My biggest wish for Star Trek: Discovery Season 5

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4.

With Picard Season 2 ongoing, Strange New Worlds Season 1 hot on its heels, and Prodigy and Lower Decks still to come this year, it might seem premature to be thinking about Discovery Season 5 already! But as I was writing up the final part of my Season 4 theory list, it got me thinking. Season 4 wasn’t bad, all things considered. It had some storylines that disappointed or underwhelmed, but there are some genuinely outstanding episodes in the mix as well – and it ended on a very emotional and exciting high note.

It’s never too early to look ahead, and before production gets fully underway on Discovery’s next outing, I wanted to share my thoughts and opinions about where the show could go from here, and what I’d like to see next. That’s what this article will be about – but stay tuned for a more in-depth look at Season 4 and some of its story elements in the weeks and months ahead.

The USS Mitchell in the Season 4 finale.

For me, the single biggest wish I have for Discovery Season 5 is that it steps away from the “apocalyptic, galaxy-ending threat” story archetype that has been used in different ways across all four seasons of the show so far. We’ve gone through the Klingon war in Season 1, Control and the Red Angel in Season 2, the Burn and the Emerald Chain in Season 3, and finally the DMA and Unknown Species 10-C in Season 4. It’s time to give Captain Burnham and the crew a break, and for the series to try using a genuinely different formula instead of slapping a new coat of paint on the old one.

Just because a story is smaller in scale doesn’t make it any less emotional, exciting, tense, or dramatic, and I think that’s a lesson some of Discovery’s writers and producers could do with taking to heart. How we as the audience respond to a work of fiction is guided not by how massive the monster is or how big the explosions are going to be, but by how the characters we’re rooting for react. Their emotions become our emotions, their investment in the world around them becomes our investment, and so on. A story about a group of people working in an office, friends going on a road trip, or star-crossed lovers from rival families aren’t smaller, less exciting, and worse because they don’t have the backdrop of a world-ending disaster spurring them on. And conversely, some of the worst and least-exciting films and TV shows I’ve ever seen went over-the-top with the size and scale of the disaster the characters were facing.

The Burn was the driving force for much of Season 3.

Past iterations of Star Trek used these kinds of apocalyptic stories pretty sparingly, when you look back on it. It’s only Deep Space Nine’s Dominion War arc, which lasted for three seasons, that comes close to being as long and drawn-out an affair, and even within the framework of the Dominion War, DS9 found ways to tell very different and fun one-off stories. Things like the Borg incursions that Captain Picard and his crew had to deal with were either two-parters or one-off films, and they work well in that format.

Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D still found other ways to be entertaining, and many of The Next Generation’s standalone episodes have gone on to be considered iconic, even those that had a far smaller focus than blockbuster outings like The Best of Both Worlds. This doesn’t mean ditching the season-long story arcs or returning to an episodic format, because I think Discovery has done some interesting and neat things with its serialised stories. But it does mean choosing season-long storylines and narrative arcs that are different in a fundamental way to what the show has tried already.

The DMA was the big threat in Season 4.

Practically any format can become bland and unexciting when overused, no matter how much fun it might’ve been in its original incarnation or at its best moments. It’s a challenge to keep any television series feeling fresh as it enters its fifth season and races toward its sixty-fifth episode, and there are many examples of shows that ran out of steam somewhere along the way. Heck, I have an entire list of television shows that either ran too long or wore out their concepts, and I can think of many more that I could’ve included.

Even Star Trek has hit the wall in the past, running out of energy and failing to keep audiences engaged. By the time Enterprise was willing to try new things in its third and fourth seasons, for example, the franchise was already in such a steep decline that cancellation was inevitable. To Paramount’s credit, lessons have been learned from what happened in 2005 in terms of the way the franchise as a whole operates. Different series are telling stories in their own ways, appealing to broader audiences, and Star Trek as a whole feels varied and diverse. But Discovery on its own doesn’t… and it’s right on the verge of becoming repetitive.

The USS Discovery in Season 4.

I was far from the only commentator to make the point prior to Season 4 that another “galactic threat” storyline felt samey, coming off the back of three similar narrative frameworks, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one to say that re-using that format a fifth time will be a bridge too far. Making use of the newly-established 32nd Century in different ways, and telling a story that may be smaller in scale but that’s just as impactful, emotional, and entertaining, will be the key challenges that I’d like the writers to tackle in Season 5.

The theme of rebuilding in the aftermath of a disaster was something we only saw Season 4 tackle in the briefest and barest of ways right at the beginning of the season, but this could be a concept that the show puts to much better use next time around. Discovery could follow Captain Burnham as she and the crew jump to different worlds, delivering dilithium, solving problems, flying the flag for the Federation… and most importantly, bringing hope to a galaxy that’s been through a lot.

The flag of the Federation…

This is what I’d hoped Season 4 would do, to be honest. The idea of restoring the Federation from the incredibly weakened state it was in when we encountered it is far too important and interesting to be relegated to something that happens off-screen, and I felt even before Season 4 had aired a single episode that this concept offered so much scope for emotional, exciting, and varied storytelling. Discovery could hop to different planets, combining the inclusion of new and visually different alien races (like Season 4’s “butterfly” aliens) with the reintroduction of classic races.

Catching up with some of the factions we remember from past iterations of Star Trek is also something I’ve been wanting Discovery to do for two seasons now. We’ve caught glimpses of races like the Ferengi and Andorians, and heard others mentioned in dialogue and log recordings, but we haven’t actually spent a lot of time with practically any of them. Finding out what became of fan-favourites not only in the years after the Burn, but in the centuries before that event took place, is something that I think a lot of Trekkies would be interested in.

We caught glimpses of familiar races… but Discovery didn’t find time to explore most of them in any detail.

If the 32nd Century is going to be a major setting for the franchise going forward, this kind of world-building is important. Just like how The Next Generation laid the groundwork for Deep Space Nine through its introduction of the Cardassians and Bajorans, so too could Discovery introduce us to planets, races, and technologies that future spin-offs and Star Trek projects could expand upon.

Part of that world-building can be done in a serialised story that looks at how the Federation can be rebuilt in the aftermath of the disasters it has already faced; introducing another new disaster to avert or recover from is simply not needed at this point. From the point of view of the characters, throwing them into another extreme situation would also be problematic, and would take the storytelling close to soap-opera levels.

Owosekun, Saru, and Detmer.

Discovery has, to its credit, attempted to show how some of the events that its characters have gone through have impacted their mental health. Some of these stories have been underdeveloped – Detmer’s in Season 3 and Dr Culber’s in Season 4 being the most egregious examples. But even with this kind of attempted mental health focus, there’s a limit on what we could expect characters to go through and still be alright when they come out the other end.

To be fair, that’s a line that the Star Trek franchise has crossed in the past with characters like Miles O’Brien, for example, who seemed to survive a lot of traumatic events only to be back to normal the next week! But as shows like Picard have demonstrated with characters like Seven of Nine and Jean-Luc Picard himself, it can be incredibly cathartic to revisit some of these characters and give them meaningful, lasting development. But we’re drifting off-topic!

Captain Burnham in Season 4.

Star Trek’s galaxy is vast, and as we saw in Season 4 with the inclusion of races like the Abronians and Unknown Species 10-C, even in the 32nd Century there’s still a heck of a lot that Starfleet doesn’t know about it. There’s scope for Captain Burnham and the crew to get back to exploring for its own sake, as well as using their Spore Drive to reach parts of the galaxy that it would be difficult for the Federation to do otherwise. There’s the potential for the crew to bring hope to far-flung Federation outposts after the Burn, the Emerald Chain, and the DMA have had such a devastating impact… and it’s worthwhile telling stories like that.

Even if Season 5 doesn’t do much of that rebuilding or exploring, I’m still hopeful that whatever stories it chooses to tell won’t feel repetitive and won’t recycle the same basic story framework that we’ve seen throughout the show’s entire run to date. Discovery could do so much to expand our understanding of the Star Trek galaxy; even more so in a 32nd Century setting that is wholly unconstrained by prior canon. Shooting this far forwards in time was a great way for the show’s writers and producers to give themselves new opportunities to play in the vast sandbox that we call the Star Trek galaxy – so now would be a great time to take advantage of that.

As I look ahead to Season 5, I feel hopeful and optimistic. Season 4 had some problems, but generally it was an improvement over Season 3 and it ended in truly spectacular fashion. There’s potential for what comes next to build on that, and if the series can avoid retreading too much old ground, Season 5 could be Discovery’s best outing yet.

Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4 are available to stream now on Paramount+ where the platform is available and via a patchwork of video-on-demand and pay-to-view streaming platforms in the rest of the world. The series is also available on DVD and Blu-ray. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 4, Episode 13: Coming Home

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4.

I cried a lot while watching Coming Home. It was an incredibly emotional episode, one that hit all of the notes that it was aiming for and brought the season to a close in style. We can say definitively that Season 4 ended on a high, having saved the best for last. In fact, Coming Home might just be the best episode of the entire season!

From almost the first minute, the emotional punches started coming – and they didn’t let up until the epilogue. Captain Burnham and the entire crew went on a rollercoaster ride as they battled to stop Tarka, to get Unknown Species 10-C to listen, and to save Earth and Ni’Var from destruction. The episode was well-paced, with plenty of energy to keep things exciting but without ever feeling rushed. And there were some wonderful visual effects and animation work as we finally got an unobscured look at Unknown Species 10-C.

A group of Unknown Species 10-C.

I had a wonderful time with Coming Home, and thinking about Season 4 as a whole, the finale is one of the strongest offerings. That contrasts with Season 3, where the end of the Burn’s story felt like a non-sequitur, if not an outright letdown. In that respect, it’s nice to see that Discovery has grown, adapted, and perhaps even taken on board some of the feedback received about the Burn and Season 3 in general. The creative team can be pleased, I think, that they did a better job this time around.

All that being said, there are some issues that are raised by Coming Home. The episode itself was great, and even some of the storylines that I’d been less invested in were paid off in emotional style. But thinking about the episode as the concluding chapter of a thirteen-episode season, I do have some complaints about absences, about characters who weren’t well-used, and about specific storylines that didn’t get the kind of payoff I’d been hoping for. While these points don’t detract from a wonderful and emotional episode in Coming Home, they do count against Season 4 as a whole.

Dr Hirai was a character with potential who felt sadly underused this season.

In the weeks ahead I’d like to do a retrospective of the season, and when I do I’ll go into more detail about some of these complaints. But with Coming Home being the season finale, I’d be remiss not to mention them here. This was the last chance for Discovery to do something significant with some of these narrative points – especially when considering that Season 5 will almost certainly go in a different direction.

Ruon Tarka’s abrupt turnaround from an understandable and even sympathetic character to a bold-faced villain was not handled particularly well, and while Coming Home went some way toward reversing that and bringing back some of the nuance that had made him such an interesting character in the first place, it came too late. Tarka’s story – much like Tarka himself in his final moments – ran out of road, and ended in an unspectacular and unsatisfying fashion, with no real payoff to his quest to reach Oros and Kayalise.

Tarka met his end in an unsatisfying way.

The scenes between Tarka and Book were beautifully constructed, and the raw emotion that both David Ajala and Shawn Doyle brought to screen is undeniable. The performances were fantastic, and Coming Home found enough time to show off these moments despite having plenty of other narrative beats to get through.

Despite that, however, the damage to Tarka’s characterisation had already been done. The complex and nuanced character that we met in The Examples, half a season ago, had been developed slowly over several episodes. His desire to use the power source at the heart of the DMA was explained through a series of flashbacks that introduced us to his long-lost friend Oros… and it feels like none of that really went anywhere. There were the ongoing themes of grief and loss that have been running since Season 3, and I guess we could argue that Tarka represents a different kind of reaction to those things than other characters. But even then, this side of the story doesn’t feel particularly strong.

Tarka with the interdimensional transporter shortly before his death.

It was nice to see that, in his final moments, Tarka seemed to come around to Book’s way of thinking. As he stood on the wrecked bridge of Book’s ship, awaiting the inevitable, he’d taken several steps back toward being the complex character that we believed him to be in his earlier appearances, and I do appreciate that. It wasn’t that there wasn’t time to pay off Tarka’s well-established story. It’s just that Discovery chose not to.

This was a story that, at the end of the day, didn’t need Tarka. It didn’t need a villain to be outsmarted and killed in the final act; all the pieces were in place for a story of first contact with Unknown Species 10-C that was tense, interesting, and engaging without him. There was more than enough drama and excitement in that premise to make Tarka’s addition unnecessary; fluff to pad out a season-long story that I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling had been padded out far more than it should’ve been.

Tarka was ultimately the villain of the season… but he didn’t need to be.

Season 4 could have been structured differently, with the Tarka and Unknown Species 10-C stories going in different directions. If one story had concluded around the time of the mid-season break, the second half of the season could’ve followed another related but separate story… and when both sides of the story were overstretched by running for as many episodes as they did, perhaps that would’ve been preferable.

But that’s less about Coming Home than it is about the structure of the season as a whole! Despite my waning interest in the Book and Tarka story, Coming Home pulled out a complex and emotional ending for both characters. It wasn’t the way I would’ve necessarily hoped for nor chosen, but once the decision had been made to kill off Tarka in this way and to have the fake-out over Book’s death, Discovery executed it about as well as possible.

Tarka and Book caught in an explosion.

Going into the finale there were genuine concerns for Book and Reno’s survival. While a fifth season has been confirmed, neither character was guaranteed to appear in it, and there was a real possibility that one or both could’ve died as Tarka tried to execute an increasingly desperate (and, sadly, an increasingly nonsensical) plan. When it came to the moment of Book’s apparent death, it thus felt like he was really gone; there was no part of me saying “this is all just a fake-out.” And again, this was one of many emotional punches that Coming Home set up and delivered perfectly.

Book’s survival was also kept hidden by the story – we weren’t immediately shown him alive with Unknown Species 10-C – which kept things going as other storylines played out. As a fake-out, I think it worked pretty well. It made Book’s return in a pillar of light feel genuinely wonderful, and took Captain Burnham on a rollercoaster that allowed Sonequa Martin-Green to really show off her emotional range. Both as a story point and on the technical side of things, it worked well for Coming Home.

Book was saved by Unknown Species 10-C.

But, as I’ve found myself saying numerous times as the season has worn on, it means that Discovery has yet again given all of its characters some pretty serious plot armour. In an individual episode we can forgive that a near-death situation resulted in survival, or that an apparently-dead character like Book was safe all along. But when we consider the season overall, no one aside from Tarka was actually killed. Despite the incredibly dangerous situations that the crew found themselves in, and despite the overwhelming odds stacked against them by Unknown Species 10-C, the DMA, Tarka, and everything else they went through, they all survived.

Television storytelling has moved on since Star Trek’s early days – something that the very nature of Discovery is itself testament to. To run an entire season this way – with another “galaxy-ending” calamity for the crew to deal with, which they all survive – risks diminishing the threat felt in future stories. If we as the audience can feel confident that everyone will be fine, no matter what else is happening or how badly the ship seems to be blowing up, that robs the show of a significant portion of the excitement, tension, and drama that its storylines have done an otherwise good job at creating. Book’s fake-out “death” isn’t the problem in and of itself; it’s a symptom of a much bigger issue – the obvious lack of willingness on the part of Discovery’s writers to allow even the most minor of tertiary characters to be killed off. In 2022 that’s out-of-date, and it’s a storytelling mistake that will have to be addressed in future.

Book survived… and so did everyone else.

The whole “Earth is in danger” angle is a trope that I wish hadn’t been brought into the story this season. It’s such a played-out cliché, and it’s one which, as I noted a couple of episodes ago when it was introduced, risks making the end of the story feel formulaic. It was obvious two episodes back that Discovery wasn’t going to allow the destruction of Earth and Ni’Var in the final act of Season 4, so unfortunately I went into Coming Home with that expectation firmly embedded in my mind.

That doesn’t mean that the route to saving Earth was easy, and on the Federation HQ side of the story with Tilly and Admiral Vance there were some absolutely wonderful moments. The swooping arrival of the USS Mitchell – named for Discovery actor Kenneth Mitchell – hit all of the right notes for me, echoing moments like the Enterprise-E’s dramatic entrance during the Battle of Sector 001 in First Contact. In fact, all of the evacuation sequences worked well, and after her departure earlier in the season it was nice to welcome back Tilly – however briefly.

The USS Mitchell arrived to save the day!

I’d have liked to have seen something earlier in the season to perhaps set up some kind of dynamic between Vance and Tilly, and that would really be my only criticism. The two didn’t feel like they had natural chemistry; I was acutely aware of the difference in status between the head of Starfleet and a character who, until a few episodes ago, was a lowly ensign. The two performers did well to sell it, but had we seen Tilly offered her role at Starfleet Academy by Vance, not Kovich, back in All Is Possible, I think we would’ve had some kind of baseline for their relationship. This would’ve let us see how far they’d come to be able to sit together and share a drink as they awaited what seemed to be the inevitable.

That said, I liked the evacuation sequences. In fact, this part of Coming Home might actually be my favourite – surpassing the meeting with Unknown Species 10-C, and definitely beating out the conclusion to Tarka’s story. There’s something about a doomed, heroic “last stand” that always gets me no matter how it’s played, and for Vance and Tilly, they knew that they didn’t have any control over the DMA situation. They had to do their jobs knowing there was nothing they could do to prevent what was happening – they were relying entirely on Captain Burnham and the USS Discovery.

Admiral Vance led the evacuation efforts.

That setup led to a real unexpected highlight. I maintain it would still have worked were it not Earth in the firing line, but setting aside that particular narrative gripe, the scenes at Federation Headquarters were pitch-perfect. Seeing Federation HQ warp in to offer to help, even though Earth was not a member of the Federation, really epitomises what the Federation is all about. That is the spirit of Star Trek, in many ways: offering to help while asking nothing in return. The DMA placed Earth in danger, and Starfleet rode in to help without even having to think twice.

Admiral Vance and Tilly both came to embody that Federation spirit in these sequences, and they gave it their all to get as many people to safety as they possibly could. Choosing to remain behind to cover the escape of the final ships was just the perfect end for both of them – and something I could absolutely see both of them being willing to do. As they sat down, knowing they’d given their all, and shared a drink, I was absolutely blown away by this unexpected and wonderful addition to Coming Home.

Tilly and Admiral Vance sharing a drink.

We also got to spend a little more time with some of Tilly’s cadets from All Is Possible. After those characters fell somewhat flat in that story, it seems like at least some of them have grown into their roles as Starfleet cadets, which was nice to see. It wasn’t a huge part of this side of the story, but it was a neat way to include something that had been established earlier in the season.

There was, unfortunately, a gaping hole on this side of the story. It wasn’t really apparent until Coming Home was drawing to a close, and it didn’t detract from the way any of these incredibly emotional moments felt as they unfolded. But in retrospect I have to ask: where was Dr Kovich? Is he just a gag character now, someone whose lines tease stories that sound interesting but go nowhere? Because that’s what it feels like. After Dr Kovich’s line in The Galactic Barrier that he had “more important things” to do than make first contact with the species who built the DMA, I was hoping that Discovery would pay that off somehow… but it didn’t happen.

What happened to Dr Kovich?

We’ll deal more with the Dr Kovich situation when I take a look back at the season as a whole, but suffice to say that his absence from this part of the story was noticeable, and several threads that seemed to tease that he was working on something interesting with Lieutenant Commander Bryce ultimately just went nowhere. This isn’t a situation like the Picard Season 1 finale, either, where the meandering story of the season ran out of road and didn’t have enough time to pay off its stories… this was a conscious choice on the part of Discovery’s writers. They teased us with Dr Kovich all season long, feeding us little crumbs of information that seemed to set up something about his character… and then just dropped it, perhaps with a snide laugh behind their hands, in the finale.

As the episode wrapped up, it seemed as though Discovery had one last surprise up its sleeve. As the President of United Earth was about to arrive, I wondered if we might be about to see Dr Kovich when the doors wooshed open – if not, perhaps a character from a past iteration of the series. When it was revealed to be a new character I wasn’t disappointed; it seemed as if the point the series was making with the buildup to her reveal was that the President of the Federation, the President of United Earth, and the Captain of Discovery are all women, which I thought was a neat way to go.

I had no idea who this was at first!

But there was more to it that, as a non-American, I missed at first! The President of United Earth was played by Stacey Abrams, an American politician and writer who’s been quite politically active on the left wing of US politics. This casting choice is interesting – and perhaps a little provocative! There will be people on the conservative side of things who will feel upset, and Discovery knew this well in advance of casting this character. Doing so was a way for the series to really emphasise its progressive principles, which have been front-and-centre just as they’ve always been in Star Trek.

Star Trek is no stranger to cameos and stunt castings, before anyone jumps in to say that this one is somehow different because of who it is. The King of Jordan had a cameo in Voyager once upon a time, and there have been real-life astronauts, scientists, and other celebrities who’ve all joined in for guest-starring roles. Considering that Stacey Abrams is, as far as I’m aware anyway, a newbie to acting, I think she did a wonderful job!

The President and the President shake hands.

I adored this scene with the President of United Earth. Set aside the casting for a moment, because the content of the scene made a huge impact on me. Coming Home had already been a hugely emotional story, so seeing Earth rejoin the Federation after two seasons outside it was pitch-perfect. Stacey Abrams and Sonequa Martin-Green excelled in their moments together, and what resulted was an optimistic and emotional high to bring the episode – and the season – to a conclusion.

There are some interesting real-world parallels that the casting of someone like Stacey Abrams arguably hammers home. After the United States had pursued a nativist, isolationist policy for four years, the country is stepping away from that. United Earth rejoining the Federation could be viewed as symbolic of America’s return to the world stage. From a British perspective, it could be seen as a hope for the UK one day rejoining the European Union after the Brexit referendum. Star Trek has always used its sci-fi setting to look at real-world issues, and those are just a couple of possible ways we can interpret this emotional and uplifting end to the season.

Captain Burnham and the President of United Earth.

We’ve come all this way but we still haven’t talked about Unknown Species 10-C! The visual effects used to create one of the most “alien” races ever seen on screen in Star Trek were excellent, though I would caveat that by saying that the meeting place being a carbon copy of the ruin visited in Rosetta detracted a little from the way things looked. Recycling sets has been something that the Star Trek franchise has always done, but this moment was the crux of a season-long story, and I think more could’ve been done to give Unknown Species 10-C’s new home a new look, even if it was just in a minor way through changes and tweaks. It’s been a millennium since they lived on the planet seen in Rosetta, so if for no other reason than the passage of time we might’ve expected it to look slightly different.

That being said, I liked Unknown Species 10-C both in appearance and in concept. Star Trek has a long history of showing us alien races that look only slightly different to humans – and in some cases are completely identical! That’s never been a problem for me; I think it’s part of the suspension of disbelief that one has to have when stepping into the Star Trek galaxy. However, the rise of modern CGI and animation, combined with new technologies like Discovery’s AR wall, mean that some very different aliens can be created and can be blended with real actors. This blend was seamless in Coming Home – as it has been, with only a few exceptions, all season long.

A member of Unknown Species 10-C.

The story of bridging a communication divide is honestly one that I could’ve spent longer on. Much of the legwork had been done in Species Ten-C last week, so we got less of the minutiae that a “learning to understand one another” story can provide. But what we did get was interesting, and we got to see how Unknown Species 10-C didn’t mean to do anything wrong – their scans didn’t indicate that there were sentient life-forms in the areas that the DMA hit.

In that sense, we have a comparable situation to the Burn in Season 3. Unknown Species 10-C weren’t some horrible invading alien for Starfleet to heroically defeat; what happened was a genuine accident, one that they regret. That may not be enough for someone like Book, who lost his home, his family, and his entire race… but it’s a different ending, one that many other sci-fi franchises wouldn’t have even considered. Discovery pulled it off, and while the story leading up to it was imperfect and padded, it worked.

A representative of Unknown Species 10-C conveys their regret to the assembled crew and delegates.

However, Discovery has now run four seasons with some variation of the “major galactic threat” storyline, and I think that framework needs a break. Not every story has to be about the entire galaxy, Earth, and the whole Federation being in danger – there can be just as much drama, tension, excitement, and emotion from stories that are smaller in scale. Just because a story doesn’t threaten life as we know it doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter, and how we as the audience respond to a story begins with the way the characters we’re invested in respond to it. So consider this a plea to all of Discovery’s writers and producers: try something different in Season 5!

I enjoyed the performance from Chelah Horsdal as President Rillak. For practically the whole season I couldn’t tell if we were going to get a “bad Admiral” type of character turn; President Rillak certainly seemed to have a Machiavellian edge that could have made for a wonderfully complex antagonist. In Coming Home, though, we got to see the culmination of her diplomatic efforts and her leadership of the Federation, both through the way the DMA threat came to an end and through Earth rejoining the organisation – something that had been one of her major objectives.

President Rillak speaking with Unknown Species 10-C.

For what feels like the first time this season, Stamets had more than just a couple of lines. It was a shame that he couldn’t be present at the meeting with Unknown Species 10-C; I’d have rather seen him there with Dr Culber and Adira to stand alongside Captain Burnham than some of the secondary bridge characters, really. But it was still nice to see Stamets and his family coming together at the climax of the story, and how Dr Culber forfeited his own chance to go on the away mission to be with them.

Stamets and Culber formed Discovery’s emotional core in the first season and the third, with a disappointing foray into a relationship squabble in the second. But aside from a few smaller scenes, neither character really seemed to have all that much to do in Season 4. With Gray’s story brought to a conclusion early on, in the episode Choose To Live, the family dynamic changed, but Stamets missed practically all of that. In fact, his only scene with Gray all season that I can recall was when Gray left to return to Trill. In short, I was glad to welcome back Stamets in Coming Home, and thrilled to see him bonding again with Culber and Adira… but the reason why it felt so great is because I’m aware of how absent moments like that had been all season long.

Adira, Dr Culber, and Stamets.

I was not a big fan of the Burnham-versus-Book relationship drama angle that began in But To Connect earlier in the season. It didn’t work for me, and I felt that the focus on Burnham and Book’s emotions, particularly in episodes like All In and Rubicon, came at the expense of other characters and other story developments. It was cathartic, then, to see the two finally reconcile in Coming Home, and I’m glad that the season didn’t end with their relationship left in question.

Because of the timing of Book’s fake-out “death,” it could have ended there and still felt satisfactory; Captain Burnham would’ve known that Book loved her, and his actions in his final moments would’ve been trying to stop Tarka and prevent an escalation of the damage he’d already done. That could’ve worked – but I’m glad that Book lives to fight another day and that they got to have a proper sit-down together and a proper reunion on Unknown Species 10-C’s planet. After a storyline that shook things up too much for my taste, a proper resolution that has hopefully set the stage for a rock-solid relationship between them in Season 5 was the least bad outcome.

Captain Burnham and Book embrace.

I enjoyed the speeches both Captain Burnham and Book gave to Unknown Species 10-C, and it was great that they were able to find a way to connect with a species that could have been “too different” to bridge the divide. Book’s speech after his resurrection was remarkable, and the emotion packed into each and every word resonated. David Ajala has done a great job all season long conveying Book’s grief and sense of loss, and he brought everything to bear in this scene as he came face-to-face with the race who killed his family and destroyed his home. It was heart-wrenching to watch.

