The series boldly goes where no series has gone before…the 32nd Century
When a franchise has been on the air for over 55 years, spanned multiple incarnations, and a slew of feature films, some story lines might become familiar or seem to be recycled now and then. Playing in the Trek sandbox and mining its mythology is part of the appeal, but for Star Trek Discovery, after spending two seasons in an era just preceding Kirk’s original voyages, a third season brings a first for the show, hurtling 900 years into the future, beyond any depiction of the galaxy seen yet in the franchise’s history.
Season 2 saw the crew of the good ship Discovery opening a wormhole to launch themselves, and cargo they needed to protect, away from a rogue AI. Overshooting their destination, they find themselves 900 years in a far flung future, going from the 23rd, the the 32nd century. This future is one rocked by an event that occurred a few hundred years before Discovery’s arrival, called “The Burn”, where dilithium, the crystals essential for warp drive, exploded. Thousands of ships across the galaxy were destroyed, crippling intergalactic travel, with only a few fragments remaining to allow the lucky few to move from system to system. A once unified Federation of planets has broken apart. New entities have risen to exploit the power vacuum. Enter Discovery. Equipped with their unique spore drive, they are able to traverse the galaxy, setting out to find the remnants of Starfleet and the Federation, and uncover what exactly caused the Burn.
It’s a bold direction for the show, flipping the galaxy on it’s head, upending the status quo. Discovery is thrust into encounters with wretched hives of scum and villainy, more than cordial diplomatic exchanges. Trade has been replaced by barter. Galactic powers by local governments. Exploration by more insular behavior. A time when people can conjure food and supplies out of thin air with replicators is reintroduced to the idea of rarity. A real test to see how the ideals of an evolved society like humanity and the Federation hold up. A superpower that falls on hard time due to a change in resources. A challenge by the emergence of the Emerald Chain, a large crime syndicate expanding its reach on the basis of exploitation of both peoples and resources. They serve as an antithesis of the Federation’s ideals and seem better suited to this new galaxy order.
It all sounds dark, but is nicely countered by how fascinating it is to explore these strange new (but familiar) worlds. Trek nerds will delight into the gradual trickle of information, some in dialogue, some in background graphics (Voyager-J!, Ni-Var!). We get hints at what the Federation became (new member species), and slowly revealing what remains. Of Starfleet, Earth, and other member worlds too, both those that remain members of the Federation and those who left. Exciting reveals of new technologies too. The tone is further assisted by the crew of the Discovery serving as a time capsule of old-school Starfleet ideals and aspirations. A gung-assembly kindling hope in a dark galaxy.
Martin-Green’s Burnham finally gets to have some fun, loosing the brooding guilt (and imprinted cool logic of her adoptive Vulcan upbringing) she’s carried the last two seasons. A lot of this is helped by the roguish new character Book (David Ajala), a space courier eking out a living in this dangerous frontier. We’re also treated to David Cronenberg in a mysterious role, and a oversized cat named Grudge. Perhaps the most notable additions to the cast are the characters of Gray (Ian Alexander) and Adira (Blu del Barrio), and the rather complex relationship they share, as well as the gender fluidity that comes with their past and present situations. Sadly Discovery at times has been a bit of a lightning rod for backlash about it’s depictions of diversity, notably in terms of sexuality. It’s a surprising rebuttal of a series that since the 60’s has always explored ideas of prejudice and sought depictions of equality. It’s another admirable step forward for the show and while not as fully fleshed out as it could be, mines and marries Trek mythology to explore new ideas that vibe with what is being progressively championed in our society today, discovery, acceptance, and equality.
Overall it’s a diverse and talented cast who approach their roles with gusto, and this enthusiasm carries the show through most of its missteps. Again some of the episodes (notably the finale) take large leaps to satisfy an emotional rather than narrative goal, and some of the main characters are a tad sidelined in favor of new ones. Some of the handling of the non-binary/trans characters also feels a little rooted in modern day, rather than showcasing a future or more advanced acceptance and discovery. Taken as a whole, these flaws or oversights can be embraced when taking in the 10 episodes as a whole, rather than in isolation. It feels like the real promise of what season 3 offered will bear fruit in season 4.
Having watched the film via streaming, I always felt some of the luminous visuals weren’t being properly represented and boy was I right. Watching on physical media is a joy. The detail is truly impressive, colors are vibrant, blacks deep and solid. Extra features are pretty great too:
- Star Trek Discovery: The Voyage of Season 3: Assorted interviews with cast and crew, plans and production, building sets and more. A solid rundown on the making of the show
- Stunted: Stunt coordinator Christopher McGuire gives a run down on how stunts are prepared, rehearsed, and executed. Season 3 has a bit more grit and physicality to it, so nice to see this aspect of the show getting some acknowledgement
- Being Michael Burnham: Martin-Green discusses her character’s arc this season
- Kenneth Mitchell, To Boldly Go: Featuring Mitchell, an actor typically seen on the show under layers of prosthetics, chats about his new role as Aurellio, his fights against ALS, and how the show worked in his reliance on a wheelchair into the show and his character
- Bridge Building: A little dive into the main characters featured on the show
- Writer’s Log — Michelle Paradise: New showrunner Paradise talks about the ideas for the new season, as well as the shooting experience on location in Iceland
- Deleted Scenes:
- Gag Reel:
The Bottom Line
Star Trek Discovery has often pushed bold ideas but stumbled with execution. Season 3 continues in a similar vein, but by propelling the show and characters into the future it has unburdened them. A darker galaxy is charted, classic Trek/Roddenberry ideals contrast all the more, and above all, the show delivers a propulsive, entertaining adventure. With this fresh spin, the future is bright for the crew of Discovery.
Star Trek Discovery Season 3 is available on Blu-ray now!