Warp Factor Trek

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Season 2 of Strange New Worlds has recently wrapped up and has its highs, lows, familiar faces and stories, as well as a few “experimental” episodes that were met with varying success from the fans. The show manages to feature an ensemble cast with a new adventure every week — striking a balance between “old” Trek, with its episodic format, and later Trek, with its more rounded character development of the entire crew.

The writers have done a great job making Captain Pike one of the more relatable commanding officers, with a similar approach to how Captain Sisko in DS9 was written. He has to deal with a known fate he didn’t choose but can’t avoid, juggling personal and romantic relationships with responsibility, and occasionally indulging in cooking. This is a huge departure from the more stoic, less personable captains who kept their professional distance, like Picard and Janeway. Several characters get their own episode, or an episode highly focused on them, such as La’an Noonien-Singh, Una Chin-Riley, Dr. M’Benga, and Christine Chapel. Spock takes command for the first time, as well as struggling with his betrothal and human side, and we see more of the Kirk brothers and their challenging relationship.

The Kirk brothers

SNW also brings in many of the Star Trek tropes we have come to know and expect. We have time travel, an alternate universe, the ethics of genetic engineering and enhancements, a court martial, conspiracies involving Klingons, and a truly frightening and indomitable enemy in the Gorn. In fact, we are only missing a Mirrorverse episode, Section 31, and a visit from a space trickster like Q or Trelane.

The addition of Pelia — with her particular brand of acerbic sarcasm, brilliant mind, and sticky Ferengi-like fingers that love to acquire items in questionable ways — was also a great decision by the writers. It’s no surprise when we find out that Montgomery Scott, aka Scotty — introduced at the end of the season — was one of her most brilliant students. With many fans having asked when we would see Scotty, we can hope he plays a larger role in Season 3. 

Pelia and Scotty

In terms of some of the more original new ideas tried, the Lower Decks crossover episode was a stroke of genius — fan favourites Mariner and Boimler appearing in the flesh, but staying true to their animated selves, was not to be missed. Unlike the clunky series-ending crossover episode of Enterprise which brought in Commander Riker and was generally panned as one of the worst finales, the Strange New Worlds episode “Those Old Scientists” showed us that a crossover can be done right.

Bringing in the Gorn, first seen in the TOS installment “Arena”, is also a fantastic move. Every crew has its enemy — Xindi, Klingons, Romulans, Borg, the Dominion, etc, but these have been done to death, so a new “big bad” was needed and the Gorn fit this role extremely well.

In Season 2, Starfleet faces the Gorn

The musical episode heavily divided fans, and was more ridiculous and forced than enjoyable. The songs were not very memorable or singable, lyrics changed in ways that didn’t quite fit, and nobody asked for or wanted K-pop Klingons. While it was obvious the cast enjoyed themselves and there is some amazing vocal talent, a musical episode would have better fit a show like Lower Decks – a Trek that doesn’t take itself seriously. 

Bruce Horak returning as both “Zombie Hemmer” and one of the Klingon Backstreet Boys were favourite moments for fans. It’s clear fans want more of him, and he might just become the Jeffrey Combs of SNW, taking on different roles.

Bruce Horak as a zombie version of Hemmer as well as singing-and-dancing Klingon General Garkog

There are some aspects of the show’s characters and premise that will have to be reconciled with established canon. For instance, how are Khan and his reign of terror known in this era? What happens that causes Nurse Chapel to go from butt-kicking warrior to the sedate and reserved lady of later eras? How come the Gorn look so much different from the one Kirk fights, and how did he not know what a Gorn was if the Federation has already faced them? There are many questions that will need to be answered in coming seasons, but it is refreshing to see the writers giving themselves some room to play with the established history and stories.

Props, sets, makeup, and special effects are definitely big budget and well done — the kind of aesthetic and designs that TOS aspired to but was unable to achieve due to budget, technology, and other issues. We have “real” Klingons, not the weird lizard-looking things of Discovery. We have Gorn that are both terrifying and very dinosaur-like, as opposed to the rubber mini-Godzilla of the original, and thankfully well lit sets and no overuse of lens flares — Kelvinverse, take note. One does have to wonder, though, how Pike has such luxurious quarters, when later Enterprises and other ships were much more spartan — he even has a fireplace.

Overall, Strange New Worlds delivers exactly what the fans, both old and new, want. It has aliens, exploration, humour, ethical and moral dilemmas, a combination of familiar names and new faces, a fantastic soundtrack, and lots of action. Yet, it still attempts to try new things — such as the crossover and musical episodes — to varying degrees of success. While many have said that ten episodes was much too short and the choice to end on a cliffhanger with a “to be continued” left a sour note with some, the shorter season allows for better quality. It’s also much more manageable for the actors, who in longer seasons would be working insane hours. The season ending on a cliffhanger is also nothing new — most later Treks did the same thing, especially TNG and Voyager. Other than a few hiccups or “what were they thinking?” moments, this season is solidly among the top seasons of Star Trek created and is not to be missed.

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