Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard.
Well, this is an interesting development! The long-rumoured Starfleet Academy series has just been officially announced by Paramount, with production due to begin next year. As I said the last time we talked about the series, I think it’s an idea that has a lot of potential.
In typical Paramount style, this announcement was low on detail and badly-timed, arriving a couple of weeks after news broke that Discovery has been cancelled. Rolling these two announcements into one would have made a lot of sense, shoring up Star Trek and reaffirming Paramount’s commitment to it instead of seeming to blow hot and cold on the franchise’s future and prospects. The announcement of Starfleet Academy seemed to suggest that it may be set in Discovery’s 32nd Century – perhaps existing as a spin-off from that series. While I don’t think that would be my personal preference in terms of setting, it’s definitely another good reason for combining these two announcements.
I’m not 100% sure if this new series is live-action or animated, as the official announcement didn’t actually state that outright, being surprisingly threadbare. I guess Paramount would have explicitly said if it was an animated production, though, and I’ve seen a few other outlets make the assumption that this will be a live-action series. If so, that’s good! With Picard and Discovery both ending within the next twelve months, Starfleet Academy can join Strange New Worlds and keep the flag flying in live-action.
The line in the official announcement about the Academy re-opening “for the first time in over a century” is where the 32nd Century setting seems to be referenced, as it was noted in Discovery’s third and fourth seasons that the Academy had been shut down sometime after the Burn. And I’m in two minds about this, if I’m being honest.
On the one hand, Discovery’s 32nd Century has been an interesting experiment, and an opportunity to do what Star Trek has always done: move the timeline forward. But on the other, it’s disconnected from the rest of the franchise by a span of centuries – making it much harder for characters, factions, or even themes to cross over from one part of the Star Trek franchise to another. With other projects set in the more familiar 23rd and 24th Centuries still ongoing, it’s also a decision that keeps Star Trek as a complicated, convoluted franchise that can be difficult to get started with for newcomers or for folks who haven’t watched for a long time.
A reorganisation of Star Trek is sorely needed – and the announcement of Starfleet Academy was an opportunity to do so. Bringing all of the current and upcoming shows into a single time period makes so much sense, and I fear we may look back on this decision as a missed opportunity. As much as I enjoy what Discovery has done with its far-future setting, and as much potential as that setting has, it would not have been my first choice for a new series at this juncture.
If Starfleet Academy is to be set in the 32nd Century, it’s odd that Paramount isn’t explicitly touting the series as a Discovery spin-off. The fourth season episode All Is Possible felt like a backdoor pilot for Starfleet Academy – and I wasn’t alone in saying so at the time of its broadcast. This announcement didn’t mention All Is Possible, nor did it mention Lieutenant Tilly or any of the cadets from that episode. I wonder if the reception to All Is Possible shook up pre-production on Starfleet Academy – and with Tilly seemingly involved in some capacity in Discovery’s fifth and final season, perhaps she won’t be included in this spin-off series.
If that’s the case, it would throw the setting of the series into question even more – and I come back to what I said a moment ago about the 32nd Century not being the best choice. But I suppose we’re getting ahead of ourselves! Paramount’s lack of clarity on some of these points is leading to unhelpful guesswork!
One of the big advantages to Starfleet Academy should be the show’s youthful focus – and with that, an ability to reach out to a new generation of viewers. Kids who’ve cut their teeth on the likes of Prodigy could view Starfleet Academy as the next step in their burgeoning fandom, and the series could also appeal to teen viewers who are looking for something a bit different. The announcement made it sound as if youthful cadets will be a big part of the show’s focus – and that can and should lead to the series appealing to precisely the kinds of viewers that Paramount needs more of.
If the series stands somewhat apart, without being tied too closely to past iterations of Star Trek, it could be a soft landing for new viewers – and the 32nd Century might actually prove advantageous here. There’d be scope to perhaps harken back to the events of classic episodes and films through the lectures and classes that the cadets attend – and that could allow Starfleet Academy to drop exposition and re-tell classic stories in a way that feels natural.
