Saturday, May 7, 2022

Strange New Worlds, Season 1: Strange New Worlds

Strange New Worlds, Season 1
"Strange New Worlds"

Airdate: May 5, 2022

1 of 10 produced

1 of 10 aired

 

Introduction

Kurtzman and Co. are back again and this time, they swear it will be optimistic and episodic. For realsies this time! Captain Pike is in self-imposed exile in Montana, unwilling to return to the captain's chair because of his harrowing experience seeing his own mutilated future. But Admiral Robert April lures him back with a mission to rescue his Number One, who is stranded on a first contact mission gone awry.


 We know it's the future because nothing is rectangular!

 

 

Writing

Matthew: I've been thinking about this episode since I watched it last night. Which is unusual, since generally I can't keep Kurtzman Trek in my brain for very long after the end credits roll.  This is a good thing, so let's start with that. The basic premise of the sci-fi story is fairly solid - the events of Discovery have led to a pre-warp civilization being exposed to warp drive energies, which has allowed them to reverse engineer warp drive to create weapons. When Pike discovers this, he feels obligated to try and set this civilization on a peaceful path, by "scaring them straight" with a speech and a video montage of 21st century Earth and its subsequent nuclear war. So look. I think it was ballsy to posit that the Trump insurrection is the start of a second civil war, which is the start of Trek's WWIII. But the idea just isn't given enough breathing room in the story. It takes up about 5 minutes of a 55 minute teleplay. We only meet one alien leader, and we are told but not shown that she is at an impasse with another faction on their world because... of something that isn't explained. Pike gives a speech, and the music swells, and the images are effective at making me feel something, but not shown to be effective at making them feel something. I don't know why these aliens were fighting with each other, or why Pike's appeal to them changed their minds. I contrast this with episodes like TNG "First Contact" and VOY "Friendship One," which have very similar themes (a paranoid culture not being ready for warp; and a culture being damaged by exposure to Federation technology). Those episodes gave us much greater insight into the "alien of the week" and why they were the way they were. This episode feels like a Cliff's Notes version of Star Trek - like the Kurtzman team has been reading criticism of their previous dreary, meandering, pointless, violent slogs of shows, and this is the best they could come up with as a tonic for it (this is an Akiva Goldsman episode). Which is an improvement, to be sure, but I do not want to oversell the level of quality here.

Matthew: There is plenty to criticize here, as well. In addition to the brevity of the putative "A" story, there is a lot of the same lazy and screenwriting that pervades the other live action Kurtzman shows.  Something that really annoyed me is Spock - he is shown mating with T'Pring on Vulcan because... everyone has to be constantly oversexed for the titillation of the viewing audience? But this directly contradicts TOS "Amok Time," in which Spock's relationship with T'Pring is based on a betrothal at age 7 and no further contact. They don't love each other, and don't want each other. That was the point of that whole episode. But here, they are desperate to be with each other. It's the kind of story choice that, while perhaps defensible in a vacuum, shows that the creators of this show simply do not care about squaring this iteration of Trek with the others, which is very bothersome for me. Don't try to trade on my nostalgia for a thing without actually respecting that thing. If you want to tell these stories, make it a different Vulcan on a different ship with a different captain. Similar bizarre violations of continuity include: Kahn Noonien-Singh's descendant being a bridge officer (odd that no one remembered this in TOS "Space Seed"), Uhura being a bridge officer.... because, Dr. M'Benga being CMO but not Dr. Philip Boyce, Nurse Chapel being on board instead of with Dr. Korby, Spock being all wise and besties with Pike instead of raw and green as depicted in "The Cage," (I guess he just swapped best friends when Kirk came on board), and Samuel Kirk being Spock's subordinate in the Sciences (again, odd that this was never mentioned in TOS "Operation -- Annihilate!).

