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 Seasons 1-2 of Star Trek: Discovery, as well as the trailers for Season 3. There are also spoilers for Star Trek: Picard Season 1. Further spoilers may be present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
I was reluctant to cover this when I first saw it a few days ago. The only sources I could find for what people claimed were the “real Discovery Season 3 episode titles” were unofficial at best – and with all the made-up “rumours” that float around the online Star Trek and anti-Star Trek communities I wanted to wait for something more official before I commented! It took a little while, but there has been confirmation that these titles and synopses are legitimate, so I finally feel able to write about them.
Unlike with Picard and Lower Decks, Discovery has given us every episode’s title ahead of the season premiere, including the title of the finale. The first four episodes even have a little synopsis to go with them, so we’ll take a look at all of that in this piece and see what of consequence – if anything – we can determine!
Discovery’s third season is doing something quite unusual for a prime-time show: it’s premiering episodes on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Because of the (roughly) twenty-four hour delay in bringing the show to the rest of the world on Netflix, this means here in the UK we’re going to get episodes on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day! How’s that for a Christmas present? In a way this shows the advantages of streaming – the reason shows would often take a Christmas break from their regular schedule was so folks who were busy with the holidays wouldn’t miss anything; in 2020 with streaming services like CBS All Access and Netflix that’s no longer a concern. Even the busiest Trekkie in the world will be able to find time to watch Discovery sometime during Christmas week!
Depending on how you count the various episodes and films, Discovery Season 3 will contain the 800th Star Trek story. If we count each of the Short Treks, as well as episodes of The Animated Series, and all of the films, we’ll make it to 800 on New Year’s Eve when the twelfth episode of the season premieres. That’s an outstanding accomplishment for the Star Trek franchise! The 700th episode was The Forgotten from Season 3 of Enterprise in 2004, so it’s been a long road… getting from there to here. Sorry, couldn’t resist!
So let’s go through these episode titles and synopses!
The season premiere is titled That Hope Is You, which may sound familiar to you! It was a line spoken by the Federation official (or rather, who I assume to be a Federation official) in the first Season 3 trailer. The full line is: “I watched this office every day, believing that my hope was not in vain. And that hope is you, Commander Burnham.” I didn’t really like the way this line sounded when I first saw the trailer. In short, Discovery has never been at its best when it made Burnham the “chosen one” or the only character who actually does anything of consequence. This line could be interpreted as the beginning of another story where Burnham alone is capable of saving the galaxy… and honestly, I’m not thrilled about that. However, conversely the line could be about the arrival of the USS Discovery, or about some as-yet-unknown event.
The synopsis for the episode only mentions Burnham, saying that she’s looking for the USS Discovery and its crew. To me, the first two synopses imply that the season premiere may not include Saru or any of the rest of the crew in any meaningful way; it may simply focus on Burnham as she arrives in the future. I’m okay with that; Picard earlier in the year worked very well by building up slowly and not introducing too many characters and plot threads all at once, and if that’s the route Discovery will go too then I’m all for it.
Based on the title alone I’m fairly sure we’ll meet the Federation official from the first trailer in this episode. It should also mark the introduction of Booker.
Episode 2 is titled Far From Home – a title it coincidentally shares with the most recent Spider-Man film! The synopsis mentions the USS Discovery being repaired after crash-landing. Assuming that the crash is a result of arriving in the future via the time-wormhole, this seems to suggest the episode will mark the first appearance of Saru and the rest of the familiar crew. The crash sequence (or a large part of it) was shown in the second trailer. It looked fantastic, and reminded me a little of the USS Voyager crashing in the episode Timeless. The shot of Discovery after it crashed, however, was a rare example of a miss in terms of CGI, and I hope this is rectified by the time the episode airs!
The synopsis also mentions that Saru and Tilly will search for Burnham – presumably while the rest of the crew work to repair the ship. We haven’t seen too much interaction between these two characters, and as they’re very different from one another I think there’s scope for a sequence where they’re teamed up to be quite a lot of fun. There was a moment in the first trailer where Saru and Tilly appeared to don some kind of hooded garment, perhaps that’s taken from this episode.
People of Earth is the title of episode 3, and confirms that Burnham and the rest of the crew will definitely get back together. We saw glimpses of this reunion in both of the trailers, and I assume it may happen toward the end of episode 2 or perhaps at the beginning of episode 3. Interestingly, this episode will see the ship and crew travel to Earth, and this could be where we learn more about the Burn and the history of the galaxy in the years between Picard and Discovery. Of all the episodes so far, this seems the most likely to contain easter eggs and references!
There was a scene shown in the second trailer where the crew visit a large tree and appear to have a strong emotional reaction. I theorised that this tree could be a memorial to the USS Discovery, or perhaps to a character they knew such as Captain Pike. That could explain the strong reaction. As this episode takes place on Earth, it’s my guess for where this scene or sequence may appear.
Episode 4 is titled Forget Me Not, and this will be where we visit the Trill homeworld for the first time since Deep Space Nine. Will we see Dax return, perhaps? The synopsis doesn’t hint at that, but the title might. Forget Me Not is evocative; it could be referring to us – the fans – not forgetting about the character of Dax and the events of past Star Trek shows. Or that could be me clutching at straws!
The other part of the synopsis talks about Saru helping the crew to “reconnect.” I take that to mean they need to reconnect to each other, and forming a close-knit group will be important for the crew in a new and difficult time period. It could also mean that the crew needs to better connect with the world beyond their ship, to reconnect with the galaxy in this new era. Either way, the synopsis says this will lead to “a surprise,” and I have genuinely no idea what that could be, or even if it will be a pleasant or unpleasant surprise!
Now we’ve run out of synopses, but there are still titles for the remaining episodes of the season. I wonder if that means something very significant will happen in episode 4; something so big that it wasn’t possible to summarise the following episodes without spoiling a major plot point or storyline? Time will tell on that one!
Die Trying is the title of episode 5, and the obvious thing to pull from this is the first word. Will a major character die? Or is the title simply saying that someone (or the whole crew) will put their absolute all into some task – to either accomplish it or die trying? The latter seems more likely; I would be surprised if Discovery (or any major series) would telegraph the death of a character in such an obvious way. However, we saw in Picard that some plot points were spoilt ahead of time, particularly by announcing actors in the opening titles. So anything’s possible!
This leads us to episode 6, Scavengers. The second trailer showed two sequences this could refer to – one with a faction leader or warlord who Mirror Georgiou attacks, and another that seemed to be set in a post-apocalyptic markeplace or refugee camp that Burnham visits. Either of these could be the home of a gang of scavengers, and if the Burn is as bad as we assume it is, scavenging could be one way the survivors make a living without the help and protection of the Federation and advanced technology.
Episode 7 is perhaps the most interesting title – at least on the surface. Unification III sounds like it will follow on from The Next Generation’s two-part episode of the same name, which saw Captain Picard team up with Spock on the Romulan homeworld. Spock had been pursuing a potential Vulcan-Romulan reunification, and arguably laid the groundwork for improved Federation-Romulan relations in the 24th Century. Sela attempted to hijack Spock’s mission and conquer Vulcan by force, but was defeated by Picard and co.
So the big question is: what happened next? We saw in 2009’s Star Trek and in Picard that the Romulan homeworld was destroyed by a supernova. Relations between the Federation and Romulans initially seemed to improve; the two powers worked together in the Dominion War and began working together to evacuate Romulus prior to the attack on Mars by the rogue synths. Following the revelation at the end of Picard Season 1 that the Romulans were responsible for that attack – one which killed over 90,000 people and left Mars uninhabitable – we don’t yet know what happened. The path to reconciliation seems impossible as of the end of Picard, let alone full-scale reunification! But the episode title is tantalising, and surely must involve the Romulans in some capacity. My guess is that full reunification didn’t happen, but that perhaps the Vulcans and Romulans are cooperating and working together more regularly, particularly in the face of the Burn. Spock, of course, is Burnham’s adoptive brother, so she may learn more about his life in this episode; it could be a “unification” between the two of them.
As we get into December we have an episode titled The Sanctuary. This may refer to the futuristic space station, spacecraft, or facility glimpsed in the second trailer, which may be a Starfleet base. There was a black-uniformed woman who may be a Starfleet officer, and this could be her base of operations. Of all the locations we saw across the two trailers, this is the only one I’d describe as anything close to a “sanctuary” from the chaos in the galaxy. But it’s a vague title and I could be way off-base!
Next up is a two-parter: Terra Firma. This could refer to Earth, but as the ship and crew have already visited in episode 3 I’m not so sure. “Terra firma” is Latin, and basically means “solid ground.” That could be a metaphor; it’s a fairly common expression that travellers use upon reaching a destination, particularly after a long voyage at sea. Could the crew of the USS Discovery have been on a very long voyage and finally arrived back? That’s one possibility. It could also be a metaphor for stability; perhaps the crew have been able to partially restore the Federation by this point, and Starfleet is finally on solid ground.
