Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3, Star Trek: Picard Season 1, Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 1, and for other iterations of the franchise.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 only concluded a few days ago, and while production has begun on Season 4 it will be a while yet before we get any news. Regardless, I thought now would be the perfect time for some wild speculation… sorry, I mean “preliminary predictions.” It’s very early in the game to be thinking about Season 4 – a season which, if Season 3’s timeline is anything to go by, is unlikely to grace our screens before Spring 2022. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be a bit of fun!
The end of Season 3 wrapped up the main storylines in a generally satisfactory manner; regardless of how we may feel about specific events (like the Burn) their stories were concluded by the time the credits rolled. The dangling story threads left behind are more like teases for what may come, rather than unfinished elements from what came before. That’s a good way to do things, and unfortunately that’s where Picard’s Season 1 finale earlier in 2020 dropped the ball, at least in my opinion.
So Season 4 is potentially quite open right now. There’s no obvious direction for the story to go, nor did Season 3 end with a cliffhanger or big tease like Season 2’s journey into the future – or even Season 1’s reveal of the USS Enterprise approaching. Captain Burnham was given her orders after assuming command of Discovery, and set out in the ship to begin the task of delivering dilithium across the fractured Federation. It was implied that this was step one in bringing more wayward ex-members back into the fold, so perhaps that’s something we’ll see continued.
To re-emphasise: I’m categorically not saying that I have any “insider information,” nor that any of these predictions will come to pass in Season 4. This is guesswork on my part – educated guesswork, in some cases, but guesswork nevertheless. I would encourage all of you to be incredibly sceptical of anyone claiming to know for sure what will happen, or anyone claiming to have “anonymous sources” within the production team at ViacomCBS. Many, many times have people making such claims been shown to be making things up.
With that out of the way, let’s jump into my list, which is in no particular order.
Number 1: Visiting Kaminar.
One thing I disliked in the Season 3 finale was the unceremonious dumping of Saru. Though we know that Saru actor Doug Jones is returning to Discovery in Season 4, it will be in a different role now that Burnham has become captain. I have a couple of ideas for where Saru may fit, but for now suffice to say that I think we’ll have at least one episode focusing on Saru’s home planet of Kaminar.
Not only would such a story allow Saru to catch up with his people, but we could see how the Kelpiens and Ba’ul have developed since we saw them in Season 2. The episode Su’Kal suggested that the Kelpiens and Ba’ul joined the Federation jointly, and the way their conflict ended would be interesting to explore.
Given the cataclysmic nature of the Burn, though, which I expect to see the lingering effects of for years to come, one storyline that would be potentially interesting is how Kelpien society would react. Knowing that one of their own is responsible for this disaster is going to have some kind of effect on Kaminar and the Kelpiens. If Bill Irwin could return to play Su’Kal, we could see this explored in depth. Would Su’Kal be welcomed by everyone in the way Saru welcomed him? Or will he be shunned by some for his unintentional role in the Burn?
Such a storyline could be timely. In the real world, China is struggling with the fact that the coronavirus pandemic seemingly originated there, and I think that a storyline which looked at how Kaminar deals with its unwitting role in the cause of the Burn could be an interesting way for Star Trek to do what it does best: using its sci-fi setting to look at real-world issues.
Number 2: A new villain or adversary will rise.
Over its first three seasons, Discovery introduced us to several different villains. It seems unlikely that Season 4 will break that pattern, and it feels almost certain that there will be a significant adversary or villain for Captain Burnham and the crew to defeat. Whether such a character will be a galactic threat like Control or a playground bully like Osyraa is not obvious; the Emerald Chain was basically the only antagonistic faction we met in Season 3. However, there are bound to be others!
This could be where a race or faction from Star Trek’s past comes back to the fore, though going down that route would be a bit of a constraint. I think we’re more likely to see an original creation for Season 4, someone whose motives are tied in some way to preventing the Federation reestablishing itself, perhaps.
