Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 4, Episode 11: Rosetta

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

Last week’s episode, The Galactic Barrier, was absolutely fantastic – one of the highlights of the season for certain! Unfortunately Rosetta didn’t reach that high bar, and was an episode that felt like it was dragging its feet. While there were some emotional character moments, even those weren’t as strong as they might’ve been and couldn’t salvage an episode in which both halves of the story felt contrived, and where a major new element that had been introduced to the story last week constantly got in the way. Rosetta plodded along, constantly tripping over one big, unnecessary narrative cliché.

I like the idea of Discovery stepping away from total serialisation to go on away missions to planets like the one featured in Rosetta. As we saw just last week – and on a couple of occasions earlier in the season – those semi-standalone stories can work exceptionally well, blending together Discovery’s modern serialised approach to storytelling with at least some components of Star Trek’s episodic past. But this week, for much of the time all I could feel was a sense that the mission to Unknown Species 10-C’s ex-homeworld was a complete waste of time – not only for the characters, who don’t have so much as a second to waste, but more importantly for us as the audience.

The away team.

The worst part of last week’s episode was the insertion of the horribly overused trope of Earth being in danger. I tried to put that to the back of my mind as Rosetta got started, hoping that the time constraint it had imposed would lead to some kind of interesting or exciting storyline as Season 4 reaches its conclusion. But this cliché absolutely ruined Rosetta – turning a story that might’ve had the kernel of a good idea at its core into one that felt like a complete and utter waste of everybody’s time. With time being a very limited resource for Captain Burnham, that just isn’t something that should have been allowed to happen!

If the “Earth is about to be destroyed” cliché wasn’t part of the season’s story, this feeling would have been far less prominent throughout Rosetta, and I could have almost certainly forgiven another detour on the way to Unknown Species 10-C’s hyperfield. With less of a time constraint, such a mission would arguably be worth doing, and while there could still be naysayers and dissenters among the crew and assembled delegates, I would have been firmly in the camp that says “let’s see if we can find any interesting or useful information about this completely unknown faction.” But because Discovery’s writers wanted to crank up the tension and drama to eleven out of ten, what should have been a decent episode with some interesting story elements didn’t work. Instead of the tension rumbling in the background, spurring me on to make the story feel exciting, I could barely prevent myself from shouting at the series to just get on with it – to go to the hyperfield right now! Tension became frustration.

Captain Burnham chose to lead an away mission to a planet instead of racing to the hyperfield.

Not for the first time, narrative contrivances in Discovery have conspired to make Captain Burnham seem like she’s in the wrong. While not exactly being a complete and utter moron, she came across in the episode’s opening act as misguided in the extreme – wasting time on a mission that could have easily yielded nothing of consequence. As happened in episodes like The Vulcan Hello and The Red Angel, it fell to another character to be the voice of reason against Captain Burnham – in this case, Earth’s representative, General Ndoye.

Ndoye made the very simple point that there isn’t time to waste visiting a random planet, and that attempting to make contact first would be the best move. If Unknown Species 10-C didn’t respond to attempts at communication, visiting the planet could be Plan B – but there’s no way it should’ve been Plan A. Rosetta attempts to rely on the away team’s discovery of pheromone-like hydrocarbon dust to say “aha! Captain Burnham was right all along!” but in my view, all that the end of the episode proved was that she got very lucky. Her judgement, four seasons in, is still questionable at times – and on this occasion, with the stakes so very high, I can’t shake the feeling that she made the wrong call.

General Ndoye became the voice of reason… briefly.

The hydrocarbon pheromones will almost certainly play a role in the next couple of episodes – I mean, they have to, right? Otherwise Rosetta will have proven to be a complete waste of time. But even assuming that’s the case, Captain Burnham took a massive risk by diverting to the planet with hours to spare, and it just feels like – not for the first time this season – there was a very easy “middle ground” approach that neither she nor anyone else seems to have considered.

The USS Discovery is equipped with a contingent of shuttles, so sending one with a small away team to the planet while the rest of the crew takes the ship and visits the hyperfield – instead of sitting in orbit of the planet doing fuck all – would have been the hallowed “middle ground” option that the show’s writers seem to have just ignored. Because Captain Burnham has to be the main focus of practically every episode and every major plotline, other characters in the show are relegated to sitting on their hands and waiting for her latest stroke of brilliance. In this case, everyone with the exception of Detmer, Saru, and Dr Culber were just shoved off-screen, seemingly doing nothing except waiting for Captain Burnham to get back. Adira and Reno even found time to get coffee.

This picture is Rosetta in microcosm: Captain Burnham goes off on an away mission while everyone else stands around doing nothing.

That makes Discovery Season 4 feel like a pretty basic story – one designed for small children who don’t have the attention to focus on more than one major narrative at once. Because Captain Burnham wanted to visit the planet, everyone has to visit the planet. God forbid any other character is granted any agency over the plot or given the volition to do anything independently – they’re not real people, you know, just narrative devices.

And yes, it’s Star Trek. It’s fiction. It’s “just a story” – but god do I hate that tired excuse every time it’s trotted out in defence of contrived, underwhelming, or just plain indefensible narratives. If we’re expected to suspend our disbelief and get lost in the world of Star Trek, even just for an hour, the way characters behave has to make basic sense. The characters themselves have to feel like real people – flesh-and-blood beings with emotions, feelings, and brains, not just plot devices who can be used one moment then placed into hibernation the next. And this week, Rosetta basically sidelined the entire crew, forcing them to sit on their hands and do nothing while Captain Burnham took charge of a pretty barebones side-story that I’m not even sure accomplished all that much.

The away team with a cache of magic dust.

I said earlier that the pheromone hydrocarbons will have to feature in the story in some way later on – and I certainly hope that they will! But as of the end of Rosetta, the mission to Unknown Species 10-C’s ex-planet doesn’t feel as though it achieved very much. Captain Burnham didn’t find anything substantial – and the dust, while narratively interesting, was visually unimpressive to say the least. If there had been something more visually unique or interesting about what the away team recovered – like one of the bones that were briefly seen, a computer core, a stone tablet, or literally anything we as the audience could see, maybe that feeling wouldn’t be so prevalent. But because even the away mission’s big accomplishment was difficult to really perceive, the entire story feels like it’s on far shakier ground than it already was.

If the pheromone hydrocarbons are incorporated into the story of the next couple of episodes in a major way, maybe we’ll revisit Rosetta and consider it a little more favourably in hindsight. There are definitely interesting possibilities with this new narrative element that could be explored or that could be paid off in a big way. But if Discovery doesn’t do something big with the pheromone hydrocarbons before the end of the season, the episode will feel like even more of a waste than it already does.

Will the pheromone dust play a significant enough role in the story to make Rosetta feel like a worthwhile detour?

In past iterations of Star Trek – including in previous episodes and seasons of Discovery – the universal translator has been shown to work pretty well. There are some exceptions – such as the Tamarians – but even then a way across the language barrier was eventually found. With the 900-year time jump to the 32nd Century, it stands to reason that the universal translator has only gotten better as Starfleet has encountered more and more races. Even if we accept the premise that communication has never been successfully made with a species that uses pheromones or chemicals to communicate, doesn’t it seem like it would be worth trying to use the universal translator, especially given the time constraints? With the level of technology that Unknown Species 10-C has been shown to have, they might have some kind of translator or communicator of their own, too.

I know a lot of this must sound like nitpicking, but it all stems from the fact that the show’s writers chose to inject forced drama by using an “Earth is in danger and there’s just hours to save it!” cliché that wasn’t necessary to make this story interesting or exciting. The stakes were high enough, the danger was real enough, and by trying to turn the drama up to eleven, Rosetta tripped over. There was a potentially interesting story about learning more about a very new and different form of life… but it’s one that this cliché has spoiled. Take away the time constraint and many of the narrative complaints on this side of the story would have fallen away.

A holographic depiction of the hyperfield.

Rosetta wasn’t saved by its B-plot, either, with Tarka and Book undertaking an equally nonsensical away mission that also seemed to be based on a very shaky premise. With Captain Burnham’s decision to take an away mission to the planet, my criticism stems from the fact that The Galactic Barrier had introduced the cliché of Earth being threatened meaning that there wasn’t time for a detour. But Book and Tarka’s away mission to the USS Discovery was done because they… wanted to stick Book’s ship to Discovery’s hull? Couldn’t they just remain under cloak and tail the ship? It feels pretty weak, even by the standards of Star Trek technobabble.

We also didn’t get to see any of Book and Tarka’s journey navigating the Galactic Barrier, which is something I was genuinely interested in. A powerful ship like the USS Discovery barely made it through, so how would Book’s glorified runabout survive? We basically got no payoff to Book and Tarka’s side-mission last week of collecting programmable antimatter at the abandoned prison camp. Presumably they were able to successfully apply it and transit the Galactic Barrier – but the episode literally didn’t even pay lip service to that, with their story starting up with Book’s ship already parked a few yards away from the USS Discovery.

Couldn’t Book and Tarka just continue to tail Discovery? Also, how did they make it through the Galactic Barrier?

Given how difficult navigating the Galactic Barrier proved to be for the USS Discovery, it’s a shame that we didn’t get to see Book and Tarka having to tackle that task. Maybe it could’ve been included at the end of last week’s episode – even if it was just a short sequence, Discovery should really have done something to pay off their mission to the prison camp.

It also seems like Book has decided that he and Tarka are fugitives without even trying to make contact and explain what happened. The end of Rubicon suggested that there might be a pathway to reconciliation for him and Michael, but he has done nothing to attempt to pursue that – except for creepily spying on her in what has to be one of the most uncomfortable moments in the entire episode. Book signalled his willingness to stand down and give peace a chance; it was only Tarka’s actions that led to the weapon being detonated. With Captain Burnham on his side to advocate for him, you’d think he’d know that he has a good chance of not getting into serious trouble – and he could even be a valuable asset to Starfleet, sharing his knowledge of Tarka and his plans.

Did anyone else find this moment of Book spying on Burnham a little creepy? Cool camera shot, though…

This continues a trend of Book having been fairly static for several episodes now, having gone through several stages of grief for Kwejian and his family before seeming to just… stop. In the first half of the season, Book got some of the most deeply emotional moments in the show, and seeing how grief was leading him down a dark path was a potentially interesting story, but it’s one that Discovery hasn’t really been able to successfully elaborate on. Like most of the rest of the characters, Book has been relegated to a supporting role, and that means he doesn’t really get much agency over the story any more. He’s stuck following Tarka just like everyone else is stuck following Burnham. If we’d heard anything from him to indicate that he was still committed to that cause, maybe it wouldn’t feel so silly. But right now, Book feels like a follower; a passive character caught in Tarka’s narrative wake.

So I’m not going to nitpick things like needing to physically board the ship to install a macguffin into the macguffin network. That’s Star Trek-ish enough to be inoffensive. But the setup that led Book and Tarka to that point felt very contrived, and it wasn’t sufficiently explained as to why they couldn’t just continue to tail Discovery all the way to – and perhaps inside – the hyperfield. It also wasn’t explained why everyone keeps assuming that the hyperfield will be impenetrable – they haven’t even tried to approach it, and if Unknown Species 10-C are as advanced as we think they are, surely they’d see a spaceship coming and investigate. Book and Tarka’s quest this week seems like an unnecessarily involved stealth mission that had the potential to lead to moments of either extreme drama or perhaps even comedy, with the two fugitives sneaking on board the ship, but it ultimately didn’t deliver much of either.

Book and Tarka managed to sneak aboard Discovery.

Bringing General Ndoye into the Book-Tarka side of the story is, again, something that we’ll have to watch and see whether it leads to a significant payoff. Right now it feels like it could go either way, and although I would argue that Ndoye had been the voice of reason earlier in the episode with Captain Burnham, I’m not wild about her becoming a kind of double-agent in this conspiracy.

Two of the big thematic elements of Seasons 3 and 4 have been connection and communication – and it seems like the series is now building to a conclusion which will say something like “if only Book and Tarka had worked with Captain Burnham, everyone could have got what they wanted.” If Book and Tarka would share why Tarka wants the power source, maybe Captain Burnham could work with him – or find an alternative way for him to travel between universes, such as the Guardian of Forever that we saw last season. And if Captain Burnham could find a way to compromise with Book, their whole relationship feud could be solved. A story about how division and failing to communicate can lead to problems can be a powerful one, but it’ll need to be executed a damn sight better than it was in Rosetta. Here, the two disconnected stories just chafed against each other in the most frustrating way.

Book and Tarka at the end of the episode.

The CGI work for Unknown Species 10-C’s planet was good, and although it was only seen very briefly and not really explained, I liked the “Dyson rings” seen orbiting their star. Presumably Discovery scanned the rings off-screen and determined there’s nothing worth looking for there… although that would have been nice to get confirmation of, otherwise the rings seem a good target for an away mission of this nature as well.

The filming location for the outdoor sections of the away mission looked very familiar; I’m sure it was seen either earlier in Season 4 or perhaps in Season 3. In an interview for The Ready Room a few weeks ago, Mary Wiseman mentioned a quarry in the Toronto area that has been used for several outdoor shoots, which could be why it’s so familiar. Slapping a yellow filter on it in post-production didn’t really do much to disguise it, and with the new AR wall that Paramount invested a fair amount of money in, I’m left wondering why the Star Trek franchise keeps walking headfirst into this particular mistake. The AR wall was used to great effect to depict the interior of the Unknown Species 10-C base… so why not the exterior as well?

The away team.

The crew’s EV suit malfunction is also a bit of a contrivance. Aren’t protective suits meant to protect against everything in the environment, especially things that are new or haven’t been encountered before? This is another nitpick, I guess, but I didn’t like the way that this was just hand-waved away by half a line of dialogue. “Oh, I guess the EV suits don’t protect against substances that aren’t in the Federation database and are very different.” That just seems like an odd way to explain it. And if we want to keep nitpicking, that dust looked like it was everywhere – floating in the air as well as lying on the ground and on surfaces. So how did Detmer not get exposed when everyone else did?

After making the decision to waste time on an away mission that, realistically, she must’ve known had the possibility of failure, Captain Burnham came across as incredibly stubborn shortly before the crew encountered the 10-C nursery. Partly this was triggered by a reaction to the hydrocarbons, I guess, but coming after I found her decision to go on the mission in the first place difficult to justify, stubbornly doubling-down on it when it seemed as though there wasn’t anything to find wasn’t a great look for her character.

Captain Burnham during the away mission.

So have we just nitpicked Rosetta to death?

There were interesting and clever concepts buried here, and there were some nice but unspectacular character moments between Dr Culber and Captain Burnham, Tarka and Book, and to a lesser extent between Reno and Adira and Detmer and Adira too. Some fans argue that Discovery is all about its characters and that the sci-fi trappings should just be seen as a backdrop, with any contrivances and plot complaints waved away because of how well-done some of these character moments can be. I don’t agree with that – if you want character drama, go and watch a soap or some scripted reality show. Star Trek is science fiction, so at the very least the sci-fi side of the story has to be basically competent and good enough to keep my suspension of disbelief going.

Because of how Rosetta sidelined many of the other characters and didn’t actually spend that much time on these interpersonal moments, I would argue that it wasn’t even a particularly impressive episode on the character side of things, either. The moment between Dr Culber and Captain Burnham came in two parts – one during the away mission and one at the end in her ready-room. But it lasted all of two minutes, maybe, and that just isn’t enough time to do justice to a complicated mental health story.

Counselling for the counsellor.

Dr Culber’s storyline feels like it’s retreading the Detmer path from Season 3. We’ve had a few short scenes spread across a handful of episodes to explain in the most basic of ways how he feels overwhelmed, stressed, and/or unable to cope with his work and the situation he’s found himself in. His moment admitting to Captain Burnham that he isn’t okay should have been the culmination of this season-long character arc… but it’s an arc that feels so underdeveloped that, despite the beautiful performance by Wilson Cruz, I’m struggling to buy it. The story of a counsellor – someone working as a mental health professional – needing to seek help for their own struggles is a noble one, and one absolutely worth telling, but it’s also a story that Discovery is not doing justice to as things stand.

I’ve been a big advocate for better mental health representation in all forms of media, but I’m unfortunately in the position of having to say that if the series can’t do justice to stories like this I’d honestly rather that it skipped them altogether. It feels like Discovery is doing little more than paying lip service to a serious topic, one that’s clearly too big for the limited time and attention that the show is willing to dedicate to it.

Captain Burnham and Dr Culber during the away mission.

Returning to Detmer, last season she got a storyline about post-traumatic stress that was referenced in Rosetta. But like Dr Culber’s story of dealing with his struggles this season, it wasn’t fleshed out enough to be meaningful. She had a few scenes spread across a handful of episodes, then seemed to magically “get better.” It’s only now, a full season later, that we even heard about her getting help or treatment for PTSD.

In Rosetta, Discovery also continued a disappointing trend of ham-fistedly inserting blatantly expository dialogue that the writers sometimes use as a substitute for actual character development. In this case, Detmer remembered something about her father mistreating her that could have been significant, but it was treated as an afterthought by a script that had its attention firmly focused elsewhere. Emily Coutts did well with the material she had, and put in a decent performance – but the material was barebones to say the least.

Lieutenant Commander Detmer.

Saru’s panic attack was one of the more interesting moments of characterisation, and if I were to single out one performance and one strong element from Rosetta it would be the way Doug Jones conveyed Saru’s terror during these sequences. We’ll have to set aside questions of why Captain Burnham didn’t immediately send him back to the shuttle, but if we can ignore contrivances like that, Saru really sold me on his panic attack. As someone who has had panic attacks myself – thankfully infrequently – I found the depiction of Saru in these moments very relatable.

We got a bit of a pep talk between Reno and Adira; two characters who don’t feel like a natural pair but who worked well together this time. Adira has adopted much of the awkwardness of Season 1 Tilly, and that “young, inexperienced, and nervous” character type is a good counterbalance to some of the show’s older and more established characters. Reno was deadpan as ever, but none of her lines this week were laugh-out-loud funny; while her scenes brought some much-needed levity to the story, they didn’t exactly blow me away.

Reno with Adira.

Finally, we come to Dr Hirai. For the second episode running – and he’s only been in two episodes so far – he felt very underused. There was a brief scene between him and President Rillak in which she rebuked him for his bluntness, but that was it. Perhaps that was deserved, but as we’ve spent such a minuscule amount of time with this character, it just felt like an unnecessary addition. If Dr Hirai was going to be featured in a scene this week, why not show him working or doing something that could contribute to the story? Just because everyone aboard Discovery was sitting around waiting for Burnham to get back that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have found something useful to do.

Again, Dr Hirai is someone who could have a bigger role to play before the season ends. But his two appearances so far in Rosetta and in The Galactic Barrier have felt like fluff; a potentially-interesting character about whom we know nothing of consequence. If he is going to have something significant to do in the next couple of episodes, we need to start seeing more from him very soon – otherwise he risks feeling rather flat.

Dr Hirai.

So that was Rosetta, I guess. Not the season’s high-water mark, unfortunately.

At the core of the episode there was an interesting idea, and the notion of Unknown Species 10-C being difficult to communicate with is a concept that could still work – if it’s properly executed in the two episodes that remain. But because The Galactic Barrier added an unnecessary time constraint to Captain Burnham’s mission, this side-quest felt more frustrating than exciting; I wanted to shout at Captain Burnham – and at Discovery’s writers – to just get on with the main story.

There were more than enough smaller narrative threads to pick at to unravel the episode’s entire story. Both the A- and B-plots were disappointing, and even where Discovery has been successful in the past – with moments of characterisation and communication – I was underwhelmed by what Rosetta had to offer. As we approach the final two episodes of the season, there’s a lot of work left to do to pull out a decent ending to this rather plodding story.

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

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

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

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

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

The USS Discovery approaching the titular Galactic Barrier.

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

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

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

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

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

Admiral Vance’s holo-message.

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

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

The USS Discovery at warp.

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

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

The Galactic Barrier was visually impressive.

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

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

Ruon Tarka’s “friend,” Oros.

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

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

Book and Tarka make a great character pair.

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

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

Tarka in one of the flashback sequences.

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

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

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

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

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

T’Rina and Saru.

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

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

Dr Kovich… Vice President of the Federation?

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

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

Kovich and the rest of the senior officials.

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

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

Are we about to say goodbye to Bryce?

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

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

President Rillak joined the mission.

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

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

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

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

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

President Rillak and Captain Burnham.

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

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

Dr Hirai.

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

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

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

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

Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 9

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

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

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

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

Confirmed theory:
Tarka’s weapon will be successful.

Kaboom!

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

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

Tarka launched his weapon.

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

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

So that theory was confirmed.

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

Debunked theory #1:
Nhan works for Section 31.

Nhan in Rubicon.

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

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

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

Tarka and Book working on the isolytic weapon.

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

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

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

The DMA in Rubicon.

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

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

So those theories have been debunked!

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

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

The USS Enterprise approaching the galactic barrier.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Galactic Barrier on the USS Enterprise’s viewscreen.

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

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

Traversing the Galactic Barrier could be very dangerous…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could Unknown Species 10-C be the Kelvan Empire?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book and Burnham are currently separated.

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

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

Book and Burnham in All In.

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

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

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

Captain Burnham in Rubicon.

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

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

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

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

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

Theory #7:
Tarka will create his own DMA.

Tarka, Stamets, and Saru with the DMA model.

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

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

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

The second DMA in Rubicon.

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

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

So those theories are new or saw movement this week.

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

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

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

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

Captain Burnham believes this image depicts a “supernova.”

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

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

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

Abronian stasis pods.

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

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

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

A deceased Abronian.

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

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

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

“That’s no moon…”

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

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

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

A Red Angel suit in Season 2.

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

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

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

Captain Saru in command… of a shuttle!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The dilithium planet is vital to the Federation.

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

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

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

A Starfleet coffin seen in Deep Space Nine.

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

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

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

Zora dancing with Craft in Calypso.

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

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

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

Star Trek has had some wonderful crossovers in the past.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The USS Kelvin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

President Rillak, leader of the United Federation of Planets.

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

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

President Rillak with Captain Burnham on Ni’Var.

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

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

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

R.I.P.

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

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

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

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

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

So that’s the main theory list!

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

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

Tilly’s departure feels permanent.

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

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

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

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

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

So that’s it!

The USS Discovery inside the DMA in Rubicon.

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

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

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

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 4, Episode 7: …But to Connect

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

Sorry for being a few days late with this review! I had several other things going on this week, including my big end-of-year article, a piece looking ahead to 2022’s entertainment experiences, and finally a review of The Matrix Resurrections that I worked very hard on. I also hoped to get around to a review of the new Disney film Encanto, but that ended up taking a back seat along with this review of Discovery’s mid-season finale.

As I said last week, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the way the mid-season break was announced. Doing so on such short notice adds to a growing sense that ViacomCBS and Paramount+ are being very poorly-managed, and while I don’t begrudge the creative team taking additional time to work on or rework episodes in the second half of the season if that work needs to be done, it raises some serious questions about the handling of the Star Trek franchise and the Paramount+ streaming service on the corporate side of things. If ViacomCBS truly aims to compete with the biggest names in streaming, nonsense like this has to stop. In addition, there are still many Trekkies and would-be viewers all around the world who can’t watch Discovery due to corporate bullshit, something else that ViacomCBS needs to fix as quickly as possible.

The opening shot of the episode.

But To Connect worked well as a mid-season finale. It was tense and had moments of high drama that demonstrated beyond any doubt that science fiction doesn’t need to drown in space battles and high-octane action to be exciting. It was also an episode that, unfortunately, made some of its moments of drama feel incredibly contrived.

