Star Trek: Strange New Worlds – Season 2 Episode 3
“Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow”
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds sends La’an back in time to restore the timeline after it is altered to be nearly unrecognisable.
Time travel has been a storytelling staple of the franchise since very early on. Many stories are built on the concept of something going wrong in the past and the timeline needing to be fixed in order to restore the status quo. “City on the Edge of Forever”, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek: First Contact are celebrated examples but there are many others. Star Trek: Picard would devote an entire season to this idea. There are no doubt a number of reasons that Star Trek frequently returns to this well but there are two that come across as more obvious than others. One reason is budgetary; if the episode involves the characters going back in time to the present day or a time period that studio lots are already set up to imitate then it’s cheaper to produce than more high-budget ideas. Another is that it’s innately fun to put characters in a “fish out of water” situation where the customs of the past are unfamiliar to them.
This episode also briefly brings in the concept of an alternate timeline before the time travel takes place. La’an finds herself in an unfamiliar timeline where the Federation doesn’t exist and humans are an insular spacefaring race who reject the very notion of collaborating with aliens to build a utopian society. From La’an’s perspective, this is wrong and needs to be fixed immediately but the incumbent Captain of the alternate Enterprise; none other than Paul Wesley’s James T. Kirk is less than willing to help her and more than a little suspicious of this strange woman who mysteriously appeared on his ship.
It doesn’t take long for them to travel back in time to 21st-century Canada but before that happens the episode does an efficient job of establishing some high-level information about the alternate timeline. The Enterprise somehow still exists virtually unchanged from its Federation-built counterpart and Spock also somehow exists despite humanity being more xenophobic but, crucially, it isn’t an evil timeline where Earth began a brutal campaign to take over the galaxy. It’s simply different which allows for more nuance as the other path taken by Earth is represented by the alternate Kirk. Granted that may be down to storytelling necessity as a bloodthirsty James T. Kirk would be more challenging to accept as an ally of La’an, however reluctant but it’s more in line with the general ethos of Star Trek to portray a humanity that still has a strong sense of morality even when not a founding member of the Federation.
The episode is less focused on the alternate timeline and more focused on providing an opportunity for La’an to grow as a character. Her time travel adventure with Kirk forces her to confront aspects of herself that she’s uncomfortable with. The log entry that opens the episode serves as a reminder of her difficulty connecting with other people. The montage of problems she routinely encounters as chief of security is amusing and a natural reminder of her general impatience with other people that will factor into her arc over the course of the episode.
Much of the episode is structured like a romantic comedy. It contains many of the familiar trappings such as opposites being thrown together, developing chemistry, situations that encourage romance and even a romantic nighttime stroll. These elements weave naturally into the plot and contribute to a compelling character-driven narrative that proves to be very meaningful for La’an.
One of the standout elements is the natural chemistry that exists between Kirk and La’an. Paul Wesley is a charismatic actor who imbues Kirk with an effortless charm that is an effective counter to La’an’s more closed-off nature. He is believably disarming and brings out a side of her not often seen. She is far less self-serious and more sarcastic around him which suggests that he is naturally encouraging her to come out of her self-imposed shell. It happens organically and comes across as a natural progression of their relationship. The actors bounce off each other well so it isn’t jarring when La’an quickly starts to open up to him.
A large part of their dynamic is built on them being from two different timelines. For the purposes of the romantic comedy setup, it’s analogous to two people from different backgrounds meeting and connecting over what they have in common as well as what is different about them. Kirk speaks fondly about his timeline which further highlights it isn’t the same bland dystopia that has been depicted elsewhere in the franchise. He talks about having a life that he likes with family, friends and a career that he is proud of. Kirk doesn’t flatly accept that La’an’s timeline is the better one so he’s reluctant to collaborate with her in order to ensure that it exists.
La’an points out what she believes to be innate facts that prove his timeline is worse such as Earth having no sunsets due to being covered by a perpetual dust cloud. Kirk’s reaction to that is one of pride that Humanity turned that adversity into an opportunity to make the stars their home. La’an’s timeline allows for that to happen without Earth being rendered uninhabitable but Kirk sees what his version of Humanity has achieved as an example of indomitable resolve and resourcefulness. His ideology is that Humanity achieved everything on its own without the need for help from other species. In his mind, the Federation may represent a weakness of a sort which is an interesting ideological difference between them. Kirk does ultimately come around to the idea of saving her timeline when Sam is mentioned and La’an meets him halfway by suggesting it may be possible to transplant him into her timeline so that he isn’t erased by their success. That doesn’t account for the other people he cares about in his timeline but it’s very much an acknowledgement of its value by La’an who had previously dismissed it as a mistake that needs to be rectified.
