HomeReviewsDiscoveryDiscovering the 32nd Century – A look back on Discovery Season 3

Discovering the 32nd Century – A look back on Discovery Season 3

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It’s been just over a week since the conclusion of Star Trek: Discovery Season 3, a season that promised so much by breaking free of canon and establishing a new time never before explored in the Star Trek franchise. Question is, did it live up to expectation?

I don’t think its unfair to say that Star Trek: Discovery has had somewhat of a rocky road since it first aired in 2017. Updated visuals, redesigned Klingons, never before seen technology; all the while set ten years before the events of the Original Series raised many questions from an already skeptical fanbase, especially when the questions of canon was asked. There was also a noticeable complaint from around the Star Trek fanbase that Discovery was nothing more than a gimmick to launch CBS All Access, the latest – of many – streaming services entering the market. One of the more significant changes that Discovery introduced was a serialized story instead of the traditional episodic adventures we had grown a custom too over the many year of Star Treks life. Alex Kurtzman and his production team opting to utilize a modern approach to the narrative structure that is a common hallmark of the more popular TV shows in recent years. While the new Star Trek series was on the large part, well received its no exaggeration to state that it split the fanbase. Some saying it was not Star Trek, others that it was not ‘prime universe’ and instead set in the JJ Abrams created Kelvin Timeline, while some, just plain hated it.

Without being in the inner circle of the writing and production teams we can never know for sure, but I feel that season 2 was a reaction to some of the comments and negativity bellowing out of the fan community. At the end of Season 1 the USS Enterprise entered the fray asking for help, and this is exactly were season 2 picks up. Captain Pike, Number One, Spock and a return to Talos IV all invoked a sense of nostalgia that coupled with an interesting mystery to solve, won over many of the show’s initial critics. However, the problems of the first season again raised it head. The convoluted story that made up the seasons main arc aside, the issues of canon raised it head time and time again. It was clear that the team wanted to bring fresh ideas to Star Trek and take full advantage of the enhanced budgets and advanced technologies of modern TV production. The problem is, how can you do this when you have set your show 10 years before the events of a TV show made in the 1960’s? A TV show that has since created over 50 years of expansion and universe building? Little did we know at the time, but Kurtzman and company had a plan which was slowly coming to fruition over season 2’s 14 episodes. A plan to jump away from canon. To jump to a point in time in the Star Trek universe never before explored. The opportunity to do what they clearly wanted to do from the start and have that freedom to build a show in which they could really flex their imaginations, creating new lore in the process. At the end of season 2, the crew of the USS Discovery were sent 930 years into the future to the 32nd Century and a new era of Star Trek: Discovery could begin.          

Discovery season 3

A bleak future and the Return of Hope

The future that Star Trek depicts has often been described as a utopia. For humanity that is. Threats still litter the galaxy; war and greed are still very much apparent, however, mankind itself has put aside its differences. No poverty, no internal waring, and no disease. Humanities focus is exploration and the betterment of the species. The United Federation of Planets epitomizes that utopian dream building on the principles of peace, justice, universal rights, and scientific and intellectual development, with all members of the Federation buying into that culture. The first two episodes of season 3 introduces us to the 32nd Century and shatters that utopia.

In Episode one ‘That Hope is You, Part 1’, Michael Burnham arrives in the year 3188 and quickly learns that her endeavors to save all sentient life (the objective of season 2) was successful. Her joy is short lived however when she meets new character Cleveland ‘Book’ Booker played by David Ajala. He informs her of a devastating event they call the Burn. A cataclysmic incident that killed millions throughout the universe when most of the galaxy’s Dilithium exploded; destroying starships and leaving the galaxy disconnected and isolated. The most shocking part of this is that the Federation has become fractured and torn apart, so much so that the Federation is almost a myth. As a result of the Federation’s collapse a sense of lawlessness and a ‘Wild West’ frontier has become the way of life for the inhabitants of the 32nd Century. This is later echoed in ‘Far from Home’ the second episode of the season. Following an extraordinary crash sequence that echoes the USS Enterprise D’s final moments in Star Trek: Generations, Saru and Tilly find Coridan miners in a bar who are under the tyranny of a man called Zareth. What’s really notable about this scene is how one of the Coridan men called Kal, believed that the Federation would return, “I knew you would come” he goes on to say. It seems that although the Federation appears to be no more, there are still those that hold out hope that they will return and bring a sense of order and freedom back to the galaxy.

This new dystopia could be considered as the main focus of the season, more so than the Burn. As the first half of the season continues, we discover more on just how broken this future is. Earth, one of the founding members, is no longer a part of the Federation. A group called the Emerald Chain is spreading fear and discontent across the galaxy; using slave laborer for its ship salvage camps and the main threat to the Federation in the 32nd Century. We find that the Federation itself has become disjointed, distrustful, and cut off from its member states which now consists of a mere thirty-eight members, reduced from three hundred and fifty at its peak; struggling to maintain any kind of grip it has to the ideals and principles on which it was created.

The USS Discovery comes from a time when the Federation was still relatively young and the foundation on which it was built is very much embedded into the crew, the conviction to do the right thing; to not turn their back on suffering or oppression in any form. Breaking the Federation and creating this bleak future was a bold move from the production team and for me, was the real highlight of season 3. From episode-to-episode, the Discovery plays an important part of restoring a little bit of hope and optimism and that things can go back to the way they were before. Breaking down barriers with the isolationists of Earth in ‘People of Earth’, changing the mindsets of the Trill in ‘Forget me not’, freeing slaves in ‘Scavengers’ and ultimately, helping the Federation get back on the right path.

With the season 3 now wrapped you can see the long-term plan of the writers, its clear that season 4 of Discovery will focus on the rebuilding of the Federation, taking the show back to the classic elements of exploration and seeking out strange new worlds. A new source of Dilithium found, meaning that they can once again traverse the galaxy.   

Discovery season 3

The Burn was the day the galaxy took a hard left”

The Burn. The McGuffin of season 3. When Michael Burnham arrives in the 32nd Century she does so a whole year before the arrival of the USS Discovery. As a result, she has a lot of time on her hands and focuses her attention on finding out what caused the Burn by seeking out starship black boxes in the hope that they would yield some vital information. Discovery season 3 does a very good job at setting up the Burn as the main mystery the crew need to solve, just as they had to solve the mysterious red signals and eventual Red Angel in season 2. But was the Burn as important to the story as we initially believed? As the season went on, fans thought that with each new episode we would learn more about the Brun. This wasn’t the case and I think this is where the bulk of the complaints for this season stems from, as it all became very disjointed as the writers tried to spin too many plates at the same time. The mystery of the Burn, finding Federation HQ, The Melody, the Emerald Chain all vying for primary attention.

In order to fit everything in the Burn was often pushed to the sideline, much to the frustration of the viewers. But here’s the thing. The Burn was never the main story. When we look back at season 2 and the mystery of the red signals, in each and every episode it was the driving force behind the story. Even when Ash Tyler came back as part of Section 31; with trying to save and help Spock and still when the AI started to wreak havoc. The season never lost focus that the signals and the Red Angel was its primary story. This cannot be said about the Burn, in fact in some episodes we can be forgiven that the Burn was even an issue.

The Burn was just a sub plot in the hero’s journey that was Michael Burnham. This entire season was geared into getting Burnham into the captain’s chair; her determination to find the cause of the Burn, even when everyone else (including Starfleet) didn’t think it was a priority, helped bring all the other story elements together. Since meeting and ultimately falling in love with Book, every action she took impacted on the overall narrative. Her plan in ‘People of Earth’ where she and Book use his ship as a diversion, helps unify the Earth Defense Force and the raiders who were attacking Earth supply ships. Going against the wishes of the Trill in ‘Forget me not’ forces them to evaluate their own culture in order to ensure their long-term survival. ‘Unification Part III’ she helped bridge the divide between the Vulcans and Romulans with the Federation. In ‘Scavengers’ she defies orders to save Book; by doing so gaining the last piece of the puzzle to help locate the source of the Burn. This has the negative effect of bring Osyraa, the leader of the Emerald Chain into the fold. But by doing this forces the Federation to confront the Chain and finally ending their grip on the galaxy.

Season 3 was the completion of Michael Burnham’s story arc that started in season 1. From mutineer to captain. Her journey was one of redemption. Defying orders, doubting her commitment to Starfleet, demotion; only to come back stronger and be better for it. Her continued belief in herself and that her actions were right, was often seen as a frustrating character flaw during Discovery’s run, but in fact, it’s exactly the right type of characteristic that a captain needs. It has been set up that she will be the one leading the Federation of the 32nd Century into a new era, but the question is, can she keep the captain’s chair?       

Discovery season 3

Characters

A major issue with Discovery has been the number of characters that we don’t know enough about. The ones that are part of the command crew, but we struggle to even remember their names. They do nothing except stand in the background and push buttons with various bits of standard dialogue. While that didn’t really change this season, some of the secondary characters did get something to do. Saru, Tilly, Burnham and Georgiou have all had moments in the sun throughout Discovery’s run and we have seen them grow. That of course continued this season but at least the writers started to include the other members of the crew a bit more and I am hopeful this continues into season 4.

Culber was given a much more substantial role as the season rolled on and seemed to act like the ship’s counsellor including helping Detmer with some of her early PTSD, going on to playing a crucial part in the season’s final episodes. Detmer herself managed to show off her piloting skills in defeating Osyraa using Books ship in Episode 8. Lt.’s Owosekun, Bryce and Rhys got in on the action in the final episodes when trying to take back the USS Discovery from Emerald Chain occupation. But that was pretty much it.

There is an ongoing problem with Discovery, and that is there is just too many characters. The supporting characters have never been given any kind of opportunity to really develop. They have never been stranded on a planet telling stories of their childhood or time at Starfleet Academy to keep their spirits up. The structure of a short seasoned serialized approach does not lend itself to this type of development and needs to stay focused on the characters that drive the narrative forward. With each new season, new characters are introduced like Adira, Gray and Book and as they are normally important to whatever is happening, they will gain the focus of the writers because they are needed for the momentum of the overall story. We did get to see a bit more of the backroom team get in on the action but that has taken three seasons to accomplish.

