What can we expect from Star Trek Day 2022?

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the Star Trek franchise, including recent seasons of Picard, Discovery, Lower Decks, and Strange New Worlds.

The 8th of September is Star Trek Day! On that date in 1966, The Original Series premiered in the United States with the episode The Man Trap, kick-starting a franchise that’s still going strong fifty-six years later. Last year, Paramount organised a major broadcast to mark the occasion, hosted by Wil Wheaton (The Next Generation’s Wesley Crusher and host of The Ready Room) and Mica Burton (daughter of Geordi La Forge actor LeVar Burton). It was a fun event – albeit one that probably went on a little too long – that celebrated all things Star Trek. With Star Trek Day coming back this year, I wanted to look ahead to the event and consider what we might see when it arrives in just under three weeks’ time.

My usual caveat for these sort of things applies: I have no “insider information,” and I’m not trying to claim that anything discussed below will definitely be included in this year’s Star Trek Day broadcast. This is speculation from a fan – and an opportunity to talk Trek – and nothing more! With that out of the way, let’s get started!

George Takei at last year’s Star Trek Day.

First of all, I think it’s worth talking about some of the big announcements we’ve seen over the past few months, because Paramount hasn’t been shy when it comes to making headlines for the Star Trek franchise. We’ve had major announcements about Picard Season 3, including who will be part of – and excluded from – the main cast, we’ve seen trailers, clips, and teasers for Lower Decks, which will be a couple of episodes into its third season by Star Trek day, we’ve had plenty of news about Strange New Worlds Season 2 – including the surprising return of a fan-favourite character… and much more besides. Events like last month’s Comic-Con saw big panels featuring main cast members and major announcements, like the Strange New Worlds crossover with Lower Decks.

In short, I’m not so sure that we should expect a glut of trailers and teaser clips and a plethora of massive announcements! Paramount could’ve saved things like the Picard Season 3 teaser and posters that were shown off at Comic-Con for Star Trek Day, but in a way it makes sense to use an event like that – where all eyes are on the world of entertainment – to make waves and show off Star Trek’s renaissance. Star Trek Day itself, at least based on what we saw last year, is more of a celebration for Trekkies and the Star Trek community.

Star Trek already dropped some big announcements at Comic-Con just last month.

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be anything of substance, and the official press release for Star Trek Day promised announcements, reveals, and surprises! With Season 3 being Picard’s last, and principal photography already having been completed, I can’t help but wonder whether we might get an announcement of what could replace it in the lineup. When Picard disappears from the schedule next year, there will be a gap – and as Alex Kurtzman (head honcho of Star Trek for Paramount) has previously told us, there won’t be any new Star Trek until one of the current shows has ended its run. Well, something’s going to have to fill the Picard hole in late 2023 or 2024… so could the announcement of a new project be imminent?

I note that the official press release for Star Trek Day specifically mentioned that Michelle Hurd (Raffi) and Jeri Ryan (Seven of Nine) will be present to talk about Picard. I know I’m not the only one who’s talked up the possibility of a “Seven and Raffi Show” as a spin-off from Picard, so it’s interesting that these two actors will be present together at Star Trek Day. Sure, they could just be there to talk about Picard Season 3… but maybe, just maybe, there’s more to it than that!

Seven of Nine and Raffi in Picard Season 2.

There are at least two unannounced Star Trek projects in the works at Paramount, again according to Alex Kurtzman. I don’t think we’d get two massive announcements like that at Star Trek Day, and if I had to put my money anywhere I’d say that a Picard spin-off or at least another show set in that same 25th Century era is the most likely. But you never know! There are rumours of a Khan-focused project and a Starfleet Academy series, the latter of which may (or may not) be a Discovery spin-off set in the 32nd Century with Mary Wiseman reprising her role as Lieutenant Tilly.

Does the untitled Section 31 series still count as having been “announced,” given that there’s been no official news for almost four years at this point? We could finally hear something about that project, too, I suppose. But I’m not holding my breath on that one.

So there are a few different possibilities for a major announcement. A brand-new series would be a heck of a way to celebrate Star Trek Day, especially if the announcement came along with things like concept art or maybe even casting information.

Are we going to get an announcement about… Khaaaaaaaan?!

The other big project that’s currently up in the air is the untitled feature film Star Trek 2023. As we recently discussed, I seriously doubt whether the film will make its intended December 2023 release date given that most of the main Kelvin timeline cast don’t appear to be on board yet, but Star Trek Day could surprise us with some more information about the project.

So those are the potential projects that I think we could hear something about. As I said, my money would be on some kind of 25th Century Picard replacement if you forced me to make a bet… but there are definitely cases to be made to hear something about a Starfleet Academy series or perhaps a some kind of Khan project, too.

The new USS Stargazer.

This year’s Star Trek Day will be hosted by Tawny Newsome (Ensign Mariner on Lower Decks) and Paul F. Tompkins (Dr Migleemo on Lower Decks) who co-host The Pod Directive, Star Trek’s official podcast. I’m sure they’ll make a great presenting duo – though part of me feels a little sad that Wil Wheaton won’t be on hosting duties. His energy and passion for Star Trek really elevated last year’s event.

I’m curious to see what may be teased about Discovery Season 5. Filming is currently underway in Toronto, and a behind-the-scenes tour hosted by Wilson Cruz (Dr Culber) promises appearances by some of the cast members and a look at new sets. I’m not sure when Discovery’s fifth season will make its debut; it seems right now as if Picard and Strange New Worlds will be ready first, even though Discovery Season 4 wrapped up back in March, so we could see one or both of those arrive before Season 5 is ready. Still, it’ll be neat to catch a glimpse behind the curtain – and maybe there’ll even be a teaser of some kind!

Dr Culber in Discovery Season 4.

We’re edging closer to the first anniversary of Prodigy’s premiere, and we’ve been promised a second batch of ten episodes to round out that show’s first season before the end of this year. With a Prodigy panel on the agenda for Star Trek Day, I have to assume we’ll get some more details about those episodes – hopefully including a premiere date. If I had to guess, I’d say that the second half of Season 1 could directly follow on from Lower Decks, which could mean a premiere date in late October or early November.

Prodigy has not been particularly well-supported by Paramount, in my view, at least not so far. Splitting up its first batch of episodes into chunks of four and five respectively with a long gap in between is not a great way for a new series to gain traction – especially with its young target audience. There’s also a lack of toys and tie-in products, and while there are plans in place to address that, at time of writing none of those items are available for purchase. Paramount has a lot of work to do to really sell Prodigy – and I really hope they get on with it, because it’s a unique project within the Star Trek franchise and one that could turn a whole generation of kids into Trekkies if handled better.

We’ll hear something about Prodigy at Star Trek Day.

Either Lower Decks or Strange New Worlds stars could go into more detail about the upcoming crossover, and although it’s still early days we could get some kind of teaser for Strange New Worlds’ upcoming second season. I don’t expect to see any clips from the crossover at Star Trek Day – that’s just a hunch, of course, but something tells me it’ll be kept under wraps until much closer to the episode’s premiere. But we could learn more about Season 2, including whether any new cast members will be coming on board. There’s at least one and perhaps two spots open if the producers wanted to make additions, although I hope they don’t go overboard and try to cram in too many new characters – especially not characters from The Original Series.

Season 1 managed to strike a good balance between legacy and new characters, and I’d hope that would continue in Season 2. There must be a temptation to add characters like Scotty, for example, in engineering, but I hope that the show’s writers can resist – at least for now. There may be scope to bring in more legacy characters in later seasons, but for now I’d like to spend more time with some of the newbies who we’re just getting to know.

Behind-the-scenes with Captain Pike and the Enterprise bridge crew.

There’s also a decent chance, in my view, that we’ll hear about a Season 3 renewal for Strange New Worlds. Season 2 has already finished its main production phase, and with Discovery Season 5 well underway, it’s definitely time for those conversations to be happening behind-the-scenes. It seems utterly unfathomable to me that there won’t be a third season (and a fourth…) given how well Season 1 was received. Pre-production may be already happening, so it wouldn’t shock me at all to get a formal announcement at Star Trek Day.

In a similar vein there could be announcements for a fifth season of Lower Decks, a third for Prodigy, and perhaps even a sixth for Discovery – though the latter may be premature at this stage. As Discovery has been running since 2017 (and in production since 2016), it’s not an absolute certainty that we’ll get more after Season 5, but at the same time the 32nd Century feels like a really interesting setting to spend more time in, so I’m hopeful that there’ll be more to come from Captain Burnham and the crew.

Captain Burnham in Discovery Season 4.

So those are my main thoughts/predictions. I’m also looking forward to some of the other events that will be part of the live broadcast, including a tribute to Nichelle Nichols, as well as a couple of fan-focused events, some music, and even some stand-up comedy. Star Trek Day’s stated runtime is two hours, and that feels about right for something like this. As mentioned, last year’s event may have dragged just a little – at least for me – so it seems as though some lessons may have been learned from that. But as they say, live events have the potential to take unexpected turns, so I won’t be shocked if Star Trek Day ends up running a little over that time limit!

I guess that’s about all there is to say. I’m glad Paramount is doing this, and I’m glad the event will be free to stream on the official Star Trek website instead of being locked behind a Paramount+ paywall. It’s a nice way to celebrate all things Star Trek, and even if there are no massive announcements about brand-new shows or films, I still think it’ll be a fun time. There’ll be glimpses behind-the-scenes, chats with cast members, and hopefully a lot of positivity and excitement about the Star Trek franchise.

I’m looking forward to Star Trek Day, and when the event is over I’ll be sure to share my thoughts on the broadcast, as well as perhaps take a longer look at any major trailers, teasers, or announcements. Stay tuned here on the website in the next few days because I have a list of a few potential upcoming Star Trek projects currently in the works – and who knows, we may hear about some of those at Star Trek Day!

Star Trek Day will be live-streamed on the official Star Trek website and social media channels on the 8th of September 2022 beginning at 3:00pm Eastern Standard Time/8:00pm British Summer Time. The Star Trek franchise – including all shows and properties discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten Star Trek episodes to watch before Strange New Worlds Season 1

Spoiler Warning: Although there are no major plot spoilers for Strange New Worlds Season 1, the inclusion of particular episodes on this list may hint at certain themes, characters, storylines, etc. There are also spoilers below for the episodes and stories on this list.

I haven’t been able to talk about Strange New Worlds as much as I would’ve liked thanks to Paramount taking an “America First” approach to the series, the Star Trek franchise, and pretty much everything else on Paramount+. However, with Paramount+ having now arrived here in the UK, I hope to slowly begin to rectify that situation and make up for lost time. On this occasion, I’ve put together a list of ten episodes that I think make great background viewing for Strange New Worlds Season 1.

You can absolutely watch these Star Trek stories before diving into the show’s first season, but if – like me – you’ve already watched Strange New Worlds Season 1, there’s still value in going back to some of them to expand on what the new show’s first season delivered. Ordinarily I’d have written a list like this before the season aired, but having already seen Strange New Worlds that’s allowed me to adapt the list and include a couple of episodes that I would have never considered!

The long-awaited Captain Pike series is finally here!

Strange New Worlds was absolutely fantastic in its first season – and it has me lamenting the truncated ten-episode seasons of modern Star Trek as I could’ve happily enjoyed at least ten more! If you missed it, I’ve already written up my spoiler-free thoughts on the show’s first season, and you can find that piece by clicking or tapping here. At the risk of repeating myself, Strange New Worlds hit ten for ten in its first season – ten outstanding episodes that I thoroughly enjoyed.

I can’t recommend Strange New Worlds highly enough both to fans of Star Trek and to newcomers to the franchise. If you’re new, or if it’s been a while since you last saw some of these episodes, watching them will provide some additional background and backstory heading into Strange New Worlds – or will expand somewhat on some of the stories, factions, and characters if you’ve already watched Season 1. However, nothing below makes for essential or unmissable viewing; Strange New Worlds is a very accessible series that newcomers to Star Trek shouldn’t feel intimidated by!

Who could this be? Watch Strange New Worlds to find out!

As always, please keep in mind that all of this is just the subjective opinion of one person. I’ve chosen episodes that I generally enjoy and that I feel connect in significant ways to Strange New Worlds Season 1. If you don’t like my picks or I miss something you would’ve included, that’s okay! There’s always room in the Star Trek fan community for discussion and polite disagreement.

I’ve tried hard to avoid major plot spoilers for Strange New Worlds Season 1, but the inclusion of certain episodes here may hint at the inclusion of factions, aliens, characters, and storylines. If you don’t want to risk any of that, this is your last chance to nope out!

With all of that out of the way let’s take a look at the episodes I’ve chosen, which are listed below in no particular order.

Episode #1:
The Menagerie, Parts I-II
The Original Series Season 1

Captain Pike as he appeared in The Menagerie.

Technically speaking, The Menagerie was Captain Pike’s first Star Trek appearance. The episode incorporates most of the footage left over from The Original Series’ unsuccessful first pilot, The Cage, but uses a frame narrative to include Captain Kirk and Spock as they look back on the events of Captain Pike’s mission to the planet Talos IV.

