Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 8

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

After an unexpected sabbatical, Discovery Season 4 returned with the episode All In. If you read my review of the episode, you’ll know that I didn’t think it was the strongest one of the season so far, but it was interesting in some ways and certainly contained some excellent performances from all of its leading stars. Because All In was, in large part, a detour as Book, Burnham, Owosekun, and Tarka scrambled to get their paws on a magical macguffin molecule called isolynium, most of our big ongoing theories didn’t see significant movement this week. That said, there’s still a lot to talk about and a few updates to get through!

There are still some big open questions, and with five episodes left I’m expecting at least some of them to start moving in pretty big ways in the next week or two! For me, the biggest point of interest right now is whether the season’s big stories will connect in a major way with past iterations of Star Trek. There are a few different ways this could happen, but a big part of me suspects that, as with the Burn in Season 3, we’re going to get something altogether new.

This week we have one confirmed theory and one theory on the production side of things that I’m very pleased to see has been debunked! As always, we’ll start there before moving into the main theory list.

Confirmed theory:
The DMA isn’t a super-weapon.

Burnham, Stamets, and Rillak examine Unknown Species 10-C’s point of origin.

Although I felt that the sequence which contained this revelation was cut rather short, Captain Burnham, Stamets, Zora, and Saru managed to figure out between them what the DMA’s true purpose is. Rather than being a super-weapon, as had been originally assumed, the DMA is a glorified piece of mining equipment, or as Captain Burnham put it, a dredge.

Its purpose appears to be to scour the galaxy for the rare isotope boronite – something that was first mentioned in the Voyager Season 4 episode The Omega Directive. Boronite can be used to synthesise omega molecules – one of the most powerful substances in the known galaxy – but Unknown Species 10-C appear to be using it to power their hyperfield – a kind of forcefield or cloak which is concealing their base or star system.

The DMA’s purpose is to harvest boronite, a rare molecule first mentioned in the Voyager episode The Omega Directive.

I really like this angle. If the DMA isn’t a natural phenomenon, which it seemed to be at first, then having it be something other than a weapon adds a different dimension to the story, one which takes it away from being a fairly typical conflict into something more complex – and, I would argue, more “Star Trek.” We’ve talked about the “it was only trying to communicate!” trope in relation to the DMA before, and how misunderstandings have long been part of Star Trek’s storytelling tradition, highlighting the complexities of dealing with very different cultures and the dangers of making assumptions. This side of the story seems to be cut from the same cloth.

This also seems to rule out other theories about the DMA, such as it being an experiment gone wrong. There’s still room for further twists and turns in the DMA’s story, though, so let’s wait and see what happens, and just what purpose Unknown Species 10-C has in mind for all of this boronite!

Debunked theory:
Star Trek: Discovery isn’t going to be renewed for a fifth season.

Phew! I was getting genuinely worried when we passed the season’s halfway point with no indication of a Season 5 renewal. In past years, we’d always known either before the season kicked off or within a week or two of its premiere that the show had been renewed, so when we got further and further in with no official news – and no rumours of production starting quietly – I began to get worried for Discovery’s future.

But in January, while the show was on hiatus, ViacomCBS confirmed that Discovery will indeed get a fifth season – making it the first show since Voyager to make it that far! (Sorry, Enterprise) This is great news, because I’m not ready yet to say goodbye to Captain Burnham and the crew. There’s so much scope for more adventures in the 32nd Century, and I feel like Discovery could continue to expand and explore this setting, perhaps laying the groundwork for more 32nd Century shows.

So those theories were confirmed and debunked.

Now we can jump into the main theory list! As always, we’ll begin with those theories that are either new or that saw significant movement in All In, before rounding out the list by recapping the rest of them.

Theory #1:
Tarka will realise that there’s a tracker on the isolynium.

Captain Burnham placed a tracking device (highlighted) on the container of isolynium.

Tarka is sharp, and more than that he has access to – and the ability to build – clever pieces of tech. We saw this week that he was able to create a changeling-capturing machine out of a low-quality Devore scanner. It stands to reason he’d want to scan the isolynium that Book procured, and if he’s as thorough as we’ve seen him be so far, perhaps he’ll figure out that Captain Burnham placed a tracking device on it.

If so, the signal that Captain Burnham showed off at the end of All In may lead to a dead-end! I’m sure that the USS Discovery will catch up with Tarka and Book – if not, the story would be fairly short and boring, after all – but it may not be as simple as following the map to the cleverly-placed tracking device.

Theory #2:
Tarka’s weapon will be successful.

Isolynium – a key component of Tarka’s weapon.

President Rillak has tasked Admiral Vance and Captain Burnham with stopping Book and Tarka before they finish work on their weapon and use it against the DMA, fearing that destroying the DMA will lead to all-out war with Unknown Species 10-C. The obvious story route from here is that Captain Burnham and the crew will track them down and either talk them out of it or destroy the weapon before it can be used. But that may not be the direction that Discovery plans on taking us.

It could be more interesting in some ways if Tarka and Book succeed in their aim of launching and detonating the weapon, destroying the DMA and attracting the attention of Unknown Species 10-C. Such a highly advanced species – if they’re as advanced as everyone is assuming, anyway – would be a formidable opponent, but they could also be willing to listen to diplomatic overtures. Perhaps Tarka and Book would have to be sacrificed, imprisoned with Unknown Species 10-C as punishment for their crime.

Tarka and Book.

Speaking of diplomacy, in the mad rush to stop Book and Tarka, I certainly hope that President Rillak hasn’t forgotten about trying to contact Unknown Species 10-C. At the very least, now the Federation knows where they are they should send a message warning them of Book and Tarka’s intentions. It might have to be more of a rush job that the Federation would have preferred – but it would be better to at least make an attempt at first contact in case Captain Burnham can’t stop the weapon in time.

Discovery is definitely unpredictable right now, and I could easily see the series taking its main story to unexpected places. Book and Tarka successfully deploying their weapon would be just one example, and it could make the introduction of Unknown Species 10-C all the more intense, exciting, and edge-of-your-seat thrilling.

Theory #3:
Unknown Species 10-C is extinct.

R.I.P.

We’ll talk in a moment about what All In might mean for my Unknown Species 10-C suspects! But there’s one possibility that I hadn’t really given much thought to that suddenly came to the fore in light of the fact that Unknown Species 10-C is still a mystery and, more significantly, that Starfleet has no way of scanning their base/star system. What if Unknown Species 10-C has already gone extinct?

