To keep the Star Trek flame lit during the hiatus, Star Trek: Discovery created four standalone shorts which were released on a monthly basis starting in October.
Diverse in scope, style, and character focus, they provided a tantalizing peek at the past, present, and future of the crew and ship we have gotten to know and look forward to seeing again very soon.
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"Runaway" stars Ensign Sylvia Tilly as she problem-solves a stowaway situation with her usual grace under fire.
"Calypso" mashes up elements of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale and Homer's Odyssey to tell the story of healing, friendship, and love.
"The Brightest Star" is Saru's origin story, showing us how he came to be the first Kelpian to join the Federation.
"The Escape Artist" brings back the infamous Harry Mudd in all his wheeling and dealing glory to cement his place as the Federation's Most Wanted.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 returns on CBS All Access on January 17.
The Runaway -- USS Discovery
The first of the Short Treks takes place before the events of Star Trek: Discovery Season 1 as Tilly has no roommate yet and is still in the early stages of considering the Command program. This makes sense for introducing the idea of these tangential tales, giving us a familiar face in a familiar setting.
The Runaway -- A Stowaway
I loved the initial element of creepiness as we only glimpse Discovery's newest and unexpected visitor. Great atmosphere.
The Runaway -- Tilly
Ah, Tilly. So sweet. So awkward. So caffeinated. Her conversation with her mother's hologram illuminates a lot about her insecurities. (I also get the sense that the Mirror Universe's Captain Killy probably offed her mom early in her career.)
The Runaway -- Me Hana Ika Hani Ka Po
"The Runaway" in the title has a double meaning here as Tilly's oh-so-supportive mother reminds her of a humiliating childhood episode where she ran away from a class activity she couldn't do. Of course, the main reference is the prickly young Xahean who has run away after her invention causes huge turmoil on her newly-warp-capable planet. Po's speech about her connection with her planet is simultaneously poignantly poetic and completely nonsensical but succeeds in quickly establishing the sense of Xahea's chaotic environment.
The Runaway -- Dilithium
At the center of the story is quite literally a power struggle. Po's invention, a dilithium incubator which can regrow the essential fuel for warp engines, makes Xahea (in Tilly's words) "the most politically relevant planet in the galaxy." (I'm a little confused how a planet that has been mining dilithium for generations only just established warp technology.)
The Runaway -- New Friends
The Bottom Line: This was a lovely little Tilly tale with a positive message about the how insecurities plague individuals of all walks of life whether they are royal or regular, brave or brilliant. (Also, the Discovery apparently has some sort of ridonkulous transporter tech since Tilly's able to send Po home without the ship being in orbit above her Xahea.)
Calypso -- The Rescue
The second Short Trek is an intense retelling of the Greek myth of Calypso, the nymph who fell in love with Odysseus after finding him washed ashore her island. In "Calypso" the U.S.S. Discovery finds a damaged escape pod floating in space and brings it aboard.
Calypso -- Zora
With a thousand years to itself, the Discovery evolves itself into a female-voiced personality with a love of [REALLY] old musical films. The A.I. is so natural in its speech that the rescued Craft mistakes it for a real person. By the way, the cleverness of this script is almost smug -- naming the Odysseus character "Craft" because he is "crafty" which was Odysseus' defining trait.
Calypso -- Taco Tuesday
Like the empty castle from the fairytale,"Beauty and the Beast," which caters to the lost girl's needs, Zora/Discovery not only clothes and feeds Craft, it educates and entertains him with a variety of cuisines and cultural curriculum. Craft's hesitancy feels natural, the reticence of a career soldier as well as the caution of a survivor.
Calypso -- Movie Night
With only a selection of Zora and Craft's interactions shown, the passage of time is still conveyed elegantly with overlayed shots of his daily activities. The production value on this episode is powerfully wielded. Still, we have no idea how long he actually bides with Zora. (In The Odyssey, Calypso keeps Odysseus with her for seven years, enchanted by her singing and dancing.)
Calypso -- S'Wonderful
It speaks to Craft's (ie. humanity's) need to interact that he looks for a way to do "something nice" for Zora, who is essentially a machine despite the complexity of its A.I. Their dance has all the glamorous romance of the era it evokes so when Craft pulls back from the expected kiss with the memory of his actual wife and child, it is quite jarring. The tear that falls from the holo-Zora is touching (if improbable).
Calypso -- True Names
Bottom line: This is a highly speculative, Homer-homage piece that is only tied to the Star Trek: Discovery 'verse by the ship's name. It could've been set in any A.I.-run environment, even a Google smart home a thousand years in our future. That being said, it's well-told with some fantastic visual elements and the intellectual conceit of its Odyssey source material is actualized with great skill.
