There has been perhaps no more anticipated show delayed by COVID-19 than Star Trek: Discovery on CBS All Access.
— Trek-or-Treat-Core 🎃🖖💀 (@TrekCore) October 12, 2020
Set in the 32nd Century, 930 years from the season finale of season 2, we are now in the year 3188.
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From its opening moments, Discovery “That Hope Is You, Part 1” tells us right away this is a new take on the universe and the United Federation of Planets that Star Trek’s creator Gene Roddenberry envisioned, in fact it may be the closest that the show has ever come to embracing the high minded ideals he envisioned without the need to cynically find ways to make them problematic but instead are, in pure form, just the thing the 32nd century needs.
It’s a thrilling conceit and poses a whole new vector into the Trek universe. Burnham and crew anticipated for almost everything but the one thing they took for granted sets them in new territory.
That is a galaxy where the Federation no longer exists.
Before his death, Rodenberry clashed with Paramount Pictures and various writers and directors over the years about whether Starfleet was a military or exploratory science service and canon has demonstrated that it’s both (See: Star Trek: Beyond) , but Rodenberry’s re-seizing of the creative reigns of the franchise with The Next Generation was in some respects a direct reaction to the success of the Nicholas Meyer helmed The Wrath of Kahn and subsequent big screen forays which Rodenberry felt portrayed Starfleet as too militarized — he particularly objected to the ubiquitous red suits.
Too often, he felt writers wanted to bring darkness to what they perceived as a Little Mary Sunshine view of humanity’s future. Writers sometimes felt that such an evolved humanity provided little opportunities for conflict — central to good story telling.
One of the most commonly heard fan critiques leveled against Discovery and all post-New Generation iterations of the franchise is the they focused on the problematic aspects of the Federation.
Above: the new opening credits of Discovery season 3.
It began in Deep Space 9, with the Dominion War and the introduction of Section 31, and carried through Voyager and the inclusion of the Maquis (and in particular “The Omega Directive” episode), through the interference and shady dealings of both the Vulcan High Command and Section 31 in Enterprise, to well, Section 31 becoming the main villain in season 2 of Discovery.
In fact Section 31 is the very reason Discovery had to go into the future.
Taking place literally moments after the end of season 2, we see Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) in the Red Angel suit get spit out of the worm hole and crash into a ship that knocks both to the planet below.
At first she is overjoyed that there is life in the galaxy. That means their mission to destroy Control was a success. As the worm hole begins to close, Michael activates the Red Angel suit to fly through it manually so that it can deliver the last signal to Spock in the past and also eliminate the suit from being used again.
Michael then does something when panicked and she realizes she’s not on Terralysium and has no idea where Discovery and her crew are. Like Captain Pike when faced with his horrific future when obtaining the Klingon time crystal on Boreth, Burnham finds her strength in repeating her rank, serial number and commitment to Starfleet’s ideals reciting this mantra until she is confident in her identity, one shaped by the values of the Federation, and she can get up stand, and begin the first step (literally) into her new future.
Burham’s suit which literally crashed into Booker Cleveland’s ship when she emerges in the future sets the two up as antagonists who later bond (romantically as well, as revealed in trailers). Their initial encounter is a fight, natch, but Michael first goes high in her initial confrontation with with Booker even saying, “I’m not fighting you. You’re fighting me.”
In fact her ability to deescalate and resolve the fight could have been ripped from the Starfleet Manual code of conduct.
Michael soon learns there’s more and it gets worse: the 32nd Century is a lawless, and in some respects dismal place for them to rebuild the Federation and also hope.
Arts Techinca wrote, “When you get right down to it, Discovery has always been a show about rebirth—sometimes quite literally. Nearly every major character has gone through a transformation since the show began. Michael had to learn to shed her Vulcan upbringing (and both her daddy and mommy issues) to find her humanity and her capacity for leadership. Saru had to learn to shed his species’ innate fear to evolve.”
It continues, “Dr. Hugh Culber went through a literal cycle of death and resurrection. The list goes on and on. It seems fitting, then, that this season should concern itself with rebirth on a grand scale. The last 25 years of Star Trek—more or less starting with Deep Space Nine—have increasingly delved into the problematic aspects of the Federation. In recent years, that view has straight-up pivoted to cynicism, which left a bad taste in many fans’ mouths. Discovery‘s rebirth is the rebirth of the Federation’s optimism… which we need more than ever right now.”
Art and entertainment are always part of a larger conversation. When we look at Discovery and ask, “Why this, why now,” the answer feels almost too pat. The people aboard Discovery are learning to be a family and to have each other’s backs after an unfathomable series of traumas. They are having to learn how to ask for help, to say, “I’m not okay,” and to mend when the world they thought they knew had collapsed around them.
Perhaps the best best part is the that the timing of Discovery’s return could not be more perfect. Like the original series, it too parallels our own times. A time where oligarchs, thugs, and criminals operate openly. A time where deregulation, corruption, and cuts in preventative measures, coupled with devastating climate change and scarce resources (in this case: dilithium and whatever exactly “the Burn” is), have reached a tipping point.
The world of the 32nd century needs hope more than ever, and who better to bring that hope that the woman whose principals have guided the show since the beginning.
I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Watch the frenetic “exhilarating” opening scene below. New episodes of Star Trek: Discovery stream every Thursday on CBS All Access.