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Star Trek Theory: Discovery's Original Villain Caused The Burn

Who caused The Burn is the question at the heart of Star Trek: Discoveryseason 3's central mystery, but it's possible that the culprit is actually the show's original enemy: the Mirror Universe's Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs). In Star Trek: Discovery season 1, Lorca was the Captain of the USS Discovery, but he was secretly manipulating the starship and Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) to implement his true plans: returning to the Mirror Universe and overthrowing Emperor Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh). Lorca died before Georgiou jumped to the Prime Universe with Burnham, but death isn't always what it seems in Star Trek; what if Lorca not only survived and beat Burnham and the Discovery to the distant future, but he also caused The Burn that devastated the United Federation of Planets?

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Burnham's investigation into what caused The Burn has revealed that the cosmic calamity that wiped out the galaxy's dilithium a century before the USS Discovery arrived in the year 3189 wasn't a natural occurrence. The Burn didn't happen simultaneously across the galaxy and Discovery's crew even determined an origin point: the Verubin Nebula. Further, something in the Nebula is transmitting a Federation distress signal, indicating that The Burn's perpetrator is still at large within the cosmic body. In addition, a distinctively familiar lullaby has permeated the galaxy. This song is possibly a harmonic signal that disrupted the dilithium in thousands of starships, which led to their destruction in the event that has been labeled The Burn.

If someone in the Verubin Nebula is still transmitting the signal, this mystery person could be the main villain of Star Trek: Discovery season 3 Michael Burnham is searching for. The season has introduced other antagonists, primarily Osyraa (Janet Kidder), the Orion mastermind who runs the crime syndicate of Orions and Andorians dubbed the Emerald Chain. But while the Chain is pillaging and profiting off of helpless planets that the diminished Federation is unable to protect, they're also suffering from a lack of dilithium in the post-Burn galaxy, so Osyraa and the Emerald Chain aren't the perpetrators of The Burn.

Meanwhile, Emperor Georgiou, who is suffering from an undiagnosed fatal illness since she arrived in the 32nd century and was debriefed at Federation headquarters by Kovich (David Cronenberg), a mystery man who could represent Section 31, has mused that there is an actual villain — "a worthy foe" — who is behind The Burn all along. As a wicked Terran and a former intelligence agent of Section 31 herself, Georgiou's instincts for villainy are incredibly sound. So, if there is a Big Bad who caused The Burn, that "worthy foe" may prove to be Georgiou and Burnham's old enemy who also miraculously lives on in the 32nd century: Gabriel Lorca.

How Lorca Could Have Survived Into The 32nd Century

Lorca's death in Star Trek: Discovery season 1 appeared cut-and-dry: Although Gabriel did succeed at deposing Emperor Georgiou and very briefly assumed command of the Terran Empire, she stabbed Lorca in the back with a sword. Lorca was then pushed through the safety field on the floor of the ISS Charon and fell into the core of the ship's super-mycelial reactor. Lorca appeared to be vaporized before the USS Discovery opened fire on the Charon's core, causing an explosion that obliterated the flagship of the Terran Empire.

But what appeared to be a definitive death for Gabriel Lorca could actually be a gateway to his survival. Instead of disintegrating Lorca, falling into the Charon's super-mycelial reactor could have actually sent the Terran into the mycelial network, which is the vast super-highway spanning all of space that the Discovery travels through when it instantaneously jumps from location to location via its spore displacement hub drive. If this is what also happened to Lorca, he could have been zoomed through the mycelial network, which has already been proven could be used to jump to and from the Mirror and Prime Universes. In this case, Lorca would not only have found himself transported back to the Prime Universe but he could have leaped ahead through time and emerged at some point in the future.

There's the question of when in the Prime Universe's future Lorca might have landed: The Burn is established to have happened sometime between 3069 - 3089 going by Cleveland Booker's (David Ajala) estimation that The Burn occurred 100-120 years before Michael Burnham arrived in 3188. However, Kovich told Emperor Georgiou that the distance between the Prime and Mirror Universes has been expanding and no one has crossed over in 500 years; if Lorca was the last known person to cross over, then it might have happened sometime in the late 2600s. In that case, it's possible that Lorca could still be alive after 500 years because of whatever particles within the Verubin Nebula that could be continually sustaining him.

Why Lorca Could Have Caused The Burn

The Burn would be the ultimate revenge on the Federation for Lorca. As a Terran, he despised the noble ideals the Federation stood for and he loathed how he was forced to pretend to believe in and support the Federation during the year he went undercover as his Prime Universe doppelgänger and command the USS Discovery during the Klingon War of 2256-2257. But Lorca is also highly intelligent and cunning; if he survived into the 32nd century, Gabriel would have accumulated all the knowledge he would need to cause The Burn in order to strike at the Federation in a way no one ever had before, and in a devastating manner that can't be undone.

However, since Lorca hates the Prime Universe (which literally hurts his eyes and required him to need eyedrops), The Burn could have been his plot to somehow make his way back to the Mirror Universe. Although he'd have no way of knowing the details, Lorca could conjecture that the Terran Empire fell without his or Georgiou's leadership — which is exactly what happened just a few decades after Star Trek: Discovery season 1's events. Lorca could have once more been driven to return to the Mirror Universe and impose his leadership upon the alternate reality, which was always his main motivation.

However, once Lorca arrived in the future (and possibly posed once more as his Prime Universe double who somehow time-traveled), Gabriel might have discovered the truth that the distance between the Mirror and Prime Universes was growing, making the crossing back impossible for him. As such, The Burn could have been Lorca's plan to somehow push the universes closer together so he can go home.

Georgiou's Illness Could Be Tied To Lorca

Since arriving in the 32nd century, Emperor Georgiou has been plagued by traumatic flashbacks to her Mirror Universe past involving her discovering the bloody corpse of someone she loved named San. This is a side effect of the debilitating illness that's killing the ex-Terran ruler, but it could also somehow be tied to Lorca, if he's already in the 32nd century and was the culprit behind The Burn. While Kovich did clue Georgiou in about a molecular difference in Terrans that hews them towards being malevolent and the increasing distance between the two universes, there could be much more yet to be revealed as to what happens to Terrans in the Prime Universe.

It's rare that Terrans cross over into the Prime Universe (usually it's the other way around) and multiple Terrans spending copious amounts of time in the alternate reality happens even less often. In Star Trek: The Original Series' "Mirror Mirror" episode, the Mirror James T. Kirk (William Shatner), Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), Scotty (James Doohan), and Dr. Leonard McCoy (DeForrest Kelley) all switched with their Prime Universe counterparts but they didn't spend a very long time in the brig of the USS Enterprise, thanks to Spock (Leonard Nimoy).

By contrast, Emperor Georgiou has now lived in the Prime Universe for years; if this Lorca theory is correct, then her nemesis has also been in the Prime Universe for centuries. As such, Gabriel Lorca and Philippa Georgiou's prolonged exposure to the "good" alternate reality could be having a debilitating effect, and Star Trek: Discoveryseason 3 may ultimately reveal that Lorca's survival and existence in the Prime Universe is the root of what's killing the Emperor as well as the cause of The Burn.

Star Trek: Discovery season 3 streams Thursdays on CBS All-Access and Fridays internationally on Netflix.

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