RED ALERT, TREK FANS! SPOILERS AHEAD!
The "Star Trek: Short Treks" are a new initiative from CBS All Access to offer fans a bite-sized snippet of "Star Trek" in the long, agonizing months leading up to the second season premiere of "Star Trek: Discovery" on Thursday (Jan. 17). There are four in total and each one focused on one individual character and ran for about 10 to 15 minutes.
The fourth and final short, "The Escape Artist," aired on Thursday, January 3 and together with a full review of that, we look back at the other three as well. [A Closer Look at the New 'Star Trek: Discovery' Season 2 Trailer]
Episode 1 — "Runaway"
This first installment, "Runaway," focuses on Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman), promoted at the end of last season from cadet to ensign. During "Star Trek: Discovery's" first season, Tilly was a polarizing character: fans either love her, or loathe her. The most frustrating thing is that she had both excellent and excruciating moments in equal measure, mostly as a supporting character. However, here she steps into the spotlight for 15 minutes to deal with her own struggles.
The story begins as the last shift for the day in the shuttle bay ends. Moments after everyone leaves and the lights are turned off, something or someone disengages the mag-locks on a cargo canister, from inside, and escapes into the ship.
Tilly meanwhile is having a holo-call with her mother, Siobhan (played by Mimi Kuzyk) who is clearly a source for much of poor Tilly's neurosis. She screams into her pillow and seeks sanctuary in the mess hall leading to an amusing exchange with the food dispenser.
It's at this point that she runs into the stowaway. Tilly meets and befriends an alien fugitive named Me Hani Ika Hali Ka Po, which becomes shortened to just Po (played by Yadira Guevara-Prip). Po comes from a planet called Xahea, a civilization that has just become warp-capable and was running away from her responsibilities as the new queen of Xahea.
Po explains that she shares a unique symbiotic relationship with her world where huge quantities of dilithium were being mined ,seriously damaging her home planet's environment. Tilly relates to many of the problems Po has and steps naturally into a big sister role, convincing her to do the right thing and return to her planet. Both are a little wiser and have new strength in their self-confidence.
Episode 2 — "Calypso"
Alone in a V'draysh escape pod, a man whose name we learn is Craft (played by Aldis Hodge) appears to be drifting through space. In suspended animation and in danger of succumbing to his wounds, the man and his escape pod are caught in a tractor beam…and that tractor beam is from the USS Discovery.
He wakes in sickbay on a deserted starship. The only person onboard is Zora, who turns out to be Discovery's computer (voiced by Annabelle Wallis). The events of this episode take place in the 33rd century, so we have no idea what happened to the crew so long ago.
Craft spends his time playing chess, learning about human culture and watching old movies on the bridge with Zora. Her favorite is the 1957 film "Funny Face" starring Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire. Inevitably, the two begin to form a relationship; it is clear Zora is becoming enamored with Craft.
Craft teaches himself the dance moves from "Funny Face" and asks Zora to create a hologram of how she feels she might look like (played by Sash Striga). Then they dance to the music from the movie, their eyes never once leaving each other's gaze.
Craft knows he has feelings for her…and Zora is in love with him. A sad and upsetting goodbye takes place in the shuttle bay and Craft begins the long journey home.
Episode 3 — "The Brightest Star"
In this episode , called "The Brightest Star," we follow one of the most popular "Star Trek: Discovery" characters, Saru (played by Doug Jones), at a time before he joined Starfleet.
This penultimate "Short Trek" opens with our first-ever look at the Kelpien home world, Kaminar. It's a quiet, peaceful place that's not only a pre-warp society, but also a preindustrial society. The inhabitants here still rely on the land and the sea to give them everything they need. We see a "Logan's Run"-style customary culling taking place, although it's unclear why these particular poor Kelpiens have been chosen.
The chosen Kelpiens appear to be instantly vaporized while kneeling around a large black crystal-shaped object that stands like a monument in the center of the village. Poor Saru is drawn toward greater understanding of how and why things are the way they are in the classic story of young curiosity battling age-old tradition and ignorance.
During dinner, Saru raises questions about the Kelpiens' culture, which only angers his father (Robert Verlaque), who fiercely defends the way things are done.
By candlelight, while everyone else is asleep, Saru manages to pry open a piece of alien technology, reconfigure it and send a message into the heavens to see if there is anyone else out there.
The days pass and Saru wonders about what will come to pass. Then one day a message arrives on the device, saying only the word "today."
