star trek discovery sarek michael burnham

What Star Trek: Discovery has brought to Trek canon, and where it could venture next

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Feb 28, 2018

The first season of Star Trek: Discovery has now come and gone, and it feels like it all passed faster than a ship traveling by spore drive. The show's breakneck pace and constant pay-offs undoubtedly contributed to the feeling that the whole season was over right as we'd gotten used to having Trek on our televisions again — but thankfully that doesn't mean the show was light on details. Far from it, actually.

Though we'll have to wait a little while for the second season to emerge, we have plenty of new additions to the Trek canon to ponder and debate. Almost all of these new additions take place between Star Trek: Enterprise and the original series, but most of them have consequences that reach much further. Saddle up, lock and load, because we're about to go to Black Alert and journey through all of the new lore that the latest Trek series has given us.

SPOILERS AHEAD for Star Trek: Discovery. GO TO SPOILER ALERT, MR. SARU!

Michael Burnham from Star Trek Discovery

MICHAEL BURNHAM

We don't have to look much further past the main credits to see one of the show's biggest additions — the lead character of Michael Burnham (played by Sonequa-Martin Green) is a major new figure in Trek canon and the fulcrum on which the entire series (and galaxy) rests.

Born on Earth, the early 2230s saw the very young Burnham moving to the outpost of Doctori Alpha when her parents were stationed there. The Klingons attacked the outpost and killed Burnham's parents, though she only heard the event after being hidden away in a cabinet. She would be taken in by none other than Sarek and his wife, Amanda Grayson, the parents of the legendary Mr. Spock.

Did we know that Spock had an adopted sister? Of course we didn't, but we didn't know that he had a half-brother either until Sybok scammed his way onto the Enterprise in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Why has Spock never mentioned her? For one thing, Discovery isn't over, and we don't know what happens to Burnham — he might have a good reason. Such things aside, maybe it just never came up? When he was riding in that truck in '80s San Francisco, should he have said, "Gracie is pregnant, and also I have an adopted sister?"

Sarek isn't a person who goes around sharing intimate details with people either, his own family included. Why has nobody else discussed the legend of Burnham? She was the first human to graduate from the Vulcan Science Academy and also led a mutiny that sparked a full-on war with the Klingon Empire. Sure, Burnham went to great lengths to stop that war, but on Discovery, almost everyone in the quadrant has heard of the mutineer Michael Burnham. What's the deal?

We don't know what the in-universe answer is to this yet, but the real-life answer is easy: this is a prequel, and she hasn't existed before now. Geordi LaForge never talked about Captain Archer for similar reasons. We can deal with it.

Sarek and Young Burnham on Star Trek: Discovery

SAREK AND FAMILY

Spock may have never mentioned Burnham, but Discovery mentions Spock. In the episode "Lethe," a flashback reveals that Sarek had to choose which of his children to allow into the Vulcan Expeditionary Force. He had the option to let the fully human Burnham in or reserve the option to let the half-human Spock in later on. Sarek chose Spock, and this stings all the more because we know that Spock eventually declines the offer in favor of joining Starfleet.

Sarek and Spock's bond has been tested time and again, and this would seem to be a big part of it. It wouldn't be until Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home that Sarek admitted he was wrong to "oppose" Spock joining Starfleet. Perhaps the fact that he had made this difficult choice played into Sarek's original opposition.

Katra scene from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

VULCAN MYSTICISM

Continuing on with the Burnham/Sarek/Spock drama, Discovery gave us a major new bit of mythology surrounding the Vulcan mystical force known as "Katra." The first two episodes show us that Michael fell victim to an attack while studying at a Vulcan Learning Annex (she has really bad luck), and to save her life, Sarek bestowed a part of his Katra to her. The Katra is a Vulcan's living soul, and Spock's Katra going back and forth between himself and Dr. McCoy is a major plot point in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. We got a hefty dose of Vulcan mysticism in that film, but we obviously didn't know everything a Vulcan's Katra is capable of.

Because of the Katra-sharing, Burnham and Sarek are bonded in a way that we've never seen before. They can call out to each other over vast distances (astrally projecting, in a way), and both of them use the connection to save each other at various points throughout Season 1. Giving a piece of his living soul to Burnham is no small thing, and this greatly informs Sarek's character. It's something that Spock may have thoughts about, too.

