Michael Chabon’s Odyssey riff is one of the best Star Trek stories in years.
Full spoilers follow for this episode.
The second of the Short Treks, “Calypso,” — starring Aldis Hodge and Annabelle Wallis — is not only a huge improvement over the first installment, which debuted last month, but also a high watermark for CBS All Access’ Star Trek output in general, which began with the debut of Discovery last year. And it makes its stylish and poetic impact with a story about just two characters, trapped together on a lost ship, neither of whom we’ve ever met before (and quite possibly won’t ever meet again).
Watch the trailer for “Calypso” above.
Scripted by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon, from a story by Chabon and Discovery writer Sean Cochran, “Calypso” is on its face a fairly simple story, a 16-minute rethinking of the titular tale from Homer’s The Odyssey, and yet Chabon elevates the material to an almost sublime degree, offering up a lonely hero and a perhaps even lonelier nymph… who happens to be a computer.
Aldis Hodge stars as Craft, a soldier from the planet Alcor IV who has been adrift and lost in space, only to be saved by the USS Discovery. Or more specifically, by the Discovery’s artificial intelligence, which calls itself Zora and is charmingly voiced by Annabelle Wallis. Zora nurses Craft back to health, and an unlikely love affair between the two soon begins.
How and why the Discovery now has an AI is unclear, as is how the ship wound up in its current situation — stuck in some kind of space storm while awaiting the return of its crew, who have been missing for a thousand years. A thousand years! No wonder Zora is so smitten when Craft shows up…
This retelling of the Calypso story from The Odyssey works as well as it does not just because of the scripting, which is emotional and yet understated, but also because of the performances from Hodge and Wallis. Craft is war-weary and lonely, longing to return to his wife and child back home, while Zora is weary in its — her — own way, having spent a millennium alone, willing herself to evolve in order to pass the time. The resulting giggly yet sad computer voice is so instantly likable and sympathetic that it’s impossible to begrudge her for wanting to keep Craft all to herself to ease her burden.
And yet, once Zora manifests a holographic body in order to reenact a dance from the Audrey Hepburn/Fred Astaire musical Funny Face — a recurring fixation of Zora’s that is perhaps a tad too reminiscent of a similar concept in Pixar’s WALL-E — Craft comes this close to losing himself to her. The bond between the two is undeniable, but Craft won’t leave behind the memory of his family, and in that moment they both realize that their life together on the Discovery cannot continue.
The entire package culminates touchingly enough as Zora imparts on Craft a “name” — Funny Face, of course — even as we learn that on his homeworld, the custom is for a lover to do the same.
And then the story ends. Will Craft make it home? What will happen to Zora? Is this truly the fate of the USS Discovery, to be abandoned by its crew at some future point and left alone in deep space for a thousand years? Who can say, but this is certainly the kind of story that the Short Treks should be telling — tales that are not only set outside of the normal scope of Discovery’s characters and world, but also outside the storytelling norms of the show. It’s a new form of Star Trek on TV, essentially, and we can only hope for more like this in the future.
Questions and Notes from the Q Continuum:
- Chabon is also part of the writing team behind the upcoming Picard show.
- Is the name Zora a reference to Blade Runner’s Zhora?
- Annabelle Wallis also starred alongside Tom Cruise in Discovery executive producer Alex Kurtzman’s The Mummy.
- Chabon told me in an interview about this episode that he would like to further explore the world of Craft, essentially retelling the story of The Odyssey with the character (but, he added, there are currently no plans to do so).
- One can’t help but notice that the age difference between Zora and Craft isn’t all that different from the age difference between Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn. Ahem.
- The state of the Discovery here leaves so many questions that one must assume will remain unanswered for the foreseeable future… unless a Season 2 episode somehow addresses them?