Captain Burnham’s speech was likewise packed with emotion, particularly as she was still reeling from the shock of Book’s apparent death. This was definitely one of Sonequa Martin-Green’s best moments of the season, as Captain Burnham finally made contact with the enigmatic race. She had to convince them that they needed to stand down – and with just moments remaining, she was able to do so.

Captain Burnham spoke to Unknown Species 10-C.

General Ndoye, who had been responsible for Tarka’s escape during the events of the previous episode, stepped up and admitted what she had done. She presented a strength of character that I wasn’t expecting given how she’d been roped into Tarka and Book’s conspiracy. The idea that the first contact mission was progressing but was sabotaged by people who were unwilling to wait was an angle that was potentially interesting – but it didn’t need to go to such extremes, perhaps.

Still, I liked General Ndoye. Phumzile Sitole played the character with a kind of hard-nosed pragmatism, and although General Ndoye was in the wrong from Captain Burnham’s point of view, it’s only because we as the audience could see what was happening that we realised that. Ndoye acted in what she believed to be Earth’s best interests based on the information she had available – she was never a villain nor an antagonist, and she remained in that complex space even while Tarka was being transformed into an out-and-out villain last week.

General Ndoye.

A few scattered thoughts before we wrap things up:

  • Coming Home contained the first mention of the Borg in Discovery… could that be setting up something to come in Season 5, or perhaps some kind of tie-in with Picard? I can’t help but wonder! Seeing Captain Burnham go toe-to-toe with the Borg would be delicious!
  • Dr Hirai felt sidelined once again, contributing relatively little to the story. This character feels like a waste of potential – someone interesting whose role on the mission made sense, but who was underused and who underwhelmed in the few appearances he made.
  • The destruction of Book’s ship feels like it could be symbolic… but I’m struggling to find the intended symbolism considering that Discovery will presumably bring him back in Season 5, and the show didn’t exactly go through a soft reboot at the end of the season.
  • Unknown Species 10-C definitely gave me a “sea monster” vibe.
  • It was so sweet that Saru and T’Rina finally got together!
A happy ending for T’Rina and Saru!
  • Shutting down the hyperfield, which Unknown Species 10-C had been running for a millennium, seemed a bit quick right at the end.
  • It would’ve been interesting to see Captain Burnham having to lead Discovery on a Voyager-esque mission back to Earth… but Unknown Species 10-C’s wormhole tech meant it never felt like a realistic prospect.
  • I will always love seeing Admiral Vance with his family!
  • The use of Grudge’s collar to escape the forcefield was a clever inclusion that felt like classic Star Trek technobabble.
  • I hope we’ll see Unknown Species 10-C again and they won’t just be forgotten about in future 32nd Century stories.
  • Will Federation HQ now remain permanently in orbit of Earth? Or will other planets want to have Federation facilities, given that Earth has been absent for more than a century? It could be interesting to explore such a conflict in Season 5.
Federation HQ in orbit over Earth.

There’s a lot more to say, quite honestly… but I feel this is already running long. It’s taken me a long time – longer than usual – to get my thoughts in order, and I find that a lot of what I want to say in a more critical way is more about the story or structure of the season as a whole rather than about Coming Home specifically. It was a great episode in its own right, it capped off the season in a beautiful, emotional way, and left me with a real sense of optimism as Discovery prepares for a fifth season. But despite a solid ending, Season 4 as a whole is much more of a mixed bag, and I’d like to talk about that more on another occasion.

Coming Home was the emotional high point of an occasionally frustrating season, but it’s an episode that means we can say that things ended on a positive note. I’m genuinely excited for Season 5 and to see where the show goes next… but I hope it’s not going to be another “the galaxy is in danger” storyline! After the Klingon war, Control, the Burn, and the DMA, we’ve had enough of those.

It took me a while to get this review together, partly because of how much of an emotional experience Coming Home was… and partly because I’m feeling a little burnt out after three weeks of two Star Trek episodes meaning I was writing two big reviews! I really wish Paramount Global would sort out its scheduling…

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

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 4, Episode 12: Species Ten-C

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4.

Species Ten-C wasn’t just a good episode in its own right, with plenty of excitement and tension that showed how Star Trek can do a heck of a lot without resorting to violence and battles, but it was one that made the episode immediately preceding it significantly better in retrospect. I wrote last week that the one saving grace to an otherwise frustrating experience in Rosetta could be if the hydrocarbons discovered by Captain Burnham and the away team were put to good use – and that happened in a big way this time.

On the other side of the story, I finally felt what I believe the writers have been aiming for for weeks with the Book and Tarka storyline: that Captain Burnham was right, diplomatic initiatives should be given a chance, and that Book has fallen victim to Tarka’s manipulations. While this has the unfortunate effect of relegating Tarka from a complex character with an equally understandable motivation into the out-and-out villain of the season’s final couple of episodes, it clarifies what had been until now a very fuzzy and occasionally frustrating story.

The Book and Tarka storyline was expanded upon in a big way this week.

If I were to be critical of Species Ten-C, what I’d say is that it probably took too long for the season to reach this point. Several advances in the DMA/Unknown Species 10-C storyline were sprinkled in at or near the end of unrelated or tangentially-related episodes, with the Federation often running into problems or delays that took too long to surmount, and the result of that is that it took a long time to arrive at the hyperfield.

The story of finding a way to bridge the communication divide could have been a longer one, and it was handled in a genuinely interesting way – but with only half an episode dedicated to it here and just one final episode of the season remaining, it’s an interesting concept that may not be explored in as much detail as it could have been.

Species Ten-C saw the crew making first contact.

This story of learning how to communicate with someone far more alien than usual, and doing so while under threat thanks to the DMA, is not one that required a B-plot villain. While Tarka was interesting in his earlier appearances and his motivations were laid out in a clearly understandable way, the narrative just doesn’t require this additional element in order to be exciting.

Discovery has a tendency, as I’ve pointed out on a number of previous occasions, to try to inject double the tension and three times the drama when it just isn’t necessary, and if I were to make one comment about the series as a whole it’s that the writers need to have more confidence in their stories. Dropping the Tarka angle, or reworking it to make him less of an antagonist in this final chapter, would allow the main story of learning to communicate with Unknown Species 10-C to stand on its own – and as it’s already sufficiently tense, interesting, and engaging, Tarka’s villainy just isn’t necessary.

Tarka in Species Ten-C.

Not for the first time, Discovery has set up a character who feels well-rounded and complex, with motivations that seem understandable, only to turn them into a pretty standard villain later on. I wouldn’t have even called Tarka “morally ambiguous;” his weapon plan made a lot of sense when it was first proposed, and I even suggested that a show which has had themes of seeking a “middle ground” could have figured out a way to keep Tarka on board, building his weapon as a back-up plan while attempting to make first contact. But as with Captain Lorca in Season 1, much of Tarka’s nuance now feels lost; brushed aside because the writers determined that the season needs a villain.

There were other ways to formulate this story that either skipped over Tarka altogether or that kept him in that complex space. We may yet learn that his interdimensional transporter will be important, in which case he may have served a narrative function, but if the ending of the story is going to be Tarka’s defeat or death, with a reunion with Oros not being able to happen, then I think I’ll have to go back and re-evaluate his role in the season overall. This story already had the complexities of Unknown Species 10-C and the DMA; I’m not sure it needed a second antagonist, especially not one who seems to have come at the expense of an interesting and complex character.

Tarka with Oros earlier in the season.

We’ve also got to talk about the new character of Dr Hirai. In short, he needs to do something truly outstanding and unique next week – otherwise his inclusion in the season will have proven to be a complete and utter waste of a great actor. I like the concept of the character; a linguistics and communications expert seems perfect for this kind of mission. But in his two earlier appearances this season he did nothing whatsoever, and his accomplishments this week were relatively minor. It didn’t feel like bringing Dr Hirai along was in any way important to the success of the mission, with Captain Burnham, Zora, Saru, and even characters like Detmer, Nilsson and the very minor Lieutenant Christopher all contributing at least as much – if not more – to the story as he did.

He was ultimately sidelined by President Rillak, who chose Saru and Burnham over him for their linguistics and first contact expertise, confirming his relegation to a bit-part role at best. In light of what happened last week with Rosetta, I’m willing to wait and see if Dr Hirai will yet make a significant contribution – but with only one episode left in which to do so, he needs to do something big pretty quickly or we’ll unfortunately have to consider his inclusion in the story a bit of a let-down.

Dr Hirai doesn’t have long left to make an impact on the story.

There is one concept underlying the way Unknown Species 10-C reacted to Discovery’s arrival – and the conversation it prompted between Captain Burnham and the others – that I didn’t like. As humans, we’re able to recognise signs of intelligence in other species, even though we’re far more advanced and intelligent than they are. We can recognise the complex social structures present in ant colonies, for example, or how crows and some great apes are learning to use tools. Even though these creatures are far lower on the intelligence scale than we are, we’re able to determine quite easily that animals – even small and lowly ones – can exhibit signs of complex understanding and intelligence.

With that in mind, the idea that Unknown Species 10-C would see a starship arriving at warp speed, using a warp core and a spore drive, built from clearly artificial alloys, and somehow not understand that the creatures aboard it are sentient makes no sense. This species is supposedly much farther advanced than even the 32nd Century Federation, and even though they exist outside of the galaxy they must have the ability to scan and detect the existence of other sentient species, even if they choose not to interact with them. It’s conceivable that they might be selfish and not care about any other species besides themselves – but the idea that they would be unaware or incapable of determining intelligence in this situation is one that I can’t buy as a believable story point.

The USS Discovery approaches the hyperfield.

It seemed at first as though Species Ten-C was going to centre on this aspect of first contact, and I was certainly a little disappointed at first. But thankfully this didn’t last too long, with Unknown Species 10-C eventually getting the message and realising that the life-forms aboard the warp-capable starship are actually intelligent. Took them long enough!

I know that probably sounds like a nitpick – and it is, in a way. It’s just that, despite all of the talk of Unknown Species 10-C being very alien and having a very different culture, some things should be universally obvious – like if someone is capable of building a starship that can travel faster than the speed of light, use metal alloys that don’t exist in nature, and fly right up to your base to initiate contact, it’s probably a safe bet to assume that they possess some degree of intelligence. That should apply no matter who you are! And as pointed out above, humans are capable of recognising the signs of intelligence in the natural world. As a narrative beat, I get that it was in there to make the initial meeting feel very tense, but it’s kind of illogical if you think about it!

A representative of Unknown Species 10-C.

We didn’t get a clear look at Unknown Species 10-C, as their representative was partially obscured by a cloud of swirling gas. Nevertheless, the visual effects on this side of the story were mostly high-quality, and Unknown Species 10-C themselves at least seem like they’ll be visually interesting if we ever get a better look at them. I actually got a slight “Mass Effect Leviathan” vibe from what we glimpsed of Unknown Species 10-C. The design of the hyperfield was likewise interesting; it appeared much more solid than I had been expecting based on the holographic projections seen in previous episodes. Seeing it go from solid-metallic looking to swirling like fluid was also a very cool visual effect that Discovery executed well.

The only visual that I felt was a bit of a miss was Unknown Species 10-C’s shuttle pod/diplomatic chamber. When it arrived in Discovery’s shuttlebay it looked rather bland and low-quality, like a video game where a texture hasn’t loaded properly. It was clearly designed to look similar to the hyperfield, but I guess trying to blend that with a real set and real actors was difficult. It didn’t look awful, but it was noticeably lower quality when compared to the rest of the visual effects and animation work present in Species Ten-C.

This visual effect felt rather weak.

The idea of Unknown Species 10-C recreating part of Discovery as an environment for the crew works as a story point – I can quite understand why they’d choose to do something like that. But I confess that I rolled my eyes a little when I saw Captain Burnham and the others stepping onto the bridge set. It was understandable in the context of the story, but it didn’t make for a particularly impressive or interesting sequence when shown on screen. In fact, it almost makes Species Ten-C feel like a “bottle” episode – a Star Trek trope going all the way back to The Original Series where episodes would be set entirely aboard the ship.

As mentioned above when discussing Dr Hirai, President Rillak chose to bring both Captain Burnham and Saru when boarding Unknown Species 10-C’s diplomatic shuttle. And aside from totally sidelining Dr Hirai, this also left the command structure of Discovery and the rest of the mission uncertain. Rhys had the ship’s conn, as we’d see on the bridge near the episode’s climax, but who was in charge of the remaining delegates and the rest of the diplomatic mission? And how far did Rhys’ authority extend? Would he, for example, have been authorised to fire upon Unknown Species 10-C if time began to run out for Earth? Taking both the captain and first officer on this mission – when other experts were available – is a bit of an odd choice, and while of course as the audience we want to see our familiar characters leading the charge, it again makes the addition of some of these other delegates and experts feel like a bit of a waste.

The interior of Unknown Species 10-C’s pod.

A longer episode – or a story which had arrived at the hyperfield earlier in the season – could have spent longer on the whole first contact thing, and I really think that would have been worth doing. I’m actually getting a bit of a familiar feeling the more I think about Species Ten-C: it reminds me of the finale of Picard Season 1 in the sense that the season dawdled a lot to get to this point, and it feels like there’s a lot of important story points left to get through with very little time remaining. As a result, some aren’t being given as much attention or screen time as they probably should receive. We aren’t at the same level as Et in Arcadia Ego – at least, not yet. But suffice to say that Season 4 as a whole has left its final episode with a lot of work to do to wrap up all of the major stories in a satisfying way.

There were a few very close-up shots of characters’ faces that made the cinematography in Species Ten-C feel a bit odd. Close-ups can work and can be dramatic, but their use here felt rather gratuitous, with the episode both beginning and ending with them in a way that made it feel like the director was throwing everything at the wall in an attempt to make things seem even more dramatic. As I’ve said on several occasions this season when discussing certain narrative choices, Discovery is already a series that brings plenty of drama to the table – trying to take it from a ten to an eleven can sometimes fall flat, and a few of these extreme close-ups definitely strayed very close to the line.

Was there any need for so many close-up shots?

Book saw some significant character development this week after several episodes in which he felt very static. Although Tarka’s motivation for continuing to pursue the DMA’s power source feels pretty well-established by this point in the story, I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to reconcile Book’s presence on this side of the story in the aftermath of the failure of the isolytic weapon back in Rubicon. We hadn’t seen or heard enough from Book since that dramatic event to signal that he’s still on board with the next phase of Tarka’s plan – and this week he actually seems to have moved much closer to Burnham’s position.

Book’s cause is noble: he wants to stop the DMA from hurting anyone else in the way it destroyed his home and hurt him. And seen in that context, his decision to get on board with Tarka’s weapon plan was understandable. In Rubicon, Book indicated he would be willing to stand down for a short time to give diplomacy a chance to play out, and in the aftermath of the failure of the weapon, it wasn’t clear at all why he continued to follow Tarka. I’m still not exactly sure how he arrived at this point – was he motivated by fear of repercussions for the use of the weapon? Did he still believe it would be possible to destroy it after Tarka failed once? If so, is he now no longer willing to let Captain Burnham try for a diplomatic solution first?

Book in Species Ten-C.

These points were glossed over in Species Ten-C, but we finally got some movement from Book, arguably bringing him back into the fold as one of the “good guys.” It emerged that Tarka’s plan would destroy the DMA, destroy Earth, and destroy the hyperfield containing Unknown Species 10-C and the USS Discovery – so Book didn’t really have a choice! Again, this is Discovery pushing the story to extremes, and it feels as though Book coming back to the light is more of a necessity than a choice at this point. Still, it worked, and for the first time in several episodes I felt like I could relate to Book as a fully-rounded character again, not just a plot device caught up in the narrative wake of other characters with more volition.

There’s even a message in Book’s story, if we look a little deeper. The idea that grief can lead someone to a very dark place was already something we’d seen explored a little with Book earlier in the season, but now we can add into the mix themes of manipulation, of being lied to, and of getting involved with someone untrustworthy. It was initially grief that saw Book teaming up with Tarka, but he also had the noble objective of wanting to prevent others from having to experience that same level of grief. Unfortunately for Book, he relied on someone who turned out to be unworthy of his trust – and that’s how he ended up in this particular predicament.

Grief led Book down a dark path.

Reno saw her best scenes of the entire season on this side of the story, too. We’ll have to try to excuse the lousy “kidnapping” plot last week, because as weak and difficult to explain as that may have been, it ended up going somewhere significant. It didn’t necessarily have to be Reno as the one to reach out to Book – basically anyone on board the ship could’ve done so – but it was interesting to see her in this situation. Her words managed to reach him in a way that even Captain Burnham hadn’t been able to, and the sequences between the two of them worked exceptionally well.

Reno has often been used as a light-hearted character, bringing moments of deadpan comic relief that could lead to brighter moments in otherwise dark stories. This time, her role harkened back to her introduction in Season 2 – which was also referenced this week – when we first encountered her trapped aboard a crashed starship. A more serious performance from a comedic character carried a surprising amount of weight, and perhaps it’s because we know how Reno usually behaves and speaks that her words to Book meant a lot.

This was Reno’s best episode of the season.

For at least the past three episodes, Discovery seems to have been building up to a conclusion which is going to say something like: “if only Tarka and Book had told Captain Burnham what they were doing! It should have been possible for everyone to get what they want through diplomacy and communication!” and I don’t think that’s changed. It isn’t exactly formulaic, and there are still big questions about what Unknown Species 10-C will do and how Captain Burnham will respond to try to cool things down in the time that remains. But one way or another, the story’s going to get to that place.

As we approach the end of the season, feeling like we know roughly where the story is going to go was to be expected, I guess! And on its own merits, Species Ten-C was a good episode, one of the better offerings from Season 4 for certain. Whether it has moved things along far enough for the season finale to wrap up all of the remaining narrative threads is an open question, one we’ll have to wait until next week to get an answer for.

Book’s ship escaped the USS Discovery and entered the hyperfield.

Although I had some nitpicks within the story, overall I had a good time this week. Species Ten-C told a very “Star Trek” story, with perhaps some inspiration from the film Arrival in there too! Meeting a brand-new alien race and learning how to communicate is something truly interesting, and my biggest complaint is that I would have liked to have seen more of it – for the season to have reached this point a couple of episodes ago so we could have spent longer with Captain Burnham, Saru, President Rillak, and Dr Hirai as they worked on figuring out how to use a complex arrangement of lights and pheromones to communicate. It was nice to see some significant movement from Book, too, after several uninteresting or flat episodes on that side of the story.

Did Season 4 need to turn Tarka into a villain? I think that could be a question for a longer essay once the season has wrapped up! I could certainly entertain the argument that the Unknown Species 10-C story – one of misunderstanding, communication, and first contact – was strong enough to carry both this episode and the bulk of the season without requiring this kind of last-minute character twist. Between the DMA and the smaller character moments – some of which, as noted last week, haven’t been as thoroughly explored as they could have been – maybe it would have been better overall to find a different way to include Tarka. But we’ll talk about that more in the weeks ahead, perhaps.

For now, there’s only one episode remaining! This time next week it’ll be all over… or will it? Could a cliffhanger ending be on the cards?

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

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 4, Episode 10: The Galactic Barrier

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4. There are also minor spoilers for Star Trek: Picard Season 1 and the most recent trailer for Season 2.

Don’t get confused! According to Star Trek, there are not one but two barriers in the galaxy: one around the centre called the “Great Barrier” and one around the edge called the “Galactic Barrier.” They are not the same thing, and Discovery took us to the outer edge this week, not the centre! Two barriers, one galaxy. I hope that clears it up for you!

After being underwhelmed by the last couple of episodes, mostly due to their heavy focus on Captain Burnham’s angst over the situation with Book, The Galactic Barrier came along like a breath of fresh air. Though it relies heavily on the DMA and Unknown Species 10-C storylines, it came across on screen as two almost standalone sci-fi adventures, one starring Captain Burnham, President Rillak, and the crew of the USS Discovery, and the other focusing on Book and Tarka as they tracked down a rare element that they needed to cross the galactic barrier.

The USS Discovery approaching the titular Galactic Barrier.

Both of these stories worked incredibly well for me, and showcased how strong Discovery can be when it doesn’t overdo the character drama. This isn’t a soap opera – and when the show’s writers get the right balance between fun sci-fi antics and intimate character moments, we’re treated to what I genuinely believe is some of the best science fiction ever brought to screen – and some of the best Star Trek, too.

The central character pairings of Book and Tarka on one side and President Rillak and Captain Burnham on the other worked brilliantly this week, and when the adventures paused to spend time on these character relationships, it was a welcome break from the incredibly drawn-out conflict between Book and Burnham that had dominated the past two episodes to the detriment, I would argue, of other aspects of the season’s storyline.

Captain Burnham got a much-needed break from Book this week.

I wrote last week that the DMA/Unknown Species 10-C story was unfolding in a very similar way to the Burn last season – and, to an extent, Control and the Red Angel in Season 2 as well. Discovery is definitely still flirting with repetitiveness in that regard, but with The Galactic Barrier telling these two semi-standalone stories of the mission to cross the Galactic Barrier and Book and Tarka’s antimatter harvest, at the very least we got a bit of a break from that feeling of déjà vu that had been present.

Let’s get what is perhaps the least impressive part of the story out of the way first: Earth being in danger is such a played-out cliché in stories like these. It was hard to avoid rolling my eyes when Admiral Vance’s holographic message dropped that particular bombshell, and I find myself repeating something I’ve said about Discovery on several occasions in Season 4, Season 3, and all the way back to the beginning: the show is strong enough and its storylines are interesting enough in their own right that there’s no need for this. Falling back on tired tropes doesn’t really do anything to ramp up the tension; the mission to contact Unknown Species 10-C is already sufficiently tense, exciting, and dangerous that there’s nowhere left to go.

Admiral Vance’s holo-message.

For me, this wasn’t so much an epic fail as a piece of unnecessary fluff. I wish Discovery’s producers and writers had more confidence, sometimes, in the stories they want to tell. When a fictional setting is built up as well as Star Trek’s, and when we already know the stakes involved thanks to what happened to Kwejian, there’s no need to put Earth in harm’s way – doing so almost detracts from the story, because now we know for absolute certain that Captain Burnham will find a way to save the day! If another planet was in danger – say, for example, the Breen homeworld or Bajor – the story could still go in any direction. We saw with the destruction of Kwejian that the writers are happy to blow up planets. But when it’s Earth, far from feeling like the planet is in serious danger and Captain Burnham might not be able to save it in time… now I’m left with a sense that the story’s conclusion is an inevitability rather than a possibility.

But aside from that unsuccessful attempt at taking the stakes from a ten to an eleven, The Galactic Barrier was impressive all-around. The visual effects of the titular barrier were impressive, and it was a rare treat to see the USS Discovery at warp! I love the spore drive, don’t get me wrong, but warp drive has been a huge part of Star Trek going back to the beginning, so to see the USS Discovery at warp for what I think is the first time this season and only the second or third time since the end of Season 2 was beautiful. The updated look of ships at warp is absolutely fabulous, and I never tire of seeing it.

The USS Discovery at warp.

The Galactic Barrier had originally appeared in The Original Series, first in the show’s second pilot, Where No Man Has Gone Before, and again in the third season episode Is There In Truth No Beauty. The latter episode featured a pocket of space within the barrier, something that Discovery also used to great effect this week, which was a fantastic callback to the very beginnings of Star Trek.

Discovery has been criticised in the past for treading on the toes of the established canon of Star Trek. Some of that criticism is fair, some arguably is very nitpicky, but we’re getting off the subject! In The Galactic Barrier, Discovery didn’t overwrite anything but instead expanded on our knowledge of how this unusual phenomenon works. Using the way the Galactic Barrier had been set up in The Original Series as a baseline, the episode took the concept and fleshed it out, explaining why travelling through it is so difficult and showing why it hasn’t been attempted in such a long time. As the Star Trek franchise continues to grow, I’d like to see more of this kind of thing. Picking up an element from the franchise’s past and looking at it in more detail without overwriting what came before is incredibly rewarding for long-time viewers, and I hope that other Trekkies who enjoyed The Original Series are as impressed as I am with Discovery’s approach this week.

The Galactic Barrier was visually impressive.

I was wrong in my theory that Ruon Tarka’s friend was someone we might be familiar with… and I have to say that I’m a little confused by the way this unfolded. I always caveat my theories by saying that they probably won’t pan out and that getting too attached to fan theories is a bad thing, and I also said from the beginning that I might well be overreaching by suggesting potential crossover characters for Tarka’s friend. But as we moved through three episodes with this individual’s identity being deliberately hidden by Discovery’s writers, I felt increasingly sure that there must be a reason.

The revelation that the character of Oros was someone brand-new is fine, and I actually like the relationship between he and Tarka that The Galactic Barrier showed us in flashback form. There was a sweetness to Tarka that we haven’t really seen before, and a hint – just a hint, at this stage – that the relationship goes beyond mere friendship. All of that is totally fine, and is even good; it adds dimension and complexity to Tarka and helps turn him from a villain into an antihero we can root for. But I have to question why this character’s identity was so carefully hidden until this episode. What was the point? Was it just to throw out a red herring, to send fans like me into theory-crafting overdrive? If so, that seems a little cruel. It just feels like naming Oros as far back as But To Connect wouldn’t have done any harm to the flashbacks in The Galactic Barrier, and that there wasn’t any reason to go to such lengths to keep Oros’ name and identity a secret for so long.

Ruon Tarka’s “friend,” Oros.

Since Tarka’s first appearance in The Examples earlier in the season he’s been much more than just a “mad scientist” character trope. His characterisation may have begun with that archetype, but the complex and nuanced character that we’ve come to know is so much more than that. We saw this week how he dealt with defeat: his weapon had failed to get him the power source he’s so desperately seeking, and through the flashbacks with Oros and his conversations with Book, we also saw how he’s a genuinely loving and caring person, willing to go to extremes to reach someone he cares about. In a series that has been all about finding and holding onto connection, Tarka fits the mould in a different way, but no less of an important or impactful one.

The relationship between Book and Tarka is evolving, too. Tarka had been in control for much of their time together, dictating how the weapon would be built, what components he needed, and so on. But this week we saw Book take back control – firstly by threatening to kick Tarka off his ship, and secondly by demanding to know the full story of what happened with Oros and what’s driving him.

Book and Tarka make a great character pair.

Book has been pretty static the past few episodes; his development this season came earlier as he grieved for Kwejian, leading up to his betrayal and team-up with Tarka before the mid-season break. And I don’t think we saw a lot in The Galactic Barrier to further develop or explore the extent of Book’s grief or how he’s dealing with his feelings of loss, but what we did get was someone trying to reassert himself and regain control of a situation that I’m sure even he would admit has spiralled out of control.

Despite his complex relationship with Tarka, finding out more about the man he’s stuck with seemed to be important to Book, and the revelation of Tarka’s past seems to have solidified their partnership, at least in the short-term. It would have been possible for Book to take the antimatter and ditch Tarka if he’d wanted to; he seems to recognise that, at least for now, it’s in his interests to continue to work together. I suspect that there will be some pay-off to this if and when the pair make it across the Galactic Barrier – and I’m still rooting for Tarka to find a way to reach Oros. In spite of his misdeeds (or perhaps because of them), I find him a strangely relatable character.

Tarka in one of the flashback sequences.

