Jul 29, 2020
Star Trek: Short Treks “Ask Not”
And now, the last of the Captain Pike-era Short Treks, “Ask Not”. At around nine minutes, this is the shortest Short Trek so far, and one of the most inconsequential. It’s built around a pretty obvious twist that negates everything that came before it, so I don’t intend to dwell too much on the finer details of this mini-episode.
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We open on flashing lights, extreme closeups of a woman’s face, and a computer declaring a Yellow Alert. A voice from “Ops” calls down to “Inventory Two” to report that Starbase 28 is under attack. A cadet named Thira Sidhu (Amrit Kaur) replies from Inventory Two, asking for a status report, and then the wall behind her explodes, sending her reeling.
She wakes up on the floor to the sounds of frantic crosstalk on the comm system. Explosions of sparks continue to go off around her. Enter two Starfleet security officers, and one of them orders Sidhu up on her feet. They’re escorting a handcuffed prisoner in a gold Starfleet uniform and a mask. Security Officer #1 says that due to the attack, they can’t reach the brig, so for now they’re leaving the mystery prisoner here in Inventory Two and in the cadet’s custody. Sidhu asks what happened and is told the prisoner’s crime is “mutiny”, and he’s not to leave this room. And surely you’re thinking there must be many more secure and more practical places to temporarily house a prisoner on a starbase, but this will all be explained soon enough.
Sidhu asks what’s up with the mask, and Security Officer #1 says the rest of the crew doesn’t need to see who “turned”. He uses a strange gizmo to make the mask fly off the prisoner’s head in CGI shards, and Sidhu is stunned to see it’s Captain Pike. However, she’s able to pull herself together enough to affirm that’s she’s up to the task of guarding him, and with that, the security officers toss her a phaser and leave. Pike immediately orders her to “open comms” for him, but Sidhu weakly says he’s a prisoner, so his orders carry no weight.
The room continues to shake due to the ongoing attack, while Pike explains the backstory here: the Enterprise was responding to a distress call from the USS Bouman, and thanks to the closeup on Sidhu and the big thud on the soundtrack, we know this ship has special significance to her. Pike says an admiral aboard the Bouman sent out an “encrypted hail” to say the Tholians had taken over the ship, and (shades of the Mirror Tholians luring the Defiant into interphasic space) the distress call was really a trap to capture the Enterprise.
They rescued the admiral but Pike disobeyed her orders and attempted to also rescue the rest of the Bouman crew. So the admiral relieved him of duty and that’s how he ended up here: for being too gosh-durn heroic, I guess. More explosions go off around them, and the camera shakes some more, and Sidhu realizes that the Tholians must have followed the Enterprise here. I’m not sure that pursuing a ship back into Federation space is really the Tholians’ MO, but this too will be explained shortly.
Surprisingly, Pike knows exactly who Cadet Sidhu is, and that she has family on the Bouman. Pike says he remembers this from seeing her file when she applied to join the Enterprise’s engineering department, but Sidhu sadly notes she was “rejected”. She and her husband both wanted to serve on the Enterprise, but he got assigned to the Bouman while she ended up with a much less glamorous posting here on Starbase 28.
Pike also happens to know that Sidhu and her husband were the only survivors of a Tholian attack on “Berellium” a couple of years ago. Pike says he can save her husband from another Tholian attack, along with the rest of the Bouman crew, and all she has to do is let him go. But Sidhu sticks to her guns, saying that she’s all about following protocol.
So Pike starts quoting regulations at her that could justify releasing him, which includes the “reserve activation clause” that gives her authority to reinstate a “discharged officer” in the event of an emergency. Sidhu dismisses this as a “loophole” and not the way she likes to do things. (Presumably, this is the same “reserve activation clause” that allowed Kirk to draft Disco McCoy back into active duty in The Motion Picture.)
