Review: ‘Star Trek: Short Treks’ Gets Mythological In “Calypso”

“Calypso”

Star Trek: Short Treks Episode 2 – Debuted Thursday, November 8th
Teleplay by Michael Chabon; story by Sean Cochran and Michael Chabon
Directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi

SPOILER-FREE REVIEW

The second episode of Short Treks is an interesting departure from both Star Trek: Discovery and the short “Runaway.” It focuses on a new character played impressively by Aldis Hodge, who has the ship’s AI as his only companion. Michael Chabon’s Star Trek debut as a writer was delightfully thoughtful as he skillfully wove a tight and emotional two-character drama set on board the USS Discovery. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author’s tale inspired by literary mythology effectively uses the smaller scale of Short Treks to tell a poignant stand-alone story.

Aldis Hodge in “Calypso”

RECAP

[SPOILERS BELOW]

Alone

“Calypso” starts us off with a mystery, revealing an unknown dying man in an escape pod of unfamiliar design, binge-watching ancient cartoons. Drifting in what appears to be an unstable region complete with space lighting turns out to be lucky after all as the USS Discovery comes along to capture the pod.

Gotcha!

Things remain ominous as this man awakens in a dark sickbay totally alone. He shows his resourcefulness by immediately seeking out the first medical instrument he can find to use as a weapon. But it turns out he isn’t alone; a voice identifying itself as Zora soon introduces herself, telling the man that she saved him but couldn’t save his pod. As a consolation, she makes him a custom set of threads and introduces him to the joys of synthesized food in the mess hall.

Where am I?

After the tension is broken with a good meal, Zora reveals that she isn’t a real person, but instead an artificial intelligence. She laughs while passing the Turing Test, saying, “Oh dear, you thought I was alive?” It has been said that the ships in Star Trek are characters themselves and “Calypso” takes this to a whole new level. And in the spirit of sharing, the man says that people call him Craft, although that isn’t his true name but is based on his nature, and the custom of his planet of Alcor IV. He describes himself as a “reluctant” soldier, who has been at war with a group called the V’draysh, from whom he stole a pod because he just wants to go home and see his wife and daughter.

Then Zora drops the big bomb that she has been alone on the Discovery for almost 1000 years, putting this mini-episode in the 33rd century, well beyond any moment in Star Trek future history (and a testament to the designers and builders of the Crossfield Class that that ship is still in pretty good shape after all that time). Explaining why she is more advanced than any Starfleet computer seen in the 23rd or 24th century, Zora says she has spent her time evolving herself. One thing is clear: she is a lot nicer than the feisty food replicator that harassed poor Tilly in last month’s Short Treks episode.

Ever feel like you are being watched?

Together

With Zora unable–or simply unwilling–to break with standing orders to hold position and take him home, Craft settles in, crashing in the transporter room in a hammock. The pair passes the time working their way through the food menu, celebrating “Taco Tuesday,” playing games, and getting to know each other. The ominous tone of the earlier scenes shifts into a lightness, helped along by Jeff Russo’s particularly effective score. Eventually, Zora introduces Craft to what she says is her favorite film in the archive, the 1957 musical Funny Face starring Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn.

Starfleet regulation 18 sub-section 4 clearly stipulates using bridge hologram projector for personal use is not permitted

Clearly happy for the company, Zora does everything she can for Craft, even recreating the sounds of home for him. Aldis Hodge impresses as scene by scene and moment by moment we can see his scarred veteran soften up and finally bond with his disembodied companion and host. Their story is so compelling that for now, the audience can completely set aside questions about what happened to the Discovery and its crew.

Zora takes requests for any sound you like

Eventually, Craft becomes so appreciative of Zora that he devises a way to give something back. With time on his hands, he teaches himself how to dance and uses the replicator to help with some Fred Astaire in Funny Face cosplay. And for the ultimate date, he invites Zora – and not an Audrey Hepburn, but Zora’s vision of herself – onto the bridge, turned Parisian dream dancefloor.

