Full spoilers follow for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1.
Anson Mount’s arrival in the world of Star Trek could’ve very easily devolved into stunt casting if it wasn’t handled correctly, but instead the return of Christopher Pike, the original captain of the USS Enterprise, didn’t just make for a great season of Star Trek: Discovery. It also led to the spinoff series Strange New Worlds which, we now know as Season 1 closes out, is the best single season of a Star Trek show since the legendary 1990s runs of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.
One of the keys to the success of Strange New Worlds’ 10-episode debut season is its willingness to embrace standalone, weekly stories as opposed to season-long arcs. This, combined with a deep bench of instantly likable characters, has led to high adventure, emotional gut-punches, plenty of humor, and one of the key elements of Star Trek that has sometimes been lost in the modern era — good, old-fashioned exploration.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Images
Sometimes that has meant Pike, Spock and the crew encountering wonders, such as the comet in Episode 2 which they think is going to wipe out a planet’s inhabitants before realizing that somehow they were pre-destined to not just save the planet, but make it a seemingly better place for its people to live too. But there have also been horrors, like in "Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach," when the Enterprise has dealings with a race who, well… sacrifice children in order to power their world. Strange New Worlds indeed. We also got run-silent, run-deep style combat stories, pirate adventures, a body-swap comedy, an Alien/Predator riff, and so much more as Season 1 played out. And for every new alien race or awesome space station, there’s a bit of that old Trek social commentary playing just under the surface. It’s there, but it never hits you over the head like a misaligned phaser blast.
Front and center throughout it all is, of course, Mount, whose relaxed, take-it-as-it-goes, let-me-make-you-an-omelet style of captaining certainly separates him from his predecessors. Pike, like most of the other main characters on the show, actually does get a season-long arc here, as he struggles with the foreknowledge that he will one day be horribly injured in an accident. Should he change his future now that he knows about it? While the show doesn’t dwell on the question, we got periodic check-ins with Pike on the matter over the course of the 10 episodes, before things culminated in the season finale as he got the chance to see how badly he could affect the galaxy if he deviated from his destiny.
So Strange New Worlds actually does have its long-form stories to tell, but they aren’t about space McGuffins or the like. Instead, in Season 1 it was Cadet Uhura’s (Celia Rose Gooding) journey to discovering that the Enterprise was where she truly was meant to be, or La'an Noonien-Singh’s (Christina Chong) coming to terms with her status as a refugee of the Gorn. And then, of course, there’s Ethan Peck’s Spock, whose destination as Original Series/Leonard Nimoy Spock is perhaps the most predetermined of the group. Here, particularly in the ninth episode as the crew suffers a great loss, we see Spock struggling to contain his emotions once he gives in to them, a clear indication of why he will eventually shut himself off entirely from the same.
The relationship between Spock and Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush) has been particularly intriguing, as we know it barely exists by the time we will get to Season 1 of The Original Series. But here it’s one of the most, um, fascinating of the bunch, a flirty friendship where the natural chemistry between the two characters (and actors) almost seems unstoppable. And yet, it will come to a stop… has to come to a stop in order to line up with canon eventually. It’s sad to know it will end, but then again… don’t relationships end all the time?
Strange New Worlds has managed to carve out its own place in Trekdom even though it exists in an era of the franchise that we thought we already knew.
As for that loss that so affects Spock, the death of Bruce Horak’s Hemmer was a surprising moment that, as hard as it is to accept — Hemmer was an instant favorite — reminds us that most of these characters aren’t safe. Is there a reason Rebecca Romijn’s Una Chin-Riley, a.k.a. Number One, isn’t still on the Enterprise by the time Kirk takes over? Maybe she just got a transfer, or maybe the answer is more dire than that. Certainly the mini-cliffhanger in the final moments of this season indicates that Una is in trouble at the moment.
The show occasionally leans a little too hard on homage to other great Star Trek and sci-fi tales, as in the season finale which features a rehash of the classic Original Series episode “Balance of Terror.” And the jury is still out on Paul Wesley’s rather dry take on Captain Kirk, who pops up in the season finale but will be back for Season 2 as well. But by and large, Strange New Worlds has managed to carve out its own place in Trekdom even though it exists in an era of the franchise that we thought we already knew.
Plus, they gave Pike the classic green captain’s tunic. You just can’t go wrong there.
Questions and Notes from the Q Continuum:
- Announcing Paul Wesley’s Kirk for Season 2 was a clever way of trying to stave off expectations that he’d show up this season… and yet we totally knew he’d show up this season! We just didn’t expect it to be an alt-future Kirk.
- Speaking of which, I appreciate the nerdy details that are going into doing variations on the classic uniforms, but I kind of wish they had just kept Future Pike in the finale in the classic Monster Maroon from the TOS movies.
- This show is not afraid to delve into aspects of Trek that aren’t particularly beloved, either. Sybok, from the (unfairly) notorious Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, was even revived in a cameo scene which will surely lead to more in Season 2.
- That same episode gave us another great new villain too, Jesse James Keitel’s space pirate Angel!
- Despite Hemmer’s death, Bruce Horak has said he will return to Star Trek in some capacity. But will he be our Hemmer?!
- With Pike seemingly accepting his fate at the end of this season, we would seem to have a clear timeline now of how long this show can go on for: Not long enough!
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ first season manages to recapture the joy of classic Trek in a way that perhaps many of us didn’t know was missing until we experienced this show. Emotional, exciting, funny, and sometimes scary, this is a final frontier that is both old-school and brand-new, featuring great characters who all get their fair share of the action. In many ways, Star Trek has come full circle with Strange New Worlds after 55 years of storytelling. And it’s all the better for it.