Star Trek: Discovery Season 5 Boldly Goes Out On A High Note

The Trek series that relaunched the franchise is going out on an upbeat note.

Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green0 rides atop a starship in 'Star Trek: Discovery' Season 5.
Inverse Reviews
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To say that Star Trek: Discovery is not everyone’s cup of tea is perhaps the biggest understatement in all of Trekkie history. But, if you’re a knee-jerk Disco-doubter, consider this: Seven years ago, there was zero new Star Trek on TV, making the debut of Discovery in 2017 easily one of the most important science fiction events of the past 20 years. And, if you’re still not convinced that Discovery matters, then there’s a good chance that you haven’t watched it in a while. Perhaps more than any other Trek series, Discovery has changed dramatically from season to season, so much so that the brooding 2017-2018 Season 1 of the series hardly resembles where we are now.

Season 5 of Discovery — which debuts with two episodes on April 4 on Paramount+ — will conclude the series with a total of 10 episodes. And, somewhat refreshingly, these episodes represent (mostly) what makes this series unique and watchable. From the beginning, Discovery was never one thing, and now, at the end of the road, the show is comfortable enough to celebrate its myriad identities all at once. Is this the best Discovery season yet? It’s hard to say. Season 2 is still amazing, and Season 3 represented one of the boldest reset buttons in all of Trekdom. But Season 5 may have something on all of its predecessors: It’s really fun.

Few sci-fi thingamabobs can boast prequel and sequel status simultaneously. And yet, because Season 1 and Season 2 of Discovery took place from 2256 to 2258, the show was very much a prequel to The Original Series. (It’s also a midquel between Enterprise and TOS if you really want to get technical.) But then, in 2020’s Season 3, Discovery brought the entire crew 930 years into the future, meaning that a show that took place before all of the Trek series and movies suddenly took place after all of them. While the first two Disco seasons experienced a degree of canon tap-dancing, Seasons 3 through 5, are, essentially, set in Trek’s very distant future. The fact that the crew are time-displaced old-timers in this brave new future is still a part of the Discovery ethos in Season 5, but in this batch of episodes, it doesn’t create angst, but instead, serves to simply make the gee-shucks optimism of the crew a little more explicable.

This may be Discovery’s greatest trick: Although Captain Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), Saru (Doug Jones), Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz), Tilly (Mary Wiseman), and Stamets (Anthony Rapp) are from our future, they feel like they’re from our present. Broadly, by sending them into an even more distant future, the series made the Disco crew into ciphers for how we feel about something as inherently old-fashioned and upbeat as Star Trek. Making a Star Trek post-2016 was always going to be a tough proposition, and over the last seven years and five seasons, Discovery has gone from grimdark to almost pathological kindness. This pivot has been a bit of a slow burn, but by the time we arrive at Season 5, the future-tense setting has finally let the crew loosen up a bit.

There will be hugging.


Some might say this kind emotionalism has gone too far in previous seasons, and whether that’s true or not isn’t really the point. At the end of the day, Discovery will always be the Trek where people talk about their feelings more than the other shows ever did, and for that, it will always be the most realistic of the various series, at least on the character level.

What makes Season 5 feel fresh, though, is that the characters are, at this stage, fairly well-adjusted to their trauma and angst. When emotional chaos comes toward Adira (Blu del Barrio), you’re not worried it’s going to break them. Ditto Michael Burnham, who is not only at her most captain-ly of any previous Disco seasons, but also manages to surprise the viewer with her decisions. The journey of Burnham has been an emotional roller coaster since 2017. But what Martin-Green does this season is arrive at a place of coolness and wise compassion, which appropriately reminds you that she is canonically Spock’s human sister.

But what makes Season 5 exceptional isn’t the big Easter eggs — of which there are many. Instead, this final voyage of the starship Discovery comes across as something that has always been there, under the surface: It’s sweet. And because Discovery is now devoted to being the gentler, kinder Star Trek, fans of the show that have been with it from the start will feel like this is a big hug.

Yes, this season is more action-packed. And yes, there are new characters, including Battlestar Galactica’s Callum Keith Rennie in the refreshing and surprising role of Captain Rayner. But, as Discovery jumps into what will become the last mission, the series solidifies its legacy. It may not have started as a warm and cuddly Trek, but it’s certainly ending that way, which means that even the show’s harshest critics may no longer have any reason to doubt that this was real Star Trek all along.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 5 debuts on Paramount+ on April 4.

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