Star Trek Guide

Discovery Season 3 Has Solved Its Biggest Star Trek Problem

Star Trek: Discovery's third season has solved the show's biggest problem by jettisoning the show's prequel trappings. The show's second season ended with a bold new direction; to defeat the rampaging artificial intelligence called Control from destroying all organic life in the universe, Discovery jumped 930 years into the future.

Once they arrive in the 32nd century, the crew of the Discovery find a hugely transformed galactic landscape. A mysterious, cataclysmic event called the Burn wiped out the vast majority of dilithium in the known universe, making interstellar space travel much more challenging. The Burn also left Starfleet crippled and the Federation in tatters, which resulted in the rise of rogue couriers and a general sense of lawlessness in the galaxy. As they adjust to their new reality, the crew of the Discovery also hope to bring some of their 23rd century hope and optimism to a radically different reality.

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Discovery has never been better than in its third season, and while some of that is due to the excitement of pushing the franchise in new directions, it also has a lot to do with letting go of the old guard - something the show struggled with mightily in its first two years.

Discovery Never Worked As A Star Trek Prequel

Discovery's infamously complicated birth is now a matter of Star Trek lore; series co-creator Bryan Fuller left the series before the first season ever began shooting, citing creative differences with CBS All Access. That inaugural year was bumpy, to say the least. Curiously, the show was a prequel to Star Trek: The Original Series, set about a decade before the adventures of Captain Kirk's Enterprise. Setting the show in such a narrow sliver of Star Trek's sprawling canon always felt like a mistake, and the first season largely bore that out; it was a dark, violent season of television that largely seemed to miss the point of what makes Star Trek work at its best. It featured a head-scratching reinvention of the Klingons, an ill-defined cast of characters, and a bleak war setting that never felt right for the final frontier.

It also seemed impossible that Discovery could lead to the events of TOS in a decade. Anachronisms were plentiful, with technology that seemed far more advanced than what was seen in TOS. The show would try to explain these anachronisms in several different ways, with varying levels of success.

Star Trek: Discovery's second season, while a marked improvement, was essentially a year long promo for the upcoming Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. The attention somewhat shifted away from Michael Burnham and friends, instead concentrating on Captain Christopher Pike, played with a confident charm by Anson Mount. That second season also introduced Burnham's adoptive brother Spock, arguably the most iconic character in all of Star Trek. It was easy for the show's core cast to get overshadowed by such legendary figures. The buzz around Strange New Worlds, as well as the success and popularity of Star Trek: Picard, made Discovery feel like a bit of an also-ran; the slightly embarrassing first try at restarting the franchise that never quite found its own identity. All that has changed with its third season.

Discovery's Time Jump Is A Fresh Start

Discovery's jump to the future feels something like a soft reboot. Gone are Pike and Spock, who remained in the 23rd century to continue their adventures on the Enterprise. The focus has shifted back to Discovery's crew, who have softened and become more like a family over the show's run. Saru, the ship's new captain, has enjoyed particularly great character development as the strong, steady hand keeping the rest of the crew grounded and focused on their new mission.

The show has also enjoyed a change in tone. Gone are the stoicism and mistrust of the Klingon war era, replaced with an optimistic, humanist viewpoint that evokes the salad days of Star Trek: The Next Generation more than anything else.

Instead of being trapped in a spiral of prequel detritus, the 32nd century is a bold new setting for Star Trek, the kind of great unknown the series is built on. Finding out what happened to Earth and other Federation strongholds like Trill in the intervening centuries is a genuine thrill, perhaps the first time Discovery could be described that way. Quite simply, the show has found the sense of wonder and courage it never really had before.

How Discovery Season 4 (& Beyond) Can Avoid Repeating Its Problems

Discovery's producers have strongly suggested the time jump is a permanent situation - there's no going back to the 23rd century. That's good, because the easiest way to make the show problematic again would be to marinate it in more stories about Kirk and Spock era Star Trek luminaries.

Perhaps the show's biggest potential pitfall is one that it has always struggled with, namely Michael Burnham, who remains the most complex main character of any Star Trek series. Burnham arrived in the future a full year before her Discovery crew mates, and she has been deeply affected by her time in a darker, more complicated future. Burnham was promoted to the Discovery's first officer, but she has admitted to Saru she's not entirely sure she still belongs in Starfleet, a position reinforced by her brusk, dismissive attitude toward the 32nd century's iteration of Starfleet Command.

There's nothing wrong with exploring a character's doubts, and there's plenty of precedent for slightly unusual Starfleet officers ignoring orders and taking matters in their own hands for the greater good. But Burnham's flirtation with a life without Starfleet feels slightly at odds with the show's new familial tone. It's a way to make Burnham an outsider again, which has never been an effective use of the character. Burnham works best when she's the most noble, smartest person in the room, speaking truth to power when it's most needed.

Star Trek: Discovery is not without its issues even in season three. Pacing can sometimes be a problem, and aspects of this new future feel more like something out of Star Wars. But the building blocks are in place, and for the first time in its young run, Discovery feels like it's going in the right direction.

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