Star Trek Just Pulled Off a Huge Call Back to a Beloved Enterprise Character

Star Trek: Discovery season 5 digs deep into The Original Series lore in an episode full of references to "The Paradise Syndrome."

Star Trek Enterprise Cast
Photo: James Sorenson/CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

This Star Trek: Discovery article contains spoilers.

Although Star Trek: Discovery season 5 is focused on a season-long quest for ancient secrets from before the dawn of history, there have also been a few episodes that have been almost standalone in structure. From the time loop in “Face the Strange” to the return of the ISS Enterprise in “Mirrors,” Discovery’s final seasons has episodic stories, woven into the bigger arc. And, out of all of season 5, episode 6, “Whistlespeak,” is probably the most standalone of the bunch.

In order to retrieve the latest clue to the Progenitor tech, the USS Discovery jumps to the planet Halem’no, a pre-warp planet. Here, Burnham and Tilly have to go undercover to not only find the clue, but also, repair some concealed technology. Along the way, Discovery pays homage to The Original Series, the prequel series Enterprise, and beyond. Here are the biggest Star Trek easter eggs and references in the episode…

Weather Towers 

Throughout all of Star Trek, or at least the time of The Voyage Home, there’s been the strong suggestion that the weather on Earth, and other Federation planets, is controlled by low-key terraforming technology. In “Whistlespeak,” Burnham and Tilly have to fix a weather tower that is malfunctioning on a pre-warp, Prime Directive-protected planet. This exact mission hasn’t happened before, but it is reminiscent of several Trek episodes from the past…

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Going Undercover With an Indigenous Culture

The conceit that Burnham and Tilly have to blend in with a pre-warp civilization has several precedents in other Star Trek series and films. In The Original Series episodes “Pattern of Force,” “Return of the Archons,” “A Private Little War,” and “The Paradise Syndrome,” the crew has to infiltrate planets and pass themselves off as natives. Ditto The Next Generation episode “Who Watches the Watchers?” and the beginning of the feature film Insurrection. Burnham, Owo and Captain Pike also went undercover in a pre-warp civilization in the Discovery season 2 episode “New Eden.” Then, the entire Strange New Worlds gang, including Pike, Spock, and La’an all went undercover in the series premiere of that that show, also titled “Strange New Worlds.”

Finally, the very first glimpse of Michael Burnham ever happens near the start of the first Discovery episode from 2017, “The Vulcan Hello.” And in that episode, Captain Georgiou and Michael Burnham are helping save a pre-warp civilization from a drought without being detected. So, in Disco’s first season and its last, Burnham is on a very similar mission. At least once, anyway.

Subcutaneous Comms

Burnham and Tilly also rock both subcutaneous — under the skin — communicators, as well as tricorders embedded into their eyes. The retinal tricorders are new, but Kirk and Spock both had subcutaneous transponders put into their arms in the episode “Patterns of Force.” 


The scientist who created the weather towers for the Halem’nites was named Hitoroshi Kreel, a Denobulan. Though we never see him on screen, we know, generally, some basic features of what Denobulans look like. The beloved character of Dr. Phlox in the series Enterprise was a Denobulan, and it was in that series that nearly all the lore of the planet Denobula was established, even though the planet was never seen on screen. Outside of Enterprise, we’ve seen Denobulans in Lower Decks, Prodigy, and briefly in Strange New Worlds Season 2. But, despite being mentioned in this Discovery episode, no Denobulans appear.

Burnham’s Job

While it’s easy to forget what Burnham trained to do for Starfleet, this episode reminds us of the fact that in season 1, it was established that in both Starfleet and at the Vulcan Science Academy, Burnham studied xenoanthropology. She’s actually perfect for away missions like this because of her anthropological background, unlike say, several other Starfleet captains who frequently would go on missions like this.

“We could really use you at” 

Ever since season 4, Tilly has been teaching at Starfleet Academy, which, for now, is located somewhere at Federation HQ. Tilly telling Burnham she wants her to teach there too is interesting, and has some precedent in previous Star Trek lore. When Spock was teaching at Starfleet Academy, in The Wrath of Khan, he brought Kirk in to help out at the beginning of the movie. Because Tilly and Burnham are both from the 23rd Century initially, it’s not too nuts to think of them both teaching at Starfleet Academy at some point in the future, much like their classic-era colleagues across space and time.

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Paradise Syndrome: Reloaded

Overall, the story of “Whistlespeak” feels like a modern update of tricky TOS episode, “The Paradise Syndrome.” In that episode, Kirk lost his memory, and became part of a tribe of Native Americans who lived on a planet that was not Earth. Progressive stuff for 1968 maybe, but less than great or thoughtful now. However, the sci-fi premise of “The Paradise Syndrome” was fantastic even if the politics were iffy: A device that was placed on the planet by an advanced alien race—designed to protect the people of the planet—malfunctions and gains religious significance. This is exactly what happens with the weather stations on Halem’no, and, just like Kirk and Spock had to go back into the obelisk in TOS to save the native population, Burnham and Tilly have to do the same thing in this Discovery episode. 

Interestingly, this “Paradise Syndrome,” connection goes even deeper when you realize that “The Preservers,” mentioned in that episode, were the first indication that an advanced humanoid species seeded several planets with humanoid lifeforms. So, without “:The Paradise Syndrome,” you kinda don’t have the TNG episode “The Chase,” and without that, you certainly don’t have Discovery season 5’s epic search for the Progenitor tech, which goes all the way back to 1993, or 1968, or millions of years in the past, depending on your point of view.