Star Trek: Short Treks “Calypso”
Here we go with another installment of Short Treks, the mini-episodes that are being released only on CBS All Access to help build anticipation for January’s season premiere of Star Trek: Discovery. And I feel like the trailer for this mini-episode was a bit of a bait and switch; it gave the impression that “Calypso” would be a mystery story wherein a guy has to figure out how he came to wake up alone on an abandoned USS Discovery 1,000 years in the future. In reality, most of the “mystery” is explained about two minutes in, and the rest of the mini-episode is basically a love story between a human and Discovery’s computer, which has become self-aware and capable of emotions sometime during the previous millennium.
I mean, it’s fine for what it is, but it’s definitely just as inconsequential as the previous Short Trek, so I don’t think I’ll be spending too much time on this one.
The short opens with our main character (Aldis Hodge) floating through space in a person-sized escape pod. We see his face through the window, which also acts as a screen that’s currently displaying, of all things, a Betty Boop cartoon. The pod alerts him that his life signs are fading. Oh, good, the “you’re dying now” alert; always useful.
Luckily, his pod happens to fly directly over a starship, specifically the USS Discovery, and as he drifts across the hull, tractor beams grab his pod. He wakes up in Discovery’s sickbay, which is all dark and abandoned. He stumbles out of bed and sees a circular display on the wall with undulating lines, and a reverse angle shows the display is watching him back.
Lights flicker, and a cabinet opens up with clothes for him to wear. While he’s putting them on, he discovers that all of his scars have been magically healed, except for one on his leg.
The ship’s computer speaks up, in a sexy British female voice (provided by Annabelle Wallis), and says she decided not to remove that particular scar because it seemed to have “sentimental value”. She knows this because he never had it removed, but wouldn’t that also apply to all the scars she healed?
The computer identifies herself as “Zora”, and the man says his name is “Quarrel”, but she knows he’s lying. She then uses the lights in the corridor to lead him to the Discovery’s mess hall, which is similarly abandoned. Zora explains she couldn’t repair his escape pod, and he wonders how he’ll get home. She replicates some food for him, and as he eats, he tells Zora to “come on out” and join him, somehow not realizing he’s been talking to a computer this whole time. Zora laughs and breaks the news that she’s not a real person.
Later on, Zora asks him to tell her his “true name”, but he says they don’t do that “where I come from”. But he says most people call him “Craft”. She knows Craft is from Alcor IV, thanks to the “cyclops owl” tattoo on his back. She’s surprised to learn there are human settlements on Alcor IV, but is aware her records are likely “out of date”.
She’s also figured out he’s a soldier, due to his wounds and all the weapons he had in his escape pod. He says he stole that pod from the enemy, who are called the “V’draysh”. According to him, the V’draysh are really into things from “the long ago”, which explains that Betty Boop cartoon he was watching. Craft realizes that Zora must also be from the long ago, and finally asks how long she’s been out here alone.
Zora says she’s been waiting for the crew to return for over a thousand years, and has spent that time “evolving myself”. Which sounds vaguely dirty.
He then asks to see the bridge, which despite a thick layer of dust has held up remarkably well for a thousand years. He says the ship could easily take him back to Alcor, but Zora says she can’t disobey orders and leave her current position, even though the captain has likely been dead for centuries. She mentions that the ship has one shuttlecraft left, but it was never operational, so he can’t get back home that way either.
Later on, Craft has a hammock slung across the transporter room as he looks at a photo of his wife and child. He tells Zora his son must be 11 years old by now, and she’s amazed the war lasted for ten years. She asks who won, and Craft has no idea. Like, wow, it’s almost as if war is futile and meaningless. This is deep.
Then comes a mini-montage of Craft spending his days and nights in the mess hall getting catered to by Zora. She’s doing her best to keep him entertained, and at one point she replicates a meal for “Taco Tuesday”, but Craft has no idea what a taco is. He also has no idea what a “Tuesday” is.
