Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 7

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

Unification III was alright. Discovery has a problem with Burnham’s characterisation again, basically the same problem it had in early Season 1. But hopefully, now that she’s had somewhat of a breakthrough in her relationship with Starfleet, she can begin to put the worst of it behind her – and so can the series.

There were three confirmed theories in Unification III and a couple of new ones as we head into episode 8 later this week. I’m also retiring one theory that, while not officially “debunked,” now seems unlikely because of the way the story has shifted. Let’s start with what was confirmed.

Confirmed theory #1: Dr Gabrielle Burnham will make an appearance.

Dr Burnham in Unification III.

Dr Burnham’s absence was confusing earlier in the season. Where had she gone? Why hadn’t she attempted to contact Michael, Discovery, or even the Federation? Was Dr Burnham being missing indicative of Michael and the crew having crossed into a parallel universe?

We can put all of that aside now, because Dr Burnham did finally make an appearance. It wasn’t in the way any of us expected – and it was, I’m sorry to say, rather contrived and at least slightly nonsensical – but she did nevertheless show up.

Michael and Gabrielle Burnham in Season 2.

After returning to the 32nd Century for the final time following the events of Season 2’s The Red Angel, Dr Burnham crash-landed on the planet Essof IV – the place where Burnham and the crew lured her in the 23rd Century. Essof IV was a dangerous world with a toxic atmosphere that had once been used by Section 31 as a base. Following her crash there, Dr Burnham was nursed back to health by the Qowat Milat – an order of armed Romulan nuns first encountered in Star Trek: Picard. She subsequently joined the order.

Will we see her again? I’m not entirely sure. I don’t think she’s going to become a major recurring character within the series unless something changes. Her decision to remain on Ni’Var seems to suggest that. However, assuming faster-than-light communications with Ni’Var still exist – which seems to be the case – it is at least possible that Michael may contact her from time to time.

Confirmed theories #2 & #3: The Federation was already in terminal decline before the Burn; the collapse of the Federation had more to do with their response to the Burn rather than the event itself.

Federation HQ.

These two theories had been edging closer to confirmation for several weeks, and I’m happy to consider them true following the events of Unification III.

This week’s episode confirmed that the dilithium shortage, which had been ongoing since the 30th Century, put the Federation under tremendous strain, as did a conflict or series of conflicts “to uphold the Temporal Accords.” The ban on time travel may also have contributed to this decline, and it’s not unfair to say that long before the Burn struck, all was not well in the ageing alliance.

This theory was initially prompted by something simple: the number of stars on Mr Sahil’s flag. I assumed that Mr Sahil, who had never met a Starfleet officer in his life, owned a flag passed down to him by his father and grandfather – a flag from before the Burn. If stars on the flag represent planets or groupings of planets, the “missing” stars may indicate secessions from the Federation prior to the Burn.

Admiral Vance confirmed that the Federation is currently around 11% of the size it once was; 38 star systems down from over 350. However, he never stated when the “peak” of the Federation’s membership was; whether it was at the moment of the Burn or decades prior. That part is still unknown, but it’s not unfair to assume it was the latter.

Book, Burnham, and Mr Sahil stand respectfully before the Federation flag,

As for the Federation’s response to the Burn, Book told us as early as That Hope Is You that the Federation’s inability to explain what happened or to provide any practical solutions compromised the confidence of people across the known galaxy. In People of Earth, Captain Ndoye told us that United Earth kicked the Federation out, fearing the Burn was a prelude to war and that Earth would be a target. Forget Me Not confirmed the withdrawal of Trill from the Federation as well, and that they hadn’t seen a Federation starship in decades. Finally, Unification III told us of the withdrawal of Ni’Var, whose people were angered by SB-19, believing the Federation forced them to continue a dangerous project that was ultimately responsible for the Burn.

All of this evidence has stacked up for these two connected theories over the first half of Season 3, and I now think we can close the book and say that they are confirmed.

So those theories were confirmed. Next we have the theory that I’m choosing to retire.

Retiring theory: Michael Burnham will leave the series.

Burnham in Unification III.

This was always a long-shot, thinking about it rationally. Burnham has always been Discovery’s main character, and after what we saw in Unification III I’m no longer convinced that’s going to change.

In short, I had speculated that Burnham becoming more distant from the crew, missing all the on-screen bonding, spending time with Book, disobeying orders, and having learned to appreciate a new, freer way of life outside of the confines of Starfleet may have led to her choosing to resign or depart from the ship at the end of this season. That would have most likely spelled her end as a major character within the show, which could have carried on but with a focus on Captain Saru and the rest of the crew.

Discovery could have become an ensemble series based around Captain Saru.

As Burnham attended the quorum and spoke with her mother, it became clear that she was learning to work through the feelings she has about Starfleet, Discovery, and how out-of-place she has felt. Unification III began with Book very pointedly removing Burnham’s uniform; symbolic, I suggested, of his being a major factor pulling her away from the ship and crew. But it ended with Burnham more confident in her role aboard the ship, happier and more settled.

There are still issues with her character, as I’ve pointed out. Some of these – her self-centredness, her arrogance, and how she seemingly learns nothing having suffered no real consequences for her actions – make her difficult to truly get behind. Whether or not we’ll see any changes or improvements, though, I think we can consider the idea that she will leave the series highly implausible at this stage. If that changes between now and the end of the season I may re-activate this theory. But as of week 7, I’m officially striking it off my theory list.

So that theory has been retired. Now let’s get into the list!

Number 1: This week’s episode – The Sanctuary – will connect to the events of the Deep Space Nine second season episode Sanctuary.

Skrreean leader Haneek in the Deep Space Nine Season 2 episode Sanctuary.

This is a total stab in the dark, but I wonder if these two similarly-titled episodes will connect in some way. We’ve already seen Discovery use a throwback episode title this season – Unification III – so it’s at least plausible.

Sanctuary (the Deep Space Nine episode) saw a race called the Skrreeans, originally native to the Gamma Quadrant, arrive on Bajor and seek asylum from the Bajoran government. The Bajorans ultimately declined to help, as they were still in the process of recovering from the Cardassian occupation of their world, but it was an agonising decision, especially for Major Kira.

Major Kira initially welcomed the Skrreeans in Sanctuary.

How would a possible connection work? I honestly have no idea. The Sanctuary may see Burnham and the crew travel to the Burn’s point of origin, having triangulated it using the SB-19 data given to them by the President of Ni’Var. Could they encounter the Skrreeans at the origin point, perhaps? That would be a major connection. In a more minor way we could simply see the inclusion of a Skrreean character, or perhaps have someone note the location of their new homeworld – the planet Draylon II was where they ultimately settled.

It would be an interesting, if somewhat random, connection for Discovery to make to this one standalone story from Deep Space Nine. However, Star Trek: Picard set somewhat of a precedent in that regard, bringing in Dr Bruce Maddox, a character who only appeared once in The Next Generation, as a main player in its storyline. I don’t consider this theory likely, but I wanted to acknowledge the possibility. I will be on the lookout for anything related to the Skrreeans, their mythical planet Ketanna, or Draylon II when I watch The Sanctuary!

Number 2: Tilly is going to go rogue.

Saru asked Tilly to temporarily serve as first officer.

Okay, “go rogue” might be too strong. But I definitely picked up something more than mere hesitancy in Tilly this week, as she was asked by Saru to serve – temporarily, for all of you who got upset about this storyline! – as his first officer.

We have seen ensigns given command responsibilities before. Even if it’s uncommon in today’s world, it has happened on a number of occasions within Star Trek. Wesley Crusher, while still an Acting Ensign, was given command of a team in The Next Generation Season 2 episode Pen Pals, and of course Harry Kim was seen in command of Voyager’s night shift for much of the second half of the show’s run. So while it may seem odd it isn’t unprecedented, and with Discovery in a completely unfamiliar situation, Captain Saru has to take many factors into account when choosing his temporary XO. Among them is trustworthiness, having been burned by Burnham’s insubordination. And also he must account for how well everyone is acclimating to the 32nd Century, something he believes Tilly has excelled in where others have not.

Tilly and Saru.

Okay, so I’ve made a short defence of Tilly. Now into the meat of the theory! One line which stuck with me from Unification III was when Tilly asked Saru if he chose her because he believed her to be “compliant.” He ducked the question, but it was at least hinted that he does indeed see her as someone who will do as she’s told. Having experienced the Burnham problem, perhaps that’s a knee-jerk reaction from Saru, and one which, if true, would make me question his judgement. But the line carried with it a potentially serious implication – Tilly may choose, at a certain moment, not to comply.

She may do so to assist Burnham in some way, and if Tilly were to disobey orders – as she stated she would in Scavengers when talking with Saru – I would assume it would be for this reason. But there may be something else that causes her to go rogue, following in Burnham’s footsteps. I can’t say exactly what it could be if not Burnham, but we’ve had two lines that can certainly be interpreted to say that Tilly may be less “compliant” than Saru hopes.

Number 3: The Spore Drive will become Starfleet’s new method of faster-than-light propulsion.

Discovery initiates a spore jump.

SB-19 was a Federation project – led by the Romulans and Vulcans – to attempt to circumvent the galaxy’s dilithium shortage. Though Admiral Vance called it “promising,” the Ni’Var believed it was dangerous, and for more than a century considered to be the cause of the Burn. Whether they will re-evaluate that belief in light of evidence provided by Burnham is unclear, but it’s also potentially irrelevant.

SB-19, whether it caused the Burn or not, was an imperfect way to travel when compared to the Spore Drive. At present, only Discovery is capable of using the mycelial network, but that could change. What the implications of that would be on races like the JahSepp, who are native to the mycelial network, is not clear, but assuming it would be safe to use the network to travel, Spore Drives may yet be installed on all of Starfleet’s ships.

Main Engineering aboard the USS Discovery contains everything needed to make the Spore Drive work.

We saw no real movement toward that this week, other than we saw for the first time Stamets use the new interface that Adira built for him. At the moment Discovery relies on Stamets as navigator; without him, accessing the mycelial network is not possible. But if, as was hinted at in Forget Me Not, it’s possible to create a non-human navigator, a major obstacle to other vessels using the Spore Drive melts away.

This theory would allow the resolution to the Burn to keep the current timeline intact – there would be no need to go back in time and undo anything, nor would there be a deus ex machina of a sudden discovery of a huge cache of dilithium. Instead, Starfleet could get back on its feet using the Spore Drive – finally finding a proper use for Discovery’s most controversial piece of technology!

