Traditionally, the lead character in a Star Trek TV series has been the ship’s commanding officer. Discovery – the first new Trek show since 2005 – defied convention, however, by focusing on a First Officer.
Since her first appearance on the USS Shenzhou, Michael Burnham has committed mutiny, been thrown out of Starfleet, reinstated and gradually worked her way back up through the ranks. By the time Star Trek: Discovery season 4 gets underway, she’ll be sitting in the captain’s chair.
Seeing as Discovery has a disconcertingly high turnover of captains – the ship’s already been commanded by Gabriel Lorca, Christopher Pike and Saru – she probably shouldn’t get too comfortable yet. Even so, she’s unlikely to be bored as her crew continues to plot a path through the uncharted territory of the 32nd century.
Now that they’ve worked out that the so-called Burn – the event that destroyed most of the dilithium in the universe – was caused by a grieving child, they’re at the forefront of efforts to restore a Federation decimated by the impossibility of warp-speed travel to its former glories.
So with Star Trek: Discovery season 4 already shooting in Toronto, Canada, we've assembled all the intel on Burnham and co’s return to the final frontier. Let’s fly…
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Star Trek: Discovery season 4 release date: when we expect it
The previous season had barely even started airing when Star Trek: Discovery season 4 got the official greenlight on October 16, 2020. Two weeks later, on November 2, production got underway at the show’s Toronto base, and is set to continue until June 2021. Inevitably, Covid-19 restrictions will be a major factor in the shoot, and – as dictated by Canadian rules – the cast had to isolate for two weeks before coming to set.
As yet it’s unclear how coronavirus restrictions impact production schedules. While shooting is likely to be a bit slower than usual, the show established a pipeline for working remotely on a third season that wrapped days before North American lockdowns kicked in.
Composer Jeff Russo sent microphones to the members of his orchestra so they could record individually; actors received motion capture equipment so they could complete their performances in homemade studios; and editors and effects artists worked remotely. “Our editors, miraculously and heroically, took their editing bays into their living rooms,” Alex Kurtzman, executive producer and overseer of Star Trek’s current raft of TV shows, told IndieWire. “We also scored the entire season, mixed the entire season, color-timed the entire season, all from [a] laptop.”
Expect the process to be further refined on Star Trek: Discovery season 4, especially with reports from Space.com that the show will make use of the groundbreaking augmented reality LED screens pioneered by The Mandalorian. Suddenly the fact that travel for location filming is off the table doesn’t seem quite so much of a problem…
What does all that mean for a Star Trek: Discovery season 4 airdate? If Covid-19 doesn’t slow production too much and the show follows its usual schedule (18 or so months between seasons – give or take) we’d expect to see it some time around late-2020/early 2021 – unless Paramount Plus decides to bring forward its debut to fill a hole before Star Trek: Picard season 2, and Discovery spin-offs Strange New Worlds and Section 31 get underway.
Cut to the chase
- What is it? The fourth season of Star Trek: Discovery, the sixth live-action TV series based in the future Gene Roddenberry created in the 1960s.
- Where can I watch it? Star Trek: Discovery season 4 will be available to watch on CBS Access in the US – though by the time you watch it, it’ll have been rebranded as Paramount Plus. In other territories, it should be available on Netflix.
- When can I watch it? That’s currently TBC, but late 2021/early 2022 seems likely.
Star Trek: Discovery season 4 trailer: is there one?
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves! With production only a few months old, it’s a little early for a Star Trek: Discovery season 4 trailer. We’d expect to see something this summer, maybe in time for San Diego Comic-Con in late July, assuming it goes ahead.
Star Trek: Discovery season 4 cast: who do we expect to return?
It’s a case of ‘as you were’, with most of the established cast returning for another tour of duty – presumably they’re excited to be wearing new-look uniforms that don’t look quite so much like tracksuits.
It goes without saying that Sonequa Martin-Green is back as Captain Michael Burnham, and even though her predecessor in the big chair, Saru, has relocated to his home planet of Kaminar, Doug Jones still has a part to play. “It felt important for all of our characters to find new layers for them, to find new place for them to go, new things for our actors to play, and new ways for the characters to go,” showrunner Michelle Paradise told TVInsider. “[In season 3 we highlighted] that Saru hasn’t had a huge connection to Kaminar since leaving, and in a season that is all about connection – family connection and cultural connection – it seemed like an organic place to explore that theme with him.”
Among the lead cast, Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz reprise their roles as Lt Cmdr Paul Stamets and Dr Hugh Culber, while season 3 standout David Ajala is back as the 32nd century’s most famous cat owner, Cleveland ‘Book’ Booker. (Sadly, a Grudge the Cat spin-off is yet to be announced.) And surely Mary Wiseman’s Sylvia Tilly will be looking to make the First Officer role her own.
“[Saru] sees strength in [Tilly] she doesn’t quite see in herself necessarily,” Paradise said in TVInsider. “Then, [we watched] her over the course of the season become more confident in herself to the place where she’s ultimately able to serve as Number One, and having to essentially be acting captain in this crisis situation, where she handles herself beautifully. What does that mean to come is, I’m sure, a question she’ll be asking herself and we’ll be exploring in Season 4.”
