Star Trek: Discovery season 4: everything we know

The cast of Star Trek: Discovery, which is returning for season 4 on Paramount Plus in 2021.
Book and Captain Michael Burnham return for Star Trek Discovery season 4 in November 2021. (Image credit: Netflix)

Star Trek: Discovery season 4 will warp onto Paramount Plus on November 18, 2021, and a new trailer has dropped as the date gets closer. 

With Michael Burnham now installed as the captain of the ship – the show's fourth commanding officer in as many years – Star Trek: Discovery season 4 will see the crew continuing to explore the distant future of the 32nd century. Having solved the mystery of the so-called “Burn” that had rendered warp travel impossible, and defeated the criminal empire of the Emerald Chain, attentions should now be turning to restoring the Federation to its former glories. Unfortunately, it sounds like a new antagonist is about to get in the way, in the form of a dangerous gravitational anomaly five light years across.  

With Saru, Tilly, Stamets, Culber and all the principal bridge crew back in action, Star Trek: Discovery 4 is set to continue the franchise's ongoing adventures on the final frontier. Here's everything you need to know, but be warned – Spoilers lie ahead for anyone yet to watch the previous seasons.

Release date: Star Trek Discovery season 4 will release on November 18 in the US. The show will roll out on Paramount Plus in the US, and is expected to stream on Netflix elsewhere. 

Story: With Burnham now installed as captain, as mentioned above, the USS Discovery will contend with a massive gravitational anomaly in the 32nd century – the idea is that the crew is dealing with a massive problem to solve this season rather than a specific villain. 

Is there a trailer? Yes. A first teaser for Discovery season 4 debuted in April 2021, and another full trailer dropped in October 2021. 

Star Trek: Discovery season 4 release date

It was confirmed at the Star Trek Day event on September 8 that Star Trek: Discovery season 4 will debut on November 18 in the US. 

The show will release on Paramount Plus, the rebranded version of CBS All Access. Outside the US we expect that – like the previous seasons – the show will stream on Netflix, where it's usually available within hours of its American debut.

The previous season had barely even started airing when Star Trek: Discovery season 4 got the official greenlight on October 16, 2020. Two weeks later, on November 2, production got underway at the show’s Toronto base, and continued until August 2021 – the end of shooting was confirmed in a tweet from showrunner Michelle Paradise

Inevitably, Covid-19 restrictions were a major factor in the shoot. For starters, as dictated by Canadian rules, the cast had to isolate for two weeks before coming to set.

Star Trek: Discovery season 4 also reportedly  took advantage of a pipeline put in place for the previous season, after coronavirus restrictions kicked in. “Our editors, miraculously and heroically, took their editing bays into their living rooms,” Alex Kurtzman, executive producer and overseer of Star Trek’s current raft of TV shows, told IndieWire. “We also scored the entire season [3], mixed the entire season, color-timed the entire season, all from [a] laptop.”

Reports suggest the process was further refined on Star Trek: Discovery season 4, with revealing that the show will make use of the groundbreaking augmented reality LED screens pioneered by The Mandalorian. Suddenly the fact that travel for location filming was off the table didn't seem quite so much of a problem...

Star Trek: Discovery season 4 trailer

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A first teaser trailer for Star Trek: Discovery season 4 was unveiled at the First Contact Day virtual event in April 2021 – watch it above. A second, fuller trailer dropped at New York Comic Con 2021, which you can check out below.

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Star Trek: Discovery season 4 cast

This is the current roll call for Star Trek: Discovery season 4:

  • Sonequa Martin-Green as Captain Michael Burnham
  • Doug Jones as Saru
  • Anthony Rapp as Lt Cmdr Paul Stamets
  • Wilson Cruz as Dr Hugh Culber
  • David Ajala as Book
  • Mary Wiseman as Ensign Sylvia Tilly
  • Blu del Barrio as Adira
  • Ian Alexander as Gray
  • Oded Fehr as Admiral Charles Vance
  • Oyin Oladejo as Lt Joann Owosekun
  • Emily Coutts as Lt Keyla Detmer
  • Patrick Kwok-Choo as Lt Gen Rhys
  • Ronnie Rowe as Lt R.A. Bryce
  • Sara Mitich as Lt Nilsson
  • David Cronenberg as Kovich

It’s a case of ‘as you were’, with most of the established cast returning for another tour of duty – presumably they’re excited to be wearing new-look, Trek-appropriate primary-colored uniforms that don’t look quite so much like tracksuits.

