Spoiler Warning: There will be spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery, including the Season 3 trailer and the end of Season 2. There are also spoilers for Star Trek: Picard Season 1 and other iterations of the Star Trek franchise.
It’s only a little over a month until Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 premieres, and during yesterday’s digital Star Trek Day panels we got a surprise new trailer! With the new season so close, and with everything going on in the world, I didn’t expect to see another one. We had the first trailer released almost a year ago, and it felt like that was all we were going to get! I’ve already taken an in-depth look at the first trailer, by the way, and you can find my thoughts by clicking or tapping here.
Overall, the trailer was… interesting? There were some things that looked very exciting, and others which are definitely concerning. Taken as a whole, Discovery’s third season looks different to what we had before in terms of its setting, but also familiar. Burnham still seems to be the main focus of the plot, with the rest of the crew there to help out.
So let’s start with by far the biggest reveal: “The Federation mostly collapsed… after the Burn.” This confirms what a lot of Trekkies – myself included – had been thinking since we saw the first trailer: that this season will take the show into a future that’s as close to post-apocalyptic as anything we’ve seen in Star Trek before.
This is the part which concerns me most about this season. A post-apocalyptic setting is so incredibly far removed from anything we’ve ever seen in Star Trek, and that’s because Star Trek has always presented a positive, hopeful depiction of the future. It’s possible to use a post-apocalyptic setting to showcase the theme of hope within a narrative, but that’s not the same thing as having a hopeful and optimistic setting. Star Trek’s core has always been that humanity has overcome whatever obstacles came our way, no matter how insurmountable they seemed. We had been able to build a future for ourselves and our friends and allies where, to paraphrase Trip Tucker: poverty, war, and disease have been eliminated.
A post-apocalyptic setting represents a fundamental shift in the underlying premise of Star Trek, and could result in the franchise losing what makes it special and unique. In other franchises, this kind of setting can work. But in Star Trek it’s untested, and while what results may well be a perfectly sound television show, it may not be a perfectly sound Star Trek show.
In past iterations of Star Trek, the tension and drama came from threats to our heroes and their friends, but in a more fundamental way, it came from the idea that everything humanity had worked hard to create was in danger. That’s what the Borg represented. That’s what the Dominion represented. That’s what villains from The Original Series right through to Picard all represented. Humanity had overcome so much and built this amazing future, and suddenly it was under threat by some nefarious evildoer. That setup brings more than enough excitement – look at stories like The Best of Both Worlds or Deep Space Nine’s Dominion War storyline. They didn’t need to rely on something post-apocalyptic to generate drama and stakes. Even Discovery, in its first two seasons, was able to use Star Trek’s optimistic future as a way to generate tension – first with the Klingon War and then with the threat posed by Control.
I guess I’m just not convinced that this huge change in the underlying premise of Star Trek’s setting will work as intended.
All that being said, I’m very interested to learn more about this “Burn” – the event that caused the collapse of the Federation. The only clue we got in the trailer was that it was an event that caused the galaxy as a whole to take “a hard left”, whatever that may mean! We can infer a few things from this statement, though. The mention of the galaxy seems to suggest that whatever effect the Burn had wasn’t just limited to the Federation. It may have been truly galactic in scale, impacting all four quadrants, or Booker may have used the term to refer to a wide area, but regardless it seems that the Burn had a massive impact that extended beyond the boundaries of the Federation. Alex Kurtzman elaborated just a little on this, explaining that it was something external that caused the collapse as opposed to something within the Federation itself.
This neither confirms nor debunks my theory that the race of super-synths from Star Trek: Picard are involved! They could be the cause of the Burn, but equally at this stage it could be something entirely different. We don’t even know for sure how recent the Burn is to Discovery’s setting – it could be anywhere from a few years to a couple of centuries earlier. The furthest Star Trek has ever gone in canon is the 31st Century, which we saw in both the Voyager episode Living Witness and the Enterprise two-part episode Shockwave. Daniels, the time-traveller in Enterprise, was from this era, and in his time the Federation was still active. The trailer states very clearly that Burnham arrives in the year 3188, which puts the new season at the tail end of the 32nd Century, meaning the season takes place anywhere from roughly 90 to 180 years further into the future than anything we’ve seen previously. This obviously allows plenty of time for the Burn to happen without impacting canon – though I can think of a problem with that.
