Review: Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2 Episode 5 “Charades”
Again showcasing its remarkable tonal flexibility, Strange New Worlds treats fans this week to the season’s (first) comedic episode, which once again features Spock, his fiancée, T’Pring, and Nurse Chapel as the male Vulcan accidentally changes into a human.
The Enterprise is on its way to Vulcan to study a moon, Kerhov, in the system and its mysterious civilization which vanished years ago. Captain Pike (Anson Mount) has ordered the Enterprise to take it slowly through the Vulcan system to allow the crew some rest and relaxation, and Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush) uses the time to prepare for an upcoming interview for a fellowship sponsored by the Vulcan Science Academy. The nurse doesn’t want to prep with Spock, the natural choice to help her since he is a Vulcan, as their pseudo-romantic relationship is up in the air and awkward. That doesn’t matter, though, when Spock and Nurse Chapel both investigate the strange anomaly and realize it is a tear in space and time.
Their crash into the anomaly doesn’t majorly hurt the two crew members, but Spock is fundamentally changed. The Vulcan now sports regular ears and a plethora of teenage-esque emotions, which leads to some hilarity as he navigates not only his newfound humanity but all while trying to fool T’Pring (Gia Sandhu) and get her mother, T’Pril (Ellora Patnaik), to approve their upcoming marriage. If T’Pril doesn’t approve of the Starfleet officer, she can call off Spock and T’Pring’s marriage. As you can guess, this episode gives Ethan Peck a chance to shine in a way we never thought we would see, and the actor proves his versatility by going from transitioning to stoic Vulcan to someone who is grappling with powerful emotions.
There are quite a few hoops Spock and T’Pring must jump through to please her mother, including typical Vulcan marriage rituals, like handling an incredibly hot teapot to make the family tea recipe, and having both parties blast each other for all their perceived faults. True to the romantic comedy genre this episode chases, Strange New Worlds opts to portray T’Pril as the quintessential unpleasant and hard-to-please mother-in-law, and T’Pring’s father, Sevet (Michael Benyaer) as a kinder but submissive father-in-law. Helping Spock during his time as a human is his mother, Amanda Grayson (Mira Kirshner), who easily recognizes something is wrong with her temperamental son when she comes aboard the Enterprise. As Amanda asserts when she and her son are concocting a way to fool T’Pril, she’s proud to finally get to show Spock his human side and teach him how to lie.
“Spock, I’d slow down if I were you.”
“Slow down? I’m making up for lost time!”– Pike and Spock as the new human gleefully shoves bacon into his mouth.
With Amanda’s help, Spock, through considerable effort, reaches the finish line in securing T’Pril’s approval, but after an intolerable berating from the Vulcan woman about his blood being “diluted” because of his human mother, he opts to expose his humanity to everyone involved. For T’Pril, who swore no human could ever make their way through the Vulcan marriage rituals, this is quite a humbling surprise. At the same time, Spock uses his experience as a human to inform his opinion of his mother, and how she has gracefully dealt with living among Vulcans for so long. It’s a touching heart-to-heart moment between mother and son.
Spock’s time as a human causes some hurt for him with T’Pring. She is annoyed Spock did not share his humanity with her, which leads to her forming trust issues with her fiancé. To Spock’s chagrin, T’Pring chooses to give their relationship a breather for a while, which actually frees him up for something else, something that’s being driven by intense Vulcan feelings: a relationship with Chapel.
Let’s back the story up a bit. What was the crash’s other victim doing during Spock’s ordeal? Nurse Chapel has clear feelings for Spock, something this show started to explore last season, and she does feel guilty about what happened to him after the crash. Thanks to a “calling card” left by whoever saved the shuttle and its passengers after the crash, the Enterprise crew discovers there are beings who inhabit the tear in space and time, and they had attempted to “repair” Spock after the crash to align with his human crewmate.
Seeing only one way to preserve Spock’s Vulcan nature before his genetic alterations become permanent despite her best efforts, Nurse Chapel launches herself – along with her recruited friends Nyota Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) and Erica Ortegas (Melissa Navia) – on a mission to
the AR wall the aliens’ realm to passionately convince them to change Spock back to his normal self. In the process, she is forced to admit out loud that she does have feelings beyond friendship for the Vulcan, and that despite her feelings for him and his newfound emotions, she wants him back to normal.
This selfless admission ultimately convinces the aliens to help her change Spock back, which the nurse does when she gets back to the Enterprise. Chapel also learns from the aliens that Spock attempted to save her instead of himself during the shuttle’s contact with the spacetime tear, adding more fuel to both Chapel’s feelings for the Vulcan.
“Tell them what? I don’t know what to say.”
“Tell them you like Spock. That you have feelings for him.”
“Are you so obtuse that you don’t even see that?”
“Then make it simple.”– Chapel, Uhura and Ortegas talking about Chapel’s feelings for Spock.
Interestingly, Chapel chooses to give Spock his gene-altering medicine just as he seems to admit his romantic feelings for her. The moments leading to Spock’s cure are played so intimately by Jess Bush and Ethan Peck, and it’s tough to pull your eyes away from the somewhat tragic entanglement the two have found themselves in, even if you aren’t usually a fan of romantic drama. That’s a sign of great acting if you ask us.
Having Spock explore emotions is not a novel idea, but this episode plunges the character into emotionality in a way never seen. “Charades” is a fascinating development for the character, especially considering the variety of emotions the man feels. Whether it’s unreasonable anger, like when Spock explodes at Sam Kirk (Dan Jeannotte) for not cleaning up after himself during staff briefings, or overly joyous laughing at a just-okay joke in the mess hall, or the very real feelings the Vulcan must normally hide within himself about Nurse Chapel, it all explodes from the man when his Vulcan sensibilities are ripped away. Despite this episode being played mostly for laughs, this illumination Spock has about what it means to live like a human will likely color his personality for some time to come.
Taken together, we appreciated the way “Charades” was able to showcase Spock’s slowly developing humanity, while moving the needle forward with his relationship with Chapel. We were getting a bit fatigued by the “will-they-or-won’t-they?” mentality the show adopted for a while, so “Charades” is a welcome episode in our eyes. Indeed, this episode ends with the pair getting more intimate than ever before, so who knows how their working relationship will change moving forward. On the surface, Strange New Worlds’ most recent foray into comedy is like its previous attempt in that genre: fun, fitting for the show’s characters, and memorable.
- This episode was directed by Jordan Canning, who is no stranger to comedy, having directed, among other things, 12 episodes of Schitt’s Creek.
- Spock asserts he needs a smell inhibitor to deal with humans’ aroma, and T’Pol used the same technique while serving on Enterprise in Star Trek: Enterprise.
- Pike notes to Amanda that Pelia, played by Carol Kane this season, sends her regards, as
Carol Kane wasn’t available for this episodeshe was occupied with the Enterprise’s dilithium shortage. Pelia previously revealed this season that Amanda was the first person she told about her exotic, immortal nature.
- T’Pril asserts many Vulcan men would stand by T’Pring’s side instead of Spock, and we do see that to be the case later in TOS’ “Amok Time,” where Stonn is T’Pring’s champion.
- One of the best parts of this episode is undoubtedly Anson Mount and how his subtle body language adds great comedic effect to the show.
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