Having started out as a prequel to The Original Series, Discovery's third season warped its crew into a strange and distant future. Now they've found their feet in the 32nd century, Star Trek: Discovery season 4 seems set to return the 55-year-old franchise to its most familiar mission: exploring strange new worlds, and seeking out new life and new civilizations.
While the Starfleet Michael Burnham, Saru, Tilly and the rest of the team encountered was a mere shadow of its former self, they eventually discovered the cause of the 'Burn' that had all-but-eliminated warp travel for over a century. In the process they kickstarted the rebirth of the Federation as a galactic power, reopening diplomatic channels with planets like Earth and Ni'Var (formerly Vulcan).
With the arc of the show's third year neatly wrapped up – and principal antagonists the Emerald Chain decimated – Star Trek: Discovery season 4 has the opportunity to truly go where no one has gone before. But what kind of captain will Burnham be now she's finally taken the big job? Will Saru stick around on his homeworld of Kaminar or return to the Starfleet fold? And will Grudge the Cat take her rightful place on the Disco bridge?
We point our sensor array towards the future to explain what we know so far about the Star Trek Discovery season 4 plot, release date, cast, and more.
Star Trek: Discovery season 4 release date
The most important thing to know is that Star Trek: Discovery season 4 is definitely happening and it's in production. The new season was announced on October 16, 2020, just a day after season 3's debut, and filming began a few weeks later on November 2, 2020.
As for an actual Star Trek: Discovery season 4 release date? That's a bigger mystery than the inner workings of Discovery's state-of-the-art spore drive.
While the gap between the show's previous season debuts have been 16 and 21 months respectively, all bets are off now that the Toronto-based production is taking place under Covid-19 restrictions. All of the cast had to quarantine for two weeks before cameras started rolling, and star Doug Jones (Saru) admitted to TrekMovie that things are going a little slower than usual.
"Well, we're plodding along," he said. "We're getting things shot and it's going beautifully. It's just going a bit slower, because of Covid protocols. There are a few more hoops to jump through to get your day done. So with that slower pace, we're still getting it done. And they are keeping us very safe. It’s all worth it in the end."
With production not expected to wrap until June – and everything else that's going on in the world – the Star Trek: Discovery season 4 release date is likely to be either very late-2021 or even early 2022. That said, with stablemate Star Trek: Picard only starting its own long-delayed shoot on February 1 (as revealed by star Jeri Ryan on Twitter), Paramount Plus may decide to accelerate Discovery's return to maintain Trek's TV presence.
Star Trek: Discovery season 4 trailer
The first Star Trek Discovery season 4 trailer has arrived, and surprisingly early at that.
Featured as part of the franchise's First Contact Day celebrations, the teaser showcases what the crew (and the new captain) are getting up to this season. Their main concern appears to be a "gravitational anomaly" that is threatening not only the universe but also seems to have done some serious damage to Discovery's bridge. Watch the full trailer above for more.
Star Trek: Discovery season 4 plot
The latest wave of live-action Trek TV shows deal in season-long arcs. So, following the trend set by its predecessors and Star Trek: Picard season 1, Discovery's third outing wrapped up most of its biggest plotlines by the time the end credits rolled.
Even so, the Star Trek: Discovery season 4 plot will undoubtedly explore more than the crew coming to terms with their shiny new grey uniforms. In fact, now they've discovered a convenient stash of previously ubiquitous starship fuel dilithium – in galaxy-crippling short supply after the infamous 'Burn' – they can get on with exploring the universe, as well as taking the Federation's message to the masses.
"I can’t really talk about season 4 specifically, but thematically season 3 was all about connection and disconnection and finding our way back to one another," returning showrunner Michelle Paradise told TVLine. "And the 'Burn' made that impossible in many cases, because civilization simply didn’t have the means to reach one another. So that felt like an important journey to start at the end of our season: how do we press forward in the process of reconnecting worlds with one another? That felt like the important first step. Now that they have a cache of dilithium – and certainly they'll have to be responsible to not repeat the mistakes of the past and just overuse it – it felt like the right place to both end the season and tee up whatever is to come."
Going on the show's past form, that future is likely to involve some familiar aliens. The series revels in its callbacks to Treks past – season 3 featured franchise stalwarts the Trill, the Vulcans, and the Andorian, not to mention iconic time travel portal the Guardian of Forever – so it would be a huge surprise if that fan service didn’t continue into the Star Trek: Discovery season 4 plot. Could we see returns for the Klingons, the Cardassians (now revealed to be members of the Federation, as Inverse highlighted) or even – whisper it – the Borg?
