Finding One’s Place in the Universe – Review of “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” Season One, Episode Two “Children of the Comet”

A person can go through their entire life and not understand or even know what path they are supposed to be on. Some of us wander aimlessly from place to place, job to job, relationship to relationship, and never truly know where we are supposed to be, who we are supposed to be with (if anyone), or really who we are and what we will become. The core focus of the second episode for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, titled “Children of the Comet”, is on finding one’s place in the universe and where that path will lead us.

Spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you haven’t watched the second episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.

This is an Uhura-centric episode, with Celia Rose Gooding taking center stage. Like many, the idea that Strange New Worlds would use established characters in a new light intrigued me, particularly once we get to see Cadet Nyota Uhura (among other characters like Nurse Christine Chapel). Celia brings warmth and humanity to this younger version of Uhura, as well as a tragic pathos that was never part of the original portrayal by Nichelle Nichols. During the dinner in Pike’s quarters, we discover that Uhura lost most of her family in a shuttle accident. Adrift and with only her grandmother for support, Nyota decided to join Starfleet (taking after her grandmother) but isn’t sure it will become a career for her.

Obviously, we as the audience know that it very much will be her career but that isn’t the point of the episode. How someone gets to the point in life we’re familiar with is what this episode focuses on, wrapped in the traditional science-fiction trappings common to Star Trek. As a cadet, Uhura is unsure of herself, of her abilities as a linguistics expert, but through some blunt (yet thoughtful) coaching from Spock, Uhura manages to unlock the secrets of a vast alien structure embedded in a comet that is about to impact a planet with millions of people (killing them in the process). By the end of the episode, Uhura is one step closer to becoming the person we see in the original Star Trek and the films involving the original cast. One would hope that Nichelle Nichols has been shown this episode. I think she would be quite pleased with Celia Gooding’s portrayal of the character Nichols made famous.

The main plot of the story plays out as one would expect: the crew of the Enterprise are in orbit around a pre-warp society’s planet (which looks like it hasn’t yet moved into serious agriculture as of yet) to study a comet. They soon learn that the comet will impact with the planet, killing everyone on it. An away team of Spock, La’an Noonien-Singh, Sam Kirk (who funnily enough is the designated “red shirt” of the away mission, though he does survive), and Uhura (on her first away mission) are sent to investigate after it is discovered there’s a structure built into the comet. Over the course of the episode, Uhura and Spock discover the chamber and the large egg-like device inside responds to music (the principle being that music is based on mathematics, which many consider to be the true universal language). The course of the story’s progression, including the arrival of the fanatical Shepherds who dissuade Enterprise from interfering with the comet was deftly written, never overstaying its welcome and moving things along at a good pace.

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Wandering aimlessly, nine condemned souls unknowingly circle each other: a duplicitous foursome, dysfunctional gluttons, a serial killer, and a pair of deranged mortal enemies. As they suffer the consequences of their poor decisions in life, they are unable to fully grasp how deception and self-serving motives can only lead to one’s own downfall—whether one is human or otherwise.

The other major throughline of the episode is Captain Pike grappling with the foreknowledge that he will suffer a horrific accident in ten years. The scenes between Anson Mount and Rebecca Romijn were well done, particularly on Romijn’s part. Una Riley, known mainly by the name Number One, is dead-set against the idea that Pike’s fate is sealed. As we learn in the coda of the episode, the structure in the comet is intelligent and seems to possess an amount of foreknowledge (giving information hours before the fact that Spock’s daring attempt to save the planet later would succeed). The idea that fate is not set or that external factors can affect how that fate plays out sits at the core of Number One’s argument to Pike. Mount’s portrayal of Pike, who shifts easily between the energetic, snippy captain and the soulful, mournful man who is struggling to accept what he knows is his future, is quite enjoyable to watch. Pike knows the names of the five Starfleet personnel he will save at the cost of his own physical well-being, which is a small comfort given the level of body horror Pike will have to endure for saving them. Like Uhura, we as the audience know there is no escaping the fate that awaits Captain Pike.

To borrow a phrase from The Lord of the Rings: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us”. Pike’s journey on Strange New Worlds is an exploration of that maxim. While his ultimate fate will be a tragic one that turns into a happier ending, how Pike gets there and what he decides to do with the time he has left is the story I’m looking forward to seeing.

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