Star Trek: Strange New Worlds – Season 2 Episode 5

Jul 13, 2023 | Posted by in TV
Strange New Worlds


Star Trek: Strange New Worlds takes the Vulcan out of Spock just as he has to perform an intricate ritual for his future in-laws.

Mike Slamer; my We Are Starfleet co-host once said that Star Trek is more in line with the CW than HBO in terms of style. What he meant by this is that Star Trek‘s storytelling sensibilities are more aligned with network TV than the prestige that HBO has become known for. This isn’t a bad thing as the storytelling is tailored for the intended audience so those that write and produce Star Trek aren’t aiming to be regarded in the same league as prestige dramas like Breaking Bad or Better Call Saul. The CW comparison is particularly amusing because that network was once known for very particular tropes such as love triangles and general romance-driven storytelling. Much is made of whether two characters will get together and endless speculation strikes up in fandom communities over which romantic partner a character will choose.

Star Trek

Might be a good idea not to go near that

Strange New Worlds has made romance-driven storytelling one of its priorities. The first episode of the show featured Spock’s engagement and a background element has been Chapel’s attraction to Spock that may not be unreciprocated. Indeed, the previous episode had Pike making a firm commitment to Captain Batel so there is a firm focus on who the attractive crewmembers will end up pairing up with. Once again, it’s not a bad thing but it’s a clear priority and is a major fixture in this episode.

“Charades” is a broadly comedic episode and I am a viewer that has a difficult relationship with comedy. It is of course subjective so something that will amuse one viewer may not amuse another. My view is that Star Trek typically does comedy very badly. Last season’s “Spock Amok” -also the fifth episode of the season- is just such a marmite episode that many enjoyed because of its comedic tone and others found it frustrating for that same reason.

This episode is similar in that it takes place during some downtime for most of the crew. The Enterprise is conducting a routine mission and Pike is in no hurry to complete it in order to give his crew some much-needed time to relax. Outside of a shuttle accident, there is no life-threatening jeopardy in the episode which makes for a refreshing change as the majority of the challenges to overcome are character-driven. The audience is expected to invest fully in various characters achieving a personal objective rather than a threat to their lives.

Star Trek

Human for a day

The central problem is that Spock is made fully Human after evolved beings known as the Kerkovians get confused about his mixed heritage and change him so that his genetic makeup matches. One of Spock’s defining pillars is his difficulty resolving his Vulcan and Human halves into a fully functional whole. He is always wrestling with his identity and sense of self, something that has exacerbated after unleashing the full extent of his anger rendered him unable to push it down inside as he once did. His log entry and the accompanying montage provide a reminder of this struggle along with an example of how he goes about managing it when he takes cleans up after Sam during a briefing to remove the emotional trigger. It’s active management of his fractured emotional control and an amusing beat early in the episode.

Spock is typically depicted as embracing his Vulcan side more than his Human one which means that he suppresses his emotions like Vulcans do and follows the path of logic rather than allowing his feelings to rise to the surface. He is presently finding it more difficult to keep his feelings in check which is intensifying the conflict between his halves. Removing his Vulcan half from the equation completely gives him a unique opportunity to explore his Human side in ways that would have been impossible before.

The removal of his Vulcan genes brings an onslaught of Human emotion that Spock isn’t prepared for. At first, he finds it fascinating to be experiencing the full range of emotions as they happen but quickly finds it overwhelming as he’s used to taking a more measured approach to expressing or cataloguing his feelings. One thing he quickly realises is that people are uneasy around him because of the way he expresses himself. part of it is down to how unusual it is to see Spock behave in this way and part of it is down to the intensity of the emotional expression. An example of this is his hysterical laughter at a joke Ortegas tells causing everyone else present to do a double take and make him feel self-conscious. Another is when he makes a conversation with La’an awkward because he admits he’s sexually attracted to her and the most amusing is his outburst at Sam Kirk failing to clean up his mess during a briefing.

Star Trek

Sometimes things are so bad you just have to laugh

All of this is aiming to amuse rather than say something profound about Spock but the humour is found in his lack of self-control without his Vulcan side tempering him. His condition is treated as something temporary that must be cured, It isn’t life-threatening but it’s also counter to the natural order and Spock never expresses any desire to remain Human. His experiences do highlight that making him fully Human doesn’t automatically fix the issues he has relating to others because he goes too far in the other direction though it’s never really acknowledged that after a period of adjustment, he may prefer being more emotionally raw than he’s used to. It’s unsettling because Spock and those around them haven’t adjusted to this change.

