My biggest wish for Star Trek: Discovery Season 5

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4.

With Picard Season 2 ongoing, Strange New Worlds Season 1 hot on its heels, and Prodigy and Lower Decks still to come this year, it might seem premature to be thinking about Discovery Season 5 already! But as I was writing up the final part of my Season 4 theory list, it got me thinking. Season 4 wasn’t bad, all things considered. It had some storylines that disappointed or underwhelmed, but there are some genuinely outstanding episodes in the mix as well – and it ended on a very emotional and exciting high note.

It’s never too early to look ahead, and before production gets fully underway on Discovery’s next outing, I wanted to share my thoughts and opinions about where the show could go from here, and what I’d like to see next. That’s what this article will be about – but stay tuned for a more in-depth look at Season 4 and some of its story elements in the weeks and months ahead.

The USS Mitchell in the Season 4 finale.

For me, the single biggest wish I have for Discovery Season 5 is that it steps away from the “apocalyptic, galaxy-ending threat” story archetype that has been used in different ways across all four seasons of the show so far. We’ve gone through the Klingon war in Season 1, Control and the Red Angel in Season 2, the Burn and the Emerald Chain in Season 3, and finally the DMA and Unknown Species 10-C in Season 4. It’s time to give Captain Burnham and the crew a break, and for the series to try using a genuinely different formula instead of slapping a new coat of paint on the old one.

Just because a story is smaller in scale doesn’t make it any less emotional, exciting, tense, or dramatic, and I think that’s a lesson some of Discovery’s writers and producers could do with taking to heart. How we as the audience respond to a work of fiction is guided not by how massive the monster is or how big the explosions are going to be, but by how the characters we’re rooting for react. Their emotions become our emotions, their investment in the world around them becomes our investment, and so on. A story about a group of people working in an office, friends going on a road trip, or star-crossed lovers from rival families aren’t smaller, less exciting, and worse because they don’t have the backdrop of a world-ending disaster spurring them on. And conversely, some of the worst and least-exciting films and TV shows I’ve ever seen went over-the-top with the size and scale of the disaster the characters were facing.

The Burn was the driving force for much of Season 3.

Past iterations of Star Trek used these kinds of apocalyptic stories pretty sparingly, when you look back on it. It’s only Deep Space Nine’s Dominion War arc, which lasted for three seasons, that comes close to being as long and drawn-out an affair, and even within the framework of the Dominion War, DS9 found ways to tell very different and fun one-off stories. Things like the Borg incursions that Captain Picard and his crew had to deal with were either two-parters or one-off films, and they work well in that format.

Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D still found other ways to be entertaining, and many of The Next Generation’s standalone episodes have gone on to be considered iconic, even those that had a far smaller focus than blockbuster outings like The Best of Both Worlds. This doesn’t mean ditching the season-long story arcs or returning to an episodic format, because I think Discovery has done some interesting and neat things with its serialised stories. But it does mean choosing season-long storylines and narrative arcs that are different in a fundamental way to what the show has tried already.

The DMA was the big threat in Season 4.

Practically any format can become bland and unexciting when overused, no matter how much fun it might’ve been in its original incarnation or at its best moments. It’s a challenge to keep any television series feeling fresh as it enters its fifth season and races toward its sixty-fifth episode, and there are many examples of shows that ran out of steam somewhere along the way. Heck, I have an entire list of television shows that either ran too long or wore out their concepts, and I can think of many more that I could’ve included.

Even Star Trek has hit the wall in the past, running out of energy and failing to keep audiences engaged. By the time Enterprise was willing to try new things in its third and fourth seasons, for example, the franchise was already in such a steep decline that cancellation was inevitable. To Paramount’s credit, lessons have been learned from what happened in 2005 in terms of the way the franchise as a whole operates. Different series are telling stories in their own ways, appealing to broader audiences, and Star Trek as a whole feels varied and diverse. But Discovery on its own doesn’t… and it’s right on the verge of becoming repetitive.

The USS Discovery in Season 4.

I was far from the only commentator to make the point prior to Season 4 that another “galactic threat” storyline felt samey, coming off the back of three similar narrative frameworks, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one to say that re-using that format a fifth time will be a bridge too far. Making use of the newly-established 32nd Century in different ways, and telling a story that may be smaller in scale but that’s just as impactful, emotional, and entertaining, will be the key challenges that I’d like the writers to tackle in Season 5.

The theme of rebuilding in the aftermath of a disaster was something we only saw Season 4 tackle in the briefest and barest of ways right at the beginning of the season, but this could be a concept that the show puts to much better use next time around. Discovery could follow Captain Burnham as she and the crew jump to different worlds, delivering dilithium, solving problems, flying the flag for the Federation… and most importantly, bringing hope to a galaxy that’s been through a lot.

The flag of the Federation…

This is what I’d hoped Season 4 would do, to be honest. The idea of restoring the Federation from the incredibly weakened state it was in when we encountered it is far too important and interesting to be relegated to something that happens off-screen, and I felt even before Season 4 had aired a single episode that this concept offered so much scope for emotional, exciting, and varied storytelling. Discovery could hop to different planets, combining the inclusion of new and visually different alien races (like Season 4’s “butterfly” aliens) with the reintroduction of classic races.

Catching up with some of the factions we remember from past iterations of Star Trek is also something I’ve been wanting Discovery to do for two seasons now. We’ve caught glimpses of races like the Ferengi and Andorians, and heard others mentioned in dialogue and log recordings, but we haven’t actually spent a lot of time with practically any of them. Finding out what became of fan-favourites not only in the years after the Burn, but in the centuries before that event took place, is something that I think a lot of Trekkies would be interested in.

We caught glimpses of familiar races… but Discovery didn’t find time to explore most of them in any detail.

If the 32nd Century is going to be a major setting for the franchise going forward, this kind of world-building is important. Just like how The Next Generation laid the groundwork for Deep Space Nine through its introduction of the Cardassians and Bajorans, so too could Discovery introduce us to planets, races, and technologies that future spin-offs and Star Trek projects could expand upon.

Part of that world-building can be done in a serialised story that looks at how the Federation can be rebuilt in the aftermath of the disasters it has already faced; introducing another new disaster to avert or recover from is simply not needed at this point. From the point of view of the characters, throwing them into another extreme situation would also be problematic, and would take the storytelling close to soap-opera levels.

Owosekun, Saru, and Detmer.

Discovery has, to its credit, attempted to show how some of the events that its characters have gone through have impacted their mental health. Some of these stories have been underdeveloped – Detmer’s in Season 3 and Dr Culber’s in Season 4 being the most egregious examples. But even with this kind of attempted mental health focus, there’s a limit on what we could expect characters to go through and still be alright when they come out the other end.

To be fair, that’s a line that the Star Trek franchise has crossed in the past with characters like Miles O’Brien, for example, who seemed to survive a lot of traumatic events only to be back to normal the next week! But as shows like Picard have demonstrated with characters like Seven of Nine and Jean-Luc Picard himself, it can be incredibly cathartic to revisit some of these characters and give them meaningful, lasting development. But we’re drifting off-topic!

Captain Burnham in Season 4.

Star Trek’s galaxy is vast, and as we saw in Season 4 with the inclusion of races like the Abronians and Unknown Species 10-C, even in the 32nd Century there’s still a heck of a lot that Starfleet doesn’t know about it. There’s scope for Captain Burnham and the crew to get back to exploring for its own sake, as well as using their Spore Drive to reach parts of the galaxy that it would be difficult for the Federation to do otherwise. There’s the potential for the crew to bring hope to far-flung Federation outposts after the Burn, the Emerald Chain, and the DMA have had such a devastating impact… and it’s worthwhile telling stories like that.

Even if Season 5 doesn’t do much of that rebuilding or exploring, I’m still hopeful that whatever stories it chooses to tell won’t feel repetitive and won’t recycle the same basic story framework that we’ve seen throughout the show’s entire run to date. Discovery could do so much to expand our understanding of the Star Trek galaxy; even more so in a 32nd Century setting that is wholly unconstrained by prior canon. Shooting this far forwards in time was a great way for the show’s writers and producers to give themselves new opportunities to play in the vast sandbox that we call the Star Trek galaxy – so now would be a great time to take advantage of that.

As I look ahead to Season 5, I feel hopeful and optimistic. Season 4 had some problems, but generally it was an improvement over Season 3 and it ended in truly spectacular fashion. There’s potential for what comes next to build on that, and if the series can avoid retreading too much old ground, Season 5 could be Discovery’s best outing yet.

Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4 are available to stream now on Paramount+ where the platform is available and via a patchwork of video-on-demand and pay-to-view streaming platforms in the rest of the world. The series is also available on DVD and Blu-ray. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 7

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

Because Discovery is currently taking an unscheduled six-week break, I was in no rush to update my theory list! The second half of Season 4 won’t air until the 10th of February (or the 11th here in the UK), so there was more time than usual to consider the implications of the most recent episode: But To Connect.

But To Connect worked well as a mid-season finale, even though some of its story points weren’t my personal favourites and some of the drama felt rather contrived. We have some interesting questions to consider about Ruon Tarka in particular, as the Risian scientist told us some very interesting and unexpected things.

This week we have three retiring theories and one confirmation. As always, we’ll look at those first before we jump into the main list.

Retired theory #1:
Dr Kovich is an agent of Section 31.

Dr Kovich.

Though Dr Kovich’s role within the hierarchy of Starfleet and the Federation is still unexplained, after But To Connect I think we can finally retire this theory – one which I’d been holding on to since we first met the character in Season 3.

Dr Kovich’s early interactions with Georgiou in particular seemed to show him as someone morally ambiguous to the point of being uncaring; he knew that Georgiou’s health was going to fail, yet did nothing to warn her or Captain Saru. Combined with his stoic demeanour and a sense that he wasn’t telling us anywhere close to everything he knew, I speculated that he could be an operative – or even the head – of shadowy organisation Section 31.

Dr Kovich’s first appearance seemed to set him up as a mysterious, morally ambiguous character – perfect for Section 31.

There was the potential for some kind of tie-in with the Section 31 series, but with that project seemingly being shelved (at least for now), that doesn’t seem like it’s a consideration for the writers and producers in charge of the overall direction of the Star Trek franchise. In fact, we haven’t seen any mention of Section 31 explicitly since Season 2.

We’ve seen Dr Kovich as a psychologist, working with Starfleet Intelligence, having a say in the running of Starfleet Academy, and now as an expert in the field of AI. Whoever he is, and whatever formal title or position he holds, I think we can finally rule out Section 31. Dr Kovich has turned out, to my surprise I must confess, to be one of the true believers in the goals and ideals of Starfleet – something he demonstrated clearly in But To Connect through his interactions with Zora and Stamets.

Retired theory #2:
Zora will go rogue.

Zora with Captain Burnham in Stormy Weather.

There is still an open question surrounding Zora’s burgeoning sentience, and what that could mean for Captain Burnham, the crew of Discovery, and indeed the rest of Starfleet. Whether this is something Season 4 will find time to tackle, or whether Zora will be dealt with in more detail on another occasion isn’t clear right now – but I think what is clear from what we heard in But To Connect is that Zora is firmly on Starfleet’s side.

Especially after Zora’s refusal to follow orders in Stormy Weather – a moment that came with a throwback to HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey – I was somewhat nervously awaiting Zora going completely rogue, perhaps even doing something to endanger the ship and crew.

Zora in But To Connect.

Though Zora’s refusal to share the co-ordinates of the DMA’s origin seemed, at first, to confirm my suspicion that this was the direction of travel for this storyline, Discovery ended up turning it around over the course of But To Connect, reassuring Zora that she could trust the crew of Discovery, and reassuring us as the audience that our heroes can trust her as well.

This was cemented by Zora sharing the co-ordinates of the DMA’s origin, but also by Zora being given an official role as a Starfleet mission specialist – the same loophole that brought Burnham aboard the ship after her mutiny in Season 1. Zora has started the process of becoming a more significant character on the show – something that I’d like to see continue in future episodes, as I kind of like the idea of the crew and ship working in tandem. It gives me Farscape vibes!

Retired theory #3:
Captain Burnham and the crew will encounter the Klingons.

Kol, a 23rd Century Klingon leader.

If we were going to see the Klingons this season, I think the diplomatic summit in But To Connect would have been where it happened. With the DMA seeming to be of extragalactic origin, it doesn’t seem like the Klingons will turn out to be the mysterious Unknown Species 10-C, either. So I’m choosing to retire this theory for now.

I don’t know why we haven’t seen any 32nd Century Klingons since Captain Burnham and the crew arrived last season. It’s possible that Discovery’s writers feel they’ve done all they can with the faction and want to move on to other stories, but having a Klingon or two as minor characters at key moments like the diplomatic summit wouldn’t get in the way of that. So I confess that I’m not sure why we haven’t seen any Klingons lately – but it doesn’t seem like we’re going to this season.

Confirmed theory:
Captain Burnham’s war experiences from Season 1 will come into play.

Captain Burnham in But To Connect.

In But To Connect, we saw Captain Burnham arguing in favour of a less-aggressive posture toward the DMA. She drew on her own experiences with the Klingons, in part, to inform this decision. While Book and Tarka argued for attacking the DMA with their new weapon, Burnham was one of the key voices advocating for a peaceful stance and to try to make first contact with Unknown Species 10-C.

It’s reasonable to plan for worst-case scenarios, and as I argued in my review of But To Connect, the two contrasting approaches to the DMA didn’t have to be a zero-sum game. It would have been possible to take a more balanced position, as Discovery has tried to do all season long, in which the DMA-stopping weapon was built while the Federation also made an attempt at peaceful first contact. But regardless, I speculated last week that Burnham would be the one to argue for making an attempt at peaceful first contact, reminding everyone that no one currently knows what the DMA is supposed to be nor what the intentions of its creators were. And that’s pretty much what she did in But To Connect.

So those theories are done!

Now we’re going to jump into the main list, starting with a few new theories and a few theories that saw movement in But To Connect.

Theory #1:
Ruon Tarka’s mysterious “friend” is someone we’re already acquainted with.

I’m sure that’s how Tarka would’ve typed if he’d used MSN Messenger circa 2002.

Why did Ruon Tarka avoid naming his “friend” when Book asked him about it? Tarka’s friend is supposedly one of the major motivating factors in him wanting to stop the DMA – he wants to use the power source at its centre to “punch through” to a parallel universe in the hopes of meeting up with this person. But when Book asked him who this individual was, Tarka tried to ignore the question.

This could be a complete over-reach, but I wonder if the reason for the secrecy is because Tarka’s friend is someone who we as the audience are already familiar with. This could be someone from Discovery, or it could be someone from a past iteration of Star Trek. Given that Tarka wants to travel to a parallel universe, perhaps his friend is the counterpart from that universe to someone we’re familiar with.

I put together a short list of possible candidates for being Tarka’s mysterious friend, and you can find it by clicking or tapping here.

Theory #2:
Tarka aims to travel to the Kelvin universe.

The USS Kelvin, namesake of the Kelvin timeline.

There are many parallel universes, as Tarka reminded us in But To Connect. The Mirror Universe is one that we’re familiar with from Discovery and from past iterations of Star Trek – but Tarka seemed to suggest that that isn’t his destination. In addition, Dr Kovich told us in Season 3 that travel to and from the Mirror Universe is no longer possible as of the 32nd Century.

Though Star Trek has shown us a number of different parallel universes before, the other major one that comes to mind is the Kelvin timeline (also known as the “JJ-verse”) in which the three reboot films were set. 2009’s Star Trek showed us the point of divergence; the moment at which this universe and the prime timeline separated: the arrival of Nero and his attack on the USS Kelvin. Star Trek Into Darkness and Star Trek Beyond furthered our understanding of that universe somewhat.

Kirk and Spock in the Kelvin timeline.

A fourth Kelvin film may or may not be happening, but even if it does the setting remains ripe for further exploration. We don’t know how far the Kelvin timeline and the prime timeline will have diverged, and whether it operates like the Mirror Universe with every character getting their own alternate counterpart. If it does, perhaps Tarka met his own Kelvin timeline counterpart and that’s how he cooked up this scheme.

Though Tarka is correct about the multitude of different universes and realities, of all the ones we’ve spent a significant amount of time with thus far in Star Trek, the Kelvin timeline seems the most likely destination. Compared to the likes of the Mirror Universe it’s safer, and if it diverged significantly from the prime timeline it stands to reason that the Burn never happened. We also got an oblique Kelvin timeline reference in Season 3 – could that have been a hint?

Theory #3:
Tarka’s friend made the DMA.

Tarka and Stamets made a model DMA.

How does Ruon Tarka know so much about the DMA and its inner workings? It’s true that he got data from the USS Discovery’s mission, from the scans Book’s ship took, and from other sources, but even so he seems to have been able to figure out the precise mechanisms by which the DMA operates incredibly quickly. This leads me to suspect that he may know more about it than he’s willing to say.

We should acknowledge a production-side explanation here. The way Discovery Season 4 has been written and edited has seen a number of key moments in the DMA storyline blitzed through incredibly quickly. As the audience, we’ve been parachuted in just in time to see key moments: Stamets’ proto-wormhole theory, the DMA being an artificial construct, the DMA coming from outside of the galaxy, and the discovery of its origin point. The fact that these key moments happened in relatively short sequences with not a lot of setup adds to this sense that people like Tarka seem to have accumulated a lot of information about the DMA very quickly, and we should acknowledge that he claims to have been working on this problem off-screen for many weeks, if not months.

Tarka and T’Rina with a hologram of the DMA.

So there is that caveat. But something about the way Tarka stormed aboard the USS Discovery in The Examples with clear blueprints for building a scale model of the DMA did give me pause. And then in But To Connect, his plan to disable it (but not destroy it) using a very specific type of weapon also seems to have come along at a very convenient moment.

In short, I’m speculating that Tarka knows more about the DMA than he’s letting on, and that his friend may be involved in its creation. If his friend is from a parallel universe, they may have even built the DMA specifically to help Tarka travel there. In The Examples, Book accused Tarka of knowing who made the DMA, which could be a further piece of evidence.

Theory #4:
Book and Burnham will get back together.

Book and Burnham earlier in the season.

If there’s one thing that I’d cut from Season 4 it would be the unnecessary insertion of more Burnham relationship drama. After everything she went through with Ash Tyler in Seasons 1 and 2, finding a way for her to feel settled was a huge net positive for the series. She doesn’t need to have that with Book, but having established that they worked very well together as a couple, undoing that would not be my preference.

So this is as much a hope as it is a bona fide theory, but I would like very much for Book and Burnham to resolve their differences – and quickly. Whether that will come from Book realising that Tarka has manipulated him, from Burnham reaching out, from the pair finding a way to compromise… it doesn’t really matter. But I’d hope that, within an episode or two of Season 4’s return, we can put all of this nonsense to bed. Permanently.

Theory #5:
The DMA isn’t a super-weapon.

President Rillak convinced Captain Burnham to make this argument to the delegates in But To Connect.

We got a more detailed examination of this argument in But To Connect, and as mentioned it was Burnham – with no small amount of prompting from President Rillak – who led the charge.

In brief, the DMA being damaging and destructive doesn’t prove that it’s a super-weapon, even if it was artificially created. I’d add into this discussion the fact that the DMA, in all the weeks (or months) that it’s been in the Milky Way, has destroyed one planet and one small asteroid colony. If someone were using the DMA as a weapon, it seems remarkably inefficient to have harmed precisely two places in all that time.

Captain Burnham pointed out that we have no frame of reference when it comes to Unknown Species 10-C and the DMA. There’s simply no way of knowing what their intentions were by creating this anomaly, and while it could be a weapon, there’s also a chance that it isn’t. Right now, the fact that the DMA has been misunderstood feels like a distinct possibility.

Theory #6:
The DMA is a life-form.

Zora is an AI that came to life. Maybe the DMA is too?

On the other side of But To Connect we got into a complex discussion with Stamets, Dr Kovich, and the others about the nature of Zora. At what point does an artificial construct become a distinct and unique life-form? This argument had echoes of past Star Trek episodes like The Measure of a Man and Author, Author, and was interesting in its own right. But could it be laying the groundwork for something to come with the DMA?

Star Trek has shown us life-forms like V’Ger – a giant energy cloud surrounding an artificial life-form. Perhaps the DMA is something similar, and while it may have started out as a simple piece of machinery, it has since evolved into something more. Just like with Zora, perhaps part of the second half of the season will be about understanding this new form of life – and protecting it, if necessary, from the likes of Tarka.

Theory #7:
Some areas of the galaxy – such as the Delta Quadrant – avoided the worst effects of the Burn.

Adira and Stamets with a map of the Milky Way galaxy.

In But To Connect, President Rillak told us that the diplomatic summit she convened would bring together races from “all four” quadrants. Assuming she was referring to the familiar Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta Quadrants that make up the Milky Way galaxy, this would count as our first mention of the Delta Quadrant in the 32nd Century. I didn’t spot any familiar Delta Quadrant races (or their emblems) amongst the assembled delegates, however!

I had previously speculated that the Burn may not have affected the entire galaxy equally, and that regions farthest away from the Verubin Nebula may have survived without much damage. I still think that this is a possibility – though whether Discovery will revisit the Burn in any depth, or visit the Delta Quadrant at all, remains unclear.

To see a full write-up of this theory, click or tap here.

Theory #8:
There will be a character crossover from a past iteration of Star Trek.

Star Trek has had some wonderful crossovers in the past.

Ruon Tarka’s friend could, as mentioned, be someone we’ve already met. But there are other ways to bring back a character from a past iteration of the franchise – and there would be many potential benefits to doing so! I had initially proposed a version of this theory in the run-up to Season 3 that centred on the Doctor from Voyager – but with some creative technobabble, practically anyone could be included, despite the leap forward in time.

Choose To Live showed us the Abronians in cryo-sleep, and Stormy Weather saw the crew of Discovery use the transporter buffer to survive – just like Scotty had done in The Next Generation Season 6 episode Relics. Could these be hints at something to come?

It would also be possible for Captain Burnham to discover the logs or a holographic recording of a long-dead character – and while this would be less of a “crossover,” it could still be a ton of fun and great fan-service!

Theory #9:
President Rillak knows what the DMA is and may be responsible for its creation.

President Rillak.

Although we’ve seen President Rillak working hard to unravel the DMA, I’m not ready yet to strike her (and the Federation) off my list of suspects! As we saw in But To Connect, President Rillak is very keen to see Earth (and other worlds) rejoin the Federation as quickly as possible. The DMA has facilitated greater contact between Earth and the Federation than there has been in a long time, and was also a driving force in Ni’Var rejoining. In short, if President Rillak ordered the DMA’s creation as part of a cunning plan to bring wayward ex-member worlds back into the fold… it’s working. At the very least, she isn’t letting the crisis go to waste!

I was also struck by President Rillak’s insistence on negotiating peacefully with Unknown Species 10-C. While this is perfectly in line with stated Federation values and objectives… could she have another motive? If the DMA was created by the Federation, destroying it could cause a shockwave to resonate along its wormhole and damage or even destroy the Federation facility or planet where the DMA was originally created. President Rillak’s peaceful approach may be intended to protect the people who created it – because she knows who that is.

President Rillak and Captain Burnham.

Despite her recent appearances seeming to suggest she’s firmly on Captain Burnham’s side, I see a noticeable manipulative, almost Machiavellian side to President Rillak. She’s brought Burnham on board because she believes working together is to her advantage, as she did with the Ni’Var negotiations and at the diplomatic summit. But she also used Burnham in both of those cases to advocate positions that it would be politically or diplomatically difficult for her to do openly – effectively manipulating those events from behind the scenes.

Captain Burnham needs to tread very carefully, as I firmly believe that President Rillak is someone who will happily throw her – and everyone aboard the USS Discovery – under the bus in a heartbeat if she believed doing so would advance what she considers to be the Federation’s best interests. And if she believed that the way to bring the Federation back together is to give the various independent worlds a threat that they couldn’t handle alone… well, that might just be the reason why she sought to create something like the DMA.

As stated in previous weeks, President Rillak may not have created the DMA, nor ordered its creation, but may be covering it up because it’s in the Federation’s best interests in her opinion. She may also be choosing to keep this knowledge hidden so she can continue to exploit the DMA for her own purposes.

Theory #10:
Season 4 will connect with the Short Treks episode Calypso.

Zora dancing with Craft in Calypso.

Zora’s status as a member of the crew was confirmed in But To Connect, and this followed her developing emotions and sentience earlier in the season. Zora is now much closer to her presentation in Calypso, potentially bringing the story of the Short Treks episode one step closer.

There are still significant hurdles to overcome if the story of Calypso is to be wrapped up in Season 4, though. Obviously we have the timeframe issue: will the USS Discovery be sent back in time, be abandoned, or is Calypso taking place centuries in the future? Then we have the USS Discovery itself – it’s been retrofitted since arriving in the 32nd Century, and now looks very different to how it did in Calypso. I’m not sure how Discovery will overcome these hurdles – but it’s possible. It feels like a proper link-up with Calypso is edging closer week by week.

So those theories are new or saw movement last week.

Now, as always, I’ll keep the theory list all in one place by recapping all of the other theories that I currently have in play for Discovery Season 4.

Theory #11:
Unknown Species 10-C is a faction from a past iteration of Star Trek.

Could Unknown Species 10-C have already appeared in Star Trek?

Despite the fact that the DMA has passed through the galactic barrier, making assumptions is dangerous! We’re only at the season’s halfway point, after all, so there’s plenty of time for twists and turns.

Based on the DMA potentially having an origin outside of the Milky Way, the three suspects that immediately spring to mind are the Kelvan Empire, the Sphere-Builders, and the super-synths from Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard. They’d all been on my list of suspects going back months, and I really feel that any one of them would make for a potentially interesting story.

I have a longer list of suspects for Unknown Species 10-C, so for a more detailed look at these three candidates – and many others – click or tap here to see the full list.

Theory #12:
A major character will be killed off.

Shaxs’ funeral in Lower Decks.

Lieutenant Tilly’s departure in All Is Possible definitely shook up the cast. And Gray’s departure in But To Connect may do so as well. However, I stand by what I said before the season aired: killing off a character can be a great way to demonstrate the dangerous nature of the circumstances that the crew have found themselves in. So far, despite tangling with the DMA on several occasions, only a couple of redshirts have lost their lives.

