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STAR TREK: DISCOVERY’S FINAL SEASON: What Is, Was, Might Have Been and Still Might Be

While Star Trek‘s core message has always been to boldly go where no man has gone before, few have done it quite like Star Trek: Discovery. As this intrepid series prepares to hit Warp 10 and Paramount+ gives it ‘all she’s got,’ the crew of the USS Discovery looks like they’ve got one more mission in them.

Navigating a move from Netflix to surviving the pandemic, the departure of co-creator Bryan Fuller to setting the stage for a myriad of spin-offs, Star Trek: Discovery has been through almost as much as its crew. Still, as we beam aboard for one last hurrah, we look back at what could’ve been. Even though it’s hard to imagine Discovery being anything other than what it is today, imagine some mirror universe where it was sci-fi’s answer to American Horror Story

 

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DISCOVERING DISCOVERY

Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham in ST:D Season 1

 

Back when the idea of Star Trek: Discovery was still in its infancy, Hannibal’s Bryan Fuller had grand plans for it to reinvigorate sci-fi shows like American Horror Story did for horror. Fuller had previously written for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager, having championed the franchise’s return to TV for years. Discovery started out strong with a unique premise — taking place a decade before the events of Star Trek: The Original Series

Aside from the Scott Bakula-led Star Trek: Enterprise, Discovery is the only prequel series. However, due to its proximity to The Original Series, it also offered the potential to incorporate legacy characters like Spock, Captain Pike, and Number One. That worked somewhat successfully until the series shoehorned in that divisive family connection between Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Spock (Ethan Peck). 

In 2016, Fuller explained to Entertainment Weekly how “the original pitch was to do for science fiction what ‘American Horror Story’ had done for horror,” hoping “it would platform a universe of ‘Trek’ shows.” We’ve seen some of that play out, and although Discovery ditched its anthology hopes, it still served as a springboard for a wider franchise. 

You can see the bones of Fuller’s Discovery ideas, with the director telling the outlet how he wanted to echo the diversity of The Orignal Series: “I couldn’t stop thinking about how many black people were inspired by seeing Nichelle Nichols on the bridge of a ship. I couldn’t stop thinking about how many Asian people were inspired by seeing George Takei and feeling that gave them hope for their place in the future. I wanted to be part of that representation for a new era.” 

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With The Walking Dead’s Martin-Green taking the lead as Burnham and boasting the honor of the series’ first black female captain, Fuller’s legacy lives on. Thanks to season 2’s time jump, the same can be said for his hopes of going “beyond to a time in Trek that’s never been seen before,” but unfortunately for Fuller, his credit as co-creator is largely where his story ends. 

Fuller was stretched between American Gods and Discovery, reportedly clashing with CBS executives over the direction of the latter. Tensions reached boiling point in October 2016, and while Variety reports that the network was happy with Fuller’s input, elements of a “heavily allegorical and complex storyline” were ‘tossed’ — alongside Fuller’s own take on The Orignal Series uniforms. This left Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness co-writer Alex Kurtzman to take the idea through to production, hitting a September 2017 release. 

 

MAKE IT SO

Rainn Wilson as Hary Mudd in ST:D

 

Even if we’re left to imagine what Fuller’s Discovery would’ve been, later seasons have felt like something of an anthology that hit his original brief. While Picard was once the furthest point in the timeline (taking place in 2399), season 2’s cliffhanger ending saw Burnham wormhole her way into the year 3188 – soon to be joined by her crew in 3189. Having Discovery take place in this unexplored part of the Star Trek timeline is all well and good, but for the harshest of critics, seasons 3 and 4 have felt like a whole new show.

With accusations of Discovery having jumped the shark, we can’t help but be reminded of American Horror Story’s own shift in quality that was largely pinned on season 4’s Freak Show. Unlike FX’s horror favorite, Discovery has kept the core cast, but in a similar vein, both have introduced newcomers like Horror Story’s Billie Lourd or Discovery boasting David Ajala’s Booker and Tig Notaro’s Jett Reno. Season 5 doesn’t quite have Kim Kardashian, but Callum Keith Rennie as the war-torn Rayner should be an interesting addition.

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American Horror Story has standout characters like Sarah Paulson’s Lana Winters, Evan Peters’ James Patrick March or any of Jessica Lange’s characters, but it’s odd to think of Discovery without the rag-tag crew we’ve come to love. Seeing Tilly (Mary Wiseman) rise through the ranks of Starfleet and watching Saru (Doug Jones) come to terms with emotions has given Discovery a heart, so to have left them behind after just one season would’ve been a shame. 

It’s a testament to the writing of Discovery’s characters. Even with the beloved status of the American Horror Story: Coven witches, it’s hard to imagine them holding up five seasons on their own. Even in the Murder House x Coven crossover season, the cracks were starting to show. American Horror Story works in short form, whereas Discovery ultimately went for longevity. After all, how many anthology series like Channel Zero and Castle Rock have been lost to the depths of Wikipedia while AHS has thrived? 

Anthology series themselves are tricky, and it was likely too much of a gamble for CBS back when it didn’t know what Discovery could be. In a roundabout way, Kurtzman would take Fuller’s vision forward in the form of the Star Trek: Short Treks anthology series. It wasn’t quite a full reset each season like Fuller had originally wanted, but with 10-20 minute shorts focusing on the likes of Rainn Wilson’s Hary Mudd or setting the stage for Strange New Worlds via season 2’s “Q&A”, it was just the companion Discovery needed. Although Kurtzman wanted to continue the idea in a potential third season, COVID-19 put a stop to that. 

 

STAR TREK BEYOND

ST:D Season Five

 

All good things must come to an end, with Discovery’s final journey ahead in season 5. Assuming Burnham and co. make it back to the 23rd Century, we could see them pop by for an episode of Strange New Worlds or the Michelle Yeoh-led Section 31 TV movie. In an interview with Variety, Kurtzman confirmed the upcoming Young Adult Star Trek: Starfleet Academy series will stick around in Discovery’s stomping ground of the 32nd Century, meaning any number of Discovery stalwarts could reprise their roles. It’s clear there are more stories to tell, and with Kurtzman referring to Star Trek as an “institution,” he’s well-placed to lead the next chapter(s). 

Even if the Variety update suggests Short Treks is done, Fuller’s original idea of Discovery spin-offs multiplying like Tribbles could still lead to another anthology spin-off. American Horror Story and The Walking Dead have enjoyed some success with their own anthology spin-offs, and in particular, Tales of the Walking Dead fleshed out Samantha Morton’s Alpha. Assuming Jason Isaac doesn’t have a surprise cameo in Discovery’s final season, we demand a feature-length anthology episode revealing what happened to Prime Gabriel Lorca.

In some alternate timeline, we picture Discovery following in The Crown’s footsteps and focusing on different eras of Burnham’s life. This would’ve kept her as an all-important figurehead but allowed others to step into the Starfleet uniform. Imagine Angela Bassett retreading her AHS days and playing a more mature Captain Burnham. Sadly, the idea of a feature-length Star Trek anthology series is resigned to an uncharted sector alongside the tantalizing ‘what if’ of Tarantino directing a movie Still, if Paramount wants to revisit the idea, we think there should be more Star Trek