1×01 “Strange New Worlds”
This was so good I literally cried. This is easily, and I mean easily the best first episode of a Star Trek series. And as much as I like nuTrek better than a lot of others who have been fans of the franchise since the Golden Age, this just blows everything else out of the water in terms of making me like holy shit Star Trek is back.
This series is like they took all the best parts of TOS and Discovery, and a lot (not all, but a lot) of the best parts of TNG and tossed them in a blender and said “here you go!” It’s like the much better series the first episode of Discovery teased us with but we actually get to keep it this time. And that is more or less what I was hoping for, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that it would just immediately be that, right out of the gates. This was breathtaking.
I’m struggling to remember the last time I allowed myself to be this unguardedly hyped for something, and having that thing just so resoundingly live up to that hype… I can’t stop gushing about it??? I am literally incapable.
So, in the first episode of your new Star Trek series you’re going to go with a botched first contact scenario with Prime Directive implications aplenty. That’s a bold choice, and this episode not only makes it work, it actually makes it work in its favor.
Firstly, the voiceover from Number One at the beginning of the episode is just the Star Trekkiest Star Trekky speech that ever Star Trekked. It’s full of hope and bravery and honesty. We then slide over to Captain Pike on shore leave. The “Pike knows he’s going to die” subplot isn’t my favorite tack to take with this character. It was one of the rare things I didn’t like about season 2 of Discovery. But in spite of disagreeing with it on a kind of fundamental level, I actually love the way it was deployed here? It’s a believable way to get him to a place where he’s a character in crisis without compromising his fundamental values or the things that made everyone collectively fall in love with him in the first place.
And that sets you up to do the whole reluctant captain dragged back to duty thing, which… I don’t love refusing the call as a trope usually, but for some reason Star Trek has always found a way to do it that doesn’t bother me? And this is probably one of the best examples I’ve seen. Both of establishing the character’s reluctance, and of showing his willingness to rise to the occasion in spite of said reluctance. I also loved the Admiral’s reasonable attempts to reach him not working (his communicator beeping over and over and him ignoring it), ultimately requiring his unreasonable attempt to reach him (flying a fucking shuttlecraft overhead while he’s taking his horse out for a ride). Also also on a much geekeir and less consequential note, it hecking ruled that we finally had a canon appearance from Robert April.
I know a lot of people are probably upset about the portrayal of Spock’s relationship with T’Pring but I actually loved it? It’s nice to get some actual romance and levity in that story, and I really liked the scene where she proposed to him a lot! I also think it ties back into TOS just fine considering we literally already established that T’Pring is irritated with him for unflinchingly choosing duty over her and he is pretty blatantly oblivious, so it’s not really difficult to see how that relationship is going to end up cooling off.
Everyone returns to the Enterprise which is being rushed back to active duty, and this feels like the right time to say oh my gods I love the look and feel of this series? The Enterprise itself is gorgeous, like even better than the version from season 2 of Discovery. The bridge and other sets all look like believable, more fully-realized versions of the equivalent TOS sets but with a lot more of the original design elements and overall look/feel retained than in previous attempts like the Kelvinverse.
Oh, and the opening theme and title sequence? Resoundingly awesome.
Anyway, once everybody’s back aboard, we get into the main action of the story and Pike does his best to toe the Prime Directive line but once they’re committed past the point of no return anyway he just barges right in and does a The Day the Earth Stood Still, in a way that both explicitly references contemporary politics and emphatically makes a case for the best aspects of the Federation’s (and, by extension, Star Trek’s) values. I really needed to hear this right now.
Oh, yeah, earlier in the episode he’s watching The Day the Earth Stood Still, which is great foreshadowing but is also a great way to let the audience know that the people making this show are huge nerds who love science fiction. So that was pretty awesome.
1×02 “Children of the Comet”
Sitting down to watch the second episode, my feelings were more or less “okay, but like… it can’t always be as good as that first episode, right???” And the second episode answered with a resounding “hold my beer.”
