The final moments of the thirteenth episode of Star Trek: Discovery seem to have put the writing of the series in a no-win scenario. Because this show is set a decade before the original series, how the hell can Star Trek as we know it exist after all of this?
The answer might seem counterintuitive, but the deeper you dig into Trek’s complex canon, the easier it is to accept. It’s possible, and even likely, that all of the latest developments make perfect sense, and in fact, explain why the context original series feels the way it does. Here are three specific reasons why the newest Discovery twist might end up creating old-school Star Trek continuity, specifically, why the United Federation of Planets and Starfleet act the way they do in the Sixties show and beyond.
Spoilers ahead for all of Star Trek: Discovery through episode 13. As of this writing, the author has only seen through episode 13. Anything that follows is speculation, which may turn out to be intuitive spoilers.
1. We Already Know Sarek Negotiated Peace With the Klingons
In the original series episode “Journey to Babel,” Spock and Burnham’s dad Sarek was already extremely famous for his diplomatic achievements. Right now Discovery has taken place mostly in 2256, while “Journey to Babel” happens in 2268. However, the long-term diplomatic talks that eventually result in the Federation becoming allies with the Klingons start in 2293 in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Though Spock is the one who opened a “dialogue” with the Klingon High Council, guess who asked him to do it? Yep, his dad, Sarek.
Also, in The Next Generation episode “Sarek” (which happens in 2366) we learn that Sarek was responsible for negotiating the final “Treaty of Alliance” between the Klingons and the Federation, sometime between 2344 and 2357. The point with all of this is simple. Sarek’s diplomatic cred with the Klingons had to start somewhere, and it looks like we’re witnessing it on Discovery. How will Sarek negotiate peace? Well, in the very first Discovery episode — “The Vulcan Hello” — we learned the Vulcans achieved a ceasefire with the Klingons through aggressively firing on all of their spaceships no matter what. Maybe something similar had to happen with Starfleet in order for the Klingons to leave them alone. After all, if Starfleet uses Mirror Georgiou’s ruthless tactics to scare the Klingons, they might be in better shape.
2. The Size of and Behavior of Starfleet in the Original Series is Suggestive
The number of ships in Starfleet in the original Star Trek is never made clear, but it feels way smaller than what we see in Discovery. If the Klingons have wiped out nearly the entire fleet, then it would make sense that ten years later, Starfleet is just kind of getting back on its feet. In the Deep Space Nine episode “Trials and Tribble-ations” a time-traveling Jadzia Dax mentions “they really used to pack them in on these old ships,” in reference to Kirk’s USS Enterprise. Maybe after the Klingon War, Starfleet consolidated its resources in bigger ships with bigger crews. So far in Discovery, speaking about Constitution-Class ships (like the Enterprise or Defiant) is sort of a big deal. When Burnham and Tilly talk about the Enterprise in the episode “Lethe,” they make it sound like it’s huge.
The Enterprise in the original Star Trek also seems ready to do serious damage at the drop of a hat. This fact is mentioned in numerous episodes, including the original “Mirror, Mirror.” Perhaps after the events of Discovery Starfleet makes its bigger ships not only sturdier but way deadlier. Some fans have complained that Starfleet behaves too much like military organization in Discovery, but Kirk employs “gunboat diplomacy” all the time in the original series.
It’s also relevant to note that in “Errand of Mercy” ( the first Klingon episode ever) Kirk says he’s seen what Klingons do when they take over planets. “I have seen what the Klingons do to planets like yours. They are organized into vast slave labor camps. No freedoms whatsoever.” When did Kirk see this? During the time of Discovery Kirk is most likely a Lieutenant in Starfleet in 2256, meaning he could be on the USS Farragut, perhaps fighting the war. So, if Kirk remembers how bad things got for the Federation during this time, his comments in “Errand of Mercy” check, and his attitude toward the Klingons, in general, makes even sense.
3. The Location of the Neutral Zone Has Already Been Seen in Discovery’s First Episode
The boundary between the Klingon Empire and the Federation in the majority of Star Trek that happens after Discovery is called “the Neutral Zone.” (There’s a Romulan neutral zone, too, but don’t worry about that right now.) The point is, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan establishes that one part of the Neutral Zone is in the Gamma Hydra system. Guess what: the Battle at the Binary Stars in the two-part pilot episode of Discovery happens in the Gamma Hydra system. Sarek even calls this area the “edge of Federation space.” So, we know that in Discovery’s future, the Neutral Zone has to exist. What better place to draw a boundary on your space map than the location where the war started?
The neutral zone is a big part of what keeps the Federation and the Klingons from having an all-out war in the original series and the original series films, specifically Star Trek VI. Perhaps Discovery will depict how exactly that zone got established.
All in all, if the story of the next few episodes of Discovery shakes out right, the crew won’t need to time-travel or retcon anything at all. Instead, future history will just take its course. And the only continuity problems they’re really left with is how this ship can be allowed to run around with an interdimensional spore drive that can get them anywhere in the blink of an eye.
There are only two episodes left in Star Trek: Discovery’s first season. They will air over the next two Sundays at 8:30 pm eastern time on CBS All-Access. The season finale will air on February 11, 2018 and is titled “Will You Take My Hand?”