TV Review: ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Season 3

‘Star Trek: Discovery’ goes boldly into the future…

The cast of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ assemble as they raise the flag for season 3 (image credit: ViacomCBS).

Warning! Contains SPOILERS

Starring:  Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Anthony Rapp, Mary Wiseman, Wilson Cruz, Michelle Yeoh, David Ajala, Blu del Barrio, Ian Alexander, Janet Kidder

Series created by:  Bryan Fuller & Alex Kurtzman (based upon Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry)

What’s it about?

Michael Burnham and the crew of the U.S.S. Discovery find a new adventure awaits them as they arrive in the 32nd Century…

In review

For its third season, Star Trek: Discovery enters unknown territory as Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and the U.S.S. Discovery and its crew make their one-way trip 930 years into the far future of the 32nd Century – the farthest point in time in which a Star Trek series has taken place.  It’s another entertaining outing that allows Star Trek: Discovery to chart its own course whilst keeping an eye on the history of the franchise to deliver some surprising moments of fan service.  Things get off to a slightly uneven start as Discovery’s writers and lead producers Alex Kurtzman and Michelle Paradise contend with balancing standalone narratives with this season’s overarching story (more on that in a moment) but everything begins to ramp up and coalesce as the end line approaches, leading to an engaging tranche of final episodes.

Picking up right where season two left off, the third season’s opening episodes – “That Hope is You, Part 1” and “Far From Home“ deal with Burnham and the Discovery’s arrivals in the 32nd Century, which thanks to temporal mechanics comes one year apart.  Despite the defeat of the malevolent A.I. known as Control and sentient life being kept safe from annihilation, with the universe-spanning Sphere Data merged into Discovery’s systems, we find that the galaxy is in a troubled place following ‘The Burn’, a sudden catastrophic event occurring a century earlier.  In this incident, the majority sources of the warp drive enabling substance Dilithium simultaneously detonated along with any starship with an active warp core, claiming millions of lives and the decimation of both the Federation and Starfleet.

Given the scarcity of Dilithium, coupled with Starfleet’s diminished numbers and inability to operate properly it’s a job that only Discovery, with its unduplicated space-hopping spore drive, can achieve and on which the remnants of Starfleet must rely.  Hindering their mission is the threat of the Emerald Chain, a nefarious mercantile group that seeks to fill the galactic power void left by a contracted United Federation of Planets – of which its founding centre, Earth, is no longer a member.  It paints a grim picture that mirrors our currently fractured and disconnected world, but the hope that Discovery can uncover the origin of The Burn and find a way to rebuild Starfleet and the Federation is what forms the positive backbone of this season.

The backdrop to the seasonal arc is established in the early episodes of season three, which also facilitate the introduction of some new characters.  Upon her arrival in the future, Burnham meets Cleveland “Book” Booker (David Ajala, sharing some great chemistry with Sonequa Martin-Green) an initially roguish space courier from whom she learns of The Burn as well as the galaxy’s status quo and finds herself partnering with as she awaits the arrival of Discovery.  Book is an enjoyable addition to the series as he becomes a helpful ally to the Discovery crew and hopefully Burnham and Book’s exploits during the year-long wait for Discovery will be detailed in a future novel or comic book title as it’s something that’s sadly only touched upon on screen.

In keeping with the traditions of Star Trek, Discovery further expands the diversity of its cast and characters by adding non-binary actor Blu del Barrio and transgender actor Ian Alexander (who performed the role of Lev in video game sequel The Last of Us Part II) to the group.  Del Barrio plays Adira, a human joined with a Trill symbiont after its former host, Gray – Adira’s boyfriend – is tragically killed.  Del Barrio brings a wonderfully sensitive performance to the likeable Adira and given that their character is taken under the wing of Lt. Cmdr. Stamets and Dr. Culber, del Barrio gets to share some great scenes with series regulars Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz.  Ian Alexander, though given less to do, is equally effective as he features in flashback scenes as well as mysteriously appearing, sporadically, to Adira.

New crewmate Adira (Blu del Barrio) joins Cmdr. Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) onboard Discovery (image credit: ViacomCBS).

Rounding out the guest cast is Oded Fehr who is excellent as Starfleet’s noble, no-nonsense commander in chief, Admiral Vance and oddly, iconic film director David Cronenberg, who appears as the enigmatic ‘Kovich’.  Little is known about Kovich at this point but with Cronenberg confirmed to return in season 4, we’ll surely find out more.  Season three finds its big bad in the form of Osyraa, the Orion leader of the Emerald Chain – played by Janet Kidder (niece of Superman’s Margot Kidder).  Though more of a straightforward villain than a compelling antagonist, Osyraa proves a formidable enough foe as things ramp up towards the season finale.