It’s so, so nice to have “monster of the week plus at least one focus character and oh yeah everyone likes each other”-style storytelling back in this franchise, but with a side of nuTrek’s willingness to be real about mental health.
Picking up on my compliments about the look and feel from the previous episode, the scene where the Enterprise spun and wove through the comet as it was breaking up was exhilarating to the same degree that many of the best Star Wars space scenes are, but unlike previous attempts (*cough*KelvinversePicard*cough*), it still absolutely felt like a Star Trek scene. This isn’t hugely essential as these sorts of action scenes aren’t the reason I come to Star Trek, but it’s really nice to have.
This was an Uhura episode, but Spock and Pike also got chances to shine. Which, you know. They’re probably pretty much always gonna, but Spock’s interactions with Uhura were amazing??? Both for his character and hers. And this is so much better than their relationship in TOS or the Kelvinverse, while still fitting in with their TOS relationship quite a bit better than the Kelvinverse version did.
… speaking of which, I also like this version of Nurse Chapel flirting with Spock so much better than the TOS version. You don’t ever get the impression she’s actually pining for him, more like she’s benignly toying with him.
Actually, this is an opportunity to talk about one of my favorite things about this show so far. Strange New Worlds “fits in” with the TOS canon in a way that doesn’t feel like it hamstrings the show in the way that Enterprise’s attempts to do the same (which, fwiw, they did a really bad job of sometimes anyway) really did. This show doesn’t “fit in” with the TOS that aired in the 60s, rather you can imagine it fitting in with an updated version of TOS that does away with many frustrating artifacts of the time it was made and brings it more into line with the franchise as a whole. It suggests a version of TOS that is more Star Trek than the first Star Trek series. It stands on its own, and it fits in. Like any new Star Trek series should, it exists in a universe of limitless possibilities.
1×03 “Ghosts of Illyria”
… okay, but like, can one of these eventually not be an S-Rank so I don’t look like such a shill?
… actually, you know what? I want to see how long we can keep this up.
So, it’s been a minute, but TOS and TNG established a tradition of one of the early episodes being devoted to the whole crew getting Space Drunk and Space Horny. I don’t think DS9 or Voyager did it, Enterprise did something that was arguably similar, Discovery and Picard didn’t do it, but Strange New Worlds is all about bringing back Trek traditions and putting a new spin on them so of course they couldn’t resist.
But this is Strange New Worlds, so, based on our current sample size there’s really no surprise that A) it managed to not suck, and B) it did a ton of character work at the same time.
So, the previous examples of This Kind of Episode came way too early in the show’s run, so they weren’t nearly as fun as they could have been. This was a bigger problem in TNG where the series eventually developed rather strong characterizations for most of its central characters, in TOS it was probably fine because they never really grew over the course of the show. Strange New Worlds, on the other hand, has already done such a good job of developing its characters in just two episodes that they were able to do one of these what feels like it should be more of a mid-seasons episodes right off the bat and it was just fine. And yeah, you can argue “but we already know who Pike and Spock are!” and yeah, we do, so they weren’t even on the damn ship when everyone got Space Drunk.
Also, instead of getting Space Horny and whatnot, everyone develops a sudden, unreasonably acute Vitamin D deficiency (heh, they need the D) and basically become moths? Like, they just desperately need light. It’s a novel approach to this sort of thing. I guess that also kinda circumvents the needing more characterization before you do the Space Drunk episode, but a regular Space Drunk episode still woulda worked? Idk.
Anyway, this ends up being a very heavy Number One episode, and we learn a lot about her. And we get to see Captain Pike’s devotion to his crew demonstrated once again, and his example helps Number One do the right thing in a parallel situation as well (though, admittedly she probably woulda anyway; she’s extremely good).
So, uh, yeah! Let’s see how long we can keep this ridiculous standard of quality up for, I guess!
1×04 “Memento Mori”
So here I am, all ready to finally give Strange New Worlds its first A-Rank. Like, don’t get me wrong! There’s a lot of awesome stuff going on in this episode! I’ve always wanted more of the Gorn, and that was before I realized vore was on the menu!! … by which I guess I mean we’re on the menu!! Which, y’know… hot! (Sorry, not sorry.)
