Star Trek Short Treks (SHO)
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 covering her up 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.
An escape pod is rescued from space by the USS Discovery. But when the passenger, a man who calls himself Craft, wakes up in sickbay, no one is there except for Zora, an artificial intelligence. Zora tells Craft that the crew has left the Discovery, and that the ship has been abandoned for as many as one thousand years. Craft is a soldier who has fought in war for ten years. He expresses his wish to return to his family on the planet Alcor IV. Zora, however, says there is only one shuttlecraft aboard, which had just been delivered when the crew left, and which is not spaceworthy. Craft and Zora build a relationship, which culminates in Zora creating a hologram of herself to re-enact her favorite movie, "Funny Face". Craft feels that this isn't right. Zora finally comes round and prepares the shuttle for him to leave. She names it "Funny Face".
The first Short Treks episode, "Runaway", suffered from its unlikely circumstances, and particularly from the fact that Tilly and Po were seemingly alone on the Discovery. In "Calypso", it is even much more mysterious why the ship is empty. But the reasons are irrelevant here because "Calypso" works well as a standalone episode with an extremely narrow focus. And so the story does not even try to explain what happened a thousand years ago, why the ship was forgotten and how it could remain in almost perfect shape and powered up for such an incredibly long time.
"Calypso" leaves the era of Discovery, the narrative of Discovery and ultimately the whole Star Trek Universe we knew behind. It doesn't include any references to the series except for the set and prop design. Overall, it feels more like an episode of an anthology such as "Twilight Zone" or recently "Black Mirror" than like Star Trek. I appreciate this complete departure, just for a change. And considering that Discovery largely failed to recapture the spirit of Star Trek in its first season anyway, "Calypso" demonstrates how good science fiction can be created without the need to embed it into a larger story context.
Our common idea of an artificial intelligence was shaped as long as 50 years ago, in "2001: A Space Odyssey". Since then, AIs in science fiction keep evolving. They seem to become always more human and also more threatening. "Calypso" does not follow the trend and rather goes back to the roots. The story features an AI whose look and feel is very reminiscent of HAL 9000 (and once again on a ship named Discovery!), that tries to forge a bond with a human being and that ultimately fails. But unlike the classic movie, "Calypso" has a bittersweet ending when Zora recognizes that she can never replace Craft's family. Zora ultimately shows the kind of compassion that HAL lacked. While the story overall doesn't show new science fiction concepts (which definitely wasn't the intention anyway), "Calypso" is thought-provoking in the best sense of the word. And it is very emotional without being melodramatic and without turning the trope of a sentient machine into silliness.
It is clear that the standalone format of this Short Treks episode will remain, and probably has to remain, an absolute exception in Star Trek Discovery. But perhaps the series could profit from this demonstration of how to bring more of what fans love about science fiction into the series and perhaps drop some of the generic ongoing intrigues. Michael Chabon, who wrote the episode, will be an executive producer on the yet unnamed Picard show, which makes me hopeful at least for this new series.
Overall, "Calypso" has very little Star Trek in it. But it is an outstanding short film with strong performances by Aldis Hodge as Craft and by Annabelle Wallis as Zora. The flow of the episode is great and is quite a contrast to the mess that was "Runaway". I only don't mind the lightnings in space, as an attempt to let the empty ship appear even more scary. "Calypso" may be a simple story in many regards, but the way it is brought to screen is superb.
- Continuity: The Discovery has been abandoned for as long as 1000 years. So we are in the 33rd century. This is further into the future than any Star Trek has gone before.
- Nitpicking: After 1000 years without the normal maintenance and without any resupply, the whole ship with all of its systems is as good as new, fully functional (except for the warp drive) and powered up. Moreover, it has remained in this condition in spite of the space thunderstorm that is raging outside.
- Remarkable quote: "What is a Tuesday?" (Craft, after Zora has explained what a Taco is)
- Remarkable scenes:
- When Craft doesn't accept Zora as a real person and has left the bridge, we can see her hologram with a tear in her eye.
- Craft says that on Alcor IV people receive their name from their beloved ones when he boards the shuttlecraft. After the hatch has closed, we can see that Zora has named the shuttle "Funny Face".
- Remarkable facts:
- It does not seem to be customary among humans on Alcor IV in the 33rd century to reveal their name. Craft first calls himself "Quarrel", and Craft is not his real name either.
- According to Michael Chabon, "V'draysh", the enemy that Craft was fighting, is a syncope of "Federation".
- Remarkable title: The episode is aptly named for Calypso, the nymph who kept Odysseus on her island for seven years.
The Kelpien Saru lives on the planet Kaminar with his father and his sister. The Kelpiens are a pre-warp civilization. They believe in the "Great Balance" on their planet and accept that an advanced species, the Ba'ul, appear in regular intervals to "harvest" Kelpiens. One day, Saru's father finds a piece of technology from a Ba'ul ship and tells his son to dispose of it. Saru, however, keeps the device and learns how to use it as a transmitter. He receives a message to proceed to a meeting point where a Starfleet shuttle with Lt. Georgiou lands. Georgiou tells Saru that Starfleet makes an exception for a member of a pre-warp civilization and that he can join, but that he won't be able to return to Kaminar. Saru accepts the offer and leaves his homeworld.
"The Brightest Star" turns out to be much like what I expected when I read that one of the Short Treks would be an origin story about Saru on his homeworld Kaminar. I anticipated that the episode would rather not show us snarling wild animals (or Hirogen-like humanoids) that hunt Kelpiens, but a somewhat different, less bloodthirsty interpretation of the predators and prey that Saru spoke of in "The Vulcan Hello".
