Thursday, May 12, 2022

Strange New Worlds, Season 1: Children of the Comet

 Strange New Worlds, Season 1
"Children of the Comet"
Airdate: May 12, 2022

2 of 10 produced

2 of 10 aired

 

Introduction

The Enterprise comes across a comet that is endangering a pre-warp civilization. Their attempt to remedy the situation becomes more complicated when a religious civilization with superior technology interferes with their rescue attempt.

Whether or not I like the show, I renew my objection to these sideburns.
 

Writing

Matthew: I texted Kevin after watching this episode, exhorting him to give it a try and complete my reviews (he is justifiably wary and burned out by 6 incomprehensible prior seasons of "Star Trek," AKA "Miserable People Doing Horrible Things"). "This is an order of magnitude better than the other shows," I wrote.What the heck is going on here? Have I finally slipped the surly bonds of sanity and embraced Big Dumb TV? Well, no. First off, "an order of magnitude" means averaging 3's instead of 2's (that's literally one order of magnitude). But second of all. we have now had two, count 'em TWO! episodes in a row of self-contained stories with the nugget of a sci-fi premise and the hint of an ethical dilemma contained therein. I still have foreboding about the direction of the show and the choices of the writers, but I actually legitimately enjoyed this episode. In this story, the Enterprise comes across a pre-warp civilization being threatened by a cometary collision. With no regard for the Prime Directive (it's literally not even mentioned), Pike decides to divert the comet and save the planet. Do I think this is a missed opportunity? Uh, yeah. Spock would be the perfect advocate for non-interference, and we could all stand a lesson in one of the core principles of Classic Trek. Oh, well. Anyway, they send an away team to the comet itself, because of a strange thing - it has shields and prevents any attempt to divert it with ion engines. The away team of Spock, La'an Singh, Uhura, and Sam Kirk (oh, I'll get there) discover a structure with a strange artifact that debilitates Kirk. It turns out the comet reacts to music, which is a fun twist that has been done before in good sci-fi stories. It also turns out that the comet has a protector, a highly advanced race of religious people calling themselves "Shepherds" who block any attempt to impede the comet's natural course. Suffice it to say, this is a pretty decent setup for some conflict in terms of humanist ethics vs. faith-based ones.

Matthew: Now, given that there is a fairly solid premise, how does it go? Well.... I have notes, as they say. Given that ten full minutes of the beginning of the episode go towards emotional character scenes during a dinner in Pike's quarters, the Shepherds are underbaked. We don't know why they care about this comet. We also learn nothing about the people on the planet, besides that they live in an arid ecosystem. We also don't learn what, why, or who is behind the music-based control system of the comet. So it all ends up feeling like an outline of a good episode instead of an actual good episode. I also have strong reservations about the way the problem was solved - Pike creates an impasse with the aliens by surrendering, parking the Enterprise near the comet and claiming severe damage - which means the aliens cannot destroy the Enterprise lest they risk damaging their sacred comet. Fine. But then Pike promises not to "touch" the comet thereafter - but in fact has Spock fly a shuttle next to the comet in order to heat it up, make it break apart, and divert its course. Setting aside the physics questions of diverting a comet less than one hour from impact with a planet-sized body, Pike lies here, and I don't like it. Heating a thing is definitely "touching" it. And they had an obviously set up way to change the comet's course while keeping Pike's word - using music to get he comet to divert itself. It's bizarre, really, that they spent so many minutes exploring the comet's musical control system in order to ignore it when it came time to resolve the dilemma of the week. Another science note was the ecological angle to the solution - the comet deposits gigatons of water into the planet's atmosphere, and everyone celebrates because they're bringing water to the desert or something. But hasn't this planet evolved over millions or more years to support an arid ecosystem? Aren't we actually looking at an extinction event here with such rapid climate change?