Why, though, was the Learning Annex ambushed? Who did it? It wasn't the Klingons.

Sarek and the Logic Extremists on Star Trek: Discovery

LOGIC EXTREMISTS

Apparently not all Vulcans are happy with being a part of the Federation. Though they tended to steer the course of human affairs following first contact (seen in Star Trek: First Contact, and followed up on in Enterprise), humanity is clearly in a more commanding position at the start of Discovery. While Vulcans like Sarek love humanity (to the point of marrying a human and adopting another) and are happy with the way the Federation is changing Vulcan (or, at least, they find it logical), there is a subset that feels the Vulcans have lost their way.

The "Logic Extremists" are a Vulcan terrorist organization (a phrase we never expected to write) that is set on the Vulcan ideology of, what else, logic. To achieve their ends, they go about performing highly logical things like bombing a Vulcan Learning Center and trying to murder Sarek. Did they know that a young Michael Burnham was training at that center when they bombed it? We don't know yet, but it's possible. It's also highly possible that we'll be encountering this group again, given that they were entirely absent from the second half of the season. If they think Sarek is a problem, then they're really gonna fall in love with Sybok.

Side note: Please, Trek gods, put a young Sybok on Discovery!

T'Kuvma from Star Trek: Discovery

THE KLINGON EMPIRE UNITES

With a scream of "REMAIN KLINGON," the Klingon Empire came roaring back into our lives at the start of the very first episode. We got a bit caught up on the details of what's been going on with them since we last saw them on Enterprise — pretty much the Empire has been in total disarray, the major houses are all fighting with each other (the more things change...), and a Klingon named T'Kuvma has decided that he is going to unite them all by waging a war against the Federation.

A war he wants, and a war he gets. Accidentally triggered by Burnham, the Battle of the Binary Stars begins the full-on war that we'd only heard legend of before. T'Kuvma doesn't survive, but a leader eventually emerges in L'Rell, who looks about ready to unite the Klingon houses by the season's end. She's not the first Klingon female that Trek has given us, but she might be the best. The war may be over, but the tension-filled cold war (it's very cold in space) that we saw so much of in the original series has just begun.

Speaking of Klingons in the original series...

The Klingon Augment Virus

OF RIDGES, ORCS, AND AUGMENT VIRUSES

It's no secret that the Klingons on this show look very different from what we're used to. When we see them in Enterprise, they have the classic look — but here they look like a love child between Chancellor Gorkon and an orc. That is to say, they look pretty cool.

Discovery wanted to redesign the Klingons, and showrunner Alex Kurtzman has said that he wanted to get away from the Klingons just being "thugs," though I'd pay good latinum to watch him say that to Deep Space Nine's General Martok. Is there an in-universe reason for the change? Possibly.

For one thing, this isn't the first time the Klingon look has been altered. The original series depicted them with tans and weird facial hair. It wasn't until Star Trek: The Motion Picture that the famed forehead ridges became a thing. Ridges were the accepted look from that point onward, and even when the smooth-headed Klingons were first seen in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's "Trials and Tribble-ations," Worf refused to explain the change to an inquisitive Bashir and O'Brien.

Worf's answer of "we do not discuss it with outsiders" was all the response we would get, until Enterprise came along and explained the phenomenon away with something called the "Klingon Augment Virus." According to the episodes "Affliction" and "Divergence," the ridges were not present in the original series because of a failed experiment, which involved some embryos left over from the Eugenics Wars (KHAAAAN!!!), and Data's "ancestor" Dr. Arik Soong. While attempting to create augments of their own, the plan backfired on the Klingons and the virus developed from there. It was eventually stabilized, but many Klingons were still affected — that is, every Klingon we ever see in the original series was affected. It wasn't a permanent condition, however, as DS9 featured three Klingon characters from the original series later in life. Kang, Koloth, and Kor all appeared in the episode "Blood Oath," and all of them have their classic ridges back. Kor even went on to be a popular recurring character.

What does any of this have to do with Discovery? Well, at the time of the show, this virus would be out and about in space. The virus didn't affect all Klingons, so there's a chance that we just haven't seen the affected ones yet. With this show in the mix, the timeline of the Klingon appearance would look something like this:

- Klingons have ridges and hair.

- Some Klingons get affected by the Augment Virus and lose their ridges.

- Other Klingons decide to cut their hair but still keep the ridges, choose to wear snazzier armor, elongate the back of their heads, and all of them get featured on Discovery.