One thing that wasn’t addressed in The Galactic Barrier was the status of Book and Tarka. Are they fugitives now, having detonated their weapon? Is Book in less trouble than Tarka having indicated his willingness to stand down? It seems as though Book assumes he needs to remain off the grid, otherwise I would’ve expected him to have at least tried to reach out to Burnham; their parting of the ways in Rubicon seemed to suggest a middle ground between them was possible, and from there perhaps even a pathway to reconciliation. I’m sure Discovery will address this before the end of the season, but it was interesting that Book and Tarka’s status wasn’t really discussed here.

One thing that’s baffled me ever since it was announced a few weeks ago is the scheduling of the next few episodes of Discovery. They will overlap with the first three episodes of Picard Season 2… and on a streaming platform I just don’t get why that is. This is something that I’ll address in more detail in my next theory post, but I wonder if there’s a possible crossover on the cards and that’s why the weird scheduling has happened. If so, perhaps we got the very first hint at it in The Galactic Barrier, with a reference made about Vulcans observing Earth prior to official first contact taking place. This could be a reference to the events of the Enterprise episode Carbon Creek, but it could also be an oblique reference to something we’re about to see in Picard Season 2 – the most recent trailer showed off a Vulcan (or perhaps a Romulan) on what appeared to be 21st Century Earth. We’ll dig deeper into this possible crossover in my theory post in the days ahead, so stay tuned for that!

A Vulcan (or possibly a Romulan) on Earth in what appears to be the 21st Century as seen in the recent Picard Season 2 trailer.

The burgeoning relationship between Saru and T’Rina took a turn this week, with Saru responding to T’Rina’s earlier invitation to dinner. There’s something adorable about the way both of these characters behave; they’re clearly not used to reaching out to someone else in this way, and the almost teenage awkwardness of asking someone out and worrying about saying the wrong thing is made so much cuter by the fact that they’re both usually so calm, wise, and stoic.

I’m glad that Discovery has given this kind of new relationship to Saru. It would’ve been easy, in a series with a lot of relationship drama coming from its protagonist, to either completely ignore the possible relationships between other characters or to give them easy, comfortable, safe relationships that don’t take up a lot of screen time. Discovery learned the hard way from messing with the Stamets-Culber relationship that these things don’t always come across well on screen, so taking a bit of a risk here with Saru and T’Rina is bold – and it’s working exceptionally well, injecting some lighter moments into a series that can be very heavy at points. It’s also sweet to see Dr Culber helping Saru as he takes these first steps into his very own new frontier; they work so well as a pair in these moments.

T’Rina and Saru.

So who do we think the Federation Vice President is? My money is on Kovich right now; I don’t see another plausible candidate among the very limited Federation HQ minor characters, and there was something about the way that President Rillak and Admiral Vance went out of their way to avoid using the VP’s name that makes me think that there could be a significant revelation to come. Kovich has remained ambiguous since we met him in Season 3, and although he went through some significant growth this season, particularly in episodes like All Is Possible, the events of The Galactic Barrier seem to have placed him right back in that mysterious space.

What is Kovich doing that’s more important than dealing with Unknown Species 10-C? And will this be paid off at all, or was it just a conveniently ambiguous line to move him out of the way so President Rillak could go on the mission? Sometimes it feels like Discovery has a plan with these moments, but then when the story ends and the dust settles, they turn out to be nothing more than throwaway lines! So right now I feel that there should be something bigger going on with Kovich – and again I’ll take a look at a couple of possibilities in my upcoming theory post – but at the same time, Discovery’s track record, and the fact that there are only three episodes left, makes me question whether we’ll see anything for ourselves.

Dr Kovich… Vice President of the Federation?

In a way, I enjoy Kovich’s ambiguity and the somewhat mysterious nature of his role within the hierarchy of the Federation. Speculating is always fun, but at the same time if Kovich’s position was fully explained and his role fleshed out, there’s a chance he might lose what has made him such an interesting part of the show over the past couple of seasons. I had initially pegged Kovich as a villain, perhaps a Section 31 leader or something like that. But episodes like But To Connect showed off that he at least appears to be committed to Federation principles, so I’m not sure about that any more, and I even struck the “Kovich is Section 31” theory off my list a few weeks ago.

We’ll save the guesswork for my theory post, but suffice to say I can think of a few reasons – both good and evil – for what role Kovich might play and why he might’ve chosen to recuse himself from the mission through the Galactic Barrier. I hope that, whatever’s happening with him, we don’t lose him as a character by the end of the season. With Discovery returning for a fifth season, I would hope Kovich could stick around for more ambiguous adventures!

Kovich and the rest of the senior officials.

Speaking of Kovich, it was said on several occasions this season that Lieutenant Commander Bryce is working closely with him, and he got a scene this week in which he parted ways with Saru that was very sweet. Although Bryce has been a secondary character, his goodbye with Saru hit all of the emotional notes that I might’ve expected from a major character, and this scene genuinely felt like two good friends parting ways, knowing that it could well be for the final time.

There weren’t that many characters with whom we could’ve gotten similar scenes, so in that sense it’s logical to use Bryce here – and actor Ronnie Rowe Jr. put in a beautiful performance opposite Doug Jones. The pair really sold me on this moment, and it was a surprisingly emotional scene given that Bryce has never been the focus of a major story across the show’s four-season run to date. Again, this is something to speculate about in-depth next time, but I wonder if Discovery plans to pay off Bryce’s story of working with Kovich in some way. Perhaps the two of them will work together to save the day… or perhaps Bryce won’t survive, and this moment with Saru was the equivalent of his goodbye to the series and to us as the audience!

Are we about to say goodbye to Bryce?

I stand by what I’ve said about President Rillak in her past appearances: she’s a hard-nosed politician with a Machiavellian edge, willing to use other people to manipulate events to get the outcome she’s looking for. But this week we saw – dare I say – an almost altruistic side to the Federation’s President, as she delegated power to her Vice President and accompanied the USS Discovery on its mission through the Galactic Barrier.

It’s still possible, in my view, that Rillak has an ulterior motive here. But at the same time, it was nice to see her recognising her mistake from the season premiere – in which her questioning and time-wasting on the bridge in the middle of a crisis was completely out-of-line… and arguably got poor Commander Nalas killed. Some characters on Discovery have arguably been less good at recognising their own mistakes and learning from them, so this was something nice to see; a moment of (apparent) contrition from a wonderfully complex character. As she has done all season long, Chelah Horsdal absolutely nailed it.

President Rillak joined the mission.

Captain Burnham showed last week that she has a weakness when it comes to Book – understandably so. But that weakness definitely had an impact on her ability to command her ship level-headedly, to such an extent that Nhan was given authority to overrule her if it came down to the wire. This week, with Book effectively out of the picture, we got to see a much more composed Captain Burnham, and she remained fully in control of the ship and crew as they made their way through the Galactic Barrier.

For me, this hammers home why the whole relationship drama angle that Discovery has aggressively pursued for the last few weeks is such a mistake. Captain Burnham is at her best when she’s composed and in control, able to draw on her inner strength to be the kind of leader that we know she can be. When she’s distracted unnecessarily by a fairly pedestrian and poorly-written soap opera-inspired boyfriend angst storyline, we don’t see her at her best. Female characters – especially leading characters like Captain Burnham – are done a disservice by the show’s writers and creatives if all they’re permitted to do is sit around and worry about the men in their life. By cutting the crap this week and focusing on what was a fun sci-fi adventure story in its own right, Discovery once again allowed Captain Burnham to shine.

Stepping away from Book was good for Captain Burnham this time.

Discovery presented Captain Burnham and President Rillak with a complicated question after Admiral Vance’s holo-message arrived. There isn’t an easy, clear-cut answer in situations like these, and I can understand both Captain Burnham’s position of wanting to share the news about the danger to Earth and Ni’Var with the crew so they know the full picture and understand the stakes, but also from a practical point of view, I can understand President Rillak’s wish to keep the information private, at least in the short-term.

President Rillak wanted to avoid losing control of the situation, which is understandable psychologically for someone in a position of authority. But more so I think her point about not wanting to leave the crew with an unnecessary distraction that could interfere with their work is a valid one; at the very least, waiting until the dangerous mission to navigate the Galactic Barrier was complete seems like a perfectly reasonable and sensible position to take.

President Rillak and Captain Burnham.

Because this is Discovery, though, and despite all the talk last week of “finding a middle ground,” Captain Burnham had to win this particular argument, and after a conversation with President Rillak, the news was ultimately shared with the crew and the assembled delegates. I like, however, that they waited until the most dangerous part of the mission had concluded before doing so – it feels like somewhat of a compromise under the circumstances.

It was interesting to learn that the mycelial network doesn’t extend beyond the edge of the galaxy. The network seemingly connects at least two parallel universes – the prime and Mirror – so it seems odd that it has this limitation. Obviously, though, for the sake of the story a way around the spore drive had to be found, but it does feel at least slightly inconsistent with previous statements about the mycelial network spanning an entire multitude of universes. This is really just a nitpick, though, in the grand scheme of things, and the mycelial network being a galactic phenomenon allowed Discovery to tell one of the most exciting and interesting stories of the season so far.

Dr Hirai.

I’m interested to learn more about Dr Hirai, the new character introduced in this episode, but he ultimately didn’t get a lot to do on this occasion. The talk of universal translators and making assumptions about Unknown Species 10-C was all very interesting, but until we actually get to see this faction for ourselves it was a bit of background that may or may not come into play… and it feels like it was there as an excuse to show off some combadges and other props more than anything else!

So I think that’s about all I have to say this week. The Galactic Barrier was one of the best episodes of Season 4 so far, telling two distinct stories that took our characters to some very different literal and thematic places. The sci-fi adventure of overcoming the odds to navigate a dangerous phenomenon was a ton of fun, and stepping away from the show’s recent focus on Captain Burnham and Book allowed both characters some much-needed breathing space. The show itself took advantage of this, too.

I had a ton of fun with The Galactic Barrier, and it’s an episode that I’ll happily rewatch for its semi-standalone adventure story when the season is over. With only three episodes remaining, surely we’re close to learning who Unknown Species 10-C are… right?

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

Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 9

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

After All In failed to move the needle in a major way, Rubicon came along! The latest episode saw a minor theory cull, with three theories being debunked – and a couple of others moving ever closer to being struck off the list! As the season builds up to its conclusion, this was bound to start happening, and I don’t lament the passing of any of the theories that didn’t pan out. We also had a rare confirmation this week, and with fewer new theories to talk about, the list will shrink for the first time in several weeks!

On reflection, perhaps I was a little harsh on Rubicon in my review. The episode was decent, but it suffered because I find myself struggling to get invested in the Book-versus-Burnham relationship squabble storyline, and that’s been a dominant force over the past couple of episodes in particular. I’m still hopeful that Discovery will find a sensible – and fairly quick – resolution to this, but at the same time I think I need to try to be less petty about it!

So let’s take a look at the confirmation and the debunkings before we jump into the main list.

Confirmed theory:
Tarka’s weapon will be successful.

Kaboom!

The obvious path for a “happily ever after” kind of story would have been for Captain Burnham and the crew to stop Book and Tarka before they had a chance to use their weapon. And, to her credit, Captain Burnham was inches away from success as she managed to talk to Book and convince him not to deploy the weapon.

But I guess that in her haste to patch things up with her boyfriend, Captain Burnham forgot about Tarka. And Book likewise didn’t make sure that Tarka was on board with his decision to wait for the communication attempt, as Tarka launched his weapon the second Book and Burnham finished their conversation.

Tarka launched his weapon.

I’m glad that the story took this route. It potentially opens up a more interesting meeting with Unknown Species 10-C, one with more tension and the possibility of conflict. But most importantly, Tarka remained true to his characterisation. He didn’t back down just because Book had a change of heart, and he wasn’t able to be persuaded by Captain Burnham’s request.

Tarka remains an interesting adversary. I don’t want to call him a “villain,” not exactly. He has a complexity and a nuance that makes his motivation understandable, even if his “ends justify the means” approach could very well lead to people getting hurt. I’m not ready for Discovery to get rid of Tarka… and I confess that I’m still rooting for him to find a way across the divide between universes.

So that theory was confirmed.

We also have several debunkings to get through, so we’ll run through those next!

Debunked theory #1:
Nhan works for Section 31.

Nhan in Rubicon.

This was a fairly straightforward one by my standards! When we saw Nhan in the promos for Rubicon, I theorised that she might be wearing a different uniform to the standard Starfleet ones worn by Captain Burnham and the crew because she had been recruited by Section 31. She could have been given a Section 31 mission aboard Discovery – perhaps connected to the DMA.

But it didn’t come to pass! Nhan works for Starfleet Security, and has spent some time as a soldier helping the Federation battle against the remaining forces of the Emerald Chain. She doesn’t appear to be making a big return to Discovery, either, merely appearing in a guest role in Rubicon.

Debunked theory #2:
Tarka will realise that there’s a tracker on the isolynium.

Tarka and Book working on the isolytic weapon.

This was another fairly simple one by my standards. In short, I speculated that Tarka would check the isolynium that Book procured and figure out that a tracking device had been placed on it. It seems like the kind of thing he might’ve done; he’s been thorough when it comes to his work, and he clearly didn’t fully trust Haz Mazaro.

But Tarka didn’t check, or if he did off-screen he didn’t find the small tracking device that Captain Burnham had placed. If this theory had panned out we could’ve seen Captain Burnham and the crew having to pick up the trail another way, or even being led into a booby-trap of Tarka’s devising! In a longer season, perhaps such a detour would have made sense. With only four episodes left, I guess wasting an episode chasing down Book and Tarka would’ve been extraneous fluff.

(Probably) debunked theory #3:
The DMA is (or was) a life-form.

The DMA in Rubicon.

It was never stated outright in clear-cut terms, but this theory now feels sufficiently unlikely that I’m striking it from the list. If the DMA was alive… it isn’t anymore! Tarka’s weapon saw to that. The arrival of a second DMA within moments of the demise of the first seems to confirm that the destructive anomaly is little more than a tool; the dredge or mining equipment that Captain Burnham and others figured out at the end of All In.

Unknown Species 10-C could still be a synthetic race, so the concept of a life-form on the scale of the DMA is still plausible in Discovery Season 4. But the DMA itself now seems certain to be little more than a tool – whoever is controlling it is the sentient one. It might’ve been interesting if the DMA had been alive, with a story similar to The Motion Picture perhaps unfolding from that premise. But now we must look to Unknown Species 10-C!

So those theories have been debunked!

Now let’s jump into the main theory list, beginning with those theories that are either new or saw movement in Rubicon. Then we’ll conclude with a few theories that are still in play, but which Rubicon didn’t touch.

Theory #1:
Unknown Species 10-C built the Galactic Barrier.

The USS Enterprise approaching the galactic barrier.

I’ve never been wild about the Galactic Barrier in Star Trek. It’s something that dates right back to the very beginning of The Original Series, but it’s always struck me as a bit of an oddity; an element of pure fantasy in a setting that prefers to base its astronomy on real science. The Galactic Barrier is also rather poorly explained, and can seemingly be ignored at the whim of Star Trek’s writers – some episodes depict crossing it as being impossible, others show starships moving through it with ease. It also feels like a 2D anachronism in the 3D realm; unless the galactic barrier is a sphere, surely flying up and over it should be possible!

But maybe we’re about to learn more about this strange phenomenon. Given their technological capabilities, it doesn’t seem impossible that Unknown Species 10-C constructed the Galactic Barrier – perhaps as a way to shield themselves from the races of the Milky Way, or perhaps to keep anyone from exploring too far and discovering their location. There are many reasons why a technologically advanced race might want to build something on this scale – and we could even learn that the harvested boronite is being used to fuel the Galactic Barrier itself.

The Enterprise-D is one of a number of vessels known to have passed through the Galactic Barrier.

One possible explanation for why Unknown Species 10-C might want to build something like the Galactic Barrier is to keep the Milky Way’s inhabitants in… but it could also be a shield designed to keep someone else out. That raises a very frightening question: what could be so powerful that a barrier is needed around the entire galaxy? And what could be so dangerous that being locked inside a galaxy with the Borg would be preferable?

With Unknown Species 10-C seemingly being very secretive, I think the idea of them building it to shield themselves is more likely… but there are definitely a lot of ways this theory could go!

Theory #2:
Someone else built the Galactic Barrier to keep Unknown Species 10-C out.

The Galactic Barrier on the USS Enterprise’s viewscreen.

If the Galactic Barrier is an artificial construct, perhaps it was created by another race or faction as a shield against Unknown Species 10-C. It could be the case that Unknown Species 10-C has used DMA technology against the Milky Way in the distant past, and some other race or faction constructed the Galactic Barrier to keep them out. If Unknown Species 10-C are belligerent and interested in conquest, it might take something on a galactic scale to keep the Milky Way safe.

The Q Continuum spring to mind as a possible candidate if the Galactic Barrier was artificially created. Admiral Vance mentioned the Q a few episodes back, saying that there hadn’t been any contact for more than 600 years. Given that the Q – or at least one member of the Continuum, at least – were very interested in the progress of races like humanity, perhaps they took a decision to “seal” the Milky Way to protect its inhabitants from Unknown Species 10-C.

Traversing the Galactic Barrier could be very dangerous…

Obviously this theory and the one above can’t both be right! And it’s a distinct possibility that the Galactic Barrier element of the story is just a convenient macguffin to blind Starfleet to Unknown Species 10-C and prevent easy travel to their region of space, dragging out the story and prolonging attempts at communication so other narrative threads could play out.

If that’s the case, we may learn nothing about the Galactic Barrier in the episodes that lie ahead! However, I still think it’s interesting to consider the possibilities, and it could be fun to finally get some more detail on this lesser-known but significant aspect of the Star Trek galaxy.

Theory #3:
Tarka’s mysterious “friend” is someone we’re already acquainted with.

At this point in the story, there’s no need to conceal the identity of Tarka’s friend – unless the revelation of this person’s identity is going to be a huge surprise. It’s possible that there is no Unknown Species 10-C, for example, and that Tarka’s friend is the one responsible – a theory we’ll look at in more detail in a moment! But it has to be considered a possibility that Tarka’s friend is someone we’ve already met, either in Discovery or in another iteration of Star Trek.

Rubicon hammered home Tarka’s desperation to reach his friend, and All In had given us a quote from Tarka about his grief at this person’s loss being unfathomable. Perhaps that was hyperbole on the part of someone very self-centred, but even so it feels like there’s more going on with this mysterious character. If there’s nothing special about them, and they’re just a brand-new character called something like Albert or Gladys, then why go to such trouble to keep their identity hidden during every conversation? It’s setting up a mystery – and for Discovery’s sake I sincerely hope it goes somewhere!

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

Theory #4:
Unknown Species 10-C is a faction from a past iteration of Star Trek.

Could Unknown Species 10-C be the Kelvan Empire?

Rubicon didn’t do much to advance this theory – though the DMA controller seemed to bear a very superficial resemblance to omega molecules and possibly Borg tech – but comments from Discovery’s showrunner during a social media event may indicate that this theory isn’t going to pan out, despite the mysterious elements and references to past Star Trek shows scattered throughout the season. In short, Michelle Paradise spoke about “designing” Unknown Species 10-C and how they’re “unlike any species we’ve seen before.”

It’s still possible that we’re dealing with a faction like Picard Season 1’s super-synths, who were only seen on screen very briefly, or an extensive redesign of a race like the Borg to reflect centuries’ worth of technological progress. But I felt it was worth bringing this up, as it’s certainly our biggest indication to date that Unknown Species 10-C may be someone brand-new to the franchise.

Showrunner Michelle Paradise recently dropped a hint about Unknown Species 10-C.

I said last time that I was beginning to get a sense of déjà vu. Many of the suspects for Unknown Species 10-C also felt like plausible culprits for the Burn in Season 3 – and the way that storyline ultimately wrapped up was unpredictable (to say the least). As Trekkies who are invested in this fictional setting, I think there’s always going to be a desire to speculate and theorise about how big events in new stories could be connected to the elements from elsewhere in the franchise… I just hope that the ultimate reveal of Unknown Species 10-C doesn’t prove too disappointing if it has nothing to do with Star Trek’s past.

All that being said, there are still some plausible suspects, even if the DMA’s level of technology would seem to rule out many familiar races. The Borg, Enterprise’s Sphere-Builders, the extragalactic Kelvan Empire, V’Ger, Species 8472, the Q Continuum, and the Terran Empire are all high on my list! For a more detailed look at them, as well as a few less-likely contenders, check out my full list by clicking or tapping here.

Theory #5:
Book and Burnham will reconcile and get back together.

Book and Burnham are currently separated.

Although I may have been excessively critical of it at points in this week’s review, I maintain that the Book-versus-Burnham conflict isn’t one that the show needs. It’s built on very weak foundations, with both of them (and everyone else on the show) needing to be incredibly blinkered (or incredibly stupid) and not being able to recognise a very basic pathway to the “middle ground” that became the focus of Rubicon’s story.

We saw a big step toward reconciliation – at least on Book’s part – in Rubicon, when he agreed to stand down and give Burnham and Starfleet a week to attempt to make peaceful first contact and convince Unknown Species 10-C to deactivate the DMA. Book was willing to take a risk by trusting that Burnham would permit him and Tarka to go ahead with their plan at a later time… whether she would or not is unclear!

Book and Burnham in All In.

So that’s a positive step. With the detonation of Tarka’s weapon, the story could go in one of two ways from here: either Starfleet will let them off the hook, with the debate over the weapon rendered moot by the arrival of a second DMA, or Book and Tarka will have to go on the run to avoid the consequences of their actions.

I would suggest that Tarka is a valuable asset to Starfleet, and they may want to bring him back into the fold to help work on the DMA problem, the Galactic Barrier problem, and other things. Book is far less important in that regard, but as he’d indicated his willingness to stand down he may not be in as much trouble. There’s a pathway here to bring an end to this feud – and I hope Discovery takes it in the next week or two.

Theory #6:
Michael Burnham won’t remain captain of the USS Discovery.

Captain Burnham in Rubicon.

One potential way to pay off the Book-versus-Burnham storyline would be for it to lead to a significant change for Discovery’s captain. We saw in Rubicon that Burnham was unwilling to give the order that could have hurt or killed Book – even though she had been ordered to do so by Starfleet. This fundamental conflict between her romantic relationship and her duty is not new, and could potentially lead to Burnham stepping back from her role as captain of the ship.

Maybe she will have the strength to do what she believes is right during the DMA crisis, but will resign afterwards, unable to contemplate doing the same thing again and wanting to return to her simpler life with Book. This wouldn’t be a bolt from the blue, as we saw her wrangling with these feelings in Season 3.

In Season 3, Burnham had to consider whether remaining in Starfleet was right for her.

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

I’m not really in favour of this, but it’s certainly interesting to consider. Now that we know that Season 5 is definitely happening, one possibility is that Captain Burnham will somehow leave the ship at or around the end of Season 4, making way for a brand-new commanding officer to take over. Because she’s been the show’s protagonist since Season 1, it seems unlikely, and the overall arc of Discovery between Season 1 and Season 3 can be read as Burnham’s redemption and ascent to the captaincy. But the show’s revolving door of captains may continue, and her conflict with Book and the difficult emotional situation it put her in could be the trigger to make this happen.

Theory #7:
Tarka will create his own DMA.

Tarka, Stamets, and Saru with the DMA model.

In The Examples, we saw Tarka – aided by Stamets – building a scale model of the DMA. Now that his plan to destroy it and seize its controller has failed, perhaps he’ll attempt to recreate the device using the knowledge he acquired. If so, he could inadvertently create a new DMA. Or, through time travel shenanigans, Tarka could turn out to be the creator of the original DMA!

Tarka’s story isn’t finished yet, and there’s still time for him to devise and enact a new plan over the course of the next few episodes. He had plans for using the DMA controller, so the next-best thing from his point of view might be to build his own version. He’s certainly clever enough – all he really needs is access to the resources to pull it off.

Theory #8:
Tarka’s friend built the DMA.

The second DMA in Rubicon.

As mentioned above, I think it’s a possibility that Tarka’s friend is directly involved with the DMA. It would explain how Tarka seems to know so much about it, even being able to recreate it on a smaller scale, as well as how he knows that it would be possible to use its power source to punch through to an alternate universe.

After all of the buildup, it’s possible that Unknown Species 10-C could turn out to be a single person: Tarka’s friend. It’s also possible that Tarka’s friend is working with Unknown Species 10-C, perhaps trying to find a way to reach Tarka across the divide between universes. There are a lot of different ways that this could pan out!

So those theories are new or saw movement this week.

Now, as I do every week, I’ll recap all of the other theories currently in play. I find it helps to keep everything in one place – it makes it easier to keep track of every theory so we can strike them off the list as we go!

Theory #9:
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 #9-A:
The Abronians’ homeworld was destroyed by the DMA.

Captain Burnham believes this image depicts a “supernova.”

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

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

Theory #9-B:
The Abronians’ homeworld was on the other side of the DMA.

Abronian stasis pods.

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

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

Theory #9-C:
The Abronians will return to help the Federation later in the season.

A deceased Abronian.

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

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

Theory #9-D:
The Abronians’ moon-ship may be useful in a later story.

“That’s no moon…”

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

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

Theory #10:
The Red Angel suits from Season 2 are connected to the DMA.

A Red Angel suit in Season 2.

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

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

Theory #11:
Saru will be given the captaincy of the USS Voyager-J.

Captain Saru in command… of a shuttle!

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 #12:
The ban on time travel will be explained in more detail.

HMS Bounty was able to travel back in time in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theory #14:
The crew will have to defend the Verubin Nebula.

The dilithium planet is vital to the Federation.

This one is definitely hanging by a thread right now. Season 4 continues to unfold in a very different direction, largely ignoring the main story beats from Season 3. But the dilithium shortage has been mentioned more than once, and as things stand right now, the Federation is in control of the galaxy’s only significant dilithium supply. The Verubin Nebula is almost certainly going to be a target – even if Unknown Species 10-C don’t care about it.

It begins to stretch credulity to think that all of the belligerent factions and races present in the galaxy would become aware of the Federation controlling this impossibly valuable resource and wouldn’t want to take it for themselves. And while it may not happen now until after the DMA storyline has run its course, I think sooner or later someone is going to want to steal the Verubin Nebula and its dilithium. Maybe it will be at the end of Season 4, maybe it will be in Season 5… who knows?

Theory #15:
A major character will be killed off.

A Starfleet coffin seen in Deep Space Nine.

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

In Stormy Weather, Dr Pollard raced through the corridors of the USS Discovery to reach a hull breach, but she survived while a nameless redshirt was blown out into space. And in Rubicon, the shuttle mission saw Saru, Dr Culber, Rhys, and Bryce all in serious danger, but they all made it home. Moments like these can make it feel that Discovery is shielding even its minor characters with some pretty heavy plot armour, but I still feel that there’s scope to see a major character death before the season ends.

Theory #16:
Season 4 will connect with the Short Treks episode Calypso.

Zora dancing with Craft in Calypso.

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

There are still significant hurdles to overcome if the story of Calypso is to be wrapped up in Season 4, though. Obviously we have the timeframe issue: will the USS Discovery be sent back in time, be abandoned, or is Calypso taking place centuries in the future? Then we have the USS Discovery itself – it’s been retrofitted since arriving in the 32nd Century, and now looks very different to how it did in Calypso. I’m not sure how Discovery will overcome these hurdles – but it’s possible. Zora hasn’t had a significant role to play in the last couple of episodes, but earlier in the season we definitely saw movement in this direction.