Number 4: Discovery Season 3 takes place in an alternate timeline or parallel universe.

Could all of this be happening in an alternate timeline?

We arguably saw movement away from this theory this week, as the arrival of Dr Gabrielle Burnham confirmed that she is in the same timeline, universe, and reality as Michael and the rest of the crew. Her absence had been something I argued pointed to this theory being plausible, but it wasn’t the sole argument.

One part of this theory that can be decisively debunked, however, is the notion that Burnham and the crew somehow crossed into the Kelvin timeline. The existence of the planet Vulcan – renamed Ni’Var in this era – proves that. In 2009’s Star Trek, the planet Vulcan was destroyed by Nero, so there’s no way that Discovery Season 3 is in the Kelvin timeline as we visited that planet this week.

As mentioned, though, there are still ways in which other aspects of this theory could come true. Burnham mentioned during her debrief that unexplained “gravitational waves” in the time-wormhole pushed her and Discovery off-course, which is why they didn’t arrive at the planet Terralysium. The acknowledgement of problems within the time-wormhole may indicate that they crossed over into a different universe or reality.

Did something go wrong in the time-wormhole?

There are also hints from past iterations of Star Trek – including Enterprise and Voyager most prominently – that the Burn did not occur in the prime timeline. Discovery could ignore these as they’re all rather ambiguous, but it’s worth acknowledging their existence as we consider these things.

The second half of this theory is that the Burn happened due to the interference of a time traveller or time travelling faction. From Starfleet’s point of view, the timeline in which the Burn occurred is not the “true” timeline, and thus part of the resolution to the Burn may be travelling through time to undo it.

In previous weeks I considered the first half of this theory – the parallel universe part – more likely. The re-emergence of Dr Burnham has shaken that up, however, and now both are about equal in terms of likeliness.

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

The Doctor in Living Witness.

When the President of Ni’Var told Burnham of the impending arrival of her Qowat Milat advocate, it was clear that Unification III was setting up the arrival of an important character. On first viewing, a few Romulans from past iterations of the franchise flicked through my mind, as I mentioned in my review of the episode. Even though explaining their presences centuries later would have meant some serious semantic gymnastics, it seemed for a few wonderous seconds as though we might see Elnor, Sela, or someone significant from Star Trek’s past.

That character, of course, would ultimately turn out to be Dr Gabrielle Burnham, as we’ve already covered. And as the season drags on, I must admit that there are fewer chances for this theory to come true. However, as Burnham and Discovery race to the source of the Burn, we have absolutely no idea what they’ll find. If it’s a temporal anomaly of some kind, they could encounter practically anyone from Wesley Crusher to Sybok. There have been subtle hints that the Burn may be connected to time travel, and if it is, that opens the door to practically any past Star Trek character to appear – either with their original actor or, as we saw with Dr Maddox in Picard, having been recast.

Is Sybok coming back? I mean… no. But maybe!

Before Season 3 premiered I made the case for Voyager’s Doctor – or rather, a backup copy of him seen in the Season 4 episode Living Witness – being a prime candidate for inclusion. Aside from him, other characters I suggested included Soji (or a synth who looks like her), Lore, Captain Sisko, and Enterprise’s Crewman Daniels – the latter of whom was a 30th/31st Century temporal agent. Any of these could reasonably be alive in the 32nd Century, and characters who have long lifespans or are known to have spent time in the far future are perhaps more likely to appear.

Having seen a tie-in with Picard via the appearance of the Qowat Milat, it gives me hope that Discovery will find more ways to tie itself to the wider Star Trek franchise. A character crossover is a spectacular way of doing that, and as The Next Generation showed with episodes like Relics, the passage of centuries is no barrier to such a crossover in a sci-fi world. Until the credits roll on the season finale, I’ll keep advocating this theory!

So those theories saw movement or are new for this week. Next, for the sake of keeping everything in one place, we’ll briefly recap the remaining theories. These saw no movement in either direction this week, and while some may seem unlikely, none have been debunked so they remain on the list. If you want to check out any of them in a little more detail, you can view my earlier Star Trek: Discovery theories on my dedicated Star Trek: Discovery page. Click or tap here to be taken there.

Number 6: The Spore Drive isn’t going to remain a secret.

Burnham orders Black Alert.

The Spore Drive is an incredibly valuable piece of technology; the only known way to instantaneously jump across vast distances. Even without a lack of dilithium, it would be something everyone in the galaxy would want to get their hands on. In addition, the arrival of Saru and Discovery has disrupted the pre-existing order of the reduced Starfleet, with Saru even butting in to suggest he and his ship take on assignments Admiral Vance was dishing out to other commanders.

At the meeting of Starfleet’s senior officers in Scavengers, we saw the moment they learned about the Spore Drive for the first time. Why show us that moment if it isn’t going to be important later on? I got a sense at that meeting that not everyone was happy with this news. Will someone within Starfleet try to take control of the Spore Drive, or contact the Emerald Chain and let them know about it?

Even if none of that happens, with Discovery jumping all over the galaxy – to Earth, Trill, Ni’Var, Federation HQ, and the location of the USS Tikhov – how long until some other faction notices? Sensors still exist, after all, and must be pretty good and have decent range by this time period. The Ni’Var learned about the Spore Drive as well, and they are no longer Federation members. Will they keep Starfleet’s secret?

If the existence of the Spore Drive does become known, it could pose huge problems for Starfleet – perhaps even leading to an attack by the Emerald Chain, who are the only named antagonist faction so far this season.

Number 7: Georgiou has been tampered with by Section 31.

Georgiou and Burnham.

Mirror Georgiou was notable by her absence this week. A conversation between her and Dr Gabrielle Burnham would have been incredibly interesting to see; both competing for Michael’s attention. However, the theory that something happened to her at the hands of Section 31 remains.

It seems very unlikely to be a coincidence that Mirror Georgiou began to suffer hallucinations and blackouts after her debrief with Kovich. There was something different about David Cronenberg’s character compared with the other Starfleet officers who conducted the debriefs of Discovery’s crew. It’s at least possible to think he’s an agent of Section 31.

Is Kovich a Section 31 agent?

We saw a lot of Mirror Georgiou’s interrogation, but we missed a key point: its ending. Between what we saw of her and Kovich and Burnham’s reunion with her aboard Discovery at the end of Die Trying there was plenty of time for something to happen to her. Kovich mentioned his familiarity with Terrans; perhaps Section 31 has a specific way of dealing with Terrans that involves psychological torture.

I’m glad this storyline exists, whatever the ultimate explanation for Mirror Georgiou’s problems may be. She can be a fairly boring character, so it’s great to see her given something genuinely different to do. It also connects to a theme that we’ve seen with Detmer of mental health in Season 3, and that is also a point of interest.

Number 8: We’ll see more tie-ins with the Short Treks episode Calypso.

NCC-1031. Where’s the A?

I don’t believe we’ve seen the last of the Calypso tie-ins after we seemed to get the creation of the Zora AI a couple of weeks ago. However, one thing that’s definitely interesting right now is that the USS Discovery as it appeared in Calypso no longer exists. The ship was retrofitted in Scavengers, and in addition to features like programmable matter interfaces and detachable nacelles, now sports the designation NCC 1031-A.

This is important because, as you can see above, we got a clear look at Discovery in Calypso, and not only were the ship’s nacelles very much attached to the hull, the designation clearly lacks the -A addition. So how will this circle be squared? That is very much up for debate right now!

My theory is that, if indeed Discovery somehow travels backwards in time this season, the crew will very deliberately un-retrofit the ship first, removing any 32nd Century features to avoid polluting the timeline in case of accidental discovery. However, that’s just one of many possibilities, and with a Calypso tie-in having been seen already this season, I’m sure we’ll get something more sooner or later.

Number 9: The music Burnham keeps encountering is indicative of being in a parallel universe, simulation… or even a dream.

Burnham and Lieutenant Willa discussed the piece of music in Die Trying.

As I said when I reviewed Die Trying, it isn’t much of a stretch to think that a piece of music could be well-known across the Federation. Even though the alliance is fractured in the 32nd Century, there were over a thousand years for its various members and cultures to exchange everything from information to lullabies. However, for story reasons I understand that this piece of music is sure to be important… somehow!

One way in which this could manifest would be if the piece of music were somehow indicative of Burnham and the crew being caught in some kind of parallel universe or alternate reality, one in which somehow this piece of music was prevalent. It could even suggest that the 32nd Century setting the crew have encountered is artificial – the music could be part of a simulation or even hinting at these events all taking place inside Burnham’s head.

The latter two points in particular would not be a route I’d like to see the show go down. The “it’s all a dream” or fake-out story tropes rarely end well, and while for a single episode or two-parter (like parts of Deep Space Nine’s third season episode The Search) this can be okay, on the whole it feels like a cheap way to end a story. I don’t expect to see Discovery go down this route, but the unexplained music could indicate that the story may be headed in this direction.

Number 10: The ships at Federation HQ represent the majority of Starfleet’s remaining vessels. And they’re all 120+ years old.

Discovery arrived at Federation HQ to see a small fleet.

How many ships were present as Discovery arrived at Federation HQ? Ten? Twelve? It wasn’t much more than that, that’s for sure. In a post-Burn environment, one where the Federation has shrunk considerably and where dilithium is in short supply, it’s possible that these ships are all that remain of the once-mighty Starfleet.

In That Hope Is You, Mr Sahil noted two Federation ships in flight, so perhaps we can say from his comment that there are at least two more! But I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that we’ve seen the bulk of Starfleet. Certainly the Federation seems incapable of either building any more ships nor fielding a large armada right now, which is perhaps one of the reasons why they need to keep their base cloaked.

Because of the catastrophic nature of the Burn, it also seems highly likely that shipbuilding facilities would have been damaged, destroyed, or would be inaccessible. That may mean that the Federation’s fleet entirely consists of ageing vessels, each one over 120 years old and probably not designed for being in service this long. In addition, without fuel what would be the point of expending a lot of resources building a new ship?

Number 11: The Burn was caused by one of the Red Angel suits.

The Red Angel suits were very powerful.