Perhaps they went extinct recently, or perhaps it was millennia ago. The DMA might be Discovery’s equivalent of the Planet Killer from The Doomsday Machine; an automated device left behind, a warning to the real world about the dangers of some of our long-lasting environmental and technological impacts.

Is the DMA going to turn out to be similar to the Planet Killer?

The DMA could even be Unknown Species 10-C’s last-ditch effort to prevent their own extinction. Having used up their entire power supply, they had to build such an imprecise, devastating machine to harvest all of the boronite they could possibly find just to keep the lights on and their machines powered. There could be an interesting analogy there, too.

Because Unknown Species 10-C remains hidden from us going into the next episode, all sorts of possibilities remain on the table. This could certainly be a different and unexpected way to take the story, and perhaps the culmination of the plot would be more of a technological puzzle than a conflict against an adversary, with Captain Burnham leading Starfleet’s efforts to figure out Unknown Species 10-C’s technology in order to deactivate the DMA.

Theory #4:
Nhan works for Section 31.

Nhan.

Spoiler warning for the next episode, Rubicon, but Nhan will be making a return to Discovery! I thought it was unfortunate that she was shuffled off the ship at such an early stage in Season 3; there was scope, I felt, for more Nhan stories. So it’ll be great to welcome her back to the show in just a few days’ time!

One thing struck me about Nhan based on a couple of photos that the official Star Trek social media channels released, and that’s her uniform. Nhan isn’t kitted out in the standard Season 4 Starfleet uniform that the rest of the crew wear. Hers appears to be a new variant, possibly in a similar style to Lieutenant Willa’s from Season 3. There are many possible explanations for Nhan’s uniform, including an assignment at Federation HQ or a continuation of her service aboard the USS Tikhov, but one interesting possibility comes from Nhan’s background as a security officer. Maybe she’s been recruited by the 32nd Century equivalent of Section 31.

Theory #5:
Tarka’s mysterious “friend” is someone we’re already acquainted with.

All In saw a brief conversation between Tarka and Owosekun in which the subject of his mysterious friend came up. There seems to be more going on with this character than meets the eye, though whether Tarka was being genuine in his emotional reaction isn’t 100% clear! It’s a distinct possibility that his friend is, in fact, a love interest or even a spouse, and that could certainly be an interesting development.

The fact that Discovery has gone out of its way to keep this character’s identity a mystery is interesting as well, and one reason for doing so could be that Tarka’s friend is someone who we as the audience have already met. If it wasn’t a big deal, why not just have Tarka say the individual’s name? The more appearances Tarka makes without revealing this character’s identity, the more strongly I feel that it will turn out to be someone we’ve already met.

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

Theory #6:
Book and Burnham will get back together.

Burnham and Book in All In.

I have to be honest: I’m not interested in more Burnham Relationship Drama™. Discovery has already done this with Ash Tyler in Seasons 1-2, and it was okay then, but it’s overdone by now. I get where the central conflict with Book has come from, but I don’t feel that the show needs this additional injection of drama to make Season 4’s story work. If I were to cut one aspect of the Season 4 story that we’ve seen so far, it would be this.

So with that in mind, my hope is that the Book-Burnham feud will be brought to an end – and hopefully within the next couple of episodes. Ideally I’d like to see them get back together, although some of the things they said to each other in All In might make that more complicated. If Burnham manages to stop Book and Tarka, perhaps he’ll come around to her way of thinking. If they’re successful in using the weapon, the argument they had will become a moot point. So there are different ways this could go, but I’m hopeful that it will be resolved soon as it’s an aspect of the show that I’m really not wild about.

Theory #7:
The DMA is a life-form.

“It’s alive!”
Frankenstein (1932)

The revelation that the DMA is a mining tool or dredge would seem to make this theory a lot less likely – but I’m not yet willing to strike it from the list. There are several ways it could unfold, but one possibility is that the DMA is a self-aware piece of technology, comparable to Zora. Perhaps it’s carrying out its orders, unaware of the damage it’s doing, and will be able to be reasoned with even if Unknown Species 10-C won’t back down.

Or perhaps the DMA has gone rogue, operating without Unknown Species 10-C’s permission. That would also be an interesting angle, as it could mean that Captain Burnham and Starfleet will have to ally with Unknown Species 10-C to stop the DMA. Some aspects of this theory as I originally formulated it – such as coming to an understanding with the DMA in a story comparable to V’Ger’s in The Motion Picture – seem to be off the table entirely. But the DMA being a self-aware, conscious machine isn’t… at least, not yet!

Theory #8:
Unknown Species 10-C is a faction from a past iteration of Star Trek.

Could it be the Borg?

The revelation of the hyperfield at Unknown Species 10-C’s point of origin was an interesting one. A field that size could conceal a small star system, as Admiral Vance suggested. But it could also hide something like a huge fleet of starships – or giant mechanical aliens. In my view, there are only a few likely candidates remaining from the long list I put together before Christmas. The technology required to create the DMA and the hyperfield seem to rule out factions like the Klingons, the Gorn, and others.

But there are still some known Star Trek factions with the potential capability of building something like this. I would point to the Borg, the super-synths from Picard Season 1, Enterprise’s Sphere-Builders, the Kelvan Empire from The Original Series (who are also an extragalactic faction), and possibly others like Species 8472, V’Ger, the Q Continuum, or the Terran Empire.

How about Species 8472?

I confess that I feel a sense of déjà vu right now. In Season 3, I theorised and speculated about possible culprits behind the Burn, and a lot of the same names and factions were in the frame then, just as they are now. The Burn ultimately went in a very different and unpredictable direction, and I feel that Unknown Species 10-C could end up in a similar place as a brand-new faction altogether. Because of the mysterious nature of the story, and how long it’s been rumbling on, would that feel like an anticlimax? If Discovery encouraged fans to guess and speculate about who Unknown Species 10-C are, would it be disappointing if the answer was “someone new that you could never have guessed?” I can’t shake the feeling that it might be.

For a more detailed look at the suspects mentioned above, as well as a few less-likely contenders, check out my full list by clicking or tapping here.

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

President Rillak, leader of the United Federation of Planets.

I will admit that, as things stand at the end of All In, President Rillak is looking less and less likely to be involved directly with Unknown Species 10-C and the DMA. But there’s still time for a connection to be revealed!

In short, President Rillak’s single-minded goal of reuniting the Federation may be well-served by providing the disparate members with an enemy or a problem to unite against. The DMA has already accelerated Ni’Var’s membership, and President Rillak even got to speak with a representative from Earth – so if she is involved somehow, her scheme is already paying dividends. At the very least, I think it’s fair to say that this complex, somewhat Machiavellian character is not letting the crisis go to waste, and is politicking off the DMA’s trail of destruction.

