Star Trek: Short Treks “Children of Mars”

The run-up to Star Trek: Picard officially kicks into high gear with “Children of Mars”, a new Short Trek directly tying in to the events of the series I just mentioned. The verdict: less than promising.

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We start off with a little alien girl addressing the camera, stating her name (Kima) and her mother’s occupation (anti-grav ringer at the Utopia Planitia shipyard on Mars).

Both she and her mother have facial bumps, V-shaped forehead crests (this is Star Trek, after all), and tongues that would put Gene Simmons to shame, which they waggle to amuse one another.

Oh, God. Rule 34, here we come.

Scenes of Kima’s interview are intercut with scenes video-phoning with her mom. It’s never made clear why she’s talking to the camera in this way. Is she in a documentary? A reality show? Is she being interviewed by somebody in the aftermath of the… oh right, we’ll get to that.

Next up, we have a little human girl named Lil…

…whose dad is a quality systems supervisor at a Mars orbital facility. Her relationship with her dad is a lot rockier. We see her father sheepishly apologize for not being able to make it back to Earth for another year. She huffily closes the chat window on the wall.

With all that frustration bottled up inside, Lil starts acting out. She knock’s Kima’s bag out of her hand while kids are rushing to a shuttle platform, making her miss the shuttle to go to school. Kima somehow gets to school anyway. School is an opulent, airy building, all glass and brushed steel, that looks like a tech firm’s corporate headquarters and probably is. Big floating banners are celebrating First Contact Day (April 5, if you were wondering).

Why is First Contact Day not important enough to close school? That’s a fun mystery.

Kima shoves Lil with her shoulder on her way to her seat. In retaliation, Kima draws a hilariously tame caricature of her teacher on her plexiglas notepad, and holo-tosses it over to Kima’s notepad. The teacher sees it, throws it up on the holo-blackboard for the class to see, and gives Kima a demerit.

“You get an F! This looks nothing like me!”

In revenge, Kima waits till Lil is in the library reading antique paper books and trips her while she passes by.

The song that started at the very beginning of the short builds in volume and intensity. If you’re curious, it’s Peter Gabriel’s glacially-paced orchestral cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes”from a poorly-received 2010 covers album he did. I’m not sure what the song’s even supposed to be doing here. Bowie’s original recording has a steady tempo that promotes a feeling of buoyant, easy optimism; Peter’s belabored groaning sounds more suited to the trailer for Disney’s freakin’ epic remake of Harry and the Hendersons or some shit. (The song sucks enough to have already been featured in Stranger Things twice.)

The tension between the two girls have officially boiled over to a full-blown fistfight, which they do in the lockers outside their classroom. Lil punches Kima in the face, just as Peter Gabriel belts out the inspiring bit about beating them and being heroes just for one day. Kima wipes bright sapphire-blue blood out of her nostril (because she’s alien, duh!) and tackles Lil as the students cheer them on.

Lil and Kima are eventually dragged away and plopped in the visitor’s lobby principal’s office, right underneath holo-banners reading “ACHIEVE” and “GROW” for a little sledgehammer-subtle bit of visual irony. Peter Gabriel whispers “just for one day,” and the song fades out as the girls look at each other side-eyed.

The principal finds students more compliant when he seats them downwind of the noodle restaurant in the food court.

The girls’ principal, a middle-aged Vulcan in a three-piece-suit-of-the-future, strolls over to have a very logical disciplinary chat when his plexiglas smartphone lights up in red with a breaking news alert. A teacher rushes over with the same image on her phone. Soon all the floating holo-banners switch to a live broadcast of the emergency alert.

“Hey now! Someone swiped right!”

The live feed shows Mars—where, remember, Kima’s mom and Lil’s dad both work—and mysterious “rogue synths” are bombing and lasering everything all to shit. What does “synths” mean in this context? Androids? Clones? Holograms? Wesley’s stupid accidentally-sentient science project? Who knows?

Ever listen to Brain Salad Surgery? Keith Emerson, man, those are some fuckin’ rogue synths for ya.

A pianist plinks out plaintive arpeggios over some shaky-cam footage of panicked people rushing through a stairwell. The scary-looking ships blow up the orbital platform, and soon huge explosions are erupting all over Mars. And because there are three people left who haven’t gotten the 9/11 comparison yet, the chyron reads “3000 estimated dead”.

“Scuse me, sorry, I think I dropped a laser over here.”

*Tim Allen grunt* “Uh-oh…”

And here comes the tie-in! Picard’s picture is shown on a still screen. The chyron reads “‘Devastating’ – Admiral Picard reacts to Mars Attack”. Okay, cool, but why would anybody need a statement from him? Isn’t he supposed to be retired and slowly going batty in his vineyard by now? Is he just offering the opinion, in his professional capacity as a space-type man, that the space attack was devastating? It seems like a flimsy way to put him in, if you ask me.

“Mars Attacks? Oh yes, really liked it! Hilarious! Tim Burton’s last good movie, in my opinion!”

