Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4 and the trailers, teasers, and announcements for Season 5. Minor spoilers are also present for The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.
At New York Comic-Con in October, we caught another glimpse of Star Trek: Discovery’s fifth season. The news earlier this week that filming has officially wrapped makes it seem like a great time to take a look at the teaser trailer and see what – if anything – we might be able to glean about the new story!
So to begin with, filming has just wrapped on Discovery Season 5 at time of writing. With Picard Season 3 and Strange New Worlds Season 2 both also well into post-production, there’s now no live-action Star Trek being worked on… at least, nothing has been officially announced. So that’s definitely something interesting – and while I’m expecting a Season 3 announcement for Strange New Worlds at literally any moment considering how well Season 1 was received, it’s definitely noteworthy that, at least in terms of live-action production, Star Trek seems to be entering a quiet period.
At Star Trek Day back in September, we were treated to a set tour with Wilson Cruz, but I was a little surprised that the set tour and a single still photo were all that there was to show for Discovery at that point. I guess Paramount was saving this teaser trailer for Comic-Con, though, which came barely a month later. I’m glad we finally have something to get stuck into, even though I would guess that Discovery Season 5 may not hit our screens until after Picard and Strange New Worlds, potentially meaning it could be up to a year away.
Earlier in the year I wrote a piece about my “biggest wish” for Discovery’s fifth season. If you missed it, I can summarise it thusly: I don’t want Discovery to try to tell another “the galaxy is in danger and only Burnham and the crew can save it!!!” type of story. We’ve had four of those across the show’s first four seasons, and I know I wasn’t the only one in the weeks leading up to Season 4 to say that it was already beginning to verge on the repetitive. Trying to cram another story into that same creaking framework would be too much… and I’m pleased to say that, based on both this teaser trailer and the official synopsis of Season 5, Discovery seems to be trying something different this time around.
The teaser trailer certainly contained a lot of action – explosions, fire, injuries, weapons, masked alien adversaries, and a fair amount of running away. But these disconnected moments seem – if the voiceover and selected clips can be believed, at any rate – to be in service to a new and different kind of story, possibly one about… treasure hunting!
I know that we don’t have a lot to go on in a teaser trailer that was less than a minute long, so I hope I’m not being misled or getting too excited based on a single line that could, I admit, be open to other interpretations. But I really think that the idea of a treasure hunt could be a good one for Discovery if that’s the route that the new season will go down. At the very least it represents a change from what the show has done before, and as I’ve said previously, Discovery doesn’t need to keep re-using the same “horrible galactic disaster” narrative in order to tell stories that are exciting.
As viewers, our investment in a story is not inexorably tied to a sense of scale. On the contrary, some of the best films and television shows of all time have told character-centric stories that were a million miles away from civilisation-ending disasters – and some of the worst and most boring works of entertainment have tried and failed to compensate for lacklustre storytelling by going too big on the scale of the threat.
Past iterations of the Star Trek franchise also used the “galaxy is in danger” story archetype very sparingly, when you think about it, and some of the most well-remembered films and episodes don’t focus on villains or disasters on anywhere near that scale. If Discovery really is willing to set aside this framework for Season 5 – a framework that I would argue it has pushed to the limit – I think that can only be to the show’s overall benefit. Based on this teaser I’m cautiously optimistic that we’re going to get a main story that goes in a different direction. Fingers crossed, anyway!
Some of the clips in the teaser tie into this theme of an “epic adventure across the galaxy,” to quote the official synopsis released by Paramount. We saw a slightly different look at Burnham on her speeder bike from the previously-released photo, and it seems as though Stamets will be joining her for that part of the quest! Stamets was relegated to a minor role in Season 4, missing out on key storylines, even those which involved Gray, Adira, and Dr Culber – so seeing him back in action will definitely feel good!