President Rillak with Captain Burnham on Ni’Var.

In her dealings with Captain Burnham, I’d argue we’ve seen this Machiavellian edge to President Rillak. In the Ni’Var negotiations depicted in All Is Possible, and again for a second time in But To Connect, President Rillak used Captain Burnham to advocate positions that would’ve been politically or diplomatically difficult for her to do openly – effectively manipulating those events from behind the scenes.

In light of all of this, I would hope that Captain Burnham will tread carefully with President Rillak. She seems the type who would happily throw Burnham and the USS Discovery under the bus if it suited her political and/or diplomatic ends. If someone like that felt that unleashing the DMA, or failing to warn everyone that it was coming, would be to her advantage, I can absolutely see her seizing on that opportunity, too. There are myriad ways in which we could connect her to the DMA, even if she didn’t order its creation. She could be in cahoots with Unknown Species 10-C, she could have learned about the DMA and chosen to cover it up, or something else that she believed was in the Federation’s long-term interests.

Theory #10:
Michael Burnham won’t remain captain of the USS Discovery.

Captain Burnham.

One of the unique aspects of Discovery within Star Trek’s broader canon is that the ship has been commanded by four very different individuals across its four seasons. Captain Burnham is different from Saru, Saru was different from Pike, and Pike, in turn, was different from Lorca. It has to be considered at least a possibility – albeit a remote one, perhaps – that the series will continue this trend.

Now that we know that Season 5 is definitely happening, one possibility is that Captain Burnham will somehow leave the ship at or around the end of Season 4, making way for a brand-new commanding officer to take over. Because she’s been the show’s protagonist since Season 1, it seems unlikely, and the overall arc of Discovery between Season 1 and Season 3 can be read as Burnham’s redemption and ascent to the captaincy. But the show’s revolving door of captains may continue.

Burnham in The Examples.

I’m not really in favour of this, but it’s certainly interesting to consider. The episodes But To Connect and All In definitely showed us how conflicted Burnham feels with regards to Book; she’s torn between her duty and the person she loves. Maybe she will have the strength to do what she believes is right during the DMA crisis, but will resign afterwards, unable to contemplate doing the same thing again and wanting to return to her simpler life with Book. This wouldn’t be a bolt from the blue, as we saw her wrangling with these feelings in Season 3.

Alternatively, Burnham could be promoted, taking up a senior role within Starfleet either at Federation HQ or on a new flagship. We already know that she had been in the running for the captaincy of the USS Voyager-J, so maybe she’ll convince President Rillak, through her work on the DMA, to reconsider her for that role. In short, there are ways her departure could be handled in a way that would feel natural – just like Tilly’s departure did earlier in the season.

Theory #11:
The Guardian of Forever will be back.

The Guardian of Forever as it originally appeared.

I’m close to retiring this theory. In short, I had suggested that the reintroduction of the Guardian of Forever in Season 3 could mean that we’ll encounter the timeless entity again in Season 4. It would be nice to bring back Paul Guilfoyle, who played the Guardian’s humanoid avatar in the Season 3 two-parter Terra Firma.

However, it seems as though the DMA/Unknown Species 10-C story isn’t going in that direction. It would make sense, in a way, for Captain Burnham to seek out the Guardian to ask it about the DMA and Unknown Species 10-C – it may well know something about what’s going on that could be helpful. But the best time to have done that would have been earlier in the season. There are still ways in which the Guardian of Forever could be included, though, so although I’m close, I’m not dropping it just yet.

Theory #12:
Tarka will create his own DMA.

Tarka and Stamets with their DMA model.

In The Examples, Tarka – aided by Stamets – created a working replica of the DMA, albeit on a smaller scale. According to Reno, this recreation came very close to destroying the entire ship! Now that Tarka has isolynium, could it be possible that he will create the DMA – either intentionally or accidentally?

Because of the DMA’s wormhole technology, it doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to think it could travel through time as well as space, meaning a possible time-loop story is on the cards. It’s got to be at least possible to think that throwing a massive bomb at the DMA could have unintended consequences – if, that is, Tarka actually intends to build a bomb! He might see the DMA’s technology and seek to replicate it, creating his own DMA as a means to break through into the parallel universe he’s aiming to reach.

Theory #13:
Tarka’s “friend” is directly involved with the DMA.

Stamets, Tarka, and Saru with the DMA model.

Though we didn’t learn a lot more about Tarka’s friend in All In, from what we do know about them – their scientific background and desire to travel to an alternate reality – they could be a candidate for building the DMA. Unknown Species 10-C could, perhaps, be a single person, or Tarka’s friend could have worked with them, trading their scientific knowledge for Unknown Species 10-C’s power-generating technology.

Like with President Rillak, there are different ways this involvement could work, and different degrees to which Tarka’s friend could be implicated. But one thing is clear: Tarka knows a lot about the DMA, probably more than he’s been willing to share. That knowledge has to have come from somewhere, right? Maybe his friend told him about this technology before they got separated.

Theory #14:
Book will find Kyheem and Leto on the other side of the DMA.

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

In Star Trek: Generations, Captain Picard encountered Captain Kirk inside the Nexus – despite Kirk being declared “dead” after the Enterprise-B encountered the energy ribbon almost eighty years earlier. Now that we know a little more about how the DMA operates, it seems at least faintly possible that, just like Captain Kirk, the inhabitants of Kwejian may not be as dead as they first appear.

This theory is, I freely admit, a bit of a long-shot. But the wormhole technology that we know the DMA uses seems to be capable of sending some of what it harvests or mines back to Unknown Species 10-C’s base of operations. Maybe that means that some of the people from Kwejian were transported there instead of being killed.

So those theories are new or saw movement this week.

Now we’ll recap all of the other theories currently in play! It helps to keep the list complete and in one place, so that we can update and cross off theories as we go!

Theory #15:
Tarka aims to travel to the Kelvin universe.

This scene in Terra Firma, Part 1 referenced the Kelvin universe.

There are many parallel universes, as Tarka reminded us in But To Connect. Though Star Trek has shown us a number of different parallel universes before, the biggest one that comes to mind (aside from the Mirror Universe) is the Kelvin timeline, in which the three reboot films were set.

