Fun-Size Trek

Short Treks: Season 2

It's a great time to be a Star TrekOriginally conceived as "Wagon Train in Space", Star Trek was released during the height of the Hollywood Western film and TV boom. While the concept CBS originally asked for had a western vibe, it was the smart, intellectual stories set in a future utopia of science and exploration that proved vital to the series' long impact on popular culture. fan. Star Trek: Discovery came into isn't own in second season (powered in no small part by Christopher Pike), Picard just started up, there's soon to be a new comedy set in the universe, and there's even a Nickelodeon show starting up soon. Plus, one or two movies may be in the works for eventual release. Considering there was a time where even the fans were saying Trek needed to be put out to pasture for a spell, the franchise has really come back with a vengeance.

Recently the franchise wrapped up its second season of Short Treks, the mini-episodes exclusively released on CBS All Access. Unlike the first season this set of shorts is not focused solely on Discovery but is meant to flesh out the universe as a whole, pick up different eras and characters to focus on. It's an interesting way to produce the season, but it's created a number of interesting stories that will hopefully flesh out all the eras the franchise will be playing in down the road.

Episode 1: "Q&A"

Going back to when Spock (Ethan Peck) first joined the Enterprise, our new Vulcan Ensign (fresh out of the Academy, apparently) is greeted by Number One (Rebecca Romijn), first officer of the ship. Number One takes the new science officer on a walk through the ship, heading up to the bridge so he can have a look at his new digs. She's a tough but fair officer, expecting him to barrage everyone he meets with questions about the ship so he can learn all that needs to be learned. However, while in the turbolift to the bridge, the lift has a failure and stops. Engineering is called but, for the life of them, they can't figure out what the problem is. This leaves Spock and Number One stuck in the turbolift for hours, which gives Spock plenty of time to bombard his senior officer with questions, just like she wanted.

As the hours drag on, the two begin to form a bond, and eventually Number One lets Spock in on a little secret, a secret he can appreciate and share. Then engineering shows up and they both pretend nothing was amiss before heading up to the bridge. There, Spock gets his first look at space from the bridge and gets to stand, in awe, of its majesty.

On this whole this episode is fun but pretty shallow. It's not so much a story as just a collection of moments hanging out with these two characters. Not that I mind, really, as Number One didn't get a lot of time to shine on Discovery, so any extra screen time with the character is appreciated. Really, I do hope CBS signed off on a show about the Enterprise under Pike's command so we can see more of the dynamic between Number One, Pike, and Spock. This seems like a very interesting period of the sow to explore, especially since Pike (as played by Anson Mount on Discovery) is such a compelling character.

I also want to once again commend the production team for the fact that they managed to update the style of the Enterprise so it feels more technologically in line with Discovery (instead of what Deep Space Nine and Enterprise did, treating the classic show as if it really did look the way it looked in the 1960s production style) while keeping in the spirit of the classic show. It did bother me that shows could look so futuristic now and yet we were supposed to accept that somehow technology took a step backwards for The Original Series. Here, the show feels of a piece with the classic series but still modern and cool. I love that.

Episode 2: "The Trouble With Edward"

We open on the Enterprise with Captain Pike walking his newly promoted officer, Lynne Lucero (Rosa Salazar), to the teleporters so she can take command of her new ship, the U.S.S. Cabot, a science vessel sent to study a burgeoning civilization. While most of her new crew are quit adept at their jobs, one Crew Member, Lieutenant Edward Larkin (H. Jon Benjamin), is kind of an idiot. His big project is studying a new species, the tribble, a creature that is made up almost entirely of meat. He suggested using these cute, furry creatures as a food source for the planet, but first he'd have to find a way to get them to breed faster (as they don't breed much in their current form), and he might also have to genetically engineer them to be brain damaged so that people aren't eating a potentially sentient life form. The Captain forbids any further experimentation, though... and then Larkin goes ahead and does it anyway.

Knowing what we know about the tribbles, we can easily see where this is headed. The tribbles go from being basically little space pandas, unable to breed often at all, to a species that is essentially born pregnant. They easily break out of their containment cell (because the pressure of their bodies builds up as more and more of them are created, and then they burst out of their containers) and quickly spread around the ship. Any attempt to stop the tribbles fails, and eventually the Cabot has to be abandoned due to be completely, dangerously overrun with the creatures. In the end the tribbles also spread to the planet (causing the evacuation of the civilization) and, somehow, make it all the way to Klingon space (which, of course, is practically an act of war at that point). All because of an idiot.

