Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 Episode 1 “Strange New Worlds” Review
More than four years after the U.S.S. Enterprise first shocked fandom with its appearance in the closing seconds of Star Trek: Discovery’s season one finale, the ship and her crew are back in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, a show that – at least judging by its pilot – is shaping up to be a love letter to old Star Trek fans and an exciting introduction for new ones.
Fans surely remember Captain Christopher Pike’s (Anson Mount) horrendous experience in “Through the Valley of Shadows,” where he learned that at some point in his future, he suffers a horrible incident that leaves him crippled and non-communicative. The weight of this revelation is heavy on the captain, and “Strange New Worlds” starts with him in self-isolation as he processes this ordeal and debates whether he can command the Enterprise effectively given his compromised emotional state.
His self-isolation ends abruptly as he gets an assignment from Admiral Robert April (Adrian Holmes). April reports that a Starfleet ship, the U.S.S. Archer, and its captain, Una Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn), have gone missing while on a first contact mission. It seems only the safety of a close friend is enough to draw Pike out of the Montana wilderness, and he enlists Spock (Ethan Peck), who is otherwise occupied with his brand-new fiancé, T’Pring (Gia Sandhu), to get back aboard the Enterprise to launch a rescue mission.
Even from the first act of this episode, it’s clear Pike is haunted by images of his own disfigured body. Can you imagine what a weight that must be for him? Knowing this backstory adds so much context to every decision and action Pike does not only in this episode but surely in future episodes. But to his credit, even with this shadow hanging over him, Pike still manages to be a compassionate, empathetic, and inspirational leader. Considering the burden this man faces, and the care with which he commands his crew, we won’t be surprised if Mount’s Pike rises quickly on fans’ list of best Star Trek captains.
After getting aboard the Enterprise, cutting short repair operations, and leaving before a new crew can come onboard (including Pike’s incoming chief engineer and one Lieutenant Kirk), Pike leads his crew to Kiley 279, the planet where the Archer lost contact. On the way there, Spock approaches Pike about the captain’s change in personality since the latter’s experience on the Klingon moon, and Pike confesses he knows how and when he is, for all intents and purposes, going to die. It’s a decade away, which suddenly seems like no time at all. Spock, ever the logical one, suggests that Pike’s knowledge of his death will end up making him an even better captain. This at least gives Pike something to ponder.
When the ship arrives, however, the warp signature the Archer first reported isn’t exactly what it seems. Instead of a warp engine signature coming from the planet or nearby space, which would normally indicate a civilization is ready for first contact, it’s actually a warp bomb signature. As Spock explains, this is a highly unusual event; in every first contact case, civilizations use warp technology to travel faster than light first, not to build weapons. In fact, the people of Kiley 279 are seemingly decades away from building warp technology naturally. Clearly, something is amiss here.
To rescue Una and her fellow Archer officers, Pike, Spock, and La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong) beam down in a genetically altered state to appear native to the planet, a well-worn trope in Star Trek. They find the citizens of the planet in a state of civil unrest, which makes the threat of a warp bomb that much more dangerous. Clearly, Kiley 279 and its angsty people appear much like humans and Earth in the 21st century – “shades of Old Earth,” as Pike observes.
The trio makes their way to the underground bunker where Una is being held, although complications arise when Spock, whose half-Vulcan/half-human nature causes painful issues with his disguise. After a brief tussle, the away team finds Una, who tells them how and why the people of Kiley 279 have warp technology even though their civilization is far from discovering it naturally: the Federation is responsible for giving them the tech.
As Una explains, the battle with Control in Discovery’s season two finale took place not far from Kiley 279, and being so close to “Zero Point” meant the people of this world were able to observe the conflict through their space monitoring technology. Through this observation, they were able to reverse engineer the technology needed to create a warp bomb. So, Starfleet has already indirectly altered the natural development of this civilization, which means General Order Number One, the rule that states the Federation can’t get involved in the development of pre-warp civilizations, has gone out the window. This makes it easy for Pike to rationalize further involvement by him and his crew to try and calm the situation on Kiley 279 before the warp bomb is used to disastrous effect.
We are huge fans of “Strange New Worlds” linking to Star Trek: Discovery in this way. This is a smart hook that not only shows the rarely discussed direct and indirect consequences of interstellar action, but it’s a neat callback to the season that originated Pike and crew’s presence in the new Star Trek era. To its credit, this episode doesn’t labor on recapping the season finale of Discovery season two, but it’s just enough to remind viewers about that pivotal event, and that the Enterprise was there.
