‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Boss on the Captain’s Chair & Season 4 Themes

Saru and Michael Burnham in Star Trek Discovery Season 3
Spoiler Alert
Michael Gibson/CBS

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for the Season 3 finale of Star Trek: Discovery, “The Hope That is You, Part 2.”]

“Let’s fly.”

So says Discovery‘s new captain, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) as the crew sets off on a new mission at the end of the third season of the CBS All Access series. But to get there, they had to take back control of the ship (check), stop Osyraa (Janet Kidder) (check), and rescue Saru (Doug Jones), Culber (Wilson Cruz), Adira (Blu del Barrio) and Su’Kal (Bill Irwin) (check).

So, while Saru may be figuring out his next steps on Kaminar, Discovery has a new objective — bring dilithium and hope to all the worlds still struggling — and it needs someone to lead it. Both Saru and Admiral Vance (Oded Fehr) agree: that person is Burnham.

Here, Michelle Paradise, co-showrunner, EP and writer of the finale, takes us inside this season and teases what’s next. (CBS All Access renewed Star Trek: Discovery for Season 4 in October 2020.)

Season 3 tackled the question of whether Saru or Michael would be captain head on, with both at separate points yielding the chair to the other. What made each the right person for the job at the times they have it?

Michelle Paradise: Saru was the one who led the crew through the wormhole at the end of Season 2. He essentially was the de facto captain in our second episode when they didn’t know where Burnham was. The crew would’ve been behind either of them, but for Saru in particular, his style of leadership was incredibly helpful for that particular period of time.

We knew we wanted to get Burnham to the captain’s chair at the end of the season, so a big question was, if that’s where we want to get her to at the end, where should she begin and how far away from that can we take her? We wanted to give her the best arc possible, so in that moment, in Episode 3, where they’re having that conversation, she declines the chair, and even she, in that moment, recognizes that Saru is the right individual to have the chair because of the way he leads, because he has already led them there and it’s not something that Burnham is ready for.

Michael Burnham Captain Star Trek Discovery Season 3 Finale

(Michael Gibson/CBS)

As we see over the first half of the season, she’s even questioning whether or not she can reconcile her year of living there with coming back into Discovery and ultimately, of course, that culminates in the big questions for her in Episode 7, where she turns and recommits and that sends her on the journey to ultimately taking the chair herself. They just felt the natural places for both of them to begin and end the season.

Saru headed back to Kaminar to help Su’Kal build a new life and is considering his next steps. What journey did you want to take him on as a Kelpien?

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. For Saru in particular, he left Kaminar and even after that episode in Season 2, we don’t see a whole lot of Kelpien faces around. He’s kind of amongst a big family, but in Season 2, he had left his Kelpien family behind, and so knowing that Su’Kal was ultimately going to be a Kelpien and that was the ship that had crashed, we wanted to explore that side of him this season.

I’m not sure anyone noticed, but in Episode 5, Vance makes a point of saying, “We haven’t seen a lot of Kelpien faces.” It comes up a couple other times, where we highlight 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 was one place that in addition to the other types of connections we were exploring this season, it seemed like an organic place to explore that theme with him.

Ultimately, we’re setting him up to really have this unexpected emotional response to seeing Dr. Issa and knowing it was the Kelpiens who made it to this dilithium planet and then a real personal drive to save Su’Kal and make sure he has what he needs to be able to be happy and well in the world.

There’s still tension between Michael and Stamets (Anthony Rapp) at the end of the season.

It’s a tricky thing, because ultimately, what she understands in that moment that he doesn’t is there are larger things at play. Obviously, he’s gutted at the idea he can’t go back in that specific moment to rescue Culber and Adira and Saru, but because Burnham has a bit more distance, she understands, but she also knows that the Federation is at stake, everything that means, everything they’ve built is in danger if they don’t solve the problem here and now. Ultimately he’s going to understand that she was doing what she needed to do in the moment and the thing he couldn’t do.

I love the family of Paul, Hugh, Adira, and Gray (Ian Alexander). Was that always the plan?

