Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 0

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and the trailers and teasers for Season 4. Spoilers are also present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise, including Picard Season 1.

Discovery’s fourth season kicks off next week, and if you missed my coverage of the series last year you might not know that I like to write up my theories after each episode has aired. This year I want to get in early and put all of my major pre-season theories into one place… that way we can cross them off as they get debunked – or possibly even confirmed!

Last year I had a lot of fun combing over each episode and trying to speculate and theorise where the story might go. I came up with many theories that were wide of the mark – check out some of my worst ones by clicking or tapping here! – but I did also get some things right.

A Ferengi Starfleet officer glimpsed in the second Season 4 trailer.

It’s important to caveat any list of theories by saying that I have no “insider information” and I’m not trying to claim that anything listed below will happen. Fan theories are a lot of fun for me, but they can also detract from a person’s enjoyment of media if they get too attached to a particular theory that ultimately doesn’t come to pass. If you find yourself in that position, I recommend taking a break from fan theories for a while.

So let’s have a bit of fun and kick off my Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 theories one week early! You might’ve seen some of these already – I’ve written up a few big pre-season theories over the past few months. Let’s jump into the list!

Theory #1: A major character will be killed.

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

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

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

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

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

There are also a couple of characters whose roles aboard the ship feel in danger – not least of whom is poor ex-Captain Saru, who was rather unceremoniously shuffled out of his role in the Season 3 epilogue. For a full breakdown of which other characters may or may not be in danger, check out my list of “death predictions” by clicking or tapping here.

Theory #2: There will be a character crossover from a past iteration of Star Trek.

Voyager’s Doctor is a contender!

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

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

Could Sutra still be alive in the 32nd Century?

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

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

Theory #3: Burnham may not remain in the captain’s chair.

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

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

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

Captain Burnham in the first Season 4 trailer.

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 #4: The Spore Drive will be rolled out to more ships.

The USS Discovery making a Spore Drive jump.

The Season 3 finale rushed past this point as it had a lot going on, but the revelation that Book – and potentially millions of other people with empathic abilities – can serve in the role of Spore Drive navigator is huge. The technology was previously limited by Stamets being the only one with the ability to interface with the mycelial network, but now that limitation has seemingly been removed.

In a galaxy where dilithium supplies are still low, having a powerful alternative method of propulsion is a godsend for Starfleet, and I would think it would be a priority to start recreating the technology and training up a whole corps of Spore Drive navigators.

Book was able to use the Spore Drive in Season 3 – potentially opening it up for more ships to use.

On the production side of things, this would finally find a proper use for what has been one of Discovery’s more controversial elements. Even after the discovery of the huge dilithium cache in the Verubin Nebula, the vitally-important fuel is still a limited resource. Developing an alternative way for Starfleet ships to get around should still be a priority for the organisation.

This could be a story with real-world parallels, too. Climate change is a very real and very dangerous threat out here in the real world, and finding new, cleaner ways of generating power and fuelling our vehicles is essential. Discovery could use its Spore Drive as an analogy for the development of electric vehicles or renewable energy generation, for example.

Theory #5: Kovich works for Section 31.

Kovich in Season 3.

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

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

Theory #6: The ban on time travel will be explained further.

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

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

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

Theory #7: The Federation has flouted the ban on time travel.

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

Sticking with the time travel ban, another theory I had last season was that the Federation – and Section 31 in particular – might have deliberately flouted the ban and failed to abide by the rules. Someone as straight-laced and committed to Starfleet ideals as Admiral Vance is highly unlikely to have sanctioned such a move, but someone like the shadowy Kovich (who we talked about a moment ago) might have. President Rillak is someone we don’t know yet, but she could also be involved.

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

Theory #8: The story will connect with the Short Treks episode Calypso.

The USS Discovery seen in Calpyso.

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

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

Theory #9: The crew will have to defend the Verubin Nebula.

The dilithium planet at the centre of the Verubin Nebula.

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

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

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

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

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

Theory #10: The super-synths from Picard Season 1 are involved with the gravitational anomaly.

The super-synths in Picard Season 1.

Picard Season 1 introduced us to a faction I nicknamed the “Mass Effect Reapers” – for their similarity to that video game faction. This race of super-synths existed outside of the Milky Way galaxy and promised to come to the aid of any synthetics who were being persecuted by organics, and Soji and Sutra attempted to contact them in the Season 1 finale.

We don’t know much at all about the super-synths or what their goals or motivations might be. It has to be considered at least possible that the attempted contact by the Coppelius synths set in motion a chain of events that could lead to the super-synths attacking the Milky Way galaxy.

Theory #11: The gravitational anomaly is a superweapon.

The USS Discovery en route to the anomaly in the second Season 4 trailer.

Based solely on what we’ve heard about the gravitational anomaly in the trailers and teasers, one thing strikes me as odd. The anomaly appears to be “targetting” the Federation. I put the word in inverted commas because it implies an intelligence at work – someone or something in control of the anomaly, directing it to attack the Federation. But what if that’s actually the case?

I mentioned the super-synths above as one possible culprit, but we could also consider factions like the Borg or the Dominion – they might have taken the opportunity of the Burn to perfect a weapon to destroy the remaining members of the Federation, perhaps as a precursor to invading and conquering the Alpha Quadrant.

A different depiction of the anomaly.

There are also factions like the Kelvan Empire from The Original Series – whose possible return to the Milky Way galaxy lines up in terms of timing. Enterprise’s Sphere Builders also come to mind: they attempted to use their own anomaly-generating devices to convert a region of space to resemble their native realm also as a precursor to invasion.

In short, are we certain that the gravitational anomaly will be nothing more than a natural phenomenon? I’m definitely not convinced of that right now! Past seasons of the show have seen twists and turns, taking stories in unexpected directions. Right now we assume that whatever this anomaly is it’s something natural – but that may not be the case.

Theory #12: Captain Burnham and the crew will encounter the Klingons.

The Klingons have been part of Discovery since the beginning.

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

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

Theory #13: Some areas of the galaxy – such as the Delta Quadrant – avoided the worst effects of the Burn.

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

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

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

Theory #14: The Guardian of Forever will be back.

Carl – the Guardian of Forever’s new persona.

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

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

Theory #15: At least one new character will join the main cast.

Lieutenant Detmer in Season 3.

One big question facing the series right now is who will take on the role of Captain Burnham’s first officer? Tilly was seen in the second trailer wearing the blue uniform of the science division, so it seems as though her tenure as the USS Discovery’s number one will be short-lived. So who will replace her? There are several secondary bridge officers like Rhys, Nilsson, and Bryce who are contenders, but it could also be someone like Lieutenant Willa – Admiral Vance’s aide-de-camp from Season 3.

A new character entirely could also join the crew, either directly as Burnham’s XO or to replace someone else who gets promoted to that role. With both Nhan and Georgiou departing in Season 3, and a potentially reduced role for Saru this time around, there’s definitely scope to bring a new major character aboard the ship.

Lieutenant Sahil was commissioned into Starfleet at the end of Season 3.

We could potentially see characters from Season 3 like Lieutenant Sahil or even Aurellio make a comeback. Sahil was the guardian of a Federation relay post who Captain Burnham met at the beginning of the season, and he was commissioned as an officer in the season finale. He would be a great choice in my opinion.

A wholly new character could also be concocted. We know that Federation President Rillak will be new for Season 4, but how significant a role she will have remains to be seen. I definitely feel that there’s scope for at least one new character – or perhaps the promotion of a secondary character to the regular cast.

So that’s it for now! Those are my official Season 4 theories written up and ready to go!

Grudge is also coming back!

The season premiere will arrive in less than a week from now, so stay tuned for a full review of the episode and an update to these theories! I wonder how many will be completely destroyed right off the bat?

I’ve been looking forward to Discovery’s fourth season all year, and it’s hard to believe it’s now only a few days away! I’m hoping to see a season of television that will be tense, exciting, and unpredictable. Despite my love of theory-crafting, I like being wrong just as much as I like being right – if not more! A story that goes in truly unexpected directions is a lot of fun, so I won’t be upset even if absolutely none of my theories come to pass.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 will premiere on the 18th of November 2021 on Paramount+ in the United States, and on the 19th of November 2021 on Netflix in the United Kingdom and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 – did the Delta Quadrant escape the Burn?

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

Today we’re continuing our series of theory articles about the Burn, and we’re returning to the Voyager Season 4 episode Living Witness for yet another idea! As one of the very few episodes of Star Trek prior to Discovery’s third season to be set in or near the 32nd Century, Living Witness has been the source of several theories and concepts already. On this occasion we’re going to consider what the episode’s far future setting and its ending could mean for Discovery, and what implications there may be if the Delta Quadrant either partially or wholly escaped the worst effects of the Burn.

Let’s start by considering what we know from Discovery itself regarding the Burn and its possible extent. Cleveland Booker introduced us to the idea of the Burn in the first episode of the season, and used the term “the galaxy” when describing its range and scale; this may be hyperbole or exaggeration to a degree, though, as Booker’s knowledge of the wider galaxy was limited – he hadn’t even been to Earth.

Booker introduced Michael Burnham to the Burn – and its scope.

Next, Admiral Vance told us that the Federation peaked in the pre-Burn years with a membership of over 350 worlds. While there are certainly enough planets in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants for the Federation to have been contained there, this expansion of the Federation is significant. The Federation was also large enough and spread out enough that Vance’s Starfleet was unable to travel to or even remain in contact with every member world. Vance was familiar with worlds in or near the Gamma Quadrant, as he noted the location of the Guardian of Forever’s new planet was in that region of space, so the Federation has clearly mapped large portions of the Milky Way by the 32nd Century.

Next we have the Burn itself. Originally assumed to have taken place everywhere simultaneously, Michael Burnham was able to prove that the Burn in fact radiated outwards from its point of origin, with ships in different sectors being destroyed milliseconds apart. However, 32nd Century Starfleet didn’t have enough information to have figured this out, instead assuming that the Burn happened all at once. This could mean that the Federation wasn’t as widespread as we might think.

Admiral Vance was the head of Starfleet – but was out of contact with many current and former Federation planets.

Now we come to Living Witness. The bulk of the episode takes place in the 31st Century, and thus could well have been set in the years before the Burn (all dates in relation to Living Witness are guesstimates based on rounded figures). However, the episode’s ending clearly and demonstrably takes place decades – or perhaps even centuries – later. The final act of the episode sees a museum guide telling Kyrian and Vaskan citizens about the Doctor – a backup copy of whom was left behind by the USS Voyager – and this sequence takes place at the very least decades after the rest of the episode, and certainly after the Burn.

Obviously we have to acknowledge that, for production-side reasons, the two stories aren’t related. We wouldn’t have expected anyone at the end of Living Witness to talk about the Burn because the story concept did not exist at the time. But Star Trek has shown a willingness on multiple occasions to incorporate events depicted in one story into later episodes and films, and perhaps that will happen on this occasion.

An image of the Doctor in a museum sometime in or after the 32nd Century.

In short, here’s how the theory goes: the end of Living Witness shows the Kyrians and Vaskans in the 32nd or perhaps even 33rd Century talking about the Doctor. There was no mention of the Burn, nor of any disaster affecting their Delta Quadrant homeworld, and the fact that the Doctor was able to commandeer a starship in the late 31st or early 32nd Century to undertake his voyage back to the Alpha Quadrant at least implies that there was enough dilithium in that region of the Delta Quadrant for such a voyage to be plausible.

There are other implications from the ending of Living Witness that are worth considering. The Kyrians and Vaskans don’t seem to have had further contact with the Federation since the departure of the Doctor. This could mean that travel to and from the Delta Quadrant is still difficult and/or time-consuming in this era. The fact that the museum guide was not aware of whether the Doctor made it back safely suggests that there hasn’t been any contact between their homeworld and the Federation. We could think of reasons why this might be the case, including random chance, but with more than 700 years between Voyager’s journey and the Burn, there should’ve been ample time for the Federation to revisit planets Voyager encountered if they wanted to.

Did Starfleet return to the Delta Quadrant after Voyager’s journey home?

So is it possible that the Burn had a limited range? Was it truly a galactic-scale event, or did its effects weaken the further out its shockwave went? I think the fact that Burnham found a millisecond difference in between starships being destroyed could hint at this, because the shockwave did radiate outwards from its point of origin. Whether we’re talking about gamma rays or ripples on a body of water, we see the effects weaken the further away from the source we get, so perhaps the same is true of the Burn.

There may have been a transitional zone in which some starships were destroyed but some were merely damaged, and then a zone were the effects of the Burn were noticeable but not catastrophic. Finally the Burn’s shockwave would reach a point where it was imperceptible to all but the most finely-tuned sensors before fizzling out altogether. The episode Su’Kal showed us an example of this, in a way, when Su’Kal’s emotional outburst “almost” caused another Burn – but didn’t. Perhaps this is what some star systems in faraway parts of the galaxy experienced.

The almost-Burn radiates outwards from its point of origin.

We don’t know where the Verubin Nebula is in relation to the Federation or the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. But it could be located near one edge of the galaxy, far away from the Delta Quadrant. If so, and if the pre-Burn Federation didn’t routinely travel to and from the Delta Quadrant, things start to line up for this theory!

So let’s consider the possible implications, assuming this theory is correct. Obviously we know that the Kyrians and Vaskans seem to have escaped the Burn relatively unscathed, so perhaps other Delta Quadrant factions did as well. This could include races like the Kazon, though they seem unlikely to be a significant threat to the Federation based on how far behind they were in technological terms. It could also bode well for potential Federation allies like the Talaxians and Ocampa – if one or both had joined the Federation, perhaps they’re thriving on the far side of the galaxy even after the Burn decimated the Alpha and Beta Quadrants.

What might this mean for the likes of the Kazon?

But there’s one Delta Quadrant faction that we should be more wary of than any other: the Borg!

Discovery Season 3 didn’t make any mention of the Borg whatsoever, so we don’t know if they still exist in this era, if they’ve been defeated, if they’re still present in the galaxy, etc. But assuming that they’re still around and that their power base remains in the Delta Quadrant, the Borg’s survival could be catastrophically bad news for the Federation.

Even if the Federation had managed to find a way to keep the Borg at bay in the years prior to the Burn, the Borg may have just been given a 120-year head-start on developing new technologies and building up their forces while the Federation fractured and looked inwards to its own day-to-day survival. With much of their transwarp network intact and with their ships and drones protected from the worst effects of the Burn, the Borg may have been waiting and observing the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. They may even have been slowly making inroads, assimilating planets and star systems beyond the range of the Federation’s limited sensors. Perhaps the reason some Federation members dropped out of contact was not because of issues with long-range communications… but because they’d been attacked.

The Borg may be in an especially strong position if the bulk of their territory – and fleet – escaped the Burn.

The trailers for Season 4 appear to show the Federation under attack by a “gravitational anomaly.” As I pointed out, this anomaly could be argued to behave in an unnatural way if it seems to be targeting the Federation, its planets, and its starships. Perhaps the gravitational anomaly is a weapon, one designed to be the precursor to an invasion. If so, one of the primary candidates for developing such a powerful weapon has to be the Borg.

As the rest of the galaxy struggles to recover, maybe Starfleet will learn that the Delta Quadrant largely escaped the Burn. The century-long absence of strong borders and interstellar long-range communications could have allowed any faction from that region of space (including the Borg) to seize the opportunity to pursue an aggressive, expansionist policy. The shape of the galaxy could’ve changed far more in the wake of the Burn than we might think, and a return to “business as usual” may not be possible if whole sectors have changed hands – or been assimilated!

Who will Captain Burnham and the crew face in Season 4?

As I’ve mentioned in the past, it’s also possible that the backup copy of the Doctor is still alive in this era. We’ve heard nothing from the production side of Star Trek to suggest he might be included as a character in Season 4, but I’d be curious to see if he’ll be mentioned in some way even if he doesn’t appear on screen. If the Living Witness copy of the Doctor has survived and returned to the Alpha Quadrant, that would be the strongest hint yet that at least part of the Delta Quadrant may have escaped the worst effects of the Burn.

Though Star Trek hardly needs an excuse, this could also be a great opportunity to bring the Borg into play in a big way. Discovery flirted with a Borg origin story in Season 2 – at least in my opinion – but we haven’t seen a proper Borg episode or story since 2003’s Enterprise Season 2 episode Regeneration.

If we work on the assumption that everything seen on screen in past Star Trek episodes is canon, and that the events in Living Witness and Discovery both take place in the Prime Timeline, I think we have a solid basis to construct a theory! Did some or all of the Delta Quadrant escape the Burn? And if so, what are the implications for the Star Trek galaxy in the late 32nd Century and beyond? We simply don’t know yet!

Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix in the UK and internationally. Star Trek: Voyager is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix in the UK (other international streaming may vary). The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery, Voyager, and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 – Could time travel have helped avoid the Burn?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3.

In the second part of this short series about the Burn we’re going to consider the possible impact of time travel. Last time, in case you missed it, we looked at how transporters and transwarp beaming could – potentially – have provided Starfleet and the Federation with a way to relieve the pressure of dwindling dilithium reserves in the years before the Burn. I also have a column looking at how well the Burn worked as a storyline, which you can find by clicking or tapping here.

As Season 3 began – and for much of its run – I speculated about the possible involvement of time travel either as part of the explanation for the Burn or as a way for Discovery to reset or even undo the catastrophic event at the storyline’s resolution. Here’s the short version of why: the Federation had access to time travel technology for hundreds of years, and by the 29th and 30th Centuries Starfleet routinely explored the timeline and even tried to patrol it and prevent any nefarious interference. Though there was a “temporal prime directive” in effect which prevented travellers from the future from changing the past, the precise way in which this worked is not clear.

The Department of Temporal Investigations is on the case!

Time travel has not been depicted consistently within Star Trek, and we do have to acknowledge that. Stories featuring the cast of The Original Series – including the film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home – seem to depict time travel as something that basically anyone with a warp-capable starship could accomplish (via the method of slingshotting around a star). However, by the time we get to stories set in the 24th Century, time travel appears to require specialist equipment and devices – which, at various points, the Federation may or may not have been in possession of.

Even if we’re incredibly conservative with how we interpret time travel stories within Star Trek, it still seems highly likely that by the 25th Century or thereabouts, Starfleet had the technology to routinely and safely travel through time – which is more than 600 years before the Burn. Much of what we know about Starfleet’s time travel missions suggests that their primary interests would be in travelling backwards through time to get a first-hand look at historical events, as well as to prevent factions like the Sphere Builders or the Borg from changing the past to suit their own goals and purposes. But there’s nothing to say that Starfleet wasn’t at least peeking ahead at the future timeline.

The Enterprise-E was able to modify its deflector dish to travel back to the 24th Century in First Contact.

I’d argue that not doing so would be a major risk and even a dereliction of duty. With Starfleet involved in a Temporal Cold War and/or the Temporal Wars, other factions were almost certainly using time travel technology to jump forwards and backwards through time to try to score an advantage. Heck, Discovery’s second season finale is an example of this: Captain Pike, Saru, Burnham, and the crew decide that sending the USS Discovery forward in time – removing it from the 23rd Century – was the safest way to keep this vital ship and its important data out of the hands of their enemy. If 23rd Century Starfleet was doing that, I see nothing to suggest that 29th and 30th Century Starfleet wasn’t doing that too.

We can’t argue that travelling forwards in time is any more difficult than travelling backwards. Again, Discovery Season 2 is a case in point. The Red Angel project in the mid-23rd Century created two time travel suits that were capable of moving forwards in time, and at various points in Star Trek’s broader canon we’ve seen ships like the USS Defiant and the Enterprise-E manage to successfully return to the 24th Century after jaunts to the past.

HMS Bounty – Kirk’s stolen Klingon Bird-of-Prey – was able to travel to the 20th Century and back again.

Everything we know about time travel in Star Trek tells us that the Federation had the capability to travel forwards in time, and a combination of their role in the temporal conflicts of the 29th and 30th Centuries as well as their previously-established desire to protect and preserve the “true” timeline gives them the motivation – and moral requirement – to do so as well.

So why didn’t anyone warn the Federation about the Burn?

The answer, at least according to Discovery Season 3, is the ban on time travel. But I’m not convinced that this works as a satisfying and believable reason on its own. Even if Starfleet were willing to abide by the ban on time travel and the temporal prime directive, would everyone have felt that way? If a Starfleet timeship encountered the post-Burn galaxy, would they not have felt an obligation to warn their colleagues in their native era?

The USS Relativity – a Starfleet timeship from the 29th Century.

Even if Starfleet had been willing to sacrifice countless lives and leave the galaxy in a horrible state to uphold certain ideals and principles, the Burn is bigger than just the Federation. Other factions in the Temporal Wars, had they become aware of the Burn, would likely have tried to warn their colleagues of what was to come. Even organisations within the Federation, like Section 31, seem like they’d have been unwilling to abide by a ban on time travel, let alone refuse to share knowledge of an impending disaster.

We don’t know for certain that this didn’t happen. Section 31 may not exist by this time, and if they do still exist they may indeed have tried to warn the Federation about the Burn. Other factions with access to time travel technology may have also warned their past selves too. Heck, this could be a plot point in Season 4; perhaps one faction was better-prepared than everyone else and is now ready to conquer the galaxy.

A black Section 31 combadge. Did the secretive organisation try to warn the Federation about the Burn – or prevent it entirely?

However, there is a significant counter-point that we need to consider: until Saru, Burnham, and Dr Culber travelled to the Verubin Nebula and met Su’Kal, no one knew what caused the Burn. Even if Starfleet had been warned centuries ahead of time, without the crucial knowledge of what the Burn was, who caused it, and so on, simply knowing that it was going to happen would not have been enough to prevent it. And perhaps that’s the key here. Even if Starfleet had travelled forward in time, in this exact version of the timeline, all they would’ve seen is a galaxy devastated by an event that no one knew anything about.

As I said last time, the way the Burn occurred was a combination of unlikely, unpredictable circumstances centred around a single, relatively obscure starship and one Kelpien child. When looking at a galaxy-wide event that appeared to happen everywhere simultaneously, even the most dedicated timeship crew would’ve struggled to put the pieces together. Michael Burnham and the crew of the USS Discovery were able to do so only with the Federation’s help; and it seems highly unlikely that Admiral Vance would’ve agreed to help the crew of a 29th or 30th Century timeship in the way he agreed to help Saru and Burnham. Remember what Vance said when he debriefed Burnham and Saru: their mere presence in the 32nd Century was “by definition, a crime.”

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

Thus we can argue that Admiral Vance would have been unwilling to help a Federation timeship prevent the Burn, and would not have shared the vital information relating to SB-19 which ultimately allowed Burnham to pinpoint its source.

Likewise, if Section 31, the Emerald Chain, or some other faction operating in the 32nd Century wanted to travel back in time to prevent the Burn, the same issue of not knowing how, why, and where it happened arises. Without this information, realistically it seems impossible for the Burn to have been avoided. Only after Burnham’s investigation, culminating in the discovery of the KSF Khi’eth and Su’Kal, could anyone realistically use time travel to prevent the Burn or warn their counterparts in the past. And from our point of view as the audience, we’ve only just arrived at that chapter of the story!

When the Burn was first teased in the trailers for Discovery’s third season in 2019 and 2020, I wondered what role – if any – time travel might’ve played in the story. There were possible hints at a time travel-related cause for the Burn, perhaps even connected to one of the Red Angel suits from Season 2. There was also the Temporal Cold War from Enterprise. However, as a story point one thing about connecting time travel to the Burn seemed like it would be impossible to resolve as the season rolled on.

Crewman Daniels worked with Captain Archer in the 22nd Century to prevent a time-war in the far future.

In short, if the Burn had been revealed to have been caused by the nefarious actions of a time traveller – or as the result of a time travel/Red Angel suit accident – then logically, from Starfleet’s perspective, the only solution to the Burn would be to undo it; to travel back in time and prevent it from happening. In the first couple of episodes of the season, as we found our feet, perhaps such a storyline could’ve worked. But as we got to know people like Booker, Admiral Vance, the leaders of Earth, Ni’Var, Trill, and many others across the 32nd Century, removing most of them from existence by resetting the timeline would have felt completely wrong.

Undoing the Burn would’ve completely changed the 31st and 32nd Centuries, with knock-on effects for all of those characters – and countless more. Even if the crew of Discovery were immune to such changes, the consequences for everyone else would be vast. As I mentioned when discussing Admiral Janeway’s decision to take a similar action in the finale of Star Trek: Voyager, wiping untold numbers of people from existence altogether seems like the worst possible use of time travel – a war crime. The Temporal Accords that Admiral Vance mentioned and which the Federation strives to protect seem specifically designed to prevent anyone from doing this kind of thing.

Admiral Janeway wiped out more than a quarter of a century’s worth of history – and countless people.

So we get into the weeds of philosophy with this one! The Burn happened, and until we learned exactly how and why toward the end of the season, it was possible that time travel could’ve played a role in it. But even if it had, and the Burn was entirely the fault of the misuse or weaponisation of time travel, more than 120 years had passed since. In those 120 years, billions of people lived out complete lifetimes. They made friends, had relationships, had children, and above all they shaped the galaxy in the 31st and 32nd Centuries. Some nebulous, unprovable concept of how it might’ve been “different” and thus better was already a moot point by the year 3188, because going back in time and changing the past would remove untold billions of people from existence, and utterly change the lives of everyone else.

There’s also no guarantee that preventing the Burn would’ve made the galaxy in 3188 a better place. The Burn destroyed countless starships, but if it hadn’t the galaxy’s dilithium shortage would’ve continued and even accelerated, potentially leaving whole fleets of ships – and possibly planetary power grids – with no fuel at all. Though we get into pure speculation at this point, perhaps the Burn destroyed an invasion fleet that the Borg, the Dominion, or some other villainous group had put together, and if it hadn’t occurred the Federation would’ve been conquered.

Was the Burn the worst thing that could’ve happened – or might there be something worse?

This is the fundamental problem with making changes to the timeline and with time travel in general – it isn’t possible to predict every consequence! Star Trek even has a story all about that: the Voyager two-part episode Year of Hell, in which the villainous Annorax is in control of a time travel-based weapon, but after inadvertently removing his wife from existence becomes obsessed with making changes to the timeline left, right, and centre to undo his mistake.

In short, whether the Federation, Section 31, or some other faction were involved, they wouldn’t be able to predict what consequences would befall the galaxy if the Burn never happened. It isn’t possible to take into account every individual and thus every variable – as the story of Su’Kal kind of demonstrates. One Kelpien child on one crashed starship caused all of this damage and devastation. Who’s to say that undoing that event wouldn’t have led to something worse, some other catastrophe caused by a different individual?

Su’Kal was ultimately revealed to be the cause of the Burn.

As a contemporary analogy, imagine going back in time and preventing the rise of Napoleon and thus the Napoleonic wars. Or going back in time to prevent the eruption of Krakatoa. Those events caused widespread death and misery, and our morality says that we should try to minimise suffering and death wherever we can. But could you reasonably predict the consequences? If Napoleon didn’t rise to power in France, would someone else – someone worse – have done so? If Krakatoa didn’t erupt in 1883, would the pressure building up under the crust be released somewhere else at a different time – perhaps somewhere more highly-populated? These are just two examples, yet each one brings with it huge potential ramifications.

To conclude, time travel seemingly presents a way for the Burn to have been avoided – if we don’t dig too deeply. But scratch the surface and it becomes apparent that there are serious barriers. Starfleet’s steadfast commitment to its principles wouldn’t have allowed Admiral Vance – or anyone else in his role – to share information with time travellers from the past. Even if someone from the past had travelled to the 32nd Century, without the very specific information on the KSF Khi’eth that Michael Burnham and the crew of the USS Discovery assembled, warning Starfleet that the Burn was coming would have made little difference. Perhaps some ships could’ve been saved if the Federation were forewarned of the exact timing of the event, but that’s about all. With the destruction of the Red Angel suits, it appears that no time travel technology exists in the 32nd Century, preventing anyone – Section 31, the Emerald Chain, etc. – going back in time to prevent the Burn. Even if someone wanted to, the lack of information would once again be a hurdle even if we ignore the huge moral implications – and the implications for Discovery as a series effectively wiping out an entire season’s worth of story!

The cause of the Burn was only uncovered by the crew of the USS Discovery more than 120 years after it happened.

I can understand why the writers of Discovery Season 3 brought in all of the stuff about the Temporal Accords and the ban on time travel. I wish it had been elaborated on – and I also wish that Star Trek had been more consistent in its depiction of time travel on the whole, because there are definitely holes we can pick in the concept quite easily. As things sit, it feels like the writers basically said “time travel was banned, so get over it” and then moved on to the rest of the story. If you don’t look too hard, that’s okay. But we’re Trekkies – we like to dive deeply into all things Star Trek!

The ban on time travel is just one part of why Starfleet couldn’t really have used the technology to avoid the Burn, though. And the Burn’s ultimate origin as something accidental connected to a child who wasn’t even born before the KSF Khi’eth entered the Verubin Nebula provides a reasonable explanation. Without knowing the Burn’s origin, all Starfleet could’ve done was shut down as many ships as possible and try to rebuild after the Burn – and that would likely not have been good enough for worlds like Ni’Var. The Federation would still have fractured and the rest of the galaxy would still be in a mess.

As for going back in time and undoing the Burn now that Starfleet knows its origin, that seems off the table. Maybe a faction like Section 31 would contemplate it, but even then I think there are solid reasons to hesitate. The morality of wiping out an entire timeline and most of the people in it is the biggest consideration, but purely on a practical level there’s no guarantee that undoing the Burn wouldn’t lead to something else – something worse. For us as viewers, the Burn is something new. But from the point of view of characters like Admiral Vance and Kovich, this is an historical event more than a century in the past; it occurred before practically everyone alive in the Federation in 3188 was even born. Undoing it would be like one of us wanting to undo something that happened in the 19th Century. Can we think of valid, sympathetic reasons to want to undo certain historical events? Of course. But can we also understand why changing the past can have catastrophic unforeseen consequences? Absolutely. And that, in a nutshell, is why I think the Burn couldn’t and wouldn’t have been avoided via time travel.

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

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 – Could transporters have helped avoid the Burn?

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

This article is going to be the first in a short series about the Burn – one of the main elements of Discovery’s third season. We’re going to consider different ways that the Federation – and the wider Star Trek galaxy – could have avoided the Burn, a catastrophic event that caused untold damage to factions and citizens across known space and beyond.