If the theme of the season as a whole will be reconnecting the Federation, it stands to reason that any villain or adversary would be someone who seeks to prevent that. However, it isn’t just Burnham and Discovery working on this task, so any such villain would have to be powerful enough to wield a fleet of starships. They may have their own motivations, and the Federation are simply in the way of whatever they’re trying to do.
This could also be a way to introduce time travel to the season, assuming that the producers want to do so. A villain could be someone flouting the ban on time travel for some reason – and could even be someone working inside the Federation, such as Section 31.
Number 3: A connection or crossover with Star Trek: Picard.
After Picard Season 1 came and went with nary a hint at the existence of Discovery, I was worried that Discovery would reciprocate in Season 3. Luckily that didn’t happen, and not only did we get to see the Qowat Milat – a faction introduced in Picard – we also got a mention of Admiral Picard himself in the episode Unification III.
At this point we don’t know whether Discovery Season 4 or Picard Season 2 will be broadcast first – and it’s possible that, with the ongoing disruption caused by the pandemic and the uncertainty around the two productions, the team at ViacomCBS aren’t 100% sure either! However, both shows are up and running, and Picard has at least one season under its belt – a season which had several factions, new characters, starships, story points, etc that could in theory cross over to Discovery.
I got the impression from the Season 1 finale of Picard that the show would be moving on to a different adventure in Season 2, perhaps leaving behind the Coppelius synths altogether. If that’s the case, Discovery Season 4 could pick up this story and show us what became of the synths in the centuries after Soji and Picard came to their rescue. Did they stay on Coppelius or relocate? Are some of the synths we knew, such as Soji, still alive in this era?
As I said numerous times during the runs of both Picard and Discovery, these sister shows could do more to work together, reminding viewers that they’re two parts of a greater whole. The difference in time periods is an issue, but as we saw with the Qowat Milat it doesn’t have to completely prevent the two series from teaming up.
Number 4: The return of a classic race or villain.
Season 3 brought back the Trill, Orions, Andorians, and the Romulans and Vulcans on Ni’Var. There were very brief scenes which showed off Cardassians and a couple of other races, and we saw the Bajorans and Xaheans in holographic form too. So Season 3 crammed a lot into its thirteen episodes in terms of revisiting races from Star Trek’s past. This is something I hope Season 4 will continue to do.
Though the Dominion War ended more than 800 years ago, finding out what became of the Cardassians, Bajorans, Breen, and the Dominion themselves is perhaps what I’d choose if it were up to me. The Dominion War arc, though controversial in some Trekkie circles, is a story I find myself revisiting often, and it’s always a thoroughly enjoyable ride. Deep Space Nine ended right when the war did, and we don’t really know anything about what became of the factions involved afterwards.
There’s also the potential to learn what became of the Borg. They didn’t take advantage of the Burn and the Federation’s collapse to assimilate the Alpha Quadrant, so could we infer from their absence that they’ve been destroyed, pacified, or severely reduced? Could the Borg have been presumed defeated centuries ago but make a big recurrence in Season 4 – perhaps looking to acquire the Spore Drive technology?
I’d also love to see the inclusion of a Suliban or Xindi, or perhaps a Talaxian or Kazon from the Delta Quadrant. I know Discovery can’t possibly cram all of these disparate factions and races into one season, but the 32nd Century offers so many interesting story possibilities for practically everyone we’ve met in past iterations of Star Trek. The potential is unlimited!
Number 5: Will Burnham remain Captain?
Discovery worked hard over the back half of Season 3 to make Burnham’s ascent to the captain’s chair feel genuinely earned. Some of the criticisms I’ve made of her character, both in Season 3 and previously, stem from her position as a junior officer making big decisions that go against her orders, so putting her in the captain’s chair and backing her up with a helpful crew should see her continue to grow. I want to see that, and I hope that she will continue to be a Starfleet captain who lives up to the ideals of the Federation in Season 4 and beyond.
But Discovery has never found the right fit for its captain’s chair for one reason or another. I’ve actually enjoyed what all three captains – Lorca, Pike, and Saru – brought to the role, but none of them stayed in that role beyond a single season. One of my hopes for Season 4 would be that we’d get some stability in the captain’s chair, and in a way I’m hopeful Burnham will retain the position going into Season 5 and potentially beyond – but what if that isn’t the plan?
