Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 4, Episodes 1-2

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4. Spoilers are also present for Star Trek: Picard Season 1 and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Ahhh… it feels so good to write these words! Star Trek: Discovery is finally available in Latin America, Western Europe, Australia, and a few other countries and territories via a patchwork of different streaming services, television channels, and other digital distribution methods. Significant numbers of Trekkies in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere still can’t access Discovery Season 4 (by conventional methods, at least) but it feels like a victory for fan activism nevertheless. It’s my sincere hope that ViacomCBS will continue to try to bring Discovery Season 4 – and the rest of Star Trek – to regions and territories where it isn’t yet available, and I’ll keep bringing up the issue at every opportunity.

Following the positive news the other day that Discovery is going to be available to watch, I have taken the decision to resume my reviews and theories for the duration of the season. I felt it was necessary to criticise ViacomCBS, Paramount+, and the rest of the corporate side of Star Trek following their poor decision to withdraw the show, but equally I feel it’s important for all of us to support Star Trek if it is available. That means watching it on Pluto TV, purchasing episodes on platforms like iTunes/Amazon, or watching on Paramount+.

Pluto TV is the current home of Star Trek: Discovery here in the UK – and in much of the rest of western Europe.

This isn’t a one-way street, and when corporations make positive decisions – especially following a significant fan campaign – I think we need to go out of our way to support the franchises we love and show companies like ViacomCBS that listening to fan feedback pays off. It’s not good enough to criticise the company for their nonsense, but fail to acknowledge and respond positively when they reverse course or take good decisions.

The “victory” is bittersweet because I know that there are fans in other parts of the world who can’t watch Discovery. If I still lived in South Africa, for example, I’d be continuing my one-person Discovery review blackout! But because the show is now available here in the UK, I will be resuming my reviews. That doesn’t mean I don’t support fans in other parts of the world, and I will continue to do what I can in my own small way here on the website to call on ViacomCBS to make Discovery and the rest of Star Trek available.

Having dedicated close to 10,000 words and a week of my time to Discovery Season 4 and the international distribution situation, I think that’s more than enough on that for now! So let’s get back on track with a double-header review of the first two episodes: Kobayashi Maru and Anomaly.

The first shot of the new season.

Kobayashi Maru kicked off with a neat CGI sequence showing the USS Discovery arriving from a Spore Drive jump, then Book’s ship departing the shuttlebay. The special effects work across both episodes was outstanding, and the animators and artists deserve a lot of credit – even more so when you consider that much of the work was done remotely due to the pandemic. In particular I’d point to shots of Book’s ship in flight, the USS Discovery’s Spore Drive jumps, and the anti-gravity sequences that we’ll look at in a moment.

The one criticism that I have of Kobayashi Maru is related to CGI, though. It isn’t what you think – none of the effects themselves were bad! But as a consequence of the somewhat rapid, occasionally chaotic way that the episode was cut together, edited, and paced, at a couple of crucial moments, CGI sequences were nowhere near as long as they needed to be to properly communicate what was happening. At both points where Book was looking at the impact of the gravitational anomaly, first on Kwejian’s moon from the console of his ship and later at Kwejian itself from the bridge of Discovery, the CGI shots of the anomaly and the remains of the planet were barely shown for a scant few seconds – not long enough, in my opinion at least, to have the impact they were intended to have.

This CGI shot of the remains of Kwejian was only visible for a few seconds.

In the first case I think we can excuse the pacing. Book blacked out as the anomaly hit, and the structure of the scene was enough to show that the proverbial “something bad” was happening, but also the short cut kept it mysterious enough that we didn’t see everything – and were left wanting to know more. But as Book stood on the bridge of Discovery, we caught a glimpse of Kwejian that began somewhat blurry and obscured by the ship’s viewscreen, then lingered for mere seconds before cutting back to Book and the crew to see their reactions. A few extra seconds, perhaps, might’ve helped this moment.

As it is, we know what happened to Kwejian. And since we’re already talking about the premiere’s biggest single moment, let’s jump into the “should Kwejian have been destroyed” conversation! In my view, the season premiere needed something big to sufficiently communicate the stakes. A character death could’ve accomplished this, but considering that the anomaly is being presented as this kind of galaxy-ending threat, the destruction of an entire planet – especially one we’re familiar with and from which a main character originates – succeeds in this objective.

Book’s immediate reaction to the loss of his homeworld.

Objections to the Kwejian storyline seem to stem from a much broader point of contention – that Discovery shouldn’t be running this kind of apocalyptic storyline for the third (or arguably fourth) season in a row. Taking a break from saving the galaxy would’ve allowed the show to tell different kinds of stories – stories that could be just as exciting and dramatic, but smaller in scope and more character-oriented. That’s not a bad argument, but it’s been apparent since we got the first teaser trailer for the season at First Contact Day in April that this was going to be the direction of travel. In the context of this kind of story, the destruction of Kwejian works; it succeeds as a story point.

Obviously this hurts Book, and represents a change for his character that’s at least as substantial as Saru’s Season 2 vahar’ai transformation. Two episodes in, we don’t really know what the outcome of this will be for Book. He could follow the path of Kelvin-timeline Spock, recommitting himself to his work. He could draw on the loss of Kwejian at a key moment later in the story, perhaps spurring him on as he knows he’s one of the last remaining Kwejian natives. Or he could fall deeper into a depression that lasts all season and from which he struggles to recover. One thing is certain, though: Book won’t be the same after the destruction of his home planet and the loss of his family.

