Star Trek: Strange New Worlds – Season 1 Episode 2

May 12, 2022 | Posted by in TV
Strange New Worlds

“Children of the Comet”

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds has the crew working to prevent a comet hitting an inhabited planet as Uhura adjusts to life on the Enterprise.

Two episodes in and this show is very much delivering on the promise of being episodic. The other live action shows have adopted a serialised approach where this one looks to be far more traditional in that each episode has a self contained plot with continuity being supplied through the characters. This episode offers another example of what that looks like and looks to prove that episodic storytelling can still have a place in the modern television landscape.

Strange New Worlds

Dinner with the crew

Uhura takes the character focus here with others feeding into her arc. This approach will be familiar to fans of the ensemble driven shows The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager. Episodes would be divided up between the characters though some would get more episodes than others. Focusing on Uhura this soon is an interesting and welcome choice as she is well placed to be the audience perspective since it’s natural for her to be told and shown how things work on the Enterprise. The viewer can learn as she does and the deep insight into the character prevents the setup from being mechanical.

The episode begins with a personal log detailing that she is on Away Team rotation and has been invited to Pike’s quarters for dinner. She emerges from the turbolift clad in her dress uniform hoping to impress and make an impression. She realises she has been pranked when seeing Ortegas dressed casually and curses her inability to predict that. This is a great detail as it adds a layer of reality to the Enterprise through showing that normal workplace practices such as hazing the new people are still in play. It adds texture to the Enterprise as a setting and helps sell that it is crewed by people who have their own traditions and find ways to make their own fun. Ortegas is shown to be relaxed and settled into her role through her casual wear which suggests that it’s a relaxed and welcoming environment.

Throwing a dinner where crew from all over the ship are invited says a lot about Pike’s command style. Ortegas explicitly points out that Pike likes to know what is going on all over the ship so takes the time to get to know every member of his crew. The dinner itself establishes this visually so expending dialogue explaining it isn’t necessary though it makes sense in context for Ortegas to explain this to Uhura. Pike’s personable demeanour and relaxed approach to command supports this and further adds to the idea of the Enterprise being a positive environment. It’s worldbuilding through character and adds a lot of depth to the show in ways that feel natural.

Strange New Worlds

We can’t let that happen

Pike’s dinner gives Uhura the opportunity to talk about her personal history. It’s a little contrived to have Pike directly ask her to summarise herself in this way but the setting goes a long way towards disguising it and it provides a definitive setup for Uhura’s arc in this episode. Notably Uhura is fleshed out more here than she was in the entirety of The Original Series or in the alternate reality movies. She talks about where she’s from, what motivated her to pursue studying languages and how she ended up in Starfleet. Regrettably she has a tragic backstory with her parents being killed in a shuttle accident. Tragic backstories are a crutch that modern Star Trek writers lean on far too frequently. On this show alone La’an and Uhura have tragic histories and Pike has a tragic future. It’s an unnecessary detail for Uhura that doesn’t add anything meaningful to her character. She brings up the death of her parents and it doesn’t factor into the episode again nor does it seem to be all that foundational to who she is. It is mentioned that she joined Starfleet because the prospect of studying at the university her parents taught at was unsettling to her. This establishes that Starfleet wasn’t her first choice and justifies her uncertainty around whether Starfleet is where she belongs. All of this could have been accomplished without making the tragic loss of her parents part of her history; it comes across as a forced attempt to encourage the audience to connect with her when Celia Rose Gooding is doing more than enough to accomplish that through her performance.

Supporting her arc is Spock who acts as a mentor figure to her throughout the episode. He starts off with being brutally honest with her around what she said about being in Starfleet. His advice is for Uhura to not waste time in coming to a conclusion because it’s unfair to those who want to be where she is but were denied the opportunity because Uhura proved herself. This makes Uhura feel guilty about her uncertainty and forces her to think seriously about her life choices. Spock’s unforgiving teaching approach may seem harsh but it’s also unambiguous and gives Uhura the clarity to focus her thoughts on what she wants out of life. The episode is about her deciding if she belongs on the Enterprise and the plot supports that. It’s another contrivance for the mission supporting her development needs but it’s done well.

