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Season finale: Here today, Gorn tomorrow

I guess it had to happen eventually on the episodic Strange New Worlds: The episodic season-ending cliffhanger. "Hegemony" hews closely to the TNG cliffhanger style, resembling one of that show’s middle-season-capping two-parter setups. It’s an effective and efficient sci-fi thriller with expectedly excellent production values and a nice sense of foreboding and a good balance between action and downtime. Is it on the level of "Mr. Worf, fire," the yardstick against which all Trek cliffhangers will forever be measured? Not remotely, but few are.

The question of how the Gorn figure into the Trek canon, and whether SNW‘s use of them can plausibly match up with TOS‘s "Arena" has never much concerned me, so I have few issues with the Gorn being used as SNW‘s mysterious Big Bad. With "Memento Mori" and especially "All Those Who Wander," the writers re-established them in the mold of Alien, with a creature-feature vibe (perhaps too much so) and an escalation in the (moderate) gore, and that continues here.

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Star Trek: The Musical

Well, that was delightful.

Let it be said that the idea of Star Trek: The Musical was not an automatic winner in my book. I figured this had an even chance of being an embarrassingly goofy misfire. But "Subspace Rhapsody" is a swing for the fences that connects (as sure as Uhura’s concluding effort to bring the crew of the Enterprise together in song), and it runs an emotional gamut I was not expecting.

I mean, sure, the plot is completely absurd and the opening minutes had me fearing the possibility of a show that would collapse under the weight of its own conceit. But as the setting took hold, the episode managed to build more and more emotional resonance and tie into the characters in very specific ways.

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M’Benga gets lost in the fog of war

"Under the Cloak of War" is dark, haunted, and morally gray in a thoughtful way unseen in Trek since Deep Space Nine‘s darkest war outings. It’s also the real deal, because it manages to raise a lot of intriguing and difficult questions as it skirts right up to the Trekkian moral line without quite crossing it. The ending is murky, troubling, and has an ambiguity that speaks to the central idea of the main character losing himself in the fog of a war that may have technically ended, but is still very much being waged internally. As Chapel notes, "War doesn’t leave you."

The ticking clock is set in motion with the arrival of Ambassador Dak’Rah (Robert Wisdom) arriving on the Enterprise to be transported for a diplomatic mission. Dak’Rah, who now simply goes by Rah, is a famous Klingon former general who once masterminded the mass slaughter (including civilians and children) against the Federation in a protracted battle on the moon of J’Gal.

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Lower Decks + Strange New Worlds = Back to The Future, Part 47

The crossover episode, or the stunt episode, or the Very Special Episode is represented fairly rarely across the Star Trek canon, but they’re there. "Those Old Scientists" is all three for the price of one. (Strangely, Strange New Worlds will have another Very Special Episode when it does a full-on musical two episodes from now with "Subspace Rhapsody.") The gold standard for this type of episode is DS9‘s "Trials and Tribble-ations," because it literally went back into one of the most celebrated of all Trek comedies and bolted its time-travel nostalgia on top of it for double the fun.

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‘Lost in Translation’ or failure to communicate?

I’m on the fence with "Lost in Translation." On the one hand, it does a pretty good job of just being an episode of Star Trek, with a decent sci-fi mystery premise that’s processed through a solid character core. On the other hand, the execution feels off. It seems sluggish when it should be psychologically intense and suspenseful. This is another episode that probably would’ve benefited from being trimmed down by 10 minutes or so.

There are also too many examples of poor communication among the characters — especially, ironically, the communications officer. Given the setup and the giveaway title, it feels like it takes a long time for the crew to reach the inevitable conclusion that the strange happenings are being caused by alien communications. You’d think given all the brainpower here, everyone would put the clues together to solve the mystery rather than frustratingly splitting up all the information and operating in silos. This probably would’ve been solved much more quickly if the characters sat down at a conference table, TNG style, and just talked it all through. Instead, the script has Uhura inexplicably withhold details to keep the mystery unsolved.

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‘Charades’: A comedy of manners

While traveling through the Vulcan system, Spock and Chapel — with much tension already present between them because of their simmering and suppressed feelings about each other — take a shuttle to study the Kerkhovian moon, home of the mysterious and rarely encountered energy beings called the Kerkhovians. The promise of valuable scientific discovery may be at hand, but instead, an encounter with a rupture in space-time causes the shuttle to crash. The Kerkhovians intervene and repair the shuttle and heal Spock and Chapel, returning them to their state before the crash — except they make one crucial error and "repair" the half-human, half-Vulcan Spock by making him completely human.