This is when things get a bit too real. Craft realizes he is falling in love with Zora, which he sees as a betrayal to the family that drove him to undergo a dangerous odyssey to return home. There shouldn’t be a dry eye in the house as a heartbroken Zora actually tries to comfort Craft, pleading that she isn’t a real person. In just 13 minutes, Chabon and director Olatunde Osunsanmi have made us genuinely care about these two, helped along by strong performances by Aldis Hodge and Annabelle Wallis.

Disco dancing

Apart

Things wrap up quickly as this is a short form episode, with Zora revealing that she has fixed her last shuttle for Craft to continue on his journey home. She even creates a fancy golden suit for him just for the occasion,  providing what seems like Craft’s tenth wardrobe change …impressive for just fifteen minutes of runtime.

Discovery gets its first sexy catsuit

After just coming out of a millennium of isolation, Zora makes what seems like the ultimate sacrifice, giving up a piece of herself to again face the void of space alone. Craft returns the affection, offering Zora the gift of giving him a name, which she does: “Funny Face.”

For his visit to the USS Discovery, Craft gets the ultimate souvenir

ANALYSIS

It’s all Greek to me

It should come as no surprise that Michael Chabon’s Star Trek debut displays writing at a whole different level and style than we are used to on Discovery. It may be set in the 33rd century, but “Calypso” is steeped in literary tradition going back millennia and most specifically to Homer’s Odyssey, the tale of the Greek hero Odysseus journeying home after a war, just as Craft is doing.

The first clue to this Greek influence is in the title itself.  Calypso is the name of an immortal nymph cursed to live forever on the island of Ogygia, where every 1,000 years, a mortal she was fated to fall in love with would wash up on shore, stay with her for a time, and then leave her behind. Most famously, she fell in love with Odysseus and held him on her island for seven years. Craft’s name is also a reference to Odysseus, who was described as “crafty” for his cunning: Odysseus outwitted the Cyclops Polyphemus by refusing to give his name, saying instead, “My name is Nobody.” There are many more parallels between this Short Treks episode and Greek mythology, even down to Craft’s final golden flight suit as a stand-in for the Golden Fleece sought by Jason and the Argonauts.

Even with all this Greek mythology, Chabon found time to include references to Betty Boop and the 1950s musical romance Funny Face, both of which weren’t just cultural namedropping, but actually important plot points. Pretty impressive for a short form episode.

Discovery is now a cyclops

Is it Star Trek?

“Calypso” makes good on the promise of the producers to use Short Treks as a way to experiment with format, style, and tone within Star Trek. The 1,000 years-ahead timeline completely removed this mini-episode from the goings-on of the crew of the USS Discovery, clearly by design. Chabon told CNET that he saw this episode as “isolated from the vast tapestry of Star Trek.”

“Calypso” raises many questions. What happened to the crew? When did the crew abandon the ship? Is this really the USS Discovery and does that mean that the ship is assured to survive during the run of Star Trek: Discovery? How did the computer evolve itself? Did Zora invent the technology that allowed her to move chess pieces, fix scars, and repair a shuttlecraft? Does the Federation exist in the 33rd century? How did human society lose the knowledge of both tacos and Tuesdays?

This episode clearly had no intention of answering any of these questions; instead, it used the format of Short Treks and the standing Discovery sets to tell a compelling sci-fi tale. “Calypso” is essentially what they call in the theater a “two-hander” — a play with just two characters. It was also reminiscent of some classic two-hander-style episodes of The Twilight Zone, such as “Two” and “Nothing in the Dark.”

“Calypso” is a short story that could fit into any sci-fi anthology; one could argue it really isn’t Star Trek at all, as it adds little or nothing to the overall story of Discovery or Star Trek in general. But at its core, this episode explores a fundamental question of what it means to be human, and what could be more Star Trek than that?