Uhura and Spock’s general dynamic is interesting. Outside of the unforgiving mentor/mentee relationship Uhura tries to relate to him on a personal level by making conversation and actively trying to find common ground that could form the basis of a friendship. Spock is less than receptive to this which ties into the lack of balance between his Human and Vulcan sides. Making meaningful connections is difficult for him, particularly with Humans and he seems to regard Uhura as someone in need of guidance rather than being a viable candidate for friendship. Uhura attempting to relate to him is similar to her communicating with the runaway alien in the first episode where she quickly identified common ground and used that to base communication. It doesn’t quite work with Spock but her approach is similar.

Strange New Worlds

Cross that off the bucket list

Her first Away Mission puts her life in danger and she reacts in a realistic way. She is naturally afraid but also falls back on her training in order to manage her fear. Spock provides his version of a pep talk that doesn’t really help but does help her realise that an analytical approach can help in handling the surrounding danger. She also comes to realise how important her individual skills are in solving the problem. The solution is stumbled onto when she hums a song to calm her nerves and the apparatus reacts to it. This shows her that her skills can be used to save lives and that her natural inclination to understand things feeds into that. Music is broken down into mathematics while being used as a method of communication. As said it is contrived that Uhura’s precise skill set is exactly what is required on this occasion but it feeds nicely into the growth of her confidence and her eventual realisation that a career in Starfleet might be for her after all.

The threat of the comet hitting a planet with a developing species on it makes for an engaging problem. It allows the action to be split neatly between the Away Team and the Enterprise as they all play their part in trying to divert the comet. Complicating matters further are the Shepherds; represented by an alien on the viewscreen and a formidable ship. They are interested in the comet because they believe it to be a God and have pledged to stop anyone who stands in its way. As far as they’re concerned if the comet -or Mahanit- hits the planet then that’s what is supposed to happen. There isn’t anything more to them than their unflinching belief though they do serve their function as a difficult obstacle for the crew to overcome.

Their zealotry makes them completely unreasonable so the only recourse is a violent one, at least at first. Notably the Enterprise is no match for them so they have to be defeated using strategy. This provides further insight into Pike’s command style. He’s adaptable, knows his ship and is confident in the capabilities of his crew. He most clearly demonstrates the latter when he gives Ortegas encouragement about her piloting skills before she promptly shows him exactly how skilled she is.

Strange New Worlds

A new problem

The actual resolution is very strategic though relies on a technicality and the Shepherds being stupid enough to accept what Pike does at face value. He fakes a systems failure when right in the path of the comet and asks the Shepherds to help them while reminding them that failing to mount a rescue would mean that the comet collides with them which would be counter to its wishes as per their beliefs. It’s understandable why Pike does this but it’s unquestionably dishonest as he plays on their unwavering beliefs. The execution of the plan is a little frustrating as it leans on the trope of the characters knowing what the plan is while being deliberately vague about it so that the viewer will learn as it plays out. It doesn’t come with a strong enough reveal to merit the mystery though the visuals and general excitement of the sequence were more than enough to make up for the frustration. It’s a very good looking show and this set piece made great use of the available elements.

