Star Trek: Short Treks second episode, ‘Calypso’, is beautiful, heart-breaking, and unforgettable. Here’s everything we loved about this episode.
Star Trek: Short Treks, the new 15-minute spin-off concept from Star Trek: Discovery has just given fans the most delightful story from the Trek-verse. Whereas the first Short Trek, ‘Runaway’, felt like it needed more fleshing out, ‘Calypso’ encompasses the format brilliantly, making the most of its 15 minutes of run-time while exploring several themes and concepts from Star Trek shows gone by.
We dive into what makes this episode work, and why it is going to be so memorable. Spoilers ahead!
A Classic Plot
‘Calypso’ unexpectedly opens with scenes from Betty Boop. Turns out these are visuals playing on the screen of an escape pod that is shutting down. Fortunately for the lone inhabitant (Aldis Hodge) of the pod, there is a ship nearby – none other than the USS Discovery.
When the survivor wakes up, he finds himself in the unfamiliar sickbay. No doctor attends to him but at least a disembodied voice, Zora (Annabelle Wallis), greets him via the intercom. The survivor isn’t forthcoming about himself, not sharing his real name. But, back on his planet, he is known as Craft.
Zora provides Craft with medical aid, clothes and food but, where is the rest of the crew? Away on a mission, Zora informs him. Till their return, Craft has Zora for company.
With Craft’s pod irreparably damaged, he has nowhere to go. As time passes by, he becomes more comfortable on the ship and establishes a friendship with Zora. But they both begin to realise they need something more. Craft has been fighting a war for 10 years, and hasn’t seen his wife and child in all that time. Zora has been on her own as well. Her crew has been away… for 1000 years.
Two lonely souls on an abandoned ship find comfort in each other. It is a story we have seen before but with the Star Trek universe as their backdrop, Craft and Zora’s love story goes in a whole new direction.
In an episode ostensibly featuring just one human being, there is a great deal of pressure on the actor to carry the plot, emotion, and heft of the story. Aldis Hodge absolutely kills it.
Hodge has been around for a while, making his name in shows such as Supernatural and Friday Night Lights, and he displays his talents to the fullest in this episode. Craft is a soldier, one who has spent over a month stuck in a metal ‘coffin’. He craves human contact, and when Zora speaks to him, he is delighted at the prospect of meeting another person. His shock and surprise that Zora is actually a computer gives viewers the first inkling that there is more to this story than we expected.
It is how Hodge shows Craft thawing during the episode that really sells the story to viewers. He starts off edgy, distrusting, almost demanding answers from Zora. His desperation to get back home is palpable, his disappointment even more so when Zora tells him the only shuttle on-board has not been used in a thousand years, and thus not workable.
For anyone unconvinced, the scene where Zora re-creates the sounds of Craft’s home, Arcor IV, are some of the most moving in the episode. One can feel the weight of his loss and sorrow without any histrionics on Hodge’s part.
By the end of the episode, Craft is a mellow man. Hodge perfectly emotes Craft’s obvious delight watching a scene from Funny Face, one of Zora’s favourites. When he then takes the time to learn the film’s dance moves for Zora, you cannot help but have a huge smile on your face.
Also, kudos to Hodge for actually doing some dancing in this episode. I have no idea why so many male actors refuse to dance in films when the story calls for their character to do so, but fortunately, Hodge doesn’t shy away from the task. That dance scene is one of the sweetest moments in all of Star Trek.
One has come to expect the highest quality of visuals from Star Trek. After all, it is a science-fiction show. But even those expectations are blown out of the water by what we get in ‘Calypso’.
The opening scene inside the pod, coupled with a quick zoom out to show Craft’s dire situation, is claustrophobic, yet beautiful. I love the detail on the pod, which is quite unlike most of the ships we have seen on Star Trek, the first inkling that the era this story is set in is not a familiar one.
Zora’s scans of Craft in sickbay are packed with information, but the visual effects are easy to gloss over, which may actually be the whole point. Zora zooms in on parts of Craft’s body, studying him for clues, and eventually pieces together some of his history.
Then there is the ‘montage’ sequence of Craft’s life on-board the Discovery. This isn’t a montage in the traditional sense – Craft’s time in the mess hall overlaps with his other activities in the area, until it actually looks like there are several Crafts on the ship. It’s an effect that shows just how much time has passed for Craft, but also how repetitive his life could have been if not for Zora’s companionship.
