Much like the first season’s fifth episode, “Spock Amok”, the fifth episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds second season is a “hijinks” episode. “Charades” is a focus episode on Spock and Nurse Chapel, with a fair amount of comedic hijinks thrown in. Combining an accident with interdimensional aliens with a tense sit-down with your prospective in-laws is an ingenious move on the part of the writers.
Spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you haven’t watched “Charades”, the fifth episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds second season.
The underlying tension between Commander Spock and Nurse Chapel has been touched on several times over the course of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. “Charades” takes this a step further than just subtext and tension (which may draw the ire of hardcore Star Trek fans). The Enterprise is on route to Vulcan to investigate a dead moon in the same system that was home to a species known as the Kerkhovians, who disappeared without a trace. On top of that, Spock’s fiancée T’Pring insists that he attend a prenuptial dinner with her disapproving mother T’Pril. When Spock and Chapel are sent in one of the shuttles to investigate an anomaly, they encounter a rip in space/time that damages their shuttle. When Spock awakens in sickbay, he finds that the Kerkhovians have somehow removed his Vulcan DNA, making Spock entirely human.
Ethan Peck and Jess Bush really shine in this episode in their respective roles. Peck plays up the unexpected changes that occur within Spock now that he is fully human. From enjoying food during cooking lessons with Captain Pike to laughing at jokes told by the other officers, Spock is truly learning what it means to be human. Unfortunately, this also causes problems with his emotional control, since he is experiencing full human emotions for the first time. This causes unexpected outbursts, such as Spock losing it on Sam Kirk for not cleaning up after himself during a meeting of the science team. La’an Noonien Singh describes it during a meeting with Spock that he is basically going through the equivalent of a human teenager’s puberty period, with the emotional volatility that entails. Seeing Peck move through the gamut of emotions is a joy to watch, since he has to normally play Spock as the withdrawn stoic.
But this episode isn’t all about Spock, with Chapel’s desperate attempt to revert Spock back to his normal self taking up the B plot of the episode. Chapel’s hesitancy to speak aloud her attraction to Spock has been a recurring theme of the series. There have been plenty of awkward conversations and sideways glances between the characters since last season. There’s also the disappointment Chapel faces when she is rejected for a fellowship with the Vulcan Science Academy. While the stated reasoning is that she failed to properly complete her application, the underlying reason I feel is that the Vulcans are not keen on having a human working among them. The casual racism exhibited by both the Vulcan Science Academy member who speaks to Chapel and T’Pril is not outside of the norm from the established Star Trek canon. Vulcans, by and large, have always shown a certain amount of contempt for humans.
Things naturally come to a head when Spock’s mother Amanda arrives (played by a returning Mia Kirschner) to help Spock prepare for V’Shal dinner. Spock’s inability to control his emotions eventually comes out and Amanda learns the truth. But being the supportive mother that she is, she convinces Pike, Spock, and a few others to help put on an elaborate charade to get Spock through the engagement dinner. I greatly enjoyed the interactions between Spock and Amanda, particularly during the training montage where Amanda teaches Spock how to convincingly lie. Without the words being said (until the very end), you get the sense of how much Amanda has had to put up with being a human on Vulcan.
The V’Shal dinner is where the main “hijinks” of the episode occur. Spock spends much of it trying his damnedest not to lose his temper with T’Pril. A stern Vulcan matriarch, T’Pril browbeats everyone (including her husband and daughter) without a care as to what emotional damage this causes. When Spock finally reveals his ruse at the end, he stoically cuts T’Pril down to size for her bigoted stance regarding humans. It was definitely a fist-pumping moment watching Spock rebuke her dismissal of his human side (and by extension, his mother).
Chapel’s story reaches a culmination when she ropes Uhura and Ortegas in to visiting the Kerkhovians again to reverse Spock’s genetic alteration. I love the fact that Uhura and Ortegas both call Chapel out on being unable to say how she feels about Spock. It’s a wonderful little nod from the writers that pushes Chapel to admit, in a roundabout way, that she finds the Vulcan Spock to be far more attractive than the fully human version.
Which leads into the climax of the episode. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds hasn’t been shy with setting up the eventual dissolution of T’Pring and Spock’s relationship. If I have one nitpick about this episode and the series as a whole, it’s the use of a love triangle as a storytelling device. I’m not against it when the story is engaging and this one has been, for the most part. I will say that watching T’Pring rebuke Spock for not telling her the full extent of his accident was the right call. T’Pring has shown that she accepts Spock’s half-human heritage more than the average Vulcan would. Spock’s decision not to divulge his predicament to her is a sign that while he does love her, he does not fully trust her. His decision to not bring her into his confidence will set the stage for their eventual falling out during “Amok Time” from Star Trek: The Original Series.
However, Spock and T’Pring putting their relationship on hold leads to an apparent consummation of Spock and Chapel’s relationship. The fact that the writers have finally pulled the trigger on this is a case of better late than never. I am aware that it flies in the face of the established canon of Star Trek. Canon is a wonderful thing, unless it gets in the way of telling the story that you want to tell. Personally, I don’t see an issue with the two characters exploring a relationship but I will say that we as the audience know it will not have a happy ending. Spock will eventually go back to T’Pring in some fashion and Chapel ends up married to another character later on down the road. But for now, I’m interested enough to see where this goes. My interest is largely due to the excellent chemistry between Jess Bush and Ethan Peck. Where this takes Star Trek: Strange New Worlds in the future is anyone’s guess at this point but it should be a fascinating adventure.
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