Josh Reviews Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season One (Part One)
The latest Star Trek live-action TV series, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is another prequel, this time set in the time just before the events of the Original Series. We’re on board the U.S.S. Enterprise, but it’s in the days before Kirk was captain. The captain is Christopher Pike, as depicted in the original Star Trek pilot “The Cage”. (That unaired pilot was eventually repurposed as a two-part flashback episode of the Original Series called “The Menagerie.”)
Strange New Worlds features Captain Pike and his first officer (called only “Number One” in “The Cage”/”The Menagerie,” but here called Una, in accordance with Trek fans’ unofficial continuity), with Spock on-board as science office. This trio of actors (Anson Mount, Rebecca Romijn, and Ethan Peck) played these characters on season two of Star Trek: Discovery. They were the best things about that season — particularly Anson Mount as Captain Pike. Fans asked for a spin-off series, and the folks at Paramount have apparently obliged.
In general, I don’t like prequels. I’d prefer that new Trek shows take place AFTER what’s gone before. On the other hand, if I could step back from my strong dislike of almost all modern Star Trek produced under Alex Kurtzman’s Secret Hideout production company, I would be all-in on the idea of a Trek show set in the era of “The Cage”/”The Menagerie”. This is an unexplored era of Star Trek, and Captain Pike is a potentially interesting character, and I could see a fun TV series made from this premise. On the other hand, I cannot forget my dislike of modern Trek produced by Mr. Kurtzman, and the launch of this show is already shackled for me by many of the terrible decisions made by Star Trek: Discovery. Strange New Worlds is a second TOS-era Trek show (like Discovery) made by people who seem to have little knowledge of or affection for the Original Series. That’s evident in almost every design choice made for Discovery — much of which is carried through to this new show. This Enterprise looks almost nothing like the classic TOS Enterprise. The exterior is all wrong. (The nacelles are wrong, the nacelle struts are wrong, the weird dull grey look of the ship’s hull is wrong…) And the interiors are even worse. The bridge of the Starship Enterprise is one of the most iconic locations in all of TV and sci-fi history. But the Enterprise bridge seen here doesn’t look anything like it. (Same goes for the Enterprise transporter room, or sickbay, or engineering, or the corridors…)
I guess I could understand someone who things that the TOS look wouldn’t fly for modern viewers. Let me be clear: I think that opinion is 100% wrong. I think the classic TOS look, with just a little modernization such as actual computerized graphics on the computer screens, would look AMAZING today, brought to life with modern production values. Star Trek fan films like Star Trek: New Voyages and Star Trek Continues, produced by fans on a shoestring budget, looked terrific — an actual professional production staff and budget should be able to be even more terrific. But, OK, even if I think this opinion is dumb and wrong, I can understand why some might think that. But if you DO think that, then WHY make a Star Trek show set in this era??? Set it in a future era and you could have the freedom to create whatever look you’d like! It’s not that the design on Discovery or Strange New Worlds is terrible, it’s just that it’s all wrong for TOS.
So this hobbles the show for me right out of the gate, and sets my teeth on edge as someone who loves and respects TOS. This is very, very hard for me to get over.
I did do my best to open my heart and approach this new show with an open mind, as I always try to do.
I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed these first five episodes more than I’d expected to. They’re certainly better than almost anything I saw on Discovery or Picard.
I like the cast. Anson Mount in particular is a terrific lead and he’s already established himself as a likable, iconic Star Trek captain. I like the decision to return to Star Trek’s classic style of episodic storytelling, with a balance that certain character threads connect from one episode to the next. The show is serious but has a lighter, more playful approach than the all-too-dour Discovery. All five of these first episodes had at its core a story that I found interesting, and all five episodes found the time to incorporate lots of fun little character moments into the larger story. While many of the design choices are terrible, the actual production values of the show are terrific. It’s fun to see Star Trek visualized on such an expansive scale.
All of that is good!
The show has two main weaknesses, in my opinion. First, the continual continuity problems bug the heck out of me. Even when they’ve done a great job in creating (or recreating) characters, such as Uhura or the security officer La’an, their storytelling is beset by continuity problems that pull me out of the story. (The idea that Spock served alongside a descendant of Khan, and that never came up, even when battling Khan in “Space Seed” or Star Trek II, is silly. The idea that Spock served alongside James T. Kirk’s brother Samuel Kirk, and that never came up, even when Sam Kirk died in “Operation: Annihilate!”, is ludicrous. Not to mention things like: why is M’Benga Enterprise CMO here when he was subservient to Dr. McCoy on TOS? Why is this Christine Chapel so different from the stoic, internal character from TOS? Why is Kyle already Enterprise Transporter Chief in this era, when it feels like he’s way too young? Why is Uhura already on the Enterprise here, long before she should be? Etc. etc. etc. All of these attempts at fan-pleasing connections wound up being incredibly frustrating too me, an actual long-term Star Trek fan. I wish they’d just made all of those characters into NEW characters as opposed to trying to bring in pre-existing ones.) Second, there’s a laziness to the storytelling that has afflicted most modern Trek that continually rears its ugly head here. The writers can’t seem to be bothered to properly explain many of the events we see happen in each episode. Things are just thrown out or waved away in a silly or fantastical way, with little attempt to ground the series in actual science-fiction story-telling. You’ll find lots more examples of this in my episode-by-episode breakdowns, below.
So… in conclusion… I found some enjoyment in each of these first five episodes of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. But it’s a bummer to me that “OK” is as good as modern Star Trek seems to get these days. I long for better.
