In the wake of New York Comicon, we’ve had some big news in the Trek world! The team behind Star Trek: Picard announced a release date of January 23, 2020. A new trailer dropped both for Picard but also a new teaser trailer for Discovery’s season three. Additionally, two new Short Treks have been released, each on Thursday on CBS All-Access. It’s an exciting time to be a Star Trek fan to be sure because we’re finally getting a wealth of good story-telling on the small screen.
I therefore want to take a break from the TNG Rewatch to talk about the two Short Treks that have been released. I’ll admit that I was a huge fan of the previous season of Short Treks, particularly Tilly’s short and “Calypso” featuring the wonderful Aldis Hodge as a human from the future with no real understanding of what it means to be human. The first Short Trek , “Q&A” brings back Spock, Pike, and Number One to chronicle Spock’s first day on the Enterprise. The production team managed to squeeze an impressive number of Easer Eggs into the ten minute short, but what I want to talk about mostly is the concept of “freaky.” To summarize the short, Spock beams aboard the Enterprise where he meets Number One, whose name is now canonically Una, and during their meet and greet, the two get stuck in a Turbolift because that’s exactly how any of us wants to spend the first day on a new job.
Visually and aurally, there are callbacks to the Star Trek 2009 series, which might be off-putting, but I rather liked getting to see a bit of the magic behind Turbolifts. Una having directed Spock to ask so many questions that he becomes irritating reaps the questionable benefit of her instruction, and they chat back and forth on a series of topics ranging from science to Una’s preferences with respect to eggplant, to the moral implications of the Prime Directive. Fortunately, we, as viewers, experience this exchange as a series of rapid-fire cuts, so we don’t have to endure the tedium of being stuck in an elevator. It’s a good way for the writers to include the aforementioned Easter Eggs without being too ham-fisted about it, which is nice.
However, during the scene, Una comments that Spock smiled, which is apparently “freaky” for human crew members, and she advises him to keep his “freaky” to himself. Her “freaky” is apparently her interest in Gilbert and Sullivan. The back and forth between Romijn and Peck is on point and sweet, but honestly, I’m a bit uncomfortable with Chabon’s decision to choose the issue of “freaky” to explain Spock’s more emotional presence in the “Cage” and “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” Acceptance of diversity is a fundamental theme in the franchise, and while yes, I realize that TOS had some truly cringeworthy moments (Bones in “Galileo Seven” I’m looking at you), Una actually advises Spock that there are some aspects of “freaky” that one should keep to one’s self, including her ability to sing “I am the Very Model of a Modern Major General.” I would think that IDIC would require that we not conceal our “freaky.”
I similarly had some issues with the second of the new Short Treks, “The Trouble with Edward.” I was absolutely thrilled to read that H. Jon Benjamin was guest-starring in a “Trouble with Tribbles”-themed Short Trek because I was not so secretly hoping for Archer in space, and that’s what the writers gave us, sort of.
Benjamin plays Edward Larkin, a profoundly awkward scientist stationed aboard the USS Cabot the new command of Rosa Salazar’s Lynne Lucero, and sure, I can accept that there are awkward folks that far in the future. We all remember the extremely uncomfortable episode with Reginal Barclay’s holodeck obsession, “Hollow Pursuits,” but “The Trouble with Edward” takes Edward’s awkwardness to an entirely new level. In a sequence we’re supposed to find funny, he’s deeply insubordinate to Captain Lucero. At one point, he wanders out into a ship’s corridor wearing a shirt and his underpants. He initiates a breeding program using his own DNA to alter Tribbles to render them a viable food source, but he is too successful, resulting in not only the loss of the Cabot but also his own death. A note on that death—we actually get to watch as a wall of tribbles crushes Larkin just as Lucero and the other scientists escape in a pod. The short then shifts to Lucero’s debriefing by Starfleet Command, and the short ends with her assertion that Larkin was an idiot.
In a sense, Larkin embodies the zeitgeist of a certain brand of self-entitled male, especially when he refuses to accept Lucero’s authority. He sends anonymous messages to Lucero’s superiors denigrating her fitness for her position. He refuses to accept that she will transfer him off of the Cabot, and he keeps insisting on his own genius. The metaphor here is not particularly subtle, but no matter how loathesome Larkin is, I’m still not comfortable with a Trek installment playing his death for laughs. It’s not funny, no matter how terrible and inappropriate Larkin may be, and while I’m not suggesting that the other characters should condone his behavior or protect him from his own idiocy, I’m also not prepared to accept that an episode so bizarrely violent exists in a franchise so grounded in the idea that humanity finally reaches the best version of itself. I’m hoping for better in the coming installments.
Rating: Two cups of Earl Grey Tea and a saucer
Stray Thoughts from the Couch:
- Larkin sports some pretty terrible tighty-whities as underpants. I’m a little disappointed in our future if those are still floating around as underpant-options.
- Rebecca Romijn herself offered her ability to sing “Gilbert and Sullivan” as a special talent, so that’s how we got our brief musical interlude.
- There’s a post-credit scene for “The Trouble with Edward,” and frankly, it’s worse than the episode. I guess it’s clever, but I’m still more than a bit uncomfortable with where this Short Trek takes us.