Star Trek Short Treks (SHO) Guest Reviews

RunawayCalypsoQ&AThe Trouble with EdwardAsk NotThe Girl Who Made the StarsEphraim and DotChildren of Mars

 

Runaway

Synopsis

"Runaway"

Stardate not given: Synopsis in main SHO listing

Commentary

"Discovery" returns with a new format. In so called "Short Treks" we witness 15-minute episodes that focus on one crewmember. I have to admit that I didn't expect much from the new concept and that is exactly what we got.

"Runaway" sports many of the problems DIS had in its first season. First of all, we are told a story here that struggles concerning its inner logic and coherence. As it is the case with the regular episodes, obstacles are not addressed by the writers but simply ignored. The parallels to many episodes of season 1 are striking here:

We have to swallow that everything that happens during the course of this episode is able to happen without anyone noticing anything. What happened to internal sensors or transporter logs to name only the most obvious ones. At least, we would have expected anyone to investigate what happened in the mess hall. This is quite similar to the unbelievable way Tyler was able to murder Dr. Culber, to name just one example. Such stretches of plausibility could easily be avoided with a little more thought and care concerning the scripts. The whole story would have been more credible if the Discovery would have been in orbit of Po's planet.

In addition we are supposed to believe that Tilly wouldn't call any of her superiors and thereby risk her career for a teenage girl that ran away from home? Why? She has no real reason to act like that, has she? She also is a trained officer, isn't she? Well, I can see what the producers tried to do here, but the try to create the impression that Tilly and Po are kind of in the same situation fails to convince. Tilly should be less self-conscious by now.

Also, the conflicts with her mother seem to be exaggerated to say the least. Using the bad mother who isn't able to appreciate her daughter's achievements in combination with a smarter stepsister who does everything better is such a boring old cliché that I, once again, have to wonder how it made into a contemporary show that takes itself so serious.

Po is quite unremarkable as a character. Of course, we have to take into account the limitations of the format, but I still don't see what her plan was and what she was hoping to accomplish. Also, she is another super-smart wunderkind, but still doesn't to cope with her emotions in a halfway reasonable way (and why did she crawl on all fours for the first half of the episode). Her connection to her home planet is only hinted but never really explained. Still, I have a real problem with the amount of esoteric nonsense DIS is producing all the time. Star Trek always tried to avoid stuff like that and for good reasons. DIS very often feels more like a fantasy show (or even worse: like cheap fanfiction)

As for the attempts of humor that inevitably come with a Tilly-episode I have to say that most of it failed to make me smile. Mary Wiseman sure is a capable actress, but here she is quite over the top. Her social awkwardness shouldn't be exaggerated to a point were she acts like a maniac. She comes across as a complete moron at times and is simply annoying.

Even though I know that the Short Treks should supposedly be taken with a grain of salt and should be watched with lower expectations than the regular show, I have to say that the writers missed an opportunity to give Tilly a bit more profile. We learn almost nothing new about her character and she is reduced to a mere goof which is quite alarming.

All in all, we are presented a paper-thin story here and a lot of things don't make sense which is saying something concerning the runtime of this episode. In addition, "Runaway" does nothing for Tilly except corroborate what we already know.

Finally, I didn't fail to notice that Short Treks are only available in North America. It is quite clear that the only reason why this thing exists at all is to force people to keep their subscriptions to CBS All Access. This time with cheaply produced mini-episodes that were advertised as if they would add something important to the story, which clearly isn't the case (yet). This maneuver is, once again, a slap in the face for the fans and just another example of what is wrong with modern Star Trek. I have nothing but despise for CBS and its policy.

Annotations

Rating: 1 (Kilian T.)