The second trailer also hinted at coronal mass ejections – which are one possible explanation for the Burn. If CMEs are going to be a big part of the story, perhaps evading one and reaching a safe place is going to be a storyline seen in these two episodes. There’s one other possibility: that there’s some connection to the human-supremacist group Terra Prime, who were seen in the fourth season of Enterprise. Catastrophic situations have historically given rise to extremist groups, and if the Burn is as bad as we assume it is, part of the fractured Federation could have turned to a human-centric group in search of strength and stability.
Christmas Eve will bring us an episode titled The Citadel. Like The Sanctuary, this could refer to the possible Starfleet base. “The Citadel” could be the new name given to Starfleet HQ or to a major Starbase, and this could be a story set there. A citadel is also a kind of castle or strong fortification, so this could be a metaphor for hunkering down and preparing for something.
As mentioned, New Year’s Eve will bring us the 800th Star Trek story: an episode titled The Good of the People. There are a couple of ways to read into this – the first is that Burnham and the crew will do something big or perhaps make a sacrifice believing what they’re doing will benefit the people of the Federation and/or the galaxy. The second is that the title refers to good people among a wider population; perhaps people who rise up against a dictator or who fight for a righteous cause.
The season finale, airing in the first week of 2021, is titled Outside. This is a very simple title, and one which could be read into in many ways. Perhaps Burnham or someone else in the crew finds themselves in the minority; their idea or opinion on where to go next is not accepted, leaving them on “the outside.” Perhaps the crew, having successfully restored the Federation, now consider themselves outsiders in a new world.
If the ultimate reason for the Burn turns out to be connected to time travel, perhaps the season will end with Burnham and the crew undoing it, effectively wiping out this timeline in the process. If that happens, Burnham and/or the crew may exist “outside” of normal spacetime during the episode.
So those are my thoughts on the episode titles and synopses that we got. I have no doubt I’m utterly wrong in many cases, but for me, speculating and theory-crafting is all part of the fun.
Now that Lower Decks has concluded (my review of the season finale is coming soon, don’t worry!) we’re less than a week out from Discovery’s return. It’s been eighteen months since Season 2 ended, so if you need a refresh, I recommend my article titled The Road to Season 3, which you can find by clicking or tapping here. There I give a synopsis of the first two seasons from both the production and in-universe sides. You can find the rest of my Star Trek: Discovery articles on my dedicated Discovery page, which you can find by clicking or tapping here, or by using the menu above. I hope you’ll join me when the season debuts for reviews, theories, and more.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 will premiere 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 around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Discovery – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. Stock images courtesy of Unsplash. 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 Star Trek: Discovery, including the two Season 3 trailers and the ending of Season 2. There are also spoilers for Star Trek: Picard Season 1 and other iterations of the franchise.
The most recent trailer for Star Trek: Discovery’s imminent third season dropped a bombshell: the Federation has mostly collapsed! In my breakdown of the trailer I covered my thoughts on that story premise, so we won’t get into the ins and outs of it again today. Instead, we’re going to look at the event that triggered this collapse and postulate a few theories as to what it could be! As always with any fan theories (mine or someone else’s) please take all of this with a grain of salt. No fan theory is worth getting worked up over!
All we really know for certain is that the event in question is called “the Burn.” Booker, the new character who’s native to this time period, tells Michael Burnham that the event was when “the galaxy took a hard left.” And that’s all the explanation the trailer gave us. However, some images and scenes from the trailer add context to this, so we should run through some of them briefly.
Firstly, we had one very short scene of an explosion aboard a starship or space station that appeared to blow a number of people out into space. This could be a flashback to the Burn, but as I noted when I looked at the trailer, it could also be something happening after Discovery’s arrival in the future. Even if it is taking place during the Burn, however, all we can gleam from this scene is that it was a violent event – which may mean it took place over a relatively short span of time.
Next we have two glimmers of hope: a futuristic starship, space station, or facility which Saru and Burnham visit at some point, and a black-uniformed woman who I suspect may be a Starfleet officer.
The woman’s uniform was at least a little reminiscent of the uniforms used to depict 29th Century Starfleet seen in the Voyager fifth season episode Relativity. The texture and pattern used for the dark upper part of her uniform reminded me of that episode, and I’m sure that must have been intentional!
If this woman in Starfleet, it lends credence to the idea that the facility mentioned above could be a Federation vessel or even a Starbase. Add into the mix Booker’s line that the Federation “mostly” collapsed following the Burn, and I think we can make a solid case for Starfleet being around in some form; last time I called this remaining faction “rump Starfleet.”
The final thing to look at from the trailer are the scenes set in its aftermath. Away from the woman in uniform and the futuristic facility we see what could be a shanty town or post-apocalyptic markeplace as an Orion or other green-skinned alien guides Burnham. One possible implication from this scene is that we’re seeing how the majority of people in the collapsed Federation live. In the aftermath of the cataclysm, they may all be reduced to this kind of hand-to-mouth existence.
On the flip side, we have seen settings like this in other iterations of Star Trek, even on human-populated worlds. One that springs to mind is Turkana IV, the birthplace of Tasha Yar in The Next Generation. Described as a “failed Earth colony”, the planet was in a state of disarray in the 24th Century. In short, the existence of a shanty town like the one depicted above may not mean that everyone in the 32nd Century lives that way.
The reason I brought up Turkana IV and the like is to demonstrate that the Federation, even in the eras we’re familiar with, wasn’t always perfect and wasn’t one homogeneous bloc. Just as there seems to be a great contrast between the sleek facility and the shanty town in the 32nd Century, so too is there a contrast between different locations in the 23rd and 24th Centuries. I wonder if Discovery plans to use this dichotomy to make a point about wealth inequality.
One final point of note is that, when discussing the Burn, Booker referred to it as when “the galaxy” took a hard left. Let’s be clear about that – the galaxy as a whole, not merely the Federation. That was a deliberate choice of words, and I think what we can infer is that the effects of the Burn extend far beyond the borders of the Federation.
It’s possible that the Burn didn’t affect literally the entire galaxy; some regions and worlds may have escaped. Booker may have used the word “galaxy” in this context to mean something that impacted more than just one region and that went beyond the Federation’s borders. Even if that’s the case, we’re still dealing with what is arguably the biggest disaster we’ve ever seen in Star Trek.
That’s all we know from the trailer. It’s unclear how many people survived the Burn. Some disasters destroy infrastructure and technology, but leave organic lives intact, whereas others cause massive loss of life. There are clearly some survivors of the Burn, but how many is simply unknown right now. It’s highly likely that in the aftermath of such a catastrophe, more lives would be lost due to things like disease and starvation – especially if the Burn triggered the kind of collapse we seem to be seeing. The scene in the shanty town or junkyard seemed to show people barely surviving, living a hand-to-mouth existence without much of the familiar technology we’re used to in Star Trek. Such a loss of technology could cause even more deaths in the months and years following the Burn than the event itself.
We’ve seen at least one anti-Starfleet faction, which in the first trailer appeared to comprise of Andorians, Lurians, Cardassians, and humans. We also met a character in the second trailer who could be the leader of a faction or perhaps a warlord. I think this shows how, in the aftermath of the Burn, the survivors banded together into smaller groups. As with the number of survivors, we don’t know how many of these groups exist or what their relationships are with one another.
We also don’t know for sure whether faster-than-light travel, warp speed, and time travel are still possible in this era, or whether the Burn caused such a catastrophic collapse in the Federation – possibly combined with damage to the galaxy and spacetime and/or subspace in general – that such things are no longer possible. We saw in the second trailer the USS Discovery using its spore drive, so at least travel via the mycelial network remains viable. But everything else is unclear, and if it were to be the case that warp speed and faster-than-light travel are impossible, the fractured Federation will be very difficult to bring back together.
There’s also the question of timing. When did the Burn take place? We’ve already made one assumption – that it was a relatively fast event, perhaps taking place over less than a year – but when it happened relative to Burnham and the USS Discovery’s arrival in the year 3188 is not known. I wrote last time that the furthest forward in time Star Trek has previously gone in canon is the 31st Century. However, in both stories which took place in that era the dating was very vague, and we only have terms like “years” and “centuries” to go on rather than something more precise. As a result, Discovery’s third season could be anywhere from 90 years ahead of what we saw in Enterprise and Voyager all the way to 180 years ahead of those stories. Picking a halfway point, and saying that Discovery takes place 130-140 years further on from anything we’ve ever seen still gives a huge amount of time for the Burn to have taken place.
Based on the warlord/faction leader seen above, and the scene set in the shanty town/junkyard, I’m assuming it wasn’t recent. It certainly didn’t look like something that had only just happened in those scenes; the faction leader in particular seems confident in his position. Booker also didn’t appear to be speaking about something very recent when discussing the Burn; he almost seemed to be recalling history. I also noted something from the Star Trek Day panel: showrunner Michelle Paradise stated that characters like Booker had been “born” into this new future. While she could have meant simply that Booker was born in the 32nd Century, in the context of a discussion about the new season’s setting it could also mean that the Burn took place decades previously; before Booker was even born.
So it’s clear that at this stage we’re missing a lot of information! We don’t know when the Burn happened. We don’t know what effect it had other than the near collapse of the Federation. We don’t know how many casualties were directly and indirectly caused, or how many survivors remain.
