We have been tracking some post-season three finale interviews (see here, here, and here) with the Star Trek: Discovery cast and crew, who have hints about what to expect in season four. Now executive producer/co-showrunner Alex Kurtzman and executive producer/director Olatunde Osunsanmi are offering more insights into what’s next for the show and what it’s like shooting during the era of COVID.
Saru’s choice in season four
Alex Kurtzman and Olatunde Osunsanmi were guests on the BlerdGurl podcast talking about the season three finale, but also offering some hints about what’s to come in season four of Discovery. Host Karama Horne was a bit concerned about Saru’s fate at the end of season three, but got some assurance from Alex Kurtzman:
Saru is definitely coming back, of course he’s coming back. But everybody is evolving in different ways, right? Like the journey for Burnham obviously was from the rejection of the captain’s chair to the sitting in the captain’s chair. And when you have those kinds of polarities, you know, you’re going to have something interesting in the season, because they’re as far apart as you could get. So, to get her from here to there, it’s going to be a journey. And Saru, who I think made an extraordinary captain, also began to recognize by the end of the season that he doesn’t necessarily have probably the hardest thing that a captain has to have, which is the willingness to be able to potentially sacrifice something you care for, or somebody you care for, to serve a greater good. And he doesn’t know where he is on the line yet. And that’s going to be part of what he gets to explore in season four. But we would never lose Doug [Jones]. Never.
Michael’s challenge as captain
Season three ended with Michael Burnham promoted to the rank of captain and put in command of the USS Discovery, taking over from Saru (who is busy on Kaminar). On the same podcast, Kurtzman talked about Michael’s character arc that led her to becoming captain:
Just because she’s in the chair doesn’t mean that there isn’t a journey about what it actually means to now experience things as a captain, and to have to make choices as a captain that you don’t have to make when you’re not the captain. The simplest and most obvious is, you as a first officer or as a science officer don’t have to choose whether or not to sacrifice someone on your crew to serve a greater good. That’s the hardest choice that a captain can make. Burnham, without revealing too much, and one of the things that [co-showrunner] Michelle [Paradise] and I have talked a lot about is that every episode needs to reflect a different challenge of what it means to be a captain. So the new variable for season four will be, ‘Okay, it’s a cool story, but how does it make her take a step as a captain?’ And that’s been a really interesting thing, because once we started filtering our stories through that question, it began to focus us on the kinds of stories that we wanted to tell. Because now they all have to challenge her as a captain.
I think Burnham goes through this journey that’s very interesting over the course of three seasons. She’s been told to be a certain person by so many different people. First to her human parents then her Vulcan parents then to Starfleet… And what she really realizes at the end of season three is that she is chosen to be captain by Vance and by everybody because she’s two things. She doesn’t have to be one thing. None of us are ever only one thing. So I think Burnham at the end of season three learns to hold space for being two things, and that that’s okay. But that’s challenging as a captain when sometimes you actually do have to make choices that don’t allow you to make choices from both of those sides of yourself. So that’s a really interesting problem for her that I think that she’s going to have to go through.
Hints about Book and Stamets in season four
Kurtzman provided some other brief hints for some other characters as well as Michael’s relationship with Cleveland “Book” Booker:
There will be interesting new challenges in [Michael’s] relationship with Book. Obviously they have a love story in season three and no good love story is really good without a lot of tests of that love. So she’ll be going through some of that too.
Season three ended with Book’s special empathic abilities being utilized to control the spore drive. Kurtzman talked briefly about what impact this will have on Paul Stamets in season four:
Stamets has carried this unique burden/gift, which is that he is the only one who can power the Discovery, and now somebody else can. So what does that mean? That’s another question that we will be covering.
Bringing new planets into the Federation
Season three began the process of rebuilding the Federation, which included bringing some former members back into the fold. But Kurtzman indicated that season four will have the crew of the USS Discovery visiting some strange new worlds in as well:
At the end of season three with the Federation, Humpty Dumpty really does kind of just come back together, but they have a long way to go. There’s still many, many species and planets that are not members of the Federation. So it’s an amazing first step in a brighter future. But ultimately, there’s a long way still left to go. Without spoiling anything, that’s a lot of what season four is going be about.
Season 4 production is taking longer, focusing decision-making
Production on the fourth season of Star Trek: Discovery began last November. On the same podcast, Olatunde Osunsanmi outlined how production has changed under new COVID protocols:
You start with safety first and the scientists, and then everything else kind of goes backwards from there. It goes to the scripts. And we’ve worked with Alex and Michelle, and say ‘You do this and the scientists are saying we shouldn’t do that’ Then once we get past that stage, we take it to the crew and start figuring out how to produce it. And then it just gets down to the nuts and bolts on set. We have to social distance, so that means when we do something called “last looks” when all the makeup, hair and costume people come in, now that’s separate. The costume people come in and go away, then hair comes in, goes away, then makeup. And obviously it takes three times as much time as it would normally take. And so you can take that process of individual departments, and multiply it across the entire company and things really slow down.
The executive producer/director talked about how the new protocols are forcing choices to be made when it comes to how much gets shot:
What you have is a situation where you have to make decisions about what really matters creatively to you. What will really matter creatively to Alex or to Michelle and to the audience, and you get exactly that. Whereas pre-pandemic, we would get a whole bunch of extra stuff, just in case. So now there’s much more communication about what we feel we actually do need. And it’s also about keeping it fun, still. CBS has spent an extraordinary amount of money to keep us safe. Everything we’ve asked for, we’ve gotten. We feel incredibly well supported. I feel as safe as I could possibly be in this little soft bubble of environment that we have. So it’s about staying vigilant about that, but also, finding a way to have fun while we are doing it.
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