Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 5

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

I had a good time with Die Trying overall, and it feels as though Discovery is now moving into the second phase of Season 3’s storyline. The first phase has been about laying out the landscape of the 32nd Century and looking for the Federation, and having now found the Federation I imagine we’ll start seeing stories which begin to pull at the threads of the season’s biggest mystery: what is the Burn?

Die Trying gave us several new theories. It also debunked one of the possible causes for the Burn that I had posited before the season premiered. Let’s look at that first.

Debunked theory: The cause of the Burn is related to stars and coronal mass ejections.

A real-world CME detected by NASA in 2012.

In the second Season 3 trailer I spotted a brief clip of Stamets, Tilly, Reno, and the new character who we now know is Lieutenant Willa talking about coronal mass ejections. A screen that Tilly and Stamets were working on had the words “CME Detected” on it, and I theorised that perhaps this was somehow related to the Burn.

Because a coronal mass ejection involves a star shooting burning plasma into space, it certainly seemed like a possibility for an event known as “the Burn.” Michael Burnham’s explanation of the Burn being an event that destroyed dilithium and caused warp cores to explode certainly put a damper on this idea a couple of weeks ago, but I felt that there was still the possibility of a connection to CMEs and stars, and at the very least I wanted to see this scene in its entirety before calling the theory debunked.

The frame from the trailer that I picked out for this theory.

Die Trying contained this scene, and the CME that the crew were investigating had nothing to do with the Burn, but was instead connected to their investigation of the USS Tikhov – the seed vault ship.

This is our second major Burn theory to fall; the first was that it was the opening salvo of a war or invasion. As it’s been 120 years since the Burn (according to Admiral Vance in Die Trying) we can say for sure that no war or invasion took place in the immediate aftermath. So that’s two theories down!

So that theory was debunked in Die Trying. We have no confirmed theories this week, so now we’re going to jump into the main theory list, beginning with those that were new or advanced in this week’s episode.

Number 1: The music Burnham keeps encountering is indicative of being in a parallel universe, simulation… or even a dream.

Adira plays the strange melody in Forget Me Not.

As I said when I reviewed Die Trying, it isn’t much of a stretch to think that a piece of music could be well-known across the Federation. Even though the alliance is fractured in the 32nd Century, there were over a thousand years for its various members and cultures to exchange everything from information to lullabies. However, for story reasons I understand that this piece of music is sure to be important… somehow!

One way in which this could manifest would be if the piece of music were somehow indicative of Burnham and the crew being caught in some kind of parallel universe or alternate reality, one in which somehow this piece of music was prevalent. It could even suggest that the 32nd Century setting the crew have encountered is artificial – the music could be part of a simulation or even hinting at these events all taking place inside Burnham’s head.

The latter two points in particular would not be a route I’d like to see the show go down. The “it’s all a dream” or fake-out story tropes rarely end well, and while for a single episode or two-parter (like parts of Deep Space Nine’s third season episode The Search) this can be okay, on the whole it feels like a cheap way to end a story. I don’t expect to see Discovery go down this route, but the unexplained music could indicate that the story may be headed in this direction.

Number 2: Season 3 is taking place in an alternate timeline, or a timeline that will be overwritten.

Burnham in Die Trying.

As mentioned above, the inclusion of this unexplained piece of music that Burnham keeps encountering could be an indication that she and the crew have somehow crossed over to a parallel universe – one which, somehow, has a common piece of music.

But the music alone is not the only evidence we could argue points to a parallel universe. We got the first acknowledgement on screen from Burnham this week that the time-wormhole went wrong. She and Discovery planned to arrive at the planet of Terralysium, but they didn’t. This in itself had been evidence pointing potentially to a parallel universe, as the planets were not in the “right” place. However, Burnham says that she doesn’t know for certain what went wrong, but has a theory that gravitational waves may have disrupted their passage. Could these waves indicate a crossover to a different universe? Or could they be the cause of such a crossing?

The next part of this theory is Dr Gabrielle Burnham being missing. Dr Burnham was anchored in the 32nd Century – which is why Michael chose to travel to this time period. However, in the year she has spent since arriving, Michael has found no trace of her mother, even on Terralysium which is where Dr Burnham was supposed to be.

Dr Gabrielle Burnham.

It’s possible that, if Burnham and the crew have crossed over into a different universe, they’re in the Kelvin timeline. This would undoubtedly prove controversial with fans! However, one point in favour of the parallel universe theory is that it would mean – from the point of view of Star Trek’s prime timeline – that the Burn may not occur. We’ve talked at length about how Discovery Season 3 kind of puts a downer on the entire franchise; everything all of our heroes do across all the series and films ultimately comes to nothing because the Burn appears to have ruined everything. But if it turns out that Discovery is in a parallel universe, there’s hope that the prime timeline is safe from the Burn and its disastrous consequences.

The second half of this theory is that the Burn happened due to the interference of a time traveller or time travelling faction. From Starfleet’s point of view, the timeline in which the Burn occurred is not the “true” timeline, and thus part of the resolution to the Burn may be travelling through time to undo it.

I consider the first part of the theory – the parallel universe part – more likely. But both are possible at this juncture.

Number 3: Something bad has happened to Adira.

Adira with Admiral Vance in Die Trying.

After arriving at Starfleet HQ, Adira had a short and slightly awkward reunion with Admiral Vance. They were then sent elsewhere for a debrief and medical check-up, but we didn’t get to see any of that nor learn what happened to Adira after.

In shows like Discovery, any absence like this makes me start to worry! Has something happened to Adira? Are they alright? Have they been arrested or is someone threatening to harm the symbiont? It’s quite possible that the answer is “no” and that Adira is perfectly fine; we may not see much more of them if their character was simply present to allow Burnham and the crew to find Starfleet HQ. And that’s okay… as long as nothing bad has happened to them!

At this stage it’s less of a theory than a worry or a gut feeling… but I can’t help wonder where Adira went and if they’re okay.

Number 4: The ships at Federation HQ represent the majority of Starfleet’s remaining vessels. And they’re all 120+ years old.

Is this the whole of Starfleet?

How many ships were present as Discovery arrived at Federation HQ? Ten? Twelve? It wasn’t much more than that, that’s for sure. In a post-Burn environment, one where the Federation has shrunk considerably and where dilithium is in short supply, it’s possible that these ships are all that remain of the once-mighty Starfleet.