In Stormy Weather, Dr Pollard raced through the corridors of the USS Discovery to reach a hull breach. Shortly after she arrived, a redshirt was blown out into space – but Dr Pollard survived. Although moments like this can make it feel that Discovery is shielding its main and secondary characters with some pretty heavy plot armour, I still feel that there’s scope to see a major character death before the season ends.

If you want to check out my pre-season “death predictions,” in which I speculated about which characters may or may not be in danger, you can find that by clicking or tapping here.

Theory #13:
The Guardian of Forever will be back.

The Guardian of Forever as it appeared in The Animated Series.

Having reintroduced the Guardian of Forever in Season 3, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Discovery return to the Guardian’s planet in Season 4. Because Captain Burnham and the crew still don’t know much about the DMA or Unknown Species 10-C, it would make sense to at least ask the Guardian for help – maybe it has encountered this phenomenon or the people who made it before.

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

Theory #14:
The crew will have to defend the Verubin Nebula.

The dilithium planet is vital to the Federation.

Despite having grown to sixty member worlds, the Federation is still in a weakened state and isn’t yet back to full strength. The Verubin Nebula is thus a very tempting target for anyone looking to gain an edge in a galaxy where dilithium is still in short supply. As the only known significant cache of the valuable fuel, whoever controls the Verubin Nebula will have a massive tactical advantage.

It would begin to stretch credulity to think that everyone in the known galaxy would see the Federation rebuilding and having access to dilithium and not want to find out for themselves what’s going on. Once the Verubin Nebula’s existence becomes known, even if the Federation promises to share its bounty with all comers, it seems very likely that someone would want to take control of the dilithium supply for themselves. This could even be the objective Unknown Species 10-C have – they may be looking for a way to control the Verubin Nebula and its supply of dilithium.

Theory #15:
The ban on time travel will be explained in more detail.

The USS Enterprise was able to travel through time using the “slingshot method.”

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

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

Theory #16:
The Federation has flouted the ban on time travel.

President Rillak may have tried to circumvent the ban if she felt doing so would be in the Federation’s interests.

Sticking with the time travel ban, another theory I had last season was that the Federation – and Section 31 in particular – might have deliberately flouted the ban and failed to abide by the rules. Someone as straight-laced and committed to Starfleet ideals as Admiral Vance is highly unlikely to have sanctioned such a move, but there are other Federation leaders – such as President Rillak – who could be implicated.

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

Theory #17:
Michael Burnham won’t remain captain of Discovery.

Captain Burnham in The Examples.

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

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

Captain Burnham on the bridge in Stormy Weather.

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

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

Theory #18:
Saru will be given the captaincy of the USS Voyager-J.

Captain Saru.

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

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

Theory #19:
Book will find Kyheem and Leto inside the DMA.

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

In Star Trek: Generations, Captain Picard encountered Captain Kirk inside the Nexus – despite Kirk being declared “dead” after the Enterprise-B encountered the energy ribbon almost eighty years earlier. The DMA’s similarly mysterious nature raises the faint possibility that at least some of those it appears to have “killed” may not be as dead as they first appear.

This theory is, I freely admit, a bit of a long-shot. And it hinges on a fundamental question underlying the story of the season: what’s going on with the DMA? Was it designed to kill? Or is it some kind of method of faster-than-light travel, using the wormhole at its core? If it’s the latter, perhaps some of the people on Kwejian may have survived or been transported to wherever Unknown Species 10-C reside.

Theory #20:
We haven’t seen the last of the Abronians.

I currently have four ideas for different ways that the Abronians – the non-humanoid race that Captain Burnham, Tilly, and the Qowat Milat helped save from cryo-sleep in the episode Choose To Live – could play a further role in Season 4.

Theory #20a:
The Abronians’ homeworld was destroyed by the DMA.

Captain Burnham believes this image depicts a “supernova.”

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

Considering that the main thrust of the season so far has been about the DMA, perhaps Burnham was incorrect: the Abronian homeworld was destroyed by the anomaly, not a supernova.

Theory 20b:
The Abronians’ homeworld was on the “other side” of the DMA.

Abronian stasis pods.

The DMA seemingly contains the technology to generate an artificial wormhole. It’s thus possible that the DMA can facilitate travel between incredibly distant locations – not only for itself, but for other starships too. The subspace tear that the DMA left behind went nowhere – but it may be possible to get “inside” the DMA itself or even use its wormhole tech to travel vast distances.

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

Theory #20c:
The Abronians will return to help the Federation later in the season.

A deceased Abronian.

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

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

Theory #20d:
The Abronians’ moon-ship may be useful in a later story.

“That’s no moon…”

The Abronians’ cryo-ship is huge, and at least superficially seems to have the mass of a moon or small planetoid. If Captain Burnham and the crew needed a starship that large, such as to aid in the evacuation of a planet threatened by the DMA, for example, perhaps they’ll return to the Abronians and ask to borrow it.

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

Theory #21:
Captain Burnham and/or the Red Angel suits from Season 2 are connected to the DMA.

A Red Angel suit from Season 2.

Now that we know the DMA is artificial in nature, the question shifts to who built it and why. We’ve covered the idea of it being a weapon or an out-of-control experiment, as well as being a life-form in its own right. It could also be something created by the Federation. But because this is Star Trek: Discovery, a show which likes to put Captain Burnham at the centre of its stories, perhaps there’s a connection to her that we’re missing.

The Red Angel time travel suits from Season 2 were phenomenally powerful machines, capable of generating time-wormholes large enough to transport an entire starship 930 years into the future. We already know that the DMA potentially contains a synthetic wormhole, so it wouldn’t be a huge leap to connect the two. We also don’t know for certain what became of Captain Burnham’s Red Angel suit after the Season 3 premiere. There’s also the faint possibility of a parallel universe Burnham or time travelling Burnham being responsible.

Theory #22:
Ruon Tarka – perhaps aided by Book or Stamets – will create the DMA.

Stamets, Tarka, and Saru with the DMA model.

I included Tarka on my list of suspects for the creators of the DMA, but this warrants a full entry on the theory list too! In short, we saw Stamets and Ruon Tarka creating a scale model of the DMA in The Examples, and according to Reno their experiment came very close to destroying the entire ship. They were able to perfectly recreate the device at the centre of the DMA, albeit on a smaller scale – so what’s to prevent Tarka from building a full-scale replica (other than the power generation requirements)?

This theory posits that he will do exactly that – somehow – or that his experiments will set into motion a chain of events that leads to the creation of the DMA in a kind of time-loop storyline. The DMA’s wormhole-generating technology may give it the ability to travel backwards through time as well as across vast distances, so it seems technologically plausible at the very least.

The DMA.

But To Connect fleshed out Tarka a little more, giving backstory to him and a potential motive for his single-minded pursuit of the DMA. He also may know more about the anomaly than he’s letting on – including who is responsible for its creation. Regardless, Tarka has been shown as someone willing to take all kinds of risks, and it’s not impossible to think that one of his risks could backfire – creating the DMA in the process.

Personally, I find time-loop paradox storylines to be frustrating – and they can be very difficult to pull off successfully. There’s no beginning point to such a story: the DMA exists because the DMA was created because the DMA exists because the DMA was created… it’s an infinite loop. But we’ve seen Discovery tackle time travel stories like this before – and the pieces seem to be in play right now for this theory to pan out.

So that’s the main theory list.

We also have two production-side theories in play, and I’ll recap those now.

Production-side theory #1:
Tilly’s departure will be permanent.

Tilly’s departure feels permanent.

Mary Wiseman confirmed in an interview with Wil Wheaton on The Ready Room (Discovery’s social media aftershow) that Tilly will be seen again before the end of Season 4, and we glimpsed her in the trailer for the second half of the season as well. But that doesn’t mean she will return as a main character on the show going forward, and her departure in All Is Possible felt permanent. Despite that, I’ve seen quite a lot of folks online who don’t believe that Tilly is actually leaving the series – so I wanted to put it out there officially and say that, in my opinion anyway, she is.

Maybe those people know something that I don’t! As I always say, I don’t have any “insider information;” all of this is just speculation on my part. However, I feel that the manner of Tilly’s departure, the fact that she got that emotional sequence with Captain Burnham, a montage showing her leaving the ship, Adira seeming to take over several of her roles, and her departure feeling like the culmination of her arc going back to the latter part of Season 3 all come together to strongly indicate that she won’t be back as a major character. She may yet have a significant role to play in a future Season 4 episode, as has been suggested, but unless Discovery’s writers are really playing with our emotions I believe we’ve seen Tilly’s end as a main character on the show. She may come back in a future Starfleet Academy series, though… so watch this space!

Production-side theory #2:
Star Trek: Discovery isn’t going to be renewed for Season 5.

Is a fifth season going to happen?

Since Discovery debuted in 2017, we’ve known well before this point in the season that the show has been renewed. This obviously isn’t one of those “I hate new Star Trek” things that we’ve seen doing the rounds online for years; I adore Discovery and genuinely want to see it continue. But it’s profoundly odd to have arrived at Season 4’s mid-season break and to still have had no announcement about Season 5. For comparison, Star Trek: Picard has been renewed for Season 3 even though Season 2 hasn’t aired yet.

I’m hopeful that this is just a blip; a temporary delay for reasons unknown, and that the show has been renewed for Season 5 already behind the scenes. However, when we look back at Star Trek productions in recent years, it was often apparent that production work was quietly ongoing even if there hadn’t been any official word from ViacomCBS. As far as we know at this stage, there’s been no pre-production work on Season 5, let alone any filming taking place in the Toronto area. The abrupt announcement that the show is taking a mid-season break could also be indicative of issues with the production.

Once again, this is a “watch this space” kind of theory. I hope I’m wrong… but the lack of any news or even any significant rumours about the show’s future is beginning to have me worried.

So that’s it.

Discovery will return in five weeks’ time.

We’ve hit the halfway point of Season 4 with a number of theories still in play! There are major questions surrounding Ruon Tarka, Cleveland Booker, the nature of the DMA, and Unknown Species 10-C in particular that all need answers when the show returns next month. It’s going to feel like a long wait!

Before we go, one final point. I write up these theories because I like Star Trek and I like writing. But for some folks, fan theories can hamper their enjoyment of a film or television show. It’s worth keeping in mind that most of these theories probably won’t pan out, and we have to be prepared for the fact that even the most well-constructed fan theory, no matter how fun and plausible it seems, simply won’t turn out to be true. If you find that speculating and reading theories is beginning to detract from your enjoyment of Star Trek: Discovery – or any other television show or film – it might be a good idea to take a break for a while.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 is currently on hiatus and will return on the 10th of February. The first half of Season 4 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, Scandinavia, Latin America, and Australia. The show is on Pluto TV in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and other parts of Western Europe at 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Individual episodes or the full season can be purchased on iTunes, Amazon Video, YouTube, and possibly other platforms in the UK, parts of Europe, and select other countries. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 4

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

All Is Possible definitely shook up Star Trek: Discovery! It’s an episode which, as things stand anyway, will have major ramifications for the rest of the show’s run thanks to the departure of Lieutenant Tilly. However, with the episode’s trio of stories largely staying away from the DMA (as the gravitational anomaly is now being called) there really aren’t a lot of new theories joining the list on this occasion. The teaser for The Examples has told us that we’re about to see a big return to that storyline, though, and I certainly don’t mind Discovery doing more of these episodic detours!

This week we had one theory that I’m calling semi-confirmed and one theory from way back in Season 3 that’s seen some significant advancement – but that I’m not yet willing to completely strike off the list! We’re also adding two production-side theories to the list for the first time.

Semi-confirmed theory:
Tilly left the USS Discovery.

Tilly is on her way to new adventures.

I’m calling this one semi-confirmed because I speculated about Tilly potentially leaving the ship – but I didn’t guess how soon it would happen or the exact manner of her departure! In the run-up to All Is Possible, my best guess was that whatever was happening with Tilly would rumble on for most of the rest of Season 4, with any potential departure not coming until closer to the end of the season. I certainly didn’t expect to see two “Tilly tries something new” storylines one after the other, and while her departure was very emotional and bittersweet, there was a slight sense that maybe it could’ve been scheduled a little better so we didn’t have both of Tilly’s big Season 4 episodes back-to-back.

I’d previously suggested that Tilly could change departments, resign from Starfleet, or that the character would be killed off by the writers. As it is we kind of got a combination of the first two: Tilly has left the USS Discovery’s science division to move to Federation HQ and teach at Starfleet Academy. She’ll presumably retain her commission as a Starfleet officer even though she isn’t working aboard a starship for the time being.

As I said in my review of All Is Possible, parts of Tilly’s story with the troublesome cadets almost felt like a backdoor pilot for a new series. With a Starfleet Academy show supposedly being worked on, we may not have seen the last of Tilly in Star Trek!

So that theory was semi-confirmed.

Up next we’ve got two production-side (as opposed to in-universe) theories.

Production-side theory #1:
Tilly’s departure will be permanent.

Tilly’s departure feels permanent.

Mary Wiseman confirmed in an interview with Wil Wheaton on The Ready Room (Discovery’s social media aftershow) that Tilly will be seen again before the end of Season 4. But that doesn’t mean she will be a main character on the show going forward, and her departure feels permanent. Despite that, I’ve seen quite a lot of folks online who don’t believe that Tilly is actually leaving the series – so I wanted to put it out there officially and say that, in my opinion anyway, she is.

Maybe those people know something that I don’t! As I always say, I don’t have any “insider information;” all of this is just speculation on my part. However, I feel that the manner of Tilly’s departure, the fact that she got that emotional sequence with Captain Burnham, a montage showing her leaving the ship, Adira seeming to take over several of her roles, and her departure feeling like the culmination of her arc going back to the latter part of Season 3 all come together to strongly indicate that she won’t be back as a major character. She may yet have a significant role to play in a future Season 4 episode, as has been suggested, but unless Discovery’s writers are really playing with our emotions I believe we’ve seen Tilly’s end as a main character on the show. She may, as suggested, be back in a future Starfleet Academy series, though… so watch this space!

Production-side theory #2:
Star Trek: Discovery isn’t going to be renewed for Season 5.

Is a fifth season going to happen?

Since Discovery’s first season in 2017, we’ve known by this point in the season that the show has been renewed. This isn’t one of those “I hate new Star Trek” things that we’ve seen doing the rounds online for years; I adore Discovery and genuinely want to see it continue. But it’s profoundly odd to be basically one-third of the way into Season 4 and to have had no announcement about Season 5. For comparison, Star Trek: Picard has been renewed for Season 3 even though Season 2 won’t air until next year!

I’m hopeful that this is just a blip; a temporary delay for reasons unknown, and that the show has been renewed for Season 5 already behind-the-scenes. However, when we look back at Star Trek productions in recent years, it was often apparent that production work was quietly ongoing even if there hadn’t been any official word from ViacomCBS. As far as we know at this stage, there’s been no pre-production work on Season 5, let alone any filming taking place in the Toronto area.

Once again this is a “watch this space” kind of theory. I hope I’m wrong… but the lack of any news or even any significant rumours about the show’s future is beginning to have me worried.

So those are two theories on the production side of things.

Now we’ll get into the main theory list, beginning with any theories that are new or saw any significant movement in All Is Possible. Then, for the sake of keeping everything in one place, we’ll also recap those theories that didn’t change this week.

Theory #1:
Dr Culber is going to tell Stamets to slow down.

Dr Culber and Stamets in a promo image for The Examples.

Stamets has been almost entirely absent from the past couple of episodes – and in All Is Possible we heard Captain Burnham suggesting that Stamets “won’t slow down,” and is overworking himself as he tries to figure out what’s going on with the DMA. As a result of Stamets dedication to his work, he missed all of Gray’s incorporation in Choose To Live, and we haven’t seen him with Dr Culber, Adira, or Gray since the beginning of the season. He hasn’t even met Gray yet, not properly.

Stamets also didn’t have a chance to speak to Tilly before she left the ship, though he was briefly seen as she departed for Starfleet Academy. In the past, we’ve seen Dr Culber gently remind Stamets that he has other priorities aside from his work, and I’m beginning to wonder if the show is setting up the pair for something similar. I hope we don’t go back to the Season 2 conflict, because that genuinely did not work, but Stamets may need some kind of intervention from the man he loves, pointing out what he’s been missing while he’s been wrapped up in his work.

Theory #2:
President Rillak knows what the DMA is and may be responsible for its creation.

President Rillak in Kobayashi Maru.

All Is Possible continued a trend that we’ve seen across the opening episodes of Season 4, showing us that President Rillak is a cunning, almost Machiavellian politician, willing to do anything to advance what she considers to be the best interests of the Federation. By bringing Burnham and Saru along to the Ni’Var negotiations she hoped to find a solution to a diplomatic impasse she knew was coming – and she succeeded.

As I said in my review, I believe Captain Burnham needs to be very careful with President Rillak. During the events of All Is Possible, working with Captain Burnham was advantageous to the Federation’s president – but I have no doubt that she’d throw Burnham and the USS Discovery under the bus without so much as blinking if she believed it would be to her advantage. Which brings us to the DMA.

President Rillak with Captain Burnham.

President Rillak might know more about the DMA than she’s currently letting on. If the Federation had created a weapon like this, or it was an experiment gone wrong, covering it up might be her objective even if she wasn’t necessarily the one who ordered the DMA’s creation. President Rillak herself is a character with depth, not simply an “evil admiral” character trope. But it wouldn’t be the first time that Discovery has presented us with a fairly hard-line character in a position of authority who turns out to be concealing a dark secret.

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

Theory #3:
Kovich is an agent (or the head) of Section 31.

Kovich in All Is Possible.

This is the theory that’s hanging on by a thread right now! Ever since we met the mysterious Kovich in Season 3, I’ve felt sure that there was something going on with him. His mannerisms, the way he seemed to know more than he was willing to share, and particularly the way he dealt with Empress Georgiou all contributed to that. I began to suspect that he could be an agent – or even the head – of Section 31, the shadowy off-the-books intelligence division that has done some very dubious things!

All Is Possible showed us a different presentation of Kovich. Referred to as Doctor Kovich for the first time, he seems to be playing a senior role in the running of Starfleet Academy. That doesn’t necessarily preclude him working for Section 31, but it is the most significant move away from this theory that we’ve seen so far.

Kovich in Season 3.

It may yet be revealed that Dr Kovich played a role in Tilly’s away mission going so badly wrong, but I suspect if that had been going to happen we’d have seen it in All Is Possible. David Cronenberg plays the character very stoically, which I think adds to that mysterious sense that has been present since Season 3. In All Is Possible, that contributed somewhat to the sense that he may have known what was going to happen.

If it turns out that the Federation and/or President Rillak are involved somehow with the DMA, maybe Dr Kovich is aware of what’s going on. If he’s involved with Section 31, it may turn out that the organisation has important information about the DMA or even knows how to prevent it from doing any more harm.

So those theories were new or saw movement this week.

Now, as always, we’ll recap all of my other Discovery Season 4 theories. I find it helps to keep the full list in one place; it makes it easier to strike off theories when they’ve been debunked or confirmed, and it means nothing gets forgotten about or left behind! At least, that’s the plan!

Theory #4:
The Guardian of Forever will be back.

The Guardian of Forever first appeared in The Original Series.

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

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

Theory #5:
Some areas of the galaxy – such as the Delta Quadrant – avoided the worst effects of the Burn.

The USS Voyager traversed the Delta Quadrant.

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

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

Theory #6:
Captain Burnham and the crew will encounter the Klingons.

General Martok, a 24th Century Klingon leader.

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

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

Theory #7:
The crew will have to defend the Verubin Nebula.

The dilithium planet is vital to the Federation.

The Federation is still in a weakened state, nowhere near as powerful as it once was. The Verubin Nebula is thus a very tempting target for anyone looking to gain an edge in a galaxy where dilithium is still in short supply. As the only known significant dilithium supply, whoever controls the Verubin Nebula will have a massive tactical advantage.

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

Another view of the planet in the Verubin Nebula.

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

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

Theory #8:
The story will connect with the Short Treks episode Calypso.

Craft, the protagonist of Calypso.

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

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

Theory #9:
The ban on time travel will be explained in more detail.

The USS Enterprise was able to travel back in time to the 20th Century from the 23rd without too much difficulty.

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

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

Theory #10:
The Federation has flouted the ban on time travel.

President Rillak may have tried to circumvent the ban if she felt doing so would be in the Federation’s interest.

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

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

Theory #11:
Burnham won’t stay in the captain’s chair.

Captain Burnham in All Is Possible.

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

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

Captain Burnham in Anomaly.

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

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

Theory #12:
There will be a character crossover from a past iteration of Star Trek.

Spock has appeared in several different Star Trek productions.

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

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

Riker has appeared in more Star Trek spin-offs than any other character.

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

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

Theory #13:
A major character will be killed.

A Starfleet coffin seen in Deep Space Nine.

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

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

Spock’s funeral in The Wrath of Khan.

In short, I think there are plenty of reasons on the production side why killing off a major character could make sense in Season 4. Though we’ve already had one departure this season – that of Lieutenant Tilly – I still believe that Discovery could very easily go down this road, especially considering how dangerous the DMA currently is.

For a breakdown of which characters I thought might be in danger before the season premiered, check out my list of “death predictions” by clicking or tapping here.

Theory #14:
The DMA is a superweapon.

One view of the DMA.

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

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

Theory #14a:
The Borg are responsible.

The Borg Queen.

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

Theory #14b:
The super-synths from Picard Season 1 are responsible.

Some very menacing-looking synthetic tentacles.

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

Theory #14c:
The Kelvan Empire is responsible.

Rojan, a representative of the Kelvan Empire.

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

Theory #14d:
The Sphere-Builders from Enterprise are responsible.

A Sphere-Builder seen in Enterprise.

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

Theory #15:
Saru will be given the captaincy of the USS Voyager-J.

The USS Voyager-J.

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

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

Theory #16:
The DMA is (or contains) a sentient life-form.

Another view of the DMA.

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

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

Theory #17:
Book will find Kyheem and Leto inside the DMA.

Leto as seen in Book’s memory.

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

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

Theory #18:
Captain Burnham and/or the Red Angel time travel suits from Season 2 are connected to the DMA.

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

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

Perhaps the Red Angel suit, which Burnham sent back in time in the Season 3 premiere, malfunctioned somehow, and its powerful wormhole-creating technology gave rise to the DMA. If the Red Angel suit completed its journey back to the 23rd Century, the anomaly may have had centuries to grow and expand unchecked. If time travel is involved, perhaps a future Captain Burnham or a parallel universe Captain Burnham could be responsible for the anomaly’s creation – either intentionally or not.

Theory #19:
We haven’t seen the last of the Abronians.

I currently have four ideas for different ways that the Abronians – the non-humanoid race that Captain Burnham, Tilly, and the Qowat Milat helped save from cryo-sleep in the episode Choose To Live – could play a further role in Season 4.

Theory #19a:
The Abronians’ homeworld was destroyed by the DMA.

Captain Burnham believes this image depicts a “supernova.”

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

Considering that the main thrust of the season so far has been about the DMA, perhaps Burnham was incorrect: the Abronian homeworld was destroyed by the anomaly, not a supernova.

Theory #19b:
The Abronians’ homeworld was on the “other side” of the DMA.

The USS Discovery approaches the DMA.

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

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

Theory #19c:
The Abronians will return to help the Federation later in the season.

A deceased Abronian.

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

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

Theory #19d:
The Abronians’ moon-ship may be useful in a later story.

“That’s no moon…”

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

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

So that’s it!

The USS Discovery.

At present, those are all of the theories I currently have in play. Some are more likely than others, some are perhaps plausible but may not come into play in Season 4, and maybe some are just plain silly! But I have a lot of fun thinking them up and writing these lists, and that’s really what this is all about!

After two episodes in a row in which we got minimal advancement of the season’s main storyline, The Examples seems to be teasing us with a return to the DMA in a significant way. I can hardly wait to see what lies in store for Captain Burnham and the crew!

Before we go, one final point. I write up these theories because I like Star Trek and I like writing. But for some folks, fan theories can hamper their enjoyment of a film or television show. It’s worth keeping in mind that most of these theories probably won’t pan out, and we have to be prepared for the fact that even the most well-constructed fan theory, no matter how fun and plausible it seems, simply won’t turn out to be true. If you find that speculating and reading theories is beginning to detract from your enjoyment of Star Trek: Discovery – or any other television show or film – it might be a good idea to take a break for a while.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, Scandinavia, Latin America, and Australia. The show is on Pluto TV in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and other parts of Western Europe at 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Individual episodes or the full season can be purchased on iTunes, Amazon Video, and possibly other platforms in the UK, parts of Europe, and select other countries. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 0

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and the trailers and teasers for Season 4. Spoilers are also present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise, including Picard Season 1.

Discovery’s fourth season kicks off next week, and if you missed my coverage of the series last year you might not know that I like to write up my theories after each episode has aired. This year I want to get in early and put all of my major pre-season theories into one place… that way we can cross them off as they get debunked – or possibly even confirmed!

Last year I had a lot of fun combing over each episode and trying to speculate and theorise where the story might go. I came up with many theories that were wide of the mark – check out some of my worst ones by clicking or tapping here! – but I did also get some things right.

A Ferengi Starfleet officer glimpsed in the second Season 4 trailer.

It’s important to caveat any list of theories by saying that I have no “insider information” and I’m not trying to claim that anything listed below will happen. Fan theories are a lot of fun for me, but they can also detract from a person’s enjoyment of media if they get too attached to a particular theory that ultimately doesn’t come to pass. If you find yourself in that position, I recommend taking a break from fan theories for a while.

So let’s have a bit of fun and kick off my Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 theories one week early! You might’ve seen some of these already – I’ve written up a few big pre-season theories over the past few months. Let’s jump into the list!

Theory #1: A major character will be killed.

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

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

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

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

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

There are also a couple of characters whose roles aboard the ship feel in danger – not least of whom is poor ex-Captain Saru, who was rather unceremoniously shuffled out of his role in the Season 3 epilogue. For a full breakdown of which other characters may or may not be in danger, check out my list of “death predictions” by clicking or tapping here.

Theory #2: There will be a character crossover from a past iteration of Star Trek.

Voyager’s Doctor is a contender!

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

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

Could Sutra still be alive in the 32nd Century?

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

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

Theory #3: Burnham may not remain in the captain’s chair.

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

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

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

Captain Burnham in the first Season 4 trailer.