It was suggested in several Star Trek stories – if not stated outright – that the Federation patrols and explores the timeline. That includes the future timeline too, not just the past, and it raises the big question of how Starfleet managed to get caught up in the Burn when – at least theoretically – they could have foreseen and prevented it.
Time travel narratives in Star Trek have never been my favourite for a number of reasons, though I freely admit that Discovery Season 2 did a good job with that premise. Based on what we know of the Federation’s time travel capabilities, though, I think it’s at least possible that Season 3 will include some time travel elements. It’s even possible, though admittedly unlikely, that whatever the Burn is could be related to the Temporal Cold War seen in Enterprise – perhaps a faction opposed to the Federation was able to use time in such a way as to cause the Burn and with it the collapse of the Federation. Enterprise is arguably less well-remembered that other Star Trek series though, so I consider basing a major plot point around one of its storylines to be less likely.
One thing that the team behind Star Trek have to be careful with is that this decision to see the Federation collapse in the 31st/32nd Century doesn’t adversely impact other Star Trek shows. One problem that can plague prequels is that much of the drama and tension that makes for a good story isn’t present simply because we know what comes next. This happened to a degree in Enterprise – when the Xindi attacked Earth and then planned to destroy the planet, we knew they weren’t going to succeed because we’d seen Earth two hundred years later. The story was still good, but at the back of our minds or even just on a subconscious level, we as the audience knew that Captain Archer and his crew would prevail. The journey can still be fun if the destination is known, but sometimes knowing the ultimate outcome can rob a prequel of its stakes.
By making every Star Trek show from Strange New Worlds to Picard to Lower Decks a prequel to Discovery, any galaxy-threatening villain the heroes of those series have to tackle becomes at least slightly less intimidating. Not only that, but the successes Captain Pike, Picard, and the Lower Decks ensigns may have become at least a little bittersweet – because we know that no matter what they do and how victorious they are, the Burn will still happen and the Federation will still collapse. Picard and the crew of La Sirena succeeded in defeating the Romulans and the race of super-synths, but did it actually matter if within a few hundred years all that was undone by this other cataclysm? The argument that it matters far less is certainly present, and while it doesn’t “taint” those productions, future Star Trek projects produced in the wake of Discovery Season 3 will be broadcast to an audience who know about the Burn and what’s coming for the Federation. That certainly changes the way we look at Starfleet and the Star Trek galaxy.
The trailer did raise my hopes – just a little – that things may not be totally bleak for the Federation. At one point we saw a black-uniformed woman (seen above) who seemed to be human and could perhaps be a representative of Starfleet. There’s also the Federation flag – seen again in this trailer – and the official we saw in the first trailer. Burnham and the crew also appear to get combadges sporting a new variant of the Starfleet emblem – surely there could only be a new design if there’s still some kind of rump Starfleet to wear it.
Despite that, however, it seems like the future Burnham and the crew will find is far bleaker than they – or we – could have imagined. I have my concerns about how well this will work, but I’m willing to give Discovery a chance to pull it off. Having covered the setting in sufficient detail for now, let’s look at the rest of the trailer.
The trailer begins with both Burnham – in her Red Angel suit from the Season 2 finale – crashing. Burnham appears unable to contact the ship, and flies into a field of debris. This same debris field would be glimpsed again moments later as Booker and Burnham discussed the fate of the Federation; I infer from that that it’s Federation debris. This is just a guess, but I would say perhaps the remains of a space station – I saw what looked like it could have been parts of a Starbase-style space station amongst the wreckage.
The shot of the USS Discovery after its crash-landing on the planet’s surface was not good. It looked amateurish, as though it had been thrown together by an art student in Photoshop. I think it was probably the worst visual effect of the entire trailer, and I hope it’s improved by the time the series airs. I think the lighting was wrong, because something about the look of this shot gave the distinct impression that the USS Discovery and just been copied-and-pasted onto a planet’s surface image. It was only seen briefly, though, and the sequence of the ship crash-landing as a whole looked pretty good; I was reminded of the Voyager Season 5 episode Timeless.
Although the scream was a little much, I loved seeing Burnham’s elation at the discovery of lifesigns on the planet where she crashed. The entire point of taking the USS Discovery out of the 23rd Century was to prevent the rogue AI Control from getting its hands on the ship and the data it contained; if it had been able to do so it would have wiped out all life in the galaxy. Burnham is simultaneously thrilled and relieved to learn that her plan worked.
