Star Trek Discovery: The Burn – The Burning Question

this might be the species that the person Saru (Doug Jones) belongs to. They're cut off from the Federation, because of "The Burn"
The Burn

Theories about events and plots in shows are always fun. Indeed, even more so when it comes to Star Trek. Conversely, there are those that are so wild, they’re laughable. However, there are others that are feasible, and some even truly inspired. Theories show how dedicated some fans are; and their extensive knowledge base. Whilst most of us have long forgotten events in previous Trek shows, there are those who remember. Here, we discuss one such event from an episode of Voyager, and consider if it could be related to the plot, in the upcoming Star Trek: Discovery season three. We investigate what might have been responsible for “The Burn” . . .


The Burn


What is “The Burn?” No doubt we’ll find out as Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) – no pun intended – and co, navigate the future. Following on from the events of the second season’s finale, the U.S.S. Discovery is in the year 3188. That’s 930 years from where they were.

In this trailer, we learn some important information. It concerns the state of The Federation, and Starfleet. Booker, a resident of the future world, tells Burnham of “The Burn”. It’s described, according to Booker as the day “the galaxy took a hard left”. We don’t know what that means. It seems pretty bad. Undoubtedly, the trailer hints that things are pretty desolate. Evidently, there’s the wreckage of various ships. Smashed up saucer sections and burnt-out nacelles. Despite that, it’s fair to assume it would take something huge to rock Starfleet and The Federation at the core. Turns out, we may have already had a glimpse . . .

Voyager Link


The events of “The Omega Directive” (Voy S4 Ep21) episode have been highlighted as the possible source of “The Burn”. The mysterious Omega element certainly seems to have the capacity to cause devastation on a massive scale. The fact that Starfleet are so secretive about the very existence of the stuff is concerning. So too is the impetus placed on destroying the molecule.

Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) also refers to a “primitive species”, that discovered the Omega particle could “burn the sky”. The video suggests that this might be the species that the person Saru (Doug Jones) belongs to. They’re cut off from the Federation, because of “The Burn”. Is this who Seven is referring to? is the Omega particle responsible? The episode states very little about the substance. What we are told is: “the molecule was first synthesized over 100 years ago, by a Starfleet physicist named Ketteract”. That does tie in with the timeline of Discovery, which is set around ten years prior to TOS. In turn, TOS is set around 100 years before TNG, DS9 and crucially, Voyager. Interesting. Though it proves nothing, it helps the case for the theory.


Discovery Significance


Overall, the episode deals with Starfleet protocol, as the central premise. It’s pitted against the reality of solving the problem, on a practical level. Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) has to reinterpret strict orders, given the circumstances. This may be of relevance. Just like The crew in Voyager, the crew of Discovery is also stranded. They need a way home. When you throw time travel into the equation (the Red Angel suit), almost anything is possible. Whilst trying to get back, the crew of Discovery, in the distant future, might retroactively cause the directive to require implementing. One way of interpreting the theory, expanding it somewhat.



Critical View


Admittedly, there’s very little solid evidence. In all fairness to the theory’s “author”, they don’t claim that there is. However, circumstantially, things do fit. With this in mind, the best course of action is to look at how Discovery has already used established events from other Trek shows in the franchise.

In the second series of Discovery, Captain Pike’s (Anson Mount) established story arc within Trek canon is reinvestigated. The TOS episode “The Cage” is heavily referenced. They use the original footage. That was the original pilot of TOS. Further still, later in the series, when he touches a time crystal, Pike gets a glimpse of what’s to come. We see how he ends up, in the TOS episodes “The Menagerie” parts I&II. Pike doesn’t accept that future. He questions that his fate’s set in stone. This warrants attention.  Surely, this is deliberately thematic. Possible futures may well be a critical and recurring theme of season three, potentially even the central theme. Precedence already exists. Burnham expressed, to Spock (Ethan Peck), the need for free will to prevail, as opposed to any preordained fate. Proper science-fiction issues, and perfect for Trek.

So, we know that Discovery isn’t afraid to explore Trek canon. The show-runners do at least know their stuff (despite the awful appearance of TOS era Klingons and other gaffes, mostly tech related). As we’re now in the future, the furthest by far that any Trek show has gone, there’s no reason that events from others shows couldn’t be referenced and even riffed on.


Final Verdict


If pushed to say definitely yes, or definitely no, it’s a no. Really, though, it’s more of a probably not. Sometimes, hedge your bets. What the theory definitely shows is that today’s producers of Star Trek want to show a much more nuanced representation of The Federation, as well as Starfleet. One capable of power-politics and deceit. Scandal, flagrant hypocrisy and self-interest. These factors may have been responsible for “The Burn”. The Federation or Starfleet, or even both, might have inadvertently caused the “left turn” to be taken. It’s already clear that in present-day The Federation’s not what it was. We’ve already seen ideas surrounding this concept taken to a farther extreme, in Star Trek: Picard.

What Discovery has done though, is show that the cracks may have always been there. Foremost, the spore drive, so key to everything in the show. Additionally, the tendencies to sideline traditional morality to win the war, in season one of Discovery. Season two’s heavy of use of Section 31 also did it. The use of purloined Terran Empire tech. Trying to use Control (the super A.I.) as a weapon. The show raises key questions. How much power should any one governing body have? What will the price of grave judgment lapses be? Important questions and topics. Likely, answers will be provided. The Discovery crew may have to undo crucial errors made. As stated, potentially their own.




What’s important to take away from this theory is the keenness for fans to establish links. Many won’t accept Discovery as canon. It would be cool if there was an undeniable reference. Crucially, especially one that works well. It would hugely help the show’s reputation, amongst the traditional fan-base.

Lastly, thinking about reasons for fans wanting the shared universe to share moments matters. This is because they care so much about the show, along with the history of it. Such passion explains why, on top of the many series and films, there’s books, comics, novels and then the fan-fictions, too. Even if it doesn’t turn out to be a perfect fit, this is still a cool theory. Well spotted. Expertly spotted, if it turns out to be accurate.

Star Trek Discovery: Season Three starts 15th October 2020 on CBS All Access. Episodes are available on Netflix in the U.K. and elsewhere the next day. Keep up with weekly reviews and other related articles at SciFiPulse.

2 Comments on this post.
  • Jim
    12 October 2020 at 7:38 pm -

    I read today that the burn causes dilithium to explode, which is why warp travel can’t occur and the ships are wrecked. Why dilithium would explode is anyone’s guess.

    • Ian Cullen
      19 October 2020 at 2:59 am -

      Yes. I suspected it be something like that. For some reason, my mind flashed back to an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where they were being warned about excessive warp travel in space or something because of some kind of environmental damage. I can’t remember the episode title. I only vaguely remember it. But I think it was the sixth or seventh season.