‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Showrunner Explains Why They Reopened A TNG Mystery To Start Season 5

The fifth and final season of Star Trek: Discovery debuted on Thursday with two episodes that dove into the season’s big story, linking directly back to Star Trek: The Next Generation. TrekMovie spoke to co-showrunner Michelle Paradise about why they got to the big mystery right away. The executive producer also talked about how this TNG episode helps build on the season’s themes and gives it a structure.


Not waiting to open up the mystery box

In previous seasons Star Trek: Discovery has tended to draw out big mysteries, such as the source of “The Burn” in season 3 or who was behind the DMA in season 4. But as part of the stated plan to pivot the show with a new sense of adventure in season 5, the producers chose to make a big reveal in episode 1. They even seemed to be hanging a lantern on the show’s previous penchant for “mystery box” storytelling by making the McGuffin in the season premiere a literal puzzle box, which was opened about halfway through the episode by an eccentric old Soong-type android named Fred.

Speaking to TrekMovie at the SXSW premiere of season 5, Michelle Paradise explained why they didn’t wait to open that puzzle box:

“Because we’re sending our heroes on a quest this season, we wanted to make sure that by the end of the first episode the audience understood exactly what that question was, exactly what our heroes were after, exactly what we were going to be following. There are of course, some other mysteries to solve and some cards to turn over as we go into the next few episodes. But it was really important to just be upfront—this this is what we’re doing with this season, and we have our audience go along for the ride.”

Fred opens up the Romulan puzzle box in “Red Directive”

Return to “The Chase”

The box contained the diary of a 24th-century Romulan scientist called Vellek, giving a name to what was a background character in the season 6 Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Chase.” By the end of “Red Directive,” Kovich put all the pieces together, revealing the quest for this season: to discover the source of the power of the ancient beings who revealed themselves (via an ancient recording) to Captain Jean-Luc Picard and representatives from other species.

In “Red Directive,” Kovich briefs Captain Burnham with a shot from “The Chase”

At SXSW, Paradise talked about why this TNG episode from 1993 was a perfect fit for their plans for season 5:

“‘The Chase’ is an episode that had stuck with many of us because it addresses such huge ideas and huge themes. Where do we come from? The creation of life. And then it was this one episode, and then then that was it. And then they had another episode after that. And it just felt like that was something that just left us with many, many questions. What happened after that? What if? And so when we were thinking about this season in particular, and what we were going to be doing thematically and our characters looking at questions of meaning questions of purpose, it felt like that was a really great place to go back to as a launching point for this adventure, and that it was thematically resonant.”

Star Trek: The Next Generation was designed to be episodic, so naturally, the show did move on to other stories. But introducing the notion that a single race (the Progenitors) seeded the galaxy with what became sentient humanoid life like Humans, Cardassians, Klingons, Romulans, and beyond is quite intriguing. The Progenitors were explored in the (non-canon) extended Star Trek Universe, but now Discovery is picking up the story and using it as the basis for the fifth and final season.

In “Under the Twin Moons,” Captain Burnham views a Progenitor from “The Chase”

“The Chase” is the starting point

At the WonderCon early screening of the season premiere, Paradise talked about how they have been thinking about the Progenitors for a while:

“We had been talking about the Progenitors, actually, in season 4, and it wasn’t something that ended up playing out. But the episode ‘The Chase’ is an episode that had stuck with many of us because it explores such big ideas and big themes and yet at the end of the episode, they’re just done and they’re going to go on another mission. And it was it was something that felt like it was something that we could expand on when we were coming into this season… it felt like just a really interesting place to explore for the missions themselves. It felt very rich, this idea of life itself and meaning and using that as a starting point for this adventure.”

In “Red Directive,” Kovich identifies Dr. Vellek from “The Chase”

So “The Chase” is on again. This time Captain Burnham and the USS Discovery are racing against former couriers Moll and L’ak who could be looking to sell the Progenitor technology to the highest bidder. The first two episodes already name-dropped some potential threats to the Federation, including the Breen, the Tholians, and the Orions.