In fairness, it’s in keeping with many other Star Trek stories where a character undergoes a temporary change of some sort that is fun to play with over the course of an episode but there are no actual consequences that extend beyond it. Episodes like The Original Series‘ “The Enemy Within”, Enterprise‘s “Impulse”, Voyager‘s “Faces” and “Meld” and many more feature similar ideas.

The major difference between this episode and those examples is that there are consequences. Not telling T’Pring prompts her to suggest that they take a break from their relationship while both of them consider their priorities. This in turn frees Spock up to begin a relationship with Chapel without making him unfaithful to T’Pring. Debates can be had about the timing but Spock is unquestionably unattached when beginning a relationship with Chapel.

Star Trek

Mother knows best

Chapel and Spock acting on their attraction constitutes a canon breach as their dynamic in The Original Series was that Chapel was in love with him and he was incapable of recognising it. That is fundamentally not the case here and it will be a deal breaker for some viewers. It works in the context of this show as it was established very early on that Chapel was attracted to Spock and he was aware of it whether that be through his own emotional understanding or having it pointed out to him by others. Persisting with the dynamic of her flirting with him and having him be torn between her and T’Pring would become repetitive very quickly and most members of the audience would likely be frustrated with the lack of progression.

There are only two options for the progression of their relationship. One is what happens in this episode; they act on their attraction and get together. The other is that they acknowledge there is something between them and agree that they shouldn’t be any more than friends or colleagues. This episode features Chapel applying for an opportunity that will take her away from the Enterprise so perhaps the latter could have come with the convenient timing of Chapel leaving the ship so that both have time to process their feelings without having to see each other. That isn’t what happens as the episode ends with them kissing and presumably consummating their relationship.

To my mind, the canon breach as it will be known isn’t a major issue because it makes sense in the context of what this show has delivered. The third episode of the season already established that the timeline has been altered so there is no need for Strange New Worlds to adhere to the canon of The Original Series. It’s perhaps best to describe this show as inspired by it rather than being a true prequel and there is an in-universe explanation for any differences that will be introduced. This doesn’t mean the audience has to like it but the justification is there in the framework of the show and to suggest otherwise would be incorrect.

Star Trek

Enter the in-laws

Spock and Chapel are well-written and well-performed characters and the actors playing them have excellent chemistry. Providing an opportunity to make use of that chemistry and give the actors more interesting material to play is preferred to repeating the same narrative beats constantly. There is far more potential for them to navigate a developing romantic relationship than there is with a tired trope-ridden love triangle as has been suggested previously. The focus on romantic connections in this show won’t be to everyone’s taste but there’s no denying it’s a natural progression in what has been set up.

Spock being fully Human allows him to understand his mother in ways that he was previously unable to. The episode manufactures a situation where Spock as a Human has to perfectly follow an intricate Vulcan ritual just as his mother will have had to do countless times. This puts him in a position to understand and appreciate what she had to deal with as a Human among Vulcans. The way she navigates and adapts to their customs is to be commended and shows Spock that her life as the wife of Sarek won’t have been an easy one. This episode has several examples of casual racism and bigotry directed at her from T’Pring’s mother, T’Prel (Elora Patnaik) because she is convinced that Vulcans are obviously superior to Humans.

It may not be indicative of general Vulcan attitudes but it’s certainly T’Prel’s view of Humanity and something Amanda has encountered with other Vulcans who feel the same. She has learned to turn the other cheek and not take such jibes personally which is a testament to her patience as well as her commitment to both Sarek and her son that she allows herself to be treated this way. Ultimately he speaks out against the treatment of his mother and highlights that Humans are more than capable of observing the ritual as precisely as any Vulcan and Spock takes pride in his mother’s Humanity when articulating that to T’Prel. It’s a moment of triumph for him that signifies that he values his Human heritage as well as his mother, particularly after understanding the weight of what she has endured.