However, other than fulfilling my expectations, the episode is rather disappointing. "The Brightest Star" delves deep into Star Trek's stock of pre-warp civilization and "false god" clichés. It shows the Kelpiens as a society much like the natives in TOS: "The Return of the Archons", "The Apple" or many other well-known stories. It features all the usual stereotypes of the advanced aliens who impress the natives with cultic artifacts and impose taboos on them, of the priest who accepts his being inferior and passes on his humility and finally of the skeptic who is not content with simple answers along the lines of "That's the way it is."
"The Brightest Star" would have needed more time to establish more than the stereotypical setting, to flesh out a real story and character relationships and to build up at least a small arc of suspense. In particular, I think Saru would have deserved to be more than just another reissue of a stock character, and that his family should have played more of a role in his decision process to leave his homeworld. And while I like how Doug Jones guides us through the story in the form of a voice-over, the few dialogues are rather insipid and mostly consist of hackneyed phrases. I almost couldn't believe that Saru's father said, "If the Great Balance had meant for us to fly, we would have been given wings." Come on, writers! I know you can do better.
On the positive side, this Short Treks episode, like already "Calypso", has more Trek feel to it than anything in Discovery's dismal first season. We may argue that Georgiou's course of action is reckless and that the exception to the Prime Directive made for Saru is unwarranted. At least, Picard would never have condoned it. But Starfleet is about seeking out new life, and both Georgiou and Saru meet in pursuit of this very goal. So despite my reservations regarding the clichéd depiction of the Kelpiens, "The Brightest Star" leaves me content. It is an adequate origin story for one of the few likable characters of Discovery.
- The fact that the Kelpiens are a pre-warp civilization explains why we never see any of them in other Star Trek incarnations (except, of course, in Discovery's own Mirror Universe).
- In "The Vulcan Hello", Saru said that he comes from a planet of predators and prey, but the impression we get in "The Brightest Star" is a different one. The Ba'ul are not exactly predators if they just come to "harvest" Kelpiens, and the Kelpiens are not exactly prey if they willingly sacrifice themselves. And what would their threat ganglia (that we see at one point in the Short Treks episode too) and the ability "to sense the coming of death" be useful for if they know when and why the Ba'ul are coming? It is possible that the Kelpiens were prey in a natural food chain before the arrival of the Ba'ul. But that is something that Saru can only speculate about and that wouldn't describe the current status on Kaminar. It is possible that there are still other, natural predators besides the Ba'ul and that 15 minutes was just too short to show them.
- Nitpicking: Would Starfleet allow the Ba'ul to continue with the "harvesting" of Kelpiens? Would Saru allow it? While there may be reasons not to interfere, shouldn't it drive Saru mad?
- Remarkable scene: After a long time of tinkering, Saru finally receives a message on the Ba'ul device that reads "/HELLO" and that he doesn't understand yet.
- Remarkable name: It does not seem to be a coincidence that a species that harvests kelp is referred to as "Kelpien".
The Tellarite Tevrin Krit purchases the prisoner Harry Mudd from a masked female bounty hunter. Harry Mudd slept with Krit's sister and stole his cudgel, a traditional hand weapon that he wanted to pass on to his son. Mudd initially denies his identity, then laments that he has been wrongly accused, later proposes a deal to Krit and finally begs that the Tellarite should let him go for humanitarian reasons. But Krit does not change his mind and turns over his prisoner to Starfleet. Aboard the Starfleet vessel De Milo, the two are welcomed by an officer who seems to be annoyed, rather than delighted to see them. He tells Krit that this is not the real Harry Mudd and leads him to a storage compartment full of android Mudd duplicates that were delivered by other bounty hunters. Meanwhile on Mudd's ship, the con man, in the disguise of the female bounty hunter, initiates the next sale of an android created in his image.
Although I wouldn't rate the classic Harry Mudd as the fan favorite the makers of Discovery imagined he was, the attempt to revive the character in the reboot series was largely successful. The two previous Mudd episodes, "Choose Your Pain" and "Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad", were among the better ones of the first season. In the context of the dark universe of Discovery it may have seemed logical that Mudd too would have to undergo a transformation and would not be the mostly harmless swindler we know from TOS. Yet, as entertaining as it otherwise was, the latter episode clearly crossed a line when it depicted the character as a mad mass murderer. But the even worse failing was the absurd ending in which, instead of being punished, Harry Mudd was released into the custody of his "beloved" Stella and her father. This contrived reset button was clearly meant to preserve the character for the future, rather than to make any sense.
"The Escape Artist" is set after the events of "Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad". For me it still has a bad aftertaste that the mad Mudd was simply erased from history and that he is suddenly the old charming con man again in the Short Treks episode.
Reservations regarding Mudd's history in Discovery aside, I really enjoyed "The Escape Artist". It is the perhaps most entertaining installment of all of Discovery so far, and one of the more intelligent ones no less. The story shows Mudd as a prisoner, who tries everything to get his captor to release him, with growing desperation. It is just what Tevrin Krit would expect, and just what we would expect from a man like Mudd. As Mudd's continuing lamentation falls on deaf ears, the story approaches its foreseeable ending. Just as Mudd would deserve it, Krit is going to hand him over to Starfleet. But Mudd wouldn't be a con man if he didn't still have something up his sleeve. I was prepared for some kind of twist, but the revelation that Krit actually captured an android duplicate of the man he really wanted surprised me.
The outcome surprised me in a positive sense because everything appeared as perfectly plausible in hindsight. Mudd gave Krit exactly what he wanted to have, preying on his greed and on his desire for revenge. He kept up the illusion by programming the android to behave exactly like one would expect, thereby distracting Krit so much that he wouldn't recognize that anything was wrong. On the downside, if another purpose of the story was to relate Mudd to androids as a sort of homage to TOS: "I, Mudd", it utterly failed. In the TOS episode, Mudd will run into the androids by mere chance. There is nothing that would justify his affinity to androids, and his knowledge to build them all by himself roughly a decade earlier.
I have nothing but praise for the directing and acting in "The Escape Artist". Considering that the episode is only some 14 minutes long and includes several flashbacks, the flow of the story is not bumpy at all. I love the interaction of Krit and the Mudd android, even though or just because much of it turns out to be part of Mudd's con. The way that Wilson delivers his various punchlines is priceless.
Other than the previous Short Treks episodes, "The Escape Artist" does not feel like a bottle show. It features a number of guest characters and other places. It is amazing that distinctive sets were built for the Tellarite bridge, the warehouse and the Orion prison.
It is ironical that among the four Short Treks episodes the two that were well-received were the ones not set in the continuity of Discovery and not involving any principal characters of the show. Maybe the people at the helm, and particularly Alex Kurtzman, have learned a bit from Short Treks and have recognized that fans may not want serialized Star Trek with endless intrigues and without a real resolution, and that they may not share the sentiment that gaps in the biographies of various characters need to be filled. Star Trek is and was always about stories. Of the four Short Treks stories two were awesome, one was satisfactory and one was mediocre. Overall, the side show has a better balance than the regular first season of the series.
- So Harry Mudd used to have androids that he himself constructed to serve him and that were lifelike enough to fool the senses and the sensors of half a dozen bounty hunters. About ten years later, in TOS: "I, Mudd", he has lost the knowledge about how to create androids and runs into a colony of very similar androids from the Andromeda Galaxy by mere chance? This does not add up at all.
- The tusks of the reimagined Tellarites are explicitly mentioned several times in the episode. This downright invalidates the classic Tellarites without tusks in the concept of literal continuity that applies to Discovery. Unless, of course, all Tellarites grow tusks only at times of war.
- One of the charges against Mudd is "penetrating a space whale". This is a clear sign that the episode takes place after "Magic to make the Sanest Man Go Mad". But regarding the multitude of capital crimes that he committed in that episode and the ludicrous idea to turn him over to his father-in-law, it only adds insult to injury. Mudd must have escaped his marital prison rather quickly. Moreover, the only charges left, besides a couple of *attempted* homicides, are rather harmless. This may not be a hard continuity error, but it is double-tongued like several other previously serious issues of which Discovery also offers an "alternative", more light-hearted interpretation.
- Remarkable quote: "Your enemies will be positively green with envy... greener." (Mudd, to his Orion guard)
- Remarkable tip of the hat: One of the Mudd androids wears a uniform with tasseled epaulets like Mudd in TOS: "I, Mudd".
- Remarkable facts: Tartus IV has 27 moons, if we believe Harry.
- Remarkable background fact: As per Rainn Wilson, who did not only play Harry Mudd but also directed the episode, the flashbacks of Mudd being in custody of the Klingon, of the small bounty hunter and of the Orions are not previous experiences of the real Mudd. They show what happened to the other Mudd androids just before they were delivered to Starfleet. The androids seem to share some sort of common consciousness. In any case, it makes a lot of sense. The flashbacks would be out of place if they showed something that only the real Mudd could know, who does not appear except for the very beginning and the very end. Also, the repetitive statements in the flashbacks are a consequence of the Mudd androids running the same program of distracting their captors.
Ensign Spock reports for duty on the USS Enterprise for the first time. Number One does not feel like answering the many questions of the young science officer. But then their turbolift gets stuck on the way to the bridge, and much to Number One's displeasure the engineering staff doesn't get it working again. The two begin to talk to overcome the awkward situation, and Number One gradually lightens up. She eventually intones the Major-General's song by Gilbert and Sullivan to lift their spirits, and Spock joins in. When the two are about to be rescued, Spock has to promise to forget the episode in the turbolift.
The second round of the Short Treks begins with one of a total of three episodes about the crew of the Enterprise. Most likely the positive fan reaction to Pike, his crew and his ship was the incentive to focus as many as three Short Treks on them. They were arguably more popular in Discovery's second season than almost anyone and anything on the eponymous ship. Whether or not there will be a fully fledged Pike series is just speculation at this time. The Short Treks episode may or may not foreshadow things to come. But looking back at the four previous episodes of this format, it is remarkable that so far three of them set up a bigger Discovery story.
Notwithstanding its possible purpose in a still larger context, "Q&A" is meant to be an origin story in the first place. It shows Spock's very first day on the Enterprise. Considering how beloved Spock is among the fans and how Ethan Peck gets the portrayal of the character right, it seems like a no-brainer to go back to this pivotal moment of his career and indulge in nostalgia. At least in the mindset of the current producers.
But honestly, who would really have wanted to know what Spock's first time on the Enterprise was like? And irrespective of the Discoverse being a reboot where Spock feels right but everything else is wildly different, do we long for such in-your-face nostalgia at all? Nostalgia, for me, is watching "The Cage" and leaving everything that may have happened before this very first Star Trek to my imagination. There's no point in trying to better something that is so engrained in the fandom and in popular culture on the whole.
