Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 3

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4, Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Short Treks, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

Although this week’s episode, Choose To Live, mostly stayed away from the gravitational anomaly – or the “DMA,” as Stamets is now calling it – we did get some theory-crafting ideas out of it! At such an early point in the season the story still feels wide open, able to go in potentially many different directions. Will tracking down and figuring out the DMA be the only main story of the season? Or will things take a turn as more information about the DMA comes to light? That’s perhaps the biggest question I have as things currently stand!

This week we had no theories confirmed and just one that was debunked. As always, we’ll start there and then move into the main list.

Debunked theory:
Gray’s transfer to a new body won’t be simple.

Gray awoke in a new body this week.

In episode 2, Anomaly, we heard from Adira and Dr Culber that the plan was for Gray to be given a synthetic body – just like Admiral Picard was at the end of Picard Season 1. Because this seemed to come at such an early point in the season, and because Gray’s story of being seen – and its allegory for being transgender – had been discussed a lot in the run-up to the season, I felt sure that it couldn’t possibly be so simple. But I was wrong!

In Choose To Live, Gray made it into his new synthetic body with relative ease. There was a moment midway through when the procedure seemed to be taking a long time, but by the end of the episode he was awake and able to exercise full control over his synthetic body.

The procedure was a success.

As I said in my review of Choose To Live, I felt that this story came too early in the season, and with too much of the work to get there having happened off-screen. It was also noteworthy that Stamets was entirely absent from this story, despite the deep bond he has with Adira in particular. I’m optimistic that Gray’s incorporation will allow him to take part in a wider range of stories both with and without Adira, and the emotional highs of Gray’s incorporation were very sweet. But at the same time, I admit to feeling a little underwhelmed at the fact that the story I was most interested in on a personal level only lasted three episodes before being wrapped up – especially considering that it barely featured in the first two.

So that theory was debunked.

Up next we’ve got the main theory list – and it’s divided into two parts. The first part of the list is comprised of theories that are either brand-new from Choose To Live or which the episode advanced somehow from previous weeks. The second part of the list contains the rest of my Season 4 theories – the ones that didn’t move at all in Choose To Live.

Theory #1:
The Abronians’ homeworld was destroyed by the anomaly.

Captain Burnham believes this image depicts a “supernova.”

After arriving at the Abronians’ cryo-ship, Michael Burnham found a stone carving that seemed to depict the destruction of the Abronians’ homeworld. This carving was only shown on screen briefly, but it seemed to show the planet being damaged or destroyed in a large explosion. Burnham credited the planet’s destruction to a “supernova,” and the story then raced ahead.

Considering that the main thrust of the season so far has been about the DMA, perhaps Burnham was incorrect: the Abronian homeworld was destroyed by the anomaly, not a supernova. I suspect we haven’t seen the last of the Abronians; Discovery loves to tell semi-standalone stories and then bring back elements from those stories later on, so we may yet come to learn more about the Abronians.

Theory #2:
The Abronians’ homeworld was on the “other side” of the anomaly.

The USS Discovery approaches the DMA.

One clip in the second Season 4 trailer appeared to show Captain Burnham leading the USS Discovery inside the DMA. We don’t yet know what that means, nor to what extent words like “inside” the anomaly or “the other side” of the anomaly are relevant. But many times in past iterations of Star Trek we’ve seen things like wormholes and gateways to parallel universes. Perhaps the anomaly is something similar – and passing through it leads to such a place.

One thing struck me as odd about the Abronians: the Federation was entirely unaware of them. Yet the Abronian cryo-ship was relatively close to Federation space – such that Captain Burnham could reach it using Book’s ship in a short span of time. It’s possible that the Abronians had been asleep for millennia, unnoticed by the Federation and the wider galaxy for all that time. But it’s also at least possible that their cryo-ship is a newcomer to the area. If so, perhaps it arrived here via the DMA.

Theory #3:
The Abronians will return to help the Federation later in the season.

A deceased Abronian.

One of the themes of Discovery since Season 3 has been connection: building connections between the Federation and its former friends. The Abronians were awoken from cryo-sleep thanks to the interventions of Captain Burnham and Tilly – at least in part – and they may seek to repay the Federation, or Captain Burnham personally, for that help.

We saw this play out last season with Ni’Var; in the season finale Ni’Var ships raced to the Federation’s aid as the Emerald Chain attacked. Perhaps the Abronians will likewise step up to help when the Federation needs allies.

Theory #4:
The Abronians’ moon-ship may be useful in a later story.

“That’s no moon…”

At this stage I can’t envision precisely what use Captain Burnham and the crew might have for a moon-sized starship… but that doesn’t mean such a need won’t arise! The Abronians’ cryo-ship is huge, and at least superficially seems to have the mass of a moon or small planetoid. If Captain Burnham and the crew needed something that large for some purpose, perhaps they’ll return and either take it or negotiate for it.

As we saw in Choose To Live, the moon-ship was in full working order. All it needed was some extra dilithium to power up and it was perfectly capable of moving under its own power, and its computer systems were still functional. The only system that seemed to have failed was the wake-up timer! So if – for reasons yet unknown – the crew need a huge starship, perhaps we won’t have seen the last of the moon-ship.

Theory #5:
Three ideas about Tilly.

Tilly in Choose To Live.

What’s going on with Tilly? Since the season began, and arguably toward the end of Season 3 as well, she’s been very unsettled and unsure of her role. Perhaps that’s a metaphor for the Discovery writers not knowing what direction to take her character – though I would argue that she’s well-placed to help out with such a scientific mystery! She even has experience with dark matter, as we saw in Seasons 2 and 3, so shouldn’t she be helping out Stamets?

Regardless, Tilly has talked about wanting to get outside her comfort zone and try new experiences. Perhaps her short tenure as first officer last season is part of what prompted her to do so. However, the question of her destination at the end of this arc has arisen. Will she try out a few new things over the course of the season and then settle back down again? Or will we see a more significant change for Tilly before Season 4 is over?

Theory #5a:
Tilly will change departments.

Captain Tilly?

The simplest solution to Tilly’s restlessness may be a career change. Having had a taste of command, perhaps she’ll want to retrain in the command division with a view to working her way back up to first officer or even pursuing her own captaincy. That would be one way to go. Perhaps she’ll want to move over to a medical field, using her scientific expertise to help people. Or maybe she’ll want to move into engineering, where she could focus on the practical side of running a starship. There are other possibilities too, of course – but I think we can rule out a role in security or tactical after Choose To Live!

Theory #5b:
Tilly will resign from Starfleet.

Tilly and Saru in Choose To Live.

We should be careful with this one. Last season, Michael Burnham was the character who seemed to be on an anti-Starfleet trajectory, having spent a year alone and away from the confines of the organisation. But after a couple of twists and turns she ended up recommitting to Starfleet and even assumed the captaincy of the ship! But that said, one possible end to Tilly’s arc could be that she’ll leave Starfleet altogether. Some of the sentiments she’s expressed seem to indicate that she feels adrift, very far removed from Starfleet and her own past. Reaching for help from friends and finding a way through whatever she’s going through is the most likely solution… but she could go down a different path altogether and resign her commission.

Theory #5c:
Tilly will be killed off.

R.I.P…

Sometimes when a character seems to lose their resolve it’s the writers’ way of signalling that it’s the beginning of the end. Adira has taken over not one but two of Tilly’s roles – at least in some respects. Tilly was once the baby of the crew; young and eager, fresh out of the Academy. Now Adira is in that role. Adira is also a great fit for scenes with Stamets in engineering, a role that Tilly had previously occupied. Perhaps Discovery’s writers feel that Tilly has done all she can, and that there isn’t going to be space for two functionally similar characters going forward?

Theory #6:
President Rillak knows what the anomaly is… and may be responsible for its creation.

President Rillak at the end of Choose To Live.

President Rillak is the kind of hard-nosed political pragmatist who seems to be willing to do almost anything if she believes it will advance the Federation’s objectives and ambitions. We saw that laid bare this week when she was willing to turn over J’Vini to the Ni’Var authorities, overruling both Admiral Vance and Captain Burnham because she believed the Federation’s best interests lay in wooing Ni’Var back into the fold.

This ties into something that I said last time: that President Rillak might know more about the DMA than she’s currently letting on. If the Federation had created a weapon like this, or it was an experiment gone wrong, covering it up might be her objective even if she wasn’t necessarily the one who ordered the DMA’s creation.

President Rillak seems willing to go to any lengths for the sake of the Federation.

We’ll consider in a moment a few other possible candidates for creating the DMA – if it turns out to be an artificial creation. But the Federation – and by extension, President Rillak – have to be possible contenders too. Season 3 of Discovery showed us the Federation at its weakest, but also arguably as an organisation that was still virtuous at its core. In contrast, we have Season 2’s depiction of Starfleet: reliant on the shady Section 31 and their AI. In short, it wouldn’t be unthinkable for Discovery to go back to that kind of presentation.

President Rillak herself is a character with depth, not simply an “evil admiral” character trope. But it wouldn’t be the first time that Discovery has presented us with a fairly hard-line character in a position of authority who turns out to be concealing a dark secret.

So those theories are new or were advanced in some way by Choose To Live.

As always, for the sake of keeping everything in one place, I’ll restate my previous theories below. If you missed any of them last time, be sure to read the full list! If you’re all caught up, feel free to skip ahead.

Theory #7:
Captain Burnham and/or the Red Angel time travel suits from Season 2 are connected to the anomaly.

A Red Angel suit from Season 2.

Though we did see some moves away from Discovery’s laser-focus on Michael Burnham in Season 3, the show has put her front-and-centre in all of its main storylines so far. Season 2’s Red Angel storyline was connected to Burnham in a major way, and I wonder if Burnham might similarly have some kind of connection to the anomaly that she’s currently unaware of.

Perhaps the Red Angel suit, which Burnham sent back in time in the Season 3 premiere, malfunctioned somehow, and its powerful wormhole-creating technology gave rise to the gravitational anomaly. If the Red Angel suit completed its journey back to the 23rd Century, the anomaly may have had centuries to grow and expand unchecked.

We don’t really know what happened to the suit after this moment.

I’m not sure that this one is particularly likely, but as I said last year about a possible Burnham connection to the Burn, not only does Discovery kind of have a precedent for telling this kind of story, but there would also be something very dramatic about this revelation. In this case, Burnham would be indirectly and unknowingly responsible for creating something devastatingly damaging. How would she react to that, and how would Book react given what’s just happened to Kwejian?

If time travel is involved, perhaps a future Captain Burnham or a parallel universe Captain Burnham could be responsible for the anomaly’s creation – either intentionally or not.

Theory #8:
Book will find Kyheem and Leto inside the gravitational anomaly.

Leto as seen in Book’s memory.

In Star Trek: Generations, Captain Picard encountered Captain Kirk inside the Nexus – despite Kirk being declared “dead” after the Enterprise-B encountered the energy ribbon. We don’t know what the gravitational anomaly is yet; one of my very early pre-season theories involved the Nexus, but that seems to be debunked already! However, the anomaly’s mysterious nature raises the faint possibility that at least some of those it appears to have “killed” may not be as dead as they first appear.

This theory is, I freely admit, a bit of a long-shot. And it hinges on a fundamental question underlying the story of the season: is there more to the gravitational anomaly than meets the eye? If the anomaly is just an extreme example of space weather, flitting through Federation space destroying anything unfortunate enough to be in its way, then probably everyone on Kwejian is dead. But if the anomaly harbours some kind of gateway, wormhole, portal, time vortex, or any of the other Star Trek-y technobabble phenomena that we’ve seen across the franchise’s history, then it’s possible that at least some of the folks on Kwejian found themselves transported to whatever realm lies inside of the anomaly.

Theory #9:
The gravitational anomaly is (or contains) a sentient life-form.

Season 2’s Sphere is an example of “life, but not as we know it.”

“It was only trying to communicate!” has become a Star Trek cliché, often used to describe how the seemingly-aggressive actions of an alien life-form are actually something innocuous. Perhaps the same is true of the gravitational anomaly: at its core is a life form, perhaps one not dissimilar to the Sphere seen in Season 2, and it’s on its own mission of exploration.

V’Ger from The Motion Picture is an interesting comparison. Like the gravitational anomaly, V’Ger was massive in size, capable of destroying space stations, fleets of ships, and even threatening to destroy entire planets. When Admiral Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise were able to figure out V’Ger, however, they found a life-form at its core, one which was just as curious to learn and grow as they were.

Theory #10:
Saru will be given the captaincy of the USS Voyager-J.

Saru played a supporting role in Choose To Live.

Saru’s future was briefly discussed before he offered to serve as Captain Burnham’s first officer in the episode Anomaly. He has already been offered a command of his own, so Starfleet clearly values his command abilities and experience. President Rillak was seen to be assessing Captain Burnham’s suitability for the captaincy of the USS Voyager-J in Kobayashi Maru… and she mentioned having a shortlist of candidates. Could Saru be on her list?

At time of writing, a fifth season of Discovery hasn’t been officially confirmed. But if the show is to run for another season – or more – the question of Saru’s role comes up. It would be possible to work out a way to keep him on board as first officer for longer than one season, and in many ways I think that’s something fans would want to see. But at the same time, from an in-universe point of view, it kind of makes sense for Starfleet to use its experienced captains where possible.

The USS Voyager-J.

Several of the qualities that President Rillak said she was looking for in a potential captain seem to apply to Saru. He’s more level-headed, less likely to put himself in a dangerous situation, and more inclined to think of the big picture. He has a weakness when it comes to Kaminar, as we saw toward the end of Season 3, but generally speaking he isn’t someone who lets his emotions get the better of him. His wisdom and calm demeanour could be valuable in the captain’s chair of the Federation flagship.

If Saru did depart Discovery in a future episode or season, could that perhaps set the stage for Star Trek: Saru… or Star Trek: Voyager-J? That’s a very interesting possibility! One element of Season 3 that I felt didn’t really get as much attention as it might’ve was that Saru was the Star Trek franchise’s first non-human captain (in a leading role). There’s perhaps scope to follow him on another adventure sometime in the future.

Theory #11:
The gravitational anomaly is a superweapon.

One view of the DMA.

We touched on this theory above when we considered the Federation’s possible complicity in the creation of the gravitational anomaly, but there are many other ways such a story could pan out. The anomaly’s unpredictable nature, as noted by Tilly and Saru at the end of Anomaly, could imply that there’s an intelligence at work, perhaps dictating the anomaly’s moves. This could be the anomaly itself as suggested above, but it could also be the case that the anomaly is being controlled or manipulated by something or someone externally.

If the anomaly turns out not to be a natural phenomenon, and is indeed deliberately targetting the Federation, who might the possible culprits be? And what would be the purpose behind attacking the Federation in this manner? If it’s the precursor to an invasion, perhaps later in the season we’ll see whoever is responsible making their next move.

Theory #11a:
The Borg are responsible.

A Borg seen in The Next Generation.

We don’t know whether the Borg Collective still exists in the 32nd Century; it hasn’t even been mentioned since the USS Discovery’s arrival. However, out of all of the factions in Star Trek, few seem capable of creating a weapon on the scale of the gravitational anomaly. This wouldn’t be in line with the Borg’s usual modus operandi, as they prefer to assimilate rather than attack from afar. But a lot may have changed in the centuries since we last encountered them, meaning this could be the opening salvo of a Borg attack… or the last gasp of a dying Collective.

Theory #11b:
The super-synths from Picard Season 1 are responsible.

Some very menacing-looking synthetic tentacles.

We still don’t know very much about the super-synths that Soji and Sutra attempted to contact in the Season 1 finale of Star Trek: Picard. Other than claiming to offer support and help to synthetic life, what are their goals and motivations? Was their offer even genuine, or was it a trap? The mechanical tentacles glimpsed in Picard Season 1 looked terrifying! Moreover, we know that the super-synths have the technology to move stars – something only possible with an advanced understanding of gravity. Creating a stable 8-star octonary system is an incredible technological and gravitational feat, so they have precedent of a sort when it comes to working with gravity. Finally, Discovery Season 4 has already made connections with Picard Season 1: the Qowat Milat and the synth transfer process used for Gray.

Theory #11c:
The Kelvan Empire is responsible.

Rojan, a representative of the Kelvan Empire.

This one might seem to come completely out of the blue! In The Original Series, Captain Kirk met representatives of the Kelvan Empire, a faction originally from the Andromeda galaxy. Seeking a new home, a Kelvan scouting party had reached the Milky Way and were looking for worlds to conquer. Kirk would ultimately dispatch an unmanned starship offering to help the Kelvan Empire find new worlds to settle – but what if his offer was rejected? Given the vast distances involved, the timelines kind of line up for the Kelvan Empire to return to the Milky Way.

Theory #11d:
The Sphere-Builders from Enterprise are responsible.

A Delphic Expanse sphere seen in Enterprise.

A defeated faction in one of the Temporal Wars, the Sphere-Builders initially hoped to convert a large swathe of the Alpha Quadrant to match their native extradimensional realm, and constructed a number of large space stations known as Spheres to facilitate this transformation. Crewman Daniels would tell Captain Archer that the Sphere-Builders were defeated in the 26th Century, but could they have since rebuilt? The gravitational anomaly isn’t necessarily the same as what they were trying to do with the Spheres, but they’re one of the few factions in Star Trek that might be capable of creating a weapon on this scale.

Theory #12:
A major character will be killed.

A Starfleet coffin seen in Deep Space Nine.

Season 3 saw a couple of major departures: Mirror Georgiou entered the Guardian of Forever’s portal, and Nhan remained behind aboard the USS Tikhov. Yet despite the dangers the crew faced as they navigated the 32nd Century, battled the Emerald Chain, and figured out the mysteries of the Burn and the Verubin Nebula, only one ally – Ryn – lost their life.

Killing off a character can be an excellent way to communicate the stakes involved if it happens at a relatively early stage. It can also be a storyline that brings a lot of emotion, as we have to say goodbye to a beloved member of the crew.

Spock’s funeral in The Wrath of Khan.

In short, I think there are plenty of reasons on the production side why killing off a major character could make sense in Season 4. Discovery has seen a number of characters leave the series – far more than any past Star Trek show, in fact – but the series’ death toll is still relatively low when compared to many other modern television shows.

We discussed above that Tilly’s recent change and the way she seems unsettled could be the beginnings of such an arc. For a breakdown of which characters I thought might be in danger before the season premiered, check out my list of “death predictions” by clicking or tapping here.

Theory #13:
There will be a character crossover from a past iteration of Star Trek.

Scotty was able to appear in The Next Generation… so anything is possible!

This theory returns from Season 3, where I doggedly clung to it for the entire season!

The show’s 32nd Century setting has shot Captain Burnham and the crew far beyond anything in Star Trek’s established canon, and that should mean that practically everyone we remember from other Star Trek shows won’t be around any longer. But this is Star Trek – with some creatively-written technobabble, practically any major character could have survived all the way through to the 32nd Century!

Could Chakotay be coming back?

It’s also possible for Captain Burnham to discover the logs of a long-dead officer; someone we as the audience would be familiar with. While this would be less of a “crossover” than if a character from the past could be physically present, it would still be a lot of fun to see!

There are a handful of characters who could have survived to the 32nd Century based on what we know about them from past iterations of the franchise. Included in this category would be people like Soji, Voyager’s Doctor, and a few others. But as we’ve seen in episodes like Relics and even the film Generations, all it would take to make a big crossover happen is some kind of temporal anomaly, stasis field, or other technobabble!

Theory #14:
Burnham won’t remain as captain.

Captain Burnham in Choose To Live.

This is a controversial one, so let me just say up front that I’m neither in favour of this theory nor opposed to it – I just think it’s a possibility. As things stand, Discovery has had four different captains across its four seasons. One of the show’s unique points of interest within Star Trek’s broader canon are the very different ways in which these individual captains commanded the ship and crew.

It’s got to be considered at least a possibility, then, that the show will continue this trend. This doesn’t mean Captain Burnham will be killed off; I’d actually argue she’s pretty safe. But there are many different routes to her potentially leaving the ship, such as a desire for freedom that we saw in Season 3, or even perhaps taking up a new, more senior role within Starfleet.

Captain Burnham.

If this theory were to come to pass, it would be something I’d expect to see at the very end of the season. Even if Burnham seems 100% committed to her new role as captain, I don’t think it’s a theory we can definitively rule out.

It’s worth mentioning that at time of writing Discovery hasn’t been officially renewed for a fifth season – so all this talk of who’ll be in the captain’s chair by then could be moot! And of course this theory has a very strong counter-argument: that Discovery’s main story arc across its first three seasons can be read as Burnham’s ascent to the captain’s chair.

Theory #15:
Kovich is an agent (or the head) of Section 31.

Kovich in Season 3.

This is another Season 3 theory that I’m choosing to bring back! The question of who Kovich is and what role he played in Starfleet and the Federation was left open at the end of Season 3, and we know that the character will return in some capacity – even though he’s yet to make an appearance. As someone who seemed to talk around the issue at hand and not reveal everything he knew, Kovich strikes me as potentially being a Section 31 operative – or even the head of the organisation.

We don’t know yet if the Section 31 series that was announced in 2019 will go ahead as planned. But if it does, there could potentially be a connection between Kovich and Georgiou that would tie the two shows together. Kovich is mysterious enough that his character could be taken in many different directions – but my money’s on Section 31.

Theory #16:
The ban on time travel will be explained in more detail.

The Enterprise-E was able to travel through time.

This one is a hope as much as a theory right now! In short, the ban on time travel was introduced early in Season 3 primarily as a way for the writers and producers to avoid questions about why the 32nd Century was so different from how the far future had been depicted in earlier Star Trek productions, as well as to explain things like how the Burn was able to catch the Federation off-guard and why Georgiou couldn’t simply be sent back in time when she needed to.

But the ban itself raises some issues – the biggest one being the lack of detail on how it works and how something like this could possibly be enforced. As I said several times last season, it isn’t possible to just un-invent a technology so useful and powerful as time travel. Even just a few lines of dialogue going into a little more detail on the mechanisms involved in the ban would be really useful.

Theory #17:
The Federation has flouted the ban on time travel.

Might someone like Kovich have sought to get around the ban on time travel?

Sticking with the time travel ban, another theory I had last season was that the Federation – and Section 31 in particular – might have deliberately flouted the ban and failed to abide by the rules. Someone as straight-laced and committed to Starfleet ideals as Admiral Vance is highly unlikely to have sanctioned such a move, but someone like the shadowy Kovich (who we talked about a moment ago) might have. President Rillak could also be involved.

Obviously the bulk of the season’s story will deal with the gravitational anomaly. But there’s scope to either talk about the time travel ban in a standalone episode or even tie the two stories together – perhaps the anomaly has been unleashed as a result of unsanctioned time travel.

Theory #18:
The story will connect with the Short Treks episode Calypso.

The USS Discovery in Calypso.

Despite a handful of moments in Season 3 which seemed to connect to Calypso, the story of the season overall ended up going in a very different direction. While we saw a couple of things that arguably did tie in to the Short Treks episode, major things like the USS Discovery undergoing a refit have actually moved the plot even further away.

It’s possible that Calypso will forever remain an outlier in Star Trek’s canon – an episode tied to a vision of Season 2 or Season 3 that was changed before it made it to screen. But earlier in Season 3 it felt like we were getting close to seeing how it could all be tied together – and I’m hopeful that Season 4 will find a way to do so.

Theory #19:
The crew will have to defend the Verubin Nebula.

The dilithium planet is vital to the Federation.

The Federation is in a weakened state, and even if we see worlds like Ni’Var rejoin the organisation it’s still nowhere near as powerful as it once was. The Verubin Nebula is thus a very tempting target for anyone looking to gain an edge in a galaxy where dilithium is still in short supply. As the only known significant dilithium supply, whoever controls the Verubin Nebula will have a massive tactical advantage.

We can compare the Verubin Nebula to Deep Space Nine’s Bajoran wormhole in that respect – it’s a resource of huge strategic importance. Season 3 didn’t show us much about the makeup of the galaxy’s factions outside of the rump Federation and the Emerald Chain, but it’s got to be possible that factions like the Dominion, Klingon Empire, or even the Borg still exist and would want to seize the Verubin Nebula for themselves.

Another view of the planet in the Verubin Nebula.

Season 4 has presented Captain Burnham and the crew with a scientific puzzle: the DMA. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be villains in play, and Discovery has introduced us to several compelling and interesting villains over its first three seasons.

To make a long theory short, it would begin to stretch credulity to think that everyone in the known galaxy would see the Federation rebuilding and having access to dilithium and not want to find out for themselves what’s going on. Once the Verubin Nebula’s existence becomes known, even if the Federation promises to share its bounty with all comers, it seems very likely that someone would want to take control of the dilithium supply for themselves.

Theory #20:
Captain Burnham and the crew will encounter the Klingons.

Klingons seen in Season 2 of Lower Decks.

By the late 24th Century the Federation and Klingons were firm friends, having been allied for a century and after fighting side-by-side against the Dominion. We don’t know if that alliance endured to the 32nd Century, but it’s certainly plausible to think that it did. The Klingons might even have joined the Federation at some point, and their violent warrior culture may have been significantly pacified.

One thing that could be very interesting to see is how the crew of the USS Discovery – almost all of whom are veterans of the Federation-Klingon war – would respond to that. They’ve worked alongside Klingons like L’Rell before, but many of them still see the Klingons as an old enemy. The story of overcoming that prejudice could mirror episodes like The Wounded from The Next Generation, and would be very interesting to see.

