Star Trek: Strange New Worlds (SNW) Season 2
Season 1Season 2
Stardate 2369.2: While the Enterprise is being serviced and inspected at Starbase 1, Captain Pike takes shore leave to meet a lawyer who might defend Una Chin-Riley but who doesn't answer the calls. Spock is temporarily in command of the ship, still uncomfortable with the emotions that have resurfaced since the fight against the Gorn. On the bridge, Ensign Uhura receives a seemingly random signal variance from the colony on Cajitar IV near Klingon space that she recognizes as a distress signal. It comes from La'an Noonien-Singh, who warns of a threat to peace on the planet, which is rich in dilithium and is shared between the Federation and the Klingons. Spock does not get the desired approval of a mission to Cajitar from Admiral April, upon which he tells his senior crew that he intends to steal the Enterprise. Commander Pelia, who is on the ship for the inspections, recognizes that the impending warp core breach is just a simulation. To everyone's surprise, however, she helps the crew by suggesting to additionally vent plasma to let it look more real. The Enterprise releases the docking ports and warps away to Cajitar IV, which is currently under Klingon control and where the presence of a Starfleet ship would incite a war. So a small team beams down undercover to meet La'an, while the Enterprise is hiding in an asteroid field. La'an, who came to the planet to reunite Oriana with her parents who were previously believed to be dead, became aware of a faction that plans to restart the war between the Federation and the Klingons for the sake of higher profits with dilithium. As she, Uhura and Spock are gathering more intelligence, M'Benga and Chapel are abducted by a group of Klingons, who are in need of medical help. They walk down to a cave, to find a hidden Starfleet ship. With the help of a serum from the time of the war that gives them enhanced strength and reaction time, they fight their way through the ship until they find a transponder that M'Benga modifies to warn the Enterprise. As the effect of the drug is fading, the two have to retreat to an airlock. But it is too late to escape as the ship is already launching into space. Uhura decodes the transponder message that tells the Enterprise to destroy the other Starfleet vessel. Spock recognizes that this has to be a false flag attack and was uncovered by M'Benga and Chapel, but also that the couple could still be on that ship. As a Klingon battlecruiser arrives, he has no other option but to fire a full volley of torpedoes at the impostors. As there are no EV suits, M'Benga and Chapel eject themselves from the airlock, equipped only with thrusters and a helmet with a transponder. The Enterprise picks up the signal, and the two are beamed aboard before they freeze to death. The captain of the Klingon ship demands an explanation but is eventually appeased when Spock agrees to drink bloodwine with him. Spock speaks to Commander Pelia, who is actually a long-lived Lanthanite and has been living among humans without raising attention. She expresses the wish to stay on the ship. Noonien-Singh too has the intention to return now that Oriana is safe. Admiral April gives Spock a warning instead of harsh disciplinary measures. He knows that he will need officers like him, should there be a war with the Gorn...
After last season's cliffhanger, we might have expected Strange New Worlds to return with a story about Una Chin-Riley's trial and with a bit of a morality play. But we only see the first officer in a brief and not very meaningful scene behind bars. It is more like a reminder that she is in miserable situation. After making his log entry and talking with her, even Christopher Pike is gone for the rest of the episode as he searches for a woman whose name is not spoken out, a lawyer apparently, and who is believed to be the only one who could help Una. We probably know this person from canon, hence the mystery-mongering. It's either that, or not saying her name is a lame red herring.
I can understand that the courtroom drama is postponed in favor of a more exciting plot in this season premiere. It doesn't take long until a story unfolds that will likely be remembered above all for the much-anticipated return of the Klingons -of real Klingons!- to live-action Star Trek. I have always been very vocal about how much I hate the disfigured Klingons of 2017-2019 and about how much these detract from the idea that Discovery is supposed to be set in the same universe as classic Trek. Although SNW still has loads of continuity issues, I am happy that at least this one disastrous design decision has been revised. As far as I can tell, there are no Discovery Klingons at all in "The Broken Circle", not even among the background characters. There are one or two of the Klingons with elongated heads, but the rest of their make-up is all-classic.
"The Broken Circle" comes with an interesting story that is firmly embedded in the established continuity of the series. The broad strokes of this plot on the backdrop of a fragile peace make sense. Yet, the backstory of the syndicate that strives to restart the war is sketchy at best. La'an says that they are former Klingon and Federation soldiers, but all we see is Klingons. The name "Broken Circle" of the organization is spoken out only once in the whole episode, and quite possibly as a late revision to justify the episode title. We never see anyone who could qualify as a leader of the organization. There is no one among them who reveals anything about their motivation, it all remains hearsay and speculation. Actually, the more I think of it, the more the idea to incite a war over the dilithium planet falls apart. War may be good for business, but you shouldn't start it on your own doorstep.
The episode comes with a good deal of action. Yet, despite the eye candy I don't care much for the space battle. It lacks originality because every second episode of DIS or SNW involves flying through an asteroid field. The green fluid that M'Benga and Chapel inject to gain superior strength and agility is an original idea. But it also is a contrived plot device that never appeared before and probably never again. Also, it is a bit disturbing to see the two medics as super-soldier drug junkies. At least the sequence in which Chapel and M'Benga prepare to open the airlock as Spock still hesitates to destroy the ship they are on is exceptionally thrilling!
I don't deny that Leonard Nimoy's Spock did have occasional mood swings. But as much as I like Ethan Peck's portrayal of the iconic character, also in this episode, his Spock too frequently leaves the path of logic and enters the one of emotion. Each time he is out of character, the story readily provides an explanation for his behavior, just so fans wouldn't have a reason to complain. In "The Broken Circle", he can't cope with his emotions in the aftermath of the Gorn attack on the Peregrine, which apparently contributes to his decision to steal the Enterprise (which would normally end his career). Does the excuse work? I don't think so. The logical Spock would have put his orders above the needs of the few. The emotional Spock has never formed a close bond with Lt. Noonien-Singh, very much unlike he did with Christine Chapel.
So far, the development of the character in DIS and SNW is more like going back and forth than like a younger Spock on his way to the one we are familiar with from TOS. Well, this is an aspect that the series may still be able to handle without damage to the character. The clearly mutual affection between him and Chapel, on the other hand, has left the ground of canon already in the first season, and "The Broken Circle" is a further step in this direction.
Rather than Spock, I think M'Benga is this week's most important character. The idea that he gives the Vulcan lute to Spock as a "human therapy" is wonderful. What he does makes sense. Everything he says carries weight. I wish the story had taken more time to elaborate on M'Benga's war experiences, an aspect that is cut short in favor of more action.
I only knew Carol Kane from publicity shots prior to watching this episode, and so I didn't know at all what to expect from her character. My first impression is that although Pelia is charming in a strange way, I would feel uncomfortable to have her around. Then again, maybe I still need time to get accustomed to her accent and intonation, which is so unlike normal people would speak. What actually bothers me about the character is that she belongs to yet another mythical race that is indistinguishable from humans - just like Una Chin-Riley's species, the Illyrians. SNW is fond of introducing new mysterious elements to the lore with the excuse that it happened in TOS as well. Unlike the Illyrians that probably remain an isolated oddity of SNW, my apprehension is that at some point the Lanthanites will be revealed to be identical to a long-lived species we know from classic Trek, perhaps Flint, thereby creating another continuity error instead of better continuity.
Strange New Worlds joins the other four modern Trek series, every single of which already had its fun with ostentatiously drawing our attention to the "thing". The times are over when Picard just said "Engage" or Janeway just said "Do it", without anyone ever making fuss about it. Present-day Trek always introduces a new catchphrase with drumrolls. The unexpected cut before Seven of Nine said her "thing" only recently in PIC: "The Last Generation" was a successful variation of the cliché. The writers of "The Broken Circle", on the other hand, have no better idea than a cringey discussion about Spock's "thing" that goes on for like two minutes.
Perhaps the happy ending comes about a tad too quickly, but the bloodwine fest with real Klingons and with a Spock who does as the Klingons do (because it is logical) reconciles me with some of the weaknesses of the story. Overall, "The Broken Circle" is an entertaining episode that exploits the potential of telling episodic stories with re-imagined classic Trek characters almost to the fullest and thereby shows the limitations of the concept.
- The replacement of the unpopular Klingon make-up and attire from Discovery with the classic one is a major paradigm shift, especially since there is no recognizable loophole that the reboot look still exists.
- Spock receives his famous Vulcan lute from Dr. M'Benga as a "human therapy" to cope with his emotions.
- In "All Those Who Wander", it was implied that Oriana's parents had been killed by the Gorn before the girl was rescued by the Peregrine. It seems like this idea underwent a creative revision. But it doesn't have to be inconsistent because other than an almost illegible passage about her mother in her file there is no evidence she was with her parents when the Gorn attacked the transport ship.
- Why still this obsession with the myth that Vulcans are incapable of lying, on two isolated occasions in the episode, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary?
- The Klingons and the Federation alternately have the whole dilithium planet under their rule and at their disposal. In other words, it is a treaty with the absolute guaranty of another war.
- It is not exactly a clever idea for a syndicate that sells dilithium from one specific planet to try to boost their business by inciting a war over that very planet.
- The new transporter chief reports to Spock that he lost the signals of Dr. M'Benga and Nurse Chapel an hour ago. Considering they are on an undercover mission, wouldn't he have to notify the bridge immediately, or at least on short notice?
- If a green fluid can turn you into a super-soldier, why doesn't anyone use it in any other combat ever seen in Trek?
- Very conveniently, none of the many Klingons that M'Benga and Chapel run into has a beam weapon.
- The Enterprise hides in between "interstellar ice". But the ship is near a planet, not in interstellar space. It is possible that the origin of the ice was identified off-screen as interstellar because of a composition that normally does not occur on a planet or inside a planetary system, but as an isolated statement it doesn't make sense.
- The ship that the Klingons launch from underneath the surface is identified as a Crossfield class like the USS Discovery - except that it isn't a Crossfield class. Only the saucer is the same or similar. Either the ship was cobbled together using the Crossfield saucer and a secondary hull and nacelles from another class, or the Glenn and Discovery were special variants for the spore drive (in which case they would have been given a new class name though).
- Remarkable quotes:
- "You'll just have to learn to live with them [emotions]... like we all do." (Dr. M'Benga, to Spock)
- "If you're going to steal a starship, do it correctly. " (Pelia)
- Dedication: "For Nichelle, who was first through the door and showed us the stars. Hailing frequencies forever open..."
Stardate 2393.8: As Una Chin-Riley's trial approaches, Starfleet offers her a deal: She will be released if she agrees to a dishonorable dismissal and remains silent about the affair. Meanwhile in the Vaultera Nebula, captain Pike persuades the Illyrian lawyer and civil rights activist Neera Ketoul to take over her childhood friend's case. At Una's request, Neera declines the deal and prepares her defense. Captain Batel, who works for the prosecution, reads out the extended charges. Una now faces dishonorable dismissal and 20 years in prison for submitting false information, for bioengineering and for sedition. On the first day of the trial, Neera calls Admiral April to the witness stand, ostensibly as a character witness. But then she turns his testimony against him and Starfleet. Una knows that Neera does not like Starfleet, and she is upset that her friend uses the trial as a platform for her activism. After La'an, Spock and M'Benga have testified on the next day, Una herself is called to the witness stand. She recounts her childhood in the Vaultera Nebula colony that had just been admitted to the Federation, but under the condition that genetic engineering ceased. Her family gave her the treatment nonetheless because it was a tradition. Genetically enhanced Illyrians were arrested. Her family concealed Una's true nature, and she almost died when her broken leg was infected and couldn't be treated in an official hospital. Una says that she admired Starfleet since her childhood, and saw it as a way to escape from her miserable life. She also admits that no one else reported her but that she did it herself, in order for the truth to be finally known. Vulcan Prosecutor Pasalk inquires since when Captain Pike knew that Una was an Illyrian. Under oath, she admits it was four months ago, well before she turned herself in. Now the case seems lost for her, and may even end Pike's career as well. But Neera asks Captain Batel to read out Starfleet Code 8514, which grants every person, who is being oppressed, asylum by Starfleet, and which requires the discretion of a Starfleet captain. All these conditions are formally fulfilled in Una's case. The court grants Una asylum under this law and reinstates her.
