Anson Mount was the breakout star of Star Trek Discovery’s second season with his portrayal of Captain Christopher Pike, with Ethan Peck and Rebecca Romijn right behind him as Spock and Number One, respectively. The events of the end of that season precludes the trio returning to Discovery any time soon, but they’ve made up for it to a degree by having Mount in all three of the second batch of Short Treks to date, with Romijn and Peck in two of those, including the new one, “Ask Not.”
The briefer format for Short Treks is a boon to “Ask Not,” as it’s a very predictable story, so much so that I predicted it back when I saw the trailer for it a couple weeks ago. As soon as I saw Pike in handcuffs—the same Pike whose ultimate fate we already know, one which includes a promotion to fleet captain—I knew that whatever reason they had for imprisoning him had to be false. It was just an open question whether or not it was a mistaken accusation or a test of a cadet to see if she could handle a nasty situation.
It was the presence of a cadet as the second person in this two-people-in-a-room piece that made me think it was the latter rather than the former. We’ve already seen that Starfleet likes to put its trainees through the wringer, from the infamous Kobayashi Maru test, seen in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, the 2009 Star Trek, and several works of tie-in fiction; to the “psych test” administered to Wesley Crusher when he was testing for the Academy in The Next Generation’s “Coming of Age“; to the holodeck scenario Deanna Troi is put through when testing for command certification in TNG’s “Thine Own Self.”
And sure enough, that’s what it is. The action of the short takes place on a starbase that suddenly goes to yellow alert. A security guard gives Cadet Thira Sidhu (played with an impressive combination of professionalism, idealism, and eagerness by Amrit Kaur) a prisoner to guard: Pike, who has apparently committed mutiny.
As soon as Pike is alone with Sidhu, he tries to intimidate her, throwing his weight around. He also fills her in on the situation, that the Tholians attacked the U.S.S. Bouman, a ship on which Sidhu’s husband serves, and Pike disobeyed orders to try to save them. Pike knows of Sidhu because she applied to be assigned to the Enterprise for her semester of field study (an aspect of Starfleet cadethood we previously saw with Nog on Deep Space Nine), and he recalls that her husband is on the Bouman. He might be dead, and doesn’t Sidhu want revenge on the Tholians for what they did?
Pike tries every rhetorical trick in the book, including several quotations of regulations. Sidhu comes close to cracking, but she sticks to her guns, refusing to take advantage of loopholes in the regs, especially since any order from Pike is automatically invalid because he’s under arrest. And Pike is saying things that are wildly out of character, from threatening Sidhu’s career to talking about the Tholians in terms of vengeance, none of which track with the guy we watched on a dozen episodes of Discovery or in the original Trek pilot.
Finally, Pike gives up and tries to just walk out, and Sidhu turns a phaser on him.
At that point, five-and-a-half minutes into an eight-minute short, Pike says, “We’re good” and ends the simulation.
There are three reasons why this short works at all, and one is, as I said, the brief length. We don’t waste a lot of time on Pike’s deception, which is good, as it’s not a very convincing deception.
Another is Kaur’s excellent portrayal of Sidhu. Star Trek has always been about humanity bettering itself and about favoring compassion over violence. Sidhu is very specifically given multiple opportunities to go for more violence, and she rejects it for compassion, even though her husband is one of the victims of the violence that has already ensued. Kaur very nicely plays it, not quite understated, but not broad, either. It’s a very human performance.
The third, of course, is the superlative Mount, who has continued to be just fabulous as Pike. We also get quickie cameos from Romijn and Peck, welcoming Sidhu to the Enterprise, as she wasn’t really rejected. And, in fact, it was Number One’s idea to pretend to reject her and then put her through this particular process.
Seriously, we have got to see more of these people. They built a whole Enterprise set (we see engineering for the first time in this short), and those aren’t cheap. They’ve got a popular, excellent trio for the top of the ensemble ready to go. It isn’t easy to fill 55-year-old shoes occupied by the most popular character in SF TV history, Gene Roddenberry’s wife, and Jesus Christ, but Peck, Romijn, and especially Mount have not just filled the shoes, but continued to dance in them. If there isn’t a Pike show on CBS All Access some time in the next year, a serious crime against nature will have been committed.
And it would also do more to justify this short beyond “let’s see more of Mount being awesome.” The first run of Short Treks was half setting up Discovery’s second season (“Runaway,” “The Brightest Star“), with the other two just being nifty little standalones. This run is harder to judge. While “The Trouble with Edward” is probably, like “The Escape Artist,” a standalone bit of comedy that doesn’t connect to anything greater, both “Q & A” and “Ask Not” seem to be setting us up for more Pike.
Without that setup, the short feels like little more than an excuse to show us more of Pike. And y’know, I’m fine with that.
We shall see, I guess.
By the way, the title seems a bit odd, if you assume it comes from President John F. Kennedy’s famous “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” speech, which doesn’t apply to this story at all. More likely, it derives from Gordon R. Dickson’s short story, later expanded to a novel, Soldier, Ask Not, which also has a poem with that line as the opening as part of the story. Assuming it does derive from Dickson, it’s a very nice fit.
The next Short Trek will be a double shot of animated Trek, the first new animated Trek episodes since 1974, “The Girl Who Made the Stars” and “Ephraim and Dot.” They’ll both go live on the 12th of December.
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.