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

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

Theory #4: The Spore Drive will be rolled out to more ships.

The USS Discovery making a Spore Drive jump.

The Season 3 finale rushed past this point as it had a lot going on, but the revelation that Book – and potentially millions of other people with empathic abilities – can serve in the role of Spore Drive navigator is huge. The technology was previously limited by Stamets being the only one with the ability to interface with the mycelial network, but now that limitation has seemingly been removed.

In a galaxy where dilithium supplies are still low, having a powerful alternative method of propulsion is a godsend for Starfleet, and I would think it would be a priority to start recreating the technology and training up a whole corps of Spore Drive navigators.

Book was able to use the Spore Drive in Season 3 – potentially opening it up for more ships to use.

On the production side of things, this would finally find a proper use for what has been one of Discovery’s more controversial elements. Even after the discovery of the huge dilithium cache in the Verubin Nebula, the vitally-important fuel is still a limited resource. Developing an alternative way for Starfleet ships to get around should still be a priority for the organisation.

This could be a story with real-world parallels, too. Climate change is a very real and very dangerous threat out here in the real world, and finding new, cleaner ways of generating power and fuelling our vehicles is essential. Discovery could use its Spore Drive as an analogy for the development of electric vehicles or renewable energy generation, for example.

Theory #5: Kovich works for Section 31.

Kovich in Season 3.

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

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

Theory #6: The ban on time travel will be explained further.

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

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

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

Theory #7: The Federation has flouted the ban on time travel.

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

Sticking with the time travel ban, another theory I had last season was that the Federation – and Section 31 in particular – might have deliberately flouted the ban and failed to abide by the rules. Someone as straight-laced and committed to Starfleet ideals as Admiral Vance is highly unlikely to have sanctioned such a move, but someone like the shadowy Kovich (who we talked about a moment ago) might have. President Rillak is someone we don’t know yet, but she could also be involved.

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

Theory #8: The story will connect with the Short Treks episode Calypso.

The USS Discovery seen in Calpyso.

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

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

Theory #9: The crew will have to defend the Verubin Nebula.

The dilithium planet at the centre of the Verubin Nebula.

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

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

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

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

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

Theory #10: The super-synths from Picard Season 1 are involved with the gravitational anomaly.

The super-synths in Picard Season 1.

Picard Season 1 introduced us to a faction I nicknamed the “Mass Effect Reapers” – for their similarity to that video game faction. This race of super-synths existed outside of the Milky Way galaxy and promised to come to the aid of any synthetics who were being persecuted by organics, and Soji and Sutra attempted to contact them in the Season 1 finale.

We don’t know much at all about the super-synths or what their goals or motivations might be. It has to be considered at least possible that the attempted contact by the Coppelius synths set in motion a chain of events that could lead to the super-synths attacking the Milky Way galaxy.

Theory #11: The gravitational anomaly is a superweapon.

The USS Discovery en route to the anomaly in the second Season 4 trailer.

Based solely on what we’ve heard about the gravitational anomaly in the trailers and teasers, one thing strikes me as odd. The anomaly appears to be “targetting” the Federation. I put the word in inverted commas because it implies an intelligence at work – someone or something in control of the anomaly, directing it to attack the Federation. But what if that’s actually the case?

I mentioned the super-synths above as one possible culprit, but we could also consider factions like the Borg or the Dominion – they might have taken the opportunity of the Burn to perfect a weapon to destroy the remaining members of the Federation, perhaps as a precursor to invading and conquering the Alpha Quadrant.

A different depiction of the anomaly.

There are also factions like the Kelvan Empire from The Original Series – whose possible return to the Milky Way galaxy lines up in terms of timing. Enterprise’s Sphere Builders also come to mind: they attempted to use their own anomaly-generating devices to convert a region of space to resemble their native realm also as a precursor to invasion.

In short, are we certain that the gravitational anomaly will be nothing more than a natural phenomenon? I’m definitely not convinced of that right now! Past seasons of the show have seen twists and turns, taking stories in unexpected directions. Right now we assume that whatever this anomaly is it’s something natural – but that may not be the case.

Theory #12: Captain Burnham and the crew will encounter the Klingons.

The Klingons have been part of Discovery since the beginning.

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

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

Theory #13: Some areas of the galaxy – such as the Delta Quadrant – avoided the worst effects of the Burn.

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

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

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

Theory #14: The Guardian of Forever will be back.

Carl – the Guardian of Forever’s new persona.

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

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

Theory #15: At least one new character will join the main cast.

Lieutenant Detmer in Season 3.

One big question facing the series right now is who will take on the role of Captain Burnham’s first officer? Tilly was seen in the second trailer wearing the blue uniform of the science division, so it seems as though her tenure as the USS Discovery’s number one will be short-lived. So who will replace her? There are several secondary bridge officers like Rhys, Nilsson, and Bryce who are contenders, but it could also be someone like Lieutenant Willa – Admiral Vance’s aide-de-camp from Season 3.

A new character entirely could also join the crew, either directly as Burnham’s XO or to replace someone else who gets promoted to that role. With both Nhan and Georgiou departing in Season 3, and a potentially reduced role for Saru this time around, there’s definitely scope to bring a new major character aboard the ship.

Lieutenant Sahil was commissioned into Starfleet at the end of Season 3.

We could potentially see characters from Season 3 like Lieutenant Sahil or even Aurellio make a comeback. Sahil was the guardian of a Federation relay post who Captain Burnham met at the beginning of the season, and he was commissioned as an officer in the season finale. He would be a great choice in my opinion.

A wholly new character could also be concocted. We know that Federation President Rillak will be new for Season 4, but how significant a role she will have remains to be seen. I definitely feel that there’s scope for at least one new character – or perhaps the promotion of a secondary character to the regular cast.

So that’s it for now! Those are my official Season 4 theories written up and ready to go!

Grudge is also coming back!

The season premiere will arrive in less than a week from now, so stay tuned for a full review of the episode and an update to these theories! I wonder how many will be completely destroyed right off the bat?

I’ve been looking forward to Discovery’s fourth season all year, and it’s hard to believe it’s now only a few days away! I’m hoping to see a season of television that will be tense, exciting, and unpredictable. Despite my love of theory-crafting, I like being wrong just as much as I like being right – if not more! A story that goes in truly unexpected directions is a lot of fun, so I won’t be upset even if absolutely none of my theories come to pass.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 will premiere on the 18th of November 2021 on Paramount+ in the United States, and on the 19th of November 2021 on Netflix in the United Kingdom and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 – a wishlist

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and the trailers and teasers for Season 4. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: The Voyage Home, The Final Frontier, The Undiscovered Country, The Next Generation, First Contact, Voyager, Enterprise, and Picard.

Discovery’s fourth season is now less than a month away, so it’s time to look ahead. This time, though, I’m not going to be indulging in theory-crafting or even speculation… what we’re going to go through today are some of my wishes for the season. I did something similar last year in the run-up to Season 3, and if you want to see how my wishlist turned out you can find a follow-up piece I wrote after the season had aired by clicking or tapping here.

Season 3 did a reasonably good job at establishing the USS Discovery’s place in the 32nd Century, and though I have criticisms of several aspects of the Burn storyline, it was brought to a fairly conclusive end by the season finale. That should mean that the stage is set for a new story this time around, and on this occasion I’d like to lay out some of my personal preferences for Season 4 and how I’d like to see things unfold.

The USS Discovery in the Season 4 trailer.

The obvious caveat applies: I have no “insider information” and I’m not trying to claim that anything on the list below will be included in Season 4. This is merely a wishlist from a fan of Star Trek… nothing more. Everything I’m about to say is also entirely subjective! If I don’t include a point you want to see, or something I talk about sounds like something you’d hate, that’s okay. The Star Trek fandom is expansive enough for fans with all kinds of different points of view; we don’t need to fight, especially not about hypotheticals!

With all of that out of the way, let’s get into my Discovery Season 4 wishlist.

Number 1: A proper role for ex-Captain Saru that makes sense.

Saru in the Season 4 trailer.

One of the things I didn’t like about the short Season 3 epilogue at the end of That Hope Is You, Part 2 was that Saru was unceremoniously shuffled off Discovery. In order to make way for Burnham’s ascent to the captain’s chair, Captain Saru had to leave his position on the ship, and a way was found to make this plausible by giving him a deeply emotional connection to Su’Kal.

As a story point, I actually don’t fault any of that. Saru had been feeling alone and isolated with no other Kelpiens around in the 32nd Century, and his desire to help Su’Kal led to them forming a close bond. I can quite believe that he’d want to take a leave of absence to visit Kaminar and to spend more time with Su’Kal, helping him integrate into society as best he can after so long on his own.

Su’Kal and Saru in Season 3.

But unfortunately the rushed epilogue didn’t do justice to this story point, and quite frankly treated Saru with disrespect. Not since Dr Pulaski was dropped at the beginning of Season 3 of The Next Generation has a main character been handled so poorly, and I would have wanted – and expected – to see much more of a send-off for Saru. Not only had he been Discovery’s captain for all of Season 3, but he was a character we’d spent a lot of time with across Seasons 1 and 2 as well.

Season 4 will bring back Saru; he isn’t leaving the series as some folks had predicted, and I’m glad for that! But his role in Season 4 is unclear at best, and the biggest question I have is this: why does the USS Discovery need two captains on board?

Captain Saru was in command of the ship for a time.

In The Final Frontier and The Undiscovered Country, Kirk and Spock would serve on the same ship despite both holding the rank of captain, so it isn’t entirely without precedent in Starfleet for this situation to arise. In that case, though, Kirk had been demoted from the rank of Admiral, and in The Undiscovered Country in particular both officers held different positions: Kirk was in command of the Enterprise, Spock was in command of the overall mission to negotiate with the Klingons.

In short, I think the premiere of Season 4 (or whichever episode brings Saru back to the ship) needs to at least pay lip service to this point. Perhaps Saru could be given a title like “captain of the science department” in the same way as Scotty was “captain of engineering.” I wouldn’t want to see him demoted to the rank of commander – like poor Decker was in The Motion Picture! Presumably Captain Burnham has some degree of leeway when it comes to building her crew, so perhaps she’ll ask Saru to serve in a temporary role. Regardless, I hope Discovery doesn’t just ignore this point.

Number 2: Go into more detail about the ban on time travel.

The Enterprise-E approaching a temporal vortex.

The ban on time travel that was introduced in Season 3 was evidently intended to be a way for Discovery to avoid questions about how the Burn was able to happen, why Georgiou couldn’t simply return to her own time, and why the time-traveling Federation of the 29th and 30th Centuries that we’ve glimpsed in past Star Trek productions had ceased to exist. But the ban has created some storytelling issues in and of itself, and I would like Season 4 to at least try to address some of these.

Firstly, who enforces the ban? Admiral Vance seemed to imply that everyone in the galaxy – from the Emerald Chain to the Federation – simply goes along with it, but that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Yes, the Temporal War was certainly a bad thing. But as the war and its effects fade into memory, are we seriously supposed to believe that someone like Osyraa wouldn’t jump at the chance to use time travel to give herself and her faction an advantage? That’s to say nothing of factions like the Borg – are they signed up to the ban on time travel too?

Osyraa, head of the Emerald Chain in Season 3. She seems like someone who would use any weapon or technology at her disposal – regardless of any ban!

Even if the answer is “all pieces of time travel technology were destroyed,” that doesn’t really hold water either. It’s impossible to un-invent a powerful, weaponisable technology – as I said on several occasions during Season 3’s run! Even if everything were destroyed – something which seems like it would be impossible for every faction to prove – what’s to stop someone recreating it? The Emerald Chain had scientists like Aurellio at their disposal, and once the basic principles were understood it seems like rebuilding the technology would be a task within reach of anyone with the means and inclination.

Time travel was considered something so mundane in the 29th and 30th Centuries that its basic principles were taught in school across the Federation. Even if we discount early depictions of time travel (like the slingshot method seen in The Original Series), the fact that time travel is possible has been known to the Federation since the 22nd or 23rd Centuries at least, and even if we’re generous and say that time travel technology wasn’t “officially” invented until much later, the technology still existed for centuries prior to being banned.

The HMS Bounty was easily able to travel back in time by slingshotting around a star.

In today’s world, nuclear weapons are a comparable technology. If there were a worldwide ban on nuclear weapons, would we trust the likes of China or Russia to abide by it? Could we guarantee that every nuclear weapon was destroyed by our own governments, or might some covert hawkish faction seek to keep control of at least some of them as a contingency? In short, a ban on nuclear weapons is a noble ambition – but even in the aftermath of a nuclear war I can’t see it being workable. Even if such a ban were put in place, the weapons programmes of countries like North Korea prove that, with enough determination, anyone can recreate complex technology from scratch.

Perhaps there’s some kind of time travel arbiter that monitors the whole galaxy, and intervenes to prevent time travel from occurring. That would be one explanation. But it’s also possible that whatever this gravitational anomaly is is connected to time travel or the Temporal War – meaning Captain Burnham and the crew could be about to dive headfirst into a time travel story!

Number 3: Standalone episodes and smaller storylines to offset the main season-long arc.

The Season 3 two-parter Terra Firma was largely a standalone story.

Discovery used this formula to great effect in Season 3, which came after Seasons 1 and 2 had both leaned very heavily into serialised storytelling. I very much hope that Season 4 will continue in the same vein, because having smaller stories, character arcs, and fully standalone episodes added so much depth to the series.

We already know of one potential side-story: Adira and Gray, and in particular Gray’s quest to become corporeal again. That story has a lot of potential, and it’s actually one of the things I’m most looking forward to about Season 4. Hopefully there can be more side-stories like this, looking at other characters and taking some of our heroes to different and unexpected places.

Gray and Adira in Season 3.

Strange New Worlds has promised a return to a more episodic style of storytelling. I don’t expect that Discovery will go all-in on episodic television in the same way, not least because we already know that they have the mystery of the gravitational anomaly to solve. But I hope that, along the way, we get some detours and unconnected stories that take Captain Burnham and the ship to different places – literally and thematically.

This would be a great way for the series to show off characters who didn’t get as much to do last season, or who we haven’t spent much time with at all. Season 3 brought us an interesting story involving helm officer Keyla Detmer, and while that story wasn’t perfect it was great to spend time with a secondary character in far more detail than Discovery had ever done before. Which brings us to my next point…

Number 4: Make use of the show’s full cast – including secondary and recurring characters.

Some of the bridge crew at the end of Season 3.

As mentioned, Season 3 began this process. We got to spend more time away from Michael Burnham than Discovery had dared do in Seasons 1 or 2, and some of the episodes which placed Saru, Booker, and even Georgiou at their centre worked exceptionally well. I’d love Discovery to continue down this road, perhaps spending time with characters like Stamets – he didn’t get as much to do in Season 3 as some of the others.

With Georgiou departing for an unknown destination last year, there’s potentially space for another main cast member. We could see someone like Bryce, Rhys, or Nilsson promoted – or a character like Willa, Admiral Vance’s aide-de-camp from Season 3, join the crew. In some ways I’d like to see a new character, perhaps a 32nd Century Starfleet officer. Booker provides the crew with the viewpoint of a 32nd Century native, but he also has a different role as an outsider who isn’t a member of Starfleet. Bringing a new officer who’s native to this era aboard the ship could be an excellent move, one which could provide a lot of storytelling potential.

Detmer got her own storyline last season.

At the same time, giving more characters moments in the spotlight and their own arcs is something worth doing. We learned more about people like Owosekun, Detmer, and even Tilly in Season 3 than we ever had before, and continuing this trend by ensuring more characters get some degree of exploration is absolutely something I’d want to see.

In a season that will run for 13 episodes there’s obviously a limit; a ceiling on the number of characters and storylines that the series can fit. With that understood it obviously won’t be possible for everyone to get a fully-rounded character arc, their own storyline, and a spotlight episode putting them front-and-centre! But choosing some characters to give that amount of attention to is still important, and even those characters who don’t get a full story or their own episode this time can still have more to do than sit at their station and say “yes ma’am!”

Number 5: Bring back Nhan!

Could Nhan make a comeback?

Saru wasn’t the only character who left the USS Discovery and whose story feels incomplete. Nhan actress Rachael Ancheril was promoted to Discovery’s main cast at the beginning of Season 3 only to be shuffled off the show after only a few episodes. Nhan – the first Barzan main character in Star Trek’s history – was left behind to be the guardian of the USS Tikhov following a disaster that claimed the lives of the ship’s crew.

The Tikhov’s mission was an interesting one – it serves as a seed vault for the Federation, storing samples of plants from across the Federation and beyond. From the point of view of Nhan potentially reuniting with Burnham and the crew, though, the Tikhov was rotated between Federation member worlds, with representatives from each taking responsibility for the ship for a set period of time. Nhan seemed to suggest that she saw her mission as keeping the ship safe until the end of the Barzans’ tenure, after which it’s safe to assume the ship would be delivered to a new commander.

Nham hugs Burnham immediately before remaining behind on the USS Tikhov.

It wasn’t stated on screen how long each planet’s turn to look after the ship lasts, but that’s actually a good thing! It could be that each member world has to care for the ship for a year or two, or that it was almost the end of Barzan II’s tenure as guardians of the Tikhov – either of which could mean Nhan is almost done and could return to duty.

It was a shame that Nhan was dropped, and I don’t know if there were production-side reasons for the decision. It feels rather arbitrary, and while Nhan wouldn’t necessarily have had a huge role to play in the latter part of Season 3 she was a fun character and someone the show could and should bring back. The USS Discovery doesn’t have a permanent security or tactical officer – at least not among the main characters. Nhan could fill that role going forward, and it seems as if the ship could use a dedicated security officer based on all the scrapes that they get into!

Nhan watches the USS Discovery depart.

Nhan was also a character who provided a contrast to Michael Burnham. Where Burnham could go on emotional rollercoaster rides, Nhan was mostly stoic. And where Burnham had a loose interpretation of the rules and regulations, Nhan appeared steadfast in her dedication to Starfleet’s way of doing things.

As a character from an under-explored race, Nhan could do for the Barzans what Saru has done for the Kelpiens – showing us their history and culture in more detail. The Barzans only appeared a couple of times in Star Trek prior to Discovery, but there’s a chance for a connection with The Next Generation or to explain how they came to join the Federation – and perhaps why they chose to remain a Federation member even after the withdrawal of Earth and Ni’Var. Which brings us to the next point…

Number 6: Give us a broader look at the state of the galaxy in the 32nd Century.

A non-canon map of the galaxy.
Image Credit: Star Trek Star Charts (2002) via Memory Beta

Season 3 focused primarily on two factions: the rump Federation and the Emerald Chain. Earth, Ni’Var, and Kwejian also appeared, though the first two are ex-Federation members. We know that the Burn decimated “the galaxy” and saw many Federation members quit the organisation, but that was 125 years ago – a lot can have happened since.

Though we briefly saw Cardassians, Lurians, and a few other familiar races, we know nothing about many others. What became of the Klingon Empire? The Dominion? The Borg? Was the Burn truly galactic in scope, reaching all four quadrants in equally destructive fashion – or could some parts of the galaxy have escaped some or all of the Burn’s impact?

Are the Borg still around in the 32nd Century?

Admiral Vance told us that 38 member worlds remained in the Federation – with Earth and Ni’Var being two of the most prominent members to leave. But if the Federation had over 350 member worlds at its peak, more than 80% have quit the organisation – or been conquered, destroyed, or had some other fate befall them. Barzan II appears to remain a Federation member, as does Kaminar. It’s possible based on the Season 4 trailer that Ni’Var will rejoin the organisation – but what of the others? Who’s left in the Federation? Who quit? Who joined after the 24th Century that we might recall from past iterations of Star Trek?

Prior to the Burn, did the development of warp or transwarp speeds allow the Federation to travel further and settle other parts of the galaxy, perhaps? Could races like the Ocampa and Talaxians have joined the Federation in the Delta Quadrant, for example?

In short, the 32nd Century is a vast sandbox for the producers and writers to play in! So far we’ve only seen a tiny little corner of that sandbox – so I hope Season 4 can broaden the view and show us a bigger picture of the state of the galaxy and its factions.

Number 7: More Admiral Vance!

Admiral Vance in Season 3.

In Season 3, Admiral Vance embodied the very best of Starfleet’s values. Even though he was dealt a very bad hand in the aftermath of the Burn, he remained loyal not only to the Federation and Starfleet, but to the ideals the organisations have always stood for. Even when negotiating with Osyraa – a powerful adversary – Vance refused to compromise on his convictions.

The arrival of Rillak – a new character who will serve as the Federation’s president – could mean that Admiral Vance is sidelined. If Burnham is reporting directly to the President it seems like she’ll be going over Vance’s head, or at least around him. I guess I’m just concerned that Discovery doesn’t really have space for two “big boss” characters, and that Vance may lose out to Rillak in terms of stories and screen time.

President Rillak could occupy a very similar narrative role to Vance.

It’s possible that Rillak is being set up in a deliberately antagonistic way, and that the decision was taken to keep Vance as a more sympathetic character. I didn’t really like Rillak’s interaction with Captain Burnham in the recent Season 4 trailer, but at the same time what she had to say wasn’t too far removed from what Vance had to say at a couple of points in Season 3. He could take a tougher line with Burnham and Saru when he needed to without coming across as one of Star Trek’s typical “evil admirals!”

Actor Oded Fehr brings Vance to life and gives him a real gravitas, and there’s scope to learn more about who Vance is and what makes him tick. Vance told us he has a wife and child; perhaps we could meet them and see how he is when he’s off-duty in a more casual setting.

When Osyraa and the Emerald Chain were plotting their attack on Federation HQ in Season 3 I was genuinely worried for Admiral Vance! The Emerald Chain attack didn’t kill him off – fortunately – so he lives to fight another day! I know we’ll see him in some capacity in Season 4, but I hope he gets more to do than just chair a few meetings.

Number 8: Kill off a main character.

Who could it be?

Speaking of characters who felt at risk, Season 3 only saw the character of Ryn killed off. Ryn was a fun character for sure, and his death was very sad, but at several key moments where Discovery could have been a little bolder at swinging the proverbial axe, main characters appeared to be safe thanks to their plot armour.

The character I felt most embodied this side of Season 3 was Owosekun. In the season finale it seemed as though she was about to make the ultimate sacrifice – setting off a bomb in a low-oxygen environment – but the Sphere Data-powered DOT robots saved her life at the last minute. There were other characters in that group, including Tilly, Detmer, Bryce, and Rhys, who likewise could’ve been killed off in the season finale.

All of these characters survived last season’s finale.

I’m not arguing for any one specific character to be immediately killed off, and as I like all of the main characters for their own unique reasons any death would be a tragedy! But some stories work better or feel more impactful when the heroes lose a friend, and the Season 3 finale would have undeniably had a lot more emotional weight if someone hadn’t made it to the end.

So Season 4, here’s your challenge: kill off a main character! Let’s not repeat what happened to Nhan and Georgiou, being shuffled off the ship to some other destination. And let’s not set up a story where everyone is in danger only to have them all miraculously saved at the end. Instead let’s actually kill off a major character at the right point in the story. Doing so would raise the stakes dramatically and hammer home that whatever threat Captain Burnham and the crew are facing is genuinely deadly.

Number 9: A character crossover from a past iteration of Star Trek.

The Doctor from Voyager.

This isn’t the first time I’ve suggested this idea! But as Lower Decks has shown on several occasions, bringing back a character from Star Trek’s past can be a lot of fun – and emotional for longstanding Trekkies. Last season I suggested Voyager’s Doctor – or rather, a backup copy of him from the Season 4 episode Living Witness – as a potential character crossover, as the chances of him being alive in the 32nd Century seemed higher than most!

Given Star Trek’s technobabble, however, an excuse could be found to bring back practically anyone. Characters from Enterprise, Deep Space Nine, or even Picard could all appear in some form – through stasis or cryogenic suspension, in synthetic bodies, as holograms, trapped in transporter beams, frozen solid under the surface of an ice planet… and so on! With a little creativity, Discovery Season 4 could find a way to bring back pretty much anybody, and doing so would be absolutely wonderful.

Scotty appeared in Season 6 of The Next Generation thanks to sci-fi magic!

Aside from Voyager’s Doctor, I could suggest Enterprise’s Temporal Agent Daniels, Picard’s Soji or Deep Space Nine’s Dax symbiont as contenders for characters who could potentially have survived to the 32nd Century through “natural” means. Soji, as a character in a series running alongside Discovery, would be a fascinating choice – but at the same time I could understand if the producers don’t want to go down that route for fear of affecting or restricting future Picard stories.

If I were to fantasise I might suggest a character like Riker or Chekov. Even if they were only seen as holograms or in a recorded message I think including a “classic” character like that would mean so much to fans. We saw something comparable to this in Season 3’s Unification III, where a hologram of Spock was briefly shown. But to bring back actors like Jonathan Frakes or Walter Koenig to record even just a short message that Captain Burnham could discover would be amazing.

Number 10: Make some kind of reference to anything from Lower Decks!

Lower Decks Season 2 has just finished its run.

Lower Decks has now got two seasons under its belt, and although there were some teething problems at first caused by the lack of an international broadcast during Season 1, the show has definitely hit its stride. It would be absolutely amazing for Discovery Season 4 to so much as name-drop an event, character, or location from Lower Decks, even if it was just a throwaway line that had no bearing on the plot.

This isn’t just about fan service, either. At present, Star Trek’s shows are all split up, occupying different places and completely different time-frames. There will be a connection between Discovery and Strange New Worlds when the latter premieres next year, but there’s no chance for a significant crossover. Name-drops and references are the next best thing, and a way for the Star Trek franchise to remain connected.

Ensigns Tendi, Rutherford, Mariner, and Boimler.

Having wholly standalone shows doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. It’s certainly true that Lower Decks and Discovery are very different in terms of style, tone, and subject matter – but as two parts of a larger franchise it doesn’t hurt to find ways to connect them. For fans it’s a nice “Easter egg,” but for casual viewers these kinds of connections can be the deciding factor in choosing to check out another show!

As Star Trek fans, we need as many people engaged with as much of Star Trek as possible – it’s the only way the franchise will survive into the future. Having different shows that appeal to different audiences is a great idea in many ways; it casts a broad net and should, in theory, bring in many more viewers and subscribers. But the next step is converting fans of one series to fans of the franchise as a whole – and if there are connections between the shows, even small ones, that’ll encourage at least some viewers to try other Star Trek shows. So if Discovery Season 4 could acknowledge Lower Decks in some way, I think that would be fantastic.

