Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 3, Episode 13: That Hope Is You, Part 2

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

Thirteen weeks have just flown by, haven’t they? Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 premiered in the middle of October – right after Season 1 of Star Trek: Lower Decks came to an end – and now, just after New Year, it’s over. I have to say that I miss the twenty-plus episode seasons we used to get! But that’s just one way that television shows have changed since the 1990s, I suppose.

For the third week in a row, the title of the episode was changed from what had been previously announced. That Hope Is You, Part 2 was previously known as Outside, but immediately after There Is A Tide aired last week, the title was changed. That Hope Is You, Part 1 was the title of the season premiere, and while it seems odd on the surface to call the season finale the second part – especially considering the entire season has been one continuous story – it works well and bookends the season. As an interesting aside, we saw two different numbering styles used for the multi-part episodes this season. Terra Firma and Unification III both used Roman numerals to denote their parts, whereas That Hope Is You uses Arabic numerals. I wonder why that is?

Burnham in That Hope Is You, Part 2.

There Is A Tide was phenomenal last week, and I was hoping for more of the same from That Hope Is You, Part 2. My only real criticism last time was that there seemed to be an awful lot of story left for the finale to get through, and I speculated then that the season may end on a cliffhanger – but that wasn’t the case. The episode was the longest of the season by far, clocking in at almost an hour, and while I would say one of its two storylines probably could’ve used more screen time, That Hope Is You, Part 2 did a reasonably good job at wrapping everything up. It certainly exceeded Star Trek: Picard’s finale in that regard!

I had a great time with That Hope Is You, Part 2… well, for about three-quarters of it. The sequences aboard Discovery that focused on Book, Burnham, Tilly, and other crew members were action-packed and exciting, equalling the heights Discovery reached last week. But the sequences with Saru, Adira, Culber, and Su’Kal didn’t reach that level. This storyline was not my favourite part of either the episode or the season.

Culber, Su’Kal, Saru, and Adira aboard the Kelpien ship Khi’eth.

And we do have to consider the role That Hope Is You, Part 2 has as the season finale. As mentioned, my theory that the season may end on a cliffhanger did not come to pass, so every story thread we saw across the season that hadn’t already been completely tied up was supposed to find a resolution here. The Emerald Chain storyline, which had been teased as early as the premiere and more firmly established by the halfway point of the season, certainly was concluded. And though perhaps it needed more screen time, or needed its sequences spread out over three or four episodes instead of two, Su’Kal’s story was concluded too.

In both of these, though, as well as in the very short, almost blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scenes showing Ni’Var and Trill, we come to what is perhaps the episode’s big weakness. After the main stories – both of them – were more-or-less over, we got an epilogue of sorts that was about six minutes long. This epilogue told us about some incredibly important events, and as you may have heard me say before, it needed to show not tell. In a rapidly edited sequence, part of which was narrated by Burnham in voiceover, we saw or heard that: Trill had rejoined the Federation, Ni’Var was on the brink of doing so, the Emerald Chain has “fractured,” Saru is taking a sabbatical – if he hasn’t outright left Starfleet, Mr Sahil has become a Starfleet officer, Aurellio has maybe joined up with the Federation – but maybe not, Stamets was reunited with Adira and Culber, the Sphere data is safe, and finally, Burnham was promoted and has become Discovery’s new captain.

Burnham was promoted at the end of the episode.

None of these points are problematic at all – in fact, I adore all of them, and the sequence itself had me feeling genuinely emotional. But there was a lot of important story crammed into those final minutes, some of which I really wish had been expanded upon and given their own moment in the spotlight instead of just being briefly mentioned in this epilogue.

Also, this epilogue was the moment where other characters and stories from earlier in the season should have been included, surely? What about the denizens of the Colony from Far From Home, the humans in the Sol system from People of Earth, Nhan, who had been left alone aboard the USS Tikhov in Die Trying, or the people of Kwejian from The Sanctuary? I’m not saying the sequence needed more jammed into its six minutes, but it feels like this was the moment to at least acknowledge the stories that happened across the rest of the season considering That Hope Is You, Part 2 had already tipped its hat to the others mentioned above.

Nhan was absent from the episode and its epilogue – as were several other characters and factions from earlier in the season.

So we seem to have started at the end, which is a little strange! But never mind. Let’s look next at Su’Kal and the Burn. Discovery Season 3 did a lot of things right, and my initial concerns about a “post-apocalyptic” Star Trek series turned out to be largely unfounded. The sense of optimism and hope that are – in my opinion – fundamental parts of the franchise were missing from the bleak, post-Burn 32nd Century – but they were present in Burnham, Saru, the crew of Discovery, Admiral Vance, Booker, Sahil, and many other characters across the season. In that sense the story of the Burn was a success.

The event itself, however, and the resolution to it that we saw in Su’Kal and That Hope Is You, Part 2 just doesn’t sit right.

We’ll come to narrative in a moment, because my primary concern right now is the Burn’s real-world messaging. We have Su’Kal, a man with mental health problems and/or a learning disability, as the unintentional cause of the Burn. There is a sizeable stigma around mental health and learning disabilities here in the real world, and I just feel that Su’Kal being presented as the man who accidentally ruined much of the galaxy plays into some harmful stereotyping. Su’Kal comes across similar to Lenny, the rabbit-loving man from John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice And Men. It’s implied that Su’Kal is the way he is because of the environment he’s spent his life in, but even so, there’s an obvious literary parallel. Lenny ends up accidentally killing someone in that novel, because he doesn’t know his own strength and he doesn’t realise what he’s doing. Su’Kal has done the same basic thing, only on a much bigger scale.

Su’Kal causing the Burn is not devoid of real-world meaning.

The message this seems to send is what I find at least a little upsetting in 2021. Though Su’Kal is portrayed sympathetically – and I would credit Bill Irwin with a wonderful performance – the sympathy he elicits is more like pity. We look down at Su’Kal as a pitiable idiot, someone too dumb to know what power he had and what it could do. We look at him like we look at Lenny.

People with mental health conditions – a category into which I fall – don’t want pity, nor do people with learning disabilities. Yet Discovery is playing into century-old stereotyping that we really should be trying to move beyond. This season has seen some wonderful storylines that deal with complex issues, but its two attempts to depict mental health – with Su’Kal and Lieutenant Detmer in earlier episodes – just didn’t work. Detmer’s story got so little time that it was basically meaningless, despite being well-intentioned, and Su’Kal’s story just rubs me the wrong way. I feel that the decision to make the Burn the fault of someone in his position was the wrong one, and the message it sends is one I’m not comfortable with.

Su’Kal with Saru.

Su’Kal himself is one aspect of the Burn that I feel didn’t come across well, and I hope my explanation and reasoning make sense to you. But narratively too, the resolution to the Burn feels anticlimactic. There’s a disparity between the epic nature and scale of the Burn and the man who we now know is the cause of it. It feels like a non sequitur; that the Burn cannot logically follow from Su’Kal getting upset – or screaming, as Culber and Adira would explain.

As I said in my review of Su’Kal a couple of weeks ago, there is something uniquely “Star Trek” about this resolution to the Burn’s story. And from that point of view, as a storyline which is perhaps closer to fantasy than sci-fi, it doesn’t feel out of place in this fictional universe, not when you stand it up alongside the storylines of episodes from past iterations of Star Trek such as A Piece of the Action, Masks, Facets, or The Gift. There’s a weirdness to the Burn being a telepathic child’s scream that is, in a peculiar way, something you wouldn’t see outside of Star Trek. I count myself among many Trekkies for whom this weirdness is precisely what was appealing about Star Trek when I first saw it.

