejian was only visible for a few seconds.

In the first case I think we can excuse the pacing. Book blacked out as the anomaly hit, and the structure of the scene was enough to show that the proverbial “something bad” was happening, but also the short cut kept it mysterious enough that we didn’t see everything – and were left wanting to know more. But as Book stood on the bridge of Discovery, we caught a glimpse of Kwejian that began somewhat blurry and obscured by the ship’s viewscreen, then lingered for mere seconds before cutting back to Book and the crew to see their reactions. A few extra seconds, perhaps, might’ve helped this moment.

As it is, we know what happened to Kwejian. And since we’re already talking about the premiere’s biggest single moment, let’s jump into the “should Kwejian have been destroyed” conversation! In my view, the season premiere needed something big to sufficiently communicate the stakes. A character death could’ve accomplished this, but considering that the anomaly is being presented as this kind of galaxy-ending threat, the destruction of an entire planet – especially one we’re familiar with and from which a main character originates – succeeds in this objective.

Book’s immediate reaction to the loss of his homeworld.

Objections to the Kwejian storyline seem to stem from a much broader point of contention – that Discovery shouldn’t be running this kind of apocalyptic storyline for the third (or arguably fourth) season in a row. Taking a break from saving the galaxy would’ve allowed the show to tell different kinds of stories – stories that could be just as exciting and dramatic, but smaller in scope and more character-oriented. That’s not a bad argument, but it’s been apparent since we got the first teaser trailer for the season at First Contact Day in April that this was going to be the direction of travel. In the context of this kind of story, the destruction of Kwejian works; it succeeds as a story point.

Obviously this hurts Book, and represents a change for his character that’s at least as substantial as Saru’s Season 2 vahar’ai transformation. Two episodes in, we don’t really know what the outcome of this will be for Book. He could follow the path of Kelvin-timeline Spock, recommitting himself to his work. He could draw on the loss of Kwejian at a key moment later in the story, perhaps spurring him on as he knows he’s one of the last remaining Kwejian natives. Or he could fall deeper into a depression that lasts all season and from which he struggles to recover. One thing is certain, though: Book won’t be the same after the destruction of his home planet and the loss of his family.

Book being comforted by Burnham in Anomaly.

President Rillak manages to simultaneously embody the “bad admiral” character archetype from past iterations of the franchise (where Starfleet admirals would often be depicted as adversarial if not outright evil) while also feeling like a character with nuance and depth. It would’ve been easy for Rillak to fall into a fairly flat villain trope given that Kobayashi Maru deliberately pitted her against Captain Burnham right from the start. But her reasons for seeking an evaluation of Burnham, her level-headed rebuke and assessment of Burnham’s captaincy, and the impressive way she stepped in to disarm the situation aboard the space station all work in her favour.

However, I would be remiss not to point out that her noisy interventions on the bridge of a starship while it was engaged in a dangerous and highly time-sensitive assignment ended up causing a lot of problems. Had Captain Burnham not been delayed by those crucical seconds, the outcome of the mission could have been very different – and someone who lost their life might’ve survived. There is a time and place for someone in a position of authority to question or criticise, and in the heat of the moment is not that time.

President Rillak interrupted Captain Burnham at the wrong moment.

I’m glad that President Rillak has been brought on board, though. The only other authority figure we’ve met within Starfleet is Admiral Vance – and I can’t imagine him being so adversarial and harsh toward Captain Burnham. I was worried before the season premiered that storylines which could’ve been Vance’s will end up going to President Rillak, but I’m actually glad in this case that he gets to remain on friendly terms with Discovery’s captain, and that we don’t have to see him as an obstacle for her to overcome.

The “butterfly aliens” had a neat, unique design, and it played into the story of repairing their non-functional satellite network well. My only criticism of this sequence would be that it felt rushed. The intention was to show Captain Burnham and the crew working together, knowing each other’s strengths and using them to solve a puzzle. But Kobayashi Maru as a whole felt very rapidly-paced, and this sequence – which in past iterations of Star Trek might’ve been a whole episode – felt undeniably rushed, lasting only a few minutes. The episode wanted to get into the meat of the story, and the “butterfly aliens” and their satellites were elbowed out of the way in relatively short order to make that happen.

The butterfly aliens up close.

I get the sense that Book and Burnham’s mission to deliver dilithium to the “butterfly aliens” might be all that we get to see of the Federation being rebuilt this season. Some of this seems to have happened off-screen, and it feels like the rebuilding, expanding Federation is basically going to be a backdrop to the main event – the story of the gravitational anomaly.

Considering how big and devastating the Burn had been, I think I’d have liked to see more of this rebuilding work. It makes a good backdrop, don’t get me wrong, and it gives the crew something to fight for and defend as they step up their efforts to defend against the anomaly. But when you think back to how fractured and small the Federation felt in Season 3, particularly in the first half of the season, there’s a bit of a risk that we’re rushing past something meaningful; a story worth telling.

Fixing the satellites for the butterfly aliens was a short moment designed to be a microcosm of Captain Burnham’s and the USS Discovery’s work prior to the main anomaly storyline.

Frankly, I could have happily entertained the idea of an entire season’s worth of “rebuilding” stories. Seeing Captain Burnham and the crew traveling the length and breadth of the rump Federation, bringing help and hope to familiar and new races would have been really interesting to see. It would’ve allowed for a season-long story, but one comprised much more of individual elements – rebuilding work on one planet or in one system, then moving on to a different area to face a different challenge. It was nice to get a taste of this rebuilding work – which is presumably something Captain Burnham and the crew have been doing a lot of off-screen – but there was absolutely scope to do a lot more with this idea.

Though only on screen for a brief moment, it was wonderful to see Admiral Vance’s family. He’d mentioned them in Season 3, but it was implied that his work meant he couldn’t spend as much time with them as he wanted. To see him able to welcome them to Starfleet Academy and show them around was really touching.

Admiral Vance with his wife and daughter.

One moment in Kobayashi Maru had me tearing up – and I bet you can guess which one! As President Rillak introduced the assembled cadets and officers to Starfleet’s new Archer Space Dock, Archer’s Theme from the end credits of Star Trek: Enterprise was heard. The USS Voyager-J was docked, and for a brief moment I got very emotional! Star Trek has done this to me before: seeing the refit USS Enterprise for the first time in The Motion Picture, accompanied by another beautiful piece of music, is another sequence that turns on the water works! This scene was very similar, and was truly a beautiful homage to Enterprise. More than a millennium after his voyages of exploration, it’s incredibly sweet to see the Federation remembering Captain Archer.

As Kobayashi Maru drew to a close, pretty much everything we’d seen across the episode’s fifty-minute runtime had ceased to feel important. The revelation of Kwejian’s destruction overruled everything else, and the conflict between Captain Burnham and President Rillak felt petty in comparison. Tackling the anomaly would mean they’d have to pull together – any interpersonal conflict or rivalries now needed to be set aside. As I sat down to watch Anomaly, the direction of travel for the season felt set.

This moment, accompanied by a familiar musical sting, was beautiful

That doesn’t mean that Kobayashi Maru was some kind of waste. It told an exciting and engaging story in its own right, one which laid the groundwork for what’s to come in two key ways: firstly by showing off how far the Federation has come, giving Captain Burnham and the crew something to fight for, and secondly by introducing the gravitational anomaly and its devastating destructive power.

So that brings us to Anomaly.

Despite its subject matter, Anomaly ended up being a much more intimate, personal, and emotional episode than I initially expected. Several different characters got cathartic, emotional storylines that really showed off how well Discovery can do these smaller, personal moments even in the midst of a galactic-scale story.

Captain Burnham in Anomaly.

Book and Stamets made an amazing, underrated pair in Anomaly, and their central conflict was handled incredibly well. In the run-up to the season I had asked what Book’s ability to control the Spore Drive could mean for Starfleet, and we got part of an answer to that in Kobayashi Maru, with President Rillak explaining that a “next-generation” Spore Drive was in development. But naturally, a proud person like Stamets would be impacted by the reveal too.

I liked the way this was handled. It wasn’t presented as mere jealousy – though perhaps Stamets’ ego did play a role in the conflict between himself and Book – but more a feeling of helplessness. Having to rely on other people, feeling unable to help and having to watch from the sidelines as Stamets did in the Season 3 finale, is never a nice feeling. As someone who’s disabled and who has to rely on help more often than I’d like, this is definitely something very relatable. Everyone wants to feel independent and in control of their life and their situation – Stamets lost that control, and having already lost his husband once before was already emotionally vulnerable to this kind of situation. He appears to have redirected some of those feelings onto Book, but he recognised that and tried to make amends.

Stamets and Book made a great pair.

David Ajala and Anthony Rapp played off one another beautifully in their scenes together, and it makes me want more Book and Stamets! They’re an unlikely team in so many ways, but it’s fantastic to see Discovery stepping out of its comfort zone and pairing up different character duos. This is something I hope to see more of as the season rumbles on.

One character pairing that came together beautifully at the beginning of Season 3 last year was Saru and Tilly, and seeing them reunited in Anomaly was fantastic. Saru is a calming influence on Tilly, who can be excitable and emotion-driven, and their contrasting personalities make for truly fun viewing. Tilly has come a long way since Season 1, but she still needs the occasional support of someone like Saru.

Tilly was glad to have Saru back!

Speaking of Saru, he’s now back aboard Discovery – albeit in a less-than-permanent capacity. What I liked about Saru’s reunion with Captain Burnham was the agency he was given over his role after returning to Starfleet. It would have been easy for the writers to have Burnham be the one to ask Saru to remain aboard the ship, but for Saru himself to make the offer to serve as first officer was an outstanding choice. I got genuinely emotional seeing Burnham accept his offer.

This might irritate the Discovery haters, but Captain Burnham and first officer Saru mirror Kirk and Spock in more ways than one; echoes of Star Trek’s first main character pairing are present. Burnham is younger, quicker to act, and more of a risk-taker. Saru is older, more experienced, and slower and more deliberate when considering his moves. He’s the perfect first officer to serve someone like Captain Burnham. She needs that kind of XO just like Kirk needed Spock – and while we’re talking about contrasting pairs, just like the calmer, level-headed Picard needed someone like Riker.

Captain Burnham arguably needs a first officer with the temperament of Saru.

I’m glad that Saru didn’t have to be demoted in order to take up his new role (like poor Decker was in The Motion Picture!) Starfleet ships have been depicted with two officers who both hold the rank of captain on several occasions; Kirk and Spock were both captains during the events of The Final Frontier and The Undiscovered Country, for example. So I don’t think it presents any kind of in-universe problem to see Saru occupy the role of first officer.

It would’ve been potentially interesting to see a secondary character promoted to occupy that role. Nilsson, Rhys, Bryce, or even Linus were possible contenders, and it wasn’t really clear who served in that role before Saru came aboard – Discovery has been flying around for months, after all. But on the whole, I think the role suits Saru perfectly. I’d even go so far as to say it suits him better than the captain’s chair ever did. His style is well suited to being the person to present multiple options, to consider the possibilities, but to leave the decision-making to someone else. I just hope that his presence on the ship won’t end up causing Captain Burnham any problems; I don’t think the writers would go down that road, but you never can tell!

There were other prospective first officer candidates – such as Rhys, who appeared to have the conn for a time in Kobayashi Maru.

Speaking of Captain Burnham, we see two distinct aspects of her command style on display across the first two episodes of the season. In Kobayashi Maru, particularly during the fast-paced opening sequence, we see her at her most self-assured, confident not only in her own abilities but in those of the crew under her command. In Anomaly, we see her willing to listen to the advice of members of her crew – relying on Tilly, Adira, Bryce, and particularly Saru at several key moments across the episode.

Critics of Michael Burnham’s characterisation would be well-advised to watch her in Anomaly in particular. I don’t think it’s fair to say she’s “changed” in Anomaly compared to how she’s usually been portrayed, but some of the criticisms of Burnham in past seasons stem from a sense of selfishness or self-centeredness that arguably are more to do with the way Discovery as a whole is written than the way Burnham herself is. But in Anomaly we see firsthand how she’s relying on others – and from the production side of things, how Discovery is willing to allow other characters far more agency over the way the story unfolds.

Anomaly was a great episode for Captain Burnham.

Someone like Bryce is a relative “blank slate” – despite being a longstanding member of the bridge crew. We don’t know a lot about him, his background, or his hobbies, so in that sense making him the one to figure out a solution to the dangerous situation makes sense. It’s quite believable that Bryce might enjoy kite-surfing – far more so than if it was suddenly a hobby ascribed to Burnham, Saru, or Tilly for the first time. It’s a contrivance, for sure, but Star Trek’s history is littered with those – many of which are far more egregious!

David Ajala put in his best and most emotional performance of the series so far in Anomaly, communicating the incredible, almost unimaginable pain of someone who feels like he’s lost everything. Mixed in with loss is regret – Book had spent most of the last few years away from Kwejian, prior to the events of Season 3’s episode Sanctuary, and in light of the loss of the world and his family, regrets those lost years all the more.

Book lost almost everything and everyone he had cared about – and David Ajala’s performance captured that pitch-perfectly.

The standoff between Captain Burnham and Book was riveting to watch in Anomaly, as the latter insisted on helming a dangerous mission into the anomaly. It reminded me of The Next Generation Season 6 episode Lessons, where Captain Picard struggles with the similar conundrum of ordering someone he cares about to undertake a dangerous mission. Lessons is a fantastic episode, but I think in retrospect it’s limited by the fact that Nella Darren – Picard’s love interest – is a new, one-off character. Book and Burnham’s relationship has been well-established over the course of Season 3 and into Season 4, so the conundrum she faces as he insists on going on the mission is something we as the audience are far more invested in.

Star Trek has, on more than one occasion, depicted people at moments of severe depression, willing to end their lives or to give up. Book is in that position in Anomaly – not actively trying to die, but so uncaring about his life in the wake of everything that’s happened that he’s willing to take risks, put himself in harm’s way, and give up rather than fight to survive. But Anomaly showed Book that Burnham is in his corner, willing to fight when he isn’t, and pushing him to find the strength to try.

Burnham was there for Book when he needed her most.

Anomaly shows us, through a variety of different character pairings, how people can help one another through difficult circumstances. Whether it’s Tilly complimenting Adira for their hard work, Saru telling Burnham to be a partner, not a captain, Dr Culber talking to Gray through Adira as he works on his new synthetic body, or Stamets reaching out to Book, the theme of the episode is connection.

I loved the Picard reference in the scene with Adira, Gray, and Dr Culber. It was an interesting revelation that the “Soong process” for transferring minds was ultimately unsuccessful in most cases – I wonder what impact that will have on future Picard stories. The character it might impact most is Dr Soong himself, as he had planned to transfer his own consciousness into a synthetic body. But perhaps we should leave that speculation for another time! I think the intention here was to pre-emptively close a potential plot hole – by saying that the Soong process is basically unlikely to succeed, it gets around potential questions in future about why it wasn’t possible to save characters by transferring them into synthetic bodies when they’re near death. I’m not sure it was necessarily something that needed to be wrapped up in this fashion, but then again we Trekkies can be a pedantic bunch!

Dr Culber connected Gray’s story to Star Trek: Picard Season 1.

As someone who has struggled for a long time with my own gender identity, the scene with Gray “customising” his new body was very emotional. For a long time, I lacked the confidence to change anything about my appearance – especially when going out in public – to better match my own gender identity, so to see Gray talking about making cosmetic changes in order to be more comfortable in his own skin – literally – was a deeply emotional moment.

There’s power in representation, and even though Gray wasn’t the main focus of Anomaly, the main scene he had with Dr Culber and Adira was one of the best, and perhaps most underrated, in the entire episode for me.

Gray had the opportunity to customise his new body.

One of the big questions facing Season 4 at the moment is the nature of the gravitational anomaly. It always felt that the characters’ first guesses as to what it could be wouldn’t pan out, but I kind of liked the idea of a rogue black hole – or pair of black holes, in this case. Facing a purely natural phenomenon could be a story that brings with it all kinds of real-world parallels as we struggle with the climate emergency, for example.

However, it seems from the ending of Anomaly that Stamets, Tilly, and co. weren’t correct with their binary black hole theory, once again opening up the story to a completely unknowable next phase. Keeping the mystery going is good; had the anomaly been all figured out within a couple of episodes it might’ve been less exciting going into the rest of the season! It was interesting, though, to see Tilly in the closing moments of Anomaly presenting this as a defeat.

The nature of the anomaly is still uncertain.

Tilly seemed to be suggesting that the fact that the anomaly’s path remains unpredictable means that the mission to scan it was somehow unsuccessful, but I’m not sure that’s the best way to present this revelation. Scanning the anomaly up close yielded a treasure trove of information for the crew to scour, and was an absolutely necessary step in understanding the danger it poses. Maybe its path is still impossible to predict – for now. But that doesn’t make the mission a failure. And considering no lives were lost and the damage to the ship seems repairable, I guess I just don’t really get why the closing moments of Anomaly chose to present the results of the data in such a negative way. Obviously it’s bad news that the path of the anomaly is still unpredictable – but that’s no one’s fault and it doesn’t mean that the mission failed.

The visual effect of the crew lifted out of their seats as artificial gravity failed was incredibly impactful; one of the most powerful visuals in the first two episodes. I can see why clips of that were chosen for the trailers! Star Trek rarely depicts artificial gravity failures – doing so has historically been prohibitively expensive. A couple of behind-the-scenes photos have shown the cast suspended in harnesses and on wires, and it seems clear that those sequences will have been difficult to film. It was worth the effort, though, and the finished effect is fantastic. Not only that, but I think it’s made substantially more impactful because artificial gravity failures are so uncommon in Star Trek.

Dr Culber and Captain Burnham float free as Discovery’s artificial gravity fails.

So that was Season 4’s opening pair of episodes. It took fans a lot of hard work to ensure the episodes would be available to more folks, so I hope everyone has found a way to tune in and watch via official channels – where such channels are available, of course. I think the season got off to a rocky start with all of the international mess, but the episodes themselves were fabulous, setting up a suitably engrossing mystery that feels very open right now. The story could go down any one of many different, utterly unpredictable routes – just like the anomaly itself!

Discovery is always at its best with moments of intimate characterisation, and there were many, many moments across both episodes that showed off the characters at their best – and gave the actors some fantastic material to work with. There were amazing performances from David Ajala, Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Ian Alexander, and Chelah Horsdal in particular, and I’m sure I’m leaving too many folks out. The visual effects are once again amazing, an improvement on Season 3 – something I didn’t think would’ve been possible.

As the credits rolled on Anomaly I was left wanting to know more – and not wanting to have to wait a week! That’s the mark of a good story in my book, leaving fans clamouring for more, wanting to figure out the show’s mysteries. I’m eagerly awaiting next week’s episode, Choose To Live. Stay tuned for my weekly list of theories in the days ahead, and a review of Choose To Live next week!

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, Scandinavia, Latin America, and Australia. The show is on Pluto TV in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and other parts of Western Europe at 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Individual episodes or the full season can be purchased on iTunes, Amazon Video, and possibly other platforms in the UK, parts of Europe, and select other countries. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

What will the Discovery decision mean for Picard, Strange New Worlds, Lower Decks, and the rest of Star Trek?

The fallout from the atrocious and unfair Star Trek: Discovery decision rumbles on. The ViacomCBS share price continues to tumble in the wake of their truly awful decision to piss off most of the fans of their biggest franchise, the rollout of Paramount+ continues at a snail’s pace with no specific launch dates even entering the conversation, and unfortunately we’re now seeing some divisions in the fandom itself, with North American Trekkies pitted against those of us in the rest of the world as arguments break out over the series. What a stinking mess.

At time of writing, both Star Trek: Prodigy and Star Trek: Discovery are “Paramount+ exclusives” all across the world – meaning the shows are locked behind a paywall that fans can’t actually pay for because the incompetently-managed streaming service hasn’t launched in the vast majority of countries and territories. I feel even worse for Trekkies in Australia, Latin America, and Scandinavia in some ways, though, because although Paramount+ has already arrived there, Discovery Season 4 still hasn’t been made available. If you needed any more evidence that ViacomCBS is one of the worst-run corporations in the entire entertainment industry, look no further than that arbitrary nonsense.

The logo of the mediocre streaming service at the heart of all these problems.

But Prodigy and Discovery aren’t the only Star Trek shows in production at the moment. In 2022 Trekkies have been promised Star Trek: Picard Season 2, Strange New Worlds Season 1, and Lower Decks Season 3 at a minimum. In the wake of the truly selfish and awful Discovery decision, however, I can’t help but feel very nervous about each of those shows. Will Trekkies around the world be able to enjoy any new Star Trek in the months ahead? Or will we see repeat after repeat of the Discovery mess?

Strange New Worlds seems all but certain to be denied any kind of international streaming deal. If you’re hoping to see the series hit Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, you might as well forget it – it’ll be a Paramount+ exclusive for sure. What that means in effect is that anywhere in the world without Paramount+ will miss out on Strange New Worlds. That feels like such a sure thing right now that I’d put money on it.

Don’t bet on seeing Captain Pike on your screens next year. At least not through the usual channels…

Currently, Picard Season 2 is scheduled for a February premiere. If the season runs for ten episodes, as Season 1 did in 2020, it’ll conclude sometime in late April or early May, meaning that Strange New Worlds could debut anytime around then – and certainly well before the middle of the year. At present, the UK and parts of Europe are promised Paramount+ in “early 2022” – which could be before the Strange New Worlds premiere, but it could also be long after the show has kicked off in the United States. And unfortunately, many countries and territories in Asia, Africa, and the rest of the world have no planned launch for Paramount+ at all, which means it could be 2023 or later before the service launches there. If it survives that long.

I simply don’t believe the promises ViacomCBS has made of an “early 2022” launch. Paramount+ has been so poorly managed and so incompetently handled by the corporation that a delay to these plans feels inevitable, so I’m not betting on the service launching here before the end of 2022. But even if, by some miracle, ViacomCBS actually manages to launch Paramount+ on time in Europe, that could still mean Strange New Worlds and Picard Season 2 won’t be broadcast simultaneously with North America.

Picard could well be pulled from Amazon Prime Video before Season 2.

As mentioned, Paramount+ has already arrived in Australia, Latin America, and Scandinavia – and it isn’t exactly brand-new, they’ve had it since March. But despite that, Discovery Season 4 isn’t being shown there at the same time as it’s being shown in North America… so even being very generous to ViacomCBS and assuming that the incompetent morons manage to get Paramount+ to the UK and Europe in “early 2022,” that still doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll be able to watch any of the new shows on the damn thing.

As I discussed the other day, ViacomCBS paid Netflix a large sum of money to ensure that Discovery Season 4 wouldn’t be available around the world. If they had done nothing, the show would’ve come to Netflix under existing contracts and licenses – but the corporation chose to intervene, hoping to boost sign-ups to Paramount+ (though the backlash may have actually cost the platform subscribers thanks to a fan-led boycott campaign). What’s to stop ViacomCBS from doing the same thing with Amazon Prime Video, the current home of Lower Decks and Picard?

Will Amazon Prime Video lose its Star Trek shows, just like Netflix?

One of the stupidest and most offensive things about the Discovery decision is that Paramount+ is unavailable across most of the world. If ViacomCBS had pulled Discovery from Netflix because Paramount+ had already launched and they wanted to keep their own shows on their own platform, it would still be frustrating, and the timing would still be awful, but at least there’d be a vague logic to it. But because Paramount+ isn’t even available, the decision has locked the show behind a paywall that no one is able to pay for. Which, as I’ve argued on more than one occasion, means you have the absolute moral justification to pirate the series.

But this kind of decision could well be repeated. I doubt very much that Paramount+ will be available here in the UK by February, in time for Season 2 of Picard. And on current form, there’s nothing to stop ViacomCBS from doing to Amazon Prime Video what they’ve just done to Netflix – pulling the series from broadcast with days to spare. I don’t think it’s safe to assume we’ll be watching Picard Season 2 on Amazon Prime Video… let alone Lower Decks Season 3, which likely won’t be broadcast until later in the year.

Lower Decks Season 3 could also be going exclusively to Paramount+.

Rather than the Discovery mess being a one-time thing, I think as international fans we need to get used to the idea that, at least for the next year or so, watching Star Trek along with our North American friends may not be possible – or at least may not be possible via conventional methods. Picard Season 2 and Strange New Worlds Season 1 feel the most vulnerable, but realistically we’ll soon see the entire franchise disappear behind Paramount+’s paywall – regardless of whether Paramount+ is actually available.

I’d like to be proven wrong, of course, but I fear that this is the direction of travel for Star Trek as we move into 2022. This will not be a move free of long-term consequences for ViacomCBS. The corporation’s share price continues its fall, many Trekkies have pledged never to subscribe to Paramount+, and one of the biggest single pushes toward piracy since the advent of streaming will lead many fans and viewers to realise just how easy it is to pirate the latest episodes – making it even harder for Paramount+ to tempt them back in future.

A decision intended to push fans toward Paramount+ has actually led to piracy – and threats to boycott the platform.

As self-defeating as these plans may be, don’t expect to see ViacomCBS move away from them. And if you’re especially unlucky, living in a region of the world that ViacomCBS has apparently forgotten even exists, it may be the case that Paramount+ never arrives – or if it does it won’t be till 2023, 2024, or beyond. Star Trek has always told stories of people coming together – of a United Earth free from borders and division. But the ViacomCBS board haven’t even watched their own shows, or if they did the message went far over their shrivelled little profiteering heads.

I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but as I see it, the Discovery decision is just the first of many. Strange New Worlds, which has never had an international broadcaster announced, will certainly be a Paramount+ exclusive. Picard Season 2 and Lower Decks Season 3 could very easily follow the Discovery model and be pulled from Amazon Prime Video. And the rest of the Star Trek franchise? Currently the older shows are on Netflix, but the films aren’t. However, I wouldn’t bet on being able to watch any Star Trek series next year unless you have the DVD or are prepared to sign up for Paramount+.

The Star Trek franchise is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: The Next Generation re-watch – Season 7, Episode 17: Masks

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: The Next Generation.

This is the first in what I hope to be a weekly series over the next few months. In the wake of the Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 disaster – the series has been withheld from fans outside of North America, if you somehow missed the news – I won’t be covering the show at all. Instead I’ll be writing up re-watches of some of my favourite episodes from Star Trek’s extensive back catalogue. This week we’re visiting The Next Generation’s final season to look at the episode Masks.

First up, a brief introduction to this format. I’m not calling these articles “reviews.” It wouldn’t be fair to do so because I’ve seen Masks – and all of the other episodes we’ll be looking at over the next few weeks – more times than I care to remember! This won’t just be a recap of the plot of the episode – I will be giving my thoughts and analysis as we go. But it can’t really be an objective “review,” strictly speaking.

The episode’s title card (from the remastered version).

Masks was one of the last episodes produced for The Next Generation before production shifted to Star Trek: Generations. At this stage we’ve been with the crew of the Enterprise-D for almost seven years and we know them well – so we think we know what to expect. Season 7 tried to shake things up at various points – like in Genesis where the crew all de-evolved! And Masks is kind of in a similar vein. We’ll see the ship transformed, and Data in particular will take on several different personalities.

Masks is one of those episodes that sticks in my mind. The Enterprise-D and her crew found themselves in many wacky and unpredictable situations over the years, but there’s something about the Aztec-inspired aesthetic that really makes what’s going on in Masks feel ancient and otherworldly. It’s a story that feels at home in the Star Trek franchise; the kind of episode no other sci-fi series would even attempt.

Picard and Troi examine a D’Arsay obelisk.

The episode is also a great one for Data actor Brent Spiner, who gets a chance to show off his range as an actor. There’s always seemed to be a disconnect between the character of Data and the personality of the man who plays the role! Data is cool and logical, but Brent Spiner has an almost chaotic energy to him, full of life and with a great sense of humour. Masks isn’t the only episode of Star Trek to give him more to do – look at his roles as Lore and as various members of the Soong family for more examples – but it’s certainly an episode that gives Spiner many opportunities to shake up his regular role.

Data is such a wonderful character, and his series-long quest to become more human saw him attempt to mimic a variety of different behaviours. At the beginning of Masks we see him taking an art class, learning to sculpt and to use his imagination. Because of the largely episodic nature of The Next Generation, even in Season 7 Data is still chasing his ambition of becoming human in much the same way as he had been earlier in the show’s run. The character saw evolution across the series as a whole, but moments like these at the beginning of Masks could sometimes feel like a reset, reinforcing Data’s android nature and showing how he doesn’t fully understand some element or other of what it means to be human.

Data learning about imagination at the beginning of the episode.

I wouldn’t try to argue that Masks is an especially important episode, either for The Next Generation or Star Trek as a whole. It’s great, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t groundbreaking or transformative for the franchise in the way certain stories can be – it doesn’t introduce new characters, factions, or themes that would carry over to future projects, for example, nor is it a transformative event in the lives of any of the main characters.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a fun episode with an interesting premise. In a way, what we have in Masks is an examination of computer viruses and the major cultural and technological differences that exist between cultures. After encountering the D’Arsay archive inside of what appears to be a comet, it transmits its information to the Enterprise-D, but that computer code plays havoc with the ship’s systems – and with Data. Though this computer virus analogy isn’t the episode’s message or primary focus, it’s not a coincidence that a story like Masks was created at this time.

There’s a timely message about rogue computer software buried in Masks.

In 1994, when the episode was initially broadcast, home computing was growing exponentially. Along with the rise of the PC came fears of computer viruses, and antivirus software was becoming a big business. Though Masks mainly considers cultural themes within the story itself, I’d argue very strongly that the premise – disruptive or even malicious software being beamed to the Enterprise-D – is a reaction to the way the home computer market was shaping up at the time.

