Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4 and the trailers and teasers for Season 5.
We’re going to have to delay my review of the latest Star Trek: Picard episode by a day or two in order to do something that I rarely do here on the website: cover some breaking news. If you haven’t heard, let me be the bearer of what may or may not – depending on your perspective – be a bit of bad news: Star Trek: Discovery is going to end after its fifth season.
Forgive me for thinking negatively, but as soon as I heard that announcement, I felt a sinking feeling in my gut. Since filming wrapped on Discovery’s fifth season late last year, no live-action Star Trek has been in production for the first time in a couple of years. Not only that, but Picard’s ongoing third season is going to be that show’s swansong… and despite a spectacular first season, there’s been no news on a third season renewal for Strange New Worlds, at least at time of writing, even though production on Season 2 wrapped months ago. So could this be, as I fear, the beginning of the end for Star Trek in its modern incarnation?
Discovery brought Star Trek back to its small screen home in 2017 after twelve years in the wilderness. The show served as a launchpad for the Star Trek franchise as it exists today – and it’s highly likely that we would never have seen Picard, Lower Decks, Prodigy, or of course Strange New Worlds were it not for the trail that Discovery blazed. But with its cancellation after Season 5 – which is due to be broadcast sometime in early 2024 – is Star Trek in a better or more secure place than it was in 2017… or in 2005?
I’d argue that it isn’t.
Shortly after new year, I published a piece here on the website titled 2022: A Great and Terrible Year for Star Trek, in which I took a look at what I considered to be the highs and (considerable) lows that the franchise endured over the course of a rollercoaster year. Although there was a lot to say, perhaps my biggest conclusion was simply this: franchise fatigue is beginning to set in. It’s through that lens that I must view the news of Discovery’s imminent ending.
Unlike with Enterprise in 2005, it’s my hope that Discovery’s writers will have known the end was coming well enough in advance to have planned out a conclusive ending for the series and its characters. Enterprise’s finale was divisive among fans, and the show’s final season seemed to leave more than a few characters and storylines up in the air by the time the curtain fell. If this recently-announced news had been known to the producers and creative team, hopefully they will have been able to put together an ending worthy of the show and its great cast of characters.
And as I’ve said more than once: it’s infinitely better for a show to end leaving its audience wanting more, lamenting that we didn’t get “just one more season,” rather than dragging on too long and having us regret that the end didn’t come earlier! Discovery has been an imperfect production, don’t get me wrong, but with the current state of Star Trek being what it is… maybe this is simply the right time for the show to come to an end. If there weren’t great ideas on the table for future story arcs, then I’d rather it came to a close with one last hurrah instead of dragging on ad infinitum.
Star Trek can’t keep up the pace that we saw in 2022, where more than fifty episodes across five shows all debuted in a single calendar year. It’s just too much – and it risks putting off new viewers, who are precisely the people that Paramount needs to convince to tune in if Paramount+ is to have a snowball’s chance in hell of surviving the streaming wars. Making Star Trek too dense, too convoluted, and just too large is what’s been happening over the last few years, so stepping back from that shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing. If anything, it should be a net positive for the franchise.
With Picard also coming to an end, there’s the potential to perhaps scale back Star Trek and refocus. Take what worked about the shows over the last few years and hone it, disregard failed experiments, and have Star Trek operate in a similar fashion to other streaming franchises – with a focus on quality over quantity.
But is that Paramount’s goal? With two live-action shows coming to an end, there’s the potential to put more money and energy into Strange New Worlds, for example, as that show was very well-received. But with no third season having been announced so far… I can’t shake the feeling that this really could be the beginning of the end for the franchise as a whole.
Depending on how things are scheduled, there’s enough Star Trek in production or post-production to coast through into the first half of 2024. But what then? A third season of Strange New Worlds – if one is to be produced – might also debut that same year… but 2025 could end up being like 2005: the end of the road.
