Star Trek Short Treks, 2.3: “Ask Not” offers a no-win scenario…

****STARSHIP-SIZED SPOILERS!!****

The latest Star Trek “Short Trek” has come online from CBS-All Access. Written by Kalinda Vasquez and directed by Sanji Senaka, “Ask Not” sees yet another non-regular cast character getting a spotlight, as she faces a no-win scenario.

Story.

The story opens with Starbase 28 under an unseen attack by the Tholians (crystalline arachnid-like creatures seen in TOS’ “The Tholian Web” and later on Star Trek: Enterprise). As her station collapses around her, Cadet Thira Sidhu (Amrit Kaur) is about to face an even greater challenge.

Cadet Sidhu (Amrit Kaur) is assigned to Starbase 28 during a Tholian attack.

Two security guards from the base bring in a helmeted prisoner, leaving him in the custody of the young cadet while they’re off to deal with the current tactical emergency. Sidhu unflinchingly accepts the responsibility for the prisoner, and one of the guards tosses her a phaser. When asked why the prisoner is wearing the helmet, the guard says he didn’t want the base’s personnel to see that this high profile prisoner turned traitor. The prisoner’s helmet is retracted…

An electronically helmeted prisoner, whose reveal isn’t terribly surprising.

… and it’s none other than Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), the current captain of the USS Enterprise (a bit of a non-surprise, as the trailer for this short already ruined it).

The exchanges between Pike and Sidhu are the best elements of an otherwise rehashed idea.

What follows is an interesting (if very brief) tete-e-tete focusing on the conflict between authority versus regulations, as the handcuffed Pike tries to manipulate Cadet Sidhu into letting him go, so that he can summon the Enterprise and take action against the Tholians. Each cites regulations as they attempt to outwit the other, with Sidhu holding firm.

Anson Mount’s usually amiable Captain Pike manages to look a bit menacing in that red emergency lighting…

Pike mentions that the starship on which Sidhu’s husband serves is also in danger. Despite that reveal, Sidhu never wavers. She tells Pike that her husband knew what he signed up for with Starfleet duty, just as she does. Pike, looking a bit menacing under the red emergency lights, even threatens her future career… but Sidhu is adamant.

The “it’s only a test” cliche has been used a little too often in Star Trek’s past, though newer fans might find the climax of the story surprising.

Pike then breaks character. Regular lighting comes on, Pike’s cuffs pop off, and a reassuring smile creeps across the captain’s face. The entire Tholian attack, as well as Pike’s arrest, was elaborately staged to test the cadet’s resolve. Starfleet can be downright sadistic in their hyper-realistic testing, a fact for which Pike acknowledges and apologizes. A relieved Sidhu accepts the captain’s apologies, grateful that all is well, including her husband. For keeping her cool, the cadet is rewarded by being beamed aboard the USS Enterprise, where she will be allowed to finish her next semester of Starfleet training.

Spock (Ethan Peck) and Number One (Rebecca Romijn) project a nice, Odd Couple energy.

In the transporter room we see science officer Spock (Ethan Peck) and first officer Number One (Rebeccas Romijn) welcoming Sidhu aboard. It’s revealed that the brutal psych test was concocted by Number One, and Spock deadpans about her extreme testing methods. Pike then escorts the cadet to her new station in the Enterprise’s engineering section.

Pike takes Sidhu to the heart of the starship.

As the grateful Sidhu settles into her new assignment, she stops to ask the captain if the phaser weapon given to her in the simulation was working or not. Pike simply smiles, and says, “See you around the ship.”

Anson Mount’s Pike is a guaranteed win.

The End.

Space Cadets.

Amrit Kaur does a decent job, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that this would’ve been a better flashback story for regular character Sylvia Tilly instead.

While these Short Treks are designed to be little more than quick glimpses into the Star Trek universe (and as a way to keep CBS-AA from hemorrhaging subscribers during Star Trek: Discovery’s hiatus), I still have a few minor nits with “Ask Not”. While I appreciated the solid performance by Amrit Kaur as Cadet Sidhu, this Short Trek could’ve easily been re-tailored as a flashback story for former Cadet (now Ensign) Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman).

“Ask Not” would’ve made for an interesting glimpse into how the nervous, excitable Tilly got into Starfleet.

Rather than introduce a random new character, we could’ve learned more about a series regular. Granted, there’s the risk of a continuity snag since Tilly first met Pike later on in S2, but the captain in her Starfleet simulation could’ve been any other senior officer. Given Tilly’s more nervous and excitable disposition, this could’ve been an interesting glimpse into just how she made it into Starfleet and earned her place as a cadet aboard Discovery (which is Sidhu’s arc with the Enterprise).

Retaking The Test.

Kirstie Alley as “Lt. Saavik” undergoes the Kobayashi Maru simulator test in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982).

The seemingly dangerous (and sadistic) simulation seen in “Ask Not” is yet another variation on the famous “Kobayashi Maru” no-win scenario bridge simulator test seen in both 1982’s “The Wrath of Khan” and “Star Trek” (2009). Another version of this Starfleet psych testing was also seen in the 1987 Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “Coming Of Age”, wherein Wesley Crusher faced a nearly identical life-or-death challenge at a Starbase as part of his ‘entrance exam’ into Starfleet Academy. There have also been countless other Star Trek ‘holodeck’ episodes which have used this same sort of artificial jeopardy. The simulation twist has become an overused one in Star Trek lore, and longtime Star Trek fans will see it coming a mile away.

Imagineering.

The new, very blue engineering section of the reimagined USS Enterprise, as she appears in new Star Trek.

While “Ask Not” is ultimately just another variation on Star Trek’s “no-win scenario” psych test, we did get a glimpse of something new… the massive engineering section of the newly reimagined USS Enterprise.

The very modest engine room of TOS Star Trek’s “The Naked Time.” The TOS engine room was later given an upper level in the second season which added a bit to the scale of the set.

The mostly CGI set looks infinitely more complex than her simple TOS counterpart, and a lot closer to what we’ve seen in the more recent Bad Robot movies (which featured both a Budweiser brewery and Lawrence Livermore Labs doubling for the heart of the starship). While this new engineering redesign doesn’t evoke TOS’ engine room in any way, it looks more like the engine room of a massive futuristic starship… and it’s certainly more high-tech looking than the ‘Budweiserprise’ seen in 2009’s “Star Trek.”

Final Grade: C

“Ask Not” uses a very cliched Star Trek twist as its centerpiece, but it’s saved largely on the strengths of Anson Mount’s Pike, seeing the new USS Enterprise again, and a decent performance by Amrit Kaur. I don’t want to oversell its virtues, but there are worse ways for a Star Trek fan to spend a mere nine minutes.

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