Computer viruses continue to plague systems today, of course, but with improvements in antivirus software and better computer education, the fears most folks have of viruses has diminished. In that sense, this aspect of Masks feels like a step back in time a quarter of a century – which it is, of course! The idea of rogue computer code harming – or in this case transforming – one’s computer was certainly a relevant concern at the time, though, and although it’s one that the episode doesn’t feature prominently it’s still an interesting aspect.

Riker, Data, and Geordi tried to make sense of the mysterious symbols that began appearing on the Enterprise-D’s computer screens.

Masks also looks at how we deal with cultures very different from our own, and how we need to be careful when interpreting history. Captain Picard is at his best in episodes like Masks, getting the chance to show off one of his real passions – history. Picard is well-placed to jump into the story and find a use for his skills, and is supported at various points by Riker, Troi, and perhaps the most unusual choice – Worf. One of Worf’s lines about the sun and moon proves crucial to unlocking the mystery of the archive, and while Captain Picard definitely needed others around him in these scenes, I’m not sure I’d have chosen Worf!

The struggle that Picard and the others had of trying to interpret an unfamiliar culture is one that historians and anthropologists have long dealt with. And to me, Masks is an example of Star Trek doing what it has always done: using a sci-fi lens to examine a real-world subject. Usually the stakes aren’t so high, of course, but putting a kind of ticking clock and threat in the background gave the story an impetus it would’ve otherwise lacked; had Picard and the crew simply been trying to learn about the D’Arsay symbols and characters out of curiosity, the story wouldn’t have gone anywhere.

Picard had to draw on his knowledge of history and anthropology to solve the mystery of the D’Arsay archive.

On the technical side of things, Masks was one of the first Star Trek episodes to use computer-generated imagery (CGI), using the new technology for the comet and D’Arsay archive. The remastered version, which is what you’ll find on blu-ray and streaming – didn’t preserve the original CGI model, recreating the archive from the ground up based on the original design. The DVD version, however, and other older copies (like VHS) do still have this piece of Star Trek’s history. You can also find images of the original CGI model online, of course.

A few times across The Next Generation, sped-up shots would be used to show Data working or moving faster than a human could. Out of everything present in Masks, this short sequence (which shows Data sculpting a treble clef in his art class) is perhaps the only part that feels dated in 2021. The rest of the episode’s effects hold up remarkably well, and the remastered CGI sequences look great even on a modern 4K display.

This shot of the Enterprise-D melting a comet with its phasers is pretty darn cool.

Many times across Star Trek’s long history there have been so-called “bottle shows.” These are episodes which primarily use existing sets and often don’t bring in many new characters or guest-stars, focusing on just the main cast. Though there was a set built for Masks – the temple, which would later be re-used in Deep Space Nine – the episode is mostly a bottle show, or perhaps a semi-bottle show! It focuses on a handful of characters, mostly re-uses existing Enterprise-D sets – with a few additions and changes to reflect the transformation the ship is undergoing – and feels like a very self-contained story in that respect.

Given Data’s prominent role, Brent Spiner is the star of Masks. And while we see elements of his portrayal of Lore in one of the personas that Data assumes, for the most part he makes each of the D’Arsay characters feel unique and distinctive. For an actor who spent most of The Next Generation’s run playing a very unemotional, unreactive character, I can quite understand why Brent Spiner would describe Masks as one of his biggest acting challenges on the show. I think he rises to the occasion and shows off a range that any actor would be proud of; making each persona feel separate despite only minor costuming changes is no mean feat, and he pulled it off very well. There was a risk, perhaps, that in order to differentiate each of the D’Arsay personas in such a short runtime each would have to be exaggerated to the point of pantomime caricature, but that didn’t happen in the final episode. That alone should be testament to Brent Spiner’s talents and hard work.

Data actor Brent Spiner had to take on several different personas in Masks.

There are a few lines from Masks that resonate with me from a mental health standpoint. Though the episode isn’t intended as an examination of mental illness, Data developing an android version of “multiple personalities,” as Troi puts it, does bring up some comparisons. When Data asks Geordi what it feels like to lose one’s mind is a line that very much struck a chord with me, not least because it’s a question I’ve asked myself (and doctors) in the past.

Data’s line as the episode draws to a close about feeling “empty” following the removal of the D’Arsay personalities likewise felt very relatable. It isn’t always easy to tell where the line is between one’s own personality and aspects of oneself that might be better characterised as manifestations of mental illness, and even the removal or lessening of a mental health symptom can, in some cases, bring with it a feeling of emptiness or of feeling incomplete. That’s definitely a second thing I find relatable – and I think it shows how stories which only touch on themes of mental health can still be impactful even if mental health isn’t the focus.

Data on Masaka’s throne.

The only real criticism I have of Masks is that its ending feels a little too quick – almost abrupt, really. After a slow buildup which sees the Enterprise-D progressively transformed to resemble the D’Arsay culture, Picard has a short conversation with Masaka, and then after a quick “woosh” everything is un-transformed and back to normal. A quick epilogue with Data and Picard in the ready-room closes the episode, and the final few minutes just feel a little rushed, especially considering the deliberately slow pacing of the rest of the episode.

Despite that, I enjoy Masks. It isn’t my all-time favourite episode of The Next Generation, but it’s one of those solid standalone stories that Star Trek does far fewer of since the move to serialised story arcs and shorter seasons. Masks shows off a different kind of science fiction with its slightly wacky concept of an archive transforming the ship into stone artefacts, but at the same time it’s a story that’s grounded in real-world parallels of history and anthropology. Brent Spiner puts in one of his finest performances, taking on a variety of personas that force him to step well outside of his normal bounds as Data.

So I hope this was a bit of fun. My objective at the moment is to remain connected to Star Trek and the Star Trek fan community but without providing any support or coverage of Discovery in light of the awful decision from ViacomCBS. Later this week I hope to look at an episode from Star Trek: Enterprise, and I already have dozens of other ideas for episode re-watches as we move through the holidays and into 2022.

Star Trek: The Next Generation is out now on blu-ray and DVD, and is available to stream on Netflix outside of the United States (at least for the time being). The Star Trek franchise – including The Next Generation 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.

Should we #BoycottParamountPlus?

The Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 catastrophe isn’t going away anytime soon for ViacomCBS. In the days since they dropped a clumsily-worded statement that simultaneously broke the bad news to Trekkies around the world and tried to push sign-ups to Paramount+, the anger in the fandom has not abated. At time of writing, ViacomCBS shares are worth more than $2 less than they were before the announcement – a drop of more than 6%.

That brings us to the #BoycottParamountPlus discussion that has been doing the rounds in some quarters of the Star Trek fan community. In light of the decision by ViacomCBS to pull the show from Netflix internationally, some Trekkies have responded by saying they’re either boycotting Paramount+, cancelling their subscription to the service, or that they will refuse to sign up for it whenever ViacomCBS can be bothered to make it available in their part of the world. Today I wanted to consider the discussion around boycotting Paramount+, boycotts in general, and how fans can and should register their anger, upset, and frustration with a corporation like ViacomCBS.

Some fans are advocating a boycott of Paramount+ in response to the Discovery fiasco.

There are many reasons why folks – even big Trekkies like yours truly – might be wary of signing up for a service like Paramount+. The platform has not been particularly well-received in markets where it has been available, with complaints ranging from technical issues and video quality to a lack of content. At one point, all of the Star Trek films disappeared from Paramount+ with only a few days’ notice due to licensing conflicts with a different streaming platform – despite the fact that ViacomCBS owns the rights to the Star Trek films.

There’s also the cost involved. The “basic” plan, which currently costs $4.99 per month in the USA, comes with advertising. The “premium” plan ditches the commercials, but clocks in at double the price – $9.99 per month in the USA. That makes Paramount+ actually more expensive than Netflix for a comparable service, as Netflix’s cheapest plan in the USA doesn’t run any adverts and costs $8.99 per month.

Paramount+ ain’t cheap.

Paramount+ is not competitively priced, then. It’s more expensive than the big three streaming services (Netflix, Amazon, and Disney+) and though it does offer some content that the others don’t – such as live sports – its content as a whole is lagging behind. So even being as generous as we can, Paramount+ feels like poor value for what is clearly a second-tier platform.

But all of this talk of costs is rather beside the point. People who can’t afford Paramount+ won’t pick it up, and folks who can perhaps afford one or two streaming subscriptions may have to choose whether to pick up Paramount+ or an alternative. It’s all moot right now here in the UK anyway, because Paramount+ is unavailable, but I wanted to at least acknowledge that the streaming service isn’t particularly competitive with its pricing.

Paramount+ is more expensive than Netflix… and worse.

On an individual level, I can fully understand the response fans have had to ViacomCBS and to Paramount+. The anger and frustration I’ve seen expressed on social media resonates because it’s exactly how I feel, too. The decision the corporation made was horrible, and to cap it off it was announced in the most offensive and callous way possible. No apology has been forthcoming, and ViacomCBS’ marketing and social media teams are apparently burying their heads in the sand, trying to ignore the pushback.

The lack of communication from the corporation is something that I find deeply offensive. Their original message was not contrite or apologetic, and seemed designed to present what they knew would be an upsetting, anger-inducing move as some kind of net positive for international Trekkies. Combined with the marketing doublespeak and the pushing of Captain Burnham’s “Let’s Fly” catchphrase to sign off, the way they chose to communicate this decision was awful.

And as we covered the other day, the timing of this move almost seems to have been designed to inflict maximum hurt on Trekkies, coming 48 hours before Discovery Season 4 was due to premiere. They did this, it seems, for two reasons: so that a major Star Trek convention in London earlier in November wouldn’t be overshadowed by this news (particularly with several Discovery cast members in attendance), and also, if I put on my cynical hat for a moment, ViacomCBS knew that dropping this news with mere hours to go before the season premiered would prevent fans from having time to organise any kind of pushback.

The #BoycottParamountPlus hashtag and movement emerged from the Discovery debacle, but it’s in no way an organised thing right now. And with Season 4 already underway in the United States, practically all of the big Star Trek fansites and social media channels have begun their coverage of the show. Even if fans were able to organise a protest of some kind in the next few days, from the corporation’s perspective things have gone about as well as possible. They succeeded at pulling the show from Netflix, they’re forcing people to pay for Paramount+ with no alternative options, and the fan reaction has been significant, but disorganised.

Star Trek fans are disorganised right now.

I used to work in marketing, and unfortunately, the way corporations see these kinds of social media campaigns is very dismissive and negative. ViacomCBS will have expected a degree of pushback, but they also knew that by making the announcement at the last possible moment, any pushback would be disorganised during the crucial first few days after the season debuted. They’re also counting on fans having short memories, so that by the time Paramount+ rolls out in 2022 (or later, because let’s be honest they aren’t exactly competent so we can’t rely on their planned schedule) the controversy will have died down and even the most ardent critics will still sign up.

And if history is much of a guide, they’re probably right about the latter point. Look at past examples of fans pushing back against corporate decisions. Over in the Star Wars franchise, for example, The Last Jedi was so utterly detested by some fans that they swore they’d never watch anything from the franchise ever again. A heck of a lot of those folks are currently loving The Mandalorian and are excited for other upcoming projects. Even when dealing with topics more important than entertainment, like political issues, it’s increasingly true that all someone has to do is survive and keep their head down for a few days and wait for the source of controversy and its resultant outrage to blow over. Here in the UK we can point to politicians who were caught breaking coronavirus lockdowns who are still gainfully employed, and that’s just one example.

The response to The Last Jedi was negative for Disney at first, but many fans have since returned to the franchise.

One of the main counter-arguments people have been putting forward in response to suggestions of an organised boycott of Paramount+ is that they want to support the series and the hard work the creative team put into making it. I can understand that point of view too, especially coming from those fans who have a creative background themselves. Many of these folks are also ardently opposed to any form of piracy.

But I do want to ask a question: how else are fans supposed to express themselves? If a corporation misbehaves, as ViacomCBS has to put it mildly, how are fans supposed to respond to show their disgust? We can write all the tweets and articles we like, of course, but that has a very minor impact on the corporation overall. Hitting them in their finances is where we can actually hurt them, and if fans make it clear that the reason Paramount+ is losing subscribers or not signing up new ones is because of the Discovery fiasco, then perhaps they’ll sit up and take notice.

A visual metaphor.

However, there is, as the saying goes, more than one way to skin a cat. I mentioned ViacomCBS’ share price at the beginning of the piece because it’s relevant to this conversation. The short-term impact of the Discovery controversy has knocked the value of shares down by a significant amount, and that could continue in the days and weeks ahead. Whether we boycott Paramount+ or not, the corporation is already being kicked in the wallet for this decision. I hope that brings a smile to your face – it certainly did for me.

What I would have liked to see, had there been more time in the wake of the announcement to organise such a thing, would have been a blackout from all of the big fansites and social media channels: a promise not to cover Discovery Season 4 at all until it became available worldwide. Even shutting down discussion of the show for a single week would have a huge impact and would be symbolic of the fandom coming together.

A total communications blackout would send a powerful message.

In my own small way here on my minor slice of the internet, that’s exactly what I’m doing. I could write reviews of the Season 4 episodes – I’ve already seen the premiere. And I could continue to write up my theories because I’ve got dozens swimming around in my head. If I threaten to boycott Paramount+, ViacomCBS knows I’m just one person and they’ve only lost one potential customer. But by refusing to talk about the show at all, the hype bubble around Discovery is ever so slightly deflated. Fewer people talking about the show has an impact – and if we could expand that and get a proper blackout going, then I think ViacomCBS would realise how badly they’ve screwed this up.

It will never happen though, unfortunately. Many of the big Trekkie websites and social media channels work hand-in-glove with ViacomCBS, getting advance screenings, press kits, and even freebies from the corporation. Very few outlets would be willing to lose their access and their privileges, which is why we’ve seen some messages from these folks sound rather tokenistic, I’m sorry to say. I don’t want to cast doubt on anyone’s sincerity, but it kind of smarts when they’ll express their upset in one tweet and then promote their latest review or show off their exclusive pass to the virtual premiere in the next.

I can’t see a big shutdown like this ever happening.

To get back on topic, I can’t tell you what to do. If you want to boycott Paramount+, cancel your subscription, or tell ViacomCBS you’re never paying for Star Trek again, go for it my friend. It’s as good a way as any of getting “revenge” for the offensive way we as international Trekkies have been treated. But if the thought of boycotting upsets you or you want to support the cast and crew, know that the outrage that has been expressed over the past few days has already had a noticeable financial impact on ViacomCBS.

Speaking for myself, if Paramount+ were available to pre-order here in the UK, I wouldn’t. Not right now. And in my own way I’m registering my protest. Refusing to discuss the series, even if only on my own small slice of the internet, is my way of telling ViacomCBS how I feel about the decision they made and the callous way they went about announcing it. But I don’t think we need to get at each other’s throats about this boycott idea. Some fans are up for boycotting, others aren’t. Both points of view have merits and demerits, but the one thing we need to try to do as a fandom right now is come together. Fighting amongst ourselves over what to do about the situation won’t resolve anything – it’s already happened and it won’t be undone. We have to try to move forward together.

For my part, I won’t be posting any spoilers about Discovery Season 4 here on the website – beyond what I’ve already discussed prior to the season premiere, which was only based on teasers and trailers. So you can consider this website a safe space between now and February. I wish I had better news or a better idea of how to fix things, but the reality is that Discovery is ViacomCBS’ product and as consumers, we’re stuck. All we can do is register our protests in whatever way we can. It’s up to you how you protest this decision.

This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

A Trekkie’s dilemma

It’s been 24 hours since ViacomCBS clumsily dropped the news that Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 will be kept away from international audiences. The resultant PR disaster has caused significant harm to the corporation’s reputation, as well as that of its streaming service, Paramount+. Once my anger at the situation had simmered down, I became mired in thought. I had a whole series of articles planned here on the website about Discovery: episode reviews and theory posts twice a week, as well as keeping space open for other occasional discussion pieces about the series over the next three months. Should I put all of that on hold for now, even though Star Trek and writing are two of my biggest loves? Or should I power through despite knowing that, even in my small way on my minor slice of the internet, I’m promoting and drawing attention to a series and a company that I just don’t want to support right now?

I’m not one of the big Star Trek fan sites… obviously. I don’t have a huge audience who’d feel let down if my reviews weren’t around, or conversely who would feel the need to mute me or unsubscribe if I carried on posting about a series they aren’t able to watch. So the decision is mine alone, and I confess I’m struggling with it.

What to do?

I feel absolutely morally justified in pirating Discovery. ViacomCBS has willingly chosen to remove the series from distribution here in the UK and around the world. They actively spent money to buy out Netflix’s share in the series so that Netflix wouldn’t be able to broadcast Discovery internationally. Just to reiterate that last point, because I think it’s an important one that’s gotten lost in the heated discussion: if ViacomCBS had done nothing, Discovery would have been broadcast internationally. This isn’t a case of failing to agree licenses in time or broadcast rights expiring, they actively and willingly chose to remove the series from broadcast, and they paid money out of their own pocket in order to ensure it wouldn’t be available to international fans.

Not only that, but in some countries where Paramount+ is available – such as Australia, for example – Discovery Season 4 is still not going to be available to stream. You read that right: Australian Trekkies who’ve already subscribed to Paramount+ and paid for it still won’t be able to watch Discovery Season 4, as will any other Trekkies outside of North America whether they have Paramount+ in their country or not. Why? Because ViacomCBS loves arbitrary bullshit, it seems.

“That is one big pile of shit.”

So I feel all of us outside of North America have the moral high ground and the absolute right to pirate Discovery – and the rest of Star Trek too. When a corporation voluntarily chooses not to share their creation, piracy becomes the only way to access that content. When a film, game, or television series is available to purchase, stream, or rent, I think the vast majority of folks would agree that the moral thing to do is pay to enjoy it. But when that option is taken away, there is only one remaining option – and from a moral, ethical, and philosophical point of view I see no reason at all why international Trekkies shouldn’t pirate Discovery Season 4.

This is not the choice that I would have made. I’m a Netflix subscriber and an Amazon Prime subscriber. I first signed up for Netflix in 2017 specifically because Discovery was about to be available there; Netflix earned my subscription because of Star Trek. Over the past four-plus years I’ve paid my dues on both platforms where Star Trek is available, and if CBS All Access and/or Paramount+ had been made available here in the UK I’d have signed up for them in a heartbeat.

Trekkies were offering ViacomCBS our money… but they didn’t want it.

I’m a Star Trek fan. I want Paramount+ to succeed because I want Star Trek to succeed. I want as many people as possible, from casual viewers and total newbies to hardcore fans like myself to be able to watch Star Trek – and to pay to watch it. That’s the only way Star Trek will succeed in the medium-to-long term, and that’s the only way that the franchise’s future will be secure.

But this transactional approach is not a one-way street. It isn’t good enough for ViacomCBS to insist that fans pay to sign up to their mediocre second-tier streaming platform – and then make sure the vast majority of fans can’t because it isn’t available. It isn’t good enough to roll out Paramount+ to countries like Australia and then tell fans they still can’t watch a show that others can.

ViacomCBS has created a paywall that no one can pay for because the corporation is run by incompetent morons.

In 2021, this kind of gatekeeping is simply not acceptable. Segregating the Star Trek fanbase by geography, deeming some “worthy” of being able to watch the latest shows and others not, is not only unacceptable, it’s the complete antithesis of everything Star Trek as a franchise has always stood for. What happened to infinite diversity in infinite combinations? What happened to the dream of a better, more egalitarian world? What happened to United Earth – a place where national borders have no meaning? The answer is that it was all nonsense in the eyes of Star Trek’s corporate overlords, mere words that they don’t believe in yet were happy to sell to anyone stupid enough to pay. Star Trek is a corporate product – that’s the only way ViacomCBS sees it, bankrupt of any real-world meaning or creativity.

All that the corporation cares about is profit – yet they’re so blind, thinking purely about the short-term, that they can’t see how this pathetic, awful approach is going to cost them a hell of a lot more money than it will ever bring in.

Let’s be blunt. Paramount+ will never be Netflix. It will never be Disney+ or Amazon Prime Video either. The platform arrived on the scene ten years too late, plagued by technical issues, running some of its biggest shows in DVD quality, lacking new original content, seriously mismanaged, and with an international rollout that would make a snail riding a sloth look like Usain Bolt. Paramount+ might survive the streaming wars, but even if it does it will forever be a second-tier platform, the kind that people subscribe to for a few months out of the year to watch a show or two and then cancel.

Paramount+ will only ever be a mediocre second-tier streaming service.

From the moment CBS All Access was conceived in the mind of some ageing corporate moron it was fighting an uphill battle. Netflix was already dominant in the streaming realm, and it seems to me that some halfwit with little to no understanding of streaming or the internet looked at the money that Netflix was making, then looked at CBS’ modest library of television shows and said “make me my own Netflix.” The fact that CBS All Access had to be rebranded less than three years after it launched was already a bad sign.

Now called Paramount+ and supposedly bolstered a little by the re-merging of Viacom and CBS, the service continues to flop around like a dying fish. Paramount+ must be run by the most incompetent team of morons any corporation has ever assembled when you consider its track record. Lower Decks Season 1 didn’t get an international broadcast. Prodigy Season 1 didn’t either. All of the Star Trek films disappeared for several months because of licensing conflicts with another streaming platform. Prodigy’s broadcast schedule makes no sense. And now Discovery Season 4 is being pulled from Netflix – and ViacomCBS is willingly spending money in order to pull it from Netflix – months or perhaps even years before Paramount+ will be available internationally.

I guess it’s some kind of visual metaphor…

It’s so disappointing to see ViacomCBS mishandle and mangle their biggest franchise. How can Star Trek have a shot at success with this team of corporate fuckwits running it into the ground at every opportunity? If Paramount+ fails in the years ahead, and drags Star Trek down with it, it won’t be the fault of the writers, producers, and actors across the various shows. It’ll be entirely the fault of a corporate board who haven’t got a clue what they’re doing and who don’t understand the most basic realities of running an entertainment company in 2021.

We live in a connected, globalised world. ViacomCBS (and their corporate predecessors) pushed hard to create this world because it means more profit. More Star Trek fans equals more revenue equals more profit. But the global, interconnected fandom that ViacomCBS has created means that the internet – our primary communication tool – is going to be awash with spoilers. Even the most ardent Trek-avoider would be hard-pushed to steer clear of everything Star Trek-related online, especially if they have friends within the fandom.

We live in a connected world.

YouTube channels, websites, and social media will be drowning in spoilers, making the dilemma that much more tricky for the Trekkie with a moral compass. If they decide to be patient and wait it out, despite ViacomCBS not actually providing anything close to a specific timeframe – “2022” could mean January or it could mean December, and I don’t believe for a moment that the hapless fuckwits will be able to deliver the rollout on time anyway – chances are sooner or later they’ll stumble upon a spoiler, or be served up spoilers on a plate by an algorithm. Some websites and social media outlets have pledged to tag any spoiler material, but even then it’s still highly likely that things will slip through the cracks.

Over the past 24 hours I’ve been continuously trying to think of ways to try to mitigate the situation, given that the Netflix decision is clearly final. One compromise could have been to simply delay Discovery Season 4 for everyone – including North American viewers. Waiting until next year would mean we could all watch the series together. But that won’t work.

The decision to pull Discovery from Netflix appears to be final.

The painfully slow rollout of Paramount+ is going country by country and region by region, with many parts of the world having received no information about if or when the platform will be available. In the UK at least we know that there’s a target: 2022. Many countries, such as Japan, don’t even have that. So this idea – while well-intentioned – would either delay the series indefinitely, and certainly well beyond the end of next year, or still end up shutting out a huge number of fans and viewers.

So that brings us to the Trekkie’s dilemma. The way I see it, if you’re outside of North America (which 95% of the planet’s population are, lest we forget), you have three options: wait patiently for ViacomCBS to decide that you’re allowed to watch Discovery, use a VPN to trick Paramount+ into thinking you’re in North America, or pirate the series.

A map of the world according to ViacomCBS.

The first option is what the corporate morons assume everyone will do. That isn’t true, of course, and the PR clusterfuck of the last 24 hours will seem like nothing when Discovery rockets to the top of the most-pirated shows list next week. I think we can expect to see some significant share price falls for ViacomCBS over the coming days and weeks – I certainly wouldn’t be investing in ViacomCBS stock if I were you.

The second option is the worst of the bunch. Not only are you having to jump through hoops to watch Discovery, but you’re paying ViacomCBS for the privilege. They’ve slapped you in the face, and in response you’ve pulled your wallet out and slipped them some cash while saying “do it harder next time, daddy.”

The third option is the one I daresay many Trekkies will avail themselves of. With a tiny amount of effort it’s possible to find any film or television show online, either to stream or to download, and in 2021 if ViacomCBS doesn’t know that then they’re even more out of their depth than I thought.

ViacomCBS is pushing people to take the third option: piracy.

ViacomCBS has encouraged all of us to sail the high seas.

I’m going to watch Discovery Season 4. Interpret that however you’d like. But I’m not going to cover the series extensively here on the website. Rather than individual episode reviews, what I’ll probably do is write up a full season review at the end as a single article. And Fridays, when my Discovery Season 4 reviews would’ve been published, can instead be dedicated to write-ups of older episodes of Star Trek – something I’ve been meaning to do more of here on the website for a while. I’ll pick thirteen Star Trek episodes from the franchise’s extensive back catalogue and write about those instead.

I don’t want to give ViacomCBS or Star Trek: Discovery any more attention at the moment. The corporation has chosen, for utterly inexplicable reasons, not to share the series with its most ardent supporters, so I refuse to do anything to support the show right now. I feel sorry for the actors, directors, and the rest of the creative team, because their incredible hard work under difficult circumstances during the pandemic is now soiled by this truly disgusting corporate mess. But I can’t in good conscience publish weekly reviews, theories, and other discussion pieces drawing attention to the series when I so fundamentally disagree with the way ViacomCBS has conducted itself.

I’m going to go back and re-watch some earlier Star Trek episodes and write about those instead.

I opened my wallet and offered ViacomCBS my hard-earned cash. I’ve paid for two streaming platforms in order to watch Star Trek. I’ve bought the merchandise. I provide the Star Trek franchise and Paramount+ free publicity here on the website simply by discussing the various shows. My website has an American audience, so I know for a fact many of the folks who read my reviews and theories are engaged with Paramount+. But this relationship has turned toxic, and even though I was offering ViacomCBS my cash, my time, my effort, my passion, and my attention, they chose to throw it back in my face. They told me to go fuck myself, so I’m returning the favour.

What should you do? I can’t answer that. Your conscience has to be your guide. Are you confident in your ability to avoid spoilers for the next few months? If you live in a region without a Paramount+ release window, are you okay with the idea of waiting perhaps two years or more to watch the show? I can’t officially condone or encourage piracy – it’s almost certainly breaking the rules wherever in the world you happen to be. But from a philosophical point of view, if you’re a Trekkie outside of North America I think you’re absolutely morally justified in pirating the heck out of Discovery – as well as every other Star Trek show and ViacomCBS production.

I would usually put a disclaimer here saying that the Star Trek franchise is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery won’t be available internationally.

The message above was posted on social media earlier this evening. What follows is my immediate response – a somewhat unstructured, angry response. For a more structured argument about ViacomCBS’ mishandling of the Star Trek brand internationally, check out this article.

I cannot believe what I just read. Star Trek: Discovery’s fourth season is not going to be made available on Netflix outside of the United States, and will only be available for international viewers sometime next year when Paramount+ arrives. I’m still digesting this truly awful news.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had a go at ViacomCBS – the corporation which owns and mismanages the Star Trek brand – for refusing to make Star Trek: Prodigy available internationally, despite that show being a co-production between CBS Studios and Nickelodeon… a ViacomCBS-owned channel that’s available in more than 70 countries around the world.

This Discovery news comes after Prodigy has been denied to international fans. Lower Decks Season 1 was also denied a simultaneous broadcast internationally, arriving almost six months later. So I can’t be alone in asking what the fuck ViacomCBS thinks it’s playing at. Are they trying to encourage piracy? Do they just not care about Star Trek? Perhaps they want to do as much harm as possible to their own brand, and that of their mediocre second-tier streaming platform at the heart of these problems: Paramount+.

ViacomCBS is desperately but incompetently pushing Paramount+.

To make this announcement less than 48 hours before Discovery’s fourth season was due to premiere is beyond insulting. It’s the latest and most egregious “fuck you” in a long line going back a couple of years at least from a corporation that doesn’t give a damn about Star Trek’s sizeable international fanbase.

Not only is Season 4 not going to be available on Netflix, but Seasons 1-3 have been pulled – or will shortly be pulled – from the streaming service as well, gated off behind a paywall that doesn’t exist because Paramount+ isn’t available here in the UK (and elsewhere) yet. It is at least possible to get the first three seasons of the show on blu-ray, so fans who want to watch or re-watch earlier seasons will be able to do so that way. But Season 4 isn’t available… or at least it isn’t available via conventional methods.

Perhaps this is some kind of visual metaphor?

When corporations choose to become gatekeepers and refuse to share the content that they’ve produced with fans who are literally holding their wallets open screaming “take my money!” then piracy, by default, becomes the only option to access that content. Discovery actually will be available internationally, because this is the 21st Century and most folks have internet access. With a tiny amount of effort it’s going to be possible to pirate every episode of the show, allowing fans to enjoy Discovery while ensuring that ViacomCBS doesn’t see a single measly cent by way of profit. That isn’t the decision fans made, it’s the choice ViacomCBS made.