On the bridge, Zora reveals something in the ship’s library that she finds particularly entertaining. She pulls up a three-dimensional holographically-enhanced old movie. Namely, 1957’s Funny Face starring Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn, based on the Broadway musical by George and Ira Gershwin. You see, it’s that old Star Trek cliché where everybody is really into movies/TV/books from 20th century America, and apparently no entertainment of any worth will be produced in the next 300 years.
In the movie, Astaire and Hepburn have a big dance number set to “S’Wonderful”, while Craft eats popcorn and Zora hums along.
Back in the mess hall, Craft is staring out a window, wishing he could be back home fishing. Zora tries to reproduce the sound of the wind and the waves for him. In response, he calls her a “good woman”, and says he wants to do something nice for her.
He’s soon practicing Fred Astaire’s dance moves, and then he replicates a white suit for himself just like the one in the movie. On the bridge, he wants Zora to dance with him, and encourages her to use her “imagination” to create a holographic avatar for herself. No surprise, she imagines herself as a hot, skinny white woman.
The two dance to “S’Wonderful” in a holographic park, and they’re about to kiss, but then Craft suddenly thinks about his wife and son. Zora’s voice tries to convince him that their near-kiss means nothing, because she’s not really a person, but he calls her a “liar” and walks out. The holographic Zora stands there frozen, and cries a single holographic tear.
Sometime later, Zora decides to replicate a new spacesuit for Craft. Apparently, she was able to fix up that one remaining shuttle after all, and now he can go home. As Craft is in the shuttlebay about to leave, he thanks Zora for saving his life. She asks whether Craft would tell her his “true name” if she were a person and they were “lovers”. Craft responds that on his world, if they were lovers, she would be the one to give him his true name.
Zora responds, “Well, then I already did.” Craft steps onto the shuttle, and the doors close behind him to reveal the words “Funny Face”, the true name she’s given him.
Craft’s shuttle warps away, as “S’Wonderful” plays one more time. Meanwhile, a holographic version of Craft dances with Zora in the shuttlebay.
It’s a pleasant enough story, and mostly coherent (unlike “Runaway”), but not terribly deep. A love affair between a human and an artificial intelligence isn’t exactly a novel concept, and has been examined more competently and thoroughly elsewhere, most notably in 2013’s Her, but also in Ex Machina, Blade Runner, and the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “In Theory” where Data gets a girlfriend.
Another somewhat similar Star Trek episode is the original series’ “Metamorphosis”—that’s the one where a shapeless cloud falls in love with Zefram Cochrane, and I roll my eyes when Spock has to make it very clear that the cloud is “female”. (Because when we’re talking about the love between a man and a big ball of gas, you don’t want any weird stuff.) “Calypso” feels similarly regressive, in that the makers felt they had to strongly identify the computer as “female” and “sexy” for us accept the love story. An interesting twist could have been the computer initially presenting itself as more androgynous until it learned what Craft’s preferences were, and we could have seen Craft dealing with that. But like I said, they obviously weren’t interested in getting very deep here.
And there’s no explanation for why Discovery ends up abandoned by its crew 1,000 years in the future, but that was expected. From everything the producers have said about these “Short Treks”, they’re taking place in a very loose continuity with the actual show. I sincerely doubt anything we see in Discovery is going to lead up to the events of this mini-episode. (And for that matter, I doubt anything that happened in “Runaway” will ever be mentioned again, either.) Though, they could have easily sidestepped all these questions (and still reused all the sets) by having this story take place on a different ship in the same class as Discovery, just like its sister ship USS Glenn in those early episodes.
And finally, for those wondering why the story is called “Calypso”, it’s the name of a nymph in The Odyssey who falls in love with Odysseus after he’s taken captive while heading home from the Trojan War. And once you know what it’s referencing, you can easily figure out which elements of this story were totally ripped off from… er, I mean, you can easily determine all the ways in which this story pays homage to Homer.
Next time on Short Treks: We see more of the Kelpien race when a young Saru gets curious about what lies outside his village in “The Brightest Star”, and I’m already expecting the Peaceful Alien Cliché-O-Matic to be set to maximum on this one.