Review: Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2 Episode 1 “The Broken Circle”
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds returns for its sophomore season after debuting 10 episodes that surpassed our expectations for this highly anticipated live-action entry in the Star Trek pantheon. The first season tackled the adventures of Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) and his crew on the Enterprise, and standout plotlines we expect to continue in this largely episodic show include, among other things, La’an Noonien-Singh’s (Christina Chong) traumatic history with the Gorn and attempts to help an orphaned child; the troubling discovery that Una Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn) is an Illyrian, which led to her arrest; and Spock’s eventual confrontation with his mysterious half-brother, Sybok, as well as his powerful romantic interest in Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush).
There’s so much potential for this show, so where does the first episode of season two leave us? Unfortunately, not as confident in the upcoming episodes as the excellent series premiere made us for Strange New Worlds’ first season. Let’s dive in.
The episode begins with Captain Christopher Pike tackling Una’s recent arrest, the defense of which isn’t going well. Pike decides to travel to see some mysterious lawyer who he and Una think is the first officer’s best hope for defending herself. Thus, the rest of this episode is Pike-less, as the story centers on Spock (Ethan Peck), Nyota Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding), Dr. Joseph M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun), Lt. Erica Ortegas (Melissa Navia), and Nurse Christine Chapel pursuing a distress call from La’an who is out on Cajitar IV, a planet on the border of Klingon-Federation space.
Unfortunately for the normally rule-following Spock, the Enterprise is parked at Starbase One undergoing an inspection, and Admiral Robert April (Adrian Holmes) refuses the acting captain’s request to pursue the distress call. April makes a good point, in that Cajitar IV’s dilithium mines are shared by Klingons and the Federation following the bloody recent war, and having a Starfleet ship show up outside the Federation’s normal schedule could spark a conflict. Logic be damned, Spock uncharacteristically discards April’s orders and presents a plan to his crew to steal the Enterprise.
“Doctor, the captain has put me in command of the Enterprise for the next three days. I’m concerned my emotions may impact my judgment.”
“You’ll just have to learn to live with them. Like we all do.”– Spock and Dr. M’Benga.
This is a surprising move by the Vulcan, as at this point in his career, we wouldn’t think he has the rebelliousness to suddenly ask his crew to commit a crime. Moreover, we wouldn’t suspect La’an would be a person he would so willingly do this for. Pike, perhaps, or even Nurse Chapel. But the relationship developed hitherto between Spock and La’an doesn’t seem to warrant such a risky endeavor in our eyes.
In any case, Spock and the other main characters do get the Enterprise away from Starbase One, with help from a new face (more on that later), and they meet up with La’an on Cajitar IV. Besides telling them Oriana (Emma Ho), the little girl from the Gorn battle in the first season, has been reunited with her parents, she tells them a rogue Klingon-Federation extremist faction is trying to restart the war between the two races. Such a war would be a lucrative business opportunity. The audience learns thanks to a captured Nurse Chapel and Dr. M’Benga that these extremists have built a Federation ship upon which they can launch a false-flag operation against the Klingons.
“You want me to tell you this isn’t bringing everything back? I can’t. But I can tell you I’m in control.”
“The war is over, Joseph.”
“Yes, but how could it ever be?”– Dr. M’Benga and Nurse Chapel as they treat Klingons.
Clearly outnumbered by their captives, Chapel and M’Benga don’t see an escape from their predicament until the doctor produces a surprising solution: a couple of vials of strength- and reflex-enhancing serum he always keeps in his medical kit. The notion presented here is that the good doctor had to use this serum in the war, but for exactly what, we don’t know.
Upon injecting this material into their arms, Chapel and M’Benga become an ass-kicking duo, easily able to outfight multiple Klingons amid the halls of the faux-Federation ship. It’s here where we start to grimace. Having two characters Hulk their way out of a situation does not feel like Star Trek, nor does it seem sensical two doctors would opt for this strategy. They don’t even attempt another solution first. As such, it’s a strange sight, seeing the normally gentle, softly spoken M’Benga rampage his way through many Klingons (who apparently don’t bother trying to shoot their enemies). Likewise for Nurse Chapel.
The pair’s bloody trail through the ship and subsequent clandestine communication to Enterprise does allow the Starfleet ship, with Spock in command, to ascertain the nature of the extremists’ plan. Heightening the stakes is a Klingon D7 cruiser that arrives in orbit above Cajitar IV, so the race is on for the Enterprise to shoot down the rogue ship, even though two of its crew are onboard. It’s a challenging emotional decision for Spock, who still feels strongly for Nurse Chapel and kudos to Ethan Peck for so subtly and animatedly displaying the turmoil Spock feels as he gives the order to fire. Emotions are certainly new for the Vulcan ever since the battle with the Gorn in the previous season’s “All Those Who Wander,” and he is certainly still struggling with them here.
Of course, Chapel and M’Benga don’t perish in the explosion, as they decide to take their chances in flinging themselves into space to avoid the extremists. It’s a brave measure, and certainly a frightening decision if we were to put ourselves in their shoes. It’s also a convenient action, as the pair escape into space just as Enterprise destroys the ship, even though Chapel and M’Benga couldn’t have known when Spock would give the order to fire. As expected, Enterprise beams the pair aboard before space can claim them. That doesn’t mean Spock doesn’t suffer a few moments of peril as he thinks Chapel’s relatively brief foray into the void claims her life, and we see the Vulcan’s further emotional turmoil before Chapel returns to consciousness.