- Augment Virus-victim Klingons routinely bother the Enterprise on the original series.

- Klingons eventually beat the virus and their ridges begin to grow back, Kang, Koloth, and Kor included.

- Every Klingon decides to grow their hair long again, except for General Chang.

- Every Klingon decides to wear one of two different outfits.

- The end of time.

Will Discovery ever address the Augment Virus? It name drops plenty of other things from Enterprise (Captain Archer, the original Defiant, Klingon first contact), so it is definitely treating Enterprise as canon. What could bring the story of the virus to the forefront? We're glad you asked.

Voq from Star Trek: Discovery

VOQ, SON OF NO ONE

One of the biggest mysteries of the first season concerned the Klingon Voq, and Lieutenant Ash Tyler. Shazad Latif played both. Voq conveniently vanished from the show right before Tyler was found, and many believed that Tyler was somehow Voq in disguise.

Turns out they were absolutely right.

We find out that L'Rell performed all kinds of crazy surgeries on Voq, made him into a human, and implanted the memories of one Lt. Ash Tyler into his mind. The result is a Voq/Tyler hybrid, who is now a bit more Tyler than Voq.

T'Kuvma's former torchbearer ended the season with nothing for him among the humans, so he goes to live among the Klingons with L'Rell. What will his place be in the ever-so-slowly reforming Klingon Empire? We don't know yet, but the first season spent a lot of time exploring both Voq and Tyler, so we'll likely see him again.

We know from Enterprise that Klingon experiments rarely go over very well, so we're wondering if L'Rell's experimentation on Voq will have greater consequences. The Augment Virus is already out there, so could Voq/Tyler somehow make it worse or spread it even further? It's entirely possible. It's also possible none of this will ever be addressed.

Star Trek- Orion Slave Girl

ORION SLAVERS GONE WILD ON QO'NOS

Not only did the Klingons change up their look, but their homeworld is a little more exciting as well! When we've visited Qo'nos in the past on Enterprise, The Next Generation, and Deep Space Nine, it's usually just made up of dark alleys and that one matte painting of the Klingon Great Hall. We see a bit more of it in Star Trek: Into Darkness, but that film takes place in J.J. Abrams' "Kelvin Timeline," and we're not gonna touch that here. Discovery shows us that the streets of Qo'nos are more than just dark alleys and fire.

Venturing there in the season finale, we see that a certain section of the Klingon homeworld is almost solely devoted to the trades and debaucheries of the green-skinned Orion slavers. They have bars, drug dens, and yes, slave girls. Who knows how long they'll remain there — for all we know Captain Picard was about to roll into that district in the TNG "Redemption" two-parter.

Star Trek- Spock and Pike

TO SEEK OUT NEW UNIFORMS AND NEW FASHION CHOICES

In case you thought the blue jumpsuits of Enterprise gave way to the brightly colored shirts of the original series, guess again! Starfleet managed to squeeze yet another uniform variation in there, and this one is mostly blue. The uniforms of Discovery use gold, silver, and bronze to depict departments, white alternates for the medical staff, and a baffling pip system that goes almost fully unseen on the Starfleet badges.

All of this is fine, except for the fact that the show takes place at the same time as Captain Pike's journeys with Spock on the original series' USS Enterprise. The uniforms there are quite different, seen in the series' aborted pilot "The Cage" and then again in "The Menagerie," the episode that looked to salvage some of that footage. Pike's crew mostly wears gold-colored sweaters, with some of them wearing blue. They also don blue cape-smock things for away missions. How does this difference reconcile with the all-blue Discovery look?

A partial explanation can be found in the book Desperate Hours, which takes place before Discovery's pilot and features Pike's Enterprise. Spock himself notices the difference in ship decor, but the book (whether canon or not) makes it plain that Starfleet had two uniform designs going at the same time. This is mostly due to the fact that Constitution-class ships like the Enterprise are considered to be elite, and therefore they have a different status. The book's author, David Mack, has further addressed the diverging uniforms as being a part of "a human tendency to want to redesign even the simplest things every few years."