After network NBC had spent a significant amount of money on The Cage, one of the conditions attached to The Original Series’ first season was that Gene Roddenberry and his team find a way to use the footage left over from the original pilot. It was either impossible or prohibitively expensive to bring back The Cage star and original Captain Pike actor Jeffrey Hunter for the role, and the recasting of the character is part of the reason for Pike’s severe disfigurement and disability.

What could Spock be doing in engineering?

We could do an entire article on the production history of The Cage and The Menagerie – and maybe one day we should! – but for now, the important thing to keep in mind is that this is Captain Pike’s ultimate destination. The Menagerie exists as a reminder of where Captain Pike’s arc will ultimately lead him, but it’s also an interesting episode in its own right.

The Original Series was beginning to find its feet by this point in its first season, and a two-parter like The Menagerie could’ve blown it off-course. However, the way The Cage was incorporated into the story made for a fascinating and somewhat mysterious presentation, and Spock’s characterisation and his dedication to his former captain in particular are noteworthy. It’s a fascinating episode that managed to be so much more than just a recycling of a failed pitch and that found a unique and innovative way to accomplish what could have been a difficult and annoying task.

Episode #2:
Trials and Tribble-ations
Deep Space Nine Season 5

Can you spot who might be out-of-place?

Trials and Tribble-ations was created for the Star Trek’s thirtieth anniversary in 1996, and it was a fun celebration of the franchise’s roots. The crew of the USS Defiant – led by Captain Sisko – find themselves displaced in time, arriving during the events of The Original Series episode The Trouble With Tribbles.

Sisko and his crew have to preserve the timeline – a nefarious villain is attempting to use a Bajoran Orb to alter the past to his advantage. What results is a genuinely fun romp, and seeing the two crews from two different eras coming together was quite something. I’ve always held Trials and Tribble-ations in high esteem ever since I first watched it!

Two legendary captains meet.

On the technical side of things, Trials and Tribble-ations was incredibly ambitious for its time. Using the same technology that had been used to place Tom Hanks alongside real-world historical figures for the film Forrest Gump – which had been released only a couple of years earlier – the creative team managed to seamlessly blend the Deep Space Nine characters into The Original Series. Some excellent work with costumes and sets – including a recreation of the original USS Enterprise’s bridge – really sold the illusion.

The only character from Trials and Tribble-ations to appear in Strange New Worlds is Spock, with the episode taking place after Pike’s tenure in the captain’s chair. But as a celebration of all things Star Trek, and one of the few stories to bring together the 23rd and 24th Centuries, it’s one you shouldn’t miss! There are also some interesting time travel and timeline-integrity angles to the story’s frame narrative that may just prove interesting to viewers who pay attention.

Episode #3:
Q & A
Short Treks Season 2

Who’s this promising young ensign?

Q & A steps back in time to before the events of Strange New Worlds and Discovery Season 2 to show us Spock’s arrival aboard the USS Enterprise while still an ensign. It’s a cute short story that shows off a younger Spock while also introducing us to Una – a.k.a. Number One. Una had far less screen time than Spock or Pike in Discovery’s second season, so Q & A was one of the first stories to feature her in a big way.

There are some great shots of the internal workings of the USS Enterprise’s turbolifts – something that a geek like me is always going to be interested in! In fact, Q & A must be one of the very few episodes, along with parts of The Next Generation’s fifth season episode Disaster, to make a turbolift its primary setting. That format could feel restrictive, but Q & A makes it shine through some excellent character work and occasionally hilarious writing.

One of the Enterprise’s many turboshafts.

Q & A was one of three episodes of Short Treks to bring back Pike, Spock, and Una – and these short stories began to expand upon their roles and set the stage for Strange New Worlds. They were also experimental; teases to fans that also served to see whether the much-requested “Captain Pike show” was a viable concept. Short Treks did some genuinely interesting things in its second season – which is why I’ve argued that the concept should absolutely be revived!

Captain Pike is less of a presence in Q & A than he would be in Ask Not, but that’s no bad thing. We got to spend more time with Una, and seeing her in her role as first officer – in part through the eyes of a young Spock, fresh out of Starfleet Academy – was fascinating!

Episode #4:
Unification, Parts I-II
The Next Generation Season 5

An older Ambassador Spock in the 24th Century.

We just talked about how interesting it was to see young Spock when he was first assigned to the Enterprise – so now let’s jump forward in time by more than a century to see a much older Spock in a completely different chapter of his life! The two-part episode Unification brought Spock into The Next Generation in a truly interesting story that built upon the Vulcan-Romulan connection that had been introduced in The Original Series.

I adore crossovers, and aside from a brief cameo in the premiere of The Next Generation, this was the first crossover involving main characters that the franchise had attempted. Its success laid the groundwork for the likes of Relics, Flashback, Defiant, Caretaker, These Are The Voyages, and many more.

Spock and Data.

Unification found a way to give Spock genuine development to reflect decades of his life that we hadn’t seen on screen. It was great to see him alongside not only Captain Picard but also Data – the two characters share many characteristics and filled similar roles in their respective series. The mystery at the heart of the episode and subsequent revelations about Spock’s work and the Romulans’ schemes made for a story that was tense, dramatic, and exciting.

Strange New Worlds isn’t all about Spock, but seeing what his life would be like decades after the events of the series is worthwhile. It puts into context not only the stories that unfold around Spock, but his own actions, behaviours, and thoughts. The Spock we meet in Unification is different from the Spock of Strange New Worlds – but not unrecognisable.

Bonus Episode #4½:
Unification III
Discovery Season 3

Cleveland Booker and Michael Burnham watch a recording of Spock.

The two-parter became a three-parter when Discovery added to the legacy of Unification in its third season. Taking Spock’s work with the Romulans as a starting point, Unification III shows us how subsequent generations of Romulans and Vulcans looked to Spock as an inspiration. His legacy is all over this story – and it would carry through into future episodes of Discovery in its third and fourth seasons.

Spock would go on to be an important part of Vulcan history, remembered fondly even centuries after his death for the process that he started. Seeing Michael Burnham react to that was sweet, and knowing that Spock has a legacy within the Star Trek timeline that extends far beyond his own lifespan is something incredibly meaningful.

Episode #5:
Arena
The Original Series Season 1

The Gorn captain.

An absoloute classic of The Original Series, Arena features Captain Kirk’s iconic battle against an unnamed Gorn captain – the first Gorn encountered in Star Trek. I might be in the minority here, but I absolutely adore the way the rubber-suited Gorn looks. There’s something menacing about its tyrannosaurus rex-like head, its silvery, almost insectoid eyes, and its sharp crocodilian teeth. But at the same time, there’s a light-hearted campiness to the way the Gorn comes across on screen thanks in part to the limitations of 1960s special effects – and perhaps also due to the bold pattern on his (or her?) costume!

There’s more to Arena than just the scuffle at Vasquez Rocks, though! There’s a more philosophical side to the story, one that shows how far humanity has come by the 23rd Century – and how far there is still to go to make progress. Despite the conflict, both Spock and Kirk demonstrate a willingness to try diplomacy and show mercy – something that impresses the highly-advanced Metrons.

The Enterprise crew watch helplessly as Captain Kirk battles against the Gorn.

The way in which Captain Kirk was able to outsmart and defeat the Gorn captain shows his ingenuity at its best – and presents a contrast between “brains” and “brawn” that made it clear how even a strong and physically imposing enemy can be defeated. There’s a great metaphor there for dealing with bullies!

Arena is one of those episodes that I believe every Trekkie – even those who aren’t fans of The Original Series – needs to see at least once. Despite the Gorn not becoming a recurring villain in The Original Series or even during The Next Generation era, the original design of these reptilian aliens has become iconic, and as a story that fully encapsulates the Star Trek franchise’s approach to science-fiction, Arena has it all.

Episode #6:
Damage
Enterprise Season 3

Enterprise has seen better days…

Damage comes quite late in the fully-serialised story of Enterprise’s third season, but it’s worth a watch regardless. At this point in the story, Captain Archer and his crew are running out of time to prevent the Xindi from launching a super-weapon against Earth, and Archer’s desperation to do anything to complete his mission forces him down a very dark moral path.

In essence, Captain Archer must choose between failure – which will almost certainly lead to the total annihilation of Earth itself – and his morality, leading to him basically turning to theft and piracy in order to survive in the harsh Delphic Expanse. It’s a fascinating story that features a brand-new alien race, but also one that’s an introspective character piece focusing on Archer’s decisions.

Captain Archer is forced to confront an impossible decision.

There are other story threads in play in Damage, including T’Pol’s exposure to Trellium-D – a compound toxic to Vulcans that caused her to begin to lose control over her emotions. The way in which Vulcans suppress their emotions in favour of logic is something that Enterprise explored in depth, and it’s a fascinating part of Vulcan culture that subsequent Star Trek projects have also touched upon.

Enterprise’s third season was a tense and exciting one overall – and Damage is one of the highlights for its strong character work and examination of how Starfleet’s enlightened morality can end up falling by the wayside when the going gets tough. Captain Archer is pained by the decision he makes – but that doesn’t stop him from making it.

Episode #7:
Through the Valley of Shadows
Discovery Season 2

Visiting the Klingon monastery on Boreth.

Although I’d encourage you to watch Discovery Season 2 in its entirety, I felt that Through the Valley of Shadows was really the only episode that had a significant impact on Strange New Worlds. It’s here where Captain Pike has to make a decision about his fate and his future that sets him on a particular path – one that will culminate in devastating disability.

Although Pike was willing, in the moment, to make the sacrifice in order to obtain the time crystal, the decision he made has a huge impact on him. With only a couple of episodes left in Season 2, Discovery didn’t have a lot of time to address how this would affect him – but Strange New Worlds certainly does, and this is really the starting point for Pike’s season-long arc.

Captain Pike comes face-to-face with his own future.

Discovery’s second season was a big improvement on its first, and I think it’s fair to say that bringing Captain Pike and Spock into the show in a big way was a masterstroke! Through the Valley of Shadows reframes Pike’s accident and disability in an entirely different way, and while there are sci-fi trappings of time-travel macguffins and talk of fate and destiny, what lies just under the surface is a story that I find incredibly relatable.

I’ve been Captain Pike at this moment. Sitting down with a doctor, hearing bad news about my health, knowing that things won’t get better but will get worse, that my ability to do basic things like walking will become increasingly difficult… these are all experiences that I’ve personally had and that I saw reflected in Captain Pike. Whether intentional or not, the decision to have him become aware of his future – and choose to embrace it for the greater good – kicked off a story about disability and declining health that really resonated with me. Its approach to this complex topic was sensitive, understandable, and darkly beautiful.

Episode #8:
Prime Factors
Voyager Season 1

Harry Kim and Eduana using a Sikarian spatial trajector.

Prime Factors flips Starfleet’s Prime Directive on its head. The Prime Directive is Starfleet’s most important standing order, and it states that “no starship may interfere with the normal development of any alien life or society.” We’ve seen the Prime Directive – and the principles upon which it is based – play a huge role in episodes of practically every Star Trek series, with captains having to decide whether to interfere, how to interfere, and what the consequences may be.

Prime Factors takes the opposite approach, and asks how it would feel to our heroes if they were on the other side of this kind of policy. How would Starfleet react to being denied a request for help or trade because it conflicted with an alien society’s principles? The resultant episode was absolutely fascinating.

Tuvok and Captain Janeway.

At this relatively early point in Voyager’s run, the fact that Captain Janeway and her crew really are stranded on the far side of the galaxy with no way to get home is beginning to sink in. Prime Factors is one of several episodes that teased the crew with a potential way to complete part of that journey – before yanking it away again.

The episode is also an interesting one for Harry Kim, who we get to see at his most eager to get home, and for the relationship between Captain Janeway and Tuvok. Although Chakotay would really take over the role of “trusted advisor” as Voyager got settled, initially it was Tuvok who was being established as Captain Janeway’s closest confidante and most reliable friend.

Episode #9:
Balance of Terror
The Original Series Season 1

A Romulan warbird firing its plasma torpedo.

Balance of Terror is the episode that first introduced the iconic Romulans to Star Trek – as well as revealing their connection with the Vulcans that we talked about in Unification above. Inspired by war films – particularly naval war films and those set aboard submarines – from a generation earlier, there’s a really tense, claustrophobic feel to the conflict between the Enterprise and this new, terrifying threat.

Balance of Terror expertly sets up the background of Federation-Romulan relations and uses that to create tension and conflict on the bridge of the Enterprise when a surprising connection between the Romulans and Spock’s own Vulcan people is revealed. The episode also raises the stakes by giving the Romulans not one but two super-weapons: the devastating plasma torpedo and a cloaking device. This was the first on-screen appearance of a cloaking device in Star Trek.

Captain Kirk in Balance of Terror.

Of particular note here is Captain Kirk’s approach to the conflict. After discovering the Romulan vessel and its technology, Kirk decides to pursue it, hoping to intercept it before it can cross back into Romulan space. Was this uncompromising approach the right call?

Balance of Terror is a fascinating episode for its tone, for its approach to bigotry and prejudice in the enlightened future Star Trek presents, and for its introduction of a faction that would go on to play a major role in the Star Trek franchise. It’s another episode of The Original Series that I consider to be a must-watch for all Trekkies.

Episode #10:
Star Trek 2009
Kelvin Timeline film

The USS Kelvin, namesake of the Kelvin Timeline.