It was clear after just a glimpse of the trailers and preview photos what this season's second episode would be all about. Instead of the usual element of surprise, there was the pleasant anticipation of a classic Trek courtroom drama.
Last week, I mused whether we know the person whose name wasn't mentioned from canon, or whether this was merely a red herring. It quickly becomes obvious that it's the latter, in a rather uninteresting sequence in the Vaultera Nebula. Here, Pike tries to persuade an Illyrian woman named Neera Ketoul to take over Number One's case. Although our good captain becomes unconscious and almost suffocates as his oxygen supply gets depleted, this all has little significance. When Pike is finally granted his audience in Neera's palatial office, the dialogue goes much like "Will you defend Una?" - "Me? No." - "You won't help a friend?" - "I don't care." - "But you could win a case against Starfleet." - "Well, yes. I'll have a look at the files I already know anyway."
Neera appears to me as a person with many preconceptions, who seems to care more for her cause than for people or even for friends and who enjoys to ride her moral high horse. This will change a bit in the course of the episode. Ultimately the success proves her strategy right. Yet, she isn't shown in the most favorable light, at least in my impression. Instead of being empathetic and providing moral support, she criticizes Una for never coming out in 25 years. She also tells her friend that she considers the case a "platform". The scene in which Neera lectures La'an Noonien-Singh on how the officer should feel is an even better example in this regard. She turns La'an's lack of acceptance as a descendant of the notorious Khan into a matter of "us" and "them". Quite possibly she opens an old wound that La'an would want to keep sealed. People have jobs, passions, friends, lives. They have other problems, such as PTSD after the Gorn attack. Not everyone is an activist and has an urge to fight "them". In my view, La'an's statement "Why do I feel like I've just been hit by a shuttle?" is more like her complaining about Neera pushing her to something she doesn't want than about the activist having opened her eyes. However, I don't think it is detrimental to the story that Neera is painted as a person with some unlikable traits. On the contrary, I applaud that present-day Trek has the guts to depict an ostensibly woke person as not being larger than life. Neera is a memorable guest character, carried by the strong performance of Yetide Badaki.
Speaking of activism, besides the whole Khan Noonien Singh thing there is a good deal of real-world references in the episode: slavery, racism, apartheid. All this is very overt but fortunately not as preachy as Pike's speech in "Strange New Worlds". Actually, in order to illustrate how practices that are or should be condemnable today used to be legal at some time in history, this excursion works very well.
This courtroom episode is naturally very verbose, and it includes quite a few instances where characters repeat with their own words what someone else just said, to make sure that everyone understands the implications of a testimony or plea. This is fine with me, and although some of the scenes seem to last forever (a rarity in modern Trek), they never become boring and they never fail to come to a point.
Yet, there are some lines of reasoning that are very flawed in my opinion. The worst is right at the beginning of the episode, when Pike tries to explain to Neera that he has changed his views on Illyrians. His intention is (or should be) to demonstrate that he used to refuse the Illyrian way of living, but that he can now understand them better. But what he says to Neera about the mission to the outpost in "Ghosts of Illyria" is almost the exact opposite! As I already wrote in my review of that episode, Illyrians deal with their genetic modifications in different ways. Some conceal them, such as Una. Some even go as far as trying to remove them to find acceptance, such as the "ghosts" at the outpost. By referring to this latter group as the Illyrians he understands, Pike implicitly tells Neera that he does not tolerate her as an person who wants to keep the modification, which is part of her and of her culture! In even more drastic words, he essentially says that he accepts gay people if they undergo a conversion therapy! Even though it is good continuity with "Ghosts of Illyria", I am at a loss how this statement, which is both illogical in the story and harmful with its real-life implications, could make it into the script.
A generally bothersome aspect, in many Trek episodes of recent years, is the deconstruction of the Federation as an inflexible and intolerant society that does not accept Romulans, androids or genetically engineered people just for who they are. Although the failings are rooted in canon and although the ones in Picard are arguably worse (because the series is set almost 150 years later), I don't like the trend. Perhaps this episode would have worked better if it had looked at the other side of the coin too, at the dangers of genetic modifications, in more than the usual historical references to Khan. But everyone with the exception of the unlikable Admiral Pasalk feels that the charges against Una Chin-Riley are unreasonable and that the laws of the Federation on genetic engineering are wrong to start with. The framing does not leave the slightest leeway for a different interpretation. There is one particularly insidious twist that effectively kills any discussion on whether Starfleet's stance on the topic may be tolerable. When Neera asks Admiral April for the first time whether he would have supported Una's admission, had he known she was augmented, he says no. After questioning him about his violations of General Order 1, she once again poses the question. April struggles to find the right words, he tries to add reasons beyond the mere legal situation and says no again. Neera thereby exposes his and Starfleet's alleged double standards. But she takes it even further and accuses the admiral of being racist! The apparent reasoning is that if he denies her admission because of a law, it is unfair but acceptable, whereas if it comes from a person who is known to bend the laws, there has to be despicable motive. I don't agree with this at all, but as I mentioned, it sets the direction of the debate for the rest of the episode.
The only person with a moral dilemma in "Ad Astra per Aspera" is Captain Batel. Like pretty much everyone else, she obviously thinks that Una should not be convicted. But she is doing what is expected from her and cites the letters of the law without being convinced of it. Additionally she is given an unnecessarily hard time by Pike and gets reprimanded by Admiral Pasalk for her lack of diligence. I felt sorry for her the whole time I was watching!
There is one other interesting conflict in the episode. When La'an wants her to hack into communication files referencing Una Chin-Riley in order to find evidence in her favor, Uhura refuses because that would be illegal. This answer is unexpected. But somehow I don't buy into Uhura's law abidance. Only one week ago, she had no problem at all to hijack a starship to help a member of the crew in need, and now she makes a big deal about privacy protection?
It is a nice twist that Neera invokes a law for Una's actions that puts her under the protection of Starfleet and eventually overrules the charges. But we have to think about it only for a moment to recognize that the circumstances and the timing are not right. Una requested asylum after already committing the offense she is on trial for. Also, even if we buy into this particular ruling of a Starfleet court, would it change anything about her status in the Federation, as a citizen with illegal modifications?
Despite a few lengthy scenes and a few inept reasonings, "Ad Astra per Aspera" is a classic courtroom drama in the tradition of "The Measure of a Man". Perhaps not with an impact quite as strong but definitely among the more memorable episodes of modern Trek.
- After erratic redesign experiments, even in the two non-rebooted series Picard and Prodigy, Strange New Worlds returns to a Tellarite make-up that is as close as possible to the classic one in TOS. We could already glimpse the classic Tellarites in the season premiere, and "Ad Astra per Aspera" provides a very good look at the Tellarite judge with his eye holes, wrinkled head, a beard and without tusks, the first one of his kind in live action since Enterprise. He also has three fingers, just like in TOS.
- According to Pike's speech, the Eugenics Wars were pretty much the same conflict as WWIII and cost billions of lives. His statement gets sort of revised as the Eugenics Wars are said to have killed only tens of millions (as in TOS).
- In his testimony, Spock refers to the Gilbert and Sullivan incident in the turbolift car in SHO: "Q&A".
- Una Chin-Riley correctly testifies that Captain Pike knew of her being an Illyrian since Stardate 1224.3, which is during "Ghosts of Illyria".
- Last week, the still unnamed Neera was said not to answer the "calls". It is possible that Chin-Riley and Pike tried to contact her with subspace calls, but we should assume that in the 23rd century it is also possible to send a subspace e-mail. When Neera reveals that she knows of the classified case because of her connections in Starfleet, Pike is surprised. But wouldn't it have sufficed for her to read her e-mails to know what is going on? Also, since she was already aware of the case anyway, what in the file that Pike gives her could possibly change her mind? Well, maybe she just likes to be begged for help.
- Captain Pike goes to the settlement in the Vaultera Nebula to seek the help of Neera, and he is the only one who needs a breathing mask, while the locals have "adapted". It is never explicitly mentioned in the episode who the locals are and what the political situation is. But if we piece together the information from other statements in the episode, it is clear that this is supposed to be an Illyrian colony (apparently the "township" created for them in the course of the "apartheid" enforced in the colony), that the "adaptation" is genetic engineering (Occam's razor) and that Neera herself (Una's childhood friend) must be so modified as well. Even if her treatment predates the admission of the colony to the Federation, would she be admitted as a legal counsel? Would she even be allowed to travel to Earth, considering the draconian laws?
- Captain Batel was established as commanding a starship in SNW: "A Quality of Mercy". It made sense for her to arrest Una on behalf of Starfleet because she happened to be in the neighborhood. But why in the world would she also be the prosecutor?
- The line of reasoning regarding Una fulfilling the requirements for Starfleet Code 8514 is shaky at best. The biggest flaw is that Neera claims that when Una went to Starfleet to escape from the apartheid colony, this was the act of her seeking asylum. According to Starfleet Code 8514, "any person fleeing persecution... may seek safety within Starfleet upon revealing themselves to authorities." Una waited as long as 25 years after joining Starfleet to reveal herself to the authorities! If anything, she actually fled persecution *by Starfleet* when she turned herself in!
- Remarkable dialogues:
- "I regret that you had to witness that outburst." - "We won't say a word." - "Mm-mmm." - "Thank you, Doctor. Of all of my father's former colleagues, Pasalk truly brings out the worst in me." (Spock, after normally taking with Pasalk, M'Benga, Ortegas)
- "What was she hiding?" - "An affinity for Gilbert and Sullivan musicals." (Neera and Spock)
- "Why do I feel like I've just been hit by a shuttle?" - "I'll take that as a compliment." (La'an and Neera)
- Remarkable quotes:
- "Mr. Spock, I do hope you understand why I have to throw your friend in jail simply for being who she is. - Of course, Mr. Pasalk. - It is only logical. Shall we play a round of kal-toh this weekend? - Yes. That would be enjoyable." (Ortegas, trying to imitate the two Vulcans)
- "If Una Chin-Riley is to be tried for being an Illyrian, then the court must understand what it means to be an Illyrian." (Neera)
- Starfleet Code 8514: "In extraordinary and extreme circumstances, if the following conditions are met: any person fleeing persecution or fearing for their life due to political or religious beliefs, cultural engagements or biological truths, may seek safety within Starfleet upon revealing themselves to authorities and making a request, may be granted asylum. Starfleet captains must exercise discretion in judgment when offering asylum. Status is confirmed by a Starfleet tribunal or designated authority."
- Remarkable facts:
- Una Chin-Riley was born to an Illyrian family in the Vaultera Nebula, one year after her colony had been granted provisional Federation membership. The condition was that genetic engineering was no longer practiced. But she was genetically modified nonetheless. Neera Ketoul was her best friend. One day, Neera's cousin Ivan was exposed as being modified, and he and his family were arrested. Life as a genetically engineered person became dangerous for Una after she defended a classmate against accusations and broke her leg. As her genetic self-healing capabilities may have been detected, she couldn't go to a hospital and a spreading infection almost killed her. The family eventually moved to a city for non-Illyrians, which meant life in hiding. She finally went to Starfleet Academy, sponsored by Robert April. At the Academy, Christopher Pike gave a speech about a test mission, and she pointed out a mistake he made during re-entry. She is in Starfleet for 25 years by now. She was recommended for the Medal of Gallantry after the Marcel disaster in 2248.