After everything Michael Burnham went through in her rollercoaster relationship with Ash Tyler in Seasons 1 and 2, giving her the chance to settle down with someone like Book was an incredibly welcome change. Forcing them to go against each other – especially for a central reason that felt contrived in the extreme – would not have been my choice for the direction of their relationship. Discovery has, over the course of its three-and-a-half seasons thus far, felt a need to inject extra drama and extra conflict where none was needed, upping the character stakes to near-soap opera levels at times. Forcing Book and Burnham to work against each other is the latest example of this trend – and it’s a disappointing thing to see.

The last thing Discovery needs is more Burnham relationship drama. Let her settle down, for goodness’ sake.

Book fell under the influence of Ruon Tarka, someone who we’ll have to deal with in more detail in a moment. For now, suffice to say that Tarka pounced on Book’s emotionally compromised state, seemingly manipulating him to advocate for attacking and destroying the DMA instead of pursuing peaceful first contact with whomever created it. Tarka has his reasons for doing this – claiming he wants to preserve the DMA’s power source so he can use it for his own purposes.

Book was clearly not thinking logically – and given his grief and the external prodding by Tarka, that makes sense. But the idea that Burnham couldn’t help him push through that, especially given that the DMA is explicitly stated to not be an immediate threat to anyone, is the point that begins to stretch credulity and make this whole situation feel contrived and forced.

The DMA was not posing an active, imminent threat to anyone.

Here’s the central point: the DMA, despite its potential danger and raw power, hasn’t actually done that much damage. If we assume that Discovery Season 4 has taken place over at least a couple of months of in-universe time, which seems reasonable given how long some of the scientists seem to have been working on these problems, it’s destroyed precisely two places in that time – a rate of one per month. And aside from Kwejian, the only other place we know it’s hit was an asteroid colony with a population of a couple of thousand. The Federation and the rest of the galactic races present at the meeting clearly have time on their side: the DMA’s path doesn’t seem to be taking it near to any inhabited systems in the immediate term, and while its unpredictable nature could see it disappear and reappear somewhere more dangerous, that doesn’t seem to be its primary mission.

If the DMA were a weapon being actively controlled, it would have targeted more places by now, so the Federation’s plan to attempt to contact its creators makes far more sense than attacking it. Even if Book couldn’t understand that at first, being blinded by his grief or desire for revenge, surely of all people Burnham would have been able to convince him to see the logic behind this slower, calmer approach. If the DMA had been actively threatening a planet – especially a named world that we as the audience might be familiar with, such as Betazed or Sigma Draconis III – things would be different. But without that desperate and immediate need to stop another disaster, the rational approach is to try to contact Unknown Species 10-C.

Book fell under the sway of Ruon Tarka – someone who clearly has his own agenda.

Earlier in the season, we saw Burnham advocate a compromise position, and But To Connect should have offered another opportunity to do so: building the weapon capable of destroying the DMA before attempting first contact. If the DMA then changes course and presents an active threat, it can be destroyed. And in addition, having the weapon in reserve while making first contact would be a valuable asset. If Unknown Species 10-C won’t see reason, the weapon could be a threat. If there’s no one there to negotiate with, the DMA could be destroyed. In short, the answer to the pretty basic problem that the episode posed isn’t “do one or the other,” it should have been “do both.” Build the weapon as a back-up while preparing for first contact.

If Discovery hadn’t insisted on themes of compromise across its last two seasons, I guess I’d give it a pass on this false choice. But in context, it seems to run counter to much of what the show has been trying to say for at least the last two years: that there are always solutions to or ways around these kinds of conflicts. The question of how to approach the DMA did not need to be a zero-sum game, and someone like Captain Burnham should have realised that – even if Book couldn’t.

This didn’t need to be a “black or white” choice. Compromise should have been possible; this is a major theme that the show has tried to present all season long.

Not for the first time, I’m left with a sense that Discovery’s writers and producers have a definite goal in mind; an endgame for the story and characters. But they haven’t figured out how to reach that finishing point in a clear and consistent manner, leaving this side of But To Connect feeling contrived.

On the flip side, the speeches that both Book and Burnham gave were very emotional, and I can’t fault the performances of either Sonequa Martin-Green or David Ajala. Both came across as two people trying to do what they genuinely believed was the right thing; conflicted because of what it would mean for their relationship, but determined to press ahead regardless. Although this wouldn’t be the way I would have chosen to handle either character, there can be no denying that the performances were exquisite.

Both actors played their roles exceptionally well.

Also on this side of the story we had a muted role for President Rillak. Though she was on Burnham’s side – wanting to advocate for an attempt at peaceful contact – she chose to recuse herself from the debate, serving as a moderator only. I still get the sense that she has schemes in play – bringing Burnham along as an ally being one of the ways she tried to manipulate proceedings to get her way without being openly involved – but it was interesting to see her in a more centrist, unaffiliated role.

Among her ambitions from the diplomatic summit were showing the Federation as taking the lead in the fight against the DMA, but also opening initial channels to United Earth with a view to bringing the isolationist world back into the fold. We’ve seen a slight softening of Earth’s leadership since Burnham helped reunite Earth and Titan in Season 3, and it was nice to welcome back Phumzile Sitole as the newly-promoted General Ndoye. As a Trekkie, I want more than anything to see Earth rejoin the Federation – but only if it feels right. Earth shouldn’t be manipulated into coming back into the organisation, so this story beat will have to be handled delicately.

General Ndoye represented Earth and Titan at the diplomatic summit.

Ruon Tarka was perhaps the most surprising character in But To Connect. His self-assured cockiness was still there from his role in The Examples, but we got an idea of what could be driving him forward, and where his interest in the DMA may have come from. Stating that he wants to cross over into a parallel universe was certainly not something I expected – but at the same time it felt very familiar, and very Star Trek.

Tarka comes across as somewhat similar to Tolian Soran, the villain from Star Trek: Generations. Soran wanted to return to the Nexus – a paradise-like realm contained inside of an energy ribbon that periodically transited the galaxy. Tarka’s desire to enter the DMA and use its powerful controller to “punch through” to a parallel universe where he expected life to be better is at least somewhat comparable – and his willingness to break the rules and work against Starfleet shows the same kind of single-mindedness that Soran demonstrated.

Tarka is determined to use the DMA controller for his own ends.

We’ll save for my theory post a full discussion of Tarka, his possible motivations, and potential destinations. But suffice to say this character turn has piqued my curiosity. There’s the potential to get a more complex presentation of a “mad scientist” character trope, one which gives him an understandable or even sympathetic motive for his actions. I don’t think we’re at that point yet, but I see potential in this storyline.

Shawn Doyle was wonderful in The Examples, making Tarka stand out as a different take on a character archetype that has appeared on a number of prior occasions in Star Trek. This amazing performance continued in But To Connect, and Doyle deserves a lot of credit for the way he brought the character to screen with complexity – especially given the relatively small amount of screen time that Tarka has had in the season so far.

Tarka and Book formed an unlikely alliance.

As has happened several times already this season, though, Discovery quickly glossed over much of the actual work on the problems and puzzles posed by the DMA in order to get to the dramatic stand-off between Book and Burnham. Tarka’s weapon seemed to come out of nowhere, and although he’s clearly spent weeks or months of off-screen time working on it, in the episode itself it seemed to be a bolt from the blue; almost a deus ex machina solution to the threat posed by the DMA. As I’ve said on several occasions this season, the end result isn’t the problem – it’s that we as the audience really needed to see at least some of the process to get there, even if just by way of something like a montage.

In exactly the same way on the other side of the story, Zora’s discovery of the coordinates of the DMA’s origin was completely blitzed through in order to get to the story that the episode really wanted to tell. When it comes to the DMA, which is the season’s “big bad” at least thus far, Discovery has dedicated precious little time to actually dealing with it head-on, with much of the investigation happening off-screen. As the audience, we’ve been parachuted in just in time to see key moments: Stamets’ proto-wormhole theory, the DMA being an artificial construct, the DMA coming from outside of the galaxy, and now finally the discovery of its origin point. All of these points, so incredibly vital to the story of the DMA, feel like they’re scarcely even footnotes in a story which on the surface should be making more of them.

Captain Burnham, Stamets, and Adira listen to Zora as she refuses to share what she’s learned.

Before anyone jumps in to tell me off for missing the point: I get it. Discovery has other stories to tell, and wants to use this season in particular to look at issues surrounding trauma and grief. Practically all of the main characters seem to embody different responses to trauma: Stamets getting lost in his work, Culber desperately trying to help others even if doing so is at his own expense, Book’s journey through the stages of grief, and Tilly’s career switch all come from that same thematic place. And these individual, character-centric stories are absolutely worth telling. However, in a sci-fi series that also has the DMA as a major plotline, it feels that the first half of Season 4 has prioritised these character moments at the expense of this other major narrative. It should’ve been possible to balance the season’s story to give both appropriate weight and screen time – but Discovery has yet to find that balance.

So let’s tackle Zora next. The USS Discovery’s computer-AI-Sphere data hybrid has been developing slowly since Season 3, and until the very end of The Examples a couple of weeks ago felt like a relatively minor part of the season. Her transformation into basically an additional main character has been an interesting one, and this week was by far Zora’s biggest moment centre-stage. I got echoes of a number of past Star Trek stories – from The Ultimate Computer and The Measure of a Man through to Picard Season 1’s dealings with the synths and Data – in the way Zora was analysed and discussed by Dr Kovich, Dr Culber, Stamets, Adira, and Gray. It was an incredibly honest and frank discussion, one which absolutely embodied the spirit of Star Trek.

Zora’s status and rights were discussed in But To Connect.

Through this side of the story, But To Connect gave us by far the best and most sympathetic presentation of Dr Kovich. I maintain that, based on his earlier appearances, some kind of Section 31 or spy role was a possibility – and maybe that was the original intention for the character when he was created in Season 3. In But To Connect, however, we saw Dr Kovich as a firm believer in the values and ideals of Starfleet and the Federation: determined to seek out new life, and to ensure that very different forms of life have the same rights as everyone else.

Stamets also shone on this side of the story, and the writing here showed off a complexity that the relatively short half-episode runtime could have hampered. Stamets’ attitude toward Zora’s newly developed sentience could have come across badly, making him out to be some kind of “AI-phobe,” in the vein of something like Picard Season 1’s Zhat Vash. However, the way Stamets was handled – aided greatly by a wonderful performance from Anthony Rapp – ensured that we could understand his reservations and concerns without seeing him as some kind of futuristic bigot.

Anthony Rapp gave his best performance of the season so far.

As in All Is Possible, Discovery succeeded at taking a complex argument and ensuring that the views on both sides were sensible and understandable, allowing true understanding and trust to be reached. Likewise this week, Stamets didn’t simply try to put his foot down and declare that the existence of Zora was some kind of horrible, insurmountable problem, and nor did Zora attack Stamets or try to shut down his concerns.

In an increasingly polarised political climate here in the west, where politicians and activists on all sides are increasingly dogmatic and unwilling to listen to opposing points of view, Discovery once again showed us how debate and discussion should be handled: calmly, maturely, and with mutual respect. This is one of the lessons from this season of the show: that we can’t simply write off points of view we disagree with, nor should we try to shut down or dismiss them. Listening is the first step toward understanding.

Despite the stakes and the complexity of the arguments, But To Connect showed us how these kinds of conversations can and should be handled.

From my perspective as someone who’s non-binary, I felt there could be echoes of the real-world conversation surrounding transgender and non-binary folks in the way Zora’s movement toward acceptance was handled. There are many people who are dismissive of trans and non-binary people – something I sadly experienced firsthand recently in a conversation with someone I considered a friend. An unwillingness to listen and a desire to be dismissive of something we personally don’t understand is always going to be a temptation – but Stamets found that, by having a frank and honest conversation, his fears and concerns could be allayed.

There’s been a lot of debate around transgender and non-binary rights in recent years, and the issues of sex, gender, and gender identity have become highly politicised. Zora was struggling to find acceptance in But To Connect, and I felt that the show was perhaps drawing on the trans inclusion discussion for inspiration in this particular storyline. Speaking from a personal perspective, it isn’t easy to figure oneself out. To then present oneself to one’s friends only to be rejected is a horrible feeling – and I’m glad that Zora’s friends were able to remain on her side, even if they had questions about her at first.

It felt like the conversation with Zora may have had a real-world inspiration.

The Zora conversation also tackled the real-world issue of artificial intelligence and the growing impact of machine learning, algorithms, and AI on our daily lives. Star Trek has depicted “evil” AIs on several occasions, including in Season 2 of Discovery, so to take a break from that negative portrayal and to find a way to show AI in a positive light was a welcome change. I’m no longer convinced, for example, that we’ll see Zora go rogue or act against the crew’s wishes later in the season or in future stories; her status as a bona fide member of the crew feels settled.

Stamets was part of that, and voiced his concerns with eloquence before coming around to accepting Zora’s place in the crew. Dr Culber played a role too, as did Gray and Adira. It was very cathartic, after Stamets missed the entirety of Gray’s incorporation a few episodes ago, to see the two characters having the chance to interact. Gray’s future on the show is now uncertain following his departure with Guardian Xi bound for Trill, so it was even more important to give him and Stamets some small crumbs of screen time together.

It was great to finally see Stamets interacting with Gray and Adira.

In a very real sense, But To Connect felt like two distinct episodes haphazardly bolted together. In a longer season, both the conflict at the diplomatic summit and Zora’s moves toward sentience could have been explored while also giving more time to the likes of Tarka and his efforts to untangle the mysteries posed by the DMA. But because Discovery wanted to make a point – not a bad point, I concede – about Starfleet seeking out new life, we got both stories squashed down into the runtime of a single episode. Neither of these stories were bad, nor was the link between them, but the conflict at the summit in particular would have benefitted from additional development, and the incredibly minor side-story about Tarka and the DMA could have been fleshed out a lot more – as could Stamets, Adira, and Zora’s work to find the coordinates.

The similarities between the stories of Zora and the DMA would’ve still worked had they been longer or spread across two episodes, and I guess my big criticism of But To Connect isn’t that I hated or even disliked either, it’s that I would’ve liked to have seen a longer, perhaps slower-paced, version of them. Cutting the conflict between Book and Burnham – or finding a way to resolve it – would also have been a preference.

T’Rina and Tarka view a holo-model of the DMA.

But To Connect told two stories about seeking out new life: the very core of Starfleet’s mission. Zora’s story was the better of the two; it had more nuance, better characterisation, and a truly sympathetic presentation of both sides of the discussion. It dealt with incredibly deep and complex themes in an understandable way, giving rise to a conclusion that felt natural, but most importantly that felt earned.

The diplomatic summit, meanwhile, took what could have been a similar setup but presented it as a false “either-or” choice – a choice that, I would argue, felt unnecessary and thus contrived. Its conclusion, instead of being one that promoted understanding and dialogue, ended with one side claiming total victory and the other suffering defeat. This laid the groundwork for Book and Tarka’s rebellion – stealing a spore drive prototype and flying away to attack the DMA. That ending may have been a natural or inescapable one given the setup, but it didn’t need to be – and it seems to run counter to some very timely and important allegories that Discovery has tried to include this season.

Burnham casting her vote.

A few scattered final thoughts: Discovery seems to be going down the route of some of the ’80s Star Trek films by depicting interesting-looking background aliens… then giving them nothing to do nor even naming them. It would be nice to learn more about some of the galaxy’s races, but just dropping them in the background doesn’t feel like a particularly good way to handle things. The music in But To Connect was probably the best of the season so far, and the score used during the voting scenes in particular was incredibly tense – perfectly complimenting what was happening on screen.

Why does Burnham get a vote? I can understand why each Federation member world might get an individual vote, but giving everyone present the chance to vote could disproportionately favour one side. It feels like it was there for another moment of drama rather than because it makes sense in context.

We saw a full-blooded Cardassian, a Ferengi, and several other familiar races – including one who may be a Xindi. Missing from the summit, however, were races like the Klingons and factions like the Dominion. It’s possible that there have been major structural changes to those governments, or that diplomatic relations with the Federation are poor. Discovery may also be avoiding their use with a view to bringing them back in a future story – or to give room for the likes of Picard or Strange New Worlds to include these factions.

This character was a callback to the events of Kobayashi Maru.

Stamets flipping the issue of trust onto Zora was a clever one, and a great rhetorical way to begin to bring that argument to a close. Dr Kovich’s line that Stamets could have been reassigned if he couldn’t work with Zora was clever – but then who would have operated the Spore Drive? Saru and T’Rina make an adorable couple, and although I wouldn’t consider either Doug Jones or Tara Rosling to be “old,” it was still sweet to see Discovery giving screen time to a burgeoning romance between two people who aren’t 25 any more!

So I think that’s about all I have to say for now. Stay tuned, because later in the week I’ll be writing up my theories for the second half of the season. It’s only six weeks, but I really can’t wait to find out what happens next! The DMA and Unknown Species 10-C still present wonderful mysteries, and although my head says what we’ll ultimately get will be something brand-new to the franchise, my heart is still hopeful that there’ll be some kind of big connection or callback to a past iteration of Star Trek!

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

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 4, Episode 6: Stormy Weather

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

Last week we learned that the DMA – the anomaly at the heart of Season 4’s story – is an artificial construct. Following up that big revelation was the challenge that befell Stormy Weather and director Jonathan Frakes, and I’m happy to report that Discovery rose to the occasion. Stormy Weather was a tense, dramatic, and incredibly exciting episode, one that has set a high bar for the rest of the season to reach.

Unfortunately, due to inexcusable corporate nonsense from ViacomCBS, Star Trek: Discovery is unavailable to many fans around the world. This short-sighted, self-defeating decision has been rightly condemned by Star Trek fans, but we need to keep the pressure on and continue to call out this misbehaviour at every opportunity. Star Trek is not the sole preserve of any one group of fans – it’s something all of us should be able to enjoy together. Denying that opportunity to even one Trekkie would be unacceptable; to deny it to millions in dozens of countries and territories around the world is just offensive.

Captain Burnham with her family tree.

So let’s take a look at Stormy Weather – an episode named for a song from 1933. There have been some connections between Discovery and sister show Star Trek: Picard, but one of the most unexpected thematic connections came in the form of this song. Picard Season 1 prominently featured the song Blue Skies, written in 1926, and to hear another older, slow-tempo jazz song in Discovery was an unexpected but interesting way to bridge the gap between these two very different parts of the Star Trek franchise.

Stormy Weather featured Captain Burnham prominently, and we’ll look at her contributions in a moment. But where the episode did remarkably well, in my view, was through a series of smaller moments that showed off several members of Discovery’s secondary cast – many of whom have had less to do so far this season than in Season 3 last year.

Several members of the secondary cast (Nilsson pictured) got things to do this week.

Commander Owosekun had a big centre-stage moment, objecting on the bridge in front of her colleagues and leading to a sweet moment later on between her, Detmer, and Saru. Dr Pollard, making her first major appearance of the season, got two significant moments in the spotlight, including one incredibly dramatic moment as a crewman was blown out into space through a hull breach.

Ian Alexander, who plays Gray, and Annabelle Wallis, who voices Zora, were Stormy Weather’s breakout stars for me. Gray had already given us one of the season’s emotional highs when he completed his transfer into a new synthetic body, but there was definitely a question mark surrounding his next steps. Adira was a commissioned ensign, but Gray didn’t really have a role aboard the ship – something that Discovery acknowledged this week when Gray found himself alone in the lounge as the crew scrambled to their posts.

Gray and Zora played Trill chess together.

There’s always something very relatable about this kind of storyline. Anyone who’s ever dealt with feelings of helplessness or loneliness should be able to empathise with Gray in this moment, and it’s certainly something I’ve been through before on more occasions than I perhaps care to admit! As everyone on the ship attended to their duties, Gray was left alone – and this led to a really touching sequence between he and Zora that ended up playing a major role in the story.

Zora was a background presence for much of Season 3, and it was only really last week when the revelation that she can feel emotions came out that she emerged as a major player. Zora’s interactions with Gray this week have done more to humanise her and lay the groundwork for future character development than any episode has since Calypso – and if Discovery chooses to, the show could now make Zora a major presence on the ship going forward.

Gray and Zora played significant roles this week.

I can’t be the only one noticing an homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey, right? Zora’s line to Captain Burnham when she refused to follow an order felt like it had come straight from HAL 9000! Of course, Zora went in a different – and thankfully far friendlier – direction shortly thereafter, but the reference was appreciated nevertheless.

The development of Zora’s emotions brings the character one step closer to her portrayal in the Short Treks episode Calypso, but at this point I’m still not sure how – or even if – the stories will line up. As we’ve discussed previously, for every step made toward Calypso since Season 2 we’ve seen at least one step away – and with Discovery in the far future already, the further development of Zora still leaves the show with significant hurdles to overcome if a full connection to Calypso is on the cards. But I guess that’s a conversation for another time!

“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

Gray and Zora were able to share a connection as two passengers on the ship who felt out of place and unsettled. There was a subtle continuation of the transgender theme present in Gray’s earlier incorporation story, as Gray made reference to choosing his own name; something Zora could relate to. Despite Gray’s incorporation feeling somewhat rushed at the beginning of the season, it’s been great to see him as a character in his own right, able to interact with others aboard the ship. Pairing him up with Zora was unexpected but an absolute delight.

Discovery has continued Star Trek’s use of storytelling by metaphor and analogy, and we see that again with Gray. His struggle to become visible, his comments about getting used to his new body, and again this week through his conversations with Zora all had serious things to say about the difficulty of transitioning, coming out as transgender, finding acceptance, and other trans issues. But they were told through a science fiction lens in the very best tradition of Star Trek. It’s hard to think of a more understandable and relatable depiction of a trans individual in all of entertainment, and the writers deserve a lot of credit – as does Ian Alexander, who stepped up this week and put in his best performance of the season so far.

Stormy Weather was a great episode for Ian Alexander and Gray.

Discovery as a whole is a series with a cinematic feel to it. That isn’t something unique among television shows any more, as we can see many other high-budget productions pushing hard for similar visuals and effects. But Stormy Weather definitely veered hard into the cinematic, with all manner of special effects thrown into the episode’s forty-five minutes. We had silent slow-motion sequences, stunning CGI visual effects – including a striking shot of the USS Discovery itself inside the void, tightly-focused shots of characters in motion, close-ups of faces, and a whole lot of fire and flame to name but a few. Such a varied mix of visuals, coupled with Jonathan Frakes’ clever cinematography, gave Stormy Weather a sense of weight, of gravitas, far beyond what the franchise usually manages outside of its feature films.

Let’s talk about the storyline itself. This week, everything was tied together. There were secondary plotlines with Gray and Zora and with Book, Stamets, and the doctors, but they all came together and connected with the main story in significant ways as Captain Burnham led the USS Discovery inside a subspace rupture that the DMA had left behind.

The USS Discovery approaches the void.

We learned something major about the DMA: that it’s of extragalactic origin, or has, at the very least, passed through the galactic barrier. This would seem to narrow down Unknown Species 10-C to a handful of suspects, assuming that the galactic barrier depicted in past iterations of Star Trek remains generally impermeable to residents of the Milky Way. There were comments from Book and Stamets that this evidence all points to Unknown Species 10-C being someone that “the Federation has never encountered,” but I don’t think we can be certain of that just yet. The Burn seemed to be connected to Ni’Var’s SB-19 project in Season 3… until it wasn’t! We’re barely halfway through the season, so there’s plenty of time for hypotheses to be debunked! In this week’s theory post I’ll go into more detail about what this revelation could mean for Unknown Species 10-C, so stay tuned for that!