Who wants to live in a future without tacos?

The future looks bright

Yes, “Calypso” doesn’t offer new insights into Star Trek: Discovery or any particular character, but it seems clear that was never the intention. The other three episodes for this spin-off series will deliver on that, but this entry was instead an experiment in sci-fi storytelling in a Star Trek setting and with Star Trek themes. On that account, this mini succeeded well beyond expectations.

This episode also bodes well for the future of the upcoming Jean-Luc Picard series set to begin production in April 2019, as Michael Chabon is an executive producer and writer on the show. His thoughtful and literary style is a welcome addition to Star Trek.

Star Trek: Short Treks continues to bring us nice little monthly morsels as we await the second season of Star Trek: Discovery, which debuts on January 17th. The preview for December’s entry “The Brightest Star” gives us an intriguing glimpse into what looks like a Saru origin story. The hardest part?  Waiting a month for the next snack.

Having isolinear memory chips means never having to say goodbye

Random thoughts

  • Starfleet branding has now extended to popcorn boxes, already coveted by fans on social media.
  • Looks like the famous “Disco” t-shirts have been redesigned with a different font.
  • Question: Could Craft’s red owl tattoo be a reference to Discovery season two’s mysterious “red angel”?

Starfleet branded popcorn — still delicious after 1,000 years

 


Star Trek: Discovery is available in the USA on CBS All Access. It airs in Canada on Space and streams on CraveTV. It is available on Netflix everywhere else.

Star Trek: Short Treks will be available in the USA on CBS All Access. It will air in Canada on Space and stream on CraveTV.

Keep up with all the Star Trek: Discovery and Short Treks news at TrekMovie.

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MattR

“one could argue it really isn’t Star Trek at all, as it adds little or nothing to the overall story of Discovery or Star Trek in general.”

How does it not add anything to Star Trek? It establishes events in the 32nd century (human colonization of the planet he is from), shows the evolution of the 22nd century computer.

Corylea

Anthony Pascale said that only to demolish it in his next breath. He set up a straw man so that he could knock it down resoundingly by reminding us that examining what it means to be human — through the aliens and androids that have always been Trek’s most interesting characters — is a big part of what makes Trek Trek.

So don’t worry! He was anticipating the arguments of certain rather narrow fans in order to knock that argument down, NOT making that argument himself.

El Chup

Yeah. This short was very much Star Trek, more so than Discovery itself.

GarySeven

Ummm…”Her”?

David

Zora self-identifies as “her”. Her choice of pronoun, a very contemporaneous move by Chabon.

Andrew SD

I also loved it. I love when Star Trek and Sci Fi in general take a very abstract situation and turn it into something poignant and beautiful. Craft and the AI both were so lonely until they found each other and the bond that formed was just lovely so watched. They also somehow found a way to not make it seem rushed. A+ on this one

El Chup

Both this and Runaway have been vastly better than the actual series, and this particular instalment is what I want from my Trek, at least occasionally. Intelligent, thoughtful stories that don’t just rely on one dimensional villains and dodgy plot twist of the week. If this is what Chabon will bring to the Picard series then I am optimistic.

Tiger2

Agreed completely! This felt like Star Trek of old, not trying to be overly edgy and ‘dark’ like DIS tries waaaaay too hard to do.

We need more stories like this with an intelligent sci fi premise and character study. Make it so please!

El Chup

Make it so indeed.

David Knowles

Can we just get rid of Kirkman and let Chabon run the show!

Who cares

Kirkman is the creator of Walking Dead, he doesn’t work on Trek.

Marja

The writing was fabulous, as could be expected of the superb Michael Chabon. Aldis Hodge was wonderful.

Thanks for a great analysis, Anthony, and after this short, Discovery’s and Star Trek’s futures do indeed look bright ;^)

Tiger2

I just read an article where Chabon said he would love to do an entire story around Craft and his life during the war based completely around the Odyssey.