We are anticipating a more traditional method of story telling next season with it potentially going back to a ‘planet of the week’, episodic structure, but still with an overarching story element / mystery to solve. This would lend itself to how season 3 ended withDiscovery given the mission to deliver Dilithium to both Federation and none Federation planets. This could also lead to some of those secondary characters finally getting more time on screen. Taking the lead in away missions or becoming standard on an ice planet with only hours to live, sharing stories about themselves.

In terms of new characters introduced I don’t think anyone can really complain. Book has been a great addition. The love interest for Michael Burnham which will no doubt lead to some complications along the line. A backstory that has a lot more to explore especially since he hinted that his name, Cleveland Booker might not actually be his. Adira and Gray are very interesting characters, I feel Gray was sidelined considering the fan fare surrounding his announcement by CBS. But given the revelation that he could potentially be seen again, could become an important subplot in season 4. Admiral Vance breaking the ‘bad admiral’ rule was fantastic, I look forward to seeing more of him in the next season. I am eager to see more of David Cronenberg’s character Kovich, we learned nothing of him during season 3 and it has left me wanting to know more and more. Is he part of section 31? Is he even a part of Starfleet? I need to know.

A disappointment with the new characters was the decision to kill of Osyraa, leader of the Emerald Chain. She had the potential to be a serious antagonist in season 4. With her defeat, the Emerald Chain could have still been broken apart, it didn’t need her death to make that happen, just her capture or surrender. Maybe she has a role to play yet, not in life but in her death. A fragmented Emerald Chain could still be a dangerous adversary to the Federation and a splinter group could form in Osyraa’s with the sole purpose of destroying the USS Discovery’s mission. I guess we will have to wait and see on that one.  

Top 5 moments

Guardian of Forever

The return of the Guardian was a great moment. Another link between old Trek and new Trek following Pike and Talos IV. The speculation and theories surrounding Carl and his easter egg splattered newspaper was fun to be a part of.    

The Unification of Vulcan and Romulans

It was a joy to see the legacy of ambassador Spock come to fruition and again linking new Trek with classic Trek.  

Captain Burnham

It took 3 seasons, but Captain Burnham has arrived. While I initially didn’t want it as I was happy with Saru in the captain’s chair. It was a satisfying moment seeing her take her place on the bridge. Let’s Fly! (not sure I like that to be fair)

The Federation

The moment the Discovery found Federation HQ and the subsequent flyby. The USS Nog, the USS Voyager-J, the new, wonderous ship designs. It was a visual delight.

Return to the Mirror Universe

Who doesn’t like the Mirror Universe? It was great to return and learn more about Georgiou’s past as well as see some if the events that had only been described or mentioned previously.  

Top Five Disappointments

The Mirror Universe

I know its strange to have the Mirror Universe in both the top moments and top five disappointments, but I had to do it. While it was great to revisit the Mirror Universe it was very much out of place. Two episodes had been used in what was nothing more than a back door pilot to the proposed Section 31 TV series. They could have utilized the Guardian of Forever and sent Georgiou back in time without using the Mirror Universe. It took me out of what was happening in the season as a whole and again frustrated me because this is time we could have used on the Burn.

Gray

As I mentioned earlier, I just feel that this character was announced with such fan fare alongside the Adira character but was put on the sideline. I understand in terms of story, but I hope that we will see more of Gray in season 4.

The Burn

I have no issues with the Burn as a plot device or how the Burn happened. I have stated in past reviews that the Burn being caused by a childlike alien who was not aware of what he was doing, is very much in the spirit of traditional Trek. My issue is that we were misled on the Burn playing a much bigger part in the story than it actually was. I feel that it was the meat on the end of the fishhook that was baiting us to stick with the series. When reflecting on the season, the Burn element was disappointing.   

The Emerald Chain

Promised to be a much bigger threat. The Emerald Chain is meant to be a large organization terrorizing systems throughout the galaxy. Easily defeated in episode 8 ‘The Sanctuary’ and didn’t really do anything of note in the final episodes. I don’t know if we will see them in season 4 and to be fair, I don’t really care. If they do come back, I just hope they do a bit better in raising the stakes.

‘There is a tide’

The whole episode of ‘There is a Tide’. This was predicable story telling at its best. Designed to set up the series finale but it played off like a bad action movie that advertised what was about to happen at every turn. The only saving grace from this episode was the performance by Anthony Rapp when pleading with Burnham not to send him off the ship.


And that’s it, our look back at season three. What did you think at the season as a whole? Was it pretty much what you expected, or did it surprise you? Are you a fan that was on the fence but Discovery season 3 won you over, if so why? Why not join Trek Central on our social media and get involved!

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David Milburn
David Milburn
Illustrator and writer, David Had plans for world domination at the age of 17 then discovered recliner sofas and then became too comfy for all that nonsense. Powered by his love of all things Star Trek.

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