The Brightest Star -- Young Saru
The third installment of Short Treks explores the culture and lives of Saru's species, the Kelpians. To discover they quite literally gather kelp as a past-time, is somewhat reductive but the rest of their reality is actually quite interesting.
The Brightest Star -- The Harvest
The literary allusion here would be to H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine" with the Kelpians playing the Eloi to the Ba'uls' Morlocks. The details of the annual culling of the population are left largely ambiguous, a necessity considering the abbreviative nature of Short Treks, and left me with a LOT of questions.
The Brightest Star -- At Prayer
Saru's youthful rebellion against his father's dogmatic faith in the name of scientific knowledge is a revelation and yet makes so much sense. The Saru we have come to know is incredibly by-the-book but capable of innovative thought when the book goes out the window... err, porthole. The major point of fact we come to understand here is that every moment Saru wears his Starfleet uniform, he is in a fight against his Kelpian nature.
The Brightest Star -- The Federation's Hello
A lot of questions regarding the communication device Saru creates. Is he able to read the messages? Are we seeing a translated text? Was it a communication device to begin with? If not, how could he have turned it into one? Since his family seems to live in one dwelling, how did his father not notice that Saru didn't dispose of the Ba'ul ship piece like he was supposed to? Further on that, how was Saru meant to dispose of it in the first place? An electronics recycling site seems unlikely in the Kelpian settlement.
The Brightest Star -- Siranna
The most meaningful part of this narrative is seeing Saru in his familial context, deferential to his father and affectionate towards his sister, Siranna. Onboard Discovery, Saru is a solitary soul, isolated by nature as well as by choice. Among his people, he is one of many and yet is still set apart by his intellectual curiosity.
The Brightest Star -- Georgiou
The Bottom Line: This could easily be expanded to a full episode of Star Trek: Discovery. I wouldn't mind a mission that takes them back to Saru's homeworld and seeing how he explains he disappearance to his family and community. Furthermore, I kind of want to know about the Ba'ul and what they do with the sacrificed Kelpians. Unless they eat them because then I don't want to know.
The Escape Artist -- Harcourt Mudd
Harry Mudd's appearances on Star Trek: Discovery Season 1 (Episodes 5 and 7) were arguably some of the most crowd-pleasing elements of the inaugural season. His presence lent canonical weight to this very different take on the franchise. Rainn Wilson, in the role, really seemed to embrace the character and it's not surprising that he jumped at the chance to star and direct in his own Short Trek.
The Escape Artist -- Tevran Krit
One thing (of many, MANY things) that can be said of Mudd: he is, and always has been, an equally-opportunity con-man. We first see him here being bought by a tusked Tellarite of a masked and curvaceous bounty hunter. Almost immediately, the bluster and cajoling and pleading begins. Mudd is, above all, a TALKER.
The Escape Artist -- Bounty Hunter
This teleplay uses the television medium well, interspersing his journey with the Tellarite with a variety of flashbacks to other captivities, introducing us to shorter, angrier bounty hunters as well as the sorts of captors who would rather knock Mudd into unconsciousness than listen to his playlist of scams.
The Escape Artist -- Caught On Camera
The best captivity scenario was definitely the green-skinned guards. Not sure if they were meant to evoke Orions but, if it was, it was nice twist to have the human all chained up. Loved that the dumb male guard was enamoured with the idea of wearing a cape and unaware that his interest in being bribed was all on surveillance camera. His female counterpart is clearly of the "Shut up, Mudd" camp.
The Escape Artist -- So Much Mudd
Like bacon, some would contend that more Mudd can only improve a situation. The reveal aboard the U.S.S. De Milo that Mudd has been seeding the galaxy with android versions of himself, monetizing his own notoriety as it were, is exactly the sort of shenanigan Mudd would concoct. It simultaneously makes him money, grows his reputation, and pisses off the Federation. The perfect scam.
The Escape Artist -- Wielding the Cudgel
The Bottom Line: Where the other Short Treks left me with many questions and the potential for so much more narrative, "The Escape Artist" is the ideal length and depth for its star. After all, Mudd stories have always been the stuff of stand-alone episodes. Whether on Classic Trek or Star Trek: Discovery, he, like Star Trek: the Next Generation's Q, doesn't fit in as a long-arc or regular character. Harcourt Fenton Mudd is very much the ripest cheese in the Trek palate -- powerful in small bites but stinks up the place if around for too long.