Ranking All The CBS
Star Trek : Short Treks
10. “Ask Not”
Original release: Nov 14, 2019
A starbase cadet is put in charge of holding a prisoner during a station-wide emergency… that prisoner: Captain Christoper Pike. *Spoiler* It is all revealed to be an elaborate, Kobayashi Maru-like simulation (replete with explosions and an apparently armed phaser for some reason) designed to test the mettle of a new applicant wishing to serve aboard the Enterprise. The episode is fast-paced and engaging, but it leaves us asking the question: what is with Starfleet’s vetting process?!
The whole short feels like overkill for a temporary assignment crew member and, as this episode suggests, if Starfleet Captains really are spending most of their time screwing with cadets’ minds in fantastical life or death escape rooms, it’s no wonder they were losing the Klingon War for so long.
Episode Highlight: Anson Mount as Captain Pike, bringing some series gravitas to an otherwise silly premise.
Episode Lowlight: The citation of “Starfleet Code of Conduct” articles by number and subheading seem to roll a little too fluidly off each character’s tongue. We get it, in a world without greed, prejudice, or want, there’s time to memorize even the most trivial minutiae. At least until the holodeck gets invented.
Trivia: The “reserve activation clause” mentioned here appears to be the same one invoked by Captain Kirk in order to bring a space-medallioned McCoy out of retirement in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. It’s a clause McCoy points out which is barely known and almost never used… so our earlier point stands about its inclusion in this episode.
Original release: Oct 5, 2019
We’re just as surprised as you to find a Spock-centric short near the bottom of this list. But again, this isn’t a “worst to best,” list. We just rank things because it’s 2020 and all things must be ranked. The issue with this episode is the dialogue between Number One and Spock (which comprises all of the episode). There is meant to be some kind of character-revealing moment between the two that doesn’t quite land. It also (*spoilers*) begs the question why Gilbert and Sullivan is so popular in the 23rd and 24th centuries.
Episode Highlight: Spock’s slight smile upon beaming aboard the Enterprise for the first time, and his end of episode response to Captain Pike’s “at ease,” (“not my strong suit, sir”) are quintessential moments from everyone’s favorite Half-Human/Half-Vulcan.
Episode Lowlight: Another turbolift malfunction?! It would seem that dematerializing your subatomic structure and reassembling it thousands of miles away, atom by atom, is a safer mode of transportation than taking an elevator is in Star Trek’s future.
Trivia: This episode was written with the stated intent to explain why Spock, as seen in the TOS episode “The Menagerie,” feels so out of character from the Spock we saw throughout the rest of the Original Series. The real reason, of course, being that said episode was really a recut version of the original Star Trek pilot, “The Cage,” where Spock’s character as an emotion-less Vulcan had yet to be fully developed. This episode attempts to give this dichotomy an in-universe explanation.
Original release: Oct 4, 2018
Discovery Season 1 fan favorite, Ensign Tilly, encounters a stowaway aboard the ship. They test one another, share some frights and some laughs, and eventually teach the other a little bit about themselves. It’s a well-directed episode and it gives Mary Wiseman as Tilly another chance to shine, but it makes us wonder: does anyone on Discovery follow protocol?! The entire episode takes place without the rest of the crew’s knowledge for reasons… well, just for reasons. Vague reasons newly minted Ensign Tilly must find compelling enough to risk a court-martial over. Are we expecting too much from a 16-minute episode of Star Trek? Yes, always.
Episode Highlight: The distinctly “Predator” vibes Po, the Xahean, is giving off: Personal cloaking technology, glowing blood, general badassery.
Episode Lowlight: The distinctly Jayla, from Star Trek Beyond vibes Po is giving off. It’s a great character, but that doesn’t mean we need to replicate her every nuance.
Trivia: Yadira Guevara-Prip, the actress who portrays Po, would go on to star in Apple TV’s dystopian sci-fi epic, See.
7. “The Brightest Star”
Original release: Dec 6, 2018
Less of a stand-alone piece and more of a rounding-out of the Kelpien species background (one of the more interesting additions in this new generation of Trek) and the Discovery first officer’s personal history (expertly portrayed by sci-fi legend, Doug Jones); this vignette has a lot to say about the hope and optimism Star Trek has always championed, without really adding anything new. It also continues a long tradition of blurring the Prime Directive when Starfleet (or the CBS writers’ room) deems it inconvenient.
Episode Highlight: Doug Jones just Doug Jonesing
Episode Lowlight: Saru’s father’s line about a mysterious piece of technology that finds itself in their family’s hands. “It fell off the Ba’ul ship, as pieces sometimes do.” Exactly what kind of operation are the Ba’ul running? If you’re going to enslave and eat a sentient race, at least have the decency to hold your damn ships together.
Trivia: The Kelpien language, heard here for the first time, was created by Marc Okrand, inventor of both Klingonese and the Vulcan language.
6. “The Girl Who Made the Stars”
Original release: Dec 12, 2019
Gorgeous animation that begs to be viewed away from your phone or laptop screen, this short has so much to relish, even if it isn’t very Star Trek. A very young Michael Burnham is depicted as she battles her fear of the dark. Her father, sometime before the fatal Klingon raid on Doctari Alpha, comforts Michael by weaving a tale of Afrofuturism to inspire his young daughter to face her fears and celebrate her inner strength. If this premiered before a Pixar feature, it would feel very much at home, but so tenuous is its connection to Trek, that it makes it tough to rank in terms of the canon.
Episode Highlight: Young Michael Burnham’s childhood stuffed animal is revealed to be a Tardigrade, further solidifying the species importance in the world of Discovery.
