Final Frontier Friday: 'The Brightest Star'

Welcome once again to ‘Final Frontier’ Friday! This time around, we’re taking our first look at ‘Star Trek: Short Treks’, focusing on the December 2018 installment ‘The Brightest Star’.

So, why ‘Short Treks’? Well, if you’re a regular reader of this column, you might have noticed that our last installment (in which I revisited – and finally made peace with – ‘Star Trek 2009‘ and the Kelvin timeline a whole) was a touch on the long side. Just a bit. You know, enough to nearly double the record for “longest ‘Final Frontier Friday.’ And that was just exhausting. Make no mistake, I’m proud of that one, but just thinking about how long it was is tiring me out! So when I finished that one, I promised I’d do something shorter this time. After all, I’d earned it! Of course, at first I had no idea what that would mean in practice. After all, “shorter than the longest thing you’ve written to date” does leave you a fair bit of flexibility.

“The Brightest Star”– Episode SF-003– Doug Jones as Saru of the CBS All Access series STAR TREK: SHORT TREKS. Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/CBS © 2018 CBS Interactive. All Rights Reserved.

In my quest for brevity, my first thought was to cover an animated episode. But then I remembered ‘Short Treks’. After all, it literally has “short” in its name! But lest you think I’m getting ready to write an essay about how lazy I am, let me assure you that I’m not just looking at ‘Short Treks’ because it’s, well, short. In fact, the series represents a new frontier of sorts for the franchise, one that Alex Kurtzman and the powers that be have barely begun to chart.

While it hasn’t been entirely uncontroversial (though what is these days?), the first season of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ was by any reasonable metric a success. Sure, we can (and no doubt will) debate the creative merits for years to come, but as far as CBS was concerned, the show had it where it counted. As a result, ‘Star Trek’ has entered a boom period not seen since the mid-nineties when ‘TNG’ made the jump to the big screen while ‘Deep Space Nine‘ and ‘Voyager‘ established themselves on TV. This time around, the franchise’s expansion is arguably even more ambitious, with ‘Star Trek: Picard‘ debuting later this year, a pair of animated shows in development, and persistent talk of spinoffs centered on Section 31, Michelle Yeoh’s Emperor Georgiou, and who knows what else.

But as ambitious as that slate is, it started small, with ‘Star Trek: Short Treks’, a short-form anthology series (itself a franchise first). The first season of ‘Short Treks’ aired in the runup to the second season of ‘Discovery’ and served as a companion series, of sorts to that show, with most episodes connecting in some form or fashion to the story that was to unfold on ‘Discovery’. When the shorts first aired, however, only one of those connections was immediately obvious. That, of course, was ‘The Brightest Star’, which further explored Saru’s backstory. Though Saru quickly emerged as a breakout character in the course of the first season, his history as only addressed in the broadest terms. This was usually limited to acknowledging that Kelpiens were a “prey species” and contrasting the often fear-driven worldview that results from that with the traditional image of the Intrepid Starfleet Explorer.

That all started to change here, as ‘The Brightest Star’ took us to the Kelpien homeworld of Kaminar for the first time, at last giving viewers a firsthand look at Saru’s family and the society in which he was raised. In doing so, it also established a status quo, giving us a sense of what to expect when ‘Discovery’ returned to that world in ‘The Sound of Thunder’, much to the excitement of Saru actor Doug Jones. Indeed, there was a lot the cast and crew of ‘Discovery’ weren’t talking about going into the second season, but they made sure to let fans know that we’d be learning a lot more about Saru and his people. And learn we did.