Star Trek Discovery Season 5 Will Make a Long-Awaited Change to Its Story

Exclusive: The Star Trek: Discovery cast and crew talk about how the show's tone and storytelling are changing for season 5.

Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham in Star Trek: Discovery
Photo: Marni Grossman/Paramount+

When asked about the long journey to Star Trek: Discovery‘s fifth and final season, producer Alex Kurtzman is honest but optimistic. “It’s been an incredible ride for us,” Kurtzman tells Den of Geek when we chat with him at SXSW 2024. “And yeah, it was an incredibly bumpy first year.”

Kurtzman’s referring to the behind-the-scenes difficulties that plagued the show’s first two seasons. Initially developed by Bryan Fuller, who wrote for Deep Space Nine and Voyager before going on to make fan-favorite shows such as Hannibal and American Gods, Discovery ultimately premiered with Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts as showrunners. By the end of season two, both had left the show, with Kurtzman and Michelle Paradise stepping in as showrunners to right the ship.

But for some Star Trek fans, the problems with Discovery go beyond a troubled production. Initially presented as the adventures of Spock’s heretofore unrevealed adopted sister Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) on a secret experimental ship, the first two seasons leaned into controversial twists, changes to the lore, and a darker tone closer to the Kelvin films than past TV series. Even as some of the more extreme elements of the show fell away (goodbye, weird new Klingons!), fans still complained that Discovery was still too dark in tone in later seasons.

No forced Klingon sex occurred after season two, thank goodness, but when Discovery landed 930 years in the future, they found a galaxy in which the Federation and Starfleet have been diminished. In their place, warlords took control, forcing Burnham to work with morally flexible rogues like Cleveland Booker (David Ajala). As Starfleet and the Federation reconstituted in season three, they had to enter into a partnership with the Orion pirate network called the Emerald Chain.

Ad – content continues below

Even small, otherwise minor choices in seasons three and four featured unnecessary nastiness. Season four villain Ruon Tarka (Shawn Doyle) hails from the pleasure planet Risa, but he carries only tragedy and sadness. And Admiral Vance (Oded Fehr) confirms Trekkie’s worst suspicions when he reveals the source of the food created by ship replicator. “It’s shit, you know?” he says, effectively soiling every cup of earl gray that Picard ever ordered.

But as Discovery comes in for a landing with season five, Kurtzman and Paradise have something much more upbeat in mind, as the crew head out on a voyage to find a mysterious ancient power. “We knew that we wanted to shift things up a little bit,” Paradise tells Den of Geek, contrasting the fifth season to its four predecessors. “I don’t know that I would call it necessarily breezy, but it is a lot of fun. Our heroes go on a quest. There is quite a lot of action and adventure and unexpected discoveries, both in the worlds that they visit and in the quest that they’re on and then discoveries of their own about themselves and with other people.”

Does this plan mean that Paradise and Kurtzman will throw out everything they’ve set up in the previous four seasons? Not at all.

“Coming out of [season four], we were interested in how can we shift it, still, of course, have it being grounded in the world of Discovery and in the emotional resonances of the characters, the relationships, the arcs, all of those things,” Paradise assures longtime fans.

Some might wonder how this shift in tone relates to the other big complaint about Discovery, namely its much more emotional take on the Star Trek universe (there has been A LOT of crying on this show). While neither the producer nor the showrunner address that question directly, comments from the cast suggest that the feelings will still flow freely in 32nd century.

When Den of Geek asked the cast about any season five moments that excited them, Ajala, pointed to a cathartic episode: “I’m very excited for that episode where Michael Burnham has to do some soul searching and character unpacking,” he answers.

Ad – content continues below

Of course, such a display of emotion shouldn’t come as a surprise. In fact, it’s justified, given that season five is the end of Discovery. Throughout their conversation with Den of Geek, the cast and crew were open about their feelings of gratitude and sadness about seeing the show come to a close.

Martin-Green recalled that, before shooting the last section of the series finale, which is titled “Life, Itself,” director Olatunde Osunsanmi commemorated the moment by saying, “And for the very last time.” For Martin-Green, the announcement charged her last shot with her co-stars. “I appreciate Paramount Plus and CBS for giving us that code to shoot so that we could have that,” Martin-Green states. “This is our last moment and to know it and be in it together.”

Emotional? Undoubtedly. But hopefully all those emotions will lead to a finale that ends things on a more positive note for our Discovery crew.

Star Trek: Discovery season 5 debuts on April 4 on Paramount+.