Star Trek: Strange New Worlds – Season 1 Episode 7

Jun 16, 2022 | Posted by in TV
Strange New Worlds

“The Serene Squall”

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds takes the Enterprise to a lawless region outside of Federation space where piracy is rife and they have no backup.

One of the enduring things about Star Trek as a franchise is how extensive the universe is. The Federation is only part of a large tapestry of powers, each with its own territory and political ambitions. Some of the best episodes of the various shows have focused on the coming together or driving apart of alliances and partnerships. Outside of that, there are lawless regions where none of the major powers hold any authority which provides fodder for stories such as this.

Strange New Worlds

It’s good to have friends

The Enterprise is lured to the edge of Federation space to investigate the disappearance of colonists. Along for the ride is Dr. Aspen (Jesse James Keitel); a psychologist who has worked with the colonists and has a keen interest in making sure they’re safe, or at least that’s what Pike and the crew are told. The reality is that Dr. Aspen is actually Captain Angel; a pirate looking to blackmail the Federation into freeing their partner though that isn’t revealed until later.

A briefing room scene provides some background information on both the region and the mission. It’s an efficient way of delivering information and establishing Dr. Aspen as a character with strong views on both her work and the Federation. Their point of view can be added to the list of interrogations of the Federation that this show has supplied on several occasions. It is pointed out that they resigned because it’s their view that the Federation is too bogged down in red tape to help people who actually need it. Those who aren’t members get forgotten about and there are very few people standing up for them.

Their identity may be false and the real Dr. Aspen left wandering somewhere but the point remains valid, at least as far as has been shown over the course of the episodes. The previous episode was an example of how the Federation isn’t helping those who need it because rules, laws and protocols forbid it. This situation is different but it’s notable that they are only involved because Federation colonists are under threat. Otherwise, piracy is allowed to occur because it’s happening outside of Federation space. Ultimately it’s a “not our problem” approach though not in a malicious way as all attention is given to things happening within their borders.

Strange New Worlds

Making the best guess he can

It’s a debate that isn’t allowed to go anywhere as none of the Enterprise crew gives an opinion on it one way or another. They are Starfleet officers and they go where they are sent while not agonising too much about things they can’t do much about. Perhaps having an Enterprise crewmember who came from a lawless region of space to provide practical experience of encountering awful circumstances that are being allowed to continue. A problem with this show is raising compelling ideas that should be debated extensively but never following through on them.

The situation escalates very quickly and the Enterprise is seized by pirates. Strange New Worlds delivers its take on the “ship under siege” episode style where a hostile force takes control of the ship. This is far from the strongest example of this type of story because it’s underdeveloped in a variety of aspects; perhaps most prominently is the antagonists who are never believable as a threat. Pike takes some of the crew into an obvious trap which runs counter to his experience and intelligence. The Enterprise being taken over so quickly at the same time makes the crew look incompetent as it has been established that the crew is large so being overpowered by a small number of attackers is difficult to accept.

At no point do the antagonists seem formidable though this is clearly a deliberate choice since Pike manages to use how disorganised they are against them along with their obvious stupidity. Pike doesn’t act like he’s in any danger because he knows he’s completely in control of the situation. He buys time to assess what he’s dealing with by offering to cook a meal for his captors which provides him insight into the sort of people he’s dealing with. It is at least a creative solution that has Pike draw on other skills with extra kudos deserved due to his culinary skills being established earlier in the season.

Strange New Worlds

The face you see at every convention

Their leader, Remy (Michael Hough) is bumbling, easily manipulated and badly mistaken about his ability to intimidate as well as how loyal his crew are. It takes no time to persuade at least some of them that participating in a mutiny is a good idea. Inspiring some to betray him happens so quickly and easily that the actual resolution isn’t shown. Pike and the others with him start to make their case and their next appearance is when they have gained tentative control of the ship.

Another issue is the tone. It’s awkwardly comedic which undercuts the supposed danger and uncomfortably contrasts with the tone in play aboard the Enterprise. Stories like this in episodes of The Original Series such as “Wink of an Eye” or The Next Generation‘s “Rascals” are deliberately ridiculous and play into that but this episode appears confused about what it wants to achieve. There is a clear attempt to reference the style of comedy found in The Original Series down to ending the episode on a joke before the Enterprise heads to its next destination but it’s forced and awkward. In fairness, Pike’s attempt at humour isn’t considered funny by those around him but there’s a general light-heartedness to the scenes of those captured that is at odds with the supposed gravity of the situation.

Spock and Chapel on the Enterprise is a far more engaging plot and forms the emotional grounding of the episode. The episode opens with a log entry spoken by T’Pring who details the difficulty she has connecting with Spock. She talks about making an effort to develop their relationship and understand Spock’s Human side rather than try to ignore it as she did before. This is a good example of character-based continuity in an episodic series as she learned something in her last appearance that she makes use of in this one. Spock is shown to be reluctant to engage with T’Pring’s attempts to “spice things up” as she puts it which poses the obvious question, “why?” for the episode to explore.

Strange New Worlds

Selling it!

Their problem connecting comes from T’Pring making more of an effort to maintain the relationship than she does. The specific issue is around his Human side; she finds it a curiosity that’s worth exploring to better understand him as a person as well as make them a stronger couple but Spock is crippled by uncertainty. He opens up to Chapel about his lack of comfort with T’Pring’s interest in his Human side and her brutally honest advice is that he shouldn’t be dishonest with a Vulcan. Their dynamic continues to be engaging and Spock carries the comfort level established between them in “Spock Amok” forward.

In The Original Series; a threat that was picked up on a couple of occasions was Chapel’s romantic feelings for Spock. This show shows the genesis of those with some flirting in “Children of the Comet” followed by trust and friendship in “Spock Amok” to the clear two-way attraction shown here. It’s addressed in a manufactured scenario that acts entirely as an excuse to capitalise on the chemistry between the two actors. In order to remove the leverage Aspen/Angel has against T’Pring they confess to having an affair so that their relationship is terminated and Spock is no longer her responsibility. It’s a contrived solution that doesn’t work because it relies on Aspen/Angel believing that T’Pring would no longer be motivated to save Spock’s life when she isn’t engaged to him.

The ruse working does feed into Spock being conflicted over whether to reject or embrace his Human half. T’Pring observes that it is useful for him because without it he would never have been able to sell that his feelings for Chapel were genuine. A brief non-committal conversation is had between Spock and Chapel where she acknowledges that he is engaged to another woman and would never want him to be unfaithful. They’re friends and she’s content with that. Whether Spock reciprocates the feelings she all but admits to is left as a mystery but there is a definite spark between them that the episode plays with.

Strange New Worlds

Playing pirate

Spock’s conflict between his Human and Vulcan sides is extensively explored through his interactions with Aspen/Angel. They take particular interest in Spock’s duality and give him guidance and how to manage it. A key thing that is brought up is the labels he applies to himself. Specific reference is made to genetics and geography. Spock’s dual heritage is a function of genetics and the fact that he considers himself to be Vulcan because he was raised there is a function of geography. Aspen/Angel encourages him to look at himself in a different way and not be concerned about any expectations that might be placed on him due to his upbringing or genetic makeup. The first chronological suggestion that he find a balance within himself that works for him came at the end of Discovery season 2 but this is the first direct mention of it in this particular show. Aspen/Angel encourages Spock to find his own identity; something that fans of the franchise know he will eventually achieve after years of experience shaping him.

The implication is that he has been raised to favour his Vulcan heritage and work hard to bury the aspects of himself that could be attributed to his Human half. This is why he has such a strong anxious reaction to being ordered to take a guess in a high-pressure situation. As he will say in The Voyage Home, guessing is not in his nature as he prefers cold hard facts and arriving at decisions through careful logical analysis. This wasn’t possible when either choice had an equal chance of being the right one so a guess was the only option and he happened to make the right one. He’s called out on his reaction to it and encouraged to be more amenable to embracing his Humanity. The summation of Aspen/Angel’s point is that he’s not Human or Vulcan – he’s Spock and that’s something he will come to realise in the years to come.

Spock’s relationship to his emotions is at the core of the conflict that rages within him. He discusses Kolinahr with Aspen/Angel who probes into his desire to undertake the ritual. His desire to be rid of his emotions is due to how frustrated he is with having them. In his mind, he wants to be a full Vulcan but what he doesn’t seem to understand is that Vulcans are as emotional as Humans are and do a lot to hide them. Spock is under the mistaken impression that being half Human means that his emotions are closer to the surface than they would be for a Vulcan. He also regards emotion as something of a taboo subject with T’Pring but an open conversation with her might reveal that she struggles to keep her feelings suppressed just as he does. Asper/Angel is using this knowledge to manipulate him and toy with him though there is the strong implication that they have an attraction to him. There is certainly chemistry in their scenes together and regardless of their true intentions, the advice they give is meaningful and directly addresses what Spock is wrestling with. His struggle with his own identity is the oldest character arc in the franchise and this show is addressing it in fascinating ways.

Aspen/Angel is an engaging antagonist and the reveal of their duplicity works because the episode focuses the viewer’s attention on their connection to Spock. When they reveal themselves to be in charge of the pirates it comes as a surprise and Jesse James Keitel plays the shift wonderfully. Their motivation for engineering this scenario makes sense and their very passionate view about love being something worth fighting for is compelling as well as being thematically relevant. The reveal that Aspen/Angel’s partner is an assumed name for Spock’s wayward half-brother Sybok is likely to divide audiences who know of the character. It’s too early to say whether bringing him into the show is a good idea or not but one of his defining traits in The Final Frontier was that he embraced emotion rather than suppressing them. Assuming that characterisation is retained then Sybok is Spock’s opposite and may show him the extreme of fully embracing his Humanity. Time will tell though the inclusion of this niche character is undoubtedly fanservice.

