Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Strange New Worlds, Season 1: Ghosts of Illyria

Strange New Worlds, Season 1
"Ghosts of Illyria"
Airdate: May 19, 2022
3 of 10 produced
3 of 10 aired


The Enterprise visits a colony of a race we learn very little about, and brings back an infection to a ship full of characters harboring too many Deep Dark Secrets to keep straight.


 You'd think knowing he was going to be crippled soon would cause Pike to spend less time on his pompadour, not more.



Kevin: I watched the premiere a few weeks ago and I enjoyed it, but just didn't get around to the subsequent episodes until recently, so I have binged this early set. I just finished episode five, "Spock Amok." Seeing them all so close together, I can say that I think this is weakest of the first half of the season, and for the same reason that has held back earlier episodes. The show is trying to squeeze in every main character's background and motivation and it's crowding out some of the detail work to make the individual plots work as well as they could. That said, I think this is the last episode to have that problem, but I'll save that for next reviews. Focusing on this one, I think the real problem for the Illyrians is the classic "show, don't tell" maxim of writing. We spend a lot of time talking about Illyrians and their issues but never meet one beyond Una's admission. It was just a lot of time on the planet reading journals and staring at CGI ghosts. Spock and Pike just didn't get that much to do other than react to things.

Matthew: Yep. For the third episode in a row, extraneous emotional scenes focusing on various lead characters' Deep Dark Secrets have crowded out actually, you know, seeking out new life and new civilizations. I have no idea who the Illyrians are, and I therefore don't care about them. Now, lest you think I am some sort of anti-crying bigot, far from it. I love a good character story. But character stories need more than three minutes of screen time to land. In this episode, we get not one, not two, but three Deep Dark Secret scenes, all of which fail to cohere into anything meaningful because of their brevity. The "CGI things are the colonists" plot "twist" was visible from about three light years away. This A plot would have been so much better if we had actually been able to talk to an Illyrian besides Una. But there was simply no time.

Kevin: The disease plot on the ship is premium unleaded Star Trek. The only difference is the word "naked" didn't make it into the title. I think this has the same pros and cons of other disease episodes. The virus that propagates in light and encourages hosts to seek out light sources is novel and hits a sweet spot of science fiction imagining. Hemmer trying to beam a piece of the mantle aboard was a really interesting take on how a blind person would address the urge to find a light source. The day is saved by a solution that is, of course, poppycock technobabble nonsense, but that's largely the only issue and I can't really complain about technobabble solutions sixty years into the franchise. I think the attempts to use the story to flesh out Una's background and complicate her relationship with La'an were good, not great. I like the more complicated story her log implies at the end. Everyone likes and respects her, but it's framed as they like and respect her enough personally to overlook what they view as a flaw. The phrase "one of the good ones" is a loaded one and I believe it was thoughtfully used here. I wish they episode had given more space to seeing Illyrians themselves just living their genetically modified lives since that would give a little more teeth to Una not feeling shame over who she is, just that she had to lie about it. 

Matthew: I actually liked the disease plot more than the "Naked" duo, because the procedural aspects of it hewed closer to real science and pandemic protocols, which we are all quite familiar with. The only aspect I disliked was Nurse Chapel solving everything with her genetics genius. Why is she a nurse, again? And why is she still a nurse ten years from now? And when is she going to get with Dr. Korby, anyway? With respect to the Illyrian angle, it was unduly convenient and felt forced. It's like they decided to give Number One just the right background to solve the plot after the fact, instead of the other way around. I would have vastly preferred it if we had known about her heritage from the outset, rather than having it be saved for the moment of greatest "dramatic impact." You know what's actually dramatically impactful? Character reactions and choices flowing from traits that we are made aware of beforehand. This is very similar to Discovery's Lorca reveal, just with less murder.

Kevin: M'Benga's secret, for everyone must have a secret, is his sick daughter held in stasis in the transporter. I suppose I could quibble that this era of transporter is not capable of that, but my heart's not in it. It was magic for Scotty. It's magic now. That's fine, as long as it used in a way that propels rather than neutralizes a story. I'm glad we're getting through the list of characters to give a background to. Once that's done, I think these stories could really go places. I think we just need Ortegas and Hemmer's secrets and we're good to go.

Matthew: M'Benga's Deep Dark Secret strains credulity to within an atom's breadth of the breaking point. How could a doctor have that much sway with respect to a refit of the Federation flagship? Where is this girl's mother, and is she OK with him spiriting her away forever? Although this could be the prelude to M'Benga's second Deep Dark Secret, the death of his wife, which would absolutely be a wonderful source of drama. 

 Hoyvin Glayvin, I'm getting a reading here!