Su’Kal’s home for many years – the Kih’eth.

So in a sense, the story of these final few episodes as far as the Burn is concerned fits right in within a franchise that can give us the episodes mentioned above. The Gift, from Voyager’s fourth season, is actually a pretty good frame of reference, as it’s a story which shows Kes’ mental abilities. She’s able to propel a starship thousands of light-years with the power of her mind, and that’s not a million miles away from Su’Kal’s connection to dilithium.

But the Burn was not a single-episode story, nor the kind of one-off story fit for episodic television. Not only did it impact the entire season, but it will continue to have ramifications for Discovery’s fourth season, and for any future Star Trek series or films set in or around this time period. Furthermore, it was a mystery that had been teased for over a year, since the first trailer for Season 3 was shown in late 2019. Expectations had been built up over thirteen episodes, and arguably for more than a year before the season premiered. As much as I can respect the Burn and Su’Kal and their place in the greater Star Trek canon, unfortunately those expectations were not met – at least not for me.

The Burn was set up as a huge and apocalyptic mystery.

The disconnect between the devastating Burn and the small Su’Kal is just too big a gap to bridge at the end of a season that has been so dominated by this one event. It makes sense, and I get it – it’s not that the Burn’s explanation is somehow incomprehensible – and I’m incredibly pleased that the writers chose to make sure the Burn did receive an explanation instead of trying to brush it aside and say it doesn’t matter. But the explanation that we got is one that I feel was weak.

The story of Su’Kal being trapped alone in a disintegrating holo-world, and Saru coming to his rescue is one that could have worked as another of Season 3’s semi-standalone stories, like Georgiou’s illness and trip to the Mirror Universe. It didn’t need to be connected in any way to the Burn in order to be emotional and significant; it was a good story all on its own. By tying it to the Burn and by saying that this is the cause of the Star Trek galaxy’s biggest and worst catastrophe, the overarching story of the season has unfortunately come to an underwhelming end.

The holo-world with its monstrous inhabitant was a very “Star Trek” story in many ways.

It almost feels like the writers and producers came up with the effects of the Burn and how the galaxy would look in its aftermath, and only then tried to come up with a cause. In the best post-apocalyptic stories and the best mystery stories aren’t written that way; Agatha Christie didn’t start by writing the murder and decide on a murderer later, and the Burn should have worked the same way. I’m not saying I know for a fact that they did it this way, but it certainly has that feel. The sheer randomness of the Burn may have been intended to be a shock or a surprise, and the disconnect between the scale of the event and the single individual who caused it may likewise be intentional – but it wasn’t successful.

Because the Burn is really quite unlike any other storyline in Star Trek, it arguably needed a better and more substantial payoff. I’m not saying that it needed to have one of the causes that I speculated about before the season began, nor am I saying that my disappointment and sense of being underwhelmed comes from a fan theory not being met. Instead what I’m saying is that the ultimate explanation needed to be something more than the scream of an upset child.

A recording of the moment the Burn occurred.

Finally on the Burn, its cause was only really explained in a handful of technobabble-heavy lines of dialogue. In Su’Kal, Burnham and Dr Culber had a couple of lines each, and this week Culber and Adira likewise had a scant handful of lines in which they tried to explain what happened. None of these lines of dialogue were bad – though a couple were perhaps heavy on exposition – but combined with the already-underwhelming narrative, the fact that the season’s biggest mystery was resolved with such little discussion again makes it feel as if it were an afterthought instead of the most significant storyline we’ve been watching.

There were some things to like, though. Guest star Bill Irwin put in a wonderfully complex performance as Su’Kal, showing a range of emotions as he wrangled with the idea that his entire life was changing. Despite my criticisms of the mental health aspects of Su’Kal’s story, one thing the writers managed to convey very well was the sense of isolation and loneliness that many people with mental health issues feel. I’ve been in Su’Kal’s shoes, feeling trapped and fearful, and from that point of view the depiction was something understandable and that did a good job conveying its message. Though the current state of the world wasn’t known at the time Season 3 was being written and filmed, there’s also a strong metaphor in someone who feels trapped, isolated, and disconnected, stuck in an artificial world. Many people watching in 2021 can sympathise with Su’Kal far more than they would’ve been able to a year ago.

Many people in 2021 feel trapped and isolated, making this a timely metaphor.

Saru and Dr Culber were both highlights of this storyline too. Both got the chance to show off their sympathetic sides, and while Saru was the focus, as he was someone who had more of a connection to Su’Kal, Dr Culber contributed too. Su’Kal’s ability at the end of the story to push through his fears and to understand what had happened was a result of both of their efforts. Adira didn’t interact much with Su’Kal himself, but it was an inspired choice to put them in this side of the story. I feared that Adira may have been shuffled away to the dilithium planet simply to give Stamets more of an intense emotional reaction, but they contributed to the story both by bringing the lifesaving medication and by helping the others work through some of the puzzles.

Gray becoming corporeal for the first time was also a fun part of the story on the dilithium planet. Having been a phantom presence all season, it was great to see Gray finally able to interact not only with the “real world” but also with other characters. Gray’s presence has yet to be explained – and it was left completely unclear as of the end of the episode whether Gray has been given a new holo-body or if he has returned to being someone only Adira can see. But Gray, despite really only participating in one sequence, did well in That Hope Is You, Part 2, and I hope his status is clarified so he can have a role in Season 4.

Gray and Adira.

So the Burn and the action on the dilithium planet was the side of That Hope Is You, Part 2 that I felt was weakest. Now we come to the bulk of the episode, and I’m happy to say that I had a whale of a time with Burnham, Book, Tilly, Admiral Vance, and everyone else.

Scenes aboard Discovery played out like an action film for the second week in a row. There were some clichés, a couple of confusing moments, and one rather awkward line, but even so it was action-packed fun. Star Trek can do action very well, and it surprises me in some ways to see Trekkies criticising Discovery or the Kelvin timeline films for being “brainless action,” then turning around to heap praise on The Wrath of Khan or First Contact. That Hope Is You, Part 2 was up there with those films and other action-heavy stories in the franchise, and it’s one of the better examples of how Star Trek can be an action-sci fi franchise when it chooses to be.

What was great about this part of the episode’s story, considering how much of a Burnham-cenrtic show Discovery can be, is that other characters got to take turns being the action hero. We certainly got to see Burnham in that role, and perhaps if she’d been alone it would’ve continued the trend of making her, and her alone, the show’s focus. But Tilly and Book in particular got big moments that not only put them at the centre of the action, but gave them genuine agency over the story, driving it forward. Burnham played one role in a larger story as the crew struggled to regain control of the ship – and that’s something the show needs to do more of!

Tilly in command of the bridge crew.

Burnham’s mission to the data core would have been useless had Tilly and the bridge officers not been able to force the ship out of warp, and if Book hadn’t been able to defeat Zareh she would have had a much harder time. So both of them got significant roles to play – even if we could argue that, narratively speaking, it would have been nice to see Tilly be the one to kill Zareh.

I just can’t bring myself to criticise Zareh’s death, though! Book has a loving attachment to Grudge, the beautiful cat who we’ve seen as a constant presence aboard his ship this season. And when Zareh threatened Grudge I got genuinely angry with him, so to see Book use that moment to regain his strength and send Zareh falling to his doom was incredibly satisfying and more than a little emotional. I have several cats, and they’re incredibly sweet animals. No one should threaten a kitty, so Zareh got exactly what was coming to him. And Book’s action hero quip as Zareh fell from the turbolift capped the sequence off perfectly. I honestly can’t fault it. Book got his heroic moment, the creepy, evil Zareh got a fitting end, and Grudge is safe! What more could you want?