On board Discovery, Dr. Culber's mission to give corporeal form to Gray (who currently only exists in Adira's mind) is sure to be a priority: "To be super clear, we will pay that moment off in season 4," Paradise told Inverse. "Gray will be seen. That promise will be paid off."
Now that Ensign Tilly's got experience of command, it'll be interesting to see if she's hungry for more? Will she be vying to take the First Officer role permanently? And if so, will Starfleet finally see fit to give her the promotion she deserves? She can't stay an Ensign forever…
Perhaps the biggest question, however, concerns how Michael Burnham settles into her new role as captain of the ship. Despite a long history of insubordination – and numerous career setbacks over the course of Discovery's missions – she's repeatedly shown herself to be the most capable officer in Starfleet. But how will she handle the big chair?
"We knew going into the season that [the captaincy] was where we wanted to end," Paradise explained in an interview with Inverse. "It was about taking her as far from that point as we could, so we could watch her journey into the captain's chair. We've watched her over the course of three seasons, and this felt like the right time to do it. And we're excited to see what she does next."
One of Burnham's biggest jobs will be getting Stamets back on side, seeing as he's been carrying a major grudge since she left his husband, Dr. Culber, trapped in a potentially lethal nebula. Pragmatism may prompt Stamets to fall in line, however, now that his USP (the ability to operate Discovery's spore drive) is shared by Burnham's empathic boyfriend, Book.
Anthony Rapp also told the It Do Take Nerd with Jackie Cox podcast that Stamets is sharing scenes with a Discovery actor he "hasn't really got to interact one-on-one with" up to this point. Answers on a postcard, please.
One thing the Star Trek season 4 plot will not concern itself with, however, is finding a way for the crew to make it back to their original 23rd century home – even though the phenomenal Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) was sent back in time in season 3.
"We did not want the time jump to be a gimmick," executive producer and Trek overlord Alex Kurtzman told IndieWire. "There are so many extraordinary new opportunities and story options [in the 32nd century], that it feels like an endless well. We're also now separated from pre-existing canon, which means we get to write the future of Star Trek on this show, and it's entirely fresh snow."
Star Trek: Discovery season 4 cast
Okay, admit it – the one you really want to know about Grudge the Cat. And yes, it Book's moggy "queen" is purring back into action for season 4. "[She's] by far the breakout star of any Trek series ever," Paradise joked with TVLine. "I think at some point, we just need to name the ship after her."
Despite the fact that the show's season 3 finale put the entire crew in harm's way, the only significant casualties were Osyraa and her Emerald Chain goons. That means all of the principal players should be back in the fold in the Star Trek: Discovery season 4 cast.
So expect the Discovery bridge to have a familiar feel with Sonequa Martin-Green as Captain Michael Burnham, David Ajala as Cleveland 'Book' Booker, Anthony Rapp as Lt Cmdr Paul Stamets, Mary Wiseman as Ensign Sylvia Tilly, Wilson Cruz as Hugh Culber, Blu del Barrio as Adira, Ian Alexander as Gray, Emily Coutts as Lt Keyla Detmer, Oyin Oladejo as Lt Joann Owosekun, Patrick Kwok-Choon as Lt Gen Rhys, Ronnie Rowe as Lt R.A. Bryce and Sara Mitich as Lt Nilsson.
Tig Notaro will also be back as laconic, scene-stealing engineer Jett Reno, though TrekMovie reports that she'll only report for duty on the second block of filming in May, due to Covid travel concerns.
Despite Saru abandoning ship to spend some extended shore leave on his homeworld of Kaminar, Doug Jones will be reprising his role as Starfleet's first Kelpien officer. "Doug Jones is not going anywhere," Paradise told Comicbook.com. "Saru will be back, a hundred percent, in season four. So rest easy, sleep well. We're not letting Doug go anywhere. We're holding onto him."
Paradise also confirmed that Starfleet Commander-in-Chief Admiral Charles Vance "is still a presence moving forward," while Variety confirmed that legendary horror director David Cronenberg will be reprising his role as the Federation's most sinister operative, Kovich. Of course, it remains to be seen if we'll find out any more about his motives.
And don’t be surprised if we see Trek regular Kenneth Mitchell returning as Osyraa's chief scientific officer Aurellio. He remained on Discovery after his boss's demise, and it looks like he has plenty to offer Starfleet as it rebuilds.
While we await our next trek, be sure to check out all the best Netflix shows streaming right now.