More explosions go off and Pike reiterates that her husband is in extreme danger, but Sidhu says her husband “knew what he signed up for.” Pike again demands she let him go, but she continues to refuse, so Pike says he won’t forget this, and he’s going to make sure Sidhu will “never see the inside of a starship again.” Pike goes to the door, and I have no idea if it’s locked or not, but Sidhu pulls that phaser on him and yells at him to step away from the door.
A tense standoff plays out for a few moments until Pike smiles and calls her “very good” and takes off his own handcuffs. He pushes some buttons on a console and the computer announces that the “simulation” is complete.
Yes, it was all a training exercise for young Cadet Sidhu to see if she had the right stuff to work on the Enterprise. The attack wasn’t real, her husband is in no danger, and in fact he’s on his way here to see her now. Pike says he knows a test like this might seem “extreme” or “even inhumane” (you think?), but so is “war”, and he had to know if she’s someone who can put her duty to Starfleet above the lives of loved ones. Instead of being (rightfully) angry, Sidhu just smiles bashfully and wonders why someone as important as Pike would take this much interest in little ol’ her. He just tells her to clean herself up and meet him in the transporter room.
The two beam over to the Enterprise, and Sidhu declares it to be a beautiful ship. Pike says her application was approved, and she’ll now be serving on the Enterprise for the “rest of the semester”. Spock and Number One show up, and Number One tells Sidhu that the “rejection” she previously received was just part of the test, and Spock says they’ve all learned to expect “no mercy” from Number One and Una gives him a Spock-like raised eyebrow.
Pike takes Sidhu to the Engineering department, which of course looks nothing like the Engineering set as seen on TOS, and Sidhu marvels at the slick neon JJ Abrams-esque look of it all. Pike welcomes her to the ship, but before he can leave, Sidhu asks if the phaser she was given during the test was real, and Pike only says, “See you around the ship, Cadet,” and takes off. So, what, he knew Sidhu wouldn’t actually shoot him? Or maybe since Pike learned last season on Discovery that he’s destined to end up in the beep-beep wheelchair, he’s thinking that getting vaporized by some random cadet is the better fate.
And that’s it. While I could see an intense psychological test like this being required for a high-ranking security officer, or someone on the command track, why would low-level engineers be put through something like this? Also, this “test” has the same massive flaw as the Kobiyashi Maru—after a while, you’d expect word to spread pretty fast among cadets that those wanting to serve on the Enterprise will have to endure some crazy manufactured life-or-death crisis to earn a place on the ship, and totally be expecting it.
After all the fan vitriol directed toward Michael Burnham on Discovery, I hesitate to use the loaded term “Mary Sue”, but there’s a lot of that vibe here, with not just Pike but Spock and Number One all fawning over and paying enormous amounts of attention to this nondescript cadet. How does Pike or even Number One have enough time to set up these highly personalized moral dilemmas for every applicant who wants to join the crew? Apparently, the writer of this episode is not only a lifelong Trek fan but her parents named her after a Star Trek character from the TOS episode “By Any Other Name”, and congrats to her for getting to play in this sandbox, but this feels way too much like an authorial self-insert.
And even after watching the short, I’m still unsure why it’s called “Ask Not”. It can only be a reference to John F. Kennedy’s inaugural speech, but no matter how hard I squint I can’t quite see the connection. Overall, this was another Short Trek with too much dialogue and too much exposition required to set up the premise, and two characters quoting regulations at each other is something we’ve seen far too much of in Star Trek. The “training exercise” fake-out is yet another thing we’ve seen too much of, and I could keep finding things to complain about, but in the end, this was a nine-minute one-off that’s really not asking for or deserving of any sort of deep analysis, so let’s just leave it at that.
Next up on Short Treks: On December 12, Star Trek gets its first animated episodes in 45 years: “The Girl Who Made the Stars” is rumored to be an adaptation of the African creation myth that Michael Burnham recited in the season two premiere of Discovery, while “Ephraim and DOT” seems to depict an encounter between a space tardigrade and one of those robots that repair damages to the Enterprise’s hull.