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 – week 4

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

All Is Possible definitely shook up Star Trek: Discovery! It’s an episode which, as things stand anyway, will have major ramifications for the rest of the show’s run thanks to the departure of Lieutenant Tilly. However, with the episode’s trio of stories largely staying away from the DMA (as the gravitational anomaly is now being called) there really aren’t a lot of new theories joining the list on this occasion. The teaser for The Examples has told us that we’re about to see a big return to that storyline, though, and I certainly don’t mind Discovery doing more of these episodic detours!

This week we had one theory that I’m calling semi-confirmed and one theory from way back in Season 3 that’s seen some significant advancement – but that I’m not yet willing to completely strike off the list! We’re also adding two production-side theories to the list for the first time.

Semi-confirmed theory:
Tilly left the USS Discovery.

Tilly is on her way to new adventures.

I’m calling this one semi-confirmed because I speculated about Tilly potentially leaving the ship – but I didn’t guess how soon it would happen or the exact manner of her departure! In the run-up to All Is Possible, my best guess was that whatever was happening with Tilly would rumble on for most of the rest of Season 4, with any potential departure not coming until closer to the end of the season. I certainly didn’t expect to see two “Tilly tries something new” storylines one after the other, and while her departure was very emotional and bittersweet, there was a slight sense that maybe it could’ve been scheduled a little better so we didn’t have both of Tilly’s big Season 4 episodes back-to-back.

I’d previously suggested that Tilly could change departments, resign from Starfleet, or that the character would be killed off by the writers. As it is we kind of got a combination of the first two: Tilly has left the USS Discovery’s science division to move to Federation HQ and teach at Starfleet Academy. She’ll presumably retain her commission as a Starfleet officer even though she isn’t working aboard a starship for the time being.

As I said in my review of All Is Possible, parts of Tilly’s story with the troublesome cadets almost felt like a backdoor pilot for a new series. With a Starfleet Academy show supposedly being worked on, we may not have seen the last of Tilly in Star Trek!

So that theory was semi-confirmed.

Up next we’ve got two production-side (as opposed to in-universe) theories.

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

Tilly’s departure feels permanent.

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

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

Production-side theory #2:
Star Trek: Discovery isn’t going to be renewed for Season 5.

Is a fifth season going to happen?

Since Discovery’s first season in 2017, we’ve known by this point in the season that the show has been renewed. This isn’t one of those “I hate new Star Trek” things that we’ve seen doing the rounds online for years; I adore Discovery and genuinely want to see it continue. But it’s profoundly odd to be basically one-third of the way into Season 4 and to have had no announcement about Season 5. For comparison, Star Trek: Picard has been renewed for Season 3 even though Season 2 won’t air until next year!

I’m hopeful that this is just a blip; a temporary delay for reasons unknown, and that the show has been renewed for Season 5 already behind-the-scenes. However, when we look back at Star Trek productions in recent years, it was often apparent that production work was quietly ongoing even if there hadn’t been any official word from ViacomCBS. As far as we know at this stage, there’s been no pre-production work on Season 5, let alone any filming taking place in the Toronto area.

Once again this is a “watch this space” kind of theory. I hope I’m wrong… but the lack of any news or even any significant rumours about the show’s future is beginning to have me worried.

So those are two theories on the production side of things.

Now we’ll get into the main theory list, beginning with any theories that are new or saw any significant movement in All Is Possible. Then, for the sake of keeping everything in one place, we’ll also recap those theories that didn’t change this week.

Theory #1:
Dr Culber is going to tell Stamets to slow down.

Dr Culber and Stamets in a promo image for The Examples.

Stamets has been almost entirely absent from the past couple of episodes – and in All Is Possible we heard Captain Burnham suggesting that Stamets “won’t slow down,” and is overworking himself as he tries to figure out what’s going on with the DMA. As a result of Stamets dedication to his work, he missed all of Gray’s incorporation in Choose To Live, and we haven’t seen him with Dr Culber, Adira, or Gray since the beginning of the season. He hasn’t even met Gray yet, not properly.

Stamets also didn’t have a chance to speak to Tilly before she left the ship, though he was briefly seen as she departed for Starfleet Academy. In the past, we’ve seen Dr Culber gently remind Stamets that he has other priorities aside from his work, and I’m beginning to wonder if the show is setting up the pair for something similar. I hope we don’t go back to the Season 2 conflict, because that genuinely did not work, but Stamets may need some kind of intervention from the man he loves, pointing out what he’s been missing while he’s been wrapped up in his work.

Theory #2:
President Rillak knows what the DMA is and may be responsible for its creation.

President Rillak in Kobayashi Maru.

All Is Possible continued a trend that we’ve seen across the opening episodes of Season 4, showing us that President Rillak is a cunning, almost Machiavellian politician, willing to do anything to advance what she considers to be the best interests of the Federation. By bringing Burnham and Saru along to the Ni’Var negotiations she hoped to find a solution to a diplomatic impasse she knew was coming – and she succeeded.

As I said in my review, I believe Captain Burnham needs to be very careful with President Rillak. During the events of All Is Possible, working with Captain Burnham was advantageous to the Federation’s president – but I have no doubt that she’d throw Burnham and the USS Discovery under the bus without so much as blinking if she believed it would be to her advantage. Which brings us to the DMA.

President Rillak with Captain Burnham.

President Rillak might know more about the DMA than she’s currently letting on. If the Federation had created a weapon like this, or it was an experiment gone wrong, covering it up might be her objective even if she wasn’t necessarily the one who ordered the DMA’s creation. President Rillak herself is a character with depth, not simply an “evil admiral” character trope. But it wouldn’t be the first time that Discovery has presented us with a fairly hard-line character in a position of authority who turns out to be concealing a dark secret.

We’ll consider in a moment a few other possible candidates for creating the DMA – if it turns out to be an artificial creation. But the Federation – and by extension, President Rillak – have to be possible contenders too. Season 3 of Discovery showed us the Federation at its weakest, but also arguably as an organisation that was still virtuous at its core. In contrast, we have Season 2’s depiction of Starfleet: reliant on the shady Section 31 and their AI. In short, it wouldn’t be unthinkable for Discovery to go back to that kind of presentation.

Theory #3:
Kovich is an agent (or the head) of Section 31.

Kovich in All Is Possible.