We also briefly saw two characters who may be competitors or adversaries as Captain Burnham and the crew race to solve this mystery. The characters’ names have been given as Moll and L’ak, and their official descriptions read somewhat like a 32nd Century Bonnie and Clyde! Their backgrounds as couriers could give them a connection to both Book and Burnham – the latter having spent roughly a year as a courier after arriving in the 32nd Century before the ship and the rest of the crew joined her. There’s scope for some drama there, and I wouldn’t be surprised if one or both characters were known to Book, at least.
I can’t tell what planet L’ak hails from, though his design feels at least somewhat familiar. There’s something Kelpien about his look, but at the same time I don’t think he is a Kelpien. I can’t put my finger on why he looks so familiar, though! Perhaps some kind of connection to an established Star Trek race or character will become apparent once we meet him. Moll, on the other hand, is giving me flashbacks to Farscape’s Chiana – I think that’s just the hairstyle, though!
There were a few clips of ancient-looking statues and ruins that seem to connect with this theme of ancient mysteries and treasure-hunting. I’m reminded of episodes like Captain’s Holiday, The Chase, and Gambit from The Next Generation, and the archaeological sequences set in the ruins of the Bajoran city of B’hala in Deep Space Nine. Jean-Luc Picard studied archaeology, and set off to uncover more than one ancient mystery in his time! Perhaps the story of the season will play out in a similar fashion – and there could even be references to some of the individuals or events in some of those earlier archaeological stories. Discovery hasn’t been big on drawing these kinds of connections, but some smaller references have made it to screen, so it’s possible at least!
It seems that the enigmatic Dr Kovich will be back for Season 5 – and after an occasionally frustrating time with this character, I have to say I hope that we’ll learn a little more about him. I haven’t forgiven Discovery’s writers for Kovich’s line in Season 4 that he had “more important things” to do than join the mission to contact Unknown Species 10-C; the fact that that line wasn’t paid off in any way at all wasn’t great. Despite appearing in seven episodes across two seasons, Dr Kovich’s role within the hierarchy of Starfleet and the Federation is still unknown.
I like the idea of Dr Kovich being the one to set Captain Burnham on the right path to begin this quest, as I think he’s the kind of character who could conceivably know something about whatever this mystery is that needs to be unravelled. But I hope that we learn more about Kovich himself, including how he seems to know so much about some of the subjects that he’s an expert in. What rank does he have, for example? Is he, as I’ve suspected since Season 3, an operative of Section 31? Dr Kovich is in danger of become a bit of a joke; a character used only for exposition and whose ambiguous background grows to accommodate anything a story needs – teacher, administrator, psychiatrist… I think we need to pin down who he is and what his official role is!
One character who we barely glimpsed in the trailer is new series regular Captain Rayner. This Romulan or Vulcan (at least by appearance) is described as a “gruff, smart Starfleet Captain” who had a “track record of wartime success,” but struggles in peacetime. Rayner sounds like he’s being set up to be a kind of antagonist for Captain Burnham to butt heads with; perhaps a Starfleet officer who doesn’t appreciate her lax attitude to rules nor her style of command.
We had a similar setup, in some respects anyway, with President Rillak last season, and I was on tenterhooks waiting to see if she’d betray Burnham and the crew – or if she was involved in some way with the DMA. Since arriving in the 32nd Century, senior Starfleet and Federation personnel haven’t fallen into the Star Trek trope of being the “bad admiral,” so I wonder if there could be more to this Captain Rayner that his official description might suggest. It does raise an interesting question, though: what ship will Captain Rayner command? The USS Discovery already has two officers on board who hold the rank of captain: Burnham and Saru. Surely Rayner can’t also be assigned to the USS Discovery – but if he isn’t, how could we expect to see him as a series regular?
Sticking with characters, let’s talk about Tilly. I talked about this after Star Trek Day, when Mary Wiseman appeared during the behind-the-scenes look at Season 5, but I hope that Tilly’s apparent return to the USS Discovery doesn’t undermine the emotional story she went through in Season 4 – a storyline that led to her leaving the ship for a role at Starfleet Academy.
