Burnham's ta'al

Fan Collective Unimatrix 47: Where Will Star Trek: Discovery’s Final Season Go From Here?

Marie Brownhill
Game Industry News is running the best blog posts from people writing about the game industry. Articles here may originally appear on Marie's blog, Fan Collective Unimatrix 47.

We’re finally getting to see the final season of Star Trek: Discovery, the show that kickstarted our current Star Trek renaissance, and it’s pretty fitting that the show’s primary new theme seems to be finding what we want in the world. I obviously don’t mean here whether we want to see Star Trek: Legacy, which we do, but rather what we want out of life, where we see ourselves belonging. We’ve seen the Starfleet life traditionally portrayed as exacting a cost—mostly that characters can’t seem to balance a family life with service in Starfleet, and generally, the characters seem to come around to the idea that service trumps family. Captain James Kirk, I’m looking at you.

However, modern Trek has been stepping away from the typical formula of serving aboard a starship and dying alone in favor of portraying alternatives. Jean-Luc Picard spent a significant amount of his character arc wondering about the road not taken, and in Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Generations, he seems to make peace with his choices and attendant childlessness. Star Trek: Picard, however, gives him the opportunity to have that legacy. Tilly, Star Trek: Discovery’s wunderkind, takes this a step farther by leaving the ship to go teach, and that’s presented as a valid choice. Saru concludes at the end of Discovery’s second episode of the fifth season “Under the Twin Moons” that he’s going to go serve in the diplomatic corps while also marrying the lovely T’Rina. These choices feel less like retirement and more like valid career choices than, say, O’Brien’s departure from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine for Starfleet Academy, which felt very much like the goodbye to adventure it was.

We also have Rayner, who gets a second chance by coming back as Captain Burnham’s new Number One. Starfleet has mostly been the province of the young, and while Callum Keith Rennie’s sixty-three years doesn’t feel as old as it might once have, Rayner is coming to the executive officer position after at least a thirty year career. This isn’t a case of Picard coming back as an admiral or Captain Riker leveraging his position to accomplish things; Rayner is more or less starting over because he desperately wants to remain serving aboard a starship. He’s not Scotty, having one last adventure as in TNG’s episode “Relics;” he’s aiming to stay in that saddle. Discovery intends on giving him that chance, breaking from previous franchise tradition.

Last season’s overarching themes centered around community and connection, warning of the dangers of isolation. Season five of Discovery seems to want to build on that concept by forcing its characters to define their roles within the community they’ve contributed so much to building. Both of the first two episodes of Discovery’s fifth season, “Red Directive” and “Under the Twin Moons,” portray characters struggling to find their place. Stamets is unhappy that Starfleet isn’t going to pursue the spore drive as its next primary propulsion system. Adira discovers that they may be happier on their own rather than in a partnership with Gray. Burnham and Book have to navigate the death of their romantic relationship, and now, they both have to decide what it is they truly want.

We know, after Kovich’s exposition that the season, at least initially, will be a scavenger hunt following on from the events of TNG’s episode “The Chase.” For those that might not remember, “The Chase” introduced the Preservers, both as an attempt to provide an in-universe answer to why so many alien species look like humans and also, more importantly, to serve as a reminder that no matter our cultural, ethnic, or linguistic background, we are more alike than we are different. That revelation disgusts the Cardassians, but it’s a great lesson for those of us living in an intensely polarized world.

From the two first episodes of season five, Discovery seems to be gearing up to grapple with themes regarding how we are all very alike in our desire to find fulfillment while also reflecting on how intensely personal we define that fulfillment while sprinkling in a bit of wrestling with the idea that what fulfills us may not be what we expected it to be. I think we’re going to see Discovery making space for versions of fulfillment that we haven’t seen before in Star Trek but that are no less valid for their novelty to the franchise. Given Moll’s identity as the daughter of Book’s mentor, I don’t believe the show intends on eschewing the classics, as family is important enough that TNG wrote an episode dealing explicitly with its importance.

I, for one, am looking forward to seeing where Discovery will take us. I don’t think it’s accidental that a show whose run has been so fraught with change wants to end by finding its place in the franchise universe, but I am hoping to see the show play with some options and possibly give us something very new and very different.

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