Star Trek became an international franchise at the behest of ViacomCBS and its corporate predecessors. They advocated this kind of corporate globalism because – like the greedy little Ferengi they are – they saw profit beyond America’s borders. There are Trekkies from Tierra del Fuego to St. Petersburg because globalism proved so attractive for ViacomCBS, but the corporation has once again proved beyond any doubt that it doesn’t give even the tiniest of fucks about anyone outside of North America.

Leaked photograph from the ViacomCBS boardroom.

So as I said a couple of weeks ago about Prodigy: it’s totally morally justifiable to pirate it. Go right ahead and pirate Prodigy, and pirate Discovery too. ViacomCBS has told us to keep our money and fuck off, so let’s make sure they don’t ever see another penny of it. What’s the point in continuing to support a corporation that leaves its international fans out in the cold because it can’t manage the incredibly basic task of broadcasting a television show?

Broadcasting and streaming is ViacomCBS’ entire business model – yet time and time again they fuck it up. Paramount+ is a mediocre platform at best that will never be the Netflix and Disney+ competitor that its corporate masters wish it to be. It arrived on the scene a decade too late, with too little original content, and its rollout even within the United States has been horribly mismanaged by a corporation that appears to be run by absolute morons. Paramount+ recently lost the rights to all of the Star Trek films for several months – despite ViacomCBS owning the rights to those films. And as we’re learning the hard way once again today, its international rollout has been pathetically slow.

Only for fans in North America.

It’s such a shame for all of the actors, directors, and behind-the-camera crew who clearly have put a lot of work into Discovery Season 4 that their work is going to be tainted by a truly selfish and shitty business decision. It isn’t their fault, yet their hard work is now soured in the minds of many of the show’s biggest fans because of incomprehensible corporate bullshit.

I’ve been disappointed with ViacomCBS for a while for their pathetic mishandling of the Star Trek brand, but this latest attack has come as a body blow. I’m angry – actually legitimately angry – with a cowardly corporation that doesn’t have the faintest idea how to operate in a 21st Century television and streaming market. Their mismanagement will continue to harm Star Trek – perhaps fatally so.

ViacomCBS is the company responsible for mismanaging Star Trek.

I can’t speak for every Trekkie, but a lot of Star Trek’s international fans are losing patience with this corporation. It’s long past time for ViacomCBS to get a grip and start managing the franchise properly – before too much harm is done. Star Trek is an amazing franchise that everyone should be able to watch together and share with one another no matter where they’re from – but disgusting and insulting corporate decisions continue to get in the way and actively harm Star Trek.

Lower Decks is so much less than it could and should be entirely because ViacomCBS fucked up its international broadcast. The same will be true of Prodigy – a decision compounded in that case by the utterly ridiculous broadcast schedule. Four episodes, then a two-month break? What fuckwit came up with that idea? And now Discovery.

Here’s a newsflash for the ViacomCBS board: fans aren’t going to wait for the mediocre Paramount+ to arrive. A lot of Trekkies will pirate the show, and a lot of viewers who had been looking forward to seeing it on Netflix just won’t bother; they’ll have forgotten all about it by next year. So let’s all sarcastically applaud ViacomCBS for hammering a nail into the coffin of Star Trek. I hope someone out there with a modicum of business acumen will be able to step in and save the day – but I’m not holding my breath.

The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek theory: Q the saviour

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the trailers and teasers for Star Trek: Picard Season 2. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: The Next Generation, First Contact, Voyager, and Enterprise.

Today we’re going to take a look at Q, the immortal trickster who has tangled with Captains Picard, Sisko, and Janeway – and who will soon be returning to the Star Trek franchise! Q is an unusual character in many ways. He seems to have practically unlimited knowledge of the galaxy, and may have been alive for billions of years. Yet he has an impish, almost childish sense of humour that sees him tease and mess with Starfleet – and many other people too.

I wouldn’t call Q a “villain” in any of his appearances to date. In fact, I would argue very strongly that Q sees himself as a friend, an ally, and a guide to Captains Picard and Janeway in particular, having offered his services more than once. He’s certainly selfish – forcing Starfleet officers to undergo tests and trials of his own devising – but there’s usually more to his games than meets the eye.

Q in his judge’s robe.

On several occasions – going all the way back to his first appearance – Q has presented Starfleet with puzzles to solve. These puzzles can be dangerous, and more than once Q has gotten people killed. But even so, I wouldn’t characterise him as a typical “villain” for Captain Picard or Captain Janeway to “defeat.”

The puzzles Q has presented – especially to Captain Picard – have actually proven to be deeply satisfying, and arguably helped Picard and Starfleet grow. Recognising that life can take very different forms – as Q helped Picard to see in Encounter at Farpoint – is one such puzzle he presented. He also taught Picard how to view time in a non-linear fashion – understanding that events in the future could have a causal link to events in the past in All Good Things.

All Good Things saw Q present Picard with another puzzle to solve.

Even the teasers and trailers for the upcoming second season of Star Trek: Picard may not be all they seem. Picard says he blames Q for disrupting or changing the timeline, but I think we’ll have to see that story play out before we can assign all the blame to Q. Even if Q is responsible, the question of motivation comes up. Is it really just a game; a trick to mess with Picard? Or is there something bigger going on?

That’s one of my big Picard Season 2 theories! But I’ll save the full write-up for another day. Today we’re not looking ahead to future Star Trek, we’re going to look back at past iterations of the franchise and try to answer a deceptively simple question: did Q save the Federation?

Q will soon be returning to Star Trek…

Star Trek has made a mess of the early history of Borg-Federation contact. The Raven, from Voyager’s fourth season, told us that the Borg assimilated humans and a Federation vessel in the 2350s. Regeneration, from Enterprise Season 2, showed the Borg battling against Captain Archer and his crew – and sending a message to the Delta Quadrant that would be received in the 24th Century. So the question of how the Borg first became aware of the Federation is an open one. Did they receive a message from across the galaxy? Did they first discover humanity when they assimilated Seven of Nine and her family?

Either of these explanations could account for the Borg’s interest in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants in the mid-late 24th Century. Season 1 of The Next Generation first teased the Borg’s appearance with the episode The Neutral Zone, in which both Federation and Romulan colonies had gone missing – “carried off” the surface of their planets, as Romulan commander Tebok put it. The Borg’s responsibility for these attacks would be confirmed in The Best Of Both Worlds – though the connection is easily missed, in my opinion, as it doesn’t take up much screen time.

The Borg were responsible for the destruction of several Federation colonies in the 2360s.

Regardless, one thing is certain: the Borg knew of the Federation’s existence well before the Federation knew of theirs. They had even begun to send scouting vessels relatively close to Federation space; system J-25, where the Enterprise-D first encountered a Borg Cube, was a mere two-and-a-half years away from Federation space at high warp, placing the Borg tens of thousands of light-years away from their Delta Quadrant home.

Were the Borg actively scouting for the Federation, or was it just a coincidence that one of their vessels was operating so far away from their own space? We may never know the answer to that, but someone almost certainly does: Q.

Q was responsible for this encounter.

In brief, here’s my theory: the Borg and the Federation were already on a collision course, but the Federation didn’t know it. Whether it was because of the First ContactRegeneration time travel loop, the assimilation of the USS Raven, the attacks along the Neutral Zone, or simply the Borg’s continued exploration of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, they had humanity and the Federation firmly in their sights long before Starfleet was aware that there was a problem.

Recognising this, and seeing potential in humanity thanks to his earlier run-ins with Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D, Q chose to intervene. He knew that if the Federation became aware of the threat the Borg posed, their ingenuity would lead to better defences and they’d be able to protect themselves, so he chose to deliberately introduce them to the Borg for that reason.

A Borg Cube hovering ominously over Earth. The Borg came very close to assimilating humanity’s homeworld.

The events of The Next Generation Season 2 episode Q Who can be reinterpreted through this new lens. Rather than Q trying to frighten Picard for the sake of it or to prove his own superiority, he was – in his own twisted way – helping Picard and the Federation. The events of Q Who led the Federation to begin serious preparations for a Borg incursion, and without that tactical readiness it seems likely that the Borg would have been able to cruise to victory during the events of The Best of Both Worlds.

This fits with how Q operates. In stories like Encounter at Farpoint, Tapestry, and All Good Things, as well as Voyager’s The Q and the Grey, Q never explains everything he knows. Instead he obfuscates, talks around the issue, and forces Starfleet figure out what’s going on for themselves. Sometimes he pushes Picard or Janeway in a certain direction to get things moving, or even devises a puzzle or test of his own, like he did in Hide and Q. But what he never does is simply communicate – he doesn’t just sit down with Picard and tell him about Farpoint Station or the anti-time problem. He pushes Picard to figure those things out for himself.

Q appeared in Season 1 of Lower Decks.

And so it is with the Borg – according to this theory. Rather than contacting Picard and explaining what he knows about the Borg and their intention of targetting Earth, he sends the Enterprise-D to a location where he knows a Borg vessel will be and allows the crew to discover the threat for themselves. He does so knowing that the consequences will be Starfleet ramping up their defences in preparation of a Borg attack.

In All Good Things, Q told Picard that the Q Continuum saw potential in humanity – the potential to one day understand more about the universe than they ever thought possible. From Q’s point of view, perhaps he believed that seeing the Federation attacked and humanity assimilated would be a net loss to the galaxy because that potential would never be realised.

Q has his reasons for “testing” Picard and humanity – even if he chooses not to explain himself.

Q’s motivation for putting Picard and humanity “on trial” seems to be connected to this. In Encounter at Farpoint he accused humanity of being “a dangerous, savage, child race.” Yet even by the end of the episode, Q appeared to be impressed rather than disappointed that Picard and the crew could solve his puzzle. Rather than believing humanity to be dangerous and savage, as he asserted, Q almost certainly sees humanity as something more than that – and thus would feel humanity’s assimilation by the Borg would be a loss. His desire to avoid that fate could have motivated him in Q Who.

All of this could tie into Picard Season 2. Q may feel that Picard and the Federation are ungrateful for his “assistance” over the years, and he could cite the events of Q Who as one example of how his intervention saved the Federation from assimilation. While the latter part is up for debate, I definitely believe that Q feels underappreciated by Picard in particular, and sees his interactions with the former captain of the Enterprise-D as helpful rather than antagonistic.

Q looks annoyed with Picard in the trailer for Star Trek: Picard Season 2.

So let’s recap! The Borg became aware of the existence of the Federation by the mid-24th Century. The Federation had technology and resources that the Borg considered valuable, and they began targetting outlying Federation colonies, including those near to the Romulan Neutral Zone. All the while, the Federation remained ignorant of the Borg’s existence – considering them to be little more than rumour.

Foreseeing disaster and either the total assimilation of humanity or the devastation of the Federation such that humanity could not achieve its full potential, either the Q Continuum or Q independently decided to intervene. Instead of simply contacting the Federation to share his knowledge, Q transported the Enterprise-D to the star system J-25, where they encountered the Borg. This encounter led to the Federation developing anti-Borg strategies and defences that would ultimately save them from assimilation.

Unusually, Q has never taken credit for this. However, it’s at least possible that he considered Picard and the Federation as a whole to be ungrateful for his help, and this could tie in somehow to the events of Picard Season 2 where Q will be making a return to the Star Trek franchise.

Did Q save the Federation from assimilation?

What I like about this theory is that everything feels like it fits together. This theory connects the message sent in Regeneration and the early assimilation of Seven of Nine’s family to the events of The Neutral Zone, giving the Borg a reason to be operating so far outside of their territory. It also fits in perfectly with the way Q behaves – never sharing everything he knows and presenting dangerous and often deadly puzzles to Picard and Starfleet.

Whether it’s true or not is open to interpretation! I would say that Q Who wasn’t written with any of this in mind, and a straight watch of the episode strongly suggests that Q’s motivation is simply to frighten Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D after his offer to join the crew was rejected. Q felt that Picard was arrogant in assuming that Starfleet could handle any threat the galaxy contained, and wanted to prove him wrong. While that explanation works in the context of the episode, it doesn’t preclude anything included in this theory from also being true; Q could still have been annoyed at Picard’s assertion that the Federation was prepared for anything while also intending to provide them with advance warning of the Borg.

So that’s it for this one! As with all fan theories, anything we see on screen in a future episode or film could render the whole thing invalid. But for now, I think it’s at least plausible that the events of Q Who represent Q trying – in his own unique and twisted way – to help Picard and the Federation. Q has always seen himself as a friend of Picard’s, and based on what we know of both Q and the history of Borg-Federation contact, it seems to me that everything arguably fits together!

The Star Trek franchise – including all episodes and 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.

Star Trek: Discovery – first Season 4 episode titles revealed!

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and the trailers for Season 4. Spoilers are also present for Star Trek: Picard Season 1.

Star Trek: Discovery’s fourth season is now only ten days away! I haven’t seen as much buildup online and on social media from Star Trek and ViacomCBS as happened last year; I think the concurrent broadcast of Prodigy is taking up a lot of time and energy for the franchise’s social media team. Perhaps that’s a lesson for Star Trek to learn going forward – they need to find the right balance of promoting different shows with so many projects on the go simultaneously! As the season approaches, though, I hope to see a bigger and better marketing and promotional push.

Despite all of that, we did get some new information about Discovery Season 4 recently: the first four episode titles! On this occasion I thought it could be fun to take a look at all four and wildly speculate about what they could mean! We might be able to gleam something, after all!

There are also four new photos that have been shown off along with the episode titles – one from each of the first four episodes. So we’ll also look at each of those images in turn to see what might be going on, and to see how it might connect with the episode title!

The USS Discovery in the second Season 4 trailer.

Last season, Discovery was far more generous! We got episode titles for the entire season revealed in advance, as well as short synopses for the first few episodes. That info-dump gave us a lot to mull over as the season approached! However, at the end of Season 3, the final three episode titles were changed at the last minute. Su’Kal was originally going to be titled The Citadel – perhaps a reference to his holographic castle. There Is A Tide was originally going to be titled The Good of the People – which may be a reference to Osyraa and Admiral Vance’s negotiations. And finally That Hope Is You, Part 2 was originally titled Outside – seemingly because Su’Kal would finally get to see the world outside of his holographic realm for the first time.

So don’t consider all of these episode titles to be set in stone! Discovery has a bit of a track record when it comes to making changes on the fly, so it’s possible any of these titles could be changed between now and when they’re broadcast. But for now, let’s take a look at each of the first four episodes in turn and see what we can gleam.

Episode 4×01: Kobayashi Maru

The teaser image.

This is the title that jumped out at me the most – and I’m sure I’m not alone in that! Kobayashi Maru refers to the famous Starfleet Academy test for command cadets, and it’s a no-win scenario. The Kobayashi Maru test was first seen in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, where we saw Saavik attempt the test. It has been referenced on a handful of occasions in the franchise since, and we got to see Kirk’s famous outside-the-box “solution” in 2009’s Star Trek.

So if Kobayashi Maru is bringing all of this to mind, what might that mean for Captain Burnham and the crew of the USS Discovery? Presumably they’re about to encounter their own no-win scenario – but will this be related to the gravitational anomaly? The Kobayashi Maru test doesn’t involve space phenomena, but a battle against enemy starships – so I wonder if the season opener might see Captain Burnham and the crew engage in some kind of battle.

The aftermath of a Kobayashi Maru simulation!

The Kobayashi Maru test was famous for “killing” people – and was a test to see how command candidates handled the ideas of death and losing those under their command. The dark implication from this could be that a member of the crew will be killed; this would be a very bold way to kick off the season.

Fundamentally, the Kobayashi Maru test was designed to put cadets through their paces to see if they were cut out for the rigours of command. Kobayashi Maru will be the first episode of Discovery with Michael Burnham in the captain’s chair, so this could be her trial by fire, and we could learn more about her abilities and perhaps even her limitations as a captain.

Michael Burnham in the captain’s chair.

Based solely on the title of Episode 2, which we’ll look at momentarily, my suspicion is that Captain Burnham won’t encounter the gravitational anomaly in this episode – or if she does, it will come at the end, perhaps teeing up Episode 2 with a cliffhanger ending. If I’m right about that, something else might be happening to put her command abilities to the test – or to present her with a no-win situation.

Seasons 2 and 3 of Discovery opened strongly, with episodes that did a good job of establishing the main storylines that were to come. Remembrance, the Season 1 premiere of Star Trek: Picard, likewise did a great job in that regard. So I’m optimistic that Discovery Season 4 will open strongly – and based on the title of the premiere episode I’m genuinely interested to see what will happen!

A closer look at President Rillak in the teaser image.

The teaser image, shown above, shows a new character who we know to be Federation President Rillak being applauded by a group of people who are wearing what seems to be a new variant of the 32nd Century Starfleet uniform that debuted last season. She’s standing at a podium looking over her shoulder, perhaps to see some kind of presentation being shown behind her.

My first thought was that the assembled people could be Starfleet cadets – in which case the title Kobayashi Maru might simply refer to Academy cadets taking the actual test. Perhaps Captain Burnham, Saru, or someone else has been working with Starfleet Academy to bring in more officers as the Federation gets back on its feet. In the background of the image I spotted a Ferengi; there was a Ferengi captain seen in the second Season 4 trailer, so this could be the same character. If that character is a captain, perhaps the people in the image aren’t cadets.

Episode 4×02: Anomaly

The episode’s teaser image.

This one has a very simple title – but it’s a title that could open up so many different possibilities! This episode seems almost certain to introduce the gravitational anomaly that the trailers have shown off, so I think we can expect to learn what kind of threat it poses, as well as perhaps seeing Captain Burnham and the crew encounter it for the first time. My suspicion is that the USS Discovery will be the first Federation vessel to make contact with the gravitational anomaly, and will then return to Starfleet with the news, but we’ll see.

The title Anomaly could also have a secondary meaning, such as referring to the anomalous presence of Gray, or to someone acting in an out-of-character manner. Discovery has played with double-meaning episode titles more than once, so I won’t be shocked if there’s a second “anomaly” of some kind that rears its head in this episode!

The USS Discovery approaches the gravitational anomaly.

In the days ahead, before we hit the season premiere, I’ll be writing up all of my big pre-season theories. But if you want to check out my initial thoughts on the gravitational anomaly from when it first appeared in the first Season 4 trailer, you can do so by clicking or tapping here. A few of my ideas about the anomaly and its possible causes are still in play, and even though I think it’s more likely that Discovery will tell a wholly unique story rather than one which connects back to a past iteration of Star Trek, part of me hopes that we might see some kind of connection with the Borg, the super-synths from Star Trek: Picard, or something like that.

The teaser image for Anomaly shows a depressed-looking Book at the console on his ship, being comforted by Michael Burnham. Book has that “thousand-yard stare” that’s often associated with post-traumatic stress. His look could also be one of defeat or even resignation, but clearly something bad has happened.

A closer look at Book’s expression.

Michael Burnham being the one to offer comfort suggests that this is something that hurts Book more than it hurts her, otherwise the roles would either be reversed or we might see them drawing on one another for emotional support and comfort. Book has attachments to his homeworld of Kwejian, the tranceworms, and of course the beautiful cat Grudge. I certainly hope nothing bad has happened to the kitty! As I said in my rather morbid list of death predictions, though, Grudge is kind of the show’s mascot so I don’t expect she’d be in harm’s way.

That leaves Kwejian and the tranceworms as possible candidates; perhaps one or both has suffered due to the gravitational anomaly. Book could also have heard bad news from someone he knew from his time as a courier – perhaps some character we haven’t met yet has been harmed by the gravitational anomaly. It’s also possible that whatever’s happened to Book has nothing to do with the anomaly and that this will be a side-story for him and Burnham.

Grudge made an appearance in the second Season 4 trailer.

The brief glimpses we’ve seen of Book in the trailers didn’t show him sitting around looking sorry for himself, so whatever has happened to him is something he’ll be able to move past – somehow. But clearly at this moment he’s suffering, and it’s sweet to see Burnham being there for him. One of my hopes for the season is that their relationship will remain solid; Burnham has been on a bit of a ride with Ash Tyler, so giving her a settled relationship will be good for her character.

Book’s ship seems largely undamaged in the image, so if it had an encounter with the gravitational anomaly it seems to have survived! The little craft proved its worth in Season 3, saving the USS Discovery, taking Burnham on a side-mission, and later navigating the Verubin Nebula. It would be nice to see more missions involving Book’s ship in Season 4.

Episode 4×03: Choose to Live

Teaser image for Choose to Live.

Choose to Live is a pretty vague-sounding title that could lead to all kinds of different themes and storylines. Obviously Captain Burnham and everyone else involved in the mission to defend against the gravitational anomaly would “choose to live” as opposed to giving up and choosing to just lay down and die! But the phrase implies effort – that choosing to live and tackling the problems in front of them will be a significant challenge for the crew to overcome.

It’s possible that this episode could see some kind of “resurrection” storyline; that someone who was considered to be dead will make a comeback, or that someone will be revived from the brink of death. The second Season 4 trailer showed Michael Burnham in sickbay with a worried-looking Grudge and Book by her side, so perhaps an injury or ailment that she suffered will be part of this episode’s storyline.

Captain Burnham will end up in sickbay… somehow!

The teaser image shows Captain Burnham sitting at a desk across from two characters who I believe are Ni’Var’s leader T’Rina and Federation President Rillak. Admiral Vance is also present, standing to Burnham’s left looking stern. This could be an extension of the scene we saw in the second trailer, where President Rillak appeared to be disciplining Captain Burnham or at least giving her a verbal dressing-down.

The presence of the leader of Ni’Var may suggest that they’re involved in some way, or that Captain Burnham and the crew will be visiting Ni’Var somewhere around this episode. With Ni’Var seemingly on the cusp of rejoining the Federation, this could be a mission connected to that – perhaps some kind of final push to bring Ni’Var back into the fold. Or it could be that Captain Burnham has done something to upset Ni’Var, and that could be the reason why President Rillak seemed to be so upset with her in the trailer.

Federation President Rillak will be a brand-new character in Season 4.

The image places this scene at Federation HQ, and the inclusion of Admiral Vance and President Rillak suggests that this could be a mission briefing or debriefing. Burnham could be telling them about the gravitational anomaly and the damage it’s caused, or they could be telling her about it and ordering her to track it down and learn more about it. Ni’Var has a strong history with science, so perhaps T’Rina is there to offer Ni’Var’s help or even just information.

Captain Burnham looks serious in this image, but I wouldn’t say she looks horribly upset or offended as she might if she were on the receiving end of a three-person attack. This may simply be either the buildup to a mission or Captain Burnham returning to tell the senior figures of her findings.

Episode 4×04: All Is Possible

The episode’s teaser image.

This is another ambiguous title that could lend itself to many different kinds of story. In the context of the gravitational anomaly, this could perhaps be a reference to different possibilities at its event horizon, or how the anomaly itself changes or damages spacetime.

However, my inclination on seeing this title and its teaser image is to say that this might be an episode that sidesteps the main storyline of the season and puts its focus elsewhere. Adira is present in the teaser image alongside Tilly, and one additional storyline that we know will be part of Season 4 is Adira and Gray’s quest to allow Gray to become corporeal again.

Gray and Adira at the end of Season 3. Could this episode be about them?

All Is Possible may mean that there will be a breakthrough in Gray’s visibility – perhaps the scientifically-minded Tilly will be helping Adira with that very problem, and this episode will see some significant advancement. I’m not sure if we’ll see Gray’s visibility definitively settled this early in the season – it feels like a story that could easily rumble along in the background all the way to the season finale. But this episode could be a major step on that journey.

I don’t recognise the location where Tilly and Adira are shown in the image. There seem to be several other Starfleet officers present – all wearing the red uniforms of the command division – so this could be at Federation HQ. It could also be aboard the USS Discovery, but I think the lighting doesn’t look quite right for that; these lights are brighter than the dim lights typically seen aboard the ship. However, one thing I’d like to see this season is some kind of visual changes or upgrades to the USS Discovery internally. Last season saw the ship undergo a major refit – yet that doesn’t seem apparent from its interior! So maybe this is one new area of Discovery that we haven’t seen before.

A closer look at Tilly in the teaser image.

Behind Tilly and Adira we can see some kind of small vessel, but not one I recognise. It’s hard to tell from this angle and with people blocking parts of it, but it almost looks like a circular craft – a kind of flying saucer-type design! It could also be a shuttlecraft or even an escape pod, and it may be entirely unrelated to the plot and just there for set decoration!

Tilly’s smile in the image appears to be genuine, but I’m not convinced about Adira’s! They may be less impressed with whoever they’re listening to – a person who appears to be just out-of-frame. My guess is that they’re having to listen to someone senior – who probably doesn’t know too much about science or engineering – talking to them about a technical topic! Interestingly, Adira and Tilly appear to both hold the rank of lieutenant. Tilly’s promotion was definitely well-earned – but I wonder if Adira somehow skipped being an ensign!

So that’s it.

The new season will be here very soon!

Those are the first four episode titles and teaser images, along with my thoughts and guesses about what might be taking place. As always, I caveat this by letting you know that I have no “insider information” and all of this is pure speculation from a fan of Star Trek – and nothing more! It’s possible – or rather, incredibly likely – that all of this is utterly wrong. But regardless, it was fun to speculate as the new season approaches.

We got a tiny glimpse of the first part of Season 4 today, but I didn’t see anything in the images or episode titles that I felt was a major spoiler. What we got was just a little bit more to sink our teeth into while we wait for the season premiere in just ten days from now! When the season kicks off I hope you’ll join me here on Trekking with Dennis for reviews of each episode, fan theories, analysis, and much more!

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 will premiere on Paramount+ in the United States on the 18th of November 2021, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere on the 19th of November 2021. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Captain Proton? No thanks…

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2, and Star Trek: Voyager.

There have been a number of interesting-sounding pitches and concepts over the years for potential Star Trek series and feature films, and we recently looked at the possibility of a Starfleet Academy series. That sounds like something with potential, and you can check out my thoughts by clicking or tapping here.

But not all Star Trek pitches are created equal, and another potential series has been touted in the last few months by former Star Trek: Voyager actor and director Robert Duncan McNeill. He recently confirmed on social media that he’s pitched a Captain Proton show to ViacomCBS, though details about what the potential project would entail are light. Having touched on this idea on a couple of occasions in other contexts, I wanted to give the pitch more of an airing and put my thoughts in order.

A Captain Proton show has been proposed.

You’ve probably already figured out from the title of this piece where I come down on a Captain Proton show: I’m not in favour of it and I can’t really see a way to bring it to screen successfully. I’d even go so far as to say that I highly doubt ViacomCBS will consider this pitch for very long, despite the known name attached to it, and though there are a few reasons why – which we’ll go into detail about – it boils down to one simple question for Trekkies. And here it is:

Out of everything in Star Trek, is Captain Proton the one thing you want more of?

There are many characters, locations, starships, and themes that the franchise could return to one day. Off the top of my head here are five: a visit to the Enterprise era to see more of the Federation’s early years, the return of Benjamin Sisko from the realm of the Prophets, Neelix’s adventures at the Talaxian colony, Pavel Chekov’s days as an admiral or elder statesman, and John Harriman’s missions as captain of the Enterprise-B.

Maybe one day…

You can probably think of dozens more; characters and concepts that the Star Trek franchise could happily revisit. I would bet actual money that, for 99% of Trekkies, Captain Proton wouldn’t even enter the top fifty on their lists of things that they’d be interested in returning to. And I’m in that same boat. The ten Voyager episodes which either featured or made reference to Captain Proton were fun – but the concept is simply not strong enough nor memorable enough to carry an entire series on its own.

I like retro sci-fi – the likes of Flash Gordon, Forbidden Planet, and other older shows and films from long before Star Trek: The Original Series was even conceived are what Captain Proton paid homage to and gently parodied so well in Voyager. As one element of a larger series, a series with a much bigger picture and broader scope, Captain Proton worked. It slotted in well and gave the cast something different to do – and a chance to really ham it up and over-act.

Captain Proton was a pastiche of classic sci-fi films and serials like Flash Gordon.

But that’s the nicest thing I can say about the Captain Proton stories and sequences that we saw in Voyager. Out of that show’s 170 episodes, Captain Proton is far from being the most memorable aspect even among stories set on the holodeck; I’d go so far as to suggest that the Irish village featured in Fair Haven and Spirit Folk left more of a lasting impression. Those episodes certainly had far more depth than any Captain Proton story.

There’s a lot that we aren’t privy to when it comes to the recent Captain Proton pitch. Is it intended to be a 1930s-inspired black-and-white series, featuring the cardboard sets and overacting we’d expect from such a sci-fi serial? If the show wants to be purely about Captain Proton, either treating him as if he were real or showing us as the audience a kind of “show-within-a-show” look at Captain Proton through the eyes of a holodeck audience, then it has to be considered dead on arrival. A retro-inspired sci-fi aesthetic might be cool, but every other aspect of such a show would feel so terribly out-of-date that it would become a laughing stock.

A laughing stock indeed…

On the other hand, if the Captain Proton series is actually intended to be a look at Tom Paris as he writes new Captain Proton holo-novels years after the USS Voyager returned to Earth, then perhaps there’s a bit more meat there; more of an actual concept with the potential for characterisation and drama.

I’m still not sure that it would work, but at least the latter concept has a bit more going for it. Firstly, it could be developed as a tie-in or crossover with Star Trek: Picard – or any other show or film set in that era. With Seven of Nine now a regular member of the Picard cast, the potential for a reunion with Tom Paris and perhaps B’Elanna Torres as well would be of some interest. Paris and Seven didn’t have a lot to do together during Voyager’s run, but Seven clashed frequently with B’Elanna, especially during her first year or so aboard the ship. There’s potential, perhaps, to revisit that relationship and see how things have evolved over the years – we know from Picard Season 1 that Seven of Nine has changed and become far more human in that time.

