Guest critic Aaron O’Brian (artist/podcaster/Trekker) takes a look at the Blu-ray release of Season 3 of Paramount+’s Star Trek: Discovery
Let’s get this out of the way from the start; Sonequa Martin-Green (Commander Michael Burnham) is fantastic in Star Trek: Discovery Season 3. I have seen her work in The Walking Dead and Star Trek Discovery. Season 3 of Star Trek Discovery might be her best acting to date. Sonequa Martin-Green gives a stellar performance in the opening episode and she does not stop giving the audience her very best. The range of emotions she displays, intense fighting and action scenes she choreographs to even the nuance of a facial expression that tells us there is a deeper layer of story to be revealed later on all makes her acting magnificent.
Season 3 picks up immediately after the ending of Season 2. Michael Burnham opens a wormhole nine hundred years into the future to save the known universe from malevolent artificial intelligence called “Control” from attaining information… Never mind, it’s too complicated for me to unpack Season 2. Just know that Commander Burnham travels into the future in the first episode “That Hope is You, Part 1, where we are introduced to a new character, Cleveland Booker or “Book” played by David Ajala. Commander Burnham and Book meet and find themselves on the wrong side of the law. What ensues is an exciting chase across an alien planet using new teleporter technology. During this Burnham learns that the Federation is no longer relevant as a peacekeeping institution and that the Federation has all but disappeared.
What is worse is that a catastrophic event called “The Burn” which is a galaxy-wide disastrous event in which most dilithium mysteriously went inert, causing the detonation of every active warp core. Dilithium crystals is the fuel that starship warp engines need to travel faster than the speed of light. So space travel is now limited in the far, far future.
Michael Burnham makes it her personal mission to discover why and how the Burn happened. In addition she plans to bring the Federation back to its former glory. No small undertaking. And this is the crux of what interests and confounded me for the last two seasons: the tangled mess of Michael Burnham. The character Michael Burnham has a brilliant mind like Spock and springs into action like Kirk. And as Season 1 of Discovery began, I thought we would see Burnham rise to the rank of captain. What got from the writers was a character that mutinies against her beloved captain and mentor. Unlike past captains that relied on their crew, Burnham circumvents her colleagues and takes the mission into her own hands. Over and over again she breaks rank, she disobeys orders and then she is miserable that she overstepped her bounds or that she hurt the people around her. Why have the writers depicted Burnham this way? In the future, humanity has shown to have an understanding of human psychology. Of course we get a few crackpots throughout the different stories. But the crews is often of sound mind and have excellent moral character. So what is the deal with Michael Burnham? She is not insane. But she continues to act insubordinately. Often those insubordinate actions backfire on her and the mission. If there is a method to the writer’s madness, I don’t understand this meandering plot of the Michael Burnham character.
Finally in season 3, I get some answers to my questions. Michael Burnham loves what the Federation stands for but she dislikes following rules and listening to orders, especially if she feels that she has a better solution than her captains and crew. During the year when Burnham is away from Starfleet and the Federation, it is her and Book traveling the universe together. For once in Burnham’s life she is happy. But our merry protagonist’s joy must be squashed. A year later the USS Discovery and crew come through the time wormhole and find Michael Burnham. Although Burnham is happy to reunite with her crew, she is unsure if she wants to go back to her former role as Commander. Again Burnham’s old habits come to haunt her. She ignores Captain Saru’s (Doug Jones) orders and breaks her longtime friend Tilly’s (Mary Wiseman) trust. And worse later on she ejects Lt Commander Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) out an airlock when she doesn’t feel like debating her plan of action.
That is not to completely diminish all 13 episodes of season 3. The 900 year jump into the future has interesting stories to unpack. The Federation is a ghost of its former self. Earth and long-time allies the Vulcans have left the Federation. The crew of the Discovery has to come to grips with these developments. While they piece together the clues that lead to the source of “The Burn”, Discovery has a new foe to face called the “Emerald Chain”. Burnham and crew must uphold their Federation ideals while fighting the wonderfully evil Orion villain Osyraa played by Janet Kidder (niece of the late Margot Kidder).
Another notable moment in Season 3 is the introduction to Adira Tal (Blu del Barrio). Adira is (I believe) the first human non-binary character we have seen in Star Trek on screen. Adira is the first Human known to become a permanent host to a Trill symbiont. The Trill symbiont is a slug-like race that lives inside a host body but has the memories of all its previous hosts. (Watch Star Trek: Deep Space Nine character Jadzia Dax for more info on the Trill race). One of this symbiont past hosts was Gray (Ian Alexander), who appears like a ghost to Adira during episodes. Gray and Adira were in a relationship before Gray died and Adira became the host to the Trill symbiont.