Burnham, in a voiceover, describes the journey into the far future as a “one-way trip, no going back.” But present among the crew is Mirror Georgiou, a character who is supposed to headline the currently-untitled – but still in production – Section 31 series. As far as we know that series is set in the 23rd Century, so the question of how that circle will be squared is still up in the air. Perhaps Georgiou will travel back in time somehow, or perhaps the Section 31 series will take place in this new time period.
There was a great moment between Stamets and Reno – who I’m thrilled to see return. Reno was great comic relief in Season 2, and it seems like her dynamic with fellow engineer (and boss?) Stamets is going to be a fun element in Season 3 as well. I hope we’ll get to see plenty of interaction between these two characters!
I’m trying to decide if there’s going to be anything romantic between Burnham and Booker. At one point, the trailer seemed to show them close to kissing – though whether there will be anything more is unclear. They spend a lot of time together, and I believe Booker will be the first person from this era Burnham encounters. He’s the one who tells her about the Burn, and may help her (and the audience) get acquainted with this time period. We’ve had the Burnham-Tyler relationship play out across Seasons 1 and 2, but with Tyler remaining in the 23rd Century, could a new partner be what Burnham needs?
If the series is to keep its “sole protagonist” approach – which seems to be the case – giving her a romantic entanglement could be a good source of drama. I like anything that humanises Burnham and brings her a little more down-to-earth, and showing her emotions and being vulnerable with a romantic partner is a good way to achieve those goals.
So as mentioned, Burnham appears to be the main focus of the story once again. Though she has improved in leaps and bounds from her disastrous role in Discovery’s premiere, I’ve never felt she was the best and most interesting part of either season. And putting Burnham in stories where she, and she alone, is capable of solving the galaxy’s problems amplifies some of her less-attractive character traits. It seems from the two trailers that we’re going to get another Burnham-centric narrative, and all I can really say about that is that I hope it’ll be one that not only keeps her relatable, but that provides the other crew members with genuine volition and agency over the story. Simply having Saru and the rest of the crew trailing along in Burnham’s wake is not Discovery at its best and never has been. Hopefully this season can address that issue in some way!
I mentioned Mirror Georgiou, and she appears to get into a fight with someone who I would say could be a faction leader or even a warlord; someone who has control over a ship, fleet, planet, or region in the aftermath of the Federation’s collapse. I doubt this character is the primary villain of the season – if indeed such a villain exists – but he certainly seems to be in the way of whatever she’s trying to accomplish – perhaps putting his own needs ahead of the “greater good.” I wonder what role Georgiou will play in a “restore the Federation” story – she’s someone who is wholly uncommitted to the ideals of the Federation, and left to her own devices would surely scheme to create a new Terran Empire instead! Hopefully Saru and Burnham will be able to keep her in check.
The trailer appeared to show the USS Discovery making use of its spore drive. I was glad to see this, as the spore drive has felt like an underused piece of technology. In Season 1 it was little more than a macguffin to allow for travel to and from the Mirror Universe, and after that it really felt as though the writers and producers didn’t know what to do with it – or at least didn’t know what to do with it in a way that didn’t completely break canon. Now that we’re out of the 23rd Century, canon issues are no longer present. That potentially opens up Discovery for more stories which put the spore drive through its paces.
We also got another look at the directed energy weapon seen in the first trailer. This weapon seems to produce a large shockwave capable of knocking people over; whether this is a kind of stun setting is unknown, as is what the device is called. As I mentioned last time, it doesn’t feel particularly futuristic – it’s something we could have imagined existing in the 23rd or 24th Centuries. But that in itself probably ties in very neatly with the post-apocalyptic setting – Discovery had to find a way to make its ship, crew, and technology not feel horribly outdated in the 32nd Century.
We caught the briefest of glimpses of two new members of the cast. Star Trek’s first non-binary character, played by Blu del Barrio, and first transgender character, played by Ian Alexander appeared for a split-second in the trailer. We don’t know anything about these characters aside from their gender identities, which made headlines even in mainstream news outlets.
There was a scene with a large tree that was interesting. I have nothing but a gut feeling to go on with this, but I believe it’s a memorial tree, planted in honour of the USS Discovery and the crew that were lost. This could be on Earth, perhaps at Starfleet Academy or Starfleet Headquarters – assuming either facility still exists. The tree looked very old, and the crew seemed to have a strong emotional reaction to it, which is why I’m guessing it’s a memorial. It’s also possible that this tree was planted in honour of someone like Captain Pike, who the crew knew well.
