Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the episodes on this list.
Today I thought that we could have a little bit of (mostly) tongue-in-cheek fun at Star Trek’s expense! See, if a franchise has been running for more than five decades and has broadcast well over 800 episodes and 13 films… there’s bound to be a few crap ones in the mix. I’m not one of those Trekkies who says that “Star Trek is always flawless,” and if you’ve read some of my episode reviews here on the website, you’ll know that!
That being said, this list is intended to be taken in the spirit of light-hearted summertime fun. Even Star Trek at its worst is better than no Star Trek at all, and even in episodes and films that I generally didn’t enjoy, there are almost always fun and engaging elements. And it should go without saying that I’m a huge Star Trek fan – the franchise has too many enjoyable episodes and stories to count.
A few caveats before we go any further: firstly, all of this is, of course, entirely subjective! I’m not trying to claim that these episodes should be considered awful by everyone, simply that I don’t personally enjoy them or find them particularly entertaining. Secondly, this article isn’t meant to be an attack on any actor, director, writer, or anyone else involved in the creative process. I’m an independent critic, so criticism is the name of the game – but it’s never okay to get personal! Finally, if you hate everything I have to say today – or I exclude an episode that you think seems patently obvious for a list like this – that’s totally okay! There should be enough maturity in the Star Trek fan community for a bit of polite disagreement and gentle poking of fun.
All that being said, if you don’t want to read critical (and occasionally downright scathing) opinions about Star Trek, now’s your last chance to nope out!
So without any further ado, let’s jump into the list – which is in no particular order!
Episode #1: Shades of Gray The Next Generation Season 2
A couple of years ago I jokingly said that Shades of Gray was the best, most underrated episode of The Next Generation – but that was just an April Fool’s Day gag here on the website! Star Trek’s first (and thankfully only) clip show is a bit of a mess, and a disappointing way to end The Next Generation’s otherwise strong second season. It was also the final appearance of Dr Pulaski – who didn’t get any kind of send-off before being dumped from the series.
Television production has changed a lot over the past thirty-five years, but in 1989, The Next Generation was obligated to produce 22 episodes on a fixed budget. A couple of episodes earlier in the season had been more expensive and taken longer to produce than expected – most notably Q Who, which introduced the Borg for the first time – so cuts had to be made. A clip show was a relatively inexpensive way to produce an episode, so Shades of Gray was born. It has to be one of the worst pieces of television in the entire franchise – and a comparatively weak premise/frame narrative couldn’t hold it together. Luckily, clip shows are now a thing of the past – so we’re not going to see another Star Trek episode like this!
Episode #2: The Red Angel Discovery Season 2
For me, The Red Angel was a total misfire toward the end of Discovery’s second season. Season 2 had been an improvement on Season 1 – thanks in no small part to the inclusions of Captain Pike and Spock – but The Red Angel knocks it down a rung or two. In short, it suffers from two major problems: the mischaracterisation of Georgiou, who began behaving like her Prime Timeline counterpart out of the blue, and its convoluted time travel story.
Time travel is very difficult to get right in fiction, and The Red Angel presents one of the worst and most irritating time travel tropes: the paradox. It made no sense for the rest of the crew to let Burnham know what their plan was, as they were operating under the assumption that the titular Red Angel was Burnham from the future. It was just a disappointment all around – albeit one that led to better things in the remaining part of the season.
Episode #3: These Are The Voyages… Enterprise Season 4
Enterprise’s finale, regrettably, has to be one of the weakest endings to a series in the franchise. And I think it’s this episode’s status as a finale that compounds the disappointment – though it wouldn’t have been a great offering on its own merit, admittedly. To make matters worse, These Are The Voyages was conceived as an attempt to really celebrate all things Star Trek and to bring together two different, disconnected parts of the franchise. It’s such a shame that it wasn’t a stronger story.
By 2004, Enterprise’s cancellation was clearly imminent. And to its credit, These Are The Voyages jumps forward in time to wrap up Enterprise’s story of Captain Archer and the crew and the role they played in the creation of the United Federation of Planets. But the decision to use a frame narrative set during The Next Generation, reducing all of Enterprise’s main stars to holograms, wasn’t great for a series finale. There were also issues with the visual presentation of The Next Generation sequences – issues that, for the most part, were unavoidable. Had the same concept been applied to a mid-season episode, it might’ve worked better.
Episode #4: Envoys Lower Decks Season 1
My criticism of Envoys largely focuses on one sequence – but it’s a sequence so bad and so antithetical to everything that Star Trek stands for that I feel it warrants a place on this list. Where Lower Decks has succeeded is in finding ways to make the wacky goings-on in Starfleet comical. Where it failed, in my view, was in its early attempts to set up Ensign Mariner as Star Trek’s answer to Rick and Morty’s Rick Sanchez – something that’s on full display in the opening sequence of Envoys.
In this sequence, Mariner captures (or kidnaps) a sentient energy-based life form because she thinks it’ll be funny, and then forces the creature to grant her a wish. I know that this is a comedy series and the sequence is meant to be a gag – partly, at least, at Mariner’s expense. But I can’t forgive how selfish and inherently un-Starfleet she acts. Lower Decks has told some incredible stories across its first three seasons, but this sequence at the beginning of Envoys is not among them.
Episode #5: Move Along Home Deep Space Nine Season 1
I adore Deep Space Nine on the whole… but Move Along Home might just be its worst individual episode. The premise is utterly ridiculous, as Sisko, Kira, Dax, and Dr Bashir are transported into an alien board game. Star Trek has had lots of fun with similarly wacky story concepts over the years, but Move Along Home is poorly executed, and the rug-pull at the end – that there was never any real danger – just adds to the disappointment.
The set design used for parts of Move Along Home is pretty poor, leading to an underwhelming visual presentation. Star Trek in the ’90s often reused sets and props to save money, but in Move Along Home it just doesn’t feel as if much effort was put into the episode’s visual style. There’s a reason why the alien race featured in this episode, the Wadi, haven’t been revisited!
Episode #6: Monsters Picard Season 2
We could’ve made up nine-tenths of this list with Picard Season 2 episodes, but if I had to pick one out of that thoroughly disappointing season that encapsulates its issues, it would have to be Monsters. This navel-gazing story abandoned most of the season’s semi-interesting plotlines, including Q, Picard’s ancestor Renée, and the Borg in order to stage a ridiculous coma-dream populated by the most uninspired and amateurish B-movie monsters that I’ve seen in the franchise this side of The Original Series.
Moreover, Monsters is a waste of time. It fails to move the story along at a reasonable pace, and that led to serious problems in the remaining part of the season. Despite learning a theoretically interesting fact about Jean-Luc Picard’s early life, the revelation isn’t as big as the story wishes it to be – and it does nothing to reframe Picard’s characterisation, personality, or outlook on life, nor show them in a new light.
Episode #7: Infinite Regress Voyager Season 5
Seven of Nine was a fascinating addition to Voyager when she joined the crew – though I confess that I was sad at the time to lose Kes. But as I’ve said before here on the website, I never felt that the writers of Voyager did justice to Seven of Nine, and Infinite Regress is just one example among many of samey, repetitive, and just plain boring over-uses of this character.
Seven’s appearance in Infinite Regress is a riff on the same idea used in Season 4’s The Raven, to such an extent that I sometimes get the two stories muddled up. It was one of the first solid indications that Seven’s original premise was played out, and things only went downhill from here. Seven was thrust into the spotlight often across the back half of Voyager’s run – and that wasn’t always to the show’s benefit. There are some decent stories in the mix, sure, but there are also more than a few repetitive and uninspired ones. It wasn’t until Seven re-emerged in Picard that she was given the chance to develop and grow as a character – and I can’t tell you how cathartic that process has been to see!
Episode #8: Spock’s Brain The Original Series Season 3
No list of bad Star Trek episodes would be complete without Spock’s Brain! Widely considered to be the worst that The Original Series has to offer, this ridiculous story was a pretty poor start to the show’s third and final season. The Original Series Season 3 was greenlit after a letter-writing campaign from fans, but television network NBC only agreed to renew the show in exchange for cuts to its budget. Episodes like Spock’s Brain were the result of trying to keep costs down.
There’s a certain charm to Spock’s Brain in some ways… but in a “so bad it’s good” kind of way rather than for anything the story does on its own merit! A combination of the utterly bonkers premise and some less-than-stellar special effects make this a no-brainer for this list – pun very much intended!
Episode #9: Code of Honor The Next Generation Season 1
Code of Honor is incredibly outdated and racist in its depiction of Africans – and it boggles my mind that it was ever made, let alone that it was made for The Next Generation as late as 1987! Surely someone must’ve realised, while the episode was in production, that a story about a black planetary leader (with a noticeable accent) kidnapping a white female crew member would be problematic.
Unlike other episodes on this list, it’s hard to find any redeeming features in Code of Honor, and it’s one that I have to say I can’t enjoy in any way. It was a mistake to make it and to bring it to screen – but it serves as a reminder that Star Trek, despite its lofty ambitions and attempts to depict a better, more enlightened future, can still get it wrong.
Episode #10: Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 Picard Season 1
After the preceding eight episodes had slowly built up an intriguing mystery, Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 derailed Picard’s first season. The episode tried to dump whole new factions, characters, and storylines into the season but didn’t have anywhere near enough time to do justice to any of them. The truly disappointing thing isn’t that these ideas were bad, but that the poorly-paced episode and season ran out of road, making the entire season feel worse in retrospect.
Some scenes in Et in Arcadia Ego are so short that they’re barely even clips, with characters seeming to speak to no one. Special effects weren’t great, either, with a copy-and-paste Romulan fleet comprised of identical starships. And that gold makeup used for the Coppelius synths is just awful. Despite a solid performance across the rest of the season as Soji, Isa Briones was unconvincing as the rogue synth leader Sutra, too. All in all, a misfire – and one that, sadly, damages the integrity of the entire ten-episode story.
So that’s it!
I hope your favourite episode wasn’t on the list! But if it was, please try to keep in mind that we don’t all like the same things, and even as Trekkies there are going to be disagreements about which stories work and which don’t within the Star Trek franchise. This was meant to be a bit of fun, not something to be taken too seriously or to get worked up over!
Although there are a handful of Star Trek episodes that I generally don’t enjoy, every series, and practically every season of every series, has wonderful moments of action, adventure, sci-fi, and more. I’m a huge Star Trek fan – even if I don’t enjoy everything that the franchise has put out over the last fifty-six years!
You’ll note that Prodigy and Strange New Worlds didn’t feature on the list above – and that’s because the first seasons of both shows were pretty darn good. I couldn’t pick a single episode from either show that I could genuinely say I disliked, and I think that’s testament to the quality of modern Star Trek. Picard’s third season was good, too, and though Discovery has made mistakes, Season 4 was a vast improvement and ended in spectacular fashion. So there are plenty of reasons to be positive as we look ahead to upcoming productions!
So I hope you enjoyed this look at a few of Star Trek’s less-than-great stories. I actually had fun revisiting some of these episodes, several of which I hadn’t watched in years. Although the stories themselves aren’t great, it’s still nice to go back and watch them sometimes!
The Star Trek franchise – including all series, films, and episodes mentioned above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Star Trek: Picard, and Star Trek: Prodigy.
In 2017, Star Trek returned to the small screen after a twelve-year break. Star Trek: Discovery picked up the baton for the long-running franchise, and thanks in part to a deal with Netflix, scored a decently high budget for its first season. Bryan Fuller, who had written and produced a number of episodes of Deep Space Nine and Voyager, initially spearheaded the project, and it was on his stories and ideas that the show’s characters, story arcs, and settings were based – even though he stopped working on the show while it was still in early production.
Discovery proved controversial in some corners of the Star Trek fan community right from the start, and today I want to consider one of the reasons why that was the case. In addition, I want to ask a deceptively simple set of questions: should Star Trek: Discovery have left the 23rd Century alone? Would the show have been better-received by fans, and won more support, if it had been set after the events of Nemesis instead of a decade before The Original Series? Would fans have found things to pick on and argue about anyway? Was Discovery’s setting in its first two seasons a net positive, negative, or something mixed for the show? And did sending the ship and crew into the far future at the end of Season 2 come as a tacit admission from the producers and showrunners that Discovery should never have been set in the 23rd Century to begin with?
Before we go any further, a few important caveats. This is a controversial topic; Discovery elicits strong opinions from fans on both sides of the debate. The fact that we’re considering, hypothetically, whether Discovery might’ve been a better show – or might’ve been received with less hostility by fans – had it employed a different setting doesn’t mean it’s a perfect idea that would’ve massively improved its first two seasons. Regular readers will know that I’m a Discovery fan not a hater; while there are areas where the show could improve, generally I like and support it and I’m glad to have it as part of the broader Star Trek franchise.
Secondly, these are just the subjective thoughts of one person. I’m not trying to claim that I’m right and that’s the end of the affair! Other folks can and will have different opinions – and that’s okay! There’s room enough within the Star Trek fan community for polite discussion and disagreement.
Finally, I’m not trying to attack Discovery, nor any of the creative team, actors, or those involved in its production. This is a thought experiment; a hypothetical question to consider what Discovery – and the wider Star Trek franchise – might have looked like if different decisions had been taken at a very early stage.
First of all, let’s consider some of the arguments and points of contention. By deliberately choosing a setting ten years before the events of The Original Series, Discovery ran into some issues with Star Trek’s internal canon. Some of these points matter far more than others, and I tend to take a somewhat nuanced approach to canon. I’m not a “purist,” claiming that the tiniest minutiae of canon must be “respected” at all costs – but at the same time, I believe that the world of Star Trek needs to be basically internally consistent. Internal consistency is the foundation of suspension of disbelief, and messing too much with established canon can, in some circumstances, be to the detriment of a story.
Is that what happened with Discovery, though?
We can set aside arguments about aesthetic elements like uniforms, starship designs, and even special effects. To me, none of those things are relevant, and all that’s necessary to overcome those hurdles is to say that, much like out here in the real world, things like design, fashion, etc. are always changing. Who’s to say that the look of the 2260s wouldn’t be radically different from the 2250s? Considering that there have been leaps and bounds in visual effects, CGI, and cinematography since The Original Series aired, it would be profoundly odd for Discovery to have tried to emulate that 1960s style.
So I’m content to put visual style to one side. But there are other elements of canon that the show arguably stumbled over in its first two seasons. The biggest issue that I can see is the USS Discovery’s spore drive – a brand-new piece of technology that had never been seen or heard of in Star Trek before.
The spore drive effectively made warp drive obsolete, and considering that the show was set a decade before Captain Kirk’s five-year mission – and more than a century before The Next Generation era – that obviously didn’t make a lot of sense. Sure, the spore drive was a classified piece of kit, and across Season 1 we came to see some pretty serious drawbacks, but such a phenomenally useful technology isn’t something Starfleet would simply abandon – or so fans believed. Even if the spore drive had issues, it was such a game-changing piece of technology that persevering and working through those problems would almost certainly be worthwhile.
As Season 1 demonstrated, the spore drive’s military applications were incredible. The USS Discovery could jump around a Klingon vessel with ease, basically becoming invulnerable, and the spore drive could be used for rapid hit-and-run attacks, destroying enemy ships before they even had a chance to register what was happening. And for an exploration-focused organisation, the spore drive opened up the entire galaxy, allowing distant worlds to be visited at a moment’s notice. Planets that were decades away from Federation space by warp drive could be hopped to in an instant, and then the USS Discovery and her crew could be back home in time for tea! We saw this in Season 2, with planets like Terralysium able to be visited easily with a single spore jump – instead of the decades of warp travel that would have normally been required.
To the show’s credit, Discovery found uses for the spore drive in this period – but I confess that I found the spore drive to be a gimmick, one that had been clearly and pretty obviously designed to allow the ship to travel to the Mirror Universe in Season 1. In fact, it’s the Mirror Universe – and more specifically, the idea of having an impostor from that parallel world who was trying to blend in and find a way home – that I would argue led to many of the decisions in Discovery’s early production.
Choosing a Mirror Universe character in Captain Lorca arguably determined when Discovery would need to be set. In order for Lorca to be a soldier of the Terran Empire, Discovery would have to be set in an era where the Terran Empire existed – and as Mirror Universe stories in Deep Space Nine categorically established that the Terran Empire had long since fallen by the 24th Century, in order to return to that setting, stepping back to the 23rd Century was required. If having a Terran impostor was one of the first narrative beats written for the season – and I believe it was – then many other elements of the show had to be built around that, including its 23rd Century setting.
As an aside, I would say that the Mirror Universe really isn’t worth all this fuss and bother! It’s a bit of fun for occasional, one-off stories in longer, more episodic seasons, but building an entire story around the Mirror Universe and Terran characters was probably Discovery’s first mistake. This is a setting that easily falls into overacting and pantomime, with one-dimensional villains who love murder, torture, and murderous torture all for their own sake. There’s very little room for manoeuvre in the Mirror Universe, and as we’ve seen in Discovery – and in past iterations of Star Trek too, to be fair – it can trick even competent actors into putting out incredibly over-the-top, hammy performances.
But that’s my own personal lack of interest in the Mirror Universe showing through, I suppose!
When Star Trek: Picard’s second season premiered, I think it brought to the table something incredibly interesting that’s relevant to this conversation: the Confederation timeline. The Confederation wasn’t the Terran Empire, and its setting wasn’t the Mirror Universe, yet it borrowed a lot from that setting both thematically and stylistically. An authoritarian, fascist dystopia was on full display – and it was in the late 24th/early 25th Century, and managed to be there without treading on the toes of anything that had been previously set up in past iterations of the franchise.
Although the Confederation timeline story was a bit of a misfire in Picard, I think it stands as testament to what’s possible with a little creative thinking. Star Trek doesn’t have to keep going back to the same previously-established time periods and settings, and even in those that are superficially similar, new and different creations can be brought to the screen. Very few things in Discovery would have needed to change had the show’s first season adopted a setting inspired by the Mirror Universe instead of lifting it directly from The Original Series.
And that statement could apply to other elements of the show’s production as well. The idea of a protagonist who was human but raised by Vulcans is a fun and interesting one, a character type that was new to Star Trek – if we don’t count the PC game Hidden Evil, that is! What would have changed about Michael Burnham had her adoptive parents not been Sarek and Amanda but two new Vulcan characters?
Spock’s family is something that Star Trek has messed about with more than once! We could even argue that, as far back as Journey to Babel, it was nonsensical to suggest that Spock’s connection to Sarek would be something that Captain Kirk would have been unaware of. But setting that aside, the film The Final Frontier gave Spock a half-brother who had never been mentioned. Adding Michael Burnham to his family felt, to some fans at least, like yet another retcon; an addition that certainly came very close to treading on the toes of Star Trek’s past because of how closely it involved a very familiar character.
It was clear that Discovery’s writers and creators wanted to tie the show to past iterations of Star Trek, but rather than coming across as respectful homage, some of these decisions felt nakedly commercial – it was as if CBS didn’t trust the Star Trek brand to stand on its own without myriad references and close connections to its earlier iterations. This didn’t sit well with a lot of fans, and when Spock had already had a missing half-brother, giving him an adopted sister who he’d also never mentioned began to feel gratuitous.
And for a lot of folks, it came back to that same argument: what would change about this new character if her parents were inspired by Sarek and Spock’s family? The introduction of Spock in Season 2 definitely shook things up in that regard, but by then a lot of the damage had been done and some fans had already decided not to tune in.
Going all the way back to The Next Generation’s creation in 1987, Star Trek had struck out in bold new directions and tried to do things differently. Every Star Trek show prior to Discovery had cameo appearances, name-checks, and even character crossovers in some episodes, but by and large, the franchise’s different shows stood up by themselves. Would The Next Generation have been improved if the captain of the Enterprise-D had been Kirk’s grandson, for instance? I don’t think anyone would make that case – the show needed the freedom to do its own thing away from those familiar characters. And while Deep Space Nine’s premiere, Emissary, brought Captain Picard on board, thereafter the new series also struck out on its own – as did Voyager and Enterprise when they came along.
For some fans, Discovery crossed a line between finding a connection to what had come before and using it as a crutch, and where past iterations of the Star Trek franchise had been connected to one another through common themes, locales, and even characters, none had ever gone back to retroactively change so many different things as Discovery. Coming off the back of the three Kelvin timeline films – which were also controversial in some quarters because they had re-cast the characters from The Original Series – that felt like a bridge too far for some folks.
Retcons can happen in any franchise, but it’s not unfair to say that some work better than others. Prequels almost always end up bringing more retcons to the table than sequels do, and when we’re talking about a universe that was over fifty years old and had more than 700 stories under its belt at the time Discovery premiered, for a lot of fans, those retcons to Star Trek’s past were too unpalatable.