The Season 3 Blu-Ray Extras had some stand out moments which I feel are worth mentioning. First is the extra “Kenneth Mitchell: To Boldly Go”. In Season 3 the actor Kenneth Mitchell plays Aurellio who is a scientist working for the villain Osyraa. In Season One and Two, Mitchell played Klingon characters Kol, Kol-Sha and Tenavik. Delivering his lines in English and in Klingon! Mitchell’s work for his Klingon roles was very impressive. Aurellio is in a wheelchair which I thought was a way of the studio showing representation for the disabled. It is but not how I thought. In February 2020, Mitchell was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The Blu-Ray Extra goes into detail on how his disease impacted him physically and emotionally and how the Star Trek team circled around Mitchell to support him and giving him a role in Season 3 that he could continue to act. I am not going to lie; I got teared up watching this extra.
The second extra on Season 3 that impressed the Hell out of me was Sonequa Martin-Green’s work ethic to her acting, stunts and promotion. Her traveling all over the world to film in locations and promoting the series looks exhausting. The stunts and fighting sequences are a lot of work. And Sonequa Martin-Green works her butt off to make those scenes perfect. In the episode “There Is A Tide…” is Burnham’s “Die Hard” movie in space. Burnham fights the Emerald Chain goons throughout the USS Discovery trying to win back control of the ship. But the knockout punch for me of all her work is that Sonequa Martin-Green was pregnant and gave birth to her second child during the filming of Season 3. I am very impressed!
What are probably the two most criminal aspects of Season 3 is first, they jump back to the Mirror Universe. They do this to wrap up Philippa Georgiou’s (Michelle Yeoh) story arc in Discovery. Before Georgiou jumps into her upcoming series based on Section 31, which is a shadowy spy organization within the Federation. I frankly can’t stand anymore jumps into the Mirror Universe. It was a fun idea to flip the Federation ideals on it’s head into a Nazi like space empire back in 1967’s Star Trek original series episode “Mirror, Mirror”. But how many times can you go back to that well to draw water? It is taxing to watch and have the plot steer into unneeded story and gobbles up needed screen time to tell a better story of the main plot.
Secondly, the source of “The Burn” is so insipid and silly that it makes me want to launch this Blu-ray set off into space. It was completely unbelievable and underwhelming when it is finally revealed and what Discovery must do to stop it from happening again.
Yet I can recognize talent and massive creative undertaking to make this season of Star Trek. Season 3 of Star Trek Discovery is a worthy 900 year push forward in the Star Trek universe. I hate to be negative. Especially when you see so much effort going into production, costumes, makeup and set designs. And the acting … the cast does the yeoman’s work of making each scene engaging and believable.
So why am I so down on this series? Simply because the writing is not inspiring to me at all. The last three seasons of Star Trek Discovery and Season One of Picard have been checking the boxes of representation (which is wonderful), and science fiction action shlock (which is fun). But Star Trek has been historically more than these things. Star Trek represents the hope of what humans could achieve as we get past our petty dissimilarities and take pleasure in our differences and celebrate them. Star Trek was an allegory of our modern problems masked in alien skins and/or politics. Older episodes were a tool so we here on 20th and 21st century Earth could reassess our problems through another lens. Regrettably, I do not feel that Star Trek Discovery reaches this high-water mark. It reaches for it but the writers are not forward thinking enough to accomplish this gold standard. Possibly the first season might have been a parable of the Trump Administration told through Klingons and their ethnocentrism, nationalism and intolerance to outsiders. But that plot point was soon lost in a zigzagging story of Michael Burnham’s mutiny, spore drive technology and the Mirror Universe. It became how can we dazzle the audience for each episode and not explore deeper concepts.
On its surface there is nothing wrong with this season and the series itself. But in a world of hundreds of new streaming series and movies all making incredible content, what makes Star Trek Discovery worth your time to watch? Especially to the younger and newer viewers? I don’t think that it does.
I know that I sound harsh. I know that there are some people who will tune into any new Star Trek because they love the franchise. And that is okay by me. I believe that the Star Trek franchise has changed its core in my opinion and not for the better. Honestly, I am not excited anymore for new Star Trek content. Maybe that will change. I feel that franchise and I have grown apart. And that is okay, I guess. It is just hard to let go after so many years as a guiding light in my life. All those years I stuck with Star Trek. All those years of bad set designs and awful alien makeup. All the years of people mocking the franchise, saying that there are better shows and movies out there. But I stayed, because there was a deeper meaning in those Star Trek episodes. I watched as character relationships unfold and grow. There was a depth in Star Trek that was unmatched to all the other franchises. But we both have changed and I don’t see a path forward. The Star Trek franchise got a makeover and now looks fantastic. But Star Trek has lost substance. Here I am at the end of a road. It is difficult. But there are other roads to take. I don’t know where they will lead me. But this path has ended for me.
Aaron O’Brian is a co-creator for Numina Comics and is the illustrator for the “Return To Snakeland” graphic novel. Aaron is co-hosts for the true crime podcast Return to Snakeland and the Sci Fi/Star Trek podcast Synthaholics.
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Original aspect ratio: 2.00:1
French: Dolby Digital 5.1
Four-disc set (4 BD-50)
Slipcover in original pressing
2K Blu-ray: Region A, B
Season 3 of Star:Trek Discovery is a solid stand-alone effort, but in the grand Trek landscape, it’s uninspiring.