‘Strange New Worlds’: Lessons Learned For Season 2
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season one is finished! What works in the show’s first ten episodes and what doesn’t?
Star Trek shows do not have good first seasons. That is the common wisdom. Up until 2022, only Star Trek: The Original series had what anyone would define as a solid first outing. But then Strange New Worlds had to come along and screw with the averages! Yes, it’s true. Even if you go by the standards of IMDb (where review-bombing is pretty rampant), the lowest score for an episode in SNW‘s first season is a 6.1 out of a possible 10.
If Strange New Worlds can have this good of a first season, it can have an even better second season. Here are our thoughts on what to keep and what to change as the latest live-action Trek series charts its course into the unknown.
Stand-Alone Stories Work
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. After four seasons of Star Trek: Discovery and two of Picard focusing on serialized storytelling, it is nice watching episodes with a definitive beginning, middle, and end. One of the hallmarks of Star Trek beginning with TNG is using singular stories to flesh out individual characters. And that’s exactly what we get with Strange New Worlds.
“Children of the Comet” gives us insight both into Uhura’s backstory and why she is a necessary part of the Enterprise crew. “Memento Mori” reintroduces the Gorn but also teaches us why La’an is so guarded. Most SNW episodes not only shift perspective from character to character but from genre to genre as well. “Spock Amok” is pure comedy. Meanwhile “All Those Who Wander” is pure horror.
Star Trek fans do not agree on much, but the one thing most fans love about Strange New Worlds is its return to episodic storytelling. That being said…
A Two-Parter Now and Then Would Be Nice
There are a few instances in SNW‘s first season where things wrap up a little too quickly and too neatly. The most obvious examples are “The Elysian Kingdom” and “All Those Who Wander”. M’Benga surrenders his daughter to an unknown nebula god awfully easily in the former episode. M’Benga spends most of this first season studying his daughter Rukiya’s illness while keeping her locked away in transporter stasis. That he surrenders her with little-to-no fanfare feels rushed. There are many ways to more thoroughly move Rukiya and M’Benga’s story forward, but all them require more time.
“All Those Who Wander” is a more clear example of rushed storytelling. The season’s penultimate episode juggles Spock‘s emotions, La’an’s trauma, Uhura’s uncertainty, along with several other character conflicts – all before we even get to Hemmer’s death. The Gorn, already established as the new villain hotness for SNW also get the short end of the stick here. After a strong initial outing, they transform into xenomorph knock-offs.
Given the amount of character work, both “The Elysian Kingdom” and “All Those Who Wander” improve if they have second episodes. And with that in mind, it’s important to consider two-parters beginning with SNW season 2. Star Trek: The Next Generation spends 7 season largely finding success with one-and-done episodes, but even their writers used two-parters at least once a season. Strange New Worlds can and should do the same.
More Chapel and Ortegas Please
Character-driven stories on Strange New Worlds are great! This much is established. Now we just need more – specifically we need more from Jess Bush and Melissa Navia aka Christine Chapel and Erica Ortegas. While both characters play important, supportive roles in the first season of Strange New Worlds, neither has an episode of their own yet. And if you look at the stories we have so far, the need for Chapel and Ortegas episodes is clear.
At first, Chapel is an enigma, but a fun one. Christine lovingly teases her comrades and flirts with… well, with everyone. But then, beginning with “Spock Amok” Chapel focuses in on our resident Vulcan over everyone else. Yes, it is established canon that Chapel loves Spock. Yes, watching Chapel and Spock kiss is absolutely ace. But “loves Spock” cannot be Chapel’s defining trait. That is exactly why Majel Barrett’s incarnation of Chapel feels so limited looking back – she’s one note. Next season, gives us episodes dedicated to Chapel’s interests beyond Spock so we get to know her better!
Similar should be said of Ortegas. While she gets lots of fun quips throughout the season, all we really know of Ortegas is that she is a bit of a puckish rogue. There are two episodes which give us more – “The Elysian Kingdom” and “A Quality of Mercy“. However, in both instances we aren’t really getting the actual Ortegas. In “The Elysian Kingdom” Navia is playing a character in M’Benga’s storybook. In “A Quality of Mercy” Ortegas parrots lines originally spoken by Ensign Stiles from the TOS episode “Balance of Terror”. We need episodes focusing on Ortegas to truly know her.
And related (but not limited to) Chapel and Ortegas…
More Queers, My Dears
In “Spock Amok” Chapel and Ortegas talk about the time Chapel dated a lady with wacky consequences – but it’s played off like a one-time thing. Similarly, Ortegas and Una date, but only in M’Benga’s storybook world. Spock and T’Pring swap bodies but nary a moment is really spent on how they feel being in one another’s bodies. T’Pring may hate hijinks, but this is ridiculous! Even Celia Rose Gooding shared a tweet demanding Uhura have a girlfriend!
Conclusion: Strange New Worlds needs to up its gay. You simply cannot have that many beautiful actors on one set and not have them smash in infinite diversity and in infinite combinations. Many of the characters give off queer vibes, but we need more than vibes.
And while we’re discussing the queer in general, let’s also hit on the queer in specific. This first season introduces non-binary trans pirate Captain Angel. Jesse Keitel plays easily the best character to appear in only one episode. Captain Angel needs to be in season two of SNW. In fact, Angel should be the Q/Mudd of the series and turn up at least once per season, every season.
Speaking of Angel, let’s cover their paramour, Sybok, and what he offers the show moving forward.
The Past is Good
Who had “Sybok origin story” on their Star Trek: Strange New Worlds bingo card? Probably no one. And the reason is simple: Sybok is not exactly a beloved character in the annals of Star Trek history. He appears in the most infamous Trek movie (that isn’t Into Darkness): The Final Frontier. But as it happens, Sybok’s return illustrates exactly when the past should return to SNW.
Why remake a story that is already perfectly told? There are only two reason and neither are good. The first reason is “because we want to do it more modern”. And the second reason is “because we need a crutch to bring in an audience”. Bringing back Sybok serves neither of these lazy masters. Instead, Sybok’s return represents a chance to take a second swing at a character who could’ve been good but wasn’t.
The Final Frontier is notable for being made during a writer’s strike and it shows. Showing a younger Sybok going up against a crew of people filled to the brim with traumatic backstories actually makes sense.
The Past is Good… in Moderation
Not all nostalgia trips on SNW work. In fact, the show’s season finale “A Quality of Mercy”, beloved though it is by some, reveals the show’s current Achilles’ Heel. The episode is, in many ways, a copy of a TOS episode called “Balance of Terror” right down to the dialogue. Darren Mooney writes critically of the finale for Escapist saying, “There is something dispiriting in all this, in how weirdly deferential ‘A Quality of Mercy’ is to classic Star Trek at the expense of itself.” He’s absolutely right.
There are many minor course corrections SNW can make to improve, but there is only one alteration which feels essential to the series’ continued success. Paying loving homage to Trek‘s past makes sense. Finding compelling ways to improve on concepts that did not quite work the first time like Sybok or the Gorn is an intriguing prospect. Bending the knee to the point of imitation, though? Therein lies the path of destruction.
The more SNW focuses on Pike‘s inevitable fate or on who Uhura or Spock will be in years to come, the more the series loses its unique identity and sense of importance in the moment. If everything is a foregone conclusion, why are we watching? The past/future is always going to be there waiting for us. The best of Strange New Worlds are the stories that forget what will be and focus on what is.
Those are our thoughts for Strange New World‘s future. What are you hoping to see in season 2?