A 24th-century recording of Dr. Vellek restarts “The Chase” in Discovery season 5

The fifth and final season of Discovery debuted with two episodes on Thursday, April 4 exclusively on Paramount+ in the U.S., the UK, Switzerland, South Korea, Latin America, Germany, France, Italy, Australia, and Austria. Discovery will also premiere on April 4 on Paramount+ in Canada and will be broadcast on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel in Canada. The rest of the 10-episode final season will be available to stream weekly on Thursdays. Season 5 debuts on SkyShowtime in select European countries on April 5.

Keep up with news about the Star Trek Universe at TrekMovie.com.

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So I hope this will be a fun chat about what all of this season will end up being!

So far… This seems like it’s going to be the “fetch quest” of Rise of Skywalker used as filler for multiple episodes.

Beyond that, there’s two things about this that make little sense.

1) What is the value/threat of this tech? The Dominion had the ability to create entire species genetically engineered to act as their servants while hardcorded to serve specific functions and a tendency towards obedience because of an ingrained belief the Changelings were living gods.The Ancient Humanoids seeded worlds over huge timescales to produce humanoid species (unless we’re going to retcon TNG’s “The Chase”).

2) The implication from Kovich is this information has been classified for centuries under a “Red Directive” and wasn’t released to the public. I just CANNOT see Picard going along with a coverup of this entire thing. The same guy that berated Wesley for how wearing a Starfleet uniform means a commitment to personal truth and scientific truth went along with a coverup that hid the origin of humanoid life? That just doesn’t seem consistent with Picard’s character or feel like it jives with everything we’ve been shown pre-Discovery.

I made a similar argument about the Genesis device from Khan. In that case tho, the device could create entire new worlds and life, but no one ever said anything about sentient beings.

As for the Founders, well, maybe they did have the tech but they were lost over time as well. I know everyone hates me pointing this out, but Salome Jens played both the OG Progenitor as well as the female changeling. And both had the same makeup. It’s quickly becoming my head canon that the founders are the descendants of the Progenitors.

Picard has flat out lied to Moriarty, his ethics definitely can float as circumstances dictate.

I wonder if this was as much inspired by the engineer race in prometheus as by the progenitors, just minus the former’s malevolent jerkfulness.

Did Picard really lie? When Barkaly brought Moriarty back he said that the Federations best minds were working on a way to free him but had not solved anything. What else was he supposed to do?

He said holo matter couldn’t leave the holodeck, yet the note Data took him was holo-matter and it left the deck.

That sounds more like a mistake with the writing staff than it does Picard’s issue. Even the Doctor from Voyager had the same issue without his emitter. So that would have to mean that Janeway and B’elanna and everyone else was lying too.

The director of the episode, Rob Bowman, was on record in CINEFANTASTIQUE over this, kinda freaking out over Picard lying while also admitting that Moriarty is the baddest MF in space.

Hmmm, interesting, ,

you can assume that inanimate matter made on the holodeck is no different than replicated meals or food or other physical stuff. you can take it with you. it’s just the people that cant leave. if you were shot on the holodeck with the safety off, the bullet is still there when you get to sickbay. the arch would act as a replicator

I’m not sure that is true tho. If you get shot on the holodeck, the bullet hole would still be there but have we ever seen an instance where the actual bullet was?

You make an excellent point about replicators vs holodecks. And I can’t think of a reason to refute it except to say those are just the laws of treknology and their canon is canon.

I didn’t realize the arch did anything except function as a control panel and EXIT signpost.

I think the TNG writer’s guide that had all the tech stuff in it (around season 4 anyway, which is when I got one) denoted a difference between the levels of resolution (reality?) on replifood versus holomatter. I won’t swear to that, but wherever I came by the info, it actually wound up influencing one of my pitches rather heavily, called THE HOLLOW MEN, where a principal in the origin of the holodeck comes aboard and almost does some serious damage when he decides to intercede in a PD situation and send down a mobilized repli-army to stop the fighting. (Best of intentions and all that, but we know from TOS how that usually works out.)