If you’d like more, buckle in for my episode-by-episode breakdown of these first five episodes:
01 — “Strange New Worlds”
- This premiere episode is pleasingly strong, though there are hints of the problems that have so bothered me about so much of modern Trek overseen by Alex Kurtzman. But I enjoyed this episode and hope the season to come improves on it (as opposed to collapsing into mediocrity or worse as every single other season of every modern live-action Trek show has done).
- I love the idea of a Christopher Pike-led Star Trek show. This is a potentially an exciting era within the Trek timeline to explore. Anson Mount’s performance as Chris Pike was a highlight of Discovery season two and it’s cool that the fan requests for him to lead a spin-off show have been answered. I really like Mount’s Pike. He’s a terrific starship captain. He has an informality to him — a “folksiness” — that balances his intelligence and capability and, most importantly of all, his strong moral fiber.
- I hated that Discovery gave Pike a glimpse of his future-to-come of being destroyed by radiation (as per the Original Series two-parter “The Menagerie”). It was fun as a fan to see images from “The Menagerie” get recreated, but to me it destroyed the character (and broke too strongly with canon) to make it so that Captain Pike knew for ten years that fate that was awaiting him. I wish SNW had ignored this altogether, but I understand why they felt they couldn’t. They’ve gone the other route, and made this a focus of this first episode: Pike’s needing to find a way to function despite this knowledge of his upcoming doom. For a story I didn’t want them to tell, it works here. I liked the moments in which Pike was seeing visions of his disfigured face in reflections. Anson Mount really sells the character arc.
- I remain mixed on Ethan Peck as Spock. He’s better here than on Discovery; he’s better balanced at showing us Spock as being stoic without being a total robot, and there were several moments in which he showed a subtle warmth that is important to the character. But Mr. Peck just isn’t capturing the unique qualities, and the soulfulness, that Leonard Nimoy brought to Spock. (To be fair, I’m not sure anyone can.) And his hairdo looks bad — and his weirdly super-long sideburns are so bizarre! What’s going on there? My favorite Spock scene was when he visits Pike in his quarters after seeing Pike acting out-of-character on the bridge. Yes. I like seeing the friendship between Spock and Pike. Remember, Spock went to crazy lengths to help Pike in “The Menagerie”, so it’s good for the show to show us the depth of their friendship. (But the show has to be careful about making the Spock-Pike relationship be too much like the Spock-Kirk relationship. I’m a little worried about that.)
- Bringing T’Pring into the show is a wild idea. I don’t automatically object to it. It… mostly works here. I liked Spock and T’Pring’s banter, and I liked the way the show planted the seed of T’Pring’s discontent with Spock’s choosing a life away from Vulcan, on a Federation starship. We’ve never seen Vulcans quite so into sex, but again, I can go with this. There’s no canonical indication that two betrothed Vulcans wouldn’t get it on when behind closed doors. I am a little concerned about how this story-arc will work for the show, when we’ve already seen this story’s ending on the Original Series. (By the way, there’s the same potential problem with Pike’s main storyline.)
- We don’t get to see much of Pike’s first officer, Number One (played by Rebecca Romijn), in this episode. I was excited when Ms. Romijn was cast, but I didn’t love her work on Discovery or the handful of Short Treks she appears on. I hope as this season continues that she’s given more to do. (I do like that her first name of Una is now canonical.)
- On the other hand, I really enjoyed the character La’an Noonien-Singh, played by Christina Chong. Now, I hate the idea of connecting this character to Khan. It’s too easy fan-service, and the type of small-universe problem that afflicted the Star Wars prequels. It’s just insane to me that a descendant of Khan would have served on the Enterprise only a few years before Kirk & co. would find the Botany Bay in Space Seed. How would that never have been mentioned before?? This first episode, thankfully, didn’t really address the Khan stuff. Instead, the focus was on her traumatic background getting almost killed by the Gorn. (I didn’t quite understand all of that, by the way. Does that have any connection to her genetically-engineered heritage, or is it just a coincidence that she went through that trauma?) But putting her (unnecessarily convoluted) backstory aside, I quite liked the character as she was involved in this episode’s adventure. I loved the dynamic between her and Pike and Spock. I loved the scene on the bridge in which Spock counseled a peaceful approach and La’an wanted the shields raised, and there was a great dynamic between the three of them on the landing party. I’m sort of bummed she’s not actually Pike’s first officer on this show! (She was temporarily appointed as first officer for this episode, with Una missing — something which made no sense to me, by the way, as she seems like a very junior officer. I also wish Pike hadn’t so quickly started calling her Number One — it feels like that special nickname should have been reserved for Una. I feel like they only did that to get the dumb, supposed-to-be-funny moment when Pike says “Number One” and both Una and La’an answer. Wakka-wakka.)
- I really loved Baba Olusanmokun as Dr. M’Benga. See, here’s a character I’m delighted to see used on a prequel series. He was intriguing in his brief appearances on the Original Series, and I’m excited to see the character expanded upon and explored here. Mr. Olusanmokun is terrific; I like his intelligence, his calm under pressure, and his good humor. I also enjoyed Jess Bush as Nurse Chapel. Ms. Bush’s performance was enjoyable; I like this smart, young, spunky version of Chapel. On the other hand, Chapel is a character we saw a lot more of on the Original Series, and this Chapel seems a bit too far from me from the more quiet, internal Chapel we saw on the Original Series. I can roll with this, but it feels a few steps too far into problematic continuity territory for me. I also wonder how this show’s status quo of sickbay being run by M’Benga fits into how he was used on the Original Series, when McCoy was the ship’s CMO and M’Benga seemed like a subordinate. (Also, “The Menagerie” presented Pike’s having a close bond with his CMO, Dr. Bryce… so using M’Benga here as CMO seems like a continuity problem.)
