This review contains spoilers for the entirety of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season 2, all 10 episodes of which are currently available for streaming on Paramount+.

Carol Kane as Pelia, Christina Chong as La’an, Ethan Peck as Spock in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds streaming on Paramount+, 2023.
Is this the real life, or is this just fantasy? Photo Credit: Best Possible Screengrab/Paramount+

It’s true: Strange New Worlds season 2 might be even better than the already-excellent first. With a cast stacked with actors who could each steal the show, thoughtful and exciting science fiction storytelling, incredible sets, fantastic costuming, and outstanding direction, Strange New Worlds brings the USS Enterprise 1701-nothing to life once again.

Schrödinger’s Continuity

Strange New Worlds season 2 struck the perfect balance between episode anthology and serialized storytelling, capturing the best of both worlds. Each episode has its own distinct tone and plot – it’s hard to think back on any given scene from this season and not be able to immediately pinpoint the episode from which it originated. 

However, there was a careful continuation of certain subplots throughout the course of the season. One of the most noticeable was the storyline concerning the consequences of Una Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romjin) having been revealed to be an Illyrian augment in the previous season’s finale. While the episode “Ad Astra per Aspera” told a self-contained story, that storyline was referenced again (to great effect) in both “Those Old Scientists” and “Subspace Rhapsody.”

The second season explored darker thematic territory without losing its optimism. However, this balance was necessary, as to argue for optimism without being realistic about the sometimes (or perhaps often) harsh truths of the universe is to set oneself up for disappointment. 

Bruce Horak as Hemmer in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, streaming on Paramount+, 2023.
You do know about the Black Mountain, right? Photo Cr: Paramount+

This theme was explored throughout Strange New Worlds season 2, but especially through the crew’s ongoing trauma from the loss of Chief Engineer Hemmer (Bruce Horak) in the penultimate episode of season 1. And in a nice bonus, in addition to reprising the role of (a memory of) Hemmer in “Lost in Translation,” Horak – experienced in the art of mask work – also got to play a singing Klingon in “Subspace Rhapsody.” This is just one example of how Strange New Worlds pays homage to what’s come before while also constantly pressing the boundaries of “strange” and “new.”

We Are One

But the death of Hemmer also cleared the way for the introduction of Pelia (Carol Kane). While it seemed possible that Strange New Worlds would boast a rotating chief engineer, perhaps the season finale, “Hegemony,” suggests an act of addition rather than one of subtraction. This would be welcome, as we simply haven’t yet seen enough of this compelling character’s story explored.

Carol Kane as Pelia in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, streaming on Paramount+, 2023.
Chief Engineer Pelia. Photo Cr: Kharen Hill/Paramount+

There was a clear attempt to put the spotlight on a wider variety of characters this season. This meant payoffs like “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow,” in which La’An Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong) and guest star James T. Kirk (Paul Wesley) were the only regular characters onscreen for the majority of the episode. And as promised, we did indeed get more of Enterprise pilot Erica Ortegas (Melissa Navia), especially in “Among the Lotus Eaters” and “Hegemony.”

Of the characters that played larger roles in season 1, continuing to spotlight Nyota Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) and Spock (Ethan Peck) is a decision that’s probably founded on continuity but justified by the immense talent behind both of their performances.

Plus, whether you love the relationship or hate it, the romance between Spock and Chapel (Jess Bush) had (and will continue to have) everyone talking. Finally, while Doctor Joseph M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) did have a meaty storyline in Strange New Worlds season 1, “Under the Cloak of War” revealed a dramatically different side of the character.

Rebecca Romijn as Una and Paul Wesley as James T. Kirk in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds streaming on Paramount+, 2023.
In the Jefferies Tube… Photo Credit: Michael Gibson/Paramount+

Aside from “Ad Astra per Aspera,” Una plays a comparatively small role this season. But her appearances are always memorable, and the demonstration of her effect on Starfleet history is moving. Likewise, Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) has a smaller part to play this season as well. However, he gracefully yields the spotlight and always shines when he returns to take center stage. 

On top of all the actors mentioned above, supporting characters like Jenna Mitchell (Rong Fu), Sam Kirk (Dan Jeannotte) and Chief Jay (Noah Lamanna) continue to punch above their weight class. Along with recurring characters like Admiral Robert April (Adrian Holmes), T’Pring (Gia Sandhu), and Captain Marie Batel (Melanie Scrofano) and new and returning guest stars (from Mia Kirshner to Clint Howard to Robert Wisdom), the only possible complaint about the cast of Strange New Worlds season 2 is that they deserve additional episodes in which to showcase their collective talent.

To the Strange New Worlds Limit

But that being said, Strange New Worlds also carries on the tried-and-true Trek tradition of stretching the production budget to its very limit in order to fit in as many varied sci-fi stories as possible. In part, this is achieved by extensive use of the Enterprise sets. These have been further expanded since season 1 and are very well-dressed. The appearance of the NX-01 Enterprise and the Phoenix in the expanded ready room are especially welcome additions.

Plus, as in season 1’s “All Those Who Wander,” these sets get to play additional roles beyond the Enterprise. In season 2, they also stand in for an ersatz Starfleet ship constructed by the eponymous criminal organization in “The Broken Circle” as well as appearing as the remains of the USS Cayuga‘s saucer section in “Hegemony.”

Ethan Peck as Spock and Melissa Navia as Ortegas appearing in episode 204 “Among The Lotus Eaters” of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, streaming on Paramount+, 2023.
The ever-impressive Enterprise bridge. Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/Paramount+

Furthermore, the clever use of these physical sets lends the series a sense of “groundedness.” This allows for some episodes to integrate scenes filmed on digital sets without the show ever succumbing to “Quantumania syndrome,” the sort of encompassing sense of un-reality that could make Gandalf cry.

Strange New Worlds season 2

Celia Rose Gooding as Uhura in episode 201 “The Broken Circle” of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, streaming on Paramount+, 2023.
Hailing frequencies open. Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/Paramount+

In the age of streaming television, a show that’s being released on a weekly basis has to give audiences something to respond to each and every week, ensuring they’ll both take to social media and continue to return on a weekly basis (thus ensuring more subscribers to the streaming service). By these metrics, Strange New Worlds must be considered an unqualified success.

But the show further succeeds as a worthy successor to Star Trek: The Original Series, capturing the show’s spirit while adapting it for audiences in 2023. And like those 79 TOS episodes, these 20 Strange New Worlds episodes will be rewatched, quoted, and dissected for decades to come. 

Hopefully, the creators behind this outstanding season can receive the compensation they deserve and production on the series can continue with season 3 as soon as possible. Strange New Worlds is too good to become yet another science fiction series canceled before its time.

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