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Star Trek: Discovery - Why The Burn Should Have Remained A Mystery

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Star Trek: Discovery season 3 provided satisfying resolutions to most of its storylines, but the mystery of the Burn should have remained unsolved. The catastrophic event that caused most dilithium in the galaxy to become inert was a compelling element of this 32nd-century version of Star Trek. Reuniting the Federation despite current conditions would have made for better storytelling.

Jumping 930 years into the future was one of the smartest decisions the writers and producers of Star Trek: Discovery could have made. By going forward and depicting Starfleet struggling after the Burn and a fractured Federation, the potential for new stories was limitless. The scarcity of dilithium meant the officers and crew of all the ships had to work together to maintain the status quo, let alone protecting the ideals of the Federation. Learning the source of the Burn was unnecessary for the season to feel complete, and after a season-long build-up, any answer was going to be disappointing.

Star Trek: Discovery season 3 already engaged viewers with the ongoing story of the Discovery's crewmembers finding their places in the culture of the 32nd century. As well, Star Trek: Discovery had a great villain in Osyraa of the Emerald Chain. Both of these arcs were compelling in different ways. The first gave Trekkers the human connection that Star Trek has always been known for. The second gave the crew, and indeed all of Starfleet, a "big bad" to battle against. The combination of heart and action is something fans have always responded to, and season 3 delivered both with those two arcs.

The Burn and the resultant limitation of warp travel were also captivating story elements but focusing on the mystery was a mistake as it offered too much potential for a disappointing reveal. Star Trek: Discovery season 3 had already mentioned a ban on time travel as a result of the Temporal Wars from Star Trek: Enterprise, which might have been a better resolution. Alternatively, if the Burn had been caused by the Ni'Var, as was suggested in episode 7, "Unification III" (a sequel to a two-part episode from Star Trek: The Next Generation), it could have led to a deeper exploration of the Romulan-Vulcan hybrid culture.

By linking the source of the Burn to a child's distress and trauma, it not only ended a gripping mystery and eliminated many possible future stories, but it also diminished the impact of Su'Kal's story. Introduced in episode 11, "Su'Kal" and continuing in the season finale, "That Hope Is You, Part II," the tale of this long-abandoned, traumatized child would have been just as heartbreaking without him being the unintentional catalyst for a galactic catastrophe. As another isolated Kelpian, Saru's choice to remain on Kaminar and guide Su'Kal into the world outside his holodeck upbringing would have been just as jarring to viewers (though it was perfectly in character for Saru).

Resolving the mystery of the Burn was not necessary for storytelling reasons or viewers' enjoyment, and the ultimate resolution was disappointing. Letting that story stay open-ended would have helped fans remain eager for Star Trek: Discovery season 4 despite a longer-than-usual wait. Telling one story per season results in tighter storytelling overall, but it doesn't mean that every loose end must be tied.
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