In That Hope Is You, Mr Sahil noted two Federation ships in flight, so perhaps we can say from his comment that there are at least two more! But I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that we’ve seen the bulk of Starfleet. Certainly the Federation seems incapable of either building any more ships nor fielding a large armada right now, which is perhaps one of the reasons why they need to keep their base cloaked.

Because of the catastrophic nature of the Burn, it also seems highly likely that shipbuilding facilities would have been damaged, destroyed, or would be inaccessible. That may mean that the Federation’s fleet entirely consists of ageing vessels, each one over 120 years old and probably not designed for being in service this long. In addition, without fuel what would be the point of expending a lot of resources building a new ship?

Number 5: Someone commandeered Burnham’s Red Angel suit.

Burnham’s Red Angel suit blasts off from Hima.

This has been a theory I’ve been pushing since Burnham sent her Red Angel suit back into the wormhole in That Hope Is You right at the beginning of the season, and until now we’ve seen nothing whatsoever to indicate it might be right! However, I was struck by a line in Die Trying: Admiral Vance described the Red Angel suit as being “inaccessible.”

Burnham goes on to say she set the suit to self-destruct, but all this did for me is reinforce the fact that we didn’t see the suit’s destruction with our own eyes. The finale of Season 2 confirmed that Pike and Spock received the final red burst in the 23rd Century, but beyond that we simply do not know what became of the suit.

It’s at least possible that someone intercepted or stole the suit before it could self-destruct. It would have to be someone familiar with the suit and who had the ability to travel or at least scan through time, but neither of those things are impossible within Star Trek. This theory could connect to the Burn itself – as we’ll look at in a moment.

Number 6: The Spore Drive is going to become Starfleet’s new method of faster-than-light propulsion.

Burnham orders a Black Alert in Die Trying.

This week, Admiral Vance seemed at first to want to commandeer Discovery and her spore drive. Considering that Starfleet’s supply of dilithium must be quite low this makes a lot of sense! From the Admiral’s point of view, reinstalling the spore drive on one of his most powerful ships is a better option than leaving it aboard the 930-year-old Discovery, which is horribly outgunned in the 32nd Century. Discovery may be able to be refitted to be better equipped for dealing with 32nd Century ships and weapons, but right now the spore drive is incredibly valuable – and incredibly vulnerable.

If it’s possible to figure out a way to either create more mycelial network navigators, or better yet, a navigation system that doesn’t require a living person to have their DNA messed with, it would be possible for every Starfleet vessel to have its own spore drive. In such a scenario, whatever happened with the Burn and dilithium, Starfleet could begin the task of reuniting the fractured Federation, jumping back and forth between member worlds with ease.

In Forget Me Not, Tilly had an idea for creating a dark matter-based spore drive system, and whether this ultimately pans out or not, the idea of the spore drive expanding beyond Stamets’ control is now firmly on the table.

This theory would allow the resolution to the Burn to keep the current timeline intact – there would be no need to go back in time and undo anything, nor would there be a deus ex machina of a sudden discovery of a huge cache of dilithium. Instead, Starfleet could get back on its feet using the spore drive – finally finding a proper use for Discovery’s most controversial piece of technology!

Number 7: Dr Gabrielle Burnham will make an appearance.

Dr Burnham was the original Red Angel.

As mentioned above, Dr Burnham’s absence is peculiar. It certainly could be because Michael and the crew have somehow crossed over to a parallel universe, but equally Dr Burnham could be here… somewhere. This week, Michael mentioned that she was holding out hope for a reunion with her mother, but in all of her scenes with Admiral Vance she didn’t mention or ask about her.

I have to assume that, if Dr Burnham had found the Federation, she’d have met with Admiral Vance and that he’d have said something to Michael in this week’s episode. The fact that the Red Angel suit and Control all seemed to be new to him strongly suggests that this meeting never happened; wherever Dr Burnham is, she never made it to Starfleet HQ.

When Dr Burnham arrived in the 32nd Century for the first time, all life in the galaxy was gone. It was only after Discovery and the Sphere data left the 23rd Century that that changed; Control’s defeat meant life could continue. It’s possible that when that change occurred, Dr Burnham was killed or captured by whichever faction controls Terralysium. She may have sought out another Federation colony or vessel and worked with them to figure out the Burn. In short, there are many possibilities for where she could be and what could have happened to her in this timeline that make an appearance possible.

Whether she appears or not, though, I do think we’ll learn her fate. If Michael and the crew are indeed in a parallel universe, Dr Burnham may be in the prime timeline. Or it could be the other way around, with Dr Burnham being the one trapped in a parallel universe.

So those theories were new or saw movement this week. Now, as always, we’ll go through the remaining theories so they’re all in one place. These theories were neither debunked nor confirmed this week, and while some may have had a minor line or two in Die Trying, nothing really moved the needle. To look at them in a little more detail, you can check out previous weeks’ theory posts on my dedicated Star Trek: Discovery page.

Number 8: Michael Burnham will leave the series.

Burnham in People of Earth.

Although she’s been the series protagonist since Season 1, it’s possible Burnham may leave that role by the end of this season. In short, she has lived a whole year away from Discovery; a year in which, by her own admission, she began to enjoy living life in a different and less-restricted way. Tilly, Georgiou, and Saru all picked up on this, noting Burnham’s enjoyment and appreciation for life outside Starfleet. Even though the 32nd Century is very different from what she would have hoped to find, that difference has given her a shot at a different way of life – and perhaps a new romantic partner.

We don’t yet know what happened between Book and Burnham, but it’s clear that they spent a lot of time together and became close. Precisely how close isn’t clear. Book may end up tempting Burnham with a return to her non-Starfleet life of freedom, something she hasn’t really experienced before. Burnham went from a somewhat restrictive life with Sarek straight to Starfleet, and the past year with Book is the closest thing she’s ever had to true freedom.

Burnham has also missed out on the crew bonding. Most notably in Forget Me Not, but also in Far From Home and People of Earth. She may see them coming together without her and feel left out, further pushing her away. There are two ways her departure could manifest, assuming it were to happen. She could leave Discovery but remain a recurring character, or she could leave the series entirely. Whether either of these changes would improve the show are up for debate, but for my two cents I think Discovery could survive without her, moving to become more of an ensemble series centred around Captain Saru.

