Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 5

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

After a couple of weeks where Discovery took character-focused detours, The Examples brought the story right back to the DMA – the dark matter anomaly that’s wreaking havoc across the galaxy. We learned something incredibly significant this week that will most likely have a huge impact on the season’s main storyline… but is everything as it seems?

The biggest question I have right now is about Unknown Species 10-C. Who could they be? And are they a faction we’ve encountered in a past iteration of Star Trek? My heart wants to say they’re someone familiar; that all of the callbacks and references we’ve had in Season 4 so far are building to some kind of big reveal. But my head says “no” – Unknown Species 10-C will turn out to be someone new and unpredictable.

But enough about that for now! We have several theories that were advanced by The Examples this week, as well as one that was debunked and one that was at least partially confirmed. So let’s take a look at those and then get into the main list!

Debunked theory:
Dr Culber will tell Stamets that he needs to slow down.

Stamets and Culber in The Examples.

This one surprised me by being a complete inversion of what I was expecting! After Stamets had seemingly gotten lost in his work, overworking himself desperately trying to figure out the DMA, I felt sure that Dr Culber would have something to say. In Choose To Live, Stamets missed out on Gray’s incorporation, and wasn’t there to support Adira. In All Is Possible, he missed out on talking with Tilly before she left the ship.

I felt that Stamets perhaps needed someone – particularly the man he loves – to intervene and warn him about the dangers of overworking and the family moments he’s been missing. Instead it was Stamets who helped Dr Culber: Discovery’s doctor has been throwing himself into his work, too, neglecting his own mental health for the sake of his patients. It was a neat reversal of a storyline I was expecting – and I think we’ll see more in this vein from Stamets and Culber before the end of the season.

Confirmed theory:
The DMA is a super-weapon.

The moment at which the DMA’s artificial nature was confirmed.

Though it was arguably a conclusion that was arrived at too quickly near the beginning of The Examples, Stamets and Captain Burnham confirmed – thanks to some help from Zora – that the DMA is not a natural phenomenon. Though a natural disaster would have been an interesting story in itself, this always felt like the direction of travel for Discovery, so I wasn’t exactly stunned to learn this!

At present, Captain Burnham and Starfleet are working on the assumption that the DMA is a super-weapon – something I’d been predicting ever since we first heard that some kind of anomaly was going to be a major part of Season 4. Right now, that seems like a logical assumption – and it may very well be true. But as we’ll discuss in a moment, even though the assumption right now is that the DMA is a super-weapon, that may not actually prove to be the case. I can think of several ways in which the DMA could be artificial yet not a weapon! But for now, since Captain Burnham, Admiral Vance, and everyone else on the show are content to assume it’s a super-weapon of some kind, I’m calling this theory confirmed!

So those theories were debunked and confirmed.

Now we’ll get into the main list, beginning with the theories that are either brand-new or which saw significant movement in The Examples.

Theory #1:
The story will connect with the Short Treks episode Calypso.

The USS Discovery in Calypso.

This week we got a few lines from Zora – the USS Discovery’s shipboard AI that we first met in Calypso. Zora was involved in confirming the DMA’s artificial nature, but later in the episode we got something far more significant thanks to a short conversation with Captain Burnham: Zora has begun to experience emotions.

In Calypso, Zora was definitely an emotional life-form, so this evolution in their (her?) personality is a significant step toward Calypso – and one that I hadn’t really considered until after it had happened. Until now, the Zora aboard the USS Discovery had been different from the Zora we’d met in Calypso, but after this week’s episode we’re a big step closer to reconciling the two presentations of the character.

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. Despite all that, however, a connection is one step closer today than it was last week.

Theory #2:
Zora will go rogue.

Zora.

Sticking with Zora, their newfound emotions are a very interesting – and somewhat alarming – addition to the season’s storyline. When Data first installed his emotion chip in Generations, he found the new emotions overwhelming and impossible to cope with at first – could something similar be about to happen to Zora? Will they fail the crew at a key moment? Even worse, might Zora go rogue and become a villain?

The dangerous nature of artificial intelligence has been a theme Star Trek has returned to time and again since The Original Series episode The Ultimate Computer all the way back in 1968. But recent iterations of Star Trek in particular have used narratives involving evil or out-of-control AIs and synthetic life several times: there were the rogue synths and the super-synths in Star Trek: Picard’s first season, and in Discovery’s second season we had the Control AI.

Zora told Captain Burnham of a “recent development” in The Examples.

Captain Burnham seemed concerned at Zora’s newfound emotions, but had other things on her mind so didn’t have time to deal with it then and there. What might be even more concerning, though, is the fact that Zora chose to conceal that fact for a time, choosing not to share their most recent evolution.

Perhaps a storyline like this would feel repetitive coming after Season 2 had to deal with Control. But I think it could be made to work, and it could even be made to fit in with Calypso with a bit of creative writing! Whether this theory comes to pass or not, though, I think we’re going to see something significant from Zora before the end of Season 4.

Theory #3:
The DMA isn’t a super-weapon.

The DMA as seen in Anomaly.

Okay, I know! I just said that the DMA is a super-weapon and patted myself on the back for successfully predicting that story beat months ago! But here’s the thing… the DMA being artificial in nature doesn’t mean that it’s a weapon, despite the assumptions made by Captain Burnham, Admiral Vance, and others.

The DMA could be an out-of-control experiment, perhaps something designed to allow faster-than-light travel without the need for dilithium. Stamets and Ruon Tarka suspect that it possesses the technology to create a synthetic wormhole, something that could be very useful for travelling in a dilithium-poor galaxy.

An accident or an experiment gone wrong would set up a very different kind of story to a super-weapon, one that would replace a villainous adversary with a puzzle of a scientific nature. That could be a fun and interesting way for the season to go – not to mention that it would be subversive and challenging to the audience’s expectations.

Theory #4:
The DMA is a life-form.

The USS Enterprise and V’Ger in The Motion Picture.

The DMA could also turn out to be a life-form in its own right, perhaps a synthetic one or something akin to The Motion Picture’s V’Ger. If that were the case it may not be attacking anyone, but simply exploring or trying to make contact. After all, “they were only trying to communicate” has become a Star Trek trope at this point!

Star Trek has shown us many different forms of synthetic life over the years, and while the DMA would certainly be one of the most unusual, it wouldn’t be entirely without precedent. Seeking out new life is at the very core of Starfleet’s mission, and finding a way to communicate with the DMA and figure out what it wants or needs could be a very interesting story – one about understanding and bridging the chasm between different cultures and societies that Star Trek has always done so well.

Theory #5:
Unknown Species 10-C is a faction from a past iteration of Star Trek.

Could the Borg have built the DMA?

Regardless of the intention behind the DMA, it does indeed appear to be an artificial construct. Whoever created it had a reason for doing so, even if that reason isn’t clear right now! But who could be responsible?

I recently put together a list of suspects, and I strongly encourage you to check out the full list by clicking or tapping here.

If you don’t have time for that, here’s the condensed version: the Borg, the Sphere-Builders from Enterprise, the super-synths from Picard Season 1, the Kelvan Empire, Section 31, and Species 8472 are just some of the possible culprits. For a more detailed version, check out the full list linked above.

Theory #6:
President Rillak knows what the DMA is and may be responsible for its creation.

President Rillak in Kobayashi Maru.

We didn’t see President Rillak this week, though she was briefly mentioned by Admiral Vance. But when I think about the possible suspects for creating the DMA, the Federation – and by extension, President Rillak – are unquestionably on that list.

President Rillak is a cunning, almost Machiavellian politician, willing to do anything to advance what she considers to be the best interests of the Federation. I believe Captain Burnham needs to be very careful with President Rillak. During the events of All Is Possible, working with Captain Burnham was advantageous to the Federation’s president – but I have no doubt that she’d throw Burnham and the USS Discovery under the bus without so much as blinking if she believed it would be to her advantage. Which brings us to the DMA.

President Rillak might know more about the DMA than she’s currently letting on. If the Federation had created a weapon like this, or if it was an experiment gone wrong, covering it up might be her objective even if she wasn’t necessarily the one who ordered the DMA’s creation. Also, with the goal of reuniting the Federation foremost in her mind, President Rillak may prove to be the sort of uncompromising politician who’d willingly unleash destruction upon the galaxy if she believed that doing so would serve a greater purpose.

Theory #7:
Dr Kovich is an agent (or the head) of Section 31.

Dr Kovich in The Examples.

I freely admit that this theory is barely clinging on right now, but I don’t believe it’s been completely disproven just yet! The questions of who Dr Kovich is and what exactly his role is within Starfleet and/or the Federation have no clear answer right now. He’s clearly someone with power and influence, as we’ve seen him working with Admiral Vance and seemingly being able to appoint anyone he chooses to be an instructor at Starfleet Academy. Yet he also seems to have some medical training, serving as a psychologist or counsellor – and it’s in this capacity that we saw him this week.

Because of the unclear nature of his role and the mysterious, stoic presentation from David Cronenberg, Dr Kovich is still an enigma. He’s also the kind of man who could potentially be an agent of Section 31. If it turns out that the Federation, President Rillak, and/or Section 31 are involved with the DMA, perhaps we’ll learn that Dr Kovich is as well. Or perhaps such a storyline will finally put this theory to bed once and for all!