Whether you accept Mack's explanation or not, the truth is that we've seen varying uniform designs before. Star Trek: Generations uses two different designs in the same movie (on the same ship), melding the old TNG uniforms and the newer jumpsuits from DS9. There was never any telling what an admiral on TNG or DS9 would be wearing, and I don't think anyone misses the blue/beige cabana-wear uniforms from Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Will Discovery eventually shift over to something resembling the classic designs? The original series, TNG, and DS9 all underwent uniform changes during their tenures, so it's not out of the question, especially since those new blue things don't look very comfortable.

U.S.S. Discovery uses the spore drive

THE SPORE DRIVE

BLACK ALERT! Yes, we're finally here. If you watched Discovery's first season, then chances are good that you remember this little bit of technology that made warp speed seem slow. Heck, the thing made Ludicrous Speed seem slow.

Developed by Lieutenant Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp), the experimental drive was capable of navigating a network of fungus that spread throughout, well, all of existence. It was capable of taking the Discovery anywhere in the blink of an eye, provided it had a proper navigator. Stamets put his life on the line a number of times fulfilling this task, and until a way can be found to navigate the "mycelial network" without a human (or alien-slug) host, Starfleet has shelved the project.

The spore drive proved invaluable to Starfleet's war efforts, but it's inarguably dangerous. The drive is also never mentioned in the other shows (it certainly would have gotten the U.S.S. Voyager home a lot faster), which leads us to think that we've seen the last of it. What we haven't seen the last of are the consequences that the drive and the fungus brought on, including the fungus planet that the crew created in one of the season's final episodes.

Besides the danger to the human navigator and the incredibly bad vibes the drive gives off, there is one significant danger related to the drive that the show depicted. Using the drive in the wrong way (or the right way, depending on who you are) could land you in...

Mirror Georgiou from Star Trek: Discovery

THE EXPANDED MIRROR UNIVERSE

This is what Discovery's captain, Gabriel Lorca, always intended the spore drive experiment to accomplish. He didn't really care about beating the Klingons, he needed the drive to work so it could take him to the Mirror Universe. Why is that? Because THAT IS WHERE HE IS FROM.

Trek has found many different ways of getting our heroes to this flip side of the galaxy over the years, but this was the first time we've gotten there via fungus. It's also the longest extended stay we've had there — Enterprise gave us a two-parter with "In a Mirror, Darkly," the original series introduced it in "Mirror, Mirror," and DS9 made a trip there every year from the second season on. Discovery, on the other hand, spends most of the second half of the season there, and wow, it's an awful place.

When we last saw the mirror universe, Mirror Hoshi Sato was taking command as Empress in Enterprise. The Terran Empire continued to flourish after her rule, and when we catch up with the knife-y Terrans on Discovery they have conquered the Klingons, the Vulcans, and pretty much everyone else. The mirror version of Burnham's mentor, Philippa Georgiou, is the Emperor now — but Captain Lorca is plotting against her.

The reason why Lorca brought Burnham on board his ship in the first place is all rooted in mirror universe plotting, as they had a sexy mentor-student relationship. It's also revealed that Lorca's light-sensitive eyes are a mirror universe condition, which is something we'd never seen before.

The long and short of the entire escapade is that Lorca's plan is foiled (he dies, badly), but the Emperor is also taken out of power by way of being "rescued" by Burnham and brought to our universe. We assume that someone took her place, as the Terran Empire is doing just fine by the time the original series gets around to "Mirror, Mirror." Not only that, but the Terrans find time to change their uniforms, too. Once again, the more things change...

It isn't until after the events of "Mirror, Mirror" that Mirror Spock starts to unravel the Empire and a new alliance of Klingons and Cardassians conquers it. By the time we see the mirror universe in the 24th century, this alliance reigns supreme; Worf is the Emperor, and almost all Terrans are slaves. DS9 uses the mirror version of Major Kira (The Intendant) to tell the story of how the Terrans fell in DS9's first mirror universe crossover, aptly called "Crossover."

Whew!

What becomes of Mirror Georgiou? Discovery Season 1 left her story open-ended, and Michelle Yeoh is fantastic in the role. We loved Yeoh as the real Captain Georgiou, but we love her as the Emperor even more. Here's hoping for more of her in Season 2. Also, Sybok.

MR. SARU AND THE KELPIANS

Trek is always introducing us to new species and lifeforms, and this season we got to know the Kelpians. They are a species that exists almost exclusively as prey and are hunted mercilessly on their home planet. They have tendrils on the back of their heads that they call "threat ganglia," which help them sense danger. They can also sense the coming of death, which is a convenient (if paranoia-inducing) trait to have aboard a ship at war.