So, yeah! It was pretty cool seeing Pike’s Enterprise tangle with the buff scalie bois. And the whole deal with La’an working through her PTSD was handled extremely well. There were even great secondary stories going on in the form of Number One’s injury and Uhura & Hemmer being trapped in that cargo bay somewhat reminiscent of when Beverly & Geordi found themselves in a similar situation in the excellent TNG episode “Disaster.”
But, y’know! Then they had to go and have that fucking amazing scene where Pike comes up with the plan of using the black hole to slingshot to safety, while using gravitational redshift to convince the Gorn that they’re actually standing still. And the science of that is fucking amazing and I actually cackled out loud when I realized what they were doing. This show is so fucking nerdy!! And then they also make it look and feel awesome because of course they do and ugh!!!
I don’t care if I’m a shill, if I am it’s because I like this show that much and can’t stop gushing about it!! If Strange New Worlds can keep this up for a few seasons, there will be no question in my mind what the best Star Trek series of all time is.
1×05 “Spock Amok”
I’M SORRY BUT THEY DID FREAKY FRIDAY WITH SPOCK AND HIS BETROTHED??? AND IT WAS??? SO???? GOOD??????? AND THEY NOW HAVE A GREATER APPRECIATION FOR EACH OTHER AND PIKE GAVE THAT BRILLIANT SPEECH ABOUT HOW AWESOME SPOCK IS AND ALSO HE SOLVED THAT DIPLOMATIC THINGYMAJIG AND AND????
I just. I can’t with this show!! How is it this consistently great??? This was like… “The Trouble with Tribbles”-level TOS humor mixed with TNG-level diplomacy and Discovery-level characterizations. You guys!!! I want to have this show’s babies!!!
1×06 “Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach”
I am pleased to announce that I am willing to admit this show is not perfect. I mean, depending on your definition of perfect. There isn’t anything wrong with this episode, there just isn’t anything transcendent enough about it to give it an S-Rank? For American readers who aren’t weebos, I’m essentially giving it an A instead of an A+. So, uh, yeah, that’s where we’re at.
Like, every episode up until now has been of a kind that will be instantaneously memorable for decades to come. This one will be more of the Google it, read a summary, “oh yeah that one was pretty good” variety.
Oh also as soon as it became pretty clear that something not great was going on with the First Servant I kind of sussed out what was going on and as soon as the credits rolled I told my partners that it reminded me of Ursula Le Guin’s story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” and sure enough it turns out that the episode was directly inspired by that story. So, if you’re keeping track at home, this show has already based episodes on The Day the Earth Stood Still and “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” and those are just the ones I immediately noticed.
1×07 “The Serene Squall”
All the pirate stuff is super hot and the Enterprise crew members get thrown in cages so uh yeah clearly there’s some stuff for me here. Also the pirate captain is an enby??? And they’re impersonating an enby??? So that’s awesome!!!
I figured out who Captain Angel’s Vulcan partner was before the big reveal, and I just bitterly laughed out loud when they confirmed it. What sucks is that this is Strange New Worlds so they’re going to make Sybok actually good and I’m already mad about it. I’m just. I’m just preemptively mad about it.
This was some pretty great action bullshit with a side of an actually pretty interesting love triangle starting to form between Spock, T’Pring, and Nurse Chapel. Love triangles are super not my favorite, but I’m actually willing to give this one the benefit of the doubt until it gives me a reason not to.
1×08 “The Elysian Kingdom”
This is not how I expected this particular character arc to be resolved, but as I lay sobbing in my partners’ arms I was not particularly inclined to give notes, y’know?
Like maybe 7/8ths of this episode are a delightful little romp where most of the ship’s crew is stuck behaving like characters from a children’s fantasy book that Dr. M’Benga has been reading to his daughter. Captain Pike as a cowardly flunky and La’an as a prissy noblewoman were hilariously off-type, Ortegas as a swashbuckling swordswoman and Number One as a confident archer were both pretty easy fits. Though them being gay for each other because they are in the little girl’s mental fanfiction additions to the story was freaking adorable.
