Warning: SPOILERS for Star Trek: Discovery season 1 ahead
Throughout its short run, Star Trek: Discovery has never shied away from controversy, including its many dices with ‘official canon’ – something that the show might actually remedy as it heads towards its second season. Despite a great deal of trepidation from the peanut gallery, the show’s producers have repeatedly asked viewers to be patient with them. The latest outing's new look and feel will make sense eventually, or so they claim.
The first chapter ended with a shocking development in "Into the Forest I Go," as Discovery and its crew were transported via the spore drive and a mentally unstable Lt. Stamets (Anthony Rapp) into the Mirror Universe. The iconic, Trek parallel universe, fans first visited it during The Original Series episode "Mirror Mirror" – when Kirk and crew discover their polar opposites, the iron-fisted, back-stabbing Terran Empire. Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and her crew’s trip through the looking glass, however, isn’t just a fun callback to the old days. What they unearth in the Mirror Universe could reconcile many of the series’ contentious changes to Star Trek continuity.
The Defiant Returns to Star Trek...Again
In order to understand the significance of the U.S.S. Defiant (not the same ship from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, FYI), we have to consider its unique, franchise-bridging properties. The starship first appeared on the tense, TOS episode “The Tholian Web.” The Enterprise responds to a distress call from its sister ship, only to discover the crew dead by each other’s hands. Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and his away team realize the Defiant was caught in an interspatial rift (essentially torn between dimensions), which caused its crew to go berserk. Kirk is then marooned on the ship when it phases into another dimension but escapes thanks to Spock's (Leonard Nimoy) clever deduction and Scotty's (James Doohan) usual transporter wizardry.
Now let's go back 100 years: The prequel series, Enterprise, specifically the episode, “In a Mirror, Darkly,” heads back into the alternative realm, with the crew portraying their power-mad, narrow-minded counterparts. Commander Archer (Scott Bakula) and his quarrelsome crew run across the Defiant, which was shunted back in time and into the Mirror Universe. Evil Archer realize they could the rule Terran Empire with it. But Archer’s former lover Hoshi Sato (Linda Park) kills him and (presumably) becomes the new Empress – perhaps retroactively foreshadowing the events from “The Wolf Inside.”
When the Defiant appears on Discovery, though, it isn’t merely fan-service or a fun Easter egg. It could represent a deeply significant development, one which has the power to resolve some of the series' continuity concerns.
How Discovery Can Connect With The Original Series
It’s true that Star Trek: Discovery has heavily tweaked established continuity, including the upgraded tech, new starship design, the never-before-mentioned adopted sister of Spock, and the Klingons’ new countenance. The trippy, multiversal travel of the spore drive itself comes wildly, if intriguingly, out of left field. Upgrading the series’ tech to something at least more advanced than our contemporary world makes sense. But doing so without any real explanation is as jarring as a photon torpedo to the aft shield. Since the show is set ten years from TOS, fan concerns over the look and feel of the show are warranted, if nitpicky.
The Defiant schematic from Discovery, though, echoes the design of the iconic Constitution-class (like the original Enterprise) – although the Terran Empire clearly modified it to suit their warlike needs. Michael, Lt. Tyler (Shazad Latif), and Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) now focus their efforts on finding the anachronistic vessel, believing its sensor logs, which have traveled back and forth through time and space, hold vital information for their homeward journey. Of course, what if they make it back, but their dimension is radically different than they remember it?
Perhaps the crew navigates through a wormhole similar to the one that brought Defiant to the Mirror Universe, but their escapades within the parallel realm itself have altered events in their own timeline. When they emerge, things appear different to them but oddly familiar to fans of TOS and TNG. Or, thanks to getting stuck in another dimension – hence unable to give Starfleet the anti-cloaking device technology it created – the Klingon Empire has become the dominant power. Such brutal losses might push the Federation to use low-tech designs to speed along its warship constructions.
Maybe the Discovery's trip from the Mirror Universe lands them in yet another parallel dimension, one where the ship, uniforms, and the Klingons, etc., match up to the ones fans are familiar with. True, this suggests the show was originally set in an alternative universe itself, but it could lend deeper significance to their journey – suggesting the Prime timeline we know and love wouldn't exist without Burnham and crew's trip to the Mirror Universe. Maybe using new technology or destroying the Defiant to keep it out of enemy hands will alter things forever.
Clearly, some elements of the show fit with the franchise's illustrious heritage. The show’s producers could also use Discovery to explain some of the major technological and aesthetic alterations between TOS and its prequel series, Enterprise – assuming those explanations serve the story. If they do, the writers could, theoretically, square up over a decade’s worth of conflicting aesthetics.
At this point, it’s uncertain what the writers have in mind. Despite a few telegraphed plot twists, producer Aaron Harberts promised a wild ride, as well as answers to complex canonical questions in the second season – which, as of yet has no official release date. At the very least, the back half of the show's inaugural season should tease fans with the ships and uniforms they know so well without tipping its hand as to how the puzzle fits together. Hopefully, the Mirror Universe and the U.S.S. Defiant lead to a genuine Star Trek unification.
Star Trek: Discovery continues with “Vaulting Ambition,” January 21st on CBS All Access.