With nine TV shows, one mini-companion series and 12 cinematic adventures, Star Trek continues to push the boundaries of how vast a sci-fi franchise can really be. And with Star Trek: Discovery currently exploring a new era in the timeline for season three, the fan theories about the future of the show have flourished.
In Discovery’s first two seasons, the writers have boldly changed vital parts of the existing lore. They have been careful to weave in familiar allies and foes in a way that introduces new audiences to Starfleet’s wealthy backstory while tying into elements seasoned fans love most about the franchise. But with all the Easter eggs and references so carefully placed in Discovery’s most recent time-travelling story arc, it’s hard not to wonder what the bigger picture is.
Needless to say that after Michael Burnham and the rest of the crew found themselves adrift in a future without the safety net of the Federation, fans began theorizing at warp speed. So, to figure out what might happen in the rest of the third season, we asked an expert from the Star Trek Memory Alpha community, Dan Leckie, and Fandom’s own Mike Delaney to weigh in on the most startling theories about Discovery season three.
Control is taking over Lieutenant Detmer to return in Season 3
Something’s haunting Lieutenant Detmer after the trauma of flying through a wormhole, and one fan theory suggests that she’ll be the gateway for a returning villain. Cast your minds back to the end of Discovery season two. The nefarious artificial intelligence known as Control was trying to get its hands on the historical data from the mysterious Sphere. Luckily, Phillipa Georgiou was on hand to kill Control in the Spore Drive after it reanimated Section 31 agent, Leland.
With a gross wet thud, all the nanites oozed out of the villain after Georgiou magnetized the drive. Flashforward to Discovery season 3 and we briefly saw one of the Sanitation engineers mopping up all the leftover blue goo. Lovely. But this sent fans into a frenzy after one member of the Bridge crew began acting strangely following Discovery’s arrival in the 32nd century.
Lieutenant Detmer was frequently shown disassociating and unable to focus after piloting Discovery out of the wormhole down to the Colony. A bizarrely sinister moment in Forget Me Not even saw her try to come up with a haiku about Stamets’ blood pouring on the floor. Yikes. Did some of those blue nanites manage to somehow infect Detmer using her cybernetic cranial implants? Maybe bringing back the villain so soon would negate all the dramatic tension of the season two finale, but Detmer is clearly dealing with a shift in her character.
Dan Leckie: I’d be more inclined to suspect either that Detmer is undergoing PTSD as a result of the crash-landing or is simply feeling extremely insecure about her piloting skills, having crashed the ship.
Mike Delaney: I would agree here that the arc is most likely Detmer dealing with PTSD and her own feelings of “failing” as the Discovery’s pilot. Effectively, Detmer is the reason the crew is in the future since she flew the ship there, and that may be weighing heavily on her. Additionally, Season 3 is looking to have an overarching theme of rebuilding and reconnecting … while this is exemplified in Discovery’s efforts to find the Federation and help to rebuild it, examining it from a more personal perspective is also an interesting angle to take.
As to why I believe it is unlikely that Detmer is being infected by Control; the timing doesn’t work out. Leland/Control was killed in the sealed Spore Drive chamber just before Discovery entered the wormhole, and Detmer was at her station the entire time. Detmer began to feel the effects of whatever is affecting her directly after the Discovery crashes on the surface; whatever remains of Leland/Control would still have been in the Spore Drive chamber.
An Episode of Voyager is ‘The Burn’s Origin
Aah the mysterious ‘Burn’, it’s a controversial new direction that long-time audiences still aren’t sure on. The cataclysmic event caused all of the Dilithium in the known galaxy to simultaneously explode, causing widespread destruction and chaos. It also completely crippled the Federation; most of the Starfleet ships were obliterated because they ran on Dilithium. And although the disaster shouldn’t have completely separated the universe (Transwarp Drive and Singularity Cores, anyone?) the Burn made everything (and nearly everyone) more hostile.
But what was it that caused all the Dilithium to erupt? Well, one theory suggests the answer lies in the past, specifically an episode of Star Trek Voyager. During The Omega Directive, Kathryn Janeway (a true legend) received orders to wipe out a mysterious substance known as Omega. Omega Molecules are highly unstable, and if a single molecule explodes it destroys subspace which means Warp travel would be impossible as well as cutting off subspace communication. Oh.
Seven of Nine also revealed in the episode that the Borg were hellbent on trying to stabilize the substance since it had a perfect molecular structure. The collective even managed to keep it stable for a one-trillionth of a nanosecond, at the heavy cost of 600,000 drones and 29 ships. The substance seems just as destructive as the apocalyptic event introduced in Discovery, that’s for sure.