A fourth Kelvin film may or may not be happening, but even if it does the setting remains ripe for further exploration. We don’t know how far the Kelvin timeline and the prime timeline will have diverged, and whether it operates like the Mirror Universe with every character getting their own alternate counterpart. If it does, perhaps Tarka met his own Kelvin timeline counterpart and that’s how he cooked up this scheme. If the Kelvin timeline diverged significantly from the prime timeline it stands to reason that the Burn never happened there. We also got an oblique Kelvin timeline reference in Season 3 – could that have been a hint?

Theory #16:
Some areas of the galaxy – such as the Delta Quadrant – avoided the worst effects of the Burn.

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

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

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

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

Theory #17:
There will be a character crossover from a past iteration of Star Trek.

Star Trek has had some wonderful crossovers in the past.

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

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

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

Theory #18:
Season 4 will connect with the Short Treks episode Calypso.

Zora dancing with Craft in Calypso.

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

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

Theory #19:
A major character will be killed off.

Spock’s funeral in The Wrath of Khan.

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

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

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

Theory #20:
The crew will have to defend the Verubin Nebula.

The dilithium planet is vital to the Federation.

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

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

Theory #21:
The ban on time travel will be explained in more detail.

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

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

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

Theory #22:
The Federation has flouted the ban on time travel.

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

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

I don’t think it’s possible any more that the DMA story will be connected to the time travel ban, as I had previously proposed. But that doesn’t mean that a closer look at the ban, and the potential for the Federation to have tried to work around it, isn’t going to happen.

Theory #23:
Saru will be given the captaincy of the USS Voyager-J.

Captain Saru in command of the USS Discovery in Season 3.

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

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

Theory #24:
The Red Angel suits from Season 2 are connected to the DMA.

Captain Burnham’s Red Angel suit at the end of Season 2.

Unknown Species 10-C seem to be responsible for building the DMA. But it isn’t the first wormhole-creating technology that Discovery has introduced us to! The Red Angel suits in Season 2 were also capable of creating powerful wormholes… so could it be possible that Unknown Species 10-C built their device around or based on the same technology?

This revelation would greatly affect Captain Burnham, as she’d feel a degree of responsibility even though she wasn’t directly involved. It would also be the second disaster in a row (following the Burn) in which the Federation was implicated – albeit in an oblique way. I’m not convinced that Discovery will go down this route… but the similarities in the wormhole-creating technology gives me pause, at least.

Theory #25:
We haven’t seen the last of the Abronians.

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

Theory #25 A:
The Abronians’ homeworld was destroyed by the DMA.

Captain Burnham believes this image depicts a “supernova.”

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

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

Theory 25 B:
The Abronians’ homeworld was on the “other side” of the DMA.

Abronian stasis pods.

Now that we know a little more about how the DMA works, this theory seems a little more plausible. Its powerful wormhole technology seems capable of transporting matter over many light-years, meaning it doesn’t seem to be a complete stretch to think that the Abronians may have originated in the vicinity of Unknown Species 10-C. They could even be Unknown Species 10-C!

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

Theory #25 C:
The Abronians will return to help the Federation later in the season.

A deceased Abronian.

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

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

Theory #25 D:
The Abronians’ moon-ship may be useful in a later story.

“That’s no moon…”

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

As we saw in Choose To Live, the moon-ship was in full working order. All it needed was some extra dilithium to power up and it was perfectly capable of moving under its own power, and its computer systems were still functional. The only system that seemed to have failed was the wake-up timer! Discovery has precedent when it comes to telling seemingly one-off stories that have a pay-off later on, so watch this space. If Captain Burnham and the crew need a huge starship urgently, we may not have seen the last of the moon-ship!

So that’s the main theory list.

There is still one production-side theory in play, so we’ll recap that now before we wrap up.

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

Tilly’s departure feels permanent.

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

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

So that’s it!

Owosekun in the combat arena in All In.

It’s all still to play for as we move into the final five episodes of the season. There are several key stories to find resolutions to: the DMA, Unknown Species 10-C, the Book-Burnham drama, and more. There’s also plenty of time, in five episodes, for Discovery to take off on a side-mission or two, as well as to introduce completely new and unexpected story elements. It’s even possible that Season 4 will end on a cliffhanger now that we know Season 5 is happening… so perhaps none of the big stories will be resolved until 2023. Say it ain’t so, Joe!

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

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

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 – a wishlist

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

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

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

The USS Discovery in the Season 4 trailer.

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

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

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

Saru in the Season 4 trailer.

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

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

Su’Kal and Saru in Season 3.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Enterprise-E approaching a temporal vortex.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gray and Adira in Season 3.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Detmer got her own storyline last season.

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

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

Number 5: Bring back Nhan!

Could Nhan make a comeback?

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

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

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

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

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

Nhan watches the USS Discovery depart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are the Borg still around in the 32nd Century?

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

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

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

Number 7: More Admiral Vance!

Admiral Vance in Season 3.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Number 8: Kill off a main character.

Who could it be?

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

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

All of these characters survived last season’s finale.

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

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

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

The Doctor from Voyager.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lower Decks Season 2 has just finished its run.

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

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

Ensigns Tendi, Rutherford, Mariner, and Boimler.

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

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

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

Ni’Var seems to have rejoined the Federation.

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

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

Independent Earth in Season 3.

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

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

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

Grudge in the Season 4 trailer!

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

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

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

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 3, Episode 5: Die Trying

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

Last week’s episode, Forget Me Not, wasn’t my favourite. There were a few too many contrivances and a little too much forced drama for my liking. I was hoping for a better outing this time, and I wasn’t disappointed. Die Trying had some neat callbacks and tie-ins with past iterations of the Star Trek franchise while telling an interesting semi-standalone story for the bulk of its runtime. What we didn’t get was any significant advancement of the overall story of the season – unravelling the mysterious event known as “the Burn” – though we can perhaps rule out one or two possible causes that I postulated before the season premiered!

Discovery can, on occasion, feel a little confusing. A couple of events this week fall into that category, and I hope the writers and producers are setting up storylines which will pay off in future episodes rather than making what appear to be on the surface arbitrary decisions about characters and themes. The full picture will only become evident when Season 3 reaches its climax, so for now I will make note of some of these points, but try my best to suspend my harshest criticisms!

Discovery arrives at Federation HQ in Die Trying.

Die Trying begins with Discovery’s arrival at Federation headquarters. At the end of last week’s episode, Adira had provided Burnham with a map to the Federation’s location, and Captain Saru appears to have wasted little time in travelling there. One thing I wasn’t clear on – and perhaps this will come up in a future episode – is why the Federation and Starfleet feel a need to conceal their base. It appeared to be cloaked, and in addition the location was hidden by what Adira called an “algorithm.” Maybe all of this is because of paranoia related to the Burn – after all, that’s why United Earth kicked the Federation out. But there could be other reasons, especially considering the Burn is now 120 years in the past.

