It’s no secret that I have had my fair share of issues with the first season of ‘Star Trek: Discovery.’ We don’t need to rehash all the issues right now but feel free to peruse my reviews of the first season episodes to see my sizable laundry-list of perceived shortcomings of the show. It was with some trepidation, then, that I sat down to watch the filler-style “Short Treks” episodes these last few months.
Providing one 15-ish minute “mini-episode” a month until the full episodes return with the Season Two premiere in January, CBS is hoping that these tiny tales will give fans enough to hold their interest until early next year. Last month’s Tilly-centric Short Trek, “Runaway,” was nothing too special and largely forgettable; will this month’s episode and its accompanying change in format bring something significantly different for the Trek faithful?
WARNING: Spoilers for this episode of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ lie ahead, obviously. If you haven’t seen the episode and don’t wish for any of its content to be spoiled for you, the time to turn back is NOW!
RECAP: Floating along in an escape pod of a design we don’t recognize, an unknown alien is brought aboard Discovery via tractor beam. Awakening in sick bay, the alien, who identifies himself as Craft (and a human), doesn’t recognize the Federation starship but does recognize that he is alone, physically – no actual crew members are on the ship, just the onboard computer system that identifies itself as “Zora.”
Zora helps bring Craft back to health, and we discover that the man has been involved in a long-running war between his colony and an alien race, the V’Draysh (although they may not necessarily not be human, as the stolen V’Draysh escape pod that Craft is in has shown him a Betty Boop cartoon 811 times in a row “they value relics from the long ago,” Craft says noncommittally). Unfortunately, Craft’s present position aboard Discovery means that it’s a long shot for him to get back home: when the crew “mysteriously disappeared” (per Zora), only one shuttlecraft remained on the ship, and it’s never been used. Zora herself (itself?) is unwilling to move Discovery out of the electrical storm that she seems mired in, as she was ordered to maintain position… even though she reveals that order was given about 1,000 years ago, and she has faithfully remained at the ready ever since (although she has been biding her time by “evolving myself” into what is clearly not a standard Federation-issue shipboard AI).
Time goes by (weeks, months perhaps), and Craft develops a bond with Zora. With shades of the Spike Jonze movie ‘Her,’ a connection develops between human and artificial intelligence that is a little deeper than normal; after a touching bonding moment via the holographic recreation of the classic film ‘My Fair Lady,’ Craft comes to the realization that he needs to try and make it home to his wife and child, and Zora has come to care about him enough to agree.
Giving Craft the lone remaining shuttlecraft (with some personal rebranding based on their time together), Zora wishes Craft well, and the man begins his journey back to his home planet. Zora – Discovery – continues to wait patiently as instructed, awaiting further orders that may never come…
- Pulitzer Prize-winning author and long-time Trek fan Michael Chabon wrote this ‘Short Trek,’ ostensibly as a warm-up for his upcoming work on the new Captain Picard-centric Star Trek TV series. It’s clear that Chabon has a great grasp of and reverence for the classic Star Trek style of story. Even though this episode is short (about 18 minutes or so), big questions are raised and fun sci-fi type of ideas are explored.
- Speaking of those “big questions,” one of the biggest, of course, is that of how the USS Discovery ended up in a far-flung future, apparently abandoned, and with an ever-evolving sentient computer system who is waiting obediently for her fleshy masters to come back home. A few follow-up questions (that seem left intentionally vague and unaddressed by Chabon and the creative team) revolve around whether we are in the “prime” Star Trek universe or another, more alternate dimension; how exactly Zora “evolved herself” over the decades; and whether or not Zora is being entirely truthful in terms of what year it currently is and what truly may have happened to the ships’ crew. Will we ever get answers to these questions? For the record, these are the kind of thought-provoking, make-me-want-to-tune-in-next-week questions that I desire Star Trek to pose – the kind that I feel have been largely missing from the first season of Star Trek: Discovery.
- Here’s the oddest thing, to me, of the entire episode: perhaps it’s a case of a rough editing cut that didn’t show the audience a part of a conversation had between Craft and Zora, but when Craft is in the mess hall talking with the AI, there is a moment of slow zoom-in on Zora’s wall-mounted interface, and below on the wall is a projection of a starship – but not Discovery. After some diligent pausing and squinting, I can positively identify the ship as the USS Shran, NCC-1413; this Magee-class Federation ship was destroyed in the Klingon-centric Battle of the Binary Stars in the opening episodes of the first season of the show, so it’s a little strange why it might be referenced so randomly here in “Calypso.” Editing mistake, or deeper-seeded mystery that will reveal itself as time goes on? Your guess is as good as mine.
CLOSING THOUGHTS: For me, this was the first ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ story that held my interest and impressed me from start to finish. It speaks unfortunate volumes, though, that in order to get to this point, we had to remove ALL of the existing characters and plot situations of ‘Discovery’ just to get here.
PRINCIPAL CAST FEATURED IN THIS EPISODE:
Aldis Hodge as Craft
Annabelle Wallis as Zora
‘Star Trek: Discovery’ features new episodes Sunday nights at 8:30 pm online via CBS All Access; the second season premiers in January 2019.