Seven of Nine has returned in Star Trek: Picard.

But I think that’s about as far as a Captain Proton show could go, and I don’t think we necessarily need a standalone project in order to bring back characters like Tom and B’Elanna. Perhaps they wouldn’t be the best fit for Picard, but they could certainly make an appearance in a future episode or film. Tom Paris has already had a cameo in Lower Decks, and while that was a bit of a nothing-burger from my perspective, I’m not totally against the idea of the character making future appearances in Lower Decks or any other Star Trek project.

When Michael Dorn revealed he’d pitched a Captain Worf series a while ago, I felt that the character might not be strong and well-rounded enough to carry an entire series on his own. And unfortunately Tom Paris is in that same category. Paris was an excellent character, don’t get me wrong, and I enjoyed what he brought to Voyager. But he was frequently used as comic relief – making a joke to lighten the mood in a tense situation. The spotlight episodes he got showed off the altruistic side of his personality, his love of retro things, and his piloting skills. And we also got to see his relationship with B’Elanna develop over the show’s run.

B’Elanna Torres and Tom Paris eventually got married.

Tom Paris is far from one-dimensional. But he’s also not the kind of character who could easily play the main role – and if the intention behind this pitch is to create a Tom Paris series I fear it would end up meeting the same fate as Joey, the short-lived spin-off from popular sitcom Friends.

Tom Paris has a satisfying character arc already. Voyager began with him at rock bottom – a prisoner and an abject failure. He failed as a Starfleet officer, then failed on his first mission as a member of the Maquis. Out of everyone on Captain Janeway’s crew, Paris had the least to lose and the most to gain after getting stranded in the Delta Quadrant, but even so he rose to the occasion to become a dependable and honourable member of the crew, quite literally guiding the ship home.

Tom Paris has had a truly satisfying character arc already.

So we’ve already seen Tom Paris’ character arc. By getting lost in the Delta Quadrant he found meaning and purpose in his life, he found the love of his life, and he gained redemption for his past misdeeds against Starfleet, against the Maquis, and even against his father. If his career path glimpsed in Endgame is any guide, his future is one of artistry and leisure, putting his adventures behind him to focus on doing the things he loves.

In short, we know Tom Paris quite well, and any addendum to the story that we’ve already seen play out would risk feeling tacked-on. At worst it could upset and even undermine aspects of his character arc across Voyager’s run depending on what direction the story was taken. Having spent seven years with Tom Paris – albeit in a supporting role – I’m quite content to say that his time in Starfleet ended with Voyager’s return to Earth and he’ll spend the rest of his days happily married, working on holo-novels and playing with classic cars. I don’t think we need to see any of that to believe that it happened – and it’s deeply satisfying after the long and arduous journey that the USS Voyager took to know that at least some of the characters we came to know and love did in fact get their “happily ever after.”

Promotional photo of Tom Paris.

Unlike Seven of Nine, who had so much to gain personality-wise as she spent more time away from the Borg Collective, Tom Paris’ characterisation feels settled. As we saw in scenes set in the future in Endgame, he didn’t change much in the years after his return from the Delta Quadrant – and we wouldn’t have expected him to.

All of this assumes that Tom Paris was supposed to play a role in this pitched series at all, and that may not be the case. But regardless I think it’s worth considering that what makes for an enjoyable and lovable character – which Tom Paris certainly was – doesn’t necessarily translate to a character being suited to take a lead role. This is true of Worf and it’s true of Tom Paris – both played outstanding supporting roles, but neither should be tapped to lead their own spin-off.

Worf is another character about whom a series has been proposed.

After having spent years playing the same characters, I can fully understand why Robert Duncan McNeill and the rest of the Voyager cast enjoyed their sojourns to the world of Captain Proton. It was a chance to take on a different acting challenge, and to revel in a style of cinematography, acting, and storytelling that just doesn’t get produced anymore.

But there’s a reason why the likes of Forbidden Planet and Flash Gordon were superseded: technology, acting skills, and storytelling improved. Some of those improvements in the world of sci-fi actually came from Star Trek: The Original Series blended different genres and styles together, kept a tight focus on its main characters, told stories with real-world parallels and morals that audiences could relate and respond to, and depicted a vision of the future and outer space that was far more positive and hopeful than negative and fearful.

These kinds of serials were outdated by the middle of the 20th Century.

Retro can be fun. But to make a straight-laced Captain Proton television series wouldn’t just feel retro – it would feel regressive. Such a show would be a massive backwards step, trying to ignore multiple generations’ worth of improvements in everything from narrative and world-building to acting skills and cinematography.

More than that, a Captain Proton series would have incredibly limited appeal. Many fans of Voyager would be hard-pushed to remember Captain Proton, and even those that do and have fond memories of the episodes would be surprised at the very least to hear talk of a Captain Proton spin-off show. Beyond that minuscule niche, a Captain Proton series might appeal to fans of classic, retro sci-fi. But such folks are few and far between, and when Captain Proton already felt incredibly dated in the 1990s, the number of viewers who would genuinely appreciate the parodies and references is positively microscopic.

It almost certainly is for Captain Proton.

Even if Captain Proton were less about the retro sci-fi and more about Tom Paris, I don’t think that would work well either. There must be a queue of characters from past iterations of Star Trek lining up for their prospective returns to the franchise, and while Paris was a fun character during Voyager’s run, he simply isn’t strong enough or deep enough to carry a whole series. His recent cameo in Lower Decks kind of embodies that – the character could have been swapped out for any other, or a generic stand-in, and the episode would have been functionally the same.

At the end of the day, this concept comes down to the simple question I posed at the beginning of this article: out of everything in Star Trek, is Captain Proton the one thing you want more of? Or to put it another way: if you could choose only one thing from a past iteration of Star Trek to bring back, is Captain Proton what you’d choose? For the vast, vast majority of Trekkies, the answer would be a resounding “no.”

I don’t believe ViacomCBS will do more than give this pitch a cursory glance out of respect to its creator. Both possible formulations have major drawbacks, and from a corporate point of view neither seems to hold much appeal even to Star Trek’s fanbase – let alone a wider television audience. At the end of the day that’s what sells companies on making a new film or television series: how much money would it make? An incredibly niche project focusing on either a single character or one tiny aspect of a show from the 1990s (that ViacomCBS hasn’t even been bothered to upscale to full HD) doesn’t fit the bill. Captain Proton is dead on arrival – and I’m sorry to say that it’s for the best.

The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Voyager and all other titles and 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.

Thoughts on a Starfleet Academy series

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for the following Star Trek productions: Discovery Season 3, Picard Season 1, 2009’s Star Trek, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager.

We’ve known for a while that there are more Star Trek projects in development in addition to the shows and films currently in production. As early as the announcement of Star Trek: Picard in 2018 rumours were flying around, and not long after the official announcement of the Section 31 series – a show whose fate I fear hangs in the balance right now – came confirmation that further Star Trek television shows were actively being worked on. One of those shows we now know to be Strange New Worlds – but there are other projects both for film and television that remain officially unannounced.

September’s Star Trek Day broadcast featured an interview with Alex Kurtzman, the man in charge of the Star Trek franchise for ViacomCBS. In the interview, Kurtzman hinted – though stopped short of confirming outright – that one of the shows in early development will be focused on Starfleet Academy. Today I thought it could be fun to consider what a Starfleet Academy series could look like, and answer the crucial question: “is it a good idea?!”

Alex Kurtzman teased a Starfleet Academy series at Star Trek Day.

As the Section 31 series has unfortunately demonstrated now that it appears to be on the verge of outright cancellation, developing an entirely new television series is not a straightforward process. However, the fact that Alex Kurtzman was willing to discuss the prospect of a Starfleet Academy series at all – and in a pre-recorded interview that ViacomCBS allowed to be broadcast, no less – means that we have to take the idea seriously. It’s still possible that the proposed series won’t make it to our screens in its presently-envisioned form, but ViacomCBS is clearly laying the groundwork for a future announcement.

Sometimes companies like to tease or even leak information like this to gauge the reaction and see what fans think. Any new Star Trek television series has to have appeal beyond the existing fanbase, of course, but if Trekkies aren’t at least interested if not enthused at the prospect of a new show, that could mean the corporation chooses not to press ahead. If I were to speculate – and as always, I’ll tell you up front that I have no “insider information” – I would say that might well be the fate that befell the Section 31 series.

We’re still waiting to hear news about the poor Section 31 show…

We’ve recently talked about some of the poor business decisions that ViacomCBS has made in regards to the Star Trek franchise, so it wouldn’t shock me to learn that none of it is planned and the corporation is just winging it! But I like to think that there is some direction and control to the way the Starfleet Academy series has been teased, and that there are folks over at the company analysing the response from the fanbase to see how Trekkies feel about the idea.

So… how do Trekkies feel about the idea? I’m not the most active person on social media, but even so I would’ve expected to see some chatter. Prior to the announcement of Strange New Worlds, for example, I quickly lost count of the number of posts and messages I saw from fans who were clamouring for a “Captain Pike show.” So far, from my limited perspective at least, I’m not seeing any of that for a Starfleet Academy series. Maybe people who study social media in more depth than I do, or who are members of fan clubs and the like, have heard more from the fan community about this – but I think it’s worth noting that the prospect of the show has, thus far at least, failed to get large numbers of folks excited.

I haven’t seen much talk in the fan community on social media about a potential Starfleet Academy series just yet.

To be fair, though, the only mention of a Starfleet Academy series from anyone close to the production of Star Trek came in that one Star Trek Day interview. The Alex Kurtzman interview lasted only a few minutes and was by no means the main event in a broadcast that lasted for three hours and also debuted trailers and teases for shows that have already been announced. So perhaps the reason for the muted response is that a lot of folks are still unaware of the concept – or if they are aware they’re still waiting for something more official.

For my part, I think the series has a lot of potential. I’d place it far higher on my list than any of the other rumoured or quasi-official pitches and concepts that have been floating around out there! Whether it’s Captain Worf, Captain Proton, or the Ceti Alpha V miniseries that we talked about a while ago, a Starfleet Academy show has – in my subjective opinion at least – far more potential to be interesting and exciting.

I’d definitely prefer a Starfleet Academy show to a Captain Proton show!

Starfleet Academy is not a new concept for a series. As early as the 1960s, while The Original Series was still on the air, Gene Roddenberry was actively considering a prequel which would have focused on Kirk, Spock, and Dr McCoy meeting for the first time at Starfleet Academy. The concept was revisited by Gene Roddenberry at least twice: in the early 1970s, prior to work commencing on the project that ultimately became The Motion Picture, and again in the mid-1980s before work began on The Next Generation. Seeing Kirk, Spock, and Dr McCoy at Starfleet Academy would eventually be realised in 2009’s Star Trek film.

Gene Roddenberry would have approved, then! Which is great news for all longstanding Trekkies! I don’t think we need to worry too much that previous attempts to get a Starfleet Academy project off the ground didn’t succeed. The truth is that there were other competing ideas at the time, and even though Gene Roddenberry and others did seriously consider the idea, there were always other competing projects. I think we can all agree that the feature films of the 1980s and The Next Generation were great ideas too!

Gene Roddenberry worked on several Starfleet Academy series and film concepts during his life.

Had Enterprise not been cancelled, I think it’s possible that the Starfleet Academy concept could’ve been revived 15 years ago as well, as part of a renewed expansion of Star Trek that never happened. There were plans afoot in the Enterprise era to expand the franchise yet further, but the show’s declining ratings and the poor critical reception to Nemesis in 2002 ultimately led to the Star Trek franchise taking a short break.

A Starfleet Academy series has three big things going for it, in my view. Firstly, the series could be created to tie in with any current or past Star Trek series. Connecting it to an ongoing show such as Discovery or Picard would make the most sense, and the show could be set in the same time period as either, and connect with characters, factions, and themes. There could even be crossover episodes.

A Starfleet Academy series could potentially run alongside – and cross over with – any of the current crop of Star Trek shows.

This kind of closer connection between ongoing series is something that the Star Trek franchise needs. The closest we’ve got so far has been the appearance of the Qowat Milat in Season 3 of Discovery, connecting the show in a loose way with Picard. But the franchise as a whole needs to do a lot more to tie together the shows currently in production, so having a Starfleet Academy series share a time period and setting with another show would be a boost to the Star Trek franchise overall.

Secondly, if the show were set at Starfleet Academy itself, that would make it the first Star Trek series to take place on Earth. That concept is itself interesting, and there’s potential to learn more about Earth and what life is like for its inhabitants in the future. That’s in addition to taking a deep dive into life at the Academy itself. Such a series could – perhaps – be a little cheaper to produce; filming could take place in and around San Fransisco, and there would be arguably less of a need for expensive new sets to be built from scratch to represent spacecraft and alien worlds.

A tree in the grounds of Starfleet Academy as seen in Discovery Season 3.

Every Star Trek series so far has visited Earth in some capacity, but there’s still an awful lot we don’t know about the Federation’s capital planet. I like the idea of some of the cadets or teachers taking time away from the Academy to get out and explore – showing us as the audience more than a glimpse of life on Earth in Star Trek’s future.

Finally, a Starfleet Academy series has the potential to appeal to a younger audience – just like Prodigy is intended to. In fact, a Starfleet Academy show could easily become the next port of call for Prodigy fans as they immerse themselves further in Star Trek; there’s huge potential to appeal to a tween or teen audience, particularly if younger cadets were the show’s primary focus.

Fans of Prodigy could easily make the jump to a Starfleet Academy show if it had a similar youthful focus.

At the very least, setting a series at the Academy would naturally include a number of younger characters – and its characters like these that have the potential to appeal to a younger audience. Star Trek can’t just be the preserve of an ageing fanbase who remember shows from the ’60s and ’90s with rose-tinted nostalgia! It has to expand and appeal to new fans too – and bringing younger people into the Star Trek fan community is the best way of ensuring the franchise will survive and remain in production in the longer term.

In my view, that’s one of the most important things that a Starfleet Academy series could do – and should be its primary objective as a series. As Lower Decks and Prodigy are demonstrating, branching out and trying to appeal to different audiences doesn’t mean that Star Trek has to ignore its existing fanbase. There’s plenty in Prodigy and Lower Decks to appeal to existing fans, and I would expect no less from a Starfleet Academy show as well.

Lower Decks was intended to bring in new fans as well as appeal to Trekkies – and a Starfleet Academy show could walk that same line.

When a Starfleet Academy concept has been debated in the past, some fans have raised the objection that it would be “too static” – that being stuck on Earth would make the show feel stale in comparison to other Star Trek shows set aboard starships. I understand where such a concern is coming from, but as Deep Space Nine definitively proved, a stationary setting doesn’t have to be boring. And as Deep Space Nine also showed right from its very first episode, it’s possible to have shuttles, runabouts, or even a whole starship seconded to a base.

Starfleet Academy has its own ships – this is something we’ve seen in several past episodes. Deep Space Nine’s sixth season episode Valiant even showed a crew of cadets aboard a very advanced ship, and Prodigy is also showing a younger crew aboard their own vessel. In short, a Starfleet Academy series could easily have episodes set aboard a ship or visiting other worlds – as well as stories that make use of technologies like the holodeck to give the cadets experience.

Kirk as a cadet in 2009’s Star Trek.

I’d say that a Starfleet Academy series is absolutely worth pursuing. It might not be my first choice – I have a few ideas of my own, which you can find by clicking or tapping here! – but it absolutely has merit, and sounds far better than any of the other pitches or proposals I’ve heard in recent years. Its biggest selling point to me is its potential to bring in new audiences, as well as to give young fans of Prodigy a series to graduate to that would keep them in the fandom.

So watch this space! I don’t believe an announcement is imminent, despite the recent talk of the show at Star Trek Day. Picard still has at least two seasons left to run, Lower Decks and Prodigy have at least one more apiece, and while there have been no official announcements I’m expecting to hear that Discovery will get a fifth season and Strange New Worlds will get a second at some point in the near future. Between those shows and the various feature film projects, Star Trek is quite busy going into 2022, 2023, and even 2024! So we might not hear anything official just yet… but keep your eyes and ears open!

The Star Trek franchise – including all series and films 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.

It’s morally justifiable to pirate all of Star Trek.

I like Star Trek. I’ve been a Trekkie since I first watched The Next Generation in the early 1990s, and watching that series kicked off a lifelong love of the franchise that continues to this day. Over a span of three decades I’ve watched every single film and episode – practically all of them several times over – and in addition I’ve spent a lot of money on plenty of merchandise, ranging from action figures and coffee table books to artwork and stationery. My house is decorated with Star Trek posters and action figures in display cases, and if you ever stop by for a coffee you’ll almost certainly drink it out of a Star Trek mug. But Star Trek, it seems, doesn’t reciprocate.

At the very least, the suits in charge of the franchise at ViacomCBS do not care one iota about any Star Trek fan outside of North America – as evidenced by the fact that, for the second year in a row, a brand-new Star Trek series is not going to be made available to fans across the world.

Logo for ViacomCBS – the corporation that owns Star Trek.

Star Trek: Prodigy premieres in a couple of days’ time, and just as happened with Lower Decks in August 2020, the series is going to be kept away from fans outside of North America. This decision re-emphasises ViacomCBS’ disgusting attitude to the franchise’s non-American fans, but in one significant way it’s an even worse and more egregious insult than the Lower Decks debacle was.

Why do I say that? Because Prodigy is a co-production between CBS Studios and Nickelodeon – both of which are ViacomCBS subsidiaries. Nickelodeon, as I’m sure you know, is a children’s television channel that is broadcast across the world – in more than 70 countries from New Zealand to Ukraine and South Africa to Pakistan. In order to make Prodigy available to a worldwide audience, all ViacomCBS would have needed to do was put the series on Nickelodeon – something incredibly easy to do as Nickelodeon is a channel it already owns and operates. It wouldn’t have even cost the corporation any money, as there would have been no expensive rights agreements or broadcast licenses to negotiate.

ViacomCBS literally owns Nickelodeon and all of its international channels.

The decision not to broadcast the show on Nickelodeon can only be taken one way: it’s an insult. ViacomCBS is once again throwing up a middle finger to Star Trek’s international fanbase – a sizeable fanbase that must at the very least equal the number of Trekkies in the United States.

At first I thought I was okay with it. Prodigy is a show for kids, after all, and most kids won’t care. But the more I thought about it the more I kept returning to the argument I made in the run-up to Lower Decks’ premiere last year: that this is not an acceptable way for ViacomCBS to behave.

Star Trek became a global brand at the behest of ViacomCBS and its predecessors. The corporation adores globalism because it wants to make more and more profit – like a greedy Ferengi – from people who don’t live in the United States. But creating a global brand comes with a responsibility that doesn’t stop at international borders, and for seemingly no reason at all ViacomCBS is abdicating its responsibility to Trekkies.

Photo from the ViacomCBS boardroom.

I get it – ViacomCBS wants people to sign up for its mediocre second-tier streaming platform: Paramount+. The future is digital, and the corporation wants Paramount+ to be a success as more people around the world stop tuning in to broadcast television. But if that’s the case, ViacomCBS needs to make Paramount+ available internationally – the platform’s international rollout has been painfully slow and incredibly patchy, with films and shows the corporation owns not being available on the platform even after Paramount+ arrives in some regions.

ViacomCBS is trying to tie Star Trek to Paramount+, using the franchise to hook Trekkies in and convince us to subscribe. There’s a profit motive here – but that doesn’t absolve them of the responsibility they have to fans of their programmes and franchises. Star Trek only exists and was only able to be revived in 2017 because of its international fanbase – a deal with Netflix reportedly paid for almost the entire cost of Discovery’s first season. Yet time and again, ViacomCBS is content to ignore its international fans and leave us in the cold.

Prodigy will only be available to American audiences via Paramount+.

This isn’t just about one series – or two series now, counting Lower Decks last year. The Star Trek franchise is constantly prioritising fans in North America over us out here in the rest of the world. Trailers and clips for upcoming shows or even marketing material will be quite literally gated off on social media, with fans outside North America being told that “this content is not available in your location.” Star Trek’s official shop offers a paltry range of products internationally when compared to its North American offerings, and ViacomCBS is quite happy to ignore any and all questions on the subject of international availability.

Look at any recent social media post promoting Prodigy and you’ll see a slew of messages and comments from fans overseas. Most are polite, simply enquiring about if and when the series will be made available in their neck of the woods. And Star Trek’s social media team ignores every last one of them – just as they did last year when fans were clamouring for information about Lower Decks.

A handful of comments from social media directed at the official Star Trek pages and channels – all of which were ignored. Names redacted.

There has been no official word from ViacomCBS or the Star Trek social media teams about Prodigy’s international debut – and there won’t be. They simply do not care enough to even give a non-answer like “coming soon.” Instead, fans are left to shout into the void, bang our heads against a wall of silence, and whatever other metaphor you can think of for trying to get information from an uncaring corporation.

Last year there was an excuse – a piss-poor one, but an excuse nevertheless: the pandemic. Disruption to production and broadcast schedules – especially post-production work on Discovery Season 3 – meant that last-minute changes were necessary. Lower Decks was bumped up to be broadcast ahead of Discovery, and there wasn’t time to sort out the international rights. That excuse is bullshit, of course, because as I said last year it’s still up to ViacomCBS to broadcast or delay the series, meaning they could have waited to ensure fans everywhere could watch it together. But this year even that paltry excuse no longer applies.

There are two reasons why: Prodigy’s production hasn’t been impacted by the pandemic to anywhere near the same extent, and as already discussed, ViacomCBS owns Nickelodeon and has the option to broadcast the series on a channel that they own in 70+ countries around the world.

Prodigy is a Nickelodeon and CBS Studios co-production.

I want ViacomCBS and Paramount+ to succeed because I want Star Trek to succeed and continue to be produced. But if the corporation is so callous and uncaring when it comes to fans like me, what am I supposed to do? It’s a toxic relationship right now; a one-way relationship with no reciprocity. Prodigy is supposed to be a series that will bring in new fans to Star Trek – but it’s also supposed to be a show with a lot to offer to Star Trek’s existing fans. For “business reasons,” though, only certain fans that ViacomCBS deems important enough or worthy will be permitted the privilege of watching the series.

In 2021, with the global interconnected fandom that ViacomCBS pushed to create, segregating a series or film geographically is indefensible. A delay of a day or two between regional broadcasts might be acceptable – though there’s no technical reason why, given the technologies involved. But to broadcast a new show in one location and not even give lip service to when it might be available anywhere else? It’s wrong – and more than that, it’s stupid and self-defeating from a business perspective.

A map of the world according to ViacomCBS.

ViacomCBS wants as many people as possible to tune in to Star Trek. They want as many kids as possible to watch Prodigy, and I would assume they’re planning to sell merchandise based on the show as well – though the lack of any obvious Prodigy merchandise so far is yet another indication of the moronic and amateurish way the corporation is handling its biggest brand. But if the goal is to get fans excited and talking about the show, hyping it up in the run-up to its premiere and generating the kind of online buzz that makes television shows a success, cutting off at least half the fanbase is the dumbest and most idiotic thing the corporation could possibly do.

From Game of Thrones to Squid Game, online chatter is what drives people to check out a new television series. People who love something and who are passionate about it tell their friends and their social media followers, and that engagement drives people to the show – and the platform that hosts it. By deliberately and intentionally preventing many Trekkies from accessing Prodigy, ViacomCBS has killed a lot of the hype and excitement that the show could have generated.

Who knows how much bigger Prodigy could have been if the corporation in charge had handled its broadcast better?

The corporation has evidently learned nothing from the muted and lacklustre response to Lower Decks last year – a response that, sadly, has seen the show fail to hit the heights it could have in terms of viewership. Even when Lower Decks did arrive internationally and even when its second season did get the simultaneous broadcast it needed, a lot of damage had already been done, and the opportunity to make the series bigger than it ultimately became was missed.

Lower Decks and Prodigy are the two most unique and different offerings that the Star Trek franchise has arguably ever produced. Out of everything the franchise has on the horizon, it’s these two shows more than any others that had the potential to bring in hordes of new fans and to take the Star Trek franchise as a whole to the next level in terms of audience numbers and the scale of the fanbase. These opportunities have been pissed away by a corporation that clearly has no idea how to run an international franchise.

Fans outside North America might as well stare out of the window – because Prodigy won’t be hitting our screens any time soon.

When a corporation deliberately and wilfully treats a large section of its fanbase with such blatant disrespect, what can we do?

Since ViacomCBS clearly doesn’t care about anyone outside of North America, it seems to me that there’s no point in continuing to engage with the corporation or support it. They don’t care about us, so why should we care about them? And why should any non-American Trekkie consider spending a single penny on any ViacomCBS product in future? It seems like it’s only a matter of time until the next Star Trek show or film isn’t made available to us either.

If ViacomCBS chooses not to make Star Trek available to fans, we might as well pirate it. They clearly place no value on the money we could pay them or the passion we could have when talking about upcoming shows and films, so why bother? We might as well pirate all of Star Trek – and everything else ViacomCBS does, too. If they’ve chosen not to make Prodigy available internationally, and won’t even have the basic decency to answer repeated questions from fans, piracy is the default option – quite literally the only way to watch the series. It didn’t have to be, but this is a choice ViacomCBS willingly made.

When a corporation chooses to place no value on its biggest and most passionate fans, and takes increasingly stupid business decisions that almost seem intended to harm their franchise, they’ve made their decision. The lack of a response to these basic questions from fans about Prodigy’s availability or about the Paramount+ rollout is in itself an answer. And that answer is: “go fuck yourself, we don’t give a shit about you.”

In most jurisdictions around the world, piracy – defined above as the sharing of copyrighted material over the internet – is not legal. This essay was an examination of the moral and ethical implications of piracy only, and was categorically not an endorsement or encouragement to download any individual film or television series, nor should anything written above be interpreted in that manner. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 – Death Predictions…

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and the trailers and teasers for Season 4.

A bit of a morbid one this time… but it is nearly Halloween!

In the last decade or so, a number of television shows have pioneered what I call the “disposable cast” – where even main characters and fan-favourites can’t be assured of safety or survival as a series continues. Shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead have made this a big part of their identities, and the idea that any major character could be in danger can – when done right – add to the tension and drama. Not knowing if your favourite character will make it to the end of the episode or escape a dangerous situation can really increase the weight of a story.

Discovery has technically seen more main cast members depart than any previous Star Trek series! Captains Lorca and Pike, Spock, Georgiou, Tyler, and Nhan were all main cast members at one point before departing the series. But with the exception of Lorca, none of these characters were killed off, and in a television landscape that increasingly favours big, dramatic character deaths, the Star Trek franchise as a whole still hasn’t really caught up.

Sonequa Martin-Green starred in The Walking Dead for a time.

In Season 3 we saw the recurring character of Ryn killed off. He’d been a friend and ally to Booker and Burnham and his death was both a shock – due to the way it was carried out – and a tragedy for the crew. As with Airiam in Season 2, though, Ryn wasn’t a character we’d got to know particularly well before his death, and when Season 3 could have stepped up and actually killed off a main character or a character who’d been present on the show since the beginning, the writers and producers chose not to do so.

Star Trek has always had an optimistic tone, embodied in some ways by Captain Kirk’s assertion that he “doesn’t believe in no-win scenarios.” The desire to save everyone every time is drilled into every Starfleet officer – particularly captains. In that sense I can certainly entertain the argument that a character death feels like a loss or a defeat in a way that is somehow “un-Star Trek.”

Admiral Kirk in The Wrath of Khan. He famously refused to accept the concept of a no-win scenario.

At the same time, I fundamentally disagree with Captain Kirk. Life is full of no-win scenarios, and one of the skills any captain or commander needs to have is knowing how to make a difficult choice; how to choose the least-bad option when no good outcomes are possible. Sometimes that means sacrificing a life to save others, and this is something that the Star Trek franchise has touched on in the past.

Though I don’t want to see any specific character killed off in Discovery’s imminent fourth season, a well-timed character death could go a long way to raising the stakes and making the story much more impactful. The gravitational anomaly would seem all the more deadly if it claimed the life of a familiar face, or the climax of the story could see Captain Burnham having to make an impossible choice.

I don’t necessarily want to see anyone killed off – but it would certainly make for an impactful and dramatic story beat.

So this time we’re going to take a look at Discovery’s main and recurring characters – and try to assess who may or may not survive the season!

The usual caveats apply: I have no “insider information” and I’m not claiming to know what will happen. All of this is guesswork and speculation from a fan of Star Trek, nothing more. It’s also entirely subjective, so if you disagree or hate my ideas that’s okay!

Now that’s out of the way, let’s get started. I’m going to put the characters into a list, then give my assessment of how likely they are to be killed off during Season 4.

Character #1: Captain Michael Burnham
Status: Almost Certainly Safe 💖

Captain Burnham in a promo image for Season 4.

Discovery has been the Michael Burnham show since its premiere episode, and that is unlikely to change! The first three seasons saw Burnham’s rise to the captaincy of the USS Discovery, and having only just got there it would be a really unexpected and subversive twist to kill her off. As the show’s main protagonist she feels safer than most – and even series that pioneered the “disposable cast” like those mentioned above have tended to save their most significant characters from harm.

The only possible argument we could consider to counter that is the uniqueness of the USS Discovery’s captain’s chair. Three seasons of the show have each been led by a different captain – Lorca, Pike, and Saru. One of Discovery’s most interesting features has been these individual season-long captaincies and the very different styles each captain had. It’s possible – though I wouldn’t call it “likely” by any stretch – that the show might choose to bring in another new captain for Season 5, continuing this trend. If that’s the case, perhaps Captain Burnham isn’t quite as safe as it seems! However, I consider that a very unlikely scenario.