Of the established Discovery cast, all have their moments this season.  Sonequa Martin-Green continues to be the centre of the series and is given a lot to tackle, given Burnham’s year working with Book and her doubts about her future once she reconnects with Discovery.  These feelings are eventually allayed but Burnham finds her time with Book has reawakened some old habits and despite good intentions, she rashly defies orders to rescue Book from the Emerald Chain in “Scavengers” resulting in her removal as first officer, much to Saru’s disappointment.  Speaking of whom, Doug Jones is once more a standout as Saru, who rightfully (and not unexpectedly) earns his promotion to captain of the U.S.S. Discovery.  Yet, the investigation of The Burn also leads to some personal stakes and a clouding of judgement when a Kelpien distress signal is discovered.  Burnham’s demotion leads Saru to entrusting Ensign Sylvia Tilly as acting first officer, a decision that on the face of it might seem ridiculous but is earned given Tilly’s growth as a character – her commitment to the command training programme and trustworthiness as well as her stint as ‘Captain Killy’ in the Mirror Universe, all make sense of the creative choice.  As Tilly, Mary Wiseman has always been the heart of Discovery and excels in demonstrating the young ensign’s abilities – and shortcomings – in a leadership role.

Wilson Cruz is also great as Dr. Hugh Culber, who after his post-rebirth soul searching and self-doubt finds he is now more at peace with himself and a point of moral counsel for his crewmates, evidenced in “People of Earth“ which deals with the crew’s trauma at what they’ve gone through and left behind.  A lot of this is focused through Discovery’s helm officer, Lt. Detmer, giving Emily Coutts a chance to step-up and enjoy some uncomfortably tense moments with Stamets as her mounting post-traumatic stress reaches a breaking point.  It may be a misconception that there shouldn’t be conflict between characters in Star Trek, it’s actually always been present since the original series, only side-stepped in the early years of The Next Generation at the behest of series creator Gene Rodenberry.  Trek has always utilised instances of conflict to facilitate drama but in the end, it always serves to create an understanding and strengthen the familial bond between the core characters – as it does so here.

As with previous seasons there are some standout episodes.  One highlight is “Unification III”, penned by series writer/producer and Trek novelist Kirsten Beyer.  It’s a revisitation of the Star Trek: The Next Generation two-parter “Unification”, where Ambassador Spock (the late, great Leonard Nimoy – who we get to see courtesy of footage from the TNG story) sought the reunification of the divergent Vulcan and Romulan races.  “Unification III” finds that this was finally achieved after the destruction of Romulus (see Star Trek 2009/Star Trek: Picard), with Romulan survivors living on the Vulcan homeworld, now known as Ni’Var – another world which has seceded from the Federation (at least it’s heartening to have learned that the Kelpien homeworld, Kanimar has since joined).  The episode helps to paint the wider cosmic picture in terms of post-Burn politics and relations and sees Burnham reunited with her time-travelling mother (the superb Sonja Sohn), who, in a neat tie-in to Star Trek: Picard, has been living in the future as a member of the noble Qowat Milat group.

The two-part “Terra Firma” is also rather good (following the disappointment of the Book-focused “The Sanctuary”), seeing the departure of Michelle Yeoh’s Philippa Georgiou as she prepares to head-up the gestating Section 31 series and a return (of sorts) to the Mirror Universe courtesy of the mysterious ‘Carl’ (CSI’s Paul Guilfoyle), guardian of an equally mysterious doorway.  Whilst it’s fair to say that the Mirror Universe may have been played out in Star Trek for now (perhaps more so since Discovery went there for half a season) it serves Georgiou well, providing reasons for the softening of her character since her arrival in the Prime Universe.  It also gives us a chance to see, in keeping with the spirit of Mirror U outings, the delightfully over-the-top dark and ruthless versions of familiar characters, this time including the Mirror Burnham (alas, mentions of Jason Isaac’s Gabriel Lorca don’t lead to a cameo), with Sonequa Martin-Green clearly relishing the role.  It also affords Michelle Yeoh an opportunity to grapple with a conflicted and surprisingly vulnerable Georgiou.  The biggest surprise of the season comes in “Terra Firma, Part 2”, learning that Georgiou’s trip to the Mirror Universe was simply a test of worthiness by Carl, who reveals himself as…the Guardian of Forever!  This tie-in to one of the all-time classic Star Trek episodes, “The City on the Edge of Forever” is a golden moment which expands the mythology of the Guardian (not seen since the also-classic animated Star Trek episode “Yesteryear”) by combining what was established in the televised version of “The City on the Edge of Forever” with Harlan Ellison’s original concept.  The two-parter concludes with Georgiou’s poignant farewell as she enters the Guardian’s portal to travel to an unknown time and place – leaving viewers awaiting the Section 31 series to see how Georgiou’s story continues.

