[Ed. note: This piece contains some spoilers for seasons 2 and 3 of Star Trek: Discovery.]
Season Three of Star Trek: Discovery sends the crew of the eponymous science vessel far into the long run, setting the collection free from the franchise’s established canon. It was a daring transfer for showrunners Alex Kurtzman and Michelle Paradise, letting them discover points like useful resource shortage — beforehand anathema to Trek’s largely utopian ideas — and present a model of the United Federation of Planets in even higher decline than it’s in Star Trek: Picard.
Because the episodes aired in a world that felt completely unmoored as a result of mixture of the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread social and political unrest, Discovery had the potential to dwell as much as Star Trek’s traditional mission of offering perspective and commentary on the most important problems with the day. But for each subject the writers tried to sort out, the conclusion was muddled or perfunctory moderately than truly insightful. The primary arcs had been additionally rushed, since two of the season’s 13 episodes had been totally dedicated to organising a derivative. The end result was a particularly weak season that didn’t ship satisfying arcs for many of the present’s characters. The writers launched complicated plots, then wrapped them up with feel-good simplicity. Right here’s what season Three of Discovery tried to discover, and the way it failed.
Useful resource shortage
Season 3’s major battle is the Burn, a mysterious occasion that affected dilithium — the ingredient accountable for faster-than-light journey and far of Trek’s different wondrous expertise — and left the quadrant diminished and fragmented. Dilithium was in brief provide within the interval instantly earlier than and particularly after The Burn, leaving the Federation and numerous different factions solely capable of apply drive primarily based on their dwindling reserves.
Star Trek has at all times existed in a post-scarcity future, so this twist enabled an enormous rethinking of how numerous species and planets would evolve and alter to cope with the problem. The truth that the Federation was so arduous hit offered a very grim metaphor for the present decline of the US as a world energy. The near-future realism of The Expanse has made it a much better venue for tales about humanity’s infinite battle over assets, and the people who find themselves inevitably exploited and uncared for because of this, however there was actually potential in approaching the subject from a Star Trek lens.
One plot offered a critique of colonialism, with the Emerald Chain mercantile syndicate offering a strong argument in favor of the Prime Directive — Starfleet’s ban on considerably interfering with alien civilizations. The Emerald Chain exhibits as much as supply wondrous options to issues like environmental crises, that are contingent on their skill to use the assets of the planets they assist.
The concept exhibits Star Trek followers how fortunate Earth was to make contact with the kindly Vulcans earlier than encountering different alien species, and it matches in effectively with the questions raised in 2020 concerning the diploma to which Earth may truly unify if alien life arrived right here. However whereas season 2 of The Mandalorian gives a strong evaluation of the best way main powers trample over indigenous peoples, Star Trek: Discovery’s writers resolved their exploration of the subject with an answer that has all of the nuance of a Captain Planet episode with some empaths utilizing their connection to nature to resolve the issue the Emerald Chain was ostensibly serving to them with.
Discovery showing sooner or later shakes up future politics, with the ship and its spore-drive engineer Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) changing into the last word commodity by offering a non-dilithium-based technique for faster-than-light journey. The present is at its greatest when the crew gives a lightweight in a darkish world, akin to when protagonist and occasional first officer Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Inexperienced) evokes a person who’s sustaining a vigil for remnants of Starfleet regardless of by no means formally being inducted as a member. However its utopianism reaches ludicrous ranges by means of Admiral Charles Vance (Oded Fehr of The Mummy and Resident Evil: Extinction), whose ignorance of realpolitik in demanding a ridiculous variety of concessions from a strong potential ally — together with that she stand trial for warfare crimes — makes it baffling he’s achieved such a excessive rank. His intransigence pays off anyway, in ways in which really feel like totally unearned plot fiat.