One thing in the announcement has caused a little concern, though, and I fear that Paramount hasn’t learned the right lessons from some of Star Trek’s recent successes and failures. The announcement promised “a new enemy that threatens both the Academy and the Federation itself” – and doesn’t that sound just like the setup for another fully-serialised story?
Since returning to the small screen in 2017, serialised storytelling has been – at best – a double-edged sword for Star Trek. On the one hand, the franchise has tried to move in a more modern direction, adopting a model used by successful titles like Lost and Game of Thrones. But on the other… well, it isn’t exactly controversial to say that not all of Star Trek’s serialised stories have been successful. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve all had their moments, but taken as a whole, Star Trek and serialised storytelling hasn’t always been a good combination.
In 2022, there’s no debate that the best-received and most successful Star Trek series was Strange New Worlds. The franchise took a step back toward episodic storytelling while retaining many of the trappings of more modern shows. Strange New Worlds was the perfect blend of “monsters-of-the-week” with season-long character arcs – and it was beautiful, riveting television that quickly became the high-water mark of modern Star Trek.
In contrast, Discovery’s fourth season and Picard’s second didn’t do so well. Discovery Season 4 pulled out a creditable ending – but I’m not alone in feeling that it spent a lot of time treading water before it reached that point. And well… the less said about Picard Season 2 the better, quite frankly. It was awful.
When Discovery’s cancellation was announced, I said that it might prove to be a net positive for the franchise – if Paramount could use it as an opportunity to refine and refocus Star Trek. Look at what’s worked and what hasn’t since Discovery’s premiere, and pick the best and most successful elements from five different productions. There’s a place for serialised storytelling in Star Trek, sure… and there has been going way back to Deep Space Nine’s Dominion War arc. But just because other made-for-streaming shows are going down the serialised road… that doesn’t mean that every Star Trek show has to as well.
A kid-friendly series – as Starfleet Academy should aim to be – is particularly well-suited to a more episodic kind of storytelling. There can be ongoing character arcs and storylines within that framework, as Strange New Worlds has demonstrated. But if the main thrust of the series is episodic it would feel accessible to a more youthful, casual audience – and it could open up a much wider range of potential storylines.
If there’s time between now and Starfleet Academy entering production next year to make this case, I hope someone at Paramount will listen! Look at what Strange New Worlds achieved in its first season and try to emulate that model instead of making another fully-serialised show in the mould of Picard or Discovery. That would be my single biggest wish – and my single biggest piece of advice to Paramount and the producers of Starfleet Academy.
The announcement of any new Star Trek show should be a time of great excitement – and I do feel excited! After Discovery’s cancellation, the catastrophic failure of a proposed new Kelvin timeline film last year, and poor financial news from Paramount, there was no guarantee that Starfleet Academy – or any other new project, for that matter – would get off the ground at all. So I’m relieved that Paramount remains committed to making new Star Trek shows. With Picard and Discovery both coming to an end, there will certainly be room in the lineup!
There are concerns, though. Does the announcement of Starfleet Academy mean that a Picard spin-off is now off the table for the foreseeable future? What of the Section 31 series, which has been languishing in development hell for more than four years? Is the 32nd Century the right time period for a brand-new series? Is another serialised show in the Discovery mould really the right move in light of how well Strange New Worlds worked? Is this Alex Kurtzman’s last hurrah? I have a thousand questions like this right now!
A series that could appeal to a younger audience has a ton of potential, and I will watch Starfleet Academy’s progress with enthusiasm and as much hope as I can muster! When the show is ready I’ll do my best to review each and every episode – and between now and then, I’ll cover any big developments such as casting announcements, teaser trailers, and more. So I hope you’ll stay tuned here on Trekking with Dennis!
This was a surprising announcement in some ways, but one that has been a long time coming in others. I’m glad that Star Trek has a future beyond Discovery and Picard’s final seasons, and I’m genuinely excited to see what Starfleet Academy has to offer.
Live long and prosper!
Star Trek: Starfleet Academy has just been announced and won’t enter production until at least 2024. The series will premiere on Paramount+ in countries and territories where the service is available sometime in 2025, 2026, or beyond. Further international distribution has not been announced. The Star Trek franchise – including Starfleet Academy and all other properties discussed above – is the copyright of CBS Studios and Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4.