“She’s a queen!”

The second action hero quip was Burnham’s, and it just didn’t quite stick the landing in the same way! As Osyraa pushed Burnham into a wall of programmable matter in the data core, she said that she “already tried that [negotiating] with Vance. I won’t make that mistake again!” and then, moments later when Burnham shot and killed her, she responded by saying “Yeah, well… unlike you… I never quit.” And I honestly burst out laughing, because the response to Osyraa was just so unrelated to what she’d said a moment earlier. It feels like it was written in response to a totally different line, and it doesn’t seem to make sense in context of what Osyraa said. Osyraa never mentioned quitting, she never said that Burnham should quit, or that she had quit doing something… so it just doesn’t follow. It’s a non sequitur. The writers wanted to give Burnham an action hero line, but unlike Book’s, which is almost his catchphrase any time someone talks about Grudge, Burnham’s just didn’t make sense.

In fact it reminded me of that moment in Family Guy where they make a big joke about action movie lines. Peter Griffin uses the famous line from Lethal Weapon 2: “it’s just been revoked,” but does so in completely the wrong context. And that’s kind of how Burnham’s line felt here. That might be due to script rewrites and revisions but even so, more attention should have been paid to this line. If we’re comparing That Hope Is You, Part 2 to an action film, this was the climax of the hero-versus-villain story, and if they wanted to give Burnham a hero quip to round it off… it needed to at least make sense in context. And I know that picking on one line is a minor thing. Compared to how well the storyline as a whole worked it’s incidental, but I wanted to highlight it as it made me laugh in the moment.

“It’s just been revoked!”

There are a couple of points from this side of the story that I feel may be prone to criticism, and I want to look at each in turn. First is the sequence in the turboshafts – or rather, in the large empty space beyond the corridors on some of Discovery’s decks. This is new to Star Trek, and while there are spacious areas inside some starships that we’ve seen – particularly in engineering sections – I can foresee that some fans may feel that this huge area isn’t what they expected the inside of the ship to look like. While I don’t personally have an issue with it, and I would suggest it may be connected to engineering, the Spore Drive, or programmable matter as explanations for the large spacious area, I didn’t want to ignore this point, as it does represent a change to how starships in general – and the USS Discovery in particular – have usually been shown.

The second point is Book’s ability to fly the ship. I would argue that Aurellio, Tilly, and Stamets have all set up this moment at points throughout the season, hinting at ways to expand the Spore Drive beyond Stamets, so I don’t think it came from nowhere. I do think, however, that we could have seen a little more of Aurellio talking about or even just mentioning the possibility for empaths to connect to the mycelial network. There was an opportunity for him to have done so last week when he and Stamets talked for some time about Spore Drive options – this would certainly have better set up what was to come. As a story point, though, I don’t dislike it, and perhaps a second Spore Drive can be created for another Starfleet vessel as a result. Other members of Book’s tribe or race may even be able to join up with Starfleet to serve as Spore Drive operators, and even if only Book and Stamets can use it, well at least Discovery now has a backup!

The interior of the USS Discovery.

Osyraa fell into the Bond villain trap of leaving the crew to be killed slowly and then rushing off to do something else. While Tilly, Owosekun, Detmer, Bryce, Rhys, and random dark-haired bridge officer (what happened to Nilsson?) were slowly suffocating, they managed to come up with a plan to regain control of the ship. Burnham gave Tilly an instruction via the intercom and Tilly rallied the crew to set off a bomb in one of the nacelles – knocking Discovery out of warp.

I’ll forgive the minor contrivance of Osyraa leaving them to suffocate. It’s the kind of thing I could imagine her doing, and again if we’re using the action film analogy, it’s something we see often enough. Tilly remained in control of her officers, and handled herself well in what were undeniably difficult circumstances. Her line to them that they didn’t need to join her on what looked to be a suicide mission was very much something we could imagine other Star Trek captains saying – and indeed we have seen other captains in the past telling their senior officers that a mission is voluntary. Despite losing the ship to Osyraa, Tilly stepped up and was a big factor in being able to regain control of it.

Osyraa in command of Discovery.

My only criticism of this side of the story is that the stakes were lowered significantly when no one was killed. Even when it seemed as if Owosekun wouldn’t survive the explosion, a last-second intervention by the Sphere data in one of the remaining DOT 23 robots saved her life. Since returning to the small screen in 2017, Star Trek has not been shy to follow the trail blazed by some other big television projects – like The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones – and kill of major and secondary characters. Star Trek: Picard Season 1 had a pretty big death toll of both new and legacy characters – yet no one at all died in this storyline, despite the superficial dangers posed to the crew. In fact, Ryn was the only casualty on the heroes’ side all season.

Killing a character for shock value or just for the sake of it is not what I’m advocating. But over the last decade or so, the well-executed death of a major or secondary character can add to the stakes of a storyline, making it clear that there is significant danger and emphasising to the audience that quite literally anything could happen. In Star Trek: Discovery, being a major character seems to provide a degree of plot armour, and that risks dropping the tension at some of these key moments.

It seemed for a moment as if Owosekun wouldn’t survive, but she did. And so did every other hero character.

I was pleased to see that Aurellio – the scientist working for Osyraa – wasn’t on board with her methods. But this was one point where perhaps an extra minute or two was needed to show him firmly break away from her and the Emerald Chain and join up with Burnham and the crew. After making his protest and being rendered unconscious, Aurellio didn’t really have much of an opportunity to do or say anything else. We saw him briefly on the bridge later on, but that was it. This character had been set up so well last week that his significantly reduced role this time was just a little disappointing. Hopefully we can see more of Aurellio in Season 4 and beyond.

That Hope Is You, Part 2 went out of its way to show Osyraa at her worst, in order to make her irredeemable and justify Burnham killing her later on. Torturing Book was a big part of that, and the sequence in which she and Zareh used the mind control device first introduced a couple of weeks ago as an implement of torture was truly gruelling to watch – in the best possible way! Both David Ajala and Sonequa Martin-Green put in outstanding performances, and I wanted to highlight how well they played their roles. It’s easy to either under- or over-sell such an extreme moment – both in terms of the pain experienced by the victim and the emotional turmoil their partner is going through when forced to watch – but both actors hit the sweet spot and were pitch-perfect.

Book was tortured in That Hope Is You, Part 2.

Admiral Vance, Lieutenant Willa, and Kovich had some short but interesting moments at Federation HQ as they organised the defence of their base against the Emerald Chain. I was concerned for Vance in particular – if no one aboard Discovery were to be killed, I thought he was probably the writers’ main target! There was organised chaos at Federation HQ as Discovery, under Osyraa’s command, ran amok inside. It was really neat to see the ships battling within this confined space at the beginning of the episode, as well as seeing Osyraa know just where to hit the base to take down its shield wall.

The arrival of the fleet from Ni’Var was one of those stirring emotional moments up there with the arrival of the Kelpiens and Klingons in the Season 2 finale, Riker showing up in the Picard Season 1 finale, or the Enterprise-E sweeping in to battle the Borg in First Contact. I adored this moment, and it felt like the beginning of the Federation coming back together – a payoff to Burnham and Saru’s diplomatic efforts throughout thr season. It was a little early in the story, perhaps, but there’s no taking away from the fantastic way it felt when the fleet arrived.

Admiral Vance watches as the N’Var fleet arrives.

