Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3.
Today we’re going to take a look at something that’s been bugging me for a couple of years, ever since the finale of Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 in April 2019. I didn’t start working on this website until November ’19, so I haven’t written up full reviews of Season 2, nor have I spent much time breaking down all of the various story points. This will be my first big foray into that! Rather than just a critique of what could be argued to be a plot hole or “goof,” though, I want to turn this into a theory, particularly one that could have an impact on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds – the upcoming series set on the USS Enterprise with Captain Pike, Spock, and a new cast of characters.
Ever since I watched Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2, something has stuck in my mind. Immediately before Burnham and the USS Discovery left the 23rd Century behind and headed into the far future we’ve seen depicted in Season 3, they were engaged in a climactic battle alongside Pike and the USS Enterprise against the Control AI. In addition to a fleet of Section 31 starships that were unmanned, Control had also possessed (or assimilated) the body of Section 31 commander Captain Leland. Control used Leland’s body to board the USS Discovery at the battle’s climax to attempt to retrieve the Sphere data – the macguffin that was the cause of the fight in the first place.
The relationship between Control and Captain Leland was not sufficiently explained on screen, in my opinion, and this has a bearing on what comes next and why I have an issue with Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2. But based on what we saw during the episode, it seems as though Control was somehow tied to Captain Leland’s body in a very significant way, such that when his body was crippled by Georgiou inside the USS Discovery’s Spore Cube, it had an impact on the battle raging outside.
This is the moment where I feel there’s an issue. The entire reason for sending Burnham and the USS Discovery on a one-way mission to the far future was to keep the Sphere data safe from Control, but when Georgiou defeated Captain Leland, Control appeared to also be defeated – or at least sufficiently incapacitated as to be unable to continue the battle. This all happened before the USS Discovery entered the time-wormhole.
So, with that in mind, why did Pike, Saru, or even Burnham not stop? Surely at the very least they could have paused what they were doing to consider their next moves. Aboard the Enterprise, Pike was able to easily destroy the disabled Section 31 ships, removing any immediate danger, and with Captain Leland incapacitated and clearly not going anywhere, the Sphere data was also safe. Before sending the ship and crew to an unknown destination with no way back, did no one realise that the battle may have already been won? Was there no reason to send Burnham and the ship into the future?
This is what I’m terming “the big mistake” for the purposes of this theory.
Although Burnham had already used the Red Angel suit to open the time-wormhole, I would absolutely argue that, based on what we saw on screen, the battle against Control had taken a decisive turn before either she or the USS Discovery actually crossed the threshold, and that there was time for Saru, Pike, Spock, or someone to point that out. They were preoccupied with the jobs that they had to do, but when it became obvious that Control was at least incapacitated – if not outright defeated – I think that warrants pause from everyone concerned. They were in the process of making a life-changing decision for Burnham and the crew of Discovery, yet for some reason no one seemed to realise that it may have ultimately been unnecessary.
So let’s break it down even more, for the sake of clarity, and follow events step-by-step. I don’t usually do time-stamps, but I think this is important so we’re all on exactly the same page. If we begin at exactly 51 minutes, 30 seconds into Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2 – at least on the Netflix version (I assume it will be roughly the same on Paramount+ and Blu-ray too) – we see Burnham getting ready to open the time-wormhole. In the shot of her flying through space near the raging battle, we see the Section 31 ships beginning to slow their rate of fire with a consequent drop in the number of explosions. This is the first indication that something was changing.
At 51:54, Saru gives Detmer the order to follow Burnham’s lead. The USS Discovery moves through a field of debris (presumably caused by the battle) and then we get our first look at the time-wormhole a few seconds later at around 52:06. At this point, neither Burnham nor the ship are anywhere close to crossing the event horizon and entering the time-wormhole.
Just before 52:30 the action cuts to Captain Pike on the Enterprise’s bridge, watching Burnham and Discovery preparing to enter the wormhole. Trailing in Discovery’s wake are Section 31/Control drones, chasing after them. After Saru and Pike exchange goodbyes at 52:40, and Dr Culber tells Stamets that “we’re on our way,” at 52:57 we come to the scene at the heart of my argument – and of this theory. In Discovery’s engineering bay, the possessed Captain Leland is trapped in the Spore Cube by Georgiou.
Seemingly admitting defeat, Control-Leland tells Georgiou – in true clichéd villain style – that “this does not end here!” Georgiou then finishes the job of killing him, using the powerful magnets in the Spore Cube to force the nanites out of Leland’s body. This action cripples Control, and severs the link between it and its fleet.
53:39 sees Control-Leland hit the deck, dead. The nano-bots spill out of his corpse, and though it’s not clear exactly what will happen to the human Leland, or whether he could be saved, this is a major blow for Control. Less than ten seconds later, at 53:48, the USS Discovery and Burnham can both be seen, still outside the time-wormhole, and Control’s fleet suddenly stops pursuing them.
On the bridge of the Enterprise, Una (Number One) notes this at 53:51, informing Captain Pike that “they’re all dead in the water.” Again, this is before either Burnham or Discovery have entered the time-wormhole. Even if no one on Discovery realised what was happening – which is possible given everything else going on – the crew of the Enterprise certainly had, and there was still time to contact Discovery.
At 54:00, Georgiou contacts Captain Saru, and this is the moment where he could have made a decision too. Georgiou informs him of Leland’s death, but uses a very interesting phrase: “Control is neutralised.” Discovery has not yet entered the wormhole, and on the bridge, Saru is already aware that the reason for doing so no longer exists. Pike is aware that their reason for heading into the future no longer exists. They have already won the battle. By Georgiou’s own admission, the threat Control had posed is unequivocally over.
At 54:16, Burnham and the USS Discovery are seen reflected in the glass of Siranna’s starfighter, still not inside the time-wormhole nor having crossed its event horizon. These are the crucial seconds at the core of the theory, because it’s in these few seconds that the decision to leave the 23rd Century behind could have been called off. With the Enterprise destroying what remained of Control’s fleet, and with Leland dead, there was no immediate way for Control to access the Sphere data – and yet no one on either ship seems to have realised that.
Even if we say that Control was not totally killed off, and that its servers remained active at Section 31 HQ (or elsewhere, if you prefer) and thus that Control was still out there and potentially able to regroup, the fact remains that the immediate threat had passed. The battle had been won, even if there was still more to do to win the overall war.
No one mentioned this in Discovery Season 3. After a brief reference to Georgiou destroying the remains of Leland in the episode Far From Home, and a short conversation about Control with Admiral Vance in the episode Die Trying, their reasoning for going to the future was never discussed nor elaborated on. Burnham, when pressed about it by Book in That Hope Is You, maintained that it was the “only way” to save the galaxy, so she clearly hadn’t realised what was going on behind her – but that makes sense as she was busy operating the Red Angel suit and keeping the time-wormhole stable.
Saru and Pike have no such excuse, in my opinion. Both commanders clearly and demonstrably knew that Control and/or its fleet were incapacitated, and I believe that should have led to one or both of them bringing an immediate halt to events to take stock. If Control was disabled, there was no immediate need to head to the future. With Leland dead, the Sphere data was safe, at least temporarily. With the battle won, everyone could have taken a moment to breathe and assess the situation, perhaps planning to go to Section 31 HQ and permanently destroy whatever remained of Control. Instead, everyone simply sat back as Burnham and Discovery raced into an unknown future – a future, I would argue, they did not need to travel to.
There’s a way this could come back in either Discovery Season 4, Strange New Worlds Season 1, or both: if Saru and/or Pike realise that they made a big mistake.
Given what he went through to make the Red Angel suit possible, I would suggest the person this would affect the most would be Captain Pike. In the episode Through the Valley of Shadows, Pike obtained a time crystal from the Klingons, but did so at great personal sacrifice – solidifying for himself a future of permanent disability. How would he feel knowing that it was all for naught; that if he replays the events of the battle in his mind, he could see that Control was already beaten and that there was no need for the time crystal?
One theme Strange New Worlds is certainly going to pick up on is Pike’s knowledge of his impending disability. As a disabled person myself, this is something I’m really interested in seeing come to life on screen. I can relate to what Captain Pike is going through, because I’ve had the experience of sitting in a room with a doctor and being told things about my health and my future that are unavoidable. I get that sense of inevitability, of knowing things won’t get better but they will get worse. This is something genuinely interesting and that has the potential to be inspirational through Anson Mount’s wonderful portrayal of Pike. But I also wonder if we’ll see him wrestle with feelings of regret or remorse, feeling that his fate and future are his own fault. If he knows (or believes) that the battle was won in Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2 without the need for time travel – and thus, without the need for the time crystal he sacrificed so much to obtain – will those feelings be worse for Pike?
Though we didn’t see much of this in Discovery Season 3, with Season 4 on the horizon there’s a chance for the circumstances of Discovery’s jump into the future to be revisited. Even if nobody aboard realised it at the time, it’s possible that someone will have subsequently had the revelation that their one-way trip to the future, sacrificing so much and leaving their loved ones behind, may not have been necessary. Perhaps this will become an issue for Captain Burnham or Saru, with a disgruntled crew member taking out their anger on them for forcing them into a post-Burn future that they didn’t have to inhabit.
So that’s it. My theory, based on what we saw in Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2 is this: the defeat or disabling of Control toward the end of the battle means that Burnham and Discovery didn’t actually need to go to the far future – at least, not immediately. At the very least, pausing to take stock would have been worthwhile.
It seems possible to me that this could be brought back as a story point – even if it’s just in a relatively minor way, such as with a line or two of dialogue acknowledging it – in either Discovery or Strange New Worlds, as it’s a story which impacts major characters from both shows.
Having delved deeply into this battle from an in-universe point of view, now let’s step back and acknowledge that this is, in effect, a “plot hole” or production-side issue. The writers and producers of Discovery Season 2 wanted to send the ship and crew into the far future, partly due to negative fan feedback involving so-called canon problems during Season 1. But at the same time, they also wanted to make sure that the Control storyline was 100% wrapped up and concluded before Season 3 kicked off.
Unfortunately, in my opinion at least, the way they chose to accomplish those two goals has opened a plot hole. In the mad rush to wrap up Discovery Season 2 in what was already a feature-length episode, an inconsistency has been created within the plot of the show. If Burnham and Discovery had gone into the future, and in the final few minutes of the episode we saw Pike, Spock, and the crew of the Enterprise finish defeating Control, there would be no problem. But because it was Georgiou, aboard Discovery, who killed Captain Leland, and because this unexplained link between Leland’s body and Control seems to have crippled the entire fleet, we have a problem.
Overall, for most viewers who don’t spend as much time thinking about (and nitpicking) Star Trek as much as I do, it probably passed by unnoticed. But even in 2019 I was having conversations with fellow viewers – including some who I would call “casual” viewers as opposed to hardcore Trekkies – who noticed this very issue. The fact that no one – not Pike, Spock, Number One, Georgiou, or Saru – thought to call off the journey to the future, even temporarily to assess the new facts, is a plot hole.
However, it’s a plot hole that could be plugged by incorporating it into future stories. Captain Pike could be affected by it, as previously mentioned. As could Spock or Number One on the Enterprise, as they saw the battle end before Burnham and Discovery entered the time-wormhole. It could also become an issue for anyone aboard the USS Discovery – perhaps with their mood and mental health suffering, they replay the events of the battle in their mind and come to the conclusion that they were forced to travel to the future unnecessarily. That’s my theory, anyway!
Whether any of that will come to pass, or whether both shows will proceed ignoring this issue is anyone’s guess right now. I would think that, if Discovery wanted to acknowledge this criticism, Season 3 would’ve been the time to do so, and the fact that it didn’t happen may mean that the writers and producers are keen to move on and put Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2 behind them. But I’m not 100% convinced of that. I think there’s scope to incorporate what feels like a plot hole into the storylines of either upcoming show in a way that would make sense.
As I said at the beginning, this is something that’s been on my mind since I first saw the episode a couple of years ago! Even on first viewing, it seemed patently obvious to me that someone should have realised what was happening before Burnham and Discovery left, speaking up to put the brakes on. It really does feel that, based on the sequence of events and how they unfolded on screen, Burnham and Discovery could have remained in the 23rd Century.
Despite all of this over-analysing of a few minutes of the episode, I really enjoyed Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2 – and Discovery Season 2 as a whole. It’s a fantastic season of television well worth a watch, and this theory, despite being something that’s bugged me for a while, is really just a glorified nitpick!
Star Trek: Discovery Seasons 1-3 are available to stream now on Paramount+ in the United States and on Netflix in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The series is also available on Blu-ray. The Star Trek franchise – including Discovery, Strange New Worlds, 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.