The season finale of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds ROCKS.
It has everything I enjoyed about futuristic space adventures under the Star Trek franchise. This was a cold open which assuredly washed the taste of the last episode with singing and dancing right out of the minds of those Star Trek purists concerned with futuristic space adventures which do not feature moments of happiness or joy for their crews. I, however, was not one of those purists. Like the reviewers of Rotten Tomatoes, I gave ‘Subspace Rhapsody’ (S2:E9) high marks for creativity, originality and boldness for the writers and cast agreeing to step so far outside of the franchise’s comfort zone.
The cold open to ‘Hegemony’ starts with the starship Cayuga (the starship of Captain Batel, who is Captain Pike’s current love interest), visiting a planetary colony which resembles a small town in Ontario, a back lot which coincidentally, was created for a show called ‘Reacher.’ This lot was filled with handsome extras, showing their enthusiasm for life on an unknown world. There are a couple of mechanized vehicles to make it seem futuristic, which I am sure helped to keep the cost of the episode down, as is often the case for such budget science fiction shows which feature expensive special effects.
But this cold open didn’t skimp unnecessarily. It featured an interplanetary meet-cute, as a subspace phone call, between captains complete with a mention of the previous episode where breaking into song every ten minutes or so was the heart of the challenges the Enterprise crew had to contend with. (I am a sucker for inter-show continuity…) This opening offered the perfect fusion of fun, family and familiarity with Nurse Chapel and Captain Batel making small talk before separating and all hell breaking loose.
This was a meaningful cold open showing the mission of Starfleet is one of planetary support, providing technological enrichment, medical training and healthcare. Just what we want to promote in a show about extraplanetary development. There were hints of danger but nothing overt.
As with every cold open, there comes the critical moment when the meet-cute gets interrupted. Then panning back, the befuddled stares, and my favorite alien trope: a massive spacecraft descending through cloud cover, chasing a tiny shuttlecraft crash landing on the planet. This was an almost picture perfect way to open an episode of Star Trek. Wait until you see who the pilot is.
What’s not to love?
Except: The Internet was abuzz with complaints about last week’s episode, ‘Subspace Rhapsody’ with so-called die-hard fans declaring Strange New Worlds was off their menu because no self-respecting television show films itself singing about anything.
After my support of Subspace Rhapsody, people sought me out to let me know there were only a few episodes this season that were worth a damn, which showcased the belief that Strange New Worlds had outlived its usefulness to the franchise. Each person shared the episodes they thought met the necessary standards to be worthy of the legend of being Star Trek. More than a couple told me unequivocally: “Star Trek is dead. Strange New Worlds has failed to live up to the legacy of the best of Star Trek of the past.”
Were we just watching the same cold open? This was the best opening six minutes and thirty seconds of Star Trek, I have seen in a long time. Captain Pike’s controlled rage while he is being admonished by Admiral April is palpable.
NO SPOILERS, PLEASE
Because I don’t want to spoil any of the fun ahead, I am going to suggest, for your mature consideration, to enjoy this show, no matter what you may think of any singular episode. This episode is an excellent two-part affair with nary a misstep anywhere. The writing is solid, the acting continues to impress, and despite the break for singing, Strange New Worlds continues to deliver the goods, threading the history of the previous continuity while breaking modern ground.
‘Hegemony’ has a number of continuity violations and I am completely willing to overlook them. Does this continuity error (as well as the previous Strange New Worlds interaction with the Gorn) invalidate Federation records? In my mind, I address the continuity issues as redactions in military records.
In the original series, Kirk’s Enterprise was supposedly the first interaction with the Gorn. However, books and board games such as Star Fleet Battles indicated the Gorn and Federation had crossed paths in the past.Thanks to the interference of the Metrons, Kirk is forced to fight a Gorn captain in single combat in the episode ‘Arena’ (Star Trek: The Original Series, S1:E19).
Despite Spock having been with the Enterprise during Pike’s interaction with the Gorn, the events may have been sealed as military secrets and the crew of Pike’s Enterprise sworn to secrecy. When you have sixty years of history to televised history and at least four hundred continuity years to account for, mistakes will most certainly be made.
My benchmark is simple, can a story deliver on the premise presented in the continuity of the series as we know it. Strange New Worlds has given us the Gorn, rapacious, savage, terrifying reptilians willing to fight to take over planets and defend what they believe is their territory. As far as I am concerned, there is no other history I need to contend with.
Star Trek has continued to deliver over its nearly sixty year history, great episodes and terrible ones and I consider it the mark of a show willing to take great risks in order to reap great rewards. Star Trek: The Original Series in the light of its descendents does not compare well to the best episodes of the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager or even Enterprise (which is generally panned by the bulk of the Star Trek community).
Yet, even The Original Series has moments of brilliance whose episodes of compelling storytelling showcased what I feel is the best ideas underlying the Human experience, revealing the aspirations of writers whose ambitions were to give us hope for a future better than our present. Episodes like: ‘The Trouble with Tribbles,’ ‘Balance of Terror,’ ‘The Doomsday Machine’ and ‘Journey to Babel’ showcased the Original Series at its finest.
STAR TREK: STRANGE NEW WORLD IS 60 YEARS OF STORIES
Let us remember that the Star Trek franchise has been doing this for sixty years. From an upstart television show, in an all but forgotten genre of science fiction, to a titanic mainstay of the genre, setting the pace for other science fiction and fantasy shows to keep up with, to diverge from, to emulate, to lampoon, to compare themselves to, Star Trek has led and inspired others to be as good or better.
Star Trek is the banner all other Science Fiction television is compared to, like it or not. Personally, I wish people could just enjoy every episode of Star Trek like it was their last. Because one day, just like it was when the Original Series ended, it was. There was a decade without Star Trek and even when the first movie was released, there was no guarantee more was forthcoming.
Cheers and jeers greeted the Next Generation and for at least two season, we laughed more than we were comfortable with but Trek was back and it was enough. The third season reignited the fire and Star Trek was reborn for almost twenty years. And it was mostly good. Complaints aside, I have enjoyed modern Star Trek including Star Trek: Discovery, once it found a place for itself. Even as its run is ending in five seasons, without Discovery, Strange New Worlds may have never found its footing with Anson Mounts stellar performance convincing showrunners Pike’s Enterprise could have merit.
WE STILL HAVE STAR TREK!
Strange New Worlds has proven unique in the face of returning to the framework of the Original Series. Strong characters, single stories, with loose threads connecting them. Repeat appearances with a more tightly scripted and diverse crew. There is so much to love about Strange New Worlds, I have a hard time taking any complaint seriously, even the ones where we have rewritten continuity and allowed the Gorn to be seen before they were supposed to have been seen in the Original Series.
Sixty years of continuity is difficult to maintain and personally, I love what they have done with the place. Let the Gorn have their day. Like most military action, it is liable to be redacted and the crew told never to speak of it again.
Like most of the complaints about modern Star Trek, it would be better of people simply didn’t speak of their hatreds because Trek cannot be everything to everyone. To some of us, all Trek, good and bad is still Star Trek and it has blazed a path across our science fiction heaven for the bulk of our lives and we are better for it.
Star Trek is also better than it has ever been. Next season looks like it is going to up the ante with hard choices needing to be made. Let me enjoy my terrifying, space-faring, expansionist Gorn in peace. See you next season!
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.