A couple of weeks ago, I said that the end of the season seemed formulaic and obvious – save or neutralise Su’Kal to prevent a second Burn, retake Discovery from Osyraa, and use the dilithium in the Verubin Nebula to power and reunite the Federation. And although I didn’t predict how exciting and action-packed that storyline would be, I was right. The end of the season was mapped out in Su’Kal, and Discovery stuck to the path. Not every show has to have twists and turns and shockingly unexpected moments, but I was still hopeful, even as That Hope Is You, Part 2 entered its final moments, that something different may have come along to shake things up.

For all the reasons given above, the Burn is the least interesting and most underwhelming part of both the season and its finale. However, despite that, I had a truly great time with That Hope Is You, Part 2. It’s true that the story unfolded exactly how I would have expected it to for the last two weeks, and it’s also the case that there were some tropes and clichés along the way. But there’s a reason why these action-oriented stories work, and That Hope Is You, Part 2 hit all the right notes in that regard. It was a solid, incredibly fun, action-packed episode of Star Trek.

Burnham assuming command of Discovery has been a goal that the series has been trying to reach since Season 1. Shuffling Saru off to Kaminar with only a brief explanation would not have been my first choice for getting there, because I feel his character deserved more respect than that. But that’s where we are – Captain Burnham. Her stupid disobeying of orders in the episode Scavengers and her struggle to come to terms with that in Unification III do undeniably undermine her ascent to the captaincy. And perhaps we need to step back when the dust settles and look at Burnham across all three seasons to see whether she really meets the criteria. Right now though, as of the time I’m writing this, her becoming captain not only works well, but it feels great too.

Starfleet has always been willing to bend the rules to accommodate talent; it’s a meritocratic organisation. Admiral Vance made his reasoning plain: Burnham may not always follow the exact letter of the rules, but she follows their spirit. She’s willing to make changes and sacrifices to adapt to the moment she’s in, and those are certainly strong qualifications for becoming a captain. Captains Kirk and Janeway in particular bent or broke the rules numerous times, and Picard, Archer, and Sisko were not immune to that either. Knowing how and when to work around the rules is part of what has always made for a great Starfleet captain. Burnham has that ability – and we’ve seen across all three seasons that she’s a natural leader, too.

“Let’s fly!”

The crew want to follow Burnham. They respected Saru, of course, but they love Burnham and they’re willing to follow her literally anywhere – or to any time. There are lingering issues which I hope will be picked up in Season 4 – notably with Stamets, who still seems unhappy with Burnham after she kicked him off the ship last week. But everyone else is fully on board with Captain Burnham, ready for her to lead them on to new adventures.

Where I criticised her earlier in the season for her lack of commitment to Starfleet, that has been resolved too. She felt that she might no longer fit in within the rigid confines of a Starfleet rulebook and uniform, but it turns out that she has at least some freedom to bend those rules to achieve important goals. And that does not come from nowhere. She earned that right across all three seasons of the show. She can be selfish, and she can be overly emotional, and as we saw in the Season 1 premiere she can be a complete idiot. But with a crew around her to support and advise her, with Book by her side as an emotional foundation, and having settled into her position in Starfleet, I can’t fault Admiral Vance – or Star Trek: Discovery – for putting her in the captain’s chair.

Burnham takes her seat in the captain’s chair for the first time.

If you’d told me three or four weeks ago that I was going to say that, I would never have believed it! But that is the strength of the second half of the season. Beginning really with The Sanctuary and running through to the season finale this week, Burnham has grown in leaps and bounds and the series has put in the work to make it feel that she earned her promotion. Where I called her arrogant and selfish I can now see a character with strength and commitment, and that’s not only because she has seen this character development, it’s also because Discovery took at least some of the focus away from her and allowed other characters to shine.

Discovery isn’t an ensemble show, but giving some significant plot threads to characters other than Burnham and spending time with them instead of largely with her has contributed to getting her to where she is at the end of the season finale. There was a sense in some earlier episodes that no other character would be allowed to do anything other than ride on Burnham’s coattails, and I was pleading with the series to allow someone else to do something of consequence… and then it happened. And not only was the show itself better for it, but so was Burnham. Freed from being the “chosen one” who was somehow destined to play the only significant role, her victories truly feel like her own. She accomplished a lot, not just this week but across the latter part of the season, and the work put into developing her character, stabilising her, and getting her ready for a leadership role ultimately paid off.

Burnham and the crew are ready for their next adventure.

There are, as noted, open questions at the end of That Hope Is You, Part 2. Saru’s status is perhaps the biggest, but I’d also like to know what became of Nhan and whether Earth has been in touch with the Federation. But those questions will have to be left for Season 4 to answer – whenever that may come.

So that was That Hope Is You, Part 2. And that was Star Trek: Discovery Season 3. For the first time in almost six months, there’s no new Star Trek to talk about! But don’t despair, because I still have to bring my Season 3 theories to a close. In addition, over the next few weeks I’ll take a look at the season as a whole, the Burn, Burnham herself, and other things we learned over the last few weeks.

There is more Star Trek just over the horizon – Lower Decks Season 2 may be coming out this year, and will finally get its international broadcast in just a couple of weeks’ time. We also have Prodigy to look forward to this year all being well. And you can bet that there’ll be news about Picard, the Section 31 series, Strange New Worlds, and other Star Trek projects coming before too long. It’s a wonderful time to be a Star Trek fan! Despite some gripes with part of its story, That Hope Is You, Part 2 was a great way to bring to an end this season and to the 23 weeks of Star Trek we’ve been lucky to enjoy.

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

Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 3

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

I know, I know. If you’re in the United States you’re already able to watch the fourth episode of Discovery, so some of these theories may already be out of date if you’ve seen Forget Me Not. Sorry! There were several things going on this week that I wanted to talk about as well as Discovery, including my Halloween write-up of the Voyager Season 6 episode The Haunting of Deck Twelve. If you missed that one I hope you find the time to check it out, as Voyager can sometimes feel like an underappreciated series in the overall Star Trek canon.

So let’s look at People of Earth and consider some of the theories we’ve been able to craft or advance as a result of that episode. There were two debunkings, a couple of new theories, and minor movement on a couple of pre-existing ones. But let’s start, as always, with one theory that was confirmed.

Confirmed theory: Book and the other couriers have never been to Earth.

Book’s ship at warp.

Michael Burnham confirmed this early on in People of Earth. Because of how expensive dilithium is, a trip to Earth from whatever sector of the galaxy she and Book were in was impossible. Book, in fact, had never visited Earth. Though the outcome of this was not what I expected at all – having thought that Earth would still be the Federation’s capital – I was right about Book.

In a way this speaks to the state of the galaxy. With dilithium in short supply and the Federation mostly gone, people are confined to either a small area or, as in the case of the Coridanites we met in Far From Home, a single planet. Book’s ship is capable of warp, but without enough dilithium there was no realistic prospect of him travelling to Earth. Presumably, now that he’s arrived at Earth, he also has no way to get back to the Hima sector.

So that theory was confirmed. Next up we have a couple of debunkings.

Debunked theory #1: The tree is a memorial to the USS Discovery and/or Captain Pike.

Tilly with the tree in People of Earth.

This was a theory I postulated when we first saw a glimpse of this scene in the second Season 3 trailer. I had speculated that the tree would be some kind of memorial either to the USS Discovery – which Starfleet considers to have been destroyed – or perhaps to someone the crew knew, like Captain Pike. This was a hunch, really, based on the strong emotional reaction they seemed to have when they saw it.