Episode Lowlight: Would a research scientist (as both Burnham’s parents were) really teach his daughter that the night sky was created by a young girl and a magic encounter?
Trivia: Michael’s father is once again portrayed (or in this case voiced) by Kenric Green, who, in addition to starring alongside Sonequa Martin-Green in The Walking Dead, is her real-life spouse.
5. “The Trouble with Edward”
Original release: Oct 10, 2019
H. John Benjamin (voice of Archer and Bob from Bob’s Burgers) does his best Reginald Barclay impression in this fascinating glimpse into life aboard a Starfleet research vessel. Rosa Salazar (Alita: Battle Angel) is his commanding officer and her character does a wonderful job demonstrating and navigating the challenges of leadership in a way Star Trek has always exemplified. The episode itself presents an unexpected explanation behind the plot of one of TOS’s most beloved episodes and takes a surprisingly dark turn at the end. It’s refreshing and intriguing if nothing else.
Episode Highlight: Humor in Star Trek (particularly dark humor) doesn’t always land well, but in this short it feels just right.
Episode Lowlight: *Spoiler* With all the technology available aboard a starship (forcefields, transporters, environmental control) the best solution they had to eliminate the Tribble infestation was to shoot them one by one with phaser rifles? Isn’t that… underkill?
Trivia: To date this is the only Star Trek to have a post-credits scene. (In this case, a humorous commercial for Tribbles: Original Flavor.) The included VHS tracking static really punctuates this piece.
4. “Ephraim and Dot”
Original release: Dec 12, 2019
It’s an official, animated Trek, for the first time since 1974 (it premiered slightly ahead of “The Girl Who Made the Stars”). Yes, it is geared toward kids, but the many references to classic Trek ("Space Seed," "The Trouble with Tribbles," "The Naked Time," and at least five more episodes and two TOS movies) will be enough to keep the adults entertained too. There is a Looney Tunes-esque chase through the Jefferies tubes, and some mildly amusing animation tricks at play throughout. But, if you let your guard down, you just might find the little animated tardigrade’s plight just a tiny bit emotional.
Episode Highlight: Seeing classic Trek revisited in new and interesting ways never gets old.
Episode Lowlight: Admittedly the style and tone might feel a little too twee for some and perhaps even grating for extreme, die-hard Trekkies. You know, the same people who wish the Klingons still looked like their original TOS blackface incarnations.
Trivia: The episode’s director is none other than composer Michael Giacchino, the talent behind the Star Trek Kevlin timeline’s stirring scores as well as an Academy Award winner for his work on Pixar’s Up.
3. “Children of Mars”
Original release: Jan 9, 2020
A primer to the new world Star Trek: Picard will be introducing, this short is all about emotional manipulation/magic. From the child protagonists, to the sumptuous lensing, from the David Bowie cover song, to the tragic finale, it is intended to make you feel more than think: something Star Trek has always done well, even if it is rarely celebrated for it.
Episode Highlight: Technically our first in-universe glimpse of Jean-Luc Picard since Star Trek: Nemesis 20 years ago.
Episode Lowlight: The young girls’ rivalry seems a bit manufactured, but again, who cares: it’s all choreographed to the music of David Bowie.
Trivia: This is also the first time we’ve been back to the 24th Century since Nemesis and the first time on the small screen since Voyager ended 19 years ago.
2. “The Escape Artist”
Original release: Jan 3, 2019
Starring (and directed by) Dwight Schrute… we mean Rainn Wilson, reprising his role as Harcourt “Harry” Fenton Mudd, this episode has an undeniable appeal. From its twisted humor to a twisted plot very much in keeping with the lore of Mudd, it is enjoyable from beginning to end. Mudd witticisms abound and it is always fun to play in the darker corners of the ST universe, away from the sheen and upright morality of Starfleet. It might not add much to the canon, but it does nothing to detract from it either: a welcome change in this new era of Trek.
Episode Highlight: Its showcasing of a be-tusked Terllarite bounty hunter; a rare appearance for the species, one of the founders of the United Federation of Planets.
Episode Lowlight: Ok, maybe we’re late to the party here, but was Harry Mudd ever a likable character? The jaunty theme to the TOS scores for “I, Mudd,” and “Mudd’s Women” certainly make us think he’s intended to be, but maybe we need to rewatch it. Because Wilson’s version of Mudd isn’t a charming ne’er-do-well, he’s downright villainous.
Trivia: This episode marks, at least in the canonical chronology, the first reference to “gold-pressed latinum” and perhaps the only time the Federation is shown using any kind of currency.
Original release: Nov 8, 2018
When it was announced that Pulitzer Prize-winner (for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay) Michael Chabon would be joining the creative team behind the new Star Trek “Renaissance,” we all thought we knew where the bar was now set. This short, his first Star Trek credit, lets us know that we should’ve placed that bar even higher. A stranger wakes up on a ghost ship and… well, the less said about this episode the better for those who haven’t yet had the privilege. At its best, Star Trek explores the concepts behind what it means to be human, and “Calypso” is the best example we’ve had of that distinct Trekness in years. All the Short Treks have their merit, and all are worth a watch, but if you haven’t seen Star Trek in a while, or if, in these trying times, you’ve forgotten just how bright the human spark can be, you owe it to yourself to watch this immediately.
Episode Highlight: Actors Aldis Hodge (Leverage, Hidden Figures) and Annabelle Wallis (The Tudors, Peaky Blinders) are perfectly cast; both leave a mark in their 19 minutes of screen time that few actors could accomplish over an entire feature film.
Episode Lowlight: There are none.
Trivia: The title, “Calypso,” is likely a reference to Homer’s “The Odyssey,” and when a short film is evoking that kind of source material for a science fiction piece, you know to expect something epic.