- In 2246, while in command of the Enterprise, Robert April chose to warn the Perricans, a pre-warp civilization, about a possibly apocalyptic meteor shower about to hit their planet. In 2248, he sent his science officer to the industrial-age planet Na'rel to solve the imminent threat of an extinction-level drought by sharing Federation technology. When he landed on the hostile planet Man-us II without a security officer, he chose to reveal his starship to the pre-warp civilization Ohawk.
Stardate 1581.2: A man suddenly appears on the Enterprise as La'an Noonien-Singh is walking down a corridor. He has a gunshot wound. Before he dies, he speaks of an attack in the past, gives her a device and tells her to go to the bridge. On the bridge, La'an notices that reality has changed. Instead of Pike, James Kirk is in command of the Enterprise, which is a ship of the United Earth Fleet. The Federation doesn't exist. In the ready room, as Kirk and La'an wrangle for the device, it activates and transfers them to 21st century Toronto. They have no idea what to look for and how to find out without any modern technology. When the recently built Lake Ontario Bridge gets destroyed by a bomb, they both remember that it happened in their respective timeline. So whatever triggered the change is still about to happen. They witness how a piece of debris with evidence of a photonic bomb is loaded into a van. Kirk steals a car and they follow the van, but they get stopped by the police. A woman named Sera, who was already present at the site of the bombing, talks the police into releasing the alleged "civil rights lawyer". She tells La'an and Kirk of a big international conspiracy and of a cold fusion reactor in Toronto. Kirk knows that in his timeline the city would be destroyed by the Romulans, apparently by targeting that reactor. But there is no equipment to locate it. La'an remembers that Pelia spoke of a site in Vermont where the future engineer used to live. The three come up with a method to detect tritium as used in the reactor using the phosphor coating of an old diver's watch. Back in Toronto, Kirk and La'an find the entrance to the reactor. La'an can get access because of her DNA. It is the Noonien-Singh Institute. But Sera has been following them. She is actually a Romulan temporal agent, whose mission is to stop human progress. She kills Kirk and forces La'an to walk in with her. But instead of blowing up the reactor, she heads for the genetic engineering section and a door labeled "Khan". La'an manages to kick the gun off her hand and finally shoot Sera, who vanishes. She then tells Khan, still a boy, that no one will hurt him. Back on the Enterprise, an agent of Temporal Investigations from the future appears and tells La'an never to speak with anyone about the incident.
"Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow" is like the whole second season of Picard condensed to a single episode. The broad strokes of the story are the same: the emergence of a parallel reality in which Earth is an isolated and polluted dystopia, the attempts to find the point of divergence in the 2020's with practically no evidence, a car chase and run-in with the police, a long-lived woman who happens to live nearby, a hostile agent that tragically kills a person the main character cares a lot for. The similarities are striking. Most of the other motifs are known likewise from Star Trek's large pool of time travel stories. Although I concede it is difficult to come up with a really new twist to the old concept, there is too little originality in the story. And while at least the appearance of little Khan is a surprise, it is contrived that Noonien-Singh and Noonian Soong would also be linked to this historic event, besides the ones we already knew of from classic Trek and the ones newly established in PIC season 2. It is sad that the Trek universe has become so awfully small and that La'an's implausible back story gets justified in a "two wrongs make a right" manner.
Yet, what I like very much is that the episode tells essentially the same story without all the sidetracking and mystery boxes that pervaded PIC season 2 and that repeatedly took away the suspense. "Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow" remains entertaining, and yet takes a lot of time for character moments. This may be the first time we see someone go to sleep in a time travel episode. There is also the romance. I don't know what other fans think about it because I don't read opinions prior to writing my reviews. I can only say that I saw it coming almost from the start and that it works for me. As she says herself, La'an has trouble being around people (which she blames on other people excluding her because of her ancestry, but I am sure it is just as well a choice she made for herself at some point). She increasingly lightens up when she is around Kirk. I am not quite sure what her crying at the end is about. Maybe a blend of tears of joy on one hand because the other James Kirk is fine, and of despair on the other hand as the other one is gone and she can't talk to anyone about it. In any case, kudos to Christina Chong, who carries not only this scene but the whole episode with her performance!
Overall, "Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow" is serious but frequently underpinned by humor. I don't care for the "problems" that allegedly illustrate La'an's daily routine as chief of security at the beginning of the episode. A ring that vanishes in the transporter buffer, the noise complaint about Spock's lute (seriously?!) and Pelia's tons of stolen(?) artifacts that she brings aboard the ship for some reason. Although at least the latter still has a significance in the plot, this is all plain silly and is rather like the writers mistook their series for Lower Decks (I adore Lower Decks but it is a different format). However, I do enjoy the following travel shenanigans, although many of them are stereotypical or otherwise predictable.
There are initially quite a few jokes at James Kirk's expense when he insists on being in New York although big signs read "Toronto" and when he struggles with the revolving door of the clothing shop. For the rest of the episode, however, he presents himself as a wholehearted and resourceful person. The humor surrounding Kirk now comes in the context of in-jokes and is accordingly more subtle. For instance, Kirk procures money by winning chess games. He says that he played against his first officer (in the other reality that would be Spock) and calls the two-dimensional version "idiot's chess". He also knows how to drive a car in this timeline. As we would have expected, Kirk is more like the man of action. Well, he eventually gets killed because of the risks he is willing to take, but overall he greatly complements La'an Noonien-Singh's more measured but sometimes too complicated approach.
Although Kirk is not a jerk in "Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow", I still have trouble with Paul Wesley in this role. Wesley is convincing as a United Earth officer trying to get along in the 21st century (and with La'an) with increasing success, but he remains little charismatic. Kirk appears for the second time in the series, and for the second time as an alternate version. At this point, it may still be used as an excuse for him not to be like Shatner's character. But from the announcements it is clear that the Lieutenant Kirk from our timeline will appear in person some time later in the second season. The people in charge may decide to pick up the romance with La'an Noonien-Singh in some form, considering that they don't care anyway that in the reboot universe everyone knows of her ancestry.
We may call it bold to focus the episode on just one member of the main cast and one guest character, with some of the rest of the crew appearing only briefly. On the other hand, the series continues to play safe as the stories are concerned. After the return of classic Klingons and a classic courtroom drama, the third episode tells a classic time travel story. What "Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow" lacks in terms of originality, it makes up with the comfort factor. It is entertaining. It has everything we would expect, nothing less and nothing more. But most notably, this otherwise average episode profits from great performances, especially by Christina Chong.
- The interface of the temporal device has a 29th century TCARS look as established in VOY: "Relativity".
- Khan Noonien Singh is still a kid in the 2020's. So this episode goes with the revised history of Star Trek as corroborated in PIC season 2 and SNW: "Strange New Worlds".
- Alternate Kirk does not know of Khan (because the Eugenics War never happened in his timeline) and mistakenly says "La'an Noonian Soong" instead of Noonien Singh. This may mean that Data's "family" is notorious in his timeline too. Both variations of the name were famously an attempt by Gene Roddenberry to find a person whom he had known during WWII. In-universe, the two are connected as we know since PIC: "Farewell". In this light it would have made more sense for the Institute in "Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow" to be named for Adam Soong.
- Sera specifically says she waited 30 years, since 1992, to get her shot at Khan. So she must have been aware of the old file that Soong pulled off the drawer in PIC: "Farewell". In a more daring interpretation, the intention could be to tell the viewers that Khan could have happened in 1992, and perhaps did happen in some other universe.
- Why doesn't the device from the future contain any information on the mission, or provide any other useful functions to get along in the past? It has a TCARS interface, but this is only accessible for official temporal agents. But if the device is somehow locked against unauthorized use, that obviously doesn't apply to its by far most powerful function, to enable time travel.
- La'an and Kirk both know of the destruction of the bridge. But Kirk needs a long time to also remember that Toronto would be obliterated by the Romulans a few days later! He mentions this incredibly important piece of information as late as Sera shows the picture of the Romulan BoP. His memory gap is anything but credible, considering the enormity of the event.
- Kirk says that the attack on Toronto was carried out by the Romulans, rather than by mysterious powers or by time travelers. This, perhaps plus the photo of the BoP depending on how old it is supposed to be, indicates that in his timeline the "legit" non-time-traveling Romulans entered the game 100 years earlier than in the original history. But why would they want to go out of their way, well before Earth's first contact with the Vulcans? Of course, the explanation may be that the time-traveling Romulans additionally gave their ancestors the advice plus possibly some future technology to lay waste to Earth (similar as it happened with the Xindi). But that sort of defies their stated goal of only destroying Earth technology (and waiting 30 years for the perfect opportunity) to give their own people an edge in the future.
- The appearance of a Romulan BoP 200 years before its time may be explained by time travel. But if the future Romulans bring an advanced ship to the past, why would they still bother to blow up the cold fusion reactor? Sure, this and the above issue may be explained with Sera's and the other Romulans' tasks being of secondary importance. Then again, after her mission has failed, what would keep the Romulans with the BoP from bombing Toronto?
- Why would Sera wait 30 years for Project Khan possibly to come to fruition, especially since she is a time traveler?
- The Noonien-Singh Institute is anything but a secret if its entrance is openly accessible in the city centre of Toronto. Kirk and La'an should have found it with the newly discovered DuckDuckGo. It would have saved them the trip to Vermont in the vague hope of building a cold fusion byproduct detector.
- A DNA scanner to control access isn't a good idea, especially if it provides access to remote relatives.
- I know I mention it in most of my reviews of time travel and parallel reality episodes, but the second law of thermodynamics makes it impossible for the Enterprise or any people on the ship to be the same after 200 years of diverging history. This applies particularly to the existence of Spock in a universe where Earth and Vulcan are no close allies.
- Remarkable quotes:
- "You know, maple leaves, politeness, poutine." (La'an, about Canada)
- "Spent six months in a Denobulan prison. Cellmate was a Vulcan. I can also make Plomeek soup in the toilet." (Kirk, explaining how he learned the Vulcan nerve pinch)
- "People are usually difficult for me." (La'an)
- Remarkable fun facts:
- Parallel timeline Kirk was born on the USS Iowa, rather than in Riverside, Iowa.
- Pelia's items have labels "Property of the Archeology Department". As it turns out, this is not the name of an institution but of her antique shop.
- The painting that Pelia claims is a fake and that is implied to belong to the Louvre is actually The Concert by Jan Vermeer. In reality, the painting was stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990. It has the sad distinction of being considered the most valuable work of art whose whereabouts are unknown.
Stardate 1630.1: As she is about to have dinner with Pike, Captain Batel learns that her promotion to commodore went to another officer, apparently because of her lacking support for Admiral Pasalk in the recent trial. Captain Pike says it is a good time for a break in their relationship, upon which she leaves. The Enterprise is ordered to investigate a possible cultural contamination on Rigel VII, a planet that the ship visited five years earlier. Three of Pike's crew were killed in action when the landing party was attacked by the indigenous Kalar. The planet's atmosphere is impenetrable to scans, but a photographic survey shows a large Starfleet delta created by the inhabitants. Erica Ortegas prepares to fly the shuttle of the landing party but needs to stay aboard the Enterprise for manual course corrections, as the planet is surrounded by a debris field. Pike, La'an and M'Benga arrive on the surface and walk towards the structure, equipped only with items that wouldn't raise suspicion. As they are on their way, La'an experiences a memory loss of the past couple of hours. When they arrive, they are apprehended by soldiers with helmets and are led into the building. Here, Pike is welcomed by Zac, a member of his former landing party, who was believed to be dead. Zac blames Pike for his being left behind and says he will take revenge by exposing him to the effects of Rigel VII. Locked up in a cage outside the palace, he, La'an and M'Benga forget who they are. Soldiers take them to a quarry for work, together with other Kalar that have lost their memories. A man named Luq tells them that the "Palace Kalar" are protected against the amnesia. Pike feels that he doesn't belong in the quarry and assaults one of the guards. La'an gets injured when she fights against the other one. M'Benga can't help her because he has no recollection of his medical knowledge. After finding shelter in Luq's home, the three decide to go the palace. In the meantime on the Enterprise, the crew too begins to experience amnesia and wander around aimlessly. Most alarmingly, Erica Ortegas, who is to maneuver the ship through the debris field, forgets how to use the controls. The computer voice shows the way to her quarters, but she is not safe here as debris keeps hitting the ship. When Ortegas learns that she is the pilot, she goes back to the bridge and operates the helm console the way she feels is right. On the planet, Pike confronts Zac, without knowing who his former crewmate is. But he begins to remember. Zac finally concedes that no specific device but the walls of the palace and the helmets of the soldiers provide protection against the memory loss, which is caused by an asteroid in orbit. Pike decides to tow the asteroid away, so Rigel VII can continue its development. He also tells Batel he is sorry for being inconsiderate.