However, the explanation was even simpler. The tree, which had been seen in The Next Generation, was in the grounds of Starfleet Academy, and several of the crew, including Tilly and Detmer, recalled it with fondness from their time studying there.

This theory could have been a neat connection to the life and friends that the crew left behind when they left the 23rd Century. However, the way it was done accomplished this goal too, and at the same time showed just how much time had passed.

Debunked theory #2: Hima is Terralysium

The planet Hima.

When Burnham arrived in the 32nd Century in That Hope Is You, she landed (alright, crashed) on the planet Hima. However, she had intended to arrive at the planet of Terralysium. I had speculated that the two planets were, in fact, one and the same and that Terralysium had, for some reason, seen its name change at some point in the intervening centuries. This wouldn’t be uncommon based on history!

However, in People of Earth Michael Burnham revealed that she had tried to find her mother, Dr Gabrielle Burnham, including by contacting Terralysium. It now seems obvious that the two planets are not the same.

It would have made sense to think that a planet – especially one that had such a small population of pre-warp humans – would have seen its name change, especially if it had come under the sway of some other power (like the Orion Syndicate). It wasn’t the case, though, and this theory is toast.

So those theories were debunked. Let’s look at some new theories that we have in the aftermath of People of Earth.

Number 1: Discovery Season 3 takes place in an alternate timeline – or a timeline that is going to be overwritten.

Burnham in People of Earth.

I’ve been reluctant to posit this theory. In the run-up to the season premiere I even wrote that I considered it unlikely, as it would further complicate the already-fractured Star Trek timeline. However, there are possible signs or hints we can see that could indicate Discovery Season 3 takes place in an alternate timeline, parallel universe, or different reality.

First is the absence of Dr Gabrielle Burnham, Michael’s mother. She’s nowhere to be found, and while there are possible explanations for that – as we’ll see in a moment – one possibility that remains in play is that Dr Burnham is in a different parallel universe from Michael and the Discovery crew. Specifically, she may have remained in the prime timeline – i.e. the main Star Trek timeline which runs from Enterprise to Picard – while Burnham and Discovery exited the wormhole in a different universe. Something similar happened to Spock in 2009’s Star Trek, so it isn’t entirely beyond the realm of possibility.

The second part of this theory – which is really a standalone theory all its own – is that the timeline where the Burn occurred and which led to the bleak 32nd Century that we see at the moment isn’t the “true” timeline. Time travel gets messy, but in short: if someone interfered in the timeline and caused the Burn, from Starfleet’s perspective that should never have happened. They would want to undo it in order to restore the “real” timeline, one in which the Burn did not occur.

If that’s the case, much of the rest of the season may be dedicated to figuring out who caused the Burn, how, why, and then travelling through time to prevent it from ever happening.

The reason why I haven’t discussed these theories before is that I would consider both of them to be huge storytelling risks. Discovery has always been part of the prime timeline, and jumping to a different reality would be a huge change. And secondly, telling a multi-episode story, perhaps one that lasts all season, only to undo or overwrite it could easily end up feeling like a waste of time. Star Trek has done this before, but only with individual episodes like Year of Hell or Yesterday’s Enterprise. Undoing or overwriting an entire season would be a much more complicated undertaking.

However, the possibility exists, so these theories are now included on the list.

Number 2: The spore drive is going to become Starfleet’s new method of faster-than-light propulsion.

The USS Discovery initiates Black Alert and jumps through the mycelial network.

With the loss of most of the galaxy’s dilithium, it seems that faster-than-light travel – at least in the former Federation – is difficult and costly. It’s certainly possible that other factions have developed non-dilithium travel methods, and in That Hope Is You we saw Book mention a couple of possibilities for that.

However, there’s also the spore drive. At the end of Season 2 it was strongly suggested that the existence of the USS Discovery and the spore drive would be covered up by Starfleet and/or Section 31, meaning that it’s plausible to think that by the 32nd Century all knowledge of it would have been lost – especially in the post-Burn chaos that engulfed what remained of Starfleet. But the spore drive doesn’t rely on dilithium, and allows for instantaneous jumps across the galaxy – if the technology was able to be rolled out, Starfleet could be back up and running.

This season we’ve not only seen the spore drive in use, but in People of Earth Stamets gave a technobabble explanation of the way it works to Adira, firmly cementing the spore drive as being in play for the remainder of the season.

While I would expect at this stage the bulk of the story to be about unravelling what happened with the Burn and perhaps finding a way to undo it or fix it, one possible outcome could be a slow restoration of Starfleet and the Federation by rolling out the spore drive to more and more ships. Reconnecting the scattered ex-Federation worlds and bringing them back together would be far easier with the spore drive, so it remains an option.

Number 3: We’ll meet Dax when Discovery arrives at the Trill homeworld.

The Dax symbiont.

The revelation that Adira has been joined with a Trill symbiont was interesting. The first trailer last year showed us the Trill homeworld, and ever since I’d been kicking around the possibility of the Dax symbiont making an appearance. Obviously we won’t see Ezri Dax, as Trill hosts seem to have similar lifespans to humans and Klingons based on what we saw in Deep Space Nine, meaning Ezri would not still be around in this era (barring some kind of stasis or time travel story that I just don’t consider a reasonable possibility). However, the Dax symbiont could, in theory, still be alive.

We just don’t know how long symbionts live. They can certainly live for centuries; how many centuries is unclear. It’s certainly possible that Dax could have survived this long, and it would be a wonderful way to tie Discovery to the wider Star Trek franchise.

So those theories were new. Next let’s look at the remaining theories from last time, some of which saw some minor movement this week.

Number 4: Lieutenant Detmer is going to die.

Detmer in People of Earth.

I debated including this theory again this week, because it seems as though the writers of Discovery are planning to go down a mental health/post-traumatic stress storyline with Detmer. However, in Far From Home we got a lot of possible hinting at a head injury or perhaps damage to her eye implant. Though it’s looking less likely that Detmer will die and more likely that we’ll see some kind of PTSD story for her character instead, the way it was set up in Far From Home still feels to me like she’s gravely injured. Perhaps that just means the storyline was not set up very well. But I want to keep this theory in play for a little while longer while we see what, if anything, will happen to Detmer.

Number 5: We’ll see the return of a character from a past iteration of Star Trek, such as Voyager’s Doctor.

The Doctor.

After visiting Earth, perhaps the argument could be made that this theory is less likely. However, if we are going to get the return of a classic character, it seems more likely that any Starfleet officer would be with the rump Federation, even if they’re human or originally from Earth.

Dax seems the most likely candidate right now, but as I’ve written on a number of occasions there are several others who could conceivably be alive and active at this time, including a backup copy of the Doctor as seen in the Voyager Season 4 episode Living Witness.

In short, just because we didn’t see any classic Star Trek characters when Discovery visited Earth that doesn’t mean we won’t if and when they link up with the remainder of Starfleet and the Federation.

Number 6: Booker is a Coppelius synth.

A crowd of Coppelius synths seen in Star Trek: Picard.

Everything we saw of Book this week suggests that he’s human, so in that sense we’re perhaps moving a step or two back from a theory which, let’s be honest, is a bit “out there!” However, we also saw nothing to rule out the idea of a synthetic origin for Book, and in some respects we could argue from a thematic perspective that his relationship with Grudge mirror’s Data’s relationship with his cat, Spot, in The Next Generation.

The abilities Book had in That Hope Is You – including strange glowing spots which could be technological in origin – are still unexplained. Burnham may well know more about Book, having spent at least some time with him over the past year. But for us as the audience, Book is still a mystery. Is he human? Possibly. Is he an alien, either from a familiar or new race? Possibly. Is he a synth, and if he is, could he be part of a synthetic civilisation founded on Coppelius? That’s still a possibility.