It doesn’t sound like much (and out of the stories I pitched, I think it was next to last), but it did have a runner/c-plot — the only thing in my pitches Jeri Taylor liked as I recall — about Picard trying to get off the ship to avoid a birthday party. I remember the holo-army looked kind of like Easter Island faces, and that at the end there’s supposed to be an intentionally humorous moment when they are reprogrammed to sing ‘happy birthday’ to the captain, which I thought would look scarily funny, sort of like Max-Headroom-gone-Kabuki.

I’ve always thought this was how holodecks worked as well. Anything you could feel, touch, and taste was replicated matter (animated by tractor beams like marionettes in the case of “living” things,) while everything out of reach was a hologram.

Otherwise… could you imagine going on a holodeck, gorging yourself on a meal (and how would a hologram project taste into your closed mouth?) and then leaving only to have the holographic meal “disappear” from your stomach the moment you walked out?

I’m just picturing all the eating disorders people would have in the future!

Why would you assume Picard knew? Just because he is pivotal to the episode of the Chase. It sounds like Intelligence found that the Romulans had found something more. If so why on Earth would we assume Picard had any knowledge whatsoever about it.

I interpreted the coverup not to be of the origins of life, but that the power source had been identified. There’s no on-screen evidence that Picard knew of that, or participated in any sort of cover-up.

I 100% loved the episode. Super excited about the season. Poor Fred!!!!!

LOL Fred should have chosen to take after Data instead of Lore :-P

A lot of people think they will find a way to bring Fred back. I hope so.

And it’s the 32nd century it can’t be that hard lol.

A thought about Coppelius androids….aren’t they conceived as twins?

To be honest, I find the first two Discovery episodes to be pretty decent–neither bad nor great–but fun, IMHO. More power to those who loved them more than I do, yet more power to those who were like “Curse that junk! I’m sticking with Star Trek classics from 1966 to 2005.” I’m still more hyped about season two of Prodigy, but I’m ready to see how things do with the Discovery heroes.

I think that’s a fair assessment. People do seem to be liking the season overall but I seen plenty of people who still think it’s just more of the same from Discovery and wasn’t impressed at all.

I am currently in the former camp and I see a lot of potential here. But yes of it just falls into more melodrama, filler episodes or something lame like someone wearing a Section 31 time travel suit or a crying Kelpian kid causing the Burn then I will be deeply disappointed… again.

But I do think the premise has intrigued most people at least.

And I’m more excited for Prodigy as well!

I think this was a brilliant idea to do. The Chase was always one of those stories they could’ve done much more with but the nature of the show made it difficult.

And that’s the crazy thing about Star Trek, it really does go for these grand ideas but because they are encountering so many of them it really does feel like just another day at the office. Everyone goes ‘wow cool, OK, let’s send the report to Starfleet we just uncovered the origins of humanoid life in the galaxy but we’re late for the Cetis III conference to discuss agriculture trade and I hear they are passing out T-shirts for everyone who attends. Step on it Mr. Data we don’t want to miss out.”

Now is it just more nostalgia bait and a way to get more TNG fans onboard, of course; but I don’t look at it as a negative the way I do as yet another version of TWOK the movies constantly do. This is as Trek as you can get and a great reminder why we love this franchise so much to tackle big themes like this.

So I am generally excited and really did like the first two episodes. But same time I been here basically every season with this show and it always shows a lot of promise in the beginning just to fall flat by the end. I’m really really hoping this sticks to landing this time since this is the last time they can get it right.

We’ll see.

The t-shirt at Cetis III joke had me laughing out loud! It truly described how TNG approached stories. So thanks for that!

I do like the creative decision to expand on the concept rather than try to remake it. It’s helping keep the story fresh. Although, I will say I haven’t seen any big discussions about the tech. We know the Federation classified it as a red directive, but the main characters haven’t actually discussed the implications of it. Then again, there are quite a few episodes left to go, so maybe this will pop up in the future.