Pike is resolved to calm the tension on Kiley 279, and he requests he and Spock be taken to one of the warring side’s leader. When he comes face to face with the leader (Samantha Smith), he explains the situation, but it isn’t enough to persuade her to not use the warp bomb and get the planet’s unrest under control. Pike, who realizes he, as commander of a massive ship in orbit around the planet, can influence the entire population of Kiley 279, quickly makes a show of force by having the Enterprise descend through the clouds and hover over the wide-eyed populace below. The revelation to the public about the existence of powerful extraterrestrials is enough to get leaders from both sides of the conflict in the same room to begin negotiations. But it is enough to ensure that the warp bomb and any future conflict is disarmed for good?
Pike, back on the Enterprise, has an impromptu heart-to-heart with Noonien-Singh about the nature of life and death, and how “not thinking you are going to die is what gets you killed.” The captain realizes the Kiley 279 people need another catalyst for change. They need to know what happens to a society if conflict is allowed to run rampant. Of course, Pike has a good example of this: Earth itself.
In a final address to Kiley 279’s leaders and its people, Pike uses Earth history, and no small measure of self-reflection in the face of his own horrifying future, to illustrate the terror planet-wide conflict can bring. He mentions how Earth suffered greatly in the 21st century, first with a second Civil War, the Eugenics Wars, and then World War III. He uses imagery from the latter conflict to drive home the horrors of planet-wide war.
Finally, Pike offers a hand in friendship to the Kiley 279 people. He asks them to join the Federation and move past this destructive part of the society’s history. This presentation is enough to convince the planet’s leader to do just that, and a montage at the end of the episode shows how the people of Kiley 279 are adopting the Federation’s values, knowledge, and spirit of friendship. Moreover, by Pike using knowledge of his future to help persuade the leaders of Kiley 279 in this way, he is resolved to continue captaining the Enterprise.
“Perhaps somewhere all your ends are written as indelibly as mine. But I choose to believe your destinies are still your own. Maybe that’s why I’m here: to remind you of the power of possibility. Maybe that’s the good in seeing my future.”Pike to the people of Kiley 279
In terms of re-introducing audiences to Pike’s leadership style and wits, “Strange New Worlds” does this extraordinary well. By bringing an entire planet to the galactic stage, even when they were introduced to it via an ill-timed, third-party conflict, Pike’s negotiation skills and presence of mind seem to be second to none. This episode, perhaps more than anything, is a prime introduction for its main character and the values and skills he brings to the table. Moreover, using Earth’s history as another world’s catalyst for change is prime Star Trek commentary. Clearly, this show’s writers know and respect the Star Trek ethos well.
The episode wraps up with a poignant note between Captain Pike and Noonien-Singh. Over the course of the episode, Noonien-Singh hinted at a brutal past, as she and her loved ones were captured by Gorn and subject to horrible treatment. As the Enterprise remains docked at Station One in orbit around Jupiter, Noonien-Singh, who filled in as Pike’s first officer while Una was captured, shares with Pike that Una was actually the one to rescue her from Gorn’s entrapment. It is this backstory that allows Noonien-Singh to unknowingly relate to and inspire the ill-fated Pike. “Strange New Worlds” shares more about Noonien-Singh than we were expecting, so the relationship between Pike and Una will be one we’ll be watching closely during this first season.
The episode ends as the Enterprise and its crew is ready to go explore strange new worlds, complete with Captain Pike addressing the crew with an inspiring speech that takes language directly from that famous opening monologue. The episode has one last wink to the audience in-store, as Pike finally welcomes Lieutenant Kirk to the bridge. But this is Samuel Kirk (Dan Jeannotte), not James Kirk. Samuel is sporting his standout mustache, which as The Original Series fans know is a trait the character had as he appeared (played by William Shatner) in “Operation – Annihilate!”
Having Samuel Kirk show up is not only a neat reference to The Original Series, but it has a deeper meaning. By expecting to see James Kirk and instead of giving us his brother, Strange New Worlds is telling the audience that this show is not supposed to be some kind of reboot or reimagining of The Original Series. Instead, it’s a similar but markedly different approach to episodic Star Trek storytelling, a show that justifies its existence on its own terms beyond its various references and callbacks to that first Star Trek show. In our eyes, having (the ill-fated) Samuel Kirk in this episode, even if it’s just a one-time appearance, was a smart call.