Well, "Q&A" is certainly a smaller mistake in this regard than "If Memory Serves" (that I liked in spite of everything, just for the record), or than the concept of Pike, Number One and Spock as crowd-pullers enlisted to save Star Trek Discovery. The Short Treks episode is a no-brainer for several more reasons, including the availability of the sets and actors. However, the story feels just as cheap as its production costs probably were, and falls short of the previous Short Treks, perhaps with the exception of "Runaway". It is too easy to dissect the story and to find the stereotypes it is based on.
Spock is a young half-Vulcan ensign, who doesn't manage to suppress his emotions as much as he probably wants to. This is consistent with his smiling in "The Cage" but it's nothing in any way noteworthy, nothing that would have called for further elaboration. Number One is a somewhat similar character (obviously, because Gene Roddenberry more or less replaced the emotionless Number One with Spock, who stopped smiling, after her character had been dropped). Being human, yet restrained and very short-spoken, she epitomizes a popular German idiom, for which I found no English equivalent: She goes down to the basement to laugh. So far, so good. But that alone doesn't make a good story.
The first half of this installment comes across as somewhat tedious because it is just what the title says, a Q&A session in which a sulky Number One gives only reluctant answers to nerdy Spock's nagging questions full of technobabble - although she encouraged him to be curious. That, plus the situation of being in an elevator, at least lets it appear appropriately embarrassing. When she talks about Pike and then about the star she visited on her first deep-space mission, Number One lightens up. I like this middle part of the episode. I appreciate her comment on the diversity of the crew, of whom no one should suppress or conceal their nature.
But then she apparently decides to put it to practice and begins to sing all of sudden. In some way, the turbolift car is her basement. It would have been great for a person of her standing to let it out and scream "Rock 'n' Roll!!!", but she intones Gilbert and Sullivan. I almost couldn't believe my ears. Gilbert and Sullivan?! Come on! I mean no offense to those who like listening to it, and for some reason Starfleet people are fond of it in the 23rd and 24th centuries (rather than of rock 'n' roll). But for me Gilbert and Sullivan is close to the low end of classical music and has not aged well at all since it was popular some time in the 19th century. Rebecca Romijn's performance isn't all that bad, but that's not the problem. Perhaps the song has a significance that escapes me, perhaps it is meant to be a parody of elevator music. But I don't care because it is just so out of place. It comes as an even bigger shock that Spock joins her and laughs. So was this the whole purpose of the story? To show us an emotional Spock again? Whether or not it's in character, we would deserve better than that, even in a Short Treks episode. But the worst is still to come. Number One suddenly remembers that bad singing and not keeping her distance to a junior officer undermines her authority. Spock has to swear to forget about the episode, which rings a bell as big as Big Ben. Spock, the laughing Vulcan and the man of lies and denial. No thanks. I've had enough of it.
It is hard to please me with a story about something I just never wanted to know, in a reboot universe that I don't care for. Perhaps it is a disservice to the character of Spock to hark back to something that happened at a time when his nature was not yet well enough established, but I can accept that much because I still like Ethan Peck in his role. It seems that every time the writing is on the verge of destroying Spock, he saves the character for me. Regarding Number One, I understand the intention to add a new facet to a character who appeared to be unapproachable so far, but this happens at the expense of her attitude towards Spock being inconsistent and ultimately unprofessional. "Q&A" has its moments (for two or three minutes) and I appreciate the performances of the two actors, but aside from that it is just miscarried nostalgia and clichés, plus awful singing.
- The appearance of the very DIS-style Enterprise prior to the events of "The Cage" gives the death blow to any theory that the ship might ever have looked like in "The Cage" (just for the record, I never subscribed to such an idea).
- The colorful Enterprise uniforms were said to be new in DIS: "Brother", but now they date back several years. Several years, in which the Enterprise, and perhaps her sister ships, were the only ones with these uniforms? And different badges than the rest of Starfleet? That doesn't make much sense, even if we disregard the statement from "Brother".
- Spock's serial number is S179-276SP, consistent with TOS: "Court Martial".
- Oh my. The reboot Enterprise is just as empty a shell as the Discovery. At least that much is consistent in the Discoverse. There is nothing but open space and occasional tubes 30 meters in each direction around the turbolift shaft! This is so unspeakably moronic it hurts.
- Uhm. What happened to the transporter of the Enterprise? Intraship beaming was no problem in the Discoverse so far.
- Remarkable dialogue: "What are the three most salient facts about Captain Pike?" - "One. His capacity for hearing out another point of view is only exceeded by his willingness to change his own once he's heard you out. Two. Even though he is the most heavily decorated fighting captain in Starfleet, he views resorting to force as admission of failure. Three. He is utterly unsentimental - except when it comes to horses." (Spock and Number One - I quite like the bit about the horses.)
- Remarkably awkward technobabble: Number One gives Spock time to pose questions until he reaches the turbolift, which leaves him only enough time to ask for her name, to which she responds "Just call me Number One". Spock then waits outside the turbolift, buying himself time to ask: "Sir, what is your opinion on the Onafuwa model of combat salvo analysis compared to the traditional Neo-Wayne model?"
- Remarkable fact: 99 Pegasi (a star not yet known) is an example of a Delta Scuti-type star, and was Number One's first deep-space mission.