"Among the Lotus Eaters" begins with the repercussions of Una Chin-Riley's trial, in which Pike and Batel were on opposite sides. We already know from "Ad Astra per Aspera" how sorry Batel is about indicting Pike's first officer and friend (as contrived as her involvement was). It is good to see that the two get this sorted out in their relationship. At least it initially seems so. Then Batel learns that she was passed over and someone else got promoted to commodore, most likely because of her lack of loyalty to the relentless Judge Advocate Pasalk during the trial. Pike reacts by calling their relationship "difficult" and suggesting a break. Batel recognizes that this may be a welcome excuse. In my view, Pike even makes it look a gallant sacrifice that he breaks up with her in order not to hurt her career. I think he actually just chickens out, which he recognizes after his experience on Rigel VII and apologizes. This relationship story may work well as a small B-plot, but what happens on Rigel VII would have needed a more powerful framing device than that, or rather none at all. Vice versa, Pike is an adult man, and he should have realized that he was a dick without the feelings of loss he had on the planet.
Like already in several other SNW episodes, the story is told much like it would have been done in TOS. This applies especially to the plot devices and to the characters, the megalomaniacal "High Lord" Zac and the unusually stagy Luq. Additionally, it is a direct throwback to the events on Rigel VII that Pike refers to at the beginning of "The Cage" and later relives through illusions induced by the Talosians. After the visit to Talos IV itself in DIS: "If Memory Serves", this is the second time that a part of the original pilot gets reimagined in modern Trek, although the Kalar are not as impressive as Vina and the Talosians in the DIS episode. I am fine with the idea to revisit Rigel VII. Continuity-wise, it is rewarding to learn that one of the three lost members of the landing party has survived and to see how Pike reacts to that, but otherwise it could have been any other planet. "Among the Lotus Eaters" thematically fits into TOS, and particularly into the second season with its many "cultural contamination" episodes. The story feels like Trek. It just isn't overly imaginative.
The landing party and a bit later the crew of Enterprise change under the influence of the memory loss. While most of them are merely confused, Captain Pike of all people becomes brutal. He frequently beats up someone, rampages through the palace and almost kills Zac. He says the planet "shows us who we really are", but his behavior is way out of character. In any case, without his memories Pike is much more driven by instincts than by principles, and we can presume that his instincts are stronger than anyone else's (perhaps with the exception of Ortegas). If Anson Mount's acting were not so great, it would put me off that his attitude is like "I don't know who I am but I feel better when I use brute force". It is instincts plus sheer violence, rather than skills or understanding, that save the day this time. Actually, there is one message in the episode that resonates a lot more with me. We might want to forget our often unpleasant or even painful past, like Luq, who lost his son. Yet, "maybe some memories are worth the pain of others", as La'an states. I would go as far as saying that our memories make up a good deal of our personality, and that losing them means losing a part of ourselves - just as Pike's case illustrates.
As the members of the landing party start forgetting everything they know, it is quite predictable that the same would happen to the crew on the ship, and particularly that it would be up to Erica Ortegas to save everyone. The cheeky helm officer so far never really did anything of note beyond her very job. We can see how excited Ortegas is when she prepares for the landing party, and how disappointed yet dutiful when she has to stay on the Enterprise for manual course corrections (because it wouldn't be the Discoverse if there weren't an debris field to be navigated in every second episode). When everyone on the ship is totally disoriented, Ortegas pulls herself together and heads back to the bridge. She then excels in what she can do best anyway. She simply does her usual thing, only that (to Spock's surprise) she "feels" her way through the controls instead of acting out of her knowledge and experience. The concept that feelings do or should supersede facts has become a nuisance, perhaps even a red flag in modern Trek. Fortunately it doesn't show up on SNW as frequently as in DIS, so I am a bit more forgiving this time. Also, we should not forget what brings Ortegas to the decision to return to her station in the first place, although no one mentions it. Rather than emotions, it is the logic that if she is a pilot, she is the right person to fly the ship and it is her duty to try and save everyone. Taken together, this is the first episode in which Ortegas has a decent amount of screen time, although she doesn't receive a lot of character development here.
Season 2 of Strange New Worlds fares well so far. Definite highlights are missing just as well as utter misfires can be avoided, as the series relies on its generally well received concept of a TOS revival - which it does as clearly as rarely before in "Among the Lotus Eaters". The episode does not accomplish a lot in terms of developing the storyline or the characters. It would have been an average TOS episode and definitely does not rank higher in the scope of the otherwise somewhat more sophisticated series SNW.
- Pike referred to the attack on his landing party, which cost the lives of three of his crew, in "The Cage". The Talosians made him relive the experience later in the pilot episode, this time with the extra thrill of him defending Vina against the savage Kalar.
- The three missing crewmen on the photos, as well as Zac in person, are wearing SNW uniforms, rather than any of the two styles that were established in DIS.
- The reimagined Enterprise has a huge sickbay, much like a hospital with a bed for every single crew member if necessary. But apparently just one single doctor, and none at all when he is on an away mission.
- Even though Spock and Chapel don't anticipate that they wouldn't be able to read the information on the PADDs any more, it would have been a good idea to instruct the computer to guide the crew once they are clueless. For instance, the computer could have told Ortegas who she is and what to do at the helm console, instead of waiting to be expressly asked by people who don't even know that they can ask.
- Remarkable dialogues:
- "So... if the ship is gonna get out of this horrible place, it's up to me?" - "Affirmative." (Erica Ortegas and computer voice)
- "I told you. Rigel VII changes people." - "No. No, it doesn't. It shows us who we really are." (Zac and Pike)
- "Not having a past... it can be nice for a while." - "I know what you mean. But maybe some memories are worth the pain of others." (M'Benga and La'an)
- Remarkable decoration: We can see an assortment of all kinds of Earth styles in the palace, among them a replica of the Alexander Mosaic in Pompeii - but with a different face (Zac's one, I presume) and with a Starfleet delta.
Stardate 1789.3: The Enterprise approaches the Vulcan system to investigate artifacts left behind on the moon Kerkhov by an ancient civilization, the Kerkhovians. Spock is going to meet with T'Pring and his future parents-in-law for an engagement ritual called V'Shal. Nurse Chapel, who has applied for a fellowship in archaeological medicine sponsored by the Vulcan Science Academy, grasps the opportunity and accompanies Spock on his mission to the moon Kerkhov. But as they approach the ruins, the shuttle gets dragged into a spatial phenomenon. Spock wakes up on the Enterprise and is all human! The Kerkhovians saved his life but omitted his Vulcan DNA. Uhura can contact them but they consider the case closed. Spock initially enjoys his new emotions, but the V'Shal approaches and M'Benga and Chapel have not yet found a way to revert his condition. Spock's mother Amanda and his crewmates help him to act like a Vulcan. Wearing ear prosthetics, he encounters T'Pring and her parents and does his best to suppress his emotions. As their attempts to restore the Vulcan DNA are not successful and only 24 hours are left before Spock's transformation becomes permanent, Chapel persuades Ortegas and Uhura to travel to the anomaly again. Chapel says she wants to help Spock because he is her friend, but only when she confesses she has feelings for him, she can convince the Kerkhovians to devise a cure. They also reveal that Spock shifted the shields to her side of the shuttle in order to protect her. Equipped with a serum, Chapel enters the room right in time before Spock is to perform a mind meld with his mother. T'Pring's mother T'Pril is content with the outcome of the ritual and says she is impressed that Spock could perform it despite his handicap. Spock angrily takes off his prosthetics, revealing that his ears still look human. T'Pring is disappointed that Spock did not entrust her with his secret. They decide to take a break in their relationship. Chapel's fellowship application gets turned down, but she is not sad because considers her recent field experience much more valuable than what the Vulcans could offer her. As she comes to Spock's quarters, the two don't hold back their feelings any longer and share a passionate kiss...
As a sort of disclaimer, I am well aware that TOS took a certain pleasure in taunting Nimoy's Spock for who he was and also showed him out of character more than once. But this review isn't about possible or actual mistakes of TOS. It is about how SNW deals with the legacy. The series is only 14 episodes old, in almost each of which Spock got mocked or embarrassed in some fashion. He himself crossed all kinds of lines, whether with his rage in "All Those Who Wander" or with other emotional outbursts, especially as his feelings for Christine Chapel are concerned. Strange New Worlds loves to mess around with the character, rather than showing a comprehensible development to the person he will be in TOS. The preliminary culmination was when he switched bodies with T'Pring in "Spock Amok", after a dream at the beginning of the episode in which he imagined to be fully human. The dream apparently wasn't enough, and the writers just couldn't resist to let it become reality in "Charades", which is both an unnecessary remake of "Amok Spock" and another uncalled-for detour in Spock's evolution.
It is my impression that the writers of SNW show even Spock's "normal" mood with a great deal of leeway. He is sometimes more and sometimes less relaxed just as they deem fit for their story to have the greatest impact. In "Charades", Spock is initially stoic as rarely before in the series. This is additionally illustrated with scenes in which he is not interested in the scent of herbs and finds a joke "fascinating". The same situations will be used later in the episode to show accordingly different, allegedly human reactions. I think this all could have been less in-your-face and less stereotypical.
I have to continue with another disclaimer. I know this is Star Trek, and weird is part of the job. We all know this kind of transformation stories. Much the same already happened to B'Elanna in VOY: "Faces" when her human and Klingon DNA were separated. But as scientifically nonsensical the idea is, the Voyager episode was dramatic, whereas Spock's transformation to a fully human version of him is played for laughs. There is one serious aspect about it that I will still comment on, but "Charades" is essentially a sitcom and is perhaps the silliest live-action episode ever produced. I laughed very hard and had to pause repeatedly because of that. I still can't believe they pulled off the hilarious "hat scene". When Spock and Pike explained the "regulation" to Amanda, it took me a couple of minutes until I could continue. Yes, I love humor in Trek. But SNW has a non-comedic setting, unlike Lower Decks where everyone and everything is defined by idiosyncrasies and funny by default.
Part of this story takes place on a meta level or breaks the fourth wall. In my view this isn't a sufficient justification for the things that feel off. Yet, I can understand the motivation, such as with the idea that Spock would have to glue on Vulcan ears the same way as an actor playing a Vulcan character. Or with the statement that Spock and Chapel can't have a relationship, ostensibly because of T'Pring but actually because it would be anti-canon.
The overdone or unfitting humor is one of several problems I have with "Charades". Another one is the stereotypical depiction of characters and of whole civilizations. This is customary in comedy but needs to be handled with great care in a drama. I am sorry that I feel like continuing with yet another disclaimer in this regard. Anyway, I know that "evil Vulcans" and particularly members of their species that are shown as smug or spiteful have a long tradition in Star Trek. It seems to be tempting to deconstruct the popular species and call their callous and logical behavior into question, increasingly in a way that emotions are shown as more valuable than facts. But isn't it racist how the human nature is systematically shown as crude but rightful, whereas the cold Vulcan way (as represented by T'Pril and the Science Academy guy, and to lesser degree by T'Pring) appears as undesirable, unfair and often downright mean-spirited? With the remark about Spock's bladder, T'Pril hits her low point. I concede that Spock's and everyone else's desire to restore his Vulcan half makes up for this extreme narrative bias to some extent. Also, T'Pril's husband Sevet comes across as likable, but by human as well as Vulcan standards he is a jerk. Overall, it is sad that SNW vilifies Vulcans or their culture for laughs. And it is counterproductive in light of the serious issue that Spock stands up to T'Pril when she calls his human nature a "handicap". This very powerful moment is adversely affected by the stereotypical depiction of Vulcans. Just as in real life, racism shouldn't be fought with racism.
