Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 2. Spoilers are also present for Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: The Next Generation.
As the dust settles on Season 2 of Star Trek: Picard, there are still questions that remain. Season 3 may build on some of what Season 2 brought to the table – the strange anomaly, most notably – but other narrative elements will fade into the background and won’t be revisited. For me, one of the unexplained elements that I found intriguing as the season wore on concerns Q. Specifically, what was it that caused this once-immortal superbeing to be reaching the end of his life? What caused Q to die?
For the sake of the story that Picard Season 2 aimed to tell, finding a cause for Q’s death was not strictly necessary. The point of Q’s story and Picard’s relationship with him wasn’t to figure out what was happening, find a cure, or reverse it, but to come to accept it and for Q to find forgiveness and redemption at the end of his life. In that sense, there wasn’t really a narrative problem with the idea of Q dying – but as Trekkies and as fans who’ve followed Q’s journey over the span of more than three decades, it definitely feels like there’s a missing piece of the puzzle. Even if Q’s death was inevitable, explaining why it was happening in the first place would have felt satisfying.
We’ll probably have to address this in more detail when I get around to writing a proper retrospective-review of Season 2 as a whole, but one aspect of Q’s death that I feel wasn’t handled well is how nonchalant Picard seemed to be about it. Despite all the trouble he’s caused, the story here was about Picard finding a way to forgive Q and embrace the friendship he had been offering for decades. Wouldn’t someone like Picard have wanted to find out why his friend was dying? And wouldn’t someone like Picard want to do everything in his power to prevent it?
Even if we drop the “friendship” angle, Q is a unique life-form from Starfleet’s perspective. As a being who had been considered to be functionally immortal – or as close to it as the Federation has ever encountered, at least – learning more about the Q as a race and what could possibly harm them seems like an opportunity that a Starfleet Admiral shouldn’t have passed up. Even if it wasn’t possible to find a way to save Q’s life, I would have expected Picard to offer to try. And even if Q was unwilling to share too much information about his condition, his people, and the state of the Q Continuum, I would have expected Picard to have at least asked – and to have not immediately taken “no” for an answer.
Perhaps a longer season (or a season that was better-paced and didn’t waste time reaching its conclusion) could have dedicated more time to Q and included some of those questions. In Farewell, the Season 2 finale, Picard seemed to very quickly acknowledge that Q was dying, accept that fact at face-value, and made no effort to follow up on it or ask questions about it. While I understand why it happened that way in terms of the story, it leaves Q’s death feeling like it’s missing something critical – something that could’ve furthered our understanding of both Q himself and the Q Continuum as a whole.
So today, that’s what we’re going to talk about. We’re going to consider a handful of possibilities for why Q might’ve died at the end of Picard Season 2 and look at the pros and cons of each from both an in-universe and production-side perspective. It goes without saying that all of this is speculative and purely subjective; Q’s cause of death is highly unlikely to be explained on screen in the near future, and if you don’t like my ideas or I miss out something you do like, remember that this is all just the opinion of one person!
With all of that out of the way, let’s begin.
Theory #1: Q was being punished by the Q Continuum.
In The Next Generation Season 3 episode Deja Q, we saw Q come face-to-face with mortality for the first time. In that story, Q had his powers taken away by the Q Continuum – or whatever passes for the leadership of the Q – and found himself a mortal human. This seems to establish the principle that the Q Continuum has the power – in both a legal and physical sense – to strip individual Q of their immortality.
Though somewhat contradicted by the events of the Voyager episode Death Wish – in which it was strongly suggested that a member of the Q Continuum dying is something its leaders sought to prevent at any cost – Deja Q at least gives us something to work with. It was the first episode that established that certain members of the Q Continuum could inflict this kind of punishment on others, and while the specific nature of the Q Continuum and its power structure (if such a thing exists) is suitably vague, we at least have a starting point of sorts!
Based on what we know about Q himself, and specifically his role in causing the death of a fellow Q, sparking a Q Civil War, and creating the first “baby” Q in thousands of years, perhaps we can piece together that the Continuum were not happy with Q’s behaviour and actions. Could it be possible that, after what Q did in episodes like The Q and the Grey, the leadership of the Continuum turned on him?
Given that we’ve also seen the Q Continuum strip powers – and immortality – away from at least two other Qs, this kind of punishment by the Continuum has to be a pretty high probability for explaining what happened to Q. Regardless of what reasons the Continuum may have had, as far as we know they’re the only ones powerful enough to force a Q to become mortal.
Theory #2: The entire Q Continuum has been attacked.
This was a theory that I hatched during Season 2 – so it may be familiar to you if you followed along with my weekly theory posts! In short, it seemed possible to me that one explanation for Q’s condition could be related to the Q Continuum itself. If the Continuum had been attacked by some outside force, maybe that could explain what was happening to Q – and it could also explain a cryptic line in Discovery Season 4. Admiral Vance explained to Captain Burnham that the 32nd Century Federation has had no contact with the Q Continuum in over 600 years – and while the events of Picard Season 2 took place approximately 780 years before that conversation, perhaps the two are linked somehow.
One line from Guinan in Picard Season 2 is also of interest here. Guinan described a “cold war” between her people and the Q Continuum in the past, a conflict that was eventually resolved. But based on what we know of the two races, a “cold war” doesn’t seem plausible, does it? The Q are immortal and god-like, and while the El-Aurians certainly have abilities of their own, they’re very much a race of mortals – a race who were conquered by the Borg. So any conflict between the Q and the El-Aurians should’ve been a one-sided rout. That is, unless the El-Aurians knew of some kind of weakness inherent in the Q.
Some kind of weak point in the Q Continuum would seem to be the only possible explanation for how the El-Aurians could pose any semblance of a threat. That weakness (whatever it may be) could be something that another faction discovered, and instead of negotiating as the El-Aurians had, they might’ve gone on the attack. Or after the El-Aurians were assimilated by the Borg, the Q Continuum’s weakness could’ve become known to them – which could mean that the Borg are responsible for attacking and defeating the Q.
So there are possibilities here – some of which are more plausible than others, admittedly – based on what we know! It isn’t clear whether the powers of an individual Q are tied in any way to the Q Continuum – but it’s possible that they are. If so, perhaps a weakness in the Continuum weakens every surviving Q, and the defeat or destruction of the Continuum would reduce the power of any Q who remained. It seems a possibility to me – even though it was never stated on screen.
Theory #3: The Q Continuum was destabilised after its Civil War.
Voyager established that the Q Continuum devolved into civil war in the late 24th Century, with two opposing factions. The war came to an end with the birth of a new Q – the first such child in thousands of years. However, as Captain Janeway suggested toward the end of the episode: it doesn’t seem like having a baby would solve the underlying tensions within the Q Continuum.
While the causes of the war and its details were, in Q’s words: “beyond the understanding of humans,” it stands to reason that not only were the underlying issues not fully resolved, but that the fact that the Q Continuum was at war with itself in the first place would be hugely destabilising. After what seems to have been millennia of peace and quiet the Q Continuum was shattered by civil conflict, and as we know from out here in the real world, the consequences of wars – even brief ones – can be incredibly devastating and long-lasting.
Even if war never resumed between the two factions, there was still a lot of cleaning up to be done, rebuilding to achieve, and the need for reconciliation between one-time enemies. We don’t know for sure what kind of resources the Q Continuum might need to sustain itself, but it’s possible these were reduced or exhausted by the war, too. In the conflict’s aftermath, it’s even possible that two distinct Q Continuums were created.
Taking the Q Civil War as a starting point, we could argue that a general destabilisation of the Q Contniuum itself may have occurred. In the aftermath of the Civil War, perhaps the Q Continuum even collapsed, and individual members of the Q were left to fend for themselves. Without the support and resources of a united and undamaged Continuum, perhaps individual Q began to lose their powers and their immortality.
Theory #4: Death by natural causes.
This seems to be what Picard Season 2 at least implied was happening to Q. Q gave no explanation for his impending death, seeming not to know why it was happening, and the explanation could simply be that Q reached the end of his natural life. To us, members of the Q Continuum may seem immortal, but it’s possible that they have a natural lifespan – even if it’s imperceptible to humans because it’s measured in millions or billions of years.
Q, despite appearances, may be one of the oldest members of the Q Continuum, and could thus be the first – or the first in many years – to reach such a ripe old age. He may not know what’s happening to him because death is incredibly rare in the Q Continuum, and a death by natural causes or old age simply hasn’t happened in a very long time.
We also don’t know how long Q has been flitting about the galaxy – nor how long it has been for Q in between visits to Picard. From Picard’s point of view, he last saw Q approximately 30 years ago (during the events of All Good Things at the end of The Next Generation). But has it only been 30 years for Q?
A being that can travel through time could have spent millions or billions of years away from Picard before reuniting with him. Q could have travelled back in time to the Big Bang and done other things for 13.8 billion years… then gone back to the Big Bang again and spent another 13.8 billion years killing time and doing his own thing before finally returning to Picard. In short, Q may be far, far older than we assume, and it might’ve been a lot longer in between visits than the 30 years of linear time that Picard experienced. All of these could explain why Q was coming to the end of his life.
Bonus Theory: Q didn’t really die or was saved at the last moment.
If there’s no body, is anyone in film or TV really dead? Star Wars uses this trope to an excessive degree! But maybe it’s true in Star Trek, too. After Q’s final “snap” that sent Picard and the crew of La Sirena back to the 25th Century, we don’t know what became of Q. Did his body dissipate into energy? Was he vaporised? Did his empty corpse collapse in a French vineyard while Rios and Teresa looked on?
Though it would completely undermine the powerful and deeply emotional sequence at the end of Season 2, maybe the real end to this story has yet to be written. Somehow – perhaps through the intervention of another member of the Q Continuum – Q actually survived, or was reborn immediately after sacrificing himself.
This… would not be my choice. As much fun as Q can be, establishing his death – and making it a huge part of the story of Picard Season 2 – was incredibly important and felt final. To undo that in any way would devastate the entire narrative arc of Picard Season 2. Given that most of the rest of that season’s storylines were weak, taking away one of the most powerful and most emotional moments would leave very little left.
There is scope for Q to return. His time-traveling nature could see him pop up in other stories as long as they took place prior to the events of Picard Season 2 from his perspective. His cameo in Lower Decks Season 1 is a case in point. But to bring back Q in a big way and claim that he somehow survived… I can’t see it working. It would take away so much of what made Picard Season 2 matter. With Picard seemingly ending after Season 3 as well, there’s less of an argument for including Q in a big way in future stories. He’s primarily a Picard-centric character, so if Picard is killed off or his departure from Star Trek is made permanent, there’s less of a reason to bring back this individual Q. Other members of the Continuum, sure. But this Q should probably remain dead.
So that’s it!
Picard Season 2 didn’t explain what happened to Q. In terms of the way the story unfolded, it was ultimately “unnecessary” in order to get Picard and Q to come together and for Q to send Picard home to the 25th Century. The reason for Q’s declining health could have been built into the story, giving him additional motivation and focus, but again that didn’t have to happen based on the way the story was written. Finally, Q’s decline meant two things for the story: firstly, he wasn’t unbeatable any more, potentially giving Picard and the others a chance to stop him. And secondly, it meant that Q’s final act of the season – and final moment as a Star Trek character – was one of self-sacrifice, giving up his life to get Picard and his friends home.
Whether all of that worked just as well without an underlying cause is debatable. And I definitely believe that there was room within the story of the season to explain why Q was dying – and perhaps even to tie that into some other part of the franchise – even if such an explanation wasn’t entirely necessary for the story. The season’s story may not have been hanging from this one narrative thread, but even so it might have been worth it. It would certainly have been satisfying for returning fans from The Next Generation era.
I don’t think anything we saw on screen during Season 2 of Picard actively rules out any of the theories above – although I’d certainly entertain the argument that Q might’ve mentioned something incredibly major such as the Borg assimilation of the entire Q Continuum! But with Star Trek seemingly setting Q aside for the foreseeable future, it falls to us as Trekkies to speculate and propose answers to one of Season 2’s biggest unexplained story points.
I hope this was a bit of fun – or at least interesting. Personally I’d have liked the writers of Picard Season 2 to have come up with some explanation for Q’s death that felt conclusive. Although the Q Continuum and its denizens are difficult for humans to understand, that doesn’t mean there’s total free rein to throw Q into all kinds of different stories and just use “it’s a mystery” or “you’d never get it” as excuses to cover up the fact that no real answer to the question was created in the first place! So while the cause of Q’s death may not have been critical for the story that Picard Season 2 aimed to tell, not even attempting to make up some semblance of an explanation for it definitely leaves me feeling like something was missing as the story came to an end.
In a better and more enjoyable season of Star Trek, maybe I could see past that and revel in the story that was told rather than picking at threads and asking “why wasn’t this included?” But because Picard Season 2 was, at best, a mixed bag with episodes of inconsistent quality… the fact that it ended leaving behind something that feels like it could’ve been significant feels all the worse. But that’s a discussion for another time.
Star Trek: Picard Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, Scandinavia, Latin America, and Australia, and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and the rest of the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1 and the trailers and teasers for Season 2. Spoilers are also present for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4, Star Trek Into Darkness, and Star Trek: The Next Generation.
What’s the one thing that we know for certain right now about the plot of Star Trek: Picard Season 2? We know that Q interfered with the timeline, “breaking reality” in the process, and causing Admiral Picard and the crew of La Sirena to have to undertake a dangerous new mission to the past. But what if everything isn’t as it seems – what if Q isn’t the one responsible for the damage to the timeline? Or if he is responsible, what if he has an understandable – and possibly even altruistic – motive? Those are the two parts of the theory that we’re going to consider today!
First up, let’s acknowledge some production-side reasons why this theory may pan out in some form, then we’ll jump into in-universe explanations after. Ever since Star Trek returned to the small screen in 2017 – and also during the Kelvin films and even, to an extent, in the latter part of Enterprise’s run – the writers of the franchise have been very keen to bring mysterious elements into Star Trek. The whole reason I got into writing up lists of theories was because there’s been just so much to speculate about in practically all of the franchise’s modern incarnations!
In Discovery Season 1, there was the hidden identity of Captain Lorca. In Season 2, the Red Angel’s identity (and Spock’s connection to it) formed a huge part of the narrative. In Season 3, there was the Burn. In Season 4 we have the ongoing mysteries of the Dark Matter Anomaly, Unknown Species 10-C, and more. And in Picard Season 1 we had the mystery of Dahj and Soji, Bruce Maddox going missing, Coppelius, the Zhat Vash’s admonition and crusade, and the super-synths.
In all of these cases, everything was not as it seemed. In the run-up to Picard Season 1, Soji’s very existence was kept secret, with Isa Briones claiming to only play the character of Dahj. The show played its cards close to its chest for practically the entire season, keeping secrets about the nature of the Artifact, the Romulans’ plans, the super-synths, and more. The show has precedent when it comes to telling stories that go to unexpected places – and I see no reason at all to think that Season 2 will be any different in that regard.
The trailers and teasers that we’ve seen so far have been careful not to telegraph too much of the story. I suspect we’ve seen glimpses of scenes from the first two or three episodes at the very most, so the true nature of the story – and Q’s role in it – is still very much in play right now. No trailer or marketing campaign should spoil the finished product, and in some cases trailers can be cut and edited in very specific ways to conceal or outright lie about certain elements of a story. It wouldn’t be the first time that this has happened, not by a long shot!
There was also a remark from Sir Patrick Stewart almost a year ago, when Q’s return to the franchise was first announced. At last year’s First Contact Day digital event, Admiral Picard himself seemed to suggest that, while Q was certainly involved with whatever was going on, he wasn’t necessarily wholly responsible for it. That distinction may be key to this theory!
So let’s leave the real world behind and jump into the Star Trek galaxy. There is, in my view, evidence to suggest that Q wouldn’t do something that so drastically damaged the entire timeline. Ever since his first appearance in Encounter at Farpoint, Q has been viewed by Picard as an adversary – but I would argue very strongly that that isn’t how Q sees himself. By pushing and provoking Picard, Q has arguably sought to expand Picard’s understanding of the universe far beyond what he might’ve otherwise been capable of. In Q’s mind, the ends justify the means – so all of the meddling and provocation was worth it to get Picard (and humanity) ready for whatever the Q Continuum has in store next.
It’s even possible to read some of Q’s more belligerent actions – like placing the Enterprise-D in the vicinity of a Borg vessel – with the benefit of this additional context. In my earlier theory titled Q the saviour, this is exactly the point I tried to make. Q deliberately chose to introduce Starfleet to the Borg because he knew that the Borg were already planning to target the Federation, and he hoped that his intervention would show the Federation how dangerous the Borg threat really was.
In light of the mess that the Star Trek franchise has made of Borg-Federation contact, I think that theory absolutely holds water, but check out the full article because I get into it in way more detail!
Whether you buy into my theory in full or not, I think we can agree at the very least that this is how Q sees himself. He doesn’t see himself as an enemy, provoking Picard out of boredom or malice. He sees himself as a friend, and may even feel that Picard is ungrateful for not reciprocating those feelings of friendship.
Q accused humanity of being a “dangerous, savage, child-race,” and it’s on these charges that Picard and all of humankind are on trial, and have been since Encounter at Farpoint. But at every stage, Q has seemed smugly satisfied when the puzzles he lays out for Picard (and others) are solved. He seems to see potential in humanity – perhaps even the potential to one day know as much about the universe as the Q Continuum themselves.
In episodes like All Good Things, Q even claims to have helped Picard solve a particularly difficult puzzle. By learning to see time itself not as totally linear, but in a new and different way, Picard was able to solve the anti-time puzzle. Likewise in Tapestry, Q gave Picard a chance to see what his life might’ve been like had it taken a different path. That definitely sounds familiar to his line in the Season 2 trailers about “the road not taken!”
In Tapestry, though, Q wasn’t some nefarious villain. He was making a point to Picard – in his own tricksterish way – about the course of his life, and how being a risk-taker was an inherent part of his personality. He didn’t abandon Picard to the new timeline that he’d created, instead giving him an opportunity to fix his mistake.
Q has, on occasion, seemed impressed with Picard and his ability to solve the puzzles he created for him. Even when Picard had to grovel to Q in Q Who and admit that the Federation wasn’t ready to encounter the Borg, and that the encounter was frightening, Q seemed satisfied that he’d made his point. In Encounter at Farpoint and in All Good Things in particular, Q even seemed pleased that Picard had been able to think through a complex situation and find a solution. He helped – but in a limited way – and in an almost-parental way seemed kind of proud of Picard.
Those feelings, of course, are not reciprocated, and Q has definitely caused death and destruction. Eighteen members of the Enterprise-D’s crew were lost in that first encounter with the Borg, for example, and Q didn’t restore them to life afterwards. However, on other occasions he did undo harm, and even death, caused to humans – such as by un-freezing Tasha Yar in Encounter at Farpoint.
Q being the out-and-out villain of Picard Season 2 would, I would argue, represent a fundamental shift in his characterisation. It would take Q from being a trickster and an annoyance into something much more sinister, and while it’s certainly possible that he could have a darker side that we aren’t familiar with, it would be a major change that would require a good deal of explanation. Why, after having seemingly sensed potential in Picard and humankind, would Q try to do something so extreme?
Furthermore, from a narrative perspective Q doesn’t make a good villain. His god-like powers basically mean that Picard and his crew could never win, and Q’s amorality and lack of fair play mean that he would always be in a position to dominate and frustrate Picard if he ever came close to defeating him. This is a problem all overpowered characters in fiction can have, and it applies to Q in Star Trek just as much as it does elsewhere. Given what we know of Q and his abilities, it doesn’t even seem plausible that the Federation could find a technobabble explanation for limiting his powers, either.
So there are two questions remaining: did Q meddle with the timeline at all? And if not, who did?
There’s a case to be made that Q did still interfere with the timeline, and that all of this is another one of his puzzles for Picard to solve. That’s certainly one possibility, and it wouldn’t be completely out-of-character for Q to behave in this way. Perhaps he saw Picard getting back on his feet after years in seclusion and decided the time was right for another phase of the “trial.” Maybe we’ll learn that Q has visited Picard during his self-imposed isolation, too.
But there’s also another case we can make: Q didn’t have anything whatsoever to do with the event that disrupted the timeline. The extent of his involvement may be shielding Picard and the crew of La Sirena from its effects, allowing them to travel back in time to undo whatever happened. There are many culprits we could point to if Q isn’t to blame: the super-synths from Season 1, the Borg, the Terran Empire, a faction from Discovery’s Temporal War, etc.
Q may thus have an altruistic motive for reappearing in Picard’s life. If some external force or faction is responsible for the damage to the timeline, Q might believe that it’s up to him to “save” Picard and humanity. By returning to his old friend, he might do what we know he’s done on multiple occasions already: give him the tools to understand and fix the problem, but without giving him all of the answers right away.
To me, that is Q’s modus operandi. He sets up a problem – or allows Picard to encounter a problem independently – and provides minimal help. In Encounter at Farpoint, Q could’ve just been up front about the nature of Farpoint Station, but instead he forced Picard to solve the puzzle himself. In Q Who he could’ve simply told Picard about the Borg and their destructive power, but instead he made sure Picard encountered them first-hand. In All Good Things he could’ve explained the nature of the anti-time eruption, but instead he watched as Picard figured it out for himself. On each of these occasions (and more) Q provided minimal help and assistance – but the help and assistance he did provide ultimately proved key to resolving the situation favourably.
If Q wanted to, he could wipe humanity out of existence with a mere thought. If he wanted to kill or seriously harm Picard, he has infinite ways of doing so and unlimited opportunities to do so. He could go back in time and prevent Picard’s birth or turn him into Murf from Star Trek: Prodigy, or a million other ridiculous and sinister things. Sending Picard on a mission back in time, thus giving him a chance to undo whatever damage has been done, is not the way for Q to “win” in any sense of the word.
So it’s safe to say that I believe there’s more going on with Q than meets the eye! His involvement with the event that damages the timeline, and his reasons for getting involved in the first place, may seem suspicious right now – but we’re seeing small glimpses through the eyes of Picard, and thus with Picard’s own biases attached. Considering all of the other things that Q has done, and the many other ways he’s challenged and provoked Picard over the years, my suspicion right now is that there’s something else going on that the trailers and teasers have been careful not to reveal.
To summarise this theory, then: Q either isn’t responsible for damaging the timeline at all, or he’s doing so for the purposes of testing or challenging Picard. What we’ve seen so far doesn’t depict a serious attempt on Q’s part to harm Picard or even permanently disrupt the Federation or the prime timeline; there’s something more going on that we haven’t yet seen – something that will, perhaps, unfold slowly over ten episodes!
I’m genuinely excited to see Q make a return to Star Trek. His appearance in Lower Decks Season 1 was relatively minor, so it will be neat to have him back in a substantial way – whatever form that ultimately takes and whatever his impact on the season’s narrative. He’s a more complex character than some viewers give him credit for, and as I’ve said before I don’t think it’s fair to call Q a “villain” – at least not in any of his appearances thus far. Perhaps Picard Season 2 will change that, showing us a darker and more sinister presentation of the character. But maybe we’ll get a continuation of this complex presentation, and the return of a truly interesting dynamic between Q and Picard.
Stay tuned when Picard Season 2 kicks off in March, because if there’s any development of this theory I’m sure I’ll have something to say about it!
Star Trek: Picard Season 2 will stream on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and around the world beginning on the 3rd of March 2022. The Star Trek franchise – including all characters and 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4, Star Trek: Picard Season 1, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
With Discovery taking an unplanned six-week break, we’ve got a little time to settle in and collect our thoughts. The first half of Season 4 has seen some progress toward unravelling the mystery of the dark matter anomaly, but there are still plenty of questions! From this point, the story could go in many different directions, and could potentially make significant connections and crossovers with past iterations of Star Trek. Today, we’re going to consider one such possibility.
In the episode But To Connect, which served as the mid-season finale, Ruon Tarka returned. Tarka is a Risian scientist who had been working on the DMA and who had collaborated with the USS Discovery’s own Paul Stamets in the episode The Examples to build a working scale model of the anomaly. We learned more about him this time, including what he claims to be his motivation for wanting to destroy the DMA while preserving the machine at its centre: he wants to use it to travel to a parallel universe.
During a conversation with Book, Tarka claimed that he had “a friend” while he was forced to work for the Emerald Chain. This friend wasn’t mentioned by name, but appears to have been a major motivating factor for Tarka to find a way to cross the divide between universes; to “punch through” as he put it.
This could all be obfuscation on Tarka’s part; a made-up story to help him sink his talons into Book and manipulate him into doing his bidding. Tarka’s plans relied on Book: he needed him to either convince the delegates to approve the use of his weapon, or to use the stolen spore drive to deliver the weapon without Federation help. So we have to acknowledge that possibility.
But I was struck by the way this conversation deliberately kept Tarka’s “friend” hidden from us as the audience. Book asked who the friend was, but Tarka quickly waved away the question. That makes me wonder… who is this friend? And could it be someone we’ve met before – maybe in Discovery, but maybe in a past iteration of Star Trek?
So today we’re going to consider a few possible candidates for Tarka’s friend. Who could this person be, and if they survived their imprisonment with the Emerald Chain, might we be about to meet them?
I can’t decide right now whether Discovery is setting up Tarka to be the main villain for the rest of the season, or whether Captain Burnham and the crew will resolve this storyline within an episode or two before moving back to the DMA and Unknown Species 10-C. Either possibility feels just as likely, so we could perhaps see the Tarka storyline rumble on for much of the second half of the season.
But we’ll have to set that aside for now! I’ve put together a list of candidates for being Tarka’s friend and we’ll go through them one by one. Just remember one thing: I have no “insider information,” and I’m not trying to claim that any of this will actually be included in Star Trek: Discovery. This is speculation and theorising from a fan – and nothing more.
With that caveat out of the way, let’s jump into the list.
Friend #1: Aurellio
Let’s see… Aurellio is a bona fide scientist. He worked for the Emerald Chain. He and Tarka know one another. And although Aurellio has been mentioned several times this season, we haven’t seen him. Could he be the mysterious friend?
I don’t think so, not unless Tarka is even more devious than we think! Although we haven’t seen Aurellio this season, we’ve heard multiple times that he’s working with Starfleet, and he even built the new spore drive that Book and Tarka used in But To Connect. So unless Tarka has somehow managed to fake Aurellio’s entire existence… I think we can rule him out.
But on the surface, Aurellio fits the bill in some respects! We don’t really know of any other ex-Emerald Chain scientists, so it’s an outside possibility that Aurellio is involved in all of this somehow.
Friend #2: Altan Inigo Soong
Dr Soong is the son of Data’s creator, and was encountered by Admiral Picard on the planet Coppelius in Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1 – the first part of the Picard Season 1 finale. As a human from the 24th Century, he shouldn’t still be alive almost eight centuries later, but Dr Soong had plans to transfer his consciousness into a synthetic body. This process was mentioned earlier in Discovery Season 4, as it was used to give Gray a physical body.
