NYCC ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Panel Reveals Season 4 Theme, Federation President, And More

After unveiling a new trailer, the Star Trek: Discovery panel and New York Comic Con  got into some more details about season four. Stars Sonequa Martin-Green, Anthony Rapp, Mary Wiseman, Wilson Cruz, David Ajala, and Blu del Barrio were joined by showrunner and executive producer Michelle Paradise. We have some of the key highlights.

A theme of uncertainty for an uncertain world

After seeing the new trailer, Wilson Cruz put it in some context of how season four fits into the reality we have all be living in for the last couple of years:

Wilson Cruz: I feel like the stakes that we were living in breathes in that trailer. The stakes in the story were really high, but the stakes in which we were making and telling the story were also high. And the theme of the entire season is about uncertainty and about how we come together to deal with it and walk through uncertainty and lean on each other as we find a way through it. And we were doing that in life as well.

Later when asked about how Discovery uses allegory, Michelle Paradise talked more about the theme of uncertainty in the upcoming season:

Michelle Paradise: One of the things we do–and it’s baked into the DNA of Star Trek… is that Star Trek looks at what’s happening in the world around us. And we look for ways via the show, via science fiction, to reflect some of those things thematically. [For] season four, Uncertainty is one of the big things for us thematically… because that was happening very much in the world around us… And so looking at what does that mean for each of our characters individually? What does it mean for our characters in relationship with one another? What does it mean for the Federation, for non-Federation planets? 

Star Trek: Discovery panel at NYCC 2021 (Photo: Mission: Star Trek)

A big threat has a big impact on each character

A big way this theme of uncertainty is manifested is that season four will not have a traditional villain; instead, it will grapple with a massive gravitational anomaly that is threatening the galaxy. Some of the actors talked about how this new threat will impact each of their characters.

Sonequa Martin-Green: I think I can speak for all the characters when I say I don’t think any of us were expecting to have a threat this big so soon after jumping to this future. Because that was huge. I know at least for Burnham, it’s a lot. Like, ‘Man, here we are again with a threat of great, great magnitude.’ And so of course, these people in this story being the honorable people that they are, their true character comes out at that moment of greatest pressure and beautiful stuff comes out as hard as it might be.

Anthony Rapp: Stamets is a scientist, first and foremost, and he cares about the health of the bioforms in the galaxy. So he’s driven to stay up all night every night to solve this mystery. And the fact that it is really difficult to solve affects him in a very particular way.

Mary Wiseman: Tilly is great at science, so that helps. I think that Tilly has begun to move up in leadership and is feeling more and more responsibility and a little bit more of the pressures [of being] responsible for people. That in combination with all the events of the third season, similar to the way this pandemic experience has affected us all, really kind of forced her to like reinvestigate herself and her motivation. So it kind of spirals her off into this personal journey, actually. Which was very fun to play with.

Wilson Cruz: For Dr. Culber, he’s taking on double duty. He’s not just the medical officer, but he’s also the ship’s counselor. And with an anomaly that’s creating such anxiety for people because of the uncertainty that it presents and the danger that it presents, people need some help… Throughout this season, I really thought about all of our nurses and all of our doctors, and all of our therapists who have helped us through this incredibly uncertain moment in time, and who are struggling themselves. How do you stay professional and do your job and help other people while still taking care of yourself and your family and stay healthy? That is the arc of Culber.

Wilson Cruz at NYCC panel

Bringing the Federation back together, with an unexpected president

Paradise also helped set the stage for where the Federation is at the beginning of season four:

Michelle Paradise: The Federation isn’t quite back together again. We’ve made some progress at the end of season three, but certainly, that’s something that’s continuing in season four. And a lot happens in season four. Not sure what else I can [say]. There’s action and adventure and science and Star Trek.