Speaking of stereotypes, it initially appears that the Kerkhovians are even Vulkier than Vulcans. Their formal responses to the emotional pleas are funny. I like the attempts to communicate with them quite a bit. But even the Kerkhovians eventually acknowledge that emotions are more important than regulations. It seems that getting Chapel to talk about her feelings is the only real purpose the aliens have in the plot. Aside from that, everything shown or stated about them is gratuitous and doesn't make sense. The fact that an old alien race maintains an interdimensional portal on the Vulcans' doorstep is only one of several problems.
At this point of SNW I have no clue anyway where the series is going with regard to continuity. The visual issues aside, we already have the total reboot of the Gorn and the anti-canon fact that everyone knows about La'an's legacy. But who in the world came up with the idea that Spock and Chapel should have a relationship that no one will remember? Who in the world came up with the idea that Chapel had a brilliant career in science that she gave up to become an ordinary (and demure and bashful) nurse? How in the world are they going to fix it? With a lobotomy?
Even more than already "Spock Amok" with it very similar theme, "Charades" is extremely exploitative and draws on Spock's legacy without caring for the legacy. The whole episode is played for laughs. It is successful in this regard but feels like an outlier in a show that otherwise maintains a basic seriousness. The only serious aspect, T'Pril's racism, could have been handled much better by not framing the human way as superior and more desirable. Part of the story takes place on a meta level, and I expect this to happen again in the crossover episode with Lower Decks. "Charades" may be an annoyance but is very entertaining at times, hence the two points.
- Continuity: No one will ever mention the Kerkhovians again, a civilization that maintains a transdimensional portal in the Vulcan star system!
- Why don't the Vulcans have any idea that the Kerkhovians are still alive? Why does it take a Starfleet mission to discover just that?
- Just as in VOY: "Faces", the question is how to create a fully human Spock because with all his human genes (and if we leave the sex chromosomes aside) it would only be possible to reconstruct his mother, hypothetically speaking. Even if it were biologically plausible, wouldn't it have been much more logical and easier for the Kerkhovians to restore Spock as he was?
- After being transformed by the Kerkhovians, Spock not only experiences human emotions, he also seems to lose his memories of what he was like as a Vulcan, which doesn't make sense.
- Remarkable quotes:
- "Mother, it is illogical to criticize the nature of a memory." (T'Pring)
- "You refer to my human side as a handicap. Yet my mother is the most resilient, compassionate, tolerant person I have known. One who has been judged by Vulcans her entire life. And yet she stands by... For love, for family, for me. That is no handicap. That is true strength." (Spock)
- Remarkable dialogues:
- "Why are you wearing that silly hat?" - "It's not silly. It's regulation." - "I have one just like it." (Amanda, Spock, Pike)
- "These are delicious." - "But one could hardly call them traditional." - "Mm. That is true. They have diverged from tradition a bit." - "The twist is far too elaborate, the halak is not fresh, and it seems to be... salted." - "I... did not realize." (Sevet and T'Pril, about Pike's "traditional Vulcan tevmel")
- Remarkable cringe scene: When Amanda claims that Spock is upset, he tries to explain the human facial expression as spasms from the accident before he finally has to lift his hat that covers his ears.
Stardate 2394.8: Starfleet has set up a deuterium refinery in Bannon's Nebula. Pelia and Una are overseeing the efforts to get the station operational. On the Enterprise, Ensign Uhura hears a strange noise and some time later experiences frightening visions. Dr. M'Benga ascribes this to deuterium poisoning after she has been working inside a nacelle. He tells her to rest. However, she is sure she heard the first noise sooner than that, and it is getting worse each time. In the crew lounge, Uhura meets James Kirk, first officer of the USS Farragut. Briefly later, she has another hallucination in a corridor, in the course of which she knocks down Kirk. On the station, Pelia has discovered evidence of sabotage. She and Una find the culprit: Saul Ramon, a technician who suffers from hallucinations similar to Uhura's. He is taken to sickbay, but attacks M'Benga, runs away and kills a crew member. Uhura finds him in the port nacelle control room and attempts to calm him down. But Ramon continues with his sabotage. Kirk appears and orders a beam-out in the nick of time before the control room explodes, killing Ramon. Kirk tries to calm her down, but Uhura is terrified that the same may happen to her. Then she notices that the noise may be aliens trying to communicate with her. With Sam Kirk's help, she figures out that extradimensional aliens, who attach themselves to deuterium atoms, are getting killed in the refinery. She hurries to the bridge to stop the activation of the facility, but it is too late. Moreover, it is not possible to shut it down. Uhura insists on evacuating and destroying the station, for which Pike assumes the responsibility. Her scary visions do not return. In the crew lounge, Uhura introduces her new friend Kirk to her ship's science officer, Spock.
Strange New Worlds is about the adventures of the USS Enterprise under the command of Captain Christopher Pike. James Kirk is still a lieutenant on the Farragut at this time, yet he already appeared twice on the show, and curiously as an alternate version of the character in both cases. "Lost in Translation" is the first episode in which we see "our" Kirk in person. The show, which features no less than four future TOS crew members of the Enterprise in the regular cast besides him, continues to push the idea that it is an origin story, which more often than not takes precedence over exploring the eponymous new worlds. James Kirk is ostensibly on board the Enterprise to meet his brother Sam, but the actual purpose of his presence is to get acquainted with Uhura and ultimately to sit down at a table with her and with Spock in the perhaps most nostalgic moment of the series so far. A good deal of Strange New Worlds, like in no other Trek series, takes place on a meta level.
At first it doesn't even look like Lieutenant Kirk will be involved to a higher extent than getting into an argument with his brother, commenting on an unknown Vulcan's chess play and eventually being rebuffed by Ensign Uhura. I would have been content with Kirk remaining a guy from another ship on a visit. Perhaps it would have been a good opportunity to wrap up La'an's encounter with alternate Kirk from "Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow" in a better way than in one scene with a strange monologue about Kirk's dad that otherwise remains inconclusive. When he suddenly lies on the floor in front of Uhura with an injured nose, it is cringey and also contrived. It serves as a rationale for Kirk to get involved in Uhura's personal matters. I have to concede this makes sense because I can well imagine Shatner-Kirk would be just as empathetic and would care for her welfare in the same way. He would also give his obligatory motivational speech at some point. It is awkward how the two meet in the first place, but the story and especially the actors get it right in the further course. On the downside, as heartwarming as their interaction is, Uhura suddenly doesn't seem to have any friends on her own ship any more.
As I already mentioned in the reviews of his two previous guest appearances, Paul Wesley's character is a nice guy in his own right, but he isn't really James Kirk for me. Wesley continues to portray our captain as a friendly, sociable and sometimes a bit clumsy person. He clearly is ambitious, but in my view his reputation of being brash is undeserved. Celia Rose Gooding, on the other hand, was always quite credible as a younger Uhura, at least if we disregard a couple of modernizations. Her performance in "Lost in Translation" is very strong; the weaknesses that the character exhibits are rather the fault of the screenplay.
"Lost in Translation" comes with a cookie-cutter plot about the extradimensional lifeforms that gets enriched with the historic first visit of Kirk to the Enterprise and hence appears as more significant than it actually is. Despite Celia Rose Gooding's captivating performance, the story about the message that the aliens try to send never gets as exciting as it was probably meant to be. Her creepy visions become increasingly gratuitous, and even the brief scene in which she visits the crash site of her family's shuttle remains meaningless. It seems that every revelation, every gruesome hallucination and every action sequence is followed by a scene that takes away the suspense. Even after Ramon has blown up the port nacelle and another crew member has died, almost everyone returns to business as usual. As much as the character interaction, especially between Uhura and Kirk, benefits from it, the ship (not to mention Uhura herself) is in danger and nobody else gives a damn. Considering that Pike and Spock continue to ignore Uhura's warnings, it is additionally odd how her mere feeling is reason enough for the captain to blow up a strategically important multi-billion credits outpost in the rushed and contrived showdown. Also, Spock as the ship's science officer is not involved in any capacity after Kirk has come aboard, the explanation for which should not be sought in the story. It is evident that the writers simply wanted to save the moment he meets Kirk for the end of the episode.
The plot thread I care for still less is the one about Una's clash with Pelia. I would normally sympathize with Una because Pelia is a pain of the ass. She is the chief engineer but fails to provide a solid assessment of the state of the station, bringing forward feelings, rather than facts. Yet, it is unprofessional how both women keep arguing as if they were teenage girls. If Una thinks that Pelia is insubordinate or behaves otherwise inappropriately, there are disciplinary measures. If she merely can't get along with the Lanthanite's weird personality, then it is up to Una to deal with it. They don't have to be friends on the job. The idea that Una is (at least ostensibly) resentful because Pelia once gave her a C grade at the Academy is the icing on the cake of her being immature.
After last week's excursion into the comedy genre in a rather controversial episode, Strange New Worlds plays safe again with a story about a classic Trek topic and some more history making. In hindsight, Kirk's extended involvement in Uhura's affairs, the thing I was most skeptical about, unexpectedly turns out the only good part of the episode. Everything related to the alien message remains uninteresting and doesn't make much sense. I also don't care for the almost Discoveresque fixation on feelings in both the communication with the aliens and in the arguments between Pelia and Una.
- The reason for Pike's (awkward) temporary promotion to fleet captain is that Kirk says in TOS: "The Menagerie I" when Mendez asks whether he ever met Pike: "When he was promoted to Fleet Captain." The problem is that Kirk himself called Pike a fleet captain only a few moments earlier in the TOS episode. It would be odd for him to first refer to the present rank and then to a previous promotion years earlier that he knows was only preliminary and that Mendez may not be aware of, giving the misleading impression that it was only recently.
- George Kirk was the first officer of the USS Kelvin just as in "Star Trek (2009)", but unlike in the Kelvin Timeline, he is still alive.
- Why in the world would Kirk take Uhura with him in the attempt to apprehend Ramon, although he knows she could have another hallucination any time? And worse, why would he leave her alone a bit later?
- Ramon could still be alive if he had been beamed out together with Kirk and Uhura. But perhaps we shouldn't blame Kirk, who just said "Beam us out now!"
- Hemmer's line in the recording that something's burning out the receiver gives Uhura the idea that someone is trying to communicate with her but the signal is too strong. Okay, it's a crude analogy but I get it. But everything that follows about the extradimensional aliens in the discussion with Sam Kirk is extremely far-fetched speculation. In the end, she has no more than a vague feeling that aliens might be killed in the deuterium refinery and not the slightest proof for her hypothesis.
- The aliens exhibit a certain level of intelligence, or they can tap into brain functions of humans to make them do exactly what is in their interest. With this reasoning, it makes sense that Ramon shuts down the refinery and also disables the nacelle of the Enterprise. It doesn't make sense that he would deactivate the emergency shutdown of the facility.
- So refining deuterium kills the aliens but blowing it up doesn't? Yeah right.
- Remarkable quotes:
- "Logic would suggest that the simplest solution is often the correct one, right?" (Uhura, to Spock)
- "I have been called more names than there are stars in the sky, but 'space hippie' is a new one on me." (Pelia, to Una)
- Remarkable guest appearance: We can see Bruce Horak as Hemmer again, in the form of recordings and of horrible visions.