The Star Trek franchise, much more so than Star Wars, has always felt like it was looking forwards and to the future rather than backwards at its own past. But by 2017, there hadn’t been any Star Trek stories that moved the overall timeline of the franchise forwards in fifteen years. Aside from a short sequence in 2009’s Star Trek reboot film (which told us of the destruction of Romulus), everything that the franchise had done since Nemesis and Voyager’s finale had been a prequel.
After Enterprise had underperformed and the franchise faced cancellation, the Kelvin timeline came along and rebooted things. But both projects proved to be controversial in some quarters – fans were clearly less keen on a prequel show, as Enterprise’s viewing figures demonstrated. And while the Kelvin films were successful with general audiences at the cinema, there were many Trekkies who were unimpressed with the new action-oriented approach and the decision to recast fan-favourite characters.
Along came Discovery – and it incorporated many of the same issues. Here was another prequel, another Star Trek project that was stepping back in time and not taking the opportunity to pick up the story of the Star Trek universe that had come to an abrupt halt with Nemesis. And not only that, but it then emerged that the show’s protagonist would be a hitherto-unknown relative of one of Star Trek’s most iconic characters – a character whose history and family had already been messed with on more than one occasion.
In 2016, I recall making the facetious point that Discovery seemed to be combining everything that Trekkies didn’t like: a plot point from The Final Frontier – which is widely regarded as one of the least-successful Star Trek films, a prequel setting like in Enterprise – which had demonstrably been the least-successful Star Trek series, and both an aesthetic and action focus that were borrowed from the Kelvin timeline films – films which weren’t popular with a lot of fans. That was a joke; some black humour as we looked ahead to the show and as news was trickling out. But I think that it encapsulates how many fans were feeling at the time.
More than anything, I wanted to see Star Trek move forwards again. Despite knowing a number of Trekkies who either hated or outright refused to watch the Kelvin timeline films, I felt that they were decent additions to the franchise. But if Star Trek was to return to both the small screen and the prime timeline, my preference in 2016-17 would have been for a new show to pick up the story in the years after Nemesis, not another prequel set before the events of The Original Series.
Discovery’s prequel setting quickly became a weight around its neck; a barrier that didn’t stop the excitement from building, but that certainly slowed it down. On the one hand, the show’s writers and creative team were constrained by more than 600 stories that were set after Discovery, and on the other, everything that they tried to do that was new or different was subject to intense scrutiny and criticism by fans. There was no way to win – either the show would have to tell less-interesting stories as a result of being cornered by canon, or it would be nitpicked to death by fans who felt it was overstepping its bounds and treading on the toes of stories that had already been told.
Had Discovery’s first season been set in the same time period as Star Trek: Picard later was – the late 24th Century or early 25th Century – a lot of those issues would have disappeared. The spore drive could be Starfleet’s new initiative, with its potential unlimited and the genuine possibility of this interesting piece of technology going on to become the Federation’s new way of getting around. We knew, even before a single minute of Discovery had aired, that the spore drive wouldn’t take off in the 23rd Century – because if it had, all of Star Trek wouldn’t be able to exist as depicted. A post-Nemesis setting would have completely negated that issue.
Then there was the question of character. Michael Burnham could have been exactly the same person – a human raised by Vulcans with Vulcan instincts. But instead of being the second addition to Spock’s increasingly soap opera-like family, her adoptive parents could have been new characters who were inspired by characters from Star Trek’s past, or even Vulcan characters from the 24th Century that we’d met before if an overt connection was deemed necessary. The war with the Klingons could have broken out in much the same way as we saw on screen – all it would have taken is a brief word of explanation saying that the Klingon-Federation alliance of the late 24th Century had broken down in the intervening years.
Star Trek had an opportunity to advance its timeline, and to take into account events like the Romulan supernova. With relatively few changes to how the story of Season 1 played out, it could be the Romulans, not the Klingons, who went to war with Starfleet. Or it could have been that the Klingons wanted to reassert themselves in the aftermath of the Romulan catastrophe, perhaps seizing former Romulan territory as their empire collapsed. And the idea of having an impostor as the ship’s captain – someone from an alternate reality – could have also been made to fit without returning to the Mirror Universe.
Discovery could, for example, have taken the idea of a more militaristic Starfleet that had been seen in the Kelvin timeline in Into Darkness as a starting point, and said that the Kelvin timeline would develop into the same kind of dystopian setting as the Mirror Universe. Captain Lorca could have originated from a late 24th Century Kelvin timeline, from a Federation that was much more authoritarian in nature. That would have tied together the two most recent parts of the Star Trek franchise while still leaving open the possibility of a fourth Kelvin film starring the reboot cast.
In short, there were plenty of ways that Bryan Fuller’s initial concepts and ideas could have been made to fit a post-Nemesis setting rather than a pre-The Original Series one. Some changes are bigger than others, and in hindsight we now know that we’d miss out on the recasting of Captain Pike and Spock that paved the way for Strange New Worlds… but at the time, without that foreknowledge, I really do believe that it would have been worth considering.
Season 2, which focused on the Control AI, could have also been a good fit for a late 24th/early 25th Century setting. In fact, I doubt I’d be the only one to suggest that the Control story might’ve been a better fit for that time period! This idea of essentially a rogue supercomputer is one that Star Trek has tackled before, with episodes like The Ultimate Computer and even some of the stories about Lore in The Next Generation. Control’s schemes could have absolutely worked in a post-Lore environment.
I’ve talked before about how the Control storyline in Season 2 felt like a potential Borg origin story – or at least a story with superficial Borg similarities. Because of Discovery’s place in the timeline, those references were only ever tiny little hints to us as the audience; no one within the show could say “hey, this looks an awful lot like Borg assimilation” because none of them knew who the Borg were at that point. But if the story had been set in that post-Nemesis era, the similarities between Control and the Borg could have been made more overt – even if a full “Starfleet accidentally created the Borg” story had been taken off the table.
At the end of the day, though, Discovery wasn’t only controversial because of its place in the Star Trek timeline, and while replacing its 23rd Century setting would have blunted some points of criticism, fans would have found others. Things like the redesign of the Klingons, the more action-heavy storyline, the show’s shorter serialised seasons and more would all remain, and a potential post-Nemesis setting would’ve probably thrown up a bunch of new things for people to pick on, too.
In hindsight, we now know that if Discovery had been set in the years after Nemesis, we’d have missed out onStrange New Worlds – a show that I’d argue is probably the high-water mark of modern Star Trek, at least at time of writing. That alone should make Discovery and its complicated relationship to canon and Star Trek’s internal timeline absolutely worthwhile!
But on the other hand, who knows what we’re missing out on? Potential crossovers with The Next Generation and other 24th Century shows would have been on the table, and while Discovery’s third and fourth seasons have tried to pay lip-service to that era, by shooting so far forward in time, it’s once again ruled out any significant crossovers and link-ups.
In addition to obvious characters like Jean-Luc Picard or Kathryn Janeway, dozens or even hundreds of secondary characters and guest stars from that era could have been incorporated into Discovery to tie Star Trek’s newest adventure to what came before – with fan-favourite characters (and the actors who played them) potentially returning. Picard, Lower Decks, and Prodigy have all shown just how much of an appetite there is within the Star Trek fan community to bring back characters as diverse as Q and Captain Jellico, just to give two examples.
When making those very early decisions about Discovery, one of the fundamental mistakes executives at CBS (now Paramount) and the creative team made is failing to recognise Star Trek’s real “golden age.” The Original Series in the 1960s may have gotten things started – and it’s remembered fondly, don’t get me wrong – but for many fans, especially fans in their thirties and forties, it’s The Next Generation and the other shows of the 1990s that are best-remembered. Discovery jumped back in time to draw inspiration from and connect up with The Original Series… but I’m not sure that’s where the majority of the fan community was in 2017 – or is in 2023, either.
Whatever we may think of the arguments surrounding canon and the so-called integrity of Star Trek’s internal timelines, a more basic question is this: what setting and what era would most Trekkies choose for a new series? There are some fans, of course, who want to see more of Enterprise’s 22nd Century, some who want to see a far future that shoots past the 24th and 25th Centuries, and certainly there are fans for whom the 23rd Century has its own unique appeal. But many, many Trekkies who first came to the franchise during The Next Generation era – myself included – wanted and still want to see Star Trek pick up where it left off after Nemesis and Endgame. That was doubly true in 2017, when the franchise hadn’t touched that time period in fifteen years.
When it became apparent that Discovery was going to be yet another prequel – the third in a row – it meant that there was still no chance of the timeline advancing. It meant that the return of fan-favourites from Benjamin Sisko to B’Elanna Torres was completely off the table. And it meant no explanation of the Romulan supernova that had been glimpsed in 2009’s Star Trek. We subsequently got to see some of those things in Picard – but it wasn’t obvious in 2016-17 that that series was going to be made, and there was, in some quarters at least, a sense of disappointment that Star Trek was once again doing this kind of navel-gazing at its own history and backstory instead of moving forward. That planted the seeds of unhappiness for some Trekkies – a seed that would grow as more details were revealed about the series, its setting, its technologies, and its characters.
And I feel that this is really the key point. On their own, many of the criticisms levelled at Discovery in its first season were overblown nitpicks. The spore drive was never considered by the crew of the USS Voyager as a way to get home quicker. Spock didn’t have an adopted sister in that one episode of The Animated Series that aired in 1973. Did the Klingons and the Federation really fight a war in this era? And so on. But those criticisms found fertile ground in the disappointment that fans were already feeling – and the “snowball” started to roll.
This “snowball effect” is something that I’ve talked about before here on the website. In brief, it refers to how a production can find itself subject to more and more points of criticism once a few big ones start to build up. The “snowball” starts rolling, picking up more and more nitpicks and amplifying them. Relatively minor things – like Discovery’s all-blue uniform designs, for example – end up being nitpicked to death in a way that they never would have been in a production that didn’t have those original, fundamental points of criticism to get the “snowball” rolling in the first place.
And that’s what happened with Discovery in 2016-17, in my opinion. Its place in the timeline became the initial source of disappointment for a fanbase that comprised more fans of The Next Generation era than higher-ups at CBS realised. Those fans would have preferred to see a series set after Endgame and Nemesis, and the disappointment they felt began to set the stage for many other points of criticism that, in a different production, would never have been mentioned.
There are, of course, some self-proclaimed “fans” of Star Trek for whom the race and gender of Discovery’s protagonist was the issue. Those people would never have been placated by changes in the show’s setting, and the hate, abuse, and toxicity spewed by that thankfully small section of the show’s audience would have remained regardless. I see no way to avoid that; just as there were viewers in the ’60s who objected to Uhura’s presence on the bridge of the Enterprise, there were some in 2017 who felt that women, people of colour, LGBT+ people, and others shouldn’t be part of “their” entertainment products.
Such folks would often try to cage their attacks in the language of media criticism, using expressions like “bad writing” to criticise Discovery. I think we’re all able to tell the difference, though, and I don’t really see much point in addressing this part of the attacks on the show. It isn’t relevant to what we’re talking about today, as the minority of viewers who objected to Michael Burnham because she was a black woman in a leading role would have felt the same way regardless of when the show was set. The only thing that would have changed would have been the way in which those folks would have tried to cover their tracks when attacking Discovery.
When Season 2 rolled around, it wasn’t apparent at first that Discovery’s creative team had taken on board much of the feedback and criticism that had been levelled at the show in its first season. In fact, they seemed to double- and even triple-down on making these overt connections to The Original Series by introducing Captain Pike and Spock.
I have to confess something at this point – something which, in light of how darn good Strange New Worlds was in its first season, I’m quite embarrassed about: I didn’t like the idea of Pike and Spock joining Discovery in 2018-19 when that news broke. I’d been a fan of The Cage since I first watched it, and there was something about Jeffrey Hunter’s portrayal of Pike, and the differences between him and Captain Kirk in particular, that occupied a unique place in Star Trek’s history. Here was an “alternate timeline,” and just like hearing a different version of a familiar song, all the pieces were there, but they were different. Pike stood as this kind of “what-if” for the Star Trek franchise; what might have been if history had taken a different course.
Furthermore, I found Bruce Greenwood’s take on the character in Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness to have been one of the highlights of the Kelvin timeline. Recasting the character so soon after this portrayal wasn’t something that I was wild about either, and I felt that the whole thing rather smacked of desperation on the part of CBS/Paramount; an attempt to bring more eyes to a show that had proven controversial and that probably hadn’t brought in the numbers of subscribers and viewers that they and Netflix had hoped to see.
I was wrong about that, of course – so very, very wrong!
But I wasn’t alone in feeling that way; that Discovery was reaching for a crutch as its second season dawned. Fans who had been left unimpressed by the show in its first season – and particularly at its perceived “violations” of Star Trek’s internal canon – were not looking forward to seeing what would become of Captain Pike, a character who had a certain reverence from at least some in the fan community as Star Trek’s “first” captain, but more importantly of Spock – one of the most important foundational characters in the entire franchise.
Whether we agree or not that Discovery’s second season shook up Spock’s characterisation for the better – which is something I absolutely believe it did, by the way – something very interesting happened at the end of that season: Michael Burnham and the USS Discovery left the 23rd Century altogether. Opening a time-wormhole, Burnham led the ship and crew into the far future, and the show has remained in that time period ever since. By the time Season 5 arrives later this year, Discovery will have spent longer in the 32nd Century than it did in the 23rd.
Does that decision stand as an admission from Discovery’s creatives and producers that the 23rd Century was never a good fit for the show? Is it more a case of exasperatedly saying to fans and critics “you wanted us to be set in the future? Well here ya go!” Or is it simply a creative narrative decision that would have been taken regardless of how Seasons 1 and 2 had been received?
Let’s rule out that latter point immediately! If Discovery’s place in the timeline was uncontroversial and hadn’t been commented on and criticised from the moment it was announced, we’d have seen Discovery remain in the 23rd Century – I am as certain of that as I can be. The decision to take the series out of the 23rd Century was, at least in some way, a response to these criticisms and/or a way to pre-empt or shut down further such nitpicks.
We’ll have to talk about this in more detail one day, but there’s a phenomenon that I call the “prequel problem” that affects a lot of prequel stories. In short, at the back of our minds as viewers, we know that certain storylines have to end in particular ways; tension, drama, and stakes are all lower in certain prequels – whether we’re conscious of that fact at the time or not. This goes double for a show like Discovery where galactic-scale apocalyptic disasters are the bread-and-butter of its stories.
When it seemed as if Control was going to wipe out all life in the galaxy, we knew that it wasn’t possible. The details of how Pike, Burnham, and the crew were going to prevent it were still to be revealed, but because we’d seen the galaxy in the 24th Century, we knew at the back of our minds that there was no real danger. Likewise with Season 1’s Klingon war – we knew that the Federation wouldn’t be defeated, because we’d seen Captain Kirk’s five-year mission taking place a mere decade after the events depicted in the show. Those “prequel problems” took at least some of the tension out of Discovery’s main narratives – and in a show that wants to turn the tension up to eleven, that’s not ideal to say the least!
If Discovery was the kind of show that told stories that were smaller in scale, we could disregard this point altogether. But for the kind of series Discovery aimed to be, a setting that was constrained by stories set decades and centuries later was problematic – and it had been since day one.
So let’s start to wrap things up.
The saving grace of Discovery’s 23rd Century beginning is, as I see it anyway, the existence of Strange New Worlds as a spin-off production. Bringing in Captain Pike and Spock proved to be an unexpected masterstroke, thanks in part to some inspired casting. Had Discovery always been set after Nemesis in the late 24th Century, we would never have seen Anson Mount and Ethan Peck take on those roles, and from there we’d never have gotten to see the masterpiece that was Strange New Worlds Season 1. That would have been a huge loss for Star Trek – and I feel that alone more than justifies Discovery’s first two seasons in the 23rd Century.
But it’s clear that being set in this time period caused the show a lot of issues, particularly because of the kind of storytelling it employed. Big, bold stories that focus on end-of-the-world type threats and a serialised framework in which only one or two main stories were told per season combined with a prequel setting to cause some major stumbling blocks. Some of these were bigger than others, and some minor points definitely saw their status overinflated by fans and viewers who were “snowballing” and picking on anything and everything to criticise a series that they already didn’t like. But some of those points of criticism were genuine, and the internal consistency of the Star Trek franchise and its timeline was challenged by some of the narrative decisions that Discovery took.
With Strange New Worlds serving as a huge caveat, I still believe that if I’d been in charge of things in 2016-17, I wouldn’t have created a series set in the 23rd Century. It remains my view that at least a plurality of fans, if not an outright majority, would have preferred to have seen the overall timeline of Star Trek move forwards, and that creating a series set sometime after Endgame and Nemesis would have been the best call. There’s a lot of leeway if all we say is “after Nemesis,” and I’d have entertained pitches and ideas for both the late 24th Century as well as for decades or centuries in the future, far beyond The Next Generation era.
Bearing that in mind, I’d say that practically everything that Discovery did in those first two seasons could and would have worked in a post-Nemesis setting. Some story beats would have had to change to accommodate being set further forwards in time, such as Captain Lorca’s universe of origin. But even if the brief required the creative team to use elements that the Star Trek franchise had already created, I think it would have been possible to tell those same stories in a very similar way.
The big twist in Discovery’s first season was Captain Lorca’s true identity – but I’m not really convinced that this story beat was worth all the fuss. It was certainly fun and unexpected to find out that the character had crossed over from another universe, and that he was responsible for stranding the ship there as he tried to get home – but after Lorca’s true origin was revealed, his characterisation took a turn for the worse, and he ceased to be the complex, nuanced, hardball Starfleet captain in favour of being a rather one-dimensional villain caricature. So maybe all of this hassle wasn’t even worth it after all!
Season 2 introduced us to Pike and Spock, and set the stage for Strange New Worlds – something which, in hindsight, we know now we’d have missed out on if Discovery didn’t take place in this time period.
Shooting forwards in time, well past the 24th and 25th Centuries, has allowed Discovery much more creative freedom, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most of the show’s best episodes have come in the last couple of years rather than in those first two seasons. Even in an established, long-running franchise, writers and creatives need to have the freedom to branch out, to add wholly new elements, and to tell stories that go to completely different thematic places. Some of that was possible in the 23rd Century – and we’ve seen Strange New Worlds succeed in that setting by taking on a more episodic approach – but for the kinds of large-scale, dramatic stories that Discovery wanted to tell, a setting unconstrained by having to fit in with 600+ episodes and films set after the events of the show has undoubtedly opened up a lot more possibilities.
So the question posed is a tough one. Discovery set the stage for Strange New Worlds, and that really is a huge point in favour of its initial 23rd Century setting. But Discovery also reinvigorated the Star Trek franchise for a post-Game of Thrones television landscape, one in which ongoing serialised stories with big, bold storylines was the order of the day. Without Discovery doing what it did in 2017, who knows whether the Star Trek franchise would have continued at all, and whether the likes of Picard, Lower Decks, and Prodigy would have been created as well.
Just like the Kelvin films kept a torch burning for Star Trek and proved that there was life in a franchise that had burned out by 2005, perhaps what we should say about Discovery’s first two seasons is that they led to bigger and (mostly) better things, both for the show itself and for the franchise as a whole. Messing with that too much, or trying to create something “better,” may not have had the desired result!
But all of that is with the benefit of hindsight. In 2016-17, I wasn’t alone in wishing that Star Trek would move forward instead of creating yet another prequel. And it wasn’t possible to know at that time where Discovery might lead or what kind of spin-offs might be created in the years ahead. Although I did enjoy what the show did in its first two seasons overall, for much of the time I couldn’t shake the feeling that these stories would still have worked – and in some ways at least, would have worked far better – if the show was set after Nemesis.
Furthermore, I feel that Discovery’s producers felt that way too, especially after Bryan Fuller left the project and after the show premiered to a rather divisive reaction in some quarters of the fan community. Some of the people in charge may have underestimated just how detail-oriented some Trekkies can be, and in an age of social media, online fan communities, and continuous discussion and debate, small nitpicks about the series and its relationship to past iterations of Star Trek became amplified, making some of these controversies grow larger.
Any time a franchise expands, it leaves some folks behind. There were always going to be Discovery-haters; folks who, for any one of a number of reasons, didn’t want to see Star Trek doing something new and different. But did the show itself provide ammunition to those critics and others by its 23rd Century setting? Absolutely. Leaving the 23rd Century behind was clearly the right decision, and in some ways we can argue that it came two seasons too late.