Kevin: No notes, really. No one is being asked to do Shakespeare this week, but everyone turned in solid grounded performances. I am really coming to like Rebecca Romijn. She did a good job handling talking to the computer by herself, and that's a good skill to have on this show. Whatever my quibbles with the plotting, I think she did great work portraying her internal conflict over her identity and lying to her crew mates I think overall she does a great job of giving a performance that is not Vulcan per se in that it is not consciously stoic, but does a great job implying her still waters run deep.

Matthew: Yeah, Romijn almost sells her threadbare character story. She's immensely likeable and brings good gravitas. She feels like a commander who is respected by her subordinates. This is a quibble, but I'd kind of like to know just what accent Christina Chong's La'an Singh is supposed to have. Kahn was an Indian dictator with a Mexican accent, and his great niece is an Asian-ish officer with some sort of British thing going on? Poor Mr. Singh, who got whacked in TNG's engineering section, is still the only Indian actor I can recall in a (brief) main-line role (Alexander Siddig is Sudanese, for the record).

Kevin: Babs Olusanmokun gets a little more to do this week and I have to say I am looking forward to more from him. There's a humor and lightness under the weariness that I think will serve the character and the show well.

Matthew: I certainly believed his anguish over his daughter's existence in transporter limbo, and liked his reading scene. If this had been extended to a full episode (a la DS9 "The Visitor") I'm sure he could have delivered on it. 

Production Values

Kevin: I don't want to belabor points we've made in earlier episodes, so I'll just say that they keep turning in not just movie quality work, but thoughtful work as well. It's definitely early 21st century aesthetics, but they have tamped down on the too busy and too close-up shots that make a lot of other sci-fi, fantasy, and Marvel stuff impossible to follow. I also really liked the work on the piece of mantle in the transporter room. It shows they are thinking about how they can use the space and the premise. 

Matthew: I stipulate to the quality of the visual effects, there is really nothing interesting to say about them any more. There are aspects of the ship sets I like, such as the quarters, and aspects I do not, such as engineering. Not only do I not see how this engineering room can ever become something like the one in TOS, but it's all so visually busy that I don't really have much sense of what does what in this space. I have registered my dislike for transparent view screens many times, but for a blind guy no less? Huh? Sickbay at least looks functional. The Captain's "ready room" looks about four times the size it should (or perhaps infinitely larger than it should, since it doesn't exist at all in TOS).


Kevin: This is the weakest episode so far for me, but it is still a 3. The plot is getting crowded out by everyone having a secret and while I'm sure "Pike and Spock stuck overnight sheltering together in a storm" will launch a few slash stories, it was a bit inert drama wise. That said, the character work for Una is good and they did a good job of showing a complex character with complicated feelings about her complexity in a way that makes me think they will mine them for interesting stories later. Also, and this cannot be overstated, this episode was not a chore. It was not great, but it was very adequate and I enjoyed the experience of watching it.

Matthew: This episode was a mess. It's like someone tripped over the whiteboard in the writers room and broke it into dozens of shards, and they couldn't quite piece together how the season was to go again, so they just said "eff it, throw it all into this episode." This episode also marks the third in a row in which the putative story of the episode is crowded out by soap opera. I just can't shake the feeling that all of these writers' worst tendencies are lurking just behind the next page of each script, and are waiting to pounce at any moment. So the A story here was obvious and underdeveloped. The B story (Una's heritage) didn't get enough time on screen, nor enough actual interface with the A story (they should have been integrated). The C story (M'Benga's Mr. Freeze plot) should have gotten its own episode, not 5 minutes of an already crowded plot. Thrown in a D story with La'an's bullied childhood, and you've just got a blender full of emotional gloss stretched over a skeleton of story scraps. I think this is a 2, for a total of 5. There were stretches I enjoyed, but I kept being pulled out of the story by "huh?" and "why?" moments.


  1. Agree that the M'Benga's daughter subplot is both questionable and contributed to the episode being overstuffed. Disagree with the comment about "La'an bullied childhood" being somehow an unrelated D-plot, rather than an extension of the story about Una's heritage and her relationship with La'an. I actually was pretty relieved with those scenes, because to me it landed the "Noonien Singh" plane pretty well. That could have gone in all sorts of dumb directions (i.e., "La'an is a sleeper augment agent, trying to locate the Botany Bay and revive Khan!" I mean that sounds like something Kurtzmann would come up with isn't it?).

    1. I agree, they have steered shockingly clear of dumb fan service with her character. I am not ready to trust yet, though.

    2. Understandable. I think my current level of trust is mixed: relatively comfortable they're not going to do something really stupid with her character at a macro-level, but would bet dollars to donuts there's going to be comedy episode a few seasons in where someone yells "LA'AAANNN!"