Last week we saw Captain Burnham and the crew largely leave the gravitational anomaly behind as Discovery told three distinct stories. The main thrust of the season still involves the DMA – as the anomaly is now being called – so it was interesting to see that All Is Possible once again shelved that story to take us on another pair of side-missions.
Unfortunately Discovery’s fourth season is still unavailable to large numbers of Trekkies. Fans from Puerto Rico to Tokyo still have no (official) way to enjoy the series, and this self-defeating corporate nonsense is something I’m going to continue to call out at every opportunity. The rollout of Paramount+ internationally next year means nothing to millions of fans in Asia, Africa, and other regions when ViacomCBS believes they don’t exist.
Though there were secondary and tertiary plotlines in All Is Possible, there’s one massive thing that we have to talk about first and foremost: the departure of Lieutenant Tilly. I have to be honest: I did not see this coming – at least, not this early in the season. We’re four episodes into a thirteen-episode season, and Tilly’s arc has already seemingly concluded. Though I had begun to make predictions last week about Tilly’s fate after she’d been seeming so out of sorts, I figured her departure – if indeed that’s what her arc was building towards – wouldn’t have happened until nearer the end of the season.
When All Is Possible kicked off and it became apparent that we were getting a Tilly-focused story, particularly another “Tilly tries something new” story, I was worried that the episode was going to feel a bit samey after she’d played such a big role last week. And although it now makes sense in light of her departure, I’m still left wondering if it was the right decision to schedule these two stories one after the other. We had some stirrings and indications from Tilly in episodes 1 and 2 that she was feeling this way, but because that story has now effectively run its course it feels if not rushed then at least unnecessarily condensed and perhaps poorly scheduled.
The big question, of course, is whether Tilly’s exit will be permanent. It certainly felt permanent in All Is Possible; she even got the send-off from the crew that I argued Saru had missed at the end of Season 3. I don’t usually comment on cast interviews or The Ready Room (Discovery’s social media after-show) in these reviews, but when Mary Wiseman was interviewed this week after All Is Possible had aired she said that we’d see Tilly again before the end of the season. Good news on that front, at least!
That doesn’t mean that Tilly will remain a series regular, though, and her new role at Starfleet Academy has removed her from the ship and thus presumably the bulk of the season’s remaining episodes and storylines. And if the show is renewed for a fifth season – something which is surprisingly still unconfirmed – presumably Tilly won’t be back in a starring role. I think that’s a shame in a way; she was a fun character and after three seasons was beginning to grow in confidence and settle into her role. Or so it felt.
On the production side of things, it’s my suspicion that the show’s writers and producers didn’t really know what to do with Tilly or where to take the character. The addition of Adira to the regular cast was a double-edged sword for Tilly because they occupy a very similar role. In Seasons 1 and 2 in particular, we’d see Tilly working in the engineering bay with Stamets. Now Adira fills that role – and because of their deeper connection with Stamets, arguably fills it better. In Seasons 1 and 2, Tilly was the “baby” of the crew; young, fresh-faced, eager to please, worried about making mistakes, and keen to do her part. Adira once again has taken over that character space.
Tilly’s growth across Seasons 1, 2, and 3 was wonderful to see, and when we compare her to characters like Harry Kim – who essentially remained in a similar space for all of Voyager’s seven-year run – we can see the advantages of serialised storytelling. But Tilly’s growth as a character appears to have come at the expense of her roles on the ship, and the addition of Adira may well be the proverbial last straw. We can kind of see the snowglobe scene through this lens – Tilly was passing the metaphorical torch to Adira in that moment.
We can’t ignore the rumours of a Starfleet Academy series when discussing Tilly’s fate and future. Alex Kurtzman, who’s in charge of the overall Star Trek franchise for ViacomCBS, hinted that such a series is in the early stages of being worked on, and in more ways than one the Tilly side of All Is Possible feels like a backdoor pilot for such a show. We got to see Tilly both as a teacher and a leader across these sequences, laying the groundwork not simply for her departure from Discovery, but setting up her new role as well. Could all of that mean that the potential Starfleet Academy series would feature Tilly in some capacity?
