Star Trek: Strange New Worlds – Season 1 Episode 1
“Strange New Worlds”
The Star Trek franchise continues to expand with the adventures of the U.S.S. Enterprise crew under the command of Captain Pike in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
The new versions of Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), Una/Number One (Rebecca Romijn) and Spock (Ethan Peck) introduced in Star Trek: Discovery season 2 captivated fans to the point that they wanted to see more of them. Thankfully those in charge of producing this franchise granted the wish of many fans and commissioned a series focusing on these characters along with a whole host of others. The promise is to deliver something akin to traditional episodic Star Trek with each episode focused on a specific one shot story rather than the ongoing arcs that have been the norm since the franchise returned to TV with Star Trek: Discovery. It’s an exciting prospect to she question is whether the production team can deliver old school storytelling with a modern sheen.
In short, based on this first episode they can but it remains to be seen if this is a fluke the rest of the season can’t live up to. Much of this episode could be described as a hangover from the second season of Discovery with Anson Mount’s Pike struggling to process the glimpse at his future he was given. It’s depicted in a fairly standard way at first with him isolating himself and turning his back on his duty due to feeling like he’s ill equipped to carry it out any more. As is always the way he is dragged back into action by Admiral Robert April (Adrian Holmes) who specifically needs his finesse on a mission. The incentive comes from his first officer, Una being the one who is missing so Pike reluctantly gets back into uniform out of loyalty to her.
There is also a meta aspect to Pike dealing with the certainty of his own future that directly presents the audience with the usual questions that surround prequels; questions such as why they exist when the end point is known. Pike, Spock , Chapel, Doctor M’Benga, Uhura and the Enterprise are functionally invincible in this show because their fates have already been depicted in prior material. The point of this episode is to convince the viewer that the adventures are worthwhile by themselves. This is a really clever character driven way of encouraging the audience to address the standard prequel questions.
Pike’s arc throughout the episode is a really simple one but it’s explored in complex ways. As said he’s struggling to process getting a visceral glimpse of his less than ideal future and that severely impacts his perception of his ability to command. Compounding this is that the circumstances surrounding that knowledge are classified to the point that he can’t talk about what he has experienced with most people. Those who do know are his subordinates so he feels that he can’t express weakness to them in order to be an effective leader. One person he does open up to is Spock; someone who answers to him but is also trusted on a personal level. Spock directly asks him about what he experienced and Pike tells him while adding extra context such as it causing him to second guess himself which is something that a Captain can’t do due to he many lives they are responsible for. He has to be confident in his decisions and show no doubt when making them.
Spock’s advice to him is that he has to make the knowledge he has work for him. His statement “suffering can be transformed into insight” is a very poignant expression of that advice and delivered in a way unique to Spock. The character of Spock is renowned for having a very particular speech pattern and dialogue that could only be attributed to him. Ethan Peck nails the delivery with the script providing lines like this that could only be said by Spock. This scene also does the important work of establishing Spock as a confidante that will get to the nub of a problem and give Pike a reality check. In essence he is telling Pike that he can’t remove the knowledge from his brain so has no choice but to make it work for him. This is something Pike understands and Spock’s direct way of pointing out helps him recognise what his emotional goal is.
It isn’t as easy as Spock makes it out to be and plays into the mission. Spock points out that this particular species inventing warp technology is unusual because analysis points to them making a weapon rather than a method of propulsion. Every other species that has made the discovery has turned it into an engine but the Kiley have started with the destructive potential. Eventually they learn that this is actually Pike’s fault; however indirectly. The events of the Discovery season 2 finale took place close to this planet and the abundance of warp engines in the same place were more than enough to be picked up by their telescopes. This gave them enough to reverse engineer the technology and create a weapon. The Kiley are at a crossroads as a species with two factions bent on destroying each other so the warp technology could end up wiping them all out.
This presents an interesting conundrum for Pike as he is bound by General Order 1 -later to be known as the Prime Directive-; a rule that forbids interference in the development of other cultures. The situation here is more complicated as the interference has already taken place; albeit unwitting so Pike feels responsible for the Kiley being at risk of self annihilation. He sees it as his moral responsibility to show them that there is a better way so resolves to give them the choice to take that better path.
It’s fascinating because it shows how variable individual circumstances can be and that rules written to be applied in ideal scenarios don’t cater for a given situation. Pike’s morality overrides his adherence to regulations and he makes a very defined decision to take responsibility for what these people are facing. He reveals the Enterprise to the population and delivers a presentation on the destruction they are facing if they continue down the path they’re on.
This is a classic Star Trek plot in that science fiction is used to pass comment on the world outside of the show. Star Trek in its heyday represented an ideal future where world peace has been achieved and all of Humanity works towards a better future. recent iterations of the franchise have muddied that by highlighting that the future is far less than ideal but so far Strange New Worlds leans into the unabashed optimism that made the franchise so popular. Pike stands before the Kiley as an example of the best of the Federation and an advocate for embracing progress.