If Dr Soong was ultimately successful, it’s possible that his synthetic form survived to the 32nd Century, and he could therefore be Tarka’s friend. He was already a skilled scientist when Picard met him, and with centuries of time to develop his skills he could have proven invaluable to an organisation like the Emerald Chain.
Now we get into abject speculation, but if Unknown Species 10-C turns out to be connected to the super-synths from Picard Season 1, this could give Dr Soong an additional motive for wanting to escape to a parallel universe: he might be aware of the threat they pose to the galaxy and all organic races.
Friend #3: The Doctor
Nothing that Tarka said about his friend implied that they’re organic – so the Doctor being a hologram shouldn’t count against him! I’ve speculated before that a backup copy of the Doctor could still be alive in the 32nd Century, as we saw in the Voyager Season 4 episode Living Witness. While the Doctor wasn’t a scientist per se, after decades living and working with the Kyrians in the Delta Quadrant he may have broadened his skills.
If the Doctor was re-activated to find a galaxy ravaged by the Burn and all of his friends long gone, he might well want to escape to an alternate reality – there’d be nothing left for him in the prime timeline.
Perhaps the Emerald Chain intercepted his ship while he was on his way from the Delta Quadrant, or perhaps this is a different copy or version of the Doctor altogether from the one we saw in Living Witness. Because of the Doctor’s nature as a hologram, he could have easily survived this long.
Friend #4: Control
Captain Leland, who had been “assimilated” by the Control AI, was killed at the end of Season 2, and the existence of life in the 32nd Century seems to suggest that Control was permanently shut down shortly after the USS Discovery left. But what if that didn’t happen, or if the shutdown of Control was incomplete?
So far this season we’ve had more mentions of Control – and a greater discussion of the implications of its rise – than we got in the entirety of Season 3. Could that be setting up something big later in the season? Could Tarka’s friend actually be someone that the Control AI “assimilated?”
If so, perhaps Control plans to abandon this universe to find one more easily attacked and dominated – and Tarka may find that his friendship with whomever it is was little more than a ruse.
Friend #5: Another Ruon Tarka
There are multiple parallel universes – perhaps an infinite number! At least some of those universes contain alternate versions of everyone we’re familiar with: the Mirror Universe and the alternate reality of the Kelvin films being just two examples. So what if Ruon Tarka’s “friend” is, in fact, a parallel universe version of himself?
Tarka was confident that the parallel universe he intends to reach is better than the post-Burn reality he currently inhabits. But how could he possibly know that unless he’d either seen it for himself or met someone from that reality? Though in theory anyone from that universe could be Tarka’s friend, I think someone with the self-assuredness and arrogance of Tarka would be more inclined to trust his own counterpart.
We know that Tarka isn’t bound for the Mirror Universe – at least based on what he told Book. But here’s a spoiler for my next theory post: what if he’s trying to reach the Kelvin timeline? His unnamed friend could be his Kelvin timeline counterpart.
Friend #6: Michael Burnham
We’re sticking with the parallel universe theme here. If an alternate version of Captain Burnham had somehow crossed into our universe, perhaps she’d been captured by the Emerald Chain and forced to work with Tarka. She might have warmed up to him, telling him of her true origin in a different, better universe.
Burnham has a keen scientific mind, and had she ended up in Emerald Chain captivity they might well have tried to put her to work as a scientist. Discovery has also put Burnham at the centre of big storylines before, such as by making her the Red Angel in Season 2.
The counter-argument to this would be that everyone we met from the Emerald Chain, including Osyraa, Ryn, and Aurellio, didn’t recognise Burnham or claim to have seen her before. It’s possible that they never met her or that she was working in a different lab, but it could also be seen as a mark against this theory. Tarka also suggested that his friend was male, which could also rule out Burnham.
Friend #7: Dax
Thanks to the inclusion of Gray and Adira, we’ve spent some time with the Trill over the past couple of seasons. Trill symbionts are particularly long-lived, and there’s evidence to suggest that Gray and Adira’s symbiont, Tal, may have been alive in the 24th or 25th Century. It isn’t impossible, then, for the Dax symbiont to have survived to the 32nd Century.
Dax was one character I felt could make a comeback in Season 3. Early trailers dropped hints about the Trill, and bringing back Dax could’ve been a great way for the show to give fans a nod and a wink – but without needing to bring back an actor from the past. The nature of Trill life means that Dax would be in a new host by now – and thus the character could be recast in an easy and inoffensive way.
In Deep Space Nine we saw Dax mostly as a scientist thanks to Jadzia, and while Dax had many different roles over the course of their lifetime, returning to a scientific field is a possibility – certainly if a millennium’s worth of knowledge could be put to use. Dax is also aware, thanks to their adventures with Sisko and others, of the likes of the Mirror Universe.
Friend #8: Soji
Due to her synthetic nature, Soji is also someone who could potentially still be alive in the 32nd Century. With centuries’ worth of accumulated knowledge under her belt, and a desire to help her people, Soji may have continued the Soongs’ work on cybernetics at some point after her adventures with Admiral Picard.
We haven’t yet seen any Coppelius synths in Discovery’s 32nd Century, and I’d be curious to see what became of them. If they survived and were able to continue to build new synths, there could be a thriving population by now. Many of the synths looked alike, so it’s possible that Tarka’s friend may have a familiar face even if they aren’t a character we’ve met before.
It would be great to get a proper crossover between Discovery and Picard, and this could be one way of doing it. The only drawback is that, because of the difference in time periods, having a character like Soji appear in Discovery would potentially be a limitation on future Picard stories.
Friend #9: A Borg (or ex-Borg)
Where is the Borg Collective? We haven’t heard so much as a whisper since Burnham and Discovery arrived in the 32nd Century. It’s possible that the Borg have been defeated somehow in the centuries since they last tried to conquer the Federation, but it’s also possible that they’re the mysterious Unknown Species 10-C!
Perhaps Tarka’s friend is a Borg, ex-Borg, or even the Borg Queen, and the Emerald Chain had somehow kept Borg in captivity. It could be that Tarka is the one being manipulated, and his efforts to stop the DMA will allow the Borg to gain control of the power source at its centre.
We saw in Picard Season 1 that Borg technology and components were deemed valuable, such that a black market had sprung up. The Emerald Chain is exactly the kind of immoral faction that might have dealt in harvested Borg implants, and that could explain why they kept Borg captives.
Friend #10: Gabriel Lorca
Captain Lorca commanded the USS Discovery during the show’s first season – but this character was later revealed to be from the Mirror Universe. The prime timeline version of Captain Lorca has never been found, and despite Admiral Cornwell and others believing that he wouldn’t have survived for long in the Mirror Universe, it’s at least possible that he did.
Or perhaps we’re dealing with another alternate version of Captain Lorca, someone native to the parallel universe that Tarka is attempting to reach.
Regardless, it could be fun to see the crew’s reaction to encountering their old captain! And it would be neat to welcome back Jason Isaacs to Discovery – his performance was one of the highlights of an occasionally rocky first season.
Bonus Friend: Literally anyone!
Thanks to technobabble, practically any major character from Star Trek’s past could have survived to the 32nd Century. Stasis fields, time-wormholes, transporter accidents, pocket universes, warp bubbles, and many, many different phenomena could be brought in to explain the reappearance of practically anyone.
We already saw an oblique reference to one such method in the episode Stormy Weather. The crew placed themselves in the ship’s transporter buffer in order to survive their dangerous escape from the void – a method employed by Montgomery Scott in The Next Generation Season 6 episode Relics. Could it be that this was more than just a callback to that classic episode, and was the setup for something that will come into play later?
With the exception of those few main characters who had been killed off outright – Captain Kirk, Tasha Yar, Jadzia Dax, and a couple of others – basically anyone could fill this role as Tarka’s friend and make a triumphant return to Star Trek!
So that’s it.
I could be completely over-reaching with this one, but I felt that there was something about the way Tarka refused to name his “friend” in But To Connect that could be significant. Why keep that individual hidden – unless there’s something that’s going to surprise us when they’re ultimately revealed?
We’ve seen the Abronians in cryo-sleep this season, and we’ve seen the crew of the USS Discovery put themselves in suspended animation in the transporter buffer. The DMA also contains a wormhole, a phenomenon that has been used to travel through time in past iterations of Star Trek. Gray used the “Soong method” to acquire a synthetic body. And there have been multiple mentions of parallel universes. Any of these could be hinting at the return of a major character, perhaps someone who used one of these methods to either survive to the 32nd Century or to cross over from their native universe.
So that’s my theory. Ruon Tarka’s “friend” is someone we’ve met before, perhaps someone from Star Trek’s past who we wouldn’t expect to see! Unfortunately we’ve got to wait at least six weeks to see if I’m right!
Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 is currently on hiatus and will return on the 10th of February. The first half of Season 4 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, Scandinavia, Latin America, and Australia. The show is on Pluto TV in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and other parts of Western Europe at 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Individual episodes or the full season can be purchased on iTunes, Amazon Video, YouTube, and possibly other platforms in the UK, parts of Europe, and select other countries. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4, Star Trek: Picard Season 1 and the trailers for Season 2, Short Treks, Star Trek Online, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
Are you as curious as I am about Unknown Species 10-C? Right now, this is one of the biggest mysteries in Star Trek: Discovery’s fourth season – and one of the most tantalising storylines that the series has ever teased us with. We don’t have much to go on when it comes to figuring out who Unknown Species 10-C might be… but don’t worry, that hasn’t stopped me from putting together a list of suspects!
Part of me feels that because Discovery has teased us with so many references and callbacks to past iterations of Star Trek so far this season, Unknown Species 10-C will be someone we’re already familiar with. But at the same time, I keep thinking back to Season 3 and the Burn storyline, and how the ending to that story was something completely unpredictable and brand-new to the franchise. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Discovery go down that road again.
I successfully predicted that the dark matter anomaly – or DMA for short – was an artificial construct. Even though the DMA was initially teased as a scientific puzzle, it felt plausible verging on likely that Discovery would choose this direction for its main story, so I wasn’t stunned to get confirmation of that in the episode The Examples. The crew are now working on the assumption that the DMA is some kind of super-weapon… but that may not be the case. This is Star Trek: there’s always the possibility that this is an accident, an experiment gone wrong, or other such things!
Caveat time! I have no “insider information,” and I’m not trying to claim that any of the theories on the list below will pan out. I love being surprised by stories that go in unpredictable directions! This list is pure speculation from a fan of Star Trek, and nothing more. It’s also wholly subjective; if you hate all of my ideas or I don’t include your pet theory, that’s okay! We all have different ideas about what would make for a fun and exciting story, and there’s no need for fans to get into arguments about these kinds of things. This is supposed to be just for fun!
With all of that out of the way, let’s jump into the list – which is in no particular order.
Suspect #1: The Borg Collective
In The Examples, Admiral Vance listed several factions that Starfleet Intelligence believed would have the technological capability to create the DMA. One notable omission from his list was the Borg Collective – and at this point, we don’t know why that is. The Borg’s technology (at least as of the late 24th Century) was light-years ahead of the Federation’s, and when I think about the most powerful factions in Star Trek and someone capable of creating something like the DMA, the Borg are quite literally at the top of my list.
Admiral Vance may know something that we don’t; the Borg Collective may not exist in the 32nd Century, for example. But the omission of the Borg from his list may be a misdirect, with Discovery’s writers trying to keep the faction hidden until the right moment. A conspiracy theory? Maybe! But it may yet pan out. There have been several direct references to Star Trek: Voyager in Discovery’s fourth season, and Voyager was the most Borg-y Star Trek series. That could be a possible hint!
The Borg are very powerful, capable of building a galaxy-spanning transwarp network and assimilating trillions of individuals across thousands of races. Their ships, weapons, and technology far outpaced the Federation as of their last appearance, and while the DMA wouldn’t necessarily fit with their usual method of attack, we can’t rule out that the Borg’s tactics have changed.
Suspect #2: The Gorn Hegemony
This stems from something we heard right at the beginning of Season 3 more than a year ago. In the episode That Hope Is You, Part 1, Cleveland Booker told Michael Burnham that the Gorn had “destroyed subspace” for several light-years in the area around the planet Hima. Clearly, then, the Gorn possess powerful weaponry in the 32nd Century, capable of damaging subspace – and we know that the DMA is capable of tearing subspace too.
This was a throwaway line – but it proves that the Gorn are still active in the 32nd Century, and that while the Burn may have impacted their society, it clearly wasn’t stopping them from conducting experiments or weapons tests – whatever it was they did that “destroyed” part of subspace. The Gorn have also been shown as antagonistic toward the Federation in their handful of appearances to date, meaning that they can certainly be argued to have motive.
On the production side of things, the Gorn are a relative unknown. They could thus be brought into a range of different stories in very different ways, allowing Discovery’s writers and producers a lot of wiggle room to tell the kind of story they want to tell while simultaneously harkening back to the very first season of The Original Series. Interestingly, Admiral Vance proposed the Metrons as one of the suspects on his list – and it was the Metrons who pitted Captain Kirk against the Gorn captain in Arena.
Suspect #3: The Kelvan Empire
The Kelvan Empire’s first and only appearance to date came in the second season of The Original Series. A powerful faction from the Andromeda Galaxy, the Kelvan Empire was in search of a new home due to an environmental disaster – and they had their sights set on the Milky Way for conquest.
Captain Kirk was able to convince a Kelvan delegation that peaceful co-operation might be better, and promised Federation aid to help them find new worlds to settle. This offer was transmitted to the Andromeda Galaxy via an unmanned starship that would take centuries to complete the intergalactic voyage. Whether the leaders of the Kelvan Empire would be open to such co-operation, however, isn’t clear.
If the Kelvan Empire rejected the Federation’s offer and set out to conquer the Milky Way, the timelines kind of line up for this faction to return. In The Original Series their technology was incredibly powerful, giving them the ability to reduce organic beings down to their base minerals – then restore them to life – using a powerful field projection weapon. The Kelvan Empire was clearly far more advanced than the 23rd Century Federation, and may be capable of creating a weapon on the scale of the DMA.
Suspect #4: The Dominion
The introduction of Federation President Rillak – who is part-human, part-Bajoran, and part-Cardassian – has given us the first tidbits of information about what happened in the aftermath of the Dominion War. Though not stated outright, Captain Burnham’s comments in the episode All Is Possible seem to confirm that the Cardassians, Bajorans, and Federation have been at peace. But what of the Dominion?
The Dominion had existed for millennia prior to first contact with the Federation, and in many ways possessed technology that was at least slightly superior. It took the combined forces of the Federation, Klingons, and Romulans (with no small amount of help from the Prophets) to push the Dominion out of the Alpha Quadrant, so they’re clearly a strong and powerful faction. But after their defeat in the Dominion War, we don’t know what became of them.
Behind the Bajoran Wormhole, the Dominion may well have retained much of its territory. Perhaps, despite the best efforts of Odo, they sought to regroup and focused on developing new and powerful weapons. Or perhaps their dreams of peaceful coexistence were shattered by the Burn – an event emanating from Federation space and for which they may blame the Federation.
Suspect #5: The Sphere-Builders
The Sphere-Builders were an extradimensional faction who fought in one of the Temporal Wars. They attempted to use a large network of spherical space stations in a region of space called the Delphic Expanse to convert a large swathe of the Milky Way to match their native realm; they were unable to survive in our dimension.
Crewman Daniels told Captain Archer that the Sphere-Builders were eventually defeated in the 26th Century, but it’s not impossible to think that they were able to rebuild in the centuries after that climactic battle. It’s also interesting to note that the scale model of the DMA controller that Stamets and Ruon Tarka built in the episode The Examples was spherical in shape.
The DMA isn’t a perfect match for what the Sphere-Builders were trying to do in Enterprise – but we still don’t know exactly what the DMA’s purpose is, and it may have some hidden function that we aren’t aware of yet. The Sphere-Builders were clearly a very powerful faction, capable of constructing huge self-powered space stations, meaning that the DMA is certainly something they would be capable of creating.
Suspect #6: The super-synths from Star Trek: Picard
Because of the somewhat rushed ending to Picard Season 1, we never got to find out much about the faction I’ve dubbed the “super-synths.” Similar in some respects to the Reapers from the Mass Effect video games, this powerful alliance of synthetic life claimed to want to help other synthetics… but was their offer genuine?
The super-synths possessed very powerful technology, and when considering the DMA, which has powerful gravitational effects, one very important thing to note is that the super-synths have experience with gravity and with huge power sources. They were capable of literally moving stars, creating an artificial eight-star octonary system to serve as a guide for synths.
In the Picard Season 1 finale we caught a very brief glimpse of some menacing-looking synthetic tentacles… but that was all we saw. One thing I find very interesting in the aftermath of Picard Season 1 is that the super-synths may now be aware of the existence of the Milky Way, the Federation, the Romulans, and the Coppelius synths – potentially giving them a reason to come here.
Suspect #7: The Klingon Empire
We haven’t heard so much as a growl from the Klingons since Captain Burnham and Discovery arrived in the 32nd Century, so we don’t know what became of the Federation-Klingon alliance that we saw in the late 24th Century. Did it endure? Did the Klingons perhaps even join the Federation at some point? Or did the two powers drift apart and resume their rivalry?
We’ve seen the Klingons as villains in Discovery before, during the Federation-Klingon War depicted in Season 1. It would be interesting in some ways to return to that, and as veterans of that conflict the crew of Discovery could play a key role in battling the Klingons if the Federation hadn’t had to fight them for a long time.
As above with the Dominion, the Klingon Empire may blame the Federation for the Burn. The DMA could be their way of retaliating – or beginning to retaliate. The DMA could be seen as a kind of artillery barrage, designed to soften up the Federation before a larger-scale attack or invasion. The Klingon Empire may well employ tactics like that.
Suspect #8: The First Federation
Another classic faction from The Original Series, the First Federation was first encountered by Captain Kirk in the episode The Corbomite Maneuver. The faction was clearly very powerful, possessing technology that far outpaced Starfleet in the 23rd Century. A single member of the First Federation was able to control a massive starship and disable the USS Enterprise during their first encounter.
The First Federation was implied to be much older than Starfleet and the Federation, and I’ve always had the sense that we only saw a fraction of the power Balok had at his disposal; the First Federation seem capable of far more destructive feats than we ever saw. Though relations with the First Federation seem to have been good, with trade happening well into the 24th Century, it’s possible that things changed.
The Burn is one potential catalyst for a souring of relations with the First Federation, and if they wanted to attack, they would appear to be more than capable of creating a weapon on the scale of the DMA.
Suspect #9: Species 8472
Species 8472 (also known in non-canon works as the Undine) are a race native to an extradimensional realm known as fluidic space. Fluidic space was notable for being entirely comprised of organic compounds, and Species 8472 were the only known native inhabitants. In the late 24th Century the Borg attempted to assimilate them – but they were able to fend off the attempt with ease.
There have been several references to Star Trek: Voyager in Discovery’s fourth season so far, so maybe those are teasing us with a more significant crossover! The last time the crew of Voyager encountered Species 8472 they were seemingly able to make peace… but was that peace destined to last?
Species 8472 were known to use organic technology that the Federation had a difficult time dealing with. They were also capable of creating non-organic technologies that could rival – or even surpass – 24th Century Starfleet, and they had the ability to change their forms so they could appear to be humanoid. We don’t know what became of Species 8472 after the events of Voyager – but in Star Trek Online they were a major antagonistic faction.
Suspect #10: The Terran Empire
In the Season 3 episode Die Trying, Dr Kovich explained to Georgiou that it had been more than five centuries since there had been any contact between the Prime and Mirror Universes; the two universes had been slowly drifting apart. Perhaps the DMA is not so much a weapon as an attempt to re-open that link, one created by the Terran Empire – or their descendants.
The Terran Empire had fallen by the mid-24th Century, with Terrans being enslaved by the Klingon-Cardassian Alliance at that time. But it’s been a long time since then, and when we last saw the Mirror Universe, a Terran rebellion was in full swing. Perhaps over time the Terrans re-established their empire.
Alternatively, the Terran Empire of the 23rd Century could have attempted to break through to the Prime Universe, maybe intending to conquer the Federation. But for sci-fi reasons, instead of emerging in the 23rd Century they’ll emerge in the 32nd. After all, these kinds of technologies rarely work as intended in Star Trek!
Suspect #11: The Q Continuum
I wouldn’t have placed the Q Continuum under suspicion but for the fact that Admiral Vance rather nonchalantly mentioned them and then immediately ruled them out. Maybe they should be ruled out – this behaviour seems rather un-Q-like, after all – but what if it was a double-bluff from the writers?
Admiral Vance told us in The Examples that there had been no contact between the Q Continuum and the Federation for 600 years – but that doesn’t mean that the Q are gone. They’re essentially immortal and timeless, capable of travelling through time with ease. The fact that they haven’t been encountered for centuries is hardly odd under the circumstances – and no reason to rule them out altogether.
Q – by which I mean the individual who tangled with Captains Picard, Sisko, and Janeway – loved to tease and toy with humanity, but he always seemed to do so with purpose. Presenting humans with a puzzle to figure out wasn’t solely for Q’s amusement – he and the Q Continuum saw potential in humanity and in their own way sought to push us in a particular direction. Perhaps the DMA is another Q puzzle – and figuring it out will lead to some profound moment for Captain Burnham and the entire Federation.
Suspect #12: V’Ger
First encountered in The Motion Picture, V’Ger was a being of immense power – unparalleled at the time, and far beyond the scope of many civilisations. Much like the DMA, V’Ger was also massive in size, weighing in at a whopping 2AU – double the distance from the Earth to the Sun.
After its encounter with Admiral Kirk, Captain Decker, and Ilia, V’Ger evolved and disappeared – but at the end of the film, Captain Kirk very prominently chose to list Decker and Ilia not as “killed in action,” but simply as “missing,” hammering home the point that we don’t really know what became of them – nor of V’Ger itself.
The Motion Picture is one of my favourite Star Trek films for its deliberately slower pace and more ethereal storyline. The return of V’Ger after almost a millennium would be fascinating – where might it have gone, and what could it have learned in all those years? What were the outcomes of its merging with Decker and its evolution? These questions were left open as the credits rolled on The Motion Picture… maybe we’re about to get some answers.
Suspect #13: Section 31
Section 31 is the off-the-books division of Starfleet Intelligence, a powerful but hidden faction that we’ve seen do some very questionable and even evil things on occasion. Section 31’s technology has always been depicted as being streets ahead of Starfleet’s – they got combadges in the 23rd Century, for example, decades before those communicators would be available to the rest of Starfleet.
A return to Section 31 would connect Season 4 back to the events of Season 2, which featured the shadowy organisation prominently in its storyline. Section 31 seems more than capable of creating something like the DMA – but at the moment we don’t know what motive they would have. If it was intended as a weapon, why target friendly worlds?
Perhaps the DMA is a Section 31 experiment or weapon that has gotten out of control – but this would arguably be too similar to the Control storyline from Season 2. Regardless, Section 31 seems quite capable of creating something like the DMA.
Suspect #14: Dr Kovich
This is directly connected to the theory above, as part of me is still convinced that the mysterious Dr Kovich works for – or is perhaps the head of – Section 31.
Kovich’s presentation in Seasons 3 and 4 of Discovery is rather unusual by Starfleet standards. He seems to be skilled in a number of fields from psychology to intelligence, and we’ve seen him in a variety of different roles. The one thing his positions seem to have in common is power – he’s connected to Admiral Vance right at the head of Starfleet, he’s able to appoint Starfleet Academy instructors of his own accord, he’s seen debriefing powerful people for Starfleet Intelligence… the list goes on.
If Section 31 is involved with the DMA, I would bet money that Dr Kovich is, too. In fact, he isn’t really a suspect on his own unless Section 31 is behind the DMA, so we really have to take these two entries together!
Suspect #15: The Control AI
Control was the main villain during Discovery’s second season. A powerful artificial intelligence, Control coveted the Sphere data that now resides aboard the USS Discovery, believing that merging its programming with the data would allow it to achieve true sentience. It became murderous during its single-minded pursuit of the Sphere data – and is responsible for Captain Burnham and the crew travelling forward in time.
The exact circumstances of Control’s defeat are somewhat muddled, and the Season 2 finale seemed to imply that the death of Leland – who had been “assimilated” by Control’s nanites – crippled or even killed Control. Its servers will have been taken offline by Captain Pike, Ash Tyler, and the survivors of the battle… but could there be a way for Control to have survived?
From a storytelling point of view, there’s something interesting about a narrative that comes full-circle. Defeating Control saved the future – but perhaps its defeat was less final than we might’ve thought. We still don’t really know why Control wanted to exterminate all sentient organic life in the galaxy, either – was there a flaw in its programming, or was there something else going on?
Suspect #16: Zora
Sticking with an AI theme, we first met Zora in the Short Treks episode Calypso. Zora was created by the merging of the Sphere data with the USS Discovery’s computer, and we’ve since had several very interesting moments with Zora making decisions independently.
In the episode There Is A Tide, Zora teamed up with Tilly and the bridge crew to help retake the USS Discovery and defeat the Emerald Chain. But was this as altruistic as it seems – or was it simply the AI’s attempt at self-preservation? The mere pursuit of the Sphere data was enough to send Control into a murderous rampage… and the truth is that Captain Burnham and the rest of Starfleet simply don’t know what the long-term effects will be of the Sphere data’s merger with Discovery’s computer.
In The Examples we learned that Zora has begun to develop emotions – and emotions can lead to instability, especially when brand-new. Look at what happened to Data, for example, when he first received his emotion chip. Or look at Lore and Sutra as examples of AIs with “evil” personalities.
Suspect #17: A faction from the Temporal Wars
Season 3 introduced us to the Temporal Wars, a series of conflicts that wrapped up in the years prior to the Burn. The Temporal Cold War – which seems to be connected – was depicted in Star Trek: Enterprise, with the time-travelling Crewman Daniels enlisting Captain Archer’s help on several occasions.
There have been several references to Enterprise this season, with the familiar musical sting from Archer’s Theme bringing a tear to my eye in the episode Kobayashi Maru. Perhaps these callbacks have, in fact, been teasing something big in the story that lies ahead?
There are several different factions that participated in the Temporal Cold War that we saw in Enterprise, and the Temporal Wars themselves may well have introduced others. Any of these could be implicated in the DMA – it may represent an attempt to weaponise time travel and circumvent the time travel ban.
Suspect #18: The United Federation of Planets
I don’t believe for a moment that the Federation would deliberately create the DMA as a super-weapon. Section 31 absolutely would, but not Starfleet. However, the DMA may not be a weapon. One thing Discovery has come back to time and again since Season 3 is the dilithium shortage. The discovery of the Verubin Nebula may provide a short-to-medium term fix, but eventually the galaxy is once again going to run out of dilithium; it’s a finite resource.
