Sometimes the essence of the image and impact can be extremely telling within the construct of perception. Many of the “Short Treks” have their own identity or tell a small part of the “Star Trek” universe hopefully in a way that feels fairly true within the existence of the characters shown. In this bit it is done more with a sense of foreboding but through a series of perceptions. Mark Pellington, who directed at least one episode of “Discovery” last season brings his considerable music video experience to “Children Of Mars”. Known for slamming onto the screen with the highly regarded video “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam back in 1991 and later with the psychological terrorist feature “Arlington Road” starring Jeff Bridges, he has a very specific understanding of both short form and the aspect of alienation and paranoia. The key here is the music. Even though it is a play on a battle during the time of The Next Generation, Pellington sees it through the eyes of two girls at school whose parents get caught in the crossfire. The song is “Heroes” by David Bowie but it is performed by a different artist (likely Jeff Russo since there is no attribute in the credits). The events are periphery but have to do with size and scope and the brutality of acts even in a smaller space or sphere of impact. The essence of family is integral to “Star Trek” and sometimes the small stories get miss. Which is why “Short Treks” but this specifically because of the right music, the right director and the right narrative.
The aspect of animation has started to become an interesting progression in terms of mythology creation. While a certain other space franchise has been expanding its structure for years in this regard, “Star Trek” has not ventured into that realm since 1973 in the still infinitely watchable and relatable “Original Animated Series”. While a new fully animated series “Below Decks” is happening, there is the texture of where balance in tone will be. “Star Trek” has always been about relating life lessons. The two upcoming animated shorts “The Girl Who Made The Stars” & “Ephraim & Dot” couldn’t be more different.
“The Girl Who Made The Stars” is a metaphorical story that follows Michael Burnham before she came to be with her Vulcan family. She is still full of emotion and on the edge of star, afraid of the dark. Her father offers her calm while relaying what is more of a parable that is a mix say of “The Lion King” and “First Contact” where a young curious girl in Africa doesn’t take superstitions at face value but still wants to understand the world. She is pursued by a large snake which is more a perspective of fear in her mind than reality. When an alien craft crash lands on the planet (which might or might not be Earth), it changes her fear to strength. The animation gives a good corrolation to the scenario but we don’t sense the darkness of space versus the light that family brings. While it has a good core, it doesn’t bring the intensity or heart it could have.
“Ephraim & Dot” is a slightly different animal, specifically a tardigrade. This short has the frenetic energy of a Road Runner cartoon but using different gifts. It takes place over the life span of the first Enterprise 1701. Using only audio from the original series and a robot that never existed, it finds the said “heart” but in a blur of mania. While extremely musical in context which seems apt since the short was directed by composer extraordinaire Michael Giacchino, the sense of it even with the tradigrade moving through the micro network that fuels the original spore drive is weak at best. That doesn’t really abate any of the great nostagic elements including a different perspective from original series episodes “Space Seed,” Naked Time,” and “Doomsday Machine” as well as “Star Trek II & III”. Granted it doesn’t get into real detail, but just enough to give a sense, and the fluidity of the progression is never in doubt. Ultimately though, there is a sense of “Wall E” in that the universe rights itself just enough to show that everything is fine.
The texture of “Short Treks” in the Star Trek Universe allows for those short vignettes that allow us to see perceptions into more of the lives of perhaps those that have continued on in the night. The first of this new season: “Q&A” examined Spock’s first day as an ensign on Captain Pike’s Enterprise. With the second entry: “The Trouble With Edward” we are treated to the genesis of what caused the Tribbles to become what they did. In its treatment of this lore, it is half human error and half problem solving gone wrong. Pike’s head science officer (played in a nice homage by Alita’s Rosa Salazar) is given the captain’s spot on her own science ship which has to deal with a famine/starvation situation on a planet on the edge of Klingon space.
Everything seems to go wrong mostly because of the crewman who creates the Tribble trouble in the first place because of his stubbornness, ego and slight lack of talent. Archer voice H. Jon Benjamin is a perfect foil in this way since he doesn’t mind playing the depreciation because it works as a form of satire. Salazar is good but she can be much more fluid an actress in a different situation than this small journey allows but it is great to see her being given the opportunity overall. Ultimately, “The Trouble With Edward” is a nice little tome within the pantheon and definitely brings to bear the reproducing situation of these animals, especially when it is a funneled as a food source. As usual, the human condition creates the problem against its best wishes. Plus it is good to see flaws since not every crewman is perfect. The added bonus after the credits also shows the humor that sometimes is not allowed to shine through in such a specific way on an episodic show per se.