Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2 Review
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2, the show’s sophomore outing, was anything but timid, even if they continue to employ the laziness of time travel to create character moments. But that can be forgiven in light of all the other great episodes and the fact that the time travel worked OK in its own bubble.
Season 2 runs with mostly episodic aplomb, skirting the edges of renewed hostilities with the Klingons, followed immediately by a courtroom drama that found the Enterprise’s former first officer, Illyrian Una “Number One” Chin-Reily (Rebecca Romijn), vindicated as the Federation’s conscience and jogged through the recitation of its own principals.
And time travel. Young James T. Kirk (Paul Wesley) and La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong) end up in the past to once again save the future by making sure that La’an’s Eugenics War ancestor, Kahn Noonien-Singh, lives to do his dastardly deeds, and once again meet Kirk, twice, to set up the Star Trek universe we all know and love. The encounter haunts La’an, but she does ultimately find a way to work through here heartbreak.
The next couple of episodes, “Among the Lotus Eaters” and “Charades,” offer challenge and charm. In “Lotus Eaters,” Pike (Anson Mount) and crew find themselves at the mercy of a vindictive former yeoman, considered killed in action, who placed himself as emperor over a people who live every day in the moment, as their personal memories fade from day to day. Despite the convenience and specificity of the amnesia, it presents a twist on forgetfulness that hasn’t been seen on Trek before.
Sometimes, there are things characters want to forget but just can’t—as Spock (Ethan Peck) becomes human after Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush) becomes the human template for an injured Spock repaired by higher-dimensional beings who just don’t get what they did wrong. As Chapel seeks a way to “fix” Spock and return him to his half-Vulcan self, he must pretend that he is fully in Vulcan control during their engagement ritual. Spock’s deception with T’Pring and his feelings for Chapel set up a dynamic that sees T’Pring leave offended, and Spock decides to give into his feelings for Chapel—with a kiss.
Ensign Nyota Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) gets her turn at the center of the plot as her mental plasticity plays a role in communicating with aliens being killed by a Federation deuterium mine the Enterprise is sent to repair. This episode also offers plenty of the Kirk bros problem-solving in space.
Episode 7 offers the first landmark of season 2 (yes, there are two landmarks). In “Those Old Scientists,” USS Cerritos ensigns Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid) and Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome) step through a portal that lands them at the feet of members of an Enterprise away mission. The Lower Decks cross-over is clever, makes sense in a Star Trekky way, and demonstrates that funny voice actors can be funny even in corporal form. Director Jonathan Frakes lets the Enterprise crew and the production crew have all the right kinds of fun.
Star Trek Strange New Worlds Season 2 Episode 8 returns to the Klingon war with a Klingon Warrior not seen since Star Trek V—and I could have done without him or this episode. Episodes that actually go to strange new worlds play better for me than those that rehash old incidents, even if they do provide deeper character insights, which “Under the Cloak of War” surely does, revealing that Dr. M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) isn’t a doctor who always believes in doing no harm.
And then landmark number two, the brilliant and very rewatchable “Subspace Rhapsody,” in which the Enterprise not only breaks out in song, but the song becomes the solution to the very contrived “improbability field,” a term derived more from Alice in Wonderland than from Stephen Hawking. But the crew gets to sing, and even those who can’t sing well are given numbers that play to their strengths rather than their weaknesses. The Klingon rap is killer, and the reveal that Kirk is in a relationship with a pregnant Carol Marcus places this episode clearly in its place in Star Trek canon. There is no little homage paid to Josh Weedon’s “Once More with Feeling” Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode, including a winking reference to bunnies.
The final episode, a horror return to the Gorn conflict, was my least favorite of the season, though I really liked the away mission jackets and want one. “Hegemony” included too many coincidences and implausibilities. I suspend belief every time I watch science fiction. I don’t want my science fiction to strain its own internal logic, and I think this episode does that, most pointedly with Nurse Chapel being the only survivor of a decimated UUS Cayuga. I’m also pretty sure I don’t want the retconned Gorn as the big bad going forward. Their one encounter in Star Trek TOS doesn’t justify the diplomatic and military angst at this point in the timeline.
I know. I know. But I do know that I don’t know the Gorn until Kirk (William Shatner) fights one that looks nothing like these Gorn—so we now have new CGI/prosthetics issues much as we did with Klingon foreheads (and all of the other accouterments added to them by JJ Abrams and Discovery)—or the Romulan species revelations of Nemisis. At some point, somebody will need to explain the speed and fierceness of these new Gorn and why the future Gorn was a more humanoid and more plodding Lizard-like race. And that never goes well.
Other notable events this season include the return of Scotty (Martin Qujinn) and the addition of Carol Kane’s delightful and saucy Pelia. Earpers will, of course, enjoy more time with Melanie Scrofano’s Captain Batel and her intimate and complicated relationship with Captain Pike.
Overall, Star Trek Strange New Worlds Season 2 was an outstanding season with just a couple of downs, and those, mostly minor ones at that, save the Gorn and the reliance on time travel. The acting is superb, and the sets and the costumes well-crafted and believable. Where Discovery always felt uncomfortable with itself, Strange New Worlds sports a jazzy feel that permeates the loose, episodic television that finds new plots around every week’s corner.
If Pike and Kirk can negotaite peace at a galactic level, then the studios, the writers and the actors can find a way to write themselves out of conflict here on Earth.
I just wish Paramount had a commitment to the kind of episodic television that used to produce twenty-five or more episodes a season. We need more Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, and unfortunately, the various strikes mean we won’t get any more until 2025 or so. Hollywood would do well to watch some Star Trek and learn how to negotiate a resolution to their differences. If Pike and Kirk can negotiate peace at a galactic level, then the studios, the writers and the actors can find a way to write themselves out of conflict here on Earth.
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