Technically a film rather than an episode, 2009’s Star Trek kicked off the Kelvin timeline with a soft reboot of the franchise. It’s a textbook example of how to write a successful reboot, and after the Star Trek franchise had begun to fade and lose viewership toward the latter part of Enterprise’s run, the 2009 reboot came along and definitively proved that there was still plenty of life in it yet! We wouldn’t have Discovery, Strange New Worlds, and the rest of modern Star Trek without this film and its two sequels.

For our purposes today, though, 2009’s Star Trek shows us a different timeline with alternate versions of Captain Pike – who plays a prominent role in the story – as well as Spock and Uhura. Seeing these versions of the characters and noting their differences and similarities to their prime timeline counterparts could be worthwhile going into Strange New Worlds.

Spock, meet Spock!

Star Trek 2009 also chronicles the next chapter of Spock’s life after the events of Unification (which we took a look at above). Spock’s relationship with the Romulans and his plan to help them avert a catastrophe are what led to him being dragged into the alternate reality, and the meeting between the older and younger versions of the character is a powerful moment.

Seeing Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and others in their Starfleet Academy days was a concept that Gene Roddenberry had toyed with even as far back as The Original Series in the 1960s. 2009’s Star Trek took that concept and put a spin on it, updating the franchise for the 21st Century and introducing it to legions of new Trekkies. It’s a good film in its own right, and one whose legacy is the rejuvenated Star Trek franchise that we’re continuing to enjoy today.

So that’s it!

Promotional poster for Strange New Worlds.

Those are my picks for ten episodes to watch before Strange New Worlds to prepare for what the series will bring – or afterwards, if you prefer, to lend some context to some of the character arcs and storylines.

There are at least ten more episodes and films that I could’ve chosen; it wasn’t easy to whittle down the list to the ten picks above. Having already seen Strange New Worlds Season 1, I confess that I picked several different episodes that I might not have chosen otherwise. But that’s the benefit of hindsight!

As I said in my spoiler-free review of the first season, Strange New Worlds is utterly fantastic and well worth a watch for Trekkies and newcomers to the franchise alike. I can’t praise it highly enough – and I can’t wait for Season 2!

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is available to stream now on Paramount+ in countries and territories where the service is available. New episodes are being released weekly on Paramount+ in the United Kingdom. Further international distribution has not been announced at time of writing. The Star Trek franchise – including Strange New Worlds and all other episodes, films, and shows discussed above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Six Star Trek “hot takes”

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the following Star Trek productions: Picard Seasons 1-2, Discovery Season 3, Strange New Worlds, the Kelvin timeline films, Deep Space Nine, and The Next Generation.

Today I thought we could have a bit of fun! There are many so-called “hot takes” about the Star Trek franchise flitting about online, and I thought it could be a change of pace to share a few of my own. These are – based on my limited engagement with the wider Star Trek fan community, at least – opinions that aren’t widely held or especially popular. I’ll do my best to explain why I feel the way I do about each of the six subjects we’re going to consider below.

More than ever, I ask you to keep in mind that all of this is subjective, not objective! I’m not saying that these opinions are factual and unquestionable; this is just my singular perspective on a handful of very complex topics. As with everything in media, there are going to be a range of views, and while I’ll try to justify my opinions below, I know that a lot of people can and do disagree. And that’s okay! There’s room in the Star Trek fan community for respectful disagreement about all manner of things.

With all of that out of the way, this is your last chance to jump ship if you aren’t interested in some potentially controversial Star Trek opinions!

“Hot Take” #1:
Star Trek: Picard transformed Seven of Nine into an enjoyable character for the first time.

Seven of Nine in Picard Season 2.

Star Trek: Picard hasn’t been perfect across its first two seasons, but one thing that it absolutely got right is Seven of Nine’s characterisation. Seven was an unexpected character for the series to introduce – she’d never interacted with Jean-Luc Picard on screen before, and the pair hadn’t even the barest bones of a relationship to build on. In that sense, I was surprised (and maybe a little concerned) when it was made clear that she’d be featured in a big way in the first season.

Perhaps I should explain myself before we go any further. Seven of Nine was introduced midway through Voyager’s run in the two-part episode Scorpion. At first she seemed to be a character with a lot of potential, and I enjoyed what she brought to the table in early Season 4 episodes such as Scientific Method and The Raven. But Seven very quickly became repetitive. Week after week she’d learn some lesson in “how to be more human” from the Doctor or Captain Janeway, but she’d seem to forget all about it and revert to her semi-Borg self by the next episode. This was exacerbated by the fact that Voyager’s latter seasons seemed to include a lot of Seven-heavy episodes and stories, making her a prominent character.

Publicity photo of Seven of Nine during Voyager’s run.

That’s how episodic television works, and I get that. Most other Star Trek characters up to that point in the franchise’s history also “reset” in between episodes, and we could talk at length about how characters like Miles O’Brien could go through some horrible trauma one week only to be happily playing darts at Quark’s a few days later as if it never happened. But with Seven of Nine, a combination of her prominence and storylines that often revolved around learning and taking to heart some aspect of what it means to be human and exist outside of the Borg Collective meant that her week-to-week resets and lack of significant growth really began to grate. Toward the end of Season 7, Seven was given an arc of sorts that threw her into a relationship with Chakotay – but I’m hardly the only person who feels that didn’t work particularly well!

So by the time Voyager ended, I was burnt out on Seven of Nine. Out of all the main characters from Voyager, she was perhaps the one I was least interested to see picked up for a second bite of the cherry – but I was wrong about that. Where Seven had been static and repetitive in Voyager, Picard gave her that development I’d been longing to see, and it was incredibly cathartic! Even though Seven’s post-Voyager life hadn’t been smooth, it had been human, and seeing her experience genuine emotions like anger, betrayal, and later through her relationship with Raffi, love, was something I didn’t know I wanted. Having seen it now, though, there’s no way I’d want to lose this element of Picard.

Seven with Admiral Picard.

The death of Icheb, which was shown in one of Picard Season 1’s most gory sequences, became a key part of Seven’s character arc. His loss devastated her – and the idea that Seven of Nine could be devastated was already a colossal leap for her character. That it spurred her on to one of the most human of desires – revenge – is even more significant for her. And this growth continued across the rest of Season 1, with Seven coming face-to-face with the Borg and even becoming a leader (of sorts) for the liberated ex-Borg on the Artifact.

Even though Season 2 was a mixed bag (at best) with some lacklustre storylines, Seven of Nine shone once again. Her relationship with Raffi added a whole new dimension to her character, and after seeing her experiencing anger and negative emotions in Season 1, Season 2 gave her a chance at love. Season 2 also saw Seven revelling in a new experience, having hopped across to a new timeline and found herself in a body that had never been assimilated. That set her on an arc to accepting herself for who she is – including her Borg past.

Seven without her trademark Borg implants.

Seven’s journey has been beautiful to see, but also cathartic. To me, her journey in Picard feels like it’s righted a twenty-year wrong, finally giving Seven of Nine genuine development and an arc that stuck. While I’m sure fans can and will debate individual plot points (like Icheb’s death or Seven’s off-screen involvement with the Fenris Rangers), taken as a whole I’ve really enjoyed what Picard did with what had been one of my least-favourite characters of The Next Generation era.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for more from Seven of Nine – and if you’d told me in 2000-2001 that I’d write those words I wouldn’t have believed you!

“Hot Take” #2:
I don’t like The Inner Light.

Picard/Kamin in The Inner Light.

Often held up as an example of The Next Generation at its best, I’ve never enjoyed The Inner Light. It’s an episode I usually skip over without a second thought when re-watching The Next Generation, but I put myself through the chore of viewing it recently; it’s part of what inspired me to put together this list!

The Inner Light steps away from the exciting adventures of the Enterprise-D to show us a pre-warp civilisation living on a random alien backwater planet, and while exploring strange new worlds is part of the gig, the way this episode in particular does that is just not interesting or enjoyable in the slightest. It’s certainly “different” – and I will concede that point. Star Trek has never been shy about experimenting, after all! But this particular experiment didn’t work, which is probably why we haven’t really seen another episode quite like it.

Picard with the Kataan probe.

I don’t like to say that something “doesn’t feel like Star Trek,” not least because that vague and unhelpful phrase has become associated with a subgroup of so-called fans who use it to attack everything the franchise has done since 2009. But to me, The Inner Light feels about as far away from what I want and hope to see from an episode of Star Trek as it’s possible to get.

By spending practically its entire runtime in the past, with Picard taking on the role of an alien blacksmith in a pre-warp society, The Inner Light abandons not only the entire crew of the Enterprise-D, but also many of the fundamental adventurous elements that are what makes Star Trek, well… feel like Star Trek. Its deliberately slow pace doubles-down on this sensation, and The Inner Light seems to drag as a result, coming across as boring.

Picard/Kamin playing the flute.

I’m not particularly bothered by the way the Kataan probe operates – that seems technobabbley enough to get a pass. But after Picard has been hit by the probe and the majority of the episode is then spent on Kataan with Kamin and his family… I’m just not interested. Sir Patrick Stewart is a great actor, and what happened to the Kataan people is both tragic and a timely reminder of our own burgeoning environmental catastrophe (something that we haven’t even tried to fix more than a quarter of a century later). But despite all of the elements being in place, the story just doesn’t grab me like I feel it should. At the end of the day, I can’t find a way to give a shit about Kataan, nor about Kamin or anyone else.

There are many episodes of Star Trek with races and characters who only appear once, and yet very few of them manage to evoke that same “I just don’t care” reaction. Just within Season 5 of The Next Generation we have characters like Hugh the Borg and Nicholas Locarno, or aliens like the Children of Tama and the Ux-Mal, all of which manage to hook me in and get me invested in their storylines. I’d generally consider The Next Generation’s fifth season to be one of its best, with many of my favourite episodes. But The Inner Light isn’t one of them.

Picard/Kamin overlooking the village of Ressik.

There are points to The Inner Light that did work. The Ressikan flute theme, for example, is a beautiful piece of music, and Picard’s flute-playing ability (which he learned during the events of The Inner Light) would become a minor recurring element for his character going forward, notably appearing in episodes like Lessons. And the underlying premise of a probe that transmits a message in this way could have worked; it feels quite Star Trek-y in and of itself.

But for me, The Inner Light just isn’t fun to watch. It’s boring, uninspiring, and I can’t find a way to get invested in the story of Kataan and its people – despite good performances from Sir Patrick Stewart and the other actors present.

“Hot Take” #3:
Modern Trek needs to pick a single era (and timeline) and stick to it.

Admiral Vance and Captain Burnham in the 32nd Century.

Star Trek, perhaps more so than any other major entertainment franchise, is convoluted. As Trekkies, we love that! The fact that modern Star Trek can explore different timelines, different eras, and broadcast different shows that are entirely separate from one another makes for a diverse and interesting presentation. It also means that we can simultaneously step back in time to before Captain Kirk’s five-year mission while also seeing what came next for Captain Picard twenty-five years after the events of Nemesis.

But try to look at Star Trek from the point of view of a newcomer. Every single one of the five shows currently in production is set in a different time period and location, and just figuring out where to start with Star Trek – or where to go next for someone who’s enjoyed watching one of the new shows – is the subject of essays, articles, and lists. It’s beginning to remind me of Star Wars’ old Expanded Universe – a combination of games, books, comics, and so on that had become so convoluted and dense after decades in production that it felt offputting.

Cadet Elnor in the 25th Century.

In order for Star Trek to successfully convert viewers of one of its new iterations into fans of the franchise, it needs to simplify its current output. A fan of Strange New Worlds might think that their next port of call should be Picard or Lower Decks – but they’d be completely lost because those shows are set more than a century later.

The lack of a single, unified setting also prevents crossover stories – and these aren’t just fun fan-service for Trekkies like us! Crossovers link up separate Star Trek outings, bringing fans of one show into close contact with another. Just as The Next Generation did with Deep Space Nine (and DS9 did with Voyager), modern Star Trek should make the effort to link up its current shows. There are links between Discovery and Strange New Worlds – but any crossover potential has evaporated due to Discovery shooting forward into the far future.

Beckett Mariner and Jennifer the Andorian in the late 24th Century.

This also applies to alternate realities, most significantly the Kelvin timeline which is supposedly being brought back for a fourth film. The Kelvin films served a purpose in the late 2000s and early 2010s, but as I’ve argued in the past, is it really a good idea to bring back that setting – as well as its presentation of characters who have recently been recast for Strange New Worlds – with everything else that Star Trek has going on?

In 2009, it was possible for new fans to jump from the Kelvin films to other iterations of Star Trek and keep up with what’s going on. But we’ve had more than 100 new episodes of Star Trek since then across several different eras, some including recast versions of characters who appeared in the Kelvin timeline films. I’m not so sure that a new Kelvin timeline film serves its intended purpose any more.

Captain Pike in the 23rd Century.

I wouldn’t want to see any of the shows currently in production shut down before their time. We’ve only just got started with Strange New Worlds, for instance, and I’m hopeful that that series will run for at least five seasons (to complete Captain Pike’s five-year mission!) But as the current crop of shows wind down, the producers at Paramount need to consider their next moves very carefully. Where should Star Trek go from here, and where should its focus be?