Theory #8:
Captain Burnham and/or the Red Angel suits from Season 2 are connected to the DMA.

Captain Burnham in Anomaly.

Now that we know the DMA is artificial in nature, the question shifts to who built it and why. We’ve covered the idea of it being a weapon or an out-of-control experiment, as well as being a life-form in its own right. It could also be the responsibility of Section 31 or the Federation. But because this is Star Trek: Discovery, a show which likes to put Captain Burnham at the centre of its stories, perhaps there’s a connection to her that we’re missing.

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

Theory #9:
Stamets and Ruon Tarka will create the DMA.

Stamets, Tarka, and Saru with the DMA model.

I included Stamets and Tarka on my list of suspects a couple of days ago, but they warrant a full entry on the theory list too! In short, we saw Stamets and Ruon Tarka creating a scale model of the DMA in The Examples, and according to Reno their experiment came very close to destroying the entire ship. They were able to perfectly recreate the device at the centre of the DMA, albeit on a smaller scale – so what’s to prevent them from building a full-scale replica?

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

Tarka and Stamets working on their model.

Ruon Tarka was shown as impatient in The Examples, and in his single-minded pursuit of the DMA he may be willing to take risks – perhaps risks which ultimately lead to the creation of the very anomaly he’s been investigating. How such a story would conclude is up in the air, but I don’t think we can rule it out as a possibility right now.

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

So those theories are new or saw movement this week.

As always, I like to keep all of my theories in one place. So up next we’ll recap all of the other Season 4 theories that are currently in play. I find it helpful to keep the full list going like this – it makes it easier to keep track of all of the theories as they get confirmed or debunked.

Theory #10:
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 #10a:
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 #10b:
The Abronians’ homeworld was on the “other side” of the DMA.

Abronian stasis pods.

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

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

Theory #10c:
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 #10d:
The Abronians’ moon-ship may be useful in a later story.

“That’s no moon…”

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

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

Theory #11:
Book will find Kyheem and Leto inside the DMA.

Book and Kyheem in Season 3.

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

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

Theory #12:
Saru will be given the captaincy of the USS Voyager-J.

The USS Voyager-J.

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

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

Theory #13:
A major character will be killed.

A Starfleet coffin seen in Deep Space Nine.

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

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

Spock’s funeral in The Wrath of Khan.

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

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

Theory #14:
There will be a character crossover from a past iteration of Star Trek.

Soji could potentially still be alive in the 32nd Century.

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

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

There were several great crossovers during The Next Generation era.

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

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

Theory #15:
Michael Burnham won’t remain captain of Discovery.

Burnham in the captain’s chair.

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

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

Captain Burnham in The Examples.

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

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

Theory #16:
The ban on time travel will be explained in more detail.

HMS Bounty was able to travel back in time.

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

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

Theory #17:
The Federation has flouted the ban on time travel.

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

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

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

Theory #18:
The crew will have to defend the Verubin Nebula.

The dilithium planet is vital to the Federation.

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

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

Another view of the planet in the Verubin Nebula.

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

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

Theory #19:
Captain Burnham and the crew will encounter the Klingons.

General Martok, a 24th Century Klingon leader.

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

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

Theory #20:
Some areas of the galaxy – such as the Delta Quadrant – avoided the worst effects of the Burn.

Stamets with a holographic galaxy map in The Examples.

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

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

Theory #21:
The Guardian of Forever will be back.

The Guardian of Forever first appeared in The Original Series.

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

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

So that’s the main theory list.

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

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

Tilly’s departure feels permanent.

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

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

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

Is a fifth season going to happen?

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

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

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

So that’s it.

What adventure awaits the crew later this week?

Those are all of the theories that are currently in play as we await Stormy Weather – the sixth episode of Season 4. We’re accumulating quite a few theories, some of which completely contradict one another! So far, Discovery’s fourth season has been an interesting journey. We’ve has some slower character moments, some semi-episodic stories (that may yet come back into play), and some interesting developments in regards to the DMA. As we near the halfway point of the season, there are still many different ways that the story could go.

Stormy Weather looks like it’ll bring back Grudge – I hope the cute little ball of fluff will be okay! A dark matter anomaly is no place for a puss!

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

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

Star Trek: Discovery theories – weeks 1-2

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.

Now that all of the international broadcasting nonsense is out of the way, let’s get back into my weekly Discovery theory updates! We only missed one week, and there’s still a ton of speculating to be done about the story of Season 4, the gravitational anomaly, and what might become of some of our favourite characters.

If you’re new to my weekly theory updates for Discovery Season 4, here’s how the format works: after every episode I go back to my theory list. I cross off theories that have been debunked, celebrate any that appear to have been confirmed, update any that have seen progression, and add any new theories that the most recent episode has spawned. There will be some theories that, for whatever reason, the most recent episode didn’t advance in any way, so those will simply be restated to keep the list up-to-date and in one place!

I wrote up all of my pre-season theories into one list a couple of weeks ago, so this time we’ve already got two confirmations to take a look at before we jump into the main list.

Confirmed theory #1: The Spore Drive will be rolled out to more ships.

Book in Discovery’s Spore Drive cube.

Finally! After the revelation in the Season 3 finale that Book – and potentially anyone else with similar empathic abilities – could control the Spore Drive, the last hurdle in the way of it being rolled out to other Starfleet ships had been surmounted. It finally feels like Discovery is on the cusp of finding another use for what had been one of the most controversial technologies introduced in the series.

In Kobayashi Maru this was almost treated as a throwaway line, so I wouldn’t blame you if you missed it, but President Rillak confirmed that a “next-generation” Spore Drive is being developed by Starfleet as part of the Federation’s plans to rebuild and expand. It wasn’t stated on screen, but I wonder if the USS Voyager-J might be fitted with a Spore Drive as part of its retrofit; the vessel was in spacedock, after all.

The USS Discovery makes a Spore Drive jump.

I’d been hoping that the series would go down this road for a while. Moving forward in time to the 32nd Century means there are no “canon purist” arguments in favour of abandoning the Spore Drive, keeping it a secret, or ensuring that only the USS Discovery could use it. And the events of the Season 3 finale seemed deliberately designed to create an easy way to expand the Spore Drive to more ships – perhaps even paving the way for future Star Trek productions in this era.

We don’t yet know what the implications will be of Kwejian’s destruction on Starfleet’s plans. It was implied in the Season 3 finale that anyone with empathic abilities could use the Spore Drive, not only Kwejian natives, so the loss of Kwejian and most of its population shouldn’t mean that the Spore Drive expansion has to be abandoned. It might be possible for Betazoids, Deltans, or even Vulcans to train to become Spore Drive navigators.

Confirmed theory #2: A new character joined the main cast.

A new name has been spotted in the opening credits!

Following the departures of Nhan and Georgiou, it felt like there was definitely scope to either promote a recurring character to the main cast or create at least one new one! We’ve met President Rillak, who seems like she’ll become a recurring character, but the one who’s been promoted to join the main cast is Blu del Barrio’s character of Adira.

Adira makes a great addition to Discovery’s main cast of characters, occupying a similar role to Tilly in Season 1 in particular. As Tilly has undergone significant character growth across the show’s first three seasons, there was scope to bring someone brand-new aboard the ship, and having that person be someone young and eager is a positive thing. Adira is not only involved in their own storyline with Gray and Dr Culber, but also as a scientist can work with Stamets, Tilly, Saru, and Captain Burnham. I think Adira has the potential to be a versatile character in whatever stories lie ahead.

My original version of this theory centred around the question of Captain Burnham’s first officer. Now that we know that role has gone to Saru, it seems as though the main and recurring characters for this season are set.

So those theories were confirmed. Now we’ll take a look at some new theories and a few updated theories.

Theory #1: President Rillak knows what the anomaly is… and may be responsible for its creation.

President Rillak in Kobayashi Maru.

This ties into a broader point that we’ll be considering from several angles: the possibility that the gravitational anomaly is not a natural phenomenon. If the anomaly is artificial in nature, the question of who is responsible for its creation crops up. It could be a weapon deployed by another faction, of course, but it could also be a Federation creation – perhaps a weapon designed to defend against the Borg, a rogue experiment to try and prevent a second Burn, or something else entirely.

If that’s the case, President Rillak almost certainly knows more about the anomaly than she’s willing to say right now. Perhaps she’s hoping that it won’t be what she fears it is, or perhaps she’s trying to cover her own back – Captain Burnham did go out of her way to describe her as a “politician,” after all.

Does President Rillak know more about the anomaly than she’s saying?

President Rillak is a character with depth, not simply an “evil admiral” character trope. But it wouldn’t be the first time that Discovery has presented us with a fairly hard-line character in a position of authority who turns out to be concealing a dark secret.

As the head of the Federation, President Rillak is committed to doing whatever it takes to preserve the organisation. The anomaly may have been part of those plans… somehow. If she isn’t responsible for its creation directly, she may still know what it is if a past Federation President signed off on its creation. She may be covering up that secret on behalf of the Federation.

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

Captain Burnham.