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

Star Trek has had some wonderful crossovers in the past.

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

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

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

Theory #18:
Some areas of the galaxy – such as the Delta Quadrant – avoided the worst effects of the Burn.

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

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

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

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

Theory #19:
Tarka aims to travel to the Kelvin universe.

The USS Kelvin.

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

Now that we know a fourth Kelvin film is happening, a major link-up between the two settings could definitely be on the cards. We don’t know how far the Kelvin timeline and the prime timeline will have diverged by the 32nd Century, and whether it operates like the Mirror Universe with every character getting their own alternate counterpart. If it does, perhaps Tarka met his own Kelvin timeline counterpart and that’s how he cooked up this scheme. If the Kelvin timeline diverged significantly from the prime timeline it stands to reason that the Burn never happened there. We also got an oblique Kelvin timeline reference in Season 3 – could that have been a hint?

Theory #20:
Book will find Kyheem and Leto on the other side of the DMA.

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

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

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

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

The Guardian of Forever as it appeared in The Animated Series.

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

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

Theory #22:
President Rillak knows what the DMA is and may be implicated in its creation.

President Rillak, leader of the United Federation of Planets.

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

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

President Rillak with Captain Burnham on Ni’Var.

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

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

Theory #23:
Unknown Species 10-C is extinct.

R.I.P.

Although the arrival of a second DMA may count against this theory, it’s possible that it’s some kind of automated system. With Unknown Species 10-C still being hidden and mysterious, it seems at least possible that Captain Burnham and the crew will arrive at their base to find it empty; Unknown Species 10-C may have already gone extinct.

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

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

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

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

So that’s the main theory list!

We also have two production-side theories in play, so we’ll look at those too before we wrap things up.

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, and we glimpsed her in the trailer for the second half of the season as well. But that doesn’t mean she will return as a main character on the show going forward, and her departure in All Is Possible felt permanent. Despite that, I’ve seen quite a lot of folks online who don’t believe that Tilly is actually leaving the series – so I wanted to put it out there officially and say that, in my opinion anyway, she is.

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

Production-side theory #2:
Season 4 will end on a cliffhanger!

Star Trek has a long, well-established tradition of season-ending cliffhangers! There have been some truly shocking ones in the past, including The Best of Both Worlds in The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine’s Call To Arms, Equinox in Voyager… and many more! With the story of Unknown Species 10-C and the DMA slowly being unpicked, it could be the case that we’ll get a clean resolution – like we did at the end of Season 3. But it’s also possible, in my opinion, that Season 4 will end in similar fashion to Season 2 – on a major cliffhanger!

That could be because the Unknown Species 10-C story didn’t conclude, or a war with the mysterious faction is about to break out. But the Season 4 finale could also set up the beginnings of Season 5’s story, just like how the final moments of Season 1 saw Captain Pike’s Enterprise link up with the USS Discovery.

So that’s it!

The USS Discovery inside the DMA in Rubicon.

There are still some huge questions facing Discovery as we move into the final four episodes of the season. The DMA and Unknown Species 10-C storylines have to be exposed – somehow – and there’s also the question of Tarka. Will he make it across the divide to the universe he’s trying to reach? And what of Book and Burnham – will they be able to put the arguments over the DMA behind them and reconcile? The next episode will take us to The Galactic Barrier – so maybe we’ll finally get to lay eyes on Unknown Species 10-C!

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

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

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 4, Episode 8: All In

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4 and Star Trek: Voyager Season 4.

After what seemed like a never-ending six-week break, Discovery has finally returned to our screens! I don’t necessarily mind a mid-season break in principle, but the way Discovery’s was handled was poor from ViacomCBS and Paramount+. Being announced with mere days to spare seems intentional, as if it were deliberately designed to make sure that fans had no opportunity to cancel or suspend their Paramount+ subscriptions. We’ve talked on several occasions recently about the need for ViacomCBS and Paramount+ to get a grip and demonstrate that they’re serious about this whole streaming business – and randomly announced, unscheduled mid-season breaks are not a particularly good look.

The six-week break opened up a gap for Star Trek: Prodigy, though – and if you skipped it or didn’t want to check it out because it’s billed as a show for children, do yourself a favour and reconsider! Prodigy was fantastic, and managed to be a series that really embodied the spirit of Star Trek. Unfortunately it’s only available “officially” if you live in the United States (even Paramount+ in Australia didn’t broadcast the full ten episodes for inexplicable reasons) but I daresay you can find a way to watch if you so choose. Check out my spoiler-free review of Prodigy Season 1, Part 1 by clicking or tapping here.

If you missed Prodigy, go back and check it out. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

So let’s talk about All In. The episode had a very strong “Star Wars” feel for the most part, with the gamblers’ den that served as the main setting definitely taking its cues from comparable locales in the Star Wars franchise. The Karma Barge felt like Star Trek’s answer to the Mos Eisley cantina in the original film, complete with shady aliens, drinking, gambling, and criminality – all under the watchful eye of a charismatic crime boss. And I can’t be the only one to notice the similarity between the way the names of Haz Mazaro and Star Wars’ Maz Kanata sound, can I?

I don’t object to these kinds of “out of bounds” places existing in Star Trek, and we’ve seen lawless settlements and shady saloons in basically every iteration of the franchise in some form or another. It’s a trope from westerns that the franchise inherited going all the way back to its inception. In the context of a post-Burn galaxy it makes sense that places like this would exist and would be popular with a certain proportion of the population. I guess the only real thing to say is that this Karma Barge was definitely more Mos Eisley cantina than Quark’s – and that’s a choice that the show’s writers and producers made.

The Karma Barge felt like something lifted from the Star Wars franchise.

After a break of six weeks, putting Book and Burnham back together makes a certain kind of sense. There are only another five episodes to resolve everything before we get to the end of the season, after all. But if we watch But To Connect and All In back-to-back, and take into account statements made by President Rillak in particular about the in-universe passage of time, the story feels pretty weak. All In kicks off mere hours after the events of But To Connect, and although it arguably says something about the connection or similarities between Book and Burnham that they both chose to visit the same location… it makes the story feel incredibly contrived.

Also, considering the major contrivances required to simply get these two in the same room, I’m not sure this pretty weak story setup actually accomplished very much. Book and Burnham are no closer to resolving their feud than they were at the end of But To Connect, and in some ways are a step further apart having tried and failed to talk it out. I think we needed at least one episode in between But To Connect and the Book-Burnham reunion to really let things sink in for both of them, so going from that conflict over the vote last time (which was itself a rather weak premise that could have been easily resolved) to this episode, with another phase of the conflict in a pretty contrived setup, leaves me struggling to find many positive things to say.

Book and Burnham were reunited.

If All In had been a stronger episode overall, with a stronger central premise, perhaps some of those feelings would’ve melted away. If we’d spent longer getting to the Book-Burnham reunion, or if the gambling storylines were better written (to put it bluntly) I could’ve seen myself getting to a place where it would’ve been possible to write off some of these contrivances. But as you can probably tell already, I felt that All In’s story was, once we cut through the contrived fluff, not an especially strong one.

Book and Tarka definitely got the better and more interesting part of the story, as they had to earn the magical macguffin molecule by tracking down a cheater in the gamblers’ den. Though All In skipped over much of Tarka’s process as he tracked down the changeling and modified a piece of equipment to trap them, it was a neat premise and one that, for lack of a better term, had a very “Star Trek” feel to it in what was, as mentioned, a setting that definitely drew on other sci-fi/fantasy influences. As an aside, I don’t think this changeling was a Founder – there are other shape-shifting species in Star Trek, and the way this changeling switched forms didn’t remind me of Odo in any way.

Tarka caught a changeling gambling cheat.

We also got to see glimpses of how well Book and Tarka actually work as a duo. In a scene at the tail end of The Examples we got to see them together for the first time, albeit briefly, and But To Connect showed them coming together to try to win the vote. But it was here, for the first time, that we really got to see their dynamic as a dysfunctional duo – and it works remarkably well. Shawn Doyle and David Ajala play off one another’s strengths beautifully, and they do an excellent job at showing how these two characters have such radically different motivations for undertaking this mission.

There was a moment later in the episode which seemed to hint at Tarka perhaps having some kind of emotional draw to the “friend” he told Book about in But To Connect that arguably goes beyond “just” friendship. It’s possible that this character is a love interest for Tarka, which could be an interesting development if: a) this character is still alive, and/or b) they’re someone we as the audience might be familiar with. Neither of those points is guaranteed, so this could be a red herring that doesn’t go anywhere significant.

Did Owosekun touch a nerve when she pressed Tarka about his “friend?”

That scene between Tarka and Owosekun was cleverly-written, though, and I honestly can’t tell if Tarka was responding to Owosekun with genuine emotion or was feigning it in some kind of double-bluff. He’s an egotistical man, that’s something we’ve known since even before we first saw him on screen, but whether he’s capable of lying and manipulating at that level to throw people off-balance is unclear right now.

All In was a good episode for Owosekun, giving her a storyline comparable in scale, at least, to Detmer’s in Season 3. A lot of folks have complained about Discovery not making good use of its secondary cast – the bridge crew in particular – so this might be the writers and producers responding to those criticisms. A similar role could have been created for Burnham or several other main cast members – so the choice to put Owosekun in this situation was definitely a deliberate one.

All In gave Owosekun her biggest role in the season thus far.

It was definitely a sweet moment to have Burnham and Owosekun paired up, and they worked well as a character duo for this part of the story. The moment between them on the shuttle was perhaps the strongest, at least from an emotional point of view, and aside from episodes like Explorers, where Captain Sisko and Jake went on their own adventure, it’s got to be one of the very few missions in Star Trek’s 800+ episodes where both principal characters were black. Add into the mix Book and the only non-black participant in this story was Tarka.

Unfortunately, though, I felt that Owosekun’s big fight was not well-constructed. This was the central turning point of the mission for her and Burnham, and there are basically two ways to interpret what happened. Either Owosekun was, as her rivals later alleged, essentially hustling the fight by throwing the first two rounds – which I don’t believe, based on the extent of her injuries and her interactions with Burnham – or the fight was simply badly-written and poorly-filmed, not allowing us as the audience to see any of the process involved as Owosekun presumably tried to figure out how to outplay her opponent.

Owosekun’s fight sequence was not well-constructed.

From where I was sitting, here’s how it looked like the fight went down: Round 1, Owosekun got her butt kicked incredibly easily by a far larger, stronger opponent. Round 2: the exact same thing happened. Round 3: out of nowhere, and with all of their money on the line, Owosekun suddenly became 10x stronger and was able to win by magic.

We needed to see something – anything, really – to indicate what was going on. Was Owosekun using the first two rounds to spot weaknesses or patterns in her opponent’s fighting style that she later exploited? If so, that was subtle to the point of being hidden. Was she, in fact, hustling, knowing that the odds would get better with each defeat? Again, if so, that was not communicated to us as the audience. Fights don’t work like this in any contact sport in the real world – so either the explanation is childish writing, saying that Owosekun “got good” at the perfect moment, or the explanation is bad writing and/or filming and editing, meaning that essential elements of the story were simply not well-communicated to us as the audience.

Owosekun on the ropes with her opponent in the background.

In a story that was already choked by the contrivance of Book and Burnham finding their way to the same place within hours of the events of the previous episode, the poor way in which the fight was executed on screen added to the sense that All In was just not working very well. It was exciting in the moment, I will happily concede that point. And Oyin Oladejo did a creditable job at making me feel that Owosekun was in danger, but determined. Combined with her scene with Tarka later on, it was her best episode of the season so far, and her best performance since That Hope Is You, Part 2 in Season 3. It’s just a shame that the material itself wasn’t particularly strong.

The final part of the episode depicted a card game with Burnham, Book, and two nobodies, with the magical macguffin molecule on the line. And here’s a piece of free advice to the writers of Star Trek, Star Wars, or literally any other sci-fi or fantasy franchise: if you’re going to make a card game an essential part of your story, either make it a familiar card game or explain the rules. Spending nearly ten minutes watching people play a card game that was impossible to follow because it used different designs for the cards and different rules was not entertaining in any way, and this sequence was the episode’s weakest by far.

Haz Mazaro and Burnham at the card table.

The game was called Leonian poker, and despite the “poker” moniker, the rules were not explained at all. The non-face cards had a vaguely familiar design, but were different enough that it wasn’t easy to see at a glance who was winning or who had a strong hand. And this sequence dragged as a result. Now I will freely admit that watching professional poker is not something I care about in the slightest, but at least if I do watch a poker game I know the rules and can follow what’s going on. Here, a combination of the card designs, lack of clarity over the rules, and the pacing of the sequence itself meant that it was impossible to follow what was happening. This led to a deeply unsatisfying feeling of being on the edge of my seat hoping Book and Burnham could defeat the “Emerald Chain holdouts,” but not knowing what was going on or who was in a good position. The entire sequence was just frustrating.

When designing any kind of fictional card game, it needs to either have its mechanics explained, or be visually very easy to follow – or ideally both. This game, while it may or may not have followed the basic rules of poker, was neither explained nor visually simple enough to be intuitively understood, and I think it’s that combination that detracted from this sequence. If it had been a shorter sequence it might’ve worked better, but it lasted almost eight minutes – and those minutes really did seem to drag.

I found the card game frustrating and difficult to follow.

The upshot of all of this was that Book won the game, meaning that he and Tarka could escape with the magical macguffin molecule. I think there was something at least somewhat visually underwhelming about this isolynium, too, that made the stakes of the whole gambling operation – and the threat from Burnham that Book was crossing a line that he “could never come back from” – feel a bit anticlimactic.

In the real world, of course, we have materials like plutonium and uranium which don’t look like much, but are very dangerous, and isolynium is clearly modelled after elements like those. But it doesn’t make for a visually impressive presentation in the way that, say, a barrel of glowing, pulsing, neon pink goo might have had. That’s a deliberate aesthetic choice on the part of the show’s creators – but coming in an episode that had a number of other weak elements, the fact that the highly sought-after prize that all of our characters were desperate to procure was a vial of nondescript metallic flakes no bigger than a coffee mug was definitely an anticlimax. I didn’t know what to expect from isolynium – as far as I know the material is new to Star Trek – but the way the magical macguffin molecule was presented felt like a bit of a let-down in visual terms. Discovery has done some exceptionally interesting things with some of its visual effects across all four seasons, including in a number of unimportant or background areas. For something so vital to the plot to be so visually uninspired made this moment underwhelming.

The isolynium – the macguffin at the centre of the episode’s story – was visually unimpressive.

All of this led us to Book and Tarka taking the magical macguffin molecule and leaving, planning to build the weapon. I don’t really see what was stopping Burnham having the USS Discovery on standby to jump in and try to apprehend them after they’d left the barge (which was, understandably, neutral ground). But I suppose that’s a bit of a nitpick. Technologies like the Spore Drive can feel kind of overpowered, so using them sparingly is probably no bad thing! What’s the betting, though, that Tarka already figured out about the tracking device and leads Burnham and the rest of Starfleet to a dead-end? Maybe I’ll save that one for my theory update!

The conflict between Rillak, Vance, and Burnham was one that had the potential to be interesting, but it strayed very close to feeling as though Rillak in particular, but also Vance, were lashing out at Burnham for something that she couldn’t have reasonably been expected to predict. Book’s turn in But To Connect was sudden, and their theft and escape came 90% from Tarka – he was the one who stole the Spore Drive prototype. I can understand the frustration that Rillak in particular would have as she tries to keep the Federation united, and I think Chelah Horsdal did a good job portraying that complex emotional state.

Vance and Burnham during their meeting with President Rillak.

It was also somewhat of a rarity to see Admiral Vance get a bit of a dressing-down from the Federation President. We’ve usually seen Vance very composed and in control, but this situation has exposed a vulnerability for him, as he fears not being able to see his family – or even for their safety – in the event of war with Unknown Species 10-C. Again, a stellar performance from Oded Fehr communicated Vance’s emotions expertly. I also liked that Vance was willing to find loopholes and bend the rules for Burnham, something that I think he would never have considered under normal circumstances.

As the episode was drawing to a close we got a tiny tidbit of information about Unknown Species 10-C. Much of the rest of the episode felt like a detour, so it was important in the closing moments to advance the season’s main story in some way. The revelations this week were that Unknown Species 10-C appear to have some method of cloaking an entire star system – making them far more powerful than the Federation had been anticipating – and that the DMA is designed to harvest a particular particle: boronite. This could be a reference to the Voyager episode The Omega Directive, in which boronite was said to have been used by the Borg to synthesise an omega molecule – one of the most powerful substances in the Star Trek galaxy.

Unknown Species 10-C live here.

This sequence was cut a little short for me; I felt Discovery could have made more of the explanation of this new angle. The DMA being akin to a mining tool confirms what I’d been suspecting – that it isn’t a weapon – but the scene in which this was explained was very short on detail. Burnham makes huge assumptions based on only a few pieces of information, and may not have the complete picture. For storytelling reasons I daresay her assumptions are accurate and I’m not expecting any of it to be reversed or undone, but I feel like a longer sequence with a bit more time for debate and discussion could have got us to the same place in a bit more of a believable way.

Finally, one of the more understated moments in All In was actually one of the best. Dr Culber had been feeling overwhelmed with his role as ship’s counsellor, and that slow build finally boiled over in what was a rare emotional moment in an episode that had its focus elsewhere. The sequence between Dr Culber and Stamets in their quarters was tender and sweet, and reinforces how the pair really are Discovery’s emotional core.

Dr Culber finally got to confront some of his bubbling emotional issues this week.

It also tapped into a theme that Discovery has been running all season – and going back to last season, too: trauma. Different members of the crew have come to stand for different responses to trauma and different parts of the grieving process. We saw Tilly choose to take a very different path, leaving the ship. Gray returned to Trill to try to pick up the pieces of his training. Book had been most strongly affected by grief and ended up going down a dark path. And in Dr Culber’s case, he’d been throwing himself into his work at the expense of taking care of himself.

Feeling that he had failed Book, and also failed to prevent Book from taking the actions he took in But To Connect, Dr Culber was blaming himself and taking it as a personal failure. Stamets seemed to be able to get through to him, though, and that’s definitely a positive thing. Showing how love can cut through moments like this is something that we’ve seen Discovery do on occasion, and it was powerful here.

Stamets and Culber took some time away from work.

So I think that’s it for All In. Overall, I’d say it was a bit of a disappointment, despite some individually strong performances and well-constructed moments. The central conceit of putting Book and Burnham back together in such a random way didn’t work for me, and as a result much of the drama at the gamblers’ den felt contrived. The climactic card game was too difficult to follow, leading to a sequence that dragged on far too long and was frustrating to watch, and when All In did find time for fun or interesting moments, they tended to be cut short in favour of returning to the contrived, less-interesting side of the story.

I don’t want to say this is “the worst episode of the season,” because that makes it sound like I hated it and it was irredeemably terrible. I don’t think All In was an awful episode; it’s certainly streets ahead of the likes of Season 2’s The Red Angel. But it was a bit of a let-down, and a weak reintroduction to Discovery after its six-week break.

With only five episodes remaining, there’s still a lot of work to do; All In didn’t move the needle in a major way. Tarka and Book are still on the run, planning to build their weapon. Unknown Species 10-C is still out there and still hidden. The DMA is still doing its thing, flitting about the galaxy. And Starfleet is still two steps behind both. It will take a lot to bring Season 4’s storylines together and start wrapping things up! I hope Discovery is up to the task.

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 – week 7

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

Because Discovery is currently taking an unscheduled six-week break, I was in no rush to update my theory list! The second half of Season 4 won’t air until the 10th of February (or the 11th here in the UK), so there was more time than usual to consider the implications of the most recent episode: But To Connect.

But To Connect worked well as a mid-season finale, even though some of its story points weren’t my personal favourites and some of the drama felt rather contrived. We have some interesting questions to consider about Ruon Tarka in particular, as the Risian scientist told us some very interesting and unexpected things.

This week we have three retiring theories and one confirmation. As always, we’ll look at those first before we jump into the main list.

Retired theory #1:
Dr Kovich is an agent of Section 31.

Dr Kovich.

Though Dr Kovich’s role within the hierarchy of Starfleet and the Federation is still unexplained, after But To Connect I think we can finally retire this theory – one which I’d been holding on to since we first met the character in Season 3.

Dr Kovich’s early interactions with Georgiou in particular seemed to show him as someone morally ambiguous to the point of being uncaring; he knew that Georgiou’s health was going to fail, yet did nothing to warn her or Captain Saru. Combined with his stoic demeanour and a sense that he wasn’t telling us anywhere close to everything he knew, I speculated that he could be an operative – or even the head – of shadowy organisation Section 31.

Dr Kovich’s first appearance seemed to set him up as a mysterious, morally ambiguous character – perfect for Section 31.

There was the potential for some kind of tie-in with the Section 31 series, but with that project seemingly being shelved (at least for now), that doesn’t seem like it’s a consideration for the writers and producers in charge of the overall direction of the Star Trek franchise. In fact, we haven’t seen any mention of Section 31 explicitly since Season 2.

We’ve seen Dr Kovich as a psychologist, working with Starfleet Intelligence, having a say in the running of Starfleet Academy, and now as an expert in the field of AI. Whoever he is, and whatever formal title or position he holds, I think we can finally rule out Section 31. Dr Kovich has turned out, to my surprise I must confess, to be one of the true believers in the goals and ideals of Starfleet – something he demonstrated clearly in But To Connect through his interactions with Zora and Stamets.

Retired theory #2:
Zora will go rogue.

Zora with Captain Burnham in Stormy Weather.

There is still an open question surrounding Zora’s burgeoning sentience, and what that could mean for Captain Burnham, the crew of Discovery, and indeed the rest of Starfleet. Whether this is something Season 4 will find time to tackle, or whether Zora will be dealt with in more detail on another occasion isn’t clear right now – but I think what is clear from what we heard in But To Connect is that Zora is firmly on Starfleet’s side.

Especially after Zora’s refusal to follow orders in Stormy Weather – a moment that came with a throwback to HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey – I was somewhat nervously awaiting Zora going completely rogue, perhaps even doing something to endanger the ship and crew.

Zora in But To Connect.

Though Zora’s refusal to share the co-ordinates of the DMA’s origin seemed, at first, to confirm my suspicion that this was the direction of travel for this storyline, Discovery ended up turning it around over the course of But To Connect, reassuring Zora that she could trust the crew of Discovery, and reassuring us as the audience that our heroes can trust her as well.

This was cemented by Zora sharing the co-ordinates of the DMA’s origin, but also by Zora being given an official role as a Starfleet mission specialist – the same loophole that brought Burnham aboard the ship after her mutiny in Season 1. Zora has started the process of becoming a more significant character on the show – something that I’d like to see continue in future episodes, as I kind of like the idea of the crew and ship working in tandem. It gives me Farscape vibes!

Retired theory #3:
Captain Burnham and the crew will encounter the Klingons.

Kol, a 23rd Century Klingon leader.

If we were going to see the Klingons this season, I think the diplomatic summit in But To Connect would have been where it happened. With the DMA seeming to be of extragalactic origin, it doesn’t seem like the Klingons will turn out to be the mysterious Unknown Species 10-C, either. So I’m choosing to retire this theory for now.

I don’t know why we haven’t seen any 32nd Century Klingons since Captain Burnham and the crew arrived last season. It’s possible that Discovery’s writers feel they’ve done all they can with the faction and want to move on to other stories, but having a Klingon or two as minor characters at key moments like the diplomatic summit wouldn’t get in the way of that. So I confess that I’m not sure why we haven’t seen any Klingons lately – but it doesn’t seem like we’re going to this season.

Confirmed theory:
Captain Burnham’s war experiences from Season 1 will come into play.

Captain Burnham in But To Connect.

In But To Connect, we saw Captain Burnham arguing in favour of a less-aggressive posture toward the DMA. She drew on her own experiences with the Klingons, in part, to inform this decision. While Book and Tarka argued for attacking the DMA with their new weapon, Burnham was one of the key voices advocating for a peaceful stance and to try to make first contact with Unknown Species 10-C.

It’s reasonable to plan for worst-case scenarios, and as I argued in my review of But To Connect, the two contrasting approaches to the DMA didn’t have to be a zero-sum game. It would have been possible to take a more balanced position, as Discovery has tried to do all season long, in which the DMA-stopping weapon was built while the Federation also made an attempt at peaceful first contact. But regardless, I speculated last week that Burnham would be the one to argue for making an attempt at peaceful first contact, reminding everyone that no one currently knows what the DMA is supposed to be nor what the intentions of its creators were. And that’s pretty much what she did in But To Connect.

So those theories are done!

Now we’re going to jump into the main list, starting with a few new theories and a few theories that saw movement in But To Connect.

Theory #1:
Ruon Tarka’s mysterious “friend” is someone we’re already acquainted with.

I’m sure that’s how Tarka would’ve typed if he’d used MSN Messenger circa 2002.

Why did Ruon Tarka avoid naming his “friend” when Book asked him about it? Tarka’s friend is supposedly one of the major motivating factors in him wanting to stop the DMA – he wants to use the power source at its centre to “punch through” to a parallel universe in the hopes of meeting up with this person. But when Book asked him who this individual was, Tarka tried to ignore the question.

This could be a complete over-reach, but I wonder if the reason for the secrecy is because Tarka’s friend is someone who we as the audience are already familiar with. This could be someone from Discovery, or it could be someone from a past iteration of Star Trek. Given that Tarka wants to travel to a parallel universe, perhaps his friend is the counterpart from that universe to someone we’re familiar with.

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

Theory #2:
Tarka aims to travel to the Kelvin universe.

The USS Kelvin, namesake of the Kelvin timeline.

There are many parallel universes, as Tarka reminded us in But To Connect. The Mirror Universe is one that we’re familiar with from Discovery and from past iterations of Star Trek – but Tarka seemed to suggest that that isn’t his destination. In addition, Dr Kovich told us in Season 3 that travel to and from the Mirror Universe is no longer possible as of the 32nd Century.

Though Star Trek has shown us a number of different parallel universes before, the other major one that comes to mind is the Kelvin timeline (also known as the “JJ-verse”) in which the three reboot films were set. 2009’s Star Trek showed us the point of divergence; the moment at which this universe and the prime timeline separated: the arrival of Nero and his attack on the USS Kelvin. Star Trek Into Darkness and Star Trek Beyond furthered our understanding of that universe somewhat.

Kirk and Spock in the Kelvin timeline.

A fourth Kelvin film may or may not be happening, but even if it does the setting remains ripe for further exploration. We don’t know how far the Kelvin timeline and the prime timeline will have diverged, and whether it operates like the Mirror Universe with every character getting their own alternate counterpart. If it does, perhaps Tarka met his own Kelvin timeline counterpart and that’s how he cooked up this scheme.

Though Tarka is correct about the multitude of different universes and realities, of all the ones we’ve spent a significant amount of time with thus far in Star Trek, the Kelvin timeline seems the most likely destination. Compared to the likes of the Mirror Universe it’s safer, and if it diverged significantly from the prime timeline it stands to reason that the Burn never happened. We also got an oblique Kelvin timeline reference in Season 3 – could that have been a hint?

