When Strange New Worlds debuted last year, it immediately became my favorite of all the new Star Trek shows that Paramount+ debuted on their streaming service. It was a thrilling throwback to the original Star Trek that I grew up watching in syndicated reruns, full of adventure, compelling characters, and just plain fun.
Well, I am happy to report that the new season hasn’t missed a beat. Captain Pike (Anson Mount) still has his glorious hair, and the show still has its verve and sense of adventure.
When last we saw our intrepid crew, First Officer Una Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn) was being arrested by the Federation for lying about her heritage. She’s an Illyrian — a race that were avid genetic engineers, often using those to boost their strength — and after the whole Eugenics Wars thing, the Federation has banned anyone with augments from their ranks. (By the way, in Trek canon the Eugenics Wars took place from 1992-1996. How’s everyone doing? You all healed up yet? Did you get any cool augments?) Security Officer La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong) (yes, she is related to that Noonien-Singh, KHAAAAAN!!) had taken a leave of absence to help a young girl who had survived a Gorn attack to find her parents. La’an herself escaped the Gorn as a child, so of course she felt a special responsibility to this little moppet. And Spock (Ethan Peck) is dealing with his resurgent human emotions and his feelings for the attractive Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush)
The Enterprise is currently at Starbase One getting repairs while much of the crew takes some well-earned leave. Captain Goodhair is checking on on Una in her jail cell. Apparently there is only one lawyer in the quadrant who could even have a chance of winning this case, and she isn’t answering their calls. Pike will not let Una take a plea deal, and instead is going off to see her in person. He tells Spock that he’ll be in charge while he’s away, and he’ll be back before the Enterprise is finished with repairs, so what could go wrong? To quote Spock, what is that saying humans have? “Famous last words?”
The refitting crew is tsk-tsking over all the modifications the Enterprise crew has made to the ship. One tech noted that the pitch and yaw controls were reversed, causing Lt. Ortegas (Melissa Navia) to reply that of course they are, because the way Starfleet had them was too slow and she doesn’t like getting shot at. Similarly, Ensign Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) is reluctant to let the techs reboot her comms until she performs some final sweeps. Good thing, since she comes across a coded message from La’an.
La’an was able to trace the survivor girl’s parents back to the mining colony of Cajitar IV, and she has discovered something that requires the Enterprise’s immediate attention. Spock is eager to go, but the Admiral denies his request. Cajitar IV is on the edge of Klingon space, and an important source of dilithium crystals. As a part of the peace treaty that ended the Klingon War, the Federation and the Klingon each get access to the mines in 30 day shifts, and right now it’s the Klingon’s turn. If the Federation just suddenly jumps in, it could cause an diplomatic incident which could spark another war. They’ll just have to wait till the Federation has control again next month.
Spock breaks the news to the command staff that the Admiral has denied them the request, but he believes the message is real and they need to investigate it. However, if anyone does not want to take part in the plan or wishes to report it, he will not stand in their way. What plan is that, asks Nurse Chapel? I thought that was obvious, says Spock.
“We must steal the Enterprise.”
This is a real time look at my reactions during this prologue section:
YOU’RE GODDAMN RIGHT, WE’RE GONNA STEAL THE ENTERPRISE! FUCK STARFLEET “PROTOCOLS” AND “TREATIES!” Man, this takes me back to the days of TOS where Kirk would treat the Prime Directive as a mild suggestion. Of course, Spock is 1000% following the lead of what Pike would do. And since this is the Enterprise, of course there are no dissenters, they’re all in.
It’s a simple matter to get the inspectors off the ship by having engineering fake a coolant leak. (Ensign Mitchell could not look any more suspicious while programming the computer.) However, one inspector isn’t fooled so easily. Commander Pelia (played delightfully by Carol Kane as if she just fluttered in from the set of Scrooged) recognizes the textbook signs of a coolant leak, mainly because she teaches that textbook at the Academy. Now, she says, if you really wanted to fake a convincing coolant leak you’d have to vent some ionized plasma from the warp nacells. That’s the best way to steal the Enterprise. Spock is of course confused. If she figured out that they’re trying to steal the ship, why help them. Pelia tells him that she’s never known a Vulcan to do anything without a good reason, especially not the son of Amanda Greyson, and she hasn’t been on a star ship in about a hundred years. It’s about then that Uhura pegs her accent and identifies her as a Lanthanite, a species of long-lived aliens that have a human like appearance who can blend in among us.