It would have been nice to see Saru and Discovery contacting Starfleet for the first time. As it is, what we see in the episode is their second contact; Starfleet already knows that they’re coming, and I feel like we missed out on what could have been an interesting and emotional moment for both sides. Saru tells us that he previously contacted Starfleet, but for such a significant moment it would have been better to see it for ourselves. “Show don’t tell” is a good mantra for any story!

Captain Saru tells us he contacted Starfleet to let them know of Discovery’s impending arrival.

Discovery arrives at Starfleet HQ, and we get a touching sequence – accompanied by a great musical score – as the ship flies into the base. There were several new starship designs, and it was great to see different kinds of ship instead of them all keeping to the same design. It was surprisingly emotional to see the USS Voyager-J, with the same NCC designation as the original. The “J” part was also an oblique reference to Enterprise, which saw the USS Enterprise-J in one episode set in the future. There was also a USS Nog – a reference to the Deep Space Nine character who was the first Ferengi to serve in Starfleet. Nog actor Aron Eisenberg passed away last year, so this was a very sweet way to honour him within Star Trek.

Random Blonde Bridge Officer gets her first proper line of the series during this sequence, and the bridge crew comment excitedly on various technobabble elements of the base and starships as Discovery cruises in. Their elation is infectious, and it was hard not to get excited for Discovery’s homecoming in this sequence. Additionally, the designers and animators did a good job of creating a base and starships that were familiar but which looked suitably advanced compared with Starfleet ships of the 23rd and 24th Centuries. The Voyager-J in particular managed to look like an advanced design of the Intrepid-class that retained some of the basic shapes and lines of the original Voyager but used them in an updated manner. Even the way the name was illuminated on the outer hull was reminiscent of the 24th Century craft that we’re all familiar with.

Stamets and Reno look at the Voyager-J.

The inclusion of the Voyager-J felt like something Lower Decks would have done; an Easter egg thrown in for longstanding fans of the franchise. Discovery has done this before, but some of its references and callbacks could be quite subtle: writing seen on a computer screen, for example. On the other hand we have the return of classic characters like Pike and Spock! One part of the Federation base appeared to be made from glass; it reminded me a little of Starbase Yorktown from Star Trek Beyond.

Discovery is finally brought in to dock, and Captain Saru, Burnham, and Adira are transported over to the base for an initial conversation with Starfleet. They’re introduced to an Admiral Vance, Starfleet’s commander-in-chief, and his aide, Lieutenant Willa. Willa was glimpsed in the second trailer for Season 3, where I correctly guessed she was a Starfleet officer. At least that’s one thing I’ll have got right this season! Vance is an interesting character, perhaps because he’s keen not to overplay his hand when dealing with Saru and Burnham, meaning he feels mysterious at first. Willa, at least in Die Trying, comes across as quite one-dimensional; a by-the-book, don’t-ask-questions character who exists to be a minor obstacle and foil for the crew, and little else. Hopefully future episodes will flesh out both of these characters more, as there’s potential in both.

Admiral Vance and Lieutenant Willa.

I got genuinely emotional at learning – along with Saru – that his homeworld of Kaminar ultimately joined the Federation. Saru’s journey from chattel slavery in a pre-warp civilisation to captain of a starship is unique in all of Star Trek, and the reward he must feel after helping his people in Season 2 upon learning they were able to join the Federation was beautiful to see. Despite being under heavy prosthetics, Doug Jones manages to convey a lot of emotion as Saru, and this was one of those times where it was impossible not to get emotional right along with him.

During their debrief, Admiral Vance is sceptical of Saru and Burnham and their story. I particularly liked his line about the Sphere data that he’s now “responsible for,” as it emphasised how he views Discovery in this moment: a burden. Not only has Discovery, from his perspective, broken the law by travelling through time, but they’ve brought with them a computer bank filled with data that has proven very dangerous. 32nd Century Starfleet may not have the resources to keep the Sphere data safe; we got several hints in Die Trying at an Andorian-Orion alliance that may be a significant and powerful adversary to this rump Federation. For all we know, the ships we saw when Discovery flew in represent the bulk – or even the entirety – of Starfleet, and every single vessel may be more than a century old if constructing starships since the Burn has been difficult.

Admiral Vance during the debriefing.

Though still unwilling to share classified information – such as anything he knows about the Burn – Admiral Vance is content to tell Saru and Burnham a little of the Federation. It now consists of a mere 38 worlds, some of which are out of contact. Apparently there is no way to communicate via subspace with at least some of them; whether this damage to subspace is Burn-related or not wasn’t clear.

The casting choice for Vance – Israeli actor Oded Fehr – was inspired. He has a certain gravitas and inhabits the role very well; when he’s denying Burnham her request to discuss the Burn, or telling Saru that, as far as he knows from the historical record, the spore drive didn’t exist and Discovery was destroyed, he does so from a position of authority. There’s no questioning that he’s the person in charge, both inside the debriefing room and in Starfleet HQ in general, and the guest star deserves a lot of credit for bringing the role to life. I particularly liked his line that “two truths exist in one space,” it was both poetic and calmly confrontational. After a couple of lines earlier in the season that didn’t work, this one in particular came across perfectly, and that’s due to both the scriptwriter and the actor.

Saru and Burnham being debriefed.

Continuing a theme from the season premiere, Vance talks about the “temporal accords” and a temporal war fought during the 30th Century – part of which was depicted in Enterprise. Because time travel has been outlawed, Discovery has broken the law of the 32nd Century Federation simply by arriving in this time period. Although I think there’s ample room to disagree with this interpretation, again Vance presses his case with authority, and has the final say (at least for now).

The main upshot from this conversation is that Discovery and the spore drive will be commandeered by Starfleet, and the crew are to be reassigned – assuming their millennium-out-of-date skills can be of any use to Starfleet. Saru and Burnham react emotionally – and perhaps understandably – but this seemed like the inevitable outcome. If the spore drive is as useful as it appears in this 32nd Century setting, Starfleet will want to use it. And since right now there’s only one way to use it, tearing it down and perhaps reinstalling it on a more powerful vessel instead of the ancient Discovery would make a lot of sense.

Saru learns what is to become of Discovery and the crew.

One of the themes this season has been naïvety. Saru, Burnham, and the crew naïvely assumed that if they could defeat Control, Starfleet and the Federation would be waiting for them in the future. That was proven untrue. And now that they’ve managed to track down the rump Federation, they again made the naïve assumption that they would be welcomed with open arms and be free to keep their ship and keep the crew together.