This is the theory that’s hanging on by a thread right now! Ever since we met the mysterious Kovich in Season 3, I’ve felt sure that there was something going on with him. His mannerisms, the way he seemed to know more than he was willing to share, and particularly the way he dealt with Empress Georgiou all contributed to that. I began to suspect that he could be an agent – or even the head – of Section 31, the shadowy off-the-books intelligence division that has done some very dubious things!

All Is Possible showed us a different presentation of Kovich. Referred to as Doctor Kovich for the first time, he seems to be playing a senior role in the running of Starfleet Academy. That doesn’t necessarily preclude him working for Section 31, but it is the most significant move away from this theory that we’ve seen so far.

Kovich in Season 3.

It may yet be revealed that Dr Kovich played a role in Tilly’s away mission going so badly wrong, but I suspect if that had been going to happen we’d have seen it in All Is Possible. David Cronenberg plays the character very stoically, which I think adds to that mysterious sense that has been present since Season 3. In All Is Possible, that contributed somewhat to the sense that he may have known what was going to happen.

If it turns out that the Federation and/or President Rillak are involved somehow with the DMA, maybe Dr Kovich is aware of what’s going on. If he’s involved with Section 31, it may turn out that the organisation has important information about the DMA or even knows how to prevent it from doing any more harm.

So those theories were new or saw movement this week.

Now, as always, we’ll recap all of my other Discovery Season 4 theories. I find it helps to keep the full list in one place; it makes it easier to strike off theories when they’ve been debunked or confirmed, and it means nothing gets forgotten about or left behind! At least, that’s the plan!

Theory #4:
The Guardian of Forever will be back.

The Guardian of Forever first appeared in The Original Series.

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

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

Theory #5:
Some areas of the galaxy – such as the Delta Quadrant – avoided the worst effects of the Burn.

The USS Voyager traversed the Delta Quadrant.

Season 4 touched briefly on the Burn with Su’Kal and Saru in Kobayashi Maru, and may now seek to put last season’s story to bed so it can wrangle with the DMA instead. But one thing I’d be curious to see is the true extent of the disaster – did it reach all four quadrants of the galaxy equally, or did its effects fade out after a certain point? Michael Burnham discovered that the Burn had a point of origin, and that it radiated out from that point like ripples on the surface of water. Ripples eventually diminish, fading away the further they travel, and perhaps that’s true of the Burn as well. There could be whole areas of the galaxy that didn’t even notice the Burn – and maybe the ship and crew will visit one such region.

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

Theory #6:
Captain Burnham and the crew will encounter the Klingons.

General Martok, a 24th Century Klingon leader.

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

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

Theory #7:
The crew will have to defend the Verubin Nebula.

The dilithium planet is vital to the Federation.

The Federation is still in a weakened state, nowhere near as powerful as it once was. The Verubin Nebula is thus a very tempting target for anyone looking to gain an edge in a galaxy where dilithium is still in short supply. As the only known significant dilithium supply, whoever controls the Verubin Nebula will have a massive tactical advantage.

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

Another view of the planet in the Verubin Nebula.

Season 4 has presented Captain Burnham and the crew with a scientific puzzle: the DMA. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be villains in play, and Discovery has introduced us to several compelling and interesting villains over its first three seasons.

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

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

Craft, the protagonist of Calypso.

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

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

Theory #9:
The ban on time travel will be explained in more detail.

The USS Enterprise was able to travel back in time to the 20th Century from the 23rd without too much difficulty.

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

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

Theory #10:
The Federation has flouted the ban on time travel.

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

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

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

Theory #11:
Burnham won’t stay in the captain’s chair.

Captain Burnham in All Is Possible.

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

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

Captain Burnham in Anomaly.

If this theory were to come to pass, it would be something I’d expect to see at the very end of the season. Even if Burnham seems 100% committed to her new role as captain, I don’t think it’s a theory we can definitively rule out.

It’s worth mentioning that at time of writing Discovery hasn’t been officially renewed for a fifth season – so all this talk of who’ll be in the captain’s chair by then could be moot! And of course this theory has a very strong counter-argument: that Discovery’s main story arc across its first three seasons can be read as Burnham’s ascent to the captain’s chair.

Theory #12:
There will be a character crossover from a past iteration of Star Trek.

Spock has appeared in several different Star Trek productions.

This theory returns from Season 3, where I doggedly clung to it for the entire season!

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

Riker has appeared in more Star Trek spin-offs than any other character.

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

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

Theory #13:
A major character will be killed.

A Starfleet coffin seen in Deep Space Nine.

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

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

Spock’s funeral in The Wrath of Khan.

In short, I think there are plenty of reasons on the production side why killing off a major character could make sense in Season 4. Though we’ve already had one departure this season – that of Lieutenant Tilly – I still believe that Discovery could very easily go down this road, especially considering how dangerous the DMA currently is.

For a breakdown of which characters I thought might be in danger before the season premiered, check out my list of “death predictions” by clicking or tapping here.

Theory #14:
The DMA is a superweapon.

One view of the DMA.

We touched on this theory above when we considered the Federation’s possible complicity in the creation of the DMA, but there are many other ways such a story could pan out. The DMA’s unpredictable nature, as noted by Tilly and Saru at the end of Anomaly, could imply that there’s an intelligence at work dictating its moves. This could be the DMA itself if it’s sentient (or contains a sentient life-form) but it could also be the case that it’s being controlled or manipulated by something or someone externally.

If the anomaly turns out not to be a natural phenomenon, and is indeed deliberately targetting the Federation, who might the possible culprits be? And what would be the purpose behind attacking the Federation in this manner? If it’s the precursor to an invasion, perhaps later in the season we’ll see whoever is responsible making their next move.

Theory #14a:
The Borg are responsible.

The Borg Queen.

We don’t know whether the Borg Collective still exists in the 32nd Century; it hasn’t even been mentioned since the USS Discovery’s arrival. However, few other established factions seem capable of creating a weapon on the scale of the DMA. This wouldn’t be in line with the Borg’s usual modus operandi, as they prefer to assimilate rather than attack from afar. But a lot may have changed in the centuries since we last encountered them, meaning this could be the opening salvo of a Borg attack… or the last gasp of a dying Collective.

Theory #14b:
The super-synths from Picard Season 1 are responsible.

Some very menacing-looking synthetic tentacles.

We still don’t know very much about the super-synths that Soji and Sutra attempted to contact in the Season 1 finale of Star Trek: Picard. Other than claiming to offer support and help to synthetic life, what are their goals and motivations? Was their offer even genuine, or was it a trap? The mechanical tentacles glimpsed in Picard Season 1 looked terrifying! Moreover, we know that the super-synths have the technology to move stars – something only possible with an advanced understanding of gravity. Creating a stable 8-star octonary system is an incredible technological and gravitational feat, so they have precedent of a sort when it comes to working with gravity. Finally, Discovery Season 4 has already made connections with Picard Season 1: the Qowat Milat and the synth transfer process used for Gray.