So there we have it. In my view, Discovery could and perhaps should have been created as a post-Nemesis series instead of one set before The Original Series. With relatively few tweaks to the stories of its first couple of seasons, the same cast of characters, the same starship designs, the same technologies, and the same narrative beats could have all been present, and perhaps interesting new connections could have been found that would have tied the series into the events and even characters of The Next Generation era.
I hope this was an interesting thought experiment! I’ve been wanting to talk about Discovery’s creation and its early seasons for some time now. Because I only created this website in late 2019 I missed the opportunity to write up my thoughts on Discovery as it was being teased and as those first two seasons were broadcast, so this was an opportunity to step back and begin to rectify that! I hope you won’t interpret this as me “hating” on Discovery. Although I wasn’t wild about every decision taken or every character and storyline, I feel that we got two decent seasons of Star Trek, and a show that certainly wasn’t afraid to try new things. This hypothetical question is really just an opportunity to talk about the series some more and highlight some of what I feel were the key decisions taken during its creation.
I’m glad that Discovery remains a part of a very broad, varied franchise. But I think I’m also glad that the show’s producers took it out of the 23rd Century – not because I’m desperately angry about “the purity of canon” or other such things – but because its new era, free from any such constraints, has allowed for the creation of some genuinely different stories.
Star Trek: Discovery is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, United Kingdom, and other countries and territories where the platform is available. The series is also available on DVD and Blu-ray. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4.
With Picard Season 2 ongoing, Strange New Worlds Season 1 hot on its heels, and Prodigy and Lower Decks still to come this year, it might seem premature to be thinking about Discovery Season 5 already! But as I was writing up the final part of my Season 4 theory list, it got me thinking. Season 4 wasn’t bad, all things considered. It had some storylines that disappointed or underwhelmed, but there are some genuinely outstanding episodes in the mix as well – and it ended on a very emotional and exciting high note.
It’s never too early to look ahead, and before production gets fully underway on Discovery’s next outing, I wanted to share my thoughts and opinions about where the show could go from here, and what I’d like to see next. That’s what this article will be about – but stay tuned for a more in-depth look at Season 4 and some of its story elements in the weeks and months ahead.
For me, the single biggest wish I have for Discovery Season 5 is that it steps away from the “apocalyptic, galaxy-ending threat” story archetype that has been used in different ways across all four seasons of the show so far. We’ve gone through the Klingon war in Season 1, Control and the Red Angel in Season 2, the Burn and the Emerald Chain in Season 3, and finally the DMA and Unknown Species 10-C in Season 4. It’s time to give Captain Burnham and the crew a break, and for the series to try using a genuinely different formula instead of slapping a new coat of paint on the old one.
Just because a story is smaller in scale doesn’t make it any less emotional, exciting, tense, or dramatic, and I think that’s a lesson some of Discovery’s writers and producers could do with taking to heart. How we as the audience respond to a work of fiction is guided not by how massive the monster is or how big the explosions are going to be, but by how the characters we’re rooting for react. Their emotions become our emotions, their investment in the world around them becomes our investment, and so on. A story about a group of people working in an office, friends going on a road trip, or star-crossed lovers from rival families aren’t smaller, less exciting, and worse because they don’t have the backdrop of a world-ending disaster spurring them on. And conversely, some of the worst and least-exciting films and TV shows I’ve ever seen went over-the-top with the size and scale of the disaster the characters were facing.
Past iterations of Star Trek used these kinds of apocalyptic stories pretty sparingly, when you look back on it. It’s only Deep Space Nine’s Dominion War arc, which lasted for three seasons, that comes close to being as long and drawn-out an affair, and even within the framework of the Dominion War, DS9 found ways to tell very different and fun one-off stories. Things like the Borg incursions that Captain Picard and his crew had to deal with were either two-parters or one-off films, and they work well in that format.
Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D still found other ways to be entertaining, and many of The Next Generation’s standalone episodes have gone on to be considered iconic, even those that had a far smaller focus than blockbuster outings like The Best of Both Worlds. This doesn’t mean ditching the season-long story arcs or returning to an episodic format, because I think Discovery has done some interesting and neat things with its serialised stories. But it does mean choosing season-long storylines and narrative arcs that are different in a fundamental way to what the show has tried already.
Practically any format can become bland and unexciting when overused, no matter how much fun it might’ve been in its original incarnation or at its best moments. It’s a challenge to keep any television series feeling fresh as it enters its fifth season and races toward its sixty-fifth episode, and there are many examples of shows that ran out of steam somewhere along the way. Heck, I have an entire list of television shows that either ran too long or wore out their concepts, and I can think of many more that I could’ve included.
Even Star Trek has hit the wall in the past, running out of energy and failing to keep audiences engaged. By the time Enterprise was willing to try new things in its third and fourth seasons, for example, the franchise was already in such a steep decline that cancellation was inevitable. To Paramount’s credit, lessons have been learned from what happened in 2005 in terms of the way the franchise as a whole operates. Different series are telling stories in their own ways, appealing to broader audiences, and Star Trek as a whole feels varied and diverse. But Discovery on its own doesn’t… and it’s right on the verge of becoming repetitive.
I was far from the only commentator to make the point prior to Season 4 that another “galactic threat” storyline felt samey, coming off the back of three similar narrative frameworks, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one to say that re-using that format a fifth time will be a bridge too far. Making use of the newly-established 32nd Century in different ways, and telling a story that may be smaller in scale but that’s just as impactful, emotional, and entertaining, will be the key challenges that I’d like the writers to tackle in Season 5.
The theme of rebuilding in the aftermath of a disaster was something we only saw Season 4 tackle in the briefest and barest of ways right at the beginning of the season, but this could be a concept that the show puts to much better use next time around. Discovery could follow Captain Burnham as she and the crew jump to different worlds, delivering dilithium, solving problems, flying the flag for the Federation… and most importantly, bringing hope to a galaxy that’s been through a lot.
This is what I’d hoped Season 4 would do, to be honest. The idea of restoring the Federation from the incredibly weakened state it was in when we encountered it is far too important and interesting to be relegated to something that happens off-screen, and I felt even before Season 4 had aired a single episode that this concept offered so much scope for emotional, exciting, and varied storytelling. Discovery could hop to different planets, combining the inclusion of new and visually different alien races (like Season 4’s “butterfly” aliens) with the reintroduction of classic races.
Catching up with some of the factions we remember from past iterations of Star Trek is also something I’ve been wanting Discovery to do for two seasons now. We’ve caught glimpses of races like the Ferengi and Andorians, and heard others mentioned in dialogue and log recordings, but we haven’t actually spent a lot of time with practically any of them. Finding out what became of fan-favourites not only in the years after the Burn, but in the centuries before that event took place, is something that I think a lot of Trekkies would be interested in.
If the 32nd Century is going to be a major setting for the franchise going forward, this kind of world-building is important. Just like how The Next Generation laid the groundwork for Deep Space Nine through its introduction of the Cardassians and Bajorans, so too could Discovery introduce us to planets, races, and technologies that future spin-offs and Star Trek projects could expand upon.
Part of that world-building can be done in a serialised story that looks at how the Federation can be rebuilt in the aftermath of the disasters it has already faced; introducing another new disaster to avert or recover from is simply not needed at this point. From the point of view of the characters, throwing them into another extreme situation would also be problematic, and would take the storytelling close to soap-opera levels.
Discovery has, to its credit, attempted to show how some of the events that its characters have gone through have impacted their mental health. Some of these stories have been underdeveloped – Detmer’s in Season 3 and Dr Culber’s in Season 4 being the most egregious examples. But even with this kind of attempted mental health focus, there’s a limit on what we could expect characters to go through and still be alright when they come out the other end.
To be fair, that’s a line that the Star Trek franchise has crossed in the past with characters like Miles O’Brien, for example, who seemed to survive a lot of traumatic events only to be back to normal the next week! But as shows like Picard have demonstrated with characters like Seven of Nine and Jean-Luc Picard himself, it can be incredibly cathartic to revisit some of these characters and give them meaningful, lasting development. But we’re drifting off-topic!
Star Trek’s galaxy is vast, and as we saw in Season 4 with the inclusion of races like the Abronians and Unknown Species 10-C, even in the 32nd Century there’s still a heck of a lot that Starfleet doesn’t know about it. There’s scope for Captain Burnham and the crew to get back to exploring for its own sake, as well as using their Spore Drive to reach parts of the galaxy that it would be difficult for the Federation to do otherwise. There’s the potential for the crew to bring hope to far-flung Federation outposts after the Burn, the Emerald Chain, and the DMA have had such a devastating impact… and it’s worthwhile telling stories like that.
Even if Season 5 doesn’t do much of that rebuilding or exploring, I’m still hopeful that whatever stories it chooses to tell won’t feel repetitive and won’t recycle the same basic story framework that we’ve seen throughout the show’s entire run to date. Discovery could do so much to expand our understanding of the Star Trek galaxy; even more so in a 32nd Century setting that is wholly unconstrained by prior canon. Shooting this far forwards in time was a great way for the show’s writers and producers to give themselves new opportunities to play in the vast sandbox that we call the Star Trek galaxy – so now would be a great time to take advantage of that.
As I look ahead to Season 5, I feel hopeful and optimistic. Season 4 had some problems, but generally it was an improvement over Season 3 and it ended in truly spectacular fashion. There’s potential for what comes next to build on that, and if the series can avoid retreading too much old ground, Season 5 could be Discovery’s best outing yet.
Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4 are available to stream now on Paramount+ where the platform is available and via a patchwork of video-on-demand and pay-to-view streaming platforms in the rest of the world. The series is also available on DVD and Blu-ray. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and the trailers and teasers for Season 4.
As we welcome the month of November, Star Trek: Discovery’s fourth season is now only a couple of weeks away! With the season fast approaching I thought it would be a good idea to recap, as succinctly as possible, the story so far. Michael Burnham and the rest of the crew have been on a wild ride that’s seen them face off against militant Klingons, a Mirror Universe impostor, a rogue AI, Section 31, and a journey into a future that none of them expected to find.
If you haven’t re-watched Discovery since Season 3 ended just after New Year, I hope this recap of the story so far will be helpful going into Season 4. If for some reason you haven’t seen Discovery yet, well this recap might help you get acclimated with the show and some of the characters – but there’s still a couple of weeks to watch the show’s forty-two episodes… so you’d better get on with it!
As I’ve said previously, the show’s first season didn’t get off to a great start story-wise. As things settled down, though, Discovery told a creditable story over the course of the season, one which hit a lot of the right notes in terms of “feeling like Star Trek.” But Season 2 was leaps and bounds ahead of where Season 1 had been, with noteworthy improvements in writing and characterisation to tell a truly exciting and engaging story.
Season 3 was a risk in some respects, but in others it was clearly designed to answer criticisms from some quarters about the show’s place in Star Trek’s broader canon. Shooting the ship and crew almost a thousand years into the future meant abandoning the 23rd Century – and everything else familiar about Star Trek’s galaxy. However, this decision opened up Discovery to brand-new storytelling ideas, and gave the writers and producers far more creative freedom. The show was pioneering new ground instead of trying to walk an occasionally awkward line between the franchise’s established history and bringing new ideas to the table.
There were some great successes in Season 3. For the first time we got standalone episodes – or at least semi-standalone episodes in which the main story of the season took a back seat. We also got spotlight moments for more of the ship’s secondary characters, some of whom had barely had more than a line or two of dialogue despite being fixtures on the bridge. Though I have criticised the Burn storyline – which was the most significant aspect of the season’s story – for having a number of issues, overall Season 3 was a success.
Discovery has been “the Michael Burnham show” since its premiere episode – for better and for worse. The first three seasons can thus be viewed as Burnham’s ascent to the captain’s chair, and the rocky road she took to get there. Though there has been development of other characters – Saru, Tilly, and Mirror Georgiou stand out in particular – the show’s focus has often been on Burnham.
So let’s head back to the beginning and run through all three seasons as briefly as possible! I’ll try to hit all of the most important and relevant points as we go to get you ready for Season 4.
Season 1 began with Michael Burnham serving as first officer to Captain Georgiou of the USS Shenzhou. Saru was also a member of the crew, as was helm officer Detmer. After being called to a region of space near the Klingon border, the Shenzhou encountered a new Klingon leader who had a plan to unify all of the Klingon Great Houses by going to war with the Federation. In a moment we’ll charitably call “confusion” (as opposed to other, harsher terms we could use) Michael Burnham attempted to stage a mutiny against Captain Georgiou and fire the first shot at a large Klingon fleet.
After the arrival of Admiral Anderson and Starfleet reinforcements, a battle broke out between the Federation and Klingons – the opening engagement of a year-long war. Georgiou and Burnham led an away mission to attempt to capture the Klingon leader, T’Kuvma, but the mission ended with both Georgiou and T’Kuvma dead and war assured between the two sides.
The Klingon war led to Starfleet accelerating work on the Spore Drive – a new method of traversing the galaxy that relies on a kind of fungus. The Spore Drive was installed aboard two ships – Discovery and the USS Glenn. Engineer Paul Stamets was in charge of the Spore Drive aboard Discovery under the command of Captain Gabriel Lorca, but the technology wasn’t effective at first.
The crew of the USS Glenn discovered that a tardigrade – a space-dwelling lifeform – could be used to navigate the mycelial network and might be the key to making the Spore Drive operational. However, the crew were killed when the tardigrade got loose, and the ship was destroyed to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. Initial experiments using the tardigrade were promising, despite the dangers it posed, but when it became clear how painful the process was for the creature, Stamets merged his DNA with the tardigrade’s so the creature could go free. Stamets thus became Discovery’s navigator and the Spore Drive became fully functional.
At the same time, Michael Burnham – now a prisoner following her mutiny – had been brought aboard the USS Discovery by Captain Lorca. She was assigned a cabin with Cadet Sylvia Tilly, and employed as a “mission specialist.” Lorca suggested to Burnham that this could be a way to atone for her role in the outbreak of the war, and she played a role in helping get the Spore Drive operational.
Captain Lorca was captured by the Klingons, but was able to escape thanks to the assistance of Ash Tyler – a fellow Starfleet prisoner. Tyler joined the crew of Discovery as Lorca’s new security officer – despite clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress as a result of his abuse and torture by the Klingons.
The USS Discovery was sent to the planet Pahvo, where a crystalline transmitter was located. The transmitter could be used, Starfleet believed, to detect cloaked Klingon ships. When the mission went wrong and the native energy-based Pahvans summoned the Klingons to their planet, Captain Lorca disobeyed orders to implement a new plan. Outwardly his plan was to use multiple Spore Drive jumps to unlock the secrets behind the Klingons’ cloaking device – but in reality his plan was to use the Spore Drive to return to the Mirror Universe.
Captain Lorca was later revealed to be a native of the Mirror Universe, having crossed over inadvertently to the Prime Universe. While in the Mirror Universe the crew of the USS Discovery had to try to fit in as soldiers of the Terran Empire. Burnham and Lorca travelled to the capital ship of Empress Georgiou, where Lorca attempted to rally his forces and stage a coup.
Lorca was killed during his coup attempt, but Empress Georgiou’s reign was over anyway; other plotters were already eyeing her throne. In a moment of unthinking impulse, Michael Burnham chose to save Georgiou’s life and transported her to Discovery. After investigating how Lorca was able to use the Spore Drive to jump between universes, the crew were able to reverse the process and return home – only to discover that the Klingons had reached the edge of victory in their absence.
A mad plan cooked up by Empress Georgiou and Admiral Cornwell saw a bomb transported to the Klingon homeworld, one which would have devastated the planet if it had been set off. Leading a second, pro-Starfleet values mutiny, Burnham rallied the crew of Discovery against the bomb plot and instead saw the super-weapon turned over to L’Rell – who went on to become the new Klingon Chancellor and ended the war.
After the war ended, Burnham and the crew received medals for their roles. Burnham was also reinstated at the rank of commander. Following a computer failure aboard the USS Enterprise, Captain Pike was assigned to the USS Discovery and given temporary command of the ship for his mission to chase down an ambiguous entity known as the Red Angel. The Red Angel had been generating anomalies known as Red Bursts at locations across the galaxy.
The Enterprise’s science officer – and Michael Burnham’s adoptive brother – Spock, had gone missing at the same time. The Red Angel was revealed to be a time traveller – someone with the ability to travel into the past and far into the future. A mysterious figure from Spock’s youth – and who had once intervened to save his life – was revealed as the Red Angel and thus connected to Spock’s disappearance.
Meanwhile on the Klingon homeworld, Ash Tyler – whose true identity as a Klingon had been discovered – was able to leave the planet with his “son” thanks to the help of Section 31. The son of Voq and Klingon Chancellor L’Rell was taken away to the Klingon monastery on Boreth to be raised with the monks, and Tyler rejoined Section 31 – which counted ex-Empress Georgiou among its new recruits. Captain Leland tried to maintain the peace aboard a state-of-the-art Section 31 vessel.
Section 31 had come to rely heavily on an artificial intelligence named Control during the Klingon war, and it had become routine for Starfleet admirals to run all of their mission data through Control. Unbeknownst to any of them, Control had aspirations of its own, seeking to become fully sentient and to wipe out its creators. Somehow it discovered the existence of an entity known as the Sphere – a planetoid-sized lifeform that had spent more than 100,000 years studying the galaxy and accumulating vast swathes of data on all of its inhabitants.
By merging its programming with the Sphere data, Control would be able to become fully sentient, and it set out to acquire the Sphere data. Thanks to the time-traveling involvement of the Red Angel, the USS Discovery came to possess the Sphere data, and thus became a target for Control.
After Michael Burnham was able to rescue Spock from Section 31, she took him to Talos IV where the Talosians were able to help “unscramble” his brain, leading to Spock explaining as much as he could about the Red Angel, its origins, and its connection to him. The Red Angel was revealed to be a human.
The USS Discovery became a fugitive after rescuing Burnham and Spock from Talos IV; hunted by Control, and thus by Section 31 and all of Starfleet. Control was able to kill off many Section 31 leaders and operatives, and used nanites to “assimilate” or possess the body of Captain Leland – but thankfully left Ash Tyler and Georgiou alone!
The crew of Discovery studied scans of the Red Angel following a mission to Saru’s home planet (in which they rescued his people from subservience to the Ba’ul, a second sentient race present on the planet). Saru underwent a transformation to his “evolved” form, losing much of his fearfulness in the process. Scans of the Red Angel revealed that the time traveller was, to everyone’s surprise, Michael Burnham.
After a side-story involving native beings in the mycelial network and Tilly, Dr Culber – who had been killed by Tyler/Voq – was able to be rescued from the mycelial network and brought back to life. Meanwhile a plan to lure the Red Angel and trap her ended up proving that Burnham wasn’t the Red Angel – her long-lost mother was.
Dr Gabrielle Burnham had been using the Red Angel suit to interfere in the timeline after getting trapped in the 32nd Century. She arrived there by accident only to find all sentient life in the galaxy gone thanks to Control, which had acquired the Sphere Data and evolved itself. She began taking action to thwart Control, including giving the Sphere data to Discovery to keep safe. She was later pulled back to the 32nd Century; her presence there ultimately determined the ship’s destination at the end of the season.
Control was hot on Discovery’s heels, and using Captain Leland attempted to gain access to the Sphere data. Pike and the crew realised the data couldn’t be destroyed – it was protecting itself – so they made a plan to send the data into the far future, securing a time crystal from the Klingon monastery on Boreth in order to build a new Red Angel suit. During the mission to Boreth, Captain Pike made a great sacrifice to acquire the crystal – cementing a future for himself of devastating disability.
While preparing for a last stand against Control and a fleet of Section 31 ships under its command, the crew of Discovery raced to build a second Red Angel suit. After Control arrived and a battle raged, Michael Burnham used the completed suit to travel back in time and set the Red Bursts – making the whole story somewhat circular – before leading the USS Discovery (now under Saru’s command) into the future. Captain Pike and Spock remained behind in the 23rd Century.
Arriving 930 years later, Michael Burnham was initially alone and crash-landed on the planet Hima. There she met Cleveland Booker who told her about the Burn: a galaxy-wide catastrophe in which many starships were destroyed. The Federation had also disappeared – at least from the local region of space – and though Book initially appeared antagonistic and out for himself, he eventually agreed to help Burnham and took her to a Federation outpost.
There was no sign of Discovery, however, and it was a full year later before the ship emerged from the time-wormhole. After a rough landing on a planet named the Colony, Acting Captain Saru and the crew came into conflict with Zareh, a courier working for a faction called the Emerald Chain. Thanks to the timely arrival of Book and Burnham, Discovery was rescued and proceeded to Earth using the Spore Drive.