Number 11: Continue the theme of rebuilding – but at a reasonable pace.

Ni’Var seems to have rejoined the Federation.

Season 3 introduced us to the galaxy a century after the Burn. This event devastated the Federation and known space, and clearly saw a major power shift with factions like the Emerald Chain gaining strength. The Burn as a storyline may be resolved, but the galaxy can’t simply be “reset” to how it used to be. An event so devastating will take a long time to recover from. Ni’Var rejoining the Federation is a great first step, but I hope Season 4 doesn’t try to rush these things.

With the gravitational anomaly seeming to be the main focus of Season 4’s story, rebuilding the Federation may take a back seat. However, I’d like to see at least some progress in this area, as it could be one of the major sources of hope and optimism in the story of the post-Burn galaxy. With the dilithium cache from the Verubin Nebula under their control, the Federation is finally in a position to rebuild what has been lost over the past century or more – and from a narrative point of view, bringing wayward planets and races together is a story worth telling.

Independent Earth in Season 3.

At the same time, the story needs to acknowledge the severity of the Burn and strike the right balance when it comes to optimistically putting the pieces back together. Trying to rush this – or worse, trying to pretend that it all happened off-screen – would lead to a truly unsatisfying and unrealistic narrative.

Season 4 can’t simply pretend that the Burn is over and done with and completely move on to new stories. Even though the Burn was clearly intended as the main story of a single season, its massive implications and effects can’t be confined to Season 3 of Discovery. Any other Star Trek stories set in the 32nd Century – and beyond – will need to acknowledge the lingering effects of the Burn, and something as significant as rebuilding the Federation and bringing hope back to worlds that had lost it can’t simply be done off-screen so Captain Burnham and the crew can race away to their next big adventure.

So that’s it. A few of my hopes and wishes for the imminent fourth season of Star Trek: Discovery.

Grudge in the Season 4 trailer!

I don’t think I’d have chosen to go for another “galaxy-ending” apocalyptic threat if I’d been in charge of planning the story of Discovery Season 4. After the Klingon war in Season 1, Control and the Red Angel in Season 2, and the Burn, the collapsed Federation, and the Emerald Chain in Season 3 I would have liked to have seen Captain Burnham and the crew catch a break! Not every season has to be about the imminent destruction of the universe; stories which are smaller in scale can be just as dramatic and just as impactful when done right.

Regardless, this is the direction Discovery seems intent on going, and I’m interested to see what the gravitational anomaly is all about. I’m hopeful that Season 4 can deliver some fun, exciting, dramatic, and interesting Star Trek stories with Captain Burnham in command, and I’m very much looking forward to the new season. Even if none of my wishes are meant to be, Season 4 will undoubtedly still have plenty to offer.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 will premiere on Paramount+ in the United States on the 18th of November 2021. An international broadcast will follow on Netflix on the 19th of November 2021. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 – did the Delta Quadrant escape the Burn?

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

Today we’re continuing our series of theory articles about the Burn, and we’re returning to the Voyager Season 4 episode Living Witness for yet another idea! As one of the very few episodes of Star Trek prior to Discovery’s third season to be set in or near the 32nd Century, Living Witness has been the source of several theories and concepts already. On this occasion we’re going to consider what the episode’s far future setting and its ending could mean for Discovery, and what implications there may be if the Delta Quadrant either partially or wholly escaped the worst effects of the Burn.

Let’s start by considering what we know from Discovery itself regarding the Burn and its possible extent. Cleveland Booker introduced us to the idea of the Burn in the first episode of the season, and used the term “the galaxy” when describing its range and scale; this may be hyperbole or exaggeration to a degree, though, as Booker’s knowledge of the wider galaxy was limited – he hadn’t even been to Earth.

Booker introduced Michael Burnham to the Burn – and its scope.

Next, Admiral Vance told us that the Federation peaked in the pre-Burn years with a membership of over 350 worlds. While there are certainly enough planets in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants for the Federation to have been contained there, this expansion of the Federation is significant. The Federation was also large enough and spread out enough that Vance’s Starfleet was unable to travel to or even remain in contact with every member world. Vance was familiar with worlds in or near the Gamma Quadrant, as he noted the location of the Guardian of Forever’s new planet was in that region of space, so the Federation has clearly mapped large portions of the Milky Way by the 32nd Century.

Next we have the Burn itself. Originally assumed to have taken place everywhere simultaneously, Michael Burnham was able to prove that the Burn in fact radiated outwards from its point of origin, with ships in different sectors being destroyed milliseconds apart. However, 32nd Century Starfleet didn’t have enough information to have figured this out, instead assuming that the Burn happened all at once. This could mean that the Federation wasn’t as widespread as we might think.

Admiral Vance was the head of Starfleet – but was out of contact with many current and former Federation planets.

Now we come to Living Witness. The bulk of the episode takes place in the 31st Century, and thus could well have been set in the years before the Burn (all dates in relation to Living Witness are guesstimates based on rounded figures). However, the episode’s ending clearly and demonstrably takes place decades – or perhaps even centuries – later. The final act of the episode sees a museum guide telling Kyrian and Vaskan citizens about the Doctor – a backup copy of whom was left behind by the USS Voyager – and this sequence takes place at the very least decades after the rest of the episode, and certainly after the Burn.

Obviously we have to acknowledge that, for production-side reasons, the two stories aren’t related. We wouldn’t have expected anyone at the end of Living Witness to talk about the Burn because the story concept did not exist at the time. But Star Trek has shown a willingness on multiple occasions to incorporate events depicted in one story into later episodes and films, and perhaps that will happen on this occasion.

An image of the Doctor in a museum sometime in or after the 32nd Century.

In short, here’s how the theory goes: the end of Living Witness shows the Kyrians and Vaskans in the 32nd or perhaps even 33rd Century talking about the Doctor. There was no mention of the Burn, nor of any disaster affecting their Delta Quadrant homeworld, and the fact that the Doctor was able to commandeer a starship in the late 31st or early 32nd Century to undertake his voyage back to the Alpha Quadrant at least implies that there was enough dilithium in that region of the Delta Quadrant for such a voyage to be plausible.

There are other implications from the ending of Living Witness that are worth considering. The Kyrians and Vaskans don’t seem to have had further contact with the Federation since the departure of the Doctor. This could mean that travel to and from the Delta Quadrant is still difficult and/or time-consuming in this era. The fact that the museum guide was not aware of whether the Doctor made it back safely suggests that there hasn’t been any contact between their homeworld and the Federation. We could think of reasons why this might be the case, including random chance, but with more than 700 years between Voyager’s journey and the Burn, there should’ve been ample time for the Federation to revisit planets Voyager encountered if they wanted to.

Did Starfleet return to the Delta Quadrant after Voyager’s journey home?

So is it possible that the Burn had a limited range? Was it truly a galactic-scale event, or did its effects weaken the further out its shockwave went? I think the fact that Burnham found a millisecond difference in between starships being destroyed could hint at this, because the shockwave did radiate outwards from its point of origin. Whether we’re talking about gamma rays or ripples on a body of water, we see the effects weaken the further away from the source we get, so perhaps the same is true of the Burn.

There may have been a transitional zone in which some starships were destroyed but some were merely damaged, and then a zone were the effects of the Burn were noticeable but not catastrophic. Finally the Burn’s shockwave would reach a point where it was imperceptible to all but the most finely-tuned sensors before fizzling out altogether. The episode Su’Kal showed us an example of this, in a way, when Su’Kal’s emotional outburst “almost” caused another Burn – but didn’t. Perhaps this is what some star systems in faraway parts of the galaxy experienced.

The almost-Burn radiates outwards from its point of origin.

We don’t know where the Verubin Nebula is in relation to the Federation or the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. But it could be located near one edge of the galaxy, far away from the Delta Quadrant. If so, and if the pre-Burn Federation didn’t routinely travel to and from the Delta Quadrant, things start to line up for this theory!

So let’s consider the possible implications, assuming this theory is correct. Obviously we know that the Kyrians and Vaskans seem to have escaped the Burn relatively unscathed, so perhaps other Delta Quadrant factions did as well. This could include races like the Kazon, though they seem unlikely to be a significant threat to the Federation based on how far behind they were in technological terms. It could also bode well for potential Federation allies like the Talaxians and Ocampa – if one or both had joined the Federation, perhaps they’re thriving on the far side of the galaxy even after the Burn decimated the Alpha and Beta Quadrants.

What might this mean for the likes of the Kazon?

But there’s one Delta Quadrant faction that we should be more wary of than any other: the Borg!

Discovery Season 3 didn’t make any mention of the Borg whatsoever, so we don’t know if they still exist in this era, if they’ve been defeated, if they’re still present in the galaxy, etc. But assuming that they’re still around and that their power base remains in the Delta Quadrant, the Borg’s survival could be catastrophically bad news for the Federation.

Even if the Federation had managed to find a way to keep the Borg at bay in the years prior to the Burn, the Borg may have just been given a 120-year head-start on developing new technologies and building up their forces while the Federation fractured and looked inwards to its own day-to-day survival. With much of their transwarp network intact and with their ships and drones protected from the worst effects of the Burn, the Borg may have been waiting and observing the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. They may even have been slowly making inroads, assimilating planets and star systems beyond the range of the Federation’s limited sensors. Perhaps the reason some Federation members dropped out of contact was not because of issues with long-range communications… but because they’d been attacked.

The Borg may be in an especially strong position if the bulk of their territory – and fleet – escaped the Burn.

The trailers for Season 4 appear to show the Federation under attack by a “gravitational anomaly.” As I pointed out, this anomaly could be argued to behave in an unnatural way if it seems to be targeting the Federation, its planets, and its starships. Perhaps the gravitational anomaly is a weapon, one designed to be the precursor to an invasion. If so, one of the primary candidates for developing such a powerful weapon has to be the Borg.

As the rest of the galaxy struggles to recover, maybe Starfleet will learn that the Delta Quadrant largely escaped the Burn. The century-long absence of strong borders and interstellar long-range communications could have allowed any faction from that region of space (including the Borg) to seize the opportunity to pursue an aggressive, expansionist policy. The shape of the galaxy could’ve changed far more in the wake of the Burn than we might think, and a return to “business as usual” may not be possible if whole sectors have changed hands – or been assimilated!

Who will Captain Burnham and the crew face in Season 4?

As I’ve mentioned in the past, it’s also possible that the backup copy of the Doctor is still alive in this era. We’ve heard nothing from the production side of Star Trek to suggest he might be included as a character in Season 4, but I’d be curious to see if he’ll be mentioned in some way even if he doesn’t appear on screen. If the Living Witness copy of the Doctor has survived and returned to the Alpha Quadrant, that would be the strongest hint yet that at least part of the Delta Quadrant may have escaped the worst effects of the Burn.

Though Star Trek hardly needs an excuse, this could also be a great opportunity to bring the Borg into play in a big way. Discovery flirted with a Borg origin story in Season 2 – at least in my opinion – but we haven’t seen a proper Borg episode or story since 2003’s Enterprise Season 2 episode Regeneration.

If we work on the assumption that everything seen on screen in past Star Trek episodes is canon, and that the events in Living Witness and Discovery both take place in the Prime Timeline, I think we have a solid basis to construct a theory! Did some or all of the Delta Quadrant escape the Burn? And if so, what are the implications for the Star Trek galaxy in the late 32nd Century and beyond? We simply don’t know yet!

Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix in the UK and internationally. Star Trek: Voyager is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix in the UK (other international streaming may vary). The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery, Voyager, and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 – Could time travel have helped avoid the Burn?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3.

In the second part of this short series about the Burn we’re going to consider the possible impact of time travel. Last time, in case you missed it, we looked at how transporters and transwarp beaming could – potentially – have provided Starfleet and the Federation with a way to relieve the pressure of dwindling dilithium reserves in the years before the Burn. I also have a column looking at how well the Burn worked as a storyline, which you can find by clicking or tapping here.

As Season 3 began – and for much of its run – I speculated about the possible involvement of time travel either as part of the explanation for the Burn or as a way for Discovery to reset or even undo the catastrophic event at the storyline’s resolution. Here’s the short version of why: the Federation had access to time travel technology for hundreds of years, and by the 29th and 30th Centuries Starfleet routinely explored the timeline and even tried to patrol it and prevent any nefarious interference. Though there was a “temporal prime directive” in effect which prevented travellers from the future from changing the past, the precise way in which this worked is not clear.

The Department of Temporal Investigations is on the case!

Time travel has not been depicted consistently within Star Trek, and we do have to acknowledge that. Stories featuring the cast of The Original Series – including the film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home – seem to depict time travel as something that basically anyone with a warp-capable starship could accomplish (via the method of slingshotting around a star). However, by the time we get to stories set in the 24th Century, time travel appears to require specialist equipment and devices – which, at various points, the Federation may or may not have been in possession of.

Even if we’re incredibly conservative with how we interpret time travel stories within Star Trek, it still seems highly likely that by the 25th Century or thereabouts, Starfleet had the technology to routinely and safely travel through time – which is more than 600 years before the Burn. Much of what we know about Starfleet’s time travel missions suggests that their primary interests would be in travelling backwards through time to get a first-hand look at historical events, as well as to prevent factions like the Sphere Builders or the Borg from changing the past to suit their own goals and purposes. But there’s nothing to say that Starfleet wasn’t at least peeking ahead at the future timeline.

The Enterprise-E was able to modify its deflector dish to travel back to the 24th Century in First Contact.

I’d argue that not doing so would be a major risk and even a dereliction of duty. With Starfleet involved in a Temporal Cold War and/or the Temporal Wars, other factions were almost certainly using time travel technology to jump forwards and backwards through time to try to score an advantage. Heck, Discovery’s second season finale is an example of this: Captain Pike, Saru, Burnham, and the crew decide that sending the USS Discovery forward in time – removing it from the 23rd Century – was the safest way to keep this vital ship and its important data out of the hands of their enemy. If 23rd Century Starfleet was doing that, I see nothing to suggest that 29th and 30th Century Starfleet wasn’t doing that too.

We can’t argue that travelling forwards in time is any more difficult than travelling backwards. Again, Discovery Season 2 is a case in point. The Red Angel project in the mid-23rd Century created two time travel suits that were capable of moving forwards in time, and at various points in Star Trek’s broader canon we’ve seen ships like the USS Defiant and the Enterprise-E manage to successfully return to the 24th Century after jaunts to the past.

HMS Bounty – Kirk’s stolen Klingon Bird-of-Prey – was able to travel to the 20th Century and back again.

Everything we know about time travel in Star Trek tells us that the Federation had the capability to travel forwards in time, and a combination of their role in the temporal conflicts of the 29th and 30th Centuries as well as their previously-established desire to protect and preserve the “true” timeline gives them the motivation – and moral requirement – to do so as well.

So why didn’t anyone warn the Federation about the Burn?

The answer, at least according to Discovery Season 3, is the ban on time travel. But I’m not convinced that this works as a satisfying and believable reason on its own. Even if Starfleet were willing to abide by the ban on time travel and the temporal prime directive, would everyone have felt that way? If a Starfleet timeship encountered the post-Burn galaxy, would they not have felt an obligation to warn their colleagues in their native era?

The USS Relativity – a Starfleet timeship from the 29th Century.

Even if Starfleet had been willing to sacrifice countless lives and leave the galaxy in a horrible state to uphold certain ideals and principles, the Burn is bigger than just the Federation. Other factions in the Temporal Wars, had they become aware of the Burn, would likely have tried to warn their colleagues of what was to come. Even organisations within the Federation, like Section 31, seem like they’d have been unwilling to abide by a ban on time travel, let alone refuse to share knowledge of an impending disaster.

We don’t know for certain that this didn’t happen. Section 31 may not exist by this time, and if they do still exist they may indeed have tried to warn the Federation about the Burn. Other factions with access to time travel technology may have also warned their past selves too. Heck, this could be a plot point in Season 4; perhaps one faction was better-prepared than everyone else and is now ready to conquer the galaxy.

A black Section 31 combadge. Did the secretive organisation try to warn the Federation about the Burn – or prevent it entirely?

However, there is a significant counter-point that we need to consider: until Saru, Burnham, and Dr Culber travelled to the Verubin Nebula and met Su’Kal, no one knew what caused the Burn. Even if Starfleet had been warned centuries ahead of time, without the crucial knowledge of what the Burn was, who caused it, and so on, simply knowing that it was going to happen would not have been enough to prevent it. And perhaps that’s the key here. Even if Starfleet had travelled forward in time, in this exact version of the timeline, all they would’ve seen is a galaxy devastated by an event that no one knew anything about.

As I said last time, the way the Burn occurred was a combination of unlikely, unpredictable circumstances centred around a single, relatively obscure starship and one Kelpien child. When looking at a galaxy-wide event that appeared to happen everywhere simultaneously, even the most dedicated timeship crew would’ve struggled to put the pieces together. Michael Burnham and the crew of the USS Discovery were able to do so only with the Federation’s help; and it seems highly unlikely that Admiral Vance would’ve agreed to help the crew of a 29th or 30th Century timeship in the way he agreed to help Saru and Burnham. Remember what Vance said when he debriefed Burnham and Saru: their mere presence in the 32nd Century was “by definition, a crime.”

Admiral Vance, head of Starfleet in the 32nd Century.

Thus we can argue that Admiral Vance would have been unwilling to help a Federation timeship prevent the Burn, and would not have shared the vital information relating to SB-19 which ultimately allowed Burnham to pinpoint its source.

Likewise, if Section 31, the Emerald Chain, or some other faction operating in the 32nd Century wanted to travel back in time to prevent the Burn, the same issue of not knowing how, why, and where it happened arises. Without this information, realistically it seems impossible for the Burn to have been avoided. Only after Burnham’s investigation, culminating in the discovery of the KSF Khi’eth and Su’Kal, could anyone realistically use time travel to prevent the Burn or warn their counterparts in the past. And from our point of view as the audience, we’ve only just arrived at that chapter of the story!

When the Burn was first teased in the trailers for Discovery’s third season in 2019 and 2020, I wondered what role – if any – time travel might’ve played in the story. There were possible hints at a time travel-related cause for the Burn, perhaps even connected to one of the Red Angel suits from Season 2. There was also the Temporal Cold War from Enterprise. However, as a story point one thing about connecting time travel to the Burn seemed like it would be impossible to resolve as the season rolled on.

Crewman Daniels worked with Captain Archer in the 22nd Century to prevent a time-war in the far future.

In short, if the Burn had been revealed to have been caused by the nefarious actions of a time traveller – or as the result of a time travel/Red Angel suit accident – then logically, from Starfleet’s perspective, the only solution to the Burn would be to undo it; to travel back in time and prevent it from happening. In the first couple of episodes of the season, as we found our feet, perhaps such a storyline could’ve worked. But as we got to know people like Booker, Admiral Vance, the leaders of Earth, Ni’Var, Trill, and many others across the 32nd Century, removing most of them from existence by resetting the timeline would have felt completely wrong.

Undoing the Burn would’ve completely changed the 31st and 32nd Centuries, with knock-on effects for all of those characters – and countless more. Even if the crew of Discovery were immune to such changes, the consequences for everyone else would be vast. As I mentioned when discussing Admiral Janeway’s decision to take a similar action in the finale of Star Trek: Voyager, wiping untold numbers of people from existence altogether seems like the worst possible use of time travel – a war crime. The Temporal Accords that Admiral Vance mentioned and which the Federation strives to protect seem specifically designed to prevent anyone from doing this kind of thing.

Admiral Janeway wiped out more than a quarter of a century’s worth of history – and countless people.

So we get into the weeds of philosophy with this one! The Burn happened, and until we learned exactly how and why toward the end of the season, it was possible that time travel could’ve played a role in it. But even if it had, and the Burn was entirely the fault of the misuse or weaponisation of time travel, more than 120 years had passed since. In those 120 years, billions of people lived out complete lifetimes. They made friends, had relationships, had children, and above all they shaped the galaxy in the 31st and 32nd Centuries. Some nebulous, unprovable concept of how it might’ve been “different” and thus better was already a moot point by the year 3188, because going back in time and changing the past would remove untold billions of people from existence, and utterly change the lives of everyone else.

There’s also no guarantee that preventing the Burn would’ve made the galaxy in 3188 a better place. The Burn destroyed countless starships, but if it hadn’t the galaxy’s dilithium shortage would’ve continued and even accelerated, potentially leaving whole fleets of ships – and possibly planetary power grids – with no fuel at all. Though we get into pure speculation at this point, perhaps the Burn destroyed an invasion fleet that the Borg, the Dominion, or some other villainous group had put together, and if it hadn’t occurred the Federation would’ve been conquered.

Was the Burn the worst thing that could’ve happened – or might there be something worse?

This is the fundamental problem with making changes to the timeline and with time travel in general – it isn’t possible to predict every consequence! Star Trek even has a story all about that: the Voyager two-part episode Year of Hell, in which the villainous Annorax is in control of a time travel-based weapon, but after inadvertently removing his wife from existence becomes obsessed with making changes to the timeline left, right, and centre to undo his mistake.

In short, whether the Federation, Section 31, or some other faction were involved, they wouldn’t be able to predict what consequences would befall the galaxy if the Burn never happened. It isn’t possible to take into account every individual and thus every variable – as the story of Su’Kal kind of demonstrates. One Kelpien child on one crashed starship caused all of this damage and devastation. Who’s to say that undoing that event wouldn’t have led to something worse, some other catastrophe caused by a different individual?

Su’Kal was ultimately revealed to be the cause of the Burn.

As a contemporary analogy, imagine going back in time and preventing the rise of Napoleon and thus the Napoleonic wars. Or going back in time to prevent the eruption of Krakatoa. Those events caused widespread death and misery, and our morality says that we should try to minimise suffering and death wherever we can. But could you reasonably predict the consequences? If Napoleon didn’t rise to power in France, would someone else – someone worse – have done so? If Krakatoa didn’t erupt in 1883, would the pressure building up under the crust be released somewhere else at a different time – perhaps somewhere more highly-populated? These are just two examples, yet each one brings with it huge potential ramifications.

To conclude, time travel seemingly presents a way for the Burn to have been avoided – if we don’t dig too deeply. But scratch the surface and it becomes apparent that there are serious barriers. Starfleet’s steadfast commitment to its principles wouldn’t have allowed Admiral Vance – or anyone else in his role – to share information with time travellers from the past. Even if someone from the past had travelled to the 32nd Century, without the very specific information on the KSF Khi’eth that Michael Burnham and the crew of the USS Discovery assembled, warning Starfleet that the Burn was coming would have made little difference. Perhaps some ships could’ve been saved if the Federation were forewarned of the exact timing of the event, but that’s about all. With the destruction of the Red Angel suits, it appears that no time travel technology exists in the 32nd Century, preventing anyone – Section 31, the Emerald Chain, etc. – going back in time to prevent the Burn. Even if someone wanted to, the lack of information would once again be a hurdle even if we ignore the huge moral implications – and the implications for Discovery as a series effectively wiping out an entire season’s worth of story!

The cause of the Burn was only uncovered by the crew of the USS Discovery more than 120 years after it happened.

I can understand why the writers of Discovery Season 3 brought in all of the stuff about the Temporal Accords and the ban on time travel. I wish it had been elaborated on – and I also wish that Star Trek had been more consistent in its depiction of time travel on the whole, because there are definitely holes we can pick in the concept quite easily. As things sit, it feels like the writers basically said “time travel was banned, so get over it” and then moved on to the rest of the story. If you don’t look too hard, that’s okay. But we’re Trekkies – we like to dive deeply into all things Star Trek!

The ban on time travel is just one part of why Starfleet couldn’t really have used the technology to avoid the Burn, though. And the Burn’s ultimate origin as something accidental connected to a child who wasn’t even born before the KSF Khi’eth entered the Verubin Nebula provides a reasonable explanation. Without knowing the Burn’s origin, all Starfleet could’ve done was shut down as many ships as possible and try to rebuild after the Burn – and that would likely not have been good enough for worlds like Ni’Var. The Federation would still have fractured and the rest of the galaxy would still be in a mess.

As for going back in time and undoing the Burn now that Starfleet knows its origin, that seems off the table. Maybe a faction like Section 31 would contemplate it, but even then I think there are solid reasons to hesitate. The morality of wiping out an entire timeline and most of the people in it is the biggest consideration, but purely on a practical level there’s no guarantee that undoing the Burn wouldn’t lead to something else – something worse. For us as viewers, the Burn is something new. But from the point of view of characters like Admiral Vance and Kovich, this is an historical event more than a century in the past; it occurred before practically everyone alive in the Federation in 3188 was even born. Undoing it would be like one of us wanting to undo something that happened in the 19th Century. Can we think of valid, sympathetic reasons to want to undo certain historical events? Of course. But can we also understand why changing the past can have catastrophic unforeseen consequences? Absolutely. And that, in a nutshell, is why I think the Burn couldn’t and wouldn’t have been avoided via time travel.

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

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 – Could transporters have helped avoid the Burn?

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

This article is going to be the first in a short series about the Burn – one of the main elements of Discovery’s third season. We’re going to consider different ways that the Federation – and the wider Star Trek galaxy – could have avoided the Burn, a catastrophic event that caused untold damage to factions and citizens across known space and beyond.

In order for the Burn to have occurred at all, a very specific set of circumstances needed to align in just the right way (or should that be just the wrong way?) One of these was the dilithium shortage that Admiral Vance elaborated on after Saru, Burnham, and the crew of the USS Discovery arrived at Federation HQ. In short, for a long time prior to the Burn there had been a shortage of dilithium across the galaxy. This shortage was so severe that the Federation began looking at alternative options for faster-than-light travel. One of the ideas they considered was something called SB-19 – a Ni’Var project that seemed to involve some kind of starship-sized “gateways” to get from place to place.

SB-19 was a pre-Burn experiment to send starships at faster-than-light speeds without warp drive.

We’re going to leave those ideas behind for now and focus on one aspect of Star Trek that has been present since the beginning: the transporter. In short, would it have been possible for transporter technology to provide an alternative to some or all of Starfleet’s faster-than-light travel?

On the surface it may seem that the two things aren’t related. Transporters are mainly shown on screen as a method of sending people from starships to planets, and vice versa. Faster-than-light starship travel is in a completely different ballpark, right?

