Watching the opening episode of season 2 of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds was a nice reminder that the franchise is experiencing quite the rebirth on the small screen. With Star Trek: Picard ending its three-season run with a season that brought the TNG band back together and plenty of “huzzahs” from old and new fans alike, Strange New Worlds finds its own unique ground that’s a little something special.
I thought season 1 of Strange New Worlds broke some new grounds in the Star Trek franchise, not the least of which was giving us more depth on Capt. Christopher Pike and the emerging details of younger officers we would grow to love in TOS. And while exploration and making contact with strange new worlds was certainly part of the season 1 experience, perhaps its best vibe was a lighter side intertwined within the stories it told, the dangers the crew faced, and even some of the tragedy. In a word, Strange New Worlds was good fun on multiple levels.
Capt. Pike, who has seen his own mortality and how it all ends, isn’t in the Kirk, Picard, Janeway, Sisko mold. While he’s a mix of those, he’s got a clever spin on his character, mixing humor, irony, and a sense of joy about the adventure he’s on and the people he’s with. Anson Mount’s Pike is a fantastic character and one that sets a tone that is a little lighter while adhering to the fundamentals of Star Trek – exploration, negotiation, rescue, peace and discovery. He doesn’t take himself as seriously as other captains, but isn’t kooky and silly. His vibe is he’s got it in proper perspective.
SPOILERS AHEAD. Repeat, be aware of a few SPOILERS.
And it’s on those notes that season 2 opens with an episode titled, “The Broken Circle.” The Enterprise in space dock. Repairs and upgrades are underway, Una-Chin Riley (No. 1) is awaiting trial and Pike is looking for ways to help. That search leads him off the Enterprise for a three-day search for someone that may have valuable info. And with that, Spock takes command during Pike’s absence, a development that clearly rattles our favorite Vulcan. Let’s be honest, you think a Star Fleet space port can hold the adventure that is the Enterprise? No, it can’t.
I don’t know if Star Fleet crews stealing their own spaceships out from under Star Fleet is a trope or not, but it should be. A distress call from La’an Noonien-Singh on another planet, a delightful appearance from Carol Kane as a long-living engineering goddess, and a fake disaster later, the Enterprise has been stolen by Spock and our gang as they race to the find La’an and react to whatever disaster is happening.
Essentially, there’s a tenuous peace between the Federation and Klingon Empire, a peace that is not good for the business of arms dealers and other parasites that make money off conflict. A hearty band of these folks – humans and Klingons – are planning to reignite the embers of war and La’an, as well as some very nervous Star Fleet upper echelon types, are getting a vibe that something’s in the works. But is this it? As we find at the end of the episode, there’s something else afoot.
This is the impetus for Spock and his hearty band of pirates to steal the Enterprise and meet La’an on a distant world. It was really interesting to see Spock in a role that has traditionally been the domain of Kirk, Picard, and their fellow captains – following what he “feels” to be right, even if it bumps up against Star Fleet regs. Ethan Peck’s portrayal of Spock is fantastic again, offering a tantalizing glimpse into a being who seeks clarity through logic, but can’t help but be moved by that human side of himself. At one point he talks about going with his “gut” in making this decision and it’s a moment that both delights the audience, but clearly is a bit confusing to him.
It’s also in these situation that the delightful Carol Kane makes her entrance. She plays a character named Pelia who immediately susses out Spock and the crew’s plan in a calm, matter-of-fact way. She’s up to help. Why? Because she’s bored! She is described as “a new recurring character.” Following Hemmer’s (Bruce Horak) sacrifice to protect the crew from Gorn hatchlings late in season 1, Pelia will become the new chief engineer aboard the Enterprise. She’s of a species that lives a very long time, so her longevity and experience will be an interesting mix as she already demonstrated a dry wit and that somewhat tired wisdom of living so long. I already like this character. How she interacts with Pike should be very interesting, too.
Look, let’s not delve into the details of what happens in this episode to much as you need to watch it. Needless to say, our pirates make some discoveries, come up with a plan, have to pivot when that plan goes awry and ultimately conclude a successful trip. A potential reigniting of the Klingon war, and those who would start it, are dealt with. Peace is at hand, if very tenuous.
Along the way we learn that Doctor Joseph M’Bega is something of a badass with an ability to rain down physical destruction on folks – both Klingon and human. Clearly, there’s an interesting backstory to this character, one that we get a couple hints about along the way. I was pleased to see a long arc featuring he and Christine Chapel in this episode. They have a fun dynamic together and now that both have been bloodied in battle, I look forward to that relationship emerging a little more. (No, no, Spock’s the love interest, so don’t get excited).
And to think I’d ever see Spock swilling flagons of blood wine with Klingons, and attempting to get into the spirit of the moment, was another treasured moment in this episode. Watching him attempt a Klingon yell was truly a chuckle-worty moment in the episode. It’s another one of those instances, and there were a ton in season 1, that marks Strange New Worlds as having a little different flavor within the Star Trek realm. Spock getting his drink on, earning honor within the Klingon culture, and battling through is feelings for Nurse Chapel (as well as giving us clarity about how his affinity for a certain musical instrument came about) creates interesting contexts with which to view this character.
Episode 201 was a solid, fun and important start to Strange New Worlds’ second season. Doubly so because Pike was only present for a very short time to kick things off. This episode was carried nicely by Spock, Uhura, M’Benga, Chapel, La’an, Pelia and the others. It was fun, it was exciting, it had a nice mixture of adventure, danger, action, and humor wrapped in the storytelling. I enjoyed the hell out of it and felt it a great kickoff to a new season.
Needless to say there’s more to come, but as I finished watching this episode, I was struck by a sense of enjoyment and fun. Coming off the Picard season that just rang a lot of bells for a lot of people, I had a sense that Strange New Worlds may be a little under the gun. Comparisons are rarely accurate, or fair, but I was worried that would be the case here and that SNW would suffer under the weight of nostalgia and quality that Picard brought.
Those fears were allayed quite nicely as SNW’s first episode rolled across the screen. It’s still bold, still looks gorgeous, still invites us into the development of characters we know so well, while discovering a bevy of new ones that will not make it to TOS. In some ways, it has the opposite intent of Picard. Picard brought back beloved characters 20 years later. SNW is trying to draw and develop characters within the confines of what we already know through TOS. I’d offer that the latter is the more difficult task. My gut feeling is that SNW has done a good job of that thus far. The little moments that offer insight into what we know from TOS are welcome and well done, IMO.
Moving ahead, the Klingons will always be viewed with suspicion and there will always be worlds to explore and discover. My curiosity now is about the Gorn. As we see in the final shot, it is not the Klingons that are the unspoken worry of the Star Fleet hierarchy, but the Gorn, who are shown clearly drawing very close to Federation space. Will they be the enemy that must be dealt with during season 2? All this while No. 1 faces trial and possible banishment from Star Fleet and Pike battles to save his friend and second-in-command?
Yes, we’re just getting started in Strange New Worlds’ second season, but if episode 1 demonstrated anything, it is that the joy and interest we discovered and nurtured in season 1 isn’t going anywhere in season 2. I loved this opening episode and how it played out. It has enough of everything that makes Star Trek fun, but makes Strange New Worlds its own niche.
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