Theory #21:
Some areas of the galaxy – such as the Delta Quadrant – avoided the worst effects of the Burn.

The USS Voyager traversed the Delta Quadrant.

Season 4 touched briefly on the Burn with Su’Kal and Saru in Kobayashi Maru, and may now seek to put last season’s story to bed so it can wrangle with the DMA instead. But one thing I’d be curious to see is the true extent of the disaster – did it reach all four quadrants of the galaxy equally, or did its effects fade out after a certain point? Michael Burnham discovered that the Burn had a point of origin, and that it radiated out from that point like ripples on the surface of water. Ripples eventually diminish, fading away the further they travel, and perhaps that’s true of the Burn as well. There could be whole areas of the galaxy that didn’t even notice the Burn – and maybe the ship and crew will visit one such region.

If the Delta Quadrant was left largely unscathed, for example, what might that mean for the likes of the Borg? It’s possible they aren’t even still around in the 32nd Century, but it’s also possible that they’ve had more than a century to expand and build up their forces while the Federation suffered. To see a full write-up of this theory, click or tap here.

Theory #22:
The Guardian of Forever will be back.

The Guardian of Forever first appeared in The Original Series.

Having reintroduced the Guardian of Forever in Season 3, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Discovery return to the Guardian’s planet in Season 4. The gravitational anomaly is something new and threatening, so it’s possible Captain Burnham might want to ask the Guardian for help or information.

The Guardian of Forever is also the only way we know of at present to travel through time – something that might be necessary if Season 4 makes an attempt to link up with Calypso in a big way. There are many reasons why Captain Burnham might want to revisit the Guardian, and it would be great to bring back actor Paul Guilfoyle, who played the Guardian’s humanoid avatar in Season 3.

So that’s it! Those are all of the theories I currently have as we approach episode 4: All Is Possible.

The USS Discovery.

I think we’ve got an interesting crop of theories as we begin to get into the story of the season. In some ways Discovery caught me off-guard by taking Captain Burnham on a side-mission in only the third episode… but as noted above there are myriad ways that her encounter with the Abronians may yet come back into play!

I’ll be updating my theory list every week after publishing my episode reviews, so be sure to come back after All Is Possible has aired to see if we have any debunkings, confirmations, or brand-new theories to add to the list. I’m having a lot of fun getting back into the swing of writing my reviews and theories – I hope at least some of this has been interesting for you!

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.

Star Trek: Discovery theories – weeks 1-2

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4, Star Trek: Picard Season 1, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

Now that all of the international broadcasting nonsense is out of the way, let’s get back into my weekly Discovery theory updates! We only missed one week, and there’s still a ton of speculating to be done about the story of Season 4, the gravitational anomaly, and what might become of some of our favourite characters.

If you’re new to my weekly theory updates for Discovery Season 4, here’s how the format works: after every episode I go back to my theory list. I cross off theories that have been debunked, celebrate any that appear to have been confirmed, update any that have seen progression, and add any new theories that the most recent episode has spawned. There will be some theories that, for whatever reason, the most recent episode didn’t advance in any way, so those will simply be restated to keep the list up-to-date and in one place!

I wrote up all of my pre-season theories into one list a couple of weeks ago, so this time we’ve already got two confirmations to take a look at before we jump into the main list.

Confirmed theory #1: The Spore Drive will be rolled out to more ships.

Book in Discovery’s Spore Drive cube.

Finally! After the revelation in the Season 3 finale that Book – and potentially anyone else with similar empathic abilities – could control the Spore Drive, the last hurdle in the way of it being rolled out to other Starfleet ships had been surmounted. It finally feels like Discovery is on the cusp of finding another use for what had been one of the most controversial technologies introduced in the series.

In Kobayashi Maru this was almost treated as a throwaway line, so I wouldn’t blame you if you missed it, but President Rillak confirmed that a “next-generation” Spore Drive is being developed by Starfleet as part of the Federation’s plans to rebuild and expand. It wasn’t stated on screen, but I wonder if the USS Voyager-J might be fitted with a Spore Drive as part of its retrofit; the vessel was in spacedock, after all.

The USS Discovery makes a Spore Drive jump.

I’d been hoping that the series would go down this road for a while. Moving forward in time to the 32nd Century means there are no “canon purist” arguments in favour of abandoning the Spore Drive, keeping it a secret, or ensuring that only the USS Discovery could use it. And the events of the Season 3 finale seemed deliberately designed to create an easy way to expand the Spore Drive to more ships – perhaps even paving the way for future Star Trek productions in this era.

We don’t yet know what the implications will be of Kwejian’s destruction on Starfleet’s plans. It was implied in the Season 3 finale that anyone with empathic abilities could use the Spore Drive, not only Kwejian natives, so the loss of Kwejian and most of its population shouldn’t mean that the Spore Drive expansion has to be abandoned. It might be possible for Betazoids, Deltans, or even Vulcans to train to become Spore Drive navigators.

Confirmed theory #2: A new character joined the main cast.

A new name has been spotted in the opening credits!

Following the departures of Nhan and Georgiou, it felt like there was definitely scope to either promote a recurring character to the main cast or create at least one new one! We’ve met President Rillak, who seems like she’ll become a recurring character, but the one who’s been promoted to join the main cast is Blu del Barrio’s character of Adira.

Adira makes a great addition to Discovery’s main cast of characters, occupying a similar role to Tilly in Season 1 in particular. As Tilly has undergone significant character growth across the show’s first three seasons, there was scope to bring someone brand-new aboard the ship, and having that person be someone young and eager is a positive thing. Adira is not only involved in their own storyline with Gray and Dr Culber, but also as a scientist can work with Stamets, Tilly, Saru, and Captain Burnham. I think Adira has the potential to be a versatile character in whatever stories lie ahead.

My original version of this theory centred around the question of Captain Burnham’s first officer. Now that we know that role has gone to Saru, it seems as though the main and recurring characters for this season are set.

So those theories were confirmed. Now we’ll take a look at some new theories and a few updated theories.

Theory #1: President Rillak knows what the anomaly is… and may be responsible for its creation.

President Rillak in Kobayashi Maru.

This ties into a broader point that we’ll be considering from several angles: the possibility that the gravitational anomaly is not a natural phenomenon. If the anomaly is artificial in nature, the question of who is responsible for its creation crops up. It could be a weapon deployed by another faction, of course, but it could also be a Federation creation – perhaps a weapon designed to defend against the Borg, a rogue experiment to try and prevent a second Burn, or something else entirely.

If that’s the case, President Rillak almost certainly knows more about the anomaly than she’s willing to say right now. Perhaps she’s hoping that it won’t be what she fears it is, or perhaps she’s trying to cover her own back – Captain Burnham did go out of her way to describe her as a “politician,” after all.

Does President Rillak know more about the anomaly than she’s saying?

President Rillak is a character with depth, not simply an “evil admiral” character trope. But it wouldn’t be the first time that Discovery has presented us with a fairly hard-line character in a position of authority who turns out to be concealing a dark secret.

As the head of the Federation, President Rillak is committed to doing whatever it takes to preserve the organisation. The anomaly may have been part of those plans… somehow. If she isn’t responsible for its creation directly, she may still know what it is if a past Federation President signed off on its creation. She may be covering up that secret on behalf of the Federation.

Theory #2: Captain Burnham and/or the Red Angel time travel suits from Season 2 are connected to the anomaly.

Captain Burnham.

Though we did see some moves away from Discovery’s laser-focus on Michael Burnham in Season 3, the show has put her front-and-centre in all of its main storylines so far. Season 2’s Red Angel storyline was connected to Burnham in a major way, and I wonder if Burnham might similarly have some kind of connection to the anomaly that she’s currently unaware of.

Perhaps the Red Angel suit, which Burnham sent back in time in the Season 3 premiere, malfunctioned somehow, and its powerful wormhole-creating technology gave rise to the gravitational anomaly. If the Red Angel suit completed its journey back to the 23rd Century, the anomaly may have had centuries to grow and expand unchecked.

This was the last we saw of the Red Angel suit back at the beginning of Season 3.

I’m not sure that this one is particularly likely, but as I said last year about a possible Burnham connection to the Burn, not only does Discovery kind of have a precedent for telling this kind of story, but there would also be something very dramatic about this revelation. In this case, Burnham would be indirectly and unknowingly responsible for creating something devastatingly damaging. How would she react to that, and how would Book react given what’s just happened to Kwejian?

If time travel is involved, perhaps a future Captain Burnham or a parallel universe Captain Burnham could be responsible for the anomaly’s creation – either intentionally or not.

Theory #3: Gray’s transfer to a new body won’t be simple.

A holographic representation of Gray’s synthetic body.

I adored the scene with Gray, Adira, and Dr Culber in Anomaly. As someone who’s struggled to come to terms with my own gender identity and my gender expression, it was so deeply relatable to see Gray “customising” his new body. But also included in that scene was a line from Dr Culber about how the “Soong method” used to transfer consciousness into a synthetic form has a very low success rate.

I suspect that line was included as a kind of pre-emptive plot hole plug that will have nothing to do with Gray! If the Soong method was said to work every time, then it would be very difficult to kill off any Star Trek characters from the 25th Century onwards, because fans would rightly ask “why didn’t they transfer to a synth body?” So I suspect that’s why the line was included.

Admiral Picard had his consciousness transferred to a synthetic body in the finale of Picard Season 1.

However, it felt a little ominous for poor Gray. It was great to see that Adira, Dr Culber, and others had been working hard to help Gray become seen again after the events of Season 3, and I have no doubt that somehow we’ll see Gray in a physical body before the season is over. But we’re only two episodes in at time of writing – will it really happen so quickly, and so seemingly simply?

I’m not convinced of that yet! There are many things that could go wrong, delay the transfer, or prevent it entirely. And there are an unlimited number of technobabble explanations for finding a new way to give Gray a body! So let’s see what happens – but I wonder if this storyline might have a few twists and turns along the way.

Theory #4: Book will find Kyheem and Leto inside the gravitational anomaly.

Book with Leto and Kyheem shortly before the destruction of Kwejian.

In Star Trek: Generations, Captain Picard encountered Captain Kirk inside the Nexus – despite Kirk being declared “dead” after the Enterprise-B encountered the energy ribbon. We don’t know what the gravitational anomaly is yet; one of my very early pre-season theories involved the Nexus, but that seems to be debunked already! However, the anomaly’s mysterious nature raises the faint possibility that at least some of those it appears to have “killed” may not be as dead as they first appear.

This theory is, I freely admit, a bit of a long-shot. And it hinges on a fundamental question underlying the story of the season: is there more to the gravitational anomaly than meets the eye? If the anomaly is just an extreme example of space weather, flitting through Federation space destroying anything unfortunate enough to be in its way, then probably everyone on Kwejian is dead. But if the anomaly harbours some kind of gateway, wormhole, portal, time vortex, or any of the other Star Trek-y technobabble phenomena that we’ve seen across the franchise’s history, then it’s possible that at least some of the folks on Kwejian found themselves transported to whatever realm lies inside of the anomaly.

Theory #5: The anomaly is a sentient life-form.

Could the anomaly be similar to V’Ger?

“It was only trying to communicate!” has become a Star Trek cliché, often used to describe how the seemingly-aggressive actions of an alien life-form are actually something innocuous. Perhaps the same is true of the gravitational anomaly: at its core is a life form, perhaps one not dissimilar to the Sphere seen in Season 2, and it’s on its own mission of exploration.

V’Ger from The Motion Picture is an interesting comparison. Like the gravitational anomaly, V’Ger was massive in size, capable of destroying space stations, fleets of ships, and even threatening to destroy entire planets. When Admiral Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise were able to figure out V’Ger, however, they found a life-form at its core, one which was just as curious to learn and grow as they were.

Theory #6: Saru will be given the captaincy of the USS Voyager-J.

The USS Voyager-J.

Saru’s future was briefly discussed before he offered to serve as Captain Burnham’s first officer. He has already been offered a command of his own, so Starfleet clearly values his command abilities and experience. President Rillak was seen to be assessing Captain Burnham’s suitability for the captaincy of the USS Voyager-J in Kobayashi Maru… and she mentioned having a shortlist of candidates. Could Saru be on her list?

At time of writing, a fifth season of Discovery hasn’t been officially confirmed. But if the show is to run for another season – or more – the question of Saru’s role comes up. It would be possible to work out a way to keep him on board as first officer for longer than one season, and in many ways I think that’s something fans would want to see. But at the same time, from an in-universe point of view, it kind of makes sense for Starfleet to use its experienced captains where possible.

Captain Saru.

Several of the qualities that President Rillak said she was looking for in a potential captain seem to apply to Saru. He’s more level-headed, less likely to put himself in a dangerous situation, and more inclined to think of the big picture. He has a weakness when it comes to Kaminar, as we saw toward the end of Season 3, but generally speaking he isn’t someone who lets his emotions get the better of him. His wisdom and calm demeanour could be valuable in the captain’s chair of the Federation flagship.

If Saru did depart Discovery in a future episode or season, could that perhaps set the stage for Star Trek: Saru… or perhaps Star Trek: Voyager-J? That’s a very interesting possibility! One element of Season 3 that I felt didn’t really get as much attention as it might’ve was that Saru was the Star Trek franchise’s first non-human captain (in a leading role). There’s perhaps scope to follow him on another adventure sometime in the future.

Theory #7: The gravitational anomaly is a superweapon.

The USS Discovery approaching the anomaly in the second Season 4 trailer.

We touched on this theory above when we considered the Federation’s possible complicity in the creation of the gravitational anomaly, but there are many other ways such a story could pan out. The anomaly’s unpredictable nature, as noted by Tilly and Saru at the end of Anomaly, could imply that there’s an intelligence at work, perhaps dictating the anomaly’s moves. This could be the anomaly itself as suggested above, but it could also be the case that the anomaly is being controlled or manipulated by something or someone externally.

If the anomaly turns out not to be a natural phenomenon, and is indeed deliberately targetting the Federation, who might the possible culprits be? And what would be the purpose behind attacking the Federation in this manner? If it’s the precursor to an invasion, perhaps later in the season we’ll see whoever is responsible making their next move.

Theory #7a: The Borg are responsible.

A Borg drone seen in The Next Generation.

We don’t know whether the Borg Collective still exists in the 32nd Century; it hasn’t even been mentioned since the USS Discovery’s arrival. However, out of all of the factions in Star Trek, few seem capable of creating a weapon on the scale of the gravitational anomaly. This wouldn’t be in line with the Borg’s usual modus operandi, as they prefer to assimilate rather than attack from afar. But a lot may have changed in the centuries since we last encountered them, meaning this could be the opening salvo of a Borg attack… or the last gasp of a dying Collective.

Theory #7b: The super-synths from Picard Season 1 are responsible.

This is all we really saw of the super-synths.

We still don’t know very much about the super-synths that Soji and Sutra attempted to contact in the Season 1 finale of Star Trek: Picard. Other than claiming to offer support and help to synthetic life, what are their goals and motivations? Was their offer even genuine, or was it a trap? The mechanical tentacles glimpsed in Picard Season 1 looked terrifying! Moreover, we know that the super-synths have the technology to move stars – something only possible with an advanced understanding of gravity. Creating a stable 8-star octonary system is an incredible technological and gravitational feat, so they have precedent of a sort when it comes to working with gravity.

Theory #7c: The Kelvan Empire is responsible.

Rojan, a representative of the Kelvan Empire.

This one might seem to come completely out of the blue! In The Original Series, Captain Kirk met representatives of the Kelvan Empire, a faction originally from the Andromeda galaxy. Seeking a new home, a Kelvan scouting party had reached the Milky Way and were looking for worlds to conquer. Kirk would ultimately dispatch an unmanned starship offering to help the Kelvan Empire find new worlds to settle – but what if his offer was rejected? Given the vast distances involved, the timelines kind of line up for the Kelvan Empire to return to the Milky Way.

Theory #7d: The Sphere-Builders from Enterprise are responsible.

A Sphere-Builder seen in Enterprise.

A defeated faction in one of the Temporal Wars, the Sphere-Builders initially hoped to convert a large swathe of the Alpha Quadrant to match their native extradimensional realm, and constructed a number of large space stations known as Spheres to facilitate this transformation. Crewman Daniels would tell Captain Archer that the Sphere-Builders were defeated in the 26th Century, but could they have since rebuilt? The gravitational anomaly isn’t necessarily the same as what they were trying to do with the Spheres, but they’re one of the few factions in Star Trek that might be capable of creating a weapon on this scale.

So those theories were new or saw some advancement in the first two episodes of the season.

To keep these theory posts as uncomplicated as possible, I like to keep all of my theories in one place. So below you’ll find all of my other Season 4 theories. These weren’t debunked or confirmed in the first two episodes, and indeed saw no real movement at all. They remain in play, though.

Theory #8: A major character will be killed.

A Starfleet coffin draped with the Federation flag as seen in Deep Space Nine.

Season 3 saw a couple of major departures: Mirror Georgiou entered the Guardian of Forever’s portal, and Nhan remained behind aboard the USS Tikhov. Yet despite the dangers the crew faced as they navigated the 32nd Century, battled the Emerald Chain, and figured out the mysteries of the Burn and the Verubin Nebula, only one ally – Ryn – lost their life.

Killing off a character can be an excellent way to communicate the stakes involved if it happens at a relatively early stage. It can also be a storyline that brings a lot of emotion, as we have to say goodbye to a beloved member of the crew.

Dr McCoy and Sulu playing dead in The Wrath of Khan.

In short, I think there are plenty of reasons on the production side why killing off a major character could make sense in Season 4. Discovery has seen a number of characters leave the series – far more than any past Star Trek show, in fact – but the series’ death toll is still relatively low when compared to many other modern television shows.

There are also a couple of characters who feel in danger for different reasons. For a full breakdown of which characters I think might be on the proverbial chopping block, check out my list of “death predictions” by clicking or tapping here.

Theory #9: There will be a character crossover from a past iteration of Star Trek.

Voyager’s Doctor is a contender!

Yes, I’m officially bringing this theory back! This is one that I doggedly clung to for all of Season 3, and while it arguably kind of happened with the Guardian of Forever, that wasn’t really what I meant.

The show’s 32nd Century setting has shot Captain Burnham and the crew far beyond anything in Star Trek’s established canon, and that should mean that practically everyone we remember from other Star Trek shows won’t be around any longer. But this is Star Trek – with some creatively-written technobabble, practically any major character could have survived all the way through to the 32nd Century!

Could Sutra still be alive in the 32nd Century?

It’s also possible for Captain Burnham to discover the logs of a long-dead officer; someone we as the audience would be familiar with. While this would be less of a “crossover” than if a character from the past could be physically present, it would still be a lot of fun to see!

There are a handful of characters who could have survived to the 32nd Century based on what we know about them from past iterations of the franchise. Included in this category would be people like Soji, Voyager’s Doctor, and a few others. But as we’ve seen in episodes like Relics and even the film Generations, all it would take to make a big crossover happen is some kind of temporal anomaly, stasis field, or other technobabble!

Theory #10: Burnham may not remain in the captain’s chair.

Michael Burnham in the captain’s chair in a promotional image for Season 4.

This is a controversial one, so let me just say up front that I’m neither in favour of this theory nor opposed to it – I just think it’s a possibility. As things stand, Discovery has had four different captains across its four seasons. One of the show’s unique points of interest within Star Trek’s broader canon are the very different ways in which these individual captains commanded the ship and crew.

It’s got to be considered at least a possibility, then, that the show will continue this trend. This doesn’t mean Captain Burnham will be killed off; I’d actually argue she’s pretty safe. But there are many different routes to her potentially leaving the ship, such as a desire for freedom that we saw in Season 3, or even perhaps taking up a new, more senior role within Starfleet.

Captain Burnham in Anomaly.

If this theory were to come to pass, it would be something I’d expect to see at the very end of the season. Even if Burnham seems 100% committed to her new role as captain, I don’t think it’s a theory we can definitively rule out.

It’s worth mentioning that at time of writing Discovery hasn’t been officially renewed for a fifth season – so all this talk of who’ll be in the captain’s chair by then could be moot! And of course this theory has a very strong counter-argument: that Discovery’s main story arc across its first three seasons can be read as Burnham’s ascent to the captain’s chair.

Theory #11: Kovich works for Section 31.

Kovich in Season 3.

This is another Season 3 theory that I’m choosing to bring back! The question of who Kovich is and what role he played in Starfleet and the Federation was left open at the end of Season 3, and we know that the character will return in some capacity. As someone who seemed to talk around the issue at hand and not reveal everything he knew, Kovich strikes me as potentially being a Section 31 operative – or even the head of the organisation.

We don’t know yet if the Section 31 series that was announced in 2019 will go ahead as planned. But if it does, there could potentially be a connection between Kovich and Georgiou that would tie the two shows together. Kovich is mysterious enough that his character could be taken in many different directions – but my money’s on Section 31.

Theory #12: The ban on time travel will be explained further.

Admiral Vance first told us of the ban on time travel.

This one is a hope as much as a theory right now! In short, the ban on time travel was introduced early in Season 3 primarily as a way for the writers and producers to avoid questions about why the 32nd Century was so different from how the far future had been depicted in earlier Star Trek productions, as well as to explain things like how the Burn was able to catch the Federation off-guard and why Georgiou couldn’t simply be sent back in time when she needed to.

But the ban itself raises some issues – the biggest one being the lack of detail on how it works and how something like this could possibly be enforced. As I said several times last season, it isn’t possible to just un-invent a technology so useful and powerful as time travel. Even just a few lines of dialogue going into a little more detail on the mechanisms involved in the ban would be really useful.

Theory #13: The Federation has flouted the ban on time travel.

HMS Bounty travels through time in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

Sticking with the time travel ban, another theory I had last season was that the Federation – and Section 31 in particular – might have deliberately flouted the ban and failed to abide by the rules. Someone as straight-laced and committed to Starfleet ideals as Admiral Vance is highly unlikely to have sanctioned such a move, but someone like the shadowy Kovich (who we talked about a moment ago) might have. President Rillak could also be involved.

Obviously the bulk of the season’s story will deal with the gravitational anomaly. But there’s scope to either talk about the time travel ban in a standalone episode or even tie the two stories together – perhaps the anomaly has been unleashed as a result of unsanctioned time travel.

Theory #14: The story will connect with the Short Treks episode Calypso.

The USS Discovery seen in Calypso.

Despite a handful of moments in Season 3 which seemed to connect to Calypso, the story of the season overall ended up going in a very different direction. While we saw a couple of things that arguably did tie in to the Short Treks episode, major things like the USS Discovery undergoing a refit have actually moved the plot even further away.

It’s possible that Calypso will forever remain an outlier in Star Trek’s canon – an episode tied to a vision of Season 2 or Season 3 that was changed before it made it to screen. But earlier in Season 3 it felt like we were getting close to seeing how it could all be tied together – and I’m hopeful that Season 4 will find a way to do so.

Theory #15: The crew will have to defend the Verubin Nebula.

The dilithium planet at the centre of the Verubin Nebula.

The Federation is in a weakened state, and even if we see worlds like Ni’Var rejoin the organisation it’s still nowhere near as powerful as it once was. The Verubin Nebula is thus a very tempting target for anyone looking to gain an edge in a galaxy where dilithium is still in short supply. As the only known significant dilithium supply, whoever controls the Verubin Nebula will have a massive tactical advantage.

We can compare the Verubin Nebula to Deep Space Nine’s Bajoran wormhole in that respect – it’s a resource of huge strategic importance. Season 3 didn’t show us much about the makeup of the galaxy’s factions outside of the rump Federation and the Emerald Chain, but it’s got to be possible that factions like the Dominion, Klingon Empire, or even the Borg still exist and would want to seize the Verubin Nebula for themselves.

The USS Discovery arriving at the Verubin Nebula in Season 3.

Season 4 has teased a scientific puzzle – the gravitational anomaly. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be villains in play, and Discovery has introduced us to several compelling and interesting villains over its first three seasons.

To make a long theory short, it would begin to stretch credulity to think that everyone in the known galaxy would see the Federation rebuilding and having access to dilithium and not want to find out for themselves what’s going on. Once the Verubin Nebula’s existence becomes known, even if the Federation promises to share its bounty with all comers, it seems very likely that someone would want to take control of the dilithium supply for themselves.

Theory #16: Captain Burnham and the crew will encounter the Klingons.

The Klingons have been part of Discovery since the beginning.

By the late 24th Century the Federation and Klingons were firm friends, having been allied for a century and after fighting side-by-side against the Dominion. We don’t know if that alliance endured to the 32nd Century, but it’s certainly plausible to think that it did. The Klingons might even have joined the Federation at some point, and their violent warrior culture may have been significantly pacified.

One thing that could be very interesting to see is how the crew of the USS Discovery – almost all of whom are veterans of the Federation-Klingon war – would respond to that. They’ve worked alongside Klingons like L’Rell before, but many of them still see the Klingons as an old enemy. The story of overcoming that prejudice could mirror episodes like The Wounded from The Next Generation, and would be very interesting to see.

Theory #17: Some areas of the galaxy – such as the Delta Quadrant – avoided the worst effects of the Burn.

The USS Voyager was the first Federation starship to explore the Delta Quadrant.