This theme has worked surprisingly well. Not only does it show that the crew – and crucially Burnham – aren’t infallible and are capable of making mistakes, which is something we need to see sometimes, but it draws a clear contrast between the hopeful, optimistic galaxy they left behind with the post-Burn reality they flew headfirst into. Their optimism in a galaxy that lacks it is going to be a driving force in the story – at least, that’s what we’ve been promised – and this is a clear way that it’s been communicated over these opening episodes of the season. We can debate whether or not the setting is truly one we could call “post-apocalyptic,” but there’s no doubt that hope and optimism are key themes in post-apocalyptic fiction. Finding a way for characters to have hope in a bleak world can be a challenge, but in Discovery it comes built-in to characters we’re already familiar with, and it makes perfect sense because of where (or rather, when) they came from. Their naïvety is part of it, and it works well here as it did in earlier episodes too.

Burnham, Saru, and the whole crew have demonstrated naïvety borne of optimism, and it’s this optimism that will be a key story point moving forward.

Immediately following their debriefing with Admiral Vance, Burnham and Saru talk in the ready-room. They hatch a plan to demonstrate their loyalty and usefulness to the Admiral and the Federation by tracking down where a group of aliens called the Kili became sick. I believe the Kili were new to Star Trek, and their design was interesting – if a little reminiscent of the Saurians.

Burnham initially suggests they steal the data they need to figure out this medical mystery, but Saru, as he often does, serves as a counterbalance to her half-baked ideas and tells her firmly that he agrees with the premise, but that they will follow the rules and go through the appropriate channels to get the information. Saru, with his calm demeanour, is perfectly-suited to this role; a Picard to Burnham’s Riker, to use a Star Trek analogy! They make an interesting pair in moments like this, and I will be forever grateful that their roles were not reversed and that it’s Saru in the captain’s chair!

Saru and Burnham in the ready-room.

It’s worth noting after last week saw the Sphere data and Discovery’s computer seemingly merge that the display panels in the ready-room (where last week’s merge occurred) are back to normal. Discovery’s computer was not called on in Die Trying, and indeed no mention was made of what happened. As far as we know at this stage, it’s only Saru who’s aware of any goings-on with the main computer – and it’s possible that he was so distracted by trying to help the crew last week that he didn’t really notice what had happened. Regardless, this story point will surely be back!

Having just said how great of a captain Saru is, the next scene shows him delivering the bad news to Discovery’s crew. Obvious troublemakers like Georgiou are clearly dissatisfied, but the mood was quite ominous in some ways. There was the expected anxiousness and concern about being split up and debriefed, but I got the sense – at least for a moment – that some of those ill feelings were being directed at Saru himself for “allowing” this to happen. Hopefully this was just a one-off moment caused by circumstances and we won’t see Saru’s captaincy in any real danger in future. Lieutenant Willa was present here, along with a couple of unnamed Starfleet personnel from the base. As mentioned, though, she’s a pretty forgettable character based on her sole appearance in Die Trying.

Saru breaks the news of their pending reassignments to the assembled crew of Discovery.

Several members of the crew go through their debriefings in a montage, referring to events and storylines from Seasons 1 and 2, which was a neat touch. Culber mentioned being dead and stuck in the mycelial network, Tilly referenced her Mirror Universe counterpart, but my favourite was Reno, who injected some much-needed humour into Die Trying. Reno can always be relied on for some lightheartedness, and Tig Notaro’s deadpan delivery is always on point.

Burnham and Saru press Lieutenant Willa for the information about the Kili, and after a short protest she concedes and provides them with a list of planets the Kili visited before arriving at Federation HQ. It was clever of Burnham to point out that Discovery is a science vessel, and that these kinds of situations are what the ship was made for investigating.

Lieutenant Willa listens to Burnham’s request for information.

If we split Die Trying into three main parts we have this sequence taking up the first third or so of the episode, dealing with Saru, Burnham, and the crew aboard the Federation base, then we’ll have the away mission that kicks off in a moment, but the third storyline is that of Georgiou’s debrief with a character played by famed director David Cronenberg. Cronenberg’s 1986 film The Fly made my list of horror films to watch at Halloween just a couple of weeks ago; a strange coincidence considering I had no idea he would make an appearance in Discovery! It just goes to show how broad the Star Trek franchise and its fandom reach.

Surely Cronenberg’s character, Kovich, is an operative of Section 31? That wasn’t confirmed, of course, but the fact that he debriefs her personally and is wearing a very different uniform to everyone else would hint at that being a logical assumption. Regardless, Kovich is an interesting character, and his dance with Georgiou was often riveting as the two attempted to talk around one another. However, I feel that there was a missed opportunity to show Georgiou in a situation she couldn’t control – something we’ll also see with Burnham in a moment.

A surprise appearance from guest star David Cronenberg!

Georgiou is cold and calculating, and is able to take charge of almost any situation. However, we’re 930 years into the future, and on top of that she’s in a different universe, so there was an opportunity for her frankly one-dimensional character to get to try something different – not being in total control, for once. The two Starfleet holograms correctly identify her as Terran, and of course by this point in the timeline the Mirror Universe’s existence is an open secret to Starfleet so that makes sense. And here was the opportunity for her to lose her advantage.

By being immediately “outed” as a Terran and forced into a Starfleet debrief specifically designed for those from the Mirror Universe we could have seen Georgiou on the back foot, outsmarted, outmanoeuvred, and even defeated. We’ll come to the question of her fate in this meeting at the end, because clearly something happened to her off-screen, but practically the whole time we had her on screen she was her typical self: one-dimensional, “I’m evil and I love it,” 23rd Century Heinz Doofenshmirtz. That made for some truly great television as she was pitted against Kovich and they danced around each other, but I’m left lamenting a wholly different sequence that we didn’t get.

Georgiou in her debriefing.

I mentioned what was kind of a missed opportunity to put Burnham on the back foot, and after introducing Kovich to us, we come to this moment. After Saru and Burnham use the data to figure out which planet the Kili became ill on, Burnham proposes traveling to a seed vault ship which could be used to formulate an antidote. This was a great opportunity for Admiral Vance or Lieutenant Willa to shoot her down and demonstrate to her that her 23rd Century knowledge is of limited use. There are many ways this could have been done, but just off the top of my head: they could have already figured out the planet through high-tech scanning, the seed vault ship may no longer exist by this time, or 32nd Century replicators could have created the perfect antidote already. I know any of these would radically change the rest of the story of the episode so I’m not advocating any of them especially, but as a general point, 32nd Century Starfleet showing how their technology can solve problems without a need for Burnham and Saru’s input would have set up a potentially interesting story of its own – or rather, advanced one that is already rumbling in the background: what possible use can these millennium-old people be in the 32nd Century considering how much the simply do not know?

