Short Treks’ “Runaway” in Review
Unfortunately, the first episode of Star Trek: Short Treks is a bit of a bumpy start. Let’s jump back to October 2018, during the gap between Discovery’s first two seasons, and analyze “Runaway”.
As a shift ends in a cargo bay aboard Discovery, the bay undergoes a standard decontamination. But moments after the crew exits the bay, some organic lifeform begins to escape from one of the cargo modules.
In her quarters, Tilly speaks about the Command Training Program with her mom, via holo-communicator. Although her mother expresses love for Tilly, she doesn’t really listen. She’s dismissive of the young ensign’s abilities, and she thinks that Tilly will just run away from the program.
A frustrated Tilly sits alone with her coffee in the mess hall. The creature from the cargo bay arrives, running around invisibly, while making a mess. Tilly scans the creature, who is now clearly a humanoid, specifically a teenage female Xahean. The Xaheans just recently achieved warp capacity. A taste of ice cream calms the Xahean down. She attempts to intimidate Tilly but fails, and the two begin speaking via the universal translator. The Xahean reveals that her name is “Me Hani Ika Hali Ka Po”. Po asks Tilly not to report her, noting that her family is dead.
Tilly discovers a “galactic APB” on Po. Po says she built an incubator to recrystallize dilithium, but people got greedy and wouldn’t listen to her, so she ran away. Tilly convinces her to go back to her home planet, Xahea, and Po admits that she’s going to be coronated as queen the next day. The two reassure each other, and Tilly beams Po back.
I’m a fan of Short Treks in general. I think that many of the criticisms of Alex Kurtzman (co-writer of this episode), modern Trek in general, and Short Treks in particular are overblown, and I generally like Mary Wiseman’s Tilly. The idea of putting her in what is effectively a two-hander is a good one. That said, this episode gets Short Treks off to a rough start.
I can’t make much sense of Po or her story. How did she get on the ship? Is Discovery near Xahea? If not, how did Tilly beam her home without telling anyone she was on the ship? If so, why was Tilly at all surprised that Po was Xahean? Why is Po acting like a wild animal one moment and completely poised the next? Why did she make the huge mess in the aptly named mess hall if she wasn’t looking to attract attention? Is she just kind of a jerk?!
The whole character of Po seems oddly conceptualized. She’s a monster, but also a teenage girl, and also a super-genius engineer who invents things Starfleet engineers can’t produce (the dilithium incubator). She’s also a fugitive and a queen. She’s tragic, because her family is dead, and she loves ice cream. She can turn invisible somehow, and spikes come out of her back. She believes her home planet is her twin sister. It’s a lot to throw at us for a character with only three speaking scenes, and I have to question how much of it was necessary for the story in this fifteen-minute episode.
The dialogue is also a little awkward at times. It’s hard to tell to what extent the writers are intentionally making the characters awkward as a stylistic choice. Lines like “But everyone got greedy and awful, and they forgot that evolution is about soul, not just killing our planet so that we can have warp” feel melodramatic, vague, and a little bit unnatural, though this is admittedly subjective.
That said, the actresses sell it well, and if you don’t stop to think about it too much, it’s a serviceable vehicle for Mary Wiseman’s Tilly. Yadira Guevara-Prip is generally likable as Po, even if the character is a little jumbled. The overall theme of needing to feel listened to is handled in a reasonably subtle way, though I don’t know if the parallel of Po running away and Tilly being told there’s a risk of her running away is as effective.
No matter how one feels about the episode, it’s an important one: Po is a crucial presence in the two-part Discovery Season 2 finale “Such Sweet Sorrow”. So, viewers who skipped this one might have been very confused about how Tilly has a friend who is a queen, can recrystallize dilithium, and loves ice cream.
“Runaway” is not nearly as bad as I might make it sound. It’s a serviceable, light character piece. On the Short Treks DVD and Blu-ray bonus features, director Maja Vrvilo said, “It felt like watching what would be a B-story in a regular episode,” and that’s a reasonably accurate description. Ultimately, it was nice to see Mary Wiseman get a chance to shine between Star Trek: Discovery’s first two seasons. To paraphrase a line from the Gin Blossoms song “Hey Jealousy”, if you don’t expect too much from it, you might not be let down.
Roger McCoy is pretty sure he was watching Star Trek before he was born! He has contributed to the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds anthology series from Simon & Schuster (not directly related to the TV series of the same name) as well as a couple of unofficial Doctor Who anthologies. He believes a Star Trek story does not have to be canon to be good and does not have to be good to be canon, but if a story is Star Trek then you have his attention. He can be found online on his laptop in the other room; come on over and say hi! He’s probably just looking at Star Trek news.