Though we did see some moves away from Discovery’s laser-focus on Michael Burnham in Season 3, the show has put her front-and-centre in all of its main storylines so far. Season 2’s Red Angel storyline was connected to Burnham in a major way, and I wonder if Burnham might similarly have some kind of connection to the anomaly that she’s currently unaware of.

Perhaps the Red Angel suit, which Burnham sent back in time in the Season 3 premiere, malfunctioned somehow, and its powerful wormhole-creating technology gave rise to the gravitational anomaly. If the Red Angel suit completed its journey back to the 23rd Century, the anomaly may have had centuries to grow and expand unchecked.

This was the last we saw of the Red Angel suit back at the beginning of Season 3.

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

If time travel is involved, perhaps a future Captain Burnham or a parallel universe Captain Burnham could be responsible for the anomaly’s creation – either intentionally or not.

Theory #3: Gray’s transfer to a new body won’t be simple.

A holographic representation of Gray’s synthetic body.

I adored the scene with Gray, Adira, and Dr Culber in Anomaly. As someone who’s struggled to come to terms with my own gender identity and my gender expression, it was so deeply relatable to see Gray “customising” his new body. But also included in that scene was a line from Dr Culber about how the “Soong method” used to transfer consciousness into a synthetic form has a very low success rate.

I suspect that line was included as a kind of pre-emptive plot hole plug that will have nothing to do with Gray! If the Soong method was said to work every time, then it would be very difficult to kill off any Star Trek characters from the 25th Century onwards, because fans would rightly ask “why didn’t they transfer to a synth body?” So I suspect that’s why the line was included.

Admiral Picard had his consciousness transferred to a synthetic body in the finale of Picard Season 1.

However, it felt a little ominous for poor Gray. It was great to see that Adira, Dr Culber, and others had been working hard to help Gray become seen again after the events of Season 3, and I have no doubt that somehow we’ll see Gray in a physical body before the season is over. But we’re only two episodes in at time of writing – will it really happen so quickly, and so seemingly simply?

I’m not convinced of that yet! There are many things that could go wrong, delay the transfer, or prevent it entirely. And there are an unlimited number of technobabble explanations for finding a new way to give Gray a body! So let’s see what happens – but I wonder if this storyline might have a few twists and turns along the way.

Theory #4: Book will find Kyheem and Leto inside the gravitational anomaly.

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. We don’t know what the gravitational anomaly is yet; one of my very early pre-season theories involved the Nexus, but that seems to be debunked already! However, the anomaly’s mysterious nature raises the faint possibility that at least some of those it appears to have “killed” may not be as dead as they first appear.

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

Theory #5: The anomaly is a sentient life-form.

Could the anomaly be similar to V’Ger?

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

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

Theory #6: Saru will be given the captaincy of the USS Voyager-J.

The USS Voyager-J.

Saru’s future was briefly discussed before he offered to serve as Captain Burnham’s first officer. 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?

At time of writing, a fifth season of Discovery hasn’t been officially confirmed. But if the show is to run for another season – or more – the question of Saru’s role comes up. It would be possible to work out a way to keep him on board as first officer for longer than one season, and in many ways I think that’s something fans would want to see. But at the same time, from an in-universe point of view, it kind of makes sense for Starfleet to use its experienced captains where possible.

Captain Saru.

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.

If Saru did depart Discovery in a future episode or season, could that perhaps set the stage for Star Trek: Saru… or perhaps Star Trek: Voyager-J? That’s a very interesting possibility! One element of Season 3 that I felt didn’t really get as much attention as it might’ve was that Saru was the Star Trek franchise’s first non-human captain (in a leading role). There’s perhaps scope to follow him on another adventure sometime in the future.

Theory #7: The gravitational anomaly is a superweapon.

The USS Discovery approaching the anomaly in the second Season 4 trailer.

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

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

Theory #7a: The Borg are responsible.

A Borg drone seen in The Next Generation.

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

Theory #7b: The super-synths from Picard Season 1 are responsible.

This is all we really saw of the super-synths.

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

Theory #7c: The Kelvan Empire is responsible.

Rojan, a representative of the Kelvan Empire.

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

Theory #7d: The Sphere-Builders from Enterprise are responsible.

A Sphere-Builder seen in Enterprise.

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

So those theories were new or saw some advancement in the first two episodes of the season.

To keep these theory posts as uncomplicated as possible, I like to keep all of my theories in one place. So below you’ll find all of my other Season 4 theories. These weren’t debunked or confirmed in the first two episodes, and indeed saw no real movement at all. They remain in play, though.

Theory #8: A major character will be killed.

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

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

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

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

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

There are also a couple of characters who feel in danger for different reasons. For a full breakdown of which characters I think might be on the proverbial chopping block, check out my list of “death predictions” by clicking or tapping here.

Theory #9: There will be a character crossover from a past iteration of Star Trek.

Voyager’s Doctor is a contender!

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

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

Could Sutra still be alive in the 32nd Century?

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

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

Theory #10: Burnham may not remain in the captain’s chair.

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

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

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

Captain Burnham in Anomaly.

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

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

Theory #11: Kovich works for Section 31.

Kovich in Season 3.

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

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

Theory #12: The ban on time travel will be explained further.

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

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

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

Theory #13: The Federation has flouted the ban on time travel.

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

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

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

Theory #14: The story will connect with the Short Treks episode Calypso.

The USS Discovery seen in Calypso.

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

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

Theory #15: The crew will have to defend the Verubin Nebula.

The dilithium planet at the centre of the Verubin Nebula.

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

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

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

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

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

Theory #16: Captain Burnham and the crew will encounter the Klingons.

The Klingons have been part of Discovery since the beginning.

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

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

Theory #17: Some areas of the galaxy – such as the Delta Quadrant – avoided the worst effects of the Burn.

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

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

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

Theory #18: The Guardian of Forever will be back.

Carl – the Guardian of Forever’s new persona.

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

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

So that’s it! Those are all of the theories I currently have in play.

Stay tuned for weekly updates to this list after new episodes air! I try very hard to publish my theory updates in between episodes so that nothing is out-of-date! Season 4 is off to an exciting start – and there are plenty of mysterious elements to get stuck into.

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 3 – my worst theory failures!

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

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

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

Book’s ship at warp in the season premiere.

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

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

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

Number 1: Cleveland Booker is a Coppelius synth.

Book and his adoptive brother in the episode The Sanctuary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Burn-ham.

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

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

One of two Red Angel suits seen in Season 2.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Number 4: Lieutenant Detmer is going to die.

Lieutenant Detmer in People of Earth.

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

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

Detmer eventually survived the season.

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

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

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

The Doctor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craft, the protagonist of Calypso.

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

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

The unmanned USS Discovery tows Craft’s pod.

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

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

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

The USS Discovery making a Spore Drive jump.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Issa’s holographic message.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The holographic “monster.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“An alternate reality?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had some pretty significant theory misses last season!

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

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

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

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

Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 8

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

After a couple of episodes that I wasn’t especially impressed with, Discovery came roaring back this week with The Sanctuary, a busy episode that had plenty going on. It managed to tell both a semi-standalone story as Book returned to his homeworld as well as throw into the mix several ongoing storylines.

In terms of theories, The Sanctuary gave us a lot – certainly the most movement we’ve seen in several weeks. There are two theories being retired, two more being debunked, three brand-new ones, and several significant advancements.

Debunked theory #1: There will be some kind of tie-in with the Deep Space Nine Season 2 episode Sanctuary.

Major Kira in Sanctuary.

When I postulated this theory last week I called it a “total stab in the dark,” and I’m not surprised to see it fail to pan out. Having looked through the episode a couple of times I saw no hint or reference to the Skrreeans, their mythical planet of Ketanna, or their new homeworld of Drayon II.

Because Discovery had used Unification III a week earlier to connect to the two-part episode from The Next Generation, I considered it at least possible that there might’ve been some kind of reference or callback to Deep Space Nine. It was just a thought, though, and has no real impact on the show going forward!

Debunked theory #2: The music Burnham keeps noticing is indicative of having crossed into a parallel universe.

Adira plays the melody on their cello.

We learned this week that the recurring music is connected to the signal coming from the Verubin Nebula. How, exactly, the signal managed to convey a piece of music subconsciously to half the galaxy is unknown, but it’s clearly not connected to being in a parallel universe.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to abandon the idea of Burnham and Discovery having crossed into a different universe, but it does mean that the music is not indicative of that.

So those theories were debunked. Next we have two theories that I’m choosing to retire. While it isn’t fair to call either “debunked,” as there was no on-screen confirmation, the way the story has moved on is now strongly suggesting that neither will pan out.

Retiring theory #1: Booker is a Coppelius synth.

Book and Kyheem use their empathic abilities.

Though never stated outright, the origin of Book seems to be that he’s a Kwejian native. Why he chose to adopt a human name is unclear, as is what the exact nature of a Kwejian native is! Are they descended from humans or a human colony on that world? Are they a different race entirely? Book’s empathic abilities seem to imply the latter, but The Sanctuary didn’t really go into too much detail. Perhaps we’ll learn more on another occasion.

Regardless, it’s looking more and more likely that Book’s abilities are in no way meant to be indicative of a synthetic origin. While it’s technically possible we could learn, in a later story, that the civilisation on Kwejian is synthetic, I doubt it right now. And thus we can officially retire this theory.

