At New York Comic Con, two seperate trailers for two seperate Star Trek series were both very stressed out about the future of the United Federation of Planets. In the trailer for Star Trek: Picard, the former Enterprise captain himself ranted: “I am standing up for the Federation— for what it should still represent!” And in the trailer for Star Trek: Discovery, Michael Burnham finds herself in a future where the Federation is basically non-existent and Starfleet is a “ghost.” Even though everybody knows that Picard Season 1 and Discovery Season 3 are two seperate shows… maybe they’re not?
The complicated canon of Star Trek, in theory, spans all of space and time, but in terms of what we’ve seen in the vast majority of Trek shows and Trek movies, everything has mostly happens in the 23rd and 24th centuries, though the prequel show Enterprise was set in the 22nd century. Weirdly, It’s been 17 years since a new version of Star Trek actually looked forward, rather than taking place in its own past; all three reboot movies happened in the 2250s and 2260s, and of course, the first two seasons of Star Trek: Discovery happened in 2256 thru 2257.
But now, both Star Trek: Picard and Discovery are pushing toward the future of the future; the setting for Picard is 2399, nearly the start of the 25th century, and Discovery Season 3 has jumped its 23rd century crew in the year 3187, putting them toward the end of the 32nd century. Although there’s a lot of references to existing Trek canon on both shows (the Borg on Picard, Trill and Andorians in the new DISCO trailer) all the events and political landscape of the final frontier is actually in flux for the first time in almost 20 years. The two shows have different showrunners — Michelle Paradise on Discovery and Michael Chabon on Picard — but Alex Kurtzman is still the executive producer of all of this, and obviously, everybody involved is almost certainly aware what the other writers’ room is doing.
Beyond that, it seems very interesting that both new Star Trek shows are basically untethering their respective crews from the rules and regulations of the Federation and Starfleet. Part of this is clearly just a desire to make both shows a little more rock and roll and the galaxy a little less stuffy, but, from a linear, storytelling perspective it also might mean that Picard could be planting the seeds for what Burnham and crew find in Discovery Season 3.
Let’s think about that moment where Picard storms out of Starfleet command in the trailer again. It really seems like he’s done with the Federation, or at least what its become. We can’t be sure what is happening in the Picard trailer, but if Jean-Luc decides to work outside of the system, it stands to reason the Federation has become corrupt. Notably, Seven of Nine is also not in Starfleet anymore, seemingly fighting for the oppressed, and Riker and Troi are retired.
Let’s just assume the Federation isn’t nice anymore in the 2399 of Picard. Could they have turned a blind-eye to the destruction of Romulus? (Recall: this happens in the Prime Timeline in the year 2387, about 12 years before Picard.) The Romulans seem to be a huge deal in the new series, but it also seems like the Federation didn’t do a great job with that whole crisis. Afterall, why was Spock acting on his own in the 2009 Trek film? If the Federation decided to not officially help the Romulans in a crisis, then the outer space humanitarian organization has probably lost some of its credibility.
Fast forward (literally) to Discovery Season 3. Though this is 930 years in Burnham’s future, it’s only 788 years in the future of Picard. It’s still a long-ass time, but the point is, Picard is closer to the new future timeline than it’s not. In the new Discovery trailer, there are only six stars left on the Federation flag. But, what’s not clear at all, is what year this Federation flag is actually from.
To put it another way: when Burnham encounters the lonely guy who says “I’ve been watching this office every day, believing that my hope was not in vain,” it’s not clear if he is 100 percent a representative of the Federation. Tellingly, he unfurls the Federation flag, which could be for dramatic effect, but also could be because he doesn’t really have it up because in 3187, the Federation doesn’t exist. At all.
The theory here (and it’s just a theory) is that the six-star Federation flag Burnham sees in 3187 isn’t from that year, but is actually much older. Now, in the 24th century of The Next Generation, there are a ton of stars on the Federation flag, and at least 150 member planets. So, if by 3187 (or sooner), the Federation is down to only six planets, that means things have gone downhill in the galaxy, massively.
But, if the flag Burnham that sees, is, itself an antique, then the breakup of the Federation could have happened way before Burnham and the USS Discovery even showed-up. In the Discovery trailer, Burnham says: “I’ve spent a year, searching for that domino, that tipped over and started all of this.”
And, because the canon of Star Trek is still interconnected, the domino that tipped over, could be found in Star Trek: Picard. If there’s a big link between these two Star Trek shows, we could see the Federation start to slip in 2399, setting the stage for what Burnham encounters in the distant future. Does this mean Picard characters — including Jean-Luc himself — will crossover to Discovery? This is Star Trek. They’ve got holograms and time travel, and Trills and androids. In other words: Why not?