Boldly Go: A Star Trek Discovery Season 3 Review
Spoilers for Discovery Season 3 ahead.
When the U.S.S. Discovery entered a wormhole to jump 950 years into the future- further than any Star Trek series or movie had ever ventured- I honestly didn’t know what to expect. For a series that began in a very familiar (and congested) time period in Trek history, this was a welcome reprieve… Star Trek, after many, many years, was finally going to explore the unknown again.
And what an exploration it was. Turns out, a lot can change in 950 years. To put this amount of time in perspective, the entirety of Star Trek prior to this season- from the earliest reaches of Enterprise to the last minutes of Star Trek: Picard (excluding a few time-travel excursions)- spanned a future period of about 250 years. That means Discovery jumped into a period of time far beyond anything we’d ever seen; the closest we’d come previously was a brief encounter with the timeship Relativity on Voyager and a couple of episodes of Enterprise that involved the time war, which gets a nice name-drop in this season of Discovery as well.
Star Trek has, ever since the beginning, been about going where no one has gone before. And Discovery’s third season lives this to it’s fullest. And honestly, that’s some high praise for this show, as this was a show that, in its first season, seemed to do everything it could to be unlike the Star Trek that we knew and loved. Season 2 did a lot of course-correcting (and I loved it), but now, in season 3, it finally feels like Discovery has come into its own.
I know there have been a lot of complaints about the growing pains Discovery has gone through- honestly, I’ve made a few of those complaints myself- but every series of Star Trek takes one or two seasons to start getting good. I mean, look at The Next Generation, which is probably the best series in the franchise: those first seasons were a bit rough.
On a whole, season 3 was, by far, where Star Trek has not gone before. At times it was unclear where it was leading since for the first time in a long time, we didn’t know the future that these characters were traveling towards. And after two seasons (and a whole previous Star Trek series) set pre-Kirk and after the last three movies being about Kirk, the future, it turns out, was exactly where Star Trek needed to be. After all, the future- and exploring the unknown within it- is where this franchise has always thrived.
Welcome home, Discovery. You’ve made it.
In no particular order, here are some of my highlights for this season:
- Michael in the first episode was downright badass and hilarious. And Cleveland Book is such a nice addition to the cast. And though I know everyone loves it when the captain has a dog, I’m glad there’s a cat on board again.
- When Discovery made it to the Federation, I geeked out at seeing the futuristic U.S.S. Voyager J. I know it isn’t everyone’s favorite, but Janeway’s ship and crew are still probably my favorite in all of Starfleet. I was bummed that it didn’t become anything more than a shout out in a few episodes (Admiral Vance did send Voyager after Discovery when it was taken over by Osyrra), and I’m hoping that we get to see more of it next season. Maybe the bridge? Or the captain? …is it possible that the captain of the futuristic Voyager is a familiar E.M.H. (or rather, E.C.H)? I don’t see why not, since the Federation did seem to be using a lot of holographic technology. Regardless, it is just nice that Voyager gets some love in the future. I wonder where their Enterprise is, or what letter that would be.
- Speaking of future ships… I love the redesign that Discovery gets. It may not make a lot of sense to me, but the detached nacelles are a beautiful sight. And damn it, it made for a visually stunning finale.
- Last season, I mentioned that a lot of the action felt cinematic. Well, the final episode of season 3 played better on my 4K TV than Star Trek Beyond did at the IMAX. I mean, damn. While I loved last season so much, the finale, at times, felt a little too busy with all the action, but in this finale, it was a better balance of character moments and action and it felt just as good as the best of the films.
- Osyrra was an excellent villain. Janet Kidder brought a lot of nuance to what could have easily been a one-sided adversary, and I think she’ll go down as one of Trek’s best baddies.
- Saru was an excellent captain, but… I think the show made the right choice giving the chair to Burnham in the end. In the final two episodes, she proved how far she was willing to go to fight for her ship, her crew, and the Federation. Saru is fantastic, but I think it was clear in the end that his desire to captain the ship in the best direction was split with his desire to help his own species, and I think it is right that he take some time to visit his homeworld and help Su’Kal get acclimated to real life again. But Saru better come back to the ship next season… I’ll be pissed if that was the end of his run. I’m also glad that the show didn’t just give Burnham the chair at the beginning of the season. I don’t think she was ready for it, and I think her journey this season helped her become the person she needed to be to be captain.
- The episode on Vulcan… er… Ni’Var… was one of my favorites. I loved that it pulled elements from Star Trek: Picard, from the movies, from all over the place, and gave us a conclusion to Spock’s efforts to reunite the Vulcans and the Romulans. It was a very rocky road, but it is nice to see that Spock’s life’s works were eventually completed. It was also nice to get a shout out to Captain Picard’s logs, and it brought tears to my eyes when Burnham- Spock’s adoptive sister- saw the face of Leonard Nimoy’s Spock. She may be relatively new to Spock’s legacy, but it was beautiful to see her react to the legacy that her brother left behind for her.