- A much more problematic inclusion is that of Uhura, played by Celia Rose Gooding. It doesn’t work for me to see Uhura serving on the Enterprise at this point in the timeline, and it seems crazy to me that, as a cadet, she’d be the main bridge communications officer. Look, I love Uhura, and I feel she was underserved on the Original Series. So getting to explore her more on this show is interesting. But it feels like the wrong choice to me. Also, oy, her fangirlish “cool!” at the end of the episode was painful to me. Though, on the other hand, I loved how she was able to quickly put the alien at ease by talking to him about “tagball” — showing Uhura’s ability to get to know an alien culture, her quick-thinking, and her friendly nature.
- We don’t get to see much of Melissa Navia as Lt. Erica Ortegas. I don’t have any complaints. I’m eager to see more of the blind Aenar engineer Hemmer (Bruce Horak), who was introduced at the very end of the episode.
- I was not happy to see Samuel Kirk introduced at the end. This feels like a gargantuan continuity problem — Spock worked with James T. Kirk’s brother before James T. Kirk?? And that was never mentioned on the Original Series, even in the episode when Sam Kirk died?? (“Operation — Annihilate!”) No, that doesn’t work for me. (It’s like Discovery giving Spock a sister, all over again.)
- I loved seeing Admiral Robert April (here played by Adrian Holmes), who was established as the first captain of the Enterprise in the Animated Series episode “The Counter-Clock Incident”. I have no problem with April’s being played by an African-American actor. (I do wish the show had mentioned that April used to command the Enterprise before Pike, though!)
- I was surprised to see Transporter Chief Kyle from the Original Series, here played by Andre Dae Kim. I’m happy to see Kyle used on the show, and as with Robert April, I have no problem with this character being played by an actor of a different race. What I do object to is the continuity problem in that Kyle feels like he should be way too young to be the Enterprise’s transporter chief here, ten years before the Original Series.
- I liked the overall First Contact story. It’s fun to get a new Star Trek Prime Directive debate. While I hate modern Trek’s tendency to have Starfleet officers do whatever the hell they want all the time (Kirk’s horrible Prime Directive violation in the opening sequence of Star Trek Into Darkness was inexcusable), I’m with Pike on his choices here. Some TNG episodes, I think, had Picard too willing to stick to the letter of the law and allow people to die because of it. I like that Pike feels that Starfleet has already inadvertently interfered with this planet’s natural development, so they have to take action to try to correct that. I was a little less wild about his sledgehammer approach at the end… the story would have been better served to have devoted more time to showing how Pike’s innate goodness and diplomatic skills were able to prevent the escalation of the planet’s violent civil war. But I can forgive that in a series premiere episode, that had to do a lot to set up the universe and the characters.
- The episode suffers from the careless plotting of so much modern Trek. Why does Pike take a shuttlecraft most of the way to the Enterprise but THEN beams onto the ship?? How was the very junior-seeing La’an made first officer in Una’s absence? How is it that the Starship Archer — a ship that appears on screen to be the same size as the Enterprise — was crewed by only THREE people??? (The Enterprise has a crew of over 400!!) Why did all three of them beam down (and allow themselves to get captured)?
- I think it was a little too on-the-nose to have Pike show clips of the Jan. 6th riots when he’s describing how the United States fell into civil war, which led eventually to the Third World War that decimated the planet. I’d like to see Trek make its moral points more through allegory, as opposed to a sledgehammer. On the other hand, I can understand the writers feeling like this was an important point to make. So I can forgive this in this episode, though it feels part of a worrisome trend throughout modern Trek to be too obvious and too much of-the-moment as opposed to telling stories through sci-fi allegories.
- I loved the look of the various shuttlecraft seen. They looked cool and worked as a nice modernization of the classic Original Series design.
- I wish I felt the same about the look of the Enterprise. In both the interior and exterior of the ship, I feel they strayed too far from the classic look of the Big E from the Original Series. The Enterprise is one of the most classic and famous space-ships ever designed. I just don’t feel it’s right to muck with it to this degree. The various modern fan series that recreated the Original Series (such as Star Trek: New Voyages and Star Trek Continues) show that the original series designs still look fantastic and totally work even to a modern eye. I’m open to some modernization. Yes, give us cool moving graphics on the Enterprise bridge’s computers (as opposed to the still, painted-on images in the 1960’s show)! Yes, utilize modern CGI effects to get much more creative with how you can bring the Enterprise to life, really giving us beauty shots and allowing her to interact with all the cool new sci-fi worlds and space-stuff you can conjure. But I don’t like the changes made to the ship’s exterior. The ship looks grey and dull. They went too-far with all the deck-plating, all the extra bits of lights and stuff. The interiors are even worse. I strongly dislike the generic-looking, grey-and-black bridge. It’s a fine starship bridge — but it’s totally wrong for the Original Series era. Again, the Enterprise bridge is so famous! It has a very specific look! As does Sickbay! As does Main Engineering! As does the Transporter Room! As do the Enterprise corridors! Yes, we can make tweaks and adjustments, but the near-complete redesigns feel very wrong to me. This doesn’t at all feel like it’s the Original Series Enterprise to me. Part of the problem is that everything seems HUGE on the show. This feels like the makers of the show being excited to spend money and make a cool modern space-ship… rather than being consistent with the Original Series’ design ethos which had a much more naval bent. Space on this starship should be at a premium. Part of that was due to the limitations of the Original Series’ budget, of course. But this was also a specific, conscious choice. Showing Captain Pike’s quarters as this huge, sprawling suite doesn’t feel right to me for the Original Series. Now, I would be open to some “opening up” of what we saw on the Original Series. For instance, the TOS Main Engineering set always felt very limited to me… so maybe recreate that area of the ship but then turn the camera around and show us that there was a lot more than just that small space to Main Engineering. I could go with that! But the one brief glimpse we got here of Main Engineering didn’t seem to bear ANY connection to the Original Series look, and that’s a huge problem for me.
