‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ Does the Time Warp Again in “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow”
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, like all Trek, loves a time travel story. The question is: will the fandom love this time travel story back?
Star Trek has a proud (and sometimes not so proud) history with time travel. And it similarly has mixed success with alternate timelines. The Kelvin timeline is a perfect example of Star Trek getting alternate timelines both right and wrong.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds has one alt timeline under its belt with last season’s “A Quality of Mercy”. That story features an alternate James T Kirk and the Romulans. I’m not saying Star Trek sometimes feels like one trick pony, but, uh… spoilers?
“Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” is an episode featuring an alternate James T Kirk who has to ultimately fight what turns out to be the Romulans. Other than those coincidences, though, this season’s trek across time is totally different. This is a La’an adventure almost exclusively. And it’ll be interesting to see people’s reactions just to that fact on its own.
But before we get into hypothetical fan reactions.
To Boldly Recap “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow”
La’an is dealing with security adjacent disputes on Enterprise when she encounters a time traveler. He warns her that someone has traveled to the past and changed the course of history. As the time traveler dies, he hands La’an a time travel device. He tells her she has to save time and get to the bridge. The time traveler dies and the world changes around La’an.
Long story short: there is no Starfleet or Federation. Kirk is the captain of Enterprise, part of the United Earth Fleet. La’an Noonien-Singh does not exist. Earth and Vulcan are both at war with the Romulans but they do not fight together. And the fight is going badly.
L’an lays it all out for Kirk who is not exactly game to believe her. He tries to take her time travel device, but, oops, it goes off. And now they’re both in 21st-century Toronto with no way back without fixing the timeline.
They do all the time travel staples: steal clothes, play chess to make money, yada yada. Then a bridge explodes–an event that occurs in both La’an and Kirk’s timelines. However, there’s alien tech there. And also a woman following alien tech.
Through talking with Sera (who believes in aliens) Kirk realizes there’s a cold fusion generator in Toronto. He remembers it being blown up — a first Romulan strike. That doesn’t happen in La’an’s timeline. So that’s the change. The problem is, they don’t know how to find the reactor. They need an engineer.
Alternate Timelines are the Bomb
Fortunately, for La’an, before all the time travel shenanigans occur, she has a conversation with Pelia who apparently lived in Vermont back in the 21st century. La’an and Kirk seek past Pelia for assistance. Unfortunately, Pelia is not an engineer yet. But she does give them a watch whose hands will react to the kind of radiation the generator gives off.
Long story short: Kirk and La’an use the watch to find the reactor. Also, they kiss. We’ll talk about it later. And the reactor is located at the Noonien-Singh Institute. La’an’s genetic code gives her access, but, oops, they’ve been followed–by Sera. And Sera is actually the Romulan time traveler. Sera shoots and kills Kirk.
With security on alert, Sera cannot get to the reactor. However, it turns out that destroying Toronto is not necessary. Sera only needs to kill one person–a very young Khan Noonien-Singh. Sera demands La’an give Sera access to Khan. They fight. Sera loses and disintegrates. And La’an comforts Khan before returning to her own restored time.
La’an gets a visit from the Department of Temporal Investigations. We’ll talk more about them later. The man who dies at the start of the episode was one of their agents. Long story short, La’an can tell no one about her adventure. Still, La’an messages Kirk, has a very awkward convo with him, then cries.
The end. Whew! Okay, let’s get into it.
To Boldly Review “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow”
Star Trek does time travel A LOT. “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” both pay homage to and outright references a lot of it. The result is a mixed bag. The stuff that works is great. But there’s a lot here that is hard to ignore. Speaking of time and timing, it’s a mistake placing this episode after two episodes in a row where Pike only plays a very minor role. We need a Pike on a strange planet episode badly. Had this episode appeared after one of those, I think it would go over better.
I suspect most people will complain about the romantic subplot between La’an and Kirk. And, yes, it stretches credulity that either of these two would be smooching when the future is at stake. But I get it. La’an develops feelings for Kirk partly because he doesn’t know who Khan is. This is a story about La’an fighting to let go of her own trauma of being related to Khan. The romance is a shortcut. I don’t love it, but I get it.
And it’s worth a lot that Christina Chong and Paul Wesley have great chemistry. I think this version of Kirk serves Wesley far better than the one from “A Quality of Mercy”. In fact, the performances in general are great. Give it up again to Carol Kane whose performance as Pelia is, once again, funny and weird in perfect measure.
But let’s talk about the big issue hampering this episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
Stop Explaining Canon
Khan Noonien-Singh is a prince in the 1990s–according to Star Trek: The Original Series anyway. There’s an instinct to make Star Trek’s timeline match our own. I get it. But it’s not necessary. There are fans out there who care about this stuff, but they’re the minority, and placating them when you only have ten episodes a season is a mistake.
As a Star Trek: Enterprise fan, is it nice to hear the temporal cold war get a name drop? Yeah. Sure. But it’s not necessary. Making it so Kirk is there without meeting Pike is fine. But it’s not necessary. And finding a means to connect the Department of Temporal Investigations and the Temporal War and all the other time travel shenanigans over the years in a way that explains why the timeline doesn’t always make sense is the function of fanfiction–not canonical storytelling.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season one has only one solitary flaw: it relies too much on nostalgia. So much is homage to TOS and sometimes that hampers where the stories and characters can go.
What I love about this second season is that it’s focusing more on big swings. And while there are things about “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” that swing big, this feels like the parts of season one that should be left, and you’ll pardon the pun, in the past.
Christina Chong and Paul Wesley Kill Though
“Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” still hits some great emotional beats. How I wish Star Trek: Strange New Worlds got 25 episodes a season because episodes focusing on a single character are great when a show has enough real estate for them.
Before we meet her, La’an feels a connection with no one save Una. In season one we see that change. But even then, it’s clear La’an feels deeply guarded outside of the Enterprise crew. And the reason is her last name.
Last week Neera told La’an that her augmented bloodline does not make her a monster. La’an needs to hear that because years of being told otherwise make her doubt herself and distrust others, too. That’s the power of this Kirk story. She is able to see herself better through his eyes. She’s able to trust a stranger even in impossible circumstances. Christina Chong does a stellar job making that a focal part of the episode.
And similarly, Paul Wesley brings the goods, too. It’s cool and all that his “I’m from space” line is explained but that’s not why his Kirk works. It’s because he’s smart Kirk instead of Kelvin himbo Kirk. And he’s more than “2D chess is for dummies” smart. This Kirk has a keen emotional intelligence — something we may even see more of later in the season!
Bottom line: “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” is flabby and cares too much about continuity, but the performances go a long way to elevate the story.