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The Diplomacy of Discovery

The final season sheds light on the galaxy's political past.

Graphic illustration featuring a Breen soldier with Osyraa from the Emerald Chain behind him

Star Trek: Discovery's final season chronicles the Federation's pursuit of the same technology the Progenitors used to spread the humanoid form throughout the galaxy. The adventure picks up on an enduring mystery from Star Trek: The Next Generation's "The Chase," but the season's early episodes also provided insight into how several key societies — the Tholians, Orions, Promellians, Tzenkethi, and Breen — had developed in the centuries since we last encountered them in other Star Trek series.

Let's examine the Federation's history with each of those cultures and dive into all we’ve learned about their status in the late 32nd Century.

The Tholians

Tholian ships surround Archer's Enterprise in 'Future Tense'

"Future Tense"

Considered to be xenophobic by the Vulcan High Command in the 22nd Century, the Tholians were a non-humanoid species who thrived in searing temperatures and rarely traveled far from their own territory. The Tholians made an exception when they assigned several ships to try to steal a time-traveling 31st Century craft from Captain Archer's Enterprise in 2152. Possibly working for another faction in the Temporal Cold War, the Tholians bested Suliban cell ships but could not secure their quarry ("Future Tense").

Tholian web ensnares Mirror NX-01 in 'In A Mirror Darkly, Part I'

"In A Mirror, Darkly, Part I"

As outlined by the Mirror Universe's Dr. Phlox, the Tholians' crystalline body structures possessed both male and female characteristics and could act as a natural transmitter ("In a Mirror, Darkly"). Prime Spock and the U.S.S. Enterprise dealt with the Tholian Assembly in the late 2260s, and while the Tholians presented an abrasive demeanor, they were amenable to diplomatic overtures… to an extent. Renowned for their punctuality, the Tholians punished the Enterprise's delay in completing its mission by momentarily capturing the Federation vessel in an energy web.

Another Federation-Tholian conflict took place in 2353, and William Riker's father was the only survivor from a Starfleet facility that the Tholians had bombarded. Political tensions cooled by the early 2370s, as a Tholian ambassador was stationed at Deep Space 9 and a Tholian observer attended a conference on Earth. By late 2373, the Tholians had agreed to a non-aggression pact with the Dominion. President T'Rina provided us with our 32nd Century status check on the Tholians, expressing concern that the Tholian Republic might be able to exert influence over a coalition of smaller worlds ("Red Directive"). Her commentary can be seen as a positive, as the Tholians' influence was undoubtedly less dangerous than a Tholian invasion!

The Orions

A Orion pirate rests his weapon on his shoulder as he looks at Pike after capturing the Enterprise crew with in 'The Serene Squall'

"The Serene Squall"

By the time Captain Archer's Enterprise made direct contact with the Orion Syndicate in the 2150s, the Orions had established a distasteful reputation for crime and violence. They regularly kidnapped and enslaved passengers from passing ships, auctioning off their prisoners to the highest bidders ("Borderland"). The Federation's negative assumptions about the Orions remained steady over the course of the next century, as Captain Pike dealt with another Orion "privateer" aboard the Serene Squall ("The Serene Squall") and doubted that the Orions even had science ships when one confronted the U.S.S. Enterprise near Krulmuth-B in the late 2250s ("Those Old Scientists"). In 2268, an Orion posed as an Andorian and tried to derail Coridan's admission into the Federation so that Orion smugglers could continue raiding the planet ("Journey to Babel").

A correlation between Orions and criminal enterprises persisted well into the 24th Century, and the Orion Syndicate's rumored involvement in the deaths of Starfleet Intelligence operatives prompted the Federation to send Chief O'Brien on a mission to infiltrate the organization in 2374. Though he did not meet any actual Orions, O'Brien discovered that the Dominion had hired the Syndicate to kill a Klingon ambassador and weaken the Empire's alliance with the Federation ("Honor Among Thieves"). Despite the Syndicate's ongoing, many Orions served in Starfleet by the 2380s. The U.S.S. Cerritos' D’Vana Tendi even brought her friends Beckett Mariner and T'Lyn to Orion, where they observed her home world's unique traditions ("Something Borrowed, Something Green").

Osyraa sits across from Admiral Vance with her elbows resting on the table and palms lifted in 'There Is a Tide...'

"There Is a Tide..."

At some point after the Burn devastated the galaxy in the 31st Century, the Orions allied with the Andorians and formed a new syndicate, the Emerald Chain. Under the leadership of Osyraa, the Chain subjugated planets for their resources, operated mercantile exchanges, and served as a rival to the Federation. A failed proposal to unite the Chain with the Federation led to a brief conflict in 3189. Osyraa was killed and the Emerald Chain immediately collapsed. By 3190, the Federation had grown in strength and engaged with the Andorians about returning to the fold. "Under the Twin Moons" supplied another piece to the 32nd Century puzzle, as Captain Rayner testified that the Orions were regrouping and could potentially cause trouble for the Federation.