Character #2: Saru
Status: In Danger ☠️

Saru in the second Season 4 trailer.

What role does ex-Captain Saru have aboard a ship that has moved on without him? That’s a fundamental question that the series will have to address, because it’s quite odd for a Starfleet vessel to be racing across the galaxy with two captains on board. The situation could, perhaps, even lead to some awkwardness for Captain Burnham!

Some fans felt that Saru might’ve left Discovery after the Season 3 epilogue told us that he was returning to Kaminar to spend time helping Su’Kal. Fortunately that didn’t happen – not least because the short epilogue would have been a very disrespectful way for Saru to be shuffled off the show altogether! But the fact that Discovery has found a new captain means Saru doesn’t really have a role any more, at least not as things currently stand. Characters who feel surplus to requirements are often the most in danger – and Saru doesn’t really have a clear role right now.

Character #3: Paul Stamets
Status: In Danger ☠️

Stamets in the first Season 4 trailer.

Until recently, Stamets felt safer than almost any other character on Discovery! His unique ability to navigate the mycelial network meant that without him, one of Discovery’s unique selling points – the Spore Drive – wouldn’t work. For story reasons that could be a problem and certainly a limitation, so Stamets felt safe. But the revelation at the end of Season 3 that Booker – and any other empathic character, in theory – can interact with the Spore Drive in the same way as Stamets means his unique usefulness is at an end.

So the question is this: was Stamets’ unique ability stripped away from him for a reason? Could Season 3 have been setting up a situation in the near future where the crew will have to survive without him? Or was it just a natural progression in the story of the Emerald Chain’s takeover of Discovery? Actually I guess that was three questions! But the point stands: Stamets is not the only one who can use the Spore Drive any more, and thus no longer feels anywhere near as safe as he did last season.

Character #4: Dr Hugh Culber
Status: Safe 💖

Dr Culber in Season 3.

Dr Culber has already been killed off once – and he didn’t stay dead! There was also a minor backlash in some quarters to the killing off of one of Star Trek’s first major gay characters. Sometimes LGBT+ characters can feel more “expendable” in films and on television than their non-LGBT+ counterparts; a trope that we could definitely do without!

LGBT+ issues aside, I feel that Dr Culber’s “back from the dead” storyline in Season 2 means he’s a safe bet to survive Season 4. It would be a stupidly complicated storyline to kill him off for the second time, and I think for production-side reasons the writers and producers are less willing to kill off Dr Culber than almost anyone else.

Character #5: Sylvia Tilly
Status: Probably Safe 💖

Tilly in the second Season 4 trailer.

I’m calling Tilly safe because it just doesn’t seem as though the writers and producers want to get rid of her yet. Tilly has been the one character other than Michael Burnham to have seen significant growth across all three seasons of the show, overcoming her anxieties to step up and even take command of the ship. The way she led a team of officers in the final couple of episodes of Season 3 came to embody that transformation – and her arc, while imperfectly executed, was nevertheless powerful to see.

As Tilly is still young and only a junior officer, there’s plenty of room to continue that growth. I don’t think she’s going to be Captain Burnham’s first officer in Season 4, but it could well be that her arc across Season 4 and perhaps into Season 5 is readying her to take on that role again. Regardless, I don’t expect to see her killed off in Season 4.

Character #6: Cleveland Booker
Status: Safe 💖

Book in the second Season 4 trailer.

Unless Discovery plans to introduce a new main character, Book is the show’s main guide to the 32nd Century. Not only does he serve in that role for Captain Burnham and the crew of the ship, but he’s also a great character to show us as the audience the perspective of a 32nd Century native. He has a major role in that regard, and unless he can be replaced with a like-for-like character I can’t see the show dispensing with him.

Booker also has a relationship with Captain Burnham to consider, and while we can expect some bumps in the road with that perhaps, I think killing him off at this stage would be too much for Burnham after everything else she’s been through. I’d like to see Book help to anchor Burnham and keep her grounded as she handles the burden of command – serving as a confidante and her closest ally. Book’s story is also incomplete, and we’ve been promised a closer look at his background in the future. For all of those reasons and more, I think he’s pretty safe!

Character #7: Admiral Charles Vance
Status: In Danger ☠️

Admiral Vance in Season 3.

I felt Vance was in danger toward the end of Season 3 as well, and that he could’ve fallen victim to the Emerald Chain when they attacked Federation HQ. That didn’t happen – fortunately – but Admiral Vance definitely feels in danger as we approach Season 4. As one of the most significant secondary characters in Season 3, Vance’s death would carry more weight than a lot of other secondary characters’ would, which is one reason I felt he might’ve been in danger last time around.

Two things struck me from the Season 4 trailers: the almost total absence of Vance and the arrival of Federation President Rillak. Rillak, as I’ve noted in the past, seems to occupy a similar role to Vance’s in Season 3, serving as a “big boss” for Captain Burnham and the crew to ultimately be answerable to. That was the job Vance had as head of Starfleet in Season 3, but if Burnham is now reporting directly to President Rillak… what is there for Vance to do? Combine that with his absence from the two trailers and I wonder what might’ve become of the head of Starfleet.

Character #8: President Rillak
Status: In Danger ☠️

President Rillak in the second Season 4 trailer.

President Rillak’s status is difficult to gauge because she’s brand-new! We’ve only seen her in action very briefly in the trailers for Season 4, so what role she might ultimately play is unclear at best. However, there are a few reasons to think that she could be in danger.

Firstly, any new character should automatically be assumed to be in danger! It’s easier to kill off a brand-new character than an established fan-favourite, and doing so could be a relatively easy way to communicate the stakes in any story. Secondly is Rillak’s role: President of the Federation. The death of someone in such a powerful position is always going to have a significant effect, even if we as the audience didn’t know her particularly well. Thirdly, the main scene we’ve seen so far featuring President Rillak showed her facing off against Captain Burnham in at least a semi-antagonistic way. Killing off a character who’s either a villain or a hurdle to our heroes is a trope as old as time!

Characters #9 and #10: Adira Tal and Gray Tal
Status: Safe 💖

Gray and Adira in Season 3.

One storyline in Season 4 is going to focus on Gray’s quest to be “seen” – to become corporeal again somehow. Discovery certainly won’t kill off Adira and Gray without bringing this story to its conclusion, as it’s an incredibly powerful analogy for the status of trans and non-binary people – as well as being an exciting and interesting story in its own right.

Gray is tied to Adira, and thus it isn’t possible to kill them off without also killing off Gray. I think that makes both of them safe, though there is a lingering question as to what exactly Gray is. Star Trek doesn’t do ghosts, so Gray has to be explained scientifically somehow! Regardless, both characters feel assuredly safe.

Character #11: Dr Tracy Pollard
Status: In Danger ☠️

Dr Pollard at the beginning of Season 3.

After three seasons we don’t really know Dr Pollard very well. She’s often been seen in sickbay, and has patched up many of our heroes when they were injured, but aside from being a competent doctor we don’t really know very much about her. She appeared a few times in Season 3, but was never front-and-centre even in sequences in sickbay.

Dr Pollard is one of those secondary characters who has been in the background for the show’s entire run. Killing her off would be an easy option for Discovery in many ways; an attempt to get the impact of the death of a familar face without having to kill off anyone major. Be on the lookout for an Airiam-style spotlight on Dr Pollard – if she suddenly becomes the focus of a major storyline, she could be on her way to the chopping block!

Character #12: Kovich
Status: Safe… for now! 💖

Kovich in Season 3.

Until we know who Kovich is and what his role is in the hierarchy of the Federation, I can’t imagine Discovery would kill him off. There’s too much mystery surrounding this character, and to leave that unresolved would be fundamentally frustrating at a narrative level. My personal theory is that Kovich is the head of Section 31, or perhaps Starfleet Intelligence, but none of that has been confirmed on screen yet.

Famed director David Cronenberg plays the character, and I think for both Star Trek and Cronenberg it’s been a great partnership. Kovich thus feels safer than most, but it’s still possible that after we learn more about him and what his role has been that he could be killed off in future; he may not be permanently safe!

Character #13: Jett Reno
Status: In Danger ☠️

Reno in the second Season 4 trailer.

Tig Notaro, who plays Jett Reno, has said that the character won’t appear as frequently in Season 4 as originally intended. This is due to the impact of the pandemic on the show’s production. That doesn’t mean that Reno is necessarily in any danger, but it is worth noting.

Reno is famously sarcastic and deadpan, so her line in the second Season 4 trailer that she’s “lived a good life” could simply be her usual wit. However, it could also be some dark foreshadowing – and perhaps Season 4 could see Reno meet her end.

Character #14: Dr Gabrielle Burnham
Status: In Danger ☠️

Dr Burnham in Season 3.

It seems as though Dr Burnham and the Qowat Milat will have a significant role to play in Season 4 – at least based on what we saw in the second trailer. One thing came to mind when I saw other members of the Qowat Milat fighting and training, though: could they be seeking revenge for the death of one of their own? If so, perhaps Dr Burnham is the one who’s died.

This could be connected to the gravitational anomaly or it could be its own independent storyline. Regardless, Dr Burnham’s death would have a huge impact on Michael Burnham, and could be a major source of emotion and drama for her as the season rolls on. Coping with bereavement and learning to move forward while grieving are themes Star Trek has touched on in the past.

Character #15: T’Rina
Status: Probably Safe 💖

T’Rina in the second Season 4 trailer.

The President of Ni’Var, who we met in Season 3, would be an odd choice to kill off. It’s arguable that, if she does indeed lead Ni’Var back to Federation membership as the trailers have hinted, her story is complete and thus she may not have much more to do. But when considering character deaths, one factor is how their loss will impact others in the story.

Saru is the only main character with whom T’Rina has any significant relationship, and thus her death wouldn’t be as impactful for Captain Burnham and the rest of the crew even when compared to the new character of President Rillak. T’Rina being killed would still have the effect of communicating the stakes involved and the dangers of the anomaly, but it would matter far less from an emotional point of view. Thus I think there are probably better candidates when it comes to characters being killed off.

Character #16: Lieutenant Willa
Status: In Danger ☠️

Lieutenant Willa in Season 3.

Lieutenant Willa was Admiral Vance’s aide-de-camp in Season 3, and also briefly spent time aboard Discovery. She helped the crew acclimatise to the 32nd Century, and brought them up to speed on some of the new technologies that had been installed on the ship after arriving at Federation HQ. Though a good deal of Willa’s story and interactions with the crew happened off-screen, it’s fair to say she’s well-known to most of them and on friendly terms.

Willa’s death would thus have a significant impact on practically everyone aboard Discovery – especially if she had transferred aboard the ship or spent more time with Captain Burnham and the crew earlier in Season 4. Her death would also affect Admiral Vance – or she could even be a secondary casualty if Vance himself were killed. As a familiar face and someone known to the crew, Willa could be killed off to communicate the stakes involved in the story.

Character #17: Grudge
Status: She better be safe! Or else… 🐱

Grudge in the second Season 4 trailer.

Discovery can kill off a lot of characters… but the show better leave Grudge alone! Jokes aside, one of the best moments in the Season 3 finale was the way Book stood up to the villainous Zareh when he threatened to hurt Grudge. As a cat owner I love Grudge and I’m very protective of her… so if Discovery tried to get away with killing her off I might actually cry.

On a serious note, I think Grudge is probably safe. She gives Book’s character an extra dimension; a dependent for him to care for and look after. Plus she serves as a kind of mascot for the series. I can’t see Grudge being killed off in Season 4 – no matter how bad things get for Captain Burnham and Book!

Characters #18-23: The Secondary Bridge Crew
Status: In Danger ☠️

Tilly with several secondary characters in Season 3.

I’m lumping six characters together for this final entry because I found myself saying basically the same thing about all of them! Included in this group are the following: Detmer, Owosekun, Rhys, Bryce, Nilsson, and Linus. Most of them had an outing with Tilly at the end of Season 3 in which they were all in serious danger – most notably Owosekun. They all survived that encounter, but I’m not convinced they’ll all make it to the end of Season 4.

Detmer and Owosekun are the two characters we know best thanks to their development in Season 2 and particularly in Season 3. But any of these six could get the Airiam treatment and have a moment in the spotlight followed by a quick death. If Discovery wanted to show us the stakes and communicate the dangers involved without killing off a major character, any of these secondary characters could find themselves on the chopping block.

So that’s it. Those are my pre-season feelings about the safety of each of Discovery’s main characters!

Captain Burnham at the end of Season 3.

Season 4 is only three weeks away now, so we won’t have to wait too long to find out which of our favourite characters will survive the gravitational anomaly – and all of the other dangers out there in the 32nd Century! As I said at the beginning, I’m not advocating for any specific character to be killed off. I like everyone, even the secondary characters, and I wouldn’t necessarily want any of them to die.

At the same time, Season 3 felt like it had a little too perfect of an outcome for some characters, especially in the finale. Sometimes, when facing an impossibly dangerous situation, loss of life is inevitable. Making it so that characters continually survive the impossible quickly gets boring, and there was definitely a sense in the Season 3 finale that “plot armour” was protecting more than one character.

Owosekun is one of several characters who seemed to have plot armour in the Season 3 finale.

A well-timed and well-executed character death can be shocking, impactful, and emotional. When establishing the danger involved in a situation, seeing a character we know meet their end can raise the stakes dramatically for the remainder of the story, and the sense that anyone – even important named characters – could be in danger is part of what has made television storytelling since 2010 so entertaining and dramatic. Discovery doesn’t need to go down this road – but doing so could lead to some outstanding storylines and deeply emotional moments.

I’m looking forward to Season 4 now! Hopefully the show can build on the successes of Season 3 and continue the process of establishing the 32nd Century as a setting in its own right – while also telling a new and different story about the gravitational anomaly. It will also be great to see Captain Burnham in command of the ship in her own right for the first time. Let’s fly!

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 will premiere on the 18th of November 2021 on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and around the world. Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 – a wishlist

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and the trailers and teasers for Season 4. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: The Voyage Home, The Final Frontier, The Undiscovered Country, The Next Generation, First Contact, Voyager, Enterprise, and Picard.

Discovery’s fourth season is now less than a month away, so it’s time to look ahead. This time, though, I’m not going to be indulging in theory-crafting or even speculation… what we’re going to go through today are some of my wishes for the season. I did something similar last year in the run-up to Season 3, and if you want to see how my wishlist turned out you can find a follow-up piece I wrote after the season had aired by clicking or tapping here.

Season 3 did a reasonably good job at establishing the USS Discovery’s place in the 32nd Century, and though I have criticisms of several aspects of the Burn storyline, it was brought to a fairly conclusive end by the season finale. That should mean that the stage is set for a new story this time around, and on this occasion I’d like to lay out some of my personal preferences for Season 4 and how I’d like to see things unfold.

The USS Discovery in the Season 4 trailer.

The obvious caveat applies: I have no “insider information” and I’m not trying to claim that anything on the list below will be included in Season 4. This is merely a wishlist from a fan of Star Trek… nothing more. Everything I’m about to say is also entirely subjective! If I don’t include a point you want to see, or something I talk about sounds like something you’d hate, that’s okay. The Star Trek fandom is expansive enough for fans with all kinds of different points of view; we don’t need to fight, especially not about hypotheticals!

With all of that out of the way, let’s get into my Discovery Season 4 wishlist.

Number 1: A proper role for ex-Captain Saru that makes sense.

Saru in the Season 4 trailer.

One of the things I didn’t like about the short Season 3 epilogue at the end of That Hope Is You, Part 2 was that Saru was unceremoniously shuffled off Discovery. In order to make way for Burnham’s ascent to the captain’s chair, Captain Saru had to leave his position on the ship, and a way was found to make this plausible by giving him a deeply emotional connection to Su’Kal.

As a story point, I actually don’t fault any of that. Saru had been feeling alone and isolated with no other Kelpiens around in the 32nd Century, and his desire to help Su’Kal led to them forming a close bond. I can quite believe that he’d want to take a leave of absence to visit Kaminar and to spend more time with Su’Kal, helping him integrate into society as best he can after so long on his own.

Su’Kal and Saru in Season 3.

But unfortunately the rushed epilogue didn’t do justice to this story point, and quite frankly treated Saru with disrespect. Not since Dr Pulaski was dropped at the beginning of Season 3 of The Next Generation has a main character been handled so poorly, and I would have wanted – and expected – to see much more of a send-off for Saru. Not only had he been Discovery’s captain for all of Season 3, but he was a character we’d spent a lot of time with across Seasons 1 and 2 as well.

Season 4 will bring back Saru; he isn’t leaving the series as some folks had predicted, and I’m glad for that! But his role in Season 4 is unclear at best, and the biggest question I have is this: why does the USS Discovery need two captains on board?

Captain Saru was in command of the ship for a time.

In The Final Frontier and The Undiscovered Country, Kirk and Spock would serve on the same ship despite both holding the rank of captain, so it isn’t entirely without precedent in Starfleet for this situation to arise. In that case, though, Kirk had been demoted from the rank of Admiral, and in The Undiscovered Country in particular both officers held different positions: Kirk was in command of the Enterprise, Spock was in command of the overall mission to negotiate with the Klingons.

In short, I think the premiere of Season 4 (or whichever episode brings Saru back to the ship) needs to at least pay lip service to this point. Perhaps Saru could be given a title like “captain of the science department” in the same way as Scotty was “captain of engineering.” I wouldn’t want to see him demoted to the rank of commander – like poor Decker was in The Motion Picture! Presumably Captain Burnham has some degree of leeway when it comes to building her crew, so perhaps she’ll ask Saru to serve in a temporary role. Regardless, I hope Discovery doesn’t just ignore this point.

Number 2: Go into more detail about the ban on time travel.

The Enterprise-E approaching a temporal vortex.

The ban on time travel that was introduced in Season 3 was evidently intended to be a way for Discovery to avoid questions about how the Burn was able to happen, why Georgiou couldn’t simply return to her own time, and why the time-traveling Federation of the 29th and 30th Centuries that we’ve glimpsed in past Star Trek productions had ceased to exist. But the ban has created some storytelling issues in and of itself, and I would like Season 4 to at least try to address some of these.

Firstly, who enforces the ban? Admiral Vance seemed to imply that everyone in the galaxy – from the Emerald Chain to the Federation – simply goes along with it, but that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Yes, the Temporal War was certainly a bad thing. But as the war and its effects fade into memory, are we seriously supposed to believe that someone like Osyraa wouldn’t jump at the chance to use time travel to give herself and her faction an advantage? That’s to say nothing of factions like the Borg – are they signed up to the ban on time travel too?

Osyraa, head of the Emerald Chain in Season 3. She seems like someone who would use any weapon or technology at her disposal – regardless of any ban!

Even if the answer is “all pieces of time travel technology were destroyed,” that doesn’t really hold water either. It’s impossible to un-invent a powerful, weaponisable technology – as I said on several occasions during Season 3’s run! Even if everything were destroyed – something which seems like it would be impossible for every faction to prove – what’s to stop someone recreating it? The Emerald Chain had scientists like Aurellio at their disposal, and once the basic principles were understood it seems like rebuilding the technology would be a task within reach of anyone with the means and inclination.

Time travel was considered something so mundane in the 29th and 30th Centuries that its basic principles were taught in school across the Federation. Even if we discount early depictions of time travel (like the slingshot method seen in The Original Series), the fact that time travel is possible has been known to the Federation since the 22nd or 23rd Centuries at least, and even if we’re generous and say that time travel technology wasn’t “officially” invented until much later, the technology still existed for centuries prior to being banned.

The HMS Bounty was easily able to travel back in time by slingshotting around a star.

In today’s world, nuclear weapons are a comparable technology. If there were a worldwide ban on nuclear weapons, would we trust the likes of China or Russia to abide by it? Could we guarantee that every nuclear weapon was destroyed by our own governments, or might some covert hawkish faction seek to keep control of at least some of them as a contingency? In short, a ban on nuclear weapons is a noble ambition – but even in the aftermath of a nuclear war I can’t see it being workable. Even if such a ban were put in place, the weapons programmes of countries like North Korea prove that, with enough determination, anyone can recreate complex technology from scratch.

Perhaps there’s some kind of time travel arbiter that monitors the whole galaxy, and intervenes to prevent time travel from occurring. That would be one explanation. But it’s also possible that whatever this gravitational anomaly is is connected to time travel or the Temporal War – meaning Captain Burnham and the crew could be about to dive headfirst into a time travel story!

Number 3: Standalone episodes and smaller storylines to offset the main season-long arc.

The Season 3 two-parter Terra Firma was largely a standalone story.

Discovery used this formula to great effect in Season 3, which came after Seasons 1 and 2 had both leaned very heavily into serialised storytelling. I very much hope that Season 4 will continue in the same vein, because having smaller stories, character arcs, and fully standalone episodes added so much depth to the series.

We already know of one potential side-story: Adira and Gray, and in particular Gray’s quest to become corporeal again. That story has a lot of potential, and it’s actually one of the things I’m most looking forward to about Season 4. Hopefully there can be more side-stories like this, looking at other characters and taking some of our heroes to different and unexpected places.

Gray and Adira in Season 3.

Strange New Worlds has promised a return to a more episodic style of storytelling. I don’t expect that Discovery will go all-in on episodic television in the same way, not least because we already know that they have the mystery of the gravitational anomaly to solve. But I hope that, along the way, we get some detours and unconnected stories that take Captain Burnham and the ship to different places – literally and thematically.

This would be a great way for the series to show off characters who didn’t get as much to do last season, or who we haven’t spent much time with at all. Season 3 brought us an interesting story involving helm officer Keyla Detmer, and while that story wasn’t perfect it was great to spend time with a secondary character in far more detail than Discovery had ever done before. Which brings us to my next point…

Number 4: Make use of the show’s full cast – including secondary and recurring characters.

Some of the bridge crew at the end of Season 3.

As mentioned, Season 3 began this process. We got to spend more time away from Michael Burnham than Discovery had dared do in Seasons 1 or 2, and some of the episodes which placed Saru, Booker, and even Georgiou at their centre worked exceptionally well. I’d love Discovery to continue down this road, perhaps spending time with characters like Stamets – he didn’t get as much to do in Season 3 as some of the others.

With Georgiou departing for an unknown destination last year, there’s potentially space for another main cast member. We could see someone like Bryce, Rhys, or Nilsson promoted – or a character like Willa, Admiral Vance’s aide-de-camp from Season 3, join the crew. In some ways I’d like to see a new character, perhaps a 32nd Century Starfleet officer. Booker provides the crew with the viewpoint of a 32nd Century native, but he also has a different role as an outsider who isn’t a member of Starfleet. Bringing a new officer who’s native to this era aboard the ship could be an excellent move, one which could provide a lot of storytelling potential.

Detmer got her own storyline last season.

At the same time, giving more characters moments in the spotlight and their own arcs is something worth doing. We learned more about people like Owosekun, Detmer, and even Tilly in Season 3 than we ever had before, and continuing this trend by ensuring more characters get some degree of exploration is absolutely something I’d want to see.

In a season that will run for 13 episodes there’s obviously a limit; a ceiling on the number of characters and storylines that the series can fit. With that understood it obviously won’t be possible for everyone to get a fully-rounded character arc, their own storyline, and a spotlight episode putting them front-and-centre! But choosing some characters to give that amount of attention to is still important, and even those characters who don’t get a full story or their own episode this time can still have more to do than sit at their station and say “yes ma’am!”

Number 5: Bring back Nhan!

Could Nhan make a comeback?

Saru wasn’t the only character who left the USS Discovery and whose story feels incomplete. Nhan actress Rachael Ancheril was promoted to Discovery’s main cast at the beginning of Season 3 only to be shuffled off the show after only a few episodes. Nhan – the first Barzan main character in Star Trek’s history – was left behind to be the guardian of the USS Tikhov following a disaster that claimed the lives of the ship’s crew.

The Tikhov’s mission was an interesting one – it serves as a seed vault for the Federation, storing samples of plants from across the Federation and beyond. From the point of view of Nhan potentially reuniting with Burnham and the crew, though, the Tikhov was rotated between Federation member worlds, with representatives from each taking responsibility for the ship for a set period of time. Nhan seemed to suggest that she saw her mission as keeping the ship safe until the end of the Barzans’ tenure, after which it’s safe to assume the ship would be delivered to a new commander.

Nham hugs Burnham immediately before remaining behind on the USS Tikhov.

It wasn’t stated on screen how long each planet’s turn to look after the ship lasts, but that’s actually a good thing! It could be that each member world has to care for the ship for a year or two, or that it was almost the end of Barzan II’s tenure as guardians of the Tikhov – either of which could mean Nhan is almost done and could return to duty.

It was a shame that Nhan was dropped, and I don’t know if there were production-side reasons for the decision. It feels rather arbitrary, and while Nhan wouldn’t necessarily have had a huge role to play in the latter part of Season 3 she was a fun character and someone the show could and should bring back. The USS Discovery doesn’t have a permanent security or tactical officer – at least not among the main characters. Nhan could fill that role going forward, and it seems as if the ship could use a dedicated security officer based on all the scrapes that they get into!

Nhan watches the USS Discovery depart.

Nhan was also a character who provided a contrast to Michael Burnham. Where Burnham could go on emotional rollercoaster rides, Nhan was mostly stoic. And where Burnham had a loose interpretation of the rules and regulations, Nhan appeared steadfast in her dedication to Starfleet’s way of doing things.

As a character from an under-explored race, Nhan could do for the Barzans what Saru has done for the Kelpiens – showing us their history and culture in more detail. The Barzans only appeared a couple of times in Star Trek prior to Discovery, but there’s a chance for a connection with The Next Generation or to explain how they came to join the Federation – and perhaps why they chose to remain a Federation member even after the withdrawal of Earth and Ni’Var. Which brings us to the next point…

Number 6: Give us a broader look at the state of the galaxy in the 32nd Century.

A non-canon map of the galaxy.
Image Credit: Star Trek Star Charts (2002) via Memory Beta

Season 3 focused primarily on two factions: the rump Federation and the Emerald Chain. Earth, Ni’Var, and Kwejian also appeared, though the first two are ex-Federation members. We know that the Burn decimated “the galaxy” and saw many Federation members quit the organisation, but that was 125 years ago – a lot can have happened since.

Though we briefly saw Cardassians, Lurians, and a few other familiar races, we know nothing about many others. What became of the Klingon Empire? The Dominion? The Borg? Was the Burn truly galactic in scope, reaching all four quadrants in equally destructive fashion – or could some parts of the galaxy have escaped some or all of the Burn’s impact?

Are the Borg still around in the 32nd Century?

Admiral Vance told us that 38 member worlds remained in the Federation – with Earth and Ni’Var being two of the most prominent members to leave. But if the Federation had over 350 member worlds at its peak, more than 80% have quit the organisation – or been conquered, destroyed, or had some other fate befall them. Barzan II appears to remain a Federation member, as does Kaminar. It’s possible based on the Season 4 trailer that Ni’Var will rejoin the organisation – but what of the others? Who’s left in the Federation? Who quit? Who joined after the 24th Century that we might recall from past iterations of Star Trek?

Prior to the Burn, did the development of warp or transwarp speeds allow the Federation to travel further and settle other parts of the galaxy, perhaps? Could races like the Ocampa and Talaxians have joined the Federation in the Delta Quadrant, for example?

In short, the 32nd Century is a vast sandbox for the producers and writers to play in! So far we’ve only seen a tiny little corner of that sandbox – so I hope Season 4 can broaden the view and show us a bigger picture of the state of the galaxy and its factions.

Number 7: More Admiral Vance!

Admiral Vance in Season 3.

In Season 3, Admiral Vance embodied the very best of Starfleet’s values. Even though he was dealt a very bad hand in the aftermath of the Burn, he remained loyal not only to the Federation and Starfleet, but to the ideals the organisations have always stood for. Even when negotiating with Osyraa – a powerful adversary – Vance refused to compromise on his convictions.

The arrival of Rillak – a new character who will serve as the Federation’s president – could mean that Admiral Vance is sidelined. If Burnham is reporting directly to the President it seems like she’ll be going over Vance’s head, or at least around him. I guess I’m just concerned that Discovery doesn’t really have space for two “big boss” characters, and that Vance may lose out to Rillak in terms of stories and screen time.

President Rillak could occupy a very similar narrative role to Vance.

It’s possible that Rillak is being set up in a deliberately antagonistic way, and that the decision was taken to keep Vance as a more sympathetic character. I didn’t really like Rillak’s interaction with Captain Burnham in the recent Season 4 trailer, but at the same time what she had to say wasn’t too far removed from what Vance had to say at a couple of points in Season 3. He could take a tougher line with Burnham and Saru when he needed to without coming across as one of Star Trek’s typical “evil admirals!”

Actor Oded Fehr brings Vance to life and gives him a real gravitas, and there’s scope to learn more about who Vance is and what makes him tick. Vance told us he has a wife and child; perhaps we could meet them and see how he is when he’s off-duty in a more casual setting.

When Osyraa and the Emerald Chain were plotting their attack on Federation HQ in Season 3 I was genuinely worried for Admiral Vance! The Emerald Chain attack didn’t kill him off – fortunately – so he lives to fight another day! I know we’ll see him in some capacity in Season 4, but I hope he gets more to do than just chair a few meetings.

Number 8: Kill off a main character.

Who could it be?

Speaking of characters who felt at risk, Season 3 only saw the character of Ryn killed off. Ryn was a fun character for sure, and his death was very sad, but at several key moments where Discovery could have been a little bolder at swinging the proverbial axe, main characters appeared to be safe thanks to their plot armour.

