Review

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Episode 7 “The Serene Squall” Review: When Worlds Collide

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Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1 Episode 7 “The Serene Squall” Review

“The Serene Squall” sees Spock and the Enterprise confront an unexpected enemy, while a familiar character aims to make an exciting resurrection in Star Trek canon.

This episode basically picks up where “Spock Amok” left off, as Spock (Ethan Peck) and his fiancé, T’Pring (Gia Sandhu), try to make their long-distance relationship work. Remember, T’Pring is working at the Ankeshtan K’Til Vulcan Criminal Rehabilitation Center, a place for Vulcan who have left the path of logic to be rehabilitated. As she notes in a personal log at the beginning of the episode, she is trying a myriad of ways to “spice things up a bit” between her and Spock, including researching human sexuality to appeal to Spock’s human side. While the two Vulcans are maintaining their long-distance relationship, Spock is gradually growing more attached to Nurse Christine Chapel (Jess Bush), and while the Vulcan clearly isn’t aiming for anything more than a platonic friendship, it doesn’t take much effort to see Chapel thinking along another path.

Gia Sandhu as T’Pring and Ethan Peck as Spock

This drama is taking place as the Enterprise escorts a Starfleet Counselor and aid worker, Doctor Aspen (Jesse James Keitel), to a place on the edge of Federation space where refugee ships are at risk of pirate incursions. Upon arriving at a destroyed refugee ship, Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), in consultation with Aspen, determines the crew of the destroyed ship possibly made it onto another refugee ship deeper in non-Federation space, so he takes matters into his own hands and crosses out of friendly space.

“Yellow alert. Erica, take us closer.”

“How close do you want to get? First date, or third date?”

“Blind date.”

“Copy. Proceeding with caution.”– Pike and Lt. Ortegas as the Enterprise enters the asteroid field. 

As the Enterprise makes its way to the refugee ship, this episode gets one of its most poignant scenes, as Doctor Aspen counsels Spock about him being pulled in two directions: his Vulcan half, and his human half.  Aspen offers some wise words about not needing to place yourself in the box (or boxes) others expect you to be in. While we think hearing about Spock’s dual heritage is getting a bit tiresome, especially since no novel ground has been tread on this topic in such a long time, this otherwise unremarkable scene takes on renewed importance when you realize Keital is a trans actor, and this episode was directed by Sydney Freeland, a trans filmmaker. The allegory “The Serene Squall” is presenting to audiences is clear: people shouldn’t feel pressured to accept their given or assumed identity. Forging your own path is always a valid choice, and that’s something the doctor imparts onto Spock, especially when Aspen asserts that figuring out Spock’s identity is something only he can do.

Babs Olusanmokun as M’Benga, Rebecca Romijn as Una, and Jesse James Keitel as Dr. Aspen

The Enterprise soon finds the derelict ship, but it’s a bit too late to stave off a pirate attack. As Pike and his away team beam aboard the ship, pirates take that opportunity to beam aboard the Federation ship and take it over. Yes, pirates can board the Enterprise, make it to the bridge, corral the crew, and assume control of the vessel. This is a major sticking point for us. The idea that a group of ragtag pirates, even with the help they end up having (more on that in a bit), is ludicrous. The Federation’s flagship should be able to counter borders, even with the captain and many senior officers off the ship. But, this plot point is essential to accepting the rest of the episode, so our advice to others with similar complaints: just let it go.

Not everyone is corralled by pirates, however, as Nurse Chapel uses some spur-of-the-moment medical lethality to incapacitate her attackers, and she proceeds to make her way to the engine room to try and rebuff the invaders. Having escaped the bridge attack, Spock and Doctor Aspen also make their way to the engine room, and soon the trio is trying to regain control of the ship. They almost succeed, if not for the all-too-predictable betrayal: Doctor Aspen is actually Captain Angel, leader of the Serene Squall, and apparently Angel had dumped the real Doctor Aspen on a planet somewhere and assumed her identity. Angel’s plan involves a prisoner exchange with not the Federation, but the same Vulcan rehabilitation facility where T’Pring works.

Jess Bush as Nurse Chapel and Ethan Peck as Spock

Apparently, Angel was married to a Vulcan, who she calls Xaverius, and he ended up in that facility after some emotionally turbulent time spent directing refugee relocation efforts. Angel wants to trade him for Spock, an exchange T’Pring feels compelled to do, considering Spock is her dear fiancé. To stop the prisoner transfer from happening, Spock needs T’Pring to not care about him anymore, and the way he makes this happen involves an impromptu faux affair with Nurse Chapel, in plain view of T’Pring (and everybody else on the bridge). This faked affair is enough to convince T’Pring to not hand over Xaverius, leaving Angel out of luck and out of ideas. She beams away from the Enterprise and escapes to who-knows-where, but not before leaving Spock with an important, heart-to-heart lesson: it doesn’t matter what you are, but who you are.

We definitely get the sense Angel will be back, especially since Spock surmises the Vulcan she cared so much about at the Ankeshtan K’Til Vulcan Criminal Rehabilitation Center is not actually called Xaverius; rather his true name is one from Spock’s past: Sybok, Spock’s half-brother. Gasp! What we know of Sybok comes from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, the best Star Trek film, as that movie shows Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill) hijacking the Enterprise to try and find God.