Theory #14c:
The Kelvan Empire is responsible.

Rojan, a representative of the Kelvan Empire.

This one might seem to come completely out of the blue! In The Original Series, Captain Kirk met representatives of the Kelvan Empire, a faction originally from the Andromeda galaxy. Seeking a new home, a Kelvan scouting party had reached the Milky Way and were looking for worlds to conquer. Kirk would ultimately dispatch an unmanned starship offering to help the Kelvan Empire find new worlds to settle – but what if his offer was rejected? Given the vast distances and travel time involved, the timelines kind of line up for the Kelvan Empire to return to the Milky Way.

Theory #14d:
The Sphere-Builders from Enterprise are responsible.

A Sphere-Builder seen in Enterprise.

A defeated faction in one of the Temporal Wars, the Sphere-Builders initially hoped to convert a large swathe of the Alpha Quadrant to match their native extradimensional realm, and constructed a number of large space stations known as Spheres to facilitate this transformation. Crewman Daniels would tell Captain Archer that the Sphere-Builders were defeated in the 26th Century, but could they have since rebuilt? The DMA isn’t necessarily the same as what they were trying to do with the Spheres, but they’re one of the few factions in Star Trek that might be capable of creating a weapon on this scale.

Theory #15:
Saru will be given the captaincy of the USS Voyager-J.

The USS Voyager-J.

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

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

Theory #16:
The DMA is (or contains) a sentient life-form.

Another view of the DMA.

“It was only trying to communicate!” has become a Star Trek cliché, often used to describe how the seemingly-aggressive actions of an alien life-form are actually something innocuous. Maybe the same is true of the DMA: at its core is a life form, perhaps one not dissimilar to the Sphere seen in Season 2, and it’s on its own mission of exploration.

V’Ger from The Motion Picture is an interesting comparison. Like the DMA, V’Ger was massive in size, capable of destroying space stations, fleets of ships, and even threatening to destroy entire planets. When Admiral Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise were able to figure out V’Ger, however, they found a life-form at its core, one which was just as curious to learn and grow as they were.

Theory #17:
Book will find Kyheem and Leto inside the DMA.

Leto as seen in Book’s memory.

In Star Trek: Generations, Captain Picard encountered Captain Kirk inside the Nexus – despite Kirk being declared “dead” after the Enterprise-B encountered the energy ribbon almost eighty years earlier. We don’t know what the DMA is yet; one of my very early pre-season theories involved the Nexus, but that seems to be debunked already! However, the anomaly’s mysterious nature raises the faint possibility that at least some of those it appears to have “killed” may not be as dead as they first appear.

This theory is, I freely admit, a bit of a long-shot. And it hinges on a fundamental question underlying the story of the season: is there more to the DMA than meets the eye? If the anomaly is just an extreme example of space weather, flitting through Federation space destroying anything unfortunate enough to be in its way, then probably everyone on Kwejian is dead. But if the anomaly harbours some kind of gateway, wormhole, portal, time vortex, or any of the other Star Trek-y technobabble phenomena that we’ve seen across the franchise’s history, then it’s possible that at least some of the folks on Kwejian found themselves transported to whatever realm lies inside of the anomaly.

Theory #18:
Captain Burnham and/or the Red Angel time travel suits from Season 2 are connected to the DMA.

We don’t really know what happened to the Red Angel suit after this moment.

I’m not sure that this one is particularly likely, but as I said last year about a possible Burnham connection to the Burn, not only does Discovery kind of have a precedent for telling this kind of story, but there would also be something very dramatic about this revelation. In this case, Burnham would be indirectly and unknowingly responsible for creating something devastatingly damaging. How would she react to that, and how would Book react given what happened to Kwejian?

Perhaps the Red Angel suit, which Burnham sent back in time in the Season 3 premiere, malfunctioned somehow, and its powerful wormhole-creating technology gave rise to the DMA. If the Red Angel suit completed its journey back to the 23rd Century, the anomaly may have had centuries to grow and expand unchecked. If time travel is involved, perhaps a future Captain Burnham or a parallel universe Captain Burnham could be responsible for the anomaly’s creation – either intentionally or not.

Theory #19:
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 #19a:
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 #19b:
The Abronians’ homeworld was on the “other side” of the DMA.

The USS Discovery approaches the DMA.

One clip in the second Season 4 trailer appeared to show Captain Burnham leading the USS Discovery inside the DMA. We don’t yet know what that means, nor to what extent words like “inside” the anomaly or “the other side” of the anomaly are even coherent concepts. But many times in past iterations of Star Trek we’ve seen things like wormholes and gateways to parallel universes. Perhaps the anomaly is something similar – and passing through it leads to a different dimension, parallel reality, or just a faraway region of space.

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 #19c:
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 #19d:
The Abronians’ moon-ship may be useful in a later story.

“That’s no moon…”

At this stage I can’t envision precisely what use Captain Burnham and the crew might have for a moon-sized starship… but that doesn’t mean such a need won’t arise! The Abronians’ cryo-ship is huge, and at least superficially seems to have the mass of a moon or small planetoid. If Captain Burnham and the crew needed something that large for some purpose, perhaps they’ll return and either take it or negotiate for it.

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

So that’s it!

The USS Discovery.

At present, those are all of the theories I currently have in play. Some are more likely than others, some are perhaps plausible but may not come into play in Season 4, and maybe some are just plain silly! But I have a lot of fun thinking them up and writing these lists, and that’s really what this is all about!

After two episodes in a row in which we got minimal advancement of the season’s main storyline, The Examples seems to be teasing us with a return to the DMA in a significant way. I can hardly wait to see what lies in store for Captain Burnham and the crew!

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

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

Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 0

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theory #1: A major character will be killed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Voyager’s Doctor is a contender!

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

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

Could Sutra still be alive in the 32nd Century?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Captain Burnham in the first Season 4 trailer.

If this theory were to come to pass, it would be something I’d expect to see at the very end of the season. Even if Burnham seems 100% committed to her new role as captain, I don’t think it’s a theory we can definitively rule out.

