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.

A whole host of Star Trek updates and renewals… but trust in ViacomCBS is still hard to come by

Spoiler Warning: There may be minor spoilers ahead for the Star Trek franchise.

Yesterday we got some fantastic news about the direction of the Star Trek franchise over the next couple of years. I’m sure you’re already aware of all of it, but just in case, here are the key announcements in brief:

  • Star Trek: Discovery has finally been renewed for a fifth season.
  • Star Trek: Picard Season 2 will premiere on the 3rd of March.
  • Star Trek: Strange New Worlds will premiere on the 5th of May.
  • Star Trek: Strange New Worlds has been officially renewed for Season 2.
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 3 will premiere this summer.
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks has been renewed for Season 4.
  • Star Trek: Prodigy Season 1 will take a break when Discovery returns, before broadcasting the second half of the season later in the year.
  • Star Trek: Prodigy has been officially renewed for Season 2.

All of these announcements take the Star Trek franchise well into 2023, and when you add into the mix the as-yet-untitled 2023 film as well, there’s a massive amount of content to come over the next couple of years. It seems as though scarcely a week will go by without at least one new Star Trek episode premiering throughout all of 2022!

This is all unequivocally good news. Star Trek has made an absolutely triumphant return to the small screen since Discovery premiered in 2017, and the franchise has grown beyond my wildest hopes and most optimistic expectations in a scant five years. I hope that this is just the first phase of a new Golden Age, with more Star Trek on our screens taking us to the franchise’s sixtieth anniversary in 2026 – and beyond.

But it hasn’t been a smooth ride for Trekkies in recent weeks, especially for those of us who live outside of the United States. Star Trek: Prodigy is well into its first season for American viewers, but the rest of the fanbase hasn’t been able to see so much as a single episode – at least not via “conventional” means. This is despite Prodigy being a co-production between CBS Studios and Nickelodeon; the latter being a kids’ television channel that is available in more than 70 countries and territories around the world and is wholly owned by ViacomCBS. Surely a Prodigy international broadcast should have been possible – yet the corporation running Star Trek has consistently chosen to prioritise its American audience ahead of fans in the rest of the world, even when doing so makes no sense.

The same situation initially befell Discovery’s fourth season, when an insultingly-worded, awfully-timed announcement saw the series pulled from Netflix with 48 hours to spare. It was only thanks to the huge backlash that ViacomCBS received, leading to a significant fall in the corporation’s share price, that Discovery was shopped out to Pluto TV, Amazon, YouTube, and other platforms. Fans won in the end – but it was a battle that we should’ve never needed to fight.

At the time of the Discovery disaster, I wrote a piece here on the website in which I asked a difficult question: what might the situation and the precedent it had set mean for future Star Trek productions, including those shows that have just been renewed or had premiere dates announced? You can check out the full article by clicking or tapping here, but to briefly summarise: I am not optimistic that the painfully slow rollout of Paramount+ can be sped up, nor that shows like Strange New Worlds will be granted an international broadcast at all.

ViacomCBS is a poorly-managed corporation with leaders and executives who seem utterly incompetent – or who are dusty old relics, ill-suited to a 21st Century media landscape. The lack of care and preparation with which the Star Trek franchise is being handled is indicative of this, and the franchise lags far behind old rival Star Wars in many areas. Where are, for example, 4K HDR episodes? This is something Star Wars has been doing since 2019 with The Mandalorian, and many other television shows on Amazon, Netflix, and Disney+ are now streaming in 4K HDR. Where are the toys that should have been available in time for Prodigy’s debut? And, come to that, where’s the rest of the Star Trek merchandise for other shows?

These are just a couple of examples of how the Star Trek brand is being mismanaged by ViacomCBS, and unfortunately the breach of trust between the corporation and a sizeable chunk of its fanbase means that the plethora of announcements made yesterday are, at the very least, seen through a new lens. At worst they’re completely tainted, with excitement and hype replaced with either apathy or anxiety as fans ask whether we’ll be able to watch any of these new shows and new seasons – and if we can’t, why should we care?

Since I created this website in 2019, I’ve reviewed every Star Trek episode that has been broadcast – except for Prodigy. Why? Because ViacomCBS deliberately chose not to make Prodigy available here in the UK (by lawful means, at least) despite owning and operating the UK version of the Nickelodeon channel and thus having the ability to do so with ease. When a corporation behaves in such an insulting manner, I feel it’s difficult to support practically any announcement or project that they have going on.

It will take time – and most importantly, a significant amount of effort from ViacomCBS – to repair the breach of trust between the corporation and Trekkies. And while these announcements are exciting, I can’t bring myself to fully board the hype train, not until we have more information about how and when these shows are going to be made available.

Here are several key questions that ViacomCBS needs to address in pretty short order:

  • When will Paramount+ be available here in the UK?
  • Are there any plans to make Paramount+ available in Asia, Africa, and other regions?
  • If there are no plans to roll out Paramount+ in a particular country or territory, will these new Star Trek shows be available via some other broadcaster?
  • Will new episodes of Star Trek be available on Paramount+ outside of the United States, or will the international version of Paramount+ delay the broadcast of some or all of these episodes (as initially happened with Discovery Season 4 in Australia, Latin America, and Scandinavia)?
  • Can you offer fans a guarantee that Picard Season 2 and Lower Decks Season 3 will be broadcast on Amazon Prime Video this year?
  • Will Paramount+ be available internationally in time for Strange New Worlds Season 1?
  • If not, will Strange New Worlds be available on another broadcaster or platform outside of the United States?

I love Star Trek. Heck, I run a Star Trek fan website – and in my small way I offer ViacomCBS free publicity and advertising by talking and writing about the franchise in my free time. But I can’t blindly support a corporation that has continually taken decisions that harm Star Trek’s international fans, and until ViacomCBS is willing to answer some of the questions fans are rightly asking about the availability of upcoming productions, it’s going to remain difficult for any of us to fully get on board and be as excited as we want to be.

ViacomCBS needs to get a grip and put real effort into accelerating the international rollout of Paramount+. If Paramount+ isn’t going to be available in time, then the corporation needs to make plans to ensure international Trekkies can watch the likes of Strange New Worlds at the same time as fans in the United States. Star Trek is not an American entity, solely the preserve of American fans. ViacomCBS and its predecessors encouraged the creation of a global fanbase because they saw profit overseas – but that fanbase has been bruised by a slew of poor corporate decisions that have damaged the reputation of Star Trek and Paramount+, and which have unfortunately seen shows like Lower Decks underperform.

As Star Trek gears up for an exciting couple of years, the team in charge has a lot of work to do to rebuild trust between ViacomCBS and Trekkies. Star Trek’s long-term success depends on fixing the problems of the past couple of years and getting things right going forward. I’m interested to see how ViacomCBS will respond – and willing and able to hold their feet to the fire if they continue to get it wrong.

The Star Trek franchise – including all 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.