Star Trek

Fake it till you make it

There are issues in the execution of the ritual plot. The setup is very sitcom-esque with an elaborate deception being concocted to cover something up just as an important event is to take place. In this case, Spock is rendered fully Human just as he has to convince his future in-laws that he is as Vulcan as they come and a worthy partner for T’Pring. It’s a ludicrous setup that could have easily been avoided with telling at least a version of the truth which makes it difficult to buy into the situation. The episode prioritises comedy which means that some of Spock relating to his mother in a new and compelling way is lost in favour of setting up jokes and dealing with the absurdity of Spock having to learn how to be Vulcan again so that he can live up to T’Prel’s nigh impossible standards. Some of the comedy lands and some of it doesn’t though mileage will vary on the effectiveness of the attempts due to the subjective nature of comedy but the setups and payoffs are often logical and naturally lead into the next comedic situation. Part of what sells it is Ethan Peck’s excellent performance.

Unfortunately, this episode doesn’t have an awful lot to say about Spock as a character. He does come away from the experience appreciating his mother more and in theory, is more comfortable with the concept of attraction as Humans experience it but the episode doesn’t do much to explore either of these things. The duality of Spock has been a fixture of the franchise for almost as long as it has existed and this was an ideal opportunity to explore this in detail. There is no moment of reflection from Spock after his Vulcan half was explored to allow him to articulate the impact the experience had on him. It may have been interesting for him to summarise whether he misses being fully Human or what he missed about his Vulcan half. This should be profound and barring a few exceptions it largely wasn’t which is unfortunate.

The Kerkovians are an intriguing addition. Star Trek has more than its share of Godlike beings that have transcended physical form and are capable of feats indistinguishable from magic. In this case, they misunderstand Spock’s genetics and remove his Vulcan side but are initially unwilling to reverse the process because they don’t see any issue with what they did. It’s something of a contrivance that such an advanced race would regard Spock’s Vulcan half as an anomaly that needed to be removed but it works well enough as a setup. The Kerkovians are an element within the episode rather than the point of the episode which means they receive minimal exploration. They are an advanced race of Customer Service Representatives who are very strict with their complaints policy.

Star Trek

Can I speak to your manager?

They feed into Chapel’s emotional resolution. She wants to put Spock back the way he was and in order to do so, she has to confess her true feelings for him. I mentioned earlier that Star Trek leans into CW sensibilities when it comes to its storytelling and building a resolution around a character admitting they’re in love with another character is something that would be right at home on a CW show that prioritises relationship drama. It’s very much a feature rather than a bug and not a bad thing though it won’t be to everyone’s taste and is something more associated with the modern era of Star Trek than the Berman era. It works in context because it’s a development point for Chapel who has been established as someone who strays away from that level of emotional honesty. She has previously been shown to favour more casual connections so admitting the extent of her feelings for Spock is a major step for her and being willing to be so emotionally honest to restore Spock shows how deeply she feels for him.

It’s an important episode for Chapel in other ways as she takes pride in both herself and her accomplishments. Her desire to prove herself to the interviewer in order to be accepted for the opportunity mirrors Spock looking for T’Prel’s approval in that both are trying to live up to impossibly high standards. Their handling of it is also mirrored as Spock takes pride in his Humanity when standing up to T’Prel and Chapel takes pride in her accomplishments when the interviewer denies her the opportunity. Chapel proudly declares what she has done and encourages him to read about it when she publishes her paper. The point is that she doesn’t need external validation to know her value just as Spock doesn’t need the validation of T’Prel. Of course, it keeps Chapel on the Enterprise which is good for the show but it also acts as a personal affirmation that she is exactly where she needs to be.

Star Trek

This was bound to happen


A good episode that features some important development for Chapel as well as a logically executed sitcom-esque setup that delivers some effective comedy.

  • 7/10
    "Charades" - 7/10


Kneel Before…

  • effective contrasts created when Spock is made fully Human
  • the natural progression of Spock and Chapel’s relationship
  • Spock gained a deeper appreciation for his mother and their shared Humanity
  • comedic setups and payoffs being logical and naturally leading into the next comedic situation
  • Chapel’s emotionally honest admission flowing naturally from her established traits
  • Chapel taking pride in herself and her accomplishments


Rise Against…

  • the focus on comedy preventing the episode from saying anything profound about Spock’s duality
  • the ludicrous sitcom-esque setup that is difficult to buy into
  • some comedy that doesn’t land


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User Review
8.75/10 (4 votes)

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