Matthew: Other things that give me pause are the sorts of character beats that abounded in STD and STP - Uhura apparently has a damaged childhood past, in which her whole family died in a shuttle accident - AND she "isn't sure about being in Starfleet," a la Michael Burnham. To say I find these character beats cheap and manipulative is an understatement. To be fair to the show, Spock does chide her for her indecision, noting that thousands of people would want her position. The subplot of her finding her confidence was a bit trite. My other species of gripes has yet again to do with the prequel nature of the show. Spock and Uhura spend tons of time with Samuel Kirk and La'an Singh - even resuscitating a seriously injured Kirk - and this flies in the face of their never mentioning these things again in TOS. It's the curse of the prequel - it's very hard to tell new stories with dramatic tension with characters who already have established future histories. They could have told these same stories with characters named Ohara, Xon, Kumar, and Roykirk. The emotions would have been the same, but the viewer would not constantly be dragged out of the scene by nagging questions. It's like the princess and the pea, but this pea was deliberately chosen by the producers in a lazy attempt to secure subscription numbers. Another thing I noted was incessant "quip" humor. Especially given the timetable of literally minutes to save millions of innocent people, it struck me as time wasting and inappropriate. I like humor, and it can build character. But deployed incorrectly it can diminish character.

Acting

Matthew: I really liked Celia Rose Gooding's Uhura. She was relatable but not cutesy, and I bought her emotional journey (whether or not I wanted it to exist for the character). I already know more about and care about this character than literally ANY character in Discovery. She had a good rapport with Ethan Peck's Spock - and he did a good job pitching Spock's Vulcan stoicism as well. I was less enamored of Christina Chong's La'an this time around, she seemed unnecessarily gruff. Dan Jeannotte's Kirk also seemed like a dingus who made bad choices and exhibited poor judgment.

Matthew: Rebecca Romijn again got some really nice scenes as Number One, this time being emotionally supportive to Pike as she notices his depression/obsession re: his future. It may have been a bit too "counselor" like, and I hope she gets more to do in the future. But I really liked her, and that's a start.

Production Values

Matthew: I could find almost nothing to fault on the visual side. There were some weird lights on the bridge that shined right at camera. Otherwise, this was yet again a tour de force of visual effects. I even liked the visual choices on display here, regardless of quality of execution. The comet was dark and looked a lot like Ridley Scott's "Prometheus." The shots of the ship were detailed, but the ship moved like it does in TOS, which was unbelievably refreshing. The EV suits looked good and actually usable. The aliens (both in space and on the planet) were movie-quality CG and makeup appliances.

Matthew: Can I just ask what is with Pike's pompadour? And Spock's bizarre nuMetal sideburns?

Conclusion

Matthew: I'm stuck at a 3 for a hypothetical total of 6. This episode was like a really well done, flashy gymnastics routine that has a good number of fundamentals but then failed to stick the landing. Again, like the first episode, the alien cultures were underbaked and their motivations were unclear. Pike's decision to lie in order to win the day when there was a much better, obvious sci-fi, and ethically more sound solution set up by the preceding story, really irked me. But heaven help me, I actually like this show, and want it to succeed. It's not great, but it's Season One Orville good. We've had two episodes in a row without gratuitous violence or swearing, either. I'm actually considering showing this to my kids.

3 comments:

  1. Likewise gave up on DSC and PIC, but I'm actually finding myself anticipating the next episode of SNW. As it stands now, the tone and level of scifi storytelling reminds me a lot of the first two Stargate shows, which I'm perfectly OK with (considering the alternatives). I think all the elements are here for a great Trek show, but not sure I fully trust the creative team to make the right tweaks in the right places to get there. I guess we'll see!

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    1. It feels to me like they've absorbed the criticism but don't quite know how to execute a "Classic Trek" show. So when they can't bring themselves to write 30 minutes of ideas,15 minutes of action, 5 minutes of character stories, it ends up being more like 25 action, 15 emotional gloss, and 10 ideas

      Some of their worst habits are clearly lurking in the background. It will take rigorous show running to not indulge them.

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    2. This is the first time I've been excited about a new ST show in a while -- albeit quite tentatively (pls don't continue to hurt me Kurtz).

      I thought this was a good/solid ST episode and an EXCELLENT Kurtzman-era episode. But I'd always take a "bad" Trek episode over a good Picard/Discovery episode, so this show delivers on that front.

      I hope they actually took some lessons to heart and can keep it up! I agree with you that there definitely are some lingering "Kurtzmanisms" in the background, but I can ignore them for the most part as long as the general writing is this good.

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