CBS-All Access has just launched its second series of “Star Trek: Short Treks.” Short Treks are a brief series of webisodes designed to keep CBS-AA from hemorrhaging subscribers before the debut of “Star Trek: Picard” and the third season premiere of “Star Trek: Discovery”; both arriving in early 2020. Last year’s Short Treks were an uneven mix, with two solid entries (Michael Chabon’s “The Brightest Star”, “Calypso”) and two not-so solid entries (“Runaway” “The Escape Artist”). These Short Treks play more like fanfic than ‘official’ Star Trek, and that’s not meant as a slur… some of the best Star Trek stories I’ve ever read were from fanfic authors.
Short Trek 2.1 is the old ‘stuck in an elevator’ sitcom gag re-tailored for Star Trek. It takes place onboard Christopher Pike’s USS Enterprise (before the events of TOS’ “The Cage”) when a young Ensign Spock (Ethan Peck) beams aboard the ship and is welcomed by First Officer “Number One” (Rebecca Romijn). The two share a turbolift ride to the bridge. Of course, the turbolift car breaks down, leaving the Vulcan ensign and his superior officer stranded.
Rather than resorting to tired survival cliches of the two of them running out of air, or some other artificial danger, writer/producer Michael Chabon simply leaves the two characters stuck with each other. Number One calls down to a Scottish-accented “Engineer Upjohn” (voice of Sarah Evans) for assistance.
To pass the time, Spock asks Number One a relentless series of both irrelevant and probing questions (hence the title), as the first officer herself tries to learn what makes her new bridge officer tick. Number One tells Spock that she caught a brief glimpse of a smile on the emotionless Vulcan’s face as he beamed into the Enterprise’s transporter chamber. He apologizes, as if the smile were an offense, or a violation of regulations. She tells him that it’s okay; she was just reminding him to be more careful about the image he wishes to project.
Feeling a bit frustrated by Engineer Upjohn’s lack of resolution to their problem, Number One climbs onto Spock’s shoulders to tries to open a panel, only to get electrocuted for her trouble. Spock helps her regain her composure, and in gratitude she lets him see a sillier side of herself (her personal “freaky”) by singing “I Am The Very Model Of A Major General” from Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance.” Spock lets his ears down a bit and joins in. The two of them are soon singing and laughing (yes, Spock briefly laughs), until, of course, the turbolift is repaired. Engineer Upjohn calls down to the two of them, asking if they’re okay, because she thought she heard laughter. Number One, embarrassed by letting her guard down, swears the new ensign to secrecy regarding their shared moment. He immediately snaps back into the familiar Spock, and gives her his word.
On the bridge, Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) meets his new Vulcan Science Officer, as Number One, feigning aloofness, pulls a data pad to ‘remember’ the new ensign’s name. She and the Vulcan exchange knowing glances, as they are now consciously choosing to project their respective images; she of the aloof, by-the-book executive officer, and he of the cool, emotionless Vulcan.
If I have any nits, they’re relatively minor ones. The reimagined USS Enterprise, while making lovely visual and aural homages to TOS, still looks a bit too advanced to reconcile with the cruder ship (and uniforms) we see in the original pilot “The Cage” (1964). Not to mention the area within the Enterprise afforded solely to turbolifts seems too vast to fit within the ship’s dimensions. I suppose you have to hand-wave the grandiose-level production design of modern Trek vs. TOS. The real explanation, of course, is that the art of television production has experienced quantum leaps in quality between 1964 and 2019… simple as that. Personally, I just accept each new iteration of Star Trek as another new timeline (part of the ever-widening, post-“First Contact” Archerverse), but that’s just me. Moving on…
Rebecca Romijn is excellent as Number One (or “Una” as she doesn’t like to be called), giving quite a bit more dimension to the character originally played by the late Majel Barrett Roddenberry in TOS’ original pilot, “The Cage”, almost 55 years ago. In “Q&A”, she reminds me very much of “MASH”’s own Major Margaret “Hotlips” Houlihan (Loretta Switt), a commanding character whose stern, by-the-book exterior masks a somewhat kinder, even sillier interior.
Ethan Peck once again shows us a Spock in evolution; this is the Spock whom we could imagine accidentally smiling at the singing plant on Talos IV (TOS’ “The Cage”) or even shouting on the bridge when he is nervous (any number of early TOS S1 episodes). While I enjoy Ethan Peck’s interpretation of the Spock character, I wasn’t quite buying him as the same character essayed by the late Leonard Nimoy… until now. Peck was thoroughly Spock, from start to finish. Not the Spock who served as Kirk’s emotionally-suppressed first officer for most of Star Trek, but the younger Spock who wasn’t quite there yet. This was the Spock who was learning to be Spock. Michael Chabon’s words and Ethan Peck’s performance smartly fill in this important little step of the character’s evolution.
Summing it up.
“Q&A” works perfectly for the Short Trek medium. Nicely written by Michael Chabon and charmingly directed by Mark Pellington, “Q&A” is a 14 minute character study with no cluttering technobabble or artificial dangers. Engaging performances by Ethan Peck and Rebecca Romijn, as well as a slew of TOS Star Trek flourishes make this little turbolift ride a lot more enjoyable than most.
A promising start for this latest batch of Short Treks.