Number 7: Dr Gabrielle Burnham will make an appearance.

Michael and Gabrielle Burnham.

As mentioned above, Dr Burnham’s absence is strange in some ways. However, there are perfectly reasonable explanations for why she hasn’t shown up. Upon realising the future had been saved from Control she may have gone in search of the Federation. She and her Red Angel suit may have been captured by someone in this timeline. Or she may have ended up in a different sector of the galaxy.

Burnham was able to contact Terralysium, but as we just noted above, she and Book have only seen a small fraction of the galaxy due to their limited ability to travel. Thus it’s quite possible that Dr Burnham is alive in the galaxy somewhere, and will be able to reunite with her daughter.

Number 8: The Federation’s response to the Burn – not the event itself – caused its collapse.

A Federation fleet seen in Battle at the Binary Stars.

Captain Ndoye suggested that the reason the Federation left Earth was because some folks on Earth felt that, in the aftermath of the Burn, they were turning the planet into a target. With the cause of the Burn still unknown it’s possible this feeling wasn’t unique to Earth and was repeated elsewhere.

We are edging closer to seeing this theory confirmed, but I don’t want to say the matter is settled just yet. We haven’t met the rump Federation yet, and I’d like to hear their side of the story and why they think the Burn led to the Federation’s collapse, shrinking, withdrawal, or however you want to put it.

So those theories saw movement this week. As usual I’ll briefly recap my remaining theories so they’re all in one place. For a more detailed look at any of these, take a look at my first two theory posts, which you can find on my dedicated Star Trek: Discovery page.

Number 9: The ban on time travel is being flouted, possibly by the Federation.

Is this woman, seen in the Season 3 trailers, a Starfleet officer?

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

Number 10: The Burn was a superweapon – perhaps one the Federation detonated.

Is this a flashback to the Burn?

The cause of the Burn is not known right now, and there are multiple possibilities as I discussed when I took an in-depth look at the Burn before the season started. One possibility that stands out, however, is the Burn being the result of a superweapon. If the Federation were facing an existential threat – such as one caused by the Borg or the super-synths from Star Trek: Picard – they may have had no choice but to use such a weapon. The setting Burnham and the crew find themselves in may thus be the aftermath of a Pyrrhic victory, one in which the Federation defeated a powerful adversary but at an impossibly high cost.

Number 11: The Burn was caused by one of the Red Angel suits.

Dr Gabrielle Burnham’s powerful Red Angel suit.

There are two Red Angel suits known to exist – Michael Burnham’s and Dr Gabrielle Burnham’s. The suits are very powerful, and it isn’t a stretch to think they could be weaponised or cause some kind of accident. In an age where time travel has been prohibited, they could also be the only surviving examples of time-travel tech. If someone nefarious got their hands on a suit, they could travel back in time and attack the Federation by, oh I don’t know, destroying most of their dilithium.

Number 12: Someone stole Burnham’s Red Angel suit.

The last we saw of Burnham’s suit in That Hope Is You.

After Burnham landed on Hima, she sent her suit back in time to set off the final Red Burst for Pike and Spock. Then she ordered the suit to self-destruct. It’s possible, as hinted above, that somehow this in itself caused the Burn. But it’s also possible that someone intercepted the Red Angel suit after it left Hima. The finale of Season 2 confirmed the presence of the final Red Burst, but that’s all we know. Since we didn’t see on screen the destruction of the suit, we can’t be sure that it was destroyed as Burnham planned.

Number 13: The Federation was in serious decline before the Burn.

Why are there so few stars on the Federation flag? Does this represent systems and races that have seceded or left the Federation? And if that’s the case, why does the decades-old, pre-Burn flag (that Mr Sahil owned) represent those secessions? Perhaps the answer is that the Federation was already in decline. The Burn may have been the final straw – but not the only straw.

Number 14: The Orion Syndicate controls the trading post on Hima – and may be a major power.

An Orion guard in That Hope Is You.

The trading post Book and Burnham visited on Hima had a number of Orions present, including working as traders and guards. In addition, in Far From Home the courier Zareh suggested to one of his goons that he would sell “to the Orions.”

The Orion Syndicate has been part of Star Trek going back to The Original Series, and it makes sense in a chaotic, post-Burn environment that they would be able to operate more openly – and they may have even become a major power.

Number 15: There will be a tie-in with the Short Treks episode Calypso.

Craft, the main character of Calypso.

We got a first hint at this when Zareh used the word “V’Draysh” to refer to the Federation, as this was a term first used in Calypso. If Calypso takes place in or around the 32nd Century there could be some further crossover, perhaps even seeing protagonist Craft show up. It does raise questions, however, such as why the USS Discovery was abandoned in a nebula.

Number 16: Mirror Georgiou will travel back to the 23rd Century.

Georgiou with Michael Burnham.

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

There could be a reason for Georgiou to travel back in time, but if she’s to work with Section 31, the main one I can think of would be to warn Starfleet about the Burn and give them time to prepare and/or prevent it.

Number 17: We haven’t seen the last of Zareh.


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

So that’s it. Those are my theories going into episode four, which, as already mentioned, may be available to watch by the time you’re reading this! Hopefully next week we can get back on track with review and theory timings so we don’t run up against a deadline again. I make no promises, though!

Discovery Season 3 continues to be fascinating, and thus ripe for finding new and interesting theories. I love that the story is still a mystery even after three episodes, and there are so many different ways it could unfold – including many I can’t even predict or imagine. The best television shows manage to do this, and just like Star Trek: Picard earlier in the year kept us on our toes right until the finale, Discovery is doing a great job of keeping its mysteries and storylines under wraps.

I’m having a fun time with Season 3, and one great thing about being so late with this week’s theories is that there isn’t long left to wait for the next episode! Check back in the coming days for my review and an update to this theory list.

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

Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 1

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

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

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

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

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

Book’s ship at warp.

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

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

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

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

The super-synths from Star Trek: Picard.

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

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

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

Number 1: Booker is a Coppelius synth.

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

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

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

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

Number 2: Hima is Terralysium.

The planet Book identified as “Hima.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Gabrielle Burnham, as seen in Season 2.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The familiar crest.

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

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

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

What could have driven the members of the Federation apart?

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

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

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

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

Book seems unsure about the current state of the Federation.

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

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

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

Does this scene from the second trailer show the Burn?

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

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

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

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

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

Burnham with the Red Angel suit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burnham in the Red Angel suit in Season 2.

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

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

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

Crewman Daniels was a temporal agent seen in Enterprise.

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

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

Would the Cardassians abide by a ban on time travel?

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

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

Number 12: The USS Discovery arrived before Burnham.

The USS Discovery in the second Season 3 trailer.

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

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

The USS Discovery seen in Season 1.

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

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

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

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

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

Factions of Star Trek: Picard part three – the Federation

Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for every iteration of the Star Trek franchise, as well as from the trailers for Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Discovery Season 3.

The Federation crest in the 22nd Century.

Over the last few days we’ve looked at a couple of the main Star Trek factions that seem certain to make an appearance in Star Trek: Picard. In case you missed them, you can find my articles on the Borg by clicking or tapping here, and on the Romulans by clicking or tapping here. In this article I’m continuing to look at some (hopefully) useful background information as we prepare for Star Trek: Picard, and oh boy, today’s faction is the big one!