Book being comforted by Burnham in Anomaly.

President Rillak manages to simultaneously embody the “bad admiral” character archetype from past iterations of the franchise (where Starfleet admirals would often be depicted as adversarial if not outright evil) while also feeling like a character with nuance and depth. It would’ve been easy for Rillak to fall into a fairly flat villain trope given that Kobayashi Maru deliberately pitted her against Captain Burnham right from the start. But her reasons for seeking an evaluation of Burnham, her level-headed rebuke and assessment of Burnham’s captaincy, and the impressive way she stepped in to disarm the situation aboard the space station all work in her favour.

However, I would be remiss not to point out that her noisy interventions on the bridge of a starship while it was engaged in a dangerous and highly time-sensitive assignment ended up causing a lot of problems. Had Captain Burnham not been delayed by those crucical seconds, the outcome of the mission could have been very different – and someone who lost their life might’ve survived. There is a time and place for someone in a position of authority to question or criticise, and in the heat of the moment is not that time.

President Rillak interrupted Captain Burnham at the wrong moment.

I’m glad that President Rillak has been brought on board, though. The only other authority figure we’ve met within Starfleet is Admiral Vance – and I can’t imagine him being so adversarial and harsh toward Captain Burnham. I was worried before the season premiered that storylines which could’ve been Vance’s will end up going to President Rillak, but I’m actually glad in this case that he gets to remain on friendly terms with Discovery’s captain, and that we don’t have to see him as an obstacle for her to overcome.

The “butterfly aliens” had a neat, unique design, and it played into the story of repairing their non-functional satellite network well. My only criticism of this sequence would be that it felt rushed. The intention was to show Captain Burnham and the crew working together, knowing each other’s strengths and using them to solve a puzzle. But Kobayashi Maru as a whole felt very rapidly-paced, and this sequence – which in past iterations of Star Trek might’ve been a whole episode – felt undeniably rushed, lasting only a few minutes. The episode wanted to get into the meat of the story, and the “butterfly aliens” and their satellites were elbowed out of the way in relatively short order to make that happen.

The butterfly aliens up close.

I get the sense that Book and Burnham’s mission to deliver dilithium to the “butterfly aliens” might be all that we get to see of the Federation being rebuilt this season. Some of this seems to have happened off-screen, and it feels like the rebuilding, expanding Federation is basically going to be a backdrop to the main event – the story of the gravitational anomaly.

Considering how big and devastating the Burn had been, I think I’d have liked to see more of this rebuilding work. It makes a good backdrop, don’t get me wrong, and it gives the crew something to fight for and defend as they step up their efforts to defend against the anomaly. But when you think back to how fractured and small the Federation felt in Season 3, particularly in the first half of the season, there’s a bit of a risk that we’re rushing past something meaningful; a story worth telling.

Fixing the satellites for the butterfly aliens was a short moment designed to be a microcosm of Captain Burnham’s and the USS Discovery’s work prior to the main anomaly storyline.

Frankly, I could have happily entertained the idea of an entire season’s worth of “rebuilding” stories. Seeing Captain Burnham and the crew traveling the length and breadth of the rump Federation, bringing help and hope to familiar and new races would have been really interesting to see. It would’ve allowed for a season-long story, but one comprised much more of individual elements – rebuilding work on one planet or in one system, then moving on to a different area to face a different challenge. It was nice to get a taste of this rebuilding work – which is presumably something Captain Burnham and the crew have been doing a lot of off-screen – but there was absolutely scope to do a lot more with this idea.

Though only on screen for a brief moment, it was wonderful to see Admiral Vance’s family. He’d mentioned them in Season 3, but it was implied that his work meant he couldn’t spend as much time with them as he wanted. To see him able to welcome them to Starfleet Academy and show them around was really touching.

Admiral Vance with his wife and daughter.

One moment in Kobayashi Maru had me tearing up – and I bet you can guess which one! As President Rillak introduced the assembled cadets and officers to Starfleet’s new Archer Space Dock, Archer’s Theme from the end credits of Star Trek: Enterprise was heard. The USS Voyager-J was docked, and for a brief moment I got very emotional! Star Trek has done this to me before: seeing the refit USS Enterprise for the first time in The Motion Picture, accompanied by another beautiful piece of music, is another sequence that turns on the water works! This scene was very similar, and was truly a beautiful homage to Enterprise. More than a millennium after his voyages of exploration, it’s incredibly sweet to see the Federation remembering Captain Archer.

As Kobayashi Maru drew to a close, pretty much everything we’d seen across the episode’s fifty-minute runtime had ceased to feel important. The revelation of Kwejian’s destruction overruled everything else, and the conflict between Captain Burnham and President Rillak felt petty in comparison. Tackling the anomaly would mean they’d have to pull together – any interpersonal conflict or rivalries now needed to be set aside. As I sat down to watch Anomaly, the direction of travel for the season felt set.

This moment, accompanied by a familiar musical sting, was beautiful

That doesn’t mean that Kobayashi Maru was some kind of waste. It told an exciting and engaging story in its own right, one which laid the groundwork for what’s to come in two key ways: firstly by showing off how far the Federation has come, giving Captain Burnham and the crew something to fight for, and secondly by introducing the gravitational anomaly and its devastating destructive power.

