Star Trek: Discovery’s Sentient Computer Zora is One of Season 3’s Best Mysteries

If you are a Star Trek: Discovery fan who slept on the 2018 Short Treks episode “Calypso,” now’s the time to watch it.

Saru in Star Trek: Discovery Season 3
Photo: CBS

This Star Trek: Discovery article contains spoilers for “Forget Me Not” and Short Treks’ “Calypso.”

In Star Trek: The Original Series, when the USS Enterprise computer randomly started calling everyone “dear” in the episode “Tomorrow Is Yesterday,” Kirk and Spock considered a minor annoyance and programming error. But, when the computer of the USS Discovery started getting more friendly with Saru in the Discovery episode “Forget Me Not,” it’s the first step towards a larger evolution. And, if you’ve seen the Short Treks episode “Calypso,” then you know how that evolution will eventually play out. Here’s what the emergence of the Discovery computer means, and how this journey foreshadows a potentially huge plot development we’ve already seen and begins to explain one of the biggest mysteries in Discovery canon.

When the ship’s computer recommends that Saru “share a meal” with the crew, and talks to him about Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, the voice changes from actress Julianne Grossman — the regular Discovery computer voice — to Annabelle Wallis. In the 2018 Short Treks episode “Calypso,” Wallis played the voice of the Discovery computer, who at that point had named herself “Zora.” In that episode, the ship had been left adrift for 1,000 years, at some point in the distant future. Zora told a castaway named Craft (Aldis Hodge) that she had been ordered to maintain position by the captain of the ship. Craft was from the planet Alcor IV, and said his planet had been at war with a group called the V’draysh. In Discovery Season 3 Episode 2, “Far From Home,” the aggressive courier named Zareh dismissively referred to Saru as a “v’draysh captain.” The writer of “Calypso,” was Star Trek: Picard showrunner Michael Chabon, who confirmed in 2018 that “v’draysh” is a syncope of the word “Federation.” This means that so far, in Discovery Season 3, there have already been two references to the future time frame of “Calypso.”

When does “Calypso” take place relative to Discovery Season 3?

The new Season 3 episodes of Discovery all happen in the 32nd century in the year 3188, and perhaps, now 3189 (depending on when Burnham’s “gap year” elapsed.) When “Calypso” first aired, we really didn’t know this future jump was going to happen, and later, when the future jump was revealed, many fans (myself included) theorized that the time period seen in Discovery Season3 would be the same time period from “Calypso.” But, now, that doesn’t exactly match up. Between “Such Sweet Sorrow Part 2” and “That Hope Is You Part 1” the USS Discovery wasn’t adrift for 1,000 years, it jumped 930 years in basically an instant. This means that now, we’ve had to put the events of “Calypso” potentially a millennium beyond the setting of Discovery Season 3. In other words, the Zora we meet in “Calypso” is a fully evolved version of the emergent A.I. who shows the crew  Buster Keaton movies in “Forget Me Not.” 

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Things might not work out exactly how we think

Then again, there are other mysteries about Zora/the Discovery computer that may never be solved. When I interviewed director Olatunde Osunsanmi earlier this season, he said that the connections between “Calypso” and Discovery Season 3 may not be “one-for-one.” Back in 2018,  Michael Chabon told me that “[Zora] had a lot of time on her hands and went through many incarnations. She may have had a male persona and a female persona and all kinds of persona.”

During the 2020 table-read for the Discovery Season 2 finale, “Such Sweet Sorrow Part 2,”  one cut line revealed that Starfleet was replacing the massive A.I. “Control” with something called the “Zora.” Considering this was never mentioned in the actual aired episode, it’s hard to call it canon, but it is an Easter egg about Zora that comes from a time period just before the USS Discovery computer started to fully evolve. Then again, the USS Discovery also raised its own shields and defended itself despite being empty in the same episode. This seems to indicate that merging with the Sphere Data in “An Obol for Charon,” was the start of Discovery’s path to self-awareness. But, what’s up with Zora telling Craft she’d been adrift for 1,000 years?

Time travel laws could explain links between “Calypso” and Discovery Season 3

Because we’re seeing a lot of references to “Calypso” in Discovery Season 3, it seems possible that Zora’s claim about being alone for 1,000 years could have been an exaggeration if not an outright lie. What if Zora was conflating the 930-year journey through the wormhole, with another period of time? In other words, perhaps Zora [the USS Discovery] wasn’t actually left alone for 1,000 years, but instead, she told Craft a version of her story that he could understand. If Captain Saru ordered the ship to maintain position, he may have also ordered Zora to conceal details about the crew and its mission. 

Here’s another reason to believe Zora was lying about being alone for 1,000 years:  In “That Hope Is You Part 1,” we learn that time travel is taboo and straight-up illegal. In “People of Earth,” Saru decides to make it seem like the Discovery is a generational ship, and didn’t travel through time. If Saru orders the crew to perpetuate this lie, then he certainly would have ordered Zora to corroborate that story if and when they all had to abandon the ship. 

If that’s true, then suddenly, the idea that Zora evolved over a long amount of time might no longer be the case. And, even though Olatunde Osunsanmi said we might not see “Calypso” happen this season, there’s now a very reasonable way that the crew of the Discovery might have to leave the ship by the end of Season 3, and leave Zora to her own (starship) devices.

Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 airs new episodes on Thursdays on CBS All Access.

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Short Treks — including “Calypso” — is also streaming on CBS All Access.