Sunday, July 2, 2023

Strange New Worlds, Season 2: The Broken Circle

 Strange New Worlds, Season 1
"The Broken Circle"
Airdate: June 15, 2023
11 of 20 produced
11 of 20 aired


Captain Pike leaves the Enterprise in Spock's hands while he tries to find help for Una's upcoming court martial. While in command, Spock receives a distress call from La'an warning of a dangerous situation near the Klingon border.


 "Welcome to Planet Brown, where we mine Brown in accordance with the Brown Mush Treaty of 2243."




Kevin: The framing of this episode is fine. We know from TOS that weird and flatly unrealistic sharing schemas for border colonies with the Klingons are a thing, so that's fine. I mean, wouldn't it make more sense to outsource the mining and split the proceeds rather than literally trade personnel and equipment every thirty days? Anyway, the core idea of people who profit from war stirring up conflict to advance their interests in fine, but the episode obviously fails when Chapel and M'Benga go into Berserker Mode. An orthodox Trek episode would have them treat the Klingons and use the contact as a moment to find common ground, appeal to their honor, and get their help in revealing the plot.

Matthew: I had a hard time paying attention to the particulars of this plot. I wasn't really clear what La'an (god, I am sick of typing names with apostrophes in them) was doing there or why she needed help, and I just sort of mentally checked out. I do not think this is a knock on me, the viewer. I can pay attention to any alien of the week story you want to throw my way, as long as you clearly spell out stakes and motivations. There's a treaty... and miners or something.... things have to be secret... runaway orphans or something? ZZZZZZZZZ. It is interesting to me that you are eliding the whole beginning of the show, in which Pike decides to leave and go somewhere else. Now, I am glad they didn't feel the need to split the episode between two stories (I'm looking in your direction, every other Kurtzman Trek ever...), but it felt really artificial and abrupt to set up that story and then just have the characters leave.

Kevin: In terms of a premiere, I do think this episode is trying to set the table a little, with moderate success. It gets La'an back on board, but like most times they get an above the titles actor off the ship, they come back a little too quickly to make the leaving make sense in the first place. We get another Enterprise theft and another "Young Spock in command" story, and this runs into the classic problems of the prequel in that we've seen it before and it colors 'later' episodes like Galileo Seven in odd ways. Spock seems to do fine in command making the right decisions at the right time throughout, while maintaining the respect and cooperation of his crew, so him being a bit too uptight to manage people later rings a discordant note. Sending Pike off to get Una a lawyer will pay off next week, and while, yes, it is very convenient, I will say this is how you do serialized storytelling right. It was just enough conversation to not ignore the status quo from last season, but it doesn't get in the way of what this episode is about.

Matthew: I had a serious problem with Spock committing mutiny in order to hijack the ship, here. Why? Because it was already done in a significantly better episode with significantly higher stakes, "The Menagerie." Is it a classic Trek trope? Sure, you betcha. But, again, it contradicts and undercuts future character developments that this creative team swears up and down happen in the same universe. If they would just bite the bullet and declare this an offshoot, it would blunt my criticism significantly. But, to date, this series has now effectively sucked the narrative wind out of the sails of four classic TOS episodes: Galileo Seven, Amok Time, Arena, and now The Menagerie. Spock had not commanded the ship, because he wasn't first officer, prior to Galileo Seven. Spock and T'Pring didn't date like horny twenty-somethings between age 7 and Amok Time. No humans had ever seen the Gorn prior to Cestus III. Spock didn't mutiny that other time and was forgiven for it. If we're going to ding "These Are The Voyages" for altering the characterization of established, well-told, and complete stories, we have to do so here, as well - until and unless they place this outside of regular continuity.

Kevin: In the plus column, I thought Pelia clocking the deception immediately but being up for it was an economical piece of character and storytelling, one that I really enjoyed. It establishes Pelia's personality and priorities quickly and hangs a lantern on how obvious it is to fake a warp core breach, something that happens with startling regularity on ships named Enterprise. It contributes to a sensation that balances the, admittedly, significant plot problems in this episode. I enjoyed watching it, action sequences on the Klingon ship aside. The core is here in a way that both Picard and Discovery faltered on. The characters are basically nice, happy people. Even the severely traumatized ones are more 'taciturn' than 'psychotic.' The scenes on the planet were a pretty big misfire, but the scenes on the Enterprise all hum with a confident brightness that I'm momentarily annoyed, but not despondent, over the overall effect.