Venturing inside a rift in subspace was a dangerous assignment, but one that was certainly necessary for understanding more about the DMA. There really isn’t much to nitpick on this side of the story, and Captain Burnham handled it about as well as any other captain could have. Captains Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway, or Archer would all have made similar choices under the circumstances, and we can point to many moments in past Star Trek shows where similarly dangerous scientific missions have gone awry despite the best efforts of the various captains.

Captain Burnham did everything she could to get her crew home.

Discovery has some very expansive sets when compared to past iterations of Star Trek, with the bridge in particular being larger and wider than basically any other to date. But despite that, this week I felt a real sense of claustrophobia in the style of old war films set aboard submarines. Stormy Weather was basically a bottle show – an episode set almost exclusively aboard the ship making use of existing characters. Rather than that being a limitation, as it sometimes has been in past iterations of Star Trek, the episode leaned into this in the best way possible, drawing on the inherent strengths of that style of story to create a genuinely dark and unsettling atmosphere aboard the ship.

This began with Gray and Zora alone in the lounge and culminated in Captain Burnham staying behind on the bridge, with only Zora for company, as the desperate last-ditch attempt to escape the void came to a head. Discovery has made interesting use of fire this season, and I’ve seen some criticism of the way the pyrotechnics come across on screen. But here, the combination of CGI plasma and jets of real fire worked exceptionally well, building up a sense of genuine danger that Captain Burnham, and indeed the whole crew, were in.

A combination of CGI and pyrotechnics made for a thrilling and dramatic presentation at the episode’s climax.

At this point, after more than three seasons of Discovery, we know that the show has a tendency to blitz through some of the technobabble and sciencey stuff to get to the drama and action, and so it proved again in Stormy Weather. As happened last week, when the DMA’s artificial origin was confirmed in a short scene with a few lines of dialogue, its extragalactic origin was likewise only included in a pretty short sequence. I liked the concept behind it – that the energy surge that hit Book left behind trace particles that could be used to uncover another piece of the puzzle. That setup was interesting. But the conclusion was once again very quick, almost rushed, and I feel more could’ve been made of both of these points.

Another point of criticism I had concerns Dr Pollard’s sequence in the hallway. I said before the season began that killing off a known character can be a great way for a show like Discovery to communicate the stakes involved. And as Dr Pollard raced to the hull breach, there was for a brief moment a feeling that she might’ve been running to her demise. In the end, though, it was a redshirt who ended up being killed – and the death was far less impactful as a result.

More could have been made of this moment.

Now I’m not on some anti-Pollard crusade wishing death upon the character! But hers is the latest example of how Discovery wants to have its cake and eat it too: the writers want all of the emotional impact of a character death but without being willing to commit to making it someone significant. We saw this in Season 2 with Airiam, and again in Season 3 when practically everyone survived despite the dangerous situations the crew found themselves in. The danger in flirting with character deaths but failing to follow through is that the show is slowly building up a sense of plot armour; there’s a developing feeling that basically no one who gets so much as a speaking line in an episode will be in any real danger. And that will have an effect as the season progresses – potentially making similar moments feel less impactful or tense in future episodes.

To be fair, past iterations of Star Trek had this problem too – but television storytelling has evolved since then. In a world where shows like Lost, Game of Thrones, and The Walking Dead pioneered a concept that I call the “disposable cast,” where even major characters can be killed off at the drop of a hat, Star Trek has to take note. Audience expectations are shifting in some respects, and if Discovery wants all of the trappings of modern television storytelling, it has to be willing to boldly swing the proverbial axe on occasion.

This could have been a good moment to kill off a named character instead of a redshirt.

Last week, the addition of wonderful guest star Shawn Doyle as mad scientist Ruon Tarka meant that I didn’t really feel Tilly’s absence. Stormy Weather was different, though, and I think we’re seeing the first real effects of her departure. Tilly suffered with anxiety, and doubtless would have found the void a difficult situation to deal with. But even at her most nervous, she had a way of lightening the mood and ever so slightly lowering the tension. Perhaps a story like Stormy Weather needed her absence to function as intended – and I concede that argument. But at the same time, I look back on the episode and wonder what Tilly might’ve said, how she might’ve found a way to break through some of the more tense moments with Captain Burnham, Stamets, Book, Zora, and everyone else. Adira fills Tilly’s shoes in several key ways – but no one can truly replace the lighthearted energy that she brought to Discovery.

In a fast-paced sequence at the beginning of Kobayashi Maru, we got to see the crew working under Captain Burnham’s command as one well-oiled machine. After that, though, Discovery took the captain on several smaller adventures off to the side, and it wasn’t until Stormy Weather that we saw her in such a tense situation, having to really feel the burden and weight of command. Like Star Trek captains past, she stepped up. I was reminded of the scene in the episode Booby Trap where Captain Picard takes the helm and pilots the Enterprise-D as Captain Burnham arrived on the bridge, alone, to sit in the captain’s chair and guide her ship and crew to safety.

Captain Burnham in her EV suit.

Speaking of The Next Generation, it was neat to see an oblique reference to the episode Relics. In that episode, Scotty was found alive in a transporter pattern buffer, and it was this method that the crew of Discovery were able to use to survive the dangerous journey out of the void. Discovery hasn’t been shy when it comes to harkening back to past iterations of the franchise this season, which has been fun to see. Shooting so far forward in time has expanded the number of callbacks and references that the show is able to do, and the writers – who are clearly big Trekkies themselves – have taken full advantage.

Along with Ian Alexander, we also have to praise Sonequa Martin-Green for her performance this week. Captain Burnham had a complex role this time, one that required her to put any thoughts of failure to one side and to focus on getting her ship and crew to safety. But she also had to find time for empathy, to share her feelings with Zora to help the AI deal with her own newfound emotions. On both sides Sonequa Martin-Green really nailed it, and Stormy Weather is one of the absolute best Captain Burnham episodes as a result.

Stormy Weather really showed off Captain Burnham at her level-headed best.

The themes of trauma, empathy, and unexpected connections were all present in Stormy Weather as they have been all season. This time it was Zora who needed the most help, in a manner somewhat reminiscent of Data in Generations. Developing emotions for the first time led to Zora’s first experience with fear, just as installing his emotion chip did for Data, and both found themselves overwhelmed and struggling to cope. Just as Data’s friends rallied around him, so too Zora found help from both an old friend in Captain Burnham and a new friend in Gray.

It fell to Captain Burnham and, to a lesser but still significant degree, Saru, to remain level-headed as the situation deteriorated. Captain Burnham had to find a way to connect with Zora in order to convince the AI to go through with the plan to escape. Likewise, Saru had to calm Commander Owosekun when tensions on the bridge threatened to boil over. We’re seeing again the very different ways that people respond to trauma: in this case, Zora almost completely shut down, feeling overwhelmed and unable to do anything, whereas Owosekun wanted so badly to do something that she became angry. These themes are almost certainly going to run through the rest of the season, and will go a long way to keeping Discovery grounded in its characters rather than being lost in sci-fi wonders.

Owosekun, Saru, and Detmer on the bridge.

One scene in particular hit close to home for me. After Book had been hit by the energy surge and was recovering in sickbay, he had a moment with Doctors Pollard and Culber where he tried to ask if he was losing his mind, going crazy, and if the hallucinations he was experiencing would last. Having been in a similar position in hospital, struggling and not knowing where my mental health issues began and ended, I found David Ajala’s performance very emotional in that moment.

Book’s hallucination of his father stemmed from the fact that it was his father’s birthday – and we know that mental health issues can absolutely manifest from things someone is already thinking about or dealing with. His line to his father that he hoped he was real, because it would mean his spirit still exists and thus Leto, Kyheem, and others might still exist somehow too, was another deeply emotional line. Though the episode didn’t focus on Book, this presentation took him to completely different emotional places, and I found it resonated with me in a very personal way.

I found Book to be very relatable in this moment.

So I think that’s it for this week. Stormy Weather really has set a high bar for the rest of the season to reach! It would have been easy for an episode like this one to come across as feeling like mind-numbing action, but Discovery’s tight focus on characters and emotions elevated it to being so much more than that. Little moments with the show’s secondary cast were greatly appreciated, and almost everyone got a line or two of dialogue this week. It felt like the plans to escape the void were a real team effort – and not just another “Burnham saves the day” story that we might’ve seen in Seasons 1 or 2.

There was some disappointing news yesterday, though. At the last minute, it’s been announced that Discovery is taking a mid-season break after next week’s episode, going off the air for around six weeks before resuming in February. ViacomCBS and Paramount+ need to do better at communicating with fans, because this is the latest in a long line of unnecessary blunders. Fixing Star Trek’s scheduling conflicts has to be a priority, too – Prodigy only aired four episodes before taking a break, now Discovery gets half a season before it too has to take a break. It’s possible that there are behind-the-scenes delays, perhaps with post-production work on Picard or Strange New Worlds – but it’s not a good look for a company trying to market a big franchise and an expanding streaming platform. Fixing these problems needs to be a priority for Star Trek’s corporate overlords.

Next week looks to bring back Ruon Tarka, which should be a lot of fun! Stay tuned in the days ahead for my updated theory list – including several ideas about the DMA and its possible creators. And if you celebrate, I wish you a very Merry Christmas Eve! I hope your holidays are successful and fun!

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

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 4, Episode 5: The Examples

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

The Examples was a stunningly good episode. When the season draws to a close, no matter how key storylines are ultimately paid off, we’ll look back and say this was one of the highlights. This week we got three stories rolled into one, all connected to the DMA in different ways, and we also got the introduction of a wonderfully complex new scientist character played by Shawn Doyle.

Before we go any further, I want to continue to call out the corporate nonsense from ViacomCBS that has prevented Star Trek fans from outside of Europe and North America from being able to watch Star Trek: Discovery. ViacomCBS seems to have no interest in Africa, Asia, or even countries and territories like Ireland or Puerto Rico, and the rollout of Paramount+, which continues at what we might generously call a snail’s pace, means nothing to millions of Trekkies all over the world. Discovery has become one of the most-pirated shows in recent weeks – something that’s entirely the fault of ViacomCBS and their decision to pull the show from Netflix.

The USS Discovery’s main viewscreen as the DMA approaches.

Let’s set that aside for now and talk about The Examples. We’ll begin with the smaller storyline present in the episode: that of Dr Culber and his emotional struggles. For me, these sequences with Dr Culber – and especially his conversations with Stamets – formed the episode’s real emotional heart. There was a moment toward the end between Captain Burnham and a prisoner named Felix that was also emotional, but we’ve known Dr Culber and followed his story for more than three seasons, so I think it’s natural to feel that this was the one that brought the most emotional weight.

I’m increasingly convinced that Discovery’s main characters each embody a different response to grief and trauma. In Tilly’s case, which we saw come to a head last week, she chose to leave the past behind and strike out on her own. In the case of Stamets we see the workaholic, someone willing to set aside much of his personal life and family commitments and throw himself into his work. The same kind of applies to Captain Burnham, though she also embodies the “protective partner” through her relationship with Book. Book, of course, has shown us the depths of depression and grief. And with Dr Culber we have someone who’s dedicated himself to helping others – even if that comes at his own expense.

Dr Culber and Stamets in their quarters.

The scenes between Stamets and Culber were a complete inversion of what I’d been expecting – and I loved every second of it. After Stamets missed Gray’s incorporation and wasn’t there for Adira in Choose To Live, I’d been expecting Dr Culber to be the one to call him out for overworking himself, telling him he missed something important with his family – and with his friend, as he wasn’t really there for Tilly before she left the ship. But instead we got the reverse of that: it was Stamets who had to tell Dr Culber that he’s been the one overworking himself for the sake of the crew.

This moment was absolutely perfect, and I felt it really drove home just how these two came to fall in love in the first place. Stamets and Culber have been Discovery’s emotional core since the show’s first season, but this was the first time we got this level of insight into what brought them together – and what has kept them together even through all the sci-fi adventures they’ve been on.

Stamets and Culber gave the episode heart and emotion.

Kovich – or should that be Doctor Kovich? – continues to confound me. Who is this mysterious man? We’ve seen him seemingly working for Starfleet Intelligence in some capacity, working alongside Admiral Vance at or near the top of the organisation, playing a leading role in Starfleet Academy – including being able to appoint teachers simply on his say-so – and now, in The Examples, he appeared to be acting as a counsellor, therapist, and even psychologist for Dr Culber. I wonder if Discovery plans to nail down Kovich at some point in the future – or if he’ll continue to be used in a variety of roles like this, allowing the lack of a clear explanation or background to provide him with an air of mystery and gravitas. It’s hard to deny that it’s working!

Kovich certainly laid some harsh truths on Dr Culber during their very short session together. And I liked that it came back to what happened to him in Season 2; Dr Culber went through an almost unimaginable experience, one that’s bound to leave emotional wounds. Past iterations of Star Trek were pretty bad at following up with characters who went through what should’ve been traumatic events, so it’s cathartic in a sense to see that the franchise is using its serialised format to right that old wrong.

Kovich offered Dr Culber counselling… of a sort.

Some of the goings-on at the prison felt a little rushed and a little forced. After discovering the existence of the prisoners and finding out that they weren’t scheduled to be rescued, Captain Burnham and the crew seem to have made no efforts to follow that up. Could they, for example, have located the prison guards who were said to have fled? Or sought out someone else capable of opening the prison? I know it’s a bit nit-picky, but going there in person feels like it should’ve been a last resort.

There was definitely an interesting element to the prison stand-off, though, once we got into the meat of this side of the story. I said last week that Captain Burnham has a “moral certainty” to her; she knows what is the right thing to do. This time she came upon two challenges to that morality – and I think in the way she responded to those challenges, we can see how much she’s grown as a character over the past three-plus seasons.

Captain Burnham faced a very difficult choice this week.

Captain Burnham wanted to rescue all of the prisoners. She wanted to do so not only for Book’s sake, as he’d been suffering ever since the destruction of his homeworld, but also because she truly believed in her heart that it was the objectively moral thing to do. The prisoners immediately challenged that, with several of them expressing the desire to be left to die rather than return to confinement. There was a bit of a cliché as we were told that one of the prisoners had “stolen food to feed his family,” but other than that this side of the story felt complex and nuanced.

We also got a glimpse at the kind of clashing of cultures that happens out here in the real world. The Akaali – a race that first appeared in Enterprise – have a very different culture to the Federation, perhaps influenced in part by the Emerald Chain. In this case, their ideas of justice, punishment, and imprisonment seem draconian by Federation standards – and Captain Burnham had to deal with that culture shock.

The Akaali magistrate.

Felix was the most complex of the prisoners, a man who’d killed someone decades earlier and had lived with that regret ever since. Guest star Michael Greyeyes put in a stellar performance as someone not merely resigned to their fate, but actively choosing to embrace it. Felix seemed to truly believe that his punishment or penance for his crime required his own death, and had he survived if the DMA had taken a different path, I believe he would have sought out the Akaali authorities and turned himself in all over again.

His choice was difficult for Book and Burnham, though, who had endeavoured to save all six prisoners. Book appeared to be ready to intervene, saving Felix’s life even if it went against his wishes, but Captain Burnham eventually understood that this was something she had to do. After all the talk earlier in the season about the Kobayashi Maru test and no-win scenarios, here we got to see Captain Burnham confronted with her own small-scale version of that very challenge. She rose to meet it in a way that she would have struggled to in earlier stories.

Leaving Felix behind was a kind of Kobayashi Maru moment for Captain Burnham.

There are many different ways we could read Felix’s story in The Examples. There’s definitely an allegory for imprisonment itself; that prison can have value as a rehabilitative institution. But we can also read Felix’s final choice through a more metaphorical and philosophical lens: it’s a tale about the value of freedom, and the freedom to choose one’s own path and ultimate fate. It’s a story about agency and the right to determine the outcome of one’s own life. Felix could have been “saved,” but doing so would have cost him his freedom in a different way.

This story took what could have been a fairly simple and uninspired plot about rescuing prisoners in a different and unexpected direction, providing some much-needed complexity to Captain Burnham’s side of the episode. It also gave both her and Book an emotional moment toward the end of the episode, with Book in particular believing the decision to leave Felix behind was wrong. And as the audience, we can see both sides of this argument and acknowledge that there’s no objectively right answer. On the one hand, if Felix had been saved he could have found other ways to have meaning in his life or to complete his penance and rehabilitate himself. Giving him that chance, even if it was against his will in that moment, could have paid dividends later. On the other hand, though, Felix was a grown adult of seemingly sound mind, and if this was the choice he freely made, knowing the consequences, does anyone have the right to interfere? It’s a complex story with no easy answer – and this could be a whole essay in itself drawing comparisons with things like the right-to-die movement, suicide, and many more.

Felix made his own decision.

Sonequa Martin-Green played Captain Burnham with real complexity this week, and her performance nailed Burnham’s real struggle with this decision. As recently as the season premiere, Burnham had said to President Rillak that she wasn’t ever willing to leave anyone behind or make this kind of choice; a variation on Captain Kirk’s famous “I don’t believe in no-win scenarios” stance. But something’s changed for Burnham – perhaps the existence of the DMA, or simply the realities of command. This evolution allows her to remain true to herself – she still wants to do the right thing. She just seems willing to consider different perspectives on what is “right,” including those that fall outside of her own interpretation.

So let’s take a look at the biggest revelation in The Examples: the DMA is an artificial creation. This is something I’d been theorising about in one form or another since we first learned of the existence of the anomaly in the first Season 4 teaser trailer earlier in the year, and I don’t think many fans or viewers will have been terribly shocked. A natural disaster angle could’ve worked well for the DMA, presenting Captain Burnham and the crew with a scientific challenge to untangle rather than a villainous adversary to defeat. But that ship has sailed – and really, this is the way I think we all expected Discovery to go with the DMA.

Tarka and Stamets created a scale model of the DMA.

Though this story was great overall, there was one part at the beginning that felt very rushed. After Stamets noticed the DMA disappearing and reappearing, Captain Burnham asked Zora (the ship’s AI) if the DMA could be a natural ocurrence. Zora replied that it couldn’t be, and based seemingly on these two lines alone, the rest of the plot was left to unfold. It just feels far too quick and easy to have gotten a one-line answer from Zora about the nature of the DMA, and I feel it would’ve been nicer to see at least some of the workings that led to that conclusion – perhaps Stamets could’ve said he’d come up with an artificial DMA as a new theory after weeks of work; same result, same short scene, but perhaps a better overall feeling that this wasn’t all based on one very brief analysis.

This second point is really more of a nitpick, but here we go anyway: how did everyone in the galaxy find out that the DMA isn’t a natural phenomenon? If Stamets is leading the charge on this investigation, and he only figured it out with the help of Zora… how did that news get out? Starfleet might’ve wanted to keep a lid on something so explosive, and I can absolutely see someone like President Rillak wanting to keep that news on a need-to-know basis to prevent panic and possible political consequences for the very tenuously-united Federation. Maybe we can excuse it by saying the DMA’s disappearance and reappearance led others to figure it out independently, but again this all happened very quickly at the beginning of the episode. It’s a nitpick, though.

Kaminar – and other worlds – already know that the DMA is artificial.

There were references to past iterations of Star Trek – as well as the video game Star Trek Online – on this side of The Examples. Admiral Vance listed the Metrons, who first appeared in The Original Series episode Arena, the Nacene, who constructed the Caretaker’s Array that pulled the USS Voyager into the Delta Quadrant, and the Iconian Empire, who were believed to be extinct during the events of The Next Generation but ultimately appeared in the aforementioned Star Trek Online.

However, at the end of the episode, Ruon Tarka explicitly ruled out all three of these races as being the culprit. So who is Species 10-C? And perhaps a bigger question is this: will the DMA connect back to a past iteration of Star Trek, or will the storyline follow a similar route to the Burn in Season 3 and ultimately turn out to be something altogether new? Part of me wants to say that we wouldn’t have had all of these teases if there wasn’t going to be some big connection and a big reveal that would be meaningful for us as the audience – the Borg, the super-synths from Picard, or something of that nature. But another big part of me is saying “remember the Burn!” and feels certain that we’re going to encounter someone entirely new.

Admiral Vance has a list of possible culprits… but Ruon Tarka dismissed them.

We’ll save the theorising for later, though, because this side of the episode had far more going on than just that! Shawn Doyle arrived as Ruon Tarka, and he played the arrogant scientist exceptionally well. Tarka is a strangely relatable character – I think a lot of us have known someone who’s so incredibly self-assured and who comes across as very rude and even selfish. Tarka, to my surprise I must admit, backed up his arrogance with genuine skill, and by the end of the episode even Stamets seemed to have warmed up to him!

There’s always going to be the temptation to have a character introduced in this fashion ultimately be proven wrong and get some kind of comeuppance, but what makes Tarka such an interesting and nuanced character is that he really did have the scientific skill and know-how to back up what he was saying; all the trash-talking with Stamets actually led somewhere. We can dislike Tarka for his abrasiveness and the way he was rude with Stamets and Saru, but at the end of the day I’m still left with a strong sense that, arrogant or not, he’s someone I want on my side – especially given the nature of the DMA. Pulling off that balance with a brand-new character isn’t going to be easy to get right, yet Discovery pulled it off thanks to a wonderful guest star.

Ruon Tarka made for a wonderfully complex character.

It was very sweet to get multiple mentions of Aurellio this week. Kenneth Mitchell played the character in Season 3, and even though he wasn’t able to appear in person on this occasion, the fact that Discovery went out of its way to reference the character more than once was incredibly sweet. It’s nice to know that Aurellio still exists in the 32nd Century, and that he’s teamed up with the Federation to help solve the mystery of the DMA. Again, I feel better knowing Aurellio is working on this problem too!

The idea that Stamets and Tarka came up with, to create essentially a scaled-down version of the DMA, was a good one, and it worked well on this side of the story. We got to see the two scientists truly working on the problem, tweaking their theories as they went along. This is the scientific method – having a crazy idea and testing it out! Other sci-fi shows would’ve skipped this step and just brought us the conclusion so we could get into more space battles and laser fights, but one thing I’ve always liked about Star Trek is seeing the characters slow down and take their time working on a problem. Neither Stamets nor Tarka could figure out the DMA instantly – and we’ve seen Stamets working on this problem across several episodes now. They seemed to be close to a breakthrough before the experiment had to be shut down – so perhaps a future episode will pick up that dangling story thread.

Stamets, Tarka, and Saru examine their model of the DMA.

Though she didn’t have many lines, it was great to welcome back Tig Notaro as Reno during this story. Her dry wit cut through what was a very heavy scientific story, and provided some moments of levity that were definitely appreciated. Due to the difficulties of travelling and filming during the pandemic, I already know we aren’t going to get as many Reno appearances as we might want – so it was great to see her on this occasion, and I will definitely savour those light-hearted moments that she brought.

Saru played a guiding role here, ultimately shutting the experiment down as it got too close to the danger zone. But he brought a sense of calmness to the proceedings, something necessary given the hot-headedness of Tarka and Stamets. Seeing him “roar” was definitely something a bit weird… but it was neat nevertheless! Saru was very much back in his element as the senior officer on this side of the story, taking command of the situation but deferring to the scientists as much as possible. Since he underwent the vahar’ai transformation in Season 2, we’ve seen this calmer presentation of Saru. I’ve said this before no doubt, especially during his tenure as captain in Season 3, but he makes for an excellent commander – someone kind of in the mould of Picard as a considerate, level-headed leader.

Saru and Tarka having a stand-off!