I thought Mary Wiseman’s comment in The Ready Room that Tilly’s confidence had been knocked by the events of Season 3 was particularly interesting, too. Tilly had seen herself as being on a pathway that led her from the Academy to the captain’s chair, but when she got a taste of what being in command was like, she found herself out of her depth as she lost the ship to the Emerald Chain. I think a lot of us can relate to feeling overwhelmed by a difficult situation, or feeling the weight of responsibility and struggling with it. Perhaps, as Wiseman suggests, Tilly came to believe that command was not right for her.
If that’s true, whose fault is it? There was a lot of talk during Season 3 that Saru’s decision to appoint Tilly as acting first officer was the wrong one, and while I defended that story point at the time, when seen through this new lens perhaps we could argue that Saru pushed Tilly to take on that role too quickly. He’s been a good friend to her, and has advocated for her when others might overlook her – as we saw last week, for instance – but might his friendship with Tilly have blinded him, at least somewhat, to her inexperience and limitations? Perhaps.
Tilly held her own when the Emerald Chain captured the ship, and ultimately played a huge role in retaking Discovery and defeating the villainous faction once and for all. But of course it makes sense that those events would completely bowl her over. She was in command of Discovery for a few hours at most, then lost the ship to the Emerald Chain with relative ease. As someone who’d hoped to one day have her own command, those events are going to take a toll, and it’s natural that she’d question her career path in light of what happened. We can empathise with Tilly, putting ourselves in a comparable situation.
It was sweet to see Tilly reunite with Captain Burnham, albeit briefly, before confirming her decision and departing the ship, and the choice of Tilly’s cabin for this conversation harkened back to the early part of Season 1 where we saw them together in that room on multiple occasions. Tilly had already made her decision, it seemed, before Burnham even sat down. Yet it was still nice to see her talking it out with her captain – and friend – before finally confirming that this is what she was going to do. The moments between Mary Wiseman and Sonequa Martin-Green added a lot to this story.
One person who was missing from Tilly’s story, though, was Stamets. Not only had Tilly and Stamets worked together since the beginning of the series, but earlier in the episode Tilly had expressed concern about “abandoning” him to go on the Academy mission – yet by the end of the episode she was content to leave him all alone with the problem of the DMA while she took on a new role. I think we could still have arrived at this point; I’m not saying Tilly needed to stay behind for Stamets’ sake or anything. But just as it was sweet to see her with Burnham talking things out, I think we could have also enjoyed a quiet scene between Tilly and Stamets in which she at least said her goodbyes. As it is, we saw Stamets incredibly briefly as Tilly left the ship, but that was it.
This is the second story in a row from which Stamets has been absent after he missed Gray’s incorporation last week. I confess I’m not exactly sure what’s going on there – whether it’s simply a case of writing/editing (Stamets actor Anthony Rapp confirmed on social media that at least one of his scenes this week had been cut) or whether there’s some other reason for the lack of Stamets in some of these stories. He has a deep connection with Adira, which made his absence from that story last week feel very odd, but he also has a friendship with Tilly – so again, his absence from her story aside from one mention right at the beginning makes it feel like there was something missing; someone else she needed to talk to before departing.
One thing that wasn’t made clear is this: what exactly is Tilly going to teach? I presume it must be something scientific; she can’t be lecturing on subjects like command, surely? Starfleet Academy has usually been presented as something akin to both a military officers’ training college and a civilian university – with different teachers for different subjects. Tilly has a scientific background, so presumably she’d teach something in that department. Or maybe Federation history… since she’s 1,000 years older than all of the cadets! Perhaps this is something we’ll see more of either later in the season or in that potential Starfleet Academy show.
We haven’t even talked about Tilly’s mission! She and Adira led a small group of cadets on what was supposed to be a training mission – but in true Star Trek style, things didn’t go to plan. I confess at first that I felt sure the whole thing was either a setup or a simulation, especially because of the involvement of the mysterious Kovich. However, it doesn’t seem like that was the case; Tilly’s shuttle really did crash-land on an icy moon, and the monsters she and the cadets had to escape from were real.