Perhaps most importantly, we don’t know what the Burn is or what caused it. Fixing a problem requires understanding what the problem is and why it happened, so it will be absolutely essential for Burnham and the crew to figure this out. Even though we have practically no evidence to go on, I do have a few ideas! Let’s look at them in turn.
Possible cause #1: The super-synths from Star Trek: Picard
I’ve already written up this theory in more detail, and you can find that article by clicking or tapping here. But now that we know a little more about the Burn thanks to the new trailer, I was pleased in a way that it hasn’t been debunked already! Star Trek: Picard introduced us to an unnamed race of super-synths that I nicknamed the “Mass Effect Reapers” due to their similarities to that video game faction.
The “Mass Effect Reapers” left behind a beacon on the planet of Aia, explaining that synthetic life is under threat from organic life, and promising to come to the aid of any synths who ask for their help. The Zhat Vash – a secretive Romulan faction – found the beacon and interpreted it as something apocalyptic; they believed that if synthetic life were ever created, the “Mass Effect Reapers” would exterminate all organic life in the galaxy.
During the events of the season finale, Soji and Sutra constructed a beacon to contact the “Mass Effect Reapers”, and opened a portal to the location in deep space where they reside. After being convinced by Picard – and the timely arrival of a Starfleet armada led by Riker – Soji closed the portal and shut down the beacon. The “Mass Effect Reapers” never arrived – but they are now aware of a race of synths in the Milky Way galaxy, as well as being aware of the existence of the Romulans and the Federation.
From the point of view of this race of super-synths, here’s what they saw: a race of synths who found their beacon called on them for help, and when the portal was opened they saw a handful of synths on a planet with two massive fleets of starships populated by organics. Then, with no explanation, the portal was closed. If I were them, I would have major concerns!
We know hardly anything about the “Mass Effect Reapers” – which in itself makes them a good candidate for Discovery’s writers to play with – including how far away from the Federation they are. If they decided that they needed to intervene on behalf of the Coppelius synths, it could have taken them centuries to travel to the Milky Way from wherever they’re based.
When they finally did arrive, they would have likely found Coppelius abandoned, as I feel certain the safest thing to do for the synths who live there would be to relocate them to a new home where the Romulans can’t touch them. Again, from the “Mass Effect Reapers” perspective, the last thing they saw was two massive fleets in orbit of this planet that asked for their help, and when they arrived, the synths who asked for that help were gone. Put two and two together and it’s not hard to imagine they would assume the organics wiped out the synths. If they were minded toward revenge, they could go on the rampage, using their superior technology to destroy the Federation and Romulans in an event that would become known as the Burn.
From the production side of things, this theory brings together the two live-action series currently in production, which is something that hasn’t happened yet. I’ve written many times that modern Star Trek shows being split up in this way isn’t a good idea, and finding ways to bring them together will be important to the franchise going forward. Having this faction from Picard also be important in Discovery – as well as the events of one series directly leading to events in the other – would bind the two shows together and strengthen the franchise.
Possible cause #2: Michael and/or Gabrielle Burnham
I can’t be the only one who noticed that the “Burn” happens to be three letters different from “Burnham”, can I? While it may seem absolutely preposterous to assume that Burnham or her mother somehow caused this galaxy-wide calamity, there are some points we could argue are in its favour.
Gabrielle Burnham, Michael’s mother, was the original Red Angel in Discovery Season 2. At several points in the story she intervened, including to save Burnham’s life and Spock’s life in their youth, as well as ensuring that the USS Discovery would be on hand to save the data from the “Sphere” – the planetoid-sized lifeform whose data was vital to the Control AI. Gabrielle Burnham was tied to a point in the future around the same time as Season 3 is set and returned there after her many visits to the 23rd Century. But in both of the trailers we’ve seen, she’s nowhere to be found. Why is she missing, and could her absence have something to do with the Burn?
Discovery has been a series that places Michael Burnham at the centre of its stories. Burnham was the Red Angel. Burnham was the one who led the ship and crew home from the Mirror Universe and ended the Klingon War. Every story so far has been a Burnham-centric one, so it wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn she has some involvement with the Burn – an event which shares part of her name.
How could this work? There are a few possibilities, but I would say that all of them have to do with the Red Angel suit and its time travel abilities. The suit was very powerful, capable of detonating powerful “red bursts” that Starfleet could detect from thousands of light-years away. It was also capable of moving the Sphere, so the idea that it could – intentionally or otherwise – be used as a weapon or cause a natural disaster is not beyond the realm of possibility.
When Burnham arrived in the future, she took off the suit. But in scenes that seem to be set around the same time, she doesn’t appear to bring it with her. It’s possible she abandoned the suit at her crash site, in which case anyone could stumble upon it. It’s also possible that the suit was stolen. And finally, it’s possible that some other faction who was aware of changes to the timeline could have been waiting for Burnham’s arrival and took that opportunity to take possession of the suit.
I don’t believe Burnham or her mother would voluntarily cause the Burn. In fact I’d argue that both would go out of their way to avoid it – even putting their lives on the line to prevent it ever happening. But it could have been accidental, such as a by-product of the suit’s time travel abilities. Or they could have done something while under duress – perhaps it was the least bad option if they were given a choice between the Burn and something far worse.
One thing is for sure, though. If it was Burnham’s fault, calling the event “the Burn” sounds way better than calling it “the Ham!”
Possible cause #3: The Borg
We haven’t had a Borg story in Star Trek since Enterprise’s second season way back in 2003. For a time it seemed as if Discovery’s second season was setting up a Borg origin story with the Control AI, but for whatever reason that didn’t pan out. We could still see the Borg in Discovery, though, if they turn out to be the nefarious villains who caused the Burn.
Booker said that the Burn affected the whole galaxy, and if that’s literally true perhaps it impacted the Borg as well. But it could be that the Borg either are the Burn or are the cause of it, striking out in all directions from their Delta Quadrant home and attacking multiple areas of the galaxy simultaneously.
Though it was implied, perhaps, that the Burn was a relatively short event, it could be that it was a war. Even a year-long conflict against the Borg on all fronts could have seen the Federation on the verge of collapse, and we could be looking at the aftermath of a Pyrrhic victory, one in which the Federation and their allies were only able to defeat the Borg at a catastrophic cost to themselves.
How exactly this would work is unclear, but perhaps the Federation used a weapon of last resort that not only destroyed the Borg but also crippled themselves in the process. We’ve seen this kind of story in science fiction before, and the idea that the Federation’s collapse is in part the Federation’s fault is an interesting one. Alex Kurtzman said that the Federation’s collapse wasn’t due to infighting but was something external – and a Borg invasion is definitely an external threat.
When considering an event that has the potential to impact not only planets and star systems but Starbases and fleets of ships, a large-scale war is one of the few possibilities that I can think of. We’re talking about devastation across not only the whole Federation but far beyond its borders too, meaning the Burn has to be something immense in scope. A massive invasion could be such an event, and I can’t think of any known faction in Star Trek able to pull off something like that other than the Borg.
By their later appearances in Voyager, I think it’s not unfair to say that the Borg were becoming stale. Having seen our heroes prevail against them time and again, they definitely needed a rest. Enterprise, while it added an extra complication to the history of Borg-human contact, managed to tell an exciting and tense story, but I think it’s to the franchise’s overall benefit that the faction then took a break. However, seventeen years is a decent length of time for such a break, so could we be on the verge of seeing the Borg make a comeback?
Possible cause #4: Time travel and the Temporal Cold War
Star Trek stories that took place in the 29th Century and beyond depicted time travel as something the Federation routinely engages in, despite it seemingly being prohibited by the 24th Century. Preserving the timeline intact is something Starfleet of this era seems to have been concerned with, but there were other factions opposed to the Federation who made attempts to use time as a weapon.
In Enterprise we saw a Temporal Cold War play out, with several different factions all vying for control of the timeline. The mechanics of this were vague – deliberately – but by the 31st Century, which is the home era of temporal agent Daniels, the Temporal Cold War was a major issue.
As I mentioned when I looked at the trailer, one issue I can see coming up if Discovery goes headfirst into another time travel story is the question of why the Federation didn’t see the Burn coming. If they explore the timeline in the same way that the 24th Century Starfleet explore space, surely they look at the future timeline too, not just the past. If they do, they should have foreseen the Burn, right?
The problem with that assumption is that time travel muddies the waters. Even in a perfect world where Star Trek had always been consistent in its depiction of the rules and laws governing time travel (which it hasn’t been at all), the concept itself still generates all manner of possibilities, loops, and paradoxes. Part of the Temporal Cold War story arc involved factions travelling to the past to attempt to undermine their adversaries before they could even develop time travel – knocking them out of the war entirely. If someone were able to travel to a point in the timeline that the Federation could not observe, or were able to operate outside of normal spacetime, the Burn could have been triggered before the Federation even knew it was coming.
I’d like to pick one more hole in a time travel story. If the cause of the Burn is related to time travel, it’s arguable from the perspective of Starfleet that the timeline in which it occurred is not the “real” timeline. Logically they’d want to work to undo it, and if successful it would remove this timeline – and thus Discovery Season 3 – from existence. We have seen stories in Star Trek that “never happened” for reasons of time travel, but they were single episodes, not entire seasons, and I would make the case that having an entire season’s story arc being effectively wiped out of existence wouldn’t be the best way to go.