- Georgiou. I’m sad to see her leave (though I’m excited to see her Section 31 show), but her last two episodes were perfect. They gave the window into the Mirror Universe that I don’t think we were ready for in season 1, and really showed how much she’s changed since leaving her universe. And I’m very curious when she’ll reappear.
- “I am the Guardian of Forever!” That’s all I need to say, right? I mean, as soon as Carl showed up, I knew something was up. At first, I thought maybe he was a Q, but it became apparent after he sent Georgiou through that doorway into her past that he was the Guardian. I’ve been wanting the Guardian to come back into play ever since I saw The City on the Edge of Forever, and this did not disappoint in the slightest. Though we may never get Star Trek 4 in the Kelvin universe (also, nice that the show recognized the Kelvin universe), I can’t help but wonder if the Guardian was going to come into play in that film, since we knew the movie was going to deal with Kirk’s father, George Kirk, who had died at the beginning of Star Trek (2009). Alas, we may never know.
- I’ve seriously wondered why Discovery’s crew was still wearing their 23rd-century uniforms after officially joining the Federation (and getting a refit on their ship), but it was a nice pay-off to see them all finally don the new uniforms at the end. And it is damn nice to see Burnham in Command Red rather than the Command Gold of her own time.
- This season, Discovery leaned heavily into the characters, giving many of them the time of day that they’ve been lacking in previous seasons. This is especially true for most of the bridge crew, who until this season I didn’t even think had names. But nowhere is it more true than for Tilly and Dr. Culber, who proved to be this season’s hidden weapons. Seriously, Culber showed up and became so much more than a foil for Stamets, and Tilly… well, Tilly proved why it made perfect sense for Captain Saru to choose her as his number one, despite her being a lowly Ensign (probably the best Ensign in the Federation since Harry Kim).
- Though Michael Burnham was still, unequivocally, the main character, in season 3 this show became so much less the Michael/Saru show and more about the ensemble. In the end, Michael is the one who defeats the big bad, but it takes the whole crew to make it happen. Just like it should on any starship.
- And can I just say that I don’t care how contrived the “holodeck” plot point might have been that made them all look like they were different species… It was worth it to get to see Doug Jones in the flesh for a couple of episodes. And how he still managed to make himself feel like Saru even without all the prosthetics… Dude’s a serious talent.
- There’s probably a lot more I could write about. Honestly, I hate writing reviews of TV shows, because the only part that is really fresh in my head by the time I get to it is the last episode I watched. Unless I sit down and binge-watch the season again (ain’t nobody got time for that… he says as he continues his 12th binge-watch of M*A*S*H), the rest of the episodes just aren’t fresh in my head. You could argue that I could do a review every week, but there are plenty of people who do that and plenty of other things I want to write, too. And I don’t always like to judge a part before I’ve seen the whole, so sometimes I don’t think it would be fair to complain about one episode when I don’t yet know the context that it will be in at the end of the season. That said, I know there’s a lot of things I could mention in this review- like the lack of any real substantial use of the Sphere data, or the addition of Adira and Gray (loved them both), or how I’m warming up to Admiral Vance but still not entirely sure of his motives (or who David Cronenberg is even playing)- but I won’t, because I simply can’t think of them yet. But I think, of all of Discovery’s seasons, season 3 has been the most consistently good. And I love it when we get good Trek.
- The Burn never was a compelling mystery to me, not in the way season 2’s Control arc was compelling. And though the end result may be a little hard to wrap one’s head around, I felt that the message of this season was pitch-perfect, especially for the last few weeks. It wasn’t something I realized until the closing moments of the final episode, but this season- like the best of Star Trek- was really a parallel for our current lives. Right now, we are all separated, either by the pandemic or by politics. We’ve been driven apart, much like the inhabitants of the galaxy were driven apart by the Burn. And in that absence of communication, we’ve found ourselves a bit lost, at odds with friends and family, just like the galaxy was at odds with each other. The show gives us a message of hope, realizing that we all need to work together and communicate rather than fight, and I think that was a damn beautiful sentiment to leave off on. And absolutely one that was befitting of the Trek legacy that Discovery is now the steward of.
- 2020 brought us a lot of crap, but it was also the year that CBS finally delivered on the Star Trek that we’ve been needing for a while. Picard was the welcome return to one of our favorite characters. Lower Decks was a hilarious love letter to the entire franchise, good and bad. And Discovery proved to be the future of Star Trek that we were hoping for when we watched that ship jump to the far-flung future.
- And I cannot wait to see what they do next.