Spock is momentarily perplexed by all this, but then directs Ortegas to do what she says, and a few plasma vents later, the ship is ordered away from the starbase. Spock takes the opportunity to go to warp. But first, Ortegas asks if he has a thing. A thing? You know, Pike says “Hit it,” and Ortegas would go with “Vamanos.” Spock thinks for a minute and picks, “I would like the ship to go. Now!” Very cool, very natural.
La’an is on Cajitar IV, stealthily blending in by having blood wine drinking contests with the Klingons. She’s posing as a smuggler who has Federation weapons to sell. She has just finished off a competitor when Chief Medical Officer M’Benge makes contact with her.
The crew rendezvous in the woods, where La’an fills them in on what’s happening. The planet was a key source of dilithium in the war, and the cartel that controlled the mines got very rich selling to both sides. However, peace has killed their profit margin, and there are Klingons and Federation members who would like hostilities to resume so they can get their profits back. (A callback to the plot of one of my favorite Trek movies, The Undiscovered Country) Something is happening soon, and she thinks it has to do with all the Federation weapons her contacts want. Also, there was a recent explosion at the dilithium mines, which caused a lot of radiation poisoning. This confuses M’Benge, since dilithium won’t cause radiation poisoning, but photon torpedoes can.
The crew realizes that if there’s some attack on the mines that can get blamed on the Federation, it could reignite a war. M’Benge and Chapel go off to help the villagers who got sick in the explosion. Spock and Uhura will follow La’an to her client to if they can find out why he wants Federation weapons so badly.
Chapel and M’Benge are tending to the sick, including the parents of La’an’s ward, when the Klingon watch spots them and drags them off to take care of some Klingon wounded. She takes them to a bunker where they are stunned to see the rebuilt remains of a Federation ship. That can’t be good.
Meanwhile, Uhura and Spock eavesdrop on La’an as she sells some phasers to her Klingon contact. Uhura hears them talking about how they need the phasers for tomorrow, so whatever is going to happen, it’s happening soon. The Klingons are angry that La’an only has the phasers promised, and for twice the price. However, La’an has taken a page from Princess Leia’s negotiating tactics in Jabba’s palace. She has an anti-matter detonator, so pay up or get out with the lower half of your body missing.
(Note to editor: Are we allowed to reference that other Star franchise in a Star Trek review? Ooh, this is like breaking the Prime Directive! I feel so alive!)
(Editor’s note: I’ll allow it, but tread carefully…)
Spock orders the Enterprise to beam the party out, but there’s a problem. They can’t lock onto the medical team. Their signal has vanished, probably due to some sort of cloaking field the Klingons have around the bunker.
Chapel and M’Benge start treating Klingon wounded. Because of their familiarity with Klingon anatomy, their hosts suspect they aren’t the traveling traders they claim to be. M’Benge is doing all he can to tamp down his Klingon war PTSD, and he’s really white knuckling it.
They soon realize that the severity of the ion burns means that the photon torpedoes must’ve come from the salvaged Federation ship. They need to get to the bridge and get a message to the Enterprise. But how to get from sick bay to there, with dozens of Klingons in the way?
Well luckily Dr. M’Benge has two vials of green fluid in his bag for just such a purpose. The stimulant turns them into super strong fighting machines.
Now, I don’t recall them using this last season, so I don’t know what this magic science potion is called. I’m just going with Hulk Juice.
This is honestly the weakest part of the episode for me, but because the show is so strong even the weak spots are cool. Would I rather have seen Chapel and M’Benge use stealth and guile to get by the Klingons? Sure! Did I mind seeing them get ripped on Hulk Juice and go ham on some fools? Not at all! Especially not the part where M’Benge suplex-slams a Klingon. Let’s just not make a habit of using Hulk Juice to solve every corner you write yourself into.