The Promellians

A corpse seated at the former Promellian officer's station aboard their ship in 'Booby Trap'

"Booby Trap"

Unfortunately for the Promellians, they fought the Menthars in a battle which resulted in both societies' mutual extinction at Orelious IX ("Booby Trap"). Though they perished around the 14th Century, long before the Federation was founded, the Promellians' legacy endured into the 2360s and beyond. Captain Picard, who actually believed he once owned a Promellian ship-in-a-bottle when he was a child, commanded the U.S.S. Enterprise-D as it set out to chart the ruins of the fateful battle that precipitated the Promellians' demise. A Promellian battlecruiser was found at the site, with its intact Lang Cycle fusion engines and functioning bridge indicating that the Promellians built their technology to last.

The Enterprise-D crew watches a video log of the Promellian captain on a station's monitor in 'Booby Trap'

"Booby Trap"

The Enterprise-D's away team located a video log from Galek Sar, the Promellian captain, which praised his courageous crew and relayed that his ship had encountered aceton assimilators hidden among the battle's wreckage by the Menthars. The Promellians became stranded here by the power drain and died at their posts. When Captain Picard's ship fell into the same trap, Geordi La Forge worked out a solution the Promellians had not employed — initiate a short burst from the impulse engines, take the systems offline, and allow the momentum to carry the ship to safety. Once the Enterprise-D was free, Picard ordered Worf to fire on the Promellian battlecruiser in the hope that no one else would get stuck.

However, this deed did not erase the Promellians from the galaxy's collective memory. In the 32nd Century, Captain Burnham and Saru visited a Promellian necropolis on Q'Mau on their journey to track down a clue that Dr. Vellek had left there during the time of the Dominion War ("Under the Twin Moons"). A peaceful view belied the fact that the Promellians designed the graveyard with self-defense in mind, powering a drone security system with an electromagnetic field. Since the Menthars also had a predilection for booby traps, one can wonder whether the Promellians had been inspired by their ancient foes!

The Tzenkethi

Captain Sisko discussing Tzenkethi developments while holding a drink in 'The Adversary'

"The Adversary"

Not much is known about the Tzenkethi, and the species has never been seen on-screen. Benjamin Sisko mentioned that he had served in the last Federation-Tzenkethi War, placing the hostilities prior to his tenure on the U.S.S. Saratoga that concluded at the Battle of Wolf 359 in 2367. Sisko's reference to the "last" conflict seemed to imply that more than one war took place, and in order for the Tzenkethi to pose such a threat, their technological capabilities must have at least matched the Federation. In 2372, Ambassador Krajensky sent Captain Sisko to Tzenkethi space aboard the U.S.S. Defiant amid rumors that a coup d'état had overthrown the autarch on the Tzenkethi home world. The entire affair was a ruse, as a Changeling had replaced the ambassador and lied about the border tensions. Sisko's crew narrowly avoided provoking a fresh round of warfare ("The Adversary").

Over 800 years later, Captain Burnham noted that Federation diplomats needed to negotiate permission for the U.S.S. Discovery to enter Tzenkethi space and search for the next clue to the Progenitors' tech. At the time, the Federation and Tzenkethi were clearly separate entities; though, the fact that they maintained an open dialogue showed progress in their political relations. The Tzenkethi did grant Discovery the right to visit their space, which is precisely where they located a wormhole to a pocket of interdimensional space that contained the adrift I.S.S. Enterprise ("Mirrors").

The Breen

Aboard a Jem'Hadar vessel, Weyoun marks a historic moment as the Breen Confederacy forms an alliance with the Dominion in 'Strange Bedfellows'

"Strange Bedfellows"

We covered the Breen's involvement in galactic politics more extensively in our recent "Who Are the Breen?" feature, but it is safe to say that the secretive nature, technological prowess, and battlefield resourcefulness that they exhibited in the final stages of the Dominion War survived into the late 32nd Century.

A Breen soldier enters the Eternal Gallery and Archive with a phaser rifle in 'Labyrinths'


The Breen nearly swung that 24th Century conflict in the Dominion's favor with their energy-dampening weapons, and the Breen Imperium's massive 32nd century dreadnoughts were armed with equally effective shield-tunneling technology ("Labyrinths"). The Imperium operated its own exchanges, perhaps placing it at odds with the Emerald Chain. Though destabilized by their own infighting over the throne, the Breen proved to be a deadly and unpredictable foe to the Federation.