Review: "Calypso" - 'Star Trek: Short Treks' Episode Two
A Remarkable Science Fiction Short
As much as I found to enjoy with the first Short Treksepisode "Runaway," this is so far beyond in terms of quality and content it scarcely seems to be part of the same series. A two-hander set centuries after Discovery, yet still strongly linked to the primary series, "Calypso" benefits from some excellent acting, stylish direction, and a compact and effective script.
"Calypso" takes its name from a nymph in Greek mythology, who kept Odysseus captive for seven years, and so our protagonist is likewise kept captive by an otherworldly being. Aldis Hodge plays a lost traveller, who, while never revealing his true name, goes by the moniker Craft for the duration of the episode. Drifting in a (snazzily designed) one-man escape ship, he is rescued by the drifting, desolate USS Discovery. There's a strange irony in Hodge's character taking the name "Craft," given that it is Annabelle Wallis who is actually playing one. The mysterious, disembodied voice of Zora claims to have evolved herself over the centuries, and it seems that the Discovery's shipboard computer has developed sentience and a distinct personality since being abandoned.
What follows is a rather beautiful love story between man and machine, as Zora looks after Craft and they provide company for each other in the wilderness between stars. Craft has already been introduced to archaic film material in his escape vessel, stolen from his enemies in a war zone—the V'draysh seem to have a predilection for historical material, and the ship was stuck running Betty Boop cartoons. For her part, Zora has access to a full film catalogue, but enchants Craft with her favourite: Funny Face, the Fred Astaire/Audrey Hepburn musical (released in 1957, which should be precisely 300 years before the second season of Discovery). Like with the inclusion of recognisable popular music in Discovery and the reboot films, it's good to have Trek including vintage material that isn't just Shakespeare, Sherlock Holmes, and opera.
Craft is a very closed, stoic sort of man, while Zora lacks a physical presence, yet the actors maintain a real chemistry. (Peaky Blinders' Annabellle Wallis gives Zora an English note of class that makes her seem very much like Gideon from Legends of Tomorrow). As much as they come to care for each other, though, Zora is still keeping Craft captive. Even considering how much she's evolved, she's still a computer and is apparently constrained by her last order, to maintain her position, and so can't take him back home to Alcor 4, but her keeping him on the ship and not allowing his use of the shuttle is motivated purely by her loneliness. For his part, Craft is also lonely, but he has a wife and child back home (although, given how long he's been away at war, she's very likely assumed he's died and has moved on).
Nonetheless, in one beautiful scene where Zora manifests as a holographic avatar, the two share a dance, and their feelings come out before Craft storms off in a fit of guilt. Finally, she lets him go, in a rather heartbreaking final scene.
In feel, "Calypso" is more like an episode of Black Mirror, or one of the better episodes of Electric Dreams, in spite of its shortened runtime and Trek universe trappings. The links to the main series are slim, but they're there and they raise all manner of questions. Zora says she's been alone for almost a thousand years, putting this in the middle of the 33rd century, almost certainly the furthest into the future the Star Trek franchise has ever taken us on TV. (Enterprise showed us one possible version of the future around AD 3000, and the previous record holder, the Voyager episode "Living Witness," was set 700 years after the rest of the series, around 3075. The final scene picked up "many years" after, so it might be beyond this point, but it's impossible to say.) There are little details that sketch in some of the background of Craft's universe. He's from a human colony, but the name of his enemy, V'Draysh, is clearly a corruption of Federation. Plus, they enjoy 20th century cartoons. It looks like by this time, there are two factions of humanity pit against each other. We also don't know what leads the Discovery to be abandoned in space, raising a mystery for the series' future.
Regardless of its Trek links, this is a classic sci-fi story, and I'm excited to see that the writer, Michael Chabon, is working on the upcoming Picard series. It's the strength of the actors that makes this episode soar, though. Even at only fifteen minutes long, this is one of the best Star Trek productions in years.