*****STARSHIP-SIZED SPOILERS AHEAD!!*****
CBS All Access has just released the latest “Short Trek” and this one is less of a story and more a tantalizing glimpse of what lies ahead for “Star Trek: Picard” which debuts January 23rd.
Written by Kirsten Beyer, Alex Kurtzman, Jenny Lumet and directed by Mark Pellington, “Children of Mars” feels more like a heavy-handed PSA against bullying rather than a genuine story. However, it features an ending worth sticking around for…
Children of Mars.
Taking place in San Francisco of the 24th century, “Children of Mars” follows two adolescent girls, an ‘off-worlder’ alien named Kima (Ilamaria Ebrahim) and human Lil (Sadie Monroe) who are both going to school on Earth while their parents are working at Mars. Kima’s mother works at a Mars gravity facility, while Lil’s father works on building new starships at the Utopia Planitia orbiting shipyards (a shipyard mentioned in various Star Trek series).
The story begins with the girls catching a shuttle. Lil inexplicably shoves the alien Kima, knocking her over and making her late for the shuttle. Whether accidental or not, it starts things off on the wrong foot. It also implies that (sadly) bullying is a cancer on sentient behavior that will be with us for centuries to come.
Soon the hijinks escalate, with the two playing increasingly cruel pranks on each other until it erupts into an all-out fistfight at the lockers. Blood is drawn.
All of this as electronic banners overhead (ironically) wish everyone a “Happy First Contact Day” (April 5th, in Star Trek lore, is be the day Vulcans make first contact with humans on a post-war Earth in 2063).
Both girls are given a timeout by a Vulcan schoolmaster. We then see a woman bringing some bad news to the attention of the schoolmaster, which also begins to play out on the overhead monitors; an attack has began on Mars, devastating the surface of the planet and obliterating the orbital shipyards. A monitor identifies the attackers as “Rogue Synths” but I’m sensing a Romulan connection with the ship design…
The two girls, with their respective families based on the red planet, put aside their previous petty differences in a moment of grief and unity in the face of this tragedy.
The story is razor-thin, playing more like a Jetsons-era public service announcement against bullying than an actual story. Worse yet is the terrible ‘Everybody Hurts’-style musical montage, which just pours the syrup on what could’ve been a less sentimental and arguably more effective statement against bullying without the emotions being telegraphed to its obviously-targeted youthful audience.
That said, “Children of Mars” is worth sticking around for not for its glimpse of 24th century middle-school shenanigans, but rather for a devastating, 9/11-style ending that slyly piques interest for “Star Trek: Picard”, which begins on Jan. 23rd.
There is even a shot of Admiral Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) on one of the banner monitors following the tragedy, where he is quoted as calling the Mars attacks, “Devastating.”
The horror of the attack on Mars is reflected more on the faces of the administrators and children than in the top-notch visual effects. Shots of grieving adults and children in tears watching monitor screens of the destruction vividly recalls the events of 9/11 for many North Americans. Those scenes possess a brutality that would be more at home on “The Expanse”… a grittier, more realistic series where planetary conflicts are a way of life.
That the ships in the attack are possibly (?) Romulan might suggest that the post “Star Trek” (2009) Romulans still blame the Federation for the loss of their homeworld in that film, and that efforts to resettle scattered Romulan refugees haven’t exactly gone smoothly, to put it mildly. Perhaps they joined the “Rogue Synths” in an alliance against the Federation. This offers fresh fodder for commentary in our own world of the 21st century, where the massive Syrian refugee crisis and ongoing tit-for-tat wars (most recently between the Trump administration and the Iranian government) have escalated international tensions.
How will the benign United Federation of Planets respond to this? Will this inclusive, progressive interstellar political body suddenly turn reactionary and withdrawn, or will it it cling to the high-minded principles which led to its creation in the first place?
We’ll see in a couple of weeks…
Images: CBS-All Access.
Edit: I believed in my original edit that the attacking ships were Romulan, and I still do, but a fleeting glimpse of a monitor identifies the attackers as “Rogue Synths” (hinting at the Soong-type AIs seen in the Picard trailers). My guess is a Synth-Romulan alliance, and I’m standing by my assertion that that ships are most likely Romulan in design. Earth-made Soong androids wouldn’t have time or resources to put together a massive weaponized fleet so quickly, but then again, I could be wrong.