The Things We Do for Love – Review of “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” Episode 7 “The Serene Squall”

There’s a quote I’m rather fond of from The Dresden Files. It’s spoke by Mab, the Faerie Queen of Air and Darkness in the book Changes: “So many terrible things are done for love. For love will men mutilate themselves and murder rivals. For love will even a peaceful man go to war. For love, man will destroy himself, and that right willingly”. The seventh episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, titled “The Serene Squall” made me think of Mab’s quote as Spock finds himself a pawn in a game born out of twisted love.

Spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you haven’t watched “The Serene Squall”, the seventh episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.

Much like the episode “Spock Amock”, this episode focuses on Spock and T’Pring as the centerpiece of the relationship. I mentioned in my review of “Spock Amock” that fans of Star Trek The Original Series know where things are eventually going to lead: Spock and T’Pring get married at some point but it becomes an unhappy union and eventually the marriage is annulled. While the end of the relationship is a foregone conclusion, the steps taken to reach that stage are the point of these stories. It helps immensely that Gia Sandhu (as T’Pring) and Ethan Peck (as Spock) have an undeniable chemistry between. I’m not sure how they managed it but the two of them are able to squeeze an insane amount of sex appeal out of two characters that are bound within the strictures of logic and stoicism.

The relationship between the two characters is tested by their separate duties, with T’Pring overseeing what essentially boils down to a re-education/prison camp for Vulcans who have abandoned the path of logic and feed their emotions. For those not in the know, the reason the Vulcans cling to logic so steadfastly is that they are prone to exceptionally heightened emotions, even more so than humans or even Klingons. Into the midst of the ongoing drama between Spock and T’Pring steps two other characters: Nurse Christine Chapel and the guest star of the episode, Doctor Aspen (portrayed by Jesse James Keitel).

Over the past few episodes (particularly “Spock Amock”) it’s become clear that Nurse Chapel has a growing crush on Spock, which falls in line with the portrayal of Nurse Chapel originated by Majel Barrett-Rodenberry on The Original Series. Chapel knows that Spock does not return her feelings, so she acts as his friend and his sounding board whenever Spock is unsure of how to handle his relationship with T’Pring. I’ve found the scenes written between Jess Bush and Ethan Peck to be wonderful to watch, largely because of the easy-going chemistry the two actors have. You can see in the furtive glances and asides that Chapel gives Spock that she is quite smitten with the Vulcan Science Officer.

Doctor Aspen serves as an excellent counterpoint to Nurse Chapel and T’Pring. She is openly flirtatious with Spock, challenging him on an intellectual and emotional level. Given that Jesse James Keitel is non-binary, her speech to Spock about the binary choices of being human or Vulcan is a well-written piece that I would show to anyone unsure of their gender identity to convey that the conventional boxes of what we can be are not always who we are as a person.  Aspen’s arrival on the ship is to request assistance for colony ships damaged outside of Federation-controlled space. Without power and running low on supplies, Aspen requests and receives assistance from Pike and the crew of the USS Enterprise.

Except, of course, it’s a trap. Cue the Admiral Ackbar impersonation.

Aspen is really Angel, the captain of the pirate vessel The Serene Squall. Using the cover story of the colonists, Angel manages to get Captain Pike, La’an Noonien Singh, and a security team to beam over to the Squall while her crew beams aboard and takes control of the Enterprise. Una Chin-Riley manages to lock down the Enterprise before her and the rest of the crew are taken captive aboard the Squall, leaving Chapel, Spock, and Angel to fend for themselves. This turns out to be a gambit on Angel’s part, since Spock has the ability to remove the lockdown, giving Angel the chance to take control of the ship.

At this point in the episode, we have two split story arcs for the episode. The fun part for me as a viewer was watching Una Chin-Riley and Captain Pike initiate a mutiny on the Squall, a tactic they refer to as “Alpha Braga IV” (indicating the two of them have done this before). It’s a masterful piece of work by Pike, first by convincing the “captain” Remy to take the Enterprise crew and sell them to the Klingons (who are not known for keeping up their side of deals with pirates). Using that as leverage, Una and Pike are able to convince the Squall crew to mutiny, granting Pike and the rest a chance to take over the ship.

But the bulk of the episode is devoted to Angel and her plan for Spock. It turns out that Angel didn’t care about the Enterprise or her crew. She wants Spock to perform a prisoner exchange: Spock for her lover Xaverius (a Vulcan who is being held in T’Pring’s re-education center). It is Angel’s deeply twisted form of love and devotion to Xaverius that made me think of the quote from The Dresden Files. Angel is prepared to sell the Enterprise crew into slavery and steal the flagship of the Federation all so she can get her lover out of prison.

T’Pring is put in a difficult position. On the one hand, she will lose a considerable amount of esteem and her place in Vulcan society if she were to let a prisoner go. On the other hand, if she refuses and Spock dies (which Angel assures T’Pring is the outcome if the offer is refused), she will lose even more respect in Vulcan society for the death of Ambassador Sarek’s son. Angel also drops a few hints as to the true identity of her lover, which isn’t fully revealed until the end of the episode.

Spock manages to come up with an ingenious method of diffusing the situation, saving T’Pring from committing an unpardonable act or losing his life in the process. When T’Pring arrives to commit the prisoner exchange, Spock asks Chapel to go along with his plan, which amounts to Spock publicly stating he is in a secret relationship with Chapel and kissing her (and it was a damn good kiss by all appearances) right on the bridge for all to see. With this show of affection, T’Pring cancels the pair’s engagement, meaning she is no longer obligated to save Spock. This in turn spoils Angel’s plan. But before Angel can fire on T’Pring’s ship with the Enterprise’s weapons, Pike and the Squall arrive, allowing Una to lock down the ship and Ortegas (the Enterprise’s main helmsperson) to disable the ship’s engines. Beaten but not cowed, Angel makes a hasty retreat to a nearby shuttle and escapes, leaving her pirate crew to be captured and taken back to Starfleet.

The closing moments of the episode are juxtaposed between two scenes with Spock. The first sees Spock and T’Pring together in his quarters, where T’Pring admits she saw through the ruse and appreciated Spock’s gesture to help her from having to make a regretful decision. The pair reinitiate their engagement. Later on, Spock visits Chapel to check in on her. While Chapel assures Spock she knows there are no feelings between them, you can see it in Chapel’s face that she’s just saying this without really meaning it. It’s here that we find out what Spock meant on the bridge when he revealed to Chapel he had deduced who Xaverius truly is: his half-brother Cybok (the villain of probably the worst Star Trek film Star Trek V: The Final Frontier).

Overall, I enjoyed this episode quite a bit. Jesse James Keitel was a treat to watch in the episode. For the first half, she is calm, reserved, and teasingly playful. When the second half begins and she’s revealed her true colors, there’s a swaggering sexiness to Angel that I couldn’t help but enjoy watching. The ongoing relationship between Spock and T’Pring is made much easier because of the performances of the two actors. And I have to give Jess Bush a hell of a lot of credit. She manages to infuse Nurse Chapel with a mix of humor and hidden sorrow but never enough to make us feel pity for Chapel. It’s a fine line to walk and Bush manages to hit just the right notes to make us feel for Chapel but never feel sorry for her.

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