Discovery’s 32nd Century is certainly a contender, and setting the stage for new adventures years after the stories we know provides a soft reboot for the franchise while also opening up new storytelling possibilities. But it would also be great to see Star Trek return to the late 24th or early 25th Centuries of the Picard era, picking up story threads from The Next Generation era – Star Trek’s real “golden age” in the 1990s. Setting all (or almost all) of its films, shows, miniseries, and one-shot stories in a single, unified timeline has many advantages, and would be to the franchise’s overall benefit.

Stay tuned, because I have a longer article about this in the pipeline!

“Hot Take” #4:
Far Beyond The Stars is an unenjoyable episode, albeit one with a very important message.

Benny Russell in Far Beyond The Stars.

This is my way of saying that “I don’t like Far Beyond The Stars” while still giving credit to the moral story at its core. Star Trek has always been a franchise that’s brought moral fables to screen, and Far Beyond The Stars does this in a very intense – and almost brutal – way, shining a light on America’s racist past and present.

But as I’ve already discussed with The Inner Light above, the way in which this story is presented doesn’t really work for me. I find Benny Russell’s story sympathetic… but because what’s happening is so far removed from the events of Deep Space Nine, it’s difficult to turn that investment over the course of a single episode into anything substantial. The “it was all a dream or a vision” explanation also hammers this home; whatever was happening to Captain Sisko was taking place outside of the real world – perhaps inside his head, perhaps as a vision from the Prophets – and thus it doesn’t feel like it matters – in the context of the show – in the same way as other, similar stories.

Julius and Benny.

Far Beyond The Stars is comparable to The Inner Light insofar as it steps out of the Star Trek franchise’s fictional future. In this case, the story returns to our real world a few short years in the past. While there are occasional flashes of Star Trek’s signature optimism, the darker tone of the story combines with its real-world setting to feel different; separate from not only the events of Star Trek, but its entire universe.

“But that’s the whole point!” fans of Far Beyond The Stars are itching to tell me. And I agree! Far Beyond The Stars knows what it’s trying to be and knows the kind of story it wants to tell and goes for it, 100%. I’d even say that it achieves what it set out to. But that doesn’t make it a fun watch, an entertaining story, or an episode I’m keen to revisit. As with The Inner Light, I almost always skip over Far Beyond The Stars when I’m watching Deep Space Nine.

The unnamed preacher.

Perhaps if I were an American, more of Far Beyond The Stars’ real-world elements would hit closer to home. But when I first saw the episode in the late ’90s here in the UK, I confess that at least parts of it went way over my head. That’s perhaps my own bias showing – but the whole point of this exercise is to discuss parts of the Star Trek franchise beginning with my own biases and opinions!

Having re-watched Far Beyond The Stars after spending time living in both the United States and South Africa – two societies which continue to wrangle with legacies of structural and systemic racial discrimination – I definitely felt its hard-hitting message a lot more. In fact, Far Beyond The Stars could be a great episode to use as a starting point for a broader conversation about race and structural racism. But having a moral message – especially a very on-the-nose one – doesn’t always make for the most interesting or enjoyable story.

Sisko sees himself reflected as Benny Russell at the end of the episode.

I don’t find Far Beyond The Stars to be “uncomfortable” to watch. The racial aspects of its story have purpose, and even with the progress that America has made since the turn of the millennium, many of the racial issues that Far Beyond The Stars highlights are just as relevant today as they were twenty-five years ago. But I guess what I’d say about the episode is that it doesn’t deliver what I personally find interesting and enjoyable about an episode of Star Trek.

Taken as a one-off, I can put up with Far Beyond The Stars. It didn’t become a major recurring thing in Deep Space Nine, and while Captain Sisko would recall the events on more than one occasion, it didn’t come to dominate the latter part of Deep Space Nine’s run in any way. So in that sense, I’m content to set Far Beyond The Stars to one side, acknowledging what it brought to the table in terms of allegory and morality while being content to rewatch it infrequently.

“Hot Take” #5:
Canon matters – up to a point.

The original USS Enterprise.

There seems to be a black-and-white, either/or debate in the Star Trek fan community when it comes to the franchise’s internal canon. Some folks are adamant that the tiniest minutia of canon must be “respected” at all costs, criticising things like the redesign of uniforms or even the recasting of characters because it doesn’t fit precisely with what came before. Then there are others who say that “it’s all just a story,” and that canon can be entirely ignored if a new writer has an idea for a story. I don’t fall into either camp!

Canon matters because internal consistency matters. Internal consistency is – for me, at least – an absolutely essential part of the pathway to suspension of disbelief. If I’m to believe that transporters and warp cores exist, the way they work and the way they’re presented on screen has to be basically consistent from one Star Trek story to the next.

The USS Discovery at warp.

The same applies to characters. If a character has a background as an assassin and that’s a central part of their characterisation in one story, the next episode can’t arbitrarily change that and make them into a marine biologist because the plot demands it. Characters need to feel like real people, and the world they inhabit needs to operate by its established rules.

Luckily for Star Trek’s writers, there is a lot of flexibility in those rules! Most of the specifics of how individual pieces of technology work have never been delved into in any detail, and there’s a lot we don’t know about even the most basic of things within the Star Trek universe. So new writers find themselves with considerable leeway if they want to make a change or do something differently for the sake of a story.

A combadge from an alternate timeline.

But there is a limit to that – or at least there ought to be. And the Star Trek franchise has tripped up by introducing new elements that seem to tread on the toes of what has already been established, even if they don’t technically overwrite anything. Spock’s family is a case in point. The Final Frontier gave Spock a half-brother who had never been mentioned, and then Discovery came along and gave him an adopted sister as well. Neither of these additions overwrote what we know of Spock’s family history… but they definitely came close.

On the other side of things, I’m quite okay with Star Trek making changes and updates to its visual style. The redesign of the USS Enterprise that debuted in Discovery and has been expanded upon for Strange New Worlds is a great example of one way that the franchise has modernised its look without really “damaging” established canon. All that’s required to get around the apparent visual changes – for anyone who feels it’s necessary – is to say that the Enterprise must’ve undergone some kind of retrofit in between Pike’s command and Kirk’s.

Sarek and Michael Burnham in Discovery’s premiere.

Where canon matters to me is in terms of characterisation and story. If we’ve established, for example, that the Vulcans and Romulans are related to one another, then future stories must remain consistent with that; there can be no “Romulan origin story” that tries to say that they evolved separately, for example. Likewise for characters. We all love a good character arc – but if a character’s personality and background are established, changing those fundamentals in an arbitrary manner should be off the table.

So to the canon purists, my message is going to be “loosen up a little!” And to the canon ignorers, what I’d say is “internal consistency matters.”

“Hot Take” #6:
The Kelvin films got a lot right – and could be textbook examples of how to reboot a franchise.

Spock, Kirk, and Dr McCoy in Star Trek Beyond.

Even today, more than a decade after 2009’s Star Trek kicked off the Kelvin timeline, I still have Trekkie friends who have refused to watch them. Other fans who showed up at the cinema were unimpressed with what they saw, and the Kelvin films can feel like a controversial part of the Star Trek franchise sometimes. For my two cents, though, although the Kelvin films were imperfect and certainly different to what had come before, they managed to get a lot of things right. I’d even say that Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness could be used as textbook case studies in how to reboot a franchise successfully!

Modern Star Trek – from Discovery to Picard and beyond – would simply not exist without the Kelvin films. When Enterprise was cancelled in 2005, it really did feel as though the Star Trek franchise itself had died and wouldn’t be returning. Even as someone who hadn’t been a regular viewer of Enterprise, that still stung! But if there had been doubts over the Star Trek brand and its ability to reach out to new audiences and bring in huge numbers of viewers, 2009’s Star Trek shattered them.

Transwarp beaming.

Into Darkness eclipsed even the massively high numbers of its predecessor and remains the cinematic franchise’s high-water mark in terms of audience figures and profitability, so it’s not exactly shocking to learn that Paramount hopes to return to the Kelvin cast for a fourth outing next year! These films took what had been a complicated franchise with a reputation for being geeky and nerdy and skimmed off a lot of the fluff. What resulted was a trio of decent sci-fi action films that may just have saved the franchise’s reputation.

The Kelvin films also gave Star Trek a visual overhaul, modernising the franchise’s aesthetic and visual style while still retaining all of the core elements that longstanding fans expected. Transporters were still there – but they looked sleeker and prettier. Warp drive was still present – but a new visual effect was created. Many of these aesthetic elements have remained part of the franchise ever since, appearing in the various productions that we’ve seen since Star Trek returned to the small screen in 2017.

The USS Enterprise.

By establishing an alternate reality, the Kelvin films found scope to take familiar characters to very different places. We got to see how Kirk and Spock met for the first time at Starfleet Academy – a premise that Gene Roddenberry had considered all the way back during The Original Series’ run – but with a twist. Star Trek reintroduced us to classic characters, but put its own spin on them, providing a satisfactory in-universe explanation for why so many things were different.

But at the same time, the inclusion of Leonard Nimoy’s Spock from the prime timeline anchored the Kelvin films, providing a link to what had come before. This reboot wasn’t about erasing anything; it was an expansion of Star Trek into a new timeline, one that had basically unlimited potential to tell some very different stories. The trio of films took advantage of that, and while I would argue that there’s no pressing need to revisit the Kelvin timeline right now, I absolutely do appreciate what they did for Star Trek.

Two Spocks.

As a reboot, the Kelvin films succeeded in their ambition. They reinvented Star Trek just enough for mainstream audiences to discover the franchise – many for the first time. Some of those folks stuck around and have become big Trekkies all off the back of what the Kelvin films did. They updated Star Trek without overwriting anything, and they set the stage for further expansion and growth. By every measure, the Kelvin films were successful.

That isn’t to say they’re my favourite part of the franchise! But as a fan who wants Star Trek to stick around and continue to be successful, projects like the Kelvin films are essential.

So that’s it!

Were those takes as hot as a supernova?

I hope that this was a bit of fun rather than anything to get too seriously upset about. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions about the episodes, films, characters, and storylines that Star Trek creates, and whether I’m thrilled about something, hated it, or have mixed feelings, I will always try to explain myself and provide reasons for why I feel the way that I do. But at the end of the day, all of this is just the subjective opinion of one person!

We’re very lucky to have so much Star Trek content coming our way in the next few years. It seems like the franchise will make it to its sixtieth anniversary in 2026 with new films and episodes still being produced, and there can’t be many entertainment franchises that could make such a claim to longevity!

There are definitely points on the list above that I could expand upon, and I’m sure I could think of a few more “hot takes” if I tried! So stay tuned for more Star Trek content to come here on the website as we move into the summer season.

The Star Trek franchise – including all properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Paramount Global. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

My biggest wish for Star Trek: Discovery Season 5

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

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

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

The USS Mitchell in the Season 4 finale.

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

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

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

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

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

The DMA was the big threat in Season 4.

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

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

The USS Discovery in Season 4.

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

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

The flag of the Federation…

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

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

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

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

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

Owosekun, Saru, and Detmer.

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

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

Captain Burnham in Season 4.

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

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

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

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

Star Trek: Discovery theories – Season 4 finale

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: Picard Season 2, VoyagerEnterprise, and The Next Generation.

Discovery’s fourth season concluded just over a month ago, but for some reason I’d forgotten to wrap up my theory list! I blame the oversight on the excitement of Picard’s second season overlapping Discovery for the final few episodes… and, perhaps, the issues surrounding Strange New Worlds’ international broadcast. Regardless, we’re here now! So let’s get on with it, shall we?

In my review, I said that Coming Home was probably the high point of the season, and while the episode wasn’t perfect, it was a great way to bring an occasionally frustrating season to a close! Some of the complaints and criticisms that I made were more to do with Season 4 as a whole rather than Coming Home itself, and while we’ll touch on some of those points today, please stay tuned because I hope to write up my full thoughts on the entirety of Season 4 in the weeks ahead.

Coming Home was an explosive end to the season.

The theory list had grown quite long across Season 4, peaking in week 11 where I had 36 different theories in play – with varying levels of plausibility! By the time we got to the season finale that number had dipped somewhat, and there were 23 theories on the list going into Coming Home. I’ll be recapping each of them on this occasion, as well as three production-side theories that were also in play.

Keep an eye out for several of them to return in the run-up to Season 5, because a few theories that weren’t outright debunked (or even touched on at all for much of Season 4) still feel plausible and interesting to me!

For now, let’s start with the sole theory that was confirmed in the season finale. We’ll then look at the debunkings, the production-side theories, and the few that remain on the table going into Season 5.

Confirmed theory:
Book and Burnham got back together.

Burnham and Book embrace near the end of the episode.

This theory was one that I was desperately hoping would make it to screen! In short, the “Burnham relationship drama” angle that Season 4 pursued from shortly after the halfway point was one of the weakest narrative elements, one which felt gratuitous and overdone. I understand where it came from, and how it aimed to show how grief was leading Book down a dark path. But after everything Captain Burnham went through with Ash Tyler, seeing her settled and happy with Book was fantastic – and I greatly disliked how Discovery ripped that away.

The relationship drama storyline also trod on the toes of other potentially interesting stories. Discovery has always been the Michael Burnham show, and expecting that to change in Season 4 was unrealistic, perhaps. But even so, episodes like All In and Rubicon sidelined other stories and other characters to allow more time to be spent on Book and Burnham and the way they were feeling. For me, it was just too much – and one consequence of that was that some potentially-interesting story arcs, like Dr Culber’s mental health struggles, didn’t get as much development as they deserved.

