Feeling Burned by Star Trek: Discovery’s Season 3?
You can’t blame “Star Trek: Discovery” for not trying. Season 3 attempted to envision a universe 930 years into the future, tackled big social themes and finally decided to give a little more screen time to its supporting cast of regulars.
This CBS All Access series originally insisted that is was not your parent’s “Star Trek.” It tried to be darker, edgier and bolder. Characters used four letter words, though not very convincingly (and far more awkwardly than in “Star Trek: Picard”).
The writers spent much of season 3 trying to return into the fold. There were multiple references and story devices from the old “Star Trek” manual. And in the end, we found ourselves right back where we started, with the same closing music as the original series.
This return continues a long overdue course correction. It was so obvious that there was no real need to separate itself from its heritage when we saw how the best episodes from season 2 focused on Captain Pike from the original Enterprise.
And you can’t say “Discovery’s” season 3 wasn’t earnest. No way. There was so much hugging and crying. Crying and hugging. I lost track how many times “I love you” was in the script. The writers were clearly working hard to finally evolve this crew into a “Star Trek” family.
And “Star Trek” at its core has always been about family. I just don’t know that I needed the “Discovery” writers constantly telling me that.
As the credits rolled at the end of season 3’s finale, I’ve got to admit, I wasn’t pumped. But I didn’t feel burned either. Season 3 was… fine. For me, “Star Trek” is always better than no “Star Trek.” But I can’t deny I’m still a wee disappointed.
It’s not that season 3 was bad. It just couldn’t quite elevate itself beyond its own unremarkable storytelling.
The writers put a huge effort into building a diverse and inclusive set of relationships. In fact, in many ways, that’s really what season 3 was about. The Burn and (minor spoiler) rebuilding the Federation was just something for this group of Trek characters to focus on. And that’s all great.
But then, the writers ran out of steam (Dilithium?) when it came time to come up with some cutting-edge science fiction storytelling worthy of the “Star Trek” universe.
Why So Far?
Moving the story 930 years forward is a huge leap. Unfortunately, this future doesn’t look all that different. Sure, personal transporters are cool and organic tech is nice, but I would expect something more dramatic a millennia out. And that requires more writing muscle… not special effects.
Yes, I understand that the writers needed to warp Discovery into a new era that was not burdened by existing Trek canon where the Discovery doesn’t exist. (A downside of creating a prequel series.) But a hundred years forward past Picard is all they really needed to do.
Back to the Future
And it’s ironic that the writers ultimately created a new “Star Trek” future that in many ways had gone back in time.
They were pulling on the same storytelling threads as the creators of “Star Trek: Enterprise” when space was truly the final frontier… again.
I’m happy to allow a series some leeway in plot development as long as the writers stick their landing by the end. Over the course of 13 episodes, I feel that season 3 was not entirely successful. (Spoilers ahead.)
“Discovery” has painfully stuck with this character and promised some future payoff. I understand that Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman) is evolving, but after three seasons, it’s not fast enough. When Tilly finally got her big chance and sat in the captain’s chair, she essentially blew it. Later, her moment of redemption wasn’t all that satisfying.
The Mirror Universe
You know there’s a problem when “Discovery’s” best episodes focus around the linked alternate universe. But by now, this Trek storytelling device is feeling a bit tired. Even though it was the main reason that Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) had anything to do in season 3, watching the alternate versions of our other characters as two-dimensional opposites grew boring. Sure, Georgiou evolved, but her own universe wasn’t able to.
The Source of the Burn
Really? I expect we’ll see some therapy sessions in season 4 for someone.
The Discovery’s Big Brain
Remember when Discovery’s computer acquired 100,000 years of data from the alien sphere in season 2? The only influence from that upgrade was when the computer pointed Discovery to meet up with Carl. There’s a lot of untapped plot potential that the writers ignored.
Again… Really? You can’t recycle a classic Trek plot device like that and simply rewrite it as Carl. A ‘Q’ character would have been better.
The Bad Guys
A 1960’s biker gang with a really big ship. Is that what capitalism eventually evolved into? Osyraa (Janet Kidder) needed more screen time to develop beyond her two-dimensional antagonist.
Captain Saru (Doug Jones) sits at the center of the heart of “Star Trek: Discovery.” His humanity, even in Kelpien form, shines bright. He’s the perfect Federation captain on paper.
But his evolved and balanced perspective isn’t ultimately suited for this future frontier. Not as captain of the Discovery. It’s a bittersweet conclusion.
The Good News
So, I wouldn’t be a Trekkie if I didn’t prove how geeky I am by nitpicking. Sure, season 3 could have been better, but it still had a lot going for it. The special effects were great, although I would have appreciated a few more closeups of the new starships.
It benefited from a generally strong cast. (I really liked the addition of Book’s character played by David Ajala.)
Of course, Sonequa Martin-Green is the star of the ensemble. Her Michael Burnham has often created more problems than she’s solved, but her passion and sense of purpose and drive to do what’s right has continued to power this entire series forward. Martin-Green provides almost limitless emotional and physical energy in this regard.
As it turns out, breaking the rules in the 31st century is seemingly okay as our new Prime Directive. It’s an odd conclusion that doesn’t quite fit with what the writers have otherwise been trying to accomplish. But it continues to fuel Burnham’s success. So, in what has become a season-ending Discovery ritual, it’s time to switch up the captain’s chair again.
I’m happy that “Discovery” is embracing his own heritage.
And I’m always pleased to be watching more “Star Trek” after all of these decades. It hasn’t gotten old. In fact, its familiarity is more comforting than ever, especially in today’s unstable reality.
There’s also something to be said for watching science fiction and not feeling depressed as a result. You can count on “Star Trek: Discovery” for maintaining its sense of Trek-infused optimism.
I don’t think season 3 is the best of the series. (I prefer season 2.) It’s certainly not the boldest. But “Discovery’s” imperfections ultimately didn’t prevent me from still enjoying the ride.
Oh… and that last line in the season finale…
(Just go with it.)