It’s quite possible that Season 4 won’t revisit the Burn narrative in any detail. But one thing I’d be curious to see is the true extent of the disaster – did it reach all four quadrants of the galaxy equally, or did its effects fade out after a certain point? Michael Burnham discovered that the Burn had a point of origin, and that it radiated out from that point like ripples on the surface of water. Ripples eventually diminish, fading away the further they travel, and perhaps that’s true of the Burn as well. There could be whole areas of the galaxy that didn’t even notice the Burn – and maybe the ship and crew will visit one such region.

If the Delta Quadrant was left largely unscathed, for example, what might that mean for the likes of the Borg? It’s possible they aren’t even still around in the 32nd Century, but it’s also possible that they’ve had more than a century to expand and build up their forces while the Federation suffered.

Theory #18: The Guardian of Forever will be back.

Carl – the Guardian of Forever’s new persona.

Having reintroduced the Guardian of Forever in Season 3, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Discovery return to the Guardian’s planet in Season 4. The gravitational anomaly is something new and threatening, so it’s possible Captain Burnham might want to ask the Guardian for help or information.

The Guardian of Forever is also the only way we know of at present to travel through time – something that might be necessary if Season 4 makes an attempt to link up with Calypso in a big way. There are many reasons why Captain Burnham might want to revisit the Guardian, and it would be great to bring back actor Paul Guilfoyle, who played the Guardian’s humanoid avatar in Season 3.

So that’s it! Those are all of the theories I currently have in play.

Stay tuned for weekly updates to this list after new episodes air! I try very hard to publish my theory updates in between episodes so that nothing is out-of-date! Season 4 is off to an exciting start – and there are plenty of mysterious elements to get stuck into.

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.

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.

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.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 – my worst theory failures!

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, Star Trek: Picard Season 1, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

During Star Trek: Discovery’s third season, I wrote a weekly series of theories, speculating about what may be going on with the show’s various storylines. I had some successes in my theories and predictions, but there were more than a few misses as well! Now that the season is in the rear-view mirror, I thought it could be fun to go back to some of my theories and see how wrong I was!

All of these theories seemed plausible at the time – for one reason or another – yet ultimately proved to be way off base. One thing I appreciate about Discovery – and a lot of other shows and films too, both within the Star Trek franchise and outside of it – is that sense of unpredictability. Nothing in Discovery Season 3 was mundane or felt like it had been blatantly telegraphed ahead of time, and the fact that the narrative took twists and turns that I wasn’t expecting was, on the whole, great! There were a couple of storylines I personally didn’t think were fantastic or handled very well, but on the whole, Discovery’s third season was an enjoyable ride.

Book’s ship at warp in the season premiere.

Some of the theories I had were pure speculation based on nothing more than guesswork and intuition, and others seemed truly reasonable and plausible. While the season was ongoing I tended to just write up any theories I had, no matter how wild or out of left-field they seemed to be! Whether that was good or not… well the jury is out! The theory lists I published were well-read, so I assume at least some folks found something of interest!

I like to caveat these kinds of articles by saying that no fan theory, no matter how plausible or rational it may seem to be, is worth getting too attached to or upset about. The internet has been great for fan communities, allowing us to come together to discuss our favourite franchises and engage in a lot of theory-crafting. But there is a darker side to all of this, and some fans find themselves getting too attached to a particular theory to the point where their enjoyment of the actual narrative is diminished if that theory doesn’t pan out. Please try to keep in mind that I don’t have any “insider information,” and I’ve never tried to claim that a particular theory is somehow guaranteed to come true. I like writing, I like Star Trek, and writing about Star Trek is a fun activity for me – that’s why I do this, and if I ever felt that theorising about Discovery or other shows was harming my enjoyment, I would stop. And I encourage you to take a step back if you find yourself falling into that particular trap.

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at ten of my least successful Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 theories!

Number 1: Cleveland Booker is a Coppelius synth.

Book and his adoptive brother in the episode The Sanctuary.

When we met Book in That Hope Is You at the beginning of the season, it wasn’t at all clear who he was. However, there were inhuman elements to Book, such as his ability to heal, to use a holographic interface seemingly attached to his body, and glowing, almost electronic-looking areas on parts of his skin. With Book’s origin somewhat of a mystery, I wondered if he might turn out to be a synth – and specifically, a synth from the planet Coppelius (or one of their descendants).

We met the Coppelius synths in Star Trek: Picard Season 1, and I was hopeful as Discovery’s third season got underway that there’d be a serious attempt to connect the two shows – as this was something Picard wholly failed to do in its debut season. I’ve said numerous times that Star Trek needs to do more to bind different parts of the franchise together, and after Picard basically ignored Discovery, I was hoping for some kind of connection to manifest in Season 3. Booker being a synth could have been one way to do that.

Book’s telepathic abilities caused glowing areas to appear on his face.

So really, it’s not unfair to say that this theory was concocted more for production-side reasons than anything we saw on screen. Book’s abilities as we saw them in That Hope Is You (and subsequently in episodes like The Sanctuary, There Is A Tide, and That Hope Is You, Part 2) were clearly more organic and telepathic than anything artificial or technological in origin – except for his holographic computer interface. So perhaps this was always a bit of a stretch!

Booker turned out to be a Kwejian native – though what exactly that means is unclear. Given Book’s human appearance, it’s possible that the people of Kwejian are descendants or offshoots of humanity, or perhaps, given their telepathic nature, they’re somehow related to the Betazoids. In the season finale, Book promised Burnham he’d tell her more about his background, and how he came to use the name Cleveland Booker, so perhaps we’ll learn more about Book’s people in Season 4. He was a wonderful addition to the season, even if I was way off base with my theory about his possible origin!

Number 2: The Burn is connected to Michael Burnham – and/or the Red Angel suit.

Michael Burn-ham.

The Burn’s origin was not definitively revealed and confirmed until the season finale, so for practically the entire season I was talking about some form of this theory! There seemed to be a few possible clues that Discovery gave us – which ultimately turned out to be red herrings as the Burn was unconnected to any of them – about the ultimate answer to the Burn, and several of them could have been interpreted to mean that Burnham was, in some way, connected to the event that shares part of her name.

The main reason I considered this theory plausible, though, was because Discovery has always been a series that put Burnham front-and-centre in all of its main storylines. Having a connection to the biggest story of the season thus seemed possible. When the event’s name was revealed, the fact that it shared part of her name seemed to lend credence to that idea – at least it did considering I’d already started down that rabbit hole!

One of two Red Angel suits seen in Season 2.

That Hope Is You saw Burnham arrive in the future immediately following the events of Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2 – the Season 2 finale. She took off her Red Angel suit and set it to self-destruct, but as we never saw the self-destruction for ourselves on screen, it was a bit of a mystery as to what became of the suit. In a future where time travel technology had been prohibited, the Red Angel suit may have been one of the last extant ways to travel through time, and would be incredibly valuable to factions like the Emerald Chain, so I reasoned that perhaps someone had intercepted the suit, and either intentionally or unintentionally caused the Burn.

I’m glad this one didn’t pan out, because it was nice to give Burnham a break! In the end, Burnham wasn’t strongly involved in the resolution to the Burn’s storyline, with that task being given to Saru, Dr Culber, Adira, and of course Su’Kal. After Burnham had just saved the galaxy by defeating the Control AI, there would have been an interesting ethical and philosophical dilemma for her if she had learned that her actions and/or the Red Angel suit had been responsible for the Burn – but it would’ve been hard to pull off and arguably too similar to the guilt she felt at the outbreak of the Federation-Klingon War in Season 1. So overall, it was an interesting theory well worth considering, but I’m glad it wasn’t true!

Number 3: The USS Discovery could arrive in the future before Burnham.

The USS Discovery had a rough landing in the 32nd Century!

Time travel stories are complicated. Once the link between cause and effect is broken, almost anything becomes possible. Even though Burnham and the Red Angel suit were leading the way into the future, the mechanics of the time wormhole were not explained, and it was at least plausible to think that the USS Discovery might’ve arrived first.

I first posited this theory after the season premiere, and it seemed plausible for practically all of Far From Home too. One thing that could’ve happened, had this theory been correct, would be that Burnham would’ve been out of her element for a lot longer than just one episode. In That Hope Is You, we saw her completely awed by everything she saw, experiencing a completely new world for the first time. And that premise meant that we were seeing Burnham in a whole new way, not in control of the situation and having to rely on others instead of trying to shoulder all of the burden all of the time. Had the USS Discovery found her after the ship and crew had spent a year in the future instead of the other way around, Burnham could’ve been our point-of-view character for learning what was new and different, instead of reverting to type.

We missed a year of Burnham’s exploits in the 32nd Century.

With both Red Angel suits gone, I doubt we’ll see the time-wormholes they could generate ever return either. But it would be interesting to get to know a little more about how that technology worked – would it even have been possible for the USS Discovery to arrive earlier than Burnham? Burnham arrived on the planet Hima, and Discovery arrived near a planet called the Colony, so considering the wormhole had two different exit points it seems possible to me anyway!

Because of the one-year time skip, we didn’t get to see much of Burnham’s exploits with Book in the 32nd Century prior to Discovery’s arrival. It would have been interesting to see either Burnham or the crew trying to learn more about their new home and the origins of the Burn, because in some ways it could be argued that we as the audience arrived with the first part of a story already complete. I kind of want to see that part for myself – and maybe we will in flashbacks in future seasons!

Number 4: Lieutenant Detmer is going to die.

Lieutenant Detmer in People of Earth.

One of my hopes going into Season 3 was that Discovery would finally spend some time with other members of the crew, and I was pleased that it happened. After two full seasons I felt that we hadn’t really got to know anything about people like Owosekun, Rhys, and Detmer, despite their being permanent fixtures on the bridge. Though not all of the less-prominent officers got big storylines this season, one who did was Detmer.

In the episode Far From Home, Detmer was thrown from her seat following the ship’s crash-landing. Concussed, she was sent to sickbay where, after a once-over, she was patched up and returned to work. However, there were hints – at least, what I considered to be hints – that all was not well with Discovery’s helm officer, and I wondered if her first significant storyline might in fact be the setup to her death. There just seemed to be so much foreshadowing!

Detmer eventually survived the season.

Ultimately, however, Detmer’s storyline took a different path. I appreciate what it was trying to be – an examination of post-traumatic stress that ended with a positive and uplifting message showing Detmer “getting over it,” for want of a better expression – but because it wasn’t properly fleshed-out after Far From Home, with Detmer only given a handful of very brief scenes before her big turnaround in The Sanctuary, I just felt it was underdeveloped and didn’t quite hit the notes it wanted to. So despite a potentially interesting premise, the execution let this storyline down somewhat.

Especially after the way she was acting in Far From Home, I can’t have been the only one to predict an untimely end for Detmer! I heard several other theories that I considered to be very “out there,” such as Detmer’s implant being possessed by Control in the same manner as Ariam had been in Season 2, but I firmly believed the setup was foreshadowing her death due to injury rather than something of that nature. It’s probably good that it didn’t happen, as it leaves her a slightly more rounded character if the show wants to do more with her in future. However, there were several officers in the final trio of episodes who could’ve been killed off after the ship was captured by the Emerald Chain, including Detmer, and it feels somewhat like Discovery was playing it safe by not doing so. Aside from Ryn, no major hero characters lost their lives in Season 3, and while character deaths aren’t something I desperately want in a show like this, they can certainly raise the stakes.

Number 5: The Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager (or rather, a backup copy of him) will make an appearance.

The Doctor.

This was my most popular pre-season theory! I stuck with it practically the whole time, and branched out to include a handful of other characters from past iterations of Star Trek who could, in theory, still be alive by the 32nd Century. By the standards of my modest website, an absolutely huge number of you read this theory – and it continues to be popular even today, despite the season having concluded months ago. So I wasn’t the only one half-guessing, half-hoping that the Doctor might be included in Discovery!

The reason why I considered the Doctor to be one of the most plausible characters who could make an appearance is because of an episode from Voyager’s fourth season: Living Witness. In that episode, a backup copy of the Doctor was activated sometime in the 30th or 31st Centuries after being discovered among museum artefacts, and while the story was interesting in its own right and a critique of how things we consider to be “historical facts” can shift over time, what really interested me was its timeframe and its ending.

A picture of the Doctor seen at the end of Living Witness.

At the end of Living Witness, in a scene set even farther into the future, it was revealed that, after living with the Kyrians and Vaskans in the Delta Quadrant for decades, the Doctor eventually took a small ship and set out to try to reach Earth. If he had survived and completed his journey, he could’ve reached Earth in the years prior to the arrival of Burnham and Discovery. The timelines lined up for a possible crossover.

However, it wasn’t to be! Though we did see the return of the Guardian of Forever, which had originally appeared in The Original Series, no major characters from any other Star Trek show made an appearance. Perhaps the producers and writers felt that, with Seven of Nine carrying the torch for Voyager with her appearances in Season 1 of Picard, including a second main character from Voyager in a new show would’ve been too much, or at least that the timing was wrong. Regardless, I think it would’ve been amazing to see, and despite this theory failing to pan out in Season 3, it’s one I may very well bring back in time for Season 4!

Number 6: There will be a resolution to the story of the Short Treks episode Calypso.

Craft, the protagonist of Calypso.

Poor Calypso. I’m beginning to feel that the Short Treks episode is doomed to be a permanent outlier in the Star Trek canon, evidently connected to a version of Season 2 that never made it to screen. Broadcast in the months before Discovery’s second season, Calypso introduced us to Craft, a soldier from the far future fighting a war against the “V’draysh.” We also got to meet Zora, an AI who was the sole inhabitant of a long-abandoned USS Discovery.

Here’s where things get confusing. Season 3 saw some moves toward Calypso, including the apparent creation of Zora from a merger of the Sphere data with Discovery’s computer. The voice actress from Calypso even reprised her role, although the name “Zora” wasn’t mentioned. We also heard the villainous Zareh use the term “V’draysh” to refer to the rump Federation – seemingly confirming that Calypso must be set in roughly this same era.

The unmanned USS Discovery tows Craft’s pod.

However, we also saw some big moves away from Calypso as well. The most significant one is that the USS Discovery has undergone a refit. While this isn’t readily apparent from the ship’s interior – something I really hope changes in Season 4 – it was very apparent from the exterior of the ship. Calypso showed off a pre-refit Discovery, which means that resolving the story of this short episode feels further away than ever.

As I mentioned in the intro, it seems clear that Calypso was originally written with a different version of Season 2 in mind – perhaps even to serve as a kind of epilogue in the event that Season 2 would be Discovery’s last. Even going into Such Sweet Sorrow – the two-part finale of Season 2 – the possibility of hiding the ship in a nebula, as depicted in Calypso, existed, and with a few changes and tweaks to the season finale, Calypso would have been a natural epilogue to that story. That’s what I think happened on the production side of things, anyway. With the storyline of Season 2 up in the air, a somewhat ambiguous short episode was created to serve as a potential epilogue if the show was cancelled. Discovery wasn’t cancelled, though, and now the writers have to find a way to square this particularly tricky circle. Or they might just try to ignore it!

Number 7: The Spore Drive will become Starfleet’s new method of propulsion.

The USS Discovery making a Spore Drive jump.

When it became apparent that warp drive in the 32nd Century was very difficult due to the lack of dilithium and the aftereffects of the Burn, I thought the writers and producers of Discovery had played a masterstroke by finally finding a way for the show’s most controversial piece of technology to play a major role.

The Spore Drive, which was introduced in Season 1, received a mixed reaction from fans. Some insisted that it “violates canon” by allowing a 23rd Century starship to effectively travel anywhere in the galaxy, and others wondered why the technology had never been mentioned in settings where it would have logically been useful – such as to the crew of the USS Voyager, stranded tens of thousands of light-years from home! Though I would suggest that many of the fans who felt this way about the Spore Drive also had other gripes with Discovery, by pushing forward in time there was an opportunity to expand the role of the Spore Drive in a way that wouldn’t undermine anything in Star Trek’s established canon.

Captain Saru orders Black Alert and initiates a Spore Drive jump.

The dilithium shortage the galaxy is experiencing, made a hundred times worse by the Burn, seemed to offer an opportunity to expand the role of the Spore Drive. And at first, Starfleet did seem to be keen on making use of it. However, despite Discovery’s extensive retrofit, the Spore Drive remained aboard the ship and Starfleet seems to have made no attempt to copy it or roll it out to any of their other vessels. The huge planet-sized cache of dilithium in the Verubin Nebula has also solved – at least in the short-term – the galaxy’s fuel problem, so there’s less of a need from Starfleet’s perspective to invest in recreating the Spore Drive, despite its seemingly unlimited potential.

Perhaps this will be picked up in Season 4, especially with Book’s ability to use the Spore Drive getting around the last hurdle in the way of a broader rollout. There was potential, I felt, for the dilithium shortage and Burn storylines to parallel real world climate change and how we’re slowly running out of oil, but the Verubin Nebula’s dilithium planet kind of squashed any real-world analogy! Again, though, this is something that could potentially return in Season 4.

Number 8: Dr Issa is a descendant of Saru’s sister Siranna.

Dr Issa’s holographic message.

The Short Treks episode The Brightest Star was broadcast in between Seasons 1 and 2, and introduced us to Saru’s sister Siranna. She returned in Season 2, in the episodes The Sound of Thunder and Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2. In Season 3, the same actress who played Siranna also appeared as Dr Issa – the commander of the crashed Kelpien ship in the Verubin Nebula and the mother of Su’Kal.

Because of this production-side coincidence, as well as Saru’s incredibly strong reaction to seeing Dr Issa in holographic form, I speculated that Dr Issa could be a descendant of Siranna, and thus a great-great-niece to Saru. That familial tie could have explained why Saru found himself so emotionally compromised during the final few episodes of the season, and why he risked everything to help Su’Kal.

It seemed that Saru was seeing something more in Dr Issa than just a fellow Kelpien.

However, it seems that this was little more than casting coincidence! Perhaps it was easier for the producers to work with someone who was already familiar with the Kelpiens – and Kelpien prosthetic makeup – instead of casting a new actress for the role. Or perhaps it was deliberate – presenting Saru with someone superficially similar to Siranna to push him emotionally. Regardless, this theory didn’t pan out.

It could have been interesting to see Saru coming face-to-face with a distant relative, and it could’ve added to the Su’Kal storyline. However, in the time allotted to Saru’s exploits in the Verubin Nebula, it would have been difficult to add this additional emotional element and have it properly developed, so perhaps it’s for the best!

Number 9: The holographic “monster” is either Dr Issa or the real Su’Kal.

The holographic “monster.”

The episode Su’Kal pushed hard for a creepy “haunted castle” aesthetic when depicting Su’Kal’s holographic world, and a big part of that was the holographic “monster.” The monster seemed like a very odd inclusion in a holo-programme designed for a young child, and even though an attempt was made to excuse it by saying it was an old Kelpien legend, I wasn’t convinced that there wasn’t something else going on.

Additionally, the monster didn’t behave or appear like any of the other decaying holograms. After decades of continuous use, Su’Kal’s holographic world was falling apart. Many of the holograms were flickering or fading, and they were quite basic in what they could say or do. In contrast, the monster moved with a natural, organic fluidity, and didn’t flicker or appear in any way artificial – even as the holographic world disintegrated around it.

The monster turned out to be just part of the holo-programme.

The Verubin Nebula’s radiation was said to be fatal, but in horror and sci-fi radiation is often seen to cause mutations. Given the monster’s vaguely Kelpien appearance and dishevelled, decrepit, morbid look, I wondered if it was actually the real Su’Kal – or Dr Issa – having mutated and decayed after decades in the hostile nebula. The final piece of evidence I added to this little pile was the strange way that the monster interacted with Burnham in the episode Su’Kal – it seemed curious about her, perceiving her in a way I thought was almost human.

Despite all of that, however, the monster turned out to be exactly what the crew believed it to be: just another part of the holo-programme. This theory was quite “out there,” as it would’ve been a big twist on what we as the audience were expecting. There were hints that I felt could have built up the monster to be something more, but ultimately these turned out to be red herrings!

Number 10: Season 3 is taking place in an alternate timeline or parallel universe.

“An alternate reality?”

Over the course of the first two-thirds or so of Season 3, there seemed to be breadcrumbs that at least hinted at the possibility that Burnham and Discovery had crossed over to a parallel universe or alternate timeline. The biggest one was the initial absence of Dr Gabrielle Burnham, but there was also the strange piece of music that seemed to be connected to the Burn, the fact that the time-wormhole didn’t take Burnham and the ship to their intended destination of Terralysium, and a couple of hints from Voyager (as mentioned above) and Enterprise that could have been interpreted to mean the Burn never happened in the timeline depicted in those older shows.

There was also the possibility that the Burn was caused by the interference of time travellers. The resolution to that storyline could have been for Burnham and Discovery to go back in time and prevent the Burn from ever happening – restoring the “true” timeline and undoing the Burn. Both of these theories seemed plausible for much of the season.

It seemed possible, for a time, that Discovery Season 3 was taking place in a parallel universe.

I’m glad, though, that neither theory came to pass! “It’s a parallel universe” is almost akin to “it was all a dream” in terms of being a pretty lazy excuse for storylines in sci-fi, and the idea of undoing the Burn, while interesting in theory, would have effectively wiped out all of the good deeds Saru, Burnham, and the crew did across Season 3, like helping the peoples of Trill, Earth, Ni’Var, and Kwejian. So it was to the show’s overall benefit to stick firmly to the prime timeline.

Doing so is actually rather bold. Discovery took Star Trek to some very different thematic places in Season 3, largely thanks to the Burn and its lingering effects, and I could understand the temptation to brush all of that aside. We still got some parallel universe action in the two-part episode Terra Firma, which revisited the Mirror Universe. With the Burn now in the rear-view mirror and Discovery moving on to new adventures, perhaps it will be possible for Star Trek to establish the 32nd Century as a major new setting, allowing Discovery Season 3 to be the springboard for a host of new shows and films.

So that’s it. Ten of my worst Discovery Season 3 theories!

I had some pretty significant theory misses last season!

Though we can debate some of the story points across Season 3 – and I still haven’t written my big piece about the Burn yet – overall I think Season 3 did a good job of establishing the show in its new setting. The Burn presented a tantalising mystery to solve, and for the first time in the series, it felt as though more members of the crew had significant roles to play in the season’s main storylines.

With Burnham having ascended to the captain’s chair, and a new threat seemingly having reared its head, Season 4 is going to take Discovery to different places yet again. And if there are theories to be crafted – and I daresay there will be – I’ll be writing them up! Even though a lot of the theories I came up with in Season 3 didn’t pan out, I had a blast thinking them up and writing them down. At the end of the day, it’s an excuse to spend more time thinking and talking about Star Trek.

So I hope this look back was a bit of fun! Stay tuned, because as and when we get news about Season 4 I’ll be taking a look here on the website, and when the season premieres later this year I’ll be reviewing every episode… and probably coming up with a few more theories!

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

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 3, Episode 11: Su’kal

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, Star Trek: Picard, and for other iterations of the franchise.

Until three days before its broadcast, Su’kal went by the title The Citadel. It wasn’t immediately obvious why the name was changed – or why the producers at ViacomCBS felt a need to conceal that fact. After all, they let us know every other episode title before the season premiered, even spoiler-ish ones like Unification III. So it was a bit of a surprise to learn that we’d be watching Su’kal this week!

The twopart episode Terra Firma largely took us away from progressing the overall story of the season and focused on the departure of Mirror Georgiou to a still-unknown destination. With only three episodes left before the season is over, Discovery really needed to begin bringing its storylines together and wrapping them up, lest it repeat the mistake made by Star Trek: Picard earlier in the year and rush through a lot of potentially interesting plots. This was the moment where the season needed to enter its endgame, and for better or worse it seems to have done so.

Discovery finally took us to the Verubin Nebula after a few episodes of doing other things.

My first thought when the credits rolled was “hmm.” What had we all just watched? The two major storylines both had ups and downs, and we’ll have to deal with them in turn. I liked the idea of the holographic world. Both as an interesting setting and as a metaphor for isolation – something many people dealing with mental health issues will experience – it worked very well. Tilly sitting in the captain’s chair for the first time was great to see, and we can see why she was chosen ahead of, for example, Stamets to serve as first officer given that the conflict with Osyraa needed someone less experienced at the conn. I also liked the standoff between Discovery and Osyraa’s ship; it had a familar feel that anyone who’s seen the Battle of the Mutara Nebula in The Wrath of Khan can appreciate.

Now let’s get into the big disappointments. Discovery being captured so easily by Osyraa, whose ship had been simple to defeat a couple of episodes ago, was poor. Yes, it showed how Tilly’s inexperience at the conn was an issue, but even then it felt too easy. Osyraa’s ship, with its ability to transport huge numbers of troops and its weird grappling arms, just felt overpowered. Next – and I will admit this is perhaps more of a personal pet peeve – the cliched story of “the heroes’ ship/base is captured” just doesn’t really work for me. It’s annoying more than anything, and since we know Tilly, Burnham, and the crew will retake the ship it just feels like forced tension.

Discovery was very easily captured by Osyraa.