The supporting bridge crew will surely be hoping to have a few more stories of their own, continuing their slow evolution from background players to actual characters – now we know that Lt Joann Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo) can hold her breath for 10 minutes, the sky’s the limit. It’ll be interesting to see what – if anything – is in store for Lt Keyla Detmer (Emily Coutts), Lt Gen Rhys (Patrick Kwok-Choon), Lt R.A. Bryce (Ronnie Rowe) and Lt Nilsson (Sara Mitich).
Third season newcomer Blu del Barrio also returns as Adira, human host of the Trill symbiont Tal, along with their boyfriend, Gray (Ian Alexander). Dr Culber’s efforts to give Gray – who can only be seen and heard by Adira – physical form will be a big part of the season, as Gray becomes more and more integrated with the crew. “For season 4 I’ve had a lot more hands-on involvement, like my suggestions for the future of Gray,” Alexander told Inverse. “They already have so much planned. Michelle [Paradise] and Alex [Kurtzman] already have this vision that I’ve very, very excited for everyone to be able to see.”
And there’ll be at least two familiar faces at Federation headquarters, where Oded Fehr (Admiral Charles Vance) and legendary movie director David Cronenberg (the mysterious Kovich) will be pulling some strings.
What can we expect to see in Star Trek: Discovery season 4?
Michelle Paradise is keeping her cards closer to her chest than The Next Generation crew at one of their regular poker games, though she did admit to TVInsider that the Discovery crew are hanging around in the 32nd century, rather than looking for a way back to their original pre-Kirk-and-Spock timeline. “I don’t expect that,” she said. “All of [the crew] knew going into that at the end of season 2 that this is a one-way trip. Now that they are here, we’re not looking to go back.”
What does that mean for plotlines? “I don’t want to speak specifically to themes, but we do have them!” she joked to ComicBook.com. “I think season 4 will absolutely continue the kinds of things we were doing in season three, in that we do have very strong themes that we’re exploring. Star Trek: The Original Series explored present-day things via sci-fi. And that’s what we did in season 3, and I think that’s just baked into what Star Trek does.
“Ultimately the thing that really resonates, I think, with people is, what are our characters experiencing? What are they going through? How are they connecting with one another? What are the challenges they’re facing and how do they overcome them individually and then as a family? All of that I think will continue.”
With the Emerald Chain out of the way, however, it looks like the threat in Star Trek: Discovery season 4 will be rather different this time out.
“We’re actually exploring – we’re diving deep into science – in the fourth season, in a kind of new and interesting way,” said Kurtzman in a panel hosted by Deadline (via TrekMovie). “There have been many kinds of villains over the course of Star Trek. What happens when the villain is not actually any kind of living, breathing entity, but something else? How do you solve that problem?” Could we be looking at something technological like Star Trek: The Motion Picture's rogue space probe V'Ger, or Discovery season 2's Control? Or a lethal inorganic structure like the Crystalline Entity from Star Trek: The Next Generation?
We can expect to see a similar structure to previous years, with each season based around a self-contained story arc, with just a few loose ends left untied.
“Discovery has that sort of serialized, season-long story baked into its DNA,” Paradise said in an interview with Inverse. “We also wanted to give the show a more episodic feel in season 3. We got to explore a story of the week or a villain of the week – it gives us time to explore some of our characters who we normally wouldn’t have time to explore. That was definitely a choice on our part and will continue on our show.”
What questions does Star Trek: Discovery season 4 need to answer?
With the origins of the so-called ‘Burn’ revealed – who’d have guessed it was caused by a grieving kid with a symbiotic relationship to a planet made of dilithium? – and Osyraa and her Emerald Chain defeated, Star Trek: Discovery season 4 flies into uncharted waters.
Hopefully that means that Discovery and the crew can use the spore drive to truly explore the strange new worlds of the 32nd century – though, given this show’s love of callbacks to earlier series, it’s almost inevitable we’ll meet some familiar faces and species.
Part of Starfleet's remit will be rebuilding a Federation that's a shadow of what it was 900 years earlier. “The Federation is coming back together but it’s not fully back together,” Kurtzman told the aforementioned Deadline panel. “And so the continued mission of bringing other worlds in and meeting the criteria and standards of what it means to be a member of the Federation but also not to rob other cultures of their identity is something that we’ll explore.”
The biggest ongoing question Star Trek: Discovery season 4 needs to address is the nature of the ‘Sphere Data’, the ancient alien intelligence now integrated with Discovery’s databanks. Protecting it was the reason the ship made the one-way trip to the future in the first place, and it seems to be repaying the favor – first by helping the crew’s mental wellbeing, then by helping Tilly to forcibly eject the Emerald Chain. It’s a story that seems to be leading towards Short Trek episode ‘Calypso’, set in a distant future where Discovery is run by a sentient computer.
“‘Calypso’ is incredible,” Paradise told ComicBook.com. “And it is now a part of Trek canon, but specifically our show’s canon. It takes place many, many years beyond where our heroes are right now, and at some point, we will absolutely have to match up with that so that Discovery as a whole, including ‘Calypso’, all fits together as a piece.
“Certainly, bringing in that voice in episode four and having – we’ll call her Zora, she doesn't have a name at this point – but having her hide in the DOTs and be part of the story is the beginning of driving toward that. And eventually – who knows when? – we will absolutely have to make sure that we sync up with that.”
And then there’s the small matter of Stamets having issues with the way Burnham left his husband, Dr Culber, in a radiation-filled nebula in the season 3 finale. “I think that’s one they’ll get past in time,” Paradise said in TVLine.