Star Trek doesn’t blow up planets very often. But in the season premiere of Star Trek: Discovery Season 4, a familiar planet has been obliterated. And if a rampaging anomaly isn’t stopped, other planets could suddenly blow up too.
Discovery showrunner Michelle Paradise tells Inverse that this shocking and catastrophic event was designed to make the stakes of Season 4 feel real.
“We needed to see its impact,” she says. “We needed to see that impact in the first episode.”
Here’s what it all means for the DISCO crew, and what Star Trek fans — new and old alike — can expect from Season 4. Spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Season 4, Episode 1, “Kobayashi Maru.”
From the decimation of Federation colonies in “The Best of Both Worlds” to the destruction of Vulcan in Star Trek 2009, blowing up entire planets isn’t something Star Trek does lightly. The infamous planet-eating “Doomsday Machine” was a one-shot deal, appearing in The Original Series to never be rebooted again. Even when a famous planet like Romulus is destroyed in flashback, the events have repercussions across two dimensions, spanning the reboot films and the entire backstory of Star Trek: Picard. The point is, when Trek blows a planet up, it’s supposed to be scary and make us worried as hell.
By the end of Star Trek: Discovery Season 4 Episode 1, “Kobayashi Maru,” Book’s (David Ajala) home planet Kwejian is torn apart by an unexplained gravitational anomaly — seemingly a naturally occurring but unprecedented phenomenon in space. Now, the crew of the USS Discovery and the Federation at large are 100 percent focused on figuring out what to do about this out-of-nowhere game-changer.
For Paradise, making the anomaly feel dangerous was the number one priority in writing the season.
“It’s one thing to say that this thing is five light-years wide,” she says. “It's another thing to see what it can actually do.”
What it does is rob DISCO’s resident badass of his family, including his brother and very young nephew. The loss hits close to home, and now, suddenly, Captain Burnham’s romantic partner, and, arguably, her most dynamic crew member, has been hit with a wave of unbelievable trauma. In the fairytale tone of Star Wars, Leia bounces back from the destruction of her home planet pretty quickly. In Star Trek: Discovery, it’s not going to be so easy for Book — or anyone else.
“We want it to resonate with our characters. We want it to land on our heroes,” Paradise says. “It’s going to impact Book, specifically, obviously, and then, by extension, all of the people around him on Discovery.”
Paradise is also quick to point out that the concept of the anomaly in Discovery Season 4 was very much inspired by the unrest created by real life.
“It’s not a one-to-one [analogy] by any stretch of the imagination,” Paradise says. “But just in terms of what the [virus] has done to us, as a global community, the emotions that it brings the uncertainty that it brings, that was something that we wanted to explore over the course of this season. At the beginning of any given season, we have an arc for our characters. We know where they’re going to begin the season emotionally. We know where they're going to end the season emotionally. We're very conscious about those things.”
Even though Kwejian is a fairly new planet to the Star Trek mythos, the Season 4 premiere is peppered with Easter eggs and references to the entire franchise. From a large meeting of Federation and non-Federation worlds, featuring a plethora of familiar aliens (including a Ferengi and an Orion) to nods to Captain Archer from Star Trek: Enterprise, Discovery isn’t shying away from its Trekkie legacy, despite being two seasons into an entirely new century, separate and apart from the rest of the canon.
Even the title of the episode, “Kobayashi Maru” is an Easter egg. In The Wrath of Khan, Admiral Kirk faced a real no-win scenario, despite not believing in them beforehand. In Discovery, Burnham is in a similar situation. She may have saved her crew and the entire universe in previous seasons, but she wasn’t able to save Book’s family this time around. And that loss echoes Kirk’s own wake-up call with the “Kobayashi Maru” in The Wrath.
Paradise says fans should continue to expect Discovery to reference the long tradition and the entire Star Trek canon. While she can’t reveal if we’re getting another Guardian of Forever-sized surprise this season, she does want Discovery to stay connected to a bigger tradition.
“Because Discovery is so far ahead of all of the other shows, we have fresh snow to play in,” Paradise says. “But, we don’t want to be on an island somewhere. So, we’re always looking for ways to connect back in. Whether that’s in the storytelling or in the references and things that continue to place Discovery within the larger Star Trek universe.”
Star Trek: Discovery airs new episodes on Thursdays on Paramount+.