In order for the Burn to have occurred at all, a very specific set of circumstances needed to align in just the right way (or should that be just the wrong way?) One of these was the dilithium shortage that Admiral Vance elaborated on after Saru, Burnham, and the crew of the USS Discovery arrived at Federation HQ. In short, for a long time prior to the Burn there had been a shortage of dilithium across the galaxy. This shortage was so severe that the Federation began looking at alternative options for faster-than-light travel. One of the ideas they considered was something called SB-19 – a Ni’Var project that seemed to involve some kind of starship-sized “gateways” to get from place to place.

SB-19 was a pre-Burn experiment to send starships at faster-than-light speeds without warp drive.

We’re going to leave those ideas behind for now and focus on one aspect of Star Trek that has been present since the beginning: the transporter. In short, would it have been possible for transporter technology to provide an alternative to some or all of Starfleet’s faster-than-light travel?

On the surface it may seem that the two things aren’t related. Transporters are mainly shown on screen as a method of sending people from starships to planets, and vice versa. Faster-than-light starship travel is in a completely different ballpark, right?

Not so fast! What is the main purpose of warp drive in the Federation? Starfleet uses it for exploration and military purposes, of course, so as viewers that’s what we associate warp drive with – setting course for an unknown destination and racing away to explore it. But the Federation is much larger than just Starfleet, and there must be an awful lot of civilian and cargo traffic that uses warp drive in the same way we use a car, bus, train, or aircraft – it’s a means to an end; a way to get from place to place.

Book’s ship at warp in Discovery Season 3.

2009’s Star Trek introduced something that I think is vital to this consideration: transwarp beaming. On first viewing I felt the film wasn’t clear about how and when transwarp beaming was invented, so for the sake of clarity here’s what seems to have happened: after arriving in the 24th Century following decades in suspended animation – events depicted in The Next Generation sixth season episode Relics – Montgomery Scott eventually went back to work with Starfleet. Sometime prior to 2387, Scotty perfected the formula for transwarp beaming, and Spock provided this equation to Scotty’s younger self on the planet Delta Vega after arriving in the alternate reality.

In Star Trek Into Darkness we see how much more powerful transwarp beaming can be than a regular transporter. As with most of Star Trek’s technologies, transporters have always been somewhat vague and mouldable to the needs of a particular story, but Into Darkness actually gave us a pretty solid idea about the range that transwarp beaming has: it’s possible to transport from Earth to the Klingon home planet of Qo’noS.

“John Harrison” materialises on Qo’noS.

Into Darkness doesn’t give an exact distance to Qo’noS, but in Enterprise’s pilot episode it was far enough away from Earth that no human had ever encountered a Klingon despite humanity being a spacefaring species for decades. The travel time from Earth to Qo’noS at warp 4.5 was around four days in that same episode.

Memory Alpha, the Star Trek wiki, suggests that the distance between Earth and Qo’noS could be somewhere between 90-110 light-years, so for a rough guide for the sake of this argument we’re going to say that transwarp beaming has a range of at least 100 light-years. This technology was known to Spock in 2387, so it definitely existed in the Prime Timeline in the late 24th Century. Even if 100 light-years is the absolute maximum distance for transwarp beaming, it’s still a far faster method of travel than anything else known to the Federation. In Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 (the ninth episode of Star Trek: Picard), Admiral Picard tells Dr Jurati that the use of a Borg transwarp corridor allowed La Sirena to travel “25 light-years in fifteen minutes.” Picard says this with a tone of surprise, as if such speed is something that the Federation, even in the year 2399, is unaccustomed to.

In the year 2399, travelling 25 light-years in 15 minutes was remarkable.

Transwarp beaming, then, is even faster than the Borg’s transwarp network. Though the Borg’s spatial trajector (a technology they appear to have assimilated from the Sikarians) may give it a run for its money! Regardless, transwarp beaming is arguably the fastest method of long-range travel ever seen in Star Trek. It allowed “John Harrison” to travel around 100 light-years in a heartbeat, something that even Borg starships couldn’t do a century later.

So how does all of this connect to the Burn? Based on what we saw on screen, it doesn’t! That’s the short answer. For whatever reason, Starfleet appears not to have pursued transwarp beaming in the 29th and 30th Centuries. But this is a fan theory, so we’re running with it anyway!

Despite what’s usually shown on screen, transporters don’t just move people. In fact, living beings are arguably one of the hardest and most complex things for a transporter to manage. Early episodes of Enterprise explained that the first transporters were only supposed to move cargo, and we’ve seen industrial-sized cargo transporters on other ships, including the Enterprise-D. These transporters were often larger, capable of beaming large objects, groups of people, and other things.

Dr Crusher and Geordi La Forge in one of the Enterprise-D’s cargo bays.

Do you see where this is going yet? Much of the reason for interstellar travel within the Federation was to move objects and people from place to place. Going into space in a starship and travelling at warp speed was the best method that the Federation had of doing so – until transwarp beaming came along. Transwarp beaming, even if it had an absolute maximum range of 100 light-years that could never under any circumstances be surpassed, was still a viable option for a significant portion of the Federation’s interstellar travel needs.

Nothing we know of in Star Trek should have prevented the further development and honing of transwarp beaming. Even if no one did anything with the transwarp beaming concept before the 29th or 30th Centuries, when dilithium supplies began to run short Starfleet could easily have started to work again on a concept they’d sidelined. The formulae and information about transwarp beaming seem unlikely to have been lost in that time. Industrial-sized transwarp beaming hubs could have been built, capable of sending vast amounts of goods and whole crowds of people from one planet to another. Not only that, but transwarp beaming hubs in space could even have been constructed, forming a network that would’ve allowed Starfleet to send its vessels from system to system without expending valuable fuel.

Two crewmen carrying a dilithium crystal aboard the Enterprise-D.

It is possible based on what we saw on screen that some version of transwarp beaming was part of the aforementioned SB-19 project. But that has never been confirmed, and considering that transwarp beaming was known to work reliably in the late 24th Century (or the 23rd Century in the alternate reality) it seems unlikely that SB-19 would have struggled to make the concept work hundreds of years later. This was already proven, working technology within Star Trek’s Prime Timeline.

Had Starfleet invested in transwarp beaming on a large scale, it’s possible that the range of the technology could have been extended, its power consumption reduced, and a vast interplanetary network of transwarp beaming stations created that would have relieved at least some of the pressure on dilithium-powered starships. With that pressure reduced and the desperation on the Federation’s part to source new dilithium lessening as a result, the chances of the KSF Khi’eth crashing in the Verubin Nebula, setting in motion the unlikely chain of events that led to the Burn, seems greatly diminished.

The wreck of the KSF Khi’eth.

In short, using transporters in this way could have avoided the Burn entirely.

Now let’s consider the biggest counter-argument to this idea: how power generation works in Star Trek.

It stands to reason that a transporter takes up a lot of power. In Discovery’s premiere episode, a particular design of transporter in use on the USS Shenzhou was considered outdated by Michael Burnham specifically because of its high power consumption. It logically follows that the larger the mass of the objects being transported, the more power is required. It also stands to reason that transporting over longer distances would likewise require a larger expenditure of power. This might even jump exponentially.

Sarek and Michael Burnham in the USS Shenzhou’s transporter room.

Relatively few Star Trek stories have been set on planets, so we don’t know very much about how planetary power generation works. But assuming that, in order to power the technologies and mod-cons of the 24th Century, planets require comparable levels of power per person to a starship, it’s possible that planetary power grids (such as the one on Earth that was sabotaged by Admiral Leyton in the Deep Space Nine episodes Homefront and Paradise Lost) use a similar matter-antimatter reaction in order to generate enough power for the needs of the population. And what does a matter-antimatter reaction need to be safe and stable? Dilithium crystals.

Transporters based on starships would also have this limitation – as everything on board a starship seems to be powered by a controlled matter-antimatter reaction. Perhaps, then, transporters have the same basic limitation as warp drive: a reliance on dilithium for power. This counter-argument could be used to explain why transporters and transwarp beaming weren’t able to be used as a viable replacement for even a small amount of Starfleet’s interstellar traffic in the years prior to the Burn.

It seems as though transporter technology would use a lot of power.

I still think this is an interesting idea, though! Star Trek has thrown a lot of technobabble concepts our way over the years, so it’s inevitable that almost any new storyline can bring with it questions like “why didn’t they try to do X?” or “why didn’t someone think of using Y?” That’s just the nature of this kind of franchise.

On this occasion we’ve jumped headfirst into a theory based on a few lines of dialogue and interpretations of things shown on screen in unconnected parts of Star Trek’s broader canon. I didn’t do that to imply that there’s somehow an egregious “plot hole” in the way Discovery’s third season explained the dilithium shortage or the Burn; really this has just been an excuse to spend a bit more time in the Star Trek galaxy. This isn’t something to take too seriously – no fan theory is – and as already mentioned I can think of at least one solid counter-argument to the idea of Starfleet setting up a kind of transwarp beaming network to ease its reliance on warp drive.

I hope this theory was a bit of fun, though! Stay tuned for more in this short series about the Burn, because transporters and transwarp beaming aren’t the only ways that Starfleet could’ve potentially avoided the disaster and its consequences. And if you want to see my breakdown and analysis on how well the Burn did (and didn’t) work as a narrative in Discovery Season 3, take a look at this article.

Until next time!

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

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 – what was the Burn?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Season 3.

As I was wrapping up my Discovery Season 3 series of articles in January, I said that we’d return to the Burn at a later date once I’d had time to get my thoughts in order. The Burn was the main storyline running through all of the show’s third season, and in addition it’s a story which has significant ramifications for Star Trek going forward, so I wanted to be able to do justice to this big subject. As you may recall from my commentary as the season was ongoing, I have mixed feelings. There’s a lot to talk about.

First up, let’s recap what the Burn was purely from an in-universe perspective, then we can get into my analysis of how well it worked as a narrative.

Though the timeline of some of these events was vague, we know that beginning in the 28th or 29th Centuries, the galaxy began to experience a dilithium shortage. The reason for this was never given nor explained in detail, but it was serious enough that the Federation began seeking out alternative sources of dilithium. At the same time, the Federation started to research alternative methods of faster-than-light travel, the most successful of these being the Ni’Var (Romulan-Vulcan) project called SB-19.

SB-19 was a pre-Burn Federation experiment – and one of the clues Discovery Season 3 dropped as to the event’s origin.

All of this came against the backdrop of a conflict referred to as the Temporal Wars. It’s assumed that this is related to Enterprise’s Temporal Cold War storyline, which saw a temporal agent named Daniels spend time aboard Captain Archer’s NX-01 Enterprise. The end of the war in the late 30th or early 31st Century saw the implementation of a ban on time travel, which is an aspect of the storyline that never really went anywhere.

By the mid-3060s, the Federation’s quest for dilithium was ongoing, and a Kelpien ship – the KSF Khi’eth, with Dr Issa on board – travelled to the Verubin Nebula. After finding a route inside, the ship crashed on a dilithium planet inside the nebula, and wasn’t able to be rescued. A child named Su’Kal was born to Dr Issa while inside the nebula, and as a result of exposure to the Verubin Nebula’s radiation and the dilithium of the planet where he was born, Su’Kal developed a telepathic connection of some kind with dilithium, a link which was seemingly amplified by being on the dilithium planet. At moments of extreme emotion, Su’Kal could trigger a psychic shockwave which destabilised dilithium. The death of his mother in the late 3060s caused this to happen, and the psychic shockwave travelled across the entire galaxy near-simultaneously. Almost all active dilithium went inert, and any ship with an active warp core exploded. This event was later referred to by survivors as “the Burn.” No one, including the Federation, knew how or why this happened, and for more than a century the cause of the Burn went unknown.

The Burn. Figuring out what caused it was a big part of Season 3.

The Burn caused widespread societal changes across the known galaxy, including the withdrawal of many Federation members and the rise of a faction called the Emerald Chain – which was implied to be a successor to the Orion Syndicate. Worlds like Trill, Earth, Ni’Var, and others left the Federation, and the severe dilithium shortage meant that other Federation members and colonies were no longer within travel distance. It’s not clear whether the Burn wrecked the Federation’s subspace communications network directly, or whether decades of decline and decay were responsible. Either way, by the time of Michael Burnham’s arrival in the year 3188, the rump Federation was not able to even communicate with some former and current members.

So that, in a nutshell, is the Burn.

Over the course of Season 3, Discovery dropped hints about the Burn and what it could be connected to. We had the mysterious piece of music that everyone seemed to know, Michael Burnham’s year-long research quest into starship black boxes, the aforementioned SB-19 project, the missing Red Angel suits and Michael’s mother, the name “Burn” possibly implying a connection to Michael Burnham, a mention of the Gorn having “destroyed” a region of subspace, a couple of possible ties to the Short Treks episode Calypso – by way of the word “V’draysh” to refer to the rump Federation and the timelines seeming to line up – and a couple of other smaller things.

Discovery implied a connection to the Short Treks episode Calypso – among others!

This setup forms a fairly typical “mystery box;” a style of storytelling pioneered by people like the writer/director of 2009’s Star Trek (and The Rise of Skywalker) J.J. Abrams. Alex Kurtzman, who was Discovery’s executive producer for all of Season 3 and who’s in overall creative control of the Star Trek franchise for ViacomCBS, is a colleague of and frequent collaborator with J.J. Abrams, and has adopted at least some of his storytelling methods. So it makes sense to see a “mystery box” in Discovery considering who’s in charge – and how television storytelling in general works as we’ve moved into an era of serialised shows.

The basic problem with the Burn as a “mystery box” is that the clues we as the audience were fed throughout the season did not add up to the story’s resolution. None of the clues or hints that the show dropped ultimately mattered; there was no way for anyone to put the pieces together to figure out the cause of the Burn based on what we saw on screen, not until the final episode when the Burn’s true origin was revealed. Some, like the piece of music, were dropped from the story altogether, despite seeming to be important when they first appeared. This made for a narrative that was, for many viewers and fans, unsatisfying at a fundamental level.

Star Trek: Discovery executive producer Alex Kurtzman.
Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I’m not suggesting that the storyline should have been telegraphed or written in a very obvious way, but once the decision had been made to establish the 32nd Century’s semi-post-apocalyptic setting as being of mysterious origin, that mystery needed to be resolved in a satisfying way. The fact that nothing that we learned across the entire season mattered or had any impact whatsoever on the Burn made the reveal that Su’Kal was the cause feel like a bolt from the blue; a deus ex machina.

Had the Su’Kal reveal come in episode 3 or 4, and then the story had moved on to deal with things like the diplomacy with Ni’Var and the conflict with the Emerald Chain, perhaps it would’ve worked better. But it came at the end of a season that had been running for several months, and in which several episodes were side-missions that didn’t further the Burn story in any way. Season 3 feels like it spent a lot of time getting to an anticlimax; all of those expectations which had been built up quite cleverly over the preceding episodes basically fizzled out. It wasn’t a catastrophic disaster of an ending, but it was one which just didn’t seem to fit with the story that had been teased all season long.

Su’Kal, a Kelpien who had no connection to anything else in the story, was ultimately revealed as the cause of the Burn.

For Trekkies – and for more casual viewers too, I would argue – the Burn was the most interesting, tantalising, and engaging part of the story of Season 3. How had Star Trek’s optimistic future been brought to its knees? How had the Federation allowed this event to happen in the first place, and how had the organisation so badly bungled its aftermath that even Earth had quit the organisation? These questions were all teed up by the Burn storyline, and providing a satisfying answer was perhaps the single most important task that befell the writers and producers of Season 3.

Su’Kal being the answer could have worked if the mystery had been set up differently. Bringing in the Kelpiens at an earlier stage would’ve helped, as would clues or hints about missions to seek out dilithium or experiments about radiation and telepathy. But I don’t think there can be any denying that Su’Kal as the cause of the Burn in the version of the story that made it to screen came from nowhere; it simply does not fit with what was set up in the rest of the season. That’s the fundamental reason why, for many folks, the Burn feels like a storyline that didn’t deliver at what should’ve been its climax.

Having set up a season-long mystery, the storyline jumped to a completely different conclusion that ignored what had been previously hinted at or established.

There’s more to say, though. The idea of running out of an essential fuel and looking for alternative options is an interesting analogy considering that the real world remains dependent on fossil fuels. The Burn can be read, perhaps, as an extreme metaphor for climate change – the Federation’s dependence on dilithium ultimately caused a catastrophe that almost led to the collapse of civilisation itself.

But if this kind of analogy was part of the writers’ intentions, it has to get a failing grade. The concept itself works. It does what Star Trek has always done: uses its sci-fi setting to look at real-world issues. But once Su’Kal was shuffled out of the way, what did the Federation find? A massive cache of dilithium. A planet-sized mass of this vital fuel could power the galaxy for decades or more, regardless of the fact that it was almost responsible for the end of advanced civilisation. To continue the climate change analogy, this is the equivalent of running out of coal and oil, trying to use renewables, then the story ending with a huge new coal mine and oil fields being discovered.

Finding a dilithium planet rendered what could’ve been an interesting and timely story about fuel and energy resources somewhat meaningless.

Though some Trekkies may be glad to see that dilithium crystals aren’t in danger of disappearing from the franchise, this adds another element to the Burn’s unspectacular ending. After all of the talk of a shortage of fuel, alternative methods of propulsion (including several mentioned in the season premiere that were never spoken of again), and how dangerous dilithium could be, the story ends not with some new technology being invented to circumvent the crisis, nor with Federation starships being fitted with Spore Drives like Discovery has, but with a cop-out – finding a huge new dilithium planet that can be strip-mined for fuel.

The Burn and the dilithium shortage storylines were effectively reset by the end of Season 3. With Season 4 seemingly picking up a new story, what could’ve been one of the most powerful turning points in the entirety of Star Trek may find itself relegated to being little more than an unsatisfying season-long story arc that future stories will simply ignore. The Burn could’ve led to significant changes for Star Trek, assuming future shows might use a 32nd or 33rd Century setting. New kinds of starship could have been created using different methods of propulsion and new technobabble to explain it. Instead, basically what happened is that after a season-long dalliance with a setting teetering on the edge of the post-apocalyptic, Star Trek will shift back to using the same things as before.

Discovery can warp away to a new adventure next time and shelve the Burn.

A story that comes full-circle can work. After a season of seeing the galaxy struggling in the aftermath of the Burn, it will feel great to see Captain Burnham and the crew bringing hope back to the shattered Federation, and hopefully seeing the organisation returning to full strength. But how we get to those ending points is significant, and in the case of the Burn, the storyline took an odd route that has left many viewers feeling it wasn’t all it could’ve been.

Finally, we come to what I consider to be the worst and most egregious failing of the Burn and its storyline: the portrayal of Su’Kal and his role in it.

Bill Irwin put in an outstanding performance as Su’Kal, and I don’t want to criticise him for a moment. The way Su’Kal came across on screen was sympathetic, and his scenes with Saru in particular were deeply emotional. This is no criticism of the performances of Irwin or any of the other actors involved in the Su’Kal sequences.

Bill Irwin was wonderful to watch as Su’Kal.

Neurodivergent people, people with learning difficulties, and people with mental health issues have long been portrayed on screen in a variety of negative ways. That can be by becoming the butt of jokes, at other times being portrayed as villains, having no say in or agency over their own lives and stories, or simply by being ignored; it hasn’t been an easy road. Simply seeing a positive portrayal of someone in that situation could be a big deal, yet Discovery completely screwed this up.

By saying that Su’Kal accidentally caused the worst disaster in the entire history of the Star Trek galaxy, the show plays to old stereotypes of the neurodivergent as dangerous. Su’Kal is, for all intents and purposes, no different from Lennie in John Steinbeck’s 1937 novel Of Mice and Men. Lennie would accidentally kill another character in the book because he didn’t realise or understand his own strength, and that description of a man who was “too stupid” to recognise or understand his own power fits Su’Kal almost perfectly.

Su’Kal is basically a futuristic Lennie from Of Mice and Men. (1992 film adaptation pictured.)

Discovery treats Su’Kal with a cloying, sickening pity at times, looking down at him while trying to present him in as pathetic a manner as possible. The show sees Su’Kal as a hapless moron who blew up every starship in the galaxy with his uncontrolled emotional outburst, painting him – and, by extension, other people with mental health conditions and learning disabilities – as a serious danger to others. People with learning difficulties are often portrayed as unable to control their emotions, which is a further stereotype that Discovery leans into. These aspects of the portrayal are really just awful, and putting Su’Kal in this position has real-world comparisons that are deeply unpleasant.

How many times can you remember hearing, in the aftermath of a massacre or killing spree, that the suspect had “mental health problems” or a learning disability? It seems like it happens every time we hear of such an event, and there’s a huge stigma even today around the topic of mental health. As someone with diagnosed mental health conditions myself, this is a topic that hits close to home, and I feel that the way Discovery portrayed Su’Kal as this kind of “dangerous idiot” stereotype shows how far we still have to go as a society when it comes to talking about and depicting neurodiversity on screen.

Su’Kal being the cause of this disaster has some really disturbing implications beyond the story.

Though I enjoyed much of what Discovery’s third season brought to the table, the way Su’Kal was portrayed in his two appearances at the end of the season were really disappointing, even more so considering that the Star Trek franchise has so often tried to be a pioneer for portrayals of underrepresented peoples. Season 3 introduced transgender and non-binary characters for the first time, for example, and the show has a married gay couple, is led by a black woman, and has characters from many different backgrounds. But when it came to depicting someone with mental health issues and learning difficulties, Discovery fell back on overused stereotypes and outdated tropes, effectively bringing a modern-day Lennie to the screen.

There are aspects of Su’Kal’s story that did work. I like the fact, for example, that the telepathic technobabble aspect of the storyline was very “Star Trek” – you wouldn’t get this kind of story in any other franchise, and that’s something that gives Star Trek a sense of identity; a slightly esoteric, weirder kind of sci-fi than you get in other stories. But that side of it is drowned out by how badly Su’Kal as a character and a trope landed.

Su’Kal’s emotional outbursts are deadly.

Neurodiversity isn’t always going to be easy to put to screen, and I get that. If there were only two half-episodes to show off Su’Kal and get to know him, perhaps the chance for a nuanced portrayal that was sympathetic without being pitiful never existed to begin with. But if that’s what happened, Su’Kal should never have been created in the first place. Either a different character should’ve filled that role, or an alternative explanation for the Burn should’ve been found. Given all of the other faults, missteps, and failings present in the Burn narrative as a whole, which I outlined above, I would prefer the latter.

Su’Kal as a character exists in a weird space for me. On the one hand, the emotional side of the portrayal, and the performance by guest star Bill Irwin, were outstanding. But there are so many flaws in the premise of the character and his role in this galactic catastrophe that I can’t look past them. Su’Kal being responsible for the Burn is an age-old trope, one which perpetuates the stigmatisation of the neurodiverse, and in particular those with learning difficulties. Star Trek should know better than to use a character like Su’Kal in a role like this; Star Trek should be better than this, and that’s why it’s so disappointing to see this storyline in Discovery.

I’m very disappointed that a Star Trek show would choose to rely on these outdated stereotypes.

To conclude, I’ll say that the Burn was an interesting, if slightly alarming, premise for the season. It allowed Discovery to tell some truly different and unexpected stories, it provided the backdrop for some great characterisation and character moments, and it has set the stage for future stories in this era. It wasn’t a total failure and I wouldn’t want to see it somehow erased or overwritten.

At the same time, however, the storyline itself followed a very odd path. The ending didn’t flow from what had been slowly built up across the rest of the season leading to the Burn as a whole feeling unsatisfying. Season 3 is saved by the fact that it has those other great episodes, character moments, and standalone stories; had it been all about the Burn we could well be talking about Season 3 as Discovery’s worst.

For me, though, the most egregious failure and deepest disappointment with the Burn storyline is the role Su’Kal played in it, and the implications that has for how neurodiverse people are viewed and portrayed on screen. Though the stigma around mental health and learning disabilities still exists in a big way out here in the real world, Star Trek has always been at the forefront of changing minds and challenging stereotypes. To fall back on such an old-fashioned trope, even though I have no doubt it was accidental, is bitterly disappointing and even upsetting.

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

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 – my worst theory failures!

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

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

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

Book’s ship at warp in the season premiere.

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

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

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

Number 1: Cleveland Booker is a Coppelius synth.

Book and his adoptive brother in the episode The Sanctuary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Burn-ham.

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

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

One of two Red Angel suits seen in Season 2.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Number 4: Lieutenant Detmer is going to die.

Lieutenant Detmer in People of Earth.

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

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

Detmer eventually survived the season.

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

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

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

The Doctor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craft, the protagonist of Calypso.

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

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

The unmanned USS Discovery tows Craft’s pod.

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

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

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

The USS Discovery making a Spore Drive jump.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dr Issa’s holographic message.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The holographic “monster.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“An alternate reality?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had some pretty significant theory misses last season!

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

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

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

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

Star Trek: Discovery – eight “gravitational anomaly” theories

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and the teaser trailer for Season 4. Further spoilers are present for the following: Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Generations, Star Trek: Voyager, and Star Trek: Enterprise.

Star Trek’s First Contact Day virtual event has given us an awful lot to digest! We got teasers for Picard Season 2, Lower Decks Season 2, Discovery Season 4, and more details about Prodigy. If you missed the event, I wrote up my impressions of everything we saw, and you can find that article by clicking or tapping here.

This time, I want to look at the teaser for Discovery’s impending fourth season in more depth, and in particular start making some guesses about what may be going on! The teaser was barely ninety seconds long, and with the show at least six months away it may be futile to speculate about pretty much anything! But that hasn’t stopped me in the past, so let’s jump in!

Sonequa Martin-Green plays Captain Michael Burnham in Discovery, and introduced the Season 4 teaser during the First Contact Day event.

My usual disclaimer applies: I don’t have any “insider information.” I’m not offering up these suggestions saying any are unequivocally true. This is nothing more than speculation from a fan – and a chance to spend some more time talking about Star Trek, which I absolutely adore.

In the run-up to Season 3 last year, I spent a lot of time speculating about the event that ultimately turned out to be the Burn. When we first heard its name I put together a list theorising a number of possible connections to past iterations of Star Trek – but as you know by now, none came to pass!

Michael Burnham in Season 3, trying to figure out what caused the Burn.

Discovery has had an on-off relationship with Star Trek’s broader canon. Season 1 sidestepped a lot of things, redesigning the Klingons, visiting the Mirror Universe years before Kirk’s first crossing, and fighting a major war. Season 2 tied itself much closer to canon, bringing in Captain Pike, Spock, and revisiting Talos IV. Season 3 shot forward into the future, and told a story that touched on past iterations of the franchise at points, but had an overall narrative that stood on its own two feet.

In short, trying to guess whether Season 4’s main storyline will be related to something we’ve seen in the past or not is a crapshoot. Maybe it will be, maybe it won’t. Regardless, if it’s going to be something brand-new then naturally the details become impossible to predict! So in this list I’m going to look at eight possibilities from Star Trek’s past that could explain what we saw in the teaser.

A determined-looking (and armoured) Burnham in the Season 4 teaser.

First of all, let’s explain what exactly we saw! Stamets described a “gravitational anomaly” that’s at least five light-years in diameter. This anomaly appears to be incredibly destructive, and if Burnham is correct, it’s appearing and disappearing at random. As a result, it could potentially strike any Federation or non-Federation world or starship without warning.

Assuming that this anomaly is the main problem facing Captain Burnham and her crew in Season 4, I’ve got a few ideas for what it could be, or what it may be related to. I quite like the idea of Discovery sticking with the “natural disaster” concept from Season 3. It worked well last time, and presenting the crew with a puzzle, mystery, or challenge that’s more scientific in nature than military could be wonderful to see. As long as such a storyline manages to avoid feeling either repetitive or anticlimactic, I think it works in principle.

Stamets in the Season 4 teaser. He told us about the “gravitational anomaly.”

One final point of note is that, due to disruption caused by the pandemic, Discovery Season 4 began filming back in November, well before Season 3 had finished airing – and crucially, before the creative team had time to process any feedback they were getting about the season’s themes and storylines. As a result of that, it may be the case that Season 4 doesn’t make as many changes from Season 3 as some fans would have wanted to see. But once again, that’s speculation on my part!

So let’s consider this “gravitational anomaly,” then. What could it be? What have we seen in past iterations of Star Trek that could potentially be involved? Will there be any tie-ins to other ongoing series, such as Picard, or will the show set up something we’ll see return in a future project, such as Strange New Worlds? Let’s jump into the list and see if we can make some reasonable guesses!

Number 1: The Nexus

The Nexus approaching the planet Veridian III.

When I first saw the teaser, my mind immediately went to the Nexus, the energy ribbon seen in Star Trek: Generations. The Nexus was large, more than large enough to engulf an entire planet, and while it may not have been light-years in diameter when we saw it in that film, it’s possible it grew… somehow! The Nexus was incredibly destructive, causing the destruction of two transport ships and seriously damaging the Enterprise-B, not unlike some of the damage suffered by the USS Discovery in the teaser.

There are two crucial points which made me think of the Nexus, though. The first is that the energy ribbon was said to contain a “gravimetric field,” which sounds an awful lot like Stamets’ “gravitational anomaly.” Both seem to be connected to gravity, and as we saw in the teaser, the USS Discovery appears to lose its artificial gravity at one point.

The Enterprise-B trying to manoeuvre inside the Nexus.

The second point I consider key to the Nexus being a possibility is that we already know it’s something that recurs. The Nexus returns to the Milky Way galaxy every 39.1 years (according to Data in Generations) and unless something major happened in the intervening centuries, this force of nature should still be present, periodically crossing through the galaxy.

At a couple of points in the teaser we saw members of Discovery’s crew looking dazed and confused, not unlike how Soran and Guinan appeared after being transported out of the Nexus by the crew of the Enterprise-B. Perhaps we can infer from their demeanours that they’re not quite sure where they are or what just happened – maybe that means they’ve just spent time inside the Nexus’ paradise-like realm.

Though the stated size of the anomaly relative to what we saw in Generations may count against it, I like the idea of revisiting the Nexus. Would Discovery bring aboard a Soran-like villain, someone hell-bent on getting to “paradise?” Maybe!

Number 2: The super-synths from Picard Season 1

The super-synths in Picard Season 1.

It’s absolutely true that I also suggested the super-synths could’ve been the cause of last season’s disaster! But that doesn’t mean I’m done suggesting ways for this unnamed faction to reappear in Star Trek, especially considering that the teaser for Picard Season 2 suggested that series is moving away from them.

At the end of Picard Season 1, we learned that there is a race of super-synths that exist somewhere out in deep space – perhaps many thousands of light-years away from the Milky Way galaxy. They offered to come to the aid of any synths that ask for their help, though whether this offer was genuine or not was not clear – as indeed was very little about the faction!