Stardate 1429.9: Science officer Lynne Lucero leaves the Enterprise to take command of the research vessel Cabot. Her mission is to offer aid to Pragine 63, a world at the edge of Klingon space in an ecological crisis. In a meeting with the departments of the ship, she declines the proposal by biologist Edward Larkin to breed a species nicknamed as Tribbles as food for the starving population. Larkin keeps working on his pet project nonetheless, and genetically speeds up the reproduction of Tribbles, using his own DNA. Lucero calls Larkin to his office because Starfleet Command received anonymous messages demanding to relieve her of her command because of incompetence, messages that were probably sent by Larkin. She arranges for his transfer off the ship. In the meantime, the Tribbles have started breeding rapidly, up to the point where the crew has to abandon the Cabot. Larkin refuses to leave and dies when the ship suffers structural failure. The Tribbles infest the planet Pragine 63 that has to be evacuated, and also head for Klingon space...
It should have been obvious in advance that the last thing we need in any Trek series is yet another anachronistic appearance of Tribbles, after ENT: "The Breach", "Star Trek (2009)", "Star Trek Into Darkness" and Lorca's Tribble first seen in DIS: "Context is for Kings". It is beyond me why modern-day Trek writers are so obsessed with Tribbles as a hallmark of Star Trek that they include them anywhere and any time, no matter how little sense it makes. I really wonder what's going on in their minds. It must be something like "Star Trek = Kirk + Spock + Tribbles + Khan + Tribbles + Spock + Tribbles + Spock + Khan + Tribbles + Mudd + Tribbles + Spock + anything we forgot?" But polemics aside, and considering that Tribble canon was messed up already before Discovery, I was ready to give this Short Treks episode a chance because it might have been fun after all.
"The Trouble with Edward", however, would not have deserved that chance. Not only does the episode add insult to injury regarding the history of Tribbles. It also spotlights the very worst conduct of Starfleet officers ever seen on screen: immoral, reckless, insubordinate, intransigent, antisocial, malicious, indecent and dumb. Edward Larkin is all of the aforementioned. A total dick. And a discriminatory mad scientist/nerd/fanboy stereotype. There is not the slightest likable aspect about his personality, except perhaps his dedication to his work. And even Larkin's sacrifice at the end of the episode, usually an opportunity to rehabilitate a character, remains pathetic and pointless. We are just supposed to hate Edward Larkin. Because, as Captain Lucero (who is almost as annoying although probably unintentionally in her case) says in the closing remark, "he was an idiot."
I concede that the way the episode was written and directed, the people in charge at least attempted to recapture some of the spirit of TOS. It is not unheard of that in TOS some crew members were real jerks, and the Tribble infestation is not unlike the one in the original episode, "The Trouble with Tribbles", only with more dramatic visuals here. But "The Trouble with Edward" is neither interesting, nor does it relay a message. This episode is not about a problem with the chain of command. It is not about a tragic character who longs for acceptance. It is not about scientific ethics. It is about Edward being a dick. And quite unlike the original TOS episode, this is not in any way funny either. The writing attempts to incorporate black humor and situational comedy, but after the awkward staff meeting that still makes me smirk a bit, the rest remains totally humorless. Everything that may have been intended to be comical rather comes across as out of place. The theme of showing the insufferable Edward and then everyone's dumbfounded reactions to him remains a constant annoyance until the bitter end. Watching this sequence of WTF moments is appalling, rather than entertaining.
In the outcome, the story celebrates itself for doing something for Trek's continuity, by explaining when and why the Klingons would wage war against the Tribbles. But it only causes even bigger errors on the way and further damages Starfleet's reputation, which, in the Discovery-style re-imagination, has become an organization of cover-ups and lies. We already learned in "Such Sweet Sorrow II" that nothing is anti-canon in the new Star Trek any more, and that it's just a matter of sweeping all the galactic disasters caused by Starfleet under the rug to maintain continuity. Which is apparently the excuse for Spock and McCoy having never heard of Tribbles a few years after the Edward Disaster.
On a final note on Edward, regular readers of my reviews know that I don't make judgments based on the gender or race of a character. I leave that to the people who are very biased in this regard (in either way). But just imagine the complete idiot in this episode had not been a white man. Just imagine the outrage...
As if the "real" events about Edward had not been irritating and insulting enough, the post-credit scene with the "Edward's Tribbles" commercial is just the cynical icing on the cake. I admit that unlike the rest this part was even a bit funny, but the sick humor seemed more like an attempt to ease the impact of the disgraceful story on the franchise.
"The Trouble with Edward" is the by far worst piece of official Star Trek ever produced, and makes previous disasters such as TOS: "The Alternative Factor", DS9: "Profit and Lace" or ENT: "A Night in Sickbay" shine by comparison.
- In ENT: "The Breach", Phlox said about the Tribbles: "They're outlawed on most worlds." and "The problem is they breed quite prodigiously." This is absolutely irreconcilable with the notion that they were slow breeders prior to Edward's genetic tampering, unless we posit that for Edward the reproduction rate of the already fast breeding (and for this reason outlawed!) creatures was not yet high enough.
- No one of the Enterprise crew has ever heard of Tribbles when they first encounter them on Starbase K-7. Tribble biology is evidently completely unknown, and there are no records of the disaster on Pragine 63 either. The only possible explanation is that Starfleet covered up this incident just like they did with the Lex Spock in "Such Sweet Sorrow II". With Tribble history and biology as established until "The Trouble with Edward", we could at least claim that the particular Tribbles we saw before their time were neutered, consequently kept away from food or perhaps genetically manipulated to breed slower, thereby explaining why their appearance would not be immediately declared a catastrophic emergency in "The Trouble with Tribbles".
- The Klingons of "The Trouble with Tribbles" have clearly never seen or only heard of Tribbles either. We may argue that, a few years after the Edward Disaster, the Tribbles have not yet reached one of their planets.