While we’ve focused on Pike, Spock, Number One, and Noonien-Singh in this review, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention how the other cast members seem to be excellent additions to Strange New Worlds. Celia Rose Gooding brings enthusiasm and quiet confidence to Cadet Nyota Uhura, and we all share her excitement at the end of the episode when she reacts to Pike’s “strange new worlds” speech. Jess Bush’s energetic Nurse Christine Chapel will seemingly offer a pleasant counterweight to Babs Olusanmokun’s more reserved Doctor M’Benga. Melissa Navia, meanwhile, brings a fiery and assertive personality to the bridge crew as Lt. Erica Ortegas, and we’re looking forward to how she rounds out the various other personalities on the bridge. Completing the main cast is Bruce Horak as Chief Engineer Hemmer, the Enterprise’s late arrival along with Samuel Kirk. We only see a glimpse of Hammer arriving onboard the ship in “Strange New Worlds,” so we’ll need to see more of him to get a sense of what he brings to the table.
Ultimately, “Strange New Worlds” makes us super-excited for this show. Visually, it offers some of the best cinematography and production design we’ve seen yet from the new era of Star Trek, enough to make us seriously consider if this show is taking up the flagship status hitherto enjoyed by Discovery. (Strange New Worlds certainly seems to be using the famed AR wall to great effect.) More importantly, this show has tremendous heart, generated in no small way from Pike’s character-building existential crisis, but also from its diverse supporting cast and the show’s architects’ awareness of what makes not just good science fiction, but what makes good Star Trek. If “Strange New Worlds” is indicative of the quality this show will bring to Star Trek fans, we’re spoiled, indeed.
- At the beginning of the episode, Pike is watching the classic science fiction movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”
- Robert April was previously seen in animated form in The Animated Series episode “The Counter-Clock Incident.” He is also seen pictured in the Star Trek: Encyclopedia (where the writer of that book photoshopped Gene Roddenberry’s face onto the character).
- The Archer is a single-nacelled Federation ship, much like the pseudo-canonical Saladin-class, a vessel first introduced in the Star Fleet Technical Manual in 1975. The Apollo-class from the video game Star Trek: Legacy was also a single-nacelled vessel. At this time, we don’t know exactly what class of ship the Archer is listed as.
- The USS Archer is undoubtedly named after Captain Jonathan Archer, played by Scott Bakula in Star Trek: Enterprise. It’s technically possible Archer was alive during the commissioning of his namesake ship, as he was born in 2112, and would therefore be 146 years old around the time of this episode (assuming this episode takes place near the date of Discovery’s season two finale), and the Archer was obviously commissioned before then.
- We’ve seen T’Pring before, played by Arlene Martel in TOS’ “Amok Time.”
- Good for T’Pring for being as headstrong as she is about Spock’s duty to Starfleet. She isn’t willing to wait around forever for him, and isn’t shy about making her needs and wants clear.
- On the shuttle to the Enterprise, Pike is reviewing Noonien-Singh’s personnel file, which details her reported first contact with the Gorn, a story she elaborates on in this episode.
- The production designers have really nailed The Original Series design language in this show’s props. Just consider how similar the ship’s consoles and away team equipment is to what we saw in TOS, without feeling dated.
- Among the many familiar names seen during Spock’s presentation about first contact is the Argus Array from TNG, the Talos System (from “The Cage”), and various DS9 callbacks like Bajor, Cardassia Prime, and Chin’toka.
- How did Chief Kyle do the impossible and beam the solvent directly into Spock’s eye?
- In a wink to the audience, Pike jokes that calling General Order Number One the “Prime Directive” would never stick, which clearly isn’t true.
- As far we can tell, this episode contains the first reference in Star Trek to a Second American Civil War. Great.
- WARNING: STAR TREK: PICARD SPOILERS: Put on your tin foil hats, because here’s something to think about: Pike lists, in supposedly chronological order, three major events in Earth’s past that ultimately led to planet-wide destruction: the Second Civil War, the Eugenics Wars, and then World War III. Star Trek canon established the Eugenics Wars (and Khan’s rise to power) happening in the 1990s, and WWIII as happening between 2026 and 2053. The Second Civil War seemingly happened around the 2020s, based on the imagery Pike showed the people of Kiley 279. Indeed, the Second Civil War is likely meant to reflect America’s current political and social angst. Does that mean one of the wars in the Eugenics Wars happens in the 2020s or later? This theory may hold some merit based on the season two finale for Star Trek: Picard, which shows Adam Soong returning to an ominously named Project Khan. Does Adam reignite the Eugenics Wars between the Second Civil War and WWIII? Let’s just say we won’t be surprised if a Eugenics Wars show or book was announced soon.
Strange New Worlds streams Thursdays on Paramount+.
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