Mark Watches ‘Short Treks’: S01E03 – The Brightest Star / S01E04 – The Escape Artist

In the third episode of the first season of Short Treks, I still need to fight all of you. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek. 

I am… obsessed with these Short Treks episodes??? All three thus far have been basically perfect??? And I never expected that we’d get the backstory to ALL OF THIS in one of these episodes???!?!?!?!?!

“The Brightest Star” is Saru’s backstory. It’s the explanation for where Saru came from, what his planet, Kaminar, is like, why his people are viewed as they are, and it’s also a deeply heartfelt exploration of isolation, longing, and curiosity within a dogmatic society. First and foremost: I love what this does for the character of Saru. This episode granted me a new context for him, a new way of understanding who he is and why he behaves as he does. Saru yearned for a life beyond the system he was raised in.

And let’s talk about that system, because I still have QUESTIONS. I don’t know who the Baul are because we never see them in the episode. Which is the smart choice. By restricting the audience’s knowledge of what this whole sacrificial ritual is, we are just as knowledgable as Saru is… up to a very clear point. That point is where the Saru’s father claims that there is nothing beyond Kaminar, that the other Kelpien’s willingly allow themselves to be taken in order to maintain “balance.” I have approximately eight thousand million questions about this whole arrangement, but I’m going to start with HEY WHAT THE FUCK??? My second coherent thought is more or less: Do the elders know who these Baul are? Do they know where other Kelpiens go? Or are they just in the dark as everyone else, continuing this tradition because they know no better than others? I can see both being potentially true, especially because fear would play a vital role in either explanation. Perhaps the Kelpien elders know the price of defying the Baul, and this is the better and safer option. At the same time, part of what made this compelling was its exploration of tradition. I think many of us could relate to the friction that comes from people sticking to a tradition for the sake of it. I know I’ve coped with the frustration that arose when I asked why something had to be done, and the answer I got was, “Because we’ve always done it.” 

I mean, lemme be real: That’s one of the most aggravating bits of logic I’ve ever heard. It is unsurprising, of course, given that I, too, grew up within a dogmatic environment. I don’t just mean my extremely religious home life , though that’s the obvious parallel to what Saru lived through on Kaminar. It is mostly likely impossible that any of us have not ever experienced friction around dogma. White supremacy is dogmatic; systemic homophobia and transphobia is, too. So are the arms of colonialism and empire. It has to be that way in order for these structures to maintain power. 

There is some sort of structure here, too, though again, I don’t understand it all. I would love a longer episode that explores this specific relationship between the Kelpiens and the Baul. However, I didn’t need that to appreciate Saru’s moving story. He longed for something more, for stars brighter than the ones he could see. He is a character who saw potential where others saw none, and isn’t that a wonderful development of what we already know of him? I’m now thinking of Saru’s anger at Burnham for what she did during the Battle at the Binary Stars. I now know that Saru quite literally gave up his entire home and culture to leave and become a part of Starfleet. Not just that, but the final scene reveals that it was Lt. Georgiou who traveled to Kaminar while risking violation of Starfleet’s non-warp-society’s regulations. It makes her death all the more tragic for a character like Saru, who saw Georgiou almost as a savior of sorts. She was the one who convinced the higher-ups that it was worth it to pluck one lone Kelpien from his community to join the Federation. 

He gave up everything, y’all. He clearly loved his sister, who I believe knew he was going to leave AND STILL SUPPORTED HIM. She understood him on some level, and she didn’t stop Saru! I can’t even imagine the heartbreak and grief she must be going through. And what of the other Kelpiens? Was a story crafted to explain Saru’s absence, especially since he disappeared by means that weren’t the ritual? I don’t know. Again, I love that this show is making me ask these sorts of questions, and I am obsessed with how deeply emotional and caring this specific story was. Saru held out hope for a better life than the one he was living, and Georgiou was the one who helped him make that dream a reality.

I AM A MESS, OKAY. God, how are these shorts so consistently good???

The video for “The Brightest Star” can be downloaded here for $0.99.


In the fourth and final episode of the first season of Short Treks, THIS ALSO RULED. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek. 

Okay, these Short Treks are incredible??? The quality of all four of them is exactly the same as the show in terms of writing, cinematography, and storytelling. They’re these hyper-specific deep dives into different characters, and each one of them expands on existing canon. They’re all so tonally different, too! This one is entirely comedic, but it makes sense that it is because it’s all about Harry Mudd, the most chaotic character on Discovery. The events of “The Escape Artist” take place after “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad,” and it’s just… it’s such a Harry Mudd episode? Because it’s not just that it’s funny, but even the structure of the story itself is slimy and deceitful like Harry Mudd is, and that’s so fucking brilliant to me?

So let me back up. After Mudd leaves with Stella during his last appearance on the show, it’s clear he somehow got out of that predicament and set out to start conning all over again. Much of this episode makes the convincing case that this is what he does and it’s what he’ll always do. Hell, we’re seeing him before he interacts with the crew of the Enterprise, right? So years and years into his future, he’ll still be doing this shit.

But that’s part of the trick. As we watch Mudd try to manipulate Tevrin, the Tellarite bounty hunter who has finally captured him, the episode flashes back to past interactions in which Mudd was held captive by people he screwed over. It was clear he would always cycle through the same techniques because THAT’S WHAT CONMEN DO. When one doesn’t work, they shift. They adapt. We saw that in both of Mudd’s episodes in season one, and so that’s exactly what he’s doing here! He proposes alliances against the Federation; he tries flirting; he tries begging for his life; he tries appealing to the greed of others. And somehow, he clearly gets out of all these scenarios because… again, that’s Harry Mudd.

EXCEPT THIS SCRIPT IS USING THAT KNOWLEDGE AGAINST US THE WHOLE TIME. It’s why this con works so good against Mudd’s marks, too! Because Mudd behaves in a specific way when he is captured, each of these bounty hunters truly believes that they’re going to outsmart him. They aren’t going to fall for a single one of his tricks because they’ve heard it all! But they were fooled right from the get go, and their desire to be smarter than Mudd only worked in favor of his plan. BECAUSE NONE OF THESE PEOPLE WERE EVER HARRY MUDD. THEY WERE ALL ANDROID COPIES OF THE ORIGINAL MUDD. Like… can we talk about how this is just an EVIL plan and how it’s also SO BRILLIANT that I weirdly respect Mudd? Obviously it can’t work forever, and new is gonna get out about there being android versions of Mudd, but in the short-term? Mudd gets fifty thousand credits a pop. He gets to fool bounty hunters by handing over copies of himself… himself. And the very structure of this episode is a con, and I absolutely LOVE when stories do this sort of thing. It’s like a meta-textual synchronicity, and if Mudd was gonna have an episode devoted to him, this was the way to do it. BRAVO.

The video for “The Escape Artist” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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