Matthew: There was a fair amount of dum-dum plotting to move the story along, too. The away team is sent down to find the warp energy, with genetic alterations of some kind intended to disguise them as aliens. But the alterations are kind of iffy with Spock, and might come undone at any moment - WHICH THE MEDICAL STAFF IS AWARE OF. Why would they send him down in this state? Oh, right - to manufacture drama. The Enterprise beams up some unconscious aliens to hide them, but fails to keep them properly sedated, leading to one of the aliens making his way to the bridge. Does Nurse Chapel call security? Does anyone stop the obvious intruder from reaching the command center of the ship? No, because otherwise he couldn't have a funny scene with Cadet Uhura. Sigh. It's the kind of lazy, jokey, Marvel Movie style writing that has completely taken over TV and movie writing these days, at the expense of verisimilitude. Other logic deficits include Number One.... commanding a ship of three people on a delicate first contact mission? Why? Oh, right, to manufacture drama and stakes. If there had been more crew aboard, they wouldn't have needed Pike to be cajoled back onto the Enterprise. Pike surrenders himself to the aliens in order to "Scare them straight." But why wouldn't they just throw him in the same brig as Number One and her team? Surely she tried to reason with them, too. Did the aliens need to be man-splained instead of woman-splained?

Acting

Matthew: Anson Mount is a good actor, full stop. He is able to communicate his character's inner struggles and turmoil, delivers comedic lines with good timing, and generally cuts a fine figure as Captain Pike. Ethan Peck is also pretty good as Spock, despite the bad writing choices. He has done a good job adopting a relatively emotionless affect while still giving us comedic timing.

Matthew: The rest of the cast is pretty good, too, with Rebecca Romijn (Number One) and Babs Olusanmokun (Dr. M'Benga) probably being the standouts in terms of charisma. Christina Chong was also convincing as La'an Noonien-Singh, a character I should hate because of the retcon, but actually want to see more.  Everyone else gets their Marvel Movie one-liner or two.

Production Values

Matthew:
Sets and effects are predictably glossy and movie quality. I am fine with the various redesigns of the Enterprise sets - they're better than the Abrams movies by a significant stretch, actually seeming like spaces people could work in. Oddly, these gleaming sets are actually lit darker than the movies - it is very strange to have so many light sources everywhere and yet still have character faces in shadow.

Matthew:
The music sucks. Trying to make it the TOS theme but changing a few notes here and there  makes it sound both derivative and badly played. Just commission a new theme that can live or die on its own merits, or play the old music, which is wonderful. Certain props are TOS accurate (tricorders and communicators) while others, especially medical ones, look more futuristic than Voyager.

Conclusion

Matthew: This is a 3 (for an extrapolated total of 6 until someone else reviews this with me). It's got the germ of a good Trek story, submerged in a tidal surge of pointless retcons, lazy, artificial drama and stakes, and cheap characterization shortcuts. We already have two characters with deep dark pasts (Pike and La'an), and my understanding is that more are on the way (we've all been eagerly awaiting Uhura's traumatic childhood!). It shoehorns in political commentary (which is fine by me) but doesn't develop it into a comprehensible narrative with understandable competing positions (which is not). BUT: the story was done after one hour. There isn't something mysterious threatening ALL LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE. There is no gratuitous swearing or gore. They actually seem, at least so far, to be delivering on their promise of individual episodic quasi-morality tales.  This is not nothing. I want it to be better. But this is the same creative staff that produced six prior seasons of nearly irredeemable trash. So I guess I'll take what I can get. This has my most lukewarm endorsement. It is not yet horrible. I will probably get around to watching the second episode. I haven't been able to bring myself to willingly invest the same amount of time in Picard Season 2 (which I tapped out of after 3 episodes) or Discovery Season 4 (which I tapped out of after Season 3). 

2 comments:

  1. I agree it is a 3, so I Informally confirm the 6. :-). There is a worrying tendency that they spend time on psychological dialogues that honestly make no sense, which is very Discovery, leaving not enough time for the plot. I didn't mind all the things you listed above, but I'm bothered that they keep bringing up the Gorn in a time before first contact with them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Absolutely. It's just the sort of thing (along with T'Pring) that tells us they have only the barest, most superficial understanding of past Trek stories. Which, hey, if you want to tell new stories, great. But don't claim you respect continuity just to trash it.

      Delete