Matthew: The action sequence of this episode contained two of my very least favorite tropes in sci-fi television - giving characters temporary superpowers (Why not do it again? Like every single time a dangerous situation pops up?); and strobing lights (which is a production issue). I hated every second of Chapel and M'Benga plowing through Klingons, and I also really did not get the stakes here, yet again. They need to hide their presence from the Klingon Empire. Ooooooh...kay..... but did no one really notice the huge starship picking up the frozen popsicle humans from the big exploding ship in the sky? Like I said, I just mentally checked out.


Kevin: I love Carol Kane. She's a gem. Loved her in the Addams Family. Loved her in unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. She is clearly having a blast and that matters. The accent is, however, an incomprehensible decision. Apparently, she tried it for a lark in the table read and they let her keep it. Nonsense all around. It sounds like a mix between Grandmama from Addams Family and Simka, her character from Taxi. That said, I really liked her. I liked watching her see through the obvious ruse and I think she at least has the potential to be a fun foil La'an and Una particularly, but the rest of the cast in their more self-serious moments. 

Matthew: The accent was terrible, and just adds to the reasons we all have to watch TV with subtitles these days. I reserve judgment on the character. I enjoyed the repartee, as you did, but I'm not going to invest, when they might just Hemmer us again.

Kevin: The rest of the cast was good, if not particularly stretched by the material this week. I will say, especially having just finished Enterprise, everyone has a clear characterization that sparkles on screen even if they are not the focus. I know who these people are and I am delighted to see all of them in a way that I never really got to with Enterprise.

Matthew: I would say Ethan Peck was the standout here, as he is in many episodes. Which is a shame, because the writers seem absolutely intent upon making this the sex crazed violent Spock of the Abrams movies. Peck can absolutely do the scenes of restraint and inner turmoil. But the writers seem to want explosive temper and outer turmoil, instead.

Production Values

Kevin: Whatever soul-crushing budget slashing the bean counters at Paramount are doing hasn't reached this show yet (still angry about Prodigy, btw) and the effects work by and large is pretty good. The asteroid scene was a little crowded, but that makes sense in context, and I could still tell what was happening in a way I could never in Disco. The planet was several nice big sets, and hallelujah the correct Klingon make up is back. This feels somewhere between TNG and Undiscovered Country, and that is fine with me.

Matthew: The Klingons looked good. I have seen wags online trying to claim that "they just gave them hair, the Disco Klingons were just shaving their heads in a time of war," which is absolute horseshit.  STD's Klingons looked like Xenomorphs. These Klingons look like TNG Klingons with an increased clothing budget. The planet set and ship interiors didn't do it for me. They were mushy and brown and strobey.

Kevin: I have trashed the story elements of the M'Benga and Chapel as drug-fueled super soldiers, but I will say, as a matter of production choices, this was still not hugely, graphically violent. They were fighting barehanded, and there was not really any time spend on the injuries anyone suffered. It's more amped up than classic Trek-Fu obviously, but neither was it the blade wielding bloodbath of Disco or Picard. It's a tiny caveat to the critique, but it matters. It's a poor story choice, but not one that breaks the universe in the way it might have.

Matthew: Strobing lights. That's all I meed to say about the action sequence. I thought their freezing makeup looked good, though.


Kevin: This squeaks into a 3 for me. It's got its weak spots, absolutely, particularly the action story in the middle. However, the episode moved briskly enough, and like I said, even in the action story, they did not engage in the worst excesses of Discovery or Picard. It's a fine hair to split, but I think if you can see a different approach even in the fuck-ups, that bodes well. I may also be rounding up a little because I binged the first three episodes at once, so I know the next two are pretty good and that may make me a little charitable. What really seals the 3 for me is the story on the Enterprise is one of a piece with Star Trek I like. Nice nerds who care about doing the right thing. That's all I want from my Trek. I will be less charitable if they go Super Solider again, but the first season at least built up some good will to spend on things like this.

Matthew: This is a weak 2 for me. It's not a 1 because it isn't actively offensive or horrible. But it bored me. It was action schlock with no science fiction, and I forgot the half-stated motivations for the situation by about minute 20. It also made my Special Continuity Area tingle uncomfortably. That makes for a total of 5 between us. I hope the next two episodes are as good as you say, because for me this was a dismal start to Season 2.

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