Star Trek: Discovery season 4’s finale landed too close to season 3’s Burn storyline, creating a villain pattern season 5 needs to break.

The resolution to Star Trek: Discovery season 4’s DMA storyline continues an ongoing pattern that season 5 must now avoid like Klingon love poetry. Sonequa Martin-Green’s Michael Burnham couldn’t have faced a tougher first season as official captain of the USS Discovery. The 32nd century Federation has only just starting rebuilding when an unprecedented gravitational anomaly strikes Deep Space Repair Beta Six. Dubbed the DMA (Dark Matter Anomaly), this destructive force spans five whole light years, decimates anything unlucky enough to block its path, and can jump unpredictably through space, giving no warning of its arrival.

Faced with this seemingly insurmountable challenge, Burnham and her crew get to science-ing, and quickly deduce the DMA is a man-made creation, rather than a natural phenomenon. That investigative trail leads the Federation to Unknown Species 10-C – the DMA’s creators from another galaxy – and as gravitational destruction descends upon Earth and Ni’Var, begging this highly advanced civilization to hit the “off” switch rapidly becomes Burnham’s best option.

Star Trek: Discovery season 4’s finale (“Coming Home”) ends with Unknown Species 10-C humbly apologizing for the inconvenience, and admitting they probably should’ve used that awesome technology to scan for life forms first. They’re a work in progress, and promise to do better moving forward. All’s well that ends well, but all ends are beginning to look a lot alike. Here’s how Star Trek: Discovery’s DMA ending falls too close to The Burn, and why season 5 needs to break the trend.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 4’S Finale Is Too Similar To Season 3’S Burn

Discovery's Season 4 Finale Created A Pattern That Star Trek Has To Break
Discovery’s Season 4 Finale Created A Pattern That Star Trek Has To Break

From the very beginning, Star Trek: Discovery season 4’s DMA concept occupies vaguely similar territory as season 3’s Burn. Both are galaxy-spanning disasters that wreak havoc upon planets and threaten Federation stability. Crucially, both events also appear naturally-occurring until Burnham and her Discovery crew prove otherwise, dramatically striking upon realizations that The Burn/the DMA were triggered by something or someone. As fortune would have it, Discovery is the only ship capable of solving these two galactic crises. Coming to the future meant Discovery alone possessed dilithium in significant quantities, while travelling through the Galactic Barrier wouldn’t have been possible without her Spore Drive.

Star Trek: Discovery season 4 could’ve avoided repetition problems if the similarities had stopped there. Though the core premises are undeniably alike, destructive phenomena that only our protagonists can resolve is standard sci-fi stuff, and can still develop in any manner of narrative directions. The parallels to season 3’s Burn only become overwhelming in Star Trek: Discovery season 4’s finale, during the climactic confrontation with Unknown (or, indeed, Known) Species 10-C.

When Captain Saru’s Discovery located the source of The Burn in Star Trek: Discovery season 3, the ship sailed into unknown territory, not knowing whether they’d find an enemy, a weapon, or something else entirely. Reaching their destination, Saru meets Su’Kal, who had caused the mass destruction completely by accident, and agreed to no longer pose a threat. When Captain Burnham’s Discovery locates Unknown Species 10-C in Star Trek: Discovery season 4, the ship sails into unknown territory, not knowing whether they’ll find an enemy, a weapon, or something else entirely. Reaching their destination, Burnham meets the 10-C, who had caused the mass destruction completely by accident, and agree to no longer pose a threat.

Star Trek: Discovery might’ve gotten away with copying season 3’s Burn setup had the eventual solution been drastically different. Instead, the basic structure of each arc is almost identical – with Discovery heading into two dangerous scenarios unsure of what awaits, only to invariably learn both were just big, awkward misunderstandings.

Why Star Trek: Discovery’s Burn Was Better Than Season 4’S DMA

Discovery's Season 4 Finale Created A Pattern That Star Trek Has To Break
Discovery’s Season 4 Finale Created A Pattern That Star Trek Has To Break

Such generous crossover between Star Trek: Discovery’s Burn and DMA storylines wouldn’t have proved so problematic if season 4 had improved on what came before. Instead, you could argue season 3 crafted the superior narrative – and that’s largely down to the stakes involved.

When Michael Burnham’s Discovery crew arrive in the 32nd century, they greet a galaxy already ravaged by The Burn’s destruction. The entire season is then spent learning how gravely this disaster affected everyone, from the Emerald Chain’s rise, to Ni’Var and Earth doing a Brexit on the Federation. Star Trek: Discovery doesn’t just tell audiences why The Burn sucked, but shows the massive, tangible aftereffects of that history-changing calamity.

Following the destruction of Kwejian in episode 1, Star Trek: Discovery’s DMA lacks any meaningful consequences, and nowhere is that more evident than season 4’s finale. Earth, Ni’Var, and the Federation get away with only minor turbulence – fair enough, no one seriously expected either planet would be destroyed. But then General Ndoye makes the noble sacrifice to ram Booker’s runaway ship – only to be beamed back aboard with minor scrapes. Even worse, Star Trek: Discovery’s season 4 finale invests a great deal of time and energy in selling Booker’s death and its emotional impact on Burnham… only for the 10-C to bring him back with a hand-wave. Even the potential zinger of being stranded 10 years from Federation HQ without a Spore Drive is solved in mere moments by Unknown Plot Device 10-C.

Considering the magnitude and power of 10-C’s DMA, the situation wraps up all too neatly, and everyone walks away largely unscathed. Ruon Tarka is our only major casualty and, to be fair, he was trying to kill everyone for most of season 4. After solving The Burn in Star Trek: Discovery season 3, the Federation faced a massive rebuild operation; upon halting the DMA in season 4’s finale, nothing remains to be done but clean up some rocks.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 5 Needs A Big Villain To Change The Formula

Discovery's Season 4 Finale Created A Pattern That Star Trek Has To Break
Discovery’s Season 4 Finale Created A Pattern That Star Trek Has To Break

There’s a reason Star Trek: Discovery seasons 3 & 4 both end in misunderstandings resolved through kindness and diplomacy. Increasingly over the years, Star Trek: Discovery has sought to establish a healthy dialogue around peace, cooperation, mental health, and acceptance. That’s a noble, worthy direction, and puts a modern twist on Gene Roddenberry’s original utopian vision. It’s also very difficult to achieve if every finale culminates in a big, bloody phaser battle against Klingons/Romulans/Borg.

As demonstrated by the similarities between Star Trek: Discovery seasons 3 & 4, however, that philosophy also brings narrative limitations. The Burn teased a villainous enemy presence behind the dilithium explosion, but subverted expectations by unveiling the real culprit as a scared Kelpien man-child. Unknown Species 10-C held even greater villainous potential due to their advanced technology, but once again, their intention was never malicious. While Su’Kal’s innocence can be considered a believable outcome, the 10-C’s benevolence is much harder to believe. Even if their understanding of life is communal rather than individual, it’s ridiculous to think such a technologically advanced species remained oblivious to the DMA’s destruction until the Federation knocked and politely asked them to stop. The aliens’ message, “In the future, we will scan more broadly” sounds more like an excuse Arthur Dent would hear in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.

It’s a pattern Star Trek: Discovery won’t get away with repeating in season 5 – and introducing a new major villain represents the most obvious solution. Tarka and Osyraa were side-baddies to broader plots, but a more formidable enemy would break Michael Burnham away from the repetition of seasons 3 & 4. Star Trek: Discovery season 5’s big challenge lies in balancing its inclusive, progressive tone with a genuine main antagonist who causes galactic strife on purpose… not because their scans weren’t broad enough.

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