When Book and Burnham reconciled at the end of Coming Home it really felt great – and I hope that their relationship will remain rock-solid for the remainder of the series’ run!

So that theory was confirmed.

Next, let’s run through the theories that were debunked as of the end of Coming Home.

Debunked theory #1:
Unknown Species 10-C is responsible for the galaxy’s dilithium supply running out.

Dilithium aboard the USS Discovery in Season 3.

This is the first of several theories that were connected to the events of Season 3. For whatever reason, though, Discovery’s focus shifted far away from the Burn in Season 4, with only a few mentions of the phenomenon and its consequences. The state of the galaxy in the aftermath of the Burn served as a backdrop to the events of the season, but in many ways the story could’ve unfolded in exactly the same way if the Burn had never happened or if we’d never come to know about it!

In short, I speculated that Unknown Species 10-C may have been mining the galaxy for dilithium in a similar way to how they used the DMA to mine for boronite. If so, perhaps they could have been behind the still-unexplained loss of dilithium supplies in the years leading up to the Burn. As it is, there was no connection – or at least, no connection was apparent as of the end of the season.

Debunked theory #2:
The Guardian of Forever will make an appearance.

The Guardian of Forever in The Animated Series.

The Guardian of Forever potentially opened up a completely different story trajectory for Burnham – and for Book and Tarka in particular. The events of Terra Firma in Season 3 seem to confirm that the Guardian can be a portal not only to travel through time but also to cross between universes. With Tarka hoping to cross over to a different parallel universe, the Guardian of Forever seemed like a plausible way for him to do so – potentially allowing everyone to get what they wanted.

As it is, Tarka’s story ended in an unspectacular fashion, and unfortunately I consider his storyline to be a bit of a waste. A fun, exciting, and nuanced character was set up earlier in the season, only to turn into a fairly flaccid and one-dimensional villain as the story reached its end. The Guardian of Forever was never mentioned, and Tarka presumably died when Book’s ship exploded.

Debunked theory #3:
Unknown Species 10-C is connected to a faction from Star Trek’s past.

A member of Unknown Species 10-C.

I clung on to my shrinking list of Unknown Species 10-C candidates for the longest time, but I was finally forced to give up on the idea of the mysterious race turning out to be someone familiar a couple of weeks before the season finale! However, even if Unknown Species 10-C were new to Star Trek, I theorised – with very little to back it up, I should say – that there could be some kind of connection to another faction from the franchise’s past.

It couldn’t be the Federation, nor almost any organic race, but it seemed possible to me that there could be a connection to someone like the Borg. If Unknown Species 10-C had been the victim of an attack by someone like the Borg, that could’ve explained their desire to hide away from the rest of the galaxy.

As it is, no connection was forthcoming. I fully expect Unknown Species 10-C to be a minor part of Season 5 (at best), so I doubt we’ll learn much more about them any time soon.

Debunked theory #4:
A major character will be killed.

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

Before the season began I took a look at the main characters and speculated about who may or may not be on the chopping block! As television storytelling has changed and evolved, particularly in the wake of shows with “disposable” casts like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, audience expectations have changed as well. I suggested several times throughout the season that Discovery giving its main characters some pretty heavy plot armour in the face of incredibly challenging missions and dangerous circumstances wasn’t a great look – and I kept this theory in play right up until the season’s final moments.

The fake-out over Book’s death wasn’t a problem, and I don’t want to single it out for criticism just because it was the final example of this phenomenon; I felt it worked well in Coming Home. But looking back at the season overall, there were multiple opportunities to kill off characters in meaningful and impactful ways, but Discovery’s writers chose not to. Even minor characters like Dr Pollard and Commander Bryce seem to have survived the season, and while Tarka was killed, as a villain his death doesn’t count in the same way.

A well-timed character death can do so much for a story, and I feel like Discovery dropped the ball on this one during Season 4.

Debunked theory #5:
Admiral Vance’s holo-message about Earth and Ni’Var was fake or has been tampered with.

Admiral Vance in Coming Home.

Although Coming Home absolutely stuck the landing and made the sequences at Federation HQ feel incredibly tense and emotional, I didn’t like the whole “Earth is in danger” story cliché that had been introduced in The Galactic Barrier. That trope isn’t just one that’s overused in stories like these, but it’s one that can fall flat and fail in its effort to ramp up the drama, tension, and excitement.

In short, we know in a story about Earth being in danger that Captain Burnham is going to find a way to save the day. If it were literally any other planet – Ni’Var, Qo’noS, Bajor, or wherever – there’d be a real sense of danger that Discovery could’ve repeated the shock of Kwejian’s destruction at the beginning of the season and blown up another planet! But because it was Earth, that never felt like a realistic prospect, and that potentially robbed the story of much of its drama.

I had speculated that someone might’ve faked the message about Earth being in danger, partly because I was hoping it wasn’t true and partly because I was wondering if there might be more going on at Federation HQ. But it turned out that the message was accurate, leading to the scenes at Federation HQ in Coming Home.

Debunked theories #6 & 7:
Unknown Species 10-C built the Galactic Barrier, and
Someone else built the Galactic Barrier to keep Unknown Species 10-C out.

The USS Discovery at the Galactic Barrier.

As we headed into the season finale, the Galactic Barrier was definitely fading out of sight, and as a result this theory was already feeling less likely. However, after much had been made of the Barrier earlier in the season, with an entire episode dedicated to crossing it, I wondered if we might learn more about this unusual phenomenon!

The Galactic Barrier had been introduced right at the beginning of The Original Series and had been mentioned on several occasions throughout Star Trek’s history. It served an interesting storytelling purpose, but we didn’t really learn much about it – including how it works or why it exists! There was scope to tie the Barrier’s existence to Unknown Species 10-C; their incredible engineering skills suggested that they could be responsible for its construction. Alternatively, I theorised that someone else might’ve constructed it in the past to prevent Unknown Species 10-C from attacking. Neither theory panned out, and it seems very unlikely we’ll revisit the Galactic Barrier next season, so I don’t expect this one to be picked up any time soon.

It would be interesting to learn more about the Galactic Barrier and where it came from, though.

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

Geordi and Scotty in Relics.

I’ve been sticking to my guns on this theory since well before Season 3, and a couple of years ago I even proposed a shortlist of characters who could still be alive in the 32nd Century. Thanks to technobabble, though, practically anyone from Star Trek could be included if the writers wanted to bring them on board.

There was also the possibility of Captain Burnham unearthing a hologram, recording, or log left behind by a long-gone character who might be familiar to us as the audience. While this would be less of a “crossover” in the same way, it could still be exceptionally fun.

Unfortunately, it didn’t happen this season. I haven’t given up, though, so you can expect to see this one on my Season 5 theory list!

Debunked theory #9:
Book will find Kyheem and Leto inside the hyperfield.

Book with Leto and Kyheem in the season premiere.

One of my first thoughts about the DMA, long before it had a name and before the season had even aired, was that it could be related somehow to the Nexus from Star Trek: Generations. Then later, when we learned that the DMA had wormhole and transporter capabilities, sending material back to its point of origin, it seemed possible that maybe not everyone on Kwejian was as dead as we first assumed.

Just like Captain Picard was able to encounter Captain Kirk inside the Nexus, I wondered if Book might reach the hyperfield only to discover that Leto, Kyheem, and others from Kwejian had survived the destruction of their planet. It didn’t happen in the end, and in a way that’s a good thing because it would’ve undermined the powerful moment Book had when he spoke to Unknown Species 10-C and took them to task for their destruction.

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

Craft and Zora dancing in Calypso.

Is Calypso destined to remain forever out of reach? After Seasons 3 and 4 both seemed to move toward a potential tie-in with the Short Treks outlier, once again the story came to an end with no connection in sight. While things like Zora’s development definitely tie in with the events of Calypso, other things, like the retrofit the ship went through in Season 3, have actually moved us away from the events of that short episode.

This is a tough one. I strongly suspect that Calypso was created at a time when Season 2 had a different ending – perhaps even as a kind of “epilogue” in the event of the whole series being cancelled. Its story of the ship being abandoned for a thousand years and an AI developing sentience from the ship’s computer feel quite far-removed from the stories told in Seasons 3 and 4, and realistically, unless a multi-episode arc can be written to bring Discovery and Calypso together, it may be destined to remain unresolved.

Debunked theory #11:
We haven’t seen the last of the Abronians.

Abronian stasis pods.

It’s a bit of a surprise to me that the Abronians – a race rescued from cryo-sleep by Captain Burnham, Tilly, and Dr Gabrielle Burnham in the episode Choose To Live – didn’t return later in the season. There were several different ways that they could’ve been included, even if they didn’t tie in with the main Unknown Species 10-C story.

Discovery doesn’t usually like to do wholly standalone side-stories like this, so all season long I was half-expecting to see the Abronians make a reappearance! Perhaps we’d learn that their homeworld had been destroyed by the DMA, or maybe they could’ve arrived to assist the Federation in an hour of need. Their massive planetoid-sized ship could’ve been incredibly useful during the evacuation of Earth and Ni’Var, for instance.

Debunked theory #12:
Tarka will create his own DMA.

Stamets, Tarka, and Saru with the DMA model.

If Tarka had been unable to find the DMA’s power source inside the hyperfield, I wondered if he’d resort to building his own DMA. We saw as far back as The Examples that he understood the basic principles involved and had been able to build a scale model. I speculated that maybe he would go on to build his own version.

This theory originally began when Tarka was on my list of suspects for creating the original DMA. That didn’t pan out, of course, but even going into the season finale it still seemed possible that he might try to build his own version of it.

Debunked theory #13:
Kayalise is the Kelvin universe.

The USS Kelvin, namesake of the Kelvin timeline.

In the weeks ahead I’d like to take a look at Ruon Tarka’s story in a bit more detail, as I feel that it started very strongly but went off the rails toward the end. For now, suffice to say that it’s disappointing that we didn’t learn more about Kayalise – the alternate universe that Tarka hoped to travel to.

I speculated that Kayalise could be the Kelvin timeline – it’s one of the only other parallel universes that we know of in Star Trek, it stands to reason that the Burn didn’t happen there, and Discovery had already dropped a Kelvin-timeline reference in Season 3. It could’ve been interesting to follow Tarka across the divide between universes… but it didn’t happen.

Debunked theory #14:
Oros is alive – and we’ll see him soon!

Oros.

Oros was a fun and interesting character, and it’s such a shame we only got to see him for a few flashback sequences in a single episode. There was scope to follow more of his story, and if Tarka’s storyline had ended in a more satisfying manner, a meet-up could’ve been on the cards.

I speculated that Tarka would successfully use his interdimensional transporter, or that a compromise could be found to allow him passage to Kayalise, and that he’d be able to reunite with his long-lost friend.

Overall, Oros’ inclusion in the story was an odd one. I feel that we were teased unnecessarily by the show keeping his name hidden for several episodes, and that encouraged speculation that this character might’ve been someone we’re already familiar with. For the heavily-teased character to make a single appearance and then never return was strange – and a bit of a let-down.

Debunked theory #15:
The interdimensional transporter works!

Tarka with the interdimensional transporter.

Though it was left somewhat ambiguous as Book’s ship met an explosive end, it seems pretty clear to me that the interdimensional transporter won’t be making a return to Star Trek anytime soon! Tarka held onto hope for the longest time that not only would his own model work, but that Oros’ original interdimensional transporter had as well.

There was scope, had the season ended in a different way, for the interdimensional transporter to be useful for Captain Burnham, too. If Unknown Species 10-C were native to a different dimension, for example, that could’ve been a way to tie the two halves of the story together. In a season that was all about diplomacy, compromise, and finding a middle ground, Captain Burnham could’ve traded with Tarka for the technology, and that’s just one example.

As it is, it seems like we’ll never know whether the interdimensional transporter even worked at all.

Debunked theory #16:
Michael Burnham won’t remain in command of the USS Discovery.

Captain Burnham with the President of United Earth at the end of Coming Home.

In short, I speculated that Discovery’s trend of having a different captain for every season might continue, and that the season could end with Captain Burnham either leaving Starfleet to be with Book, or accepting a new role within the organisation. To be clear, because I know there’s a lot of debate any time Captain Burnham is mentioned: I wasn’t in favour of this theory necessarily. I just thought it was a possibility, and a potentially interesting one at that!

In the end, the season drew to a close with Captain Burnham still in command, ready to tackle the next mission as the Federation continues to rebuild. And that was a great way for things to end!

So those theories were debunked!

There are a handful of theories that were connected to events in Season 3 that I also kept on the list this time, and none of those were really touched on at all. In addition, there are a couple of theories that I introduced in Season 4 that I still consider plausible for future seasons or stories. We’ll take a look at those briefly now.

Theory #1:
Saru will assume command of the USS Voyager-J.

Captain Saru.

The captaincy of the USS Voyager-J – seemingly the Federation’s new flagship – was discussed as the season drew to a close. President Rillak, who had determined Captain Burnham to be unsuitable for the role in the season premiere, changed her mind after the mission to Unknown Species 10-C’s hyperfield.