His approach is a preachy one but not obnoxiously so. He uses the example of Earth in the 21st century to show the Kiley a practical example of how bad things can get. The presentation covers the second American Civil War leading to the Eugenics Wars and the Third World War; a conflict that resulted in unimaginable destruction on Earth. His point is that Humanity found their way to a better future in the worst way possible and the Kiley have the opportunity to not follow that example. It stands out because he isn’t coming from a position of assuming they are any better than the Kiley; his argument actually hinges on the opposite. They can push their differences aside and unite in a commitment to progress that will enrich their people. Notably Pike doesn’t tell them what to do, he simply presents them with the options and asks them to make the choice themselves. As long as he does this then his conscience can be a little clearer as he has tried to undo the damage he unknowingly caused.
The concept of a weapon acting as a deterrent is familiar in the world we live in and time is taken to provide commentary on peace through all of the sides of the conflict having a big stick isn’t peace at all. Pike observes the thinking and forces them to listen to what he has to say by putting the Enterprise on display; a far bigger stick than either side of this conflict could wield. It isn’t quite an enlightened approach to encouraging the Kiley to listen but under the circumstances it’s clear that this is the only thing that will get through to them in their current mindset. This also provides an indication of Pike’s level of experience and his ability to think on his feet.
Of course the commentary isn’t subtle; the messaging the viewer is invited to pick up on is that the Kiley are a representation of our world at present. Some of the footage used in Pike’s presentation is of real life recent events so the episode is telling the audience that we are on our way down a dark path as a species and have to course correct to avoid these extreme pitfalls depicted. This is strong relevant commentary on the world in which the show is being made and is delivered with sophistication.
The Kiley themselves aren’t that well developed as a species but they exist to support Pike’s journey towards confidence in himself and recapturing his love for what he does. By helping an alien species avoid destruction and start down the path to bettering themselves he is reminded why he does this is able to move on with renewed zeal. If this is his feelings about his future mostly contextualised and the rest of the season features the optimistic confident leader that was presented towards the end of the episode then this was a worthwhile start for Pike. It acknowledged his prior experiences and let him move forward. This mirrors the Kiley in a way who also resolve to move on unburdened.
Another mirror for Pike is La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong); his chief of security and temporary first officer. La’an has a traumatic past she is struggling to deal with that comes up periodically throughout the episode. She is the only survivor of a Gorn prison camp where she had to witness everyone she cares about be eaten. This experience has shaped her into a hardened person with a survivor complex. In some ways she feels like she’s living on borrowed time just as Pike does and her entire worldview is built around the certainty of death. One thing she says “not believing you’re gonna die is what gets you killed” really stands out and clearly resonates with Pike when she says it. The meaning is around hope being a misguided illusion in dire circumstances. Out of all those suffering at the hands of the Gorn she was the only one who didn’t believe that they would be miraculously saved which meant she was prepared for death rather than fearing it. The messaging is somewhat muddled as she survived and was rescued despite how unlikely a prospect that was but her fatalist viewpoint resonates with Pike because he is aware of his own mortality to the point that he knows exactly when he will be -as far as he’s concerned- dead. La’an knows that she isn’t invincible and doesn’t appear to fear death so she acts as an aspirational attitude for Pike to a degree.
Mysteries surround La’an though the episode doesn’t lean too heavily into them. Her name is the most notable one though that only applies to fans of the franchise as Noonien-Singh was also the surname of Khan; a famous figure in The Original Series and in the Kelvin timeline reboots. A connection between them beyond this isn’t even hinted at so far with the only suggestion being her aversion to sedation though that is suggested as a consequence of her past. It isn’t explicitly stated but allowing herself to be sedated would make her vulnerable and that isn’t something she’s comfortable with even around fellow Starfleet officers. It’s an interesting detail and the character is compelling so far. Pike inviting her to join the crew reinforces the connection created between them and the asset he feels she can be both to the ship and to him personally.
The episode is light on characterisation for others though that’s to be expected. Spock receives plenty of attention through his relationship with T’Pring (Gia Sandhu); a Vulcan woman he becomes engaged to. The scene they share together is a fascinating showcase of a relationship between two Vulcans. Suppression of emotion is a defining trait of Vulcans and the episode manages to convey a believable connection based on logic and familiarity. The beginnings of physical intimacy play a part in their interaction though it isn’t clarified what that means to them when their emotions are being suppressed.
For Spock this is him following his sister, Michael Burnham’s advice in finding meaningful connections in his life. He is trying to do this with T’Pring but is conflicted between his commitment to Starfleet and his commitment to her. He mistakenly believes that he can balance the two with Starfleet being the priority but it’s clear that T’Pring has other ideas and won’t accept playing second fiddle to his duty. It’s a compelling setup that should create interesting character beats over the season.
