Thursday, June 9, 2022

Strange New Worlds, Season 1: Spock Amok

 Strange New Worlds, Season 1
"Spock Amok"
Airdate: June 2, 2022
5 of 10 produced
5 of 10 aired


The Enterprise docks at Starbase 1 in order to receive repairs after the Gorn ordeal. The crew engage in various shore leave activities, while Spock tries to maintain a healthy relationship with his fiancee, T'Pring.

I don't know about you, but these two don't look very "parted" to me.




Kevin: the inciting event for this episode is to, put it mildly, extremely silly. Like Rascals levels of silly. I have lamented the overuse of Vulcan mind powers since I think it leads to exactly this kind of overloading what Vulcans can do like too many ornaments on a Christmas tree. That said, if I accept that Sarek and Picard can trade/share meaningful parts of their lived identities, I suppose the jump to 80s body switching comedy isn't that far a leap. That said, invoking Rascals reminded me that I ultimately really like that episode because it takes its dumb dumb set up and used it to do a fun, even satisfying character story. So, did they do that here? Barely, but yes. The conflict is how committed T'Pring thinks Spock is to their relationship and if Spock feels he is sufficiently Vulcan. Like all Freaky Fridays, the end result of walking a mile in someone else's shoes is increased empathy. T'Pring gains an insight into how valuable Spock's career is to him. Spock learns to value his Vulcanness on his own terms. The result is them committing work on their relationship with this understanding. Does it all happen a little quickly? Yes. But on paper, I am way, way less annoyed at this plot line than I would have thought. I think it also helps that the comedy was funny. "Hijinks may be the most logical course of action" made me laugh out loud. They managed to wring humor out of the characters acting in a consistently Vulcan manner. Also, this is neither really here nor there, but I like the style of the greeting "parted from me but never parted, never and always touching and touched." They assigned someone "write a greeting in the style of 'live long and prosper' for romantic partners" and I think they succeeded. 

Matthew: The mind swap plot is inherently silly and magical, but I agree that it was mostly amusing and worked well to help the characters gain a greater understanding for one another. Really, my major beef with how this plot progressed was the Starfleet medical staff somehow curing the mind swap using conventional medicine. Whether or not M'Benga has experience with Vulcan physiology, he should have no experience with this ritual or its side effects, let alone any notion of how to undo it.  Hell, we just learned about it this episode, because apparently it is so secret and arcane that none of the other ~800 hours of filmed Trek has ever mentioned it. Even a garden variety mind meld was initially treated by TOS as a secret not fit for public consumption. I also was not a huge fan of Chapel's relationship story here. Because I know that she will fall in love with Roger Korby only to lose him, and then carry an unrequited torch for Spock for years, her choices here read like tragic ones. But I don't get the impression that these writers know that. Her choices seem to be pitched here as sassy, independent, and admirable.

Kevin: Now there is a problem with this relationship that I haven't resolved yet, and I need to go back to Amok Time before I do. My recollection of the episode is that either Spock flatly states they have not met since childhood or that was at least certainly the gist. In any case, Spock at that point has apparently no interest in continuing a relationship. It does seem odd, then, to be trying to dramatize a will they/won't they when we know they won't. That said, the individual moments have been interesting enough. I can't help but think that it would be more interesting if this were not a couple for whom we know how their relationship ends. I suppose the easiest solution is to just, at least for me internally, is to just treat this like a soft reboot, beholden to tone and major events, but allowed more leeway on fine details. Destinations remain the same, the itinerary is given a little more discretion. I do wish they would just say that. I think there's a solid case to be made that it's not practical to continue to tell stories after sixty years and remain beholden to every word. I just don't like being told its in continuity when it kind of can't be. 

