Star Trek: Discovery season 2's second episode, "New Eden", made World War III a part of the ongoing mystery of the Red Angel. The luminous, winged being directly interfered at the end of the devastating global conflict, which is a part of Star Trek history that has been referenced many times throughout the franchise. But why did the Red Angel act during this turbulent point in Earth's past?
In "New Eden", the Discovery used its spore drive to jump to the Beta Quadrant as they chased the second of the red signals in space tied to the Red Angel. They found an Earth-like planet called Terralysium which is inhabited by 11,000 humans. On an Away Mission to investigate, Captain Pike and Commander Michael Burnham learned that the ancestors of these people were teleported by the Red Angel to this planet in the waning days of World War III. The "First Saved", as the original survivors called themselves, were brought to Terralysium 200 years ago, in 2053, and believed the Earth was destroyed by a nuclear cataclysm. It's fascinating that Star Trek: Discovery has woven World War III - a pivotal yet largely unexplored period of Star Trek history - into season 2's story arc.
World War III Happened In Star Trek
In Star Trek lore, World War III took place from 2026-2053. It was a devastating nuclear conflict that resulted in the destruction of the world's cities and governments, as well as the deaths of 600 million people. Star Trek history is nearly identical to real-world history until the 1990s, when wars that never happened in reality occurred in Trek canon. The 1990s saw the Eugenics Wars centering around the genetic manipulation that gave rise to Khan, the classic villain Captain Kirk faced in The Original Series and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. A few decades later, eugenics was one of the subjects that sparked World War III. After 27 years of savagery, a cease-fire was signed in San Francisco in 2053 and the human race began to rebuild.
Ten years after World War III ended, the Vulcans made first contact with humanity (with help from Captain Jean-Luc Picard's time-traveling U.S.S. Enterprise-E crew) as seen in Star Trek: First Contact. It took nearly another hundred years but with the Vulcans' help, humanity eliminated poverty, disease, and the desire for money. The United Earth Government was founded in 2150 and Starfleet was established to explore the galaxy. World War III has never been explicitly depicted in Star Trek movies or TV series but it has been mentioned throughout the franchise, especially Star Trek: Enterprise, which takes place roughly a century after the Third World War ended and culminates in the founding of the United Federation of Planets.
Why Did The Red Angel Interfere In World War III?
In 2053, the Red Angel's direct actions saved a handful of people of different faiths who took refuge in a church, waiting for nuclear bombs to fall. Pike watched a few seconds of footage recorded by a soldier's helmet cam showing chaos as the Red Angel appeared in the church's doorway and teleported the entire church and all of its inhabitants away in a flash of light. Once the people arrived on the planet they named Terralysium, they believed they were the last survivors of World War III. They established a non-technological society and combined all of their disparate religious beliefs into one faith centering on the Red Angel as their savior. But why did the Red Angel interfere in the first place?
One theory is that Red Angel is testing the crew of the Discovery; the two red lights they've investigated resulted in two successful rescue missions. However, the Red Angel transported the First Saved to Terralysium 200 years ago - if it did this so that the Discovery could eventually save those people, does that mean the mysterious being exists in non-linear time like the Prophets in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine? Or did the Red Angel save those humans for other reasons, but only later lured the Discovery to Terralysium to save them from extinction? Whatever the answers will be, we are now certain the Red Angel impacted World War III, and this only furthers the central mystery of Star Trek: Discovery season 2.
Star Trek: Discovery streams Thursdays @8:30pm E.T. on CBS All-Access and internationally the next day on Netflix.