- They do a little better with the props. The communicators look great, and I love the modern twists — they’re voice-activated, and Pike can slide one into a slot to trigger a visual image. Very cool.
- The costumes are solid. Pike’s v-neck collar doesn’t look right to me, but otherwise I like this modern take on the Original Series uniforms. (And I don’t object that the uniforms ignore the sweater-ish look of the uniforms seen worn by Pike & co. in “The Cage”/”The Menagerie”. There’s a reason Star Trek abandoned that first take on a uniform when they made the first season of the Original Series, and I don’t feel this show should be stuck with them. See, I can tolerate SOME canonical adjustments!
- Another canonical adjustment I’m OK with is moving back the timeline on the Eugenics Wars. The Original Series episode “Space Seed” dated that conflict to the 1990’s. Now that that date is in our past, to makes sense to bump things forward gently, and I like the idea that a United States Civil War led to the Eugenics Wars which led to WWIII, which we see the planet recovering from when Zephram Cochrane invents Warp Drive (as seen in Star Trek: First Contact).
- I like that we see a ship named Archer, but I hate that awkward one-nacelle design. (I didn’t like it in the Kelvin in the 2009 Star Trek film, either.)
- Star Trek has sometimes referred to the Prime Directive as General Order One. Creating a plot point about how Starfleet is making a big deal about now asking everyone to call General Order One by the nickname The Prime Directive seemed unnecessary to me. It’s the kind of “let’s connect every dot” silliness that bothers me in most prequels… and it sticks out like a thumb on this show that, in general, is not bothering too much to try to fit into the continuity, or the established look, of the Original Series.
- The opening credits show off some gorgeous special effects shots, but the music is boring and unmemorable. I’m just not a fan of any of the themes that Jeff Russo has composed for these modern Trek shows. I do love hearing Captain Pike speak the classic “Space… the final frontier” monologue. (It presents a small continuity problem that he says “where no one has gone before” in a show set a decade before the Original Series… but I understand that “where no man” just wouldn’t fly on a TV show these days, so I can forgive it.) They make the curious choice to ape several shots from previous Star Trek series’ opening sequence. The shot that pans up from an icy asteroid is straight out of Voyager; it was a little too on the nose to suit me, but I appreciate the idea. The shot towards the end in which the Enterprise moves fast and we swing from above the ship’s primary hull to below it is taken from Enterprise; but the shot looks wrong here because the classic USS Enterprise shouldn’t whip around like that. (I am worried the show’s visual effects are not going to have the right stately, majestic feel to the Enterprise’s movements…)
02 — “Children of the Comet”
- For the most part I liked this episode, though the storytelling really fell apart in the final few minutes. As was the case in the premiere, there’s a lot to enjoy about this new take on Star Trek, but there’s a laziness to the writing and storytelling decisions that I find very frustrating.
- I really liked the dinner scene in Pike’s quarters. (Though wow, as I’d commented in my notes on the first episode, this huge sprawling captain’s suite seems totally out of place on a pre-Original Series Starship Enterprise.) But I quite like this depiction of a jovial, informal Pike, who makes an effort to socialize with his crew and get to know them as individuals. On the other hand, the show went too far with Pike’s folksiness in many of the Bridge scenes. Pike looked like a dummy when he’s so surprised that the alien ship fires at them seconds after the Enterprise fired phasers at the comet. And he seemed completely ineffectual and borderline pathetic in his handling of the captain of the alien spaceship (the Shepherds).
- One of the things I hate most about modern Trek is having the characters speak in such a jocular, modern way, and in showing them to have nowhere near the professionalism and expertise that I’d expect of trained Starfleet officers. Chapel sounds stupid when she says that there are “ridiculously high levels of radiation” on the comet. Just say “high levels of radiation”! And Sam Kirk is a grade-A moron when he, like an idiot, reaches out and touches the alien egg. Come on, people!
- The episode is full of that sort of stuff. Where did that huge ship come from? (It just seems to appear in front of the Enterprise. Did they decloak? Warp in? I need that detail so that this can be a plausible sci-fi show instead of just a fantasy where anything can magically happen.) Why do hyposorays hurt? How can the Enterprise disable the advanced alien ship with just one phaser shot?
- Una asks all the right questions of Pike at the end, regarding his vision of future. (Though I wish she didn’t so directly quote The Terminator. Oy, the writing on these modern Star Trek shows!!) If Pike knows the details of his accident so specifically that he knows the names of all the people involved, surely he can prevent that accident! They have ten years to prepare! (By the way, I would not object to the show’s finding a way to change Pike’s fate as established in “The Menagerie”. I like Pike enough that I’d be OK with changing this. I do believe it’s possible to tell a cool story in which Pike is able to escape his fate without destroying the overall Star Trek timeline.)
