Strange New Worlds‘ “The Serene Squall” in Review
We’re firmly in TOS-style fun space opera this week, with the Enterprise crew sent to rescue three shiploads of colonists from an attack by space pirates. Arrgh!
T’Pring – working to rehabilitate Vulcan dissidents who have fallen from the straight-and-narrow – recommends to Spock a mix of erotic and feminist books (whose combination of influences is probably how, according to The Voyage Home, Spock ended up reading Harold Robbins). So, Spock seeks relationship advice from Nurse Chapel.
Meanwhile, the Enterprise is carrying a former Starfleet officer, Doctor Aspen, on a mission to bring help to three colony ships stranded without power outside Federation space. Operating in that area is a notorious pirate vessel: the Serene Squall. Doctor Aspen has heard of this pirate ship and the horrendous things its crew has done to anyone who crosses their path.
The Enterprise heads towards the colony ships but soon discovers the wreckage of two of them. Since a request to Starfleet for instructions would take a couple of weeks, Pike authorizes that the Enterprise and its crew proceed with following the trail of the third colony ship. So far so good, although the Enterprise must follow the trail into an asteroid field.
There, the ship triggers a trap which surrounds the craft and begins to shrink, à la the Tholian web-like energy beams in “The Tholian Web”. Spock’s best hunch frees them to continue searching for the third ship.
Doctor Aspen, who has had many dealings with Vulcans, tries to help Spock find a path between his human and Vulcan halves. Even though he may be the smartest person on the ship, he still can’t see that the answer to his quandary of “If I’m not human or Vulcan, what am I?” is simply “Spock, an individual.”
The Enterprise rendezvous with what seems to be the third colonial ship, adrift in the asteroid field, and Pike leads a landing party onto it. However, few people will be surprised that the situation is a trap. A boarding party of pirates beams onto the Enterprise, determined to commandeer the vessel, and Pike’s landing party is immediately captured. The simultaneous counter-capture of the Enterprise is a good touch, especially as it gives Chapel a chance to have some fun taking on the pirates and trying to get a signal to Starfleet despite Una having locked the ship’s systems.
Aboard what has turned out to be the Serene Squall itself, Pike gets to have even more fun. Demanding kitchen access, he winds up the pirate crew and sets them against each other. These pirates – especially the Orion, Remy – are, frankly, thicker than the molasses (or possibly even the wood) from a barrel of rum. This gives Pike the chance to show off his charming bamboozling skills, the kind that Jim Kirk displays in the likes of “A Piece of the Action” and “I, Mudd”.
Things are less good on the Enterprise, where Doctor Aspen admits to having a Vulcan husband who was taken from them. Despite Aspen’s good (or at least amusing) work prompting insights into Spock’s depths, Aspen reveals themselves to be Captain Angel, the true captain of the Serene Squall. This revelation is somewhat predictable (earlier, they basically give themselves away by seeming extremely proud that “if [the trap] had been set [by the Serene Squall], we’d be dead already”).
The colonists never really existed and were simply part of Captain Angel’s deception to lure the Enterprise out of Federation space. However, it’s not the Enterprise that Angel wants to use – it’s Spock!
If you’re looking for character identification, pay attention to the guy who notifies T’Pring that there’s an incoming message from the Enterprise. He’s none other than… Stonn, the same guy who inherits her at the end of “Amok Time”.
Captain Angel’s true motives are a surprise: they want to threaten Spock’s life in order to persuade T’Pring to release her Vulcan partner. T’Pring does bring her prisoner/patient in a shuttle, which causes Spock to become alarmed. He claims that he and Chapel are having an affair, and they kiss to evidence this, so that T’Pring can break their mating bond and not have to worry about any threats to Spock. This has some interesting repercussions both here and in TOS, over who feels what for whom.
Before long, the tables have turned for the pirates. Pike and company have commandeered the Serene Squall and retake the Enterprise. Captain Angel escapes, whereas the rest of the pirates are taken into Starfleet custody. But there’s still another twist to come, not just Spock and T’Pring’s reconciliation.
After revealing Aspen to be Captain Angel, the episode’s second pivotal revelation is less obvious, but can be predicted if you know your Star Trek and have been paying attention to the Vulcan story arc. The prisoner – Angel’s Vulcan husband – is Spock’s half-brother, Sybok. What’s more of a mystery is whether this is the beginning of a “Big Bad”-type plot arc, which the producers said they wouldn’t do. Or is this just a bit of juicy retroactive background related to Star Trek V: The Final Frontier? Either way, it makes for an awesomely intriguing final shot, explaining (or confirming, if you guessed it already) why Spock freaks out when T’Pring brings her prisoner/patient in the shuttle to meet the Enterprise. And yes, that’s Sybok with his back to us in the final shot. Who plays him is a mystery. The episode simply leaves an intriguing tease to this unknown.
Overall, this is a very enjoyable slice of fun, with the right measure of laughs, thrills, intrigue, and easter eggs. The music nicely captures the sweep-and-swash of a pirate adventure and hopefully will be well represented in the upcoming soundtrack. Jesse James Keitel – from Alex Strangelove, Big Sky, and the US remake of Queer as Folk – is pretty damn good as Doctor Aspen/Captain Angel. It’s as if somebody in the writers’ room remembered River Song from Doctor Who and said, “Let’s do that, but evil; who can we get who can pull that off?” In many ways, this is a perfect standalone episode, except that technically it needs to fit with “Spock Amok” and “Amok Time”, etc., but it plays as a good, separate escapade. It’s a great three-quarters of an hour or so of entertainment.
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.