We gave it an A
Incredibly, “U.S.S. Callister” just gets better as it goes along. The episode temporarily becomes a bit of a horror movie, as Cole’s video-game self learns the limitations of her new life. She can’t disobey Daley, because his control over their reality allows him to turn her into a bug monster or take her mouth away or do anything else his twisted mind can dream up if she doesn’t role-play the simplistic Space Fleet scenarios. The worst thing he’s done, apparently, was to clone Walton’s real-life son Tommy into the game. In order to make Walton obey his grotesque role play, Daley made him watch Tommy get sent out the airlock. Simpson’s monologue recounting this event, and how much it utterly broke him, is a great performance.
Chasing Valdak to the surface of a nearby planet brings us back to the Star Trek parody story that started the episode, but now it feels different. The crew is clearly exaggerating their mannerisms to please Daley, even as they constantly exchange uncomfortable glances with one another. When Daley pauses the game to go get his pizza delivery, they all exchange conversation. I particularly love this aspect of the episode, about how the people who make the things we like (even the characters themselves) might have a life and an existence outside the fan enjoying them.
Enjoyment is fairly limited in this video-game world, however. As Walton demonstrates, the video-game characters have no genitals, just senseless flesh mounds. That inspires Milioti to deliver one of the best lines of the episode: “Stealing my p—y is a red f—ing line.” She hatches an escape plan.
In order to defeat Daley, the video-game Cole needs to team up with the real-life Cole. After the former seduces Daley into a skinny-dipping session and steals his remote (essentially the means of production for this bubble world), the crew uses it to log onto real-life Cole’s Cloud account and blackmail her with the sexy photos they find there. Following their instructions, real-life Cole sneaks into Daley’s apartment and destroys the DNA samples he uses to keep the characters trapped. In the game itself, the characters seize control of the Callister and pilot it toward the annual Infinity update, which manifests as a wormhole that can take them back to the open internet.
Daley gives chase, of course, and almost snags his quarry when an asteroid field takes out their engine. Thus commences the episode’s single greatest Star Trek parody: a version of the beloved Wrath of Khan ending where Walton (forced into the Spock role by Daley) goes to fix the engine manually. As he does so, he makes radio contact with Daley. At first it seems like a legitimate Spock-Kirk moment, as Walton heartfully apologizes for being unfair to Daley in the real world. Based on Daley’s reactions, you get the sense that this is all he ever wanted. But then Walton adds, “But you threw my son out of an airlock so f— you to death,” and reignites the engine. The resulting blast incinerates Walton, powers the Callister through the wormhole, and leaves Daley spinning in space. Powerless and without any controls, he’s unable to exit the game, and his real-world self lies lifeless in his chair at home. Daley’s real world and Space Fleet fantasy world finally became one, but not in the way he probably expected. Maybe having honest conversations with the people in his life, instead of forcing them into his own toxic fantasy, could have been a better way of solving these problems.
He’s not too different from a character voiced by Aaron Paul at the end of the episode: another player who encounters the Callister after they reach the open internet. He intimidates them in a manner familiar to anyone who’s ever played online video games, and they speed away, leaving him muttering to himself, “I’m the king of space.”
But who needs a royal title when you have friends, a spaceship, and an entire internet universe to explore?