You might think being thrown thousands of years into the future and having to save the remnants of the Federation was enough action for the Discovery crew to contend with, but it looks like season four is going to give the ship—and her new Captain—even more mayhem to deal with. But for all the action, Discovery’s stars tell io9 the new season will see some soul-searching among the stars.
Although the idea of galaxy-threatening activity isn’t exactly new to Discovery, the initial cause of it this season is, at least: instead of a particular figure or group for our heroes to go after, the disaster coming in season four is a mysterious anomaly, a spatial irregularity destroying planets whether they’re part of the Federation or not.
“Coming into that, we were in lockdown at the time. Our room in season four was done entirely by Zoom, we didn’t meet in person. So, we were all feeling the impact of that as we were writing,” Michelle Paradise told io9 on a video call. “And we started asking ourselves, ‘Trek has a history of looking at the world around it’—we do that every season, we’re doing that this season—and we were looking at what the pandemic is doing emotionally, how is it impacting people? From there kind of came the big themes of the season, of uncertainty and also optimism and hope—and the idea that if we all come together and figure it out. [The anomaly] was really born out of that. It’s not really a one-to-one, the anomaly isn’t making people ill, we’re not doing a pandemic season. Just emotionally, [it’s] exploring the place that we were all in.”
It’s also a new kind of test for the Discovery crew themselves, who spent much of the last season trying to earn a position of trust in the battered Federation of the 31st century—having been flung into a future so far they managed to show up after an intergalactic ban on time travel. “I think the crew cemented their place in many ways in season three, and certainly, at the end, [the Discovery crew] were the ones who went out and ultimately figured out what the Burn was and what that meant, and that it’s not going to impact us anymore,” Paradise continued. “I think to some degree they are kind of the vanguard of the Federation as it goes out, and continues to grow. Hopefully, people will feel a lot of confidence in that and comfort in that with Burnham in the chair, and just understanding that our heroes are on the job and that it’s going to take all of us... but, you know, they’ll figure it out!”
The one needing to do most of that figuring out then, of course, is Sonequa Martin-Green’s Michael, who stepped into the Discovery chair officially as the series’ new Captain. But Michael, extra pips on her new uniform or otherwise, is still Michael, and that means butting heads along the way—with allies and enemies alike. “There are all kinds of new things to learn as Captain. It’s a brand new role. Obviously, it comes with an insane amount of responsibility... and of course, Burnham, we have seen change and grow and be ready for that, truly ready for it,” Martin teased of the conflicts the character will face in the coming season. “But then there are still challenges—it’s not like the fight is over. It’s not like every aspect of being a captain is easy-breezy. There’s still a lot of things for Burnham to learn. A lot of things that the role itself requires that I know Burnham didn’t realize going into it. So, yeah. You’re going to see all of that, which I think is wildly interesting.”
Michael’s new conflicts also mean a different kind of evolution for not just her, but her closest allies on the show. Now that Burnham is in the captain’s chair rather than just freewheeling about the ship as she’s been wont to do in her past duties—and now that Saru is temporarily off-ship coming into the season—what does it mean for the relationship’s she’s forged so far? “I think, for Tilly, there’s always something when your friends take on new roles, or something really great happens to them—whether they have a baby or get a huge promotion or finally get to be captain of a starship!—that you’re so happy for them, and then you also feel like you’re losing them a bit and have to accept they inherited a new role,” Mary Wiseman, who plays Tilly, said of the young Ensign’s view of Michael’s promotion.
Wiseman continued, “[She has to] cheer them on and love them on, but also recognizes it’s the end of an era. There’s a scene [this season] where they’re in their bedroom they share together, where you see that, of course, when she becomes captain, Michael doesn’t keep living with her roommate. She probably gets nicer quarters! And it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re not roommates anymore because you’re going up,’ and because they’re on the same path, but Burnham is so much ahead of her, she kind of gets a little insight into what her future might look like by seeing her friend achieve this thing. She gets to reflect on that herself, also—and I think, overall, it’s just all love and joy and the feeling that this is just deeply right.”
“I think he is very, very proud seeing Michael Burnham be a captain,” David Ajala, who plays former freelance smuggler Book, who became... something more as he became romantically intertwined with Michael last season, added. “She is meant to be a captain—she’s a captain and a leader that everyone needs. It does echo in what Mary was saying, it does feel like the end of a specific era, because you do see someone you deeply care and love advancing in career options and responsibilities and there has to be an element of peace, of loving them enough to let certain things go.” That means that even as they’ve become closer, Michael’s new path will present challenges of its own for the rest of the crew, Book and Tilly included. “That’s going to be new territory for Cleveland Book and Michael Burnham—and Tilly and Michael Burnham,” Ajala continued. “I think if their love is strong enough, there’ll be enough space to allow Michael Burnham to grow and be the best version of herself.”
One Discovery crewmember, in particular, might take a bit more convincing: Anthony Rapp’s Paul Stamets, who spent Discovery’s third season finale being fired out of a tube by Michael in order to protect him (and his ability to power Discovery’s space-folding spore drive engine) at the cost of Paul being unable to go save his partner Hugh. But time and Starfleet professionalism, according to the actor, means that by the time Paul and Michael are eye-to-eye in the new season, things have changed between them, but for the better. “It was a moment of understandable incredible stress that we had, but—sometimes those moments mean as much as they mean in that moment,” Rapp teased. “Some time has passed, we’re at the beginning of season four and they’re both alive and well, so, I think that allows for some space to be around it—and a little bit of forgiveness. But there are little moments, little opportunities [for Stamets] to go ‘tsk tsk...I don’t always forget.’ But Paul and Michael have been through so much together. They have an enormous amount of love for each other, so, it just adds to the richness of the tapestry.”
That ability to let go and move on in the face of the challenges to come is something that is a big focus for Discovery’s stars coming into the new season. “So many of us having left so much behind in the past, definitely in the third season it becomes apparent this is as much family as we have, you know? With the exception of Michael, whose has her mother is in this future... it just makes the people around her so much more important and there doesn’t feel as much pretense that this is a work environment,” Wiseman reflected. “We’ve all really been through something together. There’s no denying the honor those sacrifices and experiences deepened through each other. It just feels even more than it did before, like, we are each other’s family.”
I think there’s a certain level of care and empathy we have in the environment when you have gone through things traumatic and challenging, and you have to be for each other to get through it,” Ajala concluded. “I think it builds another level of trust and an unspoken bond to expect love through each other. When you do see this crew growing and overcoming challenges and circumstances, as an audience member you’re in the room with them. Surviving, pulling though... you see them really rise to the occasion and do the best they can.”
Star Trek: Discovery season four hits Paramount+ on November 18.
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