Julien Neaves, Editor
When Star Trek spinoff show Discovery first came out in September 2017 it stumbled out of space dock and split the Trekkie fandom in twain. Even to this day there are some people who still derisively call it “STD.” But like the little engine that could, Star Trek: Discovery has warped past those turbulent beginnings and grown from strength to strength with each new season. And last week the curtain came down on its third season, and it was the best so far.
Without further ado, except for a very obvious SPOILER ALERT, let’s break it down in four easy to chew slices:
Slice 1: The Future Is Now
Previously on Star Trek: Discovery. Sorry, couldn’t resist. So Michael Burnham has used the Red Angel tech to jump into the far future and Discovery has followed behind with the precious Sphere Data to keep out of the reach of the pernicious AI Control. Imagine if they also had to deal with his AI cousins “Alt” and “Delete”. Bad puns aside, one of the biggest issues with the show was its prequel setting. And due to the original setting of about 10 years before The Original Series there was a lot of cognitive dissonance with the technology, costumes and the species (*cough cough ugly a$$ Klingons cough cough*). It also didn’t help that the Powers That Be decided to play a bit fast and loose with the canon.
In the second season there was an effort to course correct and the additions of characters like Captain Pike and a younger version of Spock was nostalgia done right. But it was the 32nd-century setting (3188 to be exact) where the show finally found its groove. Instead of dancing around canon the show was creating canon of its own. There was new technology (including a shiny new refit), new history, and new lore. And it worked splendidly.
Free of its prequel bounds the show was boldly going where it seemed meant to go all along, and DSC presented an intriguing future still reeling from an intergalactic disaster (more on The Burn later) and with a Federation brought to its knees. In the immortal words of Mr Spock it was…
Slice 2: Characters New, Characters Old
With a new season also came new characters, both friends and foes. Of the baddies we had the slimy Zareh and the tactical Emerald Chain leader Osyraa, though why her Orion makeup looked worse than the Orions in Star Trek: Enterprise is just beyond me. Neither of them were Lorca-level good but they were decent enough. The first ally we met was Cleveland “Book” Booker together with his shape-shifting ship and gargantuan cat. David Ajala, who I had previously enjoyed as Manchester Black in Supergirl and Roy Eris in the uneven Sci Fi thriller series Nightflyers, is a big ball of charisma, humour and energy as Book. If they wanted to do a prequel spin-off with him I would be into that. And he has amazing chemistry with Sonequa Martin-Green, 10 times more than she had with Shazad Latif, who played Ash Tyler/Voq.
Oded Fehr as strong-willed Admiral Vance was also a very welcome addition. Also joining the crew was the human/Trill Adira though she was kind of just there for me, and the whole subplot with her lover Gray dying and then coming back and then inexplicably showing up as a hologram just didn’t work for me. Rounding off the newbies is the Andorian Ryn, who did not show up often but he did have a tragic backstory and a decent arc.
Of the regular crew, the season did a much better job of letting the individual members some attention. Previously sidelined characters like Detmer and Owosekun both got moments to shine. Dr Culber was no longer mopey and depressed and was actually being assertive and useful. Tilly surprisingly made a good first officer and really stepped up when the proverbial chips were down. And Tig was not around a lot but she brought some good laughs whenever she appeared. This season was not that great for Saru as his by-the-book approach to being a captain was both dull and off-putting. And poor Stamets was reduced to a walking plot device. And the whole surrogate Adira father thing, which culminated in that awkward shouting scene with Burnham about “his whole family”, just felt unearned.
I’ll save Burnham for the next slice, but the woman having the best season ever is also one of the best characters, former Empress turned saucy anti-hero Philippa Georgiou. With every scene Michelle Yeoh exuded brilliance and she made me laugh with every sardonic put down and smile with every butt kicked. I thoroughly enjoyed her arc, from her mysterious illness to her interaction with Carl/Guardian of Forever (great guest role by Paul Guilfoyle by the way) to her bloody return to the Mirror Universe. Her exit with Burnham was pretty touching and I was genuinely sad to see her go. And yeah, I am on board for whenever she turns up in that Section 31 spin-off. Long live the Empress! Long live Georgiou!