Possible cause #5: Something related to coronal mass ejections and stars
One frame of the trailer showed Tilly, Stamets, and Reno with the woman shown above who may be a 32nd Century Starfleet officer. On the display at the console where Tilly and Stamets were standing, it was possible to make out the words “CME Detected” and “coronal mass ejection [something] magnitude.”
A coronal mass ejection, or CME, is a real-world phenomenon. I’m not a scientist, but as I understand it, a CME is where a small portion of a star’s plasma is shot into space. The phenomenon is associated with sunspots and solar flares, and can cause damage to technology like phone and power lines.
There is no known way to trigger a CME or for them to occur naturally on a galaxy-wide scale. But as we leave the real world behind and head into the realm of science fiction, either of those possibilities could exist.
“The Burn” is a very evocative name, drawing on a primal fear of fire. But it could be more than just a moniker adopted by survivors of the event: it could describe the event itself, and when a star undergoes a CME it’s literally shooting burning plasma into space – space fire. The Burn could be the very literal burning of spacecraft, planets, and even whole solar systems by some kind of massive wave of coronal mass ejections.
The interesting prospect this raises is that the Burn wouldn’t require an evil villain; it could be an entirely natural occurrence. How and why millions of stars all suffered the same fate is unclear, but it would change the dynamic of the story from one that requires the crew to defeat an adversary to one which requires scientific investigation – something which is arguably at the heart of Starfleet.
Equally, even if the Burn refers to a tsunami of CMEs, there could be a cause. It could even be one of the four we’ve already listed: the Borg, the Burnhams, a time travelling faction, or the super-synths from Picard. Any of these could have intentionally or accidentally triggered some event that led to millions of stars all undergoing CMEs.
The next part of this gets very deep into lore, so it’s perhaps less likely, but I like to include these things because c’mon… we’re Trekkies. It’s what we do!
Whether the Burn is natural or artificial in origin, if it’s something which causes stars to undergo massive CMEs it could also be something which triggers supernovae. And there has been one recent supernova that had a massive impact on the Star Trek galaxy: the Romulan supernova. First shown in 2009’s Star Trek, the supernova appeared to move faster-than-light and destroyed the Romulan homeworld. Spock was able to stop it by using Red Matter, but the supernova would have a lasting impact, part of which was seen earlier this year in Picard.
Though it may seem a long-shot, tying the Burn to the Romulan supernova would bring together several different Star Trek stories in a very neat way, which is important for reasons I’ve already outlined. If the Burn is natural in origin, the Romulan supernova may have been a precursor to it. And if it’s artificial in origin, the Romulan supernova may have been a preliminary test of whatever weapon caused the Burn.
So that’s it. A look at what the Burn could be as well as some possible triggers and causes. Though the existence of the Burn poses a big challenge for Discovery – as it fundamentally changes the underlying premise of Star Trek’s optimistic future – I’m absolutely fascinated by it. What is it? What caused it? When did it happen? Why did no one intervene to stop it? There are so many questions rattling around in my head, and this article has barely scratched the surface!
I am at least a little concerned about Star Trek: Discovery choosing a post-apocalyptic setting. But at the same time the series has been great so far, especially in Season 2, and I would love to see it build on what was accomplished last year to tell a fascinating and engaging story. The Burn is going to be part of that. Figuring it out and perhaps even working to stop it could be important story elements, and I’m absolutely fascinated to learn whether any of these ideas even come close!
As I mentioned at the beginning, these are just fan theories and speculation. I don’t have any insider information – and if I did I wouldn’t share it! Several recent shows and films have suffered backlash from fans who got a little too attached to certain pet theories, and as fun as theory-crafting is, I don’t want that to be the case here. This is a bit of fun and a chance to spend more time thinking about Star Trek, and that’s all. I want to know what happens, and if it’s something I didn’t expect then that’s fantastic!
When Discovery Season 3 kicks off in mid-October, I hope you’ll join me for episode reviews and perhaps even more theory-crafting!
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 elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other titles 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 will be spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery, including the Season 3 trailer and the end of Season 2. There are also spoilers for Star Trek: Picard Season 1 and other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
It’s only a little over a month until Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 premieres, and during yesterday’s digital Star Trek Day panels we got a surprise new trailer! With the new season so close, and with everything going on in the world, I didn’t expect to see another one. We had the first trailer released almost a year ago, and it felt like that was all we were going to get! I’ve already taken an in-depth look at the first trailer, by the way, and you can find my thoughts by clicking or tapping here.
Overall, the trailer was… interesting? There were some things that looked very exciting, and others which are definitely concerning. Taken as a whole, Discovery’s third season looks different to what we had before in terms of its setting, but also familiar. Burnham still seems to be the main focus of the plot, with the rest of the crew there to help out.
So let’s start with by far the biggest reveal: “The Federation mostly collapsed… after the Burn.” This confirms what a lot of Trekkies – myself included – had been thinking since we saw the first trailer: that this season will take the show into a future that’s as close to post-apocalyptic as anything we’ve seen in Star Trek before.
This is the part which concerns me most about this season. A post-apocalyptic setting is so incredibly far removed from anything we’ve ever seen in Star Trek, and that’s because Star Trek has always presented a positive, hopeful depiction of the future. It’s possible to use a post-apocalyptic setting to showcase the theme of hope within a narrative, but that’s not the same thing as having a hopeful and optimistic setting. Star Trek’s core has always been that humanity has overcome whatever obstacles came our way, no matter how insurmountable they seemed. We had been able to build a future for ourselves and our friends and allies where, to paraphrase Trip Tucker: poverty, war, and disease have been eliminated.
A post-apocalyptic setting represents a fundamental shift in the underlying premise of Star Trek, and could result in the franchise losing what makes it special and unique. In other franchises, this kind of setting can work. But in Star Trek it’s untested, and while what results may well be a perfectly sound television show, it may not be a perfectly sound Star Trek show.
In past iterations of Star Trek, the tension and drama came from threats to our heroes and their friends, but in a more fundamental way, it came from the idea that everything humanity had worked hard to create was in danger. That’s what the Borg represented. That’s what the Dominion represented. That’s what villains from The Original Series right through to Picard all represented. Humanity had overcome so much and built this amazing future, and suddenly it was under threat by some nefarious evildoer. That setup brings more than enough excitement – look at stories like The Best of Both Worlds or Deep Space Nine’s Dominion War storyline. They didn’t need to rely on something post-apocalyptic to generate drama and stakes. Even Discovery, in its first two seasons, was able to use Star Trek’s optimistic future as a way to generate tension – first with the Klingon War and then with the threat posed by Control.
I guess I’m just not convinced that this huge change in the underlying premise of Star Trek’s setting will work as intended.
All that being said, I’m very interested to learn more about this “Burn” – the event that caused the collapse of the Federation. The only clue we got in the trailer was that it was an event that caused the galaxy as a whole to take “a hard left”, whatever that may mean! We can infer a few things from this statement, though. The mention of the galaxy seems to suggest that whatever effect the Burn had wasn’t just limited to the Federation. It may have been truly galactic in scale, impacting all four quadrants, or Booker may have used the term to refer to a wide area, but regardless it seems that the Burn had a massive impact that extended beyond the boundaries of the Federation. Alex Kurtzman elaborated just a little on this, explaining that it was something external that caused the collapse as opposed to something within the Federation itself.
This neither confirms nor debunks my theory that the race of super-synths from Star Trek: Picard are involved! They could be the cause of the Burn, but equally at this stage it could be something entirely different. We don’t even know for sure how recent the Burn is to Discovery’s setting – it could be anywhere from a few years to a couple of centuries earlier. The furthest Star Trek has ever gone in canon is the 31st Century, which we saw in both the Voyager episode Living Witness and the Enterprise two-part episode Shockwave. Daniels, the time-traveller in Enterprise, was from this era, and in his time the Federation was still active. The trailer states very clearly that Burnham arrives in the year 3188, which puts the new season at the tail end of the 32nd Century, meaning the season takes place anywhere from roughly 90 to 180 years further into the future than anything we’ve seen previously. This obviously allows plenty of time for the Burn to happen without impacting canon – though I can think of a problem with that.
It was suggested in several Star Trek stories – if not stated outright – that the Federation patrols and explores the timeline. That includes the future timeline too, not just the past, and it raises the big question of how Starfleet managed to get caught up in the Burn when – at least theoretically – they could have foreseen and prevented it.
Time travel narratives in Star Trek have never been my favourite for a number of reasons, though I freely admit that Discovery Season 2 did a good job with that premise. Based on what we know of the Federation’s time travel capabilities, though, I think it’s at least possible that Season 3 will include some time travel elements. It’s even possible, though admittedly unlikely, that whatever the Burn is could be related to the Temporal Cold War seen in Enterprise – perhaps a faction opposed to the Federation was able to use time in such a way as to cause the Burn and with it the collapse of the Federation. Enterprise is arguably less well-remembered that other Star Trek series though, so I consider basing a major plot point around one of its storylines to be less likely.