Not so fast! What is the main purpose of warp drive in the Federation? Starfleet uses it for exploration and military purposes, of course, so as viewers that’s what we associate warp drive with – setting course for an unknown destination and racing away to explore it. But the Federation is much larger than just Starfleet, and there must be an awful lot of civilian and cargo traffic that uses warp drive in the same way we use a car, bus, train, or aircraft – it’s a means to an end; a way to get from place to place.

Book’s ship at warp in Discovery Season 3.

2009’s Star Trek introduced something that I think is vital to this consideration: transwarp beaming. On first viewing I felt the film wasn’t clear about how and when transwarp beaming was invented, so for the sake of clarity here’s what seems to have happened: after arriving in the 24th Century following decades in suspended animation – events depicted in The Next Generation sixth season episode Relics – Montgomery Scott eventually went back to work with Starfleet. Sometime prior to 2387, Scotty perfected the formula for transwarp beaming, and Spock provided this equation to Scotty’s younger self on the planet Delta Vega after arriving in the alternate reality.

In Star Trek Into Darkness we see how much more powerful transwarp beaming can be than a regular transporter. As with most of Star Trek’s technologies, transporters have always been somewhat vague and mouldable to the needs of a particular story, but Into Darkness actually gave us a pretty solid idea about the range that transwarp beaming has: it’s possible to transport from Earth to the Klingon home planet of Qo’noS.

“John Harrison” materialises on Qo’noS.

Into Darkness doesn’t give an exact distance to Qo’noS, but in Enterprise’s pilot episode it was far enough away from Earth that no human had ever encountered a Klingon despite humanity being a spacefaring species for decades. The travel time from Earth to Qo’noS at warp 4.5 was around four days in that same episode.

Memory Alpha, the Star Trek wiki, suggests that the distance between Earth and Qo’noS could be somewhere between 90-110 light-years, so for a rough guide for the sake of this argument we’re going to say that transwarp beaming has a range of at least 100 light-years. This technology was known to Spock in 2387, so it definitely existed in the Prime Timeline in the late 24th Century. Even if 100 light-years is the absolute maximum distance for transwarp beaming, it’s still a far faster method of travel than anything else known to the Federation. In Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 (the ninth episode of Star Trek: Picard), Admiral Picard tells Dr Jurati that the use of a Borg transwarp corridor allowed La Sirena to travel “25 light-years in fifteen minutes.” Picard says this with a tone of surprise, as if such speed is something that the Federation, even in the year 2399, is unaccustomed to.

In the year 2399, travelling 25 light-years in 15 minutes was remarkable.

Transwarp beaming, then, is even faster than the Borg’s transwarp network. Though the Borg’s spatial trajector (a technology they appear to have assimilated from the Sikarians) may give it a run for its money! Regardless, transwarp beaming is arguably the fastest method of long-range travel ever seen in Star Trek. It allowed “John Harrison” to travel around 100 light-years in a heartbeat, something that even Borg starships couldn’t do a century later.

So how does all of this connect to the Burn? Based on what we saw on screen, it doesn’t! That’s the short answer. For whatever reason, Starfleet appears not to have pursued transwarp beaming in the 29th and 30th Centuries. But this is a fan theory, so we’re running with it anyway!

Despite what’s usually shown on screen, transporters don’t just move people. In fact, living beings are arguably one of the hardest and most complex things for a transporter to manage. Early episodes of Enterprise explained that the first transporters were only supposed to move cargo, and we’ve seen industrial-sized cargo transporters on other ships, including the Enterprise-D. These transporters were often larger, capable of beaming large objects, groups of people, and other things.

Dr Crusher and Geordi La Forge in one of the Enterprise-D’s cargo bays.

Do you see where this is going yet? Much of the reason for interstellar travel within the Federation was to move objects and people from place to place. Going into space in a starship and travelling at warp speed was the best method that the Federation had of doing so – until transwarp beaming came along. Transwarp beaming, even if it had an absolute maximum range of 100 light-years that could never under any circumstances be surpassed, was still a viable option for a significant portion of the Federation’s interstellar travel needs.

Nothing we know of in Star Trek should have prevented the further development and honing of transwarp beaming. Even if no one did anything with the transwarp beaming concept before the 29th or 30th Centuries, when dilithium supplies began to run short Starfleet could easily have started to work again on a concept they’d sidelined. The formulae and information about transwarp beaming seem unlikely to have been lost in that time. Industrial-sized transwarp beaming hubs could have been built, capable of sending vast amounts of goods and whole crowds of people from one planet to another. Not only that, but transwarp beaming hubs in space could even have been constructed, forming a network that would’ve allowed Starfleet to send its vessels from system to system without expending valuable fuel.

Two crewmen carrying a dilithium crystal aboard the Enterprise-D.

It is possible based on what we saw on screen that some version of transwarp beaming was part of the aforementioned SB-19 project. But that has never been confirmed, and considering that transwarp beaming was known to work reliably in the late 24th Century (or the 23rd Century in the alternate reality) it seems unlikely that SB-19 would have struggled to make the concept work hundreds of years later. This was already proven, working technology within Star Trek’s Prime Timeline.

Had Starfleet invested in transwarp beaming on a large scale, it’s possible that the range of the technology could have been extended, its power consumption reduced, and a vast interplanetary network of transwarp beaming stations created that would have relieved at least some of the pressure on dilithium-powered starships. With that pressure reduced and the desperation on the Federation’s part to source new dilithium lessening as a result, the chances of the KSF Khi’eth crashing in the Verubin Nebula, setting in motion the unlikely chain of events that led to the Burn, seems greatly diminished.

The wreck of the KSF Khi’eth.

In short, using transporters in this way could have avoided the Burn entirely.

Now let’s consider the biggest counter-argument to this idea: how power generation works in Star Trek.

It stands to reason that a transporter takes up a lot of power. In Discovery’s premiere episode, a particular design of transporter in use on the USS Shenzhou was considered outdated by Michael Burnham specifically because of its high power consumption. It logically follows that the larger the mass of the objects being transported, the more power is required. It also stands to reason that transporting over longer distances would likewise require a larger expenditure of power. This might even jump exponentially.

Sarek and Michael Burnham in the USS Shenzhou’s transporter room.

Relatively few Star Trek stories have been set on planets, so we don’t know very much about how planetary power generation works. But assuming that, in order to power the technologies and mod-cons of the 24th Century, planets require comparable levels of power per person to a starship, it’s possible that planetary power grids (such as the one on Earth that was sabotaged by Admiral Leyton in the Deep Space Nine episodes Homefront and Paradise Lost) use a similar matter-antimatter reaction in order to generate enough power for the needs of the population. And what does a matter-antimatter reaction need to be safe and stable? Dilithium crystals.

Transporters based on starships would also have this limitation – as everything on board a starship seems to be powered by a controlled matter-antimatter reaction. Perhaps, then, transporters have the same basic limitation as warp drive: a reliance on dilithium for power. This counter-argument could be used to explain why transporters and transwarp beaming weren’t able to be used as a viable replacement for even a small amount of Starfleet’s interstellar traffic in the years prior to the Burn.

It seems as though transporter technology would use a lot of power.

I still think this is an interesting idea, though! Star Trek has thrown a lot of technobabble concepts our way over the years, so it’s inevitable that almost any new storyline can bring with it questions like “why didn’t they try to do X?” or “why didn’t someone think of using Y?” That’s just the nature of this kind of franchise.

On this occasion we’ve jumped headfirst into a theory based on a few lines of dialogue and interpretations of things shown on screen in unconnected parts of Star Trek’s broader canon. I didn’t do that to imply that there’s somehow an egregious “plot hole” in the way Discovery’s third season explained the dilithium shortage or the Burn; really this has just been an excuse to spend a bit more time in the Star Trek galaxy. This isn’t something to take too seriously – no fan theory is – and as already mentioned I can think of at least one solid counter-argument to the idea of Starfleet setting up a kind of transwarp beaming network to ease its reliance on warp drive.

I hope this theory was a bit of fun, though! Stay tuned for more in this short series about the Burn, because transporters and transwarp beaming aren’t the only ways that Starfleet could’ve potentially avoided the disaster and its consequences. And if you want to see my breakdown and analysis on how well the Burn did (and didn’t) work as a narrative in Discovery Season 3, take a look at this article.

Until next time!

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

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 – what was the Burn?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Season 3.

As I was wrapping up my Discovery Season 3 series of articles in January, I said that we’d return to the Burn at a later date once I’d had time to get my thoughts in order. The Burn was the main storyline running through all of the show’s third season, and in addition it’s a story which has significant ramifications for Star Trek going forward, so I wanted to be able to do justice to this big subject. As you may recall from my commentary as the season was ongoing, I have mixed feelings. There’s a lot to talk about.

First up, let’s recap what the Burn was purely from an in-universe perspective, then we can get into my analysis of how well it worked as a narrative.

Though the timeline of some of these events was vague, we know that beginning in the 28th or 29th Centuries, the galaxy began to experience a dilithium shortage. The reason for this was never given nor explained in detail, but it was serious enough that the Federation began seeking out alternative sources of dilithium. At the same time, the Federation started to research alternative methods of faster-than-light travel, the most successful of these being the Ni’Var (Romulan-Vulcan) project called SB-19.

SB-19 was a pre-Burn Federation experiment – and one of the clues Discovery Season 3 dropped as to the event’s origin.

All of this came against the backdrop of a conflict referred to as the Temporal Wars. It’s assumed that this is related to Enterprise’s Temporal Cold War storyline, which saw a temporal agent named Daniels spend time aboard Captain Archer’s NX-01 Enterprise. The end of the war in the late 30th or early 31st Century saw the implementation of a ban on time travel, which is an aspect of the storyline that never really went anywhere.

By the mid-3060s, the Federation’s quest for dilithium was ongoing, and a Kelpien ship – the KSF Khi’eth, with Dr Issa on board – travelled to the Verubin Nebula. After finding a route inside, the ship crashed on a dilithium planet inside the nebula, and wasn’t able to be rescued. A child named Su’Kal was born to Dr Issa while inside the nebula, and as a result of exposure to the Verubin Nebula’s radiation and the dilithium of the planet where he was born, Su’Kal developed a telepathic connection of some kind with dilithium, a link which was seemingly amplified by being on the dilithium planet. At moments of extreme emotion, Su’Kal could trigger a psychic shockwave which destabilised dilithium. The death of his mother in the late 3060s caused this to happen, and the psychic shockwave travelled across the entire galaxy near-simultaneously. Almost all active dilithium went inert, and any ship with an active warp core exploded. This event was later referred to by survivors as “the Burn.” No one, including the Federation, knew how or why this happened, and for more than a century the cause of the Burn went unknown.

The Burn. Figuring out what caused it was a big part of Season 3.

The Burn caused widespread societal changes across the known galaxy, including the withdrawal of many Federation members and the rise of a faction called the Emerald Chain – which was implied to be a successor to the Orion Syndicate. Worlds like Trill, Earth, Ni’Var, and others left the Federation, and the severe dilithium shortage meant that other Federation members and colonies were no longer within travel distance. It’s not clear whether the Burn wrecked the Federation’s subspace communications network directly, or whether decades of decline and decay were responsible. Either way, by the time of Michael Burnham’s arrival in the year 3188, the rump Federation was not able to even communicate with some former and current members.

So that, in a nutshell, is the Burn.

Over the course of Season 3, Discovery dropped hints about the Burn and what it could be connected to. We had the mysterious piece of music that everyone seemed to know, Michael Burnham’s year-long research quest into starship black boxes, the aforementioned SB-19 project, the missing Red Angel suits and Michael’s mother, the name “Burn” possibly implying a connection to Michael Burnham, a mention of the Gorn having “destroyed” a region of subspace, a couple of possible ties to the Short Treks episode Calypso – by way of the word “V’draysh” to refer to the rump Federation and the timelines seeming to line up – and a couple of other smaller things.

Discovery implied a connection to the Short Treks episode Calypso – among others!

This setup forms a fairly typical “mystery box;” a style of storytelling pioneered by people like the writer/director of 2009’s Star Trek (and The Rise of Skywalker) J.J. Abrams. Alex Kurtzman, who was Discovery’s executive producer for all of Season 3 and who’s in overall creative control of the Star Trek franchise for ViacomCBS, is a colleague of and frequent collaborator with J.J. Abrams, and has adopted at least some of his storytelling methods. So it makes sense to see a “mystery box” in Discovery considering who’s in charge – and how television storytelling in general works as we’ve moved into an era of serialised shows.

The basic problem with the Burn as a “mystery box” is that the clues we as the audience were fed throughout the season did not add up to the story’s resolution. None of the clues or hints that the show dropped ultimately mattered; there was no way for anyone to put the pieces together to figure out the cause of the Burn based on what we saw on screen, not until the final episode when the Burn’s true origin was revealed. Some, like the piece of music, were dropped from the story altogether, despite seeming to be important when they first appeared. This made for a narrative that was, for many viewers and fans, unsatisfying at a fundamental level.

Star Trek: Discovery executive producer Alex Kurtzman.
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I’m not suggesting that the storyline should have been telegraphed or written in a very obvious way, but once the decision had been made to establish the 32nd Century’s semi-post-apocalyptic setting as being of mysterious origin, that mystery needed to be resolved in a satisfying way. The fact that nothing that we learned across the entire season mattered or had any impact whatsoever on the Burn made the reveal that Su’Kal was the cause feel like a bolt from the blue; a deus ex machina.

Had the Su’Kal reveal come in episode 3 or 4, and then the story had moved on to deal with things like the diplomacy with Ni’Var and the conflict with the Emerald Chain, perhaps it would’ve worked better. But it came at the end of a season that had been running for several months, and in which several episodes were side-missions that didn’t further the Burn story in any way. Season 3 feels like it spent a lot of time getting to an anticlimax; all of those expectations which had been built up quite cleverly over the preceding episodes basically fizzled out. It wasn’t a catastrophic disaster of an ending, but it was one which just didn’t seem to fit with the story that had been teased all season long.

Su’Kal, a Kelpien who had no connection to anything else in the story, was ultimately revealed as the cause of the Burn.

For Trekkies – and for more casual viewers too, I would argue – the Burn was the most interesting, tantalising, and engaging part of the story of Season 3. How had Star Trek’s optimistic future been brought to its knees? How had the Federation allowed this event to happen in the first place, and how had the organisation so badly bungled its aftermath that even Earth had quit the organisation? These questions were all teed up by the Burn storyline, and providing a satisfying answer was perhaps the single most important task that befell the writers and producers of Season 3.

Su’Kal being the answer could have worked if the mystery had been set up differently. Bringing in the Kelpiens at an earlier stage would’ve helped, as would clues or hints about missions to seek out dilithium or experiments about radiation and telepathy. But I don’t think there can be any denying that Su’Kal as the cause of the Burn in the version of the story that made it to screen came from nowhere; it simply does not fit with what was set up in the rest of the season. That’s the fundamental reason why, for many folks, the Burn feels like a storyline that didn’t deliver at what should’ve been its climax.

Having set up a season-long mystery, the storyline jumped to a completely different conclusion that ignored what had been previously hinted at or established.

There’s more to say, though. The idea of running out of an essential fuel and looking for alternative options is an interesting analogy considering that the real world remains dependent on fossil fuels. The Burn can be read, perhaps, as an extreme metaphor for climate change – the Federation’s dependence on dilithium ultimately caused a catastrophe that almost led to the collapse of civilisation itself.

But if this kind of analogy was part of the writers’ intentions, it has to get a failing grade. The concept itself works. It does what Star Trek has always done: uses its sci-fi setting to look at real-world issues. But once Su’Kal was shuffled out of the way, what did the Federation find? A massive cache of dilithium. A planet-sized mass of this vital fuel could power the galaxy for decades or more, regardless of the fact that it was almost responsible for the end of advanced civilisation. To continue the climate change analogy, this is the equivalent of running out of coal and oil, trying to use renewables, then the story ending with a huge new coal mine and oil fields being discovered.

Finding a dilithium planet rendered what could’ve been an interesting and timely story about fuel and energy resources somewhat meaningless.

Though some Trekkies may be glad to see that dilithium crystals aren’t in danger of disappearing from the franchise, this adds another element to the Burn’s unspectacular ending. After all of the talk of a shortage of fuel, alternative methods of propulsion (including several mentioned in the season premiere that were never spoken of again), and how dangerous dilithium could be, the story ends not with some new technology being invented to circumvent the crisis, nor with Federation starships being fitted with Spore Drives like Discovery has, but with a cop-out – finding a huge new dilithium planet that can be strip-mined for fuel.

The Burn and the dilithium shortage storylines were effectively reset by the end of Season 3. With Season 4 seemingly picking up a new story, what could’ve been one of the most powerful turning points in the entirety of Star Trek may find itself relegated to being little more than an unsatisfying season-long story arc that future stories will simply ignore. The Burn could’ve led to significant changes for Star Trek, assuming future shows might use a 32nd or 33rd Century setting. New kinds of starship could have been created using different methods of propulsion and new technobabble to explain it. Instead, basically what happened is that after a season-long dalliance with a setting teetering on the edge of the post-apocalyptic, Star Trek will shift back to using the same things as before.

Discovery can warp away to a new adventure next time and shelve the Burn.

A story that comes full-circle can work. After a season of seeing the galaxy struggling in the aftermath of the Burn, it will feel great to see Captain Burnham and the crew bringing hope back to the shattered Federation, and hopefully seeing the organisation returning to full strength. But how we get to those ending points is significant, and in the case of the Burn, the storyline took an odd route that has left many viewers feeling it wasn’t all it could’ve been.

Finally, we come to what I consider to be the worst and most egregious failing of the Burn and its storyline: the portrayal of Su’Kal and his role in it.

Bill Irwin put in an outstanding performance as Su’Kal, and I don’t want to criticise him for a moment. The way Su’Kal came across on screen was sympathetic, and his scenes with Saru in particular were deeply emotional. This is no criticism of the performances of Irwin or any of the other actors involved in the Su’Kal sequences.

Bill Irwin was wonderful to watch as Su’Kal.

Neurodivergent people, people with learning difficulties, and people with mental health issues have long been portrayed on screen in a variety of negative ways. That can be by becoming the butt of jokes, at other times being portrayed as villains, having no say in or agency over their own lives and stories, or simply by being ignored; it hasn’t been an easy road. Simply seeing a positive portrayal of someone in that situation could be a big deal, yet Discovery completely screwed this up.

By saying that Su’Kal accidentally caused the worst disaster in the entire history of the Star Trek galaxy, the show plays to old stereotypes of the neurodivergent as dangerous. Su’Kal is, for all intents and purposes, no different from Lennie in John Steinbeck’s 1937 novel Of Mice and Men. Lennie would accidentally kill another character in the book because he didn’t realise or understand his own strength, and that description of a man who was “too stupid” to recognise or understand his own power fits Su’Kal almost perfectly.

Su’Kal is basically a futuristic Lennie from Of Mice and Men. (1992 film adaptation pictured.)

Discovery treats Su’Kal with a cloying, sickening pity at times, looking down at him while trying to present him in as pathetic a manner as possible. The show sees Su’Kal as a hapless moron who blew up every starship in the galaxy with his uncontrolled emotional outburst, painting him – and, by extension, other people with mental health conditions and learning disabilities – as a serious danger to others. People with learning difficulties are often portrayed as unable to control their emotions, which is a further stereotype that Discovery leans into. These aspects of the portrayal are really just awful, and putting Su’Kal in this position has real-world comparisons that are deeply unpleasant.

How many times can you remember hearing, in the aftermath of a massacre or killing spree, that the suspect had “mental health problems” or a learning disability? It seems like it happens every time we hear of such an event, and there’s a huge stigma even today around the topic of mental health. As someone with diagnosed mental health conditions myself, this is a topic that hits close to home, and I feel that the way Discovery portrayed Su’Kal as this kind of “dangerous idiot” stereotype shows how far we still have to go as a society when it comes to talking about and depicting neurodiversity on screen.

Su’Kal being the cause of this disaster has some really disturbing implications beyond the story.

Though I enjoyed much of what Discovery’s third season brought to the table, the way Su’Kal was portrayed in his two appearances at the end of the season were really disappointing, even more so considering that the Star Trek franchise has so often tried to be a pioneer for portrayals of underrepresented peoples. Season 3 introduced transgender and non-binary characters for the first time, for example, and the show has a married gay couple, is led by a black woman, and has characters from many different backgrounds. But when it came to depicting someone with mental health issues and learning difficulties, Discovery fell back on overused stereotypes and outdated tropes, effectively bringing a modern-day Lennie to the screen.

There are aspects of Su’Kal’s story that did work. I like the fact, for example, that the telepathic technobabble aspect of the storyline was very “Star Trek” – you wouldn’t get this kind of story in any other franchise, and that’s something that gives Star Trek a sense of identity; a slightly esoteric, weirder kind of sci-fi than you get in other stories. But that side of it is drowned out by how badly Su’Kal as a character and a trope landed.

Su’Kal’s emotional outbursts are deadly.

Neurodiversity isn’t always going to be easy to put to screen, and I get that. If there were only two half-episodes to show off Su’Kal and get to know him, perhaps the chance for a nuanced portrayal that was sympathetic without being pitiful never existed to begin with. But if that’s what happened, Su’Kal should never have been created in the first place. Either a different character should’ve filled that role, or an alternative explanation for the Burn should’ve been found. Given all of the other faults, missteps, and failings present in the Burn narrative as a whole, which I outlined above, I would prefer the latter.

Su’Kal as a character exists in a weird space for me. On the one hand, the emotional side of the portrayal, and the performance by guest star Bill Irwin, were outstanding. But there are so many flaws in the premise of the character and his role in this galactic catastrophe that I can’t look past them. Su’Kal being responsible for the Burn is an age-old trope, one which perpetuates the stigmatisation of the neurodiverse, and in particular those with learning difficulties. Star Trek should know better than to use a character like Su’Kal in a role like this; Star Trek should be better than this, and that’s why it’s so disappointing to see this storyline in Discovery.

I’m very disappointed that a Star Trek show would choose to rely on these outdated stereotypes.

To conclude, I’ll say that the Burn was an interesting, if slightly alarming, premise for the season. It allowed Discovery to tell some truly different and unexpected stories, it provided the backdrop for some great characterisation and character moments, and it has set the stage for future stories in this era. It wasn’t a total failure and I wouldn’t want to see it somehow erased or overwritten.

At the same time, however, the storyline itself followed a very odd path. The ending didn’t flow from what had been slowly built up across the rest of the season leading to the Burn as a whole feeling unsatisfying. Season 3 is saved by the fact that it has those other great episodes, character moments, and standalone stories; had it been all about the Burn we could well be talking about Season 3 as Discovery’s worst.

For me, though, the most egregious failure and deepest disappointment with the Burn storyline is the role Su’Kal played in it, and the implications that has for how neurodiverse people are viewed and portrayed on screen. Though the stigma around mental health and learning disabilities still exists in a big way out here in the real world, Star Trek has always been at the forefront of changing minds and challenging stereotypes. To fall back on such an old-fashioned trope, even though I have no doubt it was accidental, is bitterly disappointing and even upsetting.

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

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 – wacky ideas

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

When we think about which Star Trek show is the best fit for some wacky, out-of-left-field storylines, Lower Decks almost certainly springs to mind! But rather than silly or outlandish stories, what I’m thinking of today are five storylines that could take us by surprise in Discovery’s fourth season, in large part due to the huge time jump.

Star Trek: Picard showed us a little of the state of the galaxy in the years after Nemesis and Voyager, but that’s really as far along as the timeline has gone, and even then there’s a lot we don’t know. The galaxy as we knew it could have changed massively in the 800 years since; just think about how completely different our own world is today compared to even just a century or two ago. Factions and races we might not expect to see working together could come together, and likewise the passage of time could have seen friends drift apart.

Ni’Var had left the Federation by the 32nd Century.

Discovery’s third season already showed us a very different galaxy in the aftermath of the Burn. The idea that Vulcan and even Earth would have quit the Federation seemed unfathomable, yet that was the galaxy that Burnham and the crew found themselves in. So perhaps the entries on this list aren’t quite so wacky after all! Will they come to pass, though? Only time will tell…

My usual caveat applies: I have no “insider information.” This list is just for fun, to speculate about some strange possible future scenarios that could, under some circumstances, possibly come to pass in the Star Trek galaxy. I’m not even trying to say that any of these would necessarily be good stories! I just think these concepts are interesting, and would – if nothing else – shake up the Star Trek galaxy and Discovery’s 32nd Century in completely different and unexpected ways. With all that out of the way, let’s jump into the list.

Number 1: The Dominion has joined the Federation.

Weyoun was one of the Dominion’s leaders during the Dominion War.

Discovery’s third season focused a lot on which planets and factions had left the Federation, but aside from the Barzan we didn’t really learn of any existing Star Trek factions that had joined the Federation in the centuries since Nemesis and Picard. Prior to the Burn, there were at least 350 Federation members, so that means an awful lot of planets and factions had joined. Could the Dominion, once the foremost power of the Gamma Quadrant, be among them?

I don’t mean a Federation-Dominion peace treaty or alliance. I mean the Dominion became a full-blown Federation member like any other. It’s possible that faster warp speeds cut travel time between the Alpha and Gamma Quadrants, making such a proposal feasible without relying wholly on the Bajoran wormhole. But would the Dominion ever want to make such a move?

Odo returns to the Founders.

In What You Leave Behind, the finale of Deep Space Nine, Odo travelled to the Founders’ homeworld. He did so not only to cure them of a disease that threatened their lives, but also to share his knowledge of life among “solids,” hoping to convince them to abandon their desire for conquest and subjugation. If Odo had succeeded in that objective, it’s possible to envision a future in which the Federation and Dominion opened a dialogue, one which eventually led to friendship, alliance, and the Dominion’s accession as a member.

With actor René Auberjonois having sadly passed away in 2019, I can hardly think of a more fitting legacy for the character of Odo than for Star Trek to say he successfully brought the Federation and Dominion together. There are a lot of questions that such a story would bring up, like whether only the Founders joined, whether the Vorta and Jem’Hadar did too, and what became of the planets and races the Dominion had conquered. But if the Dominion are to return in a future Star Trek production, this could be a really interesting twist on their expected status as adversaries, as well as Star Trek once again using its sci-fi setting to comment on real-world issues, in this case the prospect of peace even between bitter enemies.