There are two Red Angel suits known to exist – Michael Burnham’s and Dr Gabrielle Burnham’s. The suits are very powerful, and it isn’t a stretch to think they could be weaponised or cause some kind of accident. In an age where time travel has been prohibited, they could also be the only surviving examples of time-travel tech, or the last possible source of time crystals. If someone nefarious got their hands on a suit, they could’ve used it travel back in time and attack the Federation by destroying most of their dilithium. The name “Burn” may even be related to the name “Burnham” if this theory is correct.

As a second part of this theory, the Burn may have been caused by Dr Gabrielle Burnham or Michael herself. This might be something they indirectly did, something accidental, something they did under duress, or something they considered the least-bad option when confronted by something far worse. The idea that Michael would deliberately cause the worst disaster the Star Trek galaxy has ever seen is almost laughable… but Discovery loves to put her at the centre of every story, so there may yet be a connection.

Number 12: Someone has stolen Burnham’s Red Angel suit.

The last we saw of Burnham’s suit.

This has been a theory I’ve been pushing since Burnham sent her Red Angel suit back into the wormhole in That Hope Is You right at the beginning of the season. I was struck by a line in Die Trying: Admiral Vance described the Red Angel suit as being “inaccessible.”

Burnham goes on to say she set the suit to self-destruct, but all this did for me is reinforce the fact that we didn’t see the suit’s destruction with our own eyes. The finale of Season 2 confirmed that Pike and Spock received the final red burst in the 23rd Century, but beyond that we simply do not know what became of the suit.

It’s at least possible that someone intercepted or stole the suit before it could self-destruct. It would have to be someone familiar with the suit and who had the ability to travel or at least scan through time, but neither of those things are impossible within Star Trek. This theory could connect to the Burn itself – as we’ll look at in a moment.

Number 13: The Dax symbiont is still alive.

The Dax symbiont as seen in Deep Space Nine.

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

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

Number 14: Lieutenant Detmer is going to die.

Detmer in People of Earth.

The past three episodes haven’t really expanded Detmer’s storyline much. However, she still appeared not to be fully-recovered the last time we saw her.

I maintain that we’ve seen hints at a possible premature end to Detmer – and that includes the fact that she’s been given a storyline of her own for the first time! In Far From Home she appeared injured, and despite being given a clean bill of health from the doctor, seemed to still be suffering some kind of implant-related injury. Admiral Vance noted in Die Trying that her “baselines are unsteady, to put it mildly.” Is that a reference to her mental health? Or a more oblique reference to her overall health being in terminal decline?

Number 15: Booker is a Coppelius synth.

Book has many abilities that some consider to be… unnatural.

The abilities Book had in That Hope Is You – including strange glowing spots which could be technological in origin – are still unexplained. Burnham may well know more about Book, having spent a lot of time with him over the past year. But for us as the audience, Book is still a mystery. Thematically, his relationship with Grudge mirrors Data’s with Spot, which could be another hint. It’s possible Book is an enhanced human, or even an alien from a different race. But his abilities could be indicative of a synthetic origin, and if he is a synth, he could be part of a civilisation founded on Coppelius in the late 24th Century.

Number 16: The ban on time travel is being flouted – possibly by secretive elements within the Federation.

Could Section 31 be running a covert time-travel operation?

Unless Admiral Vance was straight-up lying to Saru and Burnham in Die Trying, he believes that the ban on time travel is still in effect. But while he’s the head of Starfleet, he may not be in total control. Section 31 was known to be rogue, and Kovich, who interviewed Georgiou in that episode, may well be a Section 31 agent.

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

Number 17: The Burn was a superweapon – perhaps one the Federation or Section 31 built.

The Burn.

We learned in Die Trying that the Federation – at least, according to Admiral Vance and Kovich – doesn’t know what the Burn is or what caused it, even though the Vulcans and Romulans told us in Unification III that they consider a covert project called SB-19 to be responsible – something Burnham appears to have disproved. One possibility that I considered when I looked at some possible causes for the Burn before the season kicked off was that it was the result of a superweapon.

Assuming Vance and Kovich are telling the truth, it wasn’t a Federation superweapon. However, it’s possible that the knowledge of such a crime was covered up, or that the secretive Section 31 was responsible but never told anyone else. It’s also possible that some other faction – perhaps the Borg, the Dominion, or the super-synths from Star Trek: Picard – are directly responsible. The latter point raises a strange question, though: if the Burn was a weapon, and it succeeded in its goal of decimating the Federation (which it clearly did), why did whomever is responsible not capitalise on that success? Where was the invasion that should surely have followed? The galaxy may be in disarray, but it clearly has not been conquered by any of these factions… so if the Burn is a weapon, what was the point?

It may have been a revenge attack; some kind of galactic-scale mutually-assured destruction. If the Federation, Section 31, or some other organisation launched an attack, the Burn may be that faction’s retaliation. That would explain the lack of an invader: they were already dead.

Now that Burnham has what she needs to pinpoint the Burn’s point of origin, perhaps we’ll learn more.

Number 18: Mirror Georgiou will travel back in time to the 23rd Century.

Georgiou in Scavengers.

Whatever may be the ultimate explanation for her hallucinations and blackouts, Georgiou was not planning to travel to the 32nd Century; she was aboard Discovery when it left due to fighting Leland/Control. She has expressed her appreciation for the chaotic, “free” nature of the future, but there could be a reason for her to travel back in time. Not least because she’s supposed to be the main character in the upcoming Section 31 series which is meant to take place in the 23rd Century!

There could be a reason for Georgiou to travel back in time, but if she’s to work with Section 31, the main one I can think of would be to warn Starfleet about the Burn and give them time to prepare and/or prevent it. She may also want to try to return to her own universe – something Kovich told her is impossible in the 32nd Century due to the two universes “drifting further apart.” Her decision to leave the 32nd Century may also be related to her mental health/hallucinations.

Number 19: We haven’t seen the last of Zareh.

Zareh.

Despite being quite content to kill all of Zareh’s goons, Saru balked at the idea of killing the man himself in Far From Home. Instead, he and Georgiou let him go, sending him out into the wilds of the Colony – despite being told by the locals that that’s a death sentence. However, we didn’t see Zareh die. And in stories like these, characters like Zareh tend to pop back up looking for revenge.

So that’s it. Those are the remaining theories as we head into The Sanctuary. Despite having considered many possible options for what the Burn could be and what its ultimate origin is, I can honestly say right now that I have no idea what’s about to happen. Will Burnham learn the Burn’s origin next week? I don’t know that either. Discovery has done a great job keeping the Burn a mysterious event, and even now that we’re into the second half of the season, its true nature remains unknown.

One final note: no fan theory, no matter how plausible it may seem, is worth getting upset or disappointed over. I put these lists together for fun, and as an excuse to spend more time in the Star Trek galaxy, and that’s all. If something goes completely the opposite way I was expecting, far from being annoyed or upset I revel in that. That doesn’t mean writers should make arbitrary and silly decisions, but it means I like being surprised! If we could all remember to take fan theories with a healthy pinch of salt, there’d be less conflict in fan communities.

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

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 3, Episode 7: Unification III

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

A solid start to Season 3 with some genuinely interesting mysteries and beautiful world-building stumbled last week, when main character Michael Burnham appeared to go through a serious regression, undoing two-and-a-half seasons’ worth of positive growth to return to the arrogant, selfish, and unlikeable person we met at the beginning of Season 1. As I wrote in my recent theory post, in some respects Burnham’s regression makes her even worse than she was back then; her reason for abandoning her post is even weaker and more self-centred than the reason for her mutiny in the series premiere, and above all it demonstrates that she’s learned nothing from that experience.

Why am I diving back into the Burnham saga? The synopsis for Unification III stated that Burnham will “represent the Federation in an intense debate about the release of politically sensitive – but highly valuable – Burn data.” After being reprimanded by the head of Starfleet and fired by Saru as first officer, Burnham is going to be given such an important assignment? Really? Discovery needs to break its Burnham fetish and allow other characters do something of consequence. We’ve seen characters like Georgiou and Detmer take on storylines of their own this season, as well as Saru growing into the captaincy. But the writers are still determined that Burnham alone gets to advance the main storyline of the season, even if doing so shoehorns her into roles for which other characters would be far better-suited. In this case, her recent demotion and insubordination should disqualify her from such an assignment; the reasoning given in Unification III for putting her in that role was hollow and nonsensical considering what happened last week.

Burnham in Unification III.

I’d been discussing for several weeks a theory I had about Burnham potentially leaving the ship or even the series. Based on what we saw this week, that theory can probably be thrown out. The problem is that the events of Scavengers represented such a regression in Burnham’s character that as we approached Unification III I was almost looking forward to the moment where she’d leave! What we got instead was another Burnham-centric story, and the beginnings of the resolution to that conflict within her about whether to stay in Starfleet. That resolution, however, did not address any of her problems or the issues with her character; putting her at the centre of a story and having virtually no consequences for her disobeying of orders last week is a fault in Discovery’s storytelling.

When we first saw Season 3’s episode titles, Unification III was the one that seemed most intriguing. Unification was a two-part episode of The Next Generation, one which brought in Spock (Burnham’s adoptive brother) as he went on an unsanctioned mission to Romulus. Spock was pursuing the idea of Romulan-Vulcan re-unification; the Romulans having split from the Vulcans sometime around the 4th Century AD. Spock’s plan for re-unification was hijacked by the Romulan military who attempted to invade Vulcan, but the timely intervention of Data and Picard prevented that from happening. Spock would retain ties to Romulus, and travelled there to attempt to save the planet from the supernova, ultimately being pulled into the Kelvin timeline. So that’s a little background to inform us as we head into Unification III.

Spock in Unification, roughly 110-120 years after he last saw Burnham.

Unification III wasn’t bad, but perhaps the nicest thing I can say about it is that my complaints mostly stray into nitpicking territory. After what happened last week, Burnham has a lot of work to do to get back to being a main character worth supporting, and in that respect her scenes this week were reminiscent of early Season 1. Saru’s storyline was interesting, as he conversed with the President of Ni’Var. I would have liked to see more of their conversations, and I would have liked to spend more time with Tilly as she agonised over accepting the role of first officer. Discovery, as mentioned, has a Burnham obsession which meant that she was, once again, the main focus of the episode at the expense of these other, potentially interesting, elements.