Yes, we knew bringing Adira onto the show that we wanted to create that kind of family unit. Bringing them on was also a really interesting opportunity, again, looking for how can we push our characters in new ways? To create a relationship between them and Stamets, who has been much more science and work and work and work, to create this connection between him and this individual who needs connection and for him to find that unexpectedly, it seemed like a great relationship for the two of them. And for them as a family, the three of them, it just seemed really lovely. Then of course as the season progresses, it becomes about Gray as well.

Star Trek Discovery Culber Stamets Adira Season 3 Finale


I know you can’t reveal how trying to help Gray be seen again will go or the outcome, but is there anything you can tease?

We will absolutely follow up on that in Season 4. That storyline is incredibly important to us.

We also got to see Tilly (Mary Wiseman) in charge and taking charge. Now that she’s gotten a taste of the captain’s chair, what’s next for her? And how does she feel about what’s next for her?

I can’t really say anything about that without spoiling stuff, but I will say it was a really interesting journey for Tilly in Season 3 and taking her from the place in Episode 2 where she’s asking Saru, “Why are you taking me on this mission?” He sees strength in her she doesn’t quite see in herself necessarily and then watching 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 then no one sees it coming but having to essentially be acting captain in this crisis situation and 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.

Michael and Book’s (David Ajala) relationship is solid, which is especially nice to see considering her past. What did you want to do there this season setting it up for next?

It was really fun to watch those two come together and grow together and I expect we’ll be seeing more of them in Season 4. I just can’t say what we’ll be seeing.

The crew has accepted that they’re in the future permanently. Will any significant part of their journey moving forward be about trying to return to the past?

I don’t expect that. All of them know going into that at the end of Season 2, this is a one-way trip. Now that they are here, we’re not looking to go back.

Michelle Yeoh Star Trek Discovery Sonequa Martin Green

(Michael Gibson/CBS)

You said goodbye to Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) this season. Can you talk about building up to that farewell and developing that version’s relationship with Burnham?

We knew that Georgiou needed to go at some point because there’s going to be a Section 31 show, and so we had the opportunity to build her arc in a way that would send her off hopefully in a way that feels super satisfying for the end of the arc with her and Burnham.

When they started in Season 1, it was definitely not the most ideal of circumstances. Burnham basically pulled her away from the Mirror Universe and said, “You’re here now, yay, I saved you,” but Georgiou was not happy about that and over the last few seasons, there’s been some tension between them. Coming into this season, we wanted to pay off her relationship with Burnham and we wanted to pay off her arc as a character and see how has the last two and a half seasons on Discovery changed Georgiou from the person we meet back in Season 1, the Terran Emperor.

It was subtle along the way, maybe people noticed, maybe not, where they would make reference to the other versions, “My Burnham would’ve done X,” “My Georgiou would’ve done X,” those kinds of things indicating they didn’t see one another as their person. They were still holding on to the different versions of the people they see before them.

Ultimately, that evolved and allowed them to get to that place in 10, where they recognized, “OK, you’re never going to be that other person but you are my person and I love you for who you are and I don’t need you to be anything other than who you are for you to be an important person for me.”

Georgiou has been affected by her time with our crew. Thematically, we were exploring connection this season and she has struggled with that but almost connection be damned, she’s found a way to connect with some of the other folks, not just Burnham.

That ultimately leads to [her returning] to the Terran Universe and seeing for herself that world that she’s always held out as, “that’s my home.” What is the reality of that world and how does she see it now, having been changed by her experiences on Discovery?

What she comes to find is she no longer fits. It’s a world that is so disconnected and she has felt connection and the value of that and it’s now something she needs for herself. When she comes out of that experience, she’s able to see her time on Discovery for the blessing it is for her and that gives her a bit of peace to be able to go off into whatever is to come for her.

Star Trek Discovery Crew Season 3 Finale

(Michael Gibson/CBS)

You’ve talked about connection in Season 3. Is there anything you can say about a theme for Season 4?

No. [Laughs] But I can say the places we were really focused in Season 3 — trying to make sure our characters can grow, exploring new relationships, exploring how people can change, finding new layers for each of our characters —  are also a really strong focus for Season 4 and I expect we’ll continue to see our characters grow in new and hopefully exciting ways.

Star Trek: Discovery, Season 4, TBA, CBS All Access