STAR TREK: DISCOVERY (Season Three, 2020)

(Paramount+/VOD) Apologies in advance for the massive preamble here, and the general length of the piece! I actually did whittle it down, but still …it’s STAR TREK.

Both my wife and I have been huge STAR TREK nerds since we were young. I watched the original series while it was in syndication before my family had cable, read all of the novelizations and extended universe books that my school and local library stocked, subscribed to The Official Star Trek: The Next Generation magazine, and even cried when my hairdresser botched my Spock haircut. (She was probably just looking out for my best interests, so thanks?)

At some point, I simply lost interest. I watched a few eps of every post-TNG series over the years, fell asleep during FIRST CONTACT (or was it NEMESIS?), but ultimately I was hard-pressed to care.

During lockdown, my wife and I figured it was as good a time as any to dive back in. We’ve been happily working our way through DEEP SPACE NINE together, and she started binging DISCOVERY on her own. Every time I’d walk through the room while she was watching, I’d witness some humanoids in a lift, talking at each other via overly-complicated and unnecessary camerawork. I was not impressed.

She indulged my optimism for PICARD, based on my prior love of TNG and the fact that the show runner was Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon (THE ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER & CLAY). In the interest of brevity, I’ll simply state that was a mistake.

Once we hit the end of DS9’s third season, she implored me to watch DISCOVERY’s third season — which she had already seen — noting that I could get up to speed pretty quickly, and she wasn’t wrong. The opening recap lays out most of what you need to know: DISCOVERY takes place around the time of Captain Pike’s heyday, a bit before the original series. Michael Burnham (played by Sonequa Martin-Green) is an orphaned Black human woman — Michael’s name is a signifier that DISCOVERY started as a Bryan Fuller show, showcasing his love for masculine-named women * — who was adopted by Spock’s family, grew up on Vulcan, and has become a swashbuckling heroic-but-flawed Federation member serving on the USS Discovery.

The USS Discovery is a Federation starship with an experimental ‘spore drive’ which allows them to speedily navigate space without the need for dilithium crystals, however, someone has to be able to interface with them for …reasons. Thankfully, USS Discovery has brilliant-but-prickly Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) to physically interface with the drive. Stamets’ husband is Hugh Culber (MY SO-CALLED LIFE’s Wilson Cruz) who is USS Discovery’s Lieutenant Commander. Rounding out the ensemble is: Philippa Georgiou (a charismatically chilly Michelle Yeoh) who is there for …reasons, and she is complex, captivating, and knows how to verbally eviscerate anyone; Saru (an unsurprisingly heavily made-up Doug Jones) as a measured, by-the-book officer and newly-introduced species called the Kelpien; Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman) as the overly chatty, but intelligent and warm-hearted foil to Stamets, and Lieutenant Keyla Detmer (Emily Coutts) who serves as a steadfast helmsman.

Oh, and they have Tig Notoro and David Cronenberg as occasional cast members! Granted, both are rather under-utilized, but it’s always thrilling when they show up.

I won’t touch on any particulars of the third season’s plot, as doing so would certainly spoil matters for the first two seasons. Again, I haven’t seen the first two seasons, but based on the critical and fan reactions I’ve heard, the third season course-corrects quite a bit. I found it to be a very enjoyable, very satisfying self-contained season of STAR TREK, although I was initially hesitant as the opening eps primarily focus on Michael’s journey — STAR TREK has always excelled at ensemble work — and I had a number of quibbles with some of the retrofitting and a lot of the details concerning the ship interfaces, but they explained enough of it that made me happy. (This seems to be an unpopular opinion.)

Unlike PICARD, there were a number of times where I exclaimed: “This is my kind of STAR TREK!” as there were more than a few eps that focused on discovering new worlds with kind intent, recreating the wonder that drew me into the STAR TREK universe in the first place. While not all of the characters are terribly complex, their motives and Federation-centric willfulness to be as helpful as they can be was refreshing, comforting, and familiar. It felt like the show realized what it needed to do to recapture the original series’ magic, all while gamely moving matters forward.

When I stated that the season feels self-contained, I meant it. This season starts with a breaking point and ends with a two-parter that comes across like a spectacle-laden STAR TREK film (albeit an even-numbered one) with -huge- stakes and an extremely memorable and intriguing villain in Orion Minister Osyraa (an exceptional Janet Kidder) and, when the last episode fades to black, it feels like a chapter has ended; it feels like a series finale. A fourth season has been confirmed, and it appears that it’ll be a season that isn’t so Kurtzman-fueled but, instead, a STAR TREK show more like the ones I watched with awe as a youth: a show based on optimism, empathy, wonder for the unknown and, well, discovery.

I’ve included a STAR TREK: DISCOVERY S3 trailer below. Do not watch if you have plans to watch S1 or S2: