Much as the days of British audiences having to wait a small age to get American TV content are long gone, CBS certainly made us hang on a bit for Short Treks. Designed to keep fans happy between seasons of Star Trek: Discovery, and whet audience appetites before the new season (plus no doubt rope in some early subscribers), Short Treks does what it says on the tin – 15 minute or so minisodes focusing on a character or scenario from the Discovery universe.
The easiest way to look at each of these is to break them down one by one, so let’s go through from first to last and see if they live up to the promise.
The first of the four focuses on Cadet Sylvia Tilley (Mary Wiseman), arguably one of the breakout characters in Season 1 of Discovery. Ostensibly comic relief in a sea of rather serious minded characters amidst a dark scenario, Tilley provided a relatable, motormouth down to earth persona alongside a character arc we could all root for: a desire to become one of Starfleet’s great Captains.
Now about to apply for the Command Training Program, Tilley faces her own crisis of confidence until she meets ship stowaway Me Hani Ika Hali Ka Po (yes, really), who happens to be quite the genius. ‘Runaway’ is largely a conversation between two women on similar tracks, even if they are worlds apart, and is designed primarily to place Tilley onto the arc that will push forward no doubt in Season 2.
It’s fun and sweet, and contains a neat nod and a wink to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home if you’re a Trekkie paying attention…
Probably the episode of Short Treks fans were most excited and intrigued by. Written by author Michael Chabon, ‘Calypso’ could just as easily work as a Twilight Zone or Outer Limits episode if you took Discovery out of the equation; a brief romantic fable that just happens to be set in the Star Trek universe.
Craft (played by a removed Aldis Hodge) is rescued from an escape pod by Discovery, which has spent 1000 years under the control of an AI called Zora, who has been waiting for the crew to return. A cross blend of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Spike Jonze’s Her ensues, with nostalgic call backs to 20th century cinema, and more than a few enormous mysteries as to the fate of Discovery and her crew in the distant future thrown into the pot.
It’s a double edged sword. While a sweet story told well, the fact it could easily have existed not as a Star Trek story makes it almost disposable. Good sci-fi but good Trek? On the fence.
‘The Brightest Star’
If there is one character in Discovery who could benefit from greater character development, it’s Commander Saru (Doug Jones). The lanky, anxious Kelpien for much of Season 1 was brittle, obnoxious and sometimes no fun to spend time with, but the process of humanising (at the risk of this becoming a homosapiens only club) Saru continues in ‘The Brightest Star’, which gives us a glimpse of his home planet Kaminar.
This is essentially an origin story for Saru and important context for Kelpien society, and why Saru is the only one of his species in Starfleet. Born with ‘threat ganglia’ which senses the coming of death, Kelpiens have a complex relationship with outer space which involves fearing and placating it more than exploring. Saru becomes the exception to the rule in a story which perhaps moves too fast for its own good; if this were a 90’s Trek series, at least a full episode would have gone into a visit to Kaminar and Saru’s origins.
This does Saru good as a character, however, plus we get a brief cameo by the original Phillipa Georgiou which makes you wish they hadn’t have been so quick to kill her off.
‘The Escape Artist’
Cards on the table time: I’m not really much of a fan of Harry Mudd. Credit to Rainn Wilson where it’s due because he’s breathed new life into the character immortalised by Roger C. Carmel in the 1960’s, but Mudd’s gregarious villainy feels straight out of 60’s Batman as opposed to modern Star Trek. He canonically fits but he stuck out like a sore thumb in Season 1, and ‘The Escape Artist’ doesn’t engender him to me in any way.
That said, this is well crafted enough, with a neat story about Mudd being captured by a space trader only to be running a long con himself, one which calls back to 60’s The Original Series episode ‘I, Mudd’ in a clear way. Like any comedy, however, it’s all very subjective and while I’m sure many would enjoy it, I’ve got Mudd in my eye. It’s not for me.
A mixed bag overall, this first cluster of Short Treks. More are promised by CBS, and hopefully they’ll arrive for UK audiences on Netflix much more swiftly than these did, but the execution doesn’t *quite* match up to the almost-anthological premise here. Some neat ideas, and some good beats of character, but the tales are either too broad to be condensed into a short time frame or, certainly, a matter of particular taste.
Absolutely worth your time as a Star Trek fan, however, and they’ll certainly leave you very much jonesing for a slice of Discovery.
Star Trek: Discovery ‘Short Treks’ are now available on Netflix in the UK, in the same feed as the main show.