Lol you’re welcome! But yes true.

And yeah I like that it feels more like a sequel, just one set 800 years later lol. That’s what makes Star Trek unique and these stories can be revisited literally centuries later like the MU episodes on DS9 or the Borg showing up in Enterprise.

It is odd no one has bothered to tell us what a Red Directive even means..I guess they will explain it eventually but I’m guessing it’s tech related and obviously dangerous.

Truth be told I think every trek that came after TOS was a bit of nostalgia bait. But there is nothing wrong with that. People care about nostalgia for a reason because we are finite and like being reminded me have ties to our past and it isn’t gone if we remember it (Just IMHO)

True but I do agree NuTrek probably does it a bit TOO much at times but we’ve had that discussion more times to count.

I don’t mind it as long as it fits into the story well and not feel too shoe horned like other stories in the past .

Yeah that’s true too. TBH I don’t think this is just a Trek problem but a problem in all of Hollywood. Heck, even beyond Hollywood in business.

Discovery relies too much on its past.

Star Trek 14 can’t get made because, let’s be real here, they tried something new and after 3 movies it failed and they have no clue what to do next except rehash the past.

I could say the same of the Law and Order franchise (welcome back Stabler) or the now cancelled Quantum Leap show (OMGOMGOMG when is Bakula coming back!) or pretty much anything else I can think of.

Beyond even Hollywood, when was the last time we had a revolutionary new invention like the iPhone that changed the world.

Frankly those that are the creatives of the world, whether they be inventors or writers, have just become complacent. It’s sad but IMHO that’s where we are.

Oh yeah I have said this myself many times, it’s not a Star Trek issue but a Hollywood franchise issue. Everyone seems to know this but the complaints about legacy characters and appeasing old fans continues. But Kurtzman made it clear in that recently Vanity Fair article, they know Trek needs new fans to grow also know turning their back on the old fans would be detrimental to say the least.

And while I don’t think the Kelvin movies did that and really did try to appeal to old fans (with mixed results) they also proved it’s just not easy to get new fans invested on a deeper level or those movies should’ve been bigger hits and seen with a wider lens but I digress.

As for the shows my guess is the fan service aspect will probably never go away for one simple reason and every time they do it, the response is usually beyond positive and always met with great fanfare. Look at Discovery season 2. SNW and Picard season 3. Picard in general had huge fanfare just having Picard himself back but marred by the first two seasons.

As long as fans keep reacting positively to it why would they stop? It’s exactly why I’m 100% confident a Legacy show will eventually happen because it’s everything they know the fan base wants.

Yeah it sucks Quantum Leap got cancelled but I bet if Bakula returnned even just in a smaller guest star role the ratings would’ve been so much higher. I think his absence really felt too much of a hole for a lot of older fans to accept. Just proves the point again and again.

Yuppers about everything you said. Don’t get me wrong, I would like a Legacy show myself because I don’t think nostalgia is a bad thing. The problem is when you have to ONLY rely on nostalgia and the past to ironically try to move forward you are spinning your wheels. If we need the old to keep some people remembering their childhoods so be it but we can’t be stuck there. We have to move forward.

And ya about Quantum I would bet anything if Bakula was even remotely interested in returning we’d get a season 3. But if you look across the net and such SO MANY people are like when is Sam coming back and everyone else keeps saying stop asking Scott already said no and IMHO it just created negative attention and hurt ratings.

Bakula’s involvement wouldn’t change the ratings. i mean , he was NEVER going to be the lead again.

Perhaps but if the old fans who never ended up tuning in did so because he was going to be there it might have given them a chance to like the show.

I don’t know if I completely agree with that. I’m certain interest would’ve spiked higher if he was announced to show up this season even in just a guest star role. For most QL fans, Bakula is the show even if they liked the new cast.

But that said I still don’t know if the ratings would’ve been high enough to save the show so you may have still been right in the end.