As a side note, I don’t feel the storyline we got with Book’s background actually accomplished very much. Though Book had demonstrated his empathic abilities in his first appearance, everything else about him seemed to be human, and though learning the nature of his abilities was something I think a lot of us were curious about, the ultimate resolution to them being “he’s just a new kind of alien from a new planet” doesn’t feel especially interesting. If this was Book’s ultimate destination, why not just have him be up front with Burnham in That Hope Is You about his origins? Why go to the trouble of making us think he could be human only to change it later? It wasn’t like Book’s homeworld or race were significant to the main story of the season; if anything the scenes on Kwejian in The Sanctuary felt like a standalone story, as I noted in my review. I’m not upset about what we learned, but the way in which this story thread unfolded is just a little odd.

Retiring theory #2: Lieutenant Detmer is going to die.

Detmer in control of Book’s ship.

After a narrative that tried to touch on the broad issues of post-traumatic stress and mental health, it seems as though Detmer’s first real storyline has come to an end. The Sanctuary saw her regain much of her confidence as she took the helm of Book’s ship, and as of the end of the episode seemed happier and much more settled.

In truth we’d been seeing movement away from this theory for several weeks, but after there had been so much hinting at a possible unpleasant end to Discovery’s helmswoman in Far From Home I wanted to wait and see how it panned out before striking it from the list. We could certainly still see Detmer killed in some way, perhaps by Osyraa extracting revenge for the attack on her vessel, but if that’s going to happen it would be unconnected to her initial injuries earlier in the season. Since my theory was based on the idea that Detmer was suffering some kind of undiagnosed injury or implant-related condition, I’m now retiring it. I’m not sure how much more we’ll see of her this season now that her arc appears to have been resolved, but as above, if we get new information that again points to this being a possibility, I can always bring the theory back at that point.

So those theories have been retired. If the storyline of the season changes again, it’s possible they could come back. But as of right now they seem to be so unlikely as to no longer warrant inclusion on the official theory list. Speaking of, let’s get into the main list, beginning with those theories that are new or saw major movement this week.

Number 1: A time-travelling (or parallel universe) USS Discovery is at the centre of the nebula – and may be responsible for the Burn.

The USS Discovery in a nebula in the Short Treks episode Calypso.

This is the first of three ideas I have for the source of the Federation signal at the centre of the Verubin Nebula, and it gets to go first because I consider it to be the most likely.

Just to briefly recap, after using a combination of Starfleet black boxes and the data from a secret project codenamed SB-19, Stamets, Adira, Tilly, and Saru traced the Burn’s point of origin to the Verubin Nebula. Something within the nebula is emitting a signal, part of which was a familiar piece of music that many people in the 32nd Century are familiar with, but hidden deep within the signal was a “Federation distress signal.” Adira began the task of decoding the signal, but as of the end of The Sanctuary, the message was still hidden.

In the Short Treks episode Calypso, the USS Discovery was found abandoned in a nebula by Craft. Craft was a soldier in a war against the V’draysh; an alternate name for the Federation in the 32nd Century. Zora, an AI present aboard the USS Discovery, told Craft the ship had been abandoned for almost a thousand years, and not only have we seen the potential creation of Zora earlier this season (from a merger of Discovery’s computer and the Sphere data) but in addition, Season 3 takes place 930 years in the future from Discovery’s original 23rd Century setting. If Discovery had been abandoned at that time, things begin to fall into place.

There are two possibilities for how it could be the USS Discovery – which, of course, has not been abandoned – in that nebula: the ship will be sent back in time, or it has crossed over from an alternate timeline or parallel universe – it could have even crossed over from the prime timeline if Season 3 is itself taking place in an alternate reality!

Time travel and parallel universe stories quickly get complicated, so Discovery will need to work hard to pull this off – if indeed the story is headed in this direction.

Number 2: A familiar starship is at the centre of the nebula – and may be responsible for the Burn.

Could the Enterprise-E be hiding at the centre of the nebula?

If not the USS Discovery, then who could it be at the centre of the Verubin Nebula? How about one of the hero ships from a past iteration of Star Trek? We could encounter the USS Defiant, the Enterprise-E, Riker’s USS Titan, or Star Trek: Picard’s La Sirena among many others. If such a vessel were caught in a temporal anomaly, that would explain their presence in the 32nd Century – and if time travel is involved, from their point of view the Burn may have only just happened, instead of happening 120 years ago.

It’s more likely, though, that any ship Saru and the crew find in the nebula would be deserted so long after the Burn – either abandoned by its crew or having become their tomb. If it is a familiar ship, we could thus see the ultimate end of a significant character (or multiple characters) from a past iteration of Star Trek.

The one exception to this could be La Sirena. This would be totally out of left-field for the Star Trek franchise, and keeping a lid on a secret this big would be difficult. But it would finally accomplish something I’ve been arguing for for a while: simplifying the Star Trek franchise. If La Sirena were discovered, along with Picard and his crew, Picard Season 2 could join Discovery in the 32nd Century. I don’t consider this likely, but it would be a fascinating way for the Star Trek franchise to go!

Number 3: The Red Angel suit is at the centre of the nebula – and may be responsible for the Burn.

Dr Gabrielle Burnham’s Red Angel suit.

Of note was the fact that Tilly described the distress signal coming from the Verubin Nebula as being of “Federation” origin, not Starfleet origin. This could mean that we won’t find a Starfleet vessel there, but rather some other Federation entity.

Burnham’s Red Angel suit was last seen on Hima when she sent it back in time. She ordered the suit to self-destruct, but as we never saw the destruction on screen, what became of the suit after it sent the final Red Burst is unknown. Was it captured, intercepted, or damaged? Could someone have stolen it with a view to weaponising it? It’s at least a possibility.

If Discovery wants to present the Burn as an accident or disaster rather than a deliberate act, having the Red Angel suit malfunction could be one way of doing that. Rather than requiring a villain, the story of the season could instead see the crew unravelling a scientific puzzle, one which points to Discovery and her crew as the origin of the Burn, but in such a way that they themselves are blameless.

Obviously all three of these Verubin Nebula theories can’t be true! If I had to put money on it I’d pick the USS Discovery, but Season 3 has been an unpredictable ride, and it could easily be something entirely different that I’ve failed to predict. What I would say, though, is having set this up as something mysterious, there’s a risk the resolution could feel anticlimactic if it turns out to be a random starship with no connection to anyone on Discovery.

Number 3A: The name “Burn” is derived from the name Burnham.

Burnham in Unification III.

Connected to the theory above, if indeed the Red Angel suit is the source of the Burn, perhaps the name of the event is derived from the name of the wearer of the Red Angel suit – either Michael or Gabrielle Burnham.

As noted above with the music, the signal emanating from the Verubin Nebula has – somehow – subconsciously embedded itself in people all across the galaxy. They first heard the music that way, so what if they also heard part of the distress signal? Present in the signal could be the name of the person issuing it – Burnham. If the distress signal is connected to the Burn’s origin, at the exact moment the Burn occurred, people could have subconsciously heard the name and connected the two events.

The signal could also be the suit – or its occupant – attempting to contact Burnham.

I speculated way back when I looked at possible Burn origins before the season premiered that it was, at the very least, an odd coincidence that in a show all about Michael Burnham there’s a disastrous event called “the Burn.” Could these two seemingly unconnected things actually be related?

I stand by what I said a few weeks ago: if it is somehow Burnham’s fault, calling the event “the Burn” sounds way better than calling it “the Ham!”

Number 4: The Burn was a superweapon – perhaps one the Federation or Section 31 built.

The Burn.

The presence of a Federation distress signal at (or very close to) the source of the Burn would seem to suggest the cataclysmic event was triggered by that starship or person. While that could certainly have been an accident, it may not be. The Burn could be a superweapon – one developed by Starfleet or Section 31, perhaps designed to counter a galactic-scale threat like the Borg or the super-synths from Star Trek: Picard.

It could also have been a revenge attack; some kind of galactic-scale mutually-assured destruction. If the Federation, Section 31, or some other organisation launched an attack against someone, the Burn may be that faction’s retaliation. That would explain the lack of an invader: they were already dead.

Both Admiral Vance and Kovich have stated that they don’t know what caused the Burn, and they don’t consider any of the many theories more or less likely than others. Kovich could be lying, but Admiral Vance certainly seemed genuine. However, given how long ago the Burn was, it’s possible the knowledge of what caused it has been lost or deliberately concealed, either by Starfleet, Section 31, or whichever faction was responsible.

The Federation distress signal strongly hints at Starfleet’s involvement. So the question is this: if the Burn was a superweapon, were they the perpetrator or the target?

Number 5: The Emerald Chain will attempt to steal the USS Discovery and/or the Spore Drive.

Ryn explains the Emerald Chain’s dilithium problem to Tilly.

Ryn confided in Tilly that the reason Osyraa – the Emerald Chain’s leader – is so keen to recover him is because he knows their biggest secret: the Emerald Chain is running out of dilithium. This will undoubtedly make the faction more aggressive as it looks to shore up its position, but now that they’ve seen Discovery able to jump to Kwejian, perhaps Osyraa and her people will begin to suspect that the ship has a powerful new method of propulsion.

