Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 was more hits than misses. But it had more than its share of misses.
With Discovery transported 930 years in the future, there were multiple opportunities to take a fresh look at the Star Trek universe. And the show took a lot of them. But any of the things that have plagued Star Trek: Discovery from its inception still linger. The producers still wait till the last minute to wrap up the major storyline of the season. But where past seasons had one big season-long story, Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 had multiple arcs.
Somehow the season managed to connect. And connection was, after all, the very point of Star Trek: Discovery Season 3. Let’s get into the Good, the Bad, and the Uneven.
The Good – Discovering Connections
The Starship Discovery getting flung nearly 1,000 years in the future was only part of the overarching story of this season. Upon landing in the future, Discovery finds out that Federation worlds are completely disconnected from one another. A century before they arrived, a cataclysm called the Burn rocked the universe. Something (or someone) caused all the dilithium in the galaxy to destabilize. And all but a handful of starships exploded in an instant. Warp drive became impossible, and entire races were left in isolation.
Now Discovery‘s spore drive is the only way to connect Federation headquarters with the rest of the galaxy. Captain Saru and his crew stand alone as the Federation’s rapid response ship. And its only way to respond to imminent threats.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 was all about connecting people. The crew of Discovery is out of time. They’re looking for a way to connect to an unfamiliar century. And the Federation of the future is looking for a way to connect to them. Then there are new connections to be made among the crew themselves. The addition of Adira (Blu Del Barrio), a human connected to a Trill symbiont. They have to find a way to connect to five past lives as well as to a new crew. To say nothing of their connection to the symbiont’s original host.
But more than anything, it was refreshing to see Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 have an overarching theme. And not just an overarching plot. Speaking of.
The Good – The Burn
When Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 got underway, it seemed like the Burn would be the overriding focus of the season. And for the most part it was. But the slow burn of, well, the Burn was a very strange thing. You have to look at the track record of the new Alex Kurtzman-driven Star Trek universe.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 was all about the red bursts. The show introduced the AI Control and linked them together, and made the whole thing unnecessarily epic and convoluted. With Star Trek: Picard, everything built to a Romulan conspiracy and an extra-galactic AI octopus thing coming through a portal. In other words, it was all over the place. In the case of the Burn was built up as being epic. But the payoff was suitably Star Trek.
In the episode ‘Su’Kal,’ the Discovery found the planet where the Burn began. It was a planet with a heavy dilithium concentration caught within a dangerous nebula. On the planet was a Kelpian research vessel, lost for 130 years. Su’Kal was the only surviving member of the crew. He was a child at the time of the Burn. And his DNA was somehow linked to the planet’s dilithium supply. And the death of his mother caused a subspace rupture that destabilized all the dilithium in the galaxy. In short, the Burn was caused by a scared child.
It was a beautifully human way to tell the story. And, like many moments throughout Star Trek: Discovery Season 3, it was very in keeping with the Trek storytelling method. There was no conspiracy. The Borg didn’t cause the Burn. It wasn’t an accident in a lab that was trying to clone a Super Spock. The Burn was just an accident with no ill intent whatsoever. Caused by one of the most human of all emotions. I know a lot of fans wanted that big, epic reveal. But I have to give the showrunners of Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 their due. Sometimes simpler is just better.
The Bad – Sprinting To The Finish
The modern CBS All Access formula for Star Trek has one thing in common across all its live action Trek. Leaving the big reveals open all the way up until the very finish. And while it wasn’t as rushed as it was in Season 2 and nowhere near as rushed as Star Trek: Picard, Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 waited until the last minute.
With three episodes to go, it looked like we would get an evenly-unfurled reveal of the Burn. But the show was also building the threat of the Emerald Chain all season long. The Emerald Chain was the Orion crime syndicate that rose to rival the crumbling Federation in the wake of the Burn. For some reason, Star Trek: Discovery decided to have the Chain’s leader, Osyraa (Janet Kidder) injected as some extra drama. As a result, we got a “Die Hard on the Discovery” episode in the middle of finding clues to the Burn.
As a result, the season finale, “That Hope Is You, Part 2,” was full of subplots. And none of them was the alien lullaby that, somehow, everyone in the galaxy knows. That one pretty much fell by the wayside. And the uneven episodes (which we’ll get to) made the ramp-up to the end of the season hard to track in terms of which story elements were important.