I had suggested that Saru embodies many of the qualities that President Rillak was looking for in a captain for the Voyager-J, and that he might assume command of the ship at the end of the season. There’s also the question of how Saru, who holds the rank of captain, will fit in with the command structure aboard the USS Discovery going forward; his presence as Captain Burnham’s XO this season was implied to be temporary.

Whether Saru has a major role to play in Season 5 or not, I’m keeping this one on the list at least for now.

Theory #2:
Who is Dr Kovich, and what is his role within the Federation hierarchy?

Dr Kovich.

I’m beginning to feel that Dr Kovich is seen by the show’s writers as a bit of a joke; a character who we’ve been teased with, but whose interesting-sounding lines and suggestions never go anywhere. The most egregious example of this has to be his line in The Galactic Barrier, where he spoke of having “more important things” to do than accompany the USS Discovery. What were those important things? The show never bothered to tell us.

Going all the way back to his first appearance in Season 3, Dr Kovich has been intriguing. Is he a Section 31 operative? The Federation Vice-President? Admiral Vance’s boss? We don’t know, and while Dr Kovich has occupied several different roles this season – counsellor, Starfleet Academy instructor, diplomat, etc. – we still don’t know who he is or what he’s all about.

I’d like to hope we’ll learn more about him in Season 5!

Theories #3 & 4:
We’ll learn more about the ban on time travel, and
Has the Federation violated the ban on time travel?

La Sirena prepares to use the sun to travel back in time in Star Trek: Picard.

The ban on time travel was introduced in Season 3, and there were narrative reasons for its inclusion. However, as I’ve said ever since we first learned about it: such a ban would be incredibly difficult to implement and enforce. I’d love to know more about how it works, how it’s enforced, and who’s responsible for preventing basically anyone with a starship from doing something like the “slingshot method.”

I also think it’s possible that the Federation itself (or perhaps an organisation like Section 31) has chosen to ignore the ban when it suited them, and again I’d be curious to learn if someone like President Rillak or Dr Kovich had greenlit some kind of time travel escapade.

Theory #5:
The USS Discovery will have to defend the Verubin Nebula.

The dilithium planet at the heart of the Verubin Nebula.

The Verubin Nebula is the galaxy’s only major source of dilithium (at least, as of the end of Season 3). With the Federation in control of this incredibly valuable resource, it stands to reason that other, more aggressive powers might seek to take it from them. Even if the Federation is willing to share its bounty with everyone, factions such as the Borg Collective, the Dominion, or the Klingon Empire may not be satisfied and may want to control the Verubin Nebula for themselves.

I speculated prior to Season 4 that the USS Discovery may be called into action to defend the Verubin Nebula from such an attack – and even though it didn’t happen this time, it’s still a possibility for Season 5!

Theory #6:
Some areas of the galaxy, such as the Delta Quadrant, avoided the worst effects of the Burn.

Stamets with a map of the galaxy.

The Burn was mentioned in Season 4, but never came to the fore in a major way. We still don’t know how far its impact reached, and what effects the Burn had on far-flung parts of the galaxy far away from the Verubin Nebula.

I speculated that some regions of the galaxy may have avoided the worst of the Burn, and maybe some areas didn’t even feel it at all. It could be very interesting to learn that a faction such as the Borg – who were mentioned in Discovery for the first time near the end of Season 4 – were unaffected. They might’ve been able to spend the last hundred years building up their forces for a major invasion!

Check out a full write-up of this theory by clicking or tapping here.

So those theories may return!

Finally, we had three production-side theories on the list as the season finale approached, and I’d like to take a look at those before we wrap things up.

Production-side theory #1:
The season will end on a cliffhanger.

This one is officially debunked! As the finale got closer and closer with seemingly a lot of different narrative threads still in play, I wondered if the season might’ve ended on a cliffhanger, with the story to be resumed in Season 5. It didn’t happen, though, and while not every storyline was brought to the perfect ending from my point of view, all of the main narrative threads were tied up by the time the credits rolled.

Star Trek has a history of season-ending cliffhangers, so this didn’t feel too far-fetched! Still, it will be nice to have a clean slate going into Season 5.

Production-side theory #2:
Tilly’s departure will be permanent.

Tilly’s departure.

This is still officially unconfirmed at time of writing. We don’t yet know whether Mary Wiseman will be returning in Season 5, and if she does return, whether she’ll be doing so as a main cast member or just making a cameo or guest appearance.

It was nice to have Tilly back for the scenes at Federation HQ in Coming Home, and I’m glad we got to spend a little more time with her. However, to me her decision in All Is Possible felt permanent, and taking up a new role at Starfleet Academy feels like a good fit for her. Undoing that development, and unravelling that interesting and fitting character arc, wouldn’t be my preference.

There’s also the possibility that the rumoured Starfleet Academy series could bring back Tilly in a major role. Either way, we’ll have to wait and see!

Production-side theory #3:
There will be a crossover of some kind with Picard Season 2.

Admiral Picard.

As you’ll know by now if you’ve watched both shows, no crossover between Picard and Discovery was forthcoming. This theory arose because Picard Season 2 and Discovery Season 4 overlapped one another by three weeks – something that I genuinely cannot explain. Paramount Global consistently makes these random, illogical decisions, and while it was fun to speculate about what a Picard-Discovery crossover could look like… now that the dust has settled I genuinely do not understand why it had to happen this way. Is it something to do with the fiscal year?

Given that Paramount+ remains unavailable in most of the world, and that Strange New Worlds’ premiere is now imminent, the scheduling makes even less sense. Delaying Picard’s second season by a measly three weeks would’ve bought a little more time for Paramount+ to be ready. Three weeks may not have made all the difference, but combine it with a short delay to Strange New Worlds and maybe it would’ve been possible for more Trekkies to watch the new series together.

I’m not disappointed that a crossover didn’t happen – though that could’ve been a lot of fun. But I am disappointed in Paramount and the inept way they’re handling the Star Trek franchise.

So that’s it!

A happy ending!

Thank you for sticking with me through Star Trek: Discovery Season 4. As the season wore on I did get some things right with my theories, even if some of my bigger ones – like the identity of Unknown Species 10-C – were wide of the mark.

Discovery Season 4 began in a truly awful corporate mess, with Paramount paying money out of its own pocket to try to take the show away from fans outside of the United States. Even in regions where Paramount+ was available, they originally planned to deny viewers access to Discovery Season 4. While I’m glad that the corporation recognised the backlash from fans and backtracked on those plans, it’s something I haven’t forgotten. With Strange New Worlds now in the same position, it’s clear to me that Paramount Global has learned nothing.

Federation HQ in orbit of Earth; the final shot of the season.

In the weeks ahead I’ll definitely write up a longer retrospective of the season. For now, suffice to say that it was a mixed bag, with some decent episodes and some that dragged. The main storyline – that of the DMA and Unknown Species 10-C – seemed to take a long time to reach its conclusion, feeling padded in places. However, the season finale brought things to a close in a very emotional, entertaining, and enjoyable way. Whatever I may have thought about parts of the ride, the destination in this case was worth the wait.

One final note. I write up these theories for fun! I like Star Trek and I like writing, so writing about Star Trek is an enjoyable endeavour for me. For some folks, though, fan theories can become problematic. It’s always worth trying to keep in mind that any fan theory, no matter how enjoyable and plausible it may seem, isn’t worth getting upset over. Most of the theories I come up with never make it to screen, and usually what unfolds on screen is better! If I ever found that theorising and speculating about Star Trek (or any other franchise) was beginning to harm my enjoyment, I’d stop – and I’d encourage anyone in that position to do the same.

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

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

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

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

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

A group of Unknown Species 10-C.

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

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

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

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

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

Tarka met his end in an unsatisfying way.

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

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

Tarka with the interdimensional transporter shortly before his death.

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

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

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

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

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

Tarka and Book caught in an explosion.

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

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

Book was saved by Unknown Species 10-C.

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

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

Book survived… and so did everyone else.

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

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

The USS Mitchell arrived to save the day!

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

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

Admiral Vance led the evacuation efforts.

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

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

Tilly and Admiral Vance sharing a drink.

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

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

What happened to Dr Kovich?

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

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

I had no idea who this was at first!

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

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

The President and the President shake hands.

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

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

Captain Burnham and the President of United Earth.

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

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

A member of Unknown Species 10-C.

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

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

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

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

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

President Rillak speaking with Unknown Species 10-C.

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

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

Adira, Dr Culber, and Stamets.

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

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

Captain Burnham and Book embrace.

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

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

Captain Burnham spoke to Unknown Species 10-C.

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

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

General Ndoye.

A few scattered thoughts before we wrap things up:

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

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

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

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

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

Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 12

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: Picard Season 2, Voyager, Enterprise, and The Next Generation.

Species Ten-C was a good episode, and while there’s still a lot of story to get through if the season is going to wrap up everything by next week, we’re well on the way to stopping the DMA and saving Earth. This week saw the first major theory cull of the season, with a whopping nine debunked theories. As the season approaches its end, this was to be expected!

We’ve got a lot to get through this time as we whittle down the theory list going into the season finale, so let’s get started by looking at the theories that have been debunked.

Debunked theory #1:
Unknown Species 10-C is a faction from a past iteration of Star Trek.

A member of Unknown Species 10-C.

We’d been moving away from this theory for weeks, and it had been looking increasingly unlikely as Captain Burnham and the crew approached their base of operations. As I said when I first considered the theory, it always felt like there was a good chance that Discovery would go down this route; it happened in Season 2 with Control and the Red Angel, and in Season 3 with the Burn. Tarka’s friend Oros also being a new character was a strong indication that Discovery wants to do its own thing, adding to the lore of Star Trek and expanding the franchise instead of returning to elements and factions from the past.

Still, it was fun to consider the different factions that might’ve been involved! There were some genuinely plausible candidates for creating something on the scale of the DMA – the Borg, the Kelvan Empire, and Enterprise’s Sphere-Builders, to name just three – and I had fun putting together my long list earlier in the season. Thinking about where some of these factions could be by the 32nd Century was also interesting.

At the end of the day, I’m not surprised that Discovery went in this direction. What I would say, though, is that now Unknown Species 10-C has been created, I hope Discovery doesn’t just ignore them in Season 5. The story took a long and winding route to reach this point, and it would be a shame if all we ever see of Unknown Species 10-C comes in two episodes at the end of the current season.

Debunked theory #2:
Unknown Species 10-C is extinct.

A bone of Unknown Species 10-C.

This theory would have scrapped the “figuring out how to communicate” angle that was a big part of this week’s episode, and would have replaced it with Captain Burnham and the crew perhaps having to discover how to use some very alien technology to shut down the DMA. When we learned more about Unknown Species 10-C, like their planet having suffered a catastrophe, I felt it was plausible that they were no longer around, with the DMA being a kind of Doomsday Machine-inspired device. There could have been interesting allegories for things like climate change and pollution from such a storyline.

Ultimately, of course, Discovery showed us that Unknown Species 10-C is alive and well, living their best life on three planets inside of their hyperfield. As the season enters its final act, I hope we get to learn much more about this unique civilisation.

Debunked theory #3:
The bones from Rosetta don’t belong to Unknown Species 10-C.

The away team.

I speculated that the huge bones that the away team found in Rosetta may not actually be from Unknown Species 10-C themselves, and could be from domesticated animals or other creatures that lived on their homeworld. This would have potentially allowed for Unknown Species 10-C to surprise us with their appearance, possibly even being humanoid!

It didn’t turn out that way, though, and although the Unknown Species 10-C representative in Species Ten-C was partially obscured when they made contact with the USS Discovery, they seemed to be the right size and shape for the bones from Rosetta. Also, they used the pheromones that the away team discovered.

Debunked theory #4:
The hyperfield will be empty or abandoned.

The USS Discovery at the hyperfield.

This theory could have been connected to the one above, with Unknown Species 10-C being extinct. Or it could have stood on its own, with the hyperfield perhaps serving as a portal or wormhole to a different galaxy or even another dimension. Figuring out where Unknown Species 10-C had gone could have been part of such a story, and maybe Captain Burnham and the crew would have had to leap into the unknown in order to stop the DMA.

As it turned out, the hyperfield had three whole planets inside of it! There were presumably huge numbers of Unknown Species 10-C doing their thing, living their lives and making the hyperfield a thoroughly inhabited place!

Debunked theories #5-8:
Someone else made the DMA.

The DMA on Discovery’s viewscreen.

As of last week, I still had the Red Angel suits from Season 2, Oros, Dr Kovich, and President Rillak on my list of possible culprits, either being directly implicated with the DMA or at least being connected to it in some way. I think we can now strike all of them from the list!

Unknown Species 10-C have clearly never met a human, nor anyone else from within the Milky Way galaxy, as we saw from their inquisitiveness and their initial inability to recognise that the strange creatures they’d encountered were even sentient. If they’d discovered a Red Angel suit or met someone like President Rillak or Oros, Discovery’s initial first contact wouldn’t have unfolded in that way.

Finally, with Tarka now being set up as the villain of the season’s final act, there’s no way to add someone like Dr Kovich or President Rillak into the mix as well. Rillak, despite her Machiavellian qualities, now seems to be firmly established on this side of the story. I think there’s scope to spend more time with her, and perhaps even set up an antagonistic role for her in future, but it now seems certain that it won’t happen this season.