I’m waiting until the end of the season to decide whether to watch it or not. I find that your views on Discovery usually mirror mine, so will be following your reviews as a metric to decide whether it is worth a 10 hour investment.

Wow I appreciate that! 😊

HOPEFULLY you’ll be reading a lot more positive reviews from me through the finale. But if it ends up going south I won’t sugarcoat it either.

But honestly I wish I had your will power. And before we heard the show was cancelled I did consider just waiting to binge this season too. I probably would’ve just watched it though especially with no new Trek on for this long now.

Normally I would do the same but there has been too much of a breadth of Trek lately and I will take what I can get. Having said that I am enjoying what I have seen thus far.

Well, I was pleasantly surprised in the best way possible by the end of season four, I don’t trust this production team in this writing staff to handle philosophical big issues in a meaningful or resonant way.

The quotes here are so generic. Big ideas, huge themes… could you say something more specific? Something more intriguing?

The Chase is on of my favorite episodes of TNG. I’m not sure it was crying out for a sequel.

I love the idea of a treasure hunt with deep philosophical ideas. But I’m afraid it will be more philosophmorical

Agreed! Not every good idea needs a sequel, let alone a reboot, reimagining, or remake.

Honestly I haven’t seen yet how this season is a reboot, reimagine or remake but simply a continuance. If they undo cannon in some way then, hey, I am the first one to always call that out. But the best continuances in history (Wrath of Khan, Emipre) prove that the ideas work.

I mistyped. Apologies. I meant to include “sequelized” but forgot.

All of my old man on a porch griping aside, I’m curious where they’re going with this, hoping beyond all hope they don’t tie it into the Dominion.

I don’t think the dominion will be involved but my thoughts (which are always wrong) are that this will somehow bring them back to the 23rd century and reset the Temporal Cold War and this version of the 32nd century, burn included.



“The Chase” is one of those TNG stories that really should have been set aside for a feature film. I can understand that at the time of “Yesterday’s Enterprise” they weren’t thinking that far ahead, but by the time of “The Chase” (and “Relics”) they should have realized it had big screen potential. The origin of all humanoid life in the galaxy, you don’t get much bigger than that!

Totally. A story that epic in scope deserved to be explored and I am happy DISCO is doing it, as long as they do not screw it up.

I’m with the Klingon. “That’s it?!”

If she weren’t already dead, I would kill her.

That guy was a lot of fun.

I think TPTB realized it had potential as a feature, or at the very least a season-ender, but they were totally strapped for shootable scripts and had to put it into the pipeline immediately. That’s how it was reported in CINEFANTASTIQUE volume 24 issue 3/4 anyway.

Re Yesterdays Enterprise as a feature , they could’ve simply used a similar scenario but reversed the ships for ‘Generations’ and had the Ent D going back in time to the 23rd Century encountering the Ent A .Basically ‘Tomorrow’s Enterprise’ with the two casts (the ToS films frequently pillaged episodes for plots TMP, TVH, TFF, so it’d have been no different), but ZOMG how could they ever afford them all?! Both casts on screen, at the same time?! Why it would cost BILLIONS! Shatner & Nimoys favored nation clause alone for them to share the screen with Stewart/Spiner would surely eat up the entire budget! And ILM’s fees to have the all important Enterprises locked in combat (to go on the 27×40 one sheet ) would be so astronomical it’d cause Rick Berman to fall out of his chair with a heart attack!

The Star Trek: Generations budget was $35 million and that included two Enterprises (B and D.) They tried to get Nimoy but he didn’t like the script and said no. Yesterday was a much, much stronger story. Add a few million more for the rest of the TOS cast and proceed. Star Trek: Yesterday’s Enterprise coming to theaters, June 1995. Box Office goodness!

Certainly, it’s a legit move. Very happy to see they’re picked this thread up again. In TNG, they basically found the ultimate key to the question of our existence and never bothered to stick it in the lock.

The Chase was Star Trek V done right. Picard found the actual God that created life in the universe. Not through divine abilities, but through actual science.