The United Federation of Planets – or simply “the Federation” for short – is the faction to which our protagonists and heroes in every iteration of Star Trek belong. Okay, maybe that isn’t strictly true, because we’ve seen non-Federation citizens as main characters in Deep Space Nine and Voyager, and because of its setting technically no one in Enterprise was a Federation citizen until after that show’s finale. But you know what I mean!

The Federation is not to be confused with Starfleet. Starfleet is the Federation’s deep-space exploration and military arm, but it is not synonymous with the entire Federation. Starfleet officers and enlisted personnel may hail from non-Federation worlds, and being a Federation citizen does not make an individual a member of Starfleet.


The Federation, at the moment of its founding in 2161, consisted of four species, and throughout its history – with the possible exception of the future glimpsed in the trailers for Discovery’s third season – remained a faction which incorporated many different species under one banner.

The four founding members were: humans, Vulcans, Andorians, and Tellarites. These four species’ homeworlds are in relatively close proximity to one another in the Alpha Quadrant, and Vulcans were the first extraterrestrial race encountered by humanity.

The founding member species of the Federation: Vulcans, humans, Tellarites, and Andorians.

Other important members, as of the late 24th Century, were as follows: Betazoids, Bolians, Catians, Deltans, Rigellians, and the Zakdorn. The Federation also offered protectorate status to some species, including the Evora. The Bajorans, because of the heavy Federation presence in their system, could be arguably considered a Federation protectorate too, and were a candidate for full Federation membership.

Two of the most important criteria for a species to meet before being permitted to join the Federation were a united planet/species not divided into factions or nation-states, and having achieved the technological milestone of warp drive. Some species, like the Bajorans, fulfilled these criteria, but other factors prevented the Federation from seeing them as viable members for a time.

Amanda Grayson, Michael Burnham, and Sarek at a meeting of the Vulcan Expeditionary Group in the mid-23rd Century.

Members of the Federation were fairly autonomous. The Vulcans, for example, were seen to maintain their own fleet of starships, their own science academy which was at least equal in standing to Starfleet academy, their own “expeditionary group”, and their own government – even into the 24th Century. Spock was the first Vulcan to serve in Starfleet, though many others would follow. In the 24th Century, there were Starfleet ships whose crews were entirely made up of a single species – often Vulcans. However, the norm appears to be for multi-species crews.

22nd Century

In the aftermath of conflicts and skirmishes with the Klingons, and especially with the Romulans, four Alpha Quadrant powers – the Vulcans, humans, Andorians, and Tellarites – agreed to work together in the interests of safety and technological cooperation. The Andorians and Vulcans had long been adversaries – even before humanity achieved warp drive and joined the galactic community – but were able to set their animosity aside and band together. The ceremony which marked the Federation’s official founding took place in San Francisco on Earth.

Earth was arguably chosen to headquarter the Federation as a neutral venue controlled by neither the Vulcans nor the Andorians – whose confrontational past was still an obstacle to be overcome. Regardless of the reasoning, Earth remained the Federation’s headquarters into the late 24th Century, seemingly hosting the entire Federation government as well as Starfleet.

Travis Mayweather, Hoshi Sato, and Malcolm Reed of the NX-01 Enterprise attend the founding ceremony of the United Federation of Planets in 2161.

By the end of the 22nd Century, the Federation’s economy transitioned entirely away from money, as technology had improved for all members and was able to provide a better standard of living for all citizens. The Federation retained some form of “credit” which could be considered a currency, but by this point it’s assumed that technology like food synthesizers and the availability of energy to power everything meant that the entire economy was transformed. Picard states that, as of the 24th Century, the goal of humanity was to “better itself” rather than pursue material goods. This was a core part of Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future.

23rd Century

In the 23rd Century, the Federation was focused on exploration of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. First contact was made with many species in this region, and several would join the growing Federation. The Klingons were left feeling ill at ease with this expansion, particularly the presence of human colonies, and a cold war between the Federation and Klingons began brewing. This ultimately boiled over into a very costly war between the two factions, which was only ended when Starfleet threatened to use a superweapon to trigger mass volcanic eruptions on the Klingon homeworld which would have devastated the Empire. The Klingon Great Houses were thus forced to sue for peace, despite the Federation’s weakened position as a result of the war.

The crew of the USS Discovery discuss the tactical situation near the end of the Federation-Klingon war.

The Federation recovered quickly, however, and resumed the scientific and exploratory work that they had been engaged in prior to the Klingon war. In this era, Constitution-class starships, such as the USS Enterprise commanded by Captains Pike and Kirk, made up the bulk of Starfleet. The Federation also discovered the Mirror Universe around this time, populated by an aggressive, expansionist empire led by that universe’s Earth.

Aside from brief skirmishes with the Klingons and Tholians, the Federation remained mostly at peace in the second half of the 23rd Century, though it did face challenges such as a rogue AI created by Section 31, a planet-killing superweapon that entered the Milky Way from another galaxy, V’Ger, a hyperintelligent machine, Khan, a 20th Century despot who had been genetically enhanced, and a probe that threatened Earth.

The Federation continued its exploration, however, including missions further and further into deep space, often requiring ships and their crews to spend years at a time away from the faction’s core in the Alpha Quadrant.

An assembled Starfleet crew during the V’Ger incident in the late 23rd Century.

By the end of the 23rd Century, the Federation and Klingons had signed a peace agreement and were working together to alleviate the problems on the Klingon homeworld caused by a devastating explosion on the moon of Praxis. The Khitomer Accords would remain in force throughout the 24th Century – with a brief lapse in which the Klingons and Federation again engaged in a few skirmishes over the course of a few months.

24th Century

The Romulans and the Federation had a Neutral Zone separating their territories, and after failed attempts to invade and then to disrupt the budding peace process, the Romulans remained inactive from the Federation’s perspective for most of the first half of the 24th Century.

In the years prior to The Next Generation, which takes place in the 2360s, the Federation were involved in conflicts, wars, and/or skirmishes with: the Breen, the Cardassians, the Gorn, the Tholians, and the Tzenkethi. None of these wars appear to have been as significant nor as damaging as the earlier Klingon war.

Calvin Hudson, a former Starfleet officer, was an early leader of the breakaway Maquis.

When the Cardassians and Federation agreed to a peace treaty, several Federation worlds were transferred to Cardassia and were no longer under Federation jurisdiction despite being home to colonies. Some of these colonists, along with others on the Cardassian border, broke away from the Federation. Calling themselves the Maquis, they would attempt full secession from the Federation, which considered them little more than terrorists, but were ultimately eradicated in brutal fashion when the Cardassians allied with the Dominion.

By the mid-late 24th Century, the Federation’s two biggest adversaries were newly-contacted factions: the Borg and the Dominion. The Federation faced two major Borg attacks, where each time a single Borg vessel was able to take on a huge fleet of Federation ships, and a protracted war against the Dominion. Both events significantly drained the Federation’s resources.

The Borg, seen here on the viewscreen of the Enterprise-D, would attempt to assimilate the Federation twice in the mid-late 24th Century.

Prior to the outbreak of the Dominion War, a Starfleet Admiral named Leyton attempted a military coup against the democratic government, under the impression he was the only one capable of “saving” the Federation and its ideals from the manipulations of the Dominion and their shape-shifting Founders.

During the Dominion War, the Cardassians and Breen allied with the Dominion – who were originally from the Gamma Quadrant – and inflicted heavy losses on Starfleet and their Klingon and Romulan allies. Many ships were lost, and key Federation worlds such as Betazed were captured, as well as Deep Space Nine, which was the gateway to the Gamma Quadrant. It was only thanks to the intervention of the Prophets – a noncorporeal race who live in the Bajoran wormhole – that Dominion reinforcements were prevented from arriving, paving the way for the Federation alliance’s victory, but not before the Breen attacked Earth itself.