So that brings us to Anomaly.

Despite its subject matter, Anomaly ended up being a much more intimate, personal, and emotional episode than I initially expected. Several different characters got cathartic, emotional storylines that really showed off how well Discovery can do these smaller, personal moments even in the midst of a galactic-scale story.

Captain Burnham in Anomaly.

Book and Stamets made an amazing, underrated pair in Anomaly, and their central conflict was handled incredibly well. In the run-up to the season I had asked what Book’s ability to control the Spore Drive could mean for Starfleet, and we got part of an answer to that in Kobayashi Maru, with President Rillak explaining that a “next-generation” Spore Drive was in development. But naturally, a proud person like Stamets would be impacted by the reveal too.

I liked the way this was handled. It wasn’t presented as mere jealousy – though perhaps Stamets’ ego did play a role in the conflict between himself and Book – but more a feeling of helplessness. Having to rely on other people, feeling unable to help and having to watch from the sidelines as Stamets did in the Season 3 finale, is never a nice feeling. As someone who’s disabled and who has to rely on help more often than I’d like, this is definitely something very relatable. Everyone wants to feel independent and in control of their life and their situation – Stamets lost that control, and having already lost his husband once before was already emotionally vulnerable to this kind of situation. He appears to have redirected some of those feelings onto Book, but he recognised that and tried to make amends.

Stamets and Book made a great pair.

David Ajala and Anthony Rapp played off one another beautifully in their scenes together, and it makes me want more Book and Stamets! They’re an unlikely team in so many ways, but it’s fantastic to see Discovery stepping out of its comfort zone and pairing up different character duos. This is something I hope to see more of as the season rumbles on.

One character pairing that came together beautifully at the beginning of Season 3 last year was Saru and Tilly, and seeing them reunited in Anomaly was fantastic. Saru is a calming influence on Tilly, who can be excitable and emotion-driven, and their contrasting personalities make for truly fun viewing. Tilly has come a long way since Season 1, but she still needs the occasional support of someone like Saru.

Tilly was glad to have Saru back!

Speaking of Saru, he’s now back aboard Discovery – albeit in a less-than-permanent capacity. What I liked about Saru’s reunion with Captain Burnham was the agency he was given over his role after returning to Starfleet. It would have been easy for the writers to have Burnham be the one to ask Saru to remain aboard the ship, but for Saru himself to make the offer to serve as first officer was an outstanding choice. I got genuinely emotional seeing Burnham accept his offer.

This might irritate the Discovery haters, but Captain Burnham and first officer Saru mirror Kirk and Spock in more ways than one; echoes of Star Trek’s first main character pairing are present. Burnham is younger, quicker to act, and more of a risk-taker. Saru is older, more experienced, and slower and more deliberate when considering his moves. He’s the perfect first officer to serve someone like Captain Burnham. She needs that kind of XO just like Kirk needed Spock – and while we’re talking about contrasting pairs, just like the calmer, level-headed Picard needed someone like Riker.

Captain Burnham arguably needs a first officer with the temperament of Saru.

I’m glad that Saru didn’t have to be demoted in order to take up his new role (like poor Decker was in The Motion Picture!) Starfleet ships have been depicted with two officers who both hold the rank of captain on several occasions; Kirk and Spock were both captains during the events of The Final Frontier and The Undiscovered Country, for example. So I don’t think it presents any kind of in-universe problem to see Saru occupy the role of first officer.

It would’ve been potentially interesting to see a secondary character promoted to occupy that role. Nilsson, Rhys, Bryce, or even Linus were possible contenders, and it wasn’t really clear who served in that role before Saru came aboard – Discovery has been flying around for months, after all. But on the whole, I think the role suits Saru perfectly. I’d even go so far as to say it suits him better than the captain’s chair ever did. His style is well suited to being the person to present multiple options, to consider the possibilities, but to leave the decision-making to someone else. I just hope that his presence on the ship won’t end up causing Captain Burnham any problems; I don’t think the writers would go down that road, but you never can tell!

There were other prospective first officer candidates – such as Rhys, who appeared to have the conn for a time in Kobayashi Maru.

Speaking of Captain Burnham, we see two distinct aspects of her command style on display across the first two episodes of the season. In Kobayashi Maru, particularly during the fast-paced opening sequence, we see her at her most self-assured, confident not only in her own abilities but in those of the crew under her command. In Anomaly, we see her willing to listen to the advice of members of her crew – relying on Tilly, Adira, Bryce, and particularly Saru at several key moments across the episode.

Critics of Michael Burnham’s characterisation would be well-advised to watch her in Anomaly in particular. I don’t think it’s fair to say she’s “changed” in Anomaly compared to how she’s usually been portrayed, but some of the criticisms of Burnham in past seasons stem from a sense of selfishness or self-centeredness that arguably are more to do with the way Discovery as a whole is written than the way Burnham herself is. But in Anomaly we see firsthand how she’s relying on others – and from the production side of things, how Discovery is willing to allow other characters far more agency over the way the story unfolds.

Anomaly was a great episode for Captain Burnham.

