Star Trek #1469: Calypso

CAPTAIN'S LOG: A man called Craft wakes up on a deserted Discovery.

WHY WE LIKE IT: Michael Chabon wrote a beautiful little love story. Some surprising effects.

WHY WE DON'T: How does this tie into the rest of Trek, AHHHHHHHHHH!

REVIEW: Calypso was really made with me in mind. I'm a big fan of Michael Chabon's writing. I'm a big fan of Leverage, and this of Aldis Hodge. And I'm even a big fan of Audrey Hepburn, and am always up for a Fred Astaire musical. Never mind the links to Greek myth.

Let's talk about that first. Chabon's starting point is that chapter of the Odyssey where Odysseus spends a few years with Calypso, an entrancing nymph who wants him as a lover. He eventually misses his wife too much, asks for help from the gods and receives it, and Calypso is forces to let him go, giving him a raft and food so he can get back to his long journey. The Calypso of this story is Zora, the Discovery's computer, sentient (and like the nymph, immortal) after 1000 years of waiting for its crew to return. Hodge plays a soldier called Craft (a reference to "crafty Odysseus") who has escaped from his 10-year war (an Iliad?) and is desperate to return to his wife. More subtle references include a Cyclops Owl tattoo (a reference to both a monster Odysseus fought and his patron goddess Athena's pet), Zora weaving a gold uniform for him (Calypso's golden loom), and Craft twice calling her a liar (Calypso means to deceive in Greek). In the end, she does send him on his way aboard a raft (a shuttle), though the gods need not intervene.

Instead, Zora lets him go for love. Shades of the film "Her", Calypso diverges from the myth to present a lovely doomed love story between a man and an A.I., daring you not to fall in love with the warm bodiless voice yourself. She does nice things for Craft, and Craft in due course proposes to do something nice for her, recreating a ballroom dance moment from her favorite film, Funny Face. Great effects here as the film is rendered as a 3D hologram, and Craft almost gets to dance with Hepburn. Instead, he asks Zora to indulge her imagination, and almost loses himself in the moment until he remembers his family. At less than 20 minutes, I didn't need the flashes to get the emotional context, so the moment is a bit on the nose. Still, it leads to her releasing him, and there's something very romantic about the idea of one's lover giving you your true name as expressed in the final moment. And Craft remains with her as an image she can replay. It's bittersweet and grand.

Chabon has said he'd love to write the rest of Craft's Odyssey, basing each episode on one of the book's adventures, and I'd love to see it, but there are no real plans for it. Could they be floating this as a show or mini-series exploring the world of Trek 1000 years after TOS? I don't know, but it  could help with my only real complaint about the episode - namely, how does it connect to the rest of Trek?!

Because here's the thing. This small piece of science fiction could have happened in any Earth future. No characters, no planets, no alien races are mentioned that belong to Trek history. The only thing that is from Trek is the USS Discovery, and the only reason for it is to use its standings sets. We don't know if her being abandoned is going to actually happen during an episode, though it does preclude any chance of her being destroyed even in a series finale. Unless time travel gets her back to the "present" and the show plans to include super-A.I. Zora as a cast member, but between that and the spore drive, they're in danger of giving the ship too many super-powers (almost as if they really wanted to do a show that takes place decades after the TNG era, and immediately regretted their chosen/imposed time frame). Even the warp-capable shuttle is an anachronism. And this is only a problem because the action takes place on the Discovery. It's a distraction. We keep asking WHEN does this happen? HOW does it? What does this mean for the series? But then, if you have some OTHER talking ship in the episode, why is it a Short Trek instead of a, say, Black Mirror (it's of course too positive for that, but you know what I mean). Damned if you do, damned if you don't. But it's hard to complain when you're handed as rich a piece of short fiction as this.

LESSON: Really need to brush up on Homer's Odyssey.

Beautiful and romantic, if only we knew it was the start of something rather than a lonely island.


Tony Laplume said...

I thought it was great. Thanks for going into more details about the Odyssey parallels. As for its overall relevance, let me say three words: "The Inner Light." This is classic Trek storytelling, the first time Discovery has really reached for something beyond itself. If the ship itself is the only link, it's still a strong link. In Voyager they had a couple episodes ("Distant Origin," "Living Witness") where the story wasn't really the crew at all, but their sort of witnessing someone else's.


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