The Breen’s attack on Earth damaged Starfleet headquarters, and while it was able to be repulsed, it left many in the Federation badly shaken and emphasised how close they were to defeat.

Federation troops prepare to battle the Dominion on the planetoid AR-558 at the height of the Dominion War.

Shortly after the war’s end, the USS Voyager returned from the Delta Quadrant, bringing knowledge of that region as well as technology designed for battling the Borg. The Federation would also face an attack by the Romulans shortly thereafter, though relations between the two powers looked set to improve when the leader in power was defeated, and Romulan ships came to the Federation’s aid to prevent an attack on Earth.

Relations between the Romulans and Federation had reached a point where the Romulans turned to the Federation for help when facing the supernova crisis. Admiral Picard would lead a rescue armada to save as many Romulans as possible, though an attack by a faction called the “rogue synths” against Mars destroyed at least a portion of this fleet.

Beyond the 25th Century…

This should bring us up-to-date… only it doesn’t, because we’ve also seen some glimpses of the Federation’s future.

The crew of a 31st Century Federation timeship.

Cardassians, Xindi, and Klingons would all seem to have joined the Federation by the 26th or 27th Centuries, and by the 31st Century, the Federation was routinely travelling through time in much the same way as they had explored space from the 22nd-24th Centuries. They considered themselves in this era to be a kind of temporal police force, correcting errors in the timeline and trying to prevent other factions in a “temporal cold war” from rewriting history.

By the time the USS Discovery arrives – supposedly the late 32nd or early 33rd Century – the Federation appears to be in a much weaker state, perhaps having suffered numerous secessions and being set back technologically. But that’s a problem for Discovery to deal with in Season 3!

Society and Culture

The Federation, as a loose union of many races, doesn’t have one single culture of its own. While all member planets are committed to the principles of peaceful exploration and democratic governance, they each have their own distinct histories and cultures which mix together in the Federation without any one culture being dominated and forced out by another.

The crew of the USS Voyager celebrate First Contact Day – a Federation holiday marking the anniversary of first contact between Vulcans and humans.

Though we see far more humans than any other species, this is arguably for production reasons – it’s cheaper to have Ensign McRedshirt who will only be on screen for three seconds in one episode be human than have to put him through expensive prosthetic makeup or use time-consuming digital effects. So it’s worth remembering that while we, as the audience of a television series, see the Federation as a primarily human enterprise, humanity is just one part, and there were, as of the 24th Century, more than 150 Federation members. Some of these will have been colonies, but many were distinct species.

It isn’t exactly clear what the majority of Federation civilians do with their time. We’ve only seen two main characters in Star Trek thus far who were non-Starfleet Federation citizens: Wesley Crusher and Jake Sisko. Wesley would, in fairly short order, become an acting ensign and later go to Starfleet Academy, so he doesn’t really count. Jake was a bit of a drifter for much of DS9′s first half, until the show’s writers eventually settled on making him a novelist and journalist. We’ve seen his grandfather, Joseph Sisko, as a restaurateur, though in a world without money and with access to food replicators, how much of a need there is for that job and how he came to own/use the building is up for debate. We’ve also seen Picard’s brother, Robert, and his family running the vineyard that Picard himself will take over in the new series. Other non-Starfleet personnel we’ve seen have been primarily scientists or diplomats, and there was clearly a huge amount of scientific research being conducted in the 24th Century.

“I’m a reporter.” – Jake Sisko became a writer and journalist, showing one of the roles non-Starfleet personnel could play in the 24th Century.

The government of the Federation is similarly vague, but we know it has a legislature called the Federation Council, and an executive branch headed by a President. There is also a judicial system – though when it comes to Starfleet, military-style courts-martial rather than jury trials are the way justice is applied.


Vulcan was the first of the Federation worlds to develop faster-than-light travel, while humanity was still living in the Dark Ages around the fall of the Roman Empire! Andorians and Tellarites were also spacefaring before humanity, and the Andorians and Vulcans had a centuries-long conflict that was only resolved shortly before the Federation was founded.

Despite coming late to the party, humanity developed quickly from the end of World War III through to the mid-22nd Century, such that the Vulcans thought they were moving too fast and weren’t ready for significant missions into deep space. The Vulcans – and presumably the Tellarites and Andorians – had been somewhat conservative in their explorations prior to humanity becoming warp-capable, and by the 23rd Century, humans were venturing far deeper into the unknown than the Vulcans had in almost two millennia.

A late 23rd Century Starfleet away team with handheld phasers and a tricorder.

By the 24th Century, the Federation was one of the biggest powers in the Alpha Quadrant, and as such their technology kept pace with the Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians, and others. However, the Federation were limited by their lack of cloaking devices, which had been prohibited as part of an agreement with the Romulans. The Breen had a particular type of energy weapon which, for a time, was capable of draining even a fully-shielded Federation starship of all its power, and the Federation were similarly outgunned by the Dominion from the Gamma Quadrant, especially during early encounters. The Borg were also a significantly more powerful faction, as a single Borg cube was capable of defeating an entire Federation battle fleet.

Phasers were the Federation’s primary weapons, both shipboard and handheld. And photon torpedoes and later quantum torpedoes provided many starships with powerful antimatter explosives. The most powerful Federation starships were capable of surpassing warp 9.9 by the latter part of the 24th Century – though relative warp factors have always been a weak point in Star Trek storytelling! The Federation had sensors capable of penetrating certain types of cloaking devices, as well as scanning light-years away for very specific items, objects, or types of radiation.

Montgomery Scott invented “transwarp beaming” – a new kind of teleportation which was able to allow the Federation to transport huge distances, including from Earth to the Klingon homeworld and onto moving starships. This was invented in the late 24th Century, and Spock took it with him to the alternate reality’s 23rd Century.

The USS Voyager departs Deep Space Nine – she had a maximum cruising velocity of warp 9.975.

The Federation had experimented with time travel, artificial intelligences, cloaking technology – including a phase cloak capable of passing through solid objects, life-lengthening technology (such that a human living past 140 years of age was possible), and various trans-warp engines. Not all of these experiments were successful.


In the last two articles, I said that it was hard to know what state the Borg and Romulans were in as a result of two potentially massive catastrophes those two factions faced the last time we saw them. That doesn’t apply to the Federation, as everything we’ve seen in the trailers for Star Trek: Picard shows them running smoothly, just as we left them. It has been indicated that perhaps all is not well in the galaxy as a whole, but for the Federation it seems that, as of the beginning of Star Trek: Picard at least, things are going alright.

The trailer for Star Trek: Picard shows the Federation alive and well! But will it stay that way as the series progresses?

The Short Treks episode Children of Mars showed the Federation under attack by a faction called the “rogue synths” in the years prior to Picard. Whether this conflict lasted, and whether there were further significant losses beyond the Mars shipyards isn’t known, but again just going off the trailers it would seem that whatever impact the “rogue synths” attack(s) had was forgotten a few years later.

It’s only a couple of days now till we’ll have Star Trek: Picard on our screens. I’ve got one more piece planned in this series, and then I’ll probably take a break until I’ve seen the first episode (it comes out on the 24th here in the UK). I’m really looking forward to hanging out with Picard again and being back in the 24th Century. As before, I hope the information above has given you some background, or just a refresher, on the Federation as we await Star Trek: Picard.

The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Picard – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.