Star Trek Guide

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 Is Optimistic (Despite A Bleak Future)

Warning: SPOILERS for Star Trek: Discovery Season 3, Episode 1 - "That Hope Is You, Part 1"

In its premiere episode alone, it's already evident and encouraging that Star Trek: Discovery season 3 is about optimism and hope, which is more needed than ever in the bleak future of the 32nd century. Star Trek: Discovery season 3 mounted the biggest paradigm shift in Star Trek history by jumping the time frame 930 years forward so that Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and the USS Discovery are now farther in the future than the franchise has ever explored.

Star Trek: Discovery season 3 allows for a wide-open canvas where the flagship CBS All-Access Star Trek series gets to write the canon of the future as it goes. Meanwhile, the year 3188 isn't what Burnham expected when she landed alone on the planet Hima; she did "save all the things" by stopping a rogue A.I. called Control from killing all living beings in 2257 — but the USS Discovery didn't emerge from the time-travel wormhole and is missing. Luckily, Michael made a new friend in Cleveland "Book" Booker (David Ajala), a courier who knows the dangerous new era Burnham is introduced to. The 32nd century is certainly grim: a catastrophe called the Burn wiped out the dilithium in every starship in the 31st century, which led to the collapse of the United Federation of Planets. Nothing is what Michael expected to find and she has no Starfleet or the Federation to look to for support.

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Although it has won over fans new and old, Star Trek: Discovery also alienated many old-time Trekkers in the last decade as it embraced action, violence, and darker themes compared to the exploration, moral quandaries, and cheerful optimism that were hallmarks of Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Next Generation. While there's no going back to the style of Star Trek from yesteryear, Star Trek: Discovery (and the other CBS Star Trek series) also recognizes that hope and optimism (and also humor) are crucial elements that Star Trek needs to embody, especially for our present-day world. To its credit, the optimism of Starfleet and the hope that the Federation symbolizes are at the heart of Star Trek: Discovery season 3, and restoring it all in the 32nd century is Michael Burnham's new mission.

Star Trek Has Become Known More For Violence Than Optimism

Before J.J. Abrams rebooted the Star Trek movies in 2009, the franchise's glory years of the 1990s limped to a close. 2002's Star Trek: Nemesis ended Star Trek: The Next Generation's movie saga on a grim and sour note, with Commander Data (Brent Spiner) violently perishing. Star Trek: Enterprise's poor ratings led to its cancelation and the prequel series closed out with a widely derided finale. Abrams wasn't a Star Trek fan, and when he took the movie gig, he massively upgraded Star Trek's visual style to be more akin to Star Wars and modern blockbuster filmmaking (which the stodgy look of the franchise did sorely need in the 21st century).

But Abrams also upped the violence levels: planets like Vulcan and Romulus were destroyed, lots of people died in horrible ways, and serving in Starfleet suddenly became a lot more dangerous. Star Trek: Discovery followed suit; season 1's Klingon War was steeped in darkness, violence, and death. Star Trek: Discovery season 2 was a fight against a rogue A.I. called Control that wanted to annihilate all organic life in the galaxy and wipe out trillions. Star Trek: Picard's 2399 timeframe placed Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) in a tumultuous future set after Romulus was destroyed, Mars was set ablaze, and a different synthetic villain from beyond the galaxy also wanted to kill every lifeform.

To its credit, Star Trek: Lower Decks infused the 1990s' TNG-style of optimism back into the franchise, but there was still extreme violence in the animated comedy series with starships being destroyed and whole crews perishing. Violence is now inextricably fused with Star Trek and balances, somewhat uncomfortably, against the franchise's core values of scientific exploration and solving moral and ethical dilemmas.

Star Trek: Discovery Was Always Hopeful (But It Was Hard To See It)

Many Trekkers were put off by the darkness of Star Trek: Discovery, especially in its first season where Commander Michael Burnham committed mutiny and got her Captain, Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), killed. However, for Trekkers who rode out Star Trek: Discovery season 1 to see where it went, the ultimate theme of the Klingon War was a quest for identity. The revamped Klingons (which Trekkers generally loathed) wanted a war to reclaim their identity. But Star Trek: Discovery season 1 was really about Starfleet reasserting its own identity and finding hope again after being lost in the moral and ethical morass of the war. In the end, both Michael Burnham and Starfleet reclaimed their core values and identity so that "We are Starfleet!" became a noble rallying cry. Star Trek: Discovery, in turn, reassessed what Starfleet meant for this new era of the franchise.

Star Trek: Discovery season 2 was a marked improvement because of the addition of Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), Number One (Rebecca Romijn), and Spock (Ethan Peck). These classic Star Trek icons harkened back to the classic virtues of the franchise, and Pike rewrote the meaning of Starfleet by declaring, "Starfleet is a promise. I give my life for you; you give your life for me. And no one gets left behind." Pike's stirring mantra essentially signaled the ultimate sacrifice of Michael Burnham and the USS Discovery's crew, where they jumped into the 32nd century in order to stop Control from achieving full sentience to wipe out the galaxy. Burnham and the Discovery were, in turn, expunged from Starfleet records, preserving the canon — the ultimate gesture to giving hope to the 23rd and 24th centuries of the franchise.

Hope — the search for it and its importance and purpose of having it in the gathering darkness even as Burnham tried to rectify her gravest mistakes — is really what the first two seasons ofStar Trek: Discovery are about. Taken together, Star Trek: Discovery seasons 1 and 2 were about Michael and her crew regaining the hopeful values of Starfleet so that they could bring it into the distant future and keep the light of the Federation alive.

Discovery Season 3 Is Finally About Bringing Star Trek's Optimism To The 32nd Century

Star Trek: Discovery's season 3 premiere instantly struck a promising balance that bodes well for the season to come: Even though the Discovery episode saw Burnham land in the bleak future circa 3188, where the Federation has collapsed and the galaxy is fractured and isolated from each other, there was palpable heart, humor, and optimism in the episode. The 32nd century is also a more fitting era to meld in cyberpunk elements like what was seen in the Mercantile on Hima than in the 23rd century where each attempt at innovation by Star Trek: Discovery disrupted the canon established by Star Trek: The Original Series.

But by the end of "That Hope Is You, Part 1," when Michael Burnham met Federation liaison Aditya Sahil (Adil Hussain), it was clear that Burnham's mission is to restore the hope and optimism of Starfleet's glorious past to the 32nd century. Sahil is a true believer in the unity and hope the Federation stands for, and there are (hopefully) others like him scattered throughout the cosmos that Michael and the Discovery have to find (after she finds her missing starship, of course).

As such, Star Trek: Discovery season 3 is the culmination of all of the hard-won lessons learned and sacrifices Burnham and the crew of the Discovery made in the first two seasons. Michael and her friends may be relics from a millennia ago, but they are also the living embodiments of all of Starfleet's highest ideals: these are officers who just went through hell in order to reaffirm and preserve everything the Federation stands for in the era they had to leave behind. In the 32nd century, Michael and her crewmates are true believers through and through.Star Trek: Discoveryseason 3 brilliantly positions Burnham and the USS Discovery as Starfleet's torchbearers in the dark future — and the best part is Star Trek fans will get to watch them reignite the light of the Federation step-by-step.

Star Trek: Discoverystreams Thursdays on CBS All-Access and Fridays internationally on Netflix.

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