The Familiar Formula Still Works – Review of “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” Season One, Episode One “Strange New Worlds”

Source: IMDB

A spinoff of Star Trek: Discovery was inevitable, given that it was the first new Star Trek series to premiere on CBS All Access (now Paramount Plus) and receive good enough reviews to warrant other shows. A large part of that is due to the show’s second season, which is where the connection to Star Trek: Strange New Worlds begins. Following the crew of the USS Enterprise under the command of Captain Christopher Pike, the show starts off with a strong message and follows through on the original formula for Star Trek that has worked so well in the past.

Spoilers ahead for the first episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.

First, I just want to say how much I enjoyed this episode. In the past reviews I’ve written for Star Trek: Picard (whose second season ended when Strange New Worlds premiered), I haven’t been kind to the show. In this case, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is a throwback to The Original Series, as well as Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Voyager. There are some positives and negatives that will come with this method of episodic storytelling.

On the one hand, Strange New Worlds will be able to have a variety of episodes that don’t rely on knowledge from previous episodes to make sense (outside of the recaps shown at the beginning of the episode). The downside to episodic storytelling is the infamous Status Quo is God issue that plagued The Next Generation and Voyager. Because each episode is designed to be a self-contained story with little to no crossover from week to week, stories that could carry over and impact future decisions for characters and plot arcs don’t appear. A good example of this from Star Trek: The Next Generation is the 25th episode from Season Five “The Inner Light”. What should have had a profound impact on Jean-Luc Picard as a character is hardly ever referenced again (with one exception being during the show’s seventh season).

With that being said, the first episode pulls no punches with its allegories (much in the same way all Star Trek shows have done over the decades). A common criticism of the newer Star Trek shows is that they are far too “woke”, which I’ve discovered to really mean the stories include elements of diversity that fall outside certain cultural “norms” that people are comfortable with. What the “woke” critics of Star Trek fail to keep in mind is that Star Trek (rightly or wrongly) has always been a deeply allegorical take on humanity, dating back to Star Trek The Original Series.

The two warring factions on the planet Kiley 279 are from a pre-warp society, which would not normally get Starfleet’s attention. In this case, though, Kiley’s scientists witnessed the climatic battle with CONTROL at the end of Star Trek: Discovery’s second season, giving them just enough information to create a warp bomb (a nuclear device powered by the matter/anti-matter engine found in warp drives). Anson Mount as Captain Christopher Pike is excellent in this episode, particularly as he lays out the folly of civil war in the ending (showing images of the Second Civil War that leads into the Eugenics War and World War III). It’s the first time a Star Trek show has used footage from the real world (specifically the insurrection on January 6th, 2021) to facilitate its story.

However, the heart of this episode comes down to three characters: Christopher Pike, Commander Spock (Ethan Peck returning to the role after his appearance in Star Trek: Discovery) and Commander La’an Noonien-Singh (portrayed by Christina Chong). Pike is struggling with the revelation in Star Trek: Discovery of his ultimate fate: to be bound in a life-support device due to severe radiation poisoning ten years in the future from this point in the story. Spock, who is now engaged to T’Pring, his mate, comforts Pike in a strongly Vulcan way while struggling to balance duty with his relationship to T’Pring. Lastly, we have La’an, who possesses one of the most ominous surnames of the series. La’an has apparently suffered some great tragedy before involving the Gorn (lizard aliens who are known to be rather brutal to prisoners). The full story of La’an’s past will no doubt play a factor in a later episode but it is her surname that has me most intrigued. Khan Noonien-Singh should be a name even casual fans of Star Trek recognize, so having La’an’s surname be Noonien-Singh leads me to believe there are going to be seeds planted for Khan’s later appearance in the events of Star Trek The Original Series.

Overall, I found the episode to be well-written and a joy to experience. The shift in story structure after the heavily-serialized nature of Star Trek: Discovery and Star Trek: Picard is a welcome change of pace. I’m looking forward to seeing what Star Trek: Strange New Worlds presents to the us as an audience. Hopefully, it will be a callback to what made Star Trek so enjoyable in the past: the mysteries of the universe and how those stories relate to us in our everyday lives.

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