The biggest twist of Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 might be the very idea that... Michael Burnham is happy? In anticipation of Discovery's return next month, the first new trailer in almost a year has been revealed by CBS on Star Trek Day. For 54 years, the franchise has foregrounded the idea of a hopeful future, a place where the human race has (mostly) gotten over the strife that has kept our planet divided. In the new trailer for season 3, we see the USS Discovery arrive in the year 3188, and in this timeline, the Federation is basically gone, and the future looks pretty bleak.
It's pretty heavy stuff for Star Trek, and yet, the trailer itself will paradoxically make you feel more hopeful than ever. Here's how Discovery season 3 looks like its turning a dystopia into a utopia. Spoilers ahead for the new Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 trailer. Speculation follows.
First up, let's watch the trailer. As of September 8, 2020, this is the latest trailer for Discovery Season 3, which will be released on CBS All Access on October 15, 2020.
CBS also released a new logo for Discovery Season 3, which seems to suggest that the opening credits might also change come October.
So, what's in this new trailer that's so surprising? Pretty simple: Despite the fact that it looks like Discovery is crashlanding (literally) into a lawless future in which the Federation may barely exist, it also looks like the story of this season will be all about rebooting the Federation, bringing a sense of justice and equality to the galaxy. (Or at least, parts of the Alpha Quadrant and the Beta Quadrant.) One of the new characters, Cleveland Booker (David Ajala) tells Burnham that "The Federation mostly collapsed after 'the Burn.'" We don't know what "the Burn" is exactly, but Booker says it's the moment when everything took a "hard left."
During the Discovery panel, producer Alex Kurtzman also pointed out that the Federation didn't collapse because of corruption or inner turmoil. This means that "The Burn" was an event that made the galaxy what it was. "The Federation was as strong as ever," Kurtzman said. "Something cataclysmic happened." Co-showrunner Michaelle Paradise also made it clear that the Federation wasn't gone entirely in 3188, but that it was greatly "diminished."
So, the trailer mostly seems to be about the crew of the Discovery pushing back against this hopelessness. The tone here isn't like some kind of terrible future out of The Matrix or Terminator, instead, Burnham and the crew are more united and starry-eyed than ever. The first few seconds of the trailer features Burnham screaming in relief and delight, mostly because she realizes that they actually succeeded in their mission from Season 2: People in the future are still alive. Now, it's time to fix the galaxy. Is it a dystopian setting? Well, that's a little reductive, partially because Star Trek has always used some kind of bleak dystopia to transition into a more utopian vibe. In all versions of the Star Trek timeline, there's a giant World War in the 2050s, and only after that, does humanity get its act together. In fact, this future dystopia has been referenced since The Original Series, was later a huge part of the backstory in The Next Generation, and was even briefly glimpsed in Discovery Season 2. The point is, Star Trek has never said: The future is going to be sunny because things will magically get better. Instead, the franchise has always pointed out that humanity had to work for the utopian ideals that eventually become the status quo for most of humanity.
Like with most good sci-fi, Star Trek isn't all one way with the utopia/dystopia split; you can't get to a utopia without some dystopia first, and perhaps, even when you get there, a utopia can become dystopian in disguise. And now, it seems like that cycle is starting over in the 32nd century. At the very end of the trailer, Burnham and Booker say "If things were easy...it wouldn't be worth it." More than anything, this seems like the reboot nobody really saw coming. The crew is rebuilding the Federation, but as Burnham says, the Federation isn't about "ships...the Federation is about its people."
We already knew having a Star Trek series set in the 32nd Century was going to be different. What's actually shocking is how much more upbeat this season seems than the previous two seasons of Discovery. Instead of fighting for survival, and racing against the clock to avoid humanity's destruction, this season looks like it's about helping people and finding a way forward. In that way, Discovery Season 3 is boldly going where the other Trek shows have definitely gone before — toward hope.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 hits CBS All Access on October 15.