The Season 2 finale of Star Trek: Discovery ended by boldly going further into the future than the Trek franchise had ever fully gone before. And yet, sending the main character of a Trek series into the far future in a big season finale is actually not a new trick.
A different Trek series, the prequel show Enterprise, ended its first season with a similar cliffhanger. In that finale, Captain Archer found himself ripped from the 22nd century and deposited into the 31st. Sound familiar?
Here's how one big plotline from the least-popular Star Trek series, Enterprise, could have a big influence on Discovery Season 3.
In May 2002, in the episode "Shockwave Part 1," the prequel series Enterprise stranded Captain Archer in a version of the 31st century in which the Federation had been totally destroyed. Throughout much of Enterprise's first three seasons (and the very beginning of its fourth), the threat of the Temporal Cold War was a major story point. The basic idea was this: Various factions — including a future version of the Federation — fought a war throughout time with the express purpose of either changing the timeline or, in the case of the Federation, keeping the timeline intact.
Because Enterprise took place in the 2150s, before the formation of the Federation, a lot of far future events were unclear to Archer and the crew of the NX-01 Enterprise, even if the audience vaguely understood what might happen. In other words, the Temporal Cold War wasn't just a fight for Enterprise and the 22nd century, but, on some level, a fight to preserve the entire Star Trek timeline. It was a little meta, and some have argued, a little under-developed, but the fact remains that the Temporal Cold War is still canon. And chronologically, Enterprise is the series that immediately precedes Discovery, a fact which has been alluded to a few times in Discovery's first season.
How the Temporal Cold War could influence Discovery Season 3
For the most part, by the end of the Season 4 Enterprise episode "Storm Front Part II," the Temporal Cold War was over and the "bad guys," like the Xindi, Suliban, and Na'kuhl were defeated. Crewman Daniels, a Federation agent from the 31st Century, basically tells Archer outright that everything is okay with the timeline at the end of this episode.
Why does this matter for Discovery? Well, Daniels operated from a far-future version of the Federation in the 31st century, and we know that Discovery Season 3 will take place in the 32nd century, roughly starting in the year 3187. This is nine centuries beyond the timeframe of Enterprise, eight centuries past The Original Series, the first six films, Strange New Worlds, Discovery's first two seasons, and about seven centuries after the era of The Next Generation, DS9, Voyager and Picard. However, it's is less than a century beyond the future Daniels came from.
That means less than a hundred years before the far future of Discovery Season 3, the Federation still existed in some way, shape, or form.
What happened to the Federation?
One of the biggest mysteries in Discovery Season 3 will probably be a fact-finding mission to learn about all the history that the crew missed. An 830-year jump into the future is no small thing, and based on the trailers, Burnham seems determined to find "that domino, that tipped over and started all of this," which seems to imply the Federation has either been disbanded, destroyed or deeply changed. However, it's possible that Burnham and the crew might not have to look too far into the relative past to find that "domino."
If Enterprise canon holds (which it should), the Federation still existed in the 31st Century and employed several Time Agents to prevent any sabotage caused by time travel. In Season 2 of Discovery, the rogue A.I. known as "Control" assists in its own ascension to power by sending data back through time in a modified probe and briefly "possessing" the cyborg Starfleet officer, Lt. Commander Airiam. (This is part of Control's plan to hijack data from a super-intelligent ancient alien sphere and use that data to become fully sentient.)
All of this makes the "origin" of Control somewhat paradoxical — it both comes from the future and has its origin in the past simultaneously. Either way, both Discovery and Michael Burnham's mother (Gabrielle Burnham) are focused on making sure Control doesn't wipe out all life in the galaxy by the 32nd century. In theory, by the end of Season 2, it seems like they are successful — but there's a catch.
The Temporal Cold War might not be over?
Discovery Season 3 may or may not reference the Temporal Cold War on Enterprise directly, but that doesn't mean the events won't be linked. In fact, it seems reasonable that the crew of the Discovery wouldn't even know about the Temporal Cold War, partially for the same reason that nobody (save for a select few) are even aware that Discovery jumped to the future at all. In other words, in Star Trek, people like to keep time travel conflicts a secret in the interests of not messing up the timeline.
That said, in Season 2 of Discovery, Leland reveals that Section 31 had been involved in a "Temporal Arms Race" against the Klingons (and maybe other superpowers) since at least the 2230s. He floats the idea that huge leaps in technological developments might be caused by time travel, alluding to the notion of a bootstraps paradox as a catch-all explanation for why people in Star Trek sometimes possess really advanced tech that seems incongruous with other tech. (For example, the power of the replicators and the transporters is pretty amazing, and yet, Trek tech struggles with creating stable A.I.)
The point is, just because Control was "defeated" in Season 2, that doesn't mean some time travel shenanigans aren't still happening. If the Federation had Time Agents in the 31st century, just a handful of decades before the arrival of Discovery, certainly some of those time travelers must have been aware of Discovery's eventual destiny. Right? In Enterprise, it was eventually revealed that one ordinary crew member (Crewman Daniels) in the 22nd century was, in fact, a time-traveling agent from the future. Could Discovery have a similar stowaway? Might there be one member of the crew who has been aware of this eventuality all along?
This would be a pretty cool plot twist, but even if Discovery doesn't have its own version of Crewman Daniels, the fact that we know the Federation existed a century before the new setting of Season 3 seems important. And the fact that we also know time travel was a big deal in that century feels doubly important. The new setting for Star Trek: Discovery may be the year 3187, but that doesn't mean they're done traveling through time.
Discovery Season 3 hits CBS All Access on October 15, 2020.