Elevator Pitch — Star Trek’s “Q & A”

In July of this year, Anson Mount and Ethan Peck were both guests at the Shore Leave convention. They did a joint panel, moderated by Amy Imhoff, and one of Amy’s questions was if either of them had done theatre. Mount said yes, but Peck said no, as he grew up in the theatre (recall that his grandfather is Gregory Peck and his aunt is Cecilia Peck), and he associates it with the places where he would fall asleep as a kid.

Mount then turned to Peck and said, “We should do Gilbert & Sullivan together,” and they both laughed a lot more heartily than was necessary from what they were saying. Mind you, “Q & A” had already been filmed at that point, and now I get why they were laughing!!!!

Before we get to the source of that in-joke, we’re given a delightful look at the first meeting between Number One and Mr. Spock, played, as on the second season of Discovery, by, respectively, Rebecca Romijn and Peck, with an appearance at the end by Mount reprising his role as Captain Christopher Pike.

The three of them were already brilliant, and this short just kicks it up a notch. My one frustration with Romijn’s role as Number One on Discovery was that we didn’t see nearly enough of her, and this short helps to address that.

The character was originally created as part of the original pilot, “The Cage.” She was a cold fish, very analytical and unemotional (Vina likens her to a computer), though the Talosian keeper adds that it’s a pretense. Meanwhile, while Spock had pointy ears and was obviously alien, he was just as emotional as everyone else: smiling at the vibrating flowers, being all pouty when Pike refuses initially to answer the distress call, being haughty and dismissive during a briefing session, and all shocked when shouting, “THE WOMEN!!!!” at the top of his lungs.

When that pilot was rejected, Gene Roddenberry was given a green-light to redo it, with Leonard Nimoy’s Spock being the only character he kept, and he moved the emotionless, rational element of Number One to the half-Vulcan. But later, in “The Menagerie,” the original pilot was established as taking place thirteen years previous, and the second season of Discovery, already taking place between “The Cage” and “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” made copious use of Pike, Spock, and Number One.

What I particularly love about “Q & A” is that Michael Chabon’s script leans into the early-draft versions of the characters that we saw in “The Cage,” as well as the early episodes of the original series, and into the fact that Number One and Spock are actually very similar characters.

The former is hilariously called back to when Spock first beams aboard and is practically screaming his dialogue, and Number One has to tell him that there’s no need to shout. Shouty Spock is one of the more hilarious aspects of the character that Nimoy abandoned after a few episodes, but we got a lot of it, not only in the two pilots, but also in the first couple episodes of season one of the series.

As for the latter, that is accomplished by having the two characters repeatedly say the same thing at the same time, from technobabble to Spock’s signature word (“Fascinating”).

Number One is escorting the newly assigned Ensign Spock from the transporter room to the bridge, but the turbolift they’re riding breaks down. Number One introduces herself to Spock by saying that she expects the science officers under her command to barrage her with questions until it gets annoying.

Thanks to the malfunctioning turbolift, Spock is given every opportunity to reach that annoying threshold, with questions ranging from ship operations to what are the three most important aspects of Captain Pike’s personality to the ethics of the Prime Directive to whether or not Number One likes eggplant.

Peck’s performance continues to show a magnificent balance between what Nimoy gave us and his own performance through the back half of Discovery season two. Best of all, it’s a more raw performance, one that gives us a mix of Nimoy’s specific performance in “The Cage” and also a slightly younger version of the Peck’s own prior work on Discovery. In particular, I like the opening bit where he’s smiling—which he drops when he beams on board, though not fast enough for Number One to have missed it. Later on, he laughs with Number One over a bonding moment over “Model of a Modern Major-General” from The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert & Sullivan, and it’s a nice companion to the Spock who would grin widely when he saw the humming flowers on Talos IV.

And that’s where the meat of the short lies: Number One’s advice to Spock is to not let his freaky out if he ever wants to command. Spock insists—as he did often in the original series and in the movies—that he has no ambitions to command, but Number One calls bullshit.

Spock then has yet another question: what is Number One’s freaky? And it’s Gilbert & Sullivan. Bliss.

Romijn’s performance remains superlative, building on what Majel Barrett gave us in 1964 and Romijn herself did in three episodes of Discovery. Number One is assured, smart, snarky (but a low-key snark in comparison to your Jett Renos and your Paul Stametses and your Sylvia Tillys), brilliant, steady, reliable, and effortlessly competent.

“Q & A” is a nifty little vignette, exactly the sort of piece that Short Treks is wired for: providing a nice little prequel to “The Cage” and Discovery season two and a glance at the early career of the franchise’s most famous character. But that’s not the best thing about it, the best is that it gives us more of Number One. In 1964, NBC balked at a woman being second in command of the ship (though accounts differ as to whether or not their issue was with a woman in general or with Barrett in particular), which is frustrating, as Number One was arguably the most intriguing character in the first pilot. This short, just like the frustratingly fleeting glances of the character in Discovery’s “An Obol for Charon” and the twopart finale, just continue to whet the appetite for seeing a lot more of this most intriguing officer. Get on that, CBS!

And at the end, we get more Anson Mount as Pike, which is never a bad thing. More of this, also, please.

 

A couple of quick notes….

  • This marks yet another example of duplicate titles in Star Trek, and the second time it’s involved a work of mine, the other one being Perchance to Dream (the title of a Howard Weinstein Star Trek: The Next Generation novel, and a comic book written by me). My 2007 TNG novel that was the ultimate Q story was also called Q & A.
  • I rewatched the earlier Short TrekCalypso” before watching “Q & A.” The end of “Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2” puts the events of this short in flux. Is it a thousand years after the twenty-third century of the first two seasons, or is it a thousand years after the ship jumped nine hundred years into the future? And yet, Zora said that the shuttle that she gifts to Craft was just delivered to Discovery before it was abandoned, which is incompatible with a ship being stuck nine hundred years in the future. I’m really curious now…
  • The next Short Trek will go live on Thursday the 10th of October, and is entitled “The Trouble with Edward.” You now know everything there is to know about it as of this writing. (There wasn’t even a teaser at the end of “Q & A.”) Looking forward to it… EDITED TO ADD: There is now a trailer.

Keith R.A. DeCandido has been writing about pop culture for this site since 2011, including the current “4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch” every Friday and reviews of every episode of Star Trek Discovery and Short Treks to date. Look for his reviews of the remaining batch of Short Treks over the next couple of months, as well as of Star Trek: Picard starting in January.

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