In the 125 years since the Burn, however, many changes had taken place. Earth was just one of many planets to have quit the Federation, retreating to an armed isolationist stance that even saw the planet unwilling to communicate with human colonies inside the Sol system. Searching for a Starfleet Admiral named Senna Tal seemed fruitless at first, but Tal’s Trill symbiont had been transferred to a human named Adira.
After helping the people of Earth reconnect with their fellow humans on Titan, Discovery visited the Trill homeworld to help Adira – and to learn the location of Federation HQ, which was no longer on Earth. Burnham and the crew were able to help the Trill, who had been suffering from a shortage of suitable candidates for their symbionts, and also helped Adira in the process. Discovery was then able to travel to Federation HQ – a cloaked space station that housed the remnants of both the Federation government and Starfleet.
Having peaked at around 350 members, by the time of Discovery’s arrival the Federation was down to a mere 38 remaining worlds, some of which were out of contact due to the Burn’s lingering effects and damage to subspace communications. The ship undertook a short mission to recover some seeds from the USS Tikhov – a Starfleet seed vault – in order to provide medical care. Nhan, a Barzan officer, remained behind on the Tikhov.
The USS Discovery then underwent a retrofit, one which kept the familiar interior look of the ship but which upgraded many of its systems to 32nd Century standards, including detached nacelles and programmable matter. The crew were permitted to remain together under Captain Saru’s command, but Discovery was seconded to Federation HQ as a “rapid response vessel” thanks to its Spore Drive.
Michael Burnham and Georgiou undertook an off-the-books mission to rescue Book, who had been captured by the Emerald Chain. The upshot of Book’s rescue was the discovery of a Starfleet black box, and the data inside proved that the Burn did not happen everywhere simultaneously, as had been theorised. Instead it had a point of origin – but without more information it wasn’t possible to pinpoint it.
SB-19 was a project run by Ni’Var – the renamed planet Vulcan following reunification between Vulcans and Romulans – in the years before the Burn. Ni’Var had come to believe that SB-19 was responsible for the Burn and were unwilling to share any details about the project, even though Burnham asked them to share it to help pinpoint the Burn’s source. Eventually, however, the reappearance of Dr Gabrielle Burnham, who was now a member of the Qowat Milat, an order of armed Romulan nuns, showed Burnham the way to get the information and recommit herself to Starfleet following a year away from the ship.
After acquiring the SB-19 data, Discovery undertook a mission to Book’s home planet of Kwejian. Threatened by the Emerald Chain and its leader, Osyraa, Book’s brother attempted to turn him over to the faction in exchange for protecting the harvest and thus Kwejian’s food supply. Piloting Book’s ship, Lieutenant Detmer was able to damage the Emerald Chain flagship while the crew of Discovery found a way to protect Kwejian’s food supply without the need to rely on the Emerald Chain.
Mirror Georgiou had fallen ill, and a mysterious Federation figure named Kovich knew why – travelling through time and travelling across from a parallel universe leads to a painful and fatal condition which he believed to be incurable. The USS Discovery undertook a mission to a planet near the Gamma Quadrant to help Georgiou, and she was able to travel to a parallel universe very similar to the Mirror Universe.
While in the Mirror Universe, Georgiou attempted to make changes. Having spent time with Burnham and the Federation she had become more compassionate and less quick to violence than before, and though she ultimately failed to bring about major reforms to the Terran Empire, she was deemed “worthy” of a second chance by the entity which sent her there – an entity which subsequently revealed itself to be the Guardian of Forever.
Georgiou was able to use the Guardian’s portal to leave the 32nd Century and thus save her life – but she had to say goodbye to Saru, Burnham, and the rest of the crew. Her destination isn’t clear – but if the Section 31 series gets off the ground in future we may just find out! Don’t hold your breath for that, though… it’s feeling less and less likely as time goes by!
With the data from the black boxes and SB-19, Burnham and the crew were able to triangulate the source of the Burn: the Verubin Nebula. Inside the nebula was a crashed Kelpien starship, the KSF Khi’eth, and a life-form was detected on board despite the dangerous radiation from the nebula. Discovery made another jump to the nebula, and Captain Saru left Ensign Tilly in charge while he went to save the lost Kelpien.
The Emerald Chain took advantage of this situation to capture the USS Discovery, wanting to keep the Spore Drive technology for themselves. Leader Osyraa then set course for Federation HQ, keeping Discovery’s crew hostage while she tried to force the Federation into an alliance. Admiral Vance called her bluff, and Osyraa attempted to escape. In the meantime, though, Michael Burnham had jettisoned poor Stamets off the ship, and without him to control the Spore Drive Discovery was forced to rely on warp.
Following a battle with the Emerald Chain both in space and aboard Discovery, Book was able to kill Osyraa’s lieutenant Zareh and Burnham was able to kill Osyraa herself, while Tilly and other members of the bridge crew regained control of the ship. Book’s empathic abilities allowed him to use the Spore Drive, transporting Discovery back to the Verubin Nebula just in time to save Saru, Culber, Adira, Gray, and Su’Kal – the Kelpien who was accidentally responsible for the Burn all those years ago.
Su’Kal had developed a telepathic link with dilithium thanks to the Verubin Nebula’s radiation and because the Khi’eth had crashed on a planet composed largely of the valuable fuel. When Su’Kal’s mother died while he was still a child, a telepathic shockwave that Su’Kal accidentally unleashed led to the Burn. By taking him away from the Verubin Nebula, any prospect of a repeat of the Burn was nullified.
A short epilogue to the season showed us that Trill had rejoined the Federation and that the Federation was hoping to use the dilithium in the Verubin Nebula to bring hope back to the galaxy. Ni’Var was considering rejoining too, and Saru took a leave of absence to go to Kaminar with Su’Kal. In his absence, Burnham had been promoted and assumed command of Discovery.
And that’s the story so far!
We now know that Captain Burnham and the crew will have to contend with a gravitational anomaly in Season 4; an uncharted, never-before-seen phenomenon that appears to be threatening the Federation and all of known space. How that will play out isn’t clear at all right now, but we don’t have to wait too much longer to find out!
I hope that this recap of the story so far has been useful. I didn’t include everything – this article would have been far too long if I’d tried to include every character moment and side-story. But I think I hit the most important story beats from all three seasons. I’d encourage you to check out other story recaps from other places to make sure you’re getting a full picture, though! Or you could just go back and re-watch Discovery… two episodes per day will get you pretty close, and then binge-watch the final few!
Going back to the stories of earlier seasons was a bit of fun, and it’s helped get me back into a Star Trek mood in time for Season 4, which will be upon us before you know it! I’m currently not writing up reviews of Prodigy episodes, as you may have noticed – the series is unavailable here in the UK and I see no point in covering a show that ViacomCBS doesn’t see fit to make available to Trekkies internationally. However, I will cover Discovery’s fourth season in-depth, including weekly episode reviews and theory posts, as well as other occasional articles on topics of interest while the season is ongoing. So I hope you’ll stay tuned for all of that here on the website in the weeks ahead.
Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix internationally. Season 4 will begin on the 18th of November in the United States and the 19th of November internationally. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: Picard Season 1, Lower Decks Season 2, First Contact, and The Next Generation.
While Star Trek: Discovery’s second season was running I wasn’t writing about the show; it wasn’t until November 2019 that I founded this website. Because of that I have a number of theories and ideas kicking around from the first two seasons of Discovery that I haven’t found time to talk about yet! On this occasion we’re going to look into one idea I had during Season 2 that has both in-universe and production-side elements to it – the “Borg origin story.”
I know for a fact that I’m not alone in having speculated that Discovery Season 2 was setting up an origin story for the Borg. Shortly after the season ended a friend of mine from way back was in the area for a visit, and we got talking about precisely this subject – yes, we’re both huge geeks! I’m also well aware that other fans have posited some variant or other of this theory online both during and after the season’s run, so please don’t interpret this article as me claiming to have independently and uniquely come up with this idea!
Here’s the theory in brief: the Control AI, which was the main adversary during the story of Season 2, was originally intended to be the progenitor of the Borg. Its use of nano-technology, its ability to “assimilate” organic beings, and its murderous quest for true sentience that, if left unchecked, would have wiped out all sentient life in the galaxy are all indicators of this. In addition, the inclusion of time travel and the Red Angel suits in the story could have teed up a situation where Control was able to travel backwards through time and far across the galaxy in order to become the originator of the Borg Collective.
Because of Control’s similarities to the Borg in terms of its use of nanites, its single-mindedness, and its lack of care for the survival of organic individuals, this felt like a very real prospect right up until the final moments of the season finale. I really do wonder whether a Borg origin story was included in the original draft of Season 2, perhaps being modified later on once production had already commenced. What we saw on screen would thus contain the residual elements of that story, but with a different ending written – one which sent Burnham and the USS Discovery into the far future.
It’s this decision which I believe would be responsible for changing the story – if indeed such a change were mandated. Discovery had received criticism in Season 1 for its real or perceived “violations” of Star Trek’s internal canon, and it’s this reaction which surely contributed to sending the ship and crew far into the future. It could be that Season 2 was hastily re-written to include the time travel ending, dropping the Borg origin story in the process.
As a narrative concept, the idea that it was the Federation, through out-of-control technological and AI research, who inadvertently created the biggest threat to themselves and to the wider galaxy would be an incredibly impactful one, and something ripe for exploration in detail. The cyclical nature of such a story, with the Federation creating the Borg, then the Borg one day coming for the Federation, could be absolutely phenomenal if done well, and would highlight the morally questionable actions of senior Federation leaders and Starfleet admirals.
It would also be profoundly ironic that the Borg – almost universally acknowledged as the Federation’s biggest adversary – were ultimately a Federation creation. This revelation would have a huge impact on the Federation as a whole – and on our crew of Starfleet heroes when they discovered it – and could form the basis for a new Borg story that would surpass even the likes of The Best of Both Worlds and First Contact in its scope.
Had Discovery gone down this road in Season 2, it may not have fallen to Michael Burnham and the crew to be the ones to learn of the consequences of their battle to defeat Control. Picard Season 1 could have picked up this storyline, with information stored aboard the Artifact (the abandoned Borg Cube) finally revealing the Borg’s origins to the Federation more than a century later. This would have tied the two shows together in a very real and significant way – something I’ve argued on a number of occasions that Star Trek needs to be more adept at doing.
In canon, we don’t know much about the Borg’s early history. The Control AI could have been slotted into the bits and pieces that we do know in a way that didn’t overwrite anything we’ve seen or been told on screen, with every past Borg story being allowed to unfold exactly as we know they did.
In-universe, the Borg originated in the Delta Quadrant “thousands of centuries” before the 24th Century. There was an original Borg race – a race of purely organic beings – but they began using nanotechnology and augmenting themselves, and eventually hooked up every facet of themselves to the Hive Mind. As of the late 15th Century, the Borg had assimilated a number of neighbouring star systems, but weren’t anywhere near as large as they would come to be in the 24th Century. Nothing in the early history of the Borg precludes the involvement of an outside force – the Control AI. It could have been the Control AI’s arrival on the world populated by the Borg’s organic ancestors that led them down a path of assimilation and augmentation.
The Red Angel suits and time crystals present in Season 2 would have provided Control with a method of travelling backwards through time. And as Dr Gabrielle Burnham found to her cost, the Red Angel suits are imperfect and prone to malfunctioning. Based on these pieces of evidence, it would’ve been possible for Control to have seized a Red Angel suit with the intention of travelling either backwards or forwards in time to defeat Captain Pike and Discovery, only for something to go wrong – emerging on the far side of the galaxy millennia in the past.
We are now firmly in the realm of speculation! But had such a scenario come to pass, Control may have found itself alone in the vicinity of a planet populated by humanoids: the Borg’s organic ancestors. Control may have begun the process of assimilating them, injecting its nanotechnology into more and more individuals and bending them to its will.
Control had a forceful personality, but we don’t know what effect mass assimilations of individuals would have had on it. Would it have retained its own personality in the face of potentially thousands or millions of new “drones” – or would its own personality have begun to change, impacted by the personalities and desires of those it assimilated? Perhaps this is where the Borg’s quest for perfection comes from.
This could also explain why the Borg seemed not to recognise humanity or the Federation upon re-encountering them millennia later: Control had simply forgotten its origins, or whatever remained of Control within the Borg Collective was so small and insignificant that the knowledge of its creators had been lost. As the Borg continued to evolve and assimilated more and more beings, perhaps Control’s personality didn’t survive intact.
Alternatively, we could have learned that the Borg did retain all of Control’s memories and knowledge – but simply chose not to make the Federation aware of the connection during their encounters. This could be the Borg’s equivalent of “forbidden knowledge,” something kept secret and known only to the Borg Queen – who may be an embodiment of the evolved Control AI.
It would make sense from the Borg’s point of view not to allow Starfleet to find out about the connection to Control – perhaps out of fear that the Federation could use that information to find a weakness in the Borg’s core synthetic programming. It would only be when Starfleet had access to a derelict but intact Borg vessel – like the Artifact from Picard Season 1 – that they’d be able to hack into the Borg’s systems deeply enough to learn the truth.
So that’s the theory, along with a couple of different ways it could have panned out.
I wouldn’t say I was “100% convinced” that this was going to happen as Season 2 rolled on, but it certainly felt like a distinct possibility. When I later saw the Artifact featured in the trailers for Picard Season 1 I wondered if the reason this story didn’t come to pass was because Picard actually had a Borg origin story of its own in the works!
Had this theory made it to screen I think we could’ve seen one of the most interesting connections between Discovery and the wider Star Trek franchise. Borg stories could be seen through a wholly new lens, and the themes of rogue artificial intelligence that both Discovery and Picard examined in their respective storylines could have been elevated by this “creation wants to destroy its creator” angle. That isn’t something original in science fiction, but it would have been a uniquely “Star Trek” take on the concept.
Whether a Borg origin story was actually present in the original Season 2 pitch or not is something we may never know. However, the team behind Season 2 must have been aware of the similarities between the way Control operated and the way the Borg have always been depicted, and I can’t believe that it was a coincidence. Someone involved in the production of Season 2 must have at least raised the point that the story was going down a very Borg-esque road!
To me it feels like any attempt to tell a story of this nature was superseded by the decision to take Discovery out of the 23rd Century altogether. If there was only room for one time travel ending to the season, the one that was chosen was to send the ship and crew into the far future. Control was left behind in the 23rd Century and seemingly defeated by Captain Pike, so any chance of it having a role in the creation of the Borg now seems to be entirely off the table.
Perhaps all of this was simply misdirection; the writers and producers of the season putting out deliberate red herrings so that fans wouldn’t figure out the ultimate direction of the story! If that’s the case, they definitely got me! Even if that’s what happened, though, as a concept the idea that the Federation accidentally created the Borg is one that could have led to some absolutely fascinating stories. Perhaps we’ll see something like it one day!
Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and internationally. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3.
Today we’re going to take a look at something that’s been bugging me for a couple of years, ever since the finale of Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 in April 2019. I didn’t start working on this website until November ’19, so I haven’t written up full reviews of Season 2, nor have I spent much time breaking down all of the various story points. This will be my first big foray into that! Rather than just a critique of what could be argued to be a plot hole or “goof,” though, I want to turn this into a theory, particularly one that could have an impact on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds – the upcoming series set on the USS Enterprise with Captain Pike, Spock, and a new cast of characters.
Ever since I watched Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2, something has stuck in my mind. Immediately before Burnham and the USS Discovery left the 23rd Century behind and headed into the far future we’ve seen depicted in Season 3, they were engaged in a climactic battle alongside Pike and the USS Enterprise against the Control AI. In addition to a fleet of Section 31 starships that were unmanned, Control had also possessed (or assimilated) the body of Section 31 commander Captain Leland. Control used Leland’s body to board the USS Discovery at the battle’s climax to attempt to retrieve the Sphere data – the macguffin that was the cause of the fight in the first place.
The relationship between Control and Captain Leland was not sufficiently explained on screen, in my opinion, and this has a bearing on what comes next and why I have an issue with Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2. But based on what we saw during the episode, it seems as though Control was somehow tied to Captain Leland’s body in a very significant way, such that when his body was crippled by Georgiou inside the USS Discovery’s Spore Cube, it had an impact on the battle raging outside.
This is the moment where I feel there’s an issue. The entire reason for sending Burnham and the USS Discovery on a one-way mission to the far future was to keep the Sphere data safe from Control, but when Georgiou defeated Captain Leland, Control appeared to also be defeated – or at least sufficiently incapacitated as to be unable to continue the battle. This all happened before the USS Discovery entered the time-wormhole.
So, with that in mind, why did Pike, Saru, or even Burnham not stop? Surely at the very least they could have paused what they were doing to consider their next moves. Aboard the Enterprise, Pike was able to easily destroy the disabled Section 31 ships, removing any immediate danger, and with Captain Leland incapacitated and clearly not going anywhere, the Sphere data was also safe. Before sending the ship and crew to an unknown destination with no way back, did no one realise that the battle may have already been won? Was there no reason to send Burnham and the ship into the future?
This is what I’m terming “the big mistake” for the purposes of this theory.
Although Burnham had already used the Red Angel suit to open the time-wormhole, I would absolutely argue that, based on what we saw on screen, the battle against Control had taken a decisive turn before either she or the USS Discovery actually crossed the threshold, and that there was time for Saru, Pike, Spock, or someone to point that out. They were preoccupied with the jobs that they had to do, but when it became obvious that Control was at least incapacitated – if not outright defeated – I think that warrants pause from everyone concerned. They were in the process of making a life-changing decision for Burnham and the crew of Discovery, yet for some reason no one seemed to realise that it may have ultimately been unnecessary.
So let’s break it down even more, for the sake of clarity, and follow events step-by-step. I don’t usually do time-stamps, but I think this is important so we’re all on exactly the same page. If we begin at exactly 51 minutes, 30 seconds into Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2 – at least on the Netflix version (I assume it will be roughly the same on Paramount+ and Blu-ray too) – we see Burnham getting ready to open the time-wormhole. In the shot of her flying through space near the raging battle, we see the Section 31 ships beginning to slow their rate of fire with a consequent drop in the number of explosions. This is the first indication that something was changing.
At 51:54, Saru gives Detmer the order to follow Burnham’s lead. The USS Discovery moves through a field of debris (presumably caused by the battle) and then we get our first look at the time-wormhole a few seconds later at around 52:06. At this point, neither Burnham nor the ship are anywhere close to crossing the event horizon and entering the time-wormhole.
Just before 52:30 the action cuts to Captain Pike on the Enterprise’s bridge, watching Burnham and Discovery preparing to enter the wormhole. Trailing in Discovery’s wake are Section 31/Control drones, chasing after them. After Saru and Pike exchange goodbyes at 52:40, and Dr Culber tells Stamets that “we’re on our way,” at 52:57 we come to the scene at the heart of my argument – and of this theory. In Discovery’s engineering bay, the possessed Captain Leland is trapped in the Spore Cube by Georgiou.
Seemingly admitting defeat, Control-Leland tells Georgiou – in true clichéd villain style – that “this does not end here!” Georgiou then finishes the job of killing him, using the powerful magnets in the Spore Cube to force the nanites out of Leland’s body. This action cripples Control, and severs the link between it and its fleet.
53:39 sees Control-Leland hit the deck, dead. The nano-bots spill out of his corpse, and though it’s not clear exactly what will happen to the human Leland, or whether he could be saved, this is a major blow for Control. Less than ten seconds later, at 53:48, the USS Discovery and Burnham can both be seen, still outside the time-wormhole, and Control’s fleet suddenly stops pursuing them.
On the bridge of the Enterprise, Una (Number One) notes this at 53:51, informing Captain Pike that “they’re all dead in the water.” Again, this is before either Burnham or Discovery have entered the time-wormhole. Even if no one on Discovery realised what was happening – which is possible given everything else going on – the crew of the Enterprise certainly had, and there was still time to contact Discovery.
At 54:00, Georgiou contacts Captain Saru, and this is the moment where he could have made a decision too. Georgiou informs him of Leland’s death, but uses a very interesting phrase: “Control is neutralised.” Discovery has not yet entered the wormhole, and on the bridge, Saru is already aware that the reason for doing so no longer exists. Pike is aware that their reason for heading into the future no longer exists. They have already won the battle. By Georgiou’s own admission, the threat Control had posed is unequivocally over.
At 54:16, Burnham and the USS Discovery are seen reflected in the glass of Siranna’s starfighter, still not inside the time-wormhole nor having crossed its event horizon. These are the crucial seconds at the core of the theory, because it’s in these few seconds that the decision to leave the 23rd Century behind could have been called off. With the Enterprise destroying what remained of Control’s fleet, and with Leland dead, there was no immediate way for Control to access the Sphere data – and yet no one on either ship seems to have realised that.