It’s worth mentioning that at time of writing, Discovery hasn’t been officially renewed for a fifth season – so all this talk of who’ll be in the captain’s chair by then could be moot! And of course this theory has a very strong counter-argument: that Discovery’s main story arc across its first three seasons can be read as Burnham’s ascent to the captain’s chair.

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

The USS Discovery making a Spore Drive jump.

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

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

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

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

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

Theory #5: Kovich works for Section 31.

Kovich in Season 3.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The USS Discovery seen in Calpyso.

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

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

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

The dilithium planet at the centre of the Verubin Nebula.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The super-synths in Picard Season 1.

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

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

Theory #11: The gravitational anomaly is a superweapon.

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

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

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

A different depiction of the anomaly.

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

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

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

The Klingons have been part of Discovery since the beginning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carl – the Guardian of Forever’s new persona.

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

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

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

Lieutenant Detmer in Season 3.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grudge is also coming back!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What might this mean for the likes of the Kazon?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Department of Temporal Investigations is on the case!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book’s ship at warp in Discovery Season 3.

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

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

“John Harrison” materialises on Qo’noS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The wreck of the KSF Khi’eth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So that, in a nutshell, is the Burn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Irwin was wonderful to watch as Su’Kal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Su’Kal’s emotional outbursts are deadly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Star Trek: Discovery – eight “gravitational anomaly” theories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Number 1: The Nexus

The Nexus approaching the planet Veridian III.

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

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

The Enterprise-B trying to manoeuvre inside the Nexus.

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

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

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

Number 2: The super-synths from Picard Season 1

The super-synths in Picard Season 1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Number 3: A graviton ellipse

The USS Voyager once encountered a graviton ellipse.

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

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

The Delta Flyer inside a graviton ellipse.

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

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

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

Number 4: The Sphere-Builders from Enterprise

A Delphic Expanse sphere.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Number 5: Tyken’s Rift

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Number 6: Species 8472 and Fluidic Space

A member of Species 8472.

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

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

The USS Voyager being pulled toward a fluidic space portal.

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

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

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

Number 7: The Borg

Borg drones seen in First Contact.

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

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

The Borg were known to possess powerful technology.

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

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

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

Number 8: The Burn

The Burn.

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

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

Su’Kal caused the Burn.

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

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

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

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

Yes, Season 4 is scheduled to premiere this year!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Burnham on the USS Discovery’s viewscreen.

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

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

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

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

Soji and Picard in the episode The Impossible Box.

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

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

The super-synths.

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

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

Dr Gabrielle Burnham joined the Qowat Milat.

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

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

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

Ensigns Tendi and Rutherford from Lower Decks.

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

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

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

Captain Burnham.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Burn.

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

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

Number 5: No main villain.
Wish: Denied 🚫

The villainous Osyraa.

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

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

Osyraa in command of Discovery.

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

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

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

Lieutenant Detmer got her own mini-story this season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Culber and Stamets with Adira.

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

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

Stamets and Culber in Far From Home.

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

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

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

Captain Braxton of the time-ship Relativity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

HMS Bounty travelled through time in The Voyage Home.

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

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

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

The Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager did not appear.

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

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

Captain Sisko.

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

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

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

The USS Discovery in Calypso.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States and on Netflix in the rest of the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower DecksDiscovery, and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 13

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

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

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

Confirmed theory: Aurellio stood up to Osyraa.

Aurellio and Osyraa.

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

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

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

Part-confirmed theory #1: Burnham became captain.

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

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

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

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

The arrival of Ni’Var’s fleet.

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

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

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

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

Discovery makes a Spore Drive jump.

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

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

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

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

Jadzia Dax.

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

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

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

Who is Kovich?

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

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

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

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

The USS Enterprise travelled through time in Assignment: Earth.

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

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

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

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

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

Federation and Ni’Var ships at warp.

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

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

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

Tilly eyes the captain’s chair.

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

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

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

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

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

Just like this theory, Dr Issa is dead.

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

Dead theory #2: Aurellio is married to Osyraa.

Was Aurellio meant to be married to Osyraa?

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

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

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

Finally we come to the debunkings!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Burn.

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

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

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

The USS Discovery as seen in Calypso.

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

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

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

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

The Doctor didn’t make an appearance.

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

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

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

The USS Voyager in Year of Hell.

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

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

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

Debunked theory #7: Saru is going to die.

Saru survived the season.

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

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

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

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

Admiral Vance lives to lead Starfleet in Season 4.

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

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

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

The Guardian of Forever.

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

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

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

The dilithium planet.

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

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

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

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

Su’Kal and Saru confront the “monster.”

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

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

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

The “monster” was not Dr Issa.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Burnham in That Hope Is You, Part 2.

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

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

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

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

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

Burnham was promoted at the end of the episode.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Su’Kal with Saru.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A recording of the moment the Burn occurred.

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

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

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

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

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

Gray and Adira.

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

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

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

Tilly in command of the bridge crew.

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

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

“She’s a queen!”

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

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

“It’s just been revoked!”

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

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

The interior of the USS Discovery.

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

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

Osyraa in command of Discovery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Admiral Vance watches as the N’Var fleet arrives.

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

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

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

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

“Let’s fly!”

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

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

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

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

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

Burnham and the crew are ready for their next adventure.

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

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

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

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

Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 12

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

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

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

Confirmed theory #1: Zareh returned.

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

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

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

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

Awwwwww!

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

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

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

Number 1: Aurellio is married to Osyraa.

Are Aurellio and Osyraa an item?

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

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

Number 2: Aurellio will stand up to Osyraa.

Aurellio.

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

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

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

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

Tilly is ready to retake the ship.

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

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

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

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

Burnham in a Jeffries tube.

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

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

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

Number 5: The Burn will receive a different explanation.

Did Su’kal really cause the Burn?

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

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

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

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

The Burn.

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

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

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

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

The USS Discovery as seen in Calypso.

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

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

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

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

Discovery makes a Spore Drive jump.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Number 10: The Dax symbiont is still alive.

The Dax symbiont.

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

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

Number 11: Kovich is an agent of Section 31.

Kovich in Terra Firma, Part I.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Enterprise-C in Yesterday’s Enterprise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Number 15: Saru is going to die.

Saru in his human guise.

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

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

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

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

Burnham in temporary command of Discovery earlier in the season.

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

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

Number 16: Admiral Vance is going to be killed.

Admiral Vance.

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

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

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

Burnham and Saru with Admiral Vance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Guardian of Forever in Terra Firma, Part II.

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

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

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

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

Saru regards the hologram of Dr Issa.

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

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

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

Number 20: The dilithium planet will be destroyed.