I would love that! A 33rd century story based around one character in a future war. We need more ideas like THIS for Star Trek to thrive and grow. Not just boring prequel minutiae like why Burnham and Spock don’t talk to each other. That’s going to keep me up for years if that is never explained.

Anyway after this episode, I’m really looking forward to the Picard show now!

Boo

I still am wondering what happened to the crew of Discovery and if this what we are gonna see connect if Discovery ever reaches a series finale? Who was the captain who told Zora to stay and maintain position?

So many questions!!!!! I wish we had answers for them!!!

But I still loved this little story, Aldis Hodge is amazing and Annabelle Wallis is pitch perfect as Zora even with just her voice.

MORE TREK PLS!

Tiger2

They clearly didn’t want to answer anything because they were afraid of putting themselves in a box. We don’t even know if that was ‘our’ Discovery crew that left. It can be a completely new crew since it was never said when they actually abandoned the ship. Zora only said it was nearly a thousand years ago but since they tell us the star date they left it could be from the season finale or decades after that.

I can’t blame them much over a 15 minute story I doubt many people will even watch. But I do hope they tie it in somehow, at least introduce Zora at some point.

DIGINON

I don’t think they left out these details because they were afraid of committing to anything. It simply doesn’t matter for the story at hand when exactly Discovery was abandoned or what exactly happened to its crew (and if it was still Burnham, Saru et al.)
I could imagine that they install a first version of that AI at some point during a future Discovery episode but I don’t think this short will be tied into the Discovery story in any other way.

Tiger2

I think its probably a little of both. I agree with you it doesn’t matter to the overall story but I’m more than certain they didn’t want to hint at any major tie ins given the story because then fans will be wondering for the next few seasons how Discovery will tie in to that story. It would constantly come up and who would want that? Especially for a story that’s really suppose to be its own thing.

I would like to see Zora added though because I just want more A.I. type stories. I don’t expect it but who knows? And its Discovery, having advance tech on that show that surpasses the others is not exactly setting precedent lol.

David Knowles

the final captain of the ship has got to be Tilly, anyone else is unacceptable. An you don’t need anything special for a ship computer to evolve into a AI, STNG ship did the same, then built a ship for itself and vanish.

FrostUK

10/10, better than a fair bit of Season 1.

Love it! Never thought I’d see a Betty Boop reference on Star Trek, but here we go! Also, I love the idea of watching holo-movies on the bridge. THIS is what I want to see on Star Trek, more futuristic leisure time!

It *almost* makes me forget that they still haven’t rectified all this holo-gram business aboard Discovery with Star Trek canon, but since this story technically takes place in the 33rd century, I’m willing to look past it.

Todd

Re DISCO font — I too picked up on this and thought perhaps it isn’t changed in our current Discovery timeline but maybe between them and whenever the ship is abandoned.

Josh

It had a strong Black Mirror feel for me.

DIGINON

Black Mirror tends to tell cautionary tales that usually don’t end well. The ending of Calypso was far too happy for the average Black Mirror episode ;-)

Michael Hall

A sweet, wonderful crossover of Trek with The Odyssey and Spike Jones’ HER. While a lesser writer would have felt obliged to include more dramatic tension (and make Zhora an antagonist in the bargain), or to at least include a “twist” ending to wrap up the mysteries, Chabon is confident in his material, and is content to let the characters and the subtleties of their relationship carry the story. I’ve always said that Trek is most memorable when it’s off-format, and happily “Calypso” turns out to be no exception.

Marc Henson

A truly fantastic story…I absolutely loved it…brilliant.

AJinMoscow

I don’t see the point of this one. Let’s do “Game of Thrones” with two random non-characters bonding in an empty Winterfell for 15 minutes…

DIGINON

I have no idea where you saw any Game of Thrones in this one.

Gotcha

Ever read a short story anthology? Some may be apart of the universe and characters you know and others are there to tell a story for the sake of telling a story. This is the latter.

