Star Trek Guide

Discovery Season 3's The Burn Solves A New Star Trek Era Problem

Warning: SPOILERS for Star Trek: Discovery season 3, episode 1, "That Hope Is You, Part 1".

Star Trek: Discovery season 3's premiere began to explain the Burn and it's already evident that the galactic catastrophe which led to the collapse of the United Federation of Planets is a more interesting central problem than Star Trek has depicted in over a decade. The flagship Star Trek series on CBS All-Access is breaking new ground by taking Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and the U.S.S. Discovery to the 32nd century, which is the farthest in the future the franchise has ever explored. While the year 3188 is not at all the blissful tomorrow Michael hoped to find, the Burn also created an intriguing scenario rife with possibilities.

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Commander Burnham landed in 3188 alone and the U.S.S. Discovery didn't appear at all in Star Trek: Discovery season 3's premiere, "That Hope Is You, Part 1". Instead, Michael became the uneasy ally of Cleveland "Book" Booker, a lone wolf who works as a courier and is being hunted by the gangster alliance made up of Orions and Andorians - one of the numerous ways the galaxy changed from what Michael remembered 930 years ago. But Michael also learned piecemeal details about the Burn, the intergalactic cataclysm that led to the fall of the Federation and Starfleet. However, not all hope is lost as Michael's hopes were lifted when she visited a derelict Federation listening post and met its loyal liaison (Adil Hussein): the Federation still exists in remnants but they are separated across the galaxy with limited starships and warp capability.

The 32nd century Federation and Starfleet are merely a shell of what they once were in Star Trek's well-traversed 23rd and 24th-century eras but there is still hope that they can be found and united. Overall, the predicament Michael Burnham finds herself in is actually a very compelling, imaginative problem that Star Trek hasn't tackled in this measure before, and it's already far better than the tropes the franchise has been repeating since J.J. Abrams rebooted the Star Trek movies in 2009.

The Burn Explained (So Far)

While there are still lots of unanswered questions about the Burn and what caused it, Star Trek: Discovery's season 3 premiere dropped some pertinent details: Sometime between 3060-3088, roughly 100-120 years before Michael landed in 3188, all dilithium spontaneously and simultaneously exploded - and no one knows how or why. Dilithium is the essential power source of every starship's warp core so the sudden detonation of thousands of starships' warp drives ended many more thousands of lives. This was the moment the galaxy "took a hard turn left," as Book described.

With every one of its starships instantly destroyed, Starfleet was essentially gone and the Federation's ability to govern the Alpha Quadrant was crippled. Without starships, the member worlds and its various races were cut off from each other and the Federation essentially collapsed. It's not clear yet if the same happened to the other powers of the Alpha Quadrant like the Klingons, Cardassians, and Romulans, but if, indeed, all dilithium destabilized and detonated, then those civilizations may have also been shattered. Federation listening posts were also destroyed and so long-range communications across the galaxy came to a dead stop. As no other galactic power could reach out to the Federation or each other, they all must have suffered the same fate.

By 3188, it seems that dilithium does still exist but in much smaller quantities, and its distribution is controlled by organizations like the Orion and Andorian alliance. So, there are still starships capable of warp drive but the Federation itself was never able to return to its former glory because Starfleet could not rebuild. However, fragments of the once-mighty Federation still exist and remain scattered across the Alpha Quadrant, cut off from each other, and eking out an existence, each one left to its own devices for survival - but still believing in the faded ideals of the Federation.

Star Trek Finally Isn't About Destroying Planets And Killing All Life

While the Burn is certainly a catastrophe on a galactic scale, it has the virtue of being a cool new idea that's very different from what Star Trek has been doing since J.J. Abrams rebooted the Star Trek movies in 2009. Abrams' films borrowed heavily from Star Wars and upped the ante of Star Trek's visual effects but the director's vision also markedly increased the level of violence and wanton destruction. In fact, Abrams' Star Trek depicted entire planets being destroyed, starting with Romulus and Vulcan.

Planets have been threatened in Star Trek before - such as when the Borg would assimilate entire civilizations or enormous, extra-galactic constructs like V'Ger in Star Trek: The Motion Picture or the Whale Probe in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home could have destroyed Earth - but the calamities either happened off-screen or were prevented from taking place by the crew of the Starship Enterprise. But Abrams' movies changed the rules and showed whole planets being wiped out, which was a permanent and irreversible predicament.

Star Trek: Discovery season 2 followed suit and, if Michael Burnham and the crew of the Discovery didn't stop the rogue A.I. called Control, it would have destroyed multiple worlds and every life they contained.Star Trek: Picard continued the violence by showing the synthetics' attack on Mars that killed 92,000 people and left the red planet in flames for over 14 years. Further, Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and Soji (Isa Briones) prevented an ancient race of synthetic beings from returning to the galaxy and wiping out all organic life, which also included whole planets being eradicated according to the terrifying vision seen by the Romulan Zhat Vash and shared with Dr. Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill).

To Star Trek: Discovery season 3's credit, the Burn is a compelling and novel scenario that finally eschews the graphic planet-killing initiated by Abrams' movies which the Star Trek franchise had repeatedly replicated. Certainly, the Burn ended millions of lives and reshuffled the galactic order, but in a different and fascinating way that wasn't just killing everyone in the galaxy as its stakes. The state of the Alpha Quadrant a century after the Burn also nicely gives Michael Burnham a new mission: to find the remnants of Starfleet and unite them, using herself as a literal visionary from Starfleet's noble past to restore the interstellar agency to its former glory and highest ideals.

Why Discovery Is So Important In The 32nd Century

In Star Trek: Discovery seasons 1 and 2, the U.S.S. Discovery was a problematic outlier since it possessed technology - the spore displacement hub drive - that broke Star Trek's established 23rd-century canon, with the solution being sending the starship to the 32nd century and having its existence wiped from Starfleet records to preserve history as Star Trek fans know it. But in the wake of the Burn, the Discovery inadvertently emerges in the distant future as the most important starship in the galaxy because it not only has the spore drive but it also possesses dilithium and a functioning warp drive.

In the year 3188, the U.S.S. Discovery is a literal 900-year-old relic but it's also extremely valuable. The spore drive allows the starship to leap across the galaxy in an instant, something no other vessel in the 32nd century can do. And because it also has a supply of dilithium, this potentially makes the Discovery a target for the untold number of enemies it will encounter in the 32nd century. The Discovery will be at a disadvantage against virtually every other hostile alien race, which is an exciting prospect since it will force the crew to push their ingenuity to their limits in order to survive.

As such, Star Trek: Discovery season 3 crafted a fascinating scenario for Michael Burnham and her crew that actually hasn't been done before to this degree by the overall Star Trek franchise. Not only does leaping almost a century into the future finally allow Star Trek: Discovery to live up to its name, but the titular starship and her crew will potentially find themselves in more danger against more powerful enemies than they have ever met before.

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