Warning – Contains Spoilers!
News of this most recent reboot of the Star Trek franchise brought only mild excitement to my Trekkie soul. Enterprise turned out to be a dud filled with formulaic phaser fights and Discovery despite its promising first season with a wacky captain moved in directions that didn’t speak to me enough to keep watching. There was probably other stuff, other movies in between all that. If I watched them, I’ve forgotten the details, which says a lot.
I still watch Star Trek: The Original Series every now and then. For me, that’s the masterpiece to which all spinoffs must be compared. For quite some time The Next Generation seemed to replace TOS as the pivot upon which to judge all others. But with time, I think TOS is making its rightful comeback as the true Star Trek. I used to compare TOS – with its original analog effects – to Shakespeare in that both combine history, myth, and art in a delightful creative synthesis.
Trek spinoffs have added some interesting and progressive changes but after all these years TOS still works best for me.
Psychoanalysts would probably have a field day with how I prefer the Trek that was created and aired during the same decade as my birth. It resonates here but if you didn’t grow up during those fantastically explosive years, I can understand how dated and clunky the sets and props must appear. And the sexism. Yes, TOS is sexist to some degree. But that’s more the network brass’ fault than Gene Roddenberry’s. Roddenberry wanted a strong female in Trek but the network brass didn’t buy it. Majel Barret who played the strong No. One in the pilot was demoted to the weepy and fawning Nurse Chapel in the incarnation that finally passed all the obstacles of 1960s America.
So when some women say they don’t like TOS because it’s sexist, I say “blame it on the 1960s” not on Star Trek. Star Trek TOS was remarkably progressive in many areas—at least, those that it could get away with during that decade. In fact, TOS broadcast the first interracial kiss.
Okay, so with my little “TOS is great” segment out of the way, let me say that Strange New Worlds ties in very nicely with the early days of TOS. Pike is the Captain, and he has some kind of futuristic vision about his death or the death of the life he now has. For Trekkies, we all know that Pike ends up in a wheelchair, horribly disfigured, but ultimately happy again with Vina thanks to some bum-headed aliens that give him a life of illusory health and love.
Anson Mount is more than competent for the role of Pike. He fits well with the witty and optimistic Trek ethos so well defined by Shatner’s Kirk. A younger Spock is played by Ethan Peck, the grandson of the late Gregory Peck. Peck plays a good Spock but has a tough act to follow as no one can compare to Nimoy’s Spock. One thing that detracts from the new Spock is his being depicted as some kind of loverboy.
This scene turns Spock into just another sexy American – after all, that’s where it’s coming from – and doesn’t really fit with the idea of pon farr, where Vulcans need to mate every seven years, at which time they are driven into a frenzy and must return to Vulcan to get it on.
Weak, very weak. This is not Spock as we know him but as I say, a 21st century watering down of a once wickedly repressed character whose half-human struggle with his Vulcan repression adds to his complexity.
Peck’s Spock still has a high pain tolerance and puts up with funny ears jokes, but comes off far more ‘balanced’ than the classic Nimoy Spock who always seemed like a pot ready to boil over if the lid were not clamped down tightly—that is, the ‘real’ Spock is a psychological pressure cooker whose occasional eruptions make for great viewing.
The remaining cast is fine, with Christina Chong as La’an Noonien-Singh and Celia Rose Gooding as Uhura standing out. At least, I found these two the most compelling among the supportive characters.
As for the plot, well, I don’t usually rehash plotlines but I’ll just say that it seems the creators must have bet on most of its young viewers not having seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Daaaa Deeee Daaaa Daaaa Dummm. 🎵🎶🔉🔊
Watch this and you’ll see what I mean.
So there it is. Strange New Worlds is a fresh, colorful and squeaky clean Trek that doesn’t push any buttons. It’s really more about mainstream 21st-century American values than any other century, and yet the show somehow manages to capture at least some of the raw excitement of TOS.
I’ll keep watching as long as it keeps up to the fairly high bar set by these first two episodes. However, as we have seen with most Trek spinoffs, that bar seems to lower and crash to the floor pretty fast. So I’m not expecting too much down the road or, should I say, in the next sector.