Thursday, the first episode of the highly anticipated Star Trek: Strange New Worlds created. The series follows the USS Enterprise as its crew traverses the galaxy in search of new life and new civilizations, and faces well-placed ethical dilemmas along the way.
If you’ve never seen one hiking, I can’t blame you – it’s an intimidating series, that’s for sure. It’s not star wars, where the main movies only take around 20 hours to watch. It’s also not something like Marvel, where chances are even without interest in the franchise, you’ve seen a few movies. Instead, star trek spans 56 years, 13 movies, 12 TV shows, and more episodes than I care to add.
Strange new worldswith its stellar cast and huge budget, provides the perfect entry point for those not ready to jump into the extremely high camp of the original series’ lizard alien in a gogo dress or the profound meditations on the nature of imperialism in Deep Space Nine.
In many ways, Strange new worldshe story is tried and true. Its Alien of the Week format mimics the original star trek series up close, which makes sense given that Strange new worlds‘ the pilot was actually done in 1965.
When star trek was first developed, its initial pilot was called “The Cage”. It was an encounter with aliens episode, like most, featuring Captain Pike (Jeffrey Hunter), Number One (Majel Barrett
The main trio, now played by Anson Mount, Rebecca Romijn and Ethan Peck, respectively, finally get their time in the spotlight as the crew of the Enterprise. It’s pre-Captain Kirk and familiar faces from the original series, with a few notable exceptions.
The first episode of Strange new worlds follows Pike’s return to the beloved Enterprise – newly revamped for the 2020s while retaining its 60s charm – after a year apart from the events of Star Trek: Discoverythe second season of, in which he sees his future (with a tragic accident). He, Spock and a brand new bridge team must find Number One after she is held hostage on an Earth-like planet in the 21st century, with a rapidly escalating civil war threatening to tear their society in two.
The show is, in many ways, exactly what I wanted. Mount is amazing as Pike, bringing an almost addictive sense of charm and charisma to watch. Its dynamism pervades the entire show, bringing both depth and levity exactly when they are needed. A magnetic, borderline-casanova captain is a fun addition to a lineup of characters that are closer to Horatio Hornblower that Zapp Brannigan.
The rest of the cast is also one of the first to stand out as one of the best parts. Peck’s portrayal of Spock is so clearly influenced by Nimoy’s, until the way he says “records”, while appropriating the character. It works within the – sometimes questionable – characterization to bring new facets to Vulcan. Celia Rose Gooding plays a young cadet Nyota Uhura (originally played by Nichelle Nichols) and, despite only having a few scenes in this episode, brings us a playful, curious, and eager Uhura. Jess Bush as a version of Christine Chapel (also originally played by Majel Barrett) who actually has a personality is another welcome addition.
Heavy parallels to the current day, for better or worse, were also classic hiking. I’m not going to say that the use of actual footage of the January 6 insurrection as an introduction to what is referred to in canon as “The Eugenics War” was particularly tasteful, but it certainly passed the message. I mean, if the original series can use half-white, half-black painted aliens to talk about racism in one of its most acclaimed episodes, I guess tact isn’t a priority.
Of course, the episode wasn’t exactly perfect.
In one of the first scenes, Spock finds himself on Vulcan courting his fiancée, T’Pring. I have thoughts. I don’t mean to offend any writer on Strange new worlds, but let me say this: I know Spock better than you. It’s an irrefutable fact of life that Spock is only for girls. I hope you understand that you are wrong here. I will not elaborate.
There’s also the elephant in the room: Pike’s future mapped out for him, the future that he’s so certain amounts to his death, is not, in fact, his death. Instead, it’s an accident that, despite scarring his face and rendering him immobile and non-verbal except for a metal machine, he survives. Pike knows he survives. He is even still able to communicate, using one beep on his machine for yes and two for no.
In 1967 when “The Menagerie” (the first episode which shows Pike after the accident) aired, his ableism was harmful but may have been understood to be a product of his time. But even in 2022, it seems, the writers can’t conceive of a life for Christopher Pike where he’s both disabled and fulfilled. It reads like clumsy writing of Pike’s own grief and shock at his future at best and blatantly ableism at worst.
“I know exactly how and when my life ends,” Pike tells Spock over a saurian brandy. Mount’s delivery makes the angst of the moment clear. But so far, nothing in the story challenges the idea that his disability is death, only in that he has control over how he deals with it. I can remain hopeful that as Pike relies more on his fate throughout the season, we see a progression in how he and the big frame writers handicap. However, I am not entirely convinced that it will be a success.
Strange new worlds, while having some growing pains in its first episode, seems to have come out of the gate at lightning speed. The actors are engaging and lively even in the face of sometimes less than perfect writing, with beautiful scenery and amazing special effects to match. For new fans, it’s an exciting, episodic adventure. For those like me who talk about this show to everyone who’s been listening to it for six months, it’s a tribute to the original while bringing out its own signature.
Fingers crossed for the return of the best alien from the original series.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds airs on Paramount+ at 2 a.m. central time on Thursdays.
Thumbnail image by Jayna Kurlender.