DL: “The Omega molecule destroyed subspace, it didn’t make dilithium go inert. Furthermore, since it’s in only a single TV episode of the entire Star Trek franchise, I suspect it would be a bit of a deep dive for them to feature it as such a central concept in Star Trek: Discovery‘s third season. I haven’t ruled this possibility out entirely, but it does seem unlikely.”
MD: “On the face of it, the description of what the Omega molecule does — destroying subspace — doesn’t match up with what happened during the Burn. But, since the Omega molecule is relatively unexplored in Star Trek canon beyond one episode, this could be a side effect that no one thought possible, or the result of an experiment using Omega molecules that went awry, causing this reaction. It definitely can’t be ruled out.
The Borg showing up on Discovery is an interesting theory, but one that I believe to not be likely. If they are responsible for the Burn in some fashion, or detected the event, why wait to invade? The Federation has been sundered for decades, and the Borg would face very little resistance. Previous attempts to invade the Federation were repulsed, but this opportunity would be too good for them to pass up. Additionally, Voyager’s near-destruction of the Collective at the end of its seven-season run may mean the Borg are no longer a threat at all.
However, discounting Voyager plot points should not be done lightly. Seven shows up in Picard as a supporting character, and Janeway is returning in Star Trek Prodigy. Looks like CBS love Voyager references!
It’s also worth noting that a central plot point of the TNG episode, “Force of Nature,” dealt with warp drive being destructive to subspace. At the end of the episode, a Federation-wide “speed limit” of Warp Five was established to curb the effects. While it was referenced in later episodes, the Warp Five limit was generally discarded by later episodes of Deep Space Nine and Voyager.”
Does a Short Treks episode reveal how the third season ends?
For those that haven’t seen Short Treks, you’re missing out on some excellent storytelling that builds out the Star Trek universe, while also leaning into Discovery and Picard. During the episode Calypso, Discovery has held the same position in space for 1000 years and has a sentient computer system called Zora. When Zora rescues an escape pod, she slowly falls in love with its passenger, a man named Craft. She’d been left alone for a millennium, let’s not judge. She explains that her Captain ordered her to stay in this position when the crew left the ship. Interesting. Meanwhile, Craft revealed he had been fighting the V’draysh on Alcor IV.
Way back in 2018, Michael Chabon (writer of Calypso and Picard showrunner) revealed that ‘V’Draysh’ is a syncope of the word ‘Federation’. Although the Federation operates on a much smaller scale in season three, Calypso might tease a shift in the organization’s dynamic with the universe into violent new territory in a future season. The fight with Craft’s group on Alcor IV could easily be part of a campaign to seize the seat of power they once held.
Since Short Treks has seemingly revealed where Discovery will end up in the future, the mystery fans have been dying to unravel is why the crew have abandoned the ship and if we’ll see them leave it behind at the end of season three. There’s already been a huge time-jump from season two into season three, making it unlikely that the writers would do it again so soon. But now that Discovery’s onboard computer is becoming sentient, Calypso definitely seems to be on the horizon.
DL: “The Discovery writing staff have acknowledged that the show will essentially lead to the circumstances in ‘Calypso‘ but have not worked out the exact timing, so while it is interesting to speculate how the Discovery gets into that situation, I doubt it will be explored at the end of the third season; it’s more likely that the series will tackle this outcome in the fourth season, which is currently in production, or in subsequent seasons. Having said that, it’s nice that elements from ‘Calypso‘ are finding their way into the third season of Discovery, such as Zareh referencing the ‘V’draysh’ in ‘Far From Home’ and the scene from ‘Forget Me Not‘, featuring the return of Annabelle Wallis as the A.I. computer voice.”
MD: “I doubt abandoning Discovery will be the end of the third season, which would lead into the Short Trek. More likely this will be the end of the show as a whole, rather than the season. We know Discovery is confirmed for Season 4 at least, and I doubt that removing the central starship and the namesake of the show itself would be a popular idea.”
Grudge the Cat is more important than Discovery lets on
Star Wars has Baby Yoda, Star Trek: Discovery has Grudge the Cat. Basically, all big science-fiction franchises should have cute aliens. (Let’s hope Timothee Chalamet cuddles a Sandworm in Dune.) But honestly, Grudge well and truly stole the spotlight when she was introduced in the season three premiere. However, many fans in the Memory Alpa community think there’s more to that cat than meets the eye, especially considering how much Booker hypes her up.