If that were to happen, Paramount only has itself to blame. The corporation has mismanaged both the Star Trek franchise and its streaming platform in catastrophic fashion, seemingly led by the most inept team of morons to ever assemble in a boardroom. Before Discovery had even been conceived, an ageing corporate board with no knowledge or understanding of streaming or the internet saw the success of Netflix and said “make me one of those.” CBS All Access was born – and Star Trek was tapped to be its flagship franchise.
But was Star Trek ever big enough to place such a burden upon it? Even if Discovery had been flawless and had landed with minimal controversy, pinning the profitability of a streaming platform on its success was always a bad idea. It isn’t Discovery’s fault that CBS All Access – as Paramount+ used to be known – didn’t become the “next big thing” in streaming… and it isn’t Discovery’s fault that Paramount+ remains massively unprofitable today.
Paramount is in the wrong business. The board is right about one thing: streaming is the future. But they jumped into that market a decade too late, unprepared, and without the technical know-how or infrastructure to really make it work. The only thing CBS All Access/Paramount+ had going for it were shows like Star Trek – but I think Paramount is belatedly learning that the Star Trek franchise simply doesn’t have the mainstream appeal to carry an entire streaming platform.
So what does all of this mean for Star Trek’s future? Maybe it’s too early to hit the panic button… but I confess that I feel echoes of 2005. It’s been surprising to me that no spin-offs or new projects have been announced, and in a way, the announcement of Discovery’s cancellation was another opportunity to do so. The tone would be very different if the press release had stated that “Discovery is coming to an end… but Starfleet Academy or Captain Seven are entering production.”
So here we are. After a creditable six-year run, and numerous cancellation scares, Discovery will be coming to an end. Its imminent fifth season actually looks fantastic – and if it makes good on its promise of telling a different kind of story, perhaps in another world that could have set the stage for the show’s continuation. Perhaps the tragedy here will be that Discovery changed tack too late – that four whole seasons of “the galaxy is in danger and only Burnham and the crew can save it!” was just too much. That would certainly be my assessment, and as enjoyable as parts of Season 4 were, maybe if a different kind of adventure had been written last time around, we could’ve gotten an extra season or two.
There are a lot of unanswered questions. What of the backdoor pilot for a Starfleet Academy series that we seemed to get partway through Season 4? If Star Trek as a whole continues, will another series pick up Discovery’s 32nd Century setting – or does Paramount consider the far future to have been a bit of a misfire? Will Star Trek continue at all after Strange New Worlds Season 2 and Discovery Season 5? Is anyone at Paramount ready for a difficult conversation about what’s going wrong?
I’m not thrilled to learn that Discovery won’t continue. Although not every season and every character fully stuck the landing, there’s been some fantastic entertainment along the way – episodes and moments within episodes that hit all of the high notes that we know Star Trek can. Moreover, by the time the curtain fell on Season 4, I felt that Discovery had finally turned a corner. Having settled Burnham into the captain’s chair, and told a story about seeking out new life – the very core of Starfleet’s mission – it felt that the show had finally achieved its potential. Season 5 will hopefully capitalise on this – but it will be short-lived, with only ten episodes left for the series to shine.
The history of Star Trek is one of stepping-stones: series and films that lead to new, different, and often better things. Just as Enterprise and the Kelvin films led to Discovery, so too has Discovery led to Picard, Lower Decks, Prodigy, and Strange New Worlds. Whether these shows will lead, in turn, to new things, or whether the trail will go cold for a while, Discovery played its part. It may not have always done so perfectly, but I’m confident that its place in the franchise’s history is assured – and I suspect that at least some of its critics will be won over if they give it a second chance!
I’m still looking forward to Season 5 – but it’s now a rather bittersweet feeling, knowing it will be our final outing with Captain Burnham and the crew. Not to mention that this news has massively increased concerns for the overall direction – and indeed the future – of the Star Trek franchise as a whole.
Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in countries and territories where the platform is available, and are also available on Blu-ray. Season 5 will stream on Paramount+ in 2023 or 2024. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.