Star Trek: SNW Season 2, Ep 1 Review

Paramount Plus

A new season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is upon us and I couldn’t be more excited. I greatly enjoyed the first season of the show. Strange New Worlds harkens back to old-school Star Trek with its combination of self-contained episodic stories and season-long individual character arcs. My question going into this new season was if the infamous sophomore slump would cause a dip in quality for Strange New Worlds. I’m glad to say that is not the case here.

Spoilers ahead, so don’t read this if you haven’t watched Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season Two premiere “The Broken Circle”.

We find the USS Enterprise docked at Starbase One for upgrades and routine inspections. It’s been a few months since the end of the last season, which saw the voluntary departure of Security Chief La’an Noonien Singh and the arrest of First Officer Una Chin-Riley. The show sets up Captain Christopher Pike’s quest to free his First Officer from prison before she can accept a deal that will cause her to resign her commission from Starfleet. To do so, he decides to head off on his own to recruit a lawyer that can assist Una in her defense. As a result, Pike leaves Commander Spock in charge of the Enterprise in his absence. But in the midst of the upgrades to the ship, Spock and the others receive a distress call from La’an that purports a dire situation for Starfleet.

The majority of the episode focuses on Spock and other members of the ship stealing the Enterprise to rescue La’an. Spock, as played by Ethan Peck, is in the midst of emotional turmoil, something most Vulcans keep under lockdown. In the previous season, Spock removed the mental safeguards to allow his anger to come to the service while fighting off the Gorn. This can be a bad thing, particularly given the history of Vulcans being a highly emotional species that learned to control their worst impulses through the mental discipline of logic. Seeing Spock and Doctor M’benga discuss the fact that Spock is experiencing stress was delightful. M’benga seems to be enjoying needling Spock a bit about this development, especially once he sees Spock’s heartrate jump once Nurse Chapel arrives in sick bay.

The relationship between Nurse Chapel and Spock is something that the show is taking liberties with from the original series. There was an episode in Star Trek: The Original Series where Nurse Chapel professed an interest in Spock but Strange New Worlds has been dropping hints that Chapel has felt this way about Spock from the beginning. I don’t mind this diversion from canon, mainly because it gives an added dimension to both of these characters. Neither of them is willing to speak directly to the growing feelings between them, which is a good source of potential drama.

Doctor M’Benga, portrayed exceptionally well by Babs Olusanmokun, also gets several chances to shine in this episode. M’Benga is a veteran of the Federation/Klingon War that was depicted in the first season of Star Trek: Discovery. The weight of dealing with so much death and destruction weighs heavily on the good doctor. There are moments throughout “The Broken Circle” where it’s clear to us as the audience that M’Benga is unable to let go of the horrors he’s witnessed. The message is clear from the writing staff: War is not noble and even if you survive, there are scars left over that will never fully heal. We also get a chance to see M’Benga kick some serious ass in this episode. As it turns out, Bab Olusanmokun is an accomplished Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter and it clearly shows during the major fight sequence during the episode (with Nurse Chapel getting to throw down as well).

The plot discovered by La’an (played by the returning Christina Chong) involves a group of dilithium traders (the crystal substance used to help power starships in Star Trek) who seek to restart the war between the Federation and the Klingons to increase their profits. To do this, they’ve managed to piece together an old Federation starship and plan to attack the Klingons who are now in charge of the world La’an has found herself on. The setup that the Klingons and the Federation switch custody of the dilithium mining planet is a callback to the Cold War parable of Star Trek: The Original Series. In that series, the Klingons were used as an allegory for Soviet Russia and Communist China. I think that Strange New Worlds finds an acceptable balance between The Original Series and the development given to the Klingons since The Next Generation first came out.

My favorite new addition to the cast, though, is Carol Kane as Commander Pelia. Kane made an indelible impression of me as a kid when she was the Ghost of Christmas Present in the film Scrooged. Pelia, as we discover, is a member of the Lanthanite people. The Lanthanites are a new addition to Star Trek, having lived among humans for thousands of years before publicly coming out in the 22nd century. Much like Guinan’s species, the Lanthanites are exceptionally long-lived (to the point of being virtually immortal). Kane brings an irascible energy to Pelia, who was part of the inspection team for the Enterprise and who quickly deduces that Spock and company are planning on stealing the ship. Rather than discourage them or try to stop them, Pelia offers suggestions on how to sell the false story to enable to crew to leave without issue. It’s revealed at the end of the episode that she did this largely out of boredom, which the Enterprise has in short supply. I found myself laughing quite a bit with Pelia during her scenes. She’ll be a welcome addition to the crew for the season.

It would be easy to dismiss Star Trek: Strange New Worlds as a show that trades on nostalgia to keep an audience invested. There’s enough little winks and nods to The Original Seriesi for the hardcore Trekkers (such as the hilarious scene where Spock utters his catchphrase to take the ship to war). But there’s enough of what fans call Nu-Trek to keep a newer audience engaged. I greatly enjoyed “The Broken Circle” as a standalone episode and I’m looking forward to seeing how things play out during the sophomore season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.

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