- Remarkable space station: The deuterium refinery looks like a modification of Starbase One with collector sails attached.
- Remarkable fact: James Kirk is the youngest first officer ever, a record that so far was held by his father, George Kirk of the USS Kelvin.
Stardate 58460.1: A team from the Cerritos led by Mariner conducts a routine inspection of a time portal on Krulmuth-B. But as Ensign Boimler poses in front of the portal, it activates, he gets drawn into the time stream and ends up in the past. Stardate 2291.6: While on a mission to Setlik II to deliver grain, an Enterprise landing party investigates the newly discovered time portal. Suddenly Boimler emerges from the future. As the crew is consulting of how to send the ensign back, an Orion ship appears. Boimler advises against firing because Tendi told him her great-grandmother was on an Orion science ship that allegedly discovered the time portal in the first place. But the Orions take the opportunity, beam the device aboard and warp away. There is no way to track them, but Pike authorizes Boimler to apply future knowledge. The Orions are ready to trade the portal for the tritriticale grain in the cargo holds of the Enterprise. After returning the portal to Krulmuth-B, everything is set for Boimler to go back to the future. But just as he wants to step in, Mariner arrives. This unfortunately depletes the storage of horonium in the portal, which is necessary for it to operate. There is no known deposit in the whole quadrant. Mariner tries to help Uhura with the translation of the symbols on the portal, but it turns out it merely reads "This is a time portal" in an old Nausicaan dialect. Boimler assists Spock in synthesizing horonium, but they end up destroying the lab. Boimler feels sorry about the grain that was given to the Orions, which will force the settlers of Setlik II to relocate. He secretly contacts the Orions to cancel the deal. It looks like Mariner and Boimler are stuck in the past. As they are talking with Pike about the good old times and Archer's NX-01, however, Boimler remembers that the hull of that ship used a horonium alloy and part of it was incorporated into the Enterprise NCC-1701. After harvesting the horonium, a landing party beams down to send Boimler and Mariner back. But the Orions are already waiting, blocking the entrance. Pike arranges a deal with them: The Orions let Starfleet use the portal, and as history is concerned, Orions discovered it.
The crossover of Strange New Worlds with Lower Decks was announced at SDCC one year ago and became the perhaps most anticipated episode of modern Trek. Although I was definitely looking forward to it too, I was skeptical of the idea for three reasons. The first one is that Lower Decks so far is firmly based on the continuity and visuals of classic Trek, such as with the TAS portraits of Kirk and Spock in LOW: "No Small Parts" (where the term "Those Old Scientists" was coined too) or with the authentic TOS Enterprise in LOW: "Crisis Point 2: Paradoxus". In my opinion, there is no place for the reimagined SNW ship in Lower Decks. The second point is that this crossover could break the fourth wall too blatantly. There are fundamental discrepancies in style and tone between the two shows, so the required common ground may have to be the meta level, rather than a solid in-universe narrative. My third concern, especially after the recent failure of "Charades" in my view, is that SNW does too many comedy episodes, and too frequently targets Spock in this regard.
So were my worries justified?
"Those Old Scientists" sets off with an animated part taking place in the future and in the context of Lower Decks, with Mariner, Boimler, Tendi and Rutherford. This is unsurprising, considering that it was already mentioned in the initial announcement that the episode would incorporate both live-action and animated portions. Investigating a time portal that was discovered by Pike's Enterprise (or by the Orions, as Tendi claims), our Lower Decks characters namedrop crew members of the ship all the time, just as they do in their own series. Then Boimler poses for a photo in front of the portal, and gets dragged into the past. Here, the ensign lands at Spock's feet and has become a live-action character, played by Jack Quaid who usually voices him. I think the transition works very well, which may also have to do with Quaid having been cast for this eventuality in the first place. The same goes for Tawny Newsome as Mariner, who will follow him later. Just after his arrival, Boimler breaks the fourth wall when he notes "You guys look realistic".
Surprisingly, the opening credits of Strange New Worlds are animated this time, Lower Decks style. I didn't expect this to happen, considering that Boimler arrived from LOW in the SNW universe, rather than the other way round. Yet, I liked it.
As Boimler is on the Enterprise, the story can be taken seriously, although his being aboard gives rise to countless jokes or funny situations. I think almost all of the humor is successful. Of course, live-action Boimler can't be quite as crazy as the animated original. It might turn out too disruptive, and it would be physically impossible anyway for Quaid to move cartoonishly. Only in a few scenes, such as when the lab is about to explode or when La'an catches him red-handed in the shuttle, he pulls off the typical hysterical conduct of Boimler in the face of danger. Overall, Boimler is just a bit more foolish than the SNW crew. In turn, this means that although the latter remain largely authentic, they act somewhat less professionally than they would normally do. Overall, it feels like both shows meet in the middle while hardly losing anything of their inherent qualities.
The jokes on the meta level continue throughout the episode. Boimler is shocked when he sees Spock smile, which at this point can be rated as SNW ironically alluding on its own canon violations. Vice versa, Una and Spock notice that Mariner's and Boimler's "references are weirdly specific", thereby commenting on the idiosyncrasy of LOW characters to always quote from Star Trek history. Fortunately, this never distracts from the actual story. Taken together, my second worry didn't come true.
It is clear that fanboy Boimler would encounter all the crew members of the Enterprise that he has been talking about all along on the Cerritos, with especially Spock being a role model for him. This takes me to how Spock is treated in SNW in general, and to my third worry about the crossover in particular. This Spock is not the unemotional person that Boimler knows from historical records and that he expects to see. But the character changes back and forth all the time during the series. I already wrote in my review of "Charades" that, even if he is not caught in the wrong body, Spock's level of emotionality is script-driven in SNW. In "Those Old Scientists", he repeatedly smirks, laughs and jokes. Nurse Chapel says this is temporary and implies that it is because of her. His funny phase is timed in a way that it would have maximum impact on time traveler Boimler, and it is not only a side note but is given a lot of room in the story. Spock wasn't like that in "Lost in Translation" (where he came across as passive-aggressive), and I bet he won't laugh a lot in the next episode either. It is sad that the series frequently uses the character to undermine his own reputation, and I don't accept the excuse that it mostly happens in comedic settings.
The episode also has its contemplative moments. Although the Spock problem of the week is not convincing for all the reasons already mentioned, Chapel's conversation with Boimler still doesn't leave me cold when she realizes that Spock will lose the ability to express his emotions. Pike's talk about his father's early death, his own age and his inescapable fate resonates with me, even though the topic comes up a bit out of the blue. I also like how Mariner cares for the overworked Uhura and how Una is moved by Boimler having a pin-up poster of her - a recruitment poster with her personal motto "Ad astra per aspera".
On the topic of visual and technological continuity and hence my first of the above three concerns, the episode does its best to reconcile the reimagined TOS tech in SNW with the retrofuturistic TNG look of LOW. I think this works most of the time, in a similar way as already in ENT: "In a Mirror, Darkly". I only don't think it was a good idea to show the reimagined ship on Boimler's poster. I hope that future Lower Decks episodes will return to 100% classic visuals after this one-time excursion, which is technically a Strange New Worlds episode. To put it bluntly, whereas LOW (just as the whole TNG era universe) may exist in SNW, I don't want SNW (at least its visuals and some of its continuity issues) to harm classic Trek.
The episode closes with a sequence, in which Una, Pike, Spock & La'an, M'Benga, Ortegas, Uhura & Chapel are animated and act like they are on Lower Decks. Although this is totally meta, especially with Uhura's remark that everything feels two-dimensional, it is hilarious. Well, the in-universe explanation is obviously that there are on a psychedelic trip after drinking Orion hurricanes with real Orion delaq.
On a technical note, all animated sequences are in Full HD 1080p. The live action, as usual by now, is in 1920x800 format, so it can be seen in one and the same episode what we're missing out in terms of resolution with the "cinematic style" (in numbers: 26% of the screen).
"Those Old Scientists" is very entertaining. Although it is a crossover of two completely different formats and highly experimental as such, the episode turns out less silly than "Charades". The transitions between the world of LOW and the one of SNW happen much more smoothly than I would have expected. Tawny Newsome and Jack Quaid are great as the live-action versions of their animated characters. There are many remarks that break the fourth wall but that don't disrupt the story.
I personally didn't have very high expectations. I think I enjoyed the crossover so much because I love Lower Decks and its humor and because I could put aside most of my reservations. The episode still has a few issues, of which the treatment of Spock is unfortunately intrinsic to the series. I also really think that after one failed and one successful comedy the series needs a break from that genre. I don't think it is helpful that a musical episode is coming up...
- Tritriticale is a tongue-twister and apparently a precursor to quadrotriticale (TOS: "The Trouble with Tribbles") and quintotriticale (TAS: "More Tribbles, More Troubles").
- The grain needs to be delivered to Setlik II. A human settlement in that system will be raided by Cardassians, but on Setlik III (TNG: "The Wounded").
- If horonium is so incredibly rare, it seems extremely unlikely that the element would be used in large amounts in the hull of Enterprise NX-01, a vessel built with the scarce resources of 22nd century Earth.
- Why is the part from Enterprise NX-01 a bottle, apparently with a liquid? I would have expected some small hull piece in solid form.
- Remarkable dialogues:
- "Last, and perhaps most important. Don't make any attachments [during time travel]." - "Uh, I'm actually not familiar with that one. Is that a recent addition?" - "Well, yeah, no, because it's advice from personal experience." (La'an, to Boimler)
- "They never improved on these. I mean, yeah, they got smaller and more powerful. And arguably less likely to explode, but design-wise?" - "Explode, you said?" (Boimler and M'Benga)
- "Oh, my God! I'm on the bridge. NCC-1701 dash... nothing." - "What would come after the dash?" (Boimler and La'an)
- Remarkable quotes:
- "Sir, there has to be a peaceful solution. And I know diplomacy is one of your many, many strengths. That and patience, forgiveness, benevolence... really great hair."(Boimler, to Pike)
- "Ideas! [Boimler raises his hand] Not you." (Pike)
- "I can use the extra pair of hands, if Mr. Boimler is not afraid of losing one of them." (Spock)
- "Are sparks bad?" (Boimler, as the attempt to synthesize horonium goes awry)
- Remarkable scenes:
- Boimler sees Pike's saddle and can't resist climbing on it, "Riker-style". (No one else but Jonathan Frakes directed this.)
- Boimler is just about to be beamed away when Spock gives him a Vulcan salute. Boimler tries to return it but is so excited that he just says "You... also live..." before he vanishes.
- Remarkable set: This is the first time we see the (huge) shuttlebay of the reboot Enterprise, at least briefly as a CG set.
- Remarkable ship: The Orion vessel follows the lines of the design seen in TOS-R: "Journey to Babel".
- Remarkable facts:
- A horonium alloy was used in the hull of Enterprise NX-01. It is a tradition to incorporate one part of an old ship when a new one with the same name is built.
- Hoshi Sato spoke 86 languages.
- Tendi's great-grandmother Astrea Tendi was on the Orion
piratescience ship that was the secondfirst to discover the time portal on Krulmuth-B.
- Captain Pike's birthday will be a holiday in the 24th century.
- Nyota Uhura is 22 years old.