- Why does human DNA speed up the reproduction of Tribbles? A human pregnancy lasts as long as nine months, if I'm not awfully mistaken. It is not further explained in the episode, but it seems to be plausible to everyone that it could just be the method of choice.
- What is the big deal about Edward using his own DNA, which alienates his crew mates even more than his genetic tampering with human DNA in the first place? In the end, this is just a cheap plot device to blame him for the disastrous result in a very personal way.
- Tribbles need grain or other food to breed rapidly, as clearly established in "The Trouble with Tribbles". Edward's Tribbles, in contrast, seem to feed upon air.
- How can the planet Pragine 63 be evacuated without beaming up tons of Tribbles, or having them everywhere in the shuttles? The "funny" side note about the end of a civilization is not really plausible.
- Remarkable quote: "Don't show your weakness, or they will eat you alive." (Captain Pike, to Captain Lucero)
- Remarkably cheesy scene: When the crew hurries to Edward Larkin's lab to seal the breach, Edward remains behind the corridor - and we can see that he is in his underwear.
- Remarkable device: A crewman can be seen with some sort of Tribble vacuum cleaner, which is very inefficient. Picking them up with his hands would have been much faster. Perhaps a parody on present-day leaf blowers?
- Remarkable fact: Tribbles are native to the planet Iota Geminorum IV.
While Starbase 28 is under attack, Cadet Thira Sidhu is put in charge of a prisoner, who turns out to be Captain Pike. Pike says that he disobeyed his orders to stand down, while another Starfleet vessel was being attacked by the Tholians. This other ship happens to be the one that Sidhu's husband serves on. Pike demands to be released, and cites Starfleet regulations to that end, which Sidhu counters with other orders that require her to keep him confined. It turns out that the whole scenario is a simulation and that no one was actually in danger. Sidhu has been accepted to the Enterprise and beams over with Captain Pike.
Although I successfully avoided the spoilers, I knew almost from the very first second that the whole scenario of the attack on the starbase and of a cadet put in charge of a prisoner named Captain Pike was just a simulation, much like the Kobayashi Maru or Wesley's test of character in TNG: "Coming of Age". It was obvious that a Short Treks episode of only eight minutes would not involve something as big as an actual fight against the Tholians, or Pike being guilty of insubordination in Michael Burnham's footsteps. The coincidences that Thira Sidhu's husband was on the very ship attacked by the Tholians, the USS Bowman, and that additionally the two were the only survivors of a Tholian raid a couple of years ago were further dead giveaways that this all couldn't be real. Either that, or the episode, which is essentially just a sequence of Trek clichés and regulation citing, would have become a second "Edward".
The way it turns out, "Ask Not" is a nice little episode that apparently was not made with high ambitions and that successfully gets across its story in barely eight minutes. Nothing more and nothing less. I couldn't think of anything that might have been added or that should have been done differently. It is just not very exciting watching because everything is too obviously a simulation and nothing really noteworthy happens. Additionally, the dialogue is very hard to understand. I had to pause and rewind several times to get what Sidhu and Pike were talking, which pretty much defies the purpose of an only eight minutes long episode.
Then again, "Ask Not" shows how a Short Treks episode can build upon the existing continuity, without carelessly redefining characters or rewriting history. "Ask Not" is something like an "anti-Edward", not only formally because a new crew member joins the Enterprise in the end as opposed to one leaving at the beginning, but also because this character is strengthened and not destroyed. Well, Sidhu may be a bit too credulous but perhaps we should watch her through the eyes of a 23rd century cadet and not of a Trek geek.
- If Tholian attacks were commonplace in the decade before TOS, shouldn't their hostility have been an issue in TOS: "The Tholian Web"? Kirk, however, doesn't seem to be very worried that they might attack the Enterprise or that he might cause an interstellar incident by entering a territory claimed by them.
- The huge shiny cathedral on the reboot Enterprise has nothing in common with how engineering looked on the supposedly very same original ship at any time, or on any other Starfleet ship ever shown.
- The replicated and/or holographic mask used to hide Pike's face is not only silly, but another technology that didn't exist in the 23rd century we used to know (but it is in line with the holodeck and omnipresent replicators that exist in the Discoverse, and with the Section 31 gadgets).
- The episode begins with an explosion that looks very real. Even if it's "only" holographic (and hence an anachronism), it is real enough to hurl Cadet Sidhu against a wall panel behind her. With just a little bit less luck, she could have been seriously injured or killed.
- It is hard to believe that Starfleet and/or Pike would subject every new officer to such a sophisticated and obviously dangerous test. It almost looks like Starfleet and/or Pike are uncertain about Sidhu's loyalty.
- Remarkable regulations:
- Regulation 191, Article 14: "When in combat, command falls to the vessel with tactical superiority." (cited by Pike, previously mentioned in VOY: "Equinox")
- Directive 010: "Before engaging in battle, any and all attempts to achieve a non-military resolution must be made." (cited by Sidhu, previously mentioned in VOY: "In the Flesh")
- Regulation 208, Paragraph 2: allows an active captain to override the orders of other officers (cited by Pike) - but only applies to active officers (cited by Sidhu)
- Remarkable scene: Spock tells Sidhu to expect no mercy from Number One, upon which Number One raises an eyebrow.
Young Michael Burnham has a nightmare, and she only wants to go to sleep again with the lights turned on. Her father tells Michael the story of a tribe in Africa, millennia ago, that urgently needed new farming grounds but was afraid of moving away from their village because of the "Night Beast". Only one girl ventured out into the night and encountered an alien being. She came back with a ball full of small lights, the stars, that she released into the sky. She eventually became the queen of her people. After listening to the story, young Michael agrees to sleep with the lights off.
