I’m optimistic. That’s my first reaction.
I think, had this been the first new Star Trek show, no Discovery, no Picard, I would be over the moon. Granted, a fair bit of Pike’s character is dependent on Disco’s second season (and he was the single best part of that season), so it couldn’t have been the first new Trek show as it is, but the basic skeleton is there, and the approach to the show is there, and both are very different from Disco or Picard.
Discovery is too obsessed with navel-gazing at the expense of well-written storytelling. Yes, Trek has ALWAYS had an agenda, and it’s never been afraid to preach, but it used to be smarter about how it weaved its message in with its stories. It used to be smarter, period. Until Discovery remembers how to be a good science-fiction show first, a good Star Trek show second, and a good morality play third, I won’t be going back.
Picard is too much of a hot mess all the way around. The writing is abysmal, the acting is usually subpar, and the plotting is flat-out insulting. It’s just bad TV, not just bad sci-fi and bad Trek (it’s both of those too, IMO). I have more to say about Picard later. Now is not the time for whinging. This—Strange New Worlds—this is good.
Strange New Worlds feels like a modern “Star Trek” show, as opposed to a modern show with a Star Trek coat of paint. If this had been the first reboot, I might be annoyed at some minor things but overall I would be very satisfied. Instead, this is not the first reboot. This is the third live-action show and, after growing increasingly dissatisfied with the first and absolutely hating the second, I am more than okay with minor complaints. I’m almost giddy.
The list of my compliments is as follows:
I love the characters. First off, casting Anson Mount is the best thing Star Trek has done since Voyager went off the air. Ethan Peck’s Spock is also a wonderful take on the character. Rebecca Romijn looks to bring depth to the character of “Number One” that we might have gotten had Gene Roddenberry’s original version of TOS been developed, but we’ll never know. She was always a great “what might have been” and now we get to see her blossom into a fully-realized character. Beyond that is the rest of the cast and to that I can gladly say, after just one episode I am already able to recognize the crew. After two years with Discovery, I still didn’t know 90% of their names. Most of them had little more than two lines of dialogue per episode, if that. This feels like a show about a crew. As expected, there’s a core of stars that will take the center stage (Pike, Spock, Una) but there’s enough attention already paid to the rest of the command crew that I think I’m going to grow to like everyone as we go on.
I love the pacing. I’m only judging by a single episode, sure, but there’s a snappy flow to everything that happened, without things feeling too rushed (Discovery). Certainly, they’re not plodding along and wheel spinning (Picard). It is no coincidence that the pacing is as tight as it is in an episode that is largely episodic in nature. When you don’t have to worry about telling one story over the course of ten episodes, but instead know you only have to tell one story over the course of one episode, it makes a big difference. You’re forced to be economical with scenes, dialogue, and exposition. Everything gets tightened because you have a small window in which to work. That’s not to say long-form storytelling is dead. On the contrary, it seems like SNW is going to try and strike a balance first employed in Trek twenty-five years ago. DS9 perfectly balanced an episodic story format with multi-seasonal arcs. It allowed characters to develop, grow, and change (something not possible/allowed in TNG/Voyager), while also making each episode stand on its own with a clear beginning, middle, and end (something the writers of Picard seem incapable of doing).
I love the emphasis on Pike and his tragic destiny. There are two episodes of Discovery’s second season that seem to be the templates that SNW is modeled after, and they just so happen to be the two and only two episodes that I unabashedly love, from Discovery: New Eden and If Memory Serves. The former featured the crew of the Discovery investigating a colony of Luddites in danger of being destroyed. The latter takes us to Talos IV (the planet from TOS made famous in The Cage and The Menagerie) and brought Pike a glimpse of the horrible fate that awaits him. Fast forward to SNW, and we have a planet-of-the-week plot driving the action, interspersed with Pike being haunted by the future that he now knows is coming, whether he likes it or not. We also have seeds planted for other characters to grow and develop over the season, like Spock, who will wrestle with being an active officer and having a wife T’Pring back on Vulcan. There’s also La’an, whose surname Noonien-Singh, making her some kind of a relative to the infamous Khan. The name wasn’t chosen without reason; time will tell how it’s used in the show.
As for the plot of the pilot, I’d say it’s perhaps the most low-key of any Star Trek “first episode.” It’s about resolving a first contact gone wrong and rescuing some officers. Along the way, we discover the planet wasn’t actually as warp-capable as we thought, but instead is merely on the verge of using warp-tech as a souped-up nuclear weapon to blow themselves to kingdom come, World War III style. I might have liked a bit more attention given to the mystery of how this planet developed warp tech in such a fashion; the mystery is resolved within the same scene it is established. Had this been a more typical episode, without the need for several minutes devoted to getting Pike off earth (necessary for the first episode), we might have gotten that. Instead, it was rushed a bit to service the runtime. A minor quibble. The resolution had a strong TOS feel to it, with Pike beaming down to make an impassioned speech about the danger of escalating violence in war, the opportunity that comes with finding peace, and the possibilities that await a united world. I could just hear James Kirk making that speech in a similar yellow shirt.
Do I have complaints? Sure, but they are minor: The dialogue is still a bit too casual, there’s still not a lot of science, and there aren’t a lot of questions being asked. Of those, I will just have to accept the dialogue is what it is. Hopefully future episodes will lean a bit more into sci-fi territory (not every episode of the classic shows was science-heavy, remember), and hopefully as Pike’s storyline progresses we get a bit more time to pause and quietly consider the human condition.
I can’t predict the future, but after growing increasingly frustrated with the direction of the Star Trek franchise over the past several years, I can honestly say I’ve never ended a new Star Trek episode more satisfied than I did watching the credits of Strange New Worlds. Here’s to what hopefully is the return to form that this franchise I love so much deserves to enjoy.
9/10 – “Strange New Worlds” is a promising start that made me remember why I love Star Trek. Here’s to more.