 

Calypso

Synopsis

"Calypso"

Stardate not given: Synopsis in main SHO listing

Commentary

"Calypso" is not a very creative episode. It tells a story that was told many times before and that borrows, among others, heavily from "2001". The AI that evolved beyond its original programming trying to bond with a single human to convince him to stay aboard the ship is quite clichéd and worn out. But, even though there is a certain lack of originality in "Calypso" I found the execution rather charming and the twist at the end was touching as well. I felt genuinely entertained by this mini-episode and was left behind, wishing for more of it. A feeling I never had during one of the regular episodes of DIS. It was also a good choice to depict Zora as a likeable character who does the right thing by allowing Craft to leave.

I think Aldis Hodge gave a decent performance (as did Annabelle Wallis) and the script avoided being to melodramatic or cheesy. The fact that the backgrounds of this episode's story were kept as vague as possible felt like a conscious dramatic choice by the writers, that made absolutely sense concerning the limitations of the "Short Treks"-concept, and not like a negligence as it was the case way to often during season one and especially in "Calypso's" predecessor "Runaway".

I also liked how the overall atmosphere was supported by good lighting and music-choices. It added to the very natural and genuine feeling flow the episode had.

The biggest letdown of "Calypso" on the other hand is that it has no real connection to Star Trek at all. It is a nice short film for sure and I'm more than willing to take this back when the producers make use of the material presented here during season 2 of DIS, but I don't think that will happen. Some hints to the Star Trek universe would have sufficed to give the viewer the feeling that he's watching a genuine part of the franchise.

For reasons mentioned above "Calypso" is hard to rate, but I'm willing to give Michael Chabon credit for some right choices he made and for his good style of writing. I really hope he'll be able to keep up with this when working on the new Picard-series. And, most important, I hope he won't forget about more than 50 years of Star Trek history.

Rating: 7 (Kilian T.)

 

Q&A

Synopsis

"Q&A"

Stardate not given: Synopsis in main SHO listing

Commentary

Short Treks returns for a second round with an episode written by Michael Chabon. Considering how the first round was implemented into the regular second season of DIS I think it is worth to take a close look at the upcoming Short Treks. I liked the work Chabon did for the first season, namely in "Calypso". I also think he is a very good writer in general. I coincidentally read two of his books before he joined Star Trek ("Moonglow" & "Summerland") and I think the guy is talented as a novelist. That is why I even cheered a little when I learned that he will be writing for "Picard". The writing on DIS has been very weak and inconsistent so far and none of the writers left a good impression, to say the least. Learning that someone with Chabon's skills is present in the writers' room offers some comfort to me. That is why I had high expectations for "Q&A" and I, sadly, have to admit that they were mostly disappointed.

The episode starts with Ensign Spock's first day aboard the Enterprise, a story I would never have asked for. He meets Number One and gets stuck in the turbolift with her. So far, so good. What unfolds then is simply boring and annoying. The writing itself is a bit uneven and corny. Number One asks Spock to bombard her and everyone else with questions just to be annoyed by it sometime later. Also, is there a real reason why they should engage in that kind of bantering instead of discussing the current situation or simply behave like professionals? The questioning doesn't do anything for both of the characters and we learn almost nothing new about them until the moment Number One starts singing, which is the kind of cringeworthy scene I could go without. I also think that Romijn's performance is really not that convincing, but maybe that was intended. It also doesn't strike me as such a big revelation that she likes Gilbert & Sullivan (a matter of taste, indeed). No one would expect her to not have a private life and personal interests. Sure, she comes across as professional and, by times, even cold, but that is her job, isn't it? So, what's the big deal? The only interesting part is Number One's analysis of Captain Pike.

The fact that the producers felt the need to explain a laughing Spock from "The Cage" is symptomatic for a show that isn't able to maintain simple inner logic and continuity but instead feels the need to explain things that were caused by production-circumstances more than fifty years ago and that better stay unexplained. It is as if this is a try to reassure us that DIS is not a reboot and that it is part of the canon. It would have been wise to leave characters like Spock and Pike untouched, especially when there is no interesting story to tell. Instead of giving us unnecessary origin stories (another one will follow next week) the writers should invest in new stories that are fresh and intriguing.