This version of Kirk is interesting because he’s entirely disposable as far as the narrative goes. He can’t join La’an in her timeline otherwise there’s another James T. Kirk active in the prime timeline. Despite being disposable as far as this story is concerned, effort is put into giving reasons to invest in him. Part of that comes from the growing connection with La’an but the rest of it comes from how he is characterised. Little details like his mastery of chess earning them money so that they can navigate the time period and choosing the same outfit as La’an endear him to the audience. His general personality also accomplishes this. Paul Wesley plays him as compassionate and he’s written as intelligent with a keen strategic mind. Investing in him is greatly aided by there being enough linkage between this Kirk and the Kirk that audiences who know Star Trek outside of Strange New Worlds will be familiar with. Those who don’t have more than enough to latch onto when taking him at face value.
Kirk’s death is tragic beyond the obvious tragedy of someone being murdered. The whole episode is built around the growing connection between Kirk and La’an and his death comes shortly after they give into their attraction and kiss. As an aside, it’s possible that Kirk’s body being left in the past will have consequences down the line. La’an admits that people are difficult for her but something about Kirk puts her at ease and she also concedes that he has been very useful on this mission. She gets to the point where her shields are down around him and she feels completely comfortable in his presence. This is significant because of La’an’s previously established difficulty getting close to people. Part of what makes her feel so at ease around this Kirk is the lack of baggage associated with her surname. Khan isn’t infamous in his timeline so there’s no recognition of her association with him which means that he is one of the few people that didn’t form an opinion of any kind when hearing her name.
This ends up being one of the key clues as to what has changed that needs to be put right. Something happens that means Khan never rises to power and takes his place in the history La’an knows. There’s an underlying message about Humanity having to experience rock-bottom darkness in order to rebuild to be the best version of itself. Khan is historically necessary to allow the Federation to exist so La’an is faced with the unenviable task of ensuring that he survives even knowing what atrocities he will go on to commit.
On the surface, this episode is almost about experiencing a terrible timeline and having to allow terrible things to happen in order to create the ideal one. “City on the Edge of Forever” built up to just such a choice. In that episode, Kirk has to let Edith Keeler die because her survival means that her progressive views catch on at too early a point. This means that there is no resistance to Hitler’s campaign for world domination and the future looks far more Nazi as a result. This story bears similarities to “City on the Edge of Forever” in that those making the choices know what the outcome of the other is. La’an knows what timeline will arise if Khan is killed because Kirk is a living representation of it. Arguably this makes her choice easier because she has enough data to know what the two outcomes are.
Her choice becomes a personal and moral one as she has to live with knowing the horror that saving Khan will lead to. Knowing that the end result is a more positive timeline is small comfort when considering the part she now has to play in everything that came before it. Ultimately she does what she considers to be the right thing for the greater good and fights for Khan’s survival but it’s not an easy choice to make and it’s worsened by the personal connection she has to him. Seeing her face Khan as a child (Desmond Sivan) puts him in the role of an innocent who hasn’t done the things he will become known for yet. There are strong hints that he is the product of an abusive environment which could stray into the questionable territory of presenting a narrative arguing that Khan became a merciless and ruthless dictator because he had a bad upbringing. Fortunately, the episode doesn’t dwell on that but it’s on the table for a potential future story.
It’s an effective emotional beat for La’an as she is faced with the embodiment of everything she has been battling with her whole life. Her surname is historic for all the wrong reasons for him and she has suffered brutal treatment because of it. She is able to look him in the eye and declare to him that he’s exactly where he needs to be which signifies acceptance on La’an’s part and goes back to her conversation with Neera in the previous episode where she was told that genetic heritage has nothing to do with the person she is and she should stop blaming herself for the actions of her ancestor. This is advice she can now put into practice and truly internalise by realising that Khan’s actions allow the Federation to exist and also allow her to exist, the latter she finally accepts as a good thing. It’s moving, thoughtful and complex.
The main antagonist for the episode is eventually revealed to be a secret Romulan agent known only as Sarah (Adelaide Kane). She is introduced taking photographs in the aftermath of a bridge bombing and later helps prevent Kirk and La’an from being arrested. The first impression of her is as a crackpot conspiracy theorist who accidentally stumbles onto something real and eventually outs herself as a Romulan Temporal Agent tasked with preventing the formation of the Federation. Her initial objective was to blow up a hidden Fusion Reactor but had to alter her plans when the alarms were sounded to the far more subtle execution of Khan. The episode handles the reveal clumsily so the details get lost in the quickfire dialogue but it appears that she planned to assassinate Khan through the overkill action of destroying the reactor with the more subtle approach being the backup when her plan was ruined.