Number 9: The Dax symbiont is still alive.

The Tal symbiont’s former hosts.

This one is looking less likely, because the two locations where Dax could have appeared have both seemingly come and gone without them: most notably the Trill homeworld in Forget Me Not, but also Federation HQ in Die Trying. However, there are hints at a lifespan for Trill symbionts that may be exceptionally long, in which case Dax could very well still be alive in the 32nd Century.

Obviously we won’t see Ezri Dax (barring some bizarre time travel/stasis storyline) but the symbiont itself could have lived this long. When Adira “met” the Tal symbiont’s former hosts in Forget Me Not, one was wearing a Star Trek: Picard-era uniform, hinting that Tal may have lived 700+ years. There are production-side explanations for this Easter egg, and as stated the fact that two of the best opportunities so far to meet Dax have come and gone may mean it won’t happen this season. But I’m sticking to my guns on this one: Dax is alive!

Number 10: Lieutenant Detmer is going to die.

Detmer at the helm in Far From Home.

Detmer didn’t have as big of a role this week, but we did see her continue to struggle as Discovery’s helm officer. Her friend Owosekun has been a great help, and I’m so glad that this storyline didn’t just fizzle out after last week.

I maintain that we’ve seen hints at a possible premature end to Detmer, though – and that includes the fact that she’s been given a storyline of her own for the first time! In Far From Home she appeared injured, and despite being given a clean bill of health from the doctor, appeared to still be suffering some kind of implant-related injury. This week we got one line that may yet prove to be significant, as Admiral Vance noted that her “baselines are unsteady, to put it mildly.” Is that a reference to her mental health? Or a more oblique reference to her overall health being in terminal decline?

Number 11: A character from a past iteration of Star Trek – such as Voyager’s Doctor – will make an appearance.

The Doctor in Living Witness.

I’ve been kicking around this theory since well before Season 3 debuted last month! In short, there are a few characters with lifespans long enough to potentially set up a 32nd Century appearance, and it would be a fantastic way for Discovery to tie itself to the broader Star Trek franchise by including someone in that category. This concept worked well in Season 2 with Spock, Pike, and Number One, so why not here too?

Other than a backup copy of Voyager’s Doctor, other characters I suggested included Soji (or a synth who looks like her), Lore, Captain Sisko, and Enterprise’s Crewman Daniels – the latter of whom was a 30th/31st Century temporal agent. While these characters are among the few who could still be alive in this era, there’s no reason why literally any 23rd or 24th Century character couldn’t be included; perhaps they had been in stasis or travelled through time.

Number 12: Booker is a Coppelius synth.

Book has many abilities that some consider to be… unnatural.

The abilities Book had in That Hope Is You – including strange glowing spots which could be technological in origin – are still unexplained. Burnham may well know more about Book, having spent at least some time with him over the past year. But for us as the audience, Book is still a mystery. Thematically, his relationship with Grudge mirrors Data’s with Spot, which could be another hint. It’s possible Book is an enhanced human, or even an alien from a different race. But his abilities could be indicative of a synthetic origin, and if he is a synth, he could be part of a civilisation founded on Coppelius in the late 24th Century.

Number 13: The Federation’s response to the Burn – not the event itself – caused it to collapse.

Captain Ndoye of the UEDF.

Captain Ndoye hinted at this in People of Earth, as did Book and Zareh in earlier episodes. Book said that the Federation couldn’t answer questions people had about what the Burn was or what caused it, and Captain Ndoye said that the citizens of Earth, fearing attack or invasion, essentially kicked the Federation out in the aftermath of the Burn.

I had hoped to hear the Federation’s side of the story in Die Trying, but perhaps that will come in a future episode. Regardless, we’re at least halfway-confirmed with this one!

Number 14: The ban on time travel is being flouted – possibly by secretive elements within the Federation.

Kovich in Die Trying.

Unless Admiral Vance was straight-up lying to Saru and Burnham, he believes that the ban on time travel is still in effect. But while he’s the head of Starfleet, he may not be in total control. Section 31 was known to be rogue, and Kovich, who interviewed Georgiou this week, may well be a Section 31 agent.

It’s impossible to un-invent a powerful, useful, weaponisable technology, no matter how hard you try. Considering how crappy the 32nd Century seems to be, are we convinced that nobody at all is using time travel to try to give themselves an advantage? Not the Dominion? Not the Borg? Not Section 31? Seems unlikely to me, though for production-side reasons of wanting to keep the timeline intact and to avoid overcomplicating the plot we might be told this is true!

Number 15: The Burn was a superweapon – perhaps one the Federation or Section 31 built.

The Burn.

We learned in Die Trying that the Federation – at least, according to Admiral Vance and Kovich – doesn’t know what the Burn is or what caused it. One possibility that I considered when I looked at some possible causes for the Burn before the season kicked off was that it was the result of a superweapon.

Assuming Vance and Kovich are telling the truth, it wasn’t a Federation superweapon. However, it’s possible that the knowledge of such a crime was covered up, or that the secretive Section 31 was responsible but never told anyone else. It’s also possible that some other faction – perhaps the Borg, the Dominion, or the super-synths from Star Trek: Picard – are directly responsible. The latter point raises a strange question, though: if the Burn was a weapon, and it succeeded in its goal of decimating the Federation (which it clearly did), why did whomever is responsible not capitalise on that success? Where was the invasion that should surely have followed? The galaxy may be in disarray, but it clearly has not been conquered by any of these factions… so if the Burn is a weapon, what was the point?

It may have been a revenge attack; some kind of galactic-scale mutually-assured destruction. If the Federation, Section 31, or some other organisation launched an attack, the Burn may be that faction’s retaliation. That would explain the lack of an invader: they were already dead.

Number 16: The Burn was caused by one of the Red Angel suits.

Burnham with her suit on Hima.

There are two Red Angel suits known to exist – Michael Burnham’s and Dr Gabrielle Burnham’s. The suits are very powerful, and it isn’t a stretch to think they could be weaponised or cause some kind of accident. In an age where time travel has been prohibited, they could also be the only surviving examples of time-travel tech. If someone nefarious got their hands on a suit, they could’ve used it travel back in time and attack the Federation by destroying most of their dilithium. The name “Burn” may even be related to the name “Burnham” if this theory is correct.

