You are floating in the void of space, locked in a cramped, alien escape pod, your mind assaulted by a strange, repeating vision of a grotesque female figure. A month passes as you tumble through the darkness, with no hope of rescue or survival, until one day, you’re snatched up by a tractor beam and drawn into the hold of a silent, darkened ship. Its registry number? NCC-1031, USS Discovery.
That’s the setup for “Calypso”, the latest installment in the Short Treks series of 15-minute films set in the Star Trek: Discovery universe. Discovery doesn’t return to CBS All Access until January 17th of next year, but before then, Short Treks is providing brief but unique looks into the world of Discovery. The first Short Trek, “Runaway”, focused on newly-minted Ensign Tilly and her encounter with an alien stowaway onboard Discovery. This week’s film, “Calypso”, features none of Discovery’s main cast; it does, however, feature Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn. It also features a soldier called Craft (Aldis Hodge), the sole occupant of the alien escape pod, who wakes in Discovery’s sickbay to find the ship silent and empty. The disoriented Craft is greeted by a voice calling itself Zora (Annabelle Wallis), who offers him food and shelter and tells him she’s been waiting for her crew to return . . . for 1000 years. She’s also not a “she”, but the artificially-intelligent mind of the Discovery’s main computer, evolved into sentience over the intervening millennium. As Craft recuperates, he forms a bond with Zora over their feelings of estrangement and isolation. They play chess, she teaches him about “Taco Tuesday” (and “tacos” . . . and “Tuesday”), and they watch old movies together, like the Astaire/Hepburn film Funny Face, leading to a Beauty and the Beast-style dance number to the Face‘s signature tune, “‘S Wonderful”.
If that doesn’t sound like Star Trek to you, that’s ok. The potential of Short Treks lies in their ability to tell stories that don’t have to fit into the rigid lockstep of Trek canon that’s formed over the last 52 years and 7 series. When Discovery returns in 2019, it’ll bring the focus right back to the Enterprise and Spock and Pike other familiar elements, but shorts like “Calypso” are trying to push at the boundaries of the sphere of Trek storytelling. Michael Chabon, writer of the episode and famed author of Kavalier and Clay and Wonder Boys, draws heavy parallels between Zora and the mythological Calypso, the nymph who entices Odysseus to stay with her in her island paradise . . . that is, until he remembers the wife and child waiting for him at home. Trek has gone to the mythology well many times before, but it’s interesting to see a story mirror the myth so closely, especially when the main character can just sail away home and doesn’t have to report for duty next week.
“Calypso” leaves many questions in its narrative unanswered, however, and they’re troubling questions. Where is the crew of Discovery? Will we ever see Craft again? How much has humanity changed in 1000 years that we’ve left TACOS behind? That’s fact is harder to accept than any far-fetched technology, like transporters and warp drives. Hopefully, these questions—as well as the unanswered ones posed in last month’s Short Trek, “Runaway”—will be answered in the new season of Discovery, but don’t get your hopes up. These are experimental stories, small oases before the long journey back to continuity. Even if you don’t think they’re wonderful, you have to admit “‘S Interesting.”
Calypso and the first season of Star Trek: Discovery are available on CBS All Access.