One thing that the team behind Star Trek have to be careful with is that this decision to see the Federation collapse in the 31st/32nd Century doesn’t adversely impact other Star Trek shows. One problem that can plague prequels is that much of the drama and tension that makes for a good story isn’t present simply because we know what comes next. This happened to a degree in Enterprise – when the Xindi attacked Earth and then planned to destroy the planet, we knew they weren’t going to succeed because we’d seen Earth two hundred years later. The story was still good, but at the back of our minds or even just on a subconscious level, we as the audience knew that Captain Archer and his crew would prevail. The journey can still be fun if the destination is known, but sometimes knowing the ultimate outcome can rob a prequel of its stakes.
By making every Star Trek show from Strange New Worlds to Picard to Lower Decks a prequel to Discovery, any galaxy-threatening villain the heroes of those series have to tackle becomes at least slightly less intimidating. Not only that, but the successes Captain Pike, Picard, and the Lower Decks ensigns may have become at least a little bittersweet – because we know that no matter what they do and how victorious they are, the Burn will still happen and the Federation will still collapse. Picard and the crew of La Sirena succeeded in defeating the Romulans and the race of super-synths, but did it actually matter if within a few hundred years all that was undone by this other cataclysm? The argument that it matters far less is certainly present, and while it doesn’t “taint” those productions, future Star Trek projects produced in the wake of Discovery Season 3 will be broadcast to an audience who know about the Burn and what’s coming for the Federation. That certainly changes the way we look at Starfleet and the Star Trek galaxy.
The trailer did raise my hopes – just a little – that things may not be totally bleak for the Federation. At one point we saw a black-uniformed woman (seen above) who seemed to be human and could perhaps be a representative of Starfleet. There’s also the Federation flag – seen again in this trailer – and the official we saw in the first trailer. Burnham and the crew also appear to get combadges sporting a new variant of the Starfleet emblem – surely there could only be a new design if there’s still some kind of rump Starfleet to wear it.
Despite that, however, it seems like the future Burnham and the crew will find is far bleaker than they – or we – could have imagined. I have my concerns about how well this will work, but I’m willing to give Discovery a chance to pull it off. Having covered the setting in sufficient detail for now, let’s look at the rest of the trailer.
The trailer begins with both Burnham – in her Red Angel suit from the Season 2 finale – crashing. Burnham appears unable to contact the ship, and flies into a field of debris. This same debris field would be glimpsed again moments later as Booker and Burnham discussed the fate of the Federation; I infer from that that it’s Federation debris. This is just a guess, but I would say perhaps the remains of a space station – I saw what looked like it could have been parts of a Starbase-style space station amongst the wreckage.
The shot of the USS Discovery after its crash-landing on the planet’s surface was not good. It looked amateurish, as though it had been thrown together by an art student in Photoshop. I think it was probably the worst visual effect of the entire trailer, and I hope it’s improved by the time the series airs. I think the lighting was wrong, because something about the look of this shot gave the distinct impression that the USS Discovery and just been copied-and-pasted onto a planet’s surface image. It was only seen briefly, though, and the sequence of the ship crash-landing as a whole looked pretty good; I was reminded of the Voyager Season 5 episode Timeless.
Although the scream was a little much, I loved seeing Burnham’s elation at the discovery of lifesigns on the planet where she crashed. The entire point of taking the USS Discovery out of the 23rd Century was to prevent the rogue AI Control from getting its hands on the ship and the data it contained; if it had been able to do so it would have wiped out all life in the galaxy. Burnham is simultaneously thrilled and relieved to learn that her plan worked.
Burnham, in a voiceover, describes the journey into the far future as a “one-way trip, no going back.” But present among the crew is Mirror Georgiou, a character who is supposed to headline the currently-untitled – but still in production – Section 31 series. As far as we know that series is set in the 23rd Century, so the question of how that circle will be squared is still up in the air. Perhaps Georgiou will travel back in time somehow, or perhaps the Section 31 series will take place in this new time period.
There was a great moment between Stamets and Reno – who I’m thrilled to see return. Reno was great comic relief in Season 2, and it seems like her dynamic with fellow engineer (and boss?) Stamets is going to be a fun element in Season 3 as well. I hope we’ll get to see plenty of interaction between these two characters!
I’m trying to decide if there’s going to be anything romantic between Burnham and Booker. At one point, the trailer seemed to show them close to kissing – though whether there will be anything more is unclear. They spend a lot of time together, and I believe Booker will be the first person from this era Burnham encounters. He’s the one who tells her about the Burn, and may help her (and the audience) get acquainted with this time period. We’ve had the Burnham-Tyler relationship play out across Seasons 1 and 2, but with Tyler remaining in the 23rd Century, could a new partner be what Burnham needs?
If the series is to keep its “sole protagonist” approach – which seems to be the case – giving her a romantic entanglement could be a good source of drama. I like anything that humanises Burnham and brings her a little more down-to-earth, and showing her emotions and being vulnerable with a romantic partner is a good way to achieve those goals.
So as mentioned, Burnham appears to be the main focus of the story once again. Though she has improved in leaps and bounds from her disastrous role in Discovery’s premiere, I’ve never felt she was the best and most interesting part of either season. And putting Burnham in stories where she, and she alone, is capable of solving the galaxy’s problems amplifies some of her less-attractive character traits. It seems from the two trailers that we’re going to get another Burnham-centric narrative, and all I can really say about that is that I hope it’ll be one that not only keeps her relatable, but that provides the other crew members with genuine volition and agency over the story. Simply having Saru and the rest of the crew trailing along in Burnham’s wake is not Discovery at its best and never has been. Hopefully this season can address that issue in some way!
I mentioned Mirror Georgiou, and she appears to get into a fight with someone who I would say could be a faction leader or even a warlord; someone who has control over a ship, fleet, planet, or region in the aftermath of the Federation’s collapse. I doubt this character is the primary villain of the season – if indeed such a villain exists – but he certainly seems to be in the way of whatever she’s trying to accomplish – perhaps putting his own needs ahead of the “greater good.” I wonder what role Georgiou will play in a “restore the Federation” story – she’s someone who is wholly uncommitted to the ideals of the Federation, and left to her own devices would surely scheme to create a new Terran Empire instead! Hopefully Saru and Burnham will be able to keep her in check.
The trailer appeared to show the USS Discovery making use of its spore drive. I was glad to see this, as the spore drive has felt like an underused piece of technology. In Season 1 it was little more than a macguffin to allow for travel to and from the Mirror Universe, and after that it really felt as though the writers and producers didn’t know what to do with it – or at least didn’t know what to do with it in a way that didn’t completely break canon. Now that we’re out of the 23rd Century, canon issues are no longer present. That potentially opens up Discovery for more stories which put the spore drive through its paces.
We also got another look at the directed energy weapon seen in the first trailer. This weapon seems to produce a large shockwave capable of knocking people over; whether this is a kind of stun setting is unknown, as is what the device is called. As I mentioned last time, it doesn’t feel particularly futuristic – it’s something we could have imagined existing in the 23rd or 24th Centuries. But that in itself probably ties in very neatly with the post-apocalyptic setting – Discovery had to find a way to make its ship, crew, and technology not feel horribly outdated in the 32nd Century.
We caught the briefest of glimpses of two new members of the cast. Star Trek’s first non-binary character, played by Blu del Barrio, and first transgender character, played by Ian Alexander appeared for a split-second in the trailer. We don’t know anything about these characters aside from their gender identities, which made headlines even in mainstream news outlets.
There was a scene with a large tree that was interesting. I have nothing but a gut feeling to go on with this, but I believe it’s a memorial tree, planted in honour of the USS Discovery and the crew that were lost. This could be on Earth, perhaps at Starfleet Academy or Starfleet Headquarters – assuming either facility still exists. The tree looked very old, and the crew seemed to have a strong emotional reaction to it, which is why I’m guessing it’s a memorial. It’s also possible that this tree was planted in honour of someone like Captain Pike, who the crew knew well.
Burnham says that the Federation gave her and/or the USS Discovery “a mandate to solve the biggest problems in the galaxy.” This ties into the post-apocalyptic nature of the theme; I think we can infer that whatever remains of Starfleet has very few ships at its disposal, and that’s why the centuries-old Discovery can be pressed into service.
The typeface used for the series seems to have changed as well, which is in keeping with the idea of Season 3 being a kind of soft reboot for Discovery. I like the way this looks, and it will be used for the show going forward according to showrunner Michelle Paradise. It’s a cleaner, sleeker font than that based on the classic Star Trek typeface which the series had used until now. It looks great, and gives the show a more modern look.
We saw several new settings in the trailer, and it’s unclear whether they’re all on one planet or are spread out. There were two that looked decidedly post-apocalyptic: a market, shanty town, or junkyard where Burnham is being guided by someone who may be Orion, and the place where Georgiou gets into the fight with the man who may be a faction leader.
There was one scene that could be set aboard a futuristic Starfleet vessel or space station; this could be the location where the official seen in the first trailer was based, as it looked superficially similar. The line “welcome to the future” was heard over the top of this brief shot, which may be intentional or may just be incidental! This facility had curved lines and holographic interfaces, and looked suitably futuristic – but at the same time it wasn’t so futuristic that it couldn’t be something from the 23rd or 24th Centuries.