In addition to the SB-19 project that we heard about in the episode Unification III, we’ve heard of several other Federation experiments to create alternatives to warp drive – some of which are still ongoing as of Season 4. The DMA appears to have some kind of connection to wormholes, as it was able to disappear and reappear more than a thousand light-years away in an instant. What if the DMA is an out-of-control experiment?
If this is the case, we’d expect someone to realise what was happening sooner rather than later. But it would be a very interesting story indeed if the DMA was the Federation’s responsibility – even if they didn’t intend to unleash it.
Suspect #19: President Laira Rillak
President Rillak is a wonderfully complex character who’s made a fine addition to Discovery. She’s also the kind of hard-nosed politician whose schemes border on the Machiavellian. Despite a recent détente with Captain Burnham, be under no illusions: President Rillak will happily throw Burnham and the USS Discovery under the bus if she believes doing so will suit her purposes.
A leader like that might very well sanction a dangerous experiment if she believed doing so would be to the Federation’s advantage. Maybe the DMA was intended to be a defensive weapon, maybe it was intended to destroy a threat to the Federation’s very existence, or maybe it was an attempt to travel faster-than-light without dilithium. Regardless, if such an experiment got out of control, you can bet your boots that President Rillak would try to cover it up.
If we think even more cynically – like a Covid-denying, flat-earther conspiracy theorist – maybe President Rillak ordered the creation of the DMA on purpose. Re-unifying the Federation is her main goal, and one way that people are known to come together is in the face of imminent danger. By unleashing the DMA onto the galaxy, perhaps President Rillak sought to bring ex-Federation members back into the fold. If so, it’s already paying dividends for her.
Suspect #20: Ruon Tarka (and Paul Stamets)
In the episode The Examples, Tarka and Stamets constructed a scale model of the DMA for research purposes – and according to Reno, came very close to destroying the entire ship. If they continue these experiments, perhaps they’ll end up creating the DMA by accident.
In order for this story to come to pass, we’d have to go down the dreaded time-loop route – and personally I really don’t like time-loop paradox stories! So I have to admit that I’m not too keen on this one… but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a possibility!
Because we know that the DMA has some kind of impact on spacetime, as well as potentially containing a wormhole, the prospect of time travel arises. It doesn’t seem impossible, based on what we know at this stage, for the DMA to travel backwards through time, perhaps emerging months in the past – kicking off the events that would lead to its own creation. It would be a complicated story, and one that would be difficult to get right, but we’ve seen Discovery tackle time travel on multiple occasions already.
Suspect #21: Admiral Picard and the crew of La Sirena
Star Trek: Picard Season 2 is going to have a major time travel element to its storyline, with Picard and his new crew seemingly intent on chasing Q back to the 21st Century. If there’s one thing you can rely on in Star Trek it’s this: time travel seldom goes according to plan!
Admiral Picard would never willingly unleash something like the DMA… unless he had no choice. But if it was an unintended consequence of time travel gone wrong, maybe it’s possible that he and the crew of La Sirena are responsible. Perhaps Captain Burnham and the USS Discovery will break through to the centre of the DMA to find La Sirena sitting there.
If Picard Season 2 unfolds as its trailers suggest, the Admiral and crew will travel back in time to the 21st Century in order to “save the future” from whatever’s gone wrong to damage the timeline. But after their adventures in 21st Century Los Angeles they’ll have to get home – and it’s the return trip that could go awry, somehow sending the DMA – and perhaps them along with it – into the 32nd Century. A long-shot? Maybe. But it would be so interesting to see a proper crossover between Picard and Discovery.
Suspect #22: Captain Michael Burnham
Captain Burnham has done nothing wrong, and there’s nothing at all in the story to suggest she would intentionally or unintentionally unleash something like the DMA upon the galaxy. But this is Star Trek: Discovery – so there’s always a chance that the show will put Captain Burnham at the centre of its main story!
The only way to really pull this off without dragging Captain Burnham’s character through the mud would be to have the responsibility lie with a parallel universe version of her, or perhaps some kind of evil clone. I don’t necessarily consider these to be likely, but with Discovery and Burnham, I don’t think we can entirely rule it out, either.
From a narrative perspective, having Burnham being in any way responsible for the DMA would have significant implications for practically all of the main characters – especially Book, whose homeworld was destroyed in the episode Kobayashi Maru. Would he hold her responsible, even if the blame lay with someone from an alternate reality?
Suspect #23: The Red Angel suit
The Red Angel suits were powerful time-travel machines created in Season 2. The first Red Angel suit took Dr Gabrielle Burnham to the 32nd Century, and from there she used it to make numerous interventions back in time, trying to thwart Control. The second suit was built by the crew of the USS Discovery and used by Captain Burnham to lead the ship into the future.
One of the key similarities – at least on the surface – between the Red Angel suits and the DMA is the presence of something akin to a wormhole. The DMA – according to Stamets and Ruon Tarka, anyway – may contain a synthetic wormhole of some kind, and what did the Red Angel suit create at the end of Season 2? A time-wormhole.
For a 23rd Century device, the Red Angel suit was incredibly powerful, capable of dragging an entire starship in its wake. With some modifications, perhaps, or increased power, who knows what it might be capable of? This would be a way to connect the DMA to Captain Burnham without making the damage it’s caused her fault.
Suspect #24: Independent Earth
Season 3 took the crew back to Earth – but the planet was not how they expected to find it! In the aftermath of the Burn, Earth had withdrawn from the Federation and was pursuing a policy of aggressive isolationism. Though Saru, Burnham, and the rest of the crew were able to help patch up relations between Earth and a human colony on Titan (which was referenced in the Season 4 episode All Is Possible) there was no indication that Earth was willing to abandon its independent status.
The Season 3 epilogue told us that Trill had rejoined the Federation, and in Season 4 we’ve also seen Ni’Var come back into the fold. But there hasn’t been any mention of Earth – as far as we know at this stage, its self-imposed isolation from the wider galaxy continues.
It’s possible that the leaders of Earth might’ve built a super-weapon for defensive purposes, but equally they could’ve been experimenting with faster-than-light travel or power generation, and the DMA is an experiment that got out of control. There could be an interesting allegory if Earth were to be identified as the culprits, leading to a story about the dangers of such an isolationist policy and trying to go it alone.
Suspect #25: It’s alive!
“They were only trying to communicate!” has become a Star Trek trope at this point, often used to describe how the seemingly-aggressive actions of an alien or entity were not intended maliciously. Perhaps the DMA, despite seeming to be artificial, is in fact a life-form in its own right.
We talked about V’Ger a moment ago, and the DMA could be something similar. Perhaps it was once an artificial construct, but has since become sentient. It may not have intended to cause harm or damage, but was simply exploring or even trying to make contact with the Federation.
This would be an inversion of the story we’re currently expecting. Instead of having a villainous enemy to defeat, Captain Burnham and the crew would instead make first contact with a very different life-form. Perhaps the DMA needs help, and despite the destruction of Kwejian and all the other damage it’s done, the crew would have to step up and offer assistance. There are many, many ways to make an interesting story out of this premise!
Suspect #26: Someone entirely new
It could well be the case that, despite all of the callbacks and teases from past iterations of Star Trek, Discovery will introduce us to someone brand-new. This was the storytelling route taken by Season 3 with the Burn, and also in Picard Season 1 with the introduction of the super-synths. In both cases, a mystery that could have led us to a familiar faction ended up introducing us to someone entirely new.
As mentioned in the introduction, a big part of me feels that this is the way Season 4 will go. Any such faction or individual would naturally be impossible to predict – just like it would’ve been impossible to predict Su’Kal’s involvement with the Burn right up until his introduction near the end of Season 3.
Having had so many references and callbacks to past iterations of the franchise, and with Discovery practically begging us to theorise and speculate about the DMA and Unknown Species 10-C, it might end up feeling a tad anticlimactic if we once again get someone brand-new that we couldn’t have anticipated. But we’ll have to wait and see, and try to keep a lid on the disappointment if the series ultimately ends up here.
So that’s it.
We’ve listed a whopping twenty-five possible suspects – and maybe you can think of more! Who would be the weirdest, most left-field culprit that you could think of? Ensign Mariner from Lower Decks, perhaps? Or how about Grudge the kitty cat?
The DMA and Unknown Species 10-C have piqued my curiosity right now, and I truly can’t wait for Friday’s episode to see what other clues we might get. In a way I hope I haven’t guessed the culprit already so that Discovery can continue to take me on a wild and unpredictable ride! Season 4 has been great so far, and its central mystery has proven truly interesting. Hopefully the resolution to the story will do justice to an engaging mystery that has been carefully crafted and beautifully set up.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, Scandinavia, Latin America, and Australia. The show is on Pluto TV in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, and other parts of Western Europe at 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Individual episodes or the full season can be purchased on iTunes, Amazon Video, and possibly other platforms in the UK, parts of Europe, and select other countries. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4, Star Trek: Picard Season 1, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
Now that all of the international broadcasting nonsense is out of the way, let’s get back into my weekly Discovery theory updates! We only missed one week, and there’s still a ton of speculating to be done about the story of Season 4, the gravitational anomaly, and what might become of some of our favourite characters.
If you’re new to my weekly theory updates for Discovery Season 4, here’s how the format works: after every episode I go back to my theory list. I cross off theories that have been debunked, celebrate any that appear to have been confirmed, update any that have seen progression, and add any new theories that the most recent episode has spawned. There will be some theories that, for whatever reason, the most recent episode didn’t advance in any way, so those will simply be restated to keep the list up-to-date and in one place!
I wrote up all of my pre-season theories into one list a couple of weeks ago, so this time we’ve already got two confirmations to take a look at before we jump into the main list.
Confirmed theory #1: The Spore Drive will be rolled out to more ships.
Finally! After the revelation in the Season 3 finale that Book – and potentially anyone else with similar empathic abilities – could control the Spore Drive, the last hurdle in the way of it being rolled out to other Starfleet ships had been surmounted. It finally feels like Discovery is on the cusp of finding another use for what had been one of the most controversial technologies introduced in the series.
In Kobayashi Maru this was almost treated as a throwaway line, so I wouldn’t blame you if you missed it, but President Rillak confirmed that a “next-generation” Spore Drive is being developed by Starfleet as part of the Federation’s plans to rebuild and expand. It wasn’t stated on screen, but I wonder if the USS Voyager-J might be fitted with a Spore Drive as part of its retrofit; the vessel was in spacedock, after all.
I’d been hoping that the series would go down this road for a while. Moving forward in time to the 32nd Century means there are no “canon purist” arguments in favour of abandoning the Spore Drive, keeping it a secret, or ensuring that only the USS Discovery could use it. And the events of the Season 3 finale seemed deliberately designed to create an easy way to expand the Spore Drive to more ships – perhaps even paving the way for future Star Trek productions in this era.
We don’t yet know what the implications will be of Kwejian’s destruction on Starfleet’s plans. It was implied in the Season 3 finale that anyone with empathic abilities could use the Spore Drive, not only Kwejian natives, so the loss of Kwejian and most of its population shouldn’t mean that the Spore Drive expansion has to be abandoned. It might be possible for Betazoids, Deltans, or even Vulcans to train to become Spore Drive navigators.
Confirmed theory #2: A new character joined the main cast.
Following the departures of Nhan and Georgiou, it felt like there was definitely scope to either promote a recurring character to the main cast or create at least one new one! We’ve met President Rillak, who seems like she’ll become a recurring character, but the one who’s been promoted to join the main cast is Blu del Barrio’s character of Adira.
Adira makes a great addition to Discovery’s main cast of characters, occupying a similar role to Tilly in Season 1 in particular. As Tilly has undergone significant character growth across the show’s first three seasons, there was scope to bring someone brand-new aboard the ship, and having that person be someone young and eager is a positive thing. Adira is not only involved in their own storyline with Gray and Dr Culber, but also as a scientist can work with Stamets, Tilly, Saru, and Captain Burnham. I think Adira has the potential to be a versatile character in whatever stories lie ahead.
My original version of this theory centred around the question of Captain Burnham’s first officer. Now that we know that role has gone to Saru, it seems as though the main and recurring characters for this season are set.
So those theories were confirmed. Now we’ll take a look at some new theories and a few updated theories.
Theory #1: President Rillak knows what the anomaly is… and may be responsible for its creation.
This ties into a broader point that we’ll be considering from several angles: the possibility that the gravitational anomaly is not a natural phenomenon. If the anomaly is artificial in nature, the question of who is responsible for its creation crops up. It could be a weapon deployed by another faction, of course, but it could also be a Federation creation – perhaps a weapon designed to defend against the Borg, a rogue experiment to try and prevent a second Burn, or something else entirely.
If that’s the case, President Rillak almost certainly knows more about the anomaly than she’s willing to say right now. Perhaps she’s hoping that it won’t be what she fears it is, or perhaps she’s trying to cover her own back – Captain Burnham did go out of her way to describe her as a “politician,” after all.
President Rillak 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.
As the head of the Federation, President Rillak is committed to doing whatever it takes to preserve the organisation. The anomaly may have been part of those plans… somehow. If she isn’t responsible for its creation directly, she may still know what it is if a past Federation President signed off on its creation. She may be covering up that secret on behalf of the Federation.
Theory #2: Captain Burnham and/or the Red Angel time travel suits from Season 2 are connected to the anomaly.
Though we did see some moves away from Discovery’s laser-focus on Michael Burnham in Season 3, the show has put her front-and-centre in all of its main storylines so far. Season 2’s Red Angel storyline was connected to Burnham in a major way, and I wonder if Burnham might similarly have some kind of connection to the anomaly that she’s currently unaware of.
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 gravitational anomaly. If the Red Angel suit completed its journey back to the 23rd Century, the anomaly may have had centuries to grow and expand unchecked.
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’s just happened to Kwejian?
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 #3: Gray’s transfer to a new body won’t be simple.
I adored the scene with Gray, Adira, and Dr Culber in Anomaly. As someone who’s struggled to come to terms with my own gender identity and my gender expression, it was so deeply relatable to see Gray “customising” his new body. But also included in that scene was a line from Dr Culber about how the “Soong method” used to transfer consciousness into a synthetic form has a very low success rate.
I suspect that line was included as a kind of pre-emptive plot hole plug that will have nothing to do with Gray! If the Soong method was said to work every time, then it would be very difficult to kill off any Star Trek characters from the 25th Century onwards, because fans would rightly ask “why didn’t they transfer to a synth body?” So I suspect that’s why the line was included.
However, it felt a little ominous for poor Gray. It was great to see that Adira, Dr Culber, and others had been working hard to help Gray become seen again after the events of Season 3, and I have no doubt that somehow we’ll see Gray in a physical body before the season is over. But we’re only two episodes in at time of writing – will it really happen so quickly, and so seemingly simply?
I’m not convinced of that yet! There are many things that could go wrong, delay the transfer, or prevent it entirely. And there are an unlimited number of technobabble explanations for finding a new way to give Gray a body! So let’s see what happens – but I wonder if this storyline might have a few twists and turns along the way.
Theory #4: Book will find Kyheem and Leto inside the gravitational anomaly.
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. We don’t know what the gravitational anomaly 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 gravitational anomaly 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 #5: The anomaly is a sentient life-form.
“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. Perhaps the same is true of the gravitational anomaly: 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 gravitational anomaly, 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 #6: Saru will be given the captaincy of the USS Voyager-J.
Saru’s future was briefly discussed before he offered to serve as Captain Burnham’s first officer. 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?
At time of writing, a fifth season of Discovery hasn’t been officially confirmed. But if the show is to run for another season – or more – the question of Saru’s role comes up. It would be possible to work out a way to keep him on board as first officer for longer than one season, and in many ways I think that’s something fans would want to see. But at the same time, from an in-universe point of view, it kind of makes sense for Starfleet to use its experienced captains where possible.
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.
If Saru did depart Discovery in a future episode or season, could that perhaps set the stage for Star Trek: Saru… or perhaps Star Trek: Voyager-J? That’s a very interesting possibility! One element of Season 3 that I felt didn’t really get as much attention as it might’ve was that Saru was the Star Trek franchise’s first non-human captain (in a leading role). There’s perhaps scope to follow him on another adventure sometime in the future.
Theory #7: The gravitational anomaly is a superweapon.
We touched on this theory above when we considered the Federation’s possible complicity in the creation of the gravitational anomaly, but there are many other ways such a story could pan out. The anomaly’s unpredictable nature, as noted by Tilly and Saru at the end of Anomaly, could imply that there’s an intelligence at work, perhaps dictating the anomaly’s moves. This could be the anomaly itself as suggested above, but it could also be the case that the anomaly is 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 #7a: The Borg are responsible.
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, out of all of the factions in Star Trek, few seem capable of creating a weapon on the scale of the gravitational anomaly. 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 #7b: The super-synths from Picard Season 1 are responsible.
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.
Theory #7c: The Kelvan Empire is responsible.
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 involved, the timelines kind of line up for the Kelvan Empire to return to the Milky Way.
Theory #7d: The Sphere-Builders from Enterprise are responsible.
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 gravitational anomaly 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.
So those theories were new or saw some advancement in the first two episodes of the season.
To keep these theory posts as uncomplicated as possible, I like to keep all of my theories in one place. So below you’ll find all of my other Season 4 theories. These weren’t debunked or confirmed in the first two episodes, and indeed saw no real movement at all. They remain in play, though.
Theory #8: A major character will be killed.
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.
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 who feel in danger for different reasons. For a full breakdown of which characters I think might be on the proverbial chopping block, check out my list of “death predictions” by clicking or tapping here.
Theory #9: There will be a character crossover from a past iteration of Star Trek.
Yes, I’m officially bringing this theory back! This is one that I doggedly clung 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!
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 #10: Burnham may not remain in the captain’s chair.
This is a controversial one, so let me just say up front that I’m neither in favour of this theory nor opposed to it – I just think it’s a possibility. As things stand, Discovery has had four different captains across its four seasons. One of the show’s unique points of interest within Star Trek’s broader canon are the very different ways in which these individual captains commanded the ship and crew.
It’s got to be considered at least a possibility, then, that the show will continue this trend. This doesn’t mean Captain Burnham will be killed off; I’d actually argue she’s pretty safe. But there are many different routes to her potentially leaving the ship, such as a desire for freedom that we saw in Season 3, or even perhaps taking up a new, more senior role within Starfleet.
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 #11: Kovich works for Section 31.
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 #12: The ban on time travel will be explained further.
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 #13: The Federation has flouted the ban on time travel.
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 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 #14: The story will connect with the Short Treks episode 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 #15: The crew will have to defend 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.
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 #16: Captain Burnham and the crew will encounter the Klingons.
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 #17: Some areas of the galaxy – such as the Delta Quadrant – avoided the worst effects of the Burn.
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 #18: The Guardian of Forever will be back.
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.
So that’s it! Those are all of the theories I currently have in play.
Stay tuned for weekly updates to this list after new episodes air! I try very hard to publish my theory updates in between episodes so that nothing is out-of-date! Season 4 is off to an exciting start – and there are plenty of mysterious elements to get stuck into.
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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the trailers and teasers for Star Trek: Picard Season 2. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: The Next Generation, First Contact, Voyager, and Enterprise.
Today we’re going to take a look at Q, the immortal trickster who has tangled with Captains Picard, Sisko, and Janeway – and who will soon be returning to the Star Trek franchise! Q is an unusual character in many ways. He seems to have practically unlimited knowledge of the galaxy, and may have been alive for billions of years. Yet he has an impish, almost childish sense of humour that sees him tease and mess with Starfleet – and many other people too.
I wouldn’t call Q a “villain” in any of his appearances to date. In fact, I would argue very strongly that Q sees himself as a friend, an ally, and a guide to Captains Picard and Janeway in particular, having offered his services more than once. He’s certainly selfish – forcing Starfleet officers to undergo tests and trials of his own devising – but there’s usually more to his games than meets the eye.
On several occasions – going all the way back to his first appearance – Q has presented Starfleet with puzzles to solve. These puzzles can be dangerous, and more than once Q has gotten people killed. But even so, I wouldn’t characterise him as a typical “villain” for Captain Picard or Captain Janeway to “defeat.”
The puzzles Q has presented – especially to Captain Picard – have actually proven to be deeply satisfying, and arguably helped Picard and Starfleet grow. Recognising that life can take very different forms – as Q helped Picard to see in Encounter at Farpoint – is one such puzzle he presented. He also taught Picard how to view time in a non-linear fashion – understanding that events in the future could have a causal link to events in the past in All Good Things.
Even the teasers and trailers for the upcoming second season of Star Trek: Picard may not be all they seem. Picard says he blames Q for disrupting or changing the timeline, but I think we’ll have to see that story play out before we can assign all the blame to Q. Even if Q is responsible, the question of motivation comes up. Is it really just a game; a trick to mess with Picard? Or is there something bigger going on?
That’s one of my big Picard Season 2 theories! But I’ll save the full write-up for another day. Today we’re not looking ahead to future Star Trek, we’re going to look back at past iterations of the franchise and try to answer a deceptively simple question: did Q save the Federation?
Star Trek has made a mess of the early history of Borg-Federation contact. The Raven, from Voyager’s fourth season, told us that the Borg assimilated humans and a Federation vessel in the 2350s. Regeneration, from Enterprise Season 2, showed the Borg battling against Captain Archer and his crew – and sending a message to the Delta Quadrant that would be received in the 24th Century. So the question of how the Borg first became aware of the Federation is an open one. Did they receive a message from across the galaxy? Did they first discover humanity when they assimilated Seven of Nine and her family?
Either of these explanations could account for the Borg’s interest in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants in the mid-late 24th Century. Season 1 of The Next Generation first teased the Borg’s appearance with the episode The Neutral Zone, in which both Federation and Romulan colonies had gone missing – “carried off” the surface of their planets, as Romulan commander Tebok put it. The Borg’s responsibility for these attacks would be confirmed in The Best Of Both Worlds – though the connection is easily missed, in my opinion, as it doesn’t take up much screen time.
Regardless, one thing is certain: the Borg knew of the Federation’s existence well before the Federation knew of theirs. They had even begun to send scouting vessels relatively close to Federation space; system J-25, where the Enterprise-D first encountered a Borg Cube, was a mere two-and-a-half years away from Federation space at high warp, placing the Borg tens of thousands of light-years away from their Delta Quadrant home.
Were the Borg actively scouting for the Federation, or was it just a coincidence that one of their vessels was operating so far away from their own space? We may never know the answer to that, but someone almost certainly does: Q.
In brief, here’s my theory: the Borg and the Federation were already on a collision course, but the Federation didn’t know it. Whether it was because of the First Contact–Regeneration time travel loop, the assimilation of the USS Raven, the attacks along the Neutral Zone, or simply the Borg’s continued exploration of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, they had humanity and the Federation firmly in their sights long before Starfleet was aware that there was a problem.
Recognising this, and seeing potential in humanity thanks to his earlier run-ins with Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D, Q chose to intervene. He knew that if the Federation became aware of the threat the Borg posed, their ingenuity would lead to better defences and they’d be able to protect themselves, so he chose to deliberately introduce them to the Borg for that reason.
The events of The Next Generation Season 2 episode Q Who can be reinterpreted through this new lens. Rather than Q trying to frighten Picard for the sake of it or to prove his own superiority, he was – in his own twisted way – helping Picard and the Federation. The events of Q Who led the Federation to begin serious preparations for a Borg incursion, and without that tactical readiness it seems likely that the Borg would have been able to cruise to victory during the events of The Best of Both Worlds.
This fits with how Q operates. In stories like Encounter at Farpoint, Tapestry, and All Good Things, as well as Voyager’s The Q and the Grey, Q never explains everything he knows. Instead he obfuscates, talks around the issue, and forces Starfleet figure out what’s going on for themselves. Sometimes he pushes Picard or Janeway in a certain direction to get things moving, or even devises a puzzle or test of his own, like he did in Hide and Q. But what he never does is simply communicate – he doesn’t just sit down with Picard and tell him about Farpoint Station or the anti-time problem. He pushes Picard to figure those things out for himself.
And so it is with the Borg – according to this theory. Rather than contacting Picard and explaining what he knows about the Borg and their intention of targetting Earth, he sends the Enterprise-D to a location where he knows a Borg vessel will be and allows the crew to discover the threat for themselves. He does so knowing that the consequences will be Starfleet ramping up their defences in preparation of a Borg attack.
In All Good Things, Q told Picard that the Q Continuum saw potential in humanity – the potential to one day understand more about the universe than they ever thought possible. From Q’s point of view, perhaps he believed that seeing the Federation attacked and humanity assimilated would be a net loss to the galaxy because that potential would never be realised.
Q’s motivation for putting Picard and humanity “on trial” seems to be connected to this. In Encounter at Farpoint he accused humanity of being “a dangerous, savage, child race.” Yet even by the end of the episode, Q appeared to be impressed rather than disappointed that Picard and the crew could solve his puzzle. Rather than believing humanity to be dangerous and savage, as he asserted, Q almost certainly sees humanity as something more than that – and thus would feel humanity’s assimilation by the Borg would be a loss. His desire to avoid that fate could have motivated him in Q Who.
All of this could tie into Picard Season 2. Q may feel that Picard and the Federation are ungrateful for his “assistance” over the years, and he could cite the events of Q Who as one example of how his intervention saved the Federation from assimilation. While the latter part is up for debate, I definitely believe that Q feels underappreciated by Picard in particular, and sees his interactions with the former captain of the Enterprise-D as helpful rather than antagonistic.
So let’s recap! The Borg became aware of the existence of the Federation by the mid-24th Century. The Federation had technology and resources that the Borg considered valuable, and they began targetting outlying Federation colonies, including those near to the Romulan Neutral Zone. All the while, the Federation remained ignorant of the Borg’s existence – considering them to be little more than rumour.
Foreseeing disaster and either the total assimilation of humanity or the devastation of the Federation such that humanity could not achieve its full potential, either the Q Continuum or Q independently decided to intervene. Instead of simply contacting the Federation to share his knowledge, Q transported the Enterprise-D to the star system J-25, where they encountered the Borg. This encounter led to the Federation developing anti-Borg strategies and defences that would ultimately save them from assimilation.
Unusually, Q has never taken credit for this. However, it’s at least possible that he considered Picard and the Federation as a whole to be ungrateful for his help, and this could tie in somehow to the events of Picard Season 2 where Q will be making a return to the Star Trek franchise.
What I like about this theory is that everything feels like it fits together. This theory connects the message sent in Regeneration and the early assimilation of Seven of Nine’s family to the events of The Neutral Zone, giving the Borg a reason to be operating so far outside of their territory. It also fits in perfectly with the way Q behaves – never sharing everything he knows and presenting dangerous and often deadly puzzles to Picard and Starfleet.
