The essence of continuation is always an interesting progression. The ideal with certain ideas is how do you make it different than what has come before. In the structure of the first episode of the new CBS All Access series “Picard” entitled “Remembrance”, it takes a well known persona within the Star Trek pantheon and gives him a different perception. In an age that is much different from The Next Generation where the vision of Trek is darker, finding the right balance while not offending the die hards is tricky considering the recent blowback in the Star Wars universe. This pilot harks back through a little bit of IDW’s recent Picard comics which paints what happened to Picard during a Romulan refugee crisis. The interesting structure is that this story takes place in the Prime timeline which is the one the Chris Pine-led Star Trek takes place in which gives it leeway but also an interesting netherworld of detail…what happened and what it ultimately affected. The story of Nemesis and Data’s death still stand but time has given an interesting impact. This is of course what likely drew Stewart back having see the interesting progression, as he has said, of Logan where he played the aging Professor X.
Without giving too much away, the pilot sets up a McGuffin without relying too much if at all of previous Next Generation lore. But that said, the possibilities are endless. It relies though on the theory for years that Picard has been hiding in a way from himself or what he believes to be right. That creates a question, which is shown in a way in the comics, of what could have so fundamentally changed what he believes in. As the first episode ends, there is a connective tissue but it speaks back to an incident that undeniably changed Picard halfway through the Next Generation run. Where it progresses depends on the story dexterity and how much Stewart fundamentally wants to push the character since he has a say this time in the direction of the story. Time shall show.
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.
The aspect of loyalty is a concept that unbalances itself many times with “Star Trek: Discovery”. The idea of trust and the greater good can be mired by thoughts and perceptions of selfishness and the intricate values of altruism. In ”Perpetual Infinity”, the idea of what is for the greater good and what simply necessitates survival is what is the key in capturing The Red Angel. Without revealing any plot points, the texture of who we pretend to be always reveals itself in essence who we truly are. Michael Burnham hides her emotions to protect herself from the loss of her mother. Spock hides his emotions because of emotional pain Michael inflicted on him as a child. While the mythic is not as much in play here as the previous episode, the aspect of loss of choice and the resulting idea of consequence takes over the episode in many ways. The fluid dynamics of time have to figure in with what is happening. But the stubborn aspect of Michael’s bloodline in the feeling that every problem can be fixed is undeniable. But as Spock references two aspects of literature in the episode including one to Macbeth, the proof is in between the lines. The texture of tragedy is only a short time away. The future is fluid and is always changing but every possible outcome has a foreboding nature, as evidenced in Christopher Pike, possibly Michael and eventually and most heartbreakingly Spock. It is just in what lays ahead…come what may.
The aspect of canon has always been a thistle in a way in the side of the “Discovery”. While striving to make something original, this franchise like Star Wars can be helped and hindered. But in its best it transcends. “If Memory Serves” is the best episode of the series by far because it found that balance. In bringing in old TOS lore, and staying fairly close without breaking it, it necessitates what might be in store. The aspect of Michael and Spock is so dynamic because it shows the incessant humanity while completely lost in logic. When he finally begins speaking, it makes a lot of what we have seen past and present integrated. It also very much speaks to perhaps a bigger structural basis between the Kelvin & Prime Universes which undoubtedly is spacing through the writers’ room. That said, despite any of the mechanics, “If Memory Serves” is a dynamic emotional episodes that contains the best perspective of Star Trek episodes in that they make you think, reflect but also emote. While Michael and Spock carry the basis of the episode, it is the balance and intent of Anson Mount as Christopher Pike and his connection that allows for the bridge between two worlds, as Mount alluded to IR at our interview at TCA, without him giving a thing away. Bravo.
The essence of “Light And Shadows” reflects in the ideas of who we are and who we are to be perceived to be. In the most recent episode, Doug Jones’ Saru discovered that his instincts were really part of an awakening which allowed him to come to his unseen potential. The inference comes to a head as he is drawn back home to face demons, literally and metaphorically that have changed the idea of what it means to exist. This balances in Michael Burnham’s continuing search for Spock and the reasoning of this point. We finally see the first glimpses of Ethan Peck as Spock but what is really interesting is the diametric of the family as Michael herself returns home and like Saru must understand the difference between knowing her path and walking the path. The Red Angel continues to be a presiding influence but in true serialized storytelling structure it is starting to take on a different meaning in terms of its resonance. Connection is a big driving force but tolerance and understanding even more so despite differing socio, political, even world views. The ideal that ends the episodes again points to another piece in the puzzle which slowly but surely continues to unfold while telling very universal stories which “Star Trek” has always been known for.
The essence of identity continues within the structure of “Star Trek: Discovery”. In ”The Sound Of Thunder”, the texture of the Red Angel is continued by a series of perceptions of changed definition. Saru is the focus and the return to his home planet after a transformation of sorts. While not as powerful as the previous episode simply because the stakes are different, this perspective shows, without giving anything away that rising awareness can affect change but also change the nature of who we are. This is true not just of Saru but of a recently returned crew mate. What is interesting in this continuing thread is what expectations create. Parallel structure definitely affects Michael Burnham in many ways and in certain perspectives, some of the canonized material seen sometimes can also run parallel to “The Next Generation”. As the narrative continues to unfold, the essence of the story is connected but while still making each episode, this one more than the last, able to have a essential life force of its own without sacrificing the serialized nature of the proceedings.