There is a big mystery impacting everything in the third season of Star Trek: Discovery and we have put our best detectives on the case. These are their preliminary findings. Warning: this case contains SPOILERS.
CASE FILE: THE BURN
Since before the season even began, the trailer teased the mystery of “The Burn,” a cataclysm that caused the almost complete fall of the United Federation of Planets by the end of the 31st century. An earlier analysis speculated on “The Burn,” and our detectives were in the right ballpark in their suspicion that it was something that severely impacted warp travel, but off the mark when it came to identifying Omega particles as the culprit. It has now been established that “The Burn” involved nearly all dilithium in the region around the Federation (and possibly beyond) going inert and then exploding, causing massive damage to Starfleet and other ships carrying the critical crystals used to control warp drives.
The mechanism behind The Burn is still unknown—and that earlier analysis did not examine who may be behind it if it wasn’t just a natural disaster. Given the damage that has been done to the Federation and the stated goal of the season to see the Federation re-established, we must assume we will meet opposition along the way. But from whom?
Let’s first examine the known facts, and our associated assumptions.
Fact: Everybody is still talking about “The Burn”
It is apparent that even with the explanation given in the first episode, there is still much more behind the mystery of The Burn to be discovered. Remember the previews of season two? They were all about the Red Angel. And we all remember how that turned out. In the Discovery season three trailer, we hear Burnham say, “I’ve been searching for clues as to what caused The Burn,” and Tilly tells Michael “You are going to figure out what caused The Burn, and help to rebuild the Federation.” Clearly, the season will continue to focus on the origins of The Burn.
Beyond previews, the “What is the Burn?” message has been a big part of the season three marketing from CBS. Members of the press and other influencers were sent telltale swag boxes which included little “What Is The Burn?” signs to hold up for a virtual photo booth. Well after the season premiere, CBS continued to promote the mystery on social media.
— Star Trek on CBS All Access (@startrekcbs) October 20, 2020
That’s enough to build a case on. The Burn is our new Red Angel, the mystery underlying season three, with more to be uncovered about what caused it… or should we say “who”?
Fact: Season 3 will have a main villain who was previously thought of as an ally
For another key piece of information spilled by executive producer Alex Kurtzman, take a gander at this excerpt from a recent SFX Magazine:
[Kurtzman’s] quick and firm when asked if there’s a “big bad” this season. “Yes! It goes back to what I was saying earlier, which is that putting things in a blender means people who used to be allies are now enemies and vice versa. That’s a really interesting thing to play with, because it forces you to take what you know about Star Trek, and some of the characters and some of the species and aliens, and see them through the looking glass in a different way.”
So, if there is (1) an overarching villain this season, and (2) the hunt for the cause of The Burn will fuel at least the next few episodes, then we can come to only one logical conclusion…
Deduction: The season 3 villain was responsible for The Burn
Take another look at season two. The Red Angel was teased early on, as was the eventual appearance of Spock. Coincidence? No. Ultimately, the two were inextricably linked. Therefore, we can safely assume that The Burn and the “big bad” will be similarly linked. Could the big bad—allies who are now enemies—have turned because of The Burn? Perhaps. But it makes more storytelling sense for the big bad to be the cause of The Burn.
So who are these villains, allies now enemies, who caused The Burn? Who had the motive, means, and opportunity to detonate dilithium on a galactic scale? Obviously, we don’t have enough evidence yet to prosecute any one set of villains. But we can make some educated guesses.
Based on what head honcho Kurtzman said, it’s safe to assume the villains aren’t going to be traditional bad guys like the Borg or Romulans. Nor will it be a group that has played both sides, like the Klingons who had a rap sheet a mile long before becoming (on-again-off-again) allies with the Federation in the 24th century. We are also ruling out friendly species like the Tamarians who haven’t appeared in more than a single episode of an older series.
The people behind The Burn are going to be someone we know… and trust. Let’s take a look at our prime suspects, any evidence (including possible alibis), and potential motives.
Dossier: A humanoid species known for their distinctive spots, which appear in two rows (one on each side) from forehead to toe. A small number of Trills undergo a rigorous testing process to allow them to be joined with sentient symbionts; the two personalities merge and a joined Trill gains the memories of the symbiont, which often lives for hundreds of years as it is passed from one body to another, lifetime after lifetime. The Trill were members of the Federation, enjoy contact with other species, and are technologically advanced.
Motive: Already somewhat insular, something happened by the 31st century to convince the Trill that an interconnected Federation is a threat, likely to their dwindling population of long-lived symbionts.
Evidence: It’s been established through previews that the Trill will appear in season three. Kurtzman has confirmed that this will include a visit to the Trill homeworld, and co-showrunner Michelle Paradise has said they will be “leaning into Trill mythology.” There is also a new Trill character (Gray, played by Ian Alexander) with a recurring role. And it has been established in canon that the Trill are secretive. Not only did they initially hide their symbiotic nature when they joined the Federation, but they also lied to their own people when it came to how many Trill were capable of joining with a symbiont. However, all indications are that the Trill inclusion in season three will be more as allies than foes, with Adira (who is somehow linked to the Trill) working closely with the Discovery crew.
Determination: Free to go… for now.
Dossier: Humanoid, with the ability to control technology from a distance along with personal cloaking ability, Xaheans have a society built around a close relationship with their home planet, believing they and the dilithium-rich planet are “twins.” Xaheans had friendly relations, but no indication they were part of the Federation as of the late 24th century.
Motive: Fiercely attuned to the natural balance of their home planet and concerned over excessive dilithium mining, the Xaheans decided to dramatically curtail the demand for the crystals.