As a second part of this theory, the Burn may have been caused by Dr Gabrielle Burnham or Michael herself. This might be something they indirectly did, something accidental, something they did under duress, or something they considered the least-bad option when confronted by something far worse. The idea that Michael would deliberately cause the worst disaster the Star Trek galaxy has ever seen is almost laughable… but Discovery loves to put her at the centre of every story, so there may yet be a connection.

Number 17: The Federation was in terminal decline long before the Burn.

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

Why are there so few stars on the Federation flag? Does this represent systems and races that have seceded or left the Federation? And if that’s the case, why does the decades-old, pre-Burn flag (that Mr Sahil owned) represent those secessions? Perhaps the answer is that the Federation was already in decline. The Burn may have been the final straw – but not the only straw. Admiral Vance said that the Federation consists of 38 worlds, down from a peak of over 350. When was that peak? Was it when the Burn hit… or decades prior?

Number 18: The Orion Syndicate is a major faction – and controls the trading post on Hima.

An Orion guard on Hima.

This week we got a couple of hints at an Orion-Andorian alliance, but this faction could still be related to the Orion Syndicate which has been part of Star Trek in some form going back to The Original Series. The trading post Book and Burnham visited on Hima had a number of Orions present, including working as traders and guards. In addition, in Far From Home the courier Zareh suggested to one of his goons that he would sell “to the Orions.”

One thing seems clear, though: this Orion-Andorian alliance appears to be a major power, one quite capable of taking on the rump Federation.

Number 19: Mirror Georgiou will travel back in time to the 23rd Century.

Mirror Georgiou in Die Trying.

Georgiou was not planning to travel to the 32nd Century, but was aboard Discovery when it left due to fighting Leland/Control. She has expressed her appreciation for the chaotic, “free” nature of the future, but there could be a reason for her to travel back in time. Not least because she’s supposed to be the main character in the upcoming Section 31 series which is meant to take place in the 23rd Century!

There could be a reason for Georgiou to travel back in time, but if she’s to work with Section 31, the main one I can think of would be to warn Starfleet about the Burn and give them time to prepare and/or prevent it. She may also want to try to return to her own universe – something Kovich told her is impossible in the 32nd Century due to the two universes “drifting further apart.”

Number 20: We haven’t seen the last of Zareh.

Zareh in Far From Home.

Despite being quite content to kill all of Zareh’s goons, Saru balked at the idea of killing the man himself in Far From Home. Instead, he and Georgiou let him go, sending him out into the wilds of the Colony – despite being told by the locals that that’s a death sentence. However, we didn’t see Zareh die. And in stories like these, characters like Zareh tend to pop back up looking for revenge.

So that’s it. Those are the twenty theories I currently have in play as we approach episode six.

Are all of them nonsense? Or am I missing a different theory that seems painfully obvious? It wouldn’t be the first time! One of the great things about Discovery that was also true of Picard earlier in the year is how unpredictable the series is right now. There doesn’t seem to be an obvious way for the main story arc – the Burn – to come to a head. It may be a natural event. It may be a weapon. It might be connected to a faction we know of, or it might be the fault of someone entirely new. Discovery is keeping us guessing – and I love that!

One final note: no fan theory, no matter how plausible it may seem, is worth getting upset or disappointed over. I put these lists together for fun, and as an excuse to spend more time in the Star Trek galaxy, and that’s all. If something goes completely the opposite way I was expecting, far from being annoyed or upset I revel in that. That doesn’t mean writers should make arbitrary and silly decisions, but it means I like being surprised! If we could all remember to take fan theories with a healthy pinch of salt, there’d be less conflict in fan communities.

The promo for Scavengers looked very exciting. Here’s hoping for another fun outing with Burnham and the crew!

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 5: Die Trying

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

Last week’s episode, Forget Me Not, wasn’t my favourite. There were a few too many contrivances and a little too much forced drama for my liking. I was hoping for a better outing this time, and I wasn’t disappointed. Die Trying had some neat callbacks and tie-ins with past iterations of the Star Trek franchise while telling an interesting semi-standalone story for the bulk of its runtime. What we didn’t get was any significant advancement of the overall story of the season – unravelling the mysterious event known as “the Burn” – though we can perhaps rule out one or two possible causes that I postulated before the season premiered!

Discovery can, on occasion, feel a little confusing. A couple of events this week fall into that category, and I hope the writers and producers are setting up storylines which will pay off in future episodes rather than making what appear to be on the surface arbitrary decisions about characters and themes. The full picture will only become evident when Season 3 reaches its climax, so for now I will make note of some of these points, but try my best to suspend my harshest criticisms!

Discovery arrives at Federation HQ in Die Trying.

Die Trying begins with Discovery’s arrival at Federation headquarters. At the end of last week’s episode, Adira had provided Burnham with a map to the Federation’s location, and Captain Saru appears to have wasted little time in travelling there. One thing I wasn’t clear on – and perhaps this will come up in a future episode – is why the Federation and Starfleet feel a need to conceal their base. It appeared to be cloaked, and in addition the location was hidden by what Adira called an “algorithm.” Maybe all of this is because of paranoia related to the Burn – after all, that’s why United Earth kicked the Federation out. But there could be other reasons, especially considering the Burn is now 120 years in the past.

It would have been nice to see Saru and Discovery contacting Starfleet for the first time. As it is, what we see in the episode is their second contact; Starfleet already knows that they’re coming, and I feel like we missed out on what could have been an interesting and emotional moment for both sides. Saru tells us that he previously contacted Starfleet, but for such a significant moment it would have been better to see it for ourselves. “Show don’t tell” is a good mantra for any story!

Captain Saru tells us he contacted Starfleet to let them know of Discovery’s impending arrival.

Discovery arrives at Starfleet HQ, and we get a touching sequence – accompanied by a great musical score – as the ship flies into the base. There were several new starship designs, and it was great to see different kinds of ship instead of them all keeping to the same design. It was surprisingly emotional to see the USS Voyager-J, with the same NCC designation as the original. The “J” part was also an oblique reference to Enterprise, which saw the USS Enterprise-J in one episode set in the future. There was also a USS Nog – a reference to the Deep Space Nine character who was the first Ferengi to serve in Starfleet. Nog actor Aron Eisenberg passed away last year, so this was a very sweet way to honour him within Star Trek.

