Warp Factor Trek

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Season Three of Star Trek: Discovery won me over to the series. I had serious concerns about the first two seasons, but the show’s writers and producers got it beautifully right in season 3, which turned out to be the Star Trek I didn’t know I needed. In retrospect, it’s amazing they had no idea how absolutely timely the themes they chose for the third season would become for the year 2020, a year that was “the best of times, and the worst of times.”

The crew of Discovery had suddenly been flung far from home, far from family and friends, isolated from the organization they’d devoted their lives to. This resonated so strongly with many of us, who were separated from our loved ones throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Culber taking notes on the stressed crew (CBS-Paramount)

In his personal log from the episode “Forget Me Not”, Dr. Hugh Culber states, “It’s starting to hit everyone just how little we have to hold on to. The personal moments we use to define ourselves, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, funerals, we’ve jumped past all of them. We feel lost, disconnected.” Similarly having to miss all our usual group celebrations, we could relate to the Discovery crew.

Isolated, many of us found ourselves caring for small children, alone without support. Many found ourselves isolated from our jobs. We could relate to the work overload Discovery’s crew experienced.

When we went into lockdown due to the pandemic, we knew our entire lives had changed. Just as Michael had her moment when she realized Starfleet was gone, and when Saru and Tilly met their adversary Zareh, they realized everything had changed for them.

Saru held a dinner party for members of the crew in “Forget Me Not” (CBS-Paramount)

How did we, and how did Discovery‘s crew, remain sane? In the beginning of the pandemic, we turned to virtual activities and our favorite shows on Netflix. These activities helped to meet our needs for connection, just as Saru’s dinner party helped to meet the crew’s need for connection. But we missed in-person communication. And even though the crew had the opportunity to be around a table together, an opportunity we did not have, their respective challenges kept them from connecting with each other.

But how, under such challenging conditions, can connection be found? In the immediate crisis, connection can be almost impossible to find. Separated from the rest of the crew for an entire year, Michael met Book but they fought and argued with each other before they could find connection. Saru’s caring attempt to bring his crew together for a dinner party blew up in his face, as Detmer’s PTSD finally came to the surface. Adira felt disconnected from themselves because of the unfamiliarity of their symbiont and the bitter rejection of the Trill homeworld. Georgiou found herself fighting any attempt by the crew to connect with her as she experienced a grave illness. We, too, found ourselves struggling for connection. It’s clear, from the Discovery crew’s journey and from our own experience, that trauma can make it difficult to form the connections that will serve as life savers.

Saru and Culber discussing the crew (CBS-Paramount)

In “Forget Me Not”, Dr. Culber acknowledging that the crew wasn’t okay and rhetorically asking, “How could we be?” speaks for all of us. Yet, Culber was just the right person to, under Saru’s command, guide that devastated crew to heal their connections. He helped bring the crew together and made himself available to counsel troubled crew members.

The Discovery crew found connection with each other in other ways too. Reunited with Michael, they returned to Earth, bonded over a Buster Keaton movie, and finally found Federation Headquarters together. Saru connected with Tilly over the shared burden of command of the traumatized crew, which was terrified of being torn apart. Adira and Paul connected over music, as they played piano and cello together. Adira reflected on their memories of connecting with Grey over a handmade quilt that included symbols of their shared life together. Adira and Michael united as they undertook a dangerous journey to the heart of Trill, and Michael was at Adira’s side as they connected with the former hosts of the Tal symbiont. From here on, the crew would no longer be alone.

Likewise, we who lived through the pandemic found ways to connect. Videos of Italians singing to one another from their balconies inspired similar singing events around the world. We shared art and writing and poetry we loved, and those things formed the golden threads of connection that held us together when we had to remain apart.

The Burn – an explosive loss of connection (CBS-Paramount)

Eventually, we discovered it had been a loss of connection which had caused the great cataclysm known as “The Burn” that had torn the Federation apart. That loss of connection had manifested in the form of the lost cry of a young Kelpian who had lost everyone he loved. Saru, Michael, and Hugh connected with that lost and lonely soul through story and shared history, and he, like the Discovery crew, like those of us who survived the pandemic, learned he was no longer alone.

In “Forget Me Not”, Dr. Culber gave us, and his crew, hope by talking about “post-traumatic growth.” Post-traumatic growth does not, in any way, mean we have not experienced trauma; it doesn’t minimize or deny the impact of it. It gives us hope that, once we have begun the healing process and have come to terms with our trauma, we can grow and blossom as people on the other side of that trauma.

The Discovery crew learned they had each other, could rely on each other, and needed each other, as they processed their own trauma of being displaced citizens of the galaxy. Yet, they found a new purpose in reconnecting with what was left of Starfleet and being a beacon of hope. Michael gave new hope to a man who had waited, maintaining his post and faith, for forty years. The Discovery crew helped stop a plague by procuring seeds from a seed ship, and helped Naan return home. Book reconnected with his estranged brother by using their shared abilities to save a distressed planet. And in the end, the crew was given a new mission, a new captain, and a new purpose. Out of their trauma, the crew members found connection and hope, and they inspired us to do the same.

Ultimately, the crew united under the command of a new captain (CBS-Paramount)

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