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Star Trek: Discovery is a wildly different show you should be watching

By jumping 930 years into the future, Discovery frees itself from the constraints of previous Star Trek series, making it a far more entertaining and unpredictable show.

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The starship Discovery isn't in the best place at the beginning of the new season. 

CBS All Access

Star Trek: Discovery's second season ended with the crew of the USS Discovery jumping 930 years into the future. It was a blind leap into the unknown, with no guarantee of safety or even sentient life. For the crew, that meant forever leaving behind friends and family nearly a millennia in the past. 

For viewers, this might be the best thing that's happened to Discovery, which premiered on Thursday on CBS All Access (Disclosure: CBS All Access is owned by ViacomCBS, which also owns CNET).

The show spent its first two seasons tip-toeing and contorting itself around different aspects of Trek lore, from Michael Burnham's (Sonequa Martin-Green) relationship with foster brother Spock (Ethan Peck) and father Sarek (James Frain) to the question of bald Klingons and why we had never heard of a super-advanced starship able to teleport anywhere through a mycelial network of spores. 

And while Discovery did an OK job of getting Discovery to fit into canon, it was all a little exhausting.

But the premiere of season three offered a completely different experience that at the same time managed to embrace the spirit of Star Trek. The episode stayed with Burnham and new addition Cleveland "Book" Booker (David Ajala) in a standalone adventure that stood apart from anything the show previously threw at us, all while throwing the problem of a greatly diminished -- not gone -- Federation beaten down by a galaxy-wide disaster. We're far away from the dynamic where the Federation served as the foundation of creator Gene Roddenbury's vision of a better future.

The new status quo is why the time jump past all established canon is so exciting. It gives Discovery a breath of fresh air and a chance to tell completely new stories. 

"It has been very freeing," Discovery executive producer and co-showrunner Michelle Paradise said in an interview last week. "The world that they come into is very very different than the one that they left."

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No longer do we have to worry about Burnham's relationship to Spock or how any of it all fits together and, frankly, that's a relief. 

But jumping ahead so far doesn't mean the writers are throwing canon and what's come before out of the window. You'll see similar aliens and the technology, while futuristic, offers a natural evolution from what we'd seen before. 

"We're not just sticking things in a blender and tossing them all over the place," she said. "We've been really thoughtful about it."

Why the Federation has fallen so far and the work to build it back up makes up the spine of Discovery's third season. You can also watch with confidence that it's a story that will continue, with CBS All Access confirming today a fourth season has been green lit, with shooting to begin in November. 

Strange new adventures

When last we left the crew, the Discovery had followed Burnham, donning the "Red Angel" suit and leading the ship into the future, part of a complicated time loop that was supposed to prevent the end of all sentient life by a malicious artificial intelligence called Control. 

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New cast member David Ajala plays Cleveland "Book" Booker, who serves as a guide to the new, futuristic world. 

CBS All Access

Season 3 will pick up immediately after, with Discovery and Burnham jumping into the future and, specifically for Burnham, into Booker's ship. He serves as a guide for Burnham and the rest of the crew, including Commander Saru (Doug Jones), Lt. Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp), Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) and Ensign Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman) -- once we actually see the crew and they're reunited with Burnham.

"Cleveland Booker is a character that's going to bring levity, fun and a different spontaneous dynamic to the franchise, which we may not have had before," Ajala said in an interview last week. 

He said that the character would bring out a new side to Burnham, teasing a bit of mischief in the process. Ajala said he was excited about the new kinds of technology he and the rest of the cast get to play with, considering how far flung into the future they are. He talked about an energy gun glimpsed in the trailer called tallowah (Jamaican/Patois for mighty) that gives audiences a sense of advanced technology and just how different everything is now. 

Paradise also teased familiar species would show up, even if Discovery's relationship with them would be shaken up. 

"Species we know from the past -- maybe we interact with them differently," she said. "Alliances have shifted."

While the trailers suggest an even darker tone to a show that already flirted with a lot of grit in its first two seasons, Paradise said that ultimately, the show remains true to the spirit of Star Trek. 

"Our heroes are uniquely poised to help bring that kind of hope and bring that kind of optimism into this new future and inspire others around them," Paradise said.

Reflection of society

Paradise notes that this season of Discovery deals with connection and disconnection -- themes that we're all wrestling with thanks to the global pandemic that has forced millions to stay at home and stay apart from each other. 

"It resonates quite unexpectedly," she said. "We could not have imagined when we wrote and shot season three of the show how much it would resonate."

Discovery embraced diversity from the get-go, and was the first Star Trek series to feature a gay couple (Stamets and Culber) in the main cast. The push for more representation continues in this coming season with a few new characters. The first is Adira, a non-binary, played by Blu del Barrio, who is also non-binary in real life. The second a transgender character namaed Gray, played by Ian Alexander, who is the first out transgender Asian-American to appear in a TV series. 

Ajala, who concedes he wasn't a Star Trek fan before joining the cast, said he was still struck by the legacy of diversity left by the franchise. 

"Star Trek for me and I'm sure for many other people has always been at the forefront of normalizing diversity," he said.  

For Paradise, it was as important as staying faithful to Star Trek's long-established lore. 

"Star Trek has always always valued diversity and, you know, Gene Roddenberry started it back on the original series, having a diverse cast at a time when diversity was not the thing one did on TV," Paradise said. "We're making sure that we honor that."