But absolutely nothing compares to the holographic recreation of Funny Face. I have no idea how they accomplished this effect but it is so seamless and realistically done. I had to remember that we don’t really have anything resembling that technology in our time but it is exactly how we would expect people to watch films in the future!
The Love Story
There are inklings early on that the friendship between Craft and Zora might develop into more. Zora, having been alone for a thousand years, is attentive of Craft’s needs, before ever speaking a word. She opens the drawers he needs for clothing, medicines, and accessories, and when he can’t fit into the uniforms available, she scans him for his dimensions and replicates one for him. She is a gracious host, apologetic for the quality of the food, and the closer they get, the more elaborate her preparations become. Well, waffles and tacos are elaborate for a native of Arcor IV.
Zora has had a thousand years to evolve, and she has clearly turned to her human companions for inspiration. It’s in the aforementioned Funny Face scene that we truly get the idea that Zora is not just an ordinary AI. Not only does she have a favourite video which she breathily tells Craft about, but she is also touched by the love story that accompanies the scene. And, then she hums the song to herself, just as any human would do. Zora is so much more than a computer.
The fact that Zora just wants to make life better for Craft is also obvious from the precision with which she replicates the sounds of Arcor IV from the minimal information shared by Craft. I love that Craft acknowledges how much she has done for him and promises to do something for her in return. And, lest we forget, Craft never addresses Zora as ‘ship’ or ‘computer’, always Zora, and when speaking about her, he calls her a ‘lady’. At least to Craft, Zora is as real as any human being.
Of all the unexpected moments in this romance, it is the actual dance between Craft and a holographic ‘version’ of Zora that contains the biggest surprise. The two share a beautiful and intimate dance, recreating the scene from Funny Face, and just as they are about to kiss, Craft remembers his family, as one would expect. Zora insists that because she isn’t real, anything between them would not be real either. But, as has been established, Craft acknowledges Zora’s humanity, and Zora has demonstrated her sentience throughout. To emphasize her humanity, we see the holographic Zora shed a tear when Craft leaves.
You don’t have to be a fan of romance to appreciate the love story at the heart of this episode. And, it works because Zora is as human as they get, even if she doesn’t have a body or face. Annabelle Wallis does an excellent job imbuing Zora with all the characteristics of a human being just with her voice. It is a crucial element of ‘Calypso’ and extremely well-executed.
The Bittersweet Ending
We know a human being and a ship’s computer don’t have a chance of being together. Androids and holograms, maybe, as in the case of The Next Generation’s Data and Voyager’s Doctor, but not an entire ship. But, watching this episode, one would hope that Craft and Zora had some chance of keeping in touch. ‘Calypso’ has other plans, and they are heart-breaking.
Following their dance, Zora calls Craft to sickbay where she replicates his Arcor IV uniform. The shuttle she had mentioned earlier has now been repaired, all for the soul purpose of sending away the person she cares about. This ending is even more tragic because Zora’s orders stop her from following him to Arcor IV even though the ship has flight capability. A thousand years have passed, but Zora holds to her captain’s orders to remain in position lest her crew return.
Craft is similarly in doubt about his chances of making it home, and what state his home is in, but his parting words are more of gratitude to Zora and come from a place of love. He tells Zora that she showed him the meaning of being human, which Zora takes to be ironic, but it is not how Craft meant it.
This goodbye is painful enough for Zora that she actually tells Craft “this is difficult enough” before finally mustering up the courage to ask him whether, if they were lovers on his planet, he would have told her his real name. In the episode’s sweetest moment, Craft tells her, as lovers on his planet, she would have given him his true name. “Well, then I already did.” And with that Craft leaves in the shuttle prepared for him by Zora, christened Funny Face, the hologram of Craft and Zora’s only dance together playing in the background. If that isn’t affirmation of their romance, I don’t know what is.
‘Calypso’ took a concept that has been explored, and often rather badly, and gave us a touching, evocative tale that is as human as they come. We have seen human-AI love stories before, not least in Star Trek episodes gone by, but in popular culture they often verge on the sleazy, and sometimes cringey. ‘Calypso’ instead chose to tell a story about loneliness and the power of human connection. This is what Star Trek is all about – exploring the boundaries of our imagination while delving into what it is that makes us human.