Random Blonde Bridge Officer gets her first proper line of the series during this sequence, and the bridge crew comment excitedly on various technobabble elements of the base and starships as Discovery cruises in. Their elation is infectious, and it was hard not to get excited for Discovery’s homecoming in this sequence. Additionally, the designers and animators did a good job of creating a base and starships that were familiar but which looked suitably advanced compared with Starfleet ships of the 23rd and 24th Centuries. The Voyager-J in particular managed to look like an advanced design of the Intrepid-class that retained some of the basic shapes and lines of the original Voyager but used them in an updated manner. Even the way the name was illuminated on the outer hull was reminiscent of the 24th Century craft that we’re all familiar with.

Stamets and Reno look at the Voyager-J.

The inclusion of the Voyager-J felt like something Lower Decks would have done; an Easter egg thrown in for longstanding fans of the franchise. Discovery has done this before, but some of its references and callbacks could be quite subtle: writing seen on a computer screen, for example. On the other hand we have the return of classic characters like Pike and Spock! One part of the Federation base appeared to be made from glass; it reminded me a little of Starbase Yorktown from Star Trek Beyond.

Discovery is finally brought in to dock, and Captain Saru, Burnham, and Adira are transported over to the base for an initial conversation with Starfleet. They’re introduced to an Admiral Vance, Starfleet’s commander-in-chief, and his aide, Lieutenant Willa. Willa was glimpsed in the second trailer for Season 3, where I correctly guessed she was a Starfleet officer. At least that’s one thing I’ll have got right this season! Vance is an interesting character, perhaps because he’s keen not to overplay his hand when dealing with Saru and Burnham, meaning he feels mysterious at first. Willa, at least in Die Trying, comes across as quite one-dimensional; a by-the-book, don’t-ask-questions character who exists to be a minor obstacle and foil for the crew, and little else. Hopefully future episodes will flesh out both of these characters more, as there’s potential in both.

Admiral Vance and Lieutenant Willa.

I got genuinely emotional at learning – along with Saru – that his homeworld of Kaminar ultimately joined the Federation. Saru’s journey from chattel slavery in a pre-warp civilisation to captain of a starship is unique in all of Star Trek, and the reward he must feel after helping his people in Season 2 upon learning they were able to join the Federation was beautiful to see. Despite being under heavy prosthetics, Doug Jones manages to convey a lot of emotion as Saru, and this was one of those times where it was impossible not to get emotional right along with him.

During their debrief, Admiral Vance is sceptical of Saru and Burnham and their story. I particularly liked his line about the Sphere data that he’s now “responsible for,” as it emphasised how he views Discovery in this moment: a burden. Not only has Discovery, from his perspective, broken the law by travelling through time, but they’ve brought with them a computer bank filled with data that has proven very dangerous. 32nd Century Starfleet may not have the resources to keep the Sphere data safe; we got several hints in Die Trying at an Andorian-Orion alliance that may be a significant and powerful adversary to this rump Federation. For all we know, the ships we saw when Discovery flew in represent the bulk – or even the entirety – of Starfleet, and every single vessel may be more than a century old if constructing starships since the Burn has been difficult.

Admiral Vance during the debriefing.

Though still unwilling to share classified information – such as anything he knows about the Burn – Admiral Vance is content to tell Saru and Burnham a little of the Federation. It now consists of a mere 38 worlds, some of which are out of contact. Apparently there is no way to communicate via subspace with at least some of them; whether this damage to subspace is Burn-related or not wasn’t clear.

The casting choice for Vance – Israeli actor Oded Fehr – was inspired. He has a certain gravitas and inhabits the role very well; when he’s denying Burnham her request to discuss the Burn, or telling Saru that, as far as he knows from the historical record, the spore drive didn’t exist and Discovery was destroyed, he does so from a position of authority. There’s no questioning that he’s the person in charge, both inside the debriefing room and in Starfleet HQ in general, and the guest star deserves a lot of credit for bringing the role to life. I particularly liked his line that “two truths exist in one space,” it was both poetic and calmly confrontational. After a couple of lines earlier in the season that didn’t work, this one in particular came across perfectly, and that’s due to both the scriptwriter and the actor.

Saru and Burnham being debriefed.

Continuing a theme from the season premiere, Vance talks about the “temporal accords” and a temporal war fought during the 30th Century – part of which was depicted in Enterprise. Because time travel has been outlawed, Discovery has broken the law of the 32nd Century Federation simply by arriving in this time period. Although I think there’s ample room to disagree with this interpretation, again Vance presses his case with authority, and has the final say (at least for now).

The main upshot from this conversation is that Discovery and the spore drive will be commandeered by Starfleet, and the crew are to be reassigned – assuming their millennium-out-of-date skills can be of any use to Starfleet. Saru and Burnham react emotionally – and perhaps understandably – but this seemed like the inevitable outcome. If the spore drive is as useful as it appears in this 32nd Century setting, Starfleet will want to use it. And since right now there’s only one way to use it, tearing it down and perhaps reinstalling it on a more powerful vessel instead of the ancient Discovery would make a lot of sense.

Saru learns what is to become of Discovery and the crew.

One of the themes this season has been naïvety. Saru, Burnham, and the crew naïvely assumed that if they could defeat Control, Starfleet and the Federation would be waiting for them in the future. That was proven untrue. And now that they’ve managed to track down the rump Federation, they again made the naïve assumption that they would be welcomed with open arms and be free to keep their ship and keep the crew together.

This theme has worked surprisingly well. Not only does it show that the crew – and crucially Burnham – aren’t infallible and are capable of making mistakes, which is something we need to see sometimes, but it draws a clear contrast between the hopeful, optimistic galaxy they left behind with the post-Burn reality they flew headfirst into. Their optimism in a galaxy that lacks it is going to be a driving force in the story – at least, that’s what we’ve been promised – and this is a clear way that it’s been communicated over these opening episodes of the season. We can debate whether or not the setting is truly one we could call “post-apocalyptic,” but there’s no doubt that hope and optimism are key themes in post-apocalyptic fiction. Finding a way for characters to have hope in a bleak world can be a challenge, but in Discovery it comes built-in to characters we’re already familiar with, and it makes perfect sense because of where (or rather, when) they came from. Their naïvety is part of it, and it works well here as it did in earlier episodes too.