Number 2: The Kelvan Empire is attacking the Milky Way galaxy.

Rojan, the leader of a Kelvan expedition to the Milky Way.

By Any Other Name, from the second season of The Original Series, introduced the Kelvan Empire. The Kelvans were native to the Andromeda galaxy, but feared that rising levels of radiation would wipe them out. They sent out generation ships to seek out other galaxies to conquer; Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise encountered several members of their expedition to the Milky Way.

The Kelvans were initially set on conquering the Milky Way by force, but were eventually convinced by Captain Kirk to seek a peaceful solution to their problem, dispatching an unmanned starship back to Andromeda with a proposal from the Federation to help the Kelvans find a new homeworld in the Milky Way. The story ends shortly after, without a proper conclusion.

The Kelvan Empire is native to the Andromeda galaxy.
Picture Credit: NASA

Given that the Kelvans initially seemed to view humans and the Federation in the way we might view ants, and that Kirk was only able to change the Kelvan leader’s mind by essentially tempting him to remain in humanoid form and enjoy the new feelings and sensations that brought him, it’s at least possible that the Federation’s offer to the Kelvans in Andromeda would be dismissed out of hand. Even if the Kelvan Empire accepted, if they arrived at the Milky Way in the aftermath of the Burn, they may have seen an opportunity to conquer.

Perhaps the “gravitational anomaly” glimpsed in the Discovery Season 4 trailer is a Kelvan weapon! Their technology was very powerful, far outclassing the 23rd Century Federation’s, so it isn’t impossible to think they could have such a weapon. Discovery has looked at obscure parts of canon on several occasions in the past, including bringing back factions and races from The Original Series era. So perhaps this one isn’t quite as wacky as it may seem!

Number 3: The Federation and Klingons are at war again.

A Klingon commander seen in Lower Decks.

When Star Trek: The Next Generation featured a Klingon main character as a Starfleet officer it really was a big change in the way the two factions interacted. Over the course of the first few seasons of the show we’d learn more about how the Federation and Klingons were at peace, and finally in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country we got to see how that peace was won. Considering that the Klingons had been the main adversary faced by Kirk and co. in The Original Series, this was a significant change for the Star Trek galaxy.

When discussing the Dominion, I noted that the passage of time can make friends out of longstanding enemies. But unfortunately the same is true in reverse; factions that had once been close allies can drift apart and even revert to being adversaries. It’s possible that this happened slowly over time, but there’s one event more than any other that could lead the Klingons – and many other factions, come to that – to hate the Federation: the Burn.

Discovery Season 1 featured a Federation-Klingon conflict.

Su’Kal, a Kelpien, caused the Burn, as we learned in Season 3 of Discovery. At that time, the Kelpiens were Federation members, and the ship Su’Kal was on when it crashed in the Verubin Nebula was undertaking a mission for the Federation. From the point of view of the Klingons, then, the Federation are responsible for the Burn, and presumably for thousands if not millions of Klingon deaths.

It’s hard to see how the Federation could keep the Burn’s origin a secret, and once it’s out there, it’s up to the denizens of the galaxy to apportion blame and decide how to respond. I hope that Season 4 doesn’t just ignore this aspect of the story, because I think there’s a lot of potential here to really shake things up. Whether the Klingons had ever been Federation members is kind of a moot point, because surely once the Burn’s true origin is known they would be out for revenge!

Number 4: A classic character is still alive… somehow!

The cast of The Next Generation Season 4.

This time I’m not talking about a backup copy of Voyager’s Doctor or any of the other few characters who could potentially have survived this long. Instead I’m thinking of a character who has absolutely no right to still be alive in the 32nd Century, yet somehow is! Whether it’s Will Riker, Kira Nerys, Harry Kim, or someone else doesn’t matter – I just like the idea that a random character has somehow been kept alive this long.

Discovery’s far future setting should mean that no one from the 23rd or 24th Centuries is still alive. But Star Trek has done funny things with stasis fields and sleeper ships in the past, even allowing Montgomery Scott to emerge from a transporter beam into the 24th Century and meet Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D.

Scotty aboard the Enterprise-D in Relics.

Technobabble basically means Star Trek can get away with bringing back practically any character, and as stasis, suspended animation, and other similar technologies are all known to exist, it would be quite achievable! In the past I did consider a handful of characters whose survival this long seemed more likely, but practically any character could come back via this method.

Dead characters could even return thanks to cloning, holographic technology, or even straight-up medical miracles that are tantamount to necromancy! So don’t count out any character from a past iteration of Star Trek, because who knows who we might encounter in the 32nd Century.

Number 5: The Borg have disappeared.

A battle between Borg and Romulans as seen in the Lower Decks title sequence.

In this storyline the Borg weren’t defeated militarily by the Federation. One day, they simply went silent – as if they had completely disappeared from existence. Perhaps the Federation sent probes or starships to visit what had once been Borg space, only to find no trace of the cybernetic beings who were once considered the galaxy’s biggest threat.

I like this kind of storyline for one simple reason: it’s incredibly unnerving. What could have caused the Borg to vanish? Did they do it themselves, or were they attacked? If they were attacked that raises perhaps an even bigger and more important question: who could possibly have the power to defeat the entire Borg Collective in one fell swoop?

A Borg Cube over Earth in The Best of Both Worlds.

It’s not unfair to say that a lot of Trekkies are sitting on our hands waiting to see how and when the Borg will return to Star Trek. This would be a complete twist on their expected return, triggering a mystery to solve in the process. One of the Star Trek shows I’d love to see most of all would be an all-out Borg war, but such a show could only have one possible ending: the Borg’s ultimate defeat. This storyline, in which the Borg have simply vanished, could be a lot more open-ended.

The danger in this kind of story is getting a suitably satisfying ending. The question of how and why the Borg disappeared would have to be paid off in a big way, somehow – and I’m not really sure how such a story could and should end. There are many different possibilities, but getting it to work and not feel unsatisfying or like a deus ex machina would be the key challenge.

So that’s it. Five wacky stories that Discovery Season 4 almost certainly won’t touch!

What kind of stories will Season 4 tell?

It’s been a lot of fun thinking up some very different Star Trek stories for the 32nd Century. I can see why the writers and producers wanted to take the ship and crew so far into the future – doing so has really opened up the kind of stories they’re able to tell within the Star Trek galaxy in a way that isn’t possible in other productions, even Picard.

Discovery’s fourth season is still on the schedule for 2021, and it’s possible we could see it as early as October – or as late as the end of December! Whenever it arrives, be sure to check back as I’ll be reviewing each episode as they’re broadcast as well as indulging in some theory-crafting. I hope these wacky ideas were a bit of fun!

Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix internationally. The Star Trek franchise, including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above, is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

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

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

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

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

Book’s ship at warp in the season premiere.

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

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

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

Number 1: Cleveland Booker is a Coppelius synth.

Book and his adoptive brother in the episode The Sanctuary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Burn-ham.

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

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

One of two Red Angel suits seen in Season 2.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Number 4: Lieutenant Detmer is going to die.

Lieutenant Detmer in People of Earth.

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

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

Detmer eventually survived the season.

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

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

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

The Doctor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craft, the protagonist of Calypso.

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

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

The unmanned USS Discovery tows Craft’s pod.

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

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

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

The USS Discovery making a Spore Drive jump.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Issa’s holographic message.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The holographic “monster.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“An alternate reality?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had some pretty significant theory misses last season!

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

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

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

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

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4: Factions of the far future

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and the teaser for Season 4. There are further spoilers for the following: Star Trek: The Original Series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Enterprise, Star Trek: Lower Decks, and Star Trek: Picard.

Now that we’ve seen the first teaser for Star Trek: Discovery’s upcoming fourth season, and learned that a release later this year is on the cards, I thought it could be a bit of fun to consider some of the factions from past iterations of Star Trek that may – or may not – still be around in the 32nd Century! We know that at least part of the story of Season 4 will look at some kind of gravitational anomaly, and if you want to check out a few of my theories on that you can do so by clicking or tapping here. Even if the gravitational anomaly is the overarching season-long story, Discovery is likely to still find at least some opportunities to step away and spend a bit more time exploring the 32nd Century.

Season 3 was our first introduction to this time period in all of Star Trek, and as such we as the audience were learning about the state of the galaxy as Burnham, Saru, and the rest of the crew had their adventures. We met a couple of major factions outside of the rump Federation, but many familiar factions and races from past iterations of Star Trek were entirely absent – including some that might prove interesting from a story perspective. So in this article I’m going to take a look at a few of my favourites and speculate about where they might be in the 32nd Century.

The USS Discovery in the Season 4 teaser.

With Burnham and the crew having originated in the 23rd Century, they’ve missed most of what happened in past iterations of Star Trek! Major events like the V’Ger cloud’s arrival at Earth, two Borg incursions, and the Dominion War will all be unfamiliar to them, and there’s storytelling potential in re-introducing a faction from Star Trek’s past to a character or group of characters who are entirely unaware of their existence. Such a story could be interesting and fun, as well as providing new Trekkies – those who haven’t seen much of “classic” Trek – with an easy introduction to an older faction.

My usual caveat applies: I have no “insider information.” I’m not suggesting that any of these factions will definitely show up, or even be mentioned, in Discovery Season 4. This is simply a chance to have a bit of fun and speculate about the future of some of the factions we’re familiar with from past iterations of Star Trek by imagining where they could be by the 32nd Century.

With that out of the way, let’s jump into the list!

Number 1: The Bajorans

Kai Winn, the Bajoran spiritual leader in the 2370s.

We’re going in alphabetical order, so the Bajorans are up first! Even though they weren’t a Federation member, a number of Bajorans were known to have served in Starfleet in the mid-late 24th Century, including Ro Laren, Sito Jaxa, and Lieutenant Shaxs. The Bajorans were in the process of applying to join the Federation when the Dominion War broke out; it has long been assumed by many fans that they would ultimately be successful, perhaps even becoming a fully-fledged member by the time of Picard Season 1.

Bajorans were familiar to the Federation in the 31st Century at least, because Dr Issa programmed a Bajoran physical appearance into the holoprogramme she made for her son, Su’Kal, aboard their crashed ship in the Verubin Nebula. It seems very likely that the Bajorans were a Federation member in the years before the Burn – whether they remained in touch with the rump Federation afterwards is unknown, but if they did they may very well be welcomed back into the fold following the discovery of a huge dilithium cache.

It’s also worth pointing out that Bajor is at a very strategic location – the Bajoran wormhole connects the Alpha and Gamma Quadrants. Whether that will matter quite so much with the advent of new, faster methods of travel is unclear, but Bajor could very well still be an important location.

Number 2: The Borg Collective

A Borg Cube seen in The Best of Both Worlds.

Since their official first contact with the Federation – which came in either the 2350s or 2360s depending on how we consider such things – the Borg have attempted to invade Earth twice. Though a time-travelling Admiral Janeway did some damage to the Collective in the late 2370s, I never felt convinced that the events of Endgame would have led to the complete destruction of the Borg.

With the Federation – or at least humanity – firmly in their sights, would the Borg have simply given up? It stands to reason that they made subsequent attempts to attack the Federation, taking advantage of their superior technology and greater numbers. However, the existence of the Federation in the 32nd Century means that any such attempts were met with failure! Perhaps the Collective is no longer around, having been decisively defeated.

The Burn would have presented an ideal opportunity for a faction like the Borg to attack the shattered Federation – yet they don’t appear to have done so. Could that mean that they have already been defeated, or could they be waiting just beyond Federation sensor range for Burnham and Discovery? Maybe the Spore Drive is something they want to acquire – and they could even be responsible for the gravitational anomaly seen in the Season 4 teaser!

Number 3: The Breen

Thot Gor, a Breen commander.

The Breen were initially thought up as an unseen faction, able to be referenced without ever making an on-screen appearance. That changed toward the end of Deep Space Nine, when they joined the Cardassian-Dominion alliance and came close to turning the tide against the Federation in the Dominion War.

Following the war’s end, we know nothing of the Breen. The peace treaty that they signed after their final defeat over Cardassia may have seen a loss of territory for them, or it may simply have seen them retreat to their own borders. Regardless, the Breen were a major power in the Alpha Quadrant in the mid-late 24th Century, with technology capable of matching and even outpacing the Federation. Their defeat in the Dominion War was a setback, but with their homeworld untouched by the conflict it stands to reason they were able to recover quickly.

Would they have pursued peace with the Federation in the decades and centuries after? Would their technology have continued to keep up? Did the expanding Federation come into conflict with the Breen again? Any and all of these things are possible, but as we didn’t see or hear of the Breen in Season 3, perhaps we will never know.

Number 4: The Cardassian Union

Gul Evek and his aide – two of the first Cardassians ever seen in Star Trek.

Discovery’s first Season 3 trailer tricked us last year! By showing off a Cardassian among a group of what we now know to be Emerald Chain guards, a lot of Trekkies wondered what sort of role the Cardassians might play. The answer, of course, was “none at all!” However, there was a second Cardassian seen in Season 3 – a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance in the episode Scavengers. This is arguably the most interesting post-Deep Space Nine Cardassian appearance to date, as the individual in question was a senior Starfleet officer, perhaps even a captain.

As noted above with the Bajorans, non-Federation members were eligible to join Starfleet under certain circumstances, and the post-Burn Federation was hardly in a position to turn away qualified candidates! But the existence of a Cardassian in what seems to be such a senior capacity suggests that they may have been a Federation member in the years before the Burn.

In a way, despite what happened during Dominion War, this makes a lot of sense. The Federation were in a position to offer help to the Cardassians as they rebuilt following the Dominion occupation of their world, and perhaps that help turned into an alliance over time, culminating in their joining the Federation.

Number 5: The Coppelius synths

A group of Coppelius synths seen in Star Trek: Picard Season 1.

The (relatively) short lifespan of humans and other organics means that, barring time travel shenanigans or being put in stasis, no one we met in the 23rd or 24th Centuries could reasonably have survived to the 32nd Century. However, synths don’t have such limitations, and as such it’s possible that some or all of the Coppelius synths from Picard Season 1 are still alive in this era.

What happened to them after the events of Picard Season 1 is not clear, and it may be something that Discovery’s sister show plans to revisit. If that’s the case we may not see anything of the synths in Season 4. However, if Picard Season 2 is going in a different direction – as its teaser indicated it might – there could be scope to pick up the synths’ story in Discovery.

The Coppelius synths were under Federation protection by the end of Picard Season 1. But with the Romulans hell-bent on exterminating them, they still appeared to be in danger. It would be very depressing to learn that a subsequent Romulan attack wiped them out, especially after Picard and Soji worked so hard to help them. So I hope that the synths are still around – even if they had to relocate to a new homeworld. They could have joined the Federation by this time, too.

Number 6: The Denobulans

Dr Phlox, a 22nd Century Denobulan.

The Denobulans have thus far only appeared in Star Trek: Enterprise, where main character Dr Phlox was a member of the species. Though friendly toward humanity by the mid-22nd Century, the Denobulans were not strictly “allies,” nor were they a founding member of the Federation – which consisted of Andorians, humans, Tellarites, and Vulcans in its original incarnation.

However, the Denobulan homeworld must have been in relatively close proximity to Earth and Vulcan, and with the Federation coalescing and growing it seems at least plausible that they joined up at some point, especially given their friendly history. If Federation HQ relocates back to Earth in Season 4, perhaps we’ll see more of the Denobulans, who might still be in the vicinity.

Number 7: The Dominion

A Jem’Hadar ship.

The Dominion were the dominant power in at least part of the Gamma Quadrant, and according to their own history, had been so for over two millennia as of the mid-24th Century. After a years-long cold war between the Dominion and Federation following first contact, armed conflict broke out in the 2370s. The Dominion War was arguably the most significant event of the latter part of the 24th Century from the Federation’s point of view, proving far more devastating than incursions by the Borg or earlier wars with the Klingons and Romulans.

Following their failed attempt to invade the Alpha Quadrant, the Dominion agreed to return to their own space beyond the Bajoran wormhole. Odo, a Founder who had lived among Bajorans and humans for decades, reunited with his people, hoping to communicate to them that the Federation would not try to wipe them out nor conquer them. If Odo was successful, this could have set the Dominion on the path to peace.

We simply don’t know what became of the Dominion. The Guardian of Forever was seen in Discovery Season 3, and had relocated to a planet near the Gamma Quadrant. Admiral Vance didn’t mention the Dominion when Burnham and Saru planned to travel there, so perhaps we can infer from that that the two powers are at peace. However, the Burn may have disrupted that peace, especially if it resulted in serious damage to the Dominion – might they hold the Federation responsible for that disaster?

Number 8: The Ferengi Alliance

Rom became Grand Nagus of the Ferengi Alliance in 2375.

The Ferengi initially appeared to be antagonistic toward the Federation following (official) first contact in the mid-24th Century, but they soon revealed their true nature: hardcore capitalists for whom war was simply not worth participating in as it was usually unprofitable. Ferengi society was strictly segregated, with men participating in business while women were expected to remain at home and raise their families.

There were seeds of change in the 2370s, with women’s rights issues coming to the fore in Ferengi society. There were also moves away from unregulated capitalism, with some Ferengi even forming unions and advocating for more rights and welfare. Though such changes surely led to pushback from conservative Ferengi, the appointment of Rom as Grand Nagus may have cemented at least some of these reforms.

Though hardly allies of the Federation, at least one Ferengi – Nog – would serve in Starfleet in this era, bringing a different perspective to the organisation and perhaps bringing the factions closer together. The existence of a USS Nog in the 32nd Century – while intended to be a tribute to actor Aron Eisenberg – could also be seen as an indication of continued warm relations in this time period.

Number 9: The Gorn

A 23rd Century Gorn captain.

The Gorn were neighbours of the Federation by the 23rd Century, and may have been involved in border disputes and skirmishes. There was no indication that they ever joined or even considered joining the Federation, and appeared to maintain a closed-border policy well into the 24th Century.

In the Lower Decks episode Veritas, Ensign Rutherford’s arrival at a Gorn wedding led to him coming under immediate attack by the Gorn who were present, and while this was (of course) part of an extended joke, it certainly suggests that the Gorn were not in any way friendly toward the Federation by the 2380s.

In That Hope Is You, the Discovery Season 3 premiere, Book told Michael Burnham that the Gorn had “destroyed subspace” somewhere in the vicinity of Hima. Perhaps that indicates that they were not allied to the Emerald Chain, nor the Federation – retaining their status as an independent power.

Number 10: Holograms

Index, a hologram seen in Star Trek: Picard.

We saw a number of holograms in Discovery’s third season, confirming that the technology is still in use in the 32nd Century. At least one of these holograms appeared to be intelligent, perhaps even sentient, but that was never confirmed.

In the late 24th Century, the Doctor – the USS Voyager’s Chief Medical Officer – was involved in a court case regarding his ownership over a work of fiction he had created. The court case was resolved in his favour in the episode Author, Author, and Captain Janeway suggested that he might have “struck the first blow for the rights of holograms.” There were other sentient holograms in the 24th Century as well, including a holographic version of Sherlock Holmes’ nemesis Professor Moriarty. What became of them is unclear!

As with the Coppelius synths, there’s no reason why holograms from the 24th Century couldn’t have survived this long, and one of my most popular theories here on the website has been that Voyager’s Doctor – or rather, a backup copy of him – will make an appearance in Discovery.

Number 11: The Iconians

An Iconian Gateway – one of the few surviving relics of their civilisation by the 24th Century.

Iconian civilisation flourished more than 200,000 years ago, and by the 24th Century they were believed to be extinct. However, their powerful technology utilised “gateways” to travel vast distances, and it was implied by the extent of the archaeological evidence that they maintained outposts or colonies on many other planets.

The destruction of their homeworld by an alliance of their enemies may have rendered the majority of Iconians extinct, but such a widespread civilisation could have avoided total annihilation, perhaps. The reason the Iconians are on this list is because of their popularity in non-canon works, particularly the video game Star Trek Online. Some elements from non-canon Star Trek publications have ended up crossing over to the main series, so perhaps the intervening centuries saw some kind of re-emergence of the Iconians.

Number 12: The various Kazon sects

Maje Culluh, a Kazon leader in the 2370s.

Discovery Season 3 didn’t establish whether the Federation were able to travel to the Delta Quadrant, nor if they had ever revisited the region since the USS Voyager’s transit in the late 24th Century. Given that warp drive was still the main way of travel, and that maximum warp speeds (as understood in a 24th Century context) meant that the Delta Quadrant would take decades to reach, perhaps they never did.

So we may not find out what became of the Kazon! Similar in some ways to a less technological, less organised Klingons, the Kazon were major antagonists across the first couple of seasons of Voyager. We know that the Borg considered them “unworthy” of assimilation – the only species we know of that the Borg couldn’t be bothered with!

It seems unlikely that the Kazon will have had much impact on the Federation given their distance. However, if they ever succeeded in unifying their disparate sects, perhaps they could have become a regional power in the Delta Quadrant. The USS Discovery’s Spore Drive could take the ship anywhere – even 70,000 light-years away. So maybe if they’re able to travel there, we’ll find out!

Number 13: The Kelvan Empire

Rojan, a 23rd Century Kelvan leader.

The Kelvans are an interesting – and potentially alarming – faction. Extragalactic aliens from the Andromeda galaxy, their technology was far superior to the 23rd Century Federation, and arguably to anything the Federation subsequently developed! They only appeared once, in The Original Series Season 2 episode By Any Other Name, but that shouldn’t stop them making a comeback.

The Kelvan Empire’s home galaxy was facing an extinction event due to rising radiation levels, and they sent out scouting parties to look for new homes. One of these parties encountered the USS Enterprise upon arriving in the Milky Way. Though initially interested in conquest, Kirk was able to convince the Kelvans to consider an alternative proposal, allowing the Federation to help them find new worlds to settle.

If the Federation’s proposal was accepted, perhaps there are millions of Kelvans living somewhere in the Milky Way in this era. Or if it was rejected… perhaps the Kelvan Empire is about to descend upon the Federation en masse!

Number 14: The Klingon Empire

Klingon Chancellor L’Rell.

The Klingons, despite having made so many appearances in Star Trek already, are perhaps the most interesting faction to see return in Discovery. Burnham and the crew are veterans of the Federation-Klingon war, and while I wouldn’t say any of them “hate” Klingons, they certainly would be distrustful of them. How would they react to learning that the Klingons had been allies with the Federation – or even Federation members – for centuries?

I think there’s a lot of potential for conflict, drama, and for Star Trek to do what it’s always done best: use its sci-fi setting to examine real-world issues, in this case, the way we can be guilty of judging groups of people. Characters like Culber, who was “murdered” by Voq, or Stamets, who had to deal with the fallout from that loss, could be front-and-centre in such a story, and it would be absolutely fascinating to see it unfold.

Rather than Discovery making the Klingons antagonists again, like in Season 1, it would be great to learn that the alliance of the 24th Century continued, and that if the Klingons remain an independent power – which they may well be – they’re at least on friendly terms with the Federation.

Number 15: The Maquis

Chakotay, a Maquis commander.

Although Maquis forces were said to have been almost entirely wiped out by the Cardassian-Dominion alliance during the early stages of the Dominion War, at least some Maquis were known to have survived the initial attack. In addition, the USS Voyager returned to the Alpha Quadrant with a contingent of 40-ish Maquis, including Chakotay and B’Elanna Torres.

It’s at least possible that the Maquis, who were breakaway colonists attempting to secede from the Federation, recreated their society in the aftermath of the Dominion War. While their soldiers may have been killed, we saw no confirmation of the fate of other Maquis colonists. If they survived the war, even in captivity, perhaps they attempted to continue their quest for independence afterwards.

If so, the Maquis colonies may have been independent of the Federation for centuries by the 32nd Century. What kind of society they might’ve developed in that time is not known.

Number 16: The Q Continuum

Q, a member of the Q Continuum.

The Q Continuum are returning in Season 2 of Picard – or at least, their most well-known member is. Perhaps that means we won’t see or hear anything about them in Discovery, nor learn what became of them in the far future. But it’s possible!

The Q are as close to immortal as any faction we’ve seen in Star Trek, so they should certainly still be in existence by this time. Their incredible powers are, as a famous quotation puts it, “indistinguishable from magic,” and Q suggested that the Continuum has existed for at least as long as the universe itself.

The Q seemed to view humanity and the Federation with curiosity rather than animosity, with Q even trying to help Captain Picard to solve puzzles that required different ways of thinking. If this kind of intervention continued, and humans continued to develop their reasoning skills, perhaps they might be on friendly terms with the Q by this time. However, if the Q are able to create matter, they would have been very useful friends to have as the Federation began to run out of dilithium! Perhaps the Q have instead stepped back from actively intervening in Federation affairs, content to watch from the outside.

Number 17: The Romulan Star Empire

Romulans, Vulcans, and Romulo-Vulcans in Season 3.

The existence of Romulans on Ni’Var – the planet formerly known as Vulcan – suggests that the Romulan Empire has disbanded following reunification. It was certainly implied heavily in the episode Unification III that reunification involved all Romulans and Vulcans. But it’s possible that a breakaway faction exists in some form; a “New Romulan Empire” claiming the mantle of the disbanded one.

We’ve already seen what was perhaps the biggest possible reveal for Burnham and the crew – learning that the Romulans are an offshoot of the Vulcans. However, with Ni’Var seemingly on the verge of rejoining the Federation, perhaps there is scope to see more from them. The Romulans remained a distinct group on Ni’Var, with full integration with the Vulcans having not occurred, and there are clearly internal tensions between the three main groups. This could be a story thread that Season 4 picks up.

Number 18: The super-synths

The super-synths almost arrived in the Milky Way… but their portal was closed at the last second.

We know practically nothing about this faction, despite them playing a major role in the conclusion to the story of Picard Season 1. They don’t even have a proper name! Claiming to be “an alliance of synthetic life” existing beyond the Milky Way, this faction offered to come to the aid of any synthetics who needed them. It was not clear if this offer was genuine or part of an elaborate trap.

I suggested in the run-up to Season 3 that the super-synths could have been involved with the Burn, but that turned out not to be the case. However, if they became aware of the Federation following the events of Picard Season 1, they could still be planning to travel to the Milky Way – perhaps with conquest on their minds.