Evidence: Xaheans showed an advanced level of understanding of dilithium, including developing recrystallization technology decades before it was developed by the Federation. While a race facing an existential crisis could be capable of anything, this species introduced in a Short Trek (with a return in Discovery and mention in Picard) is likely a bit too obscure to have the emotional punch of a friend-turned-enemy.
Determination: Released on their own recognizance.
Dossier: Blue-skinned with silver hair and antennae (and prone to calling humans “pink skins” for a while), Andorians are a militaristic race with a sense of honor and an appreciation for passion. Early encounters with humans were adversarial, but eventually, the two species learned to trust each other, and Andorians became one of the founding members of the Federation and can certainly be considered a traditional ally.
Motive: After playing second fiddle to Humans and Vulcans, the Andorians may have decided they wanted to be on top and concocted a scheme to take down the Federation leaving them holding enough dilithium to run things in the ensuing chaos.
Evidence: In episode one (and in previews) it’s been established that by 3188, the Andorians have partnered up the notoriously criminal Orions. They appear to be in charge of “The Mercantile,” controlling the supply of the remaining dilithium in the region that includes Hima (where Burnham landed in the 32nd century) and “The Colony” (where the USS Discovery landed). However, just because Andorions have found a way to thrive in the post-Burn era, does not definitively indicate they were responsible; they could simply have found a way to make the best of a bad situation.
Determination: Don’t leave town.
Dossier: The Vulcans were the first alien species to make direct contact with Earth. Pointed ears, green blood, and superior physical strength are physical qualities that distinguish them, along with their suppression of emotion and reliance on logic as a guiding principle. They are also one of the founding members of the Federation.
Motive: By the 31st century, Vulcans could determine the experiment of interplanetary connectedness has failed, resulting in too much war and bloodshed, so they develop a radical plan to return things back to the closest thing to the pre-warp era as possible.
Evidence: As the quintessential allies, no group would have a bigger impact as the bad guys as the Vulcans, epitomized by the ultimate Star Trek alien, Mr. Spock. Although relations were sometimes a bit frosty during the 22nd century, there simply would be no Federation without the Vulcans. But throughout Star Trek history we have seen some Vulcans use logic to justify what could be seen as extreme activity, including joining criminal groups like the Maquis. The Vulcan axiom of “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” could even be used to justify the deaths of millions if it was believed to be saving trillions. However, there is a hint that the Vulcans are still part of what is left of the Federation from the recent trailer. And making Vulcans into the bad guys, especially after a whole season searching for Spock, is probably a bridge too far.
Determination: Persons of interest.
Dossier: A humanoid and very spiritual race, the Bajorans are distinctive for their nose ridges and prominent earrings. After living under Cardassian occupation they gained their freedom through a resistance movement shortly before a stable wormhole to Gamma Quadrant was found near Bajor. While some Bajorans had joined Starfleet and Bajor was under the protection of the Federation, as of the late 24th century they maintained their independence, but it’s possible, perhaps even likely, that they may have joined in later years or centuries.
Motive: After decades of Cardassian occupation and then continued alliance with/obligation to the Federation, Bajorans may have decided that they’ve had enough of other species’ rules and ideas and wearied of being at the crossroads of many conflicts. Enacting The Burn could be one way to level the playing field, as well as keep the general riff-raff from mining more of their home planet’s resources. It’s even possible they could continue to connect with the Gamma Quadrant after The Burn.
Evidence: They have a history of taking matters into their own hands, and have always been able to make the ends justify the means in their quest for autonomy—including resorting to terrorism. They are also surprisingly resourceful and have the orbs (Prophets) on their side. They are not known for having the most reputable spiritual leaders (see Kai Winn). There is also the possibility they came under the influence of the Pah-wraiths (the sworn enemy of the Prophets) who once conspired to destroy the wormhole. Certainly seen as friends of the Federation, the Bajorans would provide some heavy emotional impact if they turned out to be the bad guys, but so far there are no outward indications they are involved.
Determination: Under surveillance.
Dossier: Tall, incredibly fast, and equipped with heightened senses, the Kelpiens were a pre-warp civilization kept from progressing as a species by the Ba’ul, with whom they shared their home planet, Kaminar. Once known for their ability to “sense the coming of death” (with help from their threat ganglia), they have since reclaimed their natural evolutionary step: they no longer live with fear and their ganglia have been replaced with quills, putting them on the offense instead of the defense. At the time of Discovery’s leap into the 32nd century, Saru was the only Kelpien in Starfleet, however, they did assist in the final battle with Control.
Motive: After generations of being isolated from other cultures and killed off before they reached maturity, the Kelpiens have a reason not to trust other species, or the rest of the galaxy in general.
Evidence: How they dealt with the Ba’ul after their “liberation” is unknown, but it’s possible they wiped them out in retaliation; Saru’s sister Siranna was piloting a fighter ship not long after discovering that her entire worldview was a lie created by the Ba’ul, so we know they learn quickly and have fighter instincts. They have had generations to build up their anger at their oppressors, and who knows who else? We also don’t know much about them yet, like how long they live, how strong they can become, and what other suppressed abilities they may have rediscovered. The Kelpiens are also the most prominent new race developed by Discovery and so perhaps provide a bigger impact within, especially with Saru, by making them the primary villains.
Determination: Seeking a warrant.
Next Steps: Gather more evidence
As of now, we simply don’t have enough to make a call. This list is not comprehensive and there could be other possible suspects that currently aren’t on our radar. For now, we must remain diligent and continue our investigation into The Burn before we can make an arrest.
If you have seen anything, or have your own suspicions, please let us know in the comments below, and we may open a new file.
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