Now we come to the point of the season, and the main storyline which underpins all of the others: the Burn. If Burnham and Culber are correct in their assessment of Su’kal, he caused the Burn telepathically when his fears destabilised dilithium across the known galaxy. Though my initial reaction to that was some form of “what the actual fuck,” I’m prepared to wait and see what the next two episodes have in store, and whether they can better explain how this happened. Burnham and Culber’s analysis of the situation was short, and if all the explanation we’re going to get is some technobabble about dilithium and DNA cells in an unborn child, I think that’s poor.

But I’m hopeful that won’t be the entirety of the explanation that we get! The Burn had been set up across the season (and even before if you count the trailers) as a huge mystery, something galactic in scale. Perhaps the reason this answer feels like such a non sequitur – aside from the fact that it only consisted of a couple of lines from Burnham and Culber in the midst of a bigger crisis – is that the explanation for this colossal apocalyptic event being a mentally ill man with the mind of a child is some combination of anticlimactic and small.

A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it line from Dr Culber surely cannot be all the explanation we get for how Su’kal caused the Burn.

Huge events in fiction typically need causes that are comparable in scale, and there’s a disparity between the truly epic, cataclysmic nature of the Burn and Su’kal, a mentally challenged man who’s led a horrible life trapped in a weird educational holoprogramme. That’s before we get into the frankly upsetting real-world implications of this metaphor: a mentally ill person ruining the galaxy.

When dealing with significant events, we can typically point to powerful characters or forces of nature setting those events in motion. We can point to Sauron in The Lord of the Rings, for example, or Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars. Or we could look at the zombie virus in The Walking Dead as a force of nature – a powerful, planet-wide force. Su’kal doesn’t fit the bill, and while the idea of the Burn being something accidental rather than something intentional like a weapon may indeed be a good one – and one I’d support – this particular way of explaining it feels like an anticlimax right now.

Su’kal – the cause of the Burn?

On the other hand, if this is the explanation for the Burn, it would be in line with certain other Star Trek stories. The V’ger probe in The Motion Picture was similarly described as “a child” as it caused chaos en route to Earth. The Star Trek franchise has always been about exploring the unknown and offering help – and Su’kal clearly needs the Federation’s help.

Any time a mystery is created in an ongoing story, there’s a risk of the explanation jarring with what some members of the audience expected. I’m not criticising Su’kal from that point of view, though – or at least I’m consciously trying not to. I’m not saying that the Burn needs to have some other explanation, like one of the ones I postulated before the season began. What I am saying, though, is that if this is all the explanation we’re going to get – that Su’kal’s body somehow adapted, connecting him on a quantum level to dilithium, and that he accidentally caused the Burn as a child while upset – it feels anticlimactic.

We’re being asked to buy into a story that says one mentally ill person caused all of this destruction.

The discovery of the Verubin Nebula and its dilithium planet is likewise a little odd. This is perhaps more of a nitpick, but in the 32nd Century, when the Federation and other spacefaring cultures have had a millennium to explore and chart the galaxy, how could they have been unaware of this dilithium nursery/dilithium planet? A few weeks ago I wrote that the discovery of a huge cache of dilithium at the end of the season, allowing the Federation to get back on its feet and rebuild, could feel like a deus ex machina – and that’s kind of how this planet feels right now. The story from here seems predictable: save or neutralise Su’kal to prevent another Burn, use the dilithium planet to power the Federation and Starfleet, and retake Discovery from Osyraa.

There may be twists and turns along the way, but that seems to be the direction of travel. Simplifying a story as it approaches its end is inevitable, perhaps, but coupled with what I have to call an unsatisfying explanation for the Burn, it risks the end of the season feeling formulaic. Having made those criticisms, two caveats: there are still two episodes to go in which the Burn’s explanation can be padded out or even changed entirely, and if this is the real explanation for what happened, it avoids many of the pitfalls I feared a 32nd Century post-apocalyptic story would. It isn’t as epic in scope as perhaps I was hoping, nor does it seem to connect to other iterations of the franchise. But it is a very “Star Trek” way for an apocalyptic event to play out.

The titular Su’kal seems to have caused the Burn.

By that I mean it’s closer to some stories from The Original Series or even The Animated Series in terms of pure science-fantasy. Su’kal being the cause of the Burn because he has some kind of telepathic link to dilithium is a weird story, and that weirdness and quirkiness is what made many fans – myself included – fall in love with Star Trek to begin with. So I’m hot and cold on the Burn right now, as you can tell. I’m not 100% convinced that it’s the right way for this story to conclude, given that it’s taken us eleven weeks to get here and the Burn has been presented as this epic cataclysm with mysterious origins. But as a pure Star Trek story, I can’t deny that it works.

If you’re a regular around here, perhaps you’ve read my methodology. If not, you can find it via the menu at the top (top-right on mobiles). To make a long story short, I never read other reviews before writing my own, and I do my best to avoid any and all critical opinion and even responses by people involved with whatever I’m reviewing until I’ve got my own piece published. So I have no idea if I’m alone in my feelings about Su’kal offering an unsatisfying end to the season’s biggest mystery or not.

Is this how the Burn happened?

I feel like I’ve deconstructed the titular Su’kal and his relationship with the Burn as much as I’m able to at this stage. Like several ongoing storylines that saw major developments in Su’kal, my thoughts on this point can and likely will shift depending on the way that the remainder of the story progresses. So let’s look at a few other points from the episode.

Tilly becoming first officer was a point of contention in earlier episodes, and I do understand that. While I defended Saru’s reasoning at the time, as he felt Tilly had adapted best to the future which was a significant consideration in his XO search, what I’d say now is that that storyline feels as if it was constructed deliberately to reach a specific goal. The first part of that goal is, as we saw this week, the capture of Discovery by Osyraa, which we’re to understand came about in part through Tilly’s inexperience. But there may be a further plan for this storyline – effectively cornering Saru and forcing him to reinstate Burnham as first officer.

Tilly in command.

So what we got with Tilly this week was a deeply emotional and very touching scene between her and Burnham. As Saru prepared to lead the away team, it was her turn in the big chair for the first time, and she was nervous. Burnham tried to comfort her, and in this moment she was back to the older, more nervous character from earlier episodes. A lot of us have been nervous or anxious about taking on a big task, and Tilly’s reaction to what was going on was very human.

Likewise, the scene where she took the captain’s chair for the first time was also very well done. Though clearly still nervous she sat down for the first time with determination – and with a plan for what to say and do. She handled herself well, and she clearly had the respect of the other officers on the bridge. But there was a different kind of respect that they showed Tilly compared to Saru, or past commanding officers like Pike. Tilly was almost being treated as a child, judging by some of their expressions: “aww, it’s so sweet they’re letting her have a go in the big chair,” some of their faces seemed to say. While the crew followed their orders, there was a sense among some on the bridge – at least in the moment Tilly assumed command – that they didn’t hold her to the same standards as Saru or Pike.

Tilly regards the captain’s chair.

When confronted by Osyraa, Tilly played a role comparable to Sulu in Star Trek Into Darkness – sitting in the big chair for the first time talking to an enemy. In Sulu’s case he was broadcasting a message to someone rather than having a two-way conversation, but like many things in modern Star Trek I appreciate the symmetry that exists between wholly different stories.

As I said, though, the ultimate payoff to this storyline was Osyraa’s incredibly easy capture of the ship. We can argue that Su’kal’s telepathic tantrum damaged all the ship’s systems and thus probably knocked the shields down, which is how Osyraa’s goons could so easily beam over. But as a point of drama, the standoff between the ships was far too short before we got to this point. When Detmer took Book’s ship and completely disabled Osyraa’s flagship a couple of weeks ago, Osyraa’s flagship was shown to be big but flawed, and Osyraa herself made no moves against Discovery. This time, she was able to defeat Discovery in seconds using powers we’d never seen her vessel have before. There were low stakes at the beginning of the engagement – because Detmer had so easily beaten her using Book’s ship a few weeks ago – and thus Osyraa’s victory seems to come from nowhere.

Osyraa’s flagship proved a very difficult opponent… this time.

If we had seen some more of her ship before Su’kal to know what its capabilities were, that feeling would not persist. But despite its vaguely menacing appearance, the only time we encountered Osyraa before this episode showed her ship to be vulnerable even to Book’s glorified shuttlecraft. The turnaround was only explained by a single line from Osyraa, as she claimed to have fixed the vulnerability Detmer had exploited – but that just wasn’t good enough, in my opinion.

There’s also the big question of how Osyraa came to know about the Spore Drive. This seems to have happened entirely off screen, and while it may be shown in a flashback later on, it’s something we as the audience needed to know. What is Osyraa’s plan now she has control of Discovery? What will she use the Spore Drive for? Who told her about it/how did she find out? None of these points were touched on, and while we can construct theories based on Book’s macguffin from last week that concerned Admiral Vance, nothing was explained on screen in a satisfactory way.

Discovery jumped to the Verubin Nebula with its Spore Drive.

As this is an ongoing story, these points may be addressed, and if so I will gladly withdraw my criticisms. But right now it feels like Osyraa knew about the Spore Drive almost by magic – she even knew its name, despite having never heard of it the last time we met her. She also managed to turn her ship from an easily-beaten wreck into an invincible powerhouse and defeat Discovery with a snap of her fingers. And after all that, we don’t know her intentions. There are too many unknowns for the stakes to feel particularly high.

I mentioned at the start that this storyline – the heroes’ ship being captured – has never been one I enjoyed, and that’s a factor in how I feel about Su’kal too. I tend to feel that any time a story goes down this route the ending is usually known, and as a result the drama and tension just feel forced. Whereas we could see any one of a hundred different endings to Su’kal’s story or even Georgiou’s Mirror Universe story over the last couple of weeks, it’s obvious that Burnham and Book will retake the ship from Osyraa, just as it’s obvious in any comparable story that the heroes will reclaim their starship or base. It’s not exactly a cliché, but it’s a basic narrative that I’ve seen play out dozens of times at this point – including within Star Trek.

These stories have never been a favourite of mine.

Enough about Tilly, Discovery, and Osyraa for now. The sequences set in Su’kal’s home were interesting. The setting itself was reminiscent of the castle Captain Pike encountered on Rigel VII – as seen in Star Trek’s original pilot, The Cage. Castles and Star Trek have an association going back a very long time, and the dark, abandoned castle – with a monster to boot – gave the sequences set there a very creepy, almost horror vibe.

The cinematography for some of these scenes was outstanding, too, and shots of the fortress and its surrounding landscape were beautiful and immersive. There were some amazing overhead angles that gave the stepped structure a deeply confusing feeling, one which helped us get into the mindset of Burnham, Culber, and Saru.

Some of the shots here were beautiful. The set design and animation work were absolutely outstanding.

Speaking of the away team, the choice of makeup was interesting. Having Burnham and Culber be a Trill and Bajoran respectively really didn’t do much, and in a lot of scenes where they were seen from a distance the makeup wasn’t even noticeable. Saru being portrayed as human, however, was far more visually interesting, and the reveal of Doug Jones without makeup was perhaps the biggest shock moment of the whole episode. Everything about that moment was perfectly set up, from Burnham and Culber noting their appearances first to build up the mystery to Saru’s voice being heard before the camera panned to him. It was a very well-constructed moment.

Within the story, though, I’m sorry to say it makes no sense. Saru is a Kelpien; a species Su’kal is obviously familiar with as he has at least one Kelpien hologram – the Elder. Likewise we saw human holos within the programme, and since Burnham and Culber’s physical appearances were not changed to copy pre-existing holograms, I don’t know what reason there is for changing their appearances in this minimal way. Nor do I understand why – aside from reasons of dramatic effect – the away team’s radiation burns were visible on their holographic bodies.

It feels like the choice of making Saru human was just there for surprise value.

If the roles of Burnham, Culber, and Saru were to be played by three different actors for this story, actors who also took on the roles of three holograms within Su’kal’s programme, I could understand it more. It wouldn’t be good to have this crucial moment acted out by different folks, but it would make sense in-universe, because the programmer of Su’kal’s world would have intended his rescuers to assume a familiar form. But the way it was done here was just odd, and I can only assume it was done for the sake of that one shocking moment – revealing Saru in his human guise. Constructing a story point off of one moment seldom works, and while it was interesting (at least, at first) to see these three characters in different makeup, as a story point I don’t get why it had to happen.

It also arguably detracts from Saru’s storyline, which seems to be building to an emotional climax. This is the first Kelpien he’s met since he left the 23rd Century, and there’s also the open question of a possible familial connection via Dr Issa. Saru being distracted by all things Kelpien is affecting his judgement, and this is a storyline worth pursuing. However, having Doug Jones essentially be out of costume is detracting from that. While it was visually interesting at first, it risks getting in the way of the story as it comes to a head. It’s possible that there may be a moment where Saru snaps out of the way he’s feeling due to being in this human guise, which if well-written could work and would be a payoff of sorts. Discovery tends not to do things randomly – somehow there may well be a reason why the away team ended up in these bodies. It’s just difficult to see right now, and the question of whether it will work as intended is up in the air.

Saru in his human disguise.

Burnham’s work with Su’kal was sweet, and she seemed to be beginning to find a way to get through to him. Saru asked her to remain because of her training in xenoanthropology, but just as she accused him of being distracted by Su’kal, I would argue that she is equally distracted from the mission by Book – she wanted to get back to him, because within the nebula he is in danger. She did seem to make some progress with Su’kal before he cut her off – but is that the real Su’kal?

I’ll save the bulk of this discussion for my theory post, but here goes: the “monster” that inhabits the holodeck is vaguely Kelpien in appearance, and also looks older. Its decayed body could be a result of radiation exposure, and when the monster met Burnham, it seemed to react to her in an almost-human manner – by which I mean, not like a programmed machine. The character we’re calling Su’kal is far too young to be 125 years old – or at least appears to be too young – and no suitable explanation has been given for this. So my pet theory right now is that the “monster” is the real life sign that Burnham and the crew identified before beaming down.

Is this a holographic monster… or Su’kal?

I don’t know for sure if that will pan out, or how it could be made to fit, but it seems interesting so I’ll go into more detail next time. There were a few other little moments in Su’kal that I thought were worth pointing out, such as the little robots being identified as “DOTs” for the first time outside of the Short Treks episode Ephraim and Dot. That was a sweet little inclusion. I also liked seeing Adira and Gray back together, as well as Gray giving Adira the confidence boost they needed to make their first big independent move since joining the crew.

Speaking of Adira, Stamets’ line to them at the beginning about he and Culber coming as a “package deal” was cute, and ties in with the parental theme going on with the three of them. Stamets has gone out of his way to help Adira since they joined the crew, even talking to the unseen Gray – whenever he does that I’m reminded of a parent talking to their child’s imaginary friend. Stamets feels protective of Adira, and helping them settle in has been an unexpectedly sweet turn for his character.

Gray and Adira in Su’kal.

So there we are. That was Su’kal, an episode which will have to be revisited in context once we know the overall outcome of the season’s big storylines. It can be difficult to fairly judge one section from the middle of a story – it’s like trying to review chapter ten of a thirteen-chapter novel – because Su’kal cannot be taken as a standalone piece of television. That said, it’s an episode which made significant developments and perhaps set up one or two more mysteries.

I’m troubled by the fault for the Burn lying with a mentally disabled man. Mental health and learning disabilities are already the subject of considerable stigma in our society today, and while on some fronts that is improving, we still have a long way to go. The episode The End is the Beginning from Star Trek: Picard showed a very crude stereotype of “mentally ill people” earlier in the year, and laying the fault of the Burn at Su’kal’s feet seems to continue an unfortunate theme in this year’s Star Trek productions. It almost feels as though the writers have picked on an easy target in Su’kal.

As mentioned, there are different ways the story could pan out from here. I briefly explained one theory I have about Su’kal, but there are different paths the story could take over the next couple of weeks before the season ends. I’m cautiously interested to see more; I do want a resolution to the Burn, but it needs to be a satisfying one – and ideally one that doesn’t stigmatise people.

Star Trek: Discovery is available to stream on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 3, Episode 8: The Sanctuary

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, Star Trek: Picard, and other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

After a disappointing episode a couple of weeks ago, and a follow-up last week that was middle-of-the-road at best, I was hoping that Jonathan Frakes’ second outing as director this season would give Discovery’s third season the boost that it needed. Frakes has directed some of my all-time favourite Star Trek episodes, including some of Discovery’s best in earlier seasons, so there was reason for hope as I sat down to watch The Sanctuary.

I’m trying to see past some of Discovery’s flaws as it pertains to Michael Burnham and be more empathetic to the show’s main character. I’ve recently written an article all about Luke Skywalker’s characterisation in the film The Last Jedi, and while the characters are certainly very different, one thing I’m keenly aware of is the need for empathy – and that extends to fictional characters too, even those who have flaws and failings. Maybe I’ve been a little too quick to jump on Burnham for making mistakes, and even too harsh in some of my criticisms. I’ll certainly try to keep that in mind as Discovery Season 3 rolls on.

Burnham in The Sanctuary.

So on to The Sanctuary. It was a really great episode, with an engaging collection of story threads which brought together elements from across Season 3. Part of the episode – the journey to Book’s homeworld – was relatively standalone, but other aspects which looked at the Burn and the Emerald Chain connect to ongoing stories across the season as a whole.

The only weak aspect of The Sanctuary was its villain: the Emerald Chain’s leader, Osyraa. While she may see further development in future episodes, this week she felt flat, one-dimensional, and really just a villain stereotype. Her scene at the beginning when she executed her nephew for allowing Ryn to escape set that up, and it continued through her threats to Saru and Book’s brother Kyheem later in the episode.

Based on her single appearance so far, Osyraa is not a compelling villain.

A well-written antagonist is important, and finding a way to give villains understandable motivations beyond “I’m evil and I love it” is something Discovery has consistently struggled with. Its Mirror Universe and Klingon antagonists in Season 1 fell victim to this trope, as did Control in Season 2 to an extent. None had their backgrounds or motivations sufficiently fleshed-out, and where motivation did exist – as in the case of the Klingons – it didn’t really make a lot of sense. It would seem that the Emerald Chain, at least from what we’ve seen of its leadership, are basically just over-inflated playground bullies who don’t really have any specific goals or motivations beyond acquiring wealth, power, and, as we’ll learn in The Sanctuary, dilithium.

After Osyraa kills her nephew, we get a scene aboard Discovery when Book chases down Burnham to tell her he needs to return to his homeworld. We learn a little more about Book in The Sanctuary, and it would seem that he isn’t human – despite appearances. I had speculated for a while what the source of his abilities could be, including that he could have a synthetic origin in a storyline that would connect with Star Trek: Picard. While technically that could still come true, it seems that he is, in fact, a native of the planet Kwejian.

Burnham and Book talk aboard Discovery, kicking off the main storyline of The Sanctuary.

I wish we’d spent a little more time with Book in previous episodes to better-inform his moment at the end of The Sanctuary. We’ve known Book to be independent-minded and to have been unimpressed with the Federation overall, and those aspects of his character have been present since we met him at the beginning of the season. However, there have been several episodes where Book was entirely absent, and seeing a little more of his individualism and anti-Federation sentiments would have perhaps made the moment where he seemed to recognise the good that Starfleet can do more impactful. It was certainly a powerful, emotional moment as he explained his change of heart to Burnham, especially after seeing him unsettled aboard Discovery last week; he seemed only to be there for Burnham’s sake. However, it could have been even more than it was had we spent a little more time with him in the episodes leading up to this point.

After his scene at the beginning of last week’s episode felt so rushed, I was pleased to see Admiral Vance was back on form. When considering whether or not to allow Discovery to jump to Kwejian he has to take a lot into account. Not only is Discovery one of only a handful of ships at his disposal, but the Spore Drive is a valuable – and vulnerable – piece of technology. Despite Discovery’s retrofit it’s still a 23rd Century vessel at its core, crewed by people who are still new to this era. Engaging in a confrontation with an enemy vessel is not something he could countenance, and after he acted so rashly last week I’m glad to see him taking some time to consider the options before sanctioning Discovery’s mission.

Admiral Vance was back on form.

Also set up at the beginning of the episode was Dr Culber’s investigation into Mirror Georgiou’s mysterious blackouts. It was clever to have Dr Culber try to talk his way around Georgiou, but my complaints about her being a dull character haven’t really been addressed. She’s undergoing – presumably at her own initiative – a medical examination, yet for the duration seems unable to stop quipping one-liners about how she used to be a killing machine.

This storyline is an opportunity for the flat, boring Georgiou to get out of her comfort zone, and while she did – at least in terms of the setting she was in – the way she acted hasn’t changed. There was a flash of vulnerability and of perhaps reaching for help in Scavengers, but that theme wasn’t continued this time. If Georgiou was trying to mask the way she feels, she did a good job. I understand the feeling that medical exams and questions are invasive, but the way she reacted to it was too much of the old one-dimensional Georgiou and failed to really offer anything different to us as the audience. It may have been in-character from a narrative point of view, but that doesn’t always make for good television, and there were other ways she could have remained in-character but been more interesting. The storyline itself, however, was interesting, and comes to a shocking climax later in the episode.

Giving Georgiou a medical problem is a potentially interesting turn of events for her character.

After Discovery arrives at Kwejian, I greatly enjoyed Saru’s line to Book and Burnham. He tells Book that he has “no authority” over him or what he does, while at the same time giving Burnham her orders. This line made clear that, despite their dispute and Burnham’s demotion, she’s still under his command. After Burnham seemed to have her breakthrough last week in how she feels about Starfleet, she’s okay with that.

One thing that hasn’t really been addressed for two weeks now is the damaged relationship between Saru and Burnham. They’re both being professional on the surface, of course, but they haven’t had any time together to discuss what happened. Saru has not only allowed Burnham to retain her role as chief science officer – and her rank of commander – but when she needed backing up in front of Admiral Vance, was firmly in favour of allowing Discovery to jump to Kwejian. Beginning to repair their relationship on-screen is something I hope we see in future episodes, rather than just working on the assumption that everything will get back to normal.

Saru on the bridge with Burnham in the background.

The Sanctuary also followed up last week’s acquisition of the SB-19 data. Adira and Stamets get to work on analysing it, and are developing an interesting dynamic that’s both friendly and somewhat parental, and the two actors – despite their age difference – have good on-screen chemistry.

The SB-19 data did eventually help pinpoint the source of the Burn – as Burnham hoped it would – but she herself was absent from the moment of victory; away with Book on Kwejian. Having complained for several weeks that “no characters other than Burnham ever get to advance the main plot,” it was actually really interesting to see Tilly, Saru, Stamets, and Adira as they found the source of the Burn. Burnham had set this up, but her on-screen presence has a tendency to overwhelm other characters, especially at important points in the story. Taking her wholly out of this moment was an interesting choice, and it’s one which worked. In fact, as of the end of The Sanctuary, it isn’t even clear if Burnham knows the source has been found.

Saru, Tilly, and Adira find the source of the Burn without Burnham.

So there were several story threads this week, and any time Star Trek attempts to do more than two or three in a single episode there can be a sense that some don’t get as much development or screen time as the others. I’m pleased to say that wasn’t the case in The Sanctuary, and the different story threads all wove together to create an episode that was exciting to watch, and one in which no narrative element felt under-appreciated.

Book has been summoned to Kwejian by his “brother” – not a biological brother, but rather someone with whom he was close in his youth. Kyheem has been working with the Emerald Chain, trading the tranceworms that Book has been saving with Osyraa for macguffin repellent to keep Kwejian’s crops safe from parasitic “sea locusts.” This setup was interesting, and reinforces the idea of the Emerald Chain being a kind of protection racket, but at the same time I have to ask why, in the 32nd Century, are crops and a harvest so important? These people clearly have a decent level of technology – judging from Kyheem’s home and Book’s ship – yet they have no replicators and must rely on crops? Star Trek has never been entirely consistent in how technology was portrayed, but I feel we could have used more background to Kwejian to know why they don’t have access to technological solutions to their food problems. Perhaps it’s Burn-related, but that’s a guess rather than anything confirmed on screen.

The troublesome sea locusts.

Book and Burnham walked into a trap. They were taken captive by Kyheem – Book’s brother – who had conspired with Osyraa to lead Book and Ryn to Kwejian. For the first time in Discovery’s third season, I found myself underwhelmed by the filming location chosen for Kwejian. Though not as bad as some of the obviously-California locations used in Star Trek: Picard, the forest setting didn’t feel particularly otherworldly, and for the relatively short outdoor sequences on its surface I’m sure a better set or stage could have been constructed.

Kyheem was an interesting character, clearly torn between helping his planet and not wanting to see his brother harmed, despite the conflict that has existed between them. Both he and Saru found themselves in comparable positions with Osyraa, and handled themselves in comparable ways. Neither Kyheem nor Saru were willing to surrender someone Osyraa demanded, despite the consequences of failing to comply.

Kyheem was an interesting character.

Tilly’s first assignment as XO appears to be helping Saru in a “personal matter” – figuring out a catch phrase to say on the bridge. I can see this being a point of criticism, and while it was certainly silly and a little bit of fan-service, I thought it was a bit of fun. Picard had “make it so,” Pike notably had “hit it,” and Saru wants to put his own stamp on the captaincy. It was cute, and Doug Jones played it well; the slightly nervous, unsure captain trying out something new. The reactions of Nilsson and Bryce in particular were funny, and I continue to appreciate that some of Discovery’s secondary characters have more of a presence this season than in past seasons.