Later, Paradise talked about how they are continuing to try to change things up by bringing familiar species from earlier eras into the 32nd century:

Michelle Paradise: We’re always looking for ways, now that we’re so far ahead, of who are the species we can see? What are we familiar with? How can we mix those things up a little bit? We did that actually quite a lot in in season three. The species that you’re familiar with, we put them in a different place. The Andorians are a little bit different than we expect, or the Orions, or whatever. And we’re continuing that into season four as we continue to expand the world and look at new places.

We saw some of that in the trailer released today, including a Ferengi Captain.

From the NYCC trailer

Anthony Rapp asked if it was alright to talk about the heritage of a new character named “Rillak.” Paradise then revealed some more details on this character who has been seen in both of the trailers:

Michelle Paradise:  You can maybe see a little in the makeup… One of the really cool things about coming forward so many years is that we can play with a lot of that stuff. And the character that you saw in the trailer who was talking to Burnham is a Federation President for the season. And we do mix it up with her species a little bit. She’s Cardassian, Bajoran, and Human.

Wilson Cruz added that the Federation President is being played by Canadian actress Chelah Horsdal, “She just slipped right in and became part of the family.”

Chelah Horsdal as Federation President Rillak in the NYCC trailer

Captain Burnham can still find time for friends

A major change for season four is that Michael Burnham is now the captain of the USS Discovery. Martin-Green talked about how Burnham is balancing her new duties with the rest of her life:

Sonequa Martin-Green: Everything has led to sitting down in that chair and assuming that role… And that year alone [between episodes 301 and 302] was essential. Because, really for the first time, it was a second to breathe and stop and ask myself as Burnham, ‘What and who am I actually?’ I have always had someone to tell me who I should be. And I have always done my best to excel at that. But I’ve overcompensated and I’ve made a lot of mistakes because of it. So who am I actually? And now I can be that person… But I love what Burnham’s mother said, where duty and joy go hand in hand. And that you can actually choose both. And I love that in this season coming up, you see these people finding out exactly how they can choose both in their own lives and in their own ways.

Martin-Green also fielded a question on how this new role will impact her friendship with Tilly:

Sonequa Martin-Green: I think stepping into the role of captain, there’s a lot of things that need to be learned. There’s a lot of a lot of discoveries, a lot of challenges that come with it. And I think every relationship is affected by it. Because all of a sudden, there’s this bit of distance that’s kind of hard to explain. But when take on responsibility for an entire crew on paper, there automatically is a little bit of a stepping back that has to happen because you have to have this sort of macro vision and that macro perspective so you can make the best decisions for the whole. But I will also say that the friendship between these two women is so deep and so authentic, that these experiences only add to it, in truth, at the root of it all.

Sonequa Martin-Green, Michelle Paradise, and Blu del Barrio at NYCC panel

Stamets learns to forgive Michael, and share with Book

In the last couple of episodes of season three, we saw Stamets and Burnham get into major conflict, and in the season finale, he was the only one not smiling when the rest of the crew celebrated her promotion. Anthony Rapp talked about how this will be picked up in season four:

Anthony Rapp: Stamets is opinionated and has strong feelings, but he’s also incredibly loyal. So I think yes, we’re going to be able to work together. There may be a little poke here or there to allude to what happened, but he’s also a responsible officer, and a loyal friend and is capable of forgiveness.

The season three finale also saw David Ajala’s character Book capable of navigating the USS Discovery, something only Stamets was capable of doing before. When the pair was asked about who gets to drive in season four, there was a funny moment where Rapp crossed the stage to stare Ajala down. The pair then talked a bit about how they, too, work things out:

David Ajala: I was hoping you weren’t going to ask because that’s very sensitive… We share the keys… In one of the episodes, we actually speak.

Anthony Rapp: Yeah, I think for the first time in the whole series. I don’t think our characters ever actually had a direct interaction… [Ajala interjects: We covered ground] I was very, very glad when I read that script, that I got a chance to act in a scene or two with David Ajala, who’s been a tremendous addition to our cast and a capital human being.

