Star Trek Short Treks (DST)
Ensign Sylvia Tilly talks to her mother about the upcoming command training program, but does not receive the desired moral support from her. She sits down to drink an espresso when the food synthesizers in the mess hall go crazy and eject random food. An alien stowaway appears, according to the tricorder readings a Xahean female of about 17 years. The alien introduces herself as Me Hani Ika Hali Ka Po. Despite her young age, she has already developed a method to recrystallize dilithium, which is a crucial technology for her world that has just developed warp drive. Yet, Po has run away from her duties on the planet. Tilly finds out that Po is "strategically important" for Xahea, but as Po does not trust anyone else, she does not report the intruder to her superiors. When Tilly is about to beam her back to her planet, Po reveals that she is going to be the queen of her people and that she ran away from the coronation.
Short Treks is a new series format that was conceived to bridge the time between the first and the second season of Discovery. The series consists of four concluded episodes of only 10 to 15 minutes, each of which focuses on one character. The series premiere, "Runaway", spotlights Sylvia Tilly. It is set some undefined time after her promotion to ensign in "Will You Take My Hand?".
Tilly has become a fan favorite in Discovery's first season. However, we never learned a lot about her, except that she possesses a quick apprehension but tends to be awkward in her daily routine. We also know that she doesn't get along well with her mother. "Runaway" ties in very well with these known facts, and further elaborates on Tilly's motivation.
The clear intent of the story is to show that, despite her alien nature, Po is in a somewhat similar situation. She too wants to take a different path than the one that is predetermined. But that's it for the similarities. Po is a teenage girl who runs away from her family and her family's expectations, without any kind of plan. In this regard she's not particularly alien anyway. The fact that she is a crown princess is just the icing on the cake. Tilly, on the other hand, is a young woman who has clear goals that she wants to pursue with determination. I may have expected too much, but there is not so much that would link Tilly and Po together, except the secret that they share. On the other hand, it is remarkable that, in the end, Po returns to her duty on Tilly's advice, while Tilly herself violates quite a few regulations despite her goal to take over more responsibilities.
The focus on the interaction of Tilly and Po is a requirement to tell the story in just 15 minutes. Any involvement of any other familiar character or any other place would have complicated the setting just too much. It is both a blessing and curse that no one else of the crew shows up, except for extras that are visible for just a couple of seconds altogether. In particular, there are many open questions. Why doesn't Tilly call any of her superiors, as it would be her duty? Why doesn't anyone or any sensors notice what's going on? Why isn't Tilly afraid that someone might discover her guest, which would get her into trouble and endanger her command training? It was symptomatic of Discovery's first season that characters would act on their own, often against orders. Additionally, the secrecy about Tilly's young friend unpleasantly reminds me of the kind of secrets that teenage girls and boys like to keep, and that (at least in pertinent genre movies) they would never reveal to their parents or teachers no matter how deep in trouble they are. Tilly may do a good job in listening to Po and giving her guidance, but keeping her presence a secret seems immature and, as already mentioned, opposed to her intention to undergo the command training.
Despite the short run time "Runaway" does not feel rushed. However, by focusing on the character interaction it withholds information that would be necessary or useful to get across what is happening. Any story in which someone keeps a secret is usually not only more plausible but also more interesting if the perspective switches at least two times to those who could find out about it. Another example of an omission is that Po mentions something about her planet being her "twin sister" and thus having a special connection to it, which is the reason why she doesn't want dilithium to be mined there. This sounds a bit like Pahvo, but it could mean anything from a real symbiosis to esoteric nonsense.
It was clear that a Tilly-centered mini-episode would include a good dose of humor. Most of it is decent, but the messy mess hall and the joke about the "space rabbit" (I had to rewind because I thought I had misheard it) strike me as very silly.
One annoyance on the technical side is that Short Treks is shot in 2.39:1 aspect ratio, not in 2:1 like Discovery's first season, and not in 16:9 like usual TV series. The producers and many viewers will probably say it is still "wider" now, but that is only a euphemism for wasting an even larger portion of the 16:9 TV screen for black bars. I don't care at all for the "cinematic" experience, I just want the picture to be as large as possible, and 16:9 is a decent ratio. Actually, I preferred 4:3 but I can see how 16:9 is a good compromise to show movies on the small screen. Using movie proportions for TV series is a stupid fad. I'm afraid the Discovery people will carry it into the second season.
- Continuity: Scotty and Spock will find a way to recrystallize dilithium decades later, in "Star Trek: The Voyage Home". But Po's invention is not really a continuity error, considering that her device may not work on a larger scale, that it may not work for the kind of crystals that Starfleet uses, or that the Xaheans may simply keep it secret.
- Tilly has her reasons not to inform her commanding officer (whoever that may currently be) because Po would only trust her. But wouldn't the mess in the mess hall be investigated? Wouldn't anyone find more traces of Po's blood? And what happened to internal sensors? Wouldn't some sensor detect Po's presence, at least retroactively in a log review? Ultimately, the transporter log would reveal that there was something going on, unless Tilly deleted it and risked her career (which she probably does anyway, even without active sabotage).
- Where does Tilly beam Po? Into open space? Because that's where Discovery is during the episode. There's no mention of the ship going to Xahea (obviously, because Tilly does not let in anyone). Perhaps there is a Xahean ship ready to take over Po, but this too would be impossible without Tilly's superiors being apprised of it. Also, do the Xaheans already have warp ships? It should have been established for this matter that Discovery was in orbit of Xahea all the time, so it would have been plausible for Tilly to beam Po somewhere.
- Remarkable quote: "My name is 'Keep your human digits off me, please.' My name is also, 'I can build a translator like that in my sleep.' In fact, I did, when I was nine." (Me Hani Ika Hali Ka Po, on Tilly's request to state her name)
- Remarkable facts:
- The Xaheans have just achieved warp capability. Xaheans have some sort of extendable spikes on their backs.
- Me Hani Ika Hali Ka Po is supposed to become the queen of her people after her parents and her brother have died.
- Sylvia Tilly's mother is named Siobhan. Tilly also has a stepsister, who is said to be more intelligent.