Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2 Episode 1 Review – The Broken Circle 

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds continues to choose the unexpected path in its Season 2 premiere, but that's what makes it great.

Ethan Peck as Spock in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2
Photo: Michael Gibson/Paramount+

This Star Trek: Strange New Worlds review contains spoilers.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2 Episode 1

On paper, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is the most traditional entry in the current Star Trek franchise, with its more episodic weekly adventures, light-hearted feel, and open embrace of the wonders inherent in space exploration. But, for all its old-school vibes, nothing about this show feels stodgy or stuck in the past. In fact, Strange New Worlds is at its best when it’s gleefully subverting our expectations about what a show like this is supposed to be and do from week to week, embracing shifts in genre, tone, and format that somehow manage to make even the most familiar story beats feel fresh and new. 

So it probably shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Strange New Worlds season 2 premiere continues to choose the unexpected path, and does exactly the opposite of what pretty much any other show in its position might. Rather than kick off its new run of episodes with a catch-up recap for new viewers, or a simple, sunny affair meant to simply remind us all why we’re so darn glad this show is back, it instead throws us right into messy character dynamics and life or death stakes. (But, for the record, I’m still so glad this show is back.)

Although the series’ first season concluded with Una’s arrest for hiding her genetically engineered past as an Illyrian, “The Broken Circle” barely touches on this subplot beyond using her impending trial as a reason to get Captain Pike off the Enterprise for a few days. Perhaps a less confident show might have balked at the idea of sidelining its main character—yes, this is an ensemble series but there’s no denying that Anson Mount is the proverbial face of the franchise—in the very first episode of its long-awaited return, but Strange New Worlds simply embraces the opportunity to focus on the arcs of other characters, sure in the knowledge that its viewers will happily come along for the ride. 

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And maybe we haven’t talked enough about what an absolute gift Ethan Peck is as a performer, or the intriguing ways he and Strange New Worlds have worked to differentiate his Spock from both Leonard Nimoy’s and Zachary Quinto’s versions of the character. But he’s consistently a wonder to watch—his Spock often feels so darn young, even as he’s asked to make the difficult choices of a much older, more experienced officer. And, since he’s still struggling with the aftermath of the decision to break down his mental barriers to access the primal rage needed to fight the Gorn in season 1’s “All Who Wander,” it’s apparent that this is, at least for the moment, a Spock who sits squarely in the middle of Nimoy and Quinto’s versions, feeling things much more openly and visibly than ever before but having zero idea what to do about them.

From anxiety and stress about being left in command, to confusion over his complicated emotions where Nurse Chapel is concerned, to his quiet devastation when he realizes he may have just ordered the deaths of two officers in order to avert the loss of thousands more, he really runs an emotional gauntlet in this episode. And Peck handles it all wonderfully, his subtle shifts in expression often speaking as loudly as any line of dialogue could. He truly gets this character in ways that continue to both surprise and delight. 

Given how kind and unassuming both are, it’s hard to imagine either as seasoned, ass-kicking fighters, but apparently, both contain hidden depths. (I mean, M’benga apparently still carries a vial of what appears to be weapons-grade adrenaline around with him everywhere he goes, which hints at the sort of unprocessed, long-lasting trauma I dearly hope we come back to at some point.) The strobe-lit fight sequences are both well-done and brutal to watch, and now having seen it in context, I deeply wish the season 2 trailers hadn’t spoiled that incredible shot of the two of them clinging to each other as they jettison themselves out of an airlock. Truly out here giving a whole new meaning to the idea of a ride or die partnership!

Elsewhere, the hour also introduces Carol Kane (!!!) as Chief Lead Inspector Commander Pelia, a member of an intriguing new species called Lanthanites, an alien race that passed for humans for hundreds of years and who are apparently something very close to immortal. The show’s not particularly subtle about the way it deliberately angles her into the empty Chief Engineer role and she’s clearly the series’ new Designated Comic Relief, but the character is interesting enough that I doubt anyone will mind too much. (Translation: I am already deeply and fully obsessed with her.) 

As a being who’s lived for hundreds of years, she offers a unique perspective—incredibly intelligent, wildly bored, desperate for something new—that fits well with the rest of the crew. Pelia’s pre-existing connection with Spock’s mother, Amanda, makes for a promising initial bond between the two, and the prospect of her meeting Pike is fairly tantalizing, given his ongoing struggle to make peace with the foreknowledge of his own death. What’s worse, knowing when your time will end or trying to figure out a way to live forever? Give me a philosophical debate between these two, is what I’m saying. 

As adventures of the week go, the gang stealing the Enterprise and then racing to stop a crime syndicate from launching a false flag operation intended to reignite the war between the Federation and the Klingons for profit is fairly heavy stuff, but it does give the show an opportunity to explore Chapel and M’Benga’s relationship in a way it hasn’t before. Much of the good doctor’s season 1 storyline revolved around the terminally ill daughter he had hidden away in the ship’s pattern buffer, but “The Broken Circle” allows us to see the scars both he and Chapel still carry from their service during the Klingon war we only caught glimpses of back on Star Trek: Discovery. Jess Bush and Babs Olusanmokun have always had wonderful chemistry in their smallest scenes together, but this hour digs deep into Chapel and M’Benga’s shared past, allowing us a real glimpse of what they mean to one another and the dark history they clearly share. 

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When the first season of any series is as good as Strange New Worlds inaugural outing was, it’s natural to wonder if it was maybe some kind of fluke or a lucky accident. To worry about whether the folks behind the scenes could really manage to catch lightning in a bottle a second time. Or to start preparing yourself for some sort of inevitable letdown. (After all, the phrase “sophomore slump” exists for a reason.) Well. If “The Broken Circle” is anything to go by, I think it’s probably safe to say that this show remains as thrilling and thoughtful as ever, and I fully expect we’re in for a hell of a ride this season. Hit it.


5 out of 5