Alas, I don’t run on household with a wealth of disposable income, so I’ve been adamantly opposed to purchasing each and every new streaming platform as they go live. As a consequence, I’ve had to wait some time for these new adventures of the Starship Enterprise to come out on home video. Thankfully, the wait wasn’t too unbearable: Strange New Worlds launched on May 5, 2022, and its Blu-ray and DVD release finally ‘streeted’ on March 21, 2023. Now that I’ve had some free time, I queued up the first disk and – like so many – finally went where no man has gone before.
As fate and screenwriters would have it, the pilot episode also shared the name of the program: “Strange New Worlds” saw Starfleet Captain Christopher Pike ordered out of his self-imposed exile to investigate just how a First Contact mission involving his Number One officer went so horribly awry. While this was not the first time we’d seen this particular captain in action with a good complement of this particular crew, the hour still served as a solid jumping-on-point both for audiences shuttled over from Star Trek: Discovery as well as interested newcomers.
How does it go?
Well, the simple answer is that, despite a few burdensome moments here and there, I found much of Strange New Worlds to be a welcome return to form for the decades-old space saga.
Thematically, Captain Pike isn’t all that much different from the deservedly revered Captain James T. Kirk as embodied by the great William Shatner. Both play their respective leaders a bit bigger than life along with a bit of braggadocio here and there. Plus, this incarnation – unlike Discovery – actually has a great deal aesthetically in common with the original version of the program that aired famously on television between 1966 and 1969. Sadly, scriptwriter Akiva Goldsman (who also directed the installment) doesn’t bring much originality to the whole affair in the story department, but he still dishes out a compelling premiere with enough spit and polish that it just might stem the tide of Trekkies, Trekkers, and general Trek enthusiasts who’ve left the franchise for other pursuits.
Still, regular readers of this space know that I’ve always gravitated toward answers that are a bit more complex. For those of you truly interested in my in-depth analysis, buckle up for Warp One.
As I stated above, Strange New Worlds isn’t actor Anson Mount’s ‘first rodeo’ in the center seat as Captain Pike. His character was originally produced as part of Star Trek: Discovery’s second season. That show rather famously twisted long established Trek canon by giving Starfleet’s highly decorated first officer Mr. Spock (played by Ethan Peck) an adopted foster sister in Michael Burnham (played by with an awful lot of scripted tears by Sonequa Martin-Green). Essentially, Discovery’s second season was a chance to tinker a bit more in the saga’s fictional timeline with characters and circumstances that might’ve been more familiar to the wider Trek viewing family; and it ended up with a season finale that propelled Discovery’s crew into the distant future (thus kinda/sorta removing Burnham from continuity problems that fandom kept uncovering and reporting upon via the web) while cleverly setting the stage for SNW’s inaugural episode.
A wise man once said, “Think beforehand about afterwards – whatever you decide to do, think ahead about the consequences.” So far as storytellers are concerned, one of the greatest extrapolations of that law regarding unintended consequences is that – invariably – one good deed might very well screw up a whole universe. In “Strange New Worlds,” audiences learn that the galaxy-saving maneuver in the big finish to Discovery’s Season 2 actually sent a rather nasty ripple through Pike’s present: apparently, scientists of a nearby planet observed the ships, the battle, as well as the resulting phenomenon, and they were somehow capable of reverse-engineering warp technology from it. Rather than put this science to productive use by venturing out into space (something they’ve not achieved), they instead turn their focus dastardly inward, crafting something called a ‘warp bomb’ with which they intend to destroy a planetary adversary.
Always on the lookout for cultures achieving warp capability, Starfleet recognizes the technology’s signature and dispatches a – cough cough – paltry three officers for a galactic meet-and-greet with an invitation for the people of Kiley to join the community of the stars. As tends to happen in serialized storytelling, things don’t go as planned, and all contact with the starship and its away team is lost.
In SNW, Goldsman doesn’t stop at just suggesting Stood Still as a construct for this pilot hour. He even resorts to having Pike watching the film on television in the opening, having the man admit to a female companion (who seems much too young for him, if I don’t say so myself) that the motion picture is one of his favorites. Heck, Goldsman even recreates the final scene in which Klaatu issues his somewhat dire proclamation in the episode’s closing moments. The significant difference here is that Pike practically encourages this faltering civilization to go to war with one another before giving them the alternative of becoming a member world within the United Federation of Planets.
So … as I also stated above … in order to truly move forward, Goldsman and his cast and crew have really gone back to a SciFi original. On that front, Strange New Worlds is neither strange nor new; it’s admirably familiar to territory that’s long been some terrific stomping ground for all of Science Fiction. Others might find that distracting as it’s a sentiment that’s long been explored by many a movie and television show; I found it refreshing because it made me believe – if even only for a few moments – that the past mattered. Thankfully, the episode was filled with other callbacks – big and small – to Star Trek of the distant past, and I felt like I had come back home once again.
Setting that appeal aside, however, SNW – the episode – literally trampled over Trek’s Golden Rule repeatedly, only now being properly named (within the show’s continuity) as the ‘Prime Directive.’ What helps all of these various worlds come together as a governing body is their adherence to rules. You see, folks, although this is all fiction, it still has guidelines the writers are supposed to follow as these parameters help underscore the workings of the world these characters inhabit. Much like in fiction as we are in reality, a people are only as good socially, politically, and culturally as they’re willing to abide by certain laws. Star Trek’s big rule is that under no circumstances is any crew to interfere with the development of another world, and yet Goldsman’s script has Pike incessantly not really – erm – giving a damn about that rule. While the circumstances are afforded greater context than just right or wrong (Starfleet has already unintentionally interfered by unintentionally giving the planet access to a technology far superior to anything they’ve created on their own), Pike still forges ahead non-stop at each and every opportunity, so much so that it got a bit grating to this long-time Trek aficionado.
Still, I do hope the screenwriting room won’t make a habit of violating Starfleet protocols on a weekly broadcast basis.
Can I just add that – to a minor degree – I’m actually capable of overlooking the breach because it came from Anson Mount?
Though the actor hasn’t had what I’d call a storied career, he truly grew on both me and my wife with his portrayal of ‘Cullen Bohannon’ in the Historical Drama Hell On Wheels which lasted for an incredible five seasons on AMC. (Mark my words: much like only Clint Eastwood could’ve played ‘the Man with No Name’ and only John Wayne could’ve played ‘Rooster Cogburn,’ only Anson Mount could’ve played Cullen Bohannon.) The award-winning exploration of the great American West was appointment viewing in our household, and that’s entirely because of Mount’s work on the show. A flawed man who was trying to set things right at a time when morals were enforced at the end of a gun, Bohannon committed himself to finding peace when everything else around him was falling apart.
Casting a face so already familiar with taming wild frontiers in the role of a Starfleet captain at a time of similar chaos only tempered by a passion to explore strange new worlds?
Why, that’s a stroke of genius, it is.
I’ll admit that there were some bits and pieces of “Strange New Worlds” that didn’t go down with me as easily as others, but still I appreciate this ‘return to form’ as a fabulous place to start an all-new iteration within one of television’s biggest and boldest space franchises ever. There’s a generous helping dished up with vastly more respect than the other shows on Paramount+ (don’t get me started on Star Trek: Discovery or the first two seasons of Star Trek: Picard), and – finally – this bodes well for a positive future … and maybe that’s exactly what Gene Roddenberry would’ve wanted. It has its imperfections … but don’t we all?