The Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 finale really wanted to be epic but was ultimately something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it did all the things it set out to do; it checked all the boxes on its to-do list—but did it do it in a satisfying way? The final showdown between the combined forces of the USS Discovery and the USS Enterprise against Control (Starfleet’s threat-contingency AI supercomputer)—in which the goal was for Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) to use the Red Angel time suit to open a temporal wormhole and lead Discovery into the far future, where information it contains will not be accessible by Control—was murky, overlong, and at times confusing. But it ended on possibly the most daring (and unquestionably the most game-changing) cliffhanger in Trek history.
Part 2 of “Such Sweet Sorrow,” written by Michelle Paradise, Jenny Lumet, and Alex Kurtzman, begins incredibly excitingly, with Control launching its attack on the Enterprise and Discovery while the second Red Angel suit is still being built, and with the ship taking heavy damage and Commander Stamets getting critically injured along the way. The editing is tight and fast-paced, the camera movements sweeping and rapid. The ship-to-ship battles are lightning quick and, with hundreds of ships, shuttles, drones, phasers, torpedoes, and explosions, incredibly impressive. (Though I’ll be perfectly honest: with as much money, time and CGI devoted to the battle scenes, I don’t think they’re really any better than those Star Trek: Deep Space Nine achieved 21 years ago in its final two seasons.)
The pace never lets up—at least until the 22:45 mark. That’s when Burnham, having launched the Red Angel with Spock shadowing her in a shuttle, discovers that she cannot dial in coordinates for the future and open the temporal wormhole. At almost the same moment, the Enterprise is hit with a torpedo that lodges itself in the ship’s saucer section—still live but undetonated.
The rest of the episode’s 1:05:33 running time proves to be a bit unevenly paced, with the action stopping completely at times to allow Burnham and Spock plenty of time to leisurely figure out how to correct the situation with the time suit or to have lengthy emotional goodbye scenes. Everything in the latter three-quarters of the episode takes longer than it should, stretching the episode out to an unnecessary length.
There are some really gripping set pieces along the way, like Number One (Rebecca Romijn) and Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook) trying to either disarm the torpedo or get a stuck blast door to close, or—one of the best sequences in the entire episode—Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) and Lt. Nhan (Rachael Ancheril) in hand-to-hand combat with the Control-compromised Leland (Alan Van Sprang) in a corridor with ever-shifting gravity. Each of those sequences, while thrilling, goes on a bit too long, and the episode could easily have been tightened up with a bit of editing.
The centerpiece of the episode is Burnham taking a “greatest hits” tour of the preceding 13 episodes as Spock realizes that she can’t complete her jump to the future because it was she, from this point, who placed all of the five red signals at points in the past that would help Discovery complete its mission—the first one to rescue Jett Reno (Tig Notaro) because she is able to charge the crystal; the second to save the planet Terralysium because that’s where Burnham’s mother ended up in the far future; the third over Kaminar so that the Kelpiens and the Ba’ul would learn to cooperate so they could help in the final battle, etc. So Burnham must first jump to five points in the past to make the jump to the future possible.
One of the great debates of the season was whether there was purpose and meaning in the bursts’ appearances, with Captain Pike (Anson Mount) willing to entertain the possibility of there being a reason each burst appeared where it did, leading them like breadcrumbs, and Burnham cautioning against assigning intent and motive to the phenomenon. Turns out Pike was correct, and it was Burnham’s intent and motive behind the bursts all along. What’s interesting, though, is the paradox of the situation: Burnham wouldn’t have known where to place the bursts without having seen the results that placing the bursts would achieve. So she has to witness the bursts being placed in order to place them, but she couldn’t have witnessed the bursts then without placing them now.
Burnham creating wormholes to the recent past and jumping to those points gives the episode the opportunity to have its very own moment of trippy visual weirdness a la 2001: A Space Odyssey (or, possibly more apt, Star Trek: The Motion Picture). Again, an interesting sequence, but it could have been shorter. Once those tasks are complete, Burnham sets coordinates for the future, opens a wormhole and leads Discovery toward it.
In the end, Discovery enters the wormhole following Burnham and completes its jump. To where, we don’t know. To when, we don’t know. But the Discovery and her crew have now left the “present” day in the 23rd Century and jumped to a target date 930 years later in a completely different quadrant of space. The episode ends with the Enterprise senior officers and Commander Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) of Section 31 being questioned by Starfleet Intelligence. All say the same thing: That Discovery was destroyed in battle and that Section 31 is responsible for the catastrophe. Furthermore, Spock recommends that all knowledge of the ship, the Spore Drive, and her crew never be spoken of again under penalty of treason—answering the numerous questions and criticisms of the show and why no one, including Spock, ever mentions Burnham, Discovery, or spore technology in any later Star Trek series.
As the only two time crystals available have been destroyed, neither Discovery nor the two Red Angel suits will have any immediate way of getting back to the “present.” They’re essentially stuck in the future. A jump of 930 years places Season 3 well after the time of the 24th-century Trek shows (The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager), and a Beta Quadrant setting puts it much nearer the center of Klingon and Romulan Empires. And that’s really exciting! Completely new and uncharted territory! Freedom for the writers to do anything they want! This is, and I hope you’ll pardon the overused cliche, Star Trek: Discovery boldly going where no Trek has gone before.
What will the crew find wherever and whenever they arrive? Has the Federation expanded into the Beta Quadrant by that point? Suddenly, their technology will be terribly outdated compared to a millennium of advancements. How is the show going to depict technology more advanced than what we saw on Star Trek: Discovery, which already looked more advanced than anything we’ve seen in other Trek shows? Will the future Starfleet even be recognizable to the Disco crew? How difficult will it be for them to fit in? What if Starfleet’s core values have changed radically over the intervening thousand years? What if the entire landscape (spacescape?) of the Federation has altered in some kind of Brexit analogy, with major races having left the union and claimed their own independence, politically and militaristically weakening the Federation?
Or, even more enticing: What if there is no more Federation or Starfleet? What if, a thousand years in the future, neither exists? Maybe, in a further Brexit extrapolation, the entire union has broken up, leaving disparate races with their own values and self-interests negotiating and squabbling with each other? Or, what if the Federation has been conquered and replaced by something else? If so, might it have been vanquished by the Klingons? The Romulans? Or from our Alpha Quadrant neighbors the Cardassians? Or could it be some other, new threat that’s far more advanced than anything we’ve previously seen who have swooped in and wiped out everything that we’ve achieved over the centuries?
Then, Disco, badly damaged as she is, has to survive somehow, maybe seeking out and banding together with pockets of resistance. Maybe Discovery will be the only Federation ship in existence, with the resistance seeing it as a powerful weapon that’s been delivered into their hands. And what of those other great powers—the Klingons, the Romulans, the Cardassians? Are they even still around? How have their empires been reshaped over time?
Regardless, the narrative possibilities that this move opens up are bountiful, giving Season 3 literally a universe of possibilities to explore. One thing, though: It’s been confirmed and announced that Georgiou would be heading up a new Section 31 series. So how does she get back from the future? Or will this new 31 show also take place 930 years after the time of Season 2?
With no idea yet of when Season 3 will be airing, we don’t know how long we have to wait to find out. But between now and then (whenever “then” is), we have a new Captain Picard series beaming down at the end of this year (no date or title announced yet), plus a couple of other confirmed projects (like the animated half-hour comedy Star Trek: Lower Decks) to keep our Trek appetites sated. And you can find all episodes of Star Trek: Discovery, its Short Treks, and all previous Star Trek series on CBS All Access.