This connects with a theory I’ve been talking about for a couple of weeks, that Discovery’s Spore Drive will not remain a secret. Admiral Vance told Starfleet’s senior officers about the Spore Drive in Scavengers, and I picked up at least a hint that not everyone was happy about this disruption to the established hierarchy of Starfleet. Could someone within Starfleet – such as Lieutenant Willa – have passed along to the Emerald Chain details of the USS Discovery?

Even if none of that happens, with Discovery jumping all over the galaxy – to Earth, Trill, Ni’Var, Federation HQ, and the location of the USS Tikhov – how long until some other faction notices? Sensors still exist, after all, and must be pretty good and have decent range by this time period. The Ni’Var learned about the Spore Drive as well, and they are no longer Federation members. Will they keep Starfleet’s secret?

Number 6: Mirror Georgiou has been tampered with by Section 31.

Georgiou in The Sanctuary.

Surely it isn’t a coincidence that Georgiou was perfectly fine until her encounter with the mysterious Kovich in Die Trying. After undergoing a medical examination for her hallucinations/blackouts, Georgiou hacked into Discovery’s medical database and, upon seeing the results, jumped to the conclusion that she is dying.

Dr Culber told her things may not be quite that simple, and for production-side reasons I’m confident that she will survive the season – she’s due to be the main character in the upcoming Section 31 series, after all! But what caused her ailment and why it’s manifested itself now is currently unknown.

Though we only have timing to back up this theory, Kovich stated that he has a fascination with Terrans and Terran physiology, so if anyone we’ve met so far was capable of harming Georgiou, he’s our prime suspect. His uniform was different from anyone else we met in Starfleet, as was his demeanour, and I think it’s possible that he’s an agent of Section 31.

Perhaps Section 31 came to the conclusion some centuries ago that Terrans are irredeemable troublemakers, and the only thing to do is kill them. Or perhaps Kovich/Section 31 had another aim with Georgiou, such as some kind of torturous interrogation, that went awry. Or the hallucinations could have been planted deliberately so Georgiou could be manipulated into working for Section 31. There are myriad possibilities!

Number 7: Mirror Georgiou will travel back in time.

Georgiou has been hallucinating and experiencing blackouts.

One circle that needs to be squared is how Georgiou could be included in the upcoming Section 31 show – which supposedly takes place in the 23rd Century – given her presence aboard Discovery. I’ve been speculating for weeks that she might travel back in time, and perhaps now we’re getting closer to finding out why – and how.

Kovich told us that the Mirror Universe and the current universe have “drifted apart” over the centuries, and crossing over may no longer be possible. If Georgiou wanted to return to the Mirror Universe – or needed to for some reason, such as to cure her ailment and save her life – she would therefore need to travel back in time.

If she took the USS Discovery with her, this could link up with the mysterious ship in the Verubin Nebula as well as the Short Treks episode Calypso. She may even take Kovich with her; he expressed an appreciation for the Mirror Universe and may want to visit for himself.

Number 8: Discovery Season 3 is taking place in an alternate timeline or parallel universe.

“An alternate reality?”

In the past couple of weeks we’ve seen two key elements of this theory fall away: the absence of Dr Gabrielle Burnham and the mysterious music. The presence of the planet Vulcan – now known as N’Var – also removed any possibility that Season 3 is taking place in the Kelvin timeline. However, there are still reasons to think this theory may be borne out.

Burnham mentioned during her debrief that unexplained “gravitational waves” in the time-wormhole pushed her and Discovery off-course, which is why they didn’t arrive at the planet Terralysium. The acknowledgement of problems within the time-wormhole may indicate that they crossed over into a different universe or reality.

There are also hints from past iterations of Star Trek – including Enterprise and Voyager most prominently – that the Burn did not occur in the prime timeline. Discovery could ignore these as they’re all rather ambiguous, but it’s worth acknowledging their existence as we consider these things.

The second half of this theory is that the Burn happened due to the interference of a time traveller or time travelling faction. From Starfleet’s point of view, the timeline in which the Burn occurred is not the “true” timeline, and thus part of the resolution to the Burn may be travelling through time to undo it.

In previous weeks I considered the first half of this theory – the parallel universe part – more likely. The re-emergence of Dr Burnham has shaken that up, however, and now both are about equal in terms of likeliness.

So those theories are new or saw movement this week. As always, to keep everything in one place I’ll now recap the other theories that are still in play. If you want to see any of these in their original theory posts, a complete archive can be found on my dedicated Star Trek: Discovery page.

Number 9: There will be further tie-ins with Calypso (the Short Treks episode).

NCC-1031.+

I don’t believe we’ve seen the last of the Calypso tie-ins after we seemed to get the creation of the Zora AI a couple of weeks ago. However, one thing that’s definitely interesting right now is that the USS Discovery as it appeared in Calypso no longer exists. The ship was retrofitted in Scavengers, and in addition to features like programmable matter interfaces and detachable nacelles, now sports the designation NCC 1031-A.

This is important because, as you can see above, we got a clear look at Discovery in Calypso, and not only were the ship’s nacelles very much attached to the hull, the designation clearly lacks the -A addition. So how will this circle be squared? That is very much up for debate right now!

My theory is that, if indeed Discovery somehow travels backwards in time this season, the crew will very deliberately un-retrofit the ship first, removing any 32nd Century features to avoid polluting the timeline in case of accidental discovery. As mentioned, the biggest indication that this theory may be true right now is the existence of a Federation signal within the Verubin Nebula. Discovery was in a nebula in Calypso – so could this be the way the two stories intersect?

Number 10: Tilly is going to go rogue.

Tilly with Captain Saru and Adira in The Sanctuary.

One line which stuck with me from Unification III was when Tilly asked Saru if he chose her to be his first officer because he believed her to be “compliant.” He ducked the question, but it was at least hinted that he does indeed see her as someone who will do as she’s told. Having experienced the Burnham problem, perhaps that’s a knee-jerk reaction from Saru, and one which, if true, would make me question his judgement. But the line carried with it a potentially serious implication – Tilly may choose, at a certain moment, not to comply.

She may do so to assist Burnham in some way, and if Tilly were to disobey orders – as she stated she would in Scavengers when talking with Saru – I would assume it would be for this reason. But there may be something else that causes her to go rogue, following in Burnham’s footsteps. I can’t say exactly what it could be if not Burnham, but we’ve had two lines that can certainly be interpreted to say that Tilly may be less “compliant” than Saru hopes.

Number 11: The Spore Drive will become Starfleet’s new method of faster-than-light propulsion.

Discovery makes a Spore Drive jump.

SB-19, whether it caused the Burn or not, was an imperfect way to travel when compared to the Spore Drive. At present, only Discovery is capable of using the mycelial network, but that could change. What the implications of that would be on races like the JahSepp, who are native to the mycelial network, is not clear, but assuming it would be safe to use the network to travel, Spore Drives may yet be installed on all of Starfleet’s ships.

At the moment Discovery relies on Stamets as navigator; without him, accessing the mycelial network is not possible. But if, as was hinted at in Forget Me Not, it’s possible to create a non-human navigator, a major obstacle to other vessels using the Spore Drive melts away.

This theory would allow the resolution to the Burn to keep the current timeline intact – there would be no need to go back in time and undo anything, nor would there be a deus ex machina of a sudden discovery of a huge cache of dilithium. Instead, Starfleet could get back on its feet using the Spore Drive – finally finding a proper use for Discovery’s most controversial piece of technology!

Number 12: A character from a past iteration of Star Trek – such as the Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager – will make an appearance.

Robert Picardo played the Doctor in all seven seasons of Star Trek: Voyager.

As the season drags on, I must admit that there are fewer chances for this theory to come true. However, as Burnham and Discovery race to the source of the Burn, we have absolutely no idea what they’ll find. If it’s a temporal anomaly of some kind, they could encounter practically anyone from Wesley Crusher to Sybok. There have been subtle hints that the Burn may be connected to time travel, and if it is, that opens the door to practically any past Star Trek character to appear – either with their original actor or, as we saw with Dr Maddox in Picard, having been recast.

As mentioned above, if the source of the distress signal is a ship from a past iteration of Star Trek, that could introduce one or more legacy characters – dead or alive.

Before Season 3 premiered I made the case for Voyager’s Doctor – or rather, a backup copy of him seen in the Season 4 episode Living Witness – being a prime candidate for inclusion. Aside from him, other characters I suggested included Soji (or a synth who looks like her), Lore, Captain Sisko, and Enterprise’s Crewman Daniels – the latter of whom was a 30th/31st Century temporal agent. Any of these could reasonably be alive in the 32nd Century, and characters who have long lifespans or are known to have spent time in the far future are perhaps more likely to appear.

Having seen a tie-in with Picard via the appearance of the Qowat Milat, it gives me hope that Discovery will find more ways to tie itself to the wider Star Trek franchise. A character crossover is a spectacular way of doing that, and as The Next Generation showed with episodes like Relics, the passage of centuries is no barrier to such a crossover in a sci-fi world. Until the credits roll on the season finale, I’ll keep advocating this theory!

Number 13: The ships at Federation HQ represent the majority of Starfleet’s remaining vessels. And they’re all 120+ years old.

Discovery docked at Starfleet HQ.

