Once I completed Enterprise, I jump right into Discovery. Right?
Following Discovery‘s first season, the appetite for more Trek surfaced. But Picard was still in pre-production, Strange New Worlds a mere gleam in Henry Alonzo Meyers’s eye. After season 2, Paramount pretended to have no plans to bring back Pike, Number One, and young Spock, but backdoored a sort of pilot. All this resulted in Short Treks, shown in no particular order. Some, like “Runaway” and “Escape Artist,” fleshed out Discovery‘s first two seasons. “Efraim and Dot” made a cute companion to the entire Original Series. And “Children of Mars” introduced us to some of the backstory on Picard.
This post only covers five of the Short Treks, along with the original pilot, “The Cage.” These cover a timeframe before Discovery season 1 but after Enterprise. They also feature a very young Michael Burnham (pre-Vulcan) and Saru as he leaves Kaminar. Three more flank “The Cage” to act as a backdoor pilot for Strange New Worlds.
“The Girl Who Made the Stars”
The framing story for this animated short features one of two appearances of Michael Burnham’s father, Mike. She is only 10 and, apparently, days away from being orphaned. But here, Mike Burnham tells his daughter the African folktale “The Girl Who Made the Stars,” referenced a couple of times in Trek, once by Burnham in Discovery. The framing story is Trek, but the legend is actually an animated retelling of a folktale from Africa’s /Xam Abathwa tribe. It’s not only the shortest Trek episode ever, but the first animated Trek since 1974’s “The Counterclock Incident.” So, it’s a bit different from other Trek stories, even the post-Star Trek “Calypso,” showing Discovery‘s eventual fate.
“The Brightest Star”
During Season 1, Saru references his species evolution as sentient livestock. However, witnessing a young Saru on his homeworld of Kaminar, As Kelpians are harvested by the predatory Ba’ul, a communications device is left behind. Saru, wondering if there is anything beyond the “great circle,” sends a signal. “Is anyone out there?” Soon, a ship arrives from space. Out comes Lt. Phillipa Georgiou from the starship Archimedes. Here we learn Georgiou stuck her neck out to pick up Saru, but he can never return home again. It explains some of Saru’s early fearfulness, as well as his jealousy of Burnham for her closeness to Captain Georgiou. Additionally, it sets up the season 2 episode “The Sound of Thunder.”
If anyone thought Anson Mount’s Pike was anything more than a season-long cameo on Discovery, this put an end to that. Set well before “The Cage,” we are presented with Ensign Spock’s first day on the Enterprise. Ethan Peck does his best to bridge his Discovery performance and Leonard Nimoy’s first appearance in “The Cage” with the Spock we already know and love from The Original Series. It’s Number One, aka “Una,” who tells him to take it down a notch. They get trapped in a turbolift where Spock becomes the three-year-old kid who asks constantly why the sky is blue. It also allows Rebecca Romijn to give Una more of a personality.
“The Trouble With Edward”
This one starts with Anson Mount’s Captain Pike seeing off his science officer, Lynne Lucero, as she assumes command of the Cabot, a science vessel. It looks like a plum assignment until she runs afoul of Edward Larkin (played hilariously by Archer‘s H. Jon Benjamin.) Larkin is obsessed with a new meat source he’s discovered, a ball of fuzz called a tribble. When Lucero shuts him down, he continues his work, trying to make the tribbles multiply faster and not really caring if the animals are intelligent. It’s amusing to hear Larkin complain the animals breed too slowly as Enterprise‘s Phlox already warned they tended to breed rapidly. It’s Larkin who adds the “born pregnant” part to the tribble legend. The Federation is not even at war with the Klingons yet, and Larkin manages to cause an interstellar incident with them. Ultimately, he is crushed to death by a wave of the tribbles as Lucero evacuates the crew. When questioned at an inquiry about losing the Cabot, she informs the board, “He was an idiot.”
On the list, it comes after “The Cage,” but I felt it belonged before it. Lucero is a science officer. It made more sense for Spock to make lieutenant, junior grade and move into Lucero’s spot when she makes captain.
According to Strange New Worlds showrunner Henry Alonzo Meyers, “The Cage” is the first pilot ever to take 55 years to be picked up. The studio that produced it no longer exists, and virtually the entire cast has passed on. But “The Cage,” when viewed alongside the Short Treks with Anson Mount, Discovery season 2, and Strange New Worlds, underscores something that becomes obvious when watching The Original Series. The writers had no clue what they were creating. Enterprise is an “Earth ship”. Faster-than-light travel is calculated by “time-warp factor” and has to be announced ahead of time. As this was shot in 1965, it also becomes apparent why Discovery needed to completely redesign the bridge of the 1701. That bridge set fit perfectly on the old analog set screens. However, today’s streaming is widescreen, more in common with movies.
Jeffrey Hunter is a bit more subdued than Anson Mount, no dad jokes in evidence. Majel Barrett does not really have a chance to break out, and Spock is much more emotional, smiling as he and Pike examine Talosian plants which make that stock noise from later episodes. Some things are cringe-inducing in 2023. Pike doesn’t like his new yeoman, Colt, and “can’t get used to a woman on the bridge.” This is intended to give Barrett’s Number One a moment to puncture Pike’s ego, which he cluelessly misses. However, we’ve since had several female captains, first as guest stars, then Kate Mulgrew’s Kathryn Janeway, and finally female captains and senior officers commonplace. So what was a playful dig at the gender mores of 1965 now ages poorly, as does Vina’s almost worshipful attempts to lure Pike into a relationship.
Plus, even with remastering, “The Cage” was shot on a $10 budget. Despite the CGI beauty shots of Talos IV and the Enterprise, the episode’s Planet Hell looks cheesy even by TOS Season 3 standards. Coupled with “The Menagerie,” and we get a lot of creative fodder for the eventual Strange New Worlds.
Of the three Pike Short Treks, this one is the darkest. We find a Starfleet cadet on a starbase under attack. A masked prisoner is brought to her. She’s ordered to keep an eye on him and not let him escape. The mask comes off, revealing the prisoner to be Christopher Pike. Pike proceeds to challenge her with regulation after regulation, only to be countered by other regulations and “But you’re under arrest.” When Pike decides to walk out, she pulls a phaser on him. Pike then orders the simulation to end. The whole scenario, similar to one Wesley Crusher endured in TNG’s “Coming of Age,” is a test for the cadet’s fitness to serve aboard the Enterprise. The test was designed by Una. While this predates the Klingon War by a few months, it does serve to show a heightened state of alert in Starfleet. The Klingons are disorganized and punchy, while the Gorn, we later learn, are on the move. The tone also leads in nicely to Discovery‘s pilot, “A Vulcan Hello.”