Star Trek Guide

Discovery Season 3 Has Learned From Star Trek's TNG Success

Star Trek: Discovery has finally found its footing in season 3, mirroring the success Star Trek: The Next Generation enjoyed in its third year. CBS All Access' inaugural entry into the Star Trek canon, Discovery was initially hamstrung by a chaotic pre-production process that saw series co-creator Bryan Fuller exit the series before production began. The result was an extremely uneven first season, which featured obnoxiously unlikeable characters, a bleak war setting, a universally reviled redesign of the Klingons, and borderline ridiculous additions to canon that felt like misguided appeals to hardcore fans. Outside of its strong cast, there wasn't a lot to love in Discovery season 1.

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But Discovery's first season woes were nothing new for the franchise. Star Trek: The Next Generation — perhaps the most beloved series in the franchise — suffered through a horrific first season that saw a physically deteriorating Gene Roddenberry struggle to recapture the magic that made Star Trek: The Original Series such a phenomenon. Much like Discovery, that first season did little to make its cast of characters likable, and relied on complicated sci-fi plotting to paper over its lack of character development.

Both Discovery and TNG got a little better in their second seasons, but were both held back from greatness for differing reasons. Discovery's second season was essentially a promo for the upcoming Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, pivoting the focus to Captain Christopher Pike and Lieutenant Spock, who will lead the cast of the new series. TNG's second season suffered through a writers strike, reusing old ideas for stories and generally failing to solidify its own identity, while the character work got incrementally better.

Yet both series figured themselves out quickly in their third seasons. While their earlier troubles were endured for different reasons, their third season successes have a lot in common. Roddenberry's health had deteriorated to the point he could no longer actively produce TNG by its third year, replaced by Michael Piller, who would oversee the golden age of Star Trek in the 1990s. Discovery's behind the scenes tumult seems to have finally ended with season 3 as well, as Michelle Paradise has joined Alex Kurtzman as co-showrunner. Paradise joined Discovery's writing staff in the back half of season 2, and her influence on the series has been considerable and effective.

But beyond a more stabile production staff, both TNG and Discovery realized in year three that the characters are what makes Star Trek work. TNG's third year more fully explored Data (Brent Spiner) seeking to become human, Worf's unique family drama, and even Will Riker's midlife crisis in the face of the Borg. The cast was suddenly much more clearly defined, becoming the iconic characters audiences know and love. Similarly, Discovery's third season has concentrated on the shared trauma of the ship's crew jumping to the far future, as well as Michael Burnham's transformation over her year away from her chosen family.

Star Trek: Discovery has already been renewed for a fourth season, with Kurtzman suggesting there's no end in sight. Happily, it's now a show Star Trek fans are going to be happy to spend time with for years to come thanks to its third year transformation.

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