It looked as though we could see a flashback to the Burn at one brief moment in the trailer, but it could be this facility (or a similar one) coming under attack. Flashbacks could be a great way to explain what happened, so I hope we do get to see the events of the Burn instead of just hear about them secondhand from other characters.
I think that covers everything from the trailer that I wanted to mention. After the trailer premiered there was a panel which included the definitely not-fired Alex Kurtzman, the man who’s basically in charge of Star Trek as a whole right now. Kurtzman appeared alongside showrunner Michelle Paradise and Booker actor David Ajala in a panel hosted by – of all people – LeVar Burton’s daughter Mica. I’m not sure how I feel about Kurtzman citing Gene Roddenberry’s optimistic vision of the future in the context of Discovery taking a very dark, post-apocalyptic setting. Optimism and hope can certainly be themes in this kind of setting, but it’s still fundamentally different to anything Roddenberry imagined.
The panel was okay, and there were a few minor points of interest. But I’m never the biggest fan of these kind of things, especially when done at a distance. As I wrote when looking at Star Trek’s Comic-Con @Home panel, a glorified Zoom call isn’t always the most interesting thing to watch.
A couple of highlights are that Booker and Burnham get into a fight when they first meet, which is certainly an interesting and dramatic way to introduce two characters! Despite the point I made above regarding the level of technology in the 32nd Century, the showrunners were keen to stress that there will be new and different technologies than what we’ve seen in Star Trek previously. The question of the Trill came up, and the answer surprised me a little: instead of saying that the Trill could be an anchor point for returning fans to perhaps understand the far future a little better, instead it was stated that they may not be the same as we remember.
Booker has a cat! I love cats, and regular readers will know I have several of my own – including one named after a Discovery character. A short featurette included in the panel showed how the cat was recruited to the show and how they helped him act. The cat looks beautiful too! David Ajala spoke beautifully about the Star Trek franchise, its history, legacy, and what it means to him. The sincerity was greatly appreciated, and he seems like he will be a wonderful part of the series and the franchise. That was all from the panel – the guests had a lot to say and it is worth a watch if you’re a fan.
So that wraps things up. The trailer had some fascinating and exciting parts, but I’m not going to lie or pretend it doesn’t have some concerning elements too. I’m enjoying Lower Decks at the moment, as you know if you’ve been following my reviews! Discovery Season 3 marks the third Star Trek project this year, and I’m looking forward to it despite any concerns I may have about certain narrative elements. Season 2 was truly excellent, and though Season 3 aims to be a soft reboot, in some respects I hope it’ll be able to build on what the show achieved last year.
I hope you’ll come back in mid-October as I review each new episode and possibly engage in a little theory-crafting to go along with the season.
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 elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard, Star Trek: Discovery, and the trailer for Discovery’s upcoming third season.
Ever since we first caught a glimpse of Star Trek: Discovery’s third season setting, I’ve been wondering what’s going on. According to everything we know at this stage, Burnham and the ship will successfully complete a 930-year time jump into the far future. That future looks pretty bleak, and perhaps could even be described as post-apocalyptic. If it’s true that Discovery plans to tell a story set in an era where the Federation is defeated or in decline, figuring out how that happened – and reversing it – is surely going to be the overarching story.
For now we’re going to have to set aside reservations about how a post-apocalyptic or otherwise bleak setting will work with Star Trek from a storytelling point of view. Instead, let’s look at things from an in-universe perspective and try to figure out what may be going on. I have already covered this theory back in March when I was wrapping up my Star Trek: Picard theories, so if you’re a regular reader it may be familiar to you.
In short, here’s how the theory goes: the race of super-synths from Star Trek: Picard are the cause of Discovery’s post-apocalyptic setting. Let’s break it down, look at why it could be a possibility, and explore it in more detail.
So although I said this would be an in-universe explanation of the theory, there is one production-side reason we need to look at too. One thing that modern Star Trek shows lack is a relationship to each other. Discovery did a pretty good job of tying itself to The Original Series, and both Picard and Lower Decks have connected themselves to The Next Generation, but there’s essentially nothing beyond a couple of throwaway lines linking Picard to Discovery right now. That would have been unthinkable during the 1990s, where The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager all shared characters, settings, locations, factions, and themes.
Modern Star Trek is hampered by its shows being split up along the timeline, and this makes it harder for new fans to transition smoothly from one series to another. There are no threads of consistency running between the different series, and while they are semi-independent productions they are all being produced by one overall team of people under the Star Trek Universe umbrella.
If we were to learn at some point in Discovery’s third season that the events depicted in Picard were directly related to the Federation’s decline or defeat, suddenly there would be a reason for Discovery fans who missed Picard to go back and watch it, and for Picard fans who haven’t seen Discovery to jump over and watch that show too. There would be the strong feeling that both shows genuinely take place in the same universe and the same timeline, which right now is lacking. This would help the Star Trek brand stay cohesive, and be a frame of reference for casual viewers, all while allowing both shows to provide each other a boost.
So that’s on the production side of things. But I promised you an in-universe look! First let’s very briefly recap, in case you forgot the events of the final few episodes of Picard. While investigating Soji’s origins, Picard and the crew of La Sirena came to realise that there are a race of synthetic life-forms – created by Bruce Maddox – living on a planet called Coppelius. The Romulan faction known as the Zhat Vash were searching for the synths too, because they believe that the synths will trigger an apocalyptic event. This apocalypse was revealed to them by a beacon left behind by an ancient race on a world they called Aia, and when we got a clearer look at the message the beacon contained, it was less a warning to organics than a message to the synths themselves, offering aid. A faction of super-synths that I nicknamed the “Mass Effect Reapers” exist somewhere beyond the galaxy, and they have promised aid to any synthetic race that calls on them. Sutra and Soji planned to contact them, and to open a portal that would have allowed the “Mass Effect Reapers” to travel to the Milky Way galaxy. They successfully built the beacon, but at the last second Picard convinced Soji to shut it down, closing the portal and preventing the arrival of the “Mass Effect Reapers”.
Did I miss anything? I hope not! I nicknamed this faction the “Mass Effect Reapers” because they have noteworthy similarities to another race of super-synths in the Mass Effect series of video games.
I think that the most important thing to note is that in the finale, Soji and Sutra were successful in opening the portal. Thus, the “Mass Effect Reapers” are aware of the existence of a race of synths in the Milky Way galaxy, and also of the existence of the Federation. While Picard was able to convince Soji to stand down and close the portal, questions remain.
Now that the “Mass Effect Reapers” know of the existence of the Romulans, Federation, and synths, will they be content to go back to sitting still, waiting for another race of synths to contact them? Or did Sutra and Soji set into motion a chain of events that can no longer be stopped? Closing the portal may have prevented the imminent arrival of the “Mass Effect Reapers”, but it’s totally unclear what they will choose to do next.
The “Mass Effect Reapers” were presented as hyper-intelligent, arguably far beyond the Federation and Romulans in terms of technology, and thus their motivations and actions can be difficult to predict. This may be an oversimplification, but at the moment Soji closed the portal and shut down the beacon, she didn’t seem to communicate to the “Mass Effect Reapers” why she was doing so. From their point of view, a portal was opened – through which they could see a race of synths threatened by an imposing fleet of starships – then before they could take action the portal was closed. If I were the “Mass Effect Reapers”, I’d want to know why. And if I were paranoid, I might be thinking that the synths who tried to contact me were under attack and that the beacon had been forcibly shut down.
If the “Mass Effect Reapers” followed this line of thinking, and their motivation is still to provide help to any synthetic race that asks for it, the logical next step would be for them to set off to the Milky Way as fast as they can. Depending on how far away they are – and the show never really explained that – it could take years, decades, or even centuries for them to travel, even if their technology is more advanced than anything we’ve ever seen in Star Trek. That’s assuming they set off immediately – there may have been a debate or discussion about what to do that could have lasted years or longer.
In any case, it’s not inconceivable that this extra-galactic threat could take centuries to arrive. I like to assume that Picard and/or Starfleet will travel to Aia and disable or destroy the beacon to prevent not only the Romulans from using it, but from other synths finding it in future. Even shutting down the beacon on Aia may be too late, though, because of the events of Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2.
The “Mass Effect Reapers” are perhaps the only faction other than the Borg who could be capable of waging a successful war against the Federation. Even if all of the powers of the Alpha and Beta quadrants were to band together, it still might not be enough against the superior technology of these super-synths, and we could certainly expect any such conflict to be long and catastrophically costly. Even if the Federation survived it would be seriously weakened. Furthermore, a large-scale attack on the Federation would result in far-flung colonies being cut off, and any news or information might be hard to come by.
This is where the trailer for Discovery’s third season comes in. We see a setting best described as bleak, as Burnham and the crew arrive in a part of the galaxy that seems far away from Earth. The Federation seems to be in decline, Starfleet is described as a “ghost”, and we’re left wondering what happened to cause all of this. We’ve seen the Federation in the far future before, both in Voyager and Enterprise, and certainly 100-200 years before Discovery’s far future setting, the Federation and Starfleet seemed to be doing pretty well, even furthering their mission of exploration to include time as well as space. Reconciling that image of the future with Discovery’s setting is something Season 3 will need to do.