Stardate 1875.4: The Enterprise arrives in the Prospero system to transport a special Federation ambassador to Starbase 12, after he has successfully negotiated a cease-fire. This person is the former Klingon General Dak'Rah. He defected during the war and now acts on behalf of the Federation but has a bad reputation among Starfleet and Klingon veterans alike, who accuse him of war crimes. Dr. M'Benga and Nurse Chapel recall their time in a field hospital on D'Gal, when Dak'Rah was in command on the enemy side. They grudgingly agree to attend a dinner with the Klingon in Pike's quarters. After a while, Ortegas, also a veteran of the war, doesn't hold back her opinion on Dak'Rah any longer and leaves. Chapel and M'Benga follow her. But the ambassador approaches M'Benga and invites him to a Klingon judo match. Dak'Rah says he seeks an alliance with him because that would be a powerful message. But M'Benga is not ready to forgive his former enemy. Back on D'Gal, the attempt to strike back failed, and the Klingons began to slaughter civilians, for which Dak'Rah is responsible. M'Benga used a substance known as Protocol 12 to gain the strength to attack the Klingon commanders. He killed three of them, an action for which Dak'Rah takes credit, although he himself just escaped and defected. M'Benga confronts his nemesis in sickbay. A brief struggle ensues, in the course of which the Klingon is fatally wounded with a d'k tahg that the doctor kept in his old medkit. Chapel witnesses the incident and testifies that Dak'Rah attacked first. There is no further investigation. M'Benga confesses to Pike that he is glad Dak'Rah is dead.
The contrast couldn't be greater between last week's comedy crossover "Those Old Scientists" and next week's musical episode "Subspace Rhapsody" on one hand and this gritty drama about war, guilt and forgiveness on the other hand. "Under the Cloak of War" is among the darkest Star Trek episodes ever produced and is a bit reminiscent of "In the Pale Moonlight" as well as of "The Siege of AR-558" in this regard, with some similarities to "Duet" as well.
I usually have a solid opinion or at least a good impression of a new episode after watching it just once. But "Under the Cloak of War" may need a while to settle. I'm sorry that, unlike last week's episode, this one doesn't have the advantage of being something that I could watch multiple times in fast succession. What I can say right now is that I am glad the story about M'Benga's and Chapel's time in the war and especially his PTSD is picked up again, after it was cut short in favor of beating up more Klingons in "The Broken Circle". We also learn that the substance they still had a supply of was not regular issue but a secret project that M'Benga was working on and that was abandoned, probably because of the side effects. Continuity-wise, this is an entirely satisfactory episode.
I think it is laudable that the story doesn't present a ready-made morality along the lines that we always have to forgive our enemies for the sake of the greater good. It is shown as acceptable to refuse the reconciliation, which is a decision that M'Benga makes for himself after recognizing that Dak'Rah is on a self-serving quest for redemption. Even racist prejudices such as that of the "warmongering race limited by their ideology" remain unchallenged.
While the episode thankfully doesn't give a lecture on how to deal with a war criminal turned peacemaker, it never leaves a doubt about Dak'Rah's guilt. Ortegas, Chapel and M'Benga can't be all wrong about him. Also, as someone who boasts about his diplomatic victories just as a normal Klingon about slaughtering his enemies, he is sinister to start with. This is unfortunate because the character (unlike Marritza in DS9: "Duet") remains predictable, and with him the course of the plot. It only isn't differentiated well enough that he allegedly killed his fellow Klingon commanders (for which the Klingons purportedly despise him) and that he killed civilians (for which Starfleet despises him). At least, I was confused a few times until I saw in the flashbacks what had actually happened. We also don't learn what exactly earned him the position of the ambassador despite the testimonies against him and why he can be so successful in his new job although he seems to be universally hated.
I have a problem with Captain Pike's leadership in "Under the Cloak of War" and, to be honest, in several previous episodes. He lacks foresight. He should have anticipated that inviting three war veterans, two of whom were in the very battle with Dak'Rah on the opposite side, is a terrible idea. And even though the higher-ups expected the war veterans to be present, he could have found excuses to avert the confrontation. Once things go south at the dinner table, he lacks authority. Pike remains totally passive when Ortegas, Chapel and M'Benga leave in a huff, which in Dak'Rah's eyes must appear like "Sorry, three of my officers don't like you, it's their call". It is nice of Pike to allow M'Benga to depart on the pretext that Chapel and Ortegas need help, but in the end he pisses off both the ambassador and his own crew by sitting out the situation.
There are numerous flashbacks to the war on D'Gal that become increasingly disruptive. Perhaps their length or frequency should have been reduced. Then again, as a story of its own this is arguably more interesting and more touching than what happens on the Enterprise, and visually more impressive anyway - quite possibly the most powerful anti-war story in Trek since "The Siege of AR-558".
The definitely most controversial part of the episode, or the one that is shown in a way to raise a controversy, is the showdown in sickbay. We don't see through the frosted pane who actually picks up the d'k tahg in M'Benga's medkit. We can't tell what Chapel sees and if she lies to protect her friend. We don't know whether Pike buys into the story or whether he is simply content with the outcome so it doesn't fall back on his officers and ultimately on him. In my view, the intention is to insinuate that M'Benga grabbed the knife and stabbed Dak'Rah in an act that has to be rated as manslaughter. But for those who don't like the outcome it leaves the alternate interpretation that the Klingon somehow attacked first (or perhaps committed suicide?). In any case it is insincere to cloud the truth about the pivotal part of the story in a veil of mystery. I can only hope that a future episode will make up for this mistake, even if it means that Chapel explicitly mentions how she lied for M'Benga.
Overall, "Under the Cloak of War" is a temporary return to serious storytelling that comes with unusually strong dialogues and an outstanding performance by Babs Olusanmokun. Yet, I have a few issues with the episode. I already compared it to "In the Pale Moonlight", the most obvious analogy being that Joseph M'Benga (quite possibly) covers up a crime just like Ben Sisko did in the famous DS9 episode, in which he stated that he can live with it. I doubt that M'Benga can live with the apparent lie. I am not happy with how he succumbs to his worst instincts. I am not content with the predetermined path to the confrontation that no one seeks to avoid and with the uncalled-for uncertainty about what really happens in the end.
- We briefly see T'Kuvma give his "Remain Klingon" speech but only in the recap. All "new" Klingons have hair even during the war, in defiance of the myth established in DIS season 2.
- Lieutenant Va'Al Trask, like the two Andorians that could be briefly seen in "Those Old Scientists", has the classic make-up without the "horns" above the eyes. It seems that, like already with the Tellarites, not to mention the Klingons, the series continues its visual continuity repair tour.
- There is a fully-fledged replicator in the bar on the Enterprise, whose sound is that of a food dispenser in TOS.
- As there is no internal organ regenerator in the field hospital on D'Gal, M'Benga saves a patient named Alvarado by keeping him in the transporter buffer. Unfortunately, there are power outages and the transporter is offline, so he has to wipe the buffer in order to save incoming patients. M'Benga will use the same method to prolong his daughter's life in season 1.
- Remarkable dialogue: "We need to get Rah off this ship. Crew morale is low." - "How can we represent a Federation that believes in peace if we say some people aren't allowed to make up for their past?" - "I agree with you, in the abstract, but the people he hurt, some of them right here in this crew, might not find forgiveness so easily. It isn't fair for us to ask them to just let it go. Federation or not, everyone is on their own journey." (Number One and Pike)
- Remarkable quote: "Incoming transport." (announcement of new patients in the field hospital)
- Remarkable scene: The young ensign, to whom M'Benga feels an attachment, is barely fit for duty again but is in the platoon that departs for the suicide attack on the Klingons. He will not survive.
- Remarkably awkward scene: Erica Ortegas keeps talking about Dak'Rah and calls him "Butcher of D'Gal" as he enters the bridge behind her back.
- Remarkable ship: The USS Kelcie Mae is a truly odd-looking ship.
- Remarkable shuttle: The large shuttle that takes Christine Chapel to J'Gal is a great utilitarian design and perfect for the era, a bit like a 23rd century runabout with design cues also from the (U)SS Raven. It was modeled in a way to use the same cockpit section as the smaller reimagined TOS shuttle.
- Remarkable guest appearance: Clint Howard can be seen as Buck Martinez, his fifth role in the fifth Trek series!
- Remarkable fact: Deltan parsley is deadly in excessive amounts.
Stardate 2398.3: The Enterprise investigates a naturally occurring subspace fold. Spock, Uhura and Pelia try to utilize the anomaly for faster communication. When they send a message in the form of a song into the subspace fold, they inadvertently trigger the creation of a quantum uncertainty field that makes the crew sing. La'an rates the fact that everyone openly expresses their emotions as a security risk. She herself is struggling whether to tell James Kirk, who happens to be aboard too, of her feelings for him. An attempt to collapse the field using the deflector dish fails and causes the phenomenon to spread to other Federation ships and eventually to the Klingons. Spock tests a new method to destroy the field on a small sample but comes to the conclusion that it would unleash a huge destructive force. As the Klingons are on their way to blow up the phenomenon with disruptors and torpedoes, time is pressing to find another way to eliminate it. La'an talks to Kirk about their previous encounter in another timeline, only to learn that he is in a relationship. Spock is depressed because Christine Chapel didn't tell him she was accepted for a fellowship with famous archeologist Dr. Korby. He leaves Uhura alone with the task to detect a pattern in the data about the subspace fold. The ensign finds out that the field spikes each time someone sings and that it could be collapsed in what she calls a grand finale, and so the whole crew starts to sing at once. Right in time before the Klingons can target it, the phenomenon is gone and everyone is back to normal.
"Subspace Rhapsody" was officially announced just after the hilarious crossover with Lower Decks, the first experimental episode of this season. First off, I wasn't aware that musical episodes are a thing in otherwise serious formats. I only knew them from comedy shows or animation, such as most famously The Simpsons. I have seen my share of musicals, mostly by Andrew Lloyd Webber, performed live on stage, but I don't consider myself a big fan of the genre. I had no idea how the concept would be translated into a Star Trek setting. Although I was skeptical of how the musical could possibly fit into the series, I decided to keep an open mind.
The episode begins with the investigation of an anomaly of the week. Uhura is overworked as usual since the begin of the season, this week's excuse being that she has to relieve the computer and operate the telephone switchboard. Jim Kirk visits the ship yet again without a real reason, and this time La'an is so confused she walks in the wrong direction when he has beamed over. "Subspace Rhapsody" has a weak start with lame dialogues but that somehow makes me look forward to the singing because it can only get better.
Given the history of the character in SNW, who would have expected anyone else but Spock to be the first member of the crew that suddenly intones a song? Anyway, as he sings in "Status Report" he explicitly calls out the absurdity of the situation in a textbook example of lampshading: "Apologies, the most confounding thing. I appear to be singing. Most unusual, so peculiar." The awareness of the bizarre occurrences continues through the rest of the episode and sets it apart from last season's "The Elysian Kingdom" where the characters were just playing roles. I would have preferred if the musical had been a merely stylistic device with no story relevance, in a similar vein as part of "Those Old Scientists" was animated without an in-universe explanation. On the other hand, I can see that the writers wanted the feelings to flow both ways, into the songs but also with repercussions for the singing characters. More comments on those feelings later.
Weird things happen all the time in Star Trek. But an anomaly that makes everyone sing is something we may not take seriously. Although there are precedents of fantasies becoming reality in subspace in TNG: "Where No One has Gone Before" and "Remember Me", the technobabble about something along the lines of infinite improbability doesn't help to let the phenomenon appear in any way more plausible. To make things worse, Uhura states that the crew is following "the rules of musicals" imposed on them by the anomaly(!), which sort of annihilates the intent to provide an in-universe rationale. To put it bluntly, it is only possible to enjoy this if we accept that the characters sing and dance for the sake of singing and dancing, and not because we could make sense of it. I don't want to get into debates whether what happens in "Subspace Rhapsody" is canon. I just think it is disconnected from the rest of the series and of Star Trek in much more than a mere matter of style.
In spite of the attempt to sell the singing as a part of the plot, I see "Subspace Rhapsody" as a musical based on the series, rather than being a regular Strange New Worlds episode in which everything happens the way it is shown on screen. Once I abandon the idea that the episode could be a genuine part of the series, it is not bad at all. I'm not a music production expert and I can't tell how much auto-tune comes into play. Anyway, whereas Ethan Peck, Anson Mount and Melanie Scrofano aren't the greatest singers, Rebecca Romijn's performance is decent as already in "Q&A". Paul Wesley and Jess Bush actually do pretty well. Celia Rose Gooding sounds wonderful and is only surpassed by Christina Chong, who already proved her talent in "The Elysian Kingdom". At least, she has the perfect clear and powerful voice for musicals. Although I'm not the biggest fan of this kind of music, I enjoyed this hour as a lighthearted break from the storyline of SNW.