Theory #3:
Tarka’s friend made the DMA.

Tarka and Stamets made a model DMA.

How does Ruon Tarka know so much about the DMA and its inner workings? It’s true that he got data from the USS Discovery’s mission, from the scans Book’s ship took, and from other sources, but even so he seems to have been able to figure out the precise mechanisms by which the DMA operates incredibly quickly. This leads me to suspect that he may know more about it than he’s willing to say.

We should acknowledge a production-side explanation here. The way Discovery Season 4 has been written and edited has seen a number of key moments in the DMA storyline blitzed through incredibly quickly. As the audience, we’ve been parachuted in just in time to see key moments: Stamets’ proto-wormhole theory, the DMA being an artificial construct, the DMA coming from outside of the galaxy, and the discovery of its origin point. The fact that these key moments happened in relatively short sequences with not a lot of setup adds to this sense that people like Tarka seem to have accumulated a lot of information about the DMA very quickly, and we should acknowledge that he claims to have been working on this problem off-screen for many weeks, if not months.

Tarka and T’Rina with a hologram of the DMA.

So there is that caveat. But something about the way Tarka stormed aboard the USS Discovery in The Examples with clear blueprints for building a scale model of the DMA did give me pause. And then in But To Connect, his plan to disable it (but not destroy it) using a very specific type of weapon also seems to have come along at a very convenient moment.

In short, I’m speculating that Tarka knows more about the DMA than he’s letting on, and that his friend may be involved in its creation. If his friend is from a parallel universe, they may have even built the DMA specifically to help Tarka travel there. In The Examples, Book accused Tarka of knowing who made the DMA, which could be a further piece of evidence.

Theory #4:
Book and Burnham will get back together.

Book and Burnham earlier in the season.

If there’s one thing that I’d cut from Season 4 it would be the unnecessary insertion of more Burnham relationship drama. After everything she went through with Ash Tyler in Seasons 1 and 2, finding a way for her to feel settled was a huge net positive for the series. She doesn’t need to have that with Book, but having established that they worked very well together as a couple, undoing that would not be my preference.

So this is as much a hope as it is a bona fide theory, but I would like very much for Book and Burnham to resolve their differences – and quickly. Whether that will come from Book realising that Tarka has manipulated him, from Burnham reaching out, from the pair finding a way to compromise… it doesn’t really matter. But I’d hope that, within an episode or two of Season 4’s return, we can put all of this nonsense to bed. Permanently.

Theory #5:
The DMA isn’t a super-weapon.

President Rillak convinced Captain Burnham to make this argument to the delegates in But To Connect.

We got a more detailed examination of this argument in But To Connect, and as mentioned it was Burnham – with no small amount of prompting from President Rillak – who led the charge.

In brief, the DMA being damaging and destructive doesn’t prove that it’s a super-weapon, even if it was artificially created. I’d add into this discussion the fact that the DMA, in all the weeks (or months) that it’s been in the Milky Way, has destroyed one planet and one small asteroid colony. If someone were using the DMA as a weapon, it seems remarkably inefficient to have harmed precisely two places in all that time.

Captain Burnham pointed out that we have no frame of reference when it comes to Unknown Species 10-C and the DMA. There’s simply no way of knowing what their intentions were by creating this anomaly, and while it could be a weapon, there’s also a chance that it isn’t. Right now, the fact that the DMA has been misunderstood feels like a distinct possibility.

Theory #6:
The DMA is a life-form.

Zora is an AI that came to life. Maybe the DMA is too?

On the other side of But To Connect we got into a complex discussion with Stamets, Dr Kovich, and the others about the nature of Zora. At what point does an artificial construct become a distinct and unique life-form? This argument had echoes of past Star Trek episodes like The Measure of a Man and Author, Author, and was interesting in its own right. But could it be laying the groundwork for something to come with the DMA?

Star Trek has shown us life-forms like V’Ger – a giant energy cloud surrounding an artificial life-form. Perhaps the DMA is something similar, and while it may have started out as a simple piece of machinery, it has since evolved into something more. Just like with Zora, perhaps part of the second half of the season will be about understanding this new form of life – and protecting it, if necessary, from the likes of Tarka.

Theory #7:
Some areas of the galaxy – such as the Delta Quadrant – avoided the worst effects of the Burn.

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

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

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

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

Theory #8:
There will be a character crossover from a past iteration of Star Trek.

Star Trek has had some wonderful crossovers in the past.

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

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

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

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

President Rillak.

Although we’ve seen President Rillak working hard to unravel the DMA, I’m not ready yet to strike her (and the Federation) off my list of suspects! As we saw in But To Connect, President Rillak is very keen to see Earth (and other worlds) rejoin the Federation as quickly as possible. The DMA has facilitated greater contact between Earth and the Federation than there has been in a long time, and was also a driving force in Ni’Var rejoining. In short, if President Rillak ordered the DMA’s creation as part of a cunning plan to bring wayward ex-member worlds back into the fold… it’s working. At the very least, she isn’t letting the crisis go to waste!

I was also struck by President Rillak’s insistence on negotiating peacefully with Unknown Species 10-C. While this is perfectly in line with stated Federation values and objectives… could she have another motive? If the DMA was created by the Federation, destroying it could cause a shockwave to resonate along its wormhole and damage or even destroy the Federation facility or planet where the DMA was originally created. President Rillak’s peaceful approach may be intended to protect the people who created it – because she knows who that is.

President Rillak and Captain Burnham.

Despite her recent appearances seeming to suggest she’s firmly on Captain Burnham’s side, I see a noticeable manipulative, almost Machiavellian side to President Rillak. She’s brought Burnham on board because she believes working together is to her advantage, as she did with the Ni’Var negotiations and at the diplomatic summit. But she also used Burnham in both of those cases to advocate positions that it would be politically or diplomatically difficult for her to do openly – effectively manipulating those events from behind the scenes.

Captain Burnham needs to tread very carefully, as I firmly believe that President Rillak is someone who will happily throw her – and everyone aboard the USS Discovery – under the bus in a heartbeat if she believed doing so would advance what she considers to be the Federation’s best interests. And if she believed that the way to bring the Federation back together is to give the various independent worlds a threat that they couldn’t handle alone… well, that might just be the reason why she sought to create something like the DMA.

As stated in previous weeks, President Rillak may not have created the DMA, nor ordered its creation, but may be covering it up because it’s in the Federation’s best interests in her opinion. She may also be choosing to keep this knowledge hidden so she can continue to exploit the DMA for her own purposes.

Theory #10:
Season 4 will connect with the Short Treks episode Calypso.

Zora dancing with Craft in Calypso.

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

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

So those theories are new or saw movement last week.

Now, as always, I’ll keep the theory list all in one place by recapping all of the other theories that I currently have in play for Discovery Season 4.

Theory #11:
Unknown Species 10-C is a faction from a past iteration of Star Trek.

Could Unknown Species 10-C have already appeared in Star Trek?

Despite the fact that the DMA has passed through the galactic barrier, making assumptions is dangerous! We’re only at the season’s halfway point, after all, so there’s plenty of time for twists and turns.

Based on the DMA potentially having an origin outside of the Milky Way, the three suspects that immediately spring to mind are the Kelvan Empire, the Sphere-Builders, and the super-synths from Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard. They’d all been on my list of suspects going back months, and I really feel that any one of them would make for a potentially interesting story.

I have a longer list of suspects for Unknown Species 10-C, so for a more detailed look at these three candidates – and many others – click or tap here to see the full list.

Theory #12:
A major character will be killed off.

Shaxs’ funeral in Lower Decks.

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

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

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

Theory #13:
The Guardian of Forever will be back.

The Guardian of Forever as it appeared in The Animated 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. Because Captain Burnham and the crew still don’t know much about the DMA or Unknown Species 10-C, it would make sense to at least ask the Guardian for help – maybe it has encountered this phenomenon or the people who made it before.

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.

Theory #14:
The crew will have to defend the Verubin Nebula.

The dilithium planet is vital to the Federation.

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

It would begin to stretch credulity to think that everyone in the known galaxy would see the Federation rebuilding and having access to dilithium and not want to find out for themselves what’s going on. Once the Verubin Nebula’s existence becomes known, even if the Federation promises to share its bounty with all comers, it seems very likely that someone would want to take control of the dilithium supply for themselves. This could even be the objective Unknown Species 10-C have – they may be looking for a way to control the Verubin Nebula and its supply of dilithium.

Theory #15:
The ban on time travel will be explained in more detail.

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

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

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

Theory #16:
The Federation has flouted the ban on time travel.

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

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

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 #17:
Michael Burnham won’t remain captain of Discovery.

Captain Burnham in The Examples.

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 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 on the bridge in Stormy Weather.

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 #18:
Saru will be given the captaincy of the USS Voyager-J.

Captain Saru.

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 #19:
Book will find Kyheem and Leto inside the DMA.

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

In Star Trek: Generations, Captain Picard encountered Captain Kirk inside the Nexus – despite Kirk being declared “dead” after the Enterprise-B encountered the energy ribbon almost eighty years earlier. The DMA’s similarly 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: what’s going on with the DMA? Was it designed to kill? Or is it some kind of method of faster-than-light travel, using the wormhole at its core? If it’s the latter, perhaps some of the people on Kwejian may have survived or been transported to wherever Unknown Species 10-C reside.

Theory #20:
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 #20a:
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 20b:
The Abronians’ homeworld was on the “other side” of the DMA.

Abronian stasis pods.

The DMA seemingly contains the technology to generate an artificial wormhole. It’s thus possible that the DMA can facilitate travel between incredibly distant locations – not only for itself, but for other starships too. The subspace tear that the DMA left behind went nowhere – but it may be possible to get “inside” the DMA itself or even use its wormhole tech to travel vast distances.

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 #20c:
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 #20d:
The Abronians’ moon-ship may be useful in a later story.

“That’s no moon…”

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

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

Theory #21:
Captain Burnham and/or the Red Angel suits from Season 2 are connected to the DMA.

A Red Angel suit from Season 2.

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 something created by 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 #22:
Ruon Tarka – perhaps aided by Book or Stamets – will create the DMA.

Stamets, Tarka, and Saru with the DMA model.

I included Tarka on my list of suspects for the creators of the DMA, but this warrants 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 Tarka from building a full-scale replica (other than the power generation requirements)?

This theory posits that he will do exactly that – somehow – or that his experiments 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.

The DMA.

But To Connect fleshed out Tarka a little more, giving backstory to him and a potential motive for his single-minded pursuit of the DMA. He also may know more about the anomaly than he’s letting on – including who is responsible for its creation. Regardless, Tarka has been shown as someone willing to take all kinds of risks, and it’s not impossible to think that one of his risks could backfire – creating the DMA in the process.

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 theory to pan out.

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, and we glimpsed her in the trailer for the second half of the season as well. But that doesn’t mean she will return as a main character on the show going forward, and her departure in All Is Possible felt permanent. Despite that, I’ve seen quite a lot of folks online who don’t believe that Tilly is actually leaving the series – so I wanted to put it out there officially and say that, in my opinion anyway, she is.

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

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 well before this point in the season that the show has been renewed. This obviously 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 have arrived at Season 4’s mid-season break 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 hasn’t aired yet.

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. The abrupt announcement that the show is taking a mid-season break could also be indicative of issues with the production.

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.

Discovery will return in five weeks’ time.

We’ve hit the halfway point of Season 4 with a number of theories still in play! There are major questions surrounding Ruon Tarka, Cleveland Booker, the nature of the DMA, and Unknown Species 10-C in particular that all need answers when the show returns next month. It’s going to feel like a long wait!

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 currently on hiatus and will return on the 10th of February. The first half of 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, YouTube, and possibly other platforms in the UK, parts of Europe, and select other countries. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 – So who is Ruon Tarka’s “friend?”

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.

With Discovery taking an unplanned six-week break, we’ve got a little time to settle in and collect our thoughts. The first half of Season 4 has seen some progress toward unravelling the mystery of the dark matter anomaly, but there are still plenty of questions! From this point, the story could go in many different directions, and could potentially make significant connections and crossovers with past iterations of Star Trek. Today, we’re going to consider one such possibility.

In the episode But To Connect, which served as the mid-season finale, Ruon Tarka returned. Tarka is a Risian scientist who had been working on the DMA and who had collaborated with the USS Discovery’s own Paul Stamets in the episode The Examples to build a working scale model of the anomaly. We learned more about him this time, including what he claims to be his motivation for wanting to destroy the DMA while preserving the machine at its centre: he wants to use it to travel to a parallel universe.

Tarka made his first appearance in The Examples.

During a conversation with Book, Tarka claimed that he had “a friend” while he was forced to work for the Emerald Chain. This friend wasn’t mentioned by name, but appears to have been a major motivating factor for Tarka to find a way to cross the divide between universes; to “punch through” as he put it.

This could all be obfuscation on Tarka’s part; a made-up story to help him sink his talons into Book and manipulate him into doing his bidding. Tarka’s plans relied on Book: he needed him to either convince the delegates to approve the use of his weapon, or to use the stolen spore drive to deliver the weapon without Federation help. So we have to acknowledge that possibility.

Stamets and Tarka built a scale model of the DMA.

But I was struck by the way this conversation deliberately kept Tarka’s “friend” hidden from us as the audience. Book asked who the friend was, but Tarka quickly waved away the question. That makes me wonder… who is this friend? And could it be someone we’ve met before – maybe in Discovery, but maybe in a past iteration of Star Trek?

So today we’re going to consider a few possible candidates for Tarka’s friend. Who could this person be, and if they survived their imprisonment with the Emerald Chain, might we be about to meet them?

Tarka and Book aboard Book’s ship.

I can’t decide right now whether Discovery is setting up Tarka to be the main villain for the rest of the season, or whether Captain Burnham and the crew will resolve this storyline within an episode or two before moving back to the DMA and Unknown Species 10-C. Either possibility feels just as likely, so we could perhaps see the Tarka storyline rumble on for much of the second half of the season.

But we’ll have to set that aside for now! I’ve put together a list of candidates for being Tarka’s friend and we’ll go through them one by one. Just remember one thing: I have no “insider information,” and I’m not trying to claim that any of this will actually be included in Star Trek: Discovery. This is speculation and theorising from a fan – and nothing more.

With that caveat out of the way, let’s jump into the list.

Friend #1:
Aurellio

Let’s see… Aurellio is a bona fide scientist. He worked for the Emerald Chain. He and Tarka know one another. And although Aurellio has been mentioned several times this season, we haven’t seen him. Could he be the mysterious friend?

I don’t think so, not unless Tarka is even more devious than we think! Although we haven’t seen Aurellio this season, we’ve heard multiple times that he’s working with Starfleet, and he even built the new spore drive that Book and Tarka used in But To Connect. So unless Tarka has somehow managed to fake Aurellio’s entire existence… I think we can rule him out.

But on the surface, Aurellio fits the bill in some respects! We don’t really know of any other ex-Emerald Chain scientists, so it’s an outside possibility that Aurellio is involved in all of this somehow.

Friend #2:
Altan Inigo Soong

Dr Soong is the son of Data’s creator, and was encountered by Admiral Picard on the planet Coppelius in Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 – the first part of the Picard Season 1 finale. As a human from the 24th Century, he shouldn’t still be alive almost eight centuries later, but Dr Soong had plans to transfer his consciousness into a synthetic body. This process was mentioned earlier in Discovery Season 4, as it was used to give Gray a physical body.

If Dr Soong was ultimately successful, it’s possible that his synthetic form survived to the 32nd Century, and he could therefore be Tarka’s friend. He was already a skilled scientist when Picard met him, and with centuries of time to develop his skills he could have proven invaluable to an organisation like the Emerald Chain.

Now we get into abject speculation, but if Unknown Species 10-C turns out to be connected to the super-synths from Picard Season 1, this could give Dr Soong an additional motive for wanting to escape to a parallel universe: he might be aware of the threat they pose to the galaxy and all organic races.

Friend #3:
The Doctor

Nothing that Tarka said about his friend implied that they’re organic – so the Doctor being a hologram shouldn’t count against him! I’ve speculated before that a backup copy of the Doctor could still be alive in the 32nd Century, as we saw in the Voyager Season 4 episode Living Witness. While the Doctor wasn’t a scientist per se, after decades living and working with the Kyrians in the Delta Quadrant he may have broadened his skills.

If the Doctor was re-activated to find a galaxy ravaged by the Burn and all of his friends long gone, he might well want to escape to an alternate reality – there’d be nothing left for him in the prime timeline.

Perhaps the Emerald Chain intercepted his ship while he was on his way from the Delta Quadrant, or perhaps this is a different copy or version of the Doctor altogether from the one we saw in Living Witness. Because of the Doctor’s nature as a hologram, he could have easily survived this long.

Friend #4:
Control

Captain Leland, who had been “assimilated” by the Control AI, was killed at the end of Season 2, and the existence of life in the 32nd Century seems to suggest that Control was permanently shut down shortly after the USS Discovery left. But what if that didn’t happen, or if the shutdown of Control was incomplete?

So far this season we’ve had more mentions of Control – and a greater discussion of the implications of its rise – than we got in the entirety of Season 3. Could that be setting up something big later in the season? Could Tarka’s friend actually be someone that the Control AI “assimilated?”

If so, perhaps Control plans to abandon this universe to find one more easily attacked and dominated – and Tarka may find that his friendship with whomever it is was little more than a ruse.

Friend #5:
Another Ruon Tarka

There are multiple parallel universes – perhaps an infinite number! At least some of those universes contain alternate versions of everyone we’re familiar with: the Mirror Universe and the alternate reality of the Kelvin films being just two examples. So what if Ruon Tarka’s “friend” is, in fact, a parallel universe version of himself?

Tarka was confident that the parallel universe he intends to reach is better than the post-Burn reality he currently inhabits. But how could he possibly know that unless he’d either seen it for himself or met someone from that reality? Though in theory anyone from that universe could be Tarka’s friend, I think someone with the self-assuredness and arrogance of Tarka would be more inclined to trust his own counterpart.

We know that Tarka isn’t bound for the Mirror Universe – at least based on what he told Book. But here’s a spoiler for my next theory post: what if he’s trying to reach the Kelvin timeline? His unnamed friend could be his Kelvin timeline counterpart.

Friend #6:
Michael Burnham

We’re sticking with the parallel universe theme here. If an alternate version of Captain Burnham had somehow crossed into our universe, perhaps she’d been captured by the Emerald Chain and forced to work with Tarka. She might have warmed up to him, telling him of her true origin in a different, better universe.

Burnham has a keen scientific mind, and had she ended up in Emerald Chain captivity they might well have tried to put her to work as a scientist. Discovery has also put Burnham at the centre of big storylines before, such as by making her the Red Angel in Season 2.

The counter-argument to this would be that everyone we met from the Emerald Chain, including Osyraa, Ryn, and Aurellio, didn’t recognise Burnham or claim to have seen her before. It’s possible that they never met her or that she was working in a different lab, but it could also be seen as a mark against this theory. Tarka also suggested that his friend was male, which could also rule out Burnham.

Friend #7:
Dax

Thanks to the inclusion of Gray and Adira, we’ve spent some time with the Trill over the past couple of seasons. Trill symbionts are particularly long-lived, and there’s evidence to suggest that Gray and Adira’s symbiont, Tal, may have been alive in the 24th or 25th Century. It isn’t impossible, then, for the Dax symbiont to have survived to the 32nd Century.

Dax was one character I felt could make a comeback in Season 3. Early trailers dropped hints about the Trill, and bringing back Dax could’ve been a great way for the show to give fans a nod and a wink – but without needing to bring back an actor from the past. The nature of Trill life means that Dax would be in a new host by now – and thus the character could be recast in an easy and inoffensive way.

In Deep Space Nine we saw Dax mostly as a scientist thanks to Jadzia, and while Dax had many different roles over the course of their lifetime, returning to a scientific field is a possibility – certainly if a millennium’s worth of knowledge could be put to use. Dax is also aware, thanks to their adventures with Sisko and others, of the likes of the Mirror Universe.

Friend #8:
Soji

Due to her synthetic nature, Soji is also someone who could potentially still be alive in the 32nd Century. With centuries’ worth of accumulated knowledge under her belt, and a desire to help her people, Soji may have continued the Soongs’ work on cybernetics at some point after her adventures with Admiral Picard.

We haven’t yet seen any Coppelius synths in Discovery’s 32nd Century, and I’d be curious to see what became of them. If they survived and were able to continue to build new synths, there could be a thriving population by now. Many of the synths looked alike, so it’s possible that Tarka’s friend may have a familiar face even if they aren’t a character we’ve met before.

It would be great to get a proper crossover between Discovery and Picard, and this could be one way of doing it. The only drawback is that, because of the difference in time periods, having a character like Soji appear in Discovery would potentially be a limitation on future Picard stories.

Friend #9:
A Borg (or ex-Borg)

Where is the Borg Collective? We haven’t heard so much as a whisper since Burnham and Discovery arrived in the 32nd Century. It’s possible that the Borg have been defeated somehow in the centuries since they last tried to conquer the Federation, but it’s also possible that they’re the mysterious Unknown Species 10-C!

Perhaps Tarka’s friend is a Borg, ex-Borg, or even the Borg Queen, and the Emerald Chain had somehow kept Borg in captivity. It could be that Tarka is the one being manipulated, and his efforts to stop the DMA will allow the Borg to gain control of the power source at its centre.

We saw in Picard Season 1 that Borg technology and components were deemed valuable, such that a black market had sprung up. The Emerald Chain is exactly the kind of immoral faction that might have dealt in harvested Borg implants, and that could explain why they kept Borg captives.

Friend #10:
Gabriel Lorca

Captain Lorca commanded the USS Discovery during the show’s first season – but this character was later revealed to be from the Mirror Universe. The prime timeline version of Captain Lorca has never been found, and despite Admiral Cornwell and others believing that he wouldn’t have survived for long in the Mirror Universe, it’s at least possible that he did.

Or perhaps we’re dealing with another alternate version of Captain Lorca, someone native to the parallel universe that Tarka is attempting to reach.

Regardless, it could be fun to see the crew’s reaction to encountering their old captain! And it would be neat to welcome back Jason Isaacs to Discovery – his performance was one of the highlights of an occasionally rocky first season.

Bonus Friend:
Literally anyone!

Thanks to technobabble, practically any major character from Star Trek’s past could have survived to the 32nd Century. Stasis fields, time-wormholes, transporter accidents, pocket universes, warp bubbles, and many, many different phenomena could be brought in to explain the reappearance of practically anyone.

We already saw an oblique reference to one such method in the episode Stormy Weather. The crew placed themselves in the ship’s transporter buffer in order to survive their dangerous escape from the void – a method employed by Montgomery Scott in The Next Generation Season 6 episode Relics. Could it be that this was more than just a callback to that classic episode, and was the setup for something that will come into play later?

With the exception of those few main characters who had been killed off outright – Captain Kirk, Tasha Yar, Jadzia Dax, and a couple of others – basically anyone could fill this role as Tarka’s friend and make a triumphant return to Star Trek!

So that’s it.

Tarka showed a hologram of the DMA to the assembled diplomats and delegates.

I could be completely over-reaching with this one, but I felt that there was something about the way Tarka refused to name his “friend” in But To Connect that could be significant. Why keep that individual hidden – unless there’s something that’s going to surprise us when they’re ultimately revealed?

We’ve seen the Abronians in cryo-sleep this season, and we’ve seen the crew of the USS Discovery put themselves in suspended animation in the transporter buffer. The DMA also contains a wormhole, a phenomenon that has been used to travel through time in past iterations of Star Trek. Gray used the “Soong method” to acquire a synthetic body. And there have been multiple mentions of parallel universes. Any of these could be hinting at the return of a major character, perhaps someone who used one of these methods to either survive to the 32nd Century or to cross over from their native universe.

So that’s my theory. Ruon Tarka’s “friend” is someone we’ve met before, perhaps someone from Star Trek’s past who we wouldn’t expect to see! Unfortunately we’ve got to wait at least six weeks to see if I’m right!

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 is currently on hiatus and will return on the 10th of February. The first half of 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, YouTube, 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 review – Season 4, Episode 7: …But to Connect

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4 and Star Trek: Picard Season 1.

Sorry for being a few days late with this review! I had several other things going on this week, including my big end-of-year article, a piece looking ahead to 2022’s entertainment experiences, and finally a review of The Matrix Resurrections that I worked very hard on. I also hoped to get around to a review of the new Disney film Encanto, but that ended up taking a back seat along with this review of Discovery’s mid-season finale.

As I said last week, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the way the mid-season break was announced. Doing so on such short notice adds to a growing sense that ViacomCBS and Paramount+ are being very poorly-managed, and while I don’t begrudge the creative team taking additional time to work on or rework episodes in the second half of the season if that work needs to be done, it raises some serious questions about the handling of the Star Trek franchise and the Paramount+ streaming service on the corporate side of things. If ViacomCBS truly aims to compete with the biggest names in streaming, nonsense like this has to stop. In addition, there are still many Trekkies and would-be viewers all around the world who can’t watch Discovery due to corporate bullshit, something else that ViacomCBS needs to fix as quickly as possible.

The opening shot of the episode.

But To Connect worked well as a mid-season finale. It was tense and had moments of high drama that demonstrated beyond any doubt that science fiction doesn’t need to drown in space battles and high-octane action to be exciting. It was also an episode that, unfortunately, made some of its moments of drama feel incredibly contrived.

After everything Michael Burnham went through in her rollercoaster relationship with Ash Tyler in Seasons 1 and 2, giving her the chance to settle down with someone like Book was an incredibly welcome change. Forcing them to go against each other – especially for a central reason that felt contrived in the extreme – would not have been my choice for the direction of their relationship. Discovery has, over the course of its three-and-a-half seasons thus far, felt a need to inject extra drama and extra conflict where none was needed, upping the character stakes to near-soap opera levels at times. Forcing Book and Burnham to work against each other is the latest example of this trend – and it’s a disappointing thing to see.

The last thing Discovery needs is more Burnham relationship drama. Let her settle down, for goodness’ sake.

Book fell under the influence of Ruon Tarka, someone who we’ll have to deal with in more detail in a moment. For now, suffice to say that Tarka pounced on Book’s emotionally compromised state, seemingly manipulating him to advocate for attacking and destroying the DMA instead of pursuing peaceful first contact with whomever created it. Tarka has his reasons for doing this – claiming he wants to preserve the DMA’s power source so he can use it for his own purposes.

Book was clearly not thinking logically – and given his grief and the external prodding by Tarka, that makes sense. But the idea that Burnham couldn’t help him push through that, especially given that the DMA is explicitly stated to not be an immediate threat to anyone, is the point that begins to stretch credulity and make this whole situation feel contrived and forced.

The DMA was not posing an active, imminent threat to anyone.

Here’s the central point: the DMA, despite its potential danger and raw power, hasn’t actually done that much damage. If we assume that Discovery Season 4 has taken place over at least a couple of months of in-universe time, which seems reasonable given how long some of the scientists seem to have been working on these problems, it’s destroyed precisely two places in that time – a rate of one per month. And aside from Kwejian, the only other place we know it’s hit was an asteroid colony with a population of a couple of thousand. The Federation and the rest of the galactic races present at the meeting clearly have time on their side: the DMA’s path doesn’t seem to be taking it near to any inhabited systems in the immediate term, and while its unpredictable nature could see it disappear and reappear somewhere more dangerous, that doesn’t seem to be its primary mission.