How many ships were present as Discovery arrived at Federation HQ? Ten? Twelve? It wasn’t much more than that, that’s for sure. In a post-Burn environment, one where the Federation has shrunk considerably and where dilithium is in short supply, it’s possible that these ships are all that remain of the once-mighty Starfleet.

In That Hope Is You, Mr Sahil noted two Federation ships in flight, so perhaps we can say from his comment that there are at least two more! But I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that we’ve seen the bulk of Starfleet. Certainly the Federation seems incapable of either building any more ships nor fielding a large armada right now, which is perhaps one of the reasons why they need to keep their base cloaked.

Because of the catastrophic nature of the Burn, it also seems highly likely that shipbuilding facilities would have been damaged, destroyed, or would be inaccessible. That may mean that the Federation’s fleet entirely consists of ageing vessels, each one over 120 years old and probably not designed for being in service this long. In addition, without fuel what would be the point of expending a lot of resources building a new ship?

Number 14: Burnham’s Red Angel suit has been stolen.

Burnham’s suit departs Hima.

As mentioned above, the Red Angel suit – and possibly Burnham or her mother – could be responsible for the Burn, and could be waiting for Discovery at the centre of the Verubin Nebula through parallel universe or time travel shenanigans!

This has been a theory I’ve been pushing since Burnham sent her Red Angel suit back into the wormhole in That Hope Is You right at the beginning of the season. I was struck by a line in Die Trying: Admiral Vance described the Red Angel suit as being “inaccessible.”

Burnham goes on to say she set the suit to self-destruct, but all this did for me is reinforce the fact that we didn’t see the suit’s destruction with our own eyes. The finale of Season 2 confirmed that Pike and Spock received the final red burst in the 23rd Century, but beyond that we simply do not know what became of the suit.

Number 15: The Dax symbiont is still alive.

Ezri Dax.

This one is looking less likely, because the two locations where Dax could have appeared have both seemingly come and gone without them: most notably the Trill homeworld in Forget Me Not, but also Federation HQ in Die Trying. However, there are hints at a lifespan for Trill symbionts that may be exceptionally long, in which case Dax could very well still be alive in the 32nd Century.

Obviously we won’t see Ezri Dax (barring some bizarre time travel/stasis storyline) but the symbiont itself could have lived this long. When Adira “met” the Tal symbiont’s former hosts in Forget Me Not, one was wearing a Star Trek: Picard-era uniform, hinting that Tal may have lived 700+ years. There are production-side explanations for this Easter egg, and as stated the fact that two of the best opportunities so far to meet Dax have come and gone may mean it won’t happen this season. But I’m sticking to my guns on this one: Dax is alive!

Number 16: The ban on time travel is being flouted – possibly by secretive elements within the Federation.

Could Section 31 be engaging in illicit time travel?

Unless Admiral Vance was straight-up lying to Saru and Burnham in Die Trying, he believes that the ban on time travel is still in effect. But while he’s the head of Starfleet, he may not be in total control. Section 31 was known to be rogue, and Kovich, who interviewed Georgiou in that episode, may well be a Section 31 agent.

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

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

Zareh.

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

So that’s it. Those theories remain in play as we get ready for the two-part episode Terra Firma. The introduction of a Federation distress signal inside a nebula seems to tie in with what we know from Calypso – an episode which has already seen elements from its story incorporated into Season 3. The smart money has to be on the USS Discovery being in that nebula – somehow. Perhaps Mirror Georgiou took it back in time and left it there for the crew to find? But if she did that, what caused the Burn?

As you can see, some of these theories can be made to fit together… kind of. But there are holes in any story I try to construct, as well as a lot of unknowns! The Federation are connected to the Burn somehow, but beyond that we simply don’t know. For all we know, the distress signal could simply be from another Starfleet vessel that was investigating the Burn rather than being connected in any way to its cause. I love how unpredictable Discovery is even as we get deeper into the season. The story could go any one of a number of different directions, and I have no doubt there are more surprises in store.

One final note: no fan theory, no matter how plausible it may seem, is worth getting upset or disappointed over. I put these lists together for fun, and as an excuse to spend more time in the Star Trek galaxy, and that’s all. If something goes completely the opposite way I was expecting, far from being annoyed or upset I revel in that. That doesn’t mean writers should make arbitrary and silly decisions, but it means I like being surprised! If we could all remember to take fan theories with a healthy pinch of salt, there’d be less conflict in fan communities.

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

Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 1

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

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

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

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

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

Book’s ship at warp.

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

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

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

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

The super-synths from Star Trek: Picard.

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

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

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

Number 1: Booker is a Coppelius synth.

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

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

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

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

Number 2: Hima is Terralysium.

The planet Book identified as “Hima.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Gabrielle Burnham, as seen in Season 2.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The familiar crest.

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

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

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

What could have driven the members of the Federation apart?

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

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

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

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

Book seems unsure about the current state of the Federation.

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

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

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

Does this scene from the second trailer show the Burn?

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

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

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

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

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

Burnham with the Red Angel suit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burnham in the Red Angel suit in Season 2.

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

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

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

Crewman Daniels was a temporal agent seen in Enterprise.

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

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

Would the Cardassians abide by a ban on time travel?

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

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

Number 12: The USS Discovery arrived before Burnham.

The USS Discovery in the second Season 3 trailer.

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

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

The USS Discovery seen in Season 1.

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

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

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

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

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

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 3, Episode 1: That Hope Is You

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

1998 was a pretty good year. Japan hosted the Winter Olympics, Windows 98 gave the world’s computers a major upgrade, and Billie Piper (later of Doctor Who fame) released Because We Want To, her debut single, which went straight to number one in the charts. Catchy stuff. It’s also the most recent year in which three different Star Trek productions all debuted. We got the film Star Trek: Insurrection, the seventh season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and the fifth season of Star Trek: Voyager. It seemed in those days that the franchise was an unstoppable juggernaut! It’s taken over two decades for there to once again be three productions in one year, but here we are. Despite everything going on in the world we’ve had Star Trek: Picard’s first season, Star Trek: Lower Decks’ first season, and now finally the third season of Star Trek: Discovery!

Oh boy it’s been a long wait! Season 2 wrapped up in April 2019, meaning we’ve had to stay on the edge of our seats wondering what will become of Burnham, Saru, and the rest of the crew for eighteen months! If you missed it, I’ve written a summary of the story so far, up to the end of Season 2. I think that serves as a decent recap of the adventures of the ship and crew over the first two seasons, and if it’s been a while since you last saw Discovery it could be worth a read to get back up to speed. You can find that article by clicking or tapping here.

Captain Pike and Spock watch Burnham and the USS Discovery disappear into the future at the end of Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2 – the Season 2 finale.

After the abject failure of ViacomCBS to secure an international broadcast for Lower Decks, I confess being a little concerned that Discovery would have similar issues. With Paramount+ – Star Trek’s new digital home – supposedly being rolled out internationally in 2021, I could quite understand Netflix saying they didn’t want to broadcast a show that will soon be taken down and made available on a competing service. Luckily, however, Netflix is content to broadcast Discovery here in the UK – and in 187 other countries and territories too! The episodes are broadcast on Netflix a day after their CBS All Access premiere, and since that’s the version I have access to, it means I’ll be 24 hours behind the curve when it comes to writing my reviews this season. Sorry, but there’s nothing I can do about that!

Without further ado, let’s jump into the season premiere. That Hope Is You was decent. It wasn’t Discovery’s finest, but it was far and away not the worst episode! Like the premiere of Star Trek: Picard earlier in the year, That Hope Is You builds up slowly and lays a foundation on which the story of the season can build. There was one especially bad line of dialogue, but other than that no colossal negatives to drag it down. The episode focused exclusively on two characters – Burnham and new character Book. This idea of slowly introducing characters instead of dumping them all in at once worked well in Picard, and I’m sure will work here too based on what we saw this week.

That Hope Is You focuses on Burnham and Book.

After the mandatory recap of last season’s story, we get a slow opening to the new season depicting the Federation official from the Season 3 trailers as he goes about his routine. I loved the holo-bird alarm clock, and the way the furniture in his room rearranges itself. Though other parts of the episode would struggle, at points, to show technology that looked suitably futuristic, much of what we saw in Mr Sahil’s quarters and at his workplace did seem well-suited to the 32nd Century.

This sequence set up, for folks who hadn’t seen either of the trailers and had avoided online speculation, the entire premise of the season. It communicated to us as the audience – entirely wordlessly – that the Federation exists in a vastly weakened state. But it also showed, thanks to Mr Sahil himself, that some people were still hard at work, even if things looked bleak and they weren’t able to find what they’re looking for. I actually inferred from the moment where Mr Sahil begins scanning that he was deliberately looking for Burnham and/or the USS Discovery – that somehow he had been forewarned of their arrival. Luckily this wasn’t the case, as I think that would have complicated the plot significantly.

Mr Sahil with his holographic galaxy map.

Burnham’s arrival in the future was not smooth. Through what can only be described as colossal bad luck, given the absolute vastness of space, she exits the time-wormhole and immediately crashes into a ship piloted by new character Booker, who had been in a dogfight against a character who I believe is a Yridian (a race first seen in The Next Generation sixth season two-parter Birthright). Both Burnham and Book crash-land on a nearby planet.