Jean-Luc Picard managed to prevent the arrival of the super-synths, along with Soji.

Soji and Sutra, two of the synths from Coppelius, attempted to make contact with the super-synths, but despite opening a beacon and a portal to their base, Soji was ultimately convinced to shut it down and cut off her attempt to communicate. We thus learned precious little about who the super-synths are or what their objectives may be. They seemed menacing, and may harbour an anti-organic hatred that could make them diametrically opposed to the Federation.

We know that, in principle, this faction can open portals in space to allow for travel far faster than warp drive. Perhaps getting too close to one of their portals causes the kind of damage seen to the USS Discovery, and their portals may appear to be “gravitational anomalies” when detected on sensors. The super-synths clearly have a powerful understanding of gravity, such that they were literally able to move stars and create a stable eight-star octonary system. It’s thus at least possible that they use gravity or gravitational anomalies as some kind of weapon.

One thing that Picard Season 1 left unresolved was the fate of the super-synths. Having been contacted, were they now aware of the Milky Way and the Federation? Might they be hell-bent on attacking the Federation? If their offer of help wasn’t genuine, might they arrive to attack the synths who live in the Milky Way? There are a lot of unknowns, but it’s at least plausible that they could be involved. As I’ve said numerous times, finding a way for Picard and Discovery to work together, using similar themes, factions, or even characters would be fantastic and something truly worth doing. This may not be the way it happens… but it could be!

Number 3: A graviton ellipse

The USS Voyager once encountered a graviton ellipse.

The Voyager Season 6 episode One Small Step introduced the graviton ellipse, a fast-moving anomaly that can travel through subspace, normal space, and even other dimensions. The ellipse was drawn to electromagnetic energy – such as that emitted by spacecraft! One ellipse appeared in the Sol system in 2032, during an early manned mission to Mars, and “swallowed” the Ares IV ship. It later attempted to do the same to the USS Voyager.

The graviton ellipse was smaller than five light-years across, so again we have to contend with size. But there are points in its favour! Firstly, the ellipse was specifically drawn to spacecraft and other future technology. Though we didn’t see it attempt to “eat” anything on a planet’s surface, it stands to reason that similar technologies used in power generation may emit the same kind of electromagnetic radiation that an ellipse would be drawn to.

The Delta Flyer inside a graviton ellipse.

Secondly, the ellipse moved essentially at random, disappearing into subspace to reappear many thousands of light-years away. One single ellipse was known to have visited both the Alpha and Delta Quadrants. This seems to fit with what we know of Discovery’s “gravitational anomaly” – specifically the part Captain Burnham told us about its random, unpredictable appearances.

Finally, the graviton ellipse was known to cause damage to spacecraft, draining their power, as well as gravity-related disturbances in space. An encounter with an ellipse may not have destroyed Ares IV or the Delta Flyer, but they were known to be very difficult to escape from.

The drawbacks of this option are that graviton ellipses were relatively well-understood as early as the 24th Century, and with Discovery Season 4 set over 800 years later, it stands to reason that the Federation would be well-equipped to at least know what they’re up against if an ellipse seemed to be in the vicinity. Secondly, there was no indication that the ellipse would stay in one area, causing widespread damage in the way Discovery’s fourth season teaser suggested. Despite those negative points, however, I think it’s at least a possibility. Perhaps post-Burn technology has drawn an ellipse to Federation space, or it’s even possible that someone has found a way to weaponise one to attack the Federation.

Number 4: The Sphere-Builders from Enterprise

A Delphic Expanse sphere.

Discovery’s third season had a couple of interesting references to Enterprise, specifically the “Temporal Cold War” arc. One faction involved in the Temporal Cold War were the so-called Sphere-Builders: extradimensional beings who were attempting to convert part of the Milky Way galaxy to match their native realm so they could colonise it.

Though the time-travelling agent Daniels told Captain Archer that the Sphere-Builders were definitively defeated in the 26th Century, Daniels was from a time period before Discovery Season 4 is set, so he may not have been aware of any future involvement they had in galactic affairs!

Captain Archer looks at a projection of spheres in the Delphic Expanse.

The Sphere-Builders, as their name implies, built spheres. These moon-sized objects were spread throughout a region of space known as the Delphic Expanse, and emitted huge amounts of gravimetric energy, causing the entire region to become unstable and peppered with anomalies.

The spheres were also able to cloak, concealing them from 22nd Century human and Vulcan ships. The region of space a single sphere could affect was huge, and in the mid-22nd Century there was a large network of them, perhaps consisting of over 75 individual spheres. A hidden anomaly-generating piece of technology with a connection to the Temporal Wars? That sounds like something that could cause the problems afflicting Captain Burnham’s ship as seen in the teaser!

If a rogue sphere were on the loose, if the Sphere-Builders were returning, or if a single sphere had been left in the Milky Way, forgotten about since the 22nd or 26th Centuries, it stands to reason based on what we know of them that it could be the cause of the “gravitational anomaly.” This concept is potentially interesting; a leftover “doomsday weapon” unattended for centuries could make for a fun story. It would also be great to see a tie-in with Enterprise!

Number 5: Tyken’s Rift

Data explains how a Tyken’s Rift works to the crew of the Enterprise-D.

A Tyken’s Rift was mentioned in the Picard Season 1 episode Nepenthe, but before that one had been seen in more detail in The Next Generation fourth season episode Night Terrors. It was described as a rare spatial anomaly, one capable of encompassing entire star systems.

Unlike some of the other entries on this list, size isn’t a problem for a Tyken’s Rift! If a whole binary star system (i.e. a system with two stars) was able to fit inside, it’s more than possible such an anomaly could be five light-years in diameter!

A Tyken’s Rift was mentioned by Kestra Troi-Riker in Picard Season 1 last year.

The Enterprise-D wasn’t badly damaged by its encounter with the rift, but it was trapped inside and unable to escape. The Tyken’s Rift was also said to drain power, trapping ships inside. Perhaps the damage to the USS Discovery was not caused by the anomaly itself, but by pushing the ship past its limits trying to escape?

The drawback to a Tyken’s Rift being the cause of Discovery’s anomaly is twofold. Firstly, aside from a slow but steady power drain it didn’t seem to be harmful, and we saw nothing in Night Terrors to suggest this anomaly could or would cause catastrophic damage to a ship. And secondly, the Tyken’s Rift that the Enterprise-D encountered appeared to be stationary. It was even included on stellar maps, so it would be easily avoided.

I don’t think either of these points totally rule it out, and as one of the relatively few named anomalies in Star Trek that are massive enough, it seems fair to still include a Tyken’s Rift as a possibility.

Number 6: Species 8472 and Fluidic Space

A member of Species 8472.

One of Voyager’s most interesting adversaries was Species 8472, known only by their Borg designation! This powerful extradimensional faction were able to outwit even the Borg, fighting a very successful war against them for a time.

Species 8472 were native to a realm filled with an organic compound. Voyager’s crew named this region “fluidic space,” and it seemed as though Species 8472 based much of their technology on this organic material, including their spacecraft.

The USS Voyager being pulled toward a fluidic space portal.

The Borg became aware of fluidic space some time in the mid-late 24th Century, and attempted to travel there and assimilate it. But Species 8472 proved resistant to assimilation, and waged a war on the Borg, eventually travelling through to normal space to continue the fight. The intervention of the USS Voyager gave the Borg an advantage, but it seemed shortly thereafter as though the war ground to a stalemate.

Species 8472 made one further incursion, but after an agreement with the USS Voyager, agreed to return to their own dimension, content that the Federation proved no threat. However, that was 800 years ago! A lot can change, and perhaps Species 8472 have decided to make a return.

This would change the “natural disaster” concept, making it perhaps a precursor to invasion. Whether that would be good or not depends on how well it was executed – as well as your personal preferences for storylines! Given what we know of Species 8472 and their technology, I think it’s at least possible they could be the cause. Perhaps Stamets’ anomaly is some kind of gateway to fluidic space.

Number 7: The Borg

Borg drones seen in First Contact.

On the other side of the war with Species 8472 were the Borg! I also suggested Star Trek’s iconic cybernetic villains as a possible cause of the Burn last season, and despite seeing some ex-Borg in Picard Season 1, we haven’t really seen the faction proper in Star Trek since Enterprise Season 2 in 2003. Perhaps now is the right time?

Borg technology outpaced the Federation in the 24th Century by a considerable margin, and I’ve seen nothing to suggest that wouldn’t continue to be the case. The anomaly Stamets and Burnham discussed in the teaser may well be a natural phenomenon, but if it turns out to be a weapon, I can think of few other factions capable of creating and wielding one so massively powerful. Other Borg technology, such as their transwarp network, was known to have gravitational effects as well, so perhaps that’s another sliver of evidence.

The Borg were known to possess powerful technology.

This doesn’t really fit with the Borg’s usual modus operandi, and that is certainly a mark against it! But then again, the Borg are very adaptable, and travelling back in time several centuries is not exactly standard procedure for assimilating a planet either, yet that’s what they tried to do in First Contact! The gravitational anomaly could be the opening salvo of an attack; the artillery barrage to soften up the Federation before the Borg drones rush in to assimilate the survivors. The Borg certainly seem capable of doing something like this, and with the Federation having been on the back foot for more than a century as a result of the Burn, the Borg may have been using that time to build up and prepare for a large-scale invasion attempt.

We don’t know for sure if the Borg are still around in the 32nd Century, or if they still hope to one day conquer and assimilate the Federation. After more than 800 years, anything could have happened to them! However, it’s plausible that they still exist in similar form to how we last saw them.

The anomaly seemingly “attacking” both Federation and non-Federation targets could be indicative of an intelligence at work behind it. Space is huge after all, and the chances of it hitting a target as small as a starship, starbase, or planet regularly seems unlikely without some kind of explanation. Is it a force of nature drawn to energy, like the graviton ellipse mentioned above? Or is it a Borg weapon deliberately targeting Starfleet? The latter may seem unlikely, but it’s not impossible!

Number 8: The Burn

The Burn.

I certainly hope that Discovery Season 4 doesn’t just drop the Burn and proceed as though it never happened. After the cataclysm caused huge disruption to the Federation and the wider galaxy for over a century, I think we need to see a lot more of the consequences of that event before we even consider a “reset” of the Federation!

Perhaps what this anomaly will be is some kind of “mini-Burn,” affecting a smaller area. It could be a ripple effect of the original event, or otherwise connected to it in some way. Hopefully it won’t be caused by poor Su’Kal, who’s been through enough over the last 125 years! Though the Burn was presented as a unique event, perhaps it had lingering effects that are only just becoming known.

Su’Kal caused the Burn.

Season 4 needs to walk a line between acknowledging the events of Season 3 without dwelling on them the whole time. I understand that the writers and producers have other stories to tell in the 32nd Century beyond the Burn, but given how catastrophic it was I feel strongly that we need to see at least some of its lingering impact. Connecting the Burn to this new problem would create a degree of separation, allowing the season to go in new directions but without dropping the massive event entirely.

The Burn was a disaster which “caused dilithium to become inert,” and which caused active warp cores to explode. It wasn’t known to have gravitational effects, instead being some kind of shockwave that travelled through subspace. That could certainly count against it!

However, if this event were connected to the Burn in some other way, rather than being a direct result of Su’Kal’s outburst, perhaps it could be explained. I couldn’t even guess how such a connection could be made; it would be some kind of technobabble connecting the anomaly to dilithium and/or subspace. But it could be done, and it could be made to fit!

So that’s it. Eight very early theories about Discovery Season 4 and the mysterious “gravitational anomaly!”

Yes, Season 4 is scheduled to premiere this year!

As mentioned at the beginning, I quite like the idea of the series going down a “natural disaster” route, allowing the crew to solve a puzzle and unravel a mystery, rather than simply pitting them against a Federation-threatening adversary. Perhaps that will be what ultimately happens, but I think it’s at least possible we’re seeing some kind of attack or weapon as well. Time will tell!

The teaser was action-packed, and the new season looks to be in great shape. I think that there are possible downsides to another “huge galactic disaster” storyline so soon after resolving the Burn, in that it risks feeling tacked-on, derivative, or even anticlimactic if it’s an event smaller in scale. But despite that, if this anomaly is going to be one of the main storylines in Season 4, there’s a huge amount of potential.

Star Trek’s past didn’t provide the key to understanding the Burn last season. Will something we’ve seen before come into play in Season 4? Maybe!

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 will debut on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, sometime later this year. Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 wishlist: a follow-up

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

At the end of September, with Season 3 of Star Trek: Discovery looming on the horizon, I published my “wishlist” of things I hoped to see in the upcoming season. Now that we’ve seen the entirety of Season 3 I thought it would be fun to go back to that wishlist and see whether my wishes came true – and, on reflection, whether I was being reasonable!

I had eight items on my original wishlist, but I’m also going to talk about a couple of other points that came up either before or during the season that I didn’t include.

Michael Burnham on the USS Discovery’s viewscreen.

Though not everything I hoped to see came to pass in Season 3, I had a good time with it overall. Whether we’re discussing Star Trek or any other fictional franchise, success is not always about meeting specific expectations or confirming fan theories, and the writers and producers need to have the freedom to tell the stories that they want to tell. Star Trek has gone in directions I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen, but that’s true of every iteration from The Original Series to Picard, and it doesn’t mean that what made it to screen was bad. Like a lot of viewers, I like to be surprised – even if I spend a lot of time talking about theories!

All of this is to say that Discovery Season 3 met my expectations in some ways, challenged those expectations in others, and told some different but enjoyable stories. Though I enjoyed some points more than others, taken as a whole the season was solid, and a worthy successor to Season 2, which had been my favourite. Taking the show – and the franchise – forward in time was always going to be a challenge, but Discovery rose to meet it.

Let’s jump into my pre-season wishlist and see what became of it.

Number 1: Some kind of tie-in with Star Trek: Picard.
Wish: Granted

Soji and Picard in the episode The Impossible Box.

This was perhaps the point I was most curious about. Because of its place in the Star Trek timeline, Discovery in its first two seasons had been unable to include significant references to anything other than Enterprise and The Original Series. We saw precious little from Enterprise, but from the first episode we had some major crossovers from The Original Series by way of Sarek, and later Spock and Pike.

But The Original Series, despite its importance within Star Trek, ended decades ago. While it was possible to recast classic characters, there wasn’t as much to be gained by doing so – and it proved divisive within some areas of the fandom. Picard, by contrast, is in production at the same time as Discovery, and Season 3’s leap forward in time allowed it to connect to its sister show in ways that no Star Trek production has been able to do for a long time.

The super-synths.

I had two very early theories for how this could have worked. The first, which had been debunked even before it was written, was that Discovery would – thanks to time travel shenanigans – end up in the same era as Picard; the ship and crew being unable to complete their 930-year time jump. The second would have been for the super-synths from the Picard Season 1 finale to have been involved with the Burn.

Neither of those ideas came to pass, and I’m not disappointed – though I do maintain that the USS Discovery arriving in the Picard era would have been a fun way to go! Instead what we saw was a direct reference to Admiral Picard’s archive – which we saw in the Picard Season 1 premiere – and the return of the Qowat Milat. I didn’t expect the Qowat Milat to be the way the shows would connect, but it worked very well. It managed to be unobtrusive – nothing in Unification III made Picard Season 1 mandatory viewing – yet at the same time there was a very definite nod by Discovery to its sister show.

Dr Gabrielle Burnham joined the Qowat Milat.

The only downside was that the Picard crossover was limited really to a single episode. There wasn’t room within the Ni’Var storyline for anything further, and while the united Romulans and Vulcans were seen briefly in the season finale, we didn’t see the return of the Qowat Milat or Dr Burnham. However, her presence within that convent means we could potentially see her in Season 4, and if there is some significant advancement of the Qowat Milat storyline in Picard Season 2 that could be referenced then – or vice versa.

Placing Dr Burnham in the Qowat Milat was a very random choice in many ways, and while it succeeded from a shock value point of view perhaps we could argue that it’s not a very logical outcome for her character. But I wished for a tie-in with Star Trek: Picard, and there’s no denying that Discovery delivered!

Number 2: A reference, callback, or hint to something from Star Trek: Lower Decks.
Wish: Denied 🚫

Ensigns Tendi and Rutherford from Lower Decks.

The original plan for 2020 – before the pandemic disrupted things – was for Discovery Season 3 to be released before Lower Decks, so perhaps with that in mind it makes sense that there wasn’t so much as a reference to the animated show. However, as I said above, finding ways to tie together the Star Trek projects which are currently in production is to the benefit of the franchise overall – even if the projects are as radically different as Lower Decks and Discovery.

There was the potential for something as small as the name of a planet or faction to crop up in both shows; what would have seemed like a throwaway line of dialogue could have actually been a subtle nod to the existence of Lower Decks within Discovery, even if a more significant crossover was never on the table. Perhaps this is something that could happen in Season 4, though, so I’ll keep my fingers crossed!

Number 3: A storyline that doesn’t make Michael Burnham the “chosen one.”
Wish: Granted

Captain Burnham.

Seasons 1 and 2 of Discovery put Burnham front-and-centre, making her the focal point of their main storylines. In both cases, Burnham alone was responsible for driving the plot forward, and it could often feel as though other characters weren’t permitted to do anything significant. Season 3 came close to falling into that same trap, especially early on, but by the final part of the season had stepped back. Other characters, including Tilly and Saru, were given significant roles to play, and the show was much better for it.

Burnham wasn’t even really involved with the season’s main storyline after the halfway point. Though she was instrumental in getting background information regarding the Burn, after Unification III it was Tilly, Stamets, Adira, Saru, and Dr Culber who took the lead on that side of the story. The final pair of episodes, in which Su’Kal was saved and a reoccurrence of the Burn prevented, had Burnham involved in a completely different storyline.

Burnham was part of the season finale, but not in a way connected to the Burn.

There were all sorts of ways that Discovery’s writers and producers could have tried to push Burnham once again as the “chosen one,” not least by having her involved with the Burn in some way. Until the final few episodes this seemed to be a possibility, and I’m so glad that it didn’t happen. The revelation that Burnham and her mother were two different Red Angels was not really the best part of Season 2, and I was concerned that Discovery might try to pull off something similar with the Burn.

Though Burnham had some issues this season – notably in the episode Scavengers – which amplified some of her least-attractive character traits, the second half of the season worked very hard to get her to a point where her ascent to the captaincy of Discovery felt earned and genuinely great. By putting her in a series of stories that didn’t put her at the centre of the universe, and by allowing other characters to have agency over those stories as well, Discovery broke away from its Burnham obsession just enough to finally allow the character to shine.

Number 4: A proper explanation for “the Burn.”
Wish: Granted

A holo-recording of the moment Su’Kal caused the Burn.

At some point in the future we’ll take a look at the Burn, debating the implications and how well the storyline worked. For now, suffice to say that I was concerned that Discovery might try to get away with never revealing the Burn’s origins. Sometimes this is the way stories unfold when an apocalyptic event or disaster takes place decades before the main storyline. However, as I wrote in my original wishlist:

“There’s a curiosity at the core of Star Trek. Seeking out strange, new worlds has been the franchise’s heart since The Original Series, and that spirit of exploration and thirst for knowledge extends to fans as well. We want to know what’s going on in the galaxy, and it wouldn’t be good enough to say ‘well something bad happened, but don’t worry about what it was or what caused it.’ In some stories, an unknown, mysterious event could work. But not here.”

The Burn.

It took a long time to figure out the Burn, and along the way Burnham and the crew had different adventures that either advanced that narrative in a minimal way or didn’t advance it at all. Again, this is something we can debate – given the Burn’s ultimate reveal it’s certainly arguable that dragging it out for the whole season wasn’t the best idea.

But at the end of the day, whether you liked the reveal of the Burn’s origin or not, its origin was revealed. And it wasn’t something obvious, nor some sci-fi trope that could’ve been part of any other franchise. There’s a weirdness to the Burn’s telepathic origin that could really only be part of Star Trek, and despite my criticisms of the storyline overall, I like that. The fact that it wasn’t predictable was fun, and for such an important event it needed an explanation. I’m glad it got one – even if it wasn’t one I’d necessarily have chosen.

Number 5: No main villain.
Wish: Denied 🚫

The villainous Osyraa.

Though Osyraa and the Emerald Chain were not connected to the Burn, she acted as the main villain in the latter part of the season. After Control had been such a big presence in Season 2, I felt that breaking away from having one main villain in favour of scientific mysteries and perhaps a couple of single-episode antagonists would have been preferable.

Though Osyraa did see some interesting development in There Is A Tide, that development was never really expanded upon. The revelation in the season’s epilogue that the Emerald Chain had “fractured” without her strong leadership makes all of that meaningless anyway; Osyraa ended up being nothing more than a forgettable adversary who was a significant hurdle for a couple of episodes, but little more.

Osyraa in command of Discovery.

The most significant storyline she was part of also happens to be one of my least-favourite action tropes. When Osyraa and the Emerald Chain captured the USS Discovery at the end of Su’Kal, it was obviously only a matter of time until the ship was retaken, and so it proved. Burnham and Osyraa got a climactic hero-versus-villain fight in the season finale, and it was decently exciting from that point of view, but there was nothing particularly new or inventive about Osyraa herself.

In light of the Emerald Chain seemingly disbanding, any ongoing impact Osyraa could’ve had on the show is nullified, and perhaps that’s for the best. I stand by what I said before the season premiered: some stories don’t need a “big bad” in order to work well. The Burn was a scientific mystery to unravel, and rebuilding the Federation was something to be accomplished diplomatically. Osyraa and the Emerald Chain were, at best, a minor hurdle to achieving those goals, but nothing more. That said, the action scenes in the final two episodes were very exciting, and I’m glad we got to see that side of Discovery this season – something that couldn’t have happened without Osyraa.

Number 6: Proper development of some secondary characters.
Wish: Granted

Lieutenant Detmer got her own mini-story this season.

After two full seasons, there were still a lot of secondary characters on Discovery’s crew that we barely knew. Though Season 3 didn’t have time to focus on everyone – and I wouldn’t have expected it to – we did finally get to spend more time with some of these officers. In addition we got the new character of Adira and their phantom partner Gray to further pad out the cast. And who could forget Grudge, the adorable fluffball kitty of Book’s?

In Season 2, Ariam got one episode of character development before being unceremoniously killed off, and I was a little concerned that Season 3 might take the same approach – turning some of the secondary characters into glorified redshirts. When helm officer Detmer was the focus of part of the episode Far From Home I felt sure she was next on the chopping block – but it didn’t happen!

Several secondary characters – plus Tilly – played an important role in the season finale.

Detmer and Owosekun saw some decent development this season, and we spent a little time with Rhys, Bryce, and Nilsson as well. And of course we got the aforementioned Gray and Adira. Nhan actress Rachael Ancheril was promoted to the regular cast, but seemingly left the series in Die Trying shortly thereafter. There was a lot of potential in her character, which could have seen future episodes looking at the Barzans, for example. I’m hopeful Nhan can return – even if it doesn’t look like it right now.

Among the regular cast, almost everyone had a significant arc or a lot of screen time this season. Only Stamets felt under-used, as major roles were given to Saru, Tilly, Dr Culber, and Georgiou at various points. Most characters now have a solid base or framework to build upon in future seasons and stories, and I hope that Discovery will continue to work with a broader cast going forward.

Number 7: Fix the Stamets-Culber relationship.
Wish: Granted

Culber and Stamets with Adira.

Discovery’s emotional core is provided by Dr Culber and Stamets. Where Burnham’s romantic life has been a rollercoaster ride, Stamets and Culber offered stability. Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz have wonderful on-screen chemistry which makes their characters such a cute couple, and it was sad to see them having troubles after Culber’s stint lost in the mycelial network.

I was hopeful that Season 3 would bring them back together in a big way, and it happened within minutes of their arrival in the future. Dr Culber helped Stamets in sickbay after the latter had been injured, and the “relationship on the rocks” storyline was dropped. Discovery never looked back after that, and while abandoned storylines can be an issue, this one never really worked so I’m happy to see the back of it.

Stamets and Culber in Far From Home.

As a show with plenty of drama and tension, Discovery didn’t really need to throw its only solid couple into difficulties as an additional source of drama. There was just no need for it, and doing so risked taking away something incredibly significant in the process. LGBT+ representation has come a long way, so keeping Star Trek’s first gay couple together is also something I’m happy to see. Discovery has never gone out of its way to use LGBT+ themes; Stamets and Culber’s relationship isn’t treated as anything different or special because of their genders, and I love that. The future should be a place where all couples can be accepted without so much as a second thought.

The addition of Adira was an unexpected joy. We knew Adira was coming in the months leading up to the season’s premiere, but I wasn’t necessarily expecting that they would become so close to Stamets in particular. The paternal relationship he developed toward Adira was so sweet, and when Stamets made the point to them that he and Culber came together as a “package deal” that was just pitch-perfect.

Number 8: A satisfying explanation for how the Burn surprised Starfleet.
Wish: Denied 🚫

Captain Braxton of the time-ship Relativity.

In the run-up to the season, one of the burning questions that I had was this: if time travel existed in the centuries before the Burn happened, how could it possibly have surprised Starfleet?

Star Trek has never been consistent in its depiction of time travel, and that’s at least in part because time travel stories can get convoluted and messy. They’ve never been my favourite – either inside or outside of the franchise – but having firmly established that the Federation by at least the 28th or 29th Centuries through to the 31st used time travel routinely, we needed more of an explanation for how the Burn could have taken them by surprise.

Nothing in any time travel story I’m aware of says that time travel into the future is any more difficult that travelling to the past, and in both Voyager and Enterprise Starfleet was depicted as an organisation dedicated to maintaining the “correct” timeline. To make a long complaint short: even if time travel was not being actively used by natives of the 32nd Century, it seems improbable at best that Starfleet would have been unaware of the impending Burn if they had access to time travel technology for centuries before the event occurred.

The Enterprise-E travelled back in time in First Contact.

The idea of a ban on time travel is potentially interesting – and could, in theory, offer a way out of this issue. But it wasn’t explained in any detail, and I think in order to be plausible we need to know how the ban works, how it’s being enforced, and if it’s possible to travel through time as depicted in The Original Series and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home for example, how is it possible to prevent anyone from doing that?

Part of this stems from the aforementioned inconsistency; time travel post-The Next Generation seems to have been more difficult, requiring the use of specialist technology, whereas in The Original Series and The Voyage Home it was possible just by travelling at high speed and slingshotting around a star. However, even if we disregard that method of time travel, we still need an explanation for how the technology was destroyed, what’s preventing anyone from recreating it, and so on.

HMS Bounty travelled through time in The Voyage Home.

As I wrote in my theories during the season: it isn’t possible to un-invent an incredibly powerful technology that can be used as a weapon. Even if the idealistic Federation is content to abide by the ban, despite its own collapse and how crappy the post-Burn 32nd Century is, how are we meant to believe that everyone else is? Just from what we saw on screen, are we meant to buy into the Emerald Chain not being interested in pursuing time travel?

Then there are other factions from past iterations of Star Trek: the Borg, the Dominion, Section 31, and others. Any one of those factions could be tempted by time travel, and would surely not be willing to abide by any ban. So how is it enforced? How does it work? Even a few technobabble lines would’ve been enough for me… but we didn’t get any real explanation.

Number 9: A character crossover from a past iteration of Star Trek.
Wish: Denied 🚫

The Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager did not appear.

Okay, so technically we got to see the Guardian of Forever as well as archive footage of Leonard Nimoy’s Spock. But I wouldn’t consider either to be a significant character crossover, and while the Guardian of Forever had an impact on one of the season’s side-missions it didn’t effect the main story.

I speculated about a few characters who could still theoretically be alive in the 32nd Century, including: a backup copy of Voyager’s Doctor as seen in the Season 4 episode Living Witness, Crewman Daniels from Enterprise, Soji from Picard, the Dax symbiont, and even Deep Space Nine’s Captain Sisko. Some of those may be less likely than others, but I was at least a little hopeful that the leap forward in time could have led to a major character’s inclusion.

Captain Sisko.

Seeing the Guardian of Forever was neat, and I don’t want to detract from that. But the Guardian was from The Original Series – and with Discovery finally able to move beyond the confines of the 23rd Century there was scope to link back to The Next Generation’s era. Unification III did so, and so did the inclusion of the Trill. But no characters crossed over, despite the potential existing for something to happen.

It wouldn’t be particularly difficult for practically any character from a past Star Trek show to crop up. Scotty appeared in Relics in The Next Generation’s sixth season, and if a similar technobabble explanation could be found for how a character was in stasis or travelled through time, almost anyone could be included. Since that didn’t happen this time… maybe we could get a major character in Season 4?

Number 10: A resolution to the story of the Short Treks episode Calypso.
Wish: Denied 🚫

The USS Discovery in Calypso.

Ah, Calypso. Is the short episode destined to remain an outlier in the Star Trek canon forever, seemingly tied to a vision of Season 2 or 3 that never made it to screen? Or dare we hope that the writers and producers actually have a plan for how the loose ends from this Short Treks episode will be tied up?

We seemed to see movement toward this goal in Season 3 – though not named, the Zora AI was clearly created (the same voice actress from Calypso even reprised her role) and the use of the word “V’draysh” to refer to the Federation was heard a couple of times. But there was also some noteworthy movement away from Calypso too. The USS Discovery’s refit means that the ship is no longer in the same configuration it was in during the Short Treks story.

The refitted USS Discovery no longer matches the ship seen in Calypso.

At this stage, it feels as though resolving Calypso would require a story built for that purpose. The refit of the ship would need to be undone. A reason would need to be concocted why the ship needed to be abandoned. If the ship was to be sent back in time, a reason would be needed for why that was necessary too. And so on.

Perhaps the ultimate resolution to Calypso will simply be to say that the episode took place in an alternate timeline, one in which the Discovery crew hid the ship in a nebula to keep it safe from Control.

So that’s it. Those were my big pre-season wishes, and while not all of them were granted by Season 3, some were.

I had a great time with Discovery’s third season, and while there are some nitpicks and gripes it was a generally fun ride. It feels as though the Star Trek franchise now has a solid foundation if the decision should be made to create more shows set in or around the 32nd Century, and that’s a big compliment! As much as I enjoyed Picard bringing us back to the 24th Century last year, I’m just as interested to see what else the 32nd Century may hold, and hopefully Discovery won’t be the last Star Trek project to explore that setting.

Some of my pre-season wishes may have been a little optimistic, or even just unrealistic! But I had fun thinking about what Discovery could look like, and perhaps this is something I’ll indulge in again in the run-up to Season 4!

Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States and on Netflix in the rest of the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower DecksDiscovery, 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 13

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

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 came to an end this week. That Hope Is You, Part 2 was a solid episode with plenty of action, and despite the underwhelming nature of one of its plotlines, I think it did a good job wrapping things up.

Speaking of wrapping things up, that’s what we’re going to do today! We had twenty-two theories going into the finale, and while a handful live on and may return in Season 4 depending on the way things go, most were either outright debunked or the story went in such a direction as to leave them looking very unlikely. We did, however, get three confirmations (or at least partial confirmations) so we’ll look at those first!

Confirmed theory: Aurellio stood up to Osyraa.

Aurellio and Osyraa.

Although Aurellio didn’t get as much screen time as I’d have liked to see, he did break away from Osyraa and the Emerald Chain. Aurellio had a mini character arc that ran over the final two episodes of the season in which his eyes were opened to Osyraa’s villainous nature, and allowed him his moment of opposition to her when he refused to allow his technology to be used to torture Book.

I stand by my previous comparison in which I said that Aurellio fills a role claimed by the likes of Albert Speer and others who worked for the Nazis during the 1930s and 1940s. Aurellio seems to have spent a lot of time focusing on his work in his lab, reaping the rewards of helping the Emerald Chain but without really allowing himself to see what the organisation and its leader were doing. His conversation with Stamets opened his eyes to this, and we saw that theme come to a head in the scene in sickbay.

Though Aurellio did briefly help out later on, giving Book the idea that he could use his empathic abilities to use the Spore Drive, Aurellio feels like an underused character, and I hope to see him return in Season 4. He could have joined up with the Federation, or even serve aboard Discovery.

Part-confirmed theory #1: Burnham became captain.

I successfully predicted that Burnham would become captain… but not how it would happen! So I’m calling this one part-confirmed instead of fully confirmed!

I had speculated that Burnham could assume the captaincy either because Saru would be killed, or because Saru would be promoted and become an Admiral if Admiral Vance were killed. Neither of these scenarios came to pass, and Saru was rather unceremoniously shuffled off the ship during the epilogue without getting so much as an opportunity to say goodbye to the crew. That was poor, and Saru deserved to be treated with more respect.

However, it allowed Burnham to get her promotion, something that Star Trek: Discovery has been aiming for since Season 1. Some of the issues with Burnham, both this season and in the past, stem from her insubordination. Now that she’s in command, that should no longer be anywhere near as big an issue, and as captain she should have a lot more freedom to approach problems and adventures her way – within the spirit of the rules, if not following them to the exact letter!

Part-confirmed theory#2: The Federation’s allies arrived to help fight the Emerald Chain.

The arrival of Ni’Var’s fleet.

I’m calling this one part-confirmed because only Ni’Var arrived to help the Federation when the Emerald Chain attacked. I had half-expected a bigger fleet, perhaps comprised of the Earth Defence Force, the raiders from Titan, the Trill, people from the Colony, people from Kwejian, and Nhan aboard the USS Tikhov. However, only Ni’Var made it to the party!

We don’t know what became of most of the others; Trill rejoined the Federation, but the rest weren’t even mentioned in the finale. The arrival of the Ni’Var fleet felt great – up there with other big last-minute arrivals in other battles in the franchise for sure. But by the end of the episode I did feel that the absence of some of the other friends and allies that Burnham and the crew had made was noticeable… and perhaps even a little sad.

So those theories were confirmed or partially-confirmed. Up next we have a handful of theories whose status was left unclear as of the end of That Hope Is You, Part 2. It’s possible some of these will return in Season 4, but it depends how the story of that season shapes up. If Season 4 goes in a completely different direction, perhaps some or all of these theories will simply fall by the wayside. We most likely won’t know for a while!

Status: Unknown #1: The Spore Drive will become Starfleet’s new method of faster-than-light propulsion.

Discovery makes a Spore Drive jump.

The revelation that Book could use his empathic abilities to use the Spore Drive has, in theory, opened up the technology to being deployed across other Starfleet vessels. Early in Season 1 Stamets seemed to suggest that mycelial spores were not easy to acquire, so that may yet prove to be a limiting factor, but if that could be overcome there’s no real reason why the Spore Drive couldn’t be rolled out.

If empathic species like the natives of Kwejian can use the Spore Drive, it opens up even more possibilities. Betazoids spring to mind as an empathic species; perhaps they could become navigators too.

As this moment came in the final act of the season finale it didn’t get a chance to be paid off, so we won’t know the status of the Spore Drive until next season at the earliest. When Burnham was in command of the ship right at the end of the episode, her orders were to deliver dilithium to other planets, so perhaps we can infer from that that not every vessel will have its own Spore Drive. Regardless, the expansion of this technology would not only allow Discovery to have new and different adventures, but would also make it so other Star Trek series set in or after this time period could do so too.

Status: Unknown #2: The Dax symbiont is still alive.

Jadzia Dax.

On reflection, this theory should have been put on hiatus as soon as Discovery departed the Trill homeworld in Forget Me Not. But I stand by the reasoning behind it – Trill symbionts can be very long-lived, and we got at least a hint at Tal having been alive in the 25th Century via the appearance of a Picard-era uniform. Though Dax had already had several hosts by the time of Deep Space Nine, nothing in-universe would prevent their reappearance.

However, with the Trill having rejoined the Federation, perhaps there will be an opportunity to see or hear about Dax in Season 4.

Status: Unknown #3: Kovich is an agent of Section 31.

Who is Kovich?

Kovich made only a very brief appearance in That Hope Is You, Part 2, so we didn’t get an opportunity to learn anything more about him. It was implied that he has a role in Starfleet security and/or intelligence based on his debrief of Georgiou and ability to access classified files. Combined with his morally ambiguous personality – which we see on full display when he doesn’t tell anyone about Georgiou’s impending health emergency – it doesn’t seem unreasonable to assume he could be an agent of Section 31… or even its leader.

Given Georgiou’s connection to the upcoming Section 31 series, and the time travel plot to get her there, perhaps the reason Kovich didn’t say anything is because he knew exactly what role he needed to play. Georgiou, as a leader in Section 31 centuries earlier, may have sent him a message through the organisation, telling him exactly what to do when she arrived. That would be a time-loop story that we could see in Season 4!

We know Kovich will be back, so perhaps we’ll learn more about him when he returns. I’ve heard other Trekkies speculating that he could be the Federation President – that would be an interesting revelation too.

Status: Unknown #4: The ban on time travel is being flouted – possibly by secretive elements within the Federation.

The USS Enterprise travelled through time in Assignment: Earth.

It was stated multiple times in Season 3 that there is a galaxy-wide ban on time travel, a ban which was brought in in the aftermath of the Temporal Wars. However, this never sat right with me for one simple reason. As I’ve said several times over the last few weeks: it’s not possible to un-invent an incredibly powerful, weaponisable technology.

Even if the ban on time travel had been adhered to prior to the Burn, it seems completely implausible that absolutely nobody would seek to revive time travel technology in the century that followed. The Emerald Chain are the main villainous faction we met in Season 3, and Osyraa seems like she would have put people like Aurellio to work on re-inventing the necessary technology. But even if the Emerald Chain were unable to use time travel, what about other factions like the Borg or the Dominion? And what about Starfleet itself, and Section 31?

Finally, assuming all of the factions mentioned have agreed to adhere to the ban, who’s enforcing it to make sure they all stick to their commitments? Communication across the galaxy is incredibly difficult, so how can any of the main factions be sure that their adversaries – or even rogue elements from within – aren’t trying to use time travel?

I find the whole idea of the ban impractical unless it can be properly explained how time travel was banned and how the ban is enforced. So I maintain that, despite what we saw all season long, there may be elements within the Federation working on covert time travel projects.

Status: Unknown #5: The ships at Federation HQ represent the majority of Starfleet’s remaining vessels. And they’re all 120+ years old.

Federation and Ni’Var ships at warp.

When Discovery first arrived at Federation HQ in Die Trying, I theorised that the ships we saw might be all that remain of the once-mighty Starfleet. In addition, the devastating nature of the Burn may well have meant that building new ships would be difficult – and with very little dilithium to power them anyway, Starfleet may be forced to rely on a fleet of ageing vessels.

We saw no confirmation of this – and to Discovery’s crew, all the ships look futuristic and new! But we saw nothing to debunk it either, and while I don’t think we’ll see this point explicitly addressed any time soon, we may learn in Season 4 that the fleet is being rebuilt and expanded.

Status: Unknown #6: Tilly’s role as first officer.

Tilly eyes the captain’s chair.

I had theorised that Tilly would resign as first officer in the aftermath of the ship being captured. However, as of the end of the season it was left ambiguous as to what happened. Did Captain Burnham keep her on, or will she choose a new XO?

Tilly becoming first officer was a contentious point for some fans, and while I do understand why, I wasn’t upset by it personally. I’d be happy to see her remain in her post if that’s what the writers and producers have in mind, but equally I’d be happy to see a different character take on the role. Perhaps someone like Bryce, Rhys, or Nilsson could be promoted – and join the regular cast?

So those theories’ fates remain unknown. Will they be confirmed or debunked next season, or in some other future Star Trek story? It’s possible, but it’s equally possible that some of them will simply be ignored and their status never addressed.

Next we’ll look at a couple of theories which, while not explicitly debunked, are now certainly dead as the storylines they were part of have concluded.

Dead theory #1: Dr Issa is a descendant of Saru’s sister Siranna.

Just like this theory, Dr Issa is dead.

Dr Issa’s potential family connection to Saru was not addressed, and I think it’s highly unlikely it will be mentioned in Season 4. The reason for this theory was primarily production side, as the same actress (Hannah Spear) played the role of both Siranna in Season 2 and Dr Issa in Season 3. As interesting as it would have been for there to be a deeper connection between Saru, Dr Issa, and Su’Kal, the explanation for this may also be on the production side of things – it may have been easier to bring back an actress who was already fitted for the complicated Kelpien prosthetic makeup rather than casting someone wholly new.

Dead theory #2: Aurellio is married to Osyraa.

Was Aurellio meant to be married to Osyraa?

There seemed to be a hint that Aurellio was married to or in a relationship with Osyraa. Stamets noted that his partner, with whom he is said to have children, is Orion – and Osyraa seems to be Orion too. They also had a familiarity that seemed to go beyond employer and employee, as well as a history that Aurellio hinted at in his conversation with Stamets.

Osyraa attacked him in That Hope Is You, Part 2, but despite threatening to kill him, took no further aggressive action. However, now that she’s dead and the Emerald Chain has “fractured,” I doubt we’ll hear much at all about Osyraa in Season 4 even if Aurellio does return (as I hope he will).

So those two theories seem certain to be dead and not coming back, even though they were not out-and-out debunked.

Finally we come to the debunkings!

Debunked theory #1: One of the officers with Tilly will be killed.

Things looked grim for a moment, but everyone ultimately survived.

At the end of There Is A Tide, Tilly gave the ominous order to her team that if anyone should be killed, the rest would keep going until they reached the bridge. Then in That Hope Is You, Part 2, the whole group were suffering from oxygen depletion as Osyraa tried to slowly suffocate them.

Owosekun was perhaps in greatest danger as she took their makeshift bomb to the nacelle, but she was saved at the last minute by a DOT 23 – who was in turn saved by Owosekun and Reno in the epilogue.

Ryn was the only major character on the heroes’ side who died across the whole season, and we can argue whether or not that’s a good thing at a later date. But in the context of this theory, everyone survived so the theory is debunked!

Debunked theory #2: The Burn will receive a different explanation.

The moment the Burn occurred was captured in this holo-recording.

At some point in the next few weeks or months I will take an in-depth look at the Burn – Season 3’s most controversial storyline. For now, however, suffice to say that this point was more a last-ditch hope than a theory, as I felt certain that if the Burn remained solely the fault of Su’Kal it would be underwhelming.

That explanation, which was first communicated in Su’Kal a couple of weeks ago, ended up being accurate. There was no deus ex machina in the season finale to re-explain what the Burn was and how it happened – and that’s probably a good thing overall. Though the Burn was – in my subjective opinion – a narrative that didn’t come to a satisfactory end, and one that has issues, a last-second deus ex machina would have been even worse!

Debunked theory #3: The Burn was the result of a superweapon.

The Burn.

After the rest of my pre-season theories about the Burn fell by the wayside, this was the final one that I considered to be even slightly possible. Going into the finale, the way it could’ve worked would either be that the Kih’eth (Su’Kal’s ship) was carrying a superweapon, or that Su’Kal himself had been modified somehow to become a superweapon. How or why this would’ve happened is not even relevant; it was just a way to explain the Burn beyond Su’Kal.

As mentioned above, though, the Burn turned out to be caused by Su’Kal and his connection to dilithium. In the context of the last few episodes this was a good thing, as a last-second turnaround would have been very difficult to pull off.

Debunked theory #4: There will be a resolution to the story of Calypso (the Short Treks episode).

The USS Discovery as seen in Calypso.

Season 3 spent some of its runtime firmly establishing that the Short Treks episode Calypso hasn’t been forgotten and remains very much in play in the overall storyline of Discovery. However, despite several teases and moments that seemed to inch us closer to resolving the mysterious outlying episode, there was no resolution.

We have seen the creation of Zora – a merger of the Sphere data with Discovery’s own computer. We heard that some denizens of the galaxy call the Federation the “V’draysh,” which was the name Craft used in Calypso. The main unresolved point is how the USS Discovery came to be abandoned, and why, if it was abandoned, it was reset to its pre-refit configuration beforehand.

With Zora being intact thanks to Reno and Owosekun, we have all of the threads present in Calypso – but I can’t see how they’ll tie together just yet. Maybe Calypso is set in the far future – the 42nd Century not the 32nd. Maybe Discovery will travel back in time in Season 4 or Season 5 for some reason. Maybe Calypso will never be fully explained and will remain an outlier in the Star Trek canon; an episode connected to a storyline for Season 2 or Season 3 that simply never came to pass.

Debunked theory #5: A character from a past iteration of Star Trek – such as the Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager – will make an appearance.

The Doctor didn’t make an appearance.

This was my other big pre-season theory that remained in place for the duration. Though it did come true somewhat thanks to the return of the Guardian of Forever, we didn’t see any of the characters I theorised about – including Voyager’s Doctor – make a return.

However, although it was debunked in Season 3, this one will almost certainly be back for Season 4! When Star Trek: Picard brought back legacy characters, we knew in advance which main actors would be returning, and their presence became a big part of that show’s marketing push. Other legacy characters were recast and their presence was kept more of a secret. In short, what I’m saying is that if we are to see the return of the Doctor or some other past Star Trek character, perhaps their return will be signalled ahead of time in Season 4’s pre-release marketing. We’ll have to wait and see!

Debunked theory #6: Discovery Season 3 is taking place in an alternate timeline or parallel universe.

The USS Voyager in Year of Hell.

The Guardian of Forever confirmed back in Terra Firma, Part II that Burnham and the crew were in the Prime timeline – i.e. the main Star Trek timeline which runs from Enterprise to Picard. However, this theory also proposed that the season may be taking place in a timeline that was manipulated by time travel; that the Burn was not “meant” to happen.

Had time travel been involved, the resolution to the Burn and the season’s story may have been to go back in time – perhaps even using the Guardian of Forever – and stop Su’Kal from ever entering the Verubin Nebula, thus preventing the Burn entirely.

I don’t think this would have been a good storyline, as it would have essentially wiped out everything that happened in the season. A one-off episode like Yesterday’s Enterprise from The Next Generation or Voyager’s Year of Hell can get away with doing something like this, but a whole season being erased due to time travel would have felt hollow – even if Discovery’s crew remembered what happened.

Debunked theory #7: Saru is going to die.

Saru survived the season.

Despite being in danger for much of the episode, Saru survived… only to be unceremoniously dumped in voiceover during the epilogue. It has been confirmed that Saru will be back for Season 4; what role he will play, and whether he will even be a major character are unknown.

Saru is a very interesting character. He was, for a time, Star Trek’s first alien captain, and I wish we’d seen more of what that meant. Saru is similar to Picard in many ways – he’s diplomatic, calm, and generally not one to break the rules and rush into a situation guns blazing. Burnham, in contrast, is much closer to Kirk or Janeway – more emotional, impulsive, and quicker to bend the rules.

Both types of captain can work very well, so that isn’t a criticism! If I had one wish from the season finale, it would have been to see Saru receive a proper goodbye from his shipmates.

Debunked theory #8: Admiral Vance is going to die.

Admiral Vance lives to lead Starfleet in Season 4.

When considering characters who could’ve been killed off, aside from the main crew of Discovery few deaths would have been as impactful as Vance’s. I didn’t want to see him killed, of course, because he’s been one of Star Trek’s most interesting flag officers. The role of Admiral has often been used within the franchise to set up an antagonist for our hero captains to rebel against. Vance is one of the good ones, and I’m glad he survived.

Hopefully he will continue in this role in Season 4, because there’s a lot of potential for some fun character moments.

Debunked theory #9: Saru, Burnham, or somebody else will use the Guardian of Forever to send the USS Discovery back in time.

The Guardian of Forever.

This was primarily connected to my theory about a resolution to Calypso – which seems to require the USS Discovery being sent back in time. If the ban on time travel discussed above is truly in effect, the Guardian of Forever is the only way we know of to travel back in time, and having gone to the trouble of bringing the Guardian back, I wondered if it might serve more of a purpose than just sending Georgiou back in time.

It turned out that this was not the case, though I hope the Guardian of Forever will be visited again in some future episode or story.

Debunked theory #10: The dilithium planet will be destroyed.

The dilithium planet.

This theory came about as a way that the “formulaic” end to the story could be subverted. Rather than the dilithium planet being a resource for the Federation to use to re-establish itself, its destruction would mean that the Burn’s impact would continue to be felt, and that the task of coming back together would be more difficult.

It would have also connected to my theory that the Spore Drive would be rolled out to more starships, becoming Starfleet’s new method of propulsion. The lack of dilithium would make that almost a necessity! I theorised that Su’Kal might’ve destroyed the dilithium planet via his telepathic abilities, but it could also have been destroyed by Osyraa or even by the Federation to prevent Osyraa from using it.

None of that came to pass, however, and the dilithium on the planet is being mined by the Federation and distributed to their worlds, colonies, and allies across the galaxy – a task that Burnham and the ship are assigned to in the final moments of That Hope Is You, Part 2.

Debunked theory #11: The “monster” is the real Su’kal.

Su’Kal and Saru confront the “monster.”

The “monster’s” presence within Su’Kal’s holo-programme was not really given an explanation beyond it being part of an old Kelpien legend. Why his mother would have chosen to include a lifelike recreation of the “monster” within the programme is anyone’s guess!

I theorised that the character we met may not have been the real Su’Kal, and that the “monster” may have instead been Su’Kal, who had been badly mutated and burned by radiation. When Burnham briefly interacted with it, the “monster” seemed to behave in an almost-human way, and that was another reason I considered this a possibility.

Debunked theory #12: The “monster” is Dr Issa.

The “monster” was not Dr Issa.

As above, I speculated that the “monster” may in fact be a real person – this time Su’Kal’s mother, Dr Issa.

In the end, it seems that the “monster” was simply a part of the programme. It provided a great reason within the story for Su’Kal and Saru to bond, as well as a way to give Su’Kal an arc of his own, overcoming his fears – represented by the “monster” – to break free of the programme. I’m not sure how much sense it makes for the “monster” to have been programmed when considering it from an in-universe point of view… but that’s more of a nitpick than anything.

So that’s it. A few theories remain unanswered, and may roll over to Season 4 – but it depends on what route the next season’s story will take. We won’t have any indication of that until we see a trailer or receive a significant announcement, but I’ll be keeping my ear to the ground to see what happens over the coming weeks and months.

When might we see Season 4? That’s perhaps the biggest question on the minds of Trekkies and Discovery fans! We know that pre-production began weeks ago, and that filming of some scenes has already commenced in Canada. Because the pandemic remains a significant disruptive force, it’s possible that filming will proceed at a slower pace than usual. June 2021 seems to be the target date for filming to finish, and if that happens then post-production work will begin in earnest this summer. Based on how long post-production took for Season 3, it seems incredibly unlikely that we’ll see the show before next year, and I would say that spring 2022 seems a reasonable guesstimate at this juncture.

Whenever Season 4 arrives, Zareh won’t be coming back.

With other live-action Star Trek projects similarly impacted, it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll see Picard, Strange New Worlds, or the Section 31 series this year either – but there’s hope for Lower Decks Season 2 and Prodigy to be broadcast before Christmas; both of those animated shows are already in production.

Stay tuned, because if and when we hear news of Season 4 or get a trailer I’ll be sure to break it down and perhaps see if any theories can be conjured up! I’ll also be doing a look back at some of my hits and misses from a theory point of view later this year, and a retrospective of the season overall sometime soon too. There will be plenty more Star Trek content to come on the website this year, so I hope you’ll come back to see some of that. Finally, I hope that you enjoyed following my theories and predictions this season. I had a lot of fun spending time in the Star Trek universe, diving deeply into some weird and wonderful ideas!

As I always say, these are just theories. I don’t have any “insider information” and I don’t pretend that any theory I postulate is going to come true. For me this has just been a bit of fun; a chance to take a deeper dive into some elements of Discovery and the Star Trek universe. I hope you haven’t taken any of my theories across Season 3 too seriously – no fan theory, no matter how plausible it seems, is worth getting upset, angry, or disappointed over. If we could all remember to take theories with a pinch of salt, perhaps there’d be a little less toxicity within certain fan communities.

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

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 3, Episode 13: That Hope Is You, Part 2

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

Thirteen weeks have just flown by, haven’t they? Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 premiered in the middle of October – right after Season 1 of Star Trek: Lower Decks came to an end – and now, just after New Year, it’s over. I have to say that I miss the twenty-plus episode seasons we used to get! But that’s just one way that television shows have changed since the 1990s, I suppose.

For the third week in a row, the title of the episode was changed from what had been previously announced. That Hope Is You, Part 2 was previously known as Outside, but immediately after There Is A Tide aired last week, the title was changed. That Hope Is You, Part 1 was the title of the season premiere, and while it seems odd on the surface to call the season finale the second part – especially considering the entire season has been one continuous story – it works well and bookends the season. As an interesting aside, we saw two different numbering styles used for the multi-part episodes this season. Terra Firma and Unification III both used Roman numerals to denote their parts, whereas That Hope Is You uses Arabic numerals. I wonder why that is?

Burnham in That Hope Is You, Part 2.

There Is A Tide was phenomenal last week, and I was hoping for more of the same from That Hope Is You, Part 2. My only real criticism last time was that there seemed to be an awful lot of story left for the finale to get through, and I speculated then that the season may end on a cliffhanger – but that wasn’t the case. The episode was the longest of the season by far, clocking in at almost an hour, and while I would say one of its two storylines probably could’ve used more screen time, That Hope Is You, Part 2 did a reasonably good job at wrapping everything up. It certainly exceeded Star Trek: Picard’s finale in that regard!

I had a great time with That Hope Is You, Part 2… well, for about three-quarters of it. The sequences aboard Discovery that focused on Book, Burnham, Tilly, and other crew members were action-packed and exciting, equalling the heights Discovery reached last week. But the sequences with Saru, Adira, Culber, and Su’Kal didn’t reach that level. This storyline was not my favourite part of either the episode or the season.

Culber, Su’Kal, Saru, and Adira aboard the Kelpien ship Khi’eth.

And we do have to consider the role That Hope Is You, Part 2 has as the season finale. As mentioned, my theory that the season may end on a cliffhanger did not come to pass, so every story thread we saw across the season that hadn’t already been completely tied up was supposed to find a resolution here. The Emerald Chain storyline, which had been teased as early as the premiere and more firmly established by the halfway point of the season, certainly was concluded. And though perhaps it needed more screen time, or needed its sequences spread out over three or four episodes instead of two, Su’Kal’s story was concluded too.

In both of these, though, as well as in the very short, almost blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scenes showing Ni’Var and Trill, we come to what is perhaps the episode’s big weakness. After the main stories – both of them – were more-or-less over, we got an epilogue of sorts that was about six minutes long. This epilogue told us about some incredibly important events, and as you may have heard me say before, it needed to show not tell. In a rapidly edited sequence, part of which was narrated by Burnham in voiceover, we saw or heard that: Trill had rejoined the Federation, Ni’Var was on the brink of doing so, the Emerald Chain has “fractured,” Saru is taking a sabbatical – if he hasn’t outright left Starfleet, Mr Sahil has become a Starfleet officer, Aurellio has maybe joined up with the Federation – but maybe not, Stamets was reunited with Adira and Culber, the Sphere data is safe, and finally, Burnham was promoted and has become Discovery’s new captain.

Burnham was promoted at the end of the episode.

None of these points are problematic at all – in fact, I adore all of them, and the sequence itself had me feeling genuinely emotional. But there was a lot of important story crammed into those final minutes, some of which I really wish had been expanded upon and given their own moment in the spotlight instead of just being briefly mentioned in this epilogue.

Also, this epilogue was the moment where other characters and stories from earlier in the season should have been included, surely? What about the denizens of the Colony from Far From Home, the humans in the Sol system from People of Earth, Nhan, who had been left alone aboard the USS Tikhov in Die Trying, or the people of Kwejian from The Sanctuary? I’m not saying the sequence needed more jammed into its six minutes, but it feels like this was the moment to at least acknowledge the stories that happened across the rest of the season considering That Hope Is You, Part 2 had already tipped its hat to the others mentioned above.

Nhan was absent from the episode and its epilogue – as were several other characters and factions from earlier in the season.

So we seem to have started at the end, which is a little strange! But never mind. Let’s look next at Su’Kal and the Burn. Discovery Season 3 did a lot of things right, and my initial concerns about a “post-apocalyptic” Star Trek series turned out to be largely unfounded. The sense of optimism and hope that are – in my opinion – fundamental parts of the franchise were missing from the bleak, post-Burn 32nd Century – but they were present in Burnham, Saru, the crew of Discovery, Admiral Vance, Booker, Sahil, and many other characters across the season. In that sense the story of the Burn was a success.

The event itself, however, and the resolution to it that we saw in Su’Kal and That Hope Is You, Part 2 just doesn’t sit right.

We’ll come to narrative in a moment, because my primary concern right now is the Burn’s real-world messaging. We have Su’Kal, a man with mental health problems and/or a learning disability, as the unintentional cause of the Burn. There is a sizeable stigma around mental health and learning disabilities here in the real world, and I just feel that Su’Kal being presented as the man who accidentally ruined much of the galaxy plays into some harmful stereotyping. Su’Kal comes across similar to Lenny, the rabbit-loving man from John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice And Men. It’s implied that Su’Kal is the way he is because of the environment he’s spent his life in, but even so, there’s an obvious literary parallel. Lenny ends up accidentally killing someone in that novel, because he doesn’t know his own strength and he doesn’t realise what he’s doing. Su’Kal has done the same basic thing, only on a much bigger scale.

Su’Kal causing the Burn is not devoid of real-world meaning.

The message this seems to send is what I find at least a little upsetting in 2021. Though Su’Kal is portrayed sympathetically – and I would credit Bill Irwin with a wonderful performance – the sympathy he elicits is more like pity. We look down at Su’Kal as a pitiable idiot, someone too dumb to know what power he had and what it could do. We look at him like we look at Lenny.

People with mental health conditions – a category into which I fall – don’t want pity, nor do people with learning disabilities. Yet Discovery is playing into century-old stereotyping that we really should be trying to move beyond. This season has seen some wonderful storylines that deal with complex issues, but its two attempts to depict mental health – with Su’Kal and Lieutenant Detmer in earlier episodes – just didn’t work. Detmer’s story got so little time that it was basically meaningless, despite being well-intentioned, and Su’Kal’s story just rubs me the wrong way. I feel that the decision to make the Burn the fault of someone in his position was the wrong one, and the message it sends is one I’m not comfortable with.

Su’Kal with Saru.

Su’Kal himself is one aspect of the Burn that I feel didn’t come across well, and I hope my explanation and reasoning make sense to you. But narratively too, the resolution to the Burn feels anticlimactic. There’s a disparity between the epic nature and scale of the Burn and the man who we now know is the cause of it. It feels like a non sequitur; that the Burn cannot logically follow from Su’Kal getting upset – or screaming, as Culber and Adira would explain.

As I said in my review of Su’Kal a couple of weeks ago, there is something uniquely “Star Trek” about this resolution to the Burn’s story. And from that point of view, as a storyline which is perhaps closer to fantasy than sci-fi, it doesn’t feel out of place in this fictional universe, not when you stand it up alongside the storylines of episodes from past iterations of Star Trek such as A Piece of the Action, Masks, Facets, or The Gift. There’s a weirdness to the Burn being a telepathic child’s scream that is, in a peculiar way, something you wouldn’t see outside of Star Trek. I count myself among many Trekkies for whom this weirdness is precisely what was appealing about Star Trek when I first saw it.

Su’Kal’s home for many years – the Kih’eth.

So in a sense, the story of these final few episodes as far as the Burn is concerned fits right in within a franchise that can give us the episodes mentioned above. The Gift, from Voyager’s fourth season, is actually a pretty good frame of reference, as it’s a story which shows Kes’ mental abilities. She’s able to propel a starship thousands of light-years with the power of her mind, and that’s not a million miles away from Su’Kal’s connection to dilithium.

But the Burn was not a single-episode story, nor the kind of one-off story fit for episodic television. Not only did it impact the entire season, but it will continue to have ramifications for Discovery’s fourth season, and for any future Star Trek series or films set in or around this time period. Furthermore, it was a mystery that had been teased for over a year, since the first trailer for Season 3 was shown in late 2019. Expectations had been built up over thirteen episodes, and arguably for more than a year before the season premiered. As much as I can respect the Burn and Su’Kal and their place in the greater Star Trek canon, unfortunately those expectations were not met – at least not for me.

The Burn was set up as a huge and apocalyptic mystery.

The disconnect between the devastating Burn and the small Su’Kal is just too big a gap to bridge at the end of a season that has been so dominated by this one event. It makes sense, and I get it – it’s not that the Burn’s explanation is somehow incomprehensible – and I’m incredibly pleased that the writers chose to make sure the Burn did receive an explanation instead of trying to brush it aside and say it doesn’t matter. But the explanation that we got is one that I feel was weak.