The Guardian of Forever returns (image credit: ViacomCBS)!

It’s also worth mentioning that after its journey to Starfleet’s space-bound HQ (in “Die Trying“), Discovery receives a nifty futuristic refit (complete with bizarrely independent warp nacelles) and upgraded technology to bring her more in line with the standards of other 32nd Century Starfleet ships, including the U.S.S. Voyager-J and the Eisenberg-class U.S.S. Nog (a touching tribute to late Deep Space Nine actor Aron Eisenberg and his character in that series).  As for the Sphere Data, this begins to manifest itself via Discovery’s main computer (which plays into the events of the season finale), foretelling what was seen in the Short Treks instalment “Calypso”.

Season three is wrapped up in a trilogy of final episodes.  “Su’Kal” is a surreal outing in which the cause of The Burn is revealed – a Kelpien named Su’Kal (Bill Irwin), marooned at birth on a Dilithium rich planet and raised by various holograms in an elaborate holographic environment.  It’s a great episode for Doug Jones, not only because Saru gets to connect with another being of his race but also for the fact that the setting allows Jones to appear sans his Kelpien make-up.  The explanation for the Burn and Su’Kal’s link to it are a little vague although ultimately cleared up in the season finale, but in basic terms, it’s presented that when Su’Kal becomes emotionally unstable, so does the Dilithium around him.  Su’Kal’s trauma of his mother’s death caused such an event, creating a chain reaction on a galactic level, resulting in what becomes known as The Burn.  Whilst some might be disappointed by this reveal and its metaphysical nature, it’s actually an unexpected one and a welcome alternative to the predictability of The Burn simply being the responsibility of a villainous individual or group. Penultimate episode “There is a Tide…” is an exciting and unabashed homage to action classic Die Hard as Ossyra and the Emerald Chain seize Discovery (and thus its spore drive) placing Burnham in the main action role as the incarcerated acting captain Tilly and Discovery bridge crew plot to retake the ship, which provides an opportunity for stalwart ancillary characters Detmer, Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo), Rhys (Patrick Kwok-Choom) and Bryce (Ronnie Rowe Jr.) to play an active part here and in the finale.

The season finale, “That Hope is You, Part 2” brings everything to an action-packed and effects-laden close which, for better or worse, is generally par for the course with most long-form narrative streaming shows but although there is the tendency for Discovery’s producers to overindulge in the feature film visuals afforded the series (an example being the elaborate turbolift shaft sequence which becomes a little excessive) it does keeps the viewer hooked.  It gets all a bit frantic but the resolution sees the Emerald Chain defeated (albeit rather quickly and conveniently) and Su’Kal separated from the Dilithium rich environment, now providing Starfleet with a vital source to fuel the warp drive capabilities of its ships.  Surprisingly, Saru decides to depart Discovery and return to Kanimar with Su’Kal (at least temporarily we’re assured as Doug Jones is returning for the now in production fourth season).  That leaves the captain’s chair of the U.S.S. Discovery vacant, a position that Admiral Vance offers to Burnham – which after brief hesitation, she accepts.  It’s not a totally unexpected development as it was likely that the show’s main character would eventually end up in a command position and it puts things in an interesting position that will hopefully conclude Burnham’s arc of redemption.  The finale also sets the series on a positive and hopeful path as the work to reconnect Starfleet and rebuild the Federation truly begins and that promises a very Star Trek-like direction for the series going forward.

The bottom line:  Star Trek: Discovery transports viewers into the far off future of the 32nd Century for another entertaining chapter in the series with some standout episodes and fine cast performances.

All episodes of Star Trek: Discovery’s third season are now available to stream via CBS All Access in the U.S. and via Netflix internationally (Canadian viewers can watch it via the Crave TV service).

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).