Someone like Bryce is a relative “blank slate” – despite being a longstanding member of the bridge crew. We don’t know a lot about him, his background, or his hobbies, so in that sense making him the one to figure out a solution to the dangerous situation makes sense. It’s quite believable that Bryce might enjoy kite-surfing – far more so than if it was suddenly a hobby ascribed to Burnham, Saru, or Tilly for the first time. It’s a contrivance, for sure, but Star Trek’s history is littered with those – many of which are far more egregious!

David Ajala put in his best and most emotional performance of the series so far in Anomaly, communicating the incredible, almost unimaginable pain of someone who feels like he’s lost everything. Mixed in with loss is regret – Book had spent most of the last few years away from Kwejian, prior to the events of Season 3’s episode Sanctuary, and in light of the loss of the world and his family, regrets those lost years all the more.

Book lost almost everything and everyone he had cared about – and David Ajala’s performance captured that pitch-perfectly.

The standoff between Captain Burnham and Book was riveting to watch in Anomaly, as the latter insisted on helming a dangerous mission into the anomaly. It reminded me of The Next Generation Season 6 episode Lessons, where Captain Picard struggles with the similar conundrum of ordering someone he cares about to undertake a dangerous mission. Lessons is a fantastic episode, but I think in retrospect it’s limited by the fact that Nella Darren – Picard’s love interest – is a new, one-off character. Book and Burnham’s relationship has been well-established over the course of Season 3 and into Season 4, so the conundrum she faces as he insists on going on the mission is something we as the audience are far more invested in.

Star Trek has, on more than one occasion, depicted people at moments of severe depression, willing to end their lives or to give up. Book is in that position in Anomaly – not actively trying to die, but so uncaring about his life in the wake of everything that’s happened that he’s willing to take risks, put himself in harm’s way, and give up rather than fight to survive. But Anomaly showed Book that Burnham is in his corner, willing to fight when he isn’t, and pushing him to find the strength to try.

Burnham was there for Book when he needed her most.

Anomaly shows us, through a variety of different character pairings, how people can help one another through difficult circumstances. Whether it’s Tilly complimenting Adira for their hard work, Saru telling Burnham to be a partner, not a captain, Dr Culber talking to Gray through Adira as he works on his new synthetic body, or Stamets reaching out to Book, the theme of the episode is connection.

I loved the Picard reference in the scene with Adira, Gray, and Dr Culber. It was an interesting revelation that the “Soong process” for transferring minds was ultimately unsuccessful in most cases – I wonder what impact that will have on future Picard stories. The character it might impact most is Dr Soong himself, as he had planned to transfer his own consciousness into a synthetic body. But perhaps we should leave that speculation for another time! I think the intention here was to pre-emptively close a potential plot hole – by saying that the Soong process is basically unlikely to succeed, it gets around potential questions in future about why it wasn’t possible to save characters by transferring them into synthetic bodies when they’re near death. I’m not sure it was necessarily something that needed to be wrapped up in this fashion, but then again we Trekkies can be a pedantic bunch!

Dr Culber connected Gray’s story to Star Trek: Picard Season 1.

As someone who has struggled for a long time with my own gender identity, the scene with Gray “customising” his new body was very emotional. For a long time, I lacked the confidence to change anything about my appearance – especially when going out in public – to better match my own gender identity, so to see Gray talking about making cosmetic changes in order to be more comfortable in his own skin – literally – was a deeply emotional moment.

There’s power in representation, and even though Gray wasn’t the main focus of Anomaly, the main scene he had with Dr Culber and Adira was one of the best, and perhaps most underrated, in the entire episode for me.

Gray had the opportunity to customise his new body.

One of the big questions facing Season 4 at the moment is the nature of the gravitational anomaly. It always felt that the characters’ first guesses as to what it could be wouldn’t pan out, but I kind of liked the idea of a rogue black hole – or pair of black holes, in this case. Facing a purely natural phenomenon could be a story that brings with it all kinds of real-world parallels as we struggle with the climate emergency, for example.

However, it seems from the ending of Anomaly that Stamets, Tilly, and co. weren’t correct with their binary black hole theory, once again opening up the story to a completely unknowable next phase. Keeping the mystery going is good; had the anomaly been all figured out within a couple of episodes it might’ve been less exciting going into the rest of the season! It was interesting, though, to see Tilly in the closing moments of Anomaly presenting this as a defeat.

The nature of the anomaly is still uncertain.

Tilly seemed to be suggesting that the fact that the anomaly’s path remains unpredictable means that the mission to scan it was somehow unsuccessful, but I’m not sure that’s the best way to present this revelation. Scanning the anomaly up close yielded a treasure trove of information for the crew to scour, and was an absolutely necessary step in understanding the danger it poses. Maybe its path is still impossible to predict – for now. But that doesn’t make the mission a failure. And considering no lives were lost and the damage to the ship seems repairable, I guess I just don’t really get why the closing moments of Anomaly chose to present the results of the data in such a negative way. Obviously it’s bad news that the path of the anomaly is still unpredictable – but that’s no one’s fault and it doesn’t mean that the mission failed.

The visual effect of the crew lifted out of their seats as artificial gravity failed was incredibly impactful; one of the most powerful visuals in the first two episodes. I can see why clips of that were chosen for the trailers! Star Trek rarely depicts artificial gravity failures – doing so has historically been prohibitively expensive. A couple of behind-the-scenes photos have shown the cast suspended in harnesses and on wires, and it seems clear that those sequences will have been difficult to film. It was worth the effort, though, and the finished effect is fantastic. Not only that, but I think it’s made substantially more impactful because artificial gravity failures are so uncommon in Star Trek.