Whether it’s true or not is open to interpretation! I would say that Q Who wasn’t written with any of this in mind, and a straight watch of the episode strongly suggests that Q’s motivation is simply to frighten Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D after his offer to join the crew was rejected. Q felt that Picard was arrogant in assuming that Starfleet could handle any threat the galaxy contained, and wanted to prove him wrong. While that explanation works in the context of the episode, it doesn’t preclude anything included in this theory from also being true; Q could still have been annoyed at Picard’s assertion that the Federation was prepared for anything while also intending to provide them with advance warning of the Borg.
So that’s it for this one! As with all fan theories, anything we see on screen in a future episode or film could render the whole thing invalid. But for now, I think it’s at least plausible that the events of Q Who represent Q trying – in his own unique and twisted way – to help Picard and the Federation. Q has always seen himself as a friend of Picard’s, and based on what we know of both Q and the history of Borg-Federation contact, it seems to me that everything arguably fits together!
The Star Trek franchise – including all episodes and 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the following Star Trek productions: The Search for Spock, The Next Generation Season 3, Nemesis, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Star Trek 2009.
Over on Disney+, Marvel has recently put out a series of animated short films with a very interesting premise. These shorts asked what might’ve happened in the Marvel universe if circumstances had changed, characters had taken different actions, or things had ended differently.
Alternate history has always been a subject that fascinated me! So with that in mind, we’re going to consider a few “what ifs” from the Star Trek franchise – from an in-universe point of view, naturally! There are more than 800 Star Trek stories at time of writing, meaning that there are literally hundreds of potential scenarios where a different decision or different outcome could have radically changed the Star Trek galaxy.
As always, please keep in mind that all of this is one person’s subjective opinion! I’m indulging in fan-fiction and pure speculation based on my own thoughts about how some of these scenarios might’ve unfolded. If you hate all of my ideas, or something you like wasn’t included, that’s okay! Within the Star Trek fandom there’s enough room for different opinions.
With that out of the way, let’s consider some Star Trek “what ifs!”
Number 1: What if… Captain Picard couldn’t be saved after being assimilated?
This isn’t going to go the way you might be expecting! In this scenario, the events of The Best of Both Worlds play out as we saw on screen: Picard is captured, the Borg defeat the Federation at Wolf-359, Riker and the Enterprise race to confront them over Earth, and Captain Picard is able to communicate to Data how to defeat them. The Borg cube explodes, and the Federation lives to fight another day! But unfortunately Captain Picard then dies – severing his connection to the Collective and/or removing his Borg implants was too much for his body and mind to take, and he doesn’t survive beyond the end of The Best of Both Worlds, Part II.
As Starfleet and the crew of the Enterprise-D mourn the loss of Captain Picard, Captain Edward Jellico is assigned to the ship as his replacement, and many of the events later in The Next Generation proceed unaltered. As Q would tell Picard in the episode Tapestry, even without him in command the Enterprise-D and Starfleet would be fine.
The Federation, armed with new knowledge of the Borg, developed new ships like the Defiant-class and Sovereign-class, and were even able to defend against a second Borg incursion a few years later – albeit at great cost. But the loss of Captain Picard would have a huge impact later, in the year 2379. A coup on Romulus brings a human clone to power – Shinzon. Shinzon’s plot to destroy the Federation was only stopped because of his personal connection to Picard, a connection that fascinated him and that he hoped could save his life.
Without that obstacle in the way, Shinzon sees no reason to wait or to play nice with the Federation before implementing his plan. He takes his flagship, the Reman warbird Scimitar, and heads straight for Earth before the Federation even has time to respond diplomatically to the change in government on Romulus. Under cloak, the Scimitar deploys its thalaron radiation weapon – massacring all life on planet Earth and crippling the Federation government and Starfleet command.
With war now assured between the Romulans and Federation, Romulan commanders who had been sceptical of Shinzon rally to the cause. All-out war breaks out between the Romulan Empire and the residual Federation, but without a government or command structure to provide a coordinated response, and seriously demoralised from the attack on Earth, things don’t go well for Starfleet. The Scimitar proves to be an unstoppable force all on its own, and its thalaron radiation weapon is able to devastate multiple other planets: Betazed, Andoria, Alpha Centauri, Mars, and others. The Federation is forced to sue for peace on very unfavourable terms.
However, Shinzon wouldn’t live to see the Romulan victory. Without the original Picard, there was no way to save his life from the DNA degradation that he was suffering from, and shortly after the Federation’s defeat Shinzon dies. His Reman viceroy would succeed him as the new leader of the Romulan Empire, an empire which now incorporated large swathes of what had once been Federation space. Whether the Romulans could hold all of this territory, and whether their empire would accept a Reman leader, are now open questions…
Number 2: What if… Spock wasn’t resurrected on the Genesis Planet?
This scenario sees the events of The Wrath of Khan unfold exactly as we saw on screen. Khan stages an attack on the Enterprise, steals the Genesis device, and is defeated at the Battle in the Mutara Nebula. Spock sacrifices his life repairing the Enterprise’s warp drive, allowing the ship to outrun the blast of the Genesis device. But in our alternate world, Captain Kirk doesn’t give Spock a Starfleet funeral. Instead Spock’s remains are returned to Vulcan, in line with his and his family’s wishes. There is no chance for a resurrection because Spock never came into contact with the Genesis Planet.
Spock would indeed prove instrumental in several key events later in his life that now can’t happen. But we’re going to focus on the Kelvin timeline today. Spock’s actions in the Kelvin timeline saved Earth from Nero’s attack – but without his presence there’s no one to stop the crazed Romulan commander.
Assuming that Nero arrived in the Kelvin timeline thanks to Red Matter (presumably deployed by someone else from the Federation as part of a plan to save Romulus), he has no reason to wait for Spock before enacting his revenge plan. After destroying the USS Kelvin (killing the infant Kirk in the process), Nero races to Vulcan and destroys the planet in the year 2233 – decades earlier than he would during the events of Star Trek 2009. Before the Federation even has time to realise what’s happening, and with Vulcan still collapsing, Nero heads to Earth and deploys his weapon for the second time – destroying the planet.
Nero then moves on quickly, targeting Tellar Prime and other Federation member worlds and colonies. The devastating losses mean it takes Starfleet a while to reorganise, but eventually the remaining fleet comes together to make a last stand over Andoria – the last remaining Federation member world. The battle against Nero’s powerful flagship is long and incredibly difficult, but Starfleet eventually prevails through sheer numerical advantage – despite suffering huge losses.
Nero’s defeat wouldn’t mark the end of the rump Federation’s problems, though. With many planets and colonies destroyed, more than half the fleet lost, and millions of people turned into refugees, the Federation is an easy target. First the Klingons come, seizing planets and systems near their borders. Then the Gorn, the Tholians, and the Romulans also join in, picking off star systems that the Federation could no longer manage to defend. Federation space shrinks to a small area in the vicinity of Andoria.
The Andorians were not happy with the large numbers of refugees who sought them out, though. Plans were put in place to resettle humans, Vulcans, Tellarites, and others on new colony worlds, even though doing so would leave them vulnerable. After being kicked out by the Andorians, the remaining Federation members maintained their alliance more out of fear and necessity than anything else. How long these small populations can survive in a hostile galaxy is unknown…
Number 3: What if… the USS Voyager went the other way?
The events of Voyager’s premiere episode, Caretaker, play out much the same as they did on screen in this scenario. But after that, things take a very different turn – literally! The Maquis raider Val Jean, under Chakotay’s command, is transported to the Delta Quadrant by an entity known as the Caretaker. The USS Voyager is likewise transported by the Caretaker’s Array, and after the death of the Caretaker and a short battle with the Kazon, Captain Janeway orders the destruction of the Array. Voyager must find a way home.
Instead of taking the most direct route to Earth, Captain Janeway and the crew of Voyager consider an alternative idea – heading for the Gamma Quadrant, and the far side of the Bajoran Wormhole. From there it would only be a short journey back to Earth! The crew debate the ideas for a while, and there isn’t a clear consensus. No starship has ever undertaken such a long journey before, so there really aren’t ground rules for route planning when it comes to long-distance interstellar travel.
Using the map above (which is non-canon) as a guide, the crew quickly figure out that both a direct route home via the Delta and Beta Quadrants or an indirect route via the Gamma Quadrant and Bajoran Wormhole are roughly the same length and would take roughly the same amount of time.
The two crews can’t agree at first. Chakotay and the Maquis, keen to avoid going anywhere near Cardassian space and fearing being turned over to Cardassian authorities upon their return, firmly advocate for the Delta Quadrant route. Neelix claims to be familiar with space in both directions and along both routes, but ultimately the decision falls to Captain Janeway.
Somewhat ironically when considering her actions in Endgame, Janeway chooses the Gamma Quadrant route. Why? She’s fearful of the Borg, naturally. Whatever dangers and obstacles may await Voyager in the Gamma Quadrant, she tells her crew, Starfleet has known for years that the Borg’s home territory is the Delta Quadrant. Taking that path seems positively suicidal in comparison, so Voyager will instead head for the Gamma Quadrant terminus of the Bajoran wormhole.
Voyager’s superior technology makes battling the Kazon sects in the area around the Caretaker’s Array relatively easy, but they have to be careful to avoid space claimed by the Haakonian Order – the conquerors of Neelix’s people, the Talaxians. After they leave their starting region, though, the truth is that we simply don’t know very much at all in canon about this area of space. Would Voyager find a faster way home through some technological means or natural phenomenon? Or would the ship and crew have to undertake a slow, decades-long journey to reach the wormhole? Would they even survive at all, or instead fall victim to some villainous faction or dangerous anomaly present in this unexplored region?
Number 4: What if… the USS Discovery didn’t go into the far future?
I already have a theory discussing in detail why I think the USS Discovery didn’t need to go into the far future based on the outcome of the battle in Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2 – and you can find that one by clicking or tapping here. For the sake of this scenario, though, all we’re going to say is that somehow Captain Pike, Burnham, and Saru figured out a way to defeat the Control AI without sending the USS Discovery into the 32nd Century.
Obviously some changes wouldn’t appear until the 32nd Century. Without the USS Discovery and Michael Burnham, no one is able to discover the source of the Burn or the huge cache of dilithium in the Verubin nebula. Without the USS Discovery and its Spore Drive to fight over, the Emerald Chain doesn’t stage a bold attack on Starfleet HQ. Su’Kal would almost certainly die alone when the KSF Khi’eth is destroyed – whether that event would trigger a second Burn is unclear.
But more substantial changes could have taken place in the Star Trek galaxy centuries earlier. With the Spore Drive still in existence in the 23rd Century, it stands to reason that Starfleet would have continued to explore the technology – it works, after all, so if a new way of navigating the mycelial network could be discovered, the Spore Drive would be an absolute game-changer for the Federation.
At some point, Starfleet scientists would hit upon the idea of using empaths to connect to the mycelial network in place of augmenting human DNA. After promising test flights using Betazoid and even Vulcan navigators, in the late 23rd Century Starfleet is able to begin a wider rollout of the Spore Drive. At first a handful of ships are kitted out as rapid-response vessels, able to jump across Federation space at a moment’s notice to assist with emergency situations.
The Spore Drive would soon attract the attention of other factions, however. Unwilling to allow the Federation a massive tactical advantage, particularly in the aftermath of the Federation-Klingon war, the Klingon Empire begins development on their own Spore Drive programme. The Romulans follow suit, and by the early part of the 24th Century the Spore Drive has become a mainstay of interstellar travel in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants.
No longer limited by geography or travel time, Starfleet is able to jump to interesting-looking phenomena across the galaxy with ease, initiating dozens of first contacts decades ahead of schedule. On one unfortunate occasion, however, a Spore Drive ship jumps to the Delta Quadrant… right into the heart of Borg space. The Borg quickly assimilate the vessel, taking the Spore Drive technology for themselves and putting a target on the Federation’s back. Due to the distances involved, Starfleet remains unaware of what happened, merely recording the USS Discovery-C as “missing in action…”
Number 5: What if… Benjamin Sisko wasn’t the Emissary of the Prophets?
Ignore for a moment the revelation from Image in the Sand about Benjamin Sisko’s Prophet-induced conception! For this scenario, we’re considering that there were two occupants of the Runabout which first discovered the Bajoran Wormhole: Sisko and Jadzia Dax. Though the Prophets would choose Sisko as their Emissary, they could just as easily have chosen Dax instead.
Jadzia Dax returns from the wormhole having been anointed by the Prophets as their Emissary, and receives much respect and adoration from the Bajorans. Meanwhile, Sisko makes good on his threat and quits Starfleet, returning to Earth. Jadzia is promoted to the rank of commander and given “temporary” command of DS9, due in no small part to the way the Bajorans feel about her.
First contact with the Dominion occurs, and shortly afterwards the Dominion and Cardassians form an alliance – the work of Dukat, formerly the commander of Bajoran occupying forces on Bajor. The Dominion Cold War begins. Behind the scenes, Dukat is researching the Pah-wraiths, the ancient noncorporeal enemies of the Prophets. In disguise he travels to Deep Space Nine with a lone Pah-wraith, and in the course of unleashing the entity into the wormhole, kills Jadzia.
With no Emissary on the outside to come to their aid, the Prophets are fighting a losing battle against the Pah-wraiths while the Dominion War rages. The loss of Dax, though distressing to the crew of DS9 and her husband Worf, doesn’t appear to matter to the Federation war effort… not at first. In fact, the wormhole’s closure appears to provide the Federation alliance a reprieve, as the threat of Dominion reinforcements is reduced.
However, without the Orb of the Emissary re-opening the wormhole and expelling the Pah-wraiths, things go badly for the Prophets. When Dukat is able to implement the next phase of his plan and release the rest of the Pah-wraiths from the Fire Caves, there’s no one to stop him. The Pah-wraiths seize control of the wormhole, and as a thank you to Dukat they destroy the Federation minefield, allowing a massive fleet of Dominion reinforcements through the wormhole. The Dominion conquer DS9 and Bajor with ease.
With no way to stop Dominion reinforcements pouring in through the wormhole, the Federation alliance moves into attrition mode, trying to hold the existing front line for as long as possible against repeated Dominion attacks. Though the Pah-wraiths don’t actively take part in the fighting, their involvement allowed Dukat and the Dominion to swing the balance of the war back in their favour. By controlling Deep Space Nine and the wormhole, the Cardassian-Dominion alliance has the Quadrant’s most significant asset. It seems like only a matter of time until the Federation will have to sue for peace, if the Dominion would even accept…
So that’s it! Five Star Trek “what ifs!”
I can already think of more, so watch this space. I might return to this concept in future. I hope this was a bit of fun, and a chance to consider some alternative outcomes to some of the events we’ve seen across Star Trek’s history. I tried to pick a few different ideas from different productions – otherwise this could’ve been “five Captain Picard what ifs!”
As always, this was really just an excuse to spend a little more time in the Star Trek galaxy. It’s totally fine if you disagree with any of the storylines I’ve suggested today, or if you think this whole concept was a silly idea! None of this will ever make it to screen, and it was more of a thought experiment and creative writing project than anything else. I had fun putting this together – and I hope you enjoyed reading it.
What If…? and the logo for the series are the copyright of Marvel and The Walt Disney Company. The Star Trek franchise – including all films and series 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: Picard Season 1, Lower Decks Season 2, First Contact, and The Next Generation.
While Star Trek: Discovery’s second season was running I wasn’t writing about the show; it wasn’t until November 2019 that I founded this website. Because of that I have a number of theories and ideas kicking around from the first two seasons of Discovery that I haven’t found time to talk about yet! On this occasion we’re going to look into one idea I had during Season 2 that has both in-universe and production-side elements to it – the “Borg origin story.”
I know for a fact that I’m not alone in having speculated that Discovery Season 2 was setting up an origin story for the Borg. Shortly after the season ended a friend of mine from way back was in the area for a visit, and we got talking about precisely this subject – yes, we’re both huge geeks! I’m also well aware that other fans have posited some variant or other of this theory online both during and after the season’s run, so please don’t interpret this article as me claiming to have independently and uniquely come up with this idea!
Here’s the theory in brief: the Control AI, which was the main adversary during the story of Season 2, was originally intended to be the progenitor of the Borg. Its use of nano-technology, its ability to “assimilate” organic beings, and its murderous quest for true sentience that, if left unchecked, would have wiped out all sentient life in the galaxy are all indicators of this. In addition, the inclusion of time travel and the Red Angel suits in the story could have teed up a situation where Control was able to travel backwards through time and far across the galaxy in order to become the originator of the Borg Collective.
Because of Control’s similarities to the Borg in terms of its use of nanites, its single-mindedness, and its lack of care for the survival of organic individuals, this felt like a very real prospect right up until the final moments of the season finale. I really do wonder whether a Borg origin story was included in the original draft of Season 2, perhaps being modified later on once production had already commenced. What we saw on screen would thus contain the residual elements of that story, but with a different ending written – one which sent Burnham and the USS Discovery into the far future.
It’s this decision which I believe would be responsible for changing the story – if indeed such a change were mandated. Discovery had received criticism in Season 1 for its real or perceived “violations” of Star Trek’s internal canon, and it’s this reaction which surely contributed to sending the ship and crew far into the future. It could be that Season 2 was hastily re-written to include the time travel ending, dropping the Borg origin story in the process.
As a narrative concept, the idea that it was the Federation, through out-of-control technological and AI research, who inadvertently created the biggest threat to themselves and to the wider galaxy would be an incredibly impactful one, and something ripe for exploration in detail. The cyclical nature of such a story, with the Federation creating the Borg, then the Borg one day coming for the Federation, could be absolutely phenomenal if done well, and would highlight the morally questionable actions of senior Federation leaders and Starfleet admirals.
It would also be profoundly ironic that the Borg – almost universally acknowledged as the Federation’s biggest adversary – were ultimately a Federation creation. This revelation would have a huge impact on the Federation as a whole – and on our crew of Starfleet heroes when they discovered it – and could form the basis for a new Borg story that would surpass even the likes of The Best of Both Worlds and First Contact in its scope.
Had Discovery gone down this road in Season 2, it may not have fallen to Michael Burnham and the crew to be the ones to learn of the consequences of their battle to defeat Control. Picard Season 1 could have picked up this storyline, with information stored aboard the Artifact (the abandoned Borg Cube) finally revealing the Borg’s origins to the Federation more than a century later. This would have tied the two shows together in a very real and significant way – something I’ve argued on a number of occasions that Star Trek needs to be more adept at doing.
In canon, we don’t know much about the Borg’s early history. The Control AI could have been slotted into the bits and pieces that we do know in a way that didn’t overwrite anything we’ve seen or been told on screen, with every past Borg story being allowed to unfold exactly as we know they did.
In-universe, the Borg originated in the Delta Quadrant “thousands of centuries” before the 24th Century. There was an original Borg race – a race of purely organic beings – but they began using nanotechnology and augmenting themselves, and eventually hooked up every facet of themselves to the Hive Mind. As of the late 15th Century, the Borg had assimilated a number of neighbouring star systems, but weren’t anywhere near as large as they would come to be in the 24th Century. Nothing in the early history of the Borg precludes the involvement of an outside force – the Control AI. It could have been the Control AI’s arrival on the world populated by the Borg’s organic ancestors that led them down a path of assimilation and augmentation.
The Red Angel suits and time crystals present in Season 2 would have provided Control with a method of travelling backwards through time. And as Dr Gabrielle Burnham found to her cost, the Red Angel suits are imperfect and prone to malfunctioning. Based on these pieces of evidence, it would’ve been possible for Control to have seized a Red Angel suit with the intention of travelling either backwards or forwards in time to defeat Captain Pike and Discovery, only for something to go wrong – emerging on the far side of the galaxy millennia in the past.
We are now firmly in the realm of speculation! But had such a scenario come to pass, Control may have found itself alone in the vicinity of a planet populated by humanoids: the Borg’s organic ancestors. Control may have begun the process of assimilating them, injecting its nanotechnology into more and more individuals and bending them to its will.
Control had a forceful personality, but we don’t know what effect mass assimilations of individuals would have had on it. Would it have retained its own personality in the face of potentially thousands or millions of new “drones” – or would its own personality have begun to change, impacted by the personalities and desires of those it assimilated? Perhaps this is where the Borg’s quest for perfection comes from.
This could also explain why the Borg seemed not to recognise humanity or the Federation upon re-encountering them millennia later: Control had simply forgotten its origins, or whatever remained of Control within the Borg Collective was so small and insignificant that the knowledge of its creators had been lost. As the Borg continued to evolve and assimilated more and more beings, perhaps Control’s personality didn’t survive intact.
Alternatively, we could have learned that the Borg did retain all of Control’s memories and knowledge – but simply chose not to make the Federation aware of the connection during their encounters. This could be the Borg’s equivalent of “forbidden knowledge,” something kept secret and known only to the Borg Queen – who may be an embodiment of the evolved Control AI.
It would make sense from the Borg’s point of view not to allow Starfleet to find out about the connection to Control – perhaps out of fear that the Federation could use that information to find a weakness in the Borg’s core synthetic programming. It would only be when Starfleet had access to a derelict but intact Borg vessel – like the Artifact from Picard Season 1 – that they’d be able to hack into the Borg’s systems deeply enough to learn the truth.
So that’s the theory, along with a couple of different ways it could have panned out.
I wouldn’t say I was “100% convinced” that this was going to happen as Season 2 rolled on, but it certainly felt like a distinct possibility. When I later saw the Artifact featured in the trailers for Picard Season 1 I wondered if the reason this story didn’t come to pass was because Picard actually had a Borg origin story of its own in the works!
Had this theory made it to screen I think we could’ve seen one of the most interesting connections between Discovery and the wider Star Trek franchise. Borg stories could be seen through a wholly new lens, and the themes of rogue artificial intelligence that both Discovery and Picard examined in their respective storylines could have been elevated by this “creation wants to destroy its creator” angle. That isn’t something original in science fiction, but it would have been a uniquely “Star Trek” take on the concept.
Whether a Borg origin story was actually present in the original Season 2 pitch or not is something we may never know. However, the team behind Season 2 must have been aware of the similarities between the way Control operated and the way the Borg have always been depicted, and I can’t believe that it was a coincidence. Someone involved in the production of Season 2 must have at least raised the point that the story was going down a very Borg-esque road!
To me it feels like any attempt to tell a story of this nature was superseded by the decision to take Discovery out of the 23rd Century altogether. If there was only room for one time travel ending to the season, the one that was chosen was to send the ship and crew into the far future. Control was left behind in the 23rd Century and seemingly defeated by Captain Pike, so any chance of it having a role in the creation of the Borg now seems to be entirely off the table.
Perhaps all of this was simply misdirection; the writers and producers of the season putting out deliberate red herrings so that fans wouldn’t figure out the ultimate direction of the story! If that’s the case, they definitely got me! Even if that’s what happened, though, as a concept the idea that the Federation accidentally created the Borg is one that could have led to some absolutely fascinating stories. Perhaps we’ll see something like it one day!
Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix in the United Kingdom 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Seasons 1-2 and for the following Star Trek productions: Discovery Season 2, The Original Series, The Next Generation, and Enterprise.
Star Trek: Lower Decks hasn’t lent itself to a lot of theorising thus far! The episodic nature of the show and humorous tone have seen a lot of one-and-done stories, as well as stories that draw on Star Trek’s existing lore and history rather than adding to our understanding of how life in the Star Trek galaxy works. And that’s fine – it’s a great show, one which generally succeeds at capturing the essence of Star Trek while showing a more amusing side to life in Starfleet.
Last week’s episode, Where Pleasant Fountains Lie, has led me to craft a theory, though, and it’s one that connects to events right at the beginning of the Star Trek franchise, back in the days of The Original Series. In short: have you ever wondered why Captain Kirk and his crew seemed to encounter a lot of “aliens” who were indistinguishable from modern humans? It’s possible – at least according to this theory – that Lower Decks might have just provided us with a plausible in-universe explanation!
Before we look at either Lower Decks or The Original Series, we need to take a detour to Season 6 of The Next Generation. The episode The Chase attempted to provide an in-universe explanation for the apparent abundance of similar humanoid races in the Star Trek galaxy: the interference of an extinct race of ancient humanoids, who “seeded” worlds across the Alpha and Beta Quadrants with their genetic material, essentially acting as forerunners or ancestors to Cardassians, Vulcans, Romulans, Klingons, humans, and perhaps many other races.
Just like the Klingon augment virus in Enterprise, or the warp speed limit from Season 7 of The Next Generation, this seemingly huge revelation about the ancient history of the Star Trek galaxy has been entirely ignored since the episode in which it first appeared, not even getting so much as a mention in the hundreds of other stories that have been produced since. That isn’t to say this explanation is wrong or landed poorly in the fandom, but as often happens when an episodic series introduces a major story point, writers who came along later either didn’t know what to do with it or didn’t want to explore it further. Thus the ancient humanoid story is a self-contained one that doesn’t have a great deal of bearing on the wider Star Trek galaxy – though fans can, of course, choose to interpret the presence of humanoids through the lens of The Chase.
But The Chase only provided an explanation for the existence of humanoids – Klingons, Romulans, humans, etc. What it doesn’t really explain in any detail is the existence of species that are anatomically and visually indistinguishable from humans, and The Original Series featured plenty of those! For example, we have the people of the planet Gideon (from The Mark of Gideon), the Betans (from The Return of the Archons and later seen in Lower Decks Season 1), the Iotians (from A Piece of the Action), the people of the planet 892-IV (from Bread and Circuses), and the Earth Two natives (a.k.a. Miri’s species, from the episode Miri). All of these races – and many more – are completely identical to humans.
Most of the aforementioned peoples were treated in their original appearances as being non-humans, natives of whichever planet the Enterprise was visiting that week. But it certainly raises some questions, especially considering that other alien races could be at least superficially different: the Bajorans have distinctive noses, the Vulcans and Romulans have their ears, and so on. How or why did the inhabitants of these worlds come to be indistinguishable from humans – is life in the galaxy somehow predisposed to evolve into this precise form? The Chase offers half of an explanation, but even then it isn’t perfect. Enter last week’s episode of Lower Decks: Where Pleasant Fountains Lie.
Andy Billups, chief engineer of the USS Cerritos, is human. But he isn’t a native of Earth, nor of any Federation member world – his people are the Hysperians, a group of humans from the planet Hysperia who had constructed a society modelled around a medieval-fantasy/renaissance fair lifestyle and aesthetic. The important thing to note is that the Hysperians appear to be independent of the Federation, with their own monarchy, laws, culture, and fleet of starships. Though on friendly terms with Starfleet, the Hysperians appear to exist independently of the Federation.
So Where Pleasant Fountains Lie has confirmed that human colonies existed outside of the jurisdiction of the Federation. We knew that already, having seen worlds like Turkana IV (homeworld of Tasha Yar) in The Next Generation, but Where Pleasant Fountains Lie expanded our understanding of non-Federation humans. It seems as though the Hysperians – or their ancestors, at least – shared a common love for fantasy, magic, and a medieval/renaissance fair lifestyle, and set out to establish their own colony on that basis.
