Finding your footing when the universe is broken
At the start of Discovery’s season 3, the viewer was left in the unknown, 930 years into the future. This future wasn’t the utopic future of Jean Luc’s Federation. This was a gritty universe regressed back into a lean, hungry, and dangerous place to be. The crew was wholly unprepared for this future, thinking like we all do, that the future would be better. Ultimately, this was the best direction for the season and series to go, giving viewers a mystery while adding momentous character building that led to the completion of arches, while also adding new characters to cheer on or despise.
The Federation in the year 3188 is broken and without a lot of hope when Michael Burnham, fresh from her victory against Control, crashed into the planet Hima, her suit broken and unable to contact her crew. She meets the man piloting the ship she collided with on her descent into the year 3188, a human male named Book. She learns that he is a courier, that his cargo is stolen from another, and that the universe is very different than the one she left. The Burn has fundamentally changed the universe, when all the dilithium exploded, taking all the ships and the ability to use warp drives. The cause of the Burn is unknown. After a double-cross, and then seeing that they make a good team, Burnham and Book join forces and work together for the next year.
Enter the USS Discovery, whose travel through the wormhole has taken longer, and reemerges near a frozen planet that they later learn is called simply, “The Colony”. They awaken from unconsciousness to find the ship in an uncontrolled free-fall towards the surface and into a glacier.
There they learn that Michael Burnham is not with them, nor is the universe what they expected. Harsh, brutal lessons are learned first hand by Saru and Tilly about where they now exist. The crew frees the ship from the ice and escape back into space, where they see a year older Michael Burnham.
The reunion is realistic in how a year can change a person. The Burnham they knew had been reshaped into a tougher, more guarded person. Burnham realizes this too. She’s had a year away from the chain of command and the rules and regulations of the Federation. She is used to the odds of two vs the universe rather than the needs, expectations, and safety of over 100 people. When the chance to become Captain comes up, she fully realizes that she is not the person to lead, Saru, who had come far from his beginning of always feeling fear to now a confident officer. He takes the Captaincy.
The crew visits Earth, learning more about the time in which they now inhabit along with picking up Adira, a bright young officer who has wanted to travel on a starship. Adira is not all that they seem to be, and it is soon discovered that they are a non-binary human that can carry a Trill symbiote successfully. Their story is that the Tal symbiote used to belong to their boyfriend, Grey. To save the symbiote after an asteroid had collided with the ship, Adira took on the Trill. They suffered some side effects, keeping Adira from being able to fully tap into the memories of the others. This is resolved when the ship visits the planet Trill to get Adira help. The Trill people refuse to help Adira at first but are given the aid that resolves Adira’s issues, giving them access to all the memories and where the Federation headquarters are now located.
Now at Headquarters, the crew truly encounters the future in the form of advanced transporters (with no need of a transporter room) and other technology. Their welcome is not as warm as expected, especially the former Emperor, who has started to encounter mental issues that cause her to not be cognizant of her surroundings.
Burnham continues to chaff even more with their rules and regulations as she continues to examine and disassemble what caused the Burn. Her insubordination causes Saru many headaches as he tries to heal the rest of his crew, who are still dealing with the aftermath of losing everything familiar and everyone they have ever known. The crew of Discovery discovers that the largest threat to the Federation is from the Emerald Chain, a criminal organization lead by an Orion woman named Osyrra.
Georgiou’s health continues to deteriorate, the cause of which is because of her being from the Mirror Verse and then time-traveling. She will soon be dead. The Sphere data tells Dr. Culber that a cure can be found on Dannus V. Discovery jumps to the planet, with Burnham and Georgiou investigating the claim of a cure. They find a man and a door, who turns out to be the Guardian of Forever, who had moved from its original planet. Georgiou experiences the Mirror Universe through the portal and finds she is no longer the cold, killer Emperor she once was. However, she can’t reside and live in the time where Burnham is anymore either. The Guardian gives her another opportunity to live, in the Mirror Universe before the Terran Empire, when the two universes were aligned. She takes it and says goodbye to Burnham.
Discovery discovered the source of the Burn and goes to investigate. The Burn started in the Verubin Nebula with the KSF Khi'eth at its source. It is a Kelpien vessel. Inside the ship on this planet of dilithium is Su’Kal, a Kelpian male that had developed a resistance to the radiation and a connection to the crystals in utero. His Mother created holoprograms to help protect and nurture him till help could arrive. However, the trauma of seeing his Mother die leads to him causing the Burn, as he sets off an explosion, all at once, across the universe. While dealing with Su’Kal, the Emerald Chain attacks, and successfully takes over the ship, capturing Stamets. Burnham and Book take the ship back over, with Burnham killing Oysrra, and Book, with his empathic abilities, able to use the spore drive. Saru, feeling the call of his people after becoming close to Su’Kal, decides to leave with him to his home planet. Burnham accends to become Captain, and Book joins the crew.
This has been a dynamic season, a decisive and different chapter in Discovery’s journey which almost feels like a rebirth. I deeply enjoyed the moments of growth that other cast members had. From Saru to Tilly. Keyla’s PTSD and her grief overwhelm her are refreshing whereas these emotions have been nearly completely ignored in past Treks. Members of the crew grew into their own stories, including the phenomenal former Emperor played by the incomparable Michele Yeoh. I will miss her being the thorn that pokes the crew. A show always does better with organic growth rather than forced plot-driven.
My only issues with the less organic plot threads would be with Burnham. Some of her growth was more “plot taxi” than anything. Reusing the dynamic of Burnham ignoring Starfleet to do her own thing was reused more than it should have, indicating a small bit of lazy writing in what was a strong season. The reintroduction of her Mother and the confrontation of her humanity vs her Vulcan training was superb! She received the needed motivation via what I like to call “Mom nettling” to wrestle out the deeply buried truth that not only the Vulcans needed to hear, but Michael also needed to hear as well. This moment led to the best organic growth Michael had all season.
I loved every minute of the Guardian. I tip my hat to Carl ( Paul Guilfoyle) for his performance of such an enigmatic character. Owning every bit of the screen against the large presence of Yeoh’s Emperor. It was truly delightful and a season high that was a balm with losing Yeoh.
As for the Burn… fantastic concept, execution not so much. It felt like a badly stitched patchwork of non-matching materials. Su’Kal was more plot device than a character. Designed to get a now confident Saru off and put Burnham into the Captain’s chair. The Burn’s origin could have been anything instead it was an emotional outburst by a child rather than something based on science.
Which brings me to Oysrra and her merry band of conquers. Emerald Chain excited me more so than the Burn storyline. Oysrra was cheeky yet ruthless in her execution of her agenda. Like other great villains, she sees herself as a hero rather than a villain.
I want to make one last mention of a special guest actor on the series, Kenneth Mitchell. He had played several Klingons in Discovery, including Kol. In August of 2018, he was diagnosed with ALS, which took the use of his legs. He was cast as Aurellio, and the use of a hoverchair was added in. The show could have recast this role but instead embraced him.
Which makes me love Discovery even more.