I’d like to begin this recap/review of the first of four Star Trek: Discovery ‘Short Treks’ by saying that I’m saddened some kind of arrangement between CBS-All Access and Netflix couldn’t be made in time to simulcast this 15-minute short to the UK and the rest of Europe.
To any readers who haven’t seen it, or are unable to see it, my apologies, but there will be…
The starship Discovery takes on cargo, and a mysterious, cloaked being exits a cargo module, cutting its hand on a sharp corner. Drops of luminous blood exit the wound, as the invisible intruder makes its way into the ship…
Ensign Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman) is holo-conferencing with her mother Siobhan (Mimi Kuzyk), who disapproves of her daughter taking on command-level training. The elder Tilly is worried that her daughter is reaching for an unattainable goal. It’s a conversation any overachieving college kid might have with their parents at some point, and it’s an interesting glimpse into Tilly’s family life.
Tilly goes to Discovery’s mess hall to get an expresso (despite warnings from the automated food synthesizer regarding the drink’s caffeine content) and sits down to study. Suddenly the entire mess hall erupts into chaos around her. Food dispenser slots go crazy, hurling random bits of food everywhere. It’s the Star Trek equivalent of a poltergeist attack (or food fight). The chaos is caused by electronic interference from the cloaked stowaway, who chooses to reveal herself to Tilly. The being turns out to be a young alien woman named Me Hani Ika Hali Ka Po, (Yadira Guivara-Prip).
Po and Tilly establish contact and some measure of trust, but “Po” cloaks herself and leaves just as the morning shift arrives for breakfast to see the literal ‘mess’ hall. Tilly, left alone to explain it, blames it on an escaped “hormonal rabbit” from one of the ship’s labs. A perfectly Tilly-esque moment.
Later on, Po appears in Tilly’s quarters and the two of them talk. Turns out the orphaned Po is from a planet that has just achieved warp drive. Po’s planet, which she considers her sacred ‘twin sister’, is being mined for its precious dilithium by a population greedy with the prospects for warp drive. Tilly learns Po is a very important person on her planet; in fact, there is a galactic APB out on her. Po’s scientific acumen is highly prized. The two women talk, connect with each other, and trust is established; Tilly’s ‘first contact’ is a success, and she manages to convince Po into returning home.
In the ship’s transporter room, Po offers Tilly a gift; a small dilithium crystal from her planet. Po also mentions that her brother was king… making her the new queen; in fact, her coronation is set for the following day. Tilly just made friends with a dilithium-rich planet’s newly minted ruler.
The story, written by Jenny Lumet and producer Alex Kurtzman, might’ve had enough gas to have been padded to hour-length, but it wouldn’t have worked as succinctly as it does as a vignette. Director Maja Vrvilo also frames the vignette in a somewhat wider aspect ratio than the regular series, though the wider image really doesn’t enhance the story in any appreciable way. But this is one of the beauties of doing a short vignette as opposed to a full-length episode; there’s room to experiment and try new things. Some will work, and some may not. In this case, the wider aspect ratio is unnecessary but not terribly distracting, either.
I immediately noticed a few superficial similarities to the classic Star Trek episode, “Elaan of Troyius,” which was a Trek reworking of the Bard’s “Taming of the Shrew.” Both involve a Trek character (Captain Kirk, Ensign Tilly) reaching out to a young, headstrong female ruler and succeeding (in very different ways, of course). There’s even an important ‘dilithium crystal’ element shared by both stories.
Star Trek has a mixed track record for comedic episodes, but this vignette is about the right length for the funnier moments (the literal mess hall) to not wear out their welcome. Mary Wiseman’s Tilly is also a smart pick to handle the comedy chores. Tilly is the ship’s audience avatar; full of little neuroses that make her extremely relatable (and lovable) to many viewers, myself included.
As to how important this vignette will be to the overall canon, I can’t say. But I’d be surprised if there isn’t some followup to it sometime during the run of the show. Yadira Guivara Prip‘s “Po” is a compelling sketch of a character whose engineering acumen (and feistiness) also reminds me a bit of Sofia Boutella‘s “Jaylah” from 2016’s “Star Trek Beyond” (that’s no surprise, considering cowriter/producer Kurtzman was also a producer on the Bad Robot Star Trek movies. Po’s newly minted rule over her dilithium crystal-rich world could be (excuse the pun) mined for further exploration someday, even if only in novels or fanfic.
Overall, “Runaway” is a promising start to the Short Treks. They’re nice little snacks to keep all of those CBS-All Access accounts active until the regular series returns in 2019, but I’d enjoy these vignettes even more if they could be shared internationally. That’s a nagging problem that really should be worked out sooner than later.