Perhaps one of Discovery’s unique points is going to be the season-long captaincies of different people, each giving the ship and show a distinct feel. Lorca was the hardball who turned out to be a traitor. Pike was the classic character who embodied the spirit of adventure. Saru was the calm and collected diplomat. Burnham may be a Kirk-style action hero, a bit of a renegade but someone who always comes through for Starfleet when it counts.
How or why she might leave the role is unknown, and given Discovery’s approach to storytelling across Seasons 1 and 2 in particular, I’m not sure how likely it is that, having gone to the trouble of promoting her, they’ll replace her within a single season. But that exact thing happened to Captain Saru this season, so it wouldn’t be unprecedented.
Number 6: The lingering effects of the Burn.
Having resolved the Burn and found a huge dilithium planet to negate its destructive effects, there may be a temptation to shelve the Burn, especially if the writers and producers of Season 4 are taking on board fan feedback – which has been mixed to say the least on that particular story point. However, I think doing so would be a mistake.
If we start off Season 4 with a one- or two-year time skip, I can already predict that the legwork of rebuilding the Federation will have already happened off-screen. Resetting the Federation to a state much closer to how it has always been shown in Star Trek may be what some fans want, and in some ways I do too – but I think that after seeing the Federation at such a low ebb in Season 3, we need to see at least some of the rebuilding process for ourselves.
I already discussed one way the Burn’s effects could still impact the story with the Kelpiens, but there are a million-and-one others. Captain Burnham could lead the ship to revisit parts of the Federation that no one has heard from since the Burn only to find them under occupation or in the midst of civil war, for example. Or we could see an ex-Federation member that completely ran out of dilithium and has had no way to power itself for a century.
Season 3 focused largely on the Federation and ex-Federation members. But there’s scope to see how the Burn impacted other powers in the galaxy – depending on which ones existed at the time! If the source of the Burn is revealed as a Federation member (i.e. the Kelpiens) would, for example, the Dominion or Klingon Empire want to exact revenge or get reparations from the reunited Federation? There are so many ways that the Burn could have impacted the galaxy that we need to see. It hasn’t all gone away with the uncovering of its source and the discovery of the dilithium planet.
Number 7: A time travel story featuring the Guardian of Forever.
It was a very deliberate choice to bring back the Guardian of Forever in Season 3, and it would be a shame to only use them once! Not to mention that guest star Paul Guilfoyle was just fantastic as Carl, the Guardian’s humanoid avatar, and would make a thoroughly welcome return to Discovery.
One way the Guardian of Forever could be included would be to send the USS Discovery back in time – for some reason – in order to tie into the Short Treks episode Calypso. That would likely need to be a multi-episode story arc, but it would be one way to include the Guardian and resolve Calypso – two birds, one stone!
If it were discovered that some nefarious villain or antagonistic faction were using time travel, the Guardian of Forever could be Captain Burnham’s ace in the hole to counteract them. That would be another way to make use of the reintroduction of this entity. Season 3 expanded on the Guardian of Forever by showing us that it can transport people between parallel universes, so this could in theory allow for another Mirror Universe story (please no) or for the Discovery crew to travel to any of the other alternate realities seen in Star Trek.
Speaking of which…
Number 8: A Kelvin timeline reference.
This is something else that Season 3 touched on briefly, with Kovich making note of a time war soldier who crossed over from the alternate reality. The Guardian of Forever, as mentioned, could be one way to literally cross over, but unless a new Kelvin timeline film is in development – and it doesn’t seem to be at this stage – there’s not as much to be gained by doing so when compared to a tie-in with Star Trek: Picard or other ongoing projects.
However, a Kelvin timeline reference would be neat, even if it were little more than a throwaway line akin to Kovich’s in Season 3. The 32nd Century, with its superior technology and better understanding of time and timelines, is the only Star Trek setting aside from the alternate reality itself that really can make the connection between Star Trek’s two major universes.