The dilithium planet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Number 22: The “monster” is Dr Issa.

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

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

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

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

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

Vance, Eli, and Osyraa during their negotiations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aurellio and Osyraa.

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

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

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

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

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

Osyraa finally got some character development.

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

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

Admiral Vance rejected Osyraa’s proposal.

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

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

The negotiations were short.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The conversation Stamets and Aurellio had was riveting to watch.

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

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

Will Aurellio’s plan work?

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

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

Burnham ejected Stamets from Discovery.

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

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

Stamets argued with Burnham about rescuing Culber and Adira.

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

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

Zareh made his return in There Is A Tide.

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

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

Burnham suffered a major injury while battling the Emerald Chain.

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

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

Burnham in a Jeffries tube.

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

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

The DOT 23s are adorable and I love them.

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

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

Tilly is ready to retake the ship!

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

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

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

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

Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 11

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

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

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

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

Discovery held captive by Osyraa’s flagship.

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

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

Osyraa set course for Federation HQ.

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

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

The USS Discovery.

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

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

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

The USS Cerritos from Star Trek: Lower Decks.

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

As such, we can consider this debunked.

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

The Red Angel.

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

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

Michael Burnham did not cause the Burn!

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

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

Tilly in the captain’s chair.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is this the real Su’kal?

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

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

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

Number 2: The “monster” is Dr Issa.

The “monster.”

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

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

Number 3: Saru is going to die.

Saru in his human disguise.

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

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

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

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

Burnham in temporary command of Discovery earlier in the season.

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

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

Number 4: Admiral Vance is going to be killed.

Admiral Vance.

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

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

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

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

Vance, Saru, and Burnham.

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

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

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

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

Tilly regards the captain’s chair.

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

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

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

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

Saru talked with Zora in Forget Me Not.

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

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

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

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

Georgiou used the Guardian of Forever to travel through time.

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

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

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

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

Dr Issa.

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

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

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

Number 9: The dilithium planet will be destroyed.

The dilithium planet.

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

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

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

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

The Enterprise-C in Yesterday’s Enterprise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craft, the protagonist of Calypso.

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

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

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

Number 13: The Spore Drive will become Starfleet’s new method of faster-than-light propulsion.

Tilly and Stamets by the Spore Cube.

As mentioned, the end of the season from here could have already been telegraphed: retake the ship, save/neutralise Su’kal, and use the dilithium planet to bring the Federation back together. But that may not be the way the story ends.

As mentioned, the dilithium planet could be destroyed – perhaps to prevent another Burn, perhaps to save it from falling into Osyraa’s hands, or perhaps even accidentally either by Su’kal or someone else. If it’s gone or rendered unusable somehow, we’re back to the Spore Drive as a potential way to give Starfleet faster-than-light capabilities.

Doing so would finally find a use for Discovery’s most controversial piece of technology, and would potentially open up whole new regions of space for exploration. The Federation, despite having almost eight centuries to expand, appears to have mainly been an Alpha Quadrant power even before the Burn. Did they ever revisit the Delta Quadrant, for example? Did the Burn reach that far? Perhaps future Star Trek shows could be set in this time period and could follow the adventures of a new crew aboard a new Spore Drive-powered ship, exploring the galaxy. It would also set the stage for Season 4.

Number 14: A character from a past iteration of Star Trek – such as the Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager – will make an appearance.

Tom Paris with The Doctor in Star Trek: Voyager.

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

However, it remains a possibility. The Doctor is one character who fits the bill, but there are others who could reasonably have survived this long. And as I mentioned several times already, all it would take to bring back practically anyone is a technobabble explanation for how they were in stasis or travelled through time.

Having seen a tie-in with Picard via the appearance of the Qowat Milat, and the aforementioned Guardian of Forever return from The Original Series, it gives me hope that Discovery will find more ways to tie itself to the wider Star Trek franchise. A character crossover is a spectacular way of doing that, and as The Next Generation showed with episodes like Relics, the passage of centuries is no barrier to such a crossover in a sci-fi world. Until the credits roll on the season finale, I’ll keep advocating this theory!

Number 15: The ships at Federation HQ represent the majority of Starfleet’s remaining vessels. And they’re all 120+ years old.

A portion of the fleet docked at Federation HQ.

I’ve been suggesting for several weeks that the rump Federation may only have a handful of ships available – with scarce dilithium for fuel, there is no way to maintain a huge armada, even if the ships were undamaged. It also seems reasonable to assume that Starfleet’s shipbuilding facilites were damaged or destroyed in the Burn, and that building new ships has been difficult – if not impossible for the fractured organisation – ever since.

With Osyraa now on the warpath, we could finally see whether Starfleet has an ace up its sleeve. Are there more ships beyond those few docked at HQ (and the two Mr Sahil noted)? And those ships may very well be old – they seemed new and futuristic to Discovery’s crew, but that could all be pre-Burn technology, meaning that Osyraa has the upper hand if the Emerald Chain has developed new weapons and technologies. We saw in People of Earth that quantum torpedoes were still in use, for example. Does Osyraa have a more powerful fleet?

Number 16: The Dax symbiont is still alive.

Jadzia Dax in Deep Space Nine.

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

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

Number 17: The ban on time travel is being flouted – possibly by secretive elements within the Federation.

Kirk’s stolen Bird-of-Prey travels through time in The Voyage Home.

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

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

Number 18: Kovich is an agent of Section 31.

Who does Kovich work for?

Who is Kovich? He doesn’t wear a normal Starfleet uniform, and doesn’t appear to hold a Starfleet rank. Yet he wears a Starfleet combadge and is clearly a high-ranking intelligence officer as he undertook Georgiou’s debriefing and has access to classified files that pertain to time travel and parallel universes.

It is at least possible – if not outright likely – that this mysterious character works for Section 31. Since we now know he hasn’t just disappeared and may well be coming back, perhaps we’ll learn more about him. We know he has an interest in the Mirror Universe and Terran society, expressing almost an admiration for Georgiou and her way of doing things.

It seems less and less likely that Section 31 or Starfleet are connected to the Burn – but as noted above, it remains a possibility. Perhaps Kovich knows more about the Burn that he let on?

Number 19: We haven’t seen the last of Zareh.

Zareh in Far From Home – his only appearance to date.