So that was The Examples. We’re one step closer to figuring out the DMA thanks to Tarka and Stamets’ dangerous experiment – and I hope to see further progress on that storyline soon! The suspense, not knowing who’s responsible for the DMA or what their goal might be is really pulling me in right now – I desperately want the answers to those huge questions!

Some scattered final thoughts: the USS Janeway was a neat callback to Voyager. We’ve had several references to both Enterprise and Voyager so far this season – could either of those be a tease or indication of the direction of the story? The DMA makes an interesting climate change analogy – something ever-present that our heroes all have to work together to overcome. The episode opened by reminding us that Tilly has gone, and Mary Wiseman is no longer credited in the opening credits – so I think her departure from the series is permanent. I had a horrible feeling that something was going to happen to Rhys as he took a leading role in the evacuation… but luckily he lives to fight another day!

I had a fantastic time with The Examples. It advanced the season’s main story in a huge and very significant way, introduced us to a new scientist character who was a ton of fun, and gave us some cathartic emotional moments with Captain Burnham, Book, Dr Culber, and Stamets. All in all, a truly outstanding episode. I’m tearing my hair out trying to figure out who Species 10-C might be – so stay tuned for my next batch of theories for more on that!

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

Star Trek: Discovery theories – week 4

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

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

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

Semi-confirmed theory:
Tilly left the USS Discovery.

Tilly is on her way to new adventures.

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

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

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

So that theory was semi-confirmed.

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

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

Tilly’s departure feels permanent.

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

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

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

Is a fifth season going to happen?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

President Rillak in Kobayashi Maru.

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

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

President Rillak with Captain Burnham.

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

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

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

Kovich in All Is Possible.

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

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

Kovich in Season 3.

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

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

So those theories were new or saw movement this week.

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

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

The Guardian of Forever first appeared in The Original Series.

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

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

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

The USS Voyager traversed the Delta Quadrant.

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

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

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

General Martok, a 24th Century Klingon leader.

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

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

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

The dilithium planet is vital to the Federation.

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

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

Another view of the planet in the Verubin Nebula.

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

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

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

Craft, the protagonist of Calypso.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Captain Burnham in All Is Possible.

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

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

Captain Burnham in Anomaly.

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

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

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

Spock has appeared in several different Star Trek productions.

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

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

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

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

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

Theory #13:
A major character will be killed.

A Starfleet coffin seen in Deep Space Nine.

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

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

Spock’s funeral in The Wrath of Khan.

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

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

Theory #14:
The DMA is a superweapon.

One view of the DMA.

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

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

Theory #14a:
The Borg are responsible.

The Borg Queen.

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

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

Some very menacing-looking synthetic tentacles.

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

Theory #14c:
The Kelvan Empire is responsible.

Rojan, a representative of the Kelvan Empire.

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

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

A Sphere-Builder seen in Enterprise.

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

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

The USS Voyager-J.

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

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

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

Another view of the DMA.

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

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

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

Leto as seen in Book’s memory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theory #19:
We haven’t seen the last of the Abronians.

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

Theory #19a:
The Abronians’ homeworld was destroyed by the DMA.

Captain Burnham believes this image depicts a “supernova.”

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

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

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

The USS Discovery approaches the DMA.

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

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

Theory #19c:
The Abronians will return to help the Federation later in the season.

A deceased Abronian.

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

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

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

“That’s no moon…”

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

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

So that’s it!

The USS Discovery.

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

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

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

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

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 4, Episode 3: Choose To Live

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-4. Spoilers are also present for Star Trek: Picard Season 1.

When we saw the first few episode titles for Discovery Season 4 a few weeks ago, I completely missed something huge. “Choose to live” is a Qowat Milat saying, a phrase used by Elnor in Star Trek: Picard Season 1 last year. That was an oversight on my part, and meant that my original analysis of the episode before the season premiered was way off-base. Oops!

Although Discovery Season 4 is now available on Paramount+ in Australia, Latin America, and Scandinavia, and in western Europe and a few other regions via Pluto TV, or to purchase via iTunes, Google, and Amazon, there are still too many Star Trek fans unable to watch the new season of the show. Fans in countries and regions that ViacomCBS believes don’t exist still have no (official) way to access the season, and with the painfully slow rollout of Paramount+ also skipping over large swathes of Africa, Asia, and other parts of the world, that’s very disappointing. In my own small way, I’ll continue to point this out and call on ViacomCBS to do more to fix this problem and bring Star Trek to every fan around the world.

Captain Burnham at the beginning of the episode.

Choose To Live feels like a mid-season episode. It advanced the season’s main gravitational anomaly storyline in a pretty minor way, but in its place gave several different characters episode-long storylines that may or may not connect to the season’s ongoing themes. There are some nitpicks that we’ll get into, particularly surrounding one of the main story elements, but overall Choose To Live was a solid episode with some deeply emotional moments and throwbacks to past iterations of Star Trek. With its three concurrent storylines, I even felt it was structurally similar to episodes of Lower Decks!

As someone who’s spent decades struggling with my own gender identity, it’s really only in recent times that I’ve felt comfortable to be open and “out” as non-binary. Thus it was Gray’s story that perhaps intrigued me the most on a personal, character-scale level as Season 4 approached. We were promised that Dr Culber, Stamets, and Adira wouldn’t forget about Gray, and that his quest to be “seen” would succeed.

Gray watches his new synthetic body being constructed.

I’m absolutely thrilled to see Gray in a corporeal body for the first time. The scene with Gray customising his synthetic body in last week’s episode was absolutely the episode’s emotional high point, leaving me in tears, and I was hoping to see Choose To Live continue that trend. But something about Gray’s story this time felt… rushed. And although it was supported by amazingly emotional performances by Wilson Cruz, Ian Alexander, and in particular Blu del Barrio – who put in their best performance in Discovery so far – I actually felt that something was missing.

It was only when Adira beamed aboard the KSF Khi’eth in the Season 3 finale that Gray was able to be seen by anyone other than Adira. The end of that episode kicked off Gray’s quest to become corporeal again, fully confirming that Gray is indeed “real” and not a figment of Adira’s imagination. The first episode of Season 4 didn’t really feature any part of Gray’s quest, and we got one scene last week; a wonderful scene, but a single scene. And then this time, across several deeply emotional sequences, but in an episode that was packed with other storylines running at the same time, Gray’s quest has already come to an end.

Gray’s quest to be seen has concluded.

Gray’s invisibility had been an analogy for how many transgender people – and I would posit from my own experience, many non-binary people too – feel invisible, either ignored by the world or having to hide our true selves from it. Overcoming that, and finally feeling free to openly live one’s life is not a fast or easy process, and as much as I respect Discovery for putting together a story like this, the way it concluded so early in the season has left me feeling a little hollow.

Firstly, Stamets had no involvement at all – despite being a big part of Adira and Gray’s family. Stamets has had precisely one scene with Adira so far this season, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in the premiere. It was great this week to see Stamets away from Discovery’s engineering lab for once; his being on Ni’Var was fun to see and another emotional story. But it was also noteworthy that he was absent not only from the scenes featuring Adira, Gray, and Dr Culber, but from their story as well.

Stamets was entirely absent from this story – even though it’s a huge moment for his family.

Here’s what I mean by that: Dr Culber didn’t mention Stamets. Adira didn’t mention Stamets. Gray didn’t mention Stamets. And Stamets didn’t mention any of them – not even a throwaway line about how he was nervous for Gray or upset to be missing such a big moment. He didn’t hesitate about going on the mission; his only moment of pause before going to Ni’Var was thinking about Book and how to spare him from reliving the trauma of Kwejian’s destruction.

Maybe all of this will play into some other storyline as the season runs along. I could foresee, for example, Dr Culber delivering a gentle rebuke to Stamets for getting so lost in his work that he didn’t even check in to see how things were going with Gray and Adira. But I could also see Discovery rushing right past all of this, setting the various characters on different paths and dropping them into different stories as the season rolls on.

Adira and Dr Culber waiting to see if the procedure will succeed.

I don’t want the show to turn something beautiful – Gray’s incorporation – into some kind of Stamets-Culber relationship drama. We had too much of that in Season 2 – and frankly, it did not work. But the show should try to acknowledge, somehow, what’s going on. Think about it this way: if you sat down to watch Choose To Live knowing nothing about Discovery, you wouldn’t know Stamets and Culber even knew one another, let alone are married. You wouldn’t realise that the connection between Adira and Stamets developed first; that Stamets had to tell Adira that he and Culber come as a “package deal.”

For a story about someone becoming whole again… an important person, part of their family, was missing. And combined with the fact that this storyline didn’t run as long or as deep as I might’ve expected it to, I’m left feeling a little empty at its conclusion. I’m absolutely thrilled by the prospect of Gray finally being able to interact with the rest of the crew, and to perhaps offer his services during future missions or playing a role in different stories. And when you pull Gray’s story back to his appearances in Season 3, we did get quite a lot of his invisibility. But I can’t shake the feeling that the entire thing has been shuffled out of the way a little too quickly so that Discovery can race ahead to other stories that it wants to tell.

Stamets’ absence from this story was noticeable.

In a similar way, we talked last week about how much of the work that Captain Burnham and the crew of Discovery had been doing to restore the Federation seems to have happened off-screen. We caught a glimpse of it at the beginning of the season premiere, but then the anomaly story took over. Likewise with Gray – much of the actual work involved to get to this point seems to have taken place off-screen, in the months between the Season 3 finale and the Season 4 premiere. I tried to argue last time that seeing the Federation being restored at a slower pace would have been absolutely worthwhile – and so it is with Gray. We saw the culmination of a longer process, but it would have been nice to see more of the process itself, partly because it’s interesting sci-fi and partly because it’s an analogy for something significant here in the real world.

Before we wrap up the Gray storyline, I want to again point out how outstanding Blu del Barrio was in Choose To Live. I’d enjoyed what del Barrio brought to Discovery in Season 3, but Choose To Live gave them an opportunity to show off a fantastic emotional range, and they absolutely nailed it in every single scene. I went on a rollercoaster with Adira – the anxiety and nervousness as the procedure began, fear and regret when Gray seemed lost, then relief and joy when Gray finally awoke. Blu del Barrio put in the best performance of the season so far, showed off their range as an actor, and made these sequences feel incredibly emotional. Despite my criticism of the somewhat rushed feel to the Gray storyline overall, Blu del Barrio’s performance elevated it and made it so much better than it otherwise would’ve been.

Blu del Barrio put in an outstanding performance this week.

Star Trek as a franchise is full of plot contrivances; story moments that don’t feel genuine because of some inconsistency or other. Some contrivances are bigger than others, though, and on Captain Burnham’s side of Choose To Live we ran into a whopper. I can believe, for the sake of the story, that J’Vini was unable to trust the Federation. After all, in the post-Burn galaxy, trust seems to have been difficult to come by, and Ni’Var isn’t a Federation member. But what feels so incredibly contrived in this storyline is that J’Vini was so unwilling to trust other members of the Qowat Milat that she was prepared to kill one of her own sisters.

If J’Vini was leading some rogue Qowat Milat splinter group, I guess we could argue that perhaps there’d been some kind of split within the order or something. But it was made crystal clear that J’Vini had hired mercenaries as part of her quest to defend the Abronians and their cryo-ship. It simply doesn’t make sense that J’Vini – a proud member of this ancient order – would trust mercenaries when she was unwilling to trust her own sisters, especially considering the stakes, and I find this particular aspect of the story to be incredibly contrived.

J’Vini’s story felt rather contrived.

The contrivance didn’t ruin this storyline, but it certainly detracted from it in retrospect. Looking past all of that, however, we got a genuinely fun adventure romp, one which took Captain Burnham away from the anomaly for a side-mission that, as things stand at least, feels disconnected from the overarching story of the season. In that sense, this part of Choose To Live feels a lot more like the episodic Star Trek stories of The Next Generation’s era. If you removed the Qowat Milat and Captain Burnham from this story, I could easily see it being one for Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D to have tackled!

It was great to welcome back Sonja Sohn as Dr Gabrielle Burnham. I stand by what I said in Season 3, though: the choice to make Dr Burnham a Qowat Milat nun still feels odd! The connection between J’Vini and Dr Burnham was perhaps less developed than it could’ve been; aside from a couple of lines of dialogue, we didn’t really get to see much evidence of their supposed closeness. J’Vini was, according to Dr Burnham, the Qowat Milat nun who nursed her back to health after her arrival in the 32nd Century… but I didn’t really feel that connection; the story seemed to rush past it.

Dr Gabrielle Burnham returned for a Qowat Milat story.

Dr Burnham’s line about how context matters when considering J’Vini’s actions was an interesting one – and it’s a notion that Discovery has tackled before. Context is for Kings was the title of the third episode of Season 1, and that episode began the slow process of rehabilitating Michael Burnham as a character after her failed mutiny attempt. Dr Burnham compares her support for J’Vini to Michael’s support for Spock in Season 2 – and Michael really doesn’t have a leg to stand on in arguing the point!

Tilly was a welcome addition to this side of the story, too. She got a great moment with Saru, sharing her feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and homesickness that she briefly talked about with Captain Burnham in the premiere and with Dr Culber last week. She got more of a chance to talk with Saru, and he tried to help both by giving her access to his plants, but most significantly by recommending her for the mission.

Tilly and Saru make for a great character duo.

Saru and Tilly make a wonderful pair – something Discovery’s writers found out at the beginning of Season 3. Because they’re such contrasting characters in terms of age, temperament, and even appearance, they don’t necessarily seem like a natural pairing. That may be why Seasons 1 and 2 didn’t feature a great deal of Saru and Tilly together. But their differences complement each other.

Saru has a great deal of faith in Tilly’s abilities – something he made clear in Season 3 when he named her as his temporary first officer. This confidence from someone senior, and someone she clearly respects, gives Tilly a boost of her own, and we saw that play out again this week. I think we can all relate to wanting to step out of our comfort zones – as Tilly does on the away mission – so her inclusion in this story was a great idea.

Tilly stepped far outside her comfort zone this week.

Tilly and Burnham also make for a great duo, and we got to see some of that on the away mission too. Ever since they came together early in Season 1, they’ve established a firm friendship and an intuitive way of working together. Tilly trusted Burnham even when she was told she’ll be “bait,” and I think that’s something significant. Tilly had often been seen as a kind of fearful or anxious character – so to put her faith in her commanding officer in such dangerous circumstances and execute a complicated plan was positive and uplifting to see.

We’ll have to cover this in more detail in this week’s theory post, but I think there’s more going on with the Tilly situation than meets the eye. Since the beginning of the season – and arguably toward the end of Season 3 as well – she’s had this unsettled, almost restless feeling that many people who’ve experienced anxiety can probably relate to. But whether that can be resolved through counselling and talking with friends like Saru is an open question at present. Saru gave Tilly the opportunity to get out of her comfort zone this week – but will she seek to permanently get outside of her comfort zone? And if so, what form might that take?

Tilly and Captain Burnham watch the Abronians colonise their new homeworld.

Captain Burnham took the initiative on this side of the story, figuring out what had happened to the Abronians and how to help them. As mentioned, I liked this story as it definitely had a Next Generation flair to it. The design of the Abronians as a non-humanoid race was also exceptionally neat, and I kind of wish we could’ve seen more of them – but perhaps we will! This is another point I’ll pick up in this week’s theory post, but I suspect that the Abronians have some kind of connection with the gravitational anomaly.

Did anyone else feel that Dr Burnham’s “this isn’t a moon” line had the faintest echo of Star Wars? I surely did! The revelation that the moon base was actually a giant starship was pretty neat, and its stone engines, carvings, and computer interfaces were well-designed and contributed to the feeling that Burnham and co. were inside a tomb or other ancient structure.

The Abronians’ moon-ship made great use of stone to feel ancient and otherworldly.

While we’re talking about designs, the beginning of the episode showed off a brand-new starship: the USS Credence. The Credence has a fantastic design, incorporating elements from several prior Starfleet vessels. I felt I could see callbacks to the Oberth-class and Constellation-class in particular through the alignment of the ship’s body and nacelles. It felt like a 24th or 25th Century ship in some ways – it wouldn’t have looked terribly out-of-place in the Dominion War or in the armada seen in the Picard Season 1 finale!

The ship’s internal design, however, is another matter. I freely admit that this feels like a nitpick, but when I sat down to watch Choose To Live, my sense of immersion was immediately knocked off-course by the fact that the USS Credence’s interior was a barely-disguised USS Discovery. Discovery has, on a couple of occasions, shown us some pretty poor set redresses. The Ba’ul prison cell in Season 2 was so obviously the transporter room set that it was painful – and here, in Choose To Live, we get a sequence supposedly taking place aboard the USS Credence that was clearly just the USS Discovery hallway set. I can’t even charitably call it a “redress” of the set, because basically nothing had changed. Would it have been difficult or expensive to create something at least slightly different to represent the dilithium chamber or cargo bay of the USS Credence? Doing so would have made this sequence so much more enjoyable.

The USS Credence.

Back on topic, and it was another somewhat contrived situation that J’Vini’s whole plan for stealing dilithium and murdering people was basically for the sake of stockpiling it “just in case.” That’s a somewhat timely message, perhaps, given the panic-buying and stockpiling we’ve seen during the pandemic! But it felt a little forced considering that her plan was basically to just sit aboard this cryo-ship and wait for the Abronians to awaken. Did she bother to investigate their computer system at all? It took Captain Burnham barely five minutes to figure out that the Abronians should’ve woken up already! Simply using logic and analysing the situation – even assuming J’Vini had zero computer skills – should have told her that they’d arrived at their destination and could be safely woken up.

However, setting the contrivances of the story aside, it was neat to see Captain Burnham and Tilly working so well together to solve the puzzle and help the Abronians awaken. Seeing them depart their moon-ship to colonise a new world was a powerful moment, and everyone involved – J’Vini, Dr Burnham, Captain Burnham, and Tilly – all played roles in ensuring it could happen. Saving an entire race from what could’ve been extinction is a huge victory, and Choose To Live played it well – even though it was taking place in the context of a smaller, character-focused story.

Captain Burnham helped save an entire race from the brink of extinction.

The way this story concluded was interesting, and I think it shows a pragmatic side to President Rillak that may come into play later in the season. She was willing to turn over J’Vini to the Ni’Var authorities because she believed that doing so was a gesture of friendship that may help sway Ni’Var into rejoining the Federation. Putting the big picture first – or the “needs of the many,” to use a Star Trek quote – was something Captain Burnham didn’t like to see in this instance, but it’s another example of President Rillak being on a different course from Burnham.

It seems clear that Ni’Var will indeed rejoin the Federation at some point this season, which will be great to see. So President Rillak’s politicking will probably pay off – but as Captain Burnham reminded her, it doesn’t come free, and the price in this instance was Federation justice being applied in J’Vini’s case. The hard-nosed political pragmatism of President Rillak makes her a very interesting character – not always playing fully on Burnham’s side, but thus far never as a direct antagonist either. She has her reasons for doing what she does, and she doesn’t care too much if Admiral Vance or Captain Burnham disagree with her. She’s confident in her authority and her decision-making – and I can’t wait to see how that plays out as the season progresses.

President Rillak is a fantastic, well-written character with genuine depth.

That brings us to Stamets and Book’s away mission to Ni’Var. As mentioned, it was great to see Stamets away from Discovery’s engineering bay; it seems like he spent most of Season 3 down there! And after last week, pairing up Book and Stamets again was a good idea. Discovery seems to have found a character pairing it likes in Book and Stamets!

What we saw with this Ni’Var story is the scientific method playing out. Stamets had a theory: that the anomaly is a “primordial wormhole.” He presented his theory to the Ni’Var scientists, who analysed it using their technology and meditative method. But it turned out to be wrong – something Stamets seemed to be fighting against, but arguably must’ve felt was a possibility. We’re still no closer to understanding the anomaly, but it’s another theory that Stamets can cross off his list.

The Ni’Var Science Institute debunked another of Stamets’ anomaly theories.

The interaction between Book and T’Rina was neat to see. Both Kwejian natives and Vulcans are, as T’Rina pointed out, emotional, empathic races. But they take completely opposite approaches to emotion: Kwejian natives draw on it, Vulcans try to suppress it. Book couldn’t learn Vulcan discipline as a way to overcome his grief, but by reliving his last moments on Kwejian he got a kind of cathartic emotional release.

It was painful to relive those memories with Book, and David Ajala put in a wonderfully complex performance. Book is feeling almost unimaginable grief – not just for his family, but for his whole race. Losing one’s home and family would be difficult and painful enough, but to be left as one of the few survivors of his people is something difficult to fathom. David Ajala brought those feelings to screen in an understandable way, and keeping the focus primarily on Book’s family – and his nephew in particular – gave focus to this deeply emotional story.

By reliving his memories, Book found some measure of peace.

Book is moving through the grieving process, and helped by his time on Ni’Var has now moved on, ever so slightly, from where we saw him last week. As Captain Burnham remarked at the end of the episode, he was able to do something – watch a holographic recording of Kwejian – that would’ve been too painful a few days earlier.

So that was Choose To Live. The main thrust of the season’s story was sidelined for the most part as Stamets saw another theory fall down. However, Captain Burnham got her own mission, one which felt like a throwback to past iterations of Star Trek in the best way possible. The return of Dr Burnham and the Qowat Milat was fun, and we got some great character moments with Saru, Tilly, the Burnhams, Book, Stamets, Gray, Dr Culber, and Adira.

Gray and Adira at the episode’s climax.

My only real criticism of Gray’s storyline is that I had expected Discovery to make more of it. The outcome was pitch-perfect, and what I think we had all hoped to eventually see. But there’s a feeling I can’t shake that this story concluded too early in the season – too soon after the events of That Hope Is You, Part 2 had kicked it off. Much of the legwork of figuring out how to help Gray – and his own agency over helping himself – seems to have happened off-screen in between Seasons 3 and 4, just like the dilithium deliveries and Federation rebuilding work. That might be fine… but it depends what happens next, and whether the stories yet to come in Season 4 can compensate for not seeing those things play out.

In Season 3, what I loved most about Adira’s story was that their coming out moment to Stamets was so low-key. Being non-binary in the 32nd Century shouldn’t be a big deal, and that moment captured the kind of optimistic tone of Star Trek’s future absolutely perfectly. Gray’s incorporation was always going to be more complex because of the technobabble side of things, but that gave it the potential to perhaps take into account the false starts and complex emotions that transitioning and coming out can elicit. Some of that was present in Choose To Live, and the payoff to that story was deeply emotional. But I can’t shake the feeling that it happened very quickly, and at a very early stage in the season. Perhaps Gray will go on to play a significant role now he can interact with everyone else – and that will be fantastic to see. I’m optimistic about future storylines… but also a little underwhelmed that the story I’d been most excited for has already concluded after a mere three episodes.

Next week we’ll be watching All Is Possible – and I have no idea what it could be about! Perhaps a return to a story all about the anomaly is on the cards after it took a back seat this week. In any case, I hope you’ll stay tuned for my updated theory list between now and Thursday and another review after I’ve seen All Is Possible next week.

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

Star Trek: Discovery review – Season 4, Episodes 1-2

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

Ahhh… it feels so good to write these words! Star Trek: Discovery is finally available in Latin America, Western Europe, Australia, and a few other countries and territories via a patchwork of different streaming services, television channels, and other digital distribution methods. Significant numbers of Trekkies in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere still can’t access Discovery Season 4 (by conventional methods, at least) but it feels like a victory for fan activism nevertheless. It’s my sincere hope that ViacomCBS will continue to try to bring Discovery Season 4 – and the rest of Star Trek – to regions and territories where it isn’t yet available, and I’ll keep bringing up the issue at every opportunity.