Dr Culber and Captain Burnham float free as Discovery’s artificial gravity fails.

So that was Season 4’s opening pair of episodes. It took fans a lot of hard work to ensure the episodes would be available to more folks, so I hope everyone has found a way to tune in and watch via official channels – where such channels are available, of course. I think the season got off to a rocky start with all of the international mess, but the episodes themselves were fabulous, setting up a suitably engrossing mystery that feels very open right now. The story could go down any one of many different, utterly unpredictable routes – just like the anomaly itself!

Discovery is always at its best with moments of intimate characterisation, and there were many, many moments across both episodes that showed off the characters at their best – and gave the actors some fantastic material to work with. There were amazing performances from David Ajala, Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Ian Alexander, and Chelah Horsdal in particular, and I’m sure I’m leaving too many folks out. The visual effects are once again amazing, an improvement on Season 3 – something I didn’t think would’ve been possible.

As the credits rolled on Anomaly I was left wanting to know more – and not wanting to have to wait a week! That’s the mark of a good story in my book, leaving fans clamouring for more, wanting to figure out the show’s mysteries. I’m eagerly awaiting next week’s episode, Choose To Live. Stay tuned for my weekly list of theories in the days ahead, and a review of Choose To Live next week!

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

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 – The Story So Far

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and the trailers and teasers for Season 4.

As we welcome the month of November, Star Trek: Discovery’s fourth season is now only a couple of weeks away! With the season fast approaching I thought it would be a good idea to recap, as succinctly as possible, the story so far. Michael Burnham and the rest of the crew have been on a wild ride that’s seen them face off against militant Klingons, a Mirror Universe impostor, a rogue AI, Section 31, and a journey into a future that none of them expected to find.

If you haven’t re-watched Discovery since Season 3 ended just after New Year, I hope this recap of the story so far will be helpful going into Season 4. If for some reason you haven’t seen Discovery yet, well this recap might help you get acclimated with the show and some of the characters – but there’s still a couple of weeks to watch the show’s forty-two episodes… so you’d better get on with it!

Season 4 is imminent!

As I’ve said previously, the show’s first season didn’t get off to a great start story-wise. As things settled down, though, Discovery told a creditable story over the course of the season, one which hit a lot of the right notes in terms of “feeling like Star Trek.” But Season 2 was leaps and bounds ahead of where Season 1 had been, with noteworthy improvements in writing and characterisation to tell a truly exciting and engaging story.

Season 3 was a risk in some respects, but in others it was clearly designed to answer criticisms from some quarters about the show’s place in Star Trek’s broader canon. Shooting the ship and crew almost a thousand years into the future meant abandoning the 23rd Century – and everything else familiar about Star Trek’s galaxy. However, this decision opened up Discovery to brand-new storytelling ideas, and gave the writers and producers far more creative freedom. The show was pioneering new ground instead of trying to walk an occasionally awkward line between the franchise’s established history and bringing new ideas to the table.

Captain Burnham in a promo image for Season 4.

There were some great successes in Season 3. For the first time we got standalone episodes – or at least semi-standalone episodes in which the main story of the season took a back seat. We also got spotlight moments for more of the ship’s secondary characters, some of whom had barely had more than a line or two of dialogue despite being fixtures on the bridge. Though I have criticised the Burn storyline – which was the most significant aspect of the season’s story – for having a number of issues, overall Season 3 was a success.

Discovery has been “the Michael Burnham show” since its premiere episode – for better and for worse. The first three seasons can thus be viewed as Burnham’s ascent to the captain’s chair, and the rocky road she took to get there. Though there has been development of other characters – Saru, Tilly, and Mirror Georgiou stand out in particular – the show’s focus has often been on Burnham.

So let’s head back to the beginning and run through all three seasons as briefly as possible! I’ll try to hit all of the most important and relevant points as we go to get you ready for Season 4.

Season 1

Michael Burnham at the beginning of Season 1.

Season 1 began with Michael Burnham serving as first officer to Captain Georgiou of the USS Shenzhou. Saru was also a member of the crew, as was helm officer Detmer. After being called to a region of space near the Klingon border, the Shenzhou encountered a new Klingon leader who had a plan to unify all of the Klingon Great Houses by going to war with the Federation. In a moment we’ll charitably call “confusion” (as opposed to other, harsher terms we could use) Michael Burnham attempted to stage a mutiny against Captain Georgiou and fire the first shot at a large Klingon fleet.

After the arrival of Admiral Anderson and Starfleet reinforcements, a battle broke out between the Federation and Klingons – the opening engagement of a year-long war. Georgiou and Burnham led an away mission to attempt to capture the Klingon leader, T’Kuvma, but the mission ended with both Georgiou and T’Kuvma dead and war assured between the two sides.

Season 1 began with Georgiou killed and a Federation-Klingon war breaking out.

The Klingon war led to Starfleet accelerating work on the Spore Drive – a new method of traversing the galaxy that relies on a kind of fungus. The Spore Drive was installed aboard two ships – Discovery and the USS Glenn. Engineer Paul Stamets was in charge of the Spore Drive aboard Discovery under the command of Captain Gabriel Lorca, but the technology wasn’t effective at first.