Burnham, Saru, and the whole crew have demonstrated naïvety borne of optimism, and it’s this optimism that will be a key story point moving forward.

Immediately following their debriefing with Admiral Vance, Burnham and Saru talk in the ready-room. They hatch a plan to demonstrate their loyalty and usefulness to the Admiral and the Federation by tracking down where a group of aliens called the Kili became sick. I believe the Kili were new to Star Trek, and their design was interesting – if a little reminiscent of the Saurians.

Burnham initially suggests they steal the data they need to figure out this medical mystery, but Saru, as he often does, serves as a counterbalance to her half-baked ideas and tells her firmly that he agrees with the premise, but that they will follow the rules and go through the appropriate channels to get the information. Saru, with his calm demeanour, is perfectly-suited to this role; a Picard to Burnham’s Riker, to use a Star Trek analogy! They make an interesting pair in moments like this, and I will be forever grateful that their roles were not reversed and that it’s Saru in the captain’s chair!

Saru and Burnham in the ready-room.

It’s worth noting after last week saw the Sphere data and Discovery’s computer seemingly merge that the display panels in the ready-room (where last week’s merge occurred) are back to normal. Discovery’s computer was not called on in Die Trying, and indeed no mention was made of what happened. As far as we know at this stage, it’s only Saru who’s aware of any goings-on with the main computer – and it’s possible that he was so distracted by trying to help the crew last week that he didn’t really notice what had happened. Regardless, this story point will surely be back!

Having just said how great of a captain Saru is, the next scene shows him delivering the bad news to Discovery’s crew. Obvious troublemakers like Georgiou are clearly dissatisfied, but the mood was quite ominous in some ways. There was the expected anxiousness and concern about being split up and debriefed, but I got the sense – at least for a moment – that some of those ill feelings were being directed at Saru himself for “allowing” this to happen. Hopefully this was just a one-off moment caused by circumstances and we won’t see Saru’s captaincy in any real danger in future. Lieutenant Willa was present here, along with a couple of unnamed Starfleet personnel from the base. As mentioned, though, she’s a pretty forgettable character based on her sole appearance in Die Trying.

Saru breaks the news of their pending reassignments to the assembled crew of Discovery.

Several members of the crew go through their debriefings in a montage, referring to events and storylines from Seasons 1 and 2, which was a neat touch. Culber mentioned being dead and stuck in the mycelial network, Tilly referenced her Mirror Universe counterpart, but my favourite was Reno, who injected some much-needed humour into Die Trying. Reno can always be relied on for some lightheartedness, and Tig Notaro’s deadpan delivery is always on point.

Burnham and Saru press Lieutenant Willa for the information about the Kili, and after a short protest she concedes and provides them with a list of planets the Kili visited before arriving at Federation HQ. It was clever of Burnham to point out that Discovery is a science vessel, and that these kinds of situations are what the ship was made for investigating.

Lieutenant Willa listens to Burnham’s request for information.

If we split Die Trying into three main parts we have this sequence taking up the first third or so of the episode, dealing with Saru, Burnham, and the crew aboard the Federation base, then we’ll have the away mission that kicks off in a moment, but the third storyline is that of Georgiou’s debrief with a character played by famed director David Cronenberg. Cronenberg’s 1986 film The Fly made my list of horror films to watch at Halloween just a couple of weeks ago; a strange coincidence considering I had no idea he would make an appearance in Discovery! It just goes to show how broad the Star Trek franchise and its fandom reach.

Surely Cronenberg’s character, Kovich, is an operative of Section 31? That wasn’t confirmed, of course, but the fact that he debriefs her personally and is wearing a very different uniform to everyone else would hint at that being a logical assumption. Regardless, Kovich is an interesting character, and his dance with Georgiou was often riveting as the two attempted to talk around one another. However, I feel that there was a missed opportunity to show Georgiou in a situation she couldn’t control – something we’ll also see with Burnham in a moment.

A surprise appearance from guest star David Cronenberg!

Georgiou is cold and calculating, and is able to take charge of almost any situation. However, we’re 930 years into the future, and on top of that she’s in a different universe, so there was an opportunity for her frankly one-dimensional character to get to try something different – not being in total control, for once. The two Starfleet holograms correctly identify her as Terran, and of course by this point in the timeline the Mirror Universe’s existence is an open secret to Starfleet so that makes sense. And here was the opportunity for her to lose her advantage.

By being immediately “outed” as a Terran and forced into a Starfleet debrief specifically designed for those from the Mirror Universe we could have seen Georgiou on the back foot, outsmarted, outmanoeuvred, and even defeated. We’ll come to the question of her fate in this meeting at the end, because clearly something happened to her off-screen, but practically the whole time we had her on screen she was her typical self: one-dimensional, “I’m evil and I love it,” 23rd Century Heinz Doofenshmirtz. That made for some truly great television as she was pitted against Kovich and they danced around each other, but I’m left lamenting a wholly different sequence that we didn’t get.

Georgiou in her debriefing.

I mentioned what was kind of a missed opportunity to put Burnham on the back foot, and after introducing Kovich to us, we come to this moment. After Saru and Burnham use the data to figure out which planet the Kili became ill on, Burnham proposes traveling to a seed vault ship which could be used to formulate an antidote. This was a great opportunity for Admiral Vance or Lieutenant Willa to shoot her down and demonstrate to her that her 23rd Century knowledge is of limited use. There are many ways this could have been done, but just off the top of my head: they could have already figured out the planet through high-tech scanning, the seed vault ship may no longer exist by this time, or 32nd Century replicators could have created the perfect antidote already. I know any of these would radically change the rest of the story of the episode so I’m not advocating any of them especially, but as a general point, 32nd Century Starfleet showing how their technology can solve problems without a need for Burnham and Saru’s input would have set up a potentially interesting story of its own – or rather, advanced one that is already rumbling in the background: what possible use can these millennium-old people be in the 32nd Century considering how much the simply do not know?