Arguably diverting the comet counts as a breach of General Order One -aka the Prime Directive- though it depends on how you view the implementation of it across the franchise. For example in Star Trek Into Darkness; the alternate reality version of Pike reprimands Kirk for stopping a volcano from erupting and killing a species. The argument is that the natural course of evolution for the species is to be wiped out following the eruption because it would happen if the crew of the Enterprise weren’t there to intervene. What the film doesn’t address is the morality issue of leaving people to die when you know you can do something to prevent it. The implication is that Kirk and his crew couldn’t accept standing idly by and watching a species go extinct so they took action and did everything they could to save them without being seen. That failed but an attempt was made. The Next Generation episode “Pen Pals” is a similar problem thought that comes with the added complication of a definitive request for help. Picard has a long discussion with his senior staff weighing up the implications of disobeying the Prime Directive before deciding to use their resources to prevent a species from going extinct. There are other examples throughout the franchise but those two are clear indicators that the rule applies even in the case of extinction which isn’t easy for those of good conscience to accept.

In this example there is no debate; it is identified that they can save a species by diverting a comet so they make it their business to do so. In addition the act of saving them ends up making significant changes to the planet due to pieces of the comet interacting with the atmosphere. This makes the planet more liveable because more water is produced so it’s ultimately a benefit for the native species though clear interference on the part of the Enterprise crew. Granted it couldn’t be predicted but it stands out that General Order One isn’t referenced at all. Reference is made to the comet’s course and the possibility that what happened was preordained. It’s a question that is posed and not answered because it can’t be fully explained by science. Pike’s experiences during the second season of Discovery could believably encourage him to be more spiritual or at least open to ideas beyond science. This is left as a mystery and an acknowledgement that some things in the universe are beyond their understanding.

The question around whether these events were meant to play out as they did or if the Enterprise crew had any choice in the matter resonates with Pike personally. Even though this show is living up to the promise of being episodic there are serialised elements with the most prominent being Pike’s seemingly inevitable future. The comet example naturally feeds into questions around how indelible his fate might be with Una specifically prompting him to consider the possibility of preventing it. Pike is aware of the experience in excruciating detail down to the sights sounds and smells as well as the names of every young person he will come to save. Una’s point is that knowing what’s coming surely means that it’s possible to prevent it which is enough to get Pike thinking. Spending time on this seems futile unless a significant change in canon is in the offing or the inevitability angle will be covered in an interesting and surprising way. Otherwise this arc is futile as it is already known Pike will fail to change the future. Una being persistent in trying to tear down his blind acceptance does further reinforce the Star Trek hopeful optimism that this show so far routinely displays.

Strange New Worlds

Your skills come in handy in unexpected ways


Verdict

A strong episode that makes for an impressive showcase for Uhura, presents a fun adventure driven plot and stars to show how the Enterprise functions as a community. Uhura being the focus of this episode was a smart choice as she is new to the Enterprise so is ideally placed to be told and shown how things work. The viewer can learn as she does and questions being asked by her won’t be out of place. Beginning the episode with her being pranked into wearing her dress uniform to a casual dinner in Captain Pike’s quarters was a great detail as it adds a layer of reality to the Enterprise through showing that normal workplace practices such as hazing the new people are still in play. It adds texture to the Enterprise as a setting and helps sell that it is crewed by people who have their own traditions and find ways to make their own fun. Ortegas being relaxed and in casual wear suggests that it’s a fun and welcoming environment. Throwing a dinner where crew from all over the ship are invited says a lot about Pike’s command style. The dinner itself establishes how much he values his crew visually and his personable demeanour along with relaxed approach supports this. It’s worldbuilding through character and adds a lot of depth in ways that feel natural. Pike being interested in his crew creates a natural opportunity to talk about her personal history. Asking her directly is a little contrived but the setting mostly disguises it and it provides a definitive setup for Uhura’s arc in the episode. Giving her a tragic backstory is unnecessary particularly when it has no real bearing on her development in the rest of the episode. It adds nothing meaningful to her character and forces additional weight to her decision to join Starfleet while attempting to justify her uncertainty around whether she belongs there. Supporting this arc is Spock acting as a mentor figure. His brutal honesty in the beginning was an interesting choice and prompts Uhura to feel guilty about her uncertainty. Spock’s unforgiving teaching approach may seem harsh but it’s also unambiguous and gives Uhura the clarity to focus her thoughts on what she wants out of life. The episode is about her deciding if she belongs on the Enterprise and the plot supports that. It’s another contrivance for the mission supporting her development needs but it’s done well. Uhura and Spock’s general dynamic outside of this is interesting. She tries to relate to him on a personal level by actively trying to find common ground that could form the basis of a friendship. Spock is less than receptive which ties into the lack of balance between his Human and Vulcan sides. Uhura attempting to relate to him is similar to her communicating with the runaway alien in the first episode where she quickly identified common ground and used that to base communication. It doesn’t quite work with Spock but her approach is similar. Her first Away Mission puts her life in danger and she reacts in a realistic way. She is naturally afraid but also falls back on her training in order to manage her fear Spock’s version of a pep talk doesn’t really help but it does help her realise that an analytical approach can help in handling the surrounding danger while also understanding how important her individual skills are in solving the problem. As said it is contrived that Uhura’s precise skill set is exactly what is required on this occasion but it feeds nicely into the growth of her confidence and her eventual realisation that a career in Starfleet might be for her after all.

