Did Star Trek: Discovery Just Reveal Season 3’s Big Mystery?

Figuring out what caused The Burn might not actually be the thing that keeps us guessing this year on Star Trek: Discovery.

Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham in Star Trek: Discovery Season 3
Photo: CBS

This Star Trek: Discovery article contains spoilers for Season 3, Episode 2.

Other than Deep Space Nine and elements of Enterprise Season 3, the Star Trek series that cracked serialized storytelling for the Final Frontier was Star Trek: Discovery. And as anyone who has watched TV since 2003 can tell you: season-long mysteries often work best when they’re not actually what you thought they were. In Discovery Season 1, two major twists hinged on secret identities, a concept which was semi-repeated in Season 2 when guessing the identity of “the Red Angel” became the focus of nearly every episode. 

But, Discovery Season 3 has just created a new season-long mystery that isn’t anything like what the show has done before. On top of that, this twist, which was introduced at the very end of Episode 2, changes what you thought was going to be the big mystery of the season so far. Here’s why the last-minute twist in Discovery Season 3, Episode 2, “Far From Home” is a game-changer, plus, how the show already hinted at this twist with the title of Episode 1…

After Saru, Georgiou, and Tilly narrowly defuse a tense situation on a planet known only as “The Colony,” the USS Discovery is unable to escape from parasitic ice, even though the ship has basically been fixed. Luckily, a last-minute tractor beam from an unknown ship snatches Discovery up, saving everybody from certain doom. It’s Michael Burnham! And her hair is much longer! Quickly, she reveals the reason why she looks a little different is that she’s been living in the 32nd Century for a year, waiting for the USS Discovery to arrive. Depending on what time of year Michael Burnham arrived in 3188 in the previous episode, it’s possible that the show has now jumped forward to 3189.

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Either way, a year has passed for Michael Burnham, while only a day has passed for the crew of the USS Discovery. This will obviously have a huge dramatic impact on how Michael interacts with the rest of the crew in future episodes, but it also changes the narrative stakes for the entire season. The final scene in the Discovery Season 3 premiere — “That Hope Is You Part 1” — ended with Book and Burnham meeting with Aditya Sahil, vowing to keep looking for the USS Discovery. Now, a year later, Burnham has found them. But, for the audience, the question is much bigger than something like “What is the Burn?” Now, the big question and the new mystery the season is clearly teasing out is: What did Michael and Book do during the missing year?

You might think that this isn’t something the show is actually going to touch on all that much. The missing year might just be a sci-fi plot device designed to give Michael Burnham some instant new character traits, and also, conveniently give the crew of the Discovery someone they can trust who can quickly fill them in on how everything works in the 32nd Century. From the point-of-view of slick story mechanics, that’s all true. I’d also agree that Discovery Season 3 doesn’t need to go back and tell the story of Burnham’s missing year to make the rest of the story work. And yet. There’s already a huge clue that we will get the rest of this story.

Although episode titles in Discovery don’t appear on the screen, they are prominently there when you select the episodes. Historically, episode titles in Star Trek haven’t always contained Easter eggs or hidden references, but sometimes, like the Discovery Season 2 title “If Memory Serves,” the reference spider-webs into the past and future of Trek itself. “That Hope Is You Part 1” isn’t that kind of title. It clearly references the line spoken by Aditya Sahi to Michael Burnham. But, the tricky thing is that the episode has a “Part 1” attached to its title. The first episode of the season is a “part 1” but the second episode, the one in which Michael Burnham’s gap year is established, isn’t called “That Hope Is You Part 2.” It’s called “Far From Home.”

In fact, we don’t have all the episode titles for Discovery Season 3 yet. If you go to Wikipedia, you’ll see “That Hope Is You Part 2” listed in the same section as “Far From Home,” but we know that’s obviously not the case. So, right now, we don’t know when (or if) an episode called “That Hope Is You Part 2” actually airs. But there would be absolutely no reason to title an episode “That Hope Is You Part 1” if you’re not going to give us “That Hope Is You Part 2.”

Supposedly, Radio Times has a full list of Discovery episode titles for the entire season, but “That Hope Is You Part 2” is not actually on that list, so again, it’s not clear if this accurate. Now, So far, CBS has only officially released the titles of the next two episodes, “People of Earth,” and “Forget Me Not.” This means it’s tough to say what’ coming next. Are we getting “That Hope Is You Part 2” in Season 3?. Could “That Hope Is You Part 2” happen in Season 4? How long could questions about Michael Burnham’s gap year go answered?

Either way, Michael Burnham’s missing year has just changed the entire structure of Discovery Season 3. Instead of playing catch-up with a new century, we’re also now playing catch-up with the show’s lead character. In previous seasons, Michael has been an open book, and the one person on Discovery we knew pretty much everything about. But now that’s been flipped. Michael is now the character who holds some secrets and seeing how that plays out just made Discovery Season 3 more interesting and clever than we saw coming.

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Star Trek: Discovery airs new episodes on CBS All Access in the US on Thursdays and on Netflix in the UK.