We know so much about them mostly because lead character Commander Saru (played by Doug Jones) is one of them. At first, Saru is always at odds with Burnham, but their journey to becoming trusted friends and colleagues was one of the season's great joys. The Kelpians are tall, lithe, can run pretty darn fast if needs be, and Saru proved himself to be a fantastic acting captain when the time came. Because we knew all about him and his species, it made us shiver during a speech he gave to the crew towards season's end. Yes, his species could sense the coming of death... but he was not sensing it at that moment. Saru is a great member of the crew, Doug Jones is a joy to have on the show, and the Kelpians are an interesting addition to the Trek universe.

One place you really don't want to end up if you're a Kelpian, however? The mirror universe, where you're either a slave, or you're food. The "threat ganglia" are considered a delicacy there. It's a bad, bad place.

Lorca, Burnham, and tribble from Star Trek: Discovery

FETCH ALREADY HAPPENED: GORNS, TRIBBLES, AND CLOAKS

When Kirk and company came across something weird, they weren't always the first to discover it. Look no further than Lorca's gruesome war closet for evidence of that, which contains a Gorn skeleton. Kirk may have fought one in "Arena," but it wasn't exactly first contact like we originally thought.

Also already a thing? Tribbles. Throughout the first season, a single (?) tribble can be seen on Lorca's desk. They are known to be particularly bothersome to Klingons (probably why he has it), but how he managed to get just one on its own is anyone's guess. It seems the Federation knew all about them by the time "The Trouble with Tribbles" came around, but perhaps Kirk doesn't like reading logs or watching prequel shows.

Something of more significance that's already in use is the Klingon cloaking device. T'Kuvma's Ship of the Dead uses one, and the technology is soon spread to the rest of the Klingon fleet. Though the Discovery managed to find a way through their cloaks using the spore drive, the use of the device flies in the face of the old canon notion that the Klingons got the technology from the Romulans at some point in the 2260s. Maybe they still do, and it's a more reliable kind of cloak that Starfleet can no longer penetrate. Will we see this exchange take place between the Klingons and the Romulans? Starfleet can't really encounter the Romulans yet (because of the original series episode "Balance of Terror"), but the Klingons certainly can. That would be a great way to get that classic species in on the Discovery action.

The Enterprise on Star Trek: Discovery

YESTERDAY'S ENTERPRISE

While the Discovery is warping off to Vulcan to pick up its new captain at the end of the season, they receive a distress call from none other than Captain Christopher Pike. The Discovery answers the call, and wouldn't you know it? The U.S.S. Enterprise comes sailing into view. Design-wise it's a a bit of a mash-up between the ships of the new show and the classic Enterprise, but it's definitely Pike's ship, and based on the look between Sarek and Burnham, Spock is on board.

As if the nail hadn't been hit firmly enough, this is confirmation that the Enterprise is actually out there at the same time as the Discovery. We're very curious whether or not we'll actually see any of the Enterprise's interiors, or if this was just an end-of-season easter egg. If we see Pike or his crew, will they be wearing their gold sweaters? Who would play Pike? If we see Spock, who would play him? Zachary Quinto? We really have no idea, but as Spock himself says, "there are always possibilities."

star trek discovery

BOLDLY GOING

Where will we go after Burnham's redemption and the distress call from Pike? The Discovery still needs a captain, and Starfleet doesn't seem like they want Saru in the chair on a permanent basis. The Klingons are still out there, with L'Rell and Voq/Tyler keeping T'Kuvma's dream alive, and as we said, both the Logic Extremists and Mirror Georgiou are hanging around too. Also alive and well? Harry Mudd, who may still have issues with the Discovery crew, even though Lorca is gone.

Also out there? Sybok. Just saying.

Whatever the show does with these loose threads, what we'd really love is for Discovery to take inspiration from its name. We've gone up and down canon and ripped up the timeline, but what would really make this show stand out is some venturing and discovering. There's not been a whole lot of "brave new worlds" and so forth for a while, and though the non-episodic structure of the show is fantastic (and reminds us of DS9), there is still so much out there to explore and discover. The U.S.S. Discovery may not have a spore drive anymore, but they do have one heck of a crew that has finally bonded at long last. We wouldn't say no to a Detmer episode, either.

It's time, Discovery. Let's see what's out there.