It wasn’t clear how much time had passed since the season premiere, when we were first told that there would be a new intake of cadets, so we don’t really know how long these cadets have been together. However, I felt that some of the tension between them was a little forced. The whole point of Starfleet Academy, especially in a post-Burn galaxy, is to work together and pull in the same direction, yet we had exaggerated moments of drama and tension between the cadets that just didn’t feel natural even in that context.
Even if many people in the galaxy harbour prejudices or preconceptions about other races and people from beyond their homeworlds, why would anyone who felt that way apply to join Starfleet? Surely we should be seeing if not “the best of the best” then at least folks who are superficially willing to work together; it kind of felt like the cadets were from some semi-scripted reality TV show, the kind that deliberately chooses the most belligerent contestants with clashing personalities. In that sense, I didn’t really like any of the cadets.
They had to start from a place that would allow them to come together, and in particular that would allow Tilly to be the catalyst for their coming together, and I get that. But it just felt like Discovery, not for the first time, had taken things to an unnecessary extreme in order to accomodate this storyline, putting up one-dimensional characters who behave unnaturally solely for the sake of presenting Tilly with an obstacle and a point of contrast. The young actors who played the cadets did very well with the material they had, but their characters were written rather poorly, in my view, and none came across as feeling either like a natural character nor someone we’d expect to find at Starfleet Academy.
The puzzle that lay before Tilly and her crew felt like it came right out of The Next Generation’s era, and I’m absolutely there for that kind of story! After the shuttle crash the group was unable to stay aboard, instead needing to climb out of the crash site to use their communicators – but were unable to use their technology. This angle definitely added a lot to the story, forcing Tilly and everyone else to think outside the box rather than being able to fall back on phasers, tricorders, and the like. Again, this feels like a story that could’ve come from any of the 24th Century Star Trek shows and was a great throwback to the franchise’s past.
On a personal note, I have to confess that I’m sad to see Tilly go. If the move is permanent, as it seems to be at this stage, her absence from Discovery will be noticeable going forward, even if Adira steps up to fill the void she leaves behind. I liked Tilly as a character so much that one of my cats is named Tilly (if you want to see a couple of photos of her, follow me on Twitter!). Tilly didn’t just fill that “young and eager” role that characters like Harry Kim, Nog, Hoshi Sato, and Wesley Crusher had in past iterations of the franchise. She was always more than just a character archetype. Tilly was strong in her own way, brilliant in her own way, and funny to boot.
Across the show’s first three seasons we saw Tilly as a scientist and engineer, working with Stamets on the Spore Drive. We saw her as a friend to Michael Burnham and Saru in particular. We saw her passionate about helping the jahSepp in the mycelial network, and how she came to the aid of Po in the Short Treks episode Runaway. She grew and developed from an anxious cadet into a true Starfleet officer – and while she will undoubtedly make an excellent teacher to a new generation of cadets, her departure is a sad one. She may yet have a role to play either this season or in Star Trek’s future, and I look forward to that. But for now, it seems as though Discovery is moving on without her. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels a stab of sadness as a result.
Just like Discovery plans to do we’ll leave Tilly behind and move on to take a look at the rest of the episode. There was a secondary storyline that involved Captain Burnham, Saru, President Rillak, and Ni’Var’s leader T’Rina. We talked last week about contrivances and forced drama, and in this story I’m afraid we did get some of that for the second week in a row. At what was supposed to be the final moment of negotiations to bring Ni’Var back into the Federation, the Ni’Var delegation dropped a diplomatic bombshell that appeared to sabotage the entire thing.
Both the timing of this and the way it was pretty easily resolved feel rather contrived – and it begins to stretch credulity to think that neither the Federation nor Ni’Var negotiators could’ve come up with Captain Burnham’s “independent committee” solution on their own. It seems like the perfect compromise, allowing Ni’Var the backdoor they needed without compromising the Federation’s unity. Captain Burnham wasn’t the only person capable of proposing such a solution, and while her status as a citizen of Ni’Var and the Federation makes her well-qualified to serve, I have to ask if she’s the only citizen of Ni’Var who’s also in Starfleet at this point. It seems quite plausible that there are others, and thus her claim to be “uniquely” capable of coming up with this solution might be stretching the truth somewhat.