The super-synths could thus be responsible for Season 4’s gravitational anomaly – perhaps it’s a weapon; an artillery barrage to soften up the Federation before the troops arrive! It would be fantastic for the creative team in charge of Star Trek to find a major way to tie Picard and Discovery together. Whether this is the right way to do it is certainly up for debate, but in principle I like it.

Number 19: The Talaxians

Neelix, a Talaxian chef.

Although the Talaxians are native to the Delta Quadrant, there was at least one Talaxian colony in or near the Beta Quadrant, significantly closer to Federation space. This seems to increase the likelihood that the Federation would have been able to remain in contact with them at least in the late 24th Century.

The Talaxian homeworld had been conquered sometime in the mid-24th Century by the Haakonian Order. Perhaps the Federation, if they remained on friendly terms with the Talaxians, would have wanted to aid them in liberating their homeworld. If the Federation developed the ability to travel to and from the Delta Quadrant at some point in the future, perhaps the Talaxians even joined the Federation!

Number 20: The Talosians

Talosians in Season 2 of Discovery.

The Talosians were a very dangerous people whose telepathic powers were able to trick humans, Vulcans, and other known races into seeing things that weren’t there. As a result of their attempt to kidnap Captain Pike and other Enterprise officers, Talos IV was declared off-limits to Starfleet personnel and the Federation.

The events of The Menagerie, in which the Talosians welcomed Captain Pike back to their world, as well as their general helpfulness toward Spock and Michael Burnham in Discovery Season 2, however, may suggest that General Order 7 – the section of Starfleet’s rules banning travel to Talos IV – may have been reassessed, although no in-universe evidence for that exists.

The surviving Talosians lived underground after their planet was devastated by war, and lost their ability to control their technology, focusing instead on refining their mental powers. In the 23rd Century, Talosian leaders believed their race was doomed to extinction – but maybe the Federation found a way to aid them? If not, perhaps Talos IV is uninhabited by this time period.

Number 21: The Tholians

A 23rd Century Tholian commander.

The Tholians have only made a couple of appearances in Star Trek – once in The Original Series and once in Enterprise. However, they’ve been mentioned on a number of occasions, and despite being antagonistic in the 23rd Century, some kind of diplomatic relations clearly existed a hundred years later.

As one of the few non-humanoid sentient species, it would be really interesting to see the Tholians make a return. An area of space that they claimed as their own seemed to have some kind of gateway to the Mirror Universe – if Discovery were to revisit that setting, perhaps the Tholians could be included.

As to where they might be or what they might be doing by the 32nd Century, that isn’t clear. In the aftermath of the Burn, they could have expanded to conquer border worlds, or they might’ve been a peaceful neighbour or even ally of the Federation in this era.

Number 22: The Vidiians

A trio of Vidiians form a boarding party in the 24th Century.

Another Delta Quadrant faction whose reappearance will depend on the Federation’s ability to travel, the Vidiians were an antagonist during the USS Voyager’s journey – but only because a disease known as the Phage was afflicting their society.

In the episode Think Tank, a group of “problem-solving” aliens claimed to have cured the Phage, and if this was true – that was left rather ambiguous due to the way the story progressed – perhaps the Vidiians would have been more peaceful and willing to establish a dialogue with the Federation, especially if they were visiting the Delta Quadrant regularly. Or, due to their relative proximity to the Borg, the Vidiians may have been assimilated!

That may seem like a harsh fate, but in the Picard Season 1 episode The Impossible Box the Borg were revealed to have assimilated at least some members of the Sikarian species, making use of their spatial trajector technology. The Sikarians were present in the same region of space as the Vidiians, so perhaps the expansion of the Borg in the late 24th Century was a problem for them.

Number 23: The Xindi

A Xindi-Aquatic in the 22nd Century.

I recently took a look at the possibility of the Xindi returning – along with fellow Enterprise antagonists the Suliban. Neither faction has been seen since Enterprise went off the air, and their absence suggests that, at least in the 23rd and 24th Centuries, they may have pursued a policy of isolationism.

The Xindi had joined the Federation, however, by the 26th Century, with at least one Xindi serving aboard the Enterprise-J. Whether they remained members in the years after the Burn is not known, and with 90% of Federation members either leaving or being out of contact it seems likely that they would have had to fend for themselves for a while.

So that’s it. A few factions from Star Trek’s past that may be around – in some form – in the 32nd Century!

Captain Burnham in the Season 4 teaser.

This was a long list, so credit to you for making it to the end. Truthfully I can think of at least half a dozen more factions that could have made it, but it was already getting far too long! We don’t know at this stage where Discovery Season 4 is going to go, and thus which factions may or may not be included.

What I would say, though, is that Season 3 had some pleasant surprises, bringing back elements from Star Trek’s past that I genuinely would not have expected. With that in mind, I think there’s potential for any of the factions above to play a role – minor or major – in the upcoming season.

If Discovery Season 4 remains on course, we’ll see it before the end of the year. With Lower Decks Season 2 scheduled to arrive in mid-August and run for ten weeks, we might even see Discovery before Halloween, just like we did in 2020. Time will tell, but I hope you’ll stay tuned for more Discovery news and, when the season is ready, reviews of every episode… and perhaps a bit of theory-crafting!

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 is scheduled to premiere on Paramount+ in the United States (and other territories where the service is available) before the end of 2021. The series will arrive on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery – eight “gravitational anomaly” theories

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and the teaser trailer for Season 4. Further spoilers are present for the following: Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Generations, Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Trek: Enterprise.

Star Trek’s First Contact Day virtual event has given us an awful lot to digest! We got teasers for Picard Season 2, Lower Decks Season 2, Discovery Season 4, and more details about Prodigy. If you missed the event, I wrote up my impressions of everything we saw, and you can find that article by clicking or tapping here.

This time, I want to look at the teaser for Discovery’s impending fourth season in more depth, and in particular start making some guesses about what may be going on! The teaser was barely ninety seconds long, and with the show at least six months away it may be futile to speculate about pretty much anything! But that hasn’t stopped me in the past, so let’s jump in!

Sonequa Martin-Green plays Captain Michael Burnham in Discovery, and introduced the Season 4 teaser during the First Contact Day event.

My usual disclaimer applies: I don’t have any “insider information.” I’m not offering up these suggestions saying any are unequivocally true. This is nothing more than speculation from a fan – and a chance to spend some more time talking about Star Trek, which I absolutely adore.

In the run-up to Season 3 last year, I spent a lot of time speculating about the event that ultimately turned out to be the Burn. When we first heard its name I put together a list theorising a number of possible connections to past iterations of Star Trek – but as you know by now, none came to pass!

Michael Burnham in Season 3, trying to figure out what caused the Burn.

Discovery has had an on-off relationship with Star Trek’s broader canon. Season 1 sidestepped a lot of things, redesigning the Klingons, visiting the Mirror Universe years before Kirk’s first crossing, and fighting a major war. Season 2 tied itself much closer to canon, bringing in Captain Pike, Spock, and revisiting Talos IV. Season 3 shot forward into the future, and told a story that touched on past iterations of the franchise at points, but had an overall narrative that stood on its own two feet.

In short, trying to guess whether Season 4’s main storyline will be related to something we’ve seen in the past or not is a crapshoot. Maybe it will be, maybe it won’t. Regardless, if it’s going to be something brand-new then naturally the details become impossible to predict! So in this list I’m going to look at eight possibilities from Star Trek’s past that could explain what we saw in the teaser.

A determined-looking (and armoured) Burnham in the Season 4 teaser.

First of all, let’s explain what exactly we saw! Stamets described a “gravitational anomaly” that’s at least five light-years in diameter. This anomaly appears to be incredibly destructive, and if Burnham is correct, it’s appearing and disappearing at random. As a result, it could potentially strike any Federation or non-Federation world or starship without warning.

Assuming that this anomaly is the main problem facing Captain Burnham and her crew in Season 4, I’ve got a few ideas for what it could be, or what it may be related to. I quite like the idea of Discovery sticking with the “natural disaster” concept from Season 3. It worked well last time, and presenting the crew with a puzzle, mystery, or challenge that’s more scientific in nature than military could be wonderful to see. As long as such a storyline manages to avoid feeling either repetitive or anticlimactic, I think it works in principle.

Stamets in the Season 4 teaser. He told us about the “gravitational anomaly.”

One final point of note is that, due to disruption caused by the pandemic, Discovery Season 4 began filming back in November, well before Season 3 had finished airing – and crucially, before the creative team had time to process any feedback they were getting about the season’s themes and storylines. As a result of that, it may be the case that Season 4 doesn’t make as many changes from Season 3 as some fans would have wanted to see. But once again, that’s speculation on my part!

So let’s consider this “gravitational anomaly,” then. What could it be? What have we seen in past iterations of Star Trek that could potentially be involved? Will there be any tie-ins to other ongoing series, such as Picard, or will the show set up something we’ll see return in a future project, such as Strange New Worlds? Let’s jump into the list and see if we can make some reasonable guesses!

Number 1: The Nexus

The Nexus approaching the planet Veridian III.

When I first saw the teaser, my mind immediately went to the Nexus, the energy ribbon seen in Star Trek: Generations. The Nexus was large, more than large enough to engulf an entire planet, and while it may not have been light-years in diameter when we saw it in that film, it’s possible it grew… somehow! The Nexus was incredibly destructive, causing the destruction of two transport ships and seriously damaging the Enterprise-B, not unlike some of the damage suffered by the USS Discovery in the teaser.

There are two crucial points which made me think of the Nexus, though. The first is that the energy ribbon was said to contain a “gravimetric field,” which sounds an awful lot like Stamets’ “gravitational anomaly.” Both seem to be connected to gravity, and as we saw in the teaser, the USS Discovery appears to lose its artificial gravity at one point.

The Enterprise-B trying to manoeuvre inside the Nexus.

The second point I consider key to the Nexus being a possibility is that we already know it’s something that recurs. The Nexus returns to the Milky Way galaxy every 39.1 years (according to Data in Generations) and unless something major happened in the intervening centuries, this force of nature should still be present, periodically crossing through the galaxy.

At a couple of points in the teaser we saw members of Discovery’s crew looking dazed and confused, not unlike how Soran and Guinan appeared after being transported out of the Nexus by the crew of the Enterprise-B. Perhaps we can infer from their demeanours that they’re not quite sure where they are or what just happened – maybe that means they’ve just spent time inside the Nexus’ paradise-like realm.

Though the stated size of the anomaly relative to what we saw in Generations may count against it, I like the idea of revisiting the Nexus. Would Discovery bring aboard a Soran-like villain, someone hell-bent on getting to “paradise?” Maybe!

Number 2: The super-synths from Picard Season 1

The super-synths in Picard Season 1.

It’s absolutely true that I also suggested the super-synths could’ve been the cause of last season’s disaster! But that doesn’t mean I’m done suggesting ways for this unnamed faction to reappear in Star Trek, especially considering that the teaser for Picard Season 2 suggested that series is moving away from them.

At the end of Picard Season 1, we learned that there is a race of super-synths that exist somewhere out in deep space – perhaps many thousands of light-years away from the Milky Way galaxy. They offered to come to the aid of any synths that ask for their help, though whether this offer was genuine or not was not clear – as indeed was very little about the faction!

Jean-Luc Picard managed to prevent the arrival of the super-synths, along with Soji.

Soji and Sutra, two of the synths from Coppelius, attempted to make contact with the super-synths, but despite opening a beacon and a portal to their base, Soji was ultimately convinced to shut it down and cut off her attempt to communicate. We thus learned precious little about who the super-synths are or what their objectives may be. They seemed menacing, and may harbour an anti-organic hatred that could make them diametrically opposed to the Federation.

We know that, in principle, this faction can open portals in space to allow for travel far faster than warp drive. Perhaps getting too close to one of their portals causes the kind of damage seen to the USS Discovery, and their portals may appear to be “gravitational anomalies” when detected on sensors. The super-synths clearly have a powerful understanding of gravity, such that they were literally able to move stars and create a stable eight-star octonary system. It’s thus at least possible that they use gravity or gravitational anomalies as some kind of weapon.

One thing that Picard Season 1 left unresolved was the fate of the super-synths. Having been contacted, were they now aware of the Milky Way and the Federation? Might they be hell-bent on attacking the Federation? If their offer of help wasn’t genuine, might they arrive to attack the synths who live in the Milky Way? There are a lot of unknowns, but it’s at least plausible that they could be involved. As I’ve said numerous times, finding a way for Picard and Discovery to work together, using similar themes, factions, or even characters would be fantastic and something truly worth doing. This may not be the way it happens… but it could be!

Number 3: A graviton ellipse

The USS Voyager once encountered a graviton ellipse.

The Voyager Season 6 episode One Small Step introduced the graviton ellipse, a fast-moving anomaly that can travel through subspace, normal space, and even other dimensions. The ellipse was drawn to electromagnetic energy – such as that emitted by spacecraft! One ellipse appeared in the Sol system in 2032, during an early manned mission to Mars, and “swallowed” the Ares IV ship. It later attempted to do the same to the USS Voyager.

The graviton ellipse was smaller than five light-years across, so again we have to contend with size. But there are points in its favour! Firstly, the ellipse was specifically drawn to spacecraft and other future technology. Though we didn’t see it attempt to “eat” anything on a planet’s surface, it stands to reason that similar technologies used in power generation may emit the same kind of electromagnetic radiation that an ellipse would be drawn to.

The Delta Flyer inside a graviton ellipse.

Secondly, the ellipse moved essentially at random, disappearing into subspace to reappear many thousands of light-years away. One single ellipse was known to have visited both the Alpha and Delta Quadrants. This seems to fit with what we know of Discovery’s “gravitational anomaly” – specifically the part Captain Burnham told us about its random, unpredictable appearances.

Finally, the graviton ellipse was known to cause damage to spacecraft, draining their power, as well as gravity-related disturbances in space. An encounter with an ellipse may not have destroyed Ares IV or the Delta Flyer, but they were known to be very difficult to escape from.

The drawbacks of this option are that graviton ellipses were relatively well-understood as early as the 24th Century, and with Discovery Season 4 set over 800 years later, it stands to reason that the Federation would be well-equipped to at least know what they’re up against if an ellipse seemed to be in the vicinity. Secondly, there was no indication that the ellipse would stay in one area, causing widespread damage in the way Discovery’s fourth season teaser suggested. Despite those negative points, however, I think it’s at least a possibility. Perhaps post-Burn technology has drawn an ellipse to Federation space, or it’s even possible that someone has found a way to weaponise one to attack the Federation.

Number 4: The Sphere-Builders from Enterprise

A Delphic Expanse sphere.

Discovery’s third season had a couple of interesting references to Enterprise, specifically the “Temporal Cold War” arc. One faction involved in the Temporal Cold War were the so-called Sphere-Builders: extradimensional beings who were attempting to convert part of the Milky Way galaxy to match their native realm so they could colonise it.

Though the time-travelling agent Daniels told Captain Archer that the Sphere-Builders were definitively defeated in the 26th Century, Daniels was from a time period before Discovery Season 4 is set, so he may not have been aware of any future involvement they had in galactic affairs!

Captain Archer looks at a projection of spheres in the Delphic Expanse.

The Sphere-Builders, as their name implies, built spheres. These moon-sized objects were spread throughout a region of space known as the Delphic Expanse, and emitted huge amounts of gravimetric energy, causing the entire region to become unstable and peppered with anomalies.

The spheres were also able to cloak, concealing them from 22nd Century human and Vulcan ships. The region of space a single sphere could affect was huge, and in the mid-22nd Century there was a large network of them, perhaps consisting of over 75 individual spheres. A hidden anomaly-generating piece of technology with a connection to the Temporal Wars? That sounds like something that could cause the problems afflicting Captain Burnham’s ship as seen in the teaser!

If a rogue sphere were on the loose, if the Sphere-Builders were returning, or if a single sphere had been left in the Milky Way, forgotten about since the 22nd or 26th Centuries, it stands to reason based on what we know of them that it could be the cause of the “gravitational anomaly.” This concept is potentially interesting; a leftover “doomsday weapon” unattended for centuries could make for a fun story. It would also be great to see a tie-in with Enterprise!

Number 5: Tyken’s Rift

Data explains how a Tyken’s Rift works to the crew of the Enterprise-D.

A Tyken’s Rift was mentioned in the Picard Season 1 episode Nepenthe, but before that one had been seen in more detail in The Next Generation fourth season episode Night Terrors. It was described as a rare spatial anomaly, one capable of encompassing entire star systems.

Unlike some of the other entries on this list, size isn’t a problem for a Tyken’s Rift! If a whole binary star system (i.e. a system with two stars) was able to fit inside, it’s more than possible such an anomaly could be five light-years in diameter!

A Tyken’s Rift was mentioned by Kestra Troi-Riker in Picard Season 1 last year.

The Enterprise-D wasn’t badly damaged by its encounter with the rift, but it was trapped inside and unable to escape. The Tyken’s Rift was also said to drain power, trapping ships inside. Perhaps the damage to the USS Discovery was not caused by the anomaly itself, but by pushing the ship past its limits trying to escape?

The drawback to a Tyken’s Rift being the cause of Discovery’s anomaly is twofold. Firstly, aside from a slow but steady power drain it didn’t seem to be harmful, and we saw nothing in Night Terrors to suggest this anomaly could or would cause catastrophic damage to a ship. And secondly, the Tyken’s Rift that the Enterprise-D encountered appeared to be stationary. It was even included on stellar maps, so it would be easily avoided.

I don’t think either of these points totally rule it out, and as one of the relatively few named anomalies in Star Trek that are massive enough, it seems fair to still include a Tyken’s Rift as a possibility.

Number 6: Species 8472 and Fluidic Space

A member of Species 8472.

One of Voyager’s most interesting adversaries was Species 8472, known only by their Borg designation! This powerful extradimensional faction were able to outwit even the Borg, fighting a very successful war against them for a time.

Species 8472 were native to a realm filled with an organic compound. Voyager’s crew named this region “fluidic space,” and it seemed as though Species 8472 based much of their technology on this organic material, including their spacecraft.

The USS Voyager being pulled toward a fluidic space portal.

The Borg became aware of fluidic space some time in the mid-late 24th Century, and attempted to travel there and assimilate it. But Species 8472 proved resistant to assimilation, and waged a war on the Borg, eventually travelling through to normal space to continue the fight. The intervention of the USS Voyager gave the Borg an advantage, but it seemed shortly thereafter as though the war ground to a stalemate.

Species 8472 made one further incursion, but after an agreement with the USS Voyager, agreed to return to their own dimension, content that the Federation proved no threat. However, that was 800 years ago! A lot can change, and perhaps Species 8472 have decided to make a return.

This would change the “natural disaster” concept, making it perhaps a precursor to invasion. Whether that would be good or not depends on how well it was executed – as well as your personal preferences for storylines! Given what we know of Species 8472 and their technology, I think it’s at least possible they could be the cause. Perhaps Stamets’ anomaly is some kind of gateway to fluidic space.

Number 7: The Borg

Borg drones seen in First Contact.

On the other side of the war with Species 8472 were the Borg! I also suggested Star Trek’s iconic cybernetic villains as a possible cause of the Burn last season, and despite seeing some ex-Borg in Picard Season 1, we haven’t really seen the faction proper in Star Trek since Enterprise Season 2 in 2003. Perhaps now is the right time?

Borg technology outpaced the Federation in the 24th Century by a considerable margin, and I’ve seen nothing to suggest that wouldn’t continue to be the case. The anomaly Stamets and Burnham discussed in the teaser may well be a natural phenomenon, but if it turns out to be a weapon, I can think of few other factions capable of creating and wielding one so massively powerful. Other Borg technology, such as their transwarp network, was known to have gravitational effects as well, so perhaps that’s another sliver of evidence.

The Borg were known to possess powerful technology.

This doesn’t really fit with the Borg’s usual modus operandi, and that is certainly a mark against it! But then again, the Borg are very adaptable, and travelling back in time several centuries is not exactly standard procedure for assimilating a planet either, yet that’s what they tried to do in First Contact! The gravitational anomaly could be the opening salvo of an attack; the artillery barrage to soften up the Federation before the Borg drones rush in to assimilate the survivors. The Borg certainly seem capable of doing something like this, and with the Federation having been on the back foot for more than a century as a result of the Burn, the Borg may have been using that time to build up and prepare for a large-scale invasion attempt.

We don’t know for sure if the Borg are still around in the 32nd Century, or if they still hope to one day conquer and assimilate the Federation. After more than 800 years, anything could have happened to them! However, it’s plausible that they still exist in similar form to how we last saw them.

The anomaly seemingly “attacking” both Federation and non-Federation targets could be indicative of an intelligence at work behind it. Space is huge after all, and the chances of it hitting a target as small as a starship, starbase, or planet regularly seems unlikely without some kind of explanation. Is it a force of nature drawn to energy, like the graviton ellipse mentioned above? Or is it a Borg weapon deliberately targeting Starfleet? The latter may seem unlikely, but it’s not impossible!

Number 8: The Burn

The Burn.

I certainly hope that Discovery Season 4 doesn’t just drop the Burn and proceed as though it never happened. After the cataclysm caused huge disruption to the Federation and the wider galaxy for over a century, I think we need to see a lot more of the consequences of that event before we even consider a “reset” of the Federation!

Perhaps what this anomaly will be is some kind of “mini-Burn,” affecting a smaller area. It could be a ripple effect of the original event, or otherwise connected to it in some way. Hopefully it won’t be caused by poor Su’Kal, who’s been through enough over the last 125 years! Though the Burn was presented as a unique event, perhaps it had lingering effects that are only just becoming known.

Su’Kal caused the Burn.

Season 4 needs to walk a line between acknowledging the events of Season 3 without dwelling on them the whole time. I understand that the writers and producers have other stories to tell in the 32nd Century beyond the Burn, but given how catastrophic it was I feel strongly that we need to see at least some of its lingering impact. Connecting the Burn to this new problem would create a degree of separation, allowing the season to go in new directions but without dropping the massive event entirely.

The Burn was a disaster which “caused dilithium to become inert,” and which caused active warp cores to explode. It wasn’t known to have gravitational effects, instead being some kind of shockwave that travelled through subspace. That could certainly count against it!

However, if this event were connected to the Burn in some other way, rather than being a direct result of Su’Kal’s outburst, perhaps it could be explained. I couldn’t even guess how such a connection could be made; it would be some kind of technobabble connecting the anomaly to dilithium and/or subspace. But it could be done, and it could be made to fit!

So that’s it. Eight very early theories about Discovery Season 4 and the mysterious “gravitational anomaly!”

Yes, Season 4 is scheduled to premiere this year!

As mentioned at the beginning, I quite like the idea of the series going down a “natural disaster” route, allowing the crew to solve a puzzle and unravel a mystery, rather than simply pitting them against a Federation-threatening adversary. Perhaps that will be what ultimately happens, but I think it’s at least possible we’re seeing some kind of attack or weapon as well. Time will tell!

The teaser was action-packed, and the new season looks to be in great shape. I think that there are possible downsides to another “huge galactic disaster” storyline so soon after resolving the Burn, in that it risks feeling tacked-on, derivative, or even anticlimactic if it’s an event smaller in scale. But despite that, if this anomaly is going to be one of the main storylines in Season 4, there’s a huge amount of potential.

Star Trek’s past didn’t provide the key to understanding the Burn last season. Will something we’ve seen before come into play in Season 4? Maybe!

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 will debut on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, sometime later this year. Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Preliminary Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 predictions

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

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 only concluded a few days ago, and while production has begun on Season 4 it will be a while yet before we get any news. Regardless, I thought now would be the perfect time for some wild speculation… sorry, I mean “preliminary predictions.” It’s very early in the game to be thinking about Season 4 – a season which, if Season 3’s timeline is anything to go by, is unlikely to grace our screens before Spring 2022. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be a bit of fun!

The end of Season 3 wrapped up the main storylines in a generally satisfactory manner; regardless of how we may feel about specific events (like the Burn) their stories were concluded by the time the credits rolled. The dangling story threads left behind are more like teases for what may come, rather than unfinished elements from what came before. That’s a good way to do things, and unfortunately that’s where Picard’s Season 1 finale earlier in 2020 dropped the ball, at least in my opinion.

The USS Discovery departs Federation HQ for a new adventure in the Season 3 finale.

So Season 4 is potentially quite open right now. There’s no obvious direction for the story to go, nor did Season 3 end with a cliffhanger or big tease like Season 2’s journey into the future – or even Season 1’s reveal of the USS Enterprise approaching. Captain Burnham was given her orders after assuming command of Discovery, and set out in the ship to begin the task of delivering dilithium across the fractured Federation. It was implied that this was step one in bringing more wayward ex-members back into the fold, so perhaps that’s something we’ll see continued.

To re-emphasise: I’m categorically not saying that I have any “insider information,” nor that any of these predictions will come to pass in Season 4. This is guesswork on my part – educated guesswork, in some cases, but guesswork nevertheless. I would encourage all of you to be incredibly sceptical of anyone claiming to know for sure what will happen, or anyone claiming to have “anonymous sources” within the production team at ViacomCBS. Many, many times have people making such claims been shown to be making things up.

With that out of the way, let’s jump into my list, which is in no particular order.

Number 1: Visiting Kaminar.

The surface of Kaminar as seen in the Short Treks episode The Brightest Star.

One thing I disliked in the Season 3 finale was the unceremonious dumping of Saru. Though we know that Saru actor Doug Jones is returning to Discovery in Season 4, it will be in a different role now that Burnham has become captain. I have a couple of ideas for where Saru may fit, but for now suffice to say that I think we’ll have at least one episode focusing on Saru’s home planet of Kaminar.

Not only would such a story allow Saru to catch up with his people, but we could see how the Kelpiens and Ba’ul have developed since we saw them in Season 2. The episode Su’Kal suggested that the Kelpiens and Ba’ul joined the Federation jointly, and the way their conflict ended would be interesting to explore.

Su’Kal and Saru on Kaminar at the end of Season 3.

Given the cataclysmic nature of the Burn, though, which I expect to see the lingering effects of for years to come, one storyline that would be potentially interesting is how Kelpien society would react. Knowing that one of their own is responsible for this disaster is going to have some kind of effect on Kaminar and the Kelpiens. If Bill Irwin could return to play Su’Kal, we could see this explored in depth. Would Su’Kal be welcomed by everyone in the way Saru welcomed him? Or will he be shunned by some for his unintentional role in the Burn?

