The following contains spoilers for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Episode 7
Truth be told, I keep waiting for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds to disappoint me. Because while certain aspects of both Star Trek: Discovery (Saru and T’Rina’s romance, the general existence of Grudge, cool giant glow cloud aliens) and Star Trek: Picard (Patrick Stewart existing, John de Lancie returning) have been wonderful, both shows have had their fair share of rough patches in recent seasons, moments where watching them felt a whole lot more like an obligation than it did a joy.
But we’re seven episodes into this season of Strange New Worlds, two-thirds of the way through its inaugural run, and it’s still incredible. In fact, I’d probably argue that this show is that rare series that is actually getting stronger with each episode it releases, as we get to know these characters better and watch their relationships grow. This is a lot to say that “The Serene Squall” is another fantastic and deeply enjoyable hour: a rollicking space adventure with serious emotional underpinnings and a story that shows us why this crew is so darn good together even as it pulls off a complicated bait and switch plot.
Ostensibly, the story follows the Enterprise on what first appears to be a humanitarian mission, summoned by a Dr. Aspen to resupply some in-need colonists on the edge of Federation space that no one else seems inclined to help. (Translation: Christopher Pike catnip.) Dr. Aspen warns them of the presence of some dangerous space pirates and their supposedly fear-inducing Black Pearl-esque ship The Serene Squall. For those of you playing along at home that immediately guessed this story was going to lead to a large portion of the Enterprise crew getting kidnapped by those same space pirates after a dramatic chase, well, gold star for you.
Pike, Una, La’an, Ortegas, and a handful of other crew members beam aboard the supposedly hijacked colonists’ ship only to learn that it’s an ambush and they’ve walked into a trap. The pirates plan to take over the Enterprise, sell the crew into slavery, and hand the ship off to the highest bidder among the lawless entities that crawl the edges of Federation territory. That this all actually turns out to be a rather hilarious interlude in which Pike withstands getting tortured (they messed up his hair!!) long enough to incite a casual mutiny among the pirate crew by way of the age-old combination of good Southern cooking and catty gossip.
Every week, Anson Mount is great, but there’s something kind of magical about the way he depicts the deployment of Pike’s good old boy charm to ferment unrest among the pirate crew. (He encourages them to sell the Starfleet crew to the Klingons, and maybe start an intergalactic incident in the process. The man is unstoppable.)
We’ve only known this cast for seven episodes, but the chemistry between this group of actors is so darn good, from the easy way they all play off of one another while lamenting the poor quality of the Remy the Orion’’s cooking to their quick-thinking collaboration on the bridge as they brainstorm ideas to get themselves out of a life or death trap. As a character, PIke is always going on about collaboration and listening to others and encouraging out-of-the-box thinking—it’s really nice to see this is not just a line he uses but a legitimate leadership philosophy that he implements on the regular. I love all of them, is what I’m saying.
Meanwhile, back on the Enterprise, Spock, Chapel, and Dr. Aspen are doing their best to secure the ship, with the help of some Vulcan nerve pinches, the nurse’s handy sedative injector, and a whole lot of luck. But Dr. Aspen, as it turns out, isn’t exactly who they say they are and betrays them both at the perfect moment (in a twist that somehow isn’t telegraphed until roughly 30 seconds before it happens so kudos for that, show.) Turns out they are actually Captain Angel of the Serene Squall and they’ve stolen Dr. Aspen’s identity and concocted this elaborate ruse all so that they might get a chance to take over the Enterprise, kidnap Spock and trade him for the Vulcan prisoner that is apparentlytheir lover.
For all that Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is built on its weekly space adventures—and this one does have literal pirates, after all—the show deserves applause for the way it is deftly weaving long-term emotional arcs and characters throughout each installment in ways that are increasingly rewarding to watch. This season we’ve seen Spock question his identity, both in terms of how best to reconcile his human and Vulcan halves and how that impacts what kind of man he ultimately wants to become. Part of the reason that Aspen/Angel’s betrayal hits so hard emotionally is that the character spends half the episode giving what is honestly fairly decent advice to Spock about his ongoing internal struggles—-that he’s the only one forcing himself to make a binary choice between the two halves that make him whole, that he can forge a new path that embraces both sides of who he is.
Perhaps we should have guessed from the moment that “The Serene Squall” gave the episode opening voiceover to Spock’s fiancee T’Pring that the Vulcan Angel was trying to rescue would be a familiar face (or at least a known quantity.). But the fact that it’s Spock’s half-brother Sybok adds another emotional wrinkle to proceedings, as does the fact that T’Pring knows her intended well enough now to understand that his last-minute confession of an affair with Chapel was a ruse.
Look, I know Spock and T’Pring are canonically doomed by the time Star Trek: The Original Series rolls around and all, but they are truly such fabulous partners together. (And to be honest, Stonn looks like a doormat.) Their relationship is being given so much depth and treated with such respect and care that you can’t help but hope that maybe somehow these two crazy kids are going to work it out. (I was genuinely heartbroken when I thought T’Pring was buying the lie.)
Then again, the chemistry between Ethan Peck and Jess Bush is also outstanding so maybe I’m just being spoiled for choice on the Spock romance front, I don’t know. At any rate, this is certainly not the last we’ll see of these characters or these subplots, so this is me trying to trust that this story is going somewhere great. (It hasn’t let me down yet, after all.)