As a faction we know essentially nothing about – not even their name – the “Mass Effect Reapers” are ripe for exploring in more detail. Discovery could do so in such a way that doesn’t interfere with anything Picard set up, providing not only the next part of the story, but also some background. We could learn about their leadership, motivations, and level of technology in much more detail. And it would still be a practically blank slate for Discovery’s team to use to set up the third season’s bleak and dark setting.
The question of the “Mass Effect Reapers” motivation comes into play again. There are two broad possibilities for their actions in Picard – either they were genuine in their offer to help synthetic races, or the beacon on Aia was part of an elaborate trap. Neither option bodes well for the Federation, assuming that the “Mass Effect Reapers” are now aware of their existence. If it was a trap, and the “Mass Effect Reapers” were waiting to be contacted by synths simply because that would mean advanced civilisations are present, they may now have a new target. If it wasn’t a trap and their desire to help was genuine, they may be motivated by concern for the Coppelius synths or even anger at the Federation and Romulans for intruding before communication could be established. While it’s hard to say what this faction could be planning or thinking based on such a small amount of information, these possibilities seem reasonable, and if they decided they wanted to attack or investigate, the events of Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 2 could have set that in motion.
Because Picard Season 1 wrapped up in the immediate aftermath of the standoff over Coppelius and the closing of the beacon, we don’t know what happened next. However, I consider two things to be somewhere between possible and likely: the synths on Coppelius would be relocated (in order to keep them safe from the Romulans), and Starfleet would make some attempt to contact the “Mass Effect Reapers” to explain what happened.
Relocating the synths feels like a necessity. Commodore Oh may not have wanted to risk war with the Federation when staring down a massive armada, but there’s no indication that she changed her mind on the necessity of exterminating synthetic life. From her perspective, Soji and Sutra building the beacon was a culmination of her worst fears, and although Soji may have been convinced to stand down, again from Oh’s point of view what’s to stop her changing her mind? Or one of the other synths building a new beacon? Leaving the synths on Coppelius would be very dangerous for them, unless Starfleet plans to permanently base a fleet in the system, so the easiest option for everyone would be to relocate them to a safer place.
However, in the context of our theory, this could be problematic. Suppose it takes the “Mass Effect Reapers” a long time to arrive in the Milky Way galaxy, and they don’t manage to travel to Coppelius for several centuries. What do they find when they arrive? No synths, but several massive interstellar civilisations and empires of organic beings. Put the two things together and it’s not unreasonable to assume that the organics wiped out the synths – especially if the last thing the “Mass Effect Reapers” saw before the portal closed was two massive fleets approaching the planet. They may take the missing synths as proof of an attack and go on the rampage.
Even if Starfleet were able to contact the “Mass Effect Reapers”, there’s no guarantee a successful dialogue could be opened. Setting aside other theories like the “Mass Effect Reapers” actually being the Borg, a race of super-synths that considers themselves light-years ahead of organic beings in every respect may look at humans the way humans look at ants or bacteria, and consider any attempt at communication unworthy of their time. That’s assuming Starfleet could find a way to make contact without opening another portal – it may simply not be possible, though I expect the Federation would want to try.
Taken together, all of these different factors make at least a plausible argument for Discovery taking this story beat and expanding it for the basis of its third season. It could certainly be done in such a way that wasn’t confusing and didn’t make Picard essential viewing to understand what was happening – just like Discovery did with Pike, Vina, and the Talosians in Season 2. The Cage certainly provided extra details and informed what was going on, but viewers didn’t miss anything important for not having seen it. I’m sure the same could be done here, especially if the attack by or war against the “Mass Effect Reapers” was already over. It would exist simply as backstory; an encouragement to hop over and watch Picard without making doing so a necessity.
While this theory remains a possibility, at least in my opinion, it’s hardly a certainty and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn Discovery is going in a wholly different direction. Many of my theories during Picard Season 1 didn’t pan out, and this may simply be another that falls by the wayside! Nevertheless, it’s fun to craft theories and speculate, and at the end of the day that’s all this is: a bit of fun, and a chance to spend more time thinking about Star Trek. So please take everything I’ve said today with a healthy pinch of salt.
Star Trek: Picard Season 1 is available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and other countries. Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 will air beginning on the 15th of October on CBS All Access in the United States and Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including all series and films discussed 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 will be spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Season 2, and we’ll be looking in-depth at shots and scenes from the trailer for Season 3.
First of all, I hope you like the new look of the website’s homepage. It took a little while to get everything configured – and there are still some things to do. If the new logo and header-image look amateurish like they were made in Microsoft Paint, well… that’s because I made them in Paint. I never said I was a Photoshop expert!
When I logged into Facebook this evening, one of the first posts I saw was from the official Star Trek page – and it got me very excited! “The first Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 trailer has arrived”, or so proclaimed the post. The actual trailer – which you can find by clicking or tapping here (warning: leads to an external site) – was simply a repost of the only trailer we’ve seen for the season so far. Cue my disappointment!
While I might be overthinking things, I wonder if this marks the beginning of a social media push leading up to an announcement of the season’s release date – all we know so far is that it’s coming some time this year. I’d hoped to see a release date – or even just a release month – when the finale of Star Trek: Picard was released at the end of March, but ViacomCBS chose not to use that opportunity to plug Discovery. And that’s probably because of the pandemic causing delays to Discovery’s post-production work. Anyway, that’s not why we’re here.
Star Trek’s website and official Facebook page have chosen to republish the trailer, and while it isn’t exactly clear why they’ve done so (or why now), it does present us with a good excuse to take another look and see what we can gleam. The trailer was first published at New York Comic-con in October 2019, which was before I founded this website. While I’ve referred to the trailer a number of times in other articles, this will be my first breakdown of it in its entirety.
If you haven’t seen the trailer and want to head into Season 3 unspoiled, or if you haven’t seen Season 2 yet and want to avoid spoilers, this is your last chance to jump ship!
The very first shot in the trailer depicts Burnham – still in her Red Angel suit from Discovery’s finale – having crash-landed on a planet or moon. Obviously exiting the time-wormhole was not smooth, and while she’s survived the impact, she’s had a rough landing. The next frame shows her opening what looks like an emergency kit, and we see a phaser, a communicator, and a couple of other miscellaneous devices. The main takeaway from the way the trailer opens is that Burnham’s arrival in the future was difficult. I wonder if we’re seeing a hint that something went wrong – maybe this isn’t the full 930 years that she initially expected to travel. While I’ve all but given up on a link-up between Discovery and Picard, I still think keeping the franchise’s timeline as streamlined as possible makes sense. Either way, this crash-landing aftermath must surely be from the first episode of the season.
“I’ve spent a year searching… for that domino, that tipped over and started all of this.” So says Burnham in a voiceover, as we see a brief progression of her as her hair grows out – a great way to represent the passage of time! The biggest questions I have from this sequence are – where is she? It looked like she was in a shuttlecraft, and while I couldn’t see exactly, the window of the shuttle looked dark, perhaps indicating she was in space? But Burnham arrived with just the Red Angel suit, so whose shuttle is it? Secondly, what is the “domiono” she’s referring to? Obviously we assume it to mean Control – the rogue artificial intelligence from Season 2, whose aggressive pursuit forced her to hide in the future in the first place. And that may absolutely be the case – but it could be a misdirect.
If we look at this sequence, it could be referring to events from later in the trailer – the loss of hope of the Federation official and/or the fighting group of Andorians, Lurians, Cardassians, and others. Burnham seems to have agreed to take on a task, later in the trailer, for the unnamed Federation official, and her remarks in the voiceover could be referring to that and not to Control.
The next shot is very brief, but it shows us a group, seemingly led by an Andorian, using a directed energy weapon of some kind – possibly aboard Discovery, but I couldn’t be 100% sure on that. This is one point I’ve picked on in previous articles – if 930 years have passed, shouldn’t there be better and more powerful weapons? What the Andorians were holding looked like big, chunky phasers, and the directed energy weapon they used sent some kind of shockwave, but it didn’t look like anything 23rd or 24th Century Starfleet couldn’t have had. Perhaps this is related to the broader setting being a kind of stagnant or even post-apocalyptic look at the future.
We’re introduced to the new character of Booker – played by British actor David Ajala. He and Burnham walk across a landscape, and while we only see a snippet of their conversation, it’s an interesting one! Firstly, I love the location chosen for this trek. The moss-covered rocks look different and otherworldly, as well as being natural and unspoiled. One of the points of criticism you may remember me levelling at Star Trek: Picard was that all of the planets Picard and his crew visited – and indeed all of the different places they went on Earth, like France and Japan – looked exactly like California. Discovery, unlike Picard, is filmed in Toronto, so naturally they have a whole different set of filming locations to use. As someone largely unfamiliar with those locations, seeing them immediately gives the show a different look and avoids that repetitive feeling that built up across Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard.