Strange New Worlds

Reconnecting


Verdict

A good episode that contains brilliantly complex material for Spock and makes great use of his strong dynamic with Chapel. The episode is far from perfect with a number of missteps to be found. A potentially engaging debate over the Federation’s approach to protecting those who aren’t members and exist outside of their borders receives very little coverage in favour of moving the plot forward. The situation escalates very quickly and the Enterprise is seized by pirates. One of the problems is that the antagonists are never believable as a threat. Pike falling for an obvious trap runs counter to his experience and intelligence. The Enterprise being taken over so quickly makes the crew look incompetent. At no point do they seem formidable though this is clearly a deliberate choice as Pike manages to use how disorganised they are against them along with their obvious stupidity. Pike doesn’t act like he’s in any danger because he knows he’s completely in control of the situation. He buys time to assess what he’s dealing with by offering to cook a meal for his captors which provides him insight into the sort of people he’s dealing with. It is at least a creative solution that has Pike draw on other skills with extra kudos deserved due to his culinary skills being established earlier in the season. Their leader, Remy is bumbling, easily manipulated and badly mistaken about his ability to intimidate as well as how loyal his crew are. Overcoming him happens so easily that the actual resolution isn’t shown. Another issue is the awkwardly comedic tone which undercuts the supposed danger and uncomfortably contrasts with the tone in play aboard the Enterprise. There is a clear attempt to reference the style of comedy found in The Original Series down to ending the episode on a joke before the Enterprise heads to its next destination but it’s forced and awkward. In fairness, Pike’s attempt at humour isn’t considered funny by those around him but there’s a general light-heartedness to the scenes of those captured that is at odds with the supposed gravity of the situation.

Spock and Chapel on the Enterprise is a far more engaging plot and forms the emotional grounding of the episode. T’Pring’s log entry that opens the episode provides an update on the current state of their relationship and sets up the question of why Spock is reluctant to engage with T’Pring’s attempts to “spice things up”. The specific issue is around Spock’s Human side. T’Pring sees it as a curiosity worth exploring and Spock is crippled by uncertainty. He opens up to Chapel about his lack of comfort with T’Pring’s interest in his Human side and her brutally honest advice is that he shouldn’t be dishonest with a Vulcan. Their dynamic continues to be engaging and Spock carries the comfort level established previously forward. Chapel’s attraction to Spock is addressed in a manufactured scenario that acts entirely as an excuse to capitalise on the chemistry between the two actors. In order to remove the leverage Aspen/Angel has against T’Pring they confess to having an affair so that their relationship is terminated and Spock is no longer her responsibility. It’s a contrived solution that doesn’t work because it relies on Aspen/Angel believing that T’Pring would no longer be motivated to save Spock’s life when she isn’t engaged to him. The ruse working does feed into Spock being conflicted over whether to reject or embrace his Human half. T’Pring observes that it is useful for him because without it he would never have been able to sell that his feelings for Chapel were genuine. A brief non-committal conversation is had between Spock and Chapel where she acknowledges that he is engaged to another woman and would never want him to be unfaithful. They’re friends and she’s content with that. Whether Spock reciprocates the feelings she all but admits to is left as a mystery but there is a definite spark between them that the episode plays with. Spock’s conflict between his Human and Vulcan sides is extensively explored through his interactions with Aspen/Angel. They take particular interest in Spock’s duality and give him guidance and how to manage it. A key thing that is brought up is perception coming from genetic and geographic markers. Spock is encouraged to define who he is on his own terms rather than what others may expect from him. Aspen/Angel is an engaging antagonist and the reveal of their duplicity works because the episode focuses the viewer’s attention on their connection to Spock. When they reveal themselves to be in charge of the pirates it comes as a surprise and Jesse James Keitel plays the shift wonderfully. Their motivation for engineering this scenario makes sense and their very passionate view about love being something worth fighting for is compelling as well as being thematically connected. The reveal that Spock’s half-brother Sybok is out there is sure to divide audiences but it’s too early to assess whether this is a good idea or not.

Overall
  • 7/10
    The Serene Squall - 7/10
7/10

Summary

Kneel Before…

  • the Spock/Chapel dynamic
  • Spock’s difficulty balancing his Human and Vulcan sides
  • different perspectives on how he should approach defining his own identity
  • Spock and Aspen/Angel’s engaging dynamic
  • the Aspen/Angel reveal coming as a genuine surprise
  • Pike’s creative solution to assessing his captors that calls on different skills
  • good examples of character-based continuity

 

Rise Against…

  • the antagonists failing to be a believable threat
  • the Enterprise being taken over too easily
  • the awkwardly comedic tone in Pike’s plot clashing with the tone on the Enterprise
  • not showing the escape
  • the manufactured scenario that only exists to capitalise on Jess Bush and Ethan Peck’s chemistry

 

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