'Star Trek: Discovery' mid-season finale: 8 burning questions

As the first voyage of the USS Discovery ends somewhere unexpected, these are the questions we'll be asking until the show returns in January.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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"Star Trek: Discovery" has come to the end of its first mission, with the crew set to boldly go where no one has gone before. If they can work out where that is...


Episode 9, "Into the Forest I Go", aired Sunday, rounding out chapter 1 of the first season. Chapter 2 begins on 7 January with an episode titled "Despite You" and runs for six episodes. As before, the second part of season 1 will be available on paid streaming services CBS All Access in the US and Netflix elsewhere. (Editors' note: CBS is CNET's parent company.) 

With notable spoilers ahead, here are the questions that will burn a hole in our memory banks until " Star Trek Discovery" returns.

Where is the USS Discovery?

Wouldn't you know it -- Lt. Stamets agrees to one last jump and then totally loses the plot, stranding the Discovery amid a bunch of unidentified wreckage somewhere unknown. Has the crew swapped one battle for another? Are they lost in uncharted space, like the crew of earlier Trek series "Voyager"? Have they become unmoored in time, hinted at by Stamets referring to Cadet Tilly as "Captain" during one of his bouts of disorientation?

Or have they crossed into another universe altogether, perhaps a mirror universe?

What would a mirror universe crew look like?

Executive producer Alex Kurtzman has mentioned that "Discovery" will explore the parallel "mirror" dimension, which involves ruthless alternative versions of Trek characters. If/when we see evil versions of the Discovery crew, they'd have be pretty twisted to be darker than the crew we've already seen in the show. After all, the lead character is a mutineer, her love interest is a soldier who's been tortured and the captain is an icy rule-breaker who enjoys war a little too much. If these are the good guys, what would their evil mirror universe counterparts look like? Aside from the obligatory evil goatee beards, obviously. 

In fact, here's a thought: What if the "Discovery" we've been watching, with its warring Starfleet, ruthless characters and dark storylines, has been the mirror universe all along? Mind. Blown.

The Butcher\'s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb\'s Cry
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The Butcher\'s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb\'s Cry

Michael Burnham comes full circle in the mid-season finale, "Into the Forest I Go".

Jan Thijs/CBS Interactive

What's the deal with Ash Tyler?

Speaking of outlandish theories, here's another idea that's been getting Trekkies in a tizzy: There's more to Lt. Ash Tyler than meets the eye. The Klingon Voq disappeared one minute and Tyler showed up the next -- with the Klingon torturer L'Rell proving to be a common link between them. A popular fan theory suggests that L'Rell somehow turned Voq into a human to infiltrate Starfleet.

Judging by the way he acted around L'rell in the latest episode, Tyler isn't aware of it if he is a Klingon. But with L'Rell and Tyler both trapped on "Discovery", the next chapter is bound to set sparks flying. 

Is the Klingon war over?

In the mid-season finale, Burnham comes full circle, returning to the Klingon Ship of the Dead and ending the war in the very spot where she began it. The Klingon leader Kol is dead, and Starfleet now has the secret to cracking cloaking devices.

However, what we've seen of the internal politics of the Klingon Empire suggests someone will take Kol's place. And we surely haven't seen the last of L'Rell or the missing Voq (see above).

The show's Klingon politicking hasn't been to everyone's taste, but it's been one of my favourite aspects of "Discovery". If only the Klingons would ... talk ... a ... bit ... faster ....

What will happen to the spore drive?

In terms of continuity, this is the biggest question. The spore drive is more advanced than Starfleet's usual warp drive, but it's never been mentioned in other Trek shows. If the Discovery is lost forever, would that explain why the spore drive is never mentioned in any other Trek shows? Surely the crew will make it back at some point -- there is a second half of the season to fill.

One thing we do know is that use of the spore drive takes an enormous toll on engineer Lt. Stamets. The terrible effects he's experiencing may explain why the spore drive becomes forgotten or even banned technology later in the Trek timeline.

Will Stamets and Culber make it?

The ship's chief engineer and top doctor make a great couple. The thing that's got us rooting for them is the tension between their personal and professional relationships. Stamets has chosen to set aside his own well-being to take a crucial role in the spore drive system, leaving Dr. Culber to fear for his health. How long can Culber watch his other half damage himself in the name of the greater good?

Choose Your Pain
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Choose Your Pain

Spore than a feeling: Dr. Culber and Lt. Stamets have their relationship tested aboard "Discovery".

Jan Thijs/CBS Interactive

What issues will the show tackle next?

Star Trek has typically tackled real-world issues by devoting a single episode to them. "Discovery" weaves its themes more subtly, asking ongoing questions about the morality of war and the use of science to further military ends. It's also touched on trauma and sexual abuse in the story of Lt. Tyler. And the episode "Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad" was about the importance of believing people. This couldn't be more timely as actor Anthony Rapp, who plays Stamets, last month accused actor Kevin Spacey of making a sexual advance on him when Rapp was 14

The new season will no doubt continue the grand Star Trek tradition of asking questions about the world we live in today.

Will it get more prequel-y?

Apart from Burnham's family history as an adopted child of Sarek, there isn't much about "Discovery" that demands it be set 10 years before the original series. In fact, the writers seem like they couldn't keep their hands off some of the stuff that should have been ruled off-limits by continuity -- like, did they have to make cloaking devices such a central point of the show?

As we head into the new chapter, the show may continue to plot a course that keeps it separate from the original timeline. At least there'll surely be more Easter eggs like the list of familiar captains glimpsed in episode 5, "Choose Your Pain".

Or maybe there'll be more crossovers: Harry Mudd has made two explosive appearances on the show, while Mr. Spock himself joins forces with Burnham in the tie-in novel "Desperate Hours" by David Mack. Eagle-eared viewers may also have caught mention of a "Cadet Decker" over the PA in the finale -- a reference to the Decker clan of Starfleet officers? We'll find out ... in January.

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