- I really enjoyed the spotlight on Uhura. This actress is great. I loved that Uhura’s love of music was such a big part of the story. (Though I wish they hadn’t telegraphed it by having her sing, sort of out of nowhere, during the dinner scene in Pike’s quarters.) Her backstory was interesting. The idea that most of her family is dead breaks with some great novels/comics stories that delved into Uhura’s past, but I can live with it. I loved the Uhura-Spock scenes. Those two had some great friendly banter scenes on TOS and I like seeing the beginnings of that friendship here. However, I don’t buy that super-smart scientist Spock is so completely helpless to solve the mystery of the comet/alien egg, and that it’s all on Cadet Uhura’s shoulders. (Surely the Enterprise — a vessel of space exploration — must have some more senior officers who are skilled in alien languages???)
- I really liked Uhura’s dress uniform, though it seemed wildly out of place in the TOS timeline. (That uniform had a 24th century look to it.) I also liked the space suits (were those the same as used on Discovery?) I don’t object to creating more modern-looking space-suits as opposed to the sort of goofy ones we occasionally saw on TOS.
- Why does Number One sit at the helm console? I also thought it was interesting that Neither Captain Pike nor First Officer Una go on the landing party. Are we to assume that Kirk’s approach (in which he and his first officer went on EVERY landing party) was unusual, even in this era? Other starship captains in future Trek shows handled things differently, but I’d always assumed that was a change in Starfleet protocol in the century between Kirk and Picard. I don’t object to this show not sending Pike on every landing party, it’s just curious to me.
- I liked Number One in this episode, particularly in her scenes with Pike in private. I like the casual relationship these two have. I like that Pike was honest with her about his vision of the future. But I’d like to see Number One actually contribute more to the stories moving forward. What does she bring to the table?
- I loved the scene with Hemmer. Loved his banter with Spock and Uhura. I can’t wait to see more of him.
- Why was M’Benga completely absent from this episode?
- I liked that Ortegas got a little more to do. Hopefully we’ll learn more about her (them? I’m not sure of their pronouns) other than that they’re a good pilot.
- I liked getting a second Prime Directive related story in two episodes. I like these sorts of Trek moral dilemmas. I like that no one on the Enterprise bridge hesitates to take action to save the pre-warp civilization by deflecting the comet. (This is, to me, a correct interpretation of the Prime Directive, as opposed to, say, what we saw in TNG’s “Homeward”.)
- I really liked the look of the comet’s surface, and the interior cavern with the huge egg. That looked terrific; a nice new alien environment, beautifully realized.
- Aaargh, the Enterprise’s motion was awkward and wrong in the visual effects shots of their combat with the aliens. It’s the exact fulfillment of “the Enterprise shouldn’t do barrel rolls”. Come on! The Enterprise is a graceful and elegant battleship; not the Millennium Falcon.
- I was mostly enjoying the episode until the end, where it all falls apart. None of the story elements came together in a satisfying way. Spock’s laughing was awful and totally out of place. I wanted to see Uhura actually save the day and communicate with the comet! Instead we get a super-quick and easy solution with Spock’s using a shuttlecraft to (somehow) turn the comet. Come on, the alien Shepherds wouldn’t have noticed that and stopped him?? If it was so easy to do that, why didn’t the Enterprise take that approach at the very beginning of the episode? Why didn’t we actually get any answers to the mysteries raised about the comet and the egg? Was that egg actually an egg or something else entirely? Was something alive in there? Was the comet alive? Where did it come from, and where was it going? And then there’s the out-of-left-field revelation that somehow the comet knew its future. It’s not enough for me for the show to just tell us that the comet magically knows the future. I need some sort of sci-fi explanation for why/how. It’s not satisfying to just present this random weirdness (comet, egg, musical technology, knowledge of the future) — those elements need to be tied together into a story that makes sense. The first episode also abandoned any actual sci-fi storytelling to give us a super-fast wrap-up of the situation. I really hope this doesn’t become a habit for the show.
03 — “Ghosts of Illyria”
- All Star Trek shows — and, frankly, all sci-fi shows — seem like they have to do an episode (or more) about a strange new disease. TNG devoted their SECOND episode to the idea, and SNW decides to make this the focus of its third. It feels like a predictable choice, but I like the idea of a disease carried by light; I like the episode’s split focus between Una and the ever-worsening situation on the Enterprise while Pike & Spock are trapped on the surface; and I like that the disease story is connected to a character story, specifically that of Una’s.
- After mostly being on the sidelines in the first two episodes, I was happy that this episode spotlights Rebecca Romijn as Number One (Una). It’s nice to see her get some attention. Ms. Romijn is solid, though Una still feels to me to be a somewhat undefined character. I’m not seeing the stiffness and isolation that Majel Barrett brought to the role in “The Cage”/”The Menagerie”… this Una has some of Pike’s genial gregariousness, but she isn’t exactly a people-person. So the character feels trapped in an in-between state right now. I hope she gets more depth as we move forward. I do like that Una seemed calm and capable in command of the Enterprise during the crisis.
