Welcome as always to this week’s ‘Final Frontier Friday’! It’s going to be a quick-ish one this week (at least by my usual wordy standards) as we fill the wait for the next round of ‘Star Trek: Short Treks’ installments by looking back at the first… cycle? Season? However exactly we’re breaking these down. In any case, we’ll be turning our attention to arguably the standout installments of that set, namely ‘Calypso’.
On a fundamental level, the idea behind ‘Short Treks’ is to allow the franchise to experiment, both with shorter form storytelling and with ideas that for one reason or another might not fit within the mandate of the current slate of shows or movies. As a result, while an episode of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ has to more or less fit within the confines of the established structure and style of a ‘Discovery’ episode, a ‘Short Trek’ can do pretty much anything. In theory, at least. In practice, the first run of ‘Short Treks’ was (likely for reasons of budget and scheduling in addition to creative concerns) tied fairly tightly to the then-upcoming second season of ‘Discovery’, with two of the four shorts tying into the sophomore season in significant ways while a third served to show us what a first season guest character had been up to since his last appearance.
And then there’s ‘Calypso’. Save for the fact that it takes place on the titular starship, ‘Calypso’ is completely disconnected from ‘Discovery’ (though given the shakeup the show teased at the end of the second season, they may yet make a liar of me). That being the case, it’s fair to say that it comes closer than any other installment thus far of realizing the full potential of the ‘Short Treks’ endeavor.
It’s also noted author Michael Chabon’s first contribution to the franchise. To date, Chabon is arguably the most high profile creative “get” that the Kurtzman era of ‘Star Trek’ can lay claim to, and getting to see such a renowned writer bring his talents to bear on ‘Trek’ is… well, it’s a dream come true, akin to the first time Neil Gaiman signed on to write a ‘Doctor Who’ episode. Since then, though, Chabon (who you may remember as the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of such novels as ‘The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay’ and ‘The Mysteries of Pittsburgh’) has of course been tapped to serves as showrunner for ‘Star Trek: Picard‘. There’s still a lot we don’t know about ‘Picard’, but if ‘Calypso’ offers any sort of hint of what we can expect? Well, we’ll have a lot to look forward to.
As for the short itself, we begin with a human – Craft – adrift in an escape pod. Just as life support begins to fail, he is caught in a tractor beam belonging to the U.S.S. Discovery. He later wakes up in Discovery’s sickbay, seemingly alone, though he is soon greeted by a voice identifying itself as Zora. Zora provides Craft with clothing and leads him to the mess hall. The two talk while Craft eats. He is revealed to be a reluctant soldier fighting the V’draysh and Zora reveals herself to be Discovery’s computer, which has evolved into a full-fledged artificial life form in the thousand years since the ship was abandoned. Appreciative as he is for Zora’s help, Craft wants nothing more than to get back to his family on Alcor IV. Unfortunately, Zora explains that there’s only one warp capable shuttle onboard, and Alcor IV would be at the extreme edge of the craft’s range even under optimal conditions (which is to say “even if the thing hadn’t spent a millennium gathering dust”). Though she wishes she could do more, Zora explains that she can’t simply take Craft home, as her captain’s last order was for her to maintain position.
With no real alternative, Craft makes himself at home. As the days go by, he familiarizes himself with old Earth culture, samples everything the food synthesizers have to offer, plays chess with Zora, and watches holoprojections of old movies on the bridge. One day, Craft decides to repay all the kindness Zora has shown him. To that end, he learns the choreography to a musical number from ‘Funny Face’ (her favorite film) and shares a dance with her holographic avatar. During the dance, they have a moment and despite Zora’s protestations, Craft begins to feel as though he is betraying his wife.
Sometime later, Zora summons Craft to sickbay, where she synthesizes a flight suit and tells him he’s kept his family waiting long enough. The two share a tearful (and poignantly ironic) goodbye. Though neither is certain what Craft will find when he gets home – or if his ship can even make it that far – Craft boards the shuttle and takes off, revealing that Zora christened it “Funny Face”