The character I felt most embodied this side of Season 3 was Owosekun. In the season finale it seemed as though she was about to make the ultimate sacrifice – setting off a bomb in a low-oxygen environment – but the Sphere Data-powered DOT robots saved her life at the last minute. There were other characters in that group, including Tilly, Detmer, Bryce, and Rhys, who likewise could’ve been killed off in the season finale.

All of these characters survived last season’s finale.

I’m not arguing for any one specific character to be immediately killed off, and as I like all of the main characters for their own unique reasons any death would be a tragedy! But some stories work better or feel more impactful when the heroes lose a friend, and the Season 3 finale would have undeniably had a lot more emotional weight if someone hadn’t made it to the end.

So Season 4, here’s your challenge: kill off a main character! Let’s not repeat what happened to Nhan and Georgiou, being shuffled off the ship to some other destination. And let’s not set up a story where everyone is in danger only to have them all miraculously saved at the end. Instead let’s actually kill off a major character at the right point in the story. Doing so would raise the stakes dramatically and hammer home that whatever threat Captain Burnham and the crew are facing is genuinely deadly.

Number 9: A character crossover from a past iteration of Star Trek.

The Doctor from Voyager.

This isn’t the first time I’ve suggested this idea! But as Lower Decks has shown on several occasions, bringing back a character from Star Trek’s past can be a lot of fun – and emotional for longstanding Trekkies. Last season I suggested Voyager’s Doctor – or rather, a backup copy of him from the Season 4 episode Living Witness – as a potential character crossover, as the chances of him being alive in the 32nd Century seemed higher than most!

Given Star Trek’s technobabble, however, an excuse could be found to bring back practically anyone. Characters from Enterprise, Deep Space Nine, or even Picard could all appear in some form – through stasis or cryogenic suspension, in synthetic bodies, as holograms, trapped in transporter beams, frozen solid under the surface of an ice planet… and so on! With a little creativity, Discovery Season 4 could find a way to bring back pretty much anybody, and doing so would be absolutely wonderful.

Scotty appeared in Season 6 of The Next Generation thanks to sci-fi magic!

Aside from Voyager’s Doctor, I could suggest Enterprise’s Temporal Agent Daniels, Picard’s Soji or Deep Space Nine’s Dax symbiont as contenders for characters who could potentially have survived to the 32nd Century through “natural” means. Soji, as a character in a series running alongside Discovery, would be a fascinating choice – but at the same time I could understand if the producers don’t want to go down that route for fear of affecting or restricting future Picard stories.

If I were to fantasise I might suggest a character like Riker or Chekov. Even if they were only seen as holograms or in a recorded message I think including a “classic” character like that would mean so much to fans. We saw something comparable to this in Season 3’s Unification III, where a hologram of Spock was briefly shown. But to bring back actors like Jonathan Frakes or Walter Koenig to record even just a short message that Captain Burnham could discover would be amazing.

Number 10: Make some kind of reference to anything from Lower Decks!

Lower Decks Season 2 has just finished its run.

Lower Decks has now got two seasons under its belt, and although there were some teething problems at first caused by the lack of an international broadcast during Season 1, the show has definitely hit its stride. It would be absolutely amazing for Discovery Season 4 to so much as name-drop an event, character, or location from Lower Decks, even if it was just a throwaway line that had no bearing on the plot.

This isn’t just about fan service, either. At present, Star Trek’s shows are all split up, occupying different places and completely different time-frames. There will be a connection between Discovery and Strange New Worlds when the latter premieres next year, but there’s no chance for a significant crossover. Name-drops and references are the next best thing, and a way for the Star Trek franchise to remain connected.

Ensigns Tendi, Rutherford, Mariner, and Boimler.

Having wholly standalone shows doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. It’s certainly true that Lower Decks and Discovery are very different in terms of style, tone, and subject matter – but as two parts of a larger franchise it doesn’t hurt to find ways to connect them. For fans it’s a nice “Easter egg,” but for casual viewers these kinds of connections can be the deciding factor in choosing to check out another show!

As Star Trek fans, we need as many people engaged with as much of Star Trek as possible – it’s the only way the franchise will survive into the future. Having different shows that appeal to different audiences is a great idea in many ways; it casts a broad net and should, in theory, bring in many more viewers and subscribers. But the next step is converting fans of one series to fans of the franchise as a whole – and if there are connections between the shows, even small ones, that’ll encourage at least some viewers to try other Star Trek shows. So if Discovery Season 4 could acknowledge Lower Decks in some way, I think that would be fantastic.

Number 11: Continue the theme of rebuilding – but at a reasonable pace.

Ni’Var seems to have rejoined the Federation.

Season 3 introduced us to the galaxy a century after the Burn. This event devastated the Federation and known space, and clearly saw a major power shift with factions like the Emerald Chain gaining strength. The Burn as a storyline may be resolved, but the galaxy can’t simply be “reset” to how it used to be. An event so devastating will take a long time to recover from. Ni’Var rejoining the Federation is a great first step, but I hope Season 4 doesn’t try to rush these things.

With the gravitational anomaly seeming to be the main focus of Season 4’s story, rebuilding the Federation may take a back seat. However, I’d like to see at least some progress in this area, as it could be one of the major sources of hope and optimism in the story of the post-Burn galaxy. With the dilithium cache from the Verubin Nebula under their control, the Federation is finally in a position to rebuild what has been lost over the past century or more – and from a narrative point of view, bringing wayward planets and races together is a story worth telling.

Independent Earth in Season 3.

At the same time, the story needs to acknowledge the severity of the Burn and strike the right balance when it comes to optimistically putting the pieces back together. Trying to rush this – or worse, trying to pretend that it all happened off-screen – would lead to a truly unsatisfying and unrealistic narrative.

Season 4 can’t simply pretend that the Burn is over and done with and completely move on to new stories. Even though the Burn was clearly intended as the main story of a single season, its massive implications and effects can’t be confined to Season 3 of Discovery. Any other Star Trek stories set in the 32nd Century – and beyond – will need to acknowledge the lingering effects of the Burn, and something as significant as rebuilding the Federation and bringing hope back to worlds that had lost it can’t simply be done off-screen so Captain Burnham and the crew can race away to their next big adventure.

So that’s it. A few of my hopes and wishes for the imminent fourth season of Star Trek: Discovery.

Grudge in the Season 4 trailer!

I don’t think I’d have chosen to go for another “galaxy-ending” apocalyptic threat if I’d been in charge of planning the story of Discovery Season 4. After the Klingon war in Season 1, Control and the Red Angel in Season 2, and the Burn, the collapsed Federation, and the Emerald Chain in Season 3 I would have liked to have seen Captain Burnham and the crew catch a break! Not every season has to be about the imminent destruction of the universe; stories which are smaller in scale can be just as dramatic and just as impactful when done right.

Regardless, this is the direction Discovery seems intent on going, and I’m interested to see what the gravitational anomaly is all about. I’m hopeful that Season 4 can deliver some fun, exciting, dramatic, and interesting Star Trek stories with Captain Burnham in command, and I’m very much looking forward to the new season. Even if none of my wishes are meant to be, Season 4 will undoubtedly still have plenty to offer.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 will premiere on Paramount+ in the United States on the 18th of November 2021. An international broadcast will follow on Netflix on the 19th of November 2021. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

What If…? Star Trek edition!

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the following Star Trek productions: The Search for Spock, The Next Generation Season 3, Nemesis, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Star Trek 2009.

Over on Disney+, Marvel has recently put out a series of animated short films with a very interesting premise. These shorts asked what might’ve happened in the Marvel universe if circumstances had changed, characters had taken different actions, or things had ended differently.

Alternate history has always been a subject that fascinated me! So with that in mind, we’re going to consider a few “what ifs” from the Star Trek franchise – from an in-universe point of view, naturally! There are more than 800 Star Trek stories at time of writing, meaning that there are literally hundreds of potential scenarios where a different decision or different outcome could have radically changed the Star Trek galaxy.

Inspired by Marvel’s What If…? series, we’re going to put a Star Trek spin on this concept!

As always, please keep in mind that all of this is one person’s subjective opinion! I’m indulging in fan-fiction and pure speculation based on my own thoughts about how some of these scenarios might’ve unfolded. If you hate all of my ideas, or something you like wasn’t included, that’s okay! Within the Star Trek fandom there’s enough room for different opinions.

With that out of the way, let’s consider some Star Trek “what ifs!”

Number 1: What if… Captain Picard couldn’t be saved after being assimilated?

Locutus of Borg.

This isn’t going to go the way you might be expecting! In this scenario, the events of The Best of Both Worlds play out as we saw on screen: Picard is captured, the Borg defeat the Federation at Wolf-359, Riker and the Enterprise race to confront them over Earth, and Captain Picard is able to communicate to Data how to defeat them. The Borg cube explodes, and the Federation lives to fight another day! But unfortunately Captain Picard then dies – severing his connection to the Collective and/or removing his Borg implants was too much for his body and mind to take, and he doesn’t survive beyond the end of The Best of Both Worlds, Part II.

As Starfleet and the crew of the Enterprise-D mourn the loss of Captain Picard, Captain Edward Jellico is assigned to the ship as his replacement, and many of the events later in The Next Generation proceed unaltered. As Q would tell Picard in the episode Tapestry, even without him in command the Enterprise-D and Starfleet would be fine.

Captain Edward Jellico.

The Federation, armed with new knowledge of the Borg, developed new ships like the Defiant-class and Sovereign-class, and were even able to defend against a second Borg incursion a few years later – albeit at great cost. But the loss of Captain Picard would have a huge impact later, in the year 2379. A coup on Romulus brings a human clone to power – Shinzon. Shinzon’s plot to destroy the Federation was only stopped because of his personal connection to Picard, a connection that fascinated him and that he hoped could save his life.

Without that obstacle in the way, Shinzon sees no reason to wait or to play nice with the Federation before implementing his plan. He takes his flagship, the Reman warbird Scimitar, and heads straight for Earth before the Federation even has time to respond diplomatically to the change in government on Romulus. Under cloak, the Scimitar deploys its thalaron radiation weapon – massacring all life on planet Earth and crippling the Federation government and Starfleet command.

Without Captain Picard to pose a distraction, Shinzon was able to launch his attack on Earth.

With war now assured between the Romulans and Federation, Romulan commanders who had been sceptical of Shinzon rally to the cause. All-out war breaks out between the Romulan Empire and the residual Federation, but without a government or command structure to provide a coordinated response, and seriously demoralised from the attack on Earth, things don’t go well for Starfleet. The Scimitar proves to be an unstoppable force all on its own, and its thalaron radiation weapon is able to devastate multiple other planets: Betazed, Andoria, Alpha Centauri, Mars, and others. The Federation is forced to sue for peace on very unfavourable terms.

However, Shinzon wouldn’t live to see the Romulan victory. Without the original Picard, there was no way to save his life from the DNA degradation that he was suffering from, and shortly after the Federation’s defeat Shinzon dies. His Reman viceroy would succeed him as the new leader of the Romulan Empire, an empire which now incorporated large swathes of what had once been Federation space. Whether the Romulans could hold all of this territory, and whether their empire would accept a Reman leader, are now open questions…

Number 2: What if… Spock wasn’t resurrected on the Genesis Planet?

Spock’s empty coffin on the Genesis Planet.

This scenario sees the events of The Wrath of Khan unfold exactly as we saw on screen. Khan stages an attack on the Enterprise, steals the Genesis device, and is defeated at the Battle in the Mutara Nebula. Spock sacrifices his life repairing the Enterprise’s warp drive, allowing the ship to outrun the blast of the Genesis device. But in our alternate world, Captain Kirk doesn’t give Spock a Starfleet funeral. Instead Spock’s remains are returned to Vulcan, in line with his and his family’s wishes. There is no chance for a resurrection because Spock never came into contact with the Genesis Planet.

Spock would indeed prove instrumental in several key events later in his life that now can’t happen. But we’re going to focus on the Kelvin timeline today. Spock’s actions in the Kelvin timeline saved Earth from Nero’s attack – but without his presence there’s no one to stop the crazed Romulan commander.

Nero.

Assuming that Nero arrived in the Kelvin timeline thanks to Red Matter (presumably deployed by someone else from the Federation as part of a plan to save Romulus), he has no reason to wait for Spock before enacting his revenge plan. After destroying the USS Kelvin (killing the infant Kirk in the process), Nero races to Vulcan and destroys the planet in the year 2233 – decades earlier than he would during the events of Star Trek 2009. Before the Federation even has time to realise what’s happening, and with Vulcan still collapsing, Nero heads to Earth and deploys his weapon for the second time – destroying the planet.

Nero then moves on quickly, targeting Tellar Prime and other Federation member worlds and colonies. The devastating losses mean it takes Starfleet a while to reorganise, but eventually the remaining fleet comes together to make a last stand over Andoria – the last remaining Federation member world. The battle against Nero’s powerful flagship is long and incredibly difficult, but Starfleet eventually prevails through sheer numerical advantage – despite suffering huge losses.

The Narada and the USS Kelvin.

Nero’s defeat wouldn’t mark the end of the rump Federation’s problems, though. With many planets and colonies destroyed, more than half the fleet lost, and millions of people turned into refugees, the Federation is an easy target. First the Klingons come, seizing planets and systems near their borders. Then the Gorn, the Tholians, and the Romulans also join in, picking off star systems that the Federation could no longer manage to defend. Federation space shrinks to a small area in the vicinity of Andoria.

The Andorians were not happy with the large numbers of refugees who sought them out, though. Plans were put in place to resettle humans, Vulcans, Tellarites, and others on new colony worlds, even though doing so would leave them vulnerable. After being kicked out by the Andorians, the remaining Federation members maintained their alliance more out of fear and necessity than anything else. How long these small populations can survive in a hostile galaxy is unknown…

Number 3: What if… the USS Voyager went the other way?

The USS Voyager.

The events of Voyager’s premiere episode, Caretaker, play out much the same as they did on screen in this scenario. But after that, things take a very different turn – literally! The Maquis raider Val Jean, under Chakotay’s command, is transported to the Delta Quadrant by an entity known as the Caretaker. The USS Voyager is likewise transported by the Caretaker’s Array, and after the death of the Caretaker and a short battle with the Kazon, Captain Janeway orders the destruction of the Array. Voyager must find a way home.

Instead of taking the most direct route to Earth, Captain Janeway and the crew of Voyager consider an alternative idea – heading for the Gamma Quadrant, and the far side of the Bajoran Wormhole. From there it would only be a short journey back to Earth! The crew debate the ideas for a while, and there isn’t a clear consensus. No starship has ever undertaken such a long journey before, so there really aren’t ground rules for route planning when it comes to long-distance interstellar travel.

A non-canon map of the Star Trek galaxy.
Image Credit: Star Trek Star Charts (2002) via Memory Beta

Using the map above (which is non-canon) as a guide, the crew quickly figure out that both a direct route home via the Delta and Beta Quadrants or an indirect route via the Gamma Quadrant and Bajoran Wormhole are roughly the same length and would take roughly the same amount of time.

The two crews can’t agree at first. Chakotay and the Maquis, keen to avoid going anywhere near Cardassian space and fearing being turned over to Cardassian authorities upon their return, firmly advocate for the Delta Quadrant route. Neelix claims to be familiar with space in both directions and along both routes, but ultimately the decision falls to Captain Janeway.

The choice of route ultimately falls to Captain Janeway under the “my ship, my decision” principle.

Somewhat ironically when considering her actions in Endgame, Janeway chooses the Gamma Quadrant route. Why? She’s fearful of the Borg, naturally. Whatever dangers and obstacles may await Voyager in the Gamma Quadrant, she tells her crew, Starfleet has known for years that the Borg’s home territory is the Delta Quadrant. Taking that path seems positively suicidal in comparison, so Voyager will instead head for the Gamma Quadrant terminus of the Bajoran wormhole.

Voyager’s superior technology makes battling the Kazon sects in the area around the Caretaker’s Array relatively easy, but they have to be careful to avoid space claimed by the Haakonian Order – the conquerors of Neelix’s people, the Talaxians. After they leave their starting region, though, the truth is that we simply don’t know very much at all in canon about this area of space. Would Voyager find a faster way home through some technological means or natural phenomenon? Or would the ship and crew have to undertake a slow, decades-long journey to reach the wormhole? Would they even survive at all, or instead fall victim to some villainous faction or dangerous anomaly present in this unexplored region?

Number 4: What if… the USS Discovery didn’t go into the far future?

Michael Burnham and the USS Discovery at the mouth of the time-wormhole.

I already have a theory discussing in detail why I think the USS Discovery didn’t need to go into the far future based on the outcome of the battle in Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2 – and you can find that one by clicking or tapping here. For the sake of this scenario, though, all we’re going to say is that somehow Captain Pike, Burnham, and Saru figured out a way to defeat the Control AI without sending the USS Discovery into the 32nd Century.

Obviously some changes wouldn’t appear until the 32nd Century. Without the USS Discovery and Michael Burnham, no one is able to discover the source of the Burn or the huge cache of dilithium in the Verubin nebula. Without the USS Discovery and its Spore Drive to fight over, the Emerald Chain doesn’t stage a bold attack on Starfleet HQ. Su’Kal would almost certainly die alone when the KSF Khi’eth is destroyed – whether that event would trigger a second Burn is unclear.

A second Burn could occur.

But more substantial changes could have taken place in the Star Trek galaxy centuries earlier. With the Spore Drive still in existence in the 23rd Century, it stands to reason that Starfleet would have continued to explore the technology – it works, after all, so if a new way of navigating the mycelial network could be discovered, the Spore Drive would be an absolute game-changer for the Federation.

At some point, Starfleet scientists would hit upon the idea of using empaths to connect to the mycelial network in place of augmenting human DNA. After promising test flights using Betazoid and even Vulcan navigators, in the late 23rd Century Starfleet is able to begin a wider rollout of the Spore Drive. At first a handful of ships are kitted out as rapid-response vessels, able to jump across Federation space at a moment’s notice to assist with emergency situations.

Starfleet is able to kit out a whole fleet of Spore Drive-enabled starships.

The Spore Drive would soon attract the attention of other factions, however. Unwilling to allow the Federation a massive tactical advantage, particularly in the aftermath of the Federation-Klingon war, the Klingon Empire begins development on their own Spore Drive programme. The Romulans follow suit, and by the early part of the 24th Century the Spore Drive has become a mainstay of interstellar travel in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants.

No longer limited by geography or travel time, Starfleet is able to jump to interesting-looking phenomena across the galaxy with ease, initiating dozens of first contacts decades ahead of schedule. On one unfortunate occasion, however, a Spore Drive ship jumps to the Delta Quadrant… right into the heart of Borg space. The Borg quickly assimilate the vessel, taking the Spore Drive technology for themselves and putting a target on the Federation’s back. Due to the distances involved, Starfleet remains unaware of what happened, merely recording the USS Discovery-C as “missing in action…”

Number 5: What if… Benjamin Sisko wasn’t the Emissary of the Prophets?

Commander Benjamin Sisko.

Ignore for a moment the revelation from Image in the Sand about Benjamin Sisko’s Prophet-induced conception! For this scenario, we’re considering that there were two occupants of the Runabout which first discovered the Bajoran Wormhole: Sisko and Jadzia Dax. Though the Prophets would choose Sisko as their Emissary, they could just as easily have chosen Dax instead.

Jadzia Dax returns from the wormhole having been anointed by the Prophets as their Emissary, and receives much respect and adoration from the Bajorans. Meanwhile, Sisko makes good on his threat and quits Starfleet, returning to Earth. Jadzia is promoted to the rank of commander and given “temporary” command of DS9, due in no small part to the way the Bajorans feel about her.

Jadzia Dax assumes command of Deep Space Nine.

First contact with the Dominion occurs, and shortly afterwards the Dominion and Cardassians form an alliance – the work of Dukat, formerly the commander of Bajoran occupying forces on Bajor. The Dominion Cold War begins. Behind the scenes, Dukat is researching the Pah-wraiths, the ancient noncorporeal enemies of the Prophets. In disguise he travels to Deep Space Nine with a lone Pah-wraith, and in the course of unleashing the entity into the wormhole, kills Jadzia.

With no Emissary on the outside to come to their aid, the Prophets are fighting a losing battle against the Pah-wraiths while the Dominion War rages. The loss of Dax, though distressing to the crew of DS9 and her husband Worf, doesn’t appear to matter to the Federation war effort… not at first. In fact, the wormhole’s closure appears to provide the Federation alliance a reprieve, as the threat of Dominion reinforcements is reduced.

Jadzia is killed by the Pah-wraiths.

However, without the Orb of the Emissary re-opening the wormhole and expelling the Pah-wraiths, things go badly for the Prophets. When Dukat is able to implement the next phase of his plan and release the rest of the Pah-wraiths from the Fire Caves, there’s no one to stop him. The Pah-wraiths seize control of the wormhole, and as a thank you to Dukat they destroy the Federation minefield, allowing a massive fleet of Dominion reinforcements through the wormhole. The Dominion conquer DS9 and Bajor with ease.

With no way to stop Dominion reinforcements pouring in through the wormhole, the Federation alliance moves into attrition mode, trying to hold the existing front line for as long as possible against repeated Dominion attacks. Though the Pah-wraiths don’t actively take part in the fighting, their involvement allowed Dukat and the Dominion to swing the balance of the war back in their favour. By controlling Deep Space Nine and the wormhole, the Cardassian-Dominion alliance has the Quadrant’s most significant asset. It seems like only a matter of time until the Federation will have to sue for peace, if the Dominion would even accept…

So that’s it! Five Star Trek “what ifs!”

There are many more “what if” scenarios in the Star Trek universe!

I can already think of more, so watch this space. I might return to this concept in future. I hope this was a bit of fun, and a chance to consider some alternative outcomes to some of the events we’ve seen across Star Trek’s history. I tried to pick a few different ideas from different productions – otherwise this could’ve been “five Captain Picard what ifs!”

As always, this was really just an excuse to spend a little more time in the Star Trek galaxy. It’s totally fine if you disagree with any of the storylines I’ve suggested today, or if you think this whole concept was a silly idea! None of this will ever make it to screen, and it was more of a thought experiment and creative writing project than anything else. I had fun putting this together – and I hope you enjoyed reading it.

What If…? and the logo for the series are the copyright of Marvel and The Walt Disney Company. The Star Trek franchise – including all films and series 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.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 theory: The abandoned Borg origin story

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: Picard Season 1, Lower Decks Season 2, First Contact, and The Next Generation.

While Star Trek: Discovery’s second season was running I wasn’t writing about the show; it wasn’t until November 2019 that I founded this website. Because of that I have a number of theories and ideas kicking around from the first two seasons of Discovery that I haven’t found time to talk about yet! On this occasion we’re going to look into one idea I had during Season 2 that has both in-universe and production-side elements to it – the “Borg origin story.”

I know for a fact that I’m not alone in having speculated that Discovery Season 2 was setting up an origin story for the Borg. Shortly after the season ended a friend of mine from way back was in the area for a visit, and we got talking about precisely this subject – yes, we’re both huge geeks! I’m also well aware that other fans have posited some variant or other of this theory online both during and after the season’s run, so please don’t interpret this article as me claiming to have independently and uniquely come up with this idea!

We’re revisiting Season 2 on this occasion!

Here’s the theory in brief: the Control AI, which was the main adversary during the story of Season 2, was originally intended to be the progenitor of the Borg. Its use of nano-technology, its ability to “assimilate” organic beings, and its murderous quest for true sentience that, if left unchecked, would have wiped out all sentient life in the galaxy are all indicators of this. In addition, the inclusion of time travel and the Red Angel suits in the story could have teed up a situation where Control was able to travel backwards through time and far across the galaxy in order to become the originator of the Borg Collective.

Because of Control’s similarities to the Borg in terms of its use of nanites, its single-mindedness, and its lack of care for the survival of organic individuals, this felt like a very real prospect right up until the final moments of the season finale. I really do wonder whether a Borg origin story was included in the original draft of Season 2, perhaps being modified later on once production had already commenced. What we saw on screen would thus contain the residual elements of that story, but with a different ending written – one which sent Burnham and the USS Discovery into the far future.

Captain Leland being “assimilated” by Control.

It’s this decision which I believe would be responsible for changing the story – if indeed such a change were mandated. Discovery had received criticism in Season 1 for its real or perceived “violations” of Star Trek’s internal canon, and it’s this reaction which surely contributed to sending the ship and crew far into the future. It could be that Season 2 was hastily re-written to include the time travel ending, dropping the Borg origin story in the process.

As a narrative concept, the idea that it was the Federation, through out-of-control technological and AI research, who inadvertently created the biggest threat to themselves and to the wider galaxy would be an incredibly impactful one, and something ripe for exploration in detail. The cyclical nature of such a story, with the Federation creating the Borg, then the Borg one day coming for the Federation, could be absolutely phenomenal if done well, and would highlight the morally questionable actions of senior Federation leaders and Starfleet admirals.

Admiral Patar – one of the senior figures involved in the Control AI project.

It would also be profoundly ironic that the Borg – almost universally acknowledged as the Federation’s biggest adversary – were ultimately a Federation creation. This revelation would have a huge impact on the Federation as a whole – and on our crew of Starfleet heroes when they discovered it – and could form the basis for a new Borg story that would surpass even the likes of The Best of Both Worlds and First Contact in its scope.

Had Discovery gone down this road in Season 2, it may not have fallen to Michael Burnham and the crew to be the ones to learn of the consequences of their battle to defeat Control. Picard Season 1 could have picked up this storyline, with information stored aboard the Artifact (the abandoned Borg Cube) finally revealing the Borg’s origins to the Federation more than a century later. This would have tied the two shows together in a very real and significant way – something I’ve argued on a number of occasions that Star Trek needs to be more adept at doing.

The Artifact in Picard Season 1.

In canon, we don’t know much about the Borg’s early history. The Control AI could have been slotted into the bits and pieces that we do know in a way that didn’t overwrite anything we’ve seen or been told on screen, with every past Borg story being allowed to unfold exactly as we know they did.

In-universe, the Borg originated in the Delta Quadrant “thousands of centuries” before the 24th Century. There was an original Borg race – a race of purely organic beings – but they began using nanotechnology and augmenting themselves, and eventually hooked up every facet of themselves to the Hive Mind. As of the late 15th Century, the Borg had assimilated a number of neighbouring star systems, but weren’t anywhere near as large as they would come to be in the 24th Century. Nothing in the early history of the Borg precludes the involvement of an outside force – the Control AI. It could have been the Control AI’s arrival on the world populated by the Borg’s organic ancestors that led them down a path of assimilation and augmentation.

Borg assimilation in the 24th Century.

The Red Angel suits and time crystals present in Season 2 would have provided Control with a method of travelling backwards through time. And as Dr Gabrielle Burnham found to her cost, the Red Angel suits are imperfect and prone to malfunctioning. Based on these pieces of evidence, it would’ve been possible for Control to have seized a Red Angel suit with the intention of travelling either backwards or forwards in time to defeat Captain Pike and Discovery, only for something to go wrong – emerging on the far side of the galaxy millennia in the past.

We are now firmly in the realm of speculation! But had such a scenario come to pass, Control may have found itself alone in the vicinity of a planet populated by humanoids: the Borg’s organic ancestors. Control may have begun the process of assimilating them, injecting its nanotechnology into more and more individuals and bending them to its will.

Control used nanites to “assimilate” Captain Leland.

Control had a forceful personality, but we don’t know what effect mass assimilations of individuals would have had on it. Would it have retained its own personality in the face of potentially thousands or millions of new “drones” – or would its own personality have begun to change, impacted by the personalities and desires of those it assimilated? Perhaps this is where the Borg’s quest for perfection comes from.

This could also explain why the Borg seemed not to recognise humanity or the Federation upon re-encountering them millennia later: Control had simply forgotten its origins, or whatever remained of Control within the Borg Collective was so small and insignificant that the knowledge of its creators had been lost. As the Borg continued to evolve and assimilated more and more beings, perhaps Control’s personality didn’t survive intact.

Perhaps the Borg had forgotten their origins by the time they encountered the Enterprise-D.

Alternatively, we could have learned that the Borg did retain all of Control’s memories and knowledge – but simply chose not to make the Federation aware of the connection during their encounters. This could be the Borg’s equivalent of “forbidden knowledge,” something kept secret and known only to the Borg Queen – who may be an embodiment of the evolved Control AI.

It would make sense from the Borg’s point of view not to allow Starfleet to find out about the connection to Control – perhaps out of fear that the Federation could use that information to find a weakness in the Borg’s core synthetic programming. It would only be when Starfleet had access to a derelict but intact Borg vessel – like the Artifact from Picard Season 1 – that they’d be able to hack into the Borg’s systems deeply enough to learn the truth.

The Borg Queen could be a new avatar for the evolved Control AI.

So that’s the theory, along with a couple of different ways it could have panned out.

I wouldn’t say I was “100% convinced” that this was going to happen as Season 2 rolled on, but it certainly felt like a distinct possibility. When I later saw the Artifact featured in the trailers for Picard Season 1 I wondered if the reason this story didn’t come to pass was because Picard actually had a Borg origin story of its own in the works!

Had this theory made it to screen I think we could’ve seen one of the most interesting connections between Discovery and the wider Star Trek franchise. Borg stories could be seen through a wholly new lens, and the themes of rogue artificial intelligence that both Discovery and Picard examined in their respective storylines could have been elevated by this “creation wants to destroy its creator” angle. That isn’t something original in science fiction, but it would have been a uniquely “Star Trek” take on the concept.

Borg drones from First Contact.

Whether a Borg origin story was actually present in the original Season 2 pitch or not is something we may never know. However, the team behind Season 2 must have been aware of the similarities between the way Control operated and the way the Borg have always been depicted, and I can’t believe that it was a coincidence. Someone involved in the production of Season 2 must have at least raised the point that the story was going down a very Borg-esque road!