Booker refers to Burnham’s Starfleet badge as representing a “ghost”. There are a couple of points to break down from this. Firstly, it’s implied that Starfleet as an organisation either no longer exists, or that no Starfleet vessel has ever been to Booker’s part of the galaxy, leaving him to consider the organisation little more than a legend. However, the good news is that Booker recognises the symbol – even if he’s never seen a Starfleet ship or met a Starfleet officer, the organisation is something he’s at least aware of and vaguely familiar with. Starfleet having been disbanded, or being reduced in size and effectiveness such that many people have never seen it, would tie in with the depressed Federation official that we’ll come to in a moment, as well as what seems to be the overall theme of the season – restoring hope to the people of this era.
The next sequence introduces the Federation official. He seems to be on a space station – that’s my guess, at any rate – and he unfurls a flag that is definitely worth a second look. The Federation emblem that we’ve seen a number of times in previous iterations of the franchise has far more stars than the one seen here. Stars on flags can represent states or regions that are members of the organisation – as we see with the flag of the United States, for example. The loss of many stars from the Federation flag could thus be seen as those worlds having seceded from the Federation. I think seceded seems more likely than them having been conquered by an outside power, because in such a case I’d have expected the Federation to consider those worlds still being its own.
I didn’t like what the Federation official had to say, at least in part. I’m sure we’ll learn more when the season debuts as to why he’s been at this post, and what he’s been waiting for all this time. That part I have no issue with. But where Discovery has come undone at points in its first two seasons is where it was a show solely about one character – Burnham. Putting her at the centre of stories in which she, and she alone, was capable of saving the ship, crew, and indeed the whole galaxy weren’t the high points of Discovery, at least not for me. Sonequa Martin-Green plays Burnham very well, but as a protagonist Burnham can be very hard to root for at times. She can come across as self-assured to the point of arrogance, and her slavish devotion to her own interpretation of what seems “logical” can overcome her common sense. These are traits embedded in her by her Vulcan upbringing, and while we’ve seen Burnham emotional and suffering setbacks, I don’t feel that the idea of making every season a “Burnham saves the universe” story is a great idea. I would love if Discovery could give its other crew members a chance to shine – we’ve seen Saru and Stamets come close, but several others have barely got a look-in after two full seasons.
In fact, I think that really is my biggest concern headed into Season 3: another story where Burnham is the only one who can help, the only one who can save the Federation, the only one who can bring hope and peace and blah blah blah. If it was Star Trek: Burnham, maybe that would be okay – but even then I’d still argue we needed a central character with better-written, more easily understandable motivations. It isn’t Star Trek: Burnham, though, it’s supposed to be Star Trek: Discovery, and to me that naming scheme implies more of an ensemble show with other characters allowed some degree of agency instead of plodding along behind Burnham in her shadow.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to like in Burnham’s character and in Discovery in general. I love the show – I even picked it for my favourite television series of the last decade when I wrote a list back in December. I like the dynamic between Burnham and Tilly, for example, and her relationship with Ash Tyler showed how she can be emotional and conflicted. But generally speaking, Burnham hasn’t been my favourite element of the series so far, and after two season-long arcs which largely focused on her, I had hoped for a story that had the potential to bring in other crew members in a bigger way this time around. Who knows, perhaps that will still happen – Burnham’s mission might take place entirely off-screen and for the whole season we’ll hang out with everyone else!
The trailer re-emphasises the “930 years” into the future setting, and at this point it should be said that that looks very likely to be accurate. There’s no reason to be deliberately dishonest, and since the setting looks very much unlike what we saw, for example, in Star Trek: Picard, I think we have to take it as fact for now.
This next part might be my favourite. Deep Space Nine gave us a deeper look at the Trill race, who had been introduced in The Next Generation. Jadzia Dax, and later Ezri Dax, were both Trill main characters, and in case you need a recap, the Trill were a conjoined species with a humanoid and a non-humanoid living together in one body. The non-humanoid symbiont was very long-lived and would be joined with several humanoid Trill over its lifetime. The pool depicted in the trailer looks like one seen in Deep Space Nine on the Trill homeworld, and we also see several Trill characters in the next shot. As far as we know at this stage, no Trill main character has been announced for the show. However, the species will clearly feature in some form. I can’t help but wonder if a return of Dax is on the cards. Trill symbiots could live for centuries – how many centuries is unclear. It’s at least plausible that the Dax symbiont could be alive in this timeframe, and even a cameo appearance would be an incredible callback to Deep Space Nine.
Saru gives an empowering speech in the next sequence. I would guess he’s now captain, or acting captain, unless a new character gets parachuted into that role. Both Capt. Lorca and Capt. Pike were great in their stories in Discovery’s first two seasons, but the lack of a recurring, permanent captain has left the show feeling, at points, somewhat rudderless. If there is to be fourth season – which it seems there will be – getting some continuity at the top is important for the show, I feel. Saru would be a natural fit for the position, as he’d been first officer and he’s a character we’re familiar with. I liked his speech, which was a rallying cry to “make the future bright”.
We also see Burnham reunited with the rest of the crew. It seems that this didn’t happen right away upon arriving in the future, and that may be tied to her “waited for a year” comment from earlier in the trailer. The reunion was nice, though, and seeing everyone happily back together felt good – something I hope translates to the full episode!
We see various members of Discovery’s crew, confirming that they all survived the trip through the time-wormhole. I wasn’t expecting any casualties as of the end of Season 2, but Burnham’s rough landing could have meant that the ship suffered a similar fate. Luckily this seems to have not been the case.
We see a couple of shots of Discovery being repaired – whether this is damage from the time-wormhole or from fighting a faction in the future is unclear. Interspersed with those shots we also see fighting between Discovery’s crew and what looks like the Andorian-led faction. Among the races seemingly working together in this group are Cardassians, Lurians (i.e. Morn’s species), and humans. Up next is confirmation that former Empress Georgiou made the trip with the rest of Discovery’s crew. Michelle Yeoh, who plays the character, is scheduled to headline the upcoming Section 31 series, which as far as we know is supposed to be set in the 23rd Century. How that circle will be squared is anyone’s guess at this point, but presumably she will have to travel back in time before the end of the season if that is to happen.
The trailer ends with Burnham telling the Federation official that she will go “wherever the answers are”. The obvious question this poses is: answers to what? It’s possible, in this scene, that Burnham is searching for the USS Discovery – that it has somehow become lost and she needs to locate it. However, it’s equally possible that it’s referring to something else entirely, something that may be connected to the Federation’s decline or demise in this time period. It could even be something related to the Control AI.
I’ve written previously why I don’t think a post-apocalyptic setting is a good fit for Star Trek, and I stand by that. The underlying premise of Star Trek, going right back to The Original Series and remaining consistent ever since, is that humanity had beaten the odds, overcome innumerable obstacles, and built a great future for ourselves and others. The tension and drama in Star Trek stories could come from external threats to the future we’d built, but never from that future not existing or having already been torn down. Changing that premise changes Star Trek at a fundamental level, and I’m not sold – at least, not yet – on that being a positive change. However, despite how the trailer feels overall, Discovery’s third season may not have a truly post-apocalyptic setting, and I think that’s something I’m hoping for.
Learning more about this renegade or rebel faction does absolutely interest me. I hope they have an interesting leader and genuinely understandable motivations for being opposed to Burnham and Discovery – and aren’t just “evil for the sake of it” villains. The reintroduction of the Cardassians and Andorians was fantastic – we haven’t seen the Cardassians since Deep Space Nine went off the air. Hopefully they’ll have named characters and won’t just be making cameos in the background. I’d love to know more about what happened to Cardassia after the Dominion War – but given that the season purports to be 800+ years in the future from that event, it probably won’t be discussed, at least not in detail.
Otherwise, the trailer was interesting in parts, potentially concerning in others. Season 2 was definitely the better of Discovery’s offerings so far, and I hope that the show can build on what it’s already accomplished, while giving some of its other characters a chance to be centre-stage. Despite my complaints, Burnham is okay. I don’t hate her as a character and she can be genuinely interesting. But another story where she’s the only one who can save the galaxy, and where everyone else is just along for another ride on the Burnham Express isn’t something I’m particularly excited about. Star Trek works best when a diverse cast of characters work together, and when each of them gets a turn to be the focus of a story and to have some degree of agency. Saru got a couple of episodes in the first two seasons – Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum in Season 1 and The Sound of Thunder in Season 2 looked at him and his people. Stamets and Culber have had moments across both seasons too, and Tilly got a sub-plot in Season 2 focusing on a race that lives in the mycelial network. But largely the show has been about Burnham, and the biggest stories put her firmly at the centre. Shaking that formula up, even a little, would be great in my opinion.
Overall I’m really looking forward to Discovery’s third season – even if a couple of points make me nervous! Revisiting the Trill and Cardassians definitely piqued my interest, and I’m curious to see whether the 930-year time jump is actually completed. If Burnham and the crew end up in the far future, I hope the show will take time to slow down and give us a recap of some of the big events that have taken place in the galaxy since we last saw it.
So I’m still a little confused as to why the official Star Trek website and Facebook page republished the trailer. Perhaps there will be more details to come, or even a new trailer or release date, in the coming days. If I spot anything new, you can be sure we’ll discuss it here!
The trailer for Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 may be found on the official Star Trek website and Facebook page. 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.