Star Trek: Short Treks “Ephraim and Dot”
“Ephraim and Dot” is one of two animated Short Treks that premiered last Thursday, along with “The Girl Who Made the Stars”. But unlike that other short, “Ephraim and Dot” has a strong connection to Star Trek lore—which may be a major understatement—and is plenty of fun, as long as you don’t try to analyze it too much.
We open with a black-and-white faux newsreel from “Starfleet Science” where the narration (provided by Kirk Thatcher, “punk on the bus” from The Voyage Home) starts with “Space, the final frontier”, before launching into an explanation of how space is full of all sorts of lifeforms, and some of them are “deadly”, which is illustrated via a quick flash of the salt monster from the TOS episode “The Man Trap”…
…while other alien lifeforms can be “docile”, much like the space tardigrade, which uses the mycelial network as a “super-warp highway”. Cut to a cute cartoon tardigrade traveling through the galaxy, who is apparently the “Ephraim” of the title, despite the fact that this tardigrade is female and looking for a place to lay her eggs. (“Ephraim” is apparently the original name of the space tardigrade Ripper who appeared on Discovery, who was initially conceived of as being an actual member of the Discovery crew, and even Stamets’ superior officer. Yeah, really.)
The tardigrade lands on an asteroid and starts burrowing a hole, when suddenly, the Enterprise cruises into view, and the animation instantly turns widescreen and full-color.
The tardigrade starts scurrying along the hull of the Enterprise, trying to “burrow” into the hull to lay her eggs, but not having much luck. She ends up at a window, looking in on animated versions of Kirk, McCoy, and Khan Noonien Singh, accompanied by archival audio from “Space Seed”. And it’s great to see Kirk and McCoy back in cartoon form after 45 years, but since when did the Enterprise sickbay have windows?
Just then, one of those chubby hull-repairing robots seen last season on Discovery pops out of a porthole, and supposedly it’s called a DOT-7 robot, even though I don’t remember that ever being mentioned on screen, but regardless, this must be the “Dot” of the title. Dot identifies the tardigrade as an “intruder” and immediately hits her with electricity from its tazer-like arm. Dot returns into the porthole and Ephraim follows, and now both are careening down a shaft and slamming into what seem like several large laundry vats full of yellow, red, and blue tunics. They land in a heap of clothes, and Dot temporarily becomes a redshirt. The robot shows off its tazer-arm again and Ephraim makes a run for it. They chase each other through the corridors until Ephraim ends up sucked into a pipe that swells up Loony Tunes-style as she gets pulled through the ship’s plumbing.
She eventually ends up in the Enterprise’s engine room (which is modeled after the TOS engine room, and not the Apple Store of “Ask Not”), and Ephraim climbs inside and decides this is the optimal place to lay her eggs.
Just then, Dot appears, dragging the tardigrade kicking and screaming away from her eggs. Ephraim escapes into a Jeffries tube, which is somehow full of tribbles, which come crashing down on Dot. Given that “The Trouble with Tribbles” aired one season after “Space Seed”, this should be your first indication that what we’re seeing is not meant to be taken too literally, and yes, going forward, things will get a lot more, um, impressionistic.
Ephraim then arrives in a room full of water tanks, which has windows looking out at a corridor where Sulu is holding Kirk and McCoy at bay with a sword, complete with audio clips from “The Naked Time” (which actually happened before “Space Seed”—but who’s counting?). Dot enters and sees Ephraim floating in a water tank and has it drained, and the tardigrade gets vented out of a porthole into space.
Dot closes the porthole while saying in its robot voice, “Live long and prosper,” and doing the Vulcan salute with only three fingers.
The Enterprise goes to warp, and the tardigrade uses what I’m assuming to be the mycelial network to chase after the ship. Ephraim catches up with the Enterprise as it’s being menaced by the giant green hand from “Who Mourns for Adonais?”
Another chase through the mycelial network ensues, and now the Enterprise is being menaced by the Doomsday Machine…
…and then another high-speed chase finds the Enterprise and the tardigrade escaping from the Tholian Web…
…and then the Enterprise is cruising past Giant Abraham Lincoln from “The Savage Curtain”, and Abe even angrily shakes his fist at the Enterprise as it flies away. And this entire chase sequence is accompanied by plenty of musical cues from the original series courtesy of director/composer Michael Giacchino, who also composed the score for all three Abramsverse movies.
Another chase finds the refit movie Enterprise being fired upon by the USS Reliant in Wrath of Khan, but in a pretty big goof on the animators’ part, the markings on the saucer say “NCC-1701-A”, even though that ship wouldn’t appear until two movies later.
The tardigrade finally catches up with the Enterprise above a red-orange planet, and Ephraim looks through a window and sees her eggs are still where she left them in the engine room, except it still looks like the TOS engine room, and not the engine room from the movies, and anyway, wouldn’t somebody have noticed tardigrade eggs lying around while the ship was undergoing an 18-month refit?
Just then, a Klingon Bird of Prey decloaks and fires on the ship, meaning we must have just jumped to The Search for Spock. Ephraim gets into the Enterprise via a hull breach, and runs past Dot, who’s busy putting out fires. The tardigrade reaches her eggs, but Dot pulls her away yet again, and the two grapple to the famous Star Trek “fight music” originally heard in “Amok Time” but reused for numerous TOS episodes. Dot picks up the tardigrade and spins her around and sends her flying, then Ephraim picks up a wrench and attacks Dot, but Dot is able to hit her with the tazer-arm and toss her out of an airlock yet again.
Back on the ship, Dot finally notices the tardigrade eggs in the engine room, just as the computer announces that the self-destruct sequence has been activated. Out in space, the tardigrade attempts to return to the ship, but it explodes in front of her. The wreckage of the Enterprise goes hurtling down to the Genesis Planet…
…and the tardigrade is devastated, thinking her eggs have been lost. Then a severely damaged Dot goes floating past, and the tardigrade flies after the robot, and is seemingly about to unleash her wrath, but the robot opens up its chest panel to reveal her baby tardigrades, safe and sound.
The baby tardigrades fly around their mom, who hugs the bot, and the narrator returns to say that “peace has returned to the world of our mother tardigrade!” The voice wonders what adventures are in store as this new family “goes boldly where no one has gone before!” And we see the tardigrade is still hugging Dot tightly as she, her babies, and the robot all go to mycelial-super-warp.
And that’s the end. It’s obvious this whole thing was a love letter to TOS, and a way to pay homage to several episodes and movies both visually and musically, but I think it suffers for not having a clear explanation for why the Enterprise is warping in and out of different episodes. Perhaps they could have explained that the tardigrade has the ability to travel through time as well as space, and that’s how she ends up witnessing various memorable moments from TOS. But then again, that would just raise further questions, like how does Dot recognize Ephraim during the “Naked Time” scene if it takes place chronologically before the “Space Seed” scene? And considering how much time passes between “The Naked Time” and Search for Spock, how does the tardigrade species even survive if its eggs take over 15 years to hatch?
So yeah, “Ephraim and Dot” shouldn’t be taken literally, though with a little more thought and planning, it could have been. As it is, it’s just a quick, fun romp through the history of Kirk’s Enterprise with some cute animation that your kids will probably love.
Next time on Short Treks: “Children of Mars”, reportedly the setup for the upcoming Star Trek: Picard, premieres on January 9. Going by the preview, it features two schoolgirls in red jackets, one human and the other alien, who at first appear to be enemies, but then (shocker!) something happens to bring them together.