The season three finale of Star Trek: Discovery was a big one for Michael Burnham. She had to retake the Discovery from the villain of the season, try to stop some of her closest friends from dying of radiation, and prevent kickstarting a galaxy-wide cataclysm — just to name a few of her recent exploits. But its culmination was a long time coming for the character…even if the show wanted to push against it a little.
Speaking to TV Line recently about the finale, co-showrunner Michelle Paradise discussed the decision to finally give Michael captaincy of the Discovery as it goes on a new mission to bring recovered stockpiles of the warp-engine-fuelling material dilithium to the disconnected branches of the 32nd century Federation. Even though Discovery pitched itself coming in as a show distinctly not about a captain as past Treks had been, people have long expected the show to eventually find itself at a point where Sonequa Martin-Green’s lead would find herself in the captain’s chair. For Paradise, tackling that inevitability meant trying to find a path to it that made sense but also required to play against that inevitability by pushing Michael about as far as she could get from being a captain before she could work her way back there.
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“It felt like we have taken her on this incredible journey over the course of three seasons, and we knew at the start of season three that that’s where we wanted her to end up,” Paradise told TV Line. “It’s something that I think people have been expecting from the time the show started, and so when we began Season 3, the conversations we had were: Well, if that’s where we want her to go, how far away from that can we take her at the top of the season, so she has the most satisfying season three arc possible, but so that it also pays off the journey that she’s had over the course of seasons one and two?”
Michael spends much of the early and middle parts of season three questioning if she even wants to be part of a Starfleet crew at all. Flung far into the future without the Discovery team in tow, she had to feel out the strangeness of the 32nd century for herself, and adapt to it (with the help of David Ajala’s very handsome empath Cleveland Booker, which no doubt helped) outside of the restraints and confines she’d known as a Starfleet officer. Although the season tripped a little in re-aligning just how Michael felt being pulled between desires within and without Starfleet, ultimately her conviction to see things through and risk it all to keep her crew and the Federation at large safe (when big bad of the season Osyraa came knocking) made her path to the chair feel earned.
“Giving her the opportunity to come into this new future and be here for a year without the rest of our heroes on Discovery, and allowing her to grow and change during that time and come back and figure out where she fits in, it felt like the right kind of journey for the character,” Paradise added. “It also allowed us, over the course of season three, to find new layers for that character, and of course new layers for our amazing actress to play.”
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But one interesting thing Paradise touched on in the interview was the idea that not everyone is entirely happy with Michael’s promotion: Lt. Commander Stamets, in particular, bristled at a lot of Michael’s decisions as she fought Osyraa to recover the Discovery, in part because they put his husband, Dr. Culber, and their basically-adopted-child-at-this-point Adira, in great danger. It’s an anger that isn’t entirely addressed or resolved by the show’s climax, and maybe something to tackle in season four…but Paradise seems convinced Stamets will get over it.
“It was a very emotional and deeply personal thing for Stamets: ‘Wait a minute, we’re going to push pause on going back for them? We can’t do that!’ Burnham, of course, absolutely loves Culber and Adira and Saru, but also knew that if they made that choice in the moment, there wouldn’t be a Federation to come back to,” Paradise explained. “And for Stamets, it was just that personal need. Thankfully, she and the crew found a way to do both, but he was obviously still having some emotional responses to that. But I expect him to get past that.”
Hopefully it’s not something that’ll be brushed aside too quickly. Discovery’s mined the potential of its characters disagreeing and not entirely getting along for some interesting consequences over the years. Making one of Michael’s early challenges as captain having to deal with a major member of her team who felt wronged by her would be a fascinating dilemma as Star Trek: Discovery heads on its new mission coming into season four.