When audiences first met the courier, he was ferrying Trance Worms to a sanctuary since the Federation isn’t around to enforce the Endangered Species Act. He clearly has an affinity for helping creatures in need, but there’s something mysterious about Grudge. When a rival courier, Cosmo Traitt, threatened to roast the adorable furry companion he said she’d “feed a planet”. Obviously, that could just be a joke that she’s a pretty big cat (Maine Coons are naturally large and fluffy) but many fans think she could be a shape-shifting alien hiding in plain sight.
Booker clearly holds Grudge in high-esteem, and it certainly wouldn’t be the first time the Star Trek universe has introduced shapeshifters. But the fact that he makes a specific point of spitting back at Cosmo with “She’s a queen!” could suggest she really is alien royalty. Or maybe we just really like cats and we’re reading into this too much…
DL: “Given the extent of promotion afforded to Grudge and the way she’s referred to as ‘a queen’, I find it quite believable that she is actually a shapeshifting alien Queen. Perhaps she’s even Po, from the second season finale Such Sweet Sorrow and the Short Treks outing Runaway, since she’s also a queen and, as it just so happens, is highly skilled with dilithium.”
MD: “If Grudge is a shapeshifter, there are some interesting connections that can be made. The most obvious is to connect Grudge to the Dominion’s Founders from Deep Space Nine, but honestly, I doubt one of them would remain in cat form and basically lounge around a starship all day long. Of course, it could be part of a larger ploy to find the Federation, using Booker’s courier access to gather information. However, since Booker is seemingly aware that Grudge is special, this is unlikely since the Founders operate in secrecy.
The more likely possibility links Grudge, and by extension, Booker, to two characters met in TOS — Gary Seven and Isis. Isis was a shapeshifter with a cat form, and Gary Seven was kind of an intergalactic secret agent. Perhaps there is more to Booker than meets the eye, and he represents some other agency keeping tabs on the galaxy. The fact that he ran into Burnham at the exact instant she emerged from a wormhole is rather coincidental after all…”
Discovery takes place in an alternate future timeline
Time-travel, mirror universes, and different timelines: Star Trek has it all. But after introducing the Red Angel suit in the second season, Discovery made a bold choice to keep the franchise as fresh as possible by heading further into the future than we’d ever really explored. But as one fan theory suggests, does that mean this is a completely different timeline to the main canon? Because the dystopian, almost apocalyptic state of the galaxy definitely feels like it needs fixing.
Although narratively it would be too straightforward for the crew just to travel back in time and stop an event (the Burn in this case) from happening to preserve the ‘real’ future. It’s something Trek fans have seen before (hello, First Contact!) and it would lessen the impact of exploring the wildly different universe in the 32nd century just to kill it off.
It’s clear that by travelling into new time-periods and also hiding Discovery from the history books that the writers are trying to free the series from some restrictive elements in the pre-established timeline. Although just to counter our own point, this darker, hostile universe wouldn’t feel out of place in the Kelvin timeline which was kicked off by the 2009 movie from J.J. Abrams. It would be a surprising reveal, but maybe don’t expect Chris Pine to show up in a cameo appearance just yet…
MD: “It’s clear that Discovery Season 3 takes place in an alternate timeline, simply because it is not the one that Gabrielle Burnham travelled to. This is a future where Control failed, and life still exists, so by definition, it is an alternate timeline already. Whether or not it is the timeline that is meant to be remains the question. Either way, with Booker stating that time travel technology has been outlawed and destroyed, there is seemingly no way for Discovery to return or “fix” the timeline. For all intents and purposes, this is the future of Star Trek canon.
Time travellers being responsible for the Burn is a good theory, and one that fits with knowing that time travel is outlawed. The “temporal wars” might have even been responsible for the Burn, and every attempt to fix it would have failed or made it worse. Perhaps time travel was outlawed to preserve what little was left.
As for the future Discovery being in the Kelvin timeline, I think that’s unlikely. The divergence point for the Kelvin timeline was several years before Discovery’s first two seasons, and from the reboot films, we see that there are clear differences in technological aesthetics between the two Starfleets. However, Discovery’s “vintage” technology is clearly recognised as Starfleet. The other point to consider is that Paramount/CBS are still considering more films in the Kelvin universe timeline, and would probably not want to saddle themselves with a future endpoint or stories told in that universe outside the film canon.”
DL: “I agree it’s possible that the third season of Discovery might be set in an alternate timeline. However, considering that Discovery already explored an alternate dimension (i.e., the Mirror Universe), in the second part of the first season. I suspect they’re more inclined not to do so again, at least not as early. Having said that, there are multiple timelines obviously presented in Trek (The Next Generation episode “Parallels” comes to mind), so this might indeed be one of the many.”