Number 9: Who is Kovich?
Famed director David Cronenberg, who plays Kovich, has said that the character will return in Season 4 in some way, so there’s the possibility to learn more about this mysterious character. I’d been speculating since his first appearance that his distinctive uniform, high security clearance, and un-Starfleet lack of morality could hint at his being an operative of Section 31 – or even its leader.
Another theory I’ve heard fans kicking around is that Kovich is the Federation’s president. That would be an interesting way to go too, as a storyline which involves rebuilding the Federation could require serious diplomatic efforts. The Federation President would surely be involved in bringing key worlds like Earth back into the fold.
Number 10: Admiral or President Saru.
As I said earlier, I was disappointed in the way Saru was dumped at the end of the Season 3 finale. He didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to his crew, to offer Burnham her promotion in person, and his decision to leave the ship was only briefly touched on by Burnham in a voiceover. Though Saru is coming back, his role is unclear with Burnham now in command.
I can think of a couple of ways he could be included, though. The first would be a promotion to the rank of Admiral, joining Vance at the head of Starfleet. As the Federation grows, Starfleet will need to grow too, and with a new source of dilthium – and the potential for new Spore Drive ships too – and that will mean the need for new Admirals to command the expanding fleet. Saru proved himself as a good captain across Season 3, and while he did make some mistakes, I would argue he’s an excellent Admiral candidate.
However, we also saw Saru’s diplomatic side in Season 3, particularly with the President of Ni’Var. Saru could continue in this role as a diplomat, but if worlds like Trill, Earth, and Ni’Var all rejoin the Federation, might some of them want to see him become Federation President?
If the story of Season 4 looks at the Federation re-unifying, I could see why some of the aforementioned worlds might want to support the candidacy of Saru. Early Federation politics seemed to involve balancing the Vulcans and Andorians, but this led to almost all of the Federation’s key institutions being on Earth and dominated by humans. The reunited Federation may be less keen on giving humanity all of the top jobs, especially given Earth’s century of isolationism, so someone like Saru may be a compromise candidate among the Federation’s members who are coming back together for the first time in a long time.
Number 11: A redesign of the USS Discovery internally.
One aspect of Season 3 that didn’t quite sit right with me was the redesign of the USS Discovery. I adore the redesign, don’t get me wrong, but I didn’t quite buy into it as “believable” considering the ship didn’t change on the inside. We saw a few changes, like the programmable matter and holographic elements in many bridge consoles, and of course the big empty space in the engineering/drive section that we saw during Book’s turbolift battle against Zareh. But aside from a few small touches, a few lines of technobabble, and one CGI-heavy action sequence, the ship looks the same from the inside.
This undermines the decision to have the ship undergo a major refit, and I’d love to see some more aesthetic changes inside the USS Discovery to match its external appearance. It wouldn’t mean completely tearing down old sets, but tweaking and changing them to indicate that the ship has been heavily altered. Lighting is one way that the designers could make an immediate, obvious, and unobtrusive change. Ditching some of the blue lighting and generally upping the brightness of other lights – especially on the bridge – would transform the way Discovery looks.
The USS Enterprise, after its refit in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, looked like a different ship inside and out. The USS Discovery nailed the outside look in Season 3, but its inside hasn’t caught up. Even a handful of changes here and there would go some way to making good on the refit idea, and I’d love to see the bridge, the ready-room, and engineering given a facelift in time for Season 4.
This would also be a great moment to show off a new area of the ship, either something that was improved during the retrofit or a brand-new addition. We saw the data core at the end of Season 3, but I don’t see a pressing need for the crew to spend a lot of time there. What we could see, however, is some kind of holodeck or recreation area, an improved mess hall that had more of a Ten Forward lounge vibe, an observation deck or briefing room, a battle bridge or secondary command centre, or an additional science lab.
Number 12: Defending the Verubin Nebula.
In a galaxy devoid of its most significant source of fuel, the discovery of a massive cache of dilithium will not go unnoticed – or unopposed. The Emerald Chain may have “fractured” according to the Season 3 epilogue, but it seems unlikely that they’d be the only ones interested in acquiring the dilithium planet in the Verubin Nebula.