After the sequence in space the action jumps to the planet’s surface, and begins with a (slightly cliché) animated moment featuring two bugs. The animation and CGI work in Discovery has always been fantastic, and these two critters, while clearly alien, managed to look very real. Burnham then disrupts the peace of the planet’s surface by crash-landing, and while the sequence showing her struggling to reboot the damaged suit was certainly tense, as the audience we expected her to survive her fall from space. And she did.

Burnham – in the Red Angel suit – falls to the ground.

After struggling to her feet, Burnham removes the Red Angel suit. The suit’s on-board computer confirms that there are life-signs on the planet she crashed on, resulting in an outpouring of emotion. In the trailer I was a little sceptical of this scene and Burnham’s screaming reaction, but after seeing it in context I’m happy to say that it worked. Burnham is elated that her mission to save lives worked, and it shows.

With the wormhole about to close – despite the USS Discovery nowhere in sight – Burnham programs the suit to send the final “red burst” to confirm to Pike, Spock, and everyone left behind that they made it. She also tells the suit to self-destruct (though why she did that wasn’t completely clear). The suit, apparently undamaged by its fall through the atmosphere, launches back into space just as the time-wormhole is closing, stranding Burnham on the surface of what we assume to be Terralysium.

The Red Angel suit scans for life signs in the 32nd Century.

Terralysium, by the way, was the planet first encountered in the Season 2 episode New Eden, and was apparently the “anchor” point of Dr Gabrielle Burnham, Michael’s mother, when her own Red Angel suit malfunctioned. In the finale of Season 2, Burnham deliberately chose Terralysium as her destination for that reason. The year she arrived is confirmed to be 3188 – though why the suit chose to use the Gregorian calendar instead of stardates is unclear. Perhaps that was to make it easier for us as the audience to understand? It does seem a little odd, though.

Now all alone in the future, and with no indication of where she is or where to go, Burnham grabs her emergency kit. Inside we see a communicator, tricorder, phaser pistol, and a couple of miscellaneous items that Burnham identifies as ration packs. A nearby hill is smoking from what appears to be the crash-landing of the ship Burnham slammed into when she exited the wormhole, and with no other landmarks on the semi-barren world she sets off.

Burnham tells herself to “walk.”

Here’s one thing Discovery has in its favour over Picard: filming locations. Picard was filmed in Los Angeles and the surrounding area, and if you recall what I said during Season 1… it showed. Every location that the crew of La Sirena visited was a barely-disguised California, and as the season wore on my enjoyment of those settings wore out. Discovery, by contrast, is filmed in Canada. As such many of its filming locations are either wholly new to Star Trek or have only been seen once or twice before, giving its worlds a much less familiar feel. Something as abstract as the filming location can be hard to put your finger on when caught up in watching an interesting and engaging narrative, but in Picard, the obviously-California setting began to get in the way. Here we get something new and fresh, and I appreciate that.

After a montage, Burnham makes it to the crashed ship and is set upon by its pilot. This fight scene dragged a little, at least for me. Perhaps it’s because I’ve spent so long in past months poring over the trailers, but because I knew Burnham and Book were going to end up working together I just thought to myself “c’mon, let’s get this over with and move to the next part of the story!”

The first meeting between Book and Burnham didn’t go well!

We also got the title sequence in between Burnham’s trek and the fight scene, and it’s worth noting some of the imagery from it. The main one that I noticed was the Starfleet badge. It transitions from the DiscoveryOriginal Series style that we’ve been familiar with to an altogether different one that’s still based on the familiar Starfleet emblem, but is clearly quite different. Its oval outer shape reminded me at least a little of the Bajoran badges used by Major Kira, Odo, and others in Deep Space Nine, and perhaps we could suggest that the fact that the logo is split into a couple of pieces is somehow a metaphor for the divided Federation. Too far? Maybe!

The titles also showed off Book’s ship, which sports a design unlike anything we’ve really seen before, being almost wedge-shaped. The phaser pistols also transition from the style we’ve seen in Discovery (and obviously based on The Original Series) to a new style which reminded me at least a little of The Next Generation-era Klingon disruptors. The title music has remained the same (and after the enjoyment of Lower Decks’ theme feels a bit of a downgrade!) and of course we have the new font used for the main titles.

The new Starfleet badge/logo.

Book brings Burnham aboard his ship after she gives him a speech about needing to trust someone. The damage to his ship appears minimal, but he mentions that he needs to get more dilithium in order to complete his courier run. I liked the name-drop of both slipstream technology (seen in Voyager) and the tachyon solar sails (seen on an ancient Bajoran ship Sisko recreated in Deep Space Nine). We’re also introduced to Grudge – Book’s cat. What a majestic cat she is, too!

After establishing that they could trade Burnham’s “antique” tricorder for some dilithium at a nearby settlement, Book and Burnham set off. And it’s during their journey to the trading post that Burnham learns what we’ve all known since the trailers – the Federation is gone. Book tells her of the Burn, an event that occurred over a century earlier. Somehow this event destroyed much of the dilithium in the known galaxy. And let’s be honest for a second: Book’s line explaining it was atrocious. Truly terrible writing. “Dilithum… One day, most of it just went ‘boom'” has to be a contender for one of the worst-written lines in Star Trek. Ever. It just felt completely unnatural, like Book wasn’t speaking but reading a script. And that’s no criticism of actor David Ajala, who put in an astonishingly good performance across the whole episode. It’s purely the writing.

Burnham aboard Book’s ship.

I get that the writers want to keep the events of the Burn mysterious. Indeed, part of the story of the season is going to be unravelling this event, figuring out what it was, what happened, and perhaps finding a way to undo it or prevent a reoccurrence. But there had to have been a better way to explain it that to say “it just went ‘boom.'” I’m astounded at how bad that line is, and honestly it detracts from the entire episode.

However, we do have the beginnings of an explanation for the Burn and the Federation’s collapse. The Burn, somehow, has destroyed dilithium across the known galaxy, seemingly explosively. It also sounds as though this happened near-simultaneously. Curiously, Book is aware of the Federation’s response to the Burn, which was to tell the peoples of the galaxy that they didn’t know what happened and couldn’t guarantee it wouldn’t happen again. I’m inferring a lot here, and we will deal with this in a day or two when I write up my theories and predictions, but it sounds as though the poor response from the Federation is as much of a reason for its collapse as the Burn itself. Perhaps people were dissatisfied with the response, and star systems began withdrawing or seceding until there were very few left. Book’s next line that the Federation had collapsed “I guess,” strongly hints that he’s never encountered Starfleet or any official Federation representative.

Book explains the Burn.

The settlement Book and Burnham visited in the aftermath of this conversation reminded me of Freecloud, the planet visited by the crew of La Sirena in Picard. Though this place was perhaps a little more run-down, both have that “dystopian futuristic city” vibe that we often get in modern science fiction. I did like the design of part of the settlement, with large rotating rings seeming to orbit a walkway as Book and Burnham entered.

The Andorians are an interesting race in Star Trek. Though they appeared in The Original Series, and were heralded as one of the founding members of the Federation, they were almost entirely absent during The Next Generation era. It was only in Enterprise that we got to spend any real time with Andorian characters, and though they have made background appearances in modern Star Trek, the scene we got with Book and Bunham at the entry to the trading post is the first to prominently feature an Andorian in years. I’m a big supporter of bringing back classic races and factions, and this time is was done exceptionally well as the grouchy Andorian guard has to be persuaded to let Burnham inside the trading post.

The entrance to the trading post.

After strolling through the trading post, Book and Burnham make a trade – he directs her where to go to try to contact Discovery, and in exchange she gives him her tricorder, which now has value as an example of very old technology! However, it soon emerges that Book has not been true to his word, and has instead sent Burnham into a restricted area (described as a “vault”) where she is immediately captured. Book steals her emergency kit and leaves. As a surprise twist, I think this worked quite well. I’m sure a lot of viewers will claim to have seen it coming – Book’s nature had been well-established by this point as someone untrustworthy. Even so, the suddenness with which Burnham was trapped and then robbed made the moment work very well.

The story splits in two at this point, following both Burnham as she’s drugged and interrogated by two of the trading post’s security guards, as well as Book in his attempts to pawn Burnham’s gear. Whatever drug was given to Burnham clearly has a major effect on her, as she begins blabbing about everything that’s happened to her over the last few days – remember, of course, that this episode is set immediately after the Season 2 finale (though walking from the ship to the trading post clearly took time).

Book betrays Burnham.

As a sequence depicting Burnham under the influence of this “truth serum,” I think it worked overall. However, its success depends much more on the camera work and effects used to represent the impact of the drug rather than on Sonequa Martin-Green’s performance. For all my earlier criticism of Burnham as a character, especially in Discovery’s premiere, Martin-Green has always done a standout job in the role. Here, though, I have to say the performance was a little unconvincing. The sequence worked as a whole, but was salvaged thanks to the way it was filmed and edited.

Book has no luck selling Burnham’s emergency kit, despite the fact that someone higher-up at the trading post saw the gear and let Burnham in. This is a minor inconsistency, as it initially appeared that the now-antique kit would have value, yet the way the traders behave (at least towards Book) indicates that it doesn’t.