Saru tries out “execute,” which is… interesting. And it definitely got a reaction! He also tries out “carry on,” which was less effective. I don’t expect these to be a major part of the show or his character going forward, but the couple of moments which dealt with Saru picking a catch-phrase added some much-needed lightness to what can be a tense and dramatic series. Star Trek has always had these kinds of moments, and it worked well here.

“Carry on!”

The Sanctuary also seems to have wrapped up Detmer’s character arc. After being injured in her first appearance of the season, Detmer’s storyline took her down a route that touched on mental health and post-traumatic stress. Through a handful of scenes across the last five or six episodes we’ve seen her struggle, seen her closest friends rally to support her, and seen her come to terms with needing help. This week she appears to finally overcome her lingering issue, taking control of Book’s ship in the climactic fight against Osyraa’s flagship.

If, in future episodes, we see more of Detmer, I will gladly retract what I’m about to say, but if this is as far as it goes I don’t believe it accomplished what the writers intended. Star Trek has never shied away from looking at complex emotional issues, and in general I’m incredibly supportive of portraying mental health in fiction. But Detmer’s storyline – again, if this is the end of it – has not been given enough screen time to tackle the difficult subject it raised. Instead what we’re given is an incredibly oversimplified presentation of mental health: a problem arising from circumstances (the crash-landing and the journey into the future), struggling alone, asking for help, and then a resolution as she realises she can still be a good pilot. For a story that unfolded over six episodes it’s hardly fair to call it “rushed,” but if you were to add up every scene involving Detmer that even touched on her mental health across Season 3, thus far it wouldn’t total more than a few minutes. And that’s all this storyline can really be said to have done: touched on the issue of mental health.

Detmer manually piloting Book’s ship.

Since we’re talking about Detmer and her attack run on Osyraa’s ship, I have a couple of points I wanted to bring up that admittedly stray into nitpicking territory. The first is that it seems patently obvious that Osyraa and the Emerald Chain will not believe that Detmer acted alone, and will treat the attack on their flagship as an attack by Starfleet. Osyraa strongly implied this at the end of the episode, but it should have been obvious to all involved from the start. Book’s ship was launched from Discovery’s hangar, and even if Osyraa didn’t know who the pilot was – or assumed it was Ryn – that fact alone makes it clear that it was a Starfleet-mandated attack, and any argument Saru or Vance might have to say it was a rogue officer will surely be disregarded.

Secondly, having crippled Osyraa’s flagship, would it not have made more sense to either destroy it or take her and her crew prisoner? They did, after all, attack a planet. Osyraa is currently being presented as the new “big bad” of the season, and if she comes back with a vengeance in a future episode, this will seem all the more like a missed opportunity. Saru had her in his sights; a volley of well-aimed torpedoes from the upgraded Discovery could have finished off her flagship. There’s a lot we don’t know about the Emerald Chain, and we have to assume they have more than one ship. However, the organisation has been presented so far as one with a strong cult of personality around its leader, and there may not be an obvious replacement had Osyraa been killed or captured. Cutting the head off the snake, to use an old analogy, may well cripple the entire organisation, and Saru missed a golden opportunity to do so.

Having damaged Osyraa’s flagship, Saru could have moved in to finish it off or capture her.

Though Discovery has, at times, played fast and loose with Star Trek’s wider canon, it’s always built on past events within the show itself. We get another example of that here, when the ultimate resolution to Kwejian’s locust plague used the same principle as when Captain Pike came to the aid of the Kelpiens in Season 2. Book and Kyheem’s empathic signal was amplified, driving the locusts back into the sea. It’s always interesting to see these moments pop up, and it worked well here – even if it harkened back to a storyline I wasn’t entirely sold on back in Season 2!

We learned Book’s birth name: Tareckx. This ties in with the – unstated but strongly implied – assertion the episode makes that, despite his adopted name, he isn’t human after all. This aspect of Book may yet be further explored, in which case I will, again, perhaps need to make a retraction! But I’m not sure that this semi-revelation actually achieved very much. We still don’t know what a Kwejian native is; are they a totally different species, descendants of human colonists, or even (as I’ve suggested before) synthetic? Book has been a mysterious character in some ways since his first appearance at the beginning of the season, but if the answer to the “Book question” is just that he’s a humanoid alien from another planet… it just seems anticlimactic, and the way it was treated in The Sanctuary doesn’t help matters. Why not have simply explained it up front instead of setting up something presented as a big mystery that ultimately went nowhere?

Book… formerly known as Tareckx.

One thing I absolutely loved, and I felt was perfectly handled within the story, was Adira’s moment of coming out as non-binary. As I said when Adira made their first appearance, one’s gender identity should not be an issue in Star Trek’s enlightened future, and as Adira came out to Stamets he reacted just as I hoped anyone would in the 23rd, 24th, or 32nd Centuries: by treating it as not a big deal. Equally, the way in which Adira told Stamets of their gender and pronoun preference was not aggressive or pushy; Stamets wasn’t made to feel bad or like he’d said something wrong. It was a moment which perfectly captured the tone of how I would hope such events would be treated in the future.

Though I don’t expect Stamets and Culber to adopt Adira in any formal way, the two certainly seem to be keeping an eye on them in a paternal way. It suits both of them, and for Adira, having a second person to talk to in Dr Culber would surely be to the good. If they trust Stamets, bringing his husband into the mix too doesn’t seem like much of a stretch, and perhaps that’s something we’ll see in future episodes too.

Dr Culber, Stamets, and Adira.

After hacking into the medical database, Georgiou learns a shocking revelation: she may be dying. I say “may” because Dr Culber’s line immediately after suggests there may be a way to help her. This could set up a storyline for Georgiou that goes in all sorts of directions, and right now it feels unpredictable. However, I’m convinced that she isn’t going to die; not least because she’s set to be the main character in the upcoming Section 31 series!

As mentioned, though, giving Georgiou something different to do and perhaps showing her coming to terms with moments of weakness and vulnerability could add to her character and, at the very least, change things up for her. Dr Culber doesn’t necessarily think she’s 100% dead, and there are many possibilities for how this could pan out. I’m interested to see what comes next.

“It isn’t that cut-and-dry.”

The final revelation of the episode is that the Emerald Chain is running low on dilithium. Ryn confides in Tilly, and while it wasn’t shown on screen that she passed this information up the chain of command, I’m sure she will tell Captain Saru and Admiral Vance. This could make the Emerald Chain more aggressive, or it could give them a reason to try to steal Discovery and/or the Spore Drive. This revelation feels as significant as the Burn’s point of origin, and I’m sure we will see the ramifications sometime soon.

Speaking of the Burn, after Tilly, Stamets, Adira, and Saru look at the nebula which seems to be the source, they uncover something shocking: a Federation distress signal. This cannot be a coincidence, though what exactly it may mean is not yet clear. Are we about to see the reappearance of a familiar starship? That’s certainly one theory I’m toying with. In the Short Treks episode Calypso, Discovery was abandoned in a nebula. Could the ship hiding at the centre be Discovery – either from another time period or another universe? We’ll look at some of these ideas in more detail in my next theory post, so stay tuned for that.

Finding the distress signal.

So that was The Sanctuary. A solid mid-season episode that was in parts standalone story and connected to ongoing events. There was a lot packed into its 45-minute runtime, but practically all of it worked well, and by the time the credits rolled I was having a genuinely great time. Jonathan Frakes is a wonderful director, but I don’t want to give him all of the credit for the most enjoyable Discovery episode for a couple of weeks! There was some great writing this time, and perhaps the episode being one in which Burnham wasn’t centre-stage the whole time helped too.

When we looked at the promo for The Sanctuary I wondered if we’d get an episode which took us straight to the source of the Burn. I’m glad that we didn’t, and that Discovery isn’t rushing its main storyline. With five episodes left, there’s still plenty of time to sort out all of that. Having the story be a slow burn (pun intended) works well, and rather than racing from point to point I appreciate that the show is taking its time and that we still get semi-standalone stories like Book’s homecoming.

This week we’ll get the first half of a two-parter: Terra Firma. I honestly have no idea what it will bring, whether it will get us closer to the Burn, or what will happen to Burnham, Saru, Book, and the rest of the crew. Can’t wait to find out though!

Star Trek: Discovery is available to stream on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 3, Episode 6: Scavengers

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, Star Trek: Picard, and other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

Welcome back to another Star Trek: Discovery episode review. Time really flies, doesn’t it? We’re practically halfway through Discovery’s third season already; six episodes down, seven remaining! It seems like yesterday that we were theorising and speculating in the run-up to the season premiere! Where does the time go?

Season 3 has been enjoyable so far. The main mystery at the core of the series – the Burn – remains a driving force for much of the story, but its origin is still unknown, and finding some way of fixing the damage done seems a long way off. Scavengers brought us a macguffin that may help in that regard… but at the cost of a story for Michael Burnham that dragged her, almost full-circle, back to the self-centred, arrogant character we met at the beginning of Season 1.

Burnham in the Season 1 premiere.

Though I didn’t enjoy Season 1’s two-part premiere, the rest of the season went some way to making up for some of its wrongs. The attempted character arc for Burnham started on far too negative a note for my liking, but by the end of the season she had rediscovered her faith in Starfleet and the promise of the Federation. This continued into Season 2, where she put others first and ended up saving the galaxy. By this point in Discovery’s run, Burnham had changed… or so it seemed.

The beginnings of this undoing of her growth had been laid in Far From Home and expanded upon in People of Earth, when we learned Burnham had spent a year in the 32nd Century before Discovery’s arrival; a year in which she developed an appreciation for a life outside the confines of Starfleet that allowed her the freedom to go where she wanted and pursue leads on the Burn in the manner she saw fit. Clearly this wasn’t compatible with a return to serving under someone else’s command. I had been speculating for a couple of weeks that this storyline was perhaps setting up Burnham’s departure from Discovery. That may yet be true, but in the immediate term we have to deal with her selfish decision to disobey orders.

When Discovery arrived in Far From Home, Burnham had already been in the 32nd Century for a year.

While I may be in the minority on this, I see this as a cheap recycling of the worst part of Burnham’s first-season storyline, and that just isn’t what I wanted – or expected – from Season 3. Discovery is repeating its biggest mistake from back then: telling us that Burnham was right to do what she did because the ends justify the means. Is that the message Star Trek has always tried to teach?

If this was the first time she’d behaved in this way, I think I’d have come away from Scavengers with my heart breaking for the tough choice she made: deciding to do what she felt was right even if it went against her orders. But it isn’t the first time we’ve been down this road with Burnham, and aside from the repetitive storyline, it makes me feel she learned nothing. At her core, she’s still the same arrogant wannabe-captain who thinks she knows better, and that because of how unique and wonderful she is the chain of command should not apply. These were Burnham’s worst character traits in Season 1, and apparently they’re back again in Season 3.

For that reason alone, Scavengers is currently my least-favourite episode of the season.

Burnham commandeered Book’s ship for her own purposes in Scavengers.

Let’s get into the rest of the story, then. Despite my gripes with the way Burnham’s storyline was handled, Scavengers was otherwise a decent episode, one with plenty of action, some interesting upgrades to Discovery itself, and the return of Book – and Grudge! There’s plenty to enjoy, and despite his limited screen time I want to single out Doug Jones’ performance as Saru, which was once again intensely emotional.

Scavengers begins with a truly impressive CGI sequence showing Discovery’s retrofit. Saru notes in a voiceover (that soon merges neatly into a briefing he’s participating with senior Starfleet officers) some of the changes to the ship: the integration of programmable matter, detachable nacelles, and a host of other upgrades which presumably bring the 930-year-old vessel up to 32nd Century specs. No longer will she be outgunned against the likes of the “Emerald Chain” – the Andorian-Orion alliance first named last week, and who may be in charge of the Hima trading post Burnham visited in That Hope Is You.

Discovery’s retrofit.

Discovery is also given an updated number: NCC 1031-A. Although I don’t doubt some fans will argue over whether retrofitted ships are renumbered (the Enterprise wasn’t in The Motion Picture, for example) for me personally this worked well. Season 3 – despite my complaint about Burnham’s characterisation above – has been a soft reboot of Discovery in many ways, including of course the new 32nd Century setting. The renumbering and retrofit of the ship is symbolic of this break with the show’s past – even if the interior of the ship has been left more or less the same from a visual standpoint.

I can also foresee detached nacelles being controversial among Trekkies, particularly those who goggle over starship design! On the surface it doesn’t seem to make sense; how can the nacelles propel Discovery to warp if they aren’t physically connected to the ship? The answer, no doubt, lies in forcefields, tractor beams, warp bubbles, or some kind of technology to keep the nacelles bound to the ship even when they aren’t physically connected. It does make me wonder, though… if the ship were to lose all power, would the nacelles just float away? Can the nacelles go to warp independently? Maybe this is setting up a future episode where Discovery’s nacelles get stolen!

Discovery’s new detachable nacelles.

Compared to Star Trek’s past “hero” ships, Discovery has always had a somewhat clunky design. The saucer has long been my favourite part, with its spinning rings, and the “neck” and star-drive section have these sharp lines that definitely succeeded in Season 1 of indicating that this was a pre-Original Series ship. The detachable nacelles give the star-drive section a bit more visual interest, not least because that concept is something we’ve never really seen before. Overall the changes glimpsed in this opening sequence are positive – iterative improvements to Discovery without launching into an all-out retrofit like the original Enterprise saw. I look forward to seeing Discovery in action soon, as this week we only saw her in dock.

While we’re looking at little details, Saru is the first Discovery character to don the new 32nd Century Starfleet badge in place of the simpler Original Series-inspired gold emblem the crew have worn since Season 1. The rest of the crew will get their badges in a scene we’ll look at in a moment, but purely as an aesthetic, I quite like this design. As above with the ship’s retrofit, this feels like Discovery taking another step to reboot itself, symbolically moving away from Seasons 1 & 2. The badge itself is an oval shape, one that reminds me at least a little of the Bajoran combadges sported by Odo and Kira in Deep Space Nine. It keeps the familiar Starfleet logo (or Delta) but splits it cleanly in two – perhaps a metaphor for the fractured Federation? In addition, the badges show rank – in Saru’s case, four pips indicate he’s a captain. This idea isn’t new, and we’d seen combadges that could show rank in some episodes of The Next Generation that were set in alternate timelines. Taken as a whole, there are inspirations from across the wider Star Trek canon, but above all the badges look great.

Saru’s new combadge.

Several of the other Federation captains and/or flag officers learn about the Spore Drive at this meeting with Saru and Admiral Vance; its existence is to remain a secret on Vance’s orders. I picked up the smallest of hints here that maybe some of the other Starfleet officers present weren’t happy with the Spore Drive – for whatever reason – and we’ll look at that theory in more detail in the coming days!

Saru tells Admiral Vance that Burnham is in charge of re-training the crew and helping them acclimate to the 32nd Century; this process has been ongoing for three weeks or so, along with the retrofit of the ship. It would have been nice to see some of that – even just in a montage – as it would have helped us get to really see how the crew feel about their new situation. Saru tells us that they’re adjusting, but as I’ve said on a couple of occasions already this season: show, don’t just tell!

The senior officers’ meeting, chaired by Admiral Vance.

The crew get their new badges in the next scene, and we learn how far technology has come! In addition to being combadges – which are already new to the 23rd Century Discovery crew – the badges are holo-projectors, padds, tricorders, and personal transporters! All those devices are now rolled into one, which is pretty cool! Star Trek’s technology has always been influenced by current trends, and what we see today with the likes of smartphones is the condensing of multiple tools into one piece of kit. This is reflected by Discovery in these new badges, and I think we all feel what Tilly says aloud: “this is my new favourite thing!”

This sequence also featured some of the bridge crew getting to grips with some of the new features, including programmable matter. The Detmer storyline may have been advanced off-screen, but she clearly isn’t 100% back to normal, still suffering the lingering effects of her injury and mental health issues. Random Blonde Bridge Officer – who last week we learned is called Lieutenant Nilsson – gets another line here, as Linus the Saurian mistakenly arrives on the bridge via his personal transporter; this would be a recurring joke throughout the episode, and although it was silly, it was definitely funny. Scavengers had several great moments of humour like that, but it’s just nice to see the wider crew having some screen time. I’ve written previously that expanding the characters who are in play is something I’d like to see Discovery do, and this was a short sequence, but they all add up.

Owosekun gets to grips with the new programmable matter interface on the bridge.

Book’s ship makes a surprise arrival, kicking off the Burnham plot. The ship has arrived on autopilot, and Book tells Burnham via a recorded holo-message that he’s gone in search of a Federation black box. She takes this to Saru, as finding the black box might help them triangulate the original source of the Burn – perhaps allowing them to figure out what caused it. Saru, however, has his orders from Admiral Vance about the need to be ready to jump to another system, and tells Burnham that her idea of chasing after Book will have to wait.

It was patently obvious from this scene what Burnham was going to do next – just as it became apparent from her conversations with Sarek in the Season 1 premiere that she was similarly going to go rogue. Burnham had already decided that what she wanted to do was more important, and being unwilling to follow the chain of command or be patient and wait perhaps 12 hours, she immediately schemes with Georgiou. I don’t always like Mirror Georgiou – she can feel flat and one-dimensional – but here she actually acts as the voice of reason, telling Burnham she’ll be potentially doing harm to Saru and the whole crew by rushing off half-cocked. It was a change of pace for her, no question, but one that worked well at the outset of a storyline that otherwise didn’t. I particularly liked Georgiou’s line referencing Burnham’s Season 1 mutiny having “a very familar ring.” It was written beautifully and delivered with perfection.

Burnham and Georgiou scheme to disobey Saru’s orders.

After the opening titles, we immediately see Burnham and Georgiou aboard Book’s ship in flight. For story reasons, Book’s ship kind of had to be present, but in a galaxy lacking in fuel for warp travel, couldn’t he have transmitted Burnham a message some other way? Admiral Vance did mention that some of Starfleet’s subspace relays were not working, but it hasn’t been conclusively established that all faster-than-light communication doesn’t work. It just seems odd that someone as concerned with dilithium supplies as Book would send his entire ship in search of Burnham. There’s also the question of how far from Earth Federation HQ is located; Book was last seen in the vicinity of Earth.

Those are nitpicks, but in a story which generally didn’t work very well, I find myself more inclined to pick at elements I might’ve overlooked in a better episode!

This sequence continues something we saw last time – there’s something wrong with Georgiou. She appears to zone out while Burnham talks to her, as we saw her do at the end of last week’s episode. This is definitely something which has potential, adding a new dimension to an otherwise flat character. The writers seem to want us to infer that whatever is happening with Georgiou is related to her interrogation last week by the Starfleet officer (played by David Cronenberg) who may be working for Section 31. It seems too much of a coincidence that she suddenly developed a repressed memory or other psychological ailment immediately after that event and have the two be entirely unrelated – but at this stage we don’t know.

Georgiou is hallucinating.

This new storyline opens up new possibilities for Georgiou, no matter what the ultimate cause of this hallucination turns out to be. Her initial appearance as the Terran Empress in Season 1 was purely for shock value – and it worked. But after Burnham “saved” her and brought her aboard Discovery she’s been rudderless. Assigning her to Section 31 was actually a sensible use of her unique perspective, but even so as a character she has no nuance or depth; I once called her a “23rd Century Heinz Doofenshmirtz,” i.e. a childish cariacture of a villain. However, the possibility that she’s been brainwashed, tampered with, or is suffering some kind of illness or the reappearance of repressed memories could take her in different directions and to new places.

If Starfleet, led by Kovich, has done something to her, I would expect to see her seek revenge, and that in itself could be an interesting storyline. This may even set the stage for her working against Starfleet’s interests, or, as I’ve been theorising, travelling back in time to the 23rd Century in time to link up with the Section 31 series that’s currently in production and is supposedly set in that era. In short, this storyline opens up numerous possibilities for a character I’ve never been particularly keen on within the show to actually do something different and interesting. I’m all for that!

Part of Georgiou’s hallucination.

While Burnham and Georgiou travel to a junkyard planet and talk their way to the surface, Tilly realises Burnham is absent. For the first time this season – and perhaps for the first time since Reno joined the crew in Season 2 – Tilly is used as some light-hearted comic relief. I adored her scene with Grudge in her quarters as she realised Burnham is missing; I was laughing out loud as she asked Grudge “did you eat her?!” That was perhaps the funniest line of the season so far. Tilly is a great character for comedic purposes; Mary Wiseman has great timing and delivery. However, I’m glad she’s not just been a comic character this season.

Her scene with Saru in engineering was interesting. Of note was the fact that she didn’t go to her captain to let him know Burnham is missing right away; he had to track her down and ask. Though the scene was short, any time Saru and Tilly are together makes for great television, particularly after their bonding in Far From Home. Saru once again demonstrates how good of a captain he is, telling Tilly he doesn’t believe she would do the same as Burnham did (i.e. disobey orders) in the same situation. This gentle mentoring of his crew is something we’ve seen Saru do at several key moments. Without being aggressive or dictating orders, he’s shepherding them to make the right decisions for themselves. Tilly would not do what Burnham did, not only because she’s better than that but because she wouldn’t want to let Saru down. He’s instilling in the crew a respect for his authority in a different way; not simply relying on rank, nor on his strictness, he’s building a genuine rapport with officers like Tilly.

Tilly and Saru in Main Engineering.

As Admiral Vance points out later, Saru failed with Burnham in that regard. Not only that, but I felt Admiral Vance was absolutely fair to point out to Saru that he should have told his superior about Burnham and Book’s information; even if they couldn’t have undertook the mission immediately it may have been worth the risk very soon thereafter. Vance impresses on Saru that he’s not happy, but in a not dissimilar manner to Saru does so in a calmly angry manner. I stand by what I said last week: the casting for Admiral Vance was inspired.

But we’ve raced ahead almost to the end of Scavengers! The junkyard location was aesthetically interesting, but I didn’t really get a sense of being in the “far future.” Perhaps that’s the work of the Burn setting things back, but even so the facility seemed rather present-day in some respects. I also got a bit of a Star Wars vibe, as the junkyard reminded me a little of some locations in that franchise. It was interesting to see some of the salvage at the junkyard; I spotted a 24th Century phaser, which was a nice touch, and the return of the self-sealing stem bolt was low-key hilarious to Trekkies!

The 24th Century phaser.

Burnham and Book are reunited; Book having been captured while searching for the black box. I can’t help but feel that Book’s side of this story is the part I’d rather have seen – searching for the black box on a dangerous world and ultimately getting captured by Andorian-Orion slavers seems like it has the potential to make for an exciting Book-centric episode. However, that’s not what we got!

It’s apparent from Scavengers that Burnham and Book’s relationship progressed far more than she let on. Whether they were ever an “official item” is not clear, but there are strong feelings reciprocated by both parties. As I said a few weeks ago, giving Burnham a love interest has the potential to humanise her and blunt the edge of some of her less-attractive character traits; ironic, considering what happened in Scavengers amplified those same traits as she raced off to rescue him!

Book and Burnham at the junkyard.

The escape from the junkyard was tense, exciting, and action-packed. The junkyard’s security system utilises a head-exploding technology – one which Georgiou was able to disable using a macguffin that seemed to consist of two pieces of junk from the facility itself, which doesn’t seem all that secure. But as a concept it was interesting, and made Book’s escape seem implausible.

Book’s Andorian friend Ryn was an interesting character. At first I was sure he was going to meet his end at the junkyard; the story seemed to be setting him up as the sacrificial lamb to allow Book’s escape. When he was shot during the slaves’ escape it was a saddening moment, but not one that was entirely unexpected. What was a surprise, however, was Ryn’s subsequent survival. Has Book acquired a new permanent ally, or will we never see Ryn again? I’d be interested to learn more about him, and if one part of the season’s Starfleet storyline will involve a conflict with this Emerald Chain faction, perhaps Ryn will prove useful. We’ll have to wait and see, but as a character he has a lot of potential. I’m glad he made it!

Ryn the Andorian.

I think I’ve hit most of the points I wanted to about the junkyard, which is where most of the action took place this week. It was an interesting setting, freeing the slaves was suitably tense and exciting, and it gave Georgiou and Burnham a chance to catch up. None of that was problematic, and if I were to criticise one part of the junkyard storyline it would be to say that the main Orion villain – Tolor – was bland and uninteresting; a cardboard cut-out who was only there to give Burnham, Book, and Georgiou an antagonist. The rest of it was fine, and even managed to be a combination of exciting and interesting.

Were it not for the way this had been set up, with Burnham’s total regression to her Season 1 characterisation, I would have enjoyed all of the junkyard sequences a lot more. To be clear, it’s no criticism of Sonequa Martin-Green, who always gives her all when portraying Burnham, but in this case I’m not sold on this kind of storyline for her. It recycled the worst parts of what she did in Season 1 that, for me at least, made her very difficult to root for as a protagonist. Maybe Scavengers is setting up something greater for her in future, but even if that’s the case I come back to the same argument I had against Burnham in Season 1: making your protagonist unlikeable through dumb, arrogant decisions is not the way to an inspiring character arc. It’s absolutely possible to show a character make mistakes, learn from them, grow, and for that story to be engrossing, entertaining, and inspiring. But you don’t accomplish that by making your main character arrogant and self-centred, and you certainly don’t accomplish it by dragging your main character back and undoing two years’ of positive growth.

Georgiou and Burnham aboard Book’s ship.