So, the peace is saved thanks to the Enterprise’s destruction of a ship that would undoubtedly start another war, but not all is well. After Spock’s trivial reprimand from Admiral April, the audience learns that another threat possibly worse than the Klingons is on the Federation’s front door: the Gorn.
So, remember how we mentioned Spock’s escape from Starbase One was assisted by a new face? Well, that face is Lt. Pelia (Carol Kane), who originally was onboard the Enterprise along with other inspectors, but she decided to stay aboard after helping Spock. Pelia seemingly has an interest in the Vulcan, as we learn she knows Spock’s mother, Amanda Grayson. Pelia apparently once shared with Amanda a then-little-known fact about herself: she is a Lanthanite, a species that had secretly lived among humans on Earth until the 22nd century. Now, Pelia wants to explore the unknown instead of being stuck in the Sol System, so she’s along for the foreseeable future.
Taken together, “The Broken Circle” is probably Strange New Worlds’ weakest episode to date. Spock’s quick decision to break a million Starfleet rules to rescue one crewmember seems uncharacteristic. It absolutely goes against the Vulcan maxim about the needs of many. Normally, wouldn’t Spock be the one to follow procedure, and instead lean on an outside voice to persuade him into rebellion? No such interaction takes place here.
The other sticking points of the episode are the medical staff’s escape from their prison and the extremists’ plan generally. It’s pretty lucky the extremists chose the moment M’Benga and Chapel are on the ship to launch their false flag operation. Why would they launch their mission knowing there are two super-soldiers strolling through the hallways? Why would they launch their mission so soon after a torpedo explosion injured many of their personnel? Sure, a Klingon ship is scheduled to arrive at the time of the launch, but surely another Klingon ship would make its way to the planet sooner than later. Moreover, if their intention is to start a war using a false flag operation, why would the extremists take their vessel through the debris ring around the planet, which hides them from the Klingon sensors? Surely, they would care to be spotted by the Klingons as soon as possible.
While we appreciated the minor backstory we received of M’Benga’s violent time in the war, how many Star Trek episodes involve characters brawling their way out of a situation and not at least trying to forge a diplomatic solution? Strange New Worlds doesn’t need wanton action to be good, as is the trope with so many TV shows. Here’s hoping our characters opt for more intellectual solutions to future problems.
This episode does leave us with intriguing questions. The prospect of an all-out war with the Gorn is an appealing one, especially since we received such a vile look at them in the first season. We’ll be curious to see how this show threads the needle regarding the Gorn’s relative mysteriousness in The Original Series. Surely the Federation can’t actually enter a full-out war with the reptiles, considering Kirk’s interaction with the Gorn a few years later. We’re also keen to learn who exactly is the mysterious (and seemingly unwilling) legal mind Pike is visiting on the “other side of the quadrant,” and how long it will take before the whole gang is back on the bridge of the Enterprise.
- Ethan Peck? More like Ethan with the pecks, amirite?
- This episode potentially marks Spock’s first use of the Vulcan lute, known as a Ka’athyra. We see Spock play this in “Charlie X,” among other episodes.
- Why did La’an need to contact Enterprise for assistance? What about that ship or her crew necessitated their arrival at La’an’s location? If La’an wanted to alert the Federation to the extremist’s plot, why not send the message somewhere else, especially since she supposedly knows Enterprise’s service schedule?
- When did Pelia investigate the suspicious surroundings of the Enterprise’s warp core breach? We only see her walking in a hallway when the “breach” occurs, and then she is on the bridge questioning the emergency.
- Did Spock seek the approval of other Enterprise crew members besides the main characters before stealing the ship? This episode makes it seem like only our heroes are aboard, but we do see others, like the transporter operator, later.
- Why did Chief Jay (Noah Lamanna) wait an hour to tell Spock that Dr. M’Benga and Nurse Chapel were missing?
- If the Klingon D7 vessel arrived in orbit and started sending internal coded communication, why would Uhura assume the communications activity was standard for arrival in orbit? If the messages are coded, could she read them?
- The Federation ship the extremists build seems to take inspiration from the Crossfield-class (of Discovery fame). That’s the class the ship is likened to in dialogue, and the saucer section of both the Discovery and this ship share similarities.
- April states Cajitar IV is shared between the Klingons and the Federation every 30 days or so. We’d love to learn how the extremists were able to hide the construction of a ship during the Federation’s turn on the planet.
- Spock was fairly irresponsible in leaving the bridge so soon after destroying the extremists’ ship. There’s a Klingon vessel looming in front of Enterprise likely dying to know what just happened, but no, Spock must dramatically go to the transporter room to see if Chapel survived.
- The toast the Klingon captain gives to Spock near the end of the episode is “May your blood scream.” Based on our research, this phrase hasn’t been heard in Star Trek before, but it was included on decorative corks used in the official Klingon bloodwine, as made by Wines That Rock. How’s that for corporate synergy?
- Shame on you, Robert April. Spock should absolutely be punished for stealing the Enterprise, looming Gorn threat be damned.
- One of the planets noted on the map April dramatically inspects at the end of the episode is Galdonterre, a system mentioned in DS9’s “Blood Oath.”
- This episode is dedicated to original Uhura actress Nichelle Nichols, who passed away on July 30, 2022.
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