craft in short treks

Canotated: How Star Trek short Calypso changes Trek history

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Nov 9, 2018

The latest installment in the Star Trek franchise messes with its complicated canon in two specific areas: computers and chronology. The new Short Treks episode "Calypso" takes place 1,000 years in the future of Star Trek (which puts it about 1,200-plus years in our future) and also features a starship computer that can do what no other Trek computer has done before. All of this seems insane, and yet, Star Trek canon has precedents for both apparent discrepancies.

First up, the writer of this episode, award-winning author Michael Chabon, has hinted that he thinks it's possible that all computers aboard Federation starships could possibly have the ability to evolve to the point Zora does in the mini-sode.

In terms of Trek canon, this isn't crazy at all.

In the original series episode "The Ultimate Computer," the Enterprise was briefly upgraded with the M-5 computer, an artificial brain that takes of the ship in cold, efficient manner that predates the same uncaring callousness science fiction's most evil A.I. In "Calypso," the Discovery's computer, Zora, is the flip side of the M-5; she can control the entire ship, but she cares deeply for humanity. In this sense, she's a lot like Data in The Next Generation: an artificial being who is ordered to protect the crew and ship at all costs. In The Next Generation episode "Clues," Data is tasked with running the entire starship Enterprise by himself while the crew is knocked out. In "Calypso," Zora says the crew is "away."

Screen Shot 2018-11-09 at 10.40.54 AM

Kirk is suspicious of the M-5 computer running the ship in the "The Ultimate Computer" 

Chabon's notion that Federation starship computers might all have latent personalities is also directly validated by another Next Generation episode called "Emergence." In that one, the ship is 100 percent alive, and Captain Picard and the crew have to grapple with what that is going to mean going forward. It's one of those famous Star Trek moments that feels game-changing, but because it would alter the status quo, the franchise just never mentions it again. Still, while the evolution of the Discovery's computer in "Calypso" is technically new, it does work just fine in the grand scheme of what we've seen in Trek for the past 52 years.

This leaves us with the biggest question the episode never answers: how have 1,000 years gone by with the crew of the Discovery totally MIA? The episode doesn't give us very many clues, nor do we have any idea at what point in the ship's specific timeline this all takes place. Essentially, there is one easy way this can make sense, and the first season of Discovery has already hinted at it.

Here's the theory: at some point in the future of Star Trek: Discovery, the ship will be evacuated, and told to hang out in some kind of space storm for a very long time. Presumably, time travel or something involving the ship's tricky Spore Drive will reset everything. In the Discovery episode "What's Past is Prologue," the ship leaves the Mirror Universe and returns to the Prime Universe, but they also travel in time and arrive in their home dimension nine-months after the point where they left. This is because traveling through the Mycelium Network is really tricky, but also allows the ship to break the rules of time quite a bit.

USS Discovery mycelial network

Credit: CBS All Acess 

So, will a future episode of Trek depict some kind of Mycelium Network hiccup, one which allows 1,000 years to pass for the computer, while none passes for the crew? The answer seems like a big yes. But, when we'll see such an event take place isn't as clear. It could happen in season 2 of Discovery, or not for several years to come. As Spock said in The Wrath of Khan, "there are always... possibilities."

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