This Short Treks episode is special because it is the first official Star Trek animation in 45 years and the first 3D animation in the franchise. It was clear in advance that "The Girl Who Made the Stars" would refer to the teaser of DIS: "Brother", in which some sort of dream sequence insinuated a significance of an old African creation myth for Michael Burnham's life. The Short Treks episode gives a quite satisfying answer to this dangling question, and proves that there is a bigger plan for Discovery that the people in charge are willing to keep track of.
However, aside from the frame story with young Michael and her father, "The Girl Who Made the Stars" has little to do with Star Trek. In fact, it tells a story that couldn't possibly have happened the way it is shown (unless we believe that prior to the young girl in Africa that looked just like Michael, no stars existed in the sky). The idea of basing a whole episode on something illusive or imaginary is nothing new, thinking of the awesome VOY: "Living Witness" and the less successful VOY: "The Haunting of Deck Twelve". But "The Girl Who Made the Stars" takes a new direction and leaves behind the familiar setting as well as the live-action format, which is bold and deserves praise. Perhaps most notably, this Short Treks episode, a bit like "Calypso" before and quite unlike "Ephraim and Dot", does not bother us with facts and characterizations that are forcibly squeezed into the canon, and this is one more reason why I like it.
The objectionable aspect about the story is that, once again, Michael Burnham is smarter than everyone else, acts on her own and thereby saves the world. Although this time it is only a tale and the little girl in ancient Africa technically isn't her, the proposition is clear. Young Michael is destined to become bold but also reckless, to defy orders and to take unnecessary risks. This is in line with the adult Michael Burnham, but it also adds to her increasingly one-dimensional character. Just for a change, a lesson of humbleness for her may have been more desirable.
Overall, "The Girl Who Made the Stars" presents itself as a surprisingly mature story despite the cutesy animation of young Michael and despite the continuing Burnham worshiping. The ties to Star Trek are weak, but the writing addresses the issue of being afraid of the unknown from a childlike perspective, and skillfully leads over to Star Trek's very motto of boldly going where no one has gone before without making the analogy too blatant. It is not a particularly "big" or "relevant" installment, even among the Short Treks, but exactly this makes it pleasant to watch. Last but not least, it comes with beautiful imagery.
- Continuity: Young Michael has a stuffed tardigrade. Well, perhaps this is not meant to be a space tardigrade.
- Remarkable dialogue: "Computer, aluminum. I mean, lum... uhm..." - "Illuminate?" - "That's what I said. Make it brighter." (Michael and her father)
A tardigrade needs a safe place for her eggs to mature. She runs into the USS Enterprise where she is identified as an intruder by a repair robot. Despite being chased by the robot, the tardigrade manages to deposit her eggs in the engine room. But then the Enterprise warps away. The tardigrade follows the ship for many years, until the battle with Kruge's Bird-of-Prey, just before the self-destruct of the Enterprise. The repair robot once again attacks her and throws her out of the airlock, but then recognizes that the eggs are a lifeform that must be protected. The robot survives the explosion of the Enterprise, with little tardigrades just hatching from their eggs stored inside.
I expected this second new Star Trek animation to be inspired by "WALL-E", but for most of the time it is more like "Tom and Jerry in Space". It is obvious that "Ephraim and Dot", in contrast to "The Girl Who Made the Stars", is not meant to be taken seriously. And so it brims over with slapstick that defies the laws of real-world and of Trek physics alike. But most notably the anthropomorphized squeaking and giggling tardigrade is so much unlike the beast that killed Landry in "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry" that they couldn't possibly be the same species.
Although it may have been (yet again) the intention "to celebrate the original Star Trek", the casual references to the missions of the Enterprise (which are not quite in the correct order anyway) should not be overrated as giving the whimsical story a greater significance. They merely establish a timescale for the hatching period of tardigrade eggs. As couldn't be expected otherwise, rather than anything more subtle or more witty, Khan and the Tribbles are two of these events. But unlike on previous occasions when Khan and Tribbles were conscripted by clueless modern Trek authors to give their stories more apparent relevance, I simply don't care this time. It doesn't bother me that they appear in this little episode, unless we reverse the perspective and rewatch TOS and the TOS movies, claiming that a tardigrade was present during all pivotal moments. There are very good reasons for "Ephraim and Dot" to be non-canon despite all the canon references. Ultimately, the strange 1950s-style educational film in the intro pretty much decanonizes the whole story because after DIS: "Such Sweet Sorrow II" the existence of the spore network is denied by Starfleet.
After all the mindless action and throwaway Trek references, the final minute reconciles me a bit with "Ephraim and Dot". At last, the episode gets across the message that life must be preserved, although the idea of a tardigrade and a robot forming some kind of family is absurd.
Even though I concede that "Ephraim and Dot" (as opposed to Trek's new all-time low "Edward") is light-hearted entertainment and even though it can hardly be canon anyway, I would have expected more from it. It is a wacky comedy with Star Trek references, rather than being Star Trek itself. As "The Girl Who Made the Stars" demonstrates, telling a meaningful and respectful story is possible in the form of an animation, but this wasn't even attempted with "Ephraim and Dot". Whether this episode is just a trial balloon or is supposed to prepare us for two possibly childish animated series, cutesy Trek can and should never be more than a by-product of the real Star Trek.
