This review contains spoilers for all ten first season episodes of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, all of which are now available for streaming on Paramount+.
The first season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds recaptures some of the most appealing elements of The Original Series while updating the format for modern sensibilities. The series boasts emphasis on episodic storytelling paired with an interesting seasonal structure.
Days of Future Pike
While we were introduced to Captain Pike (Anson Mount), Spock (Ethan Peck), and Number One (Rebecca Romjin) through the second season of Star Trek: Discovery, from the very start, SNW was billed as a departure from Disco’s serialized storytelling format.
This episodic format defines SNW in many ways. For one, each episode possesses its own unique tone. An excellent example is the shift between the hijinks-oriented fifth episode, “Spock Amok,” and the somber speculative fiction-fueled sixth episode, “Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach.”
It also affords the chance for the series to serve as a showcase for fantastic guest starring actors. These include Jesse James Keitel as Captain Angel in “The Serene Squall” and the father (Huse Madhavji) and child (Ian Ho) who meet a terrible fate on Majalis in episode six.
In addition, the lack of recurring supporting characters that comes with a more episodic format means a greater emphasis on the crew of the Enterprise. This gives Doctor M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) the chance for a particularly affecting storyline and Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush) the opportunity to win over any skeptics.
However, while Chief Engineer Hemmer (Bruce Horak) did get to play an important role in several episodes, including a scene-stealing performance as the “science wizard” in “The Elysian Kingdom,” his death in the penultimate episode of the season seems a tad too swift. These aren’t the twenty-two episode seasons of old, after all.
While Horak’s discussion with The Beat makes it clear that he has no shortage of creative opportunities, it’s hard not to hope that Hemmer is simply visiting The Black Mountain and will therefore be reappearing in future episodes of SNW.
Just because SNW possesses an episode format does not mean consideration was not given to the structure of the season as a whole. One key feature is a narrative symmetry mirrored across the center of the season.
This narrative symmetry is expressed through the parallels between the first and final episodes – both of which center Pike and see the Captain considering the value of a glimpse of his possible futures. Another example lies in the second and penultimate episodes, which respectively introduce and resolve the identity crisis being faced by Cadet Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding). And a third example occurs in the third and eighth episodes, which respectively reveal and resolve the unstable situation surrounding Doctor M’Benga’s daughter Rukiya (Sage Arrindell).
However, the season’s structure worked in other ways, too. La’An (Christina Chong) and her backstory with the Gorn played a significant role in both episode four and episode nine, forming a recurring rhythm over the course of the ten episodes. And while some episodes centered on particular characters, others placed the spotlight on the ensemble.
The overall effect of these combined elements was a season of Trek that felt varied and exciting, and encouraged rapid re-watching – even before the season had finished airing.
The Rediscovered Country
While SNW did feature the return of many characters we’ve seen before on TOS, the season did an admirable job of eschewing hollow nostalgia and instead either mining underutilized continuity or approaching “familiar” territory in unexpected ways. This includes Spock, inarguably the most exhaustively explored character to appear in the series (save perhaps James T. Kirk, who is portrayed in the season finale by Paul Wesley in a manner that is focused on the character rather than William Shatner’s performance).
In the original Trek pilot footage, which was repurposed for “The Menagerie,” Spock (Leonard Nimoy) seemed more emotive than the character audiences would meet when TOS actually aired. This is most likely a function of the fact that Number One (Majel Barrett-Roddenberry) was rather stoic. But over the course of SNW, this idea unfolds in unexpected ways, exploring a Spock who has yet to learn how to restrain his emotions more completely.
Furthermore, it’s clear that SNW is informed by the various Trek shows that have been released since TOS, perhaps especially Lower Decks. We get to know several recurring ensigns over the course of the first season of SNW, including Ensign Mitchell (Rong Fu) and Ensign Christina (Jennifer Hui). This helps underscore the fact that the Lower Decks of the Enterprise are crewed by individuals, too, a fact that has sometimes been overlooked in favor of following the exploits of the command crew.
Plus, the score by Nami Melumad draws inspiration from everything from The Wrath of Khan to Alien for a reliably excellent musical component.
Strange New Worlds
Demonstrating a willingness to explore complex themes through both character and story paired with a healthy respect for sci-fi directly and tangentially Trek-related alike, the first season of Strange New Worlds is an achievement in and of itself.
But even more exciting is the potential inherent in its second season. Please, more Ortegas (Melissa Navia).
The first season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds is currently available for streaming on Paramount+.