The crew of the USS Glenn discovered that a tardigrade – a space-dwelling lifeform – could be used to navigate the mycelial network and might be the key to making the Spore Drive operational. However, the crew were killed when the tardigrade got loose, and the ship was destroyed to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. Initial experiments using the tardigrade were promising, despite the dangers it posed, but when it became clear how painful the process was for the creature, Stamets merged his DNA with the tardigrade’s so the creature could go free. Stamets thus became Discovery’s navigator and the Spore Drive became fully functional.

A space-dwelling lifeform proved key to making the Spore Drive work.

At the same time, Michael Burnham – now a prisoner following her mutiny – had been brought aboard the USS Discovery by Captain Lorca. She was assigned a cabin with Cadet Sylvia Tilly, and employed as a “mission specialist.” Lorca suggested to Burnham that this could be a way to atone for her role in the outbreak of the war, and she played a role in helping get the Spore Drive operational.

Captain Lorca was captured by the Klingons, but was able to escape thanks to the assistance of Ash Tyler – a fellow Starfleet prisoner. Tyler joined the crew of Discovery as Lorca’s new security officer – despite clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress as a result of his abuse and torture by the Klingons.

A war with the Klingons was the focus of large parts of Season 1.

The USS Discovery was sent to the planet Pahvo, where a crystalline transmitter was located. The transmitter could be used, Starfleet believed, to detect cloaked Klingon ships. When the mission went wrong and the native energy-based Pahvans summoned the Klingons to their planet, Captain Lorca disobeyed orders to implement a new plan. Outwardly his plan was to use multiple Spore Drive jumps to unlock the secrets behind the Klingons’ cloaking device – but in reality his plan was to use the Spore Drive to return to the Mirror Universe.

Captain Lorca was later revealed to be a native of the Mirror Universe, having crossed over inadvertently to the Prime Universe. While in the Mirror Universe the crew of the USS Discovery had to try to fit in as soldiers of the Terran Empire. Burnham and Lorca travelled to the capital ship of Empress Georgiou, where Lorca attempted to rally his forces and stage a coup.

Mirror Lorca returned home and attempted to stage a coup.

Lorca was killed during his coup attempt, but Empress Georgiou’s reign was over anyway; other plotters were already eyeing her throne. In a moment of unthinking impulse, Michael Burnham chose to save Georgiou’s life and transported her to Discovery. After investigating how Lorca was able to use the Spore Drive to jump between universes, the crew were able to reverse the process and return home – only to discover that the Klingons had reached the edge of victory in their absence.

A mad plan cooked up by Empress Georgiou and Admiral Cornwell saw a bomb transported to the Klingon homeworld, one which would have devastated the planet if it had been set off. Leading a second, pro-Starfleet values mutiny, Burnham rallied the crew of Discovery against the bomb plot and instead saw the super-weapon turned over to L’Rell – who went on to become the new Klingon Chancellor and ended the war.

Season 2

The crew of the USS Discovery at the end of Season 1.

After the war ended, Burnham and the crew received medals for their roles. Burnham was also reinstated at the rank of commander. Following a computer failure aboard the USS Enterprise, Captain Pike was assigned to the USS Discovery and given temporary command of the ship for his mission to chase down an ambiguous entity known as the Red Angel. The Red Angel had been generating anomalies known as Red Bursts at locations across the galaxy.

The Enterprise’s science officer – and Michael Burnham’s adoptive brother – Spock, had gone missing at the same time. The Red Angel was revealed to be a time traveller – someone with the ability to travel into the past and far into the future. A mysterious figure from Spock’s youth – and who had once intervened to save his life – was revealed as the Red Angel and thus connected to Spock’s disappearance.

Where is Spock?

Meanwhile on the Klingon homeworld, Ash Tyler – whose true identity as a Klingon had been discovered – was able to leave the planet with his “son” thanks to the help of Section 31. The son of Voq and Klingon Chancellor L’Rell was taken away to the Klingon monastery on Boreth to be raised with the monks, and Tyler rejoined Section 31 – which counted ex-Empress Georgiou among its new recruits. Captain Leland tried to maintain the peace aboard a state-of-the-art Section 31 vessel.

Section 31 had come to rely heavily on an artificial intelligence named Control during the Klingon war, and it had become routine for Starfleet admirals to run all of their mission data through Control. Unbeknownst to any of them, Control had aspirations of its own, seeking to become fully sentient and to wipe out its creators. Somehow it discovered the existence of an entity known as the Sphere – a planetoid-sized lifeform that had spent more than 100,000 years studying the galaxy and accumulating vast swathes of data on all of its inhabitants.

The USS Discovery (left) and the Sphere.

By merging its programming with the Sphere data, Control would be able to become fully sentient, and it set out to acquire the Sphere data. Thanks to the time-traveling involvement of the Red Angel, the USS Discovery came to possess the Sphere data, and thus became a target for Control.

After Michael Burnham was able to rescue Spock from Section 31, she took him to Talos IV where the Talosians were able to help “unscramble” his brain, leading to Spock explaining as much as he could about the Red Angel, its origins, and its connection to him. The Red Angel was revealed to be a human.

The Talosians were able to help Spock.

The USS Discovery became a fugitive after rescuing Burnham and Spock from Talos IV; hunted by Control, and thus by Section 31 and all of Starfleet. Control was able to kill off many Section 31 leaders and operatives, and used nanites to “assimilate” or possess the body of Captain Leland – but thankfully left Ash Tyler and Georgiou alone!

