The subtlety and skill of the performances overcome the simplicity of the plot, as does the very notion. I haven’t actually seen Picard yet, but I’m sure that it won’t present the destruction on Mars as anything other than an abstraction, a bad thing that happened in the past. Too often, dramatic fiction goes for the big event without really examining the human cost in any but the most general of terms.
“Children of Mars” puts a humanoid face on the destruction of Mars before we’ve even seen what impact it will have on Jean-Luc Picard in the future. (An image shows Admiral Picard’s response to the attack, which means it takes place some time in the interregnum between Nemesis, when he’s still a captain, and Picard season one, when he’s retired.) It’s not just an abstraction, it’s not just a vague tragedy, it’s an event that has consequences to at least two people in whose lives we’ve become invested in a very short time.
The creation myths of the peoples of the Kalahari Desert were told to explain why the world was the way it was. They explained the stars in the night sky by telling of a girl who threw embers into the air in order to provide light during the night, so people could navigate. The girl was lonely and wanted to visit other people.
But the version that the elder Burnham tells his daughter, who is frightened of the dark and can’t sleep, is both the same and different.
For starters, Burnham has adjusted the story to a more 23rd century sensibility. And so the girl of the story is inspired to light up the night sky, not by loneliness, but by encountering an alien life form, who assures her that they’re not alone in their little valley. The girl’s people have not gone beyond their home because it would take more than a day to get there and the night is completely dark and would destroy them. But the girl illuminates the night with stars by which one can navigate, inspired by meeting the strange alien.
Seriously, we have got to see more of these people. They built a whole Enterprise set (we see engineering for the first time in this short), and those aren’t cheap. They’ve got a popular, excellent trio for the top of the ensemble ready to go. It isn’t easy to fill 55-year-old shoes occupied by the most popular character in SF TV history, Gene Roddenberry’s wife, and Jesus Christ, but Peck, Romijn, and especially Mount have not just filled the shoes, but continued to dance in them. If there isn’t a Pike show on CBS All Access some time in the next year, a serious crime against nature will have been committed.
One thing I like is that at no point does Lucero even consider the possibility of killing the tribbles. I’m sure many of them do die when the superstructure of the ship collapses, but it’s established that plenty survived, at least. The only fatality is Larkin himself, but tellingly, none of Starfleet’s attempts to restrain the tribbles are lethal: their phasers are on stun and they’re never consigned to space via an airlock.
What I particularly love about “Q & A” is that Michael Chabon’s script leans into the early-draft versions of the characters that we saw in “The Cage,” as well as the early episodes of the original series, and into the fact that Number One and Spock are actually very similar characters.
The former is hilariously called back to when Spock first beams aboard and is practically screaming his dialogue, and Number One has to tell him that there’s no need to shout. Shouty Spock is one of the more hilarious aspects of the character that Nimoy abandoned after a few episodes, but we got a lot of it, not only in the two pilots, but also in the first couple episodesof season one of the series.
As for the latter, that is accomplished by having the two characters repeatedly say the same thing at the same time, from technobabble to Spock’s signature word (“Fascinating”).
Mudd tries to inveigle Krit to let him go, or to team up with him, or pretty much do anything but turn him over to the Federation, who have offered a substantial reward for Mudd for a lengthy list of charges. (One of them is penetration of a space whale, a reference to “Magic to Make…” which earns him a confused and vaguely disgusted look from Krit. Mudd’s sheepish response is, “You hadda be there.”)
This is the first of the Short Treks that fails in my opinion, and it does so on two levels. The first is that this is very much not a story that should be told in 10-15 minutes. Both “Runaway” and “Calypso” were perfectly designed for the short format. But “The Brightest Star” feels like the outline of a longer story, not a story in itself. We get no context for the Kelpiens’ life. We know nothing of the Ba’ul, nor of what actually happens to the sacrifices. There’s so much story left on the floor here because of the limitations of the timeframe. What else to the Kelpiens do besides farm? What form of government do they have? Are all of them doing what Saru’s village is doing? More to the point, how does the rest of the galaxy view what’s happening there? Georgiou knows that Saru manipulated Ba’ul technology, and she also mentions that her contacting Saru was a controversial and fraught decision in Starfleet. Why didn’t we see those arguments? Why isn’t Starfleet doing something about the Ba’ul’s enslavement of the Kelpiens? (Assuming it is enslavement—even that is not clear.)
The story of Saru’s background is one that requires a full one-hour episode at least. What we get here is maddeningly abbreviated.
This is a sweet, wonderful, tragic story. It has the Trek hallmark of bonding between people from wildly different backgrounds to make each other better, as well as the belief that just because intelligence is artificial, doesn’t make it not real. (A theme explored in “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” and “Requiem for Methuselah” on the original series, and through the characters of Data and the EMH on TNG and Voyager, respectively.) And while no details are forthcoming about life in the 33rd century (the farthest ahead in the timeline any onscreen Trek has gone, supplanting Voyager‘s “Living Witness”), we do know that humanity continues to thrive
She’s scared—as scared as Tilly probably was when she couldn’t climb the same wall as her fellows and ran away in shame when she was a child. Tilly’s mother brings that up as a reason why she shouldn’t attempt Command School. Initially, Tilly is wavering. One of the best bits in the episode is when Tilly orders her espresso. First she mouths off to the computer when it tries to caution her against so much caffeine, describing the beverage as her best friend. (One hopes that Michael Burnham doesn’t take that personally…) Then she sits with the drink and discourses on how she expects nothing, not even from the caffeine. “Espresso—I release you.” She’s so wound up in the possibility of disappointment that she refuses to have expectations.
Paramount+ (formerly CBS All Access) has been airing lots of new Star Trek shows since 2017: Discovery, Short Treks, Picard, and Lower Decks, with more to come (like Prodigy and Strange New Worlds). Upon the release of each new episode, my reviews of same have been appearing on Tor.com. Unlike my rewatches of TV shows and movies for the site, these aren’t archived on a single index page, so herewith, a guide to the reviews I’ve done to date (regularly updated).