Following the positive news the other day that Discovery is going to be available to watch, I have taken the decision to resume my reviews and theories for the duration of the season. I felt it was necessary to criticise ViacomCBS, Paramount+, and the rest of the corporate side of Star Trek following their poor decision to withdraw the show, but equally I feel it’s important for all of us to support Star Trek if it is available. That means watching it on Pluto TV, purchasing episodes on platforms like iTunes/Amazon, or watching on Paramount+.

Pluto TV is the current home of Star Trek: Discovery here in the UK – and in much of the rest of western Europe.

This isn’t a one-way street, and when corporations make positive decisions – especially following a significant fan campaign – I think we need to go out of our way to support the franchises we love and show companies like ViacomCBS that listening to fan feedback pays off. It’s not good enough to criticise the company for their nonsense, but fail to acknowledge and respond positively when they reverse course or take good decisions.

The “victory” is bittersweet because I know that there are fans in other parts of the world who can’t watch Discovery. If I still lived in South Africa, for example, I’d be continuing my one-person Discovery review blackout! But because the show is now available here in the UK, I will be resuming my reviews. That doesn’t mean I don’t support fans in other parts of the world, and I will continue to do what I can in my own small way here on the website to call on ViacomCBS to make Discovery and the rest of Star Trek available.

Having dedicated close to 10,000 words and a week of my time to Discovery Season 4 and the international distribution situation, I think that’s more than enough on that for now! So let’s get back on track with a double-header review of the first two episodes: Kobayashi Maru and Anomaly.

The first shot of the new season.

Kobayashi Maru kicked off with a neat CGI sequence showing the USS Discovery arriving from a Spore Drive jump, then Book’s ship departing the shuttlebay. The special effects work across both episodes was outstanding, and the animators and artists deserve a lot of credit – even more so when you consider that much of the work was done remotely due to the pandemic. In particular I’d point to shots of Book’s ship in flight, the USS Discovery’s Spore Drive jumps, and the anti-gravity sequences that we’ll look at in a moment.

The one criticism that I have of Kobayashi Maru is related to CGI, though. It isn’t what you think – none of the effects themselves were bad! But as a consequence of the somewhat rapid, occasionally chaotic way that the episode was cut together, edited, and paced, at a couple of crucial moments, CGI sequences were nowhere near as long as they needed to be to properly communicate what was happening. At both points where Book was looking at the impact of the gravitational anomaly, first on Kwejian’s moon from the console of his ship and later at Kwejian itself from the bridge of Discovery, the CGI shots of the anomaly and the remains of the planet were barely shown for a scant few seconds – not long enough, in my opinion at least, to have the impact they were intended to have.

This CGI shot of the remains of Kwejian was only visible for a few seconds.

In the first case I think we can excuse the pacing. Book blacked out as the anomaly hit, and the structure of the scene was enough to show that the proverbial “something bad” was happening, but also the short cut kept it mysterious enough that we didn’t see everything – and were left wanting to know more. But as Book stood on the bridge of Discovery, we caught a glimpse of Kwejian that began somewhat blurry and obscured by the ship’s viewscreen, then lingered for mere seconds before cutting back to Book and the crew to see their reactions. A few extra seconds, perhaps, might’ve helped this moment.

As it is, we know what happened to Kwejian. And since we’re already talking about the premiere’s biggest single moment, let’s jump into the “should Kwejian have been destroyed” conversation! In my view, the season premiere needed something big to sufficiently communicate the stakes. A character death could’ve accomplished this, but considering that the anomaly is being presented as this kind of galaxy-ending threat, the destruction of an entire planet – especially one we’re familiar with and from which a main character originates – succeeds in this objective.

Book’s immediate reaction to the loss of his homeworld.

Objections to the Kwejian storyline seem to stem from a much broader point of contention – that Discovery shouldn’t be running this kind of apocalyptic storyline for the third (or arguably fourth) season in a row. Taking a break from saving the galaxy would’ve allowed the show to tell different kinds of stories – stories that could be just as exciting and dramatic, but smaller in scope and more character-oriented. That’s not a bad argument, but it’s been apparent since we got the first teaser trailer for the season at First Contact Day in April that this was going to be the direction of travel. In the context of this kind of story, the destruction of Kwejian works; it succeeds as a story point.

Obviously this hurts Book, and represents a change for his character that’s at least as substantial as Saru’s Season 2 vahar’ai transformation. Two episodes in, we don’t really know what the outcome of this will be for Book. He could follow the path of Kelvin-timeline Spock, recommitting himself to his work. He could draw on the loss of Kwejian at a key moment later in the story, perhaps spurring him on as he knows he’s one of the last remaining Kwejian natives. Or he could fall deeper into a depression that lasts all season and from which he struggles to recover. One thing is certain, though: Book won’t be the same after the destruction of his home planet and the loss of his family.

Book being comforted by Burnham in Anomaly.

President Rillak manages to simultaneously embody the “bad admiral” character archetype from past iterations of the franchise (where Starfleet admirals would often be depicted as adversarial if not outright evil) while also feeling like a character with nuance and depth. It would’ve been easy for Rillak to fall into a fairly flat villain trope given that Kobayashi Maru deliberately pitted her against Captain Burnham right from the start. But her reasons for seeking an evaluation of Burnham, her level-headed rebuke and assessment of Burnham’s captaincy, and the impressive way she stepped in to disarm the situation aboard the space station all work in her favour.

However, I would be remiss not to point out that her noisy interventions on the bridge of a starship while it was engaged in a dangerous and highly time-sensitive assignment ended up causing a lot of problems. Had Captain Burnham not been delayed by those crucical seconds, the outcome of the mission could have been very different – and someone who lost their life might’ve survived. There is a time and place for someone in a position of authority to question or criticise, and in the heat of the moment is not that time.

President Rillak interrupted Captain Burnham at the wrong moment.

I’m glad that President Rillak has been brought on board, though. The only other authority figure we’ve met within Starfleet is Admiral Vance – and I can’t imagine him being so adversarial and harsh toward Captain Burnham. I was worried before the season premiered that storylines which could’ve been Vance’s will end up going to President Rillak, but I’m actually glad in this case that he gets to remain on friendly terms with Discovery’s captain, and that we don’t have to see him as an obstacle for her to overcome.

The “butterfly aliens” had a neat, unique design, and it played into the story of repairing their non-functional satellite network well. My only criticism of this sequence would be that it felt rushed. The intention was to show Captain Burnham and the crew working together, knowing each other’s strengths and using them to solve a puzzle. But Kobayashi Maru as a whole felt very rapidly-paced, and this sequence – which in past iterations of Star Trek might’ve been a whole episode – felt undeniably rushed, lasting only a few minutes. The episode wanted to get into the meat of the story, and the “butterfly aliens” and their satellites were elbowed out of the way in relatively short order to make that happen.

The butterfly aliens up close.

I get the sense that Book and Burnham’s mission to deliver dilithium to the “butterfly aliens” might be all that we get to see of the Federation being rebuilt this season. Some of this seems to have happened off-screen, and it feels like the rebuilding, expanding Federation is basically going to be a backdrop to the main event – the story of the gravitational anomaly.

Considering how big and devastating the Burn had been, I think I’d have liked to see more of this rebuilding work. It makes a good backdrop, don’t get me wrong, and it gives the crew something to fight for and defend as they step up their efforts to defend against the anomaly. But when you think back to how fractured and small the Federation felt in Season 3, particularly in the first half of the season, there’s a bit of a risk that we’re rushing past something meaningful; a story worth telling.

Fixing the satellites for the butterfly aliens was a short moment designed to be a microcosm of Captain Burnham’s and the USS Discovery’s work prior to the main anomaly storyline.

Frankly, I could have happily entertained the idea of an entire season’s worth of “rebuilding” stories. Seeing Captain Burnham and the crew traveling the length and breadth of the rump Federation, bringing help and hope to familiar and new races would have been really interesting to see. It would’ve allowed for a season-long story, but one comprised much more of individual elements – rebuilding work on one planet or in one system, then moving on to a different area to face a different challenge. It was nice to get a taste of this rebuilding work – which is presumably something Captain Burnham and the crew have been doing a lot of off-screen – but there was absolutely scope to do a lot more with this idea.

Though only on screen for a brief moment, it was wonderful to see Admiral Vance’s family. He’d mentioned them in Season 3, but it was implied that his work meant he couldn’t spend as much time with them as he wanted. To see him able to welcome them to Starfleet Academy and show them around was really touching.

Admiral Vance with his wife and daughter.

One moment in Kobayashi Maru had me tearing up – and I bet you can guess which one! As President Rillak introduced the assembled cadets and officers to Starfleet’s new Archer Space Dock, Archer’s Theme from the end credits of Star Trek: Enterprise was heard. The USS Voyager-J was docked, and for a brief moment I got very emotional! Star Trek has done this to me before: seeing the refit USS Enterprise for the first time in The Motion Picture, accompanied by another beautiful piece of music, is another sequence that turns on the water works! This scene was very similar, and was truly a beautiful homage to Enterprise. More than a millennium after his voyages of exploration, it’s incredibly sweet to see the Federation remembering Captain Archer.

As Kobayashi Maru drew to a close, pretty much everything we’d seen across the episode’s fifty-minute runtime had ceased to feel important. The revelation of Kwejian’s destruction overruled everything else, and the conflict between Captain Burnham and President Rillak felt petty in comparison. Tackling the anomaly would mean they’d have to pull together – any interpersonal conflict or rivalries now needed to be set aside. As I sat down to watch Anomaly, the direction of travel for the season felt set.

This moment, accompanied by a familiar musical sting, was beautiful

That doesn’t mean that Kobayashi Maru was some kind of waste. It told an exciting and engaging story in its own right, one which laid the groundwork for what’s to come in two key ways: firstly by showing off how far the Federation has come, giving Captain Burnham and the crew something to fight for, and secondly by introducing the gravitational anomaly and its devastating destructive power.

So that brings us to Anomaly.

Despite its subject matter, Anomaly ended up being a much more intimate, personal, and emotional episode than I initially expected. Several different characters got cathartic, emotional storylines that really showed off how well Discovery can do these smaller, personal moments even in the midst of a galactic-scale story.

Captain Burnham in Anomaly.

Book and Stamets made an amazing, underrated pair in Anomaly, and their central conflict was handled incredibly well. In the run-up to the season I had asked what Book’s ability to control the Spore Drive could mean for Starfleet, and we got part of an answer to that in Kobayashi Maru, with President Rillak explaining that a “next-generation” Spore Drive was in development. But naturally, a proud person like Stamets would be impacted by the reveal too.

I liked the way this was handled. It wasn’t presented as mere jealousy – though perhaps Stamets’ ego did play a role in the conflict between himself and Book – but more a feeling of helplessness. Having to rely on other people, feeling unable to help and having to watch from the sidelines as Stamets did in the Season 3 finale, is never a nice feeling. As someone who’s disabled and who has to rely on help more often than I’d like, this is definitely something very relatable. Everyone wants to feel independent and in control of their life and their situation – Stamets lost that control, and having already lost his husband once before was already emotionally vulnerable to this kind of situation. He appears to have redirected some of those feelings onto Book, but he recognised that and tried to make amends.

Stamets and Book made a great pair.

David Ajala and Anthony Rapp played off one another beautifully in their scenes together, and it makes me want more Book and Stamets! They’re an unlikely team in so many ways, but it’s fantastic to see Discovery stepping out of its comfort zone and pairing up different character duos. This is something I hope to see more of as the season rumbles on.

One character pairing that came together beautifully at the beginning of Season 3 last year was Saru and Tilly, and seeing them reunited in Anomaly was fantastic. Saru is a calming influence on Tilly, who can be excitable and emotion-driven, and their contrasting personalities make for truly fun viewing. Tilly has come a long way since Season 1, but she still needs the occasional support of someone like Saru.

Tilly was glad to have Saru back!

Speaking of Saru, he’s now back aboard Discovery – albeit in a less-than-permanent capacity. What I liked about Saru’s reunion with Captain Burnham was the agency he was given over his role after returning to Starfleet. It would have been easy for the writers to have Burnham be the one to ask Saru to remain aboard the ship, but for Saru himself to make the offer to serve as first officer was an outstanding choice. I got genuinely emotional seeing Burnham accept his offer.

This might irritate the Discovery haters, but Captain Burnham and first officer Saru mirror Kirk and Spock in more ways than one; echoes of Star Trek’s first main character pairing are present. Burnham is younger, quicker to act, and more of a risk-taker. Saru is older, more experienced, and slower and more deliberate when considering his moves. He’s the perfect first officer to serve someone like Captain Burnham. She needs that kind of XO just like Kirk needed Spock – and while we’re talking about contrasting pairs, just like the calmer, level-headed Picard needed someone like Riker.

Captain Burnham arguably needs a first officer with the temperament of Saru.

I’m glad that Saru didn’t have to be demoted in order to take up his new role (like poor Decker was in The Motion Picture!) Starfleet ships have been depicted with two officers who both hold the rank of captain on several occasions; Kirk and Spock were both captains during the events of The Final Frontier and The Undiscovered Country, for example. So I don’t think it presents any kind of in-universe problem to see Saru occupy the role of first officer.

It would’ve been potentially interesting to see a secondary character promoted to occupy that role. Nilsson, Rhys, Bryce, or even Linus were possible contenders, and it wasn’t really clear who served in that role before Saru came aboard – Discovery has been flying around for months, after all. But on the whole, I think the role suits Saru perfectly. I’d even go so far as to say it suits him better than the captain’s chair ever did. His style is well suited to being the person to present multiple options, to consider the possibilities, but to leave the decision-making to someone else. I just hope that his presence on the ship won’t end up causing Captain Burnham any problems; I don’t think the writers would go down that road, but you never can tell!

There were other prospective first officer candidates – such as Rhys, who appeared to have the conn for a time in Kobayashi Maru.

Speaking of Captain Burnham, we see two distinct aspects of her command style on display across the first two episodes of the season. In Kobayashi Maru, particularly during the fast-paced opening sequence, we see her at her most self-assured, confident not only in her own abilities but in those of the crew under her command. In Anomaly, we see her willing to listen to the advice of members of her crew – relying on Tilly, Adira, Bryce, and particularly Saru at several key moments across the episode.

Critics of Michael Burnham’s characterisation would be well-advised to watch her in Anomaly in particular. I don’t think it’s fair to say she’s “changed” in Anomaly compared to how she’s usually been portrayed, but some of the criticisms of Burnham in past seasons stem from a sense of selfishness or self-centeredness that arguably are more to do with the way Discovery as a whole is written than the way Burnham herself is. But in Anomaly we see firsthand how she’s relying on others – and from the production side of things, how Discovery is willing to allow other characters far more agency over the way the story unfolds.

Anomaly was a great episode for Captain Burnham.

Someone like Bryce is a relative “blank slate” – despite being a longstanding member of the bridge crew. We don’t know a lot about him, his background, or his hobbies, so in that sense making him the one to figure out a solution to the dangerous situation makes sense. It’s quite believable that Bryce might enjoy kite-surfing – far more so than if it was suddenly a hobby ascribed to Burnham, Saru, or Tilly for the first time. It’s a contrivance, for sure, but Star Trek’s history is littered with those – many of which are far more egregious!

David Ajala put in his best and most emotional performance of the series so far in Anomaly, communicating the incredible, almost unimaginable pain of someone who feels like he’s lost everything. Mixed in with loss is regret – Book had spent most of the last few years away from Kwejian, prior to the events of Season 3’s episode Sanctuary, and in light of the loss of the world and his family, regrets those lost years all the more.

Book lost almost everything and everyone he had cared about – and David Ajala’s performance captured that pitch-perfectly.

The standoff between Captain Burnham and Book was riveting to watch in Anomaly, as the latter insisted on helming a dangerous mission into the anomaly. It reminded me of The Next Generation Season 6 episode Lessons, where Captain Picard struggles with the similar conundrum of ordering someone he cares about to undertake a dangerous mission. Lessons is a fantastic episode, but I think in retrospect it’s limited by the fact that Nella Darren – Picard’s love interest – is a new, one-off character. Book and Burnham’s relationship has been well-established over the course of Season 3 and into Season 4, so the conundrum she faces as he insists on going on the mission is something we as the audience are far more invested in.

Star Trek has, on more than one occasion, depicted people at moments of severe depression, willing to end their lives or to give up. Book is in that position in Anomaly – not actively trying to die, but so uncaring about his life in the wake of everything that’s happened that he’s willing to take risks, put himself in harm’s way, and give up rather than fight to survive. But Anomaly showed Book that Burnham is in his corner, willing to fight when he isn’t, and pushing him to find the strength to try.

Burnham was there for Book when he needed her most.

Anomaly shows us, through a variety of different character pairings, how people can help one another through difficult circumstances. Whether it’s Tilly complimenting Adira for their hard work, Saru telling Burnham to be a partner, not a captain, Dr Culber talking to Gray through Adira as he works on his new synthetic body, or Stamets reaching out to Book, the theme of the episode is connection.

I loved the Picard reference in the scene with Adira, Gray, and Dr Culber. It was an interesting revelation that the “Soong process” for transferring minds was ultimately unsuccessful in most cases – I wonder what impact that will have on future Picard stories. The character it might impact most is Dr Soong himself, as he had planned to transfer his own consciousness into a synthetic body. But perhaps we should leave that speculation for another time! I think the intention here was to pre-emptively close a potential plot hole – by saying that the Soong process is basically unlikely to succeed, it gets around potential questions in future about why it wasn’t possible to save characters by transferring them into synthetic bodies when they’re near death. I’m not sure it was necessarily something that needed to be wrapped up in this fashion, but then again we Trekkies can be a pedantic bunch!

Dr Culber connected Gray’s story to Star Trek: Picard Season 1.

As someone who has struggled for a long time with my own gender identity, the scene with Gray “customising” his new body was very emotional. For a long time, I lacked the confidence to change anything about my appearance – especially when going out in public – to better match my own gender identity, so to see Gray talking about making cosmetic changes in order to be more comfortable in his own skin – literally – was a deeply emotional moment.

There’s power in representation, and even though Gray wasn’t the main focus of Anomaly, the main scene he had with Dr Culber and Adira was one of the best, and perhaps most underrated, in the entire episode for me.

Gray had the opportunity to customise his new body.

One of the big questions facing Season 4 at the moment is the nature of the gravitational anomaly. It always felt that the characters’ first guesses as to what it could be wouldn’t pan out, but I kind of liked the idea of a rogue black hole – or pair of black holes, in this case. Facing a purely natural phenomenon could be a story that brings with it all kinds of real-world parallels as we struggle with the climate emergency, for example.

However, it seems from the ending of Anomaly that Stamets, Tilly, and co. weren’t correct with their binary black hole theory, once again opening up the story to a completely unknowable next phase. Keeping the mystery going is good; had the anomaly been all figured out within a couple of episodes it might’ve been less exciting going into the rest of the season! It was interesting, though, to see Tilly in the closing moments of Anomaly presenting this as a defeat.

The nature of the anomaly is still uncertain.

Tilly seemed to be suggesting that the fact that the anomaly’s path remains unpredictable means that the mission to scan it was somehow unsuccessful, but I’m not sure that’s the best way to present this revelation. Scanning the anomaly up close yielded a treasure trove of information for the crew to scour, and was an absolutely necessary step in understanding the danger it poses. Maybe its path is still impossible to predict – for now. But that doesn’t make the mission a failure. And considering no lives were lost and the damage to the ship seems repairable, I guess I just don’t really get why the closing moments of Anomaly chose to present the results of the data in such a negative way. Obviously it’s bad news that the path of the anomaly is still unpredictable – but that’s no one’s fault and it doesn’t mean that the mission failed.

The visual effect of the crew lifted out of their seats as artificial gravity failed was incredibly impactful; one of the most powerful visuals in the first two episodes. I can see why clips of that were chosen for the trailers! Star Trek rarely depicts artificial gravity failures – doing so has historically been prohibitively expensive. A couple of behind-the-scenes photos have shown the cast suspended in harnesses and on wires, and it seems clear that those sequences will have been difficult to film. It was worth the effort, though, and the finished effect is fantastic. Not only that, but I think it’s made substantially more impactful because artificial gravity failures are so uncommon in Star Trek.

Dr Culber and Captain Burnham float free as Discovery’s artificial gravity fails.

So that was Season 4’s opening pair of episodes. It took fans a lot of hard work to ensure the episodes would be available to more folks, so I hope everyone has found a way to tune in and watch via official channels – where such channels are available, of course. I think the season got off to a rocky start with all of the international mess, but the episodes themselves were fabulous, setting up a suitably engrossing mystery that feels very open right now. The story could go down any one of many different, utterly unpredictable routes – just like the anomaly itself!

Discovery is always at its best with moments of intimate characterisation, and there were many, many moments across both episodes that showed off the characters at their best – and gave the actors some fantastic material to work with. There were amazing performances from David Ajala, Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Ian Alexander, and Chelah Horsdal in particular, and I’m sure I’m leaving too many folks out. The visual effects are once again amazing, an improvement on Season 3 – something I didn’t think would’ve been possible.

As the credits rolled on Anomaly I was left wanting to know more – and not wanting to have to wait a week! That’s the mark of a good story in my book, leaving fans clamouring for more, wanting to figure out the show’s mysteries. I’m eagerly awaiting next week’s episode, Choose To Live. Stay tuned for my weekly list of theories in the days ahead, and a review of Choose To Live next week!

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

Star Trek: Discovery – first Season 4 episode titles revealed!

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and the trailers for Season 4. Spoilers are also present for Star Trek: Picard Season 1.

Star Trek: Discovery’s fourth season is now only ten days away! I haven’t seen as much buildup online and on social media from Star Trek and ViacomCBS as happened last year; I think the concurrent broadcast of Prodigy is taking up a lot of time and energy for the franchise’s social media team. Perhaps that’s a lesson for Star Trek to learn going forward – they need to find the right balance of promoting different shows with so many projects on the go simultaneously! As the season approaches, though, I hope to see a bigger and better marketing and promotional push.

Despite all of that, we did get some new information about Discovery Season 4 recently: the first four episode titles! On this occasion I thought it could be fun to take a look at all four and wildly speculate about what they could mean! We might be able to gleam something, after all!

There are also four new photos that have been shown off along with the episode titles – one from each of the first four episodes. So we’ll also look at each of those images in turn to see what might be going on, and to see how it might connect with the episode title!

The USS Discovery in the second Season 4 trailer.

Last season, Discovery was far more generous! We got episode titles for the entire season revealed in advance, as well as short synopses for the first few episodes. That info-dump gave us a lot to mull over as the season approached! However, at the end of Season 3, the final three episode titles were changed at the last minute. Su’Kal was originally going to be titled The Citadel – perhaps a reference to his holographic castle. There Is A Tide was originally going to be titled The Good of the People – which may be a reference to Osyraa and Admiral Vance’s negotiations. And finally That Hope Is You, Part 2 was originally titled Outside – seemingly because Su’Kal would finally get to see the world outside of his holographic realm for the first time.

So don’t consider all of these episode titles to be set in stone! Discovery has a bit of a track record when it comes to making changes on the fly, so it’s possible any of these titles could be changed between now and when they’re broadcast. But for now, let’s take a look at each of the first four episodes in turn and see what we can gleam.

Episode 4×01: Kobayashi Maru

The teaser image.

This is the title that jumped out at me the most – and I’m sure I’m not alone in that! Kobayashi Maru refers to the famous Starfleet Academy test for command cadets, and it’s a no-win scenario. The Kobayashi Maru test was first seen in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, where we saw Saavik attempt the test. It has been referenced on a handful of occasions in the franchise since, and we got to see Kirk’s famous outside-the-box “solution” in 2009’s Star Trek.