Other characters stand out due to key coverage given to them. Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) is introduced as a Cadet prodigy -much like Tilly in season 1 of Discovery– though is far more subdued. The episode highlights why she’s a prodigy through her interaction with the Kiley loose on the ship. She relates to him through discussing a popular sport on his planet indicating that she is good at what she does because she works to gain a practical understanding of culture. It isn’t about simply speaking the language, it’s about connecting with those who say the words. She understands that and that’s why she has been fast tracked.
Doctor M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) stands out because he and Pike have a history and Nurse Christine Chapel (Jess Bush) makes an impression due to her casual delight over getting to mess with the genomes of the away team. She approaches her work with infectious excitement and has an effervescent personality that is immensely fun to watch. So far there’s very little to say about Erica Ortegas (Melissa Navia) and Una/Number One only appears briefly but the rapport she has with Pike comes through clearly.
The episode suffers a little in its approach to winks and nods to other areas of the franchise. Dialogue surrounding General Order One being renamed to “The Prime Directive” is eye rolling the Samuel Kirk reveal is manipulative regardless of how fun it is as presented. These are minor gripes as the fanservice doesn’t overpower the experience. All told the crew are an engaging collection of characters and this was a very strong start to this new series.
An excellent start to the new show that introduces the characters and concepts well while frontloading the positivity and hope that makes Star Trek so iconic. Much of the episode could be described as a hangover from Discovery season 2 with Pike struggling to process learning about his less than ideal future. It’s depicted in a standard way at first with him isolating himself and turning his back on the duty he feels ill equipped to carry out. As expected he’s brought back when a mission needs his finesse. Pike’s arc is a really simple one but explored in complex ways. He can’t talk about what he experienced with most people and those who do know are his subordinates so he feels he can’t express weakness in order to be an effective leader. He does open up to Spock who advises him to make the knowledge he has work for him and be the leader that he knows he can be. It’s not as simple as Spock makes it out to be and plays into the mission. The Kiley having warp technology is indirectly Pike’s fault as the classified events happened near to the planet which allowed them to observe the abundance of warp engines in the area therefore inspiring them to create their own. Unfortunately they have created a weapon of mass destruction with the knowledge and are on the verge of self-annihilation. This presents an interesting conundrum for him as he is bound by a non-interference directive though decides to discount it as they are already involved by unwittingly creating this situation in the first place. Pike approaches them, presents them with their possible future by showing the massive destruction Humanity inflicted on itself under similar circumstances. This is a classic Star Trek plot where science fiction is used to pass comment on the world outside the show. The messaging isn’t subtle but it’s very well expressed. Pike’s approach is a preachy one but not obnoxiously so. He encourages the Kiley to push their differences aside to build a better future as a united people and leaves them with the choice. The Kiley aren’t well developed as a species but they don’t need to be as they exist to support Pike’s journey towards confidence in himself and recapturing his love for what he does. He is reminded why he does what he does and is able to move on with renewed zeal.
In addition to the Kiley, La’an Noonien-Singh acts as a mirror for Pike She has a traumatic past that she’s struggling to deal with and her views on her survival resonate with Pike very clearly. His awareness of his own morality and seeing La’an’s attitude becomes aspirational to a degree. La’an is an interesting character by herself and the episode doesn’t lean heavily on the mysteries surrounding her. They are hinted at but most of her contribution is around her history and attitude. There are clear development paths for her character and she is very engaging so far. The episode is light on characterisation for others which is to be expected from a large cast. Spock receives plenty of attention through his relationship with T’Pring. Their scene together is a fascinating showcase of a Vulcan relationship and shows Spock’s initial attempt to take Burnham’s advice to find meaningful connections in his life. He is conflicted between his commitment to Starfleet and his commitment to her; something that will surely be picked up before long. Other characters stand out like Uhura and Chapel who are given enough to make them stand out without overburdening the episode by trying to do too much with the available characters. The episode does suffer a little in its approach to fanservice but it’s a minor gripe in the grand scheme of things. All told the crew are an engaging collection of characters and this was a very strong start to this new series.
- Pike’s simple yet brilliantly explored character arc
- Spock’s excellently expressed advice to Pike
- Pike’s arc organically feeding into the mission
- the commentary on the world outside the show through Pike’s presentation to the Kiley
- being preachy but not in an obnoxious way
- Pike leaving them with the choice to build a better world after showing a darker path
- La’an acting as another mirror for Pike
- the details of her past and her attitude making her an engaging character
- the depiction of Spock and T’Pring’s relationship
- not overdoing characterisation and giving others a brief hook that allows them to stand out
- a clumsy approach to fanservice
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