This Star Trek: Strange New Worlds review contains spoilers.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Episode 2
The second installment of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is as delightfully entertaining as the series premiere, highlighting the fabulous chemistry of this cast in various group permutations and fulfilling the franchise’s promise to the letter: Seeking out new life and new civilizations and maybe giving them an unseen helping hand along the way.
The beats of this episode are pretty basic: The U.S.S. Enterprise is studying an ancient comet, which suddenly seems poised to strike (and largely destroy) an M Class planet in the Persephone system, wiping out the non-warp capable species known as the Deleb that live there. Pike and friends are determined to figure out a way to divert the comet’s path. But when they learn it’s not actually a comet at all, they’ll have to deal with a threat from a highly advanced species that call themselves the Shepherds, whose entire existence is predicated on preventing anything from interfering with their so-called “arbiter” who brings life or destruction in its wake.
One of the most appealing aspects of Star Trek as a franchise is that it understands how much we, as a species, don’t and can’t know. I mean, the Enterprise’s remit is to find out what’s out there among the stars. And it’s the epitome of hubris to assume that the things we’ll encounter on that journey will be creatures that are remotely familiar to us. For me, Trek aliens are and should be weird and unknowable in a lot of ways—see also the glow cloud-esque Species 10-C on the most recent season of Star Trek: Discovery—and they should have beliefs and cultures that are often wildly different from our own. Part of the joy of this journey is the discovery, after all.
Yes, this hour concludes with a classically ridiculous example of a plan that should not work at all but does, during a mission where not everyone should survive but in which everyone comes home no real worse for wear thanks to what is essentially blind luck. The dangerous moments are thwarted via general smarts and teamwork, a grand plan to save the day is hatched that hinges on an unknown alien race defaulting to the peaceful choice rather than violence, and almost every major character gets something decent to do. It’s basically everything you expect from a story like this.
But, what makes ”Children of the Comet” work is that it’s not just an episode about the weekly adventure, it’s about how that weekly adventure informs and changes the lives of these characters in the long term. (All of whom I would fight strangers for now, just saying.) We get to see Cadet Uhura’s first-ever away team mission, but although her linguistic skills certainly come in handy when it comes to figuring out the music-based communications method that relic uses (again, with the math!), it’s all really a larger metaphor for her personal journey, which is figuring out that she has a place and a future in Starfleet.
During Pike’s family-style captain’s dinner—which I desperately hope we see more of this season, and not only because Anson Mount rocks an apron, but because it’s so nice to see these characters all get the chance to interact in a low-key, low-stakes setting—Uhura’s larger backstory is revealed, one in which a family tragedy drove her to Starfleet Academy after her parents and brother were killed in a shuttle accident and upended her previously planned future of academic scholarship.
Given the person that we know Nyota Uhura grows up to be, I think there’s a natural tendency to idolize this character and her storied role on the Enterprise, but Strange New Worlds certainly seems comfortable enough showing us her flaws and insecurities in this episode that I don’t think that’s going to be a problem going forward. Is she something of a prodigal wunderkind? Yes, and on a long enough timeline that certainly could get very annoying, but right now she’s also still human, and the show gently pokes fun at her uptight demeanor and treats her indecision about her future in Starfleet as a natural, understandable reaction to the trauma she’s experienced rather than an in-joke we all know she’ll get over one day.
The series makes the same sort of gentle nods toward the future we’ve already seen for these characters even as it grounds them in their current positions on the canvas, from Nurse Chapel’s flirtation with Spock to the Vulcan’s own lack of understanding of human expressions of emotion. Pike’s dark future is repeatedly referenced in subtle ways, from his endearingly awkward stumble over discussing 10-year plans with Uhura to his near Arya Stark-like obsession with reciting the identities of those future cadets whose lives he’ll one day save. (Do I want an episode where he’s going to need an intervention about that someday? Yes.)
There’s an interesting tension between Pike, Spock, and Number One’s reactions to the events that took place on Boreth. In last week’s episode, Spock insisted that knowledge of death was simply another tool of effective leadership, while here, Una seems more interested in convincing her captain that his future is in his own hands and he can somehow fight fate. Pike seems to be somewhere in the middle: This is, after all, a future he chose willingly, even if it sucks, and he seems to believe that his sacrifice—both on Discovery and the one that’s still waiting in his future on Star Trek: The Original Series—is and will be worth the lives he’s saved.
There’s just something poetically heroic about the idea that part of his journey this season is about fully making peace with that choice, and embracing the idea of using the time he has left in the best ways he can. (I do have to say, though, that I love that he’s told both Spock and Number One the truth, which is such a nice change from genre shows that require the series’ lead to keep torturous secrets from those closest to them for nebulous, often extremely dumb reasons.)
In the world of modern-day, more serialized Star Trek, it’s honestly a bit strange for an hour to conclude with most of, if not quite all, its loose ends tied up. But all I can think is: I can’t wait to see where we go next.