The first season for the latest Star Trek TV show to stream on Paramount+, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, has just concluded with a strong episode (“A Quality of Mercy”) that represented the best stories of the season. The show is a spinoff of Star Trek: Discovery and another prequel to the original Star Trek. In this case, the show chronicles the voyages of the starship Enterprise under the command of Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) a few short years before Captain James T. Kirk assumed command.
Getting this out of the way, this series is fantastic with its much needed and refreshing back-to-basics approach for Star Trek. The franchise has been faltering lately with subpar live-action entries, Star Trek: Discovery and the second season of Star Trek: Picard. However, the franchise feels reinvigorated now with the new series. A huge part of the success of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds has to do with its lead characters.
When Pike and Spock (Ethan Peck) were introduced as feature characters in the second season of Star Trek: Discovery, they quickly stood out and added a lot of gravitas and charisma to the show. In fact, the reason why the second season was so well received was largely due to the characters, how they were portrayed and their engaging storylines. After the season concluded a wise choice was made to bring back Pike and Spock into their own series to continue their story arcs.
Spock, as in the original show, is trying to find a balance between his human and Vulcan sides. Ethan Peck does a fine job as Spock and while he made the role his own, he does quietly emulate the spirit of Leonard Nimoy’s famous portrayal of the Vulcan.
Meanwhile, Anson Mount completely took over the role of Captain Pike, which was first portrayed by Jeffrey Hunter in the original pilot for Star Trek. For decades people associated the early captain of the Enterprise with Hunter, but Mount’s smooth and amenable version of Pike captivated fans to the point that when Captain Pike is mentioned it is easy to picture Mount instead of Hunter. This is something that happened over with the Star Wars franchise where Ewan McGregor made the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi his own instead of Alec Guiness, the original actor who played the Jedi. Getting back to Mount, the actor endows his Pike with a casual competence and an approachable demeanor, which makes Pike a believable starship captain. He is haunted throughout the season by the knowledge that in a few years, he will be incapacitated and spend his last days as a near invalid, as seen in the original Star Trek episodes “The Menagerie, Part I and II”). So, Pike is torn over whether or not he should avoid his fate or try to change it. Nevertheless, Christopher Pike carries on throughout the show with his sense of calm and reason as the crew of the Enterprise deal with weekly crises.
Aside from Christopher Pike and Spock, the series has many interesting characters. Some are familiar characters who were well recast (Celia Rose Gooding as Cadet Uhura and Jess Bush as Christine Chapel), others are new to the franchise, such the ship’s security cheif, La’an Noonien Singh (Christina Chong) and the ship’s engineer, Hemmer (Bruce Horak), and they were all instantly captivating.
Unlike recent TV shows with serialized storytelling techniques, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, went back to the basics in terms of episodic storytelling. The episodes were standalone entries and the season as a whole lacked a unifying plot thread. It’s simply about the adventures of Christopher Pike and his crew on the Enterprise. Some of the stories were well crafted and smart, others fell a bit short, but the approach worked quite well. The best episodes this season were “A Quality of Mercy”, “Memento Mori”, “All Those Who Wander”, and “Strange New Worlds”. The last two were notable in that “All Those Who Wander” was a well-done homage to Alien with a shocking and sad character death, while “Strange New Worlds” was an exceptional pilot episode that enraged right-wing nutjobs with its claim that their recent and current activities wind up being the cause for a second American Civil War and ultimately, World War III. As mentioned before, not every episode is a homerun, but had interesting twists. But, the only misfire was “Spock Amok”, it was supposed to be one of those lighthearted, humorous episodes. However, it failed to deliver any laughs and was unfocused, but it had a few good nuggets.
As with modern Star Trek shows, this one boasts cinema-quality special effects and production that rivals the best of J.J. Abrams and the Kelvinverse, but with superior storytelling and characters. That is the key with Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, it focused on telling tight stories that do not meander and spin wheels like the second season of Star Trek: Picard. Like the Berman-era Trek shows, this one makes the effort to devote episodes to other characters besides Pike and Spock, unlike Star Trek: Discovery. In just a handful of episodes we learned some vital background info on several characters. For instance, La’an not only suffered from childhood trauma thanks to the predatory Gorn, but was a descendant of Khan Noonien Singh, yes, that Khan. It was revealed that first officer, Una Chin-Riley or Number One (Rebecca Romijn), is not human, while the ship’s chief medical officer, Dr. M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) was secretly hiding his ill daughter in the ship’s transporters as he tried to find a cure for her. Since the time was taken to explore these side characters, they became endearing, we cared about them and wanted to know more. More importantly, when these characters suffered, we felt for them.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds injects new life into the Star Trek franchise with its simple and effective back-to-basics approach, but its fused with so much more to elevate it. In addition to its crisp production values, and solid cast, the show captures the soul of Star Trek with a sense of adventure and discovery.