Star Trek: Strange New Worlds – Season 1 Episode 5
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds deals with understanding and relationships as many of the characters face different personal challenges.
It’s definitely safe to say that the producers of Strange New Worlds were accurate when stating that it would be episodic with continuity coming from the characters. This episode is largely a great example of that as it picks up on previously referenced character beats to develop them while telling a unique story. Further continuity comes from the Enterprise being repaired after the events of the previous episode. It’s arguably unnecessary but it does connect the adventures in a very natural way.
The various character stories in this episode are connected by the theme of understanding or “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes”. Ethan Peck playing Spock in a narrative built around that idea could be an in-joke on the part of the writers considering who his grandfather was. Ultimately resolution comes from people opening their minds to understand someone else’s point of view.
Chapel is the exception to this though she does enable Spock to do so. Her individual plot is centred around an exploration of her approach to relationships and the life choices she has made. It’s nothing especially complicated but her outlook is an interesting one and makes sense in the context of long stretches of time spent in space. Her approach to relationships is far more casual. She sees them as a diversion on the rare occasion that she has some free time and doesn’t want anything more than that. This causes complications when the other party wants something more serious as happens here. She mentions that she ended things with him on that basis.
The most striking thing about this is that she doesn’t learn a lesson of any kind or open her heart to a more serious connection; the coverage acts as a declaration of her approach being a perfectly valid life choice and that she recognises it’s a bad idea to maintain a connection with someone who isn’t on the same page. Understanding has to come from those who enter into a connection with her. Added into this is a really fun friendship between Chapel and Ortegas. They have great chemistry and their familiarity gives an impression of their history. Ortegas is still to be featured heavily in an episode of her own but her personality remains strong and memorable.
Una and La’an’s plot is a good comedic one but it stands out that there’s no mention or hint of the tension created in their friendship following the events of the third episode. This would have been a perfect opportunity to explore their strained friendship rather than things playing out as if nothing happened. Instead, the focus is on the qualities that probably contributed to them becoming friends in the first place. They are both career-driven to the point of being workaholics and an early comment indicating that the lower ranks consider Una to be no fun forces her to question that quality within herself. La’an is on the other side as she doesn’t care if people see her in that way but it gives Una something to prove which informs their antics.
The good cop/bad cop interrogation of lower-ranking crewmembers trying to do an unauthorised spacewalk worked really well. Both want to be “bad cop” but La’an is a little faster in claiming it. Una is very warm and accommodating in contrast to La’an’s much more intense approach. It’s a fun scene that allows the actors to cut loose with their characters while setting up what will occupy their time for the rest of the episode.
In an attempt to understand the lower ranks, they resolve to use their free time to complete all items on the “Enterprise bingo” list. It includes things like using the transporter to restore the flavour of chewing gum and racing to see who the turbolift would recognise first. This adds to the other examples of culture and community on the Enterprise peppered throughout the season so far. It all aids in establishing it as a believable workplace with its own traditions and quirks unique to it. Perhaps this is something extrapolated from Lower Decks but either way it adds so much texture to the Enterprise as a setting and fleshes out the crew as a unit to a degree. La’an and Una going through the list is amusing throughout and them standing on the hull to sign the oldest piece of plating as the ship carrying their latest ally flies overhead -relatively speaking- is very poignant. It’s unfortunate that this wasn’t used as an opportunity to redefine their friendship after it took a knock once Una’s secret was revealed.
The main plot of the episode focuses on Spock’s difficulty finding a balance between his relationship with T’Pring and his duty to Starfleet. Finding balance is a general problem for Spock as shown by the dream sequence depicting a fight between his Human and Vulcan sides. The sequence is an excellent call-back to “Amok Time” with the ritual combat and the iconic music. It’s a clear visualisation of the duality Spock struggles with every day and the difficulty he has defining whether he’s Vulcan, Human or something else entirely.
Adding to this internal conflict is T’Pring and the way she challenges him. From her perspective he prioritises his Starfleet career over their relationship and it’s easy to see why that is considering the series began with him leaving her in order to resume his duties and his attention is frequently diverted away from her in this one. There’s a clear difficulty communicating effectively on both sides creating tension between them that seems to have no resolution due to the patterns of behaviour both of them exhibit.
