Star Trek: Discovery's latest episode in its bite-sized Short Treks series doesn't feature a fan-favourite character from the show like the previous instalment did. But "Calypso" does have one familiar element — Discovery's titular ship, though presented in a way we may never see again.
That's because "Calypso" takes place 1000 years after Discovery's last crew (we never learn their names) left the ship for an unknown mission, and failed to return. In the meantime, the ship's AI, Zora (voiced by Annabelle Wallis), has evolved, but not in a scary, "Rise of the Machines" kind of way.
Instead — and in keeping with co-writer Michael Chabon's desire to pursue "a positive vision of the future" — Zora has transformed into a disembodied machine with a very human-like personality. She's charming, she's effervescent, she's eager to please, and she's also capable of feeling sad-panda things like boredom and loneliness.
So after a thousand years of solitude, Zora can barely contain her delight when an escape pod containing an injured man who calls himself Craft (Aldis Hodge) drifts within range. Suddenly, she has purpose: healing his scars, customising his outfits, synthesising food like waffles and "Taco Tuesday" dinners (even though Craft has no idea what a taco is, or what a Tuesday is, for that matter).
Through Craft, we learn a few more details about the shape of the galaxy — a reluctant soldier, he's been fighting a war that's gone on for a decade or longer, regretfully missing his wife and pretty much all of his young son's childhood on the far-flung planet they call home. (Not everything about the future can be positive, alas.)
Man and machine form a surprisingly tender bond — particularly after Zora shares her favourite part of "long ago" Earth entertainment, the 1957 Fred Astaire-Audrey Hepburn romantic comedy Funny Face. But fans of The Odyssey will have already figured out that "Calypso" most overtly references a far more ancient Earth story, though Zora is presented much more kindly than the mythological nymph.
She's also presented much, much more kindly than the ultimate self-aware spaceship AI, 2001: A Space Odyssey's Hal 9000; the blue circles that mark Zora's communication points are as kind and friendly as Hal's red dots are detached and menacing. Zora's closest sister in recent pop culture is probably the AI in Her, a comparison that becomes irresistible once Craft and Zora start to have romantic feelings for each other.
If you know how Homer's tale ends, you know how this version of "Calypso" wraps up, too — with a bittersweet farewell. These characters, who've basically fallen in love despite the, uh, impossible circumstances, may never meet again. Chances are, we'll probably never encounter them again either. If you were hoping "Calypso" would offer a detailed glimpse into Star Trek's far future, you won't find that here.
But Star Trek being Star Trek, eternally interested in seeking bright spots amid the darkness, you can't help but walk away feeling uplifted. Craft and Zora are better for having met each other — and their poignant encounter has sweetened our lives, too.