The story of Su’Kal being trapped alone in a disintegrating holo-world, and Saru coming to his rescue is one that could have worked as another of Season 3’s semi-standalone stories, like Georgiou’s illness and trip to the Mirror Universe. It didn’t need to be connected in any way to the Burn in order to be emotional and significant; it was a good story all on its own. By tying it to the Burn and by saying that this is the cause of the Star Trek galaxy’s biggest and worst catastrophe, the overarching story of the season has unfortunately come to an underwhelming end.

The holo-world with its monstrous inhabitant was a very “Star Trek” story in many ways.

It almost feels like the writers and producers came up with the effects of the Burn and how the galaxy would look in its aftermath, and only then tried to come up with a cause. In the best post-apocalyptic stories and the best mystery stories aren’t written that way; Agatha Christie didn’t start by writing the murder and decide on a murderer later, and the Burn should have worked the same way. I’m not saying I know for a fact that they did it this way, but it certainly has that feel. The sheer randomness of the Burn may have been intended to be a shock or a surprise, and the disconnect between the scale of the event and the single individual who caused it may likewise be intentional – but it wasn’t successful.

Because the Burn is really quite unlike any other storyline in Star Trek, it arguably needed a better and more substantial payoff. I’m not saying that it needed to have one of the causes that I speculated about before the season began, nor am I saying that my disappointment and sense of being underwhelmed comes from a fan theory not being met. Instead what I’m saying is that the ultimate explanation needed to be something more than the scream of an upset child.

A recording of the moment the Burn occurred.

Finally on the Burn, its cause was only really explained in a handful of technobabble-heavy lines of dialogue. In Su’Kal, Burnham and Dr Culber had a couple of lines each, and this week Culber and Adira likewise had a scant handful of lines in which they tried to explain what happened. None of these lines of dialogue were bad – though a couple were perhaps heavy on exposition – but combined with the already-underwhelming narrative, the fact that the season’s biggest mystery was resolved with such little discussion again makes it feel as if it were an afterthought instead of the most significant storyline we’ve been watching.

There were some things to like, though. Guest star Bill Irwin put in a wonderfully complex performance as Su’Kal, showing a range of emotions as he wrangled with the idea that his entire life was changing. Despite my criticisms of the mental health aspects of Su’Kal’s story, one thing the writers managed to convey very well was the sense of isolation and loneliness that many people with mental health issues feel. I’ve been in Su’Kal’s shoes, feeling trapped and fearful, and from that point of view the depiction was something understandable and that did a good job conveying its message. Though the current state of the world wasn’t known at the time Season 3 was being written and filmed, there’s also a strong metaphor in someone who feels trapped, isolated, and disconnected, stuck in an artificial world. Many people watching in 2021 can sympathise with Su’Kal far more than they would’ve been able to a year ago.

Many people in 2021 feel trapped and isolated, making this a timely metaphor.

Saru and Dr Culber were both highlights of this storyline too. Both got the chance to show off their sympathetic sides, and while Saru was the focus, as he was someone who had more of a connection to Su’Kal, Dr Culber contributed too. Su’Kal’s ability at the end of the story to push through his fears and to understand what had happened was a result of both of their efforts. Adira didn’t interact much with Su’Kal himself, but it was an inspired choice to put them in this side of the story. I feared that Adira may have been shuffled away to the dilithium planet simply to give Stamets more of an intense emotional reaction, but they contributed to the story both by bringing the lifesaving medication and by helping the others work through some of the puzzles.

Gray becoming corporeal for the first time was also a fun part of the story on the dilithium planet. Having been a phantom presence all season, it was great to see Gray finally able to interact not only with the “real world” but also with other characters. Gray’s presence has yet to be explained – and it was left completely unclear as of the end of the episode whether Gray has been given a new holo-body or if he has returned to being someone only Adira can see. But Gray, despite really only participating in one sequence, did well in That Hope Is You, Part 2, and I hope his status is clarified so he can have a role in Season 4.

Gray and Adira.

So the Burn and the action on the dilithium planet was the side of That Hope Is You, Part 2 that I felt was weakest. Now we come to the bulk of the episode, and I’m happy to say that I had a whale of a time with Burnham, Book, Tilly, Admiral Vance, and everyone else.

Scenes aboard Discovery played out like an action film for the second week in a row. There were some clichés, a couple of confusing moments, and one rather awkward line, but even so it was action-packed fun. Star Trek can do action very well, and it surprises me in some ways to see Trekkies criticising Discovery or the Kelvin timeline films for being “brainless action,” then turning around to heap praise on The Wrath of Khan or First Contact. That Hope Is You, Part 2 was up there with those films and other action-heavy stories in the franchise, and it’s one of the better examples of how Star Trek can be an action-sci fi franchise when it chooses to be.

What was great about this part of the episode’s story, considering how much of a Burnham-cenrtic show Discovery can be, is that other characters got to take turns being the action hero. We certainly got to see Burnham in that role, and perhaps if she’d been alone it would’ve continued the trend of making her, and her alone, the show’s focus. But Tilly and Book in particular got big moments that not only put them at the centre of the action, but gave them genuine agency over the story, driving it forward. Burnham played one role in a larger story as the crew struggled to regain control of the ship – and that’s something the show needs to do more of!

Tilly in command of the bridge crew.

Burnham’s mission to the data core would have been useless had Tilly and the bridge officers not been able to force the ship out of warp, and if Book hadn’t been able to defeat Zareh she would have had a much harder time. So both of them got significant roles to play – even if we could argue that, narratively speaking, it would have been nice to see Tilly be the one to kill Zareh.

I just can’t bring myself to criticise Zareh’s death, though! Book has a loving attachment to Grudge, the beautiful cat who we’ve seen as a constant presence aboard his ship this season. And when Zareh threatened Grudge I got genuinely angry with him, so to see Book use that moment to regain his strength and send Zareh falling to his doom was incredibly satisfying and more than a little emotional. I have several cats, and they’re incredibly sweet animals. No one should threaten a kitty, so Zareh got exactly what was coming to him. And Book’s action hero quip as Zareh fell from the turbolift capped the sequence off perfectly. I honestly can’t fault it. Book got his heroic moment, the creepy, evil Zareh got a fitting end, and Grudge is safe! What more could you want?

“She’s a queen!”

The second action hero quip was Burnham’s, and it just didn’t quite stick the landing in the same way! As Osyraa pushed Burnham into a wall of programmable matter in the data core, she said that she “already tried that [negotiating] with Vance. I won’t make that mistake again!” and then, moments later when Burnham shot and killed her, she responded by saying “Yeah, well… unlike you… I never quit.” And I honestly burst out laughing, because the response to Osyraa was just so unrelated to what she’d said a moment earlier. It feels like it was written in response to a totally different line, and it doesn’t seem to make sense in context of what Osyraa said. Osyraa never mentioned quitting, she never said that Burnham should quit, or that she had quit doing something… so it just doesn’t follow. It’s a non sequitur. The writers wanted to give Burnham an action hero line, but unlike Book’s, which is almost his catchphrase any time someone talks about Grudge, Burnham’s just didn’t make sense.

In fact it reminded me of that moment in Family Guy where they make a big joke about action movie lines. Peter Griffin uses the famous line from Lethal Weapon 2: “it’s just been revoked,” but does so in completely the wrong context. And that’s kind of how Burnham’s line felt here. That might be due to script rewrites and revisions but even so, more attention should have been paid to this line. If we’re comparing That Hope Is You, Part 2 to an action film, this was the climax of the hero-versus-villain story, and if they wanted to give Burnham a hero quip to round it off… it needed to at least make sense in context. And I know that picking on one line is a minor thing. Compared to how well the storyline as a whole worked it’s incidental, but I wanted to highlight it as it made me laugh in the moment.

“It’s just been revoked!”

There are a couple of points from this side of the story that I feel may be prone to criticism, and I want to look at each in turn. First is the sequence in the turboshafts – or rather, in the large empty space beyond the corridors on some of Discovery’s decks. This is new to Star Trek, and while there are spacious areas inside some starships that we’ve seen – particularly in engineering sections – I can foresee that some fans may feel that this huge area isn’t what they expected the inside of the ship to look like. While I don’t personally have an issue with it, and I would suggest it may be connected to engineering, the Spore Drive, or programmable matter as explanations for the large spacious area, I didn’t want to ignore this point, as it does represent a change to how starships in general – and the USS Discovery in particular – have usually been shown.

The second point is Book’s ability to fly the ship. I would argue that Aurellio, Tilly, and Stamets have all set up this moment at points throughout the season, hinting at ways to expand the Spore Drive beyond Stamets, so I don’t think it came from nowhere. I do think, however, that we could have seen a little more of Aurellio talking about or even just mentioning the possibility for empaths to connect to the mycelial network. There was an opportunity for him to have done so last week when he and Stamets talked for some time about Spore Drive options – this would certainly have better set up what was to come. As a story point, though, I don’t dislike it, and perhaps a second Spore Drive can be created for another Starfleet vessel as a result. Other members of Book’s tribe or race may even be able to join up with Starfleet to serve as Spore Drive operators, and even if only Book and Stamets can use it, well at least Discovery now has a backup!

The interior of the USS Discovery.

Osyraa fell into the Bond villain trap of leaving the crew to be killed slowly and then rushing off to do something else. While Tilly, Owosekun, Detmer, Bryce, Rhys, and random dark-haired bridge officer (what happened to Nilsson?) were slowly suffocating, they managed to come up with a plan to regain control of the ship. Burnham gave Tilly an instruction via the intercom and Tilly rallied the crew to set off a bomb in one of the nacelles – knocking Discovery out of warp.

I’ll forgive the minor contrivance of Osyraa leaving them to suffocate. It’s the kind of thing I could imagine her doing, and again if we’re using the action film analogy, it’s something we see often enough. Tilly remained in control of her officers, and handled herself well in what were undeniably difficult circumstances. Her line to them that they didn’t need to join her on what looked to be a suicide mission was very much something we could imagine other Star Trek captains saying – and indeed we have seen other captains in the past telling their senior officers that a mission is voluntary. Despite losing the ship to Osyraa, Tilly stepped up and was a big factor in being able to regain control of it.

Osyraa in command of Discovery.

My only criticism of this side of the story is that the stakes were lowered significantly when no one was killed. Even when it seemed as if Owosekun wouldn’t survive the explosion, a last-second intervention by the Sphere data in one of the remaining DOT 23 robots saved her life. Since returning to the small screen in 2017, Star Trek has not been shy to follow the trail blazed by some other big television projects – like The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones – and kill of major and secondary characters. Star Trek: Picard Season 1 had a pretty big death toll of both new and legacy characters – yet no one at all died in this storyline, despite the superficial dangers posed to the crew. In fact, Ryn was the only casualty on the heroes’ side all season.

Killing a character for shock value or just for the sake of it is not what I’m advocating. But over the last decade or so, the well-executed death of a major or secondary character can add to the stakes of a storyline, making it clear that there is significant danger and emphasising to the audience that quite literally anything could happen. In Star Trek: Discovery, being a major character seems to provide a degree of plot armour, and that risks dropping the tension at some of these key moments.

It seemed for a moment as if Owosekun wouldn’t survive, but she did. And so did every other hero character.

I was pleased to see that Aurellio – the scientist working for Osyraa – wasn’t on board with her methods. But this was one point where perhaps an extra minute or two was needed to show him firmly break away from her and the Emerald Chain and join up with Burnham and the crew. After making his protest and being rendered unconscious, Aurellio didn’t really have much of an opportunity to do or say anything else. We saw him briefly on the bridge later on, but that was it. This character had been set up so well last week that his significantly reduced role this time was just a little disappointing. Hopefully we can see more of Aurellio in Season 4 and beyond.

That Hope Is You, Part 2 went out of its way to show Osyraa at her worst, in order to make her irredeemable and justify Burnham killing her later on. Torturing Book was a big part of that, and the sequence in which she and Zareh used the mind control device first introduced a couple of weeks ago as an implement of torture was truly gruelling to watch – in the best possible way! Both David Ajala and Sonequa Martin-Green put in outstanding performances, and I wanted to highlight how well they played their roles. It’s easy to either under- or over-sell such an extreme moment – both in terms of the pain experienced by the victim and the emotional turmoil their partner is going through when forced to watch – but both actors hit the sweet spot and were pitch-perfect.

Book was tortured in That Hope Is You, Part 2.

Admiral Vance, Lieutenant Willa, and Kovich had some short but interesting moments at Federation HQ as they organised the defence of their base against the Emerald Chain. I was concerned for Vance in particular – if no one aboard Discovery were to be killed, I thought he was probably the writers’ main target! There was organised chaos at Federation HQ as Discovery, under Osyraa’s command, ran amok inside. It was really neat to see the ships battling within this confined space at the beginning of the episode, as well as seeing Osyraa know just where to hit the base to take down its shield wall.

The arrival of the fleet from Ni’Var was one of those stirring emotional moments up there with the arrival of the Kelpiens and Klingons in the Season 2 finale, Riker showing up in the Picard Season 1 finale, or the Enterprise-E sweeping in to battle the Borg in First Contact. I adored this moment, and it felt like the beginning of the Federation coming back together – a payoff to Burnham and Saru’s diplomatic efforts throughout thr season. It was a little early in the story, perhaps, but there’s no taking away from the fantastic way it felt when the fleet arrived.

Admiral Vance watches as the N’Var fleet arrives.

A couple of weeks ago, I said that the end of the season seemed formulaic and obvious – save or neutralise Su’Kal to prevent a second Burn, retake Discovery from Osyraa, and use the dilithium in the Verubin Nebula to power and reunite the Federation. And although I didn’t predict how exciting and action-packed that storyline would be, I was right. The end of the season was mapped out in Su’Kal, and Discovery stuck to the path. Not every show has to have twists and turns and shockingly unexpected moments, but I was still hopeful, even as That Hope Is You, Part 2 entered its final moments, that something different may have come along to shake things up.

For all the reasons given above, the Burn is the least interesting and most underwhelming part of both the season and its finale. However, despite that, I had a truly great time with That Hope Is You, Part 2. It’s true that the story unfolded exactly how I would have expected it to for the last two weeks, and it’s also the case that there were some tropes and clichés along the way. But there’s a reason why these action-oriented stories work, and That Hope Is You, Part 2 hit all the right notes in that regard. It was a solid, incredibly fun, action-packed episode of Star Trek.

Burnham assuming command of Discovery has been a goal that the series has been trying to reach since Season 1. Shuffling Saru off to Kaminar with only a brief explanation would not have been my first choice for getting there, because I feel his character deserved more respect than that. But that’s where we are – Captain Burnham. Her stupid disobeying of orders in the episode Scavengers and her struggle to come to terms with that in Unification III do undeniably undermine her ascent to the captaincy. And perhaps we need to step back when the dust settles and look at Burnham across all three seasons to see whether she really meets the criteria. Right now though, as of the time I’m writing this, her becoming captain not only works well, but it feels great too.

Starfleet has always been willing to bend the rules to accommodate talent; it’s a meritocratic organisation. Admiral Vance made his reasoning plain: Burnham may not always follow the exact letter of the rules, but she follows their spirit. She’s willing to make changes and sacrifices to adapt to the moment she’s in, and those are certainly strong qualifications for becoming a captain. Captains Kirk and Janeway in particular bent or broke the rules numerous times, and Picard, Archer, and Sisko were not immune to that either. Knowing how and when to work around the rules is part of what has always made for a great Starfleet captain. Burnham has that ability – and we’ve seen across all three seasons that she’s a natural leader, too.

“Let’s fly!”

The crew want to follow Burnham. They respected Saru, of course, but they love Burnham and they’re willing to follow her literally anywhere – or to any time. There are lingering issues which I hope will be picked up in Season 4 – notably with Stamets, who still seems unhappy with Burnham after she kicked him off the ship last week. But everyone else is fully on board with Captain Burnham, ready for her to lead them on to new adventures.

Where I criticised her earlier in the season for her lack of commitment to Starfleet, that has been resolved too. She felt that she might no longer fit in within the rigid confines of a Starfleet rulebook and uniform, but it turns out that she has at least some freedom to bend those rules to achieve important goals. And that does not come from nowhere. She earned that right across all three seasons of the show. She can be selfish, and she can be overly emotional, and as we saw in the Season 1 premiere she can be a complete idiot. But with a crew around her to support and advise her, with Book by her side as an emotional foundation, and having settled into her position in Starfleet, I can’t fault Admiral Vance – or Star Trek: Discovery – for putting her in the captain’s chair.

Burnham takes her seat in the captain’s chair for the first time.

If you’d told me three or four weeks ago that I was going to say that, I would never have believed it! But that is the strength of the second half of the season. Beginning really with The Sanctuary and running through to the season finale this week, Burnham has grown in leaps and bounds and the series has put in the work to make it feel that she earned her promotion. Where I called her arrogant and selfish I can now see a character with strength and commitment, and that’s not only because she has seen this character development, it’s also because Discovery took at least some of the focus away from her and allowed other characters to shine.

Discovery isn’t an ensemble show, but giving some significant plot threads to characters other than Burnham and spending time with them instead of largely with her has contributed to getting her to where she is at the end of the season finale. There was a sense in some earlier episodes that no other character would be allowed to do anything other than ride on Burnham’s coattails, and I was pleading with the series to allow someone else to do something of consequence… and then it happened. And not only was the show itself better for it, but so was Burnham. Freed from being the “chosen one” who was somehow destined to play the only significant role, her victories truly feel like her own. She accomplished a lot, not just this week but across the latter part of the season, and the work put into developing her character, stabilising her, and getting her ready for a leadership role ultimately paid off.

Burnham and the crew are ready for their next adventure.

There are, as noted, open questions at the end of That Hope Is You, Part 2. Saru’s status is perhaps the biggest, but I’d also like to know what became of Nhan and whether Earth has been in touch with the Federation. But those questions will have to be left for Season 4 to answer – whenever that may come.

So that was That Hope Is You, Part 2. And that was Star Trek: Discovery Season 3. For the first time in almost six months, there’s no new Star Trek to talk about! But don’t despair, because I still have to bring my Season 3 theories to a close. In addition, over the next few weeks I’ll take a look at the season as a whole, the Burn, Burnham herself, and other things we learned over the last few weeks.

There is more Star Trek just over the horizon – Lower Decks Season 2 may be coming out this year, and will finally get its international broadcast in just a couple of weeks’ time. We also have Prodigy to look forward to this year all being well. And you can bet that there’ll be news about Picard, the Section 31 series, Strange New Worlds, and other Star Trek projects coming before too long. It’s a wonderful time to be a Star Trek fan! Despite some gripes with part of its story, That Hope Is You, Part 2 was a great way to bring to an end this season and to the 23 weeks of Star Trek we’ve been lucky to enjoy.

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

Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 12

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

I had a wonderful time with There Is A Tide this week. It was a fantastic episode jam-packed with action and excitement. But when it was over, I couldn’t help feeling that there was a lot left to do in terms of story! It’s possible, as I suggested in my review, that Season 3 will end on a cliffhanger with key storylines deliberately unresolved. If that isn’t the case, however, the upcoming season finale has an awful lot of story left to wade through – and I’m concerned that it may not be possible to give everything a satisfactory resolution.

We’ll have to wait to see what the season finale brings. Until then, we have a few more theories to discuss! This week we have two confirmations and not a lot else. Let’s look at those first before we dive into the main theory list.

Confirmed theory #1: Zareh returned.

Zareh was a character we met at the beginning of the season.

Though his return was spoilt a little by the recap that played before the episode began, I was pleased to see Zareh return. He was a glorified bully when we met him in Far From Home, and despite his defeat by Saru and Georgiou, appears to have been promoted within the Emerald Chain. I felt certain that he would be back considering we didn’t see him killed on screen, and I was right.

Zareh bookends the story of the season in a way – he was the first adversary the crew faced after arriving in the 32nd Century, and he is now a significant opponent as the season draws to a close. I don’t expect him to survive the season finale, but if Osyraa is killed off he may be kept alive to assume command of the Emerald Chain. In the event that the season finale leaves big questions open, we could head into Season 4 with Zareh as a major antagonist – but we’ll have to wait and see!

Confirmed theory #2: Zora (a.k.a. the Sphere data) will help the crew retake the ship.

Awwwwww!

Though we had to wait for the closing scene of the episode to see this theory come true, the Sphere data has allied itself with Tilly and the remaining bridge crew as they hope to retake Discovery.

The Sphere data was seen protecting itself in Season 2 – refusing to allow itself to be destroyed even when Control was coming for it. This season, it stepped in on at least two occasions to help out the crew, and it seemed certain that the Sphere data would not allow itself to be commandeered by Osyraa and the Emerald Chain. It has transferred itself into three DOT robots – which are absolutely adorable – and will help Tilly fight back against Osyraa.

So those theories were confirmed in this week’s episode. Now we come to the main theory list.

Number 1: Aurellio is married to Osyraa.

Are Aurellio and Osyraa an item?

The first of two Aurellio theories is a pretty short and simple one. Stamets noted that Aurellio’s partner is Orion. Osyraa, as far as we can tell, is an Orion. Aurellio and Osyraa speak highly of each other. So it’s at least possible that they are a couple.

This feels almost too obvious – so perhaps it won’t come to pass! There was also a suggestion that Osyraa is much older than Aurellio, which may count against this theory. However, they clearly have a connection, and unless Osyraa is on such friendly terms with all of her scientists, perhaps there’s more going on than just a professional relationship.

Number 2: Aurellio will stand up to Osyraa.

Aurellio.

In my review of There Is A Tide I compared Aurellio to Albert Speer – the Nazi German architect and minister. In the years after 1945, Speer would claim that he knew nothing of the Nazi regime’s crimes, that he was absorbed in his work, and that the atrocities happened without his knowledge. Aurellio, in his conversation with Stamets, seemed to demonstrate a comparable lack of awareness about the Emerald Chain and Osyraa.

However, there were hints through Kenneth Mitchell’s amazing performance that Aurellio is beginning to realise that he’s working for the “bad guys.” Having seen Osyraa murder Ryn in cold blood, as well as threaten Zareh, his loyalty to her and the Emerald Chain may be wavering.

Given that he’s clearly an incredibly clever scientist, he could be very useful to the Federation. If part of the plan for Season 4 involves replicating the Spore Drive so that it can be used to power the Federation, I can see Aurellio having a major role in that story. Or in any other story Season 4 may wish to tell. But first he needs to break free from Osyraa – and I have a suspicion that he will!

Number 3: One of the officers with Tilly will be killed.

Tilly is ready to retake the ship.

When Tilly told the officers with her that they would keep going to the bridge no matter what, was she foreshadowing someone’s demise? With her, as far as I could see, are Detmer, Owosekun, Bryce, Rhys, and at least one other character. Killing any of them would be impactful, as they’ve all been part of the series since the beginning.

Detmer had her own (underdeveloped) storyline this season, and was someone I speculated may be killed off. For several weeks I theorised that she’d meet her end – could this be the moment it happens?

Tilly and the officers with her are about to take on a very difficult and dangerous task. I doubt we’ll see Tilly killed, but any of the others who are accompanying her are perhaps about to meet their end.

Number 4: The Federation’s allies will arrive to help them battle the Emerald Chain.

Burnham in a Jeffries tube.

Before continuing her Die Hard-inspired fight to reclaim Discovery, Burnham sent an emergency transmission to her mother. Assuming this transmission was received, Dr Burnham may begin rallying the people of Ni’Var to aid Discovery and the Federation.

Across the season, Saru and the crew made many friends. Former Federation members like Trill, Earth, and Ni’Var, as well as worlds like Kwejian were all aided by Discovery, something which greatly impressed their respective leaders. Faced with an attack on the Federation, could some or all of these once-united factions rally to Starfleet’s aid?

We saw something similar at the climax of Season 2, with Kelpiens and Klingons arriving at the last moment to help Pike and Saru as they battled Control, so it would not be without precedent. At the very least, I expect Burnham’s mother – who is now a Qowat Milat nun – will want to do something to help, especially given the desperate-sounding tone of the message she received.

Number 5: The Burn will receive a different explanation.

Did Su’kal really cause the Burn?

At the very least, the explanation for the Burn needs to be expanded upon. A couple of throwaway lines, heavy on technobabble, are not adequate to explain the season’s biggest mystery. If it’s true that Su’kal’s telepathic connection to dilithium is what caused the Burn, we need to know more about how and why that was able to happen.

It’s at least possible, given that There Is A Tide sidestepped the Burn altogether this week, that the season finale has a big surprise in store for this storyline. Perhaps Su’kal is not responsible for the Burn after all, or if he is, it’s because he was either genetically modified or otherwise coerced into it by someone else.

This is perhaps more of a hope than anything, because I feel that the Burn’s explanation was poor. I’d like to do a retrospective on the Burn at some point when the season is over, but suffice to say that this mystery had been set up as early as the first Season 3 trailer more than a year ago, and the Burn itself was named in the second trailer before the season premiered. We’ve been wrangling with this colossal event and its mysterious origin ever since, and its explanation – the way things sit right now, at least – is horribly anticlimactic. Su’kal’s story might’ve worked were it a single one-off episode, but not as the resolution to a season-long arc. There’s also, as mentioned, the disturbing implication of a man with severe mental disabilities causing such a disaster, even accidentally.

Number 6: The Burn is the result of a superweapon – perhaps one the Federation or Section 31 built.

The Burn.

Connected to the theory above, perhaps Su’kal either did not cause the Burn at all, or was forced into doing so as the culmination of some kind of superweapon project.

We’ve seen in past Star Trek shows stories about genetic enhancements and shadowy organisations exploiting and weaponising the unique abilities of people. Could there be another dimension to Su’kal? Perhaps he quite literally is a weapon, one designed for this very purpose – to attack the Federation’s enemies (or the Federation) through a coordinated attack on dilithium.

Though it seems like Su’kal is indeed the source of the Burn, another source may be revealed, absolving him of blame. I noted that his “scream” did not actually cause a second Burn – even though characters feared it came close – so perhaps there’s something else at play here that we don’t yet know. That other factor could be this superweapon – and it may be designed to target the Federation’s enemies, like the Borg.

Number 7: There will be a resolution to the story of Calypso (the Short Treks episode).

The USS Discovery as seen in Calypso.

The main point from Calypso which is still unresolved is how Discovery ended up in a nebula abandoned. And if, as has been hinted through the use of the term V’draysh, Calypso takes place sometime around the 32nd Century, how did the ship end up back in time?

The Verubin Nebula initially seemed to offer a partial explanation, but not only was Discovery not present there, the nebula itself is very different to the one inhabited by Zora, so that option seems to be off the table.

I have no clue how this circle will be squared – but it’s still possible that it will be, especially given how much progress we’ve seen toward unpicking the mysteries of Calypso this season.

Number 8: The Spore Drive will become Starfleet’s new method of faster-than-light propulsion.

Discovery makes a Spore Drive jump.

Though we don’t know how Osyraa came to know about the Spore Drive, figuring out a way to roll it out to vessels other than Discovery was a major theme in There Is A Tide. Both Aurellio and Tilly have proposed theories for how the use of the Spore Drive could be expanded, so we have to consider this a possibility.

If the dilithium in the Verubin Nebula is not able to be used to power the Emerald Chain, Starfleet, and other factions, the problem of how to travel faster-than-light still remains. And right now, the Spore Drive is really the only way I can see to allow any of the galaxy’s factions to do so. That’s why Osyraa wants Discovery so badly – not just to use the ship, but to copy its technology.

If, as predicted above, Aurellio turns on Osyraa, he could become instrumental in figuring out how to reverse-engineer the Spore Drive and the tardigrade’s DNA in order to make this a viable option. This could be part of the storyline for Season 4, so if there’s no resolution next week, this theory may simply roll over.

Number 9: A character from a past iteration of Star Trek – such as the Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager – will make an appearance.

I’ve been advocating this theory in some form since before the season premiered. Though we have had some tie-ins with past iterations of the Star Trek franchise – and even seen a familiar entity return depending on how you categorise the Guardian of Forever – it would still be nice to get a major character back in some form.

There were hints this week about the Federation President – a role we’ve seen in past iterations of the franchise – so perhaps we could see a returning character occupy this position. That said, the references to the Federation President served only to allow the familiar character of Vance to conduct negotiations with Osyraa, so that may be a non-starter.

As I said last time, maybe the only way this theory could come true is as a kind of epilogue or coda after the main storylines have concluded; perhaps even as a tease to the events of Season 4. It would certainly be difficult – but not impossible – to bring back a major character from Star Trek’s past at this juncture, given the complicated nature of the story overall. Given that there’s also no clear way that a returning character could have an impact on the story without that impact seeming to come from nowhere, perhaps we won’t see any significant character crossovers this season.

Number 10: The Dax symbiont is still alive.

The Dax symbiont.

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

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

Number 11: Kovich is an agent of Section 31.

Kovich in Terra Firma, Part I.

Kovich was presented as one of Starfleet Intelligence or Security’s senior people – perhaps someone brought in to deal with particularly complicated or dangerous situations. Thus it was a bit of a surprise not to see him this week when Osyraa arrived. His mysterious nature has led me to think he could be an agent of Section 31.

He knew a lot about the Terran Empire, and had access to classified files. He also seems to know more about certain events than he lets on; he allowed Georgiou’s health condition to manifest itself rather than warning anyone, for example, which would seem to be a pretty immoral thing to do!

The main way Kovich could have been revealed as a Section 31 operative would be if the secretive organisation had something to do with the Burn. As noted above, there is still that possibility in some form, but it feels remote. We don’t know if Kovich will be back before the end of the season, especially given how much story the season finale seems to have to get through. If we don’t see him, though, perhaps this theory will roll over to next season!

Number 12: The ban on time travel is being flouted – possibly by secretive elements within the Federation.

The USS Enterprise travelled back in time in The Original Series.

Admiral Vance clearly believes that the ban on time travel is intact and being followed. Kovich indicated that he does too – but I’m not sure how far I trust him. Is he an agent of Section 31?

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

It’s possible that this theory will roll over to Season 4 if, as seems likely, the Burn is unconnected to time travel.

Number 13: Discovery Season 3 is taking place in an alternate timeline or parallel universe.

The Enterprise-C in Yesterday’s Enterprise.

After the Guardian of Forever’s definitive statement on the issue in Terra Firma, it now seems all but certain that Discovery Season 3 is in the Prime universe – the same one as every Star Trek production from Enterprise to Picard. However, it’s still at least possible that, due to time travel or for some other reason, the Burn was not “supposed” to happen.

Thus the ultimate solution to the Burn and the storyline of the season may be to go back to before Su’kal’s ship entered the Verubin Nebula and prevent that from ever happening, wiping this timeline from existence and restoring the “true” timeline.