The crew of Discovery studied scans of the Red Angel following a mission to Saru’s home planet (in which they rescued his people from subservience to the Ba’ul, a second sentient race present on the planet). Saru underwent a transformation to his “evolved” form, losing much of his fearfulness in the process. Scans of the Red Angel revealed that the time traveller was, to everyone’s surprise, Michael Burnham.

Michael Burnham was believed to be the Red Angel.

After a side-story involving native beings in the mycelial network and Tilly, Dr Culber – who had been killed by Tyler/Voq – was able to be rescued from the mycelial network and brought back to life. Meanwhile a plan to lure the Red Angel and trap her ended up proving that Burnham wasn’t the Red Angel – her long-lost mother was.

Dr Gabrielle Burnham had been using the Red Angel suit to interfere in the timeline after getting trapped in the 32nd Century. She arrived there by accident only to find all sentient life in the galaxy gone thanks to Control, which had acquired the Sphere Data and evolved itself. She began taking action to thwart Control, including giving the Sphere data to Discovery to keep safe. She was later pulled back to the 32nd Century; her presence there ultimately determined the ship’s destination at the end of the season.

Dr Gabrielle Burnham explained why she – as the Red Angel – was interfering with the timeline.

Control was hot on Discovery’s heels, and using Captain Leland attempted to gain access to the Sphere data. Pike and the crew realised the data couldn’t be destroyed – it was protecting itself – so they made a plan to send the data into the far future, securing a time crystal from the Klingon monastery on Boreth in order to build a new Red Angel suit. During the mission to Boreth, Captain Pike made a great sacrifice to acquire the crystal – cementing a future for himself of devastating disability.

While preparing for a last stand against Control and a fleet of Section 31 ships under its command, the crew of Discovery raced to build a second Red Angel suit. After Control arrived and a battle raged, Michael Burnham used the completed suit to travel back in time and set the Red Bursts – making the whole story somewhat circular – before leading the USS Discovery (now under Saru’s command) into the future. Captain Pike and Spock remained behind in the 23rd Century.

Season 3

On the bridge of the Enterprise, Captain Pike, Spock, and the crew watched the USS Discovery disappear.

Arriving 930 years later, Michael Burnham was initially alone and crash-landed on the planet Hima. There she met Cleveland Booker who told her about the Burn: a galaxy-wide catastrophe in which many starships were destroyed. The Federation had also disappeared – at least from the local region of space – and though Book initially appeared antagonistic and out for himself, he eventually agreed to help Burnham and took her to a Federation outpost.

There was no sign of Discovery, however, and it was a full year later before the ship emerged from the time-wormhole. After a rough landing on a planet named the Colony, Acting Captain Saru and the crew came into conflict with Zareh, a courier working for a faction called the Emerald Chain. Thanks to the timely arrival of Book and Burnham, Discovery was rescued and proceeded to Earth using the Spore Drive.

After a year in the future with Book, Michael Burnham was able to find Discovery again.

In the 125 years since the Burn, however, many changes had taken place. Earth was just one of many planets to have quit the Federation, retreating to an armed isolationist stance that even saw the planet unwilling to communicate with human colonies inside the Sol system. Searching for a Starfleet Admiral named Senna Tal seemed fruitless at first, but Tal’s Trill symbiont had been transferred to a human named Adira.

After helping the people of Earth reconnect with their fellow humans on Titan, Discovery visited the Trill homeworld to help Adira – and to learn the location of Federation HQ, which was no longer on Earth. Burnham and the crew were able to help the Trill, who had been suffering from a shortage of suitable candidates for their symbionts, and also helped Adira in the process. Discovery was then able to travel to Federation HQ – a cloaked space station that housed the remnants of both the Federation government and Starfleet.

The USS Discovery docked at Federation HQ.

Having peaked at around 350 members, by the time of Discovery’s arrival the Federation was down to a mere 38 remaining worlds, some of which were out of contact due to the Burn’s lingering effects and damage to subspace communications. The ship undertook a short mission to recover some seeds from the USS Tikhov – a Starfleet seed vault – in order to provide medical care. Nhan, a Barzan officer, remained behind on the Tikhov.

The USS Discovery then underwent a retrofit, one which kept the familiar interior look of the ship but which upgraded many of its systems to 32nd Century standards, including detached nacelles and programmable matter. The crew were permitted to remain together under Captain Saru’s command, but Discovery was seconded to Federation HQ as a “rapid response vessel” thanks to its Spore Drive.

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

Michael Burnham and Georgiou undertook an off-the-books mission to rescue Book, who had been captured by the Emerald Chain. The upshot of Book’s rescue was the discovery of a Starfleet black box, and the data inside proved that the Burn did not happen everywhere simultaneously, as had been theorised. Instead it had a point of origin – but without more information it wasn’t possible to pinpoint it.

SB-19 was a project run by Ni’Var – the renamed planet Vulcan following reunification between Vulcans and Romulans – in the years before the Burn. Ni’Var had come to believe that SB-19 was responsible for the Burn and were unwilling to share any details about the project, even though Burnham asked them to share it to help pinpoint the Burn’s source. Eventually, however, the reappearance of Dr Gabrielle Burnham, who was now a member of the Qowat Milat, an order of armed Romulan nuns, showed Burnham the way to get the information and recommit herself to Starfleet following a year away from the ship.