Slice 3: The Burn and The Burnham
This past season had its good share of interesting stories including giant space worms, revisiting the Trill home world, the battle against the Emerald Chain, and even a visit to a unified Vulcan/Romulan planet. That moment with Burnham and Book watching the recording of Spock was just inspirational.
But as with the Red Angel in the Season 2, The Burn was the overarching mystery of Season 3. What could have caused all the dilithium in ships to suddenly explode? Was it some plot by some shadowy evil? Was it some type of natural space disaster? Nope, it was a scared, dilithium-infused Kelpien crying for his mama. I know several people were disappointed with the explanation for The Burn but I was fine with it and I found it felt very Trek. The scenes on Su’Kal’s holographic ship, though, had some great visuals, including having the crew as different species and showing us the real Doug Jones, but I found the story itself less than engaging.
One aspect I did improve of was the new characterisation of Burnham. I have not been a fan of the character and in a previous article I described her as an albatross around the show’s figurative neck (I’ll link that below). But Season 3 did what I feared impossible — it made Burnham likeable.
Instead of the bland, inconsistent, know-everything, save-the-day-every-time lead character we were saddled with before, now we had a Michael Burnham who was uncertain but strong-willed, who laughed and fell in love, and who still something of a lone wolf but now it actually made sense. That year alone (and the new hairdo) did wonders for her personality and I actually liked spending time with her for a change. And I didn’t even mind that she cried every two minutes like a young bride on her wedding day.
Slice 4: The Finale
While I have been heaping praise upon this season I have to deduct some points from the finale, and it seems to be a trend where Discovery has problems sticking the landing. Remember the deus ex machina that ended the Klingon-Federation war in the Season 1 finale? Or how they retconned Discovery out of existence in the Season 2 finale? Yeah, it’s not a great track record.
Now I was fine with the episode That Hope Is You, Part 2 being part Die Hard on a Spaceship and the action was entertaining enough. But the major issue I had was with the new technology that was just thrown in without any previous explanation. Did you know Discovery had massive elevator corridors and miles of space making it bigger on the inside like a TARDIS? Well I didn’t, so I was gobsmacked with the elevator fight scenes, and not in a good way. And then there was the fight with the Wicked Witch of the West (sorry, Osyraa) and Burnham where the latter was pushed into data core. Was it previously established what happens when organic matter enters the data core? Because if they did I missed it, and I was wondering if Burnham was actually in danger or just enjoying a warm data massage. A simple fix would have been to introduce both these technologies earlier and not just drop them on the audience in the finale. #justsaying
I also thought they could have done a bit more with the Su’Kal resolution. I presumed he set off The Burn when he saw his mother die, but they could have added a twist, like he accidentally killed her and the rest of the crew or something. Just another element to add a bit more interest to the proceedings. I thought Saru taking a sabbatical to assist Su’Kal was a nice touch though.
And speaking of resolutions, are they really going to find a way to make Gray corporeal again? Because I think Adira finally letting him go would be stronger for her arc. On a less ambiguous note, I loved seeing the Federation guy Sahil get his commission, and I actually liked the new, simplified uniforms. I am less sold, however, on Burnham as captain. I mean, I assumed it would happen eventually, and I liked her in the maverick role all season, but do you make mavericks captain? We’ll see how that works out.
But overall Discovery Season 3 really hit it out of the park (or for six as they say in cricket) and felt like the perfect blend of old Trek exploration and new Trek serialised action-adventure. We’ll see what the future holds for Season 4.
Julien’s Score: 7.5 out of 10
Julien “Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”.
I can also be found posting on Instagram as redmanwriter and talking about TV and movie stuff on Facebook at Movieville.