The episode begins with Burnham recording her personal log, and she says aloud for the first time that she fears her time in the 32nd Century led to a change, and that she may no longer fit in. I’m not sure I’d say she’s changed significantly, but rather she seems to have reverted to type. Spending time outside of Starfleet amplified some of her pre-existing traits: lack of respect for authority, self-belief that often crosses into single-mindedness and arrogance, and an inability to learn from her own mistakes due to seemingly never suffering any real consequences. Her newfound freedom in the 32nd Century may have made some of these more prominent, but it isn’t the root cause. The root cause is Burnham herself; those traits are innate within her character.

There was a symbolism to Book helping Burnham take off her uniform during this sequence. Her love for him – though never stated outright – has been one of the main factors pulling her away from Starfleet, so watching him undress her in this moment was more than just a clichéd prelude to love-making, it was a metaphor for Book being a key factor in the way Burnham feels about Starfleet at this moment.

Book symbolically removes Burnham’s Starfleet uniform.

After the sequence with Book, Burnham checks in with Tilly. Continuing a theme present last week of Discovery attempting to pay lip service to Burnham’s selfish actions, Tilly briefly reprimands her for going on her jaunt. None of these criticisms from characters within the show ring particularly true, though, because Discovery continues to present Burnham as being in the right; if anything other characters’ reactions to her seem meant to elicit sympathy for Burnham, as if we as the audience are meant to feel she’s being unfairly attacked despite her obvious and undeniable brilliance. This is a theme which was present in Season 1 of Discovery very prominently, and simply adds to the notion that we’ve seen a complete undoing of the positive steps made since then.

Tilly and Burnham are able to use the three black boxes Burnham recovered (of which two were found off-screen during her year alone with Book) to discover that – as Burnham predicted – the Burn did not happen simultaneously, and thus had a point of origin. The USS Yelchin, whose black box was the missing piece of the puzzle, is a touching reference to Anton Yelchin – the actor who played the role of Chekov in the Kelvin timeline. He tragically passed away in 2016, and this is a very sweet way of honouring him within Star Trek.

Tilly and Burnham piece together the Burn’s point of origin.

Taking her findings straight to Admiral Vance, along with Saru, Burnham makes the case that the Burn had a point of origin and discovering this may lead to uncovering what caused it. That’s a logical assumption, but she needs more data to work with. She asks for access to data on a secret pre-Burn project Starfleet was running called SB-19. This was an attempt to circumvent the dilithium shortage by developing a new faster-than-light travel method. However, the data is no longer in Starfleet’s possession.

The data is present on the planet of Ni’Var – aka Vulcan. The Romulans and Vulcans succeeded in their re-unification attempts – hence the episode title – but have withdrawn from the Federation (like everyone else, it seems). They also consider SB-19 responsible for the Burn, and hate Starfleet and the Federation for forcing them to work on the project. It’s never explained why Starfleet doesn’t consider this theory any more valid than the myriad others, especially considering that, as we’ll soon see, the Vulcans are 100% convinced SB-19 was the cause.

Destination: Ni’Var.

This is the first of the nitpicks I mentioned in the intro. If the Romulans and Vulcans are so absolutely convinced that SB-19 caused the Burn, and have said so many times to the Federation, why does the Federation not consider this theory at least more likely than any of the others? The Burn has, until now, been presented as a mystery to which there are no answers, yet as soon as the story needs one, along comes a ready-made answer that an entire planet of Star Trek’s most logical and scientific minds believe. Burnham seems unwilling to believe them, thinking her data points to a different origin, but even so, everyone should surely be giving the Vulcans and their SB-19 theory due deference.

Admiral Vance believes the only way for Ni’Var to even consider sharing their information is to send Burnham. She’s wonderful, special, and unique, in case you forgot. And this all felt horribly rushed. The Admiral, who had seemed so level-headed and calm in his earlier appearances, makes a snap decision to send Burnham to Ni’Var as she’s Spock’s sister. He disregards her insubordination and disobeying of orders last week, he ignores Saru’s authority in the matter, and he doesn’t even consider the option of sharing Burnham’s data with Ni’Var to see whether the data alone would convince them to enter talks. It’s so clear that the writers and the director wanted to get into the “meat” of the episode that they blitzed through this scene. The end result is a bit of a mess, and frankly it would have been better to cut it entirely and just have Discovery jump to Ni’Var without the back-and-forth with Admiral Vance.

Admiral Vance’s snap decision to send Burnham doesn’t make much sense.

As we’re nitpicking this week here’s another: Spock visited Romulus eight hundred years ago, and if Nero – the villain from 2009’s Star Trek – is indicative of how Romulans as a whole felt about him after he failed to save their homeworld from destruction, he’s not exactly Mr Popular. But even if Romulans don’t hate Spock for failing to help them, why is his influence deemed so significant eight centuries later? Even if he arguably set in motion the events of reunification, his disappearance in the late 24th Century came a long time before re-unification occurred, and while Spock is an important character to us as Trekkies and the audience of the show, I’m not sure it logically follows that Romulans and Vulcans would revere him – or even know who he was. To think of a parallel from our own time, it would be akin to someone claiming to be the relative of a king or national hero from the 1200s. Would we afford such an individual much respect so many centuries after the events they claim a tangential relationship to? And a tangential relationship to re-unification is all Burnham can claim to have.

One thing from the opening titles that I picked up on is that the USS Discovery appears to remain in its original configuration, despite undergoing a major retrofit last week. The titles depict several major changes – the Starfleet badges and the hand phaser being two notable examples – but the ship itself hasn’t changed. I wonder why this is. Since we’re slightly off-topic, the theory of Burnham and the crew having somehow crossed into the Kelvin timeline can be debunked thanks to the existence of the planet Ni’Var! Vulcan was, of course, destroyed in 2009’s Star Trek, so if this is a parallel universe – as I have been speculating – it isn’t the Kelvin timeline.

Discovery’s original configuration in the titles.

Keeping up the nitpicking, Admiral Vance had seemed less than interested about figuring out the cause of the Burn until now. Though a devastating event, it took place a lifetime ago, and there’s nothing to indicate that uncovering what happened will actually do… well, anything. People may nod and say “ah, so that’s what happened,” and then immediately resume their post-Burn lives. Unless figuring out the cause also comes with a way to undo the damage – which it yet may, to be fair – it doesn’t seem like the hugely powerful event Burnham and the Admiral seem to think. To use another contemporary analogy: imagine it were revealed tomorrow the exact time and place that the coronavirus pandemic began. We learn who was “patient zero,” where they were, how they caught it, how they transmitted it, and so on. Would that make any meaningful difference to the way we as individuals handle our everyday lives?

Okay, enough of that for now. Discovery jumps to Ni’Var and Saru is greeted by the President. She declines to share the information on SB-19, claiming it is sensitive for political reasons among Ni’Var’s factions. Out of everything in Unification III, the conflict between the Romulans and Vulcans was perhaps the most interesting, as well as the story thread that felt the most organic. Though the Romulans and Vulcans were mainly relegated to background status in a story that was, as mentioned, all about Burnham, the sectarian rivalry was well-written and came across naturally on screen.

The three quorum members represent three of Ni’Var’s main factions.

Burnham uses her knowledge of the “old ways” of Vulcan to demand a quorum at which to present her findings, and as we’ve seen on many occasions in Star Trek (going all the way back to Amok Time in The Original Series’ second season) the Vulcans do love their rules and traditions. The President of Ni’Var feels compelled to agree, and a three-member quorum is assembled aboard Discovery, making Unification III somewhat of a bottle show. It would have been nice to spend some time on the surface of Ni’Var having travelled all that way, but every Star Trek show does this – setting episodes entirely aboard the ship to save money! I can’t be 100% certain that’s what happened in this case, but it seems like it.

Before we get to the quorum itself, Unification III had a shock to throw at us: Burnham’s mother is alive. When the President of Ni’Var set up this character (who, for the sake of drama, didn’t beam aboard with everyone else) I genuinely couldn’t think who it might be. Several Romulan and Vulcan characters flittered through my mind, as the episode was clearly setting up that it would be someone familiar. Dr Gabrielle Burnham didn’t occur to me, though… and that’s because, let’s be honest, it’s contrived in the extreme for her to show up here.

Dr Gabrielle Burnham is back, where we least expected to see her.

Dr Burnham’s arrival was a shock, and in that sense it worked… for all of thirty seconds. Seeing her in a relatively silly costume, and hearing that she plans to remain on Ni’Var as a member of the Qowat Milat order though, well I’m not sure that worked as intended. As a moment of pure shock value, which is at least partly drawn from sheer randomness, it unquestionably succeeded. But thinking about it more deeply, would Dr Burnham – a scientist – be content to stay on Ni’Var instead of helping Starfleet? Would she abandon the Federation? Having achieved her goal and helped save the galaxy, would she really want to be an armed nun?

What was fantastic, though, and had me grinning was that finally, after what seems like forever, Unification III tied together Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard in a meaningful way. Not only did we see Dr Burnham being a member of the Qowat Milat, but she mentioned the way of absolute candor – the philosophy of the order and an episode title from Picard. In addition, there was a reference to Picard’s personal archive, which of course we saw in the season premiere of that show. A connection between Picard and Discovery had been something I hoped the former would have done earlier this year; it’s something I’d been looking forward to for ages. Star Trek’s various projects are all split up at the moment, with different time periods all on the go at once. Finding ways to bind the franchise together is incredibly important, and I’m glad that, after a whole season of Picard went by with practically nothing, and half of Discovery’s third season as well, some effort has been made to do so here.

Elnor, from Star Trek: Picard, was a member of the Qowat Milat too, marking the first significant tie-in between the two shows.

After the contrivance of Burnham’s mother we get to the quorum itself, and it was nice to see Burnham go in unprepared and actually suffer a setback. I’m not rooting for Burnham to fail, but sometimes it’s cathartic to see her realise that she isn’t the best and most amazing person, and that listening to someone else’s advice can actually be helpful. It’s a lesson Discovery makes difficult for her to learn, but I appreciate the effort.

The quorum basically consisted of Burnham saying “but I have new evidence!” and a Vulcan saying “not interested.” It was only when in-fighting among the three members of the quorum broke out that anything changed. The factional disputes between the Romulans, Vulcans, and a group called the Romulo-Vulcans (who are assumed to be hybrids) was interesting, as mentioned, and one of Unification III’s more interesting story threads. But it set up what was a fairly obvious plot device: Burnham walking away from the quorum, only to get what she wanted anyway.

Burnham is grilled by the quorum.