- The episode shows a strange crossover of the reboot Enterprise on the outside and a partially authentic TOS look on the inside. Also, in TOS, there was never a window anywhere in sickbay.
- The Enterprise refit, on the other hand, was not touched and looks just like in the TOS movies. But the animators made a very embarrassing error: The ship is labeled as "NCC-1701-A" although it would have to be "NCC-1701" (a detail that would have been of crucial importance for this very story as well).
- The Enterprise rams an asteroid? Sure, these things customarily happen in Discovery, but not in classic Trek where the ship has a deflector or thrusters to avoid the collision, or simply drops out of warp well ahead of an asteroid field.
- The Jefferies tubes are used for laundry storage (in the form of red, yellow and blue shirts)?
- Wow. The Enterprise gets into space battles, is frequently serviced and repaired, has robots that patrol the ship all the time (at least in the DIS universe), eventually undergoes a complete overhaul, and the tardigrade eggs are still in place, after almost 20 years!
- Events during which the tardigrade is shown as present, in this order:
- Khan, Kirk and McCoy in sickbay (TOS: "Space Seed")
- Tribble invasion (TOS: "The Trouble with Tribbles", which would be actually much later)
- Sulu with a sword (TOS: "The Naked Time", or rather another event?)
- Apollo's big hand (TOS: "Who Mourns for Adonais?")
- The Planet Killer (TOS: "The Doomsday Machine")
- The Tholian web (TOS: "The Tholian Web")
- Lincoln on his chair (TOS: "The Savage Curtain")
- Battle in the Mutara Nebula ("Star Trek II")
- Destruction of the Enterprise at Genesis ("Star Trek III")
- Remarkable title: "Ephraim" was supposed to be the name of the tardigrade when he was still meant to be a permanent crew member of the Discovery. For a female creature, we would rather expect a female name, but Ephraim seems to have something in common with Michael Burnham here.
An alien girl named Kima and a human girl named Lil, who go to school on Earth, have in common that their parents work at the Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards on Mars. Without any apparent reason, the two begin to vent their anger on each other. After some mutual teasing the two girls get into a fight. A bit later, alarming news arrives from Mars. The planet has suffered a devastating attack that no one seems to have survived. The two girls unite in their sorrow.
"Children of Mars" gives some rare insight into the everyday life of normal kids, for which it has to be commended although this aspect isn't really interesting. I just don't care for a story about two hysterical teen girls who get into a fight (neither on a present-day school nor in the otherwise so enlightened society of the late 24th century). Yet, the little bit of action with very sparse talking successfully creates tension, a feeling that there must be more about this story than two girls who don't get along with each other and who will likely become friends in the end.
I'm a bit sorry that it was impossible to avoid the big spoilers about this little episode because otherwise the shock would have been even bigger. Well, this wouldn't be a Short Treks episode if it didn't have relevance on a larger scale, and "Children of Mars" was explicitly announced as nothing less than a prequel to Star Trek: Picard. Yet, the attack on Mars, in the heart of the Federation, is an additional life-changing event that I wouldn't have expected, since the evacuation of Romulus was previously cited as setting up the new series. I'm confused now about what Picard is about, but the speculation will end in less than two weeks.
Thinking further about it, however, I am annoyed how routinely modern Trek resorts to the theme of planetary disasters. We've already lost Romulus, Vulcan and almost Qo'noS, in the far future "Control" even blows up all planets of the galaxy. Now Mars is gone or uninhabitable. Can't the people in charge just put an end to this hyperbole? Perhaps the destruction of the Mars colonies will remain more than only a side note in Picard, which will perhaps justify the stunt. On a related note, the attack was carried about by "rogue Synths" according to the news screen. We will likely learn in Picard what "Synths" are, but I have the impression they are artificial lifeforms that are denied their rights and that now strike back against the Federation, just like every single villain in every recent Star Trek movie.
Speculation about what all this really means aside, it is a bit sad to note that at the end of "Children of Mars" the animosity-turned-friendship of the two girls doesn't matter any longer. It is nothing more than a nice touch how they stretch out their hands. The story isn't about them any longer. It's just about the attack on Mars and about re-introducing Picard (who only appears as a still on a screen) to the franchise.
The visual style of the episode is another turn-off I need to address. Besides the anachronistic crossovers with Discovery that naturally bother me, I just don't think that brutalist architecture, sterile classrooms, school uniforms and obtrusive motivational messages belong to Star Trek. It all has the semblance of North Korea.
Overall, this Short Treks is captivating just because of the anticipation but it doesn't tell anything but that there has been a planetary disaster (yet again) that has some influence on Picard's life.
- Continuity: "Children of Mars" is a Picard prequel set around 2380. Yet, it totally relies on Discovery aesthetics. There is nothing that would insinuate we are some 120 years in the future and in the same continuity as TNG. Even the Federation emblem is DIS-style! The yellow(!) Discovery shuttle may be fitting, considering that it never looked like 23rd century anyway. The same goes for the Magee class and the two tugs at Utopia Planitia. Still, with tons of highly detailed free meshes of authentic 24th century ships floating around, is there an excuse for using exclusively Discovery ships? I mean, other than this being an attempt to retroactively establish Discovery through a backdoor, however unlikely it is for all new or freshly upgraded vessels at Utopia Planitia being over 120 years old designs.
- Remarkable music: The music playing in this episode is "Heroes" by Peter Gabriel. Although I think this version is awfully whiny compared to the original by David Bowie, it is perfectly fitting for the somber episode.
- Remarkable fact: This episode takes place on First Contact Day, so it's April 5th.