All that being said, these negotiations reminded me very much of the negotiations that my country, the UK, has been taking part in for much of the past five years. I don’t know whether this story was intentionally written as an allegory for Brexit, but it certainly felt like it had elements of that, and to my surprise it was handled in what felt like a mature way. Brexit, much like certain American political issues, divides opinion sharply, and it would be very easy for a story like this one to come down firmly on one side of the fence, presenting one side as morally right and the other as morally wrong. All Is Possible didn’t do that, and instead tried to find a way to cut through the political machinations of both sides before ultimately settling on a compromise.
If we ever needed Star Trek to shine a light on contemporary issues through its sci-fi lens, we need it at the moment! There are so many divisive political topics, including Brexit, all across the world. What we’ve seen over the past decade or more are moves away from the political centre ground toward the extremes of left-wing and right-wing politics. The art of the political compromise has been lost in too many cases, and that’s a driving force for further division. Finding ways to compromise and to maturely understand that it isn’t always possible to have everything your own way is something politicians of all ideologies – and their supporters – need to understand, and Discovery delivered this message in a simple yet meaningful way.
It wasn’t the perfect story, as I’ve tried to explain. It had its contrivances that definitely felt forced. But at the same time, any British or European person can tell you that, having watched years of Brexit negotiations, such things aren’t as unrealistic as they might seem. Diplomats for both sides have, at times, seemed to be negotiating in bad faith, waiting to spring the next trap or throw in a new uncompromising proposal at the last minute. It’s a wonder that the Brexit negotiations got as far as they did, all things considered!
So perhaps calling this story “contrived” was too harsh in light of what we’ve seen in the real world! Though I maintain it’s a story with some imperfections, it was an interesting one nevertheless. Star Trek has tackled many political issues in its long history, from nuclear proliferation to the teaching of religion in schools, but this is one of the first stories to really feature politicians and diplomacy as a key part of the narrative, with nakedly political considerations having to be taken into account by our heroes. That alone makes it a very interesting story.
It was wonderful to welcome Ni’Var back into the Federation after seeing how many worlds had quit the organisation last season. It definitely feels as though the Federation is now making significant strides in reforming; Ni’Var is the first of the “original” member worlds to rejoin as far as we know. Perhaps we’ll see Earth do the same one day soon? It would be a shame if Discovery left that particular storyline unresolved, especially after we saw how isolationist Earth had become in Season 3.
President Rillak once again showed her almost Machiavellian political style; her willingness to lie and use truly underhanded tactics to get her way without revealing the extent of her meddling. By sidelining Admiral Vance and bringing in Captain Burnham and Saru, she was able to execute a hidden plan to bring Ni’Var back into the fold and negate their last-second demand. It was, all things considered, a brilliant tactical move on her part – and re-emphasises her uncompromising nature and willingness to bend or even break the rules to advance the Federation’s best interests.
Despite what appeared to be a détente between Captain Burnham and President Rillak toward the end of the episode, I hope Discovery’s captain keeps her wits about her. If we’ve learned anything about President Rillak over these four episodes, it’s that she sees everything and everyone around her as means to an end. Working with Captain Burnham was, in this instance, advantageous to her – but Rillak will throw Burnham into the fire, and Discovery along with her, if she believes it will help her cause or advance what she considers to be the best interests of the Federation.
We haven’t seen President Rillak do anything completely immoral or “evil” just yet. And Discovery may choose to keep this nuanced presentation going all season long. I kind of hope that’s the case, because right now I’m loving President Rillak’s “ends justify the means” approach to governing. Chelah Horsdal plays the character expertly. But Rillak is the kind of character with whom a major confrontation feels increasingly inevitable – her moral ambiguity and Captain Burnham’s moral certainty feel like they’re on a collision course.
There was a third storyline this week that involved Book and Dr Culber. As with Stamets, Book found a new but fun pairing with Culber and I hope they revisit this character pairing in future; it would be great to see them socialising or doing something else outside of a therapy setting. There seemed to be a hint that Dr Culber might need help processing his own trauma – perhaps from his time trapped in the mycelial network – in future, and if so maybe Book could have a role to play there.
