The end of Star Trek: Discovery will diminish the franchise.
No doubt by now you’ve heard the news. The fifth season of Star Trek: Discovery, which will stream on Paramount Plus early in 2024, will be its final season. Discovery will, in a sense, be the first Star Trek series to keep The Original Series’ “promise” of a “five-year mission,” although its five seasons will have spanned seven years in real time by the time its end arrives.
News of Discovery’s impending demise has divided Star Trek fans. As Rhiannon Bevan reported for TheGamer.com, “some are mourning the show, grateful that it kickstarted a new generation of Trek,” while “others shed no tears at all, feeling that it was the worst of the bunch.”
Here at Redshirts Always Die, our own Chad Porto declared Discovery “never found its footing in the wider Star Trek universe,” and called its end “long past due.” From an economic standpoint, such may be the case.
But I think Discovery will leave a huge hole in the franchise that any other series, even the fan and critical darling Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, will have to work exceptionally hard to fill.
Here are just three reasons why:
Discovery pushed the upper edge of our favorite future forward.
Granted, Discovery began as another prequel series to the original Star Trek. But when the ship and its crew jumped forward to the 32nd century at the end of season 2, the series gave us the farthest canonical look into the Federation’s future we’ve yet seen.
Discovery’s third and fourth seasons took ambitious swings. The same simply can’t be said for any other current Trek series, with the arguable exception of the “kid’s show,” Star Trek: Prodigy—and even it, in the back half of its first season, couldn’t shake off constraints of canon and nostalgia. Star Trek: Picard is currently mired in obsessive mimicry of the franchise’s feature films. Strange New Worlds trades so heavily in what’s already been done, its first season finale was a literal rewrite of a TOS classic.
Without Discovery, the de facto upper limit of the Trek timeline is the early 25th century, which isn’t all that different than the late 24th century we’ve been watching for 30 years.
Discovery reestablished Star Trek as boldly speculating about future science.
Not since TOS has Star Trek extrapolated so broadly and even wildly from actual scientific theory.
Although many fans—myself included, I admit—scoffed at the idea of Discovery’s spore drive and mycelial network in 2017, mainstream media in 2023 is carrying bona fide news stories about breakthroughs in “mushroom computers.” Sure, some of them are invoking HBO’s The Last of Us—but Star Trek got there years ago.
And while Star Trek has long been fascinated with artificial intelligence, Zora is the first ship’s computer to have her sentience recognized and even granted status as a member of the crew. As ChatGPT, Bing, and other AIs disrupt industries and society as a whole, Star Trek, thanks to Discovery, is ready with current, timely stories about this science’s pitfalls and potential.
Discovery put Star Trek back at the progressive edge of representation.
Sonequa Martin-Green is the first Black woman to play the main protagonist in a Star Trek series. For the character of Michael Burnham alone, Discovery deserves kudos for embodying Star Trek’s long-stated commitment to diversity and equality.
But Discovery did even more, giving us the franchise’s first recurring openly same-sex couple in Paul Stamets (played by Anthony Rapp) and Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz), as well as its first openly nonbinary character, Adira (Blu del Barrio) and first transgender character, Grey Tal (Ian Alexander).
Hopefully, Strange New Worlds will take up the representation baton. It has already established Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush) as bisexual, and featured Jesse James Keitel as a guest star as the nonbinary character Dr. Aspen in “The Serene Squall.” But whether it can break new representational ground—sexual, racial, or other—as Discovery did, only time will tell.
Star Trek has always played a large role in showing viewers that the future is for everyone. With Discovery’s departure, ongoing and future series in the franchise will have to work harder to keep that vision highly visible.