Burnham drugged by the trading post guards.

After the drug causes Burnham to tell the guards about Book they take her out of her cell and back onto the main floor of the trading post to point him out. Meanwhile Book has been accosted by the Yridian he was battling in space – Cosmo. Cosmo is looking for his cargo that he claims Book stole when Burnham and her guards arrive. Cosmo is a tad one-dimensional as villains go, but his threat to hurt Grudge the cat definitely spurred me on to support Book all the more!

After being surrounded by the facility’s guards, Book and Burnham team up to fight them off in what was a very exciting sequence. I stand by what I said during my look at the trailers – the weapons used by the people of the 32nd Century don’t appear to be particularly advanced compared to the 24th or 23rd. Partly that’s a result of the Burn and the impact on galactic events. But at the same time, the Burn is something a long way in the past, and something which doesn’t appear to have been quite as devastating as feared. While the 32nd Century is definitely different to how we as the audience (and Burnham) may have expected, it isn’t exactly fair to call it “post-apocalyptic.” There is still technology, and there is still a functioning society, even though that society isn’t the Federation. So my point about technology is valid, and this is an issue any science fiction franchise can fall victim to. How do you make technology feel suitably advanced?

An Andorian guard wielding a 32nd Century handheld weapon.

During their fight against the security team, Burnham was able to grab a number of fragments of dilithium crystal – hopefully enough to power Book’s warp drive. The duo then go through a prolonged escape-fight, escape-fight sequence using Book’s portable transporter. The third time of escaping they transport inside a body of water, where apparently they can’t be tracked. It’s here that we finally get a break from the constant battling, long enough to slow the episode back down and to allow Book and Burnham to have another conversation.

Book has figured out that Burnham is a “time-traveller,” despite time travel in the 32nd Century having been prohibited. I’m not 100% convinced on that point – and I wonder whether we’ll see the remainder of Starfleet abide by that ban later in the season. However, it was interesting and contained an oblique reference to Enterprise when Book mentioned the “temporal wars.”

Burnham and Book after escaping the trading post.

We also see a mysterious side to Book. Not only does he offer up a prayer in some alien language, but doing so leads to some kind of glowing marks on his face. My bet is that these are technological rather than biological (they looked similar in colour to his holographic interface) but exactly what the prayer means and what Book’s true nature is is unclear at this point. His prayer allowed him to pull from the water some kind of plant which contained a healing serum for a wound to Burnham’s arm. How all of this works, and whether Book has some kind of cybernetics or other augmentations is a mystery.

After returning to Book’s ship, the duo are once again set upon by Cosmo and the trading post’s guards. The guards execute Cosmo for losing his cargo, then plan to do the same to Book and Burnham. As we’ve now seen several Orions amongst this group, I wonder if the operators of the trading post – and thus at least one of Book’s employers – is the Orion Syndicate. The Orion Syndicate first appeared in The Original Series and was referenced a few times in both Deep Space Nine and Enterprise. In the 22nd-24th Centuries it was an underground criminal group, kind of analogous to the Mafia or similar gangs today. It’s possible that, in the power vacuum caused by the Burn and the collapse of the Federation, the Orion Syndicate is now out in the open.

Book’s prayer – and possible augmentation.

Rather than simply shoot Book and Burnham, the group insist on seeing Book’s cargo. The guards had become interested in it when Burnham mentioned it was temperature-sensitive, and upon opening the hold of his ship the cargo is revealed: a giant worm-like creature that looked kind of like a cross between a puppy and Jabba the Hutt! The space-worm makes short work of the assembled guards, eating one and forcing the others to flee. Book is able to calm it – apparently it’s another of his pets – but not before it can eat Burnham!

Okay, “eat” is a strong word. It picks her up with its mouth before Book convinces it to spit her out. But considering it had just chopped an Andorian in half with its mouth, I’d say Burnham got lucky! This is the second Star Trek season premiere this year which involved a main character being chewed on by a large alien creature! Ensign Boimler was similarly picked up and chewed by a large critter in Lower Decks’ premiere episode, Second Contact. I wonder if that’s purely a coincidence or if it was planned that way?

This happened in That Hope Is You…
…and this happened in Second Contact.

Back aboard Book’s ship, and the true purpose of his mission is revealed. The space-worms are an endangered species, and Book – along with a collective of others – is rescuing them and relocating them to sanctuary worlds. I had theorised only a few days ago that the Burn might have caused warp drive to not function. Though the loss of much of the galaxy’s dilithium has certainly limited warp drive, as we see from Book’s ship that theory was incorrect. Our first debunking of the season!

After releasing the space-worm at the sanctuary, Book takes Burnham to a “waypoint” that couriers like him use – a damaged Federation relay station. This is the facility operated by Mr Sahil, who we saw at the beginning of the episode. Though the performance was great from guest star Adil Hussain, I can’t help but feel that Sahil is an underdeveloped character. We’re told that he, like his father and grandfather, mans the relay station because he believes in what the Federation used to stand for. Yet he’s been there for his entire life (or so it seems) without any contact from anyone else in the Federation. There are very few people who would have that kind of semi-religious dedication to a long-dead cause, and while on the one hand Sahil’s story here was emotional, particularly when Burnham spoke highly of him and offered him a commission, it also felt just a little unrealistic.

Mr Sahil and Burnham at the relay station.

Sahil’s relay station has the ability to scan a radius of 600 light-years, and assuming it’s located somewhat close to Hima/Terralysium, should be able to detect the arrival of the USS Discovery. Assuming, that is, that Discovery arrives in the future not the past! Time-travel stories can get complicated like that, which is why they’ve never been my favourites in Star Trek.

I do like Mr Sahil, despite my criticism above, and the sequence between him and Burnham was the emotional heart of the episode. It’s implied that he’s never met a Starfleet officer, so even meeting Burnham is a big deal for him, and the emotion on his face when Burnham tells him she’s proud of his dedication to the Federation was just beautiful, really. Together, Sahil and Burnham raise the Federation flag on the damaged outpost, signalling – in line with the theme of the season as a whole – that the Federation is coming back.

Mr Sahil and Burnham shake hands.

One point of interest from the flag is the missing stars. This is what first prompted me to consider the season as perhaps seeing a declining Federation way back when we got the first Season 3 trailer last year. The missing stars could simply be an aesthetic choice on the part of the Federation – but equally, those missing stars could represent seceded or withdrawn planets and races. If the latter is true, I wonder if it means those secessions happened before the Burn. Perhaps the Federation was already in decline, and the Burn was simply the last straw? Let’s save the theorising for my theory post!

Interestingly, Mr Sahil noted that two Starfleet vessels were in flight in the area he was able to scan. I had speculated that Starfleet and the Federation weren’t entirely gone, and this settles it. There are still Starfleet ships, even if there are only two within 600 light-years and even though Book has never seen one! I’m sure that, as the season progresses, we’ll get to spend time with this era’s Starfleet. Rebuilding the Federation is going to be a major theme of the season, and I’m excited for that. But I’m also excited to see what the contemporary Federation looks like.

Mr Sahil notes that Federation vessels are active in the area.

And with that, the episode was over. That Hope Is You was a genuinely interesting start to the season. It built up slowly, introducing us to only two major characters, and perhaps a recurring or side character depending on how often Mr Sahil will return. Book is interesting, and I’m curious to learn more about his potential augmentations and/or cybernetics, as well as why he dedicates his time to rescuing space-worms.

There were a couple of badly-written lines that, unfortunately, detracted from the episode. Of course we’ve covered the line about the Burn, but there was also Book referring to himself as being “space broke” that I felt just didn’t work. Other than that, though, there aren’t any massive points to criticise from the premiere. The story worked well, it had some exciting moments, some quieter moments, and an emotional tug toward the end. It was a decent, solid way for Discovery to return to our screens.

Book and Burnham approach the trading post.

One thing I hope we see more of are references to past iterations of Star Trek, especially to the events of the 24th Century. There wasn’t much of that at all this time, and although we are hundreds of years further along the timeline, finding ways for Discovery to tie itself to the wider franchise – and especially to series currently in production – will be important. Even more so now that we have a fourth season confirmed. That’s right, Discovery is coming back for Season 4 next year, much to the chagrin of followers of anti-Star Trek social media groups!

The setting for Season 3, while still shrouded in mystery, is not as strongly post-apocalyptic as I’d feared. Even the Federation itself is not entirely gone – Sahil confirmed this when he said that there are two Starfleet vessels in operation just in his relatively small patch. Though the Federation is clearly far smaller and lesser than we’ve ever seen it, there is a rump from which it can be rebuilt. The Burn is also not as catastrophic as feared, and there are clearly many millions, billions, or more who survived those events. All of these are positive things. Star Trek has always been a franchise that presents an optimistic future, and while I wouldn’t call the 32nd Century “optimistic,” it’s also not as pessimistic as perhaps I’d feared from seeing the trailers.

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

That Hope Is You has given Discovery a solid foundation upon which to build. The next episode will reintroduce Saru and the rest of the crew, and I’m really excited to see them back! I hope you’ll join me in the next few days for some theory-crafting, and next week I’ll be back to break down and review episode 2 – Far From Home. I’m looking forward to it already!

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.