1×04 – MEMENTO MORI
A little bit of TOS‘ Balance of Terror, a little bit of DS9‘s Starship Down (also TNG’s Disaster), Memento Mori is a well-made submarine (in space!) action episode that doesn’t forget about the character in the middle of all the sparks, booms, creaks, and alarms. It also doesn’t neglect to do the little things, like the sounds that echo through the corridors of the Enterprise as it descends into the high-pressure depths of the sea…oh wait, no, I mean as it gets close to a black hole. It’s an easy one-to-one swap from nautical battles to stellar battles, at least in the TV/Film world of Star Trek, which has always played fast and loose with the science side of “science-fiction.” No, that’s not exactly how black holes work, but so what: Ships also don’t move around like aircraft carriers in space, either. You want realistic sci-fi? Go watch The Expanse (it’s great!). You want a sprinkle of sugar on your sci-fi, Star Trek has always offered that.
This episode had a lot to juggle (three plots plus a character-focus on La’an) but the end result is a well-edited and tightly paced forty-minute adventure. Of the plotlines, the first was the overall “how to outsmart and escape the Gorn” story, which borrowed nicely from Balance of Terror. Also, the “Uhura and Hemmer in a tight spot” story drew inspiration from Crusher and Geordi in TNG’s Disaster. Finally, we had the “Una injured in sickbay” story, which offered a nice bit of dramatic tension akin to DS9’s Disaster. All three plotlines were given the right amount of screentime and each had a satisfying payoff.
As for nits to pick, I might mention the Gorn ship design, which seems far too curved and elegant for such a blunt and monstrous (one-dimensional) race. I would have preferred something a bit more retro-looking to match the Enterprise.
No, there isn’t anything particularly new or innovative on display here, though the newly-christened “Pike maneuver” is a fine addition to the Trek tradition of ballsy ship maneuvers that are just as likely to kill everyone as they are to save the day. Overall this is a straightforward, simple, but effectively-done episode. Special credit goes to the soundtrack, which I have yet to mention in these reviews: This week, in particular, was pitch-perfect in the way it punctuated the tension and action, never disappearing the way it did in the Berman-era shows, but also not overpowering the action as it seemed to do on Discovery and Picard.
9/10 – Memento Mori was just a really, good, well-made little hour of Star Trek. I’m very entertained.
1×05 – SPOCK AMOK
I will say this for it: Spock Amok’s title and the opening scene had me worried I was about to endure the most egregious example yet of SNW aping the old Trek franchise. I was fully prepared to rant about everything from a Pike vs Spock fight to tedious Spock/T’Pring melodrama. I should have had more faith but I’m too jaded after the past few years. Instead, while this is still my least favorite episode so far, it is not a terrible outing. I dreaded the worst, and instead, I received only a forgettable, inconsequential outing.
I suppose my only real problem with Spock Amok is that it’s nothing more than a pedestrian 6/10 or 7/10 sort of episode in a season that only has ten episodes. TNG and DS9 had episodes that took their foot off the gas, let their hair down, and had some fun (DS9 had annual episodes starring the Ferengi that did exactly that), and while those too weren’t at the top of the rankings for their respective seasons, they also didn’t have to be. Those silly episodes were just 1/26th of the season. Here it’s 1/10th.
I will say I appreciated how the A and B plots worked through the same theme of empathy. Spock and T’Pring needed to learn empathy towards each other and the Federation needed to learn empathy with regard to their negotiations with the Zebra-looking aliens. I was less enamored with the C-plot featuring Enterprise Bingo, though I do like the idea and hope we see something like it again in Lower Decks.
As for the real star of the episode, I find myself mesmerized by Jess Bush’s take on Christine Chapel. She’s certainly nothing like the old Nurse Chapel but that’s a given. In fact, I’m just going to pretend that Strange New Worlds exists as a reboot of Star Trek and not as a genuine prequel to The Original Series. That wipes a dozen little holes being poked in the canon (like mentioning the Romulans as a political force right now when, according to TOS, they should be in hiding after the original Earth/Romulan war). Anyway, as for this version of Chapel: She has a magnetic and electric personality despite mostly delivering understated performances. She’s not over the top or loudly obnoxious, and yet she seems to steal my attention whenever she’s on screen. She’s an enigma. I like her.
Overall, Spock Amok was not a trainwreck as I feared. Instead, it was a perfectly cromulent episode. It had no big stakes or sense of urgency. It wasn’t much of anything, though it did have a few moments where I chuckled. If we had 20 or so episodes in a season, I would be more than fine with an episode like this. It would still get the grade I’m giving it, though; it just wouldn’t make me wish they hadn’t devoted a tenth of the season to it.
Credit where it’s due: They actually pulled off a contrived “body swap” plotline in a way that didn’t make me want to shut my TV off. I especially loved Spock’s immediate and ongoing concern that it would devolve into unwanted “hijinks.” Vulcan humor is the best humor.
7/10 – A perfectly fine but forgettable episode. The show is humming though, so I’m hardly upset.
8/10 – Half a season down and Strange New Worlds is the best Star Trek we’ve had on TV since Voyager went off the air. Keep it coming.