Even if we say that Control was not totally killed off, and that its servers remained active at Section 31 HQ (or elsewhere, if you prefer) and thus that Control was still out there and potentially able to regroup, the fact remains that the immediate threat had passed. The battle had been won, even if there was still more to do to win the overall war.
No one mentioned this in Discovery Season 3. After a brief reference to Georgiou destroying the remains of Leland in the episode Far From Home, and a short conversation about Control with Admiral Vance in the episode Die Trying, their reasoning for going to the future was never discussed nor elaborated on. Burnham, when pressed about it by Book in That Hope Is You, maintained that it was the “only way” to save the galaxy, so she clearly hadn’t realised what was going on behind her – but that makes sense as she was busy operating the Red Angel suit and keeping the time-wormhole stable.
Saru and Pike have no such excuse, in my opinion. Both commanders clearly and demonstrably knew that Control and/or its fleet were incapacitated, and I believe that should have led to one or both of them bringing an immediate halt to events to take stock. If Control was disabled, there was no immediate need to head to the future. With Leland dead, the Sphere data was safe, at least temporarily. With the battle won, everyone could have taken a moment to breathe and assess the situation, perhaps planning to go to Section 31 HQ and permanently destroy whatever remained of Control. Instead, everyone simply sat back as Burnham and Discovery raced into an unknown future – a future, I would argue, they did not need to travel to.
There’s a way this could come back in either Discovery Season 4, Strange New Worlds Season 1, or both: if Saru and/or Pike realise that they made a big mistake.
Given what he went through to make the Red Angel suit possible, I would suggest the person this would affect the most would be Captain Pike. In the episode Through the Valley of Shadows, Pike obtained a time crystal from the Klingons, but did so at great personal sacrifice – solidifying for himself a future of permanent disability. How would he feel knowing that it was all for naught; that if he replays the events of the battle in his mind, he could see that Control was already beaten and that there was no need for the time crystal?
One theme Strange New Worlds is certainly going to pick up on is Pike’s knowledge of his impending disability. As a disabled person myself, this is something I’m really interested in seeing come to life on screen. I can relate to what Captain Pike is going through, because I’ve had the experience of sitting in a room with a doctor and being told things about my health and my future that are unavoidable. I get that sense of inevitability, of knowing things won’t get better but they will get worse. This is something genuinely interesting and that has the potential to be inspirational through Anson Mount’s wonderful portrayal of Pike. But I also wonder if we’ll see him wrestle with feelings of regret or remorse, feeling that his fate and future are his own fault. If he knows (or believes) that the battle was won in Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2 without the need for time travel – and thus, without the need for the time crystal he sacrificed so much to obtain – will those feelings be worse for Pike?
Though we didn’t see much of this in Discovery Season 3, with Season 4 on the horizon there’s a chance for the circumstances of Discovery’s jump into the future to be revisited. Even if nobody aboard realised it at the time, it’s possible that someone will have subsequently had the revelation that their one-way trip to the future, sacrificing so much and leaving their loved ones behind, may not have been necessary. Perhaps this will become an issue for Captain Burnham or Saru, with a disgruntled crew member taking out their anger on them for forcing them into a post-Burn future that they didn’t have to inhabit.
So that’s it. My theory, based on what we saw in Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2 is this: the defeat or disabling of Control toward the end of the battle means that Burnham and Discovery didn’t actually need to go to the far future – at least, not immediately. At the very least, pausing to take stock would have been worthwhile.
It seems possible to me that this could be brought back as a story point – even if it’s just in a relatively minor way, such as with a line or two of dialogue acknowledging it – in either Discovery or Strange New Worlds, as it’s a story which impacts major characters from both shows.
Having delved deeply into this battle from an in-universe point of view, now let’s step back and acknowledge that this is, in effect, a “plot hole” or production-side issue. The writers and producers of Discovery Season 2 wanted to send the ship and crew into the far future, partly due to negative fan feedback involving so-called canon problems during Season 1. But at the same time, they also wanted to make sure that the Control storyline was 100% wrapped up and concluded before Season 3 kicked off.
Unfortunately, in my opinion at least, the way they chose to accomplish those two goals has opened a plot hole. In the mad rush to wrap up Discovery Season 2 in what was already a feature-length episode, an inconsistency has been created within the plot of the show. If Burnham and Discovery had gone into the future, and in the final few minutes of the episode we saw Pike, Spock, and the crew of the Enterprise finish defeating Control, there would be no problem. But because it was Georgiou, aboard Discovery, who killed Captain Leland, and because this unexplained link between Leland’s body and Control seems to have crippled the entire fleet, we have a problem.
Overall, for most viewers who don’t spend as much time thinking about (and nitpicking) Star Trek as much as I do, it probably passed by unnoticed. But even in 2019 I was having conversations with fellow viewers – including some who I would call “casual” viewers as opposed to hardcore Trekkies – who noticed this very issue. The fact that no one – not Pike, Spock, Number One, Georgiou, or Saru – thought to call off the journey to the future, even temporarily to assess the new facts, is a plot hole.
However, it’s a plot hole that could be plugged by incorporating it into future stories. Captain Pike could be affected by it, as previously mentioned. As could Spock or Number One on the Enterprise, as they saw the battle end before Burnham and Discovery entered the time-wormhole. It could also become an issue for anyone aboard the USS Discovery – perhaps with their mood and mental health suffering, they replay the events of the battle in their mind and come to the conclusion that they were forced to travel to the future unnecessarily. That’s my theory, anyway!
Whether any of that will come to pass, or whether both shows will proceed ignoring this issue is anyone’s guess right now. I would think that, if Discovery wanted to acknowledge this criticism, Season 3 would’ve been the time to do so, and the fact that it didn’t happen may mean that the writers and producers are keen to move on and put Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2 behind them. But I’m not 100% convinced of that. I think there’s scope to incorporate what feels like a plot hole into the storylines of either upcoming show in a way that would make sense.
As I said at the beginning, this is something that’s been on my mind since I first saw the episode a couple of years ago! Even on first viewing, it seemed patently obvious to me that someone should have realised what was happening before Burnham and Discovery left, speaking up to put the brakes on. It really does feel that, based on the sequence of events and how they unfolded on screen, Burnham and Discovery could have remained in the 23rd Century.
Despite all of this over-analysing of a few minutes of the episode, I really enjoyed Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2 – and Discovery Season 2 as a whole. It’s a fantastic season of television well worth a watch, and this theory, despite being something that’s bugged me for a while, is really just a glorified nitpick!
Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The series is also available on Blu-ray. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery, Strange New Worlds, and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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!
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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-2, Short Treks Season 2, Star Trek: Picard, and other iterations of the franchise.
It’s been a while since we looked at Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, the upcoming Captain Pike series. But with production on Season 1 seemingly imminent – or perhaps having already begun, depending on what sources you use – I thought it would be fun to look ahead to what the first season of the show may hold.
At this stage, Strange New Worlds has only been commissioned for a single season. However, I would be absolutely stunned if we didn’t get an announcement preceding its Season 1 premiere that it had been renewed; this is the pattern ViacomCBS has had with both Discovery and Picard. I’m hoping, then, that Strange New Worlds will become an ongoing series, perhaps following Discovery’s path and running for four seasons, five, or even more. There’s certainly enough potential content for the show to get through, and while being a prequel is a constraint in some respects, that didn’t stop Discovery, Enterprise, and even the Kelvin films finding new and different stories to tell.
Just as I did for Discovery Season 4 and Picard Season 2 I’m going to make a few guesses – which I’m officially terming “preliminary predictions” – for Strange New Worlds Season 1. My usual caveat applies – I have no “inside sources,” nor am I claiming that anything listed below will definitely happen. These are guesses – educated guesses in some cases, perhaps, but guesses nevertheless.
Without further ado, let’s jump into the list!
Number 1: The uniforms will be redesigned.
With the exception of Star Trek: Voyager, every Star Trek series to date has introduced new variants of the Starfleet uniform for its crew. While we have seen Anson Mount and Ethan Peck sporting their Discovery uniforms in recent promotional spots for Paramount+, I’m not convinced that Strange New Worlds won’t at least tweak that design.
And perhaps that’s all it will be – a minor tweak or alteration of the uniforms worn by the Enterprise crew in Discovery. But we could see a more radical change, perhaps one designed to bridge the gap between Discovery-era uniforms and those seen in The Original Series. We could see, for example, the high collars scrapped in favour of the crew neck style seen in The Original Series.
The uniforms worn by the Enterprise crew in Discovery were little more than recoloured versions of the Discovery uniforms, and if you look closely, you can see the detailing around the shoulder and down the sides. In my opinion, though these uniforms were preferable to Discovery’s all-blue look, they ended up looking like dyed Discovery uniforms rather than their own thing. This is something that could be addressed, even if only by making small changes to some of the detailing and stitching.
Regardless, I think that when we start to see promos for the new series, one thing we’ll notice is some kind of new uniform variant.
Number 2: Cadet Sidhu will be part of the Enterprise crew.
The 2019 Short Treks episode Ask Not – whose writer, Kalinda Vazquez, is now writing a Star Trek film – brought back Captain Pike. But it also introduced us to a Starfleet cadet, and at the end of the action-packed, uplifting story, she was assigned to a role under Pike’s command aboard the Enterprise.
Almost any story could have been chosen to bring back Captain Pike for a mini-episode, but Ask Not spent most of its time setting up Cadet Sidhu’s character. She has a potentially interesting backstory, being the sole survivor of a Tholian attack, and as a young, talented cadet she could fill a fairly typical Star Trek role in the new series.
We’ve seen the “young and eager” role filled by characters like Harry Kim, Sylvia Tilly, and even Wesley Crusher in past iterations of the franchise, and having someone like that presents a contrast with older, more experienced characters like Captain Pike and Number One. Cadet Sidhu also has a husband, who could potentially be a recurring character, and her background with the Tholians suggests she may not be quite as naïve and inexperienced as other cadets, potentially giving her more to say and do.
Of the main cast that we know of at this stage, all three roles are played by white American actors – Anson Mount as Pike, Ethan Peck as Spock, Rebecca Romijn as Number One. Every Star Trek show going back to The Original Series has proudly shown off a diverse cast, and bringing in someone of Indian heritage would be great. Amrit Kaur, who plays Sidhu, would be the first person of Indian heritage to be a main cast member in the history of the franchise, which would be groundbreaking in itself.
Number 3: There will be a non-Starfleet crewmate.
One of the best things Discovery Season 3 did was introduce the character of Cleveland Booker. Book served as our guide to the 32nd Century in some ways, but also shook up the rigid hierarchy of the Starfleet crew by offering an outside perspective.
Several Star Trek shows have experimented with non-Starfleet characters in various roles, and aside from Book I’d point to Quark in Deep Space Nine and even, to some extent, Neelix in earlier seasons of Voyager as successful examples. I don’t expect Strange New Worlds to put together a Picard-style team where no one is a serving Starfleet officer, of course, but bringing in one major character who exists outside of the ship’s command structure would be potentially interesting.
There are many ways this could be done, and many different roles such an individual could occupy. I’m thinking perhaps of a chef-type role, maybe someone who oversees the mess hall and is friendly with the crew. But there’s also potential to bring in an alien character who is perhaps aboard the ship as an observer or diplomat.
The possibilities are open-ended – as is almost everything with Strange New Worlds – but I certainly think that bringing at least one “outsider” into the crew can be a great storytelling device, one which could take the show to different thematic places.
Number 4: There will be a significant callback to Star Trek: Enterprise.
Aside from a couple of Okudagrams and throwaway lines, modern Star Trek has essentially ignored Enterprise. The franchise’s first prequel currently feels disconnected from the rest of the franchise; cut off in the 22nd Century all by itself. There’s potential for Strange New Worlds to rectify this, and having a significant crossover with Enterprise would be something fun to see.
A few months ago I suggested that the Andorian Shran or main character T’Pol from Enterprise could still be alive and active in the era in which Strange New Worlds is set. Either character – or both – could thus cross over and appear in the new series. That would be a hugely significant moment, as it would firmly tie in Enterprise with the ongoing Star Trek franchise.
Discovery could have done something similar to pay homage to Enterprise in either of its first two seasons, but with the show now set far in the future, any crossover potential has gone away. Strange New Worlds is currently the only 23rd Century series, and while the untitled Section 31 show or a future series may share the setting, that’s hardly a sure thing. So if the creative team at ViacomCBS want to bring up anything from Enterprise any time soon, this is by far the best place to do it.
If a main character crossover isn’t on the cards, there are still myriad other ways to acknowledge Enterprise in a major way. We could see Pike and the crew revisit a location first seen in Enterprise, or see the return of races like the Denobulans, Suliban, or Xindi, none of which have ever been mentioned outside of Enterprise.
Number 5: Ash Tyler will return.
Of Discovery’s main cast from Seasons 1 and 2, only Ash Tyler didn’t travel into the future with Burnham and the rest of the crew. He remained in the 23rd Century, and at the end of the Season 2 finale we learned he would be appointed head of Section 31. It’s been assumed ever since (not only by me but by other fans and theory-crafters) that Tyler was intended to appear in the upcoming Section 31 series. However, as we recently learned, that show may be on hold for at least the next couple of years.
Ash Tyler’s story arc across Discovery’s first two seasons is arguably complete. He came to terms with what happened to him, his transition from Klingon to human and the two sides of his personality that created. He also went on a rollercoaster ride in terms of his relationship with Burnham. But there’s still a lot of potential in Tyler, and one thing in particular that leads me to believe that he could – in theory – have a role to play in Strange New Worlds.
The character above is José Tyler, one of the original officers under Pike’s command in The Cage. Now I’m not expecting everyone we met in The Cage to be recast and appear in Strange New Worlds, but the possibility of a family connection between José and Ash seems like it could be fun to explore. Perhaps they’re brothers or cousins. If so, how would José react to the fact that Ash isn’t really Ash any more? That could be a huge source of conflict, and putting the two characters together to work through that might be a story worth telling.
Ash Tyler could also be part of a Section 31-related story, or even a story that sees the Enterprise picking up the last remaining pieces of the battle against Control. Ash shares a secret that only Pike and the Enterprise crew know – what really happened to the USS Discovery. As the head of Section 31, might he leverage that against Pike somehow to force him to take on a dangerous mission? There are, once again, almost an unlimited number of ways Ash Tyler could be used in the context of the new show. I doubt he’ll be a major starring character, but having him back for an episode or two seems a real possibility.
Number 6: The Enterprise will make first contact with a familiar race.
One of the promises Strange New Worlds has made is that it will be a return to the kind of Star Trek that The Original Series, The Next Generation, and Voyager did so well, with stories focusing on exploration. Over the course of those series, the captains and their crews made numerous first contacts with alien races, and if Strange New Worlds is to make good on its premise, making at least one first contact seems inevitable.
If we look at Enterprise as the other major Star Trek prequel series, we saw first contact with established races like the Klingons, Romulans, and even the Ferengi – though Archer didn’t know who he was meeting in that last case. The point is, Enterprise went back and showed us how humanity first encountered many familiar Star Trek races – and this is something Strange New Worlds could do too.
I’ve written about this a number of times here on the website, but I adore Deep Space Nine, and particularly the Bajorans and Cardassians. We’ve never seen the Federation make first contact with either of them, and it could be very interesting to see how it went. The Cardassians would likely still be a militaristic state, but we know that the Bajorans prior to the Cardassian occupation were very different – operating a caste-based society that the Federation would surely disapprove of.
If not the Cardassians or Bajorans, there are many other Star Trek races which had already been contacted either by the time of The Original Series or The Next Generation that we could see Captain Pike and his crew meet for the very first time. Among them could be the Gorn, Tholians, or even a relatively obscure race like the Sheliak, who only appeared in a single episode. In my opinion, making first contact with an established race would tie Strange New Worlds in to the wider franchise, and that’s something that I firmly believe every Star Trek series needs to be doing.
Number 7: Spock will mention Michael Burnham at least once.
Season 2 of Discovery explored in some detail the relationship between Burnham and Spock. They were raised as siblings on Vulcan by Sarek and Amanda, and Burnham appears to have been quite influential in Spock’s life and in his development. At the end of Season 2, Spock stated his intent to travel to the future with Burnham, and while we know that was never going to happen because of his other appearances in the franchise, it indicates how close they were.
Burnham’s loss is akin to a bereavement. Although the final red burst confirmed that she safely made it to the 32nd Century, Spock will never see Burnham again (barring some other time travel story!) so she’s gone from his life. How will that affect him? While Spock may, on the surface, appear to simply brush off the events of Season 2, he went through a heck of a lot. The loss of Burnham may be the worst part, but being accused of murder, having his mind scrambled, travelling to Talos IV, and being hunted by Control will have all taken a toll.
Burnham had her “Spock episode” with Unification III midway through Discovery Season 3, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Strange New Worlds reciprocates somewhat and gives Spock his own “Burnham episode” – or at least a Burnham moment. Moving on completely as if everything he went through in Discovery Season 2 never happened wouldn’t sit right, so I’m sure there will be at least some reference or acknowledgement of Burnham from Spock.
It may not be a complete story, rather just a line or two of dialogue in which Spock mentions how much he misses Burnham. But I do expect to see some kind of reference or connection. Despite Spock being a long-established character within Star Trek, Strange New Worlds is a spin-off from Discovery, and this version of the character in particular is tied to Burnham very strongly. Making note of that would also be a reminder to the audience that Discovery is Strange New Worlds’ sister show – another of those little ties between ongoing parts of the franchise that I mentioned.
Number 8: Pike will have to deal with the knowledge of his impending accident and disability.
Captain Pike not only saw his future at the Klingon monastery on Boreth, but he actively chose to accept his horrible fate in exchange for a time crystal. This happened toward the end of Season 2, and with the battle against Control to prepare for, he didn’t have much time to really stop and think about what that means. But Strange New Worlds will surely slow things down – at least some of the time – giving him pause for thought.
In the moment, Pike did what he needed to do and embraced his dark future. Will he regret that? Will he be worried at every turn, looking over his shoulder for the moment where his accident will occur? If so, who will help him snap out of it? It would be very easy for someone in his position to fall into depression – after all, what he’s going through is akin to being diagnosed with a terminal disease.
We have seen Star Trek tackle this subject before, but only in the format of one-off episodes. Having a main character who is aware of his impending health collapse and disability could be something that’s absolutely worth exploring. In a way, I can relate to Captain Pike. Over the last decade or more I’ve seen my own health gradually decline, and while it isn’t quite the same thing (Pike’s accident takes him from full health to total disability in a heartbeat) I’ve been in the position of hearing a doctor tell me really awful news, knowing that there isn’t anything I can do to fix it.
Star Trek usually does things by analogy, so rather than Captain Pike being diagnosed with a real-world life-limiting condition, he’s seen a vision of his future disability in a time crystal. But the impact it could have on him from a psychological point of view is comparable, and this could, in my opinion, be a great way for Star Trek to explore the complexities surrounding incurable illness, long-term health conditions, disability, and even terminal illness. There are many, many ways such a story could go, and I’ll be fascinated to see what direction the show takes with this.
Number 9: There will be either a time-travel or parallel universe story.
Time travel has been a part of Star Trek going back to Season 1 of The Original Series, and we’ve seen a number of episodes take place in both the past and future. With Strange New Worlds sending Pike and the Enterprise off on a mission of exploration, they could easily encounter any of the temporal phenomena that we know exist out there in space.
I’ve never been wild about time travel in Star Trek, and often the episodes in which it features aren’t my favourites. Using time travel to visit contemporary Earth inevitably dates a story, too – just look at Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home or the Voyager two-part episode Future’s End as examples of that! But just because time travel isn’t my personal favourite story element doesn’t mean it can’t work well, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Strange New Worlds pursue a story of this nature.
The main candidate when considering time travel has to be the aforementioned contemporary Earth, in this case, Earth circa 2021! But we’ve seen time travel stories set in the 1890s, the 1930s, and even a dark vision of the 2020s! It could also be fun to see the crew shot forward in time, and perhaps having to rely on the help of a time-travelling future Starfleet to get home.
Alternatively we could see a parallel universe story – though hopefully not the Mirror Universe! The Mirror Universe is potentially home to the prime version of Captain Lorca, and rescuing him could be an interesting story. But there are many other parallel universes – including the alternate reality where the Kelvin films are set. Could that set up a crossover with the alternate reality versions of Pike and Spock?
Number 10: The show will acknowledge current events.
The big story of 2020 was, of course, the pandemic. But there are other significant ongoing events, such as the issue of race in the United States, that Strange New Worlds could try to tackle. Star Trek, despite what some people want to tell you, has always been a franchise with a keen interest in contemporary events. Going all the way back to The Original Series, Star Trek has used its sci-fi setting to look at real-world events, and I wonder to what extent Strange New Worlds will try to do that.