If the DMA were a weapon being actively controlled, it would have targeted more places by now, so the Federation’s plan to attempt to contact its creators makes far more sense than attacking it. Even if Book couldn’t understand that at first, being blinded by his grief or desire for revenge, surely of all people Burnham would have been able to convince him to see the logic behind this slower, calmer approach. If the DMA had been actively threatening a planet – especially a named world that we as the audience might be familiar with, such as Betazed or Sigma Draconis III – things would be different. But without that desperate and immediate need to stop another disaster, the rational approach is to try to contact Unknown Species 10-C.

Book fell under the sway of Ruon Tarka – someone who clearly has his own agenda.

Earlier in the season, we saw Burnham advocate a compromise position, and But To Connect should have offered another opportunity to do so: building the weapon capable of destroying the DMA before attempting first contact. If the DMA then changes course and presents an active threat, it can be destroyed. And in addition, having the weapon in reserve while making first contact would be a valuable asset. If Unknown Species 10-C won’t see reason, the weapon could be a threat. If there’s no one there to negotiate with, the DMA could be destroyed. In short, the answer to the pretty basic problem that the episode posed isn’t “do one or the other,” it should have been “do both.” Build the weapon as a back-up while preparing for first contact.

If Discovery hadn’t insisted on themes of compromise across its last two seasons, I guess I’d give it a pass on this false choice. But in context, it seems to run counter to much of what the show has been trying to say for at least the last two years: that there are always solutions to or ways around these kinds of conflicts. The question of how to approach the DMA did not need to be a zero-sum game, and someone like Captain Burnham should have realised that – even if Book couldn’t.

This didn’t need to be a “black or white” choice. Compromise should have been possible; this is a major theme that the show has tried to present all season long.

Not for the first time, I’m left with a sense that Discovery’s writers and producers have a definite goal in mind; an endgame for the story and characters. But they haven’t figured out how to reach that finishing point in a clear and consistent manner, leaving this side of But To Connect feeling contrived.

On the flip side, the speeches that both Book and Burnham gave were very emotional, and I can’t fault the performances of either Sonequa Martin-Green or David Ajala. Both came across as two people trying to do what they genuinely believed was the right thing; conflicted because of what it would mean for their relationship, but determined to press ahead regardless. Although this wouldn’t be the way I would have chosen to handle either character, there can be no denying that the performances were exquisite.

Both actors played their roles exceptionally well.

Also on this side of the story we had a muted role for President Rillak. Though she was on Burnham’s side – wanting to advocate for an attempt at peaceful contact – she chose to recuse herself from the debate, serving as a moderator only. I still get the sense that she has schemes in play – bringing Burnham along as an ally being one of the ways she tried to manipulate proceedings to get her way without being openly involved – but it was interesting to see her in a more centrist, unaffiliated role.

Among her ambitions from the diplomatic summit were showing the Federation as taking the lead in the fight against the DMA, but also opening initial channels to United Earth with a view to bringing the isolationist world back into the fold. We’ve seen a slight softening of Earth’s leadership since Burnham helped reunite Earth and Titan in Season 3, and it was nice to welcome back Phumzile Sitole as the newly-promoted General Ndoye. As a Trekkie, I want more than anything to see Earth rejoin the Federation – but only if it feels right. Earth shouldn’t be manipulated into coming back into the organisation, so this story beat will have to be handled delicately.

General Ndoye represented Earth and Titan at the diplomatic summit.

Ruon Tarka was perhaps the most surprising character in But To Connect. His self-assured cockiness was still there from his role in The Examples, but we got an idea of what could be driving him forward, and where his interest in the DMA may have come from. Stating that he wants to cross over into a parallel universe was certainly not something I expected – but at the same time it felt very familiar, and very Star Trek.

Tarka comes across as somewhat similar to Tolian Soran, the villain from Star Trek: Generations. Soran wanted to return to the Nexus – a paradise-like realm contained inside of an energy ribbon that periodically transited the galaxy. Tarka’s desire to enter the DMA and use its powerful controller to “punch through” to a parallel universe where he expected life to be better is at least somewhat comparable – and his willingness to break the rules and work against Starfleet shows the same kind of single-mindedness that Soran demonstrated.

Tarka is determined to use the DMA controller for his own ends.

We’ll save for my theory post a full discussion of Tarka, his possible motivations, and potential destinations. But suffice to say this character turn has piqued my curiosity. There’s the potential to get a more complex presentation of a “mad scientist” character trope, one which gives him an understandable or even sympathetic motive for his actions. I don’t think we’re at that point yet, but I see potential in this storyline.

Shawn Doyle was wonderful in The Examples, making Tarka stand out as a different take on a character archetype that has appeared on a number of prior occasions in Star Trek. This amazing performance continued in But To Connect, and Doyle deserves a lot of credit for the way he brought the character to screen with complexity – especially given the relatively small amount of screen time that Tarka has had in the season so far.

Tarka and Book formed an unlikely alliance.

As has happened several times already this season, though, Discovery quickly glossed over much of the actual work on the problems and puzzles posed by the DMA in order to get to the dramatic stand-off between Book and Burnham. Tarka’s weapon seemed to come out of nowhere, and although he’s clearly spent weeks or months of off-screen time working on it, in the episode itself it seemed to be a bolt from the blue; almost a deus ex machina solution to the threat posed by the DMA. As I’ve said on several occasions this season, the end result isn’t the problem – it’s that we as the audience really needed to see at least some of the process to get there, even if just by way of something like a montage.

In exactly the same way on the other side of the story, Zora’s discovery of the coordinates of the DMA’s origin was completely blitzed through in order to get to the story that the episode really wanted to tell. When it comes to the DMA, which is the season’s “big bad” at least thus far, Discovery has dedicated precious little time to actually dealing with it head-on, with much of the investigation happening off-screen. As the audience, we’ve been parachuted in just in time to see key moments: Stamets’ proto-wormhole theory, the DMA being an artificial construct, the DMA coming from outside of the galaxy, and now finally the discovery of its origin point. All of these points, so incredibly vital to the story of the DMA, feel like they’re scarcely even footnotes in a story which on the surface should be making more of them.

Captain Burnham, Stamets, and Adira listen to Zora as she refuses to share what she’s learned.

Before anyone jumps in to tell me off for missing the point: I get it. Discovery has other stories to tell, and wants to use this season in particular to look at issues surrounding trauma and grief. Practically all of the main characters seem to embody different responses to trauma: Stamets getting lost in his work, Culber desperately trying to help others even if doing so is at his own expense, Book’s journey through the stages of grief, and Tilly’s career switch all come from that same thematic place. And these individual, character-centric stories are absolutely worth telling. However, in a sci-fi series that also has the DMA as a major plotline, it feels that the first half of Season 4 has prioritised these character moments at the expense of this other major narrative. It should’ve been possible to balance the season’s story to give both appropriate weight and screen time – but Discovery has yet to find that balance.

So let’s tackle Zora next. The USS Discovery’s computer-AI-Sphere data hybrid has been developing slowly since Season 3, and until the very end of The Examples a couple of weeks ago felt like a relatively minor part of the season. Her transformation into basically an additional main character has been an interesting one, and this week was by far Zora’s biggest moment centre-stage. I got echoes of a number of past Star Trek stories – from The Ultimate Computer and The Measure of a Man through to Picard Season 1’s dealings with the synths and Data – in the way Zora was analysed and discussed by Dr Kovich, Dr Culber, Stamets, Adira, and Gray. It was an incredibly honest and frank discussion, one which absolutely embodied the spirit of Star Trek.

Zora’s status and rights were discussed in But To Connect.

Through this side of the story, But To Connect gave us by far the best and most sympathetic presentation of Dr Kovich. I maintain that, based on his earlier appearances, some kind of Section 31 or spy role was a possibility – and maybe that was the original intention for the character when he was created in Season 3. In But To Connect, however, we saw Dr Kovich as a firm believer in the values and ideals of Starfleet and the Federation: determined to seek out new life, and to ensure that very different forms of life have the same rights as everyone else.

Stamets also shone on this side of the story, and the writing here showed off a complexity that the relatively short half-episode runtime could have hampered. Stamets’ attitude toward Zora’s newly developed sentience could have come across badly, making him out to be some kind of “AI-phobe,” in the vein of something like Picard Season 1’s Zhat Vash. However, the way Stamets was handled – aided greatly by a wonderful performance from Anthony Rapp – ensured that we could understand his reservations and concerns without seeing him as some kind of futuristic bigot.

Anthony Rapp gave his best performance of the season so far.

As in All Is Possible, Discovery succeeded at taking a complex argument and ensuring that the views on both sides were sensible and understandable, allowing true understanding and trust to be reached. Likewise this week, Stamets didn’t simply try to put his foot down and declare that the existence of Zora was some kind of horrible, insurmountable problem, and nor did Zora attack Stamets or try to shut down his concerns.

In an increasingly polarised political climate here in the west, where politicians and activists on all sides are increasingly dogmatic and unwilling to listen to opposing points of view, Discovery once again showed us how debate and discussion should be handled: calmly, maturely, and with mutual respect. This is one of the lessons from this season of the show: that we can’t simply write off points of view we disagree with, nor should we try to shut down or dismiss them. Listening is the first step toward understanding.

Despite the stakes and the complexity of the arguments, But To Connect showed us how these kinds of conversations can and should be handled.

From my perspective as someone who’s non-binary, I felt there could be echoes of the real-world conversation surrounding transgender and non-binary folks in the way Zora’s movement toward acceptance was handled. There are many people who are dismissive of trans and non-binary people – something I sadly experienced firsthand recently in a conversation with someone I considered a friend. An unwillingness to listen and a desire to be dismissive of something we personally don’t understand is always going to be a temptation – but Stamets found that, by having a frank and honest conversation, his fears and concerns could be allayed.

There’s been a lot of debate around transgender and non-binary rights in recent years, and the issues of sex, gender, and gender identity have become highly politicised. Zora was struggling to find acceptance in But To Connect, and I felt that the show was perhaps drawing on the trans inclusion discussion for inspiration in this particular storyline. Speaking from a personal perspective, it isn’t easy to figure oneself out. To then present oneself to one’s friends only to be rejected is a horrible feeling – and I’m glad that Zora’s friends were able to remain on her side, even if they had questions about her at first.

It felt like the conversation with Zora may have had a real-world inspiration.

The Zora conversation also tackled the real-world issue of artificial intelligence and the growing impact of machine learning, algorithms, and AI on our daily lives. Star Trek has depicted “evil” AIs on several occasions, including in Season 2 of Discovery, so to take a break from that negative portrayal and to find a way to show AI in a positive light was a welcome change. I’m no longer convinced, for example, that we’ll see Zora go rogue or act against the crew’s wishes later in the season or in future stories; her status as a bona fide member of the crew feels settled.

Stamets was part of that, and voiced his concerns with eloquence before coming around to accepting Zora’s place in the crew. Dr Culber played a role too, as did Gray and Adira. It was very cathartic, after Stamets missed the entirety of Gray’s incorporation a few episodes ago, to see the two characters having the chance to interact. Gray’s future on the show is now uncertain following his departure with Guardian Xi bound for Trill, so it was even more important to give him and Stamets some small crumbs of screen time together.

It was great to finally see Stamets interacting with Gray and Adira.

In a very real sense, But To Connect felt like two distinct episodes haphazardly bolted together. In a longer season, both the conflict at the diplomatic summit and Zora’s moves toward sentience could have been explored while also giving more time to the likes of Tarka and his efforts to untangle the mysteries posed by the DMA. But because Discovery wanted to make a point – not a bad point, I concede – about Starfleet seeking out new life, we got both stories squashed down into the runtime of a single episode. Neither of these stories were bad, nor was the link between them, but the conflict at the summit in particular would have benefitted from additional development, and the incredibly minor side-story about Tarka and the DMA could have been fleshed out a lot more – as could Stamets, Adira, and Zora’s work to find the coordinates.

The similarities between the stories of Zora and the DMA would’ve still worked had they been longer or spread across two episodes, and I guess my big criticism of But To Connect isn’t that I hated or even disliked either, it’s that I would’ve liked to have seen a longer, perhaps slower-paced, version of them. Cutting the conflict between Book and Burnham – or finding a way to resolve it – would also have been a preference.

T’Rina and Tarka view a holo-model of the DMA.

But To Connect told two stories about seeking out new life: the very core of Starfleet’s mission. Zora’s story was the better of the two; it had more nuance, better characterisation, and a truly sympathetic presentation of both sides of the discussion. It dealt with incredibly deep and complex themes in an understandable way, giving rise to a conclusion that felt natural, but most importantly that felt earned.

The diplomatic summit, meanwhile, took what could have been a similar setup but presented it as a false “either-or” choice – a choice that, I would argue, felt unnecessary and thus contrived. Its conclusion, instead of being one that promoted understanding and dialogue, ended with one side claiming total victory and the other suffering defeat. This laid the groundwork for Book and Tarka’s rebellion – stealing a spore drive prototype and flying away to attack the DMA. That ending may have been a natural or inescapable one given the setup, but it didn’t need to be – and it seems to run counter to some very timely and important allegories that Discovery has tried to include this season.

Burnham casting her vote.

A few scattered final thoughts: Discovery seems to be going down the route of some of the ’80s Star Trek films by depicting interesting-looking background aliens… then giving them nothing to do nor even naming them. It would be nice to learn more about some of the galaxy’s races, but just dropping them in the background doesn’t feel like a particularly good way to handle things. The music in But To Connect was probably the best of the season so far, and the score used during the voting scenes in particular was incredibly tense – perfectly complimenting what was happening on screen.

Why does Burnham get a vote? I can understand why each Federation member world might get an individual vote, but giving everyone present the chance to vote could disproportionately favour one side. It feels like it was there for another moment of drama rather than because it makes sense in context.

We saw a full-blooded Cardassian, a Ferengi, and several other familiar races – including one who may be a Xindi. Missing from the summit, however, were races like the Klingons and factions like the Dominion. It’s possible that there have been major structural changes to those governments, or that diplomatic relations with the Federation are poor. Discovery may also be avoiding their use with a view to bringing them back in a future story – or to give room for the likes of Picard or Strange New Worlds to include these factions.

This character was a callback to the events of Kobayashi Maru.

Stamets flipping the issue of trust onto Zora was a clever one, and a great rhetorical way to begin to bring that argument to a close. Dr Kovich’s line that Stamets could have been reassigned if he couldn’t work with Zora was clever – but then who would have operated the Spore Drive? Saru and T’Rina make an adorable couple, and although I wouldn’t consider either Doug Jones or Tara Rosling to be “old,” it was still sweet to see Discovery giving screen time to a burgeoning romance between two people who aren’t 25 any more!

So I think that’s about all I have to say for now. Stay tuned, because later in the week I’ll be writing up my theories for the second half of the season. It’s only six weeks, but I really can’t wait to find out what happens next! The DMA and Unknown Species 10-C still present wonderful mysteries, and although my head says what we’ll ultimately get will be something brand-new to the franchise, my heart is still hopeful that there’ll be some kind of big connection or callback to a past iteration of Star Trek!

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 – week 6

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.

Stormy Weather does, on the surface at least, appear to have narrowed things down as Discovery approaches its unexpected mid-season break. As we’re barely at the halfway point, though, I’m not convinced that everything is as it seems! There are many possible explanations for the DMA having passed through the galactic barrier, and despite the assertions from some characters that Unknown Species 10-C must be someone that the Federation has “never encountered before,” there are still several highly plausible culprits who could be responsible!

So let’s jump into the theory list. At this stage, the list is actually fairly static. Stormy Weather didn’t confirm or debunk anything from previous weeks, and I’ve really just got one new theory – one that isn’t even connected to the events of the episode! However, several theories have seen movement, and while some may be close to being debunked I’m not ready just yet to strike off any of them.

Theory #1:
Captain Burnham’s war experiences from Season 1 will come into play.

Michael Burnham in Season 1.

At the beginning of Season 1, Michael Burnham made a series of mistakes (to put it mildly). Though she wasn’t responsible for the outbreak of war between the Federation and Klingon Empire, she was blamed for it for a long time. Her aggressive actions toward the Klingons, wanting to fire the first shot in a very un-Starfleet manner, proved to be a very costly learning experience for her. Having seen three-and-a-half seasons of growth and development since, I’m sure Captain Burnham has taken those lessons to heart.

Starfleet is currently assuming that the DMA is a weapon and that whoever created it has hostile intentions. That seems reasonable, and it’s sensible in many ways to plan for worst-case scenarios. But an aggressive faction building a super-weapon is only one potential explanation for the existence of the DMA – and someone like Captain Burnham, who once made the mistake of being too aggressive in the face of the unknown, seems well-placed to argue for a mission of first contact rather than jumping straight into a war.

In short, my theory is that Captain Burnham will be one of the main voices arguing for a less aggressive posture when investigating the DMA, reminding the likes of Admiral Vance and President Rillak that we simply don’t know what the DMA is or what it was intended to be.

Theory #2:
Zora will go rogue.

Zora and Captain Burnham in Stormy Weather.

This week we got to see more of Zora than we ever have before. At one point she did refuse to follow an order, but thanks to interventions from Gray and Captain Burnham, this was resolved. Zora didn’t “go rogue” in Stormy Weather; she was suffering emotionally as a result of the difficult situation she was in. Having only just become aware of her own emotions, she was in a very difficult and traumatic situation. But there may be more to come.

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.

It’s at least possible that an emotionally-compromised Zora would go rogue, acting against the wishes or even orders of Captain Burnham and the crew. Though Zora professes to care about the crew of Discovery, her instinct for self-preservation in the face of a dangerous situation may kick in.

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

What is the DMA?

In Stormy Weather we learned that the DMA has passed through the galactic barrier – meaning that it quite likely originated from outside of the Milky Way galaxy. That isn’t a given, but it’s a reasonable assumption based on the available evidence.

The fact that the DMA is artificial in nature doesn’t mean it was intended to be a weapon, though, despite its harmful effects in the Milky Way galaxy. It’s possible that extragalactic exploration had been done in a big way by the 32nd Century, but missions that took Starfleet crews outside of the galaxy are incredibly rare within Star Trek. In short, we know precious little about the universe beyond the barrier, meaning that whoever created the DMA is a complete unknown quantity.

Discovery feels like it’s building up to some big reveal about the DMA and Unknown Species 10-C, and one way that could go would be for the crew to learn that the DMA isn’t what they have been assuming. The biggest possibility, given what we learned in Season 3 about the lack of dilithium, could be that the DMA represents an experiment in faster-than-light travel that went awry.

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

The USS Enterprise inside V’Ger.

The DMA’s extragalactic origin could be an indication that at its core is a sentient life-form, something akin to V’Ger from The Motion Picture. 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 Unknown Species 10-C have already appeared in Star Trek?

Despite the fact that the DMA has passed through the galactic barrier, making assumptions is dangerous! We’re barely halfway through the season, after all, so there’s plenty of time for twists and turns. While this revelation has made a handful of suspects significantly more likely than others, in my opinion practically all of the candidates remain in play at this stage.

Based on the DMA potentially having an origin outside of the Milky Way, the three suspects that immediately spring to mind are the Kelvan Empire, the Sphere-Builders, and the super-synths from Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard. They’d all been on my list of suspects going back months, and I really feel that any one of them would make for a potentially interesting story.

I have a longer list of suspects for Unknown Species 10-C, so for a more detailed look at these three candidates – and many others – click or tap here to see the full list.

Theory #6:
A major character will be killed off.

Two “dead” officers.

Lieutenant Tilly’s departure in All Is Possible has certainly shaken up the cast. However, I stand by what I said before the season aired: killing off a character can be a great way to demonstrate the dangerous nature of the circumstances that the crew have found themselves in. So far, despite tangling with the DMA on several occasions, only a couple of redshirts have lost their lives.

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

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

So those theories saw some movement this week.

As I said, there really hasn’t been a great deal going on on my theory list in the aftermath of Stormy Weather! But as always, we’ll keep the entire list in one place by re-stating the rest of the theories that I currently have in play.

Theory #7:
The Guardian of Forever will be back.

The Guardian of Forever as it appeared in The Animated 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. Because Captain Burnham and the crew still know so very little about the DMA, it would make sense to at least ask the Guardian for help – maybe it has encountered this phenomenon before.

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.

Theory #8:
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 last season’s big story may not return in any significant way now that the DMA is out there. 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 #9:
Captain Burnham and the crew will encounter the Klingons.

Kol, a 23rd 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 #10:
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 #11:
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 #12:
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 #13:
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 All Is Possible.

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

Captain Saru.

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 #16:
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: what’s going on with the DMA? Is it a super-weapon designed to be destructive? Or does it perhaps contain a wormhole, portal, or gateway to some other place? If it’s the latter, perhaps Kyheem, Leto, and others from Kwejian might still be alive.

Theory #17:
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 #17a:
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 #17b:
The Abronians’ homeworld was on the “other side” of the DMA.

Abronian stasis pods.

Stamets and Tarka believe that the DMA contains the technology to generate an artificial wormhole. It’s thus possible that the DMA can facilitate travel between incredibly distant locations – not only for itself, but for other starships too. The subspace tear that the DMA left behind went nowhere – but it may be possible to get “inside” the DMA itself or even use its wormhole tech to travel vast distances.

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 #17c:
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 #17d:
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 #18:
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 for the creators of the DMA, 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 (other than the power generation requirements)?

This theory posits that they will do exactly that – somehow – or that their experiments 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.

Theory #19:
President Rillak knows what the DMA is and may be responsible for its creation.

President Rillak in Kobayashi Maru.

We haven’t seen President Rillak for a couple of weeks now, though she has been briefly mentioned. 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 #20:
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 most recently.

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 #21:
Captain Burnham and/or the Red Angel suits from Season 2 are connected to the DMA.

A Red Angel suit from Season 2.

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 #22:
The story will connect with the Short Treks episode Calypso.

The USS Discovery as seen in Calypso.

Stormy Weather picked up the storyline from The Examples regarding Zora’s emotions, and I would argue that the way Zora was depicted is now much closer to the way she was in Calypso. In that Short Treks episode, Zora was definitely someone who could feel emotions, so the confirmation of that now means that Calypso is, in some ways, one step nearer.

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 Zora getting some development in The Examples and Stormy Weather, I can’t yet see a pathway to making Discovery and Calypso line up – but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen!

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 well before this point in the season that the show has been renewed. This obviously 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. The abrupt announcement that the show is taking a mid-season break could also be indicative of issues behind-the-scenes.

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.

The USS Discovery inside the void.

We have quite a few theories still in play as we approach the mid-season break. I confess that I have some expectations that this week’s episode – titled But To Connect – will move the needle on at least some of them! A mid-season finale should be a spectacle, ending on a cliffhanger or some explosive revelation to keep us as the audience on the edge of our seats. So perhaps this time next week we’ll be debunking and adding a few more theories than we did on this occasion!

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 review – Season 4, Episode 6: Stormy Weather

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4.

Last week we learned that the DMA – the anomaly at the heart of Season 4’s story – is an artificial construct. Following up that big revelation was the challenge that befell Stormy Weather and director Jonathan Frakes, and I’m happy to report that Discovery rose to the occasion. Stormy Weather was a tense, dramatic, and incredibly exciting episode, one that has set a high bar for the rest of the season to reach.

Unfortunately, due to inexcusable corporate nonsense from ViacomCBS, Star Trek: Discovery is unavailable to many fans around the world. This short-sighted, self-defeating decision has been rightly condemned by Star Trek fans, but we need to keep the pressure on and continue to call out this misbehaviour at every opportunity. Star Trek is not the sole preserve of any one group of fans – it’s something all of us should be able to enjoy together. Denying that opportunity to even one Trekkie would be unacceptable; to deny it to millions in dozens of countries and territories around the world is just offensive.

Captain Burnham with her family tree.

So let’s take a look at Stormy Weather – an episode named for a song from 1933. There have been some connections between Discovery and sister show Star Trek: Picard, but one of the most unexpected thematic connections came in the form of this song. Picard Season 1 prominently featured the song Blue Skies, written in 1926, and to hear another older, slow-tempo jazz song in Discovery was an unexpected but interesting way to bridge the gap between these two very different parts of the Star Trek franchise.

Stormy Weather featured Captain Burnham prominently, and we’ll look at her contributions in a moment. But where the episode did remarkably well, in my view, was through a series of smaller moments that showed off several members of Discovery’s secondary cast – many of whom have had less to do so far this season than in Season 3 last year.

Several members of the secondary cast (Nilsson pictured) got things to do this week.

Commander Owosekun had a big centre-stage moment, objecting on the bridge in front of her colleagues and leading to a sweet moment later on between her, Detmer, and Saru. Dr Pollard, making her first major appearance of the season, got two significant moments in the spotlight, including one incredibly dramatic moment as a crewman was blown out into space through a hull breach.

Ian Alexander, who plays Gray, and Annabelle Wallis, who voices Zora, were Stormy Weather’s breakout stars for me. Gray had already given us one of the season’s emotional highs when he completed his transfer into a new synthetic body, but there was definitely a question mark surrounding his next steps. Adira was a commissioned ensign, but Gray didn’t really have a role aboard the ship – something that Discovery acknowledged this week when Gray found himself alone in the lounge as the crew scrambled to their posts.

Gray and Zora played Trill chess together.

There’s always something very relatable about this kind of storyline. Anyone who’s ever dealt with feelings of helplessness or loneliness should be able to empathise with Gray in this moment, and it’s certainly something I’ve been through before on more occasions than I perhaps care to admit! As everyone on the ship attended to their duties, Gray was left alone – and this led to a really touching sequence between he and Zora that ended up playing a major role in the story.

Zora was a background presence for much of Season 3, and it was only really last week when the revelation that she can feel emotions came out that she emerged as a major player. Zora’s interactions with Gray this week have done more to humanise her and lay the groundwork for future character development than any episode has since Calypso – and if Discovery chooses to, the show could now make Zora a major presence on the ship going forward.

Gray and Zora played significant roles this week.

I can’t be the only one noticing an homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey, right? Zora’s line to Captain Burnham when she refused to follow an order felt like it had come straight from HAL 9000! Of course, Zora went in a different – and thankfully far friendlier – direction shortly thereafter, but the reference was appreciated nevertheless.

The development of Zora’s emotions brings the character one step closer to her portrayal in the Short Treks episode Calypso, but at this point I’m still not sure how – or even if – the stories will line up. As we’ve discussed previously, for every step made toward Calypso since Season 2 we’ve seen at least one step away – and with Discovery in the far future already, the further development of Zora still leaves the show with significant hurdles to overcome if a full connection to Calypso is on the cards. But I guess that’s a conversation for another time!

“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

Gray and Zora were able to share a connection as two passengers on the ship who felt out of place and unsettled. There was a subtle continuation of the transgender theme present in Gray’s earlier incorporation story, as Gray made reference to choosing his own name; something Zora could relate to. Despite Gray’s incorporation feeling somewhat rushed at the beginning of the season, it’s been great to see him as a character in his own right, able to interact with others aboard the ship. Pairing him up with Zora was unexpected but an absolute delight.

