I mean, a comedy of manners married to a comedy of errors; the stiff-upper-lip officers striving to discover this thing you call “fun”; bizarre alien species we’ve never heard of who somehow are the strategic linchpin of the quadrant; gratuitously-contrived work emergencies to intrude on the couples’ weekend desperately needed by Spock and his fiancée; and oh yes, SPOCK’S FIANCÉE.
Did I mention the sitcom-esque FREAKY FRIDAY PLOT???
Yet, somehow, it all works. Strange New Worlds remembers something from the original series that subsequent Trek all too often forgot: It’s OK to have fun with these characters. Not everything is meaning-of-life and end-of-the-world. Sometimes they get to just breathe. I mean, it’s Starfleet, so it can’t be that simple, but still. Despite having a very large ensemble cast to service, everyone gets at least a moment in the limelight and we see a little more of how extraordinary this team is and how they manage, week in and week out, mesh into something amazing.
All the elements that should explode in the writers’ faces instead land perfectly. Sure, the plot with Spock and T’Pring has plenty of cringe-worthy moments. But you’re cringing with the couple, not at them, so to speak. There’s genuine struggle here. The writers make you understand T’Pring, lay the groundwork for her eventual dark gambit, and make her both sympathetic and faintly repellant. You can see why she eventually gives up on Spock without quite forgiving her for it. And while Spock shoulders more of the blame than “Amok Time” allocated him, you see him legitimately trying: It wasn’t neglect, exactly, that derailed their mariage.
The episode continues what is clearly Strange New Worlds‘ driving theme: What do you do with foreknowledge? It’s most explicit with Pike, of course, who knows he has fewer than 10 years before he ends up a crippled husk. But the show forces us into it too. We know Nyota Uhura does not abandon her career in Starfleet; but we also know that neither Una nor La’an play a major role in the future life of the Enterprise. George Kirk is a dead man walking but only we know it. Nurse Chapel pines after Spock for that same decade and never sees her feelings acknowledged, much less reciprocated. But the show also tells us that the journey as important as the destination, and I for one am guardedly optimistic in taking that journey with this crew.
And that Freaky Friday plot? It rises so far above its usual cliché that you can’t even see the ground. For one, it isn’t allowed to consume the rest of the episode like a tumor. Also, virtually no time is wasted on the “how do we keep this secret?” shenanigans that drag other efforts. For me the high point is that the show doesn’t do stupid “let’s swap voices” trick that most such plotlines involve. Instead, each actor just begins acting out the other’s role — and it’s pretty spot-on how well Ethan Peck and Gia Sandhu portray each other. Some, but not all, mannerisms carry over, and it’s borderline hilarious.
The visual are simply stunning in this episode. I don’t mean just the spectacular set piece at the end that signals the triumph of Pike’s negotiations. The show puts that in your face as such an obvious “Aren’t we amazing?” moment that it is nearly too much. I mean the casual shots of Starbase One, or images of the Enterprise outside a conference room window. The model work on this show has been gorgeous throughout — clearly inspired by the original series but now a more perfect version of it.
Much the same can be said for the soundtrack. I chuckled at the little chirp on Una’s PADD as they checked off one more item on the “Enterprise Bingo” list; the virtually 8-bit rendition of the iconic opening notes was fantastic. But so much more than that was the orchestration during the opening scene, which played homage to the TOS fight theme from “Amok Time” but updated and, again, perfected it. Strange New Worlds knows whence it came and is not ashamed to tip its hat to its progenitor.
All in all, this episode confirmed in me that the cast and crew (and writing staff) truly have the chops to pull off their ambitious mission, of writing a show that feels like The Original Series while also feeling modern. I look forward to what comes next.