I don’t believe this would be a good way to go. As a one-off story, an episode set in a timeline that is ultimately overwritten can work. We can look at episodes like Timeless from Voyager or Yesterday’s Enterprise from The Next Generation. But to wipe away the vast majority of an entire season, including presumably characters like Book and Vance, just feels like too much. It would render much of what the crew did – like helping the peoples of Earth, Trill, and Ni’Var – meaningless, and while it would set up another “blank slate” in time for Season 4, I’d rather see Discovery build on this season’s successes. Even if Discovery and her crew remembered what happened, wiping it all out feels like a bad way to go – but one that’s still possible.

Number 14: The ships at Federation HQ represent the majority of Starfleet’s remaining vessels. And they’re all 120+ years old.

A couple of Starfleet ships move to intercept the USS Discovery.

We didn’t get to see any kind of major space battle between Osyraa’s forces and Starfleet in There Is A Tide, so the status of the Federation’s remaining ships is not really clear. As I’ve been saying for weeks, though, it seems at least plausible that the rump Federation may only have a handful of ships available – with scarce dilithium for fuel, there is no way to maintain a huge armada, even if the ships were undamaged. It also seems reasonable to assume that Starfleet’s shipbuilding facilites were damaged or destroyed in the Burn, and that building new ships has been difficult – if not impossible for the fractured organisation – ever since.

Are there more ships beyond those few docked at HQ (and the two Mr Sahil noted)? And those ships may very well be old – they seemed new and futuristic to Discovery’s crew, but that could all be pre-Burn technology, meaning that Osyraa has the upper hand if the Emerald Chain has developed new weapons and technologies. We saw in People of Earth that quantum torpedoes were still in use, for example.

If there is to be a climactic battle between Starfleet and the Emerald Chain, perhaps we’ll learn more about the remaining Starfleet vessels at that time. If not, well it still seems like a theory that has merit!

Number 15: Saru is going to die.

Saru in his human guise.

There Is A Tide ignored Saru, Su’kal, Culber, and Adira, who were all left behind in the Verubin Nebula. Though they were mentioned – most significantly by Stamets as he pleaded to go to rescue them – the story focused on the battle to retake Discovery and on Vance’s negotiations with Osyraa. Thus this theory was not really advanced in any way.

We don’t know how much time There Is A Tide is supposed to have covered – it could easily be several hours, though, and Dr Culber told Burnham that if more than a day were to pass, there would be “no point” in staging a rescue as they would all be dead. I don’t expect this will be the way Saru would be killed off, but it’s a possibility.

Saru is torn between a desire to help Su’kal and his duty to Discovery. Given that he’s not thinking clearly, perhaps he will make a mistake or take a risk that results in his death. He may sacrifice himself to help Su’kal in some way, or to buy time for Culber and Adira to escape. There are many ways this could play out, but it’s at least a possibility that Saru will not survive the season.

Number 15A: Burnham will assume the captaincy of Discovery.

Burnham in temporary command of Discovery earlier in the season.

If Saru is killed – however that may come to pass – there will once again be a vacancy in the captain’s chair. Tilly as first officer always felt like a temporary thing, as indeed Saru himself explained when he offered her the role, and after losing the ship to Osyraa so easily there’s absolutely no way she could retain the captaincy – or even the XO position.

That would leave the captain’s chair empty with no obvious replacement. Senior officers such as Stamets or bridge crew like Nilsson or Bryce don’t seem plausible for story reasons, and with Discovery being such a Burnham-centric series, she feels like the only option. Well, unless the plan is to bring in yet another new character!

Number 16: Admiral Vance is going to be killed.

Admiral Vance.

Despite standing face-to-face with Osyraa this week, Admiral Vance survived. However, there may be a battle still to come, and it’s at least possible that he – as the man leading the fight – won’t survive the onslaught from Osyraa’s forces.

If the writers wanted to kill of a character we’ve spent a lot of time with this season – but not one of Discovery’s crew – Vance is pretty much the only option. His death could make the conflict with the Emerald Chain feel more impactful, and while I would be sad to see him go as I think he’s been a great character, it would open up the story to go in different directions in Season 4.

Number 16A: Saru will become an Admiral, and Burnham will become captain of Discovery.

Burnham and Saru with Admiral Vance.

Although Su’kal took Saru off the rails, showing us that he isn’t always calm and level-headed, his earlier time in the captain’s chair this season went remarkably well. His diplomatic efforts in particular may yet pay off – bringing former Federation members back into the fold. If that were to happen, perhaps he will be promoted, becoming an Admiral and even assuming the position of Commander-in-Chief of Starfleet if Vance is killed.

If he departs Discovery to head up Starfleet, the captaincy of the ship is once again open. And for the reasons listed above, Burnham seems to be the only real candidate.

As I’ve said in the past, Burnham assuming command feels like a goal Discovery has been trying to reach since Season 1. Perhaps this could be the moment it gets there.

Number 17: Tilly will resign as first officer and Burnham will return to the position.

Tilly sits in the captain’s chair in Su’kal.

Tilly did well in There Is A Tide, and doesn’t seem to have let the capture of Discovery completely ruin her confidence. She led the remaining bridge officers out of captivity and seems well-placed to lead an insurgency to retake the ship.

Despite that, however, she did lose the ship to begin with – and Osyraa captured Discovery from her with ease. It seems unlikely she could retain her position as First Officer, and while I doubt it will be stripped from her, she may very well choose to resign the position. It feels as though her arc over these few episodes will be to recognise her own lack of experience and unsuitability for command. She may grow into that role in the future – and perhaps Captain Tilly will be a Star Trek series in a few years’ time! But right now she clearly isn’t the right fit.

If Saru survives and remains in command – which he very well may, it has to be said – that would open up the first officer’s position. Burnham is again the logical candidate, despite the broken trust between her and Saru. She advised him to remain with Su’kal, speaking honestly to him in that moment, and perhaps he will recognise that and reward her for it. Now that she seems to have put her doubts about her role in Starfleet aside, she would be a good first officer.

Number 18: Saru, Burnham, or somebody else will use the Guardian of Forever to send the USS Discovery back in time.

The Guardian of Forever in Terra Firma, Part II.

Assuming that the Red Angel suit is truly gone, and that no one is violating the ban on time travel, the Guardian of Forever is the only way to travel through time that we know of in the 32nd Century. While I can see no pressing need to send Discovery back in time at this juncture, if such a need arose, the Guardian of Forever is about the only option for doing so.

I wrote in my review of Su’kal that the route to the end of the season feels “formulaic” – defeat the Emerald Chain, save or neutralise Su’kal to prevent a reoccurrence of the Burn, and use the dilithium planet in the Verubin Nebula to power the Federation, giving it the (literal and figurative) fuel to bring wayward planets back into the fold. There Is A Tide began the process of retaking the ship but didn’t complete that story, so the end of the season is still up in the air.

Even though I can’t foresee a reason why, it’s possible Discovery will need to go back in time, and the Guardian of Forever could help with that.

Number 19: Dr Issa is a descendant of Saru’s sister Siranna.

Saru regards the hologram of Dr Issa.

The actress who played Dr Issa, Hannah Spear, also played Saru’s sister Siranna in Short Treks and in Season 2. Why bring her back to play a different Kelpien – especially considering they look identical? My guess is that there is a familial connection there – Dr Issa may be a distant descendant of Siranna.

Though Saru was – for some reason – reluctant to share this information, the glowing patches seen on Dr Issa indicated pregnancy. Is this a trait all Kelpiens have? If so, why cover it up from the crew? Perhaps the answer is that the glowing patches are something only some Kelpiens have – such as those in Saru’s family. That could be how he knew what the glowing spots meant, and why he didn’t volunteer that information sooner.

I should note that it remains a distant possibility that Dr Issa and Siranna are meant to literally be the same character; that somehow, post vahar’ai Kelpiens live very long, or for some other as-yet-unknown reason. But I think a family connection is more likely.

Number 20: The dilithium planet will be destroyed.

The dilithium planet.

The dilithium planet reminded me at least a little of the Genesis planet in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. That planet was similarly dangerous and unstable, and was ultimately destroyed. Could the dilithium planet in the Verubin Nebula share its fate?

The main reason why I consider this theory at least plausible is that it would be a major twist on the expected end to the season. Rather than the ridiculous amount of dilithium being used to restore the Federation, it would instead be destroyed, leaving the post-Burn galaxy still with limited travel options.

This in turn could set the stage for Discovery’s Spore Drive being duplicated and rolled out across the fleet – as we discussed above.

Number 21: The “monster” is the real Su’kal.

The “monster” which inhabits Su’kal’s holographic world.

The “monster” which inhabits Su’kal’s holo-world is interesting. Why would his mother or the other Kelpiens programme such a creature? Yes it’s a legend from Kaminar, but to create a holographic monster in a programme designed for a child? They may not have had long to build the programme – which explains the basic nature of some of the other holograms – so why go to all the trouble of creating this one? And why doesn’t it flicker or glow in the same manner as the others, nor seem to have degraded over time?

My theory is that the so-called “monster” – which has a Kelpien appearance – is the real Su’kal; old, decrepit, and badly mutated by a lifetime of radiation exposure that can supposedly kill within hours. The “monster” did not behave like a hologram, did not appear like the other holograms, and when Burnham encountered it it seemed to regard her with an almost-human curiousity.

Add into the mix that Su’kal appears to be far too young to have been present when the Burn occurred – 120-125 years earlier – and I think we have a solid theory.

Number 22: The “monster” is Dr Issa.

Could the “monster” be Su’kal or his mother?

Another possibility for the true identity of the “monster” is Dr Issa, Su’kal’s mother. Though age is again a problem, if Kelpiens post-vahar’ai are especially long-lived she may have survived this long, but without the same level of protection from the radiation she may have mutated and been burned by it. The question of Dr Issa is interesting – was she just a basic plot device; a lure to drag Saru to the nebula? Or is there more to this character than a fraction of a distress call and her son?

The “monster” is one of the most interesting elements to come out of Su’kal, in my opinion, and there seem to be clues that all may not be as it seems. Obviously this theory and the one above can’t both be right – but even if neither are true, there could be more to the “monster” than we expect.

So that’s it. My final batch of theories as we approach the season finale. This won’t be my final theory post; next week after the finale has aired I’ll be back to check out any confirmations or debunkings, and perhaps to set the stage for any Season 4 or spin-off theories that I have. Then, later in the year, I may revisit some of my theories from this season to assess what I got right and got wrong! I did something similar for Star Trek: Picard a few months ago, and it was fun to go back to some of my theories knowing how the story of the season played out. So stay tuned for that!

There’s only one remaining episode before 23 weeks of Star Trek comes to an end. All being well there will be more Star Trek to come this year – both the second season of Lower Decks and the first season of the kid-friendly show Prodigy are, as far as we know, targeting a 2021 broadcast. Discovery Season 4 has entered pre-production, and depending how things go for all sorts of reasons, it’s possible we could see it before the end of the year. But that’s by no means certain!

Vance, Eli, and Osyraa during their negotiations.

Last week I felt that the road to the end of the season was obvious: save or neutralise Su’kal to prevent a second Burn, retake Discovery from Osyraa, and then use the dilithium planet in the Verubin Nebula to rebuild Starfleet and the Federation. There Is A Tide really only focused on one part of that – the battle over Discovery – and even then left it unresolved. As long as Osyraa remains in charge there seems no hope of a Federation-Emerald Chain treaty, and since we saw nothing from Saru and Su’kal this week I have to say it doesn’t feel like much has changed on that front. The only thing I would say that has changed my mind on how “formulaic” the end of the season risked feeling is that we may very well not see a resolution to the story, and we may instead be heading for a cliffhanger. We’ll have to see!

Please remember that these theories are just a bit of fun. Some may seem plausible – or even highly likely – but that doesn’t mean that this is the way the story will unfold. I’m just a guy with a website, I’m not claiming to have any “insider information,” nor am I saying that the theories postulated above will come true. No fan theory is worth getting so invested in that the actual story becomes disappointing or upsetting. Personally, as much as I love feeling like I predicted something that later appeared on screen, I also truly love being surprised by Star Trek and other franchises. That doesn’t mean writers should make silly or arbitrary decisions purely for shock value, but it does mean that when a theory of mine falls flat on its face, far from getting upset I revel in that. If we could all remember to take fan theories with a healthy pinch of salt, maybe there’d be a little less toxicity in certain areas of the fandom.

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

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 3, Episode 12: There Is A Tide…

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

For the second week in a row, there was a last-minute change in the title of an episode. Previously known as The Good of the People, this week’s episode was retitled There Is A Tide… which is a line from Shakespeare. It’s been a long time since I studied the great bard, but this line is taken from a longer passage in Julius Caesar in which the character Brutus speaks of missed opportunities and the need to seize the “high tide” of life; acting when the moment presents itself or missing out and never achieving greatness. Epic stuff, right?

Last week Su’kal left me with mixed feelings, and I said that we needed to see its storylines play out to their conclusion before delivering final judgement. Despite that, I was critical of the technobabble explanation given for the Burn, as well as how easily Discovery was captured by Osyraa. I felt the final act of the season risked becoming formulaic, and its storyline may have been telegraphed ahead of time.

I wasn’t completely sold on Su’kal last week.

There Is A Tide was an action-packed thrill ride from start to finish, with some gut-wrenching choices for Burnham and Book as well as some desperately-needed development for the villainous Osyraa. I’m not 100% sure all of it made perfect in-universe sense; why, after all, would Osyraa take hostages if she sought an armistice? But aside from that, it was a thoroughly enjoyable episode.

What it lacked, though, was any advancement of last week’s primary story: Su’kal, the Burn, and those left behind in the nebula. With only one episode left, we need to have those storylines wrapped up in addition to the Emerald Chain-Federation conflict as well as seeing our crew retake the ship. Or do we? Could Discovery be setting up a big season-ending cliffhanger? Right now that feels like a real possibility. Beginning with The Next Generation’s Season 3 finale, The Best of Both Worlds, Star Trek has seen fourteen seasons end in such fashion – including Season 2 of Discovery.

Aurellio and Osyraa.

As great as There Is A Tide was, it’s worth acknowledging the absence of any advancement of the Su’kal-Saru-Verubin Nebula story. It absolutely could be because there’s a feature-length episode or cliffhanger to come next week, but if that doesn’t happen I’m concerned that There Is A Tide has left the season finale with a huge amount of narrative to get through. I criticised the twopart finale of Star Trek: Picard for rushing too much and skipping over potentially interesting story threads, and I really hope Discovery won’t have the same issue.

There Is A Tide sidesteps the Burn altogether. While the event was discussed – notably by Osyraa and Admiral Vance – the Burn once again was not centre-stage. If there is to be any hope of a proper resolution to what has been the biggest mystery of the season beyond the couple of lines of technobabble we got last week, next week’s episode has a lot of work to do. And that really summarises my concern: taken as a standalone piece, There Is A Tide was non-stop excitement, action-packed, and fantastic… but by the end of its forty-six minutes, there remains a lot of work to do in terms of narrative.

Burnham led an action-packed story in There Is A Tide

So that’s enough about what may or may not happen in terms of the narrative structure next week. Let’s get into what There Is A Tide did right. First up, Osyraa. In her two appearances thus far, Osyraa has been flat, one-dimensional, and boring. Worse, she appeared to go from an easily-defeated cardboard cut-out adversary to a completely overpowered supervillain in between her two appearances. I didn’t find her compelling or even interesting; with no motivation beyond “I’m evil and I like it” she was just as bad as – if not worse than – Mirror Georgiou.

There Is A Tide changed that. Though some issues with Osyraa remain, the episode expanded on her character in a huge way, giving her a lot to do and showing off some genuine complexity and nuance. I’m not fully sold on her plan – which seems to have been to capture Discovery and use the ship and crew as leverage to force the Federation into… an alliance? But the way she went about it, both on the ship and at Federation HQ in her meeting with Vance provided some sorely-needed interest to her character.

Osyraa finally got some character development.

We knew from Ryn a few episodes back that the Emerald Chain was running out of dilithium, and it’s this shortage that forced Osyraa to the negotiating table. While we don’t see the precise nature of her proposals, Admiral Vance considered it impressive that she was willing to offer such terms. Her motivation for doing so is, as the episode’s original title suggests, “for the good of the people.” Osyraa’s plan seemed to offer a trading arrangement and non-aggression pact with the Federation, and she made reference to one former Federation outpost that has already been trading with the Emerald Chain.

There are a couple of points from Admiral Vance’s response to consider, and both have to do with putting principles ahead of being practical. Burnham, as we’ve seen through her actions this season, is very much someone who will work around regulations and rules where necessary to get the right outcome – the ends justify the means. Vance, on the other hand, keeps his principles even if it means problems for himself and the Federation. Firstly he scuppers the deal by adding a requirement he knew Osyraa could not agree to – her standing trial for what he regards as her crimes. But secondly, and perhaps most interestingly, he allowed Osyraa to leave.

Admiral Vance rejected Osyraa’s proposal.

Organisations like the Emerald Chain – at least, the way it has been presented thus far – are often cults of personality, where a strong leader has all the power and influence. As we have seen many times both in history and fiction, the removal, arrest, or even embarrassment of such a leader can bring down their entire organisation. And so it is with Osyraa. If Vance had arrested her, detained her aboard Federation HQ, her underlings wouldn’t know what to do. It would have given him leverage to negotiate the release of Discovery and the crew, and it wouldn’t have done any harm to Federation-Chain relations given that the treaty was already a non-starter.

But I’m not criticising his decision as a narrative point. I think what we have with Vance is a contrast, not only to Burnham but to the way Saru was acting last time – both are impulsive, emotional, and bending the rules. Vance is steadfast – the Federation’s ideals and principles are not to be compromised, even if that means making life harder for himself and the Federation. While Burnham’s storyline in There Is A Tide is far more exciting, I would argue that Admiral Vance is the one who best embodies what Starfleet and the Federation are all about.

The negotiations were short.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what the story of Season 3 has tried to be about? Rediscovering Starfleet’s values and placing them front-and-centre. That’s what Saru has tried to do with Earth, Trill, Ni’Var, Kweijan and so on. It seems at least plausible that these forces may come to the Federation’s aid if there’s a battle or war – like the Kelpiens and Klingons did against Control at the climactic fight in Season 2. If they do show up, it will be because they were inspired by Saru, Vance, and the principles they stick to.

On the other hand, as Burnham and other main characters have shown throughout Discovery’s run, rigid adherence to rules and principles isn’t always the right way to go. Compromise is sometimes needed – and Vance bottled a chance to do so. There’s a real-world message here, one which is a little odd given the polarising times we live through: moral absolutism is okay. Recent political events have reminded us of the need for compromise and to find ways to bridge the gap, yet Discovery seems to be saying that it’s fine to stick to idealism even if that means division and fighting continue.

Vance offered Osyraa terms that he knew she could never agree to.

Perhaps that’s enough politics for now! One character I loved in There Is A Tide was Aurellio, a man with a fittingly Shakespearean name! When it was announced before the beginning of the season that Kenneth Mitchell, who had played Kol in Season 1, Tenavik in Season 2, and a couple of other characters both in Discovery and Lower Decks, would be returning, I wasn’t sure how it would work. Mitchell has recently been diagnosed with ALS (motor neurone disease). There was no way for the series to ignore that – Mitchell uses a wheelchair now – but I was hopeful to see a character and storyline that treated disability respectfully. As you may recall if you’re a regular reader, I’m disabled myself.

I adored Aurellio, and Mitchell’s performance in the role. The way the series incorporated his standing-wheelchair was tasteful and sweet, and Aurellio being disabled was neither ignored nor tokenistic. The fact that Aurellio has – as he puts it – “a genetic defect” was not the only aspect to his character, who comes across as a scientist or technocrat who is unaware of the extent of the criminality and depravity of the organisation he works for. Shielded from the day-to-day running of the Emerald Chain, Aurellio is – perhaps wilfully but perhaps not – able to concentrate solely on his work.

Aurellio was a wonderful new character and a great addition to the season’s story.

Though this will not sound like a compliment, I regard Aurellio as being Albert Speer – or at least, the public persona claimed by Speer after 1945. There are people like Aurellio even in the worst organisations and regimes – blind to the worst aspects, focused only on their own small work. Often in these stories, a character like this will step up once their eyes are opened to what’s going on beyond the confines of their laboratory – and perhaps that’s something we’ll see next time or in a future story. I’ll save discussions of Aurellio’s possible future for my theory post.

Aurellio was tasked with working on the Spore Drive – though it remains unclear how the Emerald Chain came to know as much about it as they do. To that end he was teamed up with Stamets, and their tête-à-tête in Engineering was fascinating to watch; both Mitchell and Anthony Rapp put in outstanding performances during this sequence.

The conversation Stamets and Aurellio had was riveting to watch.

The plan Aurellio had to try to recreate the DNA of the tardigrade seems to have merit – or at least no less merit than any other technobabble in Star Trek. Perhaps with Stamets’ support it could be taken more seriously both by Starfleet and the Emerald Chain. Stamets objected, saying he believes it is not possible and that the tardigrades are extinct – but neither of those claims are supported by on-screen evidence. We’ve seen tardigrades referenced as recently as December 2019 in the Short Treks episode Ephraim and Dot. The nature of that story’s relationship to canon is not clear – but tardigrades are still alive and kicking within the Star Trek mythos, at least.

Earlier in the season Tilly was said to be working on a plan for a non-human navigator to replace Stamets; this is something that, while never followed up on, would have allowed the Spore Drive to perhaps be rolled out to other vessels. It’s understandable why Stamets wouldn’t want to discuss any of this with Aurellio – but we’ve seen in the past that he’s very happy to talk about his creation with other scientists.

Will Aurellio’s plan work?

Besides the plot-heavy conversation about the Spore Drive, two things stuck with me from the Aurellio-Stamets conversation. First was that Aurellio mentioned several times that he’s in a relationship and has children. Stamets figures out he’s in a relationship with “an Orion” – it’s not unreasonable to assume that this person could be Osyraa herself, but we’ll save that for my theory post! Next was that Stamets claimed to have a child of his own. Since, as far as we know, Stamets and Culber do not have any children, this appears to be a reference to Adira, which was incredibly sweet. There has been a parental vibe between Stamets and Adira for much of the season, so for Stamets to say it aloud here was wonderful.

This would go on to be at the heart of the Stamets-Burnham argument later on, with Stamets arguing for a return to the Verubin Nebula to save Culber and Adira, but Burnham insisting he needs to get off the ship to prevent Osyraa using him to take Discovery away from Federation HQ. Rapp put in his best performance of the season so far in There Is A Tide, especially as he desperately argued with Burnham to remain aboard the ship.

Burnham ejected Stamets from Discovery.

That scene was truly heartbreaking. Of all the moments in There Is A Tide, the sequence between Burnham and Stamets was perhaps the shortest, which is a shame; it could certainly have been expanded by a couple of minutes. But a lot was packed into their time together, as Burnham rendered Aurellio and a guard unconscious in order to get Stamets off the ship. She knew that by doing so she was endangering Saru, Culber, and Adira, but when faced with the prospect of Osyraa and the Emerald Chain keeping control of the ship she evidently deemed the sacrifice worth it.

Stamets’ protests as Burnham prepared to eject him from the ship grew more and more desperate, until in his final moments he seemed resigned; cursing her for what she was doing. Anthony Rapp ran the gauntlet of emotions in his scenes this week, and after Stamets hasn’t has that much to do across the season, it was wonderful to see him put in such an outstanding performance.

Stamets argued with Burnham about rescuing Culber and Adira.

So we come to Burnham. This review is surely not going to be the first time you’ve heard this, but her story this week was basically Star Trek’s answer to ’80s action film (whose Christmassy status is debated) Die Hard! Crawling around in the Jeffries tubes and conversing with Zareh on the radio was clearly inspired by Bruce Willis’ character of John McClane, who spends much of Die Hard similarly sneaking around and conversing with his adversary by walkie-talkie. The Star Trek franchise has had many action-packed stories and moments over the years, but Burnham’s entire storyline this week has to be one of the best.

As I’d been predicting since his first appearance, Zareh was back. His return makes it feel as though the story of the season is beginning to come full-circle: we started with the revelation of the Burn and the initial conflicts with Emerald Chain couriers, and we’re ending with the Chain and the resolution to the Burn. Zareh bookends the season in a way, and I like that. It gives something more to the story than in Burnham was just facing off against a new unknown goon. The only drawback is that Zareh didn’t get to see Georgiou or Saru – the two characters who wronged him worse than Tilly.

Zareh made his return in There Is A Tide.

At the beginning of Burnham’s story we saw her and Book navigating a “transwarp tunnel.” Whether this is part of the Borg network or not is unclear – as is the fate of the Borg, come to that. It was convenient that this network leads right to Federation HQ, but I suppose we can forgive such contrivances within the story! Book’s ship crash-landing was a more explosive and dramatic version of the shuttle crash in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. There was also a callback to Voyager, where Borg drones were ejected into space in a manner similar to Burnham kicking one of Zareh’s henchmen out into the vacuum of space. I appreciate that there are these little thematic, visual, or narrative nods within Discovery, even when the show isn’t overtly trying to relive Star Trek’s greatest hits.

It was horribly unfortunate for Burnham that, in her first encounter with one of Zareh’s men, she got stabbed. And my gosh that stab was absolutely brutal! Discovery has been much more gory and visceral with some of its depictions of injuries when compared with past iterations of Star Trek, and this was certainly one of the most visually brutal. The camera work and direction showed just how painful Burnham’s wound must’ve been for her, and the follow-up as she cauterised the wound with a phaser was equally gruesome. Wonder why she didn’t use a medical kit? Compared with the dodgy CGI involved in Mirror Burnham’s death a couple of episodes back, this injury was so much better from a visual standpoint, and worked perfectly within the story.

Burnham suffered a major injury while battling the Emerald Chain.

The injury likewise harkens back to Die Hard, as John McClane suffers injuries to his feet from walking on broken glass in that film. Both characters – Burnham and McClane – were left hobbling by their respective wounds, trailing blood as they crawled and snuck around. I have to assume these Die Hard throwbacks were deliberate on the part of director and Star Trek legend Jonathan Frakes. It’s by no means a carbon copy of that film, but anyone who’d seen Die Hard would struggle to miss the similarities!

Burnham succeeds in her initial objective – to free Stamets and smuggle him off the ship. However, the task of retaking the ship and defeating Osyraa and Zareh is pushed back to next week. Burnham got the bulk of the action this week, but she wasn’t the only one who got exciting scenes. Tilly and the secondary characters from the bridge managed to escape their confinement and defeat their guards, and the morse code tapping was another reference to The Final Frontier – and not to mention a very clever way to outwit the henchmen guarding them!

Burnham in a Jeffries tube.

Ryn, who was initially with the group of bridge officers, lost his life by Osyraa’s hand. This might be the moment that pushes Aurellio to potentially switch sides, or at least to stand up to Osyraa – but we’ll save that for my theory post! I was genuinely shocked by his death, and for a split-second it seemed as if Book, who was also present, was going to be the one Osyraa killed. After he and Burnham confessed their love for one another earlier in the episode, it would have been a tragic end to their relationship. I’m hopeful that Book will survive the season, giving Burnham some stability and emotional guidance going forward.

The final revelation of the episode was the Sphere data had transferred itself into at least three DOT robots. These cute little droids had been part of the show all season long, seen in the background or making repairs to the ship, and I’m glad they get a moment to be front-and-centre. I absolutely need a plush DOT though, so Star Trek merchandising team take note!

The DOT 23s are adorable and I love them.

Tilly didn’t allow the loss of the ship while under her care to compromise her, and she led the remaining crew in a creditable fashion as they escaped and linked up with the DOTs. I felt sure that the Sphere data would find a way to help, and this seems to be the method it has chosen. Seeing the cute little robots address Tilly as “captain” was a strangely emotional moment, and came just after Detmer, Rhys, Bryce, and Owosekun had all pledged to follow her. The crew sticking together – joined by the DOTs – was a hopeful note to end the episode on.

So that was There Is A Tide… which is the penultimate episode of the season. It was absolutely fantastic, with complex themes, great performances, and plenty of action as the season approaches its climax. My only real points of criticism come from what wasn’t present – most notably the action in the Verubin Nebula – and whether there might be a little too much left to get through if the season finale is to wrap everything up neatly. Beyond that, however, I can hardly find a single fault.

Tilly is ready to retake the ship!

Osyraa got the expansion her character has needed since she was introduced, which was fantastic. Vance got to show off his negotiating skills. Tilly remained steadfast in command despite her “bruised ego” after losing the ship. Aurellio was a wonderful new character with depth. Anthony Rapp put in the performance of the season as the emotionally crippled Stamets. And Burnham got her very own Die Hard story, an action-packed adventure as she tried to save the ship from Osyraa and Zareh. There was so much going on in There Is A Tide, and all of it was wonderful.

This episode may be the high point of the season so far – an award I would have previously given to Far From Home. Jonathan Frakes never fails to deliver when he’s in the director’s chair, and this was a fantastic, well-written episode that allowed him to shine. There are a lot of open questions as of the end of the episode; hopefully the season finale can either provide satisfactory answers or set up Season 4 to bring about a resolution. I cannot wait for the end of the season – but it will be a bittersweet moment as it will bring an end to 23 straight weeks of Star Trek which began back in August!

I hope you had as much of an enjoyable time with There Is A Tide as I did! Come back next week for my breakdown of the season finale, and stay tuned for much more Star Trek here on the website as we head into 2021.

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

Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 11

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

Su’kal was an interesting episode. It’s also one that, as I noted in my review, is hard to judge fairly before we know the ultimate outcomes of several of its key story points. I’m split on the revelation of the mentally challenged Kelpien Su’kal being the cause of the Burn – the biggest disaster in galactic history. While on the one hand it’s an interesting way to go, and one that is similar in some respects to older Star Trek stories, on the other hand it’s anticlimactic, coming in the eleventh week of the season. There’s a huge disparity between the small, terrified Su’kal and the Burn – an event which caused devastation on a galactic scale and destroyed the Federation. And there is a worrying message underneath the sci-fi trappings, one which risks further stigmatising mental illness and those with learning disabilities.

But that’s enough about that for now. Read my review if you want my full thoughts on Su’kal and what it brought to the table. We’re here for theories! And there’s a lot to get through this time. We got two confirmations, five debunkings, and there’s also one theory I’m choosing to retire. Let’s briefly look at each of these before hitting the main list.

Confirmed theory #1: The Emerald Chain will attempt to steal the USS Discovery and/or the Spore Drive.