Granted, I might expect too much from 15 minutes of Short Treks, and we already know that Chabon can do better, even though a good novelist is not necessarily a good screenwriter. But, what really alarmed me about his writing for "Q&A" is that he followed the most annoying DIS trope of all, namely that everything of meaning is simply declared a secret. The spore drive: a secret; the Mirror Universe: a secret; the Red Angel: a secret; Discovery itself: a secret... ... ... While that is the laziest of ways to resolve a problem, it is only a symptom of the ineptitude of Disco's writing staff. In a feeble attempt to maintain some kind of continuity in order to justify DIS as a regular part of Star Trek they have no better ways of resolving a situation than simply declaring it a secret and thereby ignoring the whole lot of problems coming with that kind of stupidity.

Overall, I don't think "Q&A" is a particularly bad episode, I just think it is an unnecessary one. I also still have high hopes about Chabon when it comes to "Picard". Until I'm proven wrong I will consider this a slip-up.

Annotations

Rating: 2 (Kilian T.)

 

The Trouble with Edward

Synopsis

"The Trouble with Edward"

Stardate not given: Synopsis in main TOS listing

Commentary

Wow. This episode left me absolutely speechless. We have seen some pretty bad episodes on DIS so far and we have witnessed some weak writing as well, but I cannot remember any episode at all that shows such disdain for its characters, its audience and for Star Trek as a whole.

"The Trouble with Edward" is a slap in the face. It starts out with a yet unknown character, namely Captain Lucero, who is given command over a small science-vessel. After some warm words from Captain Pike we see her holding a meeting where we meet Edward Larkin. From this moment on the episode becomes almost insufferable. Larkin and Lucero are written as very unsympathetic characters and the dialogue is extremely dumb even by DIS-standards. ("You're stupid!" - "I'm not stupid! You're stupid!" and so on). Throughout the episode Edward is ridiculed and made fun of several times, culminating in showing him in his underpants for no other reason but underlining what a moron he is. There is no attempt from Lucero or her crew to integrate him into the crew, instead he is presented as a reckless idiot who causes nothing but trouble and everybody hates him wholeheartedly, which is sad. Giving outsiders a chance to become useful members of the crew was always important on Star Trek (Barclay comes to mind), but "The Trouble with Edward" doesn't even try to reconcile the viewer with its titular protagonist. Instead he gets constantly ridiculed, is killed off casually, and is even further humiliated after his death when Lucero mentions to the inquiry-board that "he was an idiot". The episode's attempt on dark humor falls completely flat, not only because of bad writing and timing, but mainly because Star Trek is simply the wrong franchise for material like this. Also, if none of the characters have any redeeming qualities how could we possibly laugh about them.

On a side note: Like it was the case in season 2 of DIS and in "Q&A" just a week ago the trend to explain certain dark spots of Star Trek's history, namely the Klingon-Tribble-conflict, continues here. Once again, the producers feel the need to shed light on some irrelevant trivia but have, on the other hand, no problem with messing up continuity on a way larger scale.

I see no real point in further commenting on the episode's shortcomings. I don't care for the bad science, I don't care for messing up the entire Tribble-continuity, I don't even care for the aggressively bad writing and the ill-tempered and tasteless attempts on humor. What I do care for is the open affront against Star Trek and its values. This episode is not simply bad it is a disgrace.

Annotations

Rating: 0 (Kilian T.)

 

Ask Not

Synopsis

"Ask Not"

Stardate not given: Synopsis in main DIS listing

Commentary

"Ask Not" is a classic Star Trek episode that deals with common Trek-themes like strength of character and loyalty. It's very straightforward and gets across its message in about eight minutes. It also, for change, shows some good continuity with other installments of Star Trek. Also, I the acting was quite decent this time.

On the downside, the scenario is just too fabricated and you know almost immediately that nothing we see could possibly true. I also have a big problem with the ethics and the mere logic of this test. First of all, we are supposed to believe that Starfleet would use such an elaborate and very dangerous scenario to test the abilities just for a position in engineering. It also strikes me as hard to believe that a bunch of senior officers would find time for something like that. Are they doing that with every cadet? Time to quit your day job, Christopher...