The Bad – Michael Being Michael
The weakest aspect of Star Trek: Discovery has always been Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green). And guess what? She’s still the show’s weakest link in Star Trek: Discovery Season 3.
She was Starfleet’s first mutineer, and she spent most of the season disobeying direct orders from Captain Saru (Doug Jones). And if she wasn’t disobeying his orders, she was at least circumventing the orders of Admiral Vance (Oded Fehr). Apparently you fail upwards in the 32nd century, because by the end of the season, Michael was promoted to captain of the Discovery. Saru took a sabbatical to reintegrate Su’Kal into Kelpian society. So after three seasons of me saying, “Saru should be the captain,” he commanded the ship for all of, like, seven or eight episodes.
The addition of Book (David Ajala) to the cast gave Burnham someone new to interact with. And somebody to help expand her character. Unfortunately, character expansion wasn’t something Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 seemed interested in. Burnham continues to be the reverse Mary Sue. Somebody who’s always does the wrong thing and somehow gets a pat on the back for doing the right thing. Part of me is hopeful that Captain Burnham will help take the character in a new direction. But I’m more and more inclined to think that it’ll be the same old Burnham but in a fancy swivel chair.
The Uneven – Star Trek At Its Best And Worst
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 had the highest number of standalone episodes since the show debuted in 2017. Episodes like “Die Trying,” “Unification III,” and “Forget Me Not” had their own beginnings, middles, and ends. But there were others, mostly ones that delved into the Emerald Chain, where things just didn’t click. The show bounced back and forth between Trek‘s status quo and its own brief-but-established status quo. I feel like coming into the season, Star Trek: Discovery could have done everything new, or it could have gone back to old Trek from a new perspective.
Instead they did both.
There was a Star Trek: Voyager vibe at the start of the season, with Discovery on its own with no back-up. And until the Discovery found Starfleet headquarters, that seemed like a possibility. But the content of the season’s episodes were too all over the place to cohere into a single, definable approach. It didn’t help that the show had to make an abrupt detour mid-season to deal with the Mirror Georgiou returning to the Mirror Universe. And while I enjoy a good trip to the Mirror Universe, it was an unnecessary detour.
The show didn’t take advantage of the new characters that emerged over the course of Star Trek: Discovery Season 3. Speaking of segues.
The Good – New Characters
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 introduced several new characters. We’ve already talked about Book. And Book offered a unique, underworld perspective to the Discovery crew. It’s refreshing to have a member of the crew that can tell the Utopian superheroes, “Yeah, no, this is how the galaxy actually works.”
And although the show didn’t exactly do right by Adira, the character’s addition has great potential for the future. I like where they might go in terms of Adira resurfacing Gray (Ian Alexander), their non-corporeal former partner. And the original host of Adira’s symbiont. Then there’s Adira’s connection to Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Culber (Wilson Cruz), who have taken it upon themselves to raise Adira. And that speaks to the fact that Star Trek: Discovery started to do right by its already-established characters.
In particular, Dr. Culber was fleshed out as more than just “the doctor on the ship.” And he became more than “Stamets’s emotionally-stable boyfriend.” Hugh Culber became a real character over the course of Star Trek: Discovery Season 3. He was integral to the aforementioned Mirror Universe storyline. And he was critical to the finale with Su’Kal. But it wasn’t just Culber. The long-neglected bridge crew of the Discovery got more screen time this season. And Tilly (Mary Wiseman) saw significant character growth.
Among the new characters, though, Admiral Vance was my favorite. I found myself wondering early on if Vance would end up as yet another evil Admiral. But Vance was the conscience of the series, and he was a dignified face of the remains of the Federation. I really hope they keep him around in Season 4 as the link between standalone shows and the bigger picture.
At the end of the day, there was more good than bad about Star Trek: Discovery Season 3. It isn’t perfect yet, but Star Trek: Discovery took great strides toward becoming a more well-rounded Trek series.
The future is bright for Star Trek: Discovery. But the show finds itself at another crossroads. Not narratively but in terms of what it wants its tone to be going forward. Are we going to visit strange new worlds, or are we going to battle singular, new threats? Season 4 is confirmed, so hopefully we’ll have the answer sooner rather than later.
In the meantime, Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 was a perfectly enjoyable 13 episodes of TV. Here’s hoping there’s new, cool to discover in the future.
Star Trek: Discovery streams on CBS All Access.
All images courtesy of startrek.com.