So if Kobayashi Maru is bringing all of this to mind, what might that mean for Captain Burnham and the crew of the USS Discovery? Presumably they’re about to encounter their own no-win scenario – but will this be related to the gravitational anomaly? The Kobayashi Maru test doesn’t involve space phenomena, but a battle against enemy starships – so I wonder if the season opener might see Captain Burnham and the crew engage in some kind of battle.

The aftermath of a Kobayashi Maru simulation!

The Kobayashi Maru test was famous for “killing” people – and was a test to see how command candidates handled the ideas of death and losing those under their command. The dark implication from this could be that a member of the crew will be killed; this would be a very bold way to kick off the season.

Fundamentally, the Kobayashi Maru test was designed to put cadets through their paces to see if they were cut out for the rigours of command. Kobayashi Maru will be the first episode of Discovery with Michael Burnham in the captain’s chair, so this could be her trial by fire, and we could learn more about her abilities and perhaps even her limitations as a captain.

Michael Burnham in the captain’s chair.

Based solely on the title of Episode 2, which we’ll look at momentarily, my suspicion is that Captain Burnham won’t encounter the gravitational anomaly in this episode – or if she does, it will come at the end, perhaps teeing up Episode 2 with a cliffhanger ending. If I’m right about that, something else might be happening to put her command abilities to the test – or to present her with a no-win situation.

Seasons 2 and 3 of Discovery opened strongly, with episodes that did a good job of establishing the main storylines that were to come. Remembrance, the Season 1 premiere of Star Trek: Picard, likewise did a great job in that regard. So I’m optimistic that Discovery Season 4 will open strongly – and based on the title of the premiere episode I’m genuinely interested to see what will happen!

A closer look at President Rillak in the teaser image.

The teaser image, shown above, shows a new character who we know to be Federation President Rillak being applauded by a group of people who are wearing what seems to be a new variant of the 32nd Century Starfleet uniform that debuted last season. She’s standing at a podium looking over her shoulder, perhaps to see some kind of presentation being shown behind her.

My first thought was that the assembled people could be Starfleet cadets – in which case the title Kobayashi Maru might simply refer to Academy cadets taking the actual test. Perhaps Captain Burnham, Saru, or someone else has been working with Starfleet Academy to bring in more officers as the Federation gets back on its feet. In the background of the image I spotted a Ferengi; there was a Ferengi captain seen in the second Season 4 trailer, so this could be the same character. If that character is a captain, perhaps the people in the image aren’t cadets.

Episode 4×02: Anomaly

The episode’s teaser image.

This one has a very simple title – but it’s a title that could open up so many different possibilities! This episode seems almost certain to introduce the gravitational anomaly that the trailers have shown off, so I think we can expect to learn what kind of threat it poses, as well as perhaps seeing Captain Burnham and the crew encounter it for the first time. My suspicion is that the USS Discovery will be the first Federation vessel to make contact with the gravitational anomaly, and will then return to Starfleet with the news, but we’ll see.

The title Anomaly could also have a secondary meaning, such as referring to the anomalous presence of Gray, or to someone acting in an out-of-character manner. Discovery has played with double-meaning episode titles more than once, so I won’t be shocked if there’s a second “anomaly” of some kind that rears its head in this episode!

The USS Discovery approaches the gravitational anomaly.

In the days ahead, before we hit the season premiere, I’ll be writing up all of my big pre-season theories. But if you want to check out my initial thoughts on the gravitational anomaly from when it first appeared in the first Season 4 trailer, you can do so by clicking or tapping here. A few of my ideas about the anomaly and its possible causes are still in play, and even though I think it’s more likely that Discovery will tell a wholly unique story rather than one which connects back to a past iteration of Star Trek, part of me hopes that we might see some kind of connection with the Borg, the super-synths from Star Trek: Picard, or something like that.

The teaser image for Anomaly shows a depressed-looking Book at the console on his ship, being comforted by Michael Burnham. Book has that “thousand-yard stare” that’s often associated with post-traumatic stress. His look could also be one of defeat or even resignation, but clearly something bad has happened.

A closer look at Book’s expression.

Michael Burnham being the one to offer comfort suggests that this is something that hurts Book more than it hurts her, otherwise the roles would either be reversed or we might see them drawing on one another for emotional support and comfort. Book has attachments to his homeworld of Kwejian, the tranceworms, and of course the beautiful cat Grudge. I certainly hope nothing bad has happened to the kitty! As I said in my rather morbid list of death predictions, though, Grudge is kind of the show’s mascot so I don’t expect she’d be in harm’s way.

That leaves Kwejian and the tranceworms as possible candidates; perhaps one or both has suffered due to the gravitational anomaly. Book could also have heard bad news from someone he knew from his time as a courier – perhaps some character we haven’t met yet has been harmed by the gravitational anomaly. It’s also possible that whatever’s happened to Book has nothing to do with the anomaly and that this will be a side-story for him and Burnham.

Grudge made an appearance in the second Season 4 trailer.

The brief glimpses we’ve seen of Book in the trailers didn’t show him sitting around looking sorry for himself, so whatever has happened to him is something he’ll be able to move past – somehow. But clearly at this moment he’s suffering, and it’s sweet to see Burnham being there for him. One of my hopes for the season is that their relationship will remain solid; Burnham has been on a bit of a ride with Ash Tyler, so giving her a settled relationship will be good for her character.

Book’s ship seems largely undamaged in the image, so if it had an encounter with the gravitational anomaly it seems to have survived! The little craft proved its worth in Season 3, saving the USS Discovery, taking Burnham on a side-mission, and later navigating the Verubin Nebula. It would be nice to see more missions involving Book’s ship in Season 4.

Episode 4×03: Choose to Live

Teaser image for Choose to Live.

Choose to Live is a pretty vague-sounding title that could lead to all kinds of different themes and storylines. Obviously Captain Burnham and everyone else involved in the mission to defend against the gravitational anomaly would “choose to live” as opposed to giving up and choosing to just lay down and die! But the phrase implies effort – that choosing to live and tackling the problems in front of them will be a significant challenge for the crew to overcome.

It’s possible that this episode could see some kind of “resurrection” storyline; that someone who was considered to be dead will make a comeback, or that someone will be revived from the brink of death. The second Season 4 trailer showed Michael Burnham in sickbay with a worried-looking Grudge and Book by her side, so perhaps an injury or ailment that she suffered will be part of this episode’s storyline.

Captain Burnham will end up in sickbay… somehow!

The teaser image shows Captain Burnham sitting at a desk across from two characters who I believe are Ni’Var’s leader T’Rina and Federation President Rillak. Admiral Vance is also present, standing to Burnham’s left looking stern. This could be an extension of the scene we saw in the second trailer, where President Rillak appeared to be disciplining Captain Burnham or at least giving her a verbal dressing-down.

The presence of the leader of Ni’Var may suggest that they’re involved in some way, or that Captain Burnham and the crew will be visiting Ni’Var somewhere around this episode. With Ni’Var seemingly on the cusp of rejoining the Federation, this could be a mission connected to that – perhaps some kind of final push to bring Ni’Var back into the fold. Or it could be that Captain Burnham has done something to upset Ni’Var, and that could be the reason why President Rillak seemed to be so upset with her in the trailer.

Federation President Rillak will be a brand-new character in Season 4.

The image places this scene at Federation HQ, and the inclusion of Admiral Vance and President Rillak suggests that this could be a mission briefing or debriefing. Burnham could be telling them about the gravitational anomaly and the damage it’s caused, or they could be telling her about it and ordering her to track it down and learn more about it. Ni’Var has a strong history with science, so perhaps T’Rina is there to offer Ni’Var’s help or even just information.

Captain Burnham looks serious in this image, but I wouldn’t say she looks horribly upset or offended as she might if she were on the receiving end of a three-person attack. This may simply be either the buildup to a mission or Captain Burnham returning to tell the senior figures of her findings.

Episode 4×04: All Is Possible

The episode’s teaser image.

This is another ambiguous title that could lend itself to many different kinds of story. In the context of the gravitational anomaly, this could perhaps be a reference to different possibilities at its event horizon, or how the anomaly itself changes or damages spacetime.

However, my inclination on seeing this title and its teaser image is to say that this might be an episode that sidesteps the main storyline of the season and puts its focus elsewhere. Adira is present in the teaser image alongside Tilly, and one additional storyline that we know will be part of Season 4 is Adira and Gray’s quest to allow Gray to become corporeal again.

Gray and Adira at the end of Season 3. Could this episode be about them?

All Is Possible may mean that there will be a breakthrough in Gray’s visibility – perhaps the scientifically-minded Tilly will be helping Adira with that very problem, and this episode will see some significant advancement. I’m not sure if we’ll see Gray’s visibility definitively settled this early in the season – it feels like a story that could easily rumble along in the background all the way to the season finale. But this episode could be a major step on that journey.

I don’t recognise the location where Tilly and Adira are shown in the image. There seem to be several other Starfleet officers present – all wearing the red uniforms of the command division – so this could be at Federation HQ. It could also be aboard the USS Discovery, but I think the lighting doesn’t look quite right for that; these lights are brighter than the dim lights typically seen aboard the ship. However, one thing I’d like to see this season is some kind of visual changes or upgrades to the USS Discovery internally. Last season saw the ship undergo a major refit – yet that doesn’t seem apparent from its interior! So maybe this is one new area of Discovery that we haven’t seen before.

A closer look at Tilly in the teaser image.

Behind Tilly and Adira we can see some kind of small vessel, but not one I recognise. It’s hard to tell from this angle and with people blocking parts of it, but it almost looks like a circular craft – a kind of flying saucer-type design! It could also be a shuttlecraft or even an escape pod, and it may be entirely unrelated to the plot and just there for set decoration!

Tilly’s smile in the image appears to be genuine, but I’m not convinced about Adira’s! They may be less impressed with whoever they’re listening to – a person who appears to be just out-of-frame. My guess is that they’re having to listen to someone senior – who probably doesn’t know too much about science or engineering – talking to them about a technical topic! Interestingly, Adira and Tilly appear to both hold the rank of lieutenant. Tilly’s promotion was definitely well-earned – but I wonder if Adira somehow skipped being an ensign!

So that’s it.

The new season will be here very soon!

Those are the first four episode titles and teaser images, along with my thoughts and guesses about what might be taking place. As always, I caveat this by letting you know that I have no “insider information” and all of this is pure speculation from a fan of Star Trek – and nothing more! It’s possible – or rather, incredibly likely – that all of this is utterly wrong. But regardless, it was fun to speculate as the new season approaches.

We got a tiny glimpse of the first part of Season 4 today, but I didn’t see anything in the images or episode titles that I felt was a major spoiler. What we got was just a little bit more to sink our teeth into while we wait for the season premiere in just ten days from now! When the season kicks off I hope you’ll join me here on Trekking with Dennis for reviews of each episode, fan theories, analysis, and much more!

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

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 – The Story So Far

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and the trailers and teasers for Season 4.

As we welcome the month of November, Star Trek: Discovery’s fourth season is now only a couple of weeks away! With the season fast approaching I thought it would be a good idea to recap, as succinctly as possible, the story so far. Michael Burnham and the rest of the crew have been on a wild ride that’s seen them face off against militant Klingons, a Mirror Universe impostor, a rogue AI, Section 31, and a journey into a future that none of them expected to find.

If you haven’t re-watched Discovery since Season 3 ended just after New Year, I hope this recap of the story so far will be helpful going into Season 4. If for some reason you haven’t seen Discovery yet, well this recap might help you get acclimated with the show and some of the characters – but there’s still a couple of weeks to watch the show’s forty-two episodes… so you’d better get on with it!

Season 4 is imminent!

As I’ve said previously, the show’s first season didn’t get off to a great start story-wise. As things settled down, though, Discovery told a creditable story over the course of the season, one which hit a lot of the right notes in terms of “feeling like Star Trek.” But Season 2 was leaps and bounds ahead of where Season 1 had been, with noteworthy improvements in writing and characterisation to tell a truly exciting and engaging story.

Season 3 was a risk in some respects, but in others it was clearly designed to answer criticisms from some quarters about the show’s place in Star Trek’s broader canon. Shooting the ship and crew almost a thousand years into the future meant abandoning the 23rd Century – and everything else familiar about Star Trek’s galaxy. However, this decision opened up Discovery to brand-new storytelling ideas, and gave the writers and producers far more creative freedom. The show was pioneering new ground instead of trying to walk an occasionally awkward line between the franchise’s established history and bringing new ideas to the table.

Captain Burnham in a promo image for Season 4.

There were some great successes in Season 3. For the first time we got standalone episodes – or at least semi-standalone episodes in which the main story of the season took a back seat. We also got spotlight moments for more of the ship’s secondary characters, some of whom had barely had more than a line or two of dialogue despite being fixtures on the bridge. Though I have criticised the Burn storyline – which was the most significant aspect of the season’s story – for having a number of issues, overall Season 3 was a success.

Discovery has been “the Michael Burnham show” since its premiere episode – for better and for worse. The first three seasons can thus be viewed as Burnham’s ascent to the captain’s chair, and the rocky road she took to get there. Though there has been development of other characters – Saru, Tilly, and Mirror Georgiou stand out in particular – the show’s focus has often been on Burnham.

So let’s head back to the beginning and run through all three seasons as briefly as possible! I’ll try to hit all of the most important and relevant points as we go to get you ready for Season 4.

Season 1

Michael Burnham at the beginning of Season 1.

Season 1 began with Michael Burnham serving as first officer to Captain Georgiou of the USS Shenzhou. Saru was also a member of the crew, as was helm officer Detmer. After being called to a region of space near the Klingon border, the Shenzhou encountered a new Klingon leader who had a plan to unify all of the Klingon Great Houses by going to war with the Federation. In a moment we’ll charitably call “confusion” (as opposed to other, harsher terms we could use) Michael Burnham attempted to stage a mutiny against Captain Georgiou and fire the first shot at a large Klingon fleet.

After the arrival of Admiral Anderson and Starfleet reinforcements, a battle broke out between the Federation and Klingons – the opening engagement of a year-long war. Georgiou and Burnham led an away mission to attempt to capture the Klingon leader, T’Kuvma, but the mission ended with both Georgiou and T’Kuvma dead and war assured between the two sides.

Season 1 began with Georgiou killed and a Federation-Klingon war breaking out.

The Klingon war led to Starfleet accelerating work on the Spore Drive – a new method of traversing the galaxy that relies on a kind of fungus. The Spore Drive was installed aboard two ships – Discovery and the USS Glenn. Engineer Paul Stamets was in charge of the Spore Drive aboard Discovery under the command of Captain Gabriel Lorca, but the technology wasn’t effective at first.

The crew of the USS Glenn discovered that a tardigrade – a space-dwelling lifeform – could be used to navigate the mycelial network and might be the key to making the Spore Drive operational. However, the crew were killed when the tardigrade got loose, and the ship was destroyed to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. Initial experiments using the tardigrade were promising, despite the dangers it posed, but when it became clear how painful the process was for the creature, Stamets merged his DNA with the tardigrade’s so the creature could go free. Stamets thus became Discovery’s navigator and the Spore Drive became fully functional.

A space-dwelling lifeform proved key to making the Spore Drive work.

At the same time, Michael Burnham – now a prisoner following her mutiny – had been brought aboard the USS Discovery by Captain Lorca. She was assigned a cabin with Cadet Sylvia Tilly, and employed as a “mission specialist.” Lorca suggested to Burnham that this could be a way to atone for her role in the outbreak of the war, and she played a role in helping get the Spore Drive operational.

Captain Lorca was captured by the Klingons, but was able to escape thanks to the assistance of Ash Tyler – a fellow Starfleet prisoner. Tyler joined the crew of Discovery as Lorca’s new security officer – despite clearly suffering from post-traumatic stress as a result of his abuse and torture by the Klingons.

A war with the Klingons was the focus of large parts of Season 1.

The USS Discovery was sent to the planet Pahvo, where a crystalline transmitter was located. The transmitter could be used, Starfleet believed, to detect cloaked Klingon ships. When the mission went wrong and the native energy-based Pahvans summoned the Klingons to their planet, Captain Lorca disobeyed orders to implement a new plan. Outwardly his plan was to use multiple Spore Drive jumps to unlock the secrets behind the Klingons’ cloaking device – but in reality his plan was to use the Spore Drive to return to the Mirror Universe.

Captain Lorca was later revealed to be a native of the Mirror Universe, having crossed over inadvertently to the Prime Universe. While in the Mirror Universe the crew of the USS Discovery had to try to fit in as soldiers of the Terran Empire. Burnham and Lorca travelled to the capital ship of Empress Georgiou, where Lorca attempted to rally his forces and stage a coup.

Mirror Lorca returned home and attempted to stage a coup.

Lorca was killed during his coup attempt, but Empress Georgiou’s reign was over anyway; other plotters were already eyeing her throne. In a moment of unthinking impulse, Michael Burnham chose to save Georgiou’s life and transported her to Discovery. After investigating how Lorca was able to use the Spore Drive to jump between universes, the crew were able to reverse the process and return home – only to discover that the Klingons had reached the edge of victory in their absence.

A mad plan cooked up by Empress Georgiou and Admiral Cornwell saw a bomb transported to the Klingon homeworld, one which would have devastated the planet if it had been set off. Leading a second, pro-Starfleet values mutiny, Burnham rallied the crew of Discovery against the bomb plot and instead saw the super-weapon turned over to L’Rell – who went on to become the new Klingon Chancellor and ended the war.

Season 2

The crew of the USS Discovery at the end of Season 1.

After the war ended, Burnham and the crew received medals for their roles. Burnham was also reinstated at the rank of commander. Following a computer failure aboard the USS Enterprise, Captain Pike was assigned to the USS Discovery and given temporary command of the ship for his mission to chase down an ambiguous entity known as the Red Angel. The Red Angel had been generating anomalies known as Red Bursts at locations across the galaxy.

The Enterprise’s science officer – and Michael Burnham’s adoptive brother – Spock, had gone missing at the same time. The Red Angel was revealed to be a time traveller – someone with the ability to travel into the past and far into the future. A mysterious figure from Spock’s youth – and who had once intervened to save his life – was revealed as the Red Angel and thus connected to Spock’s disappearance.

Where is Spock?

Meanwhile on the Klingon homeworld, Ash Tyler – whose true identity as a Klingon had been discovered – was able to leave the planet with his “son” thanks to the help of Section 31. The son of Voq and Klingon Chancellor L’Rell was taken away to the Klingon monastery on Boreth to be raised with the monks, and Tyler rejoined Section 31 – which counted ex-Empress Georgiou among its new recruits. Captain Leland tried to maintain the peace aboard a state-of-the-art Section 31 vessel.

Section 31 had come to rely heavily on an artificial intelligence named Control during the Klingon war, and it had become routine for Starfleet admirals to run all of their mission data through Control. Unbeknownst to any of them, Control had aspirations of its own, seeking to become fully sentient and to wipe out its creators. Somehow it discovered the existence of an entity known as the Sphere – a planetoid-sized lifeform that had spent more than 100,000 years studying the galaxy and accumulating vast swathes of data on all of its inhabitants.

The USS Discovery (left) and the Sphere.

By merging its programming with the Sphere data, Control would be able to become fully sentient, and it set out to acquire the Sphere data. Thanks to the time-traveling involvement of the Red Angel, the USS Discovery came to possess the Sphere data, and thus became a target for Control.

After Michael Burnham was able to rescue Spock from Section 31, she took him to Talos IV where the Talosians were able to help “unscramble” his brain, leading to Spock explaining as much as he could about the Red Angel, its origins, and its connection to him. The Red Angel was revealed to be a human.

The Talosians were able to help Spock.

The USS Discovery became a fugitive after rescuing Burnham and Spock from Talos IV; hunted by Control, and thus by Section 31 and all of Starfleet. Control was able to kill off many Section 31 leaders and operatives, and used nanites to “assimilate” or possess the body of Captain Leland – but thankfully left Ash Tyler and Georgiou alone!

The crew of Discovery studied scans of the Red Angel following a mission to Saru’s home planet (in which they rescued his people from subservience to the Ba’ul, a second sentient race present on the planet). Saru underwent a transformation to his “evolved” form, losing much of his fearfulness in the process. Scans of the Red Angel revealed that the time traveller was, to everyone’s surprise, Michael Burnham.

Michael Burnham was believed to be the Red Angel.

After a side-story involving native beings in the mycelial network and Tilly, Dr Culber – who had been killed by Tyler/Voq – was able to be rescued from the mycelial network and brought back to life. Meanwhile a plan to lure the Red Angel and trap her ended up proving that Burnham wasn’t the Red Angel – her long-lost mother was.

Dr Gabrielle Burnham had been using the Red Angel suit to interfere in the timeline after getting trapped in the 32nd Century. She arrived there by accident only to find all sentient life in the galaxy gone thanks to Control, which had acquired the Sphere Data and evolved itself. She began taking action to thwart Control, including giving the Sphere data to Discovery to keep safe. She was later pulled back to the 32nd Century; her presence there ultimately determined the ship’s destination at the end of the season.

Dr Gabrielle Burnham explained why she – as the Red Angel – was interfering with the timeline.

Control was hot on Discovery’s heels, and using Captain Leland attempted to gain access to the Sphere data. Pike and the crew realised the data couldn’t be destroyed – it was protecting itself – so they made a plan to send the data into the far future, securing a time crystal from the Klingon monastery on Boreth in order to build a new Red Angel suit. During the mission to Boreth, Captain Pike made a great sacrifice to acquire the crystal – cementing a future for himself of devastating disability.

While preparing for a last stand against Control and a fleet of Section 31 ships under its command, the crew of Discovery raced to build a second Red Angel suit. After Control arrived and a battle raged, Michael Burnham used the completed suit to travel back in time and set the Red Bursts – making the whole story somewhat circular – before leading the USS Discovery (now under Saru’s command) into the future. Captain Pike and Spock remained behind in the 23rd Century.

Season 3

On the bridge of the Enterprise, Captain Pike, Spock, and the crew watched the USS Discovery disappear.

Arriving 930 years later, Michael Burnham was initially alone and crash-landed on the planet Hima. There she met Cleveland Booker who told her about the Burn: a galaxy-wide catastrophe in which many starships were destroyed. The Federation had also disappeared – at least from the local region of space – and though Book initially appeared antagonistic and out for himself, he eventually agreed to help Burnham and took her to a Federation outpost.

There was no sign of Discovery, however, and it was a full year later before the ship emerged from the time-wormhole. After a rough landing on a planet named the Colony, Acting Captain Saru and the crew came into conflict with Zareh, a courier working for a faction called the Emerald Chain. Thanks to the timely arrival of Book and Burnham, Discovery was rescued and proceeded to Earth using the Spore Drive.

After a year in the future with Book, Michael Burnham was able to find Discovery again.

In the 125 years since the Burn, however, many changes had taken place. Earth was just one of many planets to have quit the Federation, retreating to an armed isolationist stance that even saw the planet unwilling to communicate with human colonies inside the Sol system. Searching for a Starfleet Admiral named Senna Tal seemed fruitless at first, but Tal’s Trill symbiont had been transferred to a human named Adira.

After helping the people of Earth reconnect with their fellow humans on Titan, Discovery visited the Trill homeworld to help Adira – and to learn the location of Federation HQ, which was no longer on Earth. Burnham and the crew were able to help the Trill, who had been suffering from a shortage of suitable candidates for their symbionts, and also helped Adira in the process. Discovery was then able to travel to Federation HQ – a cloaked space station that housed the remnants of both the Federation government and Starfleet.

