'Picard' preview: Why 'Short Treks' "Children of Mars" is essential viewing

The latest one-off is the secret pre-launch of the next big 'Star Trek' series.

If you’re a fan of the Star Trek franchise, but you haven’t watched the first two seasons of Star Trek: Discovery, that’s okay. The debut of Star Trek: Picard on January 23, 2020, won’t require you to have any knowledge of 23rd-century events. That’s because this show takes place at the end of the 24th century, and is a follow-up to The Next Generation. That said, an under-the-radar prequel will be essential viewing ahead of the show’s premiere. Here’s why you need to watch the new Short Treks, “Children of Mars” on Thursday, and what it means for Picard.

No spoilers ahead.

What is Short Treks?

If you’ve been away from the final frontier, or you’re confused by all the different shows, Short Treks is exactly what it sounds like. It’s an anthology show populated by one-off episodes that each explore some small aspect of Star Trek.

Overwhelmingly, Short Treks connect to the Discovery era, which makes sense since it was launched as a lead-up to the second season in early 2019. However the second season of Short Treks has explored more elements from TOS, and now, for the first time, will set up the events of Star Trek: Picard.

Why is “Children of Mars” a Picard prequel?

Without spoiling anything, the story of “Children of Mars” follows the lives of two 24th century schoolchildren —Kima (Ilamaria Ebrahim) and Lil (Sadie Munroe) — whose parents work on Mars. If you remember your Star Trek history, Mars is relevant because that’s where the Utopia Planitia shipyards are located. In the era of The Next Generation, Voyager, and Deep Space Nine, this is where the vast majority of Starfleet ships are manufactured and designed, including both the USS Enterprise-D and the USS Voyager. Because Picard takes place after both The Next Generation and Voyager, we don’t know which ships are being manufactured there, but it’s a sage bet there’s a lot.

Also, in several trailers for Picard, we see Jean-Luc having flashbacks to some kind of disaster, which seems to have happened on Mars. Guess what? “Children of Mars” will explain what that’s all about.

Why do these two girls become friends? And what does it mean for 'Star Trek'?


Star Trek timeline and Easter eggs

It’s not totally clear when “Children of Mars” takes place, but it clearly happens sometime before the events of Picard, which occurs in 2399, the very last year of the 24th century. While watching “Children of Mars,” be sure to look out for small words on various screens. There are a few huge clues here that will totally shape the events of what happens in Picard, and might indicate the ways in which both Starfleet and the Federation has changed in the two decades since we last checked in with this part of Star Trek history. This is a quiet and subtle episode of Short Treks to be sure, but once you watch it, you’ll realize how it uncorks something very, very big.

Short Treks “Children of Mars” airs on CBS All Access on Thursday, January 9, 2020.

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