- For the third episode in a row, I we’ve gotten an interesting story that I’ve enjoyed…. but one that is let down by superficial writing. It was thuddingly obvious to me that the creatures in the storm were the missing Illyrian colonists… and so it would have been better had Pike and Spock been more pro-active at guessing that, as opposed to acting confused long after what was going on was crystal clear to me as a viewer. I wish they’d done more investigating down on the surface, as opposed to being so passive. I wish the end of the episode had told us more about what happened to the Illyrians (surely they didn’t ALL turn into storm zombies, did they?) and I wish we’d seen an effort by Pike and Spock to communicate with them after the creatures saved them from the storm.
- Meanwhile, in an episode all about a genetically-engineered civilization, how did La’an’s connection to the genetically-engineered Khan not come more into play? I was expecting to see her feel isolated in this situation; perhaps even to have some Enterprise crew-members suspecting her of some connection with the disease being spread. But that was all ignored; instead her Khan-background was only used in scenes related to Una’s hidden backstory. (Also: if La’an is descended from Khan, doesn’t that suggest that she has some genetically-modified DNA that’s been passed down to her? So isn’t she herself genetically-modified? The episode seems to suggest that’s not the case, and that La’an only suffered from prejudiced accusations of being an Augment… but that doesn’t really make sense to me.)
- As for the revelation about Una: it’s a little underwhelming; I wanted to better see her mounting desperation that a secret she’s kept her entire life might be the only thing that can save her shipmates. Also, we’ve already gotten this whole story before with Dr. Bashir on DS9. (That this whole story plays out on SNW a hundred years earlier feels like a continuity problem to me. If Una is as capable a Starfleet officer as we think she is, wouldn’t that have helped prompt Starfleet to revisit this ban on genetic engineering long before Bashir? Or is the idea that the show is going to keep this a secret and Pike’s not going to report it to Starfleet? I wish the end of the episode had better clarified that. Does the whole ship know Una’s secret now, or just Pike, M’Benga, Chapel, and La’an? Again, a better-written show wouldn’t leave that so unclear at the end.) Una’s being an Illyrian comes from Star Trek novels (I believe that connection originated in the novel Vulcan’s Glory by DC Fontana), which is very cool. (Though the whole business about this being a secret because the Illyrians were genetically engineered is new here in this episode.) I loved Pike in that final scene with Una; Anson Mount is great, and I love that Pike is so kind to Una and supportive of her. (My only complaint there is that it’s so obvious that Pike isn’t going to accept Una’s resignation that the scene doesn’t have any tension.) I’ll also note that we’ve seen Illyrians before on Star Trek, on the Enterprise episode “Damage”. Those Illyrians look totally different than Una, but because this episode establishes that the Illyrians modify themselves genetically to fit different environments, it’s not an inconsistency.
- M’Benga’s secret was also underwhelming, because it seems so dumb (surely there are a million reasons why power on a Starship could be interrupted, which would mean doom for his daughter in the transporter buffer) and implausible (no one noticed that M’Benga’s daughter disappeared? No one noticed that he was refusing to allow any maintenance or upgrades done to the medical transporter?). And as with Una’s story, too much was left unexplained. Is M’Benga married? Where is his wife? Still, Babs Olusanmokun played those scenes with great pathos; he’s really terrific. I already quite love M’Benga.
- I loved getting to see more of the blind engineer Hemmer; he’s great. Though isn’t it a failure of storytelling not to have your blind character be able to be helpful in a story about a disease transmitted by light??
- It was a little disappointing to see an Ion Storm depicted as, well, basically just a big storm in space. (I think Discovery had already made this obvious choice in its earlier depiction of an Ion Storm, a few years ago.) Still, the visual effects were gorgeous. (Ion storms have been mentioned frequently but little seen on Trek... such as in the Original Series episode “Mirror Mirror”.) I also really liked the look of the deserted Illyrian colony on the surface; that was very well-executed. The production values on this show are terrific. Also, I’ve been complaining about the way they’ve been depicting the motion of the Enterprise; but I was pleased how awesome that gorgeous last shot was, of the Enterprise leaving the system.
- As usual, I wish the writers paid better attention to the sci-fi reality of this (admittedly fictional) universe. Una orders a level 5 diagnostic on all the ship’s systems, which sounds super-in-depth because Hemmer complains that will take all night, but, while previous Trek shows have been a little inconsistent about this sort of thing, I believe in general it’s been established that it’s a level ONE diagnostic that’s the most serious, not the other way around. Also, it doesn’t make sense to me that any problem with the bio-filters in M’Benga’s un-updated medical transporter would have affected the process in Kyle’s main transporter room, just because Hemmer was drawing power from it. Also, when Una needs to stop the infected La’an from destabilizing the warp core, why doesn’t Una just stun her with a phaser? Why do they have to have a fist-fight? Also, why do the writers give us two of the exact same scenes at the end: First, Una comes clean to Pike and just asks for a small favor before being discharged; he says no, which she at first interprets to mean he’s so stern that won’t give her that favor, while we know obviously it’s because he’s going to help her. Then the EXACT SAME THING happens when Una confronts M’Benga!!! Such lazy writing!!
- M’Benga says that a person can be stored in a transporter buffer forever without degradation, as long as they’re periodically materialized. That somewhat contradicts previous Trek, which has suggested that the pattern will degrade eventually. On the other hand, TNG’s “Relics” suggested that Scotty managed to store himself, unharmed, in a transporter buffer for decades. I’d always attributed that to Scotty’s “miracle worker” genius, but maybe that means it shouldn’t be a problem for M’Benga’s daughter to last even a few years in the buffer.