Now, how do the Progenitors link with the origin of life on Earth as seen in All Good Things and, for that matter, WHERE were they when Q took Picard to the moment life was first created on Earth? Were they watching from orbit in their ship or something?

I think in episode 2 there has been some loose language thrown around about “the creators of all life” or something similar. But that is not what The Chase established. Note the words of the hologram of the Ur-humanoid (not then called “Progenitor”) in The Chase:

Our scientists seeded the primordial oceans of many worlds, where life was in its infancy. These seed codes directed your evolution toward a physical form resembling ours — this body you see before you.

This is consistent with Q’s messing around with the primordial “goop” in All Good Things.

As others have observed, no mention was made in The Chase about some sort of mind-boggling, let alone destructive, technology the Progenitors possessed, though presumably they were extremely advanced having a million-year-head start and being able to do what they claimed to have done. We’ll see how this develops as the season unfolds.

I hope they link it all up.

Agree totally!


This is what I alluded to elsewhere in the thread when I mentioned PROMETHEUS, where you see an actual seeding of the oceans with DNA and whatever other genetic stew.

Of course, also known as “The Preservers” in The Paradise Syndrome. I am Kirok!

I kept thinking that progenitors were probably Sargon’s people (who I guess could also be the preservers, now that I think about it again.) Sargon’s backstory with them coming to believe they were gods and it being their undoing would have dovetailed better with the potentially destructive technology of this new storyline, plus it could have paid off as being more related to intellect and emotion than to gadgetry (or that it was a consciousness-emboldening gadget a la FORBIDDEN PLANET, which kind of gets me excited further thinking about it.)

Actually, finding some other consciousness-in-a-ball containing one of The Sargon Bunch could be the basis for something cool in a new series. Though I don’t think current acting styles would allow for the spirited debate about sharing consciousness the way TOS’ ‘risk is our business’ does, which is a way I initially found cringe-worthy but grew to admire — in spite of the melodramatic excess of both performance and underscore — as a different but equally valid form of Pure Kirk, which I typically think of as s1 understated, like CHARLIE X and BALANCE OF TERROR.

That’s an interesting idea. You’ll recall that Sargon kept calling the Enterprise folks “my children” or “my child.” — But then so did Apollo, I think :-)

But it was definitely not because they were short for other ideas.

The whole thing about WHEN to open up the mystery box is really a biggie with Trek. It’s the suspense vs. surprise thing that Bennett talks about in THE MAKING OF STAR TREK II book by Allan Asherman (or maybe it is the same author’s THE STAR TREK INTERVIEW BOOK.)

I mean, before TMP became TMP, when it was the IN THY IMAGE tv pilot, they figure out what vger is just past the midpoint in the film (which to me works better and avoids the letdown, which was voiced by a disappointed friend of mine in the theater opening day as ‘it’s a dish.’)

Bennett was right to push the ‘search for God’ aspect of TFF back to the end of act 2, because otherwise it is unsustainable.

It might be that the ideal way to reveal stuff is in TWOK, because you hear about Genesis off&on, get hints about what it does and potential badassedness of it, and then find out about it fully right before the first big shootout, which puts it and everything at risk, and then leads to his getting hold of it. And then you actually get a payoff where it is deployed rather than just serve as a macguffin.

I actually like the idea of opening the box early on this season of the series (though I doubt I’ll watch it, been too disappointed to even watch s3 and 4 at all outside of a couple youtube clips), because then it gives you time to get a sense of wonder about possibilities inherent (sort of like the middle part of THE CHASE, when there’s an overwhelming sense of intellectual excitement being voiced.)

So now they follow up on The Progenitors. I was genuine surprised about that.

I don’t have a problem Discovery picking up the plot thread from The Chase. It’s not a bad idea at all.

I wonder what they will do with it? Is there going to be any amazing revelation or will the technology or whatever just be destroyed at the end?

For what it’s worth, I really enjoyed the season 4 ending. I felt like they stuck the landing there, whereas the Burn ending for season 3 just failed.