Michael Hough as Remy

In that movie, Spock describes his half-brother as someone who broke with Vulcan tradition and thought that emotion, not logic, was the proper path Vulcans should take. So, it makes total sense that, almost 30 years before that movie takes place, we see Sybok doing just that in his younger days. While the idea that Sybok was the Vulcan Captain Angel was talking about throughout the episode was somewhat predictable for hardcore Star Trek fans, especially when Angel noted Xaverius “always talked about” Spock and never quite embraced logic, the idea that this famous character is making a re-introduction to Star Trek canon is exciting, to say the least.  Although we hope there’s a solid reason why Sybok opted for an assumed name, and that Xaverius is not just to hide the dramatic reveal about Spock’s half-brother.

Jesse James Keitel as Dr. Aspen

While Vulcan drama is happening aboard the Enterprise, Captain Pike, Number One (Rebecca Romijn), La’an Noonien Singh (Christina Chong), Doctor M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun), and other Enterprise crew members are trapped aboard the pirate ship, and it looks like they are going to be sold off as slave labor. Anson Mount, for his part, plays the captured captain with aloofness and an unconcerned calm, even while under distress, and he oftentimes offers audiences a small chuckle as a welcome reprieve from the seriousness of the scenes aboard the Enterprise. Indeed, Pike shrugging off the pirate captain – and even cooking for him to try and influence him – is a notable change from how other Star Trek captains react to being hostage. In our eyes, this episode helps cement how unique Captain Pike’s personality is compared to the litany of Star Trek heroes. Perhaps things roll off Pike’s back because he knows his future. We’d be curious to know if he would have acted differently in this episode if he didn’t know when he was going to die.

Rebecca Romijn as Una, Anson Mount as Pike and Melissa Navia as Ortegas

Ultimately, Pike and Number One craft a plan based on one of their previous, unseen adventures, and they try to get the pirate crew to mutiny against their captain – and they are successful enough to take control of the ship, warp near the Enterprise, and save the day. After the events with Angel, Spock meets up with T’Pring and asserts their continued relationship, and he then reasserts to Nurse Chapel the platonic nature of their relationship; clearly, Chapel wouldn’t mind it being more, but she respects that Spock is already committed to someone else.

Seeing more of Sybok will have to wait for future episodes, but it’s just another thread this show is leaving for its audience throughout its episodic entries. Spock and Chapel reassert their platonic relationship after their faux-affair, much, as it seems, to Chapel’s chagrin, but is this the end of the oft-hinted Spock-Chapel relationship? Furthermore, it’s been a few episodes since we saw Pike begin to research the people he ultimately saves during his life-altering accident; when will this show get back to that plotline? When will we learn if Doctor M’Benga finds a concrete cure for his daughter’s deadly affliction? And will we see the Gorn again before the season is over? All this and more will likely be covered in the remaining three episodes of the season, and we can’t wait to see what happens.

Jess Bush as Nurse Chapel and Ethan Peck as Spock

Stray Thoughts:

  • This is the 850th entry of the Star Trek franchise, as counted by Memory Alpha.

  • Among the books listed by T’Pring that help inform her understanding of human sexuality, she lists The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, a 2016 memoir that serves as an “intimate portrayal of the complexities and joys of (queer) family-making,” according to its official description.

  • Starbase 12 is mentioned in this episode. This base is somewhat of a mainstay on Federation star charts in the Kurtzman-era Star Trek, but it has also been referenced plenty of times in TOS and TNG.

  • Why doesn’t the Enterprise detect the pirate ship following it after escaping the asteroid trap?

  • Besides wanting to dispel the boy scout characterization Pike seems to have, why did he lead the away mission aboard the refugee ship? We get it’s because the script calls for him to lead the faux mutiny, but as captain, he really shouldn’t have gone over there, and Number One should have stopped him.

  • Spock doesn’t like guessing, something we know from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home when he is forced to guess regarding time travel calculations.

  • Spock claims the sensors detected alien life signs beaming aboard the Enterprise as Pike and his team beamed to the other ship, so why didn’t Spock report the intruders as they beamed aboard, not a couple of minutes afterward?

  • Spock and Aspen talk at length about the Vulcan ritual Kolinahr, and Spock asserts he looks forward to when he completes the ritual. Spock starts to undergo this ritual in Star Trek: The Motion Picture before V’Ger pulls him away from Vulcan. This episode reveals Sybok skipped his Kolinahr.

  • This episode features Stonn (Roderick McNeil), the Vulcan we later see played by Lawrence Montaigne in “Amok Time.”

  • Pike’s fondness for cooking was previously seen in “Children of the Comet.”

  • Number One uses a “backdoor code” to regain control of the Enterprise remotely, and we are betting this is the same type of code used by Kirk in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan to get the Reliant’s shields down.

  • T’Pring insists she knew the faux affair was a hoax because she never thought Spock could have feelings for Nurse Chapel. Why not? Does she believe Spock is incapable of loving humans? Or does T’Pring have something against Chapel?

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