To me it feels like any attempt to tell a story of this nature was superseded by the decision to take Discovery out of the 23rd Century altogether. If there was only room for one time travel ending to the season, the one that was chosen was to send the ship and crew into the far future. Control was left behind in the 23rd Century and seemingly defeated by Captain Pike, so any chance of it having a role in the creation of the Borg now seems to be entirely off the table.

Perhaps all of this was simply misdirection; the writers and producers of the season putting out deliberate red herrings so that fans wouldn’t figure out the ultimate direction of the story! If that’s the case, they definitely got me! Even if that’s what happened, though, as a concept the idea that the Federation accidentally created the Borg is one that could have led to some absolutely fascinating stories. Perhaps we’ll see something like it one day!

Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and internationally. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 – new trailer analysis

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and the trailers for Season 4. Minor spoilers may also be present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

As many folks had predicted, 2021’s New York Comic-Con saw a brand-new trailer for Star Trek: Discovery’s impending fourth season make its debut! The trailer was certainly jam-packed with action and plenty of teases, and gave us a tantalising glimpse of the “gravitational anomaly” that seems to be at the core of the main storyline. Though there will almost certainly be smaller sub-plots and one-off stories like last season, the trailer mostly focused on Captain Burnham and the crew’s attempts to tackle the unknown anomaly.

First of all, none of the theories that I posited a few months ago about the nature of the gravitational anomaly now seem to be anywhere close to plausible! I had a feeling that this would be the case; that Discovery would once again create something wholly new rather than rely on a phenomenon we’d seen in a past iteration of the franchise.

Discovery is coming back in just over a month!

Captain Burnham was heard in the trailer telling her crew that the anomaly was unlike anything the galaxy had ever seen, and that once they “enter” it, they will be literally going “where no one has gone before.” I appreciated the callback to the line heard over the opening titles of The Original Series and The Next Generation – it’s a line which encapsulates Star Trek’s spirit of exploration with a side of adventure, and to me the use of that phrase represents Discovery staking its claim to be the successor of those exploration-focused shows.

Between what Burnham and Stamets had to say about the newness and unknown nature of the anomaly, we can seemingly rule out any connection to things like the Nexus, a graviton ellipse, and Tyken’s rift – as well as anything else we’ve seen before in Star Trek. That isn’t to say there categorically will not be any connection to other Star Trek stories, but that the anomaly itself will be something altogether new.

A beautiful CGI shot of the anomaly.

As mentioned, we got a couple of glimpses of what seems to be the anomaly itself. The first time we saw it it seemed to resemble a black hole within a black hole within a black hole… a kind of recursive black hole phenomenon. Discovery’s second season showed off a great recreation of a black hole (that was actually a Talosian illusion) and while the anomaly seen at the beginning of the trailer was different, especially in terms of colour, the design is comparable.

The second time we saw the anomaly in the trailer it looked very different, as though a “rip” or “tear” in the fabric of the universe, surrounded by glowing light but appearing as a dark smear. Unlike the black hole-inspired visual effect seen near the beginning of the trailer, this second look at the anomaly didn’t feature the same light-bending effect, nor was anything inside the anomaly visible.

The USS Discovery approaches the anomaly.

Of the two depictions that seem to be of the anomaly – assuming that they are, in fact, both supposed to represent the phenomenon – the first black hole-esque look is, from purely an aesthetic standpoint, my favourite. It was more memorable and different, and the way the anomaly bent light around it seems more in line with its stated gravitational effects. The “dark smear” was fine – but it wasn’t particularly visually exciting, and could have represented any one of dozens of anomalies seen in past iterations of Star Trek.

There were some short sequences that could be taking place on the other side of the anomaly, depending on how we view things. There seemed to be glimpses of characters fighting with swords, a large explosion, a forest that looked a lot like Su’Kal’s holographic world, and a child in a forest that could all be taking place after the USS Discovery enters the anomaly. We’ve seen parallel universes and different dimensions in Star Trek on a number of occasions, and I wonder if this anomaly could be the gateway to a different dimension once again.

Could this be on the “other side?”

But that’s enough story speculation for now! We won’t know more about the gravitational anomaly until the season kicks off in just over a month’s time, so let’s take a look at some of the other imagery from the trailer to see what else we can discover.

Firstly, it looks as though Ni’Var – the new name for Vulcan since the reunification of Romulans and Vulcans – will indeed rejoin the Federation. A brief scene showed the Federation president – a character identified during the Comic-Con panel as a part-Cardassian, part-Bajoran, part-human character named Rillak – presenting the leader of Ni’Var with a folded Federation flag. This was something teased during the epilogue of Season 3, with Saru’s diplomatic initiatives seeming to bear fruit.

Captain Burnham looks on as the Federation President gives a flag to the leader of Ni’Var.

Speaking of Saru, after being unceremoniously shuffled out of the captain’s chair in that same epilogue sequence to make way for Michael Burnham, he was back in uniform in the new trailer. The first trailer only showed us a glimpse of Saru out of uniform, and there was confusion over the position he could have both aboard the ship and within the new story after taking a leave of absence and returning to Kaminar.

Saru’s role still isn’t clear – he seems to retain the rank of captain but hasn’t been restored to the captaincy of Discovery. He was also depicted wearing a different badge on his uniform alongside his combadge – I wonder if this might indicate a diplomatic role of some kind. Regardless, it’s great to see Saru back on the ship, and presumably he’ll be part of the crew. What role he will play in the ship’s command structure as an ex-captain is still not clear, though.

Saru is back in uniform – and is sporting a new badge!

I couldn’t identify every single alien race seen in the trailer, but there were quite a few! At Federation HQ we saw an Orion woman not wearing a Starfleet uniform; she could be a representative of the Emerald Chain – or whatever remains of it. There seemed to be Tellarite crew members aboard Discovery, as at least one was present during an away mission. Also featured prominently at Federation HQ was a Ferengi Starfleet captain.

I liked the Ferengi design; it felt familiar enough to be obvious, while at the same time taking advantage of improvements in prosthetic makeup that have been made since the Ferengi debuted. There was more detail in this Ferengi’s face and ears than we ever saw in the likes of Quark and others. That isn’t to say the older makeup and prosthetics were bad, just that there have been advancements in the thirty-five years since the Ferengi were originally created! After Season 3 teased us with glimpses of Cardassians, Andorians, and Lurians who ultimately played no role in the story, I’m not getting my hopes up that this new Ferengi character will play a major part in the story of the season – but you never know!

The Ferengi captain.

The existence of President Rillak seems to conclusively rule out the idea that the mysterious Kovich is in charge of the Federation. This had been a rumour or theory that some fans seemed to be quite attached to last time, but I was convinced for much of Season 3 that Kovich is in fact the head of Section 31 – or perhaps Starfleet security. We saw Kovich very briefly in the trailer, and previous statements from David Cronenberg – the famed director who plays the character – had already confirmed that he will be back in some capacity in Season 4.

Tilly appears to have been promoted to lieutenant, at least based on the emblem she’s wearing on her collar in the trailer. Whether that will happen off-screen isn’t clear, but it would be kind of neat after her arc in Season 3 to see her rewarded with a promotion. Tilly was originally Burnham’s choice for first officer, but with Saru back perhaps he’ll fill that role? Either way, it seems that Tilly will be returning to the sciences division and not wearing the red uniform of the command division – something that was ham-fistedly digitally edited in the Season 3 finale!

Tilly is back in science division blue.

Dr Gabrielle Burnham and the Qowat Milat are making a return as well, as we saw them involved in a couple of different scenes during the trailer. It wasn’t clear whether the scenes we saw were all taken from the same episode or not, so the Qowat Milat could be in more than one episode. It was great that Discovery found a way to connect with events from Picard Season 1 in this way, and I wonder if we’ll get any other callbacks to the events of Discovery’s sister show. Due to the pandemic and its associated disruptions, Picard Season 2 won’t arrive until after Discovery Season 4 – though the original plan was surely for things to be the other way around!

We got brief looks at Dr Culber, Adira, and Gray. Gray will supposedly be made visible this season after finally being seen by Dr Culber in the Season 3 finale. The short scenes featuring Adira and Gray in the trailer weren’t clear as to Gray’s visibility, and when Adira interacted with Tilly, Gray wasn’t present. But at the Comic-Con panel, Wilson Cruz teased that Gray will indeed become visible and that he may have a connection to the season’s main story in some way!

Adira in away mission gear.

One of the most interesting shots from the teaser showed Michael Burnham pulling back a shroud over a reptilian-looking alien. This alien seems to be dead, but interestingly seemed to be noticeably larger than the humanoids we’re used to seeing in Star Trek. That could be a consequence of how this one scene was framed, but the idea of aliens – perhaps from inside the anomaly – being “more alien” in appearance is an interesting one in theory. I don’t believe we’ve seen this species before, though the dead alien’s reptilian-inspired look has superficial similarities to a few past Star Trek races.

Burnham with the dead alien.

There was a shot on a snowy planet that I was also taken by. I wonder if this might be a return to the Guardian of Forever’s new homeworld – the one seen in the two-part Season 3 episode Terra Firma. That’s just a gut feeling and it could be somewhere else entirely, but it would be interesting if Discovery didn’t just abandon the Guardian of Forever. If the crew are on a quest to understand a completely alien and unknown phenomenon, the Guardian could be a good place to start. Maybe it has encountered the anomaly before, or at least is aware of it and knows something about it?

Is this scene taking place on the Guardian of Forever’s planet?

Book and Grudge were back – thank goodness! David Ajala was such a wonderful addition to the cast, providing the Starfleet crew of Discovery with an outsider’s perspective while serving as a guide of sorts to the 32nd Century. And Grudge is beautiful, of course! Book’s ship also made a return. We caught a glimpse of Book in the Spore Cube – his telepathy allows him to serve as Discovery’s navigator alongside Stamets. This could be an interesting source of conflict; how will Stamets feel about someone else muscling in on his job? But at the same time the ability of Book to navigate the mycelial network opens up the Spore Drive’s potential. With multiple navigators available – perhaps millions of potential navigators if any Kweijian or anyone who’s telepathic can take on the role – the Spore Drive could finally be rolled out to other Starfleet vessels.

Whether that will actually happen in Season 4 or not is still an open question, but I think finding a way for the Spore Drive to be more than just a gimmick to be used occasionally by Discovery is a good direction for the series to take. With the show now set in the far future of the 32nd Century, it wouldn’t tread on anyone’s toes in terms of canon – and it would be a great way for Starfleet to mitigate the dilithium shortage and future-proof their fleet. I might write this one up as a full theory, so watch this space!

I couldn’t resist including Grudge!

The visual effect of the crew lifted out of their seats by the anomaly’s gravitational effects is stunning. We’re not really used to seeing artificial gravity failures in Star Trek. Aside from The Undiscovered Country, I can’t really call to mind a time where the failure of a starship’s artificial gravity was a significant story element. Even when ships are badly battered and at the point of destruction, artificial gravity usually continues to function! If Discovery uses this effect sparingly I think it could be very impactful in Season 4.

We saw several members of the cast – and a number of unidentified characters – involved in hand-to-hand violence. Some of this looked utterly barbaric, not at all the kind of thing we’d expect from Starfleet officers. At one point the Qowat Milat even seemed to be engaging a Starfleet officer. I wonder if this is all connected to the anomaly – perhaps things on the other side are more violent, like they are in the Mirror Universe, for example? Or perhaps the anomaly has different effects on people, driving some to become violent? Either way, there seemed to be a lot of that on show in the trailer, and some sort of explanation is required!

Captain Burnham looks on while Owosekun appears to be involved in a fight. This was just one of many examples of hand-to-hand violence seen in the trailer.

Though present, Admiral Vance didn’t have much to say in the trailer. I’m glad he’s coming back, though, as he was a great character in Season 3 as someone who embodied the values of Starfleet. We saw several scenes set at Federation HQ, which was of course Admiral Vance’s home base in Season 3. HQ seemed to look at least a little busier in the trailer than it had in Season 3; this could be a visual representation of the growth of the Federation as it begins to bring back wayward members and expand its fleet. The inclusion of President Rillak may mean Admiral Vance has less to do; both characters seem to occupy a similar role as superiors to Captain Burnham.

Speaking of Captain Burnham and President Rillak, a scene appeared to show Discovery’s captain receiving a stern telling-off from the Federation president. My suspicion is that this is something that happens early in the season prior to the discovery of the anomaly. That’s definitely just a gut feeling, but something about this conversation seemed to suggest the stakes weren’t quite so high. Perhaps Burnham did something in an early mission to earn the president’s ire, but the grave threat of the anomaly will force them to work together despite their differences of opinion and leadership styles.

President Rillak apparently doesn’t like Captain Burnham.

This sequence, out of everything we saw in the trailer, was my least-favourite. It felt like forced drama for the sake of forced drama, and the use of the word “bravery” when giving an officer a dressing-down was incredibly clumsy dialogue. It was a way to communicate to us as the audience that Burnham is brave and that she’s some kind of maverick who doesn’t always conform or do what authority figures tell her – but it just felt a little too forced. We know Burnham doesn’t always play by the rules having seen the way she operates over three seasons, and having a brand-new character dropped in to reinforce that point may not be the best use of the show’s time. I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve seen the full sequence in context, but in the trailer I didn’t like the way it came across.

So I think that’s all I have to say for now. Stay tuned because there are a couple of nascent theory ideas that I have based on the trailer, so it’s possible they could get the full write-up treatment in the days ahead. Discovery Season 4 is offering another “natural disaster” storyline after the Burn in Season 3, and that may not be to everyone’s taste. However, I confess to being genuinely curious to learn more about this anomaly. What is it? What danger does it really pose? Could it be a weapon rather than a natural occurrence? There are many, many questions running through my mind!

Cleveland Booker in the new trailer.

Whatever the ultimate cause of the anomaly, Season 4 looks like it’s on a good track. The trailer was action-packed and exciting, with ample interpersonal drama and an awful lot to unpack. I’ve tried to hit the main points here, but I’d encourage you to check out what other fans and publications have to say as they break down the trailer, as I’m sure there are points I missed or overlooked.

I’m really looking forward to Discovery Season 4 now, and with barely a month left there’s not long to wait. When the new season arrives I’ll be writing reviews of each episode and probably indulging in a spot of theory-crafting, just as I did during Season 3 last year. I hope you’ll stay tuned for that here on the website!

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 will debut on Paramount+ in the United States on the 18th of November 2021, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere a day later. Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Lower Decks is boldly going for asexual representation

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2, particularly the episode Where Pleasant Fountains Lie.

This article deals with the subjects of sex and sexuality and may be uncomfortable for some readers.

Growing up asexual is difficult. We live in a world that seems to revolve around sex and sexuality much of the time, with an awful lot of music, art, and entertainment dedicated to relationships and to sex. Graphic depictions of sex on screen may be a relatively recent phenomenon, but even in the 1980s and 1990s sex was a frequent subject on television, in cinema, in music, and in practically every other form of media.

Even the arrival on the scene of more lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans characters in media didn’t bring much respite. Who people were having sex with changed, but the fact that they were having sex – and spent much of their time pursuing it in one form or another – had not. The growth in LGBT+ representation in media has been fantastic (though it is still far from perfect) but speaking for myself as an asexual person, it didn’t always succeed at resonating with me. I still felt alone, that my perspective wasn’t being represented.

The asexuality flag or asexual pride flag. You might’ve seen it before – it’s permanently flown in the upper-right corner here on the website.

In the few “sex education” lessons that I was given at school, there was no mention of the LGBT+ community, let alone asexuality. Sex was something that “everyone” had and wanted to have, and between the depictions and talk of sex in all forms of art and media through to peer pressure from my adolescent peer group, it was inescapable. The only people who might be celibate were monks, nuns, Catholic priests, and losers who couldn’t find a date. That was the way sex and sexuality appeared at the time I was discovering my own.

In the time and place where I was growing up, away from the more liberal and cosmopolitan cities, even being homosexual was considered something abhorrent, let alone being trans, non-binary, or asexual. People didn’t understand what any of those terms meant because they’d never been exposed to it, and even being suspected of being a “poof” or a “bum boy” was enough to send the bullies into a frenzy.

The new “progress” LGBT+ pride flag.

The process of “normalising” – and gosh do I hate that term – asexuality can only begin when asexuality is visible. There may be a handful of asexual activists both within and outside of the broader LGBT+ movement, but generally speaking the level of visibility remains low. Without that visibility, understanding and acceptance can’t follow. The same is true of any minority group – including transgender and non-binary.

It’s for this reason that I get so irritated when I hear people talking about “too many” gay characters on television, or how “in-your-face” LGBT+ representation feels. It’s like that specifically because these groups have been so underrepresented for such a long time, and by making LGBT+ depictions more overt and obvious, it raises awareness and draws attention to the LGBT+ movement and the quest for acceptance within society as a whole.

Greater representation of LGBT+ people is still needed.

Since I went public with my asexuality, I’ve started displaying the asexual pride flag right here on the website. You can see it in the upper-right corner both on PC and mobile devices. I do that deliberately with the express intention of raising awareness and pointing out that asexual people exist in all areas of life. My chosen subjects here on the website are entertainment – Star Trek, video games, sci-fi and fantasy, among others. But there are asexual people in all walks of life and with as broad a range of interests as everyone else.

Being open about my asexuality was a choice that I made in part because of the lack of representation and lack of awareness many folks have of asexuals and asexuality. Even by offering my singular perspective on the subject in a small way in my little corner of the internet, I feel like I’m doing something to advocate for greater awareness and greater visibility, because without those things I fear that asexuality will never be understood. And without understanding it’s very hard to see a pathway to broader acceptance of asexuality in society.

If you’re interested to read a more detailed account of how I came to terms with my asexuality, you can find it by clicking or tapping here.

Title card for Where Pleasant Fountains Lie.

So we turn to Star Trek. As an adolescent dealing with some of these issues surrounding my sexuality, the Star Trek franchise – and other sci-fi and fantasy worlds – could offer an escape. Science fiction and fantasy tend not to be as heavily reliant on themes of sex as, say, drama or even comedies can be, and I think that may have been a factor in my enjoyment of Star Trek: The Next Generation during its original run.

Despite that, the Star Trek franchise is hardly nonsexual. Characters like Captain Kirk and Commander Riker are well-known for their many relationships, and episodes like The Naked Time and Amok Time, while never showing as much overt sexuality as some more modern shows, do reference the subject. Even characters who have proven popular in the asexual community – like Spock and Data – had sexual relationships. While the Star Trek franchise has been at the forefront of many battles for representation – famously showing the first interracial kiss and with episodes like Rejoined promoting LGBT+ issues – asexuality itself had never been overtly referenced in Star Trek.

Characters like Data have been talked about in an asexual context before.

Though the depiction of Lower Decks’ chief engineer Andy Billups wasn’t explicitly about asexuality, his story in Where Pleasant Fountains Lie presented the first significant analogy for asexuality in the Star Trek franchise – and one of the first ever on television, certainly the first that I’ve ever seen. In typical Star Trek fashion, the episode looked at the subject through a science fiction lens, with Billups’ unwillingness to have sex being tied to the medieval-spacefaring culture from which he came.

Star Trek has often done this. Rather than explicitly referencing a contemporary issue, writers will devise an in-universe comparison. The Doomsday Machine featured a planet-killing superweapon in an analogy about nuclear proliferation. In The Hands Of The Prophets told a story about Bajoran religion clashing with secular teaching in a story that was clearly about the creationism/evolution debate but that made no explicit references. Likewise we can say that Where Pleasant Fountains Lie is a story about asexuality – but one seen through a Star Trek filter.

The episode told a story about asexuality through a typical Star Trek lens.

As an asexual person watching the episode, I was floored. For the first time, a character in Star Trek shared my sexuality and feelings about sex. More than that, as the Hysperians’ plot to trick Andy Billups into having sex reached its endgame, the poor man looked so incredibly uncomfortable and ill at ease with what he was about to do. I’ve been there. I’ve been Andy Billups in that moment, and to see that portrayal was incredibly cathartic.

When I was fifteen I lost my virginity, succumbing to the pressure from my peer group and having talked myself into it. I thought that by doing so I could convince others – and myself – that I was “normal,” just like everyone else. Never having heard the term “asexual,” nor understanding that the way I felt about sex and genitalia was valid, I convinced myself that I must be the one who was wrong, that I was broken and that my sexuality simply did not exist as I now understand it. In that moment I felt a great deal of trepidation. This wasn’t simply the anxiety of one’s “first time,” but I was forcing myself to do something that I fundamentally did not want to do; something that disgusted and repulsed me.

I related to Billups so much during this sequence.

If you’re heterosexual, I guess a reasonable comparison would be having sex with a same-sex partner. Even if you could talk yourself into it, it wouldn’t feel right. And vice versa if you’re homosexual; having sex with an opposite-sex partner would feel fundamentally wrong. That’s the expression that I saw stamped on Andy Billups’ face in Where Pleasant Fountains Lie, and if I had looked in the mirror on that day in my mid-teens – or on any of the other occasions on which I talked myself into having sex with partners both male and female – I would have seen the exact same thing.

I believe that this is the power of representation. To truly see myself reflected in a fictional character has been an entirely new experience for me, and no doubt for other asexual folks as well. Lower Decks may be a comedy series, but this storyline has become one of the most powerful that I’ve seen in all of Star Trek. It was the first time I ever saw my sexuality represented on screen, and for as long as I live I will be able to go back to that moment and point it out to other people. There is finally an understandable, sympathetic metaphor for asexuality on screen.

Chief engineer Andy Billups: asexual icon!

As I stated in my review of Where Pleasant Fountains Lie, the depiction of Billups wasn’t perfect. There was a jokiness and a light-heartedness to elements of the story that clashed with the heavier themes that were present. But in spite of that, Billups’ story resonated with me. It’s an incredibly powerful moment to see any kind of asexual representation, and although there were jokes at Billups’ expense in the episode, he came across incredibly sympathetically. He even had his entire team cheering for him and chanting his name at the end – celebrating how he remained true to himself and didn’t have sex.

No asexual person should ever feel that they’re obligated to have sex. Sex education classes need to include asexuality alongside the rest of the LGBT+ spectrum so that asexual kids and teenagers can understand that the way they are is normal and valid. But education is only one thing that needs to change. Representation in all forms of media is exceptionally important too, and even a single depiction of a secondary character in one episode is already the best and most powerful asexual story that there has been in a long time – possibly ever. As more people become aware of asexuality and understand its place alongside heterosexuality, bisexuality, homosexuality, and other sexual orientations, the stigma or prejudice against asexuals and asexuality that exists in society will – in time – decrease.

Whether intentional or not, Lower Decks has joined the conversation and brought asexuality to mainstream attention in a way that I’d never seen before. It’s now possible for me to point to Where Pleasant Fountains Lie to show anyone who’s interested to learn more about asexuality and to see it represented on screen. That opportunity didn’t exist before, and I’m incredibly grateful to Lower Decks for this episode, this character, and this powerful story.

Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. 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.

Star Trek: The Original Series + Star Trek: Lower Decks crossover theory: Lost human colonies

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2 and for the following Star Trek productions: Discovery Season 2, The Original Series, The Next Generation, and Enterprise.

Star Trek: Lower Decks hasn’t lent itself to a lot of theorising thus far! The episodic nature of the show and humorous tone have seen a lot of one-and-done stories, as well as stories that draw on Star Trek’s existing lore and history rather than adding to our understanding of how life in the Star Trek galaxy works. And that’s fine – it’s a great show, one which generally succeeds at capturing the essence of Star Trek while showing a more amusing side to life in Starfleet.

Last week’s episode, Where Pleasant Fountains Lie, has led me to craft a theory, though, and it’s one which connects to events right at the beginning of the Star Trek franchise, back in the days of The Original Series. In short: have you ever wondered why Captain Kirk and his crew seemed to encounter a lot of “aliens” who were indistinguishable from modern humans? It’s possible – at least according to this theory – that Lower Decks might have just provided us with a plausible in-universe explanation!

Has the existence of the Hysperians in Lower Decks solved a fifty-five-year-old mystery?

Before we look at either Lower Decks or The Original Series, we need to take a detour to Season 6 of The Next Generation. The episode The Chase attempted to provide an in-universe explanation for the apparent abundance of similar humanoid races in the Star Trek galaxy: the interference of an extinct race of ancient humanoids, who “seeded” worlds across the Alpha and Beta Quadrants with their genetic material, essentially acting as forerunners or ancestors to Cardassians, Vulcans, Romulans, Klingons, humans, and perhaps many other races.

Just like the Klingon augment virus in Enterprise, or the warp speed limit from Season 7 of The Next Generation, this seemingly huge revelation about the ancient history of the Star Trek galaxy has been entirely ignored since the episode in which it first appeared, not even getting so much as a mention in the hundreds of other stories that have been produced since. That isn’t to say this explanation is wrong or landed poorly in the fandom, but as often happens when an episodic series introduces a major story point, writers who came along later either didn’t know what to do with it or didn’t want to explore it further. Thus the ancient humanoid story is a self-contained one that doesn’t have a great deal of bearing on the wider Star Trek galaxy – though fans can, of course, choose to interpret the presence of humanoids through the lens of The Chase.

Did ancient humanoids “seed” the galaxy with their genetic data? And if so, does that account for the abundance of humanoid races?

But The Chase only provided an explanation for the existence of humanoids – Klingons, Romulans, humans, etc. What it doesn’t really explain in any detail is the existence of species that are anatomically and visually indistinguishable from humans, and The Original Series featured plenty of those! For example, we have the people of the planet Gideon (from The Mark of Gideon), the Betans (from The Return of the Archons and later seen in Lower Decks Season 1), the Iotians (from A Piece of the Action), the people of the planet 892-IV (from Bread and Circuses), and the Earth Two natives (a.k.a. Miri’s species, from the episode Miri). All of these races – and many more – are completely identical to humans.

Most of the aforementioned peoples were treated in their original appearances as being non-humans, natives of whichever planet the Enterprise was visiting that week. But it certainly raises some questions, especially considering that other alien races could be at least superficially different: the Bajorans have distinctive noses, the Vulcans and Romulans have their ears, and so on. How or why did the inhabitants of these worlds come to be indistinguishable from humans – is life in the galaxy somehow predisposed to evolve into this precise form? The Chase offers half of an explanation, but even then it isn’t perfect. Enter last week’s episode of Lower Decks: Where Pleasant Fountains Lie.

A Roman centurion from the planet 892-IV.

Andy Billups, chief engineer of the USS Cerritos, is human. But he isn’t a native of Earth, nor of any Federation member world – his people are the Hysperians, a group of humans from the planet Hysperia who had constructed a society modelled around a medieval-fantasy/renaissance fair lifestyle and aesthetic. The important thing to note is that the Hysperians appear to be independent of the Federation, with their own monarchy, laws, culture, and fleet of starships. Though on friendly terms with Starfleet, the Hysperians appear to exist independently of the Federation.

So Where Pleasant Fountains Lie has confirmed that human colonies existed outside of the jurisdiction of the Federation. We knew that already, having seen worlds like Turkana IV (homeworld of Tasha Yar) in The Next Generation, but Where Pleasant Fountains Lie expanded our understanding of non-Federation humans. It seems as though the Hysperians – or their ancestors, at least – shared a common love for fantasy, magic, and a medieval/renaissance fair lifestyle, and set out to establish their own colony on that basis.

The Hysperians have their own system of government, led by a monarch.

Another episode from The Next Generation is important here: Season 2’s Up The Long Ladder. This episode introduced two colonies of humans – the Bringloidi and the Mariposans. The former were a group of luddites; Irish colonists who disliked the use of technology. The latter were a group of scientists, clones of the original colonists. The important thing to note for the purposes of this theory is that the Federation was unaware of the existence of either colony until the Enterprise-D made contact with them in the mid-24th Century. For more than two centuries, both colonies were completely unknown.

So now we come to the heart of the theory that was inspired by Where Pleasant Fountains Lie. Suppose a colony like Hysperia had been established centuries ago, but contact had been lost. If the Federation were to encounter the Hysperians for the first time, they would seem like an entirely different people at first, as they have their own distinctive culture, system of government, and starship designs. They don’t appear to be at all similar to modern Federation humans as of the late 24th Century, and it’s only because their colony’s origins are known to us as the audience and to Starfleet that we treat them as an offshoot of humanity and not as an entirely distinct people.

Bringloidi leader Danilo Odell with Captain Picard.

Here’s the theory, then, in its condensed form: the peoples Captain Kirk met during The Original Series that are identical to humans are, in fact, lost human colonies. Just like the Bringloidi and Mariposans, their records have been lost or their destinations not recorded, but at some point in the past they left Earth, established new homes for themselves, and developed their own cultures and ways of doing things.

Some of these peoples could even be the descendants of abductees, such as those encountered in the Voyager episode The 37’s or Enterprise’s North Star. The humans saved by the Red Angel and transported across the galaxy that Captain Pike and Michael Burnham encountered in the Discovery Season 2 episode New Eden were developing independently of the Federation in the mid-23rd Century, and Pike even instructed his crew that the Prime Directive applied when dealing with the inhabitants of Terralysium.

Burnham, Owosekun, and Captain Pike on the planet Terralysium. The inhabitants were descended from humans saved by the Red Angel.

Just like the Hysperians chose to build their society around a fantasy/renaissance fair-inspired aesthetic and setting, maybe some of these lost colonies likewise had the intention of building a world based around shared likes and interests. Perhaps the original colonists of 892-IV were big fans of Ancient Rome and deliberately created a Roman-inspired society. Perhaps Miri’s ancestors terraformed their world to make it resemble Earth. Gideon may be an Earth colony that got out of control, similar to Turkana IV. Or, as we see in episodes like North Star and New Eden, perhaps peoples abducted at a point in the past tried to recreate the societies from which they came.