Regardless, Burnham’s plan has merit and a plan is concocted to travel to the USS Tikhov – Starfleet’s flying seed vault. Saru offers to remain aboard the Federation base, so Burnham will be in command for the away mission, accompanied by Lieutenant Willa and a couple of unnamed 32nd Century Starfleet personnel. We could absolutely argue that replicators, transporters, and the ability to store detailed and accurate data of any plant species in the universe should render the need for a seed vault invalid in the future, but I think it gets a pass as a story point. Not only is it logical to keep a backup even if all those technologies exist, it made for a wholly different and interesting setup. We’ve never really seen a ship like the Tikhov before, with its unique role in the Federation.

Discovery prepares to leave the Federation base under Burnham’s temporary command.

Though I would never make her captain, it was neat to see Burnham in command on the bridge and ordering a Black Alert. She hasn’t had the opportunity to step up like this since she was stripped of rank after the series premiere, so it was a reminder just how far she’s come in that time. Black Alert and spore jumps always seem to come as a surprise to someone new to the process – as we saw with Booker a couple of weeks ago – and Lieutenant Willa and her colleagues react in a similar way as Discovery jumps from Federation HQ to a location five months’ distant (at 32nd Century high-warp speeds) in an instant.

More could’ve been made of the ion storm, not from the point of view of Discovery and her crew – Detmer in particular is still struggling with her injury/mental health and showed how much of a danger it was to the ship. But the 32nd Century officers could have made some point about how ion storms are no problem for the ships of their era, or reacted with surprise at how gingerly Burnham, Detmer, and others were treating it. By this time period we tend to expect that something that might’ve been a major threat or problem for a ship like Discovery should be easy enough to handle. The visual effects used for the ion storm were great, though, and after some sequences last week were a bit of a visual miss it’s great to see Discovery’s animation back on top form.

Discovery and the ion storm.

I’m glad that Detmer’s storyline has not been entirely abandoned. Last week seemed to show her having a breakthrough; letting her emotions boil over before realising she needed to ask for help. I’m still undecided on how this arc will end – her death is still a possibility – but I’m glad that it wasn’t just dropped as I feared it might’ve been. Owosekun is an unsung hero in this particular storyline too, having been seen encouraging her friend and being supportive on several occasions this season. Giving both of these characters more to do was part of my wishlist for the season, so I’m glad Discovery is at least trying to branch out beyond its regular main cast.

After rescuing the Tikhov from the ion storm, Burnham readies an away team to beam aboard. For story purposes I can understand why she, Culber, and Nhan went alone; from an in-universe perspective I’m left wondering why Lieutenant Willa didn’t accompany them. Wasn’t at least part of her reason for going on the mission to keep an eye on Burnham? Yet she’s content to allow her to transport into an important vault that should be subject to security measures and/or restrictions. This would have been an opportunity for Willa to step out of her bland role and perhaps see some fleshing out of her character. If she’s to make repeated appearances we could have laid the groundwork for that here, but if she’s just going to be a one-off character then I guess it’s fine.

Why did Lieutenant Willa tag along if she wasn’t going to observe the whole mission?

The set design of the Tikhov was interesting. I liked the out-of-control plants which immediately conveyed that something was wrong while also providing a lot of shadowy areas and potential hiding places for someone nefarious. However, not for the first time in Discovery the redressing of familiar sets felt obvious and not particularly well-disguised. It wasn’t as bad as the Ba’ul facility seen in Season 2’s The Sound of Thunder, which was so painfully obviously the transporter room that it made some scenes distractingly difficult to watch! But it wasn’t spectacular set design either, at least not in the hallway which Burnham, Culber, and Nhan beam into.

In a story that focused somewhat on Nhan and her people (the Barzans) it was a shame that she didn’t take the lead. As mentioned last week, Discovery almost always wants to put Burnham centre-stage, even in stories that could be better-suited to other characters. Despite the fact that we were dealing with a Barzan character, and despite the fact that Nhan seemingly makes a big sacrifice at the end of the episode (which we’ll come to in a moment) for much of the time she was aboard the USS Tikhov she felt like a minor character, dropping some exposition or technobabble but doing little of consequence.

Nhan aboard the USS Tikhov.

After beginning their exploration of the plant-infested vessel, we see an invisible character moving in behind the away team. This would soon be revealed to be the Barzan scientist who was supposed to be the caretaker of this vessel, and the way in which he was half-trapped in a transporter beam reminded me of Quinn Erickson from the Enterprise Season 4 episode Daedalus, who suffered a similar fate. Little moments like this connect Discovery to the wider franchise, and they’re always appreciated.

As Georgiou continues her debrief with Kovich we learn what Starfleet knows about the Burn, and surprisingly they know very little. Kovich declines to expand on any of the theories except to say no one theory seems more likely than any other at this point. He also drops a bombshell on Georgiou – the Terran Empire fell. We knew this as it had been shown in Deep Space Nine, but it was Georgiou’s first encounter with that piece of information, and it seemed, very briefly, to affect her.

Georgiou during her debriefing.

Georgiou seizes on the Burn, telling Kovich that the Federation must be terrified. She also used an interesting phrase, one which Kovich did not refute: “whoever did this.” This is perhaps our first indication that the Burn may be an event that was deliberately triggered. In People of Earth, Burnham suggested two possibilities: accident or natural disaster. I noted at the time that she didn’t mention the possibility of the Burn being caused deliberately, which seemed like an equally-plausible option, and we finally have that addressed here. The fact that Kovich didn’t immediately step in and say that they’d ruled that out is interesting, and may well be a hint at the Burn being caused deliberately by some nefarious villain.

I kind of liked the “natural disaster” angle – though my theory of it being related to coronal mass ejections and stars, based on a frame from the second trailer, has been refuted by that scene’s inclusion in this episode. The reason for that was that it would present Saru, Burnham, and the crew with a scientific puzzle to solve rather than an evil bad guy to defeat. Season 3 is, in some respects, following a similar basic pattern to Season 2 right now: there’s a mysterious phenomenon, and the more we learn about it the more likely it seems that there’s a villain manipulating events to cause it. In Season 2 we had the red bursts, the Red Angel, and Control was ultimately revealed as the villain. In Season 3 we have the Burn and the collapse of the Federation – is a villain about to be revealed?

Kovich dropped some major hints about the Burn.