Another episode from The Next Generation is important here: Season 2’s Up The Long Ladder. This episode introduced two colonies of humans – the Bringloidi and the Mariposans. The former were a group of luddites; Irish colonists who disliked the use of technology. The latter were a group of scientists, clones of the original colonists. The important thing to note for the purposes of this theory is that the Federation was unaware of the existence of either colony until the Enterprise-D made contact with them in the mid-24th Century. For more than two centuries, both colonies were completely unknown.
So now we come to the heart of the theory that was inspired by Where Pleasant Fountains Lie. Suppose a colony like Hysperia had been established centuries ago, but contact had been lost. If the Federation were to encounter the Hysperians for the first time, they would seem like an entirely different people at first, as they have their own distinctive culture, system of government, and starship designs. They don’t appear to be at all similar to modern Federation humans as of the late 24th Century, and it’s only because their colony’s origins are known to us as the audience and to Starfleet that we treat them as an offshoot of humanity and not as an entirely distinct people.
Here’s the theory, then, in its condensed form: the peoples Captain Kirk met during The Original Series that are identical to humans are, in fact, lost human colonies. Just like the Bringloidi and Mariposans, their records have been lost or their destinations not recorded, but at some point in the past they left Earth, established new homes for themselves, and developed their own cultures and ways of doing things.
Some of these peoples could even be the descendants of abductees, such as those encountered in the Voyager episode The 37’s or Enterprise’s North Star. The humans saved by the Red Angel and transported across the galaxy that Captain Pike and Michael Burnham encountered in the Discovery Season 2 episode New Eden were developing independently of the Federation in the mid-23rd Century, and Pike even instructed his crew that the Prime Directive applied when dealing with the inhabitants of Terralysium.
Just like the Hysperians chose to build their society around a fantasy/renaissance fair-inspired aesthetic and setting, maybe some of these lost colonies likewise had the intention of building a world based around shared likes and interests. Perhaps the original colonists of 892-IV were big fans of Ancient Rome and deliberately created a Roman-inspired society. Perhaps Miri’s ancestors terraformed their world to make it resemble Earth. Gideon may be an Earth colony that got out of control, similar to Turkana IV. Or, as we see in episodes like North Star and New Eden, perhaps peoples abducted at a point in the past tried to recreate the societies from which they came.
I’ve never been a big fan of the ancient humanoids from The Chase as an explanation for the prevalence of humanoids in the Star Trek galaxy. I don’t think the fact that Klingons, Cardassians, and humans are all two-legged, two-armed, air-breathing beings of similar heights and builds was something that needed this kind of in-universe explanation; it was enough to leave it unsaid that the galaxy is populated by humanoid aliens. Trying to provide an explanation actually led to over-explaining and drawing unnecessary attention to it.
But when it comes to aliens that are identical to humans, the explanation from The Chase only goes so far. If we try to argue that the abundance of human-looking aliens is caused by the meddling of ancient humanoids who also caused the evolution of the Klingons, Vulcans, Cardassians, etc. then the obvious question is why are there not dozens of Cardassian-looking aliens, or Klingon-oids?
Instead, what we could say is that these peoples are more likely to be lost Earth colonies. Just like the Bringloidi and the Mariposans, knowledge of their existence was lost in between their departures from Earth and their encounters with Captain Kirk. If we take The Original Series episode Space Seed at face value, humans had been able to launch large spacecraft since at least the late 20th Century, and with World War III taking place in the mid-21st Century, it’s possible that the records of thousands of space launches were lost. Just like Khan and his followers set out from Earth, perhaps the ancestors of some of these peoples did as well. Some may also be the descendants of humans abducted by aliens in the distant past, and this could explain how some humans have existed independently of Earth for centuries or millennia.
So that’s the extent of this theory, really! I think it provides an interesting alternative explanation as to why Captain Kirk encountered so many human-looking “aliens” during The Original Series. We could even potentially extend this theory to include races like the Betazoids.
Obviously the reason why so many aliens in Star Trek, particularly in the franchise’s early days, were identical to humans was because of limitations in budget and special effects. But that doesn’t have to be the end of it! We can craft intricate theories, partly based on things we’ve learned in other iterations of the franchise, to go back and explain these things. To me at least, the idea that races like the Iotians, Fabrini, and Betans are in fact lost offshoots of humanity makes more sense than the idea that they naturally evolved to be indistinguishable from humans.
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and for other iterations of the franchise.
When we think about which Star Trek show is the best fit for some wacky, out-of-left-field storylines, Lower Decks almost certainly springs to mind! But rather than silly or outlandish stories, what I’m thinking of today are five storylines that could take us by surprise in Discovery’s fourth season, in large part due to the huge time jump.
Star Trek: Picard showed us a little of the state of the galaxy in the years after Nemesis and Voyager, but that’s really as far along as the timeline has gone, and even then there’s a lot we don’t know. The galaxy as we knew it could have changed massively in the 800 years since; just think about how completely different our own world is today compared to even just a century or two ago. Factions and races we might not expect to see working together could come together, and likewise the passage of time could have seen friends drift apart.
Discovery’s third season already showed us a very different galaxy in the aftermath of the Burn. The idea that Vulcan and even Earth would have quit the Federation seemed unfathomable, yet that was the galaxy that Burnham and the crew found themselves in. So perhaps the entries on this list aren’t quite so wacky after all! Will they come to pass, though? Only time will tell…
My usual caveat applies: I have no “insider information.” This list is just for fun, to speculate about some strange possible future scenarios that could, under some circumstances, possibly come to pass in the Star Trek galaxy. I’m not even trying to say that any of these would necessarily be good stories! I just think these concepts are interesting, and would – if nothing else – shake up the Star Trek galaxy and Discovery’s 32nd Century in completely different and unexpected ways. With all that out of the way, let’s jump into the list.
Number 1: The Dominion has joined the Federation.
Discovery’s third season focused a lot on which planets and factions had left the Federation, but aside from the Barzan we didn’t really learn of any existing Star Trek factions that had joined the Federation in the centuries since Nemesis and Picard. Prior to the Burn, there were at least 350 Federation members, so that means an awful lot of planets and factions had joined. Could the Dominion, once the foremost power of the Gamma Quadrant, be among them?
I don’t mean a Federation-Dominion peace treaty or alliance. I mean the Dominion became a full-blown Federation member like any other. It’s possible that faster warp speeds cut travel time between the Alpha and Gamma Quadrants, making such a proposal feasible without relying wholly on the Bajoran wormhole. But would the Dominion ever want to make such a move?
In What You Leave Behind, the finale of Deep Space Nine, Odo travelled to the Founders’ homeworld. He did so not only to cure them of a disease that threatened their lives, but also to share his knowledge of life among “solids,” hoping to convince them to abandon their desire for conquest and subjugation. If Odo had succeeded in that objective, it’s possible to envision a future in which the Federation and Dominion opened a dialogue, one which eventually led to friendship, alliance, and the Dominion’s accession as a member.
With actor René Auberjonois having sadly passed away in 2019, I can hardly think of a more fitting legacy for the character of Odo than for Star Trek to say he successfully brought the Federation and Dominion together. There are a lot of questions that such a story would bring up, like whether only the Founders joined, whether the Vorta and Jem’Hadar did too, and what became of the planets and races the Dominion had conquered. But if the Dominion are to return in a future Star Trek production, this could be a really interesting twist on their expected status as adversaries, as well as Star Trek once again using its sci-fi setting to comment on real-world issues, in this case the prospect of peace even between bitter enemies.
Number 2: The Kelvan Empire is attacking the Milky Way galaxy.
By Any Other Name, from the second season of The Original Series, introduced the Kelvan Empire. The Kelvans were native to the Andromeda galaxy, but feared that rising levels of radiation would wipe them out. They sent out generation ships to seek out other galaxies to conquer; Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise encountered several members of their expedition to the Milky Way.
The Kelvans were initially set on conquering the Milky Way by force, but were eventually convinced by Captain Kirk to seek a peaceful solution to their problem, dispatching an unmanned starship back to Andromeda with a proposal from the Federation to help the Kelvans find a new homeworld in the Milky Way. The story ends shortly after, without a proper conclusion.
Given that the Kelvans initially seemed to view humans and the Federation in the way we might view ants, and that Kirk was only able to change the Kelvan leader’s mind by essentially tempting him to remain in humanoid form and enjoy the new feelings and sensations that brought him, it’s at least possible that the Federation’s offer to the Kelvans in Andromeda would be dismissed out of hand. Even if the Kelvan Empire accepted, if they arrived at the Milky Way in the aftermath of the Burn, they may have seen an opportunity to conquer.
Perhaps the “gravitational anomaly” glimpsed in the Discovery Season 4 trailer is a Kelvan weapon! Their technology was very powerful, far outclassing the 23rd Century Federation’s, so it isn’t impossible to think they could have such a weapon. Discovery has looked at obscure parts of canon on several occasions in the past, including bringing back factions and races from The Original Series era. So perhaps this one isn’t quite as wacky as it may seem!
Number 3: The Federation and Klingons are at war again.
When Star Trek: The Next Generation featured a Klingon main character as a Starfleet officer it really was a big change in the way the two factions interacted. Over the course of the first few seasons of the show we’d learn more about how the Federation and Klingons were at peace, and finally in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country we got to see how that peace was won. Considering that the Klingons had been the main adversary faced by Kirk and co. in The Original Series, this was a significant change for the Star Trek galaxy.
When discussing the Dominion, I noted that the passage of time can make friends out of longstanding enemies. But unfortunately the same is true in reverse; factions that had once been close allies can drift apart and even revert to being adversaries. It’s possible that this happened slowly over time, but there’s one event more than any other that could lead the Klingons – and many other factions, come to that – to hate the Federation: the Burn.
Su’Kal, a Kelpien, caused the Burn, as we learned in Season 3 of Discovery. At that time, the Kelpiens were Federation members, and the ship Su’Kal was on when it crashed in the Verubin Nebula was undertaking a mission for the Federation. From the point of view of the Klingons, then, the Federation are responsible for the Burn, and presumably for thousands if not millions of Klingon deaths.
It’s hard to see how the Federation could keep the Burn’s origin a secret, and once it’s out there, it’s up to the denizens of the galaxy to apportion blame and decide how to respond. I hope that Season 4 doesn’t just ignore this aspect of the story, because I think there’s a lot of potential here to really shake things up. Whether the Klingons had ever been Federation members is kind of a moot point, because surely once the Burn’s true origin is known they would be out for revenge!
Number 4: A classic character is still alive… somehow!
This time I’m not talking about a backup copy of Voyager’s Doctor or any of the other few characters who could potentially have survived this long. Instead I’m thinking of a character who has absolutely no right to still be alive in the 32nd Century, yet somehow is! Whether it’s Will Riker, Kira Nerys, Harry Kim, or someone else doesn’t matter – I just like the idea that a random character has somehow been kept alive this long.
Discovery’s far future setting should mean that no one from the 23rd or 24th Centuries is still alive. But Star Trek has done funny things with stasis fields and sleeper ships in the past, even allowing Montgomery Scott to emerge from a transporter beam into the 24th Century and meet Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D.
Technobabble basically means Star Trek can get away with bringing back practically any character, and as stasis, suspended animation, and other similar technologies are all known to exist, it would be quite achievable! In the past I did consider a handful of characters whose survival this long seemed more likely, but practically any character could come back via this method.
Dead characters could even return thanks to cloning, holographic technology, or even straight-up medical miracles that are tantamount to necromancy! So don’t count out any character from a past iteration of Star Trek, because who knows who we might encounter in the 32nd Century.
Number 5: The Borg have disappeared.
In this storyline the Borg weren’t defeated militarily by the Federation. One day, they simply went silent – as if they had completely disappeared from existence. Perhaps the Federation sent probes or starships to visit what had once been Borg space, only to find no trace of the cybernetic beings who were once considered the galaxy’s biggest threat.
I like this kind of storyline for one simple reason: it’s incredibly unnerving. What could have caused the Borg to vanish? Did they do it themselves, or were they attacked? If they were attacked that raises perhaps an even bigger and more important question: who could possibly have the power to defeat the entire Borg Collective in one fell swoop?
It’s not unfair to say that a lot of Trekkies are sitting on our hands waiting to see how and when the Borg will return to Star Trek. This would be a complete twist on their expected return, triggering a mystery to solve in the process. One of the Star Trek shows I’d love to see most of all would be an all-out Borg war, but such a show could only have one possible ending: the Borg’s ultimate defeat. This storyline, in which the Borg have simply vanished, could be a lot more open-ended.
The danger in this kind of story is getting a suitably satisfying ending. The question of how and why the Borg disappeared would have to be paid off in a big way, somehow – and I’m not really sure how such a story could and should end. There are many different possibilities, but getting it to work and not feel unsatisfying or like a deus ex machina would be the key challenge.
So that’s it. Five wacky stories that Discovery Season 4 almost certainly won’t touch!
It’s been a lot of fun thinking up some very different Star Trek stories for the 32nd Century. I can see why the writers and producers wanted to take the ship and crew so far into the future – doing so has really opened up the kind of stories they’re able to tell within the Star Trek galaxy in a way that isn’t possible in other productions, even Picard.
Discovery’s fourth season is still on the schedule for 2021, and it’s possible we could see it as early as October – or as late as the end of December! Whenever it arrives, be sure to check back as I’ll be reviewing each episode as they’re broadcast as well as indulging in some theory-crafting. I hope these wacky ideas were a bit of fun!
Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1 and the trailers for Season 2. Spoilers are also present for the following: Star Trek: The Original Series, Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek: Discovery Season 2.
Star Trek’s internal timeline gets a little inconsistent when it comes to the late 20th and early 21st Centuries. If we take a “canon purist” approach, we have to say that the Star Trek timeline diverged from our own around the 1960s, with events like Khan ruling a large portion of the world taking place in the ’80s or early ’90s, before the Eugenics Wars saw him defeated. Obviously that doesn’t line up with stories like Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the Voyager two-part episode Future’s End, or even Enterprise’s Carpenter Street, all of which depicted the modern world unchanged by those events.
The Third World War is a part of Star Trek’s internal timeline that was first introduced in The Next Generation’s premiere episode, Encounter at Farpoint. Episodes of The Original Series had talked about the Eugenics Wars and other conflicts on Earth, but Gene Roddenberry had been keen to avoid mention of World War III during the show’s run in the 1960s. Some episodes, such as Season 2’s The Doomsday Machine, actively went out of their way to say that such a conflict had never happened on Earth – an apparent contradiction to what would come later.
It was the film First Contact that elaborated on some of the ideas first posited in Encounter at Farpoint and thus gave us a better look at Earth in this era. Though we knew that nuclear attacks were part of the conflict, it was First Contact that first showed that some of these attacks had impacted North America, and that the conflict was fought between the United States and her allies on one side and the so-called “Eastern Coalition” on the other. Some of these moments would be shown or explored further in Enterprise’s fourth season, and most recently World War III has appeared in Discovery’s second season.
Although the Third World War has been an integral part of Star Trek’s fictional history for more than thirty years, that’s about the extent of what we know. There was a major conflict which occurred in the first half of the 21st Century, it killed hundreds of millions, there was a limited exchange of nuclear weapons (i.e. the planet wasn’t completely destroyed), and it took Earth a generation to recover – with more than a little help from the Vulcans. But this article isn’t just a history of the conflict within Star Trek’s timeline – because something in the promotional material for Star Trek: Picard Season 2 could suggest a return to this era.
When I took a look at the second Star Trek: Picard Season 2 trailer a couple of weeks ago I also looked at a newly-released poster which appears to show a modern-day city – probably Los Angeles in the United States. If the poster is supposed to represent Los Angeles circa 2021, well the timeline starts to line up for a possible World War III story.
In the real world, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of technological advancements made in wartime. The First World War saw the invention of tanks and the further development of aircraft. The Second World War gave us computers, rockets, and splitting the atom. Even recent conflicts like the Iraq and Afghanistan wars saw incredible developments in medical technology. Taking inspiration from the real world, Star Trek’s World War III is similarly an incredibly important event. The Third World War led directly to the development of warp drive in the 2060s, and thus to first contact with the Vulcans and to humanity becoming an interstellar species. The Federation would not exist without it – at least, not in a form we would recognise.
And that’s at the heart of this theory. In order for everything we know of in Star Trek’s internal history to have come to pass, World War III needed to happen. It was a devastating conflict that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of millions of people, but what emerged from the wreckage was United Earth and ultimately the Federation.
In the first teaser trailer, we heard Picard say in voiceover that “time can turn even our most impulsive, ill-considered actions into history.” He also spoke in a regretful way about “what could have been” and tells us that time does not offer “second chances.” In the second trailer, Q told Picard that he had come to “the very end of the road not taken.” We also saw what appeared to be significant changes to the timeline for Picard, Raffi, Rios, and Seven of Nine, as well as possible changes for Soji as well.
It seemed from the first teaser as though Picard was talking about events in his own past – that teaser also featured prominently a model of the USS Stargazer, from which I derived a few other theories! Picard is someone who we know cares about history a great deal and has studied it in depth, but nothing from the first teaser gave me the impression that he was talking about anything outside of his own personal experience. Whatever he was lamenting or regretting seemed to be within his own past – not an event from centuries earlier to which he had no significant emotional connection.
Although Picard did spend several days in the 21st Century, shortly after the end of World War III, he doesn’t exactly have a strong tie to the war or even to that time period, certainly not enough to have any motivation to change or undo events in that era. Picard is as far removed from the events of World War III in the 24th Century as we are from the events of the early 1700s – and I can’t imagine anyone nowadays would feel strongly about the Jacobite Rising or the War of the Spanish Succession. Those events – and many others – are just too far in the past to be something we care about, even if the impact is still felt today in some respects.
So I’m not suggesting that Picard would deliberately seek to prevent World War III – even if he found himself able to do so, somehow. But the second trailer showed off some pretty significant changes to the timeline, and combined with a poster that appears to be teasing a contemporary setting, the possibility of a World War III storyline has come up.
It seems like the story of Picard Season 2 will deal with some kind of alternate timeline – that’s what I infer from Q’s “road not taken” line, as well as the changes to characters like Seven of Nine and Rios. Picard was also heard in voiceover promising his new crew that they can “save the future,” which seems to add to this idea of something going wrong in the past causing things to change.
When we deal with alternate history and alternate timelines, practically every story hinges on a so-called “point of divergence.” This is the moment at which the real timeline and the alternate one separated. In alternate history novels, popular points of divergence include the American Civil War, with a Confederate victory being a common one, as well as World War II, with an Axis victory being similarly used. In Star Trek, a point of divergence between the Prime Timeline – the one which runs from Enterprise to Picard and beyond – could be World War III. What would the timeline look like if it didn’t happen, or happened in a different way?
It could be that the poster is teeing this up. In the background, behind the skyscrapers in the centre of the city, is a glow. That glow could be a sunrise or sunset – it looks like the right colour. But it could also be something far more sinister – the afterglow of a nuclear bomb, perhaps? Maybe that’s a stretch! But it would definitely tie into this World War III theme.
There are still two big questions, even if we assume that this theory is true and that the point of divergence has something to do with World War III. Firstly, what happened to cause the divergence in the first place? In Star Trek, these things don’t just happen naturally! Every change in the timeline that we know of had a cause – the intervention of some nefarious time-traveller. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, why are Picard and the crew of La Sirena seemingly immune to these changes in the timeline? Q’s intervention is a possible explanation for the second point, perhaps, presenting Picard with another time-mystery to solve. But I’m not convinced that’s how the story will go.
All of this leads to an interesting moral conundrum for Picard. If we’re right and, somehow, World War III was prevented and that’s the reason for changes to the timeline, it could fall to Picard and the crew of La Sirena to trigger the worst war in history in order to restore the timeline. How’s that for a horrible decision?! Imagine being told that you had the power to prevent the First World War, and all of the misery and death that resulted from it, but that doing so would make the world worse. Instead, you have to actively choose to cause this horrible conflict in order to preserve the timeline and “save” the future. That could be Picard’s choice in Season 2 if this theory is correct.
Aside from the poster with its seemingly-modern city and some dialogue about time and changing the past, there’s no real evidence for this theory yet! Much of what we saw in the second trailer – which is the only time we’ve seen Picard and the others – may very well suggest that any changes to the timeline take place closer to the 24th Century than the 21st. But it’s interesting to consider the possibilities, especially in light of the Season 2 poster.
To summarise, then, here’s the theory in a couple of sentences: for an as-yet unknown reason, the timeline was changed to prevent World War III. This had major consequences for humanity and the Federation, and the only way to restore the timeline and save the future is to ensure World War III happens – and this is what Picard and the crew of La Sirena will have to do.
It would be quite a dark story if Season 2 goes down this road – or anywhere close to it. But it would be very interesting to see the crew wrangling with these big moral questions and issues. It could lead to quite a lot of drama! Q’s inclusion in the season would make sense, not as the cause of changes to the timeline, but as the figure who steps in to guide Picard in his understanding of those changes. It would also explain the poster, which came completely out of left-field!
Having had two teasers already, with the latest dropping only a couple of weeks ago, it may be some time before we hear anything more out of Star Trek: Picard Season 2. So all we have to go on right now is the poster and the first couple of teaser trailers! It’s not a lot, and there are certainly many different ways to interpret things. In this theory I’ve focused on how the poster could be depicting the 21st Century, but that may not be the case. Changes to the timeline could have caused the 24th Century to become less technological, and the poster could instead depict Los Angeles in the year 2399!
I’m very much looking forward to Picard Season 2, and I’m still hopeful that we’ll eventually see spin-offs and other Star Trek projects set in the same era. If and when we get any more news or another poster or trailer, check back as I’m sure I’ll have more to say!
Star Trek: Picard Season 2 will be broadcast on Paramount+ in the United States (and on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and elsewhere) in 2022. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, as well as the teaser trailers for Star Trek: Picard Season 2 and Star Trek: Discovery Season 4. Further spoilers may be present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
During Season 1 of Star Trek: Picard last year, I kept holding out hope that the show would make a serious attempt to connect or cross over – somehow – with Discovery, its sister show. Aside from a couple of throwaway lines, however, that didn’t happen. We have since seen Discovery pick up a major faction that had been present in Picard, though, so clearly there’s some intention over at ViacomCBS to link up the two shows. Hopefully this will continue into their next seasons – and that’s what today’s theory is all about!
Discovery Season 4 will premiere months before Picard Season 2, and while I’m hopeful it will be able to include some kind of cameo or crossover like Season 3 did, where I’m going to focus much of my attention this time is on Picard Season 2, so we’ll be shooting past Discovery Season 4 for the most part. In short, there was a line in the Picard Season 2 teaser which stood out to me, and it could be interpreted as setting up some kind of crossover. At the beginning of the short teaser, we hear Picard say in voiceover that “the true final frontier is time.”
Beginning with Season 3, Discovery shot forward into the future, with Seasons 3 and 4 taking place almost 800 years after the events of Picard Season 1. That should preclude any major character crossovers… but not if time travel is somehow involved. By the 32nd Century, Admiral Vance and Starfleet believe time travel has been completely outlawed and that no way to travel through time exists. But at the dawn of the 25th Century, the Federation (and other factions) are just beginning to dip their toes in this untapped “final frontier.”
Picard himself has travelled through time on several occasions, both to the future and to the past. And while much of what we saw in the Season 2 teaser suggests that Picard and/or his new crew will travel backwards in time, if time travel is involved, all bets are off. The future and the past blend together in many time travel stories, and it’s possible – at least in my opinion – that Picard and his new crew could find themselves in Discovery’s 32nd Century at some point during their adventures.
Another point we could argue is in favour of this theory is the re-emergence of Q. Because of Q’s nature as a trickster, and an incredibly powerful being, practically anything is possible. In the Voyager Season 2 episode Death Wish, for example, a member of the Q Continuum was able to send the USS Voyager back in time to the moment of the big bang – 13 billion years in the past. The 32nd Century is nothing compared to that!
I’ve spoken before on a number of occasions about the need for Star Trek as a whole to get some threads of consistency going between the shows currently in production. There is a link between Strange New Worlds and Discovery, of course, but Picard and Discovery are almost entirely disconnected right now. Bringing the two crews together – even just for a one-off special episode – would be absolutely fantastic and a great way to celebrate all things Star Trek.
If Picard Season 2 is going to focus on travelling backwards through time instead of forwards, perhaps looking to preserve the future by righting wrongs in the past, that still doesn’t necessarily preclude the appearance of Discovery and her crew. Before Burnham, Saru, and the rest of the crew headed into the 32nd Century they were, of course, present in the 23rd, and although we’d be seeing these characters as they were in the past – and thus the storyline could become complicated – it would be possible, at least in theory, for Picard and his new crew to meet up with someone from Discovery if they visited the 23rd Century.
Given the complicated nature of the Control AI storyline in Season 2, anyone from Discovery having been aware of meeting someone from the Picard era could open up a plot hole, so it would have to be handled carefully. Perhaps Picard or someone from La Sirena is able to blend in and disguise themselves as a member of Starfleet in the 23rd Century, for example, allowing them to interact with the likes of Saru or Michael Burnham without the latter being aware of their true origins. That kind of crossover would be a lot of fun, and I think everyone involved would enjoy it!
One image that was prevalent in the Picard Season 2 teaser was the USS Stargazer – Picard’s first command. He first sat in the captain’s chair in the 2330s – about 75 years after the events of Discovery Seasons 1-2. That’s quite a long time, but considering the extended lifespans we know are present in Star Trek, it’s not so long that characters from Discovery couldn’t still be alive. Spock, obviously, is still alive in this era. And Dr McCoy was present at the launch of the Enterprise-D, despite being 137 years old. This opens up the possibility to see “aged up” versions of characters from the 23rd Century that we met in Discovery, such as Ash Tyler, L’Rell, or Saru’s sister Siranna.
Even just a short cameo from someone like that would be an amazing way to tie the shows together. Ash Tyler could have risen through the ranks to become a senior officer in Starfleet Intelligence by this era, and he could be someone Picard speaks with upon assuming command of the Stargazer, just as one idea off the top of my head. The introduction of Q and time travel into Picard Season 2 has opened up the possibility of such crossovers in a way that I hadn’t previously considered possible.
There is one other possibility, and it’s an inversion of a theory I had in the months before Discovery Season 3 premiered. Back then I theorised that something would go wrong with Burnham and Discovery’s jump into the future, leading them to arrive not in the 32nd Century but at the dawn of the 25th, leading to a crossover with Picard. That didn’t happen, of course, but right now there exists the possibility of this happening in reverse – for Picard and La Sirena to find themselves in the 32nd Century.