Debunked theory #9:
Captain Burnham will use the interdimensional transporter.

Burnham using a transporter in Season 1.

It’s still possible that Tarka will get his interdimensional transporter working – even if doing so comes at the expense of hurting Unknown Species 10-C. However, this theory was set up on the premise that Unknown Species 10-C may be from another dimension themselves, and that using Tarka’s device could be the only way to reach them. That is clearly not the case, so I think we can strike it from the list.

I’d like to see the Tarka-Oros storyline about their interdimensional transporter paid off before the season ends… somehow. It would feel a little hollow if all it turns out to be is a macguffin, something to motivate Tarka to pursue this increasingly unhinged plot to steal Unknown Species 10-C’s power-generating tech. But with only one episode remaining, there’s very little time left to do anything meaningful with this side of the story!

So those theories were debunked!

There are several other theories that are hanging by the thinnest of threads, but I’m going to leave them in place for now. Even if they don’t pan out this season, there’s still scope for some of them to be incorporated into Season 5.

We have a number of theories that are still firmly in play, though, so let’s jump into the list!

Theory #1:
Unknown Species 10-C is connected to a faction from Star Trek’s past.

The super-synths from Picard Season 1.

Although Unknown Species 10-C turned out to be brand-new to the franchise, there’s still scope for them to have some kind of connection with a faction from Star Trek’s past. Most organic factions are probably ruled out thanks to the way Unknown Species 10-C reacted; they’ve clearly never encountered humans, Kelpiens, or Vulcans before! But they could have met someone like the Borg, for example, or the super-synths from Picard Season 1.

This theory is definitely running out of road with only one episode remaining, and if the season finale has to deal with Tarka and the DMA, perhaps we won’t actually get to learn very much at all about Unknown Species 10-C. However, I think a connection remains a possibility – even if it’s a shrinking one!

Theory #2:
Unknown Species 10-C is responsible for the galaxy’s dilithium supply running out.

The KSF Khi’eth was one of many Federation ships scouting for dilithium as supplies dwindled.

It seems as though Unknown Species 10-C may not have been aware that the Milky Way is inhabited by sentient beings. If that’s the case, and they’ve somehow managed to be entirely unaware of everyone from the Andorians and Borg to the Xindi and Yridians, it’s possible that they’ve been exploiting the galaxy for resources for a very long time. Season 3 didn’t explain why dilithium was suddenly in short supply, so it could turn out that Unknown Species 10-C stripped away much of the galaxy’s supply in the years before the Burn.

Unknown Species 10-C could have even used a similar mining tool to the DMA to extract dilithium, sending it back to their hyperfield through wormholes. Again, time seems to be running out to explore this idea in much detail – but it would be a fun and interesting way to link the two 32nd Century seasons together!

Theory #3:
Book and Burnham will reconcile and get back together.

Burnham and Book earlier in the season.

Book is in serious danger right now! Trapped aboard his ship with Tarka in control, it’s possible that he won’t survive the season. However, if he does survive I’d very much like to see him and Burnham get back together. The whole “relationship drama” angle was not Season 4’s best narrative choice, and there were other ways to get the main story arcs to this point without disrupting Book and Burnham’s relationship.

However, as of Species Ten-C, Book appears to have moved much closer to Burnham’s position of making peaceful first contact. Partly, it has to be said, this is out of necessity: Tarka’s plan would seemingly destroy the hyperfield, the USS Discovery, Unknown Species 10-C, and would still leave Earth and Ni’Var in danger. But even before the consequences of Tarka’s plan became apparent, Book had moved back in this direction. In Rubicon, we saw how he was willing to pause his plan and wait for diplomacy, so there’s scope for him to fully come back into the fold and reconcile with Burnham.

Though I don’t believe female characters in any way need to have a male character in their life, after Burnham had been on a rollercoaster with Ash Tyler in Season 2, giving her a settled relationship worked very well. It was a shame Discovery went down this road in the first place, but all the pieces seem to be in place for a satisfactory conclusion.

Theory #4:
Oros is alive – and we’ll see him soon!

Oros.

The revelation that Tarka’s plan will actually end up killing everyone is a bit of a damp squib; an unnecessary twist that took the character from complex and understandable to out-and-out villain. However, because of the nuanced and interesting characterisation over the preceding few episodes, part of me is still rooting for some kind of reunion between Tarka and the long-lost Oros.

Perhaps Discovery will surprise us by showing Tarka’s plan succeed – he could activate his interdimensional transporter and disappear, leaving Captain Burnham to pick up the pieces. Or maybe a series that has talked big on middle grounds, compromises, and diplomacy will see Captain Burnham or President Rillak reach out to Tarka, offering him a different pathway to success.

Discovery teased us unnecessarily by keeping Oros’ identity a secret before showing us the character in quite a bit of depth. It would be a shame if Oros only exists in flashbacks; less a character than a narrative device to give Tarka’s quest a motivating factor.

Theory #5:
The interdimensional transporter works!

Oros and Tarka with the original interdimensional transporter.

Connected to the theory above, if Tarka is to succeed in his goal of reaching Kayalise then his interdimensional transporter needs to work! He’s convinced that it does, and that the one Oros built at the prison camp also worked. If the two are to have any hope of reuniting, this crucial (and power-hungry) piece of technology is essential.

In narrative terms, the interdimensional transporter is a macguffin right now. But it has huge potential – perhaps opening up future Discovery or 32nd Century stories involving visits to parallel universes. This could even be the way that the outlying story of Calypso is brought into the fold. In short, there are many good reasons to demonstrate its success!

Theory #6:
The Guardian of Forever will make an appearance.

The Guardian of Forever in Season 3.

Earlier in the season I’d been speculating that Captain Burnham could turn to the Guardian of Forever for help with the DMA. That didn’t happen (she seems to have entirely forgotten about the Guardian’s existence) but there is still a way to bring the Guardian back into the story in a way that makes sense.

In short, Season 3 saw the Guardian send Georgiou to an alternate reality, so it stands to reason it could do the same for Tarka. The Guardian of Forever is one of the few ways that could allow everyone to get what they want: the DMA could be moved away from Earth and inhabited worlds, Unknown Species 10-C could continue to mine boronite, and Tarka could use the Guardian to travel to Kayalise. There’s also a remote possibility that the Guardian could be used to send the USS Discovery back in time as part of a tie-in with Calypso, but at this late stage in the season I don’t think we’ll get that.

Theory #7:
A major character will be killed off.

A Federation funeral service.

This would’ve made more sense earlier in the season, with the death of a major character potentially setting up the danger of the DMA and Unknown Species 10-C, but even at this late stage it could still be impactful. Right now, Tarka has to be top of the list for not surviving the finale. Somehow, Captain Burnham will have to stop him, and one reliable way to do that would be for him to be killed! This happened in Season 1 with Lorca, in Season 2 with Control, and in Season 3 with Osyraa, so Discovery has precedent for killing its villains.

However, there are other possibilities. Lieutenant Commander Bryce is very high on the list following his emotional goodbye with Saru a couple of episodes ago, and had warranted his own entry on the theory list for the past couple of weeks! Then we have Book and Reno, who are trapped with Tarka aboard Book’s ship. One or both of them could be killed, either accidentally or intentionally, during Tarka’s quest to reach Kayalise.

Lieutenant Commander Bryce.

The departures of Gray and Tilly have the potential to shake up the cast as Discovery prepares for its fifth season, but both characters have just left the ship to do other things; they could return at any time and their friends know that they’re safe. A character death – if well-timed and pulled off with the right weight and emotion – can be incredibly impactful, not only to the characters they leave behind, but to us as the audience as well.

At points this season, I’ve felt that Discovery has given even its minor characters some pretty heavy plot armour. And if the aim was to communicate the stakes involved with the DMA and Unknown Species 10-C, a character death this late in the game would miss the mark. But there’s still time for a dramatic twist of this kind!

In ranked order of how likely I think they are to die in the season finale, we have the following characters: Tarka, Bryce, Reno, Tilly, and Booker.

So those theories saw movement this week.

We still have a number of theories left in play, with quite a few seeming increasingly unlikely to be included this season. However, it’s possible for the season to end with a cliffhanger, or for the final act of the season finale to set up something big for Season 5 that could include any of these story elements. I’ll recap the remaining theories here.

Theory #8:
We’ll learn more about who Dr Kovich is and what position he has within the Federation.

The enigmatic Dr Kovich.

I have four theories about Dr Kovich that came to the fore in The Galactic Barrier. In that episode, Dr Kovich claimed to have “more important things” to do than accompany the USS Discovery to Unknown Species 10-C’s hyperfield. This prompted a lot of speculation – but with the last two episodes having ignored him altogether, this could be one of those Discovery lines that sounds exciting and interesting… but ultimately has no payoff of any kind.

Regardless, here are my Kovich theories summarised:

Theory #8-A:
Dr Kovich works for Section 31.

Sloan, a 24th Century Section 31 leader.

Section 31 is the off-the-books, black ops division of Starfleet Intelligence. They run morally questionable operations and even attempted to commit genocide against the Founders of the Dominion in Deep Space Nine. I originally pegged Dr Kovich as a Section 31 leader back in Season 3 for his treatment of Georgiou. He also seems to have a very wide range of skills and a lot of power: appointing Starfleet Academy instructors, having access to classified intelligence, and acting as a therapist or psychiatrist are all things we’ve seen him do.

Theory #8-B:
Dr Kovich is Vice President of the Federation.

If there’s a President then there must be a Vice President!

We got confirmation a couple of episodes ago that President Rillak has an unnamed Vice President. This character was only mentioned briefly and their name wasn’t revealed, so it’s possible they’ll never be shown on screen and won’t matter to the story. However, it seems at least plausible that Dr Kovich is the Vice President; it could account for his powerful role within the Federation hierarchy and give him a reason to remain behind.

Theory #8-C:
Dr Kovich is a Q (or similar alien).

Q.

This would be a complete twist, but I wonder if the reason for Dr Kovich’s enigmatic nature is that he’s a member of the Q Continuum.  It could be revealed that Dr Kovich is from an alien race and has been observing the Federation while trying to offer limited help and guidance – not dissimilar to how Q operated. This could explain why he seems to offer fairly limited help, at times, or sets up other characters to make breakthroughs with a little prompting.

Theory #8-D:
Dr Kovich is preparing a weapon of last resort to strike Unknown Species 10-C.

The Burn as shown in Season 3.

One reason why Dr Kovich may have remained at Federation HQ (regardless of what his job title is) could be to prepare a backup plan in case the USS Discovery’s mission fails. This could take the form of some kind of “weapon of last resort” which could be far more powerful than Tarka’s isolytic weapon. It could also make use of time travel, or even be a weaponised form of the Burn.

Theory #9:
Admiral Vance’s holo-message about Earth and Ni’Var was fake or has been tampered with.

Captain Burnham listening to Admiral Vance’s message.

As I said in my review, this is the one part of The Galactic Barrier that I wasn’t wild about. Earth being in trouble is a cliché, and one which really makes the ending of the season feel like an inevitability – with Earth, Titan, Ni’Var, and the rest of the Sol and Vulcan systems in danger, it’s unfathomable that the DMA won’t be stopped in time. But I digress!

If there are other plans afoot at Federation HQ then it’s plausible to think that someone either faked or tampered with Admiral Vance’s holo-message, meaning that the information Captain Burnham and the crew received wasn’t correct. It could lead to an attempt at a dramatic finale, with Captain Burnham thinking she’s too late to have saved Earth… only to discover that Earth is fine because it was never in danger to begin with!

Theory #10:
The ban on time travel will be explained in more detail.

The USS Enterprise-E travelled through time in First Contact.

As mentioned above, there may be plans afoot within the Federation and Starfleet to strike Unknown Species 10-C, and a weaponised form of time travel could be a last-resort weapon that the Federation – and other galactic races – might consider using. If so, perhaps the ban on time travel that was introduced in Season 3 will be explained in more detail or expanded upon.

The ban made storytelling sense; it was a way to avoid questions about how the 32nd Century was so different to the far future glimpsed in past iterations of Star Trek, it prevented an easy fix to Georgiou’s health condition, and it prevented any of the main cast returning to the 23rd Century. But it also raised some issues for nitpicking Trekkies like us! The biggest one was how something like this could possibly be enforced; it isn’t possible to un-invent a powerful, weaponisable technology, and even if every single race in the galaxy agreed to the ban in theory, it seems like it would need an incredible level of oversight to enforce it. Finding out more about how the ban works is as much a hope as a theory in some respects, but I think it’s something Discovery should at least attempt to do!

Theory #11:
The Federation has flouted the ban on time travel (or is about to).

Book, Burnham, and Sahil with the flag of the Federation in Season 3.

As above, it may be possible that the Federation is about to make a move using time travel to attack Unknown Species 10-C. If so, we may be about to learn that it isn’t the first time that they have failed to abide by the rules set out in the ban on time travel.

It doesn’t seem likely that the DMA is directly related to time travel, as I had previously suggested. But if time travel is about to come into play, we could learn more about the ban and the Federation’s relationship to it.

Theory #12:
Unknown Species 10-C built the Galactic Barrier.

The USS Enterprise approaching the galactic barrier.

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

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

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

Theory #13:
Someone else built the Galactic Barrier to keep Unknown Species 10-C out.

The Galactic Barrier.