After weeks of suggesting Zareh could return, I half-expected to see him beaming aboard Discovery with Osyraa’s forces. Though we didn’t see him in the first wave, he may yet prove to be among her troops, and if he is he may wish to seek revenge against Tilly and Saru for abandoning him. These kinds of characters have a tendency to pop back up, and although leaving him alone on the surface of the Colony back in Far From Home was described as a “death sentence,” the fact that we never saw him die means his fate is unclear. If he survived, would Osyraa even want him back? Maybe.

So that’s it. Despite losing a number of theories this week, we also added several new ones! They aren’t all going to be right, of course – perhaps none will be – but one thing is for sure: Su’kal shook things up in a major way after several weeks where the series made scant progress on its main storyline and attended to side-missions.

Despite what I’ve said about the road to the season finale seeming to be obvious, there are undoubtedly going to be at least some unexpected moments along the way. I’m hoping that will be the case, actually, because I love being surprised! I’m also not 100% convinced that Discovery has got the right story if I’m correct about the direction of travel. The journey may still be fun – as indeed Su’kal was for the most part – but it may end with a less-than-satisfying explanation for the season’s big arcs.

Let’s hope not, though!

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

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

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 3, Episode 11: Su’kal

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

Until three days before its broadcast, Su’kal went by the title The Citadel. It wasn’t immediately obvious why the name was changed – or why the producers at ViacomCBS felt a need to conceal that fact. After all, they let us know every other episode title before the season premiered, even spoiler-ish ones like Unification III. So it was a bit of a surprise to learn that we’d be watching Su’kal this week!

The two-part episode Terra Firma largely took us away from progressing the overall story of the season and focused on the departure of Mirror Georgiou to a still-unknown destination. With only three episodes left before the season is over, Discovery really needed to begin bringing its storylines together and wrapping them up, lest it repeat the mistake made by Star Trek: Picard earlier in the year and rush through a lot of potentially interesting plots. This was the moment where the season needed to enter its endgame, and for better or worse it seems to have done so.

Discovery finally took us to the Verubin Nebula after a few episodes of doing other things.

My first thought when the credits rolled was “hmm.” What had we all just watched? The two major storylines both had ups and downs, and we’ll have to deal with them in turn. I liked the idea of the holographic world. Both as an interesting setting and as a metaphor for isolation – something many people dealing with mental health issues will experience – it worked very well. Tilly sitting in the captain’s chair for the first time was great to see, and we can see why she was chosen ahead of, for example, Stamets to serve as first officer given that the conflict with Osyraa needed someone less experienced at the conn. I also liked the standoff between Discovery and Osyraa’s ship; it had a familar feel that anyone who’s seen the Battle of the Mutara Nebula in The Wrath of Khan can appreciate.

Now let’s get into the big disappointments. Discovery being captured so easily by Osyraa, whose ship had been simple to defeat a couple of episodes ago, was poor. Yes, it showed how Tilly’s inexperience at the conn was an issue, but even then it felt too easy. Osyraa’s ship, with its ability to transport huge numbers of troops and its weird grappling arms, just felt overpowered. Next – and I will admit this is perhaps more of a personal pet peeve – the cliched story of “the heroes’ ship/base is captured” just doesn’t really work for me. It’s annoying more than anything, and since we know Tilly, Burnham, and the crew will retake the ship it just feels like forced tension.

Discovery was very easily captured by Osyraa.

Now we come to the point of the season, and the main storyline which underpins all of the others: the Burn. If Burnham and Culber are correct in their assessment of Su’kal, he caused the Burn telepathically when his fears destabilised dilithium across the known galaxy. Though my initial reaction to that was some form of “what the actual fuck,” I’m prepared to wait and see what the next two episodes have in store, and whether they can better explain how this happened. Burnham and Culber’s analysis of the situation was short, and if all the explanation we’re going to get is some technobabble about dilithium and DNA cells in an unborn child, I think that’s poor.

But I’m hopeful that won’t be the entirety of the explanation that we get! The Burn had been set up across the season (and even before if you count the trailers) as a huge mystery, something galactic in scale. Perhaps the reason this answer feels like such a non sequitur – aside from the fact that it only consisted of a couple of lines from Burnham and Culber in the midst of a bigger crisis – is that the explanation for this colossal apocalyptic event being a mentally ill man with the mind of a child is some combination of anticlimactic and small.

A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it line from Dr Culber surely cannot be all the explanation we get for how Su’kal caused the Burn.

Huge events in fiction typically need causes that are comparable in scale, and there’s a disparity between the truly epic, cataclysmic nature of the Burn and Su’kal, a mentally challenged man who’s led a horrible life trapped in a weird educational holoprogramme. That’s before we get into the frankly upsetting real-world implications of this metaphor: a mentally ill person ruining the galaxy.

When dealing with significant events, we can typically point to powerful characters or forces of nature setting those events in motion. We can point to Sauron in The Lord of the Rings, for example, or Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars. Or we could look at the zombie virus in The Walking Dead as a force of nature – a powerful, planet-wide force. Su’kal doesn’t fit the bill, and while the idea of the Burn being something accidental rather than something intentional like a weapon may indeed be a good one – and one I’d support – this particular way of explaining it feels like an anticlimax right now.

Su’kal – the cause of the Burn?

On the other hand, if this is the explanation for the Burn, it would be in line with certain other Star Trek stories. The V’ger probe in The Motion Picture was similarly described as “a child” as it caused chaos en route to Earth. The Star Trek franchise has always been about exploring the unknown and offering help – and Su’kal clearly needs the Federation’s help.

Any time a mystery is created in an ongoing story, there’s a risk of the explanation jarring with what some members of the audience expected. I’m not criticising Su’kal from that point of view, though – or at least I’m consciously trying not to. I’m not saying that the Burn needs to have some other explanation, like one of the ones I postulated before the season began. What I am saying, though, is that if this is all the explanation we’re going to get – that Su’kal’s body somehow adapted, connecting him on a quantum level to dilithium, and that he accidentally caused the Burn as a child while upset – it feels anticlimactic.

We’re being asked to buy into a story that says one mentally ill person caused all of this destruction.

The discovery of the Verubin Nebula and its dilithium planet is likewise a little odd. This is perhaps more of a nitpick, but in the 32nd Century, when the Federation and other spacefaring cultures have had a millennium to explore and chart the galaxy, how could they have been unaware of this dilithium nursery/dilithium planet? A few weeks ago I wrote that the discovery of a huge cache of dilithium at the end of the season, allowing the Federation to get back on its feet and rebuild, could feel like a deus ex machina – and that’s kind of how this planet feels right now. The story from here seems predictable: save or neutralise Su’kal to prevent another Burn, use the dilithium planet to power the Federation and Starfleet, and retake Discovery from Osyraa.