It goes without saying that Sonequa Martin-Green is back as Captain Michael Burnham, and even though her predecessor in the big chair, Saru, has relocated to his home planet of Kaminar, Doug Jones still has a part to play. “It felt important for all of our characters to find new layers for them, to find new place for them to go, new things for our actors to play, and new ways for the characters to go,” showrunner Michelle Paradise told TVInsider. “[In season 3 we highlighted] that Saru hasn’t had a huge connection to Kaminar since leaving, and in a season that is all about connection – family connection and cultural connection – it seemed like an organic place to explore that theme with him.”

Among the lead cast, Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz reprise their roles as Lt Cmdr Paul Stamets and Dr Hugh Culber, while season 3 standout David Ajala is back as the 32nd century’s most famous feline owner, Cleveland ‘Book’ Booker. (Sadly, a Grudge the Cat spin-off is yet to be announced.) And surely Mary Wiseman’s Sylvia Tilly will be looking to make the First Officer role her own.

“[Saru] sees strength in [Tilly] she doesn’t quite see in herself necessarily,” Paradise said in TVInsider. “Then, [we watched] her over the course of the season become more confident in herself to the place where she’s ultimately able to serve as Number One, and having to essentially be acting captain in this crisis situation, where she handles herself beautifully. What does that mean to come is, I’m sure, a question she’ll be asking herself and we’ll be exploring in Season 4.”

The supporting bridge crew will surely be hoping to have a few more stories of their own, continuing their slow evolution from background players to actual characters – now we know that Lt Joann Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo) can hold her breath for 10 minutes, the sky’s the limit. It’ll be interesting to see what – if anything – is in store for Lt Keyla Detmer (Emily Coutts), Lt Gen Rhys (Patrick Kwok-Choon), Lt R.A. Bryce (Ronnie Rowe) and Lt Nilsson (Sara Mitich).

Third season newcomer Blu del Barrio also returns as Adira, human host of the Trill symbiont Tal, along with their boyfriend, Gray (Ian Alexander). Dr Culber’s efforts to give Gray – who can only be seen and heard by Adira – physical form will be a big part of the season, as Gray becomes more and more integrated with the crew. “For season 4 I’ve had a lot more hands-on involvement, like my suggestions for the future of Gray,” Alexander told Inverse. “They already have so much planned. Michelle [Paradise] and Alex [Kurtzman] already have this vision that I’ve very, very excited for everyone to be able to see.”

“Culber does make a promise in our season three finale to Gray that, ‘You will be truly seen,’” Paradise said on a Discovery panel at Outfest (via TrekMovie). “And we absolutely do pay that off in season four. That storyline and making sure we pay it off is hugely important.” It was confirmed by Wilson Cruz (Dr Culber) at Star Trek Day (via Variety) that Gray will be gaining a corporeal form in Star Trek: Discovery season 4. 

Anthony Rapp, who plays Stamets, added that Stamets, Culber, Adira and Gray will become a family in Star Trek: Discovery season 4: “Parenting – they’re not children but they are young people – the pressures of how to be available to be a mentor or guide or parent in the face of job responsibilities and sort of crises, that’s an interesting sort of sub-thread through the through the season… There’s more in the ways Paul and Hugh continue to evolve in their relationship. This is certainly explored also in this season.”

And there’ll be at least two familiar faces at Federation headquarters, where Oded Fehr (Admiral Charles Vance) and legendary movie director David Cronenberg (the mysterious Kovich) will be pulling some strings behind the scenes.

Star trek Discovery s3

Saru (Doug Jones) may have headed off to Kaminar but he still has a role to play in Star Trek: Discovery season 4. (Image credit: CBS All Access/Netflix)

Star Trek: Discovery season 4 plot

Star Trek: Discovery season 4 plot: what can we expect to see?

Michelle Paradise is keeping her cards closer to her chest than The Next Generation crew at one of their regular poker games, though she did admit to TVInsider in January 2021 that the Discovery crew are hanging around in the 32nd century, rather than looking for a way back to their original pre-Kirk-and-Spock timeline. “I don’t expect that,” she said. “All of [the crew] knew going into that at the end of season 2 that this is a one-way trip. Now that they are here, we’re not looking to go back.”

What does that mean for plotlines? “I don’t want to speak specifically to themes, but we do have them!” she joked to “I think season 4 will absolutely continue the kinds of things we were doing in season 3, in that we do have very strong themes that we’re exploring. Star Trek: The Original Series explored present-day things via sci-fi. And that’s what we did in season 3, and I think that’s just baked into what Star Trek does.

“Ultimately the thing that really resonates, I think, with people is, what are our characters experiencing? What are they going through? How are they connecting with one another? What are the challenges they’re facing and how do they overcome them individually and then as a family? All of that I think will continue.”

With the Emerald Chain out of the way, it looks like the threat in Star Trek: Discovery season 4 will be rather different this time out. The trailer reveals that the crew is dealing with a gravitational anomaly “five light years across”, rather than a specific human or alien foe – a force that, as Tilly explains, “could go anywhere, and we may not have any kind of warning at all”.