This is a familiar trope in fiction. The hero seems to have been defeated – or in this case, forfeited – only for something to come along and hand them the victory anyway. It’s like a team in a football film who lose the championship game only to win the title anyway when the other team gets disqualified for cheating. Or something like that. My analogies are all over the place this week, but the point stands. The quorum was interesting for its Vulcan-Romulan storyline, but ultimately led to a fairly standard and uninspired outcome.

The other storyline this week – the C-plot, if you will – centred on Tilly. She may seem an odd choice for first officer, especially given her junior rank, but one of the main qualities of an XO, as Saru has recently learned, is the trust of their commander. Saru trusts Tilly, and sees that she has adapted better than most to the 32nd Century. He believes those criteria qualify her for the role. Is he right? Well, I’m not so sure. Tilly hinted that she felt she was being picked because she was “compliant,” and I can’t help but feel those lines are setting up something further down the road. Will Tilly follow in Burnham’s footsteps and disobey orders too?

Tilly has been offered the role of first officer.

Perhaps it’s partly because I’m annoyed by Burnham at the moment, but at the moment the crew came together and asked Tilly to accept the position, Burnham butted in and interrupted. By telling her she got the SB-19 data at that moment she took away from Tilly’s big decision and big promotion, or at least that’s how it felt. Great news on getting the data, but timing that smacks of selfishness – an ongoing trait, as we’ve already noted.

Star Trek can do courtroom drama very well, as we see in multiple episodes going back to Season 1 of The Original Series. This didn’t feel like one of the better offerings, though. It was a character piece, which is all well and good, but that detracted from the potential drama of the quorum setting. It became another opportunity for Burnham to be front-and-centre, and after last week I could have honestly done with a Burnham break. It was good for her to resolve her issues with Starfleet, if that makes her more committed to the cause in the long run. But her personal failings are still present, and she remains a difficult character to support.

Burnham in Unification III.

So that was Unification III, or rather, that was all I want to say about it at the moment. The absence of Georgiou was noteworthy, as was Stamets’ brief scene with Tilly. Anthony Rapp plays occasionally-curmudgeonly Stamets well, and the moment they shared in the spore cube was a brief respite from the Burnham show.

The mystery of the Burn remains enticing, and I am genuinely looking forward to seeing more movement on that next week. But Discovery once again has a Burnham problem that is self-inflicted, and Unification III failed to address it. In some respects it even made things worse on that front. Any story needs a relatable, understandable protagonist. Mistakes and flaws are all well and good if they provide background and a character arc, but having someone so arrogant and selfish, then putting her in stories where everyone tells her how wonderful and unique she is, just doesn’t work. A main character needs to be more sympathetic, or make some attempt to overcome their failings. Burnham has regressed to where she was in Season 1, and Discovery has – insofar as it pertains to Burnham – regressed too.

It would be great to see stories where other characters have genuine agency over the plot instead of being along for a ride on the Burnham Express. Maybe next week’s episode, The Sanctuary, will give us that. But I’m not holding my breath. As we enter the second half of the season, Discovery is at its best when other characters are on screen. Its mysteries continue to intrigue me, and I will always be grateful for more time spent in the Star Trek galaxy. I’m just having a hard time with a show where every story seems to amplify the worst aspects of Burnham’s character. I hate harping on about it, but that’s where I’m at.

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

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 episode titles have been revealed… let’s see what we can glean!

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Seasons 1-2 of Star Trek: Discovery, as well as the trailers for Season 3. There are also spoilers for Star Trek: Picard Season 1. Further spoilers may be present for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.

I was reluctant to cover this when I first saw it a few days ago. The only sources I could find for what people claimed were the “real Discovery Season 3 episode titles” were unofficial at best – and with all the made-up “rumours” that float around the online Star Trek and anti-Star Trek communities I wanted to wait for something more official before I commented! It took a little while, but there has been confirmation that these titles and synopses are legitimate, so I finally feel able to write about them.

Unlike with Picard and Lower Decks, Discovery has given us every episode’s title ahead of the season premiere, including the title of the finale. The first four episodes even have a little synopsis to go with them, so we’ll take a look at all of that in this piece and see what of consequence – if anything – we can determine!

Discovery’s third season is doing something quite unusual for a prime-time show: it’s premiering episodes on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Because of the (roughly) twenty-four hour delay in bringing the show to the rest of the world on Netflix, this means here in the UK we’re going to get episodes on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day! How’s that for a Christmas present? In a way this shows the advantages of streaming – the reason shows would often take a Christmas break from their regular schedule was so folks who were busy with the holidays wouldn’t miss anything; in 2020 with streaming services like CBS All Access and Netflix that’s no longer a concern. Even the busiest Trekkie in the world will be able to find time to watch Discovery sometime during Christmas week!

Star Trek: Discovery will air an episode on Christmas Eve!

Depending on how you count the various episodes and films, Discovery Season 3 will contain the 800th Star Trek story. If we count each of the Short Treks, as well as episodes of The Animated Series, and all of the films, we’ll make it to 800 on New Year’s Eve when the twelfth episode of the season premieres. That’s an outstanding accomplishment for the Star Trek franchise! The 700th episode was The Forgotten from Season 3 of Enterprise in 2004, so it’s been a long road… getting from there to here. Sorry, couldn’t resist!

So let’s go through these episode titles and synopses!

The season premiere is titled That Hope Is You, which may sound familiar to you! It was a line spoken by the Federation official (or rather, who I assume to be a Federation official) in the first Season 3 trailer. The full line is: “I watched this office every day, believing that my hope was not in vain. And that hope is you, Commander Burnham.” I didn’t really like the way this line sounded when I first saw the trailer. In short, Discovery has never been at its best when it made Burnham the “chosen one” or the only character who actually does anything of consequence. This line could be interpreted as the beginning of another story where Burnham alone is capable of saving the galaxy… and honestly, I’m not thrilled about that. However, conversely the line could be about the arrival of the USS Discovery, or about some as-yet-unknown event.

The assumed Federation official.

The synopsis for the episode only mentions Burnham, saying that she’s looking for the USS Discovery and its crew. To me, the first two synopses imply that the season premiere may not include Saru or any of the rest of the crew in any meaningful way; it may simply focus on Burnham as she arrives in the future. I’m okay with that; Picard earlier in the year worked very well by building up slowly and not introducing too many characters and plot threads all at once, and if that’s the route Discovery will go too then I’m all for it.

Based on the title alone I’m fairly sure we’ll meet the Federation official from the first trailer in this episode. It should also mark the introduction of Booker.

Episode 2 is titled Far From Home – a title it coincidentally shares with the most recent Spider-Man film! The synopsis mentions the USS Discovery being repaired after crash-landing. Assuming that the crash is a result of arriving in the future via the time-wormhole, this seems to suggest the episode will mark the first appearance of Saru and the rest of the familiar crew. The crash sequence (or a large part of it) was shown in the second trailer. It looked fantastic, and reminded me a little of the USS Voyager crashing in the episode Timeless. The shot of Discovery after it crashed, however, was a rare example of a miss in terms of CGI, and I hope this is rectified by the time the episode airs!

This shot looked crap in the trailer.

The synopsis also mentions that Saru and Tilly will search for Burnham – presumably while the rest of the crew work to repair the ship. We haven’t seen too much interaction between these two characters, and as they’re very different from one another I think there’s scope for a sequence where they’re teamed up to be quite a lot of fun. There was a moment in the first trailer where Saru and Tilly appeared to don some kind of hooded garment, perhaps that’s taken from this episode.

People of Earth is the title of episode 3, and confirms that Burnham and the rest of the crew will definitely get back together. We saw glimpses of this reunion in both of the trailers, and I assume it may happen toward the end of episode 2 or perhaps at the beginning of episode 3. Interestingly, this episode will see the ship and crew travel to Earth, and this could be where we learn more about the Burn and the history of the galaxy in the years between Picard and Discovery. Of all the episodes so far, this seems the most likely to contain easter eggs and references!

There was a scene shown in the second trailer where the crew visit a large tree and appear to have a strong emotional reaction. I theorised that this tree could be a memorial to the USS Discovery, or perhaps to a character they knew such as Captain Pike. That could explain the strong reaction. As this episode takes place on Earth, it’s my guess for where this scene or sequence may appear.

The crew by the old tree.

Episode 4 is titled Forget Me Not, and this will be where we visit the Trill homeworld for the first time since Deep Space Nine. Will we see Dax return, perhaps? The synopsis doesn’t hint at that, but the title might. Forget Me Not is evocative; it could be referring to us – the fans – not forgetting about the character of Dax and the events of past Star Trek shows. Or that could be me clutching at straws!

The other part of the synopsis talks about Saru helping the crew to “reconnect.” I take that to mean they need to reconnect to each other, and forming a close-knit group will be important for the crew in a new and difficult time period. It could also mean that the crew needs to better connect with the world beyond their ship, to reconnect with the galaxy in this new era. Either way, the synopsis says this will lead to “a surprise,” and I have genuinely no idea what that could be, or even if it will be a pleasant or unpleasant surprise!

Now we’ve run out of synopses, but there are still titles for the remaining episodes of the season. I wonder if that means something very significant will happen in episode 4; something so big that it wasn’t possible to summarise the following episodes without spoiling a major plot point or storyline? Time will tell on that one!

Episode 4 will see Burnham visit the Trill homeworld.

Die Trying is the title of episode 5, and the obvious thing to pull from this is the first word. Will a major character die? Or is the title simply saying that someone (or the whole crew) will put their absolute all into some task – to either accomplish it or die trying? The latter seems more likely; I would be surprised if Discovery (or any major series) would telegraph the death of a character in such an obvious way. However, we saw in Picard that some plot points were spoilt ahead of time, particularly by announcing actors in the opening titles. So anything’s possible!

This leads us to episode 6, Scavengers. The second trailer showed two sequences this could refer to – one with a faction leader or warlord who Mirror Georgiou attacks, and another that seemed to be set in a post-apocalyptic markeplace or refugee camp that Burnham visits. Either of these could be the home of a gang of scavengers, and if the Burn is as bad as we assume it is, scavenging could be one way the survivors make a living without the help and protection of the Federation and advanced technology.