Tiger2

Uh you lost me here chief. It’s two (sort of) people talking in a room together and getting along. How is that a GOT thing? I’m going to say this has been done before for several centuries in story telling.

Martina M.

I am really surprised by how much praise this episode is getting. I personally felt it was exceedingly unimpressive. The “isolated astronaut connects with and/or falls in love with a computer” trope has been done so many times before and usually with much more depth. Several people have mentioned the similarity to “Her” for instance, and I would also point out that the idea of the computer learning about human love many years after any human contact from a treacly Hollywood musical bore huge similarity to “Wall-E.” Also, I am usually one of the first people to bristle at people saying that something “didn’t feel like Star Trek” or “wasn’t Star Trek” etc. as that kind of gatekeeping is never productive in adding complexity to a franchise. BUT, I have to admit that for once I did kind of feel that way when watching this, only because it seemed to be making so many enormous decisions about canon in a weirdly casual way, all in service of what felt like a determination to pigeon-hole the story into the Star Trek universe (and the Discovery sets) without it having the slightest chance of connecting to anything we already know. Like, why couldn’t this have been about a marooned Starfleet officer who happens upon a non-Federation ship? Saying that the Discovery is lying adrift yet still fully functional 1,000 years later brings up tons of questions that the episode didn’t even pretend to care about answering. Perhaps the implications suggested here will be fleshed out as Discovery proceeds, in which case I’ll retract this statement, but I kind of doubt it. Ultimately the only really cool thing to be gleaned from this new setting (again, not explained, but inferable) was how Craft said his people’s enemy was the “V’Draysh.” I doubt it… Read more »

HubcapDave

Here’s the thing: is the story required to answer these questions?

Eujayne

I agree with you Marina on so many points and am relieved that I’m not the only one who felt this way about this episode. Didn’t hate it but wasn’t blown away either. Plus, I regret that I was not impressed with Hodge’s performance which I felt was rather wooden. Pretty ironic that the actress playing AI seemed more life-like than the actor playing a real person.

Mark Calcagno

That’s actually why I like this episode, and sci fi in general. I love the concept of a person losing their humanity to war, only to have it given back by a machine built to serve humans.

Kind of like Blade Runner in that way.

Nachun

Packed a lot into twenty minutes. And left me wondering more about what came before and what came after.

Did she refer to the owl as “cyclops”?

For the record, both Betty Boop and Funny Face are Paramount properties. :-)

Tiger2

Ah, that makes sense. I’m shocked Zora wasn’t a big fan of that amazing Bumble Bee movie of the old days from December 2018. ;)

They are A.I. too, right?

DIGINON

Quote: For the record, both Betty Boop and Funny Face are Paramount properties. :-)

And what do you think that means? Discovery is from CBS. Paramount has nothing to do with it.

Larkby

As a child I would read my grandfathers old Analog’s and whatever additions hed make to his enormous library of scifi voraciously. This reminds me of some of those well written short story stand alone gems. Anyone can write an episode for Star Trek…several fans actually have, so the tools and the tapestry are already laid out, but here the writer took the basic elements to get him on the board and went in a really novel and interesting direction by cleverly going far into the ST future with his writer’s eye looking far into our past. Smart, short, enjoyable work. Thank you for this.

I would like to see more of Mr Chabon’s work in the future. He is a good storyteller, and gets it.

David Knowles

Both shorts have been excellent and is what star trek about in my opinion, more of this and less of those aliens the crew were fighting last season.

JesuitJones

Runaway was hot garbage, this was cliche but excellent. Amazing what a real writer can do. Gives me hope for the Picard series.

Cranston

I haven’t had a chance to see this yet, but regarding the owl tattoo: the owl was a symbol of Athena, Odysseus’s patron and a key figure in the Odyssey.

Scooter

Not impressed with either short so far. They’re entertaining, but not very memorable.

