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May 18, 2022
Strange New Worlds Fixes A Modern Star Trek Problem
The structure of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds identifies a continuing structural problem with the modern Star Trek shows and provides a solution.

Warning: SPOILERS for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Episode 1 – “Strange New Worlds”

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds identifies a continuing structural problem with the modern Star Trek shows, and fixes it. While Strange New Worlds is technically a spin-off from Star Trek: Discovery, it also serves as a direct prequel to Star Trek: The Original Series by focusing on the pre-Kirk lives of the Enterprise crew. Captained by Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), the Enterprise continues its five-year mission to “seek out new life and new civilizations“. In episode 1, the crew of the Enterprise is dispatched to intervene in a first contact scenario that has gone badly wrong.

In order to rescue his Number One (Rebecca Romijn), Pike, Spock (Ethan Peck), and La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong) must go undercover to infiltrate Kiley 279. They rescue Number One and her colleagues, but Pike stays behind to negotiate peace between the planet’s two warring factions, to atone for a past mistake. It’s a classic Star Trek set-up and feels appropriate for the Original Series vibe the series is aiming for. It also fixes a recurring issue with the modern Star Trek shows.

While the cause of Kiley 279’s pursuit of an ultimate weapon is tied into an overarching Discovery plotline, the season premiere of Strange New Worlds is refreshingly self-contained. By the end of the episode, the situation on Kiley 279 has been resolved, and Starfleet’s issues with how Pike and his crew solved it have been smoothed out. While, occasional 2-parters aside, this has generally been the structure of Star Trek since it first aired in 1966. In recent years, however, Star Trek has often learned the wrong lessons from the age of prestige television drama. Both Discovery and Star Trek: Picard spend their whole seasons stretching decent movie plots across ten hours until plot threads begin to fray. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds changes this by evoking not just the visual style of classic Star Trek, but its looser, more episodic style.

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The lowering of the dramatic stakes feels incredibly refreshing after Discovery‘s galaxy ending portent and Picard’s nightmarish changes to the timeline. It restores a focus on exploration, and a sense of fun and adventure which has been present in recent animated series like Star Trek: Lower Decks but has been largely absent in the live-action series’. Exploration and adventure was always key to Star Trek from its 1960s inception, and it finds a charismatic spokesperson for this vision in the form of Anson Mount’s Christopher Pike, who, despite his tragic timeline, is every bit the inspirational captain. Mount, as Pike, gets to restate the show’s fundamental mission to “boldy go, where no one has gone before“. How Pike balances his responsibilities as Enterprise captain looks to be the true arc of Strange New Worlds and it’s a more personal and engaging storyline than yet another gargantuan threat to the future. It’s just one example of the new show’s firm grip on its character’s individuality.

Without the galaxy falling down around their ears, Strange New Worlds gives audiences time to get to know non-bridge crew characters like Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush) and looks to shed new light on James T. Kirk’s brother Samuel (Dan Jeannotte). After four seasons of Discovery, it’s still sometimes difficult to remember who’s who outside of Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Saru (Doug Jones). It’s easy to say that the characters of Strange New Worlds are already familiar, by virtue of being the original Enterprise crew. However, the majority of these characters appeared in either unaired pilots or in a handful of episodes. It’s through Star Trek: Strange New Worlds‘ focus on character over epic-scale storytelling that will breathe new life into both these classic characters, and Star Trek itself.

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