Warning: This article includes spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: The Next Generation.
In March 2023, Paramount announced that Star Trek: Discovery season 5 will be the show’s last. That means the end of the road for the show that brought the franchise back to T.V. after 12 long years away, and – in its best moments – truly pushed the limits of what Star Trek could be.
The series started out as a surprisingly dark prequel to Captain Kirk’s original adventures, with the crew of the U.S.S. Discovery embroiled in a war with the Klingons. Once a peace treaty was signed, the show’s more nostalgic second year added iconic characters like Spock and Captain Pike to the mix. And by the time the season 2 finale came around, the show was ready for an even bigger evolution, as Michael Burnham and the rest of her crew permanently relocated to the 32nd century.
Unfortunately, what should have been a bold, fresh start – in a sector of the Trek timeline unconstrained by existing canon – has more frequently felt like a misfire. Held back by a pair of ponderous, season-long arc plots, the show has never truly got to grips with its new setting, while we’ve only had rare glimpses of the exciting place the Discovery bridge used to be.
When season 5 leaves spacedock in early 2024, it should therefore be the perfect opportunity for a spot of course correction. Here are five things Star Trek: Discovery needs to do to go out on a high. Let’s fly!
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1. Get on with exploring the 32nd century
When the U.S.S. Discovery set coordinates for the 32nd century, it really was boldly going where no Trek had gone before. This was the perfect opportunity to expand the franchise’s horizons beyond the eras of Enterprise, the Original Series, and The Next Generation. However, two seasons on and that distant future feels woefully underexplored.
While Discovery has reveled in the chance to show us tech beyond our wildest imaginations – from portable transporters to shapeshifting starships – there has to be more to the future than a few fancy gadgets. Where are the strange new worlds, the new life, and the new civilizations? Why is the line-up of aliens still dominated by usual suspects like Vulcans, Orions, Andorians, Cardassians, Ferengi, and Trill?
Season 4 antagonists Species 10-C were an admirable attempt to do something different, and a reminder that extra-terrestrials in Trek can be more than just humans with lumpy foreheads. Indeed, with state-of-the-art CG and animatronics at its disposal, season 5 needs to embrace the chance to show us something new.
2. Not get too hung up on a big story arc
When Discovery brought Trek back to television for the first time since Enterprise was cancelled in 2005, serialization was undoubtedly the way to go. Vast, complex story arcs had made shows like Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad the dominant force on T.V., and this new iteration of Trek needed to follow suit if it was going to be taken seriously.
Six years later, however, the show has earned the right to lean into the story-of-the-week structure of the Original Series and The Next Generation. Strange New Worlds’ success has been built on the strength of its standalone stories, and there’s no reason why Discovery can’t follow a similar path – especially as, with 900 years of canon between them, there’s little danger of Captain Burnham treading on Captain Pike’s toes.
Both of Discovery’s seasons in the 32nd century have strained to sustain their big arc plots (first the Burn, then the DMA) over an entire season. Surely it would be better to keep the serialization light, concentrating on telling brilliant sci-fi stories without the pressure of building up to some massive season-ending event? That said, we’ll be disappointed if season 5 doesn’t tie into the even-more-distant future of Short Trek episode ‘Calypso.’
3. Have someone else solve 32nd century problems
The crew of the U.S.S. Discovery are a whopping 900 years away from home. Just to put that in perspective, that’s equivalent to pulling a knight out of the Crusades, plonking them in our present, and expecting them to be experts on social media. In other words, Burnham and co should be so far out of their comfort zone that they’re permanently grounded by Starfleet, yet for some reason they’re consistently the smartest people in the room.
Yes, the double-whammy of a spore drive and all that alien Sphere Data gives them a handy tactical advantage, but week after week the crew solve problems – scientific and diplomatic – that are beyond Admiral Vance, President Rillak, and every other long-term resident of the 32nd century. Not only have Team Disco left their homes and families behind – a fact the show acknowledges with admirable sensitivity – they’ve also missed out on nine centuries of education and development. Shouldn’t living in the future be a little more, well, challenging?
4. Get Sylvia Tilly and Jett Reno in as many episodes as possible
The Mirror Universe’s amoral Emperor Philippa Georgiou stole every scene she was in before the Guardian of Forever sent her back in time in ‘Terra Firma, Part 2.’ Discovery hasn’t been the same since.
The wise-cracking Sylvia Tilly and permanently sarcastic engineer Jett Reno have done their best to fill the humor vacuum. But with both absent for the majority of season 4 – and the waspish Paul Stamets less entertainingly irritable than he used to be – the Discovery bridge became a very dull place, populated by a lot of very earnest Starfleet officers.
With a return for Georgiou looking unlikely – Michelle Yeoh’s hot property after her Everything Everywhere All At Once Oscar win, and she's busy with the recently revealed Section 31 movie – Discovery needs to pull out the stops to get Tilly and Reno on screen as much as possible. Without them, this final season could be quite the slog.
5. Embrace the no-win scenario
If the shock death of Lieutenant Tasha Yar in The Next Generation taught us anything, it’s that exploring the final frontier is dangerous. Not that you’d know from watching recent seasons of Discovery, where everybody – with the exception of certified villains Osyraa and Ruon Tarka – tends to make it out alive. Burnham, Detmer, Saru, Owosekun, and plenty more have survived near-death experiences, while Book stretched credibility well past breaking point when he literally came back from the dead in the season 4 finale.
If you want genuine high stakes drama, sooner or later a significant character has to die. Trek has been riffing on the idea of the no-win scenario since The Wrath of Khan, but somehow the version where everybody is okay isn’t quite so compelling. Who knew?