I could live with the aforementioned because stranger and more illogical things have happened in Star Trek before, especially when it comes to the teaching methods of Starfleet. What really bothers me are the moral implications in such a scenario. Sidhu and Pike are put in real physical danger here in a story that builds on a huge trauma the cadet once suffered when she survived a Tholian attack before. Also, she is told that her husband might be dead because of the recent Tholian attack. That's quite dark when you think about. TNG: "Coming of Age" and the Kobayashi Maru test were mentioned as realms of comparison but in both instances the people involved knew that they are being tested. In "Coming of Age" Wesley was at least told that there is some kind of test of character coming up for him. I don't think that a humanistic organization like Starfleet would send someone through such an ordeal. In addition, I really don't see the connection between the test and Sidhu's ability to take a post in engineering.

Still, "Ask Not" is definitely among the more enjoyable installments of DIS so far because it sends a positive message and has likable characters in it, even though the rest is quite questionable.

Annotations

Rating: 4 (KilianT.)

 

The Girl Who Made the Stars

Synopsis

"The Girl Who Made the Stars"

Stardate not given: Synopsis in main DIS listing

Commentary

I don't really know what to say about this one. "The Girl Who Made the Stars" tells a story of an African myth about how the stars were created in the universe. It has almost nothing to do with Star Trek and I fail to see the point of this episode. I think it is kind of a cute story for kids and would have been nice as a stand-alone short film but in the context of Star Trek there are several nuisances.

First of all, it serves to once again underline what we already know about Michael Burnham, why she is the greatest, the bravest and simply the best... and so on. Burnham is an incredibly flat character so far, so this would have been a good chance to give her some interesting background. Instead, the African girl (who isn't, but is meant to be Burnham) is depicted as someone who is braver and smarter than everyone else. But, just like the real Burnham only coincidence and dumb writing helps her to achieve anything. This time, she runs into the dark without a plan and without any considerations just to stumble (literally!) in front of an alien being that gives her a Deus-ex-Machina device to make her a hero. Yawn. We have seen this soooooo many times on DIS by now and it's so tiresome that there seems never to be something she has to LEARN or she has to WORK for hard. There have been countless episodes of DIS so far that are built around that premise and I'm certain we will see even more.

Just like on DIS everything depends on pure happenstance which is simply the product of bad writing. Most of this could have been avoided easily but it seems that those are the only skills present in the writers' room. A second idea would help the show in its third season.

My second problem is the format itself. I don't really see who this is made for. DIS is a show full of graphic violence, questionable morals and an abundance of darkness. It's not exactly a family show and I would never show it to my kids. Still, this episode is clearly aiming toward them and also requires watching of the show to fully get it. I find that strange and quite illogical.

As mentioned before, this is a cute little short-film for kids and I'm willing to get the writers some credit for that. The weaknesses in the narrative could be ignored because that's how metaphors and fairy tales work. Plot-logic is secondary to the morals of a story and that for good reasons.

But, it has to be rated in the larger context of the franchise and in that regard it is just a further step in simplifying Star Trek and lacks much of the intellectual foundation and depth of the original.

Rating: 3 (Kilian T.)

 

Ephraim and Dot

Synopsis

"Ephraim and Dot"

Stardate not given: Synopsis in main DIS listing

Commentary

"Ephraim and Dot" is yet another animated Short Trek. I'm not very fond of the idea of animated Star Trek in general because I think it doesn't suit the franchise very well and is only a further step into ridiculing classical Star Trek and its intellectual demands. I also, once again, wonder who is supposed to be the audience for that stuff.

