The first five episodes of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds were screened for this review. If you want to remain completely spoiler-free for SNW, stop reading now.
SNW is a return to more episodic live-action Trek storytelling, with an emphasis on theme and character. With a winning cast and connections to some of the most beloved storylines in the franchise, this one’s sure to be a crowd pleaser. But where the show really soars is in its uncompromising vision for our future.
Captain Christopher Pike
Captain Christopher Pike is one of the very first Star Trek characters, having appeared as the Captain of the USS Enterprise in the original pilot for Star Trek: The Original Series, “The Cage,” where he was played by Jeffery Hunter. After the series had been re-tooled and TOS had been centered on a new Captain, archival footage from “The Cage” was repurposed for the two-part episode “The Menagerie.”
While the original Pike didn’t appear again, he cast a long shadow over the franchise, as well as the collective fandom’s memory. For example, the paralyzed older Pike (Sean Kenney) and his journey to a forbidden planet in “The Menagerie” was the subject of an extended parody in Futurama season four’s “Where No Fan Has Gone Before.”
The new iteration of Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) was introduced in the second season opening of Star Trek: Discovery, when he took command of the USS Disco in the wake of the revelation that Captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs) wasn’t exactly who he said he was. In terms of the main Disco storyline, Pike played an important role, demonstrating the patience to win the trust of Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), who had been badly burned by Mirror Lorca’s betrayal.
But while Pike played an integral role in seeing Disco through a portal to the 32nd Century at the conclusion of Disco’s second season, he also had a subplot of his own to unspool – one steeped in dramatic irony. In the episode “Through The Valley of Shadow,” time crystals caused Pike to experience the accident that will transpire and leave him in the wheelchair. If you’re wondering whether or not Pike’s tenure on Disco will affect SNW, this knowledge looms heavily over the Captain’s head as SNW opens and seems like it will be one of the season’s (or even show’s) most important ongoing plot lines.
The Weight of Our World
The origins of Pike’s first name gain special significance in the thematic light of SNW. According to Christian mythology, St. Christopher agreed to carry a child across a river, but partway, he nearly became overwhelmed by the child’s unexpected weight, remarking that he felt he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. Before vanishing, the child says that he didn’t carry the world, but he did carry the one who made it.
This obviously leads to a literal connection, as we see Pike shoulder the weight of responsibility again and again – not just those responsibilities associated with being the Captain of the Enterprise and its crew, but also the burden that comes with the knowledge that he must one day make a terrible sacrifice in order to provide a future for the next generation.
But there’s a thematic connection, too. It’s no secret that TOS was Gene Roddenberry’s vehicle for making philosophical and political statements during the 1960s, widely considered the most socially tumultuous time period in the United States in recent memory (at least until the 2020s came to play). These statements were encoded on every level of the narrative, from the themes to the plot to the casting choices on the bridge. Ultimately, TOS was meant to show audiences the world that humanity could collectively build if we could put aside capitalism, petty squabbles, and social hierarchy and instead cashed in on our unified potential.
SNW quickly establishes that it is here to follow in these footsteps as closely as possible, making it clear from the very beginning of the series that the show is speaking to us, the audience, watching in 2022. Like Pike, it seems like we’ve had a glimpse of our horrible future, and it’s hard to argue that as a collective species, we haven’t gone through some rough times lately – and it seems inevitable that we have hard times ahead.
Captain Pike serves to shoulder these burdens within the narrative, and to lead the way by example. While it is tempting to give into despair about what seems like our indelible fate, SNW argues that the only way to avoid this eventuality is to maintain hope, roll up our sleeves, and get to work building a world that is better for all of us.
Perhaps the greatest honor of my career to date was getting to utter these words: “Space, the final frontier…” I could not be more proud to be a part of the @StarTrekOnPPlus team and I could not be more grateful to the Trek community. From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU. pic.twitter.com/NgMvUC9nza
— Anson Mount (@ansonmount) April 29, 2022
A Modern Major General
In addition to its heady themes, SNW is also a lot of fun. While elements like Pike grappling with his fate or the engaging mentor-mentee relationship that develops between Number One (Rebecca Romijn) and La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong) do provide some degree of serialization, SNW is predominantly episodic.
Each episode goes out of its way to provide its own unique elements, keeping it fresh and exciting. And just as LOST would tell each episode from a certain character’s perspective, each episode of SNW is “character-centric.”
This goes a long way towards emphasizing another central theme for the show: community. As hinted at in the Star Trek: Short Treks episode “Q&A,” the crew of the Enterprise is something of a band of misfits who have found family on-board the starship. This theme is further explored by the supporting cast, not just through “main characters” like Cadet Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding), Chief Engineer Hemmer, and Lt. Erica Ortegas (Melissa Navia), but through glimpses of what’s going on in the Lower Decks, as well.
Setting the tone for this community is Pike’s unbridled empathy, which proves integral again and again. Unification has often been a central thematic concern for Trek, and both its positive and negative elements have been extensively explored. With the crew of the Enterprise, we’re seeing a platonic ideal of community.
As April departs, Pike takes command
SNW knows that it will have a lot of eyes on it, and it does not intend to squander that platform by attempting to remain “apolitical,” or trying to court a hateful demographics’ dollars by compromising its core thematic values. This is bad news for right-wing C.H.U.D.s, but good news for the rest of us.
The show’s message is clear: our choice is simple. We will only reach the future together, and we can either work together to get there or continue to tear each other apart until there’s nothing left to shred. SNW implores us to choose the former, no matter inevitable the latter may seem.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds premieres on Paramount+ on Thursday, May 5th, 2022.