Maybe I’m in the minority, and both casual fans and Trekkies love to see the various Star Trek shows and films split up along the timeline – and in parallel universes! But I really do believe that consistency and stability are the hallmarks of a successful franchise, and if Star Trek wants to build on recent successes, picking a single time period to focus on for a majority of its shows and films makes a lot of sense. It makes following the franchise as a whole easier, and it makes it simpler for casual viewers to hop from one series to another without needing to read whole encyclopaedia articles about Star Trek lore to understand who’s where and what’s what. Perhaps bringing Picard into the 32nd Century could be a way to cut down on the franchise’s ongoing time periods.
This would be bittersweet, in my opinion. While it would be great for Star Trek to replicate its ’90s heyday by picking an era and sticking with it, taking Picard out of the 25th Century would make future character returns significantly more difficult. It was great fun to see the likes of Data, Riker, Troi, and Seven of Nine again, and I think one thing a lot of Trekkies are hoping for is that Season 2 of Picard will reintroduce more characters from The Next Generation era. Shooting the show forward by more than eight centuries would make that much more difficult.
We’d also miss out on finding out more about the state of the galaxy as the 25th Century dawns. We spent some time with the Romulans in Season 1, but we know next to nothing of the Klingon Empire, the Cardassians, the Bajorans, and so many others. In my opinion, if Star Trek is going to pick one era to be the main focus for upcoming projects, I’d rather it was the 25th Century than the 32nd. Jumping forward in time by a generation instead of centuries is what the Star Wars sequel trilogy tried to do, allowing for the return of classic characters alongside new ones. That’s one reason why I wondered if Discovery was going to end up in this time period too!
At the end of the day, time travel in Star Trek allows for many different possibilities. Even if Picard just visits the 23rd or 32nd Centuries briefly, during a single episode, the potential for using this technobabble as an excuse for a major crossover exists. If Season 2 is going to have a major focus on time travel, it would almost be a wasted opportunity if the show didn’t include some kind of crossover with Discovery!
The inclusion of Q almost certainly means that some wacky shenanigans are afoot in Picard Season 2. Whether he’s responsible for Picard travelling through time or not, he certainly has the potential to be a disruptive influence, and I could absolutely see Q sending La Sirena spiralling into the path of the USS Discovery – either the refitted 32nd Century version or the older 23rd Century variant! Heck, this could even be how the Short Treks episode Calypso gets resolved… though maybe that’s too much to hope for!
So that’s my theory. A rather disjointed and vague theory, I grant you, but a theory nevertheless. Somehow, the time travel storyline in Picard Season 2 will lead to a crossover with Discovery. Regardless of whether it happens or not, I’m really looking forward to Picard Season 2. It’s been over a year since Season 1 wrapped up, and despite the ending of the first season not quite hitting the highs of its premiere episode, I cannot wait to find out what will come next for Picard and the crew of La Sirena.
Star Trek: Picard Season 1 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. Star Trek: Picard Season 2 is currently targeting a 2022 broadcast, and Discovery Season 4 is scheduled to premiere before the end of 2021. The Star Trek franchise – including Picard, 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3.
Today we’re going to take a look at something that’s been bugging me for a couple of years, ever since the finale of Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 in April 2019. I didn’t start working on this website until November ’19, so I haven’t written up full reviews of Season 2, nor have I spent much time breaking down all of the various story points. This will be my first big foray into that! Rather than just a critique of what could be argued to be a plot hole or “goof,” though, I want to turn this into a theory, particularly one that could have an impact on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds – the upcoming series set on the USS Enterprise with Captain Pike, Spock, and a new cast of characters.
Ever since I watched Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2, something has stuck in my mind. Immediately before Burnham and the USS Discovery left the 23rd Century behind and headed into the far future we’ve seen depicted in Season 3, they were engaged in a climactic battle alongside Pike and the USS Enterprise against the Control AI. In addition to a fleet of Section 31 starships that were unmanned, Control had also possessed (or assimilated) the body of Section 31 commander Captain Leland. Control used Leland’s body to board the USS Discovery at the battle’s climax to attempt to retrieve the Sphere data – the macguffin that was the cause of the fight in the first place.
The relationship between Control and Captain Leland was not sufficiently explained on screen, in my opinion, and this has a bearing on what comes next and why I have an issue with Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2. But based on what we saw during the episode, it seems as though Control was somehow tied to Captain Leland’s body in a very significant way, such that when his body was crippled by Georgiou inside the USS Discovery’s Spore Cube, it had an impact on the battle raging outside.
This is the moment where I feel there’s an issue. The entire reason for sending Burnham and the USS Discovery on a one-way mission to the far future was to keep the Sphere data safe from Control, but when Georgiou defeated Captain Leland, Control appeared to also be defeated – or at least sufficiently incapacitated as to be unable to continue the battle. This all happened before the USS Discovery entered the time-wormhole.
So, with that in mind, why did Pike, Saru, or even Burnham not stop? Surely at the very least they could have paused what they were doing to consider their next moves. Aboard the Enterprise, Pike was able to easily destroy the disabled Section 31 ships, removing any immediate danger, and with Captain Leland incapacitated and clearly not going anywhere, the Sphere data was also safe. Before sending the ship and crew to an unknown destination with no way back, did no one realise that the battle may have already been won? Was there no reason to send Burnham and the ship into the future?
This is what I’m terming “the big mistake” for the purposes of this theory.
Although Burnham had already used the Red Angel suit to open the time-wormhole, I would absolutely argue that, based on what we saw on screen, the battle against Control had taken a decisive turn before either she or the USS Discovery actually crossed the threshold, and that there was time for Saru, Pike, Spock, or someone to point that out. They were preoccupied with the jobs that they had to do, but when it became obvious that Control was at least incapacitated – if not outright defeated – I think that warrants pause from everyone concerned. They were in the process of making a life-changing decision for Burnham and the crew of Discovery, yet for some reason no one seemed to realise that it may have ultimately been unnecessary.
So let’s break it down even more, for the sake of clarity, and follow events step-by-step. I don’t usually do time-stamps, but I think this is important so we’re all on exactly the same page. If we begin at exactly 51 minutes, 30 seconds into Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2 – at least on the Netflix version (I assume it will be roughly the same on Paramount+ and Blu-ray too) – we see Burnham getting ready to open the time-wormhole. In the shot of her flying through space near the raging battle, we see the Section 31 ships beginning to slow their rate of fire with a consequent drop in the number of explosions. This is the first indication that something was changing.
At 51:54, Saru gives Detmer the order to follow Burnham’s lead. The USS Discovery moves through a field of debris (presumably caused by the battle) and then we get our first look at the time-wormhole a few seconds later at around 52:06. At this point, neither Burnham nor the ship are anywhere close to crossing the event horizon and entering the time-wormhole.
Just before 52:30 the action cuts to Captain Pike on the Enterprise’s bridge, watching Burnham and Discovery preparing to enter the wormhole. Trailing in Discovery’s wake are Section 31/Control drones, chasing after them. After Saru and Pike exchange goodbyes at 52:40, and Dr Culber tells Stamets that “we’re on our way,” at 52:57 we come to the scene at the heart of my argument – and of this theory. In Discovery’s engineering bay, the possessed Captain Leland is trapped in the Spore Cube by Georgiou.
Seemingly admitting defeat, Control-Leland tells Georgiou – in true clichéd villain style – that “this does not end here!” Georgiou then finishes the job of killing him, using the powerful magnets in the Spore Cube to force the nanites out of Leland’s body. This action cripples Control, and severs the link between it and its fleet.
53:39 sees Control-Leland hit the deck, dead. The nano-bots spill out of his corpse, and though it’s not clear exactly what will happen to the human Leland, or whether he could be saved, this is a major blow for Control. Less than ten seconds later, at 53:48, the USS Discovery and Burnham can both be seen, still outside the time-wormhole, and Control’s fleet suddenly stops pursuing them.
On the bridge of the Enterprise, Una (Number One) notes this at 53:51, informing Captain Pike that “they’re all dead in the water.” Again, this is before either Burnham or Discovery have entered the time-wormhole. Even if no one on Discovery realised what was happening – which is possible given everything else going on – the crew of the Enterprise certainly had, and there was still time to contact Discovery.
At 54:00, Georgiou contacts Captain Saru, and this is the moment where he could have made a decision too. Georgiou informs him of Leland’s death, but uses a very interesting phrase: “Control is neutralised.” Discovery has not yet entered the wormhole, and on the bridge, Saru is already aware that the reason for doing so no longer exists. Pike is aware that their reason for heading into the future no longer exists. They have already won the battle. By Georgiou’s own admission, the threat Control had posed is unequivocally over.
At 54:16, Burnham and the USS Discovery are seen reflected in the glass of Siranna’s starfighter, still not inside the time-wormhole nor having crossed its event horizon. These are the crucial seconds at the core of the theory, because it’s in these few seconds that the decision to leave the 23rd Century behind could have been called off. With the Enterprise destroying what remained of Control’s fleet, and with Leland dead, there was no immediate way for Control to access the Sphere data – and yet no one on either ship seems to have realised that.
Even if we say that Control was not totally killed off, and that its servers remained active at Section 31 HQ (or elsewhere, if you prefer) and thus that Control was still out there and potentially able to regroup, the fact remains that the immediate threat had passed. The battle had been won, even if there was still more to do to win the overall war.
No one mentioned this in Discovery Season 3. After a brief reference to Georgiou destroying the remains of Leland in the episode Far From Home, and a short conversation about Control with Admiral Vance in the episode Die Trying, their reasoning for going to the future was never discussed nor elaborated on. Burnham, when pressed about it by Book in That Hope Is You, maintained that it was the “only way” to save the galaxy, so she clearly hadn’t realised what was going on behind her – but that makes sense as she was busy operating the Red Angel suit and keeping the time-wormhole stable.
Saru and Pike have no such excuse, in my opinion. Both commanders clearly and demonstrably knew that Control and/or its fleet were incapacitated, and I believe that should have led to one or both of them bringing an immediate halt to events to take stock. If Control was disabled, there was no immediate need to head to the future. With Leland dead, the Sphere data was safe, at least temporarily. With the battle won, everyone could have taken a moment to breathe and assess the situation, perhaps planning to go to Section 31 HQ and permanently destroy whatever remained of Control. Instead, everyone simply sat back as Burnham and Discovery raced into an unknown future – a future, I would argue, they did not need to travel to.
There’s a way this could come back in either Discovery Season 4, Strange New Worlds Season 1, or both: if Saru and/or Pike realise that they made a big mistake.
Given what he went through to make the Red Angel suit possible, I would suggest the person this would affect the most would be Captain Pike. In the episode Through the Valley of Shadows, Pike obtained a time crystal from the Klingons, but did so at great personal sacrifice – solidifying for himself a future of permanent disability. How would he feel knowing that it was all for naught; that if he replays the events of the battle in his mind, he could see that Control was already beaten and that there was no need for the time crystal?
One theme Strange New Worlds is certainly going to pick up on is Pike’s knowledge of his impending disability. As a disabled person myself, this is something I’m really interested in seeing come to life on screen. I can relate to what Captain Pike is going through, because I’ve had the experience of sitting in a room with a doctor and being told things about my health and my future that are unavoidable. I get that sense of inevitability, of knowing things won’t get better but they will get worse. This is something genuinely interesting and that has the potential to be inspirational through Anson Mount’s wonderful portrayal of Pike. But I also wonder if we’ll see him wrestle with feelings of regret or remorse, feeling that his fate and future are his own fault. If he knows (or believes) that the battle was won in Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2 without the need for time travel – and thus, without the need for the time crystal he sacrificed so much to obtain – will those feelings be worse for Pike?
Though we didn’t see much of this in Discovery Season 3, with Season 4 on the horizon there’s a chance for the circumstances of Discovery’s jump into the future to be revisited. Even if nobody aboard realised it at the time, it’s possible that someone will have subsequently had the revelation that their one-way trip to the future, sacrificing so much and leaving their loved ones behind, may not have been necessary. Perhaps this will become an issue for Captain Burnham or Saru, with a disgruntled crew member taking out their anger on them for forcing them into a post-Burn future that they didn’t have to inhabit.
So that’s it. My theory, based on what we saw in Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2 is this: the defeat or disabling of Control toward the end of the battle means that Burnham and Discovery didn’t actually need to go to the far future – at least, not immediately. At the very least, pausing to take stock would have been worthwhile.
It seems possible to me that this could be brought back as a story point – even if it’s just in a relatively minor way, such as with a line or two of dialogue acknowledging it – in either Discovery or Strange New Worlds, as it’s a story which impacts major characters from both shows.
Having delved deeply into this battle from an in-universe point of view, now let’s step back and acknowledge that this is, in effect, a “plot hole” or production-side issue. The writers and producers of Discovery Season 2 wanted to send the ship and crew into the far future, partly due to negative fan feedback involving so-called canon problems during Season 1. But at the same time, they also wanted to make sure that the Control storyline was 100% wrapped up and concluded before Season 3 kicked off.
Unfortunately, in my opinion at least, the way they chose to accomplish those two goals has opened a plot hole. In the mad rush to wrap up Discovery Season 2 in what was already a feature-length episode, an inconsistency has been created within the plot of the show. If Burnham and Discovery had gone into the future, and in the final few minutes of the episode we saw Pike, Spock, and the crew of the Enterprise finish defeating Control, there would be no problem. But because it was Georgiou, aboard Discovery, who killed Captain Leland, and because this unexplained link between Leland’s body and Control seems to have crippled the entire fleet, we have a problem.
Overall, for most viewers who don’t spend as much time thinking about (and nitpicking) Star Trek as much as I do, it probably passed by unnoticed. But even in 2019 I was having conversations with fellow viewers – including some who I would call “casual” viewers as opposed to hardcore Trekkies – who noticed this very issue. The fact that no one – not Pike, Spock, Number One, Georgiou, or Saru – thought to call off the journey to the future, even temporarily to assess the new facts, is a plot hole.
However, it’s a plot hole that could be plugged by incorporating it into future stories. Captain Pike could be affected by it, as previously mentioned. As could Spock or Number One on the Enterprise, as they saw the battle end before Burnham and Discovery entered the time-wormhole. It could also become an issue for anyone aboard the USS Discovery – perhaps with their mood and mental health suffering, they replay the events of the battle in their mind and come to the conclusion that they were forced to travel to the future unnecessarily. That’s my theory, anyway!
Whether any of that will come to pass, or whether both shows will proceed ignoring this issue is anyone’s guess right now. I would think that, if Discovery wanted to acknowledge this criticism, Season 3 would’ve been the time to do so, and the fact that it didn’t happen may mean that the writers and producers are keen to move on and put Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2 behind them. But I’m not 100% convinced of that. I think there’s scope to incorporate what feels like a plot hole into the storylines of either upcoming show in a way that would make sense.
As I said at the beginning, this is something that’s been on my mind since I first saw the episode a couple of years ago! Even on first viewing, it seemed patently obvious to me that someone should have realised what was happening before Burnham and Discovery left, speaking up to put the brakes on. It really does feel that, based on the sequence of events and how they unfolded on screen, Burnham and Discovery could have remained in the 23rd Century.
Despite all of this over-analysing of a few minutes of the episode, I really enjoyed Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2 – and Discovery Season 2 as a whole. It’s a fantastic season of television well worth a watch, and this theory, despite being something that’s bugged me for a while, is really just a glorified nitpick!
Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The series is also available on Blu-ray. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery, Strange New Worlds, 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, Star Trek: Picard Season 1, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
During Star Trek: Discovery’s third season, I wrote a weekly series of theories, speculating about what may be going on with the show’s various storylines. I had some successes in my theories and predictions, but there were more than a few misses as well! Now that the season is in the rear-view mirror, I thought it could be fun to go back to some of my theories and see how wrong I was!
All of these theories seemed plausible at the time – for one reason or another – yet ultimately proved to be way off base. One thing I appreciate about Discovery – and a lot of other shows and films too, both within the Star Trek franchise and outside of it – is that sense of unpredictability. Nothing in Discovery Season 3 was mundane or felt like it had been blatantly telegraphed ahead of time, and the fact that the narrative took twists and turns that I wasn’t expecting was, on the whole, great! There were a couple of storylines I personally didn’t think were fantastic or handled very well, but on the whole, Discovery’s third season was an enjoyable ride.
Some of the theories I had were pure speculation based on nothing more than guesswork and intuition, and others seemed truly reasonable and plausible. While the season was ongoing I tended to just write up any theories I had, no matter how wild or out of left-field they seemed to be! Whether that was good or not… well the jury is out! The theory lists I published were well-read, so I assume at least some folks found something of interest!
I like to caveat these kinds of articles by saying that no fan theory, no matter how plausible or rational it may seem to be, is worth getting too attached to or upset about. The internet has been great for fan communities, allowing us to come together to discuss our favourite franchises and engage in a lot of theory-crafting. But there is a darker side to all of this, and some fans find themselves getting too attached to a particular theory to the point where their enjoyment of the actual narrative is diminished if that theory doesn’t pan out. Please try to keep in mind that I don’t have any “insider information,” and I’ve never tried to claim that a particular theory is somehow guaranteed to come true. I like writing, I like Star Trek, and writing about Star Trek is a fun activity for me – that’s why I do this, and if I ever felt that theorising about Discovery or other shows was harming my enjoyment, I would stop. And I encourage you to take a step back if you find yourself falling into that particular trap.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at ten of my least successful Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 theories!
Number 1: Cleveland Booker is a Coppelius synth.
When we met Book in That Hope Is You at the beginning of the season, it wasn’t at all clear who he was. However, there were inhuman elements to Book, such as his ability to heal, to use a holographic interface seemingly attached to his body, and glowing, almost electronic-looking areas on parts of his skin. With Book’s origin somewhat of a mystery, I wondered if he might turn out to be a synth – and specifically, a synth from the planet Coppelius (or one of their descendants).
We met the Coppelius synths in Star Trek: Picard Season 1, and I was hopeful as Discovery’s third season got underway that there’d be a serious attempt to connect the two shows – as this was something Picard wholly failed to do in its debut season. I’ve said numerous times that Star Trek needs to do more to bind different parts of the franchise together, and after Picard basically ignored Discovery, I was hoping for some kind of connection to manifest in Season 3. Booker being a synth could have been one way to do that.
So really, it’s not unfair to say that this theory was concocted more for production-side reasons than anything we saw on screen. Book’s abilities as we saw them in That Hope Is You (and subsequently in episodes like The Sanctuary, There Is A Tide, and That Hope Is You, Part 2) were clearly more organic and telepathic than anything artificial or technological in origin – except for his holographic computer interface. So perhaps this was always a bit of a stretch!
Booker turned out to be a Kwejian native – though what exactly that means is unclear. Given Book’s human appearance, it’s possible that the people of Kwejian are descendants or offshoots of humanity, or perhaps, given their telepathic nature, they’re somehow related to the Betazoids. In the season finale, Book promised Burnham he’d tell her more about his background, and how he came to use the name Cleveland Booker, so perhaps we’ll learn more about Book’s people in Season 4. He was a wonderful addition to the season, even if I was way off base with my theory about his possible origin!
Number 2: The Burn is connected to Michael Burnham – and/or the Red Angel suit.
The Burn’s origin was not definitively revealed and confirmed until the season finale, so for practically the entire season I was talking about some form of this theory! There seemed to be a few possible clues that Discovery gave us – which ultimately turned out to be red herrings as the Burn was unconnected to any of them – about the ultimate answer to the Burn, and several of them could have been interpreted to mean that Burnham was, in some way, connected to the event that shares part of her name.
The main reason I considered this theory plausible, though, was because Discovery has always been a series that put Burnham front-and-centre in all of its main storylines. Having a connection to the biggest story of the season thus seemed possible. When the event’s name was revealed, the fact that it shared part of her name seemed to lend credence to that idea – at least it did considering I’d already started down that rabbit hole!
That Hope Is You saw Burnham arrive in the future immediately following the events of Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2 – the Season 2 finale. She took off her Red Angel suit and set it to self-destruct, but as we never saw the self-destruction for ourselves on screen, it was a bit of a mystery as to what became of the suit. In a future where time travel technology had been prohibited, the Red Angel suit may have been one of the last extant ways to travel through time, and would be incredibly valuable to factions like the Emerald Chain, so I reasoned that perhaps someone had intercepted the suit, and either intentionally or unintentionally caused the Burn.
I’m glad this one didn’t pan out, because it was nice to give Burnham a break! In the end, Burnham wasn’t strongly involved in the resolution to the Burn’s storyline, with that task being given to Saru, Dr Culber, Adira, and of course Su’Kal. After Burnham had just saved the galaxy by defeating the Control AI, there would have been an interesting ethical and philosophical dilemma for her if she had learned that her actions and/or the Red Angel suit had been responsible for the Burn – but it would’ve been hard to pull off and arguably too similar to the guilt she felt at the outbreak of the Federation-Klingon War in Season 1. So overall, it was an interesting theory well worth considering, but I’m glad it wasn’t true!
Number 3: The USS Discovery could arrive in the future before Burnham.
Time travel stories are complicated. Once the link between cause and effect is broken, almost anything becomes possible. Even though Burnham and the Red Angel suit were leading the way into the future, the mechanics of the time wormhole were not explained, and it was at least plausible to think that the USS Discovery might’ve arrived first.
I first posited this theory after the season premiere, and it seemed plausible for practically all of Far From Home too. One thing that could’ve happened, had this theory been correct, would be that Burnham would’ve been out of her element for a lot longer than just one episode. In That Hope Is You, we saw her completely awed by everything she saw, experiencing a completely new world for the first time. And that premise meant that we were seeing Burnham in a whole new way, not in control of the situation and having to rely on others instead of trying to shoulder all of the burden all of the time. Had the USS Discovery found her after the ship and crew had spent a year in the future instead of the other way around, Burnham could’ve been our point-of-view character for learning what was new and different, instead of reverting to type.
With both Red Angel suits gone, I doubt we’ll see the time-wormholes they could generate ever return either. But it would be interesting to get to know a little more about how that technology worked – would it even have been possible for the USS Discovery to arrive earlier than Burnham? Burnham arrived on the planet Hima, and Discovery arrived near a planet called the Colony, so considering the wormhole had two different exit points it seems possible to me anyway!
Because of the one-year time skip, we didn’t get to see much of Burnham’s exploits with Book in the 32nd Century prior to Discovery’s arrival. It would have been interesting to see either Burnham or the crew trying to learn more about their new home and the origins of the Burn, because in some ways it could be argued that we as the audience arrived with the first part of a story already complete. I kind of want to see that part for myself – and maybe we will in flashbacks in future seasons!
Number 4: Lieutenant Detmer is going to die.
One of my hopes going into Season 3 was that Discovery would finally spend some time with other members of the crew, and I was pleased that it happened. After two full seasons I felt that we hadn’t really got to know anything about people like Owosekun, Rhys, and Detmer, despite their being permanent fixtures on the bridge. Though not all of the less-prominent officers got big storylines this season, one who did was Detmer.
In the episode Far From Home, Detmer was thrown from her seat following the ship’s crash-landing. Concussed, she was sent to sickbay where, after a once-over, she was patched up and returned to work. However, there were hints – at least, what I considered to be hints – that all was not well with Discovery’s helm officer, and I wondered if her first significant storyline might in fact be the setup to her death. There just seemed to be so much foreshadowing!
Ultimately, however, Detmer’s storyline took a different path. I appreciate what it was trying to be – an examination of post-traumatic stress that ended with a positive and uplifting message showing Detmer “getting over it,” for want of a better expression – but because it wasn’t properly fleshed-out after Far From Home, with Detmer only given a handful of very brief scenes before her big turnaround in The Sanctuary, I just felt it was underdeveloped and didn’t quite hit the notes it wanted to. So despite a potentially interesting premise, the execution let this storyline down somewhat.
Especially after the way she was acting in Far From Home, I can’t have been the only one to predict an untimely end for Detmer! I heard several other theories that I considered to be very “out there,” such as Detmer’s implant being possessed by Control in the same manner as Ariam had been in Season 2, but I firmly believed the setup was foreshadowing her death due to injury rather than something of that nature. It’s probably good that it didn’t happen, as it leaves her a slightly more rounded character if the show wants to do more with her in future. However, there were several officers in the final trio of episodes who could’ve been killed off after the ship was captured by the Emerald Chain, including Detmer, and it feels somewhat like Discovery was playing it safe by not doing so. Aside from Ryn, no major hero characters lost their lives in Season 3, and while character deaths aren’t something I desperately want in a show like this, they can certainly raise the stakes.
Number 5: The Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager (or rather, a backup copy of him) will make an appearance.
This was my most popular pre-season theory! I stuck with it practically the whole time, and branched out to include a handful of other characters from past iterations of Star Trek who could, in theory, still be alive by the 32nd Century. By the standards of my modest website, an absolutely huge number of you read this theory – and it continues to be popular even today, despite the season having concluded months ago. So I wasn’t the only one half-guessing, half-hoping that the Doctor might be included in Discovery!
The reason why I considered the Doctor to be one of the most plausible characters who could make an appearance is because of an episode from Voyager’s fourth season: Living Witness. In that episode, a backup copy of the Doctor was activated sometime in the 30th or 31st Centuries after being discovered among museum artefacts, and while the story was interesting in its own right and a critique of how things we consider to be “historical facts” can shift over time, what really interested me was its timeframe and its ending.
At the end of Living Witness, in a scene set even farther into the future, it was revealed that, after living with the Kyrians and Vaskans in the Delta Quadrant for decades, the Doctor eventually took a small ship and set out to try to reach Earth. If he had survived and completed his journey, he could’ve reached Earth in the years prior to the arrival of Burnham and Discovery. The timelines lined up for a possible crossover.
However, it wasn’t to be! Though we did see the return of the Guardian of Forever, which had originally appeared in The Original Series, no major characters from any other Star Trek show made an appearance. Perhaps the producers and writers felt that, with Seven of Nine carrying the torch for Voyager with her appearances in Season 1 of Picard, including a second main character from Voyager in a new show would’ve been too much, or at least that the timing was wrong. Regardless, I think it would’ve been amazing to see, and despite this theory failing to pan out in Season 3, it’s one I may very well bring back in time for Season 4!
Number 6: There will be a resolution to the story of the Short Treks episode Calypso.
Poor Calypso. I’m beginning to feel that the Short Treks episode is doomed to be a permanent outlier in the Star Trek canon, evidently connected to a version of Season 2 that never made it to screen. Broadcast in the months before Discovery’s second season, Calypso introduced us to Craft, a soldier from the far future fighting a war against the “V’draysh.” We also got to meet Zora, an AI who was the sole inhabitant of a long-abandoned USS Discovery.
Here’s where things get confusing. Season 3 saw some moves toward Calypso, including the apparent creation of Zora from a merger of the Sphere data with Discovery’s computer. The voice actress from Calypso even reprised her role, although the name “Zora” wasn’t mentioned. We also heard the villainous Zareh use the term “V’draysh” to refer to the rump Federation – seemingly confirming that Calypso must be set in roughly this same era.