Anthony Rapp at NYCC panel

Blu thanks Frakes, and Gray’s role is “vital”

Anthony Rapp, Wilson Cruz, and Blu del Barrio talked about how they joined Discovery in season three straight out of school:

Blu del Barrio: They treat me like family now. It was weird at the beginning for me, because I came from theater. So it was like, ‘Wilson and Anthony from Rent? Oh, no! I might pee myself.’… But they took me in within a second. And even when I didn’t know how long I was going be on the show, we just didn’t know where the story was going. They both just kind of took me in in a very parental way, which I’m endlessly grateful for.

Wilson Cruz: We took them under our wing before we even knew that they were going to be our charge in the show. I think [Anthony and I] saw a bit of ourselves in them, in the sense that we were young people starting out in this industry, and we were open and out as LGBTQ people, as queer people. So we wanted to make your experience a little bit easier than ours. That is our job as your as your ancestors.

Anthony Rapp: This is Blu’s first professional experience. They just got out of school weeks before coming to set. And from moment one of stepping on our set and standing in front of the camera, [they] just knocked it out of the park every single time… We were just so lucky.

Blu del Barrio: That has a lot to do with Jonathan Frakes being my first director.

Cruz also talked about how Culber is going to make good on his promise to make sure that Adira’s ghost boyfriend Gray will be seen by all in season four:

Wilson Cruz: When Dr. Culber makes a promise, he keeps that promise… So we we find a way to make sure that Gray is seen as promised and, and we get to see just how vital he becomes to a story and to our mission. And I’m just excited about the fact that we have finally an official trans character on the show in Star Trek, in the universe. And he does an amazing job and I can’t wait for you guys to see.

Blu del Barrio at NYCC panel

Season four in one word

One of the moderator’s last questions asked each panelist to sum up season four in just one word…

Sonequa Martin-Green: “Honorable”

Blu del Barrio: “Dream-like”

David Ajala: “Endurance”

Wilson Cruz: “Resilience… through uncertainty”

Mary Wiseman: “Stretching”

Anthony Rapp: “Crucible”

Michelle Paradise: “Growth… with all of our characters”

David Ajala, Wilson Cruz, Mary Wiseman, and Anthony Rapp at NYCC panel

More to come from NYCC

There is more to come from NYCC including full coverage of tomorrow’s Star Trek: Prodigy panel. Stay tuned to TrekMovie for our full NYCC coverage.

Star Trek: Discovery streams exclusively on Paramount+ in the U.S. In Canada Discovery is broadcast on CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave. It is also available on Netflix in 190 countries around the world.

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With the exception of hearing more about the Cardassian UFP President, this panel really didn’t do a lot for me. It all just sounds pretty generic. I know they can’t really give anything away but you could basically apply what they said to the last two seasons and not miss a beat outside of having new characters. The theme is ‘uncertainty’? Yeah, that’s pretty much baked in with every Star Trek show.

Yeah, you’ve got to be able to deal with uncertainty if you’re going to sit in that chair. Lol.

Action, adventure and science.

If only we had three dimensional characters.

I hear ya’.

“A big way this theme of uncertainty is manifested is how season four will not have a traditional villain but will deal with a massive gravitational anomaly.”

OK, so, season three didn’t have a traditional villain either and was also dealing with an anomaly that led to the near collapse of the Federation.


I thought Osyraa was the traditional villain in Season 3.

A villain but the not the crux of the problem for the season.

No traditional villain but they’re still being shot at. It would be ballsy if no battles or firefights.

Season 3 had Osira and the Orions as the big baddies. So if they manage to get through season 4 without that it would be a big change.

This criticism really confuses me. Why would we even want a personified villain. The people that complain about Trek turning into an action series also want a moustache-twirler? It’s like the focus group in that Poochie episode of The Simpsons. Those are inherently contradictory complaints. I’ve been hoping for years that the Trek movies would stop having villains and move to more like crews against nature plots. Each season, DSC has been moving closer and closer in that direction. And it seems much more Trek-like to me.