I won't lie, I didn't think we needed an origin story for the tribbles. They're a creature that could easily be over used and (like the Mirror Universe) the more times we go to that well, the less funny they become. However, this episode, due to both its short runtime and, naturally the performance of the always funny H. Jon Benjamin, manages to be a real winner. It's dumb and funny, with just the right amount of idiocy to make it a real comedy of errors. Maybe we didn't need an explanation for where the tribbles came from (at least 5% Larkin's own DNA), but this is a fantastic way to explain them regardless.

Note, there's a bonus tag ending after the credits for this episode that you have to watch. It manages to be even funnier (and darker, and more grotesque) then the main episode. Honestly, I'm so happy the producers were willing to make this special ending (which I refuse to spoil) because it absolutely makes the episode even better.

Episode 3: "Ask Not"

A third episode set around the Pike Enterprise, this one finds a new character, Cadet Thira Sidhu (Amrit Kaur) put in a very difficult situation. Sidhu originally wanted to be stationed aboard the Enterprise, but was rejected and sent to a random starbase. This seemed like quite a blow, but then the starbase was attacked and suddenly Sidhu has to guard a prisoner during the attack: Captain Pike. Apparently the Captain disobeyed a direct order from an admiral during an attack by the Tholians, and Pike wanted to continue the fight, taking it to the aliens, while the admiral disagreed, things got heated and Pike was charged with mutiny.

Once the story is revealed, and it's just Pike and Sidhu in a room, Pike immediately tries to convince Sidhu to let him go. He quites every rule he can think of and she denies his request, citing the fact that he's no longer in command, or a serving officer (since he's in chains) and she can't allow him to leave. When he finally just forces his way to the door, she pulls a phaser on him. That's when he reveals it was all a simulation to test Sidhu and how far she would go, in a time or war, to protect her ship. She clearly passed and, naturally Pike welcomes her to the Enterprise. Lessons learned and a happy outcome for all.

This episode was decent enough, but as the third in a trilogy of Pike U.S.S. Enterprise episodes, it's certainly the weakest. The biggest issue is that we know Pike and he being knocked down for mutiny feels out of character. Plus, the fact that it's just him and Sidhu, along in essentially a bottle episode, had me guessing right from the start that this was all a test. The twist was too easy to guess, deflating the energy of the episode. Plus, Sidhu hasn't shown up on Discovery before, so this episode really doesn't add anything of value to characters we know or situations we've seen.

That said, if they do eventually make a Pike-centric, Discovery era show, know who Sidhu is could make her character more interesting and relevant. So maybe we'll put a pin in this episode to see if it has more bearing on future events. For now though, my least favorite of the first trilogy of episodes for the season.

Episode 4: "Ephraim and Dot"

The first of two animated episodes, this one is, well, not really all that great at all. A tartigrade, one of the special ones that is able to travel the mycelial network, is searching for a safe place to lay her eggs (which, the episode informs us, can take years in a warm, safe place to incubate before hatching) when her search is interrupted by the Enterprise (this time during Kirk's era). As the tartigrade searches the ship, she continually encounters a security and repair droid. The droid chase her around the ship, but eventually the tartigrade finds a spot in engineering that's well heated and seemingly quite safe.

She lays her eggs, and then the droid shows up and ejects her from the ship. She then chases the Enterprise for the next few years (shown in a quite montage of flight) before finally getting back on (during a heated battle with the Klingons). She almost saves her eggs, but the droid catches her and ejects her again, and this right before the self destruct protocol is activated. The droid suddenly sees the eggs and realizes the mistake it's made. The ship explodes, crashing into a planet, but the droid has saved the babies, reuniting them with their forlorn mother. Everything is bright and happy once more for this little family.

This episode is, really, quite silly. I really wanted to like it as I wanted to report that something seemingly connected to The Animated Series (since that was animated, this is animated, and both involve Kirk's era of captaining the ship) was actually good, but this episode doesn't manage to bring it together. It's essentially a Tom and Jerry cartoon, with a tartigrade and a bot in place of those characters, but it has very little wit or style to it. It's just a silly lark, and not even a very amusing one.