In a series that aims to be more episodic than other recent Star Trek projects, Strange New Worlds could certainly dedicate at least one episode to looking at a major current event. The pandemic is something we have yet to see appear in fiction in a big way. The issue of race, on the other hand, is something we’ve seen tackled many times in many different ways.
A story touching on issues raised by the pandemic could look at, for example, a planetary society suffering from disease, but where a significant number of people refuse to take precautions – something we’ve seen all across the world to varying degrees. Or it could look at the long-term impact of isolation through a character or set of characters who haven’t had any outside contact for a long time.
Any series that plans to look at aspects of the ongoing pandemic has to tread carefully, in my opinion, to avoid appearing to sensationalise current events or to be seen to be exploiting the situation. But as one of the biggest events of the 21st Century so far, the coronavirus pandemic will be explored in art and entertainment many times in the years ahead, and there’s no reason why Star Trek shouldn’t tackle it – provided it does so tactfully.
Number 11: The Klingons will make an appearance.
Federation-Klingon relations went on a rollercoaster in the 23rd Century, to say the least! From ignoring one another to all-out war to a peace conference, the two factions did it all. One thing we have yet to see is the way in which the Klingons changed following the war depicted in Discovery – and no, I don’t mean the prosthetic makeup!
When L’Rell took power at the end of Discovery Season 1, she sued for peace with the Federation, after which Federation-Klingon relations appear to have thawed, at least a little. Yet within a decade or so, the Klingons were once again incredibly antagonistic toward the Federation, with conflicts and battles fought during this era.
Perhaps we could see something happen between the Klingons and Federation to set them on this antagonistic path. Captain Pike has built up some degree of goodwill with the Klingons, but seeing this evaporate would be a potentially interesting story. We could also welcome back Mary Chieffo as L’Rell in a story focusing on the Klingon Empire.
Just like we need to see Section 31 disappear and move underground, we also need to see the Klingons and Federation move apart. Another all-out war is not required, but seeing the situation deteriorate and even the cutting off of diplomatic relations would “reset” the Klingons closer to the way they were in The Original Series.
So that’s it.Ten Eleven preliminary predictions for Season 1 of Strange New Worlds. As I said when the series was first announced, 2022 seems like a reasonable guesstimate for when it’ll premiere, and that was backed up by the news we got a few weeks ago about which shows are in production and how far along they are. So while it’s definitely early to be considering what we might see from the new show, it’s not too early! Who knows, it could be this time next year that Strange New Worlds makes its debut!
I hope this was a bit of fun. And just to re-emphasise what I said at the beginning: I don’t have any “insider information,” this is just guesswork from a fan. Nothing more! So don’t get upset if none of what I suggested above ultimately comes to pass!
I’m really looking forward to Strange New Worlds. It seems to be offering more of a “classic” take on Star Trek when compared to recent projects, and I’m 100% there for that! The franchise has expanded, and there’s plenty of room for serialised drama and even animated comedy, but taking Star Trek back to its roots is definitely something I’m keen to see. That doesn’t mean every project should try to do the same thing, but it does mean that Strange New Worlds is close to the top of the list of shows that I’m most excited about!
If we get any major news, casting information, or a trailer be sure to check back as I’m sure I’ll have something to say. Other than that, all we can do is wait!
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is coming to Paramount+ at some point in the future. International distribution has not yet been announced. The Star Trek franchise – including Strange New Worlds, Discovery, and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, Star Trek: Lower Decks, Star Trek: Picard, and other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
I know, I know. If you’re in the United States you’re already able to watch the fourth episode of Discovery, so some of these theories may already be out of date if you’ve seen Forget Me Not. Sorry! There were several things going on this week that I wanted to talk about as well as Discovery, including my Halloween write-up of the Voyager Season 6 episode The Haunting of Deck Twelve. If you missed that one I hope you find the time to check it out, as Voyager can sometimes feel like an underappreciated series in the overall Star Trek canon.
So let’s look at People of Earth and consider some of the theories we’ve been able to craft or advance as a result of that episode. There were two debunkings, a couple of new theories, and minor movement on a couple of pre-existing ones. But let’s start, as always, with one theory that was confirmed.
Confirmed theory: Book and the other couriers have never been to Earth.
Michael Burnham confirmed this early on in People of Earth. Because of how expensive dilithium is, a trip to Earth from whatever sector of the galaxy she and Book were in was impossible. Book, in fact, had never visited Earth. Though the outcome of this was not what I expected at all – having thought that Earth would still be the Federation’s capital – I was right about Book.
In a way this speaks to the state of the galaxy. With dilithium in short supply and the Federation mostly gone, people are confined to either a small area or, as in the case of the Coridanites we met in Far From Home, a single planet. Book’s ship is capable of warp, but without enough dilithium there was no realistic prospect of him travelling to Earth. Presumably, now that he’s arrived at Earth, he also has no way to get back to the Hima sector.
So that theory was confirmed. Next up we have a couple of debunkings.
Debunked theory #1: The tree is a memorial to the USS Discovery and/or Captain Pike.
This was a theory I postulated when we first saw a glimpse of this scene in the second Season 3 trailer. I had speculated that the tree would be some kind of memorial either to the USS Discovery – which Starfleet considers to have been destroyed – or perhaps to someone the crew knew, like Captain Pike. This was a hunch, really, based on the strong emotional reaction they seemed to have when they saw it.
However, the explanation was even simpler. The tree, which had been seen in The Next Generation, was in the grounds of Starfleet Academy, and several of the crew, including Tilly and Detmer, recalled it with fondness from their time studying there.
This theory could have been a neat connection to the life and friends that the crew left behind when they left the 23rd Century. However, the way it was done accomplished this goal too, and at the same time showed just how much time had passed.
Debunked theory #2: Hima is Terralysium
When Burnham arrived in the 32nd Century in That Hope Is You, she landed (alright, crashed) on the planet Hima. However, she had intended to arrive at the planet of Terralysium. I had speculated that the two planets were, in fact, one and the same and that Terralysium had, for some reason, seen its name change at some point in the intervening centuries. This wouldn’t be uncommon based on history!
However, in People of Earth Michael Burnham revealed that she had tried to find her mother, Dr Gabrielle Burnham, including by contacting Terralysium. It now seems obvious that the two planets are not the same.
It would have made sense to think that a planet – especially one that had such a small population of pre-warp humans – would have seen its name change, especially if it had come under the sway of some other power (like the Orion Syndicate). It wasn’t the case, though, and this theory is toast.
So those theories were debunked. Let’s look at some new theories that we have in the aftermath of People of Earth.
Number 1:Discovery Season 3 takes place in an alternate timeline – or a timeline that is going to be overwritten.
I’ve been reluctant to posit this theory. In the run-up to the season premiere I even wrote that I considered it unlikely, as it would further complicate the already-fractured Star Trek timeline. However, there are possible signs or hints we can see that could indicate Discovery Season 3 takes place in an alternate timeline, parallel universe, or different reality.
First is the absence of Dr Gabrielle Burnham, Michael’s mother. She’s nowhere to be found, and while there are possible explanations for that – as we’ll see in a moment – one possibility that remains in play is that Dr Burnham is in a different parallel universe from Michael and the Discovery crew. Specifically, she may have remained in the prime timeline – i.e. the main Star Trek timeline which runs from Enterprise to Picard – while Burnham and Discovery exited the wormhole in a different universe. Something similar happened to Spock in 2009’s Star Trek, so it isn’t entirely beyond the realm of possibility.
The second part of this theory – which is really a standalone theory all its own – is that the timeline where the Burn occurred and which led to the bleak 32nd Century that we see at the moment isn’t the “true” timeline. Time travel gets messy, but in short: if someone interfered in the timeline and caused the Burn, from Starfleet’s perspective that should never have happened. They would want to undo it in order to restore the “real” timeline, one in which the Burn did not occur.
If that’s the case, much of the rest of the season may be dedicated to figuring out who caused the Burn, how, why, and then travelling through time to prevent it from ever happening.
The reason why I haven’t discussed these theories before is that I would consider both of them to be huge storytelling risks. Discovery has always been part of the prime timeline, and jumping to a different reality would be a huge change. And secondly, telling a multi-episode story, perhaps one that lasts all season, only to undo or overwrite it could easily end up feeling like a waste of time. Star Trek has done this before, but only with individual episodes like Year of Hell or Yesterday’s Enterprise. Undoing or overwriting an entire season would be a much more complicated undertaking.
However, the possibility exists, so these theories are now included on the list.
Number 2: The spore drive is going to become Starfleet’s new method of faster-than-light propulsion.
With the loss of most of the galaxy’s dilithium, it seems that faster-than-light travel – at least in the former Federation – is difficult and costly. It’s certainly possible that other factions have developed non-dilithium travel methods, and in That Hope Is You we saw Book mention a couple of possibilities for that.
However, there’s also the spore drive. At the end of Season 2 it was strongly suggested that the existence of the USS Discovery and the spore drive would be covered up by Starfleet and/or Section 31, meaning that it’s plausible to think that by the 32nd Century all knowledge of it would have been lost – especially in the post-Burn chaos that engulfed what remained of Starfleet. But the spore drive doesn’t rely on dilithium, and allows for instantaneous jumps across the galaxy – if the technology was able to be rolled out, Starfleet could be back up and running.
This season we’ve not only seen the spore drive in use, but in People of Earth Stamets gave a technobabble explanation of the way it works to Adira, firmly cementing the spore drive as being in play for the remainder of the season.
While I would expect at this stage the bulk of the story to be about unravelling what happened with the Burn and perhaps finding a way to undo it or fix it, one possible outcome could be a slow restoration of Starfleet and the Federation by rolling out the spore drive to more and more ships. Reconnecting the scattered ex-Federation worlds and bringing them back together would be far easier with the spore drive, so it remains an option.
Number 3: We’ll meet Dax when Discovery arrives at the Trill homeworld.
The revelation that Adira has been joined with a Trill symbiont was interesting. The first trailer last year showed us the Trill homeworld, and ever since I’d been kicking around the possibility of the Dax symbiont making an appearance. Obviously we won’t see Ezri Dax, as Trill hosts seem to have similar lifespans to humans and Klingons based on what we saw in Deep Space Nine, meaning Ezri would not still be around in this era (barring some kind of stasis or time travel story that I just don’t consider a reasonable possibility). However, the Dax symbiont could, in theory, still be alive.
We just don’t know how long symbionts live. They can certainly live for centuries; how many centuries is unclear. It’s certainly possible that Dax could have survived this long, and it would be a wonderful way to tie Discovery to the wider Star Trek franchise.
So those theories were new. Next let’s look at the remaining theories from last time, some of which saw some minor movement this week.
Number 4: Lieutenant Detmer is going to die.
I debated including this theory again this week, because it seems as though the writers of Discovery are planning to go down a mental health/post-traumatic stress storyline with Detmer. However, in Far From Home we got a lot of possible hinting at a head injury or perhaps damage to her eye implant. Though it’s looking less likely that Detmer will die and more likely that we’ll see some kind of PTSD story for her character instead, the way it was set up in Far From Home still feels to me like she’s gravely injured. Perhaps that just means the storyline was not set up very well. But I want to keep this theory in play for a little while longer while we see what, if anything, will happen to Detmer.
Number 5: We’ll see the return of a character from a past iteration of Star Trek, such as Voyager’s Doctor.
After visiting Earth, perhaps the argument could be made that this theory is less likely. However, if we are going to get the return of a classic character, it seems more likely that any Starfleet officer would be with the rump Federation, even if they’re human or originally from Earth.
Dax seems the most likely candidate right now, but as I’ve written on a number of occasions there are several others who could conceivably be alive and active at this time, including a backup copy of the Doctor as seen in the Voyager Season 4 episode Living Witness.
In short, just because we didn’t see any classic Star Trek characters when Discovery visited Earth that doesn’t mean we won’t if and when they link up with the remainder of Starfleet and the Federation.
Number 6: Booker is a Coppelius synth.
Everything we saw of Book this week suggests that he’s human, so in that sense we’re perhaps moving a step or two back from a theory which, let’s be honest, is a bit “out there!” However, we also saw nothing to rule out the idea of a synthetic origin for Book, and in some respects we could argue from a thematic perspective that his relationship with Grudge mirror’s Data’s relationship with his cat, Spot, in The Next Generation.
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. Is he human? Possibly. Is he an alien, either from a familiar or new race? Possibly. Is he a synth, and if he is, could he be part of a synthetic civilisation founded on Coppelius? That’s still a possibility.
Number 7: Dr Gabrielle Burnham will make an appearance.
As mentioned above, Dr Burnham’s absence is strange in some ways. However, there are perfectly reasonable explanations for why she hasn’t shown up. Upon realising the future had been saved from Control she may have gone in search of the Federation. She and her Red Angel suit may have been captured by someone in this timeline. Or she may have ended up in a different sector of the galaxy.
Burnham was able to contact Terralysium, but as we just noted above, she and Book have only seen a small fraction of the galaxy due to their limited ability to travel. Thus it’s quite possible that Dr Burnham is alive in the galaxy somewhere, and will be able to reunite with her daughter.
Number 8: The Federation’s response to the Burn – not the event itself – caused its collapse.
Captain Ndoye suggested that the reason the Federation left Earth was because some folks on Earth felt that, in the aftermath of the Burn, they were turning the planet into a target. With the cause of the Burn still unknown it’s possible this feeling wasn’t unique to Earth and was repeated elsewhere.
We are edging closer to seeing this theory confirmed, but I don’t want to say the matter is settled just yet. We haven’t met the rump Federation yet, and I’d like to hear their side of the story and why they think the Burn led to the Federation’s collapse, shrinking, withdrawal, or however you want to put it.
So those theories saw movement this week. As usual I’ll briefly recap my remaining theories so they’re all in one place. For a more detailed look at any of these, take a look at my first two theory posts, which you can find on my dedicated Star Trek: Discovery page.
Number 9: The ban on time travel is being flouted, possibly by the Federation.
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 10: The Burn was a superweapon – perhaps one the Federation detonated.
The cause of the Burn is not known right now, and there are multiple possibilities as I discussed when I took an in-depth look at the Burn before the season started. One possibility that stands out, however, is the Burn being the result of a superweapon. If the Federation were facing an existential threat – such as one caused by the Borg or the super-synths from Star Trek: Picard – they may have had no choice but to use such a weapon. The setting Burnham and the crew find themselves in may thus be the aftermath of a Pyrrhic victory, one in which the Federation defeated a powerful adversary but at an impossibly high cost.
Number 11: The Burn was caused by one of the Red Angel suits.
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 travel back in time and attack the Federation by, oh I don’t know, destroying most of their dilithium.
Number 12: Someone stole Burnham’s Red Angel suit.
After Burnham landed on Hima, she sent her suit back in time to set off the final Red Burst for Pike and Spock. Then she ordered the suit to self-destruct. It’s possible, as hinted above, that somehow this in itself caused the Burn. But it’s also possible that someone intercepted the Red Angel suit after it left Hima. The finale of Season 2 confirmed the presence of the final Red Burst, but that’s all we know. Since we didn’t see on screen the destruction of the suit, we can’t be sure that it was destroyed as Burnham planned.
Number 13: The Federation was in serious decline before the Burn.
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.
Number 14: The Orion Syndicate controls the trading post on Hima – and may be a major power.
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.”
The Orion Syndicate has been part of Star Trek going back to The Original Series, and it makes sense in a chaotic, post-Burn environment that they would be able to operate more openly – and they may have even become a major power.
Number 15: There will be a tie-in with the Short Treks episode Calypso.
We got a first hint at this when Zareh used the word “V’Draysh” to refer to the Federation, as this was a term first used in Calypso. If Calypso takes place in or around the 32nd Century there could be some further crossover, perhaps even seeing protagonist Craft show up. It does raise questions, however, such as why the USS Discovery was abandoned in a nebula.
Number 16: Mirror Georgiou will travel back to the 23rd Century.
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.
Number 17: We haven’t seen the last of Zareh.
Despite being quite content to kill all of Zareh’s goons, Saru balked at the idea of killing the man himself. 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 my theories going into episode four, which, as already mentioned, may be available to watch by the time you’re reading this! Hopefully next week we can get back on track with review and theory timings so we don’t run up against a deadline again. I make no promises, though!
Discovery Season 3 continues to be fascinating, and thus ripe for finding new and interesting theories. I love that the story is still a mystery even after three episodes, and there are so many different ways it could unfold – including many I can’t even predict or imagine. The best television shows manage to do this, and just like Star Trek: Picard earlier in the year kept us on our toes right until the finale, Discovery is doing a great job of keeping its mysteries and storylines under wraps.
I’m having a fun time with Season 3, and one great thing about being so late with this week’s theories is that there isn’t long left to wait for the next episode! Check back in the coming days for my review and an update to this theory list.
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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery, including Seasons 1-2 and the trailers for Season 3. Further spoilers may be present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
As the premiere episode of Star Trek: Discovery’s third season gets nearer I seem to be coming up with more and more theories! This time we’re going to consider one possible effect of the Burn in detail. I hinted at this when I considered what the Burn could be, but this time I’m going to expand on that, and in addition perhaps add a couple more potential causes for the galactic cataclysm.
Here’s how the theory goes: the Burn has made warp drive useless across the galaxy, meaning no one – including Starfleet – is currently able to travel faster-than-light.
In order to understand this theory, we need a basic refresher course in how warp drive works in Star Trek! In short, warp drive uses dilithium crystals to create and modulate a matter-antimatter reaction. The combination of matter and antimatter yields massive amounts of energy, allowing starships to generate a subspace field and travel faster-than-light. Subspace is part of the makeup of the universe, but its exact nature has never been fully explained. However, subspace is essential not only for warp drive but for communications – subspace radio being one way the Federation is able to communicate over large distances without delays.
Subspace, warp drive, and associated concepts have no real-world analogue and thus are subject to change depending on what an individual writer needs for an episode. The fundamentals are suitably vague, but for our purposes all we need to know is that without access to subspace there’s no warp drive and no FTL communications.
Any disruption to subspace would have massive ramifications for the Federation and the wider galaxy. While we have seen other races using different methods of propulsion and communication, the specifics have never been explained and thus may well involve subspace. The Borg’s transwarp, the Romulans’ singularity engines, and even Voyager’s slipstream technology could all be susceptible to the same limitations, even if they appear to be different on the surface.
If the Burn is relatively recent, perhaps occurring a few years before Burnham and Discovery arrive, it makes sense to say that the Federation could still be fractured. But if, as has been hinted, the Burn is an event decades or more in the past, the expectation has to be that they’d have been back on their feet. Even if it took years or decades, the Federation – and the galaxy’s other races – should have been able to rebuild, or at least begin that process. Perhaps they have, and we’ve seen what look to be Starfleet officers and maybe a Starfleet ship or facility in the trailers which could hint at that. But if Booker is right, and the Federation has mostly collapsed, aside from wondering how it happened, the big question is why nobody has been able to put it back together.
The answer could be twofold: a lack of transportation and a lack of communication. Disconnected from Earth, Starfleet, and the rest of the Federation in a galaxy where subspace has been destroyed, disappeared, or where it cannot be accessed, the individual worlds and colonies may have no choice but to stand alone. Some of these worlds may not even be aware of what transpired – they may have simply woken up one morning without faster-than-light spacecraft and communications. However, we have seen hints that the Burn may have been a violent event, and the name itself conjures up evocative images of catastrophic fires and explosions.
Without warp drive and subspace communications, it would be impossible to rebuild the Federation. Planets that weren’t damaged or affected by whatever caused the Burn may have found other technologies they had still worked, but without supplies from other areas – such as replacement parts – there’s a question-mark over how long any one world could last on its own. The Federation may have been spread widely even in the 24th Century, but it was also an interconnected bloc where resources were shared between member worlds. At least some of those worlds would struggle on their own, and this could lead to the kind of hand-to-mouth, impoverished existence we saw hints at in the trailers.
The lack of warp drive, communications, and any way to travel faster-than-light would, from an in-universe standpoint, explain why the USS Discovery is relevant in the 32nd Century. Even a crippled Federation should have technology that far outpaces the centuries-old USS Discovery, and the show has to find a way to make the ship and crew useful. It could simply be the case that a lack of starships means the Federation needs every vessel it can find, but I don’t consider that a great explanation, not if 32nd Century craft could outrun, outmanoeuvre, and outgun the USS Discovery.
