In the 1970s, Gene Roddenberry wrote several pilots, including one called Genesis II in which a contemporary human named Dylan Hunt wakes up in a post-apocalyptic future. The show wasn’t picked up, as CBS went for Planet of the Apes instead. Some time after Roddenberry’s death in 1991, his estate did a deal with Tribune Entertainment to develop some of his unused and incomplete concepts, and a variation that seemed to combine Genesis II with a post-Federation collapse version of Star Trek was developed by Robert Hewitt Wolfe into Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda.
And now Star Trek: Discovery is doing their own take on this…
Andromeda was a fun show that suffered from the tension between the very complex, ambitious science fiction show that Robert Hewitt Wolfe developed (I read Wolfe’s bible for the series when I was hired to write an Andromeda novel in 2002, and it’s got the most detailed world-building of any TV bible I’ve seen) and the action-packed adventure that Tribune wanted (and was willing to pay for).
The third-season premiere of Discovery sees Burnham arriving in the future she was barreling toward in the red angel suit at the end of “Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2” only to crash into a courier’s ship, and both she and the courier crash land on a planet that is most definitely not Terralysium as she had hoped.
Over the course of the episode, Burnham fights, reluctantly works with, is betrayed by, and eventually properly teams up with Cleveland “Book” Booker, the courier into whose ship she crashed. Played with a no-fucks-to-give charm by David Ajala, Book is a courier who does jobs for various people. One of his primary clients is what appears to be a 31st-century version of the Orion Syndicate, now seemingly run jointly by the Orions and Andorians. (We also see Tellarites and Lurians working for them.)
Burnham is all we get of the regulars in this one, as Discovery is not right behind her as hoped. (Next week’s “Far from Home” will apparently focus on the rest of the cast.) The first thing she does when she lands on the planet—after a rather fraught crash landing that was teased at New York Comic-Con last weekend—is check to find life signs of any sort. Doesn’t matter who or what, she just needs to know that she and the rest of the crew didn’t leave behind everything they ever knew for nothing.
But their gambit worked: Control didn’t destroy all life in the galaxy. The overwhelming relief is beautifully played by Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham has a cathartic cry/laugh of relief and joy.
Then she needs to find out about the state of the galaxy nine centuries later, and her primary source of information is Book. She’s cagey about why she’s carrying ancient tech and wearing a Starfleet badge, but Book figures out eventually that she’s a time traveler, especially since she’s surprised that the Federation fell.
In contrast to her elation at having saved all life in the galaxy, Burnham is utterly devastated—and initially in denial—about the Federation’s fall. According to Book, there was a catastrophic event called “The Burn,” which apparently affected the vast majority of the galaxy’s dilithium supply. Dilithium crystals are now very hard to come by, and the Orion Syndicate controls one of the few supplies left.
Book derisively mentions fanatics who hold onto the hope of the Federation coming back to save everyone. But as the episode goes on, we realize that Book has plenty of hope to cling to as well: the cargo that he’s been carrying (and which remains a secret from the audience for most of the episode’s run-time) turns out to be a giant worm that’s endangered, which Book stole from another courier and is bringing back to a sanctuary world where they’re trying to repopulate the species. Without the Federation around to protect endangered animals, the worms are in danger of dying out.
After rescuing the worm, Book brings Burnham to the remnants of a starbase, which has only one person living on it: Aditya Sahil, the child of a Starfleet officer, played with quiet hope and dignity by Adil Hussain. Even though he was never sworn in as a Starfleet officer (“There was no one to do it”), he has maintained the post and kept an eye out for other signs of the Federation for four decades. At the end of this premiere, Burnham officially assigns him as acting communications officer, giving him his commission at last. This enables him to hang the Federation flag on the wall (only a commissioned officer can do that).
The final two scenes are what makes the episode. Mind you, the episode prior to that is fine, but it’s a little too much of a generic sci-fi adventure that wouldn’t be out of place on any genre production, whether it’s Stargate SG-1, Defiance, Firefly, The Expanse, Star Wars, or, yes, Andromeda. We’ve got Book and Burnham having their meet-nasty with them beating each other up and then going to the mercantile terminus (a trading outpost of a type we’ve seen a gajillion times before), Book’s sudden-but-inevitable betrayal, Burnham being drugged, and the two of them fighting their way out thanks to mad weapons skillz, personal transporters (which the bad guys have also, so there’s a lot of disappearing and reappearing), and a final triumph that involves Burnham being inside a worm’s mouth for several minutes before being spit out.
All of that would be entertaining, but not all that noteworthy, but it leads first to the revelation that Book is one of the good guys, as he’s saving the worm, and then that there are still remnants of the Federation holding on.
One of the problems with Andromeda was that we really weren’t all that invested in the Commonwealth that Dylan Hunt was trying to resurrect. But thanks to 54 years of TV shows and movies, we’re very invested in the Federation, and Burnham’s obvious desire to start trying to pull it back together is of significant moment. Seeing Sahil’s dedication, remaining at his post all by himself, Burnham—and the viewer—has hope.
I was genuinely worried that this third season was going to be a dystopian nightmare about the fall of the Federation, but these last two scenes give me that same hope that Burnham has: that the Federation can be resurrected. I’m also extremely grateful that the Federation’s fall seems to have been precipitated by a natural disaster, as I really feared the spectre of some manner of tiresome all-powerful foe that wiped the Federation out or some other such nonsense. I’m much more comfortable with this storytelling choice. (I’m not sure the Burn actually makes any kind of sense, but all we know about it really is Book’s retelling of it, from a century later, which is hardly definitive in terms of specifics.)
Martin-Green gets to have a grand old time in this one, from the fear of crashing and dying on the planet in the opening to elation at the mission being successful to confusion at the future she’s fallen into to her attempts to trust Book to her hilarious diarrhea of the mouth when she’s drugged (I also love that her first thought upon being drugged was a fervent urging to her captors to never use this drug on Tilly) to her repeatedly punching Book in the face (he earned it every time) to almost being eaten by the worm. And Ajala is a charming addition, refreshingly low-key in his bog-standard role of lovable rogue. Plus he has a cat named Grudge. (So called, “Because she’s heavy and she’s all mine.”)
This is a promising start to the season, mostly because it sets things up nicely. It’s still very recognizably the Star Trek universe, but with different, more advanced technology, and with Orions and Andorians and such. And unlike the first two seasons, which retread far too much old ground, this one gets to blaze a trail to the far future, which is much more intriguing than the back-filling and wheel-spinning we got from 2017-2019.
Looking forward to what comes next.