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One of the two new Short Treks this week, "Ephraim and Dot," is about an adorable space-dwelling tardigrade laying her eggs aboard the USS Enterprise. This episode is also, appropriately, about a different variety of eggs: Easter eggs!
As becomes quickly apparent, the entire episode takes this tardigrade and a DOT-7 robot on a rollicking ride through a huge portion of the history of Star Trek, specifically, the lifespan of the classic NCC-1701 USS Enterprise. But just how many years pass during this Short Treks? Here's the breakdown of when Ephraim's epic quest takes place in Trek canon, plus one possible explanation as to why a few things happen in the wrong order.
**SPOILER WARNING! Spoilers ahead for Short Treks, "Ephraim and Dot."**
Although some fans thought "Ephraim and Dot," would be focused on a tardigrade hitching a ride on the Enterprise during Pike's tenure as captain, it's quickly apparent that this is, in fact, the classic Captain Kirk time period! Of course, the concept of space dwelling, oversized tardigrades originated with Star Trek: Discovery; in Season 1, a tardigrade nicknamed "Ripper" was briefly drafted into operating the Spore Drive of the USS Discovery.
By Episode 5, "Choose Your Pain," Michael Burnham had set the tardigrade free. So now what we're seeing is yet another tardigrade, Ephraim, who, like Ripper, can basically travel at warp speed on its own. The Dot robot who tries to stop Ephraim from hanging out on the Enterprise also originated on Discovery. In the Season 2 finale, "Such Sweet Sorrow Part 2," several DOT-7 robots popped out of the Enterprise to make repairs on the ship. In fact, Pike even mentions a DOT-7 briefly in the Short Treks episode, "Ask Not."
But, again, this is clearly no longer Pike's Enterprise. Because as Ephraim starts to see and hear events from Star Trek: The Original Series — and eventually a few of the classic movies — we get the journey of the USS Enterprise from a totally different point of view. But just how many years pass for this little tardigrade and its robot opponent? The answer is: pretty much 19 years. Everything seems to start around 2266 (or 2267) and, very clearly, ends in 2285. But then again, maybe 27 years pass. Here's how it all shakes out.
The first original series episode Ephraim observes is "Space Seed," the classic Season 1 episode of TOS which first introduced the world to Ricardo Montalban's villainous Khan. From there, we fly through the first three seasons of the original Star Trek with overt references and scenes from "The Trouble With Tribbles" (tribbles), "The Naked Time" (Sulu with the sword), "Who Mourns For Adonis?" (giant green hand in space), "The Doomsday Machine" (big planet killer), "The Tholian Web" (orange energy crisscross in space), and "The Savage Curtain" (Space Lincoln!).
All of these references span Kirk's famous Five-Year-Mission of the USS Enterprise, which lasted from 2265-2270. But, because "Space Seed" is the first shout-out, this whole thing seems to begin around 2267, since that's when "Space Seed" happens. But, then again, since time seems to pass differently for Ephraim the tardigrade, you could make an argument that the asteroid Ephraim is digging on at the very beginning of the episode is a reference to "Balance of Terror," since, in that episode, the Enterprise is investigating the destruction of starbases that are constructed on asteroids.
If that's true, then "Ephraim and Dot," could start in 2266, which is also totally corroborated by the Sulu going crazy with his sword in "The Naked Time," because that episode 100 percent takes place before "Space Seed," also in 2266.
Now, if the tardigrade is experiencing a sped-up (or slowed down?) version of time passing on the Enterprise, why does "The Naked Time" appear to occur after both "Space Seed" and "The Trouble With Tribbles"? The Doylist answer is: lighten up, it's just a fun animated episode of Short Treks. But, the Watsonian answer is even more fun. In the first season of Star Trek: Discovery, it was very clear that Paul Stamets experienced time and space in strange ways, and occasionally would perceive things that had either not yet happened or events that happened in alternate universes. Now, we all know Stamets had tardigrade DNA, so, because this episode follows the adventures of an actual time and space traversing tardigrade, maybe some of these linear events appear slightly jumbled up through Ephraim's perception. In other words: This is how the tardigrade sees the flow of time, because time works differently in its mind, right?
If we buy this explanation, then the 16-year-leap from "The Savage Curtain" (2269) to The Wrath of Khan (2285) makes a lot of sense; Ephraim is traveling through time as well as space. Because now, at this point, Ephraim has followed the Enterprise through its famous refit and redesign in Star Trek; The Motion Picture! (This is why the Enterprise suddenly has a blue deflector dish instead of orange.)
But, of course, this also means that Ephraim and Dot are now both hanging around when Admiral Kirk decides to blow-up the Enterprise in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.
Now, at this point, there's one more continuity gripe. At a few points during its destruction, it looks like the Enterprise has the registry number NCC-1701-A, which is actually wrong. The NCC-1701-A Enterprise was the ship that replaced the classic Enterprise in The Voyage Home, even though it looked virtually identical. So again, this could be a production mistake. Unless of course, yet again, the tardigrade is experiencing time out of order, and has briefly had a vision of a different Enterprise during the events of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, which takes place in 2293.
We see a Klingon Bird-of-Prey attack the Enterprise in this scene, which should reference the same Bird-of-Prey that attacks the Enterprise in The Search for Spock in 2285. But, if Ephraim briefly experiences the future — and the Enterprise-A — then we could squint and decide Ephraim's wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey brain has conflated the events of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (in which the Enterprise is also attacked by a Klingon Bird-of-Prey) with the events of The Search for Spock. Again, thinking about it this way is infinitely more fun than thinking an incorrect letter just happened to pop-up on the Enterprise.
Either way, you look at it, the Trek canon just got two new adorable new characters in the form of Ephraim and Dot, and if we're lucky, this isn't the last time these two will gate-crash their way into famous events in the final frontier.
Short Treks' "Ephraim and Dot" is streaming now on CBS All Access.