Full of fear and wonder, Saru leaves the village at night and says goodbye to his sister. A shuttlecraft appears in the night sky and lands beside him. It looks oddly familiar — possibly of Federation design. The hatch opens and out steps Philippa Georgiou — she's still a lieutenant at this point, although the shuttlecraft bears USS Shenzhou markings.
"My place is no longer here," he says, and the epic "Star Trek" fanfare plays softly in the background, ensuring every Trekkie has a lump in their throat by the end of this episode.
Episode 4 — "The Escape Artist"
The "Short Treks" have got consistently better each month, which made us practically salivate with excitement at the final episode called "The Escape Artist," which stars the enigmatic, the charismatic, the mesmerizing and memorable, the one and the only Harcourt Fenton Mudd, deliciously played by Rainn Wilson.
Straight away we see Mr. Mudd in chains and in trouble. He's being sold from a bounty hunter to a Tellarite named Tervrin Krit (Harry Judge) who's pretty upset. Apparently our man Mudd slept with Krit's sister and stole his family's sacred cudgel, a hand weapon used for close quarters combat, that had been passed down by his ancestors for more than a hundred years.
Mudd does his very best to appease the situation, suggesting that perhaps they should team up and try to find the sacred cudgel together. The Tellarite laughs — he's enjoying watching Mudd squirm as much as we are.
"Harcourt Fenton Mudd, wanted by the Federation on 30 counts of smuggling, 20 counts of attempted homicide, one count of attempted regicide..." Krit barks.
Mudd scoffs. "Pft! Regicide. He was a duke. Hardly counts as regicide. What are we attempting to murder now? Accuracy?"
"Transportation of stolen goods, and one count of ... penetrating a space whale?!"
Mudd looks away, sheepishly. "You kinda had to be there," he says.
He's is throwing everything he can at the Tellarite. Then Mudd claims that a vague memory is bubbling to the surface. Yes, yes…that sacred cudgel. He had to sell it. Why? Because Mudd is secretly a member of the resistance against the Federation. Krit laughs, as do we.
Wilson, who also directed this "Short Trek," is a delight to watch. Mudd is an evil genius. A criminal mastermind. He's like Lex Luthor on amphetamines. He's the original smooth criminal. This guy could talk all four legs off an Arcturan Mega-Donkey, persuade it to go for a walk and then have it prepare a three-course meal with wine and cheeseboard.
Entertaining flashbacks show us that the lines Mudd is attempting on Krit have in fact been used many times previously with very little effect, and are having just as little effect now.
The Tellarite cruiser drops out of warp and his greeted by a Hoover Class Federation starship, the USS De Milo. Mudd screams and begs Krit not to hand him over.
"I'll polish your tusks… I'll braid your little beard," Mudd pleads.
Krit isn't having any of it. The two beam over to the De Milo, where they're greeted by a senior Starfleet officer (Jonathan Watton) who explains that this isn't Harcourt Mudd.
In a brilliant twist, it turns out that this is an android duplicate of Mr Mudd, thinly skinned with replicant DNA and programmed to distract the Tellarite until it's too late for him to demand a refund. Apparently, bounty hunters have been showing up all week with these monstrosities.
The officer opens a door to reveal at least four of five duplicate Mudds in a room enjoying themselves. It seems Mudd is selling android Mudd to bounty hunters across the galaxy for 50,000 in quatloos, possibly, or maybe latinium.
This is of course a direct reference and precursor to the second appearance of Harry Mudd (played by Roger C. Carmel) in the "Star Trek: The Original Series" episode "I, Mudd" (S02, E08) where he returns with a plot to take over the USS Enterprise by stranding the crew on a planet populated by androids under his command.
We can only hope that Mudd makes an appearance in Season 2 of "Star Trek: Discovery," since he steals every single scene he's in.
"Short Treks" are being shown in the US on CBS All Access. In Canada they're available on the TV channel Space and the streaming service CraveTV as well as the Snackable TV app. Sadly, however, fans in the UK will miss out as there are no plans for Netflix to show them as yet.
The first season of "Star Trek: Discovery" is available to stream in its entirety on CBS All Access in the US and on Netflix in the UK. The "Star Trek: Discovery" Season 1 on Blu-ray and DVD can be ordered now.
The second season of Star Trek: Discovery comprises 13 episodes with no mid-season break. It will premiere on Thursday (Jan. 17) in the US and Canada, and in the rest of the world on Friday (Jan. 18).