The programmable matter that Dr Culber and Book turned into sand reminded me a lot of the sequence from Lower Decks Season 1 where a character is in the process of “ascending.” Maybe that was unintentional, and tonally these sequences could not be further apart! But it was interesting to see nevertheless – or perhaps I’m grasping at straws as I desperately hope for the producers of Star Trek to do more to bind the franchise together!
Grief and loss have been themes that Discovery hasn’t shied away from, but they’ve come to the fore this season. Book and Tilly’s stories both connect to this theme as they’re both experiencing different kinds of loss. In a sense, everyone aboard Discovery is in Book’s shoes – they’ve all lost everyone they ever knew apart from each other, albeit in very different ways. And we’ve seen different ways of coping with that loss. Book seems to have made a small breakthrough this week, and I hope we see that process continue.
Captain Burnham, in Season 3, seemed to rebel against the confines of Starfleet for a time. At first I called this a character regression, as I felt it risked dragging her back to her early Season 1 portrayal. But thinking about it again, through this lens of loss and grief, I think we can see that Burnham is processing the loss of her friends, her family, and the world she had to leave behind. She did so at first by seeking freedom, then later by reconnecting with her mother and reaffirming her relationship with Starfleet. In Tilly’s case, she couldn’t make that renewed commitment and has chosen to walk a new path. Book’s destination is still unknown as he’s still processing his own loss and grief – and I’m glad. What Book has gone through is almost unfathomable, and it wouldn’t feel right if this element of his story and characterisation were resolved too soon.
So that was All Is Possible. Tilly’s departure is by far the biggest thing to come out of the episode, and while there were some minor gripes with the way both Tilly and Burnham’s stories unfolded, ultimately they end up feeling like little more than nitpicks in what was a solid, thoroughly enjoyable episode. I’m glad to see Discovery sidestepping the main serialised story and being bold enough to give us these semi-standalone episodes. I have no doubt that some elements will come back into play later in the season, but for the most part what we got is a self-contained story – albeit one with huge implications for the series going forward.
Unlike when Nhan and Georgiou left last season, I’m not scrambling around wondering who will replace Tilly. That question has already been answered: Adira. However, her departure does potentially open up another space for a new crew member – and with noteworthy absences in departments like security and tactical, perhaps we could be set for someone new to be promoted. Gray is perhaps the most readily apparent choice, but there are great cases to be made for Detmer or Owosekun to get bigger roles on the bridge, as well as for the return of Nhan, or even for a new character to be introduced.
A few scattered final thoughts: is Kovich the head of Starfleet Academy now? Has he always been in that position? I don’t recall him being referred to as “doctor” last season, but he could be some kind of professor holding a PhD. That’s an interesting take on the character! At first I wondered if he was responsible for the shuttle going off-course… it seems like something he might do! Beginning the episode with a traditional captain’s log was awesome, and another great callback to past iterations of the franchise. I believe this was the first time we heard a 32nd Century stardate, too.
It was neat to see the Season 3-style uniforms being used for some secondary characters. Season 3 of The Next Generation and the film Generations both showed that there’s a kind of transition period when uniforms are being changed over where not everyone has the new variants, and that seems to still be true in the 32nd Century. I was a little worried when Admiral Vance seemed to have been shuffled out of the story in favour of President Rillak – but it makes perfect sense. Vance isn’t a politician and wouldn’t be capable of doing the kind of things we saw Rillak doing this week. Nor would I want to see Vance go down that road. Finally, is there a blossoming romance between T’Rina and Saru? I certainly felt the show was hinting at something to come!
Although it was bittersweet to say goodbye to Tilly, All Is Possible was a good episode all around. It didn’t feel overcrowded, which episodes with multiple competing storylines sometimes can, it had some well-made visual effects particularly on Tilly’s away mission, and though the politicking was somewhat contrived in one respect it was still genuinely interesting to see Star Trek trying something different. I think for me, All Is Possible is the high point of Season 4 so far.
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, Google Play, 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.
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!
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
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 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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.