The two girls, tears streaming down their faces, make up and join hands. Cut to the title card, saying “Children of Mars”.

As an introduction to Star Trek: Picard, this Short Trek is not wow-ing me. Here’s what bugs me most. As I mentioned, the attack by the “synths” on Mars was an obvious 9/11 metaphor. Here’s the thing, though: Star Trek: Picard takes place in the alternate universe of Star Trek (2009), which you will remember kicked off with the destruction of the planet Vulcan and attempted destruction of Earth. That timeline continued on with Star Trek Into Darkness (no colon! take that, oppressive movie titling conventions!), which featured a lot of War on Terror subtext that Battlestar Galactica already did better, a dash of InfoWars-esque conspiracy, and literal spaceships flying into skyscrapers. “Children of Mars” is a 9/11 metaphor set in a timeline largely defined by 9/11 metaphors. It’s not that it’s tacky, so much—although it’s definitely that—it’s that it’s hacky. Like, you literally already did this, Star Trek. Do something else.

And let’s circle back to the use of “Heroes” for one second. That song was about the Berlin Wall, featuring the hopeful image of two people reaching across a cultural divide and finding love in a time of cold war. But if there was anything similarly hopeful to be found in “Children of Mars”, it was the suggestion that living through the trauma of terrorism stimulates our collective compassion, inspiring us to reach out to others for support and find common ground with our fellow citizens, even those different than us. I hate to be the one to say it, but based on recent history, no. No, it does not.

But I don’t want to draw too much from “Children of Mars”, which after all is barely longer than your average trailer. I could be way off base. See you on the 23rd for the Picard premiere!

TV Show: Star Trek: Short Treks

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  • Clu Gulager Alert!

    Just an FYI – Picard takes place in the universe that Leonard Nimoy’s Spock left behind (i.e. the original universe that TOS, TNG, etc. took place in), where Romulus was destroyed. The new movies are still in their own contained reality. Good call on the 9/11 allegory. I hadn’t noticed that until now.

    As for the reason why Picard is making a statement and not retired–I’m guessing this is set a few years before the series proper, before he started picking grapes for a living.

    • oohhboy

      That’s a lie they push around a lot. The universe left behind by Nimoy is in itself another alternate called “Prime” which STD is also part of.

      OG canon currently still ends with Nemesis unless you count the MMO.

  • GreenLuthor

    I don’t think Picard is supposed to be in the reboot timeline? My understanding is that it references the destruction of Romulus from the reboot series, but that was the event that sent Nero and Spock back in time and created the new timeline; the Romulus event itself still occurred in the original timeline, it just caused the timelines to branch in the past. (I think.)

  • What does “synths” mean in this context? It means someone on the writing staff is a Fallout fan.

  • Dave A Korman

    Actually… I don’t think the series takes place in the alternate timeline. It’s after the destruction of romulous but in the original timeline before Eric Nana goes back to destroy Vulcan

    • Tyler Peterson

      Lots of people are saying this in the comments and you all may be right.

      But I don’t know if that’s a precedent Star Trek would be wise to establish, i.e. “when you travel back in time to change your present, the timeline you left goes on unchanged without you.” It would certainly take a lot of the narrative heft out of Trek’s time travel plots if you knew that there kept on being a universe where those timeline changes didn’t apply. Like, why should we care if Picard traveled time to save Earth from the Borg, if we knew there was still an Earth that wasn’t saved?

      Like, Rick and Morty had a bit where they ditch a timeline where Earth gets taken over by Cronenberg mutants, and then a couple seasons later they go back to that timeline and see for themselves the nightmare their ex-family members are all living it. What was being satirized was the tendency of time-travel stories to either erase those old timelines or at least encourage you not to think about their existence. Because if you do, the time-traveling hero becomes a coward ditching out on his reality to save his own ass. It looks like Star Trek is accidentally doing this bit, but 100 percent seriously.

      • Clu Gulager Alert!

        I think the official explanation is that the new movies take place in an “alternate reality”, and that’s how both continuities exist. In TNG terms, it’s more like “Parallels” and not “Yesterday’s Enterprise”.

        As for precedent, I don’t think it’s something they’re going to do too often. The reality split happened in part because CBS and Paramount had split as corporate entities at the time and the TV/movie rights to Trek were split accordingly.

        • Grumpy

          “In TNG terms, it’s more like ‘Parallels’ and not ‘Yesterday’s Enterprise.'”

          It can still be like “Yesterday’s Enterprise” if we interpret that episode as showing a POV shift to an alternate timeline, not some BS transformation.

  • Kradeiz

    I hope this short isn’t indicative of the quality we can expect from Picard.

    • Tyler Peterson

      You know what I just thought of, that might actually bug me more than the 9/11 thing?? Of all the David Bowie songs that mention Mars, which they could have put in an episode called “Children of Mars”, they went with “Heroes”!! Why???

  • Will113

    Remember when Enterprise had the 9/11 stand in?

    That was at-least more timely then this.