Episode 7 is perhaps the most interesting title – at least on the surface. Unification III sounds like it will follow on from The Next Generation’s two-part episode of the same name, which saw Captain Picard team up with Spock on the Romulan homeworld. Spock had been pursuing a potential Vulcan-Romulan reunification, and arguably laid the groundwork for improved Federation-Romulan relations in the 24th Century. Sela attempted to hijack Spock’s mission and conquer Vulcan by force, but was defeated by Picard and co.

Spock in The Next Generation two-part episode Unification.

So the big question is: what happened next? We saw in 2009’s Star Trek and in Picard that the Romulan homeworld was destroyed by a supernova. Relations between the Federation and Romulans initially seemed to improve; the two powers worked together in the Dominion War and began working together to evacuate Romulus prior to the attack on Mars by the rogue synths. Following the revelation at the end of Picard Season 1 that the Romulans were responsible for that attack – one which killed over 90,000 people and left Mars uninhabitable – we don’t yet know what happened. The path to reconciliation seems impossible as of the end of Picard, let alone full-scale reunification! But the episode title is tantalising, and surely must involve the Romulans in some capacity. My guess is that full reunification didn’t happen, but that perhaps the Vulcans and Romulans are cooperating and working together more regularly, particularly in the face of the Burn. Spock, of course, is Burnham’s adoptive brother, so she may learn more about his life in this episode; it could be a “unification” between the two of them.

As we get into December we have an episode titled The Sanctuary. This may refer to the futuristic space station, spacecraft, or facility glimpsed in the second trailer, which may be a Starfleet base. There was a black-uniformed woman who may be a Starfleet officer, and this could be her base of operations. Of all the locations we saw across the two trailers, this is the only one I’d describe as anything close to a “sanctuary” from the chaos in the galaxy. But it’s a vague title and I could be way off-base!

This black-uniformed woman may be a Starfleet officer.

Next up is a two-parter: Terra Firma. This could refer to Earth, but as the ship and crew have already visited in episode 3 I’m not so sure. “Terra firma” is Latin, and basically means “solid ground.” That could be a metaphor; it’s a fairly common expression that travellers use upon reaching a destination, particularly after a long voyage at sea. Could the crew of the USS Discovery have been on a very long voyage and finally arrived back? That’s one possibility. It could also be a metaphor for stability; perhaps the crew have been able to partially restore the Federation by this point, and Starfleet is finally on solid ground.

The second trailer also hinted at coronal mass ejections – which are one possible explanation for the Burn. If CMEs are going to be a big part of the story, perhaps evading one and reaching a safe place is going to be a storyline seen in these two episodes. There’s one other possibility: that there’s some connection to the human-supremacist group Terra Prime, who were seen in the fourth season of Enterprise. Catastrophic situations have historically given rise to extremist groups, and if the Burn is as bad as we assume it is, part of the fractured Federation could have turned to a human-centric group in search of strength and stability.

The frame from the trailer that mentioned CMEs.
Screenshot mirrored and cropped for clarity.

Christmas Eve will bring us an episode titled The Citadel. Like The Sanctuary, this could refer to the possible Starfleet base. “The Citadel” could be the new name given to Starfleet HQ or to a major Starbase, and this could be a story set there. A citadel is also a kind of castle or strong fortification, so this could be a metaphor for hunkering down and preparing for something.

As mentioned, New Year’s Eve will bring us the 800th Star Trek story: an episode titled The Good of the People. There are a couple of ways to read into this – the first is that Burnham and the crew will do something big or perhaps make a sacrifice believing what they’re doing will benefit the people of the Federation and/or the galaxy. The second is that the title refers to good people among a wider population; perhaps people who rise up against a dictator or who fight for a righteous cause.

The season finale, airing in the first week of 2021, is titled Outside. This is a very simple title, and one which could be read into in many ways. Perhaps Burnham or someone else in the crew finds themselves in the minority; their idea or opinion on where to go next is not accepted, leaving them on “the outside.” Perhaps the crew, having successfully restored the Federation, now consider themselves outsiders in a new world.

Burnham is an “outsider” in this new century… but is that what the title refers to?

If the ultimate reason for the Burn turns out to be connected to time travel, perhaps the season will end with Burnham and the crew undoing it, effectively wiping out this timeline in the process. If that happens, Burnham and/or the crew may exist “outside” of normal spacetime during the episode.

So those are my thoughts on the episode titles and synopses that we got. I have no doubt I’m utterly wrong in many cases, but for me, speculating and theory-crafting is all part of the fun.

Now that Lower Decks has concluded (my review of the season finale is coming soon, don’t worry!) we’re less than a week out from Discovery’s return. It’s been eighteen months since Season 2 ended, so if you need a refresh, I recommend my article titled The Road to Season 3, which you can find by clicking or tapping here. There I give a synopsis of the first two seasons from both the production and in-universe sides. You can find the rest of my Star Trek: Discovery articles on my dedicated Discovery page, which you can find by clicking or tapping here, or by using the menu above. I hope you’ll join me when the season debuts for reviews, theories, and more.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 will premiere on the 15th of October on CBS All Access in the United States, and on the 16th of October on Netflix in the United Kingdom and around the world. The Star Trek franchise – including Star Trek: Discovery – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. Stock images courtesy of Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten great Star Trek episodes – Part 2: The Next Generation

Spoiler Warning: In addition to spoilers for the episodes listed below, there may be minor spoilers for other iterations of the Star Trek franchise, including Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard.

Welcome back to my series of articles looking at ten great episodes from each of the Star Trek shows. We looked at The Original Series last time, so now it’s The Next Generation’s turn. This is the series which first introduced me to Star Trek in the early 1990s, and it was Capt. Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D who really hooked me in and got me invested in this fictional universe. I will always hold The Next Generation in very high regard as a result, and of all the Star Trek shows, it has a special place in my heart.

Plans for a Star Trek series which would have featured a different cast to that led by William Shatner in The Original Series had been kicking around in various forms since at least the mid-1970s. One of the earliest concepts for a new Star Trek film or series, before work on The Motion Picture had begun, was for something set at Starfleet Academy. Buoyed by the success of The Original Series in syndication and of the first three films, Gene Roddenberry began working on a Star Trek spin-off in the mid-1980s. Unlike the films, which mandated a lot of influence from Paramount Pictures, Roddenberry was keen to retain as much creative control over the new show as possible, and kept The Next Generation on a tight leash until ill health forced him to step away from day-to-day work on the show. If you’d like to know more about the creation of The Next Generation there’s a documentary on the subject titled William Shatner Presents: Chaos on the Bridge, which was made in 2014. I’ll leave the question of how unbiased and accurate it is up to you!

Star Trek: The Next Generation ran from 1987 to 1994.

While The Next Generation retained much of what had made The Original Series a success, it did change up the formula somewhat, and not all of the changes made were well-received by longstanding fans at the time. As I noted in my article looking at divisions in the fanbase, some Trekkies actively refused to watch The Next Generation when it premiered in 1987, because for them, Capt. Kirk and his crew were the irreplaceable beating heart of Star Trek. While the show was only really controversial in some small fan circles, there was wider concern about its viability. At this point in the history of television, very few series outside of incredibly popular sitcoms and soap operas had ever successfully made spin-offs, so this was uncharted territory. Sir Patrick Stewart, who of course plays Capt. Picard, has gone on record as saying he did not believe the show would be a success, even saying at one point that the only reason he agreed to take on the role was because he expected it to be a one- or two-season commitment at most!

If you didn’t tune in last time, here’s how this format works. This isn’t my all-time “Top Ten”, because a ranked list for a show like The Next Generation comes with a lot of pressure! Instead, this is simply a list of ten episodes which, for a variety of reasons, I think are great and are well worth a watch – especially if you’re finding yourself with plenty of time on your hands at the moment! I’ve picked at least one episode from each of the seven seasons – and there are so many more I wanted to pick! The Next Generation has 176 episodes, so narrowing it down to just ten was a difficult task. There may very well end up being a second round of articles in this series to accommodate some of those great episodes which I couldn’t include this time. The episodes are listed in order of release.

So let’s go ahead and jump into the list – and be aware of spoilers (though do we even need to flag up spoilers for a thirty-three year old series?)

Number 1: Home Soil (Season 1)

Home Soil saw the crew of the Enterprise-D discovery a very unusual form of life.

Gene Roddenberry’s final episode as head writer is actually one of Season 1’s most interesting. Star Trek has always sought to seek out new life – but often that new life ends up looking and sounding remarkably similar to humans! Home Soil completely changes that, showing how the life that may exist beyond Earth could be very different indeed.

I tend to feel that stories like this play very well with a small group of fans – in which I must include myself, of course – but are less well-received in the wider Star Trek fan community. When we look at stories that tried to take very different looks at the kind of “new life” that may exist in the cosmos, they tend to be much more philosophical and ethereal, looking at concepts like how we categorise and qualify “life”, as well as about bridging the huge gulf between ourselves and them and coming to an understanding. We see this in The Motion Picture – and I have an article looking at the 40th anniversary of that film which you can find by clicking or tapping here. Many of the same issues are in play in Home Soil, but on a microscopic scale – The Motion Picture looked at a life-form that was almost the size of a solar system!

Home Soil also has something to say about the environment, particularly how we as humans can be destructive to the habitats of native species. Without meaning to in some cases – or by wilfully ignoring warning signs in others – we can cause damage which could ultimately be to our own detriment. This is a message that is still relevant today! Star Trek has often sought to use its science fiction setting to parallel real-world issues, and this is another good example of that phenomenon.

Number 2: Time Squared (Season 2)

Dr Pulaski in Time Squared.

Are you familiar with the term “jumping the shark”? It refers to the moment where a television series begins to see a major drop in quality with increasingly outlandish plots, and it’s taken from an episode of Happy Days. The opposite is called “growing the beard”, where a series greatly increases in quality, usually in its second season – and that term originates with The Next Generation, taken of course from Commander Riker’s beard, which debuted in Season 2. Just a little television trivia for you!

Season 2 saw changes to The Next Generation’s cast. Dr Crusher was gone, replaced by Dr Pulaski. There were apparently issues with Gates McFadden’s contract which meant she declined to return, and instead Diana Muldaur, who had guest-starred twice in The Original Series, was brought in. Dr Pulaski was an interesting character and I liked her McCoy-esque side which brought a different perspective to things. However, after McFadden agreed to return in the third season, Dr Pulaski was unceremoniously dropped without her departure being acknowledged on screen. Muldaur herself had not particularly enjoyed working on the show, especially after struggling with wearing heavy prosthetic makeup in the episode Unnatural Selection, and it seems that Dr Pulaski had not been as well-received by viewers as the show’s producers had hoped. The second season also saw a couple of cast members shuffled around to their familiar roles. Worf became the Enterprise-D’s security chief and replaced Tasha Yar at tactical. And after a first season without a permanent chief engineer, that role was given to Geordi La Forge, largely removing him from the bridge.