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

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

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

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

Star Trek has had some wonderful crossovers in the past.

There are many ways to bring back a character from a past iteration of the franchise and incorporate them into the story of Season 4 – and there would be many potential benefits to doing so! I had initially proposed a version of this theory in the run-up to Season 3 that centred on the Doctor from Voyager – but with some creative technobabble, practically anyone could be included, despite the leap forward in time.

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

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

Theory #15:
Book will find Kyheem and Leto inside the hyperfield.

Leto in Book’s dreams.

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

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

Theory #16:
Michael Burnham won’t remain captain of the USS Discovery.

Lorca was Discovery’s captain in Season 1.

It’s possible that Captain Burnham will have to go to extreme lengths to stop the DMA and/or Tarka, and while I doubt very much that she’ll be killed off, something major could happen in the season finale that sets the stage for her departure from the series.

The developing situation between Captain Burnham and Book could end up with her choosing to resign her commission or taking a new job within Starfleet. Her role as captain of Discovery forced her to choose her responsibility to the Federation over her relationship, and after she was almost forced to kill Book, it would be understandable if Captain Burnham never wanted to be put in that position ever again!

Pike commanded the ship in Season 2.

It wouldn’t be the first time Captain Burnham has been unsure of her place in Starfleet and what role she wants to have. We saw this in Season 3 as part of the background that set up her eventual ascent to the captaincy, and while it seems unlikely that it will come back into play in a big way, the situation with Book could be a catalyst for Captain Burnham wanting to have a simpler life either outside of Starfleet or, at the very least, out of the captain’s chair.

This would also continue a trend that Discovery has had across all four seasons thus far: the rotating captaincy of the ship. Each season has seen a new captain in command, and with Season 5 in the offing, it’s got to be at least possible that this trend will continue. I’m not really in favour of this, but it’s certainly interesting to consider. Because Captain Burnham has been the show’s protagonist since Season 1, it seems unlikely, and the overall arc of Discovery between Season 1 and Season 3 can be read as her redemption and ascent to the captaincy. But the show’s revolving door of captains may continue, and her conflict with Book and the difficult emotional situation it put her in could be the trigger to make this happen.

Theory #17:
Saru will be given the captaincy of the USS Voyager-J.

Captain Saru in command… of a shuttle!

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

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

Theory #18:
Season 4 will connect with the Short Treks episode Calypso.

The USS Discovery in Calypso.

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

With just one episode remaining and a lot of other storylines to get through, this one feels less and less likely – but it could be an interesting cliffhanger ending if the ship had to be sent back in time!

Theory #19:
Some areas of the galaxy – such as the Delta Quadrant – avoided the worst effects of the Burn.

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

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

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

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

Theory #20:
The crew will have to defend the Verubin Nebula.

The dilithium planet is vital to the Federation.

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

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

Theory #21:
Tarka will create his own DMA.

Tarka and Stamets Saru with their DMA model.

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

If Tarka isn’t able to find a power source for his interdimensional transporter on the far side of the Galactic Barrier, he may feel he has no choice but to try and recreate the DMA’s original power source.

Theory #22:
We haven’t seen the last of the Abronians.

I currently have four ideas for different ways that the Abronians – the non-humanoid race that Captain Burnham, Tilly, and the Qowat Milat helped save from cryo-sleep in the episode Choose To Live – could play a further role in Season 4. Time is ticking away… but it’s still possible!

Theory #22-A:
The Abronians’ homeworld was destroyed by the DMA.

Captain Burnham believes this image depicts a “supernova.”

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

We’re running out of time with this one – and it could be that Captain Burnham’s initial observation was correct. But this would be one way to connect this side-story to the season’s main narrative arc.

Theory #22-B:
The Abronians’ homeworld was on the other side of the DMA.

Abronian stasis pods.

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

Having seen the destruction present on Unknown Species 10-C’s ex-homeworld, maybe the Abronians fell victim to the same devastating event if their original planet was in the same region of extragalactic space.

Theory #22-C:
The Abronians will return to help the Federation.

A deceased Abronian.

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

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

Theory #22-D:
The Abronians’ moon-ship may be useful in a later story.

“That’s no moon…”

The cryo-ship used by the Abronians was huge, and appeared to have the mass of a planetoid or small moon. With Earth and Ni’Var now under threat and an evacuation necessary, perhaps the Federation will ask the Abronians to borrow their moon-ship. This could even be what Dr Kovich was planning to do and why he couldn’t join Discovery on the mission through the Galactic Barrier.

The moon-ship was fully operational thanks to the new dilithium that J’Vini “procured,” so it could be commandeered by Starfleet for the purposes of an evacuation. That would be one way to pay off what is, at the moment, a side-story.

Theory #23:
Kayalise is the Kelvin universe.

The titular USS Kelvin.

Oros didn’t make clear, in the flashback sequences we saw, exactly what Kayalise would be like. He only believed that it would be better than the prime universe, and talked about it in mythological, almost religious terms. That could mean something significant, or it could simply be Oros being poetic!

Tarka had previously suggested that the universe he hopes to escape to is one where the Burn didn’t happen and the Emerald Chain never rose to power. Because of the unique circumstances of the Burn, it seems at least possible that it didn’t occur in the Kelvin timeline – the one established by 2009’s Star Trek. We’ve already had at least one Kelvin reference in Discovery’s 32nd Century, confirming that the universe was known to exist and was reachable. With a fourth Kelvin film in early production, it’s possible that Kayalise is actually the Kelvin universe!

So that’s the main theory list!

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

Production-side theory #1:
There will be some kind of crossover with Star Trek: Picard Season 2.

Picard Season 2 is running alongside Discovery.

This theory has arisen in large part because of the very odd scheduling of Picard Season 2 and Discovery Season 4, which will run alongside each other for three episodes. I wonder if that’s because some kind of crossover is on the agenda. With time travel playing a significant role in the story of Picard Season 2, it seems at least plausible to think that some kind of connection is possible!

This could be a complete over-reach, and the ultimate “explanation” for the weird scheduling may turn out to be nothing more than the random illogical spasms of the ineptly-managed Paramount+ and parent company Paramount Global. That would not surprise me in the slightest! But I really do find the scheduling odd.

Admiral Picard.

The shorter seasons of today’s Star Trek shows means that there really isn’t any need for such a pile-up this spring. Discovery has thirteen episodes, Picard and Strange New Worlds have ten apiece – and even with Lower Decks and Prodigy still to come, there are more than enough weeks in 2022 for the entire Star Trek franchise to be evenly spread out. Why have four out of ten weeks with two episodes from two different shows, then a gap of several weeks later in the year where no new Star Trek is broadcast? It makes no sense – especially not on a streaming platform.

Finally, with the constipated international rollout of Paramount+ showing no signs of speeding up, it’s looking increasingly likely that Strange New Worlds will be broadcast in the United States weeks or months ahead of its international premiere. If both Picard Season 2 and Strange New Worlds were delayed by as little as 5 or 6 weeks, this might be able to be avoided – assuming the rollout of Paramount+ “by the end of Q2” happens as planned.

In short, it’s all very strange – but one possible explanation for the weird scheduling could be that there’s a crossover event planned sometime in the next three weeks!

Production-side theory #2:
Tilly’s departure will be permanent.

Tilly’s departure feels permanent.

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

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

Production-side theory #3:
Season 4 will end on a cliffhanger!

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

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

So that’s it!

The USS Discovery and Book’s ship in Species Ten-C.

We still have a long list of theories as we head into the season finale. Obviously most of them won’t pan out – there isn’t time in a single episode to pay off even half of those still on the list! But they all seem possible or plausible to me, and with a fifth season of Discovery having been confirmed, maybe we’ll see some of them return in 2023 when I start putting together my Season 5 theories!

I always like to end these theory lists by saying that I do this just for fun. I enjoy writing, I enjoy Star Trek, and spending more time in this world is an escape and an enjoyable distraction. But for some folks, fan theories can be frustrating or unenjoyable, especially if they get very attached to a plausible-sounding theory that ultimately doesn’t pan out. I have no “insider information” and I’m not trying to claim that anything suggested above can, will, or must be part of Discovery Season 4. I fully expect many of these theories to be debunked and for the season to go in wildly unpredictable directions!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Species Ten-C saw the crew making first contact.

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

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

Tarka in Species Ten-C.

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

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

Tarka with Oros earlier in the season.

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

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

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

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

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

The USS Discovery approaches the hyperfield.

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

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

A representative of Unknown Species 10-C.

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

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

This visual effect felt rather weak.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book in Species Ten-C.

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

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

Grief led Book down a dark path.

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

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

This was Reno’s best episode of the season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The USS Discovery approaching the titular Galactic Barrier.

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

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

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

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

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

Admiral Vance’s holo-message.

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

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

The USS Discovery at warp.

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

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

The Galactic Barrier was visually impressive.

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

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

Ruon Tarka’s “friend,” Oros.

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

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

Book and Tarka make a great character pair.

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

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

Tarka in one of the flashback sequences.

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

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

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

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

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

T’Rina and Saru.

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

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

Dr Kovich… Vice President of the Federation?

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

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

Kovich and the rest of the senior officials.

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

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

Are we about to say goodbye to Bryce?

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

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

President Rillak joined the mission.

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

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

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

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

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

President Rillak and Captain Burnham.

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

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

Dr Hirai.

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

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

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

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

Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 9

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

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

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

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

Confirmed theory:
Tarka’s weapon will be successful.

Kaboom!

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

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

Tarka launched his weapon.

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

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

So that theory was confirmed.

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

Debunked theory #1:
Nhan works for Section 31.

Nhan in Rubicon.

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

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

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

Tarka and Book working on the isolytic weapon.

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

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

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

The DMA in Rubicon.

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

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

So those theories have been debunked!

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

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

The USS Enterprise approaching the galactic barrier.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Galactic Barrier on the USS Enterprise’s viewscreen.

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

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

Traversing the Galactic Barrier could be very dangerous…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could Unknown Species 10-C be the Kelvan Empire?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book and Burnham are currently separated.

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

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

Book and Burnham in All In.

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

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

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

Captain Burnham in Rubicon.

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

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

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

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

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

Theory #7:
Tarka will create his own DMA.

Tarka, Stamets, and Saru with the DMA model.

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

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

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

The second DMA in Rubicon.

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

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

So those theories are new or saw movement this week.

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

Theory #9:
We haven’t seen the last of the Abronians.

I currently have four ideas for different ways that the Abronians – the non-humanoid race that Captain Burnham, Tilly, and the Qowat Milat helped save from cryo-sleep in the episode Choose To Live – could play a further role in Season 4.

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

Captain Burnham believes this image depicts a “supernova.”

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

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

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

Abronian stasis pods.

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

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

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

A deceased Abronian.

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

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

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

“That’s no moon…”

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

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

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

A Red Angel suit in Season 2.

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

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

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

Captain Saru in command… of a shuttle!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The dilithium planet is vital to the Federation.

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

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

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

A Starfleet coffin seen in Deep Space Nine.

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

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

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

Zora dancing with Craft in Calypso.

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

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

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

Star Trek has had some wonderful crossovers in the past.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The USS Kelvin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

President Rillak, leader of the United Federation of Planets.

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

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

President Rillak with Captain Burnham on Ni’Var.

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

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

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

R.I.P.

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

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

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

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

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

So that’s the main theory list!

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

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

Tilly’s departure feels permanent.

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

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

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

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

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

So that’s it!

The USS Discovery inside the DMA in Rubicon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book and Burnham were reunited.

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

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

Tarka caught a changeling gambling cheat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Owosekun’s fight sequence was not well-constructed.

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

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

Owosekun on the ropes with her opponent in the background.

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

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

Haz Mazaro and Burnham at the card table.

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

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

I found the card game frustrating and difficult to follow.

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

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

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

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

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

Vance and Burnham during their meeting with President Rillak.

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

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

Unknown Species 10-C live here.

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

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

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

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

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

Stamets and Culber took some time away from work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Star Trek franchise – including all properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

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

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

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

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

Tarka made his first appearance in The Examples.

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

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

Stamets and Tarka built a scale model of the DMA.

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

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

Tarka and Book aboard Book’s ship.

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

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

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

Friend #1:
Aurellio

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

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

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

Friend #2:
Altan Inigo Soong

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

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

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

Friend #3:
The Doctor

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

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

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

Friend #4:
Control

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

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

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

Friend #5:
Another Ruon Tarka

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

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

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

Friend #6:
Michael Burnham

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

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

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

Friend #7:
Dax

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

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

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

Friend #8:
Soji

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friend #10:
Gabriel Lorca

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

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

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

Bonus Friend:
Literally anyone!

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

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

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

So that’s it.

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

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

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

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

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 is currently on hiatus and will return on the 10th of February. The first half of Season 4 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, Scandinavia, Latin America, and Australia. The show is on Pluto TV in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and other parts of Western Europe at 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Individual episodes or the full season can be purchased on iTunes, Amazon Video, YouTube, and possibly other platforms in the UK, parts of Europe, and select other countries. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 4, Episode 7: …But to Connect

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

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

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

The opening shot of the episode.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both actors played their roles exceptionally well.

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

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

General Ndoye represented Earth and Titan at the diplomatic summit.

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

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

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

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

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

Tarka and Book formed an unlikely alliance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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