Matthew: The script of "Amok Time" has Spock state: "By our parents' arrangement. A ceremony while we were but seven years of age. Less than a marriage but more than a betrothal. One touches the other in order to feel each other's thoughts. In this way our minds were locked together, so that at the proper time, we would both be drawn to Koon-ut-kal-if-fee." I think the most straightforward reading of this is that they met and physically touched in a betrothal ceremony at age 7, and had not seen each other since, because the Koon-ut-kal-if-fee is in that very episode. This reading is supported by the lack of any other dialogue contradicting it (such as "we were betrothed, and then dated off an on for years, discussed whether we wanted to get married, and boned a bunch of times"), and the tone and performances in the original episode. It is also far more consistent with the idea of pon farr than the way Spock and T'Pring are depicted in this episode, as being hot and horny for each other at all times of every year. I'll say here what I said to you in our chat - I don't mind retcons that expand stories. Do I love that Uhura is on the ship? Do I love that she has yet another Traumatic Past (tm)? No. But at least it doesn't contradict or undo any past stories. This story does. It contradicts a plain reading of Amok Time, and it changes the characterization of Vulcans in the franchise in major, major ways (from austere, culturally conservative prudes to massive hornytoads).

Kevin: The R'ongovian plot was good, but not great. It felt like a very Voyager style alien of the week where the alien has a specific trait that drives the story. It does get resolved a bit too neatly and quickly, but I can't say that I didn't say feel a little Federation twinge when Pike reveals his solution was to explicitly acknowledge the R'ongovian point of view. Is it light? Yes. But is it good? For me, it was. A little amuse bouche of Federation ideals, and I can anticipate Matt's complaint that either the Spock or Una/La'an plot should have been dispensed with to make room for this, but I am preemptively disagreeing. This is consciously a lightweight episode so I think the thinner treatment is justified in keeping the lighter tone.

Matthew: I actually find the balance of timing in the story fairly decent. The Spock plot dovetailed with the diplomacy plot, which gave it a bit more time (the real victim of the overstuffing here was T'Pring's job - I had very little clue who or what she was trying to rehabilitate into what or how.). I didn't invest any of my brainpower into it, because I knew it would not be treated with a full episode (as it has been many other times in TNG/DS9/VOY). The empathy angle to the plot was obvious to anyone who has watched Trek before, and I actually found the aliens' decision making process a bit baffling - Pike's argument against membership was extremely cogent and concise. Do they really make decisions based not on actual strategic concerns but on whether someone passes a test? What if the Klingons had passed the test first by saying "yeah, we're going to conquer your asses and eat your livers, but at least we're being honest?" Would they have assented to that, too?

Kevin: Now on to the part of the episode that I really, really liked. Finding out that Una and La'an are considered hard asses by the crew is not surprising, and the resulting story of them trying to have fun on their time off was really successful to me. Even in healthy workplaces, there is a division between management and labor, and a little steam-relieving humor is natural. That doesn't mean management is thrilled to hear it. All of this felt like adding actual texture to life aboard the Enterprise. And Una and La'an having a day out was really cute. They remained basically in character, interpreting Enterprise Bingo through their lens. And again, I cannot stress enough that it was fun to watch. "Signing the scorch" felt like a cutesy, lightly superstitious thing a real crew would do. So this had the energy of one of the fun holodeck romp episodes without the holodeck killing the fun or the crew. So is this Shakespeare or Yesterday's Enterprise? No. Is it a solid addition to the class of episodes like Data's Day? I think it is. I have been wanting light, slice of life episodes for years. They help give some depth to the stakes in the big episodes. So knowing that Una and La'an had a fun day off together makes the life and death stuff land a little more emphatically. 

Matthew: Una/La'an was by far the most enjoyable part of the story, because it wasn't freighted by any continuity issues, and it showed two people who are fundamentally good, albeit a bit stiff, loosening up in an attempt to understand their crew better. But I had a major beef, and it was this: one of their "bingo" pranks involves beaming... bubblegum?... using the medical transporter. Was it reconstituting a prior pattern, and if so, would La'an remember that her gum had lost its taste? Anyway, this is the same transporter that two episodes ago whose uninterrupted operation we were told was absolutely crucial to keeping the pattern of M'Benga's daughter preserved so she can avoid dying of some disease or other. Is this really a prank he would allow dozens of ensigns to carry out willy nilly? Wouldn't he have a password lock on the thing, or a video camera monitoring it? And M'Benga goes off fishing in this episode. He again doesn't acknowledge, even with a facial twitch, that his beloved daughter is trapped in eternal non-existent limbo inside a machine. Do these writers have children? Do they understand what a crushing weight this would exert on his every movement, every decision, every day and every hour of his life? Because it seems like he can completely forget it whenever the script deems it so. It was a massive, massive mistake to introduce such a Deep Dark Secret into the show and then to not resolve it either in the same episode or the very next episode. I can't even watch the character without internally screaming "WHAT ABOUT YOUR DAUGHTER?" at every moment he does anything.