I’ve never been a big fan of the ancient humanoids from The Chase as an explanation for the prevalence of humanoids in the Star Trek galaxy. I don’t think the fact that Klingons, Cardassians, and humans are all two-legged, two-armed, air-breathing beings of similar heights and builds was something that needed this kind of in-universe explanation; it was enough to leave it unsaid that the galaxy is populated by humanoid aliens. Trying to provide an explanation actually led to over-explaining and drawing unnecessary attention to it.

Personally speaking, I never felt that the galaxy being full of humanoid races (like the Klingons) needed a complex in-universe explanation.

But when it comes to aliens that are identical to humans, the explanation from The Chase only goes so far. If we try to argue that the abundance of human-looking aliens is caused by the meddling of ancient humanoids who also caused the evolution of the Klingons, Vulcans, Cardassians, etc. then the obvious question is why are there not dozens of Cardassian-looking aliens, or Klingon-oids?

Instead, what we could say is that these peoples are more likely to be lost Earth colonies. Just like the Bringloidi and the Mariposans, knowledge of their existence was lost in between their departures from Earth and their encounters with Captain Kirk. If we take The Original Series episode Space Seed at face value, humans had been able to launch large spacecraft since at least the late 20th Century, and with World War III taking place in the mid-21st Century, it’s possible that the records of thousands of space launches were lost. Just like Khan and his followers set out from Earth, perhaps the ancestors of some of these peoples did as well. Some may also be the descendants of humans abducted by aliens in the distant past, and this could explain how some humans have existed independently of Earth for centuries or millennia.

Natria, leader of the Fabrini.

So that’s the extent of this theory, really! I think it provides an interesting alternative explanation as to why Captain Kirk encountered so many human-looking “aliens” during The Original Series. We could even potentially extend this theory to include races like the Betazoids.

Obviously the reason why so many aliens in Star Trek, particularly in the franchise’s early days, were identical to humans was because of limitations in budget and special effects. But that doesn’t have to be the end of it! We can craft intricate theories, partly based on things we’ve learned in other iterations of the franchise, to go back and explain these things. To me at least, the idea that races like the Iotians, Fabrini, and Betans are in fact lost offshoots of humanity makes more sense than the idea that they naturally evolved to be indistinguishable from humans.

Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. 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.

Strange New Worlds: Thoughts on Captain Pike’s crew

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Star Trek: Discovery Season 2, and Star Trek: The Original Series.

Though we still haven’t seen a trailer for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1, which is on the schedule for next year, last week’s Star Trek Day broadcast finally introduced us to members of the crew of the USS Enterprise who will be joining Captain Pike. Along with Pike, Spock, and Number One, who are returning to their roles from Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery, we briefly met six other characters.

We’ll look at each of these characters in turn to see what we can gleam and if we can figure out anything about the direction of any of Strange New Worlds’ plotlines, but first I wanted to cover an omission. Ever since Strange New Worlds was announced last year, fans had been speculating about who may or may not join Captain Pike on the Enterprise, but one character I felt had a strong chance of making an appearance was Cadet Sidhu.

Captain Pike with Cadet Sidhu in engineering.

Cadet Sidhu was introduced in the Short Treks episode Ask Not in 2019, and played a major role in that story alongside Captain Pike. Though Ask Not was primarily a vehicle for Anson Mount to reprise his much-loved role, almost any story aboard the Enterprise could’ve been invented for that purpose. To tell a story that focused on Cadet Sidhu and her being assigned to the USS Enterprise felt like a deliberate character introduction, and even though Strange New Worlds hadn’t been announced at that point, the series was clearly something that Star Trek was building up to.

I felt that Ask Not was a strong story, and that Sidhu actor Amrit Kaur put in a solid performance. It was a little surprising to see that she wasn’t part of the main cast at Star Trek Day, and while it’s still possible the character could return in some form, the inclusion of Cadet Uhura – whose role we’ll come to in a moment – seems like it’s potentially occupying a very similar space to the role that Sidhu might’ve played. Although the two characters are in different departments – Sidhu in engineering, Uhura in communications – in terms of narrative structure and character roles it seems unlikely that Strange New Worlds would have space to do justice to the stories of two cadets. If Sidhu is included, then, it seems certain that her role will be much less prominent than I’d have initially expected.

Cadet Sidhu doesn’t seem to be coming back – despite Ask Not seemingly setting her up for a role aboard the Enterprise.

Now that we’ve covered one non-appearance, let’s look at who will definitely be part of Season 1! The character about whom we know the least right now is Erica Ortegas, played by Melissa Navia. This lieutenant appears to occupy a role on the bridge, perhaps in either the helm or navigation positions in front of Captain Pike. Wearing a red shirt, however, could mean she has a role as a security officer, tactical officer, or engineer either in addition to or instead of a permanent role on the bridge.

Lieutenant Ortegas does not appear to be connected to any known Star Trek characters, either from The Original Series era or any other Star Trek production, so that speculation is really the extent of what we know! We can assume that she’s of Spanish, Latin American, or Hispanic-American origin simply based on her name and casting, which would make her the first major character in the franchise to be from one of those backgrounds.

Lieutenant Ortegas on what appears to be the bridge of the Enterprise.

Interestingly, the name “Ortegas” is not new to Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry’s original pitch for Star Trek, prior to commencing work on The Cage, included a character named José Ortegas who would occupy the role of the ship’s navigator. By the time The Cage entered production, however, this character had been changed. José Tyler (whose first name wasn’t mentioned on screen) replaced Ortegas. This subtle nod to Star Trek’s origin is incredibly sweet, and if we can infer anything at all from this connection, it could mean that Lieutenant Ortegas will indeed occupy the role of navigator on the bridge.

Up next is the other character who appears to have no connection that we’re aware of to anyone else in Star Trek: Hemmer, played by Bruce Horak. Horak was not part of the announcement of the cast of Strange New Worlds earlier in the year, so his inclusion was a bit of a surprise for more than one reason! Most interestingly, though, Hemmer appears to be an Aenar – an Andorian race first encountered in Enterprise.

It’s Hemmer time!

Most Aenar were known to be blind, and actor Bruce Horak is himself legally blind. This aspect of Hemmer’s character wasn’t discussed at all during Star Trek Day, which was a little odd considering it’s a significant step for the franchise. The character of Geordi La Forge in The Next Generation was also blind, but in his case a visor allowed him to see. Hemmer will potentially be the first blind character on Star Trek whose sight hasn’t been restored through technological means. What that means for his role aboard the ship isn’t clear, though.

Hemmer was wearing the red shirt of the security or engineering departments, and the very brief clip of him appeared to show him in a different area of the ship. Perhaps we can infer from that that he isn’t a bridge officer and may work in engineering. The Aenar in Enterprise were known to have extensive telepathic abilities, which could give Hemmer an edge when it comes to things like diplomacy or even a medical field. Hemmer is already a fascinating character, and I love the nod to Enterprise. His inclusion is a positive one for the visually-impaired, and for folks with disabilities of all kinds. Not only that, but it was done in a very “Star Trek” way – casting a character who is a member of a blind race of aliens doesn’t tread on the toes of things like Geordi’s visor and the prospect of offering a cure for blindness in Star Trek’s optimistic future.

Geordi La Forge in The Next Generation.

Now we’re coming to characters who may be a little more familiar. La’an Noonien-Singh, played by Christina Chong, shares a family name with Khan Noonien Singh (albeit with a hyphen, though that could be a mistake). It seems incredibly unlikely to me that that’s a coincidence, so the question it raises is to what extent is La’an connected to Khan? At this point in the timeline, Khan is still in stasis aboard the SS Botany Bay. He wouldn’t be encountered by the Enterprise and awakened until after Captain Kirk assumed command of the ship, so La’an seemingly can’t be a direct relation.

It’s possible that she’s a distant descendant, then. Though Khan was genetically augmented, the practice was banned after the Eugenics Wars and thus it seems unlikely that La’an could be an augment herself. However, genetic traits found in Khan may still be present after several generations and she may have increased strength or mental faculties as a result.

La’an may be in sickbay during this scene.

One storyline that could be interesting for a character like La’an is how she might want to move away from her family history. Assuming that she does have a family connection with Khan, the choice to either embrace or reject his legacy could be something we see the character struggle with at points. Some people struggle with a family name and family legacy, and this can be a source of drama in fiction. Though Kylo Ren’s story went completely off the rails in the Star Wars franchise, it began with lofty ambitions of depicting a man struggling with different parts of his family history. Perhaps we’ll see something similar with La’an Noonien-Singh.

Other than that implied connection with Khan, all we can say about La’an is that she’s also wearing the red uniform of either the security or engineering divisions. Either could be a good fit if there’s any kind of genetic legacy from Khan and his augments – a security officer with enhanced strength and endurance would have an advantage, and an engineer whose brain works faster than everyone else would likewise be an incredibly useful asset to any engineering team.

What connection might La’an have to iconic Star Trek villain Khan Noonien Singh?

Those three characters are brand-new to Star Trek – even though there are connections to the rest of the franchise. Strange New Worlds also re-introduced us to three other characters who are returning! These three all appeared in The Original Series. We’ll begin with Dr M’Benga, who appeared in just two episodes. When Dr McCoy was absent, Dr M’Benga appeared to be in charge, so he could’ve been the deputy chief medical officer by the time of The Original Series.

Though never confirmed on screen, the character’s first name was intended to be Joseph, and Dr M’Benga would’ve been born in Uganda in Africa. By the time of Geordi La Forge’s birth around a century later, an organisation called the African Confederation was known to exist, so it’s possible that Dr M’Benga may have originated from there as well. The actor taking on the role, Babs Olusanmokun, was born in Nigeria, so it’s possible that Dr M’Benga’s origin could be changed to give him a west African ancestry.

Dr M’Benga holding a padd in what could be sickbay.

The Original Series clarified one thing about Dr M’Benga – he was somewhat of an expert on Vulcan physiology having spent some time on Vulcan. It’s possible that we could see him strike up a friendship with Spock based on that, or prove useful if Spock requires medical attention. Given Dr M’Benga’s status by the time of The Original Series I’m not convinced that he’ll be the chief medical officer – if so, why would he seemingly have taken a demotion to serve under Dr McCoy a decade later?

Dr Boyce, who we met in The Cage, appeared to be a friend and confidante of Captain Pike as well as the Enterprise’s chief medical officer. It’s possible this character may yet return in some form, and that Dr M’Benga is again a deputy. Or perhaps Dr Boyce has taken a leave of absence leaving Dr M’Benga in charge temporarily. Of the returning characters from The Original Series, Dr M’Benga offers the creative team behind Strange New Worlds the most freedom. We saw him on only a couple of occasions, so his character is still largely unwritten.

Dr M’Benga in Season 2 of The Original Series – played by actor Booker Bradshaw.

Staying in sickbay, we come to Nurse Chapel. Along with Una (Number One), Nurse Christine Chapel was played by Majel Barrett during The Original Series and was a mainstay in sickbay alongside Dr McCoy. Jess Bush is taking on the role for Strange New Worlds, and presumably will share a number of scenes with Dr M’Benga. The two characters knew one another by the time of The Original Series, and even worked together to treat Spock in the episode A Private Little War.

Despite appearing in twenty-five episodes of The Original Series, as well as in The Animated Series and two films, I’d argue that Nurse Chapel is still quite an underdeveloped character open for Strange New Worlds to explore in more depth. Many of her appearances in The Original Series were as an assistant to Dr McCoy, and learning more about her as a person away from her medical duties could be something the new show does.

Jess Bush as Nurse Chapel in what appears to be sickbay.

There’s also the romantic feelings that Nurse Chapel developed toward Spock. Does she have a crush on him at this early stage? If not, perhaps the series will show how that came to be. Though I’m sure her characterisation won’t just be about that – the trope of female characters having nothing to think about but men is a tired one that needs to be retired – it could be one element among many that we see. Chapel was engaged to a man named Roger Korby by Season 1 of The Original Series, and this relationship could also be explored.

As a character that we’re at least a little familiar with, Strange New Worlds will have to tread somewhat carefully with Nurse Chapel. Though there is scope, as mentioned, to dive deeper into her characterisation and learn more about her, there are some constraints based on what we know of her from The Original Series that the show will have to respect.

Nurse Chapel in Season 1 of The Original Series.

Finally we come to the character that got many fans incredibly excited. Strange New Worlds was even trending on Twitter for a time following the reveal that Cadet Nyota Uhura will be a member of the crew. With the exception of Spock and, to a degree, Captain Pike, Uhura is the character fans are most familiar with, as she appeared in sixty-nine episodes of The Original Series, all but three episodes of The Animated Series, and all six films starring Star Trek’s original cast. She also appeared in the alternate reality Kelvin timeline films.

As such, there’s less scope to reshape or change Uhura’s character than there is for any of the others. However, as Discovery did with Spock in Season 2, there’s a lot of potential to show where Uhura came from and how she came to grow into the person we came to know and love during The Original Series. She can’t be too fundamentally different, but she can certainly start in a different place and slowly become the person we’re more familiar with. This was Spock’s journey, in some respects, in Discovery.

Cadet Uhura. We can clearly see Pike in the captain’s chair behind her, so this must be on the bridge.

We know from both her original depiction and her Kelvin timeline depiction that Uhura has a knack for alien languages. Perhaps her unique skillset is what landed her a role on the Enterprise to begin with, as it seems unlikely that a cadet would ordinarily be a regular on the bridge! In that sense we could see her akin to Hoshi Sato from Enterprise – still finding her feet on the ship, but confident in her particular field.

A young cadet or newly-graduated officer is a character archetype that Star Trek shows have used in the past to great effect. Wesley Crusher, Harry Kim, and Sylvia Tilly come to mind first and foremost, but I’d also point to Dr Bashir in his first appearances, as well as Pavel Chekov, D’Vana Tendi, and the aforementioned Hoshi Sato as great examples. These kinds of characters present a strong contrast with the more experienced members of the crew, and can offer different perspectives as a result. Not only that, but any character who’s new aboard the ship makes for a great introduction and point-of-view character for us as the audience. It’s possible that Uhura will fill this role at the beginning of Strange New Worlds.

Uhura in Season 3 of The Original Series.

Before we wrap things up we can also talk about Una Chin-Riley, also known as Number One. She’s Captain Pike’s first officer, and though we spent a little time with her in Discovery Season 2 and Short Treks, there’s still a lot that we don’t know about her. Her depiction in The Cage was as a rather unemotional, straight-laced person. In particular the Short Treks episode Q&A showed us that there is a fun side to her – and this is something we could definitely see more of. Number One seems like someone with a very professional attitude, and perhaps a very clear line between friends and co-workers. Captain Pike and Spock may have bridged that line – but who else will?

Rebecca Romijn, who plays the character, told us that Una is “way more complex” than we might expect, which is tantalising to say the least! She also said that Strange New Worlds will take the opportunity to “flesh out” the character in more detail, which sounds fantastic. Though the original portrayal – and to an extent what we’ve seen in Discovery – does act as a constraint on where the character could go, I think there’s still plenty of scope to explore who Number One is.

Number One passes Spock on what seems to be the bridge.

The uniforms have been redesigned for Strange New Worlds, with most characters sporting a V-neck variant without the high collar or much of the piping and stitching seen in Season 2 of Discovery. Number One appears to have her own unique variant with a zip collar and black undershirt, and more black or dark patches on the sides of the torso. It’s not clear why she gets a special uniform – or indeed if this is what she’ll wear most often. But it’s interesting, and makes her stand out from the rest of the crew.

Of course we also have Captain Pike and Spock returning as well – but I daresay you know at least a little about both of them already! We didn’t really learn too much more about either of them at Star Trek Day, though there was talk of Captain Pike potentially inviting members of his senior staff to his quarters and cooking meals for them. That seems like a neat addition to his character. In Discovery Season 2 we came to see Captain Pike as the embodiment of Starfleet’s values and the epitome of what it means to be a leader. I daresay that side of his characterisation will remain.

Captain Pike wearing the new V-neck uniform tunic.

When it comes to Pike, one element of his story that I’m most interested in is how he’s going to handle the knowledge of his impending accident and disability. He chose that future for himself in Discovery Season 2, and now it’s locked-in. As someone who’s disabled and suffers from a complex set of health issues, I’ve been in the position of knowing something is wrong and only going to get worse. I’ve heard bad news from a doctor, knowing there’s nothing I can do to change the outcome. Seeing how Pike will respond to being in a comparable situation has to be one of the things I’m most anticipating when it comes to his role in Strange New Worlds.

However, I’m also looking forward to spending time with Pike himself outside of that. There’s more to him than just one storyline, and we could see him, for example, attempt to make contact with Vina on Talos IV again, or furthering his friendships with Spock and Number One. I’m curious to see him interact with some of the other members of the crew, particularly those we remember from The Original Series era.

Captain Pike traded his future health for a time crystal in Discovery Season 2.

Finally we have Spock. As the character we know best, and as someone who’s been a major part of Star Trek for practically its entire history, there’s far less scope to radically change Spock. Additions can be made to his character – as we saw with Michael Burnham in Discovery – but at a fundamental level, who he is as a person is set in stone.

We may see Spock’s human and Vulcan sides in conflict in Strange New Worlds as he tries to bury his emotions. At Star Trek Day, producer Akiva Goldsman made reference to The Cage and how Spock was depicted there. How “smiley Spock” became the character we know, perhaps influenced by the loss of Michael Burnham, could be one element of his character that the new show will explore.

Spock aboard the Enterprise.

I think it’s more important for Spock to stay true to his past characterisation than it is for any of the others. Spock has appeared in The Original Series and its films, The Next Generation, and the Kelvin timeline films, and was a major character much of the time. There is still scope to explore unknown aspects of his character – and we could see, for example, how or why he came to have a falling-out with Sarek – but generally speaking this is the character that Strange New Worlds has to be the most careful with.

Production has now finished on Season 1 of Strange New Worlds. Though I fully expect a second season is already being worked on behind closed doors, there’s been no official announcement as of yet. If the show follows a similar pattern to Discovery and Picard, it might not be until the first season is about to premiere that we’ll learn a second is going to happen. Regardless, I think it’s a safe bet right now that, after all the effort and work that’s gone into Season 1, Strange New Worlds won’t just run for a single season!

The cast of Strange New Worlds Season 1.
Photo Credit: Rebecca Romijn on Twitter.

Promising a return to a more episodic format, and bringing back Captain Pike and Spock after their excellent roles in Season 2 of Discovery, Strange New Worlds was already high up on the list of shows I’m most excited for. But I have to say, after seeing the casting announcements (and, perhaps, because Picard Season 2 has dropped down a little) it’s now officially right at the top! 2022 can’t come soon enough, to be honest!

Each of the new characters look genuinely exciting and interesting, and the series seems to be doing a good job at walking the line between staying true to Star Trek’s past and carving out its own niche. That isn’t always going to be easy, and the producers have certainly taken on a challenge by bringing back fan-favourites like Uhura. But everything I’ve seen and heard fills me with confidence that Strange New Worlds is going to be utterly fantastic. I cannot wait to see the show when it premieres next year.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds will be broadcast on Paramount+ in the United States (and other regions where the platform is available) in 2022. Further international distribution has 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.

Star Trek: Lower Decks review – Season 2, Episode 5: An Embarrassment of Dooplers

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2. Minor spoilers are also present for Short Treks.

This week’s episode perhaps wasn’t the funniest of the season – though there were some good jokes and moments of humour – but you know what? It was by far the most character-driven and emotional episode we’ve seen probably since Season 1’s Crisis Point. The two main character pairings each got to talk out emotional issues that had been lingering since the end of Season 1, and perhaps my only criticism would be that this episode would’ve worked better slightly earlier in the season!

For the first time in at least a couple of weeks, I felt that Lower Decks wasn’t trying to cram too much into a single episode. There was time for Boimler and Mariner to have their story, Rutherford and Tendi to have theirs, and the bridge crew to also be involved in a way that ultimately connected to both other storylines and didn’t feel forced or rushed.

Dr T’Ana contending with the Dooplers.

Having blitzed through the Rutherford memory loss story at the beginning of the season and effectively “reset” him to where he had been in Season 1, this week’s Rutherford and Tendi team-up – in which he comes to terms with his memory loss and realises he doesn’t need to compete against his former self – would have worked better had it come earlier in the season. There was still a considerable emotional payoff in what was, as mentioned, an episode brimming with emotion, but had we seen more of Rutherford struggling with his lost memories in any of the first four episodes, this week’s conclusion would’ve felt more natural and more earned.

Considering that An Embarrassment of Dooplers had to set up Rutherford’s struggles, elaborate on them, and reach a satisfying conclusion in what was a B-plot, I have to give the episode plenty of credit. Rutherford and Tendi’s story was compact, but it revolved around a single item – their starship model kit – and placing this simple macguffin in the story kept it laser-focused. Had the writers tried to bring in too many different ways that Rutherford’s memory loss was affecting him, the story could’ve become unwieldy and lost its emotional core. In this case less was more – and the episode delivered.

Rutherford and Tendi’s B-plot was great this week.

As someone who used to build scale models (yes, I was that weird nerdy kid you’d see in model shops and toyshops) I adore that the writers brought in this element to Rutherford and Tendi’s friendship. It seems like the perfect hobby for the pair of them, as they both adore the ship and seemingly everything else about serving in Starfleet. I can absolutely buy into the idea that they’d want to spend their downtime working on a starship model.

I also absolutely love Tendi’s explanation for why the model was unfinishable. The idea that they would use the model as an excuse to not hang out or to prevent people from bothering them while they shared their time off together is simultaneously something I can relate to (as someone who is neurodivergent and has a very low tolerance for interacting with people) and, in a narrative context, a very cute romantic gesture. For all of my talk last week about “shipping” Boimler and Rutherford – which I still think would be adorable, by the way – the idea that either Tendi or Rutherford came up with this way of keeping people away so that they could enjoy time together without any distractions is incredibly sweet. It’s a kind of nerdy sweet, which is even better!

Tendi and Rutherford working on their USS Cerritos model.

Star Trek has always proudly shown off alien races that seem to be illogical or with traits that make very little sense. The Yridians always spring to mind during such conversations; would an entire race really be involved in information trading? How did they ever develop as a species if all of them are information dealers? The Bynars are another example: half-cyborgs who can only work in pairs. And don’t even get me started on the Q Continuum or Trelane (maybe Trelane is a Q?!), so when the Dooplers with their ability to self-duplicate were introduced in this episode, I barely batted an eyelid.

For some folks, though, I can predict that the Dooplers’ silliness might be a point of attack. There’s something kind of Rick and Morty-esque about this new race of aliens, and for some on the anti-Trek side of things perhaps they might latch onto that to criticise Lower Decks. But as I said above, there are myriad aliens and stories from past iterations of Star Trek that are equally silly or unbelievable – remember that episode of The Animated Series where the Enterprise ended up in a parallel universe where magic is real? Where do you think shows like Rick and Morty got their ideas from, anyway? Star Trek has always had aliens like the Dooplers – and if you want to get scientific about it, cell division (mitosis) is a thing, and a form of reproduction for many organisms. Perhaps the Dooplers simply reproduce in this asexual form – no, not that kind of asexual!

Captain Freeman and her senior staff had their hands full this week!

Captain Freeman had her hands full with the exponentially-reproducing Dooplers, though! I was reminded more than a little of the Short Treks episode The Trouble With Edward, in which tribbles quickly overrun the USS Cabot. That was a very funny episode – well worth a watch if you haven’t seen it. I don’t think I really spoiled it too badly there, so definitely track down a copy!

There’s a fine line between a trope and a stereotype, though, and the exaggerated Jewish-American accent used for the Dooplers, combined with their social awkwardness and ease of embarrassment, felt like it strayed very close at times. It was a little uncomfortable for that reason, kind of like watching the depiction of recurring Family Guy character Mort Goldman (and other Jewish-American stereotypes that that series seems to love for some reason). Maybe you can accuse me of being overly-sensitive, saying it was just a joke, etc. But it wasn’t a comfortable portrayal for me, it was one which leaned into stereotyping in a way that Star Trek should really be above.

There seemed to be some stereotyping when it came to the Dooplers themselves.

The Dooplers themselves were one-dimensional. There isn’t much more to say; complaints of falling into stereotyping aside, the Doopler ambassador was a character who basically had one trait: he was prone to embarrassment. That embarrassment was something Captain Freeman and her senior staff had been trying to avoid for the entire mission – until an ill-timed rant about how awkward the mission was led to the duplication process starting anyway. The whole “he was behind you and overheard you say things about him” trope was put to good use here!

Captain Freeman ultimately had the same motivation as Ensign Mariner in this episode, but mother and daughter approached their shared goal in fundamentally different ways. They also both experienced rejection, yet at the end found comfort in spending time together. Though the Mariner-Freeman family aspect wasn’t the main focus of the story, this smaller element didn’t pass by unnoticed. We got to see Mariner and Freeman wanting the same thing – to attend the fancy Starfleet party – and we got to see them go about it in very different ways, highlighting that they have both similarities as mother and daughter, but still some pretty significant differences.

This moment between Freeman and Mariner was very sweet.

The main thrust of the story focused on Mariner and Boimler, and this was their first major outing as a duo since the season began. Again, as with the Rutherford and Tendi story, I might’ve moved this episode to an earlier point in the season, as some of their emotional moments felt like they could’ve arisen upon Boimler’s return to the ship – not several weeks later. But despite that, we got a story that was both funny and emotional.

After arriving on the starbase, Mariner decides that they need to speak to a shady character to get information about the fancy Starfleet party – as its location was supposedly a secret. The payoff to this joke, of course, was that the party was being held in what seemed to be the main ballroom on the station, and all the running away from security was ultimately unnecessary! This aspect of the story was the comedic part, as Mariner and Boimler raced away in a dune buggy/kart to escape security.

The kart-escape was a fun sequence.

The sequence that took Mariner and Boimler in their kart through a variety of different shops and locations on the station was pretty funny, and reminded me of something you might see in a romantic comedy film – and I mean that in a good way! The sense that they were on an out-of-control ride, complete with some pretty slapstick humour, was a much-needed lighthearted sequence in an episode that was quite heavy on emotion later on. The parade of different shops was also reminiscent of the promenade, which was a major location in Deep Space Nine.

After taking his promotion and transferring to the USS Titan in the Season 1 finale, one thing we saw was that Boimler was ignoring messages from Mariner. Though he almost certainly was doing so due to his anxiety (answering the phone can be very difficult for people with anxieties, especially if the expected conversation is something negative), she felt abandoned by him. Just last week we learned that Mariner has experienced this rejection and abandonment before – in that case, her defence mechanism became telling elaborate stories about herself and crafting rumours that would lead to a sense of dark mystery. She chooses to avoid many people because of her fear of being rejected as they move on and move up the career ladder. She’d considered Boimler to be different, so his “betrayal” hit her very hard.

Boimler quite literally walks away from Mariner.

Finally getting all of these emotions out and laying them on the table was cathartic. Not only that, but it continued Mariner’s wonderful character arc going back to Season 1, as her characterisation as someone who is lonely and struggles to maintain friendships despite her “cool” persona was again laid bare. The only part I found a tad unbelievable was Boimler’s response, telling Mariner that he “didn’t know [she] had emotions.” He’d been her friend long enough to know that she can be emotional, and just last week he saw firsthand how much his friendship meant to her when she was so dejected that he’d believe the silly rumour she started. But that aside, this moment was beautiful and well-executed.

Boimler choosing to ditch the fancy party packed with Admirals and Captains to be with her was a wrench for him and a sacrifice, but it was one that worked perfectly for the story. Just like Mariner has grown over the past dozen episodes, so too has Boimler. Friendship matters to him, and Mariner matters to him in this moment – more so than just some fancy party. He could’ve schmoozed with senior officers and perhaps tried to score another promotion, but it seems that he was willing to give up on that – at least for now – to be with her. It was an incredibly sweet moment.

Boimler and Mariner reunited.

So I think that’s about all I have to say this time. Both main character pairs got cathartic, emotional stories that reinforced their friendships, and we even got a moment between Mariner and the Captain to round things off. For the first time in three weeks, Lower Decks managed to get the balance right in terms of the number of characters and stories it tried to include. Every character felt necessary to the episode’s plotlines, no story felt rushed, and the slower pace of the closing moments worked exceptionally well. There was still time for humour and to make jokes, but the success of An Embarrassment of Dooplers was its emotional edge.

It was sweet to see Mariner and Boimler enjoying one another’s company as friends, and likewise with Tendi and Rutherford. Each pair dealt with issues left over from Season 1 in a way that worked, and though I would argue the episode could’ve been bumped up the schedule so it came earlier in the season, overall I had a fun time this week. There were some neat references to past iterations of Star Trek, too – obviously the Kirk and Spock callback in the bar was cute, as well as something that firmly established the extent of Boimler and Mariner’s relationship. By comparing them to Kirk and Spock I’d argue the episode went out of its way to stamp out any ideas of a romantic bond between them, despite the semi-romantic nature of its storyline. There was also a callback to Okona – a character from The Next Generation who appears to have started a new career as a DJ. We’d heard a while back that Okona actor Billy Campbell was making a return to Star Trek – supposedly in Prodigy – but his voice wasn’t heard in this episode despite Okona’s appearance.

Overall, a great episode that was thoroughly enjoyable. An Embarrassment of Dooplers slowed down just long enough to allow its four main characters to shine. Oh, and hearing Dr T’Ana swear four times in a single sentence will never not be funny!

Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. 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.