Such a storyline could be timely. In the real world, China is struggling with the fact that the coronavirus pandemic seemingly originated there, and I think that a storyline which looked at how Kaminar deals with its unwitting role in the cause of the Burn could be an interesting way for Star Trek to do what it does best: using its sci-fi setting to look at real-world issues.

Number 2: A new villain or adversary will rise.

Control was the main villain in Season 2.

Over its first three seasons, Discovery introduced us to several different villains. It seems unlikely that Season 4 will break that pattern, and it feels almost certain that there will be a significant adversary or villain for Captain Burnham and the crew to defeat. Whether such a character will be a galactic threat like Control or a playground bully like Osyraa is not obvious; the Emerald Chain was basically the only antagonistic faction we met in Season 3. However, there are bound to be others!

This could be where a race or faction from Star Trek’s past comes back to the fore, though going down that route would be a bit of a constraint. I think we’re more likely to see an original creation for Season 4, someone whose motives are tied in some way to preventing the Federation reestablishing itself, perhaps.

Osyraa was the primary antagonist in Season 3.

If the theme of the season as a whole will be reconnecting the Federation, it stands to reason that any villain or adversary would be someone who seeks to prevent that. However, it isn’t just Burnham and Discovery working on this task, so any such villain would have to be powerful enough to wield a fleet of starships. They may have their own motivations, and the Federation are simply in the way of whatever they’re trying to do.

This could also be a way to introduce time travel to the season, assuming that the producers want to do so. A villain could be someone flouting the ban on time travel for some reason – and could even be someone working inside the Federation, such as Section 31.

Number 3: A connection or crossover with Star Trek: Picard.

Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: Picard Season 1.

After Picard Season 1 came and went with nary a hint at the existence of Discovery, I was worried that Discovery would reciprocate in Season 3. Luckily that didn’t happen, and not only did we get to see the Qowat Milat – a faction introduced in Picard – we also got a mention of Admiral Picard himself in the episode Unification III.

At this point we don’t know whether Discovery Season 4 or Picard Season 2 will be broadcast first – and it’s possible that, with the ongoing disruption caused by the pandemic and the uncertainty around the two productions, the team at ViacomCBS aren’t 100% sure either! However, both shows are up and running, and Picard has at least one season under its belt – a season which had several factions, new characters, starships, story points, etc that could in theory cross over to Discovery.

Coppelius Station.

I got the impression from the Season 1 finale of Picard that the show would be moving on to a different adventure in Season 2, perhaps leaving behind the Coppelius synths altogether. If that’s the case, Discovery Season 4 could pick up this story and show us what became of the synths in the centuries after Soji and Picard came to their rescue. Did they stay on Coppelius or relocate? Are some of the synths we knew, such as Soji, still alive in this era?

As I said numerous times during the runs of both Picard and Discovery, these sister shows could do more to work together, reminding viewers that they’re two parts of a greater whole. The difference in time periods is an issue, but as we saw with the Qowat Milat it doesn’t have to completely prevent the two series from teaming up.

Number 4: The return of a classic race or villain.

Borg drones in First Contact.

Season 3 brought back the Trill, Orions, Andorians, and the Romulans and Vulcans on Ni’Var. There were very brief scenes which showed off Cardassians and a couple of other races, and we saw the Bajorans and Xaheans in holographic form too. So Season 3 crammed a lot into its thirteen episodes in terms of revisiting races from Star Trek’s past. This is something I hope Season 4 will continue to do.

Though the Dominion War ended more than 800 years ago, finding out what became of the Cardassians, Bajorans, Breen, and the Dominion themselves is perhaps what I’d choose if it were up to me. The Dominion War arc, though controversial in some Trekkie circles, is a story I find myself revisiting often, and it’s always a thoroughly enjoyable ride. Deep Space Nine ended right when the war did, and we don’t really know anything about what became of the factions involved afterwards.

Captain Sisko, General Martok, and Admiral Ross on Cardassia Prime at the end of the Dominion War.

There’s also the potential to learn what became of the Borg. They didn’t take advantage of the Burn and the Federation’s collapse to assimilate the Alpha Quadrant, so could we infer from their absence that they’ve been destroyed, pacified, or severely reduced? Could the Borg have been presumed defeated centuries ago but make a big recurrence in Season 4 – perhaps looking to acquire the Spore Drive technology?

I’d also love to see the inclusion of a Suliban or Xindi, or perhaps a Talaxian or Kazon from the Delta Quadrant. I know Discovery can’t possibly cram all of these disparate factions and races into one season, but the 32nd Century offers so many interesting story possibilities for practically everyone we’ve met in past iterations of Star Trek. The potential is unlimited!

Number 5: Will Burnham remain Captain?

Captain Burnham.

Discovery worked hard over the back half of Season 3 to make Burnham’s ascent to the captain’s chair feel genuinely earned. Some of the criticisms I’ve made of her character, both in Season 3 and previously, stem from her position as a junior officer making big decisions that go against her orders, so putting her in the captain’s chair and backing her up with a helpful crew should see her continue to grow. I want to see that, and I hope that she will continue to be a Starfleet captain who lives up to the ideals of the Federation in Season 4 and beyond.

But Discovery has never found the right fit for its captain’s chair for one reason or another. I’ve actually enjoyed what all three captains – Lorca, Pike, and Saru – brought to the role, but none of them stayed in that role beyond a single season. One of my hopes for Season 4 would be that we’d get some stability in the captain’s chair, and in a way I’m hopeful Burnham will retain the position going into Season 5 and potentially beyond – but what if that isn’t the plan?

Discovery has gone through three captains in three seasons.

Perhaps one of Discovery’s unique points is going to be the season-long captaincies of different people, each giving the ship and show a distinct feel. Lorca was the hardball who turned out to be a traitor. Pike was the classic character who embodied the spirit of adventure. Saru was the calm and collected diplomat. Burnham may be a Kirk-style action hero, a bit of a renegade but someone who always comes through for Starfleet when it counts.

How or why she might leave the role is unknown, and given Discovery’s approach to storytelling across Seasons 1 and 2 in particular, I’m not sure how likely it is that, having gone to the trouble of promoting her, they’ll replace her within a single season. But that exact thing happened to Captain Saru this season, so it wouldn’t be unprecedented.

Number 6: The lingering effects of the Burn.

The Burn.

Having resolved the Burn and found a huge dilithium planet to negate its destructive effects, there may be a temptation to shelve the Burn, especially if the writers and producers of Season 4 are taking on board fan feedback – which has been mixed to say the least on that particular story point. However, I think doing so would be a mistake.

If we start off Season 4 with a one- or two-year time skip, I can already predict that the legwork of rebuilding the Federation will have already happened off-screen. Resetting the Federation to a state much closer to how it has always been shown in Star Trek may be what some fans want, and in some ways I do too – but I think that after seeing the Federation at such a low ebb in Season 3, we need to see at least some of the rebuilding process for ourselves.

The 32nd Century was a difficult environment for many, and that won’t magically go away overnight.

I already discussed one way the Burn’s effects could still impact the story with the Kelpiens, but there are a million-and-one others. Captain Burnham could lead the ship to revisit parts of the Federation that no one has heard from since the Burn only to find them under occupation or in the midst of civil war, for example. Or we could see an ex-Federation member that completely ran out of dilithium and has had no way to power itself for a century.

Season 3 focused largely on the Federation and ex-Federation members. But there’s scope to see how the Burn impacted other powers in the galaxy – depending on which ones existed at the time! If the source of the Burn is revealed as a Federation member (i.e. the Kelpiens) would, for example, the Dominion or Klingon Empire want to exact revenge or get reparations from the reunited Federation? There are so many ways that the Burn could have impacted the galaxy that we need to see. It hasn’t all gone away with the uncovering of its source and the discovery of the dilithium planet.

Number 7: A time travel story featuring the Guardian of Forever.

The Guardian of Forever… a.k.a. Carl.

It was a very deliberate choice to bring back the Guardian of Forever in Season 3, and it would be a shame to only use them once! Not to mention that guest star Paul Guilfoyle was just fantastic as Carl, the Guardian’s humanoid avatar, and would make a thoroughly welcome return to Discovery.

One way the Guardian of Forever could be included would be to send the USS Discovery back in time – for some reason – in order to tie into the Short Treks episode Calypso. That would likely need to be a multi-episode story arc, but it would be one way to include the Guardian and resolve Calypso – two birds, one stone!

The Guardian of Forever’s portal.

If it were discovered that some nefarious villain or antagonistic faction were using time travel, the Guardian of Forever could be Captain Burnham’s ace in the hole to counteract them. That would be another way to make use of the reintroduction of this entity. Season 3 expanded on the Guardian of Forever by showing us that it can transport people between parallel universes, so this could in theory allow for another Mirror Universe story (please no) or for the Discovery crew to travel to any of the other alternate realities seen in Star Trek.

Speaking of which…

Number 8: A Kelvin timeline reference.

The Kelvin timeline USS Enterprise.

This is something else that Season 3 touched on briefly, with Kovich making note of a time war soldier who crossed over from the alternate reality. The Guardian of Forever, as mentioned, could be one way to literally cross over, but unless a new Kelvin timeline film is in development – and it doesn’t seem to be at this stage – there’s not as much to be gained by doing so when compared to a tie-in with Star Trek: Picard or other ongoing projects.

However, a Kelvin timeline reference would be neat, even if it were little more than a throwaway line akin to Kovich’s in Season 3. The 32nd Century, with its superior technology and better understanding of time and timelines, is the only Star Trek setting aside from the alternate reality itself that really can make the connection between Star Trek’s two major universes.

Number 9: Who is Kovich?

Kovich in Terra Firma, Part I.

Famed director David Cronenberg, who plays Kovich, has said that the character will return in Season 4 in some way, so there’s the possibility to learn more about this mysterious character. I’d been speculating since his first appearance that his distinctive uniform, high security clearance, and un-Starfleet lack of morality could hint at his being an operative of Section 31 – or even its leader.

Another theory I’ve heard fans kicking around is that Kovich is the Federation’s president. That would be an interesting way to go too, as a storyline which involves rebuilding the Federation could require serious diplomatic efforts. The Federation President would surely be involved in bringing key worlds like Earth back into the fold.

Number 10: Admiral or President Saru.

Saru in Terra Firma, Part II.

As I said earlier, I was disappointed in the way Saru was dumped at the end of the Season 3 finale. He didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to his crew, to offer Burnham her promotion in person, and his decision to leave the ship was only briefly touched on by Burnham in a voiceover. Though Saru is coming back, his role is unclear with Burnham now in command.

I can think of a couple of ways he could be included, though. The first would be a promotion to the rank of Admiral, joining Vance at the head of Starfleet. As the Federation grows, Starfleet will need to grow too, and with a new source of dilthium – and the potential for new Spore Drive ships too – and that will mean the need for new Admirals to command the expanding fleet. Saru proved himself as a good captain across Season 3, and while he did make some mistakes, I would argue he’s an excellent Admiral candidate.

Saru and Burnham with Admiral Vance.

However, we also saw Saru’s diplomatic side in Season 3, particularly with the President of Ni’Var. Saru could continue in this role as a diplomat, but if worlds like Trill, Earth, and Ni’Var all rejoin the Federation, might some of them want to see him become Federation President?

If the story of Season 4 looks at the Federation re-unifying, I could see why some of the aforementioned worlds might want to support the candidacy of Saru. Early Federation politics seemed to involve balancing the Vulcans and Andorians, but this led to almost all of the Federation’s key institutions being on Earth and dominated by humans. The reunited Federation may be less keen on giving humanity all of the top jobs, especially given Earth’s century of isolationism, so someone like Saru may be a compromise candidate among the Federation’s members who are coming back together for the first time in a long time.

Number 11: A redesign of the USS Discovery internally.

The bridge of the USS Discovery.

One aspect of Season 3 that didn’t quite sit right with me was the redesign of the USS Discovery. I adore the redesign, don’t get me wrong, but I didn’t quite buy into it as “believable” considering the ship didn’t change on the inside. We saw a few changes, like the programmable matter and holographic elements in many bridge consoles, and of course the big empty space in the engineering/drive section that we saw during Book’s turbolift battle against Zareh. But aside from a few small touches, a few lines of technobabble, and one CGI-heavy action sequence, the ship looks the same from the inside.

This undermines the decision to have the ship undergo a major refit, and I’d love to see some more aesthetic changes inside the USS Discovery to match its external appearance. It wouldn’t mean completely tearing down old sets, but tweaking and changing them to indicate that the ship has been heavily altered. Lighting is one way that the designers could make an immediate, obvious, and unobtrusive change. Ditching some of the blue lighting and generally upping the brightness of other lights – especially on the bridge – would transform the way Discovery looks.

The inner workings of the USS Discovery.

The USS Enterprise, after its refit in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, looked like a different ship inside and out. The USS Discovery nailed the outside look in Season 3, but its inside hasn’t caught up. Even a handful of changes here and there would go some way to making good on the refit idea, and I’d love to see the bridge, the ready-room, and engineering given a facelift in time for Season 4.

This would also be a great moment to show off a new area of the ship, either something that was improved during the retrofit or a brand-new addition. We saw the data core at the end of Season 3, but I don’t see a pressing need for the crew to spend a lot of time there. What we could see, however, is some kind of holodeck or recreation area, an improved mess hall that had more of a Ten Forward lounge vibe, an observation deck or briefing room, a battle bridge or secondary command centre, or an additional science lab.

Number 12: Defending the Verubin Nebula.

The periphery of the Verubin Nebula.

In a galaxy devoid of its most significant source of fuel, the discovery of a massive cache of dilithium will not go unnoticed – or unopposed. The Emerald Chain may have “fractured” according to the Season 3 epilogue, but it seems unlikely that they’d be the only ones interested in acquiring the dilithium planet in the Verubin Nebula.

As such, part of the Season 4 storyline may involve Discovery having to defend the Verubin Nebula from someone looking to seize it for themselves. After the Emerald Chain did essentially the same thing at the end of Season 3, if I were writing it I wouldn’t make this the main point of Season 4, but it seems like something that could be included – or at least explained. How will the Federation defend what seems like the galaxy’s most valuable resource?

Number 13: To seek out new… dilithium?

The dilithium planet.

At the moment, the Verubin Nebula is the only major source of dilithium. The USS Discovery with its Spore Drive can jump all across the galaxy, making it a great ship to scout for new sources of the valuable fuel. Part of Discovery’s mission could be to jump around to areas of the galaxy the Federation had previously been unable to reach in search of dilithium.

I see this story point as the catalyst for something else to happen rather than the main event, though… because on its own it doesn’t exactly seem like the stuff of action and excitement!

Number 14: A new first officer.

Could Lieutenant Willa join Discovery’s crew?

Last time we looked at the odd Tilly situation and theorised that her uniform may have been altered from command red to science blue in post-production. This could mean she’s being replaced as first officer – a position she only took on a temporary basis to begin with.

If Captain Burnham doesn’t keep Tilly as first officer, that obviously opens the position up to someone else. There are candidates on Discovery’s crew, but I’d also propose Lieutenant Willa, Admiral Vance’s aide-de-camp from Season 3. She would be an interesting addition to the crew; another 32nd Century native along with Book to advise the crew of changes they might’ve missed.

Lieutenant Rhys was given the conn temporarily in Far From Home.

We could also consider the promotion of one of the secondary bridge crew, such as Nilsson, Rhys, or Bryce. Nilsson and Rhys have both been left in charge on the bridge before, so could in theory make good candidates. I wouldn’t pick Stamets or Dr Culber, as they both have roles elsewhere on the ship.

Nhan could make a comeback after she was dropped early in Season 3. I half-hoped to see her return in the season finale, but if she finishes her mission aboard the USS Tikhov, perhaps she could return to Discovery as first officer. If not, maybe a new character could join the crew in that role.

Number 15: A new home for Federation HQ.

Federation HQ.

I initially wondered if Season 4 might see Federation HQ return to its home on Earth, but I’m not sure if that would be the best option so early in the game. Plus I kind of like the idea of a space headquarters, not attached to any planet and able to be moved.

Perhaps it makes the most sense in the short term for Federation HQ to anchor itself near the Verubin Nebula, able to immediately respond to any threats to its valuable prize. But we could also see Federation HQ move between worlds, visiting new members in turn or just staying on the move. If Starfleet is growing in strength, the need for a secret location will be lessened and perhaps we could see some institutions of the Federation’s government relocate away from the base we first encountered in Season 3.

Number 16: The return of the Klingons.

Klingon leader T’Kuvma during the series premiere.

In Season 1, Discovery depicted a major Federation-Klingon war, and while the Klingons were peaceful by Season 2, they were not exactly staunch allies of the Federation. In Star Trek’s fictional history, the Federation and Klingons would remain at loggerheads for much of the 23rd Century, only to sign the Khittomer Accords at the end of the century, leading to a period of peace. By the 24th Century they were allies, particularly during the Dominion War, and I think it would be interesting to take that line forward in time.

How would the Discovery crew, veterans of the Federation-Klingon war, react to having to work with Klingons? Are the Klingons Federation members, or ex-members? If so, part of the season’s story could be bringing the Klingons back into the Federation – but would everyone on the crew be okay with that?

A map depicting the battlefields of the Federation-Klingon War in the Season 1 episode What’s Past Is Prologue.

Alternatively we could see the Klingons as a neutral power, watching the rebuilding of the Federation from the outside. Maybe they, like the Emerald Chain, have gotten used to being a more powerful faction as the Federation have declined, and may not like to see their old adversary getting back on its feet.

Almost anything could have happened to the Klingons both before and after the Burn, and for a faction that had previously been important within Discovery it would be great to see what became of them, and how that information would impact our characters.

Number 17: Aurellio will be back.

Aurellio.

Kenneth Mitchell’s Aurellio was one of the high points of the final two episodes of Season 3. As an ex-member of the Emerald Chain and a brilliant scientist, Aurellio could be a valuable ally to the Federation and Discovery’s crew.

Aurellio was tasked with working on the Spore Drive, and in the Season 3 finale figured out that empaths like Book are capable of navigating the mycelial network. He could have switched sides to work for the Federation, perhaps working on a way to give more starships a Spore Drive. There are other scientific roles he could play, depending on the nature of the season.

Number 18: More Spore Drive ships.

Discovery making a Spore Drive jump.

Speaking of the Spore Drive and Aurellio, now that the problem of navigating the mycelial network has potentially been fixed, there’s no reason why more Starfleet vessels can’t be fitted with a Spore Drive of their own. In Season 1, Stamets seemed to suggest early on that mycelial spores were difficult to collect or cultivate, but if that could be addressed (or a new source found) there’s no reason why more Spore Drives couldn’t be built.

The Spore Drive has long been Discovery’s most controversial piece of tech, and finding a proper role for it that didn’t get in the way of previously-established canon is one reason for taking the ship and the series out of the 23rd Century. Having arrived in the far future, now is the time to let the Spore Drive shine.

Number 19: Those grey uniforms?

Some of the crew in their new uniforms.

The reaction to the new uniforms in the 32nd Century was mixed, and I wonder if Season 4 will address this in any way. One thing to note is that the grey uniforms looked a lot better in the brightly-lit Federation HQ than they do on the more dimly-lit Discovery. This could be addressed by changing the lighting, as suggested above, but it could also be addressed by making some changes to the uniforms.

It was a refreshing change to ditch the all-blue look, and I don’t dislike the 32nd Century uniforms. Though Vance wore the Admiral’s variant all season long, I still need to get used to seeing the regular crew in that style before I can say for sure how much I like them. So from my personal perspective I think there’s no immediate need to change anything up, but I know not everyone agrees.

Lieutenant Owosekun in her new uniform, showing close-ups of the collar and coloured stripe.

Starfleet uniforms are like starship designs: everyone in the fandom has an opinion on which is best. For my two cents, after four seasons of Enterprise’s blue boiler suits, three seasons of Discovery’s all-blue look, and Picard’s crew not having uniforms, I’m happy to see something different. Lower Decks and the Kelvin timeline uniforms had blocks of colour, and that was great. But it’s been a long time since we really mixed up the uniforms in Star Trek – even the Starfleet uniforms of the Picard era were similar to those from Deep Space Nine and Voyager.

So I’m willing to give the grey outfits a chance. But I wouldn’t be shocked to see promo material for Season 4 showing off a new variant or even a different style altogether.

Number 20: Lieutenant Sahil will join the crew.

Lieutenant Sahil.

Lieutenant Sahil, newly commissioned into Starfleet in the Season 3 finale, was one of the first people Burnham met in the 32nd Century. It would make a lot of sense for her to want to repay his kindness and help by offering him a role aboard Discovery. He could be one of the bridge officers, perhaps taking over from someone like Nilsson or Bryce if either were promoted.

I’d love to see a recurring role for Lieutenant Sahil now that he’s a commissioned officer. With Georgiou having left the show entirely and Saru looking at a potentially reduced role or a role not aboard the ship, there’s plenty of space for Sahil, Aurellio, and others to join up.

So that’s it. A few far too early ideas for what Star Trek: Discovery might bring us in Season 4. If I remember after the season airs it’ll be fascinating to come back and look at this list!

So this was just a bit of fun as I continue to work through my post-Season 3 thoughts. As I say it’ll be great fun to come back and see how many of these guesses were completely wrong once we’ve seen Season 4 for ourselves. The 32nd Century has opened up Star Trek to radically new story ideas for the first time in a long time, and I’m loving that. No longer being constrained by canon means that Discovery can literally take the franchise anywhere, with open-ended story possibilities.

These are not even theories – I want to call them guesses rather than anything else. So please, please don’t get carried away thinking that any of these are destined to happen. We all need to remember to take such theories and predictions with a pinch of salt at the best of times, and guesswork this far out when we know less than nothing about the upcoming season is almost silly! So as fun as this was to put together, let’s all try not to get too excited about anything listed above.

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

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 wishlist: a follow-up

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

At the end of September, with Season 3 of Star Trek: Discovery looming on the horizon, I published my “wishlist” of things I hoped to see in the upcoming season. Now that we’ve seen the entirety of Season 3 I thought it would be fun to go back to that wishlist and see whether my wishes came true – and, on reflection, whether I was being reasonable!

I had eight items on my original wishlist, but I’m also going to talk about a couple of other points that came up either before or during the season that I didn’t include.

Michael Burnham on the USS Discovery’s viewscreen.

Though not everything I hoped to see came to pass in Season 3, I had a good time with it overall. Whether we’re discussing Star Trek or any other fictional franchise, success is not always about meeting specific expectations or confirming fan theories, and the writers and producers need to have the freedom to tell the stories that they want to tell. Star Trek has gone in directions I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen, but that’s true of every iteration from The Original Series to Picard, and it doesn’t mean that what made it to screen was bad. Like a lot of viewers, I like to be surprised – even if I spend a lot of time talking about theories!

All of this is to say that Discovery Season 3 met my expectations in some ways, challenged those expectations in others, and told some different but enjoyable stories. Though I enjoyed some points more than others, taken as a whole the season was solid, and a worthy successor to Season 2, which had been my favourite. Taking the show – and the franchise – forward in time was always going to be a challenge, but Discovery rose to meet it.

Let’s jump into my pre-season wishlist and see what became of it.

Number 1: Some kind of tie-in with Star Trek: Picard.
Wish: Granted

Soji and Picard in the episode The Impossible Box.

This was perhaps the point I was most curious about. Because of its place in the Star Trek timeline, Discovery in its first two seasons had been unable to include significant references to anything other than Enterprise and The Original Series. We saw precious little from Enterprise, but from the first episode we had some major crossovers from The Original Series by way of Sarek, and later Spock and Pike.

But The Original Series, despite its importance within Star Trek, ended decades ago. While it was possible to recast classic characters, there wasn’t as much to be gained by doing so – and it proved divisive within some areas of the fandom. Picard, by contrast, is in production at the same time as Discovery, and Season 3’s leap forward in time allowed it to connect to its sister show in ways that no Star Trek production has been able to do for a long time.

The super-synths.

I had two very early theories for how this could have worked. The first, which had been debunked even before it was written, was that Discovery would – thanks to time travel shenanigans – end up in the same era as Picard; the ship and crew being unable to complete their 930-year time jump. The second would have been for the super-synths from the Picard Season 1 finale to have been involved with the Burn.

Neither of those ideas came to pass, and I’m not disappointed – though I do maintain that the USS Discovery arriving in the Picard era would have been a fun way to go! Instead what we saw was a direct reference to Admiral Picard’s archive – which we saw in the Picard Season 1 premiere – and the return of the Qowat Milat. I didn’t expect the Qowat Milat to be the way the shows would connect, but it worked very well. It managed to be unobtrusive – nothing in Unification III made Picard Season 1 mandatory viewing – yet at the same time there was a very definite nod by Discovery to its sister show.

Dr Gabrielle Burnham joined the Qowat Milat.

The only downside was that the Picard crossover was limited really to a single episode. There wasn’t room within the Ni’Var storyline for anything further, and while the united Romulans and Vulcans were seen briefly in the season finale, we didn’t see the return of the Qowat Milat or Dr Burnham. However, her presence within that convent means we could potentially see her in Season 4, and if there is some significant advancement of the Qowat Milat storyline in Picard Season 2 that could be referenced then – or vice versa.

Placing Dr Burnham in the Qowat Milat was a very random choice in many ways, and while it succeeded from a shock value point of view perhaps we could argue that it’s not a very logical outcome for her character. But I wished for a tie-in with Star Trek: Picard, and there’s no denying that Discovery delivered!

Number 2: A reference, callback, or hint to something from Star Trek: Lower Decks.
Wish: Denied 🚫

Ensigns Tendi and Rutherford from Lower Decks.

The original plan for 2020 – before the pandemic disrupted things – was for Discovery Season 3 to be released before Lower Decks, so perhaps with that in mind it makes sense that there wasn’t so much as a reference to the animated show. However, as I said above, finding ways to tie together the Star Trek projects which are currently in production is to the benefit of the franchise overall – even if the projects are as radically different as Lower Decks and Discovery.

There was the potential for something as small as the name of a planet or faction to crop up in both shows; what would have seemed like a throwaway line of dialogue could have actually been a subtle nod to the existence of Lower Decks within Discovery, even if a more significant crossover was never on the table. Perhaps this is something that could happen in Season 4, though, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed!

Number 3: A storyline that doesn’t make Michael Burnham the “chosen one.”
Wish: Granted