They get to the transponder and rig it to send out a coded message to the Enterprise. That’s all they have time for as more Klingons burst in, forcing them to hide in the Jeffries Tubes. They flee into an emergency bay and block the door, and that’s when the ship starts to take off.
This leads to a humorous moment where Spock is checking in with La’an who tells him she can’t find any clue as to what the conspiracy could be just as the ship breaks through the surface and takes off over her head.
The ship is on a course to intercept a Klingon Bird of Prey. Uhura quickly deciphers the code from the transponder. It’s Morse Code 2, and it says simply “Enterprise, blow up this ship!” Spock quickly logics out that the ship is designed to be a false flag, and that Chapel and M’Benge put that code in the transponder. He has Ortegas keep the ship in firing range but, concerned that his crew didn’t make it off the ship yet, orders her to hold fire. He doesn’t have much time. If the Klingon ship sees the rogue Federation vessel and destroys it, it could mean the start of war.
This is some classic Trek tension here. Spock has been raised to believe the good of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and even speaks that aloud — Chapel and M’Benge believed that it was worth risking their lives to send that code, and they will honor that. However, we know his Vulcan blood has feelings for Chapel. How long can he wait?
On the other ship, the emergency lockers don’t have any evac suits, just a helmet with a locator beacon and a rocket. They don’t have any good options. They can let the murderous Klingons break through and kill them, or they can take their chances in the vacuum of space. The beacon will activate once they leave the ship. Hey, says M’Benge, it will take them a full minute to freeze to death and they’ll pass out in 15 seconds. They’ve been in worse spots!
No, not really, says Chapel.
(Hoo boy! Can’t wait to see Neil Degrasse Tyson tweet about that scenario. Oh wait, yes I can.)
Nevertheless, they blow the hatch and fly into space, clutching each other as they face the end. Fortunately, their plot armor activates — as does the helmet beacon — which allows Spock to beam them aboard. Good thing too, as the false flag ship has just gotten into sensor range of the Klingons and Spock had to take the shot. (Regrettably, Spock does not say, “I would like the torpedoes to go now.”)
After some emotional CPR from Spock revives the lightly frosted Chapel, he gets hailed by the Klingon captain. He is growling about Federation trickery. Spock replies logically, if we meant you harm and if you did not see us until we destroyed the rogue ship, then why wouldn’t we just have shot you? Now why don’t we all have a nice barrel of blood wine?
Back on Cajitar IV, Spock and the Klingons are downing tankards of wine and shouting toasts. Spock says the toast from the Klingons translates to “may your blood scream,” and after a glass of their wine he thinks he understands that.
Pelia is there as well, enjoying the party. Spock asks why she helped them. She chuckles. Do you know what the worst part of living an extremely long time is? The deaths of your loved ones, says Spock. Oh no, that’s the curse of any living being with a heart. (Awww…) No, the worst thing is boredom, and boredom is in short supply on the Enterprise so maybe she’ll stick around. (Yay! More Carol Kane acting weird please!)
So, a rousing adventure averts another galactic war. The admiral says that Spock’s Klingon-sized hangover is punishment enough for *checks notes* light mutiny, just please pinky swear you won’t do it again.
The admiral’s colleague thinks he let him off easy, but the admiral says he’s one of our best and we’re going to need him if there is a new war. Were they part of the conspiracy? The admiral then points to a Star map, showing the suspected location of a Gorn vessel. It looks like our scary aliens will soon be returning…
This was a strong start to season 2, but it did leave a few hanging questions. Namely, what happened to the conspiracy on Cajitar IV? Was it just the mining cabal? The Klingon captain seemed genuinely surprised by the attack so I don’t think he was in on it. Will they be back? And if it was just one ship, surely La’an could’ve scuttled it on her own. She’s very capable!
So next week, I assume we get to see the flip side of this episode, namely Pike’s attempt to get Una out of jail and back in his bridge. Looking forward to it!
Classic Call Back: In order to relieve the very human stress Spock gets when he takes over the captain’s chair, M’Benge gives him a Vulcan lute to play. Bring on the space hippies!