Sunday, 20 October 2019

TREK REVIEW: Short Treks 2-1 & 2-2: "Q&A" and "The Trouble With Edward"

Ask a silly question...

The Short Treks format proved successful in its first run, with four short adventures that tied into Discovery. Of these, three were really very good, with only the opener “Runaway” seeming rather throwaway, and even that turned out to be surprisingly important for the resolution of Discovery's second season. The far future setting of “Calypso” laid hints for the finale of the second season and will doubtless tie in to the third, while “The Brightest Star” acted as a prequel to very important developments for Lt. Saru. Only the Harry Mudd episode “The Escape Artist” seem to be a completely standalone adventure, and even that may turn out to be more important later on.

Of course, it's not necessary to watch any of these in order to enjoy Discovery, which is just as well, since CBS has made them as difficult as possible to see for the majority of the world. Now a second run of Short Treks has kicked off, with two episodes released within a week of each other, the beginning of a very incoherent release schedule that will end with a sixth episode in January '20. Once again, it's impossible for anyone outside the US to watch any of these through legal means if they want to catch them before the next run of full Star Trek seasons begin.

So, gripe over. Yes, I've watched “Q&A” and “The Trouble With Edward.” No, it wasn't done legally. If you want to get upset about that, CBS, perhaps these positive reviews will help pay my debt.

The second run of Short Treks is going to be even more varied than the first, kicking off with two silly stories that link in with what we might call the greater Discovery universe. The third, out in November, is also set to feature Anson Mount as Captain Pike, who makes brief appearances in the first two. The fourth and fifth are said to be tied to Discovery in “interesting and unexpected ways” according to showrunner Alex Kurtzman. The final episode is to be a prequel to Picard, taking the Short Treks away from Discovery for the first time. We've also been told that some Short Treks are going to be animated, although whether this refers to some of the second run's instalments or planned episodes for a third series isn't certain.

So, nice mixed bag there. Starting with two fun, throwaway stories that tie in to the popular reimagined version of Pike's Enterprise would seem to be a great idea. Both “Q&A” and “The Trouble With Edward” are a lot of fun, with the first episode rather light-hearted and the second an all-out comedy. “Edward,” in particular, is an absurd episode that wouldn't stand up in an ongoing Trek adventure series, but might give us an idea of how the upcoming Lower Decks animated series will play.

Predictably, the more serious Trek fans hate them.

OK, let's look at “Q&A” first. This was a straightforward side story about the fresh-faced young Spock coming aboard the Enterprise and getting stuck in a turbolift with Number One. In there, he bombards his commanding officer with questions so as to pass the time until they decide to sort things out. It ends up with them singing the “Modern Major General” song by Gilbert and Sullivan, Which is exactly the sort of hilarity that two stuck-up Starfleet officers would think was ridiculous and should be kept between themselves. (Seriously, these are people who think opera is a good time and that jazz is risqué.) Some of the more, shall we say, devoted Trekkies have branded this a betrayal of Spock's character.

I mean, talk about missing the point. Back when he first appeared in “The Cage,” Spock's character was completely different. He was a laughing, smiling science officer who couldn't help shouting his head off on the bridge (“THE WOMEN!”). Writer Michael Chabon explicitly wrote this episode to explore Spock's character at this time, to see his more emotional younger self and explain why he later worked harder to suppress his feelings. In reality, it was because Roddenberry was able to keep one character, so ditched Number One and retooled Spock to take on her emotionless demeanour. In the fiction, we discover it was Number One's fault after all, telling Spock to keep “his freaky” hidden after their bonding session. For all the fans saying that this episode violates canon (and so what if it does?), you're missing the point. The episode is about explaining a contradiction that's already part of canon.

“Q&A” gives us Ethan Peck the chance to play a different side of Spock, but it's Rebecca Romijn who benefits most from this episode. She only had a few scenes who distinguish her version of Number One on Discovery, and here we get a chance to learn more about Una: a passionate character who, like Spock, has learnt to hide her feelings in order to be the sort of officer she believes she needs to be.

It's a light-hearted episode with a more serious message, and it's a refreshing change to have something this small scale in modern Trek. Also, Spock's barrage of questions contains some interesting moments, such as a suggestion that he believes in intelligent design. Still, it's his attack on the Prime Directive that hits hardest. “Not ethical but also illogical?” I find myself agreeing with Spock.

“The Trouble With Edward,” is, as the title suggests, a spin on the classic “The Trouble With Tribbles.” It provides us with, essentially, an origin story for the tribbles, not that that was ever a missing landmark of Trek continuity. What it really is, though, is Archer Trek. Finally! H. Jon Benjamin's voice is unmistakable, and it's great to have him in front of the camera for a change. Close your eyes and it's Sterling Archer or Bob Belcher half-heartedly justifying himself in the ready room.

Edward Larkin is an idiot, yes, albeit a brilliant one, and not the sort of person you expect to see on a Starfleet starship. The same story could be told more seriously, of a man who is brilliant in his field but hampered by poor social ability, rather like good old Reg Barclay on The Next Generation and Voyager. But that's not what this story is; no, this is a pure comedy, something rarely attempted in Trek and never as outrageously as this. Benjamin is pitch perfect in his role, awkward and petulant but pretty sympathetic. Rosa Salazar is equally good as the young Captain Lucero, infectiously optimistic until she has to deal with what it can really be like leading people you haven't chosen to work with.

So here we learn that the tribbles' rapid breeding is due not to natural evolution, but to genetic tinkering by Edward, who added some of his own DNA into the mix. It's ludicrous, yes, and flies in the face of what the franchise has already established about the tribbles – they were said to be prodigious breeders by Dr. Phlox in Enterprise, a hundred years earlier – but it's in keeping with the tone of the episode. As a one-off bit of nonsense, this works, and brilliantly. If you don't want to accept this as part of Trek canon, then fine, but that doesn't mean it's not a great little bit of entertainment. We're clearly not meant to take this seriously; there are shots of tribbles springing out of the fur of their parents, Gremlins-style. Just enjoy it and don't get het up about the “damage to canon” or anything else that simply isn't important.

But do you know what is important? Edward was right. Tribbles would be the perfect food source for a planet facing famine, especially his enhanced ones which seem to reproduce without any obvious food source of their own. Well done Lucero. If you'd just listened, the people of Pragine 63 could be enjoying tribble sandwiches right now, and delicious furry tribble cereal wouldn’t be confined to a post-credits gag.

“Q&A” and “The Trouble With Edward” give us the best idea of what a comedy Star Trek series would be like. I fully expect just as much fan ire when Lower Decks finally materialises.

You want tribbles? Because that's how you get tribbles!

No comments:

Post a Comment