The USS Discovery docked at Federation HQ.

Having peaked at around 350 members, by the time of Discovery’s arrival the Federation was down to a mere 38 remaining worlds, some of which were out of contact due to the Burn’s lingering effects and damage to subspace communications. The ship undertook a short mission to recover some seeds from the USS Tikhov – a Starfleet seed vault – in order to provide medical care. Nhan, a Barzan officer, remained behind on the Tikhov.

The USS Discovery then underwent a retrofit, one which kept the familiar interior look of the ship but which upgraded many of its systems to 32nd Century standards, including detached nacelles and programmable matter. The crew were permitted to remain together under Captain Saru’s command, but Discovery was seconded to Federation HQ as a “rapid response vessel” thanks to its Spore Drive.

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

Michael Burnham and Georgiou undertook an off-the-books mission to rescue Book, who had been captured by the Emerald Chain. The upshot of Book’s rescue was the discovery of a Starfleet black box, and the data inside proved that the Burn did not happen everywhere simultaneously, as had been theorised. Instead it had a point of origin – but without more information it wasn’t possible to pinpoint it.

SB-19 was a project run by Ni’Var – the renamed planet Vulcan following reunification between Vulcans and Romulans – in the years before the Burn. Ni’Var had come to believe that SB-19 was responsible for the Burn and were unwilling to share any details about the project, even though Burnham asked them to share it to help pinpoint the Burn’s source. Eventually, however, the reappearance of Dr Gabrielle Burnham, who was now a member of the Qowat Milat, an order of armed Romulan nuns, showed Burnham the way to get the information and recommit herself to Starfleet following a year away from the ship.

A holographic depiction of SB-19.

After acquiring the SB-19 data, Discovery undertook a mission to Book’s home planet of Kwejian. Threatened by the Emerald Chain and its leader, Osyraa, Book’s brother attempted to turn him over to the faction in exchange for protecting the harvest and thus Kwejian’s food supply. Piloting Book’s ship, Lieutenant Detmer was able to damage the Emerald Chain flagship while the crew of Discovery found a way to protect Kwejian’s food supply without the need to rely on the Emerald Chain.

Mirror Georgiou had fallen ill, and a mysterious Federation figure named Kovich knew why – travelling through time and travelling across from a parallel universe leads to a painful and fatal condition which he believed to be incurable. The USS Discovery undertook a mission to a planet near the Gamma Quadrant to help Georgiou, and she was able to travel to a parallel universe very similar to the Mirror Universe.

Burnham and Georgiou travelled to this planet to seek help for her illness.

While in the Mirror Universe, Georgiou attempted to make changes. Having spent time with Burnham and the Federation she had become more compassionate and less quick to violence than before, and though she ultimately failed to bring about major reforms to the Terran Empire, she was deemed “worthy” of a second chance by the entity which sent her there – an entity which subsequently revealed itself to be the Guardian of Forever.

Georgiou was able to use the Guardian’s portal to leave the 32nd Century and thus save her life – but she had to say goodbye to Saru, Burnham, and the rest of the crew. Her destination isn’t clear – but if the Section 31 series gets off the ground in future we may just find out! Don’t hold your breath for that, though… it’s feeling less and less likely as time goes by!

The Guardian of Forever sent Georgiou to an unknown destination in order to save her life.

With the data from the black boxes and SB-19, Burnham and the crew were able to triangulate the source of the Burn: the Verubin Nebula. Inside the nebula was a crashed Kelpien starship, the KSF Khi’eth, and a life-form was detected on board despite the dangerous radiation from the nebula. Discovery made another jump to the nebula, and Captain Saru left Ensign Tilly in charge while he went to save the lost Kelpien.

The Emerald Chain took advantage of this situation to capture the USS Discovery, wanting to keep the Spore Drive technology for themselves. Leader Osyraa then set course for Federation HQ, keeping Discovery’s crew hostage while she tried to force the Federation into an alliance. Admiral Vance called her bluff, and Osyraa attempted to escape. In the meantime, though, Michael Burnham had jettisoned poor Stamets off the ship, and without him to control the Spore Drive Discovery was forced to rely on warp.

Stamets was ejected into space – but don’t worry, he’s okay!

Following a battle with the Emerald Chain both in space and aboard Discovery, Book was able to kill Osyraa’s lieutenant Zareh and Burnham was able to kill Osyraa herself, while Tilly and other members of the bridge crew regained control of the ship. Book’s empathic abilities allowed him to use the Spore Drive, transporting Discovery back to the Verubin Nebula just in time to save Saru, Culber, Adira, Gray, and Su’Kal – the Kelpien who was accidentally responsible for the Burn all those years ago.

Su’Kal had developed a telepathic link with dilithium thanks to the Verubin Nebula’s radiation and because the Khi’eth had crashed on a planet composed largely of the valuable fuel. When Su’Kal’s mother died while he was still a child, a telepathic shockwave that Su’Kal accidentally unleashed led to the Burn. By taking him away from the Verubin Nebula, any prospect of a repeat of the Burn was nullified.

Saru was able to rescue Su’Kal and prevent a reoccurrence of the Burn.

A short epilogue to the season showed us that Trill had rejoined the Federation and that the Federation was hoping to use the dilithium in the Verubin Nebula to bring hope back to the galaxy. Ni’Var was considering rejoining too, and Saru took a leave of absence to go to Kaminar with Su’Kal. In his absence, Burnham had been promoted and assumed command of Discovery.

And that’s the story so far!

We now know that Captain Burnham and the crew will have to contend with a gravitational anomaly in Season 4; an uncharted, never-before-seen phenomenon that appears to be threatening the Federation and all of known space. How that will play out isn’t clear at all right now, but we don’t have to wait too much longer to find out!

The USS Discovery in the Season 4 trailer.

I hope that this recap of the story so far has been useful. I didn’t include everything – this article would have been far too long if I’d tried to include every character moment and side-story. But I think I hit the most important story beats from all three seasons. I’d encourage you to check out other story recaps from other places to make sure you’re getting a full picture, though! Or you could just go back and re-watch Discovery… two episodes per day will get you pretty close, and then binge-watch the final few!

Going back to the stories of earlier seasons was a bit of fun, and it’s helped get me back into a Star Trek mood in time for Season 4, which will be upon us before you know it! I’m currently not writing up reviews of Prodigy episodes, as you may have noticed – the series is unavailable here in the UK and I see no point in covering a show that ViacomCBS doesn’t see fit to make available to Trekkies internationally. However, I will cover Discovery’s fourth season in-depth, including weekly episode reviews and theory posts, as well as other occasional articles on topics of interest while the season is ongoing. So I hope you’ll stay tuned for all of that here on the website in the weeks ahead.

Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix internationally. Season 4 will begin on the 18th of November in the United States and the 19th of November internationally. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 – Death Predictions…

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and the trailers and teasers for Season 4.

A bit of a morbid one this time… but it is nearly Halloween!

In the last decade or so, a number of television shows have pioneered what I call the “disposable cast” – where even main characters and fan-favourites can’t be assured of safety or survival as a series continues. Shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead have made this a big part of their identities, and the idea that any major character could be in danger can – when done right – add to the tension and drama. Not knowing if your favourite character will make it to the end of the episode or escape a dangerous situation can really increase the weight of a story.

Discovery has technically seen more main cast members depart than any previous Star Trek series! Captains Lorca and Pike, Spock, Georgiou, Tyler, and Nhan were all main cast members at one point before departing the series. But with the exception of Lorca, none of these characters were killed off, and in a television landscape that increasingly favours big, dramatic character deaths, the Star Trek franchise as a whole still hasn’t really caught up.

Sonequa Martin-Green starred in The Walking Dead for a time.

In Season 3 we saw the recurring character of Ryn killed off. He’d been a friend and ally to Booker and Burnham and his death was both a shock – due to the way it was carried out – and a tragedy for the crew. As with Airiam in Season 2, though, Ryn wasn’t a character we’d got to know particularly well before his death, and when Season 3 could have stepped up and actually killed off a main character or a character who’d been present on the show since the beginning, the writers and producers chose not to do so.

Star Trek has always had an optimistic tone, embodied in some ways by Captain Kirk’s assertion that he “doesn’t believe in no-win scenarios.” The desire to save everyone every time is drilled into every Starfleet officer – particularly captains. In that sense I can certainly entertain the argument that a character death feels like a loss or a defeat in a way that is somehow “un-Star Trek.”

Admiral Kirk in The Wrath of Khan. He famously refused to accept the concept of a no-win scenario.

At the same time, I fundamentally disagree with Captain Kirk. Life is full of no-win scenarios, and one of the skills any captain or commander needs to have is knowing how to make a difficult choice; how to choose the least-bad option when no good outcomes are possible. Sometimes that means sacrificing a life to save others, and this is something that the Star Trek franchise has touched on in the past.

Though I don’t want to see any specific character killed off in Discovery’s imminent fourth season, a well-timed character death could go a long way to raising the stakes and making the story much more impactful. The gravitational anomaly would seem all the more deadly if it claimed the life of a familiar face, or the climax of the story could see Captain Burnham having to make an impossible choice.

I don’t necessarily want to see anyone killed off – but it would certainly make for an impactful and dramatic story beat.

So this time we’re going to take a look at Discovery’s main and recurring characters – and try to assess who may or may not survive the season!

The usual caveats apply: I have no “insider information” and I’m not claiming to know what will happen. All of this is guesswork and speculation from a fan of Star Trek, nothing more. It’s also entirely subjective, so if you disagree or hate my ideas that’s okay!

Now that’s out of the way, let’s get started. I’m going to put the characters into a list, then give my assessment of how likely they are to be killed off during Season 4.

Character #1: Captain Michael Burnham
Status: Almost Certainly Safe 💖

Captain Burnham in a promo image for Season 4.

Discovery has been the Michael Burnham show since its premiere episode, and that is unlikely to change! The first three seasons saw Burnham’s rise to the captaincy of the USS Discovery, and having only just got there it would be a really unexpected and subversive twist to kill her off. As the show’s main protagonist she feels safer than most – and even series that pioneered the “disposable cast” like those mentioned above have tended to save their most significant characters from harm.

The only possible argument we could consider to counter that is the uniqueness of the USS Discovery’s captain’s chair. Three seasons of the show have each been led by a different captain – Lorca, Pike, and Saru. One of Discovery’s most interesting features has been these individual season-long captaincies and the very different styles each captain had. It’s possible – though I wouldn’t call it “likely” by any stretch – that the show might choose to bring in another new captain for Season 5, continuing this trend. If that’s the case, perhaps Captain Burnham isn’t quite as safe as it seems! However, I consider that a very unlikely scenario.

Character #2: Saru
Status: In Danger ☠️

Saru in the second Season 4 trailer.

What role does ex-Captain Saru have aboard a ship that has moved on without him? That’s a fundamental question that the series will have to address, because it’s quite odd for a Starfleet vessel to be racing across the galaxy with two captains on board. The situation could, perhaps, even lead to some awkwardness for Captain Burnham!

Some fans felt that Saru might’ve left Discovery after the Season 3 epilogue told us that he was returning to Kaminar to spend time helping Su’Kal. Fortunately that didn’t happen – not least because the short epilogue would have been a very disrespectful way for Saru to be shuffled off the show altogether! But the fact that Discovery has found a new captain means Saru doesn’t really have a role any more, at least not as things currently stand. Characters who feel surplus to requirements are often the most in danger – and Saru doesn’t really have a clear role right now.

Character #3: Paul Stamets
Status: In Danger ☠️

Stamets in the first Season 4 trailer.

Until recently, Stamets felt safer than almost any other character on Discovery! His unique ability to navigate the mycelial network meant that without him, one of Discovery’s unique selling points – the Spore Drive – wouldn’t work. For story reasons that could be a problem and certainly a limitation, so Stamets felt safe. But the revelation at the end of Season 3 that Booker – and any other empathic character, in theory – can interact with the Spore Drive in the same way as Stamets means his unique usefulness is at an end.

So the question is this: was Stamets’ unique ability stripped away from him for a reason? Could Season 3 have been setting up a situation in the near future where the crew will have to survive without him? Or was it just a natural progression in the story of the Emerald Chain’s takeover of Discovery? Actually I guess that was three questions! But the point stands: Stamets is not the only one who can use the Spore Drive any more, and thus no longer feels anywhere near as safe as he did last season.

Character #4: Dr Hugh Culber
Status: Safe 💖

Dr Culber in Season 3.

Dr Culber has already been killed off once – and he didn’t stay dead! There was also a minor backlash in some quarters to the killing off of one of Star Trek’s first major gay characters. Sometimes LGBT+ characters can feel more “expendable” in films and on television than their non-LGBT+ counterparts; a trope that we could definitely do without!

LGBT+ issues aside, I feel that Dr Culber’s “back from the dead” storyline in Season 2 means he’s a safe bet to survive Season 4. It would be a stupidly complicated storyline to kill him off for the second time, and I think for production-side reasons the writers and producers are less willing to kill off Dr Culber than almost anyone else.

Character #5: Sylvia Tilly
Status: Probably Safe 💖

Tilly in the second Season 4 trailer.

I’m calling Tilly safe because it just doesn’t seem as though the writers and producers want to get rid of her yet. Tilly has been the one character other than Michael Burnham to have seen significant growth across all three seasons of the show, overcoming her anxieties to step up and even take command of the ship. The way she led a team of officers in the final couple of episodes of Season 3 came to embody that transformation – and her arc, while imperfectly executed, was nevertheless powerful to see.

As Tilly is still young and only a junior officer, there’s plenty of room to continue that growth. I don’t think she’s going to be Captain Burnham’s first officer in Season 4, but it could well be that her arc across Season 4 and perhaps into Season 5 is readying her to take on that role again. Regardless, I don’t expect to see her killed off in Season 4.

Character #6: Cleveland Booker
Status: Safe 💖

Book in the second Season 4 trailer.

Unless Discovery plans to introduce a new main character, Book is the show’s main guide to the 32nd Century. Not only does he serve in that role for Captain Burnham and the crew of the ship, but he’s also a great character to show us as the audience the perspective of a 32nd Century native. He has a major role in that regard, and unless he can be replaced with a like-for-like character I can’t see the show dispensing with him.

Booker also has a relationship with Captain Burnham to consider, and while we can expect some bumps in the road with that perhaps, I think killing him off at this stage would be too much for Burnham after everything else she’s been through. I’d like to see Book help to anchor Burnham and keep her grounded as she handles the burden of command – serving as a confidante and her closest ally. Book’s story is also incomplete, and we’ve been promised a closer look at his background in the future. For all of those reasons and more, I think he’s pretty safe!

Character #7: Admiral Charles Vance
Status: In Danger ☠️

Admiral Vance in Season 3.

I felt Vance was in danger toward the end of Season 3 as well, and that he could’ve fallen victim to the Emerald Chain when they attacked Federation HQ. That didn’t happen – fortunately – but Admiral Vance definitely feels in danger as we approach Season 4. As one of the most significant secondary characters in Season 3, Vance’s death would carry more weight than a lot of other secondary characters’ would, which is one reason I felt he might’ve been in danger last time around.

Two things struck me from the Season 4 trailers: the almost total absence of Vance and the arrival of Federation President Rillak. Rillak, as I’ve noted in the past, seems to occupy a similar role to Vance’s in Season 3, serving as a “big boss” for Captain Burnham and the crew to ultimately be answerable to. That was the job Vance had as head of Starfleet in Season 3, but if Burnham is now reporting directly to President Rillak… what is there for Vance to do? Combine that with his absence from the two trailers and I wonder what might’ve become of the head of Starfleet.

Character #8: President Rillak
Status: In Danger ☠️

President Rillak in the second Season 4 trailer.

President Rillak’s status is difficult to gauge because she’s brand-new! We’ve only seen her in action very briefly in the trailers for Season 4, so what role she might ultimately play is unclear at best. However, there are a few reasons to think that she could be in danger.

Firstly, any new character should automatically be assumed to be in danger! It’s easier to kill off a brand-new character than an established fan-favourite, and doing so could be a relatively easy way to communicate the stakes in any story. Secondly is Rillak’s role: President of the Federation. The death of someone in such a powerful position is always going to have a significant effect, even if we as the audience didn’t know her particularly well. Thirdly, the main scene we’ve seen so far featuring President Rillak showed her facing off against Captain Burnham in at least a semi-antagonistic way. Killing off a character who’s either a villain or a hurdle to our heroes is a trope as old as time!

Characters #9 and #10: Adira Tal and Gray Tal
Status: Safe 💖

Gray and Adira in Season 3.

One storyline in Season 4 is going to focus on Gray’s quest to be “seen” – to become corporeal again somehow. Discovery certainly won’t kill off Adira and Gray without bringing this story to its conclusion, as it’s an incredibly powerful analogy for the status of trans and non-binary people – as well as being an exciting and interesting story in its own right.

Gray is tied to Adira, and thus it isn’t possible to kill them off without also killing off Gray. I think that makes both of them safe, though there is a lingering question as to what exactly Gray is. Star Trek doesn’t do ghosts, so Gray has to be explained scientifically somehow! Regardless, both characters feel assuredly safe.

Character #11: Dr Tracy Pollard
Status: In Danger ☠️

Dr Pollard at the beginning of Season 3.

After three seasons we don’t really know Dr Pollard very well. She’s often been seen in sickbay, and has patched up many of our heroes when they were injured, but aside from being a competent doctor we don’t really know very much about her. She appeared a few times in Season 3, but was never front-and-centre even in sequences in sickbay.

Dr Pollard is one of those secondary characters who has been in the background for the show’s entire run. Killing her off would be an easy option for Discovery in many ways; an attempt to get the impact of the death of a familar face without having to kill off anyone major. Be on the lookout for an Airiam-style spotlight on Dr Pollard – if she suddenly becomes the focus of a major storyline, she could be on her way to the chopping block!

Character #12: Kovich
Status: Safe… for now! 💖

Kovich in Season 3.

Until we know who Kovich is and what his role is in the hierarchy of the Federation, I can’t imagine Discovery would kill him off. There’s too much mystery surrounding this character, and to leave that unresolved would be fundamentally frustrating at a narrative level. My personal theory is that Kovich is the head of Section 31, or perhaps Starfleet Intelligence, but none of that has been confirmed on screen yet.

Famed director David Cronenberg plays the character, and I think for both Star Trek and Cronenberg it’s been a great partnership. Kovich thus feels safer than most, but it’s still possible that after we learn more about him and what his role has been that he could be killed off in future; he may not be permanently safe!

Character #13: Jett Reno
Status: In Danger ☠️

Reno in the second Season 4 trailer.

Tig Notaro, who plays Jett Reno, has said that the character won’t appear as frequently in Season 4 as originally intended. This is due to the impact of the pandemic on the show’s production. That doesn’t mean that Reno is necessarily in any danger, but it is worth noting.

Reno is famously sarcastic and deadpan, so her line in the second Season 4 trailer that she’s “lived a good life” could simply be her usual wit. However, it could also be some dark foreshadowing – and perhaps Season 4 could see Reno meet her end.

Character #14: Dr Gabrielle Burnham
Status: In Danger ☠️

Dr Burnham in Season 3.

It seems as though Dr Burnham and the Qowat Milat will have a significant role to play in Season 4 – at least based on what we saw in the second trailer. One thing came to mind when I saw other members of the Qowat Milat fighting and training, though: could they be seeking revenge for the death of one of their own? If so, perhaps Dr Burnham is the one who’s died.

This could be connected to the gravitational anomaly or it could be its own independent storyline. Regardless, Dr Burnham’s death would have a huge impact on Michael Burnham, and could be a major source of emotion and drama for her as the season rolls on. Coping with bereavement and learning to move forward while grieving are themes Star Trek has touched on in the past.

Character #15: T’Rina
Status: Probably Safe 💖

T’Rina in the second Season 4 trailer.

The President of Ni’Var, who we met in Season 3, would be an odd choice to kill off. It’s arguable that, if she does indeed lead Ni’Var back to Federation membership as the trailers have hinted, her story is complete and thus she may not have much more to do. But when considering character deaths, one factor is how their loss will impact others in the story.

Saru is the only main character with whom T’Rina has any significant relationship, and thus her death wouldn’t be as impactful for Captain Burnham and the rest of the crew even when compared to the new character of President Rillak. T’Rina being killed would still have the effect of communicating the stakes involved and the dangers of the anomaly, but it would matter far less from an emotional point of view. Thus I think there are probably better candidates when it comes to characters being killed off.

Character #16: Lieutenant Willa
Status: In Danger ☠️

Lieutenant Willa in Season 3.

Lieutenant Willa was Admiral Vance’s aide-de-camp in Season 3, and also briefly spent time aboard Discovery. She helped the crew acclimatise to the 32nd Century, and brought them up to speed on some of the new technologies that had been installed on the ship after arriving at Federation HQ. Though a good deal of Willa’s story and interactions with the crew happened off-screen, it’s fair to say she’s well-known to most of them and on friendly terms.

Willa’s death would thus have a significant impact on practically everyone aboard Discovery – especially if she had transferred aboard the ship or spent more time with Captain Burnham and the crew earlier in Season 4. Her death would also affect Admiral Vance – or she could even be a secondary casualty if Vance himself were killed. As a familiar face and someone known to the crew, Willa could be killed off to communicate the stakes involved in the story.

Character #17: Grudge
Status: She better be safe! Or else… 🐱

Grudge in the second Season 4 trailer.

Discovery can kill off a lot of characters… but the show better leave Grudge alone! Jokes aside, one of the best moments in the Season 3 finale was the way Book stood up to the villainous Zareh when he threatened to hurt Grudge. As a cat owner I love Grudge and I’m very protective of her… so if Discovery tried to get away with killing her off I might actually cry.

On a serious note, I think Grudge is probably safe. She gives Book’s character an extra dimension; a dependent for him to care for and look after. Plus she serves as a kind of mascot for the series. I can’t see Grudge being killed off in Season 4 – no matter how bad things get for Captain Burnham and Book!

Characters #18-23: The Secondary Bridge Crew
Status: In Danger ☠️

Tilly with several secondary characters in Season 3.

I’m lumping six characters together for this final entry because I found myself saying basically the same thing about all of them! Included in this group are the following: Detmer, Owosekun, Rhys, Bryce, Nilsson, and Linus. Most of them had an outing with Tilly at the end of Season 3 in which they were all in serious danger – most notably Owosekun. They all survived that encounter, but I’m not convinced they’ll all make it to the end of Season 4.

Detmer and Owosekun are the two characters we know best thanks to their development in Season 2 and particularly in Season 3. But any of these six could get the Airiam treatment and have a moment in the spotlight followed by a quick death. If Discovery wanted to show us the stakes and communicate the dangers involved without killing off a major character, any of these secondary characters could find themselves on the chopping block.

So that’s it. Those are my pre-season feelings about the safety of each of Discovery’s main characters!

Captain Burnham at the end of Season 3.

Season 4 is only three weeks away now, so we won’t have to wait too long to find out which of our favourite characters will survive the gravitational anomaly – and all of the other dangers out there in the 32nd Century! As I said at the beginning, I’m not advocating for any specific character to be killed off. I like everyone, even the secondary characters, and I wouldn’t necessarily want any of them to die.

At the same time, Season 3 felt like it had a little too perfect of an outcome for some characters, especially in the finale. Sometimes, when facing an impossibly dangerous situation, loss of life is inevitable. Making it so that characters continually survive the impossible quickly gets boring, and there was definitely a sense in the Season 3 finale that “plot armour” was protecting more than one character.

