Star Trek’s Latest Romance Calls Back to One of the Best Episodes of The Original Series

James T. Kirk has had many loves over his career, but his latest with La'an Noonien-Singh in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds might rival his greatest romance from the Original Series.

William Shatner as Captain Kirk sits on the bridge of the Enterprise
Photo: CBS

Captain Kirk goes back in time and has a powerful romance that ends in tragedy, a choice made for the greater good. Yes, that synopsis does describe the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds episode “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow,” in which La’an Noonien Singh (Christina Chong) and an alternate version of James Kirk share an adventure and a kiss in 21st-century Toronto before that Kirk dies in action.

But Star Trek fans may also recognize that synopsis as a description of one of the best episodes of the Original Series, “The City on the Edge of Forever.”

Written by Harlan Ellison (with heavy rewrites from mainstays Gene L. Coon, Steven W. Carabatsos, D.C. Fontana, and Gene Roddenberry, much to the chagrin of the famously irascible Ellison), “The City on the Edge of Forever” finds Spock and Kirk traveling to 1930 to rescue an insane and time-displaced McCoy. Along the way, Kirk befriends a social worker and peace activist named Edith Keeler (Joan Collins) and quickly falls for her. But when Spock discovers that McCoy’s arrival prevented Keeler’s accidental death, setting off a chain of events that ends with Hitler winning World War II, he tells Kirk, “Edith Keeler must die.”

Nobody in “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” says the same thing about Jim Kirk. In fact, the Romulan agent tries to get La’an to kill her ancestor Khan Noonien Singh (portrayed as a child by Desmond Sivan). But Kirk’s death in the alternate timeline leaves La’an just as distraught as Kirk was in “The City of the Edge of Forever.”

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Throughout season one and already in season two, we’ve seen the weight that La’an carries as the descendent of a hated dictator, someone so evil that the entire Federation changed a law to ban augments. Between that and losing her family to the Gorn, La’an has had a chip on her shoulder. But as La’an actor Christina Chong told Inverse, her experience with Kirk opens something different.

“Kirk’s being very vulnerable in this episode, he’s like on Earth and like ‘what the f*ck is this?’,” she explained. “And I think she finds that quite endearing, he’s vulnerable, so she feels like she can also be vulnerable. Which opens the door to romance.”

But when that romance ends in death, La’an is broken. “She learns she can have that connection with someone, and then goes, ‘Oh my God. I just had it and it’s been taken away from me’,” said Chong. That lost connection also occurs at the end of “The City on the Edge of Forever,” in which Kirk has to prevent (a now sane) McCoy from saving Keeler after an accident. “Do you know what you just did?” McCoy asks in disbelief and anger. “He knows, Doctor,” answers Spock. “He knows.”

The look of horror on William Shatner‘s face, capturing the understanding of Kirk’s loss, is echoed in La’an’s sobs at the end of “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow.” Back in the Prime Universe, La’an has contacted Kirk, who still lives and is charming as ever, but has no idea who she is.

More than a throwback, the Strange New Worlds episode is a testament to the enduring quality of Star Trek. The franchise has been, and continues to be, about humanity at its best, even when it feels the worst.