This episode seeks to explore the reason Spock favours Starfleet more than his relationship with T’Pring and there are a number of facets to it. Early on it’s clear that T’Pring is putting the most effort into maintaining their relationship. She delegates her responsibilities to free her time so that they can spend it together and expects the same in return. She does create problems on her own as she holds Spock’s Human side in clear contempt. The first evidence of this is insulting the decor in his quarters because of how “Human” it is. This prompts Spock to lie and state that he’s redecorating so that she withdraws the insult. It’s the first example of their inability to communicate effectively as Spock can’t be honest with her due to the judgement the truth will prompt.
The situation is complicated when the R’ongovians will only speak to him following the first round of negotiations. It’s bad timing because it acts as a confirmation of T’Pring’s point though it’s extra complicated because Spock not being present means that the negotiations will end. The accidental body swap creates even more problems though it allows both to understand the importance of the commitments they have outside of each other.
The diplomatic plot is overall very shallow but that’s forgivable because it’s intended as a support mechanism for the Spock/T’Pring conflict. Their need for Spock to be the voice of the Federation drags Spock away from their relationship though T’Pring is in his body at the time. The R’ongovians make the point about the Federation itself being conflicted because there are so many voices feeding into discussions that coming to a definitive conclusion would seem impossible. They argue that individual cultures are diluted by this approach with some of them getting lost entirely. This acts as another interrogation of the Federation; something this show has made a point of doing in different ways. Strange New Worlds seems committed to point out that the Federation is an imperfect organisation with high minded ideals that it struggles to uphold.
Pike gets the R’ongovians on side by being honest about what allying themselves with the Federation will mean for them. It’s far from a flattering take but it’s an honest one and it succeeds because it answers the R’ongovians’ respect for empathy. Pike’s final argument is founded on understanding their point of view and giving them the facts as they exist rather than a procession of promises that may not be possible to fulfil. As the only party who did this they respect that and agree to an alliance. It feeds into the overall theme of understanding though the negotiations aren’t the focus of the episode.
The R’ongovians take particular personal interest in Spock when T’Pring in his body attends the negotiations. He could be the personification of the Federation diluting cultures to the point that they disappear but Pike is able to encourage them to think differently by pointing out the immense sacrifice Spock makes in order to further the ideals of the Federation while making it clear that it doesn’t come at the expense of his Vulcan culture though the difficulty in balancing the two is acknowledged and appreciated. The words are intended more for T’Pring than the R’ongovians but it works on two levels as both parties become aware of the constant balancing act at play.
On the other side; Spock gains insight into T’Pring’s work by being dragged into a situation that he has to resolve. It acts as something of a confirmation of the importance of logic and an example of the merits of the Vulcan way. It also helps him see that T’Pring’s work commitments are just as important to her as Starfleet is to him while acknowledging her commitment to their relationship by taking time away from her work. It helps Spock understand the pressure she was putting on him as she made a significant sacrifice so that they would have time together.
Chapel acts as a strong sounding board for Spock who opens up to her about the difficulty he and T’Pring have finding middle ground. Her advice amounts to a successful relationship requiring mutual sacrifice and the key to Spock dealing with the tension between them is for him to demonstrate his willingness to sacrifice for her. Curiously this is why Chapel won’t commit to a long term monogamous relationship as she isn’t willing to make that sacrifice but she is upfront about that. Spock and Chapel’s dynamic works well with her being completely honest with him and Spock being open with her. There’s plenty for him to respect about her and his openness is rewarded with a lack of judgement as well as understanding.
Spock and T’Pring end up smoothing things over for now after they have both had the opportunity to get direct experience of their perspective. He finally admits to her that he favours Starfleet because they let him be himself where T’Pring wants him to be Vulcan. It unsettles him because he believes that T’Pring wants to ignore his Human half because it’s undesirable. T’Pring’s perspective is that Spock sees the relationship as another form of duty rather than actually wanting to be with her. There is truth to both perspectives and they agree to be more honest and understanding. Fans of the franchise will know how this relationship ends up but the exploration of it in this show is compelling because it adds so much weight to their connection.