I’ve stated on the blog a number of times that time-travel stories are seldom my favourites because they can be so hard to get right. Time Squared is an exception to this rule, as it sees a time-travelling Picard picked up by the Enterprise-D’s crew. This alternate Picard is from only a few hours in the future, yet is unable to communicate. What is clear, however, is that the Enterprise-D has experienced a major disaster, and this alternate Picard appears to have abandoned ship! Given everything we know about the upstanding captain even at this comparatively early stage in The Next Generation, that seems unfathomable, and the crew work hard to unravel the mystery.

Time Squared also lets us get up close and personal with one of the Enterprise-D’s shuttlecraft. These smaller vessels have been present since The Original Series, and the design used here was used in The Next Generation’s earlier seasons before a larger shuttlecraft design was incorporated. But few episodes show us a shuttecraft in this much detail inside and out, so if you’re as interested in ships and shuttles as I am it’s interesting from that point of view. The fact that the shuttle had to be designed and built in such a way that its interior and exterior could be seen at the same time is also something worth noting, and must have been a challenge for those working on the show.

Number 3: Yesterday’s Enterprise (Season 3)

Yesterday’s Enterprise told the story of what happened to the Enterprise-C.

Season 3 dropped the spandex uniforms and replaced them with the more familiar high-collar variant that would remain in use for the rest of the series. As previously mentioned, this season also saw the return of Dr Crusher and the departure of Dr Pulaski, restoring her to the cast after a one-season break. However, Yesterday’s Enterprise completely changes things up and is set in an alternate timeline, one in which the Federation and Klingons are locked in a bitter war.

Broadcast almost two years before The Undiscovered Country brought the era of The Original Series to a close, there was still a lot left unexplained about the timespan between Capt. Kirk’s adventures and those of the Enterprise-D. One good question was: “what happened to the Enterprise-B and Enterprise-C?”, and this is something that Yesterday’s Enterprise sets out to answer, as well as filling in some of the blanks from those lost years. From that point of view, Yesterday’s Enterprise goes further than almost any other episode of Star Trek to date in exploring that era, and certainly further than any story had by this point in The Next Generation’s run.

Denise Crosby reprises her role as Tasha Yar, the Enterprise-D’s original security chief who’d been killed off toward the end of the first season. I think it’s pretty clear that by this point in the show’s run (and perhaps without many other roles coming her way), Crosby was regretting her decision to leave – and it had been entirely her decision, as she felt that Tasha Yar was not being given enough to do. How she could have come to that conclusion less than halfway through the first season, and knowing that the show would be returning for at least one more is anyone’s guess, but regardless. This alternate timeline version of Tasha Yar would be referenced in future seasons, as Denise Crosby would return to play her daughter, the half-Romulan commander Sela. Sela, by the way, is the one Romulan character I was glad not to see in Star Trek: Picard earlier this year!

The Enterprise-C’s Capt. Rachel Garrett, played by guest-star Tricia O’Neil, makes a great equal for Picard as the two Enterprise captains must work together. Picard’s admission later in the episode that the Federation was on the brink of defeat convinced Capt. Garrett to return the Enterprise-C to her own time, even though she knew doing so would mean sacrificing her life for the cause. The theme of sacrifice has been present in Star Trek before, notably with Spock in The Wrath of Khan, and would be seen again on several more occasions, but the Enterprise-C is a great example of how it can play beautifully in Star Trek.

Number 4: The Best of Both Worlds, Parts 1 & 2 (Seasons 3 & 4)

Commanders Shelby and Riker see the assimilated Picard for the first time in The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1.

For many fans, The Best of Both Worlds might just be their favourite episode in The Next Generation. The first part concluded the third season, leaving behind a jaw-dropping cliffhanger, and the second part was broadcast after several long months and brought the story of the Federation’s first Borg invasion to a conclusion. The events of The Best of Both Worlds would be revisited several times: in the fifth-season episode I, Borg, in Emissary, which was the premiere of Deep Space Nine, in the film First Contact, and most recently in Star Trek: Picard, particularly in the episode The Impossible Box – a review of which you can find by clicking or tapping here. Picard’s assimilation by the Borg would go on to be a defining part of his character in these stories and others, and while it didn’t fundamentally change him as a person, it did mean he would suffer from guilt and flashbacks, and when he crossed paths with the Borg again he’d find it hard to remain objective.

The writers of The Next Generation had been planning to introduce the Borg since the show’s first season. Both the neural parasite conspiracy, which took up two episodes of Season 1, and the destruction of Federation colonies near Romulan space seen in the first season finale The Neutral Zone were meant to tie into the Borg’s ultimate introduction in the second season. The neural parasite angle was (fortunately) dropped, and the Borg’s first major attack on the Federation unfolded in an incredibly dramatic fashion. The Best of Both Worlds is really two stories – Picard’s personal battle with the Borg, which includes the efforts to rescue him by the Enterprise-D’s crew, and the wider conflict between the Borg and the Federation, and both aspects are incredibly tense and exciting. The decision for Picard to be captured raised the stakes significantly; no longer was the conflict an abstract one with mostly nameless minor characters threatened, but Picard, who had been the cornerstone of The Next Generation since its premiere, was being held hostage and brainwashed. As much as we as the audience want to see the Borg stopped and Earth saved, we care even more about Picard and ensuring he can be rescued and de-assimilated.

Thanks to many subsequent appearances, particularly with the Hansen family storyline in Voyager and the Enterprise episode Regeneration, the in-universe history of Borg-Federation relations and contact is now a bit of a mess. In the run-up to Star Trek: Picard I looked at the Borg as a faction, including their history, so if you’d like to know more please check out that article by clicking or tapping here. But we have to try to remember to place The Best of Both Worlds in context – this was only the faction’s second appearance in Star Trek, and their first major attempt to attack the Federation. While in some ways the Borg and their modus operandi have become stale thanks to their repeat appearances, this is the first time many of the things we now think of as Borg tropes were seen. Even on a repeat viewing in 2020, the crew of the Enterprise-D first seeing the assimilated Picard on the viewscreen is still incredibly powerful.

The way in which the Borg were ultimately stopped – by Picard breaking through his Borg programming to give Data a message – shows, I think, just how strong Picard can be. And that the Borg could be ultimately defeated by a poorly-guarded computer algorithm definitely has a War of the Worlds vibe – the Martians in that novel were, of course, ultimately defeated by bacteria, which was something tiny and easily-overlooked. The frightening thing about the Borg – beyond their seemingly-invincible vessel that cut through an entire fleet with ease – is that every ally that our heroes lose can be assimilated and turned into another enemy to fight. The Borg are akin to zombies in that respect, and also show us a nightmarish vision of how technology could get out of our control. I wrote an article looking at the Borg as a storytelling element, and I go into much more detail about these points and others in that piece. You can find it by clicking or tapping here.

Number 5: The Wounded (Season 4)

The Wounded introduced the Cardassians, and was a big episode for Colm Meaney’s character as he prepared for his move to Deep Space Nine.

The Wounded marks the first appearance of the Cardassians, a race we’d become much more familiar with in Deep Space Nine, which had already been conceived at this point. As part of the slow buildup to Deep Space Nine, The Wounded also sees a big expansion in the role of recurring character Miles O’Brien, who had been present on the show since its premiere. Colm Meaney’s character would be transferred to Deep Space Nine when that show kicked off, and this was the second consecutive episode featuring him in a big way as part of fleshing out Chief O’Brien and preparing the character for the sideways move. Along with Data’s Day, Disaster, Power Play, and Rascals, and smaller appearances in other episodes, O’Brien would step up to become a major character in time for Deep Space Nine, and would go on to be the character with the second-highest number of appearances in Star Trek after Worf, who also appeared in both shows.

We get to see Starfleet through a more military lens than usual, as we learn some background to Federation-Cardassian relations. The two sides fought a series of wars along their shared border, which seem to have only recently come to an end. Many people, including O’Brien, still hold bitter feelings toward the Cardassians as a hangover from those war years, and Capt. Maxwell, whom the Enterprise-D is ordered to intercept, seems to be among them. Speaking as we were of The Next Generation establishing background for Deep Space Nine, the introduction of the Cardassians was another big step in that direction, as was the inclusion of border colonies – the foundations for what would become the Maquis storyline can be glimpsed here.

As a very military Star Trek episode, The Wounded is different to many that came before, and is perhaps closer in tone to The Undiscovered Country. The episode also channels the war film Apocalypse Now at points, focusing on a rogue captain heading into enemy territory, his mental health, and the need to stop him from doing too much harm. Just as that film is considered one of modern cinema’s best, so too is The Wounded one of The Next Generation’s, even though it is quite unlike many of the series’ other offerings.

I have a full write-up of The Wounded, which you can find by clicking or tapping here.

Number 6: Disaster (Season 5)

Keiko O’Brien and Worf in Disaster.

Disaster would not be a good episode to use to introduce someone new to The Next Generation, as it takes the crew of the Enterprise-D and throws each of them into unfamiliar and difficult situations. For someone familiar with the series, however, this bottle show is absolutely fantastic, giving all of the main cast – and several recurring characters – a chance to shine.

When the Enterprise-D hits a strange anomaly in space, all main power is lost (except, as always, artificial gravity!) and the crew are trapped in whatever areas of the ship they happened to be in at that moment. With none of the main crew members at their posts, and with the ship having suffered serious damage in some sections as a result of the anomaly, the various pairings and groups have to work together, and it’s a great chance for some cast members who don’t often get much time together to interact. Dr Crusher and Geordi are paired up, Counsellor Troi is left as the senior officer on the bridge with Ensign Ro and Chief O’Brien, Worf is in Ten-Forward and must deliver a baby, Riker and Data undertake a dangerous trek to engineering, and Capt. Picard is stuck in a turbolift with a group of frightened children. All of the characters are given their own challenges to overcome, and the episode doesn’t feel like it’s one which belongs to any of them; it’s a true ensemble story with everyone having a role to play.