Back aboard the seed vault, Burnham and the away team discover a hologram of the Barzan family. This was set up in a pretty creepy way; I definitely felt horror film echoes as they approached the eerie, abandoned section of the ship. If the ship felt like an underwhelming redress of existing sets, the seed vault itself was far more impressive. Whirring rotating sections and a jumble of different shapes made for an interesting aesthetic as Burnham beamed in. She was attacked by the Barzan (in another moment reminiscent of the transporter story in Enterprise) and tasks Tilly and Stamets with figuring out what happened to him and his family.

As mentioned, when I saw the second Season 3 trailer I pulled a frame out of it where Tilly and Stamets were conducting a scan for coronal mass ejections. CMEs are a real-world phenomenon, and I wondered if they could be related to the Burn. We can strike that theory off the list, however, as it instead turns out that a CME is what killed the Barzan’s family. In a cruel twist of fate he was trapped halfway through a transporter cycle, which saved his life but also left him phased. This was an interesting explanation; it took what could have been a fairly flat “monster of the week” and turned him into a character with a genuinely emotional story. Star Trek has often done this, and it’s worked remarkably well across the franchise.

The phased Barzan.

Nhan had come across one of the Tikhov’s logs which showed this man’s descent into madness, and I liked this scene with her. After piecing together what happened, it seems as though the coronal mass ejection was responsible for killing his family, and the Barzan doctor was desperately trying to revive them using the seeds aboard the ship – that’s why there were plants everywhere when the away team arrived. Burnham needs his voiceprint to unlock the seed vault and find what she needs for the Kili, so using Discovery’s transporter the crew are able to bring him back into phase.

As they sat together, I felt like this was an opportunity for Nhan to shine. As often happens in Discovery, though, this moment was instead given to Burnham, who is able to get through his grief and convince him to access the seeds she needs. She did so by appealing to him, telling him he could help other families – the Kili – even though he could no longer help his own. This worked and it makes sense, but I can’t help feeling Nhan could have done the same job. Nhan does, however, get to wordlessly use the computer to find the seeds, which is something.

Nhan retrieves the important seeds.

Now we come to a contentious point – something Star Trek has never shied away from. The Barzan doctor refuses treatment for his radiation/CME illness, and is content to die alongside his family. Dr Culber offers a weak protest, saying he’s not being rational, but Nhan steps in saying that there are cultural issues in play with how the Barzans approach issues of family and death. Both are right, in a way, and there’s no easy answer. Is it okay to let someone die from something preventable just because they say they want to? Is Dr Culber right when he says he’s being irrational? These are deep topics, and Discovery touches on them but doesn’t really dive into them too much.

While Burnham is okay with letting him die, she doesn’t want to let the seed vault die too. Nhan volunteers to remain aboard, and this was a confusing point. This is presented as if Nhan is leaving the series; this being her final end as a character. But only a few episodes ago at the beginning of the season Rachael Ancheril was promoted to the main cast. Is she leaving? Or is Nhan coming back later in the season – perhaps bringing the Tikhov to Discovery’s rescue at a key moment? My guess is on the latter, because I’m not convinced we’ve seen the last of this unique and interesting character. Burnham’s parting words that she hopes their “paths cross again” could be a hint at this.

Nhan and Burnham embrace.

So Nhan will stay behind to guard the seeds. She says she’s doing so in Ariam’s memory – the cyborg redshirt who died in Season 2 – but also to ensure that the Barzans’ turn to keep the ship safe will come to a successful end. Her loyalty to her people and her culture was admirable – and again would have given her a reason to connect with the Barzan doctor and get through to him.

Discovery managed to make Nhan’s departure all about Burnham, with Nhan telling Burnham (and by extension the audience) that she embodies everything great about Starfleet and she always “reaches for the best” in everyone. Sorry, but that line felt at least a little flat, especially under the circumstances. With the seed vault in safe hands, Burnham returns to Discovery, and Discovery returns to Federation HQ with a cure in hand. The shot of the ship seen through one of the Tikhov’s plant-framed windows was pretty neat.

The USS Discovery as seen from the Tikhov.

Nhan’s departure was a shock, but one the crew don’t seem to process. Back at Federation HQ the Kili are given the cure to their ailment, and Admiral Vance seems satisfied with Burnham’s performance. Saru’s comment about the Dark Ages was poetic, and again accompanied by a great musical score that amped up the emotion. His point is that Discovery and its crew may help the Federation heal, and he and Burnham press the point home. Discovery’s crew will be allowed to stay together, at least for now.

There will be no missions of exploration, but the crew will be together and will be able to use the spore drive to go on missions to help the Federation and Starfleet. That seems like as good of an outcome as possible, especially considering Vance’s earlier comments. Vance tells Burnham there are more theories about the Burn “than ships in the fleet,” and tells her that unless they can find evidence that has been overlooked since the Burn it will remain an unknown. Burnham says “challenge accepted,” which I take it to mean we’re about to begin the next part of the story of the season – piecing this mystery together.

Admiral Vance, Captain Saru, and Burnham.

As the episode ends, Burnham draws our attention to a piece of music being played. It was the same composition that Adira played last week, and Burnham seems awfully confused that the same music could be common to multiple Federation members. For story reasons I’m sure this will be significant – why make note of it otherwise? – but it doesn’t seem much of a stretch to think that a piece of music could become popular. It would be like going abroad today and hearing a pop song. That wouldn’t be weird, so why is it weird here?

So that was Die Trying. Adira seems to have disappeared after arriving at Federation HQ; I hope their absence isn’t indicative of something bad having happened to them. Random Blonde Bridge Officer finally got a name: Lieutenant Nilsson. I’ll have to stop calling her RBBO! And the three stories all played out in interesting fashion. It was a solid episode, on par with the first few of the season at least.

Discovery docked at Federation HQ.

Something may have happened to Georgiou off screen – or she could simply be processing the loss of the Terran Empire or the ability to travel back to the Mirror Universe. Perhaps this is setting her up to travel back in time or back to the Mirror Universe at some point later in the season. But let’s save the speculating for my next theory post!

I’ve had a terrible case of writer’s block for a few days now, so I apologise for being late with this review and for the lack of other articles this week. I hope things settle down soon.

I’m already looking forward to next week’s episode: Scavengers. Here’s hoping it will be another enjoyable ride.

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.