At the close of the episode, after he received a dressing-down of his own from Admiral Vance, Saru tells Burnham her services as his first officer will no longer be required. This scene was emotional, and it’s hard not to feel for Saru as his heartbreak at Burnham’s selfishness was plain to see. He put his trust in her – twice – and she’s taken advantage of that. We can absolutely entertain the argument that Saru trusts her too readily, but this is all on her. I liked the idea of Burnham as Saru’s first officer when she first took the position in People of Earth, but after a mere three episodes she’s thrown it away again. He certainly can’t offer it to her again; as a story point that would be too unbelievable, even setting aside the in-universe way Saru must be feeling. And if any Discovery fan was under any illusion that Burnham should ascend to the captaincy herself, well I think it’s fair to say that Scavengers demonstrates why she won’t.

Her line to Saru that he’s doing the right thing was unwarranted, and again feeds into the (unintentional) narrative that Burnham is incredibly arrogant. He’s already made his decision as captain to strip her of the first officer’s post, yet she feels the need to give him her opinion. Are we meant to feel that she’s being logical and looking at the situation objectively? That if the roles were reversed, she knows she would have to fire her first officer? Because it doesn’t come across that way. It comes across as Burnham trying, once again, to put herself at the centre. It’s not about Saru’s decision any more, it’s about Burnham, and what she would have done in his place.

Saru strips Burnham of her role as first officer.

I thought Discovery was over this. The warning signs of a Burnham obsession have been present this season, as she’s been forced into roles in two episodes that were better-suited to other characters, so I should certainly have been prepared for something like this. But that doesn’t make it any less disappointing. If Burnham were a side character, a secondary character or someone less important to the series, I think what happened this week would be more acceptable. But she’s the main protagonist, the character we’re supposed to root for and support no matter what. After two-and-a-half seasons, I was there. I was a Burnham supporter. But seeing her like this again: self-centred, insubordinate, and believing that because she’s special that everyone needs to do what she wants, when she wants, felt like being at the start of Season 1 again.

I’m confused. Discovery has given us a protagonist it wants us to support, but it’s going out of its way to make her as unlikeable as she was back then. How are fans supposed to get on board with this version of Burnham? What’s confusing is where the show goes from here. On the one hand we have Saru and the rest of the crew, getting to know their retrofitted ship with its fancy new technology. There’s a real chance they can help bring the Federation together, and that’s a story I truly want to see. But what of Burnham? What role does she have now? Maybe she’s found some clue in this black box that will begin to unravel the Burn, but even if she has, can we trust her to stick with the crew as they chase down this mystery? And more importantly, for such an arrogant and selfish person, do we want to see her help? Do we want to see this victory become her victory? I’m not sure any more.

Burnham loses her role as Saru’s first officer.

I missed out the whole Stamets-Adira bonding, and I did want to compliment the writers on those sequences. Adira and Stamets have a lot in common, and it was great to see them both reaching out for each other. I’m glad Adira has someone to talk to about Gray, and Stamets is kind and understanding. It was nice to see him take her under his wing.

Speaking of Stamets, we also got a brief scene between him and Culber. Fixing their relationship was on my wishlist for the season, and it seems to have happened. I’m so glad, because their cute relationship can be an emotional anchor for the otherwise fast-paced, action-packed Discovery.

So that was Scavengers. Overall, a mixed bag. The scenes aboard Discovery were great. Tilly got to step back into her comic shoes for a short time, Saru was on fine form as captain, Adira and Gray got some screen time, the bridge crew got to grips with the retrofitted ship, and as mentioned, Stamets got moments with Adira and Culber. But the main focus of the episode was Burnham and her incomprehensible decision to put herself first, to ignore the chain of command, and to arrogantly and unilaterally decide that what she wanted was most important. I can’t support that or get behind it, and if Discovery continues with Burnham in this fashion it’s going to be a difficult watch over the next few episodes.

The new combadge.

Above all, I’m disappointed that we seem to be back in the same place we were at the beginning of Season 1. Discovery improved in leaps and bounds in the intervening two-and-a-half seasons, but right now there’s a real risk of much of that growth – at least as far as Burnham is concerned – being undone.

I’m a little anxious about what Unification III will bring. Hopefully it can begin the task of repairing the damage done to Burnham this week, or perhaps sideline her and tell a different story utilising other members of the crew. A continuation of this trend will be unfortunate.

Star Trek: Discovery is available to watch now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 3, Episode 3: People of Earth

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, Star Trek: Picard, Star Trek: Lower Decks, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

The first two episodes of this season of Star Trek: Discovery served as our introduction to the 32nd Century, and both were pretty good. They provided background to a setting very different from Star Trek’s past, which is largely due to an as-yet-unexplained event known as the Burn. Episode three, People of Earth, continued the world-building seen in the first two episodes of the season, but definitely took the story in a darker direction. It also marked what seems to be a significant change in the character of Michael Burnham, who, after having spent approximately one year in the 32nd Century before Saru and the rest of the crew arrived, has had to adapt to a different way of life.

People of Earth dropped a bombshell that I don’t think anyone was expecting, and by doing so made the already-bleak setting feel so much darker. The Burn, as we know, had a catastrophic impact on the Federation and the wider galaxy, but the idea that Earth, one of the founding members of the Federation, would have withdrawn and become insular was a shock, one that was unimaginable even knowing how bad things were for the galaxy. It’s certainly the biggest revelation of the season so far, and raises the question of just who remains part of the Federation if Earth itself – which was the home base of Starfleet and where the Federation’s government was situated – has withdrawn from the organisation.

The USS Discovery approaches a militarised and well-defended Earth.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves! One of the points of criticism I’d level at an otherwise-outstanding episode is that it wasn’t always made clear how much time had passed. In moments we go from Burnham’s arrival aboard the ship to making repairs to jumping to Earth, and the way the episode was put together makes it feel as though all of these events took place over the span of just a few hours. But that would mean that, for Saru and the crew, they haven’t had time to take a break since the battle against Control’s armada at the end of Season 2. Other events would seem to hint at some time having passed, but it was a little confused in that regard.

Lieutenant Detmer, who appeared to be gravely injured until the final seconds of last week’s episode, now appears physically recovered – though perhaps her psychological state is not so settled. If Discovery plans to go down a mental health route with her I think that could be interesting, but if that’s the case I have to say that I don’t feel it was set up very well at all last week, as she spent her scenes in that episode looking injured, concussed, or perhaps suffering some kind of implant malfunction. I don’t usually address other fan theories here on the website, but one I heard repeated several times over the last week or so has been that Detmer may have been infected by Control (in the way Ariam had been in Season 2). I don’t agree with that at all, simply because it seems as though Discovery is moving on with a new story and leaving Control behind. While we may get the occasional mention or reference to events from Season 2 (as we even did this week) a resurgence of Control is something I’m sure we can rule out as a story point.

Lieutenant Detmer in People of Earth.

Jonathan Frakes has directed some of my favourite Star Trek episodes – including episodes of Picard earlier in the year. And he was back for his first of two directorial outings this season. Overall I enjoyed People of Earth, not just for what it brought to the table in terms of the overarching story of the season, but for some of its character moments, particularly involving Burnham and Saru.

After the mandatory recap (which included that truly awful line from That Hope Is You about how dilithium “just went ‘boom'” that I’m still mad about), People of Earth begins with a reunion between Burnham and the rest of the crew. After last week’s revelation that she arrived over a year ago I was expecting it to mean more to her than to them, if that makes sense. As relieved as the crew must surely be to see Burnham, from their point of view they only saw her a few hours ago at most. She’s the one who’s spent so long apart from them, and Sonequa Martin-Green put in a wonderful performance that really showed how Burnham must be feeling in that moment.

Saru and Burnham reunite in Discovery’s transporter room.

In fact, everyone in this scene gave an outstanding performance. Mary Wiseman was on form as Tilly, Doug Jones – who has to act through heavy prosthetics and contact-lenses – managed to convey plenty of emotion, and I liked the way Burnham was greeted by Stamets; a less intense, but just as emotional, moment. The only people missing were Nhan and Dr Culber, who were absent for the entire episode. While he wouldn’t necessarily have had much to do in the rest of the episode as the story was focused elsewhere, it’s odd to me that Culber at least wasn’t present during this reunion scene. Is a separate reunion planned for Culber and Nhan next time?

Burnham runs the gamut of emotions, going from shock as she learns of Discovery’s arrival through to her appearing on the transporter pad to relief and being overcome with joy at the survival and reappearance of her friends. It was a touching scene, accompanied by a great musical score.

Burnham and Stamets are reunited.

Saru and Burnham have a conversation in the corridor while making their way to the bridge, and we’ve learned that Burnham has – in her words – become a courier. How, exactly, she was able to manage that without access to a ship of her own or any supplies is left hanging, but later scenes strongly imply that what she should have said was that she became an assistant courier, working alongside Book. It’s still possible, because of the ambiguous wording, that we’ll learn in a future episode that Burnham spent some time working alone, but in a galaxy lacking in dilithium to power its starships, would anyone have hired Burnham and outfitted her with a ship? This is a complete tangent, but in a way this moment of what is really just awkward scripting kind of feels like Burnham exaggerating her own credentials. That’s something we might’ve expected from the Burnham of the Season 1 premiere, who was arrogant and seemed to revel in being told how special she was, not the Burnham we’ve come to know over the subsequent two seasons. However, it is also worth noting that Burnham has changed in her year in the 32nd Century, and perhaps this is part of it. Or, as I suggested, it was just an awkwardly-worded line in Burnham’s monologue.

Burnham tells Saru that working as a courier was the best way to find out what was going on with Starfleet and the Federation, though it seems that she hasn’t made very much progress beyond a single partly-corrupted recording that we’ll see in a moment. I’m pretty confident we’ll see some more of Book and Burnham’s escapades in later episodes, but I wonder how exactly she went about her search. Book, after all, has his own mission – saving the space-worms. And with dilithium the ultimate bargaining chip, was Book content to allow Burnham to trade dilithium for information, or to allow her desire to contact the Federation to dictate their travel schedule?

Burnham and Saru catch up.

People of Earth is – quite deliberately – a story that conceals from us as the audience quite a lot of information. Unlike with things like the Burn, however, where nobody knows what happened, we’re in a situation where Burnham has this knowledge and experience that we don’t have; we didn’t follow along with her story over the last year of her life, and thus, in a way, it’s like we’re picking up Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 having not seen Season 3. We’re left wondering what happened to Burnham for all of that time, the passage of which was communicated through a single time-lapse sequence that lasted barely two minutes. When Book and Burnham talk about their adventures, as they do several times across the episode, we’re aware that we missed those events. Structuring a story in this way is a risk, and because Burnham can already feel like someone who is aloof and selfish sometimes, a story which gives her an advantage not only over the rest of Discovery’s crew but also over us as the audience could backfire and make her difficult to root for. We’ll have to see how it’s handled in subsequent episodes, but it’s definitely a concern.

Burnham promised Book some dilithium in exchange for taking her to Discovery – and to his credit, Saru immediately promises to honour the agreement she made. On the bridge, Burnham breaks the news to the crew about the Burn. We got a little more information here than we had in the past, so let’s cover that briefly. Firstly, she offers two possible explanations: an accident or a natural disaster. In my opinion, she’s missed out a very important third possibility: a weapon or an attack. When she says that it affected all the known galaxy’s supply of dilithium simultaneously, Stamets pipes up to say that nothing should be able to do that, at least not all at once. Finally, Burnham believes that the Burn killed “millions” of people. And while that is certainly a large number, in the context of galactic-scale civilisations and empires with potentially trillions of inhabitants, it doesn’t seem as bad as it could’ve been.

Burnham explains what she knows about the Federation and the Burn.

Finally, Burnham confirms a theory I’d been kicking around that Book (and, by extension, other couriers in this part of the galaxy) are too far away from Earth to know what’s going on. Burnham had never been able to get enough dilithium together for a trip, but of course Discovery’s spore drive means the trip can be made in an instant.

The spore drive has been part of Discovery since the first season, but the show’s place in the Star Trek timeline made it difficult to use effectively, as it not only allowed for instantaneous travel across tens of thousands of light-years, but also between parallel universes. It was an incredibly useful piece of technology, and one that would have had many applications in Star Trek stories set after Discovery, not least in Voyager, whose crew could have been back home in the Alpha Quadrant in time for dinner if they had access to it. It’s also perhaps the only realistic way for a ship as old as Discovery to be of any use in this time period. Perhaps what we’ll see later in the season is a widespread rollout of spore drives across Starfleet! But I’ll save such things for my theory post.

Black Alert!

Saru (quite generously, in my opinion) offers to discuss with Burnham which of them should assume the captaincy of Discovery. However, I think we can all agree that there was only one choice – and that’s him. He takes the captain’s chair in a touching scene – but one that was slightly let down by his being out of uniform! Burnham can be a good officer, despite her mutiny in the series premiere. And she’s a character I can often get behind in terms of the stories Discovery has told, even if I’m not always sold on the way the show tries to put her at the centre of everything! But making her captain would not have been the right move, and I’m glad that the creative team behind the series recognise and appreciate that. Burnham is many things to Discovery, including its main protagonist, but I would never sit her in the captain’s chair.

After the opening titles we get a brief scene outside the ship showing repair work is ongoing. In addition to the “worker bee” shuttlepods, there were also some cute little robots that remind me very much of DOT – the robot protagonist of the Short Treks episode Ephraim and Dot. When we saw these robots in the opening titles last week I wondered what they were and how they’d make an appearance, and it seems as though they’re shipboard robots used for maintenance and repair – much like DOT.

A robot working on the USS Discovery.

Last week’s episode saw Tilly step up. And here, she’s once again the emotional core of the episode. We encounter her as she puts together a makeshift memorial wall – whether all of the crewmen and officers whose badges she places died during the trip to the future or if they’re simply those who remained behind in the 23rd Century is not clear. It seemed like a lot of people, though, and since the crash didn’t seem that bad I suspect it’s the latter. As Burnham approaches, Tilly speaks of her family and everyone else “left behind” who have now been dead for centuries.

With all of the excitement of arriving in a new century and a new environment, I appreciated the attempt to slow things down and remember those left behind. Tilly is a great character to initiate this, and we’ll see it again at the end of the episode. It would have been the perfect opportunity to talk about some characters we got to know across Seasons 1-2, like Tyler or Pike, but there will be time for more remembrances later, I suppose.

Tilly takes a moment to consider those left behind.

After Tilly notes that Burnham seems “lighter” after spending a year in the 32nd Century – which, if nothing else, means she’s changed – we get Book’s reintroduction after being absent last week. This is his first time aboard Discovery, and his introduction (after a transporter cycle that must be longer than he’s used to!) is with Georgiou, who gives him a short grilling as part of her Burnham obsession.

Book is paid in dilithium for transporting Burnham to the USS Discovery, and it seems like the ship isn’t going to run out of the rare mineral any time soon. Book expresses surprise at how much they have; ominously this will make Discovery a target for anyone seeking dilithium unless they can keep it hidden. The relationship between warp engines and other systems aboard starships has never been fully explained, but it may well be the case, as past Star Trek stories have hinted, that dilithium powers more than just warp engines. Discovery may be able to travel via the spore drive, but if all its dilithium were stolen the ship could lose all power.

Discovery’s dilithium vault.

Burnham then convinces Book to accompany Discovery to Earth, first with the suggestion of space-worms perhaps in need of help, then with the promise of a clean slate (presumably the Orions are still looking for him), and finally with an appeal to help her and Discovery conceal their supply of dilithium. Though I liked that Book wasn’t just willing to go along right off the bat, he didn’t take a lot of convincing!

Burnham and Saru talk in the ready-room – which still features the broken desk. Saru is initially unconvinced when Burnham suggests they place their dilithium aboard Book’s ship so it can be cloaked, and with several characters now noting changes in Burnham – something she acknowledges herself in this scene – I wonder if the story was trying to set up a “Burnham and Book want to steal the dilithium” fake-out. If that was the case I don’t think it worked; it never felt like a realistic possibility that either of them would steal from Discovery. However, there was certainly a sense that more was going on than what we were seeing, and Saru’s perceptiveness about Burnham and his unwillingness to trust her blindly are all good traits for a captain to have.

Burnham admits she has changed over the last year.

Saru continues by saying he had planned to offer Burnham the role of first officer – “Number One,” as he puts it, which was a nice touch in an episode directed by Jonathan Frakes! Burnham asks for more time, and I liked her speech in which she essentially admits it was hubris on the part of herself and the crew of Discovery to merely assume that the future they were heading to would be the way that they imagined: with an intact Federation. There’s a good point in there about how the future is always subject to change, and how it can be dangerous to make such assumptions. We saw this in a way last week with Tilly and Saru strolling into the bar proclaiming to be from Starfleet without realising how bad the 32nd Century was, and this moment with Burnham was an admission of that. I find myself agreeing with Saru, Tilly, and others than Burnham has changed – is it a change for the better?

Saru once again demonstrates his suitability for the captaincy as he talks about being responsible for everyone aboard Discovery. As a duo, I can absolutely see how Saru and Burnham could work well as a captain and first officer – provided Saru continues to show he has the strength of character to overrule her when she’s wrong. He’s been doing that since the Season 1 premiere, so he’s certainly capable of it.

Burnham and Saru talk in the ready-room.

Saru eventually agrees to allow the dilithium to be stored aboard Book’s ship. But he enforces conditions: the ship will be in Discovery’s shuttlebay, under guard, and Book himself will not be allowed aboard until after they reach Earth. Given he doesn’t know Book at all, all of these conditions seem perfectly sensible, and with Burnham’s agreement Book’s ship is brought aboard in a nicely-done CGI sequence.

On the bridge Burnham seems initially uncomfortable to be back at her post – but perhaps it’s less discomfort and more a sense of being overwhelmed? In either case, she snaps out of it as Book arrives on the bridge. Owosekun and Detmer exchange glances after checking him out, and that was cute. The ship is ready for the jump, and Saru politely orders Black Alert.

The USS Discovery near Saturn.

Having previously planned to travel to “outside of Earth’s scanning range,” Discovery arrives near Saturn. How short is Earth’s scanning range supposed to be, exactly? I know this is another nitpick, but even in Star Trek stories set in the 23rd Century it was possible for Starfleet on Earth to scan way out into the galaxy to detect, for example, the V’Ger cloud or the whale probe. The idea that 32nd Century Earth can’t scan as far as Saturn seems a little silly, but as a contrivance to allow Discovery to jump close to Earth – and, as we’ll see in a moment, to arrive near Saturn – I suppose we can let it slide!

It doesn’t take long for Discovery to travel from Saturn to Earth, and after the excitement of seeing Earth again, the mood quickly changes as the planet activates its defensive forcefields. Things get immediately worse, as Discovery is hailed by an organisation called the “United Earth Defence Force.” United Earth is a term used often in Star Trek; referring to a one-world government of Earth in the years before Star Trek: Enterprise. Saru doesn’t seem sure of what to do; Burnham shoots him an “I-told-you-so” type look, even though she didn’t know about Earth.

Captain Ndoye of the UEDF.

Saru offers the UEDF a cover story – Discovery was on a long-term mission and has managed to make it back to Earth at sub-light speeds. Captain Ndoye, the UEDF commander, seems unconvinced, however. She and her team of inspectors beam aboard Discovery – possibly beaming right through the ship’s shields. The 32nd Century transporters that we’ve seen are pretty cool. The almost-instantaneous beaming and the “pop” effect all work together to be visually interesting, yet at the same time feel like an evolution or progression from the transporter technology of the 23rd/24th Centuries.

As mentioned at the beginning, this was a real shock. We had been expecting Discovery and Burnham to travel to Earth to find the heart of the Federation; it’s capital. Instead we learn that Earth itself has withdrawn and is no longer a Federation member. Not only that, but as we’ll see with Wen, Earth appears to care little for any of its colonies within the Sol system. This is even more of an insular, nationalist move than we might have expected, and continues a trend in Discovery of criticising nationalism and isolationism as political concepts. Relevant, you may say, considering the big event taking place tomorrow!

The USS Discovery in orbit of Earth.

Book and Burnham are able to slip away from the bridge while Saru and Ndoye have their conversation, leading Random Blonde Bridge Officer to step up to her console. RBBO – as she shall be known – looks vaguely familiar as she appeared in Season 2, though I can’t remember her name. Though she didn’t have any lines in this episode she seemed to be a constant presence, the camera lingering on her at several moments. Book and Burnham managed to successfully sneak away before Ndoye and her inspectors boarded the ship.

Ndoye is a no-nonsense “police officer,” which makes for a interesting character. I liked that she gave Saru no time to prepare for the inspection, beaming her staff directly to the bridge and to main engineering. This kind of character can make for a flat antagonist, but her motivations in the post-Burn environment were sufficiently fleshed out that everything she did – and the manner in which she conducted herself – felt natural.

The inspectors board Discovery.

After a short montage of the inspectors – including Adira, who we’ll come to in a moment – beaming aboard, Book and Burnham take a moment in her quarters to get changed into Starfleet uniforms. Burnham makes the valid point that they need to blend in with the inspectors aboard, and I don’t really get Book’s reluctance. He’s supposed to be a “do whatever’s necessary to survive” kind of post-apocalyptic character, and it makes obvious sense to get changed and blend in. Why wouldn’t he do so? Being a “badass” isn’t just about dressing up in a leather jacket, and it seems to me that a character like Book would be willing to do something as simple as dress up for the sake of not drawing attention or causing a problem.

It was touching to see Burnham get her uniform back, even if it is just part of a ruse. As she put her badge on, it was the culmination of a slow sequence accompanied by a great soundtrack. Book doesn’t look half bad in uniform either, though there was less emotion attached to his dressing up than there was for Burnham! Outside in the hallway, Burnham meets up with Georgiou and the two have a proper conversation for the first time. Georgiou is the third character to note a change in Burnham, suggesting she prefers the freedom of life outside of Starfleet and the lack of structure and rules that a chaotic 32nd Century offers. In this scene, for the first time since Mirror Georgiou came aboard back in Season 1, it felt like the dynamic between these two characters actually worked. Georgiou is teasing and tempting Burnham with “freedom” – but what she really means is “anarchy.” Georgiou wants a kindred spirit, and of all the Discovery crew, she sees the greatest chance for someone like that in Burnham. Much of her Burnham obsession can feel out of place, and I haven’t been shy on calling that out. But here, in this scene at least, her relationship with Burnham works.

Georgiou – dressed as an Admiral, of course – and Burnham.

Burnham is summoned to the ready-room again, where Saru and Ndoye are midway through a conversation. After explaining that, in the aftermath of the Burn, Earth turned inward for self-preservation, Ndoye drops the bombshell that it’s been over a century since Starfleet or the Federation were based on Earth; Earth has withdrawn from the Federation.

Saru and Burnham are, of course, shocked by this revelation, as they should be! Captain Ndoye also suggests that a majority of ships lost to the Burn were Federation, which is interesting as it may hint at the survival of other interstellar factions like the Romulans, Cardassians, or Klingons. Though in such a scenario, why those factions – and their faster-than-light technologies – would not be a greater presence in the galaxy is not clear. The Klingon homeworld is depicted as being less than 150 light-years from Earth, for example, so if their technology were Burn-proof… where are all the Klingons? This revelation feels like it should be a step towards understanding the Burn, but so far it’s raised more questions than it answered!

Captain Ndoye in Saru’s ready-room.

On the plus side, Captain Ndoye seems convinced that Saru, Burnham, and Discovery are not out to steal from Earth, which does see a temporary drop in the tensions between them. At the very least we can now say that Ndoye is not an antagonist – though I was still concerned about the inspectors potentially discovering the ship’s supply of dilithium. However, she isn’t finished dropping bombshells! The Admiral Burnham hoped to meet – whose transmission she picked up – is dead.

In main engineering, Stamets and Tilly are annoyed by the arrival of the inspectors – including Adira. Adira goes on to look over the spore drive equipment, but before they can get too far, their inspector boss tells them that their job is to “inspect, not engage.” It seemed to me that Adira was inspecting just fine, but I suppose all the inspectors are really looking for is dilithium; the ancient tech and mushroom spores are of limited interest to them if they have such a narrow remit.

Adira in the spore cube.

Though Stamets is initially hostile to Adira, he will soon warm up to them. Adira’s introduction was great. They come across as over-zealous in their inspection duties, but not in a manner that would make us – or their colleagues – suspicious, and they aren’t as standoffish or openly aggressive as any of the other inspectors. Despite Stamets’ initial reaction, Adira is presented sympathetically.

Much was made in pre-release commentary of Adira as Star Trek’s first non-binary character, and they’re played by non-binary actor Blu del Barrio. So it was a great surprise to me to see Adira referred to as “she” and “her” throughout People of Earth. Is this mis-gendering? Kind of yes, but at the same time I suspect it’s being set up so Adira can have a coming-out moment in a future episode, perhaps explaining in more detail their non-binary nature and pronoun preference in a way that – for whatever reason – was considered not possible to accommodate in this episode. However, as someone who follows Star Trek news it was odd and even slightly uncomfortable to see Adira mis-gendered for the whole episode. Blu del Barrio, along with fellow Season 3 star Ian Alexander, who will be Star Trek’s first trans character, even hit the mainstream press for their roles in the run-up to the season, so something definitely felt off. If they’re saving it for a later episode, perhaps after Adira becomes more comfortable with the crew, I suppose that could work. But in the future Star Trek depicts, would coming out as non-binary be a big deal, or would folks in the 23rd or 32nd Centuries just accept right off the bat? I’d like to think we’re moving in that direction now, let alone in a thousand years. But as I’ve said several times across these opening three episodes, I’m willing to wait and see what Discovery has in store.