The threat of the comet hitting a planet with a developing species on it makes for an engaging problem. It allows the action to be split neatly between the Away Team and the Enterprise as they all play their part in trying to divert the comet. Complicating matters further are the Shepherds; represented by an alien on the viewscreen and a formidable ship. They are interested in the comet because they believe it to be a God and have pledged to stop anyone who stands in its way. As far as they’re concerned if the comet -or Mahanit- hits the planet then that’s what is supposed to happen. There isn’t anything more to them than their unflinching belief though they do serve their function as a difficult obstacle for the crew to overcome. Their zealotry makes them completely unreasonable so the only recourse is a violent one, at least at first. Notably the Enterprise is no match for them so they have to be defeated using strategy. This provides further insight into Pike’s command style. He’s adaptable, knows his ship and is confident in the capabilities of his crew. He most clearly demonstrates the latter when he gives Ortegas encouragement about her piloting skills before she promptly shows him exactly how skilled she is. he actual resolution is very strategic though relies on a technicality and the Shepherds being stupid enough to accept what Pike does at face value. The execution of the plan is a little frustrating as it leans on the trope of the characters knowing what the plan is while being deliberately vague about it so that the viewer will learn as it plays out. It doesn’t come with a strong enough reveal to merit the mystery though the visuals and general excitement of the sequence were more than enough to make up for the frustration. Arguably diverting the comet counts as a breach of General Order One -aka the Prime Directive- though it depends on how you view the implementation of it across the franchise. The question around whether these events were meant to play out as they did or if the Enterprise crew had any choice in the matter resonates with Pike personally. Even though this show is living up to the promise of being episodic there are serialised elements with the most prominent being Pike’s seemingly inevitable future. Una’s point is that knowing what’s coming surely means that it’s possible to prevent it which is enough to get Pike thinking. Spending time on this seems futile unless a significant change in canon is in the offing or the inevitability angle will be covered in an interesting and surprising way. Otherwise this arc is futile as it is already known Pike will fail to change the future. Una being persistent in trying to tear down his blind acceptance does further reinforce the Star Trek hopeful optimism that this show so far routinely displays.

Overall
  • 8/10
    Children of the Comet - 8/10
8/10

Summary

Kneel Before…

  • Uhura’s clearly presented arc
  • her dynamic with Spock
  • making great use of Spock’s difficulty dealing with Humans
  • presenting the Enterprise as a functioning community
  • once again showcasing Pike’s personable command style
  • the Shepherds making for a good obstacle
  • impressive visuals and exciting sequences

 

Rise Against…

  • the Shepherds lacking in depth
  • no debate over the Prime Directive implications around diverting the comment
  • some contrivances to propel the story
  • Uhura’s unnecessary tragic backstory

 

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User Review
8.2/10 (5 votes)

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