While I thought that "The Girl Who Made the Stars" at least told a halfway stringent story and tried to be more mature I can't say the same about this one. Everything about it seemed odd. The whole story about the tardigrade and the mycelium-network should be long gone by now. It strikes me as rather annoying to hear about it again. It also somehow messes up Disco's own continuity because everything concerning it is supposed to be secret. I also don't care much for the story itself and I really don't need the gratuitous fan-service blatantly presented in this episode (of course including Khan and the Tribbles). I also strongly dislike the mix-up of the classical Star Trek-design with the reboot looks. It seems rather carelessly thrown together which tells me that the producers don't really care for continuity and just want to show that they heard about such a thing as "Star Trek". Also, it doesn't really play a role for the story and is quite superficially executed anyway. Questions of plot-logic and canon should better not be asked here as well...

In contrast to last week's episode, I also find this one rather bad regarding the mere technicalities. I don't get the black and white intro that seems to be one of Kurtzman's/Abrams's trademarks. It just doesn't make sense and feels displaced. Also, the whole story told here reminds me of the "Looney Toons" or something among those lines. At least the episode ends on a positive note which is about the only redeeming quality.

Nevertheless, the direction Star Trek takes is worrying. The reboots lack almost all the basic foundations of Star Trek concerning (among others) its quality of writing and its intellectual heritage. Shorts Treks like this would perhaps be a halfway enjoyable addition without such fundamental flaws. For now, it only corroborates an alarming development.

Annotations

Rating: 1 (Kilian T.)

 

Children of Mars

Synopsis

"Children of Mars"

Stardate not given: Synopsis in main DIS listing

Commentary

"Children of Mars" is the last Short Trek for this season and the first episode set in the 24th century since "Nemesis". As such, it is meant to create some setup for "Picard" coming up soon. I find it quite difficult to rate but there are some disturbing things going on in it.

First of all, I wouldn't have been able to identify this one as a 24th century piece if I wasn't told that it is. Much of it is visually more or less identical with the Disco-style which is alarming because it tells us two things:

First, the producers of "Picard" won't care for the visual frame set by TNG and second, they continue to let Star Trek look like a silly comic-book adaptation.

Both is a huge disappointment. Examples: We get a short glimpse at the Utopia Planitia shipyards and see some Disco-style ships there (they would ironically have fitted into the 24th century much better in the first place than into the Disco-timeline), we can also see the UFP-logo used by Disco and the nonsensical holograms. Even the school uniforms the girls are wearing remind me about the Academy uniforms from the Abramsverse...

Concerning the mere story, there is not a lot of information but still enough to be alarmed. I don't care for the girls fighting because that part of the story is directed like a music video and just further corroborates the intellectual state of the franchise. I don't really see what the producers' wanted to achieve here other than aiming towards a more adolescent audience. Sadly, this doesn't do anything for the story...

The more frustrating detail is the attack on Mars. It adds just another layer of darkness to Star Trek where already more than enough of that is present. Also, we have another rogue organization (the so called "synths") or group of people that endangers the Federation. I'm really tired of this nonsense now. We have seen this so many times by now in post-Nemesis Star Trek that I really have to wonder if the producers are unable to come up with any new and fresh ideas at all. All I see is a repetition of the same plot over and over again, and we are talking about a plot that wasn't especially creative in the first place. I definitely do not want to see this! The producers told us that Picard would be more of an intellectual show that will go in a different direction than Disco. Well, I find that hard to believe now, because I've just seen eight minutes of Disco-cliques packed into one Short Trek.

This episode is only a short foreword for Picard but it still seems that the producers simply don't get what Star Trek is all about. They are unable to understand the positive and humanistic worldview that was sported especially in TNG. Instead, they seemingly feel the need to further darken the franchise even though this is not what Star Trek was ever about. It just makes Star Trek disposable because it is just copying what is deemed successful on TV right now. After so many years the producers still do not seem to get what Star Trek's unique characteristics are. (I can only speculate about Patrick Stewart's influence here who always wanted more action and darkness...) "Children of Mars" makes me worrying about what the producers will do to the legacy of TNG. I'm willing to give it some credit for not getting my hopes up. After seeing this I can only be positively surprised by "Picard"...

Annotations

Rating: 1 (KilianT.)

 


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