Star Trek: Short Treks “Q & A”
Surprise! Star Trek: Short Treks is back. Without any advance notice, executive producer Alex Kurtzman announced last Saturday at New York Comic Con that the newest short “Q & A” was available on CBS All Access. Also, five more shorts will be posted between now and when Star Trek: Picard debuts in January.
Details about future Short Treks episodes are scant, but I can at least tell you what “Q & A” is about, and despite the title, it doesn’t feature the John de Lancie appearance I was hoping for. Instead, the Q & A of the title is a question and answer session between two characters, specifically a young Spock (played again by Ethan Peck) and Captain Pike’s first officer Number One (Rebecca Romijn). It’s also one of the clearest examples ever of a bottle episode, where a script is limited to just a few sets and characters for budgetary reasons. It’s sometimes known as an “elevator episode”, due to their tendency to feature characters getting trapped in an elevator or other enclosed space.
Well, this is literally an elevator episode. Or should I say a turbolift episode?
At a starbase, Spock dramatically steps onto a transporter pad in slow-mo, to the sounds of the slowed down TOS fanfare. We get extreme closeups on his Starfleet uniform (I guess to show that Spock is an ensign here) and also various part of his body (no clue about that) and he beams up.
Cut to Number One in the Enterprise’s transporter room dictating a memo to a PADD, and on the PADD we can see her actual name: “Lieutenant Commander Una”. I knew this was Number One’s name in some of the Star Trek novels, but apparently this bit of silliness is now canon. I thought The Next Generation made it clear that “Number One” is just what some captains like to call their first officers; but in this one special case, “Number One” is her full-time nickname based on her real name being “Una”.
She casually pauses to beam in Spock, who’s smiling as he transports in (which seems out of character, but this will be addressed later). Number One welcomes the ensign aboard, indicating this is Spock’s first day on the Enterprise. She asks him how things were on Starbase 40, and Spock replies to her like he’s a boot camp recruit being addressed by his drill instructor. She tells Spock there’s “no need to shout”, and as they walk through the corridors, she criticizes the fact that he hasn’t asked a single question in all of the thirty seconds he’s been aboard, which isn’t what she expected from a science officer. She says that starting now, he’s being ordered to “barrage every crew member you meet with questions, starting with me, until the point where you become an annoyance.” And thus begins the (wait for it) Q & A.
First, Spock asks her name, and Number One says to call her Number One. As she steps into a turbolift, Spock asks her opinion of the “Una Full Model of Combat Salvo Analysis compared to the initial Neo-Wayne Model”. (I apologize for any spelling mistakes in this recap; CBS All Access never bothered to upload subtitles for this Short Trek.) She says she finds it “problematic”, and then invites Spock to join her in the turbolift as she heads for the bridge.
And then we get another of those weird shots from this iteration of Trek where we actually see the exterior of the turbolift as it cruises along rails like a rollercoaster. I really have a hard time believing there’s this much empty space inside the Enterprise.
Inside, Number One looks over Spock’s records from Starfleet Academy, and sees he had a professor named Onafuwa for “Fundamentals of Quantum Stochastics”, and he received “top marks”. Number One knows that this must have been “brutal”, because Onafuwa is a “monster”, but they both say in unison that the subject matter was “fascinating”. True Star Trek fans know that after the original pilot “The Cage” was rejected, Roddenberry got rid of Number One and recycled all her character traits (highly analytical, reluctant to show emotion, etc.) into Spock, which is surely what inspired the moments here where the two discover how similar they are.
Just then, the lights flicker, and the turbolift shudders, and an exterior shot shows the lift screeching to a halt. The computer says manual controls are offline, so Number One uses a panel to contact Engineering and report the emergency to an officer named “Upjohn”. Spock and Number One stand there awkwardly until Number One notes that “people don’t talk in elevators”, and Spock says he’s noticed the same thing. Figuring that it’ll take some time for them to be rescued, Number One tells Spock to continue barraging her with questions.
Spock asks for the “three most salient facts about Captain Pike”, and Number One replies that Pike hears out other people’s points of view and is willing to change his own, he considers using force as a last resort to be a failure, and he’s “utterly unsentimental, except when it comes to horses”. What? Spock is confused, but Number One tells him to “stay away from the topic” of horses. So, does that make like three Enterprise captains in a row that were really into horses? Does Pike keep his own saddle in his quarters, too?
Number One uses the comm panel to contact Upjohn again, who turns out to have a Welsh accent. Oh my god, she’s Welshie! Upjohn starts spewing technobabble about what’s wrong with the turbolift, so Number One shuts off the call. And please don’t think too hard about why they don’t just beam them off the turbolift.
Crossfade to the two of them sitting on the floor and talking about “which version of the OS” that the Enterprise’s computer is running. They have another synchronicity moment where they agree that the source code behind this OS “lacks elegance”. Spock asks if the food synthesizers use the “Gupta or the Katsman Glucose Matrix”. Number One replies that they use the “Una Matrix”, which is a hybrid of the two that’s more nutritious and more “palatable”. Spock notes that this matrix is named after her, but she insists that her name is Number One. Is her real name some sort of state secret?