One thing that won’t be to every viewer’s taste in this episode is the comedy. A great thing about Star Trek as a franchise is that it can be anything depending on the focus of the episode. In this case, it takes the form of an off the wall romantic comedy. It’s not an entirely successful example of one. Most of the comedy comes from the La’an/Una and Spock/T’Pring plots. La’an and Una making their way through “Enterprise Bingo” is endearing and a great way to get these characters to loosen up but it stops short of the potential hilarity built into the concept. Similarly, the body-switching isn’t played for laughs to the extent that it could be. There are attempts to mine comedy from it but they are underwhelming. Mileage will definitely vary but the body-switching was far from an essential element as the lessons learned could have been achieved without it. The episode is confused between being effective character drama and comedy with the comedy coming across as more of an afterthought than a necessary part of its DNA.
A good episode with a strong connecting theme and compelling insight into the internal conflict Spock struggles with. The theme of understanding or “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes” connects the character stories in the episode with the exception of Chapel who doubles down on her life choices and wants others to understand them. It’s presented as a perfectly valid life choice that makes sense for someone who spends so much time in space. Una and La’an’s plot is a good comedic one but there’s no mention or hint of the previously established tension in their friendship. Instead, the focus is on the qualities that probably contributed to them becoming friends. An early comment indicating that the lower ranks consider Una to be no fun forces her to question that quality within herself. La’an doesn’t care if people see her that way but it gives Una something to prove which informs their antics. The good cop/bad cop interrogation works really well as an opportunity to let the actors cut loose in their performance and “Enterprise Bingo” adds to the Enterprise culture that helps it feel like a believable workplace. Seeing them go through the list is amusing and poignant with the final item.
Spock’s difficulty in finding balance between his relationship with T’Pring and his duty to Starfleet is handled well. Finding balance is a general problem for Spock as shown by the dream sequence depicting a fight between his Human and Vulcan sides. Adding to this is T’Pring challenging him over his prioritisation of Starfleet over their relationship. It’s easy to see why she believes this to be true and there is a clear difficulty in communicating effectively on both sides. Early on it’s clear that T’Pring puts more effort into maintaining their relationship. She delegates her responsibilities to free her time so that they can spend it together and expects the same in return. She does create problems of her own as she holds Spock’s Human side in contempt. The situation is complicated when the R’ongovians will only speak to him. It acts as confirmation of T’Pring’s point and the accidental body swap creates more problems though it allows both to understand the importance of the commitments they have outside of each other. The diplomatic plot is overall very shallow but it’s forgivable because it acts as a support mechanism for the Spock/T’Pring conflict. Their views on the Federation offer another opportunity to interrogate the organisation. Pike’s words are aimed at T’Pring understanding the sacrifices Spock makes but also help the R’ongovians recognise the complexity of the Federation. Pike gets them on side by being honest about the Federation and tapping into their appreciation of empathy; something other parties failed to do. On the other side Spock gains insight into T’Pring’s work and comes to understand that her work is just as important to her as his is to him. Chapel acts as a strong sounding board for Spock. She advises him that he has to make sacrifices for the good of the relationship. Spock and T’Pring end up smoothing things over by being open with one another. Spock admits that he priortises Starfleet as they allow him to be by himself where T’Pring wants him to Vulcan. She believes that he sees the relationship as another form of duty. One thing that won’t be to everyone’s taste is the comedy. The episode doesn’t fully lean into it and the body switching wasn’t an essential element in telling that story. Mileage will vary but the episode is confused between being effective character drama and comedy with the comedy coming across as more of an afterthought than a necessary part of its DNA.
- Chapel’s life choices being presented as valid
- the Chapel/Ortegas friendship
- Una and La’an’s good cop/bad cop interrogation
- “Enterprise Bingo” furthering the Enterprise culture set up in prior episodes
- the compelling conflict between Spock and T’Pring
- the dream sequence highlighting Spock’s general difficulty finding balance in his life
- exploring the lack of effective communication causing tension in Spock and T’Pring’s relationship
- the diplomatic plot feeding into their conflict in interesting ways
- more interrogation of the Federation as an organisation through the R’ongovians
- Pike getting them on side by being honest and recognising their appreciation of empathy
- Pike helping T’Pring understand the sacrifices Spock makes
- Spock understanding how important T’Pring’s work is to her
- the Chapel/Spock dynamic
- Spock and T’Pring being open with one another
- Spock favouring Starfleet because he is allowed to be himself
- the shallow diplomatic plot
- not fully committing to the comedy
- the body switching being an unnecessary element
- no mention of the tension in La’an and Una’s friendship
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