I could see wanting an antagonist, but that’s different from a villain, because in the Trek tradition, such an antagonist would meet the crew partway through diplomacy or some other kind of resolution, such as L’Rell’s arc, or the countless diplomatic achievements Picard has made over the course of his career.

Another year, another threat to the universe.

Btw, there must be a lot of “anomaly” cards in Discovery Mad Libs.

Don’t watch it then?

Previous Trek shows often had an anomaly of the week. So Discovery is actually cutting down on that by only having one anomaly per season ;-)

Well, I suppose that’s one way to look at it.

They will propably use the word uncertain a Lot in the New season.

One thing’s a certainty… People will certainly provide lots us of complaints about anything they can think of :-)

DSC and NuTrek in general seem to be at a pivotal crossroads. This S4 feels as if it could take a successful shot at uniting some viable elements of the new era with “classic” Trek adventure. Sometimes I feel like desperately wanting the “Old Trek” back but the more I think about it… it’s not that at all.

Older, traditional Trek series aren’t without their merits but there are many things I can do without. Holodeck adventure of the week, Ferengi comedies, Lwaxana’s love adventures, even war-arcs… none of that is essential to Trek’s core mission.

TOS may have been a bold concept in its day and age but basically most episodes were either about amok-running computers, energetic beings, alien diseases or time travel / parallel worlds. TNG and VOY added the weird anomaly / mystery of the week to the formula. Both heavily relied on paper planets and bottled ship shows. And DS9 was FAR too much about politics, insignificant character arcs and warfare.

I’ve been watching lots of real science documentaries recently. There has been so much advancement in astronomy lately. We know so much more about the nature of the universe as compared to the 60s or 80s. Trek should be a fictional account of truly exploring those mysteries.

But to do that, Trek needs to abandon lots of its limitations: galactic politics as well as limited warp speed. We need to go beyond our galaxy, exploring other galaxies and filaments. DSC has created the Spore Drive, a technology that could achieve all that in an instant… PROD has got its own experimental drive. Both shows have HUGE potentials for finally going bodly beyond what Trek used to be about, without just turning it into our version of GOT or TWD…

Trek must be a fictional take on real-life astronomy upgraded with natural threats, adventurous spins and bravery… not about cardboard villains blowing up cardboard sets… The DSC S4 trailer seems to be embracing that mission a lot more than previous Treks.



Nice people, awful show.

Take Burnham and Tilly out the show, give the bridge crew some life and make Saru captain you probably have something that works.

Yup and it would be nice if they got a Trek überfan in to review the production tasked with the responsibility of identifying just one major blunder per episode: “why does Discovery have more internal space for turbolifts than a Starbase?” “Why is Sonequa holding that phaser backwards towards herself?” et cetera, et cetera.

@ The Collector – considering the makers of Discovery claimed that the start of their show was meant to show a lead-up to the events of the classic TOS show and characters, then the notion of an actual ‘Continuity Supervisor’ who cares seems a bit superfluous at this stage. ;)

This panel really got to the heart of my issues with DSC. It was all so… Samey. Look, I want to like the show. It has a really talented cast and crew, who seem to be able to master anything. Wonderful music, amazing effects. But after a fairly strong start with season 1 (despite too much time in the mirrorverse for my liking) it has become only capable of one trick storytelling – a giant threat to the galaxy as we know it where the stakes have never been higher. It’s like the writers don’t know what to do next. The big reset in Season 3 seemed to be an admission of this, and genuinely gripped me the way other seasons hadn’t, until it suddenly turned into a giant threat to the galaxy where the stakes have never been higher.

I’m happy that the Disco fans have a new season dropping shortly. I think it’s absolutely fine that some of us love it and some of us don’t. What I hope is that season 5 can genuinely do a “season 3” and maintain it, and go off in a really new direction storytelling wise. For me, I’m looking forward to more Picard and then SNW!