Owosekun is one of several characters who seemed to have plot armour in the Season 3 finale.

A well-timed and well-executed character death can be shocking, impactful, and emotional. When establishing the danger involved in a situation, seeing a character we know meet their end can raise the stakes dramatically for the remainder of the story, and the sense that anyone – even important named characters – could be in danger is part of what has made television storytelling since 2010 so entertaining and dramatic. Discovery doesn’t need to go down this road – but doing so could lead to some outstanding storylines and deeply emotional moments.

I’m looking forward to Season 4 now! Hopefully the show can build on the successes of Season 3 and continue the process of establishing the 32nd Century as a setting in its own right – while also telling a new and different story about the gravitational anomaly. It will also be great to see Captain Burnham in command of the ship in her own right for the first time. Let’s fly!

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 will premiere on the 18th of November 2021 on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and around the world. Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 – a wishlist

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 and the trailers and teasers for Season 4. Spoilers are also present for the following Star Trek productions: The Voyage Home, The Final Frontier, The Undiscovered Country, The Next Generation, First Contact, Voyager, Enterprise, and Picard.

Discovery’s fourth season is now less than a month away, so it’s time to look ahead. This time, though, I’m not going to be indulging in theory-crafting or even speculation… what we’re going to go through today are some of my wishes for the season. I did something similar last year in the run-up to Season 3, and if you want to see how my wishlist turned out you can find a follow-up piece I wrote after the season had aired by clicking or tapping here.

Season 3 did a reasonably good job at establishing the USS Discovery’s place in the 32nd Century, and though I have criticisms of several aspects of the Burn storyline, it was brought to a fairly conclusive end by the season finale. That should mean that the stage is set for a new story this time around, and on this occasion I’d like to lay out some of my personal preferences for Season 4 and how I’d like to see things unfold.

The USS Discovery in the Season 4 trailer.

The obvious caveat applies: I have no “insider information” and I’m not trying to claim that anything on the list below will be included in Season 4. This is merely a wishlist from a fan of Star Trek… nothing more. Everything I’m about to say is also entirely subjective! If I don’t include a point you want to see, or something I talk about sounds like something you’d hate, that’s okay. The Star Trek fandom is expansive enough for fans with all kinds of different points of view; we don’t need to fight, especially not about hypotheticals!

With all of that out of the way, let’s get into my Discovery Season 4 wishlist.

Number 1: A proper role for ex-Captain Saru that makes sense.

Saru in the Season 4 trailer.

One of the things I didn’t like about the short Season 3 epilogue at the end of That Hope Is You, Part 2 was that Saru was unceremoniously shuffled off Discovery. In order to make way for Burnham’s ascent to the captain’s chair, Captain Saru had to leave his position on the ship, and a way was found to make this plausible by giving him a deeply emotional connection to Su’Kal.

As a story point, I actually don’t fault any of that. Saru had been feeling alone and isolated with no other Kelpiens around in the 32nd Century, and his desire to help Su’Kal led to them forming a close bond. I can quite believe that he’d want to take a leave of absence to visit Kaminar and to spend more time with Su’Kal, helping him integrate into society as best he can after so long on his own.

Su’Kal and Saru in Season 3.

But unfortunately the rushed epilogue didn’t do justice to this story point, and quite frankly treated Saru with disrespect. Not since Dr Pulaski was dropped at the beginning of Season 3 of The Next Generation has a main character been handled so poorly, and I would have wanted – and expected – to see much more of a send-off for Saru. Not only had he been Discovery’s captain for all of Season 3, but he was a character we’d spent a lot of time with across Seasons 1 and 2 as well.

Season 4 will bring back Saru; he isn’t leaving the series as some folks had predicted, and I’m glad for that! But his role in Season 4 is unclear at best, and the biggest question I have is this: why does the USS Discovery need two captains on board?

Captain Saru was in command of the ship for a time.

In The Final Frontier and The Undiscovered Country, Kirk and Spock would serve on the same ship despite both holding the rank of captain, so it isn’t entirely without precedent in Starfleet for this situation to arise. In that case, though, Kirk had been demoted from the rank of Admiral, and in The Undiscovered Country in particular both officers held different positions: Kirk was in command of the Enterprise, Spock was in command of the overall mission to negotiate with the Klingons.

In short, I think the premiere of Season 4 (or whichever episode brings Saru back to the ship) needs to at least pay lip service to this point. Perhaps Saru could be given a title like “captain of the science department” in the same way as Scotty was “captain of engineering.” I wouldn’t want to see him demoted to the rank of commander – like poor Decker was in The Motion Picture! Presumably Captain Burnham has some degree of leeway when it comes to building her crew, so perhaps she’ll ask Saru to serve in a temporary role. Regardless, I hope Discovery doesn’t just ignore this point.

Number 2: Go into more detail about the ban on time travel.

The Enterprise-E approaching a temporal vortex.

The ban on time travel that was introduced in Season 3 was evidently intended to be a way for Discovery to avoid questions about how the Burn was able to happen, why Georgiou couldn’t simply return to her own time, and why the time-traveling Federation of the 29th and 30th Centuries that we’ve glimpsed in past Star Trek productions had ceased to exist. But the ban has created some storytelling issues in and of itself, and I would like Season 4 to at least try to address some of these.

Firstly, who enforces the ban? Admiral Vance seemed to imply that everyone in the galaxy – from the Emerald Chain to the Federation – simply goes along with it, but that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Yes, the Temporal War was certainly a bad thing. But as the war and its effects fade into memory, are we seriously supposed to believe that someone like Osyraa wouldn’t jump at the chance to use time travel to give herself and her faction an advantage? That’s to say nothing of factions like the Borg – are they signed up to the ban on time travel too?

Osyraa, head of the Emerald Chain in Season 3. She seems like someone who would use any weapon or technology at her disposal – regardless of any ban!

Even if the answer is “all pieces of time travel technology were destroyed,” that doesn’t really hold water either. It’s impossible to un-invent a powerful, weaponisable technology – as I said on several occasions during Season 3’s run! Even if everything were destroyed – something which seems like it would be impossible for every faction to prove – what’s to stop someone recreating it? The Emerald Chain had scientists like Aurellio at their disposal, and once the basic principles were understood it seems like rebuilding the technology would be a task within reach of anyone with the means and inclination.

Time travel was considered something so mundane in the 29th and 30th Centuries that its basic principles were taught in school across the Federation. Even if we discount early depictions of time travel (like the slingshot method seen in The Original Series), the fact that time travel is possible has been known to the Federation since the 22nd or 23rd Centuries at least, and even if we’re generous and say that time travel technology wasn’t “officially” invented until much later, the technology still existed for centuries prior to being banned.

The HMS Bounty was easily able to travel back in time by slingshotting around a star.

In today’s world, nuclear weapons are a comparable technology. If there were a worldwide ban on nuclear weapons, would we trust the likes of China or Russia to abide by it? Could we guarantee that every nuclear weapon was destroyed by our own governments, or might some covert hawkish faction seek to keep control of at least some of them as a contingency? In short, a ban on nuclear weapons is a noble ambition – but even in the aftermath of a nuclear war I can’t see it being workable. Even if such a ban were put in place, the weapons programmes of countries like North Korea prove that, with enough determination, anyone can recreate complex technology from scratch.

Perhaps there’s some kind of time travel arbiter that monitors the whole galaxy, and intervenes to prevent time travel from occurring. That would be one explanation. But it’s also possible that whatever this gravitational anomaly is is connected to time travel or the Temporal War – meaning Captain Burnham and the crew could be about to dive headfirst into a time travel story!

Number 3: Standalone episodes and smaller storylines to offset the main season-long arc.

The Season 3 two-parter Terra Firma was largely a standalone story.

Discovery used this formula to great effect in Season 3, which came after Seasons 1 and 2 had both leaned very heavily into serialised storytelling. I very much hope that Season 4 will continue in the same vein, because having smaller stories, character arcs, and fully standalone episodes added so much depth to the series.

We already know of one potential side-story: Adira and Gray, and in particular Gray’s quest to become corporeal again. That story has a lot of potential, and it’s actually one of the things I’m most looking forward to about Season 4. Hopefully there can be more side-stories like this, looking at other characters and taking some of our heroes to different and unexpected places.

Gray and Adira in Season 3.

Strange New Worlds has promised a return to a more episodic style of storytelling. I don’t expect that Discovery will go all-in on episodic television in the same way, not least because we already know that they have the mystery of the gravitational anomaly to solve. But I hope that, along the way, we get some detours and unconnected stories that take Captain Burnham and the ship to different places – literally and thematically.

This would be a great way for the series to show off characters who didn’t get as much to do last season, or who we haven’t spent much time with at all. Season 3 brought us an interesting story involving helm officer Keyla Detmer, and while that story wasn’t perfect it was great to spend time with a secondary character in far more detail than Discovery had ever done before. Which brings us to my next point…

Number 4: Make use of the show’s full cast – including secondary and recurring characters.

Some of the bridge crew at the end of Season 3.

As mentioned, Season 3 began this process. We got to spend more time away from Michael Burnham than Discovery had dared do in Seasons 1 or 2, and some of the episodes which placed Saru, Booker, and even Georgiou at their centre worked exceptionally well. I’d love Discovery to continue down this road, perhaps spending time with characters like Stamets – he didn’t get as much to do in Season 3 as some of the others.

With Georgiou departing for an unknown destination last year, there’s potentially space for another main cast member. We could see someone like Bryce, Rhys, or Nilsson promoted – or a character like Willa, Admiral Vance’s aide-de-camp from Season 3, join the crew. In some ways I’d like to see a new character, perhaps a 32nd Century Starfleet officer. Booker provides the crew with the viewpoint of a 32nd Century native, but he also has a different role as an outsider who isn’t a member of Starfleet. Bringing a new officer who’s native to this era aboard the ship could be an excellent move, one which could provide a lot of storytelling potential.

Detmer got her own storyline last season.

At the same time, giving more characters moments in the spotlight and their own arcs is something worth doing. We learned more about people like Owosekun, Detmer, and even Tilly in Season 3 than we ever had before, and continuing this trend by ensuring more characters get some degree of exploration is absolutely something I’d want to see.

In a season that will run for 13 episodes there’s obviously a limit; a ceiling on the number of characters and storylines that the series can fit. With that understood it obviously won’t be possible for everyone to get a fully-rounded character arc, their own storyline, and a spotlight episode putting them front-and-centre! But choosing some characters to give that amount of attention to is still important, and even those characters who don’t get a full story or their own episode this time can still have more to do than sit at their station and say “yes ma’am!”

Number 5: Bring back Nhan!

Could Nhan make a comeback?

Saru wasn’t the only character who left the USS Discovery and whose story feels incomplete. Nhan actress Rachael Ancheril was promoted to Discovery’s main cast at the beginning of Season 3 only to be shuffled off the show after only a few episodes. Nhan – the first Barzan main character in Star Trek’s history – was left behind to be the guardian of the USS Tikhov following a disaster that claimed the lives of the ship’s crew.

The Tikhov’s mission was an interesting one – it serves as a seed vault for the Federation, storing samples of plants from across the Federation and beyond. From the point of view of Nhan potentially reuniting with Burnham and the crew, though, the Tikhov was rotated between Federation member worlds, with representatives from each taking responsibility for the ship for a set period of time. Nhan seemed to suggest that she saw her mission as keeping the ship safe until the end of the Barzans’ tenure, after which it’s safe to assume the ship would be delivered to a new commander.

Nham hugs Burnham immediately before remaining behind on the USS Tikhov.

It wasn’t stated on screen how long each planet’s turn to look after the ship lasts, but that’s actually a good thing! It could be that each member world has to care for the ship for a year or two, or that it was almost the end of Barzan II’s tenure as guardians of the Tikhov – either of which could mean Nhan is almost done and could return to duty.

It was a shame that Nhan was dropped, and I don’t know if there were production-side reasons for the decision. It feels rather arbitrary, and while Nhan wouldn’t necessarily have had a huge role to play in the latter part of Season 3 she was a fun character and someone the show could and should bring back. The USS Discovery doesn’t have a permanent security or tactical officer – at least not among the main characters. Nhan could fill that role going forward, and it seems as if the ship could use a dedicated security officer based on all the scrapes that they get into!

Nhan watches the USS Discovery depart.

Nhan was also a character who provided a contrast to Michael Burnham. Where Burnham could go on emotional rollercoaster rides, Nhan was mostly stoic. And where Burnham had a loose interpretation of the rules and regulations, Nhan appeared steadfast in her dedication to Starfleet’s way of doing things.

As a character from an under-explored race, Nhan could do for the Barzans what Saru has done for the Kelpiens – showing us their history and culture in more detail. The Barzans only appeared a couple of times in Star Trek prior to Discovery, but there’s a chance for a connection with The Next Generation or to explain how they came to join the Federation – and perhaps why they chose to remain a Federation member even after the withdrawal of Earth and Ni’Var. Which brings us to the next point…

Number 6: Give us a broader look at the state of the galaxy in the 32nd Century.

A non-canon map of the galaxy.
Image Credit: Star Trek Star Charts (2002) via Memory Beta

Season 3 focused primarily on two factions: the rump Federation and the Emerald Chain. Earth, Ni’Var, and Kwejian also appeared, though the first two are ex-Federation members. We know that the Burn decimated “the galaxy” and saw many Federation members quit the organisation, but that was 125 years ago – a lot can have happened since.

Though we briefly saw Cardassians, Lurians, and a few other familiar races, we know nothing about many others. What became of the Klingon Empire? The Dominion? The Borg? Was the Burn truly galactic in scope, reaching all four quadrants in equally destructive fashion – or could some parts of the galaxy have escaped some or all of the Burn’s impact?

Are the Borg still around in the 32nd Century?

Admiral Vance told us that 38 member worlds remained in the Federation – with Earth and Ni’Var being two of the most prominent members to leave. But if the Federation had over 350 member worlds at its peak, more than 80% have quit the organisation – or been conquered, destroyed, or had some other fate befall them. Barzan II appears to remain a Federation member, as does Kaminar. It’s possible based on the Season 4 trailer that Ni’Var will rejoin the organisation – but what of the others? Who’s left in the Federation? Who quit? Who joined after the 24th Century that we might recall from past iterations of Star Trek?

Prior to the Burn, did the development of warp or transwarp speeds allow the Federation to travel further and settle other parts of the galaxy, perhaps? Could races like the Ocampa and Talaxians have joined the Federation in the Delta Quadrant, for example?

In short, the 32nd Century is a vast sandbox for the producers and writers to play in! So far we’ve only seen a tiny little corner of that sandbox – so I hope Season 4 can broaden the view and show us a bigger picture of the state of the galaxy and its factions.

Number 7: More Admiral Vance!

Admiral Vance in Season 3.

In Season 3, Admiral Vance embodied the very best of Starfleet’s values. Even though he was dealt a very bad hand in the aftermath of the Burn, he remained loyal not only to the Federation and Starfleet, but to the ideals the organisations have always stood for. Even when negotiating with Osyraa – a powerful adversary – Vance refused to compromise on his convictions.

The arrival of Rillak – a new character who will serve as the Federation’s president – could mean that Admiral Vance is sidelined. If Burnham is reporting directly to the President it seems like she’ll be going over Vance’s head, or at least around him. I guess I’m just concerned that Discovery doesn’t really have space for two “big boss” characters, and that Vance may lose out to Rillak in terms of stories and screen time.

President Rillak could occupy a very similar narrative role to Vance.

It’s possible that Rillak is being set up in a deliberately antagonistic way, and that the decision was taken to keep Vance as a more sympathetic character. I didn’t really like Rillak’s interaction with Captain Burnham in the recent Season 4 trailer, but at the same time what she had to say wasn’t too far removed from what Vance had to say at a couple of points in Season 3. He could take a tougher line with Burnham and Saru when he needed to without coming across as one of Star Trek’s typical “evil admirals!”

Actor Oded Fehr brings Vance to life and gives him a real gravitas, and there’s scope to learn more about who Vance is and what makes him tick. Vance told us he has a wife and child; perhaps we could meet them and see how he is when he’s off-duty in a more casual setting.

When Osyraa and the Emerald Chain were plotting their attack on Federation HQ in Season 3 I was genuinely worried for Admiral Vance! The Emerald Chain attack didn’t kill him off – fortunately – so he lives to fight another day! I know we’ll see him in some capacity in Season 4, but I hope he gets more to do than just chair a few meetings.

Number 8: Kill off a main character.

Who could it be?

Speaking of characters who felt at risk, Season 3 only saw the character of Ryn killed off. Ryn was a fun character for sure, and his death was very sad, but at several key moments where Discovery could have been a little bolder at swinging the proverbial axe, main characters appeared to be safe thanks to their plot armour.

The character I felt most embodied this side of Season 3 was Owosekun. In the season finale it seemed as though she was about to make the ultimate sacrifice – setting off a bomb in a low-oxygen environment – but the Sphere Data-powered DOT robots saved her life at the last minute. There were other characters in that group, including Tilly, Detmer, Bryce, and Rhys, who likewise could’ve been killed off in the season finale.

All of these characters survived last season’s finale.

I’m not arguing for any one specific character to be immediately killed off, and as I like all of the main characters for their own unique reasons any death would be a tragedy! But some stories work better or feel more impactful when the heroes lose a friend, and the Season 3 finale would have undeniably had a lot more emotional weight if someone hadn’t made it to the end.

So Season 4, here’s your challenge: kill off a main character! Let’s not repeat what happened to Nhan and Georgiou, being shuffled off the ship to some other destination. And let’s not set up a story where everyone is in danger only to have them all miraculously saved at the end. Instead let’s actually kill off a major character at the right point in the story. Doing so would raise the stakes dramatically and hammer home that whatever threat Captain Burnham and the crew are facing is genuinely deadly.

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

The Doctor from Voyager.

This isn’t the first time I’ve suggested this idea! But as Lower Decks has shown on several occasions, bringing back a character from Star Trek’s past can be a lot of fun – and emotional for longstanding Trekkies. Last season I suggested Voyager’s Doctor – or rather, a backup copy of him from the Season 4 episode Living Witness – as a potential character crossover, as the chances of him being alive in the 32nd Century seemed higher than most!

Given Star Trek’s technobabble, however, an excuse could be found to bring back practically anyone. Characters from Enterprise, Deep Space Nine, or even Picard could all appear in some form – through stasis or cryogenic suspension, in synthetic bodies, as holograms, trapped in transporter beams, frozen solid under the surface of an ice planet… and so on! With a little creativity, Discovery Season 4 could find a way to bring back pretty much anybody, and doing so would be absolutely wonderful.

Scotty appeared in Season 6 of The Next Generation thanks to sci-fi magic!

Aside from Voyager’s Doctor, I could suggest Enterprise’s Temporal Agent Daniels, Picard’s Soji or Deep Space Nine’s Dax symbiont as contenders for characters who could potentially have survived to the 32nd Century through “natural” means. Soji, as a character in a series running alongside Discovery, would be a fascinating choice – but at the same time I could understand if the producers don’t want to go down that route for fear of affecting or restricting future Picard stories.

If I were to fantasise I might suggest a character like Riker or Chekov. Even if they were only seen as holograms or in a recorded message I think including a “classic” character like that would mean so much to fans. We saw something comparable to this in Season 3’s Unification III, where a hologram of Spock was briefly shown. But to bring back actors like Jonathan Frakes or Walter Koenig to record even just a short message that Captain Burnham could discover would be amazing.

Number 10: Make some kind of reference to anything from Lower Decks!

Lower Decks Season 2 has just finished its run.

Lower Decks has now got two seasons under its belt, and although there were some teething problems at first caused by the lack of an international broadcast during Season 1, the show has definitely hit its stride. It would be absolutely amazing for Discovery Season 4 to so much as name-drop an event, character, or location from Lower Decks, even if it was just a throwaway line that had no bearing on the plot.

This isn’t just about fan service, either. At present, Star Trek’s shows are all split up, occupying different places and completely different time-frames. There will be a connection between Discovery and Strange New Worlds when the latter premieres next year, but there’s no chance for a significant crossover. Name-drops and references are the next best thing, and a way for the Star Trek franchise to remain connected.

Ensigns Tendi, Rutherford, Mariner, and Boimler.

Having wholly standalone shows doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. It’s certainly true that Lower Decks and Discovery are very different in terms of style, tone, and subject matter – but as two parts of a larger franchise it doesn’t hurt to find ways to connect them. For fans it’s a nice “Easter egg,” but for casual viewers these kinds of connections can be the deciding factor in choosing to check out another show!

As Star Trek fans, we need as many people engaged with as much of Star Trek as possible – it’s the only way the franchise will survive into the future. Having different shows that appeal to different audiences is a great idea in many ways; it casts a broad net and should, in theory, bring in many more viewers and subscribers. But the next step is converting fans of one series to fans of the franchise as a whole – and if there are connections between the shows, even small ones, that’ll encourage at least some viewers to try other Star Trek shows. So if Discovery Season 4 could acknowledge Lower Decks in some way, I think that would be fantastic.

Number 11: Continue the theme of rebuilding – but at a reasonable pace.

Ni’Var seems to have rejoined the Federation.

Season 3 introduced us to the galaxy a century after the Burn. This event devastated the Federation and known space, and clearly saw a major power shift with factions like the Emerald Chain gaining strength. The Burn as a storyline may be resolved, but the galaxy can’t simply be “reset” to how it used to be. An event so devastating will take a long time to recover from. Ni’Var rejoining the Federation is a great first step, but I hope Season 4 doesn’t try to rush these things.

With the gravitational anomaly seeming to be the main focus of Season 4’s story, rebuilding the Federation may take a back seat. However, I’d like to see at least some progress in this area, as it could be one of the major sources of hope and optimism in the story of the post-Burn galaxy. With the dilithium cache from the Verubin Nebula under their control, the Federation is finally in a position to rebuild what has been lost over the past century or more – and from a narrative point of view, bringing wayward planets and races together is a story worth telling.

Independent Earth in Season 3.

At the same time, the story needs to acknowledge the severity of the Burn and strike the right balance when it comes to optimistically putting the pieces back together. Trying to rush this – or worse, trying to pretend that it all happened off-screen – would lead to a truly unsatisfying and unrealistic narrative.

Season 4 can’t simply pretend that the Burn is over and done with and completely move on to new stories. Even though the Burn was clearly intended as the main story of a single season, its massive implications and effects can’t be confined to Season 3 of Discovery. Any other Star Trek stories set in the 32nd Century – and beyond – will need to acknowledge the lingering effects of the Burn, and something as significant as rebuilding the Federation and bringing hope back to worlds that had lost it can’t simply be done off-screen so Captain Burnham and the crew can race away to their next big adventure.

So that’s it. A few of my hopes and wishes for the imminent fourth season of Star Trek: Discovery.

Grudge in the Season 4 trailer!

I don’t think I’d have chosen to go for another “galaxy-ending” apocalyptic threat if I’d been in charge of planning the story of Discovery Season 4. After the Klingon war in Season 1, Control and the Red Angel in Season 2, and the Burn, the collapsed Federation, and the Emerald Chain in Season 3 I would have liked to have seen Captain Burnham and the crew catch a break! Not every season has to be about the imminent destruction of the universe; stories which are smaller in scale can be just as dramatic and just as impactful when done right.

Regardless, this is the direction Discovery seems intent on going, and I’m interested to see what the gravitational anomaly is all about. I’m hopeful that Season 4 can deliver some fun, exciting, dramatic, and interesting Star Trek stories with Captain Burnham in command, and I’m very much looking forward to the new season. Even if none of my wishes are meant to be, Season 4 will undoubtedly still have plenty to offer.

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