Burnham says that the Federation gave her and/or the USS Discovery “a mandate to solve the biggest problems in the galaxy.” This ties into the post-apocalyptic nature of the theme; I think we can infer that whatever remains of Starfleet has very few ships at its disposal, and that’s why the centuries-old Discovery can be pressed into service.
The typeface used for the series seems to have changed as well, which is in keeping with the idea of Season 3 being a kind of soft reboot for Discovery. I like the way this looks, and it will be used for the show going forward according to showrunner Michelle Paradise. It’s a cleaner, sleeker font than that based on the classic Star Trek typeface which the series had used until now. It looks great, and gives the show a more modern look.
We saw several new settings in the trailer, and it’s unclear whether they’re all on one planet or are spread out. There were two that looked decidedly post-apocalyptic: a market, shanty town, or junkyard where Burnham is being guided by someone who may be Orion, and the place where Georgiou gets into the fight with the man who may be a faction leader.
There was one scene that could be set aboard a futuristic Starfleet vessel or space station; this could be the location where the official seen in the first trailer was based, as it looked superficially similar. The line “welcome to the future” was heard over the top of this brief shot, which may be intentional or may just be incidental! This facility had curved lines and holographic interfaces, and looked suitably futuristic – but at the same time it wasn’t so futuristic that it couldn’t be something from the 23rd or 24th Centuries.
It looked as though we could see a flashback to the Burn at one brief moment in the trailer, but it could be this facility (or a similar one) coming under attack. Flashbacks could be a great way to explain what happened, so I hope we do get to see the events of the Burn instead of just hear about them secondhand from other characters.
I think that covers everything from the trailer that I wanted to mention. After the trailer premiered there was a panel which included the definitely not-fired Alex Kurtzman, the man who’s basically in charge of Star Trek as a whole right now. Kurtzman appeared alongside showrunner Michelle Paradise and Booker actor David Ajala in a panel hosted by – of all people – LeVar Burton’s daughter Mica. I’m not sure how I feel about Kurtzman citing Gene Roddenberry’s optimistic vision of the future in the context of Discovery taking a very dark, post-apocalyptic setting. Optimism and hope can certainly be themes in this kind of setting, but it’s still fundamentally different to anything Roddenberry imagined.
The panel was okay, and there were a few minor points of interest. But I’m never the biggest fan of these kind of things, especially when done at a distance. As I wrote when looking at Star Trek’s Comic-Con @Home panel, a glorified Zoom call isn’t always the most interesting thing to watch.
A couple of highlights are that Booker and Burnham get into a fight when they first meet, which is certainly an interesting and dramatic way to introduce two characters! Despite the point I made above regarding the level of technology in the 32nd Century, the showrunners were keen to stress that there will be new and different technologies than what we’ve seen in Star Trek previously. The question of the Trill came up, and the answer surprised me a little: instead of saying that the Trill could be an anchor point for returning fans to perhaps understand the far future a little better, instead it was stated that they may not be the same as we remember.
Booker has a cat! I love cats, and regular readers will know I have several of my own – including one named after a Discovery character. A short featurette included in the panel showed how the cat was recruited to the show and how they helped him act. The cat looks beautiful too! David Ajala spoke beautifully about the Star Trek franchise, its history, legacy, and what it means to him. The sincerity was greatly appreciated, and he seems like he will be a wonderful part of the series and the franchise. That was all from the panel – the guests had a lot to say and it is worth a watch if you’re a fan.
So that wraps things up. The trailer had some fascinating and exciting parts, but I’m not going to lie or pretend it doesn’t have some concerning elements too. I’m enjoying Lower Decks at the moment, as you know if you’ve been following my reviews! Discovery Season 3 marks the third Star Trek project this year, and I’m looking forward to it despite any concerns I may have about certain narrative elements. Season 2 was truly excellent, and though Season 3 aims to be a soft reboot, in some respects I hope it’ll be able to build on what the show achieved last year.
I hope you’ll come back in mid-October as I review each new episode and possibly engage in a little theory-crafting to go along with the season.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 premieres on the 15th of October on CBS All Access in the United States, and on the 16th of October on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.