Dealing with trauma and the burdens of management
On the finish of season 2, Discovery’s crew heroically comply with journey into the distant future in a determined bid to avoid wasting all life within the galaxy, and the early a part of season Three sees them struggling to come back to phrases with the implications. Kelpian crew member Saru (Doug Jones of The Form of Water and Hellboy) lastly finds the braveness to embrace his position as captain, however he additionally results in the uniquely tough place of getting to getting a crew of perpetual overachievers to acknowledge they’ve been pushed to the breaking level.
This plotline left loads of room for commentary on mental-health points in high-stress jobs, coupled with some ripe private plots about adjusting to vary. 2020 was actually a yr that might use extra thought and tales round these concepts. However these had been largely oversimplified, mishandled, or used for awkward comedy. Lieutenant Keyla Detmer (Emily Coutts) has been on the helm since Discovery’s first episode, however has acquired just about no character improvement, so the arc exploring her instability following the bounce to the long run may have remedied that oversight. As a substitute, it’s thought of resolved as quickly as she’s keen to ask for assist.
Saru also needs to have had time to shine within the captain’s chair. As a substitute, he’s left making meta jokes about what catchphrase he ought to use when giving an order. When Michael is stripped of her position as first officer because of insubordination, he promotes ensign Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman) into her place, in a choice that clearly had extra to do with the writers not understanding what to do with Tilly than any in-world logic. Michael will be the solely character whose arc has a satisfying conclusion this season, but it surely once more comes at Saru’s expense. It looks like Jones has been written off the present as of the top of this season, which might be for one of the best, as a result of the actor deserves higher.
Paramount grabbed loads of consideration in 2020 with the announcement that season Three of Discovery would function the collection’ first main trans and non-binary characters, Grey (Ian Alexander) and Adira (Blu del Barrio). Their introduction ought to have been a strong embrace of illustration in a once-trailblazing franchise that was lagging behind the progress made by different main exhibits. However the thought fell aside as a result of the writers couldn’t resolve what method to take to the characters.
The perfect approach to introduce them may need been to not even touch upon their genders. That did occur with Grey, who’s simply introduced as Adira’s boyfriend. However moderately than clearly stating their pronouns upon arrival on Discovery, Adira known as by feminine pronouns all through many of the season earlier than elevating the problem with Stamets. He’s apparently the primary particular person Adira has instructed about their gender id, other than Grey, which makes their id look like an inherently shameful secret.
In the event that they weren’t serving the identical position of portraying a extra inclusive world as the unique Star Trek’s multiracial solid did, Grey and Adira may have been used as metaphors for locating and embracing gender id. That appeared to be the route the writers had been entering into early, with the implantation of Grey’s Trill symbiote feeling like a stand-in for gender affirmation surgical procedure. After the process, Grey assures Adira, “I’m nonetheless me. I’m simply extra me.” And Adira altering pronouns may have been a part of them coming to phrases with the best way being a Trill host modifications their perceptions about themselves. Provided that the character is just 16, that plot may simply be a stand-in for the best way some youngsters battle to come back to grips with their gender.
However the greatest drawback is that each characters are simply used as equipment for the connection between Stamets and his boyfriend, ship doctor Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz), which hit a tough patch after Hugh returned from the useless in season 2. The writers sought to rectify these points with the traditional romance cliché of getting the 2 successfully have a child within the type of Adira, although neither actually requested Adira to consent to the position. A plot reveal within the finale surrounding Grey does trace at a extra significant arc for the characters to come back. However this season, they had been simply one other instance of the writers setting daring targets and underdelivering.
CBS All Entry has already renewed Star Trek: Discovery for a fourth and fifth season, which will likely be shot back-to-back. Showrunner Michelle Paradise says Discovery’s crew will keep within the 32nd century, and that season four may have the identical focus as season Three on “attempting to verify our characters can develop, exploring new relationships, exploring how folks can change, discovering new layers for every of our characters.” However the writers must develop and alter too. It isn’t sufficient to have nice concepts, or a willingness to interact with tough topics. The present must be higher at participating with these concepts and the present’s bigger themes if it’s going to do proper by the characters, the franchise, and the followers.