Discovery has continued Star Trek’s use of storytelling by metaphor and analogy, and we see that again with Gray. His struggle to become visible, his comments about getting used to his new body, and again this week through his conversations with Zora all had serious things to say about the difficulty of transitioning, coming out as transgender, finding acceptance, and other trans issues. But they were told through a science fiction lens in the very best tradition of Star Trek. It’s hard to think of a more understandable and relatable depiction of a trans individual in all of entertainment, and the writers deserve a lot of credit – as does Ian Alexander, who stepped up this week and put in his best performance of the season so far.

Stormy Weather was a great episode for Ian Alexander and Gray.

Discovery as a whole is a series with a cinematic feel to it. That isn’t something unique among television shows any more, as we can see many other high-budget productions pushing hard for similar visuals and effects. But Stormy Weather definitely veered hard into the cinematic, with all manner of special effects thrown into the episode’s forty-five minutes. We had silent slow-motion sequences, stunning CGI visual effects – including a striking shot of the USS Discovery itself inside the void, tightly-focused shots of characters in motion, close-ups of faces, and a whole lot of fire and flame to name but a few. Such a varied mix of visuals, coupled with Jonathan Frakes’ clever cinematography, gave Stormy Weather a sense of weight, of gravitas, far beyond what the franchise usually manages outside of its feature films.

Let’s talk about the storyline itself. This week, everything was tied together. There were secondary plotlines with Gray and Zora and with Book, Stamets, and the doctors, but they all came together and connected with the main story in significant ways as Captain Burnham led the USS Discovery inside a subspace rupture that the DMA had left behind.

The USS Discovery approaches the void.

We learned something major about the DMA: that it’s of extragalactic origin, or has, at the very least, passed through the galactic barrier. This would seem to narrow down Unknown Species 10-C to a handful of suspects, assuming that the galactic barrier depicted in past iterations of Star Trek remains generally impermeable to residents of the Milky Way. There were comments from Book and Stamets that this evidence all points to Unknown Species 10-C being someone that “the Federation has never encountered,” but I don’t think we can be certain of that just yet. The Burn seemed to be connected to Ni’Var’s SB-19 project in Season 3… until it wasn’t! We’re barely halfway through the season, so there’s plenty of time for hypotheses to be debunked! In this week’s theory post I’ll go into more detail about what this revelation could mean for Unknown Species 10-C, so stay tuned for that!

Venturing inside a rift in subspace was a dangerous assignment, but one that was certainly necessary for understanding more about the DMA. There really isn’t much to nitpick on this side of the story, and Captain Burnham handled it about as well as any other captain could have. Captains Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway, or Archer would all have made similar choices under the circumstances, and we can point to many moments in past Star Trek shows where similarly dangerous scientific missions have gone awry despite the best efforts of the various captains.

Captain Burnham did everything she could to get her crew home.

Discovery has some very expansive sets when compared to past iterations of Star Trek, with the bridge in particular being larger and wider than basically any other to date. But despite that, this week I felt a real sense of claustrophobia in the style of old war films set aboard submarines. Stormy Weather was basically a bottle show – an episode set almost exclusively aboard the ship making use of existing characters. Rather than that being a limitation, as it sometimes has been in past iterations of Star Trek, the episode leaned into this in the best way possible, drawing on the inherent strengths of that style of story to create a genuinely dark and unsettling atmosphere aboard the ship.

This began with Gray and Zora alone in the lounge and culminated in Captain Burnham staying behind on the bridge, with only Zora for company, as the desperate last-ditch attempt to escape the void came to a head. Discovery has made interesting use of fire this season, and I’ve seen some criticism of the way the pyrotechnics come across on screen. But here, the combination of CGI plasma and jets of real fire worked exceptionally well, building up a sense of genuine danger that Captain Burnham, and indeed the whole crew, were in.

A combination of CGI and pyrotechnics made for a thrilling and dramatic presentation at the episode’s climax.

At this point, after more than three seasons of Discovery, we know that the show has a tendency to blitz through some of the technobabble and sciencey stuff to get to the drama and action, and so it proved again in Stormy Weather. As happened last week, when the DMA’s artificial origin was confirmed in a short scene with a few lines of dialogue, its extragalactic origin was likewise only included in a pretty short sequence. I liked the concept behind it – that the energy surge that hit Book left behind trace particles that could be used to uncover another piece of the puzzle. That setup was interesting. But the conclusion was once again very quick, almost rushed, and I feel more could’ve been made of both of these points.

Another point of criticism I had concerns Dr Pollard’s sequence in the hallway. I said before the season began that killing off a known character can be a great way for a show like Discovery to communicate the stakes involved. And as Dr Pollard raced to the hull breach, there was for a brief moment a feeling that she might’ve been running to her demise. In the end, though, it was a redshirt who ended up being killed – and the death was far less impactful as a result.

More could have been made of this moment.

Now I’m not on some anti-Pollard crusade wishing death upon the character! But hers is the latest example of how Discovery wants to have its cake and eat it too: the writers want all of the emotional impact of a character death but without being willing to commit to making it someone significant. We saw this in Season 2 with Airiam, and again in Season 3 when practically everyone survived despite the dangerous situations the crew found themselves in. The danger in flirting with character deaths but failing to follow through is that the show is slowly building up a sense of plot armour; there’s a developing feeling that basically no one who gets so much as a speaking line in an episode will be in any real danger. And that will have an effect as the season progresses – potentially making similar moments feel less impactful or tense in future episodes.

To be fair, past iterations of Star Trek had this problem too – but television storytelling has evolved since then. In a world where shows like Lost, Game of Thrones, and The Walking Dead pioneered a concept that I call the “disposable cast,” where even major characters can be killed off at the drop of a hat, Star Trek has to take note. Audience expectations are shifting in some respects, and if Discovery wants all of the trappings of modern television storytelling, it has to be willing to boldly swing the proverbial axe on occasion.

This could have been a good moment to kill off a named character instead of a redshirt.

Last week, the addition of wonderful guest star Shawn Doyle as mad scientist Ruon Tarka meant that I didn’t really feel Tilly’s absence. Stormy Weather was different, though, and I think we’re seeing the first real effects of her departure. Tilly suffered with anxiety, and doubtless would have found the void a difficult situation to deal with. But even at her most nervous, she had a way of lightening the mood and ever so slightly lowering the tension. Perhaps a story like Stormy Weather needed her absence to function as intended – and I concede that argument. But at the same time, I look back on the episode and wonder what Tilly might’ve said, how she might’ve found a way to break through some of the more tense moments with Captain Burnham, Stamets, Book, Zora, and everyone else. Adira fills Tilly’s shoes in several key ways – but no one can truly replace the lighthearted energy that she brought to Discovery.

In a fast-paced sequence at the beginning of Kobayashi Maru, we got to see the crew working under Captain Burnham’s command as one well-oiled machine. After that, though, Discovery took the captain on several smaller adventures off to the side, and it wasn’t until Stormy Weather that we saw her in such a tense situation, having to really feel the burden and weight of command. Like Star Trek captains past, she stepped up. I was reminded of the scene in the episode Booby Trap where Captain Picard takes the helm and pilots the Enterprise-D as Captain Burnham arrived on the bridge, alone, to sit in the captain’s chair and guide her ship and crew to safety.

Captain Burnham in her EV suit.

Speaking of The Next Generation, it was neat to see an oblique reference to the episode Relics. In that episode, Scotty was found alive in a transporter pattern buffer, and it was this method that the crew of Discovery were able to use to survive the dangerous journey out of the void. Discovery hasn’t been shy when it comes to harkening back to past iterations of the franchise this season, which has been fun to see. Shooting so far forward in time has expanded the number of callbacks and references that the show is able to do, and the writers – who are clearly big Trekkies themselves – have taken full advantage.

Along with Ian Alexander, we also have to praise Sonequa Martin-Green for her performance this week. Captain Burnham had a complex role this time, one that required her to put any thoughts of failure to one side and to focus on getting her ship and crew to safety. But she also had to find time for empathy, to share her feelings with Zora to help the AI deal with her own newfound emotions. On both sides Sonequa Martin-Green really nailed it, and Stormy Weather is one of the absolute best Captain Burnham episodes as a result.

Stormy Weather really showed off Captain Burnham at her level-headed best.

The themes of trauma, empathy, and unexpected connections were all present in Stormy Weather as they have been all season. This time it was Zora who needed the most help, in a manner somewhat reminiscent of Data in Generations. Developing emotions for the first time led to Zora’s first experience with fear, just as installing his emotion chip did for Data, and both found themselves overwhelmed and struggling to cope. Just as Data’s friends rallied around him, so too Zora found help from both an old friend in Captain Burnham and a new friend in Gray.

It fell to Captain Burnham and, to a lesser but still significant degree, Saru, to remain level-headed as the situation deteriorated. Captain Burnham had to find a way to connect with Zora in order to convince the AI to go through with the plan to escape. Likewise, Saru had to calm Commander Owosekun when tensions on the bridge threatened to boil over. We’re seeing again the very different ways that people respond to trauma: in this case, Zora almost completely shut down, feeling overwhelmed and unable to do anything, whereas Owosekun wanted so badly to do something that she became angry. These themes are almost certainly going to run through the rest of the season, and will go a long way to keeping Discovery grounded in its characters rather than being lost in sci-fi wonders.

Owosekun, Saru, and Detmer on the bridge.

One scene in particular hit close to home for me. After Book had been hit by the energy surge and was recovering in sickbay, he had a moment with Doctors Pollard and Culber where he tried to ask if he was losing his mind, going crazy, and if the hallucinations he was experiencing would last. Having been in a similar position in hospital, struggling and not knowing where my mental health issues began and ended, I found David Ajala’s performance very emotional in that moment.

Book’s hallucination of his father stemmed from the fact that it was his father’s birthday – and we know that mental health issues can absolutely manifest from things someone is already thinking about or dealing with. His line to his father that he hoped he was real, because it would mean his spirit still exists and thus Leto, Kyheem, and others might still exist somehow too, was another deeply emotional line. Though the episode didn’t focus on Book, this presentation took him to completely different emotional places, and I found it resonated with me in a very personal way.

I found Book to be very relatable in this moment.

So I think that’s it for this week. Stormy Weather really has set a high bar for the rest of the season to reach! It would have been easy for an episode like this one to come across as feeling like mind-numbing action, but Discovery’s tight focus on characters and emotions elevated it to being so much more than that. Little moments with the show’s secondary cast were greatly appreciated, and almost everyone got a line or two of dialogue this week. It felt like the plans to escape the void were a real team effort – and not just another “Burnham saves the day” story that we might’ve seen in Seasons 1 or 2.

There was some disappointing news yesterday, though. At the last minute, it’s been announced that Discovery is taking a mid-season break after next week’s episode, going off the air for around six weeks before resuming in February. ViacomCBS and Paramount+ need to do better at communicating with fans, because this is the latest in a long line of unnecessary blunders. Fixing Star Trek’s scheduling conflicts has to be a priority, too – Prodigy only aired four episodes before taking a break, now Discovery gets half a season before it too has to take a break. It’s possible that there are behind-the-scenes delays, perhaps with post-production work on Picard or Strange New Worlds – but it’s not a good look for a company trying to market a big franchise and an expanding streaming platform. Fixing these problems needs to be a priority for Star Trek’s corporate overlords.

Next week looks to bring back Ruon Tarka, which should be a lot of fun! Stay tuned in the days ahead for my updated theory list – including several ideas about the DMA and its possible creators. And if you celebrate, I wish you a very Merry Christmas Eve! I hope your holidays are successful and fun!

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

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 – Unknown Species 10-C: The Suspects

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4, Star Trek: Picard Season 1 and the trailers for Season 2, Short Treks, Star Trek Online, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

Are you as curious as I am about Unknown Species 10-C? Right now, this is one of the biggest mysteries in Star Trek: Discovery’s fourth season – and one of the most tantalising storylines that the series has ever teased us with. We don’t have much to go on when it comes to figuring out who Unknown Species 10-C might be… but don’t worry, that hasn’t stopped me from putting together a list of suspects!

Part of me feels that because Discovery has teased us with so many references and callbacks to past iterations of Star Trek so far this season, Unknown Species 10-C will be someone we’re already familiar with. But at the same time, I keep thinking back to Season 3 and the Burn storyline, and how the ending to that story was something completely unpredictable and brand-new to the franchise. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Discovery go down that road again.

Who is responsible for the DMA?

I successfully predicted that the dark matter anomaly – or DMA for short – was an artificial construct. Even though the DMA was initially teased as a scientific puzzle, it felt plausible verging on likely that Discovery would choose this direction for its main story, so I wasn’t stunned to get confirmation of that in the episode The Examples. The crew are now working on the assumption that the DMA is some kind of super-weapon… but that may not be the case. This is Star Trek: there’s always the possibility that this is an accident, an experiment gone wrong, or other such things!

Caveat time! I have no “insider information,” and I’m not trying to claim that any of the theories on the list below will pan out. I love being surprised by stories that go in unpredictable directions! This list is pure speculation from a fan of Star Trek, and nothing more. It’s also wholly subjective; if you hate all of my ideas or I don’t include your pet theory, that’s okay! We all have different ideas about what would make for a fun and exciting story, and there’s no need for fans to get into arguments about these kinds of things. This is supposed to be just for fun!

With all of that out of the way, let’s jump into the list – which is in no particular order.

Suspect #1:
The Borg Collective

The first Borg drone ever seen in Star Trek.

In The Examples, Admiral Vance listed several factions that Starfleet Intelligence believed would have the technological capability to create the DMA. One notable omission from his list was the Borg Collective – and at this point, we don’t know why that is. The Borg’s technology (at least as of the late 24th Century) was light-years ahead of the Federation’s, and when I think about the most powerful factions in Star Trek and someone capable of creating something like the DMA, the Borg are quite literally at the top of my list.

Admiral Vance may know something that we don’t; the Borg Collective may not exist in the 32nd Century, for example. But the omission of the Borg from his list may be a misdirect, with Discovery’s writers trying to keep the faction hidden until the right moment. A conspiracy theory? Maybe! But it may yet pan out. There have been several direct references to Star Trek: Voyager in Discovery’s fourth season, and Voyager was the most Borg-y Star Trek series. That could be a possible hint!

The Borg are very powerful, capable of building a galaxy-spanning transwarp network and assimilating trillions of individuals across thousands of races. Their ships, weapons, and technology far outpaced the Federation as of their last appearance, and while the DMA wouldn’t necessarily fit with their usual method of attack, we can’t rule out that the Borg’s tactics have changed.

Suspect #2:
The Gorn Hegemony

A 23rd Century Gorn captain.

This stems from something we heard right at the beginning of Season 3 more than a year ago. In the episode That Hope Is You, Part 1, Cleveland Booker told Michael Burnham that the Gorn had “destroyed subspace” for several light-years in the area around the planet Hima. Clearly, then, the Gorn possess powerful weaponry in the 32nd Century, capable of damaging subspace – and we know that the DMA is capable of tearing subspace too.

This was a throwaway line – but it proves that the Gorn are still active in the 32nd Century, and that while the Burn may have impacted their society, it clearly wasn’t stopping them from conducting experiments or weapons tests – whatever it was they did that “destroyed” part of subspace. The Gorn have also been shown as antagonistic toward the Federation in their handful of appearances to date, meaning that they can certainly be argued to have motive.

On the production side of things, the Gorn are a relative unknown. They could thus be brought into a range of different stories in very different ways, allowing Discovery’s writers and producers a lot of wiggle room to tell the kind of story they want to tell while simultaneously harkening back to the very first season of The Original Series. Interestingly, Admiral Vance proposed the Metrons as one of the suspects on his list – and it was the Metrons who pitted Captain Kirk against the Gorn captain in Arena.

Suspect #3:
The Kelvan Empire

Hanar, a member of a 23rd Century Kelvan Empire expedition.

The Kelvan Empire’s first and only appearance to date came in the second season of The Original Series. A powerful faction from the Andromeda Galaxy, the Kelvan Empire was in search of a new home due to an environmental disaster – and they had their sights set on the Milky Way for conquest.

Captain Kirk was able to convince a Kelvan delegation that peaceful co-operation might be better, and promised Federation aid to help them find new worlds to settle. This offer was transmitted to the Andromeda Galaxy via an unmanned starship that would take centuries to complete the intergalactic voyage. Whether the leaders of the Kelvan Empire would be open to such co-operation, however, isn’t clear.

If the Kelvan Empire rejected the Federation’s offer and set out to conquer the Milky Way, the timelines kind of line up for this faction to return. In The Original Series their technology was incredibly powerful, giving them the ability to reduce organic beings down to their base minerals – then restore them to life – using a powerful field projection weapon. The Kelvan Empire was clearly far more advanced than the 23rd Century Federation, and may be capable of creating a weapon on the scale of the DMA.

Suspect #4:
The Dominion

Weyoun, a 24th Century Dominion leader, with a Jem’Hadar warrior.

The introduction of Federation President Rillak – who is part-human, part-Bajoran, and part-Cardassian – has given us the first tidbits of information about what happened in the aftermath of the Dominion War. Though not stated outright, Captain Burnham’s comments in the episode All Is Possible seem to confirm that the Cardassians, Bajorans, and Federation have been at peace. But what of the Dominion?

The Dominion had existed for millennia prior to first contact with the Federation, and in many ways possessed technology that was at least slightly superior. It took the combined forces of the Federation, Klingons, and Romulans (with no small amount of help from the Prophets) to push the Dominion out of the Alpha Quadrant, so they’re clearly a strong and powerful faction. But after their defeat in the Dominion War, we don’t know what became of them.

Behind the Bajoran Wormhole, the Dominion may well have retained much of its territory. Perhaps, despite the best efforts of Odo, they sought to regroup and focused on developing new and powerful weapons. Or perhaps their dreams of peaceful coexistence were shattered by the Burn – an event emanating from Federation space and for which they may blame the Federation.

Suspect #5:
The Sphere-Builders

A Sphere-Builder seen in Star Trek: Enterprise.

The Sphere-Builders were an extradimensional faction who fought in one of the Temporal Wars. They attempted to use a large network of spherical space stations in a region of space called the Delphic Expanse to convert a large swathe of the Milky Way to match their native realm; they were unable to survive in our dimension.

Crewman Daniels told Captain Archer that the Sphere-Builders were eventually defeated in the 26th Century, but it’s not impossible to think that they were able to rebuild in the centuries after that climactic battle. It’s also interesting to note that the scale model of the DMA controller that Stamets and Ruon Tarka built in the episode The Examples was spherical in shape.

The DMA isn’t a perfect match for what the Sphere-Builders were trying to do in Enterprise – but we still don’t know exactly what the DMA’s purpose is, and it may have some hidden function that we aren’t aware of yet. The Sphere-Builders were clearly a very powerful faction, capable of constructing huge self-powered space stations, meaning that the DMA is certainly something they would be capable of creating.

Suspect #6:
The super-synths from Star Trek: Picard

Some very menacing synthetic tentacles.

Because of the somewhat rushed ending to Picard Season 1, we never got to find out much about the faction I’ve dubbed the “super-synths.” Similar in some respects to the Reapers from the Mass Effect video games, this powerful alliance of synthetic life claimed to want to help other synthetics… but was their offer genuine?

The super-synths possessed very powerful technology, and when considering the DMA, which has powerful gravitational effects, one very important thing to note is that the super-synths have experience with gravity and with huge power sources. They were capable of literally moving stars, creating an artificial eight-star octonary system to serve as a guide for synths.

In the Picard Season 1 finale we caught a very brief glimpse of some menacing-looking synthetic tentacles… but that was all we saw. One thing I find very interesting in the aftermath of Picard Season 1 is that the super-synths may now be aware of the existence of the Milky Way, the Federation, the Romulans, and the Coppelius synths – potentially giving them a reason to come here.

Suspect #7:
The Klingon Empire

Kol, a 23rd Century Klingon warrior.

We haven’t heard so much as a growl from the Klingons since Captain Burnham and Discovery arrived in the 32nd Century, so we don’t know what became of the Federation-Klingon alliance that we saw in the late 24th Century. Did it endure? Did the Klingons perhaps even join the Federation at some point? Or did the two powers drift apart and resume their rivalry?

We’ve seen the Klingons as villains in Discovery before, during the Federation-Klingon War depicted in Season 1. It would be interesting in some ways to return to that, and as veterans of that conflict the crew of Discovery could play a key role in battling the Klingons if the Federation hadn’t had to fight them for a long time.

As above with the Dominion, the Klingon Empire may blame the Federation for the Burn. The DMA could be their way of retaliating – or beginning to retaliate. The DMA could be seen as a kind of artillery barrage, designed to soften up the Federation before a larger-scale attack or invasion. The Klingon Empire may well employ tactics like that.

Suspect #8:
The First Federation

The USS Enterprise and a First Federation starship.

Another classic faction from The Original Series, the First Federation was first encountered by Captain Kirk in the episode The Corbomite Maneuver. The faction was clearly very powerful, possessing technology that far outpaced Starfleet in the 23rd Century. A single member of the First Federation was able to control a massive starship and disable the USS Enterprise during their first encounter.

The First Federation was implied to be much older than Starfleet and the Federation, and I’ve always had the sense that we only saw a fraction of the power Balok had at his disposal; the First Federation seem capable of far more destructive feats than we ever saw. Though relations with the First Federation seem to have been good, with trade happening well into the 24th Century, it’s possible that things changed.

The Burn is one potential catalyst for a souring of relations with the First Federation, and if they wanted to attack, they would appear to be more than capable of creating a weapon on the scale of the DMA.

Suspect #9:
Species 8472

A Species 8472 pilot seen in Star Trek: Voyager.

Species 8472 (also known in non-canon works as the Undine) are a race native to an extradimensional realm known as fluidic space. Fluidic space was notable for being entirely comprised of organic compounds, and Species 8472 were the only known native inhabitants. In the late 24th Century the Borg attempted to assimilate them – but they were able to fend off the attempt with ease.

There have been several references to Star Trek: Voyager in Discovery’s fourth season so far, so maybe those are teasing us with a more significant crossover! The last time the crew of Voyager encountered Species 8472 they were seemingly able to make peace… but was that peace destined to last?

Species 8472 were known to use organic technology that the Federation had a difficult time dealing with. They were also capable of creating non-organic technologies that could rival – or even surpass – 24th Century Starfleet, and they had the ability to change their forms so they could appear to be humanoid. We don’t know what became of Species 8472 after the events of Voyager – but in Star Trek Online they were a major antagonistic faction.

Suspect #10:
The Terran Empire

Planting the flag of the Terran Empire.

In the Season 3 episode Die Trying, Dr Kovich explained to Georgiou that it had been more than five centuries since there had been any contact between the Prime and Mirror Universes; the two universes had been slowly drifting apart. Perhaps the DMA is not so much a weapon as an attempt to re-open that link, one created by the Terran Empire – or their descendants.

The Terran Empire had fallen by the mid-24th Century, with Terrans being enslaved by the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance at that time. But it’s been a long time since then, and when we last saw the Mirror Universe, a Terran rebellion was in full swing. Perhaps over time the Terrans re-established their empire.

Alternatively, the Terran Empire of the 23rd Century could have attempted to break through to the Prime Universe, maybe intending to conquer the Federation. But for sci-fi reasons, instead of emerging in the 23rd Century they’ll emerge in the 32nd. After all, these kinds of technologies rarely work as intended in Star Trek!

Suspect #11:
The Q Continuum

“The trial never ends…”

I wouldn’t have placed the Q Continuum under suspicion but for the fact that Admiral Vance rather nonchalantly mentioned them and then immediately ruled them out. Maybe they should be ruled out – this behaviour seems rather un-Q-like, after all – but what if it was a double-bluff from the writers?

Admiral Vance told us in The Examples that there had been no contact between the Q Continuum and the Federation for 600 years – but that doesn’t mean that the Q are gone. They’re essentially immortal and timeless, capable of travelling through time with ease. The fact that they haven’t been encountered for centuries is hardly odd under the circumstances – and no reason to rule them out altogether.

Q – by which I mean the individual who tangled with Captains Picard, Sisko, and Janeway – loved to tease and toy with humanity, but he always seemed to do so with purpose. Presenting humans with a puzzle to figure out wasn’t solely for Q’s amusement – he and the Q Continuum saw potential in humanity and in their own way sought to push us in a particular direction. Perhaps the DMA is another Q puzzle – and figuring it out will lead to some profound moment for Captain Burnham and the entire Federation.

Suspect #12:
V’Ger

An away team from the USS Enterprise at the heart of V’Ger.

First encountered in The Motion Picture, V’Ger was a being of immense power – unparalleled at the time, and far beyond the scope of many civilisations. Much like the DMA, V’Ger was also massive in size, weighing in at a whopping 2AU – double the distance from the Earth to the Sun.

After its encounter with Admiral Kirk, Captain Decker, and Ilia, V’Ger evolved and disappeared – but at the end of the film, Captain Kirk very prominently chose to list Decker and Ilia not as “killed in action,” but simply as “missing,” hammering home the point that we don’t really know what became of them – nor of V’Ger itself.

The Motion Picture is one of my favourite Star Trek films for its deliberately slower pace and more ethereal storyline. The return of V’Ger after almost a millennium would be fascinating – where might it have gone, and what could it have learned in all those years? What were the outcomes of its merging with Decker and its evolution? These questions were left open as the credits rolled on The Motion Picture… maybe we’re about to get some answers.

Suspect #13:
Section 31

A black Section 31 badge in the mid-23rd Century.

Section 31 is the off-the-books division of Starfleet Intelligence, a powerful but hidden faction that we’ve seen do some very questionable and even evil things on occasion. Section 31’s technology has always been depicted as being streets ahead of Starfleet’s – they got combadges in the 23rd Century, for example, decades before those communicators would be available to the rest of Starfleet.

A return to Section 31 would connect Season 4 back to the events of Season 2, which featured the shadowy organisation prominently in its storyline. Section 31 seems more than capable of creating something like the DMA – but at the moment we don’t know what motive they would have. If it was intended as a weapon, why target friendly worlds?

Perhaps the DMA is a Section 31 experiment or weapon that has gotten out of control – but this would arguably be too similar to the Control storyline from Season 2. Regardless, Section 31 seems quite capable of creating something like the DMA.

Suspect #14:
Dr Kovich

Dr Kovich in The Examples.

This is directly connected to the theory above, as part of me is still convinced that the mysterious Dr Kovich works for – or is perhaps the head of – Section 31.

Kovich’s presentation in Seasons 3 and 4 of Discovery is rather unusual by Starfleet standards. He seems to be skilled in a number of fields from psychology to intelligence, and we’ve seen him in a variety of different roles. The one thing his positions seem to have in common is power – he’s connected to Admiral Vance right at the head of Starfleet, he’s able to appoint Starfleet Academy instructors of his own accord, he’s seen debriefing powerful people for Starfleet Intelligence… the list goes on.

If Section 31 is involved with the DMA, I would bet money that Dr Kovich is, too. In fact, he isn’t really a suspect on his own unless Section 31 is behind the DMA, so we really have to take these two entries together!

Suspect #15:
The Control AI

Captain Leland became the Control AI’s human avatar.

Control was the main villain during Discovery’s second season. A powerful artificial intelligence, Control coveted the Sphere data that now resides aboard the USS Discovery, believing that merging its programming with the data would allow it to achieve true sentience. It became murderous during its single-minded pursuit of the Sphere data – and is responsible for Captain Burnham and the crew travelling forward in time.