- I liked the Una-Uhura scene; it’s nice to see Uhura getting a solid scene even in an episode in which she has otherwise little to do. Ortega, though, continues to get the shaft. We’ve learned nothing about her so far. (Her one scene is finding the landing party dude smashing his head through the light-fixture in the Enterprise’s corridor. Why wasn’t it Ortegas herself who was on the landing party and been the first one to get sick??)
- Why were many of the sick crew members in sickbay stripped down to their undies? Speaking of sickbay, there’s one clearly CGI-assisted wide shot of sickbay which shows it as being crazily HUGE. I again object to how open and enormous every set on this ship is. This is not what the original Enterprise looked or felt like. (We also get a better look at the mostly-CGI main engineering and it’s just as bad as I’d feared from the brief glimpse in the premiere. It’s actually a cool-looking set… it’s just totally inconsistent with anything we’ve seen before in the original Enterprise… or ANY other Federation starship for that matter!! I feel a little better about the ship’s mess hall… which is also inconsistent with anything from the Original Series. But I like the idea of the huge Ten-Forward-like windows, and the end of the episode shows the series can use their huge digital effects screens to create cool-looking vistas in the windows, as opposed to the generic star-field always seen out the Ten-Forward windows on TNG.)
- The episode establishes that Una’s genetic modifications save her from death by radiation from the destabilized warp core. So… this can surely be used to help protect Pike from his future death-by-radiation-poisoning, right…???
- I was intrigued to learn that this episode was directed by Leslie Hope, who played Kira Maru (Kira Nerys’ mom!) on DS9!
04 — “Memento Mori”
- Overall this was a strong episode with a fun, taut narrative and lots of good character moments as the crew were split into small groups during the catastrophe. I think this was the best episode of SNW so far and one of the best episodes of all modern Trek.
- But that’s not saying much. And, on the other hand, it’s weakened by the familiarity of its concept: we’ve seen almost this exact same story on DS9′s “Starship Down” and also TNG’s “Disaster”, not to mention TOS’ “Balance of Terror” and of course Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
- It’s also weakened by some sloppy storytelling and inconsistencies, particularly in the setup. Why couldn’t the Enterprise raise shields when attached to the smaller ship? (We’ve seen many examples before of Starfleet vessels extending their shields to cover other ships. Even if that’s not possible with the shields of this era’s Enterprise, which aren’t yet the bubble-type shields seen on TNG, I don’t see how this would have been a problem. All they needed to do was sharpen that technobabble line to say something about how the ship couldn’t maneuver well when attached to the other ship, which made them an easy target — or to show how an explosion on the smaller ship could have damaged the Enterprise even within their shield coverage. Adding to the sloppiness, moments after hearing that the Enterprise couldn’t raise its shields when attached to the ship, a bridge officer reports that shields are at 60%. So they were able to raise their shields after all??) I didn’t have any idea until reading about the episode online afterwards what the object was in the cargo bay that Hemmer and Uhura were working on that turned into a potential bomb. (Turns out it was the atmospheric processor they were supposed to deliver to the colony. Surely an early scene could have better explained what that was so as to set up the danger of their whole storyline.) The show sets up that officers are wearing pins on Starfleet Remembrance Day of ships they served on that lost crew; so why don’t senior officers like Pike and Spock wear multiple pins? Why is Uhura wearing a pin, since she’s a cadet on her first mission? At the end, the Enterprise is moving at incredible speeds through the turbulent edge of a black hole — I cannot possibly believe the thin tether (of what looks like fabric or canvas) would hold to keep Hemmer and Uhura connected to the ship. I also didn’t understand how the shuttle used their lights/signals to convince the Gorn to blow up their own smaller ship — why would the Gorn believe any signal from a Federation ship? And how did La’an’s brother have enough time to crack the Gorn code and write a whole journal about it?
- Using the Gorn is an interesting choice. On the one hand, I’d love to see some on-screen canonical exploration of the Gorn. They’re cool aliens who have not been much used on Trek. I liked the look in this episode of the small, spinning Gorn ships, and also the very weird, organic-looking larger vessel. On the other hand, we again run into the prequel problem here in that the show has its hands tied behind its back, because when Kirk meets a Gorn in “Arena” he doesn’t know anything about them or what they look like. This episode doesn’t violate that canon (though it edges up against it because La’an has seen the Gorn), which I was happy about. But it’s somewhat unsatisfying as a viewer to feel like the show is planting seeds about the Gorn that will presumably lead to future episodes, when we know they won’t ever be able to actually do too much with them. It won’t be Pike who is able to eventually find common ground with these scary aliens; Kirk does that. (It also doesn’t feel like the show will be able to really resolve the character/story arc of La’an’s declaration that the Gorn are evil and cannot be negotiated with. Again, that can’t really be disproven until after Kirk.) If this show were set AFTER the Original Series, they’d have much more freedom to use and explore the Gorn. As it is, I would have preferred that they have just created an original alien race who could be the ones who tortured La’an in her past and who are menacing Federation worlds now.
- As in the premiere, I really enjoyed the Pike-Spock-La’an dynamic. I like La’an. If it wasn’t for her stupid Khan connection I’d really be into this character. I liked her learning more in this episode about what it means to be in command. I liked that she and Spock got more time together. I liked the mind-meld sequence. Props to Ethan Peck for holding his fingers exactly correctly, just as Leonard Nimoy used to do.
- On the other hand, La’an’s gain is, again, Number One’s loss, as Una is once again sidelined, this time because she’s grievously injured in sickbay. This was a missed opportunity to allow us to see Una’s strength in a crisis.