Kevin: Everyone did a good job. Pike standing up for Spock and his reveal of his solution work largely on the strength of Mount's charm. Romijn and Chong have a nice easy chemistry that buoyed the story line. Jess Bush is a good actor and has consistently portrayed the Chapel character since the premier. Hers is the one I will peg as farthest from the original, but I am kind of fine with that. I will take sassy, bisexual Chapel over the one whose only real role was to make dewy eyes at Spock. 

Matthew: Yeah, this Nurse Chapel is really nothing like Majel Barret's. This would not be a problem it all if the character didn't bear that name. Jess Bush is quite likeable, and I want her character to succeed (though I know she won't, because they named her Christine Chapel for some reason involving fan service). I totally agree on Romijn and Chong. They made the episode, and that marks two strong turns in a row for Chong. 

Kevin: I also continue to like Gia Sandhu's T'Pring. It's a tall order to portray Vulcan romance, and as a friend pointed out to me, this is the first time a romance between two Vulcans is getting portrayed, and I have to say that I enjoy it. There's a balancing act to portray attraction and attachment in the lens of Vulcan stoicism, and there's something about Sandu's portrayal that really does it for me.

Matthew: as much as I hate the character's presence, I can't deny that I enjoyed watching her performance. It was nuanced and possessed "inner life."  That deserves especial commendation when it comes to delivering such stilted "logical" dialogue.

Production Values

Kevin: We get the first appearance of the green side-closure uniform top. I can't say I like it as much here. It reads as blousy in a way I don't think they meant it to. It's one of those things they are doing because it was done before, not because it was a design choice of their own. I liked the idea of the solar sail ship design and it was a solid enough realization.  The open-dome conference room was nice too. 

Matthew: One of the problems with the green jacket in this show is that it has two insignia.  The whole point of the jacket's side closure in TOS was that it was the sole insignia just moved over - there was none on the chest. Otherwise, I liked it! I agree on the rest of the visuals - the station had lots of neat effects, especially the conference room with the killer view of the docked ships.


Kevin: My enjoyment of this episode was a 4, but I can't justify that high a ranking for this story. It is a confection but from my perspective a successful one, and it's at a good point in the season. We've done some serious and more action-filled episodes, so it's nice to take a break and have a nice low stakes story that gives crew relationships time to shine. Between this and last week, I am more confident than ever that Strange New Worlds can to continue to make episodes that I will enjoy watching. It's a nice change.

Matthew: I'm with you on the 3 for a total of 6. It's a mixed bag, and watching it feels like I have a pebble in my shoe as I take a very nice walk (to extend the metaphor, pebbles that the keepers of the path intentionally spread all over the place because they looked cool). If I had not watched any Star Trek prior to this, I would probably love the show with few reservations (outside of M'Benga, which is a whopper, and which I would like to think I would clock even if I weren't a dedicated Trekkie). It's loaded with nice people doing cool sci-fi things, and it looks great. I do actually want to continue watching it. There is enough positive to outweigh the negative at this point. But I cannot shake the feeling that the writers don't understand what they're doing wrong, and why it's wrong. For someone versed in Trek, it's wrong to make Vulcans into hot and horny premarital fornicators, and it's wrong to flatly contradict stories that you claim to be fitting into. Starting from this place of unfaithfulness magnifies every nitpick for me. Whereas the nits we pick in Classic Star Trek feel like amusing idiosyncrasies because they exist in the universe I grew up in, these just pile up and drag me out of shows.

1 comment: