Spoilers for the Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 finale, “That Hope Is You, Part 2” past this point.
For a series so confident in shaking up its own premise, particularly when it comes to game-changing season finale twists, Star Trek: Discovery has always been caught in the gravitational pull of the franchise that spawned it. And nowhere was that more apparent than at the end of the Season 3 finale, “That Hope Is You, Part 2,” which found the crew of the USS Discovery figuratively morphing into the crew of the USS Enterprise.
A little bit of recap first, though. Split into factions, the crew of Discovery has been fighting a battle on two fronts. On the emotional end, you’ve got Saru (Doug Jones), Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz), Adira (Blu del Barrio), and a surprisingly visible Gray (Ian Alexander) working to rescue a Kelpien named Su’Kal (Bill Irwin), a man-child who turns out to be responsible for The Burn.
The Burn (just in case you’re reading this article instead of watching 13 episodes of television, for some reason) was an epochal event in the Star Trek universe about a hundred years prior that wrecked the entire galaxy, frying all the Dilithium that helps power warp cores, nearly simultaneously. As heavily hinted two episodes back, we get confirmation this week that Su’Kal’s DNA has been modified by scientific experimentation and the Dilithium planet his ship was crashed on, and his screams when his mother died sent a shockwave through subspace that blew up thousands of ships and nearly destroyed the Federation. Same, girl. Same.
Saru manages to connect with Su’Kal despite the ship’s hologram masking his appearance as human, and they convince the childlike Kelpien to calm down enough to leave. By episode’s end the duo are sitting, arms draped over each other, watching the stars fall on their home planet of Kaminar. Saru will eventually return to Discovery, but for now he’s more happy being home with his large, adult son than in the captain’s chair.
Speaking of which, over on Discovery Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) is reenacting Die Hard 2: Die Harder by taking back the ship from The Emerald Chain, and their leader Osyraa (Janet Kidder). The rest of the crew, led by Tilly (Mary Wiseman), is providing tech support along with the ship itself, fighting the Emerald Chain shock troopers throughout the vessel in order to reboot the data core and switch control from Osyraa, to Michael. It works, and Michael engages Osyraa in hand to hand combat in the middle of the data core during a sequence that probably made JJ Abrams think “hey why didn’t I think of that.” Ultimately, Burnham wins, and weirdly kills Osyraa, taking back Discovery, saving everyone and even swinging by the Dilithium planet to pick up Saru and company before they die of radiation sickness.
All in a day’s work for Commander Burnham, of course, but there’s one last little bit of business left. After spending three seasons refusing the responsibility of command, she’s forced into it — lovingly — by Admiral Vance (Oded Fehr). He explains that thanks to the Dilithium planet, they’re finally able to bring hope to the galaxy. And that hope, it turns out, is you — as long as you are Michael Burnham. With Saru absent, the energized Vance insists that Burnham become Captain of Discovery. With its spore drive able to travel instantly between planets, it’s the only vessel able to bring Dilithium everywhere, and reconnect the Federation. After much waffling, Burnham accepts. The final scene finds the newly uniformed crew welcoming Burnham to the bridge. She sits down in the chair, looks space in the face, and says: “Let’s fly.”
Discovery warps off into the distance, and over the credits, the classic, original series Trek theme plays.
One thing I want to get out of the way right here: it is impossible to not get choked up seeing the happy, comfortable Burnham sitting in the Captain’s chair. Even ignoring that Discovery, for three seasons, has been Burnham’s slow, careful journey to this inevitable point, the visual of seeing a Black, female captain at the helm of a starship is a powerful one; particularly Sonequa Martin-Green, who continues to be a bright light on all of TV, not just Star Trek.
And not for nothing, but “Let’s fly,” is a great Captain’s catchphrase (sorry, Saru).
That said, and I’m sure there will be a fair amount of discussion about this online because [gestures wearily] fandom, but I’m much iffier about Discovery turning into The Original Series, even if it’s only for this brief moment.
It’s something that in retrospect feels inevitable, much like Burnham’s captaincy itself, so I understand the impulse to get to this point. Season 1’s twist was the reveal of Discovery, face to face with the Enterprise, albeit one captained by Pike (Anson Mount), not Kirk and the promise that we’d finally see Burnham reunited with her adoptive sibling Spock (Ethan Peck). It also featured The Original Series theme music over the end credits, much like the finale of Season 3. Season 2 ended not with the reveal that Discovery had been flung 900+ years into the future, but with Pike and the crew of the Enterprise flying off on their own mission, not quite at the point of turning the ship over to Kirk (William Shatner) and his crew; but still ready to head into their own classic adventures on the spinoff Strange New Worlds.
So despite Discovery‘s seemingly bold, new reinvention of the Trek mythos, there’s been this constant loop back to the original adventures that spawned the franchise. And honestly, it’s a bit of a bummer. I know there’s been a lot of back and forth on this, but I fall on the side of being a huge fan of what Discovery did in Season 1, dropping shocking twist after twist and injecting a sense of the unknown into TV shows and movies that had started to feel formulaic. Over time, that’s been whittled out of the series — it’s stayed serial in its storytelling, but each subsequent season has moved towards the planet of the week plots that defined early Trek.
That’s certainly what’s set up by the end of “That Hope Is You, Part 2,” which finds a newly rejuvenated Federation sending Discovery out on a mission into space, the final frontier, to boldly go where man has gone before, but not for about a hundred years or so. Whether that will continue into Season 4 is an open question, but compared to the cliffhangers of Seasons 1 and 2, this is the closest Discovery has come to a seeming series finale (don’t worry, they’re already in production on the next episodes). But peeling away what made Discovery unique and exciting in favor of something more familiar is a step backwards, not forwards for the series.
Still, it’s hard to totally begrudge this choice, particularly right now. The season ends not with Discovery warping away from Federation headquarters, but with a quote from Gene Roddenberry:
“In a very real sense, we are all aliens on a strange planet. We spend most of our lives reaching out and trying to communicate. If during our whole lifetime, we could reach out and really communicate with just two people, we are indeed very fortunate.”
The quote, by the way, is from The Making of Star Trek by Roddenberry and Stephen E. Whitfield, first published in 1968 while The Original Series was still in production. And the quote is in reference to his decision to include Spock (Leonard Nimoy) in the original pilot “The Cage,” over NBC’s objections. It’s a quote that pointedly ties into the ethos of the season, which found Discovery trying to communicated with a scattered galaxy; and the episode, which found Saru connecting with Su’Kal.
It’s also hard to not look at this quote and see the reality that this season is being broadcast at a time when it’s nearly impossible to reach out and communicate with people in person because of the pandemic. We’ve had to find new ways to communicate over Zoom, or watch parties, or any way we can. Same with the production of the series, which wrapped filming in February right before the pandemic kicked into high gear, and had to be entirely finished by post-production in quarantine. This is as much a message to the viewing audience, as it is to the crew who helped create the season.
Star Trek has always shown the possibility of humanity at its best, and other than a few blips in this episode (killing the villains by shooting them/dumping them from a moving elevator comes to mind), in toto that’s probably far more important than me screaming on my couch during Season 1 because the series has changed premises, yet again. Do I treasure that feeling of the unknown? Absolutely. But perhaps that was the Discovery we needed then; and this is the Discovery we need now. May it live long and prosper.
‘Star Trek Discovery’ Season 3 Finale: The End Is The Beginning The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ Decider.