However, we also saw some big moves away from Calypso as well. The most significant one is that the USS Discovery has undergone a refit. While this isn’t readily apparent from the ship’s interior – something I really hope changes in Season 4 – it was very apparent from the exterior of the ship. Calypso showed off a pre-refit Discovery, which means that resolving the story of this short episode feels further away than ever.
As I mentioned in the intro, it seems clear that Calypso was originally written with a different version of Season 2 in mind – perhaps even to serve as a kind of epilogue in the event that Season 2 would be Discovery’s last. Even going into Such Sweet Sorrow – the two-part finale of Season 2 – the possibility of hiding the ship in a nebula, as depicted in Calypso, existed, and with a few changes and tweaks to the season finale, Calypso would have been a natural epilogue to that story. That’s what I think happened on the production side of things, anyway. With the storyline of Season 2 up in the air, a somewhat ambiguous short episode was created to serve as a potential epilogue if the show was cancelled. Discovery wasn’t cancelled, though, and now the writers have to find a way to square this particularly tricky circle. Or they might just try to ignore it!
Number 7: The Spore Drive will become Starfleet’s new method of propulsion.
When it became apparent that warp drive in the 32nd Century was very difficult due to the lack of dilithium and the aftereffects of the Burn, I thought the writers and producers of Discovery had played a masterstroke by finally finding a way for the show’s most controversial piece of technology to play a major role.
The Spore Drive, which was introduced in Season 1, received a mixed reaction from fans. Some insisted that it “violates canon” by allowing a 23rd Century starship to effectively travel anywhere in the galaxy, and others wondered why the technology had never been mentioned in settings where it would have logically been useful – such as to the crew of the USS Voyager, stranded tens of thousands of light-years from home! Though I would suggest that many of the fans who felt this way about the Spore Drive also had other gripes with Discovery, by pushing forward in time there was an opportunity to expand the role of the Spore Drive in a way that wouldn’t undermine anything in Star Trek’s established canon.
The dilithium shortage the galaxy is experiencing, made a hundred times worse by the Burn, seemed to offer an opportunity to expand the role of the Spore Drive. And at first, Starfleet did seem to be keen on making use of it. However, despite Discovery’s extensive retrofit, the Spore Drive remained aboard the ship and Starfleet seems to have made no attempt to copy it or roll it out to any of their other vessels. The huge planet-sized cache of dilithium in the Verubin Nebula has also solved – at least in the short-term – the galaxy’s fuel problem, so there’s less of a need from Starfleet’s perspective to invest in recreating the Spore Drive, despite its seemingly unlimited potential.
Perhaps this will be picked up in Season 4, especially with Book’s ability to use the Spore Drive getting around the last hurdle in the way of a broader rollout. There was potential, I felt, for the dilithium shortage and Burn storylines to parallel real world climate change and how we’re slowly running out of oil, but the Verubin Nebula’s dilithium planet kind of squashed any real-world analogy! Again, though, this is something that could potentially return in Season 4.
Number 8: Dr Issa is a descendant of Saru’s sister Siranna.
The Short Treks episode The Brightest Star was broadcast in between Seasons 1 and 2, and introduced us to Saru’s sister Siranna. She returned in Season 2, in the episodes The Sound of Thunder and Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2. In Season 3, the same actress who played Siranna also appeared as Dr Issa – the commander of the crashed Kelpien ship in the Verubin Nebula and the mother of Su’Kal.
Because of this production-side coincidence, as well as Saru’s incredibly strong reaction to seeing Dr Issa in holographic form, I speculated that Dr Issa could be a descendant of Siranna, and thus a great-great-niece to Saru. That familial tie could have explained why Saru found himself so emotionally compromised during the final few episodes of the season, and why he risked everything to help Su’Kal.
However, it seems that this was little more than casting coincidence! Perhaps it was easier for the producers to work with someone who was already familiar with the Kelpiens – and Kelpien prosthetic makeup – instead of casting a new actress for the role. Or perhaps it was deliberate – presenting Saru with someone superficially similar to Siranna to push him emotionally. Regardless, this theory didn’t pan out.
It could have been interesting to see Saru coming face-to-face with a distant relative, and it could’ve added to the Su’Kal storyline. However, in the time allotted to Saru’s exploits in the Verubin Nebula, it would have been difficult to add this additional emotional element and have it properly developed, so perhaps it’s for the best!
Number 9: The holographic “monster” is either Dr Issa or the real Su’Kal.
The episode Su’Kal pushed hard for a creepy “haunted castle” aesthetic when depicting Su’Kal’s holographic world, and a big part of that was the holographic “monster.” The monster seemed like a very odd inclusion in a holo-programme designed for a young child, and even though an attempt was made to excuse it by saying it was an old Kelpien legend, I wasn’t convinced that there wasn’t something else going on.
Additionally, the monster didn’t behave or appear like any of the other decaying holograms. After decades of continuous use, Su’Kal’s holographic world was falling apart. Many of the holograms were flickering or fading, and they were quite basic in what they could say or do. In contrast, the monster moved with a natural, organic fluidity, and didn’t flicker or appear in any way artificial – even as the holographic world disintegrated around it.
The Verubin Nebula’s radiation was said to be fatal, but in horror and sci-fi radiation is often seen to cause mutations. Given the monster’s vaguely Kelpien appearance and dishevelled, decrepit, morbid look, I wondered if it was actually the real Su’Kal – or Dr Issa – having mutated and decayed after decades in the hostile nebula. The final piece of evidence I added to this little pile was the strange way that the monster interacted with Burnham in the episode Su’Kal – it seemed curious about her, perceiving her in a way I thought was almost human.
Despite all of that, however, the monster turned out to be exactly what the crew believed it to be: just another part of the holo-programme. This theory was quite “out there,” as it would’ve been a big twist on what we as the audience were expecting. There were hints that I felt could have built up the monster to be something more, but ultimately these turned out to be red herrings!
Number 10: Season 3 is taking place in an alternate timeline or parallel universe.
Over the course of the first two-thirds or so of Season 3, there seemed to be breadcrumbs that at least hinted at the possibility that Burnham and Discovery had crossed over to a parallel universe or alternate timeline. The biggest one was the initial absence of Dr Gabrielle Burnham, but there was also the strange piece of music that seemed to be connected to the Burn, the fact that the time-wormhole didn’t take Burnham and the ship to their intended destination of Terralysium, and a couple of hints from Voyager (as mentioned above) and Enterprise that could have been interpreted to mean the Burn never happened in the timeline depicted in those older shows.
There was also the possibility that the Burn was caused by the interference of time travellers. The resolution to that storyline could have been for Burnham and Discovery to go back in time and prevent the Burn from ever happening – restoring the “true” timeline and undoing the Burn. Both of these theories seemed plausible for much of the season.
I’m glad, though, that neither theory came to pass! “It’s a parallel universe” is almost akin to “it was all a dream” in terms of being a pretty lazy excuse for storylines in sci-fi, and the idea of undoing the Burn, while interesting in theory, would have effectively wiped out all of the good deeds Saru, Burnham, and the crew did across Season 3, like helping the peoples of Trill, Earth, Ni’Var, and Kwejian. So it was to the show’s overall benefit to stick firmly to the prime timeline.
Doing so is actually rather bold. Discovery took Star Trek to some very different thematic places in Season 3, largely thanks to the Burn and its lingering effects, and I could understand the temptation to brush all of that aside. We still got some parallel universe action in the two-part episode Terra Firma, which revisited the Mirror Universe. With the Burn now in the rear-view mirror and Discovery moving on to new adventures, perhaps it will be possible for Star Trek to establish the 32nd Century as a major new setting, allowing Discovery Season 3 to be the springboard for a host of new shows and films.
So that’s it. Ten of my worst Discovery Season 3 theories!
Though we can debate some of the story points across Season 3 – and I still haven’t written my big piece about the Burn yet – overall I think Season 3 did a good job of establishing the show in its new setting. The Burn presented a tantalising mystery to solve, and for the first time in the series, it felt as though more members of the crew had significant roles to play in the season’s main storylines.
So I hope this look back was a bit of fun! Stay tuned, because as and when we get news about Season 4 I’ll be taking a look here on the website, and when the season premieres later this year I’ll be reviewing every episode… and probably coming up with a few more theories!
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 is available to stream now in its entirety on Paramount+ in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, the teaser for Season 4, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
Did you read my weekly theory posts as Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 was ongoing? If you did, perhaps you’ll remember that, about four episodes in, I began to speculate that Michael Burnham’s new attitude toward Starfleet – which had changed following a year alone in the 32nd Century – would ultimately lead to her leaving the organisation, and perhaps even Star Trek: Discovery altogether.
That didn’t happen, of course, and it was part of Burnham’s arc across the season to get her ready to assume the captaincy at the end of the season finale. Although Burnham had at least one bump in the road where I felt her newfound independence spilled over into selfishness, her storyline and her rise to assume command was generally satisfying, especially across the back half of the season. By the time the credits rolled on That Hope Is You, Part 2, Burnham had truly earned the captaincy.
What I’m about to suggest may seem odd seen in that context, but there are a couple of reasons why I consider it plausible as I’ll try to explain. In short, I’m bringing back the theory that flopped in Season 3: Michael Burnham will, somehow, no longer be in command of the USS Discovery by the end of Season 4.
One of Discovery’s unique features within Star Trek’s broader canon has been the season-long captaincies of three very different individuals. Season 1 brought us Captain Lorca, the hardball who ultimately turned out to be deceptive. Season 2 reintroduced Captain Pike, the classic character who embodied the best of Starfleet’s values. And Season 3 saw Saru sit in the captain’s chair, the first ever alien captain to helm a Star Trek series.
Each captain brought something new and different to the ship, and thus to the series as well. And Michael Burnham, having assumed command at the end of Season 3, will undoubtedly put her own stamp on things as we enter Season 4. That’s great, and it keeps one of Discovery’s unexpected themes going. But as we look ahead to Discovery’s future, with a fifth season rumoured to be all but confirmed and even the possibility of some kind of feature film involvement, I can’t help but wonder whether she will remain in the captain’s chair.
Unlike Lorca, Pike, and Saru, Burnham has been Discovery’s protagonist since the beginning – even if, at times, her status as our main character didn’t always work as intended! So perhaps that means her rise to the captaincy, rather than the captaincies of the three other characters, is what we should be focused on. And that is a good argument in some ways – the story of Discovery, rather than being about the other captains or even other members of the crew, has primarily been about Michael Burnham.
Thus we can argue that Seasons 1, 2, and 3 showed off different aspects of her ascent to the captain’s chair – which, it has to be said, is an amazing premise for a Star Trek series. Past shows all introduced us to captains who were already established; even Commander Sisko, who we saw at the beginning of Deep Space Nine assume his post for the first time, was still very clearly in command. We did get some episodes showing us parts of the backstories and pasts of Captains Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway, and Archer, but when we first met them they were already established. We didn’t see their rise through the ranks in the way we’ve seen Burnham’s unfold over the past three seasons.
So that argument is valid, and it may very well prove to be true. But despite Discovery’s tight focus on Burnham much of the time, the show does have a broader cast of characters, some of whom we’re getting to know reasonably well now that we’re three seasons in. The show has never been about Burnham alone, and the different captains have, as I mentioned above, all put a unique spin on things during their tenures.
Discovery feels like it’s in a place where it could go down one of two paths, and which one the producers ultimately choose will depend on all sorts of factors, including future plans for the wider Star Trek franchise. One path is outlined above, keeping the Burnham focus as a key aspect of the series, and allowing Seasons 1-3 to depict her growth and rise. But there is another option.
The second path would be for Burnham to follow Lorca, Pike, and Saru, with her captaincy of the ship lasting a single season. Discovery’s unique selling point as a series would thus change from being all about Burnham to being a show which had a rotating captaincy. Those first three seasons – and probably Season 4 as well – would still have that Burnham focus. But if Discovery manages to keep going into Season 5 and beyond, perhaps we’ll look back on it as “the show with all those different captains!”
Because of a captain’s role and status, changing things up can really have a significant impact on the ship – and the series. While arguably an extreme example, if we look to Chain of Command, the two-part episode from The Next Generation Season 6, the introduction of Captain Jellico as a replacement for Captain Picard radically changed things up on the Enterprise-D, and if he’d remained in command we’d certainly have seen The Next Generation transformed into a very different series!
It makes for an interesting concept for a Star Trek show – something closer to an anthology series than a “traditional” Star Trek show in the vein of The Original Series and The Next Generation. Not only would the captaincy have changed, but we also have two very different time periods in play which really adds to the sense that Discovery has been, across its three-season run to date, very different season by season. Burnham’s departure could cement that trend.
To clarify, I’m not saying this should happen, or that it would be great for the series. Because despite some of my critiques of Burnham’s characterisation, particularly early in Season 1, her rise to the captain’s chair worked. Seeing her take her seat at the end of Season 3 felt earned and it felt great; a genuinely emotional moment.
Despite that, however, I can’t help but wonder if the storyline of Season 4 – which seems to involve another “galaxy-threatening” event – will end with Burnham’s departure from the ship and the show.
There are two ways such a departure could happen, at least as far as I can see, so before we wrap things up we’ll briefly look at both.
Firstly, the one that seems more obvious given what we saw in the Season 4 teaser, and given what we know of Burnham’s disposition and personality, is some kind of self-sacrifice. Perhaps the only way to save the ship and crew – or more likely, save the whole galaxy – will involve Burnham making a decision to sacrifice herself for the cause. Her death would thus mirror characters like Data and Captain Kirk, both of whom were killed in the line of duty while saving others.
In a show that has been all about Burnham, depicting her at her lowest moments and showing her greatest achievements, there would be something poetic about going out in a “blaze of glory” – but at the same time, her death might seem like the series finale. If there are no plans for a fifth season (or film) to continue Discovery’s story, perhaps the series will conclude with Burnham’s death.
It wouldn’t be impossible for the show to go on without her, though, despite her prominent role. And while her death might feel like Discovery’s conclusive end, that wouldn’t necessarily have to be the case. As I’ve argued in the past, Star Trek shows are typically about more than just one character, and as we’ve spent more time with other members of the crew, I think there’s more than enough interest and potential for the series to stand on its own two feet if Burnham leaves or is killed off.
And that brings us to our second possibility – that Burnham survives, but for other reasons chooses to leave Starfleet.
This is what I felt Season 3 seemed to be hinting at in those early episodes. The shift in Burnham’s attitude toward Starfleet, her willingness to break the rules and disregard orders given by Saru and Admiral Vance, and the fact that she admitted to both Book and Georgiou that she found a sense of freedom outside of Starfleet in her year alone all seemed to be building up to a potential departure. The second half of the season got rid of that, and we saw Burnham’s attitude change such that her rise to the captaincy made sense in-universe. But there’s still the prospect of those feelings returning.
Burnham has, ever since the Season 1 premiere, had a bit of a problem with authority and the chain of command. While we should see much less of that with her in command, and thus not answerable to anyone else aboard the ship, the USS Discovery does not exist independently and is still under the command of Admiral Vance and Starfleet. If Burnham feels constrained by the orders she’s given, and repeatedly butts heads with senior Starfleet officers, perhaps the craving for freedom that we saw her express in Season 3 will come back.
I wouldn’t want to see Burnham storm off, throwing down her combadge and just walking away. After three seasons of being with her and seeing her grow, that would feel wrong. That’s why I was so critical of Discoveryat one point in Season 3 when I felt this antagonistic attitude and selfishness, putting her own wants ahead of Starfleet’s orders, seemed to be a character regression, dragging Burnham back to where she was in Season 1. Luckily it didn’t pan out that way, and I hope it won’t here.
But there can certainly be a way to get Burnham to walk away from Starfleet, perhaps at the conclusion of a successful, galaxy-saving mission, that would work. If she were to say goodbye and head into the sunset with Book, having saved the galaxy not once but twice, I think we could absolutely say that she earned the right to live her own life away from Starfleet in the manner she chooses. In short, this storyline could work, but it would all hinge on the way Burnham’s characterisation was handled and the manner in which she left.
So that’s it, really. We can call this a pre-season theory, and summarise it thusly: somehow, perhaps toward the end of Season 4, either through an heroic death or satisfying resignation, Michael Burnham will leave the USS Discovery and cease to be a main character on the show.
Will it come true? I have no idea! And with filming on Season 4 currently paused for two weeks due to a small coronavirus outbreak, perhaps we won’t find out for a while.
Once again, I’m not arguing in favour of this theory necessarily. I think it could be made to work in a way that felt right, and it would mix up the captaincy of the ship again, potentially keeping things fresh going into Season 5. But at the same time, I’ve grown to like Burnham. Her departure would be a bittersweet moment for the series, and in a way it would be a risk unlike any the show has taken so far.
I hope you’ll swing by later in the year, as I plan to review every Discovery Season 4 episode when they’re broadcast. If Season 4 lends itself to theory-crafting, I daresay my weekly theories posts will be back as well! Between now and then we have Season 2 of Lower Decks to look forward to, which is coming up in less than four months now! So there’ll be a lot to talk about there as well. I hope you enjoyed this theory, but as always, please remember not to get too attached to any one individual fan theory. No theories are worth getting upset or disappointed over.
Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and other countries and territories. Season 4 is due for broadcast in late 2021. 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, Star Trek: Picard Season 1, the Kelvin timeline films, teasers for Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 and Star Trek: Picard Season 2, and for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
At a few points in Star Trek’s history we’ve seen crossovers between the different shows. Usually this takes the form of a character or two from one series appearing in another. For example, we’ve seen Commander Riker appear in Voyager, Dr Bashir in The Next Generation, and Worf in Deep Space Nine. In Star Trek’s cinematic canon, Janeway made a cameo in Nemesis, Prime Spock appeared in Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness, and most significantly, we got to see Captains Kirk and Picard work together in Generations.
So the Star Trek franchise has a history of main character crossovers going all the way back to Encounter at Farpoint, the moment at which Star Trek debuted its second entry and replaced its original set of characters. In all of these crossovers, though, even the substantial ones that were more than mere cameos, we’ve only ever seen characters from two shows interact. What if Star Trek 2023 plans to offer more than that?
In short, here’s my theory – and if it doesn’t come to pass in 2023 we can consider it a proposal or pitch for the future! As a celebration of all things Star Trek, perhaps the new film will be the ultimate crossover, featuring a cast of characters from across the entire Star Trek franchise. How would this be achieved? Some kind of time travel story, naturally, perhaps involving the extradimensional activities of a faction like the Q.
How amazing would it be to see Captain Archer from Enterprise working alongside Riker and Janeway? Saru and Michael Burnham could team up with Geordi La Forge and Miles O’Brien. Soji and Picard meeting Kelvin Kirk. Pike and Spock fighting alongside Worf and Malcolm Reed. The potential for such a story is almost limitless.
Comic books – and the films they’ve inspired over the last decade or so – have routinely done crossovers and team-ups, and fans tend to agree that they’re amazing when done well. Star Trek, as I’ve already mentioned, has had limited crossovers before, but nothing quite on the scale I’m thinking Star Trek 2023 could bring.
There have been over 60 main characters in live-action Star Trek to date, including films and television shows, and obviously it wouldn’t be possible for Star Trek 2023 to have an ensemble cast that large! But a handful of characters from different shows representing different time periods and different parts of the franchise could absolutely come together; a perfect mixture of all things Star Trek and a true celebration of the franchise as it approaches its sixtieth anniversary.
With this many different Star Trek projects all in production simultaneously, it makes so much sense to have some kind of “Avengers assemble!” moment to bring them all together. Even if such a story were limited to bringing in characters from current shows instead of Star Trek’s back catalogue, I still think it would be well worth doing. A suitable story would need to be devised, and a villain or problem for the protagonists to overcome would need to be created, but those are the basic tenets of storytelling anyway and aren’t obstacles.
I tend to say that time travel stories are not my favourites within Star Trek – or in sci-fi in general. But time travel can work, as we saw in films like Generations and episodes like All Good Things. All it would require is a simplified explanation, perhaps involving some outside power, and if the stakes were high – a threat to the entire galaxy, for example – it would make sense to bring in as many legendary characters as possible to help defeat it.
If you’re a regular reader you’ve probably heard me say on more than one occasion that the Star Trek franchise could – and should – be doing more to tie its different shows and projects together. At present, every extant Star Trek project exists in a different time period wholly separate from everything else. There have been limited prospects for significant crossovers as a result, and while Discovery Season 3 saw perhaps the biggest connection to the rest of the franchise so far, it can still feel that all of the different parts of the franchise are doing their own things independently of one another.
While too many ties and connections can be offputting, especially for casual viewers, not enough references or crossovers means there’s no incentive for the audience to stick with Star Trek and jump into other parts of the franchise. It’s possible to watch Discovery as a standalone show and not even be aware of the existence of Picard, for example – and vice versa. More of these connections between different parts of the franchise could, if done right, encourage viewers of one series to hop over and try out others – and Star Trek 2023 could potentially be the biggest opportunity so far to do that.
Perhaps some looming threat in the 32nd Century forces Michael Burnham to call upon Starfleet’s finest from centuries past, and she travels back in time to pick up a number of officers, scientists, and soldiers to help her defeat whatever it is that’s coming. Or perhaps an outside power like Q forces his friend Picard to work with different people from different eras to tackle some existential crisis. There are a million-and-one ways for Star Trek to introduce the kind of time travel scenario needed to link up some of the franchise’s superstars for one amazing crossover event.
So who would I pick to join the crew? I think we have to start with the main shows in production (and one that could be in production by 2023). Admiral Picard, Michael Burnham, Captain Pike, and Section 31 leader Georgiou would head up the cast, and from there we could bring in perhaps one additional member of their respective crews for a more significant role – maybe with smaller roles or cameos on the cards for others. Then I’d dearly like to bring back at least a couple of other characters from Star Trek’s past – someone like Dr Bashir, perhaps, or Tom Paris.
The film would follow these characters as they worked to solve whatever problem they’re facing, with each of the principal characters making use of their unique perspective and skillset to help contribute to the project. There could be teething problems with the team as they get to know one another, but generally I’d stick to having them work well as a team, with emphasis on how people from different backgrounds and with different outlooks can all find ways to contribute. Then there’d have to be some kind of tense final battle or confrontation before everyone – or at least, the survivors – part ways and return to their respective eras.
I guess now we’ve crossed over from the realm of reasonable speculation into fan fantasy! And I’m not the first person on the internet to propose an “ultimate crossover” of Star Trek crews; such talk has been around since before Generations in the mid-1990s! While I don’t know whether Star Trek 2023 will go down this road, I do think that a major crossover could and should happen at some point in the future. Not only would it serve a purpose and tie together previously-separate parts of the franchise, but I bet it would be an incredibly fun film for Trekkies – and non-Trekkies too!
So that’s it, really. This half-theory, half-fantasy is that Star Trek 2023 will be the “ultimate crossover” and bring together characters from across the franchise to tell a single, epic story. Even if this film doesn’t do it, I still hope this kind of crossover event will happen one day!
The currently-untitled film Star Trek 2023 is being produced by Paramount Pictures and ViacomCBS. Star Trek 2023 has a tentative release date of the 9th of June 2023. The Star Trek franchise – including all shows, films, characters, etc. 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1, the teaser for Season 2, and for Star Trek: The Next Generation.
We recently took a look at the Season 2 teaser for Star Trek: Lower Decks, and made a few guesses about what some of the scenes might entail. Season 2 is due to be broadcast beginning in mid-August, exactly one year after Season 1 made its debut, and though it’s a little way off yet it’s never too early to indulge in some theory-crafting and speculation!
Because of its largely episodic nature, Lower Decks Season 1 didn’t lend itself to the creation of too many theories. For the most part, events took place in a single episode, and the crew warped away to a new adventure the week later. But No Small Parts, the Season 1 finale, brought about some big changes for the series, and creator Mike McMahan promised that these wouldn’t simply be undone, resetting the show off-screen in time for Season 2.
Aside from the death of poor Lieutenant Shaxs, the two biggest changes came with Ensign Rutherford losing his memory – or at least his memories of what took place in Season 1 – and perhaps most significantly, Ensign Boimler’s promotion and reassignment to the USS Titan. It’s this latter point that we’re going to look at today.
Somehow Boimler has to get back to his friends aboard the USS Cerritos – but how? And when? At least part of the teaser showed us Lieutenant Boimler in his new role as a bridge officer on the USS Titan, so we know whatever it is won’t happen off-screen, as Mike McMahan promised. Were there any clues at all in the teaser that we could point to when it comes to Boimler? After all, he wasn’t shown interacting with the other three main characters at all. Let’s find out, shall we?
As always, it’s worth saying that I have no “insider information.” I’m not claiming that anything listed below will definitely happen, it’s guesswork and speculation from a fan. Nothing more. With that out of the way, let’s consider eight ways Lieutenant Boimler could find himself back aboard the USS Cerritos.
Number 1: Boimler asks for a demotion voluntarily.
The Season 2 teaser seemed to show us two significant things about Boimler: he doesn’t understand Captain Riker, and he seems to be out of his depth on the USS Titan. Boimler is neurotic and prone to panic, as we saw in Season 1, and neither of those traits make for an officer who’s good in a crisis. The Titan, unlike the Cerritos, is a much more adventurous starship, seeking out new life and getting into all kinds of scrapes. Perhaps, after spending some time there, Boimler realises he’s simply out of his depth.
There’s no shame in admitting a task is too difficult, and rather than struggling on with something he simply can’t do, Boimler may approach Captain Riker and ask to be transferred back to the Cerritos, taking a voluntary demotion.
Though we didn’t hear Marina Sirtis’ voice in the teaser, it’s possible she will reprise her role as Counsellor Troi, and if she’s back perhaps Boimler will turn to her for advice about what to do. Troi was always gentle and polite in the way she approached even the most neurotic of officers – like Lieutenant Barclay – but perhaps this could be a moment for Lower Decks to subvert that by having her tell Boimler to jump ship!
Either way, sometime in the first episode (or first couple of episodes, at least) Boimler may approach Captain Riker and ask for a demotion, telling his new commanding officer he doesn’t feel up to serving on the Titan.
Number 2: Rutherford or Tendi accidentally get Boimler demoted.
This could play well with the “Rutherford’s lost his memory” storyline, but a subversion of the audience’s expectations that either Boimler does something to get demoted or Mariner deliberately gets him kicked back to the Cerritos would be to make it the inadvertent fault of Tendi or Rutherford.
At this stage it has to be said that most keen fans of Lower Decks are expecting one of those two scenarios to play out. Mariner was the character who seemed most hurt by Boimler’s decision to leave the Cerritos – and to not tell her beforehand – so it stands to reason she might want to interfere and get him back. We’ll consider that in a moment. Boimler’s tendency to mess up and panic could also see him bumped back to the Cerritos, and that’s another fan expectation.