As such, part of the Season 4 storyline may involve Discovery having to defend the Verubin Nebula from someone looking to seize it for themselves. After the Emerald Chain did essentially the same thing at the end of Season 3, if I were writing it I wouldn’t make this the main point of Season 4, but it seems like something that could be included – or at least explained. How will the Federation defend what seems like the galaxy’s most valuable resource?
Number 13: To seek out new… dilithium?
At the moment, the Verubin Nebula is the only major source of dilithium. The USS Discovery with its Spore Drive can jump all across the galaxy, making it a great ship to scout for new sources of the valuable fuel. Part of Discovery’s mission could be to jump around to areas of the galaxy the Federation had previously been unable to reach in search of dilithium.
I see this story point as the catalyst for something else to happen rather than the main event, though… because on its own it doesn’t exactly seem like the stuff of action and excitement!
Number 14: A new first officer.
Last time we looked at the odd Tilly situation and theorised that her uniform may have been altered from command red to science blue in post-production. This could mean she’s being replaced as first officer – a position she only took on a temporary basis to begin with.
If Captain Burnham doesn’t keep Tilly as first officer, that obviously opens the position up to someone else. There are candidates on Discovery’s crew, but I’d also propose Lieutenant Willa, Admiral Vance’s aide-de-camp from Season 3. She would be an interesting addition to the crew; another 32nd Century native along with Book to advise the crew of changes they might’ve missed.
We could also consider the promotion of one of the secondary bridge crew, such as Nilsson, Rhys, or Bryce. Nilsson and Rhys have both been left in charge on the bridge before, so could in theory make good candidates. I wouldn’t pick Stamets or Dr Culber, as they both have roles elsewhere on the ship.
Nhan could make a comeback after she was dropped early in Season 3. I half-hoped to see her return in the season finale, but if she finishes her mission aboard the USS Tikhov, perhaps she could return to Discovery as first officer. If not, maybe a new character could join the crew in that role.
Number 15: A new home for Federation HQ.
I initially wondered if Season 4 might see Federation HQ return to its home on Earth, but I’m not sure if that would be the best option so early in the game. Plus I kind of like the idea of a space headquarters, not attached to any planet and able to be moved.
Perhaps it makes the most sense in the short term for Federation HQ to anchor itself near the Verubin Nebula, able to immediately respond to any threats to its valuable prize. But we could also see Federation HQ move between worlds, visiting new members in turn or just staying on the move. If Starfleet is growing in strength, the need for a secret location will be lessened and perhaps we could see some institutions of the Federation’s government relocate away from the base we first encountered in Season 3.
Number 16: The return of the Klingons.
In Season 1, Discovery depicted a major Federation-Klingon war, and while the Klingons were peaceful by Season 2, they were not exactly staunch allies of the Federation. In Star Trek’s fictional history, the Federation and Klingons would remain at loggerheads for much of the 23rd Century, only to sign the Khittomer Accords at the end of the century, leading to a period of peace. By the 24th Century they were allies, particularly during the Dominion War, and I think it would be interesting to take that line forward in time.
How would the Discovery crew, veterans of the Federation-Klingon war, react to having to work with Klingons? Are the Klingons Federation members, or ex-members? If so, part of the season’s story could be bringing the Klingons back into the Federation – but would everyone on the crew be okay with that?
Alternatively we could see the Klingons as a neutral power, watching the rebuilding of the Federation from the outside. Maybe they, like the Emerald Chain, have gotten used to being a more powerful faction as the Federation have declined, and may not like to see their old adversary getting back on its feet.
Almost anything could have happened to the Klingons both before and after the Burn, and for a faction that had previously been important within Discovery it would be great to see what became of them, and how that information would impact our characters.
Number 17: Aurellio will be back.
Kenneth Mitchell’s Aurellio was one of the high points of the final two episodes of Season 3. As an ex-member of the Emerald Chain and a brilliant scientist, Aurellio could be a valuable ally to the Federation and Discovery’s crew.
Aurellio was tasked with working on the Spore Drive, and in the Season 3 finale figured out that empaths like Book are capable of navigating the mycelial network. He could have switched sides to work for the Federation, perhaps working on a way to give more starships a Spore Drive. There are other scientific roles he could play, depending on the nature of the season.
Number 18: More Spore Drive ships.
Speaking of the Spore Drive and Aurellio, now that the problem of navigating the mycelial network has potentially been fixed, there’s no reason why more Starfleet vessels can’t be fitted with a Spore Drive of their own. In Season 1, Stamets seemed to suggest early on that mycelial spores were difficult to collect or cultivate, but if that could be addressed (or a new source found) there’s no reason why more Spore Drives couldn’t be built.
The Spore Drive has long been Discovery’s most controversial piece of tech, and finding a proper role for it that didn’t get in the way of previously-established canon is one reason for taking the ship and the series out of the 23rd Century. Having arrived in the far future, now is the time to let the Spore Drive shine.
Number 19: Those grey uniforms?
The reaction to the new uniforms in the 32nd Century was mixed, and I wonder if Season 4 will address this in any way. One thing to note is that the grey uniforms looked a lot better in the brightly-lit Federation HQ than they do on the more dimly-lit Discovery. This could be addressed by changing the lighting, as suggested above, but it could also be addressed by making some changes to the uniforms.
It was a refreshing change to ditch the all-blue look, and I don’t dislike the 32nd Century uniforms. Though Vance wore the Admiral’s variant all season long, I still need to get used to seeing the regular crew in that style before I can say for sure how much I like them. So from my personal perspective I think there’s no immediate need to change anything up, but I know not everyone agrees.
Starfleet uniforms are like starship designs: everyone in the fandom has an opinion on which is best. For my two cents, after four seasons of Enterprise’s blue boiler suits, three seasons of Discovery’s all-blue look, and Picard’s crew not having uniforms, I’m happy to see something different. Lower Decks and the Kelvin timeline uniforms had blocks of colour, and that was great. But it’s been a long time since we really mixed up the uniforms in Star Trek – even the Starfleet uniforms of the Picard era were similar to those from Deep Space Nine and Voyager.
So I’m willing to give the grey outfits a chance. But I wouldn’t be shocked to see promo material for Season 4 showing off a new variant or even a different style altogether.
Number 20: Lieutenant Sahil will join the crew.
Lieutenant Sahil, newly commissioned into Starfleet in the Season 3 finale, was one of the first people Burnham met in the 32nd Century. It would make a lot of sense for her to want to repay his kindness and help by offering him a role aboard Discovery. He could be one of the bridge officers, perhaps taking over from someone like Nilsson or Bryce if either were promoted.
I’d love to see a recurring role for Lieutenant Sahil now that he’s a commissioned officer. With Georgiou having left the show entirely and Saru looking at a potentially reduced role or a role not aboard the ship, there’s plenty of space for Sahil, Aurellio, and others to join up.
So that’s it. A few far too early ideas for what Star Trek: Discovery might bring us in Season 4. If I remember after the season airs it’ll be fascinating to come back and look at this list!
So this was just a bit of fun as I continue to work through my post-Season 3 thoughts. As I say it’ll be great fun to come back and see how many of these guesses were completely wrong once we’ve seen Season 4 for ourselves. The 32nd Century has opened up Star Trek to radically new story ideas for the first time in a long time, and I’m loving that. No longer being constrained by canon means that Discovery can literally take the franchise anywhere, with open-ended story possibilities.
These are not even theories – I want to call them guesses rather than anything else. So please, please don’t get carried away thinking that any of these are destined to happen. We all need to remember to take such theories and predictions with a pinch of salt at the best of times, and guesswork this far out when we know less than nothing about the upcoming season is almost silly! So as fun as this was to put together, let’s all try not to get too excited about anything listed above.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 is available to stream on CBS All Access in the United States, and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery and all other properties mentioned above – is the copyright of ViacomCBS. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.