This Star Trek: Strange New WorldS review contains spoilers/
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Episode 5
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ first season has ticked a lot of boxes thus far, from stories of alien encounters that run the gamut from hopeful first contacts to high-octane face-offs and deft character work that adds intriguing new layers to the series’ central players, even those we thought we already knew. Now, with “Spock Amok,” Strange New Worlds tries its hand at comedy, and while the hour isn’t a terribly substantial one in terms of larger forward narrative progress, it’s an utterly delightful time.
The set-up is broad enough to give most of the main cast something to do and, perhaps more importantly, it’s honestly just fun to watch. And while I love this franchise, let’s be honest, outside of, say, Star Trek: Lower Decks, there hasn’t been much focus on comedy—or even just simple fun—in Star Trek in recent years. Are there elements of this episode that are deeply silly? Absolutely. Playing Nurse Chapel’s chaotic dating life for laughs is going to get real old, real quick, and we probably could have done with a bit less of Una and La’an’s attempts to prove they too are people who can actually enjoy themselves outside of work.
But these are exactly the sort of slice of life stories I love, precisely because they let us get to know these characters as people, outside of the missions they serve. (Una and La’an’s friendship is adorable, and their good cop bad cop routine is flawless.) There’s nothing wrong with episodes that have low stakes and straightforward problems to solve, like an awkward diplomatic meeting with some rude aliens, or a relationship misunderstanding.
The basic premise of the hour is that pretty much everyone’s on some well-deserved shore leave while the Enterprise gets fixed up after its close encounter with a black hole. Dr. M’Benga is excited to fly fish (In a hat that I can only assume is an antique), Chapel is looking forward to seeing a guy she’s sort of dating (read: hooking up with), and Spock’s planning to spend some quality time with his fiancee T’Pring, who has made a special trip to make up for their last interrupted visit in the series’ pilot.
Strange New Worlds deserves a lot of credit for the deft way it turns Spock and T’Pring’s romance—a relationship that we all already know is canonically doomed according to Star Trek: The Original Series episode “Amok Time”—into something that’s genuinely interesting and emotionally compelling. I like the two of them together, dangit. (More fodder for our throwing canon to the winds conspiracy theories? Perhaps.)
Star Trek: Discovery season 2 spent a lot of time wrestling with Spock’s various childhood traumas vis a vis his relationships with Michael and Sarek, so the fact that “Spock Amok” manages to make revisiting many of those same issues here feel both fresh and necessary is a relief. (Perhaps it’s because making peace with the two sides of himself is essentially Spock’s life’s work, and this story feels like nothing so much as just one piece in what is naturally a very long road.) Given that he is one of the two Strange New Worlds characters we came into this story already having something of a preexisting relationship with, this episode could have gone a lot of different ways. But thankfully it manages to find a solid balance between respecting the story that Discovery introduced and forging its own path.
The idea that Spock, who repeatedly chooses Starfleet because Starfleet doesn’t ask him to pick a side between his two identities, is afraid that he won’t be Vulcan enough for T’Pring or human enough for his shipmates—manifested in a literal nightmare of him fighting himself—makes a lot of sense to me, and is a version of this character that exists at a natural spot in between what we saw in Discovery and the Spock of the Original Series. (And, hey, the inclusion of the music from “Amok Time” was a nice touch.)
Plus, I’m always down for a good accidental body-swapping story, and the fact that it’s two differently gendered Vulcans forced to pretend to be the other while gaining a new understanding of their partner’s perspective along the way just makes it all even more fun to watch. Is T’Pring possibly a little too understanding of her betrothed’s consistent desire to put Pike and the Enterprise first? Maybe. But Ethan Peck and Gia Sandhu share a charmingly offbeat chemistry and, surprise, both are fantastic comedic performers, as evidenced by their hilarious ability to seamlessly differentiate between the normal characters they play and their body-swapped versions using little more than simple changes in vocal inflection and physical stance (bonus points to Anson Mount’s reaction shots to literally everything involving T’Pring and Spock in one another’s bodies).
“Spock Amok” also comes the closest this series has yet managed to defining a larger mission statement for the Pike era of Star Trek: Radical empathy, or the idea that what all anyone wants, regardless of their species, is the opportunity to be heard.
)ne of the episode’s subplots involves Pike, Spock, and Admiral Robert April attempting to negotiate with a prickly alien race known as the R’Ongovians. They control a key piece of territory between Klingon and Romulan space and have been both very private and extremely resistant to diplomatic negotiation—at least until Pike cracks the secret of what they want to hear. For the R’Ongovians, apparently what matters most is that others try to see things from their perspective, and put themselves in their place, rather than simply pushing a singular agenda.
And wow if that isn’t Christopher Pike to an absolute tee. The rare leader who is more interested in leading by collaboration than by fiat, who values input rather than following orders, yes: That is a man who already practices radical empathy, who seeks to work with rather than rule others, and who actually wants to hear perspectives beyond his own. (Not to mention looks chef’s kiss great in command green.) It’s why he’s such a great captain, and why so many seem to be willing to follow him into hell—or at least the center of a black hole—if he asks. What will his evolution over the course of this show look like? I hope we spend many seasons finding out.