But Lower Decks has done well with challenging those kinds of expectations in Season 1, and I hope Season 2 won’t go down any obvious paths. Rutherford is known for his love of technology, but that has landed him in trouble more than once in Season 1. Perhaps one of his inventions gets out of control and harms the Titan, making it seem as though Boimler is responsible?
Tendi, as I’ve mentioned more than once, felt somewhat rudderless last season, and hasn’t really settled into her role as well as the other three main characters. But we saw her ability to screw up in the episode Moist Vessel, where she accidentally ruins an “ascension.” Perhaps she could have some kind of similar accident here, one that causes Boimler to get demoted.
Number 3: Mariner gets Boimler demoted on purpose.
As mentioned, this has to be one of the firm favourites in the fan community for how Boimler will end up back on the Cerritos in Season 2. Despite that, however, I think it would be an awful choice for the show, undermining Mariner’s character progression across Season 1. I really hope Lower Decks doesn’t go down this route.
Where Lower Decks didn’t do so well in Season 1 – at least in my opinion – was in trying to make Ensign Mariner out to be some kind of “ultimate badass;” Starfleet’s answer to Rick Sanchez from Rick and Morty. That kind of character can succeed in comedy – as Rick himself proves – but in a Starfleet setting, and particularly coming from a junior officer, it fell completely flat every time the show tried it.
Mariner had a truly satisfying arc across Season 1. She came to understand more about herself and what she does and doesn’t like about serving in Starfleet, and even put aside her differences with Captain Freeman – her own mother. Reverting back to how she was at the beginning of Season 1 by selfishly putting her own wants ahead of her friends would be worse than just a regression, it would be a betrayal of her character.
Regardless of what I think, the possibility exists that Mariner may try to sabotage Boimler’s promotion, intervening in just the right way to get him demoted and reassigned back to the Cerritos.
Number 4: Boimler gets promoted.
So far we’ve considered possible ways Boimler could get demoted – but what if his return to the Cerritos is prompted by a promotion instead? Boimler was a junior lieutenant at the end of Season 1, and in that role was able to serve on the Titan. But perhaps the Titan doesn’t have space for a full lieutenant and he bounces back to the Cerritos after an especially successful assignment!
A lieutenant is still a relatively junior officer, and Boimler attaining such a rank wouldn’t necessarily undermine the premise of Lower Decks. He could continue to work with the other three principal characters even if he technically outranks them, and that could become a source of humour.
I’m not sure how likely this one is given the show’s original intent was to focus only on ensigns doing menial tasks aboard a starship, and while having a lieutenant in their midst would open up different storytelling options – and options for jokes and humour – it does, in some respects, go against what the show intended to be about.
Having Boimler be promoted would be a subversion, though, completely challenging audience expectations for how he returns to the Cerritos! That in itself could make it worth doing – after all, he can always get demoted again later if a storyline requires it!
Number 5: Something connected to an away mission.
The image above is taken from the Season 2 teaser, and seems to show Boimler on an away mission. While three colleagues defend the position, Boimler appears to be working on some kind of computer terminal. It isn’t possible to tell who the three are, but they clearly aren’t familiar characters from the Cerritos; certainly not the three ensigns. So perhaps this away mission takes place while Boimler is assigned to the Titan.
If the away mission goes wrong, or if Boimler’s role in it does, perhaps it’s what leads to his demotion and/or reassignment. Alternatively, this could be the moment Boimler decides for himself to step away from the Titan; perhaps the away mission was too stressful for him. It certainly looks like he’s under pressure!
I can’t tell what it is that Boimler is working on. It could be a power generator, a weapon, some kind of factory, or something else entirely. It’s underground, which suggests it could be something that’s supposed to be a secret. And Boimler and the others aren’t wearing Starfleet uniforms, which could mean they’re undercover. They might even have been captured and this moment is depicting their escape.
Though this could be a holodeck programme or something else, it appears on the surface to show Boimler in a difficult situation. Given how prone he can be to panicking and overreacting, that could mean it’s the moment where he decides – or someone else decides on his behalf – that he needs to take a step back and return to a more junior role.
Number 6: Boimler is demoted by Riker.
This could be connected to the away mission above, or it could be something different, but perhaps the best explanation is that Riker, after evaluating Boimler’s performance for himself, simply decides that he isn’t cut out to be a lieutenant or to serve on the Titan. There may not be one single event to point to as the cause; instead we may see a number of smaller mistakes across the course of the first episode or two.
In the Season 2 teaser, Boimler appeared to be serving on the bridge and failed to understand one of Riker’s commands. At the same moment, the USS Titan was drifting toward some kind of anomaly and was under attack by at least one alien ship. Boimler’s failure at a key moment like that – even if it were prompted by Riker’s confusing turn of phrase – could be the cause of his demotion.
If Boimler is to be demoted back to ensign, having that be caused not by Mariner or the others would probably be the best way to go. It may not paint Riker in the best light, but this “version” of the character is different, and in the context of Lower Decks it would probably be fine even if Riker came across as too harsh. Keeping Mariner out of things would probably be the best way to go, allowing her friendship with Boimler – one of the high points of Season 1 – to remain in place.
We know from the way he conducted himself in Season 1 that Boimler can be anxious and easily overwhelmed, especially when things start to go wrong. Though his role in the episode Temporal Edict showed he can be a competent officer, at numerous other points across the season he panicked and allowed circumstances to get away from him. Riker may simply decide, based on that evaluation, that he isn’t cut out for a role under his command – at least, not yet.
Number 7: Mariner challenges Riker to an anbo-jyutsu match.
One of the most interesting moments in the Season 2 teaser was Ensign Mariner donning anbo-jyutsu armour. Anbo-jyutsu was a 24th Century martial art seen in The Next Generation Season 2 episode The Icarus Factor, and the only major character we ever saw participate in a match was… Will Riker!
The Season 1 finale confirmed that Riker and Mariner know each other to some extent, though he clearly wasn’t keen enough to offer her a role on his ship! But given that they have some kind of history, and that Riker knows Captain Freeman as well, perhaps Mariner will try to use her connection to Riker to get Boimler back.
In short, here’s this theory: Mariner challenges Riker to an anbo-jyutsu match. The prize? Boimler. Though this would surely be conducted over Boimler’s objections, whoever wins the match – surely Mariner! – would get to keep Boimler. When she wins, he gets transferred back to the Cerritos even if he doesn’t want to or didn’t do anything wrong.
This could be played for laughs far more easily than Mariner mean-spiritedly trying to sabotage Boimler’s career. And if his time on the Titan wasn’t mentioned subsequently, we wouldn’t necessarily have any reason to feel that Boimler holds a grudge for his reassignment to the Cerritos. He may, as mentioned, even get to keep his new rank in such a scenario. This would involve Mariner, the show’s protagonist, and allow her to get her way, but wouldn’t drag her character back quite so far as if she deliberately did something to get Boimler kicked off the Titan.
Number 8: Boimler remains on the USS Titan all season.
With all of these theories for how Boimler could end up demoted and back on the Cerritos we’ve missed something obvious! Instead of any of that happening, Boimler could instead remain aboard the Titan.
There are many ways that the characters could still work together at a distance – and given that the current state of the world has a lot of people working remotely, there could be something rather timely in a series of stories that show Boimler having to video call with his friends instead of being able to spend time with them in person!
The Titan and the Cerritos, at least at the end of Season 1, were both operating in roughly the same region of space. Perhaps Season 2 will see them work in tandem, or as part of a larger fleet. I’m not sure how this would work with the “second contact” mission that the Cerritos had in Season 1, but we didn’t see that many second contacts in Season 1, with the Cerritos also undertaking other assignments.
Perhaps the solution to the “Boimler problem” has been staring us in the face the whole time – he doesn’t need to be reassigned or demoted, and can remain in the role he worked so hard to win last year.
So that’s it. Eight theories for Lieutenant Boimler’s role in Season 2.
In many ways, Boimler being promoted and reassigned felt like it could have marked the final end of Lower Decks; the series finale. And perhaps that was how it was originally written before the creative team knew that a second season was definitely going ahead. Though Lower Decks has now been renewed for a third season and will hopefully run for several more beyond that, the natural end for a show like this, focusing on characters of lower rank, is to see them promoted and moving on to bigger things. Boimler’s role on the Titan could have been that moment for the series.
We didn’t see any signs in the Season 2 teaser of Boimler back in his old uniform, nor interacting in any way with anyone from the Cerritos. So at this stage we have to say that anything could happen! He could return to his old role right at the beginning of the season, he could stay on the Titan for an episode or two, and so on. How he might end up back on the Cerritos is also entirely unclear, and all I can do at this stage is make a few guesses!
For my two cents, I hope that if Boimler is to be kicked back to the Cerritos, it doesn’t come at the expense of Mariner’s character growth. She clearly wants him back, and that’s understandable. But if she were to interfere and sabotage him, even though it’s a comedy and such a moment would be played as a joke, it wouldn’t feel right. Lower Decks worked best by making the everyday goings-on in Starfleet funny. Where it didn’t work were the moments where Mariner’s selfishness and lack of care saw her put her own wants ahead of the crew or Starfleet’s mission.
It’s now officially less than four months until Lower Decks will be back on our screens. Although we’ve already seen a short teaser, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a longer trailer as the season approaches. If we do get one, be sure to check back as I’m sure to take a look at it. And beginning in mid-August, I hope you’ll stay tuned for episode reviews as well as discussion of the series.
Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1 is available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and other countries and territories where the service is available. The series is available to stream now on Amazon Prime Video in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Lower Decks 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.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for the entire Star Trek franchise, including the most recent seasons of Discovery and Picard, as well as recently-revealed teasers for upcoming seasons and projects.
The announcement a couple of days ago that a brand-new Star Trek film is in the works was incredibly exciting! There hasn’t been a feature film in the franchise since 2016’s Star Trek Beyond, the third film in the Kelvin (or JJverse) series. Since The Motion Picture made its debut in 1979, the Star Trek franchise has been reasonably consistent in its cinematic output, with the longest gap between films to date coming between Nemesis’ release in 2002 and JJ Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot. Aside from that seven-year gap, we’ve seen Star Trek films every three or four years on average, and there have been thirteen films released since 1979.
I’ve always considered Star Trek to primarily be a television franchise, and its return to the small screen in 2017 felt like a proper homecoming. As interesting as the Kelvin timeline films were, I was far happier to see Star Trek back on television. That’s not because the Kelvin films – or any other Star Trek films – were bad, it’s just that the television format seems to work particularly well and lend itself to the kinds of stories Star Trek does best.
As I said when I wrote up a short piece about the film’s announcement, no information was provided by Paramount Pictures or ViacomCBS about the film other than its June 2023 release date. So it would be foolish to speculate, wouldn’t it?
Foolish, perhaps, but also a lot of fun! So this time we’re going to take a look at a handful of possible settings, scenarios, and ideas for Star Trek 2023 and what it might be all about. My usual caveat applies: I don’t have any “insider information,” nor am I suggesting any of these film ideas will turn out to be correct. This is pure guesswork and speculation on my part. That’s all.
With that out of the way, let’s jump into the list!
Number 1: A direct sequel to Star Trek Beyond.
Attempts have been underway since before the release of Star Trek Beyond to get a fourth Kelvin timeline film off the ground. At one point, rumours swirled of a script that would have brought back Kirk’s father George – who had been played by Thor actor Chris Hemsworth in the opening scenes of 2009’s Star Trek. Pre-production on that project appeared to make headway, but – again, according to widely-reported rumours – the salaries of some of the principal cast members, including Kirk actor Chris Pine, were said to have derailed the project.
Beyond ended with a strong tease at a potential sequel. Kirk and his crew gazed out over the new USS Enterprise-A as construction on the vessel was completed, and there was a sense that the film was setting up a new story. After more than five years it hasn’t happened, and as I said when I considered the pros and cons of a return to the Kelvin timeline, Star Trek’s return to the Prime Universe and the expansion of the franchise to new shows and projects means that, at least in my opinion, the Kelvin timeline doesn’t really feel like a good fit right now.
In many ways, it would make more sense for any new feature film to at least have some connection or tie to the shows currently being produced, even if it isn’t a direct spin-off from any of them. The Kelvin timeline was a way to reboot Star Trek in 2009 after three decades of near-continuous production had burnt it out in the minds of many viewers. That doesn’t feel necessary right now. And going back to the Kelvin timeline after years in the Prime Universe risks overcomplicating things for a more casual audience.
So there are mixed feelings on this one! On the one hand, the story of the Kelvin timeline abruptly ends after Beyond, despite teases of a sequel. And the Kelvin timeline films were incredibly successful, bringing in huge audiences and plenty of money! But on the other hand, the reinvigorated Star Trek franchise has gone in a different direction since 2017, and I don’t see where a Beyond sequel fits any more.
Number 2: Captain Worf.
Michael Dorn, who played Worf in The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and four Star Trek films, has often talked about his desire to reprise the role. Since at least the early 2010s, Dorn has talked at every opportunity about his pitch to Paramount and ViacomCBS for a “Captain Worf” series, miniseries, or film. Perhaps, after years of pestering them, he finally got his wish?
At this stage we can’t rule it out! Knowing so little about the upcoming project means, in theory, that practically any Star Trek pitch that we know about could be in contention. Maybe the “Captain Worf” concept was one that the company liked, and a feature film was considered the best possible option for it. One advantage to it, at least in theory, would be that Michael Dorn is well-versed in both Star Trek and the project’s central character, meaning it would be less challenging to get started with when compared to a wholly new concept. Given that the film has just over two years to go from announcement to release, that could be a significant help!
However, I’ve never been sold on the “Captain Worf” idea, personally speaking. Worf is a fun character, but I see two distinct disadvantages if he were to be the central focus of a new story. Firstly, Worf is the character we’ve spent the most time with in all of Star Trek to date – he appeared in 270 episodes and four films across fifteen years. We’ve seen most aspects of his life unfold on screen already, including his role as a father, husband, friend, and Starfleet officer. Do we really need more Worf?
And secondly, Worf is a great secondary character, but the “Captain Worf” concept would put him centre-stage. That’s great for Michael Dorn, of course, but I’m not sure Worf is the most nuanced or interesting character to spend so much time with. Both Worf and Voyager’s B’Elanna Torres have explored the “Starfleet-versus-Klingon” concept on many occasions, which is perhaps Worf’s biggest point of internal conflict and the best reason to do a project like this. It could be interesting, and a chance to return to the 24th or early 25th Century would be great. But I’m not sold on this being the right way to do it.
Number 3: Ceti Alpha V.
A few weeks ago I looked at a pitch by The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country director Nicholas Meyer for a miniseries tentatively titled Star Trek: Ceti Alpha V. That project was planned as a three-part miniseries, but it could have been adapted into a feature film, I suppose!
This concept would focus on iconic villain Khan in the years between his exile by Kirk in Space Seed and his return in The Wrath of Khan. He and his followers were marooned on the titular planet Ceti Alpha V, and had to endure disaster following the explosion of nearby Ceti Alpha VI.
As I wrote then, I’m not convinced that we need to see that part of the story! It wouldn’t really explain anything from The Wrath of Khan, as seeing Khan’s descent into madness for ourselves across several hours of television – or an entire film – isn’t necessary in any way to explain his actions or characterisation. Everything we needed to know about Khan is present in Space Seed and The Wrath of Khan.
As a feature film, though, a project like this has merit. It would pull on those nostalgic strings, connect to the franchise’s most well-regarded piece of cinema, and feature an iconic Star Trek character. From Paramount’s point of view, those advantages may make it worthwhile!
Number 4: Borg Invasion.
If you’re a regular around here you might remember a Borg Invasion concept being one of my “unsolicited Star Trek pitches” last month! This is a concept that I’ve long felt would be fascinating, and while I envisioned it as a television series, it could perhaps be made to work as a film trilogy instead – potentially making Star Trek 2023 the first part of a short series of films.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves! The Borg are one of the franchise’s most iconic villains, participating in one of Star Trek’s most highly-regarded episodes – The Best of Both Worlds – and best films – First Contact. The faction itself also hasn’t been seen on screen in any major way since 2003’s Enterprise Season 2 episode Regeneration, perhaps making them due for a comeback!
Discovery’s second season told a story which had the potential to be a Borg origin story, and Picard Season 1 also touched on the Borg, in particular Picard’s lingering trauma following his assimilation. But neither series brought back the Borg in a big way, despite the potential existing for either to do so. Could that be because ViacomCBS knew that Paramount Pictures (its subsidiary) was in the early stages of working on a new Borg film? Maybe!
The Borg are terrifying, and such a film would be action-packed and tense in equal measure. It’s been 25 years since Star Trek: First Contact took the Borg to the big screen for their only visit to the cinema so far, so I can’t help but wonder if they’re about to make a reappearance! Whether a Borg story would look to bring back any familiar characters or not is not clear – it wouldn’t have to, but as always in Star Trek, I’d be thrilled to see practically anyone connected to the franchise make a return.
Number 5: The Kelvin timeline version of The Next Generation.
2009’s Star Trek reboot presented an opportunity to go back to the drawing board and take another look at Kirk, Spock, Dr McCoy, and the rest of the crew of The Original Series. Ever since, (some) fans have been wondering what would happen to The Next Generation in the alternate reality – would the same crew have been assembled, or would its members even exist given the dramatic changes to the timeline?
Perhaps this is something we should explore in more detail another day, but I think that the existence of Chekov in the alternate reality, and the fact that he joined Starfleet, could be taken as evidence of the alternate reality not straying too far from the Prime Universe. Chekov was born after the incursion of Nero’s ship and the destruction of the USS Kelvin, so in theory we could argue that most people we met in past iterations of the franchise should have an alternate reality counterpart – just as they have a Mirror Universe counterpart too.
Discovery Season 3 made a small reference to the Kelvin timeline – or at least, an ambiguous reference that felt like a Kelvin connection! In the episode Terra Firma, Part 1, the mysterious Kovich told Dr Culber of a “time soldier” who crossed over from the alternate reality to the Prime Universe. This soldier was wearing a uniform style seen in the first couple of seasons of The Next Generation, so it seems as though there was a comparable era of Starfleet in the alternate reality.
Could Discovery have been dropping a hint at this film? Possibly! Even if that’s just coincidence, it reinforced the existence of the Kelvin timeline – a fact that was known to Starfleet by the 32nd Century. Perhaps it was a subtle reminder to Trekkies that the alternate reality still exists, getting us ready for a new project? The Next Generation is very popular with fans, and rebooting it may seem like a solid idea for Paramount Pictures. Though I know some fans who detest the Kelvin films – or who refused to watch on principle – there’s no denying the reboot was a success, and rebooting The Next Generation could be as well.
Number 6: A Discovery film – if the show ends with Season 4 or Season 5.
Speaking as we were of Discovery, its fourth season is due for release later this year. While there is no word yet on Season 5 – at least officially – it seems likely that the show will be renewed for a fifth season, which would presumably be broadcast in 2022. But what will happen next?
Both The Original Series and The Next Generation were followed up by films starring the casts of the shows, and perhaps something similar could be on the cards for Discovery, with Captain Burnham leading her crew onto the big screen. By 2023 we’ll have had at least one – probably two – more seasons of Discovery, so the crew will be almost as familiar to audiences as Kirk and his officers were when The Motion Picture was in production!
If there is to be a fifth season of the show, that would mean production on Season 5 would likely be ongoing at the same time as this film, so maybe this is an indication that there won’t be a Season 5. With a number of other Star Trek television projects in various stages of development – including the untitled Section 31 series which is itself a spin-off from Discovery – perhaps the plan is to end the series after Season 4 and turn it into a feature film franchise instead, with television attention refocused onto other projects.
It would be a big change, but I can see at least one big advantage to a Discovery film: it would firmly establish the 32nd Century in the minds of audiences. I’ve felt for a while that Star Trek needs to try to condense its disparate timelines and time periods as much as possible, and the 32nd Century is by its very nature totally open-ended when it comes to storytelling potential. A Discovery film could be a “soft reboot,” relaunching Star Trek in the 32nd Century and setting the stage for new projects.
Number 7: A Deep Space Nine film – the return of Sisko.
I was perhaps overly-critical of a “Captain Worf” idea in the entry above, but one character who I’ve been hoping to see return for over twenty years now is Captain Sisko. The ending of What You Leave Behind – the last episode of Deep Space Nine – more so than any other Star Trek finale left things open. Sisko entered the realm of the Bajoran Prophets, but promised to return in due course.
That return could happen at literally any point in the timeline; the Prophets don’t see time as linear. Sisko could thus appear in the Strange New Worlds, Picard, or Discovery eras – despite the fact that those shows take place centuries apart! But given the importance of his return to Star Trek, perhaps a Sisko feature film is on the cards.
Sisko would be such a great point-of-view character. His absence from galactic affairs for decades or even centuries would allow the writers of the film to dump a lot of exposition onto the audience without it feeling like it came from nowhere. His return could both set up the plot of a new Star Trek story and provide the audience with a way in; introducing us to new characters, factions, technologies, and the state of the galaxy itself in whatever time period he finds himself.
Such a story could also return to Bajor, looking at whether the Bajorans ever joined the Federation, as well as the aftermath of the Dominion War. The Dominion War arc is one of my favourites in all of Star Trek, and a follow-up of some kind would be absolutely amazing to see. If Sisko returned during the Picard era, he could reunite with people like Major Kira or Dr Bashir, and a mini-reunion of some of the Deep Space Nine crew would be wonderful.
Number 8: A Nemesis sequel.
A direct sequel to Nemesis seems unlikely, especially with Picard Season 2 underway and planned for next year. But the official announcement of Star Trek 2023 mentioned a film set after Nemesis as one possibility. That seems incredibly interesting! Would it be set in the Picard era, perhaps with the crew of La Sirena in major roles?
The surviving crew of the Enterprise-D and Enterprise-E have largely gone their separate ways, at least as of Picard Season 1. Riker and Troi live in semi-retirement on the planet Nepenthe. Picard is off with the crew of La Sirena. Worf and Geordi were mentioned by name, but there’s no indication that either are still even in Starfleet at this point! Season 2 of Picard may answer these questions, as well as establish what became of Dr Crusher, and if so that could set the stage for a reunion on the big screen.
As above with Discovery, Picard Season 2 is currently filming, meaning that production on Star Trek 2023 would have to wait if it wanted to include Picard himself. But there is another possibility: that a Nemesis sequel would focus on other characters. Perhaps it would look at Riker and Troi in more detail, especially if they returned to Starfleet following the events of Picard Season 1.
Star Trek 2023 may follow Riker’s time in command of the USS Zheng He, and perhaps he reunites with Worf, Dr Crusher, Geordi, or even Wesley! Or we could see the return of characters from Deep Space Nine and/or Voyager, such as Ezri Dax or Tuvok. With Captain Janeway coming back in Prodigy, anything’s possible right now!
Number 9: A Kelvin timeline crossover with either Strange New Worlds or Discovery.
One of the really enticing possibilities that came up when Strange New Worlds was announced was the possibility of some kind of Pike and Spock crossover story. I would be surprised in some ways to see Strange New Worlds – a highly-requested but completely untested – series hit the big screen, but a Kelvin timeline crossover could be a great way to do it.
Pike and Spock could team up with their alternate reality counterparts, perhaps looking to return to their own universe following some kind of crossover event. The two “young Spocks” would have to logically stand off – Kelvin Spock has already met Prime Spock but he can’t let young Prime Spock know that! It might be confusing, with two different versions of the characters, but it could be a lot of fun too.
Alternatively the Kelvin cast could cross over with Discovery’s 32nd Century. Not only have we had the aforementioned reference to the Kelvin timeline during Discovery’s third season, but we know that crossing between the two universes also seems to mean crossing into a different time period. Perhaps someone in the Kelvin timeline accidentally opens a black hole, sending them to Discovery’s 32nd Century.
The reverse would be interesting too, and could draw on themes present in episodes of Voyager like The ’37s. If Captain Burnham and the crew of Discovery found themselves in an alternate 23rd Century, how many of them would struggle with the idea of remaining there, trying to rebuild their lives in a different universe, but perhaps a setting more familiar to them than the 32nd Century? That could be fascinating to explore – as would any crossover between two sets of crews!
Number 10: The Earth-Romulan War.
Picard Season 1 brought back the Romulans in a big way, and they also appeared in Discovery Season 3. The faction is clearly a big part of Star Trek right now, but one aspect of their history has never been explored – despite plans to do so in 2004-05. The unproduced fifth season of Enterprise would – allegedly – have included the Earth-Romulan war, one of humanity’s first major interstellar conflicts.
Fans have long wondered what this would have looked like – even as far back as the Earth-Romulan War’s first mention in The Original Series Season 1 episode Balance of Terror. We saw the first hints of Romulan aggression in Enterprise, as they attempted to disrupt the Earth-Vulcan alliance and start a Vulcan-Andorian War. Captain Archer managed to prevent that from happening, but as we know from Star Trek’s history, conflict with the Romulans broke out regardless.
This would be a great opportunity to bring back Captain Archer, T’Pol, or other major characters from Enterprise. It wouldn’t necessarily be an “Enterprise film,” but it could be a film that included at least some of the same characters. A single film might not be able to tell the story of the entire conflict, but it could certainly look at its most decisive battle – and with so little information having been shared on screen, it’s an almost-blank slate for any new writer or producer to play with.
The drawback, really, is that it would be hard to connect such a film to the ongoing Star Trek franchise, which has series set in the 23rd, 25th, and 32nd Centuries. Going back to a time shortly after Enterprise would isolate Star Trek 2023, and while it could be the springboard for more 22nd Century adventures to come, it could also end up feeling disconnected.
So that’s it. Ten possibilities for Star Trek 2023.
It’s quite likely that all of these suggestions are completely wrong; Paramount Pictures and ViacomCBS are just as likely, in my opinion, to want to take the cinematic franchise in a new direction with a new crew than they are to revisit something from Star Trek’s past. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a lot of fun putting this list together and considering the possibilities!
Star Trek 2023 is a truly exciting prospect. I desperately hope that it will come to streaming instead of the cinema – as you may know if you’re a regular reader, my poor health means I can’t get to the cinema in person any more. Probably it will be given a theatrical release, though, which will mean months of trying to avoid as many spoilers as possible for me! Time will tell.
For now, though, suffice to say I’m intrigued by the prospect of the first new Star Trek film since Beyond, and potentially the first film to feature a different cast of characters since 2009. Whether or not this is the previously-announced project written by Discovery and Short Treks producer Kalinda Vazquez is also not clear. We know basically nothing about this film right now except its planned release date! Hopefully we’ll learn more soon, so stay tuned. I’ll be sure to take a look at any casting information, behind-the-scenes details, or any other news that comes our way.
The currently-untitled Star Trek film is scheduled for release on the 9th of June 2023. This film is the copyright of Paramount Pictures and ViacomCBS, as is the entire Star Trek franchise. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.