- M’Benga and Chapel continue to be fun, though Chapel’s informal language feels totally out of character for the Nurse Chapel we know from TOS. I do quite like this SNW Nurse Chapel… she just feels totally different from the TOS Chapel. As with La’an, I wish they’d dropped the attempt at fan-service connection and just made her a totally original character.
- Hey, remember last week when I said that M’Benga’s storing his daughter in the transporter buffer on a starship seemed like a terrible idea, given the dangers starships must regularly encounter? Well, how did her pattern survive the power interruptions the ship suffered this week? Why didn’t we get a moment of M’Benga being worried about that and checking to make sure his medical transporter’s computer was still functioning?
- I love Hemmer and I really enjoyed his pairing with Uhura. Great stuff for both of them. I liked getting to see the ship’s cargo bay, which looked cool (albeit, again, totally wrong for the pre-TOS Enterprise). (It looked to me like the cargo bay was open to space throughout the episode, which looked cool visually, but felt to me like a problem. Aren’t there actual bay doors that close? Wouldn’t that force field protecting them from space have shut down when the Enterprise was in crisis? Even if it didn’t, shouldn’t cadet Uhura have at least spared a look and a worried line of dialogue about that?)
- I was glad that they included a brief moment with Kyle, who barely survives only to witness the crew person next to him perish.
- Some beautiful visual effects this week, undercut by the Enterprise again zipping around too much like the Millennium Falcon. Oy.
- Gravitational redshift feels to me like it would affect visual observation, but I wouldn’t think the Gorn’s sensors wouldn’t be fooled by that.
- I liked hearing the name Shuttlecraft Galileo. I liked the design of the shuttlecraft’s interior, which feels like a nice modernization of the TOS design. My only complaint is that, like everything on this show, it feels way too big and spacious for the TOS era.
- I’ve complained about Discovery’s having the ship get blown to bits pretty much every episode, which always has me rolling my eyes. SNW had avoided that so far, but the Enterprise takes incredible damage here. How would the ship not need to be in drydock for months for repairs after this??? Will this be addressed next week? I really hope this doesn’t become a pattern on this show too. I like action, and I’m OK seeing the ship get damaged occasionally. But when it happens every week and then is all magically repaired the next week, it feels unbelievable to me.
05 — “Spock Amok”
- I wasn’t expecting to like this episode, but I found myself engaged with all of the multiple storylines running through it.
- The episode opens with Spock dreaming of, well, the episode “Amok Time”. It’s fun to see that iconic Vulcan setting recreated. I was impressed by the strong fidelity to the original, enhanced by some fun-to-see CGI expansions of the location. It was fun to hear that “Amok Time” music. But, in “Amok Time”, T’Pring’s choosing the ritual combat was supposed to be a shock, so it deflates that moment to have Spock dreaming about that exact scenario years before. This is the problem with prequels. Also: that was some dress on T’Pring. Also: Spock fighting himself is sort of goofy fun, but a little too on the nose for my tastes.
- I didn’t love the body-swapping premise. Too much modern Trek leans into this type of silly fantasy, as opposed to actual science-fiction. And as is also sadly usual for modern Trek, they don’t bother to give us any actual explanation for why/how the situation happened. We’re just expected to go with it. That being said, I did enjoy following both Spock and T’Pring on their adventures. Both actors did great work.
- I liked the La’an-Una story. It’s fun to see that friendship developed.
- I loved seeing the new version of Kirk’s green tunic from TOS that Pike was wearing in this episode. That’s the type of gentle modernization of a classic TOS look that I wish I saw more of on this show.
- I like all of the Spock-Chapel scenes, particularly the conversation in which she gives Spock some gentle advice on his relationship with T’Pring. I like seeing their friendship. And I liked when Spock actually makes a joke at the end of that scene (“what are friends for?”)!
- I like how when speaking Vulcan, T’Pring pronounces Spock’s name as “Spoch”, just like the pronunciation heard in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I appreciated that attention to detail!
- I didn’t love hearing La’an say that “it feels like Christmas”. Why are we referencing a Christian holiday in our utopian, post-religion future? (Yes, I am aware that Christianity was occasionally referenced in TOS. But as Trek developed, Roddenberry’s thinking evolved on that. As a viewer who is not Christian, this type of reference feels very out of place in Star Trek.)
- In general, I enjoyed watching La’an and Una play Enterprise Bingo, though they shouldn’t have been able to figure phasers at one another in the corridors. As we know from Star Trek VI, no one can fire an unauthorized phaser on a starship,
- I liked Spock’s final monologue to T’Pring about his complex feelings toward Vulcan. It’s interesting: this is a more centered, self-aware Spock than I’d expect for this era. It feels a little incorrect, continuity-wise. But, on the other hand, I do like this version of Spock! So I can go with it. They’re giving nuance to T’Pring too… which on the one hand I appreciate, even though it feels weird and a little pointless because we know how this story is going to end. (I also never imagined from “Amok Time” that Spock and T’Pring had an actual relationship as adults. My understanding from that episode was that they were betrothed as children but had seen little of one another since then.)
- It’s nice to see Admiral Robert April back. I’d love for him to continue to be a character on the show.
I’m enjoying SNW more than I’d expected to so far, even while continuing to see so many of the problems that have plagued all the modern Star Trek shows (except Lower Decks). I’m interested to see how the back half of this first season goes…!
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