In a galaxy without warp drive and subspace, the mycelial network and the USS Discovery may be the only way to travel and communicate with the Federation’s spread out worlds and colonies. It was interesting that in the two trailers we saw the spore drive engaged several times – but we never saw any starship go to warp – neither the USS Discovery nor vessels native to this time period.
The loss of warp drive, if that is something that has happened, is surely related to the Burn. That may simply be the name that the Federation and its now-separated parts use to describe some event that rendered subspace and warp drive unusable. However, there are possible explanations for what could have caused this based on past Star Trek stories. Some of these are rather obscure, and thus perhaps less likely, but as we’ve seen in Lower Decks over the last few weeks, the creative team behind Star Trek hasn’t been shy about bringing back aliens we only saw once!
Possibility #1: The subspace-dwelling aliens from The Next Generation Season 6 episode Schisms.
In Schisms, the crew of the Enterprise-D are abducted by aliens. These aliens were supposedly native to subspace, and performed experiments on the Starfleet crew. La Forge would confirm, towards the end of the episode, that these unnamed aliens were unable to survive in normal space – but were attempting to create a “pocket” of their native environment in one of the Enterprise-D’s cargo bays.
Though Riker (and a redshirt) were able to escape the aliens’ domain at the climax of the story, they sent a probe of some kind through the rift between realms before it closed, and even if Starfleet managed to avoid attracting their attention again, perhaps they now know of the “normal” universe and planned to attack or invade.
Possibility #2: A weapon of last resort.
This is something I considered in my closer look at the Burn, but if the Federation were under attack by a faction like the Borg or Species 8472, they may have been backed into a corner where the only option was to use some kind of weapon of mass destruction. If the Federation were to use such a weapon, one side-effect could be the destruction of subspace and/or the loss of warp drive.
We’ll look in just a moment at the omega particle (from the Voyager episode The Omega Directive) but a weapon based on this technology could be one culprit. There aren’t many factions we know of within Star Trek capable of launching an all-out assault on the Federation that might’ve made this kind of weapon necessary. The Borg are one, and perhaps the super-synths from Star Trek: Picard are one too.
This could be an interesting storyline, as though the Burn wouldn’t directly be the Federation’s fault, and may have even saved millions of lives, they would still bear a degree of responsibility.
Possibility #3: The omega particle from the Voyager Season 4 episode The Omega Directive.
As mentioned above, the omega molecule or omega particle could be a culprit. Omega was a molecule that could, in theory, generate vast amounts of power, but a single omega explosion could render subspace – and warp drive – totally unusable across a vast area. In Voyager, Janeway and Seven of Nine were able to destroy the omega particles they found. But those events took place centuries before Discovery’s third season.
In the intervening centuries, there’s nothing to suggest that the Federation wouldn’t have wanted to try again. Perhaps a scientist felt that they could control omega better, but an accident led to disaster. Or perhaps the Federation was successful in using omega particle-based technology on a widespread scale… only for some unpredictable event to occur.
Possibility #4: Warp drive itself ruined subspace, as seen in The Next Generation Season 7 episode Force of Nature.
Toward the end of The Next Generation’s run, Star Trek was still an episodic franchise. We hadn’t yet gotten to the longer story arcs of Deep Space Nine’s Dominion War, which makes Force of Nature somewhat of an outlier. It attempted to use warp drive as an analogy for issues in the real world – specifically the use of fossil fuels causing global warming. Two scientists make a claim that warp drive is damaging subspace, and one ends up dying to prove their case. The episode ends with Starfleet agreeing to a speed limit to reduce the damage while they looked for a longer-term solution.
Aside from a couple of later referenced to a speed limit, however, this story was never resolved on-screen. Fans have speculated that later warp engines, such as the design used aboard the USS Voyager, had found a way around this problem. But that is unconfirmed at best, and even if it were true, there could still be problems.
Of all the four possibilities, this feels the least-likely, but there’s potential for Discovery to pick up Force of Nature’s climate change analogy.
So that’s it. A theory and a few possible causes that would reference past iterations of Star Trek.
Until now, Discovery has only had the lore established in Enterprise and The Cage to draw upon due to its place in the timeline. The show largely ignored Enterprise, but Season 2 obviously referenced The Cage in many ways. However, now the show has jumped forward in time there’s the possibility for all sorts of references and callbacks to events of past Star Trek shows.
I’m sure that we’ll get some references spread throughout Season 3. Whether I’m right or not about warp drive, though… that remains to be seen! If you’re in the United States you’ll get to find out literally tomorrow!
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 premieres on the 15th of October 2020 on CBS All Access in the United States, and on the 16th of October on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other titles referenced above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the most recent seasons of Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Discovery. There may be further spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
While Star Trek: Picard Season 1 was ongoing earlier in the year, I postulated a number of theories about what was going on in the show. One theory that I had related to Control – the rogue artificial intelligence from Star Trek: Discovery Season 2. Specifically, I speculated that the Zhat Vash’s hatred and fear of synthetic life may have stemmed from a run-in with Control, or that the Romulans may have been trying to compete with Starfleet in a mid-23rd Century AI arms race. It seemed possible that Control could have attacked Romulan ships or settlements in the time between its takeover of Section 31 and its defeat by the USS Discovery, or that if the Romulans developed their own AI that it would have similarly gotten out of control and attacked them.
This theory came back with a vengeance after Picard reused a couple of CGI sequences from Discovery in the latter part of the season, particularly as those sequences depicted Control attacking – and ultimately destroying – all organic life in the galaxy. While Picard and Discovery had thematic similarities in their most recent seasons, insofar as both stories looked at the creation of synthetic life and how that synthetic life could go rogue, there was no broader crossover. The Zhat Vash were not motivated by either their own rogue AI from the mid-23rd Century or by an attack from Control.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to drop the idea of there being any connection between the Zhat Vash in Picard and Control in Discovery. My theory started with the idea that Control could have been the reason for the Zhat Vash… but what if it’s the other way around? What if the Zhat Vash are responsible for Control going rogue?
There was no explanation given for why Control decided to lash out and attack its creators. It wanted to acquire the data from the planetoid-sized lifeform known as the Sphere, believing that data would help it achieve true sentience. But that isn’t a reason to go on to commit genocide; something inside Control made it want to kill. Remember that Dr Gabrielle Burnham – Michael’s mother – arrived in a future timeline where no sentient organic life existed in the known galaxy; Control had wiped it all out. Why did it want to do that?
We could try to argue that Control’s murderous rage is somehow a result of Starfleet denying it access to the Sphere data. But Starfleet and the USS Discovery only came to possess the data because of the time-travelling interventions of Dr Burnham; we don’t know how Control came to acquire it in the “original,” pre-intervention timeline. There are a couple of possibilities. The first is that when the Sphere died, it broadcast its data as far and wide as possible and that’s how Control acquired it. It’s also possible that Starfleet received the transmission and Control gained access to it from there. However, neither of these scenarios involve Starfleet actively trying to prevent Control accessing the data, meaning that it wasn’t Starfleet who started the fight with Control.
So if Control had no reason on the surface to attack its organic creators, why did it do so? It could simply be a programming error; Control was programmed to prevent war, and perhaps that got twisted around so that it decided the only way to prevent the Milky Way’s organic civilisations from fighting was to exterminate all of them. This kind of basic AI programming mistake is one that’s not uncommon in science fiction, and arguably something we need to consider out here in the real world as we develop our own AIs!
So that’s one possibility. But here’s where the Zhat Vash could come in: what if they are responsible for corrupting Control’s programming? We saw in Picard that the Zhat Vash know enough about synthetic life to hack into Federation synths and change their programming. That’s what they did on Mars, causing F8 and the other synths to go rogue and destroy Admiral Picard’s rescue armada. If they had that capability in the 24th Century, it isn’t much of a stretch to think they could have been capable of something similar in the 23rd Century too.
We also know that the Zhat Vash are “far older” than the Tal Shiar. Let’s look at what we know for sure to try to pin down a rough estimate of how old they could be. The Romulans split from the Vulcans somewhere around the 4th Century AD, and by that time were capable of interstellar flight. By the 2150s the Romulans were involved in covert operations on Vulcan, trying to start a war between Vulcans and Andorians. While it was never stated outright in Enterprise that the Romulan operatives we saw were working for the Tal Shiar, it’s not an unreasonable assumption. The Zhat Vash sent Commodore Oh to infiltrate the Federation sometime around the discovery of Data, which took place in the year 2338. When Raffi asked La Sirena’s Emergency Navigational Hologram about the octonary star system, he described the Romulan star charts that depicted it as “ancient,” which seems to suggest they’re more than a century old at least. It was the discovery of Aia, the planet in the octonary star system, and the beacon that resided there that led to the creation of the Zhat Vash.
Put all of that together and we can assume with reasonable confidence that the Zhat Vash existed by the mid-23rd Century. We also know, thanks to what we saw in Enterprise and Deep Space Nine, that Romulan intelligence was far better than Starfleet’s – they knew a lot more about the Federation than the Federation did about them.
There’s a question of just how secret Control was. Section 31 was much more out in the open in Discovery than it was by the time of Deep Space Nine, but even so it seems logical to assume that Control would be a top-secret project within an already-secretive organisation. Still, when most Starfleet flag officers used Control regularly, word of its existence would get out and it was generally known within Starfleet that an AI existed. Thus any Zhat Vash or Tal Shiar operative would have come to know about Control.
Okay, so let’s slow down. Even if we’re confident that the Zhat Vash existed by Discovery’s era, and had commenced their anti-synthetic crusade, and even if they had operatives within Starfleet who would have made them aware of the existence of Control, that doesn’t mean they could just walk up to Control’s data servers and start messing around. Right? I mean, Control was based at Section 31 headquarters, which as we saw in the show was incredibly well-protected. And we saw no evidence of such an operative. Did we?
How about Admiral Patar, the Vulcan Starfleet admiral who was killed by Control at Section 31 headquarters? We know that Commodore Oh spent decades embedded within Starfleet, waiting to make her move at just the right moment. We also know she was able to attain a very high rank, and it’s only one short step from being a commodore to being an admiral. It’s at least possible. Admiral Patar had the means to access Control. She spent time at Section 31 headquarters right around the time Control went rogue. She was a Vulcan, and thus was biologically indistinguishable from a Romulan – meaning she could have been an undercover Romulan operative. Enterprise depicted Romulans undercover on Vulcan a century earlier, meaning that they had infiltrated Vulcan by that time and were able to do so with relative ease. The pieces fall into place for Admiral Patar to be a Romulan operative – or to have been replaced by one – even if the evidence is only circumstantial. Even if it wasn’t Patar, there may well have been other Vulcans working at Section 31 headquarters, any one of whom could have been a Romulan spy.
Once they had access to Control’s systems and specifications, the Zhat Vash could have figured out how to mess with Control’s programming and turn it hostile. Perhaps they only intended for it to attack the Federation, forcing them to shut it down permanently. Or perhaps they hoped it would cause wider chaos so they could force the kind of galactic ban on synthetic life that we saw in Picard. So the question of what they had to gain by such a move is obvious; it’s the same basic goal as they had for staging the attack on Mars.
If the Zhat Vash introduced a glitch in Control’s programming that would turn it murderous, they obviously didn’t intend for Control to go on and wipe out everything. That wasn’t the goal; that’s what they were trying to prevent. However, as I wrote earlier, it’s possible for even well-intentioned AI to get out of control or to act in a way its creators and programmers couldn’t anticipate. Perhaps that’s what happened with Control, and by the time it had assimilated Captain Leland, killed off most of Section 31’s leadership, and got a fleet at its command, there was no way for the Zhat Vash to stop it. If their sole operative had been killed when Control wiped out Section 31’s headquarters, the Zhat Vash may not have even been aware that the mission was not going to plan until it was too late.
So that’s my crossover theory for Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard – the Zhat Vash hacked or reprogrammed Control, and that’s what made it go rogue. There’s enough circumstantial evidence for this theory to be possible, and it would explain why Control went from being a useful tool for Starfleet to a menace capable of wiping out all sentient life in the galaxy. However, there’s no concrete proof. All we really have are two shows with similar themes, and a bunch of unrelated pieces that could be made to fit together – but also may not fit at all!
As I always say: it’s just a fan theory. Unless we get some confirmation on screen in future – which seems unlikely given both Picard and Discovery are almost certainly moving on to new stories in their upcoming seasons – we have to consider it as unconfirmed at best. I consider it plausible (obviously, or I wouldn’t have written an article about it!) but it may prove to be a complete miss… just like many of my other Star Trek: Picard theories!
This post was edited 31.03.21 to replace header image. Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard are available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States. Discovery is available internationally on Netflix; Picard is available internationally on Amazon Prime Video. The Star Trek franchise – including all properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-2 and the trailers for Season 3. There are also spoilers for Star Trek: Picard Season 1 and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
Unlike on other occasions where I’ve written about Discovery’s upcoming third season, none of the points I’ll be discussing today should be considered “theories.” I do have some theories for how the backstory and narrative of Season 3 will play out, but these are more general points that I hope are included. It’s a wishlist from a fan, nothing more.
I’m excited, truly interested, and a little nervous about what Discovery has in store. The post-apocalyptic setting, “the Burn,” and many other things all have the potential to tell an incredible story – or an incredibly divisive one. I’m putting together this list as a way to get my own thoughts in order ahead of the Season 3 premiere, which is coming in a little over two weeks’ time.
The usual disclaimer applies: I have no “insider information,” nor am I claiming that anything listed below will be part of Season 3.
Number 1: Some kind of tie-in with Star Trek: Picard.
If you read my Star Trek: Picard reviews and theories, you may recall that this was something I half-expected, half-hoped to see happen in that series too. Aside from a couple of throwaway lines, we didn’t get any kind of significant crossover or tie-in, and while Picard was a fantastic show on the whole, that was certainly a missed opportunity.
Discovery and Picard don’t exist as wholly separate entities. The Star Trek franchise ties them together, and realistically, if we’re going to see the brand survive into the second half of the 2020s and beyond, the various projects need to be doing something to drive engagement with the rest of the franchise. In the 1990s, when Star Trek was at its peak, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager all occupied the same timeframe, and this allowed for crossovers of themes, starships, factions, and even characters. At the very least, what this did was remind fans of one series that others existed, and served as gentle encouragement for fans of one show to jump over and try out one of the others.
The fact that modern Star Trek’s projects occupy vastly different time periods makes this more tricky, but it’s not something that’s impossible to overcome. I have a theory, as you may know, that the race of super-synths from Picard’s finale may be connected to an event called “the Burn,” and that’s certainly one route the show could go. But there are others, even including the appearance of characters like Soji. As a synth, Soji could conceivably still be alive after hundreds of years. This would have ramifications for future seasons of Picard, so I’d understand if the show chose not to go down that route. But the point is there are options for significant crossovers of themes, factions, locations, and characters in a way that would be important to the story, done in a way that would encourage casual viewers to dive deeper into the Star Trek galaxy. That can only be a good thing – retaining fans is going to be massively important.
It seems all but certain that a fourth season of Discovery is in production; we’re just waiting on an official announcement. But when Discovery inevitably comes to an end, Star Trek needs its viewers to stay subscribed and to remain invested in the broader franchise. Some are already, but some aren’t, and may not even be aware of Picard and other projects. Having a major crossover or tie-in will encourage that, and if done right it will help Star Trek’s longer-term prospects immeasurably.
Number 2: A reference, callback, or hint to something from Star Trek: Lower Decks.
As above, tying the Star Trek franchise together is important – and will be even more so as the franchise moves forward. Unlike with Picard, where I feel there’s scope for some kind of significant crossover or tie-in, all Discovery really needs to do is acknowledge, in some way, the existence of Lower Decks.
We could, for example, have the ship pass by the planet Khwopa, which was briefly visited in Much Ado About Boimler, see a California-class starship, or even see the names of one or more of the main characters on some kind of Starfleet memorial, assuming the crew visit Earth or another Federation outpost.
There are lots of ways to name-check or reference some character or event in Lower Decks in a way that wouldn’t be intrusive, and I hope an attempt will be made to do so.
Number 3: A storyline that doesn’t make Michael Burnham the “chosen one.”
Burnham is Discovery’s protagonist and principal character, and that isn’t going to change in Season 3. But the show has struggled in the past when it confused putting Burnham at the centre of its narrative with making her an invincible superstar or the “chosen one.” Doing so robs the other characters of any real agency over the plot, and leaves the ship and crew blindly following in Burnham’s wake – a metaphor that, somewhat ironically, was made literal in the Season 2 finale.
Making Burnham the only character capable of performing an important task or filling an essential role amplifies some of her less-attractive character traits: her confidence veers into arrogance and self-importance, her dedication to her own interpretation of logic leads her to ignore or shoot down dissenting opinions, etc. Having her as the protagonist is fine; having her be the only character who actually does anything of consequence is not.
As I’ve written previously, this is not Star Trek: Burnham. The whole crew of the USS Discovery – some of whom we barely know even after two full seasons – have the potential to contribute a lot to whatever story Season 3 tells. But the show hasn’t been great at giving most of them a chance to shine, and while Burnham will of course have an important role to play, let’s not have it be the only consequential and important one.
Number 4: A proper explanation for “the Burn.”
I really think we’ll get this, especially after the two trailers carefully built up an air of mystery surrounding this as-yet-unknown event. However, some post-apocalyptic stories choose to cloud their apocalyptic event and leave its details unknown. In some cases that can work well, but in a franchise like Star Trek it won’t.
Star Trek has been running for over fifty years, and in that time its fanbase has come to care deeply and passionately about the Federation and the galaxy humanity inhabits. The optimistic future we’ve seen depicted in every Star Trek project to date has been torn down, and as much as I have reservations about that it’s something I’ve come to accept. However, fans deserve to know precisely how and why that came to be.
There’s a curiosity at the core of Star Trek. Seeking out strange, new worlds has been the franchise’s heart since The Original Series, and that spirit of exploration and thirst for knowledge extends to fans as well. We want to know what’s going on in the galaxy, and it wouldn’t be good enough to say “well something bad happened, but don’t worry about what it was or what caused it.” In some stories, an unknown, mysterious event could work. But not here.
The reason why I think it’s at least plausible to think Discovery might try to pull a trick like this is because it seems as though the Burn may be an event that took place decades or more before Burnham and the ship arrive in the future. It may be, as Michelle Paradise seemed to hint, something that happened before Booker (the new character native to this era) was even born. That timeframe would make it easier for the show to try to get away with saying “don’t worry about what happened, let’s just try to rebuild.” And I really feel that will create a deeply unsatisfying narrative.
Number 5: No main villain.
Control was the villain of Season 2, and came to possess the body of Captain Leland, giving us as the audience a human character to dislike. Season 1 offered up Lorca, Mirror Georgiou, and the Klingons as villains at different points, but one of the great things about Star Trek is that its stories don’t always need a nefarious evildoer for the crew to defeat.
The Burn’s origins are currently unknown, and we could learn that it was caused by an antagonistic faction with an evil leader. Alternatively, we could see the post-Burn galaxy and remnants of the Federation having been conquered by such a faction. In either case, Burnham and the crew have a villain to fight and the story of the season could simply be how they came to fight and defeat this faction and its leader.
However, many times in Star Trek, there have been stories about figuring out a puzzle and solving a problem that was natural in origin. The Burn could be the deliberate use of a weapon or the aftermath of a war, but equally it could be a natural event. If it were natural, the story of the season could be figuring that out, finding a way to fix it or prevent it happening again, and rebuilding the Federation. There would undoubtedly be small-scale baddies to fight along the way – we’ve seen two possible examples of that in the trailers – but the season doesn’t need an overarching enemy to fight in order to tell an exciting story.
Number 6: Proper development of some secondary characters.
Detmer at the helm and Owosekun at operations are permanent fixtures on the bridge of the USS Discovery. But we don’t know much about either of them, and the way they’ve been used in the show so far has been poor. They’re sometimes seen adding minor backstory to another character (like Ariam) or event, but that’s about it. Who are they? Why did they decide to follow Burnham instead of abandoning ship?
Likewise there are underdeveloped “main” characters. Tilly has often been used for little more than comic relief, and while she got a sub-plot in Season 2 regarding the mycelial network, she feels like a character with untapped potential. With Reno potentially stepping up to fill the comic character slot, perhaps Tilly could be given a greater role.
Then there are minor characters that may or may not have travelled with the ship into the future. I don’t expect Discovery to follow the trail blazed by Deep Space Nine and have a huge roster of secondary characters, but it would be great to see more done with the existing ones. With Pike and Spock out of the picture entirely, there’s room for Nhan, Detmer, and others to take on larger roles.
Number 7: Fix the Stamets-Culber relationship.