There may be twists and turns along the way, but that seems to be the direction of travel. Simplifying a story as it approaches its end is inevitable, perhaps, but coupled with what I have to call an unsatisfying explanation for the Burn, it risks the end of the season feeling formulaic. Having made those criticisms, two caveats: there are still two episodes to go in which the Burn’s explanation can be padded out or even changed entirely, and if this is the real explanation for what happened, it avoids many of the pitfalls I feared a 32nd Century post-apocalyptic story would. It isn’t as epic in scope as perhaps I was hoping, nor does it seem to connect to other iterations of the franchise. But it is a very “Star Trek” way for an apocalyptic event to play out.

The titular Su’kal seems to have caused the Burn.

By that I mean it’s closer to some stories from The Original Series or even The Animated Series in terms of pure science-fantasy. Su’kal being the cause of the Burn because he has some kind of telepathic link to dilithium is a weird story, and that weirdness and quirkiness is what made many fans – myself included – fall in love with Star Trek to begin with. So I’m hot and cold on the Burn right now, as you can tell. I’m not 100% convinced that it’s the right way for this story to conclude, given that it’s taken us eleven weeks to get here and the Burn has been presented as this epic cataclysm with mysterious origins. But as a pure Star Trek story, I can’t deny that it works.

If you’re a regular around here, perhaps you’ve read my methodology. If not, you can find it via the menu at the top (top-right on mobiles). To make a long story short, I never read other reviews before writing my own, and I do my best to avoid any and all critical opinion and even responses by people involved with whatever I’m reviewing until I’ve got my own piece published. So I have no idea if I’m alone in my feelings about Su’kal offering an unsatisfying end to the season’s biggest mystery or not.

Is this how the Burn happened?

I feel like I’ve deconstructed the titular Su’kal and his relationship with the Burn as much as I’m able to at this stage. Like several ongoing storylines that saw major developments in Su’kal, my thoughts on this point can and likely will shift depending on the way that the remainder of the story progresses. So let’s look at a few other points from the episode.

Tilly becoming first officer was a point of contention in earlier episodes, and I do understand that. While I defended Saru’s reasoning at the time, as he felt Tilly had adapted best to the future which was a significant consideration in his XO search, what I’d say now is that that storyline feels as if it was constructed deliberately to reach a specific goal. The first part of that goal is, as we saw this week, the capture of Discovery by Osyraa, which we’re to understand came about in part through Tilly’s inexperience. But there may be a further plan for this storyline – effectively cornering Saru and forcing him to reinstate Burnham as first officer.

Tilly in command.

So what we got with Tilly this week was a deeply emotional and very touching scene between her and Burnham. As Saru prepared to lead the away team, it was her turn in the big chair for the first time, and she was nervous. Burnham tried to comfort her, and in this moment she was back to the older, more nervous character from earlier episodes. A lot of us have been nervous or anxious about taking on a big task, and Tilly’s reaction to what was going on was very human.

Likewise, the scene where she took the captain’s chair for the first time was also very well done. Though clearly still nervous she sat down for the first time with determination – and with a plan for what to say and do. She handled herself well, and she clearly had the respect of the other officers on the bridge. But there was a different kind of respect that they showed Tilly compared to Saru, or past commanding officers like Pike. Tilly was almost being treated as a child, judging by some of their expressions: “aww, it’s so sweet they’re letting her have a go in the big chair,” some of their faces seemed to say. While the crew followed their orders, there was a sense among some on the bridge – at least in the moment Tilly assumed command – that they didn’t hold her to the same standards as Saru or Pike.

Tilly regards the captain’s chair.

When confronted by Osyraa, Tilly played a role comparable to Sulu in Star Trek Into Darkness – sitting in the big chair for the first time talking to an enemy. In Sulu’s case he was broadcasting a message to someone rather than having a two-way conversation, but like many things in modern Star Trek I appreciate the symmetry that exists between wholly different stories.

As I said, though, the ultimate payoff to this storyline was Osyraa’s incredibly easy capture of the ship. We can argue that Su’kal’s telepathic tantrum damaged all the ship’s systems and thus probably knocked the shields down, which is how Osyraa’s goons could so easily beam over. But as a point of drama, the standoff between the ships was far too short before we got to this point. When Detmer took Book’s ship and completely disabled Osyraa’s flagship a couple of weeks ago, Osyraa’s flagship was shown to be big but flawed, and Osyraa herself made no moves against Discovery. This time, she was able to defeat Discovery in seconds using powers we’d never seen her vessel have before. There were low stakes at the beginning of the engagement – because Detmer had so easily beaten her using Book’s ship a few weeks ago – and thus Osyraa’s victory seems to come from nowhere.

Osyraa’s flagship proved a very difficult opponent… this time.

If we had seen some more of her ship before Su’kal to know what its capabilities were, that feeling would not persist. But despite its vaguely menacing appearance, the only time we encountered Osyraa before this episode showed her ship to be vulnerable even to Book’s glorified shuttlecraft. The turnaround was only explained by a single line from Osyraa, as she claimed to have fixed the vulnerability Detmer had exploited – but that just wasn’t good enough, in my opinion.

There’s also the big question of how Osyraa came to know about the Spore Drive. This seems to have happened entirely off screen, and while it may be shown in a flashback later on, it’s something we as the audience needed to know. What is Osyraa’s plan now she has control of Discovery? What will she use the Spore Drive for? Who told her about it/how did she find out? None of these points were touched on, and while we can construct theories based on Book’s macguffin from last week that concerned Admiral Vance, nothing was explained on screen in a satisfactory way.

Discovery jumped to the Verubin Nebula with its Spore Drive.

As this is an ongoing story, these points may be addressed, and if so I will gladly withdraw my criticisms. But right now it feels like Osyraa knew about the Spore Drive almost by magic – she even knew its name, despite having never heard of it the last time we met her. She also managed to turn her ship from an easily-beaten wreck into an invincible powerhouse and defeat Discovery with a snap of her fingers. And after all that, we don’t know her intentions. There are too many unknowns for the stakes to feel particularly high.

I mentioned at the start that this storyline – the heroes’ ship being captured – has never been one I enjoyed, and that’s a factor in how I feel about Su’kal too. I tend to feel that any time a story goes down this route the ending is usually known, and as a result the drama and tension just feel forced. Whereas we could see any one of a hundred different endings to Su’kal’s story or even Georgiou’s Mirror Universe story over the last couple of weeks, it’s obvious that Burnham and Book will retake the ship from Osyraa, just as it’s obvious in any comparable story that the heroes will reclaim their starship or base. It’s not exactly a cliché, but it’s a basic narrative that I’ve seen play out dozens of times at this point – including within Star Trek.