Tilly and Stamets meet Adira.

On the bridge, Discovery has detected several ships inbound. These are Wen’s vessels, the raider Captain Ndoye feared. Panicking, she attempts to withdraw to Earth, telling Saru that Discovery’s request to visit has been denied. However, something is preventing the inspectors from transporting. This was a great setup, as it forced Ndoye and Saru to work together, butting heads initially. Ndoye tells Saru to take his fight with Wen away from Earth, or risk starting a war. Is it fair to call a planet versus a handful of ships a “war?” We will subsequently learn Wen’s origin and that he’s from a larger group of people, but everything about the way he is introduced here suggests he and his ships are a small collective of pirates. If it’s so easy for Earth to “shoot them out of the sky,” why have they not done so already? I know… I’m nitpicking again!

We get another Book-Burnham moment that feels like we skipped something much more interesting. Burnham tells Book she has a plan to fight Wen, referencing a mission or adventure they had on Donatu VII. Donatu V was mentioned in The Original Series and is supposedly near to Deep Space K-7 (where Mudd sold the crew Tribbles). Whether these two planets are related is unclear; if they are it would suggest Book and Burnham have been relatively close to Earth/Federation space in the past year. I still don’t really like this sense of having missed so many of Burnham’s adventures, and I hope we’ll see more of them in future episodes.

Burnham has a plan.

I liked Book saying that he’ll accompany Burnham because he’s worried about Grudge (his cat). And in line with the changes to Burnham everyone is picking up on, she doesn’t tell Saru or anyone else what her plan is. She says she’ll apologise after instead of asking for permission. And I’m not sure how well this kind of change works. It took Burnham a long time to recover from her stupidly bad decision to mutiny in the Season 1 premiere, not just within the show but to us as the audience as a relatable and likeable protagonist. Sending her down a route of “I know best, I’m so smart, I don’t need to follow the chain of command” could, if not executed perfectly, end up feeling like a character regression, and worse, one that amplifies and exaggerates Burnham’s worst traits. Change is good, and giving her an arc and development and adapting to a very different environment are all potentially good things for her character. But I’m not sure that a whole season of “Burnham the renegade” is going to work.

Stamets and Tilly figure out the cause of the inspectors’ transporter malfunction – it was Adira who sabotaged them. The camera work in this scene was neat, circling around the pair as they went through Adira’s actions and motivations, figuring out how smart they are and how they’re several steps ahead of them.

Tilly and Stamets work out what Adira did.

Meanwhile Burnham and Book have taken off in Book’s ship, flying straight at the raiders with all of Discovery’s dilithium. It was obvious that Burnham was up to something; she was neither planning to bribe the raiders with dilithium nor steal the supply for herself and Book. However, her actions catch Saru completely off-guard, and for the first time this season he seems overwhelmed by being in command and unsure of his next move, at least for a moment.

Georgiou immediately realises Burnham’s plan; like her, she can think outside of Starfleet regulations. Saru can’t, and in a way that’s something Burnham is counting on as part of her plan. We get a neat scene aboard Book’s ship with Grudge, and it’s clear from a story he tells about how upset he was when she wouldn’t look at him how much he loves her. He even looks at her with affection while talking to Burnham – in the middle of a very complicated and dangerous mission! As a cat owner myself I can appreciate that, and I think we see the real genius of giving Book a cat as his dependent; it humanises him.

Book and Grudge.

Wen hails them, and Burnham offers Discovery’s dilithium. Meanwhile Captain Ndoye has ordered her colleagues in the UEDF to fire on Book’s ship. Georgiou tells Saru that he has only one option if he wants to protect Burnham and the dilithium, but Saru hits back. “Starfleet does not fire first!” he proclaims angrily, and this line is more than just an “optimistic future” Star Trek expression. It stands in direct contradiction to Burnham’s actions in the season premiere. Is this Discovery making up for past mistakes? It certainly feels like it. Doug Jones delivers the line pitch-perfectly, and if there were doubts about Saru’s ability to command moments ago, they evaporate in this moment.

At Saru’s command, Discovery is positioned between Earth’s defence platforms and Book’s ship, despite Detmer’s objections and the general chaotic nature of the bridge. As mentioned, it seems like the writers are trying to go for some kind of mental health/post-traumatic stress story with Detmer, and this was another example of it. To Discovery’s credit, for a 930-year-old ship she takes two quantum torpedoes like a champ.

Discovery is hit by two quantum torpedoes.

It was a nice callback to The Next Generation films/Deep Space Nine to use quantum torpedoes, but in a way it would have been just as interesting to learn that there are different and more advanced weapons in the future. Discovery takes damage, including losing shields, but there are no major hull breaches as far as I could see, and I don’t think anyone will have lost their lives in this attack.

On Book’s ship, the pair warn Wen that Discovery can’t survive another hit, meaning the next shots from Earth will come for him. He agrees to lower shields to receive the dilithium. Burnham and Book work very well together, and the console aboard his ship is neat. Presumably made from the same kind of tech as the reprogrammable matter we saw last week, it has a sleek, futuristic look that’s very different from anything we’ve really seen in Star Trek before. At the same time, though, the console shape and the viewscreen give the bridge area of Book’s ship enough familiarity as to not seem entirely alien; it could be seen as an evolution of past Star Trek vessels. Oh, and I adore how nonchalant Grudge is as she just sits on the bridge console. What a beautiful cat!

Grudge, Book, and Burnham speak to Wen.

The chaos on Discovery’s bridge continues for a moment, with Saru, Ndoye, Georgiou, and Detmer all arguing about what to do next. Suddenly the raiders power down their weapons, and Burnham enters the bridge – having somehow bypassed the transporter interference! She has her prize: Wen, the raider leader, having captured him when he lowered his shields.

After some initial arguing between Wen and Ndoye, it’s revealed that Wen is not an alien but is in fact a human wearing an elaborate costume/mask. Appropriate, perhaps, for an episode that aired so close to Halloween! But again, where are Earth’s sensors? Or Discovery’s for that matter? Nobody thought to scan Wen’s ship or Wen himself to find out what species he is? I know it’s a bit of a nitpick again, but this is someone that has supposedly been bothering Earth for months if not years, and they never bothered to take a proper scan of him, his ships, or anyone else? It starts to strain credulity when we know how detailed Starfleet sensor scans could be even in the 23rd Century.

Wen unmasked.

It turns out that Wen is from Titan, which is one of Saturn’s moons. The human colony there is suffering after losing one of their habitats and much of their food production to an accident some years previously, and that’s why he turned to raiding. The revelation shocks Discovery’s officers, but also takes Captain Ndoye by surprise, as she assumed Titan was fine and self-sufficient just like Earth.

In true Starfleet fashion, Saru and Burnham manage to be peacemakers, bridging the gap between Ndoye and Wen, who agree to work together to assist one another. In this moment we see the beginnings of a restoration of the Federation, which I know sounds like a big claim! But Earth has, according to Ndoye, stood independently for over a century. This is the first time they’re willing to reach out and work with another group on another world, and even though it’s baby steps compared to what the Federation was, it’s something – a step in the right direction. If Saru and Burnham can achieve this, there’s hope to achieve further dialogue and reconciliation with other Federation worlds and ex-members.

Saru and Burnham: peacemakers.

Stamets has managed to track down Adira, who is in one of the jeffries’ tubes. They admit to the sabotage when Stamets reveals what he knows, but want to know more about the spore drive. Stamets is happy to oblige, of course, and explains how the spore drive can be used for faster-than-light travel between two points using the mycelial network.

Stamets also reveals that he and the ship are from the past – did he get permission for that from Saru? Luckily it doesn’t matter; Adira isn’t about to get them in trouble. They sabotaged the transporters to spend more time aboard the ship, looking for traces of Starfleet and the Federation. The music used for this sequence with Adira and Stamets was really cute, a light-hearted, sweet little tune that I hope we hear more of in future stories. It suits Adira very well.

Adira is confronted by Stamets.

Adira, as it turns out, is Admiral Tal, at least partially. Tal was a Trill, and Adira is the new host of the symbiont. We’d seen in The Next Generation that it was possible for a human – Riker, in that case – to serve as host to a Trill symbiont, and apparently that’s what happened to Adira. Captain Ndoye agrees to allow Adira to remain aboard Discovery as they search for the remnants of the Federation and Starfleet, and resolves her argument with Saru.

Burnham and Saru have another heart-to-heart following Burnham’s escapades with Book and the dilithium. Despite what she did, Saru is still content to offer her the first officer’s position. The line that “trust must remain an assumption between us” was very clever, and again Doug Jones is just wonderful in his delivery, rebuking Burnham but doing so in such a calm manner. He sounds not angry but disappointed, to use that old cliché. As they stand over Georgiou’s telescope in the ready-room, Burnham accepts the position.

Discovery has a new captain and first officer!

Book prepares to depart Discovery, paid a handsome reward in dilithium no doubt. He will remain in the vicinity of Earth, at least for now, and presumably plans to continue his mission to save the space-worms that we saw in That Hope Is You. We certainly haven’t seen the last of him – David Ajala is set to be a main character this season – so it isn’t clear what will happen next for Book, or how we’ll see him reunited with Discovery. However, I’m sure it will be done in a relevant way that advances the story!

In the episode’s closing scenes, Tilly, Detmer, Owosekun, Bryce, Rhys, and RBBO have beamed down to Earth. They visit what used to be Starfleet Academy, and share a moment. A large tree in the Academy grounds – which we saw in The Next Generation – is still standing after all this time, an they appreciate that it represents a connection to the world – and the people – that they left behind.

Tilly and the tree.

So that was People of Earth. An interesting episode that doesn’t really answer a lot of questions, but certainly does a lot to build up the 32nd Century setting. We also got the second story of Saru and Discovery lending a helping hand and resolving a conflict; following Starfleet’s principles even when Starfleet itself is absent – just like a certain Captain Janeway once did in Star Trek: Voyager.

It was a good episode that took the story of Season 3 to unexpected yet genuinely fascinating places, and I had a good time with it. There were some minor points I could nitpick, but none that really overwhelmed or significantly harmed the story the episode wanted to tell. For an episode directed by Jonathan Frakes I think there were three references to Riker: Adira being a human host for a Trill symbiont, as Riker had been in The Host from Season 4 of The Next Generation, Saru and Burnham using the phrase “Number One,” which was Picard’s nickname for his first officer, and the most obscure one, perhaps, was that Wen was from the moon Titan, the namesake of the ship Riker commanded after leaving the Enterprise-E. The USS Titan recently appeared in Star Trek: Lower Decks, so this was an oblique reference to that show as well.

Discovery in orbit of Earth.

The timing of the Burn is still unclear; Burnham’s line that it was “700 years” after Discovery’s 23rd Century setting seems to place it earlier than Book’s original timeline, perhaps meaning the Burn took place 200 years before Discovery arrived. This would put it somewhere in the second half of the 30th Century, not the 31st. As we still know so little about the event, other than it rendered most dilithium inert and destroyed many ships that were at warp, the timing is less important right now. However, sooner or later the show will have to pin down a timeframe for the Burn, as well as begin to unravel the mystery of its cause.

I didn’t like what feels like a mis-gendering of Adira, even if that’s setting up something for another episode. With all of the attention paid to Blu del Barrio and the character before the season debuted it just felt uncomfortable, and I hope it’s quickly explained and resolved.

Saru’s line that “Starfleet does not fire first” was cathartic, in a way. It overwrites Burnham’s dumb motivation for her mutiny in the Season 1 premiere, and emphasises that Starfleet has a true moral core; even if this era’s Starfleet is absent, Saru is carrying the flag for Starfleet and its values – alone, perhaps, if Burnham continues to do her own thing. It was also great to see a brief glimpse of Earth underneath its forcefields right at the end. Whatever the Burn was, and despite Earth’s isolationist policies in the decades since, it’s still a paradise, and about as far from “post-apocalyptic” as it’s possible to get!

I’m looking forward to seeing what the next episode, Forget Me Not, will bring. Stay tuned for my updated theories, which I hope to get published before Thursday.

Star Trek: Discovery is available to watch now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 1

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Season 3, as well as for Star Trek: Picard, Star Trek: Lower Decks, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

That Hope Is You, the third season premiere of Star Trek: Discovery, was pretty good. On the whole it did a good job establishing the main mystery of the season – the Burn – and set up some ground rules for how society operates in the 32nd Century. A solid foundation for the rest of the season to build upon!

If you’ve been a reader all year, you may remember my Star Trek: Picard theories. This series of articles will follow a similar format, as I take a look at some points within the show and postulate theories about what may or may not be going on. As I always say: these are just theories! No fan theory is worth getting too attached to or upset about, and unfortunately, as we’ve seen on a number of occasions recently, that can happen.

The season premiere offered up several points for theory-crafting – and also managed to debunk a couple of pre-season theories that I had!

Debunked theory #1: Warp drive is non-functional in the 32nd Century.

Book’s ship at warp.

Having initially come up with this theory when looking at some possibilities for the Burn, I spun it out into a full-blown theory all its own only a couple of days before the season premiere. Oops.

The basic idea behind it was that it would offer an explanation for why, decades after the Burn, the Federation had been unable to rebuild. A lack of faster-than-light transportation and communications would have made that task impossible. Not only that, but the lack of warp drive would have potentially left the USS Discovery (with its spore drive) as the only FTL-capable ship in Starfleet, perhaps even in the galaxy, providing a pathway for a ship from the 23rd Century to still be relevant in this era.

However, as we saw with Book’s ship, warp drive is still very much possible in the 32nd Century, and while dilithium – the power source behind warp drive – is now comparatively rare, many other vessels are capable of warp too. Mr Sahil’s relay station detected two Federation starships “in flight,” so even the rump Federation still has access to the technology.

Debunked theory #2: The Burn was a war or an invasion.

The super-synths from Star Trek: Picard.

When I looked in detail at what the Burn could be, based on the two trailers, one possibility was a war or an invasion. There were many ways this could have unfolded, and some covert or clandestine ones remain plausible. However, the Burn was categorically not a large-scale war or an invasion by the Borg or the super-synths from Star Trek: Picard. Both of those factions could still make an appearance and could still be connected to the Burn in some other way, but not this way.

Though we’re still completely unclear on what caused the Burn – which was the near-simultaneous explosion/disintegration of most of the galaxy’s dilithium – we can say with confidence that it was not a war, nor the opening salvo of one.

So those theories were debunked in That Hope Is You. Now let’s look at several new theories that I’ve come up with after watching the episode.

Number 1: Booker is a Coppelius synth.

Book’s prayer. Are the orange lights some kind of cybernetics?

Star Trek: Picard introduced us to Soji’s people – the Coppelius synths – in the two-part season finale. These androids had been originally built by Dr Maddox and Dr Soong, but there were a decent number of them by the time Picard and the crew of La Sirena arrived. Enough to form a self-sustaining civilisation in the decades and centuries between Picard and Discovery? Almost certainly.

Book appears to be human on the surface – but so did Soji and Dahj, and they were programmed to be unaware of their true natures. Book clearly has some kind of cybernetics or augmentations, as he demonstrated not only with his prayer/incantation, but also by having a holo-interface seemingly attached to his person. That could be an example of future technology, and as we get further along the timeline and humans (like Lower Decks’ Ensign Rutherford or Discovery’s own Lieutenant Detmer) become cybernetically-enhanced, the line between human and synth arguably becomes blurred. However, it is at least on the edge of possibility that Book is a synth rather than an enhanced human.

On the production side, this would tie together Picard and Discovery in a way that has yet to be attempted by either series. That would be a positive thing, and indeed is one of the things I hope to see this season. Whether this is the way to do it or not is certainly up for debate, but as of the end of the first episode, there’s no explanation for Book’s abilities or the glowing lights we saw on his face. Thus the possibility of him being synthetic remains.

Number 2: Hima is Terralysium.

The planet Book identified as “Hima.”

After Burnham met Book, she questioned him about what planet she was on. Because Dr Gabrielle Burnham – Michael’s mother – was “anchored” to the planet of Terralysium, Michael had set Terralysium as her destination when she created the time-wormhole in the Season 2 finale. Thus it was a surprise to her when Book told her than the name of the planet she had arrived at was Hima.

However, there are several points to consider. The first is that Terralysium was the name given to the planet by a very small group of pre-warp humans in the 23rd Century. If this civilisation didn’t survive for some reason, their name for the world would no longer be used. Secondly, 930 years have passed, and in that time the name of the planet could have changed organically. Languages evolve over time, and place names change too. Even in just the last century, the name of my home town has changed. Third, and perhaps most depressingly, it’s possible that without the protection of the Federation, the humans on Terralysium were killed, evicted, or conquered, and the name of the planet was changed by whoever currently controls it.

This is a minor point in some ways, and now that Burnham and Book have teamed up they may not revisit Hima – especially since they’re no longer welcome.

Number 3: The operators of the trading post on Hima are the Orion Syndicate.

One of the guards at the trading post was (I assume, anyway) an Orion.

I mentioned this during my review, but I wonder if the faction who operate the trading post on Hima are the 32nd Century Orion Syndicate. This criminal organisation was first hinted at in The Original Series and made several appearances in Deep Space Nine and Enterprise, and was depicted as a shadowy, underground criminal organisation comparable to organised crime groups of today.

In the absence of the Federation – or any other government – the Orion Syndicate may have felt no need to conceal itself, and could openly run settlements or even govern whole planets. It would explain the presence of Orions among the trading post’s staff, though there could be other reasons for that and Orions were by no means the only race we saw.

When I think about organised crime in Star Trek, the first group that comes to mind is the Orion Syndicate, and this kind of power vacuum is exactly what they would be able to take advantage of.

Number 4: Dr Gabrielle Burnham will appear during the season.

Dr Gabrielle Burnham, as seen in Season 2.

This is a pretty simple theory by my standards! The reason Michael Burnham selected the 32nd Century and the planet Terralysium for her destination in the Season 2 finale was because that time period and location were where her mother – Dr Gabrielle Burnham – is. “Anchored” there by a malfunctioning time travel suit of her own, Dr Burnham has been able to make short visits to the past, but is always pulled back to the 32nd Century afterwards. When choosing where to take Discovery, Burnham chose this time period and place on purpose specifically to reunite with her mother.

I didn’t necessarily expect Dr Burnham to appear right off the bat in the season premiere. But – along with finding her ship and crew – locating her mother could be an interesting storyline for Burnham to go through. Her reunion with her mother in Season 2 gave Burnham a much-needed emotional storyline, and I like the idea of bringing back this character. Not only that, as a scientist Dr Burnham could be very helpful when it comes to investigating the Burn – especially if the Burn is time travel-related!

Number 5: The Federation was already in serious decline before the Burn.

Book, Burnham, and Mr Sahil stand by the Federation flag.

Mr Sahil has a Federation flag aboard his relay station, which is implied to have been handed down to him from his father and grandfather – the latter of whom may have been a Starfleet officer before or during the Burn. But this flag has a different version of the Federation emblem to the one we’ve been familiar with in The Next Generation era and even in Enterprise. Specifically there are fewer stars on the flag.

That could simply be an aesthetic choice on the part of the future Federation, but it could also depict the secession or departure of member worlds and/or colonies, if the stars on the original flag represented them.

The familiar crest.

So this raises an interesting question: if the stars did represent Federation members, and many stars have been removed, does that mean the Federation has fewer members? If so, the obvious explanation is the collapse the Federation experienced after the Burn… but then why would Mr Sahil have this version of the flag? Surely his grandfather, if he were alive during the Federation’s pre-Burn heyday, would have a flag with more stars?

One possible answer for this is that the Federation was already in decline and had suffered withdrawals and secessions long before the Burn struck. The Burn may have been the final straw, but it may well not have been the only reason for the Federation’s collapse. It’s at least possible right now, based on what we know, that the Federation was in a weakened state prior to the Burn. This could be a result of the temporal wars mentioned by Book (that seem to be a reference to Enterprise’s temporal cold war storyline). That’s one explanation – but there could be others!

Number 6: The Federation’s response to the Burn, not the event itself, is what caused its collapse.

What could have driven the members of the Federation apart?

One thing Book said about the Burn stuck with me: the Federation couldn’t explain why the Burn happened, and couldn’t reassure the survivors that it wouldn’t happen again. As far as we know, there hasn’t yet been a reoccurrence of the Burn, but the lack of confidence in the Federation’s response may have proved more devastating to the alliance than the Burn itself.

As we know from what’s happening in the world today, people need information. They want to know what’s happening, and if there’s a problem, they want to know that their leaders and those in charge know enough about what’s going on to keep it in check. A lack of confidence can doom a government or political leader to quite rapid defeat, and perhaps this is what happened to the Federation.

It may be the case that, in the aftermath of a catastrophe, some Federation members had lost confidence in the organisation and withdrew. That may have snowballed, leaving the Federation even more weakened. It can be a difficult task for any leader to bring people together in the aftermath of a disaster – especially if an “everyone for themselves” kind of mentality sets in.

Number 7: Book, the other couriers, and the space-worm salvation society all operate in a small area – that’s why they’ve never seen the Federation.

Book seems unsure about the current state of the Federation.

It struck me as odd that Book seems to not know the Federation’s current status – he assumes it has collapsed but is unsure – when Mr Sahil could detect two Starfleet vessels in the relatively small patch of galaxy he is able to scan. It’s possible that the Federation does exist – perhaps even in a bigger way than we currently believe – but because Book, the other couriers, and his friends who help him save space-worms all live and travel within a relatively small area, they never encounter them.

The Federation’s influence is restricted, limited to a smaller area than it had been a century or so previously. But all that really tells us is that the Federation has no presence in Book’s star system.

Number 8: The Burn is the result of a superweapon – perhaps even one detonated by the Federation itself.

Does this scene from the second trailer show the Burn?

After what we saw in That Hope Is You, I’m increasingly confident that Discovery will give us a proper explanation for the Burn. We now have an approximate idea of what it is, but we still have no clue on the bigger question: why did it happen?

The Burn could be a natural event. As I mentioned when I looked at the second trailer, there was some reference to stars and coronal mass ejections, though how exactly this would relate to dilithium “going boom” (still hate that line) is anyone’s guess. However, it could also be an event that’s artificial in origin, and if that’s the case there are really only two options: a horrible accident, or a superweapon.

If the Federation felt the galaxy was threatened and that defeat was imminent, it’s possible that this weapon was one of their own making. The Burn could be a Pyrrhic victory; the Federation “won,” but only at a massive cost to itself.

As we learn more about the Burn, we’ll get to know whether this theory has any merit.

Number 9: The Burn was caused by one of the Red Angel suits.

Burnham with the Red Angel suit.

The nature of the Red Angel suit is unclear. It is capable of time travel, as well as the creation of a powerful time-wormhole capable of transporting a starship. It’s also capable of sending “red bursts,” which Starfleet could detect from thousands of light-years away. Could the suit be weaponised? Or if it malfunctioned – as Dr Gabrielle Burnham’s suit already has – could it accidentally cause a disaster?

I think the likelihood of Burnham or her mother deliberately causing the Burn is infinitesimally low. But the Burn shares the first half of their name, and while that could be a coincidence… maybe it isn’t. Maybe, somehow, Dr Burnham and/or Michael are responsible for the Burn through the misuse, malfunction, or even theft of one or both of their suits.

Dr Gabrielle Burnham in her Red Angel suit in Season 2.

With time travel banned in the 32nd Century, the suits would have phenomenal value at a place like the trading post Book and Burnham visited. The suits could be the only extant examples of time travel technology, and thus would be sought after by criminals, warlords, and anyone else who might want to misuse the technology.

Finally, in That Hope Is You, Burnham set her suit to self-destruct. It’s possible that self-destructing in or near a time-wormhole caused the Burn. As we didn’t see the suit destroyed on screen, however, the possibility remains that it wasn’t destroyed at all, and may have been captured by someone either in the 32nd Century… or 100 years earlier.

Number 10: Burnham’s Red Angel suit was intercepted by someone.

Burnham in the Red Angel suit in Season 2.

As above, the Red Angel suit vanished into space near the beginning of That Hope Is You. Burnham told it to self-destruct, but we never saw that happen. So what became of the suit?

The Season 2 finale of Discovery saw Spock and Pike receive the final “red burst” aboard the USS Enterprise, so we have to assume that part of the suit’s journey was a success. But beyond that we simply do not know. The suit’s value as perhaps one of the only surviving pieces of time travel kit cannot be overstated, and anyone with an agenda may have wanted to use it to attack the Federation – say, by destroying all of its dilithium. While there’s no indication the suit could do that, it could be repurposed, or it could simply be the vehicle through which a weapon was delivered. Unless we see confirmation of the suit’s destruction, this theory remains in play.

Number 11: The ban on time travel is being flouted – perhaps by the Federation.

Crewman Daniels was a temporal agent seen in Enterprise.

As we know from our own history, when a particular technology has been invented, even if it is massively dangerous and destructive and everybody agrees it was a bad idea, you can’t un-invent it. And when dealing with factions and nation-states that are inherently untrustworthy, you rid yourself of a potentially useful technology at your own peril.