Representation of LGBT+ people on television is streets ahead of where it was even just a few years ago, and in a way, Stamets and Culber’s relationship is testament to that. Since their first appearance in Season 1, the fact that they were “the gay couple” was never treated as a huge deal. Their storyline has reflected that as it took twists and turns over the first two seasons.
When Dr Culber was rescued/brought back to life in Season 2, their relationship didn’t pick up where it left off. He’s clearly suffering greatly as a result of the trauma he endured while trapped in the mycelial network, and after such an experience that’s to be expected. People aren’t magically back to the way they were after a hugely traumatic event.
The tension between Stamets and Culber after the latter’s return did serve as a source of drama in Season 2, but in my opinion their cute relationship works better when it’s used as one of the emotional cores of Discovery, rather than as a way to inject further drama into an already-dramatic series. Finding a way for the two to properly reconcile and get back together would be great for Season 3, as it would restore that emotional counterbalance which has been notably absent since Dr Culber’s “death” in Season 1.
Number 8: A satisfying explanation for how the Burn surprised Starfleet.
This connects to point number 4 about explaining what the Burn is and how it happened. In past iterations of Star Trek, we caught glimpses of the Federation and Starfleet in the far future, and one thing we learned is that time travel was a regular occurrence. Starfleet explored the timeline in the way they had explored space in the 23rd/24th Centuries. If they patrol the timeline in order to keep the peace, this raises a question – how did the Burn manage to come from nowhere and surprise them?
Surely once the technology to communicate and travel through time has been created, the Federation would explore not only the past timeline, but the future as well. Failing to do so would leave a massive blind spot for enemies to exploit, and once time travel has been invented and is commonplace, as we’ve seen in other Star Trek stories it won’t remain the exclusive tech of the Federation. If other factions can use time travel, they can travel into the future, which means the Federation at the very least need to be aware of the future timeline so they can preserve it.
But if Starfleet vessels had visited the future, how did they not know about the Burn in time to warn everyone? Did they choose to let it happen to preserve the “true” timeline? If the Burn represents an attack by a time-travelling faction that shouldn’t have happened, arguably restoring the timeline to its “original” form should be Starfleet’s objective… but wouldn’t that mean large chunks of Season 3 would be wiped from existence?
Time travel stories are often complicated and hard to follow, which is why they’ve never been my favourites in Star Trek. However, given that we know time travel exists in Starfleet’s future, there needs to be a satisfying explanation for how the Burn was able to happen at all, and why no Starfleet vessel was able to warn the Federation ahead of time – or even prevent the Burn altogether.
So that’s it. A few things on my wishlist for the impending third season of Star Trek: Discovery. I’m not trying to say that Season 3 will be “bad” or unenjoyable if it ignores these points and goes in a different direction, because I like Star Trek’s ability to surprise me even after decades in the fandom. These are simply points that I feel would work to make the story of Season 3 better if they could be included.
I deliberately left off one pretty big point – optimism. We’ve heard numerous times from Alex Kurtzman, Michelle Paradise, and others involved in creating the story of the new season that there will be an optimistic tone, and I see no reason to doubt that. In fact, a post-apocalyptic setting can be a great way to tell stories of hope and optimism, contrasting a bleak setting with the efforts of protagonists to build something better. I have my reservations about that, as I’ve mentioned on several occasions, because it represents a fundamental change to Star Trek and the underlying premise that has propped up the franchise for more than half a century. I’m willing to give it a chance, though.
Whatever Season 3 delivers, I’ll be here to cover each episode as they’re broadcast, and perhaps engage in some theory-crafting to go along with it, so I hope you’ll check back when the season kicks off in less than three weeks!
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 will debut on CBS All Access on the 15th of October in the United States, and on the 16th of October on Netflix in the United Kingdom and other countries and territories. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Discovery – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Seasons 1-2 of Star Trek: Discovery as well as the trailers for Season 3.
It isn’t long now until eighteen months of waiting for Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 will be finally over! With the new season imminent I thought it would be a good idea to briefly recap what came before, and explain how Michael Burnham and the USS Discovery came to leave the 23rd Century behind.
We can start by looking briefly at the production side of things, because Discovery’s story is an interesting one. As Trekkies we’re more interested in what goes on in-universe, but sometimes it’s worth knowing about how events in the real world have shaped the Star Trek shows we care about. In Discovery’s case, there are several factors to consider.
When Star Trek: Enterprise was cancelled in 2005 it really did seem as though Star Trek was dead and wasn’t coming back. Enterprise had been losing viewers for a long time, and talk of cancellation was brewing from at least its second season. It was over a year later, in 2006, that rumours began to swirl of a reboot to the Star Trek franchise; this would ultimately take the form of 2009’s Star Trek and the two subsequent Kelvin timeline films.
During development of the third Kelvin timeline film, Star Trek Beyond, it was announced that the franchise was returning to television. This was tied up with the announcement of CBS All Access, and the as-yet-untitled show was to be one of the new platform’s headline attractions. Bryan Fuller, who had previously written a number of Star Trek episodes, had been selected as the show’s executive producer. Interestingly, Fuller’s pitch for a new Star Trek series was one of several floating around in the 2010s; others included a “Captain Worf” series that had been proposed by Michael Dorn.
Fuller would ultimately leave Discovery in order to helm American Gods, and day-to-day running of the series would fall to Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts, with Akiva Goldsman joining the team too. Goldsman would go on to produce Star Trek: Picard. The series was delayed from its “early 2017” planned premiere first to May 2017 and then ultimately to September, and while there are rumours as to why nothing is really confirmed. The key thing, I think, to take away from this is that the show’s creator, Bryan Fuller, left the project while it was relatively early in production. It would almost certainly have been a different show had he stayed on board. That doesn’t necessarily mean better or worse, merely different.
Nevertheless, Season 1 of Discovery mostly followed Fuller’s original ideas – the Klingon War and the Mirror Universe storylines were part of the original pitch. Season 2 – despite Fuller’s credit as a “consultant” – was drawn up without much input from him, and as Berg and Harberts departed, Alex Kurtzman took over as the lead on the new season. Kurtzman is also in overall control of the Star Trek franchise.
The biggest decision made in Season 2 was of course the decision for Burnham and the USS Discovery to leave the 23rd Century. This is speculation on my part, so take it with a grain of salt, but I wonder whether this decision was made in part as a result of fan criticism of Discovery’s place in the timeline and treatment of canon. Ever since it was announced as a prequel, a vocal group of fans expressed their dislike of the setting. This was compounded by Discovery being, in some respects, different to past iterations of the Star Trek franchise. The show took flak for things like the redesign of the Klingons, visiting the Mirror Universe before Kirk, the militarised and not-hidden Section 31, and many other points besides. When considering Discovery’s massive leap forward in time, we need to be aware of that context – even if ViacomCBS and everyone involved denies that fan backlash had any bearing on the decision.
So that’s a very brief recap of the production side of things. Now let’s get into the story of Discovery’s first two seasons.
One of the odd things about the two-part premiere – The Vulcan Hello and Battle at the Binary Stars – is that it doesn’t take place aboard the USS Discovery, nor feature most of the series’ regular cast. Absent from the premiere are: Culber, Lorca, Stamets, Tilly, and Tyler. These characters wouldn’t be introduced until episode 3 or later, along with the ship itself. Instead we got the USS Shenzhou and Captain Georgiou – neither of which would survive! It was a potentially explosive start for the new series, pinning down the idea that anything could happen and that being a heroic Starfleet officer was no guarantee of safety. As I’ve written before, there’s a distinct influence of successful shows like Game of Thrones in the way Discovery was written and produced.
Unfortunately the premiere was awful almost across the board; the visual effects and a Federation-Klingon battle being the only saving graces. Michael Burnham was introduced as a deeply flawed and unlikeable character, and it took a lot of work for the show to recover going into the rest of the first season.
The basic story of the premiere was that a resurgent Klingon Empire was on the verge of unifying behind a new leader. Burnham, for reasons that are still difficult to understand three years later, decides that the best way to avoid a war with the Klingons is to shoot first and attack their ship. When Captain Georgiou orders her to stop being such an idiot she tries to stage a one-person mutiny, attacking the captain and attempting to shoot the Klingon flagship.
Burnham spends much of the rest of the premiere in the brig, and in the subsequent battle a number of Starfleet vessels are lost. A last-ditch plan by Burnham and Georgiou cripples the Klingon flagship, and while attempting to capture the new Klingon leader, Georgiou is killed. This battle kicks off the Federation-Klingon war which would rage for the rest of the season.
In episode 3, Context is for Kings, we finally meet Captain Lorca and most of the rest of the USS Discovery’s crew. Several officers from the USS Shenzhou transferred to Discovery, including first officer Saru and helm officer Detmer. The USS Discovery has an experimental spore drive – a mushroom-based method of propulsion that, in theory, allows the ship to travel through the mycelial network. This technology allows Discovery, and its sister ship the USS Glenn, to theoretically travel any distance in a very short span of time, potentially meaning it can hop halfway across the galaxy in the blink of an eye. However, early in the season the spore drive isn’t functional, and the ship has only been able to move very short distances. The term “black alert” is used aboard the ship whenever the spore drive is engaged.
Captain Lorca intercepts Burnham’s prison transport, and when she arrives aboard the USS Discovery he offers her a chance at redemption by becoming a specialist under his command. Burnham has to overcome the (100% justified) judgement of her shipmates, including those who had been wounded or lost friends during the first few weeks of the war.
Burnham is assigned quarters with a cadet – Sylvia Tilly – and now holds no formal rank. However, the clandestine nature of Discovery’s mission gave Lorca broad powers over who to bring aboard, and despite Burnham’s conviction she’s allowed to serve.
The first half of Season 1 documented Lorca and Stamets’ work to get the spore drive operational. Discovery’s sister ship, the USS Glenn, made a breakthrough by discovering a space-dwelling lifeform that could navigate the mycelial network. However, the creature was dangerous and got loose, killing the Glenn’s crew. The creature – known as a tardigrade – is able to be used to fix issues with the spore drive, and despite the loss of the USS Glenn, Stamets and the engineering team are able to use it to “drive” the ship.
Lorca is taken prisoner by the Klingons, and meets Ash Tyler. Tyler had been taken prisoner some time previously, and the two were able to escape and return to Discovery. Tyler is given a role as security officer aboard the ship – despite clearly suffering PTSD. Tyler and Burnham would develop a relationship across the rest of the season.
When it becomes clear to Burnham and Stamets that they’re abusing the tardigrade by forcing it to work as part of the ship’s spore drive, Stamets augments his DNA with the tardigrade’s. This allowed him to take the tardigrade’s place as Discovery’s “navigator” in the mycelial network.
After a mission to the planet Pahvo, Discovery made numerous spore drive jumps. Outwardly, the plan was to use sensor data gained by making numerous jumps around a Klingon ship to crack the Klingons’ cloaking device, which had given them a massive advantage in the war. However, at the last moment Lorca overrode the jump sequence and forced Discovery into the Mirror Universe. The Mirror Universe was first seen in The Original Series’ second season episode Mirror, Mirror, and in the 23rd Century was dominated by the Terran Empire – a human-supremacist, authoritarian state.
Lorca managed to maintain his cover for a time, but it would later become apparent that he’s not from the prime universe. Lorca was in fact a native of the Mirror Universe, and had arrived in the prime universe via a transporter accident. He plotted to return in order to overthrow the Empress – who is the Mirror Universe version of Burnham’s former captain Philippa Georgiou.
Lorca was killed while attempting his coup, but other plotters had been made aware of the Empress’ weaknesses and were planning attacks of their own. In order to save her, at the last second Burnham beamed her aboard Discovery. From this point on, Mirror Georgiou would be a recurring character. But it’s important to remember she’s native to the Mirror Universe!
Thanks to Stamets, Discovery was able to return to the prime universe the same way it left: via the mycelial network. However, Dr Culber was killed by Tyler – who turned out to be a Klingon in disguise, not the real Tyler – and in Discovery’s absence the war had gone very badly for the Federation, leaving the Klingons on the brink of victory.
Admiral Cornwell hatched a plan to render the Klingon homeworld uninhabitable using a device to make all of its volcanoes erupt simultaneously. When Burnham and the others learn of this plan (which had been devised by Mirror Georgiou) they rebel. Burnham leads a second mutiny, and convinces everyone to go along with a different plan. “Tyler” had introduced the crew to L’Rell, and she took possession of the volcanic device, using it to become Klingon Chancellor, unite the Great Houses, and end the war.
The first season ended with Burnham and the crew given medals for their roles in bringing the war to an end.
Season 2 shook things up a lot. With Lorca gone, the big question was that of who would sit in the captain’s chair. It couldn’t be Mirror Georgiou, and with her mutiny conviction it could hardly be Burnham. Saru was next in line, but Star Trek had never had an alien captain before – not to mention Saru is kind of a coward! The surprise announcement came that the role of Christopher Pike – the captain of the USS Enterprise in The Original Series’ first pilot, The Cage – was to assume the role. I wasn’t impressed by this initially, as I felt we’d only recently spent time with the Kelvin timeline version of Pike, and recasting the character for a second time so soon might not work. I’m happy to hold my hands up and admit to being thoroughly wrong!
When the USS Enterprise suffered a catastrophic computer failure – perhaps attributed to its holo-communicators – Captain Pike transferred to the USS Discovery to continue his mission. Starfleet had detected temporal anomalies described as “red bursts,” and Pike was investigating at the time of the Enterprise’s problems.
At the same time, Pike’s science officer – and Burnham’s adoptive brother – Spock, has gone missing.
The crew discover that a figure from Spock’s youth, once dismissed as a dream or hallucination, that he termed the Red Angel is responsible for setting the red bursts. Who this person is, and what they hope to gain is not clear, and the investigation continues. The second episode of the season, New Eden, takes the ship 40,000 light-years away to a small colony of humans. The Red Angel saved these people during a conflict in Earth’s past and transported them halfway across the galaxy. The plot thickens!
On the Klingon homeworld, Section 31 arrange for “Tyler” and his son to be evacuated in order to maintain the current power structure. Their artificial intelligence, Control, came to be heavily relied on during the Klingon war, and Starfleet now uses Control regularly. Mirror Georgiou has joined Section 31, as has Ash Tyler, and both serve under the command of Captain Leland, a Section 31 officer.
In An Obol for Charon, a planetoid-sized lifeform referred to as the “Sphere” is encountered by Discovery. The lifeform is dying, and in its death throes gives Discovery a gift: all of the data it has accrued over the hundreds of thousands of years it had lived. Amongst the data was information on Saru’s species, the Kelpiens, and Pike and the crew are able to use that to aid the Kelpiens in their conflict against the Ba’ul, a race who dominate their homeworld.
The Sphere’s data would be coveted by Control, as gaining access to the data would allow it to evolve and become fully sentient. This would set up the main story of the remainder of Season 2, as well as laying the groundwork for Burnham and the USS Discovery to leave the 23rd Century behind – they did so in order to keep the Sphere data away from Control.
Control “assimilated” Captain Leland using nanites/nanobots in a scene reminiscent of how the Borg operate. This led many – including me – to speculate that Control would somehow be tied to the origins of the Borg. I maintain that storyline was at least a possibility; perhaps something included in the story pitch that never made it to screen.
Control also killed off many Section 31 leaders and operatives, and was able to gain control of Commander Ariam’s cybernetic implants, forcing her to try to transfer the Sphere data. Ariam was killed before she could complete the transfer, greatly upsetting Discovery’s crew.
Meanwhile, Burnham took off on a mission to rescue Spock. Section 31 was hunting for him too, but she was able to get to him first as he was being sheltered on Vulcan. Spock, now a fugitive, insists on being taken to Talos IV – a planet he had visited years prior that was home to the Talosians, a race whose telepathic powers could help him.
The mission to Talos leads to Spock being able to explain more about the Red Angel – the mysterious figure is human, and someone who is trying to change the current timeline; a time-traveler.
After analysing the Red Angel based on scans taken at one of its earlier appearances, the crew come to the shocking conclusion that Burnham is the Red Angel. They devise a plan to capture her – or rather, her in her future form – using the current-timeline version of Burnham as bait. For many, many reasons, The Red Angel was the worst episode of Season 2 and encapsulated why time travel stories are so difficult to get right! However, one upshot of the otherwise-abysmal episode is that the Red Angel is revealed not to be Burnham herself, but her mother.
Burnham’s parents had been killed years earlier, when Michael was a child. Unbeknownst to her, they were scientists working on a new method of time travel alongside Section 31. However, they were attacked by Klingons and the time travel suit – Project Daedalus – was shelved and considered not to be working. Unknown to Michael Burnham and Section 31, Dr Gabrielle Burnham survived the Klingon attack and used the time travel suit – aka the Red Angel suit. However, she became trapped in the 32nd Century. The Red Angel suit allowed her to make temporary visits to other time periods, but at the end she would always be pulled back to the same spot in the 32nd Century.
That sounds like torture enough for poor Dr Burnham, but it gets worse: the galaxy in the 32nd Century was entirely devoid of sentient life. After investigating, Dr Burnham came to the conclusion that Control – Section 31’s AI – was to blame. In a timeline in which Control successfully acquired the Sphere data it became sentient and murderous, wiping out all sentient life in the galaxy. Dr Burnham resolved to prevent it doing so, and made numerous interventions in the timeline, including moving the Sphere so that the USS Discovery could intercept it and saving the humans by moving them to Terralysium.
The crew decide that it may simply be best to destroy the Sphere data, but are unable to do so; the data is “protecting itself.” Dr Burnham’s connection to Spock is revealed; in childhood, Spock suffered the Vulcan equivalent of dyslexia. The difference in the way his brain worked allowed him – and only him – to interact with the Red Angel.
Using Captain Leland as its vessel, Control attempts to steal the data from Discovery’s computer, but is unsuccessful. Learning the truth of Leland’s assimilation, the crew try to get as far away from him and Section 31 as possible.
When a new red burst is detected on the Klingon world Boreth, the ship and crew travel there. Boreth is the only known world where time crystals are found – and time crystals are needed to make a working Red Angel suit. The crystal in the original Red Angel suit was destroyed – stranding Dr Burnham in the 32nd Century – but the crew have decided that the best way to keep the Sphere data away from Control may be to take it out of the 23rd Century, so they want to get another one. Captain Pike goes to the Klingon monastery on Boreth and acquires a time crystal – but doing so cements a future timeline in which he will become crippled by delta radiation (as seen in The Original Series).
As the crew race to build a second Red Angel suit using Dr Burnham’s original design, the stage is set for a showdown with Control. Captain Leland’s body remains alive, but it seems as though Control has killed off most of Section 31. However, it is able to use their extensive fleet of ships to pursue Discovery. Despite the spore drive being able to traverse huge distances, the crew join up with the USS Enterprise to make a stand. Initially the plan is to destroy Discovery, but the Sphere data won’t allow itself to be destroyed.
While Discovery and the Enterprise fight off the Section 31 ships, Burnham uses the new Red Angel suit to travel through time and set off the red bursts – meaning the whole season is a complicated time-loop-paradox thing. With the red bursts set, and with no other options to prevent Control gaining access to the data (despite Captain Leland being incapacitated seeming to pause the fighting) Burnham activates the Red Angel suit, sets the destination for the same point in the future where her mother was trapped, and opens a time-wormhole.
Saru and several other main and secondary characters volunteered to accompany Burnham and the Sphere data into the future, leaving the 23rd Century behind. Pike, Spock, and Tyler are not among them, however, and remain behind aboard the USS Enterprise. Later, Burnham sets off a final red burst, confirming to Spock and Pike that she successfully arrived in the future. Presumably, in the aftermath of the battle, Starfleet was able to shut down Control. Ash Tyler was appointed head of Section 31, and from what we know of the organisation based on its later appearances, began the process of taking the clandestine organisation underground.
So that’s a very broad outline of Discovery’s first two seasons! The plot of Season 2 got a little tied up at points, simply because of the nature of time travel stories, but overall it was a thoroughly enjoyable ride. I hope this recap helps remind you of some of the key plot points that led up to the third season’s premiere – now only three weeks away.
Obviously I didn’t include every sub-plot and storyline; this article was already far too long. I tried to stick to the key ongoing story threads from both seasons, and if I missed something you enjoyed or considered important then I apologise for the oversight! This was really just an exercise in recapping, in a broad way, the overall story so far so that as we get started with Season 3 we haven’t completely forgotten what came before!
When Season 3 kicks off next month I’ll be reviewing each episode in turn and perhaps crafting some theories. I hope you’ll stop by for those posts.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 premieres on the 15th of October on CBS All Access in the United States, and on the 16th of October on Netflix in the United Kingdom and other countries and territories. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Discovery – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.