These stories have never been a favourite of mine.

Enough about Tilly, Discovery, and Osyraa for now. The sequences set in Su’kal’s home were interesting. The setting itself was reminiscent of the castle Captain Pike encountered on Rigel VII – as seen in Star Trek’s original pilot, The Cage. Castles and Star Trek have an association going back a very long time, and the dark, abandoned castle – with a monster to boot – gave the sequences set there a very creepy, almost horror vibe.

The cinematography for some of these scenes was outstanding, too, and shots of the fortress and its surrounding landscape were beautiful and immersive. There were some amazing overhead angles that gave the stepped structure a deeply confusing feeling, one which helped us get into the mindset of Burnham, Culber, and Saru.

Some of the shots here were beautiful. The set design and animation work were absolutely outstanding.

Speaking of the away team, the choice of makeup was interesting. Having Burnham and Culber be a Trill and Bajoran respectively really didn’t do much, and in a lot of scenes where they were seen from a distance the makeup wasn’t even noticeable. Saru being portrayed as human, however, was far more visually interesting, and the reveal of Doug Jones without makeup was perhaps the biggest shock moment of the whole episode. Everything about that moment was perfectly set up, from Burnham and Culber noting their appearances first to build up the mystery to Saru’s voice being heard before the camera panned to him. It was a very well-constructed moment.

Within the story, though, I’m sorry to say it makes no sense. Saru is a Kelpien; a species Su’kal is obviously familiar with as he has at least one Kelpien hologram – the Elder. Likewise we saw human holos within the programme, and since Burnham and Culber’s physical appearances were not changed to copy pre-existing holograms, I don’t know what reason there is for changing their appearances in this minimal way. Nor do I understand why – aside from reasons of dramatic effect – the away team’s radiation burns were visible on their holographic bodies.

It feels like the choice of making Saru human was just there for surprise value.

If the roles of Burnham, Culber, and Saru were to be played by three different actors for this story, actors who also took on the roles of three holograms within Su’kal’s programme, I could understand it more. It wouldn’t be good to have this crucial moment acted out by different folks, but it would make sense in-universe, because the programmer of Su’kal’s world would have intended his rescuers to assume a familiar form. But the way it was done here was just odd, and I can only assume it was done for the sake of that one shocking moment – revealing Saru in his human guise. Constructing a story point off of one moment seldom works, and while it was interesting (at least, at first) to see these three characters in different makeup, as a story point I don’t get why it had to happen.

It also arguably detracts from Saru’s storyline, which seems to be building to an emotional climax. This is the first Kelpien he’s met since he left the 23rd Century, and there’s also the open question of a possible familial connection via Dr Issa. Saru being distracted by all things Kelpien is affecting his judgement, and this is a storyline worth pursuing. However, having Doug Jones essentially be out of costume is detracting from that. While it was visually interesting at first, it risks getting in the way of the story as it comes to a head. It’s possible that there may be a moment where Saru snaps out of the way he’s feeling due to being in this human guise, which if well-written could work and would be a payoff of sorts. Discovery tends not to do things randomly – somehow there may well be a reason why the away team ended up in these bodies. It’s just difficult to see right now, and the question of whether it will work as intended is up in the air.

Saru in his human disguise.

Burnham’s work with Su’kal was sweet, and she seemed to be beginning to find a way to get through to him. Saru asked her to remain because of her training in xenoanthropology, but just as she accused him of being distracted by Su’kal, I would argue that she is equally distracted from the mission by Book – she wanted to get back to him, because within the nebula he is in danger. She did seem to make some progress with Su’kal before he cut her off – but is that the real Su’kal?

I’ll save the bulk of this discussion for my theory post, but here goes: the “monster” that inhabits the holodeck is vaguely Kelpien in appearance, and also looks older. Its decayed body could be a result of radiation exposure, and when the monster met Burnham, it seemed to react to her in an almost-human manner – by which I mean, not like a programmed machine. The character we’re calling Su’kal is far too young to be 125 years old – or at least appears to be too young – and no suitable explanation has been given for this. So my pet theory right now is that the “monster” is the real life sign that Burnham and the crew identified before beaming down.

Is this a holographic monster… or Su’kal?

I don’t know for sure if that will pan out, or how it could be made to fit, but it seems interesting so I’ll go into more detail next time. There were a few other little moments in Su’kal that I thought were worth pointing out, such as the little robots being identified as “DOTs” for the first time outside of the Short Treks episode Ephraim and Dot. That was a sweet little inclusion. I also liked seeing Adira and Gray back together, as well as Gray giving Adira the confidence boost they needed to make their first big independent move since joining the crew.

Speaking of Adira, Stamets’ line to them at the beginning about he and Culber coming as a “package deal” was cute, and ties in with the parental theme going on with the three of them. Stamets has gone out of his way to help Adira since they joined the crew, even talking to the unseen Gray – whenever he does that I’m reminded of a parent talking to their child’s imaginary friend. Stamets feels protective of Adira, and helping them settle in has been an unexpectedly sweet turn for his character.

Gray and Adira in Su’kal.

So there we are. That was Su’kal, an episode which will have to be revisited in context once we know the overall outcome of the season’s big storylines. It can be difficult to fairly judge one section from the middle of a story – it’s like trying to review chapter ten of a thirteen-chapter novel – because Su’kal cannot be taken as a standalone piece of television. That said, it’s an episode which made significant developments and perhaps set up one or two more mysteries.

I’m troubled by the fault for the Burn lying with a mentally disabled man. Mental health and learning disabilities are already the subject of considerable stigma in our society today, and while on some fronts that is improving, we still have a long way to go. The episode The End is the Beginning from Star Trek: Picard showed a very crude stereotype of “mentally ill people” earlier in the year, and laying the fault of the Burn at Su’kal’s feet seems to continue an unfortunate theme in this year’s Star Trek productions. It almost feels as though the writers have picked on an easy target in Su’kal.

As mentioned, there are different ways the story could pan out from here. I briefly explained one theory I have about Su’kal, but there are different paths the story could take over the next couple of weeks before the season ends. I’m cautiously interested to see more; I do want a resolution to the Burn, but it needs to be a satisfying one – and ideally one that doesn’t stigmatise people.

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