“We’re actually exploring – we’re diving deep into science – in the fourth season, in a kind of new and interesting way,” said Kurtzman in a panel hosted by Deadline (via TrekMovie). “There have been many kinds of villains over the course of Star Trek. What happens when the villain is not actually any kind of living, breathing entity, but something else? How do you solve that problem?”

Could we be looking at something technological Discovery season 2's hostile AI, Control? Or a lethal inorganic structure like the Crystalline Entity from Star Trek: The Next Generation? ScreenRant has suggested the rather plausible theory that the anomaly could be V’Ger, the rogue space probe from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. In the finale of that movie, V’Ger merged with USS Enterprise first officer Will Decker to attain a new level of consciousness – who knows what it might be capable of nearly a thousand years later...

We can expect Star Trek: Discovery season 4 to follow a similar structure to previous years, with each season based around a self-contained story arc, with just a few loose ends left untied.

“Discovery has that sort of serialized, season-long story baked into its DNA,” Paradise said in an interview with Inverse. “We also wanted to give the show a more episodic feel in season 3. We got to explore a story of the week or a villain of the week – it gives us time to explore some of our characters who we normally wouldn’t have time to explore. That was definitely a choice on our part and will continue on our show.”

Star Trek Discovery S3

Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) visits the Caves of Mak'ala on Trill. Expect more callbacks to earlier shows in Star Trek: Discovery season 4. (Image credit: CBS All Access/Netflix)

What questions does Star Trek: Discovery season 4 need to answer?

With the origins of the so-called ‘Burn’ revealed – who’d have guessed it was caused by a grieving kid with a symbiotic relationship to a planet made of dilithium? – and Osyraa and her Emerald Chain defeated, Star Trek: Discovery season 4 flies into uncharted waters.

Hopefully that means that Discovery and the crew can use the spore drive to truly explore the strange new worlds of the 32nd century – though, given this show’s love of callbacks to earlier series, it’s almost inevitable we’ll meet some familiar faces and species. (The presence in the trailer of a Federation official – possibly the president – who has a mix of human and Cardassian facial features suggests that those long-standing Deep Space Nine foes may be up for a comeback, this time in the Starfleet camp.)

Part of Starfleet's remit will be rebuilding a Federation that's a shadow of what it was 900 years earlier. The trailer suggests that many worlds will have to pull together to defeat a threat that affects Federation and non-Federation “equally” – as Burnham puts it, “We are not in this alone”. 

“The Federation is coming back together but it’s not fully back together,” Kurtzman told the aforementioned Deadline panel. “And so the continued mission of bringing other worlds in and meeting the criteria and standards of what it means to be a member of the Federation but also not to rob other cultures of their identity is something that we’ll explore.”

The biggest ongoing question Star Trek: Discovery season 4 needs to address is the nature of the ‘Sphere Data’, the ancient alien intelligence now integrated with Discovery’s databanks. Protecting it was the reason the ship made the one-way trip to the future in the first place, and it seems to be repaying the favor – first by helping the crew’s mental wellbeing, then by helping Tilly to forcibly eject the Emerald Chain from the ship. It’s a story that seems to be heading towards Short Trek episode ‘Calypso’, set in a distant future where Discovery is run by a sentient computer.

“‘Calypso’ is incredible,” Paradise told “And it is now a part of Trek canon, but specifically our show’s canon. It takes place many, many years beyond where our heroes are right now, and at some point, we will absolutely have to match up with that so that Discovery as a whole, including ‘Calypso’, all fits together as a piece.

“Certainly, bringing in that voice in episode four and having – we’ll call her Zora, she doesn't have a name at this point – but having her hide in the DOTs [helper robots on board Discovery] and be part of the story is the beginning of driving toward that. And eventually – who knows when? – we will absolutely have to make sure that we sync up with that.”

And then there’s the small matter of Stamets having issues with the way Burnham left his husband, Dr Culber, in a radiation-filled nebula in the season 3 finale. “I think that’s one they’ll get past in time,” Paradise said in TVLine.

Richard Edwards

Richard is a freelance journalist specialising in movies and TV, primarily of the sci-fi and fantasy variety. An early encounter with a certain galaxy far, far away started a lifelong love affair with outer space, and these days Richard's happiest geeking out about Star Wars, Star Trek, Marvel and other long-running pop culture franchises. In a previous life he was editor of legendary sci-fi and fantasy magazine SFX, where he got to interview many of the biggest names in the business – though he'll always have a soft spot for Jeff Goldblum who (somewhat bizarrely) thought Richard's name was Winter.