The best part of the mini-episode is how it stitches this adventure into the run of TOS and movies (ending with the destruction of the Enterprise at the end of The Search for Spock). I spotted references to "Space Seed", "The Trouble with Tribbles", "Amock Time", and "The Tholian Web", and those were just the ones I recognized (among so many more). That part was neat and interesting, but the story around it all was lackluster. This is, quite honestly, the first Short Trek I was utterly disappointed about.

Episode 5: "The Girl Who Made the Stars"

The second animated episode of this season, we go back to Michael Burnham's youth, when she was traveling with her parents as they studied various planets around Federation space. One night, scared by a storm, Michael calls for her father, saying she's afraid of the dark. In response, he tells her a tale about a young girl who lived during the time of the First People. These people lived in a single valley on Earth and were afraid to leave their valley at night claiming it was anger the Night Beast. So the stayed, and farmed, but when a drought rolled in, the First People didn't know what to do. They refused to leave their valley for any place since it would take more than a day to travel somewhere (and, again, they couldn't be out at night), so they waiting for the inevitable.

But one girl was different. She ventured out of the valley, into the dark of night, in search of a land they could move to. What she found, though, was an alien entity, one that found no fear or worry in the girl. As reward (before flying away), the alien gave the girl an orb of light. When she got back to the village she opened the orb, releasing all the stars in the night sky, showing her people they didn't need to be afraid. She was brave, and from this story Michael learns to be brave too.

This episode is at least better than "Ephraim and Dot", but it's only by degrees. It's better animated, and more interesting, with an actual story, to be fair. The problem is that this tale is so throw-away, so tangential to the main series that it really serves no purpose. Having Michael's father tell her a creation story about people we've never seen before (and probably will never see again) doesn't do anything to illuminate our understanding of the universe of Trek, or Michael for that matter. It's a cute little tale, but not an essential one.

Honestly, I tuned out of this episode half way in and had to go back and watch it again. It just didn't do anything for me, so while it was better than the episode that came directly before, it still wasn't good. We're in the back half of this season of shorts and already two of them have sucked. The last one better knock it out of the park if we're going to redeem this season.

Episode 6: "Children of Mars"

The last episode takes us out of the 23rd century (of TOS and DSC) and into the era after The Next Generation (specifically ten years or so after Nemesis but before the official start of Picard). This is a tale about two girls, both of whom have parents working on Mars. One girl, Lil (Sadie Munroe) is angry at her father because he's stuck working on Mars and won't be able to come home for another years, so she takes it out on Kima (Ilamaria Ebrahim), an alien who goes to the same school as Lil. First Lil pushed Kima, making the other girl drop her backpack, and the ends up forcing Kima to be late for the bus and then late to school. Kima pushes her back later, so then Lil gets Kima in trouble with her teacher.

Things escalate quickly from there with Kima tripped Lil in the library, and then Lil coming after Kima at their lockers. A huge fight ensues, and then both girls end up in trouble once the administrators arrive to break up the fight. Their disciplinary issues are dropped, though, when the news starts playing footage of an attack on Mars that's actively going on. The attacks destroys Mars, leaving it a irradiated wasteland, and the parents of both girls are killed in the process. All the girls have, then, are each other to lean on during this tragedy.

This episode ties directly to the events of Picard (which I know since I have already watched the first episode of that show -- spoiler: it's really good). In that episode the full devastation of Mars is revealed, but going back and seeing it first hand in this mini-episode really puts the whole matter into perspective. It's an interesting bit of world building, to be sure, and I like the fact that CBS is using these shorts to build up new facets of the larger universe. It's a good use of this format and it makes these episodes -- when done right -- feel essential to the how franchise.

What I really appreciated, though, was how this episode was told. Much of the episode is dialogue free, with the girls most interacting via body language. While there is some talking, much of the story is conveyed by reactions instead of talking. It's much harder to tell a story this way, but this episode pulls it off (which is, really, a credit to the young actors starring in this episode). It makes for a strong tale and a strong finish to the whole season.

In Conclusion:

I loved the first season of Short Treks, so there should be no mistake that I had high expectations for this second season. While there were really solid episodes -- "The Trouble with Edward", "Children of Mars" -- it felt like this collection of episodes had more misses than hits. The season struggles to find essential tales to tell this time around, and few of the stories really add anything to what we know or characters we care about. If it weren't for "Children of Mars" I'd call it a complete wash (one amusing tribble episode notwithstanding). Even still, I can't recommend this season the way I did the first. If you're a big enough fan you'll probably like this season, but if you're that big a fan you likely watched it already. For everyone else you can skip Short Treks Season 2.