Crossfade to Spock asking her if she’s ever considered that the Prime Directive might be “not only unethical, but also illogical”, and she says she hasn’t, and warns Spock to stop thinking along those lines, too. Then come multiple crossfades to Spock asking super nerdy questions with an echoing voiceover while Number One looks more and more exhausted and quickly reaching her breaking point. Spock is asking if she thinks the universe might be an enormous simulation when he finally wonders if he’s becoming an “annoyance”. Number One says he’s just starting to get a bit “heavy”.
Then comes Spock’s next question: “Do you like eggplant?” I guess they don’t use emoji in the future, because nowadays a question like that would be bordering on sexual harassment. Number One sighs and looks up at the ceiling of the turbolift, and asks Spock to give her a “boost”. And awkward Spock comes for her and gets all handsy with her before Number One tells him to get down on his knees so she can climb up on his shoulders.
While up on Spock’s shoulders, she opens up some sort of service hatch, and somehow she’s talking to Upjohn again, even though she didn’t touch the comm panel. She asks Upjohn what she should be looking for. Looking for? When did the two even decide they were going to try fixing the turbolift from inside?
Upjohn tells her to pull out a diode, while Number One asks Spock for his next question, and with her thighs wrapped around his head, Spock can only think to ask if Una has ever observed a “triple mode high amplitude Delta Scuti star”, and she’s like duh, who hasn’t? She says this happened during her first deep space mission aboard the Enterprise, which brought her in close proximity to the star “99 Pegasi”. Spock says he’s envious, and then Number One starts poking around behind the service hatch, which causes sparks to fly. She screams and Spock drops her and the turbolift briefly goes dark. They both lay there collapsed on the floor of the turbolift, and then they wake up as Upjohn says they’re going to have “Lt. Amin” rappel down to the turbolift to rescue them.
Upjohn is again chattering too much, so Number One again shuts her off. She then unzips the top of her tunic as she asks if Spock has any more questions. He has none, so Number One has a question for him, asking if he was smiling when he beamed aboard, and noting this is not something Vulcans tend to do (also, I’m guessing this a reference to Spock getting a big goofy grin on his face in “The Cage”). Spock says he’ll avoid smiling in the future, but Number One says she doesn’t want him to suppress his “true nature”, but he should be aware of how he’s “perceived”, especially since his “ultimate goal is command”.
Spock denies that this is his goal, but Number One literally says “Bullshit!” and that no one takes two years of “Onafuwa on Quantum-Stochastic Combat Modeling because they want to sling a tricorder for the rest of their lives!” She says if he really wants to command one day, “you’re gonna have to learn to keep your freaky to yourself.” Spock says he’s been doing that all his life, and Number One says she’s been doing that too. But now she’s prepared to show him her freaky side, and this is played like she’s about to start stripping or something, but instead she begins singing. Specifically, “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” from Pirates of Penzance.
The orchestra on the soundtrack joins in eventually, and she finishes the first verse and Spock looks at her stone-faced, and there’s total awkwardness. But then Spock joins in and starts singing the Major-General song too, and the two burst into laughter. And this is a clear reference to the TNG episode “Disaster”, which not only features characters getting stuck in a turbolift, but also La Forge singing “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General”. Can the Easter eggs be reserved for moments in this franchise that people actually want to remember?
And then comes pounding from the roof of the turbolift, and it’s Lt. Amin (who previously appeared on the last season of Discovery) here to rescue them. As she starts to open the turbolift hatch, Number One orders Spock to forget what just happened, and makes him swear on his honor as a Starfleet officer that he will never speak of any of this again. Amin lifts off the hatch and sends down a cable to lift Number One out. And this looks… incredibly dangerous. Again, is there some reason why they can’t just beam them out of there?
Spock stares up at her, and now we’re on the bridge with Anson Mount as Captain Pike, and Ensign Spock comes strolling onto the bridge for the first time. Number One does the introductions and Spock stands at attention. Pike tells him, “At ease,” but Spock replies, “Not my strong suit, sir.”
Pike then turns to look at the viewscreen with a view of a nebula. Spock gives Number One a knowing look and they both turn to look at the viewscreen as well. Pike asks Spock if Vulcans “ever feel awe”. Spock says they do, but they “tend to keep it to themselves.” He then gives another knowing look at Number One, and yes, we get it, they have a special shared secret between them. Spock looks back at the viewscreen and there’s a bare hint of a smile. The end.
Like most of Short Treks so far, there’s not much here that warrants deep discussion. It’s a light bit of fluff that seems to have been conceived of to get more use out of the Enterprise sets built for Discovery and give more screen time to the new Spock and Number One. It’s also possible they could be laying groundwork for a Captain Pike series, which frankly I think we’d all prefer to the proposed Section 31 series, but as of now that’s pure speculation and rumor.
Also like most of Short Treks so far, the reduced running time means there’s a lot less time for subtlety. I mean, could there be a more forced/lazy way of doing characterization than locking two people in a room and having them ask each other questions? And I’m surprised they didn’t delve into any of the stuff fans have wondered about the Number One character for decades, starting with why she prefers to be called Number One. “Q & A” is not a terrible outing, just a disposable one.
Next time on Short Treks: “The Trouble with Edward”, the inevitable tribble episode, starring Rosa Salazar and H. Jon Benjamin in what looks to be a full-out comedy. So much for this series getting into weightier territory.