Sarah is one of the episode’s major missteps as the secret Romulan reveal doesn’t have the impact it needs to due to how late it comes in the episode. She was far more effective as a crackpot conspiracy theorist who happened to be right as that presents a more interesting challenge for Kirk and La’an who have to indulge her in order to get the information they need from her while being careful not to encourage her obsession or accidentally tip their hand so that she figures out their true origins. The scene where she is presented as an activist holding the police to account for victimising people was a fun diversion even if the message of police acting improperly doesn’t land when they’re being accused of victimising Kirk who is obviously a white man. La’an has clear Asian heritage but the focus is on Kirk so the parallel the episode attempts to draw doesn’t work as intended. It is a fun scene and brings Sarah back into the plot following an introduction that could be mistaken as an extra.
There are a number of things to take away from Sarah’s contribution to the episode. One is her mention of history being altered because these events were supposed to happen in the 1990s. She makes reference to the timeline healing itself by forcing certain things to happen albeit later. This is an idea that Alex Kurtzman weaved into the script for the 2009 Star Trek movie. He talked about the crew of the Enterprise coming together in the same configuration as The Original series being a kind of fate orchestrated by time ensuring that things play out as close to how they’re supposed to as possible. As ideas go it’s not terrible but the implementation of it is less than impressive. Neither his Star Trek movie nor this episode does anything with the idea other than pay lip service to it. If time is a sentient force in the universe that works to ensure things happen a certain way and characters are actually aware of that then there should be more explicit coverage beyond Sarah expressing frustration that the hands of fate seem to be making her mission more difficult.
Her interference does clear up the notable canon inconsistency created at the start of the previous season when Pike mentioned that the Eugenics Wars happened immediately before World War III in the 21st century rather than in the 1990s as was previously established. The impact on the universe would seem to be minimal based on the depiction of the 23rd century in this show but it also confirms that Strange New Worlds is a reboot as it takes place in an alternate timeline to The Original Series. Mileage will vary on how acceptable this is within the fandom but it’s not something I see as an issue as long as engaging stories are being told in the spirit of Star Trek in its purest form without worrying about being beholden to nearly 60-year-old canon. It is worth noting that there’s nothing about this story that couldn’t have been told by setting it in the 1990s but there is an in-universe explanation for why Khan is a child in the 21st century and it makes sense.
Another misstep in the episode is the general pacing. The midpoint of the episode slows to a crawl as it tries to grapple onto something that can move the plot forward. A very slow car chase does little more than fill up time even if it is entertaining by itself and an excursion to visit Pelia in order to get the watch that allows them to find the reactor is superfluous. Both could have been either trimmed or removed altogether in favour of more efficient plotting but it appears they exist to deliver a comedy beat and, in the case of the latter, create a point of connection between La’an and Pelia that counters her difficulty relating to others.
The car chase is perhaps especially egregious because it shows a lack of care put into overall worldbuilding. A bridge was bombed but there is no visible sign of any reaction to that by either the public of the authorities. Nobody is in a state of panic, people aren’t being encouraged to stay in their homes and there is no disruption to the day-to-day. Kirk and La’an travel through normal traffic with those present seemingly oblivious to a massive event that happened nearby. It’s especially noticeable when Kirk and La’an both assign importance to the bridge attack through it being part of both of their histories. There’s an odd disconnect between the movement of the plot and the perceived severity of the situation that rubs up uncomfortably against what the episode is trying to achieve.
La’an’s return to the present day starts with her checking to see if she succeeded before receiving a visit from Temporal Investigations Agent Ymalay (Allison Wilson-Forbes) who thanks her for a job well done before ordering her to share what she experienced with no one. It’s a harsh instruction for La’an as she has experienced intense trauma that she now has to deal with by herself. She contacts Kirk to check if he’s alive and they have a brief conversation that ends with the promise of them sharing a drink in the near future before she bursts into tears as she reflects on her experience. It’s a moving ending to the episode that shows the impact of the burden of knowledge that La’an now carries as a result of her recent adventure. Losing Kirk in the past may encourage her to double down on her closed-off nature as the first time she allows herself to get close to someone results in a painful loss. She has been through the wringer and will likely struggle to deal with this. The emotion of the ending lands because the connection between La’an and Kirk is so strongly developed that the weight of his loss is palpable and ending the episode on a rare moment of vulnerability for La’an is immensely impactful.
A strong episode with an excellent developing relationship between Kirk and La’an that delivers meaningful and natural character development for La’an
- La’an and Kirk’s chemistry
- the organic growth of their connection
- La’an being more believably at ease around Kirk
- much of the episode making use of romantic comedy-style storytelling
- a nuanced approach to the alternate timeline through Kirk’s account of it
- Kirk’s death working as a tragedy because of the work done developing him and his relationship to La’an
- La’an’s difficult choice and the burden placed on her knowing how bad things will get before her timeline comes to pass
- her interaction with the young Khan acting as an acceptance of his legacy not defining who she is
- the moving final moments
- pacing issues in how the story progresses such as the unnecessary diversion to get help from Pelia
- failures in worldbuilding evidenced by the lack of public reaction to the bridge explosion
- clunky exposition surrounding Sarah
- general mishandling of Sarah as a character
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