"Charades" is an entertaining sci-fi high-concept comedy/soap opera with enough substance to provide some character insights amid the low-key but sometimes obvious humor. It strikes the right balance in not taking itself too seriously while still taking the characters’ plights just seriously enough. Admittedly, the expanded run time of 60 minutes might be stretching some of the material a little thin.

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‘Strange New Worlds’: Thanks for the memories

"Among the Lotus Eaters" is an uneven but somewhat intriguing story about the role of memory in our lives and personalities. It features some interesting ideas that are packaged into a middlebrow adventure plot that must work its way from start to finish while meeting a certain action quota. I wish it could’ve evaluated those larger ideas a little more thoroughly in the process of solving its central storyline, but this episode does at least live up to the series’ title of showing us a Strange New World.

Captain Pike, fresh off a breakup with Captain Batel (Melanie Scrofano) — who was passed up for promotion because of her relationship with Pike in light of his role in the case of Una’s falsified records — is assigned to revisit Rigel VII, a planet the Enterprise visited five years earlier on a botched mission that resulted in the deaths of three crew members at the hands of the local population, the Kalar. They now discover their visit resulted in cultural contamination: A large Starfleet logo in a garden within a palatial compound is clearly visible from orbital photos. They must determine the cause of the contamination and mitigate it.

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The universal constant of averting timeline disaster

There are good things lurking within "Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow," but they’re buried within an episode that’s completely off-kilter in its sluggish execution of an overused Star Trek staple. This story benefits from a few good ideas, but it suffers from a slew of very tired ones and off-the-shelf parts. And for an episode that should have an open, world-building feel, it comes across as weirdly small and claustrophobic, and with a complete lack of urgency.

It’s lonely being La’an Noonien-Singh. As security chief, she intervenes in daily headaches that don’t make her especially popular, leaving her feeling isolated and angry. She has an inner-torment from being a descendant of scourge-of-the-Earth Khan Noonien Singh — a torment that she hasn’t resolved. But today, a mysterious dying man appears in a flash of light in the corridor and tells her there was an attack in the past that must be stopped. He gives her a device and tells her to "Get to the bridge" before dying of a gunshot wound and then vanishing in a ripple of light. La’an arrives on the bridge, where the captain is James T. Kirk (Paul Wesley). He has no idea who La’an is, and there’s no record of her existence at all.

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‘Ad Astra’ provides a solid legal drama

It’s interesting to consider how "Doctor Bashir, I Presume," a single episode of DS9 that was written to give its central character a story amid a 26-episode season, essentially retroactively established the entire legal framework around genetic engineering in the Federation. Up to that point, the topic of the Eugenics Wars functioned as a major one-off (well, two-off) via "Space Seed" and The Wrath of Khan — but genetic modification had not been established as universally canonically illegal (unless I’m forgetting or overlooking something).

In "Ad Astra Per Aspera," Commander Una Chin-Riley gets her day in court, following Starfleet’s discovery that she’s not human, but rather a genetically modified Illyrian who lied on her Starfleet records. After she turns down a plea deal (against the advice of her Starfleet-supplied lawyer) that would dishonorably discharge her from Starfleet with no jail time, the prosecutor, a rather inflexible-seeming Vulcan named Pasalk (Graeme Somerville), decides to make an example of her with charges of sedition carrying up to 20 years in prison.

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‘Strange New Worlds’ returns for Season 2

Strange New Worlds jumps into its second season with an efficient and action-filled outing that packs a solid amount of Star Trek into a single episode with a 52-minute run time. The episode’s efficiency is so convincing, in fact, that it almost single-handedly makes the case for a permanent return to standalone storytelling amid the usual sea of serialization in current-day live-action Trek. (This includes even Picard‘s heralded third season, which had its own share of stalling and padding.)

One key here is that even though it’s a standalone, it’s still a part of many other ongoing threads. The episode references numerous storylines from last season — and even before that — with a key plot point being the aftereffects of the Klingon war waged in Discovery‘s first season. Meanwhile, we also have some brief (but incomplete) follow-up to Una’s outing as a genetically engineered non-human from the end of last season, and the ongoing emotional instability of Spock and how that plays into the complicated feelings he has for Chapel.

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