Oh yeah and Cadet Uhura plays a cruel monarch who commands people to kneel before her and brags about the skills of her torturers and uh yeah I had Feelings about that. Y’know. The gay kind.
But then it turns out that it’s all leading up to a tearful goodbye between father and daughter as, instead of a cure, he finds a way for her to live a fuller life than she likely could have even if he had cured her. But just. Fuck. Those sorts of goodbyes still just absolutely decimate me, and it really isn’t fair when most of the episode has been a playful romp, dang it!
If it wasn’t obvious, by the way, I’m not trying to lodge substantive complaints here. I’m just whining because I was having fun and then the episode made me cry and that’s mean, y’know? So don’t take this too seriously. This was a phenomenal episode.
1×09 “All Those Who Wander”
Add Alien to the list of scifi classics the inaugural season of Strange New Worlds has based an episode on. You guys, I think the people making this show might be huge nerds or something.
I wonder if there’s a story behind Hemmer’s death similar to Tasha’s in season 1 of TNG. It feels like they never really did enough with his character, with his high point probably coming in the previous episode when he was hamming it up using his engineering prowess to be a “wizard” in the episode’s fantasy realm. It’s also possible this was always planned, considering the character was a mentor for Cadet Uhura and this episode finds Uhura making a final decision to remain with Starfleet.
It was also a shame to see La’an departing in a less final way. I really hope she isn’t gone for long.
On the whole this was an okay episode, but probably the weakest or second weakest of the season? (And I’m giving it an A lmao. That’s how good this season has been.) I’m glad the Gorn are continuing to be a going concern. I’ve always wished we’d get more of them, and Strange New Worlds seems willing to deliver on that front.
1×10 “A Quality of Mercy”
They did it. They stuck the landing.
I kind of sussed out from the various clips and trailers the general shape of what this episode was going to be, and it seemed like a good idea but a risky one. And, you know, that’s kind of super appropriate actually? Considering you have Pike meeting Captain James “risk is our business, gentlemen” Kirk. And while Kirk is certainly more synonymous with risk-taking, and does indeed accuse Pike of being too risk-averse, the narrative ends up not bearing him out. Because Pike does take a risk, a huge one. Just a much different one than the kind Kirk is synonymous with. It doesn’t pan out, but in that last scene between Pike and Kirk, you can tell that Kirk had a newfound respect for Pike. And that they have more in common than might first appear.
The other side of this episode also finds a Captain Pike armed with the knowledge that sometimes you can’t avoid a fight. And that seems like a pretty important thing for him to have heard right at that moment in time for, you know, reasons.
The second I heard future Pike’s voice I knew basically what was going to happen, but when they cut to him standing there in a Wrath of Khan-era admiral uniform I couldn’t help but let out a fanby squee.
Ending on a retelling of one of the best and most beloved TOS episodes was a bold move. But it paid off. What they did with it was fantastic. And this episode accomplished so much. It closed the book on a difficult part of Pike’s life, and he’s clearly approaching the future with a more resolute attitude. I’m looking forward to him, hopefully, just being the best captain he can be going forward.
It’s funny, I started the season a little annoyed that they were continuing this plot thread from Discovery because I just wanted an uncomplicated TNG-style Star Trek show, but I have to admit at this point that I was just super wrong. The way they resolved it took it from a liability to an asset, and on top of that the moment where him and Spock told each other how important they were to each other genuinely made me tear up. I’m not saying I ship it, but I’m also not saying I don’t ship it.
Literally my only complaint is that slotting Ortegas into a toned down version of Lt. Riley’s space racism storyline felt thoroughly awkward, and I think it did a disservice to her character. It didn’t really add anything to the story, and it wasn’t really resolved. It feels a little like it was included out of a sense of obligation.
Still, though, I’m nitpicking at this point. This was a fantastic episode, and it sets up a great future for the show going forward. And considering its first season might very well be the best season of any Star Trek show, I cannot wait to see where the show goes from here.
Average: 4.7 (A-Rank)