We didn’t see a lot from Tilly in the trailer, but she was present for several clips, including aboard the USS Discovery. She could be “just visiting,” of course, or accompanying one or more of her cadets, but I’m not sure. I get the impression that something has changed for Tilly behind the scenes (yet again) and a reversal of a previously-established arc could be coming. As much as I love Tilly and want to see her continue on the show, her departure in Season 4 felt final… but moreover, it felt right for her character. Undoing that would not be my choice. I wonder if plans may have changed regarding the rumoured but still unannounced Starfleet Academy series – a series which could potentially have included Tilly. If last season’s All Is Possible (an episode that felt like a possible backdoor pilot) wasn’t as well-received as hoped, perhaps a rethink of that series and which characters it might include is underway. That’s something we’ll have to consider in more depth on another occasion!
We saw members of the bridge crew at their posts and on an away mission in the teaser, and I’ll repeat what I said in the run-up to both Seasons 3 and 4: there’s still scope to do more with some of these characters. With the return of characters like T’Rina, Admiral Vance, and President Rillak, Discovery is definitely building up a good roster of secondary characters, so it would be neat to see at least one of the bridge crew given a storyline or sub-plot this season.
And that raises another question: will Season 5 retain Discovery’s heavy plot armour for all of the named characters? After so many disasters, conflicts, and dangerous assignments since the crew arrived in the 32nd Century, it’s a miracle that everyone has survived! As I wrote in the run-up to last season, audience expectations are changing in the aftermath of shows like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, so giving every character heavy plot armour to survive deadly situations doesn’t really work any more. As sad as it would be to lose anyone – even one of the secondary characters that we don’t know so well – I think it’s something Discovery’s writers ought to at least consider doing.
One thing that I found interesting in the trailer is the puzzle box. The markings on the apparently wooden box were unfamiliar to me, but they look suitably “alien.” They could be Vulcan, perhaps, or Ferengi, or even from a planet like Risa. Whether the puzzle box will be an important macguffin in the story – or whether it was little more than a fun visual metaphor for the trailer – isn’t clear at this stage. Will it be an important artefact that the crew spend much of the season chasing down or trying to figure out?
But there is something more to say about the sequences in which the puzzle box is prominently featured. Look at the fingers that are moving the pieces into position. Do they look familiar at all? They absolutely could belong to an alien – like the new character of L’ak, for instance. But something about those fingers says “android” to me; they remind me a lot of how Data’s hands looked in The Next Generation. Could this mystery connect in some way to Data, Lore, or the Coppelius synths from Star Trek: Picard? Maybe that’s a complete overreach… but you never know!
It’s hard to know what else to say at this stage, really. Some of the clips in the trailer were very short, and without more context it’s hard to say more other than all of the characters from Season 4 seem to be returning. I’ll be curious to see more from President Rillak, who was a fun addition last time, and it’s my firm hope that Discovery will find a way to settle the relationship between Book and Burnham – their relationship drama was not one of the better aspects of Season 4. Book seems to be aboard the USS Discovery in the trailer, so there’s hope in that regard!
For a first look, the teaser trailer did a good job at getting me interested for Season 5. I like the idea of the show striking out and trying something genuinely new and different as it enters its fifth season – giving a bit of a refresh to a show that’s been running since 2017 and is quickly approaching its sixty-fifth episode is no small feat, and I’m rooting for Discovery to succeed.
Although there’s a lot of post-production work to be done, I’m hopeful that we’ll see Discovery Season 5 on our screens in 2023. If I had to guess, I’d say that the show could be targeting a broadcast next autumn, with Picard Season 3 and Strange New Worlds Season 2 going first. If we get any more big news or another trailer (which we surely will before the season arrives) I hope you’ll check back as I daresay I’ll have more to say. For now, I hope this was a fun look ahead to Season 5!
Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in countries and territories where the platform is available, and are also available on Blu-ray. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.