Discovery held captive by Osyraa’s flagship.

Aside from the revelation that Su’kal caused the Burn, this was the biggest event in the episode. Osyraa – the Emerald Chain’s leader – showed up at the Verubin Nebula aboard her flagship and was able to very easily capture Discovery. How she came to know about the Spore Drive is unclear, as is how her ship magically became so powerful since its last meeting with Discovery. However, she not only attempted to capture Discovery and the Spore Drive this week, she succeeded.

Confirmed theory #2: The Emerald Chain will attack Federation HQ.

Osyraa set course for Federation HQ.

After capturing Discovery, Osyraa set out to her next objective – Federation HQ. Though this attack didn’t take the form I expected, Osyraa is headed there to take on Starfleet. Whether she will pull her forces away from Kaminar to join her as her flagship and Discovery travel to Starfleet HQ is not clear, but it would be a reasonable assumption. We will see exactly what happens next time, including how successful her attack is. But we can consider this theory confirmed.

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

The USS Discovery.

As far as we can tell, only the Kelpien ship was in the Verubin Nebula. Given Su’kal’s connection to dilithium and the Burn, it certainly seems as though this is the way the story of the season is going. Additionally, the nebula looks very different from the one encountered by Craft in Calypso, meaning the chances of a crossover between that story and this one now seems remote.

It was an increasingly distant possibility, especially after the discovery of the Kelpien ship. The departure of Georgiou – who was the character I suggested may have taken Discovery back in time in the event that this theory was true – also decreased its probability. With only two episodes remaining, Discovery having already entered the nebula, and with an explanation for the Burn at least halfway explored, changing tack now to suddenly put the USS Discovery in the nebula would be difficult to pull off at best.

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

The USS Cerritos from Star Trek: Lower Decks.

As above, it seems certain that the explanation for the Burn lies with Su’kal and the crashed Kelpien ship. Between continuing to explore these story threads and depicting the battle to retake Discovery from Osyraa, there is no time left in the remaining couple of episodes to suddenly drop in another familiar starship and give such an important moment the respect it needs.

As such, we can consider this debunked.

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

The Red Angel.

As above, it’s the Kelpien ship in the nebula – and as far as we can tell, not much else. While the prospect of the Red Angel suit accidentally causing the Burn was a fascinating one, it may have been a bridge too far for Discovery in the end. As Saru and Culber remain behind to help Su’kal, and with everyone else off trying to retake the ship, there seems to be no place for the Red Angel in this storyline.

Debunked theory #4: The name “Burn” is derived from the name Burnham.

Michael Burnham did not cause the Burn!

This theory was intrinsically linked to the one above. As I noted the first time I discussed the Burn, it was odd, in a show that has always put Burnham front and centre, that there was a catastrophic event which happened to share part of her name. It seemed at least possible that there would prove to be a Burnham connection, just as there was with the Red Angel in Season 2. However, with the discovery of Su’kal and the Kelpien ship, it seems impossible for the story to go in a Burnham-centric direction this time, which is nice!

Debunked theory #5: Tilly is going to go rogue.

Tilly in the captain’s chair.

When Tilly became first officer, I was struck by one word in particular: “compliant.” That’s what Tilly thought Saru considered her to be, and I speculated that she may have ended up disobeying orders in a future story. However, it now seems clear that the reason Tilly was chosen was to be an inexperienced commander, making Osyraa’s victory and capture of Discovery more plausible. With Discovery under Osyraa’s control and Saru away on the Kelpien ship, it’s hard to see how this could pan out.

So those theories are considered debunked – even if, technically, we didn’t see 100% confirmation on all of them! Before we hit the main list I have one theory that I’m choosing to retire, and it’s connected to two theories above.

Retiring theory: Burnham’s Red Angel suit has been stolen.

Burnham with the suit on Hima in That Hope Is You.

With the Red Angel suit clearly not in the Verubin Nebula – and as far as I can tell given only two episodes remain, not connected to the story of the season at all – I’m retiring this theory. Burnham set the Red Angel suit to self-destruct after delivering the final Red Burst for Pike and Spock to see, and as we saw in the finale of Season 2 they got the message.

In order for someone to have been able to capture it, they would have had to know exactly when and where the suit would be, and if time travel has indeed been outlawed – as Admiral Vance told us – no one would be able to recover the suit. Thus we can assume its mission is complete and it was destroyed.

So that theory has been retired – and that brings this week’s theory massacre to an end! Now let’s jump into the list of theories I have as we approach the final two episodes of the season.

Number 1: The “monster” is the real Su’kal.

Is this the real Su’kal?

The “monster” which inhabits Su’kal’s holo-world is interesting. Why would his mother or the other Kelpiens programme such a creature? Yes it’s a legend from Kaminar, but to create a holographic monster in a programme designed for a child? They may not have had long to build the programme – which explains the basic nature of some of the other holograms – so why go to all the trouble of creating this one? And why doesn’t it flicker or glow in the same manner as the others, nor seem to have degraded over time?

My theory is that the so-called “monster” – which has a Kelpien appearance – is the real Su’kal; old, decrepit, and badly mutated by a lifetime of radiation exposure that can supposedly kill within hours. The “monster” did not behave like a hologram, did not appear like the other holograms, and when Burnham encountered it it seemed to regard her with an almost-human curiousity.

Add into the mix that Su’kal appears to be far too young to have been present when the Burn occurred – 120-125 years earlier – and I think we have a solid theory.

Number 2: The “monster” is Dr Issa.

The “monster.”

Another possibility for the true identity of the “monster” is Dr Issa, Su’kal’s mother. Though age is again a problem, if Kelpiens post-vahar’ai are especially long-lived she may have survived this long, but without the same level of protection from the radiation she may have mutated and been burned by it. The question of Dr Issa is interesting – was she just a basic plot device; a lure to drag Saru to the nebula? Or is there more to this character than a fraction of a distress call and her son?

The “monster” is one of the most interesting elements to come out of Su’kal, in my opinion, and there seem to be clues that all may not be as it seems. Obviously this theory and the one above can’t both be right – but even if neither are true, there could be more to the “monster” than we expect.

Number 3: Saru is going to die.

Saru in his human disguise.

This isn’t the first time I’ve theorised about a character’s death or departure this season – and so far no such event has come to pass! But as Burnham told us, Saru is “emotionally compromised” by the presence of Su’kal and Kelpiens, and is not thinking clearly. By the way, Burnham calling out someone else for jeopardising the mission and acting impulsively? That’s some top-tier hypocrisy right there!

But we’re off topic. Saru is torn between his almost paternal desire to help Su’kal and find out about Dr Issa and his duty to Discovery. He opted to remain behind aboard the Kelpien ship, and while I doubt he and Culber will simply succumb to radiation exposure, I’m beginning to wonder if this turnaround in his character from the level-headed captain to a risk-taker and mistake-maker will lead to him meeting an unjust end.

Perhaps this is the reason for the odd (and nonsensical within the story) decision to have Saru appear out of costume – to allow Doug Jones to have a more epic death scene? Time will tell.

Number 3A: Burnham will assume the captaincy of Discovery.

Burnham in temporary command of Discovery earlier in the season.

If Saru is killed – however that may come to pass – there will once again be a vacancy in the captain’s chair. Tilly as first officer always felt like a temporary thing, as indeed Saru himself explained when he offered her the role, and after losing the ship to Osyraa so easily there’s absolutely no way she could retain the captaincy – or even the XO position.

That would leave the captain’s chair empty with no obvious replacement. Senior officers such as Stamets or bridge crew like Nilsson or Bryce don’t seem plausible for story reasons, and with Discovery being such a Burnham-centric series, she feels like the only option. Well, unless the plan is to bring in yet another new character!

Number 4: Admiral Vance is going to be killed.

Admiral Vance.

With Osyraa targeting Starfleet, Admiral Vance is the man to lead the fight. I noted an air of finality in his words to Saru in Terra Firma, Part I, and while he has survived thus far, he’s about to face his biggest confrontation.

The conflict with Osyraa and the Emerald Chain has rumbled in the background for more than half of the season, but this is the moment where it has come to the fore. Osyraa already feels like a flat, one-dimensional villain, one who went from easily-beaten to overpowered in the span of a couple of episodes. One saving grace – from a narrative point of view, at least – for the Emerald Chain storyline would be to see a significant character killed.

It certainly could be Saru, as noted above. Or we could see a named secondary character like Detmer or Bryce killed. But Admiral Vance is someone we’ve spent a certain amount of time with this season, and if the writers saw fit to kill off a significant character – but not one of the main crew – he is pretty much the only available target whose death would feel impactful. In that sense, Vance could fill a role played by Admiral Cornwell in Season 2.

Number 4A: Saru will become an Admiral, and Burnham will become captain of Discovery.

Vance, Saru, and Burnham.

If Vance is killed and Saru survives, the question of leadership within Starfleet will arise. Though I would argue that Saru’s recent mistakes – including entrusting Discovery to a first-year ensign – count against him, for story reasons he may be offered a promotion. Earlier in the season he demonstrated his diplomatic skill – with Earth, Ni’Var, and so on – and is arguably well-placed to help the Federation rebuild and begin to come back together.

If he departs Discovery to head up Starfleet, the captaincy of the ship is once again open. And for the reasons listed above, Burnham seems to be the only real candidate.

As I’ve said in the past, Burnham assuming command feels like a goal Discovery has been trying to reach since Season 1. Perhaps this could be the moment it gets there.

Number 5: Tilly will resign as first officer and Burnham will return to the position.

Tilly regards the captain’s chair.

I think it’s a given that Tilly will not be first officer when the ship is retaken from Osyraa – and it will be, obviously. That’s part of the reason why these stories annoy me; I’ve seen enough “the heroes’ ship has been captured!” stories to know what comes next. But we’re off topic!

Rather than Saru or Vance forcibly demoting her, I think Tilly handing the position back is the most likely outcome. It feels as though her arc over these few episodes will be to recognise her own lack of experience and unsuitability for command. She may grow into that role in the future – and perhaps Captain Tilly will be a Star Trek series in a few years’ time! But right now she clearly isn’t the right fit.

If Saru survives and remains in command – which he very well may, it has to be said – that would open up the first officer’s position. Burnham is again the logical candidate, despite the broken trust between her and Saru. She advised him to remain with Su’kal, speaking honestly to him in that moment, and perhaps he will recognise that and reward her for it. Now that she seems to have put her doubts about her role in Starfleet aside, she would be a good first officer.

Number 6: Zora will help the crew retake the ship or protect them from Osyraa’s forces.

Saru talked with Zora in Forget Me Not.

Aside from a tie-in with Calypso, which is interesting in itself, I’m wondering why we’ve seen the Zora AI feature in the season so far. Is it just to connect to that Short Treks episode, or is there something more?

Zora is a combination of the Sphere data and Discovery’s computer, and one of its primary goals – which has been stated as recently as Terra Firma, Part I – is to protect the crew. With the ship having been attacked and conquered by Osyraa, will Zora simply let that slide? Will Zora trust the Sphere data to Osyraa, or will it/she fight back, helping the crew retake the ship?

I suspect it may be the latter, though perhaps Zora will take some persuading. If she is on the side of Tilly and the crew, she might help Burnham and Book get aboard, she might save lives, or even turn Discovery itself against the Emerald Chain, using things like artificial gravity and the environmental controls against Osyraa’s forces.

Number 7: Saru, Burnham, or somebody else will use the Guardian of Forever to send the USS Discovery back in time.

Georgiou used the Guardian of Forever to travel through time.

Assuming that the Red Angel suit is truly gone, and that no one is violating the ban on time travel, the Guardian of Forever is the only way to travel through time that we know of in the 32nd Century. While I can see no pressing need to send Discovery back in time at this juncture, if such a need arose, the Guardian of Forever is about the only option for doing so.

I wrote in my review of Su’kal that the route to the end of the season feels “formulaic” – defeat the Emerald Chain, save or neutralise Su’kal to prevent a reoccurrence of the Burn, and use the dilithium planet in the Verubin Nebula to power the Federation, giving it the (literal and figurative) fuel to bring wayward planets back into the fold. But perhaps I’m wrong – there could be major twists and turns in store.

At the beginning of the season, the main reason for Discovery travelling through time would have been to warn Starfleet about the Burn to prevent it from happening. That possibility still technically exists, but as we’ll discuss in a moment I don’t feel that would necessarily be the right way to go. However, even though I can’t foresee a reason why, it’s possible Discovery will need to go back in time, and the Guardian of Forever could help with that.

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

Dr Issa.

The actress who played Dr Issa, Hannah Spear, also played Saru’s sister Siranna in Short Treks and in Season 2. Why bring her back to play a different Kelpien – especially considering they look identical? My guess is that there is a familial connection there – Dr Issa may be a distant descendant of Siranna.

Though Saru was – for some reason – reluctant to share this information, the glowing patches seen on Dr Issa indicated pregnancy. Is this a trait all Kelpiens have? If so, why cover it up from the crew? Perhaps the answer is that the glowing patches are something only some Kelpiens have – such as those in Saru’s family. That could be how he knew what the glowing spots meant, and why he didn’t volunteer that information sooner.

I should note that it remains a distant possibility that Dr Issa and Siranna are meant to literally be the same character; that somehow, post vahar’ai Kelpiens live very long, or for some other as-yet-unknown reason. But I think a family connection is more likely.

Number 9: The dilithium planet will be destroyed.

The dilithium planet.

The dilithium planet reminded me at least a little of the Genesis planet in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. That planet was similarly dangerous and unstable, and was ultimately destroyed. Could the dilithium planet in the Verubin Nebula share its fate?

The main reason why I consider this theory at least plausible is that it would be a major twist on the expected end to the season. Rather than the ridiculous amount of dilithium being used to restore the Federation, it would instead be destroyed, leaving the post-Burn galaxy still with limited travel options.

This in turn could set the stage for Discovery’s Spore Drive being duplicated and rolled out across the fleet – a theory we’ll look at in a moment.

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

The Enterprise-C in Yesterday’s Enterprise.

After the Guardian of Forever’s definitive statement on the issue in Terra Firma, it now seems all but certain that Discovery Season 3 is in the Prime universe – the same one as every Star Trek production from Enterprise to Picard. However, it’s still at least possible that, due to time travel or for some other reason, the Burn was not “supposed” to happen.

Thus the ultimate solution to the Burn and the storyline of the season may be to go back to before Su’kal’s ship entered the Verubin Nebula and prevent that from ever happening, wiping this timeline from existence and restoring the “true” timeline.

I don’t believe this would be a good way to go. As a one-off story, an episode set in a timeline that is ultimately overwritten can work. We can look at episodes like Timeless from Voyager or Yesterday’s Enterprise from The Next Generation. But to wipe away the vast majority of an entire season, including presumably characters like Book and Vance, just feels like too much. It would render much of what the crew did – like helping the peoples of Earth, Trill, and Ni’Var – meaningless, and while it would set up another “blank slate” in time for Season 4, I’d rather see Discovery build on this season’s successes. Even if Discovery and her crew remembered what happened, wiping it all out feels like a bad way to go – but one that’s still possible.

Number 11: The Burn was a superweapon – perhaps one the Federation or Section 31 built.

Is Su’kal the cause of the Burn? If so, is he the sole cause?

Is the reason for Su’kal’s power really just technobabble about radiation exposure in the womb? Or is there more to it than that?

We’ve seen in past Star Trek shows stories about genetic enhancements and shadowy organisations exploiting and weaponising the unique abilities of people. Could there be another dimension to Su’kal? Perhaps he quite literally is a weapon, one designed for this very purpose – to attack the Federation’s enemies (or the Federation) through a coordinated attack on dilithium.

Though it seems like Su’kal is indeed the source of the Burn, another source may be revealed, absolving him of blame. I noted that his “scream” did not actually cause a second Burn – even though characters feared it came close – so perhaps there’s something else at play here that we don’t yet know. That other factor could be this superweapon – and it may be designed to target the Federation’s enemies, like the Borg.

Number 12: There will be a resolution to the story of Calypso (the Short Treks episode).

Craft, the protagonist of Calypso.

The main point from Calypso which is still unresolved is how Discovery ended up in a nebula abandoned. And if, as has been hinted through the use of the term V’draysh, Calypso takes place sometime around the 32nd Century, how did the ship end up back in time?

The Verubin Nebula initially seemed to offer a partial explanation, but not only was Discovery not present there, the nebula itself is very different to the one inhabited by Zora, so that option seems to be off the table.

I have no clue how this circle will be squared – but it’s still possible that it will be, especially given how much progress we’ve seen toward unpicking the mysteries of Calypso this season.

Number 13: The Spore Drive will become Starfleet’s new method of faster-than-light propulsion.

Tilly and Stamets by the Spore Cube.

As mentioned, the end of the season from here could have already been telegraphed: retake the ship, save/neutralise Su’kal, and use the dilithium planet to bring the Federation back together. But that may not be the way the story ends.

As mentioned, the dilithium planet could be destroyed – perhaps to prevent another Burn, perhaps to save it from falling into Osyraa’s hands, or perhaps even accidentally either by Su’kal or someone else. If it’s gone or rendered unusable somehow, we’re back to the Spore Drive as a potential way to give Starfleet faster-than-light capabilities.

Doing so would finally find a use for Discovery’s most controversial piece of technology, and would potentially open up whole new regions of space for exploration. The Federation, despite having almost eight centuries to expand, appears to have mainly been an Alpha Quadrant power even before the Burn. Did they ever revisit the Delta Quadrant, for example? Did the Burn reach that far? Perhaps future Star Trek shows could be set in this time period and could follow the adventures of a new crew aboard a new Spore Drive-powered ship, exploring the galaxy. It would also set the stage for Season 4.

Number 14: A character from a past iteration of Star Trek – such as the Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager – will make an appearance.

Tom Paris with The Doctor in Star Trek: Voyager.

As time drags on with no appearances, I’m beginning to think that the only way this theory – which I posited before the season premiered – could come true is as a kind of epilogue or coda after the main storylines have concluded; perhaps even as a tease to the events of Season 4. It would certainly be difficult – but not impossible – to bring back a major character from Star Trek’s past at this juncture, given the complicated nature of the story overall. Given that there’s also no clear way that a returning character could have an impact on the story without that impact seeming to come from nowhere, perhaps we won’t see any significant character crossovers this season.

However, it remains a possibility. The Doctor is one character who fits the bill, but there are others who could reasonably have survived this long. And as I mentioned several times already, all it would take to bring back practically anyone is a technobabble explanation for how they were in stasis or travelled through time.

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

Number 15: The ships at Federation HQ represent the majority of Starfleet’s remaining vessels. And they’re all 120+ years old.

A portion of the fleet docked at Federation HQ.

I’ve been suggesting for several weeks that the rump Federation may only have a handful of ships available – with scarce dilithium for fuel, there is no way to maintain a huge armada, even if the ships were undamaged. It also seems reasonable to assume that Starfleet’s shipbuilding facilites were damaged or destroyed in the Burn, and that building new ships has been difficult – if not impossible for the fractured organisation – ever since.

With Osyraa now on the warpath, we could finally see whether Starfleet has an ace up its sleeve. Are there more ships beyond those few docked at HQ (and the two Mr Sahil noted)? And those ships may very well be old – they seemed new and futuristic to Discovery’s crew, but that could all be pre-Burn technology, meaning that Osyraa has the upper hand if the Emerald Chain has developed new weapons and technologies. We saw in People of Earth that quantum torpedoes were still in use, for example. Does Osyraa have a more powerful fleet?

Number 16: The Dax symbiont is still alive.

Jadzia Dax in Deep Space Nine.

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

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

Number 17: The ban on time travel is being flouted – possibly by secretive elements within the Federation.

Kirk’s stolen Bird-of-Prey travels through time in The Voyage Home.

Admiral Vance clearly believes that the ban on time travel is intact and being followed. Kovich indicated that he does too – but I’m not sure how far I trust him. Is he an agent of Section 31?

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

Number 18: Kovich is an agent of Section 31.

Who does Kovich work for?

Who is Kovich? He doesn’t wear a normal Starfleet uniform, and doesn’t appear to hold a Starfleet rank. Yet he wears a Starfleet combadge and is clearly a high-ranking intelligence officer as he undertook Georgiou’s debriefing and has access to classified files that pertain to time travel and parallel universes.

It is at least possible – if not outright likely – that this mysterious character works for Section 31. Since we now know he hasn’t just disappeared and may well be coming back, perhaps we’ll learn more about him. We know he has an interest in the Mirror Universe and Terran society, expressing almost an admiration for Georgiou and her way of doing things.

It seems less and less likely that Section 31 or Starfleet are connected to the Burn – but as noted above, it remains a possibility. Perhaps Kovich knows more about the Burn that he let on?

Number 19: We haven’t seen the last of Zareh.

Zareh in Far From Home – his only appearance to date.

After weeks of suggesting Zareh could return, I half-expected to see him beaming aboard Discovery with Osyraa’s forces. Though we didn’t see him in the first wave, he may yet prove to be among her troops, and if he is he may wish to seek revenge against Tilly and Saru for abandoning him. These kinds of characters have a tendency to pop back up, and although leaving him alone on the surface of the Colony back in Far From Home was described as a “death sentence,” the fact that we never saw him die means his fate is unclear. If he survived, would Osyraa even want him back? Maybe.

So that’s it. Despite losing a number of theories this week, we also added several new ones! They aren’t all going to be right, of course – perhaps none will be – but one thing is for sure: Su’kal shook things up in a major way after several weeks where the series made scant progress on its main storyline and attended to side-missions.

Despite what I’ve said about the road to the season finale seeming to be obvious, there are undoubtedly going to be at least some unexpected moments along the way. I’m hoping that will be the case, actually, because I love being surprised! I’m also not 100% convinced that Discovery has got the right story if I’m correct about the direction of travel. The journey may still be fun – as indeed Su’kal was for the most part – but it may end with a less-than-satisfying explanation for the season’s big arcs.

Let’s hope not, though!

Please remember that these theories are just a bit of fun. Some may seem plausible – or even highly likely – but that doesn’t mean that this is the way the story will unfold. I’m just a guy with a website, I’m not claiming to have any “insider information,” nor am I saying that the theories postulated above will come true. No fan theory is worth getting so invested in that the actual story becomes disappointing or upsetting. Personally, as much as I love feeling like I predicted something that later appeared on screen, I also truly love being surprised by Star Trek and other franchises. That doesn’t mean writers should make silly or arbitrary decisions purely for shock value, but it does mean that when a theory of mine falls flat on its face, far from getting upset I revel in that. If we could all remember to take fan theories with a healthy pinch of salt, maybe there’d be a little less toxicity in certain areas of the fandom.

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

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 3, Episode 11: Su’kal

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

Until three days before its broadcast, Su’kal went by the title The Citadel. It wasn’t immediately obvious why the name was changed – or why the producers at ViacomCBS felt a need to conceal that fact. After all, they let us know every other episode title before the season premiered, even spoiler-ish ones like Unification III. So it was a bit of a surprise to learn that we’d be watching Su’kal this week!

The twopart episode Terra Firma largely took us away from progressing the overall story of the season and focused on the departure of Mirror Georgiou to a still-unknown destination. With only three episodes left before the season is over, Discovery really needed to begin bringing its storylines together and wrapping them up, lest it repeat the mistake made by Star Trek: Picard earlier in the year and rush through a lot of potentially interesting plots. This was the moment where the season needed to enter its endgame, and for better or worse it seems to have done so.

Discovery finally took us to the Verubin Nebula after a few episodes of doing other things.

My first thought when the credits rolled was “hmm.” What had we all just watched? The two major storylines both had ups and downs, and we’ll have to deal with them in turn. I liked the idea of the holographic world. Both as an interesting setting and as a metaphor for isolation – something many people dealing with mental health issues will experience – it worked very well. Tilly sitting in the captain’s chair for the first time was great to see, and we can see why she was chosen ahead of, for example, Stamets to serve as first officer given that the conflict with Osyraa needed someone less experienced at the conn. I also liked the standoff between Discovery and Osyraa’s ship; it had a familar feel that anyone who’s seen the Battle of the Mutara Nebula in The Wrath of Khan can appreciate.

Now let’s get into the big disappointments. Discovery being captured so easily by Osyraa, whose ship had been simple to defeat a couple of episodes ago, was poor. Yes, it showed how Tilly’s inexperience at the conn was an issue, but even then it felt too easy. Osyraa’s ship, with its ability to transport huge numbers of troops and its weird grappling arms, just felt overpowered. Next – and I will admit this is perhaps more of a personal pet peeve – the cliched story of “the heroes’ ship/base is captured” just doesn’t really work for me. It’s annoying more than anything, and since we know Tilly, Burnham, and the crew will retake the ship it just feels like forced tension.

Discovery was very easily captured by Osyraa.

Now we come to the point of the season, and the main storyline which underpins all of the others: the Burn. If Burnham and Culber are correct in their assessment of Su’kal, he caused the Burn telepathically when his fears destabilised dilithium across the known galaxy. Though my initial reaction to that was some form of “what the actual fuck,” I’m prepared to wait and see what the next two episodes have in store, and whether they can better explain how this happened. Burnham and Culber’s analysis of the situation was short, and if all the explanation we’re going to get is some technobabble about dilithium and DNA cells in an unborn child, I think that’s poor.

But I’m hopeful that won’t be the entirety of the explanation that we get! The Burn had been set up across the season (and even before if you count the trailers) as a huge mystery, something galactic in scale. Perhaps the reason this answer feels like such a non sequitur – aside from the fact that it only consisted of a couple of lines from Burnham and Culber in the midst of a bigger crisis – is that the explanation for this colossal apocalyptic event being a mentally ill man with the mind of a child is some combination of anticlimactic and small.

A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it line from Dr Culber surely cannot be all the explanation we get for how Su’kal caused the Burn.

Huge events in fiction typically need causes that are comparable in scale, and there’s a disparity between the truly epic, cataclysmic nature of the Burn and Su’kal, a mentally challenged man who’s led a horrible life trapped in a weird educational holoprogramme. That’s before we get into the frankly upsetting real-world implications of this metaphor: a mentally ill person ruining the galaxy.

When dealing with significant events, we can typically point to powerful characters or forces of nature setting those events in motion. We can point to Sauron in The Lord of the Rings, for example, or Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars. Or we could look at the zombie virus in The Walking Dead as a force of nature – a powerful, planet-wide force. Su’kal doesn’t fit the bill, and while the idea of the Burn being something accidental rather than something intentional like a weapon may indeed be a good one – and one I’d support – this particular way of explaining it feels like an anticlimax right now.

Su’kal – the cause of the Burn?

On the other hand, if this is the explanation for the Burn, it would be in line with certain other Star Trek stories. The V’ger probe in The Motion Picture was similarly described as “a child” as it caused chaos en route to Earth. The Star Trek franchise has always been about exploring the unknown and offering help – and Su’kal clearly needs the Federation’s help.

Any time a mystery is created in an ongoing story, there’s a risk of the explanation jarring with what some members of the audience expected. I’m not criticising Su’kal from that point of view, though – or at least I’m consciously trying not to. I’m not saying that the Burn needs to have some other explanation, like one of the ones I postulated before the season began. What I am saying, though, is that if this is all the explanation we’re going to get – that Su’kal’s body somehow adapted, connecting him on a quantum level to dilithium, and that he accidentally caused the Burn as a child while upset – it feels anticlimactic.

We’re being asked to buy into a story that says one mentally ill person caused all of this destruction.

The discovery of the Verubin Nebula and its dilithium planet is likewise a little odd. This is perhaps more of a nitpick, but in the 32nd Century, when the Federation and other spacefaring cultures have had a millennium to explore and chart the galaxy, how could they have been unaware of this dilithium nursery/dilithium planet? A few weeks ago I wrote that the discovery of a huge cache of dilithium at the end of the season, allowing the Federation to get back on its feet and rebuild, could feel like a deus ex machina – and that’s kind of how this planet feels right now. The story from here seems predictable: save or neutralise Su’kal to prevent another Burn, use the dilithium planet to power the Federation and Starfleet, and retake Discovery from Osyraa.

There may be twists and turns along the way, but that seems to be the direction of travel. Simplifying a story as it approaches its end is inevitable, perhaps, but coupled with what I have to call an unsatisfying explanation for the Burn, it risks the end of the season feeling formulaic. Having made those criticisms, two caveats: there are still two episodes to go in which the Burn’s explanation can be padded out or even changed entirely, and if this is the real explanation for what happened, it avoids many of the pitfalls I feared a 32nd Century post-apocalyptic story would. It isn’t as epic in scope as perhaps I was hoping, nor does it seem to connect to other iterations of the franchise. But it is a very “Star Trek” way for an apocalyptic event to play out.

The titular Su’kal seems to have caused the Burn.

By that I mean it’s closer to some stories from The Original Series or even The Animated Series in terms of pure science-fantasy. Su’kal being the cause of the Burn because he has some kind of telepathic link to dilithium is a weird story, and that weirdness and quirkiness is what made many fans – myself included – fall in love with Star Trek to begin with. So I’m hot and cold on the Burn right now, as you can tell. I’m not 100% convinced that it’s the right way for this story to conclude, given that it’s taken us eleven weeks to get here and the Burn has been presented as this epic cataclysm with mysterious origins. But as a pure Star Trek story, I can’t deny that it works.

If you’re a regular around here, perhaps you’ve read my methodology. If not, you can find it via the menu at the top (top-right on mobiles). To make a long story short, I never read other reviews before writing my own, and I do my best to avoid any and all critical opinion and even responses by people involved with whatever I’m reviewing until I’ve got my own piece published. So I have no idea if I’m alone in my feelings about Su’kal offering an unsatisfying end to the season’s biggest mystery or not.

Is this how the Burn happened?

I feel like I’ve deconstructed the titular Su’kal and his relationship with the Burn as much as I’m able to at this stage. Like several ongoing storylines that saw major developments in Su’kal, my thoughts on this point can and likely will shift depending on the way that the remainder of the story progresses. So let’s look at a few other points from the episode.

Tilly becoming first officer was a point of contention in earlier episodes, and I do understand that. While I defended Saru’s reasoning at the time, as he felt Tilly had adapted best to the future which was a significant consideration in his XO search, what I’d say now is that that storyline feels as if it was constructed deliberately to reach a specific goal. The first part of that goal is, as we saw this week, the capture of Discovery by Osyraa, which we’re to understand came about in part through Tilly’s inexperience. But there may be a further plan for this storyline – effectively cornering Saru and forcing him to reinstate Burnham as first officer.

Tilly in command.