One of the most persistent points of criticism of Discovery and, to somewhat lesser degree, of Strange New Worlds is that these two series are fixated on feelings (that more often than not supersede facts). We may argue that a musical is predestined as a show of emotions. "Subspace Rhapsody" goes still further and explicitly states how important those feelings are, not only in the songs but also in normal dialogues, like a dozen times in the episode. This culminates in the already mentioned absurd statement by Uhura that the anomaly created a musical for the crew, allegedly with the goal to have them express their emotions. It is similar with the theme of "connection", which was iterated ad nauseam in Discovery and is likewise referred to again and again in "Subspace Rhapsody". These two messages are far too obtrusive.
Speaking of feelings, I like that La'an talks to Jim Kirk after she passed that opportunity in "Lost in Translation", even though it now happens in a very contrived situation. I can understand she doesn't get specific about what happened in Toronto because she was sworn to secrecy about it. But why is it that in her monologue she only talks about what kind of a person she was and how she has changed, and not at all about Kirk? Now that I think of it, I noticed the phenomenon in many movies, not to mention in Discovery. La'an's profession of love is an extreme example, it is egocentric. This criticism sounds harsh, but after her wonderful song "How Would That Feel" (my favorite both in terms of melody and lyrics) about the topic of her inner struggle it is awkward how she says essentially the same to Kirk as previously to herself.
"Subspace Rhapsody" is uninteresting in terms of the bare story. It is terribly implausible and corny as a regular episode. Yet, it excels as a cordial and wonderfully entertaining standalone musical based on SNW. I wanted to exempt the episode but after considering all the pros and cons I think it should be rated above average, not despite but because of the singing. I appreciate how the people in charge have the courage to go where no one has gone before with new forms of storytelling. Yet, I'm not sure if I want to see so many experiments in a series that consists of only ten episodes per season.
- In TOS: "What are Little Girls Made of?", it turns out that Chapel is engaged to Dr. Korby, the scientist who accepts her for a fellowship.
- Kirk mentions his relationship to Carol who, of course, is Carol Marcus of "Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan" fame, and who appears to be pregnant with David.
- Remarkable quotes:
- "Mr. Spock, you explained that very well. I almost understood it." (Kirk, to Spock)
- "He let me know in a surprisingly beautiful baritone that he wants us to stop this now." (Una, about Admiral April)
- "I need to just say this before it comes out in the form of a 17th-century sea shanty." (La'an, to Kirk)
- "Sorry, earworm." (Uhura, after singing again)
- Remarkable scene: the cheesy Klingon boyband
- Remarkable fact: It's Marie Batel.
- Track list:
- Star Trek Strange New Worlds Main Title - Subspace Rhapsody Version (Jeff Russo)
- Status Report (Anson Mount, Jess Bush, Christina Chong, Rebecca Romijn, Ethan Peck, Melissa Navia, Celia Rose Gooding, Babs Olusanmokun, Paul Wesley, Carol Kane, Tom Polce, Kay Hanley)
- Connect To Your Truth (Rebecca Romijn, Paul Wesley, Tom Polce, Kay Hanley)
- How Would That Feel (Christina Chong, Tom Polce, Kay Hanley)
- Private Conversation (Anson Mount, Melanie Scrofano, Tom Polce, Kay Hanley)
- Keeping Secrets (Rebecca Romijn, Tom Polce, Kay Hanley)
- I'm Ready (Jess Bush, Celia Rose Gooding, Melissa Navia, Dan Jeannotte, Tom Polce, Kay Hanley)
- I'm The X (Ethan Peck, Tom Polce, Kay Hanley)
- Keep Us Connected (Celia Rose Gooding, Tom Polce, Kay Hanley)
- We Are One (Anson Mount, Jess Bush, Christina Chong, Rebecca Romijn, Ethan Peck, Melissa Navia, Celia Rose Gooding, Babs Olusanmokun, Dan Jeannotte, Paul Wesley, Carol Kane, Tom Polce, Kay Hanley)
- Subspace Rhapsody End Credit Medley (Tom Polce, Kay Hanley)
Stardate 2344.2: The Cayuga assists human settlers on Parnassus Beta just outside Federation space. Christine Chapel, who is in the team too, is about to beam back to the ship. Captain Batel is just talking to Captain Pike when contact is lost. The Enterprise receives a distress call from Batel, who speaks of a Gorn attack. As the ship arrives in orbit of Parnassus Beta, the Cayuga has been destroyed. No communication, scans or transport is possible because of an interference field that the Gorn have erected. They send a map with a demarcation line that Pike is not allowed to cross, as he would otherwise trigger a war. Pike assembles volunteers and shows them newly developed equipment to detect and kill the Gorn. Disguised as a piece of debris, Ortegas maneuvers a shuttle with Pike, La'an, Sam Kirk and M'Benga to the surface of the planet in the hope to find survivors. The landing party discovers a structure that likely generates the interference field. They follow human lifesigns and run into a trap that an engineer named Montgomery Scott actually set up for the Gorn. When his ship was attacked by the aliens, he escaped in a shuttle, only to end up on the planet that was their main target. Several more survivors are hiding from the creatures, including Captain Batel. In the meantime on the Enterprise, Uhura and Pelia have pinpointed the field generator and plan to destroy it by letting the saucer of the Cayuga crash into it. Spock takes a spacesuit and places rockets on the hull of the wreck. He has just finished the setup when he encounters Christine Chapel on the bridge. But the two are not alone. They unite forces, kill the Gorn and narrowly escape as the saucer enters the atmosphere. Pike, Batel and Scott have made it to Scott's shuttle to salvage the equipment he used to build a Gorn transponder and pose as one of their vessels. When a Gorn ambushes them, the creature doesn't harm Batel. She shows Pike that she has been infected with Gorn eggs. Batel proposes to fly the shuttle into the field generator, so everyone else on the planet can be saved. There is no need for this suicide mission any more as the saucer destroys the structure. The three are beamed up, as are Spock and Chapel. But the Enterprise can't get a lock on the rest of the officers and colonists. They were captured by the Gorn. Pike receives orders from Admiral April to withdraw immediately...
Season 2 of Strange New Worlds had a bit of everything that we know from and love about classic Trek: a courtroom drama, a revealing time travel story, a sequel to "The Cage" and a tough ethical debate. It also included three episodes that tried out new forms of storytelling: a sitcom, a crossover with an animated series and even a musical episode. SNW crossed the line to being primarily a comedy show on these occasions.
What was missing so far was a truly exciting episode. The season premiere "The Broken Circle" fulfilled that expectation to some extent, but with one exception the stakes were not very high. Also, it may have been more spectacular. This is merely an observation because I personally didn't miss the action in season 2. On the contrary, by deliberately abdicating over-the-top stunts as they are commonplace in Discovery, SNW further emancipates itself and works out the human (or humanoid) dimension in the stories more credibly. Still, some more action was due, and we get plenty of it in "Hegemony".
The space sequences in "Hegemony" look really good. I would only wish that the writers come up with new ideas. Flying through a debris field is the most overused cliché in present-day Trek. It happens in slight variations once in every few episodes. At least Erica Ortegas gets something to do this way. Spock's spacedive is typical of modern Trek too, but I like how it is visualized as him simply floating over to the Cayuga. This is in contrast to the obligatory superhuman stunt that Discovery would have pulled in the same situation. The same applies to Spock and Chapel's fight with the Gorn on the bridge, with zero-g movements that look mostly realistic.
I have not forgotten that SNW rewrites the history and the very nature of the Gorn in a way that is irreconcilable with TOS. On the other hand, I have to admit that the series has created a formidable new enemy of its own that remains unfathomable and is always good for surprises. The story arc began with "Memento Mori", which is still among the best episodes of the series. We first saw the Gorn and learned more about them in "All Those Who Wander", but that episode was too much designed as an "Alien" rip-off. Well, "Hegemony" has that one moment in which Batel is face to face with the alien creature just like Ripley, but I don't mind the reference this time although for some it may be a tad too obvious. Rather than that, it disappoints me a bit that in "Hegemony" the Gorn are not much more than a recurring jump scare. Also, they are said but not really shown to behave unusually. There is the theory that solar flares may trigger a change in their behavior and the insinuation that there may be a way to talk to them. However, we will have to wait for the possible reward until season 3.
I am content with the development of the plot until the moment half way into the episode when the landing party runs into no one else but Montgomery Scott (played by Martin Quinn). His appearance almost ruins the rest for me. I will never understand the obsession that each and every character from TOS has to be enlisted for the prequel and needs to be reimagined. So far Christine Chapel is the biggest offender in terms of character redefinition, followed by Jim Kirk. SNW's Scotty can easily keep up with them. Rather than the decent person he was in TOS, the new one is a parody of Pegg-Scott, if that is even possible. The character played by James Doohan inspired generations of engineers, the new one is more like comic relief. The engineering miracles he accomplishes are not credible either, at least not for someone who is running from the Gorn. From the looks, facial expressions and gestures this guy reminds me a bit of Pavel Chekov, if it were not for the Scottish accent (try and watch him without sound). But Scotty? No way!
I like the scene in which Una shows sympathy with Spock, who at this point must assume that Christine has not survived. This would have more of an impact if she could actually die in the series. Even if we leave aside the self-imposed curse of the prequel, it is extra contrived that Chapel is the only(?) survivor on the Cayuga, that Spock is allegedly the only one who could attach the rockets to the saucer and that she sees him floating by through a window. In the end, the two are reunited after a dramatic rescue from a doomed ship, in much the same fashion as already in "The Broken Circle", which is uncreative on top of it.
Despite the gratuitous character moments and some plodding developments in the middle, "Hegemony" becomes thrilling again in the end. The open ending didn't catch me by surprise because I paused a few times and noticed that only a couple of minutes were left and a resolution was still far away. Also, there are the dangling questions about the Gorn and about what Scotty's equipment could still be useful for. I was prepared, I was curious what it would be like, and I think the cliffhanger is great. But overall, this episode is barely above average.
- Why would the Gorn put up a demarcation line between the planet and its moon, rather than outside this orbit or better outside the planetary system? We may argue it was a show of power to let the Enterprise come close to the planet and the wreck of the Cayuga. But it is just stupid and can be used by the Enterprise crew to their advantage several times in the episode. Also, is the demarcation line supposed to move together with the debris and the moon and the planet, and how?
- La'an says she doesn't recognize Scott's name from the Cayuga's roster. Did she really memorize 200 names?
- Pelia speaks of making it appear like the orbit of the Cayuga decays naturally. But after remaining in orbit for several hours, the saucer burns up in the atmosphere merely two minutes after Spock has activated the rockets. That doesn't look natural to me.
- From the moment that Pike materializes on the Enterprise, it takes at least two minutes for someone (Spock, who has just returned to his post as well) to inform him that there are no other lifesigns on the planet, which was the only reason for the ship to be still in a region swarming with Gorn ships.
- Remarkable dialogues:
- "They're monsters." - "'Monster' is a word to describe those who don't understand us." - "Sometimes a monster is just a monster." (Pike and April)
- "I have this crazy theory." - "Huh." - "Oh, well, it's-it's not that crazy. I just thought you might be..." - "Yes, w-well, don't sugarcoat it. I love a crazy theory." (Uhura and Pelia)
- Remarkable scene: After the activation of the transporter on the Enterprise, we can see how M'Benga and the others are being beamed up. But the transporter effect is green instead of orange. What looks like an error at first glance turns out to be a cue for attentive viewers that they were transported to a Gorn ship.