A holographic depiction of SB-19.

After acquiring the SB-19 data, Discovery undertook a mission to Book’s home planet of Kwejian. Threatened by the Emerald Chain and its leader, Osyraa, Book’s brother attempted to turn him over to the faction in exchange for protecting the harvest and thus Kwejian’s food supply. Piloting Book’s ship, Lieutenant Detmer was able to damage the Emerald Chain flagship while the crew of Discovery found a way to protect Kwejian’s food supply without the need to rely on the Emerald Chain.

Mirror Georgiou had fallen ill, and a mysterious Federation figure named Kovich knew why – travelling through time and travelling across from a parallel universe leads to a painful and fatal condition which he believed to be incurable. The USS Discovery undertook a mission to a planet near the Gamma Quadrant to help Georgiou, and she was able to travel to a parallel universe very similar to the Mirror Universe.

Burnham and Georgiou travelled to this planet to seek help for her illness.

While in the Mirror Universe, Georgiou attempted to make changes. Having spent time with Burnham and the Federation she had become more compassionate and less quick to violence than before, and though she ultimately failed to bring about major reforms to the Terran Empire, she was deemed “worthy” of a second chance by the entity which sent her there – an entity which subsequently revealed itself to be the Guardian of Forever.

Georgiou was able to use the Guardian’s portal to leave the 32nd Century and thus save her life – but she had to say goodbye to Saru, Burnham, and the rest of the crew. Her destination isn’t clear – but if the Section 31 series gets off the ground in future we may just find out! Don’t hold your breath for that, though… it’s feeling less and less likely as time goes by!

The Guardian of Forever sent Georgiou to an unknown destination in order to save her life.

With the data from the black boxes and SB-19, Burnham and the crew were able to triangulate the source of the Burn: the Verubin Nebula. Inside the nebula was a crashed Kelpien starship, the KSF Khi’eth, and a life-form was detected on board despite the dangerous radiation from the nebula. Discovery made another jump to the nebula, and Captain Saru left Ensign Tilly in charge while he went to save the lost Kelpien.

The Emerald Chain took advantage of this situation to capture the USS Discovery, wanting to keep the Spore Drive technology for themselves. Leader Osyraa then set course for Federation HQ, keeping Discovery’s crew hostage while she tried to force the Federation into an alliance. Admiral Vance called her bluff, and Osyraa attempted to escape. In the meantime, though, Michael Burnham had jettisoned poor Stamets off the ship, and without him to control the Spore Drive Discovery was forced to rely on warp.

Stamets was ejected into space – but don’t worry, he’s okay!

Following a battle with the Emerald Chain both in space and aboard Discovery, Book was able to kill Osyraa’s lieutenant Zareh and Burnham was able to kill Osyraa herself, while Tilly and other members of the bridge crew regained control of the ship. Book’s empathic abilities allowed him to use the Spore Drive, transporting Discovery back to the Verubin Nebula just in time to save Saru, Culber, Adira, Gray, and Su’Kal – the Kelpien who was accidentally responsible for the Burn all those years ago.

Su’Kal had developed a telepathic link with dilithium thanks to the Verubin Nebula’s radiation and because the Khi’eth had crashed on a planet composed largely of the valuable fuel. When Su’Kal’s mother died while he was still a child, a telepathic shockwave that Su’Kal accidentally unleashed led to the Burn. By taking him away from the Verubin Nebula, any prospect of a repeat of the Burn was nullified.

Saru was able to rescue Su’Kal and prevent a reoccurrence of the Burn.

A short epilogue to the season showed us that Trill had rejoined the Federation and that the Federation was hoping to use the dilithium in the Verubin Nebula to bring hope back to the galaxy. Ni’Var was considering rejoining too, and Saru took a leave of absence to go to Kaminar with Su’Kal. In his absence, Burnham had been promoted and assumed command of Discovery.

And that’s the story so far!

We now know that Captain Burnham and the crew will have to contend with a gravitational anomaly in Season 4; an uncharted, never-before-seen phenomenon that appears to be threatening the Federation and all of known space. How that will play out isn’t clear at all right now, but we don’t have to wait too much longer to find out!

The USS Discovery in the Season 4 trailer.

I hope that this recap of the story so far has been useful. I didn’t include everything – this article would have been far too long if I’d tried to include every character moment and side-story. But I think I hit the most important story beats from all three seasons. I’d encourage you to check out other story recaps from other places to make sure you’re getting a full picture, though! Or you could just go back and re-watch Discovery… two episodes per day will get you pretty close, and then binge-watch the final few!

Going back to the stories of earlier seasons was a bit of fun, and it’s helped get me back into a Star Trek mood in time for Season 4, which will be upon us before you know it! I’m currently not writing up reviews of Prodigy episodes, as you may have noticed – the series is unavailable here in the UK and I see no point in covering a show that ViacomCBS doesn’t see fit to make available to Trekkies internationally. However, I will cover Discovery’s fourth season in depth, including weekly episode reviews and theory posts, as well as other occasional articles on topics of interest while the season is ongoing. So I hope you’ll stay tuned for all of that here on the website in the weeks ahead.

Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix internationally. Season 4 will begin on the 18th of November in the United States and the 19th of November internationally. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.