This is where the galaxy is at with time travel. In the aftermath of the temporal wars, Book tells us the technology was outlawed. But did every faction in the entire known galaxy abide by that? What about the Romulans? The Cardassians? Perhaps those two were Federation members by this point in time. But are the Borg? The Dominion? Book mentioned the Gorn had destroyed part of subspace in the area near Hima – if they’re an antagonist faction, are they abiding by the ban on time travel?

Would the Cardassians abide by a ban on time travel?

Once a very useful, potentially weaponisable technology has been invented, the temptation to use it will always exist. And if it’s known that the technology is not in widespread use, that’s all the more incentive for some shady faction to keep using it for their own purposes. And speaking of shady factions… hello, Section 31. Even if the Federation government banned time travel, and even in the exceedingly unlikely scenario that everyone in the galaxy is abiding by the ban, would Section 31? Based on what we know of them from their appearances in past iterations of Star Trek, the answer is a resounding “no.”

On the production side, the ban on time travel may be to try to avoid story complications, such as why the Discovery crew can’t return to their own time after defeating Control, or to explain how the Burn was able to sneak up on the Federation and surprise them. So from that perspective, this theory may be less likely. In-universe, however, I can think of myriad reasons why it makes sense.

Number 12: The USS Discovery arrived before Burnham.

The USS Discovery in the second Season 3 trailer.

Time travel is complicated, and writing it can be difficult. One issue that crops up is the broken link between cause and effect – an event that, logically, should only be able to happen after a preceding event can, in some cases, happen before.

Burnham took the lead on opening the time-wormhole and bringing the USS Discovery into the 32nd Century. We thus assume that Burnham arrived first, and the absence of the ship seems to hint at that. But as Burnham and Mr Sahil briefly discussed, temporal mechanics can be complicated! It’s at least conceivable in a storyline all about time travel that the USS Discovery arrived first – perhaps even by a matter of months or years – and is already in the 32nd Century.

The USS Discovery seen in Season 1.

We did see, in the trailers, Saru and Tilly dressed up in hooded garments that could be native to this era. While none of the characters appear to have aged in a major way – thus ruling out Discovery arriving decades before Burnham – the nature of time travel means we could very well find out that the ship arrived first and Burnham arrived after. Mr Sahil was unaware of Discovery’s registry number when Burnham asked about it, but as his scanning range was limited, if the ship arrived at a different location for some reason perhaps he would never have seen it. And in addition, it was never established how far Sahil’s base was from the planet Hima.

Would this be a good revelation? If the crew of Discovery had managed to blend in by the time they reunite with Burnham it could be. And it could make that reunion different and exciting – instead of Burnham racing off to catch up with the ship the moment it arrives, they could run into each other by accident, with both unaware the other had survived. Any of these stories could be interesting to see, and as much as I dislike time travel stories in general, here this kind of narrative could work well.

So that’s it. Some theories as we begin the season! Let’s see how many I get wrong this time… if you read my Picard theory roundup a few weeks ago, you’ll know I scored fewer hits than misses last time around. Some of these are either far-fetched or based on less-well-known parts of Star Trek canon, and those theories in particular may not come to pass. Regardless, this is a lot of fun and I enjoy spending time putting together theories for what may be going on in Star Trek.

The second episode of the season, Far From Home, arrives in the UK on Friday, so be sure to check back sometime over the weekend for my review. After each episode airs I’ll adjust my theories based on the events depicted, and will continue to do so throughout the season.

Star Trek: Discovery is available to watch on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 3, Episode 1: That Hope Is You

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, including the latest episode. There are also spoilers for Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1, and other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

1998 was a pretty good year. Japan hosted the Winter Olympics, Windows 98 gave the world’s computers a major upgrade, and Billie Piper (later of Doctor Who fame) released Because We Want To, her debut single, which went straight to number one in the charts. Catchy stuff. It’s also the most recent year in which three different Star Trek productions all debuted. We got the film Star Trek: Insurrection, the seventh season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and the fifth season of Star Trek: Voyager. It seemed in those days that the franchise was an unstoppable juggernaut! It’s taken over two decades for there to once again be three productions in one year, but here we are. Despite everything going on in the world we’ve had Star Trek: Picard’s first season, Star Trek: Lower Decks’ first season, and now finally the third season of Star Trek: Discovery!

Oh boy it’s been a long wait! Season 2 wrapped up in April 2019, meaning we’ve had to stay on the edge of our seats wondering what will become of Burnham, Saru, and the rest of the crew for eighteen months! If you missed it, I’ve written a summary of the story so far, up to the end of Season 2. I think that serves as a decent recap of the adventures of the ship and crew over the first two seasons, and if it’s been a while since you last saw Discovery it could be worth a read to get back up to speed. You can find that article by clicking or tapping here.

Captain Pike and Spock watch Burnham and the USS Discovery disappear into the future at the end of Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2 – the Season 2 finale.

After the abject failure of ViacomCBS to secure an international broadcast for Lower Decks, I confess being a little concerned that Discovery would have similar issues. With Paramount+ – Star Trek’s new digital home – supposedly being rolled out internationally in 2021, I could quite understand Netflix saying they didn’t want to broadcast a show that will soon be taken down and made available on a competing service. Luckily, however, Netflix is content to broadcast Discovery here in the UK – and in 187 other countries and territories too! The episodes are broadcast on Netflix a day after their CBS All Access premiere, and since that’s the version I have access to, it means I’ll be 24 hours behind the curve when it comes to writing my reviews this season. Sorry, but there’s nothing I can do about that!

Without further ado, let’s jump into the season premiere. That Hope Is You was decent. It wasn’t Discovery’s finest, but it was far and away not the worst episode! Like the premiere of Star Trek: Picard earlier in the year, That Hope Is You builds up slowly and lays a foundation on which the story of the season can build. There was one especially bad line of dialogue, but other than that no colossal negatives to drag it down. The episode focused exclusively on two characters – Burnham and new character Book. This idea of slowly introducing characters instead of dumping them all in at once worked well in Picard, and I’m sure will work here too based on what we saw this week.

That Hope Is You focuses on Burnham and Book.

After the mandatory recap of last season’s story, we get a slow opening to the new season depicting the Federation official from the Season 3 trailers as he goes about his routine. I loved the holo-bird alarm clock, and the way the furniture in his room rearranges itself. Though other parts of the episode would struggle, at points, to show technology that looked suitably futuristic, much of what we saw in Mr Sahil’s quarters and at his workplace did seem well-suited to the 32nd Century.

This sequence set up, for folks who hadn’t seen either of the trailers and had avoided online speculation, the entire premise of the season. It communicated to us as the audience – entirely wordlessly – that the Federation exists in a vastly weakened state. But it also showed, thanks to Mr Sahil himself, that some people were still hard at work, even if things looked bleak and they weren’t able to find what they’re looking for. I actually inferred from the moment where Mr Sahil begins scanning that he was deliberately looking for Burnham and/or the USS Discovery – that somehow he had been forewarned of their arrival. Luckily this wasn’t the case, as I think that would have complicated the plot significantly.

Mr Sahil with his holographic galaxy map.

Burnham’s arrival in the future was not smooth. Through what can only be described as colossal bad luck, given the absolute vastness of space, she exits the time-wormhole and immediately crashes into a ship piloted by new character Booker, who had been in a dogfight against a character who I believe is a Yridian (a race first seen in The Next Generation sixth season two-parter Birthright). Both Burnham and Book crash-land on a nearby planet.

After the sequence in space the action jumps to the planet’s surface, and begins with a (slightly cliché) animated moment featuring two bugs. The animation and CGI work in Discovery has always been fantastic, and these two critters, while clearly alien, managed to look very real. Burnham then disrupts the peace of the planet’s surface by crash-landing, and while the sequence showing her struggling to reboot the damaged suit was certainly tense, as the audience we expected her to survive her fall from space. And she did.

Burnham – in the Red Angel suit – falls to the ground.

After struggling to her feet, Burnham removes the Red Angel suit. The suit’s on-board computer confirms that there are life-signs on the planet she crashed on, resulting in an outpouring of emotion. In the trailer I was a little sceptical of this scene and Burnham’s screaming reaction, but after seeing it in context I’m happy to say that it worked. Burnham is elated that her mission to save lives worked, and it shows.

With the wormhole about to close – despite the USS Discovery nowhere in sight – Burnham programs the suit to send the final “red burst” to confirm to Pike, Spock, and everyone left behind that they made it. She also tells the suit to self-destruct (though why she did that wasn’t completely clear). The suit, apparently undamaged by its fall through the atmosphere, launches back into space just as the time-wormhole is closing, stranding Burnham on the surface of what we assume to be Terralysium.

The Red Angel suit scans for life signs in the 32nd Century.

Terralysium, by the way, was the planet first encountered in the Season 2 episode New Eden, and was apparently the “anchor” point of Dr Gabrielle Burnham, Michael’s mother, when her own Red Angel suit malfunctioned. In the finale of Season 2, Burnham deliberately chose Terralysium as her destination for that reason. The year she arrived is confirmed to be 3188 – though why the suit chose to use the Gregorian calendar instead of stardates is unclear. Perhaps that was to make it easier for us as the audience to understand? It does seem a little odd, though.

Now all alone in the future, and with no indication of where she is or where to go, Burnham grabs her emergency kit. Inside we see a communicator, tricorder, phaser pistol, and a couple of miscellaneous items that Burnham identifies as ration packs. A nearby hill is smoking from what appears to be the crash-landing of the ship Burnham slammed into when she exited the wormhole, and with no other landmarks on the semi-barren world she sets off.

Burnham tells herself to “walk.”

Here’s one thing Discovery has in its favour over Picard: filming locations. Picard was filmed in Los Angeles and the surrounding area, and if you recall what I said during Season 1… it showed. Every location that the crew of La Sirena visited was a barely-disguised California, and as the season wore on my enjoyment of those settings wore out. Discovery, by contrast, is filmed in Canada. As such many of its filming locations are either wholly new to Star Trek or have only been seen once or twice before, giving its worlds a much less familiar feel. Something as abstract as the filming location can be hard to put your finger on when caught up in watching an interesting and engaging narrative, but in Picard, the obviously-California setting began to get in the way. Here we get something new and fresh, and I appreciate that.

After a montage, Burnham makes it to the crashed ship and is set upon by its pilot. This fight scene dragged a little, at least for me. Perhaps it’s because I’ve spent so long in past months poring over the trailers, but because I knew Burnham and Book were going to end up working together I just thought to myself “c’mon, let’s get this over with and move to the next part of the story!”

The first meeting between Book and Burnham didn’t go well!

We also got the title sequence in between Burnham’s trek and the fight scene, and it’s worth noting some of the imagery from it. The main one that I noticed was the Starfleet badge. It transitions from the DiscoveryOriginal Series style that we’ve been familiar with to an altogether different one that’s still based on the familiar Starfleet emblem, but is clearly quite different. Its oval outer shape reminded me at least a little of the Bajoran badges used by Major Kira, Odo, and others in Deep Space Nine, and perhaps we could suggest that the fact that the logo is split into a couple of pieces is somehow a metaphor for the divided Federation. Too far? Maybe!

The titles also showed off Book’s ship, which sports a design unlike anything we’ve really seen before, being almost wedge-shaped. The phaser pistols also transition from the style we’ve seen in Discovery (and obviously based on The Original Series) to a new style which reminded me at least a little of The Next Generation-era Klingon disruptors. The title music has remained the same (and after the enjoyment of Lower Decks’ theme feels a bit of a downgrade!) and of course we have the new font used for the main titles.

The new Starfleet badge/logo.

Book brings Burnham aboard his ship after she gives him a speech about needing to trust someone. The damage to his ship appears minimal, but he mentions that he needs to get more dilithium in order to complete his courier run. I liked the name-drop of both slipstream technology (seen in Voyager) and the tachyon solar sails (seen on an ancient Bajoran ship Sisko recreated in Deep Space Nine). We’re also introduced to Grudge – Book’s cat. What a majestic cat she is, too!

After establishing that they could trade Burnham’s “antique” tricorder for some dilithium at a nearby settlement, Book and Burnham set off. And it’s during their journey to the trading post that Burnham learns what we’ve all known since the trailers – the Federation is gone. Book tells her of the Burn, an event that occurred over a century earlier. Somehow this event destroyed much of the dilithium in the known galaxy. And let’s be honest for a second: Book’s line explaining it was atrocious. Truly terrible writing. “Dilithum… One day, most of it just went ‘boom'” has to be a contender for one of the worst-written lines in Star Trek. Ever. It just felt completely unnatural, like Book wasn’t speaking but reading a script. And that’s no criticism of actor David Ajala, who put in an astonishingly good performance across the whole episode. It’s purely the writing.

Burnham aboard Book’s ship.

I get that the writers want to keep the events of the Burn mysterious. Indeed, part of the story of the season is going to be unravelling this event, figuring out what it was, what happened, and perhaps finding a way to undo it or prevent a reoccurrence. But there had to have been a better way to explain it that to say “it just went ‘boom.'” I’m astounded at how bad that line is, and honestly it detracts from the entire episode.

However, we do have the beginnings of an explanation for the Burn and the Federation’s collapse. The Burn, somehow, has destroyed dilithium across the known galaxy, seemingly explosively. It also sounds as though this happened near-simultaneously. Curiously, Book is aware of the Federation’s response to the Burn, which was to tell the peoples of the galaxy that they didn’t know what happened and couldn’t guarantee it wouldn’t happen again. I’m inferring a lot here, and we will deal with this in a day or two when I write up my theories and predictions, but it sounds as though the poor response from the Federation is as much of a reason for its collapse as the Burn itself. Perhaps people were dissatisfied with the response, and star systems began withdrawing or seceding until there were very few left. Book’s next line that the Federation had collapsed “I guess,” strongly hints that he’s never encountered Starfleet or any official Federation representative.

Book explains the Burn.

The settlement Book and Burnham visited in the aftermath of this conversation reminded me of Freecloud, the planet visited by the crew of La Sirena in Picard. Though this place was perhaps a little more run-down, both have that “dystopian futuristic city” vibe that we often get in modern science fiction. I did like the design of part of the settlement, with large rotating rings seeming to orbit a walkway as Book and Burnham entered.

The Andorians are an interesting race in Star Trek. Though they appeared in The Original Series, and were heralded as one of the founding members of the Federation, they were almost entirely absent during The Next Generation era. It was only in Enterprise that we got to spend any real time with Andorian characters, and though they have made background appearances in modern Star Trek, the scene we got with Book and Bunham at the entry to the trading post is the first to prominently feature an Andorian in years. I’m a big supporter of bringing back classic races and factions, and this time is was done exceptionally well as the grouchy Andorian guard has to be persuaded to let Burnham inside the trading post.

The entrance to the trading post.

After strolling through the trading post, Book and Burnham make a trade – he directs her where to go to try to contact Discovery, and in exchange she gives him her tricorder, which now has value as an example of very old technology! However, it soon emerges that Book has not been true to his word, and has instead sent Burnham into a restricted area (described as a “vault”) where she is immediately captured. Book steals her emergency kit and leaves. As a surprise twist, I think this worked quite well. I’m sure a lot of viewers will claim to have seen it coming – Book’s nature had been well-established by this point as someone untrustworthy. Even so, the suddenness with which Burnham was trapped and then robbed made the moment work very well.

The story splits in two at this point, following both Burnham as she’s drugged and interrogated by two of the trading post’s security guards, as well as Book in his attempts to pawn Burnham’s gear. Whatever drug was given to Burnham clearly has a major effect on her, as she begins blabbing about everything that’s happened to her over the last few days – remember, of course, that this episode is set immediately after the Season 2 finale (though walking from the ship to the trading post clearly took time).

Book betrays Burnham.

As a sequence depicting Burnham under the influence of this “truth serum,” I think it worked overall. However, its success depends much more on the camera work and effects used to represent the impact of the drug rather than on Sonequa Martin-Green’s performance. For all my earlier criticism of Burnham as a character, especially in Discovery’s premiere, Martin-Green has always done a standout job in the role. Here, though, I have to say the performance was a little unconvincing. The sequence worked as a whole, but was salvaged thanks to the way it was filmed and edited.

Book has no luck selling Burnham’s emergency kit, despite the fact that someone higher-up at the trading post saw the gear and let Burnham in. This is a minor inconsistency, as it initially appeared that the now-antique kit would have value, yet the way the traders behave (at least towards Book) indicates that it doesn’t.

Burnham drugged by the trading post guards.

After the drug causes Burnham to tell the guards about Book they take her out of her cell and back onto the main floor of the trading post to point him out. Meanwhile Book has been accosted by the Yridian he was battling in space – Cosmo. Cosmo is looking for his cargo that he claims Book stole when Burnham and her guards arrive. Cosmo is a tad one-dimensional as villains go, but his threat to hurt Grudge the cat definitely spurred me on to support Book all the more!

After being surrounded by the facility’s guards, Book and Burnham team up to fight them off in what was a very exciting sequence. I stand by what I said during my look at the trailers – the weapons used by the people of the 32nd Century don’t appear to be particularly advanced compared to the 24th or 23rd. Partly that’s a result of the Burn and the impact on galactic events. But at the same time, the Burn is something a long way in the past, and something which doesn’t appear to have been quite as devastating as feared. While the 32nd Century is definitely different to how we as the audience (and Burnham) may have expected, it isn’t exactly fair to call it “post-apocalyptic.” There is still technology, and there is still a functioning society, even though that society isn’t the Federation. So my point about technology is valid, and this is an issue any science fiction franchise can fall victim to. How do you make technology feel suitably advanced?

An Andorian guard wielding a 32nd Century handheld weapon.

During their fight against the security team, Burnham was able to grab a number of fragments of dilithium crystal – hopefully enough to power Book’s warp drive. The duo then go through a prolonged escape-fight, escape-fight sequence using Book’s portable transporter. The third time of escaping they transport inside a body of water, where apparently they can’t be tracked. It’s here that we finally get a break from the constant battling, long enough to slow the episode back down and to allow Book and Burnham to have another conversation.

Book has figured out that Burnham is a “time-traveller,” despite time travel in the 32nd Century having been prohibited. I’m not 100% convinced on that point – and I wonder whether we’ll see the remainder of Starfleet abide by that ban later in the season. However, it was interesting and contained an oblique reference to Enterprise when Book mentioned the “temporal wars.”

Burnham and Book after escaping the trading post.

We also see a mysterious side to Book. Not only does he offer up a prayer in some alien language, but doing so leads to some kind of glowing marks on his face. My bet is that these are technological rather than biological (they looked similar in colour to his holographic interface) but exactly what the prayer means and what Book’s true nature is is unclear at this point. His prayer allowed him to pull from the water some kind of plant which contained a healing serum for a wound to Burnham’s arm. How all of this works, and whether Book has some kind of cybernetics or other augmentations is a mystery.

After returning to Book’s ship, the duo are once again set upon by Cosmo and the trading post’s guards. The guards execute Cosmo for losing his cargo, then plan to do the same to Book and Burnham. As we’ve now seen several Orions amongst this group, I wonder if the operators of the trading post – and thus at least one of Book’s employers – is the Orion Syndicate. The Orion Syndicate first appeared in The Original Series and was referenced a few times in both Deep Space Nine and Enterprise. In the 22nd-24th Centuries it was an underground criminal group, kind of analogous to the Mafia or similar gangs today. It’s possible that, in the power vacuum caused by the Burn and the collapse of the Federation, the Orion Syndicate is now out in the open.

Book’s prayer – and possible augmentation.

Rather than simply shoot Book and Burnham, the group insist on seeing Book’s cargo. The guards had become interested in it when Burnham mentioned it was temperature-sensitive, and upon opening the hold of his ship the cargo is revealed: a giant worm-like creature that looked kind of like a cross between a puppy and Jabba the Hutt! The space-worm makes short work of the assembled guards, eating one and forcing the others to flee. Book is able to calm it – apparently it’s another of his pets – but not before it can eat Burnham!

Okay, “eat” is a strong word. It picks her up with its mouth before Book convinces it to spit her out. But considering it had just chopped an Andorian in half with its mouth, I’d say Burnham got lucky! This is the second Star Trek season premiere this year which involved a main character being chewed on by a large alien creature! Ensign Boimler was similarly picked up and chewed by a large critter in Lower Decks’ premiere episode, Second Contact. I wonder if that’s purely a coincidence or if it was planned that way?

This happened in That Hope Is You…
…and this happened in Second Contact.

Back aboard Book’s ship, and the true purpose of his mission is revealed. The space-worms are an endangered species, and Book – along with a collective of others – is rescuing them and relocating them to sanctuary worlds. I had theorised only a few days ago that the Burn might have caused warp drive to not function. Though the loss of much of the galaxy’s dilithium has certainly limited warp drive, as we see from Book’s ship that theory was incorrect. Our first debunking of the season!

After releasing the space-worm at the sanctuary, Book takes Burnham to a “waypoint” that couriers like him use – a damaged Federation relay station. This is the facility operated by Mr Sahil, who we saw at the beginning of the episode. Though the performance was great from guest star Adil Hussain, I can’t help but feel that Sahil is an underdeveloped character. We’re told that he, like his father and grandfather, mans the relay station because he believes in what the Federation used to stand for. Yet he’s been there for his entire life (or so it seems) without any contact from anyone else in the Federation. There are very few people who would have that kind of semi-religious dedication to a long-dead cause, and while on the one hand Sahil’s story here was emotional, particularly when Burnham spoke highly of him and offered him a commission, it also felt just a little unrealistic.

Mr Sahil and Burnham at the relay station.

Sahil’s relay station has the ability to scan a radius of 600 light-years, and assuming it’s located somewhat close to Hima/Terralysium, should be able to detect the arrival of the USS Discovery. Assuming, that is, that Discovery arrives in the future not the past! Time-travel stories can get complicated like that, which is why they’ve never been my favourites in Star Trek.

I do like Mr Sahil, despite my criticism above, and the sequence between him and Burnham was the emotional heart of the episode. It’s implied that he’s never met a Starfleet officer, so even meeting Burnham is a big deal for him, and the emotion on his face when Burnham tells him she’s proud of his dedication to the Federation was just beautiful, really. Together, Sahil and Burnham raise the Federation flag on the damaged outpost, signalling – in line with the theme of the season as a whole – that the Federation is coming back.

Mr Sahil and Burnham shake hands.

One point of interest from the flag is the missing stars. This is what first prompted me to consider the season as perhaps seeing a declining Federation way back when we got the first Season 3 trailer last year. The missing stars could simply be an aesthetic choice on the part of the Federation – but equally, those missing stars could represent seceded or withdrawn planets and races. If the latter is true, I wonder if it means those secessions happened before the Burn. Perhaps the Federation was already in decline, and the Burn was simply the last straw? Let’s save the theorising for my theory post!

Interestingly, Mr Sahil noted that two Starfleet vessels were in flight in the area he was able to scan. I had speculated that Starfleet and the Federation weren’t entirely gone, and this settles it. There are still Starfleet ships, even if there are only two within 600 light-years and even though Book has never seen one! I’m sure that, as the season progresses, we’ll get to spend time with this era’s Starfleet. Rebuilding the Federation is going to be a major theme of the season, and I’m excited for that. But I’m also excited to see what the contemporary Federation looks like.

Mr Sahil notes that Federation vessels are active in the area.

And with that, the episode was over. That Hope Is You was a genuinely interesting start to the season. It built up slowly, introducing us to only two major characters, and perhaps a recurring or side character depending on how often Mr Sahil will return. Book is interesting, and I’m curious to learn more about his potential augmentations and/or cybernetics, as well as why he dedicates his time to rescuing space-worms.

There were a couple of badly-written lines that, unfortunately, detracted from the episode. Of course we’ve covered the line about the Burn, but there was also Book referring to himself as being “space broke” that I felt just didn’t work. Other than that, though, there aren’t any massive points to criticise from the premiere. The story worked well, it had some exciting moments, some quieter moments, and an emotional tug toward the end. It was a decent, solid way for Discovery to return to our screens.

Book and Burnham approach the trading post.

One thing I hope we see more of are references to past iterations of Star Trek, especially to the events of the 24th Century. There wasn’t much of that at all this time, and although we are hundreds of years further along the timeline, finding ways for Discovery to tie itself to the wider franchise – and especially to series currently in production – will be important. Even more so now that we have a fourth season confirmed. That’s right, Discovery is coming back for Season 4 next year, much to the chagrin of followers of anti-Star Trek social media groups!

The setting for Season 3, while still shrouded in mystery, is not as strongly post-apocalyptic as I’d feared. Even the Federation itself is not entirely gone – Sahil confirmed this when he said that there are two Starfleet vessels in operation just in his relatively small patch. Though the Federation is clearly far smaller and lesser than we’ve ever seen it, there is a rump from which it can be rebuilt. The Burn is also not as catastrophic as feared, and there are clearly many millions, billions, or more who survived those events. All of these are positive things. Star Trek has always been a franchise that presents an optimistic future, and while I wouldn’t call the 32nd Century “optimistic,” it’s also not as pessimistic as perhaps I’d feared from seeing the trailers.

Book, Burnham, and Mr Sahil stand by the Federation flag.

That Hope Is You has given Discovery a solid foundation upon which to build. The next episode will reintroduce Saru and the rest of the crew, and I’m really excited to see them back! I hope you’ll join me in the next few days for some theory-crafting, and next week I’ll be back to break down and review episode 2 – Far From Home. I’m looking forward to it already!

Star Trek: Discovery is available to watch now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.