Starring: Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Anthony Rapp, Mary Wiseman, David Ajala, Michelle Yeoh, Wilson Cruz, Emily Coutts, Patrick Kwok-Choon, Oyin Oladejo, Ronnie Rowe Jr., Sara Mitch, Blue del Bario
Genre: Social SF, Space Opera
Broadcaster: Netflix (UK)
First Aired: 15/10/2020 – 08/01/2021
It’s no secret that the first two seasons of Discovery were rocky. The acting and character work was some of the best Star Trek has ever had, and the CGI naturally superior to almost everything that went before, but the storytelling was lacking. Wedged into prequel territory and beset by behind-the-scenes production issues, it never really seemed sure what sort of show it wanted to be. I’m not one of those frothing maniacs who insists that the show isn’t Star Trek (I mean, it has Star Trek right there in the name) or that it’s an insult to Rodenberry’s legacy, but it wasn’t my favourite show, and it never quite settled in the region of what I expect, and really want, Star Trek to be. So when Season 2 ended with the crew jumping nine-hundred-plus years into the future, I was excited to see what would happen next. While it does have a few issues, this was the clean slate the show needed, and happily Discovery makes the most of this golden opportunity.
The future, it turns out, is not a great place. After a mysterious event called ‘The Burn’ essentially wiped out warp travel, the Federation has all but collapsed, retreating to a shell of its former self. Meanwhile, the Andorians have joined the Orion Syndicate in creating the Emerald Chain, a criminal empire that now rivals the Federation. It’s a setup that could easily have pushed Discovery into even grimmer territory than Lorca’s captaincy did. Wisely, the show doesn’t dwell on the darkness. instead, it shines a focus on the remaining points of light. The first few episodes show our crew grappling with the new reality. After that it’s a half-and-half split between the Discovery bringing a bit of hope back to the Galaxy, and Burnham’s personal quest to uncover the origins of the Burn.
One of my issues with the past two seasons was the heavy serialisation. Star Trek has always worked best in a more episodic format, and Discovery‘s third season embraces this. There are still overarching storylines and character development, but the individual episodes are much stronger as semi-standalones. ‘Unification III’ is a prime example of this. A trip to the future Vulcan provides a key piece of information, but the majority of the drama there is self-contained. This episode also provides a neat follow-up to the ‘Unification’ two-parter from The Next Generation, showing Spock’s legacy and the result of his efforts to reunite the Romulan and Vulcan people. It also ties in nicely to the worldbuilding done in Picard. On the whole, this season does a far better job of employing the long legacy of Star Trek‘s fifty-four years on the screen, without relying on nostalgia to bring in viewers. The nods and hat-tips feel natural, never forced.
Discovery has always been a more character-focused show than its predecessors, for better and worse. As always, Sonequa Martin-Green and the prosthetic-laden powerhouse that is Doug Jones excel as the leads, but the rest of the crew gets far more to do this time around. Wilson Cruz comes into his own as Doctor Culber, finally given material with weight to it. Mary Wiseman’s Tilly continues to a beacon of Federation ideals. The bridge crew get more to do in these thirteen episodes than they did in the past two seasons, be it Detmer’s battle with PTSD or Owekesun’s pivotal role in the finale. Blue del Bario’s ground-breaking Adira is never less than wonderful. These are the characters that keep pulling me into Discovery, and I hope their role only grows in the next season. The only real weak-link is Michelle Yeoh’s Georgiou. Yeoh is fantastic in every scene, but there is little to justify her presence on the ship, let alone the series. Nevertheless, her much-hinted-at spin-off definitely has me intrigued.
The guest stars too are on fine form. Odad Fehr’s Admiral Vance is a perfect counterbalance to the gung-ho attitude of our leads, a calm voice of reason in the middle of all the chaos. Janet Kidder’s turn as Osyraa is one of the best villains Star Trek has ever had, all the more so for her reasonableness and the fact that she actually has some very good points. Neither Ian Alexander or David Cronenberg get much more than a few key scenes, but I would love to see more of both. And of course Tig Notaro’s recurring role as Jett Reno leads to some of the best dialogue in the show.
Discovery isn’t going to topple Voyager or Enterprise as my favourite Trek, but this last season has been wonderful to watch. Yes, there are some elements I don’t like (TARDIS-like elevator shafts, for one) but Star Trek has hardly been perfect. What makes this series so good is the growth its shown in such a short span of time. If it can keep growing like this, then the next season is looking very promising indeed.