So what we got with Tilly this week was a deeply emotional and very touching scene between her and Burnham. As Saru prepared to lead the away team, it was her turn in the big chair for the first time, and she was nervous. Burnham tried to comfort her, and in this moment she was back to the older, more nervous character from earlier episodes. A lot of us have been nervous or anxious about taking on a big task, and Tilly’s reaction to what was going on was very human.

Likewise, the scene where she took the captain’s chair for the first time was also very well done. Though clearly still nervous she sat down for the first time with determination – and with a plan for what to say and do. She handled herself well, and she clearly had the respect of the other officers on the bridge. But there was a different kind of respect that they showed Tilly compared to Saru, or past commanding officers like Pike. Tilly was almost being treated as a child, judging by some of their expressions: “aww, it’s so sweet they’re letting her have a go in the big chair,” some of their faces seemed to say. While the crew followed their orders, there was a sense among some on the bridge – at least in the moment Tilly assumed command – that they didn’t hold her to the same standards as Saru or Pike.

Tilly regards the captain’s chair.

When confronted by Osyraa, Tilly played a role comparable to Sulu in Star Trek Into Darkness – sitting in the big chair for the first time talking to an enemy. In Sulu’s case he was broadcasting a message to someone rather than having a two-way conversation, but like many things in modern Star Trek I appreciate the symmetry that exists between wholly different stories.

As I said, though, the ultimate payoff to this storyline was Osyraa’s incredibly easy capture of the ship. We can argue that Su’kal’s telepathic tantrum damaged all the ship’s systems and thus probably knocked the shields down, which is how Osyraa’s goons could so easily beam over. But as a point of drama, the standoff between the ships was far too short before we got to this point. When Detmer took Book’s ship and completely disabled Osyraa’s flagship a couple of weeks ago, Osyraa’s flagship was shown to be big but flawed, and Osyraa herself made no moves against Discovery. This time, she was able to defeat Discovery in seconds using powers we’d never seen her vessel have before. There were low stakes at the beginning of the engagement – because Detmer had so easily beaten her using Book’s ship a few weeks ago – and thus Osyraa’s victory seems to come from nowhere.

Osyraa’s flagship proved a very difficult opponent… this time.

If we had seen some more of her ship before Su’kal to know what its capabilities were, that feeling would not persist. But despite its vaguely menacing appearance, the only time we encountered Osyraa before this episode showed her ship to be vulnerable even to Book’s glorified shuttlecraft. The turnaround was only explained by a single line from Osyraa, as she claimed to have fixed the vulnerability Detmer had exploited – but that just wasn’t good enough, in my opinion.

There’s also the big question of how Osyraa came to know about the Spore Drive. This seems to have happened entirely off screen, and while it may be shown in a flashback later on, it’s something we as the audience needed to know. What is Osyraa’s plan now she has control of Discovery? What will she use the Spore Drive for? Who told her about it/how did she find out? None of these points were touched on, and while we can construct theories based on Book’s macguffin from last week that concerned Admiral Vance, nothing was explained on screen in a satisfactory way.

Discovery jumped to the Verubin Nebula with its Spore Drive.

As this is an ongoing story, these points may be addressed, and if so I will gladly withdraw my criticisms. But right now it feels like Osyraa knew about the Spore Drive almost by magic – she even knew its name, despite having never heard of it the last time we met her. She also managed to turn her ship from an easily-beaten wreck into an invincible powerhouse and defeat Discovery with a snap of her fingers. And after all that, we don’t know her intentions. There are too many unknowns for the stakes to feel particularly high.

I mentioned at the start that this storyline – the heroes’ ship being captured – has never been one I enjoyed, and that’s a factor in how I feel about Su’kal too. I tend to feel that any time a story goes down this route the ending is usually known, and as a result the drama and tension just feel forced. Whereas we could see any one of a hundred different endings to Su’kal’s story or even Georgiou’s Mirror Universe story over the last couple of weeks, it’s obvious that Burnham and Book will retake the ship from Osyraa, just as it’s obvious in any comparable story that the heroes will reclaim their starship or base. It’s not exactly a cliché, but it’s a basic narrative that I’ve seen play out dozens of times at this point – including within Star Trek.

These stories have never been a favourite of mine.

Enough about Tilly, Discovery, and Osyraa for now. The sequences set in Su’kal’s home were interesting. The setting itself was reminiscent of the castle Captain Pike encountered on Rigel VII – as seen in Star Trek’s original pilot, The Cage. Castles and Star Trek have an association going back a very long time, and the dark, abandoned castle – with a monster to boot – gave the sequences set there a very creepy, almost horror vibe.

The cinematography for some of these scenes was outstanding, too, and shots of the fortress and its surrounding landscape were beautiful and immersive. There were some amazing overhead angles that gave the stepped structure a deeply confusing feeling, one which helped us get into the mindset of Burnham, Culber, and Saru.

Some of the shots here were beautiful. The set design and animation work were absolutely outstanding.

Speaking of the away team, the choice of makeup was interesting. Having Burnham and Culber be a Trill and Bajoran respectively really didn’t do much, and in a lot of scenes where they were seen from a distance the makeup wasn’t even noticeable. Saru being portrayed as human, however, was far more visually interesting, and the reveal of Doug Jones without makeup was perhaps the biggest shock moment of the whole episode. Everything about that moment was perfectly set up, from Burnham and Culber noting their appearances first to build up the mystery to Saru’s voice being heard before the camera panned to him. It was a very well-constructed moment.

Within the story, though, I’m sorry to say it makes no sense. Saru is a Kelpien; a species Su’kal is obviously familiar with as he has at least one Kelpien hologram – the Elder. Likewise we saw human holos within the programme, and since Burnham and Culber’s physical appearances were not changed to copy pre-existing holograms, I don’t know what reason there is for changing their appearances in this minimal way. Nor do I understand why – aside from reasons of dramatic effect – the away team’s radiation burns were visible on their holographic bodies.

It feels like the choice of making Saru human was just there for surprise value.

If the roles of Burnham, Culber, and Saru were to be played by three different actors for this story, actors who also took on the roles of three holograms within Su’kal’s programme, I could understand it more. It wouldn’t be good to have this crucial moment acted out by different folks, but it would make sense in-universe, because the programmer of Su’kal’s world would have intended his rescuers to assume a familiar form. But the way it was done here was just odd, and I can only assume it was done for the sake of that one shocking moment – revealing Saru in his human guise. Constructing a story point off of one moment seldom works, and while it was interesting (at least, at first) to see these three characters in different makeup, as a story point I don’t get why it had to happen.

It also arguably detracts from Saru’s storyline, which seems to be building to an emotional climax. This is the first Kelpien he’s met since he left the 23rd Century, and there’s also the open question of a possible familial connection via Dr Issa. Saru being distracted by all things Kelpien is affecting his judgement, and this is a storyline worth pursuing. However, having Doug Jones essentially be out of costume is detracting from that. While it was visually interesting at first, it risks getting in the way of the story as it comes to a head. It’s possible that there may be a moment where Saru snaps out of the way he’s feeling due to being in this human guise, which if well-written could work and would be a payoff of sorts. Discovery tends not to do things randomly – somehow there may well be a reason why the away team ended up in these bodies. It’s just difficult to see right now, and the question of whether it will work as intended is up in the air.

Saru in his human disguise.

Burnham’s work with Su’kal was sweet, and she seemed to be beginning to find a way to get through to him. Saru asked her to remain because of her training in xenoanthropology, but just as she accused him of being distracted by Su’kal, I would argue that she is equally distracted from the mission by Book – she wanted to get back to him, because within the nebula he is in danger. She did seem to make some progress with Su’kal before he cut her off – but is that the real Su’kal?

I’ll save the bulk of this discussion for my theory post, but here goes: the “monster” that inhabits the holodeck is vaguely Kelpien in appearance, and also looks older. Its decayed body could be a result of radiation exposure, and when the monster met Burnham, it seemed to react to her in an almost-human manner – by which I mean, not like a programmed machine. The character we’re calling Su’kal is far too young to be 125 years old – or at least appears to be too young – and no suitable explanation has been given for this. So my pet theory right now is that the “monster” is the real life sign that Burnham and the crew identified before beaming down.

Is this a holographic monster… or Su’kal?

I don’t know for sure if that will pan out, or how it could be made to fit, but it seems interesting so I’ll go into more detail next time. There were a few other little moments in Su’kal that I thought were worth pointing out, such as the little robots being identified as “DOTs” for the first time outside of the Short Treks episode Ephraim and Dot. That was a sweet little inclusion. I also liked seeing Adira and Gray back together, as well as Gray giving Adira the confidence boost they needed to make their first big independent move since joining the crew.

Speaking of Adira, Stamets’ line to them at the beginning about he and Culber coming as a “package deal” was cute, and ties in with the parental theme going on with the three of them. Stamets has gone out of his way to help Adira since they joined the crew, even talking to the unseen Gray – whenever he does that I’m reminded of a parent talking to their child’s imaginary friend. Stamets feels protective of Adira, and helping them settle in has been an unexpectedly sweet turn for his character.

Gray and Adira in Su’kal.

So there we are. That was Su’kal, an episode which will have to be revisited in context once we know the overall outcome of the season’s big storylines. It can be difficult to fairly judge one section from the middle of a story – it’s like trying to review chapter ten of a thirteen-chapter novel – because Su’kal cannot be taken as a standalone piece of television. That said, it’s an episode which made significant developments and perhaps set up one or two more mysteries.

I’m troubled by the fault for the Burn lying with a mentally disabled man. Mental health and learning disabilities are already the subject of considerable stigma in our society today, and while on some fronts that is improving, we still have a long way to go. The episode The End is the Beginning from Star Trek: Picard showed a very crude stereotype of “mentally ill people” earlier in the year, and laying the fault of the Burn at Su’kal’s feet seems to continue an unfortunate theme in this year’s Star Trek productions. It almost feels as though the writers have picked on an easy target in Su’kal.

As mentioned, there are different ways the story could pan out from here. I briefly explained one theory I have about Su’kal, but there are different paths the story could take over the next couple of weeks before the season ends. I’m cautiously interested to see more; I do want a resolution to the Burn, but it needs to be a satisfying one – and ideally one that doesn’t stigmatise people.

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

Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 10

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

The two halves of Terra Firma gave us quite a lot to work with, but with only three episodes left before Season 3 is over, Discovery has a lot of work left to do to resolve major ongoing storylines. I’m ever so slightly concerned that we’re going to end up with a rushed conclusion, repeating the mistake Star Trek: Picard Season 1 made earlier in the year. Hopefully that won’t be the case and there will be enough time for every extant story thread to either reach a conclusion or set up the events of Season 4 – whenever that may come!

By the end of Terra Firma, Part II we’d seen two confirmations and three debunkings, so let’s look at those first.

Confirmed theory #1: Carl is the Guardian of Forever.

The Guardian of Forever’s portal.

I got goosebumps when Carl announced who he really was – complete with the Guardian’s voiceover from The Original Series. Though the revelation may have been less interesting to new fans who aren’t familiar with The Original Series, I adored this moment and sat with a big dumb grin on my face for much of the rest of Terra Firma, Part II.

Though we could kind of argue that the inclusion of Sarek, Pike, and Una/Number One accomplished something similar in Season 2, the mystery of Carl’s powers and identity that we all had to sit with for a week is part of what made the ultimate reveal so exciting. I’ll always love when Discovery ties itself into past iterations of Star Trek, and this was perhaps my favourite connection of the season so far.

Confirmed theory #2: Georgiou will travel back in time.

Georgiou checks her holo-padd.

Where did Georgiou go for the three months she spent seemingly in the Mirror Universe? Well, Carl seemed to suggest he sent her to some kind of parallel universe, but perhaps not the Mirror Universe she came from.

Regardless, Georgiou has now definitely gone back in time – perhaps to the 23rd Century, or perhaps to another time period as we’ll discuss in a moment. We don’t know where or when she’ll emerge, and given how final her exit from Discovery felt, I doubt very much we’ll learn anything about her destination until the Section 31 series is ready to go.

My earlier theory had been that Georgiou may have travelled back in time along with the USS Discovery, perhaps in a tie-in with the Calypso story that saw the ship abandoned. This now can’t happen, of course, and while I wasn’t correct about how and why Georgiou travelled back in time, I did get the overall point right!

So those theories were confirmed in Terra Firma, Part II. Next we have three debunkings, all related to Georgiou.

Debunked theory #1: Georgiou will accidentally change the future.

Georgiou prepares to execute Mirror Burnham.

Although I wasn’t convinced that Georgiou had truly travelled back in time, one issue that time travel stories can encounter is a paradox. When Georgiou began making changes to the 23rd Century Mirror Universe, I wondered if we might’ve seen some ramifications for the future, perhaps something she and Burnham would then have to fix by restoring the true timeline.

When it seemed as though the Mirror Universe that Georgiou was seeing was different to how we saw it in Season 1 – with key players like Stamets and Burnham arriving at altogether different fates – it seemed at least a possibility. However, for Guardian of Forever-related reasons, nothing Georgiou did appears to have altered the 32nd Century, and as of the moment she left, everything was exactly where it should be.

Debunked theory #2: Georgiou didn’t travel back in time or to the Mirror Universe.

Georgiou with Burnham and her honour guard.

As discussed above, it wasn’t 100% clear where and when Georgiou spent her time over the last two episodes. But she did, according to Carl, travel back in time and to a different universe – whether or not it’s the Mirror Universe is up for debate.

I postulated this theory because of the major narrative differences between the setting Georgiou occupied and what we know of the history of the Mirror Universe and some familiar characters from Season 1. I doubt the series will revisit any of these points in future, and it seems as though the ultimate explanation for why things are different is because she was in a different universe either created or accessed by the Guardian of Forever. I’m okay with that, as it doesn’t create any major inconsistencies.

Debunked theory #3: Georgiou had been tampered with by the Federation (or Section 31).

Georgiou first became ill after a meeting with Kovich.

Despite being in the 32nd Century for at least a few weeks before Discovery found Federation HQ, Georgiou’s technobabble health problems did not emerge until immediately after her meeting with the mysterious Kovich. This led me to theorise that he could be a Section 31 operative and may be responsible for the sudden decline in her wellbeing.

However, it seems that this was a deliberate false lead, as Kovich not only was not implicated in making Georgiou ill, he actively consulted with Dr Culber and offered his expertise when asked. He knew more than he let on, both to Georgiou and Starfleet, but he was not responsible for harming her.

So those theories were debunked. Now let’s dive into the main list, beginning with a special bonus theory!

Bonus theory: Four ideas for Georgiou’s destination.

Georgiou’s destination, both in space and time, was left deliberately unanswered in Terra Firma, Part II. Carl told us he was sending her “to a time when the Mirror Universe and the Prime Universe were still aligned.” That’s an interesting statement, and could be interpreted in a lot of ways. We are very unlikely to know for sure where and when Georgiou ends up until she returns to our screens in the upcoming Section 31 series – but naturally, I have a few ideas.

The 21st Century

The reason why this one seems unlikely right now is because a Star Trek show set even earlier in the timeline than Enterprise would be difficult to produce. Enterprise depicted Earth’s first voyage of exploration, and while there were humans in space before Archer’s big mission, they were limited in speed and in the areas they covered. Thus, from the point of view of a Star Trek show, what is there to do?

On the flip side, the 21st Century is arguably the best fit for Carl’s ambiguous explanation of where Georgiou is going. We don’t know anything about the early history of the Mirror Universe, but if it’s true that it and the Prime Universe were once “aligned,” as Carl explained, the earliest known point of divergence between the two timelines is 2063 and first contact between Earth and Vulcan. In the Mirror Universe, after Cochrane’s warp flight he and his followers massacred the Vulcans who arrived on Earth, before humanity conquered their homeworld and founded the Terran Empire.

If this is truly the point of divergence, sending Georgiou to the 21st Century could fit with what Carl said. It could also mean that the Section 31 series depicts the creation of the organisation, and we could learn that Georgiou was its first leader.

The 23rd Century

The most likely destination based simply on what we know of the Section 31 series. It would also return Georgiou to her own time, thus curing her technobabble ailment. A return to the 23rd Century would allow for the return of characters like Ash Tyler, and we could even see a crossover with Strange New Worlds reuniting Georgiou with Captain Pike.

A series set in this era would depict Section 31 going underground, transforming itself into the clandestine outfit we first encountered in Deep Space Nine. However, the Mirror and Prime Universes are certainly not “aligned,” as Carl put it, in the 23rd Century, so could that be a hint that Georgiou is headed elsewhere? If not, how will that be explained?

The dawn of the 25th Century

The Mirror Universe episodes from Deep Space Nine showed a far less “Terran” group of Terrans fighting for their freedom against a Klingon-Cardassian alliance. Perhaps this change in the Terrans continued, leaving the Prime and Mirror Universes in something close to alignment by the late 24th Century.

This would have the benefit of connecting the Section 31 series with Star Trek: Picard – and any future shows or films set in that same era. There could be crossovers with Picard, and we could see major connections between Star Trek’s different ongoing timelines. Is it likely? Well, I’m not so sure. I think you have to squeeze the semantics of Carl’s statement a little too much, plus it connects only to a handful of Deep Space Nine episodes that most audiences wouldn’t be familiar with. But it’s not impossible.

The 27th Century

Kovich told us in Die Trying that there hadn’t been a crossover between the two universes in “five hundred years,” which would mean the last time it was possible would have been in or around the 27th Century. Does that mean the two universes were “aligned” at that point? Well no, but it could be argued that they were.

The drawback to this idea, like with the 21st Century above, is that it would isolate the Section 31 series in yet another time period, splitting up the ongoing Star Trek projects. There’s also no compelling reason to visit the 27th Century – very few of characters from other Star Trek shows could be alive, and nothing major seems to have happened in this era, which takes place after everything else in Star Trek yet before the Temporal Wars and the Burn brought the Federation to the brink.

So those are four ideas for where (and when) Georgiou might be headed. Now let’s get into the main theory list.

Number 1: Saru, Burnham, or somebody else will use the Guardian of Forever to send the USS Discovery back in time.

Carl – a.k.a. the Guardian of Forever.

The Red Angel suit may have been the last remaining piece of technology capable of time-travel – if we’re to believe the Federation’s claims that nobody violates the ban! But now that the Guardian of Forever has been rediscovered, the potential for travel through time is once again on the agenda. Whether Burnham explained exactly what happened to Saru, and if she did, whether he will explain it to Starfleet is not clear, but even if they’re the only ones who know about the Guardian, they may have need of its services.

When considering the story of Calypso, particularly how the USS Discovery came to be abandoned in a nebula, the big question is “why.” Why would Saru, Vance, or Burnham feel a need to take the ship back in time and hide it? There is no obvious reason right now, and with only three episodes to go if a major new problem were to emerge it could end up feeling rushed or like a deus ex machina.

Regardless, it’s at least possible that Discovery will travel back in time. And right now, one of the only ways that could happen would be to make use of the Guardian of Forever.

Number 2: The Emerald Chain will attempt to steal the USS Discovery and/or the Spore Drive.

The USS Discovery.

Admiral Vance was incredibly worried about Book’s use of an Emerald Chain signal booster on board Discovery, fearing that the untested technology could cause problems. It seems this macguffin could be a “backdoor” into Discovery’s systems, or perhaps some kind of tracking device that could allow the Emerald Chain to find the ship – and its Spore Drive. Spoiler warning for anyone who missed the promo for episode 11, but it seems that at least one Emerald Chain ship will show up.

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

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

Number 3: The Emerald Chain will attack Federation HQ.

Discovery at Federation HQ.

Obviously this theory and the one above can’t both be true! But if the Emerald Chain is moving, Federation HQ seems a logical target. The Emerald Chain is planning “military exercises,” according to Starfleet. Both Starfleet and Book’s courier friends believe this is code for some kind of larger-scale military engagement.

Clearly the Emerald Chain story thread needs to be wrapped up somehow – by defeating them militarily or coming to a negotiated settlement – so perhaps this is the moment they make their move.

Right now it seems as though the Emerald Chain will go after Discovery, but it’s possible that’s a deliberate misdirect, or that they’re able to wield a large enough force to attack both targets at once.

Number 4: Admiral Vance is going to be killed.

Admiral Vance.

If the Emerald Chain does make a significant move against Starfleet, I wonder if this could see Admiral Vance killed off. Though he returned (in holo-form) in Terra Firma, Part II, his line to Saru in Part I that he and Starfleet would “handle the Chain” in Discovery’s absence feels like something that could come back to haunt him. There was an air of finality to that scene.

We also know that Discovery looks set not to return to the fleet this week, pursuing its investigation of the Burn to the Verubin Nebula. If the Emerald Chain attacks in Discovery’s absence, Admiral Vance may not survive the fight. This could set up an interesting story – let’s look at that now!

Number 4A: Saru will become an admiral, and Burnham will assume command of Discovery.

Burnham & Saru.

As Georgiou prepared to step into the Guardian of Forever’s portal, she told Burnham that Saru is “not the only one suited for the captain’s chair.” Though this is the opinion of one character within the story, it was also very deliberately shown to us as the audience. Perhaps it’s simply to mirror what Prime Georgiou said to Burnham in Season 1 about setting her up for her own command, but there could be more to it than that.

If Admiral Vance and/or other senior Starfleet commanders were killed, as I speculated could happen, perhaps Saru would be offered the opportunity to become an Admiral. His different approach to command that we’ve seen this season could benefit Starfleet, and even if Vance survives, he may ask Saru to join him at the head of Starfleet. Saru, as someone from a different era and as a Kelpien, brings a unique perspective that Starfleet Command would certainly benefit from if they move to begin rebuilding the Federation.

Saru’s promotion would leave yet another vacancy in the captain’s chair of Discovery. Tilly had been appointed acting first officer a few episodes ago, but there’s no way she could assume command of the ship on a permanent basis. Given that this is Star Trek: Discovery, and Burnham has such a prominent role in the series, she is the only candidate.

In my opinion, after Burnham’s awful character regression midway through the season, Discovery will have to work incredibly hard over these final three episodes to make such an appointment feel plausible. However, it can be done, and we’ve seen Burnham do a lot better over the last couple of weeks. Burnham assuming command always felt like a destination the series was trying to reach – could this be the moment it gets there?

Number 5: Dr Issa is a descendant of Saru’s sister Siranna.

Saru with the hologram of Dr Issa.

The revelation that a Kelpien ship was responsible for at least part of the Federation distress signal in the Verubin Nebula was interesting, and had a great effect on Captain Saru. It was the first he’d seen of his people since arriving in the 32nd Century. When Dr Issa – the Kelpien scientist who sent the distress signal – first appeared, I genuinely thought we were seeing Siranna, Saru’s sister who was introduced in the Short Treks episode The Brightest Star and who reappeared in Season 2 of Discovery last year.

The reason for this is that Siranna and Dr Issa are both portrayed by the same actress (Hannah Spear) and thus look very similar. It remains a (remote) possibility that the two characters could be one and the same – either through time-travel shenanigans or perhaps because post-vahar’ai Kelpiens are especially long-lived, but what I think is more likely is that a familial connection will be revealed – Dr Issa will be a distant relation to Saru through his sister.

The reason for this is primarily production-side: why bring back the same actress to portray a Kelpien, and have the characters look practically identical, if there isn’t meant to be a connection? From a story point of view it could give Saru a dilemma – saving the Kelpien ship versus aiding Starfleet, for example – or it could give him a deeper emotional connection to the stranded ship than he would otherwise have.

Number 6: A time-travelling (or parallel universe) USS Discovery is at the centre of the nebula – and may be responsible for the Burn.

The USS Discovery was in an unnamed nebula in Calypso.

Should these next three theories about the Verubin Nebula that I posited a couple of weeks ago be considered debunked? After all, we have the revelation of the Kelpien ship being in the nebula to contend with now, and that could be the beginning of the end for the Burn mystery.

I’m not convinced, though, at least not yet, that there isn’t more going on in the Verubin Nebula. We don’t know anything about the nebula or what’s inside it, and the existence of a Kelpien ship doesn’t rule out the possible existence of the USS Discovery or any other vessel. We know, in fact, that a Starfleet ship was en route to the Verubin Nebula to assist Dr Issa, so there may be at least one more ship in there, and we don’t know the nature of the “dilithium nursery” the Kelpiens were investigating or what became of it.

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

There are two possibilities for how it could be the USS Discovery – which, of course, has not been abandoned – in that nebula: the ship will be sent back in time, or it has crossed over from an alternate timeline or parallel universe.

Number 7: A familiar starship is at the centre of the nebula – and may be responsible for the Burn.

Is Star Trek: Picard’s La Sirena in the Verubin Nebula?

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

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

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

Number 8: The Red Angel suit is at the centre of the nebula – and may be responsible for the Burn.

Burnham in the Red Angel suit at the end of Season 2.

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

The Red Angel suit was known to be incredibly powerful, and in an age where time travel has been outlawed, it may be one of the only ways to travel through time that still exists – making it a lucrative target for all sorts of factions.

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

So it’s clear that all three of these Verubin Nebula theories can’t be true. And now that we’ve seen the Kelpien ship, it’s possible that none are true and there won’t be anything else to find if and when Discovery heads to the nebula. I’m not convinced of that yet; the Verubin Nebula and the Burn have been presented as complex puzzles, and I’m sure there will be more twists, turns, and revelations before we uncover the truth about what’s really going on.

Number 8A: The name “Burn” is derived from the name Burnham.

Burnham in Die Trying.

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

The music within the signal emanating from the Verubin Nebula has – somehow – subconsciously embedded itself in people all across the galaxy. We didn’t hear everything Dr Issa had to say – her message was tantalisingly cut short as a result of decades of radiation and decay. If, somehow, Dr Issa was trying to contact Burnham, or was trying to report on her discovery of the Red Angel suit within the nebula, perhaps that could be how the names are related.

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

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

Number 9: Discovery Season 3 is taking place in an alternate timeline or parallel universe.

The two-part Voyager episode Year of Hell took place in an alternate timeline caused by time-travel meddling.

I’m tempted to retire this theory, especially after the Guardian of Forever referred to Burnham and Discovery as being in the “prime universe” this week. But even if this is the Prime timeline – the one which goes from Enterprise to Picard – it’s still possible that, with the involvement of time travel, this particular version of it has unfolded differently from the way it was supposed to.

If the Burn was caused – intentionally or accidentally – by time travel, surely from the point of view of the Federation, they would want to undo it to restore the “true” timeline. If that’s the case, most of the events of Discovery Season 3 could be wiped from existence – in the same way that the timelines in Yesterday’s Enterprise and Year of Hell were in past iterations of Star Trek.

Whether this would be a good way to go is up for debate. As a one-off story like those mentioned above, an alternate timeline can be fun to explore. But having seen Saru and the crew put in a huge amount of effort over the season so far to build bridges and begin to reunite the fractured Federation, undoing all of that and saying it never happened – or that no one besides Discovery’s crew will remember it – risks making these stories feel hollow and devoid of meaning.

I’m pretty much convinced that Discovery is in the Prime universe. Whether the alternate timeline stuff will pan out is still a possibility, though.

Number 10: The Burn was a superweapon – perhaps one the Federation or Section 31 built.

The Burn.

The discovery of a Kelpien science vessel at the centre of the Verubin Nebula is interesting, but it seems unlikely that such a craft would be carrying a superweapon – if one even existed! However, as discussed, Dr Issa’s craft may not be the only one within the nebula.

The Burn could be a superweapon – one developed by Starfleet or Section 31, perhaps designed to counter a galactic-scale threat like the Borg or the super-synths from Star Trek: Picard.

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

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

We’re edging closer to learning the true nature of the Burn. A superweapon remains on the table as one possibility – but the question it raises is this: were Starfleet and the Federation the target of the Burn, or its perpetrator?

Number 11: There will be a resolution to the story of Calypso (the Short Treks episode).

Craft, the protagonist of Calypso.

We got further confirmation last week that Zora – the AI encountered in Calypso – has been created. Kovich referred to it as “an AI,” and though unnamed right now, Zora herself became involved in the story. It was her intervention that sent Discovery to Dannus V in search of help for Georgiou – having pieced together the Guardian of Forever’s location from a combination of the Sphere data and 32nd Century Federation computer systems.

One thing that’s definitely interesting right now is that the USS Discovery as it appeared in Calypso no longer exists. The ship was retrofitted in Scavengers, and in addition to features like programmable matter interfaces and detachable nacelles, now sports the designation NCC 1031-A.

My theory is that, if indeed Discovery somehow travels backwards in time this season, the crew will very deliberately un-retrofit the ship first, removing any 32nd Century features to avoid polluting the timeline in case of accidental discovery. Discovery was in a nebula in Calypso – could that be the Verubin Nebula?

Calypso has been an outlier in Discovery’s story since it was broadcast in between Seasons 1 and 2. Having seen some elements from that episode cross over, all that remains is for the mystery at its core – Discovery being abandoned in a nebula – to be resolved. No small task, perhaps, but if this entire storyline from Calypso to Control to the time-wormhole to the Burn has been planned out properly, there’s no reason why we won’t see everything tied up by the end of the season.

Number 12: Tilly is going to go rogue.

Saru and Tilly in Far From Home.

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

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

Over the few episodes since she accepted the role, we have seen Tilly begin to grow into it. This is undoubtedly a change to her character, but not necessarily a bad one. I still think, however, that there is scope for her to do something significant when faced with a difficult situation, even if that means going against orders.

Number 13: The Spore Drive will become Starfleet’s new method of faster-than-light propulsion.

Discovery makes a Spore Drive jump.

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

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

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

Number 14: A character from a past iteration of Star Trek – such as the Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager – will make an appearance.

The Doctor.

Technically this theory was proven in Terra Firma, as the Guardian of Forever returned from The Original Series! But the Guardian of Forever/Carl’s identity had its own entry on the theory list, so we can’t really call this one confirmed. Besides, there are still three episodes left for another character to appear!

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

If a starship from a past iteration of Star Trek is somehow within the Verubin Nebula, perhaps that could be how a crossover character is introduced. With time travel, temporal anomalies, and technobabble at their disposal, the writers could find an excuse to bring back practically anybody!

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

Number 15: The ships at Federation HQ represent the majority of Starfleet’s remaining vessels. And they’re all 120+ years old.

Discovery and a couple of other starships at Federation HQ.

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

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

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

If the Emerald Chain really is on the warpath, the Federation may find itself outnumbered if these ships really do comprise the entire fleet.

Number 16: Burnham’s Red Angel suit has been stolen.

Burnham’s Red Angel suit – this was the last we saw of it.

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

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

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

Number 17: The Dax symbiont is still alive.