Regardless, Burnham’s plan has merit and a plan is concocted to travel to the USS Tikhov – Starfleet’s flying seed vault. Saru offers to remain aboard the Federation base, so Burnham will be in command for the away mission, accompanied by Lieutenant Willa and a couple of unnamed 32nd Century Starfleet personnel. We could absolutely argue that replicators, transporters, and the ability to store detailed and accurate data of any plant species in the universe should render the need for a seed vault invalid in the future, but I think it gets a pass as a story point. Not only is it logical to keep a backup even if all those technologies exist, it made for a wholly different and interesting setup. We’ve never really seen a ship like the Tikhov before, with its unique role in the Federation.

Discovery prepares to leave the Federation base under Burnham’s temporary command.

Though I would never make her captain, it was neat to see Burnham in command on the bridge and ordering a Black Alert. She hasn’t had the opportunity to step up like this since she was stripped of rank after the series premiere, so it was a reminder just how far she’s come in that time. Black Alert and spore jumps always seem to come as a surprise to someone new to the process – as we saw with Booker a couple of weeks ago – and Lieutenant Willa and her colleagues react in a similar way as Discovery jumps from Federation HQ to a location five months’ distant (at 32nd Century high-warp speeds) in an instant.

More could’ve been made of the ion storm, not from the point of view of Discovery and her crew – Detmer in particular is still struggling with her injury/mental health and showed how much of a danger it was to the ship. But the 32nd Century officers could have made some point about how ion storms are no problem for the ships of their era, or reacted with surprise at how gingerly Burnham, Detmer, and others were treating it. By this time period we tend to expect that something that might’ve been a major threat or problem for a ship like Discovery should be easy enough to handle. The visual effects used for the ion storm were great, though, and after some sequences last week were a bit of a visual miss it’s great to see Discovery’s animation back on top form.

Discovery and the ion storm.

I’m glad that Detmer’s storyline has not been entirely abandoned. Last week seemed to show her having a breakthrough; letting her emotions boil over before realising she needed to ask for help. I’m still undecided on how this arc will end – her death is still a possibility – but I’m glad that it wasn’t just dropped as I feared it might’ve been. Owosekun is an unsung hero in this particular storyline too, having been seen encouraging her friend and being supportive on several occasions this season. Giving both of these characters more to do was part of my wishlist for the season, so I’m glad Discovery is at least trying to branch out beyond its regular main cast.

After rescuing the Tikhov from the ion storm, Burnham readies an away team to beam aboard. For story purposes I can understand why she, Culber, and Nhan went alone; from an in-universe perspective I’m left wondering why Lieutenant Willa didn’t accompany them. Wasn’t at least part of her reason for going on the mission to keep an eye on Burnham? Yet she’s content to allow her to transport into an important vault that should be subject to security measures and/or restrictions. This would have been an opportunity for Willa to step out of her bland role and perhaps see some fleshing out of her character. If she’s to make repeated appearances we could have laid the groundwork for that here, but if she’s just going to be a one-off character then I guess it’s fine.

Why did Lieutenant Willa tag along if she wasn’t going to observe the whole mission?

The set design of the Tikhov was interesting. I liked the out-of-control plants which immediately conveyed that something was wrong while also providing a lot of shadowy areas and potential hiding places for someone nefarious. However, not for the first time in Discovery the redressing of familiar sets felt obvious and not particularly well-disguised. It wasn’t as bad as the Ba’ul facility seen in Season 2’s The Sound of Thunder, which was so painfully obviously the transporter room that it made some scenes distractingly difficult to watch! But it wasn’t spectacular set design either, at least not in the hallway which Burnham, Culber, and Nhan beam into.

In a story that focused somewhat on Nhan and her people (the Barzans) it was a shame that she didn’t take the lead. As mentioned last week, Discovery almost always wants to put Burnham centre-stage, even in stories that could be better-suited to other characters. Despite the fact that we were dealing with a Barzan character, and despite the fact that Nhan seemingly makes a big sacrifice at the end of the episode (which we’ll come to in a moment) for much of the time she was aboard the USS Tikhov she felt like a minor character, dropping some exposition or technobabble but doing little of consequence.

Nhan aboard the USS Tikhov.

After beginning their exploration of the plant-infested vessel, we see an invisible character moving in behind the away team. This would soon be revealed to be the Barzan scientist who was supposed to be the caretaker of this vessel, and the way in which he was half-trapped in a transporter beam reminded me of Quinn Erickson from the Enterprise Season 4 episode Daedalus, who suffered a similar fate. Little moments like this connect Discovery to the wider franchise, and they’re always appreciated.

As Georgiou continues her debrief with Kovich we learn what Starfleet knows about the Burn, and surprisingly they know very little. Kovich declines to expand on any of the theories except to say no one theory seems more likely than any other at this point. He also drops a bombshell on Georgiou – the Terran Empire fell. We knew this as it had been shown in Deep Space Nine, but it was Georgiou’s first encounter with that piece of information, and it seemed, very briefly, to affect her.

Georgiou during her debriefing.

Georgiou seizes on the Burn, telling Kovich that the Federation must be terrified. She also used an interesting phrase, one which Kovich did not refute: “whoever did this.” This is perhaps our first indication that the Burn may be an event that was deliberately triggered. In People of Earth, Burnham suggested two possibilities: accident or natural disaster. I noted at the time that she didn’t mention the possibility of the Burn being caused deliberately, which seemed like an equally-plausible option, and we finally have that addressed here. The fact that Kovich didn’t immediately step in and say that they’d ruled that out is interesting, and may well be a hint at the Burn being caused deliberately by some nefarious villain.

I kind of liked the “natural disaster” angle – though my theory of it being related to coronal mass ejections and stars, based on a frame from the second trailer, has been refuted by that scene’s inclusion in this episode. The reason for that was that it would present Saru, Burnham, and the crew with a scientific puzzle to solve rather than an evil bad guy to defeat. Season 3 is, in some respects, following a similar basic pattern to Season 2 right now: there’s a mysterious phenomenon, and the more we learn about it the more likely it seems that there’s a villain manipulating events to cause it. In Season 2 we had the red bursts, the Red Angel, and Control was ultimately revealed as the villain. In Season 3 we have the Burn and the collapse of the Federation – is a villain about to be revealed?