Almost every season of every Star Trek show ended up having what came to be known as “bottle shows”; episodes which took place wholly on the ship and without bringing in any expensive guest-stars or using too many special effects. These episodes do vary in quality somewhat, but Disaster has to be one of the best. Though it does end up featuring some great special effects – which look especially good in the remastered version – it’s a self-contained story set aboard the ship.

I had previously included this episode on one of my two lists of episodes to watch leading up to the release of Star Trek: Picard, as I felt it was an episode which took the captain out of his comfort zone. Disaster happens to be one of my all-time favourites as well, which isn’t surprising considering it’s on this list!

Number 7: Unification, Parts 1 & 2 (Season 5)

Leonard Nimoy returned as Spock for Unification, a two-part episode.

When considering episodes for this list, both Unification and Relics were major contenders. Both episodes feature a returning cast member from The Original Series: Scotty would be back in Season 6’s Relics, and Unification sees the return of Spock. Both episodes are well worth a watch and I hope to talk more about Relics on another occasion. Unification, Part 1 was the first episode to be broadcast following Gene Roddenberry’s death, and carries a special title card honouring Star Trek’s creator.

Without telling anyone his intentions beforehand – perhaps fearing they’d try to stop him – Spock has travelled to Romulus. This is of course a problem for the Federation, who even fear he may be defecting, and enlist Picard’s help to find out what happened. The episode marks the final appearance of Mark Lenard as Sarek, before the character was recast for the JJverse films and Discovery, bringing to a close a role he’d played in The Original Series, The Animated Series, three films, and a previous episode of The Next Generation. Lenard’s role, while fairly short in the episode itself, was one of the highlights as he gives an amazing performance. The tension between Sarek and Spock has been ongoing since his first appearance in Journey to Babel, and I think it’s one that many audience members can relate to, so seeing his death and Spock’s reaction to it was a continuation of that.

What’s great about Unification for a Trekkie is that brings together elements from different Star Trek stories. Of course there’s the inclusion of Spock, but the episode also harkens back to prior events in The Next Generation – notably Picard’s involvement with the Klingons. It’s an episode which explores both the Romulans and their connection to the Vulcans in far more detail than anything that had come before, and that makes it fantastic to geek out to! Spock’s involvement with the Romulans in Unification also laid the foundations for his appearance in 2009’s Star Trek, and that film’s destruction of Romulus storyline – a plot thread which was later picked up in Star Trek: Picard.

Leonard Nimoy’s portrayal of Spock has always been outstanding, and as the first character from The Original Series to cross over with The Next Generation in a major way (Dr McCoy’s appearance in the premiere was little more than a cameo) it goes further than almost any other episode had previously to really tying the two shows together, and succeeds as being an episode that really feels that it was made for fans. The decision to keep The Next Generation largely separate from The Original Series in its first few seasons allowed the show to really stand on its own two feet, and that’s an incredibly positive thing; too many crossovers and callbacks would, I feel, have been to the show’s detriment. But at this point in its run, The Next Generation was on a much more secure footing as one part of a growing franchise and thus the decision to include such a major character as Spock feels justified – and it’s a great story to boot, one which allows Spock to shine.

Number 8: Realm of Fear (Season 6)

Realm of Fear showed us in much more detail what using the transporter feels like.

Lieutenant Barclay is a recurring character we haven’t got to talk about yet, and he’s one of The Next Generation’s most interesting. First introduced in the third season, Dwight Schultz’s character has cropped up a few times since, and would often end up the butt of jokes both for the Enterprise-D’s crew and for the show itself. Realm of Fear is a little different, however, as it gives Barclay agency within the story and the chance to become somewhat of a hero for once.

While investigating a ship whose crew appears to have gone missing, Barclay – who has a phobia of transporters – begins to think he’s losing his mind as he keeps seeing strange shapes inside the transporter beam. After investigating what’s happening, he’s able to save the crew of the stricken ship.

It’s a story that only Barclay could really pull off, because his unique position among the crew of the Enterprise-D as a hypochondriac and as someone with a history of fears and exaggeration lends credence to the idea that Capt. Picard and others would dismiss his report. And in that sense, the episode makes great use of the established character of Barclay – who is played in a wonderfully neurotic way by Schultz.

Realm of Fear takes a deeper look than almost any other episode at the process of using the transporter, and that’s fascinating to me as someone who loves this technology. Star Trek can, at times, fall into the trap of using things like the transporter as a macguffin to drive the plot forward, and thus its in-universe use and status isn’t always consistent. The concept of the transporter, by the way, was an invention of Gene Roddenberry to allow the crew of The Original Series to visit different alien worlds without having to land the Enterprise every time – something he was told would be costly from a special effects point of view. It was thus a cost-saving measure, and while the idea of teleportation is nothing new, Star Trek gives it a uniquely technological spin.

Number 9: The Pegasus (Season 7)

Riker is forced to confront his past – and a former commander – in The Pegasus.

The Pegasus now forms a duology of episodes with the Enterprise series finale These Are The Voyages, which was set during the events of this episode. Whatever one may think of Enterprise’s take on things – and it’s an episode which remains controversial – the original episode from The Next Generation stands on its own two feet and is a fascinating look at Riker’s past, as well as relations between the Federation and Romulans. It also features one of The Next Generation’s best performances by a guest-star, as future Lost star Terry O’Quinn takes on the role of Riker’s former commanding officer.

One valid question within Star Trek is why the Klingons and Romulans have cloaking technology but the Federation do not. It’s shown numerous times across the franchise – from the cloak’s first appearance in Balance of Terror in Season 1 of The Original Series right through to the Klingon war arc in Discovery’s first season – just how useful this technology can be, and how dangerous it can be in enemy hands. The Pegasus attempts to answer this question, by saying that the Federation has refused to develop the technology as a result of a treaty they signed with the Romulans decades before The Next Generation is set. As with other technologies in Star Trek, the cloak can be a bit confused, especially with the prequel shows establishing the existence of the technology before Capt. Kirk made Starfleet’s first encounter with it. My own personal head-canon to get around this is that there are just different types of cloak which the Federation are constantly figuring out how to scan through, and once one type is “cracked”, the Romulans and Klingons have to invent a new kind. Cloaking, despite how we usually see it presented on screen, doesn’t merely render a ship invisible, it must also conceal it from sensors and scans – something crews see on a viewscreen represented by the ship disappearing. But we’re getting off-topic, and none of that is actually canon, just my own thoughts.

In The Pegasus, Riker receives a visit from Admiral Pressman, his former commanding officer. Pressman is looking to track down his old ship, which had been presumed destroyed but had been reported to have been found by the Romulans. Aboard the ship was an experiment that would be illegal under the Federation-Romulan treaty, as under Pressman’s leadership, Starfleet had been working on its own cloaking device.

The episode presents Riker as deeply conflicted between two senior officers. His unwillingness or inability to tell Picard the full truth shows us a depth to his character that we don’t always see a lot of – Picard may be his current commanding officer, friend, and someone he respects, but he has other loyalties too. His decision at the end to tell Picard the truth about what happened aboard the Pegasus, and how he and Pressman barely escaped a mutiny, is an important moment for him and his relationship with Picard.

Number 10: All Good Things… (Season 7, finale)

All Good Things sees the return of Q, and he has a challenge for Picard.

After seven years on the air, The Next Generation finally came to an end in 1994. But All Good Things was less a finale than another instalment, as Star Trek: Generations would be released a mere six months later, kicking off the era of The Next Generation’s crew on the big screen. Indeed, a good deal of the work on Generations took place prior to and alongside All Good Things, and the film would reuse many of the familiar Enterprise-D sets. So in a lot of ways, the episode doesn’t feel like a finale. While it does bookend the series nicely, with Q returning and the action jumping back in time to the Enterprise-D’s first adventure, as the episode’s story draws to a conclusion the ship and crew warp off to their next destination, just as we might expect them to at the end of any other episode. Both of the other finales of this era – Deep Space Nine’s What You Leave Behind and Voyager’s Endgame – are very definite ends, with the story arcs for many characters within those shows wrapping up. All Good Things isn’t like that, largely because the Enterprise-D and its crew would be moving on to their next adventure in short order.

Encounter at Farpoint, the show’s 1987 premiere, introduced Q, the omnipotent quasi-villain who put Picard on trial for the supposed “crimes” of humanity. Q had promised then that his people would be observing Picard on his mission, and he cropped up on several other occasions in The Next Generation. In All Good Things, however, Q makes good on his words from right at the beginning of the series, and gives Picard a time-bending puzzle to solve – one which could result in the destruction of all humanity if he fails!

The puzzle essentially boils down to an understanding of time – is it always linear and moving in a single direction? When Picard finally learns to think outside the box and realises that, in this particular circumstance, events in the future were having an effect on events in the past rather than vice-versa, he’s able to unravel the mystery. Q compliments him on his thinking, and explains that the whole thing was a test to see how humanity was progressing.

So that’s it. Ten great episodes from The Next Generation that are well worth your time – especially if you have more time than usual for entertainment at the moment. I feel that The Next Generation is, in some ways, a series in two parts. The first part, which encompasses the first and second seasons, as well as parts of the third, is very similar to The Original Series in its format. The second part, which was certainly in place by the time of the third season finale, is much closer to modern television storytelling. As plans for Deep Space Nine stepped up a gear, Star Trek edged closer to being a serialised franchise, and with that came recurring themes, factions, characters, and story elements.

The Next Generation was my first encounter with Star Trek some time in the early 1990s. The first episodes I have solid recollections of are The Royale and Who Watches The Watchers from Seasons 2 and 3 respectively; I’m pretty sure I was an avid viewer by about midway through the show’s second season. It was also the first series I began collecting, initially on VHS but later on DVD in the 2000s. On a personal level, the series was a major part of my youth and adolescence, providing entertainment and escapism when I needed it. While I have enjoyed all of the other Star Trek shows, The Next Generation will always be special to me for that reason.

Up next in this series of articles I’ll be looking at ten great episodes from Deep Space Nine, after which I’ll move on to Voyager and then Enterprise, as well as do a “bonus” piece which picks ten episodes from The Animated Series, Discovery, and Short Treks. So I hope you’ll come back to take a look at those over the next few weeks.

Star Trek: The Next Generation is available to stream now on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and other countries and territories. The series is also available on DVD and Blu-ray. The Star Trek franchise – including The Next Generation 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.