Star Trek Discovery is back for its third season and freed from the restraints of continuity.
Star Trek: Discovery has always had a somewhat odd relationship with Star Trek continuity. Like the majority of TV and film prequels, it buckled against the restraints of what comes after it. There’s been a solid argument that the show could have been set after the events of the TNG era and worked just as well. Arguably more so. As a lifelong Star Trek fan, I have enjoyed it all. The ballsy mirror universe arc. The attempt to tell an unconventional Star Trek series without the captain as the lead. The nostalgic nature of Captain Pike and bombastic season two finale Such Sweet Sorrow.
But it has struggled; the attempts to offer a very different side to the Klingons, the glossy technology, even the nature of Discovery itself, all felt at odds with what chronologically came before in Star Trek: Enterprise and what cam later in the TOS era. Personally, I think they should have had Discovery jump into the main timeline at the tail end of season one, though the season two finale did make a valiant attempt to wrap things up and establish just why there was no mention of the Spore Drive or Michael Burnham, half sister of Spock, in everything that happened after.
Even on episode one alone, it’s clear that the jump 900 years into the future is the best thing to ever happen to Star Trek: Discovery. Freed from the restraints of continuity, it can let loose that bold ambition that has been with the show from the start. Michelle Paradise, who helped shepherd much of season two, is now showrunner and it’s clear from the start that she has a game plan. With all past references to Discovery cleverly wrapped up, this is the show’s attempt to tell a compelling story that doesn’t have to pay its dues to 50+ years of continuity.
It’s still a show that holds plenty of love and knowledge of the franchise (and beware of some spoilers from now on). From the references to Quantum Slipstream and Benamite crystals from Star Trek: Voyager to Tachyon solar sales and a member of Morn’s race the Lurians from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, an incident with the Gorn from 60’s Star Trek, Trilithium and a Yridian from Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Generations and a clever reference to the Temporal war from Star Trek: Enterprise. Not to mention, a strong focus on the Andorians and Orions. It’s clear the writers really know their stuff when it comes to telling a great Star Trek story.
That Hope Is You: Part 1 manages to be low key and epic at the same time. There is an intimate focus on Michael Burnham, who finds herself travelling through the wormhole into the year 3188 – 931 years after the events of season two. Colliding with a ship, she finds herself crash landing on a world that is not her destination of Terraylsium; instead she ends up alone, with outdated technology and facing the daunting the fact that she might have saved the universe, but she might not see anyone she knows ever again. There isn’t even a Federation to welcome her with open arms.
Yes, Star Trek: Discovery reveals its most ambitious narrative yet where the galaxy has been devastated by a cataclysmic event known as the Burn which rendered warp travel inert and resulted in the collapse of the Federation. It’s a bleak, bold and harrowing open for Michael and the audience. The episode certainly gives some hints as to what happened a hundred and twenty years later, but the collapse has seen each sector stranded from the next. With dilithium at a premium, long range sensors no longer working and – worse still – no sign of Discovery – Michael really is stranded. It’s a very compelling hook and one that I look forward to seeing explored as season three progresses. A quick google might find you some interesting theories and I’m not the only one in suspecting a late season four episode of Star Trek: Voyager might offer the best clues. Of course, I could be completely wrong and I’m excited to see the outcome either way.
However, That Hope Is You: Part 1 isn’t just driven by Michael alone. Enter David Ajala as Cleveland Booker, a roguish supply runner who comes into conflict with Michael, before becoming unlikely allies. There’s a great connection between Cleveland and Michael that cements the episode. Whether its coming to blows on the beach, Cleveland double crossing Michael in the alien bizarre or teaming up to take on vengeful Andorian and Orion soliders, their relationship is a lot of fun and the banter is sharp. Ajala quickly makes an impression and I look forward to seeing him continue as part of the main ensemble for season three.
But credit really needs to go to Sonequa Martin-Green who does her best work yet as Michael Burnham in this episode. With a brief look, she conveys the overwhelming despair of loosing everything and the determination to keep going. We’ve seen who grow into her vulnerability over the course of the first two seasons, but without the flash and pizazz of a starship around her, we really saw the depths of Martin-Green’s acting ability and it was wonderful to watch. She also does humour well; the scene where she was intoxicated with the truth-inducing drug was one of the highlights of the episode.
With the stripped back focus on Michael and Cleveland – Discovery’s fate remained notably unconfirmed throughout the season opener – director Olatunde Osunsanmi really managed tio capture the beauty of Hima. The alien city looked strange and futuristic – it definitely had a Guardians of the Galaxy to the vibe to it – while the race across the planet’s surface was breath taking. From waterfalls to fields of ash and that leap off the cliff, That Hope Is You: Part 1 was packed with breath-taking moments.
Across the fifty minute episode, the tease of the mystery of the Burn, Michael’s loss and the emotional encounter with Adil Hussain’s Aditya Sahil on the abandoned starfleet station, this episode conveyed the heart-breaking bleakness of a galaxy without the Federation and the hope to keep it alive. It seems Michael’s arrival is the catalyst by which that might happen. Despite the dismantling of a future Star Trek strived to build, there was something truly uplifting about those final moments, as the Federation flag was raised once more.
That Hope Is You: Part 1 was a breath-taking, emotional episode that did a stellar job of setting up a bleak future, introducing a strong connection to David Ajala’s Cleveland Booker and convey the rebirth of Michael Burnham after the events of the first two seasons. There’s still plenty more to come, not least the reintroduction of Discovery and its crew, but as the show enters a new era, freed from the restraints of continuity, it looks as if it is willing to truly embrace the ambition and potential that was always there from day one.
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