Kovich dropped some major hints about the Burn.

Back aboard the seed vault, Burnham and the away team discover a hologram of the Barzan family. This was set up in a pretty creepy way; I definitely felt horror film echoes as they approached the eerie, abandoned section of the ship. If the ship felt like an underwhelming redress of existing sets, the seed vault itself was far more impressive. Whirring rotating sections and a jumble of different shapes made for an interesting aesthetic as Burnham beamed in. She was attacked by the Barzan (in another moment reminiscent of the transporter story in Enterprise) and tasks Tilly and Stamets with figuring out what happened to him and his family.

As mentioned, when I saw the second Season 3 trailer I pulled a frame out of it where Tilly and Stamets were conducting a scan for coronal mass ejections. CMEs are a real-world phenomenon, and I wondered if they could be related to the Burn. We can strike that theory off the list, however, as it instead turns out that a CME is what killed the Barzan’s family. In a cruel twist of fate he was trapped halfway through a transporter cycle, which saved his life but also left him phased. This was an interesting explanation; it took what could have been a fairly flat “monster of the week” and turned him into a character with a genuinely emotional story. Star Trek has often done this, and it’s worked remarkably well across the franchise.

The phased Barzan.

Nhan had come across one of the Tikhov’s logs which showed this man’s descent into madness, and I liked this scene with her. After piecing together what happened, it seems as though the coronal mass ejection was responsible for killing his family, and the Barzan doctor was desperately trying to revive them using the seeds aboard the ship – that’s why there were plants everywhere when the away team arrived. Burnham needs his voiceprint to unlock the seed vault and find what she needs for the Kili, so using Discovery’s transporter the crew are able to bring him back into phase.

As they sat together, I felt like this was an opportunity for Nhan to shine. As often happens in Discovery, though, this moment was instead given to Burnham, who is able to get through his grief and convince him to access the seeds she needs. She did so by appealing to him, telling him he could help other families – the Kili – even though he could no longer help his own. This worked and it makes sense, but I can’t help feeling Nhan could have done the same job. Nhan does, however, get to wordlessly use the computer to find the seeds, which is something.

Nhan retrieves the important seeds.

Now we come to a contentious point – something Star Trek has never shied away from. The Barzan doctor refuses treatment for his radiation/CME illness, and is content to die alongside his family. Dr Culber offers a weak protest, saying he’s not being rational, but Nhan steps in saying that there are cultural issues in play with how the Barzans approach issues of family and death. Both are right, in a way, and there’s no easy answer. Is it okay to let someone die from something preventable just because they say they want to? Is Dr Culber right when he says he’s being irrational? These are deep topics, and Discovery touches on them but doesn’t really dive into them too much.

While Burnham is okay with letting him die, she doesn’t want to let the seed vault die too. Nhan volunteers to remain aboard, and this was a confusing point. This is presented as if Nhan is leaving the series; this being her final end as a character. But only a few episodes ago at the beginning of the season Rachael Ancheril was promoted to the main cast. Is she leaving? Or is Nhan coming back later in the season – perhaps bringing the Tikhov to Discovery’s rescue at a key moment? My guess is on the latter, because I’m not convinced we’ve seen the last of this unique and interesting character. Burnham’s parting words that she hopes their “paths cross again” could be a hint at this.

Nhan and Burnham embrace.

So Nhan will stay behind to guard the seeds. She says she’s doing so in Ariam’s memory – the cyborg redshirt who died in Season 2 – but also to ensure that the Barzans’ turn to keep the ship safe will come to a successful end. Her loyalty to her people and her culture was admirable – and again would have given her a reason to connect with the Barzan doctor and get through to him.

Discovery managed to make Nhan’s departure all about Burnham, with Nhan telling Burnham (and by extension the audience) that she embodies everything great about Starfleet and she always “reaches for the best” in everyone. Sorry, but that line felt at least a little flat, especially under the circumstances. With the seed vault in safe hands, Burnham returns to Discovery, and Discovery returns to Federation HQ with a cure in hand. The shot of the ship seen through one of the Tikhov’s plant-framed windows was pretty neat.

The USS Discovery as seen from the Tikhov.

Nhan’s departure was a shock, but one the crew don’t seem to process. Back at Federation HQ the Kili are given the cure to their ailment, and Admiral Vance seems satisfied with Burnham’s performance. Saru’s comment about the Dark Ages was poetic, and again accompanied by a great musical score that amped up the emotion. His point is that Discovery and its crew may help the Federation heal, and he and Burnham press the point home. Discovery’s crew will be allowed to stay together, at least for now.

There will be no missions of exploration, but the crew will be together and will be able to use the spore drive to go on missions to help the Federation and Starfleet. That seems like as good of an outcome as possible, especially considering Vance’s earlier comments. Vance tells Burnham there are more theories about the Burn “than ships in the fleet,” and tells her that unless they can find evidence that has been overlooked since the Burn it will remain an unknown. Burnham says “challenge accepted,” which I take it to mean we’re about to begin the next part of the story of the season – piecing this mystery together.

Admiral Vance, Captain Saru, and Burnham.

As the episode ends, Burnham draws our attention to a piece of music being played. It was the same composition that Adira played last week, and Burnham seems awfully confused that the same music could be common to multiple Federation members. For story reasons I’m sure this will be significant – why make note of it otherwise? – but it doesn’t seem much of a stretch to think that a piece of music could become popular. It would be like going abroad today and hearing a pop song. That wouldn’t be weird, so why is it weird here?

So that was Die Trying. Adira seems to have disappeared after arriving at Federation HQ; I hope their absence isn’t indicative of something bad having happened to them. Random Blonde Bridge Officer finally got a name: Lieutenant Nilsson. I’ll have to stop calling her RBBO! And the three stories all played out in interesting fashion. It was a solid episode, on par with the first few of the season at least.

Discovery docked at Federation HQ.

Something may have happened to Georgiou off screen – or she could simply be processing the loss of the Terran Empire or the ability to travel back to the Mirror Universe. Perhaps this is setting her up to travel back in time or back to the Mirror Universe at some point later in the season. But let’s save the speculating for my next theory post!

I’ve had a terrible case of writer’s block for a few days now, so I apologise for being late with this review and for the lack of other articles this week. I hope things settle down soon.

I’m already looking forward to next week’s episode: Scavengers. Here’s hoping it will be another enjoyable ride.

Star Trek: Discovery is available to watch now 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.