The exact circumstances of Control’s defeat are somewhat muddled, and the Season 2 finale seemed to imply that the death of Leland – who had been “assimilated” by Control’s nanites – crippled or even killed Control. Its servers will have been taken offline by Captain Pike, Ash Tyler, and the survivors of the battle… but could there be a way for Control to have survived?

From a storytelling point of view, there’s something interesting about a narrative that comes full-circle. Defeating Control saved the future – but perhaps its defeat was less final than we might’ve thought. We still don’t really know why Control wanted to exterminate all sentient organic life in the galaxy, either – was there a flaw in its programming, or was there something else going on?

Suspect #16:
Zora

Zora is the USS Discovery’s AI.

Sticking with an AI theme, we first met Zora in the Short Treks episode Calypso. Zora was created by the merging of the Sphere data with the USS Discovery’s computer, and we’ve since had several very interesting moments with Zora making decisions independently.

In the episode There Is A Tide, Zora teamed up with Tilly and the bridge crew to help retake the USS Discovery and defeat the Emerald Chain. But was this as altruistic as it seems – or was it simply the AI’s attempt at self-preservation? The mere pursuit of the Sphere data was enough to send Control into a murderous rampage… and the truth is that Captain Burnham and the rest of Starfleet simply don’t know what the long-term effects will be of the Sphere data’s merger with Discovery’s computer.

In The Examples we learned that Zora has begun to develop emotions – and emotions can lead to instability, especially when brand-new. Look at what happened to Data, for example, when he first received his emotion chip. Or look at Lore and Sutra as examples of AIs with “evil” personalities.

Suspect #17:
A faction from the Temporal Wars

A Na’kuhl, one of the participants in the Temporal Cold War.

Season 3 introduced us to the Temporal Wars, a series of conflicts that wrapped up in the years prior to the Burn. The Temporal Cold War – which seems to be connected – was depicted in Star Trek: Enterprise, with the time-travelling Crewman Daniels enlisting Captain Archer’s help on several occasions.

There have been several references to Enterprise this season, with the familiar musical sting from Archer’s Theme bringing a tear to my eye in the episode Kobayashi Maru. Perhaps these callbacks have, in fact, been teasing something big in the story that lies ahead?

There are several different factions that participated in the Temporal Cold War that we saw in Enterprise, and the Temporal Wars themselves may well have introduced others. Any of these could be implicated in the DMA – it may represent an attempt to weaponise time travel and circumvent the time travel ban.

Suspect #18:
The United Federation of Planets

A group of 32nd Century Starfleet cadets.

I don’t believe for a moment that the Federation would deliberately create the DMA as a super-weapon. Section 31 absolutely would, but not Starfleet. However, the DMA may not be a weapon. One thing Discovery has come back to time and again since Season 3 is the dilithium shortage. The discovery of the Verubin Nebula may provide a short-to-medium term fix, but eventually the galaxy is once again going to run out of dilithium; it’s a finite resource.

In addition to the SB-19 project that we heard about in the episode Unification III, we’ve heard of several other Federation experiments to create alternatives to warp drive – some of which are still ongoing as of Season 4. The DMA appears to have some kind of connection to wormholes, as it was able to disappear and reappear more than a thousand light-years away in an instant. What if the DMA is an out-of-control experiment?

If this is the case, we’d expect someone to realise what was happening sooner rather than later. But it would be a very interesting story indeed if the DMA was the Federation’s responsibility – even if they didn’t intend to unleash it.

Suspect #19:
President Laira Rillak

President Rillak in the episode Choose To Live.

President Rillak is a wonderfully complex character who’s made a fine addition to Discovery. She’s also the kind of hard-nosed politician whose schemes border on the Machiavellian. Despite a recent détente with Captain Burnham, be under no illusions: President Rillak will happily throw Burnham and the USS Discovery under the bus if she believes doing so will suit her purposes.

A leader like that might very well sanction a dangerous experiment if she believed doing so would be to the Federation’s advantage. Maybe the DMA was intended to be a defensive weapon, maybe it was intended to destroy a threat to the Federation’s very existence, or maybe it was an attempt to travel faster-than-light without dilithium. Regardless, if such an experiment got out of control, you can bet your boots that President Rillak would try to cover it up.

If we think even more cynically – like a Covid-denying, flat-earther conspiracy theorist – maybe President Rillak ordered the creation of the DMA on purpose. Re-unifying the Federation is her main goal, and one way that people are known to come together is in the face of imminent danger. By unleashing the DMA onto the galaxy, perhaps President Rillak sought to bring ex-Federation members back into the fold. If so, it’s already paying dividends for her.

Suspect #20:
Ruon Tarka (and Paul Stamets)

Tarka and Stamets with their DMA model.

In the episode The Examples, Tarka and Stamets constructed a scale model of the DMA for research purposes – and according to Reno, came very close to destroying the entire ship. If they continue these experiments, perhaps they’ll end up creating the DMA by accident.

In order for this story to come to pass, we’d have to go down the dreaded time-loop route – and personally I really don’t like time-loop paradox stories! So I have to admit that I’m not too keen on this one… but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a possibility!

Because we know that the DMA has some kind of impact on spacetime, as well as potentially containing a wormhole, the prospect of time travel arises. It doesn’t seem impossible, based on what we know at this stage, for the DMA to travel backwards through time, perhaps emerging months in the past – kicking off the events that would lead to its own creation. It would be a complicated story, and one that would be difficult to get right, but we’ve seen Discovery tackle time travel on multiple occasions already.

Suspect #21:
Admiral Picard and the crew of La Sirena

Admiral Picard and his new crew in Picard Season 1.

Star Trek: Picard Season 2 is going to have a major time travel element to its storyline, with Picard and his new crew seemingly intent on chasing Q back to the 21st Century. If there’s one thing you can rely on in Star Trek it’s this: time travel seldom goes according to plan!

Admiral Picard would never willingly unleash something like the DMA… unless he had no choice. But if it was an unintended consequence of time travel gone wrong, maybe it’s possible that he and the crew of La Sirena are responsible. Perhaps Captain Burnham and the USS Discovery will break through to the centre of the DMA to find La Sirena sitting there.

If Picard Season 2 unfolds as its trailers suggest, the Admiral and crew will travel back in time to the 21st Century in order to “save the future” from whatever’s gone wrong to damage the timeline. But after their adventures in 21st Century Los Angeles they’ll have to get home – and it’s the return trip that could go awry, somehow sending the DMA – and perhaps them along with it – into the 32nd Century. A long-shot? Maybe. But it would be so interesting to see a proper crossover between Picard and Discovery.

Suspect #22:
Captain Michael Burnham

Captain Burnham in the episode Anomaly.

Captain Burnham has done nothing wrong, and there’s nothing at all in the story to suggest she would intentionally or unintentionally unleash something like the DMA upon the galaxy. But this is Star Trek: Discovery – so there’s always a chance that the show will put Captain Burnham at the centre of its main story!

The only way to really pull this off without dragging Captain Burnham’s character through the mud would be to have the responsibility lie with a parallel universe version of her, or perhaps some kind of evil clone. I don’t necessarily consider these to be likely, but with Discovery and Burnham, I don’t think we can entirely rule it out, either.

From a narrative perspective, having Burnham being in any way responsible for the DMA would have significant implications for practically all of the main characters – especially Book, whose homeworld was destroyed in the episode Kobayashi Maru. Would he hold her responsible, even if the blame lay with someone from an alternate reality?

Suspect #23:
The Red Angel suit

Michael Burnham in her Red Angel suit.

The Red Angel suits were powerful time-travel machines created in Season 2. The first Red Angel suit took Dr Gabrielle Burnham to the 32nd Century, and from there she used it to make numerous interventions back in time, trying to thwart Control. The second suit was built by the crew of the USS Discovery and used by Captain Burnham to lead the ship into the future.

One of the key similarities – at least on the surface – between the Red Angel suits and the DMA is the presence of something akin to a wormhole. The DMA – according to Stamets and Ruon Tarka, anyway – may contain a synthetic wormhole of some kind, and what did the Red Angel suit create at the end of Season 2? A time-wormhole.

For a 23rd Century device, the Red Angel suit was incredibly powerful, capable of dragging an entire starship in its wake. With some modifications, perhaps, or increased power, who knows what it might be capable of? This would be a way to connect the DMA to Captain Burnham without making the damage it’s caused her fault.

Suspect #24:
Independent Earth

The USS Discovery in orbit over Earth in Season 3.

Season 3 took the crew back to Earth – but the planet was not how they expected to find it! In the aftermath of the Burn, Earth had withdrawn from the Federation and was pursuing a policy of aggressive isolationism. Though Saru, Burnham, and the rest of the crew were able to help patch up relations between Earth and a human colony on Titan (which was referenced in the Season 4 episode All Is Possible) there was no indication that Earth was willing to abandon its independent status.

The Season 3 epilogue told us that Trill had rejoined the Federation, and in Season 4 we’ve also seen Ni’Var come back into the fold. But there hasn’t been any mention of Earth – as far as we know at this stage, its self-imposed isolation from the wider galaxy continues.

It’s possible that the leaders of Earth might’ve built a super-weapon for defensive purposes, but equally they could’ve been experimenting with faster-than-light travel or power generation, and the DMA is an experiment that got out of control. There could be an interesting allegory if Earth were to be identified as the culprits, leading to a story about the dangers of such an isolationist policy and trying to go it alone.

Suspect #25:
It’s alive!

Frankenstein (1931)

“They were only trying to communicate!” has become a Star Trek trope at this point, often used to describe how the seemingly-aggressive actions of an alien or entity were not intended maliciously. Perhaps the DMA, despite seeming to be artificial, is in fact a life-form in its own right.

We talked about V’Ger a moment ago, and the DMA could be something similar. Perhaps it was once an artificial construct, but has since become sentient. It may not have intended to cause harm or damage, but was simply exploring or even trying to make contact with the Federation.

This would be an inversion of the story we’re currently expecting. Instead of having a villainous enemy to defeat, Captain Burnham and the crew would instead make first contact with a very different life-form. Perhaps the DMA needs help, and despite the destruction of Kwejian and all the other damage it’s done, the crew would have to step up and offer assistance. There are many, many ways to make an interesting story out of this premise!

Suspect #26:
Someone entirely new

Who could it be?!

It could well be the case that, despite all of the callbacks and teases from past iterations of Star Trek, Discovery will introduce us to someone brand-new. This was the storytelling route taken by Season 3 with the Burn, and also in Picard Season 1 with the introduction of the super-synths. In both cases, a mystery that could have led us to a familiar faction ended up introducing us to someone entirely new.

As mentioned in the introduction, a big part of me feels that this is the way Season 4 will go. Any such faction or individual would naturally be impossible to predict – just like it would’ve been impossible to predict Su’Kal’s involvement with the Burn right up until his introduction near the end of Season 3.

Having had so many references and callbacks to past iterations of the franchise, and with Discovery practically begging us to theorise and speculate about the DMA and Unknown Species 10-C, it might end up feeling a tad anticlimactic if we once again get someone brand-new that we couldn’t have anticipated. But we’ll have to wait and see, and try to keep a lid on the disappointment if the series ultimately ends up here.

So that’s it.

A scale model of the DMA.

We’ve listed a whopping twenty-five possible suspects – and maybe you can think of more! Who would be the weirdest, most left-field culprit that you could think of? Ensign Mariner from Lower Decks, perhaps? Or how about Grudge the kitty cat?

The DMA and Unknown Species 10-C have piqued my curiosity right now, and I truly can’t wait for Friday’s episode to see what other clues we might get. In a way I hope I haven’t guessed the culprit already so that Discovery can continue to take me on a wild and unpredictable ride! Season 4 has been great so far, and its central mystery has proven truly interesting. Hopefully the resolution to the story will do justice to an engaging mystery that has been carefully crafted and beautifully set up.

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 review – Season 4, Episode 5: The Examples

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.

The Examples was a stunningly good episode. When the season draws to a close, no matter how key storylines are ultimately paid off, we’ll look back and say this was one of the highlights. This week we got three stories rolled into one, all connected to the DMA in different ways, and we also got the introduction of a wonderfully complex new scientist character played by Shawn Doyle.

Before we go any further, I want to continue to call out the corporate nonsense from ViacomCBS that has prevented Star Trek fans from outside of Europe and North America from being able to watch Star Trek: Discovery. ViacomCBS seems to have no interest in Africa, Asia, or even countries and territories like Ireland or Puerto Rico, and the rollout of Paramount+, which continues at what we might generously call a snail’s pace, means nothing to millions of Trekkies all over the world. Discovery has become one of the most-pirated shows in recent weeks – something that’s entirely the fault of ViacomCBS and their decision to pull the show from Netflix.

The USS Discovery’s main viewscreen as the DMA approaches.

Let’s set that aside for now and talk about The Examples. We’ll begin with the smaller storyline present in the episode: that of Dr Culber and his emotional struggles. For me, these sequences with Dr Culber – and especially his conversations with Stamets – formed the episode’s real emotional heart. There was a moment toward the end between Captain Burnham and a prisoner named Felix that was also emotional, but we’ve known Dr Culber and followed his story for more than three seasons, so I think it’s natural to feel that this was the one that brought the most emotional weight.

I’m increasingly convinced that Discovery’s main characters each embody a different response to grief and trauma. In Tilly’s case, which we saw come to a head last week, she chose to leave the past behind and strike out on her own. In the case of Stamets we see the workaholic, someone willing to set aside much of his personal life and family commitments and throw himself into his work. The same kind of applies to Captain Burnham, though she also embodies the “protective partner” through her relationship with Book. Book, of course, has shown us the depths of depression and grief. And with Dr Culber we have someone who’s dedicated himself to helping others – even if that comes at his own expense.

Dr Culber and Stamets in their quarters.

The scenes between Stamets and Culber were a complete inversion of what I’d been expecting – and I loved every second of it. After Stamets missed Gray’s incorporation and wasn’t there for Adira in Choose To Live, I’d been expecting Dr Culber to be the one to call him out for overworking himself, telling him he missed something important with his family – and with his friend, as he wasn’t really there for Tilly before she left the ship. But instead we got the reverse of that: it was Stamets who had to tell Dr Culber that he’s been the one overworking himself for the sake of the crew.

This moment was absolutely perfect, and I felt it really drove home just how these two came to fall in love in the first place. Stamets and Culber have been Discovery’s emotional core since the show’s first season, but this was the first time we got this level of insight into what brought them together – and what has kept them together even through all the sci-fi adventures they’ve been on.

Stamets and Culber gave the episode heart and emotion.

Kovich – or should that be Doctor Kovich? – continues to confound me. Who is this mysterious man? We’ve seen him seemingly working for Starfleet Intelligence in some capacity, working alongside Admiral Vance at or near the top of the organisation, playing a leading role in Starfleet Academy – including being able to appoint teachers simply on his say-so – and now, in The Examples, he appeared to be acting as a counsellor, therapist, and even psychologist for Dr Culber. I wonder if Discovery plans to nail down Kovich at some point in the future – or if he’ll continue to be used in a variety of roles like this, allowing the lack of a clear explanation or background to provide him with an air of mystery and gravitas. It’s hard to deny that it’s working!

Kovich certainly laid some harsh truths on Dr Culber during their very short session together. And I liked that it came back to what happened to him in Season 2; Dr Culber went through an almost unimaginable experience, one that’s bound to leave emotional wounds. Past iterations of Star Trek were pretty bad at following up with characters who went through what should’ve been traumatic events, so it’s cathartic in a sense to see that the franchise is using its serialised format to right that old wrong.

Kovich offered Dr Culber counselling… of a sort.

Some of the goings-on at the prison felt a little rushed and a little forced. After discovering the existence of the prisoners and finding out that they weren’t scheduled to be rescued, Captain Burnham and the crew seem to have made no efforts to follow that up. Could they, for example, have located the prison guards who were said to have fled? Or sought out someone else capable of opening the prison? I know it’s a bit nit-picky, but going there in person feels like it should’ve been a last resort.

There was definitely an interesting element to the prison stand-off, though, once we got into the meat of this side of the story. I said last week that Captain Burnham has a “moral certainty” to her; she knows what is the right thing to do. This time she came upon two challenges to that morality – and I think in the way she responded to those challenges, we can see how much she’s grown as a character over the past three-plus seasons.

Captain Burnham faced a very difficult choice this week.

Captain Burnham wanted to rescue all of the prisoners. She wanted to do so not only for Book’s sake, as he’d been suffering ever since the destruction of his homeworld, but also because she truly believed in her heart that it was the objectively moral thing to do. The prisoners immediately challenged that, with several of them expressing the desire to be left to die rather than return to confinement. There was a bit of a cliché as we were told that one of the prisoners had “stolen food to feed his family,” but other than that this side of the story felt complex and nuanced.

We also got a glimpse at the kind of clashing of cultures that happens out here in the real world. The Akaali – a race that first appeared in Enterprise – have a very different culture to the Federation, perhaps influenced in part by the Emerald Chain. In this case, their ideas of justice, punishment, and imprisonment seem draconian by Federation standards – and Captain Burnham had to deal with that culture shock.

The Akaali magistrate.

Felix was the most complex of the prisoners, a man who’d killed someone decades earlier and had lived with that regret ever since. Guest star Michael Greyeyes put in a stellar performance as someone not merely resigned to their fate, but actively choosing to embrace it. Felix seemed to truly believe that his punishment or penance for his crime required his own death, and had he survived if the DMA had taken a different path, I believe he would have sought out the Akaali authorities and turned himself in all over again.

His choice was difficult for Book and Burnham, though, who had endeavoured to save all six prisoners. Book appeared to be ready to intervene, saving Felix’s life even if it went against his wishes, but Captain Burnham eventually understood that this was something she had to do. After all the talk earlier in the season about the Kobayashi Maru test and no-win scenarios, here we got to see Captain Burnham confronted with her own small-scale version of that very challenge. She rose to meet it in a way that she would have struggled to in earlier stories.

Leaving Felix behind was a kind of Kobayashi Maru moment for Captain Burnham.

There are many different ways we could read Felix’s story in The Examples. There’s definitely an allegory for imprisonment itself; that prison can have value as a rehabilitative institution. But we can also read Felix’s final choice through a more metaphorical and philosophical lens: it’s a tale about the value of freedom, and the freedom to choose one’s own path and ultimate fate. It’s a story about agency and the right to determine the outcome of one’s own life. Felix could have been “saved,” but doing so would have cost him his freedom in a different way.

This story took what could have been a fairly simple and uninspired plot about rescuing prisoners in a different and unexpected direction, providing some much-needed complexity to Captain Burnham’s side of the episode. It also gave both her and Book an emotional moment toward the end of the episode, with Book in particular believing the decision to leave Felix behind was wrong. And as the audience, we can see both sides of this argument and acknowledge that there’s no objectively right answer. On the one hand, if Felix had been saved he could have found other ways to have meaning in his life or to complete his penance and rehabilitate himself. Giving him that chance, even if it was against his will in that moment, could have paid dividends later. On the other hand, though, Felix was a grown adult of seemingly sound mind, and if this was the choice he freely made, knowing the consequences, does anyone have the right to interfere? It’s a complex story with no easy answer – and this could be a whole essay in itself drawing comparisons with things like the right-to-die movement, suicide, and many more.

Felix made his own decision.

Sonequa Martin-Green played Captain Burnham with real complexity this week, and her performance nailed Burnham’s real struggle with this decision. As recently as the season premiere, Burnham had said to President Rillak that she wasn’t ever willing to leave anyone behind or make this kind of choice; a variation on Captain Kirk’s famous “I don’t believe in no-win scenarios” stance. But something’s changed for Burnham – perhaps the existence of the DMA, or simply the realities of command. This evolution allows her to remain true to herself – she still wants to do the right thing. She just seems willing to consider different perspectives on what is “right,” including those that fall outside of her own interpretation.

So let’s take a look at the biggest revelation in The Examples: the DMA is an artificial creation. This is something I’d been theorising about in one form or another since we first learned of the existence of the anomaly in the first Season 4 teaser trailer earlier in the year, and I don’t think many fans or viewers will have been terribly shocked. A natural disaster angle could’ve worked well for the DMA, presenting Captain Burnham and the crew with a scientific challenge to untangle rather than a villainous adversary to defeat. But that ship has sailed – and really, this is the way I think we all expected Discovery to go with the DMA.

Tarka and Stamets created a scale model of the DMA.

Though this story was great overall, there was one part at the beginning that felt very rushed. After Stamets noticed the DMA disappearing and reappearing, Captain Burnham asked Zora (the ship’s AI) if the DMA could be a natural ocurrence. Zora replied that it couldn’t be, and based seemingly on these two lines alone, the rest of the plot was left to unfold. It just feels far too quick and easy to have gotten a one-line answer from Zora about the nature of the DMA, and I feel it would’ve been nicer to see at least some of the workings that led to that conclusion – perhaps Stamets could’ve said he’d come up with an artificial DMA as a new theory after weeks of work; same result, same short scene, but perhaps a better overall feeling that this wasn’t all based on one very brief analysis.

This second point is really more of a nitpick, but here we go anyway: how did everyone in the galaxy find out that the DMA isn’t a natural phenomenon? If Stamets is leading the charge on this investigation, and he only figured it out with the help of Zora… how did that news get out? Starfleet might’ve wanted to keep a lid on something so explosive, and I can absolutely see someone like President Rillak wanting to keep that news on a need-to-know basis to prevent panic and possible political consequences for the very tenuously-united Federation. Maybe we can excuse it by saying the DMA’s disappearance and reappearance led others to figure it out independently, but again this all happened very quickly at the beginning of the episode. It’s a nitpick, though.

Kaminar – and other worlds – already know that the DMA is artificial.

There were references to past iterations of Star Trek – as well as the video game Star Trek Online – on this side of The Examples. Admiral Vance listed the Metrons, who first appeared in The Original Series episode Arena, the Nacene, who constructed the Caretaker’s Array that pulled the USS Voyager into the Delta Quadrant, and the Iconian Empire, who were believed to be extinct during the events of The Next Generation but ultimately appeared in the aforementioned Star Trek Online.

However, at the end of the episode, Ruon Tarka explicitly ruled out all three of these races as being the culprit. So who is Species 10-C? And perhaps a bigger question is this: will the DMA connect back to a past iteration of Star Trek, or will the storyline follow a similar route to the Burn in Season 3 and ultimately turn out to be something altogether new? Part of me wants to say that we wouldn’t have had all of these teases if there wasn’t going to be some big connection and a big reveal that would be meaningful for us as the audience – the Borg, the super-synths from Picard, or something of that nature. But another big part of me is saying “remember the Burn!” and feels certain that we’re going to encounter someone entirely new.

Admiral Vance has a list of possible culprits… but Ruon Tarka dismissed them.

We’ll save the theorising for later, though, because this side of the episode had far more going on than just that! Shawn Doyle arrived as Ruon Tarka, and he played the arrogant scientist exceptionally well. Tarka is a strangely relatable character – I think a lot of us have known someone who’s so incredibly self-assured and who comes across as very rude and even selfish. Tarka, to my surprise I must admit, backed up his arrogance with genuine skill, and by the end of the episode even Stamets seemed to have warmed up to him!

There’s always going to be the temptation to have a character introduced in this fashion ultimately be proven wrong and get some kind of comeuppance, but what makes Tarka such an interesting and nuanced character is that he really did have the scientific skill and know-how to back up what he was saying; all the trash-talking with Stamets actually led somewhere. We can dislike Tarka for his abrasiveness and the way he was rude with Stamets and Saru, but at the end of the day I’m still left with a strong sense that, arrogant or not, he’s someone I want on my side – especially given the nature of the DMA. Pulling off that balance with a brand-new character isn’t going to be easy to get right, yet Discovery pulled it off thanks to a wonderful guest star.

Ruon Tarka made for a wonderfully complex character.

It was very sweet to get multiple mentions of Aurellio this week. Kenneth Mitchell played the character in Season 3, and even though he wasn’t able to appear in person on this occasion, the fact that Discovery went out of its way to reference the character more than once was incredibly sweet. It’s nice to know that Aurellio still exists in the 32nd Century, and that he’s teamed up with the Federation to help solve the mystery of the DMA. Again, I feel better knowing Aurellio is working on this problem too!

The idea that Stamets and Tarka came up with, to create essentially a scaled-down version of the DMA, was a good one, and it worked well on this side of the story. We got to see the two scientists truly working on the problem, tweaking their theories as they went along. This is the scientific method – having a crazy idea and testing it out! Other sci-fi shows would’ve skipped this step and just brought us the conclusion so we could get into more space battles and laser fights, but one thing I’ve always liked about Star Trek is seeing the characters slow down and take their time working on a problem. Neither Stamets nor Tarka could figure out the DMA instantly – and we’ve seen Stamets working on this problem across several episodes now. They seemed to be close to a breakthrough before the experiment had to be shut down – so perhaps a future episode will pick up that dangling story thread.

Stamets, Tarka, and Saru examine their model of the DMA.

Though she didn’t have many lines, it was great to welcome back Tig Notaro as Reno during this story. Her dry wit cut through what was a very heavy scientific story, and provided some moments of levity that were definitely appreciated. Due to the difficulties of travelling and filming during the pandemic, I already know we aren’t going to get as many Reno appearances as we might want – so it was great to see her on this occasion, and I will definitely savour those light-hearted moments that she brought.

Saru played a guiding role here, ultimately shutting the experiment down as it got too close to the danger zone. But he brought a sense of calmness to the proceedings, something necessary given the hot-headedness of Tarka and Stamets. Seeing him “roar” was definitely something a bit weird… but it was neat nevertheless! Saru was very much back in his element as the senior officer on this side of the story, taking command of the situation but deferring to the scientists as much as possible. Since he underwent the vahar’ai transformation in Season 2, we’ve seen this calmer presentation of Saru. I’ve said this before no doubt, especially during his tenure as captain in Season 3, but he makes for an excellent commander – someone kind of in the mould of Picard as a considerate, level-headed leader.

Saru and Tarka having a stand-off!

So that was The Examples. We’re one step closer to figuring out the DMA thanks to Tarka and Stamets’ dangerous experiment – and I hope to see further progress on that storyline soon! The suspense, not knowing who’s responsible for the DMA or what their goal might be is really pulling me in right now – I desperately want the answers to those huge questions!

Some scattered final thoughts: the USS Janeway was a neat callback to Voyager. We’ve had several references to both Enterprise and Voyager so far this season – could either of those be a tease or indication of the direction of the story? The DMA makes an interesting climate change analogy – something ever-present that our heroes all have to work together to overcome. The episode opened by reminding us that Tilly has gone, and Mary Wiseman is no longer credited in the opening credits – so I think her departure from the series is permanent. I had a horrible feeling that something was going to happen to Rhys as he took a leading role in the evacuation… but luckily he lives to fight another day!

I had a fantastic time with The Examples. It advanced the season’s main story in a huge and very significant way, introduced us to a new scientist character who was a ton of fun, and gave us some cathartic emotional moments with Captain Burnham, Book, Dr Culber, and Stamets. All in all, a truly outstanding episode. I’m tearing my hair out trying to figure out who Species 10-C might be – so stay tuned for my next batch of theories for more on that!

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.