Strange New Worlds‘ “Charades” in Review
It’s this year’s Comedy Vulcan Episode time… Yeah, that seems to be an actual thing with this series, and again it involves Spock’s arranged engagement to T’Pring requiring attention at the most inopportune time possible. In this case, it’s a ritual dinner ceremony with T’Pring’s parents and Amanda Grayson, Spock’s mum, when Spock is not exactly his normal self. This time, though, it’s not a bodyswap episode, like last time, but ties in more to the take that the JJ-verse movies took with child Spock.
Spock and Christine Chapel are both tiptoeing around potential feelings for each other when they take a shuttle trip. An interdimensional wormhole opens in front of them, causing their shuttle to crash. Spock then wakes, back aboard the USS Enterprise, to find Chapel unharmed and himself feeling odd. He has become fully human, leading to a hilarious exclamation, cut off by the main title theme. (This is somewhat reminiscent of the teaser for the X-Files episode “Bad Blood”.)
While Chapel and M’Benga promise to work to find a solution, La’an and Una investigate the shuttle for clues. Captain Pike has no real reason to prevent Spock from returning to normal duties. That’s when T’Pring beams aboard to prep for the ritual with her parents, who are ultra-traditionalist, anti-human Vulcans. Spock has no idea how to handle his human emotions, meaning he spends most of the episode acting out like a sitcom teenager. It’s not the best look for meeting T’Pring’s parents.
Chapel also has Vulcan issues to handle, submitting paperwork for her application to a research position at their Science Academy. The Vulcan she’s dealing with is spectacularly disinterested in her work, dismissing her because of her style of wording. She and M’Benga also find — with the help of a message from the wormhole — that Chapel and Spock were both injured in the crash. Extradimensional aliens repaired them both but were confused by Spock’s mixed DNA, so they fixed him to the specifications he shared with Chapel — i.e., human. The crew set out to find a way to restore the Vulcan parts of Spock’s DNA, but their samples keep degrading.
The main part of the episode involves Amanda arriving to help and inspire her son. He must pass himself off as fully Vulcan while having the emotions of a teenager on an energy drink overdose, with fake ears.
T’Pring’s dad is actually fairly normal, amusingly enough, and willing to try and enjoy Pike’s versions of Vulcan cooking. Spock’s mother, conversely, is the eagle-eyed, racist perfectionist. The biggest problems are the tea ceremony, which involves a mind meld and Spock holding a roasting-hot teapot.
Having no luck finding a fix in sickbay, Chapel, Uhura, and Ortegas take a shuttle and figure out a way to not crash into the wormhole but instead talk to the aliens. They explain that they thought they’d fixed both injured beings correctly.
Meanwhile, Spock somehow manages to make it through the rituals, including Pike suggesting that the Vulcans play charades. Spock also finally gets the grudging approval of T’Pring’s mother. Chapel arrives with the cure and injects him. Before it takes physical effect, Spock takes off his fake ears and announces a full human had fooled them. Cue much mother-son connection stuff, as Amanda reveals how much abuse she got from other parents and teachers when Spock was at school.
Having gone through these experiences about emotional connections, Spock proposes to T’Pring that they take time apart — which is wise, as there’s only so many times you can pull off the same comedy episode schtick — and ends up kissing Chapel. This outcome continues to raise the question of why, in TOS, she regards him with only remote admiration from afar. Christine also realises she’d rather stay on the Enterprise, making discoveries and real differences.
This is pretty much an ensemble episode, with most of the regulars getting some scenes, but it’s obviously focused mostly on Ethan Peck’s Spock. As expected, he delivers the goods. Showing an impressive mix of dramatic and comedic talent, he subtly changes his movements to portray the different Vulcan, human, and fake Vulcan roles. He really is the one true successor to Nimoy as Spock, end of.
Meanwhile, T’Pring’s long-suffering (you can tell) dad is a nicely sympathetic role. However, the mother feels like a visiting sitcom character… and here, it’s worth mentioning that it’d be nice to have the guest stars’ characters listed in the credits. Mia Kirshner returns from Star Trek: Discovery as Amanda Grayson, but there’s no sign of Sarek.
This frequently funny episode hits good dramatic beats about relationships and cultures’ distaste for outsiders as well as the abuse that can cause. The episode also looks great in every way — there are no moments that scream, “Look at me, I’m a ten-yard circle of dirt floor with a virtual set around me!” like what happened in the installment immediately preceding this one. It just… feels like it’s cashing in on last season’s unexpected hit rather than being its own thing, though it does help fit with aligning towards TOS canon. It’ll probably be hugely popular, which is good, and it is certainly entertaining. So far, this season is definitely maintaining an overall consistency, and this fifth part is no exception.
David A McIntee is a writer and historian who has written for properties such as Doctor Who, Star Wars, Final Destination, and Stargate, as well as having written several adventures in the Star Trek franchise for Pocket Books. He has contributed many pieces to the magazines Star Trek Explorer (née Star Trek Magazine) and Star Trek Communicator, as well as having written nonfiction books about Star Trek: Voyager.