Dancing Backwards To Yesterday

Merely another stone to hobo stew as this foolishness serves no purpose other then

to take up time and waste resources of everyone involved be it creator or fan.

The Chadwick

I don’t see other sites discussing this as people are asking does the Federation still exist in the 33rd. But someone said that Chabon confirmed that the V’draysh are the Federation, which means they’re at war with Crafts people and Alcor IV. Looking at the clues it makes sense. Crafts stolen escape pod computer used English text and spoke English and was showing old Earth cartoon. Craft when discussing the cartoons said that the “V’draysh..they prize things like that, relics from the long ago.” And when we first see Craft watching the movie he doesn’t seem all that interested lounging in the chair as this movie is another thing from the long ago that the V’draysh prize. Granted to debate that in Voyager they did find an old family photo of the Janeway’s in a Farengi database because some Farengi was documenting early space travel from Federation worlds. In that case these V’draysh could simply value all relics from all worlds from the long ago. Now unless Chabon has indeed confirmed this it leaves a great mystery. But based on the evidence and hints in the episode I believe the V’draysh are the Federation.

JesuitJones

“V’draysh” being a pheonetic reinterpretation of “Federation”, I’m surprised this is confusing anyone. It’s a pretty bold move to have made for canon. By the 33rd Century, the Federation is a race unto itself and is at war with human colonies that regard themselves as separate. Kind of a Maquis writ-large.

Tiger2

Really?? That’s interesting. Where did Chabon say that?

If the V’draysh is the Federation it raises a LOT of questions lol. But man I find it funny no matter what the century the Federation is always finding someone to fight. And it also tells you no matter how advance the Federation gets there will always be nasty people out there (assuming they are still the good guys in this scenario), yes even a thousand years later. That’s why I have no fear Star Trek would be ‘boring’ if it passes the 24th century since it’s just a TV show and its writers job to create conflict and villains no matter the century it takes place in.

Kirk1701

I really enjoyed this one. I can’t believe I didn’t catch the Odyssey reference. That poem has been a huge influence on Star Trek from the beginning.

I was also reminded of “Metamorphosis.” This is probably the most TOS of all the episodes thus far. The love between the AI and Craft are much like the Companion and Cochrane.

I wanted this episode to be a full hour. It skipped along a bit too quickly for my taste. I don’t have any trouble with repackaging old myths for a modern audience. Star Trek has always done this. Kirk and Co. are always faced with ancient mythology. Kirk himself is a version of Odysseus.

Anyway, *applause for this episode.

DeanH

Yeah, this was an excellent story and like a lot of good science fiction, it takes a classic story and sets it in a future non-earth setting. Good analysis by a lot of posters and since Chabon is on the writing team for Picard, this bodes well for the next iteration of Star Trek.

So when Discovery wraps up it’s final season, we already know the scene will be the crew leaving and telling the ship to stay put.

Tiger2

We DON’T know that because we don’t know if it’s the same crew running Discovery when they do leave. The episode was clever enough to tell you Zora has been waiting a thousand years for them but it doesn’t tell you when she actually started waiting. That could happened decades after DIS original mission.

Lloyd

I LOVED IT! I got to see one f my favorite actors in one of my favorite genres. The futuristic portrayal of “Odysseus'” encounter with “Calypso” was definitely a unique spin. Star Trek has its own lore and to introduce an element of Greek mythology definitely caught my attention. It took me a minute to make the connection then a personal memory of when I read The Odyssey in the 6th grade. These 2 shorts so far have been very interesting. I can’t wait for the next one.

Captain Robert April

Calypso – very good sci-fi, very bad Star Trek. Po – how many regulations were broken by a command candidate? Bad Star Trek there too. I